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COVER STORY

09-04-2004

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Briefing

The conflicts within

D.B.S. JEYARAJ cover-story

When the confrontation with Colombo eased with the ceasefire, the contradictions within the LTTE came into play.

ONE factor baffling most observers of LTTE affairs is the real cause of the current crisis. The split within the LTTE came to light when its Eastern commander `Col.' Karuna himself informed the Norwegian facilitators of the current peace process about it and asked them to inform the Sri Lankan government of the situation.

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Why did Karuna himself publicise the simmering internal conflict? He is too much of a Tiger veteran not to realise the consequences of this action. More importantly, what is the cause of the estrangement between Karuna and the LTTE hierarchy?

Karuna was LTTE leader Prabakaran's blue-eyed boy after his military exploits in the Northern mainland. The LTTE chief elevated Karuna to the position of Special Commander of Batticaloa-Amparai districts and gave him virtual autonomy to run the region's affairs.

Though Karuna was happy initially, the advent of peace brought about a new set of problems. With the cessation of major contradictions between the armed forces and the Tamil people, the contradictions within the Tamil people started emerging.

One of these was the conflict between the central and regional institutions of the LTTE. Another was the northern Tamil-eastern Tamil differences. Yet another area of conflict was the LTTE's new strategy of delinking administration from the control of the military.

After the ceasefire of February 23, 2002, the LTTE's high command began expanding its activities into the regions, notably the East. Earlier, this was not possible owing to the war. In times of conflict, the regional chiefs practically had a free hand in running the affairs of their territories. This was so particularly in the case of Karuna, whose seniority and military ability were appreciated greatly.

However, there was an anomaly. The central divisions were not answerable to the regional command and reported back to their heads, who in turn reported to Prabakaran. Thus several acts were carried out in the East in the name of the LTTE, over which Karuna had no control. In many instances he had no knowledge of them too.

The LTTE's courts, police stations, income tax offices and, more importantly, the dreaded intelligence wing TOSIS (Tiger Organisation Security Intelligence Service), all functioned in the East without being subject to any regional control.

This was particularly galling to a man of Karuna's calibre. He felt that he deserved special treatment because of his seniority and the services rendered by the Eastern cadre. He found the special position to which he had been elevated being undermined systematically. This was nothing but humiliation in front of his cadre. The autonomy Prabakaran had given him with the right hand was being plucked away by the left hand. Karuna's complaints to the LTTE chief about Pottu Amman, Nadesan and Thamilendhi were not heeded.

Complicating matters further was the regional factor. Batticaloa Tamils in general nurse a feeling of being discriminated against or dominated by Jaffna Tamils. This feeling had to be handled with care and sensitivity, which seemed absent in the LTTE.

To make matters worse, power structures at the centre were all led and to a great extent manned by Northern Tamils. Karuna and his loyalists resented this northern hegemony as they perceived it and commenced a campaign of non-cooperation, even resistance. This cold war has been on for quite some time now and has been largely unknown outside the Tiger realm.

Karuna alleges that of the 32 departments within the LTTE, none is headed by an Eastern Tamil. The 15-man central committee has only two Easterners, who are there by virtue of being Trincomalee and Batticaloa-Amparai commanders.

Karuna compares this with the military situation where the Eastern Tigers have made proportionately higher sacrifices. As many as 4,543 Eastern Tigers have lost their lives so far in the struggle. Of these 2,302 died in Northern battles. Operations on Eastern soil took only 2,241 lives. Despite these sacrifices, Eastern Tigers have not received a fair deal after peace, says Karuna.

Aggravating matters further is the long duel between the two "Ammans" (uncles). There has been rivalry between Pottu Amman and Karuna Amman since 1987 when they served together in Batticaloa. In recent times, both have competed to be in Prabakaran's good books and possibly occupy the de facto number two position.

Resenting the activities of Pottu Amman's outfit on his native soil, Karuna started a separate wing known as "Intelligence BA". This agency began monitoring the activities of Pottu Amman's operatives.

Pottu is the most feared man within the LTTE. He has brought down many people, including former deputy leader Mahendrarajah Mahatiya. The clash of the Ammans in the East saw the TOSIS launch an intensive probe into Karuna himself.

Aided by operatives of the Thamilendhi-led finance section and Nadesan-led police divisions, Pottu Amman's men began compiling a dossier against Karuna. When Batticaloa business people were interrogated about Karuna's dealings, an enraged Karuna asked traders not to cooperate with the inquiry.

The charges were misappropriation of funds amounting to Rs.150 million, building a house for himself, encouraging anti-Muslim activities, masterminding the conscription of minors and so on. There was also an accusation about an amorous relationship with a senior leader of the Tiger women's brigade. (Karuna is married with three children.) Prabakaran "asked" Karuna to come to the Wanni and answer the charges. It may be recalled that Mahatiya too was given a charge-sheet to be answered before being taken into custody. He was later tortured and forced to "confess".

Karuna sensed a trap and refused to comply, despite several directives. This led to a straining of relations between him and the Tiger supremo. This also led to Karuna being excluded from a team that recently visited Europe, led by Thamilchelvan. Earlier, both had travelled all over the globe. The LTTE also cancelled a monthly grant of Rs.10 million for the upkeep of Eastern Tigers.

The next twist was when more than a 100 TOSIS operatives were deployed in Batticaloa by Pottu Amman. It was suspected that Pottu was planning to abduct Karuna clandestinely to the Wanni or even to assassinate him. Given Karuna's popularity in Batticaloa, an open confrontation seemed impossible. Karuna feared that Pottu would commence a campaign to discredit him and then strike.

When elections were announced, Karuna reportedly gave the green light to parties such as the United National Party (UNP) and the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) to contest from Batticaloa along with the Tiger-sponsored Tamil National Alliance. But suddenly a UNP candidate was killed and an EPDP activist gunned down. This, according to sources close to Karuna, made him panic. He thought that Pottu was getting ready to strike first in typical Tiger fashion.

What has not come to light in Batticaloa so far is that about 12 senior TOSIS operatives in the region were rounded up and killed by Karuna's loyalists for allegedly plotting to kill Karuna. A further 25 to 30 intelligence-wing cadre were detained but they escaped with the help of people like Ramesh and Ram, who have turned against Karuna. Another 60 to 75 TOSIS operatives led by Keerthi are under house arrest in Kannankudah on the western shore of the lagoon.

It was after this swift strike that Karuna brought the issue out into the open. He is raising regional concerns with remarkable success to strengthen his position. Whatever his motives, the concerns raised are valid and have struck a responsive chord in the East.

LTTE circles close to Jaffna say that Karuna has revolted only to escape punishment under the strict disciplinary codes for his misconduct. It is also said that the demand to sack Pottu, Nadesan and Thamilendhi is made because their departments were instrumental in `exposing' Karuna.

`They can't function without me'

V.S. SAMBANDAN cover-story

Interview with 'Col.' Karuna.

MILES of sheer nothingness separates Karuna, the expelled rebellious military commander of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), from the rest of the island. He extended a firm handshake, deep inside eastern Sri Lanka's rebel-held Batticaloa on March 11. That was the second meeting between this correspondent and Karuna. The first was far back in time and space, much further in context. It was in Thailand, two years ago, when the story was all about the euphoria over the peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers.

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He, along with the LTTE's political wing leader, S.P. Tamilchelvan, was in the LTTE's negotiating team for the second round of talks in late October 2002.

"We are not here as tourists, but on work," he said on November 1, 2002, at the plush hotel lobby of the Rose Garden resort in Nakorn Pathom in Thailand. His first comment to the international media then had the ring of a rebel who knew what he was up to. In earnest, he and Tamilchelvan answered questions, supplemented each other and agreed on everything the other said. Asked to comment on his erstwhile battlefield adversary - Maj. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda, who led the government troops against his forces - who was on the government's negotiating team as an adviser, Karuna said: "We are not fighting now. We are friends. If the war starts again, we will see."

Sixteen months later, on March 11, 2004, this correspondent, along with colleagues from an international news agency, drove into rebel-held eastern Sri Lanka in a van with its nervous owner at the wheel. The journalists, eager to reach the venue at the earliest, were stumped by his wariness, born of the fear of the van breaking down in rebel territory.

"Just miles of nothing!" a fellow journalist said, surveying the surroundings. "Just drive fast through the puddles! That's the only way you can manage it," another correspondent told the driver. Racing ahead were two LTTE cadres on a motorbike - rifles dangling from their shoulders - leading the team to Karuna's camp.

Several miles and a few puddles later came an LTTE checkpoint. Armed cadres peered intently. After a swift security check, the van drove into the Meenagam camp, from where Karuna had spoken to a few correspondents over the past few days. At the forecourt of a small house was Karuna, extending a firm handshake. In thousands of directly spoken words, punctuated by smiles and chuckles, Karuna came across as one who knew what he was up against. The words were perhaps too direct, bordering on personal animosity, coming as they did from someone who was LTTE chief Prabakaran's most-trusted military lieutenant until March 6.

"I want to spend my final days here," said the 37-year-old, who joined the LTTE 20 years ago, in the aftermath of the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom.

Excerpts from the interview:

What are your reasons for leaving the LTTE on March 3?

Discrimination within our organisation. I don't feel our leader [V. Prabakaran], has shown regard for the lives of our [eastern] fighters. For several years our fighters were martyred in the Wanni battlefields. From the time the Indian Army came here - I had then sent bodyguards for our leader - our battalions are going to the Wanni to safeguard the leader. Even now, 600 fighters are in the Wanni. Parents don't like children to be deployed during peace. When we recruited here just before the [ceasefire] agreement, most of them - nearly 90 per cent - volunteered. But parents had one request: "We will give them if it is for defending Batticaloa-Amparai; please don't send them to the Wanni." At that time, mothers were given promises in temples.

You promised them?

I did not go. Our organisation did. The one who promised - Ramesh, my deputy - has now run away in fear. Despite that, we sent fighters. The parents protested, but I suppressed them saying, "It is not a problem. I have sent them for a minor necessity. Don't worry. Stop the protests."

There have been several problems within the organisation before you went public. Did you weigh the impact of your move on the LTTE?

Certainly. There will be an impact. They can't function without me. Even if they do, they can't be strong. They may become a real guerrilla movement, but they can't continue as a conventional army. We gave 75 per cent of the strength. We gave fighters, introduced technology and tactics into the military.

What tactics?

Several. For instance, the organisation does not know defence battles. I introduced it. You know the Jaffna Peninsula. With all their strength, they came running in three months. Later, during Operation Jayasikuru, we set up defences and attacked. As I had read a lot of books on history of warfare - Stalingrad, Hitler, Rommell - I knew the importance of defence. We have conducted defence colleges in the Wanni. Most of those in the Wanni leadership have served under my command. There is no problem with that. So it has had a big impact.

Do you think your action affects concepts such as traditional homelands and the Thimphu principles?

I am not even concerned that they will be affected because the northern, Wanni leadership think arrogantly that they are the educated lot; they can do everything; and they go on to suppress other communities. That is not acceptable. They should have shared resources and administrative positions. So when a country or a solution comes what are they going to do? Even then our people are going to be suppressed by them.

From the beginning, there are severe problems between the Jaffna man and the Batticaloa man. When a person goes from here to Jaffna, they give even water only in a serattai (coconut shell).

We thought there will be change and progress with the war. Within the LTTE there was no problem in the beginning. Till their work was done, they took care of us well. With passage of time, we find discrimination within the organisation. Don't you understand by looking at the administrative positions? So what is going to come of it? This arrogant behaviour programmed in their DNA is revealed (laughs aloud). How can we continue to accept that?

Really, before the war there was a good relationship between Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims here. A leader, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan - a Jaffna man, first started the problem in Colombo.

In the 1983 riots, the Jaffna Tamils were affected, not the eastern people. They were not even there in Colombo. When the conflict started, due to sentiments, we supported northern Tamils. I was the first to go from here. When I went, there was no Army here in Batticaloa-Amparai.

I was studying Advanced Level in school. When I went, there were no Sri Lankan forces here. When we started attacking there, destruction started here. In the beginning, we went to support them; but there was no oppression against us. There was standardisation, even that was only advantageous to Batticaloa. It was Jaffna that was affected. There was one problem here - they were carrying out some colonisation. Apart from that I don't think there was a big problem here. I don't think it will be a big problem now.

In the LTTE there is a disciplinary code. Would you continue to follow it? You are also running an LTTE here.

That discipline will be there. We are not changing the name. We will be the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - Batticaloa-Amparai. We have not given ourselves a name or changed the name. It is the same flag. They are not qualified to expel us. We gave them 75 per cent of their strength all these days. That was our historical duty. Even they have not said that we are not the LTTE. If they say that then we have to say, "leader, please go", because it is I who saved him all along. He is not in a position to say that. When our demands were known to the international community, they said it was an individual's problem. If it were so, I would have run abroad first. I need not live here, if I were to think of my life. If it was an individual's problem, I should have just kept quiet, stayed aloof and gone my way saying, "Do whatever you want." But as I raised these issues, the world knows about it.

Political killings are also cited ...

That is true. The problem there is the atrocity of the intelligence gang, which is directly under [the LTTE intelligence wing leader] Pottu [Amman]. Pottu is a terrorist. That is what I can tell you. None of his work is acceptable to the international community. He has personal influence on the leader. They do not accept our views. We are consistently for conventional war - ground battles, raids, attacks. I really did not like these games of setting off bombs, killing civilians. For example, during the Jayasikuru operations, a train was bombed. I said: "Hey, we are fighting battles, attaining martyrdom and waging a war. No problem if you attack a bank, or the twin towers, because they are economic targets. But why bomb a train?

Did you ask that?

Yes. Is it not a civilian target? Why should we be fighting so much, attaining martyrdom? They were dismissive: "You don't know these things." We pointed out several problems like this, but they did not accept them. The atrocities of that intelligence gang increased here. We are responsible for Batticaloa-Amparai. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) co-ordinates with us, we give them assurances that there will be no problem. Then the next day there will be an incident. We ask [the intelligence] "is there any link with you in this?" They would say, "We don't know." Then the SLMM would ask us: "What is this? You guys are hopeless." Then we would say: "Oh! We don't know who is doing this. It could be other groups". Over a period of time we realised that they were involved. They are linked in everything - hijacking vehicles, abductions, killings. I said: "If intelligence is to operate here they must function under my control, or they must be removed from here immediately." They did not accept it, so I ordered the intelligence out of here, as this is a dangerous job and we are getting a bad name. What they are doing is to portray us as villains; that we are not favouring peace. My inference is that they wanted to blame us.

What happened on March 3 when you informed Norway that you are leaving the LTTE?

I had written a letter to the leader, very humbly. "We regard you as God, please accept our demands. You have appointed 30 administrative heads, none of them is from Batticaloa-Amparai, so they cannot run the administration here. So I will run it from directly under your control, as we have the capacity to do so." He said that he couldn't permit it. I said: "I don't approve fighters coming. I want to function from here." He said: "No. You cannot do that. If you want, you come here or quit [the LTTE]." That was internal communication. I decided that this will not work. I told Norway immediately on March 3: "We have parted ways with the LTTE from today." On March 6, they decided to expel us. That was a ridiculous move.

Do you think the reasons for Tamil nationalism, prevalent during the war, continue to exist?

There is concern now amongst all if Tamil nationalism will be broken because of this. There is no need to abandon Tamil nationalism, as this is not a problem between the people of the north and the people of the east. This is a problem concerning the eastern people and the eastern fighters and the Wanni leadership. If the northern people reject the Wanni leadership, Tamil nationalism will be saved.

Do you still believe in Tamil nationalism?

Yes. I told you, I believe that when the northern Tamil Eelam people discard the Wanni leadership, Tamil nationalism will be rescued. Why I say that is because even there nearly 80 per cent are opposed. If they had popular support, they could have recruited fighters there. Why are we recruiting more from these two districts? You must understand that there is a severe opposition to them there - their taxes, their activities, their behaviour, their approach, their capitalist behaviour, their luxurious lives.

Take, for example, Kilinochchi town. When we captured it - I was the one who captured it, leading our troops - there was only one dog alive in that town. It was flattened. Today see Kilinochchi, it has been built up like a town in Colombo! At the same time, you would have seen conditions in Batticaloa's villages. All development is focussed there. They collect overseas funds. None of it comes here. I had asked them several times to at least reconstruct the houses of our martyrs. Some of our martyrs' families are beggars. I had asked for some allocation to rehabilitate them. They did not do so till the end. They accuse us of financial misappropriation. We get only Rs.1 crore from the Wanni monthly. They collect Rs.50 crores. So it is I who should ask them, "What have you done to the remaining money?" We used to get Rs.1 crore for more than 5,000 cadres. After food and clothing, it is really subsistence. What financial misappropriation can we do with this? The problem is that they are attempting to cover up our just demands by raising such issues.

You grew up in the LTTE since your school days. At this moment of parting, what are you views on the principles that the LTTE represented?

I was truly, completely convinced of them. With great reverence to the leader, I worked with conviction all these years. However, with time, the attitude of the leader changed - his activities co-ordinated with the Jaffna leadership. As this kept increasing, we got disenchanted with the leadership. Nothing we ask for is even considered. Even among his colleagues, three cannot be in the organisation according to our rules. Pottu, Tamilendhi and Nadesan [the heads of intelligence, finance and police]. Tamilendhi is responsible for finance. According to our rules, none can surrender. They must bite the cyanide pill. During the war against the Indian army, he surrendered to Indian troops. Unable to consume cyanide, he surrendered and also betrayed us. He returned during the prisoners' exchange when the Indian army left. How can you keep such a person in-charge of finance in an organisation that has made great sacrifices in the name of Black Tigers, Sea Tigers ... at the same time, ordinary soldiers have been fired for surrendering. I have continuously asked what kind of justice is this. They did not accept. The same thing with Nadesar. In the name of the police force, there is a lot of harassment. Taxing the poor and so on. I have dismantled the police structure here.

As far as Pottar (Pottu Amman) is concerned, he does not have a broad thinking. Only a narrow mindset - all he can do is plot murders and set off bombs. He knows nothing else. With such a kodooravadhi (cruel man) next to him... the leader has these three as his advisers.

The military commanders there are a pitiable lot. They are in the battlefield and we don't blame them at any point. The leader works on the advice of these three people. Now he does not think of our lives, if he had done so, he would have not called for us. He could have planned a political programme with [the political wing leader] Tamilchelvan. If they know that there would be war, they could have recruited there. Why did they not do that? They have the confidence that from here they can get the innocent people. That is becoming clear.

You were a member of the LTTE's team that negotiated with the Sri Lankan government. Were you surprised when your leader named you for this role? What were your experiences?

It was a surprise. Questions would have been raised if someone from the east was not in the team. I feel that was the reason why I was nominated, not for any correct approach. However, the travels were truly a good experience. I could learn a lot of things. I could see some societies, various developments.

Even our leader has given up the demand for Tamil Eelam. His demands now are for a federal system and internal self-determination. That is why we went for talks. Now we can't be accused of giving it up or going back on nationalism. We can't be blamed.

Do you say that your leader has abandoned it?

You would have noticed his position in last year's Heroes' Day speech. I think he has given it up.

You were trained in India. The relationship between India, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan conflict is a much-discussed subject. What are your views?

That was the biggest setback to our struggle. We should have stopped with waging war against the Indian army. Going back and assassinating Rajiv Gandhi, killing him in Tamil Nadu, is not an acceptable act. I consider it the gravest mistake committed by our intelligence wing. This is an obvious and well-known problem. That was the reason why our liberation struggle deteriorated so badly... . The enthusiasm and support that the people of Tamil Nadu had.

I have been a long time in several parts of Tamil Nadu. I underwent training in Salem district - in Kolattur. I have stayed in Madurai, in Madras (Chennai), I have moved closely with a lot of Tamilians. There is a history of them welcoming us enthusiastically as freedom fighters. Even when the Indian Army came here to fight us, we had their support. They accepted us even then though Indian lives were being lost. They accepted even that. Even then there were protests in Tamil Nadu asking the Indian army to leave. But the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi ... . As far as I am concerned, we should have stopped. OK. On the basis of retaliation, we attacked their Army. Their Army left. After that what is the need for rage? It is because of that that we have such a bad reputation in the world. We have been trying to say this on and off, but our version is not being accepted (chuckles).

You have been in the LTTE for 20 years, which started as a small group and is now seen by the world with fear and awe. Now that you are opposing it, what is your opinion of the LTTE? What is the hidden meaning behind your decision?

It is we who were instrumental in getting that reputation of strength. The victories at Elephant Pass and in the Jayasikuru operations are what made the international community look up to us. That is why the international community is even looking at us, because we are excellent [fighters]. We created that reputation of magnificence. If the leader had thought about all this, he would have come to a good settlement with us.

Are you saying that he did not consider these factors?

Whether he considered or not, he was not allowed to by those around him. In modern diplomacy we could have sorted it out through negotiations. We asked politely. We did not raise arms against the leader; we did not send bombs to him.

What are the differences between Karuna and Muraleetharan?

(Chuckles) I have had a long experience in war, (becomes emotional) really I disliked it when I was waging the war. As the war was progressing, the destruction on both sides was affecting my mind. I started feeling, "Is it necessary?" They used to say, "If you bring 1,000 soldiers, we will win. We will take them." Nothing would come of it. Then they would say, "Bring 2,000 here, we will win, we will take them." There is no solution. I am convinced that we cannot solve this through war. I want to prevent the loss of lives. If we have to form a separate Tamil Eelam, we cannot do so antagonising India. By antagonising a neighbouring country that is exerting its influence here, it is impossible to get a Tamil Eelam. Or we should build a good relationship with that country. There is no scope for that as well. They have not attempted to do so except superficially, on and off.

Even Bala Annan [Anton Balasingham] has told me several times we cannot do anything by antagonising India.

If we still want to get a separate country, we will only face more destruction. There will be destruction on both sides - no problem with that - but there will be no solution. We can remain as fighters and kill the Sinhala army, the Sinhala army can kill our people, but beyond that if you see, there will be no solution. That is what I can tell you. We will not get a separate country. That is out of question.

You know a country cannot be created now without the support of any country. In the early days it was possible, Cuba, Vietnam, were all there, but that was a previous phase of world history. That was an era. The reason then was two forces - America and Russia, which supported countries that opposed the other force. Now there is a different situation in the global order. Without any support, I consider winning a separate nation an impossibility.

So you held negotiations (with the Sri Lankan Government) on the premise that a separate country was not possible?

Certainly. There are no doubts about that. Even I was there. We negotiated only about the possibility of considering a federal system we were not negotiating on the possibility of Tamil Eelam.

At this stage, what do you feel should be the solution to the Sri Lankan conflict?

We can negotiate a settlement with a government that comes to power. I am confident that even the governments that come to power will realise that.

Will you continue to maintain your forces?

As long as the northern [LTTE] forces are there, we will need our forces and will maintain them, because we will be certainly threatened by them. When they are weakened there, we will weaken ourselves here. We don't have a problem with that.

There is panic that there may be fighting between Tamils and Tamils, what is your comment on that?

I will certainly blame only leader Prabakaran for that. Our territory is far away from the Wanni. We did not want to leave our territory and wage a war against the Wanni. We are here, in our districts. But now leader Prabakaran is sending troops for a major infiltration in the East. This is an unnecessary action on his part. He can still solve it peacefully. The troops are now at Muttur. They know our strength. If they were to enter our province... . We are not going to Wanni. We have not even said that we are not going to take arms against them. But they have already said, "We will kill the individual Karuna Amman." I will never say that we will kill the leader. It is an unnecessary act. - But if they enter our territory, we will hit them.

`An individual's problem'

cover-story

Interview with LTTE's political wing leader S.P. Tamilchelvan.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's political wing leader S.P. Tamilchelvan maintains that its Eastern military commander Karuna's revolt and continued defiance has not affected the organisation "even in a small way". Excerpts from an interview he gave V.S. Sambandan in Kilinochchi:

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What, in your view, will be the impact of the current crisis on the LTTE following the "discharge" of Karuna from the organisation?

As far as we are concerned, under the present circumstances the problem created by Karuna is shocking. We have faced several betrayals. Karuna violated our principles and code of discipline. As a result we have taken disciplinary action. The present crisis is that he has not abided even by that. But our leader's [V. Prabakaran] desire is that we should handle it carefully. Importantly, we want to bring him under control without any losses. As we have to manage this without affecting the prevailing peace it could take some time. However, we will bring it under control very quickly.

You mean the situation would be brought under control without any harm to the cadre or the civilians?

That is our intention. Can you elaborate?

Important commanders have come here [Kilinochchi]. Only the innocent cadre are under Karuna's control. Karuna has created a situation whereby our positions cannot be conveyed to them. For that we have charted out some strategies. It is our desire to overcome that through a plan of action. It is not our desire to be in a hurry, as every day there are hundreds of fighters deserting him [Karuna]. Several are coming here, several are going to their homes, so he is now heading towards a point of isolation. Under these circumstances, we have extended the time-frame.

How do you compare your past association with Karuna and the present situation?

Karuna did not reveal his weaknesses. The days I spent closely with him are few. It was only during the [peace] talks that we were close to each other. He has spent most of his days in Batticaloa-Amparai. It was in the recent days, with full autonomy granted by our leader for Batticaloa-Amparai, that such activities have been on the rise. It is his personal weaknesses that have pushed him to this situation.

Our organisation has a very strict approach to discipline. If these are transgressed, be it an ordinary cadre or anyone holding high positions, they will be [treated] in the same manner. Disciplinary action is unavoidable. He has now made it a big split, whipped up regionalism and attempted to weaken us. I can refer to some of his ridiculous statements, such as the one about the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi [that it was the gravest mistake by the LTTE's intelligence wing]. When you journalists asked our leader those questions [at the April 10, 2002, press conference], he was also there. He could have stated his stand on that day or at other occasions. Today, after he has been expelled from the organisation, after disciplinary action has been taken against him, out of spite he has been spreading canards to seek international respectability and support.

He did this with the motive of levelling false, untrue allegations against the leadership. He has also mentioned that the struggle is meaningless. Thousands of cadre, including several hundreds under his command, have lost their lives. If he is aware of that only now, to that extent these false allegations by him are propaganda to hide his personal weaknesses and the charges against him.

How does this affect the LTTE at this stage, after the war, after peace talks, and when the LTTE is supporting the Tamil National Alliance in the elections?

We do not see this as a setback or damage because it has become an individual's problem. If he had ceded with his fully armed force as a region, it is a different problem. But all the deputies who were under him have come to our leader and he is becoming isolated. Under these circumstances, we are not affected even in a small manner. We are confident. He is trying to create an illusion called the East. It is only in Batticaloa-Amparai that he has started such canards. Even in the elections the TNA is contesting with clear positions. This is not going to affect us in the elections or in people expressing their aspirations or in our liberation struggle as it is a problem by a single individual. With his increasing isolation we do not see it as a big setback.

For the first time, the LTTE is supporting a political party in the elections. Is this an indication for what the LTTE wants to do in future?

Certainly. In the 1977 polls, the Tamil nation voted for separation. After that we did not have any confidence in the Sri Lankan parliamentary system. That system was not putting forward any solution for the Tamils. Even now, though we don't have confidence, we are using it as an opportunity to express Tamil sentiments. As the TNA has accepted the LTTE and its leadership and is putting forward Tamil aspirations, we are supporting it fully. We are also using this opportunity to tell the international community and the Sinhala nation the view of the Tamil people.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga recently said she would talk to you if she comes to power. What are your comments?

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If [the party] elected to power by the Sinhala nation and the Sinhala people is willing to carry on with the peace process sincerely based on continuity with the past, we are prepared to talk with such a political leadership.

What are you comments on Karuna's statement on the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi?

As we see it, by making such outrageous statements and giving prominence to the Rajiv Gandhi issue at this time, his intention is to weaken us as we are improving our relations on the international front. Karuna's announcements are intended to tar our national leadership and our struggle.

What do you think lies ahead for the LTTE now?

We are moving on a clear path, with a clear position. We are resolved to take forward the peace process. We are firm in wanting to implement the ceasefire agreement and to prevent war. The government fell because of the power struggle in the south. When that situation is restored and the conditions for taking forward the peace process are restored, the LTTE will strengthen its path even more.

Karuna revealed that Tamil Eelam was not discussed during the talks, but only a federal system. He has also said that a separate Tamil Eelam is not possible without international support.

That is Karuna's position. As far as we are concerned, we are attempting to find a practical solution. That depends on the situation, we shall decide depending on the extent to which a solution put forward by southern Sri Lanka is willing to accommodate Tamil aspirations. We have been clear about it.

You have been on the military as well as the political wing of the LTTE. How do you see the difference?

We see this as a duty to our people. When we were fighting the war, we saw it as a duty. When we are carrying out political programmes, we are also taking it as our duty. For us there is no big difference between the two.

The Eastern warlord

D.B.S. JEYARAJ cover-story

VINAYAGAMOORTHY MURALEETHARAN alias Karuna Amman a.k.a "Col." Karuna was until his expulsion from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on March 6, the longest-serving regional commander of the Tigers. The Eastern commander has been in charge of Batticaloa and Amparai districts in Sri Lanka's Eastern Province since 1987.

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Karuna hails from Kiran in Batticaloa district. His father Vinayagamoorthy is an agriculturist. Kiran comes under the Kalkudah electoral district, represented in Parliament from 1965 to 1989 by former Justice and Home Affairs Minister K.W. Devanayagam of the United National Party (UNP). Vinayagamoorthy was a staunch supporter of Devanayagam and frowned upon Tamil nationalism espoused by the Tamil United Liberation Front. Ironically, his son became an ardent advocate of Tamil nationalism and went on to take up arms in support of it.

Karuna, born in 1966, is the fifth of seven children. He has three elder sisters and two younger sisters, His male sibling is also a member of the LTTE and commands the Vaaharai region, known as "Andaankulam" Kottam, under the nom de guerre Reggie.

Karuna's sisters are schoolteachers or housewives. At least three of his nieces and nephews are also members of the LTTE.

Young Muraleetharan had his primary education at Kinniaddy Maha Vidyalayam and secondary education at Vantharumoolai Madhya Maha Vidyalayam and the Government College in Batticaloa. He was good at mechanical matters. Karuna is said to have repaired or upgraded several LTTE equipment.

He became a Tiger "helper" in 1982 as a GCE advanced-level student. After the July 1983 violence Karuna quit school and joined the LTTE formally.

He was enrolled in the third batch of recruits, and he received training in 1984 at a Tiger camp in Salemunder Ponnammaan and Radha.

Thereafter he functioned as a member of the dreaded LTTE intelligence outfit TOSIS (Tiger Organisation Security Intelligence Service) in Chennai. Karuna was also a bodyguard of LTTE chief Velupillai Prabakaran for some time.

He returned to Sri Lanka in 1985 and began his fighting career under the then Batticaloa commander Basheer Kakka. Karuna continued serving in Batticaloa under Aruna and Kumara. He also worked under Pottu Amman when Pottu the was acting chief of Batticaloa in mid-1987.

All these four men are of Jaffna origin. In 1987, the LTTE began appointing members from a particular district as the respective district leaders.

Since the pioneering LTTE men from the East, Ramalingam Paramadeva alias Rajan and Ranjan Kanagaratnam alias Simon, had been killed earlier at Kaluwanchikudy and Kokkilaai respectively, Karuna was now the "son of the eastern soil" next in seniority. He assumed command of Batticaloa district shortly before the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of July 29, 1987. When fighting began against the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), former LTTE military leader of Amparai (Digamadulla) district David was taken into custody. Thereafter, Karuna took over the adjacent Amparai district too and has retained control of both districts ever since.

Karuna kept LTTE resistance alive during the days of the IPKF. He and his former deputy Reagan led the counter offensive against the ill-fated Tamil National Army after the withdrawal of the IPKF.

Karuna was instrumental in raising and training the LTTE's second infantry division "Jeyanthan Padaippirivu". This comprised cadre from the East alone as opposed to the North-based Charles Anthony division. Karuna's crowning moment of glory came in the mid-1990s when the government forces, conducting "Operation Jayasikurui" (Certain Victory), were making rapid strides into Tiger-held territory in the Northern mainland of the Wanni.

On Receiving an SOS from the high command, Karuna took his fighters to the North and helped resist the Army. Prabakaran's hideout in Puthukudiyiruppu was on the verge of being encircled at the time.

Karuna also planned and launched the third phase of the LTTE counter offensive. He became the joint commander of all LTTE fighters in the Wanni and executed several successful operations, reversing the military situation.

He was also the field commander-in-chief for the phases of Operation Oyatha Alaigal (Unceasing Waves), during which the LTTE wrested back control of the triangular swathe of territory within Oddusuddan in Mullaitheevu,Vidathaltheevu in Mannar and Omanthai in Vavunia.

Karuna returned home in triumph, having won the confidence and respect of Prabakaran. He was promoted as special commander of both Amparai and Batticaloa districts.

He was given virtual autonomy and allowed to set up parallel structures of power. Karuna set up, in addition to the Jeyanthan brigade, the Visaalagan and Vinothan brigades for men and the Anbarasi and Mathana brigades for women. He also formed the Johnson artillery unit and began the Balendra Officer Training College. He took over the Government agricultural farm and school in Karadiyanaaru and constructed the "Thenagam" base complex.

When Great Heroes day was observed on November 27, Karuna replicated the Wanni ceremony at Tharavai. At the same time that Prabakaran lit the eternal flame in the Wanni, Karuna did the same in Tharavai. He also delivered a Great Heroes day address like Prabakaran. Karuna projected himself as the "Eastern national leader", second only to Prabakaran in the Tiger hierarchy.

Karuna was elevated to negotiator status in September 2002 when the first round of direct talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE began. Karuna's selection was an acknowledgement of the Eastern equation and also the military factor. The rugged Eastern commander had attained this position owing to his prowess and military valour as opposed to some others whose ascendancy was more for other reasons.

Interestingly enough, Karuna's nomination to the negotiating team then was not perceived only as a recognition of his seniority and ability and the regional factor. It was also viewed as a calculated move to neutralise the Eastern factor in a possible scuttling of the peace process. Historically the "East" has been the Achilles heel of previous peace attempts.

While the underlying causes of mutual incompatibility caused tension during peace talks, the flashpoints contributing to the eruption of war occurred in the East where Karuna ruled the roost. Incorporating Karuna into the peace process in a responsible position indicated a deliberate design to prevent another breakdown of negotiations.

In 1987, Karuna protested strongly when Easterners were not included as Tiger nominees in the interim administration. When his former leader Kumarappa was killed, Karuna led an orgy of violence in the East, which ultimately destroyed the prevailing peace. In 1990, war broke out when Eastern Tigers surrounded the police stations in the region. Over 600 surrendered policemen were massacred.

In 1994, Karuna refused to accept a ceasefire unless Eastern cadre were given the right to carry arms in government-controlled areas. Even during the present peace process, Karuna walked out of the subcommittee overseeing the de-escalation of military activity, when he felt it was shamming seriousness. Karuna's human rights record is not good, and he has been implicated in several acts such as massacring Muslims, conscripting minors and gunning down political rivals.

Karuna strove to create a situation where the Eastern region would be considered on a par with the North. He formed several structures similar in nature but of a lesser scale to those in the North. He also insisted that the Norwegian facilitators, monitors, diplomats in Colombo and other dignitaries visit him in Batticaloa too.

Karuna married a woman Tiger Nira from Kallady in Batticaloa. It was an inter-caste marriage: Karuna is a Vellala and Nira is from the Karaiyaar caste. They have three children aged seven, five and three.

The Sagar Mala project

P. MANOJ advertorial

ON August 15, 2003, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced an ambitious plan christened `Sagar Mala', a la the national highway development programme, for the development of India's maritime sector. The project proposes to cover all areas of maritime transport, including ports, shipping and inland waterways, and is aimed at realising the potential of trade.

According to Shipping Minister Shatrughan Sinha,"Sagar Mala will not only encompass the seas of the subcontinent but will have glittering ports connected to vibrant inland waterways." He said India had been a leading maritime nation, but over the years its position on the maritime map had slumped. "Sagar Mala offers a golden opportunity to compete successfully with the best of the maritime world," he said. The project assumes significance as India strives to raise its share in the global trade, currently pegged at 0.67 per cent, to at least 1 per cent by 2007. In absolute terms, this would translate into adding around Rs.180,000 crores a year of international trade within the next four years. Besides, the Tenth Plan has targeted an 8 per cent growth in the gross domestic product (GDP). At present, about 90 per cent of India's international trade by volume and 70 per cent by value are carried through its ports.

Sagar Mala will lay emphasis on developing India's ports to levels comparable with the best global ports in terms of infrastructure, efficiency and quality of service, increasing the tonnage capacity, upgrading and creating ship-building and ship repair facilities and increasing the use of inland waterways for transportation.

The project envisages the setting up of new ports along the coastline where required draft is available. The Centre along with the State governments will create basic facilities at these ports and offer them to the private sector for further development and operation.

In order to cater to the anticipated increase in maritime traffic, which is likely to touch 565 million tonnes by 2006-07 as against the actual traffic of 412 mt handled in 2002-03, existing ports are planned to be upgraded by deepening the harbours, creating additional capacity, and modernising cargo handling equipment.

The government plans to develop a world-class container trans-shipment port at Vallarpadam in Kochi, in view of its proximity to the international sea route, in order to attract trans-shipment cargo. The Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust and the Chennai Port Trust will be upgraded to make them hub ports.

These initiatives will enable bigger mainline vessels to call at Indian ports resulting in faster and economic movement of Indian cargo. At select ports, additional facilities will be created for the export of iron ore.

Under Sagar Mala, all major ports will be connected with the Golden Quadrilateral through high-speed expressways. The rail connectivity to such ports will also be strengthened so that adequate line capacity and speed of movement are available. A big chunk of the total project cost of more than Rs.100,000 crores is expected to come from the private sector through foreign direct investment (FDI) in ports and other related activities. New projects will be offered for private investment at major ports with a view to improving efficiency and increasing productivity and competitiveness.

Yet another feature of Sagar Mala is that it seeks to promote commodity-based transportation whereby a commodity moves by the most efficient mode of transport.

Shatrughan Sinha said that the transport sector had a strategic importance in the Indian economy as it underpinned the activities in other sectors and also affected the competitiveness of EXIM trade. "It is therefore important that cost-effective transportation solutions are offered to customers. Keeping this in view, our endeavour will be to aim at commodity-based transportation planning whereby a commodity moves by the most efficient mode of transport. This will require the development of adequate infrastructure for different modes, particularly inland waterways and coastal shipping," he explained.

To drive home this point, the Minister illustrated the benefit of cargo movement by inland water transport. One litre of fuel moves 24 tonne kilometres by road, 85 tonne km by rail and 105 tonne km by inland water transport (IWT). The present inland transport quantum is of the order of 1,000 billion tonne km.

Out of this, IWT carries hardly 1.5 billion tonne km or 0.15 per cent of the total transport of the country. "If 20 billion tonne km or 2 per cent of the cargo is shifted from road to IWT, it will correspond to a saving of 6.44 lakh kilo litres of fuel or Rs.1,200 crores. The shift in cargo to the IWT mode would also result in benefits to the environment and enable increased economic activities in areas along the waterways," he observed.

In fact, the government plans to create a separate fund for the development of coastal shipping/IWT infrastructure.

The Shipping Ministry would provide the right fiscal environment for the shipping industry to increase tonnage, which includes the introduction of tonnage tax and the rationalisation of seafarer's taxation.

The presence of Indian seafarers, an important source of invisible earnings for the country, in the global market would be further strengthened. Through marketing efforts, the employment of Indian seafarers on foreign going vessels would be increased. Simultaneously, through policy initiatives, training of seafarers would be enhanced by encouraging the private sector to open state-of-the-art training institutes.

Considering the immediate and long-term benefits likely to accrue to trade and industry, part of the finances for implementing the project is proposed to be raised through a nominal maritime development cess for a period of 10 years on cargo passing through Indian ports.

This cess, which is proposed to be credited to the Consolidated Fund of India, will be administered by the Ministry of Finance for the exclusive purpose of funding Sagar Mala. The Shipping Ministry was not able to secure Cabinet approval for the project before the Lok Sabha was dissolved on February 6. Now it has to wait until a new government is formed.

Making waves

SANTANU SANYAL advertorial

The port sector has received a major boost with the thrust towards the privatisation of services and ownership, and this is particularly evident in the case of container service.

IN India, a country with a tradition of socialist planning, any privatisation programme has been viewed with scepticism. About a decade ago, when asked about the progress his port had made with regard to privatisation, the chairman of a port replied: "A lot. I've privatised catering and laundry services in the port's guest house as well as security management and transport operations." And he was all serious.

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Over the years, however, the situation has changed vastly. The port sector has witnessed the privatisation of not only services but of ownership as well. At several ports, berths built by State-owned ports have been leased out to private parties, particularly for container handling - the NSICT (Nhava Sheva International Container Terminal) is operated by P&O (Pacific and Orient) Ports at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), the Chennai Container Terminal Ltd. (CCTL) is run by P&O Ports at the Chennai port, PSA Corporation of Singapore runs a terminal at the Tuticorin Port Trust, and the Visakha Container Terminal Private Ltd is jointly developed by the United Liner Agencies and the Dubai Ports International at the Visakhapatnam port (The Maersk-Concor consortium, which is set to get the contract for development and operation of the third terminal at JNPT, will soon join the list).

Private firms have acquired on lease land at some ports and built berths - L&T at Haldia, ABG and Jindal at Goa, Sica's coal handling facility at Ennore (Chennai) and Gammon India's berths EQ8 and EQ9 in the Inner Harbour at Visakhapatnam. Also, some ports have been developed as greenfield projects by private firms (Mundra and Pipavav) in partnership with the State government agencies concerned. The Ennore port, developed by the Chennai Port Trust, was corporatised subsequently.

Yet, it will be too much to claim that privatisation has gathered pace in the sector. According to one report, of the 38 proposed privatisation projects, only 17 have been approved and committed. Of these, 10 reached the bidding stage, of which eight have been completed. However, it is interesting to note that the pace of containerisation has far exceeded that of that of privatisation. The containerisation of cargo business has been growing at an annual rate of 12.5 per cent. Apart from value-added items such as textiles, garments and leather goods, even low-value cargoes such as foodgrains and sugar, which had been moved by break-bulk ships, are now exported in containers. Alumina and aluminium ingots are transported in containers from Visakhapatnam and Paradip. This is because India today has world-class container terminals in the private sector. This has helped the state-owned ports to step up their levels of efficiency and productivity to become more competitive.

According to one estimate, the volume of traffic projected to be handled by major and minor ports together will steadily increase to 880 million tonnes in 2011-12, to 1,115 mt in 2016-17 and further to 1,373 mt in 2021-22. More important, the share of the minor ports (ports not governed by the provisions of the Major Port Trusts Act) will steadily rise from around 30 per cent to 60 per cent. Since the minor ports will be by and large owned and operated by the private sector, the bulk of capital investment for port development therefore has to come from the private sector. According to one estimate, by 2021-22 the port sector alone will require an estimated investment of Rs.100,000 crores.

There are several reasons why the privatisation of ports has progressed slowly. First, the policy-makers were not convinced that by shifting assets from government control to private ownership, economic efficiencies could be unleashed and, not incidentally, large sums of money could be raised for state coffers. The initial momentum could not be sustained. The slowdown was caused by various factors such as a weak capital market, growing investor scepticism and questions about what really constituted privatisation. The government policies in this regard took a long time to crystallise.

When the government finally unveiled its measures to attract private investment in the port sector, everyone sat up and took notice. While granting concessions appeared to be the preferred means to attract private participation, it was also felt that by laying down conditions without boundaries the government was embarking on what might be called unconstrained optimisation. As there is an element of risk in any venture and the government's policy is aimed at reducing the risk of the private partner, when the risk of one got reduced that of another (in this case the port trust) increased. While no one questioned the rationale of extending a certain margin of comfort to private entrepreneurs keen on investment in port projects, everyone was equally keen that such an extension also generated competition, yielding benefits for all concerned.

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Two other issues that attracted attention were bifurcation of the port sector into major and minor ports and the appointment of a regulatory authority - the Tariff Authority for Major Ports (TAMP). Several experts feel that bifurcation should be abandoned in the larger national interest and that with market forces gaining momentum, the regulatory body would be rendered redundant. At present, of the 184 non-major ports, only 50 are functional.

However, certain measures announced by the government in recent years are expected to yield results. Following the recommendations of the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and various expert groups, the government has initiated moves to professionalise port management. For example, earlier the posts of Chairman and Deputy Chairman were reserved for officers of the Indian Administrative Service. Not any more. The government has also restructured the boards of trustees of the major ports in order to introduce some amount of professionalism into the working of the port trusts. Another factor that used to militate against privatisation was the rigid rules and regulations. The government has now delegated a good deal of authority to the Chairman and the Board of Trustees. Major state-owned ports can now compete with private operators by charging reduced rates and by offering higher rebates and discounts than those approved by TAMP. The objective is to remove red-tapism. The private ports, because of their flexibility in operations, are in a better position to negotiate and therefore attract traffic. Port privatisation has become all the more important at a time when infrastructure bottlenecks have prevented several ports from reaching the targeted throughputs. Until November, seven out of the13 major ports failed to achieve the targeted throughputs.

The Rs.100,000-crore Sagar Mala project would perhaps bring about revolutionary changes in the country's port sector as for the first time an integrated view is being taken with regard to the development of port, shipping, coastal shipping, inland water transportation, dredging and even institution-building through the participation of universities and other institutions. The bulk of the amount for the project is proposed to be generated by way of private funding. There is a proposal to create national sea waterways on the lines of national highways and national inland waterways. Various State governments have started to identify projects suited for implementation under the Sagar Mala scheme.

But privatisation alone will not be enough. There is a need to take an integrated view of infrastructure development and a real need to invest heavily in rail and road facilities in order to facilitate easy evacuation of cargoes. While private participation in road projects has been allowed since the implementation of the National Highway Development Programme, private funding of rail projects is yet to make much headway.

For greater private investment

advertorial

Shipping Secretary D.T. Joseph, is a man of action. Since he took charge in June 2003, the shipping sector has witnessed significant changes. "I have no skeletons in my cupboard, so why should I be worried about taking tough decisions?" he asks. In a free-wheeling interview to P. Manoj, he spoke on a wide range of issues concerning the maritime sector.

Excerpts:

Let us begin with the Prime Minister's Sagar Mala project. At what stage is the plan now?

With Sagar Mala, we succeeded in focussing attention on this sector. Everybody said Sagar Mala would provide the handle for other developments in the sector. We met the Prime Minister on January 7 and made a presentation. He was present for one full hour and listened to whatever my Minister said; to what I said. After that it was perhaps a question of devising a strategy. So we said let the P.M. launch Sagar Mala with some components. There you know, the elections have actually upstaged me. Otherwise I could have got it done. It was listed on the agenda for the Cabinet meeting held on February 4, but was not taken up. Unfortunately, there was no time. So now I have to wait until a new government is formed.

20040409003210201jpg What is the Sagar Mala project all about?

The basic concept is that all those projects where the private sector has shown interest will be lined up and the Mala will be comprised of them. That part is not occurring.

Why?

I'm asking myself the same question. There are very few private sector projects. I'm not able to understand. Those who have come in, whether it is P&O, Pipavav or Mundra, they are all making their money, PSA Singapore is also doing well, ULA-Dubai Ports Authority at Vishakhapatnam also has no complaints so far. Why? Because traffic volumes will keep on increasing. But then why are more people not coming forward to take up projects?

What needs to be done?

I'm also looking for solutions. Even, the labour has been quite reasonable in spite of all the privatisation so far and we are ready to throw open all the doors. We want the landlord port [where the port authority retains the infrastructure and fulfils its regulatory functions while port services are provided by private operators] concept to come up. We have started this at Ennore (Chennai). Wherever the private sector shows interest I'm prepared to sit with them and smoothen the process. Earlier we had inflexible guidelines, now we are ready to be flexible. If necessary we will go back to the Cabinet to bring in that flexibility into the guidelines for private sector participation. Still I'm not happy with their [private sector] response to the concept of Sagar Mala.

Maybe we are looking only at international-level container terminals [for private investment]. Now I'm almost coming around to the view that private investment itself probably is a milestone. In order to reach that what are the things we have to do? One is the government's political commitment. Secondly, wherever funding is necessary you have to give, but most important, you have to build up that kind of traffic volumes.

Private sector people, both foreign and Indian, have come in the last five years, but that is only the fringe, there is scope for more.

What made you grant flexibility/autonomy to major ports in fixing rates?

Ports were in a monopoly position. They were sitting on top of infrastructure and waiting for people to come. When a regulatory agency [Tariff Authority for Major Ports (TAMP)] was set up in order to support customers or trade, I think major port trusts felt aggrieved. They said why only us, why not minor ports, why not other ports.

When I came here, I asked them, `what is your problem?' So major port trusts said we cannot compete... traffic is limited and minor ports are attracting them. So I said, `Why don't you also attract traffic?' They said `We cannot because we are under TAMP, they are not. So they are very flexible with their rates'.

I said if they are flexible with rates, it means that they are decreasing the rates to attract traffic. I said we shall give you also that concession the moment TAMP says the rates given is not fixed, but there is a ceiling, which means you can go below that, so now you don't have the excuse to say you cannot compete with other ports. That was the main driving force behind it.

Secondly, it automatically enables the port to charge less, because one reason why Indian ports are not developing is because the rates are definitely high, much higher than what others are charging. Regardless of whatever they may say, I'm convinced we should bring them down. Why should trade pay for inefficiencies or for the port's tendency to hoard more and more money?

What made you direct Chennai, Tuticorin and Kochi ports to cut their vessel-related charges for mainline container ships to the level prevailing at Colombo port?

If you look at Colombo, it is not as if they have a depth or draft, which is much higher than our ports. To my mind, Chennai, for instance, in some berths probably has deeper drafts than what Colombo has. Still Colombo is getting traffic. Why are we not getting? If you have a deeper draft, larger vessels can come in, but vis-a-vis Colombo I don't think that is the major problem. I think efficiency and dues (charges) are more important and, of course, the route.

In the route when you go to Colombo, if you are carrying most of it across to the east, any detour that you make means additional time and money. So, unless your rates are such that this additional detour costs can be absorbed, it makes no sense. In fact, it should be lower than Colombo and it should absorb the detouring costs.

You have given flexibility in rate fixation to the port trusts, now it is up to them to reduce the rates...

Yes.

There will always be a fear of audit when such decisions are taken.

This fear of audit is a bugbear, which the inefficient bureaucrat himself generates. Either your hands are not clean so you are worried, or you don't want to take a decision. There cannot be a third option. So, I am quite sure that I can't be caught elsewhere, I have no skeletons in my cupboard, then why should I be worried? You convince me and you take the order, that is how I look at things.

Was that the reason why you granted freedom to Indian Oil Corporation to make its own shipping arrangements?

Transchart, the centralised chartering wing of the government, has gained a lot of experience. As Director-General of Shipping I was not aware of it, but when I became Shipping Secretary and they took pains to explain to me the procedure by which Transchart works, I thought it has flexibility and sensibility.

In the normal course you have to call the tender, evaluate. You cannot negotiate other than with the L1 (lowest) in accordance with CVC [Central Vigilance Commission] guidelines. All these restraints are not there with Transchart; they have their own way of calling for rates and then giving a counter and then giving preference to Indian ships and doing it.

Now, the Petroleum Ministry felt Transchart has the authority but not the responsibility because Transchart is not spending the money, so it will not enter into any dispute if it occurs. Fair enough, because they are only acting as an agent bringing two parties together, but somehow the oil companies feel that in a liberalised set-up, they should have the capacity to decide for themselves and they would be able to take faster decisions if the powers are with them.

Do you think so?

Well, we don't think so, but at the same time we don't want to be obstructionist in our policy saying other Ministries must come to us. Then it becomes a turf battle. So I said all right, if you want to do it yourself, you can try it out. We will not oppose it. The Petroleum Ministry is now making a Cabinet note on the issue.

Has India banned old tankers from entering its waters?

In shipping, age is not relevant. But maintenance is very, very important; ships are highly capital-intensive assets. So how you maintain a ship is more important than the age of the ship. But Sahni (the Director-General of Shipping) felt that while that may be true, overall younger ships are likely to be more well-maintained. Therefore he felt that we should not allow older ships to come into our waters.

Secondly, he also felt that with other countries, including those of the European Union, imposing a ban on old ships, these rust buckets would end up in our waters. So I also agreed.

Have you changed the policy of giving preference to Indian ship-owners to carry domestic cargo?

We don't want to pamper Indian ship owners. We should give some preference, but it cannot be sort of leaving scope for speculation, and that is what they were doing. We have now said that within 10 per cent of the lowest foreign bid you should come in a competitive bidding process, then we will give you preference.

Earlier, a person owning one ship would go and take three tenders showing the same ship and then he would charter a foreign-flag vessel and run it. I stopped this when I was D-G. If you have one ship, one tender, yes. In the next tender I am not going to give you any preference, you cannot cheat by showing the same ship in every tender and then you go and take a foreign ship.

What is the aim?

We are trying to hold a balance between Indian shipping and fairness to the consumer. I strongly believe that the Indian consumer, taxpayer, is the ultimate. We must keep him in mind. I want to promote Indian shipping as long as it helps the Indian consumer, but if the ship-owners are going to speculate and make a profit out of the preference that we give to them, then we will remove that preference.

After all, that is liberalisation, isn't it? Any kind of monopoly has to be removed. But, the Indian ship-owners feel that worldwide ship-owning people get a lot of preference, so we shall also give them. I said, okay we will see that you also get a level playing field.

Therefore, we supported tonnage tax, which is now coming. Now they have to show their efficiency and quality.

Are dredgers also proposed to be included in the tonnage tax?

Yes, that is part of the proposal.

Are there any moves to give more concession in rates to promote coastal shipping?

Yes. Currently, a 30 per cent concession is given by TAMP for coastal shipping only on port dues or vessel-related charges, but not to cargo-related charges. I plan to increase the concession to 40 per cent and bring cargo-related charges also under the concession scheme so that more substantial concessions will come in. Besides, it will be delinked from foreign exchange fluctuations.

What are the government's plans on maritime training?

The government made the mistake in 1982 of closing down certain training establishments, that is how, according to me, the Philippines was ahead of India because when shipping expanded we didn't have trained Indian seafarers.

In the 1990s, the unions became so strong and we became a little more expensive than I think the Indian situation warranted. But anyway, since that is an international agreement, we did not want to interfere beyond a point. But we said we shall throw open training to the private sector so that market pressure will build up automatically, more and more people will come out trained, and there will be pressure on the job.

Maritime training should also have some more elements, that until such time that a trainee lands a job he should be able to do something else.

Today, unfortunately it is not like that. So if the trainee does not get a job, then he is not qualified for anything else.

What are the policy changes being contemplated in the ports sector?

We want to decentralise powers relating to ports. We want qualified people to be on the board; we want the structure of the port to be such that innovations are possible, private investment is possible. We want to encourage private investment in all aspects of port development. Wherever private investment cannot come, we are ready to come up with government funds. So that is the overall policy direction in which we want to move.

What about labour?

We are grateful that our labour has not been obstructionist. When privatisation takes place, we are giving freedom to both sides. The private entrepreneur can take the present labour force, but if the workers do not want to go, they need not go.

ELECTIONS 2004

other

"IF the rest of India is feeling good, Chhattisgarh is feeling better," claims Brij Mohan Agarwal, senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader and State Home Minister. He has every reason to feel confident, as his party is likely to retain the majority of 11 seats in the State in the Lok Sabha elections.

In the last parliamentary elections, when the region was still part of Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won eight seats. With the recent Assembly election victory, the morale of the BJP seems to be high. A demoralised and internally riven Congress(I) does not seem equipped to challenge the BJP.

However, the post-Assembly election situation in the State has radically changed with the suspension of former Congress(I) Chief Minister Ajit Jogi from the party. Jogi was blamed for the setback the party suffered in the areas dominated by tribal people. The party managed to capture a mere eight out of 34 seats in the region, previously a Congress(I) stronghold. Moreover, it lost all 20 seats in the Naxalite-affected areas to the BJP.

Now, with Jogi's exit, the Congress(I) is hopeful of regaining lost ground. "There has been a drastic change in the ground situation," says Congress(I) leader S.C. Shukla, now that Jogi is no longer the face of the party in the State.

Yet it seems unlikely that such a definitive change of preference in the tribal areas could have happened in a matter of a few months. "Jogi or no Jogi, there is no doubt that we have definitely won over the tribal people," says Nand Kumar Sai, a BJP leader who is contesting from Surguja, currently a constituency held by the Congress(I). The shift in the tribal vote in favour of the BJP is attributed to the activities of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. The outfit provides schooling and health services and insidiously creates a support base for the Hindu Right, which the BJP exploits in the elections.

Besides the fall in tribal votes, what hurt the Congress(I) most in the Assembly polls was the presence of former party leader V.C. Shukla's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which walked away with 7.38 per cent of votes, which would otherwise have gone to the party. This time V.C. Shukla has merged ranks with the BJP. But the Congress(I) believes that this move would be unpalatable to his supporters. "They may have been temporarily displeased with the Congress, but they will never vote for the lotus symbol," said S.C. Shukla. The BJP itself is cautious about quantifying the electoral gains owing to V.C. Shukla's entry into its fold. Both Chief Minister Raman Singh and Sai expect the BJP to gain 3 to 4 per cent more votes thanks to V.C. Shukla.

A significant development in the Assembly elections was that the Congress(I) made inroads into urban areas like Bilaspur, a change that is attributed to the economic growth and industrial progress achieved during the three years of Jogi's administration. This time, the Congress(I) has fielded promising candidates like Dr. Basant Pahare from Bilaspur and the backward-caste MLA Bhupesh Baghel from Durg. While the NCP has virtually disintegrated with V.C. Shukla's exit, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which secured 4.4 per cent of the votes polled in the Assembly election, can tilt the balance in Dalit-dominated areas like Sarangarh.

Meanwhile, the absence of Jogi from the Congress(I) campaign has created a power vacuum, which might undercut the party's chances. "Jogi nahi to Congress nahi," said a party worker. He said that the current leadership, comprising Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee president Motilal Vora, S.C. Shukla and Charandas Mahant, could not mobilise the "frustrated, directionless workers". The three are united by a common antipathy to Jogi, but not sufficiently prepared to lead the party to electoral victory.

"I want to transform the current crowd of Congress workers into a formidable army," says S.C. Shukla. However, in the Assembly elections, the BJP won seven out of eight seats in Shukla's parliamentary constituency of Mahasamund, causing the veteran leader to shift base to Raipur (where he is pitted against Ramesh Bais of the BJP). "When people like Shukla and Vora could not get their own sons elected, how will they keep the Congress afloat?" asked a Congress(I) worker.

In the BJP camp, former Union Minister Dilip Singh Judev, who had been caught on camera accepting money, is not contesting the election but is all set to campaign for the party. When questioned about the propriety of the matter, Aggarwal said: "Politics mein jeet hi moral hain (in politics, winning alone is moral). And anyway, his bold image and his immense popularity among the people shows that they have already rejected the accusation against him."

However, local considerations apart, both the Congress(I) and the BJP claim that their victory is certain, given the national mood. While Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi's roadshow passed through Chhattisgarh on March 20, Advani's yatra is slated for April 10. Chief Minister Raman Singh asserts that this election will be won on the basis of the Central government's support for Chattisgarh's development as seen in the reorganised railway zone and new power projects. S.C. Shukla, on the other hand, says that the Central government's betrayal of the unemployed will create trouble for the BJP and effect a total reversal of fortunes in Chattisgarh. Vora said: "For the first time, farmers have been denied the minimum support price by this irresponsible government. Instead of that `jod-tod ki sarkaar', we present 45 years of development under Congress administration." Either way, the core issues of this election are yet to emerge, as the campaigns have yet to gain momentum.

Amulya Gopalakrishnan

FOR over three years one has repeatedly heard from political analysts in Bihar that the next Lok Sabha polls in the State would be different from previous such exercises. The contention is that since its geographical division on November 15, 2000, for the creation of Jharkhand, several factors that had influenced the election process have moved out literally. These include political outfits such as the Jharkhand Mukthi Morcha (JMM) and ultra-Left groups such as the Maoist Coordination Committee (MCC), which drew their support largely from the tribal and marginalised communities concentrated in the districts that became part of Jharkhand.

The number of Lok Sabha seats in Bihar also got reduced to 40 from 54 following the geographical division. In the absence of localised forces, it has also been contended that elections 2004 will essentially be a bipolar affair involving the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and a secular front under the leadership of the Laloo Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). While these arguments do reflect sound socio-political logic, it is clear in the run-up to the polls that the political processes relating to elections have not changed dramatically in Bihar. All the political games that have characterised past elections are back in full play.

On the one hand, the problems faced by the secular parties threaten to prevent the formation of a broad anti-NDA alliance. On the other, internal tussles could affect the prospects of the NDA, which has the self-professed objective of improving on its previous tally of 30 seats.

One set of key players in the game of realpolitik has included parties such as the Congress(I), the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Lok Jan Shakthi Party (LJP) led by Ram Vilas Paswan. The LJP was part of the NDA in the last polls but left it proclaiming that "a secular alliance was the only way to save Bihar and India". Basically, it is the demands for seats made by these parties that have prevented the formation of a secular front. Sections of the State Congress(I) have demanded 22 seats, the LJP wants at least 12, the CPI six, the CPI(M) two and the NCP one. The RJD wants to contest a minimum of 30 seats. So cumulatively there is a demand for 73 seats out of a possible 40.

The RJD, the leader of the prospective combine, has branded the demands of other parties as "unrealistic, overambitious claims that have the sole objective of capitalising on our mass base". Laloo Prasad Yadav made one unsuccessful trip to New Delhi to sort out the issues with leaders of the other parties and was getting ready to make one more foray to the capital at the time of writing this report. During his first trip Laloo and other leaders arrived at an agreement granting Bhagalpur to the CPI(M) and Katiahar to NCP leader Tariq Anwar. Indications from the "secular camp" after Laloo Prasad's return are that much headway has been made in the informal negotiations with parties other than the CPI. The CPI, which unilaterally announced its candidates for four seats, has apparently fallen out of favour with the RJD leadership.

An effective, unified secular platform is also threatened by the decision of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) to contest all the seats in Bihar. The S.P. does not have much of a presence in the State but may have enough nuisance value for the RJD. The CPI(Marxist-Leninist), which has a notable presence in a few constituencies, is also fighting on its own against both the NDA and the RJD. The CPI, by all indications, will throw its lot with the S.P. if it is not "accommodated respectfully" in the RJD led front.

The NDA has, after much internal wrangling, finalised the sharing of 38 seats between its two main components in the State, the BJP and the Janata Dal(United). As per the agreement the JD(U) will contest 21 seats and the BJP 17. However, even as the NDA leadership was finalising the arrangement, several influential State-level leaders chose to disassociate themselves from the alliance.

The list includes senior politicians such as Mangani Lal Mandal, Raghunath Jha and Devendra Prasad Yadav. The Selection of candidates has also caused hiccups in the NDA. The BJP's decision to field Susheel Kumar Modi, Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, from Bhagalpur has not been taken well by a section of the party. So much so that this section organised a Bhagalpur bandh to protest "the import of an outsider".

The departure of Paswan from the NDA and the resultant loss of Dalit votes from almost all constituencies have created some confusion among senior leaders over the safety quotient of their seats. Even Janata Dal(U) leaders Nitish Kumar and George Fernandes, apparently swayed by the Paswan factor, are finding it difficult to make up their minds about whether to stick to Barh and Nalanda constituencies respectively or move out.

But this confusion does not reflect in the NDA's campaign. The developmental gains made by the NDA under Atal Bihari Vajpayee's leadership, the work done by Union Minister Nitish Kumar in Bihar - the State got a large number of railway projects in the past five years - and the "misrule of the RJD government" form the thrust areas of its campaign. The secular formation's campaign revolves around the "hypocrisy of the India Shining slogan" and "the threat of communal fascism posed by the Sangh Parivar". However, here also a common approach is conspicuous by its absence. The S.P., the CPI and the CPI(M) have also highlighted the misrule of the RJD. Clearly, the RJD has to contend with a `political fatigue' factor too along with other problems.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

"SINCE its formation three years ago, Jharkhand seems to be continuously in competition with its parent State Bihar in perpetuating social and political chaos." This was the observation made by a senior bureaucrat recently. This comment fits the pre-poll political situation in the State too. What you see in Jharkhand is political pandemonium. It is led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which holds 12 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the State.

The BJP is not only facing problems with its partner in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Janata Dal(United), but also has serious internal differences. Two senior leaders, Chief Minister Arjun Munda and former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi, are leading the intra-party tussles, each trying to obtain greater influence and control over the party and thereby get the majority of nominations for his supporters. Caught in the crossfire is External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha, who is in charge of the campaign in Jharkhand.

The BJP's current problems with the JD(U) stems from the latter's demand that it be allocated four seats. Apparently, four State Ministers belonging to the JD (U) - Lalchand Mahto, Ramesh Singh Munda, Madhu Singh and Baidayanath Ram Seerms - are eager to try their luck in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP has refused to concede any seat: Yashwant Sinha even said that "they (JD-U) can fight all the 14 seats and it will make no impact on the BJP". The JD(U) responded by saying that if the BJP did not allot four seats, it would contest all the seats.

On the other side, Opposition parties such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) have in principle agreed on an alliance. The Congress(I) and the Communist Party of India are also engaged in talks with these two parties in order to reach an electoral understanding. But this process too is caught in claims and counter-claims. The RJD wants to contest 10 seats, the CPI four and the Congress(I) and the JMM six each. Despite these over-reaching demands, the negotiations, according to RJD leader Girinath Singh, are proceeding smoothly. There is a kind of resolve in the Opposition camp to prevent the NDA from repeating its previous performance.

The menace of anti-election violence by ultra-Left forces such the Marxist Coordination Committee (MCC) also looms over Jharkhand. Several clashes have taken place in the past one month between the MCC and militant outfits of upper-caste organisations.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

GONE were the awkwardness and edgy nervousness of the previous years. Actually, Orissa Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal president Naveen Patnaik had a spring in his step as he strode up the dais at Saradhabali in Puri to kick-start the electoral campaign of the BJD-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance in February.

After seven years in politics, Patnaik seemed to have discovered himself. The chuckles from a part of the crowd over his ignorance of Oriya died down after he spoke for five minutes in his native tongue about fighting corruption and fulfilling his father's dream of building a prosperous Orissa. Although he read out the speech written in the Roman script, for the first time in his seven-year-long political career Patnaik's confidence did not seem to waver.

The 58-year-old politician seems to be holding well on his own. Although the Assembly elections were due only next year, Patnaik pitched for simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and the Assembly apparently in the hope that the Vajpayee factor would offset any anti-incumbency wave. The official reason, of course, was that holding two elections in less than a year's time would strain the already precarious financial position of the poor State. Patnaik has proved to be a trusted ally of the BJP at the Centre and has been successful to a great extent in running the coalition government since March 2000. But facing the challenge posed by the Congress(I) under the leadership of former Chief Minister J.B. Patnaik could turn out to be a different ball-game altogether.

The writer-turned-politician, however, claims that he is confident about the BJD-BJP alliance emerging victorious. "J.B. Patnaik is old wine in old bottle. He has no relevance in the present century," he remarked soon after the former Chief Minister was appointed president of the Orissa Pradesh Congress Committee in January. J.B. Patnaik was quick to hit back: "Naveen Patnaik should know that old wine will prove costlier for him."

The electoral battle has hotted up in the 21 Lok Sabha constituencies and 147 Assembly seats. The Congress(I) has decided to field its candidates in almost all the Lok Sabha seats and contest from the majority of the Assembly segments, leaving some constituencies to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the Orissa Gana Parishad and others.

In 1999, the Congress(I) won only two (Koraput and Dhenkanal) of the 20 Lok Sabha seats it contested. The BJD had contested 12 seats and won nine, while the BJP won seven of the nine it contested. The seat-sharing arrangement between the BJD and the BJP in respect of the Lok Sabha constituencies remains the same for the current elections.

In the last Assembly elections, the Congress(I) performed poorly - it won only 26 seats. The BJD contested 84 seats and won 63, while the BJP won 38 of the 63 seats it contested. The number of seats the two parties will contest has remained unchanged this time, but they have agreed to exchange a few seats.

The BJD's campaign strategy so far has been to highlight the "clean image" of the Chief Minister and his "crusade" against corruption; the prevalent "feel good" factor; the developmental initiatives that have been taken by the government; and the Congress(I)'s "misrule" in the past.

The BJP is readying itself for an aggressive campaign. Vajpayee's leadership and his government's achievements will be its main planks.

