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COVER STORY

13-02-2004

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Briefing

Globalisation and human rights

cover-story

Interview with Irene Khan, Secretary-General, Amnesty International.

Bangladesh-born Irene Khan, Secretary-General of Amnesty International since August 2001, brings a unique triple combine of attributes to the job. She is the first woman, first Asian and first Muslim to assume the top job in the international human rights body. Once the head of U.N. refugee operations in India, Irene Khan was in Mumbai to attend the World Social Forum and spoke to Sukumar Muralidharan about the human rights agenda in the context of globalisation. Excerpts:

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How do you view the WSF and what special interest does Amnesty have in this event?

It is an opportunity for social activists from around the world to get together, to learn from each other, to mobilise on key global issues. I think the forum is very important at this particular time, because of the global agenda that is being set by the superpower - the United States and its allies - around the issue of war. An agenda is being set around national security. And what is happening at the WSF is that people are coming together to talk about the real sources of insecurity of people, which has less to do with the military agenda and much more to do with the social and economic agenda. Amnesty's objective at the WSF is to learn from others, to share with them the message of human rights that we have, because we believe that human rights can make a very important contribution to the social agenda.

Amnesty has traditionally been more focussed on political rights rather than social and economic entitlements in modern societies. Are you moving towards operating at the interface between all these kinds of entitlements?

Well, it is true that, historically, Amnesty worked on political and civil rights, but over a number of years now, we have been shifting towards looking at human rights in a much more comprehensive manner. I think the agenda of economic globalisation as well as the agenda of global security and war have made that even more important, because when we talk of the security of people, we talk about a whole range of rights and the relationship between those rights. So the right to a fair trial is as important as the right to education, or health or employment. These are to be seen as one integrated whole. Peoples' lives, a woman's life - if she is facing violence - this could well be because she has no access to the courts, and the laws discriminate against her. But it could also be she is strapped in poverty. We need to look at the whole issue.

Would it be a fair characterisation that Amnesty is focussed on a defensive agenda of human rights protection rather than an expansive agenda? You document abuses with great diligence but are you equally attentive when it comes to expanding the reach of the human rights discourse, so that other kinds of entitlements would follow?

Well, I would say that Amnesty's agenda has always been a proactive one. We have put issues on the agenda that did not exist there. Amnesty was the first organisation to put the issue of torture on the agenda in the 1970s. We have put the implementation of human rights and the ending of impunity on the agenda. We have worked for and helped to create the International Criminal Court, for example. So we are not simply exposing problems, but as a campaigning organisation, working actively for change. Our next campaign will be to stop violence against women and here we will be working with movements around the world to put forward proactively the responsibility of governments, community leaders, religious leaders and others, to stop violence against women.

But could you deal, for example, with the economic disenfranchisement of several groups and communities in the process of globalisation? We are talking about a gradual erosion of rights that does not have the effect of spectacle, but is nonetheless a serious problem.

Torture was a historical example that I used, but I think what is happening today is that very large numbers of people are being excluded from access to justice. And justice is not just legal justice but social justice, and underlying social justice are fundamental economic and social rights. Amnesty has historically fought for justice and it is only natural that our concept of justice should evolve over time to include social justice for all. In that sense, we are opening up to the issue of marginalisation. It is not an issue of adding new rights to the agenda. The rights are all there, but it is an issue of making those rights work for people.

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How do you see the process of globalisation itself impinging on human rights and other aspects of your agenda?

Globalisation has brought benefits to some, but very large numbers of people seem to be excluded. For instance, I was in Mexico in August to look at the situation of women who work in the assembly plants for American companies. And the increasing violence against these women has been totally ignored. We see that in the case of women textile workers. Free trade tends not to be very fair for very large numbers of people in the developing world. So globalisation is having very serious implications. Some of it is good, but large parts of it need to be addressed, because it is pushing back the human rights agenda.

It is now clear that the informal economy has been expanding very rapidly all through the decade or more of globalisation. And the informal sector by definition is where modern institutions do not reach and the protections of law are not available. Does this mean that we in the developing countries have to get used to an idiom of sacrificing political rights today to gain in economic prosperity? Are we facing a binary choice between poverty with human rights and prosperity under a police regime?

I don't see there is any inherent inconsistency there. In fact, human rights is probably a tool to address poverty, because it does empower people and brings in the notion of accountability of actors - whether they are governments or otherwise. And what has been happening is that there has been a disconnect between the economic debate on the one hand and the human rights discourse on the other. Now one of the issues that we are pushing in the context of globalisation is greater corporate accountability. It is not that companies were not subject to laws - they were within their national context. But companies are now working across borders. Secondly, state powers are getting weaker and economic actors are getting stronger. And yet there is no system which is addressing the issue of corporate accountability. Now one of the things we are launching at the WSF is a document on business laws. What we are saying is that new tools have to be devised to fill the gaps that globalisation has created for accountability on human rights.

The notion of growth without human rights is very similar to the notion that you get greater security by setting back human rights, which is the American agenda now around the world - that the war on terror means that you have more security and less rights. What we see in fact is that security does not come when you erode human rights. In the same way, prosperity does not come either. The question is prosperity for whom? What we see is a global economic agenda which is ignoring human rights, bringing prosperity for a few at the expense of many.

For instance, one of the agendas we are looking at is privatisation and how privatisation of utilities and basic services can affect human rights. We are not saying don't privatise. What we are saying is that you should put in place certain safeguards to protect the most vulnerable sections. We are not rejecting one model for another. We are saying you must inject human rights into whatever model you follow.

But enforcement would still have to be in the hands of the state.

The state remains a key actor. The state retains the primary responsibility, but we must not ignore the responsibility of other actors and we must give the state the tools and the means to enforce law against, for example, big business or multinationals. On the other side of course, there is a very strong coalition of big business and governments joining hands to resist human rights demands. And that is where the mobilisation of social movements that is taking place here in Mumbai is so important. We have to build awareness on these issues. And the real situation on the ground is so compelling when you look at poverty not as statistics but as the life stories of people. Yes, there will be many arguments among economists over the figures of absolute poverty - whether they are going up or down. But when you look at specific situations in countries, and you see that disparity is creating violence, instability - that is not good for business either.

There is a perception that globalisation in a sense by breaking down borders, has opened up countries to global scrutiny through the increasing reach of the media. But at the same time, the ground-level situation is not changing in a manner that will enable them to stand up to this scrutiny. They would be found wanting on human rights criteria, but they don't have the kind of international aid and trade environment that would enable them to enforce minimal human rights standards. There is, in other words, none of the required accountability enforced upon developed countries.

I think there has been an opening up of national scrutiny. There has also been a questioning of international accountability and I think the trade debate is opening that up very clearly - that there is a bigger issue here of how the international community and the governments react on the international stage. It is not going to be easy though. What past experience has shown is that simply giving economic resources to governments is not going to improve the human rights situation. Now, on the issue of the media I would like to say that it is true that the media is opening up, technology has helped the media to make more progress. But while the avenues for the media have opened up, the ownership of the media is becoming more concentrated. And you have been seeing media powers that have been emerging that are, in the same way as big business, controlling the message.

A militant platform

LYLA BAVADAM cover-story

Mumbai Resistance-2004, a platform of over 310 political movements organised parallel to the WSF, claims that the latter cannot provide a proper focus and orientation to the struggles against imperialist globalisation and war.

THE icons are the same - Marx, Mao, Lenin and Che Guevara. The slogans are the same - "American imperialism - Down, Down". Yet there is no convergence between the World Social Forum and the Mumbai Resistance (MR)-2004. It is not just the busy Western Express highway in Mumbai's northern suburb of Goregaon that keeps the two apart. Nor the fact that the WSF had more than one lakh participants on 40 acres (16 hectares) as opposed to the MR's 5,000 on four acres. Essential differences that kept the two apart were the source of funding for the respective gatherings and the strategy and tactics necessary to achieve change.

While both believed in targeting imperialism and globalisation and strengthening people's movements, the WSF chose to distance itself from militant action. MR, on the other hand, espoused armed struggle. Shivsunder, an organising committee member of MR, criticised the WSF saying that it was "structured in such a way that the struggle cannot be taken forward". Feroze Miththiborwala, an MR organising committee member, summed up the difference: "While MR was a process, WSF was an event." There was also a difference in mood between the WSF and MR. The former had the atmosphere of a carnival, but had an extensive and varied programme of seminars and workshops, numbering 1,180. MR conducted its programmes under a large tent over three days with a programme schedule of 12 focussed topics. Differences between the two also showed up in the profile of the participants. The majority of MR participants were peasant farmers and field-based activists. The disproportionately high number of police personnel at the MR venue bore testimony to this. WSF had a clearly different set of people. In fact, the recently released "Profile of Participants" shows that WSF participants tend to be young, university-educated, anti-imperialist and independent of political parties. The poor, like slum-dwellers, peasant farmers or indigenous people, are not represented, alleged Brazilian sociologist Candido Grzybowski, a member of the WSF International Council and one of the main organisers of the meetings in Porto Alegre.

MR is a coalition of forces belonging to 310 political movements and organisations that believe that the WSF cannot provide a proper focus and orientation to the ongoing struggles against imperialist globalisation and war. "The structure, politics and orientation of the WSF are vague," says Darshan Pal, an MR organising committee member. "What does `Another world is possible mean'? They are just humanising the face of imperialism. It is disillusioning the workers and the people. They lack a clear vision and have no plans. They are defusing the struggle against imperialist globalisation."

Darshan Pal said that MR, on the other hand, was committed to "working for a self-reliant socialist world" regardless of the type of socialism. "We have Lohiaites, Marxists, Leninists, Maoists and Sarvodaya workers over here." In the move towards a "socialist order", MR debated questions like: How to identify the crucial issues and develop the force of the peoples' movements into a powerful challenge to the forces of imperialist globalisation and war? How to stand up to those who crush the sovereignty of nations, who idealise and support a market-centred rather than people-centred pattern of development? How to identify correctly the enemy and distinguish real friends from those who only posture as being against globalisation?

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A COMMON misconception is that MR is a breakaway faction of the WSF. Many organisations, which are also opposed to globalisation, have been critical of the WSF movement since it began in 2001. However, this is the first time that some of the organisations have come together on a common platform to project their perspective. MR was actually conceived at the International Camp, Thessaloniki Resistance 2003, held in Greece in June that year. It took a concrete form when the International Coordinating Group of the International League of Peoples' Struggles (ILPS), a coalition of over 100 people's organisations from various parts of the world, resolved at its meeting in the Netherlands in July 2003 to organise an event at the same time as the WSF.

While MR finds no fault with the underlying objectives of the WSF, it attempts to create its own platform with the belief that "the battle against globalisation will be a long and protracted one and will be fought on many fronts and in many forms". In that respect, it stands for and supports all militant mobilisations. Upholding its right to militancy and questioning the WSF's rejection of it, Shivsunder said: "When imperialism is becoming aggressive how can the resistance be passive?" An MR press statement noted: "MR believes that the WSF body has many inherent weaknesses and limitations since it is dominated by imperialist-funded NGOs and political organisations with close links to the imperialist world. This is evident in the financial and other backing being provided by some imperialist governments like France and Germany and international funding agencies like Oxfam and Ford Foundation to the WSF and its regional offshoots; the participation of representatives of political organisations that have been implementing liberalisation and privatisation in regions where they are in power; the failure to emphasise the importance of people's movements and the exclusion of militant movements from the WSF. MR also believes that the structure and methodology of the WSF platform preclude any real debate and discussion on serious practical questions. MR aims not only to voice critiques of the WSF, but also to discuss concrete measures for strengthening people's struggles everywhere."

MR activists pointed out that the invitation of former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh to the WSF was inconsistent with its declared objectives. Digvijay Singh spoke on the contemporary relevance of Gandhian thought, the relevance of the gram sabha and the importance of people's participation. The irony was not lost on the audience who expressed its outrage. A spontaneous demonstration of Adivasis and anti-dam activists raised slogans against the former Chief Minister. Chittaroopa Palit, a Narmada Bachao Andolan activist, asked how Digvijay Singh's thinking fitted in with his governance and the lack of people's participation in it.

MR activists also alleged that the WSF offered no real alternatives. "Most of the debate remains an intellectual exercise. There are no real conclusions, no resolutions," said Shivsunder. MR concluded with the adopting of a People's Declaration, which resolved to "put up a formidable fight alongside the people of Iraq till all the U.S. and other troops are withdrawn from Iraq and the U.S. and other imperialists' control over Iraq's natural resources is handed over to the people of Iraq". The declaration pledged to fight imperialist globalisation and war to the end. It also said it would fight for the abrogation of all the loans given to the Third World by the imperialists and their agencies such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. A call was given to observe March 20, the first anniversary of the U.S.-U.K. invasion of Iraq, as Global Day of Action.

In keeping with its philosophy of struggle being the only way to self-reliance, MR was funded by the participant organisations, with expenses totalling around Rs.20 lakhs. "We'll collect all this from the people. We've already collected about Rs.3 lakhs from registrations, Rs.1,50,000 from Punjab organisations and Rs.25,000 from Delhi organisations," Darshan Pal told Frontline.

The housing question

LYLA BAVADAM cover-story

The WSF analyses the housing crisis faced by the urban poor with a view to finding pragmatic approaches to solving the problem.

"SOMEONE has said the urban poor are invisible people. You build our big office buildings and apartment houses; you clean our streets, cook our food, wash our clothes; you drive our buses, trains, taxis and private cars; you carry to stores and markets - sometimes on your backs or bicycles - the food and things we need to live; you sell everything imaginable on our street corners at a price the poor can afford. And yet we never see you... [Society is obliged] to provide everyone a place to live. Can there be a more basic need? More minimal demand? How can one even exist without a place? Or enjoy any human right without a place to enjoy it in?"

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When Stephen Cardinal Kim Soo-hwan of South Korea spoke these words at the Asian People's Dialogue in Seoul in 1989, he touched at the core of a problem that is yet to be resolved. The new millennium began with half the world's population living in cities and predictions are that by 2050 65 per cent will live in urban areas. The fact and the projection together give a new urgency to the global urban housing problem. At the World Social Forum a number of housing rights agencies - such as the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), the National Forum for Housing Rights (NFHR) and Habitat International - analysed the housing crisis of the urban poor with a view to finding pragmatic approaches to solving the problem.

COHRE is the only international human rights organisation to focus on the housing problem. It employs legal, social and political means to achieve its aims and has official consultative status with the United Nations (U.N.), the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the African Union (A.U.). Habitat International had initiated a movement called The Right to the City in Latin America, which is relevant to all developing nations. Essentially, "The Right to the City" is an expression of the community's social and economic concerns. More specifically, it denies the `merchandise' concept of cities in which people who do not have power, possessions or property are segregated and discriminated against. Both COHRE and Habitat are facilitators assisting local organisations which directly address the problems of the urban poor. "They have helped us a great deal in putting across the socio-economic-cultural rights to adequate housing. They have helped in preparing reports, with resource material especially on U.N. mechanisms, and by putting us in touch with others working on rights-based housing especially in Asia," said NFHR convener Rajeev John George. The NFHR is an umbrella body of about 20 Indian organisations working on housing rights.

One of the main problems faced by the urban poor and people working to rectify their problems is the lack of access to land for housing. George said: "Access to residential land for the working poor has become impossible in Indian cities. Public lands are rapidly put to use. Housing options among low-income groups is becoming tougher, except at distant fringes where infrastructure has not been developed. Thus the poor are doomed to rely on unauthorised and unregulated areas of the city."

The problem of the now defunct mills in central Mumbai is a case in point. About 500 acres (200 hectares) of land lie unused, filled by decrepit structures, some in a dangerous condition. The State government had framed a policy in 2001 to divide the land, 268 acres of which belong to the National Textile Corporation and 311 acres to private owners, whereby the land would have been equally divided among developers and projects for constructing houses for low-income groups. However, the lion's share went to developers and the State Housing Board got a mere 17 acres. All plans to build low-cost housing and rehabilitate more than half of the people living in informal settlements were dashed.

Most non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that work in this sector have had to fight against the financial clout of powerful commercial interests. For instance, a State government policy for Indore says that 15 per cent of all land that is slated for development by the municipality has to be given to the informal sector. George says the Indore Municipality has already acquired 240 acres but a "nexus between municipal officials and developers has prevented it from reaching the actual beneficiaries". Only 15 of the 240 acres have been released so far. While the average market rate of residential land in the city is Rs.500 a square foot, a developer is given land at 50 paise a square foot. The authorities justify this by saying that the developer is responsible for creating the entire local infrastructure. George says the NFHR is working to create a cooperative of slum-dwellers so that it can ask the municipality for the same land rates.

According to George, it is essential to file a well-researched public interest petition in the Supreme Court that highlights the nature and extent of the housing problem, the socio-economic profile of the residents and models of low-income housing. The other crucial element is to develop a database of existing urban poor settlements. As part of the Oxfam Urban Poverty Research Programme in India, Deenbandhu, a voluntary organisation in Indore, conducted a study on urban poverty and prepared a detailed map identifying informal settlements. This information has been transformed into a digitised Geographical Information System (GIS) format and will be used to promote the housing rights of the urban poor. Indore is the first Indian city to use satellite mapping for this specific purpose.

Another essential step, according to George, is to make the city's poor inhabitants file suggestions and objections to the existing city master plan, thereby forcing the authorities to make it pro-poor. The Indore Master Plan 2010 draft was released in June 2003. Three weeks later, a workshop was held with leaders of slum-dwellers and prominent citizens. The interaction generated suggestions in favour of providing concrete provisions for incorporating land for adequate housing within the master plan. Although the plan is yet to be notified, George believes that the interaction was a step in the right direction. The interaction helped community leaders understand the overall development plan and incorporate permanent tenure sites. Interestingly, the plan showed areas that had been designated as slum relocation areas but had been usurped by influential commercial interest groups.

The 2001 Census puts the country's total urban population at 285.35 million. Out of this, approximately 85.6 million or 30 per cent is estimated to be among the poorest and most vulnerable in terms of housing and basic amenities. There have been several new initiatives to resolve the crisis, but few have failed to make a mark. Despite a slew of Acts, master plans and policies, the actual living conditions and the lack of secure tenure are still issues that the urban poor contend with. The reason seems to lie in the fact that there is no comprehensive plan. A case in point is the National Slum Policy drafted by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 1999. The policy advocated the removal of all "untenable" slums. The definition of the term "untenable" is not specified with the result that slum-dwellers constantly face the threat of eviction. The situation was aggravated by the fact that neither the Centre nor the States had a well-formulated strategy to tackle the issue. Past experiences suggest that any serious effort to solve the problem of urban housing for the poor will have to accept that the eviction of squatters and the demolition of slums is not its starting point. Instead, what needs correction is the conditions that have forced people to live in such dismal ways.

Empire and `Anglobalisation'

cover-story

Interview with Jeremy Corbyn, British Member of Parliament.

Jeremy Corbyn, Member of Parliament from Islington North in London, has been a consistent advocate of the cause of disarmament and peace in Britain's ruling Labour Party. He counts relations with the Third World and human rights among his other main political concerns. The left-wing MP was in the forefront of the anti-war mobilisation all through 2003 and believes that public action in the coming months could well force a retreat from the militarist policies that now hold the stage. Closely involved with the European Social Forum, Mumbai was his first encounter with the WSF. Excerpts from an interview he gave Sukumar Muralidharan:

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Do you see something coming out of the WSF? Because it is so dispersed and vast, there is a sense of participation and exhilaration, but a hundred different agendas are being pursued. Does this, as a Labour Party person, seem to you a strength, a virtue in itself, or a weakness?

I think those that have spent their lifetime in Left politics find it very difficult to conceive of something that lasts for four or five days and doesn't reach any decisions, doesn't have any programmes, doesn't have any bitterly contested elections for any position. These are early days for the WSF and it is feeling its way about. But if one is prescriptive and says that this is a declaration we must agree on, we would spend the whole of our days just discussing the declaration rather than the issues that surround us. I think what one has to do is see how the WSF informs people better and brings forward people who can engage with government and the media. But above all, we should see how the WSF can mobilise people on general themes like war, poverty and justice in world trade.

The WSF is a combination of politically active people and single-issue campaigns. These single-issue campaigns are absolutely fascinating, colourful and very demanding. And the political parties are either excited by this or nervous, because there is an alternative power base developing. What happens in the future, I would hope, would be that we establish some kind of a small, permanent presence of the WSF and that we then use that as a way of pushing governments in areas of particular concern.

You would be going back to the United Kingdom just a few days ahead of the tabling of the Hutton inquiry report (into the death of British weapons scientist Dr. David Kelly). And this is obviously an effort to establish some form of accountability in government. Since accountability is one of the issues before the WSF, how do you expect it to play in the U.K. in the context of the Hutton inquiry report?

The Hutton inquiry has been an absolutely fascinating experience. After Dr. Kelly was found dead, no inquest was held and (Prime Minister) Tony Blair, rather surprisingly, set up a judicial public inquiry. Lord Hutton then decided to interpret this inquiry in a very broad way and called for and received a whole lot of government communications that are normally denied even to parliamentary select committees. And what these showed in my view was a degree of cynicism in Downing Street relating to decisions surrounding and leading up to the war. But also, it demonstrated that the various confusing bits of evidence don't add up. And so Tony Blair then sent a new statement to the Hutton inquiry, which has not been published, which we understand is supposed to be a clarification of a clarification. So the report comes out on the 29th (January) - and the discussion will be on the quality of evidence submitted by the Prime Minister more than anything else, I suspect.

There is a certain degree of bewilderment in the rest of the world over the way in which the U.K. was marching in lockstep with the U.S. behind this war enterprise. We also knew well before Kelly's death that the intelligence basis for the war was very shaky. The dossier which the U.K. government prepared in September 2002, which the U.S. used to pump up its claim about Iraq's alleged purchase of uranium from Niger, had been discredited. And the subsequent dossier was shown to be a plagiarism from a 10-year-old research paper. Now all this pointed to the manipulation of evidence leading up to the war. But why is accountability being enforced only after the war has run its course and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died. Did it take the death of one British scientist?

A very fair point. Firstly, there is an uncomfortable message for Parliament in all this, in that Lord Hutton's inquiry into the death of Dr. Kelly has been more thorough, more public, better researched and more effective in its performance, than any of the parliamentary standing committees that have investigated the lead-up to the war. I agree that it is strange that we should have a public inquiry into the death of a scientist, but ten thousand Iraqis have died after we were given nonsensical information about weapons of mass destruction. Cluster bombs and depleted uranium were used and no inquiry is held. A number of us in Parliament have called for and voted for an independent judicial inquiry surrounding the policy on the war in Iraq and we will continue to press that. I cannot predict what Lord Hutton's conclusions will be, but he will have to reach some definite findings because of the huge discrepancies in the evidence that was submitted. Dr. Kelly clearly knew a great deal. He clearly did have an opinion on the whole issue.

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Coming closer to the theme of this forum, there has been this book that is much cited in the U.K. and in fact has been mentioned in some of the discussions here, by the historian Niall Ferguson (Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, 2003). The term he uses is not "globalisation" but "Anglobalisation" - in reference to his belief that the British empire in some senses, created the modern world, which the U.S. has been the historical legatee to as imperial overlord. Forgetting his rather rose-tinted view of the empire, does he have a point about the reason why the U.K. is getting into lockstep behind the U.S. in all these modern day imperial adventures?

It is an interesting theory and it is not wrong, in the sense that the U.S. empire which exists around the world is a largely commercial one. And the British empire of the late-19th century, yes it did colour much of the world map pink, but in quite a lot of the areas it didn't colour pink it had massive imperial interests. In much of Africa, at the Congress of Berlin in 1884, it was Germany and Belgium above all that wanted their names on the map, (while) it was the British and the French who wanted trade and they achieved an awful lot of that.

There are a few things happening that are of great interest - there has been a sort of reinvention of the history of the empire by right-wing historians who present the British empire as wholly a force for the good. They don't talk about the genocide, they don't talk about the slave trade or about the brutal treatment of the indigenous people, or the straight lines all across Africa which were the product of the Congress of Berlin.

Britain's relationship with the U.S. has been a curious one and a very interesting one. The special relationship I would say, started around the first World War, and ever since, Britain has been both commercially and politically in hock to the U.S. Globalisation is the power of multinational corporations. It is making the world's three main economic institutions - WTO, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund - work in their interests. But it has also been the imposition of a sort of Anglophile culture, Americanised Anglophile culture - of fast foods, of film, of media - on Third World countries all over the world. So it creates a sense of values which owe themselves entirely to freebooting American capitalism, much more than to any kind of European cultural identity.

Is Blair being pushed along by the irresistible force of recent history or are there more fundamental reasons of commercial interest here?

I think Blair sees Britain as a kind of American bridgehead into Europe. Whereas Europe - by which I mean France, Germany and Italy and I'm not talking about individuals like [Italian Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi here, but of the generality of the political culture - see Europe as an identity of itself, as a counterpole to the U.S. Blair came into office pledged to build better relations with Europe because Thatcher famously sort of hated everything "Europe". But then, Blair got very angry when the E.U. would not support him on Iraq.

The argument he made was that he could be a voice for moderation when the U.S. was embarked upon what was a potentially very hazardous course. But has it worked that way or has the U.K. been merely coopted into the worst excesses of this militarist adventure?

I asked him this question during a meeting of our parliamentary party and his words, I paraphrase him slightly, were "Look, Jeremy, if I told you how good the influence was, it wouldn't be any influence at all". So he then has to answer the tougher question: if it is any influence at all, how come British nationals at Bagram and Camp Delta (in Guantanamo Bay) have not been released to face trial if there are charges against them anywhere else? And what possible benefit has there been to Britain in all this? I think he ends up being a prisoner to the U.S. in all this, rather than an effective influence upon them. British troops have gone into Iraq and soldiers have died and the contracts that are being handed out - the war prizes that are being handed out - are all going to George Bush's friends.

The decade (or two decades) of globalisation - all through this period the U.S. and the U.K. have been marching to the same beat in international affairs. Internally too, have they been evolving the same way. Like, economically, they have been moving away from manufacturing and public ownership and control of basic services, towards growth based on Information Technology and financial services. Is the regression of the political culture in these countries partly accounted for by this aspect?

Trade union membership has always been a politically huge factor in Britain and to a lesser extent in the U.S. The influence of manufacturing trade unions on politics has been enormous, particularly on the Labour Party in Britain. The decline of manufacturing industry and the growth of the service sector has led to the growth of the sort of upwardly mobile class. But in the last three years, the upwardly mobile class that was working in computing and service industries and international transactions has been threatened with job losses in exactly the way that manufacturing workers were threatened two decades ago. So they are now joining trade unions. And, in a sense, if you are working as a computer operator, processing financial information, you are no more an owner of that company than if you are a metal basher at Ford in London, turning out wheels for cars. Deindustrialisation has obviously had an effect on trade union membership, but trade union membership is now going up again in Britain.

Does that have any potential political implications, for instance on foreign policy stances that the U.K. could take in the next few years?

The close relationship with the U.S. is cultural, it is economic, but above all it is a military relationship. In trade terms, Europe is far more important than the U.S. or any other part of the world. The influence of the U.S. is considerable at the political level in Britain, but I suspect that as time goes on and the U.S. gets involved in more and more conflicts over access to resources to supply itself, then the political opposition that it faced over the war in Iraq will get stronger. And certainly Blair will not be keen on getting involved in any war having been through the political problems he has already faced over Iraq.

A setback for reforms

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

Iran's conservative Council of Guardians bars over 4,000 reformist candidates from contesting the general elections and the people at large react to this with unusual disinterest.

THE decision of Iran's supervisory Council of Guardians to bar 4,000 candidates, including 82 serving members of Parliament, identified with the reformist political group headed by President Muhammed Khatami from contesting the coming general elections has triggered yet another political crisis in the country. Iranians had not yet recovered from the devastating earthquake that hit the city of Bam, when the Council dealt the political blow. The Council, an unelected supervisory body comprising six Islamic legal experts and six civil lawyers, has been an ally of the conservative clerical establishment that is engaged in a power struggle with the reformist bloc headed by Khatami.

The Council has been the major obstacle in the path of the reforms process initiated by the President. Two years ago it vetoed two Bills sent by Khatami, one proposing an end to political trials and the second proposing an end to the role of non-constitutional bodies in the vetting of candidates for elections. Iranian politics continues to be very complex as an emerging group with secular tendencies tries to remove the conservatives who have monopolised power from 1979.

The reformists draw inspiration from the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, when a coalition of merchants, intellectuals and clerics forced the Shah of the time to accept constitutional limitations and concede the demand for the establishment of a Majlis (Parliament). Although the 1906 revolution was short-lived, it continued to inspire later generations. The other important reference point for the reformers has been the Oil Nationalisation Movement (1951-53), when the nationalist Muhammad Mossadegh challenged imperialist control over Iran's natural resources. Many Iranians had initially seen Khatami in the mould of a reforming Mossadegh.

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The Reform Movement, which became an important player after the election of Khatami in 1997, consisted of students, journalists and secular and religious intellectuals. They demanded the establishment of Islamic democracy and argued that secularism would only serve to strengthen religion. The reformists were aware that it was the failure to enthuse public opinion that was responsible to a great extent for the failure of the Constitutional Movement and the collapse of the Mossadegh government. The modern-day reformists did succeed in connecting with the masses until 2000, when they got a massive electoral mandate. After that, they tripped badly. Many of the reformists got enamoured of the trappings of power and President Khatami refused to challenge the conservatives in their citadels.

The Army and the judiciary continue to be dominated by conservatives. The judiciary has played a particularly key role in undermining the credibility of the reformist movement. The judiciary, headed by Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, has imprisoned reformist politicians and activists on flimsy grounds. The annual budget of the judiciary is more than that of the President. When a former war hero and professor of history, Hashem Aghajari, reportedly said that Muslims did not have to follow their clergy like "monkeys", he was promptly given the death sentence by a judge. Another judge ruled that any discussions about negotiations with the United States would be treated as a criminal offence. A poll in 2002 had revealed that 70 per cent of Iranians favoured a dialogue with the U.S. However, the poll also revealed that roughly half of Iranians remained deeply suspicious of the U.S. The Khatami government remained a mute spectator while the conservatives went about systematically undermining its credibility among the people.

ELECTIONS to the 290-member Majlis are scheduled to be held on February 20. If the Council of Guardians' decision is not reviewed, many of Khatami's supporters will be debarred from contesting, making a mockery of the elections. Among those disqualified are two Deputy Speakers and two women members of the Majlis who had consistently espoused feminist causes. Already, many Iranians seem to be disillusioned with politics. On earlier occasions, when the Council of Guardians had taken similar decisions, students had instinctively taken to the streets. However, this time there has been no student protests. The people had reposed much faith in the ability of Khatami to bring about the changes he had promised on the campaign trail when he first came to power in 1997. Khatami was re-elected President with a thumping majority in 2001. But Khatami and his band of reformers did not use the strong popular mandate to loosen the grip of the hardliners, led by the clerical establishment, and thereby caused disillusionment among ordinary Iranians.

Public apathy with politics was apparent during the town council elections held in February 2003. The polling in big cities like Teheran was only around 15 per cent and, more important, the majority of the people who voted stood by the conservatives. Many reformist candidates lost the elections. Until the Council came up with its latest decision, public interest in the general elections was said to be lukewarm. There is a school of thought in Iran that claims that the Council's decision was in fact a pre-meditated one, designed to instil public interest in the forthcoming elections. Large-scale voter apathy would have considerably diminished the credibility of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, it says.

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Meanwhile, the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has assured the angry Majlis members that he would request the Council of Guardians to review its decision. "The Guardian Council has enough time to review the cases carefully," said Khamenei in a television broadcast a few days after the crisis erupted. He said that the goal was "to prevent the violation of anyone's rights". Khameini had to intervene as many of the reformist legislators staged a protest sit-in inside the premises of the Majlis. They have also threatened mass resignations. President Khatami had initially suggested that he was ready to quit if the Council did not lift the ban. "The people's right to have free elections should be observed," he said in a speech to the Majlis.

But, as the crisis extended to the second week, Khatami was urging moderation on the part of the reformist legislators who were threatening to resign en-masse and requested them to call off their agitation inside the Parliament building. The fasting legislators and their supporters, numbering over a hundred, have refused to accede to the request of the President. Khatami's failure to confront the hardliners head on once again has disillusioned his supporters. Some State Governors elected on the reformist ticket have also threatened to quit if the Council of Guardians refuses to review its decision. Most of the barred candidates are those who have been critical of the Council or of the virtually unlimited power the spiritual leader Khamenei enjoys under the concept of Velayat-e Faqih (supreme religious jurisprudence). Theoretically, Khamenei is answerable only to God.

As of now, the conservative backlash against the reformists has not evoked the kind of response many people expected. Many Iranians, it has been reported, have not so far even heard about the political crisis in Teheran. The West too seems reconciled to the downsizing of the reformists. The so-called hardliners had shown during the recent crisis centring around Iran's nuclear programme that it was they who could deliver. Although the decision to agree to the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) demands was formally taken by President Khatami, it was Ayatollah Khamenei's handpicked representative, Hassan Rohani, who did the spadework leading to the agreement. The conservatives, evidently, have a strong grip over the conduct of the country's foreign affairs. President Khatami's second and last term of office gets over next year. The conservatives, who hope to recapture the Majlis with a little bit of help from the Council of Guardians, hope to be in complete control of the country once again by 2005. They hope to have by that time a pliant Majlis and their own candidate as President.

However, experts are of the view that regardless of whoever gets the upper hand in Teheran in the coming months, political stability will not be affected. The general feeling is that though clerical rule is outdated and inefficient, the people still recognise the legitimacy of the government and the contributions of the clerics in the struggle against the Shah and his U.S. backers.

An attack on a church

recently in Homagama

HOMAGAMA is a mere 25 kilometres from the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. Its layout and general features are similar to those of any other Sri Lankan town. The placid town shot into news when on January 14 its Roman Catholic St. Michael's Church was attacked for the second time since November.

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"I was asleep in an inner room when I heard the clamour of a mob. I was scared to open the door, but I raised a noise in order to alert the neighbours. It was all over in about 15 minutes. When I came out, this (the completely damaged prayer hall) was what remained," an employee of the church told Frontline. He began to recall the incident in halting English but eager to let the outside world know the emotions of a community under siege, he sent out an errand boy to seek the assistance of an English-speaking member of the parish.

The 1.1 million Christians of Sri Lanka form a minuscule part (6.87 per cent) of the island's population. The majority of them - 6.06 per cent - are Roman Catholic. Buddhist-dominated Homagama has 155 Catholic families, who, like Christians elsewhere in southern Sri Lanka, live in fear.

If emotional and physical insecurity is a constant fact of life across the nation, the events since late 2003 have been less than encouraging. A build-up over the years included emotional calls: hardline Buddhists charged the Church with aiding and abetting Tamil separatism, the peace process to resolve the ethnic strife was slammed as a Western (read Christian) conspiracy, a prominent Western diplomat, Chris Patten, was accused of being a "White Tiger" and, to queer the pitch further, the bogey of a Christian conspiracy was raised following the demise of a popular Buddhist monk Soma Thera, in early December.

The attack on the church is one more sordid example of the re-emergence of hardline Buddhist opinion. A belligerent section of the southern hardliners has been campaigning against the so-called forcible conversion of Buddhists to Christianity by evangelists, driving fear into the minds of the minority Christians. Often, local disputes are at the root of the attacks on religious minorities, with some of these emotive issues providing a rallying point.

For instance, hardline Buddhists allege that the St. Michael's Church was built on "unauthorised land". The priest, Gregory Anthony, refutes this by saying that he has all the legal documents to prove the land is authorised. Fr. Anthony says the allegation of "forcible conversions" was not true of Catholic churches.

During the first attack on St. Michael's Church on November 30, a group of Buddhist hardliners broke the cross on the rooftop and placed a Buddhist flag in its place. A bo tree, considered sacred by Buddhists, was planted in the churchyard. "We sought police protection at that time. But we were provided police security only after the second attack," Fr. Anthony said.

A build-up of threat and intimidation elsewhere in the island preceded the attack on his church, he said.

Fr. Anthony said members of the church had taken the issue seriously. "Now they are organising themselves. The men come to the church in the night, while the women spend a few hours during the day." Even Christmas celebrations, he said, were low-key "because we were threatened". He recalls the warning the hardliners had issued that "even if a single firecracker is lit, you would have to face the consequences".

A woman parishioner said, fighting back her tears: "We now come to church with a sense of fear. They broke the statuette of St. Michael." However, she added, "by and large, the Buddhists are very friendly. Some of them even helped us build this church."

As one of the few families that live in the vicinity of the church, the midnight attack of January 14 has changed her family's views on living without fear in a Buddhist-majority suburb of Colombo. Two armed policemen stand vigil as part of the round-the-clock security provided by the local police.

The isolated but condemnable attacks on churches have resulted in the emergence of a loose solidarity among the various Christian denominations. At Homagama, this was visible with two priests from other Christian denominations - Anglican and the Assembly of God - visiting the Catholic church.

The attacks on Christians, says Lakshman Peiris, an Anglican priest from Colombo, have been "subtle" but "sustained" over the past few months. Fr. Peiris sees them as the work of hardliners "who want to disrupt the peace" rather than that of the majority Buddhists.

"We now know the agony the Tamils in the north would have gone through," says a woman parishioner.

The charred pews and burnt altar at St.Michael's stand testimony to a disturbing trend of religious discord in southern Sri Lanka. They are also early warning signals of the disastrous consequences for Sri Lanka, which is going through its longest phase of peace since 1983, if religious sentiments come centre-stage in an already divided domestic polity.

Secrets of the Cold War

WHAT is one to say of able chefs who prepare a feast but mar it with dishes that do not belong to the occasion, omitting others that one would expect to be served? Hanhimki and Westad are academics who are well equipped on the course the Cold War took from its origins to its end and beyond. They seem, however, to have mixed up their recipe books and lost their bearings.

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Their work purports to be "a small selection of documents which the editors consider important for understanding the Cold War as a global conflict. It is not a compilation of diplomatic papers nor is it an attempt at presenting the latest findings from secret archives... rather, the purpose is to bring forward the different kinds of materials that are necessary to use in order to understand what the Cold War was about and how it was fought". Fine. But how do "the experiences of East Berlin housewives and South African students" assist us in acquiring that understanding? And if perceptions in countries outside the charmed circle of Great Powers is relevant, how justified is the total omission of India?

The study of the Cold War was indeed "a highly politicised field". "Orthodox" scholars assisted official propagandists. Their counterparts in India do so with great zeal. We have yet to throw up a "revisionist" school that grew up in the United States in the late 1960s. Noam Chomsky's uncompromising dissent in recent decades is acclaimed in the Third World; but, not emulated. Foremost among the essays in this critique of U.S. foreign policy, from the end of the Vietnam era to Ronald Reagan - the fifth in a new series of Chomsky's classical political works issued by the brave publishers, The New Press - is the one on "Foreign Policy and the Intelligentsia".

What is little known in India is that even Russia's archives policy is more liberal than India's. Chinese source material has been brought to light by Sinologists like Professor John W. Garver and by Chinese scholars. Hanhimki and Westad deserve high praise for accomplishing the daunting task they set before themselves.

The study of the Cold War became more diversified but no synthesis emerged. It was a unique confrontation in that each side tried to woo the people in the adversary's camp over the heads of their leaders. Was ideology a mask for the interests of power? The editors hold that "ideology was, in itself, a fundamental interest".

Ideology affected perceptions, especially in Moscow and Beijing. But when it came to the crunch, both blocs shed ideological allies in preference to ideological adversaries whose policies suited their national interests. The U.S. supported dictatorships. The Soviet Union and China backed some countries which put communists in prison.

The editors would have done well to retain a sense of direction. "In compiling this volume, we have found that library sources - novels, short stories, poems - can sometimes provide rich insights into Cold War issues and mindsets. They may help us understand some of those aspects of the conflict that are mostly absent from the writings of politicians or journalists." To what gain and at how much cost in space? "Creating a source collection that portrays a fifty-year global conflict is necessarily an exercise in limitation." All the more reason why the East Berlin housewives and the rest should have been accommodated in another volume. However, even within the "limitation" the editors lost their way. "The context of the volume is in no way expected to be comprehensive... That there is, for instance, no chapter on the Middle East conflict is not because the Arab-Israeli relationship was unimportant to the Cold War, but simply because its direct relevance - both in terms of causes and effects - is less obvious than that of some other regional conflicts" (emphasis added, throughout). Is Latin America, which takes up 70-odd pages, of more "direct relevance"? The Cuban missile crisis is rightly covered in another chapter. Twice, in 1956 and 1973, the two blocs collided headlong on West Asia (Near East to Westerners). The editors did well to include material on "Cultures and Mindsets", "Technologies Weapons, and the Arms Race" and, of course, "spies and covert operations" by both the Soviet Union's KGB and the U.S.' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

There is a chapter, entitled significantly, "Decolonisation and the Cold War" which has speeches by Sukarno, Kwame Nkrumah and Patrice Lumumba besides those by U.S. and Soviet leaders. Nehru is ignored. So, is the non-aligned movement. No Third World leader expounded non-alignment before Nehru did in 1946. None more eloquently, either.

It speaks poorly for editorial judgment that omits altogether the U.S.' Bible on containment policy - NSC-68. Adopted by the National Security Council in April 1950, it detected a grand "Soviet design" and portrayed communism as a coordinated global movement abandoning, as a leading authority points out, "the distinction between vital and peripheral interests", which George F. Kennan's containment strategy had emphasised. (We Now Know: Rethinking the Cold War by John Lewis Gaddis; Oxford University Press, 1997; page 76). The U.S. makes the same mistake now apropos "Islamic fundamentalism" (The text of NSC-68 is printed in "Foreign Relations of the U.S. 1950 - Volume 1"; Department of State; pages 235-92).

A high school student who confused the great scholar Professor Hans J. Morgenthau with the U.S. Secretary of Treasury Henry Morgenthau - who earned notoriety for his plan to convert Germany into a pastoral country - would have received a stern rebuke. Does the printer's devil explain Hans Morgenthau being described as a "U.S. social scientist" in the Index and as "Hans Morgenthau, Secretary of the Treasury" at the relevant page (72)?

Does it make any sense to include the hare-brained Herman Kahn and Francis Fukuyama's "End of History"? What bearing does Samuel P. Huntington's "Clash of Civilisations" have on policy? Is Indonesia's conquest of East Timor in 1976 of "direct relevance" to the course of the Cold War or was it a side-show? Chernobyl, the Iranian student's seizure of the U.S. Embassy and such were important events; but of little or no "direct relevance" to the Cold War.

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That said, the feast that the book, otherwise, provides must be acknowledged. It begins with a brief chapter on origins (1917 - 1945) with Lenin's message to U.S. workers in 1918 as the lead document and ends with chapters on "The End of the Cold War" and "Cold War Legacies" as of the end of 2001; 9/11 included. Each document is fully sourced. The work has no rivals in its field. We have excerpts from confidential policy papers or conversation between the leaders. There is a lot that is of contemporary relevance. Pleading with President Truman to share the secrets of the atomic bomb with the Soviet Union, his Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, wrote in September 1945: "If the atomic bomb were merely another though more devastating military weapon to be assimilated into our pattern of international relations, it would be one thing... But I think the bomb instead constitutes merely a first step in a new control by man over the forces of nature too revolutionary and dangerous to fit into the old concepts. I think it really caps the climax of the race between man's growing technical power for destructiveness and his psychological power of self-control and group-control - his moral power."

The origins of the Cold War in 1944-46 are well traced, as are the immediate post-World War developments. Here, again, there are glaring omissions - the crises on Iran and the Turkish Straits. Stalin pursued in 1946 the very objectives he had outlined to Hitler in 1941. Churchill and he had arrived at an accord in 1944 on spheres of influence - 50-50 in Yugoslavia and Hungary; Soviet predominance in Romania (90 per cent) and Bulgaria (75 per cent); and Britain's in Greece (90 per cent). Stalin kept his part of the deal even to the point of curbing Greek communists.

There was, in fact, no grand design by either side though both feared as much. In his famous "Long Telegram" from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on February 22, 1946, George F. Kennan said: "Soviet power, unlike that of Hitlerite Germany, is neither schematic nor adventuristic. It does not work by fixed plans. It does not take unnecessary risks. Impervious to logic of reason, it is highly sensitive to logic of force. For this reason it can easily withdraw - and usually does - when strong resistance is encountered at any point. Thus, if the adversary has sufficient force and makes clear his readiness to use it, he rarely has to do so. If situations are properly handled there need be no prestige-engaging showdowns.

"Gauged against Western world as a whole, Soviets are still by far the weaker force. Thus, their success will really depend on degree of cohesion, firmness, and vigour which Western world can muster. And this is factor which it is within our power to influence...

"We here are convinced that never since termination of the civil war have the mass of Russian people been emotionally farther removed from doctrines of Communist Party than they are today. In Russia, party has now become a great and - for the moment - highly successful apparatus of dictatorial administration, but it has ceased to be a source of emotional inspiration... I only wish to advance, by way of conclusion, the following comments: 1. Our first step must be to apprehend, and recognise for what it is, the nature of the movement with which we are dealing... 2. We must see that our public is educated to realities of Russian situation... I am convinced that there would be far less hysterical anti-Sovietism in our country today if the realities of this situation were better understood by our people."

Under his leadership the State Department's Policy Planning Staff prepared a paper on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) which warned: "The Policy Planning Staff is of the opinion that the scope of a pact of this sort should be restricted to the North Atlantic area itself, and that attempts to go further afield and to include countries beyond that area might have undesirable consequences."

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To Kennan, NATO's aim was not to seal the partition of Europe but to prepare for parleys with Moscow. "Unless we are prepared consciously to depart from this policy, to renounce hope of a peaceful solution of Europe's difficulties, and to plan our foreign policy deliberately on the assumption of a coming military conflict, we should not do things which tend to fix, and make unchangeable by peaceful means, the present line of east-west division...

"Recommendations: In the light of the above, the Policy Planning Staff recommends: a. That it be accepted as the view of this Government: (1) That there is a long-term need for a permanent formalisation of the defence relationship among the countries of the North Atlantic area; (2) That the conclusion of a North Atlantic Security Pact just at this time will have a specific short-term value insofar as it may serve to increase the sense of security on the part of the members of the Brussels Pact and of other European countries; but (3) That, nevertheless, the conclusion of the Pact is not the main answer to the Russian effort to achieve domination over Western Europe, which still appears to be primarily political in nature."

While North Korea's invasion of the South, in June 1950, confirmed the worst fears of a "Soviet design" for world domination, it cemented and weakened the Sino-Soviet alliance. Mao Zedong never forgave Stalin for reneging on his promise to provide air support. We have the details on Sino-Soviet exchanges before and after China's entry into the war in October 1950 in the volume edited by Odd Arne Westad, Brothers in Arms: The Rise and Fall of the Sino-Soviet Alliance (Frontline, Novermber 10, 2000).

A week before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Leonid Brezhnev called the Czech leader, Alexander Dubcek, and complained angrily of attacks on the USSR in Czech media. Excerpts from the transcript of this talk, as well as one two days after the invasion when Brezhnev tried to make him accept the fait accompli, are revealing.

Dubcek said: "These extreme steps, these extreme measures were taken without warning the CPCz CC Presidium, or me, personally, or the President, the Prime Minister, or the chairman of the National Assembly. In my opinion, this has squarely confronted not only our two parties, but the whole international Communist movement as well, with the most complicated problem it has ever faced. It is hard for me, while I am in such a difficult emotional state, to offer any immediate opinions about what should be done to take account of the situation that has been created. At this point, Cdes. Brezhnev, Kosygin, Podgorny, and Voronov, I don't know what the situation is like at home. On the first day the Soviet Army arrived. I and other comrades were isolated and were brought here without knowing anything. So I can't say what the response was to this act, what the opinion of the Czech and Slovak peoples was, or how it reflected on inner-party life and on an international scale. All of these things are very important for us to know if we are to take the right measures to solve this complicated matter. For now, I can only speculate about what has gone on. During the initial period, the presidium members with me in the secretariat were taken to the CC of the party under the control of the Soviet security organs. Through the window I could see several hundred people who had gathered at the building, and through the glass we could hear them shouting: `We want to see Svoboda', `We want to see the president', `We want Dubcek'. I heard several slogans. After that there was gunfire. This was the last scene I witnessed. From the moment on I knew nothing, and now I cannot imagine what is happening in the country and in the party... "

No less revealing, however, is U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson's talk with the Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin who had called formally to inform him of the invasion. Johnson referred him to Secretary of State Dean Rusk's statement, offered him a Fresca, "asked if he had ever drunk this drink", and retailed anecdotes.

Nuclear hawks would find the chapter on weapons and the arms race very educative. At a briefing in November 1954, General Curtis Le May of the Strategic Air Command indicated that 30 days was "long enough to conclude World War III". Asked: "How do SAC's plans fit in with the stated national policy that the U.S. will never strike the first blow?" He replied: "I have heard this thought stated many times and it sounds very fine. However, it is not in keeping with United States history. Just look back and note who started the Revolutionary war, the War of 1812, the Indian Wars, and the Spanish-American War. I want to make it clear that I am not advocating a preventive war; however, I believe that if the U.S. is pushed in the corner far enough we would not hesitate to strike first... "

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The editors remark that "even though they were mostly left secret, the number of accidents involving nuclear weapons during the Cold War was staggering". India and Pakistan are much closer to each other than the U.S. and the USSR are.

