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COVER STORY

23-04-2004

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Briefing

THE NEW POWER CENTRES

ZOYA HASAN cover-story

Indian politics has undergone fundamental changes since the 1980s, with regional parties coming to determine the fate of national governments. Has the growing political weight of these parties contributed meaningfully to the quality of the political system? An analysis.

THE rising importance of regional parties constitutes one of the most significant changes in India's recent politics. After a period of relative stability spanning three decades, Indian politics has undergone fundamental changes from the late 1980s, shifting the level of politics from the Centre to the States. From 1989 to 1999, the Congress' majority fell to an all-time low - well short of the vote share needed for a seat majority. India then moved from a national political system dominated by the centrist Congress to a coalition government led by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party in association with numerous regional and State parties. The BJP, which emerged as the single largest party in Parliament in 1996, has, however, not been able to fill the vacuum created by the decline of the Congress. This period witnessed the emergence of regional parties that came to determine the fate of national governments, the fracturing of the electorate and the arrival of coalitions, which these parties have deftly used for expanding their presence in both national and State politics.

The clout of regional parties has increased markedly in the last few years, which is evident most significantly from the process of government formation at the Centre. The installation of the BJP in power in New Delhi could not have happened without the support of regional parties in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Powerful regional parties, which include the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the Trinamul Congress, the Akali Dal, the Samata Party and the Biju Janata Dal, supported the NDA. In 1996, almost all these regional parties dominated the United Front (U.F.) coalition of `democratic and secular forces' playing a key role in the selection of H.D. Deva Gowda as Prime Minister. Two years later, N. Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and president of the TDP, played a critical role in ensuring that Atal Bihari Vajpayee became Prime Minister. No one was left in doubt of the enormity of the transition from one-party dominance to regionally-driven coalition politics.

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In the event of a hung Parliament in 2004, regional parties may yet again play a decisive role in government formation as both kingmakers and partners in power. Even though the BJP has comprehensively dominated the NDA, its regional allies will be able to take advantage of the inability of the BJP or the Congress to form a government on its own strength. This is in sharp contrast with the past when regional and State parties held office in the States at the pleasure of strong Central governments.

The emergence of regional/State parties has been the most striking feature of Indian politics, regionalising the polity substantially. Recent election verdicts confirmed the new political situation in which the electoral process produced not a national verdict, but an aggregation of regional and local verdicts. Neither of the major parties - the BJP and the Congress - emerged from the 1996, 1998, 1999 elections with close to a majority in the Lok Sabha and neither are they likely to win a majority in the foreseeable future. These election verdicts, reflecting the obvious necessity of coalition governments embracing numerous political parties, emphasise the decisive importance of regional and State parties.

How did this happen? At the institutional level, India's parliamentary federal structure provides the basic framework within which national and State parties can coexist. The distribution of powers between the Centre and States offers incentives to set up State parties. However, as long as India was a centralised federation, the Congress dominated it. Once the federation began to loosen up, a multiplicity of parties emerged in the States. The first-past-the-post or simple majority system accentuates this trend and encourages the growth of regional parties at the expense of national parties. The rise of regional parties was partly a natural development and partly a reaction to over-centralisation by crucial national leaders and Congress governments in the 1970s and 1980s. Over-centralisation produced a counterweight - the federalisation of the polity and formation of new regional and State-based parties.

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At the centre of transformation is the crumbling of the Congress system, which for four decades occupied a position of dominance in the politics of the nation and most of the States. Realignments caused by the Ayodhya and Mandal issues shrunk the party's social base and reduced its vote share to an all-time low of 28 per cent in 1996. The 1989 elections was a turning point, which saw the rise of the BJP, and regional or State parties. Although the regionalisation process dates from 1967, it is since 1989, when the era of coalition governance began, that the process has triggered the emergence of new State parties with mergers and alliances, together with the break-up of some nominally national parties and factions and the assimilation of others. Thus, caste and class clusters that were once part of the Congress coalition have found a voice through other parties. The rapid mobilisation of the socially underprivileged groups has resulted in a realignment of political parties along State, sub-State and caste lines, creating conflict among them and against the upper castes.

At a broader level, these momentous changes are partly an outcome of specific social and political circumstances in different States, propelling the growth of contending regional formations with their own social agendas. The process of change is closely linked to the differential dynamics of the decline of the Congress and the emergence of specific regional and vernacular discourses that have eroded centralised political authority. This decentering of politics has shifted the locale from New Delhi to the States with their distinct cultures, discourses and caste-class and caste-community mobilisations and alliances.

The single most important source of change is the entry of the propertied intermediate and middle castes, the chief beneficiaries of commercialisation of agriculture in the last few decades. Regional parties have also become powerful advocates of regional business interests. Over the years, the new social bloc courted alternative non-Congress political formations to enhance its influence in the States and at the Centre, knowing full well that it stands to gain the most from the decline of the Congress.

Regional pressures have shifted the centre of gravity to the more prosperous States of southern and western India with capital accumulating and gravitating there to the new economy. The relatively higher levels of development in these States demonstrated the benefits of regionalisation, which has clearly helped in building broad-based political affinities that can make claims on the Central government to augment development opportunities and public investment. One outcome of the struggle for economic and political power is an increase in the representation of the vernacular elite in government - the elite who had established themselves at the local and regional levels. It is illustrated by the strategic shift from protests against Brahmin domination to the appropriation and consolidation of political power through an acquisition of economic clout, control over the educational system and jobs in the government sector. The social constellations giving rise to these shifts vary from State to State, but the unmistakable upshot of regionalisation has been the rise to power of intermediate classes and castes in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra. This process is under way in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

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Three principal changes are in progress: the Centre is not pre-eminent in the way it was during the Congress rule; there has been a growth in the power of State governments and an increased role for States in national policy-making; the regional parties representing the socio-economic and political power of the intermediate castes and classes have readily extended support to the BJP government at the Centre and in the States as well. The growth and collaboration of the regional parties with the BJP proved to be a great boon for its expansion. The two major exceptions are the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar and the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) in Uttar Pradesh, which have so far refused to support the BJP.

Overall, the direct support of regional parties has enabled the formation of the BJP-led government in New Delhi, but also, more crucially, facilitated the process of acceptability of the BJP/Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) in the political mainstream. The National Front coalition of 1989 began the process of ending the BJP's untouchable status, culminating in the normalisation of the BJP/RSS by 1999. Traditionally, political untouchability had prevented the BJP and the former Jan Sangh from attracting political support.

Learning from the Janata Party experience of 1977-79, the National Front did not try to unify very different parties in a single formation. Instead, it put together a distinct grouping of Left, socialist, regional and caste parties. Of immense significance was the concept of "seat adjustments", first used in 1977 by the Opposition against the Congress, which proved to be a great incentive for all types of political adjustments. In this form of alliance, parties do not compete in each other's strongholds and thus do not poach on each other's turf; that is, they are spatially compatible even when they are ideologically and politically incompatible. Nevertheless, despite being a bold experiment in "adjustment", the marriage of convenience of the National Front with the BJP and the Left in 1989 was soon annulled on grounds of incompatibility with the BJP over secularism.

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It would be useful at this stage to move to the 1996 elections and consider the party configuration that emerged after the 1996 and 1998 elections. The Congress lost its dominant position and, since 1996, has won only a quarter of votes and a little more than a 100 seats in Parliament. Yet, while the Congress was clinging to the idea that one party can speak for all of India; its premier rival, the BJP, had factored the rise of regionalism into its own scheme of things. Even at the rhetorical level, the Congress refused to countenance the idea of coalition governance, equating it with instability. The party revealed itself to be out of tune with the aspirations of the new segments entering the political process.

It is important to remember that the problem was not just that the Congress had illusions of restoring the party's pre-eminence but that it was the principal opponent of several State parties in their regional strongholds. Indeed, most regional and State-based parties have risen to prominence by building anti-Congress coalitions.

To the contrary, the electoral trajectories of the BJP and the regional parties are not fundamentally in conflict simply because their respective bases lie in different sets of States. This fact alone explains the coalitions that have emerged between the BJP and regional parties since 1998, in addition to the regional parties' desire for a share in power in the national governing coalition.

After its failure to secure a majority to preserve its 13-day government in May 1996, the BJP was quick to draw the lessons and moved swiftly to forge alliances on an unprecedented scale for a major national party. For a short period from 1996 to 1998, the influential secular/communal divide shaped coalition-building and the choice of alliance partners. However, the unity of secular forces proved short-lived and the BJP somehow became an acceptable partner. This unity was confined to the United Front government's term in office. It proved inadequate when pitted against the attractions of anti-Congressism. The Congress/anti-Congress divide, a legacy of four decades of Congress dominance, outlasted the postulate of secular unity in determining alliances. More crucially, anti-Congressism helped the BJP to marshal support from regional and State parties, which are bitterly opposed to the Congress. Even Left parties, such as the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc, and parties such as the S.P. adamantly opposed the idea of a Congress-led government.

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THE 1998 election was an even more important turning point for coalition politics as the BJP was able to strike explicit or tacit alliances with a range of regional/State parties, which were earlier with the United Front. In 1999, the BJP was still more explicit in embracing coalition politics, and alliances with regional parties. This shift in strategy consisting of a wide range of alliances helped it to increase its electoral support in States where it had no strong presence.

Thanks to the support of the very regional parties that were earlier an essential part of the U.F. coalition to keep the BJP out of power in 1996, the BJP performed better in the 1999 elections and emerged as the nucleus of party politics. These regional allies helped the BJP win the elections, not only by providing a vast number of seats to make up the majority in Parliament, but also by delivering crucial votes to BJP candidates in those parliamentary constituencies where the regional allies did not contest in favour of the national partner. Most important, this improved the BJP's image and social base, which continues to be overwhelmingly upper and middle class, and upper caste. Its alliance partners filled the geographical and social gaps in the party's support among the middle and lower strata of the social and economic hierarchy.

These elections herald the growth of an astonishing pattern of collaboration driven by a complicated interaction between regionalisation, social fragmentation and communalisation. The advent of three new political projects marked the reconfiguration of the structure of politics: Hindutva, Mandalisation and neo-liberalism. These three projects sought to reinvent the national political community, privileging religious community or caste or class as the anchor of their respective political designs. But, paradoxically, the three distinct efforts to homogenise politics ended up creating a polity differentiated at the State or regional level.

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The mainsprings of this process has been the Mandal agenda of reservations for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the main plank of the V.P. Singh government's effort to counter the Hindutva agenda. These events had given rise to the hope that the OBC-supported regional parties would remain opposed to Hindutva in the light of the historical opposition of backward castes, middle and rich peasantary and socialists to Brahmin domination. Instead, the vigorous articulation of State interests by regional parties has provided the rationalisation for coalition-building between ideologically incompatible partners.

This process of reconfiguration of the political space has seen the vote and seat share of the regional parties or alliances go up, thereby making the system more pluralistic and competitive. This is reflected in the bigger electoral presence of State parties in national politics in the past four elections. Regional/State parties increased their share of Lok Sabha seats from 54 in 1991 to 167 in 1999, and their vote share from 24 in 1996 to 30 per cent in 1999. This increase has taken place at the expense of national parties, especially the BJP and the Congress, which have stagnated around 300 seats between them. Today, regional/State parties are contenders for power in all States except Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. If we take the seven largest States, which account for 310 seats, it is evident that national parties have to play second fiddle to regional parties. This trend is evident in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and West Bengal.

THE growing political weight of regional parties raises a number of issues. The first is the nature of regionalisation itself. Not all regional parties are even regionalist, in the sense of representing demands for cultural autonomy or grievances against the central state. Parties that are explicitly regional in character often emphasise their role as guardians of the interests and cultural identity of the regions. There are many parties, which are State-based and less inclined to stress the distinctiveness of their regions. This is partly because regionalist demands have less appeal in those parts of India where these parties command influence and partly because some of them stress caste and class differences more than regional identities. Regional appeals would undercut the claims of these parties to be national and consequently reduce their influence in national politics. Nevertheless, inter-State disputes and ethnic politics are aggravated by regionalism. The recent conflict over recruitment of semi-skilled workers in the railways indicates the social fragmentation that result from the rise of regional politics.

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The second question that must be addressed is this: what are the implications of fragmentation and proliferation of parties for a higher order aggregation, given the tendency of parties and factions to represent narrower and narrower segments of society, expressed mainly in terms of regional and caste blocs? The fact is that many regional parties are personality-driven offshoots of parties that were once part of national parties and they tend to represent a particular set of social groups, usually built around caste loyalties. These leaders are mainly interested in obtaining the spoils of office that come from partnership with the ruling BJP.

One consequence has been the short shrift given to policy issues in electoral politics. This means a reduced capacity to construct broad-based social coalitions in support of public issues. Parties such as the S.P. and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which are not limited to specific States, have not been able to expand beyond the boundaries of Uttar Pradesh. These parties, which seek to represent a broad array of individual castes within broader umbrella social categories, such as Dalits or backward castes, find their social bases fragmenting to a significant degree. This is because caste politics has largely confined itself to gaining access to power rather than any substantial agenda of social transformation. This is why broad-based alliances of lower-caste groups have been relatively few and unstable and have had more success when they have mobilised on the basis or shared regional identity.

The third and most vital concern must be to assess whether the BJP's reliance on regional/State parties will serve to restrain the party's efforts to transform the Indian state into a Hindu nation-state, in which citizenship is reducible to one's faith. This involves two distinct questions: whether such parties will be prepared to restrain Hindutva, and whether they will be able to. In six years of BJP-led NDA rule, we have confronted huge challenges to accepted notions of citizenship, equality, identity, culture and nation, a massive communal political mobilisation, which has led to a change in the form and content of nationalism. The proponents of cultural nationalism want to transform India into a powerful nation, based not on ideas enshrined in the Constitution, but on an imagined past, evoking the greatness of Hindu India. The "India Shining" campaign in the midst of rising inequality is a classic example of elite manipulation of nationalism to obscure the injustices of class and wealth. The Gujarat carnage - following the horrific burning of the Sabarmati Express at the Godhra station killing 59 Hindus - aided and abetted both by the State and local BJP/RSS politicians, may have caused the BJP's coalition partners some discomfort, but certainly not enough to walk out of the alliance.

In other words, the hope that regional parties would act as a restraining influence on the BJP/RSS agenda has not been fulfilled. Other calculations clearly discourage the BJP's regional allies from defending the values of secularism. But looking ahead, the collaboration of regional parties with the BJP is bound to open up conflicts as the BJP aspires to a position of dominance at the expense of the smaller parties. The political logic of the NDA coalition that brought its allies together and the BJP to power is open to change at short notice.

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Finally, is coalition formula the only way for national political parties to mobilise and expand support in a heterogeneous polity? The huge gains of the BJP from this strategy would seem to suggest that this approach is spot on. Can the Congress form the core of an alternative winning coalition? This time the Congress has worked energetically at forging coalitions. Its alliances in Maharashtra, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand appear to be strong coalitions, which should pay electoral dividends.

It is no doubt important to build alliances, but alliance building should not become a surrogate for social and economic issues. Policy actions of parties such as the Congress do not reflect popular concerns despite benefiting from lower caste and class support. To counter the BJP's pursuit of economic elitism, it is imperative to change the terrain of public discourse. The Congress needs to project a clear left-of-centre profile as a party committed to ameliorating serious material deprivation and achieving effective social equality. Only this leftward turn will consolidate its secular support and reverse the trend of communalisation, regionalisation and trivialisation of political discourse, which has been the legacy of five years of NDA rule.

Zoya Hasan is Professor of Political Science, Centre for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

The neo-liberal consensus

V. SRIDHAR cover-story

A strange feature of Indian federalism is that State governments run by regional parties, which claim to represent regional aspirations, have invariably followed the same economic agenda as that of the Central government.

POLITICS, in the time of economic liberalisation, seems to suffer from apparent paradoxes. Although coalition governments at the Centre are now deemed to be an abiding feature of Indian politics, and although regional parties now enjoy a greater degree of leverage with the Union government than before, these parties do not seem to have been able to determine the direction of economic policy formulated at the Centre. Instead, regional parties, with varying political orientations, have pushed the same economic policy formulations advocated and prescribed by the Centre. State governments run by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress(I) and regional parties have pursued similar policies. Instead of a plural economic agenda, which one would expect from the sharing of political power, the tendency since the 1990s has been to pursue of straitjacketed policies in the name of liberalisation.

The message is that the nature of governments does not matter, that politics is irrelevant, that ideologies do not exist and, importantly, that there is no alternative to liberalisation A one-size-fits-all approach to economic policy that advocates the same set of liberal policies for all States, irrespective of the people's aspirations, is a striking feature of the situation. The significant paradox is this: Although regional parties emerged with the promise that they would address regional aspirations, despite the mounting evidence that liberal policies have severely strained State finances and despite their proximity to the Centre and ability to leverage it, they have continued to implement policies that impinge on their ability to address the concerns of the constituencies that they claim to represent.

Regional parties have emerged owing to a complex set of circumstances; they were essentially seen as a result of the decline of the Congress(I) over the years. Initially many of these parties proclaimed that they intended to fulfil the unmet aspirations of the people of their respective States, particularly those relating to development. The "insensitivity" of the Congress(I) to regional aspirations and the perception that the States were being denied their share of financial resources mobilised by the Centre were also key issues that led to the formation of these parties. For instance, since the issue of Centre-State relations first figured in its election manifesto of 1967, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu has repeatedly raised the issue of Centre-State financial relations, claiming that they proved the unequal nature of federal relations in India. When N.T. Rama Rao formed the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh in 1982 he raised the question of "Telugu pride", implying that the Congress(I) was undermining the interests of Andhra Pradesh. The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Orissa, led by Naveen Patnaik, was formed after the death of Biju Patnaik who is generally regarded as the founder of modern Orissa. All three parties have been a part of the National Democratic Alliance. The DMK was until recently a part of the NDA, the TDP has been a key ally since the last Lok Sabha elections, and the BJD has from its inception chosen to ally with the BJP in Orissa. Why is it that these parties choose to follow - or, in the case of Andhra Pradesh, even take the lead in pursuing - the policies initiated by the Centre even when they threaten to erode their popular base substantially? Or, is it just that regional parties are using their bargaining power in the era of coalition politics to register opportunistic short-term gains?

THE case of the N. Chandrababu Naidu government in Andhra Pradesh is a good example of this paradoxical situation. The ruling TDP has provided crucial support to the NDA government. Earlier, it also participated in the short-lived United Front government. Being a part of either governments does not seem to have made a difference to the way economic policy is formulated in Andhra Pradesh. The TDP is regarded as the most "reform-oriented" State in the country. Since the mid-1990s Chandrababu Naidu has initiated economic reforms that have transformed the State. He has dealt directly with the World Bank and negotiated huge loans that have been controversial. All the key aspects of the classical liberal agenda are in place in Andhra Pradesh (Frontline, June 18, 1999).

Andhra Pradesh has been a laboratory for testing State-level reforms in India under the watchful eyes of the World Bank. Between 1998 and 2002, the State government signed three structural adjustment loan agreements with the World Bank, totalling $1.14 billion. The World Bank loan for the Andhra Pradesh Economic Restructuring Project (APERP) initiated far-reaching reforms in almost every sector of economic and social activity in the State.

The conditionalities that the government accepted have resulted in a substantial reduction in subsidies of all kinds. The popular subsidised rice supply scheme was among the most important casualty of the reforms. The measures also included the revision of "user charges" for social and economic services provided by the government in areas ranging from water to health and education. The "restructuring" of public sector undertakings has meant the outright privatisation of nine State undertakings, disinvestment in eight others, and the closure of 22 units; 11 others have been "restructured". Almost 22,000 workers in State enterprises have lost their jobs; they were eased out through what is euphemistically described as VRS (Voluntary Retirement Scheme). Awaiting a similar fate under the second phase (2002-03 to 2006-07) are 16 State-owned corporations, 43 cooperatives and nine other industrial units. Andhra Pradesh recently became the first State of the Indian Union to amend the provisions of the Contract Labour Act, which will facilitate industrial units to hire temporary or contract labour for their "non-core" activities. The government is also committed to implementing legislation that will help industries by removing the "rigidities" in the labour market.

The emergence of the TDP can be traced to the social churn caused by the Green Revolution in Andhra Pradesh, particularly in the coastal areas. The commercialisation of paddy-based agriculture in the 1960s and 1970s led to the emergence of a rich peasant class, which also provided the base for the growth of an entrepreneurial class. B.V. Raghavalu, secretary of the State committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), points out that the growing economic clout of the Kammas in coastal Andhra at that time was not matched by their access to political power. The internal squabbles in the Congress(I), which had enjoyed a monopoly of power in the State, and the mass upsurge between 1979 and 1982 when the State was rocked by a series of popular agitations provided the ideal setting for the TDP to fill the vacuum created by the decline of the Congress(I). The TDP's slogan to uphold "Telugu pride" became popular in a setting in which N.T. Rama Rao's political plank rested firmly on welfare measures for the poor. These measures had three main components - the supply of rice at Rs.2 a kilogram, clothing under the Janatha Vastra scheme, and the prohibition of liquor.

Although Chandrababu Naidu has dismantled all these programmes, he has replaced them by other schemes, particularly on the eve of elections - issuing ration cards, providing house sites, schemes for artisans, schemes targeted at the minorities, and other development programmes. Says Raghavalu: "Instead of launching universal programmes the TDP government has scattered resources on schemes that aim to please a variety of sections. The attempt is to woo people who have been affected by the government's liberal policies."

It is significant that many of these programmes were built into the World Bank's strategy of restructuring the economy of Andhra Pradesh. Even as it launched a major structural adjustment programme that would have an adverse impact on the poor, the Bank also launched a set of anti-poverty programmes. Raghavalu says that by doing this the Bank has provided "safety valves" for the government by making a provision of Rs.3,000 crores for several welfare programmes. The funds have enabled the formation of 4,65,000 self-help groups with each group consisting of 20 women, under the Development of Women and Child in Rural Areas (DWCRA) programme. Raghavalu argues that "in some measure the Bank's funds have been used by the TDP to develop its own organisational network among women".

The APERP allocated almost Rs.500 crores to the Integrated Child Development Scheme. The primary education programme received more than Rs.500 crores. It is generally accepted that the TDP enjoys a privileged relationship with the NDA government because its support has been crucial to the latter's survival. For instance, Andhra Pradesh managed to get 48 lakh tonnes of foodgrains allocated from the Centre for drought relief, which was far higher than what any other State could secure. World Bank loans are normally routed through the Centre, and the Central government normally withholds about 15 per cent of the amount since it guarantees the loans sought by the States. The Andhra Pradesh government managed to get this practice waived by the Centre. The TDP government was recently sanctioned an additional loan of Rs.1,200 crores by the World Bank with the approval of the Centre. Although the Central government and the Planning Commission had initially raised objections to this loan, doubting the State's ability to repay, they quietly gave the nod as the elections approached.

DURING a decade of reforms, the finances of State governments have turned precarious. One of the key features of the liberalised regime has been its tax structure. The increasingly permissive regime meant that the gross tax revenues of the Union government fell from 9.14 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 1997-98 to 8.10 per cent in 2001-02. Meanwhile, the combined revenue deficit of the States increased sharply between 1997-98 and 2001-02 - from 1.21 per cent of GDP to 4.39 per cent. In 2002-03 the outstanding liabilities of the States amounted to a whopping 30 per cent of the country's national income. Even as the States' financial situation worsened, the interest rate on borrowings made by the States increased - from 8.96 per cent in 1992-93 to 10.61 per cent in 2002-03. In fact, this happened even as the rest of the economy regarded interest rates as having bottomed out.

Sitaram Yechury, Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M), argues that many of the regional parties are merely pursuing the interests of the "regional bourgeoisie". This, he says, explains why they implement the same policies advocated by the ruling party at the Centre. He insists that the resistance to liberal economic policies does not stem from the differences between the all-India and regional parties. Instead, he says: "It stems from the ideological orientation of parties." Yechury adds that some regional parties, through experience, "have also moved away from their initial enthusiasm for reforms". The Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (Secular), for instance, have taken a more forthright position against reforms, particularly on matters relating to the World Trade Organisation. These parties, because of pressure from below, particularly the peasantry, which forms the core of their mass base, have moved away from their initial enthusiasm. However, Yechury feels that the classical regional parties, which emerged in region-specific contexts, "remain tied to the liberal agenda". These parties, he says, "are promoting the interests of the regional bourgeoisies and vested interests in the regions".

Yechury says that there is "little possibility for contradictions emerging on the question of economic policies per se". However, the widening regional disparities can cause the situation to change rapidly. Yechury feels that regional parties, in order to protect their own regions, are likely to make demands that may come into conflict with the government at the Centre. He says that in the face of the growing fiscal crisis, the regional parties have tried to bargain with the Centre rather than seek a change in policy. He says: "Although all the States are in a financial crisis, each State run by a regional party would like to get out of the crisis by bargaining with the Centre rather than seek a reversal of the policies that led to this situation."

This process of political bargaining has obvious limits. For instance, the TDP's hold on the NDA would depend heavily on not only its own electoral performance but also that of the other constituents of the NDA. If the NDA performs better in the next elections, it may not be so heavily dependent on the TDP for its survival. In such a situation, Chandrababu Naidu may in fact have to reckon with less leverage, which could severely curtail his ability to manage the crisis in the State. That may have lessons to offer for other regional parties as well.

Northeastern challenges

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THE exchange took place sometime during the late Hiteswar Saikia's second stint as Assam Chief Minister (1991-95). Responding to accusations that the leaders of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the first regional party to have formed a government in the State, had spawned and had continued to have links with separatist and secessionist outfits like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), AGP leader and former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta had said that that far from being in bed with such elements, the AGP was in fact "a regional party with a national outlook". Never one to allow a political opponent to have the last word, Hiteswar Saikia had countered by defining the Congress(I) in Assam as a "national party with a regional outlook".

These formulations, even admitting their mindlessness, do underline the sea change that has come about in the political dynamics as it finds expression in what, for want of a better word, may be called the `ideology' of political parties, and rather more clearly in periodic elections. This is certainly the case in Assam and the northeast of India, and perhaps in much of the rest of the country as well. A decade after the above formulations, the Congress(I) in Assam is not merely steadfastly regional in its outlook, but is so nationally as well, trying to appropriate the thunder of the regional parties in State after State. Indeed, this is so even of the Bharatiya Janata Patty which, despite its historic ideology of one nation one people and, ideally, also one religion and one language and one-everything, is happily trying to get into bed with the most exclusivist regional ideologies in the northeast of the country.

If the challenges posed by regionalism and its more virulent variations, like the explicitly secessionist insurgency in Nagaland and the not so covert secessionist aspirations of the Dravidian political parties, to the process of nation building and the consolidation of the Indian nation state was a major preoccupation of policymakers during the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, even though during those years that process was also idealistically seen to be going on in an almost seamless manner, the current preoccupations are rather the reverse.

Strictly speaking, regionalism has never lacked legitimacy, even political legitimacy. Whether the newly-independent Indian nation state should be a unitary state or a federal state was a key issue in the debates over the making of the Indian Constitution. The debate finally found a meeting point in a typical reconciliation, unity in diversity.

Indeed, the political legitimacy of regionalism predates these debates since the Congress(I) that led the freedom movement had, in the manner in which it had structured itself, acknowledged and formally recognised regional languages as the crucial element of the cultural inheritance that defined the Indian people. The linguistic reorganisation of States flowed logically from this perspective. The exercise has not yet ended, though language, at last overtly, has not Tbeen the deciding rationale for the creation of new States.

However, regional aspirations continued to be seen in the formative years of the Indian nation state as bespeaking a deviant, illegitimate and near treasonable ideology and state of mind. In fact, the production of academic works, with considerable assistance from foreign funding agencies, analysing regionalism, linguistic and `ethnic' nationalism, all under the broad rubric of `sub-nationalism', as either a promise or a threat, depending upon the ideological bent of the scholar and the agencies funding her or him, was and continues to be a thriving growth industry.

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In contrast, and perhaps partly as a result of these exertions, and partly as a more true reflection of Indian reality, the ideology of regionalism has now become mainstream to which every political tendency subscribes, in fact if not in form. Despite protestations to the contrary and claims to be the only genuinely national party with an all-India spread, the Congress(I) has always been quick on the draw in promoting and exploiting the basest chauvinist passions, all in the name of regional gaurav (pride). How else can one explain the position taken by the Congress(I) and its allies who form the government in Maharashtra on the controversy over a recent book on Shivaji?

Hence, this attempt to consider the challenges that regionalism and the political formations that reflect such a perspective poses and, on the eve of General Elections 2004, faces, with Assam as a model and a pointer.

Historically, one of the strongest bastions of the Congress(I) with a grassroots tradition of Gandhian and militant participation in the freedom movement, Assam (like much of the rest of northern India) for the first time came under a non-Congress(I) dispensation in March 1978 in the elections to the State Assembly that followed the lifting of the national Emergency in 1977. Despite superficial differences, especially in the rhetoric and posturing, the successor government in Assam under the Janata Party that tried to appear to be rather sensitive to issues of regional concern than the Congress(I) was fundamentally no different from its predecessor.

In retrospect, it appears like a miracle that the Janata Party government headed by Golap Barbora survived for over a year. The inner details of what the Election Commission characterised as the `chequered history' of the Sixth State Assembly that had been constituted on March 3, 1978, are yet to be understood and analysed. The `low-points' of that rather unedifying history would comprise the events that led to and followed the collapse of the Janata Party government in September 1979 and of the short-lived Assam Janata Dal government headed by Jogen Hazarika in December 1979; the subsequent use made of constitutional provisions, such as the imposition of President's Rule and keeping an Assembly under `suspended animation' when a government collapses solely with a view to assisting the Congress (which had won just eight seats in the March 1978 elections) to secure defections and form two short-lived governments; and, finally the `constitutional compulsions' (another expression used by the Election Commission) cited to force, in the teeth of popular opposition mobilised by the leaders of the Assam agitation, the holding of the bloodstained elections of February 1983.

These events took place against the backdrop of the Assam agitation whose trajectory parallels and traverses these events. In due course, the Central government under Rajiv Gandhi cut a deal with the leaders of the Assam agitation and signed the Assam Accord, thus enabling the first explicitly regional party government to come to power in Assam in December 1985.

This was no path-breaking development, despite important differences in the social base of the AGP and the Congress(I) and the `sacrifice' the latter in Assam was persuaded to make to enable this political accommodation with what, in the beginning, appeared exclusivist regionalism of the AGP. If one were to ignore the accretions from the margin, the two parties share the same social base; have the same class character, though these themes are nowadays not articulated in such terms. The Congress(I), with its history and electoral needs, however, enlarged this social base over the years by building alliances from above with religious and linguistic minorities, tea garden labour and such like (the standard political science text book categorisation), while, the AGP, with its history and the support base it mobilised during the Assam agitation had a rather narrower social base - the so-called `ethnic Assamese', another standard political science textbook category.

"Hark, in thine ear: change places and, handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?"

The words and ideas, from a different age and a different context, have a striking relevance in the strangely shifting contours of regional politics in Assam. In the two decades since the signing of the Assam Accord and the birth of the AGP, the regional party has systematically raided into the Congress(I)'s so-called `traditional' but in fact marginal and marginalised social base while the Congress(I) in turn has progressively made adjustments, if not common cause, with the original, rather restricted, social base of the AGP.

"Why do you laugh? Change the names, and the tale is told of yourself." Other words, another context.

However, regionalism not merely as a `state of mind', but also as a formally constituted political party considerably predates the emergence of the AGP. The formation of explicitly regional parties, the Purbanchaliya Lok Parishad and the Asom Jatiyatabadi Dal, both comprising leaders who were once part of the Left political stream, goes back to the 1970s. Other, earlier, separatist and crypto-secessionist political formations with sectarian agendas and appeal, offering visions of an essentially diarchic, very loosely federated India were in existence before Independence and were vigorously arguing their case with the colonial government. Such visions have not died; they have been subsumed by other, better organised political structures like the AGP, as well as the professedly national parties like the Congress(I) and the BJP.

THE other States in the region present an analogous situation. Existing regional parties are derived from and are in opposition to the Congress(I) . This is so not merely in regard to the States that were once a part of Assam and so have a kind of continuity of political culture with Assam, but even of States such as Manipur, which were at no time part of Assam. Even Nagaland, where the unresolved issue of Naga insurgency makes the political situation problematic, presents a situation where both the Congress(I) and other political parties professedly more Nagaland-oriented than the Congress(I) necessarily have a complex relationship with all factions of the Naga insurgency; and articulate, as occasion demands, the agenda of Naga nationalism. For instance, on the issue of `Naga integration', all the political parties in Nagaland have the same opinion with not even nuances of difference - which is the same in the case of Manipur as well where, on the issue of Manipur's `territorial integrity', there is an across-the-board consensus.

The one exception to this general rule of the derivation of regionalism from the Congress(I) is Mizoram. The erstwhile rebels in Mizoram who fought a war as the Mizo National Front and are now ruling the State under the same name had no Congress(I) background. The same is the case with the People's Conference, a rather different kind of regional formation, which also had a stint of office, defeated the Congress(I) and was in turn defeated by the Congress(I) before the signing of the Mizoram peace accord. This perhaps explains why, in the two decades since the MNF sued for peace and signed the peace accord, there has been not the slightest sign of vacillation on the crucial issue of an end to insurgency and functioning within the ambit of the Constitution, no malcontent factions threatening to revive insurgency. The MNF has also taken periodic losses of political office in its stride. Even the split in the MNF was not related to any rethinking on the fundamental issues of war and peace in Mizoram. This sui generis quality of regionalism in Mizoram also perhaps explains its stability as a political formation.

To sum up, a brief excursion into unconstitutional or extra-constitutional politics, ranging from agitational politics, which of its nature cannot be free of violence, to secessionist insurgency is a necessary condition for the consolidation of regionalism and its political manifestation as a legitimate political party working within the ambit of the Constitution. However, even when it has consolidated itself and has formed apparently stable governments functioning within the ambit of the Constitution, regionalism has faced two, perhaps not unrelated, challenges, apart from the usual splits and homecomings from which no political party, or for that matter, no militant insurgency, is free.

One, the appropriation of its very `reason for existence' by professedly national parties, which play the regional card expertly, when required; and two, the emergence of fringe elements from within their ranks pushing the regional agenda to areas into which the leaders, softened by experience of political office and also perhaps by experience of the Indian reality, do not want to go, thus forcing these parties to engage in a bit of dishonest brinkmanship of simultaneously engaging in both constitutional and extra-constitutional politics. But then, even in this, the national parties can teach some lessons to the regional parties. One sees evidence of one kind or another of this in every State of the region, certainly in Assam, and also in areas outside the northeastern region.

From agitation to governance

M.S. PRABHAKARA cover-story

THE Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) was born in October 1985, two months after the signing of the Assam Accord (August 15, 1985), which brought to an end the six-year-long Assam agitation led by the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and an alliance of small regional political parties and other `non-political' structures under the name of All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP). The central demand of the agitation was the expulsion of foreign nationals illegally staying in Assam.

Two months after signing the accord, the agitation leaders transformed themselves into a political party - the AGP. Another two months later, the AGP won a decisive victory in the elections to the State Assembly and formed the first government by a regional party in Assam.

As has been demonstrated repeatedly in history, the success of any movement has in it the seeds of dissent. Leaders of an agitation transformed in the moment of success to leaders of a government invested with authority and power always have to contend with malcontents from within their own ranks, especially the auxiliaries who enabled the agitation to succeed but who, out of necessity, are not among those reaping the benefits of success. The dilemma is seen most strikingly in armed struggles, but is dire even in cases where the agitation has not had an armed struggle component.

Thus, the AGP government began to face trouble from within its own ranks almost from the moment the leaders assumed political office. Conventional dissent could be managed by suitable re-apportionment of political office, though there is necessarily a limit to such internal compromises. However, since the Assam agitation also had from its very origins a militant component with confused ideas about synthesising the `national' struggle of the Assamese people for an independent Assam (Swadhin Asom) with `class struggle', ready to make common cause to achieve this synthesis with the very social forces that were the principal `object' of the Assam agitation, these contradictions could never be resolved.

The dilemma of the AGP, in and out of office twice over the last two decades, highlights strikingly both these contradictions. Regionalism, as an ideology is no more its exclusive domain, with the Congress(I) and more recently the Bharatiya Janata Party making heavy inroads into its support base, appropriating the very slogans and, to some extent, even the symbols and methods employed by the AGP.

Not surprisingly, the AGP drew a blank in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections and also duly lost political office in the State in the Assembly elections of May 2001, winning just 20 seats in the 126-member Assembly. More haemorrhaging than these losses has been the problems the party has been facing internally, with clearly defined factions set on a battle to finish. The sidelining of former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta by the current leadership, the manoeuvres within the party that ensured the defeat of the party's candidate in the recent elections to the Rajya Sabha, and the amazing goings-on in respect of the nominations to the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections are only the more obvious signs of the deep crisis that is facing the party.

A mandate for moderates

The victory of the multi-racial front led by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi by a huge majority signifies a positive shift in Malaysian politics in favour of the moderates.

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ABDULLAH AHMAD BADAWI, a supposedly `soft' political leader, called snap general elections several months ahead of the due date, in a bid to emerge from the shadow of his celebrated and controversial mentor, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad. The massive mandate which Abdullah succeeded in crafting for the governing Barisan Nasional (B.N.) coalition surpassed all pre-poll predictions of a sweeping victory for this multiracial front in the diverse Malaysian society with an Islamic core. However, the outcome of the March 21 elections is not entirely surprising. It points to the emergence of a qualitatively new fluidity in the politics of Malaysia, a key South-East Asian state.

The B.N. now has 198 members in the enlarged Parliament of 219 seats. A mandate of this magnitude raises the question of whether Abdullah has the political capability to meet the expectations of the people. While his vast and varied experience in politics and public administration should stand him in good stead, the leadership qualities that he brings to the highest office in the country remain untested. The decision to seek a mandate of his own, after having been in power for only a few months following Mahathir's retirement last year, was perhaps influenced by the need to prove the quality of his leadership.

It is certain that Abdullah himself did not anticipate the kind of massive margin that he has secured. On the eve of the polls, his most committed aides had placed the number of "black constituencies", seats that the B.N. might not win, at around 30.

The Abdullah `wave' has to be seen in the context of the fast-fading `magic' of the Mahathir phenomenon, if not the very relevance of his `legacy'. The obliteration of the `Anwar factor' (the 1999 elections saw a surge in popular support for former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim) in the elections, boosted Abdullah's political stock further, while the rout of the fundamentalist Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) in the parliamentary arena was the icing on the cake.

Mahathir's governing ideology, which considerably galvanised the majority Malay community, should not be confused with his abrasive political style, a style that had on several occasions won him international recognition and on others led to his alienation from the West. His rift with the West widened on issues such as the catalytic effect of Western investments in developing countries and the destabilising impact of the subsequent flight of such capital. In his later years in office, Mahathir was both wooed and detested by the West for his firm stand against terrorism and firmer stance against the Western theory of the Islamic `roots' of international extremism.

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Above all, Mahathir alienated a sizable section of the Malay community itself by the manner in which he dismissed Anwar Ibrahim, who rose to be his political challenger, from the post of Deputy Prime Minister in 1998. The arrest of Anwar on charges of corruption and sexual misdemeanour and his subsequent judicial trials and imprisonment saw a deep erosion in the Mahathir `magic' in the parliamentary polls of 1999. However, at the time of the recent elections Mahathir had receded into political oblivion and consequently Abdullah managed to stave off any negative impact resulting from his links with his one-time mentor. Significantly, it was Anwar's exit from government that led to the induction of Abdullah as Deputy Prime Minister in the late 1990s and eventually as Mahathir's successor to the post of Prime Minister last year.

The conscious move by Mahathir to let his successor try and carve a niche for himself and the fading impact of the "Anwar factor" proved crucial in the 2004 general elections. During the 1999 elections, the perception that Anwar had been treated in an `unfair' manner led to the rise of his wife, Wan Azizah, as leader of the newly formed Keadilan party and also to the PAS' electoral success. The PAS had struck a tactical deal with the imprisoned leader's supporters, who either snapped their links with or remained as estranged members of the B.N., especially its main constituent, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

In the 2004 elections, in contrast, Azizah barely managed to win, and the PAS' "vote bank" shrank dramatically. The PAS narrowly retained power in the Kelantan province but lost control of the Terengganu provincial legislature. The PAS had won both in 1999. The parliamentary drubbing that the fundamentalist party, which makes no secret of its ultimate national agenda to establish an Islamic state, received, is significant. Together, ethnic Chinese, Malaysian-Indians and other non-Malays match the total population of Malays. The Chinese and ethnic Indian communities are almost entirely non-Muslim.

Why did the PAS fare so poorly in 2004? The fading memories of the Anwar episode and the political exit of a strong-willed Mahathir only partly explain the outcome. About the politics of Islam in South-East Asia, `insiders' have generally concluded that "Islamists have little to contribute to the struggle to fashion appropriate development models for the Muslim world in the 21st century".

The emerging politics of Islam in Malaysia involves keeping the country on the globalisation track without losing sight of the cultural ethos of the country's slender Muslim majority. During the later years of Mahathir's rule, the PAS was able not only to capitalise on the `sympathy' for Anwar but also to champion the `cause' of political Islam, which was projected to be under `threat' from `globalisation'. For all his attempts to play a modern-day Socrates on the theme of Western predominance, Mahathir did not shy away from the positive aspects of globalisation. This was seen by the PAS as an opportunity to promote its Islamist agenda in a general milieu of discontent among Malay Muslims.

For the first time since 1999, the PAS found itself up against Abdullah, who brought into play his own strong political and social background as a potential custodian of the legitimate interests of Muslims. In this respect, Abdullah differs from Mahathir, who was generally seen as a leader on the fringes of the politics of Islam despite his advocacy of a moderate and modern Muslim identity.

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Now, the centre of gravity of Abdullah's politics, too, is widely recognised to be moderate Islam, which can be consistent with Malaysia's social diversity of religions, including Hinduism, an ancient influence on South-East Asia. However, what distinguishes him is his political identity as an insider vis-a-vis the Malay community. While these factors explain his electoral triumph, the question is whether the re-coalescence of the divided Malay voting bloc will have any impact on the Mahathir doctrine and on the unity of the B.N. across the racial subdivisions.

`Mahathirism', as expounded by K.S. Nathan and other informed observers of Malaysian politics, involves the kind of "multiracial coexistence" that would not threaten the political predominance of the Malays, "a moderate and progressive Islam" in contrast to the kind advocated by the PAS, and "economic growth" based on partnerships among Malaysia's various groups and its key trading allies.

For Abdullah, who is schooled in this kind of political ideology, which helped re-invent Malaysia during the Mahathir era, the main ground reality has more to do with the potential dynamics within the B.N. rather than the principles of the agenda itself. The long-time political leader of the Malaysian-Indian community, Samy Vellu, and the leader of the ethnic Chinese within the B.N. fold, Ong Ka Ting, have retained their old portfolios in Abdullah's post-poll Cabinet. Also retaining his rank as Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister is Najib Tun Razak, an UMNO stalwart and the son of a former Prime Minister. Given the UMNO's pre-eminent position in post-poll B.N., one of Abdullah's tasks is to ensure that his allies in the parties representing the minorities do not feel marginalised or alienated.

As for major new issues, the anti-corruption theme, which Abdullah made a political mascot of, figured prominently in the campaign. Not properly articulated were the anti-terror issues and the suspicions of a possible Malaysian corporate link in the nuclear proliferation chain that was revealed to have been masterminded by the Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan and his associates. However, as Abdullah, now a regional leader to reckon with, reaches out to the international community, these and other issues will be in the reckoning.

Iraq's revolt in 1920

A.G. NOORANI arts-and-culture

The parallel between the British occupation of Iraq in 1920 and the United States' occupation of the country now is startling.

It may be your interest to be our masters, but how can it be ours to be your slaves?

- Thucydides

IT is typical of conquerors to be surprised at the hatred and contempt with which the conquered reject them. They invent myths of acceptance. Collaborators are found and elections are rigged. In the end, when the reckoning can no longer be averted by continuous and brutal use of force, these devices are discarded. Collaborators are left to the mercy of the people who despise them. Let alone officials, even American journalists cannot bring themselves to accept the truth which underlies the daily toll of human lives - the Iraqis despise their conquerors and those who collaborate with them. Even a year after Iraq was invaded and occupied, the country has not been ``pacified".

One wonders how many remember that less than a year ago the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government came very close to sending Indian troops to serve under American command, the so-called Provisional Coalition Authority, despite the Lok Sabha's unanimous resolution of April 8, 2003, expressing its ninda (to condemn or deplore) of the United States' attack on Iraq. Parliament's resolutions are supposed to be engraved in steel when they suit the government. In this case, they were treated as lines drawn on sand. Fortunately, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee prevailed. L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh were for sending the troops. India rejected the U.S. request on July 14 after protracted parleys with the latter.

One should not be surprised if any of the card-carrying super-patriots voice the view that had that request but been accepted, the U.S. would not have conferred a "non-NATO ally status" on Pakistan in March. These are the very ones who advocated its acceptance on the ground that it afforded India an opportunity to acquire the status of a regional power. The mindset reveals a lot besides chauvinism. It reflects intellectual bankruptcy and lack of self-esteem. Nations acquire a status - and the respect that goes with it - by their own worth and achievements; not as dalals (agents) of a great power. Nations regret bitterly and for long mistakes made by their rulers who ignore lessons of the past and run against the tide of history in order to secure short-term advantages. The future belongs to the people of Iraq; indeed, to the people of Arab countries. It does not belong to their overlords.

Iraqis readily forgave India for deployment of Indian troops to quell their revolt against British invaders in 1920 because India itself was under British rule. Not only Iraqis, people in other Arab countries would never have forgiven India had it sent its troops, in a gesture of solidarity with the Americans, even if they were not used actively to subdue the Iraqi revolt of our times.

Despite some obvious differences in the two situations, the parallel between 1920 and 2003 is startling. British occupation of Iraq was part of its venture to set up a Jewish state in Palestine. The U.S.' occupation of Iraq, as we are reminded repeatedly, is part of its wider agenda, which includes subjugation of Arabs in Palestine in order to compel their acceptance of U.S. - Israeli terms. Ariel Sharon would not have assassinated Sheikh Ahmed Yassin unless he had prior American approval of the crime.

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No Indian can underestimate the dilemmas which these events pose for our diplomacy. But thoughtful Indians should seek answers to two pertinent questions: Why do we find ourselves in such a situation today? Is there no way out of it? Answering them might be easier perhaps, if we reflect first on a more specific question: What were the calculations that prompted the then Minister for External Affairs, Jaswant Singh, to rush to offer the U.S. help - unsolicited and sweeping - immediately after September 11, 2001?

WE cannot understand the simmering rage in the Arab world today unless we trace its roots to the events of that defining moment in 1920 when they discovered that they had been cheated by Britain and France, with American connivance, if not complicity. That moment was May 5, 1920, when the results of the San Remo Conference, held on April 24, were made public. Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire were to be divided between Britain and France - Iraq and Palestine going to Britain, Syria and Lebanon to France. Worse still, Palestine was earmarked for establishing a Jewish state. Arabs were denied independence. The unity of their lands was disrupted. An alien state was to be imposed on Palestine, against the wishes of the people and through forcible immigration. All this was in breach of solemn promises made to Arabs to encourage them to rebel against Ottoman rule during the First World War. In 1920 Britain imposed a Pax Brittanica on the region. Now, the U.S. is out to impose a Pax Americana in West Asia. Its implications for South Asia are obvious.

The national interest dictates a widening of options, which only a regional settlement can provide. That involves settlement of the boundary dispute with China; of Kashmir with Pakistan; and a rapprochement with Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, in a framework that puts aside the one forged in 1987. India will emerge truly as a regional power whose voice will matter. That was Nehru's vision. The cold wars he launched rendered them unattainable.

One thought that with the demise of Pax Britannica the Arab people would become masters of their lands. For a variety of reasons, not least the venality and incompetence of their rulers, that was not to be. Pax Americana came to hold sway in an outrageously brazen form. Time and again the Prime Minister warns us of the dangers of the "Unipolar Moment", but does little to improve the situation so far as it affects Indian interests. His government has forged a strategic partnership with Israel. The Arab world is ignored. This is unwise. West Asia will become more important in the days ahead. Many of the issues of which we hear a lot now arose nearly a century ago. India needs to understand the roots of the Arab rage.

Read this line: "The Pan-Islamic danger is a real and permanent one." It was not written in 2004. It was written on May 23, 1916, in a memorandum by Sir A. Hirtzel of the India Office. He added: "We cannot get rid of it altogether, but we have the opportunity now... of immensely diminishing it by reducing to impotence the only existing organised government that can further the pan-Islamic idea; and when we see the progress which that idea has made in India, under Turkish influence, in the last 10 years, does not common prudence require that we should do so?"

That "opportunity" was provided by the Ottoman Empire's decision in October 1914 to enter into the First World War on the side of Germany. Defeating Germany alone will "not suffice for our purpose". Turkey must be humiliated, and its Empire broken up.

"It is on Mesopotamia and not on Europe that attention is fixed in the Persian Gulf... a merely diplomatic defeat of Turkey will not count in Arabia."

Hirtzel quoted a saying, "the intellect of the Arab is in his eyes", and explained: "In India itself the vernacular press loses no opportunity of admiring the feats of Turkish arms. With all these people we shall have to deal after the war, and to live with them on terms of moral supremacy. We shall have to govern India itself - where, besides the Moslem problem, the fact has to be reckoned with that the educated Hindus... are not averse to seeing British pride humbled, and humbled by an Asiatic Power - and to convince the peoples of India that a handful of white men can still control them" (emphasis added throughout).

In 1990 the U.S. used Saddam Hussein's aggression against Kuwait to impose its military presence. In 2003 it ousted him to impose its writ in the entire region, calculating that its impact will be felt everywhere, South Asia included.

When Hirtzel wrote his memo, Britain was about to forge an alliance with Arabs against their imperial masters, the Ottomans. He, however, warned: "While the Arabs are content to use us now for their own ends, it is certain that if and when those ends are attained their attitude will always be less antagonistic towards the Moslem Turk, whatever their grievances against him in the past, than towards the Christian; and if the former is believed to be the better soldier they will play him off against us to their heart's content." Turkey had, therefore, to be beaten and Arabs kept divided and under British control.

In the very month in which Hirtzel wrote thus, Britain and France agreed, on May 16, 1916, to split up Arab lands of the Ottomans between themselves. It became known as the Sykes-Picot pact. Britain and France would "recognise and protect an independent Arab state or a Confederation of Arab States in the area (A) and (B), marked on the annexed map, under the suzerainty of an Arab chief." Area A was to be under French and B under British influence. In two other areas, marked blue and red, they would establish "direct control". An area marked brown (Palestine, roughly) would have an "international administration" after "consultation" with Russia and "agreement" with other allies and Sharif Hussain of Mecca.

After the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917, Russia published all secret pacts, including this. Sharif Hussain was shocked; for it ran counter to the promise made to him on October 24, 1915, by Sir Henry McMahon "to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs in all the regions within the limits demanded by the Sharif of Mecca". Palestine was included. Some specified areas in Syria were not. Relying on the promise, Arabs rebelled against the Ottomans in June 1916. To the Governor - General of India, Lord Hardinge, McMahon admitted in November 1915 that his aim was "to tempt the Arab people into the right path... this on our part is at present largely a matter of words". They meant little.

After the War ended in 1919, a representative of the "General Syrian Congress" met at Damascus on July 2, 1919, to demand "absolute political independence" of the area from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates and the Khabur rivers in the east and from the Taurus Range in the north to Aqaba in the south. A Syria, thus formed, was to be a constitutional monarchy under Amir Faisal, son of Sharif Hussain. It comprised the Syria of today, Lebanon, Palestine and the lower basins of the Euphrates and the Tigris.