Although hopeful of victory, senior leaders of the alliance are unsure of repeating the previous performance. Although there is no wave in favour of the Congress(I), they are leaving no stone unturned in their effort to secure a majority. The Chief Minister has already chalked out his plans to campaign in all the 147 Assembly constituencies.

Trying to recover lost ground, the Congress(I) is highlighting the "failures" of the Patnaik government and the alleged irregularities in granting mining leases to private companies. The party has announced its plans to bring out a charge-sheet against the alliance government. The Opposition also plans to pin down the coalition over the lack of development in the State and its failure to secure a higher Central assistance and prevent the distress sale of foodgrains in western Orissa during the past four years. But the major accusation against the Chief Minister seems to be his overdependence on a retired bureaucrat.

Both the Congress(I) and the BJD-BJP alliance claim to have taken into account the winning prospects while selecting their nominees. Yet, it appears that rebel candidates from all the three parties might enter the fray.

The PCC chief is now playing the political game with the help of his experience of decades in politics. To supplement his efforts, a number of ousted BJD leaders, who include Rajya Sabha MP and former Union Minister Dilip Ray and former Ministers Nalinikanta Mohanty and Ramakrushna Patnaik, have joined the Congress(I). Ray, an influential politician, was a close aide of Biju Patnaik. He has already campaigned in the BJD chief's constituency, Hinjili, promising to work in the Congress(I) to help realise Biju Patnaik's dream of a prosperous Orissa. The Orissa Gana Parishad led by former Minister Bijay Mohapatra has entered into an alliance with the Congress(I). The OGP president was unable to contest the 2000 Assembly polls because the BJD chief denied him the party ticket at the last minute.

Although the Congress(I) is gaining strength with the entry of several BJD rebels, the coalition appears to be on a strong wicket. The BJD is banking heavily on the reservoir of goodwill that Biju Patnaik enjoys and the untainted image of his Chief Minister son.

Prafulla Das

Banking on performance

the-nation

Interview with Shiela Dixit.

After its commendable showing in the 2003 Assembly elections for the National Capital Territory of Delhi, the Congress(I) hopes to put up a good performance in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Its star campaigner along with Congress(I) supremo Sonia Gandhi is Chief Minister Sheila Dixit. an she Siddharth Narrain

Will the focus in the Delhi parliamentary elections be on local issues?

The BJP will try to concentrate on national issues as the Delhi government has been successful in dealing with local issues. Good governance and development have brought us back to power and the BJP cannot criticise us on these. However, one cannot draw such a clear dividing line between local and general issues. If there is a bad summer it could become an issue. The only national issue that the BJP seems to have is that Sonia Gandhi is a foreigner. When she is standing for elections and when the Constitution does not bar her from contesting, why is the BJP harping on her foreign origin?

What is the Congress(I) strategy to counter the NDA government's `feel good factor' and `India Shining' campaign?

The Congress has released a booklet countering the claims of the NDA government. The question we should be asking is, is India shining or India wondering? Where is India shining for a vast majority of the people? Look at the plight of industry, labour, artisans, farmers and weavers and at the state of employment in the country.

What is the Congress(I)'s position on privatisation?

We believe that loss-making units should be sold off to people who are willing to buy, but we are not for a blanket policy of privatisation. Look at the way profit-making enterprises such as BALCO and Centaur Hotel have been sold off. The government cannot absolve itself of its responsibility in areas such as health, but on the other hand to decrease the pressure on government services, those who can afford to must be made to pay and to that extent privatisation should be encouraged.

Will full statehood for Delhi and the legalisation of unauthorised colonies be a big issue in these elections?

The people of Delhi were made to believe that the BJP was working for full statehood while it actually went through the motions merely as an election ploy. This is similar to the BJP's policies, which are misguided and defective, for unauthorised colonies. It becomes so costly for the owners of unauthorised colonies that it will be a lifetime before they can pay the market rate or penalty or fulfil the required procedures before they can get regular water or power supply. It is typical of the BJP to make a promise that it has no intention of fulfilling.

Is there a Congress(I) policy to deny the ticket to persons who were involved in the anti-Sikh riots in 1984?

We do not have any such official policy

ELECTIONS 2004

other

THE situation on the ground in Haryana favours a vote for change. Indications are that the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party may find it difficult to retain the Lok Sabha seats won in 1999. The INLD and the BJP, which fought the 1999 Lok Sabha elections in alliance, won all the 10 seats, each winning five. There is palpable anger against the two parties in the towns and areas dominated by the Jat community, their traditional strongholds.

Nowhere is this more evident as in Ghillod Kallan village in Rohtak constituency. It is common for women of the village to make more than a dozen trips to the village well for water. Tap water is unheard of in this village. A few kilometres away, in the village of Jassia, the situation is dismal. The hand-pumps set up on the village main road splutter out water infected with toxins. These hand pumps have led to a drastic decline in the water table of the village.

The election manifestos of the major political parties promise safe drinking water. Said Jaswanti of Ghillod Kallan: "We know that this is the time to make promises. The problem of drinking water will not be solved by any political party. All they want is to stay in power."

The village of Ladwa is 148 km from Delhi. Sugarcane is one of the major crops grown here. More than half a dozen families in the village have been plunged into financial crisis because of the fall in the price of sugarcane. Said Ramesh Kumar, a sugarcane farmer: "I sold my produce to private mills at the low price of Rs.83 a quintal. The cooperative sugar mills are not at all helpful. They fail to protect us from private owners who quote low prices. The cooperatives refuse to transport the crop. How can a poor farmer like me pay for transportation? I have no other option but to sell my produce to private owners." Ask him about the approaching Lok Sabha elections and Ramesh says that though he will vote against the sitting MP, he does not expect the next one to improve the situation.

Basmati rice shops abound on the highway, which connects the village of Ramgarh with Ladwa. The traders in these shops complain how the Value Added Tax (VAT) - in effect since April 2003 - has destroyed their business. Customers who used to flock to Haryana to buy Basmati now prefer adjoining Punjab. Before VAT, a quintal of Basmati in Haryana cost Rs.200 less than that sold in Punjab. Now the sale price is more than that in Punjab. The traders in the State are thinking of floating a political party to lobby for the removal of VAT.

In towns such as Panipat and Karnal it is inadvisable to travel after sunset. Recently, when Congress(I) leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda quoted statistics to back his charge of a worsening law and order situation in the State, nobody rose to counter his claims. Said Hooda: "Contrary to [Chief Minister Om Prakash] Chautala's claim, the law and order situation in the State has deteriorated. The number of crimes reported increased from 33,081 in 1995 to 38,782 in 2000 and to 40,169 in 2002." Day-time robberies are common and have made cities as unsafe as the countryside, which is notorious for violent feuds.

One of the main reasons for the anger against Chautala has been his dictatorial style of functioning. The INLD has moved towards increasing the centralisation of power. Within the INLD, there is no democratic functioning, and voices of dissent are nipped in the bud as control of the party has increasingly moved into the hands of Chautala and his son Ajay Singh Chautala. Charges of corruption against INLD leaders have affected the party's image among the people.

The BJP's position is unenviable. Its four-and-half-year-old alliance with the INLD has meant that the BJP behaved neither like a ruling party nor as an effective Opposition. By itself the party has never had much influence in Haryana. Now, with the alliance with the INLD having come to an end, party workers are finding themselves fighting a losing battle. Said a BJP worker: "L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj never really wanted to work with the INLD. When a section of party workers said that the elections could be won independently on the `feel good' factor, they were too ready to believe them. We are not feeling too good about this change."

The BJP is aware that without an alliance with one of the regional parties it stands little chance of winning even one of its five seats. Earlier, in desperation, it made overtures to its former ally Bansi Lal, former Chief Minister and president of the Haryana Vikas Party (HVP). The two parties contested the 1998 Lok Sabha elections together but could win only one seat each. The BJP subsequently moved closer to Chautala. However, Bansi Lal, said to be angry with the BJP for its betrayal in the past, is not keen on bailing the BJP out of the political mess. He has said that his target is the next Assembly and not the Lok Sabha.

The INLD and the BJP are bitter enemies now. Chautala reacted sharply to Advani urging the electorate to vote for a single party rather than regional parties. He wrote letters to leaders of all major regional parties asking them to "beware the sinister designs of the BJP in general and Advani in particular". Chautala is also blaming the BJP for increasing the price of diesel and other agricultural inputs.

Political observes believe that if the Congress(I) fields the right candidates, it will gain from the anti-incumbency factor. The situation gets more complicated given the fact that no prominent Congress(I) leader wants to spoil his or her chances of becoming Chief Minister by standing for the Lok Sabha elections. Assembly polls are due in a year's time and leaders such as Bhajan Lal and Bhupinder Hooda would like to stake their claim to chief ministership. Said a party functionary: "The situation is such that they will bow to the party high command if it decides to field them. Yet many of the candidates would be too happy to forsake the ticket for the present elections in favour of the Assembly polls." It is clear that even if factionalism does not affect the party in the Lok Sabha polls, it will affect it in the Assembly elections.

Naunidhi Kaur

FOR most people in Punjab, the sole uncertainty about the election outcome is just how badly the Congress (I) will do.

Battered by a large-scale revolt of MLAs allied to former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh seems to have little control over his party apparatus. Everything from the nomination of former Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill for a Rajya Sabha seat to the return of the Chief Minister's Information Adviser, B.I.S. Chahal, have become causes for contention within the party; on top of it all, corruption scandals have broken out over State government jobs and recent auctions of liquor retail outlets.

Yet, many of the problems faced by the Congress(I) exist within the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party as well. Although former Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal has made his peace with his archenemy, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, the two factions remain at odds on the ground. SAD cadre are also irked at efforts by Badal's son, Sukhbir Badal, to run the campaign. Sukhbir Badal's choice of youth leader Charanjit Singh Dhillon as the party candidate from Ludhiana, for example, has attracted allegations that the seat has been gifted to the Congress(I). The Congress(I) might be in big trouble - but it is still unclear if that will actually turn into a debacle.

SAD leaders are hoping that southern Punjab will be the firm base on which their assault on the Lok Sabha will be founded. During the last Assembly elections, southern Punjab voters saved the SAD from a certain wipe out. Now, with the SAD hoping to sweep Punjab, the region has again acquired enormous significance. It is here the Congress(I) hopes to carry out a rearguard action, using its anti-corruption campaign against Badal to effect. While the Congress(I) has yet to finalise candidates, south Punjab heavyweight Jagmeet Singh Brar could prove a formidable campaigner for the party in both Faridkot and Ferozepur. The third key south Punjab seat, Bhatinda, has been given to the Congress(I) ally, the Communist Party of India.

Dalit votes could be central to the outcome of the contest in the prosperous Doaba region. Jalandhar, for one, has seen enormous caste tension in recent months, after riots broke out between Dalits and the landed Jat community for control of a shrine in the village of Talhan. Although a truce was brokered between the warring communities, traditional Congress (I) voters in the Dalit community were incensed by the State government's failure to back them. Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral's son, Naresh Gujral, is standing as the BJP candidate from this constituency - but some observers believe his own caste status could be an obstacle to harnessing Dalit residents to the SAD-BJP's cause.

It is clear, though, that the Congress(I)'s failure to put together an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will cost it a substantial number of votes. In 1999, BJP candidate Vinod Khanna won the Gurdaspur seat by just 3,000-odd votes, a victory brought about in no small part by the BSP taking 67,000 votes, which may otherwise have gone to the Congress(I). Although the BSP's Punjab unit has been riven by factionalism - State leader Satnam Kainth has merged his faction back with the party, but discontent continues to simmer - it nonetheless remains a magnet for a large number of Dalit voters. While Amarinder Singh had hoped to build a counter constituency among landed farmers - great effort was made to ensure trouble-free procurement of crops - there is little sign of large-scale Jat desertion of the SAD so far.

In some seats, inner-party issues, rather than wider caste and class alignments, could prove crucial. Patiala, for one, will witness a particularly interesting campaign, which will see elements of each major party pitted against their own. Parneet Kaur, Amarinder Singh's wife, will be fighting to retain her seat in the contest against former State Finance Minister and SAD leader Kanwaljit Singh. Her problems will, of course, include discontent among traditional Congress(I) supporters in urban areas and Dalits - but also the influence of Bhattal among rural voters in the Lehra Gagga area. Cadre loyal to Bhattal, Parneet Kaur's campaign managers worry, will do little to help the official candidate.

Ironically enough, Kanwaljit Singh has a similar problem. Between December 1998, when the Badal and Tohra factions of the SAD split, and 2003, when they patched up, Kanwaljit Singh was among Tohra's most bitter opponents. Now, both factions have patched up on paper. On ground, though, many block level workers allied to Tohra have been less than happy about conceding their positions to the official SAD, and their cooperation with Kanwaljit Singh's campaign is less than certain. Tohra loyalist Prem Singh Chandumajra, who raised the banner of revolt after being denied the Patiala seat, has made his peace with the SAD - but not, local politicians say, with Kanwaljit Singh's nomination.

Similarly, in Sangrur, SAD candidate Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa will face opposition from sitting MP and Akali maverick Simranjit Singh Mann, from the Congress(I) - and from elements of his own party. Dhindsa is a long-time opponent of SAD heavyweight and former Chief Minister Surjit Singh Barnala. While Barnala has ostensibly stayed out of local politics since his appointment as Governor, his wife Surjit Kaur Barnala has announced her opposition to Dhindsa's candidature. Many within the Congress(I) feel this mosaic of infighting would have given Bhattal a good chance of taking the seat, but the dissident leader has rejected proposals that she stand, seeing them as an effort to evict her from State politics.

In Patiala - as elsewhere - the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections could make or break State-level political futures. Many observers believe major Congress(I) reverses could accelerate calls for Amarinder Singh's head - unless, that is, the party faces all-India humiliation. "Amarinder Singh's best bet," notes one senior Congress(I) politician, "is that the party does badly elsewhere. That way, no one will be able to point fingers at anyone."

Praveen Swami

THE Bharatiya Janata Party, which won all sevens seats from Delhi in the last elections was first to declare its list of candidates. The Congress(I), which did not win a single seat in the last two Lok Sabha elections in Delhi, is yet to announce its list. Polling for the seven parliamentary constituencies in the National Capital Territory of Delhi has been scheduled for the final phase, on May 10. While the BJP hopes to build its campaign around the achievements of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, the Congress(I) hopes to capitalise on the popularity of the Sheila Dixit government, which won the 2002 Assembly elections comfortably.

The BJP has re-nominated six of its seven Members of Parliament. Vijay Goel, the Union Minister of State for Sports and Youth Affairs and Member of Parliament from Chandni Chowk, is contesting from Sadar, which Madan Lal Khurana vacated when he was appointed Governor of Rajasthan. The Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee president criticised Goel's decision with the taunt that it showed that the BJP no longer considered Chandni Chowk a safe seat. Goel was quick to respond: "Who is the Congress to tell me about which constituency to stand from, when they have not even finalised their candidates. I was born and brought up in Sadar constituency. In fact, my political career started in Sadar when I defeated Jagdish Tytler, a three-time member."

But it is clear that the large Muslim population and Goel's narrow margin of victory (1,995 votes) in Chandini Chowk in the last elections has prompted this move. Says Dr. Harsh Vardhan, president of the BJP's Delhi unit: "We were clear about six candidates. Chandni Chowk is a constituency with a delicate balance - it is small and the victory margins are also small." The results in Chandni Chowk could also depend on the performance of the Janata Dal (Secular) candidate, Shoaib Iqbal, who has a strong vote base in this area.

The Congress(I)'s chances depend largely on its choice of candidates. Party workers hope that the leadership has learnt form its past mistakes. The Congress(I) has lost three times in a row in the Outer Delhi and New Delhi constituencies, five times in a row in the East Delhi constituency and six times in South Delhi. Although any win for the Congress(I) will be an improvement, the party hopes to maximise its gains. In order to do this it needs to field the right caste combinations, especially in Outer Delhi and East Delhi, which are the largest constituencies, and have increasing migrant populations.

The Congress(I) was quick to criticise the plans of Union Minister for Tourism Jagmohan, the BJP's candidate from New Delhi, to relocate jhuggi-jhopri clusters in the Yamuna Pushta area as a part of his plans to beautify the river. Chief Minister Sheila Dixit opposed the plans saying it would affect the right to vote of those being relocated. Says Dixit: "I have written to the Election Commission saying that I fail to understand the urgency of beautifying a place at the cost of affecting the right to vote of citizens living in the area. When the Election Commission had already given a directive saying that people should not be relocated till the elections are over, why cannot the government wait for some more time? When Jagmohan has not done anything for five to six years, why should he be in such a hurry now?"

Despite its dismal showing in the Assembly elections (it won only 20 out of 70 seats), the BJP has started targeting the performance of the Delhi government. Says Dr. Harsh Vardhan: "The Delhi government is planning to impose property tax on the Unit Area method. It has hiked electricity and water tariffs. The government has given the Sonia Vihar Treatment Plant to the French company Degremont on a maintain-and-operate basis for almost 10 years. The Sheila Dixit government's policies are very consumer-unfriendly."

Although the Congress(I) is banking on the popularity of its government to improve its tally, Delhi's history shows that the results of Lok Sabha elections could be different from those of the Assembly polls. Says Dr. Harsh Vardhan: "Look at the 1998 elections, we won only 15 seats in the State legislature but in the Lok Sabha elections, held six months later, we won all the seven seats." A statistic the Congress(I) is unlikely to forget in a hurry.

Siddharth Narrain

THE electoral battle in Uttar Pradesh in April-May remains as enigmatic as ever, with a four-cornered contest becoming almost a certainty now. In deciding the post-poll balance of power at the Centre, advantage has often rested with the party that wins the largest number of seats in the State, which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha. (U.P. had 85 seats before the separation of Uttaranchal.)

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati's decision not to align with the Congress(I) must have brought some relief to the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the event of a BSP-Congress(I) pact, the S.P. was in danger of losing its substantial Muslim support and the BJP its upper-caste support.

The results of the Lok Sabha elections are likely to be more or less on the same lines as those of the 2002 Assembly elections and the 1999 parliamentary elections. The S.P. emerged in 2002 as the largest party by winning 143 of the 403 Assembly seats and a 25.37 per cent vote share, followed by the BSP with 98 seats and 23.06 per cent of the vote share and the BJP with 88 seats and 20.08 per cent of the vote. The Congress(I) was a poor fourth with 25 seats and an 8.96 per cent vote share.

In 1999, the BJP had bagged the largest number of Lok Sabha seats, 29, followed closely by the S.P. with 26 seats. The two parties secured 27.64 per cent and 24.86 per cent of the votes respectively. The BSP won 14 seats and 22.08 per cent of the votes. The Congress(I) had fallen by the wayside with only 10 seats and 14.72 per cent of the votes. This time round, the BJP's performance is expected to register a significant change with the return of former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh to its fold. In the 2002 elections, the Rashtriya Kranti Dal (RKD), which Kalyan Singh formed after breaking away from the BJP, actively campaigned to inflict substantial damage to the BJP's chances. It is another matter though that the RKD could not win many seats. During the Lok Sabha elections, although Kalyan Singh was with the BJP he actually sabotaged its prospects from within owing to differences with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. Now that Kalyan Singh is prepared to lend wholehearted support, the mood in the BJP is upbeat. Deputy Prime Minister L.K Advani's Bharat Uday Yatra is adding to the overall optimism. It is a matter of record that whenever Advani has undertaken a yatra he has attracted new voters to the BJP.

Besides having been fielded from Bulandshahar, Kalyan Singh is also in charge of the BJP's campaign committee. "We should cross the 50 plus mark provided we choose the right candidates. Vajpayee's personality, the NDA government's achievements and our programmes should see us through because the Opposition has no leader, no agenda and no programme," Kalyan Singh told Frontline in Lucknow, sifting through the list of ticket aspirants. According to him, the BJP's task has been made easier by the poor performance of the Mulayam Singh government. "The crime graph has gone up in Uttar Pradesh and the people feel insecure," he said. Besides, sugarcane farmers were unhappy because their dues were still pending and there was no improvement in the employment sector.

He vowed to expose the failures of the Mulayam government and he said, "The State is run by five capitalists who make policies in their own favour."

As for the Congress(I), it remains painfully stuck in the quagmire that it has been in for several years. Moreover, the party's hopes of improving its prospects by entering into an alliance with the BSP have been dashed. But despite Mayawati's tongue-lashing and clear announcement that the BSP would contest all the seats in the State on its own, the party still hopes that some sort of an understanding would come about. "Have they announced their seats? Have they declared their candidates yet?" party spokesman Kapil Sibal asked in New Delhi, a day after Mayawati blasted the Congress(I) at her pardafaash rally (expose rally) in Lucknow on March 13.

The only cause for optimism in the Congress(I) is the survey it conducted in February which showed an increase in its vote share since the last Assembly elections. It is pegged at over 15 per cent now because of a positive swing in the Muslim votes. Congressmen also feel that in a four-cornered contest, the importance of Uttar Pradesh in the overall picture would be reduced proportionately. "All the four parties would have their respective share of seats, and thus the importance of the State would go down," party general secretary Oscar Fernandes said. Yet the Congress(I)'s prospects certainly appear dim. In the last Assembly elections, 334 of the 402 candidates it fielded lost their deposits. In the Lok Sabha elections, 47 of the 76 candidates it fielded suffered such humiliation.

The S.P. hopes to reap the benefits of the incumbency factor. It is banking on the fact that it is still too early for the anti-incumbency factor to set in. Besides, Mulayam Singh thinks that the initiatives his government has taken will see his vote share go up. "The sugarcane dues have been paid off to a large extent. The farmers are getting adequate power now. Besides, the Reliance power project and Sahara's housing project will create avenues for employment. These and other initiatives, such as making education for girls free up to the intermediate level and providing free hospital beds, taken in the interest of the common people have been appreciated by people," Mulayam Singh said.

He is also hopeful that the S.P.'s alliance with Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal will help increase its vote and seat share. "The Samajwadi Party will win not less than 50 seats, although our target is 60. We will decide who forms the government in Delhi," he said, hoping to play king-maker.

The BSP, with its 22 per cent vote share, remains as confident as ever. Mayawati had adopted the simple yet electorally effective strategy of putting up a relatively larger number of upper-caste Hindus and Muslims. This has yielded rich dividends for the BSP so far. She hopes to become the balancing factor, irrespective of which party emerges as the single largest block. She is also nursing prime ministerial ambitions. "If people like Gujral, who have no grassroots support, can become Prime Minister, why can't the leader of Dalits, who has such massive support, become one?" she asked at the Lucknow rally, making no secret of her intentions.

In Uttar Pradesh, the vote of Muslims would prove decisive in at least 36 constituencies where their strength varies from 40 to 45 per cent, the maximum being in Rampur where they form a substantial 52 per cent of the voters. In constituencies such as Saharanpur, Amroha, Moradabad, Bijnore, Meerut, Muzzaffarnagar, Deoria and Behraich Muslims constitute a substantial 40-45 per cent of the votes, a sizable number that can tilt the balance in any party's favour. It is this realisation that is forcing the BJP too to woo Muslims.

Without exaggeration, Uttar Pradesh does seem to hold the key to power. The battle promises to be exciting, with high-profile candidates like Vajpayee, Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi and Congress(I) supremo Sonia Gandhi contesting from the State.

Purnima S. Tripathi

ELECTIONS 2004

other

NEARLY three weeks after the Opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) announced its list of candidates to the 20 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala and went into campaign mode, the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), especially its lead partner, the Congress(I), was fighting bitterly over the choice of its candidates and threatening to wreck the coalition's chances in several of its strongholds.

At the time of writing, the list of Congress(I) candidates drawn up after the election-eve rapprochement between Chief Minister A. K. Antony and octogenarian party leader K. Karunakaran ignoring the interests of several leaders and group loyalists had led to widespread resentment within the party unit.

Karunakaran, who was till the other day demanding a leadership change in the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) and was threatening to split the party, and Antony, who was the eventual rallying point for all those who resented the vaulting political ambitions of Karunakaran's family, reached a none-too-surprising, seat-sharing formula under the supervision of the party high command. The formula trampled on the aspirations of many "loyalists" but ensured a Rajya Sabha seat for Karunakaran and the Mukundapuram Lok Sabha seat for his daughter Padmaja Venugopal. The Kozhikode Lok Sabha seat went to V. Balaram, who resigned his Assembly seat recently to facilitate the entry of Karunakaran's son and Electricity Minister K. Muraleedharan into the Assembly. (Muraleedharan will contest from Vadakkancherry Assembly seat in Thrissur district, the seat Balaraman had vacated, in a byelection to be held along with the Lok Sabha polls. The Kozhikode Lok Sabha seat is currently held by Muraleedharan.)

In the Ernakulam Lok Sabha byelections six months earlier, the Congress(I)'s official candidate and Antony loyalist M.O. John was defeated, thanks largely to Karunakaran's rebellious actions. John, a natural aspirant for Ernakulam, could not find a place in the Antony-Karunakaran list. Instead the new formula suggested as the candidate Edward Edezhathu, a Karunakaran nominee, a college lecturer new to politics. Similarly, in Kasaragod, the claims of several prominent Congress(I) leaders were ignored and a Karnataka-based industrialist N.A. Muhammed was selected as the party candidate.

Several close associates of Karunakaran came out openly against what they called the "son-daughter promotion venture" of Karunakaran and the wholehearted compromises Antony seemed to make in order to prevent the veteran leader from sabotaging the party's chances in the elections. Key Karunakaran loyalists Rajmohan Unnithan and Saratchandra Prasad, among others, raised serious allegations of corruption against Muraleedharan in the selection of candidates and in the fund-raising that preceded the anti-Antony rally organised by Karunakran's "I group" in Ernakulam some months earlier.

Widespread resentment within the Congress(I) has therefore provided an edge to the LDF in the elections scheduled for May 10. The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led LDF won nine of the 20 seats in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, with the CPI(M) itself winning eight seats (Kasargod, Kannur, Vadakara, Palakkad, Ottappalam, Kottayam, Kollam and Chirayinkeezhu) and the Kerala Congress(Joseph) one (Idukki). The CPI(M) has now renominated all but two of its sitting MPs. In Kasaragod and Vadakara, the sitting MPs, T. Govindan and A.K. Premajam, have been replaced by P. Karunakaran and P. Sati Devi.

The Opposition coalition is in a fairly good wicket in all the nine seats it won in 1999. In addition, the LDF candidates at Ernakulam, Kozhikode and Mukundapuram seemed to have the odds in their favour, as their Congress(I) rivals are likely to bear the brunt of the renewed factional war within the party. Moreover, in Mavelikkara and Alappuzha, considered Congress(I) strongholds and where party general secretary Ramesh Chennithala and former State Minister V.M. Sudheeran were the likely candidates, the CPI(M) has found good candidates in C.S. Sujatha (Alappuzha district panchayat president) and Dr. Manoj Kurisinkal (independent, a doctor by profession and president of the Alappuzha Latin Catholic Association).

The CPI had lost all the four seats it contested in 1999. The party is contesting all the four seats this time too, with more hope.

The UDF, then in Opposition, had won 11 of the 20 Lok sabha seats in Kerala in 1999. Eight were won by the Congress(I), two by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and one by the Kerala Congress(Mani). The Kerala Congress(Mani) 's MP from Moovattupuzha, P.C. Thomas, later quarrelled with his leader, K.M. Mani, over the latter's attempts to promote his son Jose K. Mani in politics. Thomas formed the Indian Federal Democratic Party (IFDP), joined the NDA and became a Union Minister. It is therefore a tough three-cornered fight in Moovattupuzha too. However, P.C. Thomas, who used to win with record margins from the constituency, is now the NDA's candidate fighting Jose K. Mani, the UDF candidate, and the LDF's P.M. Ismail.

In Manjeri and Ponnani, where IUML candidates regularly win with a brute majority, the party has decided to change its candidates this time. IUML general secretary E. Ahmed, the sitting MP from Manjeri, is now to contest from the neighbouring Ponnani constituency, usually the preserve of party national president G.M. Banatwala. In Manjeri the party has decided to field former MLA K.P.A. Majeed. The CPI(M) candidate in the constituency is also a former MLA, T.K. Hamsa, which makes for a keen contest. The BJP has fielded Uma Unni (who shot to fame as a representative of Hindu fisherwomen at the communally sensitive Marad in Kozhikode district) as its candidate in Manjeri.

R. Krishnakumar

ALTHOUGH the phase of alliance-making is over in Karnataka, which goes to polls on April 20 and 26, the relative strengths of the three main political formations, namely the Congress(I), the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Janata Dal(Secular), are by no means clear. A major difference in the electoral scene between 1999 and 2004 is the contraction in the size and influence of the Janata parivar that traditionally attracted a sizable chunk of anti-Congress(I) and anti-BJP voting segments in the State. Today the JD(S) has consolidated itself around the person of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda. The Janata Dal(United), the political legacy of former Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde, crumbled after his death. A section of the party had transmuted itself into the All India Progressive Janata Dal (AIPJD) even while Hegde was alive. After his death, the AIPJD split, with one faction joining the Congress(I), and the other led by S.R. Bommai, failing to make common cause with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), rejoining the JD(U). The electoral contest in the State is, therefore, essentially a three-cornered one.

Behind the Congress(I) government's decision to opt for simultaneous elections was a shrewd political calculation. Had the Lok Sabha elections been held before the Assembly elections, an NDA victory would have given the BJP a clear edge in the Assembly elections. By opting for simultaneous elections, the Congress(I) has denied the BJP that advantage and is going to the people on the strength of its own performance in office. Indeed, it appears to have upstaged the NDA in the propaganda war. The S.M Krishna government launched a major media offensive highlighting its pro-people schemes, a campaign that put the NDA's `India shining' crusade in the shade. The campaign had perforce to stop when the model code of conduct came into force, but the Congress(I) has been able to steal a march over its rivals through this state-funded voter outreach initiative.

The Congress(I) believes that it has reason to feel confident about being re-elected with a bigger majority. In 1999, the Congress(I) won 17 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP seven, the JD(S) one and the JD(U) three. Whereas it had 135 members in the Legislative Assembly at the beginning of the year, by the time of the dissolution of the Assembly on February 23, its effective support base had gone up to 154, as nine members of the AIPJD and two independents joined the party, and eight expelled BJP members extended their support.

During its five years in office, the Congress(I) strengthened its base by sweeping the elections to the local bodies. In the October 2003 elections to 25 seats that had fallen vacant in the Legislative Council, the Congress(I) won 20, followed by the JD(S) and the AIPJD with two each.

These figures cannot, however, mask the extent of popular disenchantment with the government's performance, something the Congress(I) election managers are unwilling to recognise. The party has been claiming the credit for making Karnataka the hub of the Information Technology and biotechnology sectors in the country. It has highlighted its investment in major and minor irrigation, the success of its free midday meal scheme in government primary schools, its rural housing initiative and its health insurance scheme for the poor. The State has faced a severe drought in three out of the five years of Congress(I) rule, but drought relief has been inadequate and mismanaged. The government's attitude towards the phenomenon of farmers' suicides is seen as callous, particularly the tardy way in which compensation has been paid to the debt-ridden families of suicide victims. With reduced agricultural work there are mass migrations of peasants and agricultural workers to the cities. There have been job losses among workers owing to closure of industries and privatisation of the State sector, and growing poverty within the unorganised workforce. The discontent arising from these factors cannot but find expression in the way people vote.

But neither the BJP nor the JD(S) has been able to fully take advantage of this mood.

The BJP has emerged as the principal opposition to the Congress(I) in coastal and northern Karnataka, while the JD(S) is in a strong position in its traditional areas of strength in the Old Mysore region comprising the districts of Hassan, Kolar, Tumkur, Mandya, Mysore and Chamarajnagar. The disintegration of the JD(U) has left a political vacuum in northern Karnataka.

A prize political catch for the BJP has been former Congress(I) Chief Minister S. Bangarappa, one of the few mass leaders left in the State. His induction will improve the prospects of the party in Shimoga and Uttara Kannada districts where Bangarappa has a substantial following among the backward castes and minorities. But this is a political crossover that is seen as both unprincipled and opportunistic. Bangarappa, whose name is associated with major corruption scams, and who is known to have little compunction in shifting his political loyalties, was the target of the BJP's criticism until the day before he joined the party.

It is Deve Gowda who carries the mantle of the "third front" in Karnataka, or what remains of its once strong presence. The JD(S) is slowly consolidating its position through the induction of new members and through a low-key mass contact programme by its leaders, particularly Deve Gowda. Deve Gowda is known for his ability to revitalise swiftly his support base. There has been a steady flow of people from various fields of public life into the party. Former Ministers and leaders of the erstwhile JD(U) M.P. Prakash and P.G.R. Sindhia, popular Kannada actor Ananth Nag, Pramila Nagappa, wife of H. Nagappa who was kidnapped and killed by forest brigand Veerappan and Mahima Patel, the son of former Chief Minister J.H. Patel have joined the JD(S).

Parvathi Menon

PROMISES, counter-promises, games of one-upmanship and the announcement of a series of populist measures have marked the beginning of the election season in Maharashtra. It is an unusual sort of beginning to a campaign: unlike previous occasions, there are relevant issues to be addressed, but all parties seem to have decided to ignore them at least for the time being. A drought in several districts, scarcity of drinking water even in certain urban areas, issues related to the marginalised and minority communities, increasing debts of farmers, the demand for the creation of a separate State of Vidarbha and housing problems in Mumbai are just some of them. The State, which has 48 Lok Sabha seats, goes to the polls in two phases on April 20 and 28.

However, the battle lines are clearly drawn. So far there has not been any major political realignment in the State. Rumours of a possible tie-up between the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have been proved wrong. The Sena continues to be an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the NCP that of the Congress(I).

While the BJP hopes to make substantial gain in eastern Maharashtra because of its support for the creation of Vidarbha, the NCP continues to place its hope on western Maharashtra. The BJP plans to attack the NCP on its home ground by focussing on the problems faced by the sugar cooperatives. In rural areas, the politics of sugar cooperatives is expected to play its traditional role of influencing voting. A BJP activist said: "Onions made us cry in the 1998 elections. This time we will make sugar turn bitter for the Congress(I) and the NCP." The absence of any coherent drought relief plans is expected to play a pivotal role in the 11 drought-affected districts of the State.

Both the Shiv Sena and the BJP have announced that their main quarry is Sharad Pawar's NCP. The BJP has targeted the NCP by enticing away NCP leaders. The Sena, on the other hand, is waiting for former Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who had quit following the stamp paper scam, to be back in the public eye to attack him. The biggest blow to the NCP has been the stamp paper scam. Although its genesis is traced back to the days of the Sena-BJP coalition government, the Democratic Front (D.F.) government of the Congress(I) and the NCP has borne the brunt of the criticism. Although Bhujbal's resignation was ostensibly provoked by an attack by his supporters on the office of a private television channel, it is increasingly believed to have been a pre-emptive move by the NCP to prevent embarrassment in the wake of allegations linking Bhujbal and Abdul Karim Telgi, the alleged mastermind of the scam.

The BJP too is facing internal problems. When BJP Member of Parliament from Beed (which includes State BJP president Gopinath Munde's Assembly constituency) Jaisingrao Gaikwad Patil left the party to join the NCP, he said: "When alcohol permeates the body, reason automatically leaves." He added that Munde and former Union Minister and party general secretary Pramod Mahajan were "drunk with power", had made the State BJP "money minded", "ignored the power base of the BJP, the cadre, and gave importance only to fund-raisers".

In the Sena the rift between cousins Uddhav and Raj Thackeray continues to pose a problem for the party though, with the elections round the corner, they are frequently seen on the same platform. Meanwhile, the Sena has been working hard to get rid of its reputation as being a party prone to violence. An important component of the strategy is the "Mee Mumbaikar" campaign, which is designed to promote the spirit of being a resident of Mumbai and which promises to create more employment opportunities. Even the attack on Biharis who had come to Mumbai for a Railway Recruitment Board examination in November 2003 is all water under the bridge as far as the Sena is concerned. Interestingly, after disassociating itself from the vandalism at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune, the Sena has accepted the support offered by the Akhil Bharatiya Maratha Mahasangh, which claimed responsibility for the act, to the alliance. The Mahasangh is an influential body representing the State's Maratha community and has about 35,000 life members. The development is expected to divide Maratha votes between the Hindutva parties and the Congress(I)-NCP combine.

Both the Congress(I) and the NCP have promised to give Mumbai top priority in their campaign. They have promised to construct more link roads to lessen the traffic congestion, hasten slum redevelopment, provide homes to unemployed mill workers and provide more funds to revive the city's economy. The Shiv Sena has halted all drives by the party-controlled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to remove encroachments. The Mumbai-centric plan is seen as an attempt to reinvigorate the sources in the city that used to fund the Congress(I) but, of late, seem to have run dry. For its part, the BJP has been working at strengthening its base. The party claims the support of big business houses but declined to name any.

The BJP started its campaign as early as October 2003 and is the only party that has come out with some sort of a campaign plan. Munde said: "Speedy and equitable development; Vajpayee's character, capacity, calibre and conduct; and `India on the move' will be our three guiding points." The three-point programme also indicates whom the BJP considers as its priority target groups. The first is a direct appeal to the middle class and the industrialists. The second alludes to Sonia Gandhi's "foreign origin" issue. And the third aims at non-resident Indians (NRIs) whose financial support has increasingly been made available to the BJP.

In February, Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde brought nine castes and sub-castes under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category and the nomadic and denotified communities list, thereby awarding members of these communities land that was partly paid for by the government. In another move, Shinde also announced his intention to rename Nagpur airport as Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Dikshabhoomi International Airport. Both moves are aimed at the voters in two regions where the Congress(I) and the NCP have either been traditionally weak (as in the Konkan, where the Gamit community has received an OBC status) or been steadily losing ground (as in the case of Nagpur, where the BJP has been gaining ground largely owing to its pro-separatist stance on Vidarbha).

This was followed by the move to prevent bars from being named after a religious figure. The plan, it turned out, was the brainchild of the wife of Minister of State for Home Kripa Shankar Singh. However, the ban was lifted even before it was applied. Another populist order of the State government was to allow liquor shops to do business on Holi, when they have traditionally remained closed to discourage anti-social behaviour.

Perhaps the most bizarre election gimmick was the sudden announcement by Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray that stray dogs kept him awake all night by their barking and should therefore be killed. However, popular opinion was against it. A letter to the editor in a local paper noted that it was "Bal Thackeray's conscience and not the strays that were keeping him awake at night".

Lyla Bavadam

WILL the Bharatiya Janata Party repeat its performance in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, when it won 16 of the 25 seats in Rajasthan? This is the question doing the rounds in political and media circles in the State, which witnessed a BJP victory in the Assembly elections of December 2003.

The Lok Sabha contest, by and large, will be a bipolar one - between the Congress(I) and the BJP. Observers point out that a third front is not likely to emerge. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) too are likely to field candidates. The BSP has, at the time of writing, announced candidates for 14 seats. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has fielded Amra Ram, the sitting MLA from Dhod, from the Sikar parliamentary seat and Sheopat Ram Meghwal, vice-president of the Students Federation of India (SFI), from the reserved seat of Ganganagar.

The Congress(I) seems to have learnt some political lessons since the 13th Lok Sabha polls, when it had to be satisfied with just nine seats. The first thing that it did post-Assembly elections was to appoint veteran legislator Narain Singh, a member of the Jat community, Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee(I) president. Currently the legislator from Danta Ramgarh, Narain Singh won with a comfortable margin in the Assembly elections. His appointment is attributed to the perception that the Jat community had voted against the party in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Moreover, the reservation to the Jat community, promised by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee during his campaign and the lacklustre performance of the Ashok Gehlot-led government had helped the BJP gain the upper hand in 2003.

The Congress(I) released a chargesheet against the BJP on March 18, the day Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia completed 100 days in office. The party is also planning an elaborate campaign by its president Sonia Gandhi in the coming days. The PCC president emphasised that special attention will be devoted to the reserved constituencies, given the erosion of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe base of the party.

Meanwhile, though the BJP camp seems upbeat, the delay in announcing candidates indicates that all is not well in the party. A four-member panel comprising Vasundhara Raje Scindia, State party president Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi, Cabinet Minister Gulab Chand Kataria and party organising secretary Prakash Chandra are to finalise the names of the candidates. The first blow came when Pratap Singh Khachariyawas, former BJP member and nephew of Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, joined the Congress(I). Khachariyawas was an aspirant for the BJP ticket for the Bani Park Assembly seat in the Jaipur Lok Sabha constituency but was denied that despite the backing of Vasundhara Raje Scindia. Although Jaipur is a BJP stronghold given its strong urban middle class population, Khachariyawas, if given the Congress(I) ticket, may prove to be a tough contender. He polled more than 70,000 votes contesting as an independent in Bani Park in the 2003 Assembly elections.

The second major problem for the BJP emerged over the nomination of the candidate for Banswara, considered a stronghold of the Janta Dal (United). It was learnt that while the BJP's central leadership was keen to give the seat to its ally, the State unit had some problems.

"The BJP will win," says Pushp Jain, the sitting MP from Pali. He says, joined by Pradyuman Kumar, a party secretary, that there is no anti-Central government feeling among the people and that it was felt that there was no alternative to the BJP. Pradyuman Kumar says that the BJP's electoral success will also depend a great deal on booth management by its cadre, as was evident in the December 2003 elections. "We got a direct benefit from that," he said. As for the BJP's new-found presence in the tribal constituencies, he said that the party's strength had been on the rise for the last several years. "The activities of the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad and the Ekal Vidyalayas made us politically active in these belts. Culturally, too, we tried to bring ourselves closer to them by adopting their ways and customs. That's how we won their hearts," he said.

Two events of political significance took place in the State in the second week of March. One was the annual Pratinidhi Sabha of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), and the other was a convention of the Sewa Dal, a volunteer organisation of the Congress(I). The RSS meeting, held in Jaipur for the first time, endorsed the "India Shining" campaign and praised the five-year tenure of the BJP-led NDA government.

The meeting, in the words of RSS Sahkaryavah Mohan Bhagwat, was meant "to firm up the direction of our future work, review and critically appraise it and also prepare plans in order to enhance the pace of our activity". However, it ultimately turned out to be more about shoring up organisational support for the BJP in the coming elections. The Pratinidhi Sabha consists of RSS representatives from all over the country and assumes significance in that all its senior functionaries are present.

If the Sewa Dal meeting is any indication, the Congress(I) too seems to be in a mood of introspection. Senior leaders such as All India Congress Committee(I) member Janardan Dwivedi and former Chief Minister Jagannath Pahadia addressed the Sewa Dal workers and emphasised the need to work jointly. Mohammad Mahir Azad, the MLA from Nagar in Bharatpur district, went to the extent of saying that the Congress(I) may have lost owing to its arrogance and that now it was the "BJP's turn to learn a lesson". Dwivedi pointed out that while the Gehlot government had done good work, the electorate was peeved by the activities of some leaders in the party. He also tried to draw a distinction between the economic liberalisation policies of the Congress(I) and those promoted by the BJP.

T.K. Rajalakshmi

ABOUT the only sign of the Congress(I)'s presence in Jammu are a few tattered plastic flags strung across the road from the airport to the city. The flags, it turns out, were put up to greet visiting party dignitaries after the party's sweeping triumph across the Jammu province in the 2002 Assembly elections. Now, they are evidence of how much more durable polyvinyl chloride is than political fortunes.

Battered by the furore generated by furious debate over the rights of women in Jammu and Kashmir to marry outside the State, the Congress(I) is witnessing the wages of vertical communal polarisation. In the Kashmir Valley, its ally, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), is working overtime to displace the Congress(I), and emerge as the sole voice of opposition to the National Conference(N.C.). In Jammu, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the National Panthers Party (NPP) are charging the Congress(I) with having sold out to Kashmiri chauvinism, and of having failed to defend the region's interests. In this emerging four-horse race, the prize is most likely to go to aggressive regional and communal chauvinists.

The Congress(I)'s conspiracy theorists in Jammu have been murmuring about a tacit alliance between the PDP and the BJP, the two main beneficiaries of the Permanent Residents (Disqualification) Bill - a claim buttressed by Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's effusive praise of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It all began in October 2002, when a three-member Bench of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court passed judgment on challenges filed by 12 women against their having been deprived of permanent resident status on having married men outside the State. Justices V.K. Jhanji and T.S. Doabia upheld the women's appeals and Justice Muzaffar Jan dissented. The N.C. government put off a debate on the issue by filing an appeal in the Supreme Court.

Soon after assuming power, PDP MLA and Law Minister Muzaffar Beig, himself a lawyer, quietly withdrew the appeal; legal consensus held that it had no chance of success. On election-eve, however, opportunism triumphed over legal sense. The PDP needed an issue on which it could show that the party was the sole spokesperson for ethnic Kashmiri Muslims, more committed to their cause than the N.C. In Jammu, the BJP needed an issue through which it could show that it, rather than the Congress(I), was truly committed to defending the rights of the region. In the Disqualification Bill, both parties found just what they needed.

Interestingly enough, all parties backed the Bill when it was presented to the Assembly in February, bar the BJP. The lone BJP member, Jugal Kishore, absented himself at the time of voting; immediately after the Bill was passed, the party hit the streets. Sustained BJP protests in Jammu have found considerable support, and the party's candidates for the Udhampur and Jammu Lok Sabha seats have made the issue a central motif of their campaign. Although the NPP has also attacked the ruling coalition on the issue, its case has not been helped by its presence in the government - and its voting record on the Bill.

On the face of it, the arguments surrounding the Bill are absurd - and the Assembly's course of action legally dubious. Contrary to the fulminations of the PDP, the BJP and the N.C., the Bill has relatively little to do with Article 370, which gives special status to the State. The only State to negotiate its terms of accession to the Indian Union, Jammu and Kashmir has its own Constitution. This Constitution grants special rights - to purchase land, for example, and to be elected to legislative office or hold State government jobs - to permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir.

Yet, it has passed unnoticed that the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution itself nowhere debars women who have married non-permanent residents from holding on to their status. Section 6 of Part III of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution gives constitutional status to two notifications on permanent residents issued in 1927 and 1932. The notifications define as permanent residents (then called State subjects) all persons residing in the State before the reign of Maharaja Gulab Singh, those who settled there before the Samvat year 1942, and those who both settled in the State before Samvat year 1968 and also purchased property.

Indeed, the notifications expressly record that "descendants of the persons who have secured the status of any class of the State Subjects will be entitled to become the State Subject of the same class." There is no qualification in the notifications about women marrying outside the State losing their status. All that exists is a mandate that women who acquire State Subject status through marriage shall hold on to this right as long as they reside in Jammu and Kashmir - a protective provision intended to safeguard the rights of women from outside the State. Quite plainly, the long-standing discrimination against women in Jammu and Kashmir has no constitutional sanction.

Just how politically driven the ongoing debate is also becomes clear from a study of the plain language of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution. As Justice Doabia noted in his concurrence, Section 10 of the Constitution expressly mandates that "permanent residents of the State shall have all the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution of India." All, quite obviously, includes fundamental rights, on which the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution does not have a separate chapter. Since the Constitution of India bars gender discrimination, women in Jammu and Kashmir cannot be denied rights available to men.

Where do things go from here? If the Congress(I) does stick to its guns on the Permanent Residents Bill, that ought to be the end of the affair. Section 9 of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution notes that the Assembly does have the power to amend or alter the definition of who is a permanent resident, give them special rights, or modify their privileges. Such amendments, however, "shall be deemed to be passed by either House of the Legislature only if it is passed by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of that House" - something chauvinistic parties supporting the Bill do not possess.

Congress(I) politicians are doing what they can to hit back. One key site of contestation is the Baramulla constituency. Soon after the PDP announced two alternative candidates for the seat, Congress(I) senior vice-president Abdul Gani Vakil noted that his party had won 80,000 votes in the Assembly segments comprising the constituency last year, to the PDP's 30,000. The Congress(I), Vakil said, was not willing to surrender all seats in the Kashmir valley to the PDP, in return for exclusive rights to contest the two seats in Jammu, and one in Ladakh.

If the feud is not resolved, all the members of the ruling alliance could end up contesting against one another - the Congress(I) and the PDP in Kashmir, and the Congress(I) and the NPP in Jammu. Nothing could suit the BJP, decimated just 18 months ago, better.

Praveen Swami

THE fledgling State of Uttaranchal, with five Lok Sabha seats, will witness its first general elections on May 10. The hill people have always voted for either of the two national parties in parliamentary elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has held the four seats of Tehri Garhwal, Pauri Garhwal, Almora and Haridwar since 1991, is locked in a keen contest with the ruling Congress(I). (Chief Minister and veteran Congress(I) leader N.D. Tiwari won the Nainital seat in the previous elections. Mahendra Pal Singh of the Congress(I) was elected to the seat in the byelection caused by Tiwari's vacation of the seat on becoming Chief Minister.)

Despite its strong presence in the undivided Uttar Pradesh, and despite the fact that it was the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre that created Uttaranchal in November 2000, the BJP won only 19 of the 69 seats it contested in the 2002 elections to the 70-member State Assembly and 25.45 per cent of the votes. The Congress(I) won 36 seats, with 26.91 per cent of the votes. Now the situation seems to have changed a bit.

As the ruling party, one would expect the Congress(I) to be comfortably placed to win most of the seats. Surprisingly, this is not the case. The party has not consolidated its position. Two years after the Assembly elections, the BJP senses that the Congress(I) government's failures would work to its advantage.

The BJP is harping on the NDA government's achievements and projecting the clean image of Prime Minister Vajpayee. But the NDA's "India Shining" hype has not impressed the people. "It may be shining for them, but there is nothing here to make us feel so," said Kanwal Singh Rawat of Rainapur near Rishikesh, even as he professes support for the BJP. But surely one thing that could pave the way for the BJP's success is the construction of roads. "Even far-flung areas have now been connected with roads," says one village resident. And B.C. Khanduri, Surface Transport Minister and MP from Pauri Garhwal, is viewed as the man who did it.

Had the Congress(I) retained its edge it acquired in 2002, its prospects would have been better, but indications are that it has not. Even the party's internal survey, conducted in February, showed its chances were slipping. "It looks like 50-50 to me, if the selection of candidates is right," N.D. Tiwari said. He concedes there might have been shortcomings in meeting the people's expectations; he blames paucity of funds for this. "We cannot work miracles in two years. I had the job of laying the plinth and I have ensured that at least there is no negative factor against either the government or the party," says the four-time Chief Minister of undivided U.P. In fact he earned the sobriquet "Vikas Purush" for the unprecedented development work that took place in U.P. during his tenure.

He agrees that the laying of the roads, for which the Centre is getting the maximum credit, is the only achievement that the people seem to take into account. "There have been initiatives in the area of industry, tourism and Information Technology, which should start giving results in a couple of years. I have laid the foundation for them," he says. But lack of unity within the Congress(I)(State party president Harish Rawat is known to carp at Tiwari) and factionalism could detract the voters from the initiatives Tiwari claims to have undertaken. Except Nainital, which has been Tiwari's bastion, Tehri is the only other seat where the Congress(I) can look for some gains. Manvendra Shah, the BJP MP and erstwhile ruler of Tehri state, has represented the constituency since 1991, but now people have started complaining about his nonavailability and lack of performance. Sensing this mood, the Congress(I) has fielded Vijay Bahuguna, son of the late H.N. Bahuguna who was Chief Minister of U.P. In Almora and Pauri Garhwal, where the BJP has renominated Bachi Singh Rawat and B.C. Khanduri respectively, the Congress(I) has absolutely no presence. Khanduri gets thumbs up for the good roads and Bachi Singh Rawat holds his own turf having defeated Harish Rawat continuously since 1991.

In Haridwar, where the Congress(I) hopes to do well, the scale looks tilted towards the BJP. So there is no reason for the Congress(I) to feel optimistic. Interestingly, this is the only seat where the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) holds ground. Of the nine Assembly segments in the Haridwar Lok Sabha constituency, the BSP has won six and the BJP two. The ground realities now do not favour the Congress(I) in Haridwar. The one achievement that the Congress(I) tries to take credit for is the improvement of facilities for pilgrims participating in the Kumbh melas. But it is common knowledge that the NDA government provided Rs.135 crores to upgrade the facilities.

Above all else, the BJP's poll mascot, Vajpayee, has actually caught the people's fancy in the hill State. "(Congress-I chief) Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin is no big issue, but Atal Bihari Vajpayee scores on experience and performance," said Sapre Ram, a retired school principal in Rainapur village.

Purnima S. Tripathi

Growing fleet strength

AMIT MITRA advertorial

Driven by the boom in the freight market, Indian shipping companies begin to expand their fleet strength.

KEEN to take advantage of the unprecedented boom in the freight market, which is expected to last until 2006, Indian shipping companies are gearing themselves up to make major investments in fleet acquisition. Never before has the freight market witnessed such an upsurge in all segments ranging from tankers to dry bulk. The freight boom is being fuelled by a variety of factors, including a short supply of ships in the global maritime trade sector and an increased demand for steel in China. An indication of the buoyant mood in the industry can be had from the results of shipping companies for the third quarter (Q3) of 2003-04. Great Eastern Shipping, India's largest fleet owner in the private sector, came out with the best Q3 results to touch the Rs-110-crore mark, showing an increase of 130 per cent in the net profit compared to its performance in the previous fiscal. During the nine-month period ending December 2003, the company's income soared to Rs.947.47 crores, as against Rs.727.6 crores recorded during the first nine months of last fiscal.

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Shipping Corporation of India (SCI), India's largest fleet owner, reported handsome profits, although it could not make the best use of the boom period as it had not been permitted to make any major investments for fleet expansion in the light of its on-going disinvestment programme (the government recently gave it the go-ahead to make investments up to Rs.300 crores). The company's net profit during the October-December period in 2003 rose to Rs.133.23 crores from Rs.76.22 crores registered in Q3 of last fiscal, which represents an increase of 74.79 per cent. During the period, the company's profit stood at Rs.369.85 crores as against Rs.147.29 crores during the corresponding period of last fiscal.

Essar Shipping, which is in the race for the majority stake holding in SCI, has reported a net profit of Rs.36.84 crores, which is up from Rs.16.36 crores in Q3 of last fiscal, representing an increase of 125 per cent. Its income rose from Rs.122.85 crores in Q3 of last fiscal to Rs.148.47 crores this fiscal, up by 21 per cent. Varun Shipping's net profit during the quarter swelled from Rs.2.70 crores last fiscal to Rs.10.04 crores.

Analysts say that the results for the fourth quarter (Q4) would reflect the same bullish trend. What has been driving the freight market boom? Says a senior official of Great Eastern Shipping: "The third quarter has been exceptional for the dry bulk markets, as freight rates have been on a meteoric rise. In fact, we have seen that the Capesize, Panamax and Handymax segments earned the highest-ever freight rates during the last quarter. China undoubtedly continued to be the major factor behind the surge in freight rates."

Indeed, the Baltic Handymax Index (BHMI), which indicates the freight market movement, shot up from 15,763 on October 1, 2003 to 26,593 on December 31, 2003, and towards the end of January 2004 it stood at a whopping 30,213. Even the tanker market, which was relatively subdued in the second quarter (Q2), witnessed buoyancy in Q3, with China surpassing Japan to become the world's second largest oil consumer. Market analysts said that increasing long-haul trades, strong winter demand in the northern hemisphere, congestion in the Bosphorus Strait and migration of Oil Bulk Oil (OBO) vessels (capable of carrying both wet cargo and dry bulk) to the dry bulk trade had then impacted on the tanker market earnings. The Baltic Clean Tanker Index and the Baltic Dirty Tanker Index, which were 869 and 1006 respectively on October 1, 2003, increased to 1,099 and 2,242 on December 24, 2003 - they stood at 1,317 and 2,048 respectively towards the end of January. "Crude carriers recorded an average TCY (Time Charter Yield) of about $22,600 a day during the quarter as against $21,900 a day in the third quarter of last fiscal," the Great Eastern official pointed out.

Market analysts feel that the strong recovery led by China and the United States is expected to boost world oil demand, while Japan continues to depend on oil, as its nuclear plants are not fully operational yet (six out of the 17 plants are in operation). Further, the rising natural gas prices have resulted in a switch-over to oil. "Tanker freight rates are expected to remain healthy, especially with the U.S. commercial petroleum stock levels at a 28-year low," an analyst pointed out.

In fact, the freight market boom has prompted many companies in the private sector to go in for fleet expansion. Take the case of Great Eastern Shipping - the company acquired seven crude carriers and two product carriers during the first three quarters of the current fiscal, which increased its tonnage from 1.317 million dwt (deadweight tonnage) as on March 31, 2003 to 2.10 million dwt as of end-December 2003. This apart, the company has laid out a capital expenditure programme for Rs.1,038 crores, involving the acquisition of 10 vessels, including one Aframax, one product carrier and two Suezmax vessels, which are expected to be delivered before September 2005. This would increase its fleet strength to 2.68 million dwt by March 2006.

Originally, SCI had an ambitious expansion programme, involving an outlay of $1 billion for acquiring 29 vessels, including 26 tankers, during the Tenth Plan. Moreover, the company has to replace 25 to 30 per cent of its tanker fleet within the next few years. But with the government asking SCI to put on hold major capital expenditure plans in view of the pending disinvestment programme, the company could not make any major acquisitions. However, after the government recently lifted the ban, SCI lost no time in drawing up a Rs.300-crore acquisition programme. The SCI Board, which met in Mumbai in February, had approved a broad acquisition programme, which includes the purchase of capsize vessels.As a matter of fact, despite the high rate of taxation that continued to gnaw at the Indian shipping industry during 2003, the growth of the Indian fleet has been significant during the year. Industry analysts revealed that the tonnage began to soar after April 2003, when the boom in the freight market actually began to galvanise ship-owners. From a level of 6.20 million grt (gross registered tonnage) as on January 1, 2003, the Indian tonnage crawled up to 6.62 million grt on January 1, 2004. Since 1976, the Indian tonnage had peaked to 7.05 million grt in January 2000, with the maximum addition of 5.9 lakh grt, witnessed in 1999.

"The growth in tonnage is expected to continue on its upward course in the coming months as shipping companies are looking for fresh acquisitions," according to an analyst. This marked a reversal of trend in tonnage, as during the entire 2002-03 period there had been a decline in tonnage addition, with the high taxation constraining the generation of funds for shipping companies. The strength of the Indian fleet flagged from 6.82 million grt as on March 31, 2002 to 6.18 million grt as on March 31, 2003 - a net reduction of 6.43 lakh grt. Interestingly, during this period the number of ships had risen from 560 to 616. This was mainly on account of the inclusion of 56 ships, mostly comprising tugs, survey vessels, towing vessels and pilot vessels belonging to the Indian ports and State Maritime Boards, in the registry of Indian ships.

However, from April 1 2003, the Indian fleet began to show signs of a recovery. As on July 1, 2003, the tonnage increased to 6.43 million grt, as during the preceding months there was an addition of seven oil tankers - SCI (three), Great Eastern (two) and Mercator Lines (one) and India Steamship Co (one). However, one disconcerting factor has been the deteriorating age profile of the Indian fleet. According to a senior official of the Indian National Ship-owners Association (INSA), as on April 1, 2003, the average age of the Indian fleet was 16.5 years. In terms of dwt, over 31 per cent of the overseas fleet, totalling 80 ships of 2.91 million dwt, was over 20 years of age, while another 29.3 per cent between 15 and 19 years. Thus, over 60 per cent of the Indian fleet needs to be replaced within the next five years or so. In fact, the Planning Commission's Working Group has recommended acquisition of 156 ships of 3.25 million grt so as to maintain the strength of the Indian fleet at around 7 million grt.

The standard-bearer

A CORRESPONDENT advertorial

With a diversified fleet strength of 87 vessels, Shipping Corporation of India has a significant presence on the global maritime map.

SHIPPING Corporation of India Ltd. (SCI), the country's premier shipping line, was incorporated on October 2, 1961, by the amalgamation of Eastern Shipping Corporation and Western Shipping Corporation, with an authorised capital of Rs.35 crores and a paid-up capital of Rs.23.45 crores. In 1961, SCI's fleet size stood at 19 vessels totalling 1,39,000 gross tonne (gt) and 1,92,000 deadweight tonnage (dwt). Jayanti Shipping Company was merged with SCI in 1973, leading to an addition of 16 ships, and Mogul Line Ltd in 1986, adding 12 more ships.

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Today SCI has a significant presence on the global maritime map. It owned a fleet of 87 vessels totalling 2.6 million gt (4.6 m dwt) as on February 2, accounting for about 42 per cent of the national tonnage. In addition, it operates a leased vessel and mans/manages 42 vessels on behalf of various government departments. Its diversified fleet, which includes modern and fuel-efficient ships, gives it a distinct competitive edge.

Now SCI has an authorised capital of Rs.450 crores and a paid-up capital of Rs.282.3 crores. For the financial year 2002-03, it recorded a turnover of Rs.2,446.50 crores and a net profit after tax of Rs.274.78 crores. The company paid a dividend of 30 per cent for 2002-03. As per the unaudited financial results for nine months ended December 31, 2003, SCI recorded a turnover of Rs.2,273.13 crores and a net profit after tax of Rs.369.85 crores. The company declared and paid a special interim dividend of 170 per cent for 2003-04.

SCI operates a network of global liner services. As the trend is towards containerised services, it operates four Cellular Container Services covering the Far East, the United Kingdom-Continent sector and the east coast of the United States. In the U.K.-Continent sector, both break-bulk and exclusive container services are provided.

In January 2002, two competing consortia, the India Europe Service (IES) comprising SCI, Zim Lines of Israel and Yang-Ming Lines of Taiwan and the India Europe Express Service (IEX) comprising Evergreen Lines of Taiwan, K-Line (Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha) of Japan and MISC of Malaysia, formed a new consortium offering the trade a weekly service in the Indian subcontinent/U.K.-Continent sector. The service is operated with seven ships of 2,600 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) capacity. It offers a direct container service between India/Sri Lanka and Europe with a transit time of about 18 days between Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust to the U.K.-Continent. The service also covers the central and east Mediterranean ports from Port Said, using the efficient feeder network out of that port. While all the partners have contributed one vessel each, SCI and Zim Lines share the seventh vessel on a 70:30 basis.

In March 2000 SCI commenced a direct joint container service between India and the ports on the east coast of the U.S., the India/American east coast (INDAMEX) cellular service, with M/s. Contship Container Lines Ltd., Ipswich, U.K. and CMA-CGM S.A., Marseilles, France, offering the trade a fixed day/weekly container service. The service was upgraded in terms of tonnage, speed and capacity with the joining of M/s. American President Lines, the largest carrier between India and the U.S., whereby the transit time to New York has been reduced from 21 days to 18 days. The service is operated with seven vessels of 2,100 TEU average capacity and has a round voyage duration of 49 days with the following port rotation: Colombo, Tuticorin, Nhava Sheva, New York, Norfolk, Charleston, Port Said and Colombo.

SCI together with K-Line, Japan, Pacific International Line (PIL), Singapore, and Dongnama Shipping, South Korea, has launched the India/Far East Cellular Service (INDFEX), a direct container service with fixed day/weekly sailing linking India with the Far East ports of South Korea and China. The service was flagged off on June 1, 2001, at Busan (South Korea) with the deployment of five ships of 1,400 TEU with all consortium partners deploying one vessel each and the cost of the fifth ship deployed being shared equally by PIL, K-Line and SCI. The service has evolved into a niche weekly service with a round voyage duration of 35 days, and from January 2003, the service has been upgraded with ships of 1,800 TEU.

SCI launched another joint container service, the India Far-East Express Two (INDFEX 2), in Chennai on June 16, 2002, linking, for the first time, the east coast of India with the northern ports in China. INDFEX 2 is being offered by the consortium of SCI, Dongnama Shipping Company, K-Line and PIL. INDFEX 2 offers a faster, more economic shipping service compared to other competing services that are operated through feeder or transhipment arrangements. The port rotation of this service is: Dalian, Xingang, Yantai, Qingdao, Hong Kong, Singapore, Port Kelang, Chennai, Port Kelang, Singapore, Pasirgudang, Hong Kong and Dalian.

In addition to international operations, SCI, with its owned/managed vessels operates domestic passenger-cum-cargo services between the mainland and the Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep groups of islands. It also mans and manages certain other types of vessels (such as geological survey and ocean research vessels, and the lighthouse tender ship) on behalf of the government departments.

SCI's bulk carrier fleet caters to the movement of almost all types of dry bulk cargoes, mainly in the export of iron ore to Japan and the import of coking coal from Australia. Some tonnage is deployed on the Indian coast and also on cross trades. SCI's fleet of crude tankers is deployed in the import of crude oil to Indian refineries and in the movement/storage of the Bombay High crude. Its product tankers are engaged in the import and coastal movement of petroleum products and its specialised vessels in the transportation of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), ammonia and phosphoric acid.

SCI, in consortium with three Japanese lines - Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd (MOL), NYK and K-Line - has won the bid for the transportation of five million tonnes per annum of LNG (liquefied natural gas) from Qatar's Rasgas for Petronet LNG's (PLL) Dahej project starting January 2004. SCI and MOL have a 34.21 per cent stake each in the consortium, with the remaining 31.58 per cent being shared by NYK (21.05 per cent) and K-Line (10.53 per cent). SCI has diversified into the Indian offshore marine business and provides vital offshore support services to the Indian oil industry in its indigenous oil exploration activities. Its 10 anchor handling towing-cum-supply vessels are on long-term charter to the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation. It manages ONGC's specialised vessels as also its offshore supply vessels (OSVs).

The Government of India conferred the Mini Ratna status on SCI under Category-I in 2000. SCI has been performing exceptionally well under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) evaluation system and has received "excellent" rating consistently for 11 years, up to 2001-02. SCI's Maritime Training Institute (MTI) in Mumbai is recognised as a branch of World Maritime University (Sweden) and as a regional training centre by UNCTAD. SCI operates in a highly competitive international arena and, despite various constraints, has managed to keep its head well above troubled waters by adopting strategic measures from time to time.

Behind a success story

AMIT MITRA advertorial

HE has been at the helm of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) for just over a year now. But his contribution in pushing through reforms in the ports sector and placing JNPT on the international maritime trade map, is immense. Today the port is touted as India's own super-port and a major container hub and is well on its way to joining the elite club of global ports. Meet, Ravi B. Budhiraja, Chairman of JNPT. A scholar-bureaucrat, Budhiraja has been instrumental in the swift development of the port. His efforts to wrap up the bidding process for the Rs.1,000-crore third container terminal project have added a new dimension to port privatisation, with the Maersk-Concor consortium, which is all set to win the contract, offering a revenue share of 35.5 per cent to the port.

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One of the major challenges before the JNPT was the handling of one million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units). This was achieved during 2003-04. By February end the terminal handled over 9.05 lakh TEUs and by March end it crossed the one-million TEU mark. In fact, both the JNPT terminal and the Nhava Sheva International Container Terminal (NSICT) together handled two million TEUs by February, thus surpassing the target set by the Ministry of Shipping, the strike rate being 6,123 TEUs a day. Today the port, including NSICT, accounts for over 58 per cent of India's container trade.

Budhiraja is known to be a man who does not rest. Soon after wrapping up the bidding process for the third container terminal, he hastened efforts to launch the bidding process for the fourth. "We have already engaged the Central Water Power Research Station in Pune to conduct physical and mathematical model studies, which will be followed by a feasibility study and a detailed project report. The fourth terminal will have a quay length of 1,200 metres and a handling capacity of three million TEUs," he said.

Simultaneously, the port plans to take up a Rs.700-crore project to deepen and widen the port channel for the faster turnaround of larger vessels.

One oft-asked question is how NSICT has been able to perform better than the JNPT terminal. Budhiraja is quick to point out that this demonstrates how privatisation can bring in competition and how, with the help of modern handling equipment, a higher level of efficiency can be achieved. "In fact, NSICT's operations have increased the productivity of JNPT thanks to private sector-public sector competition. In November 2003, NSICT handled 93,467 TEUs, while JNPT handled 91,107 TEUs," he points out.

The financial performance of the port has also improved. While, JNPT earned a net surplus of Rs.127 crores in 2002-03, it expects to notch up a surplus of Rs.180 crores in 2003-04.

TIGER VS TIGER

D.B.S. JEYARAJ cover-story

In the most serious internal crisis the LTTE has faced so far, the Eastern commander `Col.' Karuna is pitted against the North-dominated `high command'. The latter has responded with restraint, but how long will the standoff last? What are the chances of success of the rebellion?

AN uneasily tense peace prevails in Sri Lanka' s Eastern province, thanks to the power struggle between the leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and its former regional commander Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias "Col" Karuna or Karuna Amman (uncle). Although Karuna's rebellion against LTTE chief V. Prabakaran is the most serious crisis of its kind to affect the Tigers in their 28-year-old history, the hierarchy has displayed remarkable restraint so far. Instead of launching a powerful military offensive against the renegade Tiger chieftain, the LTTE is overtly soft-pedalling the issue while engaging covertly in activities aimed at undermining Karuna.