The Iraq war has only brought to the fore the latent and permanent differences between the U.S. and the United Kingdom on the one hand and Europe, especially France, on the other. In December 1951, a British Foreign Office memo opined that the U.K. "cannot seriously contemplate joining in European integration". Ironically as it might seem now, the U.S. was strongly for European unity as well as for Germany's reunification to which both Britain and France were opposed until the last moments in 1989-90.

The U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles wrote to his British counterpart Harold Macmillan in December 1955: "As we look toward the future it seems to me that the closer community of interests that Europe can build, the more hope Europe will have of realising its potential for security, prosperity and influence in world affairs. To my mind, the six-nation grouping approach gives the best hope of achieving this end because of the closer unity which is inherent in that community and because of the contribution which it will make to the strength and cohesion of the wider European grouping. It may well be that a six-nation community will evolve protectionist tendencies. It may be that it will show a trend toward greater independence. In the long-run, however, I cannot but feel that the resultant increased unity would bring in its wake greater responsibility and devotion of the common welfare of Western Europe."

In June 1962 French President Charles de Gaulle treated Macmillan to one of his brutally frank and coldly realistic expositions that have stood the test of time. "The younger generation felt much more European than the older people," Macmillan pleaded. De Gaulle's response is a classic: "The main motive in forming Common Market had been a political one. Economic means had been used for political ends. A political federation which involved the suppression of ancient states was not a practical possibility... So the only way of proceeding was by organised cooperation between Governments... With France and Germany and even Italy it should be possible to create an organisation which would have real political cooperation. This was necessary in the first place because of the present menace from Soviet Russia. But now that Europe had recovered her strength since the War, it was also desirable that she should be organised in such a way as to be independent of the United States. Of course the alliance with the United States was extremely important both for Europe and for America, indeed for the whole Free World. But since the War, the Continental States had been no more than satellites of the United States. This was a situation which could not continue... but Britain was not quite in the same position as the Continental countries; she was not quite so menaced by the Russians. It was perhaps true that the Channel was not much of a protection but it made a psychological difference to the people of Britain. Then again Britain was much more open to world influence than Europe and saw things differently from people on the Continent. Finally, there was Britain's liaison with the United States... Of course Britain would bring considerable economic, political and military strength and would make of the Community a larger reality, but it would also change everything. That was why France had to look at this matter carefully. Probably France could now make a common policy with the Germany of Adenauer, but could Britain carry out exactly the same German policy as France and Germany? Was it possible for Britain to adopt a genuinely European approach?"

To Macmillan's query whether "there would be a detente with Russia one day?", de Gaulle replied: "A detente could only be made by Europe, because it would involve the Russians becoming Europeans." History did not fulfil that prediction. The first steps towards a detente were taken after the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 - which is all too briefly covered in the volume - and it became and remains a U.S.-Russian affair. Europe counted for far less than de Gaulle envisaged. France's power declined. A European Union that can act independently of the U.S. is certain to be thwarted not only by Britain but also by Italy. Its core Franco-German unity is distrusted by many.

Those were the days of great figures who had vision as well as realism. Mao Zedong was one of them. In March 1969, Sino-Soviet relations exploded in a series of border clashes. Mao ordered four marshals of the Army - Chen Yi, Ye Jianging, Xu Xiangqian and Nie Rongzhen - to undertake a study on the Sino-Soviet-U.S. triangle. In a brilliant analysis it concluded: "In the foreseeable future it is unlikely" that the U.S. or the USSR "will launch a large-scale war on China, either jointly or separately." The study opined: "The strategic emphasis of the U.S. imperialists lies in the West ... The last thing the U.S. imperialists want to see is involvement in a war against China, allowing the Soviet revisionists to take advantage of it... The Soviet revisionists have made China their main enemy, imposing a more serious threat to our security than the U.S. imperialists... The strategic emphasis of the Soviet revisionists remains in Europe. Eastern Europe is the Soviet Union's main market and defensive barrier, on which it will never let down its guard. To be sure, the Soviet revisionists indeed are preparing for a war against China. But their main purpose is to use military mobilisation to consolidate their political control and to suppress resistance to them at home and in Eastern Europe.

"The U.S. imperialists, on their part, are pushing the Soviet revisionists to attack China so that they may use this opportunity to take over the Soviet revisionists' spheres of influence... The Soviet revisionists hope to divide the world equally with the U.S. imperialists, as well as take charge of world affairs together with the U.S. imperialists. The U.S. imperialists are determined to maintain their superior position."

By July 1969, as Kissinger told Dobrynin, the U.S. was determined to avoid "direct confrontation" with the USSR. Kissinger's prescription for the process of dialogue in an adversarial situation should be read by policy-makers in India and Pakistan as they try to work out the Islamabad Joint Statement of January 6: "The organisation of only one such meeting with the Soviet leaders during his entire Presidency (as was the case with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson) is not the correct path to follow. It would be preferable to conduct a series of meetings, at predetermined intervals, say, once a year. Then the meetings will be less of a sensation, and will have a more business-like character. In the course of such meetings it would not be strictly necessary to search for an externally streamlined formula, which would in a way satisfy society but in reality do little to move the process forward. Instead of this it will be possible to make an efficient periodic survey of the most important problems, and to search out a mutually acceptable approach(... .) At such meetings, continued Kissinger, it will be important not only to strive toward settlement of the most difficult issues (which it will not be possible to always do immediately), but also to conduct mutual consultations, an exchange of opinions on potentially explosive situations which could draw both sides into conflict; even if their points of view on such situations will not coincide, the sides will better understand each other's motives and not overstep dangerous borders in their actions... ."

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The erstwhile hawk, Nixon, was prepared to cut a deal with the USSR. "President Nixon takes into account the special interests of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, and does not intend to do anything there which could be evaluated in Moscow as a `challenge' to her position in that region. This is Nixon's basic approach to this question, and it is not necessary, asserted Kissinger, to pay much attention `to isolated critical public comments about some East European country, because that is only a tribute to the mood of certain sub-strata of the American population which play a role in American elections... ' Speaking about other areas where, in Nixon's opinion, Soviet-American contacts and bilateral exchange of opinions should develop, Kissinger cited the problem of a Near Eastern settlement, questions of strategic nuclear arms control, and, in the long-term, the gradual development of our trade relations... " Kissinger was later to assure Brezhnev that while China was "very important in the Asian era... peace in the world now depends on relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union".

As the Cold War drew to a close, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Francois Mitterand exchanged notes on Germany's reunification when they met on December 8, 1989. The record of their exchanges is fascinating.

"T [Thatcher]: Kohl has no idea of what feelings come up in Europe on hearing about reunification. Germany is divided because it was the Germans who have imposed the most terrible of wars on us. Germany becomes more dominant in Europe from one day to the next. It is necessary for us to meet regularly to create a counter-weight to Germany. One has to make sure that she will not dominate, as Japan does... If the crazy Germans attack the Soviet bases there will be terrible consequences.

"M [Mitterand]: When we spoke, Gorbachev was much tougher on Germany than he has been earlier. The anger over the Germans has come back. But Gorbachev does not have any better means than we do; for psychological reasons, he can no longer use his divisions.

"T: You are right. He can no longer, because of the recent developments in Poland (She says this with a sense of regret).

"M: The Germans must think about this themselves if they are to move forward... Are there many Germans who will have enough character to resist these pressures? They have never found their borders, they have never had a destiny...

"The British Prime Minister opens her handbag and takes out two well-worn maps of Europe, cut out from a British magazine. The first one shows the European borders at the beginning of World War II, the second those that were drawn in Europe in 1945. She points to Silesia, Pomerania, East Prussia. She says: `They will take all of this, and Czechoslovakia.'

"M: Speeding up this process is really very dangerous.

"T: Kohl will encourage it, he will inflame it: We have to place some limits on the Germans or that may really happen. They will make Berlin their capital again whatever happens.

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"M: Yes, and Gorbachev cannot prevent it any more than the United States (can).

"T: The United States will not prevent it. There is a very strong pro-German lobby in America.

"M: The American Ambassador in Bonn, Vernon Walters, talks about reunification in five years. We do not have any means of power confronted with Germany. One is in the same situation as the French and British leaders before the war, who could not react to anything. We must not return at Munich!...

"M: I said to Genscher: `We are friends and allies, but what is happening (is) that we are preparing a new alliance between France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union against Germany, just like in 1913. You have 90 million inhabitants, the USSR turns towards us, and you will be circled in...

"M: We must create special relations between France and Great Britain just as in 1913 and 1938.

"T: In 1914, we British could have remained outside the War, if there had not been such an agreement. But the USSR may change. The USSR is now the only country in the East where there is not a multi-party system.

"M: I am not so sure. The danger is that the USSR may be getting a nationalist and militarist multi-party regime...

"T: If Germany controls events, she will get Eastern Europe in her power just as Japan has done in the Pacific, and that will be unacceptable from our point of view. The others must join together to avoid it."

By mid-1990 agreement was reached on Germany's reunification, first, between the super powers and then between the USSR and West Germany. Gorbachev stunned his colleagues by conceding a reunited Germany's membership of NATO.

President Mikhail Gorbachev and Chancellor Helmut Kohl's conversation at their historic meeting in the Caucasus mountains in July 1990 brought the curtain down. It should be read by every leader who has the power to alter the course of events: "Khol said that he had told Foreign Minister (Eduard) Shevardnadze already yesterday on the way from the airport to the guest-house that these were historically significant years. The opportunities had to be used. If one did not act, they be over. Bismarck once had said that you had to grab the mantle of history. President Gorbachev agreed. (And said that) That statement by Bismarck was very interesting.

"The Chancellor continued by saying that the 1990s would be historically significant. This was particularly true for the first half of the decade that was lying ahead of us... Now it was their task to use the existing chances. The generations that would follow them had had different experiences.

"President Gorbachev agreed with the Chancellor's statement that their generation had a unique experience. Now great opportunities had opened up, and it was now the task of their generation to use and shape them. He said that he was particularly impressed by the fact that today there was less talk about who won or who lost. Together they took the notion of one world as the starting-point... "

One must never underestimate the potentialities in a summit to alter the course of events - provided that the participants have vision and will.

The Cold War: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts edited by Jussi M. Hanhimaki and Odd Arne Westad; Oxford University Press, 2003; pages 694, 75.

Toward a New Cold War: U.S. foreign policy from Vietnam to Reagan by Noam Chomsky; The New Press; pages 539, 12.95 (paperback).

A critical phase in Iraq

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The Bush administration's game plan of indirect occupation of Iraq faces a serious challenge, with the Shia population preparing to raise the banner of revolt over the issue of elections.

THE new year has not brought good tidings for the occupation forces in Iraq, as the scale of violence by resistance forces has shown no signs of diminishing. The toll of American soldiers so far has reached the 500 figure after three United States soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb blast near Baghdad on January 17. Since October 25, 2003, the resistance forces have shot down nine U.S. military helicopters. More important, there are ominous signs that the Shia population is preparing to raise the banner of revolt over the issue of elections.

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A suicide bomber detonated a tonne of explosives outside the headquarters of the occupation forces in Baghdad on January 18 as the U.S. administrator was about to begin talks with United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan in New York about the possibility of getting the U.N. involved in Iraq once again. The explosion, the deadliest one in Iraq since the capture of Saddam Hussein, claimed 18 lives and left scores of people injured. Among those killed were two U.S. contractors.

In the second week of January, a bomb exploded outside a Shia mosque in Baghdad, killing five worshippers. This is seen as a clear attempt to widen further the existing chasm between the Shia and the Sunni populations. Northern Iraq is on the boil following tensions between Arabs and Kurds. The Kurdish leadership has started talking of an "autonomous" Kurdistan and laid claims to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Clashes between the Kurds on the one side and Arabs and Turks on the other have occurred in many cities in the north. The Sunnis in Baghdad and elsewhere are preparing to form their own militia to counter-balance the "Mahdi Army" of the Shiite cleric, Sheikh Muktada al-Sadr.

It is in this volatile atmosphere that the Bush administration wants to hand over power to a handpicked civilian administration in Iraq. With the presidential elections in the U.S. looming, Bush apparently wants to claim to have introduced democracy in Iraq and withdrawn the U.S. military from the urban and populated areas of the country. There is no longer any talk of searching for weapons of mass destruction. The Saddam-Al Qaeda link, another rationale for launching the war on Iraq, has been rubbished universally. The U.S. media have reported that even when Saddam Hussein was in hiding he had warned his close associates to distance themselves from jehadi terrorist groupings. All this, however, did not prevent President George W. Bush from claiming in his State of the Union address that the removal of Saddam Hussein (from power in Iraq) had made the world a much safer place now.

The January 11 statement of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, acknowledged as the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq, that direct elections should be held in Iraq has further queered the pitch for the Bush administration. The Ayatollah had issued an edict (fatwa) in June last year calling on Iraqis to launch a struggle for fair and free elections. The Bush administration at that time was thinking of rustling up a Constitution for Iraq with the help of the puppet Interim Council. Sistani emphasised that only democratically elected representatives could draft a Constitution for Iraq.

In November, Sistani said that he would reconsider his demand for immediate direct elections if a U.N. delegation was able to conclude that the conditions in Iraq were not conducive to such an exercise. The Bush administration has maintained that no census had been conducted in Iraq for years for the preparation of a voters list for such an exercise. Most Iraqis, however, are of the opinion that the U.N. records for the disbursement of rations during the U.S.-inspired and U.N.-sanctioned economic blockade of Iraq could provide the basis for a reliable voters list. Another important reason for the U.S.' rejection of the demand for elections is the outcome of an opinion poll conducted last year, which found that 56 per cent of Iraqis wanted the creation of an Islamic republic.

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Sistani was more forthright in his statement. The spiritual leader said that elections could be held "within the next few months with an acceptable level of transparency and credibility". An unelected and undemocratic government did not have the right to ask the U.S. to stay on in Iraq, he said. (Sistani has refused to grant an audience to Paul Bremer, the U.S. chief administrator in Iraq, despite repeated requests.)

The Bush administration's current plan is to hold "elections" in Iraq through "caucuses". Unlike the caucuses in the U.S. State of Iowa for the Democratic Party's primaries, which were elected, the Bush administration was planning to invite "notables" from every province of Iraq to attend the so-called caucuses. The Shiites see it as a crude attempt to deny them democracy. The U.S. wants a friendly regime, which would give it unfettered strategic and security access, installed in Iraq. The goals of a popularly elected government headed by the Shia clergy, on the other hand, would be incompatible with the U.S. game plan for the region.

The Shiites, comprising more than 60 per cent of the Iraqi population, will sweep to power whenever elections are held. But the Bush administration would prefer an election of the "Afghan" kind, through which it can impose its own hand-picked regime. However, according to observers, the unity of the Shias cannot be broken so easily. The Shia leadership is aware that the long-term plan of the U.S. is to divide and rule. The U.S. has winked at the Kurds' moves to grab power in northern Iraq. There is no indication that the Sunni triangle in central Iraq will ever be pacified by the U.S. forces, despite U.S. efforts to buy off Sunni tribal leaders and Ba'athists.

The massive demonstrations in Basra and Baghdad against the U.S. in late January are indications that Ayatollah Sistani's challenge could be the most serious the U.S. has encountered so far since the occupation began. It was the Shia acquiescence that enabled the militarily weaker members of the coalition forces such as the British, the Spanish and the Dutch to have a peaceful time in southern Iraq. Japan has sent its troops to southern Iraq, first time its troops are in a war zone since the Second World War. Washington had the luxury of concentrating on central Iraq to deal with the insurgency there.

If the popular demands for fair elections are not accepted, Basra and the rest of the south could turn out to be bigger killing fields for the coalition forces than the Sunni triangle. The unemployment rate in Basra hovers around 70 per cent. There was a confrontation between British troops and demonstrators in Basra in mid-January. The protesters were demanding employment. Five demonstrators were killed when the British and Iraqi police opened fire. Shia resistance is not expected to remain non-violent for long. One of Sistani's deputies, Abdel-Mahdi Salami, warned of a "possible confrontation with the occupying forces" if peaceful protests and strikes failed to achieve their purpose.

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THE Bush administration is leaning heavily on Kofi Annan to help it continue its indirect occupation of Iraq, after going through the formal motions of handing over power in June. A former U.N. official, Dennis Halliday, said that the U.N. would be making a "terrible mistake" if it returned to an occupied country. Halliday, a former U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, told an Arab news agency in Cairo that such a move would "give legal respectability to the invasion and occupation" of the country and further "promote the impression that it has collaborated against the Iraqi people". Halliday had quit his U.N. job after witnessing firsthand the sufferings of ordinary Iraqis caused by the economic sanctions.

Halliday said that the Iraqis no longer considered the U.N. a friendly organisation because they had suffered for years under the "illegal and immoral concept of sanctions". The U.N., he added, had allowed the occupation of an independent, sovereign country. Many Iraqis believe that Kofi Annan has not been sufficiently critical of the U.S. and British actions in Iraq.

Annan has not ruled out the return of U.N. officials to Iraq but has admitted that the situation remained too dangerous for an early return of the U.N. staff. The explosion in front of the U.S. headquarters in Baghdad was no doubt intended as a signal to the U.N. to stay away from Baghdad. The Bush administration's decision to approach the U.N. at this juncture is interpreted as another sign of its inability to control the pace of events in Iraq. Before the invasion, senior Bush administration officials had questioned the relevance of the U.N. Until last November, the U.S. had not envisaged any role for the U.N. in Iraq's transition to "democracy".

The Americans have suffered the most number of casualties in Iraq. Body bags coming home almost on a daily basis is not politically or militarily acceptable to the Bush administration as it gears up for the presidential election. If the Shias too rise militarily, the game could be virtually over for the U.S. in Iraq. The Shia leadership has conveyed to the Bush administration in clear terms that it will stop its tacit cooperation with the occupation forces if elections are not conducted. This will be bad news for Bush in an election year.

From available indications, even the U.N. will not be able to bail out the Bush administration from the quagmire it finds itself in.

`No religion gives women freedom'

other

Interview with Taslima Nasreen.

The exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen was in Kolkata in January to release the fourth part of her autobiographical series, Sei Sob Andhakar (literal translation: All That Darkness). In the wake of the controversy stirred by the previous part of her autobiography, Dwikhandita (literal translation: Split in Two), which was banned by the Left Front government in West Bengal, Nasreen's presence in the city resulted in demonstrations by minority groups, and the imam of a city mosque even issued a fatwa (edict). Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay spoke to the writer on the banning of her book, the recent court cases against her in Bangladesh and Kolkata filed by fellow writers, religious fundamentalism and the latest part of her autobiographical series. Excerpts from the conversation:

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What was your reaction when you first heard about the banning of your book Dwikhandita in West Bengal?

It took me totally by surprise. I could never even imagine such a thing happening. I can see this happening in Bangladesh where there is an extreme right-wing government. In fact, if one of my books is not banned in Bangladesh, it takes me by surprise (smiles). But what really astonished me was that the principal advocates of this banning were the so-called liberal, progressive writers. In fact, they are very good friends of mine. I really have no idea how one can be a writer and demand that another writer's book be banned.

The reason cited for the ban is that there are sections in the book that might ignite communal tension.

I don't see anything in the relevant pages of the book (49 and 50) that might cause riots. Also, is it correct to underestimate Muslims so much? Are Muslims so ignorant, illiterate, intolerant and combustible when faced with any kind of criticism about their religion? It is through constructive criticism that a society develops and progresses. That is the aim of a modern society. Changes have to be brought in. If we do not point out the faults even now, then how will an Islamic society make progress?

In those two pages I have merely cited a part of Islamic history. I have not made it up. I just wanted to show that Islam and the Prophet are not infallible. Many say that Islam has given women due importance, but that is not the case actually. In fact, I have written in the book that in the pre-Islamic Arab world, women had far more independence and importance, and that independence was taken away from them by the establishment of Islam.

Syed Shamsul Haque has taken you to court in Dhaka for the contents of Ka (Bangladeshi edition of Dwikhandita), and poet Hasmat Jalal has moved the court in Kolkata, alleging that you painted a false picture of his character and religious views.

They know exactly what they have said. If they lie now what can I do? Hasmat Jalal has specifically told me that in West Bengal the Muslim community is neglected. There is no reason for me to put words into their mouths.

As for my relationships portrayed in Dwikhandita, I know there are people who object to it. Sunil Gangopadhyay (eminent Bengali writer) has said personal relationships behind closed doors is a private matter and should not be brought out in the open. But I am writing my autobiography. I will have to write about things that have made an impact on me, which have helped me develop into what I am today. All these experiences are important to me. I have not betrayed anyone, I have not told anyone that I will not be writing about my relationship with that person. There are people who have relationships out of wedlock, but when somebody comes out with it in the open, it is found unacceptable in society, especially if the person concerned is a woman. The reaction to the contents in Dwikhandita both in Bangladesh and West Bengal has been the same. As for those talking about morality and reputation, if they are so concerned about that, then why abandon them in secret? A progressive intellectual and writer of the stature of Shamsul Haque in Bangladesh has gone on record as saying that I should be hanged. In what way is this different in outlook from a fundamentalist?

What is Sei Sob Andhakar about?

It is the fourth part of my autobiography. It takes of from where Dwikhandita ends. Dwikhandita ends with the issuing of the fatwa in Bangladesh and the general uproar over my book. Sei Sob Andhakar starts from there. I went to Paris to attend a seminar on press freedom and came back to Dhaka from there via Kolkata. In Kolkata, at a press conference I had spoken of some of the Shariat laws that need to be amended. That was misinterpreted and I was quoted as saying that the Quran needed to be amended. In Bangladesh, the fundamentalists were already up in arms against me, and after this news reached them, they went berserk. Every day thousands started staging demonstrations against me, issuing fatwas one after the other, declaring bandhs, and the government, instead of taking action against them, turned on me, accusing me of hurting the religious sentiments of people. By then the mullahs started demanding my death through hanging and instigated lakhs of people to take to the streets. On the one hand there was the police hunting me down, and on the other fundamentalists were baying for my blood. My lawyer then advised me to go into hiding. Matters had come to such a head that even if I had given myself up, I would certainly have been killed in prison. So, I spent the next two months in hiding and darkness. The whole country was in the grasp of fundamentalists at that time. Sei Sob Andhakar is about those two months in hiding and it ends with my leaving the country. This is more like a documentation of the time - my situation and the society outside. It is a documentation of how fundamentalism, with the support of a government, can become dangerously powerful.

Do you think that this book will also create controversy because it is obvious that you have spoken out strongly against Islamic fundamentalists here?

There is no problem if I write against fundamentalists, that happens only if I write against religion. All these events have taken place only because I criticised religion and Islam in my autobiographies. Now, if I have to omit my views on religion, then it is as good as censoring my life. Not just Islam, I believe no religion gives women freedom. But since I lived in an Islamic society, that was what I wrote most about.

I personally don't think Sei Sob Andhakar will give rise to any kind of controversy. But then my views on religion are there in all my books.

Will this book also contain accounts of your personal relationships?

No, this is only about the two months I spent in hiding in Bangladesh.

After the fatwa declared on you by the imam of a city mosque and the demonstrations against you asking you to leave the country, do you still find Kolkata a safe place for you to stay?

I think they had the guts to issue this kind of a fatwa only because the book has been banned. Today in Kolkata, the fatwa is to blacken my face and to garland me with shoes and claim Rs.20,000. If this is not checked, the next thing they may very well issue is a reward of Rs.1 lakh for my severed head. In Bangladesh, the man who first offered a reward of Taka 50,000 for my head was totally unknown before that. Now that movement has become so big that a number of its members are in the Bangladesh Parliament. This happened because nobody opposed him in the beginning.

This is not just an issue concerning me. This raises an important question: do the people of West Bengal want writers to have their freedom? It is up to them to decide. But in spite of this, I find it totally safe in Kolkata. The ordinary people love me as much as before.

What are you doing in the United States?

I am working as a research scholar at Harvard University on "Secularisation of Islamic countries". I am studying the scope and possibilities of making these countries secular. This is one of my favourite subjects, and I intend to bring out one day the results of my research in book form. It will also deal with how, in different Islamic countries, the secular movement began, why it was destroyed, why fundamentalism is on the rise.

What is your next book going to be about?

I don't know if I shall write a novel soon, but the next part of my autobiography will be about my life in exile. It will be called Ami Bhalo Nei, Tumi Bhalo Theko Priyo Desh (literal translation: I am not well, you remain well beloved country). I have not yet started writing it, but it is all in my mind.

A simple man and a great leader

"GENERATIONS to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth." Who said this? Albert Einstein, of course. When? In 1939, when Gandhiji turned 70. Was this all Einstein said? No. He said much more. Here is the full quotation.

A leader of his people, unsupported by any outward authority: a politician whose success rests not upon craft nor the mastery of technical devices, but simply on the convincing power of his personality; a victorious fighter who has always scorned the use of force, a man of wisdom and humility, armed with resolve and inflexible consistency, who has devoted all his strength to the uplifting of his people and the betterment of their lot, a man who has confronted the brutality of Europe with the dignity of the simple human being, and thus at all times risen superior.

Fifty-six years after his assassination how does Mahatma Gandhi stand up to critical scrutiny. Quite obviously, many aspects of Gandhiji's life and programme have been overtaken by time. Aspects of his personal life were always beyond the reach of ordinary mortals in the contemporary world.

But when we come to the ethical, moral and spiritual aspects of Gandhiji's life and work, he towers over everybody else. His life is an affirmation of the superiority of the human person over all the political, economic and social mechanisms, which so often oppress and torment us. His moral vision will never be diminished. The tenor of his life and its refinement cannot but be admired. For nearly two generations, Gandhi held India and the world spellbound. He profoundly affected the content and goal of the Independence movement. Not only did he advocate but he insisted on uprightness, right aims, controlled polite speech, right conduct, austere living. There is no doubt that he quickened our conscience and the moral fibre of our people. He captured the imagination of the world. Gandhiji has intense personal magnetism. He changed the mindset of millions. He remains the touchstone by which we judge the stature of other great men. On this date (January 31) we should contemplate and learn from his life and example.

What we are witnessing today in slow motion is the sustained and unceremonial effacement of the values and ideals that made India unique. There is much shallow talk about "Shining India", and the "feel good factor". Which shining India are we talking about? Over 250 million people in our country live in abject poverty. Who is talking about the feel good factor - a hedonistic 10 per cent. The moral tone of our community is waning and the value system that we inherited from Gandhiji and Nehru is not only being perverted but crippled. Self-advancing, disproportionate wealth are celebrated not simplicity or restraint. Our enterprising middle class do not challenge the view that we exist only as economic units, ruled by the profit-and-loss ledger. I bow my head before Gandhi not only for his achievement but much more for what he attempted.

THE general elections are now a few weeks away. These elections, the first in the new century and the new millennium, will perhaps define the contours of our future polity and the content and substance of our democracy. The battle lines are drawn. It is bhai chara (brotherhood), harmony on the one hand. Bigotry, religious fanaticism and discord on the other. The democratic process is being used by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its sister organisations to employ the democratic ladder to gain power and then like Hitler destroy that ladder.

Fortunately, the innate wisdom of the Indian people is unlikely to oblige the BJP and co. The much tom-tommed feel good factor has already lost its shine. Unfortunately for them, questions are being asked for which the BJP's oversmart spin doctors are unable to find convincing answers. India cannot be run by quick-fixes. It is, therefore, essential for us all to join together to ensure that the BJP does not endanger our democracy to suit its nefarious purposes.

THREE deaths have saddened me. Nissim Ezekiel was a considerable poet and a man of letters. I got to know him when he was editing Quest, a literary magazine. I wrote my first article, on R.K. Narayan, for Quest in 1956. I had not seen Nissim for many years but kept track of his activities. He was 79.

K.B. Lall was an eminent member of the ICS. He died in New Delhi at the age of 88. He occupied the highest posts in the civil and foreign services. He was endowed with a sharp intellect and an ideal temperament for a civil servant. His most prominent chela is Mani Shankar Aiyar, M.P., who wrote a moving tribute to him in the Indian Express.

Ramakrishna Hegde was a sophisticated and decent politician. I saw much of him during the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit held in Bangalore in November 1986. He was then Chief Minister. Subsequently, I saw him from time to time. Lately he seemed to have lost his way politically, but his contribution to state and national politics was very considerable. At one time there was serious talk of his becoming Prime Minister. He will be sorely missed by us all. He was in his 78th year.

Murder for `honour'

A convention in New Delhi focuses attention on "honour killings" and calls for resolute legal and political action against such incidents.

in New Delhi

GEETA wore a woollen cap, which hid most of her face. She was about to narrate how in 2003, within two months of her marriage her husband Jasbir was hacked to death, in front of her. Jasbir was a Jat Sikh and Geeta belongs to the Rajput community. A widow at 20, Geeta has vowed to see to it that the people behind her husband's murder are brought to justice. Today, she is economically and socially insecure and has armed security guards as there is a threat to her and her mother-in-law's lives. They are the main witnesses to the murder.

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Geeta's narrative points to the frightening realities that exist in Indian society, despite the ruling group's claims of a "feel-good" factor. "Honour-killings", which are widespread in some of the economically advanced States, is an example. Perpetrated under the garb of saving the "honour" of the community, caste or family, such incidents occur often as the State governments are not keen to take action. The acts of violence include public lynching of couples, murder of either the man or the woman concerned, murder made to appear as suicide, public beatings, humiliation, blackening of the face, forcing couples or their families to eat excreta or drink urine, forced incarceration, social boycotts and the levying of fines.

Concerned at the growing trend of violence, the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) organised a day-long convention, "In defence of democratic and human rights against barbaric honour killings", in New Delhi on January 11 to focus attention on the issue. The largest number of cases were found to have occurred in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh - most of the incidents reported at the convention took place in these three States. One reason for the increased visibility of such crimes is the trend of more and more girls joining educational institutions, meeting others from different backgrounds and castes and establishing relationships beyond the confines of caste and community. Such individuals, both boys and girls, are being targeted so that none dares to breach the barriers of castes and communities. Significantly, in the majority of cases it is the economically and socially dominant castes that organise, instigate and abet such acts of retribution.

In Muzaffarnagar district in western Uttar Pradesh, at least 13 honour killings occurred within nine months in 2003. In 2002, while 10 such killings were reported, 35 couples were declared missing. AIDWA estimates that Haryana and Punjab alone account for 10 per cent of all honour killings in the country. It is not surprising that no such category of crime exists in government records. In fact, there is refusal even to recognise this phenomenon. Data for such incidents are seldom available and they would mostly be classified under the category of general crimes. Moreover, most of such cases go unreported and, even when reported, often first information reports (FIRs) are not filed and post-mortems are not conducted.

The Central government's stand on the issue was clear last year when S.S. Ahluwalia, Bharatiya Janata Party member of the Rajya Sabha, contested the claim of the United Nations Special Rapporteur that honour killings occurred in India. Ahluwalia was speaking in his capacity as the Indian representative at the U.N.'s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee. He is reported to have said: "Selective reproduction of unsubstantiated reports, which are based on hearsay, seriously affects the credibility and importance of the report." He was referring to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's report, which stated that the Special Rapporteur continued to receive reports of so-called honour killings from India and other countries.

The incidents narrated at the AIDWA convention were only the tip of the iceberg. The various accounts of humiliation, murder, torture and ostracism were heard in rapt attention. The only apparent crime of the victims was that they had dared to oppose social and caste norms. "It is not surprising that the political class has completely ignored this trend," said Brinda Karat, AIDWA general secretary. She added that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government did not even acknowledge that such a problem existed and needed to be dealt with firmly. Reinforcing obscurantism were self-appointed caste panchayats that passed death sentences on young people even as the State governments concerned remained mute spectators.

GEETA'S crime was that she married a non-Rajput. "Everyone in the village knew that we planned to get married, but none objected. Neither my parents nor Jasbir's family objected to our marriage," she said. Although she had some apprehensions against marrying a boy from the same village in view of social sanctions, Jasbir reassured her and the couple got married under the Special Marriage Act in a court in Chandigarh. She said that the four persons who had murdered her husband had repeatedly threatened that they would teach him a lesson for marrying a Rajput girl.

In a rare gesture of solidarity, Jasbir's mother, who also spoke at the convention, said that she would keep her daughter-in-law with her and the only thing that concerned her was securing justice. Said Geeta: "I do not care if anything happens to me. I am going to fight it out till the end." She expressed concern that one of the persons named in the FIR, an influential one, was still at large.

Another horrific case was narrated by Rohtas Kumar from Jhajjar in Haryana. Rohtas Kumar, a Dalit, explained how his community was ostracised and humiliated by upper-caste Jats after two Jat girls eloped with a Dalit youth. He said that though it was clear to everyone that the girls had eloped on their own, a case of kidnapping was registered. The village remained tense as the caste panchayat of Jats announced a public boycott of Dalits. Essential supplies were denied to Dalits and they were prevented from drawing water from the village well. Rohtas Kumar, who opposed such measures, was publicly flogged and had to pay a fine. "It was a choice between getting killed and facing humiliation," he said. More important, the girls who returned to the village died in suspicious circumstances. Prolonged harassment forced two Dalits, one woman and one elderly person, to commit suicide.

Caste panchayats have come to play an increasingly important role in Haryana and elsewhere, especially in situations where political patronage also exists. Central to the theme of honour and violence is the subordinate position of girls and women in all castes and communities. A woman's chastity is the "honour" of the community and she has no sovereign right over her body at any point of her life. The retribution is particularly swift and brutal if she crosses caste and class barriers to choose a lower-caste man as her partner. An AIDWA survey found that in the majority of the reported cases where the girl belonged to a higher caste, the girl's family initiated the violence. Jagmati Sangwan, secretary of the AIDWA's Haryana unit, said that the parents of the victims were often bullied into submission. The intolerance often extends to same-caste marriages as well. The boy may be let off but the girl would definitely face some form of punishment. In a survey done in Haryana, AIDWA found that men and women who married outside their caste were those who had dreams of an equal society. "That is why the retribution is even worse," Jagmati Sangwan said.

From Badali Meham village in Rohtak district, Haryana, Kulbhushan Arya narrated how a girl was forced to consume poison after being denied the right to get married to a boy of her choice. The boy, on the other hand, left the village along with his family, fearing reprisal. There was yet another instance where a couple, after getting married, was forced to annul the marriage following a caste panchayat decree that the man and the woman belonged to the same gotra or sub-caste. They were made to declare that they were brother and sister.

Raj Narayan, from Bhawanipur district in Uttar Pradesh, narrated how his brother's wife was gang-raped and burnt to death by influential people belonging to the Yadav community of the same village, in a case of revenge. Her crime was that her son had eloped with the wife of one of the Yadavs. Raj Narayan, who belongs to the barber community, said that the Yadavs forced all the male members of the family to search for the couple and then in their absence assaulted his sister-in-law, Sia Dulaari. Since her house was locked from outside, the Yadavs, who shared a common wall, scaled it at night and raped her. Despite being told about Sia Dulaari's plight, the Station House Officer refused to do anything, he alleged. Zareena, secretary of AIDWA's Uttar Pradesh unit, said that while such incidents occurred in various parts of the State, Muzaffarnagar district accounted for the majority of them. She said that revenge rape, public killing and lynching were prevalent and several murders passed off as suicides.

It was observed at the convention that the views of the authorities at various levels on the question of "honour" were not very different from that of the community. It was evident from the various testimonies that the State administrations were not only indifferent, but also partisan. The record of acquittals in such cases is very high. In fact, the only agency to have taken a serious view of the role that caste panchayats play has been the Rajasthan State Human Rights Commission, which has strongly advocated a control on all decisions of caste panchayats, especially those that go against constitutional rights. But the rule has been that the dominant political parties in States where such tendencies are most prevalent have failed to challenge the unconstitutional dictates of caste panchayats. Even where couples attempted marriage under the Special Marriage Act, often it was seen that the number of registrations accepted were negligible. For instance, in Muzaffarnagar district, where the largest number of honour killings were reported, while 32 people had applied for registration of their marriage under the Act in 2003, only one was accepted. The rest were rejected on grounds of non-completion of procedure.

Only the Left parties and progressive women's organisations have spoken against such killings, mobilised public opinion and demanded administrative action against persons behind such violence. In a resolution passed by the convention, policy interventions at various levels were called for, including a commitment by political parties to uphold the right to choose one's own spouse and ban caste panchayats whose decisions militate against constitutional rights. Simplification of the procedures specified in the Special Marriage Act, magisterial inquiries into the deaths of all women and girls who were victims of "honour killings", and relevant changes in the laws to help courts take suo motu notice of such incidents were some of the other demands made in the resolution. The interventions have to be at several levels and, more important, by those respective State governments where such crimes take place frequently. If a progressive agenda for social change has to be set, then the minimum condition required is to recognise and strengthen the rights of young couples for own-choice marriages.

Challenging the monarchy

The political crisis precipitated by the anti-monarchy agitation by students has forced the political parties and the people at large to think of the `unthinkable' in Nepal - the inevitability of establishing a republican system.

in Kathmandu

ON January 23, in Nepalgunj, the urban hub of the mid-western region of Nepal, King Gyanendra was feted at a mass civic reception hosted by the International Committee of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). However, while the King was being honoured as the avatar of Vishnu presiding over the only Hindu kingdom and the symbol of national unity of a multi-ethnic polity in Nepalgunj, the streets of Kathmandu were witnessing students raising strident anti-monarchy and pro-republican slogans. `Royal' effigies were garlanded with shoes and burnt in mock funerals. Activists of the month-long student agitation staged the 13th-day funeral rites for the cremated effigy of `regression', a euphemism for the decline of democracy under the monarchy, despite Home Ministry warnings of stern action.

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It was the King-nominated government's action of arresting three student leaders on charges of sedition - for chanting anti-monarchy slogans - that brought the students led by seven unions out on the street. Information Minister Kamal Thapa muttered embarrassedly about the `habit' of the autocratic Panchayat period to explain the controversial arrests and hastened to add that there was no question of using the Army against the students. "The police are sufficient," he said. Pitched battles were fought between the police and the students and, according to the All Nepal National Free Students Union (ANNFSU), the student union affiliated to the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), 136 students were injured in the incidents. The students claim they are determined to push ahead, even if their political patrons and the parties in the dissolved Parliament compromise their cause. "We are not agitating so that Girija Prasad Koirala or Madhav Nepal can become Prime Minister. The issue is challenging `regression' once and for all. We'll not give up," Gururaj Ghimire, the president of Nepal Students Union (NSU), told Frontline.

In fact, the agitation reminds one of the 1990 student movement that forced the autocratic monarchy to accept multi-party democracy and the role of a constitutional monarch. Political scientist Krishna Hachchetu said: "Historically the students have radicalised the political agenda. They are from the student wings of the political parties and can be expected to create pressure from within the parties to move forward and not compromise." Gagan Kumar Thapa, NSU general secretary, said: "There is no way that we will give up our demand for a republic even if our leaders opt for a constitutional monarchy. We will not allow the leaders to use the students movement as a bargaining chip to secure their position." However, Hachhetu does not believe that the movement could spin out of the control of the political parties.

The student agitation has challenged the conservative `coexistence' political discourse of the mainstream political parties by opening up the debate on the once `unthinkable' - the inevitability of a republican system. Nepali Times wrote: "Now that we are forced to think the unthinkable, we have to say that Nepal will probably survive as a republic." The slogans on the street and discussion groups on the "Relevance of Monarchy" are not only reverberating within the political parties but framing the broad public discourse to include the once `unthinkable' - that Nepal can survive without the monarchy, once considered the bulwark against the forces of disunity in a multi-ethnic polity.

The pace at which the republican discourse has gained acceptability, if not legitimacy, has prompted the leaders of the two dominant parliamentary parties, the Nepali Congress (N.C.) and the CPN(UML), to put a lid on the debate and reaffirm the middle track of coexistence of a constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy.

Initially, N.C. president Girija Prasad Koirala had indulged the republican slogans raised by the students. "The students are raising slogans in support of a republican system out of frustration, but it is the King who is drifting the nation towards a system in which there will be no room for even a constitutional monarch. The students can be said to have done the right thing by raising slogans since it is the King who is violating constitutional norms," he said. Echoing the views of Koirala, N.C. leader Narahari Acharya said: "The demand for a republic in the street is neither an emotional outburst of the students nor confined to the street only. It has emerged as a topic of alternative discussion in the Nepali Congress. Nearly 20 per cent of the party's CWC [Central Working Committee] members do not see anything wrong in it." However, former Minister Chakra Prasad Bastola insisted that the republic-constitutional monarchy debate was not on the agenda of the party and that the focus was on limiting the extra-constitutional activism of the King. Significantly, the continued postponement of the party's general meeting has ensured that the republican challenge is kept at bay.

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The CPN(UML), on the other hand, discussed the issue at the party's fifth central committee meeting. Party leader Madhav Nepal's announcement of a `coexistence' "Road Map to Peace" reflects the party's decision to check the radical agenda. The party, at least for the time being, is standing by Madhav Nepal's assertion that "our stand on constitutional monarchy remains unchanged, we do not support a people's republic." The party's nine-point "Road Map to Peace" is a compromise formula. Senior CPN(UML) leader K.P. Oli explained: "It accommodates a role for the King as a constitutional monarch. The King will never accept the risk of a constituent assembly unless he is above it." The emphasis is on flexibility and accommodating the three political forces of Nepal. The Road Map calls for an all-party government led by Nepal to initiate an all-party dialogue including the Maoists, the formation of an interim government to conduct elections supervised by the United Nations and amendments to the Constitution or the writing of a new one. Although confusion remains about various aspects of the Road Map, what is significant is that a major mainstream political party has publicly backed the proposal of a new constitution and stirred a dialogue not about why but how to go about formulating a new constitution, if necessary.

Oli emphasised that "only a new constitution can put an end to the prevailing crisis. The slogans shouted in favour of a republic are not a problem but an effort to resolve the problem. We are for a constitutional monarchy, but there is nothing sacred about it." When asked why he did not insist on a republican system given the level of mistrust, he said: "We don't want to be the first to precipitate a crisis."

The CPN(UML)'s Road Map follows Madhav Nepal's audience with the King and his secret discussions with representatives of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in Lucknow. The Maoist response has been cautious, welcoming the CPN(UML) move as a step forward. However, senior Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai said: "We had expected that the next move of the CPN(UML) leadership would be towards making a Constituent Assembly."

Meanwhile, CPN(M) chairman Prachanda has articulated a Maoist "Road Map", reiterating the party's three-stage formula of a round table conference, interim government and election to a Constituent Assembly under U.N. auspices and the demobilisation of both armies. He said: "In the given context of two ideologies, two armies and two states in the country, the party is agreeable to demobilisation of both armies." Apparently, the latter was the sticking point during Madhav Nepal's meeting with the Maoist leaders in Lucknow.

Others too have not accepted the Maoists' proposal. Koirala dismissed Prachanda's proposal as "foolish". Information Minister Kamal Thapa told Frontline: "What territory do the Maoists control? There is not an inch of territory where the Army cannot go." For the government, the Maoists can only be defeated militarily. The political parties' view, as expressed by Madhav Nepal at the Lucknow meeting, supports a negotiated solution. To counter the student agitation, the Palace tried the ruse of granting the political leaders royal audience. But this time the overall sense of distrust has hollowed out the politics of audience. Apparently, the King is being judged by his actions and the political leaders and the people at large mistrust him. The Palace massacre of 2001 had dealt a crippling blow to the institution of monarchy and the anointing of the unpopular Paras Bir Bikram Shah Dev as Crown Prince deepened that mistrust. Moreover, the King's takeover of executive powers on October 4, 2002 and his determination to marginalise the political parties and assume an active role, dealt a sever blow to the monarchy's credibility.

IRONICALLY, while the conflict grinds down the people of Nepal, the King is ordering three luxury cars. According to The Kathmandu Post, the King wants to add a Rolls-Royce, a Jaguar and another luxury car to his group of bullet-proof vehicles. The cost is estimated to be around 142 million Nepali rupees, which was cleared by a pliant government with no Parliament to ask questions. The publication of the report and an editorial in The Kathmandu Post itself speaks of a major change in the popular mindset regarding the monarchy.

Other developments too point to the fact that the times are rapidly changing in Nepal. Recently, former Chief Justice Biswo Nath Upadhaya said: "If the `popular' late King Birendra was so unpopular [during the drafting of the 1990 Constitution a snap poll conducted among 7,000 people showed a bare 3 per cent support for the monarchy], you can make a guess of the popularity rating of King Gyanendra who wants to have a strong say in state affairs." Upadhyaya pointed out that the King could not be a `constructive' monarch when he was not accountable to the people and would not tolerate criticism. Justice Upadhaya, who drafted the Constitution, blamed the prolonged confrontation between the King and the political parties and the conflict between the King and the Maoists as being responsible for Nepal "drifting towards a republic".

While the option of a republican system is increasingly being expressed in the public discourse, the N.C. and the CPN(UML), the parties, which represent the majority of the people, continue to evince a marked ambivalence towards abandoning constitutional monarchy. Arguably, if Nepal was delinked from the underpinnings of a Hindu identity as consecrated in the institution of constitutional monarchy, it could destabilise the existing caste hierarchies that have helped the upper-caste Brahmin and Chettri communities to occupy privileged positions in Nepali society. Sociologist Krishna Bhattachan points out that Nepal is a country of indigenous people, the janjatis, madhesias (terai people) and Dalits who form nearly 70 per cent of the population and are excluded from power. A republican Nepal could produce a very different polity.

Apparently, the Maoists, in targeting the King, are challenging the basis of this system. Developing this argument, former Minister Ram Sharan Mahat wrote in The Kathmandu Post: "Maoist writings make it amply clear that they consider monarchy as the historical bulwark of all class, caste, gender, national and regional and religious oppression." Maoist leader Bhattarai, addressing a public meeting in Kirtipur (Greater Kathmandu) during the ceasefire in 2003, acknowledged that the Maoists' programmatic agenda was shaped by the demands of the constituencies overwhelmingly drawn to the Maoist movement, that is, the janjatis, madhesias, Dalits and women.

The Maoists are also granting political recognition to janjati demands as is evident in their recent announcement of a Magarat Ethnic Autonomous Area. The government too seems to be keen to woo these constituencies. It has offered reservation for women (20 per cent), Dalits (10 per cent) and indigenous communities (10 per cent) in the civil service, which is otherwise dominated (80 per cent) by the upper castes.

Ban, after protest

The Maharashtra government bans the controversial book on Shivaji.

in Mumbai

IN response to violent protests by the "Sambhaji Brigade" and in order to appease the Maratha lobby, the Maharashtra government has banned the book Shivaji: A Hindu King in an Islamic Kingdom, written by American author James Laine. The 128-page narrative on the life and times of Shivaji became the centre of a controversy in January when Maratha loyalists took offence to a remark made by the author about the parenthood of the Maratha king.

As Laine had named a professor from the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in the acknowledgments in the book, protesters calling themselves the "Sambhaji Brigade" stormed into the institute and ransacked the library, destroying thousands of rare manuscripts and books and priceless artefacts (Frontline, January 30).

The Sambhaji Brigade, a splinter group of the Maratha Seva Sangh, an organisation involved in promoting Maratha consciousness, threatened to initiate more attacks if the government did not take action. According to a Professor, who prefers to remain anonymous, "the ruling Democratic Front government is not going to risk the wrath of Maratha voters with Assembly elections just around the corner. They were compelled to do something."

The book has been banned under Sections 153 and 153A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which allows a State government to take action against individuals and publications for provoking public sentiment and creating tension in society. A case has been filed against Laine and the publishers, Oxford University Press (OUP). Once the ban is enforced, the police would confiscate copies of the book under the Code of Criminal Procedure. Additionally, the Maharashtra government has the right to ask other governments to ban the book in their respective States.

It is unlikely that the police will find many copies of Laine's book. The OUP withdrew the book in November last, when a group of scholars led by the Pune-based historian Dadasaheb Purandare, known for his biography of Shivaji, asked the OUP to take the book off the shelves because Laine's statement was factually incorrect and would unnecessarily hurt the sentiments of the Maratha people.

Unfortunately, these scholars publicly condemned the book, and that brought the issue out in the open. Organisations such as the Maratha Seva Sangh have been waiting for an opportunity to gain visibility. Laine's book was just the excuse they needed to display their strength, the Professor said.

According to Saroja Bhate, honorary secretary of the BORI, Laine had begun his research on Shivaji about 15 years ago. He had taken the assistance of Shreekant Bahulkar of the BORI for the translation of some Marathi and Sanskrit texts. That is why he acknowledged Bahulkar in the book.

Frontline was able to procure a copy of the page, which appears in chapter nine titled "Cracks in the narrative", in which Laine made the objectionable statement: "The repressed awareness that Shivaji had an absentee father is also revealed by the fact that Maharashtrians tell jokes naughtily suggesting that his guardian Dadoji Konndev was his biological father..."

Questioning Laine's purpose in writing the book on the Maratha warrior, the government says,"The author has mischievously questioned Shivaji's parentage.... The book has several references to the bickering within the Bhosale family to which Shivaji belonged. We want to know what is the motive of the author." In its ban order the government says: "The circulation of the book containing scurrilous matter is prejudicial to the maintenance of the public tranquillity along with law and order." Technically, the government is allowed to ban a book, but whether it is "justified legal action" is another matter, says Mihir Desai, a human rights lawyer.

The Professor from Pune points out that banning a book is perhaps the worst form of censorship. "We cannot call ourselves a democracy if authorities are allowed to suppress voices." The writer is an American, who has also apologised for his remark. Imagine what would have happened had it been an Indian writer? "Nobody should be made to feel scared about writing or voicing what they believe in. Have we reached such a pitiful stage where we cannot write about certain subjects?" If you do, your credibility and reputation takes a huge beating. This new trend is dangerous. Even I cannot let you quote me because I fear about the consequences.," he said.

