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COVER STORY

04-06-2004

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Briefing

`BJP has been isolated'

cover-story

Interview with CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet is playing a crucial role in the formation of a secular coalition government at the Centre. This is not a new task for Surjeet who, in 1996, helped install the Deve Gowda government and, a year later, helped I.K. Gujral form a secular government. Surjeet has been emphasising that all major secular Opposition parties which have contributed to the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies, should help provide a stable alternative government. He says he has been trying to bring together groups that are interested in the economic well-being and social uplift of the people. Excerpts from an interview he gave Naunidhi Kaur:

The Left Front has secured its highest tally since Independence in the just concluded elections. What are the reasons for this historic win?

This win has been possible because we pursued correct policies. It is a result of our service to the people and dedication to their cause. It is a result of our consistent fight against imperialism.

Even before the elections you have been saying that Vajpayee will not be the Prime Minister again. When the results came were you surprised by the scale of the BJP's defeat?

No. I was not surprised by the magnitude of the BJP's defeat. It was our primary task to defeat the BJP and save the country from its deceptive politics. Our battle was against the Hindutva forces, guided by the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] and the BJP. The results showed that we have succeeded in our objective. The BJP has been isolated. In our campaigns we raised issues such as rural development and promotion of secular values. The results have shown that the people have realised the importance of these issues.

Could a secular front not have been formed before the elections?

It was not possible because of the differences among parties. In any case, our primary task at that point was to defeat the BJP. The urgency was to mobilise all forces that would help defeat the BJP. It is only after the results that we have given shape to the front.

In States such as Rajasthan, secular forces would have benefited if a pre-poll alliance had been forged with the Congress(I). There have been instances where the Congress(I) and the CPI (M) have cut into each other's votes.

That is because in many States, the Congress was not accommodative on seats. In any case, in such States we did not contest many seats. Had the Congress been accommodative, the situation would have been different. The results would have been as exemplary as elsewhere.

From 1998, the BJP has pursued policies that have been disastrous for the country. How would you ensure that the Congress(I) will implement only those policies that benefit the people at large and not the top 10 per cent?

The Congress party is being accommodative about economic policies. They have told us that they are not going to pursue economic policies started by the BJP. I met Manmohan Singh and he has assured me that the Congress is willing to be accommodative on economic policies.

But would the Congress be willing to scrap the Disinvestment Ministry?

Through this Ministry, the NDA has destroyed whatever industry there was in India. That is why we are pushing for a new department, which will offset the damage done by the Disinvestment Ministry.

What would the broad features of the CMP be?

The CMP would take care of the immediate needs of the Indian people - the working class, the peasantry and the middle-class employees. Some of the important issues are health care, education and roads. These would be a part of it. Andhra Pradesh has shown that this is what people vote for and want. There was a lot of talk about globalisation in that State. People have reacted against it. The result is for all to see. The CMP will be pro-poor.

Misreading the mandate

The Bharatiya Janata Party misses the real message of Verdict 2004 when it attempts to deny any credit to the Congress and attributes its defeat to local factors.

in New Delhi

THE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would require a greater degree of honesty than what it has displayed to understand the profound message of Verdict 2004. It tends to minimise the significance of the verdict by blaming the choice of alliance partners and the plethora of local factors that did not favour it. But a close look at the results would show that the BJP's losses are uniform. Even where the alliance did not matter, it suffered reverses, as in Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Andaman and Nicobar, Uttaranchal and Delhi. Where the alliance factor played a key role, the BJP's rout appears to be complete, as in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. In Orissa, where its ally, the Biju Janata Dal, was returned to power in the Assembly elections, the BJP's tally was two less than its 1999 tally. In Chhattisgarh, where it won the December 2003 Assembly elections, it lost one seat, as compared to its total sweep of the undivided Madhya Pradesh in 1999.

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The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) sought to advance the Lok Sabha elections with the plea that its `India Shining' campaign would pay the coalition rich electoral dividends. As it ran a pan-Indian campaign at the government's cost claiming that the nation was on the move, the illogical nature of the campaign became manifest. The government's so-called achievements benefited only the rich, and the upper middle class, and these sectors did not require any advertisement campaign to be reminded about their progress during the past five years. By contrast, the "India Shining" and "Feel Good" campaigns only served to remind the vast majority of the population that was left out of the reforms process that the government's `achievements' have not reached it, and this section did not want the NDA to have another term in office.

Verdict 2004 was also a comprehensive rejection of the BJP's hidden agenda. Although many commentators saw the BJP as a party that had matured and had diluted its divisive and majoritarian agenda in order to survive in power, the electorate was apparently not convinced. The BJP, on the eve of the elections, not only renewed its promise to build the Ram temple at Ayodhya through its Vision Document but also forced the NDA to include the promise in its manifesto, as if it was no longer a contentious issue. The electorate apparently did not trust the BJP's reticence on the abolition of Article 370, which guarantees special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and the enactment of a uniform civil code, over which there has been no political consensus. Despite its best efforts to woo the minorities, they remained alienated from the Vajpayee government, because of its reluctance to make the BJP in Gujarat accountable for the post-Godhra riots.

The BJP has accepted the position as the main Opposition party but not without questioning the basis of the mandate. Ever eager to spin every adversarial factor in its favour, it found interpreting the verdict a rather unpleasant exercise. "We agree the mandate was not in our favour; but it is not in favour of any other party or combination either," was BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu's first reaction to the election results.

His embarrassment was obvious. Having run a two-month-long campaign projecting Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the BJP's biggest asset and pointing out the "absence" of a similar "tall" leader in the Opposition camp, it was difficult to admit that the electorate rejected the NDA's unique selling point. Therefore, calling the mandate a `fractured one' - as Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had done - was the easiest thing to do in order to deny the Congress and its allies any credit.

It can be concluded that the electorate rejected not only the BJP's policies on various issues, but its claims to having the ability to provide a stable government under the leadership of Vajpayee. But for BJP leaders, any such interpretation of the mandate is anathema. Advani reasoned at a farewell tea-party he hosted for journalists at his residence on May 14: "If one looks at the results in totality, the BJP and the Congress are almost equal now." He said the results reinforced a "decade-old emerging bipolar reality".

No doubt, between the BJP's tally of 138 seats in the 14th Lok Sabha and the Congress' 145, there is a difference of just seven seats. Critics also point out that the Congress' tally stands closer to what it was in 1996, when it won 140 seats. At that time, it was believed that the ruling Congress, having lost its strength in the previous Lok Sabha, could not claim to have won the mandate. Hence, no one considered the Congress a serious contender for office.

Ironically, in 1996, the BJP's strength was much higher than what it is now: 161. Claiming to have won the people's mandate, Vajpayee accepted the President's invitation to form the government in 1996, but quit office within 13 days of being in power, after having failed to muster enough support to win the confidence vote. Both in the 1998 and 1999 elections, the BJP won about 20 seats more than what it secured in 1996, and qualified for the mandate because it could muster sufficient support from its allies.

As BJP leaders are ready to admit, it was the BJP's failure to sustain its erstwhile alliances and build new ones that caused the debacle. In Tamil Nadu, the BJP had no option but to ally with the terribly unpopular All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), following the desertion of its erstwhile allies, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK). The BJP needs to ask itself why these Tamil Nadu parties quit the NDA. They quit on their own, in view of the NDA's poor electoral prospects in Tamil Nadu, but the BJP was equally responsible for driving them away.

The immediate cause of the DMK's departure was Venkaiah Naidu's comment that the BJP's allies had no business to protest against the Central government's policies, while being part of the NDA. The DMK had staged a protest against the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) under which MDMK leader Vaiko was arrested.

Such a comment would have been unthinkable from Venkaiah Naidu, say, in 2002, when the allies felt free to criticise the BJP for its failure to act against the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat for the Godhra riots. The BJP then needed the allies' support not only for its continuance in office at the Centre but to blunt the Opposition's demand for Modi's ouster. As the Lok Sabha elections approached, the BJP was at the height of its `India Shining' campaign, and the extravagant claims and the hype it generated made the BJP over-confident.

The National Conference, Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janashakthi Party, the Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana, the Asom Gana Parishad, all quit the NDA for one reason or the other, or the BJP avoided any tie-up with them on the misguided advice of its State units. No wonder the BJP suffered a rout in Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar, Haryana, and Assam.

True, some of the allies such as the Trinamul Congress had quit the NDA and later returned to its fold, only to find that they were not treated with honour. This hardly helped to cement the alliance, especially in West Bengal, where the Trinamul Congress and the BJP equally suffered losses. In Jharkhand, the BJP's failure to strike an alliance with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha helped the Congress rope in the JMM and make electoral gains.

The Telugu Desam Party's rout in Andhra Pradesh and the BJP's own reverses in Gujarat may have nothing to do with each other, but it is possible to find a common theme in these. The TDP chose to support the NDA from outside, and steadfastly resisted overtures to join the Vajpayee government, with the hope that its stand would help to gain the support of minorities. For the record, the TDP opposed the continuance of the Narendra Modi government after the riots and hugely embarrassed the BJP during its National Executive meeting in Goa in 2002 when TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu made a public demand to replace Modi. The BJP not only ignored his demand but enjoyed Naidu's support during the entire term of the 13th Lok Sabha.

In Gujarat, the BJP takes comfort from the fact that its tally is higher than that of the Congress. It got 14 seats, as compared to the Congress' 12. But the fact that the BJP won five seats fewer than what it secured in 1999 was enough to initiate a debate within the party on the direction it should take now. Both the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have interpreted the BJP's debacle as the voters' rejection of its dilution of the Hindutva agenda in favour of issues of development and governance. In Gujarat, they point out, RSS-VHP volunteers avoided campaigning for the BJP.

However, the RSS-VHP's reasoning is hardly convincing if one considers the fact that Narenda Modi, as the chief campaigner in the State, was the symbol of Hindu consolidation in the recent past. Vajpayee avoided campaigning in Gujarat simply because the BJP felt `Moditva' would be sufficient to sweep the elections. Therefore, if Hindutva in the manner practised by Modi did not help the party, how could it have helped it elsewhere in the country? Just as the Ayodhya issue began to pay diminishing returns to the BJP in the post-demolition phase, the Gujarat riots and its aftermath have exposed the true face of the Modi government.

Despite this realisation, the BJP is unwilling to consider the Gujarat verdict an expression of a vote of no-confidence against the Modi government. BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan said: "The Supreme Court's strictures in the [Best Bakery] case may have come at the most inappropriate time for us, but there is no question of replacing Modi on this ground alone."

Modi's continuance in office despite the Supreme Court's indictment seems to have influenced Muslim voters in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. However, the BJP's effort to woo the minority community in the Hindi heartland is seen as a factor that alienated its upper-caste support base.

The BJP has been experimenting with the use of Hindutva in every election in various degrees. It has found that on balance it would be in the party's interest to play down the religious card during elections, when issues of governance dominate.

The BJP is most likely to use Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin as an issue involving Indian nationalism and culture. It finds the issue more potent than the other issues of Hindutva. The party's Rajya Sabha member Sushma Swaraj and her husband Swaraj Kaushal, also a Rajya Sabha member belonging to Haryana Vikas Party, have threatened to resign their memberships if Sonia Gandhi became Prime Minister. They said they would not step inside Parliament House as long as Sonia Gandhi held the post. The BJP endorsed their decision, saying it reflected the sentiments of millions of Indians. Sushma Swaraj even indicated that she would don white robes and tonsure her head from the day Sonia Gandhi was sworn in Prime Minister.

The RSS- BJP's overt support to her illegitimate demand only exposed its contempt for parliamentary norms and practices. Both Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharati and former BJP general secretary Govindacharya, appealed to the Congress and its allies to stop Sonia Gandhi from becoming Prime Minister and choose any other `Indian' instead. Govindacharya launched the Rashtriya Swabhiman Andolan (National Self-Respect Movement) to mobilise opposition to Sonia Gandhi becoming Prime Minister, which in his view amounted to "cultural suicide".

Clearly, Govindacharya's return to active politics, close on the heels of Vajpayee's resignation as Prime Minister, signifies that the BJP may no longer find virtue in moderation as a political strategy. As the second-line leaders within the BJP vied with one another to seize the opportunity in opposing Sonia Gandhi, the BJP's senior leaders even considered the option of boycotting her swearing-in ceremony to register their protest. The NDA decided to boycott the ceremony, even while allowing Vajpayee to attend it as part of tradition. However, collective boycott of her government in Parliament and outside would mean political suicide, the BJP leaders feel.

While launching the attack against Sonia Gandhi albeit under intense pressure from the Sangh Parivar, the BJP leaders point out that the Congress had not projected Sonia Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate because it knew that the electorate would not accept her. In fact, the Congress did not feel the need to project Sonia Gandhi, because it felt that it would be stating the obvious.

On the contrary, it could be said that there were several leaders within the BJP who sought to neutralise Vajpayee's charisma. Advani's 33-day Bharat Uday Yatra during the election campaign has already come under attack for diffusing the party's campaign. Advani's yatra took a huge chunk of the party's resources but hardly helped to consolidate the party's votes in the Hindi heartland. Advani, it is pointed out, not only forced Vajpayee to opt for early elections but indulged in a personal promotion campaign in the form of the rath yatra.

Whatever the truth, there is a feeling that Vajpayee should have been allowed by the BJP to complete his full term and contribute to the peace process between India and Pakistan. Early elections deprived him of any credit that would have been due to him. "My party and alliance may have lost, but India has won," Vajpayee told the nation in a televised address soon after the President accepted his resignation. As he bid goodbye to the nation detailing his achievements in office, Vajpayee was careful not to dwell on the reasons for the debacle. However, behind his reticence, a tinge of sadness was apparent.

The BJP used to claim that the party had several second-line leaders who could organise its election campaign across the nation much more effectively than the Congress, which depended on one individual, Sonia Gandhi. Whereas security concerns prevented Vajpayee from covering much distance, Sonia Gandhi had no such constraints. The BJP's second-line leaders, who `carpet-bombed' the entire nation simultaneously during the campaign with each leader visiting different areas, found themselves no match to Sonia Gandhi, with her unique campaign skills.

With inputs from Siddharth Narrain

`We will have to work hard to make CMP work'

cover-story

Interview with Jairam Ramesh.

As the Congress(I) gets ready to run the government with support from the Left parties, the biggest task it faces is the economic path it should follow. The defeat of the BJP-led coalition has made it clear that the people have rejected the NDA brand of economic reforms, which failed to improve the lot of the people. Reconciling the political and economic contradictions generated by the neoliberal path is going to be a major challenge especially because of the Left parties' distinct stand on economic reforms, which were originally initiated and carried forward by Congress regimes. Jairam Ramesh, secretary, All India Congress Committee and secretary of the party's economic affairs committee, agrees. "Co-habitation with the Left is going to be difficult," he tells Purnima S. Tripathi in an interview. Excerpts:

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The prospect of a Left-supported Congress government at the Centre has been viewed with some apprehension by the corporate world. What do you have to say on this?

The fears about a total policy reversal are totally unfounded; it is not feasible, it has never happened in the last 12 years. After the Congress government lost in 1996, the United Front government pursued the same policies during 1996-98 and then the NDA too took the same path. If at all any policy reversal happened, it happened during the NDA rule and within the NDA itself. So there is no reason to panic about a turnaround in the economic direction the country would take now. Besides, it was the Congress party that initiated the reforms. We are the architects of these reforms. But, yes, the Arun Shourie brand of mindless privatisation is certainly out. The emphasis would be on socially relevant privatisation. But there certainly would be no blanket assault on privatisation. We are of the opinion that the private sector and the public sector could happily co-exist. Take the power sector for example. There is a need for the public sector in generation and transmission, but in distribution, the private sector could be allowed.

So what essentially would be the policy direction of this government?

It would be growth-oriented, employment-oriented, investment-oriented and common man-oriented, along with liberalisation in the right direction.

But there could be differences between the Congress and the Left about what the right direction is? During the United Front government the Left parties, which were both inside and outside the government, had effectively stalled the Insurance bill.

Yes, there are apprehensions about the Left parties' role. Co-habitation is going to be difficult. Lots of adjustments would have to be made. All the more so because they look inclined to support the government from outside. The Left parties inside the government would be different from when they would be supporting from outside. In the latter case, they would be like loose missiles. We would prefer them inside the government.

What essentially are the areas of concern?

Basically privatisation and the public distribution system, as to how it should be run. Food security and labour reforms are other areas where there could be differences.

How does the Congress(I) plan to resolve these differences?

It will depend on the Common Minimum Programme. I hope the emphasis this time, unlike in 1996-98, is more on programme than on minimum. But we will have to work hard to make it work. Frankly speaking, I have seen the Left parties' manifesto and it might as well be our manifesto. There are no differences that cannot be surmounted. Besides, in today's world everyone has to be pragmatic and the Left parties, in the way they run their government in West Bengal, have proved themselves to be pragmatic. Moreover, it is not as though the Congress(I) has no concern for the poor people. We have all along advocated reforms with a human face.

What could be the new government's direction on issues like privatisation and disinvestment?

Our thrust would be co-existence of private and public sectors. Retain the public sector, give it freedom to innovate, and create the private sector work ethics in public sector environment. Allow them functional autonomy to operate as commercially viable units. [Former Finance Minister P.] Chidambaram's "Navratna" concept is a good model to follow. Disinvestment in the strategic sector is definitely out. But there could be areas, like power distribution, where the private sector should be allowed. The thrust would be on socially relevant selective privatisation and creative innovation in PSUs. For example, why can't the PSUs run like venture capitalists. There will have to be new ways of looking at the public sector. The state banks, for example, why can't they be given functional autonomy in recruitment and operations.

The most important factor that contributed to the defeat of the NDA was the agricultural crisis. What will the new government do about it?

It is wrong to say that agriculture was hit by reforms. Agriculture suffered because in the last decade or so, there has been no public spending in the agriculture sector, no improvement in infrastructure, no addition in irrigation facilities. Whatever public spending there was, it was by way of subsidy. We will have to increase investment on infrastructure in the agriculture sector.