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LTTE political wing head S.P. Tamilchelvan has announced that Prabakaran has explicitly instructed his cadre to refrain from any military action to retrieve the situation. Assuring the world at large that the Tigers will resolve the crisis very quickly, Tamilchelvan also stated that there would be no bloodshed. Interestingly, Tamilchelvan had earlier dismissed the Karuna affair as a minor matter and ridiculed Karuna as a single individual without any support.

Apparently, the LTTE hierarchy has revised its stance on Karuna and recognises the threat he poses, after several weeks of a politico-military standoff. The glib pronouncements of Tamilchelvan, or for that matter any Tiger leader, are to be viewed sceptically, given the LTTE's track record of deception and acting in bad faith. In this case, however, there seems to be evidence that the "official" Tigers are not keen to invade the East and conduct a frontal assault against Karuna and his rebel band of "unofficial" Tigers. Not for the moment at least. The LTTE may be trying to project an image of magnanimity on this count but the realpolitik nature of the situation suggests that the Tigers are making a virtue out of necessity.

A complex set of factors has contributed so far in circumscribing the Tigers and generally maintaining peace. Not the least among them is the "uncertainty" factor where the Tigers themselves are not sure of an immediate military victory or about the consequences of a military action. As to how long this stalemate will continue is anybody's guess.

If the Karuna crisis had erupted during a time of war as in the case of Mahatiya, the Tigers could have swiftly decimated the "offenders". The former LTTE deputy leader, Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias Mahatiya, was arrested along with around 250 of his suspected supporters on charges of treason on July 31, 1993. He was detained, tortured and interrogated by the Tiger intelligence wing, led by Pottu Amman, at an undisclosed location. A confession of guilt was forcibly extracted, filmed and shown on video to Tiger cadre. Thereafter Mahatiya was executed. So too were many of his one-time bodyguards and supporters. Several hundreds of suspected Mahatiya confidants were detained for prolonged periods and released. The LTTE was purged of all alleged pro-Mahatiya elements.

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The Mahatiya affair was the single biggest internal calamity to befall the Tigers prior to Karuna's rebellion. While Prabakaran, aided by Pottu Amman, was able to take swift action on that issue, he is unable to do so now. This is because, unlike Mahatiya who never revolted openly or urged his followers to do so, Karuna has rebelled openly and brought the issue into the public domain. Moreover, Mahatiya had no "army" to fight for him or "territory" under his control, unlike Karuna. In fact, Karuna, who represented the LTTE at peace talks in various parts of the world, is a celebrity of sorts. Mahatiya was virtually unknown outside Sri Lanka and India.

Besides, if the war was on, the LTTE could have engaged in several rounds of military action to end Karuna's rebellion and cover it up. Fortunately for Karuna, the peace process is on. A ceasefire is in force. If the LTTE were to launch a military action openly, it would have amounted to a violation of the ceasefire. If Karuna resists and fighting ensues, the ceasefire itself could be jeopardised. If the Sri Lankan armed forces are drawn into this intra-Tiger conflict, the ceasefire would collapse and war would begin. In that case, the LTTE would be blamed for precipitating war and roundly condemned by the international community.

There is also a very practical reason for the restraint shown by the Tigers. Karuna's rebellion is confined to the Batticaloa and Amparai districts of the Eastern province. Karuna only wants to be the king of the East. He does not want to dislodge Prabakaran from the leader's position. Neither does he want to extend his domain outside the East. The LTTE will be faulted for "invading" the East under such circumstances. More important, the LTTE led by Prabakaran does not control the Batticaloa-Amparai Tigers. The majority of the Eastern Tiger cadre have so far remained loyal to Karuna. Karuna controls the territory and has set up security cordons to detect and prevent infiltration or an invasion.

Against such a backdrop, it is a formidable task to oust Karuna through a military push. Moreover, success is not guaranteed. The chances are that Karuna, after some initial fighting, could slip into guerilla warfare against his ex-comrades. Thereafter the fighting would be protracted, with Karuna fighting with the advantage of being on his home turf.

Even if the LTTE succeeds in destroying Karuna after a protracted campaign of violence, the consequences would be terrible. Karuna will be glorified as an Eastern martyr. Eastern cadres who supported Prabakaran will be depicted as quislings. It will also widen the North-East divide. The LTTE will never be as strong as it was in the East before.

The military balance between Karuna and the mainstream LTTE is quite interesting and precariously fluid. In recent times, the Eastern component comprising Batticaloa and Amparai has become almost indispensable to the LTTE. The cadre strength of the LTTE is about 25,000 now. Of these, around 7,000 are either seniors whose fighting days are over, or injured and maimed fighters who cannot engage in active fighting now. This leaves about 18,000 fighters, including men and women. About 7,500 of them are from Batticaloa and Amparai districts. The region has become the provider of the largest segment of Tiger cadre in recent times. More than 2,000 cadre were recruited or conscripted from the Eastern region after the ceasefire came into force. The rest of the North-East could swell their numbers by only 500 to 600 during the ceasefire.

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Another post-peace problem has been the phenomenon of several hundred Tiger cadre from the North leaving the movement. Moreover, not all of the 7,500 cadre from the East are in their native region. An estimated 1,800 of the Eastern cadre were in the North before the crisis erupted. Since then another 200 Eastern cadre have left Karuna and crossed over to the Wanni. Of the 1,800 Eastern cadre, 600 are maintained as a distinct entity. They are the first division of the Jeyanthan brigade, commanded now by Jegathaan. Until recently, these men were deployed on the Northern border along the Kilaly-Eluthumadduvaal-Nagar Lovil axis in the Jaffna peninsula. They manned the security lines and sentry posts to the south of Muhamaalai in the Jaffna peninsula.

After the Karuna rebellion the Eastern brigade became suspect. Its members were relieved of their duties, deprived of arms and kept under mass house arrest. They are being screened and debriefed by Pottu Amman and other Eastern Tiger leaders loyal to Prabakaran, such as Ramesh, Ram, Praba and Ramanan. In addition to this, there are 400 Eastern cadre serving as bodyguards to important Tiger leaders. Prabakaran himself had 75 Easterners in his trusted bodyguard unit of 200. It is reported that the bodyguard in dark glasses seen standing behind Prabakaran during the press conference held in Kilinochchi on April 10,2002 was an Easterner. Another 800 Easterners are serving in various departments and sections of the LTTE in the North. The Sea Tigers, the intelligence wing, the economic unit, the revenue unit, the medical corps, the artillery unit, the political sections of both men and women, the communications corps, the leopard commando unit and even the administrative bodies in the North are manned by Easterners in sizable numbers. The majority of Sea Tigers and members of the Black Tiger suicide squad are from the East.

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There are 32 departments-cum-fighting formations in the LTTE. Of these none is headed by Easterners, but all rely heavily on recruits from the region. Three key figures from the East serving in the North are Puthiyavan of the LTTE administrative secretariat, Nalan of the medical corps and Roshan of the communications wing. Except for a select few, most of these men are suspect now. They are being debriefed and screened. Easterners whose loyalties are not suspect and who are willing to fight Karuna will be forged into special units to combat him.

THE latest split is both horizontal and vertical. With 1,800 of the 7,500 Eastern cadre deployed in key positions in the North, the repercussions of a regional split could be severe if mishandled. Various LTTE sections in the North could become dysfunctional if totally cleansed of Eastern cadre. At the same time, continuing to keep them in active service in the North could pose potential security risks. These cadre cannot be quarantined forever. So the option available for Prabakaran is to throw them into battle and ask them to prove their loyalty by fighting their regional brethren.

Militarily and politically, Prabakaran is unable and unwilling to deploy northern cadre to fight Karuna in the East. He would prefer to send in Eastern cadre for the job because they know the terrain and the political fallout would be less risky. The phenomenon of Northern fighters battling and killing Eastern cadre could alienate the entire East from the North. Senior Batticaloa leaders who defected to Kilinochchi after Karuna's rebellion have been appointed "legitimate" Eastern Tiger leaders by Prabakaran. Ramesh is the special commander for both Amparai and Batticaloa. While Ram is the military commander, Praba is deputy military commander. Ramanan is military intelligence chief and Kausalyan the political commissar.

After these defections, Karuna too has reappointed his senior officials. While Rabat is the senior military commander, Thatha and Visu have been appointed deputy military chief and political commissar respectively. Thurai is the new administrative head and Nilavini the women's brigade commander. Premini has been appointed the women's political wing head and Bawa is the new Amparai district head. Of the 7,500 Eastern cadre, 5,700 were in Batticaloa and Amparai at the time of the split. Karuna has two divisions of the Jeyanthan brigade under his command. He also has the Visalagan and Vinothan men's brigades, the Anbarasi and Mathana women's brigades, and the Johnson artillery unit under his command. Eastern officer cadre have passed out from the Balendra officers training college. Almost all middle and junior level officers are beholden to Karuna. He also has an impressive arsenal of heavy artillery. Initially these big guns were moved into the East to pound the Batticaloa town camp, the Veechukalmunai-Pudoor complex, and the Vavunatheevu and Kallady camps if war broke out. Now they are mounted to the south of Trincomalee in anticipation of a Tiger strike.

Prabakaran is relying on Sornam, the senior commander from Trincomalee, to lead the invasion into Batticaloa when the time is ripe. Currently Sornam is camping along the northern banks of the Verugal river in Trincomalee district. The crocodile-infested river demarcates Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts. Karuna has deployed about 800 cadre in the Maavadichenai sector to prevent an invasion across Verugal. The defenders are commanded by Karuna's brother Reggie. The long-range artillery is also a deterrent.

In addition, Karuna's cadre are also patrolling the shores along Vaaharai, Kaluwankerny, Panichankerny and other areas anticipating a sea-borne invasion. The three Eastern Tiger coastal camps of Vaaharai, Paalchenai and Challaitheevu are also under Karuna's control. Key highways and trunk roads coming into the district are also patrolled and suspect vehicles and passengers checked. Key roads in the interior are also patrolled and checked regularly. Karuna fears infiltration by Pottu Amman's men. Large-scale invasion through clandestine routes are also suspected. All three routes of the famous "Beirut trail" linking the North and the East via jungles are also watched. Apparently, Karuna hopes to keep Batticaloa "sealed" as long as possible.

However, Karuna knows that he cannot be under a permanent state of siege for long. Although the Eastern military situation is under Karuna's control for now, the equilibrium could change if and when the "official" Tigers strike back. In a bid to safeguard himself, Karuna has expelled several people closely connected to the LTTE. He has closed down LTTE courts, police stations, tax offices, intelligence offices and administrative units. The Northern Tamils manning them have been sent away. In the process, several Jaffna academics and students in the Batticaloa Eastern University have also been sent away. Several Jaffna traders and a few professionals were also intimidated and sent away. Others left out of fear. Karuna justifies this as a "pressure tactic" to influence the LTTE in the Wanni. However, such moves have created a rift between the Northern and Eastern Tamils in Batticaloa.

The important question perplexing many people is whether all of Karuna's men will fight for him in case there is an open confrontation. How many will stay with him through thick and thin? The loyalties of the LTTE cadre are divided with allegiance to Prabakaran and Karuna. It is a moot point as to whether they would be willing to fight in an internal power struggle for one against the other. Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, Karuna has several troubles facing him on the military front. Of the 5,700 cadre in the East, around 2,000 are young and inexperienced. The greater part of them were recruited or conscripted after the ceasefire and have not seen battle. Already about 1,000 of Karuna's cadre have said they want to be neutral in this internal struggle and have "temporarily" left the LTTE. Karuna, like Prabakaran, knows that people cannot be forced to fight well and has opted to let them go rather than confine them through force. About 200 of the cadre have fled the East to the North. Karuna has also sent home about 500 of the new and young women recruits. They have been asked to remain in reserve for now. They could be called up for fighting duty if the need arises. For the time being, sending them home eases the financial burden of feeding and maintaining them. The male-female ratio among the Eastern tiger cadre is three is to two.

Currently, of the original 5,700 cadre in the East, only 2,500 to 3,000 could be termed as experienced fighter cadre ready, willing and able to fight and die for Karuna. It remains to be seen as to how many of them will remain loyal in the future.

THE mainstream LTTE has been using every counter-propaganda tactic to vilify and discredit Karuna. Among the charges levelled against him are corruption, misappropriation of funds, illicit sexual liaisons with senior women Tiger leaders, internal killings and torture, sending wife and children safely to Malaysia, involvement with an external force, conspiring with the Colombo government, selling out Tamil nationalism, being a cat's paw of those seeking to break up North-East unity and so on. The LTTE game plan seems to be that of waiting and undermining Karuna through this type of propaganda. If more and more loyal cadre believe this propaganda and get alienated from Karuna, his position will be weakened. The Eastern people too would turn against him. Under such circumstances, it would be easier to destroy him and also contain a regional backlash.

Knowing the LTTE strategy, Karuna has been acting accordingly to counter it. Although Karuna has received the sympathy of the international, Sinhala and English media, the Tamil press in Colombo has been hostile. Tamil newspapers have been generally supportive of the mainstream LTTE and published the anti-Karuna propaganda dished out by the LTTE. Enraged Karuna supporters have burnt copies of the Virakesari, Thinakkural and Sudar Oli and "banned" these newspapers in Batticaloa. Karuna uses the four-page Tamil daily Thamil Alai to propagate his point of view in Batticaloa and Amparai. Karuna's idea is to prevent information unfavourable to him from being provided to the people of Batticaloa and promote his own line. This is not an easy task given the reach of radio, television and electronic mail. Yet Karuna persists in trying to embargo information.

Karuna's aim is to retain the goodwill and faith of his cadre and people as long as possible. Even if more cadre defect, Karuna is said to be sure of the loyalty of 1,000 to 1,500. It is reported that at least 500 are ready to die for him as Black Tigers. If this holds true, then Karuna could prove a formidable fighting machine. The Batticaloa district is bisected by 30 miles (48 km) of the Batticaloa lagoon, which runs parallel to the sea. The littoral to the east of the lagoon is known as Eluvaankarai, or shore of the rising sun. The hinterland to the west of the lagoon is known as Paduvaankarai, or shore of the setting sun. The littoral has a mixed Tamil and Muslim population, with villages of both communities being interspersed. The Paduvaankarai hinterland, a Karuna stronghold, is homogeneously Tamil. His two premier base complexes, Thenagam and Meenagam, are located in this area. The bulk of his cadre too are housed in this area.

With several stretches of jungle such as Kudumbimalai, Vada Munai, Unichai, Punanai, Bakiella, Kanchikudichaaru and Sangamankandy, the terrain is certainly conducive to guerilla warfare. So, even if the LTTE transports enough cadre to outnumber Karuna's, the latter can abandon positional warfare and opt for guerilla tactics against the LTTE. Given the Karuna faction's better knowledge of the terrain and support of the Eastern people, the fight could be a protracted one. The longer it takes, the greater the damage to the LTTE.

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Prabakaran, aware of such facts, will hope to eliminate Karuna by assassinating or through a quick military strike, sharp and surgical. However, Karuna, a one-time devout disciple of Prabakaran, knows all the stratagems of his former boss. Hence he avoids unnecessary movement and has confined himself to the Tharavai base with three outer circles of cadre guarding him.

Another question concerns Karuna's finances. In the Batticaloa and Amparai region the Tigers reportedly generated Rs.46 lakhs a day as income prior to the split. This revenue comes from taxes on businesses, professionals and transporters and from LTTE-run ventures in agriculture, fisheries, forestry and stone quarrying. The point is whether Karuna can continue to generate the same amount of money to sustain his rebellion. If the generation of finances is not adequate, his group will start to exploit the people ruthlessly for more money. Similarly, shortage of cadre may result in forcible conscription. These could alienate the people.

Another point concerns Karuna's ability to get enough military supplies to sustain a long power struggle. Whatever his strengths, the ability to procure arms and armaments independent of the LTTE seems to be a highly unlikely proposition at present. Unless Karuna enters into an arrangement with an extraneous force, continuous arms supply could be a problem. Karuna has from the time of his rebellion tried to forge a separate understanding with the powers that be in Colombo. He wanted Norway to facilitate a separate memorandum of understanding between himself and Colombo. Karuna claimed that the ceasefire signed by Prabakaran would not bind him, and yet he was willing to abide by it until a new one was signed. Karuna cannot fight Colombo and Kilinochchi at the same time. He seems to prefer a deal with Colombo.

The LTTE, however, acted fast and foreclosed Karuna's option. The Tigers threatened to pull out of the ceasefire if Karuna was recognised. This put all moves in that direction on hold in Colombo. Clandestine help may be on the cards. Despite LTTE threats, the possibility of the Tigers resuming war now seems unlikely because without Karuna and his Eastern cadre the LTTE will not be able to fight as effectively as before. Besides, a resumption of war by the LTTE would make the international community come down heavily on it. Also, it would create an opening for Karuna. Colombo would like to neutralise Karuna by signing a separate ceasefire. This will keep the Eastern front quiet and permit Colombo to target the North more aggressively. Thus the recognition sought by Karuna would be achieved.

At best Karuna can become someone like the "accredited" Afghan warlord Rasheed Dostum and control territory. At worst he could be the leader of a military outfit fighting alongside the Sri Lanka Army against the Tigers. There are many such renegade outfits in the East like the Mohan group of the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), the Razeek group of the Eeelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and the Varathan group of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO). In the event of such a development, the "Karuna group of the LTTE" could be the biggest of its kind in Sri Lanka.

With the country's general elections scheduled for the first week of April, Karuna is also aiming to gain indirect political power to enhance his bargaining clout vis-a-vis Colombo. Batticaloa district has five and Amparai seven seats in Parliament. The Tamils, according to the population ratio, can hope to get a maximum of four and two seats in Batticaloa and Amparai respectively. The minimum is three and one. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is backed by the LTTE in the elections. With the split, most of the TNA candidates are backing Karuna without antagonising Prabakaran. In any event, with Karuna calling the shots in the East, few candidates can afford to defy him now. Hence the likelihood that TNA men and women sympathetic to Karuna would be elected MPs.

If Karuna gets three or four loyalists into Parliament, then he too could become an important player if no party gets a majority in the elections. In the hectic deals that are likely to follow a fractured electoral verdict, even people like Karuna could become important enough to make or unmake governments. Already there is talk of a Karuna loyalist, Rajan Sathiyamoorthy, becoming a Minister in such a situation. If that does happen, Karuna stands a better chance of gaining recognition. The LTTE, on the other hand, will have a say over more Northern seats through the TNA and use that leverage to contain Karuna. If so the LTTE will have to cooperate with the peace process more genuinely and intensively. This augurs well for the peace process at least for a while. Thus Karuna would have been of some positive use.

THERE is no denying the fact that Karuna has a horrible past and is a gross violator of human rights. But the harsh reality is that Karuna's split with the LTTE has given Colombo a golden opportunity to manipulate events in its favour. It would be foolish to ignore such a windfall. If Karuna truly has a reformist agenda and is genuinely desirous of peace and development for the Eastern Tamil people, he has no choice other than to establish peace with Colombo. This also means that he has to arrive at an understanding with the Muslim and Sinhala people of the region. He will have to mend fences with the Northern Tamils living in the East too.

Importantly, Karuna, in his anxiety to condemn the LTTE leadership as trying to impose Northern hegemony on the East, has made several statements that seem to go against the grain of broader Tamil nationalism. The North-East Province merger, brought about through the Indo-Sri Lanka accord of 1987, is a basic principle of Tamil nationalism. The North-Eastern Province is seen as the traditional homeland of Tamils and Muslims. It is also recognised as an area of "historic habitation" of the Tamils in the Indo-Sri Lanka accord. Yet Karuna has opposed such a linkage and wants both provinces to be separate. This position and his overwhelming zeal in rupturing North-East unity is not well received even by some of his supporters.

Karuna's anti-Prabakaran line too seems to have not gone down well with some of his supporters. Earlier, he refrained from attacking Prabakaran and called the Tiger chief a "god". Later Karuna allowed Prabakaran's effigies to be burnt and pictures destroyed. Many people are not happy with this as most Tamils are supportive of both Karuna and Prabakaran. As former TULF parliamentarian Chandranehru Ariyanayagam said, "The Tamil national leader and the Eastern commander are the right and left eyes of the Tamil people." Karuna's direct challenge of Prabakaran is troubling many. It is difficult to predict what the people and cadre would decide if the choice is between Prabakaran and Karuna. The LTTE is sure that Prabakaran's charisma would be enough to wean people away gradually from Karuna. This, however, would take a long time and Karuna could inflict much damage on the LTTE before that.

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Well-wishers of the LTTE and ardent Tamil nationalists are fearful of a long internecine warfare and would like to bring about reconciliation between the two groups. The LTTE's Eastern wing is amenable to a reconciliation if complete autonomy is assured. A group of Eastern intellectuals are now negotiating a deal. Although there is no guarantee that the move will succeed, there is hope that a settlement is possible. Karuna himself is sceptical; he confided to a Tamil journalist that he was suspicious of the LTTE's intentions about peace. He felt that it was a trap to make him relax his guard and the Tigers would use the opportunity to assassinate or abduct him.

Whatever these suspicions, there are several influential circles that doubt whether the rift will continue. This suspicion is preventing an early accommodation of Karuna by other forces. There is a lingering doubt on two counts. One is whether the split is really deep and whether rapprochement between both factions could be possible in the future. The second is whether Karuna can withstand the LTTE onslaught and survive independently for a sufficient period of time. Could he continue to retain the support of his cadre and people for a significant period of time? If the split is indeed permanent and Karuna demonstrates that he has the stamina to survive Tiger attacks, then both Colombo and other powerful forces could look at the Karuna phenomenon differently. This may result in Karuna becoming a powerful player in the resolution of the ethnic crisis. There will be four parties at the negotiating table - the Sinhalese, Muslims and the Northern and Eastern Tamils.

In the final analysis, Karuna's fortunes will depend a lot on international opinion. Will he be seen as a wild factor impeding the peace process or as a force conducive to peace in the long run despite the current crisis? If he is viewed as a positive influence, his chances of survival are greater. The relative calm in the East could shatter after the elections. Both Karuna and Prabakaran want the elections to occur without much trouble and both will try and get their proxies elected. For the LTTE, it will also provide time and space to assemble an Eastern militia, consisting of cadre already deployed in the Wanni, to combat Karuna's cadre. The fight will be portrayed as an East versus East confrontation.

Although Prabakaran will like to win this fight without bloodshed, it is not feasible. A victory without bloodshed is possible only if Karuna's cadre turn against him and defect to Prabakaran's side, or some important deputies aided by Pottu Amman's intelligence wing succeed in assassinating Karuna. Otherwise, the people of Batticaloa and Amparai should rise against him. If none of these happens, Karuna's position would be strengthened. Open confrontation could become inevitable at some point of time.

Sporadic fighting could begin after the elections. The coming elections and the subsequent developments could have a lasting effect in charting the destiny of the island nation. Intertwined in this major process will be the future of Karuna too. One thing, however, is definite. Whatever the outcome of this power struggle between Karuna and the LTTE leadership, the Eastern warlord will go down in history as the man who revolted against Prabakaran openly. Whatever the final result, the LTTE would have been weakened considerably. Also shaken would be North-Eastern Tamil unity.

Building quality

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Realising this, Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) was set up as a greenfield shipyard in 1972. Today, in spite of intense competition and the lack of a level playing field, this shipyard, considered the most-modern in the country, has secured three shipbuilding orders in the international market in the past three years, the latest being a series order in large ship construction.

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It has a proactive, forward-looking corporate culture.

Apart from the core activities of shipbuilding and repair, CSL has been operating a Marine Engineering Training Institute since 1993. The institute implemented IMO-STCW-95 code of training scheme in February 1997 and received ISO 9001 accreditation exclusively for its marine engineering training in 1999. Recently the yard received the ISO 9001-200 accreditation in conducting marine engineering training.

It has a lot of firsts to its credit. It is the first shipyard to get excellent rating from the Government of India (GOI) three years in a row. With the excellent opportunity promised by the Sagar Mala project, CSL could emerge as a leading shipyard in South-East Asia.

Manufacturing saffron support

Each one of the Bharatiya Janata Party's claimed "achievements" is proving hollow, including in foreign affairs, security, the economy and democratic governance. It increasingly stoops to a manipulative managerial approach to electioneering.

ON March 18, United States Secretary of State Colin R. Powell unwittingly demolished a major claim made by Washington's closest-ever political ally in Independent India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The claim was that its government's greatest foreign policy achievement in six years was to seal an exclusive, yet dignified and equal, "strategic partnership" with the globe's sole superpower, based on shared interests and mutual confidence; this helped raise India's world stature.

Powell announced in Islamabad that the U.S. would designate Pakistan an MNNA (Major Non-NATO Ally), a status reserved so far for only 12 loyal partners outside the Atlantic alliance, such as Israel, Japan, South Korea and Australia. (Pakistan will become the fourth Muslim-majority country to join the MNNA league, after Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain.)

Now, it is strange that a "strategic partner" should not disclose to its intimate ally that it is about to confer MNNA status upon a neighbour with whom the ally has had a relationship of strategic hostility and a hot-cold war for half a century (recent improvement in relations notwithstanding). This is all the more odd because Powell was on Indian soil just two days before he landed in Islamabad. He held a very cordial press conference in New Delhi, where he said that the U.S. was not considering the sale of F-16 war planes to Pakistan and that he would ask Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf to close down terrorist training camps permanently.

India's stunned Foreign Office took a full 48 hours to react to the Islamabad announcement. It voiced its "disappointment" that the U.S. did not care to "share" its decision with it. Its acute embarrassment was hardly relieved either by Powell's statement that the U.S. would like to have "the same relationship" with India, or by the State Department's reiteration that Washington's relations with New Delhi and Islamabad are not a "zero-sum game".

The U.S.' decision to elevate Pakistan's status as an ally just proves, if proof was at all needed, that no one can have an equal relationship with an arrogant superpower like the U.S. The BJP leaders' self-congratulatory, self-serving claim to have raised India's global profile by riding the partnership-with-the-U.S. bandwagon was essentially hollow. Apologists might try to explain all this by saying that the MNNA is a reward for Musharraf's latest anti-Al Qaeda operation in South Waziristan and such other contingent factors. But it is largely contingent, short-term considerations of expediency that notoriously influence tilts in U.S. foreign policy.

The plain truth is that the U.S. treated India with complete and utter disdain. Powell knew that this government is so loyal and pusillanimous towards Washington that it would have gladly accepted the U.S. move if only it was told about it in advance. But he saw no need to be tactfully diplomatic. India could always be taken for granted!

The slight delivered to India is more or less on a par with the Chinese refusal to inform Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1979 of the beginning of a war with Vietnam - when he was on a visit to Beijing as Foreign Minister. This was considered so insulting that Vajpayee aborted his visit. However, so grossly unequal and asymmetrical is the India-U.S. relationship as it has developed during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) years, that New Delhi will not even consider taking such symbolic action, nor even registering a protest, leave alone a major change of stance. Instead, it is "studying the details of this decision, which has significant implications... We are in touch with the U.S. government in this regard".

So much for "strategic partnership", which this government and the ruling coalition so desperately crave. A superpower that rides roughshod on its own close, long-standing European allies and wrecks the trans-Atlantic alliance over waging war on Iraq on concocted evidence is hardly going to respect the sentiments of a relatively minor Third World power.

It is equally predictable that the BJP will not draw the most obvious lesson from this episode - that you cannot have both a close and an equal relationship with the U.S. Either you have close "partnership" within a skewed, clientilist, framework. Or you have dignity with distance. Not both. The U.S. from time to time tilts towards India or Pakistan when that is expedient. Right now, the pendulum has swung from one extreme to another. Pushing it towards the centre is not quite in New Delhi's hands.

If re-elected, the NDA will try to seek "recompense" by wooing the U.S. even more ardently for privileged access to U.S. high-tech weaponry and the Pentagon apparatus in general. India's effort will probably impel Pakistan to seek yet more doleouts from Washington. This could begin a new phase in South Asia's arms race. It might even jeopardise the India-Pakistan peace process - to our collective detriment.

The unravelling of the NDA's claimed foreign policy "achievement" is part of a larger process. The Alliance's economic record has been analysed to saturation point in Frontline. The NDA has performed no better in respect of national security - a "trademark" issue for the "super-patriotic" BJP. The party launched India on the disastrous course of nuclearisation six years ago, heightening danger and insecurity in an already troubled region.

Under NDA rule, India's military expenditure has doubled, without any gains in security. In fact, India experienced intense insecurity in two nasty confrontations, at Kargil in 1999, and along the entire border with Pakistan following the Parliament House attack. Post-Pokharan-II adventurism brought India and Pakistan to the brink of an all-out war three times, with possible nuclear escalation.

The NDA has perversely tried to redefine security in purely military terms, by counterposing it to human security, which can only come with food security, income security, gender security, entitlement to other basic necessities of life, and a degree of social cohesion. It has drummed up sub-state terrorism as the prime threat to security, and then identified it with Islam - even more blatantly than George Bush.

This has meant depicting Indian Muslims as viscerally unpatriotic and as Pakistan's Fifth Column, and victimising them both through vicious propaganda, and directly, through draconian laws like POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act). It is no accident that all the 307 POTA detainees in Gujarat are non-Hindus: 306 are Muslim and one Sikh. Under NDA rule, millions of Indian citizens belonging to the religious minorities experienced virtual disenfranchisement - and extreme fear and hopelessness. And indices of human security declined for a majority of Indians.

The NDA's record in respect of responsible governance is equally poor. Perhaps no other government barring the Emergency regime has treated Parliament as contemptuously as it did. It doggedly stalled and stonewalled democratic debate on issue after issue. The 13th Lok Sabha witnessed several important developments. The Kargil War immediately preceded it. Soon after came the "coffin scam" and the Tehelka expose. There was the stock market scam and Unit Trust of India's meltdown too, which wiped out the savings of 50 million households.

Then came the Gujarat carnage. The year 2002 also witnessed the globe's greatest military mobilisation since the Second World War, with a million troops eyeball-to-eyeball for 10 months. The 13th Lok Sabha's life also coincided with a serious domestic agrarian crisis, and the invasion of Iraq.

All these issues deserved to be fully, honestly debated. They were not. The Gujarat carnage was a crime against humanity worthy of international trial. Refusal to investigate it through a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) will go down as one of the most despicable acts of the NDA. As thousands of citizens were being killed and raped in Gujarat, the government refused to adjourn Parliament - because the Budget was being presented.

It is another matter that two years later, the same government mocked at the Budget process through a "rolling" three weeks-long orgy of tax-breaks for the rich and announcement of all kinds of fiscal measures. The Kargil War - in which more Indian soldiers died than during the 1962 China war - was treated the same way. There was no JPC. Instead, the K. Subrahmanyam Committee did a whitewash job.

Ultimately, the 13th Lok Sabha set up only two JPCs - on the stock market scam and pesticides in bottled drinks. The first report indicted the Finance Ministry on 52 counts. The government could not answer these. Yashwant Sinha should have been sacked for ruining thousands of families. Instead, he was shifted to the Foreign Ministry!

This story, like George Fernandes' Cabinet re-induction before he was cleared of Tehelka-related charges, is of a piece with the NDA's disrespect for core democratic values. It bulldozed Parliament into a Joint Session just to pass the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. POTA was rightly opposed by most parties - and by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the thinking public. But "Iron Man" L.K. Advani was keen to ram POTA down the public's throat. Soon, Parliament had to amend it because some sections of dubious legality led to the prolonged detention of an NDA ally.

THE BJP has done its utmost to cover up its egregious record and to capitalise on the upbeat mood of the metropolitan elite, comprising less than a 10th of the population, which admittedly has never had it so good. But the BJP knows it is electorally vulnerable, especially in States like Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Maharashtra, Orissa, Jharkhand and Haryana. Its potential gains in Uttar Pradesh might also be limited.

The BJP has forged three strategies to cope with its weaknesses: divide the Opposition through bribery, inducement and blatant manipulation; speak in many voices so as to spread and maximise its appeal; and practise constituency-wise managerial micro-management. The first has yielded some gains in U.P. and Jharkhand. The Congress(I) could not tie up with the Bahujan Samaj Party despite trying hard because the BJP blackmailed Mayawati on the Taj Corridor case.

In Jharkhand, the BJP has been trying to divide the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, again through inducements. In Bihar, Rashtriya Janata Dal president Laloo Prasad Yadav has unwittingly played into the NDA's hands by refusing to discuss seat-sharing with his allies, especially the Left, in a clean, transparent manner. Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, for his part, has a compromised relationship with the BJP. If the Congress(I) fails to build alliances in U.P., Bihar and Jharkhand, its score could fall really low in the three States which account for a total of 134 seats.

The BJP has deliberately adopted double standards and dual approaches on a range of issues: Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi's foreign origins (it now says it wants to bring a law banning such persons from holding high office), dynastic succession (why does it prop up its own Gandhis, Maneka and Varun?), Ram temple (Advani now says it is part of the BJP's core-agenda), and "vote-bank" politics (it is brazenly cultivating Muslims only to get votes, without treating them as equal citizens). This strategy, like Advani's rath yatra, is meant to target the party's appeal to both the hardline Hindutva lobby and urban supporters whose sympathies lie more with neoliberal economics than communal politics. Whether it will produce results is unclear.

Thirdly, the BJP's second-rung leaders have commissioned any number of expensive opinion polls and pre-election surveys, with varying sample sizes. Those are being undertaken to get marketing-style tips on the party's strengths and weaknesses, and on caste preferences. BJP strategists will rely more on these surveys than on political assessments or on conventional democratic methods of mobilising popular support by taking up gut-level issues.

This speaks of unbounded cynicism and faith in manipulation. Such a marketing-oriented managerial approach to India's complex election arithmetic and its multi-causal political dynamics may not work on a large scale, although it has its uses in specific pockets.

The BJP's overall strategy is based on a gamble. It would be no surprise if the party loses 20, 30, even 50, seats. But whether the Opposition can mount a successful campaign and win enough seats to form the next government remains to be seen.

Now, the campaign phase

the-nation

The battle lines are almost clear and the major formations have hit the campaign trail. But there are worrisome ground realities still to be dealt with. Reports from the States.

The battle lines are almost clear and the major formations have hit the campaign trail. But there are worrisome ground realities still to be dealt with. Reports from the States.

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THE saffron scarf that Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu wore when he met Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani in Hyderabad during the latter's Bharat Uday Yatra seemed to indicate how badly the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief now needs the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party. More significantly, the political clock has turned full circle. Chandrababu Naidu, who was once part of the anti-BJP secular front, waxed eloquent about the feel-good factor and attributed it to the progress achieved under the rule of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). His praise of the BJP was understandable since it had done him a good turn by calling the elections to the Lok Sabha to coincide with the Assembly polls in Andhra Pradesh.

In the simultaneous elections held in 1999, the Congress(I) polled 40.6 per cent votes but its seats tally stopped at 91 whereas the combined vote share of the TDP (43.8 per cent) and the BJP (3.7 per cent) fetched them 191 of the 294 Assembly seats. The TDP-BJP alliance also walked away with a phenomenal 36 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats, with the Congress(I) lagging behind with a paltry five seats although its vote share was 42.79 per cent against the TDP's 39.85 per cent. Clearly, the 9.9 per cent share of the BJP helped turn the tables against the Congress(I).

The issue of a separate Telangana is, without doubt, the one factor that will determine the electoral outcome, but the question uppermost on people's minds is whether Chandrababu Naidu, now into his ninth year in office, will retain power.

There is no gainsaying the fact that Elections 2004 will be a different ball game. For one, the TDP knows that if regional sentiment catapulted it to power in 1983, sub-regionalism, as espoused by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), can cut into the TDP's votes.

K. Chandrasekhar Rao, TRS founder, belongs to the same political school from which Chandrababu Naidu graduated and where street-smart politicians and not hidebound ideologues are produced. Failing to find a berth in the State Cabinet, the TRS leader did the next best thing: he launched his own political party three years ago with the confidence that he could stoke the dying embers of the pro-statehood sentiment in Telangana, a region that has received more attention by way of promises than genuine development.

The TDP has to reckon with the sharp polarisation of political parties and, along with the BJP, is bracing for a do-or-die battle against the Congress(I)-TRS-Left parties combine. It can ignore the significance of alliances only at its own peril. The Congress(I) has agreed to part with 42 Assembly and six Lok Sabha seats to the TRS. So munificent has been this gesture that the TRS was hard put to identify suitable candidates for all the seats. However, the upshot is that the TDP leaders are now a worried lot. And they have every reason to be so. In the 2001 panchayat elections, the combine of these parties had a significant edge over the TDP in Telangana. Their combined tally of zilla parishad territorial constituencies was 269, far higher than the 167 of the TDP-BJP alliance. The backlash that the TDP expected in the Andhra region against what it described as an "opportunistic" alliance did not materialise.

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On the other hand, Congress(I) leaders such as Daggubati Venkateswara Rao, son-in-law of N.T. Rama Rao, pushed the idea that a separate Andhra State would do the region a lot of good since the Vijayawada-Guntur area could have an international airport, a high-tech township and such other facilities it now lacked. Even if an undercurrent of discontent exists against the Congress(I)-TRS alliance in the Andhra region, the TDP will have to put in a lot of hard work to improve upon its 1999 performance when it won 99 out of the134 Assembly seats in the region.

For one thing, the Telangana issue has pushed into the background the plank on which Chandrababu Naidu decided to go in for the elections - Naxalite violence - in the wake of the near-fatal attack on him at Tirupati on October 1 last. This, in spite of the fact that extremists of the People's War (PW) have been killing TDP rank and file at will in tune with their threat to eliminate TDP and BJP functionaries if they did not resign from their posts.

Since the Tirupati attack, Naxalites have killed 33 functionaries of the TDP, including M. Venkata Raju, husband of Tribal Welfare Minister M. Mani Kumari, on March 18 at Paderu in Visakhapatnam district, and four of the BJP. One of the campaign planks of the TDP is to expose the covert sympathy the Congress(I) and the TRS have for the Naxalites.

Taking no chances about the possible threat of disruption of elections by the PW, the State police will be deploying military helicopters for combing operations, reconnaissance and airlifting electronic voting machines on polling day. Over one lakh police personnel will be deployed on April 20 and 26, the two dates for polling in the State.

Playing big brother in the State, the TDP has allotted 27 Assembly and nine Lok Sabha seats to the BJP after some hard bargaining between Chandrababu Naidu and BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan. This has left the BJP's rank and file disappointed since they expected the party to be allotted more seats in tune with the perceived improvement in its popularity.

It was a measure of Chandrababu Naidu's level of confidence that he dissolved the Assembly in November, a clear 10 months ahead of its date of expiry. Four months down the line, he cannot boast of the same degree of self-assurance because of various factors. One of them is the incumbency factor. He tries to wish this away through the management of the media and publicity blitzes every now and then. For instance, he has claimed that power sector reforms were his major achievement. But the very reforms seem to have undermined his popularity. The electorate will not forgive him for the massive increase in power tariff he ordered in 2000, a year after he won the Assembly elections.

There are instances galore of electricity officials disconnecting supply to consumers who were unable to pay their dues. In one case, a lineman administered electric shock to a tribal woman at Venkatram Thanda in Singaram village of Mahabubabad for not paying electricity arrears incurred for running her agricultural pump-set.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Congress(I)-TRS alliance has a clear edge over the TDP in Telangana, which accounts for 107 Assembly seats. The high power tariffs and the absence of support prices for paddy, chillies and cotton have also turned the farmers against the ruling party in coastal Andhra, while in the Rayalaseema region, it is a mixed bag.

Chandrababu Naidu roots for an integrated State, a stand that has earned him supporters among integrationists. He accuses the Congress(I)-TRS of trying to divide the State for narrow political gains. But this argument has not cut much ice with the electorate since his ally, the BJP, has been ambivalent on the Telangana issue. It adopted a resolution supporting a separate Telangana at Kakinada but shelved it because of political compulsions.

Over the years, Chandrababu Naidu has acquired the image of being tech-savvy and reforms-oriented, but the April elections will see him in a different avatar - as a pro-farmer leader who is set to transform rural areas. The TDP manifesto has promised that Rs.1 lakh crores will be spent on the transformation of the rural economy.

This image makeover is in keeping with the changing political equations. But will his closeness to the BJP see Chandrababu Naidu through in what is going to be a very close election?

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THE ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has set its well-oiled propaganda machinery rolling in Tamil Nadu. The party's money power became evident when its supporters systematically captured wall space all over the State in February itself and painted slogans asking people to vote for AIADMK candidates in the May 10 elections. Chief Minister and party supremo Jayalalithaa launched the party's election campaign on March 9 from Chennai and has since covered several parts of the State.

The AIADMK is contesting 33 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats, having allotted six seats to its only electoral ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP is also contesting the lone seat in Pondicherry. Jayalalithaa shocked the cadre when she renominated only two (T.T.V. Dinakaran from Periakulam and S. Murugesan from Tenkasi) of the 10 sitting party MPs. Party seniors such as T.M. Selvaganapathy, Dindigul Srinivasan and K. Malaisamy (Ramanathapuram) have been denied the ticket. Jayalalithaa has chosen 31 new faces, who include nine district secretaries, sending jitters among the cadre about the party's prospects.

The mood in the Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA), headed by the DMK, is one of quiet confidence. The DPA includes the Congress(I), the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). The DMK is contesting 15 seats, the Congress(I) 10, the PMK six, the MDMK four, the CPI(M) and the CPI two each, and the IUML one.

Although both the DPA and the AIADMK began their campaign on March 9, the campaign has not shifted to top gear. Countering Jayalalithaa is the star DPA campaigner Vaiko, MDMK general secretary. The Jayalalithaa government had imprisoned Vaiko under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) for speaking in support of the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He was freed on February 7 after 19 months of incarceration in the Central Prison in Vellore. He drew huge crowds in Chennai, Tiruchi and Virudhunagar and other places in the State. Vaiko and former Minister M. Kannappan, who were elected to the Lok Sabha from Sivakasi and Tiruchengode respectively in 1999, have opted out of the contest this time. MDMK presidium chairman L. Ganesan is contesting from Tiruchi.

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M. Karunanidhi, the 81-year-old DMK president and the architect of the DPA, is brimming with confidence over the powerful line-up. The rumblings in the DPA over seat allocation have died down. Congressmen in Pondicherry and Nagercoil were angry with Karunanidhi over the allotment of these two constituencies, which had been traditionally held by the Congress(I), to the PMK and the CPI(M) respectively. With the Congress(I) high command announcing on March 8 that it had no plans to field a candidate from Pondicherry, the situation is easing there. The DMK list has no surprises. It has fielded Dayanidhi Maran, son of "Murasoli" Maran, the late Union Minister and Karunanidhi's nephew, from Central Chennai. Murasoli Maran had held that seat.

There is a third front in the fray, called Makkal Kootani (People's Alliance). It comprises two Dalit parties, the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI) headed by the firebrand Thol. Tirumavalavan and, the Puthiya Tamizhagam, led by Dr. K. Krishnasamy and the Makkal Tamil Desam of S. Kannappan, among others. The People's Alliance has fielded candidates in 25 constituencies. Tirumavalavan and Dr. Krishnasamy are angry that the DMK did not give them a berth in the DPA. These two parties may rob the DMK and the Congress(I) of their Dalit votes.

The BJP did some clever poaching. Its candidate for the Dharmapuri seat is P.T. Elangovan, the incumbent PMK MP. His defection was kept a secret until the BJP announced his candidature. Elangovan, a PMK senior, was feeling stifled in the party after party chief Dr. S. Ramadoss preferred A.K. Murthy to him for a Union Cabinet berth. Besides, the latter was denied the ticket to contest from Dharmapuri. Another surprise ticket winner is D. Periyasamy, who had crossed over from the DPI to the BJP. M.N. Sukumar Nambiar of the BJP is facing the seasoned trade union leader, C. Kuppusamy of the DMK, in North Chennai.

In Pondicherry, the BJP's Lalitha Kumaramangalam, sister of late Rangarajan Kumaramangalam, will fight Dr. M. Ramadoss.

In the southern districts there are clear indications of voters' preference for the DPA and for Sonia Gandhi, the Congress(I) president. There is an undercurrent of disillusionment with the AIADMK government.

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NEARLY three weeks after the Opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) announced its list of candidates to the 20 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala and went into campaign mode, the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), especially its lead partner, the Congress(I), was fighting bitterly over the choice of its candidates and threatening to wreck the coalition's chances in several of its strongholds.

At the time of writing, the list of Congress(I) candidates drawn up after the election-eve rapprochement between Chief Minister A. K. Antony and octogenarian party leader K. Karunakaran ignoring the interests of several leaders and group loyalists had led to widespread resentment within the party unit.

Karunakaran, who was till the other day demanding a leadership change in the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) and was threatening to split the party, and Antony, who was the eventual rallying point for all those who resented the vaulting political ambitions of Karunakaran's family, reached a none-too-surprising, seat-sharing formula under the supervision of the party high command. The formula trampled on the aspirations of many "loyalists" but ensured a Rajya Sabha seat for Karunakaran and the Mukundapuram Lok Sabha seat for his daughter Padmaja Venugopal. The Kozhikode Lok Sabha seat went to V. Balaram, who resigned his Assembly seat recently to facilitate the entry of Karunakaran's son and Electricity Minister K. Muraleedharan into the Assembly. (Muraleedharan will contest from Vadakkancherry Assembly seat in Thrissur district, the seat Balaraman had vacated, in a byelection to be held along with the Lok Sabha polls. The Kozhikode Lok Sabha seat is currently held by Muraleedharan.)

In the Ernakulam Lok Sabha byelections six months earlier, the Congress(I)'s official candidate and Antony loyalist M.O. John was defeated, thanks largely to Karunakaran's rebellious actions. John, a natural aspirant for Ernakulam, could not find a place in the Antony-Karunakaran list. Instead the new formula suggested as the candidate Edward Edezhathu, a Karunakaran nominee, a college lecturer new to politics. Similarly, in Kasaragod, the claims of several prominent Congress(I) leaders were ignored and a Karnataka-based industrialist N.A. Muhammed was selected as the party candidate.

Several close associates of Karunakaran came out openly against what they called the "son-daughter promotion venture" of Karunakaran and the wholehearted compromises Antony seemed to make in order to prevent the veteran leader from sabotaging the party's chances in the elections. Key Karunakaran loyalists Rajmohan Unnithan and Saratchandra Prasad, among others, raised serious allegations of corruption against Muraleedharan in the selection of candidates and in the fund-raising that preceded the anti-Antony rally organised by Karunakran's "I group" in Ernakulam some months earlier.

Widespread resentment within the Congress(I) has therefore provided an edge to the LDF in the elections scheduled for May 10. The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led LDF won nine of the 20 seats in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, with the CPI(M) itself winning eight seats (Kasargod, Kannur, Vadakara, Palakkad, Ottappalam, Kottayam, Kollam and Chirayinkeezhu) and the Kerala Congress(Joseph) one (Idukki). The CPI(M) has now renominated all but two of its sitting MPs. In Kasaragod and Vadakara, the sitting MPs, T. Govindan and A.K. Premajam, have been replaced by P. Karunakaran and P. Sati Devi.

The Opposition coalition is in a fairly good wicket in all the nine seats it won in 1999. In addition, the LDF candidates at Ernakulam, Kozhikode and Mukundapuram seemed to have the odds in their favour, as their Congress(I) rivals are likely to bear the brunt of the renewed factional war within the party. Moreover, in Mavelikkara and Alappuzha, considered Congress(I) strongholds and where party general secretary Ramesh Chennithala and former State Minister V.M. Sudheeran were the likely candidates, the CPI(M) has found good candidates in C.S. Sujatha (Alappuzha district panchayat president) and Dr. Manoj Kurisinkal (independent, a doctor by profession and president of the Alappuzha Latin Catholic Association).

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The CPI had lost all the four seats it contested in 1999. The party is contesting all the four seats this time too, with more hope.

The UDF, then in Opposition, had won 11 of the 20 Lok sabha seats in Kerala in 1999. Eight were won by the Congress(I), two by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and one by the Kerala Congress(Mani). The Kerala Congress(Mani) 's MP from Moovattupuzha, P.C. Thomas, later quarrelled with his leader, K.M. Mani, over the latter's attempts to promote his son Jose K. Mani in politics. Thomas formed the Indian Federal Democratic Party (IFDP), joined the NDA and became a Union Minister. It is therefore a tough three-cornered fight in Moovattupuzha too. However, P.C. Thomas, who used to win with record margins from the constituency, is now the NDA's candidate fighting Jose K. Mani, the UDF candidate, and the LDF's P.M. Ismail.

In Manjeri and Ponnani, where IUML candidates regularly win with a brute majority, the party has decided to change its candidates this time. IUML general secretary E. Ahmed, the sitting MP from Manjeri, is now to contest from the neighbouring Ponnani constituency, usually the preserve of party national president G.M. Banatwala. In Manjeri the party has decided to field former MLA K.P.A. Majeed. The CPI(M) candidate in the constituency is also a former MLA, T.K. Hamsa, which makes for a keen contest. The BJP has fielded Uma Unni (who shot to fame as a representative of Hindu fisherwomen at the communally sensitive Marad in Kozhikode district) as its candidate in Manjeri.

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ALTHOUGH the phase of alliance-making is over in Karnataka, which goes to polls on April 20 and 26, the relative strengths of the three main political formations, namely the Congress(I), the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Janata Dal(Secular), are by no means clear. A major difference in the electoral scene between 1999 and 2004 is the contraction in the size and influence of the Janata parivar that traditionally attracted a sizable chunk of anti-Congress(I) and anti-BJP voting segments in the State. Today the JD(S) has consolidated itself around the person of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda. The Janata Dal(United), the political legacy of former Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde, crumbled after his death. A section of the party had transmuted itself into the All India Progressive Janata Dal (AIPJD) even while Hegde was alive. After his death, the AIPJD split, with one faction joining the Congress(I), and the other led by S.R. Bommai, failing to make common cause with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), rejoining the JD(U). The electoral contest in the State is, therefore, essentially a three-cornered one.

Behind the Congress(I) government's decision to opt for simultaneous elections was a shrewd political calculation. Had the Lok Sabha elections been held before the Assembly elections, an NDA victory would have given the BJP a clear edge in the Assembly elections. By opting for simultaneous elections, the Congress(I) has denied the BJP that advantage and is going to the people on the strength of its own performance in office. Indeed, it appears to have upstaged the NDA in the propaganda war. The S.M Krishna government launched a major media offensive highlighting its pro-people schemes, a campaign that put the NDA's `India shining' crusade in the shade. The campaign had perforce to stop when the model code of conduct came into force, but the Congress(I) has been able to steal a march over its rivals through this state-funded voter outreach initiative.

The Congress(I) believes that it has reason to feel confident about being re-elected with a bigger majority. In 1999, the Congress(I) won 17 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP seven, the JD(S) one and the JD(U) three. Whereas it had 135 members in the Legislative Assembly at the beginning of the year, by the time of the dissolution of the Assembly on February 23, its effective support base had gone up to 154, as nine members of the AIPJD and two independents joined the party, and eight expelled BJP members extended their support.

During its five years in office, the Congress(I) strengthened its base by sweeping the elections to the local bodies. In the October 2003 elections to 25 seats that had fallen vacant in the Legislative Council, the Congress(I) won 20, followed by the JD(S) and the AIPJD with two each.

These figures cannot, however, mask the extent of popular disenchantment with the government's performance, something the Congress(I) election managers are unwilling to recognise. The party has been claiming the credit for making Karnataka the hub of the Information Technology and biotechnology sectors in the country. It has highlighted its investment in major and minor irrigation, the success of its free midday meal scheme in government primary schools, its rural housing initiative and its health insurance scheme for the poor. The State has faced a severe drought in three out of the five years of Congress(I) rule, but drought relief has been inadequate and mismanaged. The government's attitude towards the phenomenon of farmers' suicides is seen as callous, particularly the tardy way in which compensation has been paid to the debt-ridden families of suicide victims. With reduced agricultural work there are mass migrations of peasants and agricultural workers to the cities. There have been job losses among workers owing to closure of industries and privatisation of the State sector, and growing poverty within the unorganised workforce. The discontent arising from these factors cannot but find expression in the way people vote.

But neither the BJP nor the JD(S) has been able to fully take advantage of this mood.

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The BJP has emerged as the principal opposition to the Congress(I) in coastal and northern Karnataka, while the JD(S) is in a strong position in its traditional areas of strength in the Old Mysore region comprising the districts of Hassan, Kolar, Tumkur, Mandya, Mysore and Chamarajnagar. The disintegration of the JD(U) has left a political vacuum in northern Karnataka.

A prize political catch for the BJP has been former Congress(I) Chief Minister S. Bangarappa, one of the few mass leaders left in the State. His induction will improve the prospects of the party in Shimoga and Uttara Kannada districts where Bangarappa has a substantial following among the backward castes and minorities. But this is a political crossover that is seen as both unprincipled and opportunistic. Bangarappa, whose name is associated with major corruption scams, and who is known to have little compunction in shifting his political loyalties, was the target of the BJP's criticism until the day before he joined the party.

It is Deve Gowda who carries the mantle of the "third front" in Karnataka, or what remains of its once strong presence. The JD(S) is slowly consolidating its position through the induction of new members and through a low-key mass contact programme by its leaders, particularly Deve Gowda. Deve Gowda is known for his ability to revitalise swiftly his support base. There has been a steady flow of people from various fields of public life into the party. Former Ministers and leaders of the erstwhile JD(U) M.P. Prakash and P.G.R. Sindhia, popular Kannada actor Ananth Nag, Pramila Nagappa, wife of H. Nagappa who was kidnapped and killed by forest brigand Veerappan and Mahima Patel, the son of former Chief Minister J.H. Patel have joined the JD(S).

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PROMISES, counter-promises, games of one-upmanship and the announcement of a series of populist measures have marked the beginning of the election season in Maharashtra. It is an unusual sort of beginning to a campaign: unlike previous occasions, there are relevant issues to be addressed, but all parties seem to have decided to ignore them at least for the time being. A drought in several districts, scarcity of drinking water even in certain urban areas, issues related to the marginalised and minority communities, increasing debts of farmers, the demand for the creation of a separate State of Vidarbha and housing problems in Mumbai are just some of them. The State, which has 48 Lok Sabha seats, goes to the polls in two phases on April 20 and 28.

However, the battle lines are clearly drawn. So far there has not been any major political realignment in the State. Rumours of a possible tie-up between the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have been proved wrong. The Sena continues to be an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the NCP that of the Congress(I).

While the BJP hopes to make substantial gain in eastern Maharashtra because of its support for the creation of Vidarbha, the NCP continues to place its hope on western Maharashtra. The BJP plans to attack the NCP on its home ground by focussing on the problems faced by the sugar cooperatives. In rural areas, the politics of sugar cooperatives is expected to play its traditional role of influencing voting. A BJP activist said: "Onions made us cry in the 1998 elections. This time we will make sugar turn bitter for the Congress(I) and the NCP." The absence of any coherent drought relief plans is expected to play a pivotal role in the 11 drought-affected districts of the State.

Both the Shiv Sena and the BJP have announced that their main quarry is Sharad Pawar's NCP. The BJP has targeted the NCP by enticing away NCP leaders. The Sena, on the other hand, is waiting for former Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who had quit following the stamp paper scam, to be back in the public eye to attack him. The biggest blow to the NCP has been the stamp paper scam. Although its genesis is traced back to the days of the Sena-BJP coalition government, the Democratic Front (D.F.) government of the Congress(I) and the NCP has borne the brunt of the criticism. Although Bhujbal's resignation was ostensibly provoked by an attack by his supporters on the office of a private television channel, it is increasingly believed to have been a pre-emptive move by the NCP to prevent embarrassment in the wake of allegations linking Bhujbal and Abdul Karim Telgi, the alleged mastermind of the scam.

The BJP too is facing internal problems. When BJP Member of Parliament from Beed (which includes State BJP president Gopinath Munde's Assembly constituency) Jaisingrao Gaikwad Patil left the party to join the NCP, he said: "When alcohol permeates the body, reason automatically leaves." He added that Munde and former Union Minister and party general secretary Pramod Mahajan were "drunk with power", had made the State BJP "money minded", "ignored the power base of the BJP, the cadre, and gave importance only to fund-raisers".

In the Sena the rift between cousins Uddhav and Raj Thackeray continues to pose a problem for the party though, with the elections round the corner, they are frequently seen on the same platform. Meanwhile, the Sena has been working hard to get rid of its reputation as being a party prone to violence. An important component of the strategy is the "Mee Mumbaikar" campaign, which is designed to promote the spirit of being a resident of Mumbai and which promises to create more employment opportunities. Even the attack on Biharis who had come to Mumbai for a Railway Recruitment Board examination in November 2003 is all water under the bridge as far as the Sena is concerned. Interestingly, after disassociating itself from the vandalism at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune, the Sena has accepted the support offered by the Akhil Bharatiya Maratha Mahasangh, which claimed responsibility for the act, to the alliance. The Mahasangh is an influential body representing the State's Maratha community and has about 35,000 life members. The development is expected to divide Maratha votes between the Hindutva parties and the Congress(I)-NCP combine.

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Both the Congress(I) and the NCP have promised to give Mumbai top priority in their campaign. They have promised to construct more link roads to lessen the traffic congestion, hasten slum redevelopment, provide homes to unemployed mill workers and provide more funds to revive the city's economy. The Shiv Sena has halted all drives by the party-controlled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to remove encroachments. The Mumbai-centric plan is seen as an attempt to reinvigorate the sources in the city that used to fund the Congress(I) but, of late, seem to have run dry. For its part, the BJP has been working at strengthening its base. The party claims the support of big business houses but declined to name any.

The BJP started its campaign as early as October 2003 and is the only party that has come out with some sort of a campaign plan. Munde said: "Speedy and equitable development; Vajpayee's character, capacity, calibre and conduct; and `India on the move' will be our three guiding points." The three-point programme also indicates whom the BJP considers as its priority target groups. The first is a direct appeal to the middle class and the industrialists. The second alludes to Sonia Gandhi's "foreign origin" issue. And the third aims at non-resident Indians (NRIs) whose financial support has increasingly been made available to the BJP.

In February, Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde brought nine castes and sub-castes under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category and the nomadic and denotified communities list, thereby awarding members of these communities land that was partly paid for by the government. In another move, Shinde also announced his intention to rename Nagpur airport as Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Dikshabhoomi International Airport. Both moves are aimed at the voters in two regions where the Congress(I) and the NCP have either been traditionally weak (as in the Konkan, where the Gamit community has received an OBC status) or been steadily losing ground (as in the case of Nagpur, where the BJP has been gaining ground largely owing to its pro-separatist stance on Vidarbha).

This was followed by the move to prevent bars from being named after a religious figure. The plan, it turned out, was the brainchild of the wife of Minister of State for Home Kripa Shankar Singh. However, the ban was lifted even before it was applied. Another populist order of the State government was to allow liquor shops to do business on Holi, when they have traditionally remained closed to discourage anti-social behaviour.

Perhaps the most bizarre election gimmick was the sudden announcement by Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray that stray dogs kept him awake all night by their barking and should therefore be killed. However, popular opinion was against it. A letter to the editor in a local paper noted that it was "Bal Thackeray's conscience and not the strays that were keeping him awake at night".

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WILL the Bharatiya Janata Party repeat its performance in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, when it won 16 of the 25 seats in Rajasthan? This is the question doing the rounds in political and media circles in the State, which witnessed a BJP victory in the Assembly elections of December 2003.

The Lok Sabha contest, by and large, will be a bipolar one - between the Congress(I) and the BJP. Observers point out that a third front is not likely to emerge. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) too are likely to field candidates. The BSP has, at the time of writing, announced candidates for 14 seats. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has fielded Amra Ram, the sitting MLA from Dhod, from the Sikar parliamentary seat and Sheopat Ram Meghwal, vice-president of the Students Federation of India (SFI), from the reserved seat of Ganganagar.

The Congress(I) seems to have learnt some political lessons since the 13th Lok Sabha polls, when it had to be satisfied with just nine seats. The first thing that it did post-Assembly elections was to appoint veteran legislator Narain Singh, a member of the Jat community, Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee(I) president. Currently the legislator from Danta Ramgarh, Narain Singh won with a comfortable margin in the Assembly elections. His appointment is attributed to the perception that the Jat community had voted against the party in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Moreover, the reservation to the Jat community, promised by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee during his campaign and the lacklustre performance of the Ashok Gehlot-led government had helped the BJP gain the upper hand in 2003.

The Congress(I) released a chargesheet against the BJP on March 18, the day Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia completed 100 days in office. The party is also planning an elaborate campaign by its president Sonia Gandhi in the coming days. The PCC president emphasised that special attention will be devoted to the reserved constituencies, given the erosion of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe base of the party.

Meanwhile, though the BJP camp seems upbeat, the delay in announcing candidates indicates that all is not well in the party. A four-member panel comprising Vasundhara Raje Scindia, State party president Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi, Cabinet Minister Gulab Chand Kataria and party organising secretary Prakash Chandra are to finalise the names of the candidates. The first blow came when Pratap Singh Khachariyawas, former BJP member and nephew of Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, joined the Congress(I). Khachariyawas was an aspirant for the BJP ticket for the Bani Park Assembly seat in the Jaipur Lok Sabha constituency but was denied that despite the backing of Vasundhara Raje Scindia. Although Jaipur is a BJP stronghold given its strong urban middle class population, Khachariyawas, if given the Congress(I) ticket, may prove to be a tough contender. He polled more than 70,000 votes contesting as an independent in Bani Park in the 2003 Assembly elections.

The second major problem for the BJP emerged over the nomination of the candidate for Banswara, considered a stronghold of the Janta Dal (United). It was learnt that while the BJP's central leadership was keen to give the seat to its ally, the State unit had some problems.

"The BJP will win," says Pushp Jain, the sitting MP from Pali. He says, joined by Pradyuman Kumar, a party secretary, that there is no anti-Central government feeling among the people and that it was felt that there was no alternative to the BJP. Pradyuman Kumar says that the BJP's electoral success will also depend a great deal on booth management by its cadre, as was evident in the December 2003 elections. "We got a direct benefit from that," he said. As for the BJP's new-found presence in the tribal constituencies, he said that the party's strength had been on the rise for the last several years. "The activities of the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad and the Ekal Vidyalayas made us politically active in these belts. Culturally, too, we tried to bring ourselves closer to them by adopting their ways and customs. That's how we won their hearts," he said.

Two events of political significance took place in the State in the second week of March. One was the annual Pratinidhi Sabha of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), and the other was a convention of the Sewa Dal, a volunteer organisation of the Congress(I). The RSS meeting, held in Jaipur for the first time, endorsed the "India Shining" campaign and praised the five-year tenure of the BJP-led NDA government.

The meeting, in the words of RSS Sahkaryavah Mohan Bhagwat, was meant "to firm up the direction of our future work, review and critically appraise it and also prepare plans in order to enhance the pace of our activity". However, it ultimately turned out to be more about shoring up organisational support for the BJP in the coming elections. The Pratinidhi Sabha consists of RSS representatives from all over the country and assumes significance in that all its senior functionaries are present.

If the Sewa Dal meeting is any indication, the Congress(I) too seems to be in a mood of introspection. Senior leaders such as All India Congress Committee(I) member Janardan Dwivedi and former Chief Minister Jagannath Pahadia addressed the Sewa Dal workers and emphasised the need to work jointly. Mohammad Mahir Azad, the MLA from Nagar in Bharatpur district, went to the extent of saying that the Congress(I) may have lost owing to its arrogance and that now it was the "BJP's turn to learn a lesson". Dwivedi pointed out that while the Gehlot government had done good work, the electorate was peeved by the activities of some leaders in the party. He also tried to draw a distinction between the economic liberalisation policies of the Congress(I) and those promoted by the BJP.

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ABOUT the only sign of the Congress(I)'s presence in Jammu are a few tattered plastic flags strung across the road from the airport to the city. The flags, it turns out, were put up to greet visiting party dignitaries after the party's sweeping triumph across the Jammu province in the 2002 Assembly elections. Now, they are evidence of how much more durable polyvinyl chloride is than political fortunes.

Battered by the furore generated by furious debate over the rights of women in Jammu and Kashmir to marry outside the State, the Congress(I) is witnessing the wages of vertical communal polarisation. In the Kashmir Valley, its ally, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), is working overtime to displace the Congress(I), and emerge as the sole voice of opposition to the National Conference(N.C.). In Jammu, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the National Panthers Party (NPP) are charging the Congress(I) with having sold out to Kashmiri chauvinism, and of having failed to defend the region's interests. In this emerging four-horse race, the prize is most likely to go to aggressive regional and communal chauvinists.

The Congress(I)'s conspiracy theorists in Jammu have been murmuring about a tacit alliance between the PDP and the BJP, the two main beneficiaries of the Permanent Residents (Disqualification) Bill - a claim buttressed by Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's effusive praise of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It all began in October 2002, when a three-member Bench of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court passed judgment on challenges filed by 12 women against their having been deprived of permanent resident status on having married men outside the State. Justices V.K. Jhanji and T.S. Doabia upheld the women's appeals and Justice Muzaffar Jan dissented. The N.C. government put off a debate on the issue by filing an appeal in the Supreme Court.

Soon after assuming power, PDP MLA and Law Minister Muzaffar Beig, himself a lawyer, quietly withdrew the appeal; legal consensus held that it had no chance of success. On election-eve, however, opportunism triumphed over legal sense. The PDP needed an issue on which it could show that the party was the sole spokesperson for ethnic Kashmiri Muslims, more committed to their cause than the N.C. In Jammu, the BJP needed an issue through which it could show that it, rather than the Congress(I), was truly committed to defending the rights of the region. In the Disqualification Bill, both parties found just what they needed.

Interestingly enough, all parties backed the Bill when it was presented to the Assembly in February, bar the BJP. The lone BJP member, Jugal Kishore, absented himself at the time of voting; immediately after the Bill was passed, the party hit the streets. Sustained BJP protests in Jammu have found considerable support, and the party's candidates for the Udhampur and Jammu Lok Sabha seats have made the issue a central motif of their campaign. Although the NPP has also attacked the ruling coalition on the issue, its case has not been helped by its presence in the government - and its voting record on the Bill.

On the face of it, the arguments surrounding the Bill are absurd - and the Assembly's course of action legally dubious. Contrary to the fulminations of the PDP, the BJP and the N.C., the Bill has relatively little to do with Article 370, which gives special status to the State. The only State to negotiate its terms of accession to the Indian Union, Jammu and Kashmir has its own Constitution. This Constitution grants special rights - to purchase land, for example, and to be elected to legislative office or hold State government jobs - to permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir.

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Yet, it has passed unnoticed that the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution itself nowhere debars women who have married non-permanent residents from holding on to their status. Section 6 of Part III of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution gives constitutional status to two notifications on permanent residents issued in 1927 and 1932. The notifications define as permanent residents (then called State subjects) all persons residing in the State before the reign of Maharaja Gulab Singh, those who settled there before the Samvat year 1942, and those who both settled in the State before Samvat year 1968 and also purchased property.

Indeed, the notifications expressly record that "descendants of the persons who have secured the status of any class of the State Subjects will be entitled to become the State Subject of the same class." There is no qualification in the notifications about women marrying outside the State losing their status. All that exists is a mandate that women who acquire State Subject status through marriage shall hold on to this right as long as they reside in Jammu and Kashmir - a protective provision intended to safeguard the rights of women from outside the State. Quite plainly, the long-standing discrimination against women in Jammu and Kashmir has no constitutional sanction.

Just how politically driven the ongoing debate is also becomes clear from a study of the plain language of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution. As Justice Doabia noted in his concurrence, Section 10 of the Constitution expressly mandates that "permanent residents of the State shall have all the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution of India." All, quite obviously, includes fundamental rights, on which the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution does not have a separate chapter. Since the Constitution of India bars gender discrimination, women in Jammu and Kashmir cannot be denied rights available to men.

Where do things go from here? If the Congress(I) does stick to its guns on the Permanent Residents Bill, that ought to be the end of the affair. Section 9 of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution notes that the Assembly does have the power to amend or alter the definition of who is a permanent resident, give them special rights, or modify their privileges. Such amendments, however, "shall be deemed to be passed by either House of the Legislature only if it is passed by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of that House" - something chauvinistic parties supporting the Bill do not possess.

Congress(I) politicians are doing what they can to hit back. One key site of contestation is the Baramulla constituency. Soon after the PDP announced two alternative candidates for the seat, Congress(I) senior vice-president Abdul Gani Vakil noted that his party had won 80,000 votes in the Assembly segments comprising the constituency last year, to the PDP's 30,000. The Congress(I), Vakil said, was not willing to surrender all seats in the Kashmir valley to the PDP, in return for exclusive rights to contest the two seats in Jammu, and one in Ladakh.