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But the British and the French had other plans. Their representatives met in a small Italian town, San Remo, on April 24, 1920, and, while the American Ambassador read his newspaper in the garden, the other two carried out the Sykes-Picot pact, but with Mosul going to the British. It acquired Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq. The French got Syria and Lebanon; all under the fig leaf of a League of Nations Mandate. Faisal was made king of Iraq. His brother Abdullah was made king of Transjordan. When the arrangement was made public on April 24, 1920, Arabs rose in revolt in Syria, Palestine and Iraq. In Arab annals, 1920 is referred to as Am al-Nakha (Year of Catastrophe).

In Iraq the uprising lasted from July to October 1920. Around 4,000 Arabs lost their lives as did 450 British. There were 10,000 casualties, 2,000 of whom were British.

The cost to the British treasury was over 40,000,000. David Fromkin writes: "The desert was alive with Arab raiding parties." Col. Gerald Leachmen prescribed "wholesale slaughter" of the rebels. But "virtually the whole area rose against Britain, and the revolt then spread to the Lower Euphrates as well." A Holy War (jehad) was proclaimed against Britain in Karbala. Leachman was killed, fanning more uprisings. By mid-August a provisional Arab government was proclaimed.

Sir Arnold Wilson, Civil Commissioner in Iraq, told the British Cabinet at the end of 1920 that "there was no real desire in Mesopotamia for an Arab government; the Arabs would appreciate British rule". He amplified: "What we are up against is anarchy plus fanaticism. There is little or no nationalism." It was all caused by "outsiders" ranging from Mustafa Kemal, Germans and Pan-Islam to "Standard Oil, the Jews and the Bolsheviks" (A Peace to end all Peace by David Fromkin; page 452). We hear similar explanations today with tales of Iraqi gratitude for their American and British conquerors.

The territory of modern Iraq formed three provinces of the Ottoman Empire based on the towns of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. Arab nationalism found expression in secret societies set up in the capital of the Empire, Istanbul. The term Al-Iraq was used by Arab geographers to refer to the plains of the Tigris and the Euphrates. But there was no Iraqi nationalism, as such, only Arab nationalism. In Europe the region was known as Mesopotamia. Arab officers from various parts of the Empire set up al-Ahad (the Covenant). A branch was formed in Baghdad where a group of young intellectuals also set up in 1912 the National Scientific Club.

There was, besides, a Shi'ite secret society, Haras al-Istiglol (the Independence Guard) led by Muhammad al-Sadr, son of one of the most eminent Shia Mujtahids (a cleric competent to deliver opinions on Islamic law). In Karbala, another mujtahid, Ayatullah al-Shirazi, issued a fatwa (edict) against British rule. British response was to hold a "plebiscite" of the notables and polls to a Constituent Assembly. The British discovered that while the numbers of collaborators grew, so did popular alienation. The phenomenon is typical of such situations.

More than half of the three million population of Iraq was Shia; roughly 20 per cent was Kurdish; around eight comprised the minorities. The rest were Sunnis. The British relied on Sunnis to run the administration (A History of Iraq by Charles Tripp; page 31). The military operation was conducted under the orders of Commander-in-Chief in India, General Sir Beaucham P. Duff, a desk officer who had never commanded a regiment. "He seldom left his office and yet refused to let anything be decided outside his office," David Gilmour remarks (Curzon; page 678).

By October 1920 the revolt subsided. The 2003 revolt was less organised, more diffused and has proved more lasting. In July 1920, much of the mid-Euphrates region was in rebel hands, an achievement which eludes the rebels of today. Installation of Amir Faisal as king appeased Iraqi sentiment. The Chalabis of today are treated with scorn.

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British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill viewed the 1920 revolt with profound disquiet, as his biographer Martin Gilbert records (Winston S. Churchill Vol. IV; page 490). A whole division from India was despatched to Mesopotamia. Gilbert coyly writes that Churchill wanted the Royal Air Force experts "to proceed with experimental work" on gas bombs, "especially mustard gas". Wilson noted: "The real fact being that the whole country is `up'." On August 31, 1920, Churchill wrote out his innermost fears: "It is an extraordinary thing that the British civil administration should have succeeded in such a short time in alienating the whole country to such an extent that the Arabs have laid aside the blood feuds they have nursed for centuries and that the Sunni and Shia tribes are working together."

At the same time, Palestine was being prepared for eventual Zionist rule. Churchill blandly told premiers of the Dominions on June 22, 1921: "If, in the course of many years, they (the Jews) become a majority in the country they virtually would take it over." He was replying to Canada's Prime Minister Arthur Meighen's queries on the meaning of a `National Home for the Jewish people" as used in the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917. Its proviso of respect for "the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine" was deceptive. Its author, Foreign Secretary A.J. Balfour, candidly wrote in a memo in August 1919: "The contradiction between the letter of the Covenant of the League of Nations and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the independent nation of Palestine than in that of the independent nation of Syria. For, in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country. The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.

"In my opinion that is right. What I have never been able to understand is how it can be harmonised with the Anglo-French declaration, the Covenant, or the instructions to the commission of Enquiry... In fact, so far as Palestine is concerned, the powers have made no statement of fact that is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not always intended to violate." One wonders what American and British documents of today will reveal when the archives are opened decades hence?

Balfour's successor Curzon opposed this policy, but was overruled by Prime Minister David Lloyd George, a Biblical Zionist like Balfour - and George W. Bush. Curzon asked: "What is to become of the people of this country (Palestine) assuming the Turk to be expelled, and the inhabitants not to have been exterminated by the war? There are over half a million of these. Syrian Arabs... they and their forefathers have occupied the country for the best part of 1,500 years. They own the soil, which belongs either to individual landowners or to village communities. They profess the Mohammedan faith. They will not be content either to be expropriated for Jewish immigrants, or to act merely as hewers of wood and drawers of waters to the latter."

Curzon warned the Prime Minister that what the Jewish leader Chaim Weizmann envisaged was not a "Jewish home" but "a Jewish state, a Jewish nation, a subordinate population of Arabs etc. ruled by Jews; the Jewish possession of the fat of the land, and directing the administration. He is trying to effect this behind the screen and under the shelter of British trusteeship."

Western leaders and writers wax eloquent on Hitler and Stalin's mistreatment of whole peoples by expulsion from their homes. Was their treatment of Arabs in Palestine any the less of a crime? Churchill feared that "we shall be everywhere represented as the chief enemy of Islam" because of British policy towards Kemalist Turkey. If he had no fears about the consequences of a worse policy in Palestine, it was because, as Weizmann gleefully noted, "Mr. Churchill had a low opinion of the Arab generally". Is it surprising that Arabs are frustrated and angry still? What is a century in the life of an ancient people? Yet Israel managed for long to claim sympathy as the "underdog".

Right now, with American backing, Israel denies Arabs a state in Palestine comprising a mere one-fifth of its territory. Terrorism is reprehensible; but, for centuries it has been the only weapon known to the weak. It was the genius of Gandhi that weaned Indians away from that path on which Aurobindo Ghosh, Bhagat Singh and others embarked, disastrously. Palestinians and Iraqis know that if they drop this weapon they lose all leverage. The solution lies in redressing the grievances that drive people to use the reprehensible weapon of terrorism as Indian leaders consistently counselled the British rulers during the Raj. As in the past, efforts are afoot to legitimise Anglo-American rule over Iraq. Britain had imposed on it four different treaties of alliance - in 1922, 1926, 1927 and 1930. The U.S. is out to impose a status-of-forces agreement on Iraq to ensure legal immunity for its troops in Iraq, which number over 100,000.

If there is one single issue on which the U.S. incurs odium in the Arab world it is its support to Israel. But not in the Arab world only. Europeans are becoming increasingly critical. So, are leaders in the Third World.

Their plaint was well summed up by Hendrick Wetler in The Economist of October 4, 2003. He referred to "the three key grievances that drive political Islam. First is the history of Western imperialism, which denied Muslims independence and freedom for well over half a century. Second was the solution to the Holocaust perpetrated by Europeans on European Jews - handing the British colony of Palestine to Jewish colonists, who then perpetrated their own programme of ethnic cleansing. Third was the exploitation of oil by the West, carried out with the connivance of local puppets who traded the independence of their people in return for being kept in power and skimmed off part of the oil profits for themselves (after the Western oil firms took their massive cuts).

"Historical grievances, not religious ones, are expressed today through religion - the only political route allowed. Tens of millions of Muslims view the invasion and colonial occupation of Iraq as simply a return of the 1920s, when Britain parachuted in its puppet dictator in order to control the Iraqi oilfields, after carving off Kuwait better to control the region." The analysis defies improvement.

The Supreme Court and labour

The Right to Strike by K.D. Ewing; Oxford University Press; pages 182, 60. Exploitative Contracts by Rick Bigwood; Oxford University Press; pages 354, 80.

LAL KRISHNA ADVANI and his disciples go about claiming that the Supreme Court has endorsed Hindutva. This is irresponsible electioneering. The court has done nothing of the sort. However, even the judgment it delivered is under review. Justice J.S. Verma's judgment in the Murli Manohar Joshi case, delivered on December 11, 1995, was widely criticised. It was opposed to an earlier ruling of the court, which was delivered, on the same point, on July 14, 1995. What is more, on April 16, 1996, another Bench of the court referred to a larger Bench the judgment pronounced by Justice Verma.

Eight years have rolled by during which two general elections to the Lok Sabha were held - in 1998 and 1999 - and a third is in the offing but the court has not found time to determine so vital an issue. Will it take as long to review its ruling on the right to strike? Its ruling denying that right caused dismay. Its decision to review it came as a relief. The rights and welfare of millions of workers are involved. The court must review the ruling speedily and overturn it.

The Supreme Court has won high praise for its creativity. It must expand the content of labour rights and endorse the concept of an "exploitative contract". It violates the right to livelihood, which is an integral part of the fundamental right to life and liberty embodied in Article 21 of the Constitution. In both tasks, the review and the expansion of labour rights, the court and those assisting it will find these two books invaluable.

Prof. Ewing's work is very relevant to our situation. It considers the position in the English Common Law and proceeds to consider the impact of British, Canadian, United States and Irish statutes. Far more advanced, however, are French, German, Spanish and Italian laws. This is where the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution come in. They make all the difference and support the right to strike.

In the concluding chapter, the author proposes specific reforms, including the workers' right to reinstatement and to unemployment and social welfare benefits during the strike. Without them, the right to strike becomes meaningless. Fundamentally, a strike is no breach of the contract of service.

Rick Bigwood, an Australian jurist, remarks: "Judges and legal academics frequently invoke the concept of exploitation in legal reasoning, but seldom do they carefully analyse it. This is unfortunate, not least because exploitation is an `essentially contested' concept. It does not direct us to any particular conception of exploitation for legal operational purposes. But such a conception cannot simply be assumed; it must refer to and arise out of the uses to which it is being put. Moreover, it must have regard to the social institutions both formal and informal, in which exploitation claims arise. In law, especially, exploitation claims are not `free-floating'."

His book explores exploitation in the realm of contract law. In particular, it presents a "legalist" conception of exploitation that is consistent with the liberal conception of contract as applied in the common law of "Anglian" legal systems, which includes Indian too.

The book addresses three questions about the exploitation concept: What does (interpersonal) "exploitation" mean? Why should the law care about it? Is usage of the concept apposite in all the legal contractual applications in which it has figured? The bulk of the book focusses on the first two questions, which are logically prior to the third.

Towards the end of the book, the author questions the descriptive adequacy and proper function of exploitation in connection with contracts traditionally defeated in its name. The doctrines of unconscionable dealings, duress and undue influence are examined in detail in the light of what each reveals about the concept of legal contractual exploitation.

This is, indeed, a pioneering work and is of enormous help not only to lawyers but to all concerned with the rights and the plight of labour in the Third World in this age of globalisation.

An empire in denial

world-affairs

Why the U.S. does not see itself as imperialist.

IN January 2004, United States President George W. Bush told a joint session of the houses of Congress: "America is a nation with a mission, and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire."

An Englishman and a Canadian, both academics who live and work in the U.S., dispute this claim. Niall Ferguson, who teaches at New York University and authored a popular history of the British Empire, wrote in Newsweek: "The United States is now an empire in all but name - the first case in history of an empire in denial." Michael Ignatieff, Carr Professor of the Practice of Human Rights at Harvard University, wrote in The New York Times: "If Americans have an empire, they have acquired it in a state of deep denial."

It should be borne in mind that both Ignatieff and Ferguson are eager for the U.S. to adopt the mantle of imperial power, so that it might not be constrained to manufacture an "Empire Lite" (Ignatieff) or "Empire on a shoestring" (Ferguson).

In 1899, Rudyard Kipling moved to Vermont, U.S., lived in his newly built house Naulakha (Priceless Jewel), wrote Jungle Book, and when the U.S. government invaded the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba, penned his famous poem "A White Man's Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands". "Take up the White Man's burden - Send forth the best ye breed," sang this Englishman, go civilise "your new caught, sullen peoples, half-devil and half-child." Such conquests are not for gain, Kipling wrote, but they are "the savage wars of peace. Fill full the mouth of Famine, and bid the sickness cease".

Kipling, veteran of the British Raj, knew that Empire never sees itself as malevolent. It is always on hand to bring civilisation, to dispense liberty, and to offer the benefits of modernity. A visit to the Museum of the British Empire in Bristol, United Kingdom, shows us that this self-image of benevolence is alive and well. Ferguson quotes Kipling in his book on the British Empire and then concludes: "No one would dare use such politically incorrect language today. The reality is nevertheless that the United States has - whether it admits it or not - taken up some kind of global burden, just as Kipling urged. It considers itself responsible not just for waging a war against terrorism and rogue states, but also for spreading the benefits of capitalism and democracy overseas. And just like the British Empire before it, the American Empire unfailingly acts in the name of liberty, even when its own self-interest is manifestly uppermost."

America, for Ignatieff and Ferguson, is the bona fide centre of an empire, an imperialist power that is unwilling to proclaim itself. Why are Americans in such a state of denial? Ignatieff offers an answer: "[American imperialism] is the imperialism of a people who remember that their country secured its independence by revolt against an empire, and who like to think of themselves as the friend of freedom everywhere. It is an empire without consciousness of itself as such, constantly shocked that its good intentions arouse resentment abroad. But that does not make it any less an empire, with a conviction that it alone, in Herman Melville's words, bears `the ark of the liberties of the world'."

Ignatieff correctly points out that the American Revolution provides the U.S. government and citizenry with its myth of purity - the U.S. being a power that emerged from an anti-colonial struggle, its own interventions overseas can only be on behalf of liberty and against tyranny. Furthermore, since the bulk of the citizens do not directly benefit from imperialism (and many of them lose their loved ones in its defence), they do not see the benefits of imperialism. Empire's rewards accrue to the corporations and not to the families of the middle class and the poor. The bulk of the U.S. population pays the financial cost of imperialism, and the corporate elites reap its benefits.

The myth of purity actually predates the 1776 Revolution. When Americans began to write about their Puritan ancestors who arrived on the coasts of New England and Virginia in the 1620s, they depicted them as persecuted Europeans who had fled the religious orthodoxy of "Old Europe" to make a place that did not replicate Europe's deviousness and intrigue. The Puritans, the historians wrote, opposed the artificiality of feudal manners and favoured plain-speak and independence. The Americans who followed the first generation of settlers saw themselves in this light, as hardy, courageous, tough and guileless.

In a brilliant article published in 1970, the English historian Gareth Steadman Jones points out that the "expansion" of the Puritans from the Atlantic coast westwards follows a colonial logic. The 1776 Revolution, he notes, did free the colonials from their home country, but it did not liberate those who had become the new servants of the Puritans - the enslaved Africans, the Amerindians who had not been exterminated, and the poor whites (many of whom had recently been indentured servants). "The essential fact," Steadman Jones writes, "is that white settlers in North America were partners in English mercantile imperialism, and not its victims."

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In 1786, in my home town of Northampton, Massachusetts, a "mob" of farmers and artisans captured the courthouse to prevent the conviction of those who had fallen into debt. The act incited a major rebellion led by Daniel Shay that lasted until 1787. Shay's Rebellion, as it is called, sought to liberate workers and farmers from the excessive taxes on land and on the poll tax that allowed only the rich to vote. The rebels failed and the U.S. state remained in the hands of urban merchants and the rural gentry (including the plantation owners whose lands were worked by enslaved Africans). Liberty, in those days, meant liberty from the tyranny of England - not from the tyranny of the American elites.

One of the advantages of the American Revolution came in the rejection of the controls placed by the English Crown on the expansion to the West - out toward the Pacific Ocean. Now the "Pioneers" could go forth and expand, exterminate the Amerindians, conquer large tracts of Mexico and set up a colonial regime that, as far as the Amerindians and Mexicans go, extends to the present. This expansion produced the largest domestic market on the planet, and enabled the U.S. economy to grow at a pace that is only rivalled by the rate of growth of the Chinese economy over the last three decades. For the U.S. ruling class, Steadman Jones concludes, "The absence of territorialism `abroad' was founded on an unprecedented territorialism at home."

When the West had been absorbed, and when the U.S. economy grew strong enough for its military to exert itself, the government began to act on the 1823 Monroe Doctrine which preserved the Americas from Tierra del Fuego in Argentina to the Canadian border as the dominion of the U.S. In 1867, U.S. Secretary of State William Seward purchased the province of Alaska, then known as Seward's Folly. The expansion to Alaska was part of Seward's design to extend U.S. interests toward Asia. In 1853, Seward already preached a forward strategy to move into the Asian market. He said: "Multiply your ships and send them forth to the East. The nation that draws most materials and provisions from the earth, and fabricates the most, and sells the most of productions and fabrics to foreign nations, must be, and will be, the greatest power on the earth."

In 1898, when the opportunity provided itself, the U.S. superseded Spain as the paramount power in the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba - the event that provoked Kipling's poem. When radical public opinion, joined by such luminaries as Mark Twain and his League Against Imperialism, spoke out against the U.S. move into Spain's former colonies, the distinguished Senator from Indiana, Albert Beveridge, rose to defend the policy. He offered the usual bluster about "the mission of our race, trustee, under God, of the civilisation of the world", and how "God has marked us as His chosen people, henceforth to lead in the regeneration of the world". The U.S. must act because the Filipinos, says Beveridge, "are a barbarous race. It is barely possible that 1,000 men in all the archipelago are capable of self-government in the Anglo-Saxon sense". Racism provides a firm foundation to justify colonialism - they are inferior, so we must take care of them. One can sense much the same sort of attitude in the U.S. administration's comments on the Iraqi population's capacity for self-government. Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director James Woolsey and Princeton University Professor Bernard Lewis suggested, in late 2003, that Iraq revert to its 1925 Constitution and accept monarchical rule because the Iraqi people, in their view, are not capable of democracy.

Soon, Beveridge got down to business - the real reason to hold the Philippines was markets and resources. He described the many products of the archipelago, then stopped, lifted a rock in his palm, and announced: "I have a nugget of gold picked up in its present form on the banks of a Philippine creek. And this wealth is but a small fraction." Finally, he noted that the Philippines offered a doorway to "China's illimitable markets. The Pacific is the ocean of the commerce of the future. Most future wars will be conflicts for commerce. The power that rules the Pacific, therefore, is the power that rules the world. And, with the Philippines, that power is and will forever be the American Republic."

In our own time, in Iraq, the U.S.' denial over its empire is helped by the privatisation of imperialism. The U.S. government is present in Iraq as the army of occupation, but the work of colonial reconstruction is not conducted primarily by the state. This work, empire building, is left to private entities such as Bechtel, Halliburton and Development Alternatives, Incorporated. The U.S. head in Iraq Paul Bremer's Order No. 39 privatised all state industries and allowed foreign ownership in most sectors of the economy: Americans will now see their work overseas as the creation of "markets" and "opportunities" not the squelching of the will of the Iraqis for the benefit of the U.S. economy. Privatisation of empire has only allowed the American denial over its imperialism a longer lease.

America's denial about its empire is not new - indeed it is as old as America itself. In 1899, an African American poet, John Edward Bruce, replied to Kipling in "The Coloured American":

What talk of the white man's burden? What burdens hath he borne? That has not been shared by the black man From the day creation dawned? Why taunt us with our weakness, Why boast of your brutal strength; Know ye not that the children of meekness Shall inherit the earth - at length?

The President's nemesis

Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror by Richard A. Clarke; Free Press, 2004; pages 305, $27.

ON January 20, 2001, George W. Bush swore the oath of office as the 43rd President of the United States. He vowed, as per tradition, to support and defend the Constitution "against all enemies, foreign and domestic". He has certainly acquired millions of both. Among the most dangerous in the many categories of foe are people who worked for him who now want to tell their story.

Richard A. Clarke provides the latest offering. His account is perhaps the most devastating yet. Its power lies in its lack of polemic and its abundance of perspective. This is a man who served four Presidents over more than a decade, most recently as head of counter-terrorism at the National Security Council under Bill Clinton and Bush the younger.

The publicity surrounding the book - his allegation that Bush and the neo-Conservatives ignored the Al Qaeda threat as they pursued their obsessions with Iraq - has, in the middle of an election year, wounded the White House deeply. But Clarke's is a broader narrative. His tour d' horizon of the world of terrorism and intelligence takes us from the Soviet Union to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somalia to the Tokyo underground nerve-gas attacks, to the Oklahoma bombing and, inevitably, to the two Gulf wars. He takes us through the various attacks on U.S. targets well before 9/11.

He describes the gradual emergence of a man "whose name kept appearing buried in the CIA's raw reporting as terrorist financier Osama bin Laden". It took several years for the intelligence community in Washington to appreciate the danger bin Laden posed. Intriguingly, Clarke recounts the various attempts in the late 1990s by U.S. special forces to kill him.

His recollection of the Clinton administration's approach to terrorism might be unduly generous. Time and again, he gives Clinton the benefit of the doubt, such as the bombing of the Sudan chemical factory in 1998 to divert attention from the Lewinsky scandal.

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And yet the juxtaposition with Bush is vivid and shocking. The incoming team used an acronym ABC (Anything But Clinton). Whatever the outgoing lot did, do the opposite. This extended even to national security. "In January 2001, the new administration really thought Clinton's recommendation that eliminating Al Qaeda be one of their highest priorities, well, rather odd."

This is not the first account of events inside the White House on 9/11 and in the desperate days that followed. It was Bob Woodward, in Bush at War, who first described how the neo-cons tried to link the attack on the Twin Towers with Iraq and goaded Bush to use it as a pretext for war against Saddam Hussein. However, Woodward's obsequious style minimised the impact.

Clarke tells it straight. He describes how Bush ordered him to "see if Saddam did this. See if he is linked in any way. I was once again taken aback, incredulous, and it showed. "But, Mr President, Al Qaeda did this'".

Bush ordered him testily to look again for `any shred'. Even though the Americans did go first for Afghanistan, the deliberate conflation of two separate issues begat Bush's infamous "axis of evil speech" in January 2002, which begat the secret deal with Blair at the presidential ranch in Crawford that April to prepare for war with Iraq.

This is an insightful and fluent tale, but it is hampered by a continuous "I was right all along" subtext. When Clarke quit a year ago, many players in the poisonous inter-agency world were pleased to see him go.

Bush and Blair have long given up hope of salvaging any political advantage from Iraq. The latest inquiries in Washington and London over weapons of mass destruction and the flawed intelligence of the last several years will cause them further damage. The jigsaw is painstakingly being put together. Whatever his motivation, whatever his timing, Clarke has provided some invaluable new pieces.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

Flip-flop and futzing around

THE G.O.P. knock on John Kerry, the Democratic nominee presumptive, is that he flip-flops. The senator's defenders counter that his stands are nuanced. Thus, in one corner of the linguistic arena, we have a heavy-hitting onomatopoeic reduplication: flip-flap, cited in the 16th century as "they goe flip-flap in the winde", meaning to swing back and forth, and soon taken up by performers to describe a type of somersault, becoming flip-flop about a hundred years ago. In the opposite corner, wearing tricolor trunks, is nuance, rooted in the Latin for "cloud" and the French for "shade", meaning "a subtle variation in tone" or "delicate shading of meaning". According to Candy Crowley of CNN, George W. Bush once told her, "In Texas, we don't do nuance".

A Times headline about this stark vocabulary controversy sought absolute objectivity: "Kerry's Shifts: Nuanced Ideas or Flip-Flops?" As an example, David M. Halbfinger noted that Kerry recently told a group of Jewish leaders that Israel's building a barrier of separation was legitimate self-defence, "but in October, he told an Arab-American group that it was `provocative and counterproductive' and a `barrier to peace'". On the other hand, the reporter noted the opinion of the candidate's aides that "Kerry's fluidity is the mark of an intellectual who grasps the subtleties of issues, inhabits their nuances and revels in the deliberative process".

A Washington Post editorialist, under the thesaurus-like headline "Flip-Flop, Hedge and Straddle", observed that "flip-flops aren't always bad; there's nothing to admire in politicians who never change their minds and never learn from experience" and noted that "his supporters can find a Bush flip for just about every Kerry flop". They also say that "what sometimes looks like indecision reflects his devotion to thinking through a problem, to weighing every nuance".

The Kerry forces counter-attacked with a charge spelled out in this headline in The New York Sun: "Democrats Seek to Portray Bush as Flip-Flopper." The lead: "Galled by the torrent of accusations that Senator Kerry of Massachusetts has repeatedly flip-flopped on critical issues...

Kerry's supporters are compiling lists of issues on which they believe the president has wavered or completely reversed himself."

Does the verb waver (akin to the verb waffle, from the Scottish waff, "gust of wind", and not related to the Dutch wafel, "cake baked on a grid") mean the same as the verb reverse, synonymous with flip-flop?

The Post editorialist found the difference to be subtle (one might say nuancal, an adjective coined by the secretary of state, Alexander Haig, in 1981): "Bush reversals differ from Kerry waffles. Mr. Bush seems to his detractors to change course with worrisomely little thought - and to feel just as sure of himself in his new position as he was in his old... . Mr. Kerry has a similar problem for a different reason: It's not always clear what, if anything, he's committed to."

In the synonymy of slippery speech, to waffle, waver, oscillate, vacillate is "to swing back and forth between opinions". To hedge is "to avoid taking a position, or to take both sides simultaneously". To equivocate is closer to prevaricate, dissimulate, which mean "to obscure so as to deceive", or more plainly, "to lie", and to dither, hesitate, falter is "to be irresolute in action, unsteady in belief."

To flip-flop is "unabashedly to switch sides", but when done by a politician you support, it is called "changing one's mind to comport with the nuances of new circumstances". A neutral term is "to undergo a reversal of views". When engaged in by a politician you oppose, the verb tergiversate, pronounced with a soft g, is a choice favoured by pedants, meaning "to switch sides like an apostate".

"IT is not true," said John Kerry, asked by two Times reporters about the White House claim that the invasion of Iraq had caused Libya's Muammar el-Qaddafi to abandon his nuclear plans. "That deal was on the table several years ago... . No matter how much they bluster and futz, they can't fake it."

As an intransitive verb, futz is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as U.S. slang for "to loaf, waste time, mess around". It was first recorded in print by the novelist James T. Farrell in his 1936 "Studs Lonigan": "Studs kept futzing around until Helen Shire came out with her soccer ball." In the 1941 Budd Schulberg novel "What Makes Sammy Run?" the title character tells a budding playwright about his long-delayed play: "Don't futz around with it too long."

A week before the Kerry usage was reported, the New York Daily News music critic Howard Kissel quoted the soprano Arianna Zukerman about her intention to sing songs by Franz Schubert orchestrated by other composers: "You don't want to futz with Schubert songs... . They're so beautiful, so complete."

Two days after the Kerry usage appeared, The Associated Press quoted Senator Joseph Bruno, Republican majority leader of the New York State Senate, complaining, "We've been futzing around for a week or longer, and we're still where we were."

What is the origin? Is it an alteration of the innocent fussing, or is it the sort of euphemism that got Senator Al D'Amato in trouble? Both the O.E.D. and Merriam-Webster rely on an article in the February 1943 American Speech quarterly: "Some American Idioms From the Yiddish," by Julius G. Rothenberg. The author defines the term as "idling about, kibitzing around, making a nuisance of oneself, consuming much time and accomplishing little." He notes that "futz has undergone an internal change to make it less obviously vulgar" and speculates that the "seemingly innocuous" expression is rooted in the Yiddish arumfartzen.

Why, at a moment that the F.C.C. is threatening to fine broadcasters for the use of certain vulgar terms, did Republicans not get all het up over the Kerry usage? Perhaps because of this entry in J.E. Lighter's Historical Dictionary of American Slang: "1984 USA Today (Nov. 7) 3A: President Reagan... [suggested] it is time to `stop this futzing around'."

And so it is. New York Times Service

The battle for Colombia

JUSTIN PODUR world-affairs

The Colombian government is trying to compensate for its political weakness with violence and repression, while social movements in the country are building on past struggles, consolidating and attempting to outflank it politically.

THE President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe Velez, was elected in 2002 because a hard core of 5.8 million voters in a population of about 44 million believed his promise that he would eradicate the guerillas by escalating the civil war in the country. The presidential election that brought him to power was preceded by parliamentary elections. After those elections, Salvatore Mancuso, one of the leaders of the Colombian paramilitary groups which, human rights groups estimate, are responsible for some 80 per cent of the hundreds of massacres and assassinations that happen every year in that country, boasted that his organisation controlled 30 per cent of the legislature.

Uribe was sworn in on August 7, 2002, when guerillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) shelled the presidential palace. In a horrific twist, the guerillas also shelled one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Bogota in the same attack, killing 19.

In his months in power, Uribe has wrought significant changes. He liquidated the Agrarian Reform Institute. He privatised an efficient state telephone company, TELECOM, after which the rates soared and phones became inaccessible to many. The prices of electricity and water have also soared. A labour "reform" was pushed through, leading to the firing of thousands, the depriving of workers of many rights and benefits, and the removal of billions from the public sphere. In preparation for this "reform", the labour movement was savagely attacked by state-sponsored paramilitary groups, with dozens of union activists assassinated since Uribe's arrival in office.

In the political sphere, Uribe has sought to legalise the paramilitary organisations by engaging in "negotiations" with them. Presenting these as negotiations between hostile parties is absurd because the paramilitary groups, as Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and many other agencies have documented, work closely with the Colombian Army and state. Despite this being nearly universally known in Colombia, November 2003 saw a high-profile, nationally televised "demobilisation" of a paramilitary group, at which 850 paramilitary members turned in 112 weapons. However, the demobilised bloc, called Bloque Cacique Nutibara (BCN), proceeded to assassinate a municipal politician in December.

Uribe's onslaught has not gone unresisted, however, and the resistance is not merely the armed (and, unfortunately, all-too-frequently misdirected, abusive, and predatory) resistance of the FARC. Instead, as in the rest of Latin America, popular movements have surged forward to claim a political space for themselves in spite of all the repression.

This surge has occurred on multiple fronts. On October 25, 2003, Uribe put a referendum before the people, seeking constitutional changes that would make possible, among other things, further privatisation, cuts in social entitlements, reduction in political protection of various kinds, and his own re-election (Under the Constitution, presidential tenures are limited to a single term). Uribe needed 25 per cent of the electorate to participate in it - some 6.25 million people. The social movements campaigned for abstention, and the electorate abstained: Uribe ended up with the same hardcore vote of about six million, not enough to pass the constitutional changes, which he is now seeking to introduce in other ways.

On October 26, there were municipal and departmental elections all over the country. Millions more participated in these elections compared to the referendum of the previous day. In these elections, the electorate brought candidates of the Left movement to power in many areas. Lucho Garzon, a highly respected union activist, is now the Mayor of Bogota. Angelino Garzon, another activist, is the Governor of the Department of Valle del Cauca. In the months since this major reverse for Uribe's agenda, both the social movements, which succeeded beyond anyone's expectations, and the government, which had believed that victory was certain, have been trying to regroup and take action. The government has sought to compensate for its newly exposed political weakness with violence and repression. The movements, by contrast, have been building, consolidating and attempting to outflank the government politically.

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This battle is being played out in local spheres all over Colombia. One of the arenas of the battle is Cauca, a highly strategic corridor in southwestern Colombia, through which the Pan-American Highway carries the commerce of the South American continent. The northern zone of Cauca, mountainous and neglected by the state, has long been a stronghold of the FARC. In the valleys and cities, sugar barons, drug cartels and ranchers continue to wield their traditional money power, trying to forge alliances with multinational capital for mega projects in order to exploit the vast natural resources of the region (Cauca, for example, has tremendous water resources).

Northern Cauca is also home to one of the most politically sophisticated and strong grassroots movements in Latin America, that of the Nasayuwe (Nasa) indigenous, a population of around 1,10,000, organised into "cabildos" (councils), with a parallel government and a political project they call indigenous autonomy. Because of their success in building this autonomy, they have been attacked by the traditional elites, the government, the paramilitary groups, and, at times, the FARC, which is unable to allow space for a political project that is not its own. Their organisation, the CRIC (Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca), founded in1971 under the banner of unity, land and culture, has become the ethical and political guide of other movements in the country and a seed of the remarkable resistance there.

Part of the spirit of the Nasa's movement is expressed by the Mayor of Toribio (the town that is the historic heartland of this movement), Arquimedes Vitonas, who, in a speech in Cali in February 2004, told the assembled leaders of the Nasa: "With this war, they can kill many of us, but they cannot kill all of us. Those of us who live will continue with our work. Those of us who die will have died defending our process."

If Vitonas' comments capture the Nasa's steadfastness in the face of the attacks, the view from the central square in the Toribio captures the reality of occupation with which the Nasa are living. On each corner of the square, the national police have set up a guard post. Such posts dot the town, and heavily armed police with their M-16s are ubiquitous. Higher up the mountains, in the indigenous reserve of Tacueyo, there is fighting, as the Colombian Army tries to dislodge the FARC from territory the guerillas have held for decades. To get from Toribio to Tacueyo, one has to pass one or sometimes two military roadblocks. At the roadblock, the military officer acts respectfully to our group, chatting with the driver and expressing his concern for the civilian population. "The important thing," the officer says, "is that the people are calm."

In Tacueyo, the people are under siege. The thousand people who belong to this reserve have gathered in a "Permanent Assembly" at El Crucero. Above El Crucero are the FARC's positions. From below, the Army continues to push. The Army's behaviour on the ground, meanwhile, makes a mockery of the checkpoint officer's show of concern. Here at the assembly, the people have organised sleeping quarters, sanitation, food and indigenous guards. The guards are a Nasa innovation: unarmed guards, who communicate with hand-held radios and carry sticks as symbols of their authority, they keep watch at night and sound the alarm if there is an encroachment into their territory. They are gathered together here because when they are dispersed in their fields and homes all over the countryside they can be caught in the crossfire or can be targeted.

The Army constantly attempts to elicit the cooperation of the Nasa, in Tacueyo and elsewhere. Soldiers go to the supply stores and rooms, they offer children money to inform on the guerillas, and try to visit and make themselves visible with the indigenous, so the guerillas will see this and commit reprisals against the civilian population. In Toribio and Jambalo, it is not a stretch to say the police are using the population as human shields against the guerillas. They are building a permanent, fortified station in Toribio against the will of the community, which will have no such fortification against the fighting the police are trying to provoke.

When combats occur, armed forces casualties are evacuated by helicopter, civilian casualties receive no such treatment. This, the community reports, is a strategy to drive the Nasa politically towards the Army. The Nasa remain aloof: the Army then resorts to repression. They plant coca, poppy or marijuana in the houses of indigenous peasants and claim the Nasa are narcotics traffickers. Members of the community are falsely accused of being guerillas and carted off to jail without any due process. The roadblocks themselves are a threat: if the peasants are unable to get to their fields for long enough, they will become dependent on food from outside - food which can be blocked off at the Army's will by the roadblocks, a strategy the Army and especially the paramilitary groups use all over Colombia to break the resistance of communities.

PADRE ANTONIO BONANOMI is an Italian priest who has lived and worked at the mission in Toribio, and with the indigenous movement for over 20 years. Asked how the movement continues to build despite being militarily occupied, he replies: "The Nasa are living two processes. One is external, the violence of the armies and economic models brought from outside. The other is internal. It is built on dreams. The Nasa are a people full of dreams, full of hope. Their historical experience has taught them that the rest will pass. These armies, they come and go. I asked them the same question. They tell me: `Padre, the Spanish conquest was worse. The `War of a Thousand Days', at the turn of the 19th century, was worse. The violence of the 1950s was worse. The armies come and go, and the dreams remain.' So, in the midst of the violence, they are creating their development plan. They go off to Malaysia to receive a United Nations award for their ecological management of the zone. They will wait out the conflict, and build in the meantime."

To the Nasa, building autonomy means building on the base of the struggles of the past. The first hero of the indigenous movement here is La Gaitana, a woman who led her people to war against the Spanish conquistadores in 1536 and united the tribes to fight hand to hand, making the Spanish pay dearly for their conquest. The second is Juan Tama, who around 1670, used the Spanish laws that acknowledged indigenous ownership of the land in the "Leyes de Indios": Juan Tama learned the laws and won the indigenous rights and the title to land reserves. These gains were reversed with Colombia's independence in the 19th century, as the nationalists sought to `develop' the new country by destroying the indigenous.

In 1910, Manuel Quintin Lame appeared on the scene, again struggling for the land, this time using a mix of non-violent political struggle, education, and the laws of the independent Colombian state. Quintin Lame laid the foundations of today's indigenous movement with patient underground organising over decades, for which he was punished: by the time he died in 1968, he had been in jail 100 times. What these leaders had won, however, was undermined by what is called in Colombia "La Violencia", a war between Liberals and Conservatives, which began in 1948 and resulted in the displacement of millions of peasants from lands that ended up in the hands of wealthy landowners. The indigenous were disorganised and disunited, working as debt serfs to the owners who had stolen the land from them, their communities controlled by the traditional elites and their traditional parties.

In the late 1960s, the indigenous began to struggle to win their lands back. Like the Landless Peasants Movement (MST) in Brazil, the indigenous of Cauca won their land back by non-violent occupation. They suffered tremendous violence: some 1,500 of them were murdered in the struggle for land. But by the end, in the 1980s, they emerged with an indigenous organisations for all of Cauca, the CRIC. Today they are organised under the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN) for the northern zone as well. They also emerged with control over their ancestral land reserves, and collective title to the lands.

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Instrumental in this process was a Nasa priest who studied outside of Cauca and returned in 1975. Alvaro Ulcue helped spur the land recovery movement, the youth movement, and virtually every other aspect of the movement through the 1970s and 1980s. The landowners and the security forces assassinated him in 1984. The assassination, however, did not stop the movement. Nor did the assassination of Jambalo's first indigenous Mayor, Mario Betancur, in 1996 by one of the guerilla groups, the Army of National Liberation (ELN). Nor did the assassination by FARC of yet another indigenous leader, Cristobal Secue, in 2001. The latter two murders were investigated by the communities themselves. They concluded that the murders were committed as attacks by the guerillas on the project of indigenous autonomy.

In the late 1980s, with the lands under their control, the Nasa found that their indigenous organisations and their political initiatives were being stymied by the traditional elites and parties who still controlled the municipalities. They formed the "Civic Movement" to take over the municipalities. They lost three times, and the first indigenous Mayors were elected in the mid-1990s. Today, Toribio and Jambalo have indigenous Mayors from the movement. The reserve lands and the territorial autonomy of the indigenous were formally recognised in Colombia's Constitution of 1991. The movements have used the spaces won in the municipalities and their constitutional rights to the reserves to develop the region using a decentralised planning methodology.

An outgrowth of Paulo Freire's methods of adult education, it involves the training of facilitators and the use of assemblies to create development plans, establishing priorities and setting projects for the community to allocate municipal budgets and transfer payments to the indigenous reserves. This type of planning is done at the reserve and municipal levels. In February, the municipalities held their annual assemblies, where the priorities were set. For the municipality of Toribio, the assembly took place at the indigenous university of CECIDIC, a diverse university with programmes in agriculture, economics, trades and law.

Toribio, with its 30,000 inhabitants, had 3,000 at the meeting. The meeting opened with the staff of the municipality placing posters with indicators collected in village-level meetings two months earlier. There were dozens of indicators, ranging from production to educational outcomes to reports of human rights abuses within the community. In the first step, the members of the community had to revise the indicators and, if necessary, correct any errors. Then the 3,000 participants broke up into smaller groups to work by theme (the seven themes included education, institutional development, health, culture, human rights, family, and ecology and economy, treated together) and by reserve (the municipality consists of four reserves, Toribio, Tacueyo, San Francisco, and the urban centres). The 28 working groups set the budget priorities, decided projects, and submitted their decisions to the assembly. This decentralised planning has proved to be a highly effective method for management.

Toribio's `Proyecto Nasa', the overall plan, of which the development plan is a part, was one of the winners of the UNDP's Equatorial Initiative for Sustainable Development prize on February 19, 2004, in Malaysia for the best development project. The prize, given to six projects out of 600 entrants, was given for development plans to reduce poverty by conserving and restoring ecology. The ecological successes of the process can be seen by anyone travelling in the region: the land, after decades of abuse by sugar barons, ranchers and absentee landlords, is being reforested, restored to productive use, and brought back to life.

UNDERSCORING the paradoxical situation lived by the Nasa, the annual development planning assembly was an occasion to speak for the families of eight people from Toribio who were summarily arrested and jailed with no due process. A woman from the Tacueyo reserve explained how on January 29, 2004, her husband was pointed out by someone wearing a ski mask and taken to Popayan by a group of heavily armed police and military personnel. Hugo Prado Orozco, a marble mine worker, well known to the entire community as someone with no links to the guerillas, was then shown on national television along with seven others from the community and weapons none of them had ever seen before, with the Army claiming to have won a major victory against the guerillas by capturing high-level commanders.

According to Colombia's anti-terrorist laws, these people, now in jail in Popayan, the capital of Cauca, have no rights to face their accuser; no rights to see the evidence against them; no rights to a jury trial. Instead, their fate will be decided by the state Prosecutor's office, in private. The families collected 3,000 signatures from the community of people who swore that these eight individuals had nothing to do with the insurgency. Against this, the Prosecutor-General has the testimony of someone in a ski mask - and the eight continue to be in jail, in dreadful conditions.

Another paradox: the very day that `Proyecto Nasa' was winning the UNDP's sustainable development award, the Nasa held an assembly of 6,000 people in Caloto. This time, the assembly was a kind of "trial": according to the 1991 Constitution, the indigenous have the right to exercise justice according to their traditions for crimes committed within indigenous lands. The Nasa used this to raise the issue of the conduct of the Colombian Army itself.

On December 31, a member of the community, Olmedo Ul, was shot dead while riding past a military post on a motorcycle. No one has been punished for the crime. To the community, the issue is clear: that murder, along with many other abuses by the Colombian military, could not have occurred if the Army was not in their lands in the first place. Indeed, this random killing of a young man in Nasa territory is understood by the political organisation to be a kind of punishment for the Nasa's refusal to allow their project of autonomy - from the government and the insurgency - to be used as part of Uribe's counter-insurgency strategy.

The killing took place two weeks after the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca published a communique differentiating indigenous autonomy from the government's position. The `trial', like the UNDP prize, became national news in Colombia, with the commander of the Army going on television to state that the indigenous had no jurisdiction to try the Colombian military. Publicity generally helps provide protection for the Nasa, as it does for movements everywhere. It is for this reason that communication with other movements in Colombia and throughout the world has become so important for the Nasa, as it has for all Colombian social organisations. The strategy for destroying them has been to divide and isolate, something the establishment learned to do in this country of regions, of diverse indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and Mestizo ethnicities, and of urban/rural and class divisions.

Being just 1,10,000 of Colombia's 44 million, they cannot defeat Uribe's agenda alone; they might have to teach other movements how to build and organise a remarkable project in terribly adverse conditions. They are not alone, however - and by weaving their autonomy and resistance with others, they are opening up possibilities in Colombia and perhaps elsewhere as well.

Justin Podur is a journalist and translator based in Toronto, Canada. He visited Northern Cauca in February 2004.

A cartoonist and a spy

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

RANAN LURIE'S cartoons have graced the columns of leading newspapers and magazines of the world. They have been hard-hitting, though his right-wing political bias comes through frequently. During his heyday in international journalism, Lurie could pick up the telephone and speak to many leading Western statesmen and international personalities. Few of them knew that Lurie was a "double agent", working for the Israeli secret agency Mossad and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States.

The Guinness Book of Records has described Lurie as the world's most popular caricaturist whose works have appeared continuously for 20 straight years on a regular basis in more than a thousand papers in 103 countries. His political cartoons have appeared in publications like Time, Newsweek, Foreign Affairs, Asahi Shimbun and Die Welt.

According to articles that have appeared in the Israeli media, Lurie has admitted that he was recruited at an early age by the Israeli security agencies. Mossad realised that the talented young cartoonist could be launched into the international media scene, where he could turn out to be a useful asset.

Mossad provided the springboard into international journalism for the young Lurie by purchasing a weekly magazine in Israel. Lurie was given a prominent profile in the magazine. Its circulation was artificially boosted by Mossad, which purchased its copies in bulk. The Israeli authorities saw to it that the soaring circulation of the magazine was attributed mainly to the journalistic skills of Lurie.

If reports appearing in the Israeli media are to be believed, Lurie's earlier exploits for the Israeli security services before he became a media star had made him a prized asset. Lurie, posing as an Australian journalist, had gained access to the Egyptian Navy's flagship "Domiat". His assignment was to find out whether the Egyptians had begun to use the naval radar supplied by the Soviet Union. Lurie successfully accomplished the mission.

According to reports in the Israeli media, Lurie's most notorious act of daring was in 1956. He, along with two other secret agents of France and Britain infiltrated the Egyptian Army's headquarters two days before the launch of the Suez war on October 27, 1956. The trio found out that the top brass of the Egyptian military had flown to Damascus to coordinate a joint Arab response to the invasion being planned by Israel, France and Britain. They also found out the exact time when the Egyptian generals would be flying back, aboard their Soviet-built Ilyushin-14.

On the night of October 29, 1956, the plane was shot down by Israeli fighter planes over the Mediterranean Sea, killing the entire general staff of the Egyptian Army. Their bodies were never found. It is another story that the joint Israeli-French-British military adventure in 1956 ended in a fiasco.

The CIA soon found out about Lurie's secret life as an Israeli agent embedded in the upper crust of American society. Mossad was left with no choice but to share its prized asset with the CIA. Lurie continued in international journalism, happily supplying information to two masters at the same time. Lurie is now busy writing a book about his duplicitous career.

In interviews to the Israeli media, he has expressed no regrets. His story will add credibility to the widespread belief that Western and Israeli security services have infiltrated key sectors of the media in many countries, including developing ones.

Rights and wrongs

ASHISH KOTHARI environment

The Central government circulars to the States urging steps to clear the disputes over tribal occupation of forest land may have political aims, but their subject matter is of utmost importance to the tribal people's survival.

IT was straight out of the set of a Bollywood blockbuster, one felt: would-be heroes and actual villains, opportunistic politicians, courtroom drama, a silently suffering populace and plenty of room for sequels. But, the scene was from the corridors of power in New Delhi and the portals of the highest court of the land. The suffering populace was made up of several million tribal people and forest dwellers.

On February 23, the Supreme Court severely embarrassed the Central government by ordering a stay on its much-publicised move to grant land rights to the tribal people in forest areas. In early February, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) issued circulars to all State governments asking them to expedite the process of clearing disputes regarding the occupation of land classified as "forest" by tribal people and the conversion of "forest villages" into "revenue villages". Simultaneously, it published advertisements in leading newspapers, claiming that it was taking the "revolutionary step" of giving forest rights to Adivasis.

Based on an application filed by senior counsel Harish Salve against this move, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the government. It was pointed out that the Ministry's circulars were in violation of an earlier ruling by the Supreme Court that any regularisation of forest encroachment had to be cleared by the court. Salve also alleged that the move would endanger several hundred thousand hectares of forests. He pointed out that the circulars were aimed at gaining mileage in the general elections, as was evident from the advertisements. The court accepted these arguments and gave the government a month to come back with a response, pending which the operation of the circulars was stayed.

The subject matter of the two circulars issued by the Ministry is of utmost importance to the survival and cultures of millions of people.

Encroachments are a major cause for the loss of forests in India. A variety of people are responsible for this, from land mafia to urban citizens to poor rural families. But many of the tribal and other forest-dwelling communities have been unfairly labelled as "encroachers". The fact is that they occupied or were using these lands before they were declared "forest lands" under the Indian Forest Act, but the traditional occupation and use of these lands by them were ignored. For instance, the revenue land settlements completed during the 1970s in Orissa did not involve the survey of hilly lands, which are predominantly inhabited by tribal communities (owing to the higher surveying costs it entailed); these were declared state-owned revenue "wastelands" or forests. In Andhra Pradesh, lands under shifting cultivation, which were lying fallow at the time of forest classification, were declared reserve forests, without recording the rights of the tribal people. In a circular issued in 1990, the MoEF recognised such lands as "disputed" and asked the States to sort out the disputes and make applications to the Central government in order to provide proper titles or deeds to their traditional occupiers. The circulars of February 2004 reiterated this and urged the State governments to complete such processes within one year in the case of all tribal people who were found to be occupying such lands before December 31, 1993.

Many other families and communities have actually encroached on forest land. They may have done so out of sheer necessity (driven by poverty, or displaced from their traditional lands by development projects and natural disasters). They were considered to be entitled to have such lands, if occupied before 1980, regularised in their name. This is as per earlier decisions of the Government of India, taking the enactment of the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 as the cut-off point. Such cases had not been adequately processed by several State governments. The February 2004 circular points out that the Central government has sought the Supreme Court's permission to regularise cases brought to it until then.

About 2,690 settlements that exist within or adjacent to forests are legally classified as "forest villages", as distinct from most rural settlements in India that are legally designated as "revenue villages". These are in many cases villages that already existed within forests and were taken over for administrative purposes by the Forest Department; in other cases they were actually comprised of workers brought in by the department. For generations these people have helped conserve or manage forests, and have undertaken small-scale cultivation. In some cases the Forest Department has aided in meeting their basic needs. But many of them have been denied the basic developmental inputs that revenue villages are entitled to, and over the years their economic and social status has declined markedly. In 1990, the Government of India issued guidelines to the relevant States to convert forest villages into revenue villages, but most States have been tardy in implementing them (Progress was seen only in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, where there are active forest-dwellers' movements). The February 2004 circulars reiterated the need to move on this urgently and outlined some steps in that direction.

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There are several elements of the circulars that are problematic. One is the stipulation to complete the settlement of rights within one year. It is also not specified why the cut-off year is 1993. There is scope for considerable improvement in the way the circulars are framed. However, their overall substance is undoubtedly positive. Resolution of the above issues would not only provide security of livelihood to a few million families, but help create a stake for them in forest regeneration and conservation. It would, if carried out with transparency and honesty, help to separate the genuine forest-dwellers from the vested interests, such as the land mafia, that have encroached on forest lands in the name of Adivasis.

Unfortunately, the timing of the circulars and the accompanying advertisements could not but raise the suspicion that the interests of forest-dwellers or conservation were not quite the intent of the move. The Supreme Court was therefore entirely justified in taking the stand it did. But its stand and that of the senior counsel who filed the application against the circulars also smack of a strange inconsistency. Simultaneous with the circulars regarding forest encroachments and forest villages, the Ministry issued a spate of clearances to "development" projects. Some of these are extremely controversial projects, such as the Bodh Ghat dam in Chhattisgarh, which has for years been opposed by the local Adivasis (it would entail a diversion of 5,700 hectares of forest land), and the Human dam in Maharashtra, which has been pointed out as being a major environmental threat to the Tadoba National Park. There was no indication of whether the processes of environmental impact assessment, public hearing, and obtaining the consent of the panchayats concerned, were completed.

Obviously, these clearances were granted in order to gain propaganda mileage for the elections. In fact, the official press release on February 6 clubbed all these circulars and clearances together. And yet, neither the senior counsel nor the Supreme Court thought it fit to question the government about these project clearances.

In the past few years of legal and judicial activism, several judgments delivered by the Supreme Court have impacted heavily on Adivasis, fisherfolk, peasants and pastoralists: the presumption has often been that they are in some way primarily responsible for environmental damage. Simultaneously, there is a trend of condoning massive "development" projects that are obviously ecologically destructive. Projects that provide electricity and water to resource-guzzling cities and industries (Narmada, Tehri and so on) or help corporations (oil pipeline through the Marine National Park in Kutch) seem to be justified even though they will mean damage to natural ecosystems and the displacement of people, while a tribal eking out a modest living inside a forest is not considered to be in a legitimate occupation.