Besides agriculture, what are the other areas crying for instant attention?

The unorganised sector, which has hardly got any attention so far. There is need to provide health insurance and social security to the unorganised sector.

A resurgent Left

The Left's re-emergence as a significant force at the Centre, with the highest number of seats in the Lok Sabha since Independence, owes a lot to its consistent campaign against communalism and neo-liberal economic policies.

in New Delhi

IN the run-up to the 14th Lok Sabha elections, the installation of a secular and pro-poor government was one of the prime objectives of the Left. The first part of the objective has been achieved with the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, the other has to be realised through a set of programmes and policies the new government will implement in the course of the next five years. Meanwhile, the Left parties, comprising the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), have decided not to join the government but to extend support to it from outside. Senior leaders of the CPI(M) said that any comparison with 1996, when the CPI(M) rejected the offer of the Prime Minister's post for Jyoti Basu, was untenable. At that time the Left, with a smaller mandate, was requested to lead the United Front government; now, it was asked to participate in a Congress-led government.

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Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M) Sitaram Yechury said: "With the understanding that there is a need for an alternative secular government, we are supporting the government from outside in order to thwart all attempts by the BJP to come back to power. It should also be realised that all the major seats contested by us were against the Congress. In West Bengal alone we were pitted against the Congress in 41 seats." Justifying the Left's decision to support the new government from outside, Polit Bureau member M.K. Pandhe said: "There is no guarantee that the Congress will implement all that it says in its own manifesto. We will have to wait and watch. We will support the good policies and put pressure if they don't."

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, a close ally of the Left, called on the Left parties to join the government in order to reflect the political reality of the day. He said: "There won't be a better opportunity than this for the Left parties." Responding to a question on the contradictory positions of the Left parties vis-a-vis the Congress in three States, V.P. Singh said that if the Left was paying a political price for supporting the Congress government from outside, it could also earn some benefits by participating in the government. In a joint appeal, over 200 intellectuals called on the Left parties to join the new government. The appeal said that the current "historical juncture" demanded a "creative and constructive initiative from the Left".

A significant aspect of verdict 2004 has been the re-emergence of the Left as a pivotal force with the potential to keep together all the diverse non-BJP and non-Congress parties. The situation was similar to the one in the run-up to the installation of the United Front government in 1996 when the Left, especially CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet, played a critical role in government formation. The Left's consistent opposition to communalism and the economic reforms seems to have increased its prestige among the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Samajwadi Party (S.P.). The affinity to the Left may also have to do with the compulsions of the current political situation, but it is evident that the Left played a role in convincing the non-BJP parties about the importance of installing a secular government at the Centre.

In this election, the Left has achieved its biggest presence in the Lok Sabha since Independence. On the face of it, a tally of 61 in the 543-member House may appear to be insignificant, but the implications of the Left's impressive performance in the current political situation have already alarmed even political pundits and media managers. When the stock markets crashed following media reports that the Left demanded the disbanding of the Disinvestment Ministry, editorials cautioned the yet-to-be formed government about the "pitfalls" in adopting Left-leaning policies. About this, CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said: "The Indian voter has proved his maturity. Both the politics of communalism and the foreign origin issue of the Congress president were rejected. The mandate for the Left is a positive one on two counts - it has consistently fought against communalism and protected the rights of minorities, and always struggled for the mass of the working class people against the economic policies."

The Left parties have decided to take decisions jointly regarding the form of support to be extended to the new government. There will also be a joint approach on the finer aspects of the changes to the economic policy. In fact, there is not much divergence of opinion among the Left parties over issues of disinvestment of profit-making public sector units, revival of the agriculture sector, and employment generation. The revival of the public distribution system (PDS) is also high on the agenda. The Left is expected to be unrelenting on labour reforms, especially of the kind recommended by the Second National Labour Commission. On the international front, opposition to imperialism, support to an independent and non-aligned foreign policy, promotion of multipolarity in international relations, dialogue with Pakistan without United States intervention, opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq and support for the Palestinian cause remain important items on the Left agenda. The common minimum programme being drafted by the Congress is expected to address all these issues.

In 2003, after the BJP government in Himachal Pradesh suffered a rout in the Assembly elections, senior BJP leader and Member of Parliament from Kangra, Shanta Kumar, suggested that it needed to be studied why the Left remained largely insulated from the anti-incumbency factor. He was probably referring to the almost three-decade-old rule of the CPI(M)-led Left Front in West Bengal. In fact, this time round too the performance of the Left Front in West Bengal defied all theories of anti-incumbency. It won 35 of the 42 seats in the State in contrast to 29 in 1999. In Kerala, the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) increased its tally from nine to 18 and in Tripura, the two sitting CPI(M) MPs retained their seats. The Left won the two seats it contested in Andhra Pradesh and increased its tally from one to four in Tamil Nadu. In Jharkhand, CPI candidate Bhubaneswar Prasad Mehta defeated External Affairs minister Yashwant Sinha in the Hazaribagh constituency by over one lakh votes.

On the other hand, the CPI(M) lost the Bhagalpur seat when sitting MP Subodh Roy was defeated by BJP State president Sushil Kumar Modi. The situation in the Hindi heartland too has remained much the same. Left candidates in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Uttaranchal failed to make their presence felt for a range of reasons including lack of alliances and electoral understanding among the non-NDA parties.

Over all, the Left gained almost 19 seats over its tally of 42 in the last Lok Sabha. The last time the Left parties got more than 50 seats was in 1971, when they won 51 seats.

Apparently, the Left's performance owes a lot to the aggressive nationwide campaign it launched against communalism and the economic policies of the NDA government. Although under-reported in the mainstream media, the campaign seems to have left an indelible impact on voters. Noteworthy campaigns based on issues of economic distress in the industrial and agricultural sectors appear to have captured the imagination of large sections of the affected people. The Congress apparently capitalised on such campaigns and reaped rich dividends in areas where a strong anti-incumbency factor was at work. Andhra Pradesh is a case in point.

Liberation at last!

The Indian people have sent the National Democratic Alliance packing and ended a dark phase in India's evolution, when communalism, chauvinism and anti-poor elitism ruled. This is a historic chance to impart a forward-looking, progressive, transformatory momentum to Indian democracy.

WE must all celebrate the resounding rebuff delivered by the electorate to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its brand of elitist, soak-the-poor economics, and chauvinist, exclusivist and cynically communal politics. The anti-NDA verdict is all the sweeter because it was largely unanticipated and declared near-impossible by a collusive media.

The election results mark the first clean, decisive, unambiguous and potentially sustainable break from the 20-year-long rightward shift in Indian society and politics under the impact of neoliberalism, Hindu communalism and the burgeoning of a middle class that is profoundly callous towards the underprivileged and deeply uncomfortable with the culture of democracy. On two recent occasions too, India witnessed events that very nearly produced such a break: in 1989-91, and more importantly, in 1996-98 under the United Front. But these were nowhere as complete or decisive as the present conjuncture. And they did not last long. They could not even begin to combat the basic trends underlying the rightward shift before they ran out of steam.

The present moment is pregnant with far richer possibilities - including a genuine enrichment of our democracy and a return to the project of building a plural, modern, multicultural, just and egalitarian society which is free from want and misery and in whose cohesion the people have a vital stake. The BJP mounted the most potent challenge to that project, itself closely related to the inspirations behind the freedom struggle and its modernist Enlightenment-based ideas. That challenge has been repulsed - at least for now.

Those who want to minimise and trivialise the significance of the electoral verdict are now depicting it as the result of good or bad campaigning and of tactical "mistakes" by the NDA and competent tactical moves by the secular parties - such as striking the right alliances - "anti-incumbency", State-level misgovernance (a question-begging blanket term), minor "local" vote shifts (L.K. Advani's explanation), and the success or failure of different "political brands" for a variety of contingent reasons.

In reality, the NDA's defeat is strategic. It is comprehensive. A certain overarching coherence is visible in the voting patterns in different parts of the country. It is as if the same mind was at work. Tactful alliance-building by the Congress - or so-called electoral arithmetic - cannot alone explain the NDA's countrywide humiliation. Besides Tamil Nadu, the Congress had significant alliances only in Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh. But it outperformed the BJP virtually everywhere, and exceeded its own score by 33 seats (the BJP lost 44). The Congress had no major allies in Uttar Pradesh, but still stole a march over the BJP, whose strength fell to almost a third of that in 1999. The margins of the Congress-led alliance's victory are far higher than those explained by electoral arithmetic - especially in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

The Telugu Desam Party's rout is a powerful rejection of N. Chandrababu Naidu's shameful neglect of farmers in acute distress, his pampering of Information Technology investors, his abuse and diversion of State funds (some Rs.350 crores was allegedly spent on publicity alone) and his CEO-style leadership, which reduces democratic politics to a corporate management function. His claims of an IT "revolution" were always hollow (see this column, Frontline, February 18, 2002). The people realised that they were made at their expense. The NDA has lost outright or suffered a setback everywhere barring three west-central states - Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where it was already firmly implanted - and in Karnataka and Punjab. It broke no new ground whatsoever. Equally significant, it has lost nearly half its strength in Gujarat, its forte and "Hindutva's laboratory", where it has been in power on its own, continuously, and longer than anywhere else. The loss was concentrated in the very same central and northern areas where the 2002 violence was at its ugliest. The vote is tantamount to political punishment for the BJP.

The NDA's gains in Karnataka had more to do with drought and agrarian distress than with a positive sentiment in favour of the BJP. BJP MLAs comprise barely one-third of the Assembly's strength. A secular coalition government comprising the Congress and H.D. Deve Gowda's Janata Dal (Secular) is on the cards. In Punjab, the verdict is partly a "correction" in favour of the Akalis, who were routed in 1999. Partly, it is the result of Congress infighting.

The Congress' performance improved in most States, barring those ruled by the Left. It is not alliances, but disaffection with and rejection osf the anti-poor character of the BJP-NDA that explains the voting pattern. The Congress did well where it took a clear, unambiguous, combative stand on livelihood issues and on secularism. It was most successful when its stance resonated with the people's concerns. Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi added to the impact, especially in Uttar Pradesh. But that happened because an anti-BJP sentiment already existed. The Congress' adoption of a broadly left-of-centre position corresponds to the people's mood. Where it fought the Left by adopting a conservative Right-leaning stance (as in West Bengal and Kerala), it did badly.

The present verdict at long last brings the actual centre of gravity of Indian politics in line with its "natural" centre. In a country where half the population suffers from serious deprivation amidst entrenched hierarchies and hideous inequalities, democratic politics has to define itself through the classical agendas of the Left. With this landmark election, the greatest concerns of a majority of Indians have returned to the political centre stage.

The verdict is, equally, a powerful rejection of the politics of ethnic-chauvinism and communalism. The Gujarat results reflect the people's disgust with the BJP for engineering independent India's worst state-sponsored communal carnage. But no less important, the BJP has been reduced to just 15 seats in U.P., Bihar and Jharkhand put together. In the North as a whole, it has shrunk into a minor party. Only slightly less striking is the BJP's defeat in Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi, which confirms that the temple issue has lost all popular appeal after many recent attempts to revive it. The defeat of Vinay Katiyar, Murli Manohar Joshi, "Swami" Chinmayanand, Ram Bilas Vedanti and other Hindutva hardliners reinforces the same conclusion.

It is only in the west-central States (and Orissa) that the NDA can claim to have done well - although that too is partly a function of the Congress' demoralisation after its drubbing at the last Assembly elections.

THE electoral verdict punctures three myths. First, that the "naturally xenophobic" normal Indian would not trust a "foreigner" to lead the nation. The BJP strove hard and in any number of ways to campaign on the "foreign-origin" issue to put Sonia Gandhi on the defensive. This simply did not wash with the electorate. In part, the issue lost steam with the entry of Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi who can be declared "aliens" only on the basis of some arcane medieval reasoning. But at a more basic level, the Indian people simply did not fall into the xenophobes' trap. For them, a person who was born abroad, but has voluntarily chosen to be an Indian and to live here, is as authentic a national as any other. What matters is citizenship, not ethnicity. Accepting the naturalisation of people of foreign origin is part of the agenda of inclusion. And it is this agenda that the electorate has strongly endorsed.

The second myth to burst is that of the validity of "managerial politics" or manoeuvring in the style of the corporate manager. Managerial politics robs democracy of its participatory content, and reduces it to an exercise in marketing, the selling of brands and images, rather than of mobilising and expressing the concerns and interests of flesh-and-blood people and social groups. Within the NDA, the shenanigans of mind-benders and not-so-hidden persuaders replaced real politics. The people were excluded. They became mere passive consumers in the political marketplace, with no agency or will of their own. They would swallow whatever is offered, perhaps the most palatable of what is offered, but they would never set the agenda. This politics-as-marketing idea has been decisively trashed.

The third myth pertains to the (non-existent) Vajpayee "mystique" or "magic", which is supposed to charm voters from North to South out of their wits. Because Vajpayee's acceptance ratings are more than twice as high as the BJP's, it tried to present him as its mascot, its most recognisable symbol, principal campaigner, its source of inspiration, the supreme leader, everything. It even manipulated media perceptions of this parliamentary election, distorting it into some kind of presidential contest between Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi. Many in the BJP and its supporters in the media convinced themselves that Vajpayee is a leader with unbeatable mass popularity, in the same league as Nehru, or Indira and Rajiv Gandhi at their respective peaks. In the event, Vajpayee turned out to be something different. Even in popularity, he was never in the same league as Nehru - and has a long history of losing elections and shifting constituencies. In Lucknow, he demonstrated tremendous nervousness and started begging for Muslim votes in an undignified way. The April 12 saree stampede convinced the public that the person who is the BJP's tallest claimant to the top office might only be a pretender who has to bribe the poor to get their votes.

Then, when the BJP switched from trying to win Muslim votes to splitting them - what U.P.'s political public calls "dividation" - Vajpayee openly courted Mulayam Singh Yadav and asked Muslims to vote for him, not the Congress. It was bizarre that the Prime Minister should be asking people in his own constituency to vote for his party's rival. In general, attendance at his rallies was far poorer than at Sonia Gandhi's or even Rahul's.

Confirmation that "Brand Atal" is not very popular came on polling day. Only 35.4 per cent of Lucknow's electorate bothered to cast their votes. This polling rate is probably unprecedented in a senior politician's constituency, leave alone a Prime Ministerial aspirant's. Vajpayee has dented his stature over the five weeks of campaigning even more than his six years in power. He has turned out a very pedestrian politician. He descended to raucous and tasteless personal attacks on the Gandhis and generally showed little dignity, poise or gravitas.

THE self-assertion of the plebeian masses has given the Left parties their highest-ever Lok Sabha tally - and a unique opportunity to influence policy as well as pilot the building of a broad ruling alliance. The prevalent mood among the people gives the Left parties a special advantage. They can and should play a pivotal role both programmatically and in bringing in other groups like the Samajwadi Party, the Janata Dal (Secular), and the Rashtriya Lok Dal. Such a broadbased coalition would represent the electorate's mandate more authentically. It can also lend stability to the government.

However, the Left's biggest contribution would lie in drafting the common programme of the coalition. Such a programme must have a progressive orientation on secularism/communalism, economic policy, and foreign and security policies. There are bound to be divergences between the Congress and the Left on some issues. But here a clear principle must be enunciated at the outset. Where the differences over a policy are sharp, and it seems to violate an ally's core-beliefs or principles, that party should be allowed to veto it out of the common programme. The Left's essential task is to take further and give a concrete, radical shape to the Congress' somewhat hesitant and uncertain commitments (including those in its manifesto) to progressive measures. It must push the ruling coalition to adopt left-leaning policies in keeping with the logic of the electoral mandate. For instance, it has to demand that the new government invest heavily in the social sector, revitalise and universalise the public distribution system for food, abandon deflationary policies, and stop the loot of public assets through privatisation and corporate tax-breaks.

The new coalition must combat communalism actively by bringing to book the perpetrators of the Gujarat pogrom, promoting a just and equitable temple-plus-mosque solution in Ayodhya, and revising communally corrupted textbooks. Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and other Hindutva elements must be purged out of state structures and the numerous institutions which they have infiltrated. They must be replaced with people of high integrity. People like Praveen Togadia should not be allowed to indulge in hate-speech. Besides abolition of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, an anti-hate-speech law must become a high priority.

A great deal needs to be done on the foreign policy agenda to re-orientate India's obsession with the United States (at the expense of the rest of the world, including Western Europe). India must return to the policy of non-alignment and campaign for a multipolar, multilateral, democratic and peaceful global order. The Left has a big job on its hands.

Misreading the mandate

The Bharatiya Janata Party misses the real message of Verdict 2004 when it attempts to deny any credit to the Congress and attributes its defeat to local factors.

in New Delhi

THE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would require a greater degree of honesty than what it has displayed to understand the profound message of Verdict 2004. It tends to minimise the significance of the verdict by blaming the choice of alliance partners and the plethora of local factors that did not favour it. But a close look at the results would show that the BJP's losses are uniform. Even where the alliance did not matter, it suffered reverses, as in Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Andaman and Nicobar, Uttaranchal and Delhi. Where the alliance factor played a key role, the BJP's rout appears to be complete, as in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. In Orissa, where its ally, the Biju Janata Dal, was returned to power in the Assembly elections, the BJP's tally was two less than its 1999 tally. In Chhattisgarh, where it won the December 2003 Assembly elections, it lost one seat, as compared to its total sweep of the undivided Madhya Pradesh in 1999.

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The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) sought to advance the Lok Sabha elections with the plea that its `India Shining' campaign would pay the coalition rich electoral dividends. As it ran a pan-Indian campaign at the government's cost claiming that the nation was on the move, the illogical nature of the campaign became manifest. The government's so-called achievements benefited only the rich, and the upper middle class, and these sectors did not require any advertisement campaign to be reminded about their progress during the past five years. By contrast, the "India Shining" and "Feel Good" campaigns only served to remind the vast majority of the population that was left out of the reforms process that the government's `achievements' have not reached it, and this section did not want the NDA to have another term in office.