If the feud is not resolved, all the members of the ruling alliance could end up contesting against one another - the Congress(I) and the PDP in Kashmir, and the Congress(I) and the NPP in Jammu. Nothing could suit the BJP, decimated just 18 months ago, better.

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THE fledgling State of Uttaranchal, with five Lok Sabha seats, will witness its first general elections on May 10. The hill people have always voted for either of the two national parties in parliamentary elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has held the four seats of Tehri Garhwal, Pauri Garhwal, Almora and Haridwar since 1991, is locked in a keen contest with the ruling Congress(I). (Chief Minister and veteran Congress(I) leader N.D. Tiwari won the Nainital seat in the previous elections. Mahendra Pal Singh of the Congress(I) was elected to the seat in the byelection caused by Tiwari's vacation of the seat on becoming Chief Minister.)

Despite its strong presence in the undivided Uttar Pradesh, and despite the fact that it was the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre that created Uttaranchal in November 2000, the BJP won only 19 of the 69 seats it contested in the 2002 elections to the 70-member State Assembly and 25.45 per cent of the votes. The Congress(I) won 36 seats, with 26.91 per cent of the votes. Now the situation seems to have changed a bit.

As the ruling party, one would expect the Congress(I) to be comfortably placed to win most of the seats. Surprisingly, this is not the case. The party has not consolidated its position. Two years after the Assembly elections, the BJP senses that the Congress(I) government's failures would work to its advantage.

The BJP is harping on the NDA government's achievements and projecting the clean image of Prime Minister Vajpayee. But the NDA's "India Shining" hype has not impressed the people. "It may be shining for them, but there is nothing here to make us feel so," said Kanwal Singh Rawat of Rainapur near Rishikesh, even as he professes support for the BJP. But surely one thing that could pave the way for the BJP's success is the construction of roads. "Even far-flung areas have now been connected with roads," says one village resident. And B.C. Khanduri, Surface Transport Minister and MP from Pauri Garhwal, is viewed as the man who did it.

Had the Congress(I) retained its edge it acquired in 2002, its prospects would have been better, but indications are that it has not. Even the party's internal survey, conducted in February, showed its chances were slipping. "It looks like 50-50 to me, if the selection of candidates is right," N.D. Tiwari said. He concedes there might have been shortcomings in meeting the people's expectations; he blames paucity of funds for this. "We cannot work miracles in two years. I had the job of laying the plinth and I have ensured that at least there is no negative factor against either the government or the party," says the four-time Chief Minister of undivided U.P. In fact he earned the sobriquet "Vikas Purush" for the unprecedented development work that took place in U.P. during his tenure.

He agrees that the laying of the roads, for which the Centre is getting the maximum credit, is the only achievement that the people seem to take into account. "There have been initiatives in the area of industry, tourism and Information Technology, which should start giving results in a couple of years. I have laid the foundation for them," he says. But lack of unity within the Congress(I)(State party president Harish Rawat is known to carp at Tiwari) and factionalism could detract the voters from the initiatives Tiwari claims to have undertaken. Except Nainital, which has been Tiwari's bastion, Tehri is the only other seat where the Congress(I) can look for some gains. Manvendra Shah, the BJP MP and erstwhile ruler of Tehri state, has represented the constituency since 1991, but now people have started complaining about his nonavailability and lack of performance. Sensing this mood, the Congress(I) has fielded Vijay Bahuguna, son of the late H.N. Bahuguna who was Chief Minister of U.P. In Almora and Pauri Garhwal, where the BJP has renominated Bachi Singh Rawat and B.C. Khanduri respectively, the Congress(I) has absolutely no presence. Khanduri gets thumbs up for the good roads and Bachi Singh Rawat holds his own turf having defeated Harish Rawat continuously since 1991.

In Haridwar, where the Congress(I) hopes to do well, the scale looks tilted towards the BJP. So there is no reason for the Congress(I) to feel optimistic. Interestingly, this is the only seat where the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) holds ground. Of the nine Assembly segments in the Haridwar Lok Sabha constituency, the BSP has won six and the BJP two. The ground realities now do not favour the Congress(I) in Haridwar. The one achievement that the Congress(I) tries to take credit for is the improvement of facilities for pilgrims participating in the Kumbh melas. But it is common knowledge that the NDA government provided Rs.135 crores to upgrade the facilities.

Above all else, the BJP's poll mascot, Vajpayee, has actually caught the people's fancy in the hill State. "(Congress-I chief) Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin is no big issue, but Atal Bihari Vajpayee scores on experience and performance," said Sapre Ram, a retired school principal in Rainapur village.

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THE situation on the ground in Haryana favours a vote for change. Indications are that the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party may find it difficult to retain the Lok Sabha seats won in 1999. The INLD and the BJP, which fought the 1999 Lok Sabha elections in alliance, won all the 10 seats, each winning five. There is palpable anger against the two parties in the towns and areas dominated by the Jat community, their traditional strongholds.

Nowhere is this more evident as in Ghillod Kallan village in Rohtak constituency. It is common for women of the village to make more than a dozen trips to the village well for water. Tap water is unheard of in this village. A few kilometres away, in the village of Jassia, the situation is dismal. The hand-pumps set up on the village main road splutter out water infected with toxins. These hand pumps have led to a drastic decline in the water table of the village.

The election manifestos of the major political parties promise safe drinking water. Said Jaswanti of Ghillod Kallan: "We know that this is the time to make promises. The problem of drinking water will not be solved by any political party. All they want is to stay in power."

The village of Ladwa is 148 km from Delhi. Sugarcane is one of the major crops grown here. More than half a dozen families in the village have been plunged into financial crisis because of the fall in the price of sugarcane. Said Ramesh Kumar, a sugarcane farmer: "I sold my produce to private mills at the low price of Rs.83 a quintal. The cooperative sugar mills are not at all helpful. They fail to protect us from private owners who quote low prices. The cooperatives refuse to transport the crop. How can a poor farmer like me pay for transportation? I have no other option but to sell my produce to private owners." Ask him about the approaching Lok Sabha elections and Ramesh says that though he will vote against the sitting MP, he does not expect the next one to improve the situation.

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Basmati rice shops abound on the highway, which connects the village of Ramgarh with Ladwa. The traders in these shops complain how the Value Added Tax (VAT) - in effect since April 2003 - has destroyed their business. Customers who used to flock to Haryana to buy Basmati now prefer adjoining Punjab. Before VAT, a quintal of Basmati in Haryana cost Rs.200 less than that sold in Punjab. Now the sale price is more than that in Punjab. The traders in the State are thinking of floating a political party to lobby for the removal of VAT.

In towns such as Panipat and Karnal it is inadvisable to travel after sunset. Recently, when Congress(I) leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda quoted statistics to back his charge of a worsening law and order situation in the State, nobody rose to counter his claims. Said Hooda: "Contrary to [Chief Minister Om Prakash] Chautala's claim, the law and order situation in the State has deteriorated. The number of crimes reported increased from 33,081 in 1995 to 38,782 in 2000 and to 40,169 in 2002." Day-time robberies are common and have made cities as unsafe as the countryside, which is notorious for violent feuds.

One of the main reasons for the anger against Chautala has been his dictatorial style of functioning. The INLD has moved towards increasing the centralisation of power. Within the INLD, there is no democratic functioning, and voices of dissent are nipped in the bud as control of the party has increasingly moved into the hands of Chautala and his son Ajay Singh Chautala. Charges of corruption against INLD leaders have affected the party's image among the people.

The BJP's position is unenviable. Its four-and-half-year-old alliance with the INLD has meant that the BJP behaved neither like a ruling party nor as an effective Opposition. By itself the party has never had much influence in Haryana. Now, with the alliance with the INLD having come to an end, party workers are finding themselves fighting a losing battle. Said a BJP worker: "L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj never really wanted to work with the INLD. When a section of party workers said that the elections could be won independently on the `feel good' factor, they were too ready to believe them. We are not feeling too good about this change."

The BJP is aware that without an alliance with one of the regional parties it stands little chance of winning even one of its five seats. Earlier, in desperation, it made overtures to its former ally Bansi Lal, former Chief Minister and president of the Haryana Vikas Party (HVP). The two parties contested the 1998 Lok Sabha elections together but could win only one seat each. The BJP subsequently moved closer to Chautala. However, Bansi Lal, said to be angry with the BJP for its betrayal in the past, is not keen on bailing the BJP out of the political mess. He has said that his target is the next Assembly and not the Lok Sabha.

The INLD and the BJP are bitter enemies now. Chautala reacted sharply to Advani urging the electorate to vote for a single party rather than regional parties. He wrote letters to leaders of all major regional parties asking them to "beware the sinister designs of the BJP in general and Advani in particular". Chautala is also blaming the BJP for increasing the price of diesel and other agricultural inputs.

Political observes believe that if the Congress(I) fields the right candidates, it will gain from the anti-incumbency factor. The situation gets more complicated given the fact that no prominent Congress(I) leader wants to spoil his or her chances of becoming Chief Minister by standing for the Lok Sabha elections. Assembly polls are due in a year's time and leaders such as Bhajan Lal and Bhupinder Hooda would like to stake their claim to chief ministership. Said a party functionary: "The situation is such that they will bow to the party high command if it decides to field them. Yet many of the candidates would be too happy to forsake the ticket for the present elections in favour of the Assembly polls." It is clear that even if factionalism does not affect the party in the Lok Sabha polls, it will affect it in the Assembly elections.

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FOR most people in Punjab, the sole uncertainty about the election outcome is just how badly the Congress (I) will do.

Battered by a large-scale revolt of MLAs allied to former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh seems to have little control over his party apparatus. Everything from the nomination of former Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill for a Rajya Sabha seat to the return of the Chief Minister's Information Adviser, B.I.S. Chahal, have become causes for contention within the party; on top of it all, corruption scandals have broken out over State government jobs and recent auctions of liquor retail outlets.

Yet, many of the problems faced by the Congress(I) exist within the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party as well. Although former Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal has made his peace with his archenemy, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, the two factions remain at odds on the ground. SAD cadre are also irked at efforts by Badal's son, Sukhbir Badal, to run the campaign. Sukhbir Badal's choice of youth leader Charanjit Singh Dhillon as the party candidate from Ludhiana, for example, has attracted allegations that the seat has been gifted to the Congress(I). The Congress(I) might be in big trouble - but it is still unclear if that will actually turn into a debacle.

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SAD leaders are hoping that southern Punjab will be the firm base on which their assault on the Lok Sabha will be founded. During the last Assembly elections, southern Punjab voters saved the SAD from a certain wipe out. Now, with the SAD hoping to sweep Punjab, the region has again acquired enormous significance. It is here the Congress(I) hopes to carry out a rearguard action, using its anti-corruption campaign against Badal to effect. While the Congress(I) has yet to finalise candidates, south Punjab heavyweight Jagmeet Singh Brar could prove a formidable campaigner for the party in both Faridkot and Ferozepur. The third key south Punjab seat, Bhatinda, has been given to the Congress(I) ally, the Communist Party of India.

Dalit votes could be central to the outcome of the contest in the prosperous Doaba region. Jalandhar, for one, has seen enormous caste tension in recent months, after riots broke out between Dalits and the landed Jat community for control of a shrine in the village of Talhan. Although a truce was brokered between the warring communities, traditional Congress (I) voters in the Dalit community were incensed by the State government's failure to back them. Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral's son, Naresh Gujral, is standing as the BJP candidate from this constituency - but some observers believe his own caste status could be an obstacle to harnessing Dalit residents to the SAD-BJP's cause.

It is clear, though, that the Congress(I)'s failure to put together an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will cost it a substantial number of votes. In 1999, BJP candidate Vinod Khanna won the Gurdaspur seat by just 3,000-odd votes, a victory brought about in no small part by the BSP taking 67,000 votes, which may otherwise have gone to the Congress(I). Although the BSP's Punjab unit has been riven by factionalism - State leader Satnam Kainth has merged his faction back with the party, but discontent continues to simmer - it nonetheless remains a magnet for a large number of Dalit voters. While Amarinder Singh had hoped to build a counter constituency among landed farmers - great effort was made to ensure trouble-free procurement of crops - there is little sign of large-scale Jat desertion of the SAD so far.

In some seats, inner-party issues, rather than wider caste and class alignments, could prove crucial. Patiala, for one, will witness a particularly interesting campaign, which will see elements of each major party pitted against their own. Parneet Kaur, Amarinder Singh's wife, will be fighting to retain her seat in the contest against former State Finance Minister and SAD leader Kanwaljit Singh. Her problems will, of course, include discontent among traditional Congress(I) supporters in urban areas and Dalits - but also the influence of Bhattal among rural voters in the Lehra Gagga area. Cadre loyal to Bhattal, Parneet Kaur's campaign managers worry, will do little to help the official candidate.

Ironically enough, Kanwaljit Singh has a similar problem. Between December 1998, when the Badal and Tohra factions of the SAD split, and 2003, when they patched up, Kanwaljit Singh was among Tohra's most bitter opponents. Now, both factions have patched up on paper. On ground, though, many block level workers allied to Tohra have been less than happy about conceding their positions to the official SAD, and their cooperation with Kanwaljit Singh's campaign is less than certain. Tohra loyalist Prem Singh Chandumajra, who raised the banner of revolt after being denied the Patiala seat, has made his peace with the SAD - but not, local politicians say, with Kanwaljit Singh's nomination.

Similarly, in Sangrur, SAD candidate Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa will face opposition from sitting MP and Akali maverick Simranjit Singh Mann, from the Congress(I) - and from elements of his own party. Dhindsa is a long-time opponent of SAD heavyweight and former Chief Minister Surjit Singh Barnala. While Barnala has ostensibly stayed out of local politics since his appointment as Governor, his wife Surjit Kaur Barnala has announced her opposition to Dhindsa's candidature. Many within the Congress(I) feel this mosaic of infighting would have given Bhattal a good chance of taking the seat, but the dissident leader has rejected proposals that she stand, seeing them as an effort to evict her from State politics.

In Patiala - as elsewhere - the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections could make or break State-level political futures. Many observers believe major Congress(I) reverses could accelerate calls for Amarinder Singh's head - unless, that is, the party faces all-India humiliation. "Amarinder Singh's best bet," notes one senior Congress(I) politician, "is that the party does badly elsewhere. That way, no one will be able to point fingers at anyone."

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THE Bharatiya Janata Party, which won all sevens seats from Delhi in the last elections was first to declare its list of candidates. The Congress(I), which did not win a single seat in the last two Lok Sabha elections in Delhi, is yet to announce its list. Polling for the seven parliamentary constituencies in the National Capital Territory of Delhi has been scheduled for the final phase, on May 10. While the BJP hopes to build its campaign around the achievements of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, the Congress(I) hopes to capitalise on the popularity of the Sheila Dixit government, which won the 2002 Assembly elections comfortably.

The BJP has re-nominated six of its seven Members of Parliament. Vijay Goel, the Union Minister of State for Sports and Youth Affairs and Member of Parliament from Chandni Chowk, is contesting from Sadar, which Madan Lal Khurana vacated when he was appointed Governor of Rajasthan. The Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee president criticised Goel's decision with the taunt that it showed that the BJP no longer considered Chandni Chowk a safe seat. Goel was quick to respond: "Who is the Congress to tell me about which constituency to stand from, when they have not even finalised their candidates. I was born and brought up in Sadar constituency. In fact, my political career started in Sadar when I defeated Jagdish Tytler, a three-time member."

But it is clear that the large Muslim population and Goel's narrow margin of victory (1,995 votes) in Chandini Chowk in the last elections has prompted this move. Says Dr. Harsh Vardhan, president of the BJP's Delhi unit: "We were clear about six candidates. Chandni Chowk is a constituency with a delicate balance - it is small and the victory margins are also small." The results in Chandni Chowk could also depend on the performance of the Janata Dal (Secular) candidate, Shoaib Iqbal, who has a strong vote base in this area.

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The Congress(I)'s chances depend largely on its choice of candidates. Party workers hope that the leadership has learnt form its past mistakes. The Congress(I) has lost three times in a row in the Outer Delhi and New Delhi constituencies, five times in a row in the East Delhi constituency and six times in South Delhi. Although any win for the Congress(I) will be an improvement, the party hopes to maximise its gains. In order to do this it needs to field the right caste combinations, especially in Outer Delhi and East Delhi, which are the largest constituencies, and have increasing migrant populations.

The Congress(I) was quick to criticise the plans of Union Minister for Tourism Jagmohan, the BJP's candidate from New Delhi, to relocate jhuggi-jhopri clusters in the Yamuna Pushta area as a part of his plans to beautify the river. Chief Minister Sheila Dixit opposed the plans saying it would affect the right to vote of those being relocated. Says Dixit: "I have written to the Election Commission saying that I fail to understand the urgency of beautifying a place at the cost of affecting the right to vote of citizens living in the area. When the Election Commission had already given a directive saying that people should not be relocated till the elections are over, why cannot the government wait for some more time? When Jagmohan has not done anything for five to six years, why should he be in such a hurry now?"

Despite its dismal showing in the Assembly elections (it won only 20 out of 70 seats), the BJP has started targeting the performance of the Delhi government. Says Dr. Harsh Vardhan: "The Delhi government is planning to impose property tax on the Unit Area method. It has hiked electricity and water tariffs. The government has given the Sonia Vihar Treatment Plant to the French company Degremont on a maintain-and-operate basis for almost 10 years. The Sheila Dixit government's policies are very consumer-unfriendly."

Although the Congress(I) is banking on the popularity of its government to improve its tally, Delhi's history shows that the results of Lok Sabha elections could be different from those of the Assembly polls. Says Dr. Harsh Vardhan: "Look at the 1998 elections, we won only 15 seats in the State legislature but in the Lok Sabha elections, held six months later, we won all the seven seats." A statistic the Congress(I) is unlikely to forget in a hurry.

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THE electoral battle in Uttar Pradesh in April-May remains as enigmatic as ever, with a four-cornered contest becoming almost a certainty now. In deciding the post-poll balance of power at the Centre, advantage has often rested with the party that wins the largest number of seats in the State, which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha. (U.P. had 85 seats before the separation of Uttaranchal.)

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati's decision not to align with the Congress(I) must have brought some relief to the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the event of a BSP-Congress(I) pact, the S.P. was in danger of losing its substantial Muslim support and the BJP its upper-caste support.

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The results of the Lok Sabha elections are likely to be more or less on the same lines as those of the 2002 Assembly elections and the 1999 parliamentary elections. The S.P. emerged in 2002 as the largest party by winning 143 of the 403 Assembly seats and a 25.37 per cent vote share, followed by the BSP with 98 seats and 23.06 per cent of the vote share and the BJP with 88 seats and 20.08 per cent of the vote. The Congress(I) was a poor fourth with 25 seats and an 8.96 per cent vote share.

In 1999, the BJP had bagged the largest number of Lok Sabha seats, 29, followed closely by the S.P. with 26 seats. The two parties secured 27.64 per cent and 24.86 per cent of the votes respectively. The BSP won 14 seats and 22.08 per cent of the votes. The Congress(I) had fallen by the wayside with only 10 seats and 14.72 per cent of the votes. This time round, the BJP's performance is expected to register a significant change with the return of former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh to its fold. In the 2002 elections, the Rashtriya Kranti Dal (RKD), which Kalyan Singh formed after breaking away from the BJP, actively campaigned to inflict substantial damage to the BJP's chances. It is another matter though that the RKD could not win many seats. During the Lok Sabha elections, although Kalyan Singh was with the BJP he actually sabotaged its prospects from within owing to differences with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. Now that Kalyan Singh is prepared to lend wholehearted support, the mood in the BJP is upbeat. Deputy Prime Minister L.K Advani's Bharat Uday Yatra is adding to the overall optimism. It is a matter of record that whenever Advani has undertaken a yatra he has attracted new voters to the BJP.

Besides having been fielded from Bulandshahar, Kalyan Singh is also in charge of the BJP's campaign committee. "We should cross the 50 plus mark provided we choose the right candidates. Vajpayee's personality, the NDA government's achievements and our programmes should see us through because the Opposition has no leader, no agenda and no programme," Kalyan Singh told Frontline in Lucknow, sifting through the list of ticket aspirants. According to him, the BJP's task has been made easier by the poor performance of the Mulayam Singh government. "The crime graph has gone up in Uttar Pradesh and the people feel insecure," he said. Besides, sugarcane farmers were unhappy because their dues were still pending and there was no improvement in the employment sector.

He vowed to expose the failures of the Mulayam government and he said, "The State is run by five capitalists who make policies in their own favour."

As for the Congress(I), it remains painfully stuck in the quagmire that it has been in for several years. Moreover, the party's hopes of improving its prospects by entering into an alliance with the BSP have been dashed. But despite Mayawati's tongue-lashing and clear announcement that the BSP would contest all the seats in the State on its own, the party still hopes that some sort of an understanding would come about. "Have they announced their seats? Have they declared their candidates yet?" party spokesman Kapil Sibal asked in New Delhi, a day after Mayawati blasted the Congress(I) at her pardafaash rally (expose rally) in Lucknow on March 13.

The only cause for optimism in the Congress(I) is the survey it conducted in February which showed an increase in its vote share since the last Assembly elections. It is pegged at over 15 per cent now because of a positive swing in the Muslim votes. Congressmen also feel that in a four-cornered contest, the importance of Uttar Pradesh in the overall picture would be reduced proportionately. "All the four parties would have their respective share of seats, and thus the importance of the State would go down," party general secretary Oscar Fernandes said. Yet the Congress(I)'s prospects certainly appear dim. In the last Assembly elections, 334 of the 402 candidates it fielded lost their deposits. In the Lok Sabha elections, 47 of the 76 candidates it fielded suffered such humiliation.

The S.P. hopes to reap the benefits of the incumbency factor. It is banking on the fact that it is still too early for the anti-incumbency factor to set in. Besides, Mulayam Singh thinks that the initiatives his government has taken will see his vote share go up. "The sugarcane dues have been paid off to a large extent. The farmers are getting adequate power now. Besides, the Reliance power project and Sahara's housing project will create avenues for employment. These and other initiatives, such as making education for girls free up to the intermediate level and providing free hospital beds, taken in the interest of the common people have been appreciated by people," Mulayam Singh said.

He is also hopeful that the S.P.'s alliance with Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal will help increase its vote and seat share. "The Samajwadi Party will win not less than 50 seats, although our target is 60. We will decide who forms the government in Delhi," he said, hoping to play king-maker.

The BSP, with its 22 per cent vote share, remains as confident as ever. Mayawati had adopted the simple yet electorally effective strategy of putting up a relatively larger number of upper-caste Hindus and Muslims. This has yielded rich dividends for the BSP so far. She hopes to become the balancing factor, irrespective of which party emerges as the single largest block. She is also nursing prime ministerial ambitions. "If people like Gujral, who have no grassroots support, can become Prime Minister, why can't the leader of Dalits, who has such massive support, become one?" she asked at the Lucknow rally, making no secret of her intentions.

In Uttar Pradesh, the vote of Muslims would prove decisive in at least 36 constituencies where their strength varies from 40 to 45 per cent, the maximum being in Rampur where they form a substantial 52 per cent of the voters. In constituencies such as Saharanpur, Amroha, Moradabad, Bijnore, Meerut, Muzzaffarnagar, Deoria and Behraich Muslims constitute a substantial 40-45 per cent of the votes, a sizable number that can tilt the balance in any party's favour. It is this realisation that is forcing the BJP too to woo Muslims.

Without exaggeration, Uttar Pradesh does seem to hold the key to power. The battle promises to be exciting, with high-profile candidates like Vajpayee, Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi and Congress(I) supremo Sonia Gandhi contesting from the State.

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"IF the rest of India is feeling good, Chhattisgarh is feeling better," claims Brij Mohan Agarwal, senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader and State Home Minister. He has every reason to feel confident, as his party is likely to retain the majority of 11 seats in the State in the Lok Sabha elections.

In the last parliamentary elections, when the region was still part of Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won eight seats. With the recent Assembly election victory, the morale of the BJP seems to be high. A demoralised and internally riven Congress(I) does not seem equipped to challenge the BJP.

However, the post-Assembly election situation in the State has radically changed with the suspension of former Congress(I) Chief Minister Ajit Jogi from the party. Jogi was blamed for the setback the party suffered in the areas dominated by tribal people. The party managed to capture a mere eight out of 34 seats in the region, previously a Congress(I) stronghold. Moreover, it lost all 20 seats in the Naxalite-affected areas to the BJP.

Now, with Jogi's exit, the Congress(I) is hopeful of regaining lost ground. "There has been a drastic change in the ground situation," says Congress(I) leader S.C. Shukla, now that Jogi is no longer the face of the party in the State.

Yet it seems unlikely that such a definitive change of preference in the tribal areas could have happened in a matter of a few months. "Jogi or no Jogi, there is no doubt that we have definitely won over the tribal people," says Nand Kumar Sai, a BJP leader who is contesting from Surguja, currently a constituency held by the Congress(I). The shift in the tribal vote in favour of the BJP is attributed to the activities of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. The outfit provides schooling and health services and insidiously creates a support base for the Hindu Right, which the BJP exploits in the elections.

Besides the fall in tribal votes, what hurt the Congress(I) most in the Assembly polls was the presence of former party leader V.C. Shukla's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which walked away with 7.38 per cent of votes, which would otherwise have gone to the party. This time V.C. Shukla has merged ranks with the BJP. But the Congress(I) believes that this move would be unpalatable to his supporters. "They may have been temporarily displeased with the Congress, but they will never vote for the lotus symbol," said S.C. Shukla. The BJP itself is cautious about quantifying the electoral gains owing to V.C. Shukla's entry into its fold. Both Chief Minister Raman Singh and Sai expect the BJP to gain 3 to 4 per cent more votes thanks to V.C. Shukla.

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A significant development in the Assembly elections was that the Congress(I) made inroads into urban areas like Bilaspur, a change that is attributed to the economic growth and industrial progress achieved during the three years of Jogi's administration. This time, the Congress(I) has fielded promising candidates like Dr. Basant Pahare from Bilaspur and the backward-caste MLA Bhupesh Baghel from Durg. While the NCP has virtually disintegrated with V.C. Shukla's exit, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which secured 4.4 per cent of the votes polled in the Assembly election, can tilt the balance in Dalit-dominated areas like Sarangarh.

Meanwhile, the absence of Jogi from the Congress(I) campaign has created a power vacuum, which might undercut the party's chances. "Jogi nahi to Congress nahi," said a party worker. He said that the current leadership, comprising Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee president Motilal Vora, S.C. Shukla and Charandas Mahant, could not mobilise the "frustrated, directionless workers". The three are united by a common antipathy to Jogi, but not sufficiently prepared to lead the party to electoral victory.

"I want to transform the current crowd of Congress workers into a formidable army," says S.C. Shukla. However, in the Assembly elections, the BJP won seven out of eight seats in Shukla's parliamentary constituency of Mahasamund, causing the veteran leader to shift base to Raipur (where he is pitted against Ramesh Bais of the BJP). "When people like Shukla and Vora could not get their own sons elected, how will they keep the Congress afloat?" asked a Congress(I) worker.

In the BJP camp, former Union Minister Dilip Singh Judev, who had been caught on camera accepting money, is not contesting the election but is all set to campaign for the party. When questioned about the propriety of the matter, Aggarwal said: "Politics mein jeet hi moral hain (in politics, winning alone is moral). And anyway, his bold image and his immense popularity among the people shows that they have already rejected the accusation against him."

However, local considerations apart, both the Congress(I) and the BJP claim that their victory is certain, given the national mood. While Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi's roadshow passed through Chhattisgarh on March 20, Advani's yatra is slated for April 10. Chief Minister Raman Singh asserts that this election will be won on the basis of the Central government's support for Chattisgarh's development as seen in the reorganised railway zone and new power projects. S.C. Shukla, on the other hand, says that the Central government's betrayal of the unemployed will create trouble for the BJP and effect a total reversal of fortunes in Chattisgarh. Vora said: "For the first time, farmers have been denied the minimum support price by this irresponsible government. Instead of that `jod-tod ki sarkaar', we present 45 years of development under Congress administration." Either way, the core issues of this election are yet to emerge, as the campaigns have yet to gain momentum.

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FOR over three years one has repeatedly heard from political analysts in Bihar that the next Lok Sabha polls in the State would be different from previous such exercises. The contention is that since its geographical division on November 15, 2000, for the creation of Jharkhand, several factors that had influenced the election process have moved out literally. These include political outfits such as the Jharkhand Mukthi Morcha (JMM) and ultra-Left groups such as the Maoist Coordination Committee (MCC), which drew their support largely from the tribal and marginalised communities concentrated in the districts that became part of Jharkhand.

The number of Lok Sabha seats in Bihar also got reduced to 40 from 54 following the geographical division. In the absence of localised forces, it has also been contended that elections 2004 will essentially be a bipolar affair involving the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and a secular front under the leadership of the Laloo Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). While these arguments do reflect sound socio-political logic, it is clear in the run-up to the polls that the political processes relating to elections have not changed dramatically in Bihar. All the political games that have characterised past elections are back in full play.

On the one hand, the problems faced by the secular parties threaten to prevent the formation of a broad anti-NDA alliance. On the other, internal tussles could affect the prospects of the NDA, which has the self-professed objective of improving on its previous tally of 30 seats.

One set of key players in the game of realpolitik has included parties such as the Congress(I), the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Lok Jan Shakthi Party (LJP) led by Ram Vilas Paswan. The LJP was part of the NDA in the last polls but left it proclaiming that "a secular alliance was the only way to save Bihar and India". Basically, it is the demands for seats made by these parties that have prevented the formation of a secular front. Sections of the State Congress(I) have demanded 22 seats, the LJP wants at least 12, the CPI six, the CPI(M) two and the NCP one. The RJD wants to contest a minimum of 30 seats. So cumulatively there is a demand for 73 seats out of a possible 40.

The RJD, the leader of the prospective combine, has branded the demands of other parties as "unrealistic, overambitious claims that have the sole objective of capitalising on our mass base". Laloo Prasad Yadav made one unsuccessful trip to New Delhi to sort out the issues with leaders of the other parties and was getting ready to make one more foray to the capital at the time of writing this report. During his first trip Laloo and other leaders arrived at an agreement granting Bhagalpur to the CPI(M) and Katiahar to NCP leader Tariq Anwar. Indications from the "secular camp" after Laloo Prasad's return are that much headway has been made in the informal negotiations with parties other than the CPI. The CPI, which unilaterally announced its candidates for four seats, has apparently fallen out of favour with the RJD leadership.

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An effective, unified secular platform is also threatened by the decision of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) to contest all the seats in Bihar. The S.P. does not have much of a presence in the State but may have enough nuisance value for the RJD. The CPI(Marxist-Leninist), which has a notable presence in a few constituencies, is also fighting on its own against both the NDA and the RJD. The CPI, by all indications, will throw its lot with the S.P. if it is not "accommodated respectfully" in the RJD led front.

The NDA has, after much internal wrangling, finalised the sharing of 38 seats between its two main components in the State, the BJP and the Janata Dal(United). As per the agreement the JD(U) will contest 21 seats and the BJP 17. However, even as the NDA leadership was finalising the arrangement, several influential State-level leaders chose to disassociate themselves from the alliance.

The list includes senior politicians such as Mangani Lal Mandal, Raghunath Jha and Devendra Prasad Yadav. The Selection of candidates has also caused hiccups in the NDA. The BJP's decision to field Susheel Kumar Modi, Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, from Bhagalpur has not been taken well by a section of the party. So much so that this section organised a Bhagalpur bandh to protest "the import of an outsider".

The departure of Paswan from the NDA and the resultant loss of Dalit votes from almost all constituencies have created some confusion among senior leaders over the safety quotient of their seats. Even Janata Dal(U) leaders Nitish Kumar and George Fernandes, apparently swayed by the Paswan factor, are finding it difficult to make up their minds about whether to stick to Barh and Nalanda constituencies respectively or move out.

But this confusion does not reflect in the NDA's campaign. The developmental gains made by the NDA under Atal Bihari Vajpayee's leadership, the work done by Union Minister Nitish Kumar in Bihar - the State got a large number of railway projects in the past five years - and the "misrule of the RJD government" form the thrust areas of its campaign. The secular formation's campaign revolves around the "hypocrisy of the India Shining slogan" and "the threat of communal fascism posed by the Sangh Parivar". However, here also a common approach is conspicuous by its absence. The S.P., the CPI and the CPI(M) have also highlighted the misrule of the RJD. Clearly, the RJD has to contend with a `political fatigue' factor too along with other problems.

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"SINCE its formation three years ago, Jharkhand seems to be continuously in competition with its parent State Bihar in perpetuating social and political chaos." This was the observation made by a senior bureaucrat recently. This comment fits the pre-poll political situation in the State too. What you see in Jharkhand is political pandemonium. It is led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which holds 12 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the State.

The BJP is not only facing problems with its partner in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Janata Dal(United), but also has serious internal differences. Two senior leaders, Chief Minister Arjun Munda and former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi, are leading the intra-party tussles, each trying to obtain greater influence and control over the party and thereby get the majority of nominations for his supporters. Caught in the crossfire is External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha, who is in charge of the campaign in Jharkhand.

The BJP's current problems with the JD(U) stems from the latter's demand that it be allocated four seats. Apparently, four State Ministers belonging to the JD (U) - Lalchand Mahto, Ramesh Singh Munda, Madhu Singh and Baidayanath Ram Seerms - are eager to try their luck in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP has refused to concede any seat: Yashwant Sinha even said that "they (JD-U) can fight all the 14 seats and it will make no impact on the BJP". The JD(U) responded by saying that if the BJP did not allot four seats, it would contest all the seats.

On the other side, Opposition parties such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) have in principle agreed on an alliance. The Congress(I) and the Communist Party of India are also engaged in talks with these two parties in order to reach an electoral understanding. But this process too is caught in claims and counter-claims. The RJD wants to contest 10 seats, the CPI four and the Congress(I) and the JMM six each. Despite these over-reaching demands, the negotiations, according to RJD leader Girinath Singh, are proceeding smoothly. There is a kind of resolve in the Opposition camp to prevent the NDA from repeating its previous performance.

The menace of anti-election violence by ultra-Left forces such the Marxist Coordination Committee (MCC) also looms over Jharkhand. Several clashes have taken place in the past one month between the MCC and militant outfits of upper-caste organisations.

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GONE were the awkwardness and edgy nervousness of the previous years. Actually, Orissa Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal president Naveen Patnaik had a spring in his step as he strode up the dais at Saradhabali in Puri to kick-start the electoral campaign of the BJD-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance in February.

After seven years in politics, Patnaik seemed to have discovered himself. The chuckles from a part of the crowd over his ignorance of Oriya died down after he spoke for five minutes in his native tongue about fighting corruption and fulfilling his father's dream of building a prosperous Orissa. Although he read out the speech written in the Roman script, for the first time in his seven-year-long political career Patnaik's confidence did not seem to waver.

The 58-year-old politician seems to be holding well on his own. Although the Assembly elections were due only next year, Patnaik pitched for simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and the Assembly apparently in the hope that the Vajpayee factor would offset any anti-incumbency wave. The official reason, of course, was that holding two elections in less than a year's time would strain the already precarious financial position of the poor State. Patnaik has proved to be a trusted ally of the BJP at the Centre and has been successful to a great extent in running the coalition government since March 2000. But facing the challenge posed by the Congress(I) under the leadership of former Chief Minister J.B. Patnaik could turn out to be a different ball-game altogether.

The writer-turned-politician, however, claims that he is confident about the BJD-BJP alliance emerging victorious. "J.B. Patnaik is old wine in old bottle. He has no relevance in the present century," he remarked soon after the former Chief Minister was appointed president of the Orissa Pradesh Congress Committee in January. J.B. Patnaik was quick to hit back: "Naveen Patnaik should know that old wine will prove costlier for him."

The electoral battle has hotted up in the 21 Lok Sabha constituencies and 147 Assembly seats. The Congress(I) has decided to field its candidates in almost all the Lok Sabha seats and contest from the majority of the Assembly segments, leaving some constituencies to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the Orissa Gana Parishad and others.

In 1999, the Congress(I) won only two (Koraput and Dhenkanal) of the 20 Lok Sabha seats it contested. The BJD had contested 12 seats and won nine, while the BJP won seven of the nine it contested. The seat-sharing arrangement between the BJD and the BJP in respect of the Lok Sabha constituencies remains the same for the current elections.

In the last Assembly elections, the Congress(I) performed poorly - it won only 26 seats. The BJD contested 84 seats and won 63, while the BJP won 38 of the 63 seats it contested. The number of seats the two parties will contest has remained unchanged this time, but they have agreed to exchange a few seats.

The BJD's campaign strategy so far has been to highlight the "clean image" of the Chief Minister and his "crusade" against corruption; the prevalent "feel good" factor; the developmental initiatives that have been taken by the government; and the Congress(I)'s "misrule" in the past.

The BJP is readying itself for an aggressive campaign. Vajpayee's leadership and his government's achievements will be its main planks.

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Although hopeful of victory, senior leaders of the alliance are unsure of repeating the previous performance. Although there is no wave in favour of the Congress(I), they are leaving no stone unturned in their effort to secure a majority. The Chief Minister has already chalked out his plans to campaign in all the 147 Assembly constituencies.

Trying to recover lost ground, the Congress(I) is highlighting the "failures" of the Patnaik government and the alleged irregularities in granting mining leases to private companies. The party has announced its plans to bring out a charge-sheet against the alliance government. The Opposition also plans to pin down the coalition over the lack of development in the State and its failure to secure a higher Central assistance and prevent the distress sale of foodgrains in western Orissa during the past four years. But the major accusation against the Chief Minister seems to be his overdependence on a retired bureaucrat.

Both the Congress(I) and the BJD-BJP alliance claim to have taken into account the winning prospects while selecting their nominees. Yet, it appears that rebel candidates from all the three parties might enter the fray.

The PCC chief is now playing the political game with the help of his experience of decades in politics. To supplement his efforts, a number of ousted BJD leaders, who include Rajya Sabha MP and former Union Minister Dilip Ray and former Ministers Nalinikanta Mohanty and Ramakrushna Patnaik, have joined the Congress(I). Ray, an influential politician, was a close aide of Biju Patnaik. He has already campaigned in the BJD chief's constituency, Hinjili, promising to work in the Congress(I) to help realise Biju Patnaik's dream of a prosperous Orissa. The Orissa Gana Parishad led by former Minister Bijay Mohapatra has entered into an alliance with the Congress(I). The OGP president was unable to contest the 2000 Assembly polls because the BJD chief denied him the party ticket at the last minute.

Although the Congress(I) is gaining strength with the entry of several BJD rebels, the coalition appears to be on a strong wicket. The BJD is banking heavily on the reservoir of goodwill that Biju Patnaik enjoys and the untainted image of his Chief Minister son.

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THE ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front (L.F.) in West Bengal is likely to strengthen its position in the State in the Lok Sabha elections on May 10. With a weak Congress(I) and the popularity of the Nationalist Trinamul Congress (NTC) and its chief and Union Minister Mamata Banerjee on the decline, the Left parties may very well look forward to a considerable increase in their current tally of 29 out of a total of 42 seats. In 1999, the CPI(M) won 21 seats and the Trinamul Congress eight. While the Congress(I) won three seats, the Bharatiya Janata Party got two. In the L.F., the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) won three each and the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) two.

The CPI(M) will be contesting 32 seats, the RSP four, and the CPI and AIFB three each. The CPI(M) is fielding 12 new candidates in this election. The AIFB has two new faces in its list - Hiten Burman from Coochbehar and Subrata Basu from Barasat. The RSP and the CPI have renominated their sitting MPs.

The NTC, the new avatar of the Trinamul Congress after it merged with former Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma's faction of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), is contesting 28 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party, an ally of the NTC, is contesting 12. A decision on the remaining two seats was yet to be taken at the time of writing. The Congress(I) is reported to have decided to contest 35 seats.

Dum Dum, Jadavpur and all the seats in Kolkata - North West, South and North East - are important for the CPI(M) as in 1999 Jadavpur and the Kolkata seats were won by the Trinamul Congress and Dum Dum was won by the BJP. Union Minister Tapan Sikdar of the BJP will try to retain Dum Dum for the third time and will face Amitava Nandi of the CPI(M). The other sitting MP of the BJP, Satyabrata Mukherjee from Krishnanagar, will have to defend his seat against the famous athlete and CPI(M) candidate Jyotirmayee Sikdar.

Left Front Chief Whip in the State Assembly Rabin Deb will face five-time winner Mamata Banerjee in the Kolkata South constituency. The Congress(I) is planning to field actress and social activist Nafisa Ali in the constituency. Kolkata North West, won in 1999 by Trinamul Congress candidate Sudip Bandopadhyay, will witness an interesting contest this time. In spite of having nursed his constituency well and being perceived to be a definite winner, Bandopadhyay, having fallen out with Mamata Banerjee, has been denied the party ticket this time. He will be contesting as an independent candidate and the NTC has fielded Kolkata Municipal Corporation Mayor Subrata Mukherjee. Indications are that a three-cornered contest will tilt the balance in favour of the CPI(M) candidate, Sudhangshu Sil, in this NTC stronghold.

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State Minister for Development and Youth Services Mohammed Salim has been renominated by the CPI(M) for Kolkata North East seat. In 1999, Salim lost to Trinamul Congress leader and former Union Minister Ajit Panja. The L.F. also hopes to recapture the Jadavpur constituency, once a CPI(M) bastion. Trinamul Congress candidate Krishna Bose has won twice in a row from this constituency. This year she will face former MLA and CPI(M) candidate Sujan Chakraborti.

The three sitting MPs of the Congress(I) - A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhuri (Malda), Priya Ranjan Das Munshi (Raiganj) and Adhir Chowdhury (Berhampur) - will be contesting against Pranab Das and Minati Ghosh (both CPI-M), and Pramathesh Mukherjee (RSP).West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee(I) president Pranab Mukherjee, who has never won a Lok Sabha election, is likely to contest against the CPI(M)'s Abul Hasnat Khan in Jangipur. The Congress(I) will support candidates of the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS), formed by some activists expelled from the CPI(M), in the Bankura and Katwa seats.

The industrial constituencies of Asansol, Durgapur, Howrah and Tamluk are also important for the L.F. The CPI(M)'s Swadesh Chakraborti who wrested back in 1999 the Howrah constituency lost to the Trinamul Congress in 1998, will defend the seat against the NTC's Bikram Sarkar, sitting MP from Panskura. (Sarkar had won the Panskura seat in a byelection after Gita Mukherjee of the CPI, who had won it in 1999, passed away.) Former CPI MP and All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta will face Hema Choubey of the NTC in Panskura.

Sitting CPI(M) MPs Sunil Khan and Bikash Choudhury will try to retain the Durgapur and Asansol constituencies. With Mamata Banerjee heading the Union Coal and Mining Ministry, the Asansol constituency, which is located in the coal belt of the State, becomes all the more important for the L.F. The crisis in the tea industry may have a strong impact on the outcome in the north Bengal constituencies of Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling.

In the last elections, riding high on the popularity of Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamul Congress made some inroads into rural Bengal, which traditionally was and still is the L.F.'s stronghold. (While the Trinamul won Barasat, Nabadwip and Contai, the BJP won Krishnanagar.) However, in a byelection that followed, Nabadwip was won back by the CPI(M).

In the last polls, the Left Front won four less than what it did in 1998. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and chairman of the L.F. Biman Bose had at that time acknowledged that the front was late in reaching out to the people about the dangers from communal forces. This time, however, the L.F. is not likely to make the same mistake.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

Powerless farmers

Ongoing agitations in Madhya Pradesh highlight the growing problems faced by farmers across the country, as hikes in power tariffs add to other costs and make cultivation unviable.

FOR some time now, it has been evident that agriculture in the country is facing a serious crisis. Since the late 1990s, the combination of trade liberalisation and reduced public protection to farmers, in an increasingly volatile climatic environment, has created a pincer movement of rising input costs and falling or stagnant output prices. This has forced many cultivators, especially small and marginal farmers, into debt with growing inability to repay. The farmers' suicides, which periodically find mention in the inner pages of our newspapers, are only the more dramatic expressions of the wider desperation and misery that now characterise the countryside in most parts of India.

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One of the more surprising features of the national polity is that this severe crisis has not found greater political expression through agitation and unrest. It is true that the increasing resentment and anger of farmers does occasionally spill over into significant protests such as in Andhra Pradesh in 2000, when power tariffs were raised by N. Chandrababu Naidu's government. But the nationwide upsurge of farmers' movements, such as those witnessed in the late 1980s, has not yet developed in the current phase.

There are signs, though, that this relative quiescence may be coming to an end. In many parts of India, recent events point to a translation of more generalised despair into actual mobilisation for change. One of the States where this is clearly happening is Madhya Pradesh, where the resentment against large power tariff increases and forcible disconnection of power supply for about 50 per cent of farmers, played an important role in dislodging the Congress government of Digvijay Singh in the recent State Assembly elections.

Remarkably, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which came to power using this as an election plank, has followed exactly the same disastrous policies with respect to the power sector, and has so far disregarded the critical situation of farmers in the State. This has led to renewed agitation, currently organised by the Nimad Malwa Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan, a nascent association of farmers and workers and the Jan Sangharsh Morcha, a forum of people's organisations.

In early March, farmers and other protestors marched in the streets of Bhopal, and filed a petition before the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission (MPERC), asking for the slashing of tariff hikes on the grounds of a total lack of paying capacity by the farmers. However, the Uma Bharati government has thus far not moved to redress these complaints.

What explains this lack of sensitivity of the State government to the genuine concerns of cultivators, who make up by far the greater proportion of the working population in the State? Apart from basic ideological predilections, there is the constraint created by the State government's agreement with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which has insisted upon conditions of power sector "reform" that have these unfortunate results.

The conditions are similar to those accepted by the Chandrababu Naidu government in Andhra Pradesh as part of an agreement with the World Bank, and call for a sharp shift towards accepting commercial profitability considerations in the power sector. To understand these, it is necessary to go a little further back to the original agreement with the ADB and its implications.

In 2000, the ADB gave the Madhya Pradesh government a loan of $350 million for the restructuring of the power sector. The main objectives of the loan were to fragment the power sector into generation, transmission and distribution components; to corporatise these segments prior to their privatisation; and to increase the power tariffs hugely on the grounds of commercial profitability.

Towards this, the power sector loan stipulated certain goal posts and conditionalities. In order to withdraw the power sector from public control, the ADB loan document stated that an Energy Reforms Act must be passed, to be followed by the setting up of an Electricity Regulatory Commission. This Act was passed in 2000, the Regulatory Commission constituted and the process of annual tariff increases begun. In addition, the process of systematically disconnecting "defaulters" was initiated. As a result, low-paying and previously subsidised segments like the farmers and the poor were effectively thrown out of the grid. The purpose of all this was to make the power sector amenable to eventual privatisation by developing a small but high-paying consumer base.

OVER the past three years, the people of Madhya Pradesh have faced three huge shocks in the electricity sector. In 1999, immediately after the Assembly elections, the State government took a decision to sever all single-point connections and the Electricity Board enhanced the tariff with effect from March 1, 1999.

The second tariff shock came in 2001, with an average increase in tariffs of 18 per cent. This may not seem like very much, but the combined impact of the tariff increase and the non-tariff charges to the consumer, as well as the financially fragile situation of agricultural consumers who had faced four years of drought, meant that thousands of consumers were no longer able to pay their bills. Huge numbers of electricity connections, in some cases of entire villages, were cut because of non-payment of bills.

On November 30, 2002, the MPERC increased the power tariffs again, this time by as much as 800 per cent! This was done by decreasing the number of hours of power supply to six hours in the place of 24 hours and by increasing the tariff by two times. Coming on top of all the other financial pressures, the impact of this on farmers was hugely adverse. A last minute attempt by the State government in late 2003 to exempt small farmers was disallowed by the Election Commission, although the newly elected government was forced to provide this relief.

However, the basic damage has been done. Even according to the White Paper issued by the Madhya Pradesh government in June 2003, six lakh power connections of farmers out of a total of 12 lakh connections had been severed in the previous two years because of non-payment of dues. Effectively, half the farmers who were availing themselves of energised irrigation had to leave the grid because of their inability to pay. The lakhs of other farmers of Madhya Pradesh, who had stood at the margins waiting to be included in the grid, and have been relying on more expensive diesel power, would now be unable to partake of the benefits of energised irrigation.

Incidentally, the power loan of the ADB has operated in conjunction with other ADB loans to public sector enterprises, which have led to privatisation and large increases in the prices of other public services such as water supply. Both the ADB and the World Bank have expressed interest in providing loans for the privatisation of water supply in the State.

In the context of the agriculture of the State, the power tariff hikes have come at a particularly bad time. A recent study on the paying capacity of agricultural households in Madhya Pradesh, has revealed the stark financial conditions of farmers in the State.

The study, conducted by the economist Smita Gupta for the Nimad Malwa Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan and the Krishna Bharadwaj Memorial Trust, is based on a sample of 101 farmers (ranging from small to medium to large) from different districts in western Madhya Pradesh, which is the more prosperous agricultural region. The study has revealed that there is large-scale indebtedness among all the surveyed farmers with debts ranging from Rs.1,200 to Rs.2,700 an acre with the marginal farmers burdened with larger debts per acre compared to the larger farmers. The debts have emerged because farmers are confronting huge deficits even without imputing the costs of family labour, both at prices reported for 2002-03 and at average prices for the previous five years.

The study also finds that power costs are very significant, coming to around 14 per cent of total costs (excluding imputed labour costs) and are the single largest expense for farmers after labour costs. The survey finds that small farmers also use a significant proportion of monetised inputs, thus challenging the common myth that subsidies on monetised inputs only benefit large farmers.

According to the study, small and marginal farmers have been increasingly excluded from power-based irrigation through the combined effects of a number of factors. First, smaller cultivators who practised irrigation were often dependent upon energised extraction of groundwater from shallow tubewells, which dried up during the years of drought in the early years of this decade. Second, small farmers used to buy surplus water from their larger neighbours with irrigation infrastructure, but the increasingly erratic, unreliable and expensive power supply undermined this source. Third, and possibly most important, the electricity tariff hikes over the past three years have tremendously and disproportionately lowered the access of small and marginal farmers to energised irrigation.

The difficulties created by power price hikes are part of the larger difficulties faced by farmers because of the withdrawal of the State from various aspects of protection, such as provision of credit, extension services and an effective system of support prices for crops. The consequent exposure to the vagaries of world market prices, which are volatile and already greatly distorted by the operations of multinational companies and continuing large subsidies provided by governments of rich countries to their own farm sectors, has left cultivators in India in a vicious circle of lower profitability and higher indebtedness.

The reason that State governments such as that in Madhya Pradesh are unable to assist their own farmers caught in this crisis, is because they are themselves trapped in a mindset and a policy web determined by neoliberal economics and the conditionalities of multilateral institutions. This means that they can only think in terms of ensuring commercial profitability to public utilities with an eye to future privatisation.

But the real options are to ensure the viability of power utilities by cutting down on losses in transmission and distribution and power theft, and to increase the possibilities in cross-subsidisation. But this is only possible if the basic principle of public ownership and control is retained, since private operators will not be interested in cross-subsidisation.

In addition, as long as farmers face a plethora of rising costs and volatile international prices, there is a case for considering the provision of per hectare subsidies to ensure the viability of a sector that continues to provide livelihood for nearly two-thirds of our population.

The terrorist conundrum

The devastating bombing of a train in Madrid recently highlights the fact that the current global campaign against terrorism is inadequate in terms of intelligence and technology.

THE March 11 Madrid explosion - now popularly referred to as 3/11 - that has cost 200 lives is another shattering blow to the alliance that is fighting the war in Iraq. The continual loss inflicted on the U.S.-led coalition forces and local civilians on Iraqi soil had all along been taken in its stride as the inevitable consequence of the offensive mounted against Saddam Hussein loyalists. But the extension of the conflict to one of the superpower's allies in Iraq is a setback to the U.S. in its efforts to maintain the momentum of the operations on Iraqi soil. (The Casablanca explosion of May 16, 2003, although linked to Iraq, had several other factors as well.) As more and more evidence collected in the aftermath of the 10 explosions that shook the suburban railway system in Madrid becomes available, it is abundantly clear that the Al Qaeda and like-minded groups have not taken kindly to Spain sending its troops to aid the anti-Saddam exercise. (Although the native Basque terrorist group ETA was initially suspected for the incident, analysis by experts has now ruled out such a possibility.) It is quite likely that the new Socialist Prime Minister Jose Roderiguez Zapatero may actually carry out his threat to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq, if not out of conviction but in deference to popular sentiment.

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The poignancy of the Madrid happening is beyond words. The terror that it has successfully transmitted to the rest of the world should no doubt please the groups behind it. It is because of this that a decision by any of the members of the coalition forces to pull out from Baghdad at this stage would actually amount to a triumph of terrorism. This is, however, not greatly relevant or of consequence at this hour because what should cause concern to policymakers and the hapless peace-loving citizen is the prospect of more such attacks, with the terrorist dictating unilaterally where and how he should strike again. Intelligence agencies have proved inadequate and technology to combat the menace has not helped measurably. Bali, Riyadh, Casablanca and Madrid have all convinced us that whatever we have done till now to outwit the terrorist has not taken the edge of this modern scourge. That is the overwhelming power of hatred in the present setting.

Is there, therefore, a case for stopping all that goes under the rubric `counter-terrorism'? This is no doubt the easiest way out of a difficult situation. Considering the havoc and untold misery that terrorism has caused right before our eyes, no one, however cynical, will opt for this act of cowardice. Because, by resigning ourselves to fate, we will be only handing over the world on a platter to evil. On the contrary, we should be propelled by an urge to improve on existing technology to blunt whatever weapons that are being deployed against us by a misguided minority.

MADRID throws up two earthly problems that should haunt us and will demand our immediate attention. First, how do we frustrate the misuse of cell telephones? Second, how do we protect our railway systems and commuters against terrorist machinations? There is no doubt that the Madrid mechanics are the most easy to repeat. This is how most future operations will be conducted by those who adore violence and are driven solely by the unalloyed dislike of all that America stands for. If that country and citizens cannot be directly harmed, anyone who has dealings with them will have to be conveyed the message that they would do well to keep off from the Americans as quickly as they can. Religion and nationality are of no concern in the process, and the victims could be anybody even remotely connected to America. This is why Madrid has to be taken seriously and a strategy devised to minimise future damage.

Remote control devices have, no doubt, been used in the past to cause sabotage. Actually this is one method that has come to notice also in some assassinations or attempts on public figures. The recent incident at the foot of Tirumala Hills directed against Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu is an example. Here an IED (improvised explosive device) had been hidden close to the road traversed by Chandrababu Naidu and it went off when he was driving past. If my memory serves me right, we have not seen the use of cell phones for activating explosives in India, although the technology seems relatively simple. One recent instance of misuse of such phones was the May 12, 2003 bombing in Riyadh that killed 35 people. Here a few modified cell phones were actually recovered at the scene. Basque terrorists are reported to be familiar with this modus operandus. This method could become increasingly popular if suicide terrorists are hard to recruit in the days to come.

Cell phones can be used in two ways, either as an alarm device to time an explosion at one's choice, or as a trigger to cause an explosion. In the latter case, a call to the telephone is what brings about the desired damage. More often than not, in the past, terrorists in Spain, especially of the Basque variety, had called a specific cell phone packed with explosives to produce the damage. Seldom had they used it as an alarm. The most important piece of evidence collected by the Madrid investigators, nearly 12 hours after the 10 main explosions and while combing the scene near the El Pozo train station, was a gym bag containing two copper detonators with about 10 kg of gelatinous dynamite and a Motorola handset. It is said that the explosives had been connected to the alarm function of the phone. Possibly because the phone was new and had not been properly activated, this particular bomb did not go off. The surmise is that the earlier 10 successful explosions of that March 11 morning had been caused with the help of a similar device. The phones had possibly disintegrated after the explosions.

We have had some ingenious moves to reduce the incentive for the theft of mobile phones. A unique number given to each set can now be used in most parts of the world to disable it the moment its owner complains of loss. The manufacturers have played ball with the police in this endeavour. How will they react to a suggestion for research to prevent a phone from becoming a dangerous tool in terrorist hands? It is generally believed that conversation through mobile phones yields itself to monitoring by law enforcement agencies so that secret communications are no longer possible. This is as long as the users are known and the specific telephones used by them are identified. Madrid demonstrates how we need to go beyond this. One suggestion will be to eliminate the alarm function of such telephones. This will be great deprivation to the lawful user. Next, how does one make the dismantling of a phone to pack explosives inside and re-assembling the instrument for an illegal operation an impossible exercise? To a layman this seems the only way to frustrate mobile phones from being converted into a lethal tool in the hands of lunatics and the positively wicked.

Perhaps more important is the gargantuan task of securing the railways, especially the underground, and its users. Terrorists have tasted blood. I can recall how members of a Japanese cult, Aum Shinrikyo, mischievously released a poison gas in the Tokyo subway on March 19, 1995, leading to five deaths. More than 500 were hospitalised. The more recent attack on the Moscow metro on February 6, 2004 that led to about 40 deaths also illustrated how easy it is to cause chaos in a busy railway network. Such systems become easy prey because they carry millions of commuters each day and are spread extensively on land or below the ground. The sheer numbers involved militate against any checking of passengers or what they carry.

Airlines the world over have generally tightened up procedures, especially since 9/11. Here, we are talking about a small number that runs only into thousand per day even in the busiest of airports. Also, except for a few hundreds, the others fly only at intervals and do not mind the nearly two hour wait involved in subjecting themselves to a scrutiny of their person and baggage before getting into a flight. It will be preposterous to initiate anything like this for commuters who take the train every working day. As a result, railway stations are extremely vulnerable to terrorist attacks. It is this helpless situation that sends a chill down our spine. The situation yields itself only to an imaginative procedure to keep an eye on all those found in railway premises and trains by law enforcement agencies. Close circuit cameras at as many points as possible can help to an extent. Nothing can be a substitute for vigilance on the part of all commuters. The point is that governments must be prepared to spend more on making rail travel safer than it is now. There is a feeling that disproportionate amount goes into civil aviation security at the cost of other modes of transport. For instance, the U.S. government is said to spend $4.5 billion on air safety as against $65 million on the railways. This is incongruous if one considers that the trains carry five times more passengers. The comparison may be odious and illogical. It nevertheless highlights the need for a larger spending on making the average train commuter feel more secure.

In the ultimate analysis, we need to realise that we are fighting against the severest of odds. There is a popular misconception that once bin Laden is captured everything will be hunky dory. Far from it. The assessment of discerning scholars is that Al Qaeda is no longer a centralized command that issues orders from wherever that outlaw is hiding for his followers to execute. We have come very far away from that momentous morning of September 11, 2001 when bin Laden was possibly in command. We now have to contend with a fragmented organization that has spread its tentacles to various parts of the world. What unites those who owe loyalty to bin Laden is not a well-oiled structure but a philosophy that breeds on contempt and hatred for the whole non-Islamic world. We are now dealing with what Abdul Rahim Ali, an Egyptian expert on radical Islamic groups, describes as "separate and loose groups bound only by an ideology, but working independently. They know the general guidelines and they know what is required to do."

Scott Atran, writing in the New York Times (March 16, 2004), seems in agreement with this perception when he says that "... . we face a set of largely autonomous groups and cells pursuing their own regional aims... with only distant relations with bin Laden." In the absence of specific intelligence that proves intimate contacts between Bin Laden and those who subscribe to his ruthlessness against the West, we are inclined to go with scholars like Rahim Ali and Atran. What confounds us however is the motivation that drives most of the players who indulge in the utter cruelty directed against the civilised world. Possibly what a purported terrorist said in the videotape seized in connection with the Madrid explosions has more than a ring of truth: "You love life, and we love death." Can any one reason with such madness?

Admired and hated

V.S. SAMBANDAN cover-story

IN a flash, Karuna, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's (LTTE) Eastern military leader, had an image makeover when he broke ranks with the organisation in early March. He was loved by those who had hated him and despised by those who had once referred to him in reverential tones.

"I want to stick his photograph on my car," a middle-aged woman in Colombo said as the news of Karuna's revolt came in. "I think he is definitely more handsome than other rebels," her friend joined in. "What has he studied?" they asked. "Perhaps he has done a course in engineering... How old is he?... " The conversation meandered.

Critics in the south, who had condemned him, now append the respectful "Amman" to Karuna. "He needs to be supported and protected," said a political observer, who has been critical of the LTTE.

In the northern Jaffna peninsula, however, it is an image overhaul in the reverse, with Karuna `Amman' becoming the "traitor". Karuna's defiance of the LTTE leadership, the northern resident felt, "is letting down the Tamil cause". The predominant view, which echoes the LTTE's position, is that "it [Karuna's revolt] will not affect" the Tigers. One resident was more moderate in his comment. Giving it a patronising flavour, he said: "Karuna may have a reason, but I think he went too far when he accused us northerners of discriminating against the easterners. That is unfair."

In Batticaloa district in the East, Karuna's home district, the reactions vary. An influential resident was emphatic that Karuna was correct. "The East," he felt, "has been continually looted of its human resources". Despite his acceptance of Karuna's cause, he was doubtful of the outcome. "In any other organisation, it would be considered a democratic assertion. Not in the LTTE," he said. For a villager from Kiran, the birthplace of Karuna, the revolt is "very much correct". Referring to what he calls "popular opinion in the East", the villager said: "They may accuse Karuna of many things, but he is standing up for the East and I support him." In a hushed tone, a resident asks if this correspondent wants to interview Karuna: "I can arrange it. No problem." Realising that it has been done already, he is both happy that his icon has been interviewed and disappointed that he had no role in it. "The next time you want to, please tell me," he requests.

For Jaffna residents who are in Batticaloa, the revolt is a cause for fear and anger. "This is betrayal. You have heard of Ettappan (who betrayed Kattaboman, a local chieftain of Panchalankurichi, now in Tamil Nadu, who put up stiff resistance against the East India Company)? Karuna is his present-day version," a Jaffna resident said, not concealing his anger. "At one stroke, he undid all the efforts of the past 20 years."

An electoral siege

V.S. SAMBANDAN cover-story

JAFFNA, the epicentre of Sri Lanka's decades-old separatist conflict, is today a town under electoral siege. A calm spreads across the town as the candidates go about seeking popular support for the April 2 parliamentary elections. The candidates move about in vans and their supporters distribute handbills. On the face of it, it is electioneering as usual, if one could overlook the fact that all this is restricted to just one party - the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is endorsed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The TNA has two planks: that the LTTE should be the sole representative of the Tamils in any negotiations and that its proposals for an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) for the North-East should be the basis for the negotiations.

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There are three main contestants for the nine seats - the TNA, an independent group led by V. Anandasangaree, president of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), and the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) led by Douglas Devananda. The campaigning, however, does not reflect this plurality.

"My task is going to be liberating our people [Tamils] from the LTTE," says Anandasangaree sitting inside his heavily guarded office in the heart of Jaffna. The 71-year-old leader who entered Parliament in 1970 was instrumental in carving out a separate Kilinochchi district, where the LTTE now has its headquarters. For his campaign, he said, he had to hire loudspeakers from Colombo as people are scared to attend meetings. He is firm on his stand that the LTTE cannot be the sole representative of Tamils.

Condemning the LTTE's hold over civilians, including those in government-held areas, Anandasangaree said: "They have no business to control anybody." However, with every passing day, he said, he was getting "more direct" in his criticism. Through pamphlets, through postal campaigning and by word of mouth, he is spreading the message that the people have lost their freedom. He is also clear on his parliamentary role. "I will sit in the Opposition, I will refuse to accept any portfolios," he said. The old school of Sri Lankan Tamil politics keeps a distance from positions of power.

Making arrangement for voting in government-held areas for voters in the rebel-controlled Kilinochchi district, Anandasangaree feared, could increase the possibility of impersonation.

The other candidate to dare the LTTE in Jaffna is Devananda, who, true to his style, minces no words: "Even within the LTTE they are not accepted as the sole representatives, so how are the people going to accept it?" On the ISGA proposals, he says the LTTE has a vested interest.

The LTTE's extortion, its "double tax without service", he said, had created disenchantment. Going ahead with his door-to-door campaign, Devananda appears to be extending his base from the islets near Jaffna to the peninsula itself. "The Tigers are running about as if hot water has been poured on their feet," he said. The very fact that they are seeking votes now, while a decade ago they were opposed to elections, has dented the Tigers' image, he said. The EPDP, which is contesting in the North-East and in Colombo, he said, had a target of eight to 10 seats in the 225-member Parliament.

Through an "agreement", the EPDP is also campaigning in the eastern Batticaloa district, including in LTTE-held areas under the control of the rebellious Eastern commander, Karuna. The split in the LTTE and the assertion of Karuna, he said, had further dimmed the chances of the TNA. "Even before this they had lost popular support. When the ceasefire agreement came, there were hopes, but nothing happened. The LTTE did not allow anything to happen," he said.

Under Sri Lanka's proportional representation system, every party has to offer a list of candidates for the voters to indicate their preferences. While the TNA comprises four parties - the Federal Party (F.P.), the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) and a faction of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front led by Suresh Premachandran (EPRLF-Suresh) - a crucial factor in this election is the number of candidates who are not members of these parties and have been named by the LTTE.

"It is now a race for the list," a prominent candidate said. Just outside Jaffna town, in Chavakachcheri, the TNA's candidate Padmini, who is an LTTE nominee, is actively seeking votes. "We need a woman representative," say her supporters, urging the voters to select her from the list of candidates. "She is not from any political party, she takes care of the Martyrs' cemeteries. I shall weigh all these factors when I cast my vote," a resident said, not revealing his mind.

In Jaffna, popular opinion is not forthcoming. The general nod is for the TNA. Those who admit to have decided to vote for the TNA say that they do so to express Tamil solidarity. Karuna's split, they say "will not affect the TNA's chances". The dissenting voices, though few and careful, are equally emphatic: "It is not going to be easy for the TNA. The LTTE's taxes have become blatant. Especially after the ceasefire agreement, they have been acting with impunity. I will bear this in mind when I cast my vote," a resident said.

THE LTTE CRISIS

With the Eastern rebel `Colonel' Karuna determined to go the whole hog and the high command apparently unable to strike at him decisively, the LTTE faces the worst crisis in its history.

in Jaffna and Batticaloa

Rebels, as I have come to realise, are never quite emancipated from the people against whom they rebel. Whatever these people have admired, they have to decry; whatever these people have decried, they have to admire. Their opinions are thus dictated in reverse by their enemies.

- Bertrand Russell in "Revolt in the Abstract".

AFTER decades of tactical manoeuvres and scores of battles, which finally took it to the negotiating table with the Sri Lankan government, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) now faces its most serious challenge: revolt within. Its Eastern military commander, Karuna, has struck a belligerent note, which is an early sign of a possible implosion in the once-monolithic group. It also raises serious concerns about the direction in which the already-fragmented Sri Lankan polity is headed. The state of flux that the Sri Lankan polity was in late last year following President Chandrika Kumaratunga's decision to assume the portfolios of Defence, Interior and Mass Communications has now extended to the island's Tamil politics as well. The sparring in the Tiger camp has also rocked an already unstable political situation into further disequilibrium. The uncertainty in the ever-simmering eastern region gives no cause for comfort on both the political and military fronts. According to the latest reports, although attempts at rapprochement are continuing between the LTTE leadership and Karuna, there is no clear public indication yet of a possible patch-up.

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There are varying versions on the backdrop to Karuna's assertion of his greater power in the east, the central command's decision on March 6 to "discharge" him from the LTTE, and Karuna's subsequent defiance. But the issues that have surfaced raise serious questions about the LTTE's organisational structure and the concept of Tamil nationhood in Sri Lanka.

The LTTE has officially not gone beyond mentioning that the former special commander for Batticaloa and Amparai was "discharged" for his "traitorous acts" and that he was acting in self-interest, "instigated" by forces "opposed to the liberation struggle". Supporters of the LTTE's decision say Karuna had already painted himself into a corner through a series of financial and personal misconduct. "Disciplinary action," they say, was being contemplated against him, when he chose to revolt.

The LTTE sees the rebellion as "a temporary aberration". Colombo has declined to comment on the matter and the international community, led by the Norwegian peace facilitators, has distanced itself from the biggest internal spat in the rebel group.

The impact of Karuna's rebellion should be weighed on three fronts - popular perception and image, negotiations and political bargaining, military strength and strike capability. In addition, it questions the raison d'etre of the decades-old war for separation, which now appears to be veering round to the federalist option.

The Tamils' assertion for nationhood is based on theThimphu Principles, which encompass the right to a nation spread across a traditional homeland based on self-determination. Karuna's rebellion is the first challenge to the Thimphu Principles, which have been broadly accepted by the diversified and mutually opposed Tamil parties and groups. The LTTE terms the latest crisis an "internal" one perpetrated by a "lone individual with a lost cause". The big difference from the past, however, is that it is being fought in the public domain, with the expelled commander making the Northern-Eastern divide a public issue.