The Professor says Laine should be allowed to arrive at his own conclusions. Besides, he said, the larger issue here was that you cannot pick and chose events from history. Unfortunately, Shivaji is no longer a historical figure. He has become a symbol of the Hindu Right. His name is mired in the dirty business of politics and politicians squeeze as much political mileage out of his name as possible. It is not his being a Hindu that is important but that he was a great warrior who took on the British. He did not sell out to them like several other kings and princes of his time, the Professor says.

Maratha organisations such as the Maratha Seva Sangh have begun to claim proprietorship over the warrior king. The Sangh has even put up name boards in each of Shivaji's forts such as Raigad and Sindhudurg in the Sahayadris. Clearly, these groups have sufficient political backing to do this. In fact, such is their might that the key leader of the Sangh, Purushotam Khedekar, a Public Works Department employee, has not been questioned in connection with the attack on the BORI. This, in spite of the Sangh's clear association with the "Sambhaji Brigade", which took full responsibility for the attack.

A police official told Frontline that someone wielding enough political clout was instigating these people.

More significant than the banning of the book, the intelligentsia believes, is the need to recognise the alarming trend in Maharashtra of suppressing the freedom of speech and expression.

A government in the dock

The Congress(I)-led coalition government in Kerala faces charges of corruption and nepotism and contempt of court proceedings for its conduct in granting sanction to self-financing B.Ed. colleges.

in Thiruvananthapuram

IN coalition-ruled Kerala, the Ministry of Education is a coveted Cabinet berth for partners in government. Whenever the United Democratic Front (UDF) was in power in the State in the past two decades, the education portfolio remained a preserve of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the second largest partner in the coalition led by the Congress(I). The potential for political and monetary gains in the sanctioning of educational institutions, appointment of teachers and officials and admission of students had also made the Education Ministry a frequent target of allegations of corruption and nepotism. Ever since the A.K. Antony government came to power in May 2001, the Education Department under the IUML leader and Minister, Nalakathu Soopy, has been a focus of such allegations. The complaints are often brushed aside. None has been inquired into so far.

Instead, the Chief Minister and his Cabinet colleagues have all along hailed the large-scale sanctioning of self-financing educational institutions in Kerala in a short span of two and a half years as one of the most important achievements of the government. They continue to claim that the government's liberal policy of sanctioning self-financing educational institutions addresses a felt need in the State to stem the migration of a large number of students from Kerala to neighbouring States seeking opportunities in professional education.

But the popular perception that `there is no smoke without fire' was rekindled in early January, when some college managements approached the Kerala High Court against the Education Department's attempts to ignore court-imposed norms and provide no-objection certificates (NOCs) for the establishment of 96 private, self-financing B.Ed. colleges in the State in the next academic year. This, they alleged, was done ignoring the legitimate claims of several other managements and the court's 2002 directive that only 75 colleges need be granted NOCs, that too with the sanction of the National Council for Teachers' Education (NCTE).

In April 2002, in a telling instance of the judiciary curbing the government's over-enthusiasm in sanctioning colleges without following the norms, the High Court ordered the "re-processing" of 291 applications for B.Ed. colleges on which the government had taken a favourable decision. The court said that only 75 colleges need be given NOCs and that the applicants should not appoint teachers and other staff or admit students until the NCTE granted them provisional or conditional recognition. The court also ordered that the State government should get the applications processed by an expert committee and that the selection should be made on the basis of the relative merits of the applicants and the recommendations of the committee. It also said that the relative merits of the institutions should be decided on the basis of a State-level comparison of standards and facilities. The court directed that the managements that had all the infrastructure and other facilities in place in their proposed institutions should be preferred to those who were yet to acquire them.

But in December 2003, within hours of the State Cabinet deciding to grant NOCs to 75 B.Ed. colleges (so as to meet the December 31 deadline for NCTE approval), a list of 96 colleges was faxed to the NCTE by the Education Department. The Thiruvananthapuram-based Lazar Nadar Education and Research Foundation filed a petition in the High Court against the government move, stating that the new list did not include many colleges recommended by the expert committee and that it contained the names of several colleges the committee had not recommended. On January 6, the court intervened in the issue once again and ordered a stay on the government granting NOC to any other college except the 75 approved by the expert committee. It also directed the government to file a detailed report on the procedure it had adopted for the selection of the colleges, the facilities available in each of the selected colleges, and the details of the colleges without university affiliation that were included in the list. The court ordered the NCTE to submit a report on how inspections were conducted and on the procedure adopted for granting recognition to colleges.

Significantly, despite a tenacious Education Minister still seeking the Cabinet's approval for the additional 21 colleges even a day after the court's order, the Cabinet decided on January 7 that 75 colleges alone need be granted NOCs. Reports that several Ministers were highly critical of the Education Minister's action of trying to squeeze in 21 more colleges were not denied. It also became clear from the Chief Minister's subsequent statements that the Cabinet had, in fact, agreed to provide NOCs to 80 colleges in all, 75 of them as directed by the court in 2002 and five more "if there were any who were found to be equally eligible". Apparently, it was this loophole that the Education Ministry used effectively to include 21 more colleges in the list sent to the NCTE.

HOWEVER, just when the government thought that it had effectively wriggled out of the court's scrutiny with the Cabinet eventually sanctioning merely 75 colleges as directed, the Metropolitan of the Malabar Diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Church and president of the Jacobite Education and Charitable Society, Yuhanon Mar Philoxinos, alleged in a letter to the Chief Minister that though a teacher training college under the society had been given the NOC in December 2002 and initially included in the list of 75 colleges approved by the Cabinet, it was later removed from the final list sent to the NCTE. This, he alleged, was because of his refusal to oblige a group of IUML leaders who had demanded Rs.2.5 lakhs from the society for the construction of a party building in Malappuram district. Subsequently, a few other college managements too made similar allegations. The Metropolitan also said in the letter that the Jacobite Education Society had provided all facilities as per the NCTE requirements at its proposed institution at Meenangadi in Wayanad district and yet was not included in the list.

The surprising fallout of the Metropolitan's allegation was that on January 14 the Cabinet once again decided to shrink its list of colleges to 64, removing 11 more from the 75 colleges originally proposed. The muddle was complete with the indirect admission by the Minister later that the Cabinet had in December replaced 11 colleges from the list of 75 recommended by the expert committee with 11 of its own choice because there were complaints regarding the list submitted by the expert committee.

Allegations continued to be raised against Nalakathu Soopy, including the one that among the colleges named in the government's final list were those under the management of his relatives and party colleagues. The Minister, however, preferred to say merely that he was "under tremendous pressure" from various groups at the "political as well as government level" and that he had "no choice but to expand the list of colleges by another 21". The Minister alleged that the same people who were trying to put pressure on him were now trying to blame him. He also said that the additional 21 colleges were included in the list sent to the NCTE after discussions with the Chief Minister and other Ministers.

The Chief Minister, however, said that the Cabinet had discussed only the issue of including five more eligible colleges to the original list of 75 and that it had not suggested any particular college to be considered in this regard. By January 19, the government had tied itself in knots by these unconvincing and conflicting explanations and a group of nearly 30 aggrieved college managements approached the High Court questioning the government's action of denying NOC as "illegal and autocratic".

The court left no room for the government to wriggle out of the crisis. It initiated contempt of court proceedings against two top officials, the State Higher Education Secretary and the Additional Director of Collegiate Education. It said that the records suggested that while colleges that had all the facilities were denied NOCs, others with insufficient facilities were included in the list. It added that if needed the court would appoint a commission to inquire into this. The court also asked the government to produce a merit list of colleges prepared by the former Director of Collegiate Education, which it allegedly ignored completely.

It was clear that the government would be hard-pressed to answer the two important questions that led to the contempt of court proceedings: Why did the government ignore the court's order to give NOCs only to 75 colleges and instead send a list of 96 to the NCTE? Why did it replace 11 colleges from the list submitted by the expert committee with 11 of its own choice, ignoring the court's directive?

In a hilarious response to this crisis of its own making, when it became clear that it would have to account for each of its controversial decisions before the court, the State Cabinet decided on January 21 to tell the court that it was ready to withdraw the entire list of colleges and cancel the NOCs given to them and to reconsider any of its decisions on the issue. Perhaps prudently, it also decided to withdraw the NOCs already granted to five M.Ed. colleges in the State. At the time of writing this report, the court was yet to hear the government's all-new plea.

Over 10,000 students pass out every year from the existing 124 B.Ed. colleges in the State. The proposal now is to induct nearly 100 students every year in each of the new colleges sanctioned. Given the sharp fall in the total enrolment of school students in the past 15 years owing to a fall in the rate of growth of the population and the increasing trend of closing down "uneconomic" government schools, the majority of the fresh B.Ed. graduates in Kerala join its long queue of the educated unemployed. But such uncomfortable truths are pushed under the carpet.

Sanctioning educational institutions has become a big business in Kerala, especially it seems, for the politicians in power.

In McWorld, and of it also

The ways of the postmodern activist.

"ACTS of resistance, collective gestures of revolt, and the common invention of a new social and political constitution" for the whole world, no less, are continually "passing together through innumerable micro-political circuits: and thus in the flesh of the multitude is inscribed a new power, a counter-power, a living thing that is against Empire." So Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt rhapsodised as they talked on globalisation and democracy at the last Documenta. The multitude they conjure is a novel form of political being - neither the sum of the peoples whose sovereignty nation states were supposed to incarnate, nor a mutation of the labouring masses whom Marx's enthusiasts had thought to steer toward Atlantis. That is just as well perhaps; the universal consumer whom globalisation both makes and serves seems the other face of Labour redeemed, after all, while the only peoples now worth the name seem to know themselves most as casualties of the process. The `flesh' of this multitude is a new quantity as well. It is neither matter nor mind, Hardt and Negri declare, following Maurice Merleau-Ponty, but rather "an element of being" in just the way that fire, air, water and earth were once supposed to be the elements of material creation. Out of this flesh, brought forth by "powers of invention that work through singularities to weave together hybridisations of space and metamorphoses of nature", will come "monsters and beautiful giants, continually emerging from within the interstices of imperial power and against imperial power itself", whose bodies "are not susceptible to the forces of discipline and normalisation" that maintain Empire.

This seems the language of vision or prophecy - the mixings of register are natural, one is tempted to say, to the sort of Koine English is becoming - so one must be careful in probing it. But the circuits of these powers of invention will remain "micro-political" just so long, we must suppose, as their monstrous issue is "interstitial" because Empire will collapse with "the full epiphany of the monsters", who will embody the new social and political constitution which Hardt and Negri call "the absolute democracy of the multitude". As a projected condition of some global polis this, again, is something dimly imagined. The rule of multitude over itself is absolute in not being delegated, at all, to any representative members; but we are not told how else this consummation of "a desire for a common life" is to be conceived. The large reason why the multitude will come to rule itself absolutely, however, is that "the power of invention has become the general and common condition of production in the political economy of Empire". And the freely combining multitude of bodies each multitudinous in itself - each variously "crisscrossed by intellectual and material powers of reason and affect", moving severally across "the old boundaries that separated the human from the machinic" - will inevitably invent "forms of life" which are "irrecuperable in the capitalist logic" of Empire. Yielding our elemental flesh freely to our own powers of invention we shall, Hardt and Negri seem to say, surely regain Paradise.

The platform on "democracy unrealised" hoisted at Documenta was the high place of this vision and perhaps artists and their enthusiasts were its proper communicants. One has to wonder where, in the world as we have it, any power of invention has become the common condition of production. That is not obviously so beyond the pale of the First World and one must ask how many even there, among those who exercise such a power freely, are not willing clients of Empire. But if we gloss the phrase suitably it will seem that "the power of invention" is indeed "the general and common condition of production" in the microcosm of the art-world - that is one way of describing the condition of perfect aesthetic entropy in which, as Arthur Danto has put it, a work of art can be whatever artist and patron want it to be. So perhaps Hardt and Negri mean to hold up as exemplary the play of a "power of invention" in the making of artworks nowadays, which certainly seems immune to any "forces of normalisation and discipline".1

The suggestion that the practice of art is a model of political praxis will seem risible to anyone who considers doings in the art-world coolly, or the doings in its Anglophone quarters at least. Documenta's platform had played host to a luminary on the American scene, someone received as a `theorist' there, whose deliverances on aesthetics and activism were detailed in a recent issue of this magazine; readers who find mine a jaundiced view are invited to imagine just what an artist with such a preceptor might do (Frontline, September 26, 2003). But, however that may be, to suppose that the making of art goes on in "the interstices of Empire" is simply silly and the character of both practice and patronage now almost ensures that anything done "interstitially" will pass unnoticed. The votaries who had gathered at Documenta did hear the recounting, though, of a piece of activism that appears to have been as micro-political and interstitial as Hardt and Negri would want. It might be instructive to look at that.

THE story is told in a piece titled "New Rules for the New Actonomy" by Florian Schneider, who was one of the principals of the event. His is the first essay of the section retailing "Counter-Politics: Direct Action, Resistance, Civil Disobedience" in the volume where the proceedings of our platform are collected.2 "Time is running out for Reformism," Schneider begins by declaring, so "this is the golden age of irresistible activism. Accelerate your politics. Set a target you can reach within three years and formulate the key ideas within 30 seconds. Then go out and do it. Do not despair. Get the bloody project up and then: hit hit hit." Just as you begin rolling up your sleeves, however, you are counselled to "be instantly seductive in your resistance". Workaday activists who might be puzzled by such advice are assured that their demands need not be "signs of a dogmatic belief system" anymore. Rather, "if well formulated" they can be "strong signs, penetrating deeply into the confused postmodern subjectivity", which is "so susceptible to catchy phrases, logos, and brand names".

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A radical enough political praxis could, one supposes, conceive of its demands as `signs' of some belief system rather than as statements of considered desire. Radical praxes have been expressly impatient of philosophy after all, being modes of action first, and as such may have had more use for slogans than careful articulations of position. And radicals who have begun to think of the `subjectivity' they are acting upon as confused mainly, rather than say "ideologically determined", might well agree that the larger aims of political resistance are better served by seduction than by argument or confrontation, strange as it sounds to say so.

The `order' produced by the doings of transnational capital is Schneider's target. Perhaps one should talk of Capital here if only to distinguish such doings from what pawnbrokers and loansharks, say, might get up to. Anyway, a frontal assault on Capital seems quixotic now. "Slowly changing capitalism from within" hardly seems a workable strategy to Schneider, perhaps because "society is changing much faster than any of its institutions can handle", and "there is no time anymore for rational planning" by anyone - by neither the powers that be nor those who oppose them. "The political arena has dissolved into thousands of fragments" apparently. So it might be all to the good that, "instead of lamenting the disappearance of politics, the public, the revolution" and so on, "today's activists are focussing on the weakest link defining the overall performance of the system - the point where the corporate image materialises in the real world and leaves its ubiquitous and abstract omnipresence".

Only a casuist would ask when ubiquity is not omnipresence, I suppose, or wonder how an image materialising at a point can be abstractly present everywhere. Such are the sweet nothings a postmodern activist must learn to mouth no doubt, to seduce fellows to his cause at least, and his work will be done if they go forth then to get "the damage done on the symbolic level", which, apparently, is what counts. The visual and audial `identities' that transnational business concocts for itself - the graphic blare or chime of logos, the catchy copy and music that, together with packaging, is meant to brand products on consumers' brains - all seem to have worked themselves into the warp of everyday experience: they are the lineament, as it were, of the McWorld that global business makes and rules. To those born before the world was so remade the compresent heraldry of the corporation makes palpable Capital's investing of daily life, one might say, running the military meaning of "invest" together with the sense of "endowing with attributes" that the word once had. And Schneider's claim seems to be that the powers of Capital are somehow weaker for having to greet with just these `faces' their servitors and hostages.

That is an intriguing suggestion - one that will at once elate and alarm advertising moguls. Whether things are really so would be difficult to determine; but a campaign Schneider helped orchestrate in 2001, to try and derail something Lufthansa does, does make for engaging reading here. The airline flies deportees from Germany to their countries of origin. These `passengers' are seated at the back of the aircraft always, often in handcuffs or like restraints. The campaign was called Deportation.class and it began with a competition, conducted on the Net, "to create a corpus of parodic slogans". These were then used in "prank promotional material" distributed to travel agencies, ostensibly advertising bookings in a `deportation class' and offering a price reduction on seats "normally reserved for the transport of deported asylum seekers". The blandishments of "waiting-list priority" and "increased baggage allowance" added to the temptation. The campaign tried to expose, in all sorts of ways, the carrying of deportees on commercial flights. For instance, at one airport, "activists disguised themselves as employees of an advertising agency, purportedly conducting a survey among Lufthansa passengers as to their readiness to be reseated from business or tourist into deportation class". In doing this kind of thing they acted as "communications guerillas", one might well say, "conserving their strength so as always to appear where the enemy least suspected".

Lufthansa had to take notice eventually. But its public relations people made a hash of things, calling a press conference to protest "the cynical and inhumane proceedings" of our "communications guerillas" - "score one for the activists" as Schneider properly says. Deportation.class culminated in an "online demonstration" conducted on the day of Lufthansa's annual shareholder meeting that year, when from 10 in the morning to noon "the Lufthansa server was to be overloaded or, at least, its response time significantly slowed down", by an "electronic gathering" enabled to address it in unanticipated ways through "software that supported mass protest". And the doings of this virtual collective are supposed to have cohered in a form of action that "both visualised and globalised protest" through "a hybrid of immaterial sabotage and digital demonstration".

Lufthansa's homepage was almost inaccessible for these two hours, apparently, but its Web services were not shut down all together. The campaign had made public its intent to try and disable the server well in advance of the event, and the airline was able to control the damage. That might ordinarily be thought a defeat for the activists. But "the nice thing about virtual reality", we are told, is that "both sides can be right in claiming success" and "the final tabulation of pluses and minuses has little meaning" because the activists' goal is "not so much to gain institutional political power, but to change the way things are moving and why. The principal aim is to make power ridiculous, unveil its corrupt nature in the most powerful, beautiful and aggressive symbolic language, then step back in order to make space for changes to take effect".

Just before this, however, Schneider had laid down the following "laws of the semiotic guerilla: hit and run, draw and withdraw, code and delete. Postulate precise and modest demands, which allow your foe to step back without losing face". One wonders how, and to whom, power can at the same time be made to seem ridiculous. But that is the magic of seductive resistance, presumably, and perhaps both Schnieder's "new actonomists" and Lufthansa parted more happy with themselves than not after this oddly civil duel. Deportation.class seems to be "a novel form of political articulation" certainly and perhaps such forms of collective action will create modes of "subjectivity and interactivity" that are not easily suborned by Capital. Whether tilting at the corporate image will make a more material difference, though, is another matter. The operations of Capital are overseen by institutions and orchestrated by discourses that do not depend, in any way, on an image presented to any sort of public. To make their power look ridiculous one would, for instance, have to parody the doings and sayings of business schools and `theorists' of management and it is not clear where an audience for such fare would gather.

One has to admire Schneider's actonomists, though no matter how inconsequential their "actions that are more like performances than traditional political demonstrations" may eventually prove. A good many in the art-world would want to applaud them, one imagines, though practice has come to depend in so many ways on Capital. Some might even want to regard Deportation.class as an extended piece of performance art. One wonders if Schneider's actonomists would be flattered by that, but let us consider what regarding it so will presuppose.

WORKS of art embody meaning in singular ways - that is their salient feature. Embodied meanings need not be sayable ones. What a painting means, for instance, may be as little sayable as a poem is picturable. And this is so even where, and perhaps especially when, its meaning is plain to see. But artworks mean what they do by lending themselves to words in certain ways - by, at the very least, making particular descriptions of how they look or what they do seem particularly apt. Now to understand Deportation.class as a work of art one has to take it for the work of "semiotic guerrillas" whose actions intend an "immaterial sabotage" of Capital by "seductively resisting" its operation. Taking our actonomists doings in just this way, under these or some like descriptions, seems a condition of understanding it so.

Of course, their actions announce an intent to sabotage. But such intending would be idle wishing only, unless it were informed by some sense of just how the powers of Capital depend on the corporate image. The understanding behind intent here may be ill-founded. After all, the meanings embodied by artworks depend on the beliefs and desires of their makers and intended beholders only, no matter how egregious these may seem to others. Then, one has to impute to the actonomists some understanding of Capital's workings if one is to think of Deportation.class as seductive resistance intended to immaterially sabotage Capital - even if they disclaim any such understanding themselves. Such understanding must be articulate enough to be shared. We could not otherwise suppose our "semiotic guerrillas" able to concert their actions as they seem to. Moreover, in order to tell such intending from idle wishing we would have to ourselves possess the understanding we impute.

Recall that Deportation.class is meant to do more than annoy or merely inconvenience. It is meant to "penetrate deeply into our confused postmodern subjectivity" and in that way help produce a public whom the powers of Capital cannot easily suborn. But that may take some time. Schneider's actonomists are ready, at any rate, to "step back for changes to take effect" after they have done their work as putative saboteurs. The crucial question then is whether, given what understanding of Capital's workings is imputed to them, they can be seen as intending the sabotage they wish before any changes take effect because understanding something as a work of art cannot wait upon what might or might not come to be. Taking in Deportation.class as a work of art requires, in short, that our actonomists be seen as immaterial saboteurs regardless of whether their actions will sabotage Capital at all.

The point is worth labouring. To regard our actonomists as saboteurs - to see them as actively intending sabotage and not idly wishing it only - we have to assess the chances that their actions would sabotage Capital were its workings in accord with the understanding of such workings that we impute to them. That is peculiarly difficult. Our grasp of such counterfactual situations is vitiated by the circumstance that no sabotaging of Capital is likely to be recognised as such until much after the job is done. It might be worth remarking now that, not too long ago, artworks were praised for subverting various sorts of oppressive order. The same difficulty should have complicated the exercise of regarding them so. One has to see the work as subversive regardless of whether it will subvert anything at all while, again, subversion is usually detected only after it has done its damage. And if an artwork proves subversive as a consequence of its having been understood in some particular way, that would be incidental to its being a work of art.

Of course, merely logical difficulties do not deter artworlders. But we must now ask what sorts of understanding of Capital's workings the members of the artworld are likely, in general, to possess. Such understandings may be seriously mistaken, as we noted. But they must be articulate and consistent enough, within themselves, to allow the sort of exercises in counterfactual assessment that were just sketched. There may be optimists who suppose that possible. But no one will think so who has tried to make sense of what passes for theory or interpretation in the art-world now: attempts at either there are, almost always, only banal when they are not incoherent. That will seem harsh, but there is no room here to make good the charge and, as always, there are splendid exceptions. For those new to the art-world, however, a glance at the dicta of the `theorist' mentioned should give the claim enough colour.

Schneider and his actonomists did not set out to make art, of course, and they may not mind that their actions cannot be understood as such. So in the next part we shall look at an artist whose dealings with Capital seem "monstrous" in a way that Hardt and Negri might applaud.

Footnotes

1. Hardt and Negri will seem descendants of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon now, desiring like him that Art be the destiny of Labour; and perhaps they would count Courbet as an ancestor of their `beautiful giants'.

2. Published by the firm of Hatje Cantz with the title Democracy Unrealised.

The politics of new districts

Mulayam Singh Yadav is right when he says that too many districts are a drain on his budget, but the answer is not an arbitrary merger of what were once parts of a large district.

THERE are a great many things that have been happening to Uttar Pradesh; most of them have not been very nice. It used to be a well-administered State many decades ago, a model for others to follow; it was also referred to as the `heartland' of India for reasons less comprehensible to many. But then as the years passed, and the stature of the leaders of that State shrank, the State degenerated into a minefield of castes and subcastes, each trying to assert itself through surly, aggressive and arrogant leaders.

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But what was even more alarming was the manner in which castes and communities began to be lobbied by various power brokers; this brought the level of politics in that State to the level of traders haggling over the price of brinjal and inevitably to a crumbling of the once much-admired administrative structure. Officers began to see much virtue and gain in lobbying and manoeuvring for what they saw as desirable posts; principles were abandoned for the skill acquired in sidestepping a logical choice for a particular assignment to get it for oneself.

Development projects were neglected, education and health facilities - not the very best to begin with - became, in many regions, appalling. As the State sank into the morass of greater poverty and misery, the growth of its population not only remained high but climbed even higher. Inevitably, there were more and more unemployed, and the State's finances dwindled to pitifully low levels.

To all this was added the monstrous destruction of the Babri Masjid, and the wave of communal hatred that was sought to be fanned by the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and the Bajrang Dal. The activities of these two groups have been barely contained, and, strangely, their following seems, from what one hears, to have dwindled. Perhaps, people have grown weary of the endless rage and venom that they were being inundated with, or perhaps it was something else. Only time will tell.

In recent years, what has survived of the administration in that state has been attacked by a series of Chief Ministers who have tried to outdo one another in the number of transfers they ordered in their mercifully brief tenures. The result was that a District Magistrate in some cases was posted out within 36 hours of joining; some officers took to keeping their families in Lucknow, the State capital, and living out of suitcases, ready to move as soon as their orders arrived.

Then Mayawati, in a characteristically sensational move, carved out some nine new districts for the State after Uttaranchal had already deprived it of all its mountain regions. And now the new Chief Minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav, in his second avatar, has undone this move of hers and abolished the new districts (except for two - one of which is his son's parliamentary constituency and the other that of the here-today-gone-tomorrow Ajit Singh).

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Mulayam Singh's move has led to a wave of unrest and agitations that do not look as if they will end very soon. The reason is not far to seek. A new district brings with it new courts, senior police officers, avenues for the redress of grievances at the District Magistrate's level and other benefits. Litigants do not have to travel long distances to district courts; as and when a district hospital comes up then those facilities are available closer than before and so on. By merging the new districts back with the ones of which they had been part all these advantages would, in the common perception, disappear. Consequently, there is anger and demonstrations.

But what Mulayam Singh's action brings into focus is an issue that deserves to be considered carefully and seriously. Just what is the optimum size of a district? A very large district is that much more difficult to administer; inspections and supervision have necessarily to be less frequent than in smaller districts. There is, more importantly, the question of access to courts, hospitals, colleges and much else that becomes a major problem for people living in a large district.

The district is still the major unit of administration. Whether through the Zila Parishad or through the Collector (or District Magistrate, as he is called in some States) a considerable amount of administrative power lies with these bodies and individuals. Districts are divided into smaller administrative units, true; there are what some States call subdivisions, and others by different names, headed by a Sub-Collector or Sub-Divisional officer. But they have very little inherent powers and have to take the approval of the District Magistrate or the Zila Parishad for almost everything except some very routine matters.

But the moving of the greater powers that district-level officers and institutions have closer to the people is a very expensive business; apart from the buildings that have to be built, large numbers of officers have to be found, and all the paraphernalia of administration, from vehicles to stationery, add up to very large amounts. There is another aspect to the creation of smaller districts. It is the fact that as the number of districts grows larger, and their problems by definition smaller, State government officers tend to pay less attention to them all. It is an understandable phenomenon. If a State had, say, three large districts, every department would listen carefully to what the District Magistrate or the Zila Parishad of one of them said, since they would be speaking for about a third of the State. But if there are 60 districts, the chances of the State authorities giving the same consideration to the fifty-second or the forty-first are very remote.

Now that Uttar Pradesh has begun re-forming its districts it gives that State an opportunity to think carefully of what would constitute the right size for a district - where the people would have reasonable access to the district-level authorities and their powers and yet the numbers would not constitute a huge drain on the State's revenues nor lead to lesser attention being paid to issues brought up to the State departments by the district authorities. Mulayam Singh is right when he says too many districts are a drain on his budget, but the answer is not an arbitrary merger of what were once parts of a large district, not necessarily. It is in studying the problem, determining what is best, and then informing people of that first, before giving effect to any change.

Several factors would need to be considered; transport links, for one. The days of village folk arriving in the district town in bullock-carts to meet the `Magistrate Sahib' have gone; but are the links that are now available adequate, or are they too expensive? If the roads are in very bad shape, will it not make more sense to improve them first? And cannot some facilities such as colleges be provided at the sub-divisional level, as they are in some States? A group of seasoned officers could sit down and examine these and the numerous other factors that need to be resolved before a new unit of administration is set up or an old one revived.

There will still be agitations; lawyers, among others, will see to that, if the courts in which they practise are shifted. But when the reasons are known to the people, those agitations will eventually cease. And, for once, after all these decades, Uttar Pradesh would have shown other States how to resolve a problem that affects them all.

A chance discovery

A CHANCE verification of the voters list in Guntur by Lok Satta, a non-governmental organisation, led to the discovery of bogus votes. The NGO's convener, Kodanda Rami Reddy, was scrutinising the lists to check whether a candidate was registered as a voter, when he found that there were 340 voters in House No. 2-14-8/27 in Srikrishnadevarayanagar. What is ironic is that this locality has only thatched houses, and each can barely accommodate a family of five. Things were no better even in a posh area like Syamalanagar where 130 voters were enrolled from a single house. It also found that as many as 657 persons, belonging to different religions, were enlisted under one door number, 7-6-846 in Guntur-I constituency, and none of them existed.

Bogus voters were aplenty in other districts as well. In Chittoor, the home district of Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, the voter to population ratio exceeded 90 per cent in Punganur and Sathyavedu constituencies. In Punganur, it was 94.4 per cent, leaving only 11,000 of the 1.95 lakh people out of the voters list.

This abnormal increase in the percentage of voters alarmed prospective candidates in constituencies where the victory margins in Assembly elections have been usually low. For instance, the Congress(I) candidate in Vayalpad constituency won the last election by a precarious margin of 0.6 per cent of the votes.

The Chief Electoral Officer, M. Narayana Rao, however, said it was a case of `misunderstanding'. Computer printouts, because of limited space, did not indicate the house numbers and street numbers against a name, but only the ward or area number. Critics misconstrued the ward number as house number, he said. Whatever the truth, Guntur district was second in the bogus voter list scandal with 13.2 per cent bogus votes. Prakasam district topped with 19.9 per cent.

More sops for the elite

V. SRIDHAR the-nation

Following up on a series of decisions that dismantled capital controls, the Union Finance Ministry announces liberalisation of regulations governing commercial borrowings by Indian companies from overseas markets, apparently as a further sop to a certain constituency.

THIS is truly a season of sops. Union Finance Minister Jaswant Singh's mini-Budget, which effectively loosened the purse strings of the public exchequer to further the cause of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government's electoral agenda, has been followed by a volley of policy announcements aimed at wooing the rich and the powerful, not only in India but also overseas. As election-eve sops go they are not only unprecedented in scale and scope, but in the constituencies that they explicitly target. Hitherto election-eve sops were generally aimed at the masses. To woo the electorate, sops such as cheaper sugar or kerosene or free dhotis and sarees were the norm. In a break from the past, the government, in what appears to some commentators to be a high-stakes gamble, has stacked its sops in favour of the rich and the powerful.

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If the first set of measures were aimed at the upper middle classes, the subsequent announcements have been targeted at business interests. While Indian big business is obviously a beneficiary of these sops, the interesting aspect of the policy pronouncements is that it addresses the demands of foreign investors on the eve of the elections.

In a series of announcements, the government effectively rolled back the controls on foreign investment in crucial sectors of the Indian economy. Limits on foreign direct investment (FDI) in crucial sectors such as petroleum and gas, telecom and banking have been virtually dismantled. Following up on the dismantling of capital controls, which was part of the earlier package announced by the Prime Minister, the Union Finance Ministry announced a dramatic liberalisation of regulations governing commercial borrowings by Indian companies from overseas markets on January 19.

Although foreign companies, with an eye on the Indian insurance business, have been asking for higher investment limits in Indian insurance companies, the government realised that the legal framework impaired its ability to accommodate their interests. Nevertheless, Union Minister of State for Finance Anandarao Adsul promised that "the increase in FDI limit or the issue of a comprehensive Bill on the issue may be taken up after elections". Existing rules limit FDI in the insurance sector to 26 per cent. The hike in the limit for the insurance sector will also require amendment in the Insurance Regulatory Development Act (IRDA). Although the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion had proposed to raise the FDI limit in the insurance business, the Cabinet has not approved it yet. Business interests have been actively lobbying for the limit to be raised to 49 per cent. It is evident that the government has been unable to push ahead with the move because of the strong countervailing power exerted by the trade unions. Observers have pointed out that the relatively strong unionisation in the industry has deterred the government from moving ahead with reforms in the sector.

THE loosening of the controls on FDI in the petroleum sector means that foreign investors can now enjoy complete ownership by holding 100 per cent of the equity in projects across the entire production chain in the sector. Foreign companies can now be involved in oil exploration, refineries, marketing and pipelines in both natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects. More significantly, the government has also loosened restrictions by allowing them to get "automatic" approval, instead of having to route their applications through the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB). Critics have pointed out that the government, by choosing to liberalise the terms of entry for foreign companies, has compromised national strategic interest in the energy sector. A senior officer in the state-owned Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd. (HPCL) told Frontline that the government's proposal to allow 100 per cent FDI was unlikely to have any immediate impact on the refinery sector. He said that the refining capacity in India - about 115 million tonnes per annum - was already in excess of demand and was likely to be so for some time to come.

Foreign companies have been lobbying to relax controls on FDI. Although N.K. Singh, Member of the Planning Commission, who was asked to submit a report on the norms for foreign investment submitted it to the government in August 2002, the government chose to act on it now, when it prepares to face the electorate. It is significant that such a contentious issue, which industrial houses have themselves lobbied against off and on, is being pushed ahead. Although the norms governing FDI have been relaxed over the years, they are way below the target of $10 billion fixed a decade ago. Investments through the FDI route amounted to $4.66 billion in 2002-03 and in the first seven months of the current financial year they amounted to just $2.22 billion. Indeed, a leading chamber of commerce observed recently that this "shows some signs of a slowdown". However, inflows of "hot money", through portfolio investments, mainly for investments in the stock markets, has increased by $0.98 billion in 2002-03 to $5.16 billion in the first seven months of the current fiscal.

JASWANT SINGH also announced sops to foreign banks. Foreign banks are now to be permitted to establish wholly-owned subsidiaries in India. Although he had announced his intention to increase the FDI limit in private banks in India from 49 to 74 per cent, he has chosen to act on that proposal just weeks before he is to present his vote-on-account in Parliament. Foreign banks already operating in India can own to the extent of 74 per cent of the equity in entities running the Indian operations. However, new entrants can establish wholly-owned subsidiaries in India. Obviously, this will create anomalies and realising this, the Finance Ministry has promised further clarifications. Critics of the government have pointed out that the move is likely to destabilise the Indian banking system. Although foreign entities' voting rights continue to be restricted to the extent of 10 per cent in board rooms of the private banks, industry observers have pointed out that limits or controls on FDI tend to get scaled down or watered down under relentless pressure from foreign lobbies.

The All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) was quick to demand a reversal of the government decision to allow higher limits for FDI in banking. It said that the economy would be weakened by the move. It has also threatened to launch protests against the decision. It said the foreign banks in the country were violating the laws and "exploiting people" through contractual employment. The AIBEA pointed out that several foreign banks were involved in the securities scam and that the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), which investigated the massive fraud, had recommended cancellation of their licences.

The government has drawn criticism for employing different standards in different sectors. Interestingly, while the government chose to allow 100 per cent FDI in investments in the petroleum sector, which has obvious security-related implications, it has cited this very reason to limit FDI investment in the telecom sector to 49 per cent. Critics allege that powerful interests in the telecom sector have ensured that the FDI limits are lower in the telecom sector. The Group of Ministers (GoM), headed by Jaswant Singh, had earlier suggested that the foreign investment cap for this sector be raised from 49 per cent to 74 per cent by allowing an additional investment limit of 25 per cent for foreign institutional investors. There have been reports that the Cabinet failed to take a view on increasing foreign investment limits in the telecom sector because of security concerns raised by some Ministers.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has also recommended to the Cabinet that companies seeking infusion of equity capital in their ventures should issue fresh equity instead of merely selling a portion of their stake to foreign companies. This would ensure that Indian entities would not lose control of their companies. However, the issue is not as simple. The point is that the latest measures need to be seen in the context of the ad hoc manner in which government policy has allowed erring companies to seek government protection. For instance, it is well known that Bharti Telecom, a leading mobile service provider, has accumulated huge losses after having deployed its mobile and landline facilities across the country. Companies providing mobile phone services have already benefited from the transition from the licence fee regime to a revenue-sharing arrangement, entailing huge losses to the public exchequer. It is also common knowledge that Bharti and some other entities are banking on fresh investments, via equity, by foreign entities to leverage their debt.

Barely months after the government introduced controls on overseas borrowings by Indian corporates, it has changed tack. The initial move was seen as being sensible because it eased the pressure on the rupee, which has been steadily rising against the dollar. The government's fresh announcement, made on January 18, has placed all external commercial borrowings by Indian companies on the "automatic route", subject to a restriction of $500 million. Although this is likely to enable Indian companies to access cheaper credit from overseas markets, it is also likely to place more pressure on the bottom lines of Indian banks. It has been pointed out that despite the report of the economy being on an upturn, the banking sector, though flush with funds, has been unable to increase credit offtake. Having to contend with cheaper interest rates offered by overseas lenders is likely to affect the profitability of Indian banks.

A city in transition

RAVI SHARMA advertorial

Mysore, Karnataka's second largest city, is poised to take off as the newest destination for investment, despite its inadequate infrastructure.

MAHARAJAS, palaces, the Chamundi Hills, elephants, the Dasara processions. Think of Mysore and you are overcome by nostalgia. Suprisingly, this erstwhile capital of the Mysore maharajas has managed to retain the old world charm. A mix of the medieval and the modern is what the city, which encompasses 105 square kilometres and has a population of over 800,000, boasts of today.

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Located 140 km south of the Karnataka capital of Bangalore, Mysore traces its history to the Ganga Dynasty, which was established during the 2nd century A.D. Mysore was part of the Chalukya prince Narasinga's kingdom in the 10th century. The Cholas and the Hoysalas built temples in Mysore city and on the Chamundi Hills.

But it was during the reign of the Yadu or Wodeyar dynasty (founded in 1399) that Mysore came into prominence. Bettada Chamaraja Wodeyar, the raja of Mysore, rebuilt the small fort of Mysore, established it as the administrative headquarters of his small principality, and called it `Mahishur Nagara'. Though Raja Wodeyar (1578-1617) shifted the principality's capital to Srirangapatna in 1610, the fall of Tipu Sultan in 1799 saw Mysore once again becoming the capital of the Wodeyars.

Mysore's transformation from a small fort town to a vibrant city started under the reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (1799-1868) and reached its zenith during the rule of Chamaraja Wodeyar (1895-1940), who built broad roads, imposing buildings and picturesque parks. A succession of astute Wodeyar maharajas helped the kingdom of Mysore earn the name `Ramarajya'.

Today Mysore is Karnataka's second biggest city and according to the State government, it is poised to take off as the newest destination for investment in the industrial, educational and tourism sectors. Mysore has a history of being home to such traditional industries as weaving, oil crushing, sandalwood carving, bronze work and the production of lime and salt. Using this as the base, Mysore has over the past eight decades transformed itself into a destination for modern industries in the manufacturing, service and Information Technology (IT) sectors. TVS Motor Company, Raman Boards, N. Ranga Rao & Sons, Vikram Hospitals, Reid & Taylor (a division of S. Kumars), Jubilant Organosys and Infosys Technologies are some of them.

The blueprint for the development of industries in Mysore was laid out way back in 1911. There are currently around 100 large and medium-scale and nearly 10,000 small-scale industries operating in and around Mysore city. The products include automobile spares, pharmaceuticals, electrical goods, engineering and machine components, rubber, textiles, chemicals, processed foods, plastics, defence-related goods, Information Technology products and incense sticks. Currently the industries that are doing well are pharmaceuticals and automobile ancillary units that are strategically tied up with automobile/engineering majors. Curiously, the IT industry, despite the wealth of human resources, has not moved to Mysore in a big way.

Mysore, home to two of India's premier food research laboratories - the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) and the Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) and located in the middle of Karnataka's major rice- and sugarcane-growing region, is poised to take advantage of the availability of agricultural raw material and human resources. Mysore is also rich in educational institutions, right from kindergarten schools to professional colleges.

Mysore also has the advantage of being well-connected by both road and rail (rail links started in the first decade of the previous century) to the rest of the country, especially the industrial hubs of Bangalore and Coimbatore. The State government has started work on expanding the existing highway between Bangalore and Mysore into a four-lane one.

With the doubling of the rail line between Bangalore and Ramanagaram now under way, and plans to expand it right up to Mysore on the cards, the commuting time between Bangalore and Mysore could be reduced from 180 minutes to around 90, thereby cutting the lead time required by manufacturing units to transport their wares to Bangalore and beyond. Another ongoing rail project - the gauge conversion between the towns of Hassan and Sakleshpur - will facilitate easier transport between Mysore and the port city of Mangalore. This should help Mysore's export-oriented units.

But what is hurting Mysore is the lack of an airport.

There was talk that the existing airstrip at Mandakalli on Mysore's outskirts would be developed into a full-fledged airport by October 2002. But the project has been caught up in redtape.

Said S. N. Rao, Mysore zonal chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry's (CII): "No head of industry or a company wants to visit Mysore. This is primarily because no one wants to waste over three and a half hours travelling from Bangalore to Mysore." Industrialists like Rao are still sceptical whether Mysore can develop into an industrial counter-magnet to Bangalore, whose infrastructure is as it is bursting at its seams. Explains Rao: "Until the infrastructure, mainly roads, is ready you can't do much. The Karnataka government must push for Mysore and do more for the city. The buoyancy that you are seeing on the industrial scene is mainly because of the fact that the economy as a whole is doing well. This has resulted in a little incremental growth in Mysore as well. But if you want quantum growth in Mysore there has to be more publicity to the city and better infrastructure. There has to be more connectivity between Mysore and Bangalore."

Added Ashok Rao, vice-chairman, CII, Mysore zone, "Once infrastructure is in place, Mysore will grow by leaps and bounds. I see this happening in around four to five years' time. From the CII we have been lobbying the government and also trying to hold talks with the various government agencies to speed up the airport project. The Department of Industries and Commerce should also be more proactive."

As a long-time resident pointed out, Mysore has several additional advantages. The city offers quality life at a relatively low cost." Mysore, located at 763 metres above sea level and surrounded by hill ranges running from north to south, has a salubrious climate.

A clean-up in Andhra Pradesh

The Election Commission weeds out 93.42 lakh bogus voters in the State, which is preparing for early Assembly elections.

in Hyderabad

TIMELY and firm intervention by the Election Commission (E.C.) has averted the danger of the election process for the Lok Sabha and the Assembly in Andhra Pradesh being reduced to a farce. In a ruthless and clear-headed, though not flawless, action, the Commission weeded out 93.42 lakh bogus voters. The end result is the shrinking of the total electorate in the State by 7.14 per cent, from 5.49 crores to 5.10 crores.

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The State's population is estimated to be 7.7 crores. The voter strength works out to 66.23 per cent of this after the E.C's action. Had it not been for the drive, the voter strength would have reached an astounding 80 per cent.

As many as 28.86 lakh of the 54.88 lakh applications received during the routine summary revision of rolls have been rejected. The majority of the names deleted are from the list of `residual voters', who did not turn up to be photographed for identity card purposes in spite of being served notices. The rest are those who died or had migrated.

The Congress(I) has welcomed the E.C's action. Andhra Pradesh Congress(I) Committee (APCC) president D. Srinivas said that his party had all along been pointing out that the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) had enrolled bogus voters on a large scale in order to subvert the elections.

For the TDP, the mass deletion of names from the voters list has come as a shock. It contended that the decadal population growth rate in the State had shown a 10.5 per cent decline between 1991 and 2001. This, it said, would lead to an increase in the voter strength. The party maintained that it was improper for the E.C. to delete the names of voters from the rolls on the grounds that the voter to population ratio exceeded 65 per cent.

Nothing appears to have gone right for TDP president and State Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu after he took what appeared to be `a careful and measured decision', on November 14, to dissolve prematurely the State Assembly. His gamble to go in for a snap poll on the plank of `Naxalite violence versus development of the State' came unstuck almost immediately.

No sooner had Governor S.S. Barnala dissolved the House on the Cabinet's recommendation, than Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) J.M. Lyngdoh expressed the E.C's inability to hold the elections in February as Chandrababu Naidu had planned. "It is not prepared at the moment. The Election Commission takes its own time to hold elections," said Lyngdoh, much to Chandrababu Naidu's disappointment.

The CEC had good reasons for taking this stand. Electoral rolls in the State were due for revision. The Commission soon released a time table, for the summary revision of rolls from November 27 to the publication of revised rolls on January 20. Moreover, the Supreme Court had held in respect of the Gujarat elections that on the premature dissolution of an Assembly, the E.C. had up to six months' time to hold elections.

Chandrababu Naidu appeared resigned to the fait accompli of late elections. He had erred in not consulting the E.C. about its convenience before dissolving the Assembly. In fact, this hasty decision came to be known as the `Naidu mistake' at the National Executive meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Hyderabad on January 11 and 12, where the main agenda was early elections to the Lok Sabha.

The TDP chief did the next best thing by gearing up party cadre for the revision of the electoral rolls. Reviewing their performance on a daily basis, the party even gave grades to leaders who achieved or exceeded their enrolment targets. Congress(I) workers competed with their TDP counterparts in enrolling as many voters as possible.

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This unhealthy competition soon threatened to derail the enrolment process. There were instances galore of hundreds of persons filing applications for enrolment from the same address. The issue of `bogus voters' soon snowballed into a political controversy, with the TDP at its centre. The E.C. despatched four teams of officials on December 22 to review the roll revision.

As the E.C. teams began verification, the TDP and the Opposition parties unleashed a war of words against one another and rushed teams to New Delhi to make representations to the E.C. The Congress(I), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or the CPI(M), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), in a joint representation submitted to Lyngdoh on January 8, alleged that the Commission's annual roll revision exercise had been severely impaired by the ruling TDP. They alleged that TDP workers had submitted applications "in scandalous proportions" and were putting pressure on revenue officials to dance to their tune. The TDP government had also transferred mandal revenue officers, police officers and other officials en masse, they said.

Denying these charges, the TDP held that Opposition parties were resorting to a campaign of half-truths and untruths to vilify it. It said there was nothing wrong in its leaders submitting bunches of applications for enrolment. The election authorities had themselves held meetings with various political parties to create awareness so that genuine voters were not left out. This apart, political parties were given an opportunity to file in bulk claims and objections in Forms 6 and 7 respectively through their district party president and secretaries.

The slanging match ended only when the E.C. teams started weeding out bogus applications on a large scale. Their action sent alarm bells ringing in political parties.

The TDP made frantic appeals to the E.C. not to remove genuine voters in the name of weeding out bogus claims. The Congress(I) and other parties also made the same appeal. Both sides said that lower level officials were bent on drastically pruning the list though the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of the State had assured them that the ratio of voters to the population would not be the sole criterion for deciding elimination.

In going in for Assembly elections, Chandrababu Naidu had taken only the `winnability' factor of his party into consideration. However, he built up a rather fragile argument that Naxalites, aided and abetted by the Congress(I), were creating obstacles in the path of development. He contended that the TDP, by seeking and winning a popular mandate, would get its stand vindicated and show that the Naxalites, who had made an attempt on his life on October 1, 2003, enjoyed no public support. It turned out to be a damp squib as a campaign plank, as his own partymen were either unwilling or scared to take on the Naxalites.

The faction-ridden Congress(I) is slowly showing some semblance of unity through `bus yatras' and the stepping up of efforts to forge alliances with other Opposition parties. The TDP, on the other hand, is focussing on gearing up its 90-lakh-strong cadre and holding public meetings. It received a shot in the arm when the Centre decided to go in for general elections. TDP leaders feel that the wave in favour of the Vajpayee government will boost their party's prospects too, thanks to its alliance with the BJP.

Absence and dissent

cover-story

THE World Social Forum is a body spawned in a transnational context, with solid roots in Brazil. This is in part because of its active sponsorship bythe Brazilian Workers' Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or P.T.). The P.T. was then the governing party, in both the southern Brazilian province of Rio Grande do Sul and its capital city of Porto Alegre.

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The hosting of a European Social Forum in Florence in 2002 and Paris in 2003 and the Asian Social Forum that India staged in January 2003 meant that the concept and practice began to spread far beyond their initial confines. The fourth WSF in Mumbai has now energised a potentially fruitful linkage between the apex forum and the multitude of mass movements that constitute it.

It is part of the design of the forum that it provides a platform for many of the social groups in its host country. But there is nonetheless the possibility of exclusion inherent in the conduct of the WSF. There are the exclusions of distance to begin with, those occasioned by the sheer logistical difficulty of reaching the venue. Then there are possible exclusions because of communication gaps, though with the mobilisation that went into the Mumbai event and the possibilities opened up by the spread of Information Technology, this could be minimised if not eliminated.

The most serious variety of exclusion though is that of politics and ideology. A conspicuous recent instance was the self-exclusion chosen by Mumbai Resistance 2004 on the grounds that the WSF had become captive to powerful endowments and donor agencies from the very countries that were driving the globalisation process. But there are possibly many hundreds of other exclusions that go unsung and unreported, founded on anything from political principle to prickly personality clashes.

WSF organisers claim that they went the extra distance to mend the rift with the Mumbai Resistance. But their final decision to stage a rival event in close proximity to the WSF venue was finally a visible testament to the WSF's growing global profile. Where the WSF organisation is concerned, the doors still remain open for a rapprochement, since inclusion is the foundational philosophy of the body.