Verdict 2004 was also a comprehensive rejection of the BJP's hidden agenda. Although many commentators saw the BJP as a party that had matured and had diluted its divisive and majoritarian agenda in order to survive in power, the electorate was apparently not convinced. The BJP, on the eve of the elections, not only renewed its promise to build the Ram temple at Ayodhya through its Vision Document but also forced the NDA to include the promise in its manifesto, as if it was no longer a contentious issue. The electorate apparently did not trust the BJP's reticence on the abolition of Article 370, which guarantees special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and the enactment of a uniform civil code, over which there has been no political consensus. Despite its best efforts to woo the minorities, they remained alienated from the Vajpayee government, because of its reluctance to make the BJP in Gujarat accountable for the post-Godhra riots.

The BJP has accepted the position as the main Opposition party but not without questioning the basis of the mandate. Ever eager to spin every adversarial factor in its favour, it found interpreting the verdict a rather unpleasant exercise. "We agree the mandate was not in our favour; but it is not in favour of any other party or combination either," was BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu's first reaction to the election results.

His embarrassment was obvious. Having run a two-month-long campaign projecting Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the BJP's biggest asset and pointing out the "absence" of a similar "tall" leader in the Opposition camp, it was difficult to admit that the electorate rejected the NDA's unique selling point. Therefore, calling the mandate a `fractured one' - as Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had done - was the easiest thing to do in order to deny the Congress and its allies any credit.

It can be concluded that the electorate rejected not only the BJP's policies on various issues, but its claims to having the ability to provide a stable government under the leadership of Vajpayee. But for BJP leaders, any such interpretation of the mandate is anathema. Advani reasoned at a farewell tea-party he hosted for journalists at his residence on May 14: "If one looks at the results in totality, the BJP and the Congress are almost equal now." He said the results reinforced a "decade-old emerging bipolar reality".

No doubt, between the BJP's tally of 138 seats in the 14th Lok Sabha and the Congress' 145, there is a difference of just seven seats. Critics also point out that the Congress' tally stands closer to what it was in 1996, when it won 140 seats. At that time, it was believed that the ruling Congress, having lost its strength in the previous Lok Sabha, could not claim to have won the mandate. Hence, no one considered the Congress a serious contender for office.

Ironically, in 1996, the BJP's strength was much higher than what it is now: 161. Claiming to have won the people's mandate, Vajpayee accepted the President's invitation to form the government in 1996, but quit office within 13 days of being in power, after having failed to muster enough support to win the confidence vote. Both in the 1998 and 1999 elections, the BJP won about 20 seats more than what it secured in 1996, and qualified for the mandate because it could muster sufficient support from its allies.

As BJP leaders are ready to admit, it was the BJP's failure to sustain its erstwhile alliances and build new ones that caused the debacle. In Tamil Nadu, the BJP had no option but to ally with the terribly unpopular All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), following the desertion of its erstwhile allies, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK). The BJP needs to ask itself why these Tamil Nadu parties quit the NDA. They quit on their own, in view of the NDA's poor electoral prospects in Tamil Nadu, but the BJP was equally responsible for driving them away.

The immediate cause of the DMK's departure was Venkaiah Naidu's comment that the BJP's allies had no business to protest against the Central government's policies, while being part of the NDA. The DMK had staged a protest against the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) under which MDMK leader Vaiko was arrested.

Such a comment would have been unthinkable from Venkaiah Naidu, say, in 2002, when the allies felt free to criticise the BJP for its failure to act against the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat for the Godhra riots. The BJP then needed the allies' support not only for its continuance in office at the Centre but to blunt the Opposition's demand for Modi's ouster. As the Lok Sabha elections approached, the BJP was at the height of its `India Shining' campaign, and the extravagant claims and the hype it generated made the BJP over-confident.

The National Conference, Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janashakthi Party, the Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana, the Asom Gana Parishad, all quit the NDA for one reason or the other, or the BJP avoided any tie-up with them on the misguided advice of its State units. No wonder the BJP suffered a rout in Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar, Haryana, and Assam.

True, some of the allies such as the Trinamul Congress had quit the NDA and later returned to its fold, only to find that they were not treated with honour. This hardly helped to cement the alliance, especially in West Bengal, where the Trinamul Congress and the BJP equally suffered losses. In Jharkhand, the BJP's failure to strike an alliance with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha helped the Congress rope in the JMM and make electoral gains.

The Telugu Desam Party's rout in Andhra Pradesh and the BJP's own reverses in Gujarat may have nothing to do with each other, but it is possible to find a common theme in these. The TDP chose to support the NDA from outside, and steadfastly resisted overtures to join the Vajpayee government, with the hope that its stand would help to gain the support of minorities. For the record, the TDP opposed the continuance of the Narendra Modi government after the riots and hugely embarrassed the BJP during its National Executive meeting in Goa in 2002 when TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu made a public demand to replace Modi. The BJP not only ignored his demand but enjoyed Naidu's support during the entire term of the 13th Lok Sabha.

In Gujarat, the BJP takes comfort from the fact that its tally is higher than that of the Congress. It got 14 seats, as compared to the Congress' 12. But the fact that the BJP won five seats fewer than what it secured in 1999 was enough to initiate a debate within the party on the direction it should take now. Both the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have interpreted the BJP's debacle as the voters' rejection of its dilution of the Hindutva agenda in favour of issues of development and governance. In Gujarat, they point out, RSS-VHP volunteers avoided campaigning for the BJP.

However, the RSS-VHP's reasoning is hardly convincing if one considers the fact that Narenda Modi, as the chief campaigner in the State, was the symbol of Hindu consolidation in the recent past. Vajpayee avoided campaigning in Gujarat simply because the BJP felt `Moditva' would be sufficient to sweep the elections. Therefore, if Hindutva in the manner practised by Modi did not help the party, how could it have helped it elsewhere in the country? Just as the Ayodhya issue began to pay diminishing returns to the BJP in the post-demolition phase, the Gujarat riots and its aftermath have exposed the true face of the Modi government.

Despite this realisation, the BJP is unwilling to consider the Gujarat verdict an expression of a vote of no-confidence against the Modi government. BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan said: "The Supreme Court's strictures in the [Best Bakery] case may have come at the most inappropriate time for us, but there is no question of replacing Modi on this ground alone."

Modi's continuance in office despite the Supreme Court's indictment seems to have influenced Muslim voters in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. However, the BJP's effort to woo the minority community in the Hindi heartland is seen as a factor that alienated its upper-caste support base.

The BJP has been experimenting with the use of Hindutva in every election in various degrees. It has found that on balance it would be in the party's interest to play down the religious card during elections, when issues of governance dominate.

The BJP is most likely to use Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin as an issue involving Indian nationalism and culture. It finds the issue more potent than the other issues of Hindutva. The party's Rajya Sabha member Sushma Swaraj and her husband Swaraj Kaushal, also a Rajya Sabha member belonging to Haryana Vikas Party, have threatened to resign their memberships if Sonia Gandhi became Prime Minister. They said they would not step inside Parliament House as long as Sonia Gandhi held the post. The BJP endorsed their decision, saying it reflected the sentiments of millions of Indians. Sushma Swaraj even indicated that she would don white robes and tonsure her head from the day Sonia Gandhi was sworn in Prime Minister.

The RSS- BJP's overt support to her illegitimate demand only exposed its contempt for parliamentary norms and practices. Both Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharati and former BJP general secretary Govindacharya, appealed to the Congress and its allies to stop Sonia Gandhi from becoming Prime Minister and choose any other `Indian' instead. Govindacharya launched the Rashtriya Swabhiman Andolan (National Self-Respect Movement) to mobilise opposition to Sonia Gandhi becoming Prime Minister, which in his view amounted to "cultural suicide".

Clearly, Govindacharya's return to active politics, close on the heels of Vajpayee's resignation as Prime Minister, signifies that the BJP may no longer find virtue in moderation as a political strategy. As the second-line leaders within the BJP vied with one another to seize the opportunity in opposing Sonia Gandhi, the BJP's senior leaders even considered the option of boycotting her swearing-in ceremony to register their protest. The NDA decided to boycott the ceremony, even while allowing Vajpayee to attend it as part of tradition. However, collective boycott of her government in Parliament and outside would mean political suicide, the BJP leaders feel.

While launching the attack against Sonia Gandhi albeit under intense pressure from the Sangh Parivar, the BJP leaders point out that the Congress had not projected Sonia Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate because it knew that the electorate would not accept her. In fact, the Congress did not feel the need to project Sonia Gandhi, because it felt that it would be stating the obvious.

On the contrary, it could be said that there were several leaders within the BJP who sought to neutralise Vajpayee's charisma. Advani's 33-day Bharat Uday Yatra during the election campaign has already come under attack for diffusing the party's campaign. Advani's yatra took a huge chunk of the party's resources but hardly helped to consolidate the party's votes in the Hindi heartland. Advani, it is pointed out, not only forced Vajpayee to opt for early elections but indulged in a personal promotion campaign in the form of the rath yatra.

Whatever the truth, there is a feeling that Vajpayee should have been allowed by the BJP to complete his full term and contribute to the peace process between India and Pakistan. Early elections deprived him of any credit that would have been due to him. "My party and alliance may have lost, but India has won," Vajpayee told the nation in a televised address soon after the President accepted his resignation. As he bid goodbye to the nation detailing his achievements in office, Vajpayee was careful not to dwell on the reasons for the debacle. However, behind his reticence, a tinge of sadness was apparent.

The BJP used to claim that the party had several second-line leaders who could organise its election campaign across the nation much more effectively than the Congress, which depended on one individual, Sonia Gandhi. Whereas security concerns prevented Vajpayee from covering much distance, Sonia Gandhi had no such constraints. The BJP's second-line leaders, who `carpet-bombed' the entire nation simultaneously during the campaign with each leader visiting different areas, found themselves no match to Sonia Gandhi, with her unique campaign skills.

With inputs from Siddharth Narrain

`We will have to work hard to make CMP work'

cover-story

Interview with Jairam Ramesh.

As the Congress(I) gets ready to run the government with support from the Left parties, the biggest task it faces is the economic path it should follow. The defeat of the BJP-led coalition has made it clear that the people have rejected the NDA brand of economic reforms, which failed to improve the lot of the people. Reconciling the political and economic contradictions generated by the neoliberal path is going to be a major challenge especially because of the Left parties' distinct stand on economic reforms, which were originally initiated and carried forward by Congress regimes. Jairam Ramesh, secretary, All India Congress Committee and secretary of the party's economic affairs committee, agrees. "Co-habitation with the Left is going to be difficult," he tells Purnima S. Tripathi in an interview. Excerpts:

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The prospect of a Left-supported Congress government at the Centre has been viewed with some apprehension by the corporate world. What do you have to say on this?

The fears about a total policy reversal are totally unfounded; it is not feasible, it has never happened in the last 12 years. After the Congress government lost in 1996, the United Front government pursued the same policies during 1996-98 and then the NDA too took the same path. If at all any policy reversal happened, it happened during the NDA rule and within the NDA itself. So there is no reason to panic about a turnaround in the economic direction the country would take now. Besides, it was the Congress party that initiated the reforms. We are the architects of these reforms. But, yes, the Arun Shourie brand of mindless privatisation is certainly out. The emphasis would be on socially relevant privatisation. But there certainly would be no blanket assault on privatisation. We are of the opinion that the private sector and the public sector could happily co-exist. Take the power sector for example. There is a need for the public sector in generation and transmission, but in distribution, the private sector could be allowed.

So what essentially would be the policy direction of this government?

It would be growth-oriented, employment-oriented, investment-oriented and common man-oriented, along with liberalisation in the right direction.

But there could be differences between the Congress and the Left about what the right direction is? During the United Front government the Left parties, which were both inside and outside the government, had effectively stalled the Insurance bill.

Yes, there are apprehensions about the Left parties' role. Co-habitation is going to be difficult. Lots of adjustments would have to be made. All the more so because they look inclined to support the government from outside. The Left parties inside the government would be different from when they would be supporting from outside. In the latter case, they would be like loose missiles. We would prefer them inside the government.

What essentially are the areas of concern?

Basically privatisation and the public distribution system, as to how it should be run. Food security and labour reforms are other areas where there could be differences.

How does the Congress(I) plan to resolve these differences?

It will depend on the Common Minimum Programme. I hope the emphasis this time, unlike in 1996-98, is more on programme than on minimum. But we will have to work hard to make it work. Frankly speaking, I have seen the Left parties' manifesto and it might as well be our manifesto. There are no differences that cannot be surmounted. Besides, in today's world everyone has to be pragmatic and the Left parties, in the way they run their government in West Bengal, have proved themselves to be pragmatic. Moreover, it is not as though the Congress(I) has no concern for the poor people. We have all along advocated reforms with a human face.

What could be the new government's direction on issues like privatisation and disinvestment?

Our thrust would be co-existence of private and public sectors. Retain the public sector, give it freedom to innovate, and create the private sector work ethics in public sector environment. Allow them functional autonomy to operate as commercially viable units. [Former Finance Minister P.] Chidambaram's "Navratna" concept is a good model to follow. Disinvestment in the strategic sector is definitely out. But there could be areas, like power distribution, where the private sector should be allowed. The thrust would be on socially relevant selective privatisation and creative innovation in PSUs. For example, why can't the PSUs run like venture capitalists. There will have to be new ways of looking at the public sector. The state banks, for example, why can't they be given functional autonomy in recruitment and operations.

The most important factor that contributed to the defeat of the NDA was the agricultural crisis. What will the new government do about it?

It is wrong to say that agriculture was hit by reforms. Agriculture suffered because in the last decade or so, there has been no public spending in the agriculture sector, no improvement in infrastructure, no addition in irrigation facilities. Whatever public spending there was, it was by way of subsidy. We will have to increase investment on infrastructure in the agriculture sector.

Besides agriculture, what are the other areas crying for instant attention?

The unorganised sector, which has hardly got any attention so far. There is need to provide health insurance and social security to the unorganised sector.

A resurgent Left

The Left's re-emergence as a significant force at the Centre, with the highest number of seats in the Lok Sabha since Independence, owes a lot to its consistent campaign against communalism and neo-liberal economic policies.

in New Delhi

IN the run-up to the 14th Lok Sabha elections, the installation of a secular and pro-poor government was one of the prime objectives of the Left. The first part of the objective has been achieved with the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, the other has to be realised through a set of programmes and policies the new government will implement in the course of the next five years. Meanwhile, the Left parties, comprising the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), have decided not to join the government but to extend support to it from outside. Senior leaders of the CPI(M) said that any comparison with 1996, when the CPI(M) rejected the offer of the Prime Minister's post for Jyoti Basu, was untenable. At that time the Left, with a smaller mandate, was requested to lead the United Front government; now, it was asked to participate in a Congress-led government.

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Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M) Sitaram Yechury said: "With the understanding that there is a need for an alternative secular government, we are supporting the government from outside in order to thwart all attempts by the BJP to come back to power. It should also be realised that all the major seats contested by us were against the Congress. In West Bengal alone we were pitted against the Congress in 41 seats." Justifying the Left's decision to support the new government from outside, Polit Bureau member M.K. Pandhe said: "There is no guarantee that the Congress will implement all that it says in its own manifesto. We will have to wait and watch. We will support the good policies and put pressure if they don't."

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, a close ally of the Left, called on the Left parties to join the government in order to reflect the political reality of the day. He said: "There won't be a better opportunity than this for the Left parties." Responding to a question on the contradictory positions of the Left parties vis-a-vis the Congress in three States, V.P. Singh said that if the Left was paying a political price for supporting the Congress government from outside, it could also earn some benefits by participating in the government. In a joint appeal, over 200 intellectuals called on the Left parties to join the new government. The appeal said that the current "historical juncture" demanded a "creative and constructive initiative from the Left".

A significant aspect of verdict 2004 has been the re-emergence of the Left as a pivotal force with the potential to keep together all the diverse non-BJP and non-Congress parties. The situation was similar to the one in the run-up to the installation of the United Front government in 1996 when the Left, especially CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet, played a critical role in government formation. The Left's consistent opposition to communalism and the economic reforms seems to have increased its prestige among the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Samajwadi Party (S.P.). The affinity to the Left may also have to do with the compulsions of the current political situation, but it is evident that the Left played a role in convincing the non-BJP parties about the importance of installing a secular government at the Centre.

In this election, the Left has achieved its biggest presence in the Lok Sabha since Independence. On the face of it, a tally of 61 in the 543-member House may appear to be insignificant, but the implications of the Left's impressive performance in the current political situation have already alarmed even political pundits and media managers. When the stock markets crashed following media reports that the Left demanded the disbanding of the Disinvestment Ministry, editorials cautioned the yet-to-be formed government about the "pitfalls" in adopting Left-leaning policies. About this, CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said: "The Indian voter has proved his maturity. Both the politics of communalism and the foreign origin issue of the Congress president were rejected. The mandate for the Left is a positive one on two counts - it has consistently fought against communalism and protected the rights of minorities, and always struggled for the mass of the working class people against the economic policies."

The Left parties have decided to take decisions jointly regarding the form of support to be extended to the new government. There will also be a joint approach on the finer aspects of the changes to the economic policy. In fact, there is not much divergence of opinion among the Left parties over issues of disinvestment of profit-making public sector units, revival of the agriculture sector, and employment generation. The revival of the public distribution system (PDS) is also high on the agenda. The Left is expected to be unrelenting on labour reforms, especially of the kind recommended by the Second National Labour Commission. On the international front, opposition to imperialism, support to an independent and non-aligned foreign policy, promotion of multipolarity in international relations, dialogue with Pakistan without United States intervention, opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq and support for the Palestinian cause remain important items on the Left agenda. The common minimum programme being drafted by the Congress is expected to address all these issues.