Proponents of the theory of "pre-emptive strike by Karuna" argue that his actions were built up over several months. "He was regional commander for 17 years something, unparalleled in the organisation. Why did he not raise the issue of so-called discrimination of the East earlier?" a Jaffna resident asked.

Karuna's defence against allegations of personal and financial misconduct is that if it were so, he would have fled and not stayed on to assert his position.

The issues, supporters of his position say, were on the back burner for quite some time.

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As the debate on the rights and wrongs of Karuna's revolt continues, the LTTE's image - as an organisation that has kept its problems to itself, as a tightly ruled, disciplined group, and as one fanatically uncompromising on Tamil nationalism - has taken a battering. The allegations of financial and personal misconduct, if true, could well be too embarrassing for it to admit.

More damaging is Karuna's charge that "discrimination" was behind his decision to break ranks. In a society where caste and regional consciousness run high, the LTTE was seen as a grouping that overcame such differences and was focussed on "Tamil nationhood". The past undercurrents of regional jostling by mainstream Tamil political parties, it was made clear, was beyond Tigerism, which saw the North and the East as one. Moreover, of late, the LTTE has also made a subtle, but significant shift from claiming to be the sole representative of the Tamils to seeking to be that of the "Tamil-speaking people", which would include the Muslims, who are a predominant force in the East.

The LTTE has faced a "history of betrayals", says its chief negotiator and ideologue Anton S. Balasingham, the most high profile one being that of its deputy leader, Mahendrarajah alias Mahatiya, who was executed on charges of "treason". However, the Mahatiya episode was known to the world only after it was over. Karuna's high position in the organisation, the public acknowledgment by the leadership of his military skills, and his role as a member of the negotiating team, make his case very difficult for the LTTE to handle.

Now that Karuna has put on public the domain issues of internal autonomy, how the LTTE handles the crisis and how it seeks to cope with internal demands could indicate whether the organisation is willing to move away from its own centrist approach. A resident of Batticaloa said: "Karuna's case would be seen anywhere else as a democratic assertion. Not in the LTTE."

IRONICALLY, the most telling comment on Chandrika Kumaratunga's constitutional takeover last year came from Karuna. "It is like breaking the pot when the butter was being churned," he had said. Tamil political observers see a parallel in the timing of Karuna's revolt. "Our negotiating position [in the peace talks] is likely to be affected and our bargaining power could be weakened," a Northern politician said. The impact of Karuna's revolt could become an additional component of the negotiations. The possibility of the LTTE guaranteeing the implementation of any solution in the East depends largely on the manner in which the group overcomes the crisis.

All through the stalled negotiations, the LTTE had presented its position on two basic planks: that it was speaking for the Tamils and that it would not compromise on its basic political and military positions. Against that backdrop, Karuna's dissent, coming as it does from the weakest spot of the conflict-resolution process - the East - will have an impact on the final solution. The LTTE's moral high ground of "a united Tamil voice" at the talks, already questioned by non-LTTE Tamil parties, will also be challenged seriously.

The largest uncertainty, however, is on the military front. The LTTE as a military organisation has evolved into a force capable of countering and launching conventional warfare since the 1990s. It was also then that Karuna moved away from being a local warlord facing allegations of instigating manslaughter to the position of a military leader. The longest and severest military engagement between the Sri Lanka Army and the LTTE in the 1990s saw the emergence of Karuna as a battlefield commander leading rebel ground forces.

The result of that test between the rebel and government forces is now common knowledge. Untested, however, is the situation of a military engagement between LTTE factions. As Karuna's rebellion continues, his assertion that he will "hit back" if attacked by the "Northern forces" introduces a new dimension with calamitous consequences for the island's Tamil population in the North and the East.

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The LTTE leadership has made it a point to emphasise that the problem will be solved without endangering the lives of civilians and cadre. Ground-level indications from the East are that there is resentment against any intra-Tamil violence. "We sent our boys to fight the Sri Lanka Army, not against our own people," a pamphlet from the East, said.

The Eastern rebel cadre, according to Sri Lankan military sources, are known for their "tenacity and precision in warfare". The number of Eastern fighters varies between 5,000 and 6,000. The exact details of Karuna's armoury are unknown, but it is acknowledged that its prowess cannot be underestimated. In addition, the possibility of overt or covert support from Sri Lankan forces is also not ruled out, depending on the situation. A former militant cites the LTTE's unhesitating acceptance of support from the Sri Lankan forces when it turned its guns against the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) and a Tamil group that supported the Indian Army.

Now, a week after Karuna's defiance, there is dead silence over the crisis. According to current indications, the attempts for a re-alignment of forces have not been abandoned completely. Karuna, who had planned several battlefield deceptions to defeat the Sri Lankan forces, has demanded the expulsion of three administrative heads - Pottu Amman (Intelligence), Tamilendhi (Finance) and Nadesan (Police).

In an interview to Frontline, he did not conceal his personal animosities, when he called the intelligence leader a "terrorist". The finance and police chiefs, he alleged, were "not qualified to be in the LTTE" as they had "surrendered" to the Indian Army. The selective targeting of these three heads raises suspicions about the motives behind the opposition. According to Karuna's critics, his displeasure towards the three chiefs could stem from the fact that they are in charge of the subjects under which charges have been made against him.

The high stakes placed by Karuna make reconciliation a seemingly difficult task. The reasons behind the crisis remain unclear and are fast becoming inconsequential outside the LTTE. As Sri Lanka gears up to face a hitherto untested political and military sparring between two Tiger factions, a difficult, possibly violent, phase lies ahead.

TIGER VS TIGER

D.B.S. JEYARAJ cover-story

In the most serious internal crisis the LTTE has faced so far, the Eastern commander `Col.' Karuna is pitted against the North-dominated `high command'. The latter has responded with restraint, but how long will the standoff last? What are the chances of success of the rebellion?

AN uneasily tense peace prevails in Sri Lanka' s Eastern province, thanks to the power struggle between the leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and its former regional commander Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias "Col" Karuna or Karuna Amman (uncle). Although Karuna's rebellion against LTTE chief V. Prabakaran is the most serious crisis of its kind to affect the Tigers in their 28-year-old history, the hierarchy has displayed remarkable restraint so far. Instead of launching a powerful military offensive against the renegade Tiger chieftain, the LTTE is overtly soft-pedalling the issue while engaging covertly in activities aimed at undermining Karuna.

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LTTE political wing head S.P. Tamilchelvan has announced that Prabakaran has explicitly instructed his cadre to refrain from any military action to retrieve the situation. Assuring the world at large that the Tigers will resolve the crisis very quickly, Tamilchelvan also stated that there would be no bloodshed. Interestingly, Tamilchelvan had earlier dismissed the Karuna affair as a minor matter and ridiculed Karuna as a single individual without any support.

Apparently, the LTTE hierarchy has revised its stance on Karuna and recognises the threat he poses, after several weeks of a politico-military standoff. The glib pronouncements of Tamilchelvan, or for that matter any Tiger leader, are to be viewed sceptically, given the LTTE's track record of deception and acting in bad faith. In this case, however, there seems to be evidence that the "official" Tigers are not keen to invade the East and conduct a frontal assault against Karuna and his rebel band of "unofficial" Tigers. Not for the moment at least. The LTTE may be trying to project an image of magnanimity on this count but the realpolitik nature of the situation suggests that the Tigers are making a virtue out of necessity.

A complex set of factors has contributed so far in circumscribing the Tigers and generally maintaining peace. Not the least among them is the "uncertainty" factor where the Tigers themselves are not sure of an immediate military victory or about the consequences of a military action. As to how long this stalemate will continue is anybody's guess.

If the Karuna crisis had erupted during a time of war as in the case of Mahatiya, the Tigers could have swiftly decimated the "offenders". The former LTTE deputy leader, Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias Mahatiya, was arrested along with around 250 of his suspected supporters on charges of treason on July 31, 1993. He was detained, tortured and interrogated by the Tiger intelligence wing, led by Pottu Amman, at an undisclosed location. A confession of guilt was forcibly extracted, filmed and shown on video to Tiger cadre. Thereafter Mahatiya was executed. So too were many of his one-time bodyguards and supporters. Several hundreds of suspected Mahatiya confidants were detained for prolonged periods and released. The LTTE was purged of all alleged pro-Mahatiya elements.

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The Mahatiya affair was the single biggest internal calamity to befall the Tigers prior to Karuna's rebellion. While Prabakaran, aided by Pottu Amman, was able to take swift action on that issue, he is unable to do so now. This is because, unlike Mahatiya who never revolted openly or urged his followers to do so, Karuna has rebelled openly and brought the issue into the public domain. Moreover, Mahatiya had no "army" to fight for him or "territory" under his control, unlike Karuna. In fact, Karuna, who represented the LTTE at peace talks in various parts of the world, is a celebrity of sorts. Mahatiya was virtually unknown outside Sri Lanka and India.

Besides, if the war was on, the LTTE could have engaged in several rounds of military action to end Karuna's rebellion and cover it up. Fortunately for Karuna, the peace process is on. A ceasefire is in force. If the LTTE were to launch a military action openly, it would have amounted to a violation of the ceasefire. If Karuna resists and fighting ensues, the ceasefire itself could be jeopardised. If the Sri Lankan armed forces are drawn into this intra-Tiger conflict, the ceasefire would collapse and war would begin. In that case, the LTTE would be blamed for precipitating war and roundly condemned by the international community.

There is also a very practical reason for the restraint shown by the Tigers. Karuna's rebellion is confined to the Batticaloa and Amparai districts of the Eastern province. Karuna only wants to be the king of the East. He does not want to dislodge Prabakaran from the leader's position. Neither does he want to extend his domain outside the East. The LTTE will be faulted for "invading" the East under such circumstances. More important, the LTTE led by Prabakaran does not control the Batticaloa-Amparai Tigers. The majority of the Eastern Tiger cadre have so far remained loyal to Karuna. Karuna controls the territory and has set up security cordons to detect and prevent infiltration or an invasion.

Against such a backdrop, it is a formidable task to oust Karuna through a military push. Moreover, success is not guaranteed. The chances are that Karuna, after some initial fighting, could slip into guerilla warfare against his ex-comrades. Thereafter the fighting would be protracted, with Karuna fighting with the advantage of being on his home turf.

Even if the LTTE succeeds in destroying Karuna after a protracted campaign of violence, the consequences would be terrible. Karuna will be glorified as an Eastern martyr. Eastern cadres who supported Prabakaran will be depicted as quislings. It will also widen the North-East divide. The LTTE will never be as strong as it was in the East before.

The military balance between Karuna and the mainstream LTTE is quite interesting and precariously fluid. In recent times, the Eastern component comprising Batticaloa and Amparai has become almost indispensable to the LTTE. The cadre strength of the LTTE is about 25,000 now. Of these, around 7,000 are either seniors whose fighting days are over, or injured and maimed fighters who cannot engage in active fighting now. This leaves about 18,000 fighters, including men and women. About 7,500 of them are from Batticaloa and Amparai districts. The region has become the provider of the largest segment of Tiger cadre in recent times. More than 2,000 cadre were recruited or conscripted from the Eastern region after the ceasefire came into force. The rest of the North-East could swell their numbers by only 500 to 600 during the ceasefire.

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Another post-peace problem has been the phenomenon of several hundred Tiger cadre from the North leaving the movement. Moreover, not all of the 7,500 cadre from the East are in their native region. An estimated 1,800 of the Eastern cadre were in the North before the crisis erupted. Since then another 200 Eastern cadre have left Karuna and crossed over to the Wanni. Of the 1,800 Eastern cadre, 600 are maintained as a distinct entity. They are the first division of the Jeyanthan brigade, commanded now by Jegathaan. Until recently, these men were deployed on the Northern border along the Kilaly-Eluthumadduvaal-Nagar Lovil axis in the Jaffna peninsula. They manned the security lines and sentry posts to the south of Muhamaalai in the Jaffna peninsula.

After the Karuna rebellion the Eastern brigade became suspect. Its members were relieved of their duties, deprived of arms and kept under mass house arrest. They are being screened and debriefed by Pottu Amman and other Eastern Tiger leaders loyal to Prabakaran, such as Ramesh, Ram, Praba and Ramanan. In addition to this, there are 400 Eastern cadre serving as bodyguards to important Tiger leaders. Prabakaran himself had 75 Easterners in his trusted bodyguard unit of 200. It is reported that the bodyguard in dark glasses seen standing behind Prabakaran during the press conference held in Kilinochchi on April 10,2002 was an Easterner. Another 800 Easterners are serving in various departments and sections of the LTTE in the North. The Sea Tigers, the intelligence wing, the economic unit, the revenue unit, the medical corps, the artillery unit, the political sections of both men and women, the communications corps, the leopard commando unit and even the administrative bodies in the North are manned by Easterners in sizable numbers. The majority of Sea Tigers and members of the Black Tiger suicide squad are from the East.

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There are 32 departments-cum-fighting formations in the LTTE. Of these none is headed by Easterners, but all rely heavily on recruits from the region. Three key figures from the East serving in the North are Puthiyavan of the LTTE administrative secretariat, Nalan of the medical corps and Roshan of the communications wing. Except for a select few, most of these men are suspect now. They are being debriefed and screened. Easterners whose loyalties are not suspect and who are willing to fight Karuna will be forged into special units to combat him.

THE latest split is both horizontal and vertical. With 1,800 of the 7,500 Eastern cadre deployed in key positions in the North, the repercussions of a regional split could be severe if mishandled. Various LTTE sections in the North could become dysfunctional if totally cleansed of Eastern cadre. At the same time, continuing to keep them in active service in the North could pose potential security risks. These cadre cannot be quarantined forever. So the option available for Prabakaran is to throw them into battle and ask them to prove their loyalty by fighting their regional brethren.

Militarily and politically, Prabakaran is unable and unwilling to deploy northern cadre to fight Karuna in the East. He would prefer to send in Eastern cadre for the job because they know the terrain and the political fallout would be less risky. The phenomenon of Northern fighters battling and killing Eastern cadre could alienate the entire East from the North. Senior Batticaloa leaders who defected to Kilinochchi after Karuna's rebellion have been appointed "legitimate" Eastern Tiger leaders by Prabakaran. Ramesh is the special commander for both Amparai and Batticaloa. While Ram is the military commander, Praba is deputy military commander. Ramanan is military intelligence chief and Kausalyan the political commissar.

After these defections, Karuna too has reappointed his senior officials. While Rabat is the senior military commander, Thatha and Visu have been appointed deputy military chief and political commissar respectively. Thurai is the new administrative head and Nilavini the women's brigade commander. Premini has been appointed the women's political wing head and Bawa is the new Amparai district head. Of the 7,500 Eastern cadre, 5,700 were in Batticaloa and Amparai at the time of the split. Karuna has two divisions of the Jeyanthan brigade under his command. He also has the Visalagan and Vinothan men's brigades, the Anbarasi and Mathana women's brigades, and the Johnson artillery unit under his command. Eastern officer cadre have passed out from the Balendra officers training college. Almost all middle and junior level officers are beholden to Karuna. He also has an impressive arsenal of heavy artillery. Initially these big guns were moved into the East to pound the Batticaloa town camp, the Veechukalmunai-Pudoor complex, and the Vavunatheevu and Kallady camps if war broke out. Now they are mounted to the south of Trincomalee in anticipation of a Tiger strike.

Prabakaran is relying on Sornam, the senior commander from Trincomalee, to lead the invasion into Batticaloa when the time is ripe. Currently Sornam is camping along the northern banks of the Verugal river in Trincomalee district. The crocodile-infested river demarcates Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts. Karuna has deployed about 800 cadre in the Maavadichenai sector to prevent an invasion across Verugal. The defenders are commanded by Karuna's brother Reggie. The long-range artillery is also a deterrent.

In addition, Karuna's cadre are also patrolling the shores along Vaaharai, Kaluwankerny, Panichankerny and other areas anticipating a sea-borne invasion. The three Eastern Tiger coastal camps of Vaaharai, Paalchenai and Challaitheevu are also under Karuna's control. Key highways and trunk roads coming into the district are also patrolled and suspect vehicles and passengers checked. Key roads in the interior are also patrolled and checked regularly. Karuna fears infiltration by Pottu Amman's men. Large-scale invasion through clandestine routes are also suspected. All three routes of the famous "Beirut trail" linking the North and the East via jungles are also watched. Apparently, Karuna hopes to keep Batticaloa "sealed" as long as possible.

However, Karuna knows that he cannot be under a permanent state of siege for long. Although the Eastern military situation is under Karuna's control for now, the equilibrium could change if and when the "official" Tigers strike back. In a bid to safeguard himself, Karuna has expelled several people closely connected to the LTTE. He has closed down LTTE courts, police stations, tax offices, intelligence offices and administrative units. The Northern Tamils manning them have been sent away. In the process, several Jaffna academics and students in the Batticaloa Eastern University have also been sent away. Several Jaffna traders and a few professionals were also intimidated and sent away. Others left out of fear. Karuna justifies this as a "pressure tactic" to influence the LTTE in the Wanni. However, such moves have created a rift between the Northern and Eastern Tamils in Batticaloa.

The important question perplexing many people is whether all of Karuna's men will fight for him in case there is an open confrontation. How many will stay with him through thick and thin? The loyalties of the LTTE cadre are divided with allegiance to Prabakaran and Karuna. It is a moot point as to whether they would be willing to fight in an internal power struggle for one against the other. Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, Karuna has several troubles facing him on the military front. Of the 5,700 cadre in the East, around 2,000 are young and inexperienced. The greater part of them were recruited or conscripted after the ceasefire and have not seen battle. Already about 1,000 of Karuna's cadre have said they want to be neutral in this internal struggle and have "temporarily" left the LTTE. Karuna, like Prabakaran, knows that people cannot be forced to fight well and has opted to let them go rather than confine them through force. About 200 of the cadre have fled the East to the North. Karuna has also sent home about 500 of the new and young women recruits. They have been asked to remain in reserve for now. They could be called up for fighting duty if the need arises. For the time being, sending them home eases the financial burden of feeding and maintaining them. The male-female ratio among the Eastern tiger cadre is three is to two.

Currently, of the original 5,700 cadre in the East, only 2,500 to 3,000 could be termed as experienced fighter cadre ready, willing and able to fight and die for Karuna. It remains to be seen as to how many of them will remain loyal in the future.

THE mainstream LTTE has been using every counter-propaganda tactic to vilify and discredit Karuna. Among the charges levelled against him are corruption, misappropriation of funds, illicit sexual liaisons with senior women Tiger leaders, internal killings and torture, sending wife and children safely to Malaysia, involvement with an external force, conspiring with the Colombo government, selling out Tamil nationalism, being a cat's paw of those seeking to break up North-East unity and so on. The LTTE game plan seems to be that of waiting and undermining Karuna through this type of propaganda. If more and more loyal cadre believe this propaganda and get alienated from Karuna, his position will be weakened. The Eastern people too would turn against him. Under such circumstances, it would be easier to destroy him and also contain a regional backlash.

Knowing the LTTE strategy, Karuna has been acting accordingly to counter it. Although Karuna has received the sympathy of the international, Sinhala and English media, the Tamil press in Colombo has been hostile. Tamil newspapers have been generally supportive of the mainstream LTTE and published the anti-Karuna propaganda dished out by the LTTE. Enraged Karuna supporters have burnt copies of the Virakesari, Thinakkural and Sudar Oli and "banned" these newspapers in Batticaloa. Karuna uses the four-page Tamil daily Thamil Alai to propagate his point of view in Batticaloa and Amparai. Karuna's idea is to prevent information unfavourable to him from being provided to the people of Batticaloa and promote his own line. This is not an easy task given the reach of radio, television and electronic mail. Yet Karuna persists in trying to embargo information.

Karuna's aim is to retain the goodwill and faith of his cadre and people as long as possible. Even if more cadre defect, Karuna is said to be sure of the loyalty of 1,000 to 1,500. It is reported that at least 500 are ready to die for him as Black Tigers. If this holds true, then Karuna could prove a formidable fighting machine. The Batticaloa district is bisected by 30 miles (48 km) of the Batticaloa lagoon, which runs parallel to the sea. The littoral to the east of the lagoon is known as Eluvaankarai, or shore of the rising sun. The hinterland to the west of the lagoon is known as Paduvaankarai, or shore of the setting sun. The littoral has a mixed Tamil and Muslim population, with villages of both communities being interspersed. The Paduvaankarai hinterland, a Karuna stronghold, is homogeneously Tamil. His two premier base complexes, Thenagam and Meenagam, are located in this area. The bulk of his cadre too are housed in this area.

With several stretches of jungle such as Kudumbimalai, Vada Munai, Unichai, Punanai, Bakiella, Kanchikudichaaru and Sangamankandy, the terrain is certainly conducive to guerilla warfare. So, even if the LTTE transports enough cadre to outnumber Karuna's, the latter can abandon positional warfare and opt for guerilla tactics against the LTTE. Given the Karuna faction's better knowledge of the terrain and support of the Eastern people, the fight could be a protracted one. The longer it takes, the greater the damage to the LTTE.

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Prabakaran, aware of such facts, will hope to eliminate Karuna by assassinating or through a quick military strike, sharp and surgical. However, Karuna, a one-time devout disciple of Prabakaran, knows all the stratagems of his former boss. Hence he avoids unnecessary movement and has confined himself to the Tharavai base with three outer circles of cadre guarding him.

Another question concerns Karuna's finances. In the Batticaloa and Amparai region the Tigers reportedly generated Rs.46 lakhs a day as income prior to the split. This revenue comes from taxes on businesses, professionals and transporters and from LTTE-run ventures in agriculture, fisheries, forestry and stone quarrying. The point is whether Karuna can continue to generate the same amount of money to sustain his rebellion. If the generation of finances is not adequate, his group will start to exploit the people ruthlessly for more money. Similarly, shortage of cadre may result in forcible conscription. These could alienate the people.

Another point concerns Karuna's ability to get enough military supplies to sustain a long power struggle. Whatever his strengths, the ability to procure arms and armaments independent of the LTTE seems to be a highly unlikely proposition at present. Unless Karuna enters into an arrangement with an extraneous force, continuous arms supply could be a problem. Karuna has from the time of his rebellion tried to forge a separate understanding with the powers that be in Colombo. He wanted Norway to facilitate a separate memorandum of understanding between himself and Colombo. Karuna claimed that the ceasefire signed by Prabakaran would not bind him, and yet he was willing to abide by it until a new one was signed. Karuna cannot fight Colombo and Kilinochchi at the same time. He seems to prefer a deal with Colombo.

The LTTE, however, acted fast and foreclosed Karuna's option. The Tigers threatened to pull out of the ceasefire if Karuna was recognised. This put all moves in that direction on hold in Colombo. Clandestine help may be on the cards. Despite LTTE threats, the possibility of the Tigers resuming war now seems unlikely because without Karuna and his Eastern cadre the LTTE will not be able to fight as effectively as before. Besides, a resumption of war by the LTTE would make the international community come down heavily on it. Also, it would create an opening for Karuna. Colombo would like to neutralise Karuna by signing a separate ceasefire. This will keep the Eastern front quiet and permit Colombo to target the North more aggressively. Thus the recognition sought by Karuna would be achieved.

At best Karuna can become someone like the "accredited" Afghan warlord Rasheed Dostum and control territory. At worst he could be the leader of a military outfit fighting alongside the Sri Lanka Army against the Tigers. There are many such renegade outfits in the East like the Mohan group of the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), the Razeek group of the Eeelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and the Varathan group of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO). In the event of such a development, the "Karuna group of the LTTE" could be the biggest of its kind in Sri Lanka.

With the country's general elections scheduled for the first week of April, Karuna is also aiming to gain indirect political power to enhance his bargaining clout vis-a-vis Colombo. Batticaloa district has five and Amparai seven seats in Parliament. The Tamils, according to the population ratio, can hope to get a maximum of four and two seats in Batticaloa and Amparai respectively. The minimum is three and one. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is backed by the LTTE in the elections. With the split, most of the TNA candidates are backing Karuna without antagonising Prabakaran. In any event, with Karuna calling the shots in the East, few candidates can afford to defy him now. Hence the likelihood that TNA men and women sympathetic to Karuna would be elected MPs.

If Karuna gets three or four loyalists into Parliament, then he too could become an important player if no party gets a majority in the elections. In the hectic deals that are likely to follow a fractured electoral verdict, even people like Karuna could become important enough to make or unmake governments. Already there is talk of a Karuna loyalist, Rajan Sathiyamoorthy, becoming a Minister in such a situation. If that does happen, Karuna stands a better chance of gaining recognition. The LTTE, on the other hand, will have a say over more Northern seats through the TNA and use that leverage to contain Karuna. If so the LTTE will have to cooperate with the peace process more genuinely and intensively. This augurs well for the peace process at least for a while. Thus Karuna would have been of some positive use.

THERE is no denying the fact that Karuna has a horrible past and is a gross violator of human rights. But the harsh reality is that Karuna's split with the LTTE has given Colombo a golden opportunity to manipulate events in its favour. It would be foolish to ignore such a windfall. If Karuna truly has a reformist agenda and is genuinely desirous of peace and development for the Eastern Tamil people, he has no choice other than to establish peace with Colombo. This also means that he has to arrive at an understanding with the Muslim and Sinhala people of the region. He will have to mend fences with the Northern Tamils living in the East too.

Importantly, Karuna, in his anxiety to condemn the LTTE leadership as trying to impose Northern hegemony on the East, has made several statements that seem to go against the grain of broader Tamil nationalism. The North-East Province merger, brought about through the Indo-Sri Lanka accord of 1987, is a basic principle of Tamil nationalism. The North-Eastern Province is seen as the traditional homeland of Tamils and Muslims. It is also recognised as an area of "historic habitation" of the Tamils in the Indo-Sri Lanka accord. Yet Karuna has opposed such a linkage and wants both provinces to be separate. This position and his overwhelming zeal in rupturing North-East unity is not well received even by some of his supporters.

Karuna's anti-Prabakaran line too seems to have not gone down well with some of his supporters. Earlier, he refrained from attacking Prabakaran and called the Tiger chief a "god". Later Karuna allowed Prabakaran's effigies to be burnt and pictures destroyed. Many people are not happy with this as most Tamils are supportive of both Karuna and Prabakaran. As former TULF parliamentarian Chandranehru Ariyanayagam said, "The Tamil national leader and the Eastern commander are the right and left eyes of the Tamil people." Karuna's direct challenge of Prabakaran is troubling many. It is difficult to predict what the people and cadre would decide if the choice is between Prabakaran and Karuna. The LTTE is sure that Prabakaran's charisma would be enough to wean people away gradually from Karuna. This, however, would take a long time and Karuna could inflict much damage on the LTTE before that.

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Well-wishers of the LTTE and ardent Tamil nationalists are fearful of a long internecine warfare and would like to bring about reconciliation between the two groups. The LTTE's Eastern wing is amenable to a reconciliation if complete autonomy is assured. A group of Eastern intellectuals are now negotiating a deal. Although there is no guarantee that the move will succeed, there is hope that a settlement is possible. Karuna himself is sceptical; he confided to a Tamil journalist that he was suspicious of the LTTE's intentions about peace. He felt that it was a trap to make him relax his guard and the Tigers would use the opportunity to assassinate or abduct him.

Whatever these suspicions, there are several influential circles that doubt whether the rift will continue. This suspicion is preventing an early accommodation of Karuna by other forces. There is a lingering doubt on two counts. One is whether the split is really deep and whether rapprochement between both factions could be possible in the future. The second is whether Karuna can withstand the LTTE onslaught and survive independently for a sufficient period of time. Could he continue to retain the support of his cadre and people for a significant period of time? If the split is indeed permanent and Karuna demonstrates that he has the stamina to survive Tiger attacks, then both Colombo and other powerful forces could look at the Karuna phenomenon differently. This may result in Karuna becoming a powerful player in the resolution of the ethnic crisis. There will be four parties at the negotiating table - the Sinhalese, Muslims and the Northern and Eastern Tamils.

In the final analysis, Karuna's fortunes will depend a lot on international opinion. Will he be seen as a wild factor impeding the peace process or as a force conducive to peace in the long run despite the current crisis? If he is viewed as a positive influence, his chances of survival are greater. The relative calm in the East could shatter after the elections. Both Karuna and Prabakaran want the elections to occur without much trouble and both will try and get their proxies elected. For the LTTE, it will also provide time and space to assemble an Eastern militia, consisting of cadre already deployed in the Wanni, to combat Karuna's cadre. The fight will be portrayed as an East versus East confrontation.

Although Prabakaran will like to win this fight without bloodshed, it is not feasible. A victory without bloodshed is possible only if Karuna's cadre turn against him and defect to Prabakaran's side, or some important deputies aided by Pottu Amman's intelligence wing succeed in assassinating Karuna. Otherwise, the people of Batticaloa and Amparai should rise against him. If none of these happens, Karuna's position would be strengthened. Open confrontation could become inevitable at some point of time.

Sporadic fighting could begin after the elections. The coming elections and the subsequent developments could have a lasting effect in charting the destiny of the island nation. Intertwined in this major process will be the future of Karuna too. One thing, however, is definite. Whatever the outcome of this power struggle between Karuna and the LTTE leadership, the Eastern warlord will go down in history as the man who revolted against Prabakaran openly. Whatever the final result, the LTTE would have been weakened considerably. Also shaken would be North-Eastern Tamil unity.

Globalised concerns

"WE were sleeping on the shore when a big wave came." This rather eloquent summation from Egypt was among the testimonies that the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation (WCSDG) heard all over the world prior to preparing its report. A common concern of all those who chose to appear before it was "employment and livelihoods" and there was a sense, almost universally shared, of "instability and insecurity". From Poland came the metaphor of a force that could be harnessed for the common good: "If globalisation is a river, we must build dams to generate power."

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The WCSDG was established by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in February 2002. It was given the mandate of exploring the diversity of public perceptions on the process of globalisation and its implications for economic and social security and progress. Chaired jointly by Tarja Halonen and Benjamin Mkapa, Presidents respectively of Finland and Tanzania, the WCSDG submitted its report on February 24. Its membership included 19 distinguished public figures from a wide cross-section of countries, including the economist Deepak Nayyar, Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University. The ILO, for its part, contributed five ex-officio members from the current and recent composition of its apex governing body. With its report now submitted, the Commission has ceased to exist, though its members and its sponsors in the ILO obviously entertain the hope that attention does not waver from its recommendations. The WCSDG has, in a modest effort to ensure that this requirement is met, proposed a series of structured dialogues in future between all those with a stake in the process of globalisation.

The Commission observes that the phenomenon it is studying is "complex" and the term that seeks to encapsulate its essence is of very recent provenance. A leading German newspaper, for instance, recorded only 34 instances of the term "globalisation" being used in 1993. In 2001, the figure was 1,136. Expectedly, with no force of custom to guide its use and the heavy burden of ambiguity it carries, the term evokes strong and passionate responses across the political spectrum.

However, the WCSDG does suggest that the phenomenon is not entirely new. A "distinctive feature" of the current process of globalisation, it points out, "relates to what is conspicuously absent". While earlier episodes of "globalisation" were "characterised by massive cross-border movements of people, the Commission records that "the current process largely excludes this". International mobility under the new regime of globalisation in other words, is reserved for goods, firms and money.

The reference is evidently to the period beginning with the last quarter of the 19th century and continuing till the beginning of the First World War, one that the historian Eric Hobsbawm has described as an age of mass migrations. Conducted under the cover of imperialist conquest and plunder, the mass movement of people largely involved the European settlement of colonies in the Americas, the Antipodes and parts of Africa. But in maintaining a faade of equal opportunity for mobility for commodities, finance and people, the classic era of imperialism was perhaps more democratic than the current phase of globalisation. The irony perhaps is unintended, but there is a strong suggestion here that "globalisation" today could be construed as a new stage in the onward march of imperialism.

Among the key features of the current phase of globalisation, in the estimation of the WCSDG, are the growth of trade and foreign direct investment (FDI), both of which have since the 1980s outstripped output growth in the world economy. A still more powerful and entirely new factor has been "the rapid integration of financial markets". The global economic order that was put in place after the Second World War conceived of the gradual liberalisation of both trade and investment. But financial liberalisation was not even remotely conceived in the context of a fixed exchange rates regime.

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The Commission does not make the point explicitly. But the explosion of dollar-denominated Third World debt in the 1970s - followed by the interest rate shock of 1981 which precipitated a near default situation in several large countries - was an obvious propellant of the process of globalisation. "The widespread recourse of indebted developing countries to structural adjustment loans from the Bretton Woods institutions in the aftermath of the debt crisis of the early-1980s played a pivotal role in the redefinition of trade and industrialisation strategies," observes the Commission. Also, global trade negotiations begun in 1986, moved beyond the "border paradigm" - under which matters pertaining to the organisation of the economy within national boundaries were treated as sovereign policy space - and brought a multitude of issues such as intellectual property rights, services and investment measures within the scope of multilateral agreements.

A feature of the new policy paradigm that the developing countries adopted following their crises of development in the 1980s was the failure of democratic consultation. The WCSDG records the testimony of a witness from Chile, who lauds the process of globalisation for creating a more open and democratic global environment. But it fails to ask whether a regime that stampedes vast multitudes into a policy environment that they have little knowledge of, on the specious and authoritarian logic that "there is no alternative", can genuinely be described as democratic.

In charting the impact of globalisation, the WCSDG is understandably cautious. The data sources on economic growth, employment, incomes and poverty are diverse and most of them throw up distinctly ambiguous findings. China and India, the two largest countries in the world, present in its estimation, an upbeat picture in the last decade of globalisation. But the evidence from most other countries indicates much reason for disquiet. And from sub-Saharan Africa, the picture is unequivocally dismal.

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Even this assessment, which is relatively positive, would necessitate a re-examination of the basic premises of global economic policy. When note is taken of the ambiguous character of the gains made by India, notably in terms of the massive increase in informal employment and the rather contentious estimates on poverty, there is still stronger reason to do so.

If the Commission fails to perceive the democracy deficit in the process of globalisation, it is fairly unequivocal in urging "improved governance" at all levels as the antidote for its ills. The prescriptions closely mirror those advanced by successive editions of the Human Development Report issued by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) over the 1990s. They include an effective role for the state in the provision of basic services, sound institutions to supervise markets, institutional reforms to integrate the informal economy into the mainstream, and various others.

The WCSDG then turns its attention to the changes that need to be made in global governance, including rewriting the rule book for international trade, and reforming the international financial architecture. These are complex issues that the Commission touches upon with a great deal of sensitivity, recommending policy choices in some instances, and suggesting general lines of approach in others. In practical terms, the WCSDG prescriptions in their totality, point towards a singular lacuna. The policy choices proposed at the national level require a high degree of state autonomy and substantive devolution of powers to regional and local units. These requirements would not be met as long as the state continues to be confined within the straitjacket of international finance. In terms of their phasing over time, in other words, both the national and the global should proceed concurrently and in a closely synchronised fashion. Any form of resistance encountered on either of these tracks would bring the entire process to a rapid halt. The national, in other words, is stymied by the global; while the range of global options are circumscribed by the compulsions of the world's leading economies.

The challenge of unemployment

MOHAMMED SHEHZAD the-nation

Human Development in South Asia 2003: The Employment Challenge by The Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre; Oxford University Press, Karachi, Pakistan.

SOUTH Asia faces five major employment challenges, says the recent report of the Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre, Human Development in South Asia 2003: The Employment Challenge. One, South Asia is a hugely populated region with 1.4 billion people, 60 per cent of whom are in the working-age group. Two, labour force participation is only about 66 per cent of the working-age population. Three, employment growth rates are lower than both gross domestic product (GDP) and labour force growth rates. Four, agriculture is the predominant employer, although this sector has been suffering from lack of investment and low productivity since the Green Revolution during the 1960s. Five, one-third of South Asia is in poverty; and, about half of the population in four large countries is illiterate.

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South Asia currently accounts for about 22 per cent of the world's population. Except Sri Lanka, which has completed the demographic transition, the other countries are still in the midst of a population explosion. Recently, Bangladesh and India entered the fertility-declining phase of demographic transition.

In South Asia, children aged 10-14 years and senior citizens aged 65 years and above are also engaged in economic activities. Owing to this structure of the population in which the youth dominate, the working-age population growth rate will be higher than the overall population growth rate. Thus, the addition to the growth of the labour force may not decline perceptibly in the near future, though the population growth rate is projected to come down.

South Asia's labour market is characterised by pervasive unemployment and underemployment, especially among the youth and the educated; working poor who do not get adequate wages to get out of poverty; working children; and women who face discrimination across the labour market, reflecting prevailing social attitudes.

In South Asia, open unemployment is generally recorded to be low, owing to the absence of social protection plans for the unemployed and the non-existence of employment agencies often used for identifying the unemployed. Furthermore, the pervasive household enterprise system in South Asia acts as a labour market sponge. Also, the financial difficulty faced by an unemployed person forces him/her to engage in any kind of activity that may not be regarded as fully productive use of time. It is in this context that underemployment and non-productive use of labour become the real employment issues in South Asia.

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UNEMPLOYMENT among the youth accounts for a major portion of the total unemployment. During 1997, youth accounted for 70 per cent of the total unemployed in Sri Lanka, 53 per cent in India and 45 per cent in Pakistan.

Employment prospects of educated youth have worsened during the past decade or so because of low or negative growth of employment in the public sector, which was the major employer of educated youth. In the case of urban India, in 1997, it was found that 41 per cent of those with higher secondary education were unemployed.

Whatever employment had occurred within the private sector was mostly in the semi-skilled or low-skilled areas. Thus, very little employment was generated for the educated.

The failure to find jobs appears to have led the educated youth towards either inactivity or further involvement in education. Data on Pakistan and India reflect these tendencies. For instance, according to the 1998-99 Labour Force Survey of Pakistan, 20 per cent of the post-graduate degree holders were out of the labour force, as they were neither working nor looking for work. Almost 50 per cent of female doctors and 35 per cent of graduates in different disciplines were reported to be out of the labour force.

The report claims that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has failed to generate employment in the region. South Asia's unemployment levels have risen from 2.9 per cent in 1995 to 3.4 per cent in 2001 and the annual employment growth rate has come down during the second half of the 1990s as compared to the first half.

Data from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) show that unemployment has increased in Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives, while it has decreased only in Sri Lanka during this period. Though the ADB data do not report India's unemployment rates, the Economic Survey of India shows that the unemployment rate increased from 5.99 per cent in 1993-4 to 7.32 per cent in 1999-2000.

The figures reveal that in most South Asian countries the employment situation has worsened in the post-WTO period. The report concludes that employment generation in South Asian countries has so far not benefited much from the WTO. Lately, some developed countries have started taking unilateral trade measures that violate the spirit of the WTO. The United States has changed its Rules of Origin Policy for the textiles sector, unilaterally imposed additional duty on steel imports, and proposed enormous increases in its farm subsidy outlays. Though some of these steps have been challenged in the WTO, so far no action has been taken.

The employment challenge in South Asia is highly discriminatory against women. Women's limited access to employment opportunities is best reflected in the gap between the unemployment rates of men and women, which shows women are 3.5 times more likely than men to be unemployed in Pakistan.

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Two-thirds of South Asian women are employed in agriculture or agriculture-related activities. They work in various roles such as agricultural labourers, managers of homesteads, and sometimes even as landowners. However, they are not allowed equal opportunities in this sector in access to credit and inputs and face discrimination in wages.

In the informal sector, women form the majority of the workers. Two trends have led to the growth of female involvement in this sector. First, in the rural areas the migration of men to urban centres or abroad has provided opportunities for more female involvement in small enterprises. Second, in urban areas, the demand for cheap, low-skilled labour has increased over the years owing to export-oriented manufacturing. This trend has been instrumental in providing employment to an increasing number of women.

However, women are often hired on exploitative terms. They often work in difficult conditions for long periods. They accept low wages, and do not demand permanent contracts. As women become more active in the labour market, their bargaining power also improves. At the same time, however, as women's work gets more recognition, there is a fear that this might negatively impact on future employment opportunities for women.

The analysis in the report leads to three main conclusions about the South Asian employment challenge:

The persistent inability of the workplace to absorb workers productively can be attributed to the failure of governments in the region. This has happened on two important accounts. First, the governments did not adopt job creation as an explicit policy commitment. Second, the governments failed to improve the human development condition of the majority of the people.

Another failure has been on the part of multilateral organisations working in the region. Their efforts to improve the livelihoods of South Asians were often not backed by adequate financial resources, and their overall development policy framework focussed more on GDP growth and balancing budgets than on the reduction of poverty.

Finally, some blame for the persistent problems of unemployment and underemployment in the developing world is placed at the door of the developed world. The rich countries have failed in their promises of assisting development in the poorer countries. They have not delivered on their global commitment to allocate 0.7 per cent of their budgets for providing assistance to developing countries, and have not encouraged true liberalisation of the world economy.

Mohammad Shehzad is an independent journalist based in Islamabad.

For worldwide coordination

the-nation

Dr. Brenda L. Gallie, Head of the Cancer Informatics Division of the Ontario Cancer Institute and Professor in the Department of Molecular and Medical Genetics, Medical Biophysics and Ophthalmology and the Department of Ophthalmology, University of Toronto, is an expert in clinical research, treatment and care of retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the eye, which affects children.

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Dr. Gallie has authored several research papers on retinoblastoma, and the molecular studies she did more than two decades ago form the basis for understanding how tumour-suppressor genes contribute to cancer in general, and the cancer of the eye in particular. Dr. Gallie's work has set off a trail of research on cancers and today she is one of the authorities on retinoblastoma.

In Chennai on a visit to Sankara Nethralaya, one of the few centres in India that detect and treat retinoblastoma (occurring in infants) and melanoma (affecting adults), Dr. Gallie spoke to Asha Krishnakumar on retinoblastoma, how it occurs, its treatment methods, and the research in the field. Excerpts from the interview:

What is retinoblastoma? How does it present itself?

Blastoma means cancer and retina is a part of the eye. It is a rare cancer in the eye of babies. Parents commonly see the first sign of it only when they actually see the tumour. The pupil, instead of being black, is white. That is a very dramatic appearance. But they do not understand what they see. The biggest problem is that often the doctor does not remember anything about such a problem as he might have read about it 20 years ago in medical school. And, hence, diagnosis is delayed.

When was retinoblastoma first identified?

In an ancient Greek statue, we find a child with retinoblastoma. So, it has always been there. Though it was recognised as a genetic problem in the beginning of this century, the ideas that were significant to understanding this cancer came in 1970. In the 1980s, the gene causing retinoblastoma was identified by a research group in Boston (United States). And since then we have been working hard to find out the exact mistake in the retinoblastoma gene in each family. It is a very difficult job as each family has a unique mistake in its gene. But now, with development in technology, identifying the genetic mistake in each family has become comparatively easy.

Why does each family have a unique mistake in the retinoblastoma gene?

Because it is a big gene, and smoking or cosmic rays or something we do not understand can damage it. Whatever the damage, the gene causes the disease. There is an infinite number of ways to break the gene. You can break it in two halves and put it in two different places. You can chop off a big piece in the middle or make a tiny mistake anywhere in it. It is all random. So, you need to look at the whole gene to find the mistake.

Once the gene causing retinoblastoma is identified, can it be prevented?

No. It cannot be prevented. But it can be predicted. As soon as the baby is conceived we can find out if the child has the risk or not. And if the child carries the mutation his parents or relatives have, we can then test the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and know if the child is going to have retinoblastoma.

What we commonly do is if we know that the foetus is going to have retinoblastoma, we deliver it four weeks prematurely so that the tumour that the baby has even while it is in the womb, which is tiny, can be treated easily with laser. Otherwise it can lead to complications even needing the removal of the eyes.

Why does it happen only in babies?

It only happens in babies because after the child is three-four years the retina does not change. It is only when the retina is developing that a tumour can form.

What are the underlying causes of eye cancer?

We now know that there is one gene, retinoblastoma [gene], in the DNA of everybody. If that gene breaks, then one gets this tumour. It is inherited from the parents. And this shows up only in children.

If it is an inherited disease, can it be prevented?

It is a genetic disease. But it is very difficult to detect because most parents are normal. The child has a new mutation in the retinoblastoma gene. The children of such patients are at 50 per cent risk of getting retinoblastoma.

So, is the main cause of retinoblastoma genetic?

Every single case of the disease is caused by mutations in the gene. But for half of them the mutation does not pass on to the children. In the case of the other half, the mutation passes on to the children.

What is the incidence of retinoblastoma?

It is rare one in 15,000 live births. In Canada, because of the small population, we get only 23 children a year with retinoblastoma. In India, which has the highest number of babies born in the world, 1,500 children are born every year with retinoblastoma. That is a problem in India. But it gives an opportunity for India to study these children and the treatment methods that would make a difference to the whole world. In fact, I think India has a responsibility to study this problem and make a difference.

What are the diagnostic methods to find out retinoblastoma? Can it be identified just by looking at the eye, as the pupil of the baby affected by retinoblastoma is white?

There are some other eye conditions that look very similar. So you need to look very carefully, knowing what you are looking for. But most of the time, if the doctors know about retinoblastoma they can identify it easily. They do not need any other test. But sometimes it can be confusing and doctors do such tests as ultrasound and CT scan, to confirm retinoblastoma. These tests can also show if the tumour has spread outside the eye, which is a possibility.

Apart from genetics, has any other cause been found for retinoblastoma?

Not much work has been done in this field. But there are studies to show that if the father of the child was in the military or working in some metal works, it can lead to retinoblastoma in children. Most important is smoking. Had the parents of the child been smokers, then, among many other ill effects, it could be exposing their children to retinoblastoma.

What are the treatment options for retinoblastoma? Can it be cured?

It is one of the most curable cancers. Nearly 90-95 per cent of the cases are cured. But the cost of cure sometimes is blindness. If both eyes are affected, which happens often, then the children go blind, as the only treatment might be to take out both eyes.

But we have very good treatment now using lasers if the tumours are very small. This is perfect. It is only shining a light in the eye, burning the tumour and watching very carefully so that if it recurs it is treated quickly. Laser therapy and cryo-therapy (burning the tumour, and freezing it) are the best treatment procedures.

But if the tumour is a little bigger, then this will not work. We treat it with radiation. In the 1990s, chemotherapy a combination of four drugs became the standard treatment for the bigger tumours. Learning from the first kind of chemotherapy and advancing the drugs, we have changed protocols and the response is very good. So, now, it is unusual to lose both eyes. Most commonly, the children keep at least one eye, and often keep both eyes because of chemotherapy.

Is the treatment a long-drawn process? Are there standard treatment protocols?

Chemo is given every three weeks over a long period. The children, of course, get sick as they do from chemotherapy given for any type of cancer.

We have developed a special protocol in Toronto that we think gives the best results. We add to the protocol a commonly used drug that is not part of the therapy to prevent the tumour from being resistant to the chemotherapy. That protocol is now the basis for a new international clinical trial. We shall now do the exact protocol in Toronto (Canada), Dublin (Ireland) and Chennai and share our results so that we can learn from one another and make it better for the future.

One of the treatments is to use a radioactive `plaque' to radiate the tumour directly instead of radiating the whole eye, which causes many problems. In India, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre has made it possible for that to be done in the country. This has happened within the last six months. Earlier, the little iodine bits that have to be put in the `plaque' to make the radiation were made only in the U.S. and they were very expensive. But now they are made in India. So the treatment in India is excellent as good as anywhere else. Sankara Nethralaya does this. It puts the `plaque' in the eye, radiates the tumour and then takes the `plaque' off.

What kind of research is going on internationally in retinoblastoma?

It is an interesting cancer because it is very rare and special as it affects only the retina. But by studying the genetics of the tumour cells in this rare cancer we have learnt a lot about cancers (breast, lung and so on) in general. It has contributed to understanding cancer far beyond the number of patients affected by retinoblastoma.

How many centres treat retinoblastoma in the world?

There are five in the U.S., two in the U.K. and one in Canada doing a lot of work in this field. There are countries with one or two centres. In India, there are several centres treating retinoblastoma. But doctors seeing one patient a year or one in 10 years may not give the best treatment. So, it is best to coordinate.

What efforts are you taking to coordinate data on retinoblastoma?

We are trying to create an international database. My hospital in Toronto and Sankara Nethralaya in Chennai are planning to coordinate genetic studies and clinical trials. We are also developing special databases and doing studies worldwide through the Internet. In the clinical trial, the countries involved include England, Ireland, the U.S., India and Canada. We are also developing a new classification worldwide. When a child comes for treatment, we first have to assess the severity of the disease in each eye to determine the right treatment. Working with 20 centres in 20 countries, we have designed this new classification and we are now testing that on an Internet study.

What is the nature of this new classification?

The classification depends on the severity of the tumour. If the tumour is very severe and the eye has to be removed, it is classification E. And if the mother brings the child early and the tumour is very small and can be easily treated with laser, it is A. From A to E, the severity increases.

We are asking ophthalmologists worldwide who treat retinoblastoma to enter in a database on the Internet the details of each child they have treated since 1997. We have already collected the treatment of 550 eyes in the database of how the tumour looked, how it was treated and if the treatment did not work what was the next line of treatment, and so on. There will be one group that coordinates all the work in the world to help every family with retinoblastoma.

An inherited cancer

India is one of the countries that have the largest numbers of persons affected with retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye that is found in children and can be treated effectively if detected early.

RETINOBLASTOMA, cancer of the eye among children, is one of the most common tumours and is responsible for over 5 per cent of the blindness among children in India. With a rate of incidence of one in 15,000 infants, India has one of the largest numbers of retinoblastoma patients in the world. If left untreated, the disease can cause death.

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Retinoblastoma starts in the retina. Eyes develop very early, even in the womb. During the early stages of development, eyes contain cells called retinoblasts, which grow rapidly until about the fifth year. Later, they stop growing and mature into retinal cells. Rarely does something go wrong in this process. But whensome retinoblasts continue to grow rapidly and out of control they become cancerous.

If the growth of these cells is not controlled, they can form a tumour that fills much of the globe (eyeball). The cells may break away from the retinal tumour and float through the vitreous to reach other parts of the eye and form more tumours. If these tumours block the channels through which the fluid in the eye circulates, the pressure inside the eye can rise, resulting in glaucoma, which leads to the loss of vision in the affected eye. Glaucoma is one of the serious complications of retinoblastoma.

Most often retinoblastoma can be detected and treated before it spreads outside the globe. Retinoblastoma cells can spread to other parts of the body as well. They sometimes grow along the optic nerve to reach the brain. The cells can also grow through the covering layers of the globe into the eye socket, eyelids, and nearby tissues. Once tissues outside the globe are affected, the cancer can spread to the lymph nodes (small bean-shaped collections of immune system cells), to the internal organs and the bones.

Retinoblastoma was the first cancer to be associated directly with a genetic abnormality (deletions or mutation of the q14 band of chromosome 13). It can occur sporadically (without a family history) or be inherited (with a family history).

In case of genetic mutation, there is a 45-50 per cent chance that the sibling of the affected child will also have retinoblastoma. If there is no family history or mutation, the risk of the sibling having retinoblastoma is 2-5 per cent. The average age of children with retinoblastoma is 18 months.

More than 75 per cent of children with retinoblastoma are first noted to have "white-pupil" (leukocoria), poorly aligned eyes (strabismus), or a red and painful eye (usually due to glaucoma). As other eye diseases such as congenital cataract, Toxocara canis, Coat's disease and persistent hypertrophic primary vitreous (PHPV) too have similar symptoms, retinoblastoma is detected through specialised blood tests, CAT scans, and ultrasound evaluations. For full confirmation, a biopsy may be performed, but it is usually avoided in order to prevent cancer cells from spreading outside the eye.

In the past few years, considerable progress has been made in understanding how certain changes in a person's DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) can cause retinal cells to become cancerous. DNA carries the instructions for nearly everything the cells do. A child usually resembles its parents because they are the source of the DNA. However, the DNA affects more than the outward appearance. It is also a benchmark of a person's susceptibility to certain diseases, including some types of cancer. Some genes (parts of the DNA) contain instructions that control the growth and division of cells. Genes that promote cell division are called oncogenes. Others that slow cell division or cause cells to die at the right time are called tumour-suppressor genes.

Cancers can be caused by DNA mutations (defects) that activate oncogenes or de-activate tumour-suppressor genes. The most important gene involved in retinoblastoma is the tumour-suppressor gene Rb (also known as Rb1). About 40 per cent of the children with retinoblastoma inherit an abnormal Rb gene from one parent; 90 per cent of those who inherit an abnormal Rb gene from a parent develop retinoblastoma in one or both eyes; and 10 per cent of them develop a tumour of the pineal (an area of the brain).

Mutant Rb genes are present in every cell of the body of a child who inherits them from a parent and therefore can be detected by doing a DNA test. Because every person has two Rb genes but passes only one to the children (a child gets the other gene from the other parent), the odds of a parent passing the mutant gene on to a child are one to two.

The defective gene responsible for the inherited form of retinoblastoma was discovered in 1986. This discovery, together with technical advances in analysing DNA changes, has made genetic testing a possibility. In some cases it is possible to predict whether or not a patient's siblings will be affected by retinoblastoma.

Sixty per cent of children with retinoblastoma do not inherit gene mutations. Changes would have happened to their Rb genes, post birth. These acquired changes rarely have any apparent cause and may result from random errors that occur when cells reproduce and divide.

Retinoblastoma can be treated if detected early. Research efforts are concentrated on destroying the cancer without damaging vision in the affected eye. Efforts are on to deliver radiation therapy accurately, develop new instruments for cryo- and laser-therapy; supplement local treatment with chemotherapy to prevent the spread of retinoblastoma outside the eye; and test the benefits of very high doses of chemotherapy followed by bone marrow transplantation where the retinoblastoma has spread beyond the eye.

Survivors of the hereditary form of retinoblastoma face an increased risk of developing other types of cancer. This risk is a lifelong one. Though it is difficult to predict its exact extent, studies show that those with the hereditary form of retinoblastoma have a 30 per cent lifetime risk of developing some other type of cancer at any age. The risk rises to 50 per cent if the child receives external beam radiation therapy.

Several experimental protocols are being evaluated using chemotherapy, laser therapy (to shrink the retinoblastoma before treating the tumour), cryotherapy (freezing the tumour), and local "plaque" radiation. Where applicable, these techniques are thought to be safer than external beam irradiation for retinoblastoma.

The Chennai-based Sankara Nethralaya, a pioneer in the field of diagnosis and treatment of ocular oncology, is one of the few centres in India that treat retinoblastoma and do research on it. According to Dr. Mahesh Shanmugam, senior consultant with the hospital's department of vitreo retinal surgery, these kinds of inherited diseases may be more common in India than in developed countries. According to him, the main problem in India is that patients seek treatment when the disease is at an advanced stage. Sankara Nethralaya, which has been treating tumours of the eye since its inception 25 years ago with chemotherapy, recently added to its options brachy or plaque therapy, which delivers radiation only to the tumour, avoiding unnecessary exposure of the other structures of the eye to radiation. The radioactive seeds (iodine 125) used for brachy therapy were not easily available in India until it was developed recently by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) with the collaboration of Sankara Nethralaya. With brachy therapy, says Dr. Mahesh Shanmugam, "we can save the eye". At Sanakara Nethralaya, the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of retinoblastoma is a collaborative effort of the departments of oncology, pathology and genetics.

The treatment cost is usually the main problem, but not so in Sankara Nethralaya. The hospital offers laser at Rs.1,000 a sitting and cryo at Rs.500 a sitting, rates that are much lower than those in most hospitals in the country. But it does chemotherapy in collaboration with other hospitals, and it is a little more expensive at Rs.5,000-8,000 a cycle. Most children with retinoblastoma need six cycles. At Sankara Nethralaya, poor patients are treated free of cost.

Sankara Nethralaya's genetics and molecular biology department contributes immensely to the understanding of retinoblastoma. Its state-of-the-art research in techniques to identify Rb1 mutations in retinoblastoma patients has enabled the understanding of the molecular genetic basis (genotype and phenotype) of the disease.

Untold stories

Testimonies presented before a 'People's Tribunal' in New Delhi recently bring out the vast human tragedy resulting from the abuse of POTA in virtually every corner of the country.

UNTRAMMELLED power is dangerous in any hand. A "People's Tribunal", which heard a number of testimonies on the application of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and other special security laws in Delhi in early March, seemed quite unequivocally to reach this conclusion.

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The testimonies brought to life statistics recently compiled on the application of POTA and they revealed certain disquieting patterns. All the 287 cases booked under the law in Gujarat involve members of the religious minorities; all but one involve Muslims. Of the 46 POTA cases in Uttar Pradesh, all but two involve members of the Scheduled Castes or Adivasi communities.

Om Prakash, a ten-year old from a Dalit family in Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh, was arrested in May 2003 and charged with political extremism and involvement in the murder of a local feudal chief. His older brother had been killed weeks before in what was described as an armed encounter with the police. In hiding ever since, Om Prakash surrendered to the local police following the threat that his family's meagre possessions, including its home, would be attached by judicial order. He was held in a juvenile prison for six months and allegedly tortured before being granted bail. Today, Om Prakash regularly walks 10 kilometres to the courthouse where his case is being heard. With no time-frame for resolution and the infinite capacity for delay that the police brings to the case, he sees no prospect of an early end to the agony.

This was one among at least four known cases involving the imprisonment and continuing harassment of juveniles under POTA and other special security laws. In Gumla district of Jharkhand, 16-year old Roopni Khari was arrested under POTA. Terrorism has become a broad rubric under which any challenge to an established order can be quashed. Khari's crime was to have organised the women of her village around basic issues of subsistence they confronted in a patriarchal order.

In Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu, Prabhakaran and Bhagat Singh, aged 15 and 17 then, were arrested in November 2002, for allegedly being involved with the Radical Youth League, an offshoot of one of the factions of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). Neither was given any special consideration on grounds of being juveniles. Both were detained under a variety of provisions of the law and only informed after their third bail hearings that they stood accused under POTA. Both spent over a year in prisons before being granted bail. Their cases have now been transferred to the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court, where they belonged from the very beginning. Quite apart from the repressive features of the law, the case of these two juveniles from Tamil Nadu seemed to illustrate, in the perception of the Tribunal, the dangerous intrusion of POTA special courts into other jurisdictions.

Evidence rendered before the Tribunal indicated that for sheer promiscuity, no State could quite match Jharkhand's record. The number of persons named in the State under POTA is an astounding 3,200. Among these, first information reports (FIRs) have been filed in 654 cases. A fact-finding team that had extensively travelled through Jharkhand last year found that most of the cases under POTA were being brought against the deprived sections belonging, as a rule, to the Dalit and Adivasi communities. POTA was also being used as an instrument of political coercion to erode the support enjoyed by parties opposed to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

The picture from Uttar Pradesh showed a greater sense of restraint in numbers, but an equally ready recourse to POTA to put down any agitation for basic rights and services. Most of those arrested for alleged "terrorist" offences in this State, the Tribunal was told, were guilty of nothing more than pressing for land reforms and minimum wages.

In a survey of 25 instances of detention under POTA in Gujarat, a study team that presented its findings to the Tribunal reported that a period of illegal detention invariably preceded the formal arrest of the individuals concerned. The duration of this illegal detention varied between three and 25 days. There were cases when family members of targeted individuals were detained for days together, to pressure the main accused to surrender. The typical mode of operation is for the police party to raid the premises of the accused under cover of night to ransack and intimidate and even to seize documents - such as ration cards - which may confer certain civic entitlements on the accused. The embitterment of the religious minorities had gone deep, said a legal activist from Gujarat. POTA, in this regard, should more appropriately be called the "Production of Terrorists Act".

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SPONSORED by the Human Rights Law Network, the Tribunal consisted of two retired High Court Judges, D.K. Basu and Hosbet Suresh. The senior advocate and former Union Law Minister Ram Jethmalani brought a greater depth of juristic expertise to the body. Others on the Tribunal were the veteran civil rights campaigner K.G. Kannabiran, Mohini Giri and Syeda Hameed, who have both served on the National Commission for Women, the renowned writer Arundhati Roy, and the journalist Praful Bidwai.

Summarising his impressions after two days of hearings, Jethmalani confessed that he had been grievously in error in supporting the enactment of POTA. "POTA came after a Security Council resolution asking all members of the U.N. to legislate against terrorism," he said. "I did support the enactment of POTA but I did it because it was done in obedience to the resolution of the Security Council. I today regret that I supported POTA. I had reposed faith in the honesty of the politicians who told me that it would not be misused. Today, I have no doubt that we do not need (it) and that it should go lock, stock and barrel."

Arundhati Roy for her part called for the repeal of POTA since it was no more than an accessory in the mission of "dispossessing the poor". "The misuse of POTA," she said, "is a clear illustration of how terrorism and poverty are intertwined."

The well-known cases of the Tamil Nadu politicians, Vaiko and P. Nedumaran, came in for extensive discussion at the Tribunal. Though the latter was present, he was obliged by the judicial order governing his release on bail to avoid any public utterances on his case. What the two days of testimonies proved is that beyond the media spotlight which has been almost exclusively focussed on prominent personalities whose liberty has been threatened by POTA, there is a vast human tragedy of the abuse of special security laws unfolding in virtually every corner of the country. When the Prevention of Terrorism Bill was first drafted in 2000, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in its advisory jurisdiction described it as unnecessary on virtually all counts. The categories of offences that the Bill dealt with were covered by various other existing acts, it pointed out. What was required for a credible fight against terrorism was a firmer commitment to the rule of law, rather than the expansion of the powers of the police. After evaluating the 1990s experience with the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), considering the range of powers conferred by existing laws and factoring in the provisions of international covenants to which India is a party, the NHRC in complete unanimity, affirmed that the Bill was uncalled for.

The Bill lapsed into some obscurity following this decisive intervention by the country's highest human rights watchdog and the conspicuous failure of political consensus. The terrorist attacks in the U.S. in September 2001 imparted a new life to it. The NHRC remained resolute in its opposition. Justice J.S. Verma, then NHRC Chairman, forcefully articulated this viewpoint in November 2001. In its approach to terrorism, he urged, the government should balance the "dignity of the individual with national security". Any law enacted to tackle terrorism must be very closely scrutinised and "must muster the strict approval of constitutional validity, necessity and proportionality". Care should be taken, he warned, to respect the human rights of citizens and avoid harassment of the innocent, "lest the entire action be counter-productive".

The NHRC's counsel found a receptive audience across much of the political spectrum. It took an unprecedented joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament to pass POTA into law. It took just over a year of its operation to bring home the unavoidable message that the only use of POTA was its abuse. The Union government responded with a Review Committee to examine cases booked under the Act and set the innocent at liberty. But as the Tribunal in Delhi was told, the Review Committee has remained hamstrung in its operations, often unable to obtain necessary information and documentation from the police authorities. Halfway measures serve little purpose. The Tribunal's finding that the act should be repealed in its entirety, is now backed up by extensive documentary evidence. But for those who opposed POTA from its conception, vindication has come late and after great human cost.

IRAQ: A YEAR LATER

AIJAZ AHMAD the-nation

The quagmire for the United States in Iraq today is much worse than it was a year ago when it began the offensive to displace Saddam Hussein, and its own coalition is showing signs of stress and coming decay.

I AM writing these words very late on the evening of March 20, 2004, just a few hours before bombs began to fall on Baghdad on this day a year ago, in a murderous and spectacular show of American military power, which was sold to the media and the world as a campaign of "Shock and Awe" that was said to be designed to liberate Iraq from Baathist tyranny, to eliminate Saddam Hussein's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, to lead a coalition of civilised nations against terrorism, to bring democracy to the Iraqi people and indeed to the whole of West Asia, and to achieve other such noble aims.

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Since then, the scale of destruction has indeed been shocking and awesome, with the Baathist regime destroyed and Hussein captured. But Iraq has witnessed not the emergence of democracy, but the imposition of a quasi-colonial rule and a reign of terror by the occupying forces, which is giving birth to a new class of the rich and the super-rich but has meant unemployment rates of 50 per cent and above, general lack of security for the populace, lack of basic requirements such as clean water, electricity and health facilities, outbreaks of a variety of diseases, and marauding criminal gangs that seem to proliferate under the very eyes of the occupation forces. Under Saddam's autocracy, brutality was the lot of those whom the regime considered its enemies, while the general populace benefited from the most advanced welfare state in the Arab East. Under the United States occupation, suffering has been generalised while favours are reserved for the collaborators alone.

Saddam Hussein has indeed been captured, though only after nine months of hiding on Iraqi soil under occupation. The Anglo-American bloc quickly announced that he would be treated as a prisoner of war and would soon be tried in an Iraqi court. But that was three months ago, in mid-December 2003. As we predicted at the time, he has been kept away from the public eye, provided neither facilities for legal defence nor the right to visits by family, friends or independent lawyers and infinitely "interrogated" with no results of these interrogations revealed publicly. And there are no modalities or dates for the trial announced yet. Salem Chalabi, the nephew of Ahmed Chalabi who has emerged as America's favourite as a ruler of the future Iraq, has been put in charge of preparing the case against Saddam, and it is said that panels of Iraqi judges are in the process of being appointed for the tribunal and the court of appeals for the planned war crimes trials not only of Saddam Hussein but also of some others. It is not clear when and where the trial shall be held. Essentially, the Americans do not really know what to do. Since Saddam was captured by them, a foreign power in Iraq, and since he is to be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, the proper place to put him on trial should be the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague. However, the Americans consider the ICC a dangerous institution because it might then try the Anglo-American bloc itself for illegal occupation of a member-country of the United Nations (U.N.), without the authorisation of the Security Council. They are also deeply dismayed by the way the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav President, is proceeding it has gone on for two years, and the court has given him the right to interrogate the prosecution and its witnesses and has also given him another two years to mount his defence. That court may just allow Saddam to call the top U.S. officials such as Donald Rumsfeld to the witness stand. Nor can the U.S. afford to have Saddam appear in an Iraqi court, day in and day out, in a trial that has the semblance of due procedure and is covered in the media. Not a single Arab regime has dared to show pleasure at Saddam's capture; his daily appearance in a court of the U.S. puppets is more than they have bargained for. Saddam in captivity is turning out to be more of an embarrassment for the U.S. than Saddam in hiding and at large.

Then, there are the daily atrocities. Every American soldier who died has been counted and honoured: there have been 536 of them, fewer during the invasion and many more during the occupation. The Anglo-American invading bloc, duly recognised by the Security Council as the sovereign occupying authority, has never counted the Iraqi dead; estimates range between 15,000 and 55,000, and about 11,000 Iraqi prisoners are held by the Americans in the largest prison that Saddam Hussein had built for his "tyranny". About 1,30,000 U.S. troops and some 30,000 troops from 34 other members of the U.N. continue to occupy Iraq illegally, while Baghdad has become the largest station that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has had anywhere in the world since the fall of the Pentagon in 1975. A symbolic withdrawal of about 20,000 is expected by the end of June this year, but 1,00,000 of the U.S. troops and the bulk of the allied ones are expected to remain more or less indefinitely, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is soon to begin top-level deliberations on the question of entering Iraq formally, alongside the Americans.

As for "democracy", L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. civilian official in Iraq, acts as a Proconsul with unlimited powers, aided by the civilian counterpart of the occupying army, which calls itself the Provisional Coalition Authority (PCA) and which has in turn appointed a hand-picked 24-member Iraqi National Council (INC) headed by Ahmed Chalabi, a convicted criminal who is wanted by the Jordanian courts which sentenced him to life imprisonment for embezzlement of $300 million. A provisional Constitution, which was drafted by the Americans, has been signed by members of the INC with much fanfare but Shia leaders, notably the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani and leaders of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, have said that this provisional Constitution will have no legitimacy until accepted by an elected National Assembly. Under this provisional Constitution, the INC is to hand over power to a new entity which too shall be "selected" from caucuses through a process in which the PCA and the INC shall have veto powers in determining who can stand as a candidate.

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The INC itself can exercise no power that the Americans do not sanction, and once this non-power has been transferred from the appointed ones to the selected ones at the end of June, the U.S. shall then declare that "sovereignty" now rests in Iraqi hands. Bremer himself may then depart but the new Iraqi entity shall then "request" that the occupying military forces and their civilian counterparts remain. Nothing of substance shall change and the whole charade is getting enacted so that George Bush, who is facing elections in November, can claim that occupation has ended, "sovereignty" has been transferred and troops are beginning to come home. The ridiculous nature of this charade became quite clear when the Prime Minister-elect of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, announced that he intends to bring back Spanish troops from Iraq by the end of June when their mandate runs out and "sovereignty" is "transferred" to Iraqis. A whole range of U.S. politicians, including John Kerry, the leading Democratic presidential aspirant, urged him openly not to do so, and the Foreign Minister of Poland, which leads the European contingent in which the Spanish troops are serving, said that troops should remain in place.