For Francisco "Chico" Whitaker of the Brazilian Committee of Justice and Peace, one of the architects of the WSF "open space" philosophy, the need for a political outcome from each meeting of the forum is secondary to the need to make it as inclusive as possible. There is no need for a single agreed political line to emerge, he argues, since the WSF is a celebration of hundreds of diverse struggles in every part of the world, an occasion for bonding, mutual reinforcement and renewal. Identities of interest between its diverse participants need not be total. Even partial identities can provide powerful bases for concerted action. For the Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos, the WSF affirms a "critical utopia" as possibility, though without defining it. Even utopias, he says, have their timetable. The key challenge before the WSF today is to consolidate a "counter-hegemonic globalisation". But once this task is accomplished and the "idea that another world is possible made credible", will it be possible, he asks, "to fulfil this idea with the same level of radical democracy that helped formulate it?"

One of the WSF's original champions, Boaventura has placed on the table a simple proposal to decide on forms and objectives of collective action from the next session on. Each participant's badge constitutes his franchise and with the electronic techniques available today, the WSF should be able to conduct referenda on "proposals for collective action".

Each session of the forum has involved very different kinds of participation. The session in Porto Alegre next year will be markedly different from Mumbai, as also from earlier gatherings in the same city. Priorities are likely to be different from one gathering to another. The Mumbai meeting, for instance, witnessed a forceful assertion of the rights of the Palestinian people to live in freedom and dignity, partly as a consequence of the large delegation that came from the occupied country, as also of geographical proximity. The 2006 session proposed for the African continent could, similarly, displace the terrain of engagement towards the specific interests of its people. But a coherent set of objectives is quite likely to emerge through successive efforts and iterations. There was prior to and during the Mumbai gathering considerable criticism of the opaque forms of governance followed by the WSF. But given a degree of sensitivity and openness, the WSF could well transform itself the next three years into a genuine worldwide movement of the people.

The ecological debt

Activists highlight the damage done to the ecology of the South by the policies of market fundamentalism of the countries of the North and suggest steps to correct the historical wrongs.

in Mumbai

THE World Social Forum (WSF) saw a renewed call for the payback of the ecological debt that the South believes it is owed by the North. In a range of issues, including the Bhopal gas tragedy, the Minamata poisoning, big dams, corporate-controlled biotechnology, patents of plants and dumping of toxic wastes, groups such as the Jubilee South believe that the North is enormously indebted to the South. The Jubilee South's mission is "to confront the historical roots and structural causes of the debt problem, and to promote lasting alternatives of economic, social and ecological justice. We locate our struggle in the context of the myriad forms of resistance through which the majority of the world's people now seek to achieve and defend their fundamental human and collective rights to a dignified world".

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The "enemies" in this "struggle" are obvious. They are not only the dominant models of trade and the Bretton Woods institutions, but also the entire gamut of free trade agreements that guarantee investments. The means used to fight them are primarily those of boycott action. The definition of ecological debt is lengthy, no doubt owing to the necessity to fit the scale of the crime. According to Accion Ecologica of Ecuador, ecological debt is "the debt accumulated by the Northern industrial countries towards Third World countries on account of resource plundering, environmental damage, and the free occupation of environmental space to deposit wastes such as greenhouse gases. Those who abuse the biosphere, transgress ecological limits and enforce unsustainable patterns of resource extraction of a range of natural resources must begin to discharge this ecological debt. The ecological debt accumulated through such processes as the extraction of a range of natural resources, ecologically unequal terms of trade externalising ecological costs, the appropriation of traditional knowledge - for example, of seeds and plants, on which the modern agri-business and biotechnology are based - contamination of the atmosphere through the emission of various greenhouse gases, producing and testing chemical and nuclear weapons in countries of the South, and the dumping of chemicals and toxic waste in the Third World. The current system of neoliberal globalised market economy maintains and augments the ecological debt through such mechanisms as the Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed by the international financial institutions, foreign investments, unequal terms of trade, forcing countries to produce export products in order to redress financial debts; and through the Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights within the World Trade Organisation which protect the patenting of genetic material for agriculture and pharmacology by transnational corporations without compensation for the original guardians of the biodiversity of the South".

The rhetorical question at the heart of the debates on ecological debt at the WSF was: "Can nature be made into a commodity that can be monopolised?" Vinod Raina of the Jubilee South said: "No. It has to be shared. Apart from the moral aspect, it is not economically correct to have a monopoly." Using the example of the food and agricultural sectors, Raina spoke about ecological imperialism of the North. He argued that many edible commodities have their origins in West Asia, India, China and Latin America, but the trade in these items was dominated by the North. Thus the profit from the trade in products grown in the South went almost entirely to the North.

The pattern has not really changed. Increasing production and trade means greater energy requirements and the use of more natural resources. Simultaneously, it means greater external debt since rapid progress can only be achieved through external financing, which is usually available through the agencies of rich countries of the North. Once this is availed of, the process of paying back the financial debt begins. It is usually a never-ending one for poorer countries of the South. The irony of the so-called poverty alleviation programmes of the North is that most of the world's resources (on which the North is dependant) are located in the South. However, the North believes that the South is indebted to it. For instance, most forests are in territories belonging to nations of the South. Yet the North insists that they should be seen as a global resource.

Raina argues: "The same principle should apply to `geological forests', the oil pools. The Texan oilfields, produced from forests of ages ago, should then also belong `globally' rather than to a particular country. We should therefore calculate the debt owed by the North for using the global commons, the forests of the world as sinks for their emissions, and for not sharing their oil resources equally. The same criterion should be used for all other natural resources, keeping in mind that 23 per cent of the world population consumes 80 per cent of its resources."

Coming in for special criticism was the United Nation's financing for development process. It was attacked as disastrous for development because of the "double standards" of U.N. member-states. On the one hand, they speak of development and poverty reduction, on the other, they seek financial and political favours from multinational corporations and financial institutions whose activities aggravate the problems of developing countries. It was argued that rich Northern creditors should cancel the financial debt they believe is owed to them by the South. The argument is that it has been paid for historically. Hence development financing should not be looked at as a loan to the South but rather as the North's way of repaying its debt to the South.

Suggested as a solution was the doctrine of Equitable Environmental Space, which said that the South's financial debt was already paid and that it was minimal in comparison with the ecological debt that the North continued to incur. Furthermore, the doctrine argues, the debt should be measured not only in financial terms but also in terms of its devastating social, cultural and human impacts. The destruction of the South that is being witnessed today is only an extension of a legacy going back at least five centuries in which nothing of value was left untouched - spices, plants, animals, labour, land, minerals, precious stones and oil.

Professor Joan Martinez-Alier of the University of Barcelona says: "Money is not the issue. There is a need to stop the ecological debt from growing. The South recognises that the past is important but the future is more important. The North needs to see it this way too. The South is actually a creditor and not a debtor." Martinez-Alier emphasised the need to look at the relationship between ecological debt and the exploitation of the poor. He said: "Resources that should be free to all - clean air and water - are being polluted. Take the cases of Coca-Cola and water use, NALCO [National Aluminum Corporation] and fluorosis, the mining of precious stones and minerals and the effects this has had on poor people. We all know about Ken Saro Wiwa and Chico Mendes, but you cannot forget the hundreds who have died because of the way they have been forced to labour."

One of the less discussed issues in the debate is the threat posed by the North to the ecology, culture and knowledge of the South. It would not be far off the mark to say that a large number of people in Asia still depend on natural resources for their livelihood in much the same way that their forefathers did. Centuries of working systems of knowledge have been evolved as a means to manage these resources. This, in turn, has shaped their cultures.

Exploitation by the North over the decades has eroded these diverse identities to the extent that the established socio-cultural and economic processes have broken down. Social and economic dislocation brought about by impositions like monoculture, corporate farming and corporate-controlled biotechnology and the dislocation of the entire market system have alienated rural communities without offering them any alternatives. Raina said: "The North owes so much to the South in financial debt that it can never pay it back. The ethical-moral debt is so high that we should force the North to change its policies and attitudes. That would be the beginning of a payback of the debt."

Crises and conflicts in the U.S.

cover-story

Interview with Immanuel Wallerstein, U.S. historical scholar.

Immanuel Wallerstein, Senior Research Fellow at Yale University and Director of the Fernand Braudel Centre at Binghampton, New York, is among the most influential historical scholars of modern times. He is associated with the distinct theoretical position of viewing the evolution of modern capitalism as the growth of a "world system" in which all parts of the globe were interconnected. Mumbai was his second World Social Forum session after the 2002 event in Porto Alegre. He thinks the move to Mumbai a "highly successful one" and a significant event for the WSF. Excerpts from an interview he gave Sukumar Muralidharan:

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How would you characterise the WSF as a player on the terrain of global politics?

The basic concept of the WSF has been to be a broad camp of multiple kinds of movements, none of which dominates the situation, but talk to each other and collaborate to the degree they can. Another thing about the WSF is that there is a tension inside it, between those who want to keep it as an open forum and those who want to organise direct, political action. That tension has been there from the beginning. What is healthy is that this time, in this forum, it is being openly and publicly discussed. And I think there is an effort on everybody's part to find a solution which would maintain the forum as what is called an "open space". The WSF would not be a single organisation which would exclude people who did not go along with it, but would still allow within its framework, groups who would like to go forward with actual political action. In point of fact, the forum has already inspired political action. There is no question that the February 15, 2003 demonstrations against the war around the world, emerged out of people who were active in the forum. I would even say that it was a direct result of the existence of the forum but it was not a forum activity as such. I think that distinction will be and should be maintained.

You have recently sought to work out a typology of social movements, or what you call revolts against the "system". And historically you have identified nationalist movements and socialist movements as two distinct types, which often tended to merge one into the other.

I put it the other way. The nationalist and socialist movements have identified themselves as separate and distinct types for a hundred or more years. I have on the other hand tried to argue that they had more similarities than they admitted. The differences were partly geographic, the socialist movements were in the developed world and the nationalist movements were in the Third World. In any case, I lumped them all together as the Old Left, and I saw 1968 as a key moment when the Old Left was called into question for its strategy and for its failure to change the world. I have since identified a succession of movements when people have tried to replace the Old Left. There were the Maoist movements that flourished in the early-1970s and disappeared in most parts of the world, partly because of the collapse of Maoism in China. They were followed by the so-called New Left movements, like the Greens, women's movements, identity movements, sexual movements, and so on. Then there were the human rights movements which tried to attack another kind of problem. These movements were all critical of the Old Left and insisted upon the importance of the problems they put forward, and they have been very successful in getting these accepted. But then they have gone into very much the same strategic dilemmas as the Old Left. And I put the WSF as the most recent and most successful variant of trying to create an anti-systemic movement, one that would encompass a very wide range of existing movements without trying to suppress them but in fact allow them full space, have them talk to each other and try to understand each other's language and try to find the common grounds they can without a hierarchical structure. It has been, I think, marvellously successful, but whether it will continue being so depends upon the degree to which it can solve the problem of continuing to be an open space, while permitting some kind of structure for political activity.

You have come out with a rather radical diagnosis that we are witnessing the end of the American Empire, and that the only choice now is whether the U.S. will give in to the inevitable or fight its way down, taking a number of people down with it. Is this, in the light of what we are seeing now, a prognosis that you would stand by?

Oh yes. I think the U.S. has been in decline for the last 30 years and the explanation of the current policies is not the strength, but the weakness of the U.S. It is a programme to restore the strength of the U.S. by intimidating the rest of the world. It has failed and it has actually made the U.S. even weaker. Before (President George) Bush came to power, the U.S. was in a slow decline. I think it is going to be in a relatively fast decline in the next decade because of what Bush has done.

Somehow this does not square with the general perception that the 1990s were a period of unparalleled U.S. power, when it could get just about anything it wanted. The U.S. could militarily intervene anywhere it chose, the economy was on a roll, the stockmarket was booming...

The stockmarket booming is an illusion. If you look at the 1970s on, at no point was the world economy in good shape. But there was an attempt by members of the "triad" to export unemployment to one another. So the 1970s were pretty good for Western Europe and the 1980s were pretty good for Japan, and the late-1990s were very good for the U.S. But it was a total myth that the U.S. was doing well. There was a lot of speculation and the money flowed into the U.S. Yes, the U.S. is the strongest military power and it will remain that for the next 20 or 30 years. That means nobody can declare war on the U.S. But the question is: can the U.S. declare war on another country and win? I don't think it has won the war in Iraq. It is in a very weak position and I think the structure is going to collapse around it very soon. And it doesn't have enough troops to start another war. It is militarily a lot weaker than people think.

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So this is in a sense related to the decline of American economic power and the loss of hegemony.

You know, if you are hegemonic, you don't have to use your military power - that is the whole point of hegemony. When you've got to use your military power, that is a bad sign. Machiavelli taught us that a long time ago - that if you have to use force you are weak, not strong. Nobody has gone in with the U.S. - I of course exaggerate because Britain went in and the U.S. also got a few minuscule troops from other countries. But basically, they went into Iraq alone. And they have been paying the bills for it. I remind you that in the first Gulf War, the U.S. did not pay the bill. It was paid by Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Not one of the four states gave a cent to the U.S. this time.

You have the twin deficits in the U.S. - the current account and budget deficits, one feeding into the other - being funded by huge inflows from countries that have positive savings. This has been sustained so far because the dollar has been seen as a hegemonic currency. Now I understand that in the U.S. there is a tremendous build-up of debt right down to the household and the firm. If there is a contraction of the funds inflow for whatever reason, would that feed down the line and impinge on the debt situation of the average household?

There are the debts of individuals and of course if they have enough debts, they go bankrupt. There are the debts of State governments, which can't go bankrupt and they also, under the rules of the U.S., can't have debts. So they have to cut back - on education, on fire departments, on jails, on health services, and so on. That squeezes people and makes them very unhappy. Then there is the U.S. government debt. Now the U.S. government, because of the role of the dollar, can accumulate debt from here to kingdom come. That can be paid in two ways - either you can cut back on services or you can borrow still further. But services have been expanding - military services of course, but also for electoral reasons, other kinds of services. So the Bush administration has to borrow, which means that other countries have to invest.

At the moment, the two major investors in U.S. treasury bonds are Japan and China. The first thing to be said is that they are already cautious. They are investing less in the last six or eight months, because if the dollar collapses further, they are losing their money. On the other hand, they are supporting the major buyer of their exports. So it is a little tricky. They don't want to let their major buyer collapse because that will hurt their economies, but on the other hand, they don't want to put their money in a place where they can't get it back. And they are getting more and more hesitant and at some point, they will pull the plug. This means that the U.S. economy is dependent on the decisions of Japanese and Chinese investors. That is not exactly a position of strength.

On top of that, the U.S. has another major problem, which is shared with the European countries but not with the Third World. We have an extensive programme of welfare aid to the elderly. This covers most of the population - they are all voters and most of them are conservative voters. And the numbers are growing because of the so-called baby-boom. And because we have a declining population growth, the percentage of people paying in annually is less than the percentage of people taking out. So in about 10 years' time we will have a crisis - either we can borrow immense amounts of money to pay for that or we can cut back on the armed forces. That is a real financial dilemma for the U.S. that is of immense consequence. The U.S. economy is now a house of cards in many ways.

Obviously, there are all the makings of a serious social crisis there, because of the growing demands of the baby-boomers and the lower accruals into social security and the general spiralling of household debt. But in the U.S. political system we see a curious lack of alternatives - the "one party posing as two" kind of syndrome. So if there is this kind of a social crisis brewing and there isn't sufficient creative political thinking about alternatives, we could have some pretty dangerous political outcomes.

You're right. I think internal conflict in the U.S. is reaching the point of civil war. It is more likely in the U.S. than in Western Europe by far. We have an enormous under-class that is growing all the time, we have illegal immigration that is immense, we have a poverty rate that is incredible, we have a larger percentage of our population in prison than almost any other country in the world. We have social problems galore and they could explode. It is a situation waiting for somebody to light a match.

Will that be manifested externally or internally? Could the U.S. just embark upon a course of war against the planet, impelled by its own internal social crisis?

It might. It is not something that I would rule out. Very hard to say at this point, because it depends upon the political balances within the U.S. and between the U.S. and the rest of the world as it develops the next five to ten years. This year is a year of great risk, because if the neo-conservatives fear that six months from now they could lose the elections, they may urge actions on Bush as their last chance. It is a risky time.

Finally, is the social forum kind of process going to make a difference in the context of the upcoming crisis in the U.S.? Is the process spreading roots widely enough and deeply enough to make a difference?

Yes, it is spreading roots in the U.S. and I certainly hope it is going to make a difference. I am not sure what else will make a difference.

GLOBALISED STRUGGLE

With its uncompromising message of opposition to globalisation, the World Social Forum in Mumbai unites diverse concerns into a singularly forceful assertion of the need for alternatives to today's dominant political and economic paradigms.

in Mumbai

ENTERING the site of the World Social Forum in Mumbai was to be part of a teeming mass of humanity, herded through the rituals of admission by attentive and enthusiastic volunteers. It was to confront banners that struck the eye and challenged the mind with messages of seeming effrontery.

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"The North owes the South a Historical, Social and Ecological Debt", read one sign strung a little way from the entry. "Don't owe, won't pay", said another not far away. Graffiti blazoned on the walls approaching the venue proclaimed the forum's fundamental message, that "Another World is Possible". And the industrial grounds in Mumbai's Goregaon suburb - long fallen into obsolescence and decrepitude - resonated with the celebration of a world of differences and diversity. Vast and capacious halls that had once throbbed with the sound of industrial machinery now vibrated with a new rhetoric of resistance, of organising to combat the onward march of globalisation.

In the four years since it came into existence, the World Social Forum (WSF) has developed a large and growing family of converts. Characterised variously as a platform, a movement and a space - the precise choice would involve a quite needless diversion into terminology - the WSF has played the role of uniting diverse concerns into a singularly forceful assertion of the need for alternatives to today's dominant political and economic paradigms.

With its uncompromising message of opposition to globalisation, the WSF has polarised opinion strongly. The morning of January 16, when the fourth session of the forum was scheduled to open in Mumbai, the city's main English daily newspaper carried an article by a leading Dalit public figure, arguing the case for globalisation. The opening of borders, according to the writer, had exposed traditional societies to global scrutiny. And practices tolerated by civil society despite their official proscription had begun to yield under the pressure of world opinion. Given a few more years, this inexorable process would break down all barriers, and bring the global community closer to the new reality of radical social equality.

The WSF was challenged from another direction by a mobilisation just across the road from its main venue. Styled Mumbai Resistance 2004, this more radical grouping chided the WSF for its naivete. The imperialist system that was driving the process of globalisation could not be fought with weapons financed by imperialist aid-givers, said the Mumbai Resistance. With its budgetary extravagance, the WSF had become a "supermarket for non-governmental organisations" and a "safety valve" for the discontents of globalisation. Its dependence on the powerful non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that channelled aid from advanced capitalist countries, was evident in the ambivalence of its attitude towards the key question of the time, which in the estimation of the Mumbai Resistance was nothing less than the climactic struggle against imperialism. In this respect, the WSF's a priori renunciation of violence as a strategic and tactical tool, meant that it was accepting a potentially fatal handicap even before the struggle was joined.

BEGUN in Porto Alegre in Brazil in January 2001, the move to truly broaden participation in the WSF by staging it in Mumbai also subtly transformed the message of the gathering. Once focussed on the inequities of the global economic and trade regimes, the WSF today has taken up a much broader canvas of issues. This has been partly an outcome of the realisation that the battle against globalisation cannot be waged without energising social forces across a broad range. This involves the bonding of the campaign against globalisation with myriad others. Women's struggle against patriarchy and the unending battle against forms of social exclusion based on descent, ethnicity and race were specifically brought on the WSF agenda in Mumbai. More than the right to equality, the WSF enshrines the right to differences. And it commits itself to redressing any situation in which difference is a basis for social inequality.

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Though these issues had been stirring within the WSF in its earlier sessions, it took the specific concerns of India as the host to bring them to the foreground. Several of the Brazilian delegates welcomed the participation of the vast numbers of Dalit and Adivasi groups from India as a long-overdue process of broadening the constituencies and the issues that the WSF addresses. At the same time, there was the acknowledgment that this meant facing more serious challenges in future in a potentially less friendly environment.

Mumbai represented the severing of some of the WSF's older ties of dependence on the large endowments and funding agencies in the advanced capitalist world. This was partly on account of the energetic presence of the Indian Left in the organising committee. The Ford Foundation, which has supported the WSF since its inception with generous grants, did not extend its patronage to the Mumbai gathering. Also out of the picture were the Department for International Development of the British Government, the European Union and the MacArthur Foundation.

With its rather loose and uncoordinated structure, the WSF asks participant organisations no questions about funding sources. The agencies that were kept out at the apex could well have been present through any number of participant organisations. Though most of these organisations work on the principle that funding does not confer any moral entitlements to influence the nature of activities and the course of deliberations, this issue is likely to confront future WSF events in a fairly significant manner.

The funding question is also deeply connected with the format of the WSF. Many of the centrally organised conferences and panel discussions in Mumbai - the so-called "big tent" events in the large meeting halls - were rather sparsely attended. The featured speakers had been heard at earlier gatherings and the themes addressed seemed to offer little by way of novelty. The little tents, where more focussed issues were discussed and debated, often involving a relatively fresh cast of characters, drew more enthusiastic participation, which more accurately mirrored the tumult on the streets outside.

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When it returns to Porto Alegre next year, the WSF would have to devote considerable attention to revamping its format. The move to India was part of an effort to break a mould that was getting too constricting in relation to the ambitions of the WSF and too comfortable for its participants. The lessons would have to be internalised at Porto Alegre in 2005, since the planned move to the African continent in 2006 could bring an entirely new set of challenges.

With all its polarities, the WSF has also engendered a middle ground. For those who inhabit this terrain and concede that the forum may have a point, the greatest hazard of the Mumbai gathering was the possibility that it may sink into a slough of diversionary anti-American polemic.

The middle ground was not disappointed. Addressing the opening plenary session, the writer Arundhati Roy declared that the global imperium had crossed a crucial threshold in 2003. The hidden coercion of the market had given way to the overt use of force for conquest in Iraq. The agenda was the same, but the means had changed, posing new challenges before the global resistance.

It was a compelling argument. The neoliberal doctrine that had dominated the world over two decades had essentially reached its apotheosis in the U.S. invasion of Iraq. And this was not an inference that was in any manner contested by the fact that the war lobby in the U.S. is frequently referred to as the "neoconservatives". If there was one consistent refrain in the diversity of discussions all through the WSF in Mumbai, it was on the need to raise the tempo of anti-U.S. demonstrations worldwide. Though not a decision-making body which adopts a declaration or a plan of action, the WSF seemed, virtually by unanimous acclaim, to have decided to observe March 20 this year - the first anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq - as a worldwide day of protest. A concurrent theme to be taken up by the demonstrations would be the Israeli occupation of Palestine, now if rather belatedly, seen as part of the same agenda of conquest and subjugation that the U.S. is executing.

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The WSF was fairly successful in articulating the links between the crisis of the neo-liberal economic project and the new resort to military conquest. In part, the growth in comprehension came from the respect that the forum accorded to more moderate voices. The Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, for instance, addressed a "big tent" on aid, trade and debt and held out a real possibility of salvaging a new deal for the poor from the prevalent global regime. Institutional reform at the global level could engender a new policy environment, he argued, in which multilateral agencies would not intrude into the sovereign space of a nation to decide on the social security system best equipped to address its needs. To enable poorer countries to break out of the low-level equilibrium in which they had been trapped, the world community could consider a fresh issue of "special drawing rights" (SDRs) that would augment their purchasing power.

The U.S. has since the mid-1980s steadfastly opposed developing countries' demands for a fresh issue of SDRs to improve global liquidity. Its argument has been that injecting that much additional purchasing power into the world economy would only feed inflation. Implicitly, the currency hegemony of the U.S. dollar has meant that the principal source of liquidity in the world economy has been the U.S. external debt, which has in turn been fuelled by its federal budget deficit and household savings deficit.

The Egyptian economist Samir Amin succeeded in focussing minds on this issue. The U.S.' ravenous appetite for the world's limited pool of savings had brought the global economy to a crucial crossroads. The continuing escalation of borrowing by the world's biggest economy had reached the limits of its feasibility. Something had to give. Financial bridgeheads into the U.S. were about to buckle and the costs would be borne by the average American households, with deeply unsettling political consequences. To fight off the inevitable, the dominant classes in the U.S. had to execute a strategic switch, from importing capital through the working of the global financial market to extracting tribute through conquest.

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THE WSF in Mumbai focussed on the means of addressing this new offensive through a variety of mobilisational techniques. An oblique approach was suggested by some of the speakers, which would direct popular energies towards immediate needs: decent work and livelihood, for instance. At the end of the causal chain was the demon of imperialism, which had to be slain. But the campaign had to begin on issues that were most palpable to the disaffected masses.

The terrain for mobilisation today is especially fertile. Juan Somavia, the Director-General of the International Labour Organisation, drew attention to some of its features. Since the early-1980s, he pointed out, unemployment in Latin America had increased 50 per cent and the informal economy had grown by a like magnitude. Most tellingly, the purchasing power of the minimum wage had fallen by 20 per cent.

Of the many dimensions of globalisation, the WSF was choosing those that lent themselves to easy mobilisational symbols and techniques. But the inter-linkages are very much a part of its agenda. Thus, the campaign for decent work and livelihoods would transit quite seamlessly through all its linkages with global economic and political realities, into an agitation against the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

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The Mumbai gathering was called upon to address several correlated issues. Where for instance, does the nation-state stand in the process of mobilisation? The erosion of the autonomy of the nation-state has been a fundamental feature of the globalisation process. The WSF heard one school of campaign advocacy that insisted on restoring this autonomy through the reassertion of an old-style nationalism. But an alternative paradigm too was articulated, which spoke of the nation-state as an instrumentality of the erosion of the autonomy of several communities. Reconstituting the centralised power of the nation-state was not the main priority. Rather, the marginalised communities needed to be empowered and to consider through a free exercise of their will, how much of their authority they would cede - and under what conditions - to the centralised state.

A written charter is never a prerequisite to propel an upward spiral of mobilisation around certain universal aspirations. In the four years of its existence, the WSF has served as a platform for the articulation of a breathtaking range of views. But in hosting these discourses of global dissent, the WSF has not generated a literature of its own. The WSF remains in this sense an oral tradition yet to be codified in written texts. It is an annual festival of togetherness. But increasingly now, the intervals between successive gatherings are spent in exchanges in small communities and groups, spreading outwards in concentric circles.

The variety of themes that were articulated at Mumbai matched the diversity of the participation. A number of threads were laid out - suggesting theoretical approaches and practical solutions to concrete problems - but not tied together into a coherent, all-embracing strategy. This is part of the design of the WSF, which is not meant to set unalterable courses of action for the many social movements that participate, but to engender and energise movements in their hundreds. There are of course efforts to structure the forum into a more coherent political actor on the world stage. But there is little doubt that the "open spaces" philosophy that the WSF was founded on - the methodology of inclusion and tolerance for internal dissent - is by far its most valuable feature. Though emerging as a significant player on the world stage, the WSF is clearly not about suppressing the initiative or the energy of local movements.

`To propose alternatives'

cover-story

Interview with Jose Bove, French farm union leader.

In 1999, French farm union leader Jose Bove drove his tractor into a newly built McDonalds outlet in Millau in southern France and became an icon of the anti-globalisation movement. During his trial for this vandalism, supporters from all parts of the world descended on the small town of Millau. They turned the protest into a carnival, even organising an anti-globalisation music concert. The French Transport Ministry had to run additional trains to accommodate the visitors. Such is the magnetism of Jose Bove.

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McDonalds is not his only target. His farm union, Confederation Paysanne has been destroying genetically modified (GM) crops relentlessly. He even led a demonstration that ransacked a GM seed plant run by the multinational company (MNC), Novartis. For 20 years, he has been fighting against the ruination of small farmers by multinationals that promote industrial agriculture.

Besides his agitational activities, Bove has also been trying to unite farmers organisations around the world. His union played a key role in building Via Campesina, a global federation of farmers organisations from 70 countries. As part of his efforts to bring together this global movement, Bove was at the World Social Forum in Mumbai. Excerpts from an interview he gave Dionne Bunsha:

What do you think will be achieved at the WSF?

It is important in this kind of forum to show the world that this movement is gathering more people not only in the European Union (E.U.) and the United States (U.S.), but in Asia and particularly in India. It is not a surprise for me to find so many people here. Indian people are also struggling against globalisation.

You don't change the world with the WSF. But the fact [is] that people gather and see that other people are fighting too. They can discuss common problems. That is important.

How can you use this mobilisation?

First, through meetings. By proposing concrete action - local and international. It's important that it's not a movement to say no, but to propose alternatives.

It's also important to tell governments: look at what is happening, it's impossible for you to go ahead with globalisation that is against your own people.

There are four representatives of the French government here. Politicians are coming here to see what is happening. They have come to listen. They are at school here. The French President has sent his staff to the WSF for the third time.

I am not sure whether there is any direct impact on their policies, but it has affected what they say. At the World Summit in Johannesburg last year, the French President said that the planet is burning. They have to understand that people don't accept the way they are running the world.

What are the common problems of farmers worldwide?

In 1986, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was formed. It was crazy to put trade rules on all kinds of agriculture when trade relates to only 10 per cent of agricultural production. More than 90 per cent of agricultural production is consumed within 50 km of where it is produced. Yet, global trade corporations dominate not only trade but even the domestic markets. They are the only ones benefiting.

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Open markets and world price make no sense. World prices don't have any connection with the cost of production. Farmers' cost of production is much higher. Less than 10 transnational corporations control agricultural trade and prices in any product.

It's also ridiculous to impose the rule that every country has to import 5 per cent of each product it consumes. Even if you produce enough to feed your population, you still have to import. But you import at a lower price, which pushes down domestic prices and destroys agriculture. Thailand was an exporter of rice. Then, they had to import. Now they don't export anymore but are importing 20 per cent.

Third, WTO wants to stop subsidies. This is dismantling agriculture all over the world. Small farmers in the West can't survive even with subsidies. Every three minutes, a farm is disappearing in France. In Europe, 200,000 farms are lost. Bigger farms buy the land. Industrial production is taking over. In China, already 100 million farmers have been displaced after it signed the WTO. It is estimated that 250-350 million farmers will disappear by 2005. The same is happening in India.

Where are all these people going to go? Around 15 years back, there were big industries. Now there are no jobs in the cities either. If we displace so many people from the countryside, it will lead to civil wars.

Your organisation Via Campesina was formed to unite farmers around the world. But isn't there a conflict of interest between Northern and Southern farmers over subsidies?

Our union very clearly says Europe has to stop the export of milk, wheat and cereals. We don't have to export. By exporting we kill farmers in other countries, which don't really need these products. We need to reduce our production by less than 10 per cent to stop the exploitation. We can easily do that. Then you can have subsidies that will not harm other farmers. Subsidies are not a problem for other countries as long as we don't export.

We have to break the link between world price and domestic price. The only people benefiting from low price are MNCs which export and sell food.

There are hundred of farmers committing suicide in India every year. Are there similar suicides of farmers in other countries?

This is something crazy happening all over the world. In France, farmers are only 4 per cent of the population, but most suicides are by farmers. They don't have money. There is too much work. They have to keep buying inputs and land. It's impossible to make ends meet. When prices go down, they sink.

I know that in India too indebted farmers are committing suicide and selling their kidneys.

How did you get involved in the farmers' movement?

Thirty years ago, when I was 21 years old, I began in a struggle of farmers against the military who wanted to capture our land for a military camp in my hometown Larzac in south France. I began as a squatter in a farm which was occupied. In 1981, we won and the Army had to get out. It was a good start. After that, we hate losing.

Then, we started having meetings with other farmers in France against industrialisation in agriculture. In 1981, we started a Farm Union against the European model of agriculture. Now we represent 30 per cent of farmers. Last year, 30 years after our first fight, our town hosted the biggest demonstration in France against the World Trade Organisation with 300,000 people.

Can you tell us about your fight against Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)?

We began the fight against GMOs in 1997 when Europe said they would allow GMOs. We started a movement destroying GM seeds. In 1999, the E.U. decided to impose a moratorium on GMOs. After that we went on with demonstrations against GMO tests in fields all over France. We destroyed 20-30 crops each year. In June 1999, we destroyed GM rice with farmers from Karnataka.

The multinational corporations are under pressure, but they are still trying to push their technology. The fight is still going on.

In August 2004, we will start a new movement, a Gandhian movement. We will open an office where people can sign up to destroy GM crops. Now, we have thousands of people willing to go out and protest. A man who was a personal friend of Mahatma Gandhi has founded the secretariat.

Are you inspired by Gandhi?

Yes. I totally agree with Gandhi's thoughts on village republics.

We have always believed in non-violent action. We say what we are going to do and we do what we say. If you want to put us in jail, you can. We do it because we have no other solution. When we destroy the fields, we even write our names on chits of paper and give the paper to the police. If the police want to arrest us, they can.

A cure worse than the disease

The Tamil Nadu government's order issuing guidelines to check the rampant kidney trade in the State is seen as adding to the existing problem instead of offering an effective solution.

in Chennai

THE Tamil Nadu government has come out with "new guidelines" to deal with the "problem" of a thriving kidney trade in the State. But the guidelines appear to deal with symptoms rather than the disease.

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The October 29, 2003 Government Order - (MS) No. 341 of the Health Department - seeks to streamline the implementation of the Transplantation of Human Organs Act (THOA) 1994, which intended "to provide for the regulation of removal, storage and transplantation of human organs for therapeutic purposes and for the prevention of commercial dealings in human organs". The THOA establishes an institutional structure to authorise and regulate human organ transplants and to register hospitals that can perform the surgery. It recognises, for the first time in Indian law, the concept of brain-stem death, thus paving the way for a programme of organ harvesting from cadavers. It makes kidney-for-cash transactions a criminal offence and vests the monitoring mechanism with two institutions - the Appropriate Authority to regulate hospitals involved in kidney transplantation and the Authorisation Committee to prevent commercialisation of human organs.

The G.O. and the ensuing guidelines may not live up to the aims of the THOA because the proposals seem not only to burden hospitals unfairly but also to punish them severely - by revoking their licence - for non-compliance by the donors and recipients of kidneys. For example, the private hospitals authorised to perform kidney transplantations are required to produce the donors before the Authorisation Committee one to three months after the surgery for assessment of their well-being. According to a senior Chennai-based nephrologist, many recipients and donors come from as far away as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and the northeastern States and go back to their hometowns after the surgery. "In such a case, how can a hospital in Chennai which performed the surgery be responsible for bringing the donor to the Authorisation Committee one to three months after the surgery?" he asks.

Another proposal is that the donors from outside Tamil Nadu must get a letter of approval from the Authorisation Committee in their States. But 14 State governments have not set up any such committees. Asks Dr. Chakko K. Jacob, Professor and Head of the Department of Nephrology at Christian Medical College and Hospitals (CMCH), Vellore: "If there is an Authorisation Committee in their own State, why would they want to come to Tamil Nadu for approval?" Two of the unrelated cases (the donor-recipient pair were related but not by blood), hailing from Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh and Uganda, and sent by the CMCH for approval to the Committee at Chennai, were not approved on these grounds.

The most retrograde guideline is the one that requires Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA) matching (done to establish tissue compatibility) to be conducted "in laboratories not attached to the hospital." This is grossly unfair to hospitals such as the CMCH, which has one of the best HLA matching laboratories in the country. Asks a senior nephrologist: "Is it not possible for patients to influence laboratories outside the hospital?" According to Dr. Chakko Jacob, the CMCH's HLA laboratory was set up by Dr. Paul Terakasi, a world leader in the area who is consulted on almost every test done in the laboratory. Then why should the CMCH conduct its HLA test outside and not in its own laboratory that is one of the best in the country?" he asks.

The main problem with the new guidelines, according to a senior nephrologist, is that it "paints all doctors and hospitals with the same brush," assuming that "everyone is out to dupe the Authorisation Committee", and has not looked at kidney commerce in its entirety. For example, it is silent on the failure of the Appropriate Authority to monitor effectively the approved hospitals, in some of which "bought kidneys" are routinely being transplanted into patients with the Authorisation Committee's approval. Instead, the onus will now be on the donors - or the poor "sellers" as in most cases - and the hospitals to streamline the implementation of the THOA.

Among the other streamlining measures are the verification of the identity and nativity of the donors and recipients given by the approved hospitals with the help of "approved photo identity document" and third party verification. The government also plans to conduct surprise checks on approved hospitals and enforce measures to see that the hospitals send to the Authorisation Committee monthly reports on the number of transplants done by them as mandated by law.

According to Tamil Nadu Health Secretary Sheela Rani Chunkath, the new guidelines are part of the measures being taken to end the kidney trade. She warns that stringent action will be taken against anyone violating the law. The Health Department is also planning a multi-media awareness campaign on the medical, legal and social aspects of kidney transplantation.

Yet, nothing seems to have been done about the police cases (relating to middlemen allegedly cheating donors of the promised price for their kidneys) that reveal a nexus among donors, agents, hospitals and recipients. Not one hospital's licence has been cancelled, though media investigations have revealed monetary consideration to be involved in several unrelated transplantation cases that have gone through the Authorisation Committee.

For example, though media investigations have pointed to the involvement of monetary transaction between some donors and recipients through middlemen in the Chennai-based Devaki Hospital, neither the Appropriate Authority nor the Authorisation Committee did anything about it. But now, following a complaint (allegedly to settle personal scores) by a Devaki Hospital managing committee member, Chitra Chokalingam, regarding irregularities in the hospital's unrelated human organ transplant programme, the licence of the hospital has not been renewed ( it has to be renewed every five years) and an inquiry is being ordered.

According to a recent study, "Implementation of THOA", by Dr. V.R. Muraleedharan and S. Ram Prasad of the Centre for Sustainable Development, Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, "the commercialisation of kidneys is as common now as it was before the implementation of the Act and the present regulatory system is incapable of preventing it". The study says the loophole in the Act is Section 9(3), which allows kidney donation on grounds of "affection and attachment", and is therefore much exploited for the trade in kidneys. For instance, the study notes that it is not uncommon to find end-stage renal disease (ESRD) patients marrying women for their kidney and then divorcing them; getting the approval of the Authorisation Committee using a proxy donor; doing unrelated transplants without the approval of the Authorisation Committee; and providing false addresses for the donors. The major problem, notes the study, is that the Authorisation Committee is required to give reasons for rejecting an unrelated donation but not for approving it.

The IIT study also takes note of the strong hospital-middleman nexus. "Several medical professionals and hospitals have unabashedly allowed middlemen to operate in their own premises and thus have allowed commercialisation of kidneys to boom," it says. "Such unhealthy practices motivated by financial considerations have also led to the dilution of medical norms for matching compatibility of donors and recipients," the report notes, and adds that "many of the donors, in fact, are of poor health and should never have been allowed to donate a kidney."

According to another study (Economic and Health Consequences of Selling a Kidney in India by Goyal M. et al) published in the Journal of American Medical Association in October 2002, as many as 305 people from Villivakkam in suburban Chennai, have sold their kidneys. Thereafter, their income has declined by 67 per cent; 75 per cent of them are still in debt; and the health of 83 per cent of them has deteriorated.

Yet, the Authorisation Committee is "unable to find proof" of any "kidney sale" in Chennai. A former Chairman of the Authorisation Committee, Dr. C. Ravindranath, admits that the Committee is aware of the kidney racket in the State but does not know how to get proof. This plea of helplessness is hardly convincing considering that a host of foreign television channels (such as Ekoch FilmProduktion from Germany and Kurtis Film from the United States) have extensive footage of, and interviews with, donors, brokers, recipients and even doctors relating to the thriving kidney trade in Chennai.

In the "absence of proof of kidney commerce in the State", the Tamil Nadu G.O. aims to streamline the Authorisation Committee's working and make the procedures easier for potential recipients and unrelated donors in remote areas of Tamil Nadu by setting up two Authorisation Committee centres in Madurai and Coimbatore. Also, as 15-20 cases come before the committee for approval every week (it meets once a week at the Government General Hospital, Chennai) and "it is very difficult to verify the authenticity of each case", the G.O. seeks the help of third party non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to verify the information given by each set of recipient-donor.

However, on account of the alleged fall in the number of cases coming up before the Authorisation Committee after the G.O. was passed, the government has decided to put on hold its proposal for setting up committees in Coimbatore and Madurai.

According to Dr. Ravindranath, there are 45 approved transplant centres in the State, of which 28 are in Chennai. The committee meets once a week and considers some 30 applications (allegedly come down by half since January 2004). "It is impossible to verify the claims in each case and it is difficult to establish if money is involved in every donation," he says.

Dr. M.K. Mani of Apollo Hospitals, Chennai, a strident voice against live unrelated donations, says that the job of the Authorisation Committee is to prevent commercial deals in organs, as mandated by law. If it is unable to do so, then there is every reason to scrap Section 9(3), which allows for live unrelated donations on emotional grounds. According to him, every live unrelated kidney donation is bound to be commercial in nature and exploitative of the poor. The recent government measures will hardly solve the problem of kidney commerce in the State, he says.

"An example of an Act not intended to be implemented is the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994," says Keshava Rao, Professor, National Law School of India University, Bangalore. He says three petitions that seek to scrap Section 9(3) are pending before the Supreme Court.

According to Dr. Sunil Shroff of the Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Hospitals, Chennai, the kidney trade not only exploits the poor, but also effectively suppresses a cadaver programme. Ironically, it is to cater to fewer than 3 per cent of the patients who need kidneys (while 97 per cent of ESRD patients die unable to afford dialysis or a transplant) that such an exploitative system is being sustained.

The IIT report also notes that the government has done little to promote a cadaver programme. There is no functional organ registry; several cadaver organs go waste; and there are not enough doctors approved to certify brain death.

According to Dr. Shroff, organ donation takes place in hardly 19 per cent of brain-stem death cases. This is because of many problems, including a shortage of approved specialists to certify brain-stem death and lack of facilities to reach trauma patients to hospitals in time to harvest organs. "If the government really wants to help ESRD patients, it should take measures to address these problems and put a cadaver programme in place," he says. But according to Dr. Mani, a preventive care programme focussing on diabetes and blood pressure, the main causes of ESRD, is the best long-term solution.

A senior nephrologist, talking on condition of anonymity, said that if the government was serious about cleaning up the system and ending kidney commerce, it must first bring transparency to the functioning of the Appropriate Authority and the Authorisation Committee, and make them accountable and responsible for every decision taken. Secondly, it must break the donor-broker-doctor-hospital nexus. "It can," he says, "begin by asking why less than 5 per cent of the cases that come before the Authorisation Committee are rejected when monetary consideration seems to be involved in most of the cases, and why, while over 11,000 live kidney transplants have been done in the country since the enforcement of THOA, only 500 are from cadavers."

The Gorshkov deal

JOHN CHERIAN the-nation

India and Russia sign on January 20 the agreement for the purchase of the Russian aircraft carrier, after hard bargaining which started in 1997.

FINALLY, the Indian and Russian governments inked the deal for the acquisition of the 45,000-tonne Russian aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov, on January 20. The deal involved hard bargaining and long hours of negotiations, starting from 1997.

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Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov had specially come from Moscow when the two sides announced that the $1.5-billion deal was through.

With the Russian Minister sitting by his side, India's Defence Minister George Fernandes declared that the contract with Russia was a "landmark document". The Russian Minister said that the Gorshkov deal incorporated life-time upgrades from the Russian side for the ship. Ivanov asserted that this was "a good starting point for a more productive defence relationship.

The Russian side evidently hopes to sign more contracts in connection with the upgradation of Gorshkov as plenty of work remains to be done to convert it into a state-of-the-art carrier. According to the Russian media, negotiations are on for the required infrastructure to be built on the deck of Gorshkov. The aircraft carrier's flight deck will be extended and a powder type catapult will be installed for short take-offs and landings (STOL). The Russian side has indicated that all these alterations and improvements will take another four years or so. Gorshkov was designed to carry a lot of missiles and does not have a full flattop deck. The Russian designers will now start working to make it into a true flattop. The obsolete equipment and weapons have been dismantled and fuel tanks cleaned, fulfilling the pre-contract agreement.

The two Ministers also discussed the delivery of Sukhoi Su-30-Mk1 Super Flanker multi-role fighters and T-90-S main battle tanks. Other topics that figured in the talks were the possibility of the Indian Navy getting the Tupolev TU-22 Backfire intermediate-range bombers and the programme for upgrading diesel-powered submarines. Both Fernandes and Ivanov denied that negotiations had taken place for the supply of nuclear-powered Akula class submarines. There was speculation that Moscow had agreed to sell or lease the submarines provided India signed the Gorshkov deal expeditiously. Reports from Moscow say that only three new Akula class submarines are currently available and these are urgently needed by the Russian Navy. However, the option of India leasing an Akula class submarine in the near future has not been ruled out, provided the right price is quoted by New Delhi.

The Indian Navy has been looking for an aircraft carrier for the past six years to replace INS Viraat. The government had given the okay to the Navy for the indigenous production of two aircraft carriers by the end of the decade. However, with India's lone aircraft carrier, the INS Viraat, spending most of its time on the dry docks for repairs, the Navy felt the urgency for a replacement. Russia was in the seller's market as far as aircraft carriers were concerned. Very few countries are in the business of making aircraft carriers any more. In fact, very few navies in the world have aircraft carriers.

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In Asia, at present, besides India only Thailand has a helicopter carrier. Brazil, which had acquired an aircraft carrier, chose to junk it. It is now available for sale on the Internet. Brazil had brought the carrier to be one up on its traditional rival, Argentina, when both countries were involved in a regional tug of war in the 1960s. Italy has one aircraft carrier, which is used mainly for ferrying troops based in Africa and Asia on peace and military missions. Incidentally, the Italians have got the major contract in building the infrastructure for the two Indian indigenous carriers that are being constructed at the Cochin Shipyard. The design of the hull is by Indian engineers and the engine will be provided by the American multinational General Electric. China too is planning to add two indigenously built aircraft carriers to its naval fleet. Work on the ships is in progress.

The Indian Navy top brass, however, has given great importance to aircraft carriers in its overall naval strategy. Gorshkov, with a sea endurance of 30 days and the capacity to carry more than 2,000 sailors and officers, is perceived as a real force projector for the country. Once it is refurbished, Gorshkov will come with 16 MiG-29K aircraft and six Kamov KA-28 choppers. The MiG-29K has a range of 2,300 km. The Indian Navy's blue water aspirations have received a boost as it now has the capacity to put a carrier task force as far as the South China Sea and the Persian Gulf. Naval strategists point out that India sits astride two "choke points" for global oil supplies - the strait of Hormuz on its west and the Strait of Malacca in the east. The Indian Navy may be called upon increasingly play a policing role as the volume of traffic in the Indian Ocean region is set to rise dramatically. The three East Asian dynamos, China, Japan and South Korea, will be importing more oil and gas from West Asia as their economies continue to grow.

Critics of the decision to go in for an expensive aircraft carrier claim that if the primary goal was to ensure the security of sea-borne trade, then India already had considerable military deterrence at its disposal. They point out that there is no credible threat to India's borders from the sea. Air Force veterans say that the Su-30s have a range of more than 2,000 km, with facilities for mid-air fuelling. The fighter planes could be easily used to ensure the safety and security of India's sea-borne trade.

The critics also argue that Gorshkov is too big for the Indian Navy's requirements. An aircraft carrier can no longer remain invisible in the vast expanse of the ocean for long, given the gigantic strides satellite imaging technology has taken. They also add that by the time Gorshkov formally enters the Indian Navy, it will be 20 years old. There was a major fire on Gorshkov when it was used by the Soviet Navy. Those who favoured the deal quote Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's speech at the recent Combined Commanders Conference, in which he said that India's sphere of influence spanned "the Indian Ocean from the Bab-el-Mendeb in the west to the Malacca Straits in the east".

Some Indian Defence analysts try to bring in the China card to rationalise the purchase of Gorshkov. They claim that India has to counter China's ambitions in the Indian Ocean. China is said to have established extensive snooping facilities in Myanmar's Great Coco Islands. (Both Yangon and Beijing have denied this.) China's naval cooperation with Bangladesh and Pakistan in the development of the Chittagong and Gwadar ports is also being viewed with suspicion in some quarters in New Delhi. These views are apparently not shared by the Indian political establishment, which no longer prefers to look at Bejing as a strategic rival, at least for the time being.

India's naval ambitions are encouraged not only by Moscow, but also by Washington, at this juncture. The American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, at his confirmation hearing in 2001, said that it was important for the United States to support India's role in maintaining peace and stability in the Indian Ocean and its vast periphery.

Resistance in Kerala

R. KRISHNA KUMAR the-nation

The World Water Conference at Plachimada adds immense strength to the local people's fight against the exploitation of their groundwater resources by Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

THE `Battle of Plachimada', for the people's right to water, is now being fought in the courts of Kerala, but the world is fast becoming its grand stage, much to the discomfiture of the profit-guzzling soft-drink giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

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Following the 2004 meeting of the World Social Forum (WSF) in Mumbai, the small village of Plachimada in Palakkad district of Kerala witnessed a rare union of radical unionists, `Green' politicians, environmentalists and social activists from around the world, expressing solidarity with villagers who have been hopelessly engaged in a battle for their right to water with the multinationals for over two years.

The three-day World Water Conference at Plachimada from January 21, organised by the Perumatty panchayat, has come as a catapulting event for the people near the local Coca-Cola unit as well as those living near the bottling plant of rival soft-drink behemoth, Pepsi, located in the neighbouring panchayat of Puthusseri.