In 2003, after the BJP government in Himachal Pradesh suffered a rout in the Assembly elections, senior BJP leader and Member of Parliament from Kangra, Shanta Kumar, suggested that it needed to be studied why the Left remained largely insulated from the anti-incumbency factor. He was probably referring to the almost three-decade-old rule of the CPI(M)-led Left Front in West Bengal. In fact, this time round too the performance of the Left Front in West Bengal defied all theories of anti-incumbency. It won 35 of the 42 seats in the State in contrast to 29 in 1999. In Kerala, the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) increased its tally from nine to 18 and in Tripura, the two sitting CPI(M) MPs retained their seats. The Left won the two seats it contested in Andhra Pradesh and increased its tally from one to four in Tamil Nadu. In Jharkhand, CPI candidate Bhubaneswar Prasad Mehta defeated External Affairs minister Yashwant Sinha in the Hazaribagh constituency by over one lakh votes.

On the other hand, the CPI(M) lost the Bhagalpur seat when sitting MP Subodh Roy was defeated by BJP State president Sushil Kumar Modi. The situation in the Hindi heartland too has remained much the same. Left candidates in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Uttaranchal failed to make their presence felt for a range of reasons including lack of alliances and electoral understanding among the non-NDA parties.

Over all, the Left gained almost 19 seats over its tally of 42 in the last Lok Sabha. The last time the Left parties got more than 50 seats was in 1971, when they won 51 seats.

Apparently, the Left's performance owes a lot to the aggressive nationwide campaign it launched against communalism and the economic policies of the NDA government. Although under-reported in the mainstream media, the campaign seems to have left an indelible impact on voters. Noteworthy campaigns based on issues of economic distress in the industrial and agricultural sectors appear to have captured the imagination of large sections of the affected people. The Congress apparently capitalised on such campaigns and reaped rich dividends in areas where a strong anti-incumbency factor was at work. Andhra Pradesh is a case in point.

A popular backlash

Powered by a vigorous campaign, the Congress returns to power in Andhra Pradesh as the voters hand a crushing defeat to the Telugu Desam Party in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.

VOTERS of Andhra Pradesh dashed cyber-czar Nara Chandrababu Naidu's hopes of achieving the objectives of Vision 2020 by handing out a crushing defeat to his Telugu Desam Party in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. In the process, Chandrababu Naidu lost the chance of becoming Chief Minister for the third consecutive term and playing a big role in national politics. The mantle of the head of the State government for the next five years fell on Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, a contemporary of Naidu in politics.

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Powered by a vigorous campaign by Rajasekhara Reddy, the Congress stormed back into office after nearly a decade of sanyas. The mass appeal of Rajasekhara Reddy, who undertook two yatras in two years - the "padayatra" of 2002 and the "jaitra yatra" of 2003 - helped change the people's opinion in favour of the Congress. The State Congress, known for its internal bickerings, projected a `united' look. The alliance forged with the Left parties and the Telengana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) too worked to its advantage in both the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.

The performance of the Congress-led alliance was exceptional as its final tally of 226 (Congress 185, the debutant TRS 26, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) nine and the Communist Party of India six, constituted a two-thirds majority in the 294-member House.

On the other hand, in its worst-ever performance, the TDP won only 47 seats. Even in 1989, when the party under the leadership of N.T.Rama Rao was defeated, it had managed to win 74 seats. The TDP's ally, the BJP suffered a humiliating defeat by winning just two seats. In the 1999 elections, the TDP-BJP combine had secured 47.54 per cent of the votes and won 191 seats. Its vote share slumped to 39.69 per cent this time. A 7.8 percentage-point swing away from the TDP compared to the 1999 Assembly elections saw 31 of the 38 Ministers being rejected. Speaker K. Pratibha Bharathi lost to the Congress candidate, while six-time winner P. Ashok Gajapathi Raju, scion of the Vizianagaram royal family, was defeated by an independent candidate. Chandrababu Naidu salvaged some prestige by registering a comfortable victory from Kuppam in Chittoor district by a margin of 59,588 votes over Subramanyam Reddy (Congress).

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In the Lok Sabha elections, while the TDP got five seats and a vote share of 33.12 per cent, the BJP, with just 8.4 per cent of the votes polled, sank without a trace. (In the 1999 elections, the TDP won 29 seats and the BJP seven.) The Congress took 29 seats and 41.55 per cent of the votes polled, the TRS five seats and 6.83 per cent of the vote and the CPI(M), the CPI and the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) one seat each. Importantly, in the Lok Sabha elections, an additional 33.60 lakh voters favoured the Congress-TRS-Left combine than in the Assembly elections. The Congress could have won the Srikakulam, Anakapalli and Bobbili seats also had it not been for the machinations of its own leaders. The Nagarkurnool seat could have gone the TRS way but for the mistake its candidate committed by carelessly filling the nomination form and thus losing the official `car' symbol. Moreover, his legal battle for the symbol left him no time to spare for the campaign. The Chittoor seat went to the TDP where its candidate, former Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam (TTD) Chairman D.K. Adikesavulu, a liquor baron, won by a margin of over 62,000 votes. Chandrababu Naidu's Kuppam Assembly constituency alone gave Adikesavulu a lead of nearly 60,000 votes.

CHANDRABABU NAIDU, the best-known patron of the World Bank in the implementation of its reforms agenda and an icon in the world of Information Technology, apparently had little idea of the people's mood. In joining the `India Shining' campaign, he ignored the fact that rural India had lost its sheen. Even in many urban pockets, the economic reforms initiated by his government had marred his image beyond redemption. He dismissed with disdain the exit poll results by television channels, one of which forecast a TDP rout in view of the anti-incumbency factor. "I believe in exact polls, which show that the TDP will return to power," he said in response to reports about the anti-establishment mood.

After the results were out, he admitted, in a rather oversimplification of the reasons for the party's debacle, that there was indeed an anti-incumbency wave.

But, the roots of Chandrababu Naidu's defeat go far deeper. It was not merely a case of urban-rural divide, incumbency factor or disenchantment with his obsessive policy opposing any concessions in the power sector. Chandrababu Naidu's shortcomings were glossed over by his coterie of politicians and bureaucrats who chose to highlight the achievements in the IT sector and the showcasing of Hyderabad as a fast-growing and modern city. The obvious fact was that the real Andhra Pradesh, a State known for its agrarian strengths, lay elsewhere - in rural areas. Chandrababu Naidu himself made a preposterous thesis that too many farmers were producing too little foodgrains and they must seek more productive employment. There was a complete disconnect with the people and the ground realities as he relished the encomiums showered on him by the World Bank, visiting foreign dignitaries and the international media, which crowned him with various titles such as the "CEO of Andhra Pradesh" and the "IT-savvy CM". Such hyperbole threw a blanket over the deficiencies in the State's economy. The purchasing power of the average citizen had gone down, the gross State domestic product had plummeted, employment growth rate was low, health parameters were unflattering for a State whose capital, Hyderabad, was often described by Chandrababu Naidu as the "health capital of India", and farmers were unhappy over the recurring droughts and the unremunerative prices of their produce. When about 3,000 distressed farmers committed suicide, Nagam Janardhan Reddy, Minister for Panchayati Raj, remarked that "they are ending their lives in the hope their families will get ex-gratia". The TDP government never gave money to families of such farmers on the specious ground that it would only encourage farmers to commit suicide.

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Chandrababu Naidu's aim of turning the State into "Swarna Andhra Pradesh" within two decades largely revolved round the long-term economic plans suggested by the Australia-based consultancy, Mckinsey & Co. In his scheme of things, the State would borrow money quite heavily from the World Bank and other international funding agencies for restructuring its economy and the power and health sectors and revamping its administration.

Strong criticism by the Congress(I) and the Left parties, particularly the CPI (M), against the World Bank's conditionalities left Chandrababu Naidu unmoved. He maintained that the World Bank had never stipulated downsizing the government by cutting 2 per cent of the jobs annually, privatising the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) and the Singareni Collieries or increasing power tariffs. "I will turn down the World Bank loan if you can secure credit at lower interest rates," was his stock reply to the Opposition, which expressed alarm over the State's overall debt burden, both internal and external, touching a staggering Rs.75,000 crores. His statements had rung hollow because his government wound up or disinvested in a record number of public sector undertakings, hired thousands of people on contract jobs, and raised electricity rates to a new high.

The Congress capitalised on the people's antipathy to the power sector reforms by promising in its manifesto supply of free power to farmers. Rajasekhara Reddy redeemed the pledge by signing the first file after taking over as Chief Minister ordering free supply to 23 lakh agricultural pumpsets in the State, regardless of the type of crop, landholding and pumpset capacity.

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Chandrababu Naidu's models of development were Singapore and Malaysia and later China. But, these models were heavily tilted towards urban development, with the farmer not factored high into the scheme of things. Irrigation became an area of neglect with several promised projects such as Devadula across the Godavari in Warangal district not being given sufficient funds.

During its entire nine years in power, the TDP regime followed an unimaginative policy towards Naxalites. It held that talks with the People's War were possible only if the Naxalites gave a commitment to renounce violence, without offering to stop the repression let loose by the State police. Things came to a head when the P.W. made an attempt on Chandrababu Naidu's life at Tirupati on October 1.

Civil libertarians are anxiously watching how Rajasekhara Reddy will deal with this problem. There has been a silver lining, in the form of an offer by the new Chief Minister to lift the ban on the P.W. and its front organisations if they created a congenial atmosphere in the State by ending violence.

`It is a new experience for us'

cover-story

Interview with Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

THE outcome of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections has left leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a state of shock. Even as senior leaders of the party avoided giving interviews to the media immediately after the declaration of results, V. Venkatesan and Siddharth Narrain met the BJP's all-India general secretary and spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi for his response to the party's electoral debacle. A former Member of the Lok Sabha from Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, Naqvi has served as the all-India vice-president of the BJP's Yuva Morcha, and as Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting with additional charge of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs. He is now a member of the Rajya Sabha. Known as the `Muslim face of the BJP', Naqvi rose steadily in the party hierarchy and enjoys the confidence of senior BJP leaders. Excerpts from the interview:

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The BJP's Parliamentary Board met to discuss the results of the elections. What is the initial reaction within the party?

Nobody is able to understand what has happened because there is no anti-incumbency on the ground level. People are perfectly happy with the performance of the government. There is no wave against the government or in favour of the Opposition. It is definitely a new experience for us and we will learn from it. It is a fractured verdict. The Congress(I) has performed badly in States such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra. In all the large States there is no verdict in favour of the Congress(I).

We are not saying that this verdict is in our favour. It is not. The Congress party had not projected Sonia Gandhi as a prime ministerial candidate while we had projected Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Congress has got only a fractured verdict and then projected Sonia Gandhi as Prime Minister.

You have said that the results were surprising. What were your expectations?

We expected the NDA to win 280-300 seats, of which we thought the BJP would get 200-220 seats. Our biggest loss is in Uttar Pradesh. We expected at least 30 seats from U.P.

Are you blaming your allies for the debacle?

No, we are not blaming anybody. We fought the elections on the same issues. In some places where we had governments we did not do well and in some places where we did not have governments we did well. In states such as Orissa where the NDA had a government we did well. It is a matter that has to be analysed.

Was it Kalyan Singh's re-entry into the party and the resultant infighting the major reason for the defeat in U.P.?

Infighting was one of the reasons for our defeat.

Did the sari stampede in Lucknow have an impact on the outcome?

No. Even in Uttar Pradesh?

There were other factors. We were expecting more of the Muslim vote, which did not happen.

Why?

One reason is that Muslims do not like persons like the Shahi Imam Syed Ahmad Bukhari of the Juma Masjid, Delhi. Bukhari's public appeal to Muslims to vote for the BJP would have led to the negative result.

Then why did the party ask for Bukhari's support?

We did not ask for Bukhari's support. The common Muslim is in favour of the BJP and its development plank. But when people saw people like Bukhari supporting us, they thought that the BJP is going down the same track as all political parties. I think that the process of taking along the minority population will continue.

There is the view that Muslims would have voted for the BJP if the party had removed Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi after the Supreme Court indicted him in the Best Bakery case. Do you agree with this perception?

I think the Best Bakery case and the Gujarat issue have been politically exploited by the Opposition and this has affected our electoral performance.

Where has it affected your performance?

It has affected us in Uttar Pradesh. The Samajwadi Party projected Gujarat as a major issue. In Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav made use of the same issue.

The Supreme Court judgment in the Best Bakery case was an issue during the elections. But we are not apologetic because there has been only one communal riot during our regime. There have been 32,000 communal riots in all the years that the Congress(I) has ruled the country.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu has said that the party is not against Sonia Gandhi as a person but does not want a person of foreign origin to become Prime Minister?

The day someone of foreign origin becomes the country's Prime Minister will be an unfortunate one. I think no one can deny the fact that foreign origin is an issue. In India, where we still suffer from the after-effects of foreign rule, how can the issue of foreign origin disappear?

There is a view within the Sangh Parivar that the BJP suffered a defeat because it strayed from the core ideology of Hindutva.

We have never differed on ideological issues within the party. Development issues can never be pushed to the background. Further, the Congress party has not swept these polls.

You projected the `feel good' factor, Vajpayee's leadership and launched the India Shining campaign. Do the results signal a rejection of these claims?

We are proud of our achievements over the past five years. We have helped the nation develop and built the image of our country. The last five years have been a golden era for the country according to us.

But why did the voters not realise this?

We can't explain the mentality of the voters. Had we realised that the voters do not understand the feel good factor, then we would have done something else.

Was there a disconnect between the party and the voter?

I think this is the first election that has been fought on issues of progress and development and we will continue to focus on these issues. We will not divert our focus on governance and development and are proud of Atalji's achievements. Once you lose an election all our positive points look negative to the media.

Do you think opting for early Lok Sabha polls was a mistake?

I do not think it was a mistake. We do not think there would have been a major change had the polls been held on schedule.

The Prime Minister's Office denied on May 12 media reports suggesting that if the BJP and its allies fall short of 250 seats in the next Lok Sabha, Vajpayee would not try to form a government. Does it mean that the NDA was not averse to try and form a government, whatever the shortfall?

Reports in the media said that if the NDA tally was less than 250 we would not form the government. Had we been in a situation where both the formations (NDA and the Congress) had less than a majority, it should not appear as if we did not want to form the government. The country needs a government.

So there is nothing inherently wrong in a post-poll alliance where parties of different ideologies may fight against each other and come together after the elections?

No, in Indian democracy all these combinations are possible.

So why is the party critical of the Congress-Left alliance?

If two different groups accept a common leader without any hesitation there is no problem. If there is hesitation on the question of leadership, then it is definitely a big issue. We are not opposed to the coalition of the Congress and the Left. But it is clear that there are major differences in policy between these parties. The coalition has our best wishes.

Why is the party reluctant to announce Vajpayee as the leader of the Opposition?

The Parliamentary Party has to sit and through a democratic process elect a leader. Vajpayee is the leader of the BJP and the NDA. Even if he is not leader of the Opposition, his stature within the NDA and the party will not change.

Is he reluctant to take up the post?

No he is never reluctant. The party will decide if he takes up the post or not.

Democracy's deep roots

Governments and political parties often ignore the remote hamlets in Rajasthan's Barmer constituency. Still the residents turn up at the polling booths in large numbers, after trekking for hours in the desert heat. For them voting is a moral duty.

SIDDHARTH NARRAIN recently in Jaisalmer Photographs: V.V. Krishnan

DOLU KHAN'S camel ride to the nearest polling station at Shahgarh began the night before election day. For Shahgarh is situated 18 kilometres away from his desert hamlet of Adakiya. There are no roads connecting his area to Shahgarh and the only means of travel is the `ship of the desert'. Sixty-three-year-old Dolu Khan, whose occupation is grazing cattle, chose to travel by starlight to escape the scorching heat of the Thar by day.

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The voters of Shahgarh, which is 180 km from Jaisalmer, and the neighbouring hamlets of Adakiya, Bhindamangaliawala, Geyraja and Bhindadeslawala, located 80 km from the border with Pakistan, in Rajasthan's Barmer constituency, had absolutely no inkling about the candidates they were going to elect; no political party bothered to campaign in these remote areas; no posters and banners or others signs of electioneering were in place to introduce sitting Member of Parliament Sona Ram Chaudhary of the Congress(I) or his Bharatiya Janata Party rival Manvinder Singh, son of Finance Minister Jaswant Singh, to the voters. Still they travelled to exercise their franchise as a matter of course. Dolu Khan said, his wrinkled face betraying a smile: "We were told by the election officials that voting takes place on 5th [May], so we have come. The government has given us the right to vote and we will vote."

The Shahgarh region is inhabited mainly by Muslims and Scheduled Tribes (S.Ts), who have a record of a high turnout in elections in Rajasthan. The percentage of voting in this region is more than 80. Traditionally, Muslims in Rajasthan have voted for the Congress. In Shahgarh, the voters did not have any clear preference. "I'm not sure which candidate to vote for," said Ranu Khan. "No one came here to campaign, so I have to choose some name."

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These villages are truly deserted. There are absolutely no signs of development: no roads, no water, no electricity, no telephones and no medical facilities. The only indication of state presence is the two watchtowers of the Border Security Force (BSF). Yet come elections, every registered voter in these areas values his or her franchise so much that they do not hesitate to trudge several miles to the polling booth.

The voters who queued up at an abandoned school building at Shahgarh, it appears, have not even had their basic education. Only 11 out of the 178 people who cast their votes by afternoon had signed their names. The school was once a Rajiv Gandhi School, the name given to informal schools started in Rajasthan on the lines of the EGS (Education Guarantee Scheme) schools started in Madhya Pradesh where the government hired teachers on a contract basis. Says Harka Ram, a teacher at the Rajiv Gandhi School in Adakiya village, "There are only two government schools in this area. A primary school at Langtala, 40 km from here, and a middle school at Bachichod, 70 km away. The Rajiv Gandhi schools, although more accessible, do have problems retaining teachers. Says Ameer Khan, "Thirty children go to the school in Geyraja but there is no teacher. We reported this to the sarpanch but no steps were taken to appoint a teacher."