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It is imperative that immediately after the elections the government moves to re-issue directions to the State governments on these matters and step up monitoring to ensure that they are implemented. The Supreme Court needs to facilitate this, especially because the ruling party would probably have already gained political mileage from the move (despite, or perhaps due to, the court's stay), and it should therefore be pressured to implement the promises.

Simultaneously, it is important that the big development projects cleared by the MoEF are stayed until the elections are over. The due process of environmental impact assessment, public hearing, and the seeking of the consent of the villages that would be affected, need to be carried out in their case.

Ashish Kothari is a founding member of Kalpavriksh, an environmental action group.

Remembering Rachel Corrie

NANDAGOPAL R. MENON world-affairs

The killers of the U.S. citizen-activist in Palestine a year ago continue to remain free thanks to the Bush administration's unwavering support to Israel.

MARCH 16 marked the first anniversary of the martyrdom of Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old American peace activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in the Occupied Territory of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. Rachel was a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a group of Palestinian-led international activists committed to non-violent activism to resist the brutal Israeli military occupation (Frontline, April 11, 2003).

On the heels of Rachel's murder came the attack on 23-year-old Brian Avery, an ISM activist from New Mexico in the United States. He was shot in the face by Israeli soldiers from an armoured personnel carrier in Jenin on April 5 when he went out to see if anyone needed help during an evening curfew. Avery, now back in the U.S., is being treated for severe injuries in the face; his left cheek was almost completely ripped off in the machinegun fire. On April 10, Tom Hurndall, a 22-year-old ISM activist from London, was shot in the head while attempting to protect Palestinian children from Israeli gunfire in Rafah. Hurndall, who was on life support system for nine months, died on January 13, 2004. James Miller, a British television cameraman and documentary film-maker, was fatally shot in the neck by Israeli soldiers on May 2 in Rafah. Miller was shooting a documentary on the Israeli Army's destruction of Palestinian homes.

This was followed by the Israeli Army's harassment and deportation of human rights and peace activists working in the Occupied Territories. On May 9, Israeli military personnel raided the ISM media office in Beit Sahour and damaged office equipment, including computers and video footage. In August, two activists were deported after being held in an Israeli jail for 10 days. They were arrested while trying to prevent the demolition of a house in the Balata refugee camp.

IN one of her last e-mails home, Rachel wrote about her experiences and her relatively privileged position in Palestine as a U.S. citizen: "You just can't imagine it unless you see it - and even then you are always well aware that your experience of it is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli Army would face if they shot an unarmed U.S. citizen... ." Unfortunately, this was not to be. The Israeli government exonerated the two soldiers, identified in the military police's partly published June 2003 investigation report only as Sergeants Y.F. and E.V., who drove the bulldozer. The report concluded that the drivers did not see Rachel. On the contrary, six eyewitnesses have testified that Rachel was clearly visible to the drivers as she was wearing a bright orange jacket with a cross, the kind usually worn by ISM activists. In fact, on that day there were two bulldozers manned by two people each and an armoured personnel carrier at the site where Rachel was killed. Worst of all, the report quoted Rachel's autopsy record, which noted that she had broken ribs, broken vertebra of the spine, broken shoulder blades and ruptures of the lung, and claimed that her death was probably caused by tripping on the debris or perhaps being covered by the debris.

Israel has refused to release the full report despite assurances given by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to President George Bush on March 17, 2003, that a "thorough, credible and transparent investigation" would be conducted and the conclusions would be made available to the U.S administration. On March 19, 2003, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said: "When we have the death of an American citizen, we want to see it fully investigated. That is one of our key responsibilities overseas, to look after the welfare of American citizens and to find out what happened in situations like these." Later the State Department informed Rachel's parents, Craig and Cindy Corrie, that the alleged killers would not be tried, the investigation was complete and that Israel had refused to release the report. Finally, after much pressure was exerted on the Israeli government, the concluding part of the report was made public and Rachel's parents and two U.S. Embassy staffers in Tel Aviv were allowed to go through the `full' report and take notes. Richard LeBaron, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, said about the report: "There are several inconsistencies worthy of note."

The U.S. Congress is yet to pass House Concurrent Resolution 111, which demands the "United States government to undertake a full, fair and expeditious investigation into the death of Rachel Corrie". Moved by Representative Brian Baird of Washington State, the Bill has been signed by 56 House members till date. Reports suggest that the Israeli lobby in Congress is trying hard to prevent the passage of the Bill since it might be detrimental to Israeli interests.

In sharp contrast, the Bush administration reacted with speed when three U.S. nationals were killed in an explosion, allegedly triggered by Palestinian resistance fighters, in Gaza on October 15. 2003. Within 25 hours, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) personnel were on the scene to investigate the incident. Importantly, the U.S.' "most allied ally" in the West, the United Kingdom, called for inquiries into the killings of its nationals Tom Hurndall and James Miller. In a rare case of prosecution of a member of the Israeli military for attacking a civilian, the soldier who shot Hurndall was charged with aggravated assault soon after the incident. In the wake of Hurndall's death and thanks to lobbying by his family and the U.K. Foreign Office, the charge was likely to be revised to murder or manslaughter.

MORE than 30 memorial events were held across the U.S. to pay tributes to Rachel and to create awareness about the Palestinian cause. The city of Santa Cruz in California observed March 16 as `Rachel Corrie Day'. City Mayor Scott Kennedy said in a statement: "It is a very sad commentary on the state of political affairs in the United States that our national government has done virtually nothing to find out what happened and to insist that those responsible for her death can be held accountable." Activists organised protests outside the offices of Caterpillar, the Illinois-based company that built the D9R bulldozer that killed Rachel. The nine-tonne bulldozer, sent to Israel as part of a U.S. aid package, is used mainly to destroy civilian homes in the Occupied Territories. Adam Shapiro, a co-founder of the ISM, told mediapersons during a protest outside the Caterpillar office in Washington: "Our message to Caterpillar is to stop selling bulldozers to Israel and to demand that the Israeli military cease and desist from using the Caterpillar bulldozers in its occupation of Palestinian land." The U.S. section of the Amnesty International repeated its call for an independent investigation into Rachel's death. Earlier, on February 16, Rachel was posthumously honoured with the Housing Rights Defender Award by the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE). The award, which was received by her parents at a function in Washington, went to Rachel for the "unwavering bravery and courage" she displayed in standing up to "ruthless violence".

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A `die-in' was organised at the Erez crossing point between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Activists wearing T-shirts smeared with red paint and announcing the various victims of the Israeli occupation - justice, peace and Palestinian lives and property, among others - lay `dead' on the street in order to draw popular attention to Israeli atrocities.

Dr. Samir Nassrallah, the Palestinian pharmacist whose home Rachel defended to her death, said in a note on March 22: "... she was in pursuit of the truth. She dedicated her life to that. She conveyed the truth as she saw it, reporting the crimes of the Israeli army against innocent Palestinian civilians. The hands of the occupation killed her in cold blood as if to say to us, `I will deny you your spoken voice'. I don't feel safe as long as our voice does not reach the outside world."

The right-wing media in Israel and the U.S. used the day to carry forward their vilification campaign against Rachel. The Jerusalem Post's Ruhama Shatton, in an article titled "A tribute to Rachel Corrie", wrote on March 2: "I want to thank Corrie for the explosives that flow freely from Egypt to Gaza, via the smuggling tunnels under the Gaza homes she died defending... I want to thank Rachel Corrie for showing Palestinian children how to despise America... ." In fact, the "tribute" elicited a response from an otherwise pliant U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv: "This article is nothing less than hateful incitement. The author's disgusting abuse of the anniversary of the death of this American citizen is inexcusable. The article reflects a level of discourse unbefitting any serious newspaper. We're disappointed that you chose to publish this article."

Ruhama Shatton's article was reproduced by the The Wall Street Journal on March 16. On the same day Journal editor James Taranto wrote in his daily column "Best of the Web Today": "A year ago today, terror advocate Rachel Corrie of Olympia, Washington, died in a bulldozer accident while trying to obstruct an Israeli operation against Palestinian weapons-smuggling tunnels." However, facts point elsewhere. Steve Niva, who worked with Rachel and teaches International Politics and Middle East Studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, wrote in The Seattle Times on March 16: "Most Palestinian homes in Rafah, including the one Corrie was killed defending, are being demolished daily by Israeli bulldozers to make way for a massive, six-metre-high, steel wall Israel is building along the Egyptian border with Rafah. According to United Nations officials, over the past three years, Israel has destroyed nearly 900 houses in Rafah in order to create a 100-metre `buffer zone' between Palestinian homes and the wall. ... This wall is the Gaza link to the massive wall and fence barrier that Israel is building deep within Palestinian lands in the West Bank."

WAS Rachel aware of the inherent limitations of non-violent resistance against a thuggish Israeli leadership with a horrendous human rights record, and its awesome military might? In a remarkable e-mail to her mother she said: "If any of us had our lives and welfare completely strangled, lived with children in a shrinking place where we knew, because of previous experience, that soldiers and tanks and bulldozers could come for us at any moment and destroy all the greenhouses that we had been cultivating for however long, and did this while some of us were beaten and held captive with 149 other people for several hours - do you think we might try to use somewhat violent means to protect whatever fragments remained? ... I really think, in a similar situation, most people would defend themselves as best as they could. I think uncle Craig would. I think probably grandma would. I think I would." She did. Martyrdom, history tells us, is the supreme example of the courage to be.

Wheels of progress

The Chittaranjan Locomotive Works' technological advances and its modernisation drive have helped India become part of a select group of nations with the capacity to build locomotives indigenously.

THE need to develop an indigenous locomotive-building capacity was acutely felt in pre-Independence India as the import of locomotives became expensive and difficult, especially during the First World War. In order to meet the rising demand, the Peninsular Locomotive Company was formed in 1921. But within three years the company shut down as a result of internal problems without having produced a single locomotive.

A committee consisting of M/s Humphries and Srinivas was set up in the late 1930s to look into the matter. The site initially considered by the committee at Chandmari near Kanchrapara in Bengal, had to be abandoned because of the partition of the country. Subsequently, the present site at Chittaranjan in Burdwan district was selected, and it was approved by the Railway authorities in 1947.

Chittaranjan is only 32 km from Asansol, the coal belt of West Bengal, and 230 km from the Kolkata airport. Construction work began in March 1948 when the railway siding at Chittaranjan was connected to the Eastern Railway main line. By the end of 1949, the plant got its first machine. Production began on January 26, 1950, and the first steam locomotive rolled out of the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW) factory on November 1. Known as Loco Manufacturing Works earlier, it was renamed on November 1 as a tribute to the famous freedom fighter from Bengal, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das.

Originally, the plant was designed to produce 120 average-sized steam locomotives and 50 spare boilers. By 1972, when the manufacture of steam locomotives was discontinued, CLW had already produced 2,351 of them in five different types. In 1963, the company produced its first air-conditioned locomotive, Bidhan.

In 1967, CLW began manufacturing broad gauge (BG) diesel shunting locomotives, metre gauge (MG) and narrow gauge (NG) main line locomotives. A total of 852 locomotives of seven types had been brought out from CLW until 1993 when their production was discontinued. Manufacture of broad gauge electric locomotives began in 1961. Two years later, the company began producing 25 kV AC Electric Locomotives. Their design was obtained from a number of European companies, and later modified and improved by CLW to suit the operating and environmental conditions of India. Fifteen versions of these locomotives had rolled out of CLW, the latest in the freight division being WAG-7 and in the passenger division WAP-4. In 1993, Indian Railways entered into an agreement with AD tranz of Switzerland for the manufacture of state-of-the-art three-phase 25kV AC Electric Locomotives.

CLW is the first production unit of its kind in the developing world, second in Asia and fifth in the world, to manufacture the three-phase state-of-the-art GTO thyristor-controlled electric loco, and the 6,000 hp freight electric loco WAG-9, called Navyug. In 2000-01, the first passenger version of the three-phase loco WAP 5 called Navodit was manufactured. The same year, two new versions of WAP-7 and WAP-9 were developed. It is to CLW's credit that today, India is among the select band of five nations with the capability to manufacture the three-phase electric locomotives.

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THE CLW Steel Foundry was set up in 1963 in collaboration with the United Kingdom-based M/s F H Lloyd for production of steel castings used in steam locomotives. After CLW shifted from the production of steam locomotives to that of diesel and electric locomotives and traction motors, the heavy steam locomotive castings made way for lightweight steel castings. The modernisation project of the foundry was completed in 1995-96. The technological know-how came from Atchison Castings, United States.

The company has an exclusive Centre for Design and Development (CD&D), which was set up in 1993 coinciding with the signing of a transfer of technology agreement with ABB Transportations Systems Ltd of Switzerland. Apart from developing the WAP-7 passenger locomotive and the WAG-9H freight locomotive, CD&D played a crucial role in the production of four major equipment - traction converter, auxiliary converter, transformer and controlled electronics. This indigenisation has brought down the company's cost of production substantially.

THE township built around CLW is considered the best of its kind in the country today. Covering a total area of 18.3 sq.km, the workers' colonies are spread in such a manner that access to the workshop is not hindered. Each colony has community and health centres, primary and secondary schools, dispensary, play grounds and parks. Initially, the township was planned to house 5,000 workers. Today, it has 9,224 quarters, accommodating 45,924 people. The town has 38 schools, of which 22 belong to the railways, a college, a 200-bed hospital, seven health units, eight community halls and two sewage treatment plants. The main source of water for the township is the Maithon Dam reservoir. During summer, the seven lakes situated within the township help meet the water requirements of the people. The average consumption of filtered water is around 45 lakh gallons a day. The power supply for CLW is assured from the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC). In Maithon town, the DVC has 40 mw hydroelectric and 90 mw gas turbine stations, which are connected to its main grid, from which CLW receives power. As a stand by, there is a third feeder up to HCL Rupnarayanpur. Apart from these sources, CLW has a captive plant capable of generating 11.16 mw in the event of a total failure of power supply from the DVC.

In order to conserve energy, CLW has been, since 1986, modifying its manufacturing process and replacing old machinery with new. Sodium vapour lamps lit the streets and office and domestic buildings are encouraged to use fluorescent tubelights. As a result of these measures, maximum power demand has been brought down from 12.5 MVA (mega-volt ampere) to 12 MVA.

Chittaranjan's environment remains clean and green. Every year, between late October and early April, a variety of migratory birds flock to this part of Bengal from northern Asia, Europe and Siberia. Earlier, more than 24,000 winter visitors have come to roost near the lakes of Chittaranjan; now the number of such birds has come down to around 10,000.

Pisciculture also flourishes here. Four lakes have been licensed out to the Chittaranjan Employees Credit Cooperative Society, and one to a private individual. The local residents can buy fresh fish for less than half the market price from the society.

Murder most foul

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The assassination of Hamas' spiritual leader Sheikh Yassin is seen as a move by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to continue his policy of incessant violence directed at the "opponents" of Israeli policies.

THE assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, by the Israeli security forces has further exacerbated the situation in West Asia. In an act of state-sponsored terrorism, Israeli helicopter gunships fired three missiles as Sheikh Yassin left the Islamic Association mosque in the densely populated al-Sabra neighbourhood in the centre of Gaza city. He was in his wheelchair and was accompanied by three bodyguards. One of the missiles hit the Hamas leader and his bodyguards. The other two exploded in the neighbourhood, killing four other civilians. Two of Sheikh Yassin's sons were seriously injured. Sheikh Yassin had survived an attempt on September 6, 2003, when Israeli warplanes bombed an apartment building in which he and another Hamas leader were present.

Sheikh Yassin had come to acquire a following in the wider Arab and Muslim world. The demonstrations that took place in many cities in the Islamic world after the assassination was an illustration of the respect that he commanded. Demonstrators in Mosul chanted: "Do not worry Palestine. Iraq will avenge the assassination of Sheikh Yassin." The leading Shiite cleric of Iraq, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, described the assassination as "an ugly crime against the Palestinian people". Palestine Authority President Yasser Arafat declared a three-day mourning. Life in the Occupied Territories came to a standstill after the slain leader's body was laid to rest. The frail 66-year-old Sheikh Yassin was a quadriplegic. He needed help in all daily activities and suffered from muscular deterioration, chronic breathing problems and hearing loss. His physical deterioration started after he was involved in an accident while playing football as a child. Sheikh Yassin preferred to live in his modest house, without any security cover.

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The timing and the circumstances leading to his killing have only deepened suspicions about the ultimate game plan of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the Occupied Territories and the region. There are indications that the Bush administration had given its ally, Israel, the green signal to carry out the attack. "The Zionists didn't carry out their operation without getting the consent of the American administration, and it must take responsibility for this crime," Hamas said in a statement after the death of its leader.

Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, in one of his first statements after being chosen to head Hamas in Gaza, said the U.S. government was the enemy of not only Palestinians but all Muslims. He held the Bush administration culpable in the assassination. However, the Hamas leadership has reiterated that it will only target Israel.

Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery has predicted that the killing of Sheikh Yassin will open a "new chapter". "It moves the conflict from the level of a solvable national conflict to the level of a religious conflict, which by its very nature is insoluble."

In the last week of March, Washington vetoed the United Nations resolution condemning the killing. The resolution had sought to condemn "all terrorist attacks against any civilians as well as all acts of violence and destructions". Almost all the countries in the world, barring a handful, condemned the killing. India's reaction came a little late. On the day the Hamas leader was killed, India was conducting a high-level strategic dialogue with Israel in Tel Aviv. While most countries immediately "condemned" Israel, the External Affairs Ministry, in a statement issued more than two days after the event, said that it was "appalled" by the killing. The diplomatic community has noted that New Delhi has not explicitly condemned the extra-judicial use of force by Israel. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan used stronger language. He "strongly condemned" Israel's action. Similar views were expressed by the European Union and most European countries.

ACCORDING to analysts, Sharon's personal decision to liquidate Sheikh Yassin was connected to the government's plans to evacuate the Gaza Strip. When Sharon first mooted this plan, it prompted a lot of criticism from the hardline elements dominating his Cabinet. His grand plan is to pull out from Gaza and then annex almost half of the West Bank, which lies outside the so-called security wall. By eliminating Sheikh Yassin, he wanted to show to the Israeli public that he was not vacating Gaza under duress. Sharon is also expecting a Hamas backlash to provide him with more excuses to alter the demographic situation in the West Bank in favour of Israel. Influential sections in the Israeli Right argue that any unilateral pullout by Israeli forces from Gaza will only embolden the Palestinian resistance. It is being pointed out that after Israel withdrew completely from Lebanon in May 2000, the second intifada started in earnest. A wave of suicide attacks may once again bolster Sharon's popularity among the frightened Israeli voters.

Sharon's political career has been pock-marked by killings and massacres. A few illustrations will suffice. In October 1953, 69 civilians were killed by soldiers under his command in the Jordanian village of Qibya. His unprovoked killing of 50 Syrian troops on the shores of Lake Tiberius in December 1965, triggered off the 1967 war. The invasion of Lebanon, which was his brainchild, resulted in the killing of 17,000 Palestinians and Lebanese. Another 2,000 Palestinians were killed in Lebanon by the right-wing Christian militia aligned with Sharon in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Sharon's tunnel vision precludes any peaceful resolution of the political and military impasse. Compromise is anathema to him.

According to Patrick Seale, an expert on the region, Sharon follows "a strategy of fear". He wants Israel's enemies to live perpetually in fear. "They must not, even for one moment, think that Israel is weak. No one is immune from physical elimination - neither Yasser Arafat nor the Hezbollah leader Hussein Nasrallah, and certainly not the new heads of Hamas," wrote Seale in the Arabic newspaper Al Hayat.

Israel's Deputy Defence Minster Zeev Boim had issued a chilling public warning to Sheikh Yassin. He said that the Hamas leader was "marked for death - he should hide himself deep underground where he won't know the difference between day and night. We will find him in the tunnels and we will kill him". The Sharon doctrine is no different from the Bush doctrine. Both believe in the unilateral use of force unrestrained by international law or universal opprobrium.

Many observers of the West Asian scene believe that the most important reason for Sharon's decision to eliminate Sheikh Yassin was to negate the chances of a long-term truce being worked between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He had offered peace on a long-term basis to the Israelis on several occasions. His only precondition was that Israel should withdraw from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. His last offer of a truce with Israel was on December 1, 2003. He had told the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram that he was willing to solve the problem with Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders. "Let's end this conflict by declaring a temporary ceasefire. Let's leave the bigger issues for future generations to decide." Sharon was aware that Sheikh Yassin was the only personality in the whole of Palestine who could ensure that a peace accord was implemented.

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His death may have been expedited by Sharon because of his fear that the Arab summit in Tunis that was to be held in the last week of March was apparently ready to make a peace offer and resume normal relations with Israel on condition that Israel withdraw to its 1967 borders. The Arab summit was cancelled at the eleventh hour owing to serious disagreements on a host of issues. The assassination was a contributory factor to the postponement. The Israeli security services have told Sharon that Hamas is on the retreat after the killing. They have predicted that the organisation no longer poses an obstacle to Sharon's plans of carving out a Palestinian mini state.

Uri Avnery said: "The fate of the state of Israel is in the hands of a group of bankrupt political and military leaders who have failed in all their actions. They have tried to cover up their failure by a catastrophic escalation. This act will not only endanger the personal security of every Israeli, both in the country and around the world, but also the existential security of the state of Israel. It has grievously hurt the chances of putting an end to the Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Muslim conflicts."

A former U.S. diplomat who was engaged in the West Asia peace process said that the "real danger" was that the international community was witnessing "the beginning of the end of a conventional diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem".

Changing with the times

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Interview with Surinder Jain, general manager, CLW.

Surinder Jain, general manager of Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, talks about CLW's ongoing projects and its plans for diversification, in an interview to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay. Excerpts:

Where does India, CLW in particular, stand in the international locomotive manufacturing business?

The Indian Railways have two major locomotive building facilities, which cater to the captive market of the parent organisation. One of these units is the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, which was set up first and dedicated to the nation on its first Republic Day. It is a matter of pride for us that CLW is as young as our republic. Although CLW is geared to produce 150 locomotives a year, innovative and imaginative measures enabled us to produce a record 165 locomotives about five years ago. Today, CLW is one of the major state-of-the-art electric loco producers in the world. Its earliest product fired coal and its latest product fires semi-conductors. Not only has CLW made steam, diesel and electric locomotives, it has also made locomotives for different gauges and for different niche applications. It is satisfying to see CLW's diesel workhorses still running on precarious routes such as Kalka-Shimla and the electric ones on the treacherous K-K (Kirundul-Kottavalasa) line.

Current products of the CLW include two classes of freight locos and three classes of passenger locomotives. The WAG-7 freight loco rated at 5,000 hp with a maximum speed of 100 kmph is predominantly used in the entire Indian Railways network for freight operation. The WAP-4 class passenger loco also rated at 5,000 hp having a service speed potential of 140 kmph is the workhorse for most of the passenger trains. These are with tap changer control. The WAG-9 class loco employs modern technology of three-phase drive propulsion, acquired through transfer of technology from erstwhile ABB-Switzerland. It is being serially produced at CLW and deployed in the heavy sections for hauling ores and coal. This is rated at 6,000 hp having a service speed potential of 110 kmph. WAP-5, which is the corresponding passenger loco, also employs three-phase drive technology. Rated at 5,440 hp, it now operates at a speed of 130 kmph. Its speed upgradation to 160 kmph is under trial. CLW, with its own innovation, adapted the WAG-9 freight class locomotive for passenger operation for speeds up to 140 kmph for hauling longer passenger trains such as the Shatabdi Express, which is WAP-7 class with 6,000 hp. Having produced over 60 three-phase locomotives with modern technology since 1998, CLW has attained a confidence level with which it can address the needs of developing countries with similar requirements.

What are the important ongoing projects at CLW?

CLW is one of the pioneers in the railways in adopting latest train control technology and topologies. Today, apart from working on ergonomically designed cabs for the older generation locomotives, CLW is working on the next generation of propulsion for its state-of-the-art three-phase locomotives. Upgradation of GTO thyristor-based converters to IGBT technology has been taken up. In another two to three years, IGBT-based solutions would be much more affordable. Having acquired and assimilated the three-phase technology, indigenisation, in order to eschew foreign reliance, and competition, for cost reduction, have been identified as the key missions. Efforts towards indigenisation were made even during the technology transfer phase, which started in 1995 with ABB. In a few years, most of the equipment/systems will be indigenised through Indian industry partners, thereby substantially reducing the production cost. Through multi-sourcing, the issues of obsolescence and fleet sustenance have also been taken care of. Fast obsolescence is a reality to be reckoned with in the electronics industry. The computer system onboard the locomotive is of 1980 vintage. Realising such future dangers, CLW has already initiated a project for upgrading a vendor-independent loco control platform for three-phase locos to international standards. Besides this, many more small projects are being undertaken to improve the safety of the locomotives, including a "black box" for recording the driver's actions and the working of the locomotives, remote diagnosis based on the Global Positioning System or the Global System for Mobile Communications and so on.

20040423002308802jpg Are there any plans for diversification?

CLW is very sensitive to the saleability of its principal products. We manufacture electric locomotives, traction motors, bogies and component castings to meet the needs of the Indian Railways. Though we foresee that locomotive-based train operation would be the dominant mode of railway transportation on the Indian Railways network, we are alive to the needs of other train compositions such as train sets, preferred elsewhere. We are working on the new traction control topology; one of its objectives is to have a resilient control and communication platform, which can handle alternative train topologies. In the field of steel castings, we are planning to cast CMS crossing for the Indian Railways' tracks, GM Loco Bogies, Arm for LHB Coaches, cast steel brake beam, MG bogie for export through M/s. Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES), and so on. Thus our aim is to not only cater to the needs of the present customers but also be ready to meet any demand arising in the global market in the fields of electric locomotion and steel castings.

CLW is engaged in social work also...

As a national organisation with the primary task of transporting freight and passengers across the length and breadth of the nation, the Indian Railways have to discharge certain social obligations - to their employees, their families and the nation. Being one of the premier production units of the Indian Railways CLW is also fulfilling its social obligations in a befitting manner. CLW extends extensive medical and educational facilities, organises cultural, sports and scouting and civil defence activities. By maintaining a clean and green environment in the township, one of the major social objectives is fulfilled. CLW has got a very dynamic, focussed, committed and result-oriented non-governmental organisation called Chittaranjan Locomotive Works Women's Welfare Organisation (CLW-WWO), which runs activity centres such as Asha Kiran, a school for spastic children; Masala, file and fabrication centres, which provide employment opportunities to the downtrodden women, a computer centre and a library where excellent reference books for competitive examinations are available for students. CLW-WWO also organises vaccination and health camps and annual "healthy baby" shows. At the annual cultural function organised by CLW-WWO artists of national repute perform.

After more than 50 years in the locomotive business, how does the future look for CLW?

We always believe that the future is as bright as we see it and want it to be. We are confident about our ability to change. We have already acquired and absorbed the latest three-phase state-of-the-art technology, which is being upgraded because of the fast changes taking place in the field of electronics and communication. We have an excellent steel foundry where bogies for different types of loco are cast and despatched to different countries. Representatives from Switzerland, Turkey and South Africa have inspected CLW and accepted it as one of the world's most highly integrated loco manufacturers. In fact, last year CLW participated in the tender floated by South Africa for the supply of locomotives to that country. It is our endeavour to ensure that in the near future CLW exports locomotives with three-phase state-of-the-art technology to different countries and emerges within a decade as a major supplier of locomotives in the world market. We have the necessary will, the skill, the dedication and the capability and together, we are surely determined to march ahead to higher levels of glory. Being Asia's premier locomotive manufacturing and steel casting conglomeration, entering the global market is more a question of demand. Supply is not a problem. In view of our capacity and capability, the country's own requirement and the demands made by globalisation, CLW's future is no doubt bright.

The rise of Hamas

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

HAMAS today is the largest Palestinian militant Islamist grouping. Hamas is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, or the Islamic Resistance Movement. The word also means "zeal" or "fervour" in Arabic.

Hamas, first shot into international prominence 15 years ago at the beginning of the first intifada (uprising) against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sheikh Ahmad Yassin was the founder and spiritual leader of the group. During his student days in Egypt, Yassin came under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the biggest and oldest Islamic political parties in the Arab world. Hamas evolved from the secret cells set up by the Brotherhood in the Occupied Territories.

Palestinians such as Sheikh Yassin who were sympathetic to the goals of the Muslim Brotherhood, had involved themselves in charity and social work in the Palestinian refugee camps after the 1967 six-day Israel-Arab war. Under the umbrella of a charity organisation called Da'wah, Hamas built an impressive infrastructure catering to the social, educational, religious and cultural needs of the Palestinian people, most of them refugees living in poverty. Initially, if Israeli accounts are to be believed, the Israeli government did not mind another centre of power emerging in the Occupied Territories to challenge the dominance of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). A former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official has reportedly said that Israel's support for Hamas "was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative".

Hamas initially was registered in Israel in 1978 by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin as an Islamic Association, under the name of Al-Mujamma al Islami. American and Israeli officials have indicated that most of the initial funding for the group came from rich conservative Arab states and also, directly and indirectly, from Israel though, no concrete proof has been put forth by the Israeli government that Hamas ever got funding from it.

The stated goal of the organisation from the outset was the setting up of an Islamic government that would rule all over the land that historically belonged to Palestinians though Yassin in his last years gave the impression that he was not averse to the idea of an independent Palestinian state co-existing peacefully with the Jewish state.

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Some analysts are of the opinion that the right-wing Israeli government had a vested interest in supporting Hamas. The Israeli establishment had initially calculated that it would be to its advantage if Hamas gained in popularity. The Hamas leadership had pledged to torpedo the Oslo peace accord signed by the Israeli government with the PLO. The rash of suicide bombings by Hamas activists after the Oslo accords had strengthened the hands of the Right in Israeli politics, leading to the rise of leaders such as Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, sworn enemies of the peace accord.

The Israelis were hoping for a civil war to break out in the Occupied Territories, with Palestinians pitted against Palestinians. In the last couple of years, under Yassin's moderating influence, Hamas, while being critical of many of the actions of the Palestinian Authority led by Yasser Arafat, chose to continue recognising Arafat as the symbol of Palestinian unity and nationhood. On Arafat's urging, Hamas along with the other radical Islamic organisation, Islamic Jihad, had even announced a unilateral ceasefire in the Occupied Territories last year, to give the prospects for peace a meaningful chance. The new leader of Hamas in the Occupied Territories, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, had explicitly stated two years ago that the main aim of the current Intifada "is the liberation of West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem and nothing more. We haven't the force to liberate all our land".

A draft agreement between Hamas and Arafat's Al Fatah two years ago had stipulated that Hamas would cease attacks inside Israel if the Israeli Army pulled back to the positions it occupied before the beginning of the second Intifada. The Israelis sabotaged the efforts of Arafat to unite the various Palestinian factions, by targeting Hamas activists for assassination and triggering another round of violence. "The Israelis are like a guy who sets fire to his own hair and then tries to put it out by hitting it with a hammer. They do more to incite terrorism than curb it," wrote a former United States State Department counter-terrorism official.

THE popularity of Hamas has been steadily growing among the Palestinian populace as the Jewish state has gone about grabbing more Palestinian land and making a mockery of the peace accord. The abject failure of the Oslo agreement and the failure of self-rule, discredited the secular nationalist parties.

The frugal lifestyle of Hamas leaders is also markedly different from that of the senior functionaries of the PLO. After the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000, in which Hamas has played a prominent role, its popularity has soared. Today, as the popularity of the PLO is dipping, a large section of the Palestinian population is said to be behind Hamas.

The support for the organisation is especially strong in Gaza, where Sheikh Yassin resided. Hamas also has a branch in exile, led by Khaled Meshaal, who has also been designated the head of the organisation. Both Meshaal and Rantissi have been the targets of Israeli assassination bids.

Challenging a verdict

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

There are signs that Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian, under pressure from the Opposition, may relent and order a recount of the votes polled in the controversial election that he won in March.

THE fault lines in Taiwanese politics became exposed sharply in the aftermath of the presidential election held on March 19. The incumbent President, Chen Shui-bian, was controversially re-elected by the slimmest of margins - he won by 30,000 votes or 0.2 per cent of the votes cast. A day before the election, Chen and his running mate, Vice-President Annette Lu, escaped with superficial injuries, an "assassination attempt", which took place under circumstances that have yet to be explained fully. Opposition leaders allege that the highly publicised incident helped Chen garner enough sympathy votes to ensure his eventual victory. The Opposition, led by the nationalist Kuomintang Party (KMT), also alleged that more than 1,00,000 of its supporters, mainly civil servants, were not allowed to cast their votes because of the state of emergency Chen declared after the shooting incident.

In the last presidential election, held four years ago, Chen won by polling just 39 per cent of the votes. The Opposition was divided at that time and the vote split three ways, helping Chen to squeak through. This time, according to official figures, he won slightly more than 50 per cent of the votes cast, defying the prediction of pollsters who had put the Opposition candidate ahead of him.

Chen is the first non-KMT candidate to be elected to the post of President. His election marked the beginning of Taiwan's experiment with a "divided" government, as the KMT continued to enjoy a majority in the National Assembly.

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The period saw the failure of two government-sponsored referendums dealing with the contentious issue of bilateral relations with mainland China. The first asked the Taiwanese whether the country should further beef up its defences against China. The second asked the voters to endorse a government proposal to open talks with China on the issue of "peace and stability" across the Taiwan Straits. As for the latter, Beijing has refused to hold talks with Chen, accusing him of having a divisive agenda. The KMT had asked its supporters to boycott the referendums, which needed more than 50 per cent of the votes to be accepted. The referendum that called on the people to approve the strengthening of the missile defences against China, if passed, would have sparked off a new crisis with the mainland.

The referendums were thinly disguised ploys to advance Chen's stated goal of formalising Taiwanese independence. This is of course anathema to Beijing, which has said that it would use force to crush any formal bid by the Taiwanese government to secede. "The Taiwanese authorities have been trying to push for a referendum aimed at Taiwan's independence under the pretext of democracy. We firmly oppose any attempt by any people to split Taiwan from the rest of China by any means," Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao told the media after the end of the National People's Congress' annual session in March. The idea of using referendums to advance the secessionist cause is not new to Taiwanese politics.

Since the results were declared, people have been demonstrating regularly in large numbers in front of the Presidential Palace in Taipei. On March 27, more than half a million Taiwanese demonstrated in the capital. It was one of the biggest demonstrations ever witnessed there. The demand of the Opposition is either to have a recount or to call a new election. Chen is trying to stall a recount citing constitutional constraints, though he may have to relent under growing domestic and international pressure. Even the United States, a staunch supporter of Taiwan, has been lukewarm in its endorsement of Chen's re-election. Until the end of March, Washington had not bothered to congratulate Chen on his victory.

In the last week of March, the Chinese government, speaking through the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing, said: "We will not sit by watching should the post-election situation in Taiwan get out of control, leading to social turmoil, endangering the lives and properties of our flesh and blood brothers and affecting stability across the Taiwan Straits." Before the election, President Chen had said that he would like the Taiwanese to vote on a new referendum, asking for a new Constitution for Taiwan. Beijing fears that the proposed referendum, to be held in 2006, will have a clause formally asserting Taiwanese independence. The present Constitution explicitly states that Taiwan is part of China. Chen's calculations are that if the proposed referendum is approved, China will not risk an armed conflict, as it will be preoccupied with the 2008 Olympics, which it is hosting. After Chen spoke publicly about the referendum idea, Beijing reacted strongly. The Taiwan Affairs Office issued a statement: "Chen Shui-bian advocates independence and seeks to use referendum to conduct separatist activities. No form of Taiwan separatist activity can be tolerated by the Chinese people."

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Indications are that the KMT's presidential candidate, Lien Chan, and the leader of the smaller People First Party and the Opposition's vice-presidential candidate, James Soong, will resort to a Philippine-style "people's power" movement to force Chen to call new elections or order a recount. The Opposition feels that either way it stands to gain. Faced with massive protests, Chen has signalled his willingness for a recount but is playing for time. He wants an amendment to the Constitution passed in the legislature mandating a recount if the margin of victory in a presidential contest is less than 1 per cent. The Opposition is demanding a presidential decree for a recount so that the crisis can be resolved immediately.

The Opposition, however, is not united on the issue. Many influential figures in the KMT are for a fresh election. Some others on the other hand, seem to be opting for a compromise solution. They fear that the unrest will cause more damage to Taiwan's faltering economy. The KMT is also of the view that stirring up a confrontation with China is not good for the economy. Most of Taiwan's trade is with China. China is Taiwan's biggest and most important market. They feel that rocking the boat at this juncture will have undesirable consequences. Many Taiwanese fear that in the unlikely scenario of Taiwan seceding, development will suffer irrevocably.

Chen's Democratic People's Party (DPP) has its support base mainly in the southern part of the island. The DPP has been assiduously wooing the native Taiwanese vote; it has successfully harnessed their resentment against the people from the mainland who had ruled with an iron fist until the 1980s. Formosa, as Taiwan was called when it was under Dutch and Japanese colonial rule, was politically isolated from the mainland during the tumultuous political events leading to China's liberation. After their defeat at the hands of the communists, the KMT leadership, under Chiang Kai-shek, set up base in Formosa with the blessings of the Americans. The large influx of the mainlanders upset the ethnic and political balance in the island. Native Taiwanese are the descendants of those who had migrated to the island from the mainland many generations ago.

Under Chen's presidency, much importance was given to the main local language, "Minnanese", and Taiwanese history and culture in the school curriculum. Knowledge of the language is essential for passing competitive examinations for entry into the civil service. The aim is to build a distinct Taiwanese identity. Some hard-line supporters of Chen have suggested that the name of the country - "The Republic of China", be formally changed to the Republic of Taiwan.

Given the sharp polarisation in Taiwanese society as reflected by the election results, it will be difficult for Chen to fulfil his agenda for independence. Washington has strongly signalled its displeasure with Chen's pro-independence policies. Washington formally supports the "one-China" policy after establishing diplomatic relations with China in the 1970s. Beijing has urged Washington to "do more to contribute to peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits" in order to help maintain peace between China and Taiwan. President George W. Bush had told Wen Jiabao, in December last that Washington remained opposed to "any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo".

Indigenous and innovative

ONE of the main reasons why the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW) has been able to cut down its cost of production is the indigenisation of the new generation electron beam irradiated cross-linked (EBXL) cable. The cable was first developed by Nicco Corporation Ltd at its plant in Shyamnagar, West Bengal. The plant is equipped with a 3.0 MeV electron accelerator imported from Radiation Dynamics Inc, United States, and a state-of-the-art polymer compounding plant. The cable is used by CLW for the manufacture of high-power three-phase locomotive, for which it has entered into a transfer of technology agreement with ABB of Sweden. Nicco is one of the main suppliers of EBXL cable to the Railways.

Cross-linking of polymers with electron beam is an innovative process, which makes the cable more durable than the conventional chemically cross-linked cables. EBXL cables have superior electrical, thermal, and mechanical properties. The design is compact, smaller in size, lighter and does not emit toxic and corrosive gases - properties that eliminate the need for replacement during periodic overhauling of the locomotives.

Nicco has other clients, including the Rail Coach Factory in Kapurthala, the Integral Coach Factory in Chennai and the Diesel Locomotive Works in Varanasi.

Nicco Corporation Ltd. started manufacturing cable, conductors and wires in 1942 at Shyamnagar, and later set up a unit in Baripada, Orissa.

Regionalism and sub-regionalism

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THE Telugu Desam Party's (TDP) role in national politics was shaped mainly by two factors - the need to keep its bitter rival, the Congress(I), away from power and the desire to grab the best deal possible for Andhra Pradesh from the Centre. If the party has ended up playing the role of a kingmaker putting in place non-Congress(I) governments at the Centre on its own terms, credit goes to the TDP's founder N.T. Rama Rao, better known as NTR, and current Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu.

A major factor that helped catapult the TDP to such an unassailable position where its support became crucial to the very survival of non-Congress(I) governments was the party's consistent performance in parliamentary elections. The sizable number of MPs that the party has been returning to the Lok Sabha gave it the kind of bargaining power and political manoeuvrability that would be the envy of even national parties. This in turn led to the rise of NTR and Chandrababu Naidu, both of whom were just a whisker away from being chosen as Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister respectively.

The TDP's strident anti-Congressism is deep-seated and can be traced to the party's birth in 1982. Its main political slogan at the time was the self-respect of Telugus, which, according to NTR, was being "bartered away in the streets of Delhi" - a reference to the manner in which the State's Congress(I) Chief Ministers were humiliated by the party's high command. It struck an emotional chord in the people, who voted massively in favour of the TDP in the first elections it contested in 1983. Since then, anti-Congressism has become the TDP's single-point political programme.

NTR's antipathy to the Congress(I) reached the peak in August 1984, when he was dismissed as Chief Minister in a political conspiracy hatched by the national party. The development made NTR the Congress(I)'s most bitter critic and brought him close to the national Opposition parties such as the Janata Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left. The relationship proved enduring and the famous Opposition conclaves he held beginning with the one in Vijayawada culminated in the formation of the National Front under his chairmanship in 1988.

NTR's political success at the national level, especially as one of the key architects of the National Front government led by V.P. Singh in 1989, made him a special target of Congress(I) leaders. More than ideological differences, it was political expediency and rivalry that roused his interest in national politics and steeled his resolve to work against the Congress(I). He argued that the Congress(I) was returning to power on the strength of minority votes and the disunity in the Opposition ranks.

Although Chandrababu Naidu pursued the anti-Congress(I) stance of the TDP, he was a shade more fortunate than his father-in-law NTR, who had to reckon with unfavourable dispensations at the Centre. Ever since he became Chief Minister following a family coup in August 1995, he had to deal with Prime Ministers such as H.D. Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral and A.B. Vajpayee, in whose choice he had played a major role, first as the convener of the United Front (U.F.) and then by lending outside support to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

On realising that the popularity of the U.F. government was on the decline, he threw his weight behind the BJP and the NDA. His calculations were simple. If he did not back the BJP-led regime, there was the risk of the Congress(I), his main rival in the State, coming back to power.

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In order to deflect criticism that he was supporting a communal party, he ensured that the BJP stuck to the NDA agenda and did not take recourse to contentious issues such as Ram Janmabhoomi, uniform civil code and Article 370. He took a conscious decision not to participate in the government, preferring to extend support from outside. He understood the fast-changing political situation and made all the right moves. A stable TDP-friendly dispensation was in place, which ensured his own stability, gave whatever he asked for, and left the Congress(I) to cool its heels.

For over four years now, Chandrababu Naidu has scrupulously avoided making any move or criticism that would remotely harm the NDA regime, even while extracting the maximum benefits out of the arrangement. The best example is the way Andhra Pradesh got 55 lakh tonnes of rice as part of the food-for-work programme in drought-hit areas. If the BJP is able to boast of being the first non-Congress(I) government to last a full term, it is because the TDP remained its faithful ally through thick and thin.

The BJP's dependence on the TDP has reached a stage in which it had to accept quietly the 27 Assembly and nine Lok Sabha seats that were offered to it by the TDP as part of the seat-sharing arrangement between the two for the coming elections. BJP activists protested saying that the offer was much smaller than the 42 Assembly seats and six Lok Sabha seats that the newly formed sub-regional outfit, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), got from the Congress(I). The BJP's national leadership looked the other way because it knows the importance of the TDP in any future political formation.

However, it remains to be seen if the TDP would be able to play such a role, in view of the strong anti-incumbency factor that is working against it and the strong pro-Telangana sentiment that will decide the fate of one of the three regions of the State. If the TDP stormed to power invoking Telugu self-respect, K. Chandrasekhar Rao, president of the TRS, is harping on the "pride of Telangana people".

Speaking in an idiom understood well by people of the region, Chandrasekhar Rao has, in a short span of three years, ensured that the TRS becomes a political force to reckon with. He has been able to whip up pro-Telangana sentiments, after a gap of over three decades, by highlighting the TDP government's neglect of a region that is perennially drought-hit and starved of development. He has effectively brought out the fact that though the major rivers, the Krishna and the Godavari, flow across Telangana, the benefits from these have been taken away by people of other regions, leaving the poor farmers of the region to depend on the more expensive method of drawing water from deep borewells using pumps. The majority of the 25 lakh agricultural pumpsets in the State are installed in Telangana.

Buoyed by its performance in the local body elections last year, the TRS won a good share of seats from the Congress(I) in a region that has 107 Assembly and 16 parliamentary seats. Whatever the outcome, the State is witnessing political realignments like never before.

THE NEW POWER CENTRES

ZOYA HASAN cover-story

Indian politics has undergone fundamental changes since the 1980s, with regional parties coming to determine the fate of national governments. Has the growing political weight of these parties contributed meaningfully to the quality of the political system? An analysis.

THE rising importance of regional parties constitutes one of the most significant changes in India's recent politics. After a period of relative stability spanning three decades, Indian politics has undergone fundamental changes from the late 1980s, shifting the level of politics from the Centre to the States. From 1989 to 1999, the Congress' majority fell to an all-time low - well short of the vote share needed for a seat majority. India then moved from a national political system dominated by the centrist Congress to a coalition government led by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party in association with numerous regional and State parties. The BJP, which emerged as the single largest party in Parliament in 1996, has, however, not been able to fill the vacuum created by the decline of the Congress. This period witnessed the emergence of regional parties that came to determine the fate of national governments, the fracturing of the electorate and the arrival of coalitions, which these parties have deftly used for expanding their presence in both national and State politics.

The clout of regional parties has increased markedly in the last few years, which is evident most significantly from the process of government formation at the Centre. The installation of the BJP in power in New Delhi could not have happened without the support of regional parties in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Powerful regional parties, which include the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the Trinamul Congress, the Akali Dal, the Samata Party and the Biju Janata Dal, supported the NDA. In 1996, almost all these regional parties dominated the United Front (U.F.) coalition of `democratic and secular forces' playing a key role in the selection of H.D. Deva Gowda as Prime Minister. Two years later, N. Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and president of the TDP, played a critical role in ensuring that Atal Bihari Vajpayee became Prime Minister. No one was left in doubt of the enormity of the transition from one-party dominance to regionally-driven coalition politics.

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In the event of a hung Parliament in 2004, regional parties may yet again play a decisive role in government formation as both kingmakers and partners in power. Even though the BJP has comprehensively dominated the NDA, its regional allies will be able to take advantage of the inability of the BJP or the Congress to form a government on its own strength. This is in sharp contrast with the past when regional and State parties held office in the States at the pleasure of strong Central governments.

The emergence of regional/State parties has been the most striking feature of Indian politics, regionalising the polity substantially. Recent election verdicts confirmed the new political situation in which the electoral process produced not a national verdict, but an aggregation of regional and local verdicts. Neither of the major parties - the BJP and the Congress - emerged from the 1996, 1998, 1999 elections with close to a majority in the Lok Sabha and neither are they likely to win a majority in the foreseeable future. These election verdicts, reflecting the obvious necessity of coalition governments embracing numerous political parties, emphasise the decisive importance of regional and State parties.

How did this happen? At the institutional level, India's parliamentary federal structure provides the basic framework within which national and State parties can coexist. The distribution of powers between the Centre and States offers incentives to set up State parties. However, as long as India was a centralised federation, the Congress dominated it. Once the federation began to loosen up, a multiplicity of parties emerged in the States. The first-past-the-post or simple majority system accentuates this trend and encourages the growth of regional parties at the expense of national parties. The rise of regional parties was partly a natural development and partly a reaction to over-centralisation by crucial national leaders and Congress governments in the 1970s and 1980s. Over-centralisation produced a counterweight - the federalisation of the polity and formation of new regional and State-based parties.

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At the centre of transformation is the crumbling of the Congress system, which for four decades occupied a position of dominance in the politics of the nation and most of the States. Realignments caused by the Ayodhya and Mandal issues shrunk the party's social base and reduced its vote share to an all-time low of 28 per cent in 1996. The 1989 elections was a turning point, which saw the rise of the BJP, and regional or State parties. Although the regionalisation process dates from 1967, it is since 1989, when the era of coalition governance began, that the process has triggered the emergence of new State parties with mergers and alliances, together with the break-up of some nominally national parties and factions and the assimilation of others. Thus, caste and class clusters that were once part of the Congress coalition have found a voice through other parties. The rapid mobilisation of the socially underprivileged groups has resulted in a realignment of political parties along State, sub-State and caste lines, creating conflict among them and against the upper castes.

At a broader level, these momentous changes are partly an outcome of specific social and political circumstances in different States, propelling the growth of contending regional formations with their own social agendas. The process of change is closely linked to the differential dynamics of the decline of the Congress and the emergence of specific regional and vernacular discourses that have eroded centralised political authority. This decentering of politics has shifted the locale from New Delhi to the States with their distinct cultures, discourses and caste-class and caste-community mobilisations and alliances.

The single most important source of change is the entry of the propertied intermediate and middle castes, the chief beneficiaries of commercialisation of agriculture in the last few decades. Regional parties have also become powerful advocates of regional business interests. Over the years, the new social bloc courted alternative non-Congress political formations to enhance its influence in the States and at the Centre, knowing full well that it stands to gain the most from the decline of the Congress.

Regional pressures have shifted the centre of gravity to the more prosperous States of southern and western India with capital accumulating and gravitating there to the new economy. The relatively higher levels of development in these States demonstrated the benefits of regionalisation, which has clearly helped in building broad-based political affinities that can make claims on the Central government to augment development opportunities and public investment. One outcome of the struggle for economic and political power is an increase in the representation of the vernacular elite in government - the elite who had established themselves at the local and regional levels. It is illustrated by the strategic shift from protests against Brahmin domination to the appropriation and consolidation of political power through an acquisition of economic clout, control over the educational system and jobs in the government sector. The social constellations giving rise to these shifts vary from State to State, but the unmistakable upshot of regionalisation has been the rise to power of intermediate classes and castes in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra. This process is under way in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

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Three principal changes are in progress: the Centre is not pre-eminent in the way it was during the Congress rule; there has been a growth in the power of State governments and an increased role for States in national policy-making; the regional parties representing the socio-economic and political power of the intermediate castes and classes have readily extended support to the BJP government at the Centre and in the States as well. The growth and collaboration of the regional parties with the BJP proved to be a great boon for its expansion. The two major exceptions are the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar and the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) in Uttar Pradesh, which have so far refused to support the BJP.

Overall, the direct support of regional parties has enabled the formation of the BJP-led government in New Delhi, but also, more crucially, facilitated the process of acceptability of the BJP/Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) in the political mainstream. The National Front coalition of 1989 began the process of ending the BJP's untouchable status, culminating in the normalisation of the BJP/RSS by 1999. Traditionally, political untouchability had prevented the BJP and the former Jan Sangh from attracting political support.

Learning from the Janata Party experience of 1977-79, the National Front did not try to unify very different parties in a single formation. Instead, it put together a distinct grouping of Left, socialist, regional and caste parties. Of immense significance was the concept of "seat adjustments", first used in 1977 by the Opposition against the Congress, which proved to be a great incentive for all types of political adjustments. In this form of alliance, parties do not compete in each other's strongholds and thus do not poach on each other's turf; that is, they are spatially compatible even when they are ideologically and politically incompatible. Nevertheless, despite being a bold experiment in "adjustment", the marriage of convenience of the National Front with the BJP and the Left in 1989 was soon annulled on grounds of incompatibility with the BJP over secularism.

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It would be useful at this stage to move to the 1996 elections and consider the party configuration that emerged after the 1996 and 1998 elections. The Congress lost its dominant position and, since 1996, has won only a quarter of votes and a little more than a 100 seats in Parliament. Yet, while the Congress was clinging to the idea that one party can speak for all of India; its premier rival, the BJP, had factored the rise of regionalism into its own scheme of things. Even at the rhetorical level, the Congress refused to countenance the idea of coalition governance, equating it with instability. The party revealed itself to be out of tune with the aspirations of the new segments entering the political process.