Both cola giants have in a short span of two years sucked their neighbourhoods dry, according to the villagers. Alarmingly, as a BBC Radio 4 inquiry found in August 2003, Coca-Cola is in the dock also for distributing sludge containing dangerously high levels of the toxic elements cadmium and lead to the villagers who were made to believe that it was "fertilizer". The companies have been maintaining that the drought-like conditions in the villages are a result mainly of poor rainfall and that the sludge was but only "harmless" soil conditioner. The State government and, for a long time, the panchayat authorities too continued to be apathetic, as villagers, including those in 10 colonies of Dalits and tribal people, found that their drying groundwater sources were also getting highly polluted and unsuitable for use.

In late 2003, after Plachimada caught the attention of the global media following the BBC Radio 4 inquiry, the Perumatty panchayat decided to order the closure of the Coca-Cola factory, a move shot down by the State government. A domino action by the Puthusseri panchayat against the Pepsi unit too met with a similar response from the government. Both panchayats have since approached the courts. In December, a Single Bench of the Kerala High Court ordered Coca-Cola to find altrernative sources of water for its high production needs (Frontline, January 30). But the court also took the stand that the panchayat should not interfere in the functioning of the cola unit if the company could find alternative sources of water for its use.

For the villagers, hopes of an early solution through the courts were shattered when a Division Bench of the High Court subsequently ordered the appointment of a multi-agency expert committee to ascertain whether the current level of exploitation of groundwater by the company was indeed the reason for the scarcity of water experienced in the region. The committee in turn has informed the court that it would take at least a year for it to prepare a final report. Plachimada was bracing for a long-drawn out court battle between multi-million dollar industrial behemoths and the two panchayats with meagre resources.

What the aggrieved villagers, a lot of them poor farmers, Dalits and tribal people, badly needed was to connect their isolated woes to similar struggles taking place elsewhere against corporate theft of the world's most valuable resource. "Globalise your struggles to globalise your hopes," the inaugural message by Jose Bove, the redoubtable leader of `Confederation Paysanne'(a leftist peasant farmers' union in France) and a symbol of the growing resistance against all things corporate, was a sharply targeted one. "The struggle at Plachimada is part of the worldwide struggle against transnational companies that exploit natural resources like water. These companies have made water a priced commodity to make profit. We will take this issue across the globe as the finest example of overexploitation of water resources by companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi," he said.

Not many of the villagers who listened to Jose Bove at Plachimada would have heard about him. But, by their presence at the conference, unimaginable for the villagers a few months earlier, standard-bearers like Bove were quick-linking the 640-day lack-lusture struggle at Plachimada to the anti-globalisation efforts worldwide. "Yours is a just struggle. These companies have to quit. You have every right to ask them to get out of your lives. We do not know how long the battle will last. But you know that your fight is right and you will be successful. You have the support of the farmers of France and members of other anti-globalisation resistance movements in different parts of the world," Bove said.

Like Bove and Maude Barlow, the Ottawa-based activist and writer described as `the Joan of Arc of those opposed to the sale of water', there were a number of leading activists and environmentalists from across the world who were in Plachimada to listen to the people affected by the Coca-Cola-Pepsi water mining. They included Heidi Hautala, Inger Schoerling and Steve Emmott from Sweden, Ward Morehouse from the United States and Hosse Bube from France.

Barlow said that multinational companies were playing with the lives of millions of people by trying to privatise scarce water resources. "Transnational corporations were trying to control the remaining precious water because those who now control the `Blue Gold' would control the world," the author of Blue Gold, a book on the theft of the world's water and of huge corporations seeking control of the world's water supply, said. "The struggle at Plachimada is to prove that water belongs to the people. We urge Coca-Cola to close down its operation in the village quickly," she said, pledging support of the people of Canada and elsewhere who were engaged in the fight to protect their drinking water supplies.

"The new water policy of the government is geared towards privatisation. There is no substitute for water. We will see to it that the resistance against the privatisation of water, against the stealing of water from the common man, is soon globalised. There is only one politics in this and that is to ensure that the fundamental rights of the people are protected," environmental activist Vandana Shiva, a key speaker at the conference, said.

The question of why toxic materials were detected in the sludge distributed to farmers by the Coca-Cola factory was also a point of discussion at the conference. Inger Schoerling, a delegate from Sweden and a member of the European Parliament, said that the European Union (E.U.) was in the process of formulating a law that would prevent the use of pesticides beyond a certain level by the food and beverage industry. The global transnationals had already begun to lobby for leniency in the provisions of the proposed law, Schoerling said.

"We are in a struggle to end the powers of the corporate giants since democracy can survive only if they are expelled, author and human rights activist Ward Morehouse, the man who carried the torch of the Bhopal struggle out of India, told the conference. A few transnational companies based in rich nations were increasingly controlling the world's natural resources. The need was to fight against such concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, if democracy was to survive, he said.

Some 300 persons, including tribal people, politicians and activists from India and abroad, took part in the dharna in front of the Coke plant, which was led by Vandana Shiva, Jose Bove and key organisers of the conference, litteratur Sukumar Azhikode, president of the Indian Newspaper Society M.P. Veerendrakumar and Member of Parliament N. N. Krishnadas. A march led by activists was taken out to the Hindustan Coca-Cola company in Plachimada where they shouted slogans saying `no!' to Coke and Pepsi, demanded clean drinking water and declaring support to the tribal people in their 640-day agitation in front of the factory gates. Raising slogans for the villagers' right to water, the demonstrators demanded that Coca-Cola wind up its operations in the village. "We want drinking water. No Coke, No Pepsi," a slogan read.

The three-day conference ended on January 23 in the neighbouring Puthusseri panchayat, near where the Pepsi plant is located, with a call for a struggle against the looting of water by multi-national companies in different parts of the world. An India-wide agitation against the privatisation of water is being planned, Vanadana Shiva announced at the concluding session.

The `Plachimada declaration' adopted at the end of the conference began with the assertion that water is not a private property, not a commodity, but a common resource, a fundamental right of man. "We should resist all criminal attempts to marketise, privatise and corporatise water. Only through these means can we ensure the fundamental and inalienable right to water for the people all over the world," it said, indicating that the country's water policy should be formulated on the basis of this outlook.

The declaration, read out by Sukumar Azhikode and Maude Barlow, said that "the right to conserve, use and manage water is fully vested with the local community. This is the very basis of water democracy. Any attempt to reduce or deny this right is a crime." He said that the production and marketing of the "poisonous products of the Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola corporates" would lead to total destruction and pollution endangering the very existence of local communities. It described the resistance that has come up at Plachimada and Puthusseri as "symbols of our valiant struggle against the devilish corporate gangs who pirate our water" and said: "We, who are in the battlefield in full solidarity with the Adivasis who have put up resistance against the tortures of the horrid commercial forces in Plachimada, exhort the people all over the world to boycott the products of Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola. Coca-Cola-Pepsi Cola, `Quit India'."

The next hearing in Coca-Cola vs Perumatty panchayat is scheduled before the Division Bench of the High Court on February 12, when the expert committee is expected to be ready with a preliminary report, including a record of the water currently being drawn by the company from the area. Despite an earlier Single Bench ruling that `groundwater is a public property held in trust by a government', everyone at the conference was acutely aware of the snail's pace at which events were moving for a resolution of the woes of the people in the two panchayats. But, as Perumatty village panchayat president A. Krishnan, a Dalit leader, told the conference: "It is for the first time in India that a small village like Plachimada is attracting international attention because of severe water scarcity. It is for the first time that a small village is hosting a world event to underline that multinational companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi are exploiting Indian villages."

In a way, the two village communities in the northern Kerala district seemed to be telling their powerful opponents, "We too have friends all over the world. We are now part of the global resistance. And, the world would be watching."

A meaningful course

The dialogue process between New Delhi and the All Parties Hurriyat Conference takes off on a note of optimism, but how far it will go given that Pakistan is yet to give up the jehad card is uncertain.

in Srinagar

IN some senses, the ongoing dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir is a little like a bargain between a shopkeeper with no goods to sell and a client with no cash in his pocket. And yet, the moderate faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and the Union government do have an outside chance of haggling their way into history.

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On the face of it, little tangible has happened to merit the use of the term "historic" for the January 22 discussions between Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and the APHC. An official statement noted that the APHC delegation, made up of its chairman Maulvi Abbas Ansari, Abdul Gani Bhat, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Bilal Lone and Fazl-ul-Haq Qureshi, demanded that "an honourable and durable solution should be found through dialogue". Advani promised that "cases of prisoners who have not committed heinous crimes will be reviewed". Both sides agreed that "all forms of violence at all levels should end and the scope of dialogue be enlarged to cover all regions and communities". The next day, APHC leaders held an unscheduled meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who, Umar Farooq later said, "listened to us patiently and asked us to continue with the peace process".

What is significant, however, is that the public polemic of the APHC centrists has changed considerably. In April last year, when Vajpayee made a speech in Srinagar inviting both Pakistan and the APHC to talk to New Delhi, Bhat for one had responded acidly. Vajpayee's "rendition of nightingale tunes won't help the Kashmir issue. Vajpayee talked about laying roads, providing jobs to the unemployed and building houses. We have our houses. We wanted something concrete. Had he taken one step, we were ready to take four steps forward," he had said. Now, Bhat described the dialogue as "amicable, free, frank, fair and fruitful discussions". Ansari went one step further, claiming that the speech Bhat had criticised last year was "historic", and asserted that the dialogue would help "gradually inch towards a resolution of the Kashmir issue". Farooq, in turn, assured Vajpayee that the "entire Kashmir leadership was behind him".

Much of the optimism of the APHC moderates seems to be based on their growing ability to resist Islamist coercion. Qureshi's inclusion in the APHC team is of particular significance. Although his People's Political Front is a constituent of the APHC, Qureshi is not a member of the organisation's executive, and has stayed away from its political battles. A long-time secessionist politician, Qureshi was, along with Abdul Majid Dar, the pro-dialogue Hizbul Mujahideen leader, an active figure in the People's League. Dar subsequently created the Tehreek-e-Jihad, an independent terrorist group which later merged into the Hizbul Mujahideen. When the Hizbul Mujahideen declared a unilateral ceasefire in 2000, Qureshi was Dar's chosen mediator with the Union government. Although Dar was later assassinated, Qureshi has the backing of pro-dialogue elements within the Hizbul Mujahideen. Such support could be instrumental in helping the APHC centrists, who otherwise have no influence among armed groups, give muscle to their moderation.

On how the peace process might actually unfold, however, no one seems certain. A full-scale ceasefire within Jammu and Kashmir, one of the APHC centrists' demands, is certain to be resisted by Indian security forces. During the Prime Minister's Ramzan ceasefire of 2000, terrorist violence had escalated sharply and security forces suffered serious reverses, and few are keen to repeat the experience, other than as a short-term symbolic gesture. There is less controversy about releasing second-rung secessionist leaders and others held on minor charges; the 18 prisoners freed on January 26 could be followed by several others. Most of those now in jail are affiliated with the hardline APHC faction of Islamist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and the release of prisoners could help win over some factions opposed to the ongoing dialogue. APHC leaders, sources told Frontline, will be allowed to travel to Pakistan later this year to meet with leaders of terrorist groups and their political front organisations. APHC leaders are also expected to engage some Hizbul Mujahideen field commanders in Jammu and Kashmir itself. Again, the objectives of such a dialogue are not well defined.

NO one, though, is in a hurry. The January 22 talks do not mark a discontinuity in the flow of history; they are, rather, just a point in a complex process that has unfolded since 1997. Soon after his release from jail that year, the former Amir, or chief, of the Jamaat-e-Islami, G.M. Bhat, distanced his organisation from the Hizbul Mujahideen, and called for an end to "gun culture". Others soon started to run with the ball. Soon after taking office as APHC chairman in the spring of 1999, Abdul Ghani Bhat called for a dialogue between mainstream political parties and secessionists, a marked departure from the organisation's constitutionally mandated demand for a three-way dialogue between itself, India and Pakistan. All sections of Kashmir's society including the National Conference and even Communists, he argued in an April 19, 1999 interview, had to be involved in "initiating genuine political activity".

War broke out in Kargil soon afterwards. It delayed, but did not derail, New Delhi's engagement of the APHC centrists and pro-peace elements in the Hizbul Mujahideen. Careful covert diplomacy, notably involving the Prime Minister's Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra and former Research and Analysis Wing chief Amarjit Dulat, led to the Hizbul Mujahideen declaring a unilateral ceasefire in July 2000. While the Hizbul Mujahideen soon backed out of the truce, Vajpayee ordered Indian forces to stop offensive combat operations. In the midst of the ceasefire, the Union government offered the APHC centrists the opportunity to visit Pakistan to consult with leaders there. The sole condition was that the team should not include APHC leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a demand that the APHC rejected. Abdul Ghani Lone, a moderate voice in the APHC, bitterly criticised Geelani for the fiasco. "We say, allow us to go to Pakistan", he reflected, "and when we will reach there, we will tell the Mujahideen to sharpen their weapons against India. I see no logic in it."

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Once again, the pendulum had swung towards the Islamists. At the 2001 remembrance of religious leader Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq's death, exactly a year before Lone's eventual assassination, armed men gathered around a rostrum from which Abdul Ghani Bhat was speaking. "Walk hand in hand with the Lashkar-e-Toiba," went one slogan. "All those in the APHC must support Pakistan," others shouted. Indiscriminate killings of civilians, legitimised as attacks on suspected informers or individuals alleged to be inadequately Islamic in their conduct, help terrorist groups assert their influence over civil society. An unexpected event would, however, transfigure the terms of discourse within secessionist politics in Jammu and Kashmir - the September 11, 2001 bombings in the United States. Although Abdul Ghani Lone and Umar Farooq were now the only committed pro-dialogue elements in the APHC executive, September 11 changed everything: violence had, almost overnight, become unacceptable.

Lone and Farooq were quietly granted permission by the Indian government to travel to Sharjah in mid-April 2002, for a meeting with Sardar Abdul Qayoom Khan, the head of the Kashmir Committee set up by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. The meeting was the first in several years between major political figures from both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. Pakistan's then-intelligence chief, Ehtaz-ul-Haq, is also believed to have been present at the sidelines of that meeting. Lone subsequently gave some insight into what may have transpired in that closed-door meeting, when he demanded that jehadi groups "leave us alone". Meanwhile, Geelani again came under fire from within the Jamaat-e-Islami, which passed a resolution supporting the "conciliatory stance adopted by Umar Farooq and Abdul Gani Lone". Lone paid for his stance with his life in May 2002; Majid Dar was executed the next year. By late 2003, Geelani was isolated within the Jamaat-e-Islami, which refused to back the hardline parallel faction of the APHC he set up. Although the Hizbul Mujahideen brought considerable pressure to bear on the Jamaat-e-Islami to back the rejectionists, the pressure came to nothing.

Where do things go from here? First, as Lone's assassination illustrates, the APHC centrists are under serious threat. Terrorist groups have already made clear their loathing for the moderates. On January 14 this year, the Jamait-ul-Mujahideen warned APHC chairman Abbas Ansari and his colleagues "not to kneel at the doorsteps of Delhi", or face being "done to death one by one". Underlying this venom is self-interest. Put simply, the Mujahideen have no reason to wish that politicians walk away with the fruits of their jehad - the basic reason why India is talking in the first place. In a statement published in Srinagar newspapers on April 19, 2003, the Hizbul Mujahideen chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah had demanded that his organisation, and not the APHC, be represented in three-way dialogue between India, Pakistan, and representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Shah's desperation is compounded by indications that some within his organisation are starting to cut their own deals with politicians in Jammu and Kashmir.

Anti-dialogue forces, however, are also under pressure. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front's Yasin Malik, widely perceived among liberals as a secular nationalist, is now Geelani's sole credible ally - an alliance replete with ironies to journalists who have heard JKLF leaders assert that their supposedly secular organisation was wiped out by the Islamist Hizb in alliance with Indian security forces. Those who attended the Qul, post-burial rites, of the recently killed Hizbul Mujahideen's Jammu and Kashmir chief, Ghulam Rasool Dar, were treated to the spectacle of praise being lavished upon his memory by JKLF second-in-command Javed Ahmad Mir. One way of pushing forward the dialogue might be to invite figures like Geelani and Malik on board. Most hardliners, however, seem content to bide their time, hoping the talks will eventually reach impasse: allowing them to enter Advani's offices on more generous terms than the centrists could secure.

In the end, much will depend on whether Pakistan's military establishment actually wants to bring about a real de-escalation of violence in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan's military ruler described the January 22 dialogue as "a very good beginning." The state-run television in Pakistan, however, blacked out news of the APHC's meetings in New Delhi. Mohammad Farooq Rehmani, the head of the APHC's Pakistan-based unit, insisted that "Kashmiris reject the talks between the Ansari group and India, as they decided to sit with the Indian side without any mandate". Geelani, whose faction is recognised by Pakistan as the official APHC, went one step further. He claimed that the moderates were "following in the footsteps of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah", suggesting that they were betraying the secessionist cause. There is little sign so far that Pakistan, notwithstanding public commitments, is actually winding up support to terrorists. Signals traffic from terrorist groups in Jammu and Kashmir to base camps across the LoC, Indian Army Chief General N.C. Vij recently pointed out, continued unabated, and no actual effort has been made to cap or dismantle their infrastructure.

While the peace process will not be derailed by a few major acts of terrorism, its unlikely to survive a major escalation in violence within Jammu and Kashmir. Many in the Bharatiya Janata Party are less than happy with the way events are proceeding. Just nine months ago, Union Minister of State for Defence Chaman Lal Gupta, had said: "There was no need to enter into a dialogue with the APHC leadership, which has no mass base in Jammu and Kashmir." Most officials in New Delhi are hoping that the U.S. will rein in any effort by Pakistan to rock the peace boat. Musharraf, however, is unlikely to give up his jehad card until he secures at least some concessions on Jammu and Kashmir that he can sell as a victory to hawks at home. Officials in Pakistan have spoken of the partition of Jammu and Kashmir along its ethnic-communal fault lines as a possible option. New Delhi, on the other hand, hopes Pakistan will, eventually, settle for the LoC as the border, along with a package of free movement, trade and some autonomy. For all the talk of a Washington-inspired road map for peace, there is no evidence that policy-makers there have any better idea of the way forward than their counterparts in Islamabad or New Delhi.

People in Jammu and Kashmir, though, seem to be in no doubt on how they want events to proceed. For several days in January, villagers from the Teetwal area gathered along the banks of the Neelam river, which marks the LoC. Some shouted across messages to relatives they have not met in decades; others blew kisses or threw letters wrapped around stones. Applicants from districts along the LoC have been queueing up for passports, hoping a Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service will soon begin. Almost incredibly, faith still lives in a place where hope has so often been belied.

A peace process, then, is truly under way in Jammu and Kashmir - but processes do not guarantee good outcomes, or even any outcome. As things stand, an impasse is just as possible as a movement towards an abiding peace. The good news is that both New Delhi and APHC know this, and at least for now, seem prepared to keep talking shop - and to keep praying.

The rage of the doves

The Hizbul Mujahideen is going through a crisis, the latest triggered by the killing of its second-in-command Ghulam Rasool Dar by Indian security forces.

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"DON'T shoot," Ghulam Rasool Dar had shouted out to photographers on August 3, 2000, "my life is in danger." It is unlikely that the Hizbul Mujahideen's overall commander in Jammu and Kashmir made the same plea to the Indian soldiers who surrounded his hideout on January 16 - but his prediction was prophetic.

That August afternoon, Dar had emerged from a meeting with India's then Union Home Secretary Kamal Pande. The Hizbul Mujahideen had just initiated a unilateral ceasefire with New Delhi, and Dar had been despatched across the Line of Control (LoC) to represent his Amir, or supreme commander, Mohammad Yusuf Shah. Shah, better known by his nom de guerre Syed Salahuddin, had become increasingly suspicious of the pro-dialogue Hizbul Mujahideen commander who initiated the ceasefire, Abdul Majid Dar. When the talks began, Majid Dar was ordered not to attend the meeting with Pande, and to send his deputy, Farooq Sheikh Mirchal, instead. Rasool Dar represented the hardliners. Soon after the talks, Shah shut down the dialogue process under pressure from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which was nervous about the prospect of the Hizbul Mujahideen disintegrating.

From the time Rasool Dar emerged from the meeting the Hizbul Mujahideen has been in a slow process of meltdown. Majid Dar held his ground, only to be expelled from the Hizbul Mujahideen. In August 2001, the Hizbul Mujahideen organised the assassination of Mirchal, who had emerged as the key organiser among the pro-dialogue Hizbul Mujahideen faction. Not so long afterwards, in March 2003, Majid Dar himself was executed by a Hizbul Mujahideen hit squad near his home in Sopore. The assassination provoked a split within the Hizbul Mujahideen's cadre in Pakistan, but with the help of the ISI, Shah remained firmly in control. Now, it appears, the Hizbul Mujahideen's doves have had their vengeance. The rage of the doves could be of profound consequence to the ongoing dialogue process between New Delhi and the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) - and for the future course of terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir.

Rasool Dar, operating under the aliases Ghazi Nasiruddin, Riyaz Rasool and Zubair, was second in seniority in the Hizbul Mujahideen command, reporting only to its Amir. He was killed in a brief encounter with the 2 Rashtriya Rifles battalion at Zainakot, near Srinagar. Fayyaz Ahmad, a Hizbul Mujahideen deputy divisional commander in charge of southern Kashmir, was shot dead along with him. A resident of the south Kashmir town of Tral, Ahmad also handled finance and publicity work for the Hizbul Mujahideen.

The elimination of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander marked the climax of a long-running hunt that began soon after Rasool Dar took charge of the Hizbul Mujahideen in November 2003. The key breakthrough came when Indian intelligence began intercepting calls made on his Thuraya hand-held satellite phone. India is among the few countries in Asia with a significant satellite-signal interception capability, which is enabled by a string of listening stations run by the Research and Analysis Wing's (RAW) super-secret National Technical Intelligence Communication Centre.

While RAW's technical intelligence helped security personnel gain a general idea of where Dar was operating, not a little work remained before the jaws of the trap finally closed around the Hizbul Mujahideen commander. At 5-30 p.m. on January 15, Border Security Force (BSF) personnel succeeded in eliminating the Hizbul Mujahideen deputy commander, Mohammad Abbas Malik, at a safe house in Srinagar. Malik, a resident of Gund in Doda, had earlier served as a divisional commander in the mountain district. A series of raids now began, targeting the locations of all local telephone numbers dialled from his satellite phone. Correctly believing that Indian security forces would soon locate him, and knowing that his safe houses were now known, Dar fled Srinagar to a suburban safe house used by Ahmad. Soon after they arrived there, a source working for the 2 Rashtriya Rifles informed the battalion that two unidentified terrorists were hiding in the area.

Rasool Dar's elimination will have considerable consequences for the Hizbul Mujahideen's military operations. The organisation has lost a string of top-level commanders over the last year. In April, Indian security forces succeeded in eliminating Dar's predecessor as military commander, Ghulam Rasool Khan, who operated under the code-names Saif-ul-Islam and Engineer Zamaan. Dar's deputy, Pakistani national Saif-ul-Rahman Bajwa, was killed by the Jammu and Kashmir Police and BSF in November. Rasool Khan's killing would have given considerable satisfaction to the Hizbul Mujahideen dissidents, since he had ordered the execution of Mirchal, hoping to remove pro-dialogue elements from the key border district of Kupwara. Sources say that Rasool Khan had flatly refused to make the crossing across the LoC until Mirchal was removed from the area, fearing betrayal.

As things stand, the Hizbul Mujahideen has been hard-pressed to find a credible successor for Rasool Dar, a Jamaat-e-Islami veteran who enjoyed the personal confidence of the Hizbul Mujahideen Amir. It is yet to send a commander to run its operations in Rasool Dar's place; senior commander Abdul Ahad Bhat, is believed to have been nominated to take command. Bhat, however, had pro-dialogue sympathies in the past. On May 1, 2002, the Srinagar newspaper Greater Kashmir carried an article by Bhat which proclaimed that if "today India begins a genuine process of settlement and peace, we will not wait till tomorrow". He added that if "India takes an initiative with good intentions, she will find us ten steps ahead of her one step. We will at once give up guns and observe [a] real ceasefire." Rasool Dar himself had been reluctant to serve in the Kashmir valley, having narrowly escaped several security force operations while serving earlier, and his family had left for Pakistan on the New Delhi-Lahore bus service in 2001.

SOME within the Hizb have been acidly suggesting that Shah himself take on the high-risk assignment job vacant in the Valley, noting that their Amir himself is open to the charge of having made deals with the Indian state. Shah has five sons, not one of whom has joined the jehad in Jammu and Kashmir. One of them, Wahid Yusuf Shah, studies at the Government Medical College in Srinagar, to which he was granted an almost-unprecedented transfer from a privately run institution in Jammu under a discretionary quota then available to the Chief Minister. Shah's other sons hold private and public sector jobs.

Unsurprisingly, some within the Hizbul Mujahideen fold seem to be preparing to jump ship. On January 23, Mohammad Akbar Bhat, a former Hizbul Mujahideen divisional commander, announced his decision to join the APHC centrists. Bhat, one of the Hizbul Mujahideen team who met Pande and a key pro-dialogue commander, was subsequently expelled from the Hizbul Mujahideen along with Majid Dar. "When India and Pakistan are coming together at the negotiating table," he said, in a rebuke to Islamists opposed to the ongoing dialogue, "there is no reason for us to shy away from entering a dialogue."

Unconfirmed intelligence reports also suggest that another former Hizbul Mujahideen leader, `Master' Ahsan Dar, may have recently returned to Jammu and Kashmir. Indian intelligence assets spotted Ahsan Dar in the third week of January, at two safe houses in southern Kashmir.

Dar, too, has impeccable Hizbul Mujahideen credentials. One of the founders of the organisation, Dar was controversially released from jail on the orders of the then Minister of State for Home, Mushtaq Ahmad Lone, in early 2000. The top terrorist had been arrested seven years earlier from the home of Lone's brother. The move was widely seen as part of the National Conference's efforts to recruit elements from the Islamic Right to its ranks, in an effort to undermine the APHC. On June 30, 2000, Dar announced he was reviving the organisation he set up after leaving the Hizbul Mujahideen, the Ansar-ul-Islam.

Both Ahsan Dar and the former Hizbul Mujahideen elements grouped in the Jammu and Kashmir Solidarity Forum (JKSF) are now believed to be in contact with their one-time comrades, building support for a ceasefire. Shah, fighting against time to stall the ongoing dialogue between APHC moderates and New Delhi, has been forced into rearguard action. In recent days, the Hizbul Mujahideen, as well as its sister jehadi organisations like the Jamait-ul-Mujahideen, have held out threats to the life of APHC moderates. Shah also opposed the ongoing dtente process between India and Pakistan.

Shortly before his death, Rasool Dar is also believed to have personally met the Jamaat-e-Islami chief Syed Nazir Ahmad Kashani to demand that the organisation throw its weight behind the Islamist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Rasool Dar's efforts to swing support for Geelani had, however, met with little success.

Kashani, a moderate who believes that the armed struggle hurts the Jamaat-e-Islami's primary missionary purpose, did not attend Dar's burial ceremony. The Jamaat-e-Islami Amir has the backing of much of the Jamaat-e-Islami's rank-and-file, who have suffered a fearsome hammering from Indian security forces because of the Hizbul Mujahideen connections - but have received little political compensation in return. If the failure to corral the Jamaat-e-Islami is indicative of a larger split within the constituency from which the Hizbul Mujahideen draws its ranks, the consequences for the terrorist organisation could be calamitous. Even Majid Dar's initiative did pose as much of a challenge to the Hizbul Mujahideen as the ongoing rebellion by moderates within the Jamaat-e-Islami. This is because Majid Dar and his chosen mediator, Fazl-ul-Haq Qureshi had their political roots in the People's League, an organisation with an ideological orientation distinct from the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Shah is also confronted with discipline issues within his organisation. Local Hizbul Mujahideen units in some areas, notably Budgam and Anantnag, are believed to have entered into profitable protection-rackets involving contractors working on the Qazigund-Baramulla railroad. Such activity, obviously, does little for organisational discipline. Although disaggregated data for Hizbul Mujahideen activities is not available, 97 terrorists were killed against just 19 Indian security personnel in December 2003, an unusually adverse ratio. At least some signs exist that this haemorrhaging of cadre, and recent command-level losses, have led some in the Hizbul Mujahideen to reconsider their future. One Kashmir-based commander, Arif Khan, sent out feelers some months ago on the possibility of surrender, and both Rasool Dar and the Hizbul Mujahideen central division commander, Abdul Rashid Pir, had in recent weeks met senior political leaders from the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), as well as the Opposition N.C.

Little is known about the content or purpose of these meetings. One engagement, with a top PDP leader, is believed to have taken place only four days before Dar was eliminated. Dar is also believed to have met a senior N.C. leader from central Kashmir with substantial support among the Gujjar community. Little is known about the possible content of this dialogue track. While the PDP has enthusiastically backed the New Delhi-APHC dialogue, it has also been calling for the Hizbul Mujahideen to be called for negotiations. Some analysts believe that the PDP has a long-term interest in actually seeing the APHC dialogue fail, since the APHC moderates and the PDP compete for essentially the same mass constituency. If this is indeed the PDP's objective, its covert negotiations with the Hizbul Mujahideen have obvious significance: the party's electoral successes in 2001 had not a little to do with its not-so-covert alliance with local Hizbul Mujahideen elements.

Come the Lok Sabha elections, will some in the Hizbul Mujahideen be seeking a larger political role? It is far too early to say - but the signs are that the Hizbul Mujahideen has been unable to contain the crisis forced upon it by history.

Another victory for Jayalalithaa

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN the-nation

A Special Court acquits Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in the SPIC-TIDCO disinvestment case, saying the CBI charge-sheet has failed to prove the corruption case beyond doubt.

IN yet another legal victory for Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, a Special Court in Chennai acquitted her and two others on January 23 in the Rs.28.29-crore SPIC-TIDCO disinvestment case. On November 24, 2003, the Supreme Court upheld a Madras High Court verdict acquitting her in the two TANSI cases. All these cases relate to the corruption charges against her.

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The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had charge-sheeted Jayalalithaa on August 18, 2000, in the SPIC-TIDCO disinvestment case. It relates to the decision of the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO), a State government undertaking, in 1992 to renounce its rights in the Southern Petrochemcial Industries Corporation (SPIC) in favour of M.A. Chidambaram and A.C. Muthiah, then its Chairman and Vice-Chairman respectively. Jayalalithaa was the Chief Minister at that time, heading the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government. The accused in the case other than Jayalalithaa were C. Ramachandran, formerly Industries Secretary and Chairman and Managing Director of TIDCO, and Muthiah. Chidambaram, Muthiah's father, passed away in January 2000.

Special Judge R. Rajamanickam, who gave his ruling in a crowded court hall, acquitted Ramachandran and Muthiah as well. He said that the CBI had failed to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt and hence awarded the benefit of the doubt to the accused. He found all the accused not guilty. The Special Judge held that the sanction granted for prosecuting Jayalalithaa and Ramachandran was not valid.

The CBI charge-sheet said that Jayalalithaa and Ramachandran, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, plotted a criminal conspiracy during 1991-92 with Chidambaram and Muthiah, reversed the decision of the previous Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government, and facilitated Chidambaram becoming SPIC's Chairman and gaining control over the company. The DMK government headed by M. Karunanidhi had decided that the State Chief Secretary should be SPIC Chairman because it was a joint venture undertaking of TIDCO and M.A. Chidambaram and Associates. TIDCO had a majority shareholding of 26 per cent in SPIC.

According to the charge-sheet, Jayalalithaa and Ramachandran permitted TIDCO to renounce in favour of Chidambaram and Muthiah its rights with regard to 2,03,320 zero-conversion bonds (ZCBs) worth Rs.12.37 crores although under the prevailing rate of Rs.2,000 for one ZCB, a price of Rs.40.66 crores was warranted. As a result, the State government sustained a loss of Rs.28.29 crores, and Chidambaram and Muthiah derived corresponding financial advantage, it said (Frontline, September 15, 2000, and January 15, 1993).

The accused were arraigned for offences under Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) read with Sections13 (2) and 13 (1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA). The PCA sections deal with criminal misconduct by a public servant. Muthiah was also charged with offences under Section 109 (abetment) of the IPC.

The case has periodically hit media headlines since Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy filed a public interest petition demanding a CBI probe into the alleged loss to the government.

Justice Y. Venkatachalam of the Madras High Court, on December 15, 1997, directed Jayalalithaa, Chidambaram and Muthiah to pay Rs.28.29 crores to the State government within six months for the losses suffered because of the "collusive" deal. He accepted the DMK government's statement filed in the court that the government had sustained a loss in the transaction. Justice Venkatachalam directed the CBI to investigate the matter and quashed a Government Order (GO) of March 1992 (when Jayalalithaa was Chief Minister) for the renunciation. The Judge said that the court considered her action "an act of privatisation of SPIC", adding that "this type of action has to be dealt with firmly".

On an appeal from Jayalalithaa, Chidambaram and Muthiah, the First Bench of the High Court stayed that portion of Justice Venkatachalam's order that directed them to pay Rs.28.29 crores to the State government.

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The CBI investigated the matter and presented the final report, that is, the charge-sheet, in the Special Court. The court framed the charges on December 26, 2000. Examination of witnesses began from April 10, 2001.

In his order, Special Judge Rajamanickam said that it was clear from the evidence of prosecution witnesses that there was no misconduct in the appointment of the SPIC Chairman. A GO issued in January 1970 accepted the Articles of Association of SPIC and agreed to Chidambaram being its Chairman. Evidence was tendered that according to the 1970 GO and Articles of Association, neither the State government nor TIDCO had any authority to appoint the SPIC Chairman. Another GO, issued in November 1971, vested the chairmanship only with the promoter. This order was not amended or cancelled. The government nominee (the Chief Secretary) was Chairman only for a short period.

The Special Judge found that Chidambaram and Muthiah received no monetary advantage (in acquiring the rights). The State government did not suffer any loss because it had followed "The Economic Times formula", which was a well-accepted method for fixing share prices. There was evidence to show that Ramachandran had applied his mind to the subject matter, that TIDCO's decision to renounce was right, that procedure was followed in the matter, and that neither the government nor TIDCO suffered any financial loss because of the renunciation. There was evidence to show that TIDCO did not pass any resolution regarding the decision to invest in SPIC's ZCBs. Only the government's direction was sought. A witness testified that the Economic Times formula was the correct formula and that it was used to arrive at the rights renunciation value.

The share price boomed artificially at the relevant time and it crashed subsequently. Chidambaram and associates lost heavily by acquiring the rights. The audit report of TIDCO showed that it had netted a profit of Rs.12.37 crores by relinquishing its rights. According to the Judge, this report was approved by the Comptroller and Auditor-General.

The Judge said that Subramanian Swamy's deposition could not be considered as he had in his oral evidence admitted that he had filed his public interest petition on the basis of a magazine article, that too three and a half years after the article was published. Besides, he had said that he had no personal knowledge of disinvestment transaction.

The Judge said that sanction to prosecute Jayalalithaa and Ramachandran was given without the Governor's approval. (The Governor has to accord sanction for prosecuting Ministers and IAS officers.) A prosecution witness had given evidence to the effect that after the GOs were issued sanctioning the prosecution of Jayalalithaa and Ramachandran, the CBI wanted some amendments made in them. So a new order was issued granting prosecution. But the second (new) order did not go to the Governor, the witness said. The Governor's approval was not received for cancelling the earlier GO either. Hence, it was clear that the new order was issued without the Governor's approval, the Judge said.

Jayalalithaa came out of the court hall looking pleased. She, however, did not speak to the media. Muthiah said, "Truth has prevailed."

Outside the court, AIADMK cadre celebrated the verdict by bursting firecrackers.

It is a moot point whether the CBI will appeal in the High Court against the Special Judge's verdict.

A delayed choice

T.S. Krishnamurthy succeeds J.M. Lyngdoh as the Chief Election Commissioner of India, but only after there was speculation that the government wanted to appoint a "pliable" outsider to the post.

in New Delhi

WITH the decks being cleared for the appointment of T.S. Krishnamurthy as the 13th Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre has managed to steer clear of what could have become a major political controversy. Krishnamurthy takes over from J.M. Lyngdoh whose term ends on February 7.

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Though the trend since the 1990s has been to name the seniormost Election Commissioner as the CEC when the incumbent retires or completes his tenure, this time round there was speculation that the government was interested in appointing to the post somebody from outside the Election Commission (E.C.). The Central government's silence strengthened the speculation. Ever since the E.C. became a three-member body in October 1989, the convention whereby the seniormost Election Commissioner filled the CEC's post when it fell vacant was gradually put in place. After T.N. Seshan, M.S. Gill was made the CEC. Lyngdoh took over from Gill and so if the tradition were to be followed, then Krishnamurthy would have had to be the natural successor.

But the delay in announcing Krishnamurthy's appointment strengthened speculation that the government was looking for a more "pliable" CEC. Lyngdoh had not particularly endeared himself to the BJP, especially during the Gujarat elections. The E.C. was accused of being biased by the Gujarat unit of the BJP. More than the Congress(I), the State BJP projected the E.C., with Lyngdoh at the helm, as its main adversary.

What should have been a smooth transition therefore remained a matter of ambiguity until the January 19 announcement. The BJP's national leadership, while indicating its zeal for early Lok Sabha elections, did not show a similar enthusiasm about announcing Lyngdoh's successor. The fact that a mammoth task lay in front of the E.C. in the event of snap polls did not appear to bother the BJP-led government.

The announcement about the general elections came on January 12, the concluding day of the BJP's National Executive meet in Hyderabad. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee indicated that Lok Sabha elections would be held early and hoped that a new government would be in place at the Centre by April. The political resolution issued by the BJP at the meet asked Finance Minister Jaswant Singh to present a vote-on-account in Parliament.

The delay over the announcement of the new CEC in the scenario of early elections predictably evoked criticism. The Congress(I) expressed concern about reports of appointing an "outsider" the CEC and described the move as a "direct assault on the independence of this constitutional body". Former Member of Parliament Era Sezhiyan criticised the government move to consider a former Cabinet Secretary and a member of the Twelfth Finance Commission for the post. Former CEC M.S. Gill too expressed strong disapproval of any such move. He cautioned political parties against forcing the E.C. to hold elections on dates of their choice.

Krishnamurthy was appointed Election Commissioner in 2000. His tenure as the CEC will expire in May 2005, when he completes 65 years. The Election Commissioners and the CEC have a tenure of six years or up to the age of 65, whichever is earlier. They enjoy the same status and receive salaries and perks as are available to the Judges of the Supreme Court of India.

The Commission decides on most matters by consensus and in the event of any dissension, it is the view of the majority that prevails. The new CEC stated that he would stick to this convention, while talking to mediapersons soon after the government cleared his name to the post.

Krishnamurthy graduated in History, Economics and Political Science from St Joseph's College, Bangalore. He stood first in the Bachelor of Arts examinations of the University of Mysore. After taking his post-graduate degree in Economics from M.S. University at Baroda, he went on to study Law at the University of Madras. Krishnamurthy joined the Indian Revenue Service in 1963 and served in various positions in the Income Tax Department. He was sent on deputation to the Union Ministry of Finance. As Joint Secretary (Tax Policy legislation), he was closely associated with the Direct Tax Reforms announced in the 1991, 1992 and 1993 Union Budgets. He became Secretary to the Department of Company Affairs, Government of India, in January 1997. He has been responsible for framing a comprehensive Companies Bill to replace the existing Companies Act and also two amendment Bills to the existing Companies Act in order to improve corporate governance and investors' interests. He has been on several international assignments; he was part of a team to study, advise and report on the electoral system in Indonesia.

The E.C. has made it clear that it would need about a month and a half to prepare for elections after the dissolution of Parliament. Chief Electoral Officers from across the country are expected to meet in the first week of February to discuss the poll dates after reviewing the state of electoral rolls revision and the issue of electoral photo identity cards. However, there are indications that the Lok Sabha polls are unlikely to take place before the middle of April. Notifications for a phased system of polls will be issued only after the revision of electoral rolls are completed. Uttar Pradesh will be the last State to complete this exercise on March 23.

Fire at a wedding

A fire in a marriage hall in the temple town of Srirangam leaves 57 people dead.

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IT turned out to be a black Friday for Srirangam, in Tiruchi, Tamil Nadu, on January 23 when a horrific blaze in a marriage hall left 57 persons dead and 50 injured. The accident happened when a thatched structure on the roof of a marriage hall was reduced to ashes, with many people trapped under it, during a wedding ceremony.

The bridegroom, 23 women and four children were among the dead. The bride, who was injured, is yet to recover from the trauma. The trail of the tragedy seemed to be unending with many of the injured succumbing to their injuries in the hospitals.

About 250 guests had gathered on the partially enclosed space on the roof of Padmapriya Marriage Hall as the wedding rituals were under way. The `muhurtham' (auspicious time) was at around 9-15 a.m. The hastily put-up thatched structure served as a make-shift venue for the wedding as the families of the bride and the groom felt that the main hall downstairs was not spacious enough for the anticipated turnout of guests.

Eyewitnesses said the fire was first noticed on the thatched roof. Fed by the thatch, plastic chairs and clothing materials, the fire engulfed the entire hall within minutes. The blaze snuffed out on the spot the lives of at least 30 persons, including the bridegroom, R. Gururajan (42), employed with the New India Assurance Company. Gururajan himself had made a valiant bid to rescue his grandfather. He lost his life in the process. The bride, H. Jayasri (32), a school teacher, escaped with injuries but lost her parents and a sister.

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With the thatched roof caving in, many were immobilised and charred to death in their seats. The raging fire triggered a stampede as panic-stricken guests attempted to flee through a narrow staircase in a corner of the hall. The majority of the victims were elderly people and children. Some people managed to escape by jumping out of the windows. Fire and Rescue Service personnel, the police and local residents rushed to the spot and organised a rescue operation. They broke open the grills of the hall's front windows to save several lives.

Many among the injured suffered third degree burns. The injured were admitted to the K.A.P. Viswanatham Government Medical College Hospital, the Srirangam Government Hospital and other private hospitals in the city. Many of the charred bodies could be identified only with the help of the jewellery worn by the deceased.

After preliminary inquiries, the police attributed the fire to a videographer's equipment. The Inspector-General of Police, Central Zone, S. George, told the media that the decorative materials hung on the low thatched roof had most probably caught fire owing to the intense heat generated by the video flashgun. He also pointed out that temporary power lines were drawn from downstairs in a shoddy manner. Besides, the pandal was an unauthorised structure.

The police have seized the videocassette from the videographer who recorded the marriage. Four persons - hall manager S. Sadagopan, video light boy R. Balaji, electrician K. Murugesan, and pandal contractor M. Selvam - have been taken into custody. The police have booked a case under Section 304A (criminal negligence). An officer of the rank of Additional Superintendent of Police has been deputed to conduct an inquiry.

Top officials including the Additional Director-General of Police, S.V. Venkatakrishnan, and the Director, Fire and Rescue Service, S.K. Dogra, visited the accident spot. Dogra indicated that his department would conduct a survey of all marriage halls in the State to ensure that they observed the minimum safety standards.

Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced a cash relief of Rs.50,000 each to the families of the dead, from the Chief Minister's Relief Fund. The seriously injured were sanctioned Rs.15,000 each and those who suffered minor injuries Rs.6,000 each.

A critical phase in Iraq

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The Bush administration's game plan of indirect occupation of Iraq faces a serious challenge, with the Shia population preparing to raise the banner of revolt over the issue of elections.

THE new year has not brought good tidings for the occupation forces in Iraq, as the scale of violence by resistance forces has shown no signs of diminishing. The toll of American soldiers so far has reached the 500 figure after three United States soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb blast near Baghdad on January 17. Since October 25, 2003, the resistance forces have shot down nine U.S. military helicopters. More important, there are ominous signs that the Shia population is preparing to raise the banner of revolt over the issue of elections.

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A suicide bomber detonated a tonne of explosives outside the headquarters of the occupation forces in Baghdad on January 18 as the U.S. administrator was about to begin talks with United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan in New York about the possibility of getting the U.N. involved in Iraq once again. The explosion, the deadliest one in Iraq since the capture of Saddam Hussein, claimed 18 lives and left scores of people injured. Among those killed were two U.S. contractors.

In the second week of January, a bomb exploded outside a Shia mosque in Baghdad, killing five worshippers. This is seen as a clear attempt to widen further the existing chasm between the Shia and the Sunni populations. Northern Iraq is on the boil following tensions between Arabs and Kurds. The Kurdish leadership has started talking of an "autonomous" Kurdistan and laid claims to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Clashes between the Kurds on the one side and Arabs and Turks on the other have occurred in many cities in the north. The Sunnis in Baghdad and elsewhere are preparing to form their own militia to counter-balance the "Mahdi Army" of the Shiite cleric, Sheikh Muktada al-Sadr.

It is in this volatile atmosphere that the Bush administration wants to hand over power to a handpicked civilian administration in Iraq. With the presidential elections in the U.S. looming, Bush apparently wants to claim to have introduced democracy in Iraq and withdrawn the U.S. military from the urban and populated areas of the country. There is no longer any talk of searching for weapons of mass destruction. The Saddam-Al Qaeda link, another rationale for launching the war on Iraq, has been rubbished universally. The U.S. media have reported that even when Saddam Hussein was in hiding he had warned his close associates to distance themselves from jehadi terrorist groupings. All this, however, did not prevent President George W. Bush from claiming in his State of the Union address that the removal of Saddam Hussein (from power in Iraq) had made the world a much safer place now.

The January 11 statement of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, acknowledged as the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq, that direct elections should be held in Iraq has further queered the pitch for the Bush administration. The Ayatollah had issued an edict (fatwa) in June last year calling on Iraqis to launch a struggle for fair and free elections. The Bush administration at that time was thinking of rustling up a Constitution for Iraq with the help of the puppet Interim Council. Sistani emphasised that only democratically elected representatives could draft a Constitution for Iraq.

In November, Sistani said that he would reconsider his demand for immediate direct elections if a U.N. delegation was able to conclude that the conditions in Iraq were not conducive to such an exercise. The Bush administration has maintained that no census had been conducted in Iraq for years for the preparation of a voters list for such an exercise. Most Iraqis, however, are of the opinion that the U.N. records for the disbursement of rations during the U.S.-inspired and U.N.-sanctioned economic blockade of Iraq could provide the basis for a reliable voters list. Another important reason for the U.S.' rejection of the demand for elections is the outcome of an opinion poll conducted last year, which found that 56 per cent of Iraqis wanted the creation of an Islamic republic.

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Sistani was more forthright in his statement. The spiritual leader said that elections could be held "within the next few months with an acceptable level of transparency and credibility". An unelected and undemocratic government did not have the right to ask the U.S. to stay on in Iraq, he said. (Sistani has refused to grant an audience to Paul Bremer, the U.S. chief administrator in Iraq, despite repeated requests.)

The Bush administration's current plan is to hold "elections" in Iraq through "caucuses". Unlike the caucuses in the U.S. State of Iowa for the Democratic Party's primaries, which were elected, the Bush administration was planning to invite "notables" from every province of Iraq to attend the so-called caucuses. The Shiites see it as a crude attempt to deny them democracy. The U.S. wants a friendly regime, which would give it unfettered strategic and security access, installed in Iraq. The goals of a popularly elected government headed by the Shia clergy, on the other hand, would be incompatible with the U.S. game plan for the region.

The Shiites, comprising more than 60 per cent of the Iraqi population, will sweep to power whenever elections are held. But the Bush administration would prefer an election of the "Afghan" kind, through which it can impose its own hand-picked regime. However, according to observers, the unity of the Shias cannot be broken so easily. The Shia leadership is aware that the long-term plan of the U.S. is to divide and rule. The U.S. has winked at the Kurds' moves to grab power in northern Iraq. There is no indication that the Sunni triangle in central Iraq will ever be pacified by the U.S. forces, despite U.S. efforts to buy off Sunni tribal leaders and Ba'athists.

The massive demonstrations in Basra and Baghdad against the U.S. in late January are indications that Ayatollah Sistani's challenge could be the most serious the U.S. has encountered so far since the occupation began. It was the Shia acquiescence that enabled the militarily weaker members of the coalition forces such as the British, the Spanish and the Dutch to have a peaceful time in southern Iraq. Japan has sent its troops to southern Iraq, first time its troops are in a war zone since the Second World War. Washington had the luxury of concentrating on central Iraq to deal with the insurgency there.

If the popular demands for fair elections are not accepted, Basra and the rest of the south could turn out to be bigger killing fields for the coalition forces than the Sunni triangle. The unemployment rate in Basra hovers around 70 per cent. There was a confrontation between British troops and demonstrators in Basra in mid-January. The protesters were demanding employment. Five demonstrators were killed when the British and Iraqi police opened fire. Shia resistance is not expected to remain non-violent for long. One of Sistani's deputies, Abdel-Mahdi Salami, warned of a "possible confrontation with the occupying forces" if peaceful protests and strikes failed to achieve their purpose.

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THE Bush administration is leaning heavily on Kofi Annan to help it continue its indirect occupation of Iraq, after going through the formal motions of handing over power in June. A former U.N. official, Dennis Halliday, said that the U.N. would be making a "terrible mistake" if it returned to an occupied country. Halliday, a former U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, told an Arab news agency in Cairo that such a move would "give legal respectability to the invasion and occupation" of the country and further "promote the impression that it has collaborated against the Iraqi people". Halliday had quit his U.N. job after witnessing firsthand the sufferings of ordinary Iraqis caused by the economic sanctions.