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Health care is another neglected sector in the region. The nearest hospital is located in Ramgarh, which is 75 km away. The only way to get to Ramgarh is by camel. "Anyone who falls seriously ill has no chance of reaching the hospital in time," says Isah Khan of Dhani village. The result of the lack of health facilities is the low health indicators in the region. The infant mortality rate in Jaisalmer district is 86 per 1,000 as compared to 79 for the State of Rajasthan. There are 807 women for every 1,000 men in Jaisalmer as compared to 922 for the whole of Rajasthan.

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The majority of people in the region are dependent on livestock for a livelihood. Their main occupation is rearing sheep and goats and cattle. Says Amir Khan: "Those who do not have cattle work as labourers in towns, the closest being Ramgarh and Jaisalmer. It is difficult for us to get any other work as we are not educated." The land that they live on is owned by the government. "At least if we owned the land, we could cultivate crops," he says.

Even this precarious existence is likely to deteriorate. The BSF, which has a post at Shahgarh, recently began a survey to convert a 200-km stretch in the area into a firing range. Since the government owns the land the villagers live on, it need not compensate them. Shahgarh's problems have yet to draw the attention of the political bigwigs in distant Jaipur. No reporter has visited this area as yet, although a local newspaper in Ramgarh published the government's announcement.

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Yet, the people take their franchise sincerely. Their unwavering participation in democracy, though, has not helped improve their lives. Dola Mahr of Bakhri ki Dani asks: "How can we hope to get basic facilities without voting? There are no roads in our village. Transport is a huge problem. We have a doctor but he does not do his job." Says Aliv Khan of Dhani village: "The government has given us the right to vote and we will use it."

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"There are too few inhabitants in this area to lobby for State transport. For that to happen, the government will first have to build roads here," adds Isah Khan.

Water is a huge problem in this parched land. Rainfall is deficient and the only source of water is the traditional well. Both people and animals are dependent on the well, and the level of the water is a constant source of worry. "In summer the wells dry up. There is barely enough water for us to drink. Even to reach the well we have to walk up to 15 km, " says Ramaan Khan. " The Indira Gandhi Canal does not extend to these areas," he says. Water harvesting methods could ease the problem but this would require investment, which is not within the people's means.

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However, the contrast with areas nearer to Jaisalmer is clear. In Asootar, the polling station 25 km east of Shahgarh, people began voting at 7 a.m. Men and women with children walked up to 10 km to reach the booth. The lucky ones managed to get a lift in the jeeps plied by supporters of political parties. In Bandha, east of Asootar, there was confusion about the use of the electronic voting machine. The voters did not know which button to press. "What is the use of a spoilt vote?" wondered Sorabh Mehr. "I have not been allowed to vote because I forgot to bring my photograph. I walked 10 km to reach the booth. How can I go all the way back?" Soda Khan asked.

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The problems of Loonon ki Basti, 6 km from Jaisalmer, are not very different from those of Shahgarh or its surrounding hamlets, but there are signs of the state there. Although the village is not connected by a proper road, it is not far from the main road connecting Jaisalmer and Sam, a tourist spot. The 200-odd residents of Loonon ki Basti have a one-teacher government school offering education up to Class V and having a student strength of 80. Since the village is nearer to Jaisalmer, the villagers have access to the government hospital. However, Isaac Khan feels: "Our village needs a government dispensary." The most striking difference, though, is that people of Loonon ki Basti at least know their candidates and the parties in the fray. And there is a clear expectation from the electoral process. "I have traditionally voted for the Congress, but am voting for the BJP this time because we need a change in government," says Dhannu Khan.

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The reason why Shahgarh is not on the map of political parties is its sheer inaccessibility. Of the 10 villages that come under this polling station, three are uninhabited. The high voter turnout at Shahgarh can be attributed to a combination of factors - a concentration of Muslims and S.Ts, who have traditionally voted in large numbers, and an acute awareness among the people that they are part of a democratic system where each vote is important. But there is a strong sense of disquiet with communal politics. "Being a Muslim has become a problem nowadays. We are not looked upon favourably as a community," says Ranu Khan, adding an important dimension to the disadvantages they have to cope with.

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Says Mangal Singh Puniya, the electoral officer in Shahgarh: "People here are politically very advanced. They know that the more they vote, the better it is for democracy."

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Voting is a tradition here. It is a combination of a moral duty and an awareness that it is a right that must be exercised.

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Divided they stand

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

IT has been a long-standing wish of the international community to see the island of Cyprus reunited. For the first time since the country was partitioned in 1974, the Cypriot people were given the opportunity to decide their future in a United Nations-supervised referendum in the last week of April. The referendum was timed in such a way that if the majority so willed, both parts of the country could have entered the European Union as one nation. Unfortunately, the more populous and prosperous Greek part of the island willed otherwise. The U.N. settlement plan, drafted by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, was overwhelmingly rejected by Greek Cypriots: 76 per cent of them voted against the proposal. On the other hand, more than 60 per cent of Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of unification.

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The Turkish part of the island wanted to gain E.U. membership before the May 1 deadline. That would have helped it get part of the aid package the E.U. had earmarked for Cyprus. More importantly, reintegration would have ended the international isolation of Northern Cyprus, which is recognised only by Turkey. Greek Cypriots, on the other hand, have got a large number of U.N. resolutions passed against the North. The presence of 40,000 Turkish troops has been an essential prop for the government in the North. Most of the U.N. resolutions called on Turkish troops to withdraw from the island.

The Turkish government, which until the late 1990s was inflexible on the issue of northern Cyprus, has in recent years dramatically changed its stance. After the landslide victory of Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party in the parliamentary elections in November 2002, there has been a reversal of course in Ankara. Erdogan, who replaced Abdullah Gul as Prime Minister in March 2003, came to the conclusion that as long as Turkey backed the government in northern Cyprus militarily, it would be difficult for the country to gain entry into the E.U. Erdogan made the Turkish military leadership to fall in line by convincing them that E.U. membership was more important in the long run than having a military presence in Cyprus. He has gone out of his way to build diplomatic bridges with the new Centre-Right government in Greece despite the lukewarm support Athens extended to Kofi Annan's settlement plan. After the U.N.-sponsored unification bid failed, Erdogan went on an official visit to Greece, the first by a Turkish Prime Minister in more than a decade.

Erdogan's position was markedly different from that adopted by Rauf Denktash, the President of the unrecognised Turkish Cypriot state. The recalcitrant Denktash was steadfastly opposed to the U.N. proposals. The acceptance of Annan's proposals would have meant the ceding of some of the territory Turkish Cypriots had grabbed from their Greek compatriots after the Turkish Army invaded the island in 1974. Reunification would also have ended Denktash's long hold on power. Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadapoulos adopted an equally intransigent stand. He issued a call to Greek Cypriots to reject the U.N. plan, which envisaged a loose form of federalism between the Greek and Turkish halves of the island. In his speeches, Papadapoulos implied that Greek Cypriots were already assured of E.U. membership and hence the need to settle the reunification issue in a hurry did not arise.

The hardliners among Greek Cypriots demand the return of all the land taken over by Turkish Cypriots, along with guarantees that all the houses that once belonged to Greek Cypriots in the North could be repossessed. The Cypriot Communist Party, Akel, which is a key partner in the coalition government running Cyprus, has adopted a moderate line. Unfortunately, the Akel leadership could not influence the opinion of its support base.

Senior E.U. officials have blamed the Greek Cypriot leadership for misleading them. They said that they were given to understand that in lieu for E.U. membership, the Greek Cypriot leadership would adopt a more flexible stance on the question of reunification.

There have been calls by senior European politicians to blacklist the Greek Cypriot President for his stonewalling of the unification proposals. They also fear that Papadapoulos will use the powers bestowed by E.U. membership to try and scuttle Turkey's entry into the community. Theoretically, according to the E.U. Constitution, Cyprus now has the power to veto Turkey's entry into the community. E.U. officials feel that some influential member-states that are opposed to Turkey's entry into the community may secretly encourage the Greek Cypriot leadership to pursue an anti-Turkish agenda. The pressure on the Greek Cypriot leadership to adopt a more flexible stance from within the E.U. and the U.N. is expected to increase. There are also indications that some of the economic sanctions on the Turkish Cypriot state are going to be relaxed. For the first time in three decades, international public opinion seems to be swinging its way.

Crisis in Chechnya

CHARU SINGH in Moscow world-affairs

The assassination of the pro-Kremlin Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov is likely to jeopardise Russian President Vladimir Putin's plans for Chechnya and push the region into further chaos.

in Moscow

THE assassination of Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov on May 9 has dealt a massive blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin's policy for the region. The Kremlin-supported Kadyrov had just delivered a speech at Grozny's Dynamo stadium as part of Victory Day celebrations which commemorate the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, when a powerful explosion shook the VIP enclosure. A converted artillery shell that had been encased in the concrete frames holding the VIP podium was apparently detonated by a built-in timer hidden under the plaster. Although the exact number of people killed is unclear, reports indicate that it is anywhere between six and 32. Over 50 people are reported to have been injured. Among the other prominent people killed is the Chechen State Council chief, Khusein Isayev. The commander of the Russian federal forces in Chechnya, Colonel-General Valery Baranov, was injured seriously.

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The explosion is undoubtedly the handiwork of terrorists, but there is considerable speculation in both Chechnya and Moscow that it could have been the work of an insider. Local press reports have quoted Chechen Interior Ministry sources as stating that "the explosion was prepared specifically for the President and by someone in his retinue". The attack seems to have been planned well in advance, taking care of all loopholes. The attackers seem to have been aware of the security procedures and the level of preparedness of the security apparatus at the stadium. Evidently, they refrained from detonating the bomb by remote control because they knew that the stadium had special equipment to jam radio signals.

Kadyrov had been the target of over 15 assassination attempts since 2000, and analysts are surprised that he managed to last as long as he did. He had become the cornerstone of Putin's Chechnya policy, and without him the entire process could be jeopardised. Kadyrov, 52, had been in the forefront of Chechen politics for more than a decade. In 1991, he returned from Oman and joined the rebellion in Chechnya and rose to the position of a mufti (Islamic religious leader). In 1995, he declared a jehad against Russia and the following year the first Chechen war ended with a humiliating defeat for Moscow. However, as President Putin geared to launch the second Chechen war in 1999, Kadyrov threw in his lot with Moscow and abandoned the rebels. He won Putin's confidence and was appointed head of the Chechen administration in June 2000. In the following years, he faced a number of assassination attempts, including one by a female suicide bomber. In October 2003, he won a rather controversial presidential election, as part of a Kremlin-sponsored peace plan. Kadyrov was the Kremlin's man in Chechnya and today there is nobody to replace him.

The Kremlin's reliance on Kadyrov was built around the perception that he was the only man in Chechnya who could control the several gangs and armed factions in the war-torn state. Kadyrov had put into place a daunting security force drawn from the ranks of Chechen rebels who had walked across to him and this force was the prime factor behind his control over the state. The force is led by Kadyrov's son Ramzan, who is just 27. Both the rebels and the federal forces in the state view the `private militia' with suspicion; it is greatly feared by the local population too. Its well-publicised negative human rights record has contributed to the fear in no small measure. Analysts are of the opinion that with the exit of Kadyrov, whose presence was seen as somewhat stabilising, Chechnya could erupt into a bloodbath.

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Speaking to The Moscow Times, Defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer pointed out: "The Kremlin had backed Kadyrov since 1999, and his death was a major strategic defeat. President Vladimir Putin portrayed Kadyrov as the `political solution' to the Chechen problem. Kadyrov formed a personally loyal security service and police force, employing many former rebels. This force was designed to tackle the threat of separatist fighters and eventually to replace the Russian military in the region. With Kadyrov dead, what should be done with his 3,000- to 5,000-man private army?" He added: "The Kremlin's policy of controlling the Caucasus with handpicked local strongmen is in tatters. It turns out that the Russian military and security services, unreformed and notoriously corrupt, cannot defend our own allies. If Putin does not begin to change course immediately, more such disasters will follow and Russia's influence in the Caucasus will continue to wane."

On May 9, Putin had Ramzan flown into Moscow, assuring him that "retribution is inevitable". He told Ramzan that "his father was a truly heroic man" and "he has left undefeated". Ramzan has been appointed the First Deputy Prime Minister and Sergei Abramov, the Prime Minister, has been appointed Interim President, pending fresh elections. Already there are rumours that signals from the Kremlin indicate that Ramzan may well be the next favoured candidate though it is too early to predict. Analysts feel that Ramzan's knowledge of the situation on the ground, his control of Kadyrov's militia, and the clear lack of another favourable candidate make him the frontrunner. According to the Chechen Constitution, a presidential candidate has to be at least 30 years old. However, this need not necessarily bar his candidature if the Kremlin decides to back him to the hilt. Other than Ramzan, there are a few Moscow-based influential Chechens who could also emerge as candidates. However, none of them has any influence at the grassroots-level in Chechnya, which would logically be the Kremlin's requirement for carrying forward its "road map" for the region. There is also talk of direct presidential rule in Chechnya until elections are held; in this case a Russian commander could be flown into Chechnya.

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Although several options are being discussed, analystsconcur on two facts - first, there is no man today to replace Kadyrov in Chechnya as the Kremlin's point man and second, there is no way Putin would agree to a negotiated settlement of the Chechen problem. So, despite a major blow to Putin's plans for Chechnya, the hunt for and the grooming of a successor to Kadyrov is likely to intensify in the following months. Meanwhile, violence is expected to escalate in the war-torn state and is likely to spill over to other parts of Russia. Over the past couple of years, Chechen militancy has wreaked havoc in Russia: in October 2002, Chechen rebels seized a Moscow theatre and took 800 people hostage, 120 of whom were killed when Russian forces stormed the building; in December 2002, a massive suicide bomb attack on the headquarters of the Chechen government in Grozny killed around 80 people; and in May 2003 over 50 people were killed in northern Chechnya in another suicide attack. The months ahead will reveal whether the Kremlin manages to salvage Chechnya or the war-torn state spirals into mayhem.

An enclave on the boil

Discontentment is mounting in the Northern Areas, once a part of Kashmir, where Pakistan has tried to suppress regional aspirations by enforcing draconian laws and by changing the demographic pattern by settling Sunni Muslims from Punjab and the northeast.

in New Delhi

WHILE the highly publicised 56-year-old dispute over Jammu and Kashmir rages between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, the simmering discontent in Pakistan's remote Northern Areas (N.A.), which once formed part of the troubled principality, has largely gone unnoticed.

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This strategic, picturesque and environmentally diverse region adjoining China and the Central Asian Republics (CARs), which is dominated by Shias and Ismaili Muslims who are followers of the Agha Khan, has remained under tight Pakistani military control for over five decades. It is out of bounds to outsiders including journalists, except for occasional "guided tours" closely monitored by the Army and the intelligence agencies. Because of this, little about the rumblings in the region becomes known.

The N.A.'s 2.8 million residents, spread across Gilgit, Diamir, Baltistan, Ghizer and Ghanche districts, which cover 44,800 square kilometres, are the only people in Pakistan whose status remains unspecified. They continue to be deprived of the fundamental, legal, political and civil rights that are guaranteed to the rest of the country by Pakistan's Constitution. The entire region is administered by the repressive Frontier Crime Regulations (FCR), which were framed during the Colonial era and which make it mandatory for all residents to report regularly to local intelligence personnel and stipulate that all movement from one village to another has to be reported. Consequently, their resentment has been steadily growing.

Persistent denial of educational and economic opportunities for the region and the absence of any infrastructural facilities such as hospitals and colleges have further strengthened Islamabad's stranglehold over the N.A. The region has a near negligible presence of daily newspapers and radio or television stations. The few publications that exist are subject to state control and are frequently shut down for airing "subversive" demands such as human rights, accountability and political freedom.

The breathtakingly beautiful N.A. is home to eight mountain peaks between 24,000 and 28,000 feet (7,200 to 8,400 metres) high, including the K2, the world's second highest peak. But little of this is exploited to benefit the local people. "We want access to our own resources, which is our right," Inayatullah of the Engineers Forum of Gilgit-Baltistan said at one of the first ever public seminars by N.A. leaders permitted by the Pakistani establishment, in the garrison town of Rawalpindi last year.

Accusing Islamabad of perpetuating "Agency Raj" or control over the region by the military and the intelligence services, members of the 12-party Gilgit Baltistan National Alliance (GBNA) objected to the N.A. being colonised by outsiders, mostly Sunni Muslims from Punjab and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), and demanded a greater say in deciding its future.

Security analysts say Islamabad is concerned that the mounting restlessness could impinge negatively on vital national security concerns. The Karakoram highway, which snakes through the N.A., links Pakistan to its military and nuclear ally China via the Khunjerab Pass, one of the worlds highest passes. The Indus and Jhelum rivers, Pakistan's main water sources, meander through the area. Any attempt at disrupting the flow of the rivers in the N.A. could trigger drought in several parts of the country, parts of which are already parched and close to becoming deserts because of Islamabad's short-sighted water management and inter-province disputes.

THE complex history of the N. A. is intricately linked to the Kashmir dispute. After Independence in 1947, Kashmir's Hindu ruler Maharaja Hari Singh feebly tried to regain control over the turbulent area, then known as the Gilgit Agency and controlled by the Gilgit Scouts, one of the several militias raised by the colonial administration to exercise at least limited suzerainty over far-flung and turbulent regions of the vast empire.

But pro-Islamic zeal and incitement by the British commander of the Gilgit Scouts led to the region breaking away from Kashmir to form the independent People's Republic of Baltistan and Gilgit. This, however, lasted a mere 17 days, as the leaders of the rebellion in a fit of religious zeal handed over the territory on November 1, 1947, to the newly formed Pakistan. Over the years, following decades of repression by Islamabad, November 1 is observed as a day of repentance in the N.A. when slogans in support of independence from federal control are raised openly.