It is important to remember that the problem was not just that the Congress had illusions of restoring the party's pre-eminence but that it was the principal opponent of several State parties in their regional strongholds. Indeed, most regional and State-based parties have risen to prominence by building anti-Congress coalitions.

To the contrary, the electoral trajectories of the BJP and the regional parties are not fundamentally in conflict simply because their respective bases lie in different sets of States. This fact alone explains the coalitions that have emerged between the BJP and regional parties since 1998, in addition to the regional parties' desire for a share in power in the national governing coalition.

After its failure to secure a majority to preserve its 13-day government in May 1996, the BJP was quick to draw the lessons and moved swiftly to forge alliances on an unprecedented scale for a major national party. For a short period from 1996 to 1998, the influential secular/communal divide shaped coalition-building and the choice of alliance partners. However, the unity of secular forces proved short-lived and the BJP somehow became an acceptable partner. This unity was confined to the United Front government's term in office. It proved inadequate when pitted against the attractions of anti-Congressism. The Congress/anti-Congress divide, a legacy of four decades of Congress dominance, outlasted the postulate of secular unity in determining alliances. More crucially, anti-Congressism helped the BJP to marshal support from regional and State parties, which are bitterly opposed to the Congress. Even Left parties, such as the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc, and parties such as the S.P. adamantly opposed the idea of a Congress-led government.

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THE 1998 election was an even more important turning point for coalition politics as the BJP was able to strike explicit or tacit alliances with a range of regional/State parties, which were earlier with the United Front. In 1999, the BJP was still more explicit in embracing coalition politics, and alliances with regional parties. This shift in strategy consisting of a wide range of alliances helped it to increase its electoral support in States where it had no strong presence.

Thanks to the support of the very regional parties that were earlier an essential part of the U.F. coalition to keep the BJP out of power in 1996, the BJP performed better in the 1999 elections and emerged as the nucleus of party politics. These regional allies helped the BJP win the elections, not only by providing a vast number of seats to make up the majority in Parliament, but also by delivering crucial votes to BJP candidates in those parliamentary constituencies where the regional allies did not contest in favour of the national partner. Most important, this improved the BJP's image and social base, which continues to be overwhelmingly upper and middle class, and upper caste. Its alliance partners filled the geographical and social gaps in the party's support among the middle and lower strata of the social and economic hierarchy.

These elections herald the growth of an astonishing pattern of collaboration driven by a complicated interaction between regionalisation, social fragmentation and communalisation. The advent of three new political projects marked the reconfiguration of the structure of politics: Hindutva, Mandalisation and neo-liberalism. These three projects sought to reinvent the national political community, privileging religious community or caste or class as the anchor of their respective political designs. But, paradoxically, the three distinct efforts to homogenise politics ended up creating a polity differentiated at the State or regional level.

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The mainsprings of this process has been the Mandal agenda of reservations for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the main plank of the V.P. Singh government's effort to counter the Hindutva agenda. These events had given rise to the hope that the OBC-supported regional parties would remain opposed to Hindutva in the light of the historical opposition of backward castes, middle and rich peasantary and socialists to Brahmin domination. Instead, the vigorous articulation of State interests by regional parties has provided the rationalisation for coalition-building between ideologically incompatible partners.

This process of reconfiguration of the political space has seen the vote and seat share of the regional parties or alliances go up, thereby making the system more pluralistic and competitive. This is reflected in the bigger electoral presence of State parties in national politics in the past four elections. Regional/State parties increased their share of Lok Sabha seats from 54 in 1991 to 167 in 1999, and their vote share from 24 in 1996 to 30 per cent in 1999. This increase has taken place at the expense of national parties, especially the BJP and the Congress, which have stagnated around 300 seats between them. Today, regional/State parties are contenders for power in all States except Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. If we take the seven largest States, which account for 310 seats, it is evident that national parties have to play second fiddle to regional parties. This trend is evident in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and West Bengal.

THE growing political weight of regional parties raises a number of issues. The first is the nature of regionalisation itself. Not all regional parties are even regionalist, in the sense of representing demands for cultural autonomy or grievances against the central state. Parties that are explicitly regional in character often emphasise their role as guardians of the interests and cultural identity of the regions. There are many parties, which are State-based and less inclined to stress the distinctiveness of their regions. This is partly because regionalist demands have less appeal in those parts of India where these parties command influence and partly because some of them stress caste and class differences more than regional identities. Regional appeals would undercut the claims of these parties to be national and consequently reduce their influence in national politics. Nevertheless, inter-State disputes and ethnic politics are aggravated by regionalism. The recent conflict over recruitment of semi-skilled workers in the railways indicates the social fragmentation that result from the rise of regional politics.

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The second question that must be addressed is this: what are the implications of fragmentation and proliferation of parties for a higher order aggregation, given the tendency of parties and factions to represent narrower and narrower segments of society, expressed mainly in terms of regional and caste blocs? The fact is that many regional parties are personality-driven offshoots of parties that were once part of national parties and they tend to represent a particular set of social groups, usually built around caste loyalties. These leaders are mainly interested in obtaining the spoils of office that come from partnership with the ruling BJP.

One consequence has been the short shrift given to policy issues in electoral politics. This means a reduced capacity to construct broad-based social coalitions in support of public issues. Parties such as the S.P. and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which are not limited to specific States, have not been able to expand beyond the boundaries of Uttar Pradesh. These parties, which seek to represent a broad array of individual castes within broader umbrella social categories, such as Dalits or backward castes, find their social bases fragmenting to a significant degree. This is because caste politics has largely confined itself to gaining access to power rather than any substantial agenda of social transformation. This is why broad-based alliances of lower-caste groups have been relatively few and unstable and have had more success when they have mobilised on the basis or shared regional identity.

The third and most vital concern must be to assess whether the BJP's reliance on regional/State parties will serve to restrain the party's efforts to transform the Indian state into a Hindu nation-state, in which citizenship is reducible to one's faith. This involves two distinct questions: whether such parties will be prepared to restrain Hindutva, and whether they will be able to. In six years of BJP-led NDA rule, we have confronted huge challenges to accepted notions of citizenship, equality, identity, culture and nation, a massive communal political mobilisation, which has led to a change in the form and content of nationalism. The proponents of cultural nationalism want to transform India into a powerful nation, based not on ideas enshrined in the Constitution, but on an imagined past, evoking the greatness of Hindu India. The "India Shining" campaign in the midst of rising inequality is a classic example of elite manipulation of nationalism to obscure the injustices of class and wealth. The Gujarat carnage - following the horrific burning of the Sabarmati Express at the Godhra station killing 59 Hindus - aided and abetted both by the State and local BJP/RSS politicians, may have caused the BJP's coalition partners some discomfort, but certainly not enough to walk out of the alliance.

In other words, the hope that regional parties would act as a restraining influence on the BJP/RSS agenda has not been fulfilled. Other calculations clearly discourage the BJP's regional allies from defending the values of secularism. But looking ahead, the collaboration of regional parties with the BJP is bound to open up conflicts as the BJP aspires to a position of dominance at the expense of the smaller parties. The political logic of the NDA coalition that brought its allies together and the BJP to power is open to change at short notice.

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Finally, is coalition formula the only way for national political parties to mobilise and expand support in a heterogeneous polity? The huge gains of the BJP from this strategy would seem to suggest that this approach is spot on. Can the Congress form the core of an alternative winning coalition? This time the Congress has worked energetically at forging coalitions. Its alliances in Maharashtra, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand appear to be strong coalitions, which should pay electoral dividends.

It is no doubt important to build alliances, but alliance building should not become a surrogate for social and economic issues. Policy actions of parties such as the Congress do not reflect popular concerns despite benefiting from lower caste and class support. To counter the BJP's pursuit of economic elitism, it is imperative to change the terrain of public discourse. The Congress needs to project a clear left-of-centre profile as a party committed to ameliorating serious material deprivation and achieving effective social equality. Only this leftward turn will consolidate its secular support and reverse the trend of communalisation, regionalisation and trivialisation of political discourse, which has been the legacy of five years of NDA rule.

Zoya Hasan is Professor of Political Science, Centre for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

The neo-liberal consensus

V. SRIDHAR cover-story

A strange feature of Indian federalism is that State governments run by regional parties, which claim to represent regional aspirations, have invariably followed the same economic agenda as that of the Central government.

POLITICS, in the time of economic liberalisation, seems to suffer from apparent paradoxes. Although coalition governments at the Centre are now deemed to be an abiding feature of Indian politics, and although regional parties now enjoy a greater degree of leverage with the Union government than before, these parties do not seem to have been able to determine the direction of economic policy formulated at the Centre. Instead, regional parties, with varying political orientations, have pushed the same economic policy formulations advocated and prescribed by the Centre. State governments run by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress(I) and regional parties have pursued similar policies. Instead of a plural economic agenda, which one would expect from the sharing of political power, the tendency since the 1990s has been to pursue of straitjacketed policies in the name of liberalisation.

The message is that the nature of governments does not matter, that politics is irrelevant, that ideologies do not exist and, importantly, that there is no alternative to liberalisation A one-size-fits-all approach to economic policy that advocates the same set of liberal policies for all States, irrespective of the people's aspirations, is a striking feature of the situation. The significant paradox is this: Although regional parties emerged with the promise that they would address regional aspirations, despite the mounting evidence that liberal policies have severely strained State finances and despite their proximity to the Centre and ability to leverage it, they have continued to implement policies that impinge on their ability to address the concerns of the constituencies that they claim to represent.

Regional parties have emerged owing to a complex set of circumstances; they were essentially seen as a result of the decline of the Congress(I) over the years. Initially many of these parties proclaimed that they intended to fulfil the unmet aspirations of the people of their respective States, particularly those relating to development. The "insensitivity" of the Congress(I) to regional aspirations and the perception that the States were being denied their share of financial resources mobilised by the Centre were also key issues that led to the formation of these parties. For instance, since the issue of Centre-State relations first figured in its election manifesto of 1967, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu has repeatedly raised the issue of Centre-State financial relations, claiming that they proved the unequal nature of federal relations in India. When N.T. Rama Rao formed the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh in 1982 he raised the question of "Telugu pride", implying that the Congress(I) was undermining the interests of Andhra Pradesh. The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Orissa, led by Naveen Patnaik, was formed after the death of Biju Patnaik who is generally regarded as the founder of modern Orissa. All three parties have been a part of the National Democratic Alliance. The DMK was until recently a part of the NDA, the TDP has been a key ally since the last Lok Sabha elections, and the BJD has from its inception chosen to ally with the BJP in Orissa. Why is it that these parties choose to follow - or, in the case of Andhra Pradesh, even take the lead in pursuing - the policies initiated by the Centre even when they threaten to erode their popular base substantially? Or, is it just that regional parties are using their bargaining power in the era of coalition politics to register opportunistic short-term gains?

THE case of the N. Chandrababu Naidu government in Andhra Pradesh is a good example of this paradoxical situation. The ruling TDP has provided crucial support to the NDA government. Earlier, it also participated in the short-lived United Front government. Being a part of either governments does not seem to have made a difference to the way economic policy is formulated in Andhra Pradesh. The TDP is regarded as the most "reform-oriented" State in the country. Since the mid-1990s Chandrababu Naidu has initiated economic reforms that have transformed the State. He has dealt directly with the World Bank and negotiated huge loans that have been controversial. All the key aspects of the classical liberal agenda are in place in Andhra Pradesh (Frontline, June 18, 1999).

Andhra Pradesh has been a laboratory for testing State-level reforms in India under the watchful eyes of the World Bank. Between 1998 and 2002, the State government signed three structural adjustment loan agreements with the World Bank, totalling $1.14 billion. The World Bank loan for the Andhra Pradesh Economic Restructuring Project (APERP) initiated far-reaching reforms in almost every sector of economic and social activity in the State.

The conditionalities that the government accepted have resulted in a substantial reduction in subsidies of all kinds. The popular subsidised rice supply scheme was among the most important casualty of the reforms. The measures also included the revision of "user charges" for social and economic services provided by the government in areas ranging from water to health and education. The "restructuring" of public sector undertakings has meant the outright privatisation of nine State undertakings, disinvestment in eight others, and the closure of 22 units; 11 others have been "restructured". Almost 22,000 workers in State enterprises have lost their jobs; they were eased out through what is euphemistically described as VRS (Voluntary Retirement Scheme). Awaiting a similar fate under the second phase (2002-03 to 2006-07) are 16 State-owned corporations, 43 cooperatives and nine other industrial units. Andhra Pradesh recently became the first State of the Indian Union to amend the provisions of the Contract Labour Act, which will facilitate industrial units to hire temporary or contract labour for their "non-core" activities. The government is also committed to implementing legislation that will help industries by removing the "rigidities" in the labour market.

The emergence of the TDP can be traced to the social churn caused by the Green Revolution in Andhra Pradesh, particularly in the coastal areas. The commercialisation of paddy-based agriculture in the 1960s and 1970s led to the emergence of a rich peasant class, which also provided the base for the growth of an entrepreneurial class. B.V. Raghavalu, secretary of the State committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), points out that the growing economic clout of the Kammas in coastal Andhra at that time was not matched by their access to political power. The internal squabbles in the Congress(I), which had enjoyed a monopoly of power in the State, and the mass upsurge between 1979 and 1982 when the State was rocked by a series of popular agitations provided the ideal setting for the TDP to fill the vacuum created by the decline of the Congress(I). The TDP's slogan to uphold "Telugu pride" became popular in a setting in which N.T. Rama Rao's political plank rested firmly on welfare measures for the poor. These measures had three main components - the supply of rice at Rs.2 a kilogram, clothing under the Janatha Vastra scheme, and the prohibition of liquor.

Although Chandrababu Naidu has dismantled all these programmes, he has replaced them by other schemes, particularly on the eve of elections - issuing ration cards, providing house sites, schemes for artisans, schemes targeted at the minorities, and other development programmes. Says Raghavalu: "Instead of launching universal programmes the TDP government has scattered resources on schemes that aim to please a variety of sections. The attempt is to woo people who have been affected by the government's liberal policies."

It is significant that many of these programmes were built into the World Bank's strategy of restructuring the economy of Andhra Pradesh. Even as it launched a major structural adjustment programme that would have an adverse impact on the poor, the Bank also launched a set of anti-poverty programmes. Raghavalu says that by doing this the Bank has provided "safety valves" for the government by making a provision of Rs.3,000 crores for several welfare programmes. The funds have enabled the formation of 4,65,000 self-help groups with each group consisting of 20 women, under the Development of Women and Child in Rural Areas (DWCRA) programme. Raghavalu argues that "in some measure the Bank's funds have been used by the TDP to develop its own organisational network among women".

The APERP allocated almost Rs.500 crores to the Integrated Child Development Scheme. The primary education programme received more than Rs.500 crores. It is generally accepted that the TDP enjoys a privileged relationship with the NDA government because its support has been crucial to the latter's survival. For instance, Andhra Pradesh managed to get 48 lakh tonnes of foodgrains allocated from the Centre for drought relief, which was far higher than what any other State could secure. World Bank loans are normally routed through the Centre, and the Central government normally withholds about 15 per cent of the amount since it guarantees the loans sought by the States. The Andhra Pradesh government managed to get this practice waived by the Centre. The TDP government was recently sanctioned an additional loan of Rs.1,200 crores by the World Bank with the approval of the Centre. Although the Central government and the Planning Commission had initially raised objections to this loan, doubting the State's ability to repay, they quietly gave the nod as the elections approached.

DURING a decade of reforms, the finances of State governments have turned precarious. One of the key features of the liberalised regime has been its tax structure. The increasingly permissive regime meant that the gross tax revenues of the Union government fell from 9.14 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 1997-98 to 8.10 per cent in 2001-02. Meanwhile, the combined revenue deficit of the States increased sharply between 1997-98 and 2001-02 - from 1.21 per cent of GDP to 4.39 per cent. In 2002-03 the outstanding liabilities of the States amounted to a whopping 30 per cent of the country's national income. Even as the States' financial situation worsened, the interest rate on borrowings made by the States increased - from 8.96 per cent in 1992-93 to 10.61 per cent in 2002-03. In fact, this happened even as the rest of the economy regarded interest rates as having bottomed out.

Sitaram Yechury, Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M), argues that many of the regional parties are merely pursuing the interests of the "regional bourgeoisie". This, he says, explains why they implement the same policies advocated by the ruling party at the Centre. He insists that the resistance to liberal economic policies does not stem from the differences between the all-India and regional parties. Instead, he says: "It stems from the ideological orientation of parties." Yechury adds that some regional parties, through experience, "have also moved away from their initial enthusiasm for reforms". The Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (Secular), for instance, have taken a more forthright position against reforms, particularly on matters relating to the World Trade Organisation. These parties, because of pressure from below, particularly the peasantry, which forms the core of their mass base, have moved away from their initial enthusiasm. However, Yechury feels that the classical regional parties, which emerged in region-specific contexts, "remain tied to the liberal agenda". These parties, he says, "are promoting the interests of the regional bourgeoisies and vested interests in the regions".

Yechury says that there is "little possibility for contradictions emerging on the question of economic policies per se". However, the widening regional disparities can cause the situation to change rapidly. Yechury feels that regional parties, in order to protect their own regions, are likely to make demands that may come into conflict with the government at the Centre. He says that in the face of the growing fiscal crisis, the regional parties have tried to bargain with the Centre rather than seek a change in policy. He says: "Although all the States are in a financial crisis, each State run by a regional party would like to get out of the crisis by bargaining with the Centre rather than seek a reversal of the policies that led to this situation."

This process of political bargaining has obvious limits. For instance, the TDP's hold on the NDA would depend heavily on not only its own electoral performance but also that of the other constituents of the NDA. If the NDA performs better in the next elections, it may not be so heavily dependent on the TDP for its survival. In such a situation, Chandrababu Naidu may in fact have to reckon with less leverage, which could severely curtail his ability to manage the crisis in the State. That may have lessons to offer for other regional parties as well.

Northeastern challenges

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THE exchange took place sometime during the late Hiteswar Saikia's second stint as Assam Chief Minister (1991-95). Responding to accusations that the leaders of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the first regional party to have formed a government in the State, had spawned and had continued to have links with separatist and secessionist outfits like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), AGP leader and former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta had said that that far from being in bed with such elements, the AGP was in fact "a regional party with a national outlook". Never one to allow a political opponent to have the last word, Hiteswar Saikia had countered by defining the Congress(I) in Assam as a "national party with a regional outlook".

These formulations, even admitting their mindlessness, do underline the sea change that has come about in the political dynamics as it finds expression in what, for want of a better word, may be called the `ideology' of political parties, and rather more clearly in periodic elections. This is certainly the case in Assam and the northeast of India, and perhaps in much of the rest of the country as well. A decade after the above formulations, the Congress(I) in Assam is not merely steadfastly regional in its outlook, but is so nationally as well, trying to appropriate the thunder of the regional parties in State after State. Indeed, this is so even of the Bharatiya Janata Patty which, despite its historic ideology of one nation one people and, ideally, also one religion and one language and one-everything, is happily trying to get into bed with the most exclusivist regional ideologies in the northeast of the country.

If the challenges posed by regionalism and its more virulent variations, like the explicitly secessionist insurgency in Nagaland and the not so covert secessionist aspirations of the Dravidian political parties, to the process of nation building and the consolidation of the Indian nation state was a major preoccupation of policymakers during the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, even though during those years that process was also idealistically seen to be going on in an almost seamless manner, the current preoccupations are rather the reverse.

Strictly speaking, regionalism has never lacked legitimacy, even political legitimacy. Whether the newly-independent Indian nation state should be a unitary state or a federal state was a key issue in the debates over the making of the Indian Constitution. The debate finally found a meeting point in a typical reconciliation, unity in diversity.

Indeed, the political legitimacy of regionalism predates these debates since the Congress(I) that led the freedom movement had, in the manner in which it had structured itself, acknowledged and formally recognised regional languages as the crucial element of the cultural inheritance that defined the Indian people. The linguistic reorganisation of States flowed logically from this perspective. The exercise has not yet ended, though language, at last overtly, has not Tbeen the deciding rationale for the creation of new States.

However, regional aspirations continued to be seen in the formative years of the Indian nation state as bespeaking a deviant, illegitimate and near treasonable ideology and state of mind. In fact, the production of academic works, with considerable assistance from foreign funding agencies, analysing regionalism, linguistic and `ethnic' nationalism, all under the broad rubric of `sub-nationalism', as either a promise or a threat, depending upon the ideological bent of the scholar and the agencies funding her or him, was and continues to be a thriving growth industry.

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In contrast, and perhaps partly as a result of these exertions, and partly as a more true reflection of Indian reality, the ideology of regionalism has now become mainstream to which every political tendency subscribes, in fact if not in form. Despite protestations to the contrary and claims to be the only genuinely national party with an all-India spread, the Congress(I) has always been quick on the draw in promoting and exploiting the basest chauvinist passions, all in the name of regional gaurav (pride). How else can one explain the position taken by the Congress(I) and its allies who form the government in Maharashtra on the controversy over a recent book on Shivaji?

Hence, this attempt to consider the challenges that regionalism and the political formations that reflect such a perspective poses and, on the eve of General Elections 2004, faces, with Assam as a model and a pointer.

Historically, one of the strongest bastions of the Congress(I) with a grassroots tradition of Gandhian and militant participation in the freedom movement, Assam (like much of the rest of northern India) for the first time came under a non-Congress(I) dispensation in March 1978 in the elections to the State Assembly that followed the lifting of the national Emergency in 1977. Despite superficial differences, especially in the rhetoric and posturing, the successor government in Assam under the Janata Party that tried to appear to be rather sensitive to issues of regional concern than the Congress(I) was fundamentally no different from its predecessor.

In retrospect, it appears like a miracle that the Janata Party government headed by Golap Barbora survived for over a year. The inner details of what the Election Commission characterised as the `chequered history' of the Sixth State Assembly that had been constituted on March 3, 1978, are yet to be understood and analysed. The `low-points' of that rather unedifying history would comprise the events that led to and followed the collapse of the Janata Party government in September 1979 and of the short-lived Assam Janata Dal government headed by Jogen Hazarika in December 1979; the subsequent use made of constitutional provisions, such as the imposition of President's Rule and keeping an Assembly under `suspended animation' when a government collapses solely with a view to assisting the Congress (which had won just eight seats in the March 1978 elections) to secure defections and form two short-lived governments; and, finally the `constitutional compulsions' (another expression used by the Election Commission) cited to force, in the teeth of popular opposition mobilised by the leaders of the Assam agitation, the holding of the bloodstained elections of February 1983.

These events took place against the backdrop of the Assam agitation whose trajectory parallels and traverses these events. In due course, the Central government under Rajiv Gandhi cut a deal with the leaders of the Assam agitation and signed the Assam Accord, thus enabling the first explicitly regional party government to come to power in Assam in December 1985.

This was no path-breaking development, despite important differences in the social base of the AGP and the Congress(I) and the `sacrifice' the latter in Assam was persuaded to make to enable this political accommodation with what, in the beginning, appeared exclusivist regionalism of the AGP. If one were to ignore the accretions from the margin, the two parties share the same social base; have the same class character, though these themes are nowadays not articulated in such terms. The Congress(I), with its history and electoral needs, however, enlarged this social base over the years by building alliances from above with religious and linguistic minorities, tea garden labour and such like (the standard political science text book categorisation), while, the AGP, with its history and the support base it mobilised during the Assam agitation had a rather narrower social base - the so-called `ethnic Assamese', another standard political science textbook category.

"Hark, in thine ear: change places and, handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?"

The words and ideas, from a different age and a different context, have a striking relevance in the strangely shifting contours of regional politics in Assam. In the two decades since the signing of the Assam Accord and the birth of the AGP, the regional party has systematically raided into the Congress(I)'s so-called `traditional' but in fact marginal and marginalised social base while the Congress(I) in turn has progressively made adjustments, if not common cause, with the original, rather restricted, social base of the AGP.

"Why do you laugh? Change the names, and the tale is told of yourself." Other words, another context.

However, regionalism not merely as a `state of mind', but also as a formally constituted political party considerably predates the emergence of the AGP. The formation of explicitly regional parties, the Purbanchaliya Lok Parishad and the Asom Jatiyatabadi Dal, both comprising leaders who were once part of the Left political stream, goes back to the 1970s. Other, earlier, separatist and crypto-secessionist political formations with sectarian agendas and appeal, offering visions of an essentially diarchic, very loosely federated India were in existence before Independence and were vigorously arguing their case with the colonial government. Such visions have not died; they have been subsumed by other, better organised political structures like the AGP, as well as the professedly national parties like the Congress(I) and the BJP.

THE other States in the region present an analogous situation. Existing regional parties are derived from and are in opposition to the Congress(I) . This is so not merely in regard to the States that were once a part of Assam and so have a kind of continuity of political culture with Assam, but even of States such as Manipur, which were at no time part of Assam. Even Nagaland, where the unresolved issue of Naga insurgency makes the political situation problematic, presents a situation where both the Congress(I) and other political parties professedly more Nagaland-oriented than the Congress(I) necessarily have a complex relationship with all factions of the Naga insurgency; and articulate, as occasion demands, the agenda of Naga nationalism. For instance, on the issue of `Naga integration', all the political parties in Nagaland have the same opinion with not even nuances of difference - which is the same in the case of Manipur as well where, on the issue of Manipur's `territorial integrity', there is an across-the-board consensus.

The one exception to this general rule of the derivation of regionalism from the Congress(I) is Mizoram. The erstwhile rebels in Mizoram who fought a war as the Mizo National Front and are now ruling the State under the same name had no Congress(I) background. The same is the case with the People's Conference, a rather different kind of regional formation, which also had a stint of office, defeated the Congress(I) and was in turn defeated by the Congress(I) before the signing of the Mizoram peace accord. This perhaps explains why, in the two decades since the MNF sued for peace and signed the peace accord, there has been not the slightest sign of vacillation on the crucial issue of an end to insurgency and functioning within the ambit of the Constitution, no malcontent factions threatening to revive insurgency. The MNF has also taken periodic losses of political office in its stride. Even the split in the MNF was not related to any rethinking on the fundamental issues of war and peace in Mizoram. This sui generis quality of regionalism in Mizoram also perhaps explains its stability as a political formation.

To sum up, a brief excursion into unconstitutional or extra-constitutional politics, ranging from agitational politics, which of its nature cannot be free of violence, to secessionist insurgency is a necessary condition for the consolidation of regionalism and its political manifestation as a legitimate political party working within the ambit of the Constitution. However, even when it has consolidated itself and has formed apparently stable governments functioning within the ambit of the Constitution, regionalism has faced two, perhaps not unrelated, challenges, apart from the usual splits and homecomings from which no political party, or for that matter, no militant insurgency, is free.

One, the appropriation of its very `reason for existence' by professedly national parties, which play the regional card expertly, when required; and two, the emergence of fringe elements from within their ranks pushing the regional agenda to areas into which the leaders, softened by experience of political office and also perhaps by experience of the Indian reality, do not want to go, thus forcing these parties to engage in a bit of dishonest brinkmanship of simultaneously engaging in both constitutional and extra-constitutional politics. But then, even in this, the national parties can teach some lessons to the regional parties. One sees evidence of one kind or another of this in every State of the region, certainly in Assam, and also in areas outside the northeastern region.

From agitation to governance

M.S. PRABHAKARA cover-story

THE Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) was born in October 1985, two months after the signing of the Assam Accord (August 15, 1985), which brought to an end the six-year-long Assam agitation led by the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and an alliance of small regional political parties and other `non-political' structures under the name of All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP). The central demand of the agitation was the expulsion of foreign nationals illegally staying in Assam.

Two months after signing the accord, the agitation leaders transformed themselves into a political party - the AGP. Another two months later, the AGP won a decisive victory in the elections to the State Assembly and formed the first government by a regional party in Assam.

As has been demonstrated repeatedly in history, the success of any movement has in it the seeds of dissent. Leaders of an agitation transformed in the moment of success to leaders of a government invested with authority and power always have to contend with malcontents from within their own ranks, especially the auxiliaries who enabled the agitation to succeed but who, out of necessity, are not among those reaping the benefits of success. The dilemma is seen most strikingly in armed struggles, but is dire even in cases where the agitation has not had an armed struggle component.

Thus, the AGP government began to face trouble from within its own ranks almost from the moment the leaders assumed political office. Conventional dissent could be managed by suitable re-apportionment of political office, though there is necessarily a limit to such internal compromises. However, since the Assam agitation also had from its very origins a militant component with confused ideas about synthesising the `national' struggle of the Assamese people for an independent Assam (Swadhin Asom) with `class struggle', ready to make common cause to achieve this synthesis with the very social forces that were the principal `object' of the Assam agitation, these contradictions could never be resolved.

The dilemma of the AGP, in and out of office twice over the last two decades, highlights strikingly both these contradictions. Regionalism, as an ideology is no more its exclusive domain, with the Congress(I) and more recently the Bharatiya Janata Party making heavy inroads into its support base, appropriating the very slogans and, to some extent, even the symbols and methods employed by the AGP.

Not surprisingly, the AGP drew a blank in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections and also duly lost political office in the State in the Assembly elections of May 2001, winning just 20 seats in the 126-member Assembly. More haemorrhaging than these losses has been the problems the party has been facing internally, with clearly defined factions set on a battle to finish. The sidelining of former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta by the current leadership, the manoeuvres within the party that ensured the defeat of the party's candidate in the recent elections to the Rajya Sabha, and the amazing goings-on in respect of the nominations to the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections are only the more obvious signs of the deep crisis that is facing the party.

RJD's winning combination

RASHTRIYA Janata Dal (RJD) president Laloo Prasad Yadav may not fit in with everybody's idea of an analyst on international affairs, but the former Bihar Chief Minister was so inspired by his four-day visit to Pakistan last August that he started compiling a book, which self-professedly sought to present "a unique people-oriented formula to settle India's troubled relations with its neighbour". Laloo Prasad perceived great merit in recounting his experiences in Pakistan and evolving a theory based on people-oriented politics. According to some of his friends, Laloo Prasad sees the exercise as his first major foray into international affairs and one that will prepare him for "a bigger and more important role in national politics".

The RJD president's penchant to go beyond the sectarian concerns of a regional chieftain and play a significant part in national politics has been in evidence for nearly a decade and a half - from the time he, as Chief Minister, stopped Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani's first Rath Yatra in 1990 by arresting him. Two characteristics were central to the socio-political interventions Laloo Prasad and his party made during this period. One, a steadfast commitment to secularism and a consistent opposition to the Hindutva brand of politics. Two, a resolute advocacy of the social rights of sections of backward castes and Dalits.

Laloo Prasad's initiatives, as also those of his party, in the context of the Lok Sabha elections follow the same socio-political path. All through the tenure of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, the RJD has emphasised "the need to build a broad front of secular and like-minded parties to confront and defeat the Hindutva forces represented by the BJP and its cronies, who form part of the NDA". Another constant in the RJD's political positions in the last six years has been its opposition to the BJP-NDA campaign seeking to bar Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi's claim on constitutional office because of her Italian origin. The RJD was the first regional force to reject unequivocally the queries on Sonia Gandhi's credentials to hold a constitutional office and it continues to maintain that position.

In Bihar, the party has more or less lived up to its own exhortations to form a broad-based anti-NDA alliance. The RJD-led coalition includes Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), the Congress(I), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Although the combination does not include secular forces like the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), political observers are of the view that the RJD-led alliance not only presents a forceful political combination against the BJP and the NDA, but also promises to bring about a unique social combine in Bihar comprising Muslims and the backward caste Yadavs - the core support base of the RJD - and the Dalit Paswan community, the main source of the political strength of the LJP. "The manner in which the LJP has been accommodated honourably in the alliance with as many as eight seats," observers say, "should impart a new thrust to the politics of social justice in the State."

Paswan had fought the RJD bitterly in the last Lok Sabha and Assembly elections but was welcomed warmly by Laloo Prasad when he quit the NDA after the anti-minority riots in Gujarat. "Of course, I had differences with Ram Vilas Paswan, but when he quit the government reacting to Gujarat, I knew he would be a valuable ally in the fight against the fascists," Laloo Prasad told Frontline.

He also believes that the combination in Bihar will have a political impact in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, too, where the party plays second fiddle to the Congress(I). He said the challenge before the secular forces is to fight not just fascist forces like the BJP but also their camouflaged accomplices like the S.P., led by U.P. Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav. "Both my party and the Congress(I) are involved in doing this in the national interest," he added.

Laloo Prasad Yadav is convinced that leaders like George Fernandes of the NDA have trapped Mulayam Singh Yadav, once his companion in the fight against the BJP. "They are using discrepancies in the Sukhoi deal that Mulayam Singh Yadav worked out when he was Defence Minister to blackmail him and make him fight against the RJD and the Congress(I) and thus sabotage the unity of secular forces," Laloo Prasad said. Whatever the merits of this argument, there are many takers for it among the secular forces, including the Left parties.

According to Laloo Prasad's close political associates like Sivanand Tiwari, a Minister in the Rabri Devi-led RJD government, the "ultimate big role" that Laloo Prasad would like to play in national politics is that of the Prime Minister. The RJD president himself has said so too. In an interview to Doordarshan News in February, he affirmed that "he is hopeful of becoming the Prime Minister one day, especially because we are living in the era of coalition politics". Of course, he added that he was not in a hurry and did not want to get to that position "tomorrow". "I can only say at the moment that I will definitely become the Prime Minister one day. I am not going to die early either," Laloo Prasad said with typical candour and humour.

The RJD president, however, made it clear to Frontline that he was not in the race for the top post now. According to him, Sonia Gandhi or Ram Vilas Paswan are better candidates. Laloo Prasad or other RJD leaders are not ready to state the reasons for this "withdrawal". Apparently, the one major handicap he would have in staking his claim for national leadership is the poor track record of his party's government in Bihar in the realm of development. Despite ruling Bihar for 12 years, the party has not made tangible progress in improving the lot of the State in terms of basic infrastructure or human development indices. The only plus point of RJD governance is considered to be the manner in which the party's governance has given human dignity to oppressed communities. That by itself may not be enough to present oneself as a prime ministerial candidate. Obviously, Laloo Prasad has to do much more than analyse international affairs to play that "most significant role" in national politics.

Trinamul Congress: Victim of whims

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THE year 2000 was significant in West Bengal politics because for the first time in 20 years a non-Left board took charge of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. It was the first major electoral success of the newly born Trinamul Congress. Within a year, when the State went to the polls, the Trinamul Congress, under Mamata Banerjee's leadership, appeared to have attained the stature of a force threatening to unseat the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front from power. But the results brought out the truth. Trinamul Congress finished a distant second and from that point onwards it started losing its significance.

With the Left Front in power since 1977, for a section of the people in West Bengal the Trinamul Congress was the only party that looked like being capable of bringing about a change in government. With her spartan lifestyle and her promise to eradicate unemployment and turn around the economy of the State, Mamata Banerjee achieved and became a source of concern for the Left Front.

In the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, even though the Left Front captured 33 of the 42 seats, Trinamul's presence took a heavy toll on the Congress(I), which ended up winning just one seat and losing six to the Trinamul. The Trinamul-Bharatiya Janata Party combine won a total of eight seats, the Trinamul winning seven.

The following year, the alliance improved on its performance, winning 10 seats. The Trianmul maintained its tally of eight. When the Assembly elections came up in 2001, the party was riding high on the popularity of its leader and the anti-incumbency factor working against the government.

Mamata Banerjee's politics is more often governed by the heart than by the head. Her impulsiveness, often bordering on petulance, has time and again cost the party dearly. Her resignation from the National Democratic Alliance government as Railway Minister, ostensibly owing to the Tehelka expose, backfired. With her popularity in West Bengal at its peak, her gamble of quitting the NDA and allying with the Congress(I) flopped. She lost her credibility, and the people who had supported her for long began to perceive her as inconstant and whimsical. In the 2001 Assembly elections, the Left Front retained power for a record sixth time in a row, winning 199 of the 294 seats. The Trinamul-Congress(I) combine won only 86 - the Trinamul 60 and the Congress(I) 26. Urban voters whom Mamata Banerjee was counting on, changed their mind at what they considered crass political opportunism.

Mamata Banerjee, having no other option, had to swallow her pride and return to the NDA fold. The Trinamul Congress, still remains a regional party having no ideology or programme other than the negative goal of unseating the Left Front government in the State. Most of her decisions have been political gambles, which have often worked against her, with her credibility being the casualty.

At the outset, Mamata Banerjee intended the Trinamul Congress to be a disciplined, cadre-based party, but that never materialised. The party has no organisation worth the name. Her charisma is its only asset, and it is diminishing fast. Further more, the party has no cohesion, as is evident from the continuous bickering within.

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Her recent clash with Member of Parliament from Kolkata North-West and party heavyweight Sudip Bandopadhyay is likely to cost the Trinamul Congress dearly in the elections. Once a close aide of Mamata Banerjee, Sudip Bandopadhyay was denied the ticket as a punishment for rebelling against Mamata Banerjee's `dictatorial' attitude. Sudip Bandopadhyay is credited with taking care of his constituency and has over the years built quite a support base there. With him standing as an independent candidate with Congress(I) support, it will not be so easy for the Trinamul Congress to retain what was its stronghold for so long. "When people vote for the Trinamul, they vote for Mamata. Party candidates win because of Mamata's popularity,'' a senior Trinamul Congress member told Frontline. This statement reinforces the fact that the Trinamul essentially remains a party defined by a single individual - Mamata Banerjee.

IT is perhaps ironical that even though Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder-president of the Jan Sangh, the predecessor of the BJP, was a leading politician from West Bengal, religious or cultural nationalism, which is the basis of the party, never became popular in the State, not even among the victims of Partition, the refugees from East Pakistan. BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu himself admitted this recently. Political observers, therefore, feel that the Trinamul's purpose in the NDA may be to serve as a Trojan horse to help the BJP's entry into West Bengal. A beginning seems to have been made, when the BJP improved its tally from one to two seats between the last two general elections. But the problem is that Mamata Banerjee has a large Muslim following, which is not likely to be swayed by the tunes called by the BJP. It is therefore difficult for Mamata Banerjee to appear too close to the BJP.

Unless Mamata Banerjee can be of use to the BJP either by winning more seats for the combine or by improving her own tally, the exponents of realpolitik in the BJP may just get tired of her political prevarications. That the BJP still banks on her support to gain a secure foothold in West Bengal is evident from the recent statement of State BJP chief Tathagata Ray that Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) volunteers are rendering all help to the Trinamul in the current elections. It is doubtful, given the socio-cultural milieu of the urban middle class in West Bengal, if this will be translated into a major electoral success.

At the same time Mamata Banerjee needs the BJP because in the absence of an effective party organisation or a middle-level leadership, her main weapon appears to be her ability to influence the Central government to get benefits for the State. It is perhaps for this reason that she was hell-bent on getting back the Railway portfolio. Her political campaign also refers to her as a go-getter from West Bengal. Yet again, the miscalculation of quitting the NDA has left a scar on her political reputation.

The P.A. Sangma faction of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) merged with the Trinamul Congress in March to form the Nationalist Trinamul Congress. Although the new party is to be headed by Mamata Banerjee and has retained its symbol of flower with grass, the merger will bring no strategic or political gain for the party, at least as far as West Bengal is concerned. Although party leaders claim that the tie-up will have some impact in the northeastern States, where Sangma has some influence, it is hardly considered a significant political development in West Bengal. CPI(M) State secretary and Polit Bureau member Anil Biswas is reported to have dismissed the development saying, "Zero plus zero is zero".

A Janata Dal offshoot

PRAFULLA DAS cover-story

THE germ of the idea of launching a regional party first grew in the minds of a group of legislators of the erstwhile Janata Dal in Orissa when Dal generalissimo Biju Patnaik was not keeping good health after being out of power. However, the idea was dropped after Biju Patnaik scotched it.

On his death, the situation changed. Naveen Patnaik won the byelection in Aska, the Lok Sabha seat held by his father, in 1997. However, the party lost two successive Assembly byelections in the same year, and that fuelled the idea of forming a regional party.

By this time, a small group of Janata Dal legislators had started looking towards the BJP for their political survival. As they were in a minority, they could not defect to the BJP; they subsequently came round to the idea of floating a regional party.

Feelers were sent to the BJP central leadership and the party's general secretary, Pramod Mahajan, made a trip to Bhubaneswar. Mahajan wanted the regional outfit to be formed before the BJP's National Executive meeting in Bhubaneswar, which was scheduled for December 1997. Some leaders opposed this idea.

A few days later, the Janata Dal Legislature Party in the State Assembly split and the regional party was born on December 26, 1997, with Naveen Patnaik as its president. The party was promptly named after Biju Patnaik.

The five leaders who played prominent roles in the formation of the party were Dilip Ray, Bijay Mohapatra, Prasanna Acharya, Ananga Uday Singh Deo and Naveen Patnaik. Ironically, Mohapatra and Ray are now out of the BJD and are sworn enemies of Naveen Patnaik.

Janata Parivar's home base

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SMALL regional political parties and formations have emerged and disappeared in Karnataka in the last 30 years of the State's political history, and these include the Karnataka Kranti Ranga started by the former Chief Minister Devaraj Urs; the Karnataka Congress Party and the Karnataka Vikas Party, both started by yet another former Chief Minister, S. Bangarappa; and most recently, the Kannada Nadu party, started by Vijay Sankeswar, the media magnate and former Member of Parliament who resigned from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). None of these made an enduring impact, primarily because all of them were tied to the limited political aspirations of the individuals who started them.

The fundamental reason, however, for the inability of purely regional political entities to grow in Karnataka is that the Janata Parivar parties have over the years occupied the space that regional parties hold in many other States. The Janata Party, which emerged after the Emergency (1975-77) as an alternative to the Congress (I), had a strong base in Karnataka from its very inception. After all, a large number of national-level political leaders who later formed the core of the Janata Party were lodged in the Bangalore Central Jail during the Emergency period. The vision that guided a centrist political formation like the Janata Party (and its subsequent avatars) was not only to provide an alternative to the "national" parties, such as the Congress(I) and later the BJP, but also to represent the specific regional aspirations of its support base in the State. Ramakrishna Hegde, who gave the Janata phenomenon its early ideological moorings, was a strong votary of the federal principle that, as the first non-Congress(I) Chief Minister of the State, he attempted to enshrine through the panchayati raj institutions, and through the demand for a larger share for the State in the Central revenues. As a leader of the Janata Party, Hegde was for several years one of the most effective "regional" spokespersons for the State. Although the Janata Party, and the many sub-parties that it spawned in subsequent years, was a national party in that it had a presence in several other States, it was in Karnataka that it found its most enduring base. Its continuing relevance to the politics of the State well after the demise of the Janata Parivar in other regions is primarily because of its espousal of regional aspirations and its rural support base.

The Janata Dal (Secular), the end product of a long phase of atomisation of the Janata movement, is today the major regional force in the State, poised yet again to play an important role in the post-election dispensation. The JD(S) in Karnataka, under the leadership of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, is perhaps the last bastion of the Janata Dal which once had a national presence. "I would call the JD(S) a regional force not a regional party," said P.G.R. Sindhia, a senior leader of the JD(S) who is contesting from the Sathanur Assembly constituency. "Regional parties will play a pivotal role in national politics. They will decide the next government and they will continue to exist as long as the so-called national parties do not respond to regional aspirations," he said. Sindhia describes the "chemistry" or the social base of the JD(S) as a class/caste overlap between the "small and middle peasantry, and the backward classes in the rural areas, particularly Vokkaligas". While this remains the social base of the JD(S), its electoral base is wider, he argues, and draws upon the traditional anti-Congress(I), anti-BJP constituency that the Janata movement has built in the State since the 1980s.

If Ramakrishna Hegde was the architect of the Janata phenomenon in its early phase, that is, up to the late 1980s, it is Deve Gowda, a political leader of a different mould, who consolidated and extended the base of the party particularly from the mid-1990s. Hegde was a Congressman who became disillusioned with the limitations of an authoritarian, Delhi-centric party that was becoming increasingly insensitive to the need to broaden democratic processes. His break with the Congress(I) came with the Emergency. The Janata Party in Karnataka came to power on an anti-Congress(I) wave. During its tenure in office in the State from 1983 to 1989, it introduced legislation such as that of the Panchayati Raj Act, which increased its popular appeal and helped it to consolidate its support base.

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Nevertheless, it was Deve Gowda - by the mid-1990s a leader of equal stature as Hegde in the party - who built the Janata Dal in the next phase, giving the party a firm footing in rural Karnataka, particularly in the Old Mysore districts of southern Karnataka. He was instrumental in extending its social base amongst the peasantry, not just as a "Vokkaliga' party as it is often called but as a party that sought to represent all backward castes. In an interview to Frontline in 1996, when the Janata Dal won 16 out of the 28 Lok Sabha seats, and just prior to his elevation to prime ministership, Deve Gowda spelt out the reasons for his party's victory. He attributed it to a strategy quietly implemented by his government. "Our main strength is that we have widened the social base of the Janata Dal," he said. "In local body elections we for the first time gave 27 per cent reservation to backward castes: these groups helped us win these elections. We have erased the stigma of being a party of Vokkaligas and Lingayats."

Power equations within the party, particularly between Hegde and Deve Gowda, changed as a consequence of the shifting social base of the Janata Dal. Hegde and Deve Gowda had always shared a frosty relationship, which existed prior to and after the formation of the Janata Dal in Bangalore in 1988. Deve Gowda split the party in 1989 following differences with Hegde. He joined the Samajwadi Janata Party. The split resulted in the party's rout in the 1989 and the 1991 elections. Although he rejoined the Janata Dal, Deve Gowda's differences with Hegde persisted. In spite of their mutual animosities, Hegde, Deve Gowda and S.R. Bommai campaigned together for the 1994 State Assembly elections. Their efforts paid handsomely with the Janata Dal returning to power winning 115 seats in the 224-seat Assembly.

The Janata phenomenon has traversed a tortuous course - one that has been beset by splits, faction-fighting, expulsions and resignations. The expulsion of Hegde in June 1996 from the Janata Dal, believed to have been effected at the behest of Deve Gowda who was Prime Minister at the time, split the party vertically. Although Hegde's supporters in the Janata Dal Ministry headed by J.H. Patel did not join him formally, there was a considerable groundswell of support and sympathy for him in the Janata Dal. He started a new party, the Lok Shakti, which allied with the BJP in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. It was primarily Hegde's support that gave the alliance 16 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats, whereas the Janata Dal won only three seats. Dramatic political realignments preceded the 1999 elections held simultaneously to the Lok Sabha and the State Assembly. The Janata Dal split yet again, and a faction led by Chief Minister J.H. Patel lent support to the BJP; the Lok Shakti, the Samata Party and the Sharad Yadav faction of the Janata Dal merged as the Janata Dal (U); and the Janata Dal (Secular) led by Deve Gowda was born. In the 1999 elections, the JD(S) won only eight Assembly seats and the JD(U) 19. In the Lok Sabha elections, the JD(S) drew a blank whereas the JD(U) won three seats.

The run-up to the 2004 elections has seen further changes within the Janata Parivar. A group of JD(U) leaders who wished to break politically with the BJP and come out of the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre, led by S.R. Bommai and the late C. Byre Gowda, formed the All India Progressive Janata Dal (AIPJD) in 2003. Efforts were also made by these leaders - unsuccessfully though - for a merger with the JD(S). Unable to contest on its own and weakened organisationally after the death of Hegde, the JD(U) once again approached the BJP for an electoral alliance, a proposition that the State unit of the BJP refused. However, through the intervention and efforts of Defence Minister George Fernandes, an alliance was finally thrust on a reluctant BJP.

The JD(S) has been quietly consolidating its strength, particularly in the Old Mysore region where it has emerged as the principal Opposition party and is building its platform on the anti-incumbency sentiment. Although it has not announced a chief ministerial candidate in its election campaign, it is projecting Siddaramiah, a former Deputy Chief Minister and a backward class leader. In the event of a close finish amongst the JD(S), the Congress(I) and the BJP in the Assembly elections, the JD(S) is once again poised to play a key role in deciding the government. In such an eventuality the support of some of the smaller regional parties like the Kannada Nadu party and the Janata Party under the leadership of Vijay Mallya, along with the support of independents (who in the 1999 Assembly elections numbered 19), will also assume importance.

Biju legacy keeps BJD alive

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THE Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Orissa was not born out of a political movement and does not have a developed cadre base at the grassroots level. But it has been in power since its inception in December 1997 and has emerged as one of the prominent regional parties in the country. The party is into its fourth major electoral battle along with the Bharatiya Janata Party, its alliance partner.

In the 1998 general elections, its first, the BJD won nine of the 12 seats it contested and the BJP seven of nine seats. In the 1999 Lok Sabha polls the BJD won 10 of the 12 seats it fought and the BJP all the nine it contested. In the February 2000 Assembly elections, the alliance bagged 106 of the total 147 seats - the BJD winning 68 of the 84 seats it contested and the BJP 38 of 63.

The same seat-sharing arrangement - 12-9 for the Lok Sabha and 84-63 for the Assembly - continues in the present round of Lok Sabha and Assembly elections too. But the alliance faces an uphill task and despite the bonhomie on the surface, both the parties now share an uneasy relationship. The leaders as well as the cadre share a deep-seated mutual distrust.

However, the alliance hopes to ride to victory on the `Vajpayee' factor and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's "clean image". It appears that the alliance will do well in the Lok Sabha polls, but in the Assembly elections it has to make extra efforts to retain power as the Congress(I) has managed to arrive at electoral adjustments with other parties.

The BJD, of which Naveen Patnaik is the president, was founded by a group of leaders of the erstwhile Janata Dal after the death of Biju Patnaik in April 1997. The founder-members named the party after the late leader and it had an instant effect. The outfit continues to remain popular by promising to realise "Biju Babu's" dream of building a prosperous Orissa.

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A section of the founder-members had initially thought of joining the BJP. The group consulted the Central leaders of the BJP, but they could not prevent the formation of the new party. In turn, the BJP facilitated the formation of the BJD on the condition that the new regional outfit would be its ally in Orissa. The BJD's survival has been as dramatic as its birth, with Naveen Patnaik facing several revolts against his leadership. Each time he has won by using suspension and ouster as his main weapons.

Interestingly, the BJD continues to maintain its position despite the exit of several of its founder-members. Prominent among them are Rajya Sabha member Dilip Ray and former Ministers Bijay Mohapatra and Ramakrushna Patnaik. While Mohapatra has formed the Orissa Gana Parishad, which is fighting the Assembly polls in alliance with the Congress(I), both Ray and Patnaik have joined the Congress(I).

"Making Naveen the BJD president was our biggest mistake," says Ray. "We formed the BJD to build the Orissa of Biju Babu's dreams. By joining hands with the BJP, we hoped to get a better deal for the State from the Centre. But the BJD has been acting as the B-team of the BJP with Patnaik clinging onto power by compromising the State's interests."

Mohapatra echoed this sentiment and added: "The BJD has no political character. It has not been able to raise any issue relating to Orissa's development or the continued neglect of the State by the Centre."

Says Rabi Das, political analyst and editor of the Oriya daily Paryabekhyak: "The BJD appears to have no vision. It is thriving on the legacy of Biju Patnaik, who had created a strong anti-Congress base in the State." He apprehends that once the BJD loses power, it will disintegrate and be gobbled up by the BJP.

The criticism may be justified considering the BJD's failure to fulfil its promise to secure `special category State' status for Orissa or a special package for the State's poor, except in the KBK (Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput) districts. More than 47 per cent of the State's people live below the poverty line. Although a member of the NDA and the major partner in the State government, the BJD has not been able to take up the cause of Orissa at least on two major issues: the proposed privatisation of the National Aluminium Company (Nalco) and the oil refinery project of Indian Oil Corporation at Paradip.

BJD workers participated in a day-long bandh along with supporters of other parties against the privatisation of Nalco, but the State government has not been able to get an assurance from the Centre against the privatisation.

All that Naveen Patnaik did was to write several times to the Prime Minister registering his protest. Secondly, the coalition government also failed to impress upon the Centre the need for timely completion of the oil refinery. The refinery was to be made operational by August 2003, but the work is yet to start.

While the party has failed to fight for the State's interests, it has also remained weak organisationally. There has been no membership drive, and its State executive committee remains in limbo. With Naveen Patnaik clipping the wings of several regional chieftains who were once close to his father, the party is bereft of heads in several regions.