Halliday said that the Iraqis no longer considered the U.N. a friendly organisation because they had suffered for years under the "illegal and immoral concept of sanctions". The U.N., he added, had allowed the occupation of an independent, sovereign country. Many Iraqis believe that Kofi Annan has not been sufficiently critical of the U.S. and British actions in Iraq.

Annan has not ruled out the return of U.N. officials to Iraq but has admitted that the situation remained too dangerous for an early return of the U.N. staff. The explosion in front of the U.S. headquarters in Baghdad was no doubt intended as a signal to the U.N. to stay away from Baghdad. The Bush administration's decision to approach the U.N. at this juncture is interpreted as another sign of its inability to control the pace of events in Iraq. Before the invasion, senior Bush administration officials had questioned the relevance of the U.N. Until last November, the U.S. had not envisaged any role for the U.N. in Iraq's transition to "democracy".

The Americans have suffered the most number of casualties in Iraq. Body bags coming home almost on a daily basis is not politically or militarily acceptable to the Bush administration as it gears up for the presidential election. If the Shias too rise militarily, the game could be virtually over for the U.S. in Iraq. The Shia leadership has conveyed to the Bush administration in clear terms that it will stop its tacit cooperation with the occupation forces if elections are not conducted. This will be bad news for Bush in an election year.

From available indications, even the U.N. will not be able to bail out the Bush administration from the quagmire it finds itself in.

Challenging the monarchy

The political crisis precipitated by the anti-monarchy agitation by students has forced the political parties and the people at large to think of the `unthinkable' in Nepal - the inevitability of establishing a republican system.

in Kathmandu

ON January 23, in Nepalgunj, the urban hub of the mid-western region of Nepal, King Gyanendra was feted at a mass civic reception hosted by the International Committee of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). However, while the King was being honoured as the avatar of Vishnu presiding over the only Hindu kingdom and the symbol of national unity of a multi-ethnic polity in Nepalgunj, the streets of Kathmandu were witnessing students raising strident anti-monarchy and pro-republican slogans. `Royal' effigies were garlanded with shoes and burnt in mock funerals. Activists of the month-long student agitation staged the 13th-day funeral rites for the cremated effigy of `regression', a euphemism for the decline of democracy under the monarchy, despite Home Ministry warnings of stern action.

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It was the King-nominated government's action of arresting three student leaders on charges of sedition - for chanting anti-monarchy slogans - that brought the students led by seven unions out on the street. Information Minister Kamal Thapa muttered embarrassedly about the `habit' of the autocratic Panchayat period to explain the controversial arrests and hastened to add that there was no question of using the Army against the students. "The police are sufficient," he said. Pitched battles were fought between the police and the students and, according to the All Nepal National Free Students Union (ANNFSU), the student union affiliated to the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), 136 students were injured in the incidents. The students claim they are determined to push ahead, even if their political patrons and the parties in the dissolved Parliament compromise their cause. "We are not agitating so that Girija Prasad Koirala or Madhav Nepal can become Prime Minister. The issue is challenging `regression' once and for all. We'll not give up," Gururaj Ghimire, the president of Nepal Students Union (NSU), told Frontline.

In fact, the agitation reminds one of the 1990 student movement that forced the autocratic monarchy to accept multi-party democracy and the role of a constitutional monarch. Political scientist Krishna Hachchetu said: "Historically the students have radicalised the political agenda. They are from the student wings of the political parties and can be expected to create pressure from within the parties to move forward and not compromise." Gagan Kumar Thapa, NSU general secretary, said: "There is no way that we will give up our demand for a republic even if our leaders opt for a constitutional monarchy. We will not allow the leaders to use the students movement as a bargaining chip to secure their position." However, Hachhetu does not believe that the movement could spin out of the control of the political parties.

The student agitation has challenged the conservative `coexistence' political discourse of the mainstream political parties by opening up the debate on the once `unthinkable' - the inevitability of a republican system. Nepali Times wrote: "Now that we are forced to think the unthinkable, we have to say that Nepal will probably survive as a republic." The slogans on the street and discussion groups on the "Relevance of Monarchy" are not only reverberating within the political parties but framing the broad public discourse to include the once `unthinkable' - that Nepal can survive without the monarchy, once considered the bulwark against the forces of disunity in a multi-ethnic polity.

The pace at which the republican discourse has gained acceptability, if not legitimacy, has prompted the leaders of the two dominant parliamentary parties, the Nepali Congress (N.C.) and the CPN(UML), to put a lid on the debate and reaffirm the middle track of coexistence of a constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy.

Initially, N.C. president Girija Prasad Koirala had indulged the republican slogans raised by the students. "The students are raising slogans in support of a republican system out of frustration, but it is the King who is drifting the nation towards a system in which there will be no room for even a constitutional monarch. The students can be said to have done the right thing by raising slogans since it is the King who is violating constitutional norms," he said. Echoing the views of Koirala, N.C. leader Narahari Acharya said: "The demand for a republic in the street is neither an emotional outburst of the students nor confined to the street only. It has emerged as a topic of alternative discussion in the Nepali Congress. Nearly 20 per cent of the party's CWC [Central Working Committee] members do not see anything wrong in it." However, former Minister Chakra Prasad Bastola insisted that the republic-constitutional monarchy debate was not on the agenda of the party and that the focus was on limiting the extra-constitutional activism of the King. Significantly, the continued postponement of the party's general meeting has ensured that the republican challenge is kept at bay.

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The CPN(UML), on the other hand, discussed the issue at the party's fifth central committee meeting. Party leader Madhav Nepal's announcement of a `coexistence' "Road Map to Peace" reflects the party's decision to check the radical agenda. The party, at least for the time being, is standing by Madhav Nepal's assertion that "our stand on constitutional monarchy remains unchanged, we do not support a people's republic." The party's nine-point "Road Map to Peace" is a compromise formula. Senior CPN(UML) leader K.P. Oli explained: "It accommodates a role for the King as a constitutional monarch. The King will never accept the risk of a constituent assembly unless he is above it." The emphasis is on flexibility and accommodating the three political forces of Nepal. The Road Map calls for an all-party government led by Nepal to initiate an all-party dialogue including the Maoists, the formation of an interim government to conduct elections supervised by the United Nations and amendments to the Constitution or the writing of a new one. Although confusion remains about various aspects of the Road Map, what is significant is that a major mainstream political party has publicly backed the proposal of a new constitution and stirred a dialogue not about why but how to go about formulating a new constitution, if necessary.

Oli emphasised that "only a new constitution can put an end to the prevailing crisis. The slogans shouted in favour of a republic are not a problem but an effort to resolve the problem. We are for a constitutional monarchy, but there is nothing sacred about it." When asked why he did not insist on a republican system given the level of mistrust, he said: "We don't want to be the first to precipitate a crisis."

The CPN(UML)'s Road Map follows Madhav Nepal's audience with the King and his secret discussions with representatives of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in Lucknow. The Maoist response has been cautious, welcoming the CPN(UML) move as a step forward. However, senior Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai said: "We had expected that the next move of the CPN(UML) leadership would be towards making a Constituent Assembly."

Meanwhile, CPN(M) chairman Prachanda has articulated a Maoist "Road Map", reiterating the party's three-stage formula of a round table conference, interim government and election to a Constituent Assembly under U.N. auspices and the demobilisation of both armies. He said: "In the given context of two ideologies, two armies and two states in the country, the party is agreeable to demobilisation of both armies." Apparently, the latter was the sticking point during Madhav Nepal's meeting with the Maoist leaders in Lucknow.

Others too have not accepted the Maoists' proposal. Koirala dismissed Prachanda's proposal as "foolish". Information Minister Kamal Thapa told Frontline: "What territory do the Maoists control? There is not an inch of territory where the Army cannot go." For the government, the Maoists can only be defeated militarily. The political parties' view, as expressed by Madhav Nepal at the Lucknow meeting, supports a negotiated solution. To counter the student agitation, the Palace tried the ruse of granting the political leaders royal audience. But this time the overall sense of distrust has hollowed out the politics of audience. Apparently, the King is being judged by his actions and the political leaders and the people at large mistrust him. The Palace massacre of 2001 had dealt a crippling blow to the institution of monarchy and the anointing of the unpopular Paras Bir Bikram Shah Dev as Crown Prince deepened that mistrust. Moreover, the King's takeover of executive powers on October 4, 2002 and his determination to marginalise the political parties and assume an active role, dealt a sever blow to the monarchy's credibility.

IRONICALLY, while the conflict grinds down the people of Nepal, the King is ordering three luxury cars. According to The Kathmandu Post, the King wants to add a Rolls-Royce, a Jaguar and another luxury car to his group of bullet-proof vehicles. The cost is estimated to be around 142 million Nepali rupees, which was cleared by a pliant government with no Parliament to ask questions. The publication of the report and an editorial in The Kathmandu Post itself speaks of a major change in the popular mindset regarding the monarchy.

Other developments too point to the fact that the times are rapidly changing in Nepal. Recently, former Chief Justice Biswo Nath Upadhaya said: "If the `popular' late King Birendra was so unpopular [during the drafting of the 1990 Constitution a snap poll conducted among 7,000 people showed a bare 3 per cent support for the monarchy], you can make a guess of the popularity rating of King Gyanendra who wants to have a strong say in state affairs." Upadhyaya pointed out that the King could not be a `constructive' monarch when he was not accountable to the people and would not tolerate criticism. Justice Upadhaya, who drafted the Constitution, blamed the prolonged confrontation between the King and the political parties and the conflict between the King and the Maoists as being responsible for Nepal "drifting towards a republic".

While the option of a republican system is increasingly being expressed in the public discourse, the N.C. and the CPN(UML), the parties, which represent the majority of the people, continue to evince a marked ambivalence towards abandoning constitutional monarchy. Arguably, if Nepal was delinked from the underpinnings of a Hindu identity as consecrated in the institution of constitutional monarchy, it could destabilise the existing caste hierarchies that have helped the upper-caste Brahmin and Chettri communities to occupy privileged positions in Nepali society. Sociologist Krishna Bhattachan points out that Nepal is a country of indigenous people, the janjatis, madhesias (terai people) and Dalits who form nearly 70 per cent of the population and are excluded from power. A republican Nepal could produce a very different polity.

Apparently, the Maoists, in targeting the King, are challenging the basis of this system. Developing this argument, former Minister Ram Sharan Mahat wrote in The Kathmandu Post: "Maoist writings make it amply clear that they consider monarchy as the historical bulwark of all class, caste, gender, national and regional and religious oppression." Maoist leader Bhattarai, addressing a public meeting in Kirtipur (Greater Kathmandu) during the ceasefire in 2003, acknowledged that the Maoists' programmatic agenda was shaped by the demands of the constituencies overwhelmingly drawn to the Maoist movement, that is, the janjatis, madhesias, Dalits and women.

The Maoists are also granting political recognition to janjati demands as is evident in their recent announcement of a Magarat Ethnic Autonomous Area. The government too seems to be keen to woo these constituencies. It has offered reservation for women (20 per cent), Dalits (10 per cent) and indigenous communities (10 per cent) in the civil service, which is otherwise dominated (80 per cent) by the upper castes.

India-Pakistan amity

world-affairs

The new-found bonhomie between Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is welcome ("Towards amity", January 30). The resumption of transport services, encouraging people-to-people contact and a host of other such confidence-building measures definitely portend a less hostile year ahead. But then, these things by themselves are not enough. If history is to be made, as claimed by Musharraf, the two leaders must move ahead from the sublime to the substantial.

Nothing poses more danger to the lives of the peoples of India and Pakistan than their nuclear weapons. Consequently, nothing would bring more cheer to their lives than a joint proclamation from these leaders freezing their nuclear weapons programmes.

They can go further and order a drastic cut in their defence expenditures and divert the surplus money to build more schools and hospitals. They can also reduce the troops deployment along the border considerably without compromising security.

These are the measures that the peace-loving people of the subcontinent expect of their leaders. And the leaders would do well to match their rhetoric with palpable action in strategic areas. Or else, the January 6 peace deal will go the Lahore or Agra way.

Dr. J. Amalorpavanathan Chennai

* * *

The three-day summit of the seven South Asian neighbours in Islamabad was more of an India-Pakistan summit. It was heartening to know that there was no bad-mouthing between the two traditional rivals. Instead, a feel-good atmosphere prevailed, with the SAARC members signing the SAFTA Agreement, the Additional Protocol to the Regional Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism and the Social Charter. The summit also helped SAARC leaders realise that apart from waging a jehad against terrorism, the need of the hour was to wage a greater jehad against illiteracy, hunger, poverty and unemployment, a recurring point in all the speeches delivered at the summit.

The dropping of the `K' (Kashmir) word by Pakistan Premier Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali and CBT (cross-border terrorism) by Prime Minister Vajpayee in their respective speeches resulted in Musharraf agreeing not to "let any territory under Pakistan's control to be used to support terrorism in any manner". With a series of CBMs announced before the SAARC summit resulting in a tremendous desire for peace on both sides of the border and with Bhutan's exemplary help to India in driving out anti-India insurgents from Bhutanese soil, it seems that both India and Pakistan have realised their past mistakes and learnt that "though one can change history, one cannot change geography", and that there is no alternative to living as good neighbours.

However, as Musharraf cautioned, "this is just the beginning and not an end in itself", one needs to be cautious in one's approach in tackling the complicated issues, not reading too much into the historic meet. However, not only will Musharraf and Vajpayee go down in history as peace-makers of South Asia, but the people of India and Pakistan, particularly, those living in Jammu and Kashmir (including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) will be able to live in a manner in which "the mind is without fear and the head is held high" and celebrate the 150th anniversary of the First War of Independence (1857) in the year 2007 along with the people of Bangladesh, as mentioned by Vajpayee. It is unfortunate that Pakistan chose to decline Vajpayee's suggestion, saying that the three countries (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) have different interpretations of the history of colonialism in the subcontinent.

S. Balakrishnan Jamshedpur

Picturesque Kashmir

Kashmir, for many years, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. "The season of snow" (January 30) shows the other side of Kashmir. After long years of fighting, it seems now peace is making its way slowly into Kashmir. It is the responsibility of the media to highlight the scenic beauty of the otherwise terror-ridden Kashmir.

Kudos to Romesh Bhattarcharji for a pleasing picture-feast.

Pradeep Kumar M. Hyderabad

Advani's acquittal

A.G. Noorani's analysis "How Advani went scot-free" (January 30) has done much to show that Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani's discharge in the Ayodhya case on September 19, 2003 was no "honourable acquittal". It is true that the Sangh Parivar launched a disinformation campaign that Advani shed tears at the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The analysis reveals how the Judge of the Rae Bareli court did not consider the entire evidence and his judgment reasonably "violates the law as declared by the Supreme Court". It is sad that such a man is the country's Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. But more shocking is the role played by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Because the CBI is now directly under the control of the PMO, how can anybody expect fair justice?

Bidyut Kumar Chatterjee Faridabad

The age of `neocons'

With the new United States Federal laws said to target terrorism, but actually subduing civil rights, the U.S. is anything but a country of free people now ("The age of `neocons'", January 30). The `Southern Strategy' referred to in the report sought to exploit "ingrained prejudices, which are mostly unconscious and are supported by sentiment rather than reason. It is a thousand times more difficult to overcome this barrier of instinctive aversion, emotional hatred and preventive dissent than to correct opinions, which are founded on defective or erroneous knowledge. False ideas and ignorance may be set aside by means of instruction, but emotional resistance never can. Nothing but an appeal to these hidden forces will be effective here."

The quote, not surprisingly, is from Hitler's Mein Kampf (Chapter VI; `The First Period of Our Struggle').

The current American policy-makers leave little to doubt about their Nazi character, call them neocons or by any other name.

R. Sajan Aluva, Kerala

CAS confusion

In "CAS confusion" (January 30), you have referred to a research finding that the Indian media market is not robust enough for the conditional access system as pay TV economics does not apply the same way in India as abroad. It would have helped your readers if a few lines were written on the differences. The study must have identified them.

To me, two differences appear probable. One is the large-scale operation of multi-service operators (MSOs) abroad compared to the small-scale operation of cable operators in India. Owing to this basic operational difference, imported CAS solutions are likely to put Indian cable operators out of business. But this is desirable from the point of view of broadcasters and MSOs.

The second probable difference is the 18 or so regional languages of India in which broadcasters transmit pay channels. While no Indian is likely to tune individually more than four language channels, the present system forces him to pay for all language channels. This is unfair.

The best CAS system, in my opinion, should be patterned on the telephone billing system. All pay channels should be available to all viewers and the consumer should pay by the hour for the channels he tunes in. This way, a Punjabi guest of a Malayali family is not deprived of Punjabi channels in Kerala and a Tamil friend of a Gujarati family is not deprived of Tamil channels in Gujarat.

Prem Dayal Gupta Indore

Dress code in France

This has reference to the article "Christianity as key factor" (January 30). While Islamic nations impose strict Islamic laws on non-Muslims who happen to live in their country, the French government's insistence on banning the headscarf used by Muslim girl pupils in schools cannot be branded as an anti-immigration policy, as it is within its power to do so. Why should there be discrimination in the dress code between Muslim and Christian pupils in public schools? When a dress code is insisted upon, all without exception should obey it. Religion and politics have no place in schools.

G.E.M. Manoharan Coimbatore

Poultry price

This has reference to the Special Feature on Coimbatore (January 30). On page 106, in the article "A tradition of industry", it is stated: "While the buying price from the farmer is Rs.2.50 a kg, the market price is Rs.28-29 a kg". One infers from this that the farmer gets a meagre amount and in the market poultry is sold at an extraordinarily high price. It would make both the farmer and the end-user to arrive at wrong conclusions. The Rs.2.50 a kg paid to the farmer is the charge (service charge) for growing the birds for a period of 42 days, and not the cost price. Inputs such as chicks, feed and the cost of daily visit of our technical personnel are borne by us. The market price mentioned as Rs. 28 to Rs.29 is correct.

Suguna Poultry Farm Limited is a growing concern acclaimed at the international level. The statement you published may give a wrong message to the readers.

B. Soundararajan Managing Director, Suguna Poultry Farm Limited Coimbatore

Ban, after protest

The Maharashtra government bans the controversial book on Shivaji.

in Mumbai

IN response to violent protests by the "Sambhaji Brigade" and in order to appease the Maratha lobby, the Maharashtra government has banned the book Shivaji: A Hindu King in an Islamic Kingdom, written by American author James Laine. The 128-page narrative on the life and times of Shivaji became the centre of a controversy in January when Maratha loyalists took offence to a remark made by the author about the parenthood of the Maratha king.

As Laine had named a professor from the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in the acknowledgments in the book, protesters calling themselves the "Sambhaji Brigade" stormed into the institute and ransacked the library, destroying thousands of rare manuscripts and books and priceless artefacts (Frontline, January 30).

The Sambhaji Brigade, a splinter group of the Maratha Seva Sangh, an organisation involved in promoting Maratha consciousness, threatened to initiate more attacks if the government did not take action. According to a Professor, who prefers to remain anonymous, "the ruling Democratic Front government is not going to risk the wrath of Maratha voters with Assembly elections just around the corner. They were compelled to do something."

The book has been banned under Sections 153 and 153A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which allows a State government to take action against individuals and publications for provoking public sentiment and creating tension in society. A case has been filed against Laine and the publishers, Oxford University Press (OUP). Once the ban is enforced, the police would confiscate copies of the book under the Code of Criminal Procedure. Additionally, the Maharashtra government has the right to ask other governments to ban the book in their respective States.

It is unlikely that the police will find many copies of Laine's book. The OUP withdrew the book in November last, when a group of scholars led by the Pune-based historian Dadasaheb Purandare, known for his biography of Shivaji, asked the OUP to take the book off the shelves because Laine's statement was factually incorrect and would unnecessarily hurt the sentiments of the Maratha people.

Unfortunately, these scholars publicly condemned the book, and that brought the issue out in the open. Organisations such as the Maratha Seva Sangh have been waiting for an opportunity to gain visibility. Laine's book was just the excuse they needed to display their strength, the Professor said.

According to Saroja Bhate, honorary secretary of the BORI, Laine had begun his research on Shivaji about 15 years ago. He had taken the assistance of Shreekant Bahulkar of the BORI for the translation of some Marathi and Sanskrit texts. That is why he acknowledged Bahulkar in the book.

Frontline was able to procure a copy of the page, which appears in chapter nine titled "Cracks in the narrative", in which Laine made the objectionable statement: "The repressed awareness that Shivaji had an absentee father is also revealed by the fact that Maharashtrians tell jokes naughtily suggesting that his guardian Dadoji Konndev was his biological father..."

Questioning Laine's purpose in writing the book on the Maratha warrior, the government says,"The author has mischievously questioned Shivaji's parentage.... The book has several references to the bickering within the Bhosale family to which Shivaji belonged. We want to know what is the motive of the author." In its ban order the government says: "The circulation of the book containing scurrilous matter is prejudicial to the maintenance of the public tranquillity along with law and order." Technically, the government is allowed to ban a book, but whether it is "justified legal action" is another matter, says Mihir Desai, a human rights lawyer.

The Professor from Pune points out that banning a book is perhaps the worst form of censorship. "We cannot call ourselves a democracy if authorities are allowed to suppress voices." The writer is an American, who has also apologised for his remark. Imagine what would have happened had it been an Indian writer? "Nobody should be made to feel scared about writing or voicing what they believe in. Have we reached such a pitiful stage where we cannot write about certain subjects?" If you do, your credibility and reputation takes a huge beating. This new trend is dangerous. Even I cannot let you quote me because I fear about the consequences.," he said.

The Professor says Laine should be allowed to arrive at his own conclusions. Besides, he said, the larger issue here was that you cannot pick and chose events from history. Unfortunately, Shivaji is no longer a historical figure. He has become a symbol of the Hindu Right. His name is mired in the dirty business of politics and politicians squeeze as much political mileage out of his name as possible. It is not his being a Hindu that is important but that he was a great warrior who took on the British. He did not sell out to them like several other kings and princes of his time, the Professor says.

Maratha organisations such as the Maratha Seva Sangh have begun to claim proprietorship over the warrior king. The Sangh has even put up name boards in each of Shivaji's forts such as Raigad and Sindhudurg in the Sahayadris. Clearly, these groups have sufficient political backing to do this. In fact, such is their might that the key leader of the Sangh, Purushotam Khedekar, a Public Works Department employee, has not been questioned in connection with the attack on the BORI. This, in spite of the Sangh's clear association with the "Sambhaji Brigade", which took full responsibility for the attack.

A police official told Frontline that someone wielding enough political clout was instigating these people.

More significant than the banning of the book, the intelligentsia believes, is the need to recognise the alarming trend in Maharashtra of suppressing the freedom of speech and expression.

A government in the dock

The Congress(I)-led coalition government in Kerala faces charges of corruption and nepotism and contempt of court proceedings for its conduct in granting sanction to self-financing B.Ed. colleges.

in Thiruvananthapuram

IN coalition-ruled Kerala, the Ministry of Education is a coveted Cabinet berth for partners in government. Whenever the United Democratic Front (UDF) was in power in the State in the past two decades, the education portfolio remained a preserve of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the second largest partner in the coalition led by the Congress(I). The potential for political and monetary gains in the sanctioning of educational institutions, appointment of teachers and officials and admission of students had also made the Education Ministry a frequent target of allegations of corruption and nepotism. Ever since the A.K. Antony government came to power in May 2001, the Education Department under the IUML leader and Minister, Nalakathu Soopy, has been a focus of such allegations. The complaints are often brushed aside. None has been inquired into so far.

Instead, the Chief Minister and his Cabinet colleagues have all along hailed the large-scale sanctioning of self-financing educational institutions in Kerala in a short span of two and a half years as one of the most important achievements of the government. They continue to claim that the government's liberal policy of sanctioning self-financing educational institutions addresses a felt need in the State to stem the migration of a large number of students from Kerala to neighbouring States seeking opportunities in professional education.

But the popular perception that `there is no smoke without fire' was rekindled in early January, when some college managements approached the Kerala High Court against the Education Department's attempts to ignore court-imposed norms and provide no-objection certificates (NOCs) for the establishment of 96 private, self-financing B.Ed. colleges in the State in the next academic year. This, they alleged, was done ignoring the legitimate claims of several other managements and the court's 2002 directive that only 75 colleges need be granted NOCs, that too with the sanction of the National Council for Teachers' Education (NCTE).

In April 2002, in a telling instance of the judiciary curbing the government's over-enthusiasm in sanctioning colleges without following the norms, the High Court ordered the "re-processing" of 291 applications for B.Ed. colleges on which the government had taken a favourable decision. The court said that only 75 colleges need be given NOCs and that the applicants should not appoint teachers and other staff or admit students until the NCTE granted them provisional or conditional recognition. The court also ordered that the State government should get the applications processed by an expert committee and that the selection should be made on the basis of the relative merits of the applicants and the recommendations of the committee. It also said that the relative merits of the institutions should be decided on the basis of a State-level comparison of standards and facilities. The court directed that the managements that had all the infrastructure and other facilities in place in their proposed institutions should be preferred to those who were yet to acquire them.

But in December 2003, within hours of the State Cabinet deciding to grant NOCs to 75 B.Ed. colleges (so as to meet the December 31 deadline for NCTE approval), a list of 96 colleges was faxed to the NCTE by the Education Department. The Thiruvananthapuram-based Lazar Nadar Education and Research Foundation filed a petition in the High Court against the government move, stating that the new list did not include many colleges recommended by the expert committee and that it contained the names of several colleges the committee had not recommended. On January 6, the court intervened in the issue once again and ordered a stay on the government granting NOC to any other college except the 75 approved by the expert committee. It also directed the government to file a detailed report on the procedure it had adopted for the selection of the colleges, the facilities available in each of the selected colleges, and the details of the colleges without university affiliation that were included in the list. The court ordered the NCTE to submit a report on how inspections were conducted and on the procedure adopted for granting recognition to colleges.

Significantly, despite a tenacious Education Minister still seeking the Cabinet's approval for the additional 21 colleges even a day after the court's order, the Cabinet decided on January 7 that 75 colleges alone need be granted NOCs. Reports that several Ministers were highly critical of the Education Minister's action of trying to squeeze in 21 more colleges were not denied. It also became clear from the Chief Minister's subsequent statements that the Cabinet had, in fact, agreed to provide NOCs to 80 colleges in all, 75 of them as directed by the court in 2002 and five more "if there were any who were found to be equally eligible". Apparently, it was this loophole that the Education Ministry used effectively to include 21 more colleges in the list sent to the NCTE.

HOWEVER, just when the government thought that it had effectively wriggled out of the court's scrutiny with the Cabinet eventually sanctioning merely 75 colleges as directed, the Metropolitan of the Malabar Diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Church and president of the Jacobite Education and Charitable Society, Yuhanon Mar Philoxinos, alleged in a letter to the Chief Minister that though a teacher training college under the society had been given the NOC in December 2002 and initially included in the list of 75 colleges approved by the Cabinet, it was later removed from the final list sent to the NCTE. This, he alleged, was because of his refusal to oblige a group of IUML leaders who had demanded Rs.2.5 lakhs from the society for the construction of a party building in Malappuram district. Subsequently, a few other college managements too made similar allegations. The Metropolitan also said in the letter that the Jacobite Education Society had provided all facilities as per the NCTE requirements at its proposed institution at Meenangadi in Wayanad district and yet was not included in the list.

The surprising fallout of the Metropolitan's allegation was that on January 14 the Cabinet once again decided to shrink its list of colleges to 64, removing 11 more from the 75 colleges originally proposed. The muddle was complete with the indirect admission by the Minister later that the Cabinet had in December replaced 11 colleges from the list of 75 recommended by the expert committee with 11 of its own choice because there were complaints regarding the list submitted by the expert committee.

Allegations continued to be raised against Nalakathu Soopy, including the one that among the colleges named in the government's final list were those under the management of his relatives and party colleagues. The Minister, however, preferred to say merely that he was "under tremendous pressure" from various groups at the "political as well as government level" and that he had "no choice but to expand the list of colleges by another 21". The Minister alleged that the same people who were trying to put pressure on him were now trying to blame him. He also said that the additional 21 colleges were included in the list sent to the NCTE after discussions with the Chief Minister and other Ministers.

The Chief Minister, however, said that the Cabinet had discussed only the issue of including five more eligible colleges to the original list of 75 and that it had not suggested any particular college to be considered in this regard. By January 19, the government had tied itself in knots by these unconvincing and conflicting explanations and a group of nearly 30 aggrieved college managements approached the High Court questioning the government's action of denying NOC as "illegal and autocratic".

The court left no room for the government to wriggle out of the crisis. It initiated contempt of court proceedings against two top officials, the State Higher Education Secretary and the Additional Director of Collegiate Education. It said that the records suggested that while colleges that had all the facilities were denied NOCs, others with insufficient facilities were included in the list. It added that if needed the court would appoint a commission to inquire into this. The court also asked the government to produce a merit list of colleges prepared by the former Director of Collegiate Education, which it allegedly ignored completely.

It was clear that the government would be hard-pressed to answer the two important questions that led to the contempt of court proceedings: Why did the government ignore the court's order to give NOCs only to 75 colleges and instead send a list of 96 to the NCTE? Why did it replace 11 colleges from the list submitted by the expert committee with 11 of its own choice, ignoring the court's directive?

In a hilarious response to this crisis of its own making, when it became clear that it would have to account for each of its controversial decisions before the court, the State Cabinet decided on January 21 to tell the court that it was ready to withdraw the entire list of colleges and cancel the NOCs given to them and to reconsider any of its decisions on the issue. Perhaps prudently, it also decided to withdraw the NOCs already granted to five M.Ed. colleges in the State. At the time of writing this report, the court was yet to hear the government's all-new plea.

Over 10,000 students pass out every year from the existing 124 B.Ed. colleges in the State. The proposal now is to induct nearly 100 students every year in each of the new colleges sanctioned. Given the sharp fall in the total enrolment of school students in the past 15 years owing to a fall in the rate of growth of the population and the increasing trend of closing down "uneconomic" government schools, the majority of the fresh B.Ed. graduates in Kerala join its long queue of the educated unemployed. But such uncomfortable truths are pushed under the carpet.

Sanctioning educational institutions has become a big business in Kerala, especially it seems, for the politicians in power.

In McWorld, and of it also

The ways of the postmodern activist.

"ACTS of resistance, collective gestures of revolt, and the common invention of a new social and political constitution" for the whole world, no less, are continually "passing together through innumerable micro-political circuits: and thus in the flesh of the multitude is inscribed a new power, a counter-power, a living thing that is against Empire." So Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt rhapsodised as they talked on globalisation and democracy at the last Documenta. The multitude they conjure is a novel form of political being - neither the sum of the peoples whose sovereignty nation states were supposed to incarnate, nor a mutation of the labouring masses whom Marx's enthusiasts had thought to steer toward Atlantis. That is just as well perhaps; the universal consumer whom globalisation both makes and serves seems the other face of Labour redeemed, after all, while the only peoples now worth the name seem to know themselves most as casualties of the process. The `flesh' of this multitude is a new quantity as well. It is neither matter nor mind, Hardt and Negri declare, following Maurice Merleau-Ponty, but rather "an element of being" in just the way that fire, air, water and earth were once supposed to be the elements of material creation. Out of this flesh, brought forth by "powers of invention that work through singularities to weave together hybridisations of space and metamorphoses of nature", will come "monsters and beautiful giants, continually emerging from within the interstices of imperial power and against imperial power itself", whose bodies "are not susceptible to the forces of discipline and normalisation" that maintain Empire.

This seems the language of vision or prophecy - the mixings of register are natural, one is tempted to say, to the sort of Koine English is becoming - so one must be careful in probing it. But the circuits of these powers of invention will remain "micro-political" just so long, we must suppose, as their monstrous issue is "interstitial" because Empire will collapse with "the full epiphany of the monsters", who will embody the new social and political constitution which Hardt and Negri call "the absolute democracy of the multitude". As a projected condition of some global polis this, again, is something dimly imagined. The rule of multitude over itself is absolute in not being delegated, at all, to any representative members; but we are not told how else this consummation of "a desire for a common life" is to be conceived. The large reason why the multitude will come to rule itself absolutely, however, is that "the power of invention has become the general and common condition of production in the political economy of Empire". And the freely combining multitude of bodies each multitudinous in itself - each variously "crisscrossed by intellectual and material powers of reason and affect", moving severally across "the old boundaries that separated the human from the machinic" - will inevitably invent "forms of life" which are "irrecuperable in the capitalist logic" of Empire. Yielding our elemental flesh freely to our own powers of invention we shall, Hardt and Negri seem to say, surely regain Paradise.

The platform on "democracy unrealised" hoisted at Documenta was the high place of this vision and perhaps artists and their enthusiasts were its proper communicants. One has to wonder where, in the world as we have it, any power of invention has become the common condition of production. That is not obviously so beyond the pale of the First World and one must ask how many even there, among those who exercise such a power freely, are not willing clients of Empire. But if we gloss the phrase suitably it will seem that "the power of invention" is indeed "the general and common condition of production" in the microcosm of the art-world - that is one way of describing the condition of perfect aesthetic entropy in which, as Arthur Danto has put it, a work of art can be whatever artist and patron want it to be. So perhaps Hardt and Negri mean to hold up as exemplary the play of a "power of invention" in the making of artworks nowadays, which certainly seems immune to any "forces of normalisation and discipline".1

The suggestion that the practice of art is a model of political praxis will seem risible to anyone who considers doings in the art-world coolly, or the doings in its Anglophone quarters at least. Documenta's platform had played host to a luminary on the American scene, someone received as a `theorist' there, whose deliverances on aesthetics and activism were detailed in a recent issue of this magazine; readers who find mine a jaundiced view are invited to imagine just what an artist with such a preceptor might do (Frontline, September 26, 2003). But, however that may be, to suppose that the making of art goes on in "the interstices of Empire" is simply silly and the character of both practice and patronage now almost ensures that anything done "interstitially" will pass unnoticed. The votaries who had gathered at Documenta did hear the recounting, though, of a piece of activism that appears to have been as micro-political and interstitial as Hardt and Negri would want. It might be instructive to look at that.

THE story is told in a piece titled "New Rules for the New Actonomy" by Florian Schneider, who was one of the principals of the event. His is the first essay of the section retailing "Counter-Politics: Direct Action, Resistance, Civil Disobedience" in the volume where the proceedings of our platform are collected.2 "Time is running out for Reformism," Schneider begins by declaring, so "this is the golden age of irresistible activism. Accelerate your politics. Set a target you can reach within three years and formulate the key ideas within 30 seconds. Then go out and do it. Do not despair. Get the bloody project up and then: hit hit hit." Just as you begin rolling up your sleeves, however, you are counselled to "be instantly seductive in your resistance". Workaday activists who might be puzzled by such advice are assured that their demands need not be "signs of a dogmatic belief system" anymore. Rather, "if well formulated" they can be "strong signs, penetrating deeply into the confused postmodern subjectivity", which is "so susceptible to catchy phrases, logos, and brand names".

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A radical enough political praxis could, one supposes, conceive of its demands as `signs' of some belief system rather than as statements of considered desire. Radical praxes have been expressly impatient of philosophy after all, being modes of action first, and as such may have had more use for slogans than careful articulations of position. And radicals who have begun to think of the `subjectivity' they are acting upon as confused mainly, rather than say "ideologically determined", might well agree that the larger aims of political resistance are better served by seduction than by argument or confrontation, strange as it sounds to say so.

The `order' produced by the doings of transnational capital is Schneider's target. Perhaps one should talk of Capital here if only to distinguish such doings from what pawnbrokers and loansharks, say, might get up to. Anyway, a frontal assault on Capital seems quixotic now. "Slowly changing capitalism from within" hardly seems a workable strategy to Schneider, perhaps because "society is changing much faster than any of its institutions can handle", and "there is no time anymore for rational planning" by anyone - by neither the powers that be nor those who oppose them. "The political arena has dissolved into thousands of fragments" apparently. So it might be all to the good that, "instead of lamenting the disappearance of politics, the public, the revolution" and so on, "today's activists are focussing on the weakest link defining the overall performance of the system - the point where the corporate image materialises in the real world and leaves its ubiquitous and abstract omnipresence".

Only a casuist would ask when ubiquity is not omnipresence, I suppose, or wonder how an image materialising at a point can be abstractly present everywhere. Such are the sweet nothings a postmodern activist must learn to mouth no doubt, to seduce fellows to his cause at least, and his work will be done if they go forth then to get "the damage done on the symbolic level", which, apparently, is what counts. The visual and audial `identities' that transnational business concocts for itself - the graphic blare or chime of logos, the catchy copy and music that, together with packaging, is meant to brand products on consumers' brains - all seem to have worked themselves into the warp of everyday experience: they are the lineament, as it were, of the McWorld that global business makes and rules. To those born before the world was so remade the compresent heraldry of the corporation makes palpable Capital's investing of daily life, one might say, running the military meaning of "invest" together with the sense of "endowing with attributes" that the word once had. And Schneider's claim seems to be that the powers of Capital are somehow weaker for having to greet with just these `faces' their servitors and hostages.

That is an intriguing suggestion - one that will at once elate and alarm advertising moguls. Whether things are really so would be difficult to determine; but a campaign Schneider helped orchestrate in 2001, to try and derail something Lufthansa does, does make for engaging reading here. The airline flies deportees from Germany to their countries of origin. These `passengers' are seated at the back of the aircraft always, often in handcuffs or like restraints. The campaign was called Deportation.class and it began with a competition, conducted on the Net, "to create a corpus of parodic slogans". These were then used in "prank promotional material" distributed to travel agencies, ostensibly advertising bookings in a `deportation class' and offering a price reduction on seats "normally reserved for the transport of deported asylum seekers". The blandishments of "waiting-list priority" and "increased baggage allowance" added to the temptation. The campaign tried to expose, in all sorts of ways, the carrying of deportees on commercial flights. For instance, at one airport, "activists disguised themselves as employees of an advertising agency, purportedly conducting a survey among Lufthansa passengers as to their readiness to be reseated from business or tourist into deportation class". In doing this kind of thing they acted as "communications guerillas", one might well say, "conserving their strength so as always to appear where the enemy least suspected".

Lufthansa had to take notice eventually. But its public relations people made a hash of things, calling a press conference to protest "the cynical and inhumane proceedings" of our "communications guerillas" - "score one for the activists" as Schneider properly says. Deportation.class culminated in an "online demonstration" conducted on the day of Lufthansa's annual shareholder meeting that year, when from 10 in the morning to noon "the Lufthansa server was to be overloaded or, at least, its response time significantly slowed down", by an "electronic gathering" enabled to address it in unanticipated ways through "software that supported mass protest". And the doings of this virtual collective are supposed to have cohered in a form of action that "both visualised and globalised protest" through "a hybrid of immaterial sabotage and digital demonstration".

Lufthansa's homepage was almost inaccessible for these two hours, apparently, but its Web services were not shut down all together. The campaign had made public its intent to try and disable the server well in advance of the event, and the airline was able to control the damage. That might ordinarily be thought a defeat for the activists. But "the nice thing about virtual reality", we are told, is that "both sides can be right in claiming success" and "the final tabulation of pluses and minuses has little meaning" because the activists' goal is "not so much to gain institutional political power, but to change the way things are moving and why. The principal aim is to make power ridiculous, unveil its corrupt nature in the most powerful, beautiful and aggressive symbolic language, then step back in order to make space for changes to take effect".

Just before this, however, Schneider had laid down the following "laws of the semiotic guerilla: hit and run, draw and withdraw, code and delete. Postulate precise and modest demands, which allow your foe to step back without losing face". One wonders how, and to whom, power can at the same time be made to seem ridiculous. But that is the magic of seductive resistance, presumably, and perhaps both Schnieder's "new actonomists" and Lufthansa parted more happy with themselves than not after this oddly civil duel. Deportation.class seems to be "a novel form of political articulation" certainly and perhaps such forms of collective action will create modes of "subjectivity and interactivity" that are not easily suborned by Capital. Whether tilting at the corporate image will make a more material difference, though, is another matter. The operations of Capital are overseen by institutions and orchestrated by discourses that do not depend, in any way, on an image presented to any sort of public. To make their power look ridiculous one would, for instance, have to parody the doings and sayings of business schools and `theorists' of management and it is not clear where an audience for such fare would gather.

One has to admire Schneider's actonomists, though no matter how inconsequential their "actions that are more like performances than traditional political demonstrations" may eventually prove. A good many in the art-world would want to applaud them, one imagines, though practice has come to depend in so many ways on Capital. Some might even want to regard Deportation.class as an extended piece of performance art. One wonders if Schneider's actonomists would be flattered by that, but let us consider what regarding it so will presuppose.

WORKS of art embody meaning in singular ways - that is their salient feature. Embodied meanings need not be sayable ones. What a painting means, for instance, may be as little sayable as a poem is picturable. And this is so even where, and perhaps especially when, its meaning is plain to see. But artworks mean what they do by lending themselves to words in certain ways - by, at the very least, making particular descriptions of how they look or what they do seem particularly apt. Now to understand Deportation.class as a work of art one has to take it for the work of "semiotic guerrillas" whose actions intend an "immaterial sabotage" of Capital by "seductively resisting" its operation. Taking our actonomists doings in just this way, under these or some like descriptions, seems a condition of understanding it so.

Of course, their actions announce an intent to sabotage. But such intending would be idle wishing only, unless it were informed by some sense of just how the powers of Capital depend on the corporate image. The understanding behind intent here may be ill-founded. After all, the meanings embodied by artworks depend on the beliefs and desires of their makers and intended beholders only, no matter how egregious these may seem to others. Then, one has to impute to the actonomists some understanding of Capital's workings if one is to think of Deportation.class as seductive resistance intended to immaterially sabotage Capital - even if they disclaim any such understanding themselves. Such understanding must be articulate enough to be shared. We could not otherwise suppose our "semiotic guerrillas" able to concert their actions as they seem to. Moreover, in order to tell such intending from idle wishing we would have to ourselves possess the understanding we impute.

Recall that Deportation.class is meant to do more than annoy or merely inconvenience. It is meant to "penetrate deeply into our confused postmodern subjectivity" and in that way help produce a public whom the powers of Capital cannot easily suborn. But that may take some time. Schneider's actonomists are ready, at any rate, to "step back for changes to take effect" after they have done their work as putative saboteurs. The crucial question then is whether, given what understanding of Capital's workings is imputed to them, they can be seen as intending the sabotage they wish before any changes take effect because understanding something as a work of art cannot wait upon what might or might not come to be. Taking in Deportation.class as a work of art requires, in short, that our actonomists be seen as immaterial saboteurs regardless of whether their actions will sabotage Capital at all.

The point is worth labouring. To regard our actonomists as saboteurs - to see them as actively intending sabotage and not idly wishing it only - we have to assess the chances that their actions would sabotage Capital were its workings in accord with the understanding of such workings that we impute to them. That is peculiarly difficult. Our grasp of such counterfactual situations is vitiated by the circumstance that no sabotaging of Capital is likely to be recognised as such until much after the job is done. It might be worth remarking now that, not too long ago, artworks were praised for subverting various sorts of oppressive order. The same difficulty should have complicated the exercise of regarding them so. One has to see the work as subversive regardless of whether it will subvert anything at all while, again, subversion is usually detected only after it has done its damage. And if an artwork proves subversive as a consequence of its having been understood in some particular way, that would be incidental to its being a work of art.

Of course, merely logical difficulties do not deter artworlders. But we must now ask what sorts of understanding of Capital's workings the members of the artworld are likely, in general, to possess. Such understandings may be seriously mistaken, as we noted. But they must be articulate and consistent enough, within themselves, to allow the sort of exercises in counterfactual assessment that were just sketched. There may be optimists who suppose that possible. But no one will think so who has tried to make sense of what passes for theory or interpretation in the art-world now: attempts at either there are, almost always, only banal when they are not incoherent. That will seem harsh, but there is no room here to make good the charge and, as always, there are splendid exceptions. For those new to the art-world, however, a glance at the dicta of the `theorist' mentioned should give the claim enough colour.

Schneider and his actonomists did not set out to make art, of course, and they may not mind that their actions cannot be understood as such. So in the next part we shall look at an artist whose dealings with Capital seem "monstrous" in a way that Hardt and Negri might applaud.

Footnotes

1. Hardt and Negri will seem descendants of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon now, desiring like him that Art be the destiny of Labour; and perhaps they would count Courbet as an ancestor of their `beautiful giants'.

2. Published by the firm of Hatje Cantz with the title Democracy Unrealised.

A chance discovery

A CHANCE verification of the voters list in Guntur by Lok Satta, a non-governmental organisation, led to the discovery of bogus votes. The NGO's convener, Kodanda Rami Reddy, was scrutinising the lists to check whether a candidate was registered as a voter, when he found that there were 340 voters in House No. 2-14-8/27 in Srikrishnadevarayanagar. What is ironic is that this locality has only thatched houses, and each can barely accommodate a family of five. Things were no better even in a posh area like Syamalanagar where 130 voters were enrolled from a single house. It also found that as many as 657 persons, belonging to different religions, were enlisted under one door number, 7-6-846 in Guntur-I constituency, and none of them existed.

Bogus voters were aplenty in other districts as well. In Chittoor, the home district of Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, the voter to population ratio exceeded 90 per cent in Punganur and Sathyavedu constituencies. In Punganur, it was 94.4 per cent, leaving only 11,000 of the 1.95 lakh people out of the voters list.

This abnormal increase in the percentage of voters alarmed prospective candidates in constituencies where the victory margins in Assembly elections have been usually low. For instance, the Congress(I) candidate in Vayalpad constituency won the last election by a precarious margin of 0.6 per cent of the votes.

The Chief Electoral Officer, M. Narayana Rao, however, said it was a case of `misunderstanding'. Computer printouts, because of limited space, did not indicate the house numbers and street numbers against a name, but only the ward or area number. Critics misconstrued the ward number as house number, he said. Whatever the truth, Guntur district was second in the bogus voter list scandal with 13.2 per cent bogus votes. Prakasam district topped with 19.9 per cent.

A city in transition

RAVI SHARMA advertorial

Mysore, Karnataka's second largest city, is poised to take off as the newest destination for investment, despite its inadequate infrastructure.

MAHARAJAS, palaces, the Chamundi Hills, elephants, the Dasara processions. Think of Mysore and you are overcome by nostalgia. Suprisingly, this erstwhile capital of the Mysore maharajas has managed to retain the old world charm. A mix of the medieval and the modern is what the city, which encompasses 105 square kilometres and has a population of over 800,000, boasts of today.

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Located 140 km south of the Karnataka capital of Bangalore, Mysore traces its history to the Ganga Dynasty, which was established during the 2nd century A.D. Mysore was part of the Chalukya prince Narasinga's kingdom in the 10th century. The Cholas and the Hoysalas built temples in Mysore city and on the Chamundi Hills.

But it was during the reign of the Yadu or Wodeyar dynasty (founded in 1399) that Mysore came into prominence. Bettada Chamaraja Wodeyar, the raja of Mysore, rebuilt the small fort of Mysore, established it as the administrative headquarters of his small principality, and called it `Mahishur Nagara'. Though Raja Wodeyar (1578-1617) shifted the principality's capital to Srirangapatna in 1610, the fall of Tipu Sultan in 1799 saw Mysore once again becoming the capital of the Wodeyars.

Mysore's transformation from a small fort town to a vibrant city started under the reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (1799-1868) and reached its zenith during the rule of Chamaraja Wodeyar (1895-1940), who built broad roads, imposing buildings and picturesque parks. A succession of astute Wodeyar maharajas helped the kingdom of Mysore earn the name `Ramarajya'.

Today Mysore is Karnataka's second biggest city and according to the State government, it is poised to take off as the newest destination for investment in the industrial, educational and tourism sectors. Mysore has a history of being home to such traditional industries as weaving, oil crushing, sandalwood carving, bronze work and the production of lime and salt. Using this as the base, Mysore has over the past eight decades transformed itself into a destination for modern industries in the manufacturing, service and Information Technology (IT) sectors. TVS Motor Company, Raman Boards, N. Ranga Rao & Sons, Vikram Hospitals, Reid & Taylor (a division of S. Kumars), Jubilant Organosys and Infosys Technologies are some of them.

The blueprint for the development of industries in Mysore was laid out way back in 1911. There are currently around 100 large and medium-scale and nearly 10,000 small-scale industries operating in and around Mysore city. The products include automobile spares, pharmaceuticals, electrical goods, engineering and machine components, rubber, textiles, chemicals, processed foods, plastics, defence-related goods, Information Technology products and incense sticks. Currently the industries that are doing well are pharmaceuticals and automobile ancillary units that are strategically tied up with automobile/engineering majors. Curiously, the IT industry, despite the wealth of human resources, has not moved to Mysore in a big way.

Mysore, home to two of India's premier food research laboratories - the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) and the Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) and located in the middle of Karnataka's major rice- and sugarcane-growing region, is poised to take advantage of the availability of agricultural raw material and human resources. Mysore is also rich in educational institutions, right from kindergarten schools to professional colleges.

Mysore also has the advantage of being well-connected by both road and rail (rail links started in the first decade of the previous century) to the rest of the country, especially the industrial hubs of Bangalore and Coimbatore. The State government has started work on expanding the existing highway between Bangalore and Mysore into a four-lane one.

With the doubling of the rail line between Bangalore and Ramanagaram now under way, and plans to expand it right up to Mysore on the cards, the commuting time between Bangalore and Mysore could be reduced from 180 minutes to around 90, thereby cutting the lead time required by manufacturing units to transport their wares to Bangalore and beyond. Another ongoing rail project - the gauge conversion between the towns of Hassan and Sakleshpur - will facilitate easier transport between Mysore and the port city of Mangalore. This should help Mysore's export-oriented units.

But what is hurting Mysore is the lack of an airport.