Recognising its strategic importance and unsure of how the Kashmir dispute would unravel, Pakistan almost immediately renamed this region the Northern Areas and separated it from the rest of Kashmir, which it occupied and called it "Azad" or free Kashmir. Azad Kashmir - which India terms Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) - included a 6,400 sq km sliver of land around the capital Muzaffarabad and the other main town Mirpur, while the N. A. was at least seven times larger. India controls two-thirds of Kashmir.

In 1949, Pakistan separated the administration of the N.A. from POK and introduced the draconian FCR. And, though POK was provided a figurehead administration, which included a Sadr (President) and a Vazir-e-Azam (Prime Minister) and a modicum of political activity, albeit tightly controlled by the federal government, the N.A. is still administered by a toothless council, headed by a Deputy Commissioner appointed by Islamabad.

Islamabad is determined to `disengage' the N.A. from POK. Security analysts say that the Pakistani military will go to any length to crush any independence movement in the N.A. as it cannot afford the area breaking away or becoming part of the larger Kashmir question.

"While Pakistan-backed militancy has focussed the international spotlight on the Kashmir valley, India has failed to expose clearly Pakistan's weaknesses in the N.A.," a security official said. If India's tenuous claims over Kashmir form the basis of Pakistan's argument to gain control of the Muslim-majority State, then the hatred of the people of the N.A. towards Islamabad must also be factored into the dispute, he added.

In 1963, in violation of all agreements, approximately a third of the N.A., the Shaksgam valley, was gifted to China under the Sino-Pakistan Boundary Agreement, which stipulated that the deal was subject to a final settlement of the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan. Thereafter China and Pakistan built the Karakoram military highway on the ceded territory, linking Islamabad with Kashgar in Xinjiang. And though the chances of renegotiating this arbitrary land transfer are remote, Pakistan remained wary of the local Shias, who have not reconciled themselves to the majority Sunni control from the `mainland'.

In the first decades after 1947, the N.A. agitation was directed towards joining the Pakistani mainstream by the amalgamation of the region on the basis of parity with POK. But once they realised that even this would not be conceded, in 1988 people revolted in Gilgit demanding an independent Karakoram state.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, then a Brigadier with the elite commando Special Services Group charged with quelling the disturbances, effectively used Sunni tribal `irregulars' to execute a brutal pogrom against the locals. Sunni tribals were trucked in from mainland Pakistan and the Afghan border regions, and after eight days of ceaseless violence the Army `stepped in' to restore peace. Thereafter large numbers of Sunnis were brought in from Punjab and the NWFP to settle down in Gilgit, radically altering the demographic profile of the area. The 85-90 per cent Shia majority of 1947 has been whittled down to around 55 per cent today. "We were ruled by the whites during the British days. We are now ruled by the browns from the plains. The rapid settling in of Punjabis and Pakhtoons from outside, particularly the trading classes, has created a sense of acute insecurity among the local Shias," local Shia leader Muhammad Yahya Shah declared. According to reports in the Pakistani press, the 1:4 ratio of non-local people to local people in the region until January 2001 has dipped to an alarming 3:4.

Anti-Sunni riots broke out in 1993 in Gilgit, leading to the death of 20 Shias. A year later the federal government allowed mainline political parties of Pakistan to funtion in the region but not those of neighbouring POK.

The first party-based elections in October 1994 led to the installation of the 26-member Northern Areas Executive Council, but it had only advisory powers, no legislative authority. The real power remained with the Ministry of Kashmir and Northern Areas Affairs, which is headed by a middle-level bureaucrat in Islamabad. `Mainland' officials continued to man the N.A.'s civil, police and security services. There was also no right of appeal against the judgments of the judicial commissioner.

Following the recommendations of the Pakistan Supreme Court to extend to the N.A. legislative, financial and administrative powers alongside an independent judiciary with writ jurisdiction, the first N.A. Legislative Council was elected in 2000. It was granted powers to legislate on local matters and impose local taxes, but the overall N.A. structure was left unchanged so that Pakistan's Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs continued as the chief executive. And when the rest of Pakistan voted for a new civilian government in the October 2002 elections, the N.A. remained outside the political process.

Unrest erupted in Gilgit in June 2001 and again two years later following protests from Sunni organisations over the Islamabad-directed administration's decision to introduce a school syllabus that ignored Shia beliefs. The Shias claimed that they were being forced to study the same books as those prescribed for Sunni students by the Sunni Ulema, and not those approved by the Shia clergy. Shia leaders said the textbooks promoted Sunni thought and values and were an attempt to promote sectarian hatred between the two sects. Hundreds of schoolchildren boycotted classes and staged protest rallies in Gilgit but to little effect.

The 11-week-long Kargil War in 1999 further fuelled discontent in the N.A. The Pakistan Army's Northern Light Infantry (NLI), over 70 per cent of which is comprised of local people, was used for the Kargil incursions. The NLI suffered serious casualties as the Shia soldiers were pushed into suicidal missions by Sunni officers from the `mainland'. Once Washington, fearing the conflict between the nuclear rivals could escalate, brokered peace between the neighbours and forced Pakistan to withdraw its forces, the NLI was disowned by Islamabad. Pakistan refused to accept the bodies of NLI soldiers and the Army initially refused any compensation to the families of those killed in combat. Soon afterwards, NLI units were posted out of the region while, to humiliate the local people further, Sunni Punjabi and Pakhtoon troops were inducted into hitherto "pure N.A." Shia units.

"Though outwardly calm, the Northern Areas of Pakistan are simmering with a crisis that has all the ingredients of boiling over the rim," the widely circulated newspaper Dawn said recently. This discontent and anger, if not appeased, can erupt into a national crisis with far-reaching consequences, it added.

Teaching a relevant economics

Globalisation and the Developing Economies: Theory and Evidence edited by Aditya Bhattacharjea and Sugat Marjit; Manohar Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi, 2004; pages 234, Rs.475.

A DIFFICULTY that serious teachers of economics in colleges and universities face is the absence of books that deal cogently with problems specific to developing countries, and in a manner that is ideally accessible to the post-graduate student or at least to the teacher. The Anglo-Saxon neoclassical tradition is dominant in the leading universities of India and many other developing countries, a fact not unrelated to the economic as well as ideological hegemony of the metropolitan countries over their erstwhile colonies in the post-Second World War period. While mainstream neoclassical economics provides a useful tool kit for certain microeconomic problems of limited interest, it is singularly unhelpful in dealing with macro economic issues. In fact, neoclassical economics implicitly denies the possibility of a macroeconomics, which is not deducible from axiomatic microeconomic foundations. It tends to view many problems of great complexity and contemporary interest through the methodological prism of individualism and does not grapple with structures or processes at meso- or macro-levels in an economy. It claims to be universally applicable and shows scant regard for differences in the nature of economic institutions and their implications for answers to economic questions. But as Professor Amiya Kumar Bagchi points out in his foreword to the book under review: "... [E]conomics as a discipline within the broad area of human sciences is necessarily context-specific." In a hugely unequal world, where the majority of countries are ex-colonies deformed by colonial and continuing neocolonial exploitation, the context becomes all the more important in the case of development economics. The book is a very innovative effort to address the problem of developing material for use in teaching economics at the postgraduate level in a developing country context. It is the outcome of a conference held in December 1999 at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Kolkata with the support of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

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The book consists of nine essays, each dealing with a distinct issue, but there is an overall unity to the book in the sense that most essays attempt to grapple with contemporary problems of great relevance and complexity using theoretical-empirical frameworks that go well beyond conventional neoclassical economics. The first three essays are country-specific studies dealing respectively with the disastrous economic transition in Russia, the South Korean experience and Malaysia's handling of the East Asian crisis as it affected that country. The next four essays deal with different but important aspects of the contemporary international economy and its implications for developing economies, addressing critically in the process the mainstream understanding of the relevant issues. The penultimate essay deals with the crucial issues of malnutrition and poverty in India over the last three decades. The final essay focusses on the socio-economic aspects of the issue of reproduction and the family. Most of the essays are carefully constructed, with an evident effort at pedagogical clarity as well.

IN an elaborate and insightful essay, the veteran Russia specialist Professor Nirmal Chandra raises the question whether Russia will survive the International Monetary Fund (IMF) medicine. Tracing the key indicators of the Russian economy through the 1990s, Chandra shows that the Russian economy has been devastated by the neoliberal shock therapy forced on it by the IMF and implemented by a venal political leadership. The Russian economy has been in a state of depression for quite some time. There has been massive capital flight from Russia. The country's political rulers are in league with financial oligarchs and criminals and are dependent on the Western powers, especially the United States, for survival. Finally, Russia has experienced a demographic catastrophe with a sharp decline in birth rates, a steep increase in death rates and a sizeable absolute decline in population. Chandra draws attention to the fact that the interests of the Russian mafia-oligarchs and Western governments were often intertwined. Supporting a joint statement issued in June 2000 by a group of distinguished economists from both the U.S. and Russia, which essentially amounts to a repudiation of the reforms imposed by the IMF in Russia at the behest of the Western powers and in line with its own flawed understanding, Chandra raises a question. If the illegal privatisations are annulled, as implicitly suggested by the joint statement, most firms will either fall into the hands of foreign investors who alone will have the wherewithal to buy the firms at appropriate prices, or in the likely event of strong popular opposition to such a move on both economic and nationalist grounds, the firms will revert back to state ownership. Will the U.S. countenance such a possibility? Chandra, citing Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, believes that the U.S. will not, and concludes: "Either Russia must forsake its dependence on the IMF and the U.S. treasury, or go on suffering indefinitely."

In a fascinating account of the evolution of South Korea's economic policies over the decades of its emergence as an economic powerhouse, Chul Gyue Yoo brings out the fact that South Korea's rapid industrialisation occurred during the period when financial policy was subordinate to and run as an accessory to industrial policy. This has obvious implications for other developing countries. A policy regime that subordinates the interests of industry and agriculture, and of productive investment more generally, to the dictates of finance cannot deliver sustained economic growth over a long period. As Yoo says, such a policy as the one followed in South Korea meant that "... the interests of the financial class were repressed... based on the view that the financial rentier class was... a parasitic group... " The much maligned "financial repression" is not such a bad thing after all. Unfortunately for South Korea, monetarist thinking, imposed by the IMF, displaced the earlier focus on material economic growth and put "... the interest of the financial sector before that of the industrial sector... "

Yoo draws attention to the fact that globalisation and neoliberal ideology, which in his view derive their influence less from anonymous market forces and more from political intervention through institutions like the U.S. government and international organisations, try to promote homogenisation among national capitalist economies. He makes the important point that "... the effects of the neoliberal regime on individual countries, despite strong pressure for convergence towards one model of capitalism, will always be mediated by the distinctive institutions and practices specific to each country".

The essay by Eu Chye Tan takes a rather more sanguine view of speculation in forex markets than would be warranted by global experience, but in the specific context of Malaysia since 1998. Tan's view that speculation will help stability in forex markets and that economic agents will learn to hedge against exchange rate risk is unconvincing. In contrast, in a brief but pithy paper, Professor Amit Bhaduri shows that speculation can be destabilising under reasonable assumptions about the real world. He argues against a binary divide between control and deregulation, taking the position that exchange rate deregulation can be combined with greater regulation of short-term portfolio capital flows and by adopting a cautious policy towards foreign borrowing. A point that needs to be made here is that formal mathematical models only give you what you have put into them in the first place. In most cases, they are at best aids in stating elegantly what is plausible, but at the risk of concealing assumptions about the real world in a maze of algebra, as the late Maurice Dobb had warned more than 60 years ago in a brilliant essay entitled "Some tendencies in modern economic theory".

ADITYA BHATTCHARJEA'S essay is easily one of the best in this collection. In a careful and rigorous reading of the more recent literature on the relationship between increasing returns to scale, trade and development that makes an effort to go beyond the dominant neoclassical paradigm, the author demonstrates that the new literature continues to be hampered by its roots in the same paradigm. However, the author also notes that they "... capture some of the important stylised facts of development and of production subject to IRS (increasing returns to scale) that cannot be dealt with satisfactorily in traditional versions trade theory".

In an essay on wages, labour mobility and international migration, Sugata Marjit and Saibal Kar take an unwarranted dig at the student movement when they assert: "Often sound economic judgment has to take a back seat because of the shameless hypocrisy of the so-called egalitarian student movement. Higher education invariably accommodates students coming from more privileged segments of society and they always protest vehemently if the subsidy is reduced even by a bit." The presumption that higher education must not be subsidised is not validated by the fact that the services of a section of those receiving subsidised higher education are lost to a country because of emigration. What such a situation calls for is a more nuanced approach to the issue than simple and unargued railing against subsidy, and in the bargain, innuendo against an undefined "so-called egalitarian student movement". From the standpoint of scientific and technological self-reliance, the case for subsidising higher education remains valid. The modalities of delivering subsidy effectively to those most in need of it do certainly need to be explored.

Prabirjit Sarkar's essay on export diversification and market shares notes that in spite of the increasing importance of manufactured products in the exports of the countries of the South to the countries of the North in the period since the Second World War, the commodity terms of trade (CTT) of the South has continued to deteriorate. As Sarkar points out, diversification of export structures has helped some developing countries in market penetration in the sense that the more diversified a country's export structure is, the more is its share in world exports. However, the rate of deterioration in its CTT does not decline even if its exports are more diversified. What this means, in layman's terms, is that the purchasing power of the exports of developing countries and their relative gains from trade are being constantly reduced. What also needs to be borne in mind is that the intra-firm trade of multinational corporations dominates world trade and they use the technique of transfer pricing to siphon out surpluses from Third World countries bypassing extant regulations in the process.

Professor R. Radhakrishna and his co-authors have examined the issues of nutritional intake, nutritional status and changing food preferences in India over the last three decades. While their focus on changing food and more generally consumer preferences tends to obfuscate matters a bit, their overall findings are clear and sobering. They conclude that India has "... failed to make much dent in reducing widespread malnutrition. As many as half of the preschool children suffer from malnutrition and close to half the adult population suffer from chronic energy deficiency in rural areas". Moreover, "The bottom 30 per cent of the rural population had a per capita intake of only 1,670 kcal per day, compared to the nutritional requirement of 2,200 kcal per day". The authors note that "Economic growth, left to itself, may not have a dramatic impact on the nutritional situation in the near future... ", a point which does not figure in the official celebrations of `India Shining'.

The final essay in the book is by Professor Nirmala Banerjee on the socio-economic analysis of reproduction and the family. It is an insightful and fascinating survey of the relevant literature.

While the editors' claim that "... getting familiar with the materials presented here will not cause any undue burden on the students of the Third World... " is perhaps overly optimistic and ambitious, the book will be an excellent aid to serious teachers of economics at the post-graduate level.

A celestial spectacle

The transit of Venus, a rare astronomical event, will occur on June 8 and will be visible all over India.

A TRANSIT of Venus over the disc of the sun will occur on June 8, 2004. Astronomers are eagerly awaiting this rare event, as it will be taking place after a gap of 122 years. No one alive at present has seen a transit of Venus - the last one occurred in 1882.

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In describing the motions of the planets relative to the earth, it is convenient to divide them into two classes - those nearer the sun than the earth are called inferior, those that are more remote are called superior. Thus, Mercury and Venus are inferior planets. An inferior conjunction of Venus occurs when the planet comes in between the sun and the earth. During a superior conjunction, Venus is on the opposite side of the sun in relation to the earth. The apparent yearly path of the sun against the background stars, passing through the patterns of the zodiac, is called the ecliptic. The ecliptic plane is really the projection of the earth's orbital plane around the sun onto the celestial sphere.

Like all planets, Venus orbits the sun in the same sense as the earth - counter-clockwise, as seen from the north celestial pole. The orbital plane of Venus is inclined at approximately 3 to the plane of the ecliptic. The two points on Venus' orbit where it crosses the ecliptic plane are known as nodes. The line joining them, which is also the line of intersection of the earth's orbit and the orbital plane of Venus, is known as the line of nodes. Since its orbit is slightly inclined to the ecliptic, Venus usually passes north or south of the sun at inferior conjunction. (Inferior conjunction occurs at an interval of 584 days.) But if such conjunction occurs when Venus is near its node, then it is seen from the earth as a small, dark spot moving from east to west across the sun's luminous disc along a path sensibly parallel to the ecliptic. This is known as the transit of Venus. The condition necessary for a transit is similar to the requirement for a solar or lunar eclipse.

A transit is analogous to an annular eclipse of the sun. It is an astronomical event, where a smaller, dark object passes in front of a larger, bright one. In other words, a transit occurs when the shadow of an inferior planet falls upon the earth. Thus it is possible in the case of the inferior planet Mercury too, and we do witness transits of Mercury occasionally. However, solar transits of Venus are exceedingly rare events - rarer than the transits of Mercury - primarily because Venus is farther from the sun and the proper alignment occurs less frequently. But when they occur, they do so in pairs, eight years apart, in June or December. After the June 2004 event, the next transit is due in 2012, and then only in 2117 and 2125.

There are four phases during a transit: two at the start (known as ingress) and two at the end (known as egress). The first exterior contact occurs when the planet first appears to touch the sun's edge or limb; the first internal contact is the point at which the planet is fully upon the sun's disc but still contiguous with its limb. The second internal contact occurs when the planet touches the opposite limb of the sun, having crossed its disc; and the second external contact happens the moment the planet's trailing limb finally clears the sun's disc.

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Venus is the third brightest object in the sky after the sun and the moon and that is why it is very easy to see, even when it is close to the sun or low in the sky. Although Venus is not a star, it appears more than 10 times brighter than the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius. Venus can be seen even during daytime, if we know just where to look for it. On a moonless night, away from city lights, the faint shadow cast by the planet is visible. Its brightness stems from the fact that it is highly reflective with an albedo of over 0.7 - that is, more than 70 per cent of the sunlight reaching Venus is reflected back into space. Most of the sunlight is reflected from clouds that are high in the planet's dense atmosphere. Venus appears to swing back and forth in the sky, during its synodic period, from one side of the sun to the other. Therefore we can see Venus from the earth only just before sunrise or just after sunset and as such the planet is often called the "morning star" or the "evening star", depending on where it happens to be in its orbit. The early Greek astronomers thought that the morning Venus and the evening Venus were two separate objects. By about the 6th century B.C., the truth had become clear and the planet was named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love; Venus is her Roman name.