Ironically, many leaders who were initially opposed to the creation of the BJD are now helping Naveen Patnaik run the party. On the other hand, the BJP has developed a strong network of dedicated workers at the grassroots level, though none of the top-line leaders of the party has even a fraction of the popularity Naveen Patnaik enjoys.

As on date, the BJD is cashing in on the reservoir of goodwill created by Biju Patnaik. But the outfit may fade into oblivion if its fails to build a strong regional identity.

Muscle power and parochial projects

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"THE Shiv Sena will not allow India-Pakistan cricket matches in the country if Pakistan continues to encourage cross-border terrorism," thundered party supremo Bal Thackeray at the start of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena alliance's election campaign on March 28, in Mumbai. "We have given the green signal to Pakistan's proposed cricket tour to India, but only if the Indian cricketers return home safely. My strength is my Shiv Sainiks, who queered pitches in the past to oppose Indian-Pakistan cricket matches. I will continue fighting like this if they continue cross-border terrorism. Let cricket be played at the other end." These statements could be dismissed as being made in Thackeray's usual bombastic style. Yet, they are indicative of how strongly the Sena chief believes that he and his band of followers have the power to hold the country to ransom.

From being a regional political party fighting the cause of the Maharashtrians in Mumbai, the Shiv Sena has grown into a major player in national politics. Although its strategic tie-up with the BJP gave the Shiv Sena the impetus required to enter the national fray, it has proved that it can win seats on its own steam, making it a valuable partner for the BJP. For instance, in the 1999 general elections, of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena-BJP combine won 28, of which the Shiv Sena secured 15.

The Sena's political base was essentially confined to Mumbai and its voters were traditionally middle-class Maharashtrians. However, over the past decade the Shiv Sena has made considerable inroads into all the six regions of the State and into neighbouring States. An indication of the extent of its spread is available from the fact that the Shiv Sena has put up candidates from three constituencies in northern Karnataka, two in Goa and one in Dadra & Nagar Haveli. One of the main reasons why the Shiv Sena aligned with the BJP, it is argued, is that it wanted to work its way into the north of India, particularly Uttar Pradesh. While the Shiv Sena and the BJP are cognisant of their need for each other, the dynamics of the relationship seem to be changing. The Shiv Sena has begun to let the BJP know about its not wanting to play "small brother" anymore. Cracks in the relationship appeared in July 2003, when Sanjay Nirupam, Rajya Sabha member of the Shiv Sena, told Parliament that some officials in Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's office had arm-twisted former Unit Trust of India Chairman P. Subramanyam into advancing money to certain companies. Stunned by the charge, Vajpayee announced that he would resign, but he was persuaded by senior colleagues to change his mind. Although Thackeray did a complete volte-face on the issue later, the fact of the matter is that the Shiv Sena was miffed at the BJP's reluctance to support its bid to overthrow the Democratic Front government led by the Congress(I) and the Nationalist Congress Party in the State. According to Shiv Sena general secretary Subash Desai, the party has been opposing the National Democratic Alliance government's privatisation plans and the changes made by it in the labour policy. "Our loyalty is towards the employees and we need to ensure their safety," he told Frontline. "We hold a few key positions in the NDA government, the most prominent being the position of Lok Sabha Speaker held by Manohar Joshi. This allows us to believe that the NDA will take us seriously." But more important, the Shiv Sena has begun to realise that it has enough bargaining power with the BJP because Maharashtra has the second highest number of Lok Sabha seats after Uttar Pradesh. Without the support of the Shiv Sena, the BJP would only have a slim chance of retaining the same number of seats it won in the State last time.

WHEN the Shiv Sena was launched in 1966, it had a simple programme aimed at a limited constituency: the reservation of jobs and economic opportunities for Maharashtrians in Mumbai. At the time Mumbai was reeling from an overhaul in its economic set-up. Says Jayant Lele, a political sociologist: "the underside of State-sponsored private capitalist development, extortion, smuggling, drug-trafficking and contraband peddling had begun to emerge... For residents of relatively homogeneous Maharashtrian white-collar neighbourhoods, these changes on the socio-cultural scene were peripheral and yet potentially threatening. When the Sena promised to wipe out gangsterdom, it struck a sympathetic chord." Meanwhile, says Lele, the noticeable presence of South Indians in clerical and lower management jobs as well as small businesses began to irk the local Mumbaiite. Urged on by Thackeray, the Sainiks led a series of attacks on the South Indian and Gujarati communities and in the process won over the Maharashtrians.

By the early 1970s, the Sena had grown into a fairly strong political party. After winning the Municipal Corporation elections of 1968 and 1973, it began to set its sights on the State Assembly. Exploiting the crises in the State's textile mills during the 1970s, the Shiv Sena entrenched itself in a terrain that was once -dominated by the Left. The Sena's candidate from Mumbai South Central, which is largely populated by mill workers and Maharashtrians with average incomes, has periodically won elections to both the Assembly and Parliament.

According to Lele, in its early years, the Sena showed few signs of possessing a clear ideology, except for its strong anti-communism. "The Shiv Sena opposed every variety of the Left and supported all shades of the Right, making its allegiance quite clear," Lele explained. Yet, if it benefited the Sena, it would agree to work with "centrist" parties like the Congress (I) or even the socialists. The Shiv Sena's decisive shift to Hindutva came in 1984, when it allied with the BJP over the Ram Mandir issue. Says Nikhil Wagle, Editor of Mahanagar, an evening newspaper based in Mumbai: "At that time the Sena was on a downward spiral. It needed to attach itself to some popular slogan to resurrect itself." Wagle, who has been tracking the growth of the Sena feels that "the Hindutva agenda was convenient" for the Shiv Sena. For it, "Maharashtrians = Hindus = Hindutva," he says.

Today, the Shiv Sena believes that it is the upholder of Hindutva. In fact, Bal Thackeray likes to call himself the "Hindu Hriday Samrat", the emperor of Hindu hearts. Over three decades the Shiv Sena has evolved into a fundamentalist organisation whose leader never fails to use an opportunity to attack minority communities, particularly Muslims. Often calling them outsiders and threats to the nation, the Shiv Sena managed to portray itself as a righteous vigilante organisation, always on the alert to protect Hindu interests. By playing the Hindutva card whenever it can and regularly stirring up communal trouble in sensitive areas, the Shiv Sena has widened its net.

THACKERAY'S fascist characteristics are well known. A cartoonist by profession, Thackeray, who lived in the Marathi-speaking area of Dadar in Mumbai, became immensely popular after he started using his skill to depict the anger, disappointment and distress that prevailed in his community. Moreover he writes vitriolic prose and is a provocative orator. Ever since his first public appearance, Thackeray has proved to be a huge crowd puller. His fire-and-brimstone speeches laced with fundamentalist statements, saffron attire, and show of Tiger and Shivaji symbols, have given him an almost cult-like status.

Thackeray took a page out of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) handbook and forged his party into a cadre-based organisation. The Shiv Sena has about 230 shakhas across Mumbai. Inspite of the Sena's reputation as a party prone to violence, inspite of it being implicated in several cases, never has the party leadership been hauled up by the judiciary. The party continues to use muscle power to pursue its agenda. Thousands of unemployed, disillusioned youth have found the organisation a comfortable place to belong to and hence the Sena cadre is constantly strengthened.

The Sena has a notorious track record - it was involved in the 1992-93 Mumbai riots; was responsible for beating up Biharis who came to Mumbai to give the Railway Recruitment Board examinations; and is known to attack north Indian fishermen. But in an effort to mend its political image before the elections the Shiv Sena is trying hard to distance itself from its earlier actions. The "Mee Mumbaikar" project is one for this purpose. The Sena has decided to modify the slogan and use it to reposition itself as a party that works towards the best interests of Mumbai. Thackeray has even announced that it is important for Hindus to be united in order to take on the "rising threat of Islam and Muslims".

The party stayed away from the controversy over James Laine's book on Shivaji. As self-appointed guardians of the Maratha warrior king, the Sainiks would have been the first to target the author and the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune, which allegedly helped Laine with his research. They have, however, shrewdly tied-up with the Maratha Mahasangh, who were responsible for the vandalism, with the Maratha vote in mind. Usually, it is the NCP that wins the votes of this community. In an effort to woo the Dalit vote, the Shiv Sena has called for

`Bhim Shakti' (represented by Dalit parties) to unite with `Shiv Shakti' (represented by the Shiv Sena). Known for its hostility towards Dalits and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, this time the Shiv Sena is leaving no stone unturned.

Apparently, this election will test whether the Sena chief's son Uddhav Thackeray has the capacity to take over his father's mantle. Clearly, the Sena nurtures the ambition to become a major player and will go to any length to achieve it. But the Sena's future hinges on the relationship between Uddhav Thackeray and his cousin Raj Thackeray. There are rumours of a rift between the two after the latter's hopes of being anointed Bal Thackeray's heir came to nought.

With dogged determination

A survey commissioned by the Congress(I) predicts gains for the party in States where it has struck alliances, but a bleak outcome elsewhere.

THE Congress(I) is undeterred by the pre-poll surveys, which predict a bleak outcome for the party. Despite its obvious handicaps in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the two most crucial States in the Hindi belt, in a rare display of doggedness, the party has pulled out all stops to give the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) a tough fight. It is obvious that the elections, apart from being a referendum on the performance of the NDA, will be interpreted as having given the popular verdict on the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. Naturally, the stakes for the Congress(I) president are higher than that for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Although the Congress(I) has taken bold decisions, which could yield rich dividends later on, at the outset the party is at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the NDA. In Bihar, it has had to be content with the status of a junior partner in the multi-party alliance forged by Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) president Laloo Prasad Yadav, which includes the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) led by Ram Vilas Paswan and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Out of the 40 seats in the State, Laloo Prasad Yadav agreed to give the Congress(I) only four, far short of the 14 seats it demanded. As part of the seat-sharing arrangement, the LJP got eight seats and the CPI(M) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) one each, leaving the lion's share of 26 seats to the RJD. Upset with the high command's "surrender" to the RJD chief, State Congress(I) leaders kept away from the media conference held in Patna on March 27 by Laloo Prasad Yadav and Paswan to announce the alliance.

According to Congress(I) spokesman Kapil Sibal, the decision to accept the seat-sharing deal was taken in view of the larger goal of ensuring the unity of secular forces. Calling the deal a "disappointment", he said that it would ultimately pave the way for the defeat of the NDA in Bihar. Senior Congress(I) leaders point out that the party had only two seats in the dissolved Lok Sabha and since Laloo Prasad Yadav has been a vocal supporter of Sonia Gandhi, the party had little choice but to go along with him.

In Uttar Pradesh, the party's calls for an alliance have been rejected by both the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (S.P.). In order to lift the sagging prospects of the party in the State, Rahul Gandhi will be fielded from Sonia Gandhi's parliamentary constituency, Amethi, while she would shift to neighbouring Rae Bareli. The enthusiastic response Rahul Gandhi received on his first visit to Amethi on March 29 is a pointer to the support that the Nehru-Gandhi family still enjoys in the area. According to political observers, Rahul Gandhi's candidature would boost the party's prospects in three or four of the adjoining seats too. Whether the move will have any effect on the overall prospects of the party in U.P., however, remains to be seen. In any case, the party can take hope from the fact that even before Rahul Gandhi's candidature was announced, there was an upswing in the State in favour of the party, especially because of a visible shift among Muslims towards the party.

According to a survey that the Congress(I) commissioned in February to assess its overall political health in U.P., the party's vote percentage had risen to 16 per cent as against its vote share of 7 per cent in the last Assembly elections. Said a senior Congress(I) leader: "One-third of Muslims expressed the intention of voting for the Congress(I). They had not voted for the party in the last Assembly elections." According to the survey, the larger picture, however, is not quite rosy. It predicts that the Congress(I) is likely to yield ground to the Bharatiya Janata Party in its traditional strongholds such as the northeastern region, gaining little in the northern region where it continues to be weak.

Sonia Gandhi's roadshows in northern India have received good response. But roadshows being a new idea, party strategists are not sure how much of the support will be converted into votes. They are also not sure whether it was the right time for roadshows. "Obviously we can't achieve in two months what we should have striven for all these five years. But we are still trying," said a senior Congress(I) leader in the State, who is active in the party's strategic planning unit, which formulates the campaign plan..

There is room for scepticism within the party because according to the survey, which covered 160 parliamentary constituencies spread across the country and was conducted by a professional public relations agency and leaked to a select group of mediapersons, the party's prospects are not exactly upbeat. According to senior party leaders, the survey was "not quantitative but qualitative in nature". As per its findings, the party seems to be barely holding on to its present strength (it won 114 seats in 1999), while the BJP is expected to break new ground in some of the southern States and in the northeastern region.

Nevertheless, the Congress(I) has an edge in southern States such as Tamil Nadu, where it won two out of the 10 seats it contested in the last round, and Andhra Pradesh, where it won five out of 42 seats. It is likely to retain its existing seats in Kerala (eight) though the contest with the Left Democratic Front (LDF) is close, and win 18 out of 28 seats in Karnataka. In Karnataka the survey indicates that the BJP is likely to emerge as the principal Opposition party, dislodging former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda's Janata Dal (Secular). The four States, along with Pondicherry, account for a total of 130 Lok Sabha seats, of which the Congress(I) had won only 33 in 1999. This time it has already sacrificed the Pondicherry seat in order to save its alliance with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led front. Significantly, the survey indicates that all the gains likely to be made by the party would be the result of the alliances it has sewn up, with the DMK and the Left parties in Tamil Nadu, and with the Telengana Rashtra Samiti in Andhra Pradesh.

In Maharashtra, which accounts for 48 seats, the Congress(I) won 10 seats in the previous Lok Sabha elections although it did not enter into an alliance with the NCP. This time, the survey predicts, the Congress(I)-NCP alliance is likely to offset the anti-incumbency factor and steal a march on the BJP-Shiv Sena combine.

In West Bengal and Orissa, which together account for 63 seats, the party is expected to maintain the status quo, retaining three in the former and two in the latter. The survey rules out any anti-incumbency factor at work in both the States. In Assam and Jharkhand, alliances, the survey says, will make or break electoral fortunes. The Congress(I) is likely to suffer a setback in Assam, where it won 10 of the 14 seats last time, if the BJP allies with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP). In Jharkhand, the Congress(I)-Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) alliance is likely to race ahead of the BJP. In Gujarat, an anti-incumbency factor is present but is not likely to raise the party's present tally, which is a dismal six out of 26 seats. In Punjab, where the Congress(I) has eight seats, the anti-incumbency factor could cost the party dearly.

In Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the situation that prevailed at the time of the Assembly elections in December 2003 remains unchanged, with the BJP remaining ahead. In fact the Congress(I) might find it difficult to save its tally of 20 out of a total of 65 seats. In Haryana, where the Congress(I) has no seat at present, the survey shows a swing in favour of the party. "The party will really have to try very hard to lose in Haryana," said a senior leader. In numerically crucial Bihar, the survey indicates that while the party might make some gains, thanks to its alliance with the RJD and the LJP, the BJP is likely to gain at the cost of the Janata Dal (United). According to the survey, the NDA has an edge over its rivals because of the Vajpayee factor and the Central government's achievements, especially better roads, and successes in matters of foreign policy. Although unemployment and poor performance in agriculture are seen as major failures of the NDA government, these seem inadequate to hold the NDA down. "Their biggest asset is having Vajpayee as their leader. Minus Vajpayee, the voters' intention of voting for the NDA goes down by half," said a party leader.

Notwithstanding the feedback, the party hopes to recover lost ground by aggressively exposing the NDA government's failures and projecting a new image of Sonia Gandhi through her roadshows. "The idea is to expose the NDA and show people that Sonia Gandhi is not what she is made out to be by the NDA," said a senior leader. That is why the party released a 55-page "charge-sheet" against the NDA government, called "Vajpayee Government: A Saga of Sins, Scams and Shame". The charge-sheet has an entire section listing the various scams that have come to light on matters relating to defence - Tehelka, killer MiGs, misuse of the Kargil cess, irregularities made in the purchase of equipment for the Kargil war and so on. Among other scams, the ones relating to UTI and Cyberspace Infosys Ltd., in which Vajpayee's foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya is named, figure prominently. Others that are listed include the petrol pump and gas agency allotment scams, the Judev expose, the HUDCO scam involving former Urban Development Minister Ananth Kumar, the plot allotment scam, and the medical procurement scam. Another section highlighting the failures of the NDA government lists issues such as unemployment, loot of public sector undertakings, farmers' suicides, communalisation of education, dismal state of education and health, and laxity on matters of national security. An entire section has been devoted to Vajpayee's shifting stands on various issues. Called "Vajpayee flip-flop", it lists issues such as Ayodhya, corruption, communal strife and employment. The party intends to make the booklet available to every household in the country and publicise it through advertisement campaigns in the media, through documentaries, posters and so on.

These talking points form the major portion of the party's manifesto as well. In the manifesto, however, the party has for the first time talked categorically about continuing with economic reforms, but simultaneously ensuring "local-level economic and social transformation" and carrying the growth into agricultural and industrial sectors. The manifesto promises "legal guarantee for 100 days of employment to every rural household" and "selective privatisation," which would ensure that disinvestment revenue is used for social development. The party plans to go ahead vigorously with Sonia Gandhi's "direct mass contact" programme in various States. She has already covered U.P., Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh, and intends to visit the remaining States in the days to come.

Although Sonia Gandhi's roadshows have met with enthusiastic response from the people, her initiative is not backed by the rest of the party organisation. "Once she has left a State, the party there should take it forward. Other leaders should keep in touch with the people, but sadly enough that is not happening. The result being, by the time elections come, her impact may fade away," a senior party leader in Lucknow said. According to him, there are elements within the party who do not like to see Sonia Gandhi emerge stronger. As a result there are even subtle attempts at sabotaging the roadshows, he said. "She has proved herself to be a leader, but without a party," remarked a senior party functionary at the Congress(I) headquarters in New Delhi. Given the situation, if the party increases its tally or even manages to save its seats, the credit would go entirely to Sonia Gandhi. If that is not the case, she could face troubled times ahead.

Congress(I)'s new hope

THE Family lives on. Rahul Gandhi, a member of the fifth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, has decided to take the plunge into politics and contest the Lok Sabha polls from Amethi.

Projected as the Congress(I)'s great hope in a country with an overwhelmingly young population, the 33-year-old Rahul Gandhi has a lot riding on his shoulders. Says senior Congress(I) leader Jairam Ramesh: "As a Member of Parliament from Amethi, he will have a role in rebuilding the party in Uttar Pradesh as well as a larger involvement in the future."

As far as his background is concerned, Rahul Gandhi is quite the international man of mystery. The Congress(I) office has not bothered with a `CV' yet, but media reports stress his institution-hopping history and insist that he has not stuck through any academic degree. As Maneka Gandhi has pointed out, not a single person from the Nehru-Gandhi family has finished a degree in the last 90 years, including Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi.

While Rahul Gandhi did not have the grades to make it to Delhi's St. Stephens College, he was admitted in the sports quota for his shooting skills. His contemporaries at college remember him as a low-profile, reserved person. Said Upinder Singh, who currently heads the college's History department: "His stint at St. Stephens was too brief to judge his academic merit." Later, Rahul Gandhi shifted to Harvard University. According to the Harvard alumni records, he attended the school between 1990 and 1993 (which makes him an exact contemporary of Jyotiraditya Scindia there), lived off campus and did not get a degree. However, Jairam Ramesh claims that he transferred to another school in Massachusetts because of "security concerns", and completed his Bachelors degree. While media reports claim that Rahul Gandhi is not listed on the college database, Ramesh asserts that "in 1995, he got an M.Phil. in the economics of developing countries from Trinity College, Cambridge".

After that Rahul Gandhi joined the London office of Monitor, a leading consultancy firm set up by Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School, where he is reported to have worked in projects relating to technology and communication. On his return to India, over a year ago, he set up his own consultancy firm in Mumbai.

However, to quibble over degrees does not take away from the fact that Rahul Gandhi has done his homework where it counts - in Amethi. He is said to be a strategic planner and has been involved in Amethi for a while, along with sister Priyanka Vadra. He was responsible for launching primary education projects such as the Pratham initiative in the area, says Jairam Ramesh.

When the Gandhi siblings visited Amethi in late January, they triggered off intense speculation about a possible political launch. With bafflers like "I am not averse to politics but that does not mean that I am going to join politics" from Rahul Gandhi, the general consensus was that Priyanka Vadra would inherit the political legacy.

From the earlier shy, retiring image, Rahul Gandhi appeared a lot more politically savvy as he spoke to crowds and visited families in Amethi. Unlike Sonia Gandhi's early days, his campaign does not appear dizzy with spin and script. On a visit to Amethi before filing his nomination, he stressed his emotional connection with the people and his need to serve India with a self-described dil ki rajniti (politics of the heart). "While developed countries push ahead for progress, we are being told that we are fully developed," he said, criticising the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government's `India Shining' rhetoric.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party has fielded fiery Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader and ex-MP Ram Vilas Vedanti against him, Amethi is all set to send Rahul Gandhi to Parliament with the overwhelming majority reserved for the Nehru-Gandhi family, say Congress(I) workers.

Whether that claim extends beyond Amethi and whether he can "rebuild the party" as many Congress(I) leaders hope remain to be tested.

Renting a state?

There is a growing realisation among Pakistanis that by conferring Major Non-NATO Ally status on their country the United States is once again using it to advance its short-term strategic interests in the region.

PAKISTAN is all set to join an exclusive club of 37 nations, designated as special allies of the United States, assuming that the move will not face any roadblocks in the U.S. Congress. The `special allies' include the 26 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the 11 countries designated as Major Non-NATO Allies (MNNA).

The dramatic announcement to this effect made by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell during his visit to Islamabad in the third week of March has become a topic of animated debate in Pakistan's civil society and media. Strangely, nobody is celebrating. In fact, the announcement has triggered anxiety about the real motives of Washington.

There are good reasons for Islamabad to be sceptical about what the new status is likely to entail for Pakistan. Since 1954, successive rulers of Pakistan have boasted of the country's special relations with the U.S. But thanks to America's habit of using allies who will serve its short- or medium-term strategic interests, people in Pakistan view the latest offer with deep mistrust.

As things stand, there is little clarity about the benefits that are likely to accrue to Pakistan. Powell's comments, made just hours after he took off from Pakistan, that some gestures are "more symbolic than substantive" have not helped clear doubts. He went to the extent of saying that he was not sure how far Pakistan would benefit as an MNNA.

Another reason why the gesture has evoked little enthusiasm is because of the circumstances under which it has come about. Anti-Americanism is at its peak in Pakistan because of the manner in which the U.S. is going about its military operations in Afghanistan and the pressure that the country has brought to bear on Islamabad to cleanse Pakistani society of extremism and militancy. For the first time since 1971, Pakistani forces are engaged in one of the grimmest battles in the pursuit of Al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives.

An overwhelming majority of people in Pakistan have no affiliation or even sympathy for Al Qaeda but they do believe that it is the job of the U.S. to take on the fundamentalists it had raised and nurtured to wage jehad in Afghanistan against the erstwhile Soviet Union. They believe that their armed forces are being compelled to do the dirty job of the Americans.

There is also the larger question of the U.S.' relations with Pakistan over the past 50 years. Pakistanis have a serious grouse that the U.S. has been interested only in a patron-client relationship, in line with the latter's `rent-a-nation' theory. The perception is that the U.S. has been enlisting Pakistan's services for short-term gains. Successive military and civil governments have only been too happy to dance to the tunes of Washington. Democracy and the larger interests of the people have not mattered.

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Is history repeating itself? Afzal Mahmood, a former Pakistani Ambassador and writer, best summed up the general mood in relation to the U.S. proposal: "Our special ties with the Americans, beginning in 1954, led ultimately to the 1965 war with India. The enormous economic and military assistance that we obtained from the Americans, being their key partner in the struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, again made us lose our bearings and we embarked on the dangerous adventure of `proxy war' in Kashmir to `bleed India white'. But in the end, it is the Kashmiris and the people of Pakistan who have suffered far more than the Indians."

On paper, the new status should put Pakistan in the company of key U.S. allies such as Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Japan and South Korea and provide Pakistan access to U.S.-owned military stockpiles on its territory, privileged rights to receive military training and priority of delivery for defence articles. The Philippines and Thailand, both of which were members of the now-defunct South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO), have had long and uninterrupted (despite the closure of the Subic Bay naval base) military cooperation with the U.S.

Theoretically, an enhancement of military cooperation with the U.S. on account of MNNA status will be a big boon to Pakistan. The invoking of the Pressler Amendment against Pakistan in 1990, consequent upon evidence of its acquiring nuclear weapons capability, led to a ban on all military sales to Pakistan and the termination of U.S.-Pakistan defence cooperation. A ban was imposed on the training of Pakistani military officers in the U.S., exchange of visits by military officers were curtailed, equipment in the pipeline (F-16s, three naval aircraft and so on) were frozen, and a ban was imposed even on the supply of spare parts for equipment sold to Pakistan before 1990. Pakistan ceased to be eligible for concessional military supplies. There was an unannounced ban on exchange of visits by scientists working in the nuclear and missile establishments. Advisories were issued to all U.S. educational institutions and research laboratories to exercise care and caution against Pakistani scientists seeking admissions or invitations in respect of subjects relating to nuclear and missile development.

Since 9/11, these sanctions have been eased gradually. The supply of spare parts for all the three services has been resumed. Free and concessional supply of new equipment has also resumed, but the Bush administration has been projecting them as equipment meant to strengthen Pakistan's counter-terrorism and counter-infiltration capabilities on the border with Afghanistan.

The Bush administration is conscious of the sentiments in Pakistan owing to the estrangement in the 1990s. This was evident in repeated references made by Powell at the news conference he addressed along with Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri. He pledged to maintain a long-term partnership with Pakistan and include it in a fairly exclusive club of non-NATO allies for "future military-to-military relations". Powell conceded that the elevation in status given to Pakistan was a reward for Islamabad's unstinting efforts to capture Al Qaeda suspects who had taken refuge in the country.

Praising Pakistan's contribution to the fight against terrorism, Powell said: "We must do together more if your region, and if indeed the whole world, is to live in peace." Will the new status enable Islamabad to acquire F-16s and other weaponry from the U.S., which it has so far been denied? Further, Pakistan is worried about America's expectations of it once it enters the group of MNNA countries. For example, will the U.S. expect Pakistan to send troops to Iraq to bolster peace-keeping efforts by American forces?

While no one is sure of the benefits of MNNA status for Pakistan, there is consensus that the move is motivated by strategic considerations.

Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, well-known Pakistani defence analyst, noted: "Stopping militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Islamabad's nuclear weapons capability are the two issues that force the U.S. to engage Pakistan. Both issues, however, signify the need for Washington to remain in the region longer, to formalise relations with a military that could be used to achieve particular American objectives."

She is of the view that if the U.S. wants to ensure that militancy is wiped out or that Pakistan does not engage in nuclear proliferation, it makes sense for it to formalise the alignment and bring Pakistan into the U.S. Central Command (CENTOM) network. Ayesha Siddiqa maintains that it would be foolhardy even to think about MNNA as relationship that binds the U.S. morally or otherwise to intervene in the resolution of the Kashmir issue.

A letter in a Pakistani English daily on the subject reflects the widespread pessimism in civil society over the move: "Mr. Powell's disclosure that Pakistan is to get Major Non-NATO status means that Mr. Bush has decided to use Pakistan as a U.S. military base to control our nuclear and missile arsenal, to contain our close friend China and also to contain Russia, in future. As in the past, some of the elite will be long-term beneficiaries, but for the people in general there will be no benefits."

'The BJP has evolved'

the-nation

Interview with Arun Jaitley.

Union Minister for Law and Commerce Arun Jaitley is considered one of the key strategists of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the others being party president M. Venkaiah Naidu, general secretary Pramod Mahajan and Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sushma Swaraj. The party denied these leaders the opportunity to contest the elections so that they can coordinate the party's campaign. Jaitley spoke to V. Venkatesan on a number of issues thrown up by the BJP's campaign so far. Excerpts:

Would you consider this an "issueless" election?

There is one issue that dominates the campaign, and that is that the National Democratic Alliance has become a stable force in Indian politics. The leadership of Vajpayee and the performance of the NDA give an assurance to the people, and the comfort level is very high. Therefore, this is a government that has done well, there is a `feel good', there is a pro-incumbency... and that they must be voted back. This broadly is the mood of the nation today. The fact that there is an issueless Opposition, which has not been able to nail the government on any point, does not make the election issueless. The comfort level of people with the government is reasonably high.

But the focus of BJP leaders' campaign speeches seems to be on Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin.

No. It is the focus of the reporting. You report only what is chatpata (sensational). The positives rarely get reported. The negative attacks by all parties get reported. That is the trend in India. That does not mean that the speeches do not contain them.

The party's "Vision Document" contains several photographs of Vajpayee, which shows that your intention is to promote personality cult.

No, this is a conscious decision. This is a publication that we want our sympathisers and supporters to preserve and therefore Atalji's photographs taken during the last 52 years have been included. It is a photographic journey of the history of the Jan Sangh and the BJP through Atalji. We have a leader who has a large national acceptability and since he is our leader even in this election and for the next tenure as Prime Minister obviously his face will be in the brochure. There is no harm in promoting a leader and telling the country that this is our leader.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had been telling party workers even a few years ago that they should not be apologetic about ideology. But in these elections he is saying that there has been a dilution of ideology.

I don't think there is a dilution of ideology. The issues of governance have come into the forefront. That is a change that has taken place. The BJP as a party of governance has certainly evolved.

Why is the BJP reluctant to stick to its stand on abrogating Article 370, which gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir? The "Vision Document", unlike the BJP's earlier manifestoes, no longer advocates its deletion from the Constitution.

I don't think there is reluctance. We are a thinking party. The "Vision Document" categorically says that we endorse and recognise that the provisions referring to Jammu and Kashmir in the Constitution are temporary and transient, unlike our opponents who think they are permanent, and yet we feel the immediate challenges are to fight terrorism, to work for the economic development of the Valley and to end discrimination against Jammu and Leh/Ladakh. Today we don't have the required figures to repeal Article 370. It is not on the NDA agenda and a debate on Article 370 is not an immediate solution to the problem of terrorism.

You won 182 seats in the last elections. How is your party hopeful of crossing the halfway mark?

I think it is immodest to discuss numbers. Let us leave it to May 13. The basis of our optimism is that popular choice is restricted. That is, the NDA under Vajpayee versus we don't know. There is no alliance, no leader, no common minimum programme, no performance, and no capacity on the other side.

Unfounded optimism

As the Bharatiya Janata Party boasts of its pre-eminent status in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, it is reluctant to reveal the basis of this optimism.

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EVERY election, the Bharatiya Janata Party's "Vision Document" which was released on March 30 points out, has a specific context. The party claims that the two main issues of Elections 2004 are good governance and accelerated, all-round development. "There is a new type of hunger in India, the tremendous hunger for development. It is especially acute in rural areas and among the urban poor. They want to free themselves from poverty, backwardness and underdevelopment. They want to see an end to regional and social imbalances in development," says the document.

Even as one seeks to find evidence of the party's claim in its ongoing campaign, there is little articulation of developmental issues in the leaders' campaign speeches across the country, as reported in the media. In contrast to the issues of development, which dominated the campaign during the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi last December, the party has so far been unsuccessful in projecting the "good" performance of the ruling coalition at the Centre as an issue that could tilt the scales in its favour.

Union Minister for Law and Commerce Arun Jaitley, one of the BJP's key strategists in these elections, admits this failure, but blames it on the distorted priorities of the media and the Opposition parties who, he alleged, are reluctant to join issue with the BJP on this.

The prospect of an issueless and, as a consequence, waveless election has begun to worry the BJP, which is contesting about 350 Lok Sabha seats, leaving the rest to its allies. Party president M. Venkaiah Naidu, who had been claiming that the party aims to get 300 Lok Sabha seats in these elections, recently felt it necessary to reduce his estimate to about 270 seats, which is close to the halfway mark. The party's strength in the last Lok Sabha was 182.

The key question, however, is whether the party will be able to repeat at least its 1999 performance, and if it aims to reach the halfway mark, then where will the additional seats come from. While BJP leaders are unwilling to be specific on their expectations, an indication is available from the party's strategy.

BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan told Frontline that the party had commissioned a market research agency (which he did not name) to gather information about constituencies in a few "important" States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Assam and Orissa. Obviously, these are considered "important" because in these States it is not sure of repeating, let alone bettering, its performance. The party has not commissioned similar surveys in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi, as, Mahajan claimed, the results of the earlier ones done for the Assembly elections in December last year were sufficient.

In Uttar Pradesh - considered a crucial State in determining the party's fortunes in the Hindi heartland - the BJP won 29 out of the 77 seats it contested in 1999. The BJP, Mahajan claimed, would register gains in Uttar Pradesh. While former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh's return to the party recently is expected to boost the morale of the cadre, how many additional seats he can fetch is not clear. The BJP contested the 1999 elections in Uttar Pradesh with Kalyan Singh as its leader, and therefore Mahajan's optimism about the party's prospects now defies logic. The BJP suffered further erosion in its strength in the Assembly elections held later, after Kalyan Singh was expelled from the party.

That the BJP felt it necessary to assess its strength in Bihar and Jharkhand, where it won 24 out of the 29 seats it contested in 1999, is significant. Bihar and Jharkhand are not among the States where it expects to make "gains". It indicates that the BJP is not sure about repeating its 1999 performance in these States. In Orissa, it won all nine seats it contested in alliance with the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in 1999. But the party has put Orissa in the same "problem" category under which it has placed Assam and Maharashtra, where also surveys have been commissioned to assess the party's strength - another indication that the BJP, which has already reached a saturation point in Orissa, is only bound to lose in these elections because of the anti-incumbency factor as it is sharing power with the BJD. The BJP may well gain seats - as its internal assessment has shown - from Karnataka, Assam and Rajasthan, but there is no answer as to how it could stop its erosion in States where it registered comfortable victories in 1999.

The surveys, Mahajan said, would help the party to decide candidates and the way resources should be distributed for the campaign. These are extensive surveys, done all over a State, and apparently require a year's notice to be organised. The party is also planning to organise a "quick" second survey in these States after the selection of candidates in order to help identify issues at the national and local levels - a clear indication that the party has been running its "hyped" campaign all these days without any understanding of the "real" issues the voters are concerned about.

As the party's "Vision Document" shows, the BJP's unique selling point in these elections is the persona of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who has been projected as the embodiment of India's best political traditions - a debatable claim. It is up to the electorate to judge whether the BJP's attempt to convert this round of elections into a plebiscite on Vajpayee's leadership will succeed.

Africa's bloody diamond trade

JAYATI GHOSH columns

A public campaign against international diamond trade fuelling and thriving on the civil wars in Africa achieves limited success but there is no end in sight for the people's misery.

DIAMONDS have been a potent symbol of luxury consumption for some time. And as economic inequalities are fostered by the international pattern of growth, the lust for such symbols has grown as well, creating a buoyant world market for diamonds in the last decade, which has spread also to developing countries.

Thus, advertising campaigns to promote diamond sales have been surging recently even in India, where De Beers and other international diamond merchants, as well as retailers, have been presenting this as the latest emblem not only of material success, but also, apparently, of purity and commitment.

But of course, most things in the world today are not what they seem to be, so it is probably not surprising, even though it is still ironic, that the world diamond trade is substantially based on, and feeds into, the most gruesome violence and terror in a tragic continent. The history of diamond extraction is known to be cruel, as evidenced by the ravaging of native populations and severe exploitation of workers especially in southern Africa in the 19th century. But the more recent trade is based on what is probably an even more cynical exploitation and reinforcement of vicious local conflicts in the sub-Saharan region by multinational processing and trading companies.

Some of these murky activities have become the focus of international public attention due to the efforts of a small London-based non-governmental organisation, Global Witness, which has highlighted the role played by the diamonds trade in financing the destructive civil wars in sub-Saharan Africa. The wars fought in that resource-rich continent have added to the poverty and desolation of its people, but it is important to remember that many of these wars have really been about control over these resources, and have also been financed by the proceeds of their sale.

In all the civil wars that have occurred in diamond-rich countries, the most bitterly contested areas are the diamond fields. For rebel movements, as much as for governments, it is only too easy to smuggle the rough stones out of the country and sell them to dealers in major diamond centres such as Antwerp.

Control over diamond territory has, therefore, determined the resources available to the different sides, and has often helped to determine even who finally wins the war. But this means that such natural wealth brings nothing for the local population, and instead provides for instruments of destruction, which further ravage their existence.

In Angola, for example, illegal diamond sales were crucial in funding Jonas Savimbi's rebel Unita forces over the 1990s. (Of course, Unita also received some support from Northern governments such as the United States, which were eager to destabilise the supposedly Marxist regime.) Sales of uncut diamonds from fields seized by them in the conflict earned Unita at least $3.7 billion between 1992 and 1997, allowing it to rearm even as it spoke of peace, and eventually to wage war again. Mobutu Sese Seko, then President of neighbouring Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), and another major U.S. ally, bought the stones and allowed huge consignments of arms to be smuggled through his country to Unita.

After growing protests from human rights groups, the United Nations imposed sanctions on such diamond trade in 1998. But sanctions were ineffective without the backing of the international diamond business, which continued to use these diamonds with impunity.

The appalling tragedies enabled by illegal diamond sales were highlighted again in Sierra Leone, where the rebel forces of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) practised a particularly vicious form of coercion of the local population, enforcing their control by terror through systematic amputation of the limbs of adults and children, along with other practices.

The RUF began its devastating campaign by first acquiring control over some important diamond fields, and it increased its resources for further extension of its violent activities by smuggling the rough stones through neighbouring Liberia and selling them at cheap rates. (Incidentally, the profits from these diamond sales also allowed the RUF to hire the services of expatriate mercenary paramilitary groups such as the ironically named "Executive Outcomes", which have been hyperactive in the destructive conflicts of the African region.)

Such experience allowed Global Witness and other advocacy groups to make a strong case for insisting on corporate action to avoid purchasing diamonds from designated "conflict zones". Such continuous pressure affected the diamond industry, where "image is everything", to adopt international arrangements aimed at reducing criticism.

THE Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was negotiated by 61 governments, civil society organisations such as Global Witness and representatives of the private diamond trade and was formally launched in January 2003. The KPCS is an international governmental certification scheme, which requires governments and the diamond industry to implement import/export control regimes on rough diamonds, in order to prevent "conflict diamonds" from fuelling conflicts and human rights abuses. In addition, there is self-regulation required of all sectors of the diamond industry to implement a system of warranties and a code of conduct to keep "conflict diamonds" out of legitimate trade.

At the time, the scheme was hailed as a major breakthrough, because it had apparently got the major corporate organisations involved in diamond trading to respond to public pressure. However, some analysts pointed out that the largest such company, De Beers of South Africa, which controls 60 per cent of world diamond supply, found the scheme to be in its own interest.

From the 1930s, De Beers had been buying up surplus diamonds to ensure its stranglehold on global supply. But it has recently been faced with increased competition and the prospect of increased popularity of synthetic diamonds. The company may have decided that it now makes commercial sense for it to market itself as a "clean" diamond company, guaranteeing "bloodless" stones. Some analysts have also noted that if the supply of African diamonds dries up, it might suit De Beers, which would then be able to sell some of its own diamond stockpile, currently valued at more than $4 billion.

However, a recent report from Global Witness, which has been monitoring the implementation of the Kimberley Process, finds that the diamond retailers' contribution to a United Nations-backed initiative to prevent illicit diamond sales from fuelling Africa's wars has amounted to little more than "a public relations manoeuvre". This is based on a survey carried out in the retail market for diamond jewellery in the U.S., which accounts for over half of global diamond jewellery retail sales at a value of $24 billion in 2002.

The survey revealed that the major players in the U.S. diamond jewellery retail sector are not carrying out the basic steps of self-regulation envisaged in the Kimberley Process. In general, very few of the major luxury retailers had an explicit policy on diamond purchase, and there were low levels of awareness among employees about the issue of "conflict diamonds". The report also shows that the World Diamond Council, which is responsible for co-ordinating the industry's efforts to combat "conflict diamonds", has not adequately monitored compliance with the self-regulation, nor have other trade associations.

All this could perhaps have been expected - it is rare that cynical corporations actually comply with any rules or even "self-regulation" that touches the bottom line of profits. And the tendency to pay lip service to social concerns or to whitewash their own activities remains as strong as ever. But the public campaign against using natural resources of a country to finance devastating and brutal wars and simultaneously provide profits to multinational companies, has already been more successful in a shorter time than was expected.

Continued pressure may actually bring about some positive change in this relatively limited goal. However, the basic tragedy of a continent whose natural wealth has generally brought about even greater misery for its own people because of the rapaciousness of native and expatriate profiteers may not end so easily.

Lessons from the U.K.

Professionalism is not created overnight; it is a product of assiduous training. The police force in the United Kingdom is an example worth emulating.

IT was very much in the air for quite some time. London's vulnerability was at the back of the minds of many. But few would admit to it or talk about it. It was an uneasy silence. But when the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens went public in March in the wake of the Madrid explosions to say that London was very much a terrorist target, there were some who were sceptical. A few in government were not actually pleased at the tenor and timing of his warning. Was he unintentionally spreading panic? The subsequent arrest of eight U.K. nationals in and around London and the seizure of huge quantities of ammonium nitrate that could be used for making deadly explosives have proved him right. It confirmed that the Met was not alarmist and that its fears were hardly unfounded.

The police detection of the terrorist ring has been widely acclaimed as a smart piece of work and the culmination of an imaginative and smartly guarded operation. According to first reports - I am filing this column from Bramshill (Hampshire) in the U.K. just two days after the action - all those arrested were unfortunately Muslims. What I am most impressed about is the low-key publicity to this fact by the police lest they should annoy and alienate the two million Muslims in the country. Several meetings have been held with local Islamic religious leaders to explain the arrests and their wholehearted support sought to unravel the conspiracy. The approach to the successful outcome of a sensational operation has been extremely professional. As a former policeman, my firm belief is that such professionalism is not created overnight. There is neither a sleight of hand that can be employed nor a magical formula. Such finesse is invariably the product of several factors, the chief one being the assiduous training of those who come into the police forces from day one. This is because no force that pays just lip-service to training, can ever attain these standards of excellence. It is also an index of the sensitivity of the Home Office that oversees the police in the country. It can take credit for sustained efforts to upgrade police training facilities over nearly three decades.

There were a series of scandals involving the U.K. Police in the late 1980s that diluted public faith in their ability to control crime. This prompted the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons to institute an inquiry into higher police training and the working of the hallowed Police Staff College in Bramshill. The Committee's report of 1989 pinpointed the ills of the U.K. Police to the absence of central control and co-ordination of training, career development and career management. The following years saw the creation of a National Directorate of Police Training. In 1993 this came to be called the National Police Training (NPT). The Bramshill Staff College, created immediately after the Second World War had all along been assailed for its elitism. It was expected to undergo major changes as a result of the House of Commons inquiry. Fortunately, the latter took a broad view and pleaded for retaining its existing character when it said: "Bramshill House has enormous symbolic value both nationally and internationally. It has an enduring place in police experience and lore."

The Stephen Lawrence incident of April 22, 1993, in which the Met Police were allegedly insensitive to the killing of a black youth in the heart of London by a group of white hoodlums showed the British police in poor light (Frontline, May 23, 2003, and January 31, 2004). The subsequent Macpherson inquiry's indictment ("professional incompetence", "institutional racism" and "failure of leadership") of the police for this unfortunate incident forced the Home Affairs Committee to announce yet another inquiry into police training in August 1998. The report of this committee in 1999 and the publication the same year of a consultation document saw the emergence of a new structure called the Central Police Training and Development Authority (Centrex). Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 gave Centrex and the allied organisation of police training in the country the needed legislative backing. Bramshill, which has ceased to call itself the Police Staff College, is the foremost of the seven Centrex sites in the country. It is also where the Chief Executive of Centrex for the whole country is based.

While recruit training is conducted at all centres, Bramshill is expected to shed this in course of time so as to concentrate on higher-level courses such as the Strategic Command Course and Chief Officers' Development Programme. One of the most prestigious courses that it runs three times a year is the International Commanders' Programme that has attracted officers from about 80 countries, including India. This is a ten-week full-time residential course that aims at developing operational command skills besides promoting international police networking. A one-week attachment to a U.K. police service is an important feature of this meaningful programme.

Participants develop close ties that come in handy while tackling problems like terrorism, trafficking in human beings and money laundering. The value of such friendship cannot be exaggerated in a shrinking world that has globalised not only positive areas such as science, medicine, technology and trade but the debilitating activity of crime, particularly the organised variety, as well.

WHAT is most striking about the organisation of police training in the U.K. is the emphasis on upgrading the quality of programmes directed at recruits. (Unlike in India, every policeman in the U.K. starts as a constable and then works his way up the ladder. There are some exceptional recruits such as my friend Peter Neyroud heading the Thames Valley Police who got into a fast track of promotions by passing successive examinations and doing extraordinarily well at the Strategic Command Course in Bramshill.) Recruits go through six stages of training that begins with a fortnight of familiarisation at their own force. Thereafter, they spend 15 weeks at Centrex where they are put through a gruelling regimen of focussed lectures on a variety of subjects, including crime, traffic, human rights and police computers. Legal issues relating to each of these aspects of police work also receive substantial attention. A ten-week attachment with a Tutor Constable on patrol and a two-week review of additional needs follow during the two-year long probation. While physical training is an important component of the programme for recruits, it does not receive excessive attention, as is the case in India. There is an eternal and unresolved debate as to what is the ideal mix between classroom instruction and outdoor exercises that seek to heighten a recruit's physical toughness and endurance.

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During each visit to the U.K., I gain more and more a feeling that police leadership here is becoming increasingly sensitive to the racist charge that is often so effortlessly levelled against their forces. Not only are allegations promptly looked into, but there is also an equal anxiety to push up the minority community component in the forces. This is particularly seen in the Met Police. I remember a year ago a special Met team visited Delhi and Punjab on a recruitment drive. This is in recognition of the huge Sikh population in and around London. I do not know how productive this mission was. But I am aware that Met has not been content with this. It has gone beyond this to adapt training procedures to meet the requirement of inculcating among its men and women correct attitudes towards the minorities, especially Asians.

HOW is the U.K. experience relevant to us? The National Police Academy (NPA) in Hyderabad is the pride of the Indian police. It has benefited from good leadership provided by some brilliant and dedicated officers. The Ministry of Home Affairs has been bountiful in providing the funds needed for its continual expansion. I would strongly commend to readers that when they are in Hyderabad next they should drop in at the NPA to see for themselves how well this great institution has shaped itself as a centre of excellence. The Academy has offered reasonable help to the State forces in training trainers. It can excel further. In order to attain Bramshill's eminence in the world of police professionals the NPA should expand its existing international exchange programmes to match those offered by the former. The value of such interaction with forces all over the world can hardly be exaggerated. I have no doubt in my mind that the MHA will be more than forthcoming in this endeavour.

I would also like to see a certain standardisation of training that is administered to police constables in different parts of the country. States are now willing to be guided more and more by Central law enforcement agencies in the quest for professional sharpness. This refreshing openness to ideas needs to be exploited. The NPA's efforts in this direction will be most welcome by a few States, which do not have top class training bodies or trainers. If the NPA does not seize the initiative, the present imbalance in the standards of training and performance of the constabulary between States will accentuate itself. This is not good for the image of the police as a whole in the country at a time when pressures on forces are mounting.

I CANNOT sign off without dwelling on the charm of Bramshill. Situated in the picturesque northeastern region of Hampshire, it is less than an hour's journey from London's famous Waterloo Station. Getting off at Winchfield, the college can be reached in about 10 minutes by taxi. As you drive in, you are bowled over by the literally breathtaking charm of the landscape that surrounds an impressive facade of the main building called the Mansion that accommodates the college library. The original Manor House built as a hollow square around a courtyard existed before 1600. Extending to about 2,500 acres, the estate had even accommodated a deer park!

In 1605, Edward Zouche, the 11th Baron Zouche of Harringworth, bought the property from Sir Stephen Thornhurst of Agnes Court, Kent, and effected several modifications. It changed many hands before the Home Office acquired it in 1953 from Lord Brocket to house the National Police College. Since then Bramshill has acquired the reputation of an international centre of excellence. The library has a collection of 65,000 books and can rightly be regarded as the largest police library in the world. There is provision for scholars to come and work on the premises on payment of a nominal daily fee. The knowledgeable library staff is ever ready to help make visitors feel welcome. The whole ambience is something that has to be savoured rather than described in mere words.

Finally, there is something in the Mansion for those who are fascinated by ghosts. Chris Khawaja, the Liaison Officer for International Programmes who drew up my schedule here so enthusiastically, warned me that if I worked late at the library I could have a memorable encounter with ghosts! When I probed further, the dynamic Assistant Librarian Paul Levay produced a list 12 ghosts that have been identified till now. Some of them go by appellations such as, The White Lady, Tennis Player, Little Boy in the Terrace and the Husband of the Grey Lady. Unfortunately I was not privileged to run into any of them! Can any other place offer such infinite variety? Naturally, I am already looking forward to my next visit. Who knows, by then, there may be a few additions to Paul's list.

A cartoonist and a spy

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

RANAN LURIE'S cartoons have graced the columns of leading newspapers and magazines of the world. They have been hard-hitting, though his right-wing political bias comes through frequently. During his heyday in international journalism, Lurie could pick up the telephone and speak to many leading Western statesmen and international personalities. Few of them knew that Lurie was a "double agent", working for the Israeli secret agency Mossad and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States.

The Guinness Book of Records has described Lurie as the world's most popular caricaturist whose works have appeared continuously for 20 straight years on a regular basis in more than a thousand papers in 103 countries. His political cartoons have appeared in publications like Time, Newsweek, Foreign Affairs, Asahi Shimbun and Die Welt.

According to articles that have appeared in the Israeli media, Lurie has admitted that he was recruited at an early age by the Israeli security agencies. Mossad realised that the talented young cartoonist could be launched into the international media scene, where he could turn out to be a useful asset.

Mossad provided the springboard into international journalism for the young Lurie by purchasing a weekly magazine in Israel. Lurie was given a prominent profile in the magazine. Its circulation was artificially boosted by Mossad, which purchased its copies in bulk. The Israeli authorities saw to it that the soaring circulation of the magazine was attributed mainly to the journalistic skills of Lurie.

If reports appearing in the Israeli media are to be believed, Lurie's earlier exploits for the Israeli security services before he became a media star had made him a prized asset. Lurie, posing as an Australian journalist, had gained access to the Egyptian Navy's flagship "Domiat". His assignment was to find out whether the Egyptians had begun to use the naval radar supplied by the Soviet Union. Lurie successfully accomplished the mission.

According to reports in the Israeli media, Lurie's most notorious act of daring was in 1956. He, along with two other secret agents of France and Britain infiltrated the Egyptian Army's headquarters two days before the launch of the Suez war on October 27, 1956. The trio found out that the top brass of the Egyptian military had flown to Damascus to coordinate a joint Arab response to the invasion being planned by Israel, France and Britain. They also found out the exact time when the Egyptian generals would be flying back, aboard their Soviet-built Ilyushin-14.

On the night of October 29, 1956, the plane was shot down by Israeli fighter planes over the Mediterranean Sea, killing the entire general staff of the Egyptian Army. Their bodies were never found. It is another story that the joint Israeli-French-British military adventure in 1956 ended in a fiasco.

The CIA soon found out about Lurie's secret life as an Israeli agent embedded in the upper crust of American society. Mossad was left with no choice but to share its prized asset with the CIA. Lurie continued in international journalism, happily supplying information to two masters at the same time. Lurie is now busy writing a book about his duplicitous career.

In interviews to the Israeli media, he has expressed no regrets. His story will add credibility to the widespread belief that Western and Israeli security services have infiltrated key sectors of the media in many countries, including developing ones.

Remembering Rachel Corrie

NANDAGOPAL R. MENON world-affairs

The killers of the U.S. citizen-activist in Palestine a year ago continue to remain free thanks to the Bush administration's unwavering support to Israel.