There was talk that the existing airstrip at Mandakalli on Mysore's outskirts would be developed into a full-fledged airport by October 2002. But the project has been caught up in redtape.

Said S. N. Rao, Mysore zonal chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry's (CII): "No head of industry or a company wants to visit Mysore. This is primarily because no one wants to waste over three and a half hours travelling from Bangalore to Mysore." Industrialists like Rao are still sceptical whether Mysore can develop into an industrial counter-magnet to Bangalore, whose infrastructure is as it is bursting at its seams. Explains Rao: "Until the infrastructure, mainly roads, is ready you can't do much. The Karnataka government must push for Mysore and do more for the city. The buoyancy that you are seeing on the industrial scene is mainly because of the fact that the economy as a whole is doing well. This has resulted in a little incremental growth in Mysore as well. But if you want quantum growth in Mysore there has to be more publicity to the city and better infrastructure. There has to be more connectivity between Mysore and Bangalore."

Added Ashok Rao, vice-chairman, CII, Mysore zone, "Once infrastructure is in place, Mysore will grow by leaps and bounds. I see this happening in around four to five years' time. From the CII we have been lobbying the government and also trying to hold talks with the various government agencies to speed up the airport project. The Department of Industries and Commerce should also be more proactive."

As a long-time resident pointed out, Mysore has several additional advantages. The city offers quality life at a relatively low cost." Mysore, located at 763 metres above sea level and surrounded by hill ranges running from north to south, has a salubrious climate.

A clean-up in Andhra Pradesh

The Election Commission weeds out 93.42 lakh bogus voters in the State, which is preparing for early Assembly elections.

in Hyderabad

TIMELY and firm intervention by the Election Commission (E.C.) has averted the danger of the election process for the Lok Sabha and the Assembly in Andhra Pradesh being reduced to a farce. In a ruthless and clear-headed, though not flawless, action, the Commission weeded out 93.42 lakh bogus voters. The end result is the shrinking of the total electorate in the State by 7.14 per cent, from 5.49 crores to 5.10 crores.

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The State's population is estimated to be 7.7 crores. The voter strength works out to 66.23 per cent of this after the E.C's action. Had it not been for the drive, the voter strength would have reached an astounding 80 per cent.

As many as 28.86 lakh of the 54.88 lakh applications received during the routine summary revision of rolls have been rejected. The majority of the names deleted are from the list of `residual voters', who did not turn up to be photographed for identity card purposes in spite of being served notices. The rest are those who died or had migrated.

The Congress(I) has welcomed the E.C's action. Andhra Pradesh Congress(I) Committee (APCC) president D. Srinivas said that his party had all along been pointing out that the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) had enrolled bogus voters on a large scale in order to subvert the elections.

For the TDP, the mass deletion of names from the voters list has come as a shock. It contended that the decadal population growth rate in the State had shown a 10.5 per cent decline between 1991 and 2001. This, it said, would lead to an increase in the voter strength. The party maintained that it was improper for the E.C. to delete the names of voters from the rolls on the grounds that the voter to population ratio exceeded 65 per cent.

Nothing appears to have gone right for TDP president and State Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu after he took what appeared to be `a careful and measured decision', on November 14, to dissolve prematurely the State Assembly. His gamble to go in for a snap poll on the plank of `Naxalite violence versus development of the State' came unstuck almost immediately.

No sooner had Governor S.S. Barnala dissolved the House on the Cabinet's recommendation, than Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) J.M. Lyngdoh expressed the E.C's inability to hold the elections in February as Chandrababu Naidu had planned. "It is not prepared at the moment. The Election Commission takes its own time to hold elections," said Lyngdoh, much to Chandrababu Naidu's disappointment.

The CEC had good reasons for taking this stand. Electoral rolls in the State were due for revision. The Commission soon released a time table, for the summary revision of rolls from November 27 to the publication of revised rolls on January 20. Moreover, the Supreme Court had held in respect of the Gujarat elections that on the premature dissolution of an Assembly, the E.C. had up to six months' time to hold elections.

Chandrababu Naidu appeared resigned to the fait accompli of late elections. He had erred in not consulting the E.C. about its convenience before dissolving the Assembly. In fact, this hasty decision came to be known as the `Naidu mistake' at the National Executive meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Hyderabad on January 11 and 12, where the main agenda was early elections to the Lok Sabha.

The TDP chief did the next best thing by gearing up party cadre for the revision of the electoral rolls. Reviewing their performance on a daily basis, the party even gave grades to leaders who achieved or exceeded their enrolment targets. Congress(I) workers competed with their TDP counterparts in enrolling as many voters as possible.

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This unhealthy competition soon threatened to derail the enrolment process. There were instances galore of hundreds of persons filing applications for enrolment from the same address. The issue of `bogus voters' soon snowballed into a political controversy, with the TDP at its centre. The E.C. despatched four teams of officials on December 22 to review the roll revision.

As the E.C. teams began verification, the TDP and the Opposition parties unleashed a war of words against one another and rushed teams to New Delhi to make representations to the E.C. The Congress(I), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or the CPI(M), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), in a joint representation submitted to Lyngdoh on January 8, alleged that the Commission's annual roll revision exercise had been severely impaired by the ruling TDP. They alleged that TDP workers had submitted applications "in scandalous proportions" and were putting pressure on revenue officials to dance to their tune. The TDP government had also transferred mandal revenue officers, police officers and other officials en masse, they said.

Denying these charges, the TDP held that Opposition parties were resorting to a campaign of half-truths and untruths to vilify it. It said there was nothing wrong in its leaders submitting bunches of applications for enrolment. The election authorities had themselves held meetings with various political parties to create awareness so that genuine voters were not left out. This apart, political parties were given an opportunity to file in bulk claims and objections in Forms 6 and 7 respectively through their district party president and secretaries.

The slanging match ended only when the E.C. teams started weeding out bogus applications on a large scale. Their action sent alarm bells ringing in political parties.

The TDP made frantic appeals to the E.C. not to remove genuine voters in the name of weeding out bogus claims. The Congress(I) and other parties also made the same appeal. Both sides said that lower level officials were bent on drastically pruning the list though the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of the State had assured them that the ratio of voters to the population would not be the sole criterion for deciding elimination.

In going in for Assembly elections, Chandrababu Naidu had taken only the `winnability' factor of his party into consideration. However, he built up a rather fragile argument that Naxalites, aided and abetted by the Congress(I), were creating obstacles in the path of development. He contended that the TDP, by seeking and winning a popular mandate, would get its stand vindicated and show that the Naxalites, who had made an attempt on his life on October 1, 2003, enjoyed no public support. It turned out to be a damp squib as a campaign plank, as his own partymen were either unwilling or scared to take on the Naxalites.

The faction-ridden Congress(I) is slowly showing some semblance of unity through `bus yatras' and the stepping up of efforts to forge alliances with other Opposition parties. The TDP, on the other hand, is focussing on gearing up its 90-lakh-strong cadre and holding public meetings. It received a shot in the arm when the Centre decided to go in for general elections. TDP leaders feel that the wave in favour of the Vajpayee government will boost their party's prospects too, thanks to its alliance with the BJP.

Record of excellence

RAVI SHARMA advertorial

A centre of learning from olden days, Mysore continues its romance with academics.

MYSORE has always been known as a centre of learning and excellence, both in academics and in the fields of arts and culture. A succession of maharajas, advised by shrewd and far-sighted dewans like Sir Seshadri Iyer, Sir M. Visvesvaraya, and Sir Mirza Ismail, invited the best of scholars from around the world as teachers for themselves, other members of the royal family and even the common people. The royal court was studded with musicians, dancers, painters, theologians, academicians and sculptors.

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Today Mysore University, set up on a 320-hectare is reputed for being one of the best in the country. It was established in 1916 by Krishnaraja Wodeyar after two of his educational experts C. R. Reddy and Thomas Denham, undertook a five-year study of higher education around the world. It was only India's sixth university. The structure of the university was designed after a thorough analysis of the functioning of those universities that had as their chief aim the promotion of original research (Chicago University), those that laid emphasis on the extension of knowledge among the people (Wisconsin University), and those that combined intellectualism with an educational system calculated to give training for political and social life (Oxford and Cambridge Universities).

Mysore University secured autonomous status in 1956, and in 1960 the university's post-graduate (P.G.) centre was set up in the picturesque environs of the Kukkarahally lake. The national poet and the Jnanpith award winner, Dr. K. V. Puttappa (Kuvempu), a former Vice-Chancellor of the University, christened the campus `Manasagangotri', meaning the eternal spring of the mind. Though initially all the nine southern districts of Karnataka were under the territorial jurisdiction of Mysore University, the setting up of Bangalore University (1964), Mangalore University (1980), Kuvempu University (1987) and the Karnataka State Open University (1997) has meant that today its activities are confined to the districts of Mysore, Mandya, Hassan and Chamarajanagar. There are two additional P.G. centres, at Mandya and Hassan. In all, Mysore University have five constituent colleges, 122 affiliated colleges and 49 recognised research institutions, offering certified, diploma, under graduate and post-graduate courses in the faculties of arts, science and technology, law, education and commerce.

Taking pride of place among the university's 39 facultywise research areas are applied botany and seed pathology, which attract students from all over Asia, and geology and physics, both of which are designated as `national facilities'. The university also boasts one of the largest university libraries in India. It library, established in 1918, has a resource collection of around 800,000 documents and a membership of 6,000 users. It is also no surprise that among the university's faculty members have been such luminaries as Professor S. Chandrashekar (Fellow of the Royal Society), Prof. K. V. Puttappa (Padma Bhushan), Prof. U. R. Ananthamurthy (Padma Bhushan) and Prof. C. D. Narasimhaiah (Padma Bhushan).

And not for nothing has the National Assessment and Accreditation Council, an autonomous body of the University Grants Commission (UGC), accorded Mysore University five-star status. In addition, the Eighth Plan Review Committee of the UGC after inspecting the university, while appreciating its all round development, recommended to the State and Central governments its upgradation as a `National Centre for Excellence'.

Currently nearly 58,000 students study in Mysore University. Among the university's future plans are `outreach education', where the university would give a thrust to off-campus education in places like Delhi, Hyderabad and even South-East Asia. Explained N.D. Tiwari, its Registrar: "This will be a collaborative programme in Information Technology, Computer Science (M.Tech.), management and in biotechnology, run with institutions in other cities. They will run the colleges following our syllabus and academic regulations. So far we have signed memorandums of understanding with Edutech of New Delhi and Sawant of Singapore."

Over the years there have also been noteworthy initiatives in private education in Mysore. Started by three retired senior government engineers - S. Ramaswamy, D. V. Narasimha Rao and T. Rama Rao - in 1946 with a batch of 86 students sitting in a make-shift thatched -roof classroom in Mysore's Laxmipuram, NIE was Karnataka's second and Mysore's first engineering college. Though initially only a diploma was offered to students, by 1953 the first batch of civil engineering graduates had passed out of NIE. And by 1956 the State and Central governments had recognised NIE as one of the institutions listed for development during the second and subsequent five year plans. In 1958-59 NIE was accorded the status of a private aided institution under the State government's grant-in-aid programme.

Today NIE is one of the premier engineering institutions of the country and offers degree courses in civil, mechanical, electrical, electronics and industrial & production (IP) engineering, and computer science and information science; a part-time evening course for practising civil engineering diploma holders; and a master's degree in hydraulics, power systems, production engineering & systems technology, computer applications to industrial drives, computer applications and engineering management. NIE, which is a recognised research institute under the Visvesvaraya Technology University, also offers doctoral programmes in civil engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering and IP engineering. A course in biotechnology is on the anvil.

According to S. L. Ramachandra, honorary treasurer, NIE, the institute's strength lies in its faculty: "We have the best of teachers, who stay on with us because we provide them with all the requisite benefits. And despite the fact that we have no godfathers we have no trouble in filling up our seats. Our civil branch is one of the best in the country." Added M. Sreepada Rao, honorary secretary, NIE: "We at NIE recently revised our vision. This was because the concept of education has now changed. No longer is education classroom teaching, examinations and results. With the requirements of industry itself now different, we have to upgrade our technology and tactics if we are to sell our students. In a bid to retain our teachers we have created a separate fund for their retirement benefits, launched our own incentive schemes, and encouraged them to present papers."

The society that runs NIE also runs the National Industrial Training Institute (which offers a technical job-oriented diploma programme) and the NIE College of Science (which offers a bachelor of science course in electronics and computer science). NIE Society also has plans to start a pre-university college and a high school.

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A social organisation which emphasises the need for education is Jagadguru Sri Shivarathreeshwara Mahavidyapeetha (JSSM) established in 1954. The JSSM runs over 200 institutions, starting from kindergarten to professional courses. A key area of focus is the rural child. Spearheading the JSSM's technical education is the Sri Jayachamarajendra College of Engineering (SJCE) in Mysore. Started in 1963, the college, which is located on a 127-acre (51-hectares) campus, offers technical education in formal and non-formal disciplines. At the formal level, the SJCE offers bachelor, P.G. and doctoral programmes in computer science, electronics, instrumentation technology, electrical, mechanical and civil engineering, polymer sciences and environmental sciences.

Said B. N. Betkerur, executive secretary, JSSM: "Maintaining quality in education is the biggest challenge. Teachers are not what they used to be. Teachers are just not going to the rural areas. And the State government's vacillating policy on aided colleges and the filling up of posts is affecting us."

The JSSM has plans to start nursing colleges and schools in the semi- rural environs of Kollegal, Gundlupet and Chamarajanagar.

Vidyavardhaka Sangha, which was started in 1949 by veterans like Sahukar Channaiah and K. Puttaswamy and is currently managed under the guidance of, among others, Prof. P. M. Chikkaboraiah and P. Vishwanath, is committed to imparting education to the have-nots of Mysore. The Sangha runs eight institutions that impart education from the nursery level to law and engineering.

Said Vishwanath, its secretary and an ex-mayor of Mysore: "The Sangha set up its first school in a small marriage hall that was taken on rent. Later the school moved to the Dasara exhibition stall. It was only in the 1960s that we were able to get our own building, near the Mysore railway station. The Sangha was started purely for the weaker sections... Our poor boys' fund subsidises the fees for those who cannot pay." The Sangha's V. V. High School has over 500 pupils and though the intake is of a very average quality, the school has consistently obtained a tenth class pass percentage of around 75 per cent.

The Sangha also runs a Job-Oriented College offering courses in electrical wiring, library science and accountancy. Its Industrial Training Centre trains young people as electrical and electronics technicians and fitters.

Undoubtedly, the pride of place among the Sangha's institutions is the V. V. College of Engineering, set up in 1997. With an intake of 300, the College currently offers five branches - computer science, electronics & communication, mechanical engineering, environmental engineering and information science. The next academic year could see the launch of a sixth branch - electrical & electronics. Said Vishwanath: "Our focus is on providing infrastructure and teachers."

A government in the dock

The Congress(I)-led coalition government in Kerala faces charges of corruption and nepotism and contempt of court proceedings for its conduct in granting sanction to self-financing B.Ed. colleges.

in Thiruvananthapuram

IN coalition-ruled Kerala, the Ministry of Education is a coveted Cabinet berth for partners in government. Whenever the United Democratic Front (UDF) was in power in the State in the past two decades, the education portfolio remained a preserve of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the second largest partner in the coalition led by the Congress(I). The potential for political and monetary gains in the sanctioning of educational institutions, appointment of teachers and officials and admission of students had also made the Education Ministry a frequent target of allegations of corruption and nepotism. Ever since the A.K. Antony government came to power in May 2001, the Education Department under the IUML leader and Minister, Nalakathu Soopy, has been a focus of such allegations. The complaints are often brushed aside. None has been inquired into so far.

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Instead, the Chief Minister and his Cabinet colleagues have all along hailed the large-scale sanctioning of self-financing educational institutions in Kerala in a short span of two and a half years as one of the most important achievements of the government. They continue to claim that the government's liberal policy of sanctioning self-financing educational institutions addresses a felt need in the State to stem the migration of a large number of students from Kerala to neighbouring States seeking opportunities in professional education.

But the popular perception that `there is no smoke without fire' was rekindled in early January, when some college managements approached the Kerala High Court against the Education Department's attempts to ignore court-imposed norms and provide no-objection certificates (NOCs) for the establishment of 96 private, self-financing B.Ed. colleges in the State in the next academic year. This, they alleged, was done ignoring the legitimate claims of several other managements and the court's 2002 directive that only 75 colleges need be granted NOCs, that too with the sanction of the National Council for Teachers' Education (NCTE).

In April 2002, in a telling instance of the judiciary curbing the government's over-enthusiasm in sanctioning colleges without following the norms, the High Court ordered the "re-processing" of 291 applications for B.Ed. colleges on which the government had taken a favourable decision. The court said that only 75 colleges need be given NOCs and that the applicants should not appoint teachers and other staff or admit students until the NCTE granted them provisional or conditional recognition. The court also ordered that the State government should get the applications processed by an expert committee and that the selection should be made on the basis of the relative merits of the applicants and the recommendations of the committee. It also said that the relative merits of the institutions should be decided on the basis of a State-level comparison of standards and facilities. The court directed that the managements that had all the infrastructure and other facilities in place in their proposed institutions should be preferred to those who were yet to acquire them.

But in December 2003, within hours of the State Cabinet deciding to grant NOCs to 75 B.Ed. colleges (so as to meet the December 31 deadline for NCTE approval), a list of 96 colleges was faxed to the NCTE by the Education Department. The Thiruvananthapuram-based Lazar Nadar Education and Research Foundation filed a petition in the High Court against the government move, stating that the new list did not include many colleges recommended by the expert committee and that it contained the names of several colleges the committee had not recommended. On January 6, the court intervened in the issue once again and ordered a stay on the government granting NOC to any other college except the 75 approved by the expert committee. It also directed the government to file a detailed report on the procedure it had adopted for the selection of the colleges, the facilities available in each of the selected colleges, and the details of the colleges without university affiliation that were included in the list. The court ordered the NCTE to submit a report on how inspections were conducted and on the procedure adopted for granting recognition to colleges.

Significantly, despite a tenacious Education Minister still seeking the Cabinet's approval for the additional 21 colleges even a day after the court's order, the Cabinet decided on January 7 that 75 colleges alone need be granted NOCs. Reports that several Ministers were highly critical of the Education Minister's action of trying to squeeze in 21 more colleges were not denied. It also became clear from the Chief Minister's subsequent statements that the Cabinet had, in fact, agreed to provide NOCs to 80 colleges in all, 75 of them as directed by the court in 2002 and five more "if there were any who were found to be equally eligible". Apparently, it was this loophole that the Education Ministry used effectively to include 21 more colleges in the list sent to the NCTE.

HOWEVER, just when the government thought that it had effectively wriggled out of the court's scrutiny with the Cabinet eventually sanctioning merely 75 colleges as directed, the Metropolitan of the Malabar Diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Church and president of the Jacobite Education and Charitable Society, Yuhanon Mar Philoxinos, alleged in a letter to the Chief Minister that though a teacher training college under the society had been given the NOC in December 2002 and initially included in the list of 75 colleges approved by the Cabinet, it was later removed from the final list sent to the NCTE. This, he alleged, was because of his refusal to oblige a group of IUML leaders who had demanded Rs.2.5 lakhs from the society for the construction of a party building in Malappuram district. Subsequently, a few other college managements too made similar allegations. The Metropolitan also said in the letter that the Jacobite Education Society had provided all facilities as per the NCTE requirements at its proposed institution at Meenangadi in Wayanad district and yet was not included in the list.

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The surprising fallout of the Metropolitan's allegation was that on January 14 the Cabinet once again decided to shrink its list of colleges to 64, removing 11 more from the 75 colleges originally proposed. The muddle was complete with the indirect admission by the Minister later that the Cabinet had in December replaced 11 colleges from the list of 75 recommended by the expert committee with 11 of its own choice because there were complaints regarding the list submitted by the expert committee.

Allegations continued to be raised against Nalakathu Soopy, including the one that among the colleges named in the government's final list were those under the management of his relatives and party colleagues. The Minister, however, preferred to say merely that he was "under tremendous pressure" from various groups at the "political as well as government level" and that he had "no choice but to expand the list of colleges by another 21". The Minister alleged that the same people who were trying to put pressure on him were now trying to blame him. He also said that the additional 21 colleges were included in the list sent to the NCTE after discussions with the Chief Minister and other Ministers.

The Chief Minister, however, said that the Cabinet had discussed only the issue of including five more eligible colleges to the original list of 75 and that it had not suggested any particular college to be considered in this regard. By January 19, the government had tied itself in knots by these unconvincing and conflicting explanations and a group of nearly 30 aggrieved college managements approached the High Court questioning the government's action of denying NOC as "illegal and autocratic".

The court left no room for the government to wriggle out of the crisis. It initiated contempt of court proceedings against two top officials, the State Higher Education Secretary and the Additional Director of Collegiate Education. It said that the records suggested that while colleges that had all the facilities were denied NOCs, others with insufficient facilities were included in the list. It added that if needed the court would appoint a commission to inquire into this. The court also asked the government to produce a merit list of colleges prepared by the former Director of Collegiate Education, which it allegedly ignored completely.

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It was clear that the government would be hard-pressed to answer the two important questions that led to the contempt of court proceedings: Why did the government ignore the court's order to give NOCs only to 75 colleges and instead send a list of 96 to the NCTE? Why did it replace 11 colleges from the list submitted by the expert committee with 11 of its own choice, ignoring the court's directive?

In a hilarious response to this crisis of its own making, when it became clear that it would have to account for each of its controversial decisions before the court, the State Cabinet decided on January 21 to tell the court that it was ready to withdraw the entire list of colleges and cancel the NOCs given to them and to reconsider any of its decisions on the issue. Perhaps prudently, it also decided to withdraw the NOCs already granted to five M.Ed. colleges in the State. At the time of writing this report, the court was yet to hear the government's all-new plea.

Over 10,000 students pass out every year from the existing 124 B.Ed. colleges in the State. The proposal now is to induct nearly 100 students every year in each of the new colleges sanctioned. Given the sharp fall in the total enrolment of school students in the past 15 years owing to a fall in the rate of growth of the population and the increasing trend of closing down "uneconomic" government schools, the majority of the fresh B.Ed. graduates in Kerala join its long queue of the educated unemployed. But such uncomfortable truths are pushed under the carpet.

Sanctioning educational institutions has become a big business in Kerala, especially it seems, for the politicians in power.

A tourist's paradise

RAVI SHARMA advertorial

Traditionally a tourist centre, Mysore keeps adding to its attractions.

MYSORE'S attraction for both the domestic and the international traveller is not only because of its palaces, museums, zoo, gardens and art galleries, but also because of its geographic location. It is also a convenient stopover before you drive off into Wayanad in Kerala or Udhagamandalam (Ooty) in Tamil Nadu, or Kodagu (Coorg) or Chikmagalur in Karnataka itself.

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Among the city's newer attractions are the GRS Fantasy Park and the Indus Valley Ayurvedic Centre (IVAC).

Located on the foothills of the Chamundi Hills on a 40-acre picturesque plot, IVAC should give the more established ayurvedic centres in Kerala a run for their money. Set up in 1999 by Dr. Talavane Krishna, M.D., it follows an integrated and pragmatic approach to a healthy life, with particular focus on ayurveda, in accordance with the concepts of this holistic medical system.

The centre at present has 24 rooms and there are no plans to increase the number.

Said Vinita Rashinkar, senior manager: "Ayurveda is a person-specific science, and at IVAC we have 107 staff members for a total of 24 guests. The usual industry average is one staff for two guests. We know every guest by name. If there are more rooms, the personal touch will go away. At IVAC there are no plastic smiles, the staff have to have a clean vibration. That is the secret of our success."

Frequented mostly by Europeans and Japanese, IVAC offers both a rejuvenative programme and curative therapies for those who suffer from chronic health problems such as obesity, neurological disorders, digestive problems, circulatory disorders and degenerative illnesses. The rejuvenative programme is designed to revitalise the body's tissues and central nervous system, improve circulation and remove accumulated stress and toxins from the mind and the body. While abhyanga and shirodhara are shorter therapies, panchakarma is more potent, consisting of five cleansing therapies that help remove deep-seated stress from the body while balancing the three doshas - vata, pitta and kapha. There are beauty therapies too.

Rashinkar justified the cost of treatment citing the example of the `moorchita tilatela' or medicated base massage oil (sesame oil with herbs) whose preparation takes as much as three days.

ONE of Mysore's most frequented tourist spots in recent years, attracting almost 400,000 visitors every year, is the Rs. 22-crore GRS Fantasy Park. Among the treats that await visitors are water chutes (where you are carried to a height of 30 metres and then allowed a free fall into a pond of water within three seconds), swing chair, wave pool (an artificially created seashore replete with waves), adventure cruises (where you slide cum glide, twist and turn at great speeds, with the water acting as a lubricant), pendulum slides (where you slide down a distance of 50 feet (15 metres) and transverse the height again) and the theme park's latest offering (the first of its kind in India), the dragon's den (where computer simulation and synchronising sound, light and movement take you to the depths of the Jurassic Age of predators and dragons).

Says Manjunath Nayak: "The name of the theme park business is constant innovation. That is the only way to get your customers back. We have been adding one new offering every year. We have also been using to effect the 18-metre natural gradient on our 32 acre site. Our next offering will be a giant 60-foot, theme-based waterfall."

Other attractions at the Park include a 1,000-seater amphitheatre which is used for corporate parties, dealer conferences and marriages. GRS Fantasy Park also boasts a filtration process that constantly monitors the Ph and free chlorine levels of the water, an effluents treatment plant and an effective rainwater harvesting system. Conscious of safety, the park has 15 trained lifeguards.

Taking science to the masses

B.S. PADMANABHAN advertorial

The Government of India designates 2004 as the Year of Scientific Awareness, citing the need to inculcate in the people the habit of putting their scientific awareness to practical use. But the larger aim is to make them participate in the scientific endeavour to build a modern India.

THE focal theme of the 91st Indian Science Congress, held in Chandigarh between January 3 and 7, was "Science and Society: Quest for Excellence". Prime Minister A.B. Vajapyee in his inaugural message to the congress echoed this sentiment by exhorting every scientific establishment to have pursuit of excellence as its motto. For this to be meaningful, the fruits of research should percolate down to the community level and benefit the people at large. This in turn would require enhanced public awareness of the importance of science and technology in everyday life. Recognising this, the Science and Technology Policy (STP) announced in 2003 had a specific component, which sought to ensure that the message of science reached every citizen of India. The idea is that scientific temper should be promoted so that we emerge as a progressive and enlightened society and the people participate fully in the development of S&T and its application to human welfare. In other words, the policy envisaged full integration of S&T with all spheres of national activity. It was against this backdrop that the Government of India (GoI) designated 2004 as the Year of Scientific Awareness (YSA-2004). The YSA-2004 project was launched at the Chandigarh Science Congress with the symbolic release of its logo and the pamphlet detailing the action plan.

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This is not the first time that an attempt is being made to promote scientific awareness. From time to time the GoI has been taking initiatives to take S&T to the masses in their pristine forms. In 1982 the Department of Science and Technology (DST) set up the National Council for Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC) to promote science communication and popularisation. There are several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) devoted to science communication. What is sought through the YSA-2004 project is a quantum leap in the level of activities, increased reach to new constituents and consolidation of the ongoing efforts. The DST will function as the nodal department to coordinate and monitor the activities during the year through the NCSTC.

The choice of the NCSTC is not surprising because it has gained rich experience over the past two decades in taking science to the people. The Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha in 1987 and the Bharat Jan Gyan Vigyan Jatha in 1992, executed by it through a network of organisations, have been acclaimed as successful campaigns with visible impact on the science communication scene in the country. The former was solely a science communication campaign while the latter combined science awareness with literacy campaign. From all accounts, the jatha approach, which involved groups of science communicators moving from village to village and interacting with the common people in their respective languages, had paid rich dividends. The visible improvement in literacy levels in recent years is attributed to the Vigyan Jatha of 1992. The insights and experience gained during these two large projects would be brought to bear on the YSA-2004 project.

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Besides, scientists have developed instruments to assess the level of scientific awareness among different strata of society and have conducted studies to assess the impact of the initiatives taken in the past. The results of such studies have gone into policy formulation. An appropriate communication material has been developed through innovative processes involving resource persons, and these have led to record-breaking radio and television serials, award-winning science films, popular science books and scripts for folk performances, among other things. A dedicated website has been launched and the Vigyan Prasar, an autonomous body under the DST, undertakes the dissemination of this software. The DST has helped select universities to start degree and diploma courses in science journalism. Several short-term courses have been conducted to develop skills among resource persons to become effective science communicators. Field projects have also been undertaken. These include Children's Science Congress, which is an annual event now in its 11th year, Teachers Science Conference and science quiz. Nature science activity camps, root and shoot projects in which groups of children adopt a tree for three or more years and other similar projects are organised to make students aware of issues concerning environment and development. There are also programmes like U-PROBE, which seeks to familiarise students and teachers with meteorological instruments and their functioning, and the neighbourhood mapping project, which seeks to familiarise the students with the various aspects of geographical studies with the use of latest instruments.

The current initiative, the YSA-2004, seeks to make the people scientifically literate and inculcate in them the habit of putting their scientific awareness to practical use in day-to-day life. It seeks to help them overcome superstitions, get rid of blind beliefs, and handle situations arising out of age-old practices and traditions. According to NCSTC sources, the YSA-2004 project envisages multiple-level activities to be conducted all over the country. The jatha activities would be in three phases - pre-jatha, jatha and post-jatha. The duration of these phases could vary from region to region depending on a number of factors, including weather.

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The pre- and post-jatha activities would be conducted through a variety of media. These include interactive discussions, public lectures, theme-based exhibitions, radio and television programmes, multi-media CDs, publications, posters and wall charts, puppet shows and folk performances, contests, features in the print media, activity corners and websites. The "Vigyan Rail", containing exhibits on Indian S&T efforts, which was flagged off by the Prime Minister on December 15, 2003, from Safdarjung Railway Station in New Delhi, is also a part of this scientific awareness programme. Traditionally, jathas have been used for entertainment and general awareness generation. In the YSA-2004 project too the Vigyan Chetna Jathas would seek to provide educational and motivational entertainment to the target audience at pre-planned halts of the troupes. The resource persons, communicators and jatha activists and performers would be provided appropriate training.

All the activities would be built around select issues of major concern and involve two-way interaction. The broad issues and areas of concern have been identified. One relates to water and sanitation, and the effort in this would be to explain to the people the various aspects of water management and sanitation, besides the hazards of contaminated water and inadequate sanitation. Another area identified is health and nutrition, wherein the focus would be not only on creating awareness about and providing insight into health hazards, their forms and causes but on possible solutions through the integration of traditional and modern scientific knowledge. The conditions and periods in a year when these health hazards are likely to assume threatening proportions will also be explained to the people. Creating awareness on nutritious and hygienic food practices is also envisaged.

The third area to be covered relates to environment and biodiversity. The focus here would be on motivating the people to look for alternatives to current practices that lead to environmental degradation, besides highlighting the threats to biodiversity and steps to conserve it. The fourth issue of focus is disaster-preparedness and post-disaster management. Many regions in the country are prone to some form of natural and man-made disasters. The people will be educated on steps to be taken in the wake of such disasters. Soil management is another area that has been identified. The people will be given an insight into topsoil quality and its possible pollutants and educated on the means to maintain soil moisture and fertility and methods to guard against all forms of soil degradation. Empowerment of the people through information technology is envisaged by focussing on IT as a means of access to problem-solving and decision-making capabilities.

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For the purpose of this project the country has been divided into eight regions with some common characteristics and some important common issues or problems of concern. Thus even within a State some parts will be in one region and some others in another. The eight regions are (1) Eastern coastal region comprising parts/whole of West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Pondicherry; (2) Western coastal region comprising parts/whole of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Daman and Diu, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Lakshadweep; (3) Eastern Himalayan region comprising parts/whole of West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram, Sikkim; (4) Western Himalayan region comprising parts/whole of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal; (5) Arid zone region comprising parts and whole of Rajasthan and Gujarat; (6) North-central region comprising parts/whole of Chandigarh, Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh; (7) South-central region comprising parts/whole of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu; (8) Central region comprising parts/whole of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

Considering the size, population, and diversity of the country, the project would involve a massive effort of a large number of government agencies and NGOs. Besides a whole lot of voluntary organisations, a number of Central departments, State Councils and academic and research institutions are expected to take active part in this endeavour. This calls for an effective organisational structure to coordinate the activities of different organisations and ensure smooth progress of the project. This is sought to be achieved through apex committees at different levels.

The National Organising Committee (NOC) will be the apex body for planning and implementation. The regional organising committees, the State organising committees (SOCs) and the district organising committees (DOCs) will ensure coordination at zonal, State and district levels. The local organising committees (LOCs) will conduct the activities at the local level. Dr. Vasant Gowariker, former Scientific Adviser to Prime Minister, is the president of the NOC, while Dr. Narendra K. Sehgal, UNESCO Kalinga Prize Winner, is its chairman and Dr. Madhu Phull of the NCSTC the convener. The NOC consists of members who have played an active role in science popularisation and have been the founders of the Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha and Bharat Jan Gyan Vigyan Jatha network. The organising committees are in the process of formation. Besides the apex committees, coordinating agencies have been named at regional and State levels.

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The project seeks to target generally the people and specifically students, teachers, housewives, organised labour, farmers, sector-specific workers such as those in the armed forces, the Railways and the steel and coal industry besides construction workers. These groups will be reached through school science clubs, college students unions, community groups such as Lions, Rotary and resident welfare associations, youth clubs such as the Nehru Yuva Kendras, labour unions, employees associations, industrial associations, professional societies, S&T-based NGOs, and academic and research institutions.

According to official sources, the YSA-2004 project is not a programme just to fulfil certain physical targets but is the beginning of a larger and continuing process to make people participate in the scientific endeavour to build a modern, sustainable and developed India. As the Prime Minister has observed, a bright future can be realised only when science is in league with the majority of society. That is the aim of YSA-2004.

The messengers of science

R. RAMACHANDRAN advertorial

The People's Science Movement has emerged as a vibrant nationwide movement encouraging mass participation in matters of development, including intervention in science-related policy formation.

THE origin of the People's Science Movement (PSM) in India may be traced to the early 1950s when a number of organisations emerged with the aim of creating scientific awareness among the general public. The Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), the Marathi Vigyan Parishad, the Assam Science Society and the Banga Vigyan Parishad are the more prominent among them. They began dissemination of information about science and technology (S&T) by publishing literature in various Indian languages. Of these, the KSSP in the 1960s and the 1970s grew into a mass organisation.

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The expectations and aspirations of the people that freedom and democracy will result in better lives and social justice for the economically weaker sections of society were belied. It was also clear that S&T had a major role to play in the transformation of society, and this meant that any forum unleashing a mass movement should have the underpinnings of S&T. However, S&T was getting institutionalised and getting alienated from the masses. The public good component of science was missing.

In order to work against these trends and enable people to have more say in how and where science, including the institutionalised variety, should be used, these emergent science communication organisations became the obvious fora. Over time, given the environment of political activism in the 1970s, these acquired the status of mass organisations. By the early 1980s, the use of the term `people's science' had become popular. The KSSP, which had coined the phrase, also invented the slogan `Science for Social Revolution'. It not only made popularisation of science a mass movement but mobilised the public on social issues in which S&T had a bearing. It also articulated its views on S&T policy issues. Inspired by the KSSP, more people's science groups got established in many States.

As Vinod Raina of Bhopal-based Eklavya, one of the best examples in the country of what a people's science organisation can achieve, puts it: "People's science demands examining the ethical, moral and political consequences of science in a larger sense, as also in specific instances. The two need not always be confrontational, and must involve not only debate, but also an active cooperation from time to time between the two for larger good."

Recounting the growth of the movement, he says: "Things, however, took a dramatic turn in 1984, barely two years after the formation of Eklavya, Although for extremely distressing and horrible reasons - the Bhopal gas disaster, which struck in December 1984. Eklavya took upon itself the task of creating a Jan Vigyan Samiti, a network of science-society groups in order to support the victims through technical, medical and scientific information and intervention, which included a spot survey of the water, air and flora and fauna, particularly vegetables." With the official organs woefully unprepared to handle such a massive tragedy, and with no factual information on the gas leak and its toxic effects coming forth to the public, the disaster had brought home starkly the relevance of the people's science movement.

This impetus had its own cascading effect. In 1985, the KSSP planned a Kala Jatha on the issue from Thiruvanathapuram to New Delhi. This was supported by various science groups, notably Eklavya, the Karnataka Rajya Vigyan Parishad and the Jan Vigyan Vedika of Andhra Pradesh. As the contacts among the various organisations grew, the concept of a Science Kala Jatha began to take shape. Twenty-six people's science groups came together and organised the nation-wide Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha (BJVJ) in October-November 1987 with the support of the Department of Science and Technology (DST). The Jatha covered 500 centres in 14 States. Five jathas, along with cultural or kala groups from five different regions of the country, gathered in Bhopal. The message was - science for peace, humanity, secularism and self-reliance.

The BJVJ's success was followed by the first All-India People's Science Conference (AIPSC), which was held in Kannur in Kerala in 1988. At this conference, the All-India People's Science Network (AIPSN), a loose coalition of people's science groups around the country, was formed. Today, the AIPSN comprises 40 organisations in 22 States committed to the use of science to promote equitable and sustainable development. Together, they reach an estimated 18,000 villages spread over 300 districts. The network has brought together students, school and college teachers, scientists, professional experts, writers, workers, farmers, political activists and thinkers on a single platform.

The basic philosophy of the PSM is that S&T inputs are essential to achieve the goal of an equitable and sustainable society although such inputs by themselves are not sufficient. The PSM groups believe that the public needs to develop a critical understanding of S&T in order to be able to participate in the growth and application of S&T, especially in the choice of technologies in different contexts. Given the widespread illiteracy, let alone scientific illiteracy, it was also becoming clear that the efforts to propagate science awareness and create a scientific temper among the people should go hand-in-hand with efforts in mass literacy. In 1989, the KSSP undertook a massive literacy drive in the district of Ernakulam in collaboration with the district administration. The Parishad made use of its well-honed medium of Kala Jatha to reach out to the population. This proved to be a major success. The success led AIPSN to take up literacy as an empowerment programme in the campaign mode, for which it set up a separate organisation called the Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS) with the primary responsibility of placing literacy on the national agenda. Indeed, literacy campaigns now form an essential component of nearly all the people's science groups.

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The PSM activities can be broadly classified into four categories:

1. Science Communication: Science communication is the basis for the movement in several States. It involves science teachers, working scientists and the science-qualified middle class and students. The activities include science publications, popular science lectures, street plays and school science activities. Cultural forms of communication are extensively used in the Kala Jathas. One of the sustained activities of the Haryana Vigyan Manch has been its campaign against superstitions and myths. For children, in particular, science popularisation by the PSM organisations have been through children's science festivals, children's science projects, quiz contests, science tours and children's science books. An annual Children's Science Congress is held shortly before the Annual Indian Science Congress and winners in the former participate in certain special fora of the latter. Besides, innovative science teaching methods are also propagated by some of the PSM groups.

Some of the well-known publications of these groups include Chakmak (for children), Srote and Sandarbh (for teachers) brought out by Eklavya; Thulir (in Tamil) and Jantar Mantar (in English) brought out by the Tamil Nadu Science Forum (TNSF). Many of the PSM groups have won national awards for excellence in science communication. These include the Haryana Vigyan Manch, the Pondicherry Science Forum, the TNSF, the Karnataka Rajya Vigyan Parishad, the Madhya Pradesh Vigyan Sabha, Srujanika, the Assam Science Society, the Paschim Banga Vigyan Manch and the KSSP.

2. Policy Critiques: The forum of PSM allows scientists and professionals to critically evaluate state policies, not just S&T and research and development policies; study their inadequacies and propose alternatives. The idea being that a detailed critical understanding of developmental policies empower people's organisations to intervene in decision-making. Sustained interventions in the area of S&T policy and management are required if a people-oriented science-society linkages are to emerge. PSM groups have periodically intervened in this direction through advocacy and campaigns. The PSM studies and articulated positions have played a significant role in national debates on issues like nuclear disarmament, patent laws and intellectual property rights (IPRs), health and drug policies, energy and environment policies, reforms in the telecommunication and power sectors, panchayats and other decentralisation policies.

3. Development interventions: This has been a major component of the PSM's initiatives through mass campaigns and discussions. By developing pilot models in literacy, health, agriculture, credit cooperatives, watershed development, local/panchayat level planning programmes, promotion of small enterprises and their networking, the PSM groups have been able to intervene effectively in the decision-making process in several instances. These campaigns serve the purpose of people's resistance to unfair policies and highlight their demand for appropriate alternatives.

Specifically, for instance in the area of health, the interventions of the PSM have resulted in the withdrawal of a number of hazardous drugs from the market and initiation of legal action on a number of other drugs. The groups have also been active in the area of health education and more recently in decentralised health planning. A number of ongoing programmes are focussed on promoting community initiatives and building effective primary health care. These programmes also aim to empower women and develop a rural women's network. A major initiative in health has been that of the TNSF called `Arogya Iyakkam', a programme that covers about 1,000 villages in 17 blocks all over Tamil Nadu, where a local health volunteer is trained in the basics of child nutrition, maternal and child care, first aid and preventive and curative health needs.

In the area of environment, the PSM's activities have been largely in the nature of environmental education. In developing teaching aids, the PSM has integrated comprehensively environment as one of the crucial components of the modules and resource material developed by it. Advocacy and campaigns on issues such as the Silent Valley Project in Kerala, the Bhopal gas disaster and the ongoing Narmada dam project have had considerable impact. Initiatives in the form of policy-level critiques related to environmental issues during the Rio Summit, the Biodiversity Convention and the World Summit on Sustainable Development have been undertaken. An initiative of the TNSF, for instance, has been the reclamation of abandoned large water tanks across the State in order to make them usable once again. The Pondicherry Science Forum intervened effectively in the unbridled practice of aquaculture in Tamil Nadu, which was causing severe damage to the coastal ecology. This resulted in the enactment of a regulatory framework. The Himachal Gyan Vigyan Samiti has initiated a project to study the frequent occurrence of flash floods in the State.

4. Technology Development: PSM groups have engaged in developing and encouraging people-centred technologies that are less capital intensive and empower a large number of people, workers, craftspersons and artisans. Some examples of such initiatives are: wireless in local loop for telecommunications, the simputer and village information software, bio-mass as replacement for cement/concrete in civil constructions, windmills and bio-mass based energy systems, non-chemical inputs to boost agricultural productivity, improved small-scale mechanised looms, small-scale oil presses and other food processing units, and mechanised black smithy. Roughly, once every two years, the PSM groups come together at the All India People's Science Congress (AIPSC) to review their actions, interact with experts, learn from their experiences and plan ahead. The Tenth AIPSC was held in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, in October 2003. The PSM has come a long way from merely disseminating scientific information to involving the people in advocacy, discussions and interventions in science-related policy and developmental issues. The movement has gone from strength to strength to become a vibrant mass movement with practically every State having an active people's science group. The efforts of the PSM are becoming more relevant today as the adverse impact of liberalisation and globalisation is felt increasingly by the ordinary people and the state is gradually abdicating its responsibilities in education, employment, health and social welfare.

Science in the media

MANOJ K. PATAIRIYA advertorial

THE Department of Science & Technology (DST) organised a two-day national seminar on "Scientific Awareness and People's Empowerment: Role of Investigative Science Journalism" in New Delhi on December 19-20, 2003, as a precursor to observing 2004 as the Year of Scientific Awareness (YSA).

Addressing the delegates, Union Minister of State for Science and Technology Bachi Singh Rawat, expressed the hope that the programmes built around the YSA would reach all the nooks and corners of the country and involve the common people, especially those who are normally not exposed to the advantages of science and technology. He emphasised the need for a media centre to facilitate access to information for science reporting.

Inaugurating the seminar, Professor V.S. Ramamurthy, Secretary, DST, said that it was an important step to trigger an investigative approach to science reporting. He hoped that in-depth science reports would lead to public appreciation of S&T and enable people to take informed decisions on the scientific and technological aspects in their day-to-day lives. Anuj Sinha, Adviser and Head, Science Communication and Science and Society Divisions, DST, said it was the responsibility of a science journalist to report on the subjects that a society needed rather than what it wanted.

Prof. S.K. Mishra, president, Centre for Global Studies, NASA, United States, presented a comparative account of science in society in India and America. He emphasised the need for in-depth coverage of current scientific issues in the mass media.

Over 150 delegates comprising scientists, science writers, academicians, social and developmental activists, artists, economists, and journalists participated in the seminar. Some 30 presentations were made at three technical sessions - "Scientific Awareness and Informed Decision Making, Transparency in R&D and Mass Media, and Investigation and Reporting of Contemporary and Traditional S&T. Research-oriented issues and topics concerning investigative science journalism, contemporary/traditional knowledge and its dissemination, transparency in research and development (R&D) and the role of the mass media were discussed.

Dr. Y. Balamurali Krishna, a Goa-based science journalist, said that transparency in the R&D wings, provision of incentives, and adequate time and space in the media, could promote investigative science journalism, which is yet to take shape in India. On the right to information, experts suggested the minimisation of statutory hurdles in getting information.

In his keynote address, Dr. R.D. Sharma, president of the ISWA, said that investigative science reporting was necessary not only to empower people with the knowledge of science, but help reach scientific wisdom of traditional Indian practices to the masses. He cited the reports on fallacies related to genetically modified foods and unauthorised experiments of certain drugs by some foreign companies as Indian examples of investigative science reporting.

Dr. D.C. Goswami from Jorhat (Assam) said that traditional knowledge using certain herbal preparations by the primitive Asur tribe in Jharkhand and the Kondareddy tribe in Rampachodavaram area of Andhra Pradesh to prevent pregnancies could be investigated and findings be reported for the benefit of society. Vinod Musan from Dainik Jagran, Dehra Dun, underlined the need for local scientific reporting, as small and medium scale newspapers tended to use science reports originating from foreign countries because such information was easily accessible.

Expressing their views on inadequate coverage of success and development in S&T, participants asked journalists not to be biased. They urged R&D institutions to be transparent and provide the media adequate information on various developments in order to have better coverage.

According to Dr. Kutikuppala Suryarao from Visakhapatnam, the response of the mass media to the issue of pesticide residues in bottled water and soft-drinks provide a case study for finding out methodologies and modalities for undertaking investigative science reporting. It was reiterated that maintaining the highest standards and ethics of investigative science journalism were necessary prerequisites for a balanced and healthy follow-up of important science stories.

Taking issues to the people

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Interview with Prof. V.S. Ramamurthi.

As new technology options that impinge directly on the day-to-day life of the common man come in, it is necessary for the people to be made aware of their implications in order to take appropriate decisions on adopting them. This is the rationale underlying the designation of 2004 as the Year of Scientific Awareness, during which all modes of communication will be deployed to make people more knowledgeable about the developments in the field of science and technology. The Secretary to the Department of Science and Technology in the Government of India, Professor V.S. Ramamurthi, explained the backdrop to this year-long exercise and its objectives in an interview to B.S. Padmanabhan. Excerpts:

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What is the context in which the government has designated 2004 as the Year of Scientific Awareness?

You may recall that in the beginning of 2003 the government had released a new Science and Technology Policy - STP 2003. Developments in science and technology are not only influencing our day-to-day life by bringing in economic prosperity and ensuring national security, but also bringing in new responsibilities on the part of the common people in managing these changes, which are taking place so fast now that it becomes essential for them to be prepared to face the new technologies as they come in. The decision-making process in a democratic system being what it is, issues are no longer decided by a set of technocrats sitting in an office but through public debate. For instance, you may recall the public debate in the last few decades on nuclear power and safety. We thought that was an exception. Now we realise it is not so. On any new technology, whether it is genetically modified seeds, genetically modified food or human cloning, we see public debates. People do not want to leave the decisions to a set of scientists or officials but want to know the implications before decisions are taken. In the new scenario of decision-making getting democratised it is essential that the public is aware of the new developments in science and technology, their advantages and disadvantages. The STP 2003 recognises this and has a component on promoting scientific awareness. It was in this context that the government decided to designate 2004 as the Year of Scientific Awareness and take up during this year a focussed programme of taking science to the people.

What does the government seek to achieve through this?

It is not that in one year we will be able to educate everyone. The basic idea is that we should tell the people what the developments are, where we are vis-a-vis the rest of the world; how do they impact the day-to-day life; and what decisions are likely to come up for public debate? We want to take these issues to the people who are not only in the metropolitan cities but all over the country. So the method of approach could not be only printed material but should be through the media that the people in the countryside access. The programme during this year seeks to make use of all modes of communication. In the 1990s we undertook Vigyan Jathas where groups of people went from village to village and conveyed the implications of science and technology developments. At that time the effort was to remove superstitions. Today we have gone far beyond that. We do not talk about superstitions but about the implications of technology. The basic approach is the same, that is, conveying to the people what needs to be conveyed in the language they can understand and at a pace in which they can assimilate that information. This exercise does not stop at the end of the year. It will continue. But during the year the floodlight will be turned on this. It is the responsibility of scientists to tell the people what they are doing and its implications.

Promoting scientific awareness and scientific temper has all along been a part of government policy. What is your assessment of the impact of the efforts made in the past?