One might expect Venus to appear the brightest when it is "full", that is, when the entire sunlit side is visible. Venus is full when it is in superior conjunction, but we cannot see this phase as it is lost in the sun's glare. We can see an almost full Venus within a few degrees of superior conjunction. When Venus is closest to the earth, at inferior conjunction, the planet is at the new phase, lying between the earth and the sun. At this time it cannot be seen because the sunlit side is on the other side. As Venus moves away from inferior conjunction, more and more of it becomes visible. The planet's maximum apparent brightness actually occurs about 36 days before or after inferior conjunction. The elongation of the planet at this time is 39 and it is seen as a rather fat crescent.

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Venus is surrounded by a thick cloud, whose reflectivity makes the planet so prominent in the night sky. At the same time it makes it impossible for us to discern any of the surface features of the planet, at least in visible light. Until the advent of suitable radar techniques in the 1960s, astronomers did not know the rotation period of Venus. Radar observers announced that the Doppler broadening of their returned echoes implied a sluggish 243-day rotation period. Furthermore, Venus's spin was found to be retrograde - that is, opposite to that of the earth and most objects of the solar system, and in the opposite sense to Venus's orbital motion. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Magellan spacecraft reached Venus in 1990. It carried a synthetic aperture radar, that is, a radar that allows scientists to combine data from a sequence of positions as the spacecraft flies along the trajectory. Magellan mapped about 99 per cent of Venus' surface with a resolution of about 200m.

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If we could stand on the surface of Venus and see the sun, which is not possible, it would rise in the west and set in the east nearly two earth months later, rising again in the west two Earth months after that. As the rotation of Venus is so slow, the planet's solar day is quite different from its 243-earth-day sidereal rotation period. In fact, one Venus day is a little more than half a Venus year (225 earth days). Such backward orbital revolution around the sun is called retrograde rotation - to distinguish it from forward (direct) rotation. Nearly all the planets in the solar system rotate counter-clockwise as seen from the north. Uranus and Pluto are exceptions, and so is Venus. Venus' slow retrograde rotation is mysterious. Why is Venus rotating backwards, and why so slowly? Nobody knows definitely why Venus rotates "the wrong way".

Transits of Venus have been used in attempts to determine the solar parallax. To understand the importance of a transit of Venus to 19th century astronomers, one needs to understand first the concept of parallax. In fact, a number of astronomy books - both old and new - define the measurement of the earth-sun distance as the calculation of the solar parallax. Parallax is defined as the apparent displacement of an object against a background when the object is viewed from different locations. If you hold your thumb at arm's length and alternately close first one eye and then the other, the position of your thumb seems to change against the background objects. This apparent shift is called parallax. In relation to a transit of Venus, we substitute two observers on earth for our two eyes. Venus takes the place of our thumb and the brilliant disc of the sun becomes the background. When Venus is seen by two observers separated by as wide a distance as possible (or practical), the amount of displacement may be measured. From that displacement (parallax), the distance can be calculated. For this procedure to be of value, an accurate measure of timings throughout the transit must be made by all observers. The most important measurements are those of the four contact points. It was Edmond Halley who first realised how to calculate the earth-sun distance by using measurements obtained during a transit of Venus. His theory inspired astronomers in many countries to mount expeditions to observe the transits of 1761 and 1769. Although Halley successfully predicted the measurement of the earth-sun distance from the observation of a transit of Venus, he could not see the transit of 1761. He died in 1742.

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Mikhail Vasilievitch Lomonosov, the Russian poet and chemist, observed the transit of Venus from St. Petersburg in 1761 and detected a faint halo of light surrounding Venus, at ingress and egress. Lomonosov correctly interpreted this as owing to a dense atmosphere around the planet itself, and this was the first objective proof of the Venusian atmosphere. Another interesting effect can be witnessed at ingress or egress. This is the "black drop" effect. As Venus passes onto the sun it appears to draw out a dark extension between itself and the sun's limb, making the planet look like a black tear-drop. The black-drop is really an image distortion in the proximity of the solar limb. The primary causes of the black-drop effect are atmospheric turbulence and diffraction in the telescope. The black-drop effect caused significant variations in the recorded times of contact during the transit of 1761.

The transit of Venus on June 8 will be visible in Europe, most of Africa and all of Asia except the very Far East. The transit will be visible from all corners of India. The general beginning of the transit is at 10 hours 44 minutes (Indian Standard Time) and the ending is at 6h 56m IST. (For the local circumstances relating to the four metropolitan cities, see table.)

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Unlike the transits of Mercury, Venus transits are visible to the naked eye. Since Venus is nearly one arcminute in diameter, it is visible without any optical aid, as a small black dot passing across the disc of the sun. But under no circumstances should an observer look at the sun without using an approved, safe filter. The safest way to observe the transit is by projecting the sun through a small refracting telescope onto a piece of card. Never look along the telescope to line it up. Always have your back to the sun and use the shadow of the tube to home in on the sun. Keep finderscopes capped at both ends for safety (the little plastic ones melt if left uncapped). If you want to observe directly, you must use a genuine solar filter. Make sure it has a proper mounting that securely fastens to the telescope.

Prof. Amalendu Bandyopadhyay is Senior Scientist, M.P. Birla Institute of Fundamental Research, M.P. Birla Planetarium, Kolkata.

A historic union

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

Ten more states join the European Union, but underlying the momentous event are worries about a threat to its cohesion given the constituents' varying perceptions of political and economic issues.

THE entry of 10 new members into the European Union (E.U.) on May 1 has been described as a momentous event. With the latest expansion, E.U. membership has gone up to 25. The new members are the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, the Republic of Cyprus and Malta. The inclusion of former communist states in the E.U. has formalised their political and economic partnership with the West. The E.U.'s size has now increased by almost a quarter, and its borders extend to Russia. Some of its parts are now closer to Damascus than to Brussels.

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Today the E.U. is the world's single largest trading bloc. This is quite an achievement considering the fact that the concept of European integration came up in 1951 with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community consisting of Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. The next expansion was in 1973 when Britain, Ireland and Denmark joined the community. Greece, Spain and Portugal followed in the 1980s. In 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland joined what came to be called the E.U.

Big celebrations in the capitals of all E.U. member-states marked the historic expansion. In a speech, Prime Minster of Ireland Bertie Ahern reminded fellow Europeans that they must "never forget that from war we have created peace. From hatred we have created respect. From division we have created union". The new members have the option of joining Europe's borderless "Schengen" zone by 2006. Some of the new members such as Hungary, the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Poland have imposed temporary restrictions on the right of E.U. citizens from the rich member-states to acquire property on their territory.

The general belief in the new member-states is that May 1 has opened the door to future prosperity. However, there is a perceptible wariness among the residents of the prosperous parts of Europe. Fear is rife of an influx of East Europeans looking for work. Warnings about waves of Romas (gypsies) descending on Western Europe are a common in sections of the media. After the latest expansion, the E.U. will be a little less prosperous, at least in the short run. The per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of the new member-states is only about 40 per cent of the existing E.U. levels. Germany and Italy, which make substantial contributions to the E.U. budget, fear that they would now have to contribute more. Other original members such as Portugal and Spain worry that the bulk of the E.U. investments will be diverted to the new member-states in Eastern Europe. Concerns are being raised about the number of nationalities and languages in the expanded E.U., which would make the task of meaningful integration more difficult. There are more than 20 official languages spoken within the E.U. today.

Equally relevant is the possibility of the E.U. becoming politically less cohesive. As things stand, there are perceptible differences among the major E.U. nations. While France and Germany opposed the United States' military intervention in Iraq, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom supported it. The majority of the new members from East Europe were also enthusiastic supporters of the invasion of Iraq. In fact, most of them sent troops to Iraq to underline their solidarity with the George W. Bush administration. Their support and eventual participation in the Iraq war led U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to claim that "new Europe" (meaning the East European countries) was with Washington. Now that the E.U. has expanded, the pro-Washington tilt in the community could only become stronger, given the influence the Bush administration wields in the capitals of many of the new member-states.

DESPITE the end of the Cold War and the emergence of Europe as an economic powerhouse, the E.U. still looks up to the U.S. as the ultimate guarantor of its security. The E.U. allowed the U.S. to emerge as the ultimate arbiter in the Balkans despite the fact that the war there was initiated by some prominent West European powers. The international community hoped that the E.U. would play a responsible role commensurate to its size and economic clout on the world stage. Several developing countries, especially those whose economies were being undermined by the U.S., viewed the introduction of the euro as a positive step in this direction. Many hoped that the E.U. would play a key role in checking the hegemonic behaviour of the U.S. in the international arena.

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In recent years, there have been some coordinated moves by Germany, France and Belgium to steer a more independent course in issues relating to foreign policy. Their governments have also developed a working relationship with Moscow. However, on important issues such as Iraq, they failed to make the E.U. adopt a clear and defining position. The E.U. has allowed itself to be virtually reduced to the role of a spectator despite being part of the West Asia Quartet that worked out the "road map" to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question, as the Bush administration in tandem with the Israeli government led by Ariel Sharon continues trampling on the rights of Palestinians. Other members of the Quartet are Russia, the U.S., and the United Nations. The group has the required legitimacy and an international mandate to find a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian issue. Recently, despite the European Parliament voting to condemn the incarceration of detenus in Guantanamo in Cuba, the E.U. refused to support a Cuban resolution at the UN Human Rights meet in Geneva that condemned the illegal and inhumane detention of foreign prisoners in the U.S.-controlled base. .

The Athens Declaration of 2003, which signalled the expansion of the E.U., explicitly stated that new and old members "are determined to work at all levels to tackle global terrorism and stem weapons of mass destruction". The Declaration also pledged "its support to the United Nations and its efforts to assure international legitimacy and global responsibility". The international community, especially the developing world, hopes that the E.U. will be able to assert its identity and stand up to the U.S. "hyper power". The widespread expectation is that the leading powers in the E.U. will play the role of catalysts for the political resurgence of the continent. Otherwise, as an editorial in the French daily Le Monde noted, the 25-member community will keep moving "forward like a duck without a head".

The E.U. leadership has openly articulated the need for the E.U. having its own military capability, the first step to which is the drafting of a new European Security and Defence Policy. A decision has been taken to raise a corps level military force of around 60,000 personnel. Washington is not happy with the prospects of the E.U. having an independent fighting force and would prefer the latter to operate through the proposed North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Rapid Response Force to be set up by October. This force would reach a strength of 20,000 by 2005 and will be deployable at five days' notice. The Europeans are sceptical about the role of NATO, which is dominated by the U.S. Recent events have shown that any attempt by the Europeans to influence NATO decision-making have not been appreciated in Washington. The recent expansion of NATO by including a host of East European nations has further strengthened Washington's hands in the organisation.

Many challenges lie ahead for the E.U. One of the immediate ones relates to the pending admission of Turkey. Turkey has been waiting in line for a long time. Washington has been putting pressure on the E.U. leadership to expedite the process of Turkey's admission. However, many of the key E.U. players continue to be wary about the prospects of an Islamic country becoming an E.U. member. They are afraid of the demographic consequence of such a move. Already there are an estimated three million Turks working in Europe and Turkey's membership could alter the balance of power in the E.U. Turkey's population is projected to outstrip that of Germany, the most populous country in the E.U., in the near future. Some estimates forecast that by 2010 Muslims will account for 10 per cent of the population within the E.U. in its present form. The other fear, which is rarely openly articulated by the E.U. leadership, is that the Christian character of Europe will be threatened if Turkey too joins.

Russia's worries

CHARU SINGH in Moscow world-affairs

The latest expansion of the European Union worries Russia as it can affect its economic interests and virtually isolate it from the Baltic region and Eastern Europe.

in Moscow

HARDLY a month after the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (NATO) expansion into the Baltic states on March 30, Russia had an even bigger cause for worry: the European Union's (E.U.) expansion into the Baltics and Eastern Europe on May 1 with the absorption of eight former communist states. It is ironical that the idea of a united "European homeland" first originated in Russia during the period of perestroika, carefully crafted by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Today, even as a united Europe does seem to be emerging, Russia has been left out in the cold. There has been considerable consternation in Russia about the latest E.U. expansion and experts are divided on the extent of economic losses for Russia that it is going to result in. However, on the strategic front they fear that a "paper wall" may be coming up in Europe: the reference is to the 2,400 km border that has now emerged between Russia and Europe.

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Predictably, tension has built up between Brussels and Moscow over the past few months. As a reaction to the E.U.'s expansion plan, Moscow laid down as early as February "14 conditions" as vital to the extension of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) to the 10 states. (The PCA is the cornerstone of the relations between the E.U. and Russia.) Of these, at least 12 related to economic concerns and 2 were political. Intensive negotiations between diplomats and government officials representing the two sides went on for weeks preceding the E.U. expansion. Russia's concerns, both economic and political, were discussed at length. An agreement was reached on April 27 in Luxembourg and Russia toned down its stand on the PCA and agreed to extend it in return for certain concessions from the E.U. An E.U.-Russia joint statement said that the two sides would work towards creating "opportunities to further strengthen their strategic partnership offered by the enlargement of the E.U.".

A major worry in Moscow is that the expansion will affect Russia's economic interests. German Gref, Minister of Economic Development and Trade, recently suggested that the E.U. expansion could cost Russia $150 million in lost trade. Many observers put the cost at $600 million. Some experts believe that the move will make a minimal impact on Russia and will even benefit it economically in the long run. Others feel that with the development, Russia is isolated from Europe strategically and this can have a negative bearing on its relations with Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. Yuri Bortko, Director of the Centre of Integration European Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the RIA Novosti news agency that he had "mixed feelings" about the Luxembourg agreement. He said: "On the one hand, the E.U. made certain concessions at the last possible moment, though it could have done so before. On the other, the joint statement includes promises to take into account Russia's concerns over the near doubling of E.U. membership. Promises are good, but what will they come to?"

However, the Luxembourg deal seems to have fetched Russia substantial economic concessions from the E.U. For one, the average tariff on Russian imports to the 10 new member-states is expected to fall from 9 to 4 per cent. The E.U. has assured Russia that its existing exports to the new member-states will be preserved, so that trade in the region is not affected. Further, Russia's quota of steel exports to the E.U. is expected to increase by some 480,000 tonnes; its current exports to the new E.U. member-states total less than 200,000 tonnes. The E.U. has also assured Russia that customs duty on aluminium will be raised only at a gradual pace, over a period of three years until it reaches 6 per cent by 2007. Thus Russian traders are given enough time to acclimatise their business to changes brought about by the expansion. The E.U. has also agreed in principle to Russia maintaining its existing contracts on delivering nuclear fuel to plants in four of the new member-states. In addition, it has agreed to waive the noise regulations for the transit of Russian jets to Budapest and Vilnius and given them permission to continue their service in this belt. Lastly, the E.U. accepted Russian demands for an increase in the country's grain export quota to more than the 2003 level. Thus, at least on the economic front it seems that the Russian losses owing to the expansion will be minimal.

A major political issue that has been causing tension between the E.U. and Russia for some time concerns the Kaliningrad enclave. Kaliningrad is Russia's western-most extension and is geographically cut off from the mainland. The enclave was originally known as Konigsberg and was the capital of East Prussia. It was ceded to the Soviet Union after the Second World War under the Potsdam Agreement and was renamed after the Soviet statesman Mikhail Kalinin. Bordered by Poland and Lithuania, today it is an isolated swath of Russian territory encircled by E.U. states. Kaliningrad is infamous for its underdevelopment and crime, especially smuggling, and is a source of considerable concern for the E.U. For some time, Russia has had problems with the E.U. about Kaliningrad's growing isolation and the overland transit of Russian trains to the enclave through E.U. territory. Anatoliy Khramchikhin, head of the analytical department at the Institute of Military and Political Analysis, said that the E.U. expansion "could bring about a massive economic crisis in Russia's western-most region". However, the E.U. seems to have yielded somewhat to Russia and allowed cargo transit between the Russian mainland and the enclave. The E.U. has also agreed to continue to work to ease visa restrictions for Russians travelling between Moscow and Kaliningrad. Also being allowed is the passage of sealed high-speed Russian trains through Lithuania to Kaliningrad. Analysts have welcomed this as a major political agreement between the two sides.

However, the issue that created the maximum tension between the two sides concerned Russian demands for the protection of minority rights within the new E.U. states, especially the rights of Russians settled in Estonia and Latvia. Russia raised the issue of their alleged ill-treatment with the E.U. and made the protection of their rights almost critical for the extension of the PCA. However, the deadlock was broken in Luxembourg with a relatively watered-down joint statement which ambiguously referred to an E.U. pledge to encourage the "social integration" of ethnic minorities into the new member-states. The statement made no mention of the situation in Estonia and Latvia and said that "the E.U. and the Russian Federation welcome E.U. membership as a firm guarantee for the protection of human rights and the protection of persons belonging to minorities". Analysts feel that on this issue Russia only managed to extract a weak assurance from the E.U. and this very assurance could result in the Chechnya issue being raised by the West.

On the whole, the E.U. expansion has upset Moscow a lot more than the NATO expansion. Further, Russia had considerable economic interaction with the eight former Soviet states that have now been absorbed into the E.U. Thus, Moscow's apprehension on account of the economic fallout of the May 1 expansion has to be taken seriously. Currently, it does look as though any economic reverses that Russia may have had to face owing to the move have been contained. The E.U. remains Russia's largest trading partner.

Nevertheless, Moscow's fears have merely been tempered down and not dispelled. The reality remains that Russia today faces an ironical situation: it is getting isolated in its own traditional playground, the Baltics and Eastern Europe. Effectively, Russia is facing the prospects of a pro-active E.U. and NATO touching its borders and calling the shots in Eastern Europe and the Baltics. Moscow no longer harbours the hope of joining the E.U. Its long-term reaction to the recharting of Europe's borders is what remains to be seen.