MARCH 16 marked the first anniversary of the martyrdom of Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old American peace activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in the Occupied Territory of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. Rachel was a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a group of Palestinian-led international activists committed to non-violent activism to resist the brutal Israeli military occupation (Frontline, April 11, 2003).

On the heels of Rachel's murder came the attack on 23-year-old Brian Avery, an ISM activist from New Mexico in the United States. He was shot in the face by Israeli soldiers from an armoured personnel carrier in Jenin on April 5 when he went out to see if anyone needed help during an evening curfew. Avery, now back in the U.S., is being treated for severe injuries in the face; his left cheek was almost completely ripped off in the machinegun fire. On April 10, Tom Hurndall, a 22-year-old ISM activist from London, was shot in the head while attempting to protect Palestinian children from Israeli gunfire in Rafah. Hurndall, who was on life support system for nine months, died on January 13, 2004. James Miller, a British television cameraman and documentary film-maker, was fatally shot in the neck by Israeli soldiers on May 2 in Rafah. Miller was shooting a documentary on the Israeli Army's destruction of Palestinian homes.

This was followed by the Israeli Army's harassment and deportation of human rights and peace activists working in the Occupied Territories. On May 9, Israeli military personnel raided the ISM media office in Beit Sahour and damaged office equipment, including computers and video footage. In August, two activists were deported after being held in an Israeli jail for 10 days. They were arrested while trying to prevent the demolition of a house in the Balata refugee camp.

IN one of her last e-mails home, Rachel wrote about her experiences and her relatively privileged position in Palestine as a U.S. citizen: "You just can't imagine it unless you see it - and even then you are always well aware that your experience of it is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli Army would face if they shot an unarmed U.S. citizen... ." Unfortunately, this was not to be. The Israeli government exonerated the two soldiers, identified in the military police's partly published June 2003 investigation report only as Sergeants Y.F. and E.V., who drove the bulldozer. The report concluded that the drivers did not see Rachel. On the contrary, six eyewitnesses have testified that Rachel was clearly visible to the drivers as she was wearing a bright orange jacket with a cross, the kind usually worn by ISM activists. In fact, on that day there were two bulldozers manned by two people each and an armoured personnel carrier at the site where Rachel was killed. Worst of all, the report quoted Rachel's autopsy record, which noted that she had broken ribs, broken vertebra of the spine, broken shoulder blades and ruptures of the lung, and claimed that her death was probably caused by tripping on the debris or perhaps being covered by the debris.

Israel has refused to release the full report despite assurances given by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to President George Bush on March 17, 2003, that a "thorough, credible and transparent investigation" would be conducted and the conclusions would be made available to the U.S administration. On March 19, 2003, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said: "When we have the death of an American citizen, we want to see it fully investigated. That is one of our key responsibilities overseas, to look after the welfare of American citizens and to find out what happened in situations like these." Later the State Department informed Rachel's parents, Craig and Cindy Corrie, that the alleged killers would not be tried, the investigation was complete and that Israel had refused to release the report. Finally, after much pressure was exerted on the Israeli government, the concluding part of the report was made public and Rachel's parents and two U.S. Embassy staffers in Tel Aviv were allowed to go through the `full' report and take notes. Richard LeBaron, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, said about the report: "There are several inconsistencies worthy of note."

The U.S. Congress is yet to pass House Concurrent Resolution 111, which demands the "United States government to undertake a full, fair and expeditious investigation into the death of Rachel Corrie". Moved by Representative Brian Baird of Washington State, the Bill has been signed by 56 House members till date. Reports suggest that the Israeli lobby in Congress is trying hard to prevent the passage of the Bill since it might be detrimental to Israeli interests.

In sharp contrast, the Bush administration reacted with speed when three U.S. nationals were killed in an explosion, allegedly triggered by Palestinian resistance fighters, in Gaza on October 15. 2003. Within 25 hours, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) personnel were on the scene to investigate the incident. Importantly, the U.S.' "most allied ally" in the West, the United Kingdom, called for inquiries into the killings of its nationals Tom Hurndall and James Miller. In a rare case of prosecution of a member of the Israeli military for attacking a civilian, the soldier who shot Hurndall was charged with aggravated assault soon after the incident. In the wake of Hurndall's death and thanks to lobbying by his family and the U.K. Foreign Office, the charge was likely to be revised to murder or manslaughter.

MORE than 30 memorial events were held across the U.S. to pay tributes to Rachel and to create awareness about the Palestinian cause. The city of Santa Cruz in California observed March 16 as `Rachel Corrie Day'. City Mayor Scott Kennedy said in a statement: "It is a very sad commentary on the state of political affairs in the United States that our national government has done virtually nothing to find out what happened and to insist that those responsible for her death can be held accountable." Activists organised protests outside the offices of Caterpillar, the Illinois-based company that built the D9R bulldozer that killed Rachel. The nine-tonne bulldozer, sent to Israel as part of a U.S. aid package, is used mainly to destroy civilian homes in the Occupied Territories. Adam Shapiro, a co-founder of the ISM, told mediapersons during a protest outside the Caterpillar office in Washington: "Our message to Caterpillar is to stop selling bulldozers to Israel and to demand that the Israeli military cease and desist from using the Caterpillar bulldozers in its occupation of Palestinian land." The U.S. section of the Amnesty International repeated its call for an independent investigation into Rachel's death. Earlier, on February 16, Rachel was posthumously honoured with the Housing Rights Defender Award by the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE). The award, which was received by her parents at a function in Washington, went to Rachel for the "unwavering bravery and courage" she displayed in standing up to "ruthless violence".

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A `die-in' was organised at the Erez crossing point between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Activists wearing T-shirts smeared with red paint and announcing the various victims of the Israeli occupation - justice, peace and Palestinian lives and property, among others - lay `dead' on the street in order to draw popular attention to Israeli atrocities.

Dr. Samir Nassrallah, the Palestinian pharmacist whose home Rachel defended to her death, said in a note on March 22: "... she was in pursuit of the truth. She dedicated her life to that. She conveyed the truth as she saw it, reporting the crimes of the Israeli army against innocent Palestinian civilians. The hands of the occupation killed her in cold blood as if to say to us, `I will deny you your spoken voice'. I don't feel safe as long as our voice does not reach the outside world."

The right-wing media in Israel and the U.S. used the day to carry forward their vilification campaign against Rachel. The Jerusalem Post's Ruhama Shatton, in an article titled "A tribute to Rachel Corrie", wrote on March 2: "I want to thank Corrie for the explosives that flow freely from Egypt to Gaza, via the smuggling tunnels under the Gaza homes she died defending... I want to thank Rachel Corrie for showing Palestinian children how to despise America... ." In fact, the "tribute" elicited a response from an otherwise pliant U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv: "This article is nothing less than hateful incitement. The author's disgusting abuse of the anniversary of the death of this American citizen is inexcusable. The article reflects a level of discourse unbefitting any serious newspaper. We're disappointed that you chose to publish this article."

Ruhama Shatton's article was reproduced by the The Wall Street Journal on March 16. On the same day Journal editor James Taranto wrote in his daily column "Best of the Web Today": "A year ago today, terror advocate Rachel Corrie of Olympia, Washington, died in a bulldozer accident while trying to obstruct an Israeli operation against Palestinian weapons-smuggling tunnels." However, facts point elsewhere. Steve Niva, who worked with Rachel and teaches International Politics and Middle East Studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, wrote in The Seattle Times on March 16: "Most Palestinian homes in Rafah, including the one Corrie was killed defending, are being demolished daily by Israeli bulldozers to make way for a massive, six-metre-high, steel wall Israel is building along the Egyptian border with Rafah. According to United Nations officials, over the past three years, Israel has destroyed nearly 900 houses in Rafah in order to create a 100-metre `buffer zone' between Palestinian homes and the wall. ... This wall is the Gaza link to the massive wall and fence barrier that Israel is building deep within Palestinian lands in the West Bank."

WAS Rachel aware of the inherent limitations of non-violent resistance against a thuggish Israeli leadership with a horrendous human rights record, and its awesome military might? In a remarkable e-mail to her mother she said: "If any of us had our lives and welfare completely strangled, lived with children in a shrinking place where we knew, because of previous experience, that soldiers and tanks and bulldozers could come for us at any moment and destroy all the greenhouses that we had been cultivating for however long, and did this while some of us were beaten and held captive with 149 other people for several hours - do you think we might try to use somewhat violent means to protect whatever fragments remained? ... I really think, in a similar situation, most people would defend themselves as best as they could. I think uncle Craig would. I think probably grandma would. I think I would." She did. Martyrdom, history tells us, is the supreme example of the courage to be.

Murder most foul

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The assassination of Hamas' spiritual leader Sheikh Yassin is seen as a move by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to continue his policy of incessant violence directed at the "opponents" of Israeli policies.

THE assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, by the Israeli security forces has further exacerbated the situation in West Asia. In an act of state-sponsored terrorism, Israeli helicopter gunships fired three missiles as Sheikh Yassin left the Islamic Association mosque in the densely populated al-Sabra neighbourhood in the centre of Gaza city. He was in his wheelchair and was accompanied by three bodyguards. One of the missiles hit the Hamas leader and his bodyguards. The other two exploded in the neighbourhood, killing four other civilians. Two of Sheikh Yassin's sons were seriously injured. Sheikh Yassin had survived an attempt on September 6, 2003, when Israeli warplanes bombed an apartment building in which he and another Hamas leader were present.

Sheikh Yassin had come to acquire a following in the wider Arab and Muslim world. The demonstrations that took place in many cities in the Islamic world after the assassination was an illustration of the respect that he commanded. Demonstrators in Mosul chanted: "Do not worry Palestine. Iraq will avenge the assassination of Sheikh Yassin." The leading Shiite cleric of Iraq, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, described the assassination as "an ugly crime against the Palestinian people". Palestine Authority President Yasser Arafat declared a three-day mourning. Life in the Occupied Territories came to a standstill after the slain leader's body was laid to rest. The frail 66-year-old Sheikh Yassin was a quadriplegic. He needed help in all daily activities and suffered from muscular deterioration, chronic breathing problems and hearing loss. His physical deterioration started after he was involved in an accident while playing football as a child. Sheikh Yassin preferred to live in his modest house, without any security cover.

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The timing and the circumstances leading to his killing have only deepened suspicions about the ultimate game plan of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the Occupied Territories and the region. There are indications that the Bush administration had given its ally, Israel, the green signal to carry out the attack. "The Zionists didn't carry out their operation without getting the consent of the American administration, and it must take responsibility for this crime," Hamas said in a statement after the death of its leader.

Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, in one of his first statements after being chosen to head Hamas in Gaza, said the U.S. government was the enemy of not only Palestinians but all Muslims. He held the Bush administration culpable in the assassination. However, the Hamas leadership has reiterated that it will only target Israel.

Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery has predicted that the killing of Sheikh Yassin will open a "new chapter". "It moves the conflict from the level of a solvable national conflict to the level of a religious conflict, which by its very nature is insoluble."

In the last week of March, Washington vetoed the United Nations resolution condemning the killing. The resolution had sought to condemn "all terrorist attacks against any civilians as well as all acts of violence and destructions". Almost all the countries in the world, barring a handful, condemned the killing. India's reaction came a little late. On the day the Hamas leader was killed, India was conducting a high-level strategic dialogue with Israel in Tel Aviv. While most countries immediately "condemned" Israel, the External Affairs Ministry, in a statement issued more than two days after the event, said that it was "appalled" by the killing. The diplomatic community has noted that New Delhi has not explicitly condemned the extra-judicial use of force by Israel. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan used stronger language. He "strongly condemned" Israel's action. Similar views were expressed by the European Union and most European countries.

ACCORDING to analysts, Sharon's personal decision to liquidate Sheikh Yassin was connected to the government's plans to evacuate the Gaza Strip. When Sharon first mooted this plan, it prompted a lot of criticism from the hardline elements dominating his Cabinet. His grand plan is to pull out from Gaza and then annex almost half of the West Bank, which lies outside the so-called security wall. By eliminating Sheikh Yassin, he wanted to show to the Israeli public that he was not vacating Gaza under duress. Sharon is also expecting a Hamas backlash to provide him with more excuses to alter the demographic situation in the West Bank in favour of Israel. Influential sections in the Israeli Right argue that any unilateral pullout by Israeli forces from Gaza will only embolden the Palestinian resistance. It is being pointed out that after Israel withdrew completely from Lebanon in May 2000, the second intifada started in earnest. A wave of suicide attacks may once again bolster Sharon's popularity among the frightened Israeli voters.

Sharon's political career has been pock-marked by killings and massacres. A few illustrations will suffice. In October 1953, 69 civilians were killed by soldiers under his command in the Jordanian village of Qibya. His unprovoked killing of 50 Syrian troops on the shores of Lake Tiberius in December 1965, triggered off the 1967 war. The invasion of Lebanon, which was his brainchild, resulted in the killing of 17,000 Palestinians and Lebanese. Another 2,000 Palestinians were killed in Lebanon by the right-wing Christian militia aligned with Sharon in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Sharon's tunnel vision precludes any peaceful resolution of the political and military impasse. Compromise is anathema to him.

According to Patrick Seale, an expert on the region, Sharon follows "a strategy of fear". He wants Israel's enemies to live perpetually in fear. "They must not, even for one moment, think that Israel is weak. No one is immune from physical elimination - neither Yasser Arafat nor the Hezbollah leader Hussein Nasrallah, and certainly not the new heads of Hamas," wrote Seale in the Arabic newspaper Al Hayat.

Israel's Deputy Defence Minster Zeev Boim had issued a chilling public warning to Sheikh Yassin. He said that the Hamas leader was "marked for death - he should hide himself deep underground where he won't know the difference between day and night. We will find him in the tunnels and we will kill him". The Sharon doctrine is no different from the Bush doctrine. Both believe in the unilateral use of force unrestrained by international law or universal opprobrium.

Many observers of the West Asian scene believe that the most important reason for Sharon's decision to eliminate Sheikh Yassin was to negate the chances of a long-term truce being worked between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He had offered peace on a long-term basis to the Israelis on several occasions. His only precondition was that Israel should withdraw from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. His last offer of a truce with Israel was on December 1, 2003. He had told the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram that he was willing to solve the problem with Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders. "Let's end this conflict by declaring a temporary ceasefire. Let's leave the bigger issues for future generations to decide." Sharon was aware that Sheikh Yassin was the only personality in the whole of Palestine who could ensure that a peace accord was implemented.

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His death may have been expedited by Sharon because of his fear that the Arab summit in Tunis that was to be held in the last week of March was apparently ready to make a peace offer and resume normal relations with Israel on condition that Israel withdraw to its 1967 borders. The Arab summit was cancelled at the eleventh hour owing to serious disagreements on a host of issues. The assassination was a contributory factor to the postponement. The Israeli security services have told Sharon that Hamas is on the retreat after the killing. They have predicted that the organisation no longer poses an obstacle to Sharon's plans of carving out a Palestinian mini state.

Uri Avnery said: "The fate of the state of Israel is in the hands of a group of bankrupt political and military leaders who have failed in all their actions. They have tried to cover up their failure by a catastrophic escalation. This act will not only endanger the personal security of every Israeli, both in the country and around the world, but also the existential security of the state of Israel. It has grievously hurt the chances of putting an end to the Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Muslim conflicts."

A former U.S. diplomat who was engaged in the West Asia peace process said that the "real danger" was that the international community was witnessing "the beginning of the end of a conventional diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem".

The rise of Hamas

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

HAMAS today is the largest Palestinian militant Islamist grouping. Hamas is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, or the Islamic Resistance Movement. The word also means "zeal" or "fervour" in Arabic.

Hamas, first shot into international prominence 15 years ago at the beginning of the first intifada (uprising) against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sheikh Ahmad Yassin was the founder and spiritual leader of the group. During his student days in Egypt, Yassin came under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the biggest and oldest Islamic political parties in the Arab world. Hamas evolved from the secret cells set up by the Brotherhood in the Occupied Territories.

Palestinians such as Sheikh Yassin who were sympathetic to the goals of the Muslim Brotherhood, had involved themselves in charity and social work in the Palestinian refugee camps after the 1967 six-day Israel-Arab war. Under the umbrella of a charity organisation called Da'wah, Hamas built an impressive infrastructure catering to the social, educational, religious and cultural needs of the Palestinian people, most of them refugees living in poverty. Initially, if Israeli accounts are to be believed, the Israeli government did not mind another centre of power emerging in the Occupied Territories to challenge the dominance of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). A former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official has reportedly said that Israel's support for Hamas "was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative".

Hamas initially was registered in Israel in 1978 by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin as an Islamic Association, under the name of Al-Mujamma al Islami. American and Israeli officials have indicated that most of the initial funding for the group came from rich conservative Arab states and also, directly and indirectly, from Israel though, no concrete proof has been put forth by the Israeli government that Hamas ever got funding from it.

The stated goal of the organisation from the outset was the setting up of an Islamic government that would rule all over the land that historically belonged to Palestinians though Yassin in his last years gave the impression that he was not averse to the idea of an independent Palestinian state co-existing peacefully with the Jewish state.

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Some analysts are of the opinion that the right-wing Israeli government had a vested interest in supporting Hamas. The Israeli establishment had initially calculated that it would be to its advantage if Hamas gained in popularity. The Hamas leadership had pledged to torpedo the Oslo peace accord signed by the Israeli government with the PLO. The rash of suicide bombings by Hamas activists after the Oslo accords had strengthened the hands of the Right in Israeli politics, leading to the rise of leaders such as Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, sworn enemies of the peace accord.

The Israelis were hoping for a civil war to break out in the Occupied Territories, with Palestinians pitted against Palestinians. In the last couple of years, under Yassin's moderating influence, Hamas, while being critical of many of the actions of the Palestinian Authority led by Yasser Arafat, chose to continue recognising Arafat as the symbol of Palestinian unity and nationhood. On Arafat's urging, Hamas along with the other radical Islamic organisation, Islamic Jihad, had even announced a unilateral ceasefire in the Occupied Territories last year, to give the prospects for peace a meaningful chance. The new leader of Hamas in the Occupied Territories, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, had explicitly stated two years ago that the main aim of the current Intifada "is the liberation of West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem and nothing more. We haven't the force to liberate all our land".

A draft agreement between Hamas and Arafat's Al Fatah two years ago had stipulated that Hamas would cease attacks inside Israel if the Israeli Army pulled back to the positions it occupied before the beginning of the second Intifada. The Israelis sabotaged the efforts of Arafat to unite the various Palestinian factions, by targeting Hamas activists for assassination and triggering another round of violence. "The Israelis are like a guy who sets fire to his own hair and then tries to put it out by hitting it with a hammer. They do more to incite terrorism than curb it," wrote a former United States State Department counter-terrorism official.

THE popularity of Hamas has been steadily growing among the Palestinian populace as the Jewish state has gone about grabbing more Palestinian land and making a mockery of the peace accord. The abject failure of the Oslo agreement and the failure of self-rule, discredited the secular nationalist parties.

The frugal lifestyle of Hamas leaders is also markedly different from that of the senior functionaries of the PLO. After the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000, in which Hamas has played a prominent role, its popularity has soared. Today, as the popularity of the PLO is dipping, a large section of the Palestinian population is said to be behind Hamas.

The support for the organisation is especially strong in Gaza, where Sheikh Yassin resided. Hamas also has a branch in exile, led by Khaled Meshaal, who has also been designated the head of the organisation. Both Meshaal and Rantissi have been the targets of Israeli assassination bids.

Challenging a verdict

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

There are signs that Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian, under pressure from the Opposition, may relent and order a recount of the votes polled in the controversial election that he won in March.

THE fault lines in Taiwanese politics became exposed sharply in the aftermath of the presidential election held on March 19. The incumbent President, Chen Shui-bian, was controversially re-elected by the slimmest of margins - he won by 30,000 votes or 0.2 per cent of the votes cast. A day before the election, Chen and his running mate, Vice-President Annette Lu, escaped with superficial injuries, an "assassination attempt", which took place under circumstances that have yet to be explained fully. Opposition leaders allege that the highly publicised incident helped Chen garner enough sympathy votes to ensure his eventual victory. The Opposition, led by the nationalist Kuomintang Party (KMT), also alleged that more than 1,00,000 of its supporters, mainly civil servants, were not allowed to cast their votes because of the state of emergency Chen declared after the shooting incident.

In the last presidential election, held four years ago, Chen won by polling just 39 per cent of the votes. The Opposition was divided at that time and the vote split three ways, helping Chen to squeak through. This time, according to official figures, he won slightly more than 50 per cent of the votes cast, defying the prediction of pollsters who had put the Opposition candidate ahead of him.

Chen is the first non-KMT candidate to be elected to the post of President. His election marked the beginning of Taiwan's experiment with a "divided" government, as the KMT continued to enjoy a majority in the National Assembly.

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The period saw the failure of two government-sponsored referendums dealing with the contentious issue of bilateral relations with mainland China. The first asked the Taiwanese whether the country should further beef up its defences against China. The second asked the voters to endorse a government proposal to open talks with China on the issue of "peace and stability" across the Taiwan Straits. As for the latter, Beijing has refused to hold talks with Chen, accusing him of having a divisive agenda. The KMT had asked its supporters to boycott the referendums, which needed more than 50 per cent of the votes to be accepted. The referendum that called on the people to approve the strengthening of the missile defences against China, if passed, would have sparked off a new crisis with the mainland.

The referendums were thinly disguised ploys to advance Chen's stated goal of formalising Taiwanese independence. This is of course anathema to Beijing, which has said that it would use force to crush any formal bid by the Taiwanese government to secede. "The Taiwanese authorities have been trying to push for a referendum aimed at Taiwan's independence under the pretext of democracy. We firmly oppose any attempt by any people to split Taiwan from the rest of China by any means," Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao told the media after the end of the National People's Congress' annual session in March. The idea of using referendums to advance the secessionist cause is not new to Taiwanese politics.

Since the results were declared, people have been demonstrating regularly in large numbers in front of the Presidential Palace in Taipei. On March 27, more than half a million Taiwanese demonstrated in the capital. It was one of the biggest demonstrations ever witnessed there. The demand of the Opposition is either to have a recount or to call a new election. Chen is trying to stall a recount citing constitutional constraints, though he may have to relent under growing domestic and international pressure. Even the United States, a staunch supporter of Taiwan, has been lukewarm in its endorsement of Chen's re-election. Until the end of March, Washington had not bothered to congratulate Chen on his victory.

In the last week of March, the Chinese government, speaking through the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing, said: "We will not sit by watching should the post-election situation in Taiwan get out of control, leading to social turmoil, endangering the lives and properties of our flesh and blood brothers and affecting stability across the Taiwan Straits." Before the election, President Chen had said that he would like the Taiwanese to vote on a new referendum, asking for a new Constitution for Taiwan. Beijing fears that the proposed referendum, to be held in 2006, will have a clause formally asserting Taiwanese independence. The present Constitution explicitly states that Taiwan is part of China. Chen's calculations are that if the proposed referendum is approved, China will not risk an armed conflict, as it will be preoccupied with the 2008 Olympics, which it is hosting. After Chen spoke publicly about the referendum idea, Beijing reacted strongly. The Taiwan Affairs Office issued a statement: "Chen Shui-bian advocates independence and seeks to use referendum to conduct separatist activities. No form of Taiwan separatist activity can be tolerated by the Chinese people."

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Indications are that the KMT's presidential candidate, Lien Chan, and the leader of the smaller People First Party and the Opposition's vice-presidential candidate, James Soong, will resort to a Philippine-style "people's power" movement to force Chen to call new elections or order a recount. The Opposition feels that either way it stands to gain. Faced with massive protests, Chen has signalled his willingness for a recount but is playing for time. He wants an amendment to the Constitution passed in the legislature mandating a recount if the margin of victory in a presidential contest is less than 1 per cent. The Opposition is demanding a presidential decree for a recount so that the crisis can be resolved immediately.

The Opposition, however, is not united on the issue. Many influential figures in the KMT are for a fresh election. Some others on the other hand, seem to be opting for a compromise solution. They fear that the unrest will cause more damage to Taiwan's faltering economy. The KMT is also of the view that stirring up a confrontation with China is not good for the economy. Most of Taiwan's trade is with China. China is Taiwan's biggest and most important market. They feel that rocking the boat at this juncture will have undesirable consequences. Many Taiwanese fear that in the unlikely scenario of Taiwan seceding, development will suffer irrevocably.

Chen's Democratic People's Party (DPP) has its support base mainly in the southern part of the island. The DPP has been assiduously wooing the native Taiwanese vote; it has successfully harnessed their resentment against the people from the mainland who had ruled with an iron fist until the 1980s. Formosa, as Taiwan was called when it was under Dutch and Japanese colonial rule, was politically isolated from the mainland during the tumultuous political events leading to China's liberation. After their defeat at the hands of the communists, the KMT leadership, under Chiang Kai-shek, set up base in Formosa with the blessings of the Americans. The large influx of the mainlanders upset the ethnic and political balance in the island. Native Taiwanese are the descendants of those who had migrated to the island from the mainland many generations ago.

Under Chen's presidency, much importance was given to the main local language, "Minnanese", and Taiwanese history and culture in the school curriculum. Knowledge of the language is essential for passing competitive examinations for entry into the civil service. The aim is to build a distinct Taiwanese identity. Some hard-line supporters of Chen have suggested that the name of the country - "The Republic of China", be formally changed to the Republic of Taiwan.

Given the sharp polarisation in Taiwanese society as reflected by the election results, it will be difficult for Chen to fulfil his agenda for independence. Washington has strongly signalled its displeasure with Chen's pro-independence policies. Washington formally supports the "one-China" policy after establishing diplomatic relations with China in the 1970s. Beijing has urged Washington to "do more to contribute to peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits" in order to help maintain peace between China and Taiwan. President George W. Bush had told Wen Jiabao, in December last that Washington remained opposed to "any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo".

Changing with the times

advertorial

Interview with Surinder Jain, general manager, CLW.

Surinder Jain, general manager of Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, talks about CLW's ongoing projects and its plans for diversification, in an interview to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay. Excerpts:

Where does India, CLW in particular, stand in the international locomotive manufacturing business?

The Indian Railways have two major locomotive building facilities, which cater to the captive market of the parent organisation. One of these units is the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, which was set up first and dedicated to the nation on its first Republic Day. It is a matter of pride for us that CLW is as young as our republic. Although CLW is geared to produce 150 locomotives a year, innovative and imaginative measures enabled us to produce a record 165 locomotives about five years ago. Today, CLW is one of the major state-of-the-art electric loco producers in the world. Its earliest product fired coal and its latest product fires semi-conductors. Not only has CLW made steam, diesel and electric locomotives, it has also made locomotives for different gauges and for different niche applications. It is satisfying to see CLW's diesel workhorses still running on precarious routes such as Kalka-Shimla and the electric ones on the treacherous K-K (Kirundul-Kottavalasa) line.

Current products of the CLW include two classes of freight locos and three classes of passenger locomotives. The WAG-7 freight loco rated at 5,000 hp with a maximum speed of 100 kmph is predominantly used in the entire Indian Railways network for freight operation. The WAP-4 class passenger loco also rated at 5,000 hp having a service speed potential of 140 kmph is the workhorse for most of the passenger trains. These are with tap changer control. The WAG-9 class loco employs modern technology of three-phase drive propulsion, acquired through transfer of technology from erstwhile ABB-Switzerland. It is being serially produced at CLW and deployed in the heavy sections for hauling ores and coal. This is rated at 6,000 hp having a service speed potential of 110 kmph. WAP-5, which is the corresponding passenger loco, also employs three-phase drive technology. Rated at 5,440 hp, it now operates at a speed of 130 kmph. Its speed upgradation to 160 kmph is under trial. CLW, with its own innovation, adapted the WAG-9 freight class locomotive for passenger operation for speeds up to 140 kmph for hauling longer passenger trains such as the Shatabdi Express, which is WAP-7 class with 6,000 hp. Having produced over 60 three-phase locomotives with modern technology since 1998, CLW has attained a confidence level with which it can address the needs of developing countries with similar requirements.

What are the important ongoing projects at CLW?

CLW is one of the pioneers in the railways in adopting latest train control technology and topologies. Today, apart from working on ergonomically designed cabs for the older generation locomotives, CLW is working on the next generation of propulsion for its state-of-the-art three-phase locomotives. Upgradation of GTO thyristor-based converters to IGBT technology has been taken up. In another two to three years, IGBT-based solutions would be much more affordable. Having acquired and assimilated the three-phase technology, indigenisation, in order to eschew foreign reliance, and competition, for cost reduction, have been identified as the key missions. Efforts towards indigenisation were made even during the technology transfer phase, which started in 1995 with ABB. In a few years, most of the equipment/systems will be indigenised through Indian industry partners, thereby substantially reducing the production cost. Through multi-sourcing, the issues of obsolescence and fleet sustenance have also been taken care of. Fast obsolescence is a reality to be reckoned with in the electronics industry. The computer system onboard the locomotive is of 1980 vintage. Realising such future dangers, CLW has already initiated a project for upgrading a vendor-independent loco control platform for three-phase locos to international standards. Besides this, many more small projects are being undertaken to improve the safety of the locomotives, including a "black box" for recording the driver's actions and the working of the locomotives, remote diagnosis based on the Global Positioning System or the Global System for Mobile Communications and so on.

20040423002308802jpg Are there any plans for diversification?

CLW is very sensitive to the saleability of its principal products. We manufacture electric locomotives, traction motors, bogies and component castings to meet the needs of the Indian Railways. Though we foresee that locomotive-based train operation would be the dominant mode of railway transportation on the Indian Railways network, we are alive to the needs of other train compositions such as train sets, preferred elsewhere. We are working on the new traction control topology; one of its objectives is to have a resilient control and communication platform, which can handle alternative train topologies. In the field of steel castings, we are planning to cast CMS crossing for the Indian Railways' tracks, GM Loco Bogies, Arm for LHB Coaches, cast steel brake beam, MG bogie for export through M/s. Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES), and so on. Thus our aim is to not only cater to the needs of the present customers but also be ready to meet any demand arising in the global market in the fields of electric locomotion and steel castings.

CLW is engaged in social work also...

As a national organisation with the primary task of transporting freight and passengers across the length and breadth of the nation, the Indian Railways have to discharge certain social obligations - to their employees, their families and the nation. Being one of the premier production units of the Indian Railways CLW is also fulfilling its social obligations in a befitting manner. CLW extends extensive medical and educational facilities, organises cultural, sports and scouting and civil defence activities. By maintaining a clean and green environment in the township, one of the major social objectives is fulfilled. CLW has got a very dynamic, focussed, committed and result-oriented non-governmental organisation called Chittaranjan Locomotive Works Women's Welfare Organisation (CLW-WWO), which runs activity centres such as Asha Kiran, a school for spastic children; Masala, file and fabrication centres, which provide employment opportunities to the downtrodden women, a computer centre and a library where excellent reference books for competitive examinations are available for students. CLW-WWO also organises vaccination and health camps and annual "healthy baby" shows. At the annual cultural function organised by CLW-WWO artists of national repute perform.

After more than 50 years in the locomotive business, how does the future look for CLW?

We always believe that the future is as bright as we see it and want it to be. We are confident about our ability to change. We have already acquired and absorbed the latest three-phase state-of-the-art technology, which is being upgraded because of the fast changes taking place in the field of electronics and communication. We have an excellent steel foundry where bogies for different types of loco are cast and despatched to different countries. Representatives from Switzerland, Turkey and South Africa have inspected CLW and accepted it as one of the world's most highly integrated loco manufacturers. In fact, last year CLW participated in the tender floated by South Africa for the supply of locomotives to that country. It is our endeavour to ensure that in the near future CLW exports locomotives with three-phase state-of-the-art technology to different countries and emerges within a decade as a major supplier of locomotives in the world market. We have the necessary will, the skill, the dedication and the capability and together, we are surely determined to march ahead to higher levels of glory. Being Asia's premier locomotive manufacturing and steel casting conglomeration, entering the global market is more a question of demand. Supply is not a problem. In view of our capacity and capability, the country's own requirement and the demands made by globalisation, CLW's future is no doubt bright.

Indigenous and innovative

ONE of the main reasons why the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW) has been able to cut down its cost of production is the indigenisation of the new generation electron beam irradiated cross-linked (EBXL) cable. The cable was first developed by Nicco Corporation Ltd at its plant in Shyamnagar, West Bengal. The plant is equipped with a 3.0 MeV electron accelerator imported from Radiation Dynamics Inc, United States, and a state-of-the-art polymer compounding plant. The cable is used by CLW for the manufacture of high-power three-phase locomotive, for which it has entered into a transfer of technology agreement with ABB of Sweden. Nicco is one of the main suppliers of EBXL cable to the Railways.

Cross-linking of polymers with electron beam is an innovative process, which makes the cable more durable than the conventional chemically cross-linked cables. EBXL cables have superior electrical, thermal, and mechanical properties. The design is compact, smaller in size, lighter and does not emit toxic and corrosive gases - properties that eliminate the need for replacement during periodic overhauling of the locomotives.

Nicco has other clients, including the Rail Coach Factory in Kapurthala, the Integral Coach Factory in Chennai and the Diesel Locomotive Works in Varanasi.

Nicco Corporation Ltd. started manufacturing cable, conductors and wires in 1942 at Shyamnagar, and later set up a unit in Baripada, Orissa.

LTTE

other

The split in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam augurs well for peace in Sri Lanka ("Tiger Vs Tiger", Cover Story, April 9). The revolt by "Colonel Karuna", who was considered No.2 in the military hierarchy of the LTTE, not only dents Velupillai Prabakaran's claim as the sole representative of Tamil interest but also weakens the military capabilities of the organisation. Post-Karuna, it would be difficult for Prabakaran to back out of the Norway-mediated ceasefire and resume the war. It is clear that Karuna has had enough of the war and is willing to negotiate peace and autonomy within a united Sri Lanka.

Bijoy Raj Guha Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh

Hindutva

Thank you for providing us with valuable information in the Cover Story ("Hindutva at work", March 26). It reminds me of Jawaharlal Nehru's remarks about the RSS: "Hindu communalism was the Indian version of fascism, and in the case of the RSS it is not difficult to perceive certain similarities. The leading principles: the stress on militarism, the doctrine of racial culture superiority, ultra-nationalism, the use of symbols of past greatness, the emphasis of national solidarity, the exclusion of religious and ethnic minorities from the nation concept. All these features of the RSS are highly reminiscent of the fascist movement in Europe."

It is ironic that the RSS, which has contributed almost nothing towards India's Independence, now projects itself as the guardian of India's traditional culture.

Bidyut Kumar Chatterjee Faridabad

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The feature on Hindutva was flawless in analysing the evolution, progress and impact of Hindutva on Indian politics, economy and psyche. After Partition, there was a feeling of hatred against the Muslims, and vote-bank politics added fuel to the fire, resulting in many riots. Hindutva could be countered by creating awareness among the masses about the tenets of Hinduism, bringing about economic prosperity and eliminating misconceptions about religions.

Akhil Kumar Delhi

Domestic violence

This is in response to your article on domestic violence in Europe ("Within four walls", March 26). In India, emotional abuse is a way of life for many middle class educated women. One question asked of any working woman is: "Can you cook?" No one wants to know what her interests in life are. The abuse is too subtle. As a doctor, I listen to many stories about total disrespect for a woman's feelings. It is true that there is domestic violence in the West too. But the problem is far more complex and deep-rooted in India.

C. Seetha Warrnambool, Australia

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When I was doing my post-graduation, I attended a seminar on gender issues in the fields of science and research. The speaker asked us a seemingly innocuous question: "What's our national sport?" and himself gave the answer immediately: "Wife-beating". Unfortunately, it seems to be a national sport in many European countries as well. The medieval notion that a woman is a man's "property" and in its possession lies the test of "manhood" is the root cause of the violence against women. Lessons in gender equality should begin from the mother's lap and not at the school or college.

S. Raghuram New Delhi

Haiti

In the article "Haitian tragedy and imperial farce" (March 26), Aijaz Ahmad has brought out the imperialistic mindset of the Bush team.

Bush's "renewed commitment to democracy and freedom in this hemisphere", is clear from his support to the installation of Guy Philippe, a man who openly admits his admiration for Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, as leader. The overthrowing of the democratically elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide government, has paved the way for the return of exiled Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. The mafia and criminal forces who were described as "thugs" by Secretary of State Colin Powell became messiahs. In 1991, during the presidency of George Bush, Aristide was toppled with the help of U.S. trained thugs. This coup was not only a case of the bourgeoisie joining with the so-called international community to get rid of President Aristide, but also of a son continuing a neo-conservative agenda of his father.

A. Abdul Faizal Chennai

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Congratulations to the author and Editor for the article on Haiti. Frontline is on the whole a highly readable and informative magazine and invariably all articles maintain high levels of quality.

Thomas Chakkiath Received on e-mail.

Is India shining?

"The Feel Good Factory" by P. Sainath ended with the line "Call it India Thinking!" (March 12)

And think is what I did! When I was reading about Keynesian economics, I recollected a situation portrayed during the 1920-30s in the United States. The disparity between the rich and poor was striking in the U.S. during the roaring 20s. CEOs and investors were making obscenely huge amounts of money and talking about the rising Dow-Jones industrial index while the working class was living a hand-to-mouth existence. The nouveau-riche had even claimed allegiance to the Fascist movement thinking that the democratic form of government would die a slow death. The result was the Great Depression of 1929-33.

The American middle class was consciously created after lessons learnt during the Depression years, and widened to the extent visible today through the consistent application of economic and governmental reforms with help from the media. Today, the vast majority of the American population is considered middle class. Sure, there are a lot of poor people. At the other end of the spectrum, there are the Martha Stewarts, Dick Grassos, Jeff Skillings et al earning "seven-eight figure" salaries.

The "India Shining" factor applies to the newly created upper-middle class and the nouveau-riche, educated, upper-management cadre plus of course, the traditionally rich business families.

Dhwanit Patel Texas, U.S.

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The feature exposed the pack of lies that was "India Shining". The articles were published at the right time. I hope more and more Indians read these articles before casting their invaluable votes.

Suresh Babu Received on e-mail

Paul Sweezy

Thanks for the Obituary on Paul Sweezy ("A saint and a sage", March 26). I came to know of his death only from Frontline. The media in general ignored his great contribution.

Vidyadhar Date Mumbai

Leading a revolution

R.C. RAJAMANI advertorial

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. can rightly claim to be leading India's information revolution and is expected to play a stellar role in the future as well.

ON October 1, 2000, the Department of Telecom Operations, Government of India, became a corporation and was christened Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). Today, BSNL is the number one telecommunications company and the largest public sector undertaking in the country, with an authorised share capital of $3,600 million and net worth of $13.85 billion. It has a network of over 45 million lines covering 5,000 towns with over 35 million telephone connections. With the latest digital switching technology and an extensive transmission network, including synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH) systems up to 2.5 gbps, dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) systems up to 80 gbps, web telephony, direct Internet access systems (DIAS), virtual private networks (VPN), broadband and more than 400,000 data customers, BSNL is geared to play a stellar role in the information revolution in the country.

Its responsibilities include the improvement of the quality of telecom services, the expansion of the telecom network, the introduction of new telecom services in all villages and increasing customer confidence. BSNL has managed to shoulder these responsibilities deftly.

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Today, with a line capacity of over 45 million, a nationwide network management and surveillance system (NMSS) to control telecom traffic and over 4,00,000 route kilometres of optical fibre cable (OFC) network, and with 99.9 per cent of its exchanges being digital, BSNL is a name to reckon with in the world of telecommunications. Like its customer base, BSNL's financial and asset bases too are vast and strong. Consider these figures:

The telephone infrastructure alone is worth about Rs.1,00,000 crores ($21.2 billion) and the turnover is Rs.25,000 crores ($5.2 billion). Add to this BSNL's nationwide coverage and reach and comprehensive range of telecom services.

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The turnover of the company for the year 2001-02 was Rs.24,299.8 crores, which on an annualised basis implies a 5 per cent growth over the previous year. This growth took place in spite of a 62 per cent reduction in long-distance tariff during the last quarter of the year. The profit after tax was at a comfortable level of Rs.6,312 crores.

In terms of extension of coverage, the percentage growth of telephone lines during that year (53 lakhs) was the highest ever in the history of telecommunication in the country. Another remarkable achievement was that this phenomenal growth was financed solely through the internal resources of the company, without having to resort to any market borrowing. After making adequate provision for a higher wage bill for the employees absorbed from the erstwhile Department of Telecom Services, the wage bill as a percentage of the turnover is still at a manageable level of 15.84. The net asset value has risen to Rs.58,922 crores. The capital outlay for the expansion and development of rural telephony was Rs.7,946 crores, which is approximately 50 per cent of the total capital expenditure of the company. The debt equity ratio also improved from that of the previous year, from 0.25 to 0.20. The strong fundamentals of the company will enable it to grow from strength to strength. The company plans to expand further its value-added services by introducing new technologies. CellOne, its cellular service, is the biggest in India and covers the entire country.

THE formation of BSNL was one of the landmark events in the history of telecommunications in India. Today, it has an awesome task of improving the quality of telecom services, expanding the telecom network, taking telecom services to all villages and instilling confidence in its customers.

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Driven by the best of telecom technology from chosen global leaders, BSNL connects every part of the nation to different corners of the globe. "Connecting India", BSNL's slogan, is no empty claim. The company says it is communicating hopes, happiness, aspirations, dreams and much more.

Here is an overview of the world class services offered by BSNL:

Basic telephone services: The plain old countrywide telephone service through 32,000 electronic exchanges and the digitalised Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), with a host of Phone Plus value additions.

Internet: Accessing the global network of networks, the countrywide Internet services of BSNL under the brand name Sanchar Net, includes Internet dial-up/leased access service for web browsing and e-mail applications. An Internet telephony service was launched under the brand name Webfone recently. ISDN (Integrated Service Digital Network Service) of BSNL utilises a unique digital network providing high-speed and high-quality voice, data and image transfer over the same line. It can also facilitate both desktop video and high-quality video conferencing. Intelligent Network Service (In Service) offers value-added services, such as Free Phone Service (FPH), India Telephone Card (pre-paid card) Account Card Calling (ACC), VPN, tele-voting Premium Rate Service (PRM), Universal Access Number (UAN) and more.

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I-Net: India's x.25 based packet Switched Public Data Network is operational in 104 cities of the country.

Leased lines and datacom: BSNL provides leased lines for voice and data communication for various applications on a point-to-point basis. It offers a choice of high-, medium- and low-speed leased data circuits as well as dial-up lines. Bandwidth is available on demand in most cities. Managed Leased Line Network (MLLN) offers flexibility of providing circuits with speeds of nx64 kbps up to 2 mbps, useful for Internet-leased lines and International Principle Leased Circuits (IPLCs).

Countrywide cellular service, pre-paid card: BSNL's project of GSM cellular mobile service envisages a customer base of over four million and supports applications like voice mail, e-mail, short message service (SMS), cell broadcast service, international roaming, IN Services like pre-paid card, premium rate, free phone, UAN, split charging and VPN.

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Wireless in Local Loop: This is a communication system that connects customers to the PSTN using radio frequency signals as a substitute for conventional wires for all or part of the connection between the subscribers and the telephone exchange.

Countrywide induction of WLL is under way for areas that are non-feasible for the normal network. It will help relieve congestion in the normal cable/wire-based network in urban areas, connecting the remote and scattered rural areas and limited mobility without any airtime charge.

Setting standards

The nuclear power project at Kudankulam features the latest in technology and takes safety to new levels even as work on its two units progresses way ahead of schedule.

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN in Kudankulam Photographs: A. Shaik Mohideen

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EVERYTHING about the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) in coastal Tamil Nadu - the reactor buildings, the pumphouse, the pillars, the machinery and the cranes - is gigantic. The two reactor buildings will, on completion, stand 80 metres tall and 300 pillars will support each of the two turbine buildings. The core-catcher, an innovative bowl-like contraption, weighs 101 tonnes. The equipment is transported by sea from Russia to the mini-port that has been built at Kudankulam by erecting a dyke using 30 lakh tonnes of rock.

But size has not slowed things down, and the young workforce has gone on undaunted. The average age of the engineers is 36 and that of the workforce around 23. In two years since the first pour of concrete on March 31, 2002, signalling the start of construction, work on building the first unit (reactor) is six months ahead of schedule. In fact, the first reactor is on course to start generating electricity from March 2007, one full year ahead of schedule. Construction of the second unit is also coasting along.

`Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project: Setting Standards' is our motto, said KKNPP Project Director S.K. Agrawal. "We are setting standards. We are achieving excellence, too, at a low cost," he added.

Impressed with the speed of construction, the Government of India allotted an additional Rs.600 crores for the project for financial year 2003-04 - up from Rs.1,100 crores to Rs.1,700 crores. "This is a big indicator of how fast work is progressing," said S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). "We are looking for Rs.2,000 crores" for 2004-05, he added.

The project involves the construction of two VVER-1000 Russian reactors at Kudankulam facing the sea in the Gulf of Mannar, 40 km from Nagercoil, in Radhapuram taluk in Tirunelveli district. Each reactor will generate 1,000 Mwe using enriched uranium as fuel and light water as both coolant and moderator. (VVER in Russian stands for voda, voda energy reactor. Voda in means water.)

NPCIL will execute all the gigantic civil and electrical work connected with the reactors. The Russian Federation will supply the reactor design, equipment and components such as the reactor pressure vessel, turbines, generators, nuclear steam supply systems and the core-catcher. These are now under manufacture in various industries in Russia.

Anil Kakodkar, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and Secretary, DAE, characterised the Kudankulam reactors as "an additionality to our domestic programme". He pointed out that the domestic nuclear electricity programme was entrenched in "the commercial domain" with the indigenous Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) technology having "matured".

The Kudankulam project has had a chequered history. On November 20, 1988, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for the construction of two VVER-1000 units at Kudankulam. It was to be a turnkey project - the Soviet Union providing the design, bringing in all the equipment and fuel and constructing the reactors too. The spent fuel was to be taken to the Soviet Union. But the project proved a non-starter because of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Differences over the rouble-rupee payment ratio stalled the project further. In the early 1990s, the then AEC Chairman M.R. Srinivasan tried hard to revive it. Finally, it came alive with the signing of a supplementary agreement to the IGA in New Delhi on June 21, 1998, by Russian Minister for Atomic Energy Yevgeny Adamov and AEC Chairman and DAE Secretary Dr. R. Chidambaram.

The terms of the supplementary contract were radically different from those of the IGA. Under it, the Russians were to provide the reactor designs and supply the equipment. NPCIL would build the reactors. A team of Russian specialists would stay at the site to render technical assistance at all stages of construction, in the installation of reactor equipment and in the commissioning and operation of the reactors until the final takeover by NPCIL's operators. Russia would supply enriched uranium for the entire life of the reactors. This clause was a fallout of India's bitter experience with the United States vis-a-vis the two reactors it built at Tarapur - the U.S. terminated the agreement to supply enriched uranium fuel to the reactors. Unlike in the IGA, India would keep the spent fuel with it. The reactors would come under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards; IAEA inspectors would visit the plant periodically to check whether there is diversion of fissile material for making bombs.

About thousand acres (400 hectares) of uninhabited and uncultivated land was acquired on the coast and the site is big enough to accommodate six reactors. Another 400 acres (160 ha) was acquired at Chettikulam, about 10 km away, for constructing residential quarters for NPCIL employees. Soon work on the project began under the stewardship of Vijay Kumar Chaturvedi, the then Chairman and Managing Director of NPCIL. (The Anu-Vijay township at Chettikulam is named after him.) The bhoomi puja was performed in October 2001 with Jain and Agrawal present.

Present at the first pour of concrete, on March 31, 2002, was a distinguished line-up of former AEC chairmen - M.R. Srinivasan, P.K. Iyengar, R. Chidambaram, Anil Kakodkar, V.K. Chaturvedi and S.K. Jain - besides the Russian delegation headed by E.A. Reshetnikov and the top brass of NPCIL.

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NPCIL awarded four contracts in the form of mega-packages for project construction. The first package, for the construction of the reactor buildings of the two units, was awarded to Hindustan Construction Company Limited (HCCL). Simplex Concrete (Pile) Limited bagged the second contract, for the construction of the turbine buildings and safety-related structures. HCCL again won the contract for the construction of the breakwater dyke, sea water intake structures and the pumphouse. Larsen and Toubro won the contract for the fourth package, for constructing auxiliary buildings. Lee and Muirhead, Mumbai, has been entrusted with the transportation of all the equipment from Russia by sea to the mini-port. They have sub-contractors, Reshamsingh and Co.Private Limited, Mumbai, and Bertling, U.K., and have already ferried by ship the two core-catchers and other equipment.

ON March 12, the project site was bustling with activity, as a Frontline team found out. Masonry, welding, painting and grid-blasting were going on and tower-cranes were moving heavy equipment to place them in position. Machines were pouring concrete into seven-metre-tall pillars, excavators were digging up earth and pipelines were being laid.

The core-catcher has been installed in the reactor building of Unit 1. Said M.S. Suresh, Engineer-in-Charge (Reactor Building-1), KKNPP, NPCIL: "We placed it in position just three days back (March 9). It is made of steel and weighs 101 tonnes." It is held in place by massive nuts and bolts. Kanpur Engineering and Construction Company did the installation. In the case of a severe accident, the molten uranium fuel core from the reactor pressure vessel will fall into the core-catcher through a funnel and the radioactive fuel will remain there. It is so designed that the radioactive fuel will not fall on the floor of the reactor building and contaminate it. "The catcher is like a basket. (In case of a severe accident), it will hold the fuel life-long and the fuel will be cooled. The emergency core cooling system will be activated and the area around the core-catcher will be flooded with water.

In Reactor Building-1, construction of the 1.2-metre-thick inner containment wall was in progress. There will be an outer containment wall as well. This "dome within dome" will prevent radioactivity from escaping into the atmosphere. A pre-stressed cable passes horizontally through the innards of the reactor building's circular wall to prevent concrete from cracking.

Near the reactor building a tower crane is at work, moving heavy equipment into place. "The crane arrived from the Tarapur Atomic Power Project on 59 trailers and we assembled it here," revealed M.I. Joy, Site Planning Engineer, KKNPP. "It can be configured to different boom lengths. It can lift 800 tonnes of equipment at nine metres' length and 650 tonnes at 15 metres."

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Some distance away from the reactor building is a fabrication shop for welding the liners - plates made of carbon-steel - that have arrived from Russia. Each plate is 9.1 metres long and 5.8 metres wide. Some are sized 13.2 metres by 5.8 metres. Each liner (plate) weighs seven to eight tonnes. The liners are "a critical component" that would be embedded on the inner containment wall, said E. Chinnaveeran, Engineer-in-Charge, Reactor and Nuclear Steam Supply System Erection. "These liners are used for the first time in our country. While the containment wall itself offers protection, the liner is an additional protection because stress and pressure requirements (in the reactor building) are high," said Chinnaveeran. The welded plates are subjected to ultrasonic resting and vacuum box testing for leak tightness.

According to R. Balachandran Mohan, executive (fabrication), HCCL, 14 liner segments are needed to make a circular ring and seven rings are required for lining the wall and the dome of each reactor. "We are embedding the steel plates into the concrete wall. The entire assembly will be designed and welded to form a cylindrical ring," he said. Liners are also used on the floor of the reactor building.

The turbine buildings to house the turbines and the generators are coming up fast and on completion will stretch 45 metres into the sky. Three hundred massive pillars of different sizes in the basement will support each turbine building, which is 94 metres long and 57 metres broad. "At 15.6 metres elevation (from the ground), we have the operating floor, where the turbines and generators will be erected," said S. Kalirajan, Engineer-in-Charge, Turbine Building-1. "Beyond 15.6 metres height, there will be no floors. Only external walls will go up." Two cranes would be installed permanently to handle the equipment during the installation and subsequent maintenance, Kalirajan added.

According to A.K. Kundu, assistant general manager, Simplex Concrete (Pile) Limited, and Debasis Sarcar, project manager, their company won the contract for Rs.142 crores for the construction of the turbine buildings, the diesel generator buildings, underground tunnels and the new fuel storage building. "We fill concrete to seven metres' height for pillars in one stretch so that the concrete does not lose quality," Kundu said.