Bremer had disbanded the Iraqi armed forces and police in a grand gesture of "de-Baathification", which had the incidental effect of inflicting unemployment on hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. By now, the CIA has identified 11,000 individuals who formed the core of the secret police and paramilitary apparatus of the Baathist regime and is now training them to form the core of the regime the Americans are now putting together, having satisfied itself that this change of loyalties, from the previous regime to the new one, on the part of this hand-picked personnel shall be smooth. Tens of thousands of others are also being screened and re-employed for service in police and the new army. Before the invasion, many U.S. "experts" used to say that the U.S. could easily live with the existing Iraqi regime if Saddam and his group were eliminated. A version of that is now afoot: screening, re-grouping, re-deployment of the core personnel of the previous regime in the service of the new, puppet regime of Chalabi and the rest. Which of course explains why these collaborators have now become the main targets of attack by the Iraqi Resistance.

ONE cannot say, though, that the war of occupation has entirely failed in its larger objectives. The fact that the resistance has been able to pin down 1,50,000 occupying troops while Iraq remains largely ungovernable for the PCA and the INC has of course meant that the Bush administration's dreams of quickly marching on to Damascus and Teheran have had to be given up. However, a key objective of the invasion of Iraq was to produce a "demonstration effect" for other governments in the larger region to show what could be done to them and occupation of Iraq has certainly brought them dividends elsewhere. Coupled with the economic sanctions that the U.S. Senate has imposed, this " demonstration effect" has certainly pressed Syria into compliance with the demand that it give no protection or support to the Iraqi resistance and that it substantially accede to the demands of the U.S.-Israeli axis, even to the extent of re-opening "peace talks" even as Israel continues its relentless campaign of carnage and mass murder in Palestine. Iran has not only opened up its own nuclear facilities but also recognised the U.S.-appointed Iraqi National Council, entertained Chalabi in Teheran and leaned on al-Sistani and other Iraqi Shia leaders to cooperate with the Americans. Libya has not only abandoned its own nuclear programme, but also shipped the secret blueprints and components to the U.S. while inviting the U.S. oil corporations back for exploitation of its oil resources.

The most interesting case, and one that has the largest significance for India, is that of Pakistan. Dominance over Afghanistan has been a key military and geo-political objective of Pakistan since the Americans launched their phoney jehad against the Communist government there and Pakistan emerged as the mainstay of that offensive. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, which has created such havoc inside and outside Pakistan, was assembled by the CIA at that time as an autonomous agency within the Pakistan armed forces through which the main war could be conducted. The Taliban were trained, funded, supplied and eventually foisted as an Afghan government by Pakistan, with the full collusion of the U.S. It was on the strength of their successes in Afghanistan that the Pakistan government and army came to believe that they could sponsor a jehad in Jammu and Kashmir as well and kept getting away with it for a decade or more. While Pakistan served as America's "most allied ally" for some two decades owing to the crucial U.S.-Pakistan axis in Afghanistan, Pakistan was allowed to beg, borrow, steal and buy on the black market all that it needed to build its nuclear capacity, through the macabre genius of Abdul Qadeer Khan, with full knowledge of the Americans who just turned a blind eye while they knew perfectly well of the nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and Libya.

It was only when the U.S. turned against the Taliban, and especially after the incoming Bush administration decided, well before the September 11 catastrophe, to evict them from power, through direct invasion if necessary, that Pakistani policy went into a tailspin. As the Northern Alliance was brought by the U.S. into Kabul as the new centre of power and Hamid Karzai appointed as the puppet to run Afghanistan for the Americans with the aid of key Northern Alliance commanders, Pakistan could see its entire strategic design crumbling, with eventual consequences for its ambitions in Jammu and Kashmir as well. Pakistan responded with a remarkable attempt at brinksmanship; it allowed the U.S. troops to operate on its soil but also allowed the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's outfit to regroup and resume operations on Pakistani soil. At times, it even cooperated with the Americans in the capture of low-level Taliban/Al-Qaeda functionaries, even as major Taliban commanders operated openly from Peshawar and extensively from the mountains of northern Pakistan, hoping that this double game would help pressurise the U.S. to recognise and accommodate its own interests in the region.

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The bluff seems to be paying off, at least partially. As I write these lines, thousands of Pakistani troops have been deployed against the Taliban/Al-Qaeda bases in the semi-autonomous tribal region of Waziristan in northern Pakistan, in what appears to be final betrayal of its clients and as part of the larger Spring Offensive that the U.S. is now mounting in Afghanistan and the adjoining areas in Pakistan. In a remarkable statement recognising its services, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has declared that Pakistan is one of America's most important allies outside NATO. The statement is remarkable on two counts: in mentioning NATO, it emphasises the military side of the alliance with Pakistan and opens up the way for supply and sales of important weapons systems; and this description of Pakistan parallels the earlier declaration that India itself is now a "strategic ally" of the U.S. Whatever the failures of the U.S. policy in Iraq, that policy seems to be flourishing very effectively in South Asia and may well be connected with Atal Bihari Vajpayee's latest "peace offensive" and rumours of a "settlement" in Kashmir.

THE situation for the Bush-Blair duo is not quite so rosy within the imperialist heartland. This heartland can be divided for purposes into 1. the Anglo-American core and 2. continental Europe, Japan and little dependencies in Asia and elsewhere. Within the core, the main problem is that of 1. casualties (close to 600 for the U.S. and the U.K.); 2. the wide and ever-widening perception that these lives and some $200 billion have been expended in a war based on a huge pack of lies that keeps getting exposed day after day; and 3. the fear that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has done nothing to reduce, and much to increase greatly, the threat of terrorism a fear greatly increased after the recent Madrid bombings that killed 200 people, injured 1,500 and dramatically changed the result of the elections that followed a few days later. For the rest, the situation is somewhat different in the two countries.

In the U.K., the economy is strong, based largely on the strength of the Sterling, and support for the ruling Labour Party is consequently far from crumbling, and the Tories at any rate are as pro-war and pro-American as Blair himself. However, dissent from the war policies is much more vigorous and widespread within the ruling party itself, impressive and influential sections of the media are much more vigorous and persistently interrogative, political culture is itself livelier, and many more people are attuned to developments in continental Europe, so that the Franco-German reservations about the war are known better and taken much more seriously than in the U.S., and the recent events in Spain can potentially have much more explosive impact. The result is that even as there is no decline in the support for Labour as the ruling party, the personal popularity of Blair keeps going down, as the Prime Minister who took the British people into an unnecessary war, told lies to justify a war that was planned in Washington for specifically American objectives, and a war furthermore that has made London more vulnerable to terrorist attacks than it was in the past. However, in Britain, as in the U.S., there is no strong anti-war candidate who can lead either party to electoral victory and the tenure of the present Parliament does not end until 2006 anyway. So, a radical change at the level of government and government policy seems unlikely in the short run. Two possibilities are emerging now, however. One is that if Blair's personal ratings keep falling over the next few months and if his heap of lies really becomes impossible for his party to support, he may be forced to step down in someone else's favour Gordon Brown is waiting in the wings who may not have significant differences with Blair but who will then be forced to scale down the level of belligerence and adopt more "European" policies, aligning himself somewhat with France, Germany and the new Spanish government. The second possibility, which dovetails into the first, is that the recent Spanish events shall re-invigorate the opposition in Britain and Blair's position, already weak, may become altogether untenable under the impact.

In the U.S., by contrast, the economy is in a shambles and the dollar has been sliding precipitously, Bush's own lies have been exposed just as much as Blair's and even the dominant media cannot evade this fact, and the November elections are looming. However, opposition to the war designs of the Bush Administration is virtually non-existent in those sections of both the Republican and Democratic Parties, which command decisive power within the establishment, and all sections of the capitalist class are much more firmly aligned with Bush's war designs. The occupation of Iraq is ultimately about corporate plunder, the U.S. capital sees that clearly, and will not allow either party to reverse those policies to any significant degree. All the establishment forces have made sure that the virtually unchallenged and leading contender for the Democratic Party nomination as the Presidential candidate be none other than John Kerry, a cynic par excellence.

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John Kerry is man who knows how to speak from each side of his mouth, according to the audience he is facing. For pro-war, militaristic audiences, he harps on the fact that he was a heavily decorated fighter in Vietnam; for audiences opposed to invasion and occupation of Iraq, he recalls that he joined the anti-war movement after returning from Vietnam. He criticises Bush for lying to the American public but rules out any withdrawal from Iraq if he were to be elected. When Spain elected a new Prime Minister who was committed to withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq by June, Kerry promptly phoned him to drop his promise and got rebuked. When the U.S. Senate passed a resolution giving Bush unlimited powers to make war, Kerry, a senior Democratic Senator, was one of the vocal supporters of that resolution and told, on his own authority, every lie that Bush had been telling. "Iraq has chemical and biological weapons," he said and claimed, against all the evidence the U.N. inspectors had amassed, that Iraq's programmes for production of such weapons were "larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War [of 1991]." He claimed that Iraq was "attempting to develop nuclear weapons," which too was rejected by the U.N. inspectors. His allegations bordered on the fantastic: "Iraq is developing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of delivering chemical and biological warfare agents, which could threaten Iraq's neighbours as well as American forces in the Persian Gulf." Every one of these lies has been nailed but neither Bush nor Kerry has come forward to apologise for telling them to a frightened American public. These are the two liars who will fight the U.S. Presidential elections in November 2004.

On the European continent, meanwhile, the situation is markedly different. The French were quick to align fully with the U.S. in the recent ouster of a democratically elected President in Haiti, but they have always perceived that the U.S. war in Iraq is against French interests and Jaques Chirac has so far been the most vocal European head of state in opposition to the U.S. policies there, in which he is greatly supported by the French public. In Germany, it is well known that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was trailing behind his rival during the elections of September 2002 and then won the elections due to his clear-cut opposition to the proposed participation of Germany in the Iraq venture. That was the first European election to be decided on the issue of Iraq. Now there has been a second one, in Spain, which has the potential of becoming a European earthquake.

Jose Maria Aznar, the Prime Minister who lost the Spanish election by a wide margin on the single issue of the Spanish troops that he had despatched to Iraq on the U.S. side, was Bush's closest ally in continental Europe. Zapatero, the Socialist Prime Minister-elect, fought a campaign on the promise of reversing that policy and scored a clear-cut victory in a voter turnout of 76 per cent. "The war in Iraq was a disaster," he has said, and "the occupation of Iraq is a disaster." In a radio interview immediately after getting elected he said, "Bush and Blair must do some reflection and self-criticism. You cannot organise a war on lies." When Kerry called him and asked that he change his policy, Zapatero replied that it was a campaign promise and "I am a man of my commitments." He has declared that he will align Spain's policies with France and Germany and will open a dialogue with those other European governments who have sent troops to Iraq, so as to obtain a general withdrawal. However, he cannot easily abandon his clear-cut assertion, time and again, that Spain has no business in Iraq unless the occupying authority is dismantled, the U.N. assumes control of that situation, and NATO itself decides to assume a direct role in Iraq something that the Americans cannot concede, even though Zapatero's position is just a more radicalised version of the Franco-German position.

Whether or not he will actually carry out his promise is yet to be seen. One can say quite confidently, though, that the balance of force in Europe has shifted. Blair's New Labour is now fully isolated from Europe's two major social democratic parties, the German and the Spanish, and is placed somewhat to the right of the French Right; Blair's only major ally in Europe now is Italy's Far Right premier, Silvio Berlusconi. Meanwhile, the hugely prestigious European Commission President Romano Prodi, who is the main opponent of Berlusconi, told the La Stampa newspaper after the recent Madrid bombings: "These terrible days have shown us that the American recipe wasn't right. On Saturday, it will be a year since the start of the war in Iraq, and the terrorist threat is today infinitely more powerful than before." Like Aznar's regime, Berlusconi's in Italy had also despatched Italian troops to buttress U.S. claims of widespread support, despite the fact that the Spanish and Italian masses were the most bitter opponents of the American war in Iraq; Florence, Rome and Barcelona were the hub of the extraordinary anti-war movement which developed in Europe before the invasion of Iraq. The Italian population too may throw out its premier when the time comes.

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SPANISH elections are in a sense a combined achievement of the European anti-war movement and the persistence of the Iraqi resistance which has made the occupation so very untenable, showing it to be a classically colonial-imperialist venture. When this resistance first emerged, the U.S. tried to dismiss it as "remnants of the Baathist regime" and "Saddam loyalists". As the resistance went from strength to strength, killing the Americans and their allies as well as mounting spectacular attacks on the U.N. and the U.S. establishments in Baghdad, as well as U.S. troops across a wide swathe of territory, the U.S. started talking of a "Sunni triangle" where this resistance was said to be concentrated and tried to give it a communal character. Then the attacks spread systematically to the North and the South, far from the so-called "Sunni triangle."

The U.S. is now talking of an impending "civil war" between Shias and Sunnis, quite in the face of the fact that no one in Iraq has yet called for attacks on any religious community and hundreds have been interviewed on U.S. television itself who only talk of peace among sects and communities. Recent bombings of religious sites in Najaf and Karbala take on ominous significance in this regard. Iraqi Sunnis have no history of attacking Shias in their own country, and any "civil war" between them would be suicidal for Sunnis themselves (Shias being more than twice the size of the Sunni community) and will play into the hands of the Americans who will love to say that they are in Iraq on the civilising mission of preventing a religious bloodbath among the barbarians. And the American canard that bombings of mosques and shrines might have been carried out by Osama's men is simply preposterous; whatever else they might be, those men are much too pious to do any such thing. Sunnis and Shias may be equally killed for becoming collaborators, but a generalised attack on one community by another, in its sacred places, is impossible. We may yet be witnessing the rise of terrorist gangs organised by the occupiers themselves, to pass themselves off as part of the resistance but doing their master's bidding.

The quagmire for the U.S. in Iraq today is much worse than it was a year ago, and its own coalition is showing signs of stress and coming decay. That is the achievement primarily of the resistance that has developed in numerous corners of Iraq, within a year of the invasion.

Cricket and diplomacy

ON several occasions I have said that India-Pakistan relations are accident-prone. However, the current mood provides some hope for a better future for our bilateral relations. It is, however, too early to make a final judgment on the course these relations might follow. Even an insignificant incident can upset the goodwill generated on both sides of the border in the past few weeks. The One-Day International cricket match at Karachi was a welcome change from such encounters in the past. The people of Karachi gave our team a cordial and warm welcome and applauded Sourav Ganguly and his comrades when they won the match on the last ball of the last over. Equally striking was the popular welcome given to Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and her husband Robert. Cricket matches between the two countries in the past achieved high levels of bitterness, hostility and the body language on the field was war-like.

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At a deeper level we have to watch how General Pervez Musharraf conducts himself after the cricket matches are over on April 18, 2004. In his televised address to the India Today Conclave held recently in Delhi, he again mentioned Jammu and Kashmir as the core issue. The temptation to do so obviously proved irresistible. This is not a good sign. We have, therefore, to ask - has the climate of India-Pakistan relations changed or just the diplomatic weather? If there is a change of climate, then something of very great significance has happened. However, I do not look at diplomacy and international relations through the "optimism-pessimism" syndrome. We must thoroughly analyse such situations with clear-headed realism. The wise will watch and see what the next few months have in store for the people of India and Pakistan. The Americans will never alter their pro-Pakistan attitude when the chips are down. The Vajpayee establishment must keep this in mind.

If there had been a change in the diplomatic climate, its repercussions would be seen not only in the SAARC region or Asia, but also throughout the world. Just imagine if India and Pakistan had a broad agreement on foreign policy, defence policy and security matters, the world would sit up. Sometimes one gathers the impression that in both countries, the people are ahead of their governments. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf have put their necks on the diplomatic railway line. In India, the Congress party has shown the way to improve relations with Pakistan and has supported Prime Minister Vajpayee's initiative to have better relations with Pakistan. I am not sure whether President Musharraf has the entire Pakistani establishment the Army, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the business and bureaucratic communities on his side. President Musharraf is not a Punjabi. The Pakistan Armed Forces, the Army in particular, is Punjabi dominated. The Americans will push him to the edge but will never abandon him. We in India do not have the pressures the President of Pakistan faces Taliban in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, the dangerous activities of A.Q. Khan whose greed made him sell lethal technology for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. It is amazing but not surprising that the Americans have dealt with Khan with such leniency.

I WAS in Bangalore two weeks ago where I met a young lady named Tejeswani. I was not familiar with her name earlier. I discovered that it was a household name in Karnataka. She asked me if I would appear on her TV programme. She works for the Udaya TV network. When I asked my colleagues in the Congress party in Bangalore whether I should agree to an interview by Tejeswani, their response was overwhelmingly in favour of my appearing in her TV show. During the interview, Tejeswani impressed me with her self-confidence, her intuitive intelligence and her mastery of the television technique. Apparently the interview was seen and appreciated by a very large number of people. I generally avoid appearing on television. Charming young men and beautiful young ladies sometimes address complicated issues with fanciful and pretentious cocksureness. To me, television is a double-edged weapon. Its capacity to do good is enormous. Even greater is its capacity to do harm. However, the intrusion of TV channels in our homes is irreversible and one has to learn to live with it.

WHEN Shaharyar Mohammed Khan was Pakistan's Foreign Secretary and later Ambassador to France, he was not well known even in Pakistan, let alone India. Now he is. As Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, he is very much in the public eye. Shaharyar and I have been friends for 50 years. We were contemporaries at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Later we joined the Foreign Service of our respective countries. In the mid-1970s, we were posted in London. When I was Ambassador to Pakistan (1980-82) I visited him and his mother in Karachi. There is an older link. My wife's grandfather, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala and Shaharyar's grandfather, the Nawab of Bhopal, were friends and rivals in the Chamber of Princes in the 1920s and 1930s.

Shaharyar is an aristocratic gentleman. He has sent me a personal invitation to come to Pakistan to watch the One Day matches and the Tests. I hope to get away at least for 24 hours to Lahore. I have not been to Pakistan since December 1988 when I accompanied Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to Islamabad for the SAARC Summit. I am looking forward to my first passage to Pakistan in the 21st century.

Iraq: The economic record

There are few signs of a return to normalcy in Iraq a year after the occupation began, no evidence of reconstruction of a devastated economy, and no hope that the rise in the U.S. budget deficit will reverse with an end to the war.

A YEAR after the United States-led occupation of Iraq, few will deny that it has been a humanitarian and political disaster. Nor can there be any doubt left in sensible minds that the effort to justify the occupation on political grounds was completely misplaced. Weapons of mass destruction waiting to be deployed do not disappear into thin air; and a people ostensibly waiting to embrace foreign troops intent on liberating them do not seek out every opportunity to bomb the occupiers and their collaborators. Many lives and much wealth have been destroyed, it is now amply clear, with no purpose served.

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But there is a view that such explanations for the war in Iraq are for the faint-hearted. In the era of the new imperialism, it is argued, wars fought in the name of freedom are merely means to advance the economic agenda of the developed world. The U.S. chose to attack Iraq in order to reshape the political geography of West Asia, which is home to a disproportionate share of what is still one of the world's most valuable resources - oil. If nationalist (read recalcitrant) governments there are unwilling to pump out oil into world markets at prices that keep that resource cheap, military intervention on the part of the US is unavoidable to keep inflation down and the dollar up. What is more, the occupation must be financed and economic stability restored, by using resources garnered from the sale of Iraq's own oil supplies.

Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. Deputy Defence Secretary, is reported to have told the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee as far back as end-March last year: "There's a lot of money to pay for this that doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people. On a rough recollection, the oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 billion and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years." With the cost of the occupation during the most intense period of the war placed at around $4 billion a month, those sums would have been more than enough to finance the misadventure. The case was clear. While the U.S. government was working overtime to convince the world that the war was about freedom and not oil, calculations were being made to assure the U.S. people that they would not be called upon to pay for the price for freedom elsewhere in the world.

As has been true of all the arguments advanced by the U.S. government to justify its occupation, this one too has proved to be completely wrong. The U.S. today is not only providing more than 80 per cent of the foreign troops in Iraq, it is being forced to put out more than 90 per cent of the money involved, in a desperate bid to legitimise the occupation. The failure to restore damaged oil facilities and the attacks on oil installations by the resistance to the war have meant that production has limped back to just 2.2 million barrels a day, which was the average level it had reached in 2002. Yet, the President's Office of Management and Budget recently reported to the U.S. Congress that oil revenues, which touched $3.9 billion in 2003, would rise to $13 billion this year. The point to note is that even this optimistic estimate, which is more than unlikely to be realised, will not cover the operating costs of the Iraqi government, estimated at $15.6 billion for 2004.

Further, there are two sets of costs that these figures do not include. First, the costs of the American occupation, which has now extended well beyond that of the brief intervention that was expected to oust Saddam Hussein and restore normalcy in Iraq. There are two ways in which the increasingly opaque allocations to the Iraq war reflect themselves. One is through a burgeoning official defence budget, which stood at $375.3 billion in 2003 and is estimated to be $401.7 billion in 2004. A significant part of this increase is due to a rise in the operations and maintenance budget, from $128 billion to $141 billion, principally on account of the Iraq misadventure. The other is through special "supplemental" appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan, amounting to $84.7 billion last year and expected to be around $50 billion at the minimum this year.

With such huge amounts being set aside for its wars against "terrorism" or for "freedom", it should be clear that little money is available to finance the costs of reconstructing a badly damaged nation and economy. Faced with inadequate oil revenues to finance a reconstruction that would win Iraqi hearts, the U.S. government has set aside a measly $18.6 billion for Iraq's reconstruction. This compares with independent estimates that have placed the maximum required for reconstruction at up to $120 billion over the next several years. Not surprisingly, by all accounts, there has been virtually no reconstruction in the country because of the persistence of hostilities and the delay in handing over power to a legitimate government in Iraq.

What is more, there are two kinds of leakages from the relatively smaller-than-required sums set aside for reconstruction. The first are the leakages on account of security considerations. Admiral David Nash, administrator of the U.S.' $18.6 billion reconstruction fund in Iraq, admitted recently that security risks had led to higher insurance and security costs, and were eroding the $18.6 billion that the U.S. Congress had appropriated for reconstruction. Insurance costs for companies choosing to benefit from the lucrative contracts being handed out in Iraq are placed at as much as 25 per cent of total costs. That will hardly make the little money allocated for reconstruction go a long way.

The second kind of leakage is, of course, straightforward corruption. The Halliburton scandal, involving the company earlier headed by U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, gets murkier by the day. Over the last year, the company was awarded a series of contracts without competition to service the occupation and reconstruct the Iraqi oil industry. In December last year, Pentagon auditors argued that Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), a subsidiary of the company, had overcharged the government by about $61 million for fuel imports till September. Quickly, however, the Army Corps of Engineers that manages the contract exonerated the firm, claiming that it had supplied fuel from Kuwait at a "fair and reasonable price", and blaming the higher fuel import prices on Kuwaiti Petroleum - saying it had forced KBR to buy from a sole supplier, Altanmia Commercial Marketing.

While the Pentagon's auditors are still pressing their demand for an inquiry by the department's Inspector General, other instances of actual or possible malpractice have surfaced. In mid-January, Halliburton informed the Pentagon Inspector General that the same KBR subsidiary overcharged the U.S. government by $6 million on a contract to supply U.S. troops. It attributed this to the following fact: "Perhaps two former KBR employees may have accepted improper payments from a Kuwaiti subcontractor as part of the potential $6 million overcharge." Claiming that it was reporting the matter on discovery of the irregularity, the company returned $6.3 million to the government (a 10th of the excess profit it earned on the oil import deal investigated by the Pentagon auditors), and dismissed the employees concerned. What is shocking, however, is that a day after the second irregularity was reported, the Army Corps of Engineers awarded the company another contract worth $1.2 billion to rebuild southern Iraq's oil industry.

In sum, while there are few signs of a return to normalcy in Iraq a year after the occupation began, no evidence of reconstruction of a devastated economy, and no hope that the rise in the U.S. budget deficit will reverse with an end to the war, there are many signs that a few companies that function virtually out of the White House are making large profits.

In a desperate bid to shift attention away from the corruption of the U.S. administration and its allies, attempts are once again being made to focus on Saddam's wrongdoings and the support he received from those who refused to be U.S. allies. In early February, Iraq's Governing Council launched an investigation into allegations in the Iraqi press that senior officials and organisations from around the world had received crude oil in return for political support for Saddam Hussein's regime at the time of the oil-for-food programme. Leading the charge is Ahmad Chalabi, who was responsible for fuelling the faulty and baseless intelligence reports on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Since the United Nations was charged with managing the food-for-work programme which, according to the allegations, yielded illegitimate benefits for 270 persons from more than 40 countries, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been forced to demand the evidence on the basis of which the allegations are being made. Little is likely to come out of this controversy, which includes a whitewashing of the growing evidence of corrupt collaboration between U.S. industry and sections of the U.S. administration.

THERE is a larger story behind these developments. One of the puzzles of U.S. economic growth in recent times is a combination of a robust recovery with no jobs. While gross domestic product (GDP) growth has been in excess of 4 per cent, unemployment still stands at an uncomfortable 5.6 per cent. On an annualised basis, the 21,000 jobs created in February 2004 amounted to less than 10 per cent of the 2.6 million jobs the Bush administration has promised to generate in this year. The cause for the recovery is quite clear: a massive rise in government spending fuelled by the occupation of Iraq, which has taken the U.S. budget deficit to 5.1 per cent of GDP. However, the direct relationship between deficit spending, growth and employment seems to have been broken. The reasons are not difficult to find. It is not just that increased U.S. domestic demand results in larger imports than greater domestic production, resulting in a more-than $550 billion annual trade deficit. Since a significant chunk of the deficit spending of the U.S. government goes out to finance wars, the demand generated by such spending results in sales for and employment in the operations of U.S. firms abroad, often at inflated prices. While this may boost corporate profits and national income at home, it does not create jobs domestically. The U.S. government has lost not only the battle to alter the political geography of world oil supplies, and failed to keep oil prices down, but also the ability to retain the benefits of its own spending. Bad news, that, in an election year.

Benazir in Swiss courts

A.G. NOORANI world-affairs

The conviction of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari by Swiss courts in cases related to money laundering and receipt of kickbacks is based on incontrovertible evidence and bears testimony to the integrity of Switzerland's judiciary, government and police force.

INDICTMENT of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari by two separate courts in Geneva in two unrelated cases, testifies to the integrity and efficiency of the Swiss judiciary; the efficacy of the famous Swiss law, the Federal Act on International Assistance in Criminal Matters (IMAC); the diligence of the Swiss police; and the probity of the Swiss government. Also indicted with them was Jens Schlegelmich, a Geneva attorney who acted as a frontman, a device practised with impunity until legal reform and official exertions squashed it ("The Mystique of Swiss banks", Frontline, November 21, 2003).

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Members of Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) instantly gave each legal setback a spin hours after it became known so that the next day's papers carried their version. In contrast, the prosecutors, the National Accountability Bureau, provided a study in indifference. Benazir Bhutto's denials are astounding in their sweep. It is fair to mention that she has yet to exhaust the appellate remedies. But for three good reasons that does not affect the weight of the indictments. First, both Benazir Bhutto and Zardari "refused to respond to the questions which were posed" to them by letters rogatory. Secondly, there was thorough investigation in Switzerland by the Swiss police in which Schlegelmich was interrogated and had to answer questions. Thirdly, the evidence thus unearthed suffices to damn the couple in the eyes of the public quite regardless of the fate of the appeals. The documentary evidence alone is damning - the reputation which the administrative set up under the couple had acquired even in far off Switzerland; the rivalry between two Swiss concerns and their eventual conciliation; and, most important, a detailed agreement between husband and wife on the sharing of the spoils.

Section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, which is in force in Pakistan also, provides a good test. It says that "a fact is said to be proved when, after considering the matters before it, the court either believes it to exist, or considers its existence so probable that a prudent man ought, under the circumstances of the particular case, to act upon the supposition that it exists" (emphasis added throughout). In a criminal case, courts insist on proof "beyond reasonable doubt". Civil cases are decided on "a balance of probabilities". Public officials are supposed to be above board. When evidence surfaces against them, the citizen must ask whether "a prudent" person would, having regard to the circumstances, regard existence of their guilt "probable" enough to justify the citizen "to act upon the supposition that it exists" and pronounce his verdict of "guilty". That applies to the media's verdict also. It must be based on evidence leading to clear inference of guilt by the test of Section 3.

BENAZIR BHUTTO, Zardari and Schlegelmich were indicted by Investigating Magistrates in two cases; one concerned money laundering, the other concerned receipt of kickbacks. Common to both is the involvement of Schlegelmich and offshore companies in Virgin Islands.

The money laundering case was decided by Investigating Magistrate Daniel Devaud on July 30, 2003, in two identically worded judgments, bar minor changes concerning each of the couple. So meticulous are the judgments that even their dates of birth are mentioned. Benazir Bhutto was born on June 21, 1953. Zardari was born two years later July 27, 1955.

Schlegelmich had been advising the Bhutto family for many years. He was introduced to the family in the beginning of 1980 when Benazir Bhutto's brothers consulted him in order to obtain a residence permit for their mother, Nusrat Bhutto. Schlegelmich was introduced to Zardari in December 1987 at his marriage with Benazir Bhutto.

At the beginning of 1990, when Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister, Cotecna Inspection SA (Cotecna) concluded a contract of customs surveillance and inspection with Pakistan. It paid 6 per cent of the amount paid by Pakistan to account No.622.902 at Barclays Bank (Suisse) SA in Geneva of the company Mariston Securities Inc. (Mariston), a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands whose beneficial owner was Nusrat Bhutto. Schlegelmich held the shares of Mariston in his name but on her behalf under a mandate agreement. In the execution of the contract, more than $1,200,000 was paid to Mariston by Cotecna. The contract was terminated by the Pakistani authorities at the end of 1991. Benazir Bhutto had been sacked as Prime Minister by the President on August 6, 1990. Nawaz Sharif won power in the general elections that followed.

Cotecna had every reason to be pleased at Benazir Bhutto's return to power on November 19, 1993, in the elections that followed Nawaz Sharif's dismissal earlier. She was sacked, for the second time, in October 1996. Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister in February 1997. He was ousted on October 12, 1999, in a military coup led by Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf. He set up the National Accountability Bureau inter alia to bring to book both the Prime Ministers. The incidents that formed the basis for the cases in which Benazir Bhutto was indicted occurred during her second term in power. Judging by the facts of the money laundering case and Cotecna's involvement, it is clear that neither she nor her husband expended much time on governance alone.

Just then, another Swiss concern and Cotecna's rival entered the scene. The Societe Generale De Surveillance SA (SGS) had as its primary activity performance, on behalf of its clients, of mandates of verification, inspection or certification of services or merchandise.

In 1982, the Government of Pakistan had invited bids in order to confer on private parties verification of imports for the country (pre-shipment inspection of goods) to ensure payment of correct customs duties. SGS submitted an offer. It was initially accepted by the Pakistani authorities, but no contract was signed. Even a letter of intention had been signed by the Central Board of Revenue (CBR).

One Hans Fischer had been employed by SGS since 1967. In 1993, he became the head of the division of "governmental contracts" of SGS. His role involved negotiation and conclusion of services contracts for states outside of Switzerland. After Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister, SGS attempted to enter in contract with her "and her family in order to restart the discussion regarding the conclusion of the contract of inspection (pre-shipment inspection of goods)". The Magistrate added: "SGS had perfectly identified the influential persons surrounding Ms. Bhutto... thus, in a memo of visit to Pakistan, one of the SGS managers of the Asia Zone, Mr. Bjorn Axel Sergelblom, indicated the following: `In his view, Asif Zardari, BB's husband, is deputy PM unofficially with a lot of power. This was demonstrated last week with the ousting of BB's mother from the chairmanship of PPP. The influence of Asif Zardari is real and he has in the past always helped and favoured his friends and cronies, one of which is the Cotecna agent. With the same friends back in power, Cotecna needs to be watched with caution, in particular due to the lack of ethics of the parties concerned'."

F. Herren was Assistant Director of the Government Contracts Division of the SGS under Fischer. In a memo of February 8, 1994, he told his boss: "The civil servants have forgotten how BB tends to run her business (with the help of her husband), i.e., if she want it, she will get it, with or without the support of the civil servants... There is a chance to get the project off the ground, with or without the consent of the CBR. We should also admit that Cotecna is better placed now than before and has made some mileage. However, they must have some concerns regarding delivering the baby alone.

"CT has two options: either to split with us or to re-define the terms of reference (to please customs or to a level where they believe they can deliver). However, because of their previous experience with customs, they may rather go for the split under the present TOR (also more profitable for the sponsor). The trade will not return of Cotecna. We can wait for CT to do the political job and for them to approach us.

"If we are interested in counter-balancing CT effort at the top, either by teaching for SHK or the husband, we should forget for time the civil servants (but keeping friendly contacts with them); they will not be the one making the decision in such case quick access and cultivation of the top is required." The identity of "SHK" is now known.

At the beginning of March 1994, de Braekereer, Manager of the Pakistani subsidiary of SGS, indicated in a memo that he could renew his efforts to see Zardari. In January 1994, Schlegelmich met Zardari at a dinner in Geneva at the residence of Sadruddin Aga Kan. According to Schlegelmich, "it was following this meeting that he contacted Cotecna". In the discussions that followed, he learned that it would be desirable for him to be in contact with SGS because Pakistan was a country too large for Cotecna to oversee on its own. During the same period, the beginning of 1994, Fischer approached Schlegelmich, whom he knew to be linked to the Bhutto family, in order that he might intervene in favour of the choice of SGS.

Schlegelmich having agreed to intervene, agreements were concluded on March 11, 1994 under which, should the "Pakistani" contract be awarded to this company, SGS undertook to pay a commission of 1 per cent of such sums to Schlegelmilch personally and entrusted to him the care of keeping in deposit the original of the agreements, in order to ensure confidentiality. SGS would take care of half of the travel costs incurred prior to the conclusion of the contract with Pakistan. Fischer signed these agreements.

Considering that Benazir Bhutto had become Prime Minister only in November 1993, the SGS' speed of operations deserves admiration. In 1993 another offshore company replaced the Mariston company of 1990. Bomer Finance Inc. is an "offshore" company having its seat in the British Virgin Islands. Jens Schlegelmich was its representative. Its "beneficial owner is Asif Ali Zardari", the judgment noted, adding that "he went to Pakistan from 18 to 27 March 1994 at the invitation of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto... in reality, Ms. Benazir Bhutto shares with her husband the assets of Bomer Finance Inc. over which she has the power of disposition."

By June 1994, SGS had acquired all the shares of its former rival Cotecna. On June 29, 1994, Cotecna addressed, under the signature of Robert M. Massey, three letters to the office of Schlegelmich. All of them commenced with the following phrase: "Should we receive, within six months from today, a contract from the Government of the Pakistan for the inspection and price verification of goods imported in Pakistan, we, Cotecna Inspection S.A. Geneva will pay... on the total amount invoiced and paid to us by the Government of Pakistan for such a contract during the whole duration and its renewal."

One of the letters was addressed to Mariston of old. It would receive 6 per cent of the amount billed and paid by the Government of Pakistan under the inspection contract. The second letter was addressed to Nassam Overseas Inc., an incorporated company whose beneficial owner was Nasir Hussain, at the time husband of a sister of Benazir Bhutto. It provided for a commission of 3 per cent of the amount billed and paid by the Government of Pakistan under the inspection contract. The third letter was addressed to Schlegelmich. It provided for a commission of 1.25 per cent of the amount billed and paid by the Government of Pakistan under the inspection contract.

Also, on June 29, 1994, Cotecna sent a fourth letter addressed to Nassam Overseas Inc. In contrast to the three preceding letters of the same day, sent to Schlegelmich for himself and for Mariston and Nassam, this letter was modified as follows: "In the event that, within six months from today, contracts for the inspection and the price verification of goods into Pakistan are signed between the Government of Pakistan and Cotecna Inspection S.A. and Societe Generale De Surveillance S.A., we Cotecna Inspection S.A. on behalf of Societe Generale De Surveillance S.A. will pay you 3 per cent on the total amount invoiced and paid to Societe Generale De Surveillance S.A. by the Government of Pakistan for such a contract during the whole duration and its renewals."

At the beginning of June 1994, many meetings were held under the direction of Zardari in Islamabad in the presence of representatives of the Pakistani authorities as well as representatives of Cotecna and SGS.

When asked why it was Zardari who had organised these meetings, de Braekereer said: "I assume that it's because of the need for political support. I mean by my response, as it is a political decision, it is necessary that the meeting be organised by a politician."

Negotiations on the contractual modalities were undertaken between SGS and Cotecna, which had just been purchased by SGS, on the one hand, and the Pakistani authorities, on the other hand, during the summer of 1994. The judgment says: "Upon the decision of Benazir Bhutto, who was not only Prime Minister but also Minister of Finance of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the inspection contract was awarded to SGS and Cotecna, despite the opposition of the customs services of the country, on 29 September 1994."

Cotecna having been purchased by SGS in June 1994, the internal allocation between SGS and Cotecna was made on a 50-50 basis, SGS and Cotecna sharing the verification of imports to Pakistan depending on the country of origin of the imports. The contract entered into force on January 1, 1995.

The judgment recites in detail how Schlegelmich "had personally overseen the payment by SGS and Cotecna of Commissions due to Bomer, Nassam and to himself". There were nine phone calls and a letter to SGS enclosing bills, for Bomer. The payments demanded corresponded to commissions of 6 per cent due to Benazir Bhutto and Zardari and 1 per cent for himself. There were likewise nine bills to Cotecna on behalf of Bomer and 14 for the 3 per cent commission for Nassam under the contract of September 29, 1994 and nine bills for his commission. For each of them, precise dates and payments demanded are given.

The judgment summed up: "Thus, from the commencement of the contract, the commissions provided by the agreements of 11 March and 29 June 1994 were regularly paid on the following accounts between May 1995 and September 1997 for a total of: Bomer Finances Inc. USD 8,190,085 (eight million one hundred ninety thousand eighty-five dollars); Nassam Overseas Inc. USD 3,807,338 (three million eight hundred seven thousand three hundred thirty-eight dollars); Mr. Jens Schlegelmich USD 1,538,014 (one million five hundred thirty-eight thousand and fourteen dollars).

"In effect at the time of the first payment of commissions by SGS, on 24 May 1995, Mariston Securities Inc., which was initially going to be used to receive 6 per cent of the billed amounts, was replaced by the company Bomer Finance Inc., a company incorporated in the Virgin Islands whose beneficial owners are Mr. Asif Ali Zardari and Benazir Bhutto... By a decision of the shareholders of Bomer on 25 June 1991, Mr. Jens Schlegelmich is the Sole Director/Chariman... Schlegelmich had received from Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, a management mandate for the company BOMER."

Under interrogation, Schlegelmich spilled the beans. He "acknowledged having started to hold the accounting for account No.552.343 of the company Bomer at UBS Geneva: ... such accounting mentioned: 50 per cent AAZ - 50 per cent BB... when interrogated regarding that accounting sheet, Mr. Jens Schlegelmich indicated that he had received instruction from Asif Ali Zardari according to which in case of death, the sum should be divided between his family and the family of his wife... the instruction had moreover shown that Benazir Bhutto had a true discretionary power on the disposition of the Bomer account."

This raises a fundamental issue of constitutional governance. What was Zardari's locus standi at all? Constitutionally, none. But he was much more than the Prime Minister's husband fixing deals as "Mr. 50 per cent", as he came to be known. He had built an alternative power structure by his own exertions, wielding authority by proxy. He was paid for his own labours. In a short period, he had come to acquire power in his own right which she could not, would not, ignore. Schlegelmich's evidence shows she profited by the arrangement. This disclosure alone suffices to show Benazir Bhutto in her true colours.

Add to it another piece of evidence. In August 1997, when her husband was in prison and she was out of power, she bought a diamond necklace in London for a whopping 117,000. It was paid for partly in cash. The rest was paid by a cheque from the account of Bomer. The necklace was then deposited in the vault of a bank in Geneva from where it was seized.

The judgment concluded: "That by taking effective means to enrich herself or enrich her husband by way of a contract concluded for the account of the state of which she assumed the supreme direction, Benazir Bhutto was guilty, at least, of acts relating to the unfair management of the public interests which she had the mission of defending... nothing effectively permits the conclusion that the SGS and Cotecna, for themselves, Hans Fischer and Robert Massey, had consented to a sacrifice of more than USD 5 million for the sole purpose of making a donation, without compensation, to the couple Bhutto-Zardari. These payments were without a doubt made in order to obtain the desired contract, in such a manner that SGS and Cotecna therein found their benefit. If Benazir Bhutto had acted fairly, it would not be herself or her husband, but rather the state of Pakistan, which should have benefited, for example, in the form of a discount on amounts billed by SGS and Cotecna, from the financial sacrifice that SGS and Cotecna were prepared to make." She and her husband enriched themselves at the expense of public funds.

On May 1, 2000, the Swiss Penal Code was amended to punish money laundering as well as bribery of foreign officials. Swiss law punishes "passive corruption". Article 305bis was inserted to punish "whoever undertakes an action designed to obstruct investigation into the origin, the discovery or the confiscation of assets which he knows, or must assume, stem from a crime". Schlegelmich came within Article 305bis from May 1, 2000.

The judgment says: "Since unfair management of public interests is a crime and it does not matter whether this crime was committed abroad (Art. 305bis, al. 3 CP), Mr. Asif Ali Zardari may be reproached in Switzerland for having committed acts of laundering money arising from the criminal activities of Benazir Bhutto... under Swiss law, the author of the principal crime may also be prosecuted for money laundering if he carried out actions proscribed by Article 305bis... . A fortiori he who, without being the so-called author of the principal crime, however contributes to its commission, must be prosecuted if, additionally, he participated in the putting into place of a structure having as its purpose that certain assets be paid according to modalities clearly destined to camouflage their real destination... Zardari not only carried out actions so that the agreement between Bomer Finance Inc. be kept secret, but he also participated in the putting in place of companies which he knew would serve as a screen to camouflage the real recipients of funds which he would cause to be paid by SGS and Cotecna. That use of `screen' companies is typical of acts punishable under Article 305bis.

"Zardari thus knew that his wife Benazir Bhutto was acting in a criminally reprehensible manner by abusing her role in order to obtain for herself or her husband, considerable sums in the sole private interest of her family at the cost of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan."

Benazir and Zardari were, thus, paid $8,190,085 in the account of Bomer Finance Inc. at UBS Geneva; and $3,807,338 in the account of Nassam Overseas Inc. at Barclays Geneva; a total of $11,997,423. Both Benazir and Zardari were sentenced "to reimburse" these proceeds of "the unfair management of the public interests" of Pakistan which were "laundered in Switzerland". There were $2,484,000 in the account of Bomer and $3,748,373 in the account of Nassam at Barclays. Bomer transferred to Hospital Middle East Inc. at UBS, Geneva, $5,502,292. All these, totalling $11,734,665, were ordered to be confiscated.

Since the amounts fell short of the sum to be reimbursed, the couple were sentenced to pay the balance of $2,62,758, in Swiss francs, to the Government of Pakistan. They were given a suspended sentence of six months' imprisonment; granting them "the benefit of probation". The necklace was ordered to be forfeited and given to the Government of Pakistan.

On August 13, the accused appealed to the Tribunal de Police, Geneva. The appeal was heard on November 4, 2003 by a Bench of three Judges (Reyonel, Chairman; Grob and Braun). They dismissed every single objection made by the appellants - the Magistrate's lack of competence; defective indictment; improper service of summons and so on. The Tribunal remarked: "In any case, to the extent that the accused were to be found guilty, it is doubtful that a prison term of less than 18 months could be considered." It was the maximum sentence it could award. A higher court, the Cour Correctionnelle, which holds trials by jury, can award a jail sentence for up to five years. A suspended sentence is not allowed. Magistrate Devaud had awarded the maximum sentence he could - of 6 months and a suspended one.

Article 230 of Geneva's Code of Criminal Procedure empowers the Tribunal to refer a case to the Attorney-General if it considers itself incompetent to try it. Benazir Bhutto and Zardari asked for trial by the higher court and risked an enhanced, unsuspendable sentence, instead of accepting the light sentence given by the Magistrate.

The Tribunal, therefore, referred the case to the Attorney-General of Geneva Daniel Zappelli. He has three options - move for trial by the higher court, order fresh investigation or prosecute the accused. Given the state of the evidence, none of them offers much comfort to the couple. On the other hand, acceptance of the Magistrate's sentence would have exposed them to public opprobrium.

THE other case is as troublesome for them. On November 24, 2003, another Investigating Magistrate of the Canton of Geneva, Christine Junod, ordered that a sum of $2,390,133 held by Dargal Associate SA of Virgin Islands in a Geneva Bank, Cantrade Ormond Burrus Banque Private SA (today Ferrier Lullinet Cie SA), be transferred to Pakistan. Dargal was incorporated only on June 14, 1994. It was represented by Schlegelmich and his partner, another lawyer, Didier Plantin. They opened an account in the bank in December 1994 with Amer Lodhi as the beneficial owner. He denied this.

It was alleged that from January 1995 to March 1996, Dargal had been used to collect and partially to redistribute almost $2,400,000 of commission collected on the sale of tractors to the Agricultural Development Bank of Pakistan (ADB) under a programme to assist small farmers. The Polish company ZPC URSUS Traktorzystew (ZPC Ursus) had been awarded a contract for the supply of 8,000 tractors of the model Ursus 2812 without any public tenders. Two invoices dated February 27, 1995, had been found, addressed by Dargal to ZPC Ursus, over the signature of Schlegelmich, for $1,473,260 and $345,579 as "consulting and promotional fees" in relation to the sale of 6,000 tractors to ADB.

Besides Zardari, one of the beneficiaries of the operation, Steve Shanks, also intervened with ZPC Ursus for the payment of "commissions" promised to Dargal, by reminding them that "the practicability of business relations with Ursus depended upon a certain other person" (clearly Zardari) who "has the power to replace Chairmen, Ministers and others, if in his view, they fail in their duties". The relationship between Zardari, Shanks, the company Dargal and the Ursus transaction was confirmed in a handwritten note of Schlegelmich summing up a telephone conversation with Amer Lodhi who gave him instructions on the sharing of the Ursus "commissions", and asked him to "mention to Asif so that he is aware of his gesture".

A sum of $296,195 was retransferred to a company, which could not be identified, in Arab Bank (Switzerland). A sum of $592,195 was given to Shanks who split them by halves with Amer Lodhi (minutes of investigation hearing of 23.06.1998). The equivalent of some $220,000 was used to pay various fees and "disbursements". The balance on the account, value to date, must be over $5,000,000, the judgment noted.

When heard on October 22 and on December 19, 1997, by the Genevan Examining Magistrate, "Jens Schlegelmich explained that the beneficial owner of Dargal was indeed Amer Lodhi, `American citizen, whose sister (Maleeha Lodhi) has been appointed Ambassador of Pakistan at Washington by the government of Benazir Bhutto'. His partner, Didier Plantin, had finalised the contract between Dargal and Ursus. He said that he was surprised to find, in the mutual legal assistance file, two invoices for `consulting and promotional fees' which were made out by him in the name of Dargal on February 1996 for, respectively, $1,437,260 and $345,579. He had given sufficient explanations on the issue. When heard by the Examining Magistrate on October 22, 1997, Didier Plantin explained that: Schlegelmich had introduced Amer Lodhi to him, who wished to create a company `for the purpose of collecting commissions which should originate from a contract pertaining to Ursus tractors in Poland'. He had gone to Poland to discuss with a certain Steve Shanks, `in contact with the Polish authorities and the Ursus management'; that he had not `very well understood (the) relationships' which he (Steve Shanks) had with Amer Lodhi; he resigned from Dargal as soon as the matter had been concluded, and then remitted the file to Schlegelmich. He had comforted (satisfied?) himself, without explaining how, that Amer Lodhi was the beneficial owner of the assets on the Dargal account. When heard on June 23, 1998, by the Genevan Examining Magistrate, Amer Lodhi explained that he had no claim on the assets seized (minutes of investigation hearing of 23.06.1998); knew nothing of the account of the company Dargal with Cantrade, that company being fully controlled by Schlegelmich, who had, without his knowledge, made him appear as being the beneficial owner on the account opening documents."

The judgment, which was printed in full in the Lahore daily Nation on November 23, 2003, says: "In the instant case, the implementation of the request for mutual legal assistance has clearly established that the assets seized with Banque Cantrade originate directly from the offences for which mutual legal assistance has been granted. The documentary evidence and statements of the persons heard allow, without any ambiguity, to link the transfers credited to the banking relationship of Dargal, to the commissions paid by Ursus for the sale of its tractors to a Pakistani governmental entity. Also, the file establishes beyond any doubt that these commissions, under the cover of alleged `consultancy fees' were meant to remunerate the illicit advantages obtained by Ursus from the Pakistani administration thanks to the interventions of Asif Zardari. The structures put into place to conceal the illicit origin of these commissions, under the responsibility of the attorney-at-law Jens Schlegelmich, frontman of the Bhutto couple, confirm it. The necessary link between the origin of the funds and the offences prosecuted in the proceedings conducted by the requesting state is thus established."

It added: "There is no claim of a third party which would justify that they be held back in Switzerland. Amer Lodhi, beneficial owner of the account according to the account opening forms, has expressly excluded any claim on his behalf on these assets. Jens Schlegelmich, director of the company Dargal, has not pretended that any other person would be the true beneficial owner of the account, an allegation which could have led to Jens Schlegelmich being suspected of having given false indications on the account opening forms. The Bhutto couple, citizens of the requesting state, indicted in its national proceeding, may file their possible claims there on the assets at stake. The remittance of said assets is thus well-founded and may be ordered notwithstanding the absence of a forfeiture decision by a judicial authority of the requesting state.

"They will be transferred to the benefit of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, at their current value, up to the amount of the undue commissions paid by Ursus, i.e., $2,390,133 in principal along with accrued interests."

Veronique Heldner, a member of the law firm Pythos, Schifferli Peter & Associates, acting for Pakistan, aptly told AFP on November 24: "We now have this sum and no one wants to be the economic beneficiary, and this hardens the suspicious about the illicit origins of the money." Her point is irrefutable.

An anti-government upsurge

HAROON HABIB in Dhaka world-affairs

A deteriorating law and order situation and popular discontent facilitate the emergence of a new, Awami League-led Opposition movement against the Khaleda Zia government in Bangladesh.

in Dhaka

THE irony of Bangladesh's history is that the country, founded 32 years ago when East Pakistan broke away from Pakistan in a fiery display of opposition to military and religious autocracy, had to experience the same vices soon after Independence. It was only in 1990, after a prolonged anti-autocracy movement, that Bangladesh finally tasted democratic freedoms. However, the trials of the nation seem to be unending.

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At the receiving end this time are the religious minorities, political activists, intellectuals and journalists. On the whole, the law and order situation has worsened. Khaleda Zia, the widow of former President Gen. Ziaur Rahman, came to power for the second time when her alliance, a combination of disgruntled leftists and religious extremists, defeated the secular Awami League (A.L.). But slightly more than two and a half years in office, the government is now confronting a movement spearheaded by half a dozen Opposition parties demanding its resignation and mid-term elections.

The A.L., which has only 62 seats in Parliament, formally began its "oust government campaign" on February 12 after the government refused to implement its 15-point charter of demands. The charter demanded an improvement in the law and order situation, reduction of the price of essential commodities, and an inquiry into the police atrocities on anti-government demonstrators.

The campaign began with a series of countrywide hartals. The administration took a hardline. The peaceful agitation faced police brutality; even the central office of the A.L. in Dhaka's Bangabandhu Avenue was seized by the police and kept under their control for weeks. The worst sufferers were the party's women activists, a few top leaders and students.

Things came to a head on February 27 when the poet and writer Dr. Humayun Azad was attacked by unidentified persons in Dhaka. The incident made the political climate more volatile. Azad, who had been fearlessly criticising the religious fundamentalists, ridiculed the "pro-Pakistanis" even in his latest book, Pak Sar Zamin Sad Bad (Pakistan's national anthem). The writer, a senior Dhaka University Professor, survived with grievous injuries. The incident angered common people and the secular `pro-Liberation' parties. Popular perception held "fundamentalist terrorists" of the ruling alliance responsible for the crime, though the Prime Minister pointed an accusing finger at the main Opposition party.

Also under attack were a number of intellectuals such as journalists Shahriar Kabir, Saleem Samad and Enamul Haq Chowdhury, and columnist and Professor Muntasir Mamun. Former Ministers and A.L. leaders Saber Hossain Chowdhury and Dr. Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir too were not spared. All were jailed and tortured in the post-election period and sedition charges were filed against them.

Importantly, such attacks have drawn the smaller Left parties in the Opposition closer to the A.L. These parties - especially the Communist Party of Bangladesh, the Workers Party, the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, the Sammyabadi Dal and the Gano Azadi League - had maintained a distance from the A.L. since the last general elections. This undeclared coalition held a successful dawn-to-dusk hartal on March 6, the first time in 25 months, protesting against the attack on Azad and called for mid-term elections. Political observers see the hartal as the beginning of a united movement by the once divided "pro-Liberation forces", all of which now demand an immediate end to Bangladesh National Party (BNP) rule.

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Other leading Opposition politicians of the country, including the lawyer Dr. Kamal Hossain of the Gono Forum and Dr. A.Q.M. Badrudouzza Chowdhury, former President and Foreign Minister and a co-founder of the BNP, have also intensified their campaign for a regime change. Chowdhury, who was forced to resign as President in 2002, months after being elected unopposed, has warned that Bangladesh could end up as a "failed state" if the issues of crime, corruption and poverty went unaddressed. He has floated a "third stream" in Bangladeshi politics and so far two members of Parliament have resigned from the BNP to join it. On March 11, hundreds of armed people, allegedly belonging to the BNP, and police personnel jointly foiled the first rally of Chowdhury's new political platform in Dhaka. The 72-year-old politician and his colleagues were assaulted. Although Hossain and Chowdhury have distanced themselves from the main Opposition, they share with it a common agenda and agree on the slogan of `fight against misrule'.

The Dhaka University campus is witnessing a new wave of unrest. Anti-government demonstrations by pro-Opposition student bodies have become a regular feature. The Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD), the students wing of the BNP, has also geared up to face its opponents. "We'll give a sharp, befitting reply if you continue destroying our academic life in the name of a movement," said a JCD leader, pointing a finger at members of the Dhaka University Teachers' Association (DUTA) who were on a sit-in protest against the attack on Azad.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, on the other hand, said that her government would not resign. Recently, she told a rally in Dhaka: "We will not resign and elections will be held in time - not a day ahead of time." She challenged her political opponents to bring a no-confidence motion against her government in Parliament.

SOME commentators trace the general unrest to the way in which the 2001 general elections were conducted and the terror tactics adopted by the ruling coalition as soon as it came to power. Although the BNP-led four-party alliance was in an advantageous position because of its broader coalition platform, there is a stream of public opinion that the "neutral caretaker government" (a constitutional interim administration consisting of `neutral' former bureaucrats, businessmen, educationists and professionals led by a former Chief Justice, established to ensure free and fair elections) that conducted the polls was "grossly partisan". Some observers contend, pointing out the voting pattern and the number of seats won, that it was difficult to rationalise the humiliating defeat of the A.L. (The A.L. had won 103 seats and 33 per cent of the votes polled in 1991 and 146 seats and 38 per cent in 1996. However, in 2001, although it secured 41 per cent of the votes its seats tally fell to 62.)

Moreover, the winners of the 2001 elections face the charge of having started their tenure in power with an unprecedented terror attack on the minorities, who were perceived to have voted for the A.L. and Opposition activists and independent journalists and intellectuals who criticised the regime.

While the Amnesty International, the global human rights watchdog, has been critical of such repression, the European Parliament, in an unprecedented development, passed a resolution against Bangladesh's record of human rights abuses. Reporters San Frontiers criticised the repression of journalists, and the New York-based media watchdog, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), called Bangladesh the most dangerous country in Asia for journalists.

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CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper, who led a fact-finding mission recently with Abi Wright from the United States, Iqbal Athas from Sri Lanka and Andreas Harsono from Indonesia, said: "No violent country like Bangladesh exists in Asia for journalists... This is an extremely vulnerable and terrible place for journalists... It takes real courage to be a journalist in Bangladesh." She added that physical assaults and intimidation were almost commonplace, especially in rural areas where journalists are threatened, beaten severely, or even murdered. Since 1997, seven journalists have been murdered and innumerable others critically wounded in attacks by anti-social elements patronised by politicians.

In 2003 Bangladesh was named the "most corrupt country" for the third consecutive year by Transparency International's Global Corruption Report. (The 2003 index included only 133 of the more than 200 sovereign nations in the world.) The corruption in government has quadrupled, the report alleged.

THE coming months may be stormy in Bangladesh. Whatever the outcome of the anti-government agitation, Bangladesh politics will never be the same again. Coalition politics, pioneered by the BNP in the 2001 elections, has come to stay and even the A.L. has accepted its relevance. It has already indicated that its partners in the current campaign will be its partners in the next election and in future governments. Moreover, the current A.L.-led coalition of Opposition parties, if it emerges as a viable political and electoral alliance, can reinforce the significance of progressive, `pro-Liberation' politics in the country.

A political maelstrom

The impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun, widely described as a "parliamentary coup d'etat", has serious implications for South Korea's immediate neighbourhood and for the country's long-term equation with the United States.

in Singapore

MORE questions than answers litter the South Korean political scene after the National Assembly acted decisively to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun on March 12.

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The unprecedented move was, in domestic political terms, a one-sided vote, with the dominant Opposition parties mustering the mandatory two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. Roh's political supporters, all grouped together within the relatively new Uri Party, were in any case in a minority. The asymmetry between the presidency and South Korea's unicameral Parliament is not really anomalous in a system where the head of state is also the country's chief executive and not a constitutional figurehead.

Roh remains suspended from office. At the time of writing, Prime Minister Goh Kun has begun to function as the Acting President, without being actually sworn in as the chief executive. While the constitutional requirements in this crisis situation have been followed to a nicety, quick sample surveys of public opinion have revealed almost a 70 per cent disapproval of or at least dismay over, an executive president, who was elected just over a year ago, having to face the prospect of removal from office. Protest demonstrations in Seoul greeted the parliamentary verdict. But no major case of popular unrest was reported even a week after the impeachment.

The issue itself is now before the Constitutional Court, which is mandated in such circumstances to pronounce, within 180 days from the date of impeachment, on the legal aspects of the political event. The prime question to be decided is whether Roh should be indicted or could be allowed to resume office and serve the remainder of his term. This legal process had not taken off until March 18.

Just as important as the domestic implications of the impeachment are its reverberations on the wider international stage, especially in South Korea's immediate neighbourhood.

The Roh administration had, until its eclipse, played a pivotal part in the six-party talks, which still remains on course as the possible facilitator of a peaceful resolution of the issues arising out of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's [DPRK or North Korea] nuclear weapons programme. Acting President Goh, who retains his prime ministerial position, has sought to assure the international community of a definitive continuity in Seoul's current foreign policy. The six-party process acquires utmost priority in Seoul's diplomatic calculus because of South Korea's abiding ethnic links with the DPRK as also the geopolitical realities in East Asia and, above all, the unmitigated America factor in the region's future.

Seoul's long-time military alliance with the United States was originally a legacy of the proactive role that Washington played in shaping the causes and consequences of the Korean War in the early 1950s. Today, Washington wants this alliance to be refashioned to suit the ill-defined dynamics of futuristic wars and other military crises of singular concern to the U.S. In a subtle sense, Roh's current fall is caught in the gathering maelstrom of an internal political debate on what Seoul's long-term equation with Washington should be.

It is, of course, nobody's serious case, even within South Korea at this time, that the U.S. might have influenced the course of events that led to Roh's impeachment. However, it is hard to believe that Washington would have shed tears over his political predicament. Roh is not believed to have been Washington's preferred candidate when he narrowly overcame the challenge from a more conservative Lee Hoi-chang to win the presidency in December 2002.

Michael O'Hanlon and Mike Mochizuki have pointed out in their book Crisis of the Korean Peninsula that the Washington-Seoul "rift is rather serious" at this point. This is so despite Roh's success in persuading the National Assembly to vote for the despatch of South Korea's "non-combat troops", in the first instance, to Iraq to aid in "humanitarian" and "reconstruction" activities there under the overall military auspices of the U.S. Shortly before his impeachment, Roh secured a similar approval for the despatch of additional troops to Iraq. The additional contingent, expected to be in Iraq by late April, will number over 3,000 and include combat-ready personnel. If this is a sop to U.S. sensibilities, Roh has certainly not endeared himself to his compatriots on this score.

U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld felt constrained to argue, during his recent visit to Seoul, that South Koreans should have no qualms about sending their young soldiers to Iraq at this time just as the U.S. felt comfortable sending its soldiers to Korea during the war in the early 1950s. What he glossed over was the fact that the U.S. thereafter established a firm "forward military presence", which continues to this day, in significant parts of the East Asian region. The social aspects of the U.S. military presence, such as the perceived insensitivity of the U.S. soldiers to the interests and emotions of the local population, partly explain Washington's current unpopularity among South Koreans. As Harvard Professor and author Joseph Nye articulated, the U.S. has been found to lack the "soft power" to persuade, and not coerce, people and nations.

On a different plane, Roh's credentials as a human rights activist and a campaigner against "authoritarianism" in the South Korean context have not brought him closer to the U.S. which, despite its pro-democracy rhetoric, has traditionally struck levels of comfort with non-representative leaders in other countries.

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On balance, though, Roh's own ambivalent attitude towards the U.S., despite his accommodation of its Iraq-related interests on considerations of pure realpolitik as relevant to East Asia, does not establish a link between his fall and Washington's own wish-list regarding leaders in different parts of the world. However, one critical aspect of the interactions between Roh and U.S. President George W. Bush is an issue in South Korea's internal politics as well. This relates to Roh's persistence with his predecessor Kim Dae-jung's "sunshine policy" of engaging the DPRK rather than seeking to isolate it.

Ironically, during Bill Clinton's presidency in the 1990s, it was South Korea, then under Kim Young Sam's rule, that resisted the idea of engaging the DPRK, while the U.S. tended to prefer that course. However, in 2001, Bush was openly dismissive of the "sunshine policy". Now, Washington's somewhat ambiguous stance on Roh's "sunshine policy" has sometimes figured as a largely unspoken irritant in U.S.-South Korea interactions.

In a broad sweep of the South Korean political canvas, the "sunshine policy" itself has come to be associated with slush funding. The key allegation, not yet fully investigated, is that the DPRK had been provided with illegal funds for agreeing to hold a historic summit with Kim Dae-jung in Pyongyang in mid-2000. It is in this backdrop that the question of illegal funding of electoral campaigns has become a prime political issue in South Korea.

Roh's aides have come under the spotlight in the context of allegations that they had helped him win the presidency in 2002 on the strength of illegal campaign funds, among other factors. Prior to his impeachment, primarily on a different count, he even promised to hold a referendum on his presidency. With constitutional issues about the permissibility of such a plebiscite remaining unresolved, he let the issue stay dormant, even as a storm over a different issue led to his impeachment.

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South Korea's parliamentary elections are scheduled for April 15. Roh caused a rumpus by saying in a televised programme that he would do whatever he could, through legal means, to ensure the success of the Uri Party, which backs him, in the polls. The Millennium Democratic Party and the Grand National Party, both opposed to Roh for a variety of reasons, seized on this remark and demanded a public apology from him for "violating" the letter and spirit of the electoral laws. The presidency is considered to be above party politics for the purposes of parliamentary polls.

With Roh refusing to apologise and sue for peace, the Opposition moved and secured the passage of the impeachment resolution. While Roh's supporters described it as a "parliamentary coup d'etat", the Opposition parties, basking in their triumph on the floor of the National Assembly, hailed their own action as a "victory for the people and for democracy".

Clean politics was also cited as an issue in this context. Roh responded by expressing the hope that the Constitutional Court would uphold his continuance as President by taking a "legal" stand on the issues at stake and not a political view. While the ball is now on the turf of the Constitutional Court, the role and relevance of the people can be another factor if South Korea is to sort out the current crisis.

Khan of grace

PARTHO DATTA obituary

Ustad Vilayat Khan, 1924-2004.

USTAD VILAYAT KHAN slipped away quietly on the evening India won the first One Day International cricket match in Karachi. In the ensuing euphoria and self-congratulatory messages that flooded the media, this important news lay buried and surfaced a full day later. With his death an important era in music is almost drawing to a close. The great quartet who gave Indian instrumentalists a world reputation and infinite musical prestige has suffered another blow. Nikhil Bannerjee (1930-1986), the youngest in this group, passed away almost two decades ago. The elders, Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan, both born in 1920, still continue to enrich the musical realm. In post-Independence India, such was the collective power of this quartet that it almost overturned the traditional hierarchy which accorded a higher position to vocal music.

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Vilayat Khan fully deserved to be called "Ustad", an honour that seems to come rather easily these days to young musicians. It was also in keeping with his own image as a traditionalist of yore with an impressive lineage to match. Like erstwhile nawabs and maharajahs, Vilayat Khan flaunted his grand pedigree without humility. Pictures of the maestro in flashy sherwanis with portraits of his elders in the background, adorn the covers of many of his LPs. He did have every reason to boast about his lineage. His grandfather Imdad Khan (1848-1920) and father Enayet Khan (1894-1938) were celebrated sitarists revered much by musicians and listeners alike.

Yet, unfortunately for Vilayat Khan, his father died while he was in his teens, depriving him of the gharanedar talim that was his due. But his father's legacy had been preserved by his disciples, and it was one such modest and self-effacing disciple, D.T. Joshi, who taught young Vilayat the basic ropes of his gharana. Joshi was himself influenced by the Agra maestro Faiyaz Khan and this certainly rubbed off on young Vilayat too. He also learnt music from his maternal grandfather Bande Hasan Khan and his son Zinda Hasan who were court musicians in the hill principality of Nahan. His elder sister married vocalist Amir Khan (1912-1974), whose influence on Vilayat Khan was profound.

In an interview that he gave Gyan Seth on Doordarshan a few years ago, Vilayat Khan placed Amir Khan alone on one side of a divide, placing all other contemporary vocalists on the other. It is through Amir Khan that many critics traced the influence of Kirana gharana in Vilayat Khan's music. What Vilayat Khan lacked in traditional learning, he made up by his own industry, perseverance and active listening. People who remember Vilayat Khan's early baithaks in the 1950s and 60s in Bombay (Mumbai) and Calcutta (Kolkata) testify to his phenomenal memory of traditional vocal bandishes. But what made his style distinctive and transcendent can only be attributed to his genius.

Vilayat Khan made much of his own style, which he borrowed from vocalism and called the gayaki ang. This attribute, often misunderstood, has taken a mystical life all of its own. There is for instance no instrumentalist who would deny playing gayaki today. The fountainhead of classical Hindustani tradition is vocal music and to that extent all instrumentalists are only expected to elaborate the superior vocal tradition. But what Vilayat Khan did was indeed distinctive. He reproduced on the sitar the vocalisms, that is, the flourishes associated with the newer khyal tradition like meends, gamaks and so on, even borrowing some stylistic idioms from thumri. It was the incorporation of the latter that made his renditions of ragas like Bhairavi and Desh so delightful.

This point becomes clear when one compares inevitably his style with that of his great contemporary Ravi Shankar. Ravi Shankar's development of a raga is based on hallowed dhrupad whose structured note-by-note elaboration leading to a climax is carefully woven through an innate sense of composition. By contrast, Vilayat Khan drew more on the madhyalaya and drut compositions from the khyal repertoire, embellishing these with his superb and unmatched technique. He removed the string for the lower octave in the sitar since these notes were not used much by vocalists, and used instead other stylistic innovations such as rhythmic passages on the additional sympathetic strings with brilliant effect. He can rightly and controversially be credited with developing the freedom of the khyal to its zenith. Perhaps that is why critics often described his long meandering alaaps as lacking in raagdaari (correct raga grammar). India's finest music critic Chetan Karnani has perceptively described Vilayat Khan's style as "waywardly romantic". It is important to place this in the correct historical perspective. Contemporary instrumentalists in Kolkata, notably the sitarist Mushtaq Ali Khan (1911-1989) and the sarodist Radhika Mohan Moitra (1917-1981), also made the move to enrich the rather staccato instrumental styles by drawing on the richer vocal repertoires. But although they were great musicians none of them had the flamboyance Vilayat Khan exuded.