We feel that the earlier efforts had been successful. For instance, one of our earlier programmes was to remove superstition and promote scientific approach to day-to-day problems. During a solar eclipse 15 years ago the roads were deserted. Nowadays you find children out on the roads trying to see the eclipse but taking necessary precautions to ensure that they are not affected adversely. That means that they already know what they are doing and the implications of what they are doing. That, I feel, is an achievement of our earlier efforts. But that is not the end. We have to move forward. New technologies are coming. For instance, human cloning and genetically modified food were not there ten years ago and today they have become important issues. A number of such new issues are coming up. We would like to convey to the people these issues and help them make their choice with full knowledge of their implications

You mentioned that all modes of communication would be deployed to promote scientific awareness during the year. What is your assessment of the role played by the mass media in this regard?

My own perception is that every medium has its own constituency. For instance, everyone does not view all the channels on television. Some are interested in news, some in entertainment and some in sports. We want to reach out to the common man. So we feel we should not be avoiding these media but at the same time we should not be constrained by them. We would like to make use of the radio, which has a much larger penetration than television. We would like to make use of folk arts. The essential factor is the reach of the medium. Therefore, we do not want to limit ourselves to one or two media. It is a multi-pronged drive. On the one side we have the Vigyan Rail with exhibits on S&T developments. Then we have jathas, public lectures and pamphlets, which are being distributed by the National Organising Committee. We also have programmes involving the children like "Mapping the Neighbourhood". We have an ongoing programme of Children's Science Congress.

What is your assessment of science coverage in newspapers?

Excepting a few newspapers like The Hindu, most newspapers have no earmarked space for matters relating to science and technology. This is a weakness, which requires to be corrected. Newspapers may ask where is the material to publish and if the material is there they will say it does not sell. If it does not sell by itself one could make it sell by making it more attractive. That is the responsibility of the media. Some newspapers and periodicals are doing this. We require more of such coverage. We know the impact of the media when we look at cricket. Even a ten-year-old in a village knows what is happening in Australia. We would like this to happen in science.

What is the relevance of the scientific awareness programme to the community at large?

Decisions are being taken on issues that affect the common man without asking him. For example, we decided to change over from diesel to CNG [in Delhi] and as a result the quality of air is much better now than it was five years ago. When the transition took place there was so much commotion and resistance to introduction of CNG. But where was the public involvement in this decision? The public was not involved at all and if a decision had been taken not to go in for CNG we would have been paying a big price. So decisions are taken on people's behalf without telling them what are the stakes involved.

What is the follow-up action contemplated after the year is over?

There are two or three things, which we definitely look forward to. One is an increasing number of science communicators who will convey the developments in S&T to the people, even if they are not professionals in the field of communication. For instance, nothing stops a college teacher from writing an article every month on an issue of public importance. We need to have a much larger number of science communicators to actually get into science communication.

Similarly, every scientist or technologist can also become a science communicator without depending on science communication as a profession. They should come forward to convey what they have been doing in the laboratory. We believe that this one-year activity will bring them into public attention and enthuse them to continue their work in science communication.

Do you contemplate any institutional mechanism to promote science communication?

At the moment we are not thinking of any new institutional mechanism. We already have the National Council for Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC). If over the year a case is made out for this we may consider.

`The thrust is on popularising science'

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Interview with Dr. Narender K. Sehgal.

Spreading awareness among the people about the scientific aspects of the issues confronting them and inculcating in them the habit of solving these issues through community action are the main objectives for observing 2004 as the Year of Scientific Awareness (YSA). Dr. Narender K. Sehgal, chairman of the National Organising Committee of the YSA-2004 project of the Department of Science and Technology and a recipient of the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for Science Popularisation (1991), shared, in an interview with B.S. Padmanabhan, the activities contemplated to achieve the goals of the project. Excerpts:

20040213005311001jpg What is the thrust of the YSA programme?

The thrust of this programme is on spreading scientific awareness among as many people as we can. But, as you know, merely spreading scientific awareness is not enough. For example, many of those who smoke know what smoking does to them and those around them. Still they continue to smoke. Being aware does not mean that the awareness is being put to use. So, promoting scientific awareness also implies that the awareness leads to scientific information and knowledge being put to good use. For this we will have to make the people get into the habit of acting on the information they have been made aware of. We hope that after this project is over we would have created a better atmosphere all around in which it would be easier and simpler for people to become scientifically aware. Those who want to get information on the scientific aspects of the issues that confront them should be able to get it without too much effort. If for every information one had to go to libraries and make special efforts it would make it that much more difficult for people to become scientifically aware. So when we talk of creating an atmosphere conducive to promoting scientific awareness we mean that we should make renewed efforts to see that there is better coverage of science and technology in the mass media. We hope we would make some progress and more information is readily available on the issues that confront the people. Many organisations are already doing these. We have set aside the whole year to focus these efforts, coordinate them and make attempts to see that they reach specific groups, which have not been reached before.

Which are the groups you propose to target under this project?

Efforts of organisations that profess to popularise science have been largely concentrated on students, mostly school students. The NCSTC - the National Council for Science and Technology Communication - [which came into being in 1982] and the Vigyan Prasar tried to focus on other groups as well. The Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha (BJVJ), which we took up in 1987, was our first big project and the largest science communication experiment done anywhere in the world. Its impact is being felt even today. Based on its success, another Jatha was conducted in 1992, named Bharat Jan Gyan Vigyan Jatha (BJGVJ), combining literacy campaign with scientific awareness programme. As a result of this, for the first time, it appeared possible to achieve almost 100 per cent literacy in the country. That process is continuing. After the 1992 BJGVJ we felt the need to consolidate the efforts to bring about scientific awareness and inculcate a scientific temper among the people. Our effort now is to create mechanisms to ensure that people put scientific awareness to good use. The activities of these institutions will be coordinated so as to cover newer target groups and make the programme effective.

For instance, we may target organised groups such as labour unions and professional workers in different sectors in order to promote scientific literacy and resolve problems specific to their areas. Surveys have revealed that a significant proportion of even the literate population is ignorant about the scientific factors underlying some of the natural phenomena occurring in their daily lives even though they have been taught these in schools. What is taught at the school level does not get registered unless the relationship between what is taught and the real life is brought out during the studies. So, there has to be some special effort to bring about this awareness. We produced the television serial "Kyon aur kaise?"("Why and How?") - to highlight the scientific reasons for many of the natural phenomena.

What is your assessment of the role of mass media in this?

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So far as the mass media are concerned, the coverage of science and technology has over the years been up and down. The coverage has been good in respect of the agricultural sector, highlighting Indian efforts. The same cannot be said in respect of other disciplines because most of the coverage is based on the work being carried on in other countries. In fact, Vigyan Prasar and the NCSTC had at one time wanted to start a science feature service to disseminate the research work being done in Indian laboratories, particularly top 50 or 100 technological achievements that have been commercialised. Many foreign news networks had shown interest in such a service. But it was not possible to get the information from the laboratories. As part of the present programme we may have to sensitise those having information to give it. It may not be easy. One effective way of getting information is through Parliament questions because if a question is asked in Parliament the information has to be furnished. Perhaps, we should try this method.

Another way is to encourage journalists to specialise in science communication. With the support of the NCSTC, the Madurai Kamaraj University in Tamil Nadu started a course in science communication. However, after five years this was stopped. The condition under which it was started was that for the first three years the NCSTC would give financial support and thereafter the course shall be continued with State government support. The university could not continue the course after the Central government stopped extending financial support. Subsequently, a few other universities introduced science journalism courses with the NCSTC's support. These courses would evoke better response from students only when newspapers provided job opportunities for them. Science journalism graduates have told us that newspapers preferred general reporters rather than those specialised in science communication. If general reporters can write on science, science journalists could certainly do a much better job in covering general topics. Editors of newspapers should ensure that more and more science journalists are recruited and adequate space is provided for science coverage. We should also explore the job opportunities for graduates and diploma holders in science journalism in various government and non-governmental agencies. In fact, before embarking on such courses, the NCSTC did a survey on the job opportunities for science journalists and the results showed that there would be a good demand. But actually it did not turn out to be so.

How do your propose to reach the target groups?

For the purpose of this programme we have divided the country into eight regions having some common characteristics and issues. We will undertake jathas, which will focus on specific problems of the region concerned in addition to certain issues relevant for the country as a whole, such as drinking water. The pre-jatha and post-jatha activities will concentrate on specific local problems by interacting with people in the local language. For this we will have organising committees at the national, regional, State, district and local levels. Some of these committees are in existence and others are under formation. After the next meeting of the National Organising Committee scheduled to be held in February we will finalise the jatha routes. Meanwhile, we will have people working on the development of software to carry forward the message effectively through the print and electronic media and events such as exhibitions, lectures and activity corners.

The regional and State organising committees have identified the problems at the regional, State and local levels. The local-level problems will be discussed with groups of local people and efforts will be made to see how they can resolve these by themselves with scientific interventions. Whenever there is a problem, people look to some one from outside their region, particularly government agencies, to solve it. We want to change this mindset and make the people themselves take control of the situation. The government can help but the basic effort should be that of the local people.

One of the issues we propose to focus on during the present project is rainwater harvesting (RWH). Currently only 10 per cent of the rainwater is tapped effectively to meet the water needs of the population. We want this to be increased to 20 per cent. Some States have made RWH mandatory in all new buildings. We would like the State-level campaigns to impress on the governments to bring in legislation making it compulsory for all buildings to have a provision for RWH.

You have detailed the organisational structure to reach the target groups. How do you propose to change the mindset of the people, promote scientific awareness and ensure that this awareness is put to good use?

We have to use innovative methods and present various examples to change the mindset. For instance, if non-vegetarians were to be shown how animals are killed at least some of them would cease to eat meat. During the no-smoking campaign we presented the picture of those smoking freely and the pictures of one of their close relatives suffering from cancer. The sight of the suffering family could bring about the desired change in the smoker's outlook in many a case. In such a way one has to think of different ways to change the mindset in the desired direction. We also propose to organise public debates on contentious issues so that the people can come to their own conclusions based on scientific facts.

A politician with elan

Ramakrishna Hegde, 1926-2004.

in Bangalore

RAMAKRISHNA HEGDE who died in Bangalore on January 12 at the age of 77 was undoubtedly Karnataka's most influential and charismatic leader of the post-Independence generation. His interesting and varied career in politics and public life paralleled an important period of transition in India's evolving democratic experiment that saw the expansion of States' rights in a constitutionally mandated federal set-up. If his primary contribution to politics and public life lay in enriching the principle of cooperative federalism by enlarging the ambit of State rights vis-a-vis the Centre, the second part of his political legacy followed from this. He gave centrist politics in the country new direction and shape, breaking the political monopoly of the Congress while yet retaining and refurbishing what he believed were its original socialistic tenets, particularly in respect of people-centred, responsive and accountable governance. He was Karnataka's first non-Congress Chief Minister, and his tenure became a reference point for subsequent administrations.

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It was in the Congress that Hegde made his political debut. Born in 1926 in Uttara Kannada district, he trained in law. He became the president of the Uttara Kannada District Congress Committee from 1954 to 1957 and rose to become the general secretary of the Mysore Pradesh Congress Committee in 1958, a post he held until 1962. Much of his early administrative experience was built up in the governments of S. Nijalingappa (1957-58 and 1962-68) and Veerendra Patil (1968-71) during which he held portfolios such as Cooperation and Development, and Panchayati Raj between 1962 and 1965; and, Finance, Excise and Prohibition, and Information and Publicity between 1965 and 1967.

In the famous split in the Congress in 1969, Hegde joined the Congress (O). He was Leader of the Opposition in the Karnataka Legislative Council for a few years until 1974. The 1975 Emergency crackdown on Opposition leaders saw his arrest along with other State and national level leaders. When the Emergency was lifted he joined the Janata Party becoming its general secretary. The Janata Party came to power as the single largest party in the 1983 State elections, and Hegde emerged as a compromise candidate between the powerful Lingayat and Vokkaliga lobbies. He won his government a two-thirds majority by an arrangement of outside support. He secured the support of 18 members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, six of the Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist), and 16 Independents.

The principle of `value-based politics' was Hegde's contribution to political vocabulary, and to a large degree, to political practice as well. Hegde used this principle at different points in his career with his trademark elan to secure the moral high ground and thereby enhance his political stock, even though there were times when the slogan struck a distinctly discordant note. Following the poor performance of the Janata Party in the 1984 elections (it won only four out of the 28 seats), Hegde resigned on the grounds that his party had lost its popular mandate. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi allowed him to head a caretaker government. In the 1985 elections the Janata Party came to power with a comfortable majority.

Hegde's two tenures as Chief Minister (from 1983 to 1985, and 1985 to 1988) were memorable for his leadership that combined vision and administrative capability. In his very first year in office, Hegde, along with the able assistance extended by Abdul Nazir Sab, his Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, enacted a law that would devolve administrative powers to a three-tiered panchayati raj system. A wide range of financial and administrative powers were decentralised, setting a model of decentralised governance for the rest of the country. Despite the possibilities that this created, the potential of the panchayati raj system in Karnataka was never exploited to its maximum. During the Janata Party's rule it was an experiment still in its infancy. When the Congress returned to power in the State it replaced the original legislation with its own version of the Panchayati Raj Act, which took back many of the powers that had been given to panchayat bodies, thereby restricting the possibilities in people-oriented governance that the original act envisaged.

In power Hegde appeared to lead a battle against corruption. His crusade ignited new expectations and excitement in the public mind on the potential of what appeared to be a new brand of politics. However, there were occasions when his campaign rang hollow, as for example when several `scams' surfaced involving alleged corruption on the part of his own family. In most of these cases, however, Hegde did not hesitate to institute inquiries. When his son was accused of taking money for a medical seat, he ordered a judicial probe. He referred to the Lok Ayukta the allegations made by the Congress(I) against him in a case involving the transfer of shares by the NGEF company. He was cleared of the charges in 1988. He resigned twice from chief ministership, the first time in February 1986 when the Karnataka High Court censured his government for the way it handled arrack bottling contracts, and again in August 1988 when he accepted moral responsibility for the tapping of the telephones of prominent politicians in the State. These acts of resignation may not have impressed his critics, but they enhanced his stature in the public perception.

Hegde's conviction that there was a need for a non-Congress, non-BJP formation at the national level led him to play an important role in the formation of the Janata Dal in 1988. His rocky relationship with H.D. Deve Gowda dates from his chief ministership and his decision in 1988 to place a list of corruption charges by a BJP member against Gowda who was then Minister for Irrigation and Public Works before the corps of detectives with a one-month deadline to submit its report. The tussle between the leaders cast its shadow on the formation of the Janata Dal, and on the subsequent course of politics in the Janata parivar. Hegde's marginalisation from active State politics began in 1994 with the election of a Janata Dal government with Deve Gowda at its helm. Hegde did not contest the elections (in fact the last direct election he contested - and lost - was in 1991 when he stood from the Bagalkot Lok Sabha constituency).

The formation of the United Front government at the Centre in 1996 was for Hegde the end result of a long-held dream and much personal endeavour, and he made no secret of the fact that he believed he was the ideal candidate to head it. The choice of Deve Gowda as Prime Minister came as a cruel shock for him, forcing him to speak out in anguish and a certain degree of anger against the decision. To add to this humiliation came his expulsion from the Janata Dal, a move that was widely seen at the time to have been orchestrated by Deve Gowda. Hegde reacted by setting up the Navanirmana Vedike, an organisation that allied with the BJP in the next elections in the State. The alliance with the BJP marked a definite departure from Hegde's professed principles. It was a partnership that he was never comfortable with. In fact, in an interview he gave to The Hindu shortly before his death, he expressed the hope that the Janata Dal would come to power in the State in the next elections.

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Hegde's contribution to setting standards of civility and refinement in political practice and discourse is often remembered by those who knew and worked with him, and will remain in the public mind. Although in his last years he was out of active politics owing to ill-health, he was always in the picture and in the mainstream of public life to which he had contributed so much.

A committed journalist

Krishna Raj, 1937-2004.

KRISHNA RAJ (he never used his full name, Korekattu Nattamkandath Krishna Raj, not even with abbreviated initials), the Editor of Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), who died in his sleep at his home in Wadala, Mumbai, on the night of January 16, straddled many worlds: the academia, journalism and social and political activism, sometimes as a passionate insider fully engaged, more often as a detached outsider unimpressed by all the posturing by frauds pretending to be engaged intellectuals. He was also very much a Bombay man, having spent all his working life in that city, a real Mumbaikar.

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It is impossible to differentiate between these three realms, for they were all integrated into and integral to the man and his work. Perhaps a very brief account of the content and organisation of the journal would be of help.

These three broadly identified realms are reflected in the three main areas of EPW that, apart from the news and comments relating to business and commerce, constitute the core of the journal: the editorial comments, mostly unsigned; reports from correspondents, some occasionally unsigned; and the book reviews and special articles, almost all of them bearing the name of the writer, the last occupying nearly half the space in every issue of the journal. The nomenclatures of the last two items have undergone some changes over the years; some would argue that the `ideological orientation' of the editorial columns, sometimes insisting on extending such a description even to reports from correspondents, too has changed. But the character of the journal in its totality, as an open platform where every view as long as it is intelligently and convincingly argued is accommodated, has not changed substantially.

Clearly, Krishna Raj did not write all the editorial comments; others in the editorial staff contributed to the finished product in the form of unsigned comments and notes. But even when these were substantial, the journal as a whole always bore the stamp and signature of its Editor. His mind, and not merely the `editorial mind', found expression week after week in the pages of the journal, informed as much by his personality as by his persona as a professional journalist and as a human being.

Born in Ottappalam near Palakkad in Kerala, Krishna Raj grew up in Delhi. He was educated in a Hindi medium school in Dariaganj, gaining fine fluency in Hindi in that process. Trained as an economist at the Delhi School of Economics, he never joined the academic profession. Nevertheless, he was familiar with the most arcane minutiae of his discipline, and was never intimidated by the most abstruse of scholarly articles by the most famous of names in the discipline, making informed judgments day in and day out on whether, and in what form, these could be published. Opinions from experts and referees were sought; but the judgment to publish or not was always his and his alone. Above all, he built EPW into a forum where the most distinguished scholars in the discipline sought to publish their work, some even disdaining forums abroad in preference to the home-made product. The `alumni' of EPW who include scholars in the social sciences as well as in the fields of arts is a veritable roll of honour.

Academic recognition too came his way when he was invited to be a visiting fellow at the Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford University, in 1990. He was the recipient of the B.D. Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism in 1996.

Krishna Raj joined the Economic Weekly (EW), founded and edited by Sachin Chaudhuri, in 1960, two years after passing out of the Delhi School. He stayed with the journal and its successor, Economic and Political Weekly (also founded by Sachin Chaudhuri in August 1966, after he left EW, following differences with its financiers), for the rest of his life. Sachin Chaudhuri died within a few months of the launching of the new journal and was succeeded by R.K. Hazari. When Hazari left EPW to join the Reserve Bank of India as Deputy Governor in 1969, Krishna Raj became its Editor. He remained its Editor till the last day of his life, and indeed attended office on January 16. Within hours of returning from the office, he was dead.

WHAT kind of a man was Krishna Raj? Reference has been made above both to his personality and persona. The persona encountered by first-time and casual visitors to the EPW office was that of a polite and solicitous person, soft-spoken, speaking little, a very good listener, seeing the visitor all the way to the lift when he or she left. He had the most endearing professional mask; and could be devastating when he turned his charm full blast.

As always happens, over time this persona also became the man, imposing some strain on the real man inside. Colleagues working in close and daily contact were able to sense this tension. Although capable of tremendous self-control and keeping his anger in check, some gestures, like the pulling down of the chin when angry, always showed up the man beneath the mask.

But such occasions were rare. Blessed by an innate scepticism from which he did not exclude himself, he never let political differences distort personal relationships. He was also all too ready to let down his guard, softened by liquor or children, both of which he found most relaxing. Krishna Raj was an unconventional journalist. He never worked as a reporter or a sub-editor in a daily newspaper, the sine qua non according to professional journalists for acquiring the basic skills of the profession. And yet, he had the most finely attuned news sense; those privileged to work with him sensed this every working day, during every meeting when the day's political or economic developments were discussed with a view to charting out the shape and content of the editorial comments of the forthcoming issue. He was also an incomparably brilliant sub, capable of spotting nuggets of facts and insight in the dullest and the most badly written of copies, alive to and aware of a whole set of facts and insights and nuances relating to the use of the English language, the language of the journal and indeed of the editorial section of the office. He seems to have acquired these skills from his mentor, Sachin Chaudhuri, whose lightning sharp insights in this regard have been often recalled by Ashok Mitra, the economist and former Finance Minister of West Bengal, who was closely associated with EW; and remains closely associated with EPW, as member of the Board of Trustees of Sameeksha Trust, which publishes the journal, and as a contributor and columnist, and as a friend of Krishna Raj.

Joining EW in 1960, Krishna Raj remained with the journal and its successor, EPW, for the rest of his life. The association was life long. He also saw EPW through various vicissitudes that, of their very nature, were both promising and threatening. Not all these promises and threats came from elements outside the organisation. Navigating through these stormy times of the decade of the 1970s, a virtual roller-coaster movement that was coterminous with his becoming Editor in 1969, demanded the finest as well as finely calculated skills of leadership. The files of EPW covering these years, beginning with the emergence of `naxalism' as a political phenomenon, the declaration of national Emergency, and all the forces that were let loose following that misadventure, with a succession of heady or menacing developments holding promises and threats, will provide some indication of how Krishna Raj exercised his leadership, providing a forum for the voiceless as well as the militant political opposition while at the same time ensuring that the very existence of the journal would not be jeopardised. This was reflected in the striking diversification of, and within, the EPW stable: the establishment of the EPW Research Foundation; the expansion of the network of the periodical Reviews reflecting broader social concerns; the publication programmes.

In the final analysis, Krishna Raj's real loyalty was to the journal. The bottom line was the vibrancy and well-being of EPW. Issues and causes were important; but the forum where these could be canvassed, promoted, debated about, was equally so, for without the forum there would be no debate. Above all, EPW that he began editing when it was still in its infancy needed to be protected, and nurtured to grow into healthy adulthood. It could not be held hostage by contentious political factions intent on promoting their narrow agendas. This too comes through a study of the files of EPW.

Three incidents closely linked to his life, work and death illustrate this total, unqualified commitment to EPW. In August 1964, four years after joining EW, Krishna Raj and Maithreyi, a friend from his Delhi days, decided to get married. Typically of Krishna Raj, he got married on a working day, going through the brief civil ceremony in a friend's house in the morning, and returned to the office, a little late perhaps, but the working hours were anyway not observed rigidly. As recollected by Rajen Bara of Guwahati, his classmate in the Delhi School who was one of the witnesses to the union, and later also by Krishna Raj and Maithreyi, he did not even inform his Editor that he had got married a few hours earlier and carried on as if it was a normal working day. Only later, when Sachin Babu learnt of the facts did he give the young man an amused scolding and ordered him to take off for a few days.

In October 1991, when EPW completed 25 years of publication, there was a function in the office. Krishna Raj could have secured any `big' name to be present on the occasion to do the honours. His choice of the chief guest for that day was Chandrika Singh, the newspaper vendor who headed the two-man team that cut and pasted the newspaper clippings, the oldest employee whose association with EPW also went back to the days of EW. This was no symbolic condescension; and it was appropriate that the only member of the staff selected to speak at the memorial meeting held on January 20 was Babu, another non-editorial employee.

As in life, so in death. After decades of not taking even a day off from work - one recalls how he was loathe to be away even for a day or two when the Sameeksha Trust scheduled a meeting outside Bombay - Krishna Raj had begun to take things a little easy as the internal structures of EPW got a little more systematic and he began to delegate responsibilities. In the last few years, he and his wife had also begun to travel regularly to visit their son and daughter-in-law who had made a home in San Francisco. By all accounts, Krishna Raj had become a doting grandfather. On the morning of January 15, he returned after a six-week absence in San Francisco. He returned to work the next morning. Unlike when he was living in distant Borivali when he used to work often from home, after moving to Wadala he had once again resumed the normal working habits of his younger days, reaching office early in the day and returning home late. Padma Prakash, his colleague, spoke to him a little before midnight on January 16. She said he sounded perfectly all right. So does his wife Maithreyi who had returned with him from San Francisco. He then went to bed, never to wake up.

So many memories, one can go on. At a personal level, I (the writer was a member of the editorial staff of EPW between December 1975 and June 1983) still cannot accept that he has gone, for he was over a year younger to me. But then, life, not to speak of death, has never promised to be fair. In such moments, the traditional African way of confronting death also provides some comfort, some hope. One grieves over the loss even as one celebrates the life that has passed into the beyond. Hamba Kahle, Go well, friend, Go in peace.

The messengers of science

R. RAMACHANDRAN advertorial

The People's Science Movement has emerged as a vibrant nationwide movement encouraging mass participation in matters of development, including intervention in science-related policy formation.

THE origin of the People's Science Movement (PSM) in India may be traced to the early 1950s when a number of organisations emerged with the aim of creating scientific awareness among the general public. The Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), the Marathi Vigyan Parishad, the Assam Science Society and the Banga Vigyan Parishad are the more prominent among them. They began dissemination of information about science and technology (S&T) by publishing literature in various Indian languages. Of these, the KSSP in the 1960s and the 1970s grew into a mass organisation.

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The expectations and aspirations of the people that freedom and democracy will result in better lives and social justice for the economically weaker sections of society were belied. It was also clear that S&T had a major role to play in the transformation of society, and this meant that any forum unleashing a mass movement should have the underpinnings of S&T. However, S&T was getting institutionalised and getting alienated from the masses. The public good component of science was missing.

In order to work against these trends and enable people to have more say in how and where science, including the institutionalised variety, should be used, these emergent science communication organisations became the obvious fora. Over time, given the environment of political activism in the 1970s, these acquired the status of mass organisations. By the early 1980s, the use of the term `people's science' had become popular. The KSSP, which had coined the phrase, also invented the slogan `Science for Social Revolution'. It not only made popularisation of science a mass movement but mobilised the public on social issues in which S&T had a bearing. It also articulated its views on S&T policy issues. Inspired by the KSSP, more people's science groups got established in many States.

As Vinod Raina of Bhopal-based Eklavya, one of the best examples in the country of what a people's science organisation can achieve, puts it: "People's science demands examining the ethical, moral and political consequences of science in a larger sense, as also in specific instances. The two need not always be confrontational, and must involve not only debate, but also an active cooperation from time to time between the two for larger good."

Recounting the growth of the movement, he says: "Things, however, took a dramatic turn in 1984, barely two years after the formation of Eklavya, Although for extremely distressing and horrible reasons - the Bhopal gas disaster, which struck in December 1984. Eklavya took upon itself the task of creating a Jan Vigyan Samiti, a network of science-society groups in order to support the victims through technical, medical and scientific information and intervention, which included a spot survey of the water, air and flora and fauna, particularly vegetables." With the official organs woefully unprepared to handle such a massive tragedy, and with no factual information on the gas leak and its toxic effects coming forth to the public, the disaster had brought home starkly the relevance of the people's science movement.

This impetus had its own cascading effect. In 1985, the KSSP planned a Kala Jatha on the issue from Thiruvanathapuram to New Delhi. This was supported by various science groups, notably Eklavya, the Karnataka Rajya Vigyan Parishad and the Jan Vigyan Vedika of Andhra Pradesh. As the contacts among the various organisations grew, the concept of a Science Kala Jatha began to take shape. Twenty-six people's science groups came together and organised the nation-wide Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha (BJVJ) in October-November 1987 with the support of the Department of Science and Technology (DST). The Jatha covered 500 centres in 14 States. Five jathas, along with cultural or kala groups from five different regions of the country, gathered in Bhopal. The message was - science for peace, humanity, secularism and self-reliance.

The BJVJ's success was followed by the first All-India People's Science Conference (AIPSC), which was held in Kannur in Kerala in 1988. At this conference, the All-India People's Science Network (AIPSN), a loose coalition of people's science groups around the country, was formed. Today, the AIPSN comprises 40 organisations in 22 States committed to the use of science to promote equitable and sustainable development. Together, they reach an estimated 18,000 villages spread over 300 districts. The network has brought together students, school and college teachers, scientists, professional experts, writers, workers, farmers, political activists and thinkers on a single platform.

The basic philosophy of the PSM is that S&T inputs are essential to achieve the goal of an equitable and sustainable society although such inputs by themselves are not sufficient. The PSM groups believe that the public needs to develop a critical understanding of S&T in order to be able to participate in the growth and application of S&T, especially in the choice of technologies in different contexts. Given the widespread illiteracy, let alone scientific illiteracy, it was also becoming clear that the efforts to propagate science awareness and create a scientific temper among the people should go hand-in-hand with efforts in mass literacy. In 1989, the KSSP undertook a massive literacy drive in the district of Ernakulam in collaboration with the district administration. The Parishad made use of its well-honed medium of Kala Jatha to reach out to the population. This proved to be a major success. The success led AIPSN to take up literacy as an empowerment programme in the campaign mode, for which it set up a separate organisation called the Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS) with the primary responsibility of placing literacy on the national agenda. Indeed, literacy campaigns now form an essential component of nearly all the people's science groups.

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The PSM activities can be broadly classified into four categories:

1. Science Communication: Science communication is the basis for the movement in several States. It involves science teachers, working scientists and the science-qualified middle class and students. The activities include science publications, popular science lectures, street plays and school science activities. Cultural forms of communication are extensively used in the Kala Jathas. One of the sustained activities of the Haryana Vigyan Manch has been its campaign against superstitions and myths. For children, in particular, science popularisation by the PSM organisations have been through children's science festivals, children's science projects, quiz contests, science tours and children's science books. An annual Children's Science Congress is held shortly before the Annual Indian Science Congress and winners in the former participate in certain special fora of the latter. Besides, innovative science teaching methods are also propagated by some of the PSM groups.

Some of the well-known publications of these groups include Chakmak (for children), Srote and Sandarbh (for teachers) brought out by Eklavya; Thulir (in Tamil) and Jantar Mantar (in English) brought out by the Tamil Nadu Science Forum (TNSF). Many of the PSM groups have won national awards for excellence in science communication. These include the Haryana Vigyan Manch, the Pondicherry Science Forum, the TNSF, the Karnataka Rajya Vigyan Parishad, the Madhya Pradesh Vigyan Sabha, Srujanika, the Assam Science Society, the Paschim Banga Vigyan Manch and the KSSP.

2. Policy Critiques: The forum of PSM allows scientists and professionals to critically evaluate state policies, not just S&T and research and development policies; study their inadequacies and propose alternatives. The idea being that a detailed critical understanding of developmental policies empower people's organisations to intervene in decision-making. Sustained interventions in the area of S&T policy and management are required if a people-oriented science-society linkages are to emerge. PSM groups have periodically intervened in this direction through advocacy and campaigns. The PSM studies and articulated positions have played a significant role in national debates on issues like nuclear disarmament, patent laws and intellectual property rights (IPRs), health and drug policies, energy and environment policies, reforms in the telecommunication and power sectors, panchayats and other decentralisation policies.

3. Development interventions: This has been a major component of the PSM's initiatives through mass campaigns and discussions. By developing pilot models in literacy, health, agriculture, credit cooperatives, watershed development, local/panchayat level planning programmes, promotion of small enterprises and their networking, the PSM groups have been able to intervene effectively in the decision-making process in several instances. These campaigns serve the purpose of people's resistance to unfair policies and highlight their demand for appropriate alternatives.

Specifically, for instance in the area of health, the interventions of the PSM have resulted in the withdrawal of a number of hazardous drugs from the market and initiation of legal action on a number of other drugs. The groups have also been active in the area of health education and more recently in decentralised health planning. A number of ongoing programmes are focussed on promoting community initiatives and building effective primary health care. These programmes also aim to empower women and develop a rural women's network. A major initiative in health has been that of the TNSF called `Arogya Iyakkam', a programme that covers about 1,000 villages in 17 blocks all over Tamil Nadu, where a local health volunteer is trained in the basics of child nutrition, maternal and child care, first aid and preventive and curative health needs.

In the area of environment, the PSM's activities have been largely in the nature of environmental education. In developing teaching aids, the PSM has integrated comprehensively environment as one of the crucial components of the modules and resource material developed by it. Advocacy and campaigns on issues such as the Silent Valley Project in Kerala, the Bhopal gas disaster and the ongoing Narmada dam project have had considerable impact. Initiatives in the form of policy-level critiques related to environmental issues during the Rio Summit, the Biodiversity Convention and the World Summit on Sustainable Development have been undertaken. An initiative of the TNSF, for instance, has been the reclamation of abandoned large water tanks across the State in order to make them usable once again. The Pondicherry Science Forum intervened effectively in the unbridled practice of aquaculture in Tamil Nadu, which was causing severe damage to the coastal ecology. This resulted in the enactment of a regulatory framework. The Himachal Gyan Vigyan Samiti has initiated a project to study the frequent occurrence of flash floods in the State.

4. Technology Development: PSM groups have engaged in developing and encouraging people-centred technologies that are less capital intensive and empower a large number of people, workers, craftspersons and artisans. Some examples of such initiatives are: wireless in local loop for telecommunications, the simputer and village information software, bio-mass as replacement for cement/concrete in civil constructions, windmills and bio-mass based energy systems, non-chemical inputs to boost agricultural productivity, improved small-scale mechanised looms, small-scale oil presses and other food processing units, and mechanised black smithy. Roughly, once every two years, the PSM groups come together at the All India People's Science Congress (AIPSC) to review their actions, interact with experts, learn from their experiences and plan ahead. The Tenth AIPSC was held in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, in October 2003. The PSM has come a long way from merely disseminating scientific information to involving the people in advocacy, discussions and interventions in science-related policy and developmental issues. The movement has gone from strength to strength to become a vibrant mass movement with practically every State having an active people's science group. The efforts of the PSM are becoming more relevant today as the adverse impact of liberalisation and globalisation is felt increasingly by the ordinary people and the state is gradually abdicating its responsibilities in education, employment, health and social welfare.

Science in the media

MANOJ K. PATAIRIYA advertorial

THE Department of Science & Technology (DST) organised a two-day national seminar on "Scientific Awareness and People's Empowerment: Role of Investigative Science Journalism" in New Delhi on December 19-20, 2003, as a precursor to observing 2004 as the Year of Scientific Awareness (YSA).

Addressing the delegates, Union Minister of State for Science and Technology Bachi Singh Rawat, expressed the hope that the programmes built around the YSA would reach all the nooks and corners of the country and involve the common people, especially those who are normally not exposed to the advantages of science and technology. He emphasised the need for a media centre to facilitate access to information for science reporting.

Inaugurating the seminar, Professor V.S. Ramamurthy, Secretary, DST, said that it was an important step to trigger an investigative approach to science reporting. He hoped that in-depth science reports would lead to public appreciation of S&T and enable people to take informed decisions on the scientific and technological aspects in their day-to-day lives. Anuj Sinha, Adviser and Head, Science Communication and Science and Society Divisions, DST, said it was the responsibility of a science journalist to report on the subjects that a society needed rather than what it wanted.

Prof. S.K. Mishra, president, Centre for Global Studies, NASA, United States, presented a comparative account of science in society in India and America. He emphasised the need for in-depth coverage of current scientific issues in the mass media.

Over 150 delegates comprising scientists, science writers, academicians, social and developmental activists, artists, economists, and journalists participated in the seminar. Some 30 presentations were made at three technical sessions - "Scientific Awareness and Informed Decision Making, Transparency in R&D and Mass Media, and Investigation and Reporting of Contemporary and Traditional S&T. Research-oriented issues and topics concerning investigative science journalism, contemporary/traditional knowledge and its dissemination, transparency in research and development (R&D) and the role of the mass media were discussed.

Dr. Y. Balamurali Krishna, a Goa-based science journalist, said that transparency in the R&D wings, provision of incentives, and adequate time and space in the media, could promote investigative science journalism, which is yet to take shape in India. On the right to information, experts suggested the minimisation of statutory hurdles in getting information.

In his keynote address, Dr. R.D. Sharma, president of the ISWA, said that investigative science reporting was necessary not only to empower people with the knowledge of science, but help reach scientific wisdom of traditional Indian practices to the masses. He cited the reports on fallacies related to genetically modified foods and unauthorised experiments of certain drugs by some foreign companies as Indian examples of investigative science reporting.

Dr. D.C. Goswami from Jorhat (Assam) said that traditional knowledge using certain herbal preparations by the primitive Asur tribe in Jharkhand and the Kondareddy tribe in Rampachodavaram area of Andhra Pradesh to prevent pregnancies could be investigated and findings be reported for the benefit of society. Vinod Musan from Dainik Jagran, Dehra Dun, underlined the need for local scientific reporting, as small and medium scale newspapers tended to use science reports originating from foreign countries because such information was easily accessible.

Expressing their views on inadequate coverage of success and development in S&T, participants asked journalists not to be biased. They urged R&D institutions to be transparent and provide the media adequate information on various developments in order to have better coverage.

According to Dr. Kutikuppala Suryarao from Visakhapatnam, the response of the mass media to the issue of pesticide residues in bottled water and soft-drinks provide a case study for finding out methodologies and modalities for undertaking investigative science reporting. It was reiterated that maintaining the highest standards and ethics of investigative science journalism were necessary prerequisites for a balanced and healthy follow-up of important science stories.

Taking issues to the people

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Interview with Prof. V.S. Ramamurthi.

As new technology options that impinge directly on the day-to-day life of the common man come in, it is necessary for the people to be made aware of their implications in order to take appropriate decisions on adopting them. This is the rationale underlying the designation of 2004 as the Year of Scientific Awareness, during which all modes of communication will be deployed to make people more knowledgeable about the developments in the field of science and technology. The Secretary to the Department of Science and Technology in the Government of India, Professor V.S. Ramamurthi, explained the backdrop to this year-long exercise and its objectives in an interview to B.S. Padmanabhan. Excerpts:

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What is the context in which the government has designated 2004 as the Year of Scientific Awareness?

You may recall that in the beginning of 2003 the government had released a new Science and Technology Policy - STP 2003. Developments in science and technology are not only influencing our day-to-day life by bringing in economic prosperity and ensuring national security, but also bringing in new responsibilities on the part of the common people in managing these changes, which are taking place so fast now that it becomes essential for them to be prepared to face the new technologies as they come in. The decision-making process in a democratic system being what it is, issues are no longer decided by a set of technocrats sitting in an office but through public debate. For instance, you may recall the public debate in the last few decades on nuclear power and safety. We thought that was an exception. Now we realise it is not so. On any new technology, whether it is genetically modified seeds, genetically modified food or human cloning, we see public debates. People do not want to leave the decisions to a set of scientists or officials but want to know the implications before decisions are taken. In the new scenario of decision-making getting democratised it is essential that the public is aware of the new developments in science and technology, their advantages and disadvantages. The STP 2003 recognises this and has a component on promoting scientific awareness. It was in this context that the government decided to designate 2004 as the Year of Scientific Awareness and take up during this year a focussed programme of taking science to the people.

What does the government seek to achieve through this?

It is not that in one year we will be able to educate everyone. The basic idea is that we should tell the people what the developments are, where we are vis-a-vis the rest of the world; how do they impact the day-to-day life; and what decisions are likely to come up for public debate? We want to take these issues to the people who are not only in the metropolitan cities but all over the country. So the method of approach could not be only printed material but should be through the media that the people in the countryside access. The programme during this year seeks to make use of all modes of communication. In the 1990s we undertook Vigyan Jathas where groups of people went from village to village and conveyed the implications of science and technology developments. At that time the effort was to remove superstitions. Today we have gone far beyond that. We do not talk about superstitions but about the implications of technology. The basic approach is the same, that is, conveying to the people what needs to be conveyed in the language they can understand and at a pace in which they can assimilate that information. This exercise does not stop at the end of the year. It will continue. But during the year the floodlight will be turned on this. It is the responsibility of scientists to tell the people what they are doing and its implications.

Promoting scientific awareness and scientific temper has all along been a part of government policy. What is your assessment of the impact of the efforts made in the past?

We feel that the earlier efforts had been successful. For instance, one of our earlier programmes was to remove superstition and promote scientific approach to day-to-day problems. During a solar eclipse 15 years ago the roads were deserted. Nowadays you find children out on the roads trying to see the eclipse but taking necessary precautions to ensure that they are not affected adversely. That means that they already know what they are doing and the implications of what they are doing. That, I feel, is an achievement of our earlier efforts. But that is not the end. We have to move forward. New technologies are coming. For instance, human cloning and genetically modified food were not there ten years ago and today they have become important issues. A number of such new issues are coming up. We would like to convey to the people these issues and help them make their choice with full knowledge of their implications

You mentioned that all modes of communication would be deployed to promote scientific awareness during the year. What is your assessment of the role played by the mass media in this regard?

My own perception is that every medium has its own constituency. For instance, everyone does not view all the channels on television. Some are interested in news, some in entertainment and some in sports. We want to reach out to the common man. So we feel we should not be avoiding these media but at the same time we should not be constrained by them. We would like to make use of the radio, which has a much larger penetration than television. We would like to make use of folk arts. The essential factor is the reach of the medium. Therefore, we do not want to limit ourselves to one or two media. It is a multi-pronged drive. On the one side we have the Vigyan Rail with exhibits on S&T developments. Then we have jathas, public lectures and pamphlets, which are being distributed by the National Organising Committee. We also have programmes involving the children like "Mapping the Neighbourhood". We have an ongoing programme of Children's Science Congress.

What is your assessment of science coverage in newspapers?

Excepting a few newspapers like The Hindu, most newspapers have no earmarked space for matters relating to science and technology. This is a weakness, which requires to be corrected. Newspapers may ask where is the material to publish and if the material is there they will say it does not sell. If it does not sell by itself one could make it sell by making it more attractive. That is the responsibility of the media. Some newspapers and periodicals are doing this. We require more of such coverage. We know the impact of the media when we look at cricket. Even a ten-year-old in a village knows what is happening in Australia. We would like this to happen in science.

What is the relevance of the scientific awareness programme to the community at large?

Decisions are being taken on issues that affect the common man without asking him. For example, we decided to change over from diesel to CNG [in Delhi] and as a result the quality of air is much better now than it was five years ago. When the transition took place there was so much commotion and resistance to introduction of CNG. But where was the public involvement in this decision? The public was not involved at all and if a decision had been taken not to go in for CNG we would have been paying a big price. So decisions are taken on people's behalf without telling them what are the stakes involved.

What is the follow-up action contemplated after the year is over?

There are two or three things, which we definitely look forward to. One is an increasing number of science communicators who will convey the developments in S&T to the people, even if they are not professionals in the field of communication. For instance, nothing stops a college teacher from writing an article every month on an issue of public importance. We need to have a much larger number of science communicators to actually get into science communication.

Similarly, every scientist or technologist can also become a science communicator without depending on science communication as a profession. They should come forward to convey what they have been doing in the laboratory. We believe that this one-year activity will bring them into public attention and enthuse them to continue their work in science communication.

Do you contemplate any institutional mechanism to promote science communication?

At the moment we are not thinking of any new institutional mechanism. We already have the National Council for Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC). If over the year a case is made out for this we may consider.

`The thrust is on popularising science'

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Interview with Dr. Narender K. Sehgal.

Spreading awareness among the people about the scientific aspects of the issues confronting them and inculcating in them the habit of solving these issues through community action are the main objectives for observing 2004 as the Year of Scientific Awareness (YSA). Dr. Narender K. Sehgal, chairman of the National Organising Committee of the YSA-2004 project of the Department of Science and Technology and a recipient of the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for Science Popularisation (1991), shared, in an interview with B.S. Padmanabhan, the activities contemplated to achieve the goals of the project. Excerpts:

20040213005311001jpg What is the thrust of the YSA programme?

The thrust of this programme is on spreading scientific awareness among as many people as we can. But, as you know, merely spreading scientific awareness is not enough. For example, many of those who smoke know what smoking does to them and those around them. Still they continue to smoke. Being aware does not mean that the awareness is being put to use. So, promoting scientific awareness also implies that the awareness leads to scientific information and knowledge being put to good use. For this we will have to make the people get into the habit of acting on the information they have been made aware of. We hope that after this project is over we would have created a better atmosphere all around in which it would be easier and simpler for people to become scientifically aware. Those who want to get information on the scientific aspects of the issues that confront them should be able to get it without too much effort. If for every information one had to go to libraries and make special efforts it would make it that much more difficult for people to become scientifically aware. So when we talk of creating an atmosphere conducive to promoting scientific awareness we mean that we should make renewed efforts to see that there is better coverage of science and technology in the mass media. We hope we would make some progress and more information is readily available on the issues that confront the people. Many organisations are already doing these. We have set aside the whole year to focus these efforts, coordinate them and make attempts to see that they reach specific groups, which have not been reached before.

Which are the groups you propose to target under this project?

Efforts of organisations that profess to popularise science have been largely concentrated on students, mostly school students. The NCSTC - the National Council for Science and Technology Communication - [which came into being in 1982] and the Vigyan Prasar tried to focus on other groups as well. The Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha (BJVJ), which we took up in 1987, was our first big project and the largest science communication experiment done anywhere in the world. Its impact is being felt even today. Based on its success, another Jatha was conducted in 1992, named Bharat Jan Gyan Vigyan Jatha (BJGVJ), combining literacy campaign with scientific awareness programme. As a result of this, for the first time, it appeared possible to achieve almost 100 per cent literacy in the country. That process is continuing. After the 1992 BJGVJ we felt the need to consolidate the efforts to bring about scientific awareness and inculcate a scientific temper among the people. Our effort now is to create mechanisms to ensure that people put scientific awareness to good use. The activities of these institutions will be coordinated so as to cover newer target groups and make the programme effective.

For instance, we may target organised groups such as labour unions and professional workers in different sectors in order to promote scientific literacy and resolve problems specific to their areas. Surveys have revealed that a significant proportion of even the literate population is ignorant about the scientific factors underlying some of the natural phenomena occurring in their daily lives even though they have been taught these in schools. What is taught at the school level does not get registered unless the relationship between what is taught and the real life is brought out during the studies. So, there has to be some special effort to bring about this awareness. We produced the television serial "Kyon aur kaise?"("Why and How?") - to highlight the scientific reasons for many of the natural phenomena.

What is your assessment of the role of mass media in this?

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So far as the mass media are concerned, the coverage of science and technology has over the years been up and down. The coverage has been good in respect of the agricultural sector, highlighting Indian efforts. The same cannot be said in respect of other disciplines because most of the coverage is based on the work being carried on in other countries. In fact, Vigyan Prasar and the NCSTC had at one time wanted to start a science feature service to disseminate the research work being done in Indian laboratories, particularly top 50 or 100 technological achievements that have been commercialised. Many foreign news networks had shown interest in such a service. But it was not possible to get the information from the laboratories. As part of the present programme we may have to sensitise those having information to give it. It may not be easy. One effective way of getting information is through Parliament questions because if a question is asked in Parliament the information has to be furnished. Perhaps, we should try this method.

Another way is to encourage journalists to specialise in science communication. With the support of the NCSTC, the Madurai Kamaraj University in Tamil Nadu started a course in science communication. However, after five years this was stopped. The condition under which it was started was that for the first three years the NCSTC would give financial support and thereafter the course shall be continued with State government support. The university could not continue the course after the Central government stopped extending financial support. Subsequently, a few other universities introduced science journalism courses with the NCSTC's support. These courses would evoke better response from students only when newspapers provided job opportunities for them. Science journalism graduates have told us that newspapers preferred general reporters rather than those specialised in science communication. If general reporters can write on science, science journalists could certainly do a much better job in covering general topics. Editors of newspapers should ensure that more and more science journalists are recruited and adequate space is provided for science coverage. We should also explore the job opportunities for graduates and diploma holders in science journalism in various government and non-governmental agencies. In fact, before embarking on such courses, the NCSTC did a survey on the job opportunities for science journalists and the results showed that there would be a good demand. But actually it did not turn out to be so.

How do your propose to reach the target groups?

For the purpose of this programme we have divided the country into eight regions having some common characteristics and issues. We will undertake jathas, which will focus on specific problems of the region concerned in addition to certain issues relevant for the country as a whole, such as drinking water. The pre-jatha and post-jatha activities will concentrate on specific local problems by interacting with people in the local language. For this we will have organising committees at the national, regional, State, district and local levels. Some of these committees are in existence and others are under formation. After the next meeting of the National Organising Committee scheduled to be held in February we will finalise the jatha routes. Meanwhile, we will have people working on the development of software to carry forward the message effectively through the print and electronic media and events such as exhibitions, lectures and activity corners.

The regional and State organising committees have identified the problems at the regional, State and local levels. The local-level problems will be discussed with groups of local people and efforts will be made to see how they can resolve these by themselves with scientific interventions. Whenever there is a problem, people look to some one from outside their region, particularly government agencies, to solve it. We want to change this mindset and make the people themselves take control of the situation. The government can help but the basic effort should be that of the local people.

One of the issues we propose to focus on during the present project is rainwater harvesting (RWH). Currently only 10 per cent of the rainwater is tapped effectively to meet the water needs of the population. We want this to be increased to 20 per cent. Some States have made RWH mandatory in all new buildings. We would like the State-level campaigns to impress on the governments to bring in legislation making it compulsory for all buildings to have a provision for RWH.

You have detailed the organisational structure to reach the target groups. How do you propose to change the mindset of the people, promote scientific awareness and ensure that this awareness is put to good use?

We have to use innovative methods and present various examples to change the mindset. For instance, if non-vegetarians were to be shown how animals are killed at least some of them would cease to eat meat. During the no-smoking campaign we presented the picture of those smoking freely and the pictures of one of their close relatives suffering from cancer. The sight of the suffering family could bring about the desired change in the smoker's outlook in many a case. In such a way one has to think of different ways to change the mindset in the desired direction. We also propose to organise public debates on contentious issues so that the people can come to their own conclusions based on scientific facts.

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Oct 9,2020