The pumphouses, by themselves staggering in their dimensions, and their associated structures are called hydrotechnical structures. K. Majumdar, site-in-charge of HCCL for the pumphouse for the first unit, said the construction of hydrotechnical structures bagged by his company was the largest civil contract of NPCIL. The work order was valued at Rs.348.92 crores.

In a nuclear reactor, thermal energy (heat) is generated by nuclear fission reaction. This heat converts water into steam in the steam generators. This steam drives the turbine-generator to generate electricity, which is wheeled into the grid. The unused heat in the turbine (66 per cent of the total heat) is discharged in the condenser, which is cooled by a water system. This is called the condenser-cooling system. At Kudankulam, the cooling water will be drawn from the sea by pipelines. The water that has cooled the condenser is discharged back into the sea. While the sea water that will be sent in has a temperature of 32Celsius, the water discharged back into the sea will be hotter by five degrees. This is well within the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board's stipulated maximum difference of 7C aimed at protecting the fish population in the sea.

In fact, the fish protection facility at the project is unique. At the place where the intake concrete pipelines are laid on the seabed, compressors create an air-bubble curtain and waves on the ocean surface. So the fish will move up and float on the surface and not go down to enter the pipeline. These fish are then thrown out further into the sea by hydraulic ejectors. Said R.R. Kamath, Engineer-in-Charge, Hydrotechnical Structures: "Thus the system provides for the protection of fish species. This fish protection facility was qualified by an actual test in a small facility in Russia."

"Each unit (reactor) will need 2.5 lakh cubic metres of sea water an hour for cooling the condenser," said Kamath. The Gidroproekt Institute, a reputed Institute in Moscow, designed the cooling water system for Kudankulam after studying several variants, he said. The intake water will be taken 1.2 km from the shore by concrete pipelines laid on the seabed at a depth of 12 metres. This water will be brought to the pumphouse on the shore by gravity. Giant pumps will pump this water up to the condensers in the turbine buildings. After the condensers are cooled, the resultant water will be discharged at zero metres depth on the shore landfall itself so that it will travel some distance in the sea before it mixes with sea water. "Thus the mixing characteristics will be good (and there will be no harm to the fish)," said Kamath. An innovative feature of the cooling water system is the breakwater dyke built 300 metres from the shore. The dyke has two arms, each 900 metres long and 250 metres apart. The 300-metre gap from the shore is to ensure free flow of sedimentation so that the ecology is not affected. The intake water pipes are laid on the seabed below the dyke. The area set off by the dyke resembles a swimming pool. About 30 lakh tonnes of rock was dumped into the sea for constructing the dyke. Besides, 35,000 tetrapods, made of concrete and weighing five, 13 and 20 tonnes were cast at the project site and placed in the sea to create the dyke.

Agrawal explained that the dyke was meant to prevent the cool intake water and the hot discharged water from mixing in the sea. (Otherwise, the mixed hot water will enter the intake pipelines). Steel sheet piles have been hammered into the seabed for a distance of 500 metres on both the arms of the dyke to prevent the hot and cold water from mixing, said Kamath. A huge area of the sea was dewatered to enable the construction of the intake structures. The dewatered seabed still looks green. Joy said that 14 pumps, each of 100 horsepower, worked for three months to dewater the area.

The first unit of the project is expected to reach criticality in March 2007, in just five years from the first pour of concrete. Kudankulam is truly setting standards.

`We are going to fulfil the demand'

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Interview with BSNL Chairman and Managing Director V.P. Sinha.

Vijayendra Prasad Sinha, Chairman and Managing Director of the telecommunications giant Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), believes in performance, and his aversion to pontification comes out clearly within a few minutes of interaction with him.

The 59-year-old technocrat is one who has gone through the mill. An engineering graduate from Patna University, Sinha joined the Indian Telecommunications Service Group `A' on March 1, 1968. He specialised in transmission and has served in all its branches, namely, Open Wire Carrier, Coaxial, VHF, UHF, Microwave, Optical Fibre and Satellite Communication. He was actively involved in the finalisation of the hardware and software for STEP (Satellite Telecommunication Experimental Project). He has served in a number of circles in the capacity of General Manager and handled Operations and Development and gained vast experience in planning and networking telecommunications. He later became Chief General Manager, Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

He received training in Planning and Rural Communications from the erstwhile Telecom Australia under a scheme of the United Nations Development Programme. He has worked at DoT Headquarters as Deputy Director-General (Rural Network) and as Senior Deputy Director General (LTP) and was then deputed to BSNL as Senior Deputy Director-General (Transmission). He has been a member of International Telecommunication Union delegations to Geneva, Lisbon, ADB (Manila) and CIDA (Canada). He was the Chairman of Study Group on Alliance for Public Technology (Bangkok) for the Study Cycle 2000-2002.

As Director (Commercial and Marketing), BSNL Board, Sinha has interacted extensively with regulatory authorities on issues relating to interconnection, licensing and universal service plans. As Director (Planning and New Services), Sinha's development plans for BSNL include 15 million GSM lines and three million CDMA connections by the end of 2004-05.

Sinha took over as the CMD of BSNL on January 1, managing the overall affairs of the company. Excerpts from an interview he gave R.C. Rajamani:

There have been media reports that BSNL is going to challenge Bharti Telecom for the top cellular slot. How are you going to do it?

There is nothing like challenging anybody. Our demand is there and we are going to fulfil the demand. We are already in the first place in our licence areas. Delhi and Mumbai are not in our licence areas.

How do you plan to make the services cheaper so that you reach the poorer sections?

There is a limit to which we can go. We have to see the operational cost and effects. Whatever is possible, we will certainly do.

Do you see cellular phones completely wiping out landline at some point of time?

Not in the least. Fixed lines have got their own advantages. We can provide rich services on broadband. The reach and power of landline will be known when we roll out the broadband. Cellular cannot completely replace the landline, not to speak of wiping it out.

Do you have any foreign collaboration?

We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Korea for broadband deployment. We are open to more such collaborations in the future.

Do you have plans to list BSNL in the market?

It is up to the government to decide. We are not listed with the stock exchanges as yet. Since BSNL is 100 per cent government-owned, only the government can decide.

What are the advantages of being listed with the stock exchanges?

Nothing much really. But, it will add to the company's credibility - that it is listed with the stock exchanges.

You are not new to the organisation. How do you assess its performance so far and what are your priorities?

Since its inception BSNL has been improving its performance. Stability is its brand identity, for landline as well as mobile. BSNL has shown the industry how to lead the way. In landline we had added 50-70 lakh connections per annum till 2002. Since the launch of our mobile in 2002, we have captured over 22 per cent of the market share. BSNL's mission is to provide telecom service of world-class technology at affordable prices to its customers. We have plans to introduce broadband services throughout India. A beginning has already been made by launch of commercial services in Bangalore. We would like to lead the convergence era. We are equipped with state-of-the-art technologies and are providing world-class voice and data services to our customers.

Until recently your organisation was the only one to cater to the communication needs of the people and in that sense enjoyed monopoly. How do you view the change in the situation following the entry of private players and how do you propose to reorient your strategies to meet the changed situation?

BSNL is far ahead of its rivals in basic services, claiming nearly a 85 per cent share of the subscriber base and over a 90 per cent share in terms of revenue. Its penetration can be gauged by the steadily rising number of subscribers in both urban and rural areas, not only for fixed line telephone but also for its mobile, Internet and other services. The number of landlines has registered a quantum jump from 21.6 million to around 35.5 million over the past years. The number of landlines added during this period is almost equal to what was added over the previous five decades and more in cellular; BSNL is clearly the leader in its area of operation. In Internet service, BSNL has achieved a formidable lead over other competitors.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a public sector enterprise and do you feel the need for any special assistance from the government to meet the challenges from the private sector?

Our strength is our workforce, experience and customer trust that we have built up over the years. Customer care is an important element in the management strategy. We have initiated several measures to raise the quality of customer care to international standards. The motto of BSNL is "Connecting India".

How do you propose to reach rural and remote areas in order to achieve 100 per cent connectivity?

The major challenge I see is the front-end interface and, of course, support from the government for our development in rural network. BSNL has covered more than 500,000 villages out of total a of 600,000 villages. All unapproachable villages are being connected through Wireless in Local Loop (WLL) connectivity and satellite connectivity. With the coverage on highways and rail routes, thousands of villages across the country are covered with GSM (mobile) connectivity.

Technological advances are taking place rapidly in the telecom sector. How is BSNL gearing itself to keep pace with these?

The telecom market in India is experiencing a major shift in the customer base from the fixed wire basic telephone to cellular telephone customers, driving down the earnings per line and creating a substantial churn in the customer base of the basic service telecom operators. Despite the declining net profit consequent to the declining tariff regime and increasing costs due to corporate wage restructure, BSNL is fully committed to implementing the customer-oriented tariffs in order to pass on the benefits of telecom growth to the people of India. The company plans to install one hundred crore telephones during the current financial year, including CDMA and GSM services. Exploiting its experience and the spread of its network, BSNL is all set to roll out broadband services too. International long-distance, audio and video-conferencing facilities, wire line SMS services, Stand-alone Signaling Transfer Points (SSTP), Next Generation Network, and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)/Certification Authority (C.A.) are some of the segments in which the company is planning to change the rules of the game. Focussing on better customer service, nearly 3,300 customer care centres with specially trained employees have been set up across the country.

`We want to show the world that we can deliver'

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Interview with S.K. Agrawal, Project Director, KKNPP.

S.K. Agrawal, Project Director of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP), brings to his myriad tasks a rare finesse, be it in managing personnel, dealing with designs or erection of equipment.

With a bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Roorkee (now Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee), he joined the 18th batch of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) Training School at Trombay near Mumbai in 1974-75 for a year's training in nuclear engineering. He then joined the Power Projects Engineering Division of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), which later became Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). He began his career as a Design Engineer for nuclear power plants and was associated with the design, construction and commissioning of several Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor-type nuclear power plants in the country.

When India signed the Inter-Governmental Agreement with the Soviet Union on November 20, 1988, for the construction of two units of the Russian VVER-1000 at Kudankulam, Agrawal was selected to join the techno-commercial negotiations. But the project almost fell through because of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It was revived after 10 years, in June 1998, and Agrawal was made the Head of the Representation of the First International Office of NPCIL, which was set up in Moscow. In Russia, he was associated with the preparation of the Detailed Project Report (DPR) and the Preliminary Safety Analysis Report for the KKNPP, including the techno-commercial offer. Based on these inputs, the final negotiations were held with the Russians and the project was sanctioned by the Government of India. In October 2001, Agrawal, now 51, took over as the Director of the KKNPP.

Excerpts from an interview he gave T.S. Subramanian in his office at the KKNPP site on March 13.

On March 31, it will be two years since the first pour of concrete for the construction of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project. Where does the project stand now? What are the milestones achieved in the last two years?

In the last two years, we made good progress by reaching the first two milestones fast. This was done with the aim that if we got a good start, we would be ahead of schedule even if some problems cropped up on the way. The first milestone was the first pour of concrete. It was supposed to take place in May 2002. This schedule itself was very tight. But we advanced it by two months. This is a record in the sense that the contractor could mobilise the resources, do the qualification of the concrete, pass all the stringent requirements of NPCIL and pour the concrete on March 31. Another important milestone was the laying of the raft, that is, the foundation of the reactor building, which, according to the Russians, takes seven months to complete. We did this in 93 days. Put together, we were ahead of schedule by six months for the first unit.

There was supposed to be a gap of one year between Unit 1 and Unit 2. We said to ourselves, "Why should there be a gap of one year when the resources are available? Why can't we put some resources in Unit 2?" That was how work on Unit 2 also started practically in parallel. Today, the phase difference between the two units is just two to three months.

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This was a good start, and we went very well thereafter. But difficulty arose with working documentation, which was to arrive from the Russian designers. But I shall not blame the Russian designers for not supplying the designs in time because the project was racing ahead of schedule by six months and consequently there was pressure on them to advance their drawings and documents. They tried their level best but even today they are not able to match our speed. Even now we are waiting for working documentation... and with it the progress would have been much, much more. To that extent, I am satisfied, and yet not satisfied.

The Union Department of Power wants NPCIL to add more power to the grid during the Tenth Plan that ends on March 31, 2007. S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director of NPCIL, is confident that Kudankulam's first unit will attain criticality before March 2007. Are you confident you can do that?

As things are moving today, I must say that in the last joint coordination committee meeting, the Russians appreciated and took serious note of the question of supplying the working documents and the equipment in time for construction and erection. This has given us hope that construction activities will not be held up in the next two to three months for want of working documents. We are geared up for that stage. What the CMD has promised, we are committed to that. Being an international project, it is not a question of meeting only the 10th Plan target. We want to show the world that we can deliver the goods.

What equipment are yet to arrive from Russia? The huge core-catcher has arrived... .

This is a gigantic project. The entire supply of all the major equipment that will go into this is from the Russian Federation. This is because the soft loan extended by the Russian government is in the form of the supply of material. The more we buy, the more we utilise the credit. Sometimes the question is asked: "Are we not capable of making the equipment?" Yes, we are capable of that because we have manufactured all the equipment for our indigenous nuclear power plants. But it is a question of financial management also.

The quantum of material is huge. The piping; the special doors; the fire doors (exit); the carbon-steel liner plates and the stainless steel plates, which are for the wall and floor lining, and containment; the gigantic tanks 12 to 15 metres high, which come under the category of ODC (over dimensional consignment); the huge core-catcher, which we are installing for the first time at Kudankulam, all have to come from Russia. The core-catcher has arrived. The nuclear components, which are critical for us, will soon arrive. They include the steam generators, which are very big; the reactor pressure vessel, which will be the largest equipment; the turbine and the generator and so on. The generator weighs 380 tonnes.

General Electric of the United States built the two reactors at Tarapur on a turnkey basis. The Canadians later built the first reactor at Rajasthan. DAE personnel were associated with both the Americans and the Canadians. You are now working with the Russians. What is the difference in approach and style among them?

I was in school when the Tarapur Atomic Power Project was being built (in the mid-1960s). I had joined the Department when the Canadians were winding up the Rajasthan Atomic Power Project. But some of the Canadians continued to work with us and I interacted with them.

The Kudankulam project implementation closely follows the philosophy of the Rajasthan project - the Canadians supplied all the design and material. It was like technical cooperation, not turnkey.

The Russians' style of working is different and it has its plus and minus points. The kind of fear and control (associated) with the old USSR - if a person makes a mistake or deviates from the responsibility given to him, the punishment can be severe. Each person had a well-defined role to play. A person has to do this. For doing it, he will have the input and data, and he has to give the output. This approach does not work in a building project. When you want to speed up, you will have to handle all kinds of dynamic situations. You have to take certain decisions even if the input data are not available. As a designer and an engineer, you have to assume those data and go ahead. This kind of approach is not there (with the Russians). It will be difficult for them to change unless the written guidelines are changed. The old generation of Russians may not find it easy to change. The new generation of Russian designers may not bother about procedures like these. They may deliver the goods, and we have seen that also. Of course, the old generation is experienced and especially good. We cannot underestimate their capability.

This fundamental difference in approach is delaying the working documentation... . To prepare a working document, you need input data. The input data means you have to order the equipment. Ordering the equipment means the entire process of ordering: the manufacturer makes the drawing; he makes the data, dimension and weight, and commits them to the designer. The designer then starts the work. So you can imagine whether there is scope for speeding up the work here... .

The approach is the same in construction. Everything is so defined that no decision needs to be taken at the site. If there is any deviation or problem, nobody will try to solve it at the site. They will refer it to the designer, who will take his time. The solution will be found, documents will be duly signed and everything is fine at the microscopic level; then they will go ahead with it.

This does not work here (in India)... . If a problem crops up, we sit down, discuss what to do, work out the best possible solution and go ahead. The Russians were not used to this. However, the Russians have now become as good as our people in taking decisions on the spot. This is the construction phase and we are now getting good cooperation from the Russians.

Have Indian operators gone to Russia for training on the VVER-1000 reactors because India's PHWRs are different from them?

The training of operation and maintenance personnel takes four to six years. This kind of a training programme was arranged for Indians, but it is impossible, especially the time taken, because we are experienced. We don't need that kind of a total, long training programme. So a strategy was worked out with the Russians.

There will be three phases. Phase A is imparting basic knowledge about nuclear power in general, and VVER in particular. Since we prepared the DPR and we know the VVER design and technology now, we said we could impart that knowledge to our operation staff. With that basic knowledge imparted here, Phase B training will be done in Russia. Depending on the background and level of the people, it may vary from three months to one year. Phase C is actually a classroom training in Russia with on-the-job training in an operating nuclear power plant. That is an important part of the training programme. People come back here and we provide them Phase D training. It is a long process in the sense that they will take part in the preparation and commissioning of the equipment (at Kudankulam).

By then, we shall have our own full-scale simulator and training centre. The building is almost ready. The simulator - which is the heart of the training centre - has been ordered. It may take a year and a half to arrive. Training in the simulator is the ultimate because it is a 100 per cent replica of the power station. What you see in the control room of the VVER-1000 unit, you will have it in the control room of the training centre. The hardware, the equipment, the rotors and so on will be simulated by a computer programme. You can create any scenario, any accident, any abnormal condition and see the reaction of the operator, and how he handles it. There will be an alarm, and all kinds of things will start ringing in the control room. The teacher, who sits in a small cabin in the control room and creates the accident, will ask the operator to describe the accident. The operator will reply, "LOCA (loss of coolant accident) has occurred." The teacher will assess whether his responses are good, answers are good and whether there is spontaneity in his handling of the situation. So this is the ultimate. Thus, the biggest portion of this training programme takes place in India and a limited portion in Russia.

We are also training some of our staff as teachers. Personnel of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) will form part of the training programme. The entire gamut is planned well.

Will the Russians be building more reactors at Kudankulam? The terms of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) prevent the Russians from selling us more reactors because we have not acceded to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Dialogue is on between the two countries about additional units. But the requirements of the Nuclear Suppliers Group/nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty remain. So the situation is this: Russia is willing to sell more reactors. As regards the United States or any other country, if you see their statements in the recent past, there is a kind of shift or softening of the stand as far as peaceful uses of nuclear energy are concerned. If you think that is any clue... the Russian Minister, who was here, was hopeful when he told the press that after these two units are built, the world will know how safe and efficient these reactors are, and he was confident that more units will be built.

Although many of those who gave land for the project have been given jobs in NPCIL, the local MLA, M. Appavoo, has been saying that not all those who gave land have been employed.

I do not like to get into a dialogue about what a public representative says. I can talk about what we are doing. We are giving preference to land-losers and the local people. The Government of India has set some norms. They should be within a certain age limit and have certain minimum qualifications. One has to meet them even to be called for the test/interview. The land was acquired in 1988. There are many land-losers. Their kith and kin have grown up. So they are not eligible according to the criterion of age unless there is a policy change. People do not understand this. They ask, "So and so is a land-loser? Why don't you give him a job?"

When a land-loser meets the basic criteria such as recruitment norms and age, he gets an entree for selection. His capability factor comes in. People argue, "What skill is required for doing a helper's job? You can recruit anybody." But I would say that grooming a technical person is easier than setting right the attitude of the less educated. We do look at their attitude. After all, he is going to work for long with us. We see whether a person is sincere and his attitude and approach are right. If a land-loser meets these criteria for these kinds of jobs, he will straightway get a job.

There are people here writing letters to newspapers, preferring complaints and going to courts (about jobs), forgetting that for any single vacancy, 10 people apply. The recruitment process is like this: you first go through a written test. If the number of people who applied is 5,000, reduce it to 500 persons (who have scored top marks in the test). Interviewing 500 persons itself is a big job and you reduce it to 50. People ask, "I wrote the test. How can you reject me?" Qualifying for the written test is also on a 10:1 ratio. So, for every one person selected nine others are dissatisfied. These nine persons allege that injustice has been done to them. But it does not mean that if you are rejected once, you are rejected forever. They do not have the patience to wait for the next opportunity. Some people who want to take advantage of this situation catch hold of these persons and exploit them.

The process at NPCIL is absolutely clear and transparent. Anybody is free to come in and look at how the entire process is done and also talk to the selected people. It is easy to find out whether there is truth in what they say... (that they got the jobs) with nothing to spend from their pocket. The application form cost Rs.2, but (unscrupulous) people printed these forms and sold them for Rs.100 and collected lakhs of rupees. So we decided that this should be stopped. So we photocopied these forms and kept them in stacks in village panchayat offices. We publicised that there is no need for people to buy application forms from anybody.

You made the application forms available in panchayat offices?

Yes... Some agencies opened in Nagercoil, and even in far-off places such as Thuckalay and even in the Madurai area. I read about them in the newspapers. But they were `professionals'. They knew how to perform gimmicks. Lakhs and lakhs of rupees, crores I would say, were collected. So we did some hectic campaigning. For every recruitment, we called the press and told them about the entire process, and that if anybody approached (the candidates with the promise of getting him a job), they could contact so and so, and we gave the phone numbers.

We requested the electronic media also to give as much coverage as they could - that people could approach NPCIL directly. This definitely helped. Today, I don't see anybody complaining.

People ask, "Who is a local?" A local does not mean that he is from the nearby Kudankulam and Chettikulam villages. Jobs for the locals means that recruitment will be done from the entire district, and also the State of Tamil Nadu. So far we have recruited about 350 persons. Barring three or four persons, the rest of them are from Tamil Nadu. The majority of them are from Tirunelveli district. Of them, the majority is from Radhapuram taluk (where the KKNPP is located).

`Criticality by March 2007 is our aim'

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Interview with S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, NPCIL.

S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), is proud that the Union government has made a budget outlay of Rs.1,700 crores to the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) for the financial year 2003-04. This means an additional Rs.600 crores to the original outlay of Rs.1,100 crores. "This is a big indication of how fast the work is going on at Kudankulam," said Jain. The first unit is six months ahead of schedule in construction activities. Construction of the second unit is also racing ahead of schedule.

Jain, 55, took over as the CMD of NPCIL on January 3 from V.K. Chaturvedi, who was instrumental in starting the simultaneous construction of nine nuclear reactors in different parts of the country. NPCIL is a public sector enterprise of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and is responsible for setting up nuclear electricity stations. NPCIL at present operates 14 nuclear reactors in the country, which together generate 2,770 MWe. These reactors worked at 90 per cent capacity in 2003-04. NPCIL plans to add about 4,000 MWe to the national grid by 2008.

Before taking over as the CMD of NPCIL, Jain was its Senior Executive Director (Light Water Reactors) and was responsible for the construction of the two Russian reactors at Kudankulam. Excerpts from an interview he gave T.S. Subramanian on March 30:

You had said, in an interview to Frontline in January, that the Kudankulam project is close to your heart. How do you assess the work going on there?

The work at Kudankulam is progressing fast. The Government of India had made a budget outlay of Rs.1,100 crores for the Kudankulam project for the financial year 2003-04. I have just received the news that the government has allotted Rs.1,700 crores for the project for 2003-04 - this is 50 per cent more than the budget outlay. At the beginning of every financial year, we prepare a budget (for each nuclear power project under construction), and it is approved by the Government of India. If the project goes fast and uses up the allotted funds, the Government of India allots more money. At the mid-way planning review for the Kudankulam project we found that we were progressing fast. So we approached the government to allocate additional funds. We had already spent Rs.1,700 crores. Today is the penultimate day of this financial year. So in 2003-04, as against the budget outlay of Rs.1,100 crores, we have been allocated Rs.1,700 crores. This is a big indication of how fast the work is going on at Kudankulam. The government has sanctioned Rs.1,700 crores because the project is going on really fast.

How much money have you asked for the Kudankulam project for the financial year 2004-05?

I am looking for Rs.2,000 crores for 2004-05. Are you confident you will get it? I am confident.

How fast is the work progressing at Kudankulam?

On the construction front, we are moving fast. The amount of concrete used in the project itself is an indication of how fast the work is progressing. In our PHWR (Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor) construction projects, we use about 10,000 cubic metres of concrete in a month. At Kudankulam, we use about 30,000 cubic metres. We want to continue at this speed and would like to do 45,000 cubic metres of concreting a month. This is a phenomenal rate of progress.

On the equipment side, the manufacture of the reactor equipment is going on in the Russian Federation. I am happy to share with you the information that the manufacture of all components for the nuclear steam supply system (NSSS) is nearing completion. All the components of the NSSS will be ready by October.

As far as the turbine is concerned, it has been assembled on the test bed and rolled with steam. This is the Russian practice. They assemble the turbine on the test stand, roll it with steam and check whether it meets all requirements (such as vibration, bearing temperature and the alignment of the shaft). We do it in a different way in India. We don't roll the turbine. It was test-rolled in the Russian Federation in the first week of March. It is being assembled and it will be despatched to Kudankulam. This is a milestone in equipment fabrication. The company that manufactured the turbine is Leningradsky Metallichesky Zavod. It is in St. Petersburg.

The condenser and other equipment are in an advanced stage of fabrication. We are prepared to receive all the equipment at Kudankulam. The core-catcher has already arrived and it has been erected in the reactor building of the first unit. It was a thrilling moment for us.

The Kudankulam project is a landmark agreement between India and Russia. For the Russian Federation, the schedule is to be completed in 67 months, that is, in five years and seven months. But we are making all serious efforts to see that the first unit reaches criticality in five years (from the first pour of the concrete, that is, in March 2007). So far, things are moving towards the target. The project team at Kudankulam is highly motivated.

Our civil contractors are facing a difficult time because of a phenomenal increase in the price of steel. In the last one year, steel price has gone up by 40 per cent. Owing to increased industrial activity, the availability of skilled manpower has become difficult. Cement prices have gone up. Our contractors such as Hindustan Construction Company, Larsen and Toubro, and Simplex Concrete Piles (India) are doing a good job against all odds. We are seeing whether we can compensate them.

The Environmental Survey Laboratory (ESL) was inaugurated at the Kudankulam township on February 29, 2004, by Anil Kakodkar, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. I was present on the occasion. The ESL at Kudankulam has started doing its work three years before the first unit is to reach criticality. They are doing an extensive study of the flora, flauna, soil, water and so on over a 30-km radius around the Kudankulam plant for radioactivity content.

When will the 4th unit (540 MWe) at Tarapur start generating electricity?

We have reached the milestone of commissioning the water systems for condenser cooling, reactor auxiliary cooling and balance of plant systems. The entire electrical system in the control room has been commissioned and is operational. Integrity tests of the primary heat transport equipment are going on to see that the design requirements are met. We had planned to do the hydro-testing of the primary heat transport circuit in the third or fourth week of April. We shall do it in the first week itself. This is a clear signal for hot-commissioning of the equipment. This will give us the real feel for going ahead with criticality.

The fourth unit at Tarapur, which will generate 540 MWe, will reach criticality in September or October. (The third unit, also of 540 MWe capacity, will be commissioned later).

Have you decided on the location for 700 MWe reactors? The site selection committee has finalised its report.

We are clear that the 700 MWe indigenous PHWRs will come up only on the inland sites. The 1,000 MWe units will come up on coastal sites. The 500 MWe indigenous breeder reactors will come up mostly on the inland sites. We want to maximise the potential of the existing sites. They (the existing sites) have enough space to accommodate units with a total installation capacity of 15,000 Mwe.

At home in Kudankulam

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

IT is 4 p.m. and Paul is enjoying his swim in the sea. He returns after a while, lolls on the sand and plunges into the waves again. He and the other Russian specialists at Kudankulam have taken to the sea as the best way to beat the heat. The beach at Kudankulam is "fantastic", declares Alexsander Kvasha, technical director, Atomstroyexport Russian Representation. He turns to his colleague Michael Valednicki and says, "Valednicki is a very good character. He is popular among the Indian specialists. They like him very much." And there is laughter all round. Valednicki does not know English and looks non-plussed, but grins when he learns that only good things are said about him.

Paul, Kvasha and Valednicki are among the 24 Russian specialists working at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) and seem completely at home there. They work hard, love the beach, and spend their evenings at their club and in the swimming pool. They go shopping at Nagercoil, 40 km away. Kvasha's wife has integrated herself completely with the local comminity. Says Project Director S.K. Agrawal: "Everyone in the township and even at the headquarters (in Mumbai) knows her. She is so popular because she is totally indigenised in dress. You have to see her to believe how elegantly she dresses in a sari. She has learnt Tamil too."

"Here we have a good atmosphere, an atmosphere of cooperation," said the tall, well-built Kvasha. He added: "The Russians and the Indians are clear in their consensus that we should build this project together. That is our one goal. We are really proud of our customer (India)."

Atomstroyexport Russian Representation will supply the reactors, components and fuel for the two reactors at Kudankulam. A leading Russian export-import joint stock company in the field of nuclear power engineering, it takes charge of organisation, coordination and fulfilment of obligations under Inter-Governmental Agreements and contracts to construct and commission nuclear power projects abroad. Besides Kudankulam, Atomstroyexport is involved in the Tianwan nuclear power plant in China, the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran and modernisation of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant in Bulgaria. Among its main Russian partners are Atomenergoproekt, a research, design and engineering survey institute, and the Kurchatov Institute, Moscow, a scientific and research centre supplying the working documents such as drawings and designs.

Valednicki is chief of general designer representation, Atomenergoproekt, and his main job is to ensure compliance with the written documentation, that is, the construction should be in tandem with the designs and drawings. Valednicki also provided explanations and consultations for the drawings issued by Kurchatov Institute. He said he was satisfied with the results achieved by the Indians so far in constructing the reactors.

Kvasha and Valednicki are proud of the Russian VVER-1000 reactors that are under construction at Kudankulam. "The VVER-1000 reactors have a rich heritage. They have a good ancestry. They have positive design aspects," said Kvasha. Practically all the nuclear electricity generated in France comes from VVER-type units, but the French "call it by some other name", he said.

Russia has sold two VVER-1000 units to China and they are being built at Tianwan. The agreement between Russia and China is practically the same as that between India and Russia. An important difference is that the Russian side is responsible for erecting the nuclear steam supply system of the two reactors in China. The Russians have hired a Chinese contractor to erect the nuclear steam supply system. "In India, the Indian side (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited) does slightly more work," Kvasha said.

Valednicki and Kvasha are hopeful of the Russian and Indian cooperation achieving more units at Kudankulam. "We shall be happy to work with our Indian colleagues again in this place."

Passion for safety

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

"SAFETY has no holiday", announces a board at the entrance to the gigantic reactor building under construction at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP). At the turbine building the slogan goes, "Job of any kind, plan with safety in mind". At the massive pump house, too, where huge motors will pump thousands of gallons of sea water for cooling the condenser, there are posters on safety aspects. In fact, the magnificent obsession with safety won for KKNPP the Industrial Safety Award of NPCIL in 2002, its inaugural year. It is given for nuclear projects under construction and the assessment is done on the basis of fewer numbers of accidents, efforts aimed at training in safety and safety promotion activities. Among the contenders were projects being built at Rawatbhatta in Rajasthan, Kaiga in Karnataka, Tarapur in Maharashtra, and Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu. Project Director S.K. Agrawal received the award on September 27, 2003.

The motivation of the thousands of workers toiling at the site is at the root of this passion for safety. Competitions on safety are held for NPCIL employees and civil work contractors and their workers. They are encouraged to dream up skits, plays and songs highlighting safety.

Safety is embedded in the reactor systems themselves. The VVER-1000 type Russians reactors, which will be erected at Kudankulam, are among the safest in the world. Said A.I. Siddiqui, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications, NPCIL, and editor of Nu Power, a quarterly published by NPCIL: "The Kudankulam reactor has one of the safest new-generation designs. It has several inherent and engineered, both active and passive, safety features to meet abnormal conditions." The latest innovation is the addition of a core-catcher - a huge vessel weighing 101 tonnes, which will hold the highly radioactive molten uranium fuel core in the case of a serious accident such as the loss of coolant. The core-catcher will be surrounded by several lakh gallons of water. The Kudankulam reactors will also have the double-containment feature, which is a massive dome with two very thick concrete walls so as to prevent radioactivity from escaping into the environment. It is said this dome can withstand even the impact of an aircraft crashing onto it.

The wall of the inner containment has carbon steel liner (plates) and is designed to withstand extreme internal pressure and high temperatures. The space between the two containments and the space inside the reactor building are kept below the atmospheric pressure to prevent radioactivity leaking into the atmosphere. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has listed VVER-1000 among the world's best reactors. It uses light water (ordinary water) as both coolant and moderator, unlike the RBMK-type reactor, which uses graphite as moderator and boiling water as coolant. The reactor that suffered a meltdown at Chernobyl in April 1986 was of the RBMK type.

Michael Kvasha, technical director, Atomstroyexport, who works at Kudankulam, said that from unit to unit, VVER-1000 had additional safety features and systems. For instance, VVER-1000 built 15 years ago had three "channels" (barriers, the philosophy of safety-in-depth) for safety. "Now four channels are an obligatory requirement." The VVER-1000 reactors at Kudankulam would have "the most advanced safety devices", he said. One of these is the core-catcher, which NPCIL has started erecting at the first unit in Kudankulam. Said Kvasha: "It is a new feature. The core-catcher has been installed in very few power plants that we have constructed in the last few years." As the name implies, it is a huge vessel of steel, into which the highly radioactive molten fuel will fall in the case of an accident and fuel meltdown. The molten fuel will stay in the "catcher" forever, surrounded by water.

The VVERs also have passive safety systems, which would operate without human intervention, on the principles of gravitation, conduction and so on. No mechanical parts are involved in these passive safety systems. In any emergency, they would shut down the malfunctioning reactor and cool it by dumping thousands of gallons of water on it. VVER-1000 has evolved from variants such as V-187, V-338, V-320, V-413, V-392, and V-428. Of these, V-392 has the most advanced design features and it is this design that has been adopted into VVER-1000.

According to S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director of NPCIL, the V-392 (that is, VVER-1000) has a "negative power coefficient. It means that any abnormal increase in reactor power that could affect the safety of the reactor is self-terminating."

The Kudankulam reactors have adopted the design philosophy of "defence in depth" and have successive levels of safety so that failure of one does not impair the overall safety of the reactor. Said Siddiqui: "The reactor protective systems are 100 per cent quadruplicated, that is, four independent channels exist for such systems although one is sufficient for the protection of the reactor."

An unlikely scenario is the loss of coolant accident (LOCA). This means of loss of water, which is both coolant and moderator. A loss of coolant will hamper the removal of fission heat from the enriched uranium fuel core, which, in the absence of safety systems, can melt the core. In the absence of containment in such a situation, radioactivity can escape into the environment. The core-catcher is designed to "catch" the molten fuel in the event of a LOCA. The catcher is filled with bricks of ferrous oxide and aluminium oxide, which absorb the heat from the uranium (melting point 2,800Celsius) and melt in the process. Over a period of time, the molten fuel and the bricks form a lump.

Said Siddiqui: "The composition of these bricks and the design of the `melt fuel catcher' were decided after extensive research in one of the largest experimental facilities in the world, at the Kurchatov Institute in the Russian Federation. Millions of dollars are spent to carry out such experiments by a group of countries at this site."

Safety extends to training the operators who man the reactors. The operators are graduates in engineering. They undergo periodic training to sharpen their reflexes and responses in a crisis. They write tests and appear for interviews, conducted by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, at regular intervals to renew their licences for running the reactors. They are members of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), which came into being after the Chernobyl accident. In WANO, they exchange information about the safety practices of various reactors, the upgrading of their skills, innovations in reactors and so on.

A welcome project

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

Much of the local population is proud of the project despite irritants such as stiff recruitment procedures for jobs for land-losers.

ON the desolate stretch between Chettikulam and Kudankulam villages, near the hamlet of Thavasipparai, a metalled road has just been laid. Workers are busy broadcasting sand on the surface made smooth by a huge mechanised road layer. "Finishing touches are being given," said the man supervising the work. Panchayat leaders P. Ezhilarasu, E. Suresh Kumar, P. Lingaraja and P. Duraisamy of the nearby villages pose proudly for photographs in front of the machine. A few kilometres away, in Kudankulam village, two borewells have been sunk and the motors to pump water from them have been housed in small rooms built nearby. The water is stored in plastic tanks erected on top of the motor rooms. Further away is the Government High School, where a classroom is under construction. On March 31, S.K. Agrawal, Project Director of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP), inaugurated two school buildings and two borewells at Kudankulam village.

The 16-km metalled road, laid at a cost of Rs.7 crores, the borewells and the school building are some of the gifts to the local community from the KKNPP. Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), a Government of India undertaking which is executing the project, will operate the nuclear power plant.

Much of the local population is proud of the project, under which two Russian reactors are being built on the coast, a few kilometres from Kudankulam village in Radhapuram taluk in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. "The Kudankulam project is God's gift to us," said E. Suresh Kumar, councillor from the 11th wards of the Radhapuram panchayat union. "There is good money circulation in our villages now. People speaking different languages are living here now. There is an inter-mingling of different cultures," he said.

With the project picking up speed, the economy is booming in Kudankulam and other villages like Chettikulam, Anjugramam, Radhapuram, Perumanal, Thavasipparai and Viswanathapuram that are strung around it. About 100 young men and women from families whose land was acquired for the project have been employed by NPCIL and about 2,000 people from these villages are working for the project as daily-wage earners. There are others like Arul Menigis, a fisherman from Perumanal, who works as a lifeguard at the swimming pool in the Anu-Vijay township at Chettikulam. L. Mandline, also from Perumanal, is a helper in the pool. Menigis estimated that about 40 men from Perumanal were employed in the project as casual labourers.

Chairperson of the Radhapuram panchayat union Daisy Inbanayagam, N. Vijayan of Chettikulam, president of Kudankulam panchayat Ezhilarasu, Vijayapathy village panchayat councillor T. Soundararajan and others regard the project as a boon because Radhapuram was a drought-hit taluk. It has not had rain for the past 10 years and has been facing acute water scarcity for several years. Today, these villages see hectic activity. There are workshops to repair trucks, dumpers, tippers and other earthmovers as also cars and two-wheelers. Welding establishments are busy and hardware outlets are doing brisk business. Young men have set up telephone booths and three petrol pumps add "glamour" to the area. About 2,000 workers employed in the project as drivers of trucks, excavators and dumpers, specialist welders and masons live in rented houses in the adjoining villages. There are frequent bus services between Chettikulam and Nagercoil, 40 km away. Earlier people had to wait for several hours for a bus to Nagercoil.

However, the ancillary industries that one would expect such a project to spawn have not materialised. This is because all the equipment for the plant, including the reactor pressure vessel, the turbines and the generators, the coolant channels, the core- catcher and the nuclear steam supply system, is to be imported from Russia.

D. Charles Ebenezer, S. Lakshmi, P. Pushparaja and E. Jelastin are all direct beneficiaries of the project. Land owned by their families had been given to the project. Today Charles Ebenezer is a stenographer, Lakshmi and Jelastin are junior assistants, and Pushparaja a helper.

Belonging to a different category is M. Arumugam, 24, of Radhapuram taluk. A body-builder, he is employed as a fireman in KKNPP/NPCIL's Industrial Safety division. "Safety building with body building," says a poster near his fire-tender. Arumugam was `Mr. Tamil Nadu', `Mr. Chennai' and `Mr. Tirunelveli'. He said he was happy to have secured a job in the project because "we have a good gym with all the equipment here".

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Lakshmi is overjoyed that she is an NPCIL employee. "I am so happy," she said and praised NPCIL management for being "impartial" in the selection of employees. She was confident that other "land-losers" would also get jobs in NPCIL as the project progressed. In fact, the first recruitment was done exclusively for land-losers. They had to pass a written test and interview and fulfil criteria such as age-limit and educational qualifications.

Jelastin was one among those who met the norms, passed the written test and the viva voce. But he did not know typing. So he was given time to learn that.

The leaders of several villages wanted NPCIL to relax the age limit for jobs for land-losers. They also pointed out that the rule that only the son or daughter of a land-loser would be given employment in NPCIL went against many families. The leaders wanted this rule to be amended to provide jobs for the grandson or granddaughter or anybody in the family.

In many families the son or the daughter was over the age of 30, which was the age limit for selection for a job in NPCIL. (While the land was acquired in 1988, the project became a reality only 10 years later, and recruitment was done only in 2002.)

Said Ezhilarasu: "We are keen that the age-limit should be relaxed for employment for land-losers. Besides, any person of a family that gave land to the project should be given a job." He wanted 70 per cent of the C and D category jobs in NPCIL at Kudankulam to go to the local people and the payment of compensation to land-losers.

Said Vijayan of Chettikulam: "Public expectation from the project is high. People want a lot of development work to take place here." He pointed out that NPCIL had constructed a school building and laid a 1.5-km bypass road at Chettikulam.

NPCIL distributes stationery and textbooks every year to pupils in villages around the plant. It has also donated computers to the Vijayapathy and Kudankulam panchayat offices. Daisy Inbanayagam is confident that NPCIL would keep its promise of building community halls in the 27 village panchayat offices in Radhapuram panchayat union.

The leaders are also hopeful that NPCIL will help in ending the water famine in Radhapuram taluk by laying pipelines to bring water from the Tamiraparani river.

One thing that the villagers are proud of is the cosmopolitan atmosphere that suffuses the area. Putan Singh Tomar, Deputy Manager (Personnel and Industrial Relations), KKNPP, NPCIL, has been at the project site for two years and has learnt to speak fluent Tamil.

"I would sit in the tea stall in front of the project for two to three hours every day and listen to the local people talk," he said. "There is a fusion of cultures here now," Tomar said. Charles Ebenezer intervened, with a smile: "We have learnt to speak Hindi."

Keeping watch on radiation

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

THE Environmental Survey Laboratory (ESL) of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) is located in a swank building at the Anu-Vijay township. It houses several facilities with an array of sophisticated equipment. In one of the facilities is a container with ash. Said Dr. M.P. Rajan, officer-in-charge: "It is the ash that we got by burning vegetables. We also reduce milk, fish, eggs, meat and plantain leaves to ash and check them for radioactivity content."

The ESL, which has the task of measuring the radiation levels over a radius of 30 km from the plant, began work in January 2003 when the construction of the plant got under way.

The primary aim of an ESL is to demonstrate compliance with the radiation exposure limits. This requires detailed measurement of the radioactivity content in the air and in vegetables, water, soil, fish, paddy, meat, goat's thyroid and so on. The DAE has set up an ESL at every nuclear facility in the country - Tarapur, Rawatbhatta, Kalpakkam, Narora, Kakrapar and Kaiga, the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad, the Indian Rare Earth's plant at Udyogamandal near Aluva in Kerala, and the uranium milling complex at Jaduguda in Bihar. The ESLs report directly to the Health Physics Division of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and are independent of the operating nuclear facility.

Radioactivity releases contributed by humans are regulated by a set of criteria formulated by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and endorsed by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), which is the watchdog body on safety in nuclear facilities in India. The ICRP has stipulated a limit of one millisievert a year for a member of the public and the AERB has endorsed this. The AERB has stipulated that a nuclear facility worker in the country may receive up to 100 millisievert of radiation over a five-year period, with an average of 20 millisievert a year, but the dose should not exceed 30 millisievert in a given year. The ICRP has stipulated the same five-year dosage but has allowed an annual dose limit of up to 50 millisievert.

Explaining how an ESL worked, Rajan said: "We start collecting samples of air, water, vegetables, milk, fish, goat's thyroid, etc., in a 30-km radius of the nuclear plant several years before it becomes operational and analyse them for radioactivity content. We have been collecting the baseline data around the Kudankulam project site in a 30-km radius since January 2003. This gives us the background level of natural radiation and the fallout radioactivity. We shall compare this data with the data collected after the units go critical. We shall, therefore, know whether there is any increase in the man-made radiation level."

The collection and analyses of samples for their radioactivity content would take place as long as the nuclear facility remained operational. The staff of the ESL at Kudankulam collect samples of air, vegetables, sea water, river water, fish, goat's thyroid, milk, meat and so on every month and of paddy/rice during the harvest season.

The ESL at Kudankulam has detectors for all the three types of radiation - Alpha, Gamma and Beta. "We have sensitive detectors to detect very, very low levels of radioactivity," said Rajan. It has a liquid scintillation analyser to detect tritium and carbon-14 and it can analyse about 400 samples at a time. In the gamma spectrometry analyser, any sample can be analysed for radioactivity. "You will immediately get the result," said Rajan. There is a facility for analysing water samples too.

He pointed to an interesting phenomenon in the area. "Since this area (Kudankulam) is close to Manavalakurichi, we found that certain pockets on the beach had radioactivity by an order of magnitude," said Rajan. The beach sands of Manavalakurichi, from which radioactive thorium is extracted, had monazite. In the inland areas, the radioactivity varied from 0.1 to 0.5 microsievert an hour. But in certain areas of the beach at Kudankulam, the ESL staff found that it was one to three microsieverts an hour. "This is because of the monazite present in the sand. We also found this phenomenon in small pockets on the beach at Kalpakkam (where a nuclear power station is located) and radioactivity was almost of the same level," Rajan said.

Incidentally, the ESL at Kalpakkam had found after the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in April 1986 that the thyroid in goats had registered an increase in iodine-131 as a result of feeding on grass laced with iodine.

THE Anu-Vijay township is a virtual city and is located about 7 km from the plant on the beachhead. Inaugurated on May 27, 2002, by V.K. Chaturvedi, former Chairman and Managing Director of NPCIL, the township has a desalination plant that uses the reverse osmosis method to make seawater potable. Two concrete piplelines laid on the seabed transport sea water to the plant. Doshi Ion Exchange and Chemical Industries, Ahmedabad, erected the desalination plant, said Shirish Palsule, its assistant manager. It has two units that produce 50,000 litres of potable water in an hour, and two more units of like capacity were commissioned on March 12.

The township has 500 quarters and 500 more are to be built. It has a school, a football ground, a cricket pitch, basketball and volleyball courts (all situated on the edge of the beach), a badminton court, a club with a swimming pool, a full-fledged gymnasium, two table tennis boards, a billiards club, a separate club and gymnasium for women, and a club and swimming pool for the Russians helping the building of the project. Putan Singh Tomar, Deputy Manager (Personnel and Industrial Relations), KKNPP, said: "Our township has all the facilities of a city but nothing of its nuisance."

Sehwag sensation

Virender Sehwag, with his unique style of batsmanship, has evolved and grown into one of the most feared attacking batsmen in contemporary cricket.

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LABELLED a one-day cricketer when he began his career for India, Virender Sehwag is now the first Indian to crack the 300-run barrier. The story of the man from Najafgarh, one of the rustic outposts of Delhi, has been a remarkable one.

"Viru,'' as Sehwag is affectionately called by his team-mates, has with his unique style of batsmanship, evolved and grown into one of the most feared attacking batsmen in contemporary cricket.

India made history in Multan on April 1 by winning its first Test match on Pakistani soil, and Sehwag's phenomenal 375-ball 309 set up the epoch-making innings-and-52-run win. The Delhi batsman, who took flight in an ancient town of tombs, forts, Sufi saints and bustling marketplaces, dismissed Shoaib Akhtar and Co. ruthlessly to the distant corners of the lush green Multan Cricket Stadium - the pitch was brown and bald though - as he cut loose in the first Test between India and Pakistan in Pakistan in 14 years.

It was at Lord's in 2002 that Sehwag was first thrust into the opening slot in Tests, and at that time it was thought to be yet another short-term move. But he responded with an attacking 84. He went on to score 106 on a seaming pitch in Nottingham, and his rollicking journey had begun.

Sehwag himself has indicated on more than one occasion that he is more comfortable in the middle order, and it was at No. 6 that he rattled up a 105 on his Test debut in Bloemfontein, South Africa, in 2001. But then the lacklustre early form of Shiv Sundar Das on the tour of England forced the team management to push him to open the innings, along with first Wasim Jaffer and then Sanjay Bangar.

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The fact that there were no vacancies in the middle order, comprising Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S. Laxman and Sourav Ganguly, and the keenness of the team management to include a batsman with such an awesome stroke-making ability as Sehwag in the eleven might also have prompted it to promote Sehwag in the batting order.

Talk to Sehwag about the adjustments a batsman has to make vis-a-vis the pitch and the conditions, and he will quickly tell you that they come naturally to him. There is no conscious effort on his part to make alterations to his style.

Sehwag is a natural, who relies on reflexes, instinct and timing, and has not, despite criticism, changed his methods. As was seen during his record-breaking innings in Multan, Sehwag does not really get behind the line of the pacemen.

Rather, he tends to make a movement towards the leg-stump, create more room to strike the ball on the off-side, and chooses to play beside the line of the ball, invariably sending the sphere crashing to the fence in the arc between point and cover.

This technique has its limitations and if Sehwag is tested in Test cricket with short-pitched balls around the rib-cage area, delivered by a genuinely quick right-arm paceman operating round the wicket, he could be cramped, and his scoring options cut short. However, it is never easy to sustain this mode of attack for long periods of time.

The fact that Sehwag is predominantly a back-foot player suggests that he should adjust well to pitches with bounce, and he did enjoy an outstanding series in Australia this season, with 464 runs from fours Tests at an average of 58.

Among his innings was a strokeful 195 in the Melbourne Test, in which he treated an Aussie attack, which included Brett Lee, with disdain. He repeatedly drilled holes in the field placements before being taken in the deep during the closing stages of the day.

After his heroics in Multan, Sehwag is now only the fourth batsman from the subcontinent with a triple century in Tests, the others being Hanif Mohammed, Sanath Jayasuriya and Inzamam-ul-Haq. This is a special gathering.

In fact, when Sehwag achieved the feat, he became only the 18th batsman in Test history to score 300 runs, and the first to do so in an India-Pakistan series. He is also the quickest Asian to reach a Test double century, facing only 222 balls in the process.

The advantage of having an aggressive opener cannot be understated. When Sehwag gets cracking, punishing the slightest errors in width or direction, the bowlers often switch from an aggressive mode to a defensive one, and this takes the pressure off the other batsmen. His footwork against pacemen is limited, but Sehwag is quick to explain that it works for him. Against the quickest of bowlers, he would wait on the back-foot and shrewdly use the pace of the ball; this is reflected in the number of sixes Sehwag has struck over point, with the batsman doing nothing more than providing direction to the bouncing deliveries. Not surprisingly, it was from one such stroke that Sehwag got to his hundred in Multan as Akhtar watched in dismay. Sehwag, conscious of his dismissal at the Melbourne Cricket Ground while at the doorstep of a double hundred, was extremely circumspect on 199, but he jumped past 300 by clouting off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq over mid-wicket on the second day afternoon.

Soon he raised his arms in triumph, was hugged by his illustrious non-striker and idol Sachin Tendulkar - the two were involved in a record Indian third-wicket stand of 336 - and it was a moment of great sporting splendour.

Sehwag modelled his batting, at least some of the strokes, like driving down the ground and hitting over the bowlers' head, on Tendulkar. To a simple boy growing up in Najafgarh, Tendulkar was an inspiration. Now he had made a major batting breakthrough for Indian cricket, and Tendulkar was at the other end. Later, Sehwag would say, "Having him so close when I reached the landmark was a nice feeling.''

Also applauding from the balcony was captain Sourav Ganguly, sitting out of the match with a back injury. He had backed Sehwag through the thick and the thin, had been there to guide him at critical junctures of his career, and now he had watched him play an outstanding Test innings. Stand-in captain Rahul Dravid too, as Sehwag revealed, had always encouraged him to play his natural game.

During his monumental knock, Sehwag surpassed V.V.S. Laxman's epic 281 at the Eden Gardens, the previous highest individual Test score by an Indian. Given the situation it was constructed in, the sheer quality of the effort, the depth in the Aussie attack, and the influence it had on the match and the series, Laxman's masterpiece in Kolkata will always enjoy pride of place among the immortal innings played by Indians.

So would Sunil Gavaskar's masterful 221 at the Oval in 1979, which enabled India orchestrate a stirring but ultimately futile chase in the fourth innings of the Test.

And who can leave out Rahul Dravid's wonderfully compiled 233 in Adelaide, where he was rock solid against the pace and fury of Lee and Jason Gillespie. India won its first Test in Australia after 24 years, and Dravid, with his marathon effort, had played a major role.

These were classics.