Vilayat Khan's public career was contentious and controversial. His competition with his slightly older contemporary Ravi Shankar is legendary. It is to the credit of the latter that he has suffered Vilayat Khan's barbs and innuendoes with dignified and sometimes good-humoured silence. Music critics and music historians were wary of Vilayat Khan's public tantrums, and most of them dismissed these histrionics indulgently as idiosyncratic misbehaviour. What they have failed to discern is Vilayat Khan's life-long tussle with the Indian establishment. In post-Independence India the public sphere increasingly came to be dominated by smug Brahminical nationalists. Vilayat Khan felt his exclusion keenly and it is for this reason that he always rejected official honours. I have heard well-meaning Bengalis complain that Vilayat Khan only spoke pidgin Bengali despite having spent a good part of his life in Kolkata. He probably did this on purpose, to keep a distance from the all-knowing and stifling patronage circles of Bengali babus.

Despite this Vilayat Khan became a much-sought-after star and the high fee he commanded in the festival circuit was often discussed with awe and amazement. The index to his popularity can be gauged from the fact that HMV, at one time India's premier recording company, brought out more than a dozen LPs of the maestro, a number rivalled only by Ravi Shankar and Bhimsen Joshi. Some of his greatest renderings can be found in these old discs (now also available as cassettes/CDs). Perhaps the most accomplished of his recordings is Gara (with Zakir Hussain on the tabla). This was a testimony to the enduring influence that Agra had on Vilayat Khan's musical personality. He was also well known for his recording of Jaijaiwanti, another raga made popular by the Agra maestro Faiyaz Khan. He recorded this raga twice, once in 1969 on LP and again in 1991 for the American aficionado Lyle Wachovsky on CD for the Indian Archive Music label. His other celebrated recordings include Darbari (particularly the alaap), Saazgiri (especially the gat) and a long recording of Yaman. His own composition, the raga Saanjh Saravali, was appreciated much; later in his life he invented another raga, which he indulgently named Vilayat Khan Kanada (recordings of both these are available on the HMV label). His duets with shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan were very popular. He will also be remembered for his superb score for Satyajit Ray's Jalshaghar (The Music Room). A little more than a year ago he published a book of memoirs in Bengali, Komal Gandhar, a series of informal conversations with journalist Shankarlal Bhattacharya.

Vilayat Khan's principle disciples include his brother Imrat Khan and son Shujaat Khan, Kashinath Mukherjee (he is the late film-maker Hrishikesh Mukherjee's brother), Kalyani Roy from Kolkata, and Arvind Parekh from Mumbai. But the liquid grace and beauty of his style is best represented today by Shahid Parvez, not a direct disciple but from the same lineage of musicians.

Vilayat Khan, born in 1924 in Gouripur (now in Bangladesh), died in Mumbai on March 13, 2004.

Partho Datta is a Reader in History in Zakir Hussain Evening College, Delhi University.

The Sagar Mala project

P. MANOJ advertorial

ON August 15, 2003, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced an ambitious plan christened `Sagar Mala', a la the national highway development programme, for the development of India's maritime sector. The project proposes to cover all areas of maritime transport, including ports, shipping and inland waterways, and is aimed at realising the potential of trade.

According to Shipping Minister Shatrughan Sinha,"Sagar Mala will not only encompass the seas of the subcontinent but will have glittering ports connected to vibrant inland waterways." He said India had been a leading maritime nation, but over the years its position on the maritime map had slumped. "Sagar Mala offers a golden opportunity to compete successfully with the best of the maritime world," he said. The project assumes significance as India strives to raise its share in the global trade, currently pegged at 0.67 per cent, to at least 1 per cent by 2007. In absolute terms, this would translate into adding around Rs.180,000 crores a year of international trade within the next four years. Besides, the Tenth Plan has targeted an 8 per cent growth in the gross domestic product (GDP). At present, about 90 per cent of India's international trade by volume and 70 per cent by value are carried through its ports.

Sagar Mala will lay emphasis on developing India's ports to levels comparable with the best global ports in terms of infrastructure, efficiency and quality of service, increasing the tonnage capacity, upgrading and creating ship-building and ship repair facilities and increasing the use of inland waterways for transportation.

The project envisages the setting up of new ports along the coastline where required draft is available. The Centre along with the State governments will create basic facilities at these ports and offer them to the private sector for further development and operation.

In order to cater to the anticipated increase in maritime traffic, which is likely to touch 565 million tonnes by 2006-07 as against the actual traffic of 412 mt handled in 2002-03, existing ports are planned to be upgraded by deepening the harbours, creating additional capacity, and modernising cargo handling equipment.

The government plans to develop a world-class container trans-shipment port at Vallarpadam in Kochi, in view of its proximity to the international sea route, in order to attract trans-shipment cargo. The Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust and the Chennai Port Trust will be upgraded to make them hub ports.

These initiatives will enable bigger mainline vessels to call at Indian ports resulting in faster and economic movement of Indian cargo. At select ports, additional facilities will be created for the export of iron ore.

Under Sagar Mala, all major ports will be connected with the Golden Quadrilateral through high-speed expressways. The rail connectivity to such ports will also be strengthened so that adequate line capacity and speed of movement are available. A big chunk of the total project cost of more than Rs.100,000 crores is expected to come from the private sector through foreign direct investment (FDI) in ports and other related activities. New projects will be offered for private investment at major ports with a view to improving efficiency and increasing productivity and competitiveness.

Yet another feature of Sagar Mala is that it seeks to promote commodity-based transportation whereby a commodity moves by the most efficient mode of transport.

Shatrughan Sinha said that the transport sector had a strategic importance in the Indian economy as it underpinned the activities in other sectors and also affected the competitiveness of EXIM trade. "It is therefore important that cost-effective transportation solutions are offered to customers. Keeping this in view, our endeavour will be to aim at commodity-based transportation planning whereby a commodity moves by the most efficient mode of transport. This will require the development of adequate infrastructure for different modes, particularly inland waterways and coastal shipping," he explained.

To drive home this point, the Minister illustrated the benefit of cargo movement by inland water transport. One litre of fuel moves 24 tonne kilometres by road, 85 tonne km by rail and 105 tonne km by inland water transport (IWT). The present inland transport quantum is of the order of 1,000 billion tonne km.

Out of this, IWT carries hardly 1.5 billion tonne km or 0.15 per cent of the total transport of the country. "If 20 billion tonne km or 2 per cent of the cargo is shifted from road to IWT, it will correspond to a saving of 6.44 lakh kilo litres of fuel or Rs.1,200 crores. The shift in cargo to the IWT mode would also result in benefits to the environment and enable increased economic activities in areas along the waterways," he observed.

In fact, the government plans to create a separate fund for the development of coastal shipping/IWT infrastructure.

The Shipping Ministry would provide the right fiscal environment for the shipping industry to increase tonnage, which includes the introduction of tonnage tax and the rationalisation of seafarer's taxation.

The presence of Indian seafarers, an important source of invisible earnings for the country, in the global market would be further strengthened. Through marketing efforts, the employment of Indian seafarers on foreign going vessels would be increased. Simultaneously, through policy initiatives, training of seafarers would be enhanced by encouraging the private sector to open state-of-the-art training institutes.

Considering the immediate and long-term benefits likely to accrue to trade and industry, part of the finances for implementing the project is proposed to be raised through a nominal maritime development cess for a period of 10 years on cargo passing through Indian ports.

This cess, which is proposed to be credited to the Consolidated Fund of India, will be administered by the Ministry of Finance for the exclusive purpose of funding Sagar Mala. The Shipping Ministry was not able to secure Cabinet approval for the project before the Lok Sabha was dissolved on February 6. Now it has to wait until a new government is formed.

Making waves

SANTANU SANYAL advertorial

The port sector has received a major boost with the thrust towards the privatisation of services and ownership, and this is particularly evident in the case of container service.

IN India, a country with a tradition of socialist planning, any privatisation programme has been viewed with scepticism. About a decade ago, when asked about the progress his port had made with regard to privatisation, the chairman of a port replied: "A lot. I've privatised catering and laundry services in the port's guest house as well as security management and transport operations." And he was all serious.

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Over the years, however, the situation has changed vastly. The port sector has witnessed the privatisation of not only services but of ownership as well. At several ports, berths built by State-owned ports have been leased out to private parties, particularly for container handling - the NSICT (Nhava Sheva International Container Terminal) is operated by P&O (Pacific and Orient) Ports at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), the Chennai Container Terminal Ltd. (CCTL) is run by P&O Ports at the Chennai port, PSA Corporation of Singapore runs a terminal at the Tuticorin Port Trust, and the Visakha Container Terminal Private Ltd is jointly developed by the United Liner Agencies and the Dubai Ports International at the Visakhapatnam port (The Maersk-Concor consortium, which is set to get the contract for development and operation of the third terminal at JNPT, will soon join the list).

Private firms have acquired on lease land at some ports and built berths - L&T at Haldia, ABG and Jindal at Goa, Sica's coal handling facility at Ennore (Chennai) and Gammon India's berths EQ8 and EQ9 in the Inner Harbour at Visakhapatnam. Also, some ports have been developed as greenfield projects by private firms (Mundra and Pipavav) in partnership with the State government agencies concerned. The Ennore port, developed by the Chennai Port Trust, was corporatised subsequently.

Yet, it will be too much to claim that privatisation has gathered pace in the sector. According to one report, of the 38 proposed privatisation projects, only 17 have been approved and committed. Of these, 10 reached the bidding stage, of which eight have been completed. However, it is interesting to note that the pace of containerisation has far exceeded that of that of privatisation. The containerisation of cargo business has been growing at an annual rate of 12.5 per cent. Apart from value-added items such as textiles, garments and leather goods, even low-value cargoes such as foodgrains and sugar, which had been moved by break-bulk ships, are now exported in containers. Alumina and aluminium ingots are transported in containers from Visakhapatnam and Paradip. This is because India today has world-class container terminals in the private sector. This has helped the state-owned ports to step up their levels of efficiency and productivity to become more competitive.

According to one estimate, the volume of traffic projected to be handled by major and minor ports together will steadily increase to 880 million tonnes in 2011-12, to 1,115 mt in 2016-17 and further to 1,373 mt in 2021-22. More important, the share of the minor ports (ports not governed by the provisions of the Major Port Trusts Act) will steadily rise from around 30 per cent to 60 per cent. Since the minor ports will be by and large owned and operated by the private sector, the bulk of capital investment for port development therefore has to come from the private sector. According to one estimate, by 2021-22 the port sector alone will require an estimated investment of Rs.100,000 crores.

There are several reasons why the privatisation of ports has progressed slowly. First, the policy-makers were not convinced that by shifting assets from government control to private ownership, economic efficiencies could be unleashed and, not incidentally, large sums of money could be raised for state coffers. The initial momentum could not be sustained. The slowdown was caused by various factors such as a weak capital market, growing investor scepticism and questions about what really constituted privatisation. The government policies in this regard took a long time to crystallise.

When the government finally unveiled its measures to attract private investment in the port sector, everyone sat up and took notice. While granting concessions appeared to be the preferred means to attract private participation, it was also felt that by laying down conditions without boundaries the government was embarking on what might be called unconstrained optimisation. As there is an element of risk in any venture and the government's policy is aimed at reducing the risk of the private partner, when the risk of one got reduced that of another (in this case the port trust) increased. While no one questioned the rationale of extending a certain margin of comfort to private entrepreneurs keen on investment in port projects, everyone was equally keen that such an extension also generated competition, yielding benefits for all concerned.

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Two other issues that attracted attention were bifurcation of the port sector into major and minor ports and the appointment of a regulatory authority - the Tariff Authority for Major Ports (TAMP). Several experts feel that bifurcation should be abandoned in the larger national interest and that with market forces gaining momentum, the regulatory body would be rendered redundant. At present, of the 184 non-major ports, only 50 are functional.

However, certain measures announced by the government in recent years are expected to yield results. Following the recommendations of the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and various expert groups, the government has initiated moves to professionalise port management. For example, earlier the posts of Chairman and Deputy Chairman were reserved for officers of the Indian Administrative Service. Not any more. The government has also restructured the boards of trustees of the major ports in order to introduce some amount of professionalism into the working of the port trusts. Another factor that used to militate against privatisation was the rigid rules and regulations. The government has now delegated a good deal of authority to the Chairman and the Board of Trustees. Major state-owned ports can now compete with private operators by charging reduced rates and by offering higher rebates and discounts than those approved by TAMP. The objective is to remove red-tapism. The private ports, because of their flexibility in operations, are in a better position to negotiate and therefore attract traffic. Port privatisation has become all the more important at a time when infrastructure bottlenecks have prevented several ports from reaching the targeted throughputs. Until November, seven out of the13 major ports failed to achieve the targeted throughputs.

The Rs.100,000-crore Sagar Mala project would perhaps bring about revolutionary changes in the country's port sector as for the first time an integrated view is being taken with regard to the development of port, shipping, coastal shipping, inland water transportation, dredging and even institution-building through the participation of universities and other institutions. The bulk of the amount for the project is proposed to be generated by way of private funding. There is a proposal to create national sea waterways on the lines of national highways and national inland waterways. Various State governments have started to identify projects suited for implementation under the Sagar Mala scheme.

But privatisation alone will not be enough. There is a need to take an integrated view of infrastructure development and a real need to invest heavily in rail and road facilities in order to facilitate easy evacuation of cargoes. While private participation in road projects has been allowed since the implementation of the National Highway Development Programme, private funding of rail projects is yet to make much headway.

For greater private investment

advertorial

Shipping Secretary D.T. Joseph, is a man of action. Since he took charge in June 2003, the shipping sector has witnessed significant changes. "I have no skeletons in my cupboard, so why should I be worried about taking tough decisions?" he asks. In a free-wheeling interview to P. Manoj, he spoke on a wide range of issues concerning the maritime sector.

Excerpts:

Let us begin with the Prime Minister's Sagar Mala project. At what stage is the plan now?

With Sagar Mala, we succeeded in focussing attention on this sector. Everybody said Sagar Mala would provide the handle for other developments in the sector. We met the Prime Minister on January 7 and made a presentation. He was present for one full hour and listened to whatever my Minister said; to what I said. After that it was perhaps a question of devising a strategy. So we said let the P.M. launch Sagar Mala with some components. There you know, the elections have actually upstaged me. Otherwise I could have got it done. It was listed on the agenda for the Cabinet meeting held on February 4, but was not taken up. Unfortunately, there was no time. So now I have to wait until a new government is formed.

20040409003210201jpg What is the Sagar Mala project all about?

The basic concept is that all those projects where the private sector has shown interest will be lined up and the Mala will be comprised of them. That part is not occurring.

Why?

I'm asking myself the same question. There are very few private sector projects. I'm not able to understand. Those who have come in, whether it is P&O, Pipavav or Mundra, they are all making their money, PSA Singapore is also doing well, ULA-Dubai Ports Authority at Vishakhapatnam also has no complaints so far. Why? Because traffic volumes will keep on increasing. But then why are more people not coming forward to take up projects?

What needs to be done?

I'm also looking for solutions. Even, the labour has been quite reasonable in spite of all the privatisation so far and we are ready to throw open all the doors. We want the landlord port [where the port authority retains the infrastructure and fulfils its regulatory functions while port services are provided by private operators] concept to come up. We have started this at Ennore (Chennai). Wherever the private sector shows interest I'm prepared to sit with them and smoothen the process. Earlier we had inflexible guidelines, now we are ready to be flexible. If necessary we will go back to the Cabinet to bring in that flexibility into the guidelines for private sector participation. Still I'm not happy with their [private sector] response to the concept of Sagar Mala.

Maybe we are looking only at international-level container terminals [for private investment]. Now I'm almost coming around to the view that private investment itself probably is a milestone. In order to reach that what are the things we have to do? One is the government's political commitment. Secondly, wherever funding is necessary you have to give, but most important, you have to build up that kind of traffic volumes.

Private sector people, both foreign and Indian, have come in the last five years, but that is only the fringe, there is scope for more.

What made you grant flexibility/autonomy to major ports in fixing rates?

Ports were in a monopoly position. They were sitting on top of infrastructure and waiting for people to come. When a regulatory agency [Tariff Authority for Major Ports (TAMP)] was set up in order to support customers or trade, I think major port trusts felt aggrieved. They said why only us, why not minor ports, why not other ports.

When I came here, I asked them, `what is your problem?' So major port trusts said we cannot compete... traffic is limited and minor ports are attracting them. So I said, `Why don't you also attract traffic?' They said `We cannot because we are under TAMP, they are not. So they are very flexible with their rates'.

I said if they are flexible with rates, it means that they are decreasing the rates to attract traffic. I said we shall give you also that concession the moment TAMP says the rates given is not fixed, but there is a ceiling, which means you can go below that, so now you don't have the excuse to say you cannot compete with other ports. That was the main driving force behind it.

Secondly, it automatically enables the port to charge less, because one reason why Indian ports are not developing is because the rates are definitely high, much higher than what others are charging. Regardless of whatever they may say, I'm convinced we should bring them down. Why should trade pay for inefficiencies or for the port's tendency to hoard more and more money?

What made you direct Chennai, Tuticorin and Kochi ports to cut their vessel-related charges for mainline container ships to the level prevailing at Colombo port?

If you look at Colombo, it is not as if they have a depth or draft, which is much higher than our ports. To my mind, Chennai, for instance, in some berths probably has deeper drafts than what Colombo has. Still Colombo is getting traffic. Why are we not getting? If you have a deeper draft, larger vessels can come in, but vis-a-vis Colombo I don't think that is the major problem. I think efficiency and dues (charges) are more important and, of course, the route.

In the route when you go to Colombo, if you are carrying most of it across to the east, any detour that you make means additional time and money. So, unless your rates are such that this additional detour costs can be absorbed, it makes no sense. In fact, it should be lower than Colombo and it should absorb the detouring costs.

You have given flexibility in rate fixation to the port trusts, now it is up to them to reduce the rates...

Yes.

There will always be a fear of audit when such decisions are taken.

This fear of audit is a bugbear, which the inefficient bureaucrat himself generates. Either your hands are not clean so you are worried, or you don't want to take a decision. There cannot be a third option. So, I am quite sure that I can't be caught elsewhere, I have no skeletons in my cupboard, then why should I be worried? You convince me and you take the order, that is how I look at things.

Was that the reason why you granted freedom to Indian Oil Corporation to make its own shipping arrangements?

Transchart, the centralised chartering wing of the government, has gained a lot of experience. As Director-General of Shipping I was not aware of it, but when I became Shipping Secretary and they took pains to explain to me the procedure by which Transchart works, I thought it has flexibility and sensibility.

In the normal course you have to call the tender, evaluate. You cannot negotiate other than with the L1 (lowest) in accordance with CVC [Central Vigilance Commission] guidelines. All these restraints are not there with Transchart; they have their own way of calling for rates and then giving a counter and then giving preference to Indian ships and doing it.

Now, the Petroleum Ministry felt Transchart has the authority but not the responsibility because Transchart is not spending the money, so it will not enter into any dispute if it occurs. Fair enough, because they are only acting as an agent bringing two parties together, but somehow the oil companies feel that in a liberalised set-up, they should have the capacity to decide for themselves and they would be able to take faster decisions if the powers are with them.

Do you think so?

Well, we don't think so, but at the same time we don't want to be obstructionist in our policy saying other Ministries must come to us. Then it becomes a turf battle. So I said all right, if you want to do it yourself, you can try it out. We will not oppose it. The Petroleum Ministry is now making a Cabinet note on the issue.

Has India banned old tankers from entering its waters?

In shipping, age is not relevant. But maintenance is very, very important; ships are highly capital-intensive assets. So how you maintain a ship is more important than the age of the ship. But Sahni (the Director-General of Shipping) felt that while that may be true, overall younger ships are likely to be more well-maintained. Therefore he felt that we should not allow older ships to come into our waters.

Secondly, he also felt that with other countries, including those of the European Union, imposing a ban on old ships, these rust buckets would end up in our waters. So I also agreed.

Have you changed the policy of giving preference to Indian ship-owners to carry domestic cargo?

We don't want to pamper Indian ship owners. We should give some preference, but it cannot be sort of leaving scope for speculation, and that is what they were doing. We have now said that within 10 per cent of the lowest foreign bid you should come in a competitive bidding process, then we will give you preference.

Earlier, a person owning one ship would go and take three tenders showing the same ship and then he would charter a foreign-flag vessel and run it. I stopped this when I was D-G. If you have one ship, one tender, yes. In the next tender I am not going to give you any preference, you cannot cheat by showing the same ship in every tender and then you go and take a foreign ship.

What is the aim?

We are trying to hold a balance between Indian shipping and fairness to the consumer. I strongly believe that the Indian consumer, taxpayer, is the ultimate. We must keep him in mind. I want to promote Indian shipping as long as it helps the Indian consumer, but if the ship-owners are going to speculate and make a profit out of the preference that we give to them, then we will remove that preference.

After all, that is liberalisation, isn't it? Any kind of monopoly has to be removed. But, the Indian ship-owners feel that worldwide ship-owning people get a lot of preference, so we shall also give them. I said, okay we will see that you also get a level playing field.

Therefore, we supported tonnage tax, which is now coming. Now they have to show their efficiency and quality.

Are dredgers also proposed to be included in the tonnage tax?

Yes, that is part of the proposal.

Are there any moves to give more concession in rates to promote coastal shipping?

Yes. Currently, a 30 per cent concession is given by TAMP for coastal shipping only on port dues or vessel-related charges, but not to cargo-related charges. I plan to increase the concession to 40 per cent and bring cargo-related charges also under the concession scheme so that more substantial concessions will come in. Besides, it will be delinked from foreign exchange fluctuations.

What are the government's plans on maritime training?

The government made the mistake in 1982 of closing down certain training establishments, that is how, according to me, the Philippines was ahead of India because when shipping expanded we didn't have trained Indian seafarers.

In the 1990s, the unions became so strong and we became a little more expensive than I think the Indian situation warranted. But anyway, since that is an international agreement, we did not want to interfere beyond a point. But we said we shall throw open training to the private sector so that market pressure will build up automatically, more and more people will come out trained, and there will be pressure on the job.

Maritime training should also have some more elements, that until such time that a trainee lands a job he should be able to do something else.

Today, unfortunately it is not like that. So if the trainee does not get a job, then he is not qualified for anything else.

What are the policy changes being contemplated in the ports sector?

We want to decentralise powers relating to ports. We want qualified people to be on the board; we want the structure of the port to be such that innovations are possible, private investment is possible. We want to encourage private investment in all aspects of port development. Wherever private investment cannot come, we are ready to come up with government funds. So that is the overall policy direction in which we want to move.

What about labour?

We are grateful that our labour has not been obstructionist. When privatisation takes place, we are giving freedom to both sides. The private entrepreneur can take the present labour force, but if the workers do not want to go, they need not go.

ELECTIONS 2004

other

"IF the rest of India is feeling good, Chhattisgarh is feeling better," claims Brij Mohan Agarwal, senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader and State Home Minister. He has every reason to feel confident, as his party is likely to retain the majority of 11 seats in the State in the Lok Sabha elections.

In the last parliamentary elections, when the region was still part of Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won eight seats. With the recent Assembly election victory, the morale of the BJP seems to be high. A demoralised and internally riven Congress(I) does not seem equipped to challenge the BJP.

However, the post-Assembly election situation in the State has radically changed with the suspension of former Congress(I) Chief Minister Ajit Jogi from the party. Jogi was blamed for the setback the party suffered in the areas dominated by tribal people. The party managed to capture a mere eight out of 34 seats in the region, previously a Congress(I) stronghold. Moreover, it lost all 20 seats in the Naxalite-affected areas to the BJP.

Now, with Jogi's exit, the Congress(I) is hopeful of regaining lost ground. "There has been a drastic change in the ground situation," says Congress(I) leader S.C. Shukla, now that Jogi is no longer the face of the party in the State.

Yet it seems unlikely that such a definitive change of preference in the tribal areas could have happened in a matter of a few months. "Jogi or no Jogi, there is no doubt that we have definitely won over the tribal people," says Nand Kumar Sai, a BJP leader who is contesting from Surguja, currently a constituency held by the Congress(I). The shift in the tribal vote in favour of the BJP is attributed to the activities of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. The outfit provides schooling and health services and insidiously creates a support base for the Hindu Right, which the BJP exploits in the elections.

Besides the fall in tribal votes, what hurt the Congress(I) most in the Assembly polls was the presence of former party leader V.C. Shukla's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which walked away with 7.38 per cent of votes, which would otherwise have gone to the party. This time V.C. Shukla has merged ranks with the BJP. But the Congress(I) believes that this move would be unpalatable to his supporters. "They may have been temporarily displeased with the Congress, but they will never vote for the lotus symbol," said S.C. Shukla. The BJP itself is cautious about quantifying the electoral gains owing to V.C. Shukla's entry into its fold. Both Chief Minister Raman Singh and Sai expect the BJP to gain 3 to 4 per cent more votes thanks to V.C. Shukla.

A significant development in the Assembly elections was that the Congress(I) made inroads into urban areas like Bilaspur, a change that is attributed to the economic growth and industrial progress achieved during the three years of Jogi's administration. This time, the Congress(I) has fielded promising candidates like Dr. Basant Pahare from Bilaspur and the backward-caste MLA Bhupesh Baghel from Durg. While the NCP has virtually disintegrated with V.C. Shukla's exit, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which secured 4.4 per cent of the votes polled in the Assembly election, can tilt the balance in Dalit-dominated areas like Sarangarh.

Meanwhile, the absence of Jogi from the Congress(I) campaign has created a power vacuum, which might undercut the party's chances. "Jogi nahi to Congress nahi," said a party worker. He said that the current leadership, comprising Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee president Motilal Vora, S.C. Shukla and Charandas Mahant, could not mobilise the "frustrated, directionless workers". The three are united by a common antipathy to Jogi, but not sufficiently prepared to lead the party to electoral victory.

"I want to transform the current crowd of Congress workers into a formidable army," says S.C. Shukla. However, in the Assembly elections, the BJP won seven out of eight seats in Shukla's parliamentary constituency of Mahasamund, causing the veteran leader to shift base to Raipur (where he is pitted against Ramesh Bais of the BJP). "When people like Shukla and Vora could not get their own sons elected, how will they keep the Congress afloat?" asked a Congress(I) worker.

In the BJP camp, former Union Minister Dilip Singh Judev, who had been caught on camera accepting money, is not contesting the election but is all set to campaign for the party. When questioned about the propriety of the matter, Aggarwal said: "Politics mein jeet hi moral hain (in politics, winning alone is moral). And anyway, his bold image and his immense popularity among the people shows that they have already rejected the accusation against him."

However, local considerations apart, both the Congress(I) and the BJP claim that their victory is certain, given the national mood. While Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi's roadshow passed through Chhattisgarh on March 20, Advani's yatra is slated for April 10. Chief Minister Raman Singh asserts that this election will be won on the basis of the Central government's support for Chattisgarh's development as seen in the reorganised railway zone and new power projects. S.C. Shukla, on the other hand, says that the Central government's betrayal of the unemployed will create trouble for the BJP and effect a total reversal of fortunes in Chattisgarh. Vora said: "For the first time, farmers have been denied the minimum support price by this irresponsible government. Instead of that `jod-tod ki sarkaar', we present 45 years of development under Congress administration." Either way, the core issues of this election are yet to emerge, as the campaigns have yet to gain momentum.

Amulya Gopalakrishnan

FOR over three years one has repeatedly heard from political analysts in Bihar that the next Lok Sabha polls in the State would be different from previous such exercises. The contention is that since its geographical division on November 15, 2000, for the creation of Jharkhand, several factors that had influenced the election process have moved out literally. These include political outfits such as the Jharkhand Mukthi Morcha (JMM) and ultra-Left groups such as the Maoist Coordination Committee (MCC), which drew their support largely from the tribal and marginalised communities concentrated in the districts that became part of Jharkhand.

The number of Lok Sabha seats in Bihar also got reduced to 40 from 54 following the geographical division. In the absence of localised forces, it has also been contended that elections 2004 will essentially be a bipolar affair involving the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and a secular front under the leadership of the Laloo Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). While these arguments do reflect sound socio-political logic, it is clear in the run-up to the polls that the political processes relating to elections have not changed dramatically in Bihar. All the political games that have characterised past elections are back in full play.

On the one hand, the problems faced by the secular parties threaten to prevent the formation of a broad anti-NDA alliance. On the other, internal tussles could affect the prospects of the NDA, which has the self-professed objective of improving on its previous tally of 30 seats.

One set of key players in the game of realpolitik has included parties such as the Congress(I), the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Lok Jan Shakthi Party (LJP) led by Ram Vilas Paswan. The LJP was part of the NDA in the last polls but left it proclaiming that "a secular alliance was the only way to save Bihar and India". Basically, it is the demands for seats made by these parties that have prevented the formation of a secular front. Sections of the State Congress(I) have demanded 22 seats, the LJP wants at least 12, the CPI six, the CPI(M) two and the NCP one. The RJD wants to contest a minimum of 30 seats. So cumulatively there is a demand for 73 seats out of a possible 40.

The RJD, the leader of the prospective combine, has branded the demands of other parties as "unrealistic, overambitious claims that have the sole objective of capitalising on our mass base". Laloo Prasad Yadav made one unsuccessful trip to New Delhi to sort out the issues with leaders of the other parties and was getting ready to make one more foray to the capital at the time of writing this report. During his first trip Laloo and other leaders arrived at an agreement granting Bhagalpur to the CPI(M) and Katiahar to NCP leader Tariq Anwar. Indications from the "secular camp" after Laloo Prasad's return are that much headway has been made in the informal negotiations with parties other than the CPI. The CPI, which unilaterally announced its candidates for four seats, has apparently fallen out of favour with the RJD leadership.

An effective, unified secular platform is also threatened by the decision of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) to contest all the seats in Bihar. The S.P. does not have much of a presence in the State but may have enough nuisance value for the RJD. The CPI(Marxist-Leninist), which has a notable presence in a few constituencies, is also fighting on its own against both the NDA and the RJD. The CPI, by all indications, will throw its lot with the S.P. if it is not "accommodated respectfully" in the RJD led front.

The NDA has, after much internal wrangling, finalised the sharing of 38 seats between its two main components in the State, the BJP and the Janata Dal(United). As per the agreement the JD(U) will contest 21 seats and the BJP 17. However, even as the NDA leadership was finalising the arrangement, several influential State-level leaders chose to disassociate themselves from the alliance.

The list includes senior politicians such as Mangani Lal Mandal, Raghunath Jha and Devendra Prasad Yadav. The Selection of candidates has also caused hiccups in the NDA. The BJP's decision to field Susheel Kumar Modi, Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, from Bhagalpur has not been taken well by a section of the party. So much so that this section organised a Bhagalpur bandh to protest "the import of an outsider".

The departure of Paswan from the NDA and the resultant loss of Dalit votes from almost all constituencies have created some confusion among senior leaders over the safety quotient of their seats. Even Janata Dal(U) leaders Nitish Kumar and George Fernandes, apparently swayed by the Paswan factor, are finding it difficult to make up their minds about whether to stick to Barh and Nalanda constituencies respectively or move out.

But this confusion does not reflect in the NDA's campaign. The developmental gains made by the NDA under Atal Bihari Vajpayee's leadership, the work done by Union Minister Nitish Kumar in Bihar - the State got a large number of railway projects in the past five years - and the "misrule of the RJD government" form the thrust areas of its campaign. The secular formation's campaign revolves around the "hypocrisy of the India Shining slogan" and "the threat of communal fascism posed by the Sangh Parivar". However, here also a common approach is conspicuous by its absence. The S.P., the CPI and the CPI(M) have also highlighted the misrule of the RJD. Clearly, the RJD has to contend with a `political fatigue' factor too along with other problems.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

"SINCE its formation three years ago, Jharkhand seems to be continuously in competition with its parent State Bihar in perpetuating social and political chaos." This was the observation made by a senior bureaucrat recently. This comment fits the pre-poll political situation in the State too. What you see in Jharkhand is political pandemonium. It is led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which holds 12 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the State.

The BJP is not only facing problems with its partner in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Janata Dal(United), but also has serious internal differences. Two senior leaders, Chief Minister Arjun Munda and former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi, are leading the intra-party tussles, each trying to obtain greater influence and control over the party and thereby get the majority of nominations for his supporters. Caught in the crossfire is External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha, who is in charge of the campaign in Jharkhand.

The BJP's current problems with the JD(U) stems from the latter's demand that it be allocated four seats. Apparently, four State Ministers belonging to the JD (U) - Lalchand Mahto, Ramesh Singh Munda, Madhu Singh and Baidayanath Ram Seerms - are eager to try their luck in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP has refused to concede any seat: Yashwant Sinha even said that "they (JD-U) can fight all the 14 seats and it will make no impact on the BJP". The JD(U) responded by saying that if the BJP did not allot four seats, it would contest all the seats.

On the other side, Opposition parties such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) have in principle agreed on an alliance. The Congress(I) and the Communist Party of India are also engaged in talks with these two parties in order to reach an electoral understanding. But this process too is caught in claims and counter-claims. The RJD wants to contest 10 seats, the CPI four and the Congress(I) and the JMM six each. Despite these over-reaching demands, the negotiations, according to RJD leader Girinath Singh, are proceeding smoothly. There is a kind of resolve in the Opposition camp to prevent the NDA from repeating its previous performance.

The menace of anti-election violence by ultra-Left forces such the Marxist Coordination Committee (MCC) also looms over Jharkhand. Several clashes have taken place in the past one month between the MCC and militant outfits of upper-caste organisations.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

GONE were the awkwardness and edgy nervousness of the previous years. Actually, Orissa Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal president Naveen Patnaik had a spring in his step as he strode up the dais at Saradhabali in Puri to kick-start the electoral campaign of the BJD-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance in February.

After seven years in politics, Patnaik seemed to have discovered himself. The chuckles from a part of the crowd over his ignorance of Oriya died down after he spoke for five minutes in his native tongue about fighting corruption and fulfilling his father's dream of building a prosperous Orissa. Although he read out the speech written in the Roman script, for the first time in his seven-year-long political career Patnaik's confidence did not seem to waver.

The 58-year-old politician seems to be holding well on his own. Although the Assembly elections were due only next year, Patnaik pitched for simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and the Assembly apparently in the hope that the Vajpayee factor would offset any anti-incumbency wave. The official reason, of course, was that holding two elections in less than a year's time would strain the already precarious financial position of the poor State. Patnaik has proved to be a trusted ally of the BJP at the Centre and has been successful to a great extent in running the coalition government since March 2000. But facing the challenge posed by the Congress(I) under the leadership of former Chief Minister J.B. Patnaik could turn out to be a different ball-game altogether.

The writer-turned-politician, however, claims that he is confident about the BJD-BJP alliance emerging victorious. "J.B. Patnaik is old wine in old bottle. He has no relevance in the present century," he remarked soon after the former Chief Minister was appointed president of the Orissa Pradesh Congress Committee in January. J.B. Patnaik was quick to hit back: "Naveen Patnaik should know that old wine will prove costlier for him."

The electoral battle has hotted up in the 21 Lok Sabha constituencies and 147 Assembly seats. The Congress(I) has decided to field its candidates in almost all the Lok Sabha seats and contest from the majority of the Assembly segments, leaving some constituencies to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the Orissa Gana Parishad and others.

In 1999, the Congress(I) won only two (Koraput and Dhenkanal) of the 20 Lok Sabha seats it contested. The BJD had contested 12 seats and won nine, while the BJP won seven of the nine it contested. The seat-sharing arrangement between the BJD and the BJP in respect of the Lok Sabha constituencies remains the same for the current elections.

In the last Assembly elections, the Congress(I) performed poorly - it won only 26 seats. The BJD contested 84 seats and won 63, while the BJP won 38 of the 63 seats it contested. The number of seats the two parties will contest has remained unchanged this time, but they have agreed to exchange a few seats.

The BJD's campaign strategy so far has been to highlight the "clean image" of the Chief Minister and his "crusade" against corruption; the prevalent "feel good" factor; the developmental initiatives that have been taken by the government; and the Congress(I)'s "misrule" in the past.

The BJP is readying itself for an aggressive campaign. Vajpayee's leadership and his government's achievements will be its main planks.

Although hopeful of victory, senior leaders of the alliance are unsure of repeating the previous performance. Although there is no wave in favour of the Congress(I), they are leaving no stone unturned in their effort to secure a majority. The Chief Minister has already chalked out his plans to campaign in all the 147 Assembly constituencies.

Trying to recover lost ground, the Congress(I) is highlighting the "failures" of the Patnaik government and the alleged irregularities in granting mining leases to private companies. The party has announced its plans to bring out a charge-sheet against the alliance government. The Opposition also plans to pin down the coalition over the lack of development in the State and its failure to secure a higher Central assistance and prevent the distress sale of foodgrains in western Orissa during the past four years. But the major accusation against the Chief Minister seems to be his overdependence on a retired bureaucrat.

Both the Congress(I) and the BJD-BJP alliance claim to have taken into account the winning prospects while selecting their nominees. Yet, it appears that rebel candidates from all the three parties might enter the fray.

The PCC chief is now playing the political game with the help of his experience of decades in politics. To supplement his efforts, a number of ousted BJD leaders, who include Rajya Sabha MP and former Union Minister Dilip Ray and former Ministers Nalinikanta Mohanty and Ramakrushna Patnaik, have joined the Congress(I). Ray, an influential politician, was a close aide of Biju Patnaik. He has already campaigned in the BJD chief's constituency, Hinjili, promising to work in the Congress(I) to help realise Biju Patnaik's dream of a prosperous Orissa. The Orissa Gana Parishad led by former Minister Bijay Mohapatra has entered into an alliance with the Congress(I). The OGP president was unable to contest the 2000 Assembly polls because the BJD chief denied him the party ticket at the last minute.

Although the Congress(I) is gaining strength with the entry of several BJD rebels, the coalition appears to be on a strong wicket. The BJD is banking heavily on the reservoir of goodwill that Biju Patnaik enjoys and the untainted image of his Chief Minister son.

Prafulla Das

ELECTIONS 2004

other

THE situation on the ground in Haryana favours a vote for change. Indications are that the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party may find it difficult to retain the Lok Sabha seats won in 1999. The INLD and the BJP, which fought the 1999 Lok Sabha elections in alliance, won all the 10 seats, each winning five. There is palpable anger against the two parties in the towns and areas dominated by the Jat community, their traditional strongholds.

Nowhere is this more evident as in Ghillod Kallan village in Rohtak constituency. It is common for women of the village to make more than a dozen trips to the village well for water. Tap water is unheard of in this village. A few kilometres away, in the village of Jassia, the situation is dismal. The hand-pumps set up on the village main road splutter out water infected with toxins. These hand pumps have led to a drastic decline in the water table of the village.

The election manifestos of the major political parties promise safe drinking water. Said Jaswanti of Ghillod Kallan: "We know that this is the time to make promises. The problem of drinking water will not be solved by any political party. All they want is to stay in power."

The village of Ladwa is 148 km from Delhi. Sugarcane is one of the major crops grown here. More than half a dozen families in the village have been plunged into financial crisis because of the fall in the price of sugarcane. Said Ramesh Kumar, a sugarcane farmer: "I sold my produce to private mills at the low price of Rs.83 a quintal. The cooperative sugar mills are not at all helpful. They fail to protect us from private owners who quote low prices. The cooperatives refuse to transport the crop. How can a poor farmer like me pay for transportation? I have no other option but to sell my produce to private owners." Ask him about the approaching Lok Sabha elections and Ramesh says that though he will vote against the sitting MP, he does not expect the next one to improve the situation.

Basmati rice shops abound on the highway, which connects the village of Ramgarh with Ladwa. The traders in these shops complain how the Value Added Tax (VAT) - in effect since April 2003 - has destroyed their business. Customers who used to flock to Haryana to buy Basmati now prefer adjoining Punjab. Before VAT, a quintal of Basmati in Haryana cost Rs.200 less than that sold in Punjab. Now the sale price is more than that in Punjab. The traders in the State are thinking of floating a political party to lobby for the removal of VAT.

In towns such as Panipat and Karnal it is inadvisable to travel after sunset. Recently, when Congress(I) leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda quoted statistics to back his charge of a worsening law and order situation in the State, nobody rose to counter his claims. Said Hooda: "Contrary to [Chief Minister Om Prakash] Chautala's claim, the law and order situation in the State has deteriorated. The number of crimes reported increased from 33,081 in 1995 to 38,782 in 2000 and to 40,169 in 2002." Day-time robberies are common and have made cities as unsafe as the countryside, which is notorious for violent feuds.

One of the main reasons for the anger against Chautala has been his dictatorial style of functioning. The INLD has moved towards increasing the centralisation of power. Within the INLD, there is no democratic functioning, and voices of dissent are nipped in the bud as control of the party has increasingly moved into the hands of Chautala and his son Ajay Singh Chautala. Charges of corruption against INLD leaders have affected the party's image among the people.

The BJP's position is unenviable. Its four-and-half-year-old alliance with the INLD has meant that the BJP behaved neither like a ruling party nor as an effective Opposition. By itself the party has never had much influence in Haryana. Now, with the alliance with the INLD having come to an end, party workers are finding themselves fighting a losing battle. Said a BJP worker: "L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj never really wanted to work with the INLD. When a section of party workers said that the elections could be won independently on the `feel good' factor, they were too ready to believe them. We are not feeling too good about this change."

The BJP is aware that without an alliance with one of the regional parties it stands little chance of winning even one of its five seats. Earlier, in desperation, it made overtures to its former ally Bansi Lal, former Chief Minister and president of the Haryana Vikas Party (HVP). The two parties contested the 1998 Lok Sabha elections together but could win only one seat each. The BJP subsequently moved closer to Chautala. However, Bansi Lal, said to be angry with the BJP for its betrayal in the past, is not keen on bailing the BJP out of the political mess. He has said that his target is the next Assembly and not the Lok Sabha.

The INLD and the BJP are bitter enemies now. Chautala reacted sharply to Advani urging the electorate to vote for a single party rather than regional parties. He wrote letters to leaders of all major regional parties asking them to "beware the sinister designs of the BJP in general and Advani in particular". Chautala is also blaming the BJP for increasing the price of diesel and other agricultural inputs.

Political observes believe that if the Congress(I) fields the right candidates, it will gain from the anti-incumbency factor. The situation gets more complicated given the fact that no prominent Congress(I) leader wants to spoil his or her chances of becoming Chief Minister by standing for the Lok Sabha elections. Assembly polls are due in a year's time and leaders such as Bhajan Lal and Bhupinder Hooda would like to stake their claim to chief ministership. Said a party functionary: "The situation is such that they will bow to the party high command if it decides to field them. Yet many of the candidates would be too happy to forsake the ticket for the present elections in favour of the Assembly polls." It is clear that even if factionalism does not affect the party in the Lok Sabha polls, it will affect it in the Assembly elections.

Naunidhi Kaur

FOR most people in Punjab, the sole uncertainty about the election outcome is just how badly the Congress (I) will do.

Battered by a large-scale revolt of MLAs allied to former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh seems to have little control over his party apparatus. Everything from the nomination of former Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill for a Rajya Sabha seat to the return of the Chief Minister's Information Adviser, B.I.S. Chahal, have become causes for contention within the party; on top of it all, corruption scandals have broken out over State government jobs and recent auctions of liquor retail outlets.

Yet, many of the problems faced by the Congress(I) exist within the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party as well. Although former Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal has made his peace with his archenemy, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, the two factions remain at odds on the ground. SAD cadre are also irked at efforts by Badal's son, Sukhbir Badal, to run the campaign. Sukhbir Badal's choice of youth leader Charanjit Singh Dhillon as the party candidate from Ludhiana, for example, has attracted allegations that the seat has been gifted to the Congress(I). The Congress(I) might be in big trouble - but it is still unclear if that will actually turn into a debacle.

SAD leaders are hoping that southern Punjab will be the firm base on which their assault on the Lok Sabha will be founded. During the last Assembly elections, southern Punjab voters saved the SAD from a certain wipe out. Now, with the SAD hoping to sweep Punjab, the region has again acquired enormous significance. It is here the Congress(I) hopes to carry out a rearguard action, using its anti-corruption campaign against Badal to effect. While the Congress(I) has yet to finalise candidates, south Punjab heavyweight Jagmeet Singh Brar could prove a formidable campaigner for the party in both Faridkot and Ferozepur. The third key south Punjab seat, Bhatinda, has been given to the Congress(I) ally, the Communist Party of India.

Dalit votes could be central to the outcome of the contest in the prosperous Doaba region. Jalandhar, for one, has seen enormous caste tension in recent months, after riots broke out between Dalits and the landed Jat community for control of a shrine in the village of Talhan. Although a truce was brokered between the warring communities, traditional Congress (I) voters in the Dalit community were incensed by the State government's failure to back them. Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral's son, Naresh Gujral, is standing as the BJP candidate from this constituency - but some observers believe his own caste status could be an obstacle to harnessing Dalit residents to the SAD-BJP's cause.

It is clear, though, that the Congress(I)'s failure to put together an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will cost it a substantial number of votes. In 1999, BJP candidate Vinod Khanna won the Gurdaspur seat by just 3,000-odd votes, a victory brought about in no small part by the BSP taking 67,000 votes, which may otherwise have gone to the Congress(I). Although the BSP's Punjab unit has been riven by factionalism - State leader Satnam Kainth has merged his faction back with the party, but discontent continues to simmer - it nonetheless remains a magnet for a large number of Dalit voters. While Amarinder Singh had hoped to build a counter constituency among landed farmers - great effort was made to ensure trouble-free procurement of crops - there is little sign of large-scale Jat desertion of the SAD so far.

In some seats, inner-party issues, rather than wider caste and class alignments, could prove crucial. Patiala, for one, will witness a particularly interesting campaign, which will see elements of each major party pitted against their own. Parneet Kaur, Amarinder Singh's wife, will be fighting to retain her seat in the contest against former State Finance Minister and SAD leader Kanwaljit Singh. Her problems will, of course, include discontent among traditional Congress(I) supporters in urban areas and Dalits - but also the influence of Bhattal among rural voters in the Lehra Gagga area. Cadre loyal to Bhattal, Parneet Kaur's campaign managers worry, will do little to help the official candidate.

Ironically enough, Kanwaljit Singh has a similar problem. Between December 1998, when the Badal and Tohra factions of the SAD split, and 2003, when they patched up, Kanwaljit Singh was among Tohra's most bitter opponents. Now, both factions have patched up on paper. On ground, though, many block level workers allied to Tohra have been less than happy about conceding their positions to the official SAD, and their cooperation with Kanwaljit Singh's campaign is less than certain. Tohra loyalist Prem Singh Chandumajra, who raised the banner of revolt after being denied the Patiala seat, has made his peace with the SAD - but not, local politicians say, with Kanwaljit Singh's nomination.

Similarly, in Sangrur, SAD candidate Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa will face opposition from sitting MP and Akali maverick Simranjit Singh Mann, from the Congress(I) - and from elements of his own party. Dhindsa is a long-time opponent of SAD heavyweight and former Chief Minister Surjit Singh Barnala. While Barnala has ostensibly stayed out of local politics since his appointment as Governor, his wife Surjit Kaur Barnala has announced her opposition to Dhindsa's candidature. Many within the Congress(I) feel this mosaic of infighting would have given Bhattal a good chance of taking the seat, but the dissident leader has rejected proposals that she stand, seeing them as an effort to evict her from State politics.

In Patiala - as elsewhere - the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections could make or break State-level political futures. Many observers believe major Congress(I) reverses could accelerate calls for Amarinder Singh's head - unless, that is, the party faces all-India humiliation. "Amarinder Singh's best bet," notes one senior Congress(I) politician, "is that the party does badly elsewhere. That way, no one will be able to point fingers at anyone."

Praveen Swami

THE Bharatiya Janata Party, which won all sevens seats from Delhi in the last elections was first to declare its list of candidates. The Congress(I), which did not win a single seat in the last two Lok Sabha elections in Delhi, is yet to announce its list. Polling for the seven parliamentary constituencies in the National Capital Territory of Delhi has been scheduled for the final phase, on May 10. While the BJP hopes to build its campaign around the achievements of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, the Congress(I) hopes to capitalise on the popularity of the Sheila Dixit government, which won the 2002 Assembly elections comfortably.

The BJP has re-nominated six of its seven Members of Parliament. Vijay Goel, the Union Minister of State for Sports and Youth Affairs and Member of Parliament from Chandni Chowk, is contesting from Sadar, which Madan Lal Khurana vacated when he was appointed Governor of Rajasthan. The Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee president criticised Goel's decision with the taunt that it showed that the BJP no longer considered Chandni Chowk a safe seat. Goel was quick to respond: "Who is the Congress to tell me about which constituency to stand from, when they have not even finalised their candidates. I was born and brought up in Sadar constituency. In fact, my political career started in Sadar when I defeated Jagdish Tytler, a three-time member."

But it is clear that the large Muslim population and Goel's narrow margin of victory (1,995 votes) in Chandini Chowk in the last elections has prompted this move. Says Dr. Harsh Vardhan, president of the BJP's Delhi unit: "We were clear about six candidates. Chandni Chowk is a constituency with a delicate balance - it is small and the victory margins are also small." The results in Chandni Chowk could also depend on the performance of the Janata Dal (Secular) candidate, Shoaib Iqbal, who has a strong vote base in this area.

The Congress(I)'s chances depend largely on its choice of candidates. Party workers hope that the leadership has learnt form its past mistakes. The Congress(I) has lost three times in a row in the Outer Delhi and New Delhi constituencies, five times in a row in the East Delhi constituency and six times in South Delhi. Although any win for the Congress(I) will be an improvement, the party hopes to maximise its gains. In order to do this it needs to field the right caste combinations, especially in Outer Delhi and East Delhi, which are the largest constituencies, and have increasing migrant populations.

The Congress(I) was quick to criticise the plans of Union Minister for Tourism Jagmohan, the BJP's candidate from New Delhi, to relocate jhuggi-jhopri clusters in the Yamuna Pushta area as a part of his plans to beautify the river. Chief Minister Sheila Dixit opposed the plans saying it would affect the right to vote of those being relocated. Says Dixit: "I have written to the Election Commission saying that I fail to understand the urgency of beautifying a place at the cost of affecting the right to vote of citizens living in the area. When the Election Commission had already given a directive saying that people should not be relocated till the elections are over, why cannot the government wait for some more time? When Jagmohan has not done anything for five to six years, why should he be in such a hurry now?"

Despite its dismal showing in the Assembly elections (it won only 20 out of 70 seats), the BJP has started targeting the performance of the Delhi government. Says Dr. Harsh Vardhan: "The Delhi government is planning to impose property tax on the Unit Area method. It has hiked electricity and water tariffs. The government has given the Sonia Vihar Treatment Plant to the French company Degremont on a maintain-and-operate basis for almost 10 years. The Sheila Dixit government's policies are very consumer-unfriendly."

Although the Congress(I) is banking on the popularity of its government to improve its tally, Delhi's history shows that the results of Lok Sabha elections could be different from those of the Assembly polls. Says Dr. Harsh Vardhan: "Look at the 1998 elections, we won only 15 seats in the State legislature but in the Lok Sabha elections, held six months later, we won all the seven seats." A statistic the Congress(I) is unlikely to forget in a hurry.

Siddharth Narrain

THE electoral battle in Uttar Pradesh in April-May remains as enigmatic as ever, with a four-cornered contest becoming almost a certainty now. In deciding the post-poll balance of power at the Centre, advantage has often rested with the party that wins the largest number of seats in the State, which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha. (U.P. had 85 seats before the separation of Uttaranchal.)

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati's decision not to align with the Congress(I) must have brought some relief to the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the event of a BSP-Congress(I) pact, the S.P. was in danger of losing its substantial Muslim support and the BJP its upper-caste support.

The results of the Lok Sabha elections are likely to be more or less on the same lines as those of the 2002 Assembly elections and the 1999 parliamentary elections. The S.P. emerged in 2002 as the largest party by winning 143 of the 403 Assembly seats and a 25.37 per cent vote share, followed by the BSP with 98 seats and 23.06 per cent of the vote share and the BJP with 88 seats and 20.08 per cent of the vote. The Congress(I) was a poor fourth with 25 seats and an 8.96 per cent vote share.

In 1999, the BJP had bagged the largest number of Lok Sabha seats, 29, followed closely by the S.P. with 26 seats. The two parties secured 27.64 per cent and 24.86 per cent of the votes respectively. The BSP won 14 seats and 22.08 per cent of the votes. The Congress(I) had fallen by the wayside with only 10 seats and 14.72 per cent of the votes. This time round, the BJP's performance is expected to register a significant change with the return of former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh to its fold. In the 2002 elections, the Rashtriya Kranti Dal (RKD), which Kalyan Singh formed after breaking away from the BJP, actively campaigned to inflict substantial damage to the BJP's chances. It is another matter though that the RKD could not win many seats. During the Lok Sabha elections, although Kalyan Singh was with the BJP he actually sabotaged its prospects from within owing to differences with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. Now that Kalyan Singh is prepared to lend wholehearted support, the mood in the BJP is upbeat. Deputy Prime Minister L.K Advani's Bharat Uday Yatra is adding to the overall optimism. It is a matter of record that whenever Advani has undertaken a yatra he has attracted new voters to the BJP.

Besides having been fielded from Bulandshahar, Kalyan Singh is also in charge of the BJP's campaign committee. "We should cross the 50 plus mark provided we choose the right candidates. Vajpayee's personality, the NDA government's achievements and our programmes should see us through because the Opposition has no leader, no agenda and no programme," Kalyan Singh told Frontline in Lucknow, sifting through the list of ticket aspirants. According to him, the BJP's task has been made easier by the poor performance of the Mulayam Singh government. "The crime graph has gone up in Uttar Pradesh and the people feel insecure," he said. Besides, sugarcane farmers were unhappy because their dues were still pending and there was no improvement in the employment sector.

He vowed to expose the failures of the Mulayam government and he said, "The State is run by five capitalists who make policies in their own favour."

As for the Congress(I), it remains painfully stuck in the quagmire that it has been in for several years. Moreover, the party's hopes of improving its prospects by entering into an alliance with the BSP have been dashed. But despite Mayawati's tongue-lashing and clear announcement that the BSP would contest all the seats in the State on its own, the party still hopes that some sort of an understanding would come about. "Have they announced their seats? Have they declared their candidates yet?" party spokesman Kapil Sibal asked in New Delhi, a day after Mayawati blasted the Congress(I) at her pardafaash rally (expose rally) in Lucknow on March 13.

The only cause for optimism in the Congress(I) is the survey it conducted in February which showed an increase in its vote share since the last Assembly elections. It is pegged at over 15 per cent now because of a positive swing in the Muslim votes. Congressmen also feel that in a four-cornered contest, the importance of Uttar Pradesh in the overall picture would be reduced proportionately. "All the four parties would have their respective share of seats, and thus the importance of the State would go down," party general secretary Oscar Fernandes said. Yet the Congress(I)'s prospects certainly appear dim. In the last Assembly elections, 334 of the 402 candidates it fielded lost their deposits. In the Lok Sabha elections, 47 of the 76 candidates it fielded suffered such humiliation.

The S.P. hopes to reap the benefits of the incumbency factor. It is banking on the fact that it is still too early for the anti-incumbency factor to set in. Besides, Mulayam Singh thinks that the initiatives his government has taken will see his vote share go up. "The sugarcane dues have been paid off to a large extent. The farmers are getting adequate power now. Besides, the Reliance power project and Sahara's housing project will create avenues for employment. These and other initiatives, such as making education for girls free up to the intermediate level and providing free hospital beds, taken in the interest of the common people have been appreciated by people," Mulayam Singh said.

He is also hopeful that the S.P.'s alliance with Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal will help increase its vote and seat share. "The Samajwadi Party will win not less than 50 seats, although our target is 60. We will decide who forms the government in Delhi," he said, hoping to play king-maker.

The BSP, with its 22 per cent vote share, remains as confident as ever. Mayawati had adopted the simple yet electorally effective strategy of putting up a relatively larger number of upper-caste Hindus and Muslims. This has yielded rich dividends for the BSP so far. She hopes to become the balancing factor, irrespective of which party emerges as the single largest block. She is also nursing prime ministerial ambitions. "If people like Gujral, who have no grassroots support, can become Prime Minister, why can't the leader of Dalits, who has such massive support, become one?" she asked at the Lucknow rally, making no secret of her intentions.

In Uttar Pradesh, the vote of Muslims would prove decisive in at least 36 constituencies where their strength varies from 40 to 45 per cent, the maximum being in Rampur where they form a substantial 52 per cent of the voters. In constituencies such as Saharanpur, Amroha, Moradabad, Bijnore, Meerut, Muzzaffarnagar, Deoria and Behraich Muslims constitute a substantial 40-45 per cent of the votes, a sizable number that can tilt the balance in any party's favour. It is this realisation that is forcing the BJP too to woo Muslims.

Without exaggeration, Uttar Pradesh does seem to hold the key to power. The battle promises to be exciting, with high-profile candidates like Vajpayee, Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi and Congress(I) supremo Sonia Gandhi contesting from the State.

Purnima S. Tripathi

ELECTIONS 2004

other

NEARLY three weeks after the Opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) announced its list of candidates to the 20 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala and went into campaign mode, the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), especially its lead partner, the Congress(I), was fighting bitterly over the choice of its candidates and threatening to wreck the coalition's chances in several of its strongholds.

At the time of writing, the list of Congress(I) candidates drawn up after the election-eve rapprochement between Chief Minister A. K. Antony and octogenarian party leader K. Karunakaran ignoring the interests of several leaders and group loyalists had led to widespread resentment within the party unit.

Karunakaran, who was till the other day demanding a leadership change in the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) and was threatening to split the party, and Antony, who was the eventual rallying point for all those who resented the vaulting political ambitions of Karunakaran's family, reached a none-too-surprising, seat-sharing formula under the supervision of the party high command. The formula trampled on the aspirations of many "loyalists" but ensured a Rajya Sabha seat for Karunakaran and the Mukundapuram Lok Sabha seat for his daughter Padmaja Venugopal. The Kozhikode Lok Sabha seat went to V. Balaram, who resigned his Assembly seat recently to facilitate the entry of Karunakaran's son and Electricity Minister K. Muraleedharan into the Assembly. (Muraleedharan will contest from Vadakkancherry Assembly seat in Thrissur district, the seat Balaraman had vacated, in a byelection to be held along with the Lok Sabha polls. The Kozhikode Lok Sabha seat is currently held by Muraleedharan.)

In the Ernakulam Lok Sabha byelections six months earlier, the Congress(I)'s official candidate and Antony loyalist M.O. John was defeated, thanks largely to Karunakaran's rebellious actions. John, a natural aspirant for Ernakulam, could not find a place in the Antony-Karunakaran list. Instead the new formula suggested as the candidate Edward Edezhathu, a Karunakaran nominee, a college lecturer new to politics. Similarly, in Kasaragod, the claims of several prominent Congress(I) leaders were ignored and a Karnataka-based industrialist N.A. Muhammed was selected as the party candidate.

Several close associates of Karunakaran came out openly against what they called the "son-daughter promotion venture" of Karunakaran and the wholehearted compromises Antony seemed to make in order to prevent the veteran leader from sabotaging the party's chances in the elections. Key Karunakaran loyalists Rajmohan Unnithan and Saratchandra Prasad, among others, raised serious allegations of corruption against Muraleedharan in the selection of candidates and in the fund-raising that preceded the anti-Antony rally organised by Karunakran's "I group" in Ernakulam some months earlier.

Widespread resentment within the Congress(I) has therefore provided an edge to the LDF in the elections scheduled for May 10. The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led LDF won nine of the 20 seats in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, with the CPI(M) itself winning eight seats (Kasargod, Kannur, Vadakara, Palakkad, Ottappalam, Kottayam, Kollam and Chirayinkeezhu) and the Kerala Congress(Joseph) one (Idukki). The CPI(M) has now renominated all but two of its sitting MPs. In Kasaragod and Vadakara, the sitting MPs, T. Govindan and A.K. Premajam, have been replaced by P. Karunakaran and P. Sati Devi.

The Opposition coalition is in a fairly good wicket in all the nine seats it won in 1999. In addition, the LDF candidates at Ernakulam, Kozhikode and Mukundapuram seemed to have the odds in their favour, as their Congress(I) rivals are likely to bear the brunt of the renewed factional war within the party. Moreover, in Mavelikkara and Alappuzha, considered Congress(I) strongholds and where party general secretary Ramesh Chennithala and former State Minister V.M. Sudheeran were the likely candidates, the CPI(M) has found good candidates in C.S. Sujatha (Alappuzha district panchayat president) and Dr. Manoj Kurisinkal (independent, a doctor by profession and president of the Alappuzha Latin Catholic Association).

The CPI had lost all the four seats it contested in 1999. The party is contesting all the four seats this time too, with more hope.

The UDF, then in Opposition, had won 11 of the 20 Lok sabha seats in Kerala in 1999. Eight were won by the Congress(I), two by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and one by the Kerala Congress(Mani). The Kerala Congress(Mani) 's MP from Moovattupuzha, P.C. Thomas, later quarrelled with his leader, K.M. Mani, over the latter's attempts to promote his son Jose K. Mani in politics. Thomas formed the Indian Federal Democratic Party (IFDP), joined the NDA and became a Union Minister. It is therefore a tough three-cornered fight in Moovattupuzha too. However, P.C. Thomas, who used to win with record margins from the constituency, is now the NDA's candidate fighting Jose K. Mani, the UDF candidate, and the LDF's P.M. Ismail.

In Manjeri and Ponnani, where IUML candidates regularly win with a brute majority, the party has decided to change its candidates this time. IUML general secretary E. Ahmed, the sitting MP from Manjeri, is now to contest from the neighbouring Ponnani constituency, usually the preserve of party national president G.M. Banatwala. In Manjeri the party has decided to field former MLA K.P.A. Majeed. The CPI(M) candidate in the constituency is also a former MLA, T.K. Hamsa, which makes for a keen contest. The BJP has fielded Uma Unni (who shot to fame as a representative of Hindu fisherwomen at the communally sensitive Marad in Kozhikode district) as its candidate in Manjeri.

R. Krishnakumar

ALTHOUGH the phase of alliance-making is over in Karnataka, which goes to polls on April 20 and 26, the relative strengths of the three main political formations, namely the Congress(I), the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Janata Dal(Secular), are by no means clear. A major difference in the electoral scene between 1999 and 2004 is the contraction in the size and influence of the Janata parivar that traditionally attracted a sizable chunk of anti-Congress(I) and anti-BJP voting segments in the State. Today the JD(S) has consolidated itself around the person of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda. The Janata Dal(United), the political legacy of former Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde, crumbled after his death. A section of the party had transmuted itself into the All India Progressive Janata Dal (AIPJD) even while Hegde was alive. After his death, the AIPJD split, with one faction joining the Congress(I), and the other led by S.R. Bommai, failing to make common cause with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), rejoining the JD(U). The electoral contest in the State is, therefore, essentially a three-cornered one.

Behind the Congress(I) government's decision to opt for simultaneous elections was a shrewd political calculation. Had the Lok Sabha elections been held before the Assembly elections, an NDA victory would have given the BJP a clear edge in the Assembly elections. By opting for simultaneous elections, the Congress(I) has denied the BJP that advantage and is going to the people on the strength of its own performance in office. Indeed, it appears to have upstaged the NDA in the propaganda war. The S.M Krishna government launched a major media offensive highlighting its pro-people schemes, a campaign that put the NDA's `India shining' crusade in the shade. The campaign had perforce to stop when the model code of conduct came into force, but the Congress(I) has been able to steal a march over its rivals through this state-funded voter outreach initiative.

The Congress(I) believes that it has reason to feel confident about being re-elected with a bigger majority. In 1999, the Congress(I) won 17 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP seven, the JD(S) one and the JD(U) three. Whereas it had 135 members in the Legislative Assembly at the beginning of the year, by the time of the dissolution of the Assembly on February 23, its effective support base had gone up to 154, as nine members of the AIPJD and two independents joined the party, and eight expelled BJP members extended their support.

During its five years in office, the Congress(I) strengthened its base by sweeping the elections to the local bodies. In the October 2003 elections to 25 seats that had fallen vacant in the Legislative Council, the Congress(I) won 20, followed by the JD(S) and the AIPJD with two each.

These figures cannot, however, mask the extent of popular disenchantment with the government's performance, something the Congress(I) election managers are unwilling to recognise. The party has been claiming the credit for making Karnataka the hub of the Information Technology and biotechnology sectors in the country. It has highlighted its investment in major and minor irrigation, the success of its free midday meal scheme in government primary schools, its rural housing initiative and its health insurance scheme for the poor. The State has faced a severe drought in three out of the five years of Congress(I) rule, but drought relief has been inadequate and mismanaged. The government's attitude towards the phenomenon of farmers' suicides is seen as callous, particularly the tardy way in which compensation has been paid to the debt-ridden families of suicide victims. With reduced agricultural work there are mass migrations of peasants and agricultural workers to the cities. There have been job losses among workers owing to closure of industries and privatisation of the State sector, and growing poverty within the unorganised workforce. The discontent arising from these factors cannot but find expression in the way people vote.

But neither the BJP nor the JD(S) has been able to fully take advantage of this mood.

The BJP has emerged as the principal opposition to the Congress(I) in coastal and northern Karnataka, while the JD(S) is in a strong position in its traditional areas of strength in the Old Mysore region comprising the districts of Hassan, Kolar, Tumkur, Mandya, Mysore and Chamarajnagar. The disintegration of the JD(U) has left a political vacuum in northern Karnataka.

A prize political catch for the BJP has been former Congress(I) Chief Minister S. Bangarappa, one of the few mass leaders left in the State. His induction will improve the prospects of the party in Shimoga and Uttara Kannada districts where Bangarappa has a substantial following among the backward castes and minorities. But this is a political crossover that is seen as both unprincipled and opportunistic. Bangarappa, whose name is associated with major corruption scams, and who is known to have little compunction in shifting his political loyalties, was the target of the BJP's criticism until the day before he joined the party.

It is Deve Gowda who carries the mantle of the "third front" in Karnataka, or what remains of its once strong presence. The JD(S) is slowly consolidating its position through the induction of new members and through a low-key mass contact programme by its leaders, particularly Deve Gowda. Deve Gowda is known for his ability to revitalise swiftly his support base. There has been a steady flow of people from various fields of public life into the party. Former Ministers and leaders of the erstwhile JD(U) M.P. Prakash and P.G.R. Sindhia, popular Kannada actor Ananth Nag, Pramila Nagappa, wife of H. Nagappa who was kidnapped and killed by forest brigand Veerappan and Mahima Patel, the son of former Chief Minister J.H. Patel have joined the JD(S).

Parvathi Menon

PROMISES, counter-promises, games of one-upmanship and the announcement of a series of populist measures have marked the beginning of the election season in Maharashtra. It is an unusual sort of beginning to a campaign: unlike previous occasions, there are relevant issues to be addressed, but all parties seem to have decided to ignore them at least for the time being. A drought in several districts, scarcity of drinking water even in certain urban areas, issues related to the marginalised and minority communities, increasing debts of farmers, the demand for the creation of a separate State of Vidarbha and housing problems in Mumbai are just some of them. The State, which has 48 Lok Sabha seats, goes to the polls in two phases on April 20 and 28.

However, the battle lines are clearly drawn. So far there has not been any major political realignment in the State. Rumours of a possible tie-up between the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have been proved wrong. The Sena continues to be an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the NCP that of the Congress(I).

While the BJP hopes to make substantial gain in eastern Maharashtra because of its support for the creation of Vidarbha, the NCP continues to place its hope on western Maharashtra. The BJP plans to attack the NCP on its home ground by focussing on the problems faced by the sugar cooperatives. In rural areas, the politics of sugar cooperatives is expected to play its traditional role of influencing voting. A BJP activist said: "Onions made us cry in the 1998 elections. This time we will make sugar turn bitter for the Congress(I) and the NCP." The absence of any coherent drought relief plans is expected to play a pivotal role in the 11 drought-affected districts of the State.

Both the Shiv Sena and the BJP have announced that their main quarry is Sharad Pawar's NCP. The BJP has targeted the NCP by enticing away NCP leaders. The Sena, on the other hand, is waiting for former Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who had quit following the stamp paper scam, to be back in the public eye to attack him. The biggest blow to the NCP has been the stamp paper scam. Although its genesis is traced back to the days of the Sena-BJP coalition government, the Democratic Front (D.F.) government of the Congress(I) and the NCP has borne the brunt of the criticism. Although Bhujbal's resignation was ostensibly provoked by an attack by his supporters on the office of a private television channel, it is increasingly believed to have been a pre-emptive move by the NCP to prevent embarrassment in the wake of allegations linking Bhujbal and Abdul Karim Telgi, the alleged mastermind of the scam.

The BJP too is facing internal problems. When BJP Member of Parliament from Beed (which includes State BJP president Gopinath Munde's Assembly constituency) Jaisingrao Gaikwad Patil left the party to join the NCP, he said: "When alcohol permeates the body, reason automatically leaves." He added that Munde and former Union Minister and party general secretary Pramod Mahajan were "drunk with power", had made the State BJP "money minded", "ignored the power base of the BJP, the cadre, and gave importance only to fund-raisers".

In the Sena the rift between cousins Uddhav and Raj Thackeray continues to pose a problem for the party though, with the elections round the corner, they are frequently seen on the same platform. Meanwhile, the Sena has been working hard to get rid of its reputation as being a party prone to violence. An important component of the strategy is the "Mee Mumbaikar" campaign, which is designed to promote the spirit of being a resident of Mumbai and which promises to create more employment opportunities. Even the attack on Biharis who had come to Mumbai for a Railway Recruitment Board examination in November 2003 is all water under the bridge as far as the Sena is concerned. Interestingly, after disassociating itself from the vandalism at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune, the Sena has accepted the support offered by the Akhil Bharatiya Maratha Mahasangh, which claimed responsibility for the act, to the alliance. The Mahasangh is an influential body representing the State's Maratha community and has about 35,000 life members. The development is expected to divide Maratha votes between the Hindutva parties and the Congress(I)-NCP combine.

Both the Congress(I) and the NCP have promised to give Mumbai top priority in their campaign. They have promised to construct more link roads to lessen the traffic congestion, hasten slum redevelopment, provide homes to unemployed mill workers and provide more funds to revive the city's economy. The Shiv Sena has halted all drives by the party-controlled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to remove encroachments. The Mumbai-centric plan is seen as an attempt to reinvigorate the sources in the city that used to fund the Congress(I) but, of late, seem to have run dry. For its part, the BJP has been working at strengthening its base. The party claims the support of big business houses but declined to name any.

The BJP started its campaign as early as October 2003 and is the only party that has come out with some sort of a campaign plan. Munde said: "Speedy and equitable development; Vajpayee's character, capacity, calibre and conduct; and `India on the move' will be our three guiding points." The three-point programme also indicates whom the BJP considers as its priority target groups. The first is a direct appeal to the middle class and the industrialists. The second alludes to Sonia Gandhi's "foreign origin" issue. And the third aims at non-resident Indians (NRIs) whose financial support has increasingly been made available to the BJP.

In February, Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde brought nine castes and sub-castes under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category and the nomadic and denotified communities list, thereby awarding members of these communities land that was partly paid for by the government. In another move, Shinde also announced his intention to rename Nagpur airport as Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Dikshabhoomi International Airport. Both moves are aimed at the voters in two regions where the Congress(I) and the NCP have either been traditionally weak (as in the Konkan, where the Gamit community has received an OBC status) or been steadily losing ground (as in the case of Nagpur, where the BJP has been gaining ground largely owing to its pro-separatist stance on Vidarbha).

This was followed by the move to prevent bars from being named after a religious figure. The plan, it turned out, was the brainchild of the wife of Minister of State for Home Kripa Shankar Singh. However, the ban was lifted even before it was applied. Another populist order of the State government was to allow liquor shops to do business on Holi, when they have traditionally remained closed to discourage anti-social behaviour.

Perhaps the most bizarre election gimmick was the sudden announcement by Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray that stray dogs kept him awake all night by their barking and should therefore be killed. However, popular opinion was against it. A letter to the editor in a local paper noted that it was "Bal Thackeray's conscience and not the strays that were keeping him awake at night".

Lyla Bavadam

WILL the Bharatiya Janata Party repeat its performance in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, when it won 16 of the 25 seats in Rajasthan? This is the question doing the rounds in political and media circles in the State, which witnessed a BJP victory in the Assembly elections of December 2003.

The Lok Sabha contest, by and large, will be a bipolar one - between the Congress(I) and the BJP. Observers point out that a third front is not likely to emerge. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) too are likely to field candidates. The BSP has, at the time of writing, announced candidates for 14 seats. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has fielded Amra Ram, the sitting MLA from Dhod, from the Sikar parliamentary seat and Sheopat Ram Meghwal, vice-president of the Students Federation of India (SFI), from the reserved seat of Ganganagar.

The Congress(I) seems to have learnt some political lessons since the 13th Lok Sabha polls, when it had to be satisfied with just nine seats. The first thing that it did post-Assembly elections was to appoint veteran legislator Narain Singh, a member of the Jat community, Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee(I) president. Currently the legislator from Danta Ramgarh, Narain Singh won with a comfortable margin in the Assembly elections. His appointment is attributed to the perception that the Jat community had voted against the party in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Moreover, the reservation to the Jat community, promised by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee during his campaign and the lacklustre performance of the Ashok Gehlot-led government had helped the BJP gain the upper hand in 2003.

The Congress(I) released a chargesheet against the BJP on March 18, the day Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia completed 100 days in office. The party is also planning an elaborate campaign by its president Sonia Gandhi in the coming days. The PCC president emphasised that special attention will be devoted to the reserved constituencies, given the erosion of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe base of the party.

Meanwhile, though the BJP camp seems upbeat, the delay in announcing candidates indicates that all is not well in the party. A four-member panel comprising Vasundhara Raje Scindia, State party president Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi, Cabinet Minister Gulab Chand Kataria and party organising secretary Prakash Chandra are to finalise the names of the candidates. The first blow came when Pratap Singh Khachariyawas, former BJP member and nephew of Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, joined the Congress(I). Khachariyawas was an aspirant for the BJP ticket for the Bani Park Assembly seat in the Jaipur Lok Sabha constituency but was denied that despite the backing of Vasundhara Raje Scindia. Although Jaipur is a BJP stronghold given its strong urban middle class population, Khachariyawas, if given the Congress(I) ticket, may prove to be a tough contender. He polled more than 70,000 votes contesting as an independent in Bani Park in the 2003 Assembly elections.

The second major problem for the BJP emerged over the nomination of the candidate for Banswara, considered a stronghold of the Janta Dal (United). It was learnt that while the BJP's central leadership was keen to give the seat to its ally, the State unit had some problems.

"The BJP will win," says Pushp Jain, the sitting MP from Pali. He says, joined by Pradyuman Kumar, a party secretary, that there is no anti-Central government feeling among the people and that it was felt that there was no alternative to the BJP. Pradyuman Kumar says that the BJP's electoral success will also depend a great deal on booth management by its cadre, as was evident in the December 2003 elections. "We got a direct benefit from that," he said. As for the BJP's new-found presence in the tribal constituencies, he said that the party's strength had been on the rise for the last several years. "The activities of the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad and the Ekal Vidyalayas made us politically active in these belts. Culturally, too, we tried to bring ourselves closer to them by adopting their ways and customs. That's how we won their hearts," he said.

Two events of political significance took place in the State in the second week of March. One was the annual Pratinidhi Sabha of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), and the other was a convention of the Sewa Dal, a volunteer organisation of the Congress(I). The RSS meeting, held in Jaipur for the first time, endorsed the "India Shining" campaign and praised the five-year tenure of the BJP-led NDA government.

The meeting, in the words of RSS Sahkaryavah Mohan Bhagwat, was meant "to firm up the direction of our future work, review and critically appraise it and also prepare plans in order to enhance the pace of our activity". However, it ultimately turned out to be more about shoring up organisational support for the BJP in the coming elections. The Pratinidhi Sabha consists of RSS representatives from all over the country and assumes significance in that all its senior functionaries are present.

If the Sewa Dal meeting is any indication, the Congress(I) too seems to be in a mood of introspection. Senior leaders such as All India Congress Committee(I) member Janardan Dwivedi and former Chief Minister Jagannath Pahadia addressed the Sewa Dal workers and emphasised the need to work jointly. Mohammad Mahir Azad, the MLA from Nagar in Bharatpur district, went to the extent of saying that the Congress(I) may have lost owing to its arrogance and that now it was the "BJP's turn to learn a lesson". Dwivedi pointed out that while the Gehlot government had done good work, the electorate was peeved by the activities of some leaders in the party. He also tried to draw a distinction between the economic liberalisation policies of the Congress(I) and those promoted by the BJP.

T.K. Rajalakshmi

ABOUT the only sign of the Congress(I)'s presence in Jammu are a few tattered plastic flags strung across the road from the airport to the city. The flags, it turns out, were put up to greet visiting party dignitaries after the party's sweeping triumph across the Jammu province in the 2002 Assembly elections. Now, they are evidence of how much more durable polyvinyl chloride is than political fortunes.

Battered by the furore generated by furious debate over the rights of women in Jammu and Kashmir to marry outside the State, the Congress(I) is witnessing the wages of vertical communal polarisation. In the Kashmir Valley, its ally, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), is working overtime to displace the Congress(I), and emerge as the sole voice of opposition to the National Conference(N.C.). In Jammu, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the National Panthers Party (NPP) are charging the Congress(I) with having sold out to Kashmiri chauvinism, and of having failed to defend the region's interests. In this emerging four-horse race, the prize is most likely to go to aggressive regional and communal chauvinists.

The Congress(I)'s conspiracy theorists in Jammu have been murmuring about a tacit alliance between the PDP and the BJP, the two main beneficiaries of the Permanent Residents (Disqualification) Bill - a claim buttressed by Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's effusive praise of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It all began in October 2002, when a three-member Bench of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court passed judgment on challenges filed by 12 women against their having been deprived of permanent resident status on having married men outside the State. Justices V.K. Jhanji and T.S. Doabia upheld the women's appeals and Justice Muzaffar Jan dissented. The N.C. government put off a debate on the issue by filing an appeal in the Supreme Court.

Soon after assuming power, PDP MLA and Law Minister Muzaffar Beig, himself a lawyer, quietly withdrew the appeal; legal consensus held that it had no chance of success. On election-eve, however, opportunism triumphed over legal sense. The PDP needed an issue on which it could show that the party was the sole spokesperson for ethnic Kashmiri Muslims, more committed to their cause than the N.C. In Jammu, the BJP needed an issue through which it could show that it, rather than the Congress(I), was truly committed to defending the rights of the region. In the Disqualification Bill, both parties found just what they needed.

Interestingly enough, all parties backed the Bill when it was presented to the Assembly in February, bar the BJP. The lone BJP member, Jugal Kishore, absented himself at the time of voting; immediately after the Bill was passed, the party hit the streets. Sustained BJP protests in Jammu have found considerable support, and the party's candidates for the Udhampur and Jammu Lok Sabha seats have made the issue a central motif of their campaign. Although the NPP has also attacked the ruling coalition on the issue, its case has not been helped by its presence in the government - and its voting record on the Bill.

On the face of it, the arguments surrounding the Bill are absurd - and the Assembly's course of action legally dubious. Contrary to the fulminations of the PDP, the BJP and the N.C., the Bill has relatively little to do with Article 370, which gives special status to the State. The only State to negotiate its terms of accession to the Indian Union, Jammu and Kashmir has its own Constitution. This Constitution grants special rights - to purchase land, for example, and to be elected to legislative office or hold State government jobs - to permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir.

Yet, it has passed unnoticed that the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution itself nowhere debars women who have married non-permanent residents from holding on to their status. Section 6 of Part III of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution gives constitutional status to two notifications on permanent residents issued in 1927 and 1932. The notifications define as permanent residents (then called State subjects) all persons residing in the State before the reign of Maharaja Gulab Singh, those who settled there before the Samvat year 1942, and those who both settled in the State before Samvat year 1968 and also purchased property.

Indeed, the notifications expressly record that "descendants of the persons who have secured the status of any class of the State Subjects will be entitled to become the State Subject of the same class." There is no qualification in the notifications about women marrying outside the State losing their status. All that exists is a mandate that women who acquire State Subject status through marriage shall hold on to this right as long as they reside in Jammu and Kashmir - a protective provision intended to safeguard the rights of women from outside the State. Quite plainly, the long-standing discrimination against women in Jammu and Kashmir has no constitutional sanction.

Just how politically driven the ongoing debate is also becomes clear from a study of the plain language of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution. As Justice Doabia noted in his concurrence, Section 10 of the Constitution expressly mandates that "permanent residents of the State shall have all the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution of India." All, quite obviously, includes fundamental rights, on which the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution does not have a separate chapter. Since the Constitution of India bars gender discrimination, women in Jammu and Kashmir cannot be denied rights available to men.

Where do things go from here? If the Congress(I) does stick to its guns on the Permanent Residents Bill, that ought to be the end of the affair. Section 9 of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution notes that the Assembly does have the power to amend or alter the definition of who is a permanent resident, give them special rights, or modify their privileges. Such amendments, however, "shall be deemed to be passed by either House of the Legislature only if it is passed by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of that House" - something chauvinistic parties supporting the Bill do not possess.

Congress(I) politicians are doing what they can to hit back. One key site of contestation is the Baramulla constituency. Soon after the PDP announced two alternative candidates for the seat, Congress(I) senior vice-president Abdul Gani Vakil noted that his party had won 80,000 votes in the Assembly segments comprising the constituency last year, to the PDP's 30,000. The Congress(I), Vakil said, was not willing to surrender all seats in the Kashmir valley to the PDP, in return for exclusive rights to contest the two seats in Jammu, and one in Ladakh.

If the feud is not resolved, all the members of the ruling alliance could end up contesting against one another - the Congress(I) and the PDP in Kashmir, and the Congress(I) and the NPP in Jammu. Nothing could suit the BJP, decimated just 18 months ago, better.

Praveen Swami

THE fledgling State of Uttaranchal, with five Lok Sabha seats, will witness its first general elections on May 10. The hill people have always voted for either of the two national parties in parliamentary elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has held the four seats of Tehri Garhwal, Pauri Garhwal, Almora and Haridwar since 1991, is locked in a keen contest with the ruling Congress(I). (Chief Minister and veteran Congress(I) leader N.D. Tiwari won the Nainital seat in the previous elections. Mahendra Pal Singh of the Congress(I) was elected to the seat in the byelection caused by Tiwari's vacation of the seat on becoming Chief Minister.)

Despite its strong presence in the undivided Uttar Pradesh, and despite the fact that it was the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre that created Uttaranchal in November 2000, the BJP won only 19 of the 69 seats it contested in the 2002 elections to the 70-member State Assembly and 25.45 per cent of the votes. The Congress(I) won 36 seats, with 26.91 per cent of the votes. Now the situation seems to have changed a bit.

As the ruling party, one would expect the Congress(I) to be comfortably placed to win most of the seats. Surprisingly, this is not the case. The party has not consolidated its position. Two years after the Assembly elections, the BJP senses that the Congress(I) government's failures would work to its advantage.

The BJP is harping on the NDA government's achievements and projecting the clean image of Prime Minister Vajpayee. But the NDA's "India Shining" hype has not impressed the people. "It may be shining for them, but there is nothing here to make us feel so," said Kanwal Singh Rawat of Rainapur near Rishikesh, even as he professes support for the BJP. But surely one thing that could pave the way for the BJP's success is the construction of roads. "Even far-flung areas have now been connected with roads," says one village resident. And B.C. Khanduri, Surface Transport Minister and MP from Pauri Garhwal, is viewed as the man who did it.

Had the Congress(I) retained its edge it acquired in 2002, its prospects would have been better, but indications are that it has not. Even the party's internal survey, conducted in February, showed its chances were slipping. "It looks like 50-50 to me, if the selection of candidates is right," N.D. Tiwari said. He concedes there might have been shortcomings in meeting the people's expectations; he blames paucity of funds for this. "We cannot work miracles in two years. I had the job of laying the plinth and I have ensured that at least there is no negative factor against either the government or the party," says the four-time Chief Minister of undivided U.P. In fact he earned the sobriquet "Vikas Purush" for the unprecedented development work that took place in U.P. during his tenure.

He agrees that the laying of the roads, for which the Centre is getting the maximum credit, is the only achievement that the people seem to take into account. "There have been initiatives in the area of industry, tourism and Information Technology, which should start giving results in a couple of years. I have laid the foundation for them," he says. But lack of unity within the Congress(I)(State party president Harish Rawat is known to carp at Tiwari) and factionalism could detract the voters from the initiatives Tiwari claims to have undertaken. Except Nainital, which has been Tiwari's bastion, Tehri is the only other seat where the Congress(I) can look for some gains. Manvendra Shah, the BJP MP and erstwhile ruler of Tehri state, has represented the constituency since 1991, but now people have started complaining about his nonavailability and lack of performance. Sensing this mood, the Congress(I) has fielded Vijay Bahuguna, son of the late H.N. Bahuguna who was Chief Minister of U.P. In Almora and Pauri Garhwal, where the BJP has renominated Bachi Singh Rawat and B.C. Khanduri respectively, the Congress(I) has absolutely no presence. Khanduri gets thumbs up for the good roads and Bachi Singh Rawat holds his own turf having defeated Harish Rawat continuously since 1991.

In Haridwar, where the Congress(I) hopes to do well, the scale looks tilted towards the BJP. So there is no reason for the Congress(I) to feel optimistic. Interestingly, this is the only seat where the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) holds ground. Of the nine Assembly segments in the Haridwar Lok Sabha constituency, the BSP has won six and the BJP two. The ground realities now do not favour the Congress(I) in Haridwar. The one achievement that the Congress(I) tries to take credit for is the improvement of facilities for pilgrims participating in the Kumbh melas. But it is common knowledge that the NDA government provided Rs.135 crores to upgrade the facilities.

Above all else, the BJP's poll mascot, Vajpayee, has actually caught the people's fancy in the hill State. "(Congress-I chief) Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin is no big issue, but Atal Bihari Vajpayee scores on experience and performance," said Sapre Ram, a retired school principal in Rainapur village.

Purnima S. Tripathi

Growing fleet strength

AMIT MITRA advertorial

Driven by the boom in the freight market, Indian shipping companies begin to expand their fleet strength.

KEEN to take advantage of the unprecedented boom in the freight market, which is expected to last until 2006, Indian shipping companies are gearing themselves up to make major investments in fleet acquisition. Never before has the freight market witnessed such an upsurge in all segments ranging from tankers to dry bulk. The freight boom is being fuelled by a variety of factors, including a short supply of ships in the global maritime trade sector and an increased demand for steel in China. An indication of the buoyant mood in the industry can be had from the results of shipping companies for the third quarter (Q3) of 2003-04. Great Eastern Shipping, India's largest fleet owner in the private sector, came out with the best Q3 results to touch the Rs-110-crore mark, showing an increase of 130 per cent in the net profit compared to its performance in the previous fiscal. During the nine-month period ending December 2003, the company's income soared to Rs.947.47 crores, as against Rs.727.6 crores recorded during the first nine months of last fiscal.

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Shipping Corporation of India (SCI), India's largest fleet owner, reported handsome profits, although it could not make the best use of the boom period as it had not been permitted to make any major investments for fleet expansion in the light of its on-going disinvestment programme (the government recently gave it the go-ahead to make investments up to Rs.300 crores). The company's net profit during the October-December period in 2003 rose to Rs.133.23 crores from Rs.76.22 crores registered in Q3 of last fiscal, which represents an increase of 74.79 per cent. During the period, the company's profit stood at Rs.369.85 crores as against Rs.147.29 crores during the corresponding period of last fiscal.

Essar Shipping, which is in the race for the majority stake holding in SCI, has reported a net profit of Rs.36.84 crores, which is up from Rs.16.36 crores in Q3 of last fiscal, representing an increase of 125 per cent. Its income rose from Rs.122.85 crores in Q3 of last fiscal to Rs.148.47 crores this fiscal, up by 21 per cent. Varun Shipping's net profit during the quarter swelled from Rs.2.70 crores last fiscal to Rs.10.04 crores.

Analysts say that the results for the fourth quarter (Q4) would reflect the same bullish trend. What has been driving the freight market boom? Says a senior official of Great Eastern Shipping: "The third quarter has been exceptional for the dry bulk markets, as freight rates have been on a meteoric rise. In fact, we have seen that the Capesize, Panamax and Handymax segments earned the highest-ever freight rates during the last quarter. China undoubtedly continued to be the major factor behind the surge in freight rates."

Indeed, the Baltic Handymax Index (BHMI), which indicates the freight market movement, shot up from 15,763 on October 1, 2003 to 26,593 on December 31, 2003, and towards the end of January 2004 it stood at a whopping 30,213. Even the tanker market, which was relatively subdued in the second quarter (Q2), witnessed buoyancy in Q3, with China surpassing Japan to become the world's second largest oil consumer. Market analysts said that increasing long-haul trades, strong winter demand in the northern hemisphere, congestion in the Bosphorus Strait and migration of Oil Bulk Oil (OBO) vessels (capable of carrying both wet cargo and dry bulk) to the dry bulk trade had then impacted on the tanker market earnings. The Baltic Clean Tanker Index and the Baltic Dirty Tanker Index, which were 869 and 1006 respectively on October 1, 2003, increased to 1,099 and 2,242 on December 24, 2003 - they stood at 1,317 and 2,048 respectively towards the end of January. "Crude carriers recorded an average TCY (Time Charter Yield) of about $22,600 a day during the quarter as against $21,900 a day in the third quarter of last fiscal," the Great Eastern official pointed out.

Market analysts feel that the strong recovery led by China and the United States is expected to boost world oil demand, while Japan continues to depend on oil, as its nuclear plants are not fully operational yet (six out of the 17 plants are in operation). Further, the rising natural gas prices have resulted in a switch-over to oil. "Tanker freight rates are expected to remain healthy, especially with the U.S. commercial petroleum stock levels at a 28-year low," an analyst pointed out.

In fact, the freight market boom has prompted many companies in the private sector to go in for fleet expansion. Take the case of Great Eastern Shipping - the company acquired seven crude carriers and two product carriers during the first three quarters of the current fiscal, which increased its tonnage from 1.317 million dwt (deadweight tonnage) as on March 31, 2003 to 2.10 million dwt as of end-December 2003. This apart, the company has laid out a capital expenditure programme for Rs.1,038 crores, involving the acquisition of 10 vessels, including one Aframax, one product carrier and two Suezmax vessels, which are expected to be delivered before September 2005. This would increase its fleet strength to 2.68 million dwt by March 2006.

Originally, SCI had an ambitious expansion programme, involving an outlay of $1 billion for acquiring 29 vessels, including 26 tankers, during the Tenth Plan. Moreover, the company has to replace 25 to 30 per cent of its tanker fleet within the next few years. But with the government asking SCI to put on hold major capital expenditure plans in view of the pending disinvestment programme, the company could not make any major acquisitions. However, after the government recently lifted the ban, SCI lost no time in drawing up a Rs.300-crore acquisition programme. The SCI Board, which met in Mumbai in February, had approved a broad acquisition programme, which includes the purchase of capsize vessels.As a matter of fact, despite the high rate of taxation that continued to gnaw at the Indian shipping industry during 2003, the growth of the Indian fleet has been significant during the year. Industry analysts revealed that the tonnage began to soar after April 2003, when the boom in the freight market actually began to galvanise ship-owners. From a level of 6.20 million grt (gross registered tonnage) as on January 1, 2003, the Indian tonnage crawled up to 6.62 million grt on January 1, 2004. Since 1976, the Indian tonnage had peaked to 7.05 million grt in January 2000, with the maximum addition of 5.9 lakh grt, witnessed in 1999.

"The growth in tonnage is expected to continue on its upward course in the coming months as shipping companies are looking for fresh acquisitions," according to an analyst. This marked a reversal of trend in tonnage, as during the entire 2002-03 period there had been a decline in tonnage addition, with the high taxation constraining the generation of funds for shipping companies. The strength of the Indian fleet flagged from 6.82 million grt as on March 31, 2002 to 6.18 million grt as on March 31, 2003 - a net reduction of 6.43 lakh grt. Interestingly, during this period the number of ships had risen from 560 to 616. This was mainly on account of the inclusion of 56 ships, mostly comprising tugs, survey vessels, towing vessels and pilot vessels belonging to the Indian ports and State Maritime Boards, in the registry of Indian ships.

However, from April 1 2003, the Indian fleet began to show signs of a recovery. As on July 1, 2003, the tonnage increased to 6.43 million grt, as during the preceding months there was an addition of seven oil tankers - SCI (three), Great Eastern (two) and Mercator Lines (one) and India Steamship Co (one). However, one disconcerting factor has been the deteriorating age profile of the Indian fleet. According to a senior official of the Indian National Ship-owners Association (INSA), as on April 1, 2003, the average age of the Indian fleet was 16.5 years. In terms of dwt, over 31 per cent of the overseas fleet, totalling 80 ships of 2.91 million dwt, was over 20 years of age, while another 29.3 per cent between 15 and 19 years. Thus, over 60 per cent of the Indian fleet needs to be replaced within the next five years or so. In fact, the Planning Commission's Working Group has recommended acquisition of 156 ships of 3.25 million grt so as to maintain the strength of the Indian fleet at around 7 million grt.

The standard-bearer

A CORRESPONDENT advertorial

With a diversified fleet strength of 87 vessels, Shipping Corporation of India has a significant presence on the global maritime map.

SHIPPING Corporation of India Ltd. (SCI), the country's premier shipping line, was incorporated on October 2, 1961, by the amalgamation of Eastern Shipping Corporation and Western Shipping Corporation, with an authorised capital of Rs.35 crores and a paid-up capital of Rs.23.45 crores. In 1961, SCI's fleet size stood at 19 vessels totalling 1,39,000 gross tonne (gt) and 1,92,000 deadweight tonnage (dwt). Jayanti Shipping Company was merged with SCI in 1973, leading to an addition of 16 ships, and Mogul Line Ltd in 1986, adding 12 more ships.

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Today SCI has a significant presence on the global maritime map. It owned a fleet of 87 vessels totalling 2.6 million gt (4.6 m dwt) as on February 2, accounting for about 42 per cent of the national tonnage. In addition, it operates a leased vessel and mans/manages 42 vessels on behalf of various government departments. Its diversified fleet, which includes modern and fuel-efficient ships, gives it a distinct competitive edge.

Now SCI has an authorised capital of Rs.450 crores and a paid-up capital of Rs.282.3 crores. For the financial year 2002-03, it recorded a turnover of Rs.2,446.50 crores and a net profit after tax of Rs.274.78 crores. The company paid a dividend of 30 per cent for 2002-03. As per the unaudited financial results for nine months ended December 31, 2003, SCI recorded a turnover of Rs.2,273.13 crores and a net profit after tax of Rs.369.85 crores. The company declared and paid a special interim dividend of 170 per cent for 2003-04.

SCI operates a network of global liner services. As the trend is towards containerised services, it operates four Cellular Container Services covering the Far East, the United Kingdom-Continent sector and the east coast of the United States. In the U.K.-Continent sector, both break-bulk and exclusive container services are provided.

In January 2002, two competing consortia, the India Europe Service (IES) comprising SCI, Zim Lines of Israel and Yang-Ming Lines of Taiwan and the India Europe Express Service (IEX) comprising Evergreen Lines of Taiwan, K-Line (Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha) of Japan and MISC of Malaysia, formed a new consortium offering the trade a weekly service in the Indian subcontinent/U.K.-Continent sector. The service is operated with seven ships of 2,600 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) capacity. It offers a direct container service between India/Sri Lanka and Europe with a transit time of about 18 days between Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust to the U.K.-Continent. The service also covers the central and east Mediterranean ports from Port Said, using the efficient feeder network out of that port. While all the partners have contributed one vessel each, SCI and Zim Lines share the seventh vessel on a 70:30 basis.

In March 2000 SCI commenced a direct joint container service between India and the ports on the east coast of the U.S., the India/American east coast (INDAMEX) cellular service, with M/s. Contship Container Lines Ltd., Ipswich, U.K. and CMA-CGM S.A., Marseilles, France, offering the trade a fixed day/weekly container service. The service was upgraded in terms of tonnage, speed and capacity with the joining of M/s. American President Lines, the largest carrier between India and the U.S., whereby the transit time to New York has been reduced from 21 days to 18 days. The service is operated with seven vessels of 2,100 TEU average capacity and has a round voyage duration of 49 days with the following port rotation: Colombo, Tuticorin, Nhava Sheva, New York, Norfolk, Charleston, Port Said and Colombo.

SCI together with K-Line, Japan, Pacific International Line (PIL), Singapore, and Dongnama Shipping, South Korea, has launched the India/Far East Cellular Service (INDFEX), a direct container service with fixed day/weekly sailing linking India with the Far East ports of South Korea and China. The service was flagged off on June 1, 2001, at Busan (South Korea) with the deployment of five ships of 1,400 TEU with all consortium partners deploying one vessel each and the cost of the fifth ship deployed being shared equally by PIL, K-Line and SCI. The service has evolved into a niche weekly service with a round voyage duration of 35 days, and from January 2003, the service has been upgraded with ships of 1,800 TEU.

SCI launched another joint container service, the India Far-East Express Two (INDFEX 2), in Chennai on June 16, 2002, linking, for the first time, the east coast of India with the northern ports in China. INDFEX 2 is being offered by the consortium of SCI, Dongnama Shipping Company, K-Line and PIL. INDFEX 2 offers a faster, more economic shipping service compared to other competing services that are operated through feeder or transhipment arrangements. The port rotation of this service is: Dalian, Xingang, Yantai, Qingdao, Hong Kong, Singapore, Port Kelang, Chennai, Port Kelang, Singapore, Pasirgudang, Hong Kong and Dalian.

In addition to international operations, SCI, with its owned/managed vessels operates domestic passenger-cum-cargo services between the mainland and the Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep groups of islands. It also mans and manages certain other types of vessels (such as geological survey and ocean research vessels, and the lighthouse tender ship) on behalf of the government departments.

SCI's bulk carrier fleet caters to the movement of almost all types of dry bulk cargoes, mainly in the export of iron ore to Japan and the import of coking coal from Australia. Some tonnage is deployed on the Indian coast and also on cross trades. SCI's fleet of crude tankers is deployed in the import of crude oil to Indian refineries and in the movement/storage of the Bombay High crude. Its product tankers are engaged in the import and coastal movement of petroleum products and its specialised vessels in the transportation of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), ammonia and phosphoric acid.

SCI, in consortium with three Japanese lines - Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd (MOL), NYK and K-Line - has won the bid for the transportation of five million tonnes per annum of LNG (liquefied natural gas) from Qatar's Rasgas for Petronet LNG's (PLL) Dahej project starting January 2004. SCI and MOL have a 34.21 per cent stake each in the consortium, with the remaining 31.58 per cent being shared by NYK (21.05 per cent) and K-Line (10.53 per cent). SCI has diversified into the Indian offshore marine business and provides vital offshore support services to the Indian oil industry in its indigenous oil exploration activities. Its 10 anchor handling towing-cum-supply vessels are on long-term charter to the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation. It manages ONGC's specialised vessels as also its offshore supply vessels (OSVs).

The Government of India conferred the Mini Ratna status on SCI under Category-I in 2000. SCI has been performing exceptionally well under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) evaluation system and has received "excellent" rating consistently for 11 years, up to 2001-02. SCI's Maritime Training Institute (MTI) in Mumbai is recognised as a branch of World Maritime University (Sweden) and as a regional training centre by UNCTAD. SCI operates in a highly competitive international arena and, despite various constraints, has managed to keep its head well above troubled waters by adopting strategic measures from time to time.

Behind a success story

AMIT MITRA advertorial

HE has been at the helm of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) for just over a year now. But his contribution in pushing through reforms in the ports sector and placing JNPT on the international maritime trade map, is immense. Today the port is touted as India's own super-port and a major container hub and is well on its way to joining the elite club of global ports. Meet, Ravi B. Budhiraja, Chairman of JNPT. A scholar-bureaucrat, Budhiraja has been instrumental in the swift development of the port. His efforts to wrap up the bidding process for the Rs.1,000-crore third container terminal project have added a new dimension to port privatisation, with the Maersk-Concor consortium, which is all set to win the contract, offering a revenue share of 35.5 per cent to the port.

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One of the major challenges before the JNPT was the handling of one million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units). This was achieved during 2003-04. By February end the terminal handled over 9.05 lakh TEUs and by March end it crossed the one-million TEU mark. In fact, both the JNPT terminal and the Nhava Sheva International Container Terminal (NSICT) together handled two million TEUs by February, thus surpassing the target set by the Ministry of Shipping, the strike rate being 6,123 TEUs a day. Today the port, including NSICT, accounts for over 58 per cent of India's container trade.

Budhiraja is known to be a man who does not rest. Soon after wrapping up the bidding process for the third container terminal, he hastened efforts to launch the bidding process for the fourth. "We have already engaged the Central Water Power Research Station in Pune to conduct physical and mathematical model studies, which will be followed by a feasibility study and a detailed project report. The fourth terminal will have a quay length of 1,200 metres and a handling capacity of three million TEUs," he said.

Simultaneously, the port plans to take up a Rs.700-crore project to deepen and widen the port channel for the faster turnaround of larger vessels.

One oft-asked question is how NSICT has been able to perform better than the JNPT terminal. Budhiraja is quick to point out that this demonstrates how privatisation can bring in competition and how, with the help of modern handling equipment, a higher level of efficiency can be achieved. "In fact, NSICT's operations have increased the productivity of JNPT thanks to private sector-public sector competition. In November 2003, NSICT handled 93,467 TEUs, while JNPT handled 91,107 TEUs," he points out.

The financial performance of the port has also improved. While, JNPT earned a net surplus of Rs.127 crores in 2002-03, it expects to notch up a surplus of Rs.180 crores in 2003-04.

Building quality

A CORRESPONDENT advertorial

Cochin Shipyard Limited, India's most modern ship-building facility with capabilities to handle sophisticated repair jobs, is poised to emerge as the leading shipyard in South-East Asia.

THE shipbuilding and repair industry has always been a key sector in all developed and fast-growing economies as it is highly labour-intensive. Ship construction and repair requires a vast array of inputs so the growth of this industry leads to a broad-based development of the economy.

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Realising this, Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) was set up as a greenfield shipyard in 1972. Today, in spite of intense competition and the lack of a level playing field, this shipyard, considered the most-modern in the country, has secured three shipbuilding orders in the international market in the past three years, the latest being a series order in large ship construction.

Cochin Shipyard has the capacity to build up to 1,10,000 deadweight tonnage (dwt) and repair up to 1,25,000 dwt. It has constructed all types of ships, including bulk carriers, double hull tankers, passenger ships and port craft. CSL has undertaken the repairs of defence and merchant ships, including aircraft carriers, oil rigs, offshore supply vessels, tankers and product carriers. This is the first shipyard to get ISO 9001-200 quality certification from Lloyd's Register of Quality Assurance.

Until the early 1990s, CSL was satisfied with securing orders on nomination from other government undertakings at what was called derived price. However, with liberalisation, public sector shipyards were forced to compete with the leading shipyards of the world and match their price and delivery schedules, in order to secure orders.

Cochin Shipyard was the first Indian yard to adapt to the changing business environment. Realising the demands of the competitive market, it embarked on measures to become commercially viable.

The yard's ship design department was upgraded with the installation of Autocad licences and Tribon software in order to enhance its capacity to generate quality drawings.

Logistics management being a key area, especially in shipbuilding and repairs, purchase procedures were streamlined to reduce lead times. Regular grading and rating of suppliers was introduced for sound logistics management.

Yard facilities were improved by installing key equipment in order to speed up the production process and improve the quality of work. The yard has a self-elevating transporter, ultra high-pressure water jet blasting equipment, CNC plasma cutting machines, CO{-2} welding machines and pipe benders.

As a result of these efforts, CSL is today capable of building ships for international customers. In a major breakthrough in its effort to participate in international projects, the shipyard concluded a contract for building 30,000 dwt bulk carriers for the Clipper Group of Denmark in January. It is also constructing nine tugs for the Jeddah Port Authority, Saudi Arabia, the contract for which was signed in June 2003. In February 2003 the shipyard delivered a 15,000 t jacket launch barge to the National Petroleum Construction Company, Abu Dhabi.

The shipyard commenced ship repair operations in 1982 and has undertaken repairs of all types of vessels . The shipyard has, over the years, developed adequate capabilities to handle complex and sophisticated repair jobs. CSL is the authorised service centre for Sulzer engines. It has so far repaired more than 1,000 vessels. In 2002-03, the yard repaired 50 vessels, of which 80 per cent were delivered on schedule. CSL even wins ship repair contracts in international competition with the yards of Colombo, Singapore, Bahrain and Dubai Drydocks, among others. Besides the natural advantage of good location, CSL has the following strengths:

It has highly skilled naval architects and design engineers, who are well versed in the latest ship design software.

Its engineers are capable of undertaking any complex repair job.

It has a skilled workforce experienced in the construction of a variety of ships.

It has a good system of rating and grading of suppliers, which ensures reliability.

It has a proactive, forward-looking corporate culture.

Apart from the core activities of shipbuilding and repair, CSL has been operating a Marine Engineering Training Institute since 1993. The institute implemented IMO-STCW-95 code of training scheme in February 1997 and received ISO 9001 accreditation exclusively for its marine engineering training in 1999. Recently the yard received the ISO 9001-200 accreditation in conducting marine engineering training.

It has a lot of firsts to its credit. It is the first shipyard to get excellent rating from the Government of India (GOI) three years in a row. With the excellent opportunity promised by the Sagar Mala project, CSL could emerge as a leading shipyard in South-East Asia.

The costs of education

Financing Education in India edited by Jandhyala B.G. Tilak; Ravi Books, New Delhi, 2003; pages 315, Rs.500

ONE of the topics most widely discussed in the country, in public as well as in private conversations, is the state of education. There are achievements and failures to take note of. On the one hand, India has emerged as a global leader in Information Technology competence, but, on the other, there is the embarrassing fact that the country has the largest number of illiterate people in the world. The Constitution made a commitment to make primary education universal by l960, but even today it remains a distant goal. The growth of population has resulted in a surge of children and youth looking for educational opportunities at all levels and it is turning out to be a pressure not easy to cope with. The resolve to make primary education universal and compulsory is still there; it is recognised that education at higher levels needs to be expanded and toned up. But how and by whom are the costs to be met? The volume under review deals with different aspects of this crucial question.

It is a widely recognised dictum that a country that takes its commitment to education seriously must devote about 6 per cent of its Gross National Product (GNP) to the task. That has never been achieved in India. In the early l950s, it was as low as 1.2 per cent, moving up slowly to 4 per cent only in the early 1990s. It came down again, but reached the highest level of 4.5 per cent in 1999-2000. It may be argued that a poor country cannot afford more. But Tilak, in his opening essay, points out that for the African continent as a whole, the corresponding figure was close to 6 per cent and even Sub-Saharan Africa, with some of the poorest countries in the world, showed a figure of 5.6 per cent. According to Human Development Report 200l, among the 143 countries listed, India ranked 104th with respect to the share of GNP spent on education.

That India's performance here is not a reflection of resource constraint, but of priorities is brought out by Manabi Majumdar's chapter on the issue of financing basic education. She cites a report: "If military spending levels are cut by 5 per cent a year over the next five years, it would release . . . over four times what is required for the goal of universal primary education within the next five years. Even just a freeze on military spending levels at current prices will release more than enough resources to attain the universal primary education target." Another recent study cited by her shows that if the economy grows at 5 per cent in real terms and if the tax revenue-Gross Domestic Product ratio is raised from the current level of 16 per cent to 18 per cent, it should be possible to find resources to realise the much postponed objective of universal primary education. If there is a will, there is a way, it is as simple as that.

Financing of higher and technical education is also dealt with. During the past few decades there has been a phenomenal increase in enrolment in this sector and a corresponding increase in the number of institutions dealing with it. However, the financial allocation has not kept pace and the obvious consequence is a fall in standards. The chapters dealing with this sector rightly concentrate on costs and financing. In the absence of all-India studies relating to the costs of technical education, Malathy Duraisamy reports on a case study of the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai. It shows that between 1963-64 and 1995-96, the annual per student expenditure at current prices increased from Rs.3,283 to Rs.98,863 and in constant (1980-81) prices, the figures were Rs.11,613 and Rs.27,129 respectively. During the same period, the share of grant from the Central Government declined from 96.4 per cent to 85.3 per cent and the share of fees declined from 1.9 to 0.2 per cent.

WHAT has to be the nature of financing higher and technical education? Should the state continue to be the main funding agency and, if so, should the dominant element of subsidy continue? Should the students (or their parents) meet a larger share of costs? Should private agencies largely functioning with a profit motive and working on the basis of market principles come to have a greater role in higher and technical education where the element of social benefit is admittedly less pronounced than in primary education?

Several papers in the volume deal with these and related issues. P.R. Pancchamukhi attempts, through a detailed classificatory schema, to bring out the conceptual aspects underlying the set of problems posed above. The thrust of the paper is that the frequent tendency to reduce these issues to a binary public vs private sector question is inadequate and can be misleading. For, there are at least two separate factors to be taken into account the supply of higher education and the funding of it. For each of these there are different possibilities. For instance, the state, profit-oriented private agencies and community agencies interested in welfare can take up the task of providing higher education. Funding can be from the state, through fees, voluntary contributions or varying combinations of these. Once such a broader framework is recognised, the question usually raised, as to whether the state should abdicate its responsibility for higher education and allow the private sector to take it over, becomes ambiguous.

A related aspect is the contribution that households make to the expenditure on education at all levels. (Households share in the funding of education, but not in the provision of formal education.) Their contribution consists of fees, cost of books and other materials such as uniforms, travel, hostel facilities where applicable, and `donations', voluntary or otherwise. There is also, in many instances, the opportunity cost of earnings that those who go in for education forgo, though this is not taken into account in the figures that follow. It may not be widely known that even where schooling is `free', households incur expenses. A survey by the National Council for Applied Economic Research, conducted in the early 1990s and quoted in one of the chapters, shows that household expenditure per student on free elementary education in rural India was Rs.378, with a high of Rs.842 in Himachal Pradesh and a low of Rs.253 in Orissa. But Sailabala Devi, on the basis of a study of Orissa for the same period, arrives at a high figure of Rs.982 of which Rs.335 went for private tuition. Another set of figures shows that per student direct expenditure on elementary education by households in rural India was substantially different as between government schools and private schools and between aided and unaided private schools. More important, even at Rs.378 per pupil, the amount spent by households as a whole on the schooling of children aged six to 14 is a substantial 30 per cent of the total amount by all financial agencies the government, households and others in the community, including private schools.

Does this contribution of households indicate their willingness and ability to pay, or should it be thought of as "forced commercialisation"of a sort? There are two ways of looking at this question. The first is to note that while for households as a whole the expenditure on schooling constituted 2.6 per cent of income, for the poorest section it is as high as 7.3 per cent. To put it mildly, educating children is a burden for poor households. On the other hand, well-to-do households may be prepared to pay even more than what they are paying now. A sample survey of households in Tamil Nadu showed that for collegiate education, including professional education, households were willing to pay 20 to 40 per cent more than what they were paying if the quality of education would improve.

Perhaps this willingness to pay or the demand factor, has resulted in the recent proliferation of self-financing educational institutions at all levels. One of the weaknesses of the volume is that this phenomenon does not get adequate attention. What is the financial motivation of these institutions that are providers of education? Are they net contributors of funds or is their main objective to make profits in a situation of excess demand? What is and what should be the structure of fees that they levy? How well are their teachers and other employees paid? On financing alone, these questions call for answers.

But on themes that it deals with, the volume provides plenty of information, competent analysis and thought-provoking observations.

Outsource, and the urge to insource

"OUTSOURCING has become a national dirty word,'' reports National Journal's Congress Daily.

And it started out so brisk and efficient. Back in 1979, The Journal of Royal Society Arts reported an American auto executive's saying, "We are so short of professional engineers in the motor industry that we are having to outsource design work to Germany." But the business practice of contracting with outside suppliers - especially those outside the United States - soon brought frowns from labour unions. Business Week noted in 1981 that the "decline in auto industry jobs ... will make outsourcing a key issue."

When a new verb makes it to a gerund so quickly, it's a sign that the word fills a linguistic need. (Outsourcing is the present participle of a verb - ending in ing - that is used as a noun, which makes it a gerund, and there'll be a question about that in your exam.) For a generation, as globalisation generated twice as many jobs in the United States as it shipped abroad, the issue was relatively quiescent. But since 2000, when the creation of new jobs began to dip and then further decreased during recession, outsourcing became a favoured political target of populists.

N. Gregory Mankiw, the Harvard economist and political innocent heading the Council of Economic Advisers, placed himself squarely in the bull's-eye. In his annual report - 417 dreary pages issued in the President's name that nobody on the White House staff had the good sense to vet - he noted that "one facet of increased services trade is the increased use of offshore outsourcing, in which a company relocates labour-intensive service-industry functions to another country.'' He then observed, "When a good or service is produced more cheaply abroad, it makes more sense to import it than to make or provide it domestically."

Though few economists would take issue with this idea first propounded by David Ricardo in 1817, the language seemed deliciously insensitive in a campaign year. Mankiw was forced to apologise: "My lack of clarity left the wrong impression that I praised the loss of U.S. jobs."

Writing on the Web site of the leftist magazine The Nation, the iconoclastic Matt Bivens blurted out the truth: "The dirty little secret in all of this is that both parties support free trade - which works roughly as Mankiw describes it. He just wasn't supposed to be so coolly honest about it. It's disconcerting." Even more disconcerting to anti-protectionists was another attack gerund, emphasising the shipment of jobs not just to outside suppliers but also to those in foreign lands: offshoring.

Business interests immediately considered a euphemistic counterattack. A few years ago, in 2001, when legislation was introduced to enable the President to negotiate trade deals without subsequent congressional modifications, free-traders changed the name of fast track authority, which seemed hasty, to trade promotion authority, a lexical coating that helped the necessary medicine go down.

The earliest thought along these lines appeared in 1998 in Fleet Owner magazine, noted by the alert Paul McFedries in his Web site, wordspy.com: "While the traditional model of outsourcing defines the customer and the service provider as two separate systems, the intersourcing model integrates two systems." However, the freshly coined intersource, while a perfectly logical extension of the outsource concept, could lend itself to sexual innuendo on late-night television and was hurriedly abandoned.

This month, a group calling itself the Coalition for Economic Growth and American Jobs (who could be against that?) decided to oust out from outsourcing, proposing instead worldwide sourcing.

Within CEGAJ, as the coalition has not yet become widely known, worldwide was chosen over global because the adjective global had become too warm - that is, the noun formed from the adjective's verb, globalisation, had acquired a pejorative connotation, in turn casting a pall over the root global itself. The use of world as an attributive noun, however, is still OK; that use as a modifier has been long established in World Series, World Cup, World Bank, World Economic Forum, world class, etc. This is despite the fact that the word, as a regular noun, is now eschewed by concerned liberals, who much prefer planet.

Forget international. This soporific modifier has been rejected by naming committees not on ideological grounds but because it is too long a word to fit in a one-column headline. It remains in old and revered institutions, like the International Monetary Fund and the International House of Pancakes, but is not being used in the newest nomenclature.

The astute reader (apparently the only kind I have, judging by sustained and gleeful e-mail howling from the Gotcha! Gang) will note the use of source in its journalistic sense, as "provider of information."

In the inexorable trend toward the verbification of nouns, the question asked a generation ago by editors - "Do you really have a source for this?" - was changed to "How has this been sourced?" As if on cue, in galumphed the gerund - "You have to be careful about sourcing" - and sourcemanship became as good as scholarship. Our use of the gerund (which, you may recall, is a verb ending in ing used as a noun and possesses mysterious syntactical qualities) surely influenced the adoption of outsourcing.

In journalese, sourcing means "getting some living person or historical citation to justify an assertion." Viewed from inside an organisation, a source can be a despised leaker, traditionally described as "a disgruntled ex-employee"; viewed from outside, he or she is a courageous whistle-blower. Closing down an overseas bureau and hiring independent "stringers" to do the reporting can be considered a specialised form of outsourcing. Basing an article on information gleaned from a journalistic colleague is sometimes called sourcing once removed, but maybe we should take another look at intersource.

New York Times Service

A peep into the mind

Mind Wide Open, Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life; Steven Johnson (author of Emergence); Scribner, New York; $25.00, Rs.757.55; Pages 204.

STEVEN BERLIN JOHNSON'S book Mind Wide Open, released in January 2004, seeks to answer the eternal question that everyone has: "Who am I?". Since the question is asked by the mind, knowing how it works helps. Moreover, since we like to think of the mind as a higher-order conglomeration of the different anatomical parts of the brain, the structure and functions of these parts are essential for our understanding of who we are and what makes us tick.

Johnson uses a mix of his everyday experiences and lucid scientific narration rendered at the popular level. We can identify with the experiences he quotes and the demystified scientific explanations he gives while taking us through a tour of the brain. He explains the structure of the brain and what happens inside it when we go through the gamut of emotions of fear, love, pleasure and laughter. It is fascinating to read about the circuitry in our head that we are born with and how the power of our thinking is derived from these circuits or instincts as well as what we assimilate through our experiences. The age-old debate of nature or nurture is laid to rest by showing that we are what we are, owing to both. He shows that our behaviour is governed both by what natural evolution has endowed the human brain with and what our nurturing in the civilised world has taught us. But this learning from our worldly experiences is possible only because nature has endowed our brain with capabilities such as learning, memorising and unconscious recall.

Johnson starts to prise open our minds through a discussion on a more commonly understood subject, "the fight-or-flight" syndrome where the adrenal glands go into overdrive when faced with situations that require a sudden surge of energy, such as a threat of impending danger. He sets the tone and approach of the book by taking us through the experience of a neuro-feedback experiment that he attempts on himself. Indicators of his adrenal level, such as the temperatures of the body extremities, the heartbeat and the level of sweating in the palms, are captured and a combination of these is displayed to him in graphical form. He narrates how by concentrating on the state of excitement his mind is in he is able to effect changes in the graphic indicators of his adrenal flow. Through this and several other such experiments, Johnson helps us get that "brief glimpse of my brain's chemical feedback" to teach us "something new about my personality".

By the end of three chapters, Johnson introduces us to several toolboxes and chemical factories in our brains and links them all up to provide interesting explanations about our behaviour. The fascinating part is to use different faculties of our brain to read consciously explanations about how they function and orchestrate together. This is not very different from seeing through our eyes the image of those same eyes staring back at us from a mirror. Johnson's book is "the story of my journey into that mirror".

As we read on, Johnson, with great ease, alternates between observations of what we do in our everyday experiences and the relevant description of the human brain's anatomy and working. He analyses activities such as talking to colleagues, recognising faces of acquaintances, paying attention, and experiencing emotions, while describing some of the things that we do of which we are not even aware of. He intersperses this with descriptions of the structure and function of relevant parts within the brain, their inter-working, and the chemicals they secrete to make those experiences possible. He provides us with deep insights into and startling revelations about our brain. The revelations are in the nature of how and why we do certain things and the insights pertain to the part of the brain that is involved in those experiences and the evolutionary basis for them.

One insight is that while we converse there is a `silent duet of two internal monologues'. One thought process is translated into speech and delivered while the other runs silently within, plotting what the listener is thinking and anticipating how he/she is likely to respond. A startling fact revealed is that 95 per cent of the time we detect correctly the emotions the other person is undergoing by just looking into his or her eyes. A test conducted by the scientist Simon Baron-Cohen consists of the subject looking at pictures of eyes that include only the eyebrows and the lower part of the eyes and guessing by `gut-feeling' the emotion that they represent. The subject has a choice of over 93 emotions to choose from and yet a statistically large number of people who took the test proved correct 95 per cent of the times. Describing the research of Edouard Claparede and Joseph LeDoux, Johnson provides us more insights into the working of amygdala, the seat of emotions. "The principal insight that emerged... is that the experience of danger follows two pathways in the brain, one conscious and rational, the other unconscious and innate, dubbed the high road and the low road".

Concentration and paying attention is another major topic of discussion revolving around the neuro-biofeedback technique of controlling one's Theta waves, which one can see on a monitor that is fed out of electrodes connected to one's skull. There is an important difference between paying attention as in listening keenly to someone without missing anything and the attention that we pay while concentrating at performing music or participating in sport or other activities at very high levels of perfection. The observation he makes is of Tiger Woods, whose eyes while playing revealed a certain trance-like status oblivious to the cheering of more than 500 fans from close quarters. His own words: "Great athletes are trying to reproduce the strategy that evolution stumbled across when it created the quick-and-dirty route that fear response follows in the brain. If you don't have time to think, better to get rid of thinking." The cortex needs to be conditioned not to think, while the unconscious mind that has perfected what is to be done physically is provided a free reign. Nearer home, we are reminded of Arjuna who did not see or hear anything except the eye of the bird, while taking aim with his arrow.

The astounding example, of a lovely little pair of romantic rodents called Prairie Voles in mid-west United States that remain loyal to each other after their first mating, is provided to show the innate circuitry that we possess, more so the female of our species, for love and tending. Brain Sciences "have placed newfound emphasis on positive emotional circuits after years of obsession with negative emotions". There is also a newfound awareness of gender differentiation in the study of neuro-physiology. It would seem that females are more disposed to tending and caring as security against stressful situations. Unlike males, neither fight nor flight is an option for them when tending to their young ones. Adrenalin gives way to oxytocin, a chemical observed to be released during periods of intense emotional attachment, such as childbirth, breast-feeding and sexual climax. While researching with Prairie Voles, the Emery University Professor Tim Insel found an overlap of oxytocin receptors with dopamine receptors in the area of their brain called "nucleus accumbens", regarded as one of the brain's pleasure centres. "Their brains were wired to form attachments pleasurable."

Like many people, I was always under the impression that laughter is a logical response to humour until I came across Johnson building a case for laughter to be an evolutionary necessity. Quoting Professor Provine's study, he notes that "speakers were laughing more than listeners - 46 per cent more to be precise". The conclusion is that laughter is a human instinct to promote social bonding and the human civilisation later crafted humour to exploit our need for laughter. Related to laughter is our sensitivity to being tickled and that too unexpectedly. This is most obvious when we tickle children and it evokes laughter. Johnson goes on to show how laughter makes you healthier by suppressing stress hormones and elevating immune system antibodies. The instinct is so strong that even a threat or pretence to tickle can evoke laughter. Johnson speculates that this rough and tumble play involving tickling between parent and child could have evolved "as an emotional glue that connects them during the most vulnerable years of the child's development". The physical mechanism of laughter itself is generated in the brain stem, the most ancient region of the nervous system in evolutionary terms. This mechanism also makes laughter infectious. According to Provine, most of the time we do not consciously decide to laugh. We may not even be aware that we are actually laughing and most of the times we have no conscious control of laughter.

For some readers the ultimate reductionism could be in the chapter titled "The Hormones Talking". Some of the scientific discoveries of receptors in the brain that are tuned to receiving painkilling drugs derived from opium such as heroin, morphine, codein and so on have lead to the discovery of the brain's own endogenous opiates such as `enphalins' and `endorphins'. In Johnson's word: "Your brain is nothing but drugs... . Or put another way, it would be nothing without drugs... With every shifting mood, every twitch of anxiety, every lovelorn glance, you are experiencing the release of dedicated chemicals in your brain that controls your emotions." The choreographed secretions of oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and the rest takes us through the high points of pleasure or dumps into depressive moods, resulting in specific events in the body such as a higher heart beat rate, nausea, cold sweat, temperature drop, and so on.

The ramifications of accepting the idea of this neuro-chemical profiling of our moods and personality are controversial. One point of view against it is the fear that some people can usurp unscrupulously the social advantage of profiling a whole class of people along racial, cultural or national lines.

Any book on the mind and its biological structure and working can ignore Sigmund Freud only at the risk of losing its own credibility. Johnson discusses the relevance of Freud at the end of his book. It is amazing to see many of Freud's postulations corroborated by neuroscience. The mapping of id, ego and super ego to the structural model of the `triune brain' proposed by Paul Mclean is fascinating. The model talks of evolutionary layers of the brain `much like a kind of architectural dig site, with a series of settlements stacked on top of the other'. The brain stem is a reptilian relic and forms the lowest layer and is primarily responsible for controlling the body's basic metabolic functions, like the heart rate and breathing. The second layer, known as paleo-mammalian brain or the limbic system, is the seat of emotion and memory, comprising the amygdala, the hyppocampus and the hypothalmus. The topmost layer is the neo-cortex, "the two hemispheres of which spreads across the surface of the brain like a foam insert in a bike helmet". The cortex is the seat of abstract thought, long-term thinking and complex communications. The greatness of Freud is that as early as 1890s he proposed that much of our life is shaped by unconscious mental activity over which we has very little control. Decades of empirical research have endorsed this proposition.

Litterateurs and philosophers have speculated about the mind and human behaviour in different real-life scenarios. Brain science has now made it possible for the mind to be opened wide. "Why not peer inside?"

The standard-bearer

A CORRESPONDENT advertorial

With a diversified fleet strength of 87 vessels, Shipping Corporation of India has a significant presence on the global maritime map.

SHIPPING Corporation of India Ltd. (SCI), the country's premier shipping line, was incorporated on October 2, 1961, by the amalgamation of Eastern Shipping Corporation and Western Shipping Corporation, with an authorised capital of Rs.35 crores and a paid-up capital of Rs.23.45 crores. In 1961, SCI's fleet size stood at 19 vessels totalling 1,39,000 gross tonne (gt) and 1,92,000 deadweight tonnage (dwt). Jayanti Shipping Company was merged with SCI in 1973, leading to an addition of 16 ships, and Mogul Line Ltd in 1986, adding 12 more ships.

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Today SCI has a significant presence on the global maritime map. It owned a fleet of 87 vessels totalling 2.6 million gt (4.6 m dwt) as on February 2, accounting for about 42 per cent of the national tonnage. In addition, it operates a leased vessel and mans/manages 42 vessels on behalf of various government departments. Its diversified fleet, which includes modern and fuel-efficient ships, gives it a distinct competitive edge.

Now SCI has an authorised capital of Rs.450 crores and a paid-up capital of Rs.282.3 crores. For the financial year 2002-03, it recorded a turnover of Rs.2,446.50 crores and a net profit after tax of Rs.274.78 crores. The company paid a dividend of 30 per cent for 2002-03. As per the unaudited financial results for nine months ended December 31, 2003, SCI recorded a turnover of Rs.2,273.13 crores and a net profit after tax of Rs.369.85 crores. The company declared and paid a special interim dividend of 170 per cent for 2003-04.

SCI operates a network of global liner services. As the trend is towards containerised services, it operates four Cellular Container Services covering the Far East, the United Kingdom-Continent sector and the east coast of the United States. In the U.K.-Continent sector, both break-bulk and exclusive container services are provided.

In January 2002, two competing consortia, the India Europe Service (IES) comprising SCI, Zim Lines of Israel and Yang-Ming Lines of Taiwan and the India Europe Express Service (IEX) comprising Evergreen Lines of Taiwan, K-Line (Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha) of Japan and MISC of Malaysia, formed a new consortium offering the trade a weekly service in the Indian subcontinent/U.K.-Continent sector. The service is operated with seven ships of 2,600 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) capacity. It offers a direct container service between India/Sri Lanka and Europe with a transit time of about 18 days between Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust to the U.K.-Continent. The service also covers the central and east Mediterranean ports from Port Said, using the efficient feeder network out of that port. While all the partners have contributed one vessel each, SCI and Zim Lines share the seventh vessel on a 70:30 basis.

In March 2000 SCI commenced a direct joint container service between India and the ports on the east coast of the U.S., the India/American east coast (INDAMEX) cellular service, with M/s. Contship Container Lines Ltd., Ipswich, U.K. and CMA-CGM S.A., Marseilles, France, offering the trade a fixed day/weekly container service. The service was upgraded in terms of tonnage, speed and capacity with the joining of M/s. American President Lines, the largest carrier between India and the U.S., whereby the transit time to New York has been reduced from 21 days to 18 days. The service is operated with seven vessels of 2,100 TEU average capacity and has a round voyage duration of 49 days with the following port rotation: Colombo, Tuticorin, Nhava Sheva, New York, Norfolk, Charleston, Port Said and Colombo.

SCI together with K-Line, Japan, Pacific International Line (PIL), Singapore, and Dongnama Shipping, South Korea, has launched the India/Far East Cellular Service (INDFEX), a direct container service with fixed day/weekly sailing linking India with the Far East ports of South Korea and China. The service was flagged off on June 1, 2001, at Busan (South Korea) with the deployment of five ships of 1,400 TEU with all consortium partners deploying one vessel each and the cost of the fifth ship deployed being shared equally by PIL, K-Line and SCI. The service has evolved into a niche weekly service with a round voyage duration of 35 days, and from January 2003, the service has been upgraded with ships of 1,800 TEU.

SCI launched another joint container service, the India Far-East Express Two (INDFEX 2), in Chennai on June 16, 2002, linking, for the first time, the east coast of India with the northern ports in China. INDFEX 2 is being offered by the consortium of SCI, Dongnama Shipping Company, K-Line and PIL. INDFEX 2 offers a faster, more economic shipping service compared to other competing services that are operated through feeder or transhipment arrangements. The port rotation of this service is: Dalian, Xingang, Yantai, Qingdao, Hong Kong, Singapore, Port Kelang, Chennai, Port Kelang, Singapore, Pasirgudang, Hong Kong and Dalian.

In addition to international operations, SCI, with its owned/managed vessels operates domestic passenger-cum-cargo services between the mainland and the Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep groups of islands. It also mans and manages certain other types of vessels (such as geological survey and ocean research vessels, and the lighthouse tender ship) on behalf of the government departments.

SCI's bulk carrier fleet caters to the movement of almost all types of dry bulk cargoes, mainly in the export of iron ore to Japan and the import of coking coal from Australia. Some tonnage is deployed on the Indian coast and also on cross trades. SCI's fleet of crude tankers is deployed in the import of crude oil to Indian refineries and in the movement/storage of the Bombay High crude. Its product tankers are engaged in the import and coastal movement of petroleum products and its specialised vessels in the transportation of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), ammonia and phosphoric acid.

SCI, in consortium with three Japanese lines - Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd (MOL), NYK and K-Line - has won the bid for the transportation of five million tonnes per annum of LNG (liquefied natural gas) from Qatar's Rasgas for Petronet LNG's (PLL) Dahej project starting January 2004. SCI and MOL have a 34.21 per cent stake each in the consortium, with the remaining 31.58 per cent being shared by NYK (21.05 per cent) and K-Line (10.53 per cent). SCI has diversified into the Indian offshore marine business and provides vital offshore support services to the Indian oil industry in its indigenous oil exploration activities. Its 10 anchor handling towing-cum-supply vessels are on long-term charter to the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation. It manages ONGC's specialised vessels as also its offshore supply vessels (OSVs).

The Government of India conferred the Mini Ratna status on SCI under Category-I in 2000. SCI has been performing exceptionally well under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) evaluation system and has received "excellent" rating consistently for 11 years, up to 2001-02. SCI's Maritime Training Institute (MTI) in Mumbai is recognised as a branch of World Maritime University (Sweden) and as a regional training centre by UNCTAD. SCI operates in a highly competitive international arena and, despite various constraints, has managed to keep its head well above troubled waters by adopting strategic measures from time to time.

Behind a success story

AMIT MITRA advertorial

HE has been at the helm of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) for just over a year now. But his contribution in pushing through reforms in the ports sector and placing JNPT on the international maritime trade map, is immense. Today the port is touted as India's own super-port and a major container hub and is well on its way to joining the elite club of global ports. Meet, Ravi B. Budhiraja, Chairman of JNPT. A scholar-bureaucrat, Budhiraja has been instrumental in the swift development of the port. His efforts to wrap up the bidding process for the Rs.1,000-crore third container terminal project have added a new dimension to port privatisation, with the Maersk-Concor consortium, which is all set to win the contract, offering a revenue share of 35.5 per cent to the port.

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One of the major challenges before the JNPT was the handling of one million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units). This was achieved during 2003-04. By February end the terminal handled over 9.05 lakh TEUs and by March end it crossed the one-million TEU mark. In fact, both the JNPT terminal and the Nhava Sheva International Container Terminal (NSICT) together handled two million TEUs by February, thus surpassing the target set by the Ministry of Shipping, the strike rate being 6,123 TEUs a day. Today the port, including NSICT, accounts for over 58 per cent of India's container trade.

Budhiraja is known to be a man who does not rest. Soon after wrapping up the bidding process for the third container terminal, he hastened efforts to launch the bidding process for the fourth. "We have already engaged the Central Water Power Research Station in Pune to conduct physical and mathematical model studies, which will be followed by a feasibility study and a detailed project report. The fourth terminal will have a quay length of 1,200 metres and a handling capacity of three million TEUs," he said.

Simultaneously, the port plans to take up a Rs.700-crore project to deepen and widen the port channel for the faster turnaround of larger vessels.

One oft-asked question is how NSICT has been able to perform better than the JNPT terminal. Budhiraja is quick to point out that this demonstrates how privatisation can bring in competition and how, with the help of modern handling equipment, a higher level of efficiency can be achieved. "In fact, NSICT's operations have increased the productivity of JNPT thanks to private sector-public sector competition. In November 2003, NSICT handled 93,467 TEUs, while JNPT handled 91,107 TEUs," he points out.

The financial performance of the port has also improved. While, JNPT earned a net surplus of Rs.127 crores in 2002-03, it expects to notch up a surplus of Rs.180 crores in 2003-04.

Building quality

A CORRESPONDENT advertorial

Cochin Shipyard Limited, India's most modern ship-building facility with capabilities to handle sophisticated repair jobs, is poised to emerge as the leading shipyard in South-East Asia.

THE shipbuilding and repair industry has always been a key sector in all developed and fast-growing economies as it is highly labour-intensive. Ship construction and repair requires a vast array of inputs so the growth of this industry leads to a broad-based development of the economy.

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Realising this, Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) was set up as a greenfield shipyard in 1972. Today, in spite of intense competition and the lack of a level playing field, this shipyard, considered the most-modern in the country, has secured three shipbuilding orders in the international market in the past three years, the latest being a series order in large ship construction.

Cochin Shipyard has the capacity to build up to 1,10,000 deadweight tonnage (dwt) and repair up to 1,25,000 dwt. It has constructed all types of ships, including bulk carriers, double hull tankers, passenger ships and port craft. CSL has undertaken the repairs of defence and merchant ships, including aircraft carriers, oil rigs, offshore supply vessels, tankers and product carriers. This is the first shipyard to get ISO 9001-200 quality certification from Lloyd's Register of Quality Assurance.

Until the early 1990s, CSL was satisfied with securing orders on nomination from other government undertakings at what was called derived price. However, with liberalisation, public sector shipyards were forced to compete with the leading shipyards of the world and match their price and delivery schedules, in order to secure orders.

Cochin Shipyard was the first Indian yard to adapt to the changing business environment. Realising the demands of the competitive market, it embarked on measures to become commercially viable.

The yard's ship design department was upgraded with the installation of Autocad licences and Tribon software in order to enhance its capacity to generate quality drawings.

Logistics management being a key area, especially in shipbuilding and repairs, purchase procedures were streamlined to reduce lead times. Regular grading and rating of suppliers was introduced for sound logistics management.

Yard facilities were improved by installing key equipment in order to speed up the production process and improve the quality of work. The yard has a self-elevating transporter, ultra high-pressure water jet blasting equipment, CNC plasma cutting machines, CO{-2} welding machines and pipe benders.

As a result of these efforts, CSL is today capable of building ships for international customers. In a major breakthrough in its effort to participate in international projects, the shipyard concluded a contract for building 30,000 dwt bulk carriers for the Clipper Group of Denmark in January. It is also constructing nine tugs for the Jeddah Port Authority, Saudi Arabia, the contract for which was signed in June 2003. In February 2003 the shipyard delivered a 15,000 t jacket launch barge to the National Petroleum Construction Company, Abu Dhabi.

The shipyard commenced ship repair operations in 1982 and has undertaken repairs of all types of vessels . The shipyard has, over the years, developed adequate capabilities to handle complex and sophisticated repair jobs. CSL is the authorised service centre for Sulzer engines. It has so far repaired more than 1,000 vessels. In 2002-03, the yard repaired 50 vessels, of which 80 per cent were delivered on schedule. CSL even wins ship repair contracts in international competition with the yards of Colombo, Singapore, Bahrain and Dubai Drydocks, among others. Besides the natural advantage of good location, CSL has the following strengths:

It has highly skilled naval architects and design engineers, who are well versed in the latest ship design software.

Its engineers are capable of undertaking any complex repair job.

It has a skilled workforce experienced in the construction of a variety of ships.

It has a good system of rating and grading of suppliers, which ensures reliability.

It has a proactive, forward-looking corporate culture.

Apart from the core activities of shipbuilding and repair, CSL has been operating a Marine Engineering Training Institute since 1993. The institute implemented IMO-STCW-95 code of training scheme in February 1997 and received ISO 9001 accreditation exclusively for its marine engineering training in 1999. Recently the yard received the ISO 9001-200 accreditation in conducting marine engineering training.

It has a lot of firsts to its credit. It is the first shipyard to get excellent rating from the Government of India (GOI) three years in a row. With the excellent opportunity promised by the Sagar Mala project, CSL could emerge as a leading shipyard in South-East Asia.

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Oct 9,2020