Sehwag had Matthew Hayden's world record of 380 well in sight, and had he stayed at the crease for an hour more - given the pace of his run-making - the opener would have been within striking distance of the Aussie's mark. But, he is not the kind to brood over misses; he would be happy with what he has earned. His calm exterior and rather pragmatic ways at the crease enable him to handle pressure situations well.

Though his Multan effort was not blemishless - he could have been dismissed four times during his tenure - Sehwag showed he could concentrate for long periods and progress from session to session.

The dasher has a fine Test record with 1,822 runs (before the Lahore Test) from 21 Tests at an average of 53.58, sprinkled with six three-figure knocks. He has one century each in South Africa, England and Australia.

Sehwag's away record of 54.50 is extremely healthy, and he is evolving as a batsman, going about his task with greater confidence. His repertoire on the leg-side is growing, as is clear from the rousing flicks he essays these days.

Though Sehwag's innings was a major contribution, and Tendulkar's 33rd Test century invaluable - happily from an Indian perspective, the controversy over Dravid's declaration with Tendulkar on 194 has blown over - the Indian bowlers deserve credit for bowling Pakistan out twice on a pitch where apart from an element of double bounce on the fourth day there were not many problems for the batsmen. Left-arm paceman Irfan Pathan bowled splendidly right through, pitching the ball in the right areas and seldom providing the Pakistani batsmen width. Anil Kumble, though returning from a shoulder injury and short of match practice, operated with exemplary control to run through the Pakistani second innings with six wickets.

Dravid led the side well on the field, using the non-regular bowlers well, setting attacking fields and never allowing the pressure on the Pakistani batsmen to ease. And the Indians had enough reasons to sing and dance in the end.

Indigenous and innovative

ONE of the main reasons why the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW) has been able to cut down its cost of production is the indigenisation of the new generation electron beam irradiated cross-linked (EBXL) cable. The cable was first developed by Nicco Corporation Ltd at its plant in Shyamnagar, West Bengal. The plant is equipped with a 3.0 MeV electron accelerator imported from Radiation Dynamics Inc, United States, and a state-of-the-art polymer compounding plant. The cable is used by CLW for the manufacture of high-power three-phase locomotive, for which it has entered into a transfer of technology agreement with ABB of Sweden. Nicco is one of the main suppliers of EBXL cable to the Railways.

Cross-linking of polymers with electron beam is an innovative process, which makes the cable more durable than the conventional chemically cross-linked cables. EBXL cables have superior electrical, thermal, and mechanical properties. The design is compact, smaller in size, lighter and does not emit toxic and corrosive gases - properties that eliminate the need for replacement during periodic overhauling of the locomotives.

Nicco has other clients, including the Rail Coach Factory in Kapurthala, the Integral Coach Factory in Chennai and the Diesel Locomotive Works in Varanasi.

Nicco Corporation Ltd. started manufacturing cable, conductors and wires in 1942 at Shyamnagar, and later set up a unit in Baripada, Orissa.

Leading a revolution

R.C. RAJAMANI advertorial

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. can rightly claim to be leading India's information revolution and is expected to play a stellar role in the future as well.

ON October 1, 2000, the Department of Telecom Operations, Government of India, became a corporation and was christened Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). Today, BSNL is the number one telecommunications company and the largest public sector undertaking in the country, with an authorised share capital of $3,600 million and net worth of $13.85 billion. It has a network of over 45 million lines covering 5,000 towns with over 35 million telephone connections. With the latest digital switching technology and an extensive transmission network, including synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH) systems up to 2.5 gbps, dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) systems up to 80 gbps, web telephony, direct Internet access systems (DIAS), virtual private networks (VPN), broadband and more than 400,000 data customers, BSNL is geared to play a stellar role in the information revolution in the country.

Its responsibilities include the improvement of the quality of telecom services, the expansion of the telecom network, the introduction of new telecom services in all villages and increasing customer confidence. BSNL has managed to shoulder these responsibilities deftly.

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Today, with a line capacity of over 45 million, a nationwide network management and surveillance system (NMSS) to control telecom traffic and over 4,00,000 route kilometres of optical fibre cable (OFC) network, and with 99.9 per cent of its exchanges being digital, BSNL is a name to reckon with in the world of telecommunications. Like its customer base, BSNL's financial and asset bases too are vast and strong. Consider these figures:

The telephone infrastructure alone is worth about Rs.1,00,000 crores ($21.2 billion) and the turnover is Rs.25,000 crores ($5.2 billion). Add to this BSNL's nationwide coverage and reach and comprehensive range of telecom services.

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The turnover of the company for the year 2001-02 was Rs.24,299.8 crores, which on an annualised basis implies a 5 per cent growth over the previous year. This growth took place in spite of a 62 per cent reduction in long-distance tariff during the last quarter of the year. The profit after tax was at a comfortable level of Rs.6,312 crores.

In terms of extension of coverage, the percentage growth of telephone lines during that year (53 lakhs) was the highest ever in the history of telecommunication in the country. Another remarkable achievement was that this phenomenal growth was financed solely through the internal resources of the company, without having to resort to any market borrowing. After making adequate provision for a higher wage bill for the employees absorbed from the erstwhile Department of Telecom Services, the wage bill as a percentage of the turnover is still at a manageable level of 15.84. The net asset value has risen to Rs.58,922 crores. The capital outlay for the expansion and development of rural telephony was Rs.7,946 crores, which is approximately 50 per cent of the total capital expenditure of the company. The debt equity ratio also improved from that of the previous year, from 0.25 to 0.20. The strong fundamentals of the company will enable it to grow from strength to strength. The company plans to expand further its value-added services by introducing new technologies. CellOne, its cellular service, is the biggest in India and covers the entire country.

THE formation of BSNL was one of the landmark events in the history of telecommunications in India. Today, it has an awesome task of improving the quality of telecom services, expanding the telecom network, taking telecom services to all villages and instilling confidence in its customers.

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Driven by the best of telecom technology from chosen global leaders, BSNL connects every part of the nation to different corners of the globe. "Connecting India", BSNL's slogan, is no empty claim. The company says it is communicating hopes, happiness, aspirations, dreams and much more.

Here is an overview of the world class services offered by BSNL:

Basic telephone services: The plain old countrywide telephone service through 32,000 electronic exchanges and the digitalised Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), with a host of Phone Plus value additions.

Internet: Accessing the global network of networks, the countrywide Internet services of BSNL under the brand name Sanchar Net, includes Internet dial-up/leased access service for web browsing and e-mail applications. An Internet telephony service was launched under the brand name Webfone recently. ISDN (Integrated Service Digital Network Service) of BSNL utilises a unique digital network providing high-speed and high-quality voice, data and image transfer over the same line. It can also facilitate both desktop video and high-quality video conferencing. Intelligent Network Service (In Service) offers value-added services, such as Free Phone Service (FPH), India Telephone Card (pre-paid card) Account Card Calling (ACC), VPN, tele-voting Premium Rate Service (PRM), Universal Access Number (UAN) and more.

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I-Net: India's x.25 based packet Switched Public Data Network is operational in 104 cities of the country.

Leased lines and datacom: BSNL provides leased lines for voice and data communication for various applications on a point-to-point basis. It offers a choice of high-, medium- and low-speed leased data circuits as well as dial-up lines. Bandwidth is available on demand in most cities. Managed Leased Line Network (MLLN) offers flexibility of providing circuits with speeds of nx64 kbps up to 2 mbps, useful for Internet-leased lines and International Principle Leased Circuits (IPLCs).

Countrywide cellular service, pre-paid card: BSNL's project of GSM cellular mobile service envisages a customer base of over four million and supports applications like voice mail, e-mail, short message service (SMS), cell broadcast service, international roaming, IN Services like pre-paid card, premium rate, free phone, UAN, split charging and VPN.

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Wireless in Local Loop: This is a communication system that connects customers to the PSTN using radio frequency signals as a substitute for conventional wires for all or part of the connection between the subscribers and the telephone exchange.

Countrywide induction of WLL is under way for areas that are non-feasible for the normal network. It will help relieve congestion in the normal cable/wire-based network in urban areas, connecting the remote and scattered rural areas and limited mobility without any airtime charge.

Setting standards

The nuclear power project at Kudankulam features the latest in technology and takes safety to new levels even as work on its two units progresses way ahead of schedule.

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN in Kudankulam Photographs: A. Shaik Mohideen

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EVERYTHING about the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) in coastal Tamil Nadu - the reactor buildings, the pumphouse, the pillars, the machinery and the cranes - is gigantic. The two reactor buildings will, on completion, stand 80 metres tall and 300 pillars will support each of the two turbine buildings. The core-catcher, an innovative bowl-like contraption, weighs 101 tonnes. The equipment is transported by sea from Russia to the mini-port that has been built at Kudankulam by erecting a dyke using 30 lakh tonnes of rock.

But size has not slowed things down, and the young workforce has gone on undaunted. The average age of the engineers is 36 and that of the workforce around 23. In two years since the first pour of concrete on March 31, 2002, signalling the start of construction, work on building the first unit (reactor) is six months ahead of schedule. In fact, the first reactor is on course to start generating electricity from March 2007, one full year ahead of schedule. Construction of the second unit is also coasting along.

`Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project: Setting Standards' is our motto, said KKNPP Project Director S.K. Agrawal. "We are setting standards. We are achieving excellence, too, at a low cost," he added.

Impressed with the speed of construction, the Government of India allotted an additional Rs.600 crores for the project for financial year 2003-04 - up from Rs.1,100 crores to Rs.1,700 crores. "This is a big indicator of how fast work is progressing," said S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). "We are looking for Rs.2,000 crores" for 2004-05, he added.

The project involves the construction of two VVER-1000 Russian reactors at Kudankulam facing the sea in the Gulf of Mannar, 40 km from Nagercoil, in Radhapuram taluk in Tirunelveli district. Each reactor will generate 1,000 Mwe using enriched uranium as fuel and light water as both coolant and moderator. (VVER in Russian stands for voda, voda energy reactor. Voda in means water.)

NPCIL will execute all the gigantic civil and electrical work connected with the reactors. The Russian Federation will supply the reactor design, equipment and components such as the reactor pressure vessel, turbines, generators, nuclear steam supply systems and the core-catcher. These are now under manufacture in various industries in Russia.

Anil Kakodkar, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and Secretary, DAE, characterised the Kudankulam reactors as "an additionality to our domestic programme". He pointed out that the domestic nuclear electricity programme was entrenched in "the commercial domain" with the indigenous Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) technology having "matured".

The Kudankulam project has had a chequered history. On November 20, 1988, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for the construction of two VVER-1000 units at Kudankulam. It was to be a turnkey project - the Soviet Union providing the design, bringing in all the equipment and fuel and constructing the reactors too. The spent fuel was to be taken to the Soviet Union. But the project proved a non-starter because of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Differences over the rouble-rupee payment ratio stalled the project further. In the early 1990s, the then AEC Chairman M.R. Srinivasan tried hard to revive it. Finally, it came alive with the signing of a supplementary agreement to the IGA in New Delhi on June 21, 1998, by Russian Minister for Atomic Energy Yevgeny Adamov and AEC Chairman and DAE Secretary Dr. R. Chidambaram.

The terms of the supplementary contract were radically different from those of the IGA. Under it, the Russians were to provide the reactor designs and supply the equipment. NPCIL would build the reactors. A team of Russian specialists would stay at the site to render technical assistance at all stages of construction, in the installation of reactor equipment and in the commissioning and operation of the reactors until the final takeover by NPCIL's operators. Russia would supply enriched uranium for the entire life of the reactors. This clause was a fallout of India's bitter experience with the United States vis-a-vis the two reactors it built at Tarapur - the U.S. terminated the agreement to supply enriched uranium fuel to the reactors. Unlike in the IGA, India would keep the spent fuel with it. The reactors would come under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards; IAEA inspectors would visit the plant periodically to check whether there is diversion of fissile material for making bombs.

About thousand acres (400 hectares) of uninhabited and uncultivated land was acquired on the coast and the site is big enough to accommodate six reactors. Another 400 acres (160 ha) was acquired at Chettikulam, about 10 km away, for constructing residential quarters for NPCIL employees. Soon work on the project began under the stewardship of Vijay Kumar Chaturvedi, the then Chairman and Managing Director of NPCIL. (The Anu-Vijay township at Chettikulam is named after him.) The bhoomi puja was performed in October 2001 with Jain and Agrawal present.

Present at the first pour of concrete, on March 31, 2002, was a distinguished line-up of former AEC chairmen - M.R. Srinivasan, P.K. Iyengar, R. Chidambaram, Anil Kakodkar, V.K. Chaturvedi and S.K. Jain - besides the Russian delegation headed by E.A. Reshetnikov and the top brass of NPCIL.

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NPCIL awarded four contracts in the form of mega-packages for project construction. The first package, for the construction of the reactor buildings of the two units, was awarded to Hindustan Construction Company Limited (HCCL). Simplex Concrete (Pile) Limited bagged the second contract, for the construction of the turbine buildings and safety-related structures. HCCL again won the contract for the construction of the breakwater dyke, sea water intake structures and the pumphouse. Larsen and Toubro won the contract for the fourth package, for constructing auxiliary buildings. Lee and Muirhead, Mumbai, has been entrusted with the transportation of all the equipment from Russia by sea to the mini-port. They have sub-contractors, Reshamsingh and Co.Private Limited, Mumbai, and Bertling, U.K., and have already ferried by ship the two core-catchers and other equipment.

ON March 12, the project site was bustling with activity, as a Frontline team found out. Masonry, welding, painting and grid-blasting were going on and tower-cranes were moving heavy equipment to place them in position. Machines were pouring concrete into seven-metre-tall pillars, excavators were digging up earth and pipelines were being laid.

The core-catcher has been installed in the reactor building of Unit 1. Said M.S. Suresh, Engineer-in-Charge (Reactor Building-1), KKNPP, NPCIL: "We placed it in position just three days back (March 9). It is made of steel and weighs 101 tonnes." It is held in place by massive nuts and bolts. Kanpur Engineering and Construction Company did the installation. In the case of a severe accident, the molten uranium fuel core from the reactor pressure vessel will fall into the core-catcher through a funnel and the radioactive fuel will remain there. It is so designed that the radioactive fuel will not fall on the floor of the reactor building and contaminate it. "The catcher is like a basket. (In case of a severe accident), it will hold the fuel life-long and the fuel will be cooled. The emergency core cooling system will be activated and the area around the core-catcher will be flooded with water.

In Reactor Building-1, construction of the 1.2-metre-thick inner containment wall was in progress. There will be an outer containment wall as well. This "dome within dome" will prevent radioactivity from escaping into the atmosphere. A pre-stressed cable passes horizontally through the innards of the reactor building's circular wall to prevent concrete from cracking.

Near the reactor building a tower crane is at work, moving heavy equipment into place. "The crane arrived from the Tarapur Atomic Power Project on 59 trailers and we assembled it here," revealed M.I. Joy, Site Planning Engineer, KKNPP. "It can be configured to different boom lengths. It can lift 800 tonnes of equipment at nine metres' length and 650 tonnes at 15 metres."

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Some distance away from the reactor building is a fabrication shop for welding the liners - plates made of carbon-steel - that have arrived from Russia. Each plate is 9.1 metres long and 5.8 metres wide. Some are sized 13.2 metres by 5.8 metres. Each liner (plate) weighs seven to eight tonnes. The liners are "a critical component" that would be embedded on the inner containment wall, said E. Chinnaveeran, Engineer-in-Charge, Reactor and Nuclear Steam Supply System Erection. "These liners are used for the first time in our country. While the containment wall itself offers protection, the liner is an additional protection because stress and pressure requirements (in the reactor building) are high," said Chinnaveeran. The welded plates are subjected to ultrasonic resting and vacuum box testing for leak tightness.

According to R. Balachandran Mohan, executive (fabrication), HCCL, 14 liner segments are needed to make a circular ring and seven rings are required for lining the wall and the dome of each reactor. "We are embedding the steel plates into the concrete wall. The entire assembly will be designed and welded to form a cylindrical ring," he said. Liners are also used on the floor of the reactor building.

The turbine buildings to house the turbines and the generators are coming up fast and on completion will stretch 45 metres into the sky. Three hundred massive pillars of different sizes in the basement will support each turbine building, which is 94 metres long and 57 metres broad. "At 15.6 metres elevation (from the ground), we have the operating floor, where the turbines and generators will be erected," said S. Kalirajan, Engineer-in-Charge, Turbine Building-1. "Beyond 15.6 metres height, there will be no floors. Only external walls will go up." Two cranes would be installed permanently to handle the equipment during the installation and subsequent maintenance, Kalirajan added.

According to A.K. Kundu, assistant general manager, Simplex Concrete (Pile) Limited, and Debasis Sarcar, project manager, their company won the contract for Rs.142 crores for the construction of the turbine buildings, the diesel generator buildings, underground tunnels and the new fuel storage building. "We fill concrete to seven metres' height for pillars in one stretch so that the concrete does not lose quality," Kundu said.

The pumphouses, by themselves staggering in their dimensions, and their associated structures are called hydrotechnical structures. K. Majumdar, site-in-charge of HCCL for the pumphouse for the first unit, said the construction of hydrotechnical structures bagged by his company was the largest civil contract of NPCIL. The work order was valued at Rs.348.92 crores.

In a nuclear reactor, thermal energy (heat) is generated by nuclear fission reaction. This heat converts water into steam in the steam generators. This steam drives the turbine-generator to generate electricity, which is wheeled into the grid. The unused heat in the turbine (66 per cent of the total heat) is discharged in the condenser, which is cooled by a water system. This is called the condenser-cooling system. At Kudankulam, the cooling water will be drawn from the sea by pipelines. The water that has cooled the condenser is discharged back into the sea. While the sea water that will be sent in has a temperature of 32Celsius, the water discharged back into the sea will be hotter by five degrees. This is well within the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board's stipulated maximum difference of 7C aimed at protecting the fish population in the sea.

In fact, the fish protection facility at the project is unique. At the place where the intake concrete pipelines are laid on the seabed, compressors create an air-bubble curtain and waves on the ocean surface. So the fish will move up and float on the surface and not go down to enter the pipeline. These fish are then thrown out further into the sea by hydraulic ejectors. Said R.R. Kamath, Engineer-in-Charge, Hydrotechnical Structures: "Thus the system provides for the protection of fish species. This fish protection facility was qualified by an actual test in a small facility in Russia."

"Each unit (reactor) will need 2.5 lakh cubic metres of sea water an hour for cooling the condenser," said Kamath. The Gidroproekt Institute, a reputed Institute in Moscow, designed the cooling water system for Kudankulam after studying several variants, he said. The intake water will be taken 1.2 km from the shore by concrete pipelines laid on the seabed at a depth of 12 metres. This water will be brought to the pumphouse on the shore by gravity. Giant pumps will pump this water up to the condensers in the turbine buildings. After the condensers are cooled, the resultant water will be discharged at zero metres depth on the shore landfall itself so that it will travel some distance in the sea before it mixes with sea water. "Thus the mixing characteristics will be good (and there will be no harm to the fish)," said Kamath. An innovative feature of the cooling water system is the breakwater dyke built 300 metres from the shore. The dyke has two arms, each 900 metres long and 250 metres apart. The 300-metre gap from the shore is to ensure free flow of sedimentation so that the ecology is not affected. The intake water pipes are laid on the seabed below the dyke. The area set off by the dyke resembles a swimming pool. About 30 lakh tonnes of rock was dumped into the sea for constructing the dyke. Besides, 35,000 tetrapods, made of concrete and weighing five, 13 and 20 tonnes were cast at the project site and placed in the sea to create the dyke.

Agrawal explained that the dyke was meant to prevent the cool intake water and the hot discharged water from mixing in the sea. (Otherwise, the mixed hot water will enter the intake pipelines). Steel sheet piles have been hammered into the seabed for a distance of 500 metres on both the arms of the dyke to prevent the hot and cold water from mixing, said Kamath. A huge area of the sea was dewatered to enable the construction of the intake structures. The dewatered seabed still looks green. Joy said that 14 pumps, each of 100 horsepower, worked for three months to dewater the area.

The first unit of the project is expected to reach criticality in March 2007, in just five years from the first pour of concrete. Kudankulam is truly setting standards.

`We are going to fulfil the demand'

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Interview with BSNL Chairman and Managing Director V.P. Sinha.

Vijayendra Prasad Sinha, Chairman and Managing Director of the telecommunications giant Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), believes in performance, and his aversion to pontification comes out clearly within a few minutes of interaction with him.

The 59-year-old technocrat is one who has gone through the mill. An engineering graduate from Patna University, Sinha joined the Indian Telecommunications Service Group `A' on March 1, 1968. He specialised in transmission and has served in all its branches, namely, Open Wire Carrier, Coaxial, VHF, UHF, Microwave, Optical Fibre and Satellite Communication. He was actively involved in the finalisation of the hardware and software for STEP (Satellite Telecommunication Experimental Project). He has served in a number of circles in the capacity of General Manager and handled Operations and Development and gained vast experience in planning and networking telecommunications. He later became Chief General Manager, Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

He received training in Planning and Rural Communications from the erstwhile Telecom Australia under a scheme of the United Nations Development Programme. He has worked at DoT Headquarters as Deputy Director-General (Rural Network) and as Senior Deputy Director General (LTP) and was then deputed to BSNL as Senior Deputy Director-General (Transmission). He has been a member of International Telecommunication Union delegations to Geneva, Lisbon, ADB (Manila) and CIDA (Canada). He was the Chairman of Study Group on Alliance for Public Technology (Bangkok) for the Study Cycle 2000-2002.

As Director (Commercial and Marketing), BSNL Board, Sinha has interacted extensively with regulatory authorities on issues relating to interconnection, licensing and universal service plans. As Director (Planning and New Services), Sinha's development plans for BSNL include 15 million GSM lines and three million CDMA connections by the end of 2004-05.

Sinha took over as the CMD of BSNL on January 1, managing the overall affairs of the company. Excerpts from an interview he gave R.C. Rajamani:

There have been media reports that BSNL is going to challenge Bharti Telecom for the top cellular slot. How are you going to do it?

There is nothing like challenging anybody. Our demand is there and we are going to fulfil the demand. We are already in the first place in our licence areas. Delhi and Mumbai are not in our licence areas.

How do you plan to make the services cheaper so that you reach the poorer sections?

There is a limit to which we can go. We have to see the operational cost and effects. Whatever is possible, we will certainly do.

Do you see cellular phones completely wiping out landline at some point of time?

Not in the least. Fixed lines have got their own advantages. We can provide rich services on broadband. The reach and power of landline will be known when we roll out the broadband. Cellular cannot completely replace the landline, not to speak of wiping it out.

Do you have any foreign collaboration?

We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Korea for broadband deployment. We are open to more such collaborations in the future.

Do you have plans to list BSNL in the market?

It is up to the government to decide. We are not listed with the stock exchanges as yet. Since BSNL is 100 per cent government-owned, only the government can decide.

What are the advantages of being listed with the stock exchanges?

Nothing much really. But, it will add to the company's credibility - that it is listed with the stock exchanges.

You are not new to the organisation. How do you assess its performance so far and what are your priorities?

Since its inception BSNL has been improving its performance. Stability is its brand identity, for landline as well as mobile. BSNL has shown the industry how to lead the way. In landline we had added 50-70 lakh connections per annum till 2002. Since the launch of our mobile in 2002, we have captured over 22 per cent of the market share. BSNL's mission is to provide telecom service of world-class technology at affordable prices to its customers. We have plans to introduce broadband services throughout India. A beginning has already been made by launch of commercial services in Bangalore. We would like to lead the convergence era. We are equipped with state-of-the-art technologies and are providing world-class voice and data services to our customers.

Until recently your organisation was the only one to cater to the communication needs of the people and in that sense enjoyed monopoly. How do you view the change in the situation following the entry of private players and how do you propose to reorient your strategies to meet the changed situation?

BSNL is far ahead of its rivals in basic services, claiming nearly a 85 per cent share of the subscriber base and over a 90 per cent share in terms of revenue. Its penetration can be gauged by the steadily rising number of subscribers in both urban and rural areas, not only for fixed line telephone but also for its mobile, Internet and other services. The number of landlines has registered a quantum jump from 21.6 million to around 35.5 million over the past years. The number of landlines added during this period is almost equal to what was added over the previous five decades and more in cellular; BSNL is clearly the leader in its area of operation. In Internet service, BSNL has achieved a formidable lead over other competitors.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a public sector enterprise and do you feel the need for any special assistance from the government to meet the challenges from the private sector?

Our strength is our workforce, experience and customer trust that we have built up over the years. Customer care is an important element in the management strategy. We have initiated several measures to raise the quality of customer care to international standards. The motto of BSNL is "Connecting India".

How do you propose to reach rural and remote areas in order to achieve 100 per cent connectivity?

The major challenge I see is the front-end interface and, of course, support from the government for our development in rural network. BSNL has covered more than 500,000 villages out of total a of 600,000 villages. All unapproachable villages are being connected through Wireless in Local Loop (WLL) connectivity and satellite connectivity. With the coverage on highways and rail routes, thousands of villages across the country are covered with GSM (mobile) connectivity.

Technological advances are taking place rapidly in the telecom sector. How is BSNL gearing itself to keep pace with these?

The telecom market in India is experiencing a major shift in the customer base from the fixed wire basic telephone to cellular telephone customers, driving down the earnings per line and creating a substantial churn in the customer base of the basic service telecom operators. Despite the declining net profit consequent to the declining tariff regime and increasing costs due to corporate wage restructure, BSNL is fully committed to implementing the customer-oriented tariffs in order to pass on the benefits of telecom growth to the people of India. The company plans to install one hundred crore telephones during the current financial year, including CDMA and GSM services. Exploiting its experience and the spread of its network, BSNL is all set to roll out broadband services too. International long-distance, audio and video-conferencing facilities, wire line SMS services, Stand-alone Signaling Transfer Points (SSTP), Next Generation Network, and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)/Certification Authority (C.A.) are some of the segments in which the company is planning to change the rules of the game. Focussing on better customer service, nearly 3,300 customer care centres with specially trained employees have been set up across the country.

`We want to show the world that we can deliver'

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Interview with S.K. Agrawal, Project Director, KKNPP.

S.K. Agrawal, Project Director of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP), brings to his myriad tasks a rare finesse, be it in managing personnel, dealing with designs or erection of equipment.

With a bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Roorkee (now Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee), he joined the 18th batch of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) Training School at Trombay near Mumbai in 1974-75 for a year's training in nuclear engineering. He then joined the Power Projects Engineering Division of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), which later became Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). He began his career as a Design Engineer for nuclear power plants and was associated with the design, construction and commissioning of several Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor-type nuclear power plants in the country.

When India signed the Inter-Governmental Agreement with the Soviet Union on November 20, 1988, for the construction of two units of the Russian VVER-1000 at Kudankulam, Agrawal was selected to join the techno-commercial negotiations. But the project almost fell through because of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It was revived after 10 years, in June 1998, and Agrawal was made the Head of the Representation of the First International Office of NPCIL, which was set up in Moscow. In Russia, he was associated with the preparation of the Detailed Project Report (DPR) and the Preliminary Safety Analysis Report for the KKNPP, including the techno-commercial offer. Based on these inputs, the final negotiations were held with the Russians and the project was sanctioned by the Government of India. In October 2001, Agrawal, now 51, took over as the Director of the KKNPP.

Excerpts from an interview he gave T.S. Subramanian in his office at the KKNPP site on March 13.

On March 31, it will be two years since the first pour of concrete for the construction of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project. Where does the project stand now? What are the milestones achieved in the last two years?

In the last two years, we made good progress by reaching the first two milestones fast. This was done with the aim that if we got a good start, we would be ahead of schedule even if some problems cropped up on the way. The first milestone was the first pour of concrete. It was supposed to take place in May 2002. This schedule itself was very tight. But we advanced it by two months. This is a record in the sense that the contractor could mobilise the resources, do the qualification of the concrete, pass all the stringent requirements of NPCIL and pour the concrete on March 31. Another important milestone was the laying of the raft, that is, the foundation of the reactor building, which, according to the Russians, takes seven months to complete. We did this in 93 days. Put together, we were ahead of schedule by six months for the first unit.

There was supposed to be a gap of one year between Unit 1 and Unit 2. We said to ourselves, "Why should there be a gap of one year when the resources are available? Why can't we put some resources in Unit 2?" That was how work on Unit 2 also started practically in parallel. Today, the phase difference between the two units is just two to three months.

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This was a good start, and we went very well thereafter. But difficulty arose with working documentation, which was to arrive from the Russian designers. But I shall not blame the Russian designers for not supplying the designs in time because the project was racing ahead of schedule by six months and consequently there was pressure on them to advance their drawings and documents. They tried their level best but even today they are not able to match our speed. Even now we are waiting for working documentation... and with it the progress would have been much, much more. To that extent, I am satisfied, and yet not satisfied.

The Union Department of Power wants NPCIL to add more power to the grid during the Tenth Plan that ends on March 31, 2007. S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director of NPCIL, is confident that Kudankulam's first unit will attain criticality before March 2007. Are you confident you can do that?

As things are moving today, I must say that in the last joint coordination committee meeting, the Russians appreciated and took serious note of the question of supplying the working documents and the equipment in time for construction and erection. This has given us hope that construction activities will not be held up in the next two to three months for want of working documents. We are geared up for that stage. What the CMD has promised, we are committed to that. Being an international project, it is not a question of meeting only the 10th Plan target. We want to show the world that we can deliver the goods.

What equipment are yet to arrive from Russia? The huge core-catcher has arrived... .

This is a gigantic project. The entire supply of all the major equipment that will go into this is from the Russian Federation. This is because the soft loan extended by the Russian government is in the form of the supply of material. The more we buy, the more we utilise the credit. Sometimes the question is asked: "Are we not capable of making the equipment?" Yes, we are capable of that because we have manufactured all the equipment for our indigenous nuclear power plants. But it is a question of financial management also.

The quantum of material is huge. The piping; the special doors; the fire doors (exit); the carbon-steel liner plates and the stainless steel plates, which are for the wall and floor lining, and containment; the gigantic tanks 12 to 15 metres high, which come under the category of ODC (over dimensional consignment); the huge core-catcher, which we are installing for the first time at Kudankulam, all have to come from Russia. The core-catcher has arrived. The nuclear components, which are critical for us, will soon arrive. They include the steam generators, which are very big; the reactor pressure vessel, which will be the largest equipment; the turbine and the generator and so on. The generator weighs 380 tonnes.

General Electric of the United States built the two reactors at Tarapur on a turnkey basis. The Canadians later built the first reactor at Rajasthan. DAE personnel were associated with both the Americans and the Canadians. You are now working with the Russians. What is the difference in approach and style among them?

I was in school when the Tarapur Atomic Power Project was being built (in the mid-1960s). I had joined the Department when the Canadians were winding up the Rajasthan Atomic Power Project. But some of the Canadians continued to work with us and I interacted with them.

The Kudankulam project implementation closely follows the philosophy of the Rajasthan project - the Canadians supplied all the design and material. It was like technical cooperation, not turnkey.

The Russians' style of working is different and it has its plus and minus points. The kind of fear and control (associated) with the old USSR - if a person makes a mistake or deviates from the responsibility given to him, the punishment can be severe. Each person had a well-defined role to play. A person has to do this. For doing it, he will have the input and data, and he has to give the output. This approach does not work in a building project. When you want to speed up, you will have to handle all kinds of dynamic situations. You have to take certain decisions even if the input data are not available. As a designer and an engineer, you have to assume those data and go ahead. This kind of approach is not there (with the Russians). It will be difficult for them to change unless the written guidelines are changed. The old generation of Russians may not find it easy to change. The new generation of Russian designers may not bother about procedures like these. They may deliver the goods, and we have seen that also. Of course, the old generation is experienced and especially good. We cannot underestimate their capability.

This fundamental difference in approach is delaying the working documentation... . To prepare a working document, you need input data. The input data means you have to order the equipment. Ordering the equipment means the entire process of ordering: the manufacturer makes the drawing; he makes the data, dimension and weight, and commits them to the designer. The designer then starts the work. So you can imagine whether there is scope for speeding up the work here... .

The approach is the same in construction. Everything is so defined that no decision needs to be taken at the site. If there is any deviation or problem, nobody will try to solve it at the site. They will refer it to the designer, who will take his time. The solution will be found, documents will be duly signed and everything is fine at the microscopic level; then they will go ahead with it.

This does not work here (in India)... . If a problem crops up, we sit down, discuss what to do, work out the best possible solution and go ahead. The Russians were not used to this. However, the Russians have now become as good as our people in taking decisions on the spot. This is the construction phase and we are now getting good cooperation from the Russians.

Have Indian operators gone to Russia for training on the VVER-1000 reactors because India's PHWRs are different from them?

The training of operation and maintenance personnel takes four to six years. This kind of a training programme was arranged for Indians, but it is impossible, especially the time taken, because we are experienced. We don't need that kind of a total, long training programme. So a strategy was worked out with the Russians.

There will be three phases. Phase A is imparting basic knowledge about nuclear power in general, and VVER in particular. Since we prepared the DPR and we know the VVER design and technology now, we said we could impart that knowledge to our operation staff. With that basic knowledge imparted here, Phase B training will be done in Russia. Depending on the background and level of the people, it may vary from three months to one year. Phase C is actually a classroom training in Russia with on-the-job training in an operating nuclear power plant. That is an important part of the training programme. People come back here and we provide them Phase D training. It is a long process in the sense that they will take part in the preparation and commissioning of the equipment (at Kudankulam).

By then, we shall have our own full-scale simulator and training centre. The building is almost ready. The simulator - which is the heart of the training centre - has been ordered. It may take a year and a half to arrive. Training in the simulator is the ultimate because it is a 100 per cent replica of the power station. What you see in the control room of the VVER-1000 unit, you will have it in the control room of the training centre. The hardware, the equipment, the rotors and so on will be simulated by a computer programme. You can create any scenario, any accident, any abnormal condition and see the reaction of the operator, and how he handles it. There will be an alarm, and all kinds of things will start ringing in the control room. The teacher, who sits in a small cabin in the control room and creates the accident, will ask the operator to describe the accident. The operator will reply, "LOCA (loss of coolant accident) has occurred." The teacher will assess whether his responses are good, answers are good and whether there is spontaneity in his handling of the situation. So this is the ultimate. Thus, the biggest portion of this training programme takes place in India and a limited portion in Russia.

We are also training some of our staff as teachers. Personnel of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) will form part of the training programme. The entire gamut is planned well.

Will the Russians be building more reactors at Kudankulam? The terms of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) prevent the Russians from selling us more reactors because we have not acceded to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Dialogue is on between the two countries about additional units. But the requirements of the Nuclear Suppliers Group/nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty remain. So the situation is this: Russia is willing to sell more reactors. As regards the United States or any other country, if you see their statements in the recent past, there is a kind of shift or softening of the stand as far as peaceful uses of nuclear energy are concerned. If you think that is any clue... the Russian Minister, who was here, was hopeful when he told the press that after these two units are built, the world will know how safe and efficient these reactors are, and he was confident that more units will be built.

Although many of those who gave land for the project have been given jobs in NPCIL, the local MLA, M. Appavoo, has been saying that not all those who gave land have been employed.

I do not like to get into a dialogue about what a public representative says. I can talk about what we are doing. We are giving preference to land-losers and the local people. The Government of India has set some norms. They should be within a certain age limit and have certain minimum qualifications. One has to meet them even to be called for the test/interview. The land was acquired in 1988. There are many land-losers. Their kith and kin have grown up. So they are not eligible according to the criterion of age unless there is a policy change. People do not understand this. They ask, "So and so is a land-loser? Why don't you give him a job?"

When a land-loser meets the basic criteria such as recruitment norms and age, he gets an entree for selection. His capability factor comes in. People argue, "What skill is required for doing a helper's job? You can recruit anybody." But I would say that grooming a technical person is easier than setting right the attitude of the less educated. We do look at their attitude. After all, he is going to work for long with us. We see whether a person is sincere and his attitude and approach are right. If a land-loser meets these criteria for these kinds of jobs, he will straightway get a job.

There are people here writing letters to newspapers, preferring complaints and going to courts (about jobs), forgetting that for any single vacancy, 10 people apply. The recruitment process is like this: you first go through a written test. If the number of people who applied is 5,000, reduce it to 500 persons (who have scored top marks in the test). Interviewing 500 persons itself is a big job and you reduce it to 50. People ask, "I wrote the test. How can you reject me?" Qualifying for the written test is also on a 10:1 ratio. So, for every one person selected nine others are dissatisfied. These nine persons allege that injustice has been done to them. But it does not mean that if you are rejected once, you are rejected forever. They do not have the patience to wait for the next opportunity. Some people who want to take advantage of this situation catch hold of these persons and exploit them.

The process at NPCIL is absolutely clear and transparent. Anybody is free to come in and look at how the entire process is done and also talk to the selected people. It is easy to find out whether there is truth in what they say... (that they got the jobs) with nothing to spend from their pocket. The application form cost Rs.2, but (unscrupulous) people printed these forms and sold them for Rs.100 and collected lakhs of rupees. So we decided that this should be stopped. So we photocopied these forms and kept them in stacks in village panchayat offices. We publicised that there is no need for people to buy application forms from anybody.

You made the application forms available in panchayat offices?

Yes... Some agencies opened in Nagercoil, and even in far-off places such as Thuckalay and even in the Madurai area. I read about them in the newspapers. But they were `professionals'. They knew how to perform gimmicks. Lakhs and lakhs of rupees, crores I would say, were collected. So we did some hectic campaigning. For every recruitment, we called the press and told them about the entire process, and that if anybody approached (the candidates with the promise of getting him a job), they could contact so and so, and we gave the phone numbers.

We requested the electronic media also to give as much coverage as they could - that people could approach NPCIL directly. This definitely helped. Today, I don't see anybody complaining.

People ask, "Who is a local?" A local does not mean that he is from the nearby Kudankulam and Chettikulam villages. Jobs for the locals means that recruitment will be done from the entire district, and also the State of Tamil Nadu. So far we have recruited about 350 persons. Barring three or four persons, the rest of them are from Tamil Nadu. The majority of them are from Tirunelveli district. Of them, the majority is from Radhapuram taluk (where the KKNPP is located).

`Criticality by March 2007 is our aim'

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Interview with S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, NPCIL.

S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), is proud that the Union government has made a budget outlay of Rs.1,700 crores to the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) for the financial year 2003-04. This means an additional Rs.600 crores to the original outlay of Rs.1,100 crores. "This is a big indication of how fast the work is going on at Kudankulam," said Jain. The first unit is six months ahead of schedule in construction activities. Construction of the second unit is also racing ahead of schedule.

Jain, 55, took over as the CMD of NPCIL on January 3 from V.K. Chaturvedi, who was instrumental in starting the simultaneous construction of nine nuclear reactors in different parts of the country. NPCIL is a public sector enterprise of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and is responsible for setting up nuclear electricity stations. NPCIL at present operates 14 nuclear reactors in the country, which together generate 2,770 MWe. These reactors worked at 90 per cent capacity in 2003-04. NPCIL plans to add about 4,000 MWe to the national grid by 2008.

Before taking over as the CMD of NPCIL, Jain was its Senior Executive Director (Light Water Reactors) and was responsible for the construction of the two Russian reactors at Kudankulam. Excerpts from an interview he gave T.S. Subramanian on March 30:

You had said, in an interview to Frontline in January, that the Kudankulam project is close to your heart. How do you assess the work going on there?

The work at Kudankulam is progressing fast. The Government of India had made a budget outlay of Rs.1,100 crores for the Kudankulam project for the financial year 2003-04. I have just received the news that the government has allotted Rs.1,700 crores for the project for 2003-04 - this is 50 per cent more than the budget outlay. At the beginning of every financial year, we prepare a budget (for each nuclear power project under construction), and it is approved by the Government of India. If the project goes fast and uses up the allotted funds, the Government of India allots more money. At the mid-way planning review for the Kudankulam project we found that we were progressing fast. So we approached the government to allocate additional funds. We had already spent Rs.1,700 crores. Today is the penultimate day of this financial year. So in 2003-04, as against the budget outlay of Rs.1,100 crores, we have been allocated Rs.1,700 crores. This is a big indication of how fast the work is going on at Kudankulam. The government has sanctioned Rs.1,700 crores because the project is going on really fast.

How much money have you asked for the Kudankulam project for the financial year 2004-05?

I am looking for Rs.2,000 crores for 2004-05. Are you confident you will get it? I am confident.

How fast is the work progressing at Kudankulam?

On the construction front, we are moving fast. The amount of concrete used in the project itself is an indication of how fast the work is progressing. In our PHWR (Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor) construction projects, we use about 10,000 cubic metres of concrete in a month. At Kudankulam, we use about 30,000 cubic metres. We want to continue at this speed and would like to do 45,000 cubic metres of concreting a month. This is a phenomenal rate of progress.

On the equipment side, the manufacture of the reactor equipment is going on in the Russian Federation. I am happy to share with you the information that the manufacture of all components for the nuclear steam supply system (NSSS) is nearing completion. All the components of the NSSS will be ready by October.

As far as the turbine is concerned, it has been assembled on the test bed and rolled with steam. This is the Russian practice. They assemble the turbine on the test stand, roll it with steam and check whether it meets all requirements (such as vibration, bearing temperature and the alignment of the shaft). We do it in a different way in India. We don't roll the turbine. It was test-rolled in the Russian Federation in the first week of March. It is being assembled and it will be despatched to Kudankulam. This is a milestone in equipment fabrication. The company that manufactured the turbine is Leningradsky Metallichesky Zavod. It is in St. Petersburg.

The condenser and other equipment are in an advanced stage of fabrication. We are prepared to receive all the equipment at Kudankulam. The core-catcher has already arrived and it has been erected in the reactor building of the first unit. It was a thrilling moment for us.

The Kudankulam project is a landmark agreement between India and Russia. For the Russian Federation, the schedule is to be completed in 67 months, that is, in five years and seven months. But we are making all serious efforts to see that the first unit reaches criticality in five years (from the first pour of the concrete, that is, in March 2007). So far, things are moving towards the target. The project team at Kudankulam is highly motivated.

Our civil contractors are facing a difficult time because of a phenomenal increase in the price of steel. In the last one year, steel price has gone up by 40 per cent. Owing to increased industrial activity, the availability of skilled manpower has become difficult. Cement prices have gone up. Our contractors such as Hindustan Construction Company, Larsen and Toubro, and Simplex Concrete Piles (India) are doing a good job against all odds. We are seeing whether we can compensate them.

The Environmental Survey Laboratory (ESL) was inaugurated at the Kudankulam township on February 29, 2004, by Anil Kakodkar, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. I was present on the occasion. The ESL at Kudankulam has started doing its work three years before the first unit is to reach criticality. They are doing an extensive study of the flora, flauna, soil, water and so on over a 30-km radius around the Kudankulam plant for radioactivity content.

When will the 4th unit (540 MWe) at Tarapur start generating electricity?

We have reached the milestone of commissioning the water systems for condenser cooling, reactor auxiliary cooling and balance of plant systems. The entire electrical system in the control room has been commissioned and is operational. Integrity tests of the primary heat transport equipment are going on to see that the design requirements are met. We had planned to do the hydro-testing of the primary heat transport circuit in the third or fourth week of April. We shall do it in the first week itself. This is a clear signal for hot-commissioning of the equipment. This will give us the real feel for going ahead with criticality.

The fourth unit at Tarapur, which will generate 540 MWe, will reach criticality in September or October. (The third unit, also of 540 MWe capacity, will be commissioned later).

Have you decided on the location for 700 MWe reactors? The site selection committee has finalised its report.

We are clear that the 700 MWe indigenous PHWRs will come up only on the inland sites. The 1,000 MWe units will come up on coastal sites. The 500 MWe indigenous breeder reactors will come up mostly on the inland sites. We want to maximise the potential of the existing sites. They (the existing sites) have enough space to accommodate units with a total installation capacity of 15,000 Mwe.

At home in Kudankulam

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IT is 4 p.m. and Paul is enjoying his swim in the sea. He returns after a while, lolls on the sand and plunges into the waves again. He and the other Russian specialists at Kudankulam have taken to the sea as the best way to beat the heat. The beach at Kudankulam is "fantastic", declares Alexsander Kvasha, technical director, Atomstroyexport Russian Representation. He turns to his colleague Michael Valednicki and says, "Valednicki is a very good character. He is popular among the Indian specialists. They like him very much." And there is laughter all round. Valednicki does not know English and looks non-plussed, but grins when he learns that only good things are said about him.

Paul, Kvasha and Valednicki are among the 24 Russian specialists working at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) and seem completely at home there. They work hard, love the beach, and spend their evenings at their club and in the swimming pool. They go shopping at Nagercoil, 40 km away. Kvasha's wife has integrated herself completely with the local comminity. Says Project Director S.K. Agrawal: "Everyone in the township and even at the headquarters (in Mumbai) knows her. She is so popular because she is totally indigenised in dress. You have to see her to believe how elegantly she dresses in a sari. She has learnt Tamil too."

"Here we have a good atmosphere, an atmosphere of cooperation," said the tall, well-built Kvasha. He added: "The Russians and the Indians are clear in their consensus that we should build this project together. That is our one goal. We are really proud of our customer (India)."

Atomstroyexport Russian Representation will supply the reactors, components and fuel for the two reactors at Kudankulam. A leading Russian export-import joint stock company in the field of nuclear power engineering, it takes charge of organisation, coordination and fulfilment of obligations under Inter-Governmental Agreements and contracts to construct and commission nuclear power projects abroad. Besides Kudankulam, Atomstroyexport is involved in the Tianwan nuclear power plant in China, the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran and modernisation of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant in Bulgaria. Among its main Russian partners are Atomenergoproekt, a research, design and engineering survey institute, and the Kurchatov Institute, Moscow, a scientific and research centre supplying the working documents such as drawings and designs.

Valednicki is chief of general designer representation, Atomenergoproekt, and his main job is to ensure compliance with the written documentation, that is, the construction should be in tandem with the designs and drawings. Valednicki also provided explanations and consultations for the drawings issued by Kurchatov Institute. He said he was satisfied with the results achieved by the Indians so far in constructing the reactors.

Kvasha and Valednicki are proud of the Russian VVER-1000 reactors that are under construction at Kudankulam. "The VVER-1000 reactors have a rich heritage. They have a good ancestry. They have positive design aspects," said Kvasha. Practically all the nuclear electricity generated in France comes from VVER-type units, but the French "call it by some other name", he said.

Russia has sold two VVER-1000 units to China and they are being built at Tianwan. The agreement between Russia and China is practically the same as that between India and Russia. An important difference is that the Russian side is responsible for erecting the nuclear steam supply system of the two reactors in China. The Russians have hired a Chinese contractor to erect the nuclear steam supply system. "In India, the Indian side (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited) does slightly more work," Kvasha said.

Valednicki and Kvasha are hopeful of the Russian and Indian cooperation achieving more units at Kudankulam. "We shall be happy to work with our Indian colleagues again in this place."

Passion for safety

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"SAFETY has no holiday", announces a board at the entrance to the gigantic reactor building under construction at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP). At the turbine building the slogan goes, "Job of any kind, plan with safety in mind". At the massive pump house, too, where huge motors will pump thousands of gallons of sea water for cooling the condenser, there are posters on safety aspects. In fact, the magnificent obsession with safety won for KKNPP the Industrial Safety Award of NPCIL in 2002, its inaugural year. It is given for nuclear projects under construction and the assessment is done on the basis of fewer numbers of accidents, efforts aimed at training in safety and safety promotion activities. Among the contenders were projects being built at Rawatbhatta in Rajasthan, Kaiga in Karnataka, Tarapur in Maharashtra, and Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu. Project Director S.K. Agrawal received the award on September 27, 2003.

The motivation of the thousands of workers toiling at the site is at the root of this passion for safety. Competitions on safety are held for NPCIL employees and civil work contractors and their workers. They are encouraged to dream up skits, plays and songs highlighting safety.

Safety is embedded in the reactor systems themselves. The VVER-1000 type Russians reactors, which will be erected at Kudankulam, are among the safest in the world. Said A.I. Siddiqui, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications, NPCIL, and editor of Nu Power, a quarterly published by NPCIL: "The Kudankulam reactor has one of the safest new-generation designs. It has several inherent and engineered, both active and passive, safety features to meet abnormal conditions." The latest innovation is the addition of a core-catcher - a huge vessel weighing 101 tonnes, which will hold the highly radioactive molten uranium fuel core in the case of a serious accident such as the loss of coolant. The core-catcher will be surrounded by several lakh gallons of water. The Kudankulam reactors will also have the double-containment feature, which is a massive dome with two very thick concrete walls so as to prevent radioactivity from escaping into the environment. It is said this dome can withstand even the impact of an aircraft crashing onto it.

The wall of the inner containment has carbon steel liner (plates) and is designed to withstand extreme internal pressure and high temperatures. The space between the two containments and the space inside the reactor building are kept below the atmospheric pressure to prevent radioactivity leaking into the atmosphere. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has listed VVER-1000 among the world's best reactors. It uses light water (ordinary water) as both coolant and moderator, unlike the RBMK-type reactor, which uses graphite as moderator and boiling water as coolant. The reactor that suffered a meltdown at Chernobyl in April 1986 was of the RBMK type.

Michael Kvasha, technical director, Atomstroyexport, who works at Kudankulam, said that from unit to unit, VVER-1000 had additional safety features and systems. For instance, VVER-1000 built 15 years ago had three "channels" (barriers, the philosophy of safety-in-depth) for safety. "Now four channels are an obligatory requirement." The VVER-1000 reactors at Kudankulam would have "the most advanced safety devices", he said. One of these is the core-catcher, which NPCIL has started erecting at the first unit in Kudankulam. Said Kvasha: "It is a new feature. The core-catcher has been installed in very few power plants that we have constructed in the last few years." As the name implies, it is a huge vessel of steel, into which the highly radioactive molten fuel will fall in the case of an accident and fuel meltdown. The molten fuel will stay in the "catcher" forever, surrounded by water.

The VVERs also have passive safety systems, which would operate without human intervention, on the principles of gravitation, conduction and so on. No mechanical parts are involved in these passive safety systems. In any emergency, they would shut down the malfunctioning reactor and cool it by dumping thousands of gallons of water on it. VVER-1000 has evolved from variants such as V-187, V-338, V-320, V-413, V-392, and V-428. Of these, V-392 has the most advanced design features and it is this design that has been adopted into VVER-1000.

According to S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director of NPCIL, the V-392 (that is, VVER-1000) has a "negative power coefficient. It means that any abnormal increase in reactor power that could affect the safety of the reactor is self-terminating."

The Kudankulam reactors have adopted the design philosophy of "defence in depth" and have successive levels of safety so that failure of one does not impair the overall safety of the reactor. Said Siddiqui: "The reactor protective systems are 100 per cent quadruplicated, that is, four independent channels exist for such systems although one is sufficient for the protection of the reactor."

An unlikely scenario is the loss of coolant accident (LOCA). This means of loss of water, which is both coolant and moderator. A loss of coolant will hamper the removal of fission heat from the enriched uranium fuel core, which, in the absence of safety systems, can melt the core. In the absence of containment in such a situation, radioactivity can escape into the environment. The core-catcher is designed to "catch" the molten fuel in the event of a LOCA. The catcher is filled with bricks of ferrous oxide and aluminium oxide, which absorb the heat from the uranium (melting point 2,800Celsius) and melt in the process. Over a period of time, the molten fuel and the bricks form a lump.

Said Siddiqui: "The composition of these bricks and the design of the `melt fuel catcher' were decided after extensive research in one of the largest experimental facilities in the world, at the Kurchatov Institute in the Russian Federation. Millions of dollars are spent to carry out such experiments by a group of countries at this site."

Safety extends to training the operators who man the reactors. The operators are graduates in engineering. They undergo periodic training to sharpen their reflexes and responses in a crisis. They write tests and appear for interviews, conducted by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, at regular intervals to renew their licences for running the reactors. They are members of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), which came into being after the Chernobyl accident. In WANO, they exchange information about the safety practices of various reactors, the upgrading of their skills, innovations in reactors and so on.

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Oct 9,2020