War on Iraq: an international crime

THE United States' attack on Iraq in 2003, along with Britain and a few other accomplices, was a war of aggression; conceived in malice and executed in deceit. The two stated grounds for the war - that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and was linked to Al Qaeda - have been exposed to be untrue to the knowledge of those who made it - President George Bush, his National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice; Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his Deputy Paul Wolfowitz, Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

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These two authoritative books, although written from different perspectives prove that the attack was thought of soon after Bush became President in January 2001; that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz revived the idea on the morrow of 9/11; Rice lent her full support and Powell abandoned his qualms and went along. Bush and Blair continued to deny that a decision to go to war had been made even after it had been.

Richard A. Clarke was appointed the first National Coordinator for Security Infrastructure Protection and Counter-Terrorism in 1998, having begun his federal service in 1973. An analyst on nuclear weapons, security issues and intelligence, this career official's book records his anguish at failures by successive Presidents since Ronald Reagan to combat terrorism. He would have liked the U.S. to march to Baghdad and topple Saddam Hussein in 1991. 9/11 upset him because, unlike Bill Clinton, Bush did not take terrorism seriously. Clarke was opposed to the war on Iraq for two reasons - it would divert the war against the terrorists in Afghanistan and elsewhere and the grounds that were advanced in support of the war were false. "My fellow citizens were being misled." He resigned from service and wrote this superb volume. It begins with the crime of 9/11 and how the leaders reacted to it, relying on Clarke as prime adviser. No one doubted Al Qaeda's complicity.

The next day on September 12: "I expected to go back to a round of meetings examining what the next attacks could be, what our vulnerabilities were, what we could do about them in the short term. Instead, I walked into a series of discussions about Iraq. At first I was incredulous that we were talking about something other than getting Al Qaeda. Then I realised with almost a sharp physical pain that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq. Since the beginning of the administration, indeed well before, they had been pressing for a war with Iraq. My friends in the Pentagon had been telling me that the word was we would be invading Iraq sometime in 2002 (emphasis added, throughout)." Rumsfeld talked about "getting Iraq", Powell disagreed. When Clarke thanked him for it, "Powell shook his head `It's not over yet'." He knew his senior colleagues were all for war and that Bush agreed with them. His resignation, at an opportune moment, might have arrested the drift. Instead, he criticised and complained - but went along.

"Later, on the evening of the 12th, I lelt the video conferencing centre and there, wandering alone around the Situation Room, was the President. He looked like he wanted something to do. He grabbed a few of us and closed the door to the conference room. `Look', he told us, `I know you have a lot to do and all... but I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way... .' I was once again taken aback, incredulous, and it showed. `But, Mr. President, Al Qaeda did this?

"`I know, I know, but... see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred... .' `Absolutely, we will look... again.' I was trying to be more respectful, more responsive. But, you know, we have looked several times for state sponsorship of Al Qaeda and not found any real linkages to Iraq. Iran plays a little, as does Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Yemen.' `Look into Iraq, Saddam,' the President said testily and left us."

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The evidence suggests that Bush felt that his father was wrong to end the 1991 war without toppling Saddam Hussein and Cheney and the rest thought like-wise.

Like his earlier book Bush at War, Woodward's book is a public relations job on Bush. He is an ace reporter, tireless and with the widest contacts possible. It is amazing how much his account, based on what he heard from friends in the administration, supports Clarke's censures of them.

Like Bush Rumsfeld talked of war on Iraq the very next day after 9/11. Woodward reports: "The next day in the inner circle of Bush's war cabinet, Rumsfeld asked if the terrorist attacks did not present an `opportunity' (sic.) to launch against Iraq." 9/11 was, then, no reason for war; still less, a provocation. It was an "opportunity" to exploit domestic and international anger to complete what was left incomplete in 1991. That explains the lies they had to retail to cover up this sinister plan. Cheney "harboured a deep sense of unfinished business about Iraq", Woodward recalls.

The lies will be nailed to the mast as books roll off the presses - Nixon's counsel John Dean's book Worse Than Watergate and Ambassador Joseph Wilson's The Politics of Truth. Wilson was the one who had exposed the lie about the uranium from Niger story in Bush's State of the Union Speech on January 28, 2003, in retaliation for which administration officials broke the law and blew the cover off his wife Valerie Plame, a Central Intelligence Agency officer.

Perhaps the deadliest of all will be the formidable historian John Prados' book Hoodwinked: The Documents That Reveal How Bush sold us a War, which the public interest publishers The New Press, will publish. Meanwhile, we have another documented account which also supports Clarke's charges. It is an article entitled "The Path To War" published in Vanity Fair, in May. The introduction reads: "Amid the smoking wreckage of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration took its policy goal of regime change in Iraq and began an 18-month campaign marked by miscalculation, bullying, and deception that would tarnish its credibility and turn the world's sympathy for the U.S. into fear and mistrust. From the coining of the phrase "axis of evil" in a D.C. Starbucks to repeated attempts to discredit the United Nations Weapons Inspectors, Bryan Burrough, Eugena Peretz, David Rose, and David Wise unfold the saga of stunning blunders, desperate manoeuvres and dangerous arrogance as seen by White House, Pentagon, CIA and other insiders." They are likely to spill the beans before long.

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All three, the two books and the article, reveal an administration torn by bitter strife to an unprecedented degree. It testifies to the incompetence of its head, President Bush. One "insider" told Vanity Fair, that Rice "has no opinions of her own. Her supreme concern is preserving her own relationship with the President. She is a chief of staff, not an advocate, until she's sure he knows what he wants to do."

Rice's article in Foreign Affairs of January 2000 entitled "promoting national interest" showed none of the obsession with Iraq, which she came to share with Bush; only a mediocre intellect, slender equipment and a taste for banality.

The writers mention: "The White House and several key officials involved in the diplomatic and military preparations, including Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, declined to be interviewed. But many others agreed, including senior officials at the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House. Some of the keenest observations about the evolution of the war effort come from top officials in the British government... ."

In contrast, Bush and all the senior members of his Cabinet spoke to Woodward for hours. He was given texts of "top secret" documents, not because they owed him a living, but because, as before, he could be trusted to show Bush as one in full command, quoting Cheney and Rumsfeld's profuse praise of the man they cynically manipulate. Rumsfeld told Woodward on January 9, 2002, that 9/11 provided "the opportunity to rearrange the world" not merely to eliminate Saddam Hussein. Israel was at the centre of this plan. Clarke, ever the professional, records: "Five rationales are attributed to three senior advisers (Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz) and to President Bush: To clean up the mess left by the first Bush administration when, in 1991, it let Saddam Hussein consolidate power and slaughter opponents... ; to improve Israel's strategic position by eliminating a large, hostile military; to create an Arab democracy that could serve as a model to other friendly Arab states now threatened with internal dissent, notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia; to permit the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia (after 12 years), where they were stationed to counter the Iraqi military and were a source of anti-Americanism threatening to the regime; to create another friendly source of oil for the U.S. market and reduce dependency upon oil from Saudi Arabia, which might suffer overthrow someday. I believe all of these motivations were at work. Most of them reflect a concern with the long term stability of the House of Saud."

The Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow, said in speech on September 10, 2002: "Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I'll tell you what I think the real threat is and actually has been since 1990 - it's the threat against Israel. And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don't care deeply about this threat, and the American government doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell." Bush's total support for Ariel Sharon confirms this.

Clarke writes: "Our stronger military relationship with Israel came about only by the Reagan White House imposing it on the Pentagon and State Department. The decision was the right thing to do militarily and morally, but the closer relationship with Tel Aviv did over time inflame some Arab radicals and give them propaganda to help recruit terrorists to their anti-American cause. Thus, between our build-up in the Gulf and our programmes with Israel, by the mid-1980s, the United States had a growing military presence in the Middle East." To this day Americans do not realise that this is the single gravest source of their unpopularity in the Arab World and in Muslim countries. Malaysia and Indonesia are as resentful as any Arab country.

Initially, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, President George H.W. Bush, Secretary of State James Baker and Defence Secretary Dick Cheney "were reluctant to act". But they soon changed their minds. "Reluctantly, Bush and his team decided that they needed to defend the Saudi oil fields, and do so quickly. They needed Saudi permission for the defensive deployment, but there were some in the Pentagon and White House who thought that U.S. forces needed to protect the Saudi oil with or without Saudi approval."

The Saudis are aware of this latent threat. Saudi Arabia was deafeningly silent on the invasion. Cheney persuaded the King that Iraq eyed his oil fields. "We had no evidence that Iraq was intending to keep going." It was a mere possibility. The King's nephew Prince Bandar, Ambassador to the U.S. and a friend of the Bushes, pressed him to accept Cheney's advice and receive U.S. troops on his soil. Most of the King's brothers were opposed to it. Cheney prevailed. Whatever chances there were of an Arab solution to the problem were extinguished. The U.S. acquired a massive presence, with lasting consequences. No Vice-President has played a more active role in making policy then Cheney has. He participated in the National Security Council's principals' meetings, which no Vice-President had done.

Clarke's book is devoted mainly to showing how the war on terrorism was fought; not to denounce Bush. He figures in the context of the main theme. Clarke reveals much: "Albright and I and a handful of others (Michael Sheehan, Jamie Rubin) had entered into a pact together in 1996 to oust Boutros Boutros-Ghali as Secretary-General of the United Nations... . In the end Clinton was impressed that we had managed not only to oust Boutros-Ghali but to have Kofi Annan selected to replace him." Vanity Fair reports that "behind closed doors, he (Colin Powell) actually called Annan `My man Annan'."

If Rice downgraded Clarke's position as the National Coordinator, Wolfowitz asked: "I just don't understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man [Osama] bin Laden." Clarke answered: "We are talking about a network of terrorist organisations called Al Qaeda, that happens to be led by bin Laden, and we are talking about that network because it and it alone poses an immediate and serious threat to the United States." Wolfowitz retorted: "Well there are others that do as well, at least as much. Iraqi terrorism for example."

Clarke had to battle hard to get the administration to focus on terrorism. "On September 4, 2001, the Principals Committee meeting on Al Qaeda that I had called for `urgently' on January 25 finally met", a week before 9/11.

There is an overlap between Woodward's earlier book and this. The former mentioned talk of an Iraqi war, but recorded no criticism. His style is to report, keeping criticism to a minimum and leave all avenues open for himself. Access to the top was bought at a price, which he, evidently, was ever eager to pay in, some might call, a Faustian pact. Neither his insights nor his profiles of the players are to be underestimated, however. The question is when did he come to know of the decision to attack Iraq? Also, how did he feel about it? Apparently he had no moral objections to the war. Access helps him to produce bestsellers. By May 2002 "well-wired Pentagon reporters knew Iraq war planning was going on". Woodward could not have been ignorant of them. Bush at War was published in October 2002, Plan of Attack, on April 24, 2004. The book begins with Bush's question to Rumsfeld on November 21, 2001. "What kind of a war plan do you have for Iraq?" There follows a blow-by-blow account of war plans, the war and its aftermath.

Woodward replays Powell's long talk with Bush on August 5, 2002, in a desperate bid to dissuade him from launching a war. "Sixteen months later in the office where Powell had made his case. I asked the President about Powell's argument that a military solution would mean he would own Iraq. `He sure did,' Bush replied. `He did say that.'

`Your reaction?' I asked, expecting him to articulate an understanding of the case against war. `And my reaction to that is, is that my job is to secure America,' the President said. `And that I also believe that freedom is something people long for. And that if given a chance, the Iraqis over time would seize the moment. My frame of mind is focussed on what I told you - the solemn duty to protect America."

Now, note Woodward's reaction: "I sat there somewhat nonplussed as the President discussed the issues of freedom and security, which were very much beside the points Powell had made." It is a rare comment critical of Bush. But the implications of his irrelevant reply are lost on Woodward and do not disturb his enormous admiration of the man - Bush is simply incompetent. He had no answer to give and was "nonplussed" himself and tried to be evasive. Woodward did not press him further.

Woodward could not have been taken away by Bush's disclaimer on August 20, 2002, that he had not decided on war. In the CIA's brief to Bush in January 2001 "Iraq was barely mentioned". The rise of China was "but that problem was 5 to 15 or more years away". But 9/11 presented a fine "opportunity" which Bush & Co. were not going to miss. Till the last he denied that he had taken the fateful decision, indeed as recently as on March 6, 2003. "Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld and Rice knew otherwise."

Of all the participants Powell comes out the worst because he sinned against the light. Cheney, Rumsfeld and others in the cabal sneered at him. His resignation would not have been an "act of disloyalty to the President" but of obedience to his conscience. Another soldier Lt. Gen. Sahebzada Yacub Khan resigned as Governor of East Pakistan in 1971.

We are told that Time's story on Powell before 9/11 was "sanctioned" by the White House and was designed "to knock Powell down a notch". Was it loyalty to Bush or love of office that kept him glued humiliatingly to the job? After 9/11 Bush found him useful for the diplomatic charade. Powell enjoyed the new-found importance.

He had, apparently, as little scruples about lying as the rest of the lot. Powell was present at a briefing on February 7, 2002, at which Gen. Tommy Franks, commander for the region (CENTCOM) "presented the refined Generated Start Plan for war with Iraq" to the President (page 98). But on February 12, Powell told the Senate Budget Committee that Bush "has no plan on his desk right now to begin a war with any nation" (page 103). Bush of course had no such qualms whatever. At a press conference in Berlin and in Paris, on May 23 and 26, 2003, respectively, he said: "I have no war plans on my desk."

It is Woodward's style not to censure him for this but to suggest meekly that it "would have served him better" had he simply said that he would reserve "whatever options I have". No wonder that Bush took keen interest in the writing and publication of this book in the election year. He met the author on December 10, 2003, for a lengthy interview. It was not tough. Sample this: "I said I was asking these questions because I wanted to show in the book what he thought the status of the WMD search was. `Why do you need to deal with this in the book?' he asked. `What's this got to do about it?' I said that I had to cover the aftermath of the war. This was a key question." It was obviously a "collaborative" interview. Bush collaborated in the writing of the book.

"The President said he wanted to make sure that his acknowledgement that no weapons of mass destruction had been found so far would not be published in The Washington Post until the book was released. `In other words, I'm not going to read a headline, `Bush says: No Weapons.' I promised that he would not... ." Bush admitted as much himself on February 8, 2004.

To be fair to the author, he does an excellent job tracing the tale of the WMD as it came to be told over the months. On August 26, 2002, Cheney said: "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." A month later Bush asserted that he "possesses" WMD. "Powell found much of the intelligence murky," but went along. Tony Blair was as much a partner in deception as he was in the war. He was, indeed, plus royaliste que le roi (more royalist than the king).

How did Woodward view all this? "I did not feel I had enough information to effectively challenge the official conclusions about Iraq's alleged WMD. In (the) light of subsequent events, I should have pushed for a front page story, even on the eve of the war, presenting more forcefully what our sources were saying. Several of these sources, I know, did voice their reservations within their various organisations but they also did not have enough to robustly challenge the conclusions that had already been reached. I have no evidence that the reservations of these particular sources reached the President." Small wonder that he is given access.

Contrast this with James B. Raston. He was deceived by Kissinger. But he won access because of his integrity and ability. He never lent himself. More, he never refrained from censure when censure was called for.

The Vanity Fair article confirms disclosures in these books. On Powell's speech to the Security Council on February 5, 2003, the four writers' remarks: "Powell, for all his carping, delivered a speech that was close to what the White House wanted, describing mobile biological weapons labs, ties to Al Qaeda, and stockpiles of anthrax. Much of it later proved to be untrue. His legacy and the Bush administration's will be forever tarnished as a result. A U.N. official said: `Everyone felt uncomfortable to see a man saying these lies'."

Cheney's unprecedentedly frequent visits to Langley were calculated to shape the CIA's estimates as were Blair's exertions with his own intelligence. Vanity Fair's report on a dinner at the White House on September 20, 2001, exposes Blair completely. It was attended by Powell, Rice and the British Ambassador Sir Christopher Myers. "Rumours were already flying that Bush would use 9/11 as a pretext to attack Iraq," Myers remembers. "On the one hand, Blair came with a very strong message - `don't get distracted, the priorities were Al Qaeda. Afghanistan, the Taliban'. Bush said: `I agree with you, Tony. We must deal with this first. But when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq'."

Blair's efforts to dissuade Bush months later were rebuffed. "Still, Blair repeatedly told both the media and his own Cabinet Ministers that no decision had been made."

Against all enemies:Inside America's war on terror

Plan of Attack

Rebuff to Vajpayee

books

IN Plan of Attack Bob Woodward reveals a move by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee: "In Washington the next day, Monday, March 17, Condoleezza Rice was on the phone to the National Security Adviser of India (Brajesh Mishra) at 7 a.m. The Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had sent a letter to Bush two days earlier, offering to host a summit of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - Russia, France, China, the U.K. and the United States - to work out their problems. The U.S. had repeatedly urged negotiations on India in its dangerous disputes with Pakistan since both countries possessed nuclear weapons. So Vajpayee's offer had to be rejected carefully.

"`Great idea', Rice said politely, `but we don't see the point now'. Thanks for your concern and help. `We appreciate the Prime Minister's efforts, but at least one country had made it clear.' France would veto. `Therefore, we just don't see the usefulness of such a meeting'," Note the contempt - "great idea" - in Rice's comments to Woodward.

Did Vajpayee imagine that his intervention at the very last minute had even the faintest chance of success, assuming it ever did every before? The U.S. was bent on war. It had indicated that it had no use for the Security Council. It was not in search of a venue for a meeting of P-5, New Delhi's convenience apart. Whoever advised him to embark on this fatuous venture? Use of florid rhetoric is enough to debase diplomacy without recourse to stunts like this. But this episode should prompt questions. India was no player in the affair, though no fault on its part. What is the mindset that prompts actions such as this? This is a question we ought to ask. The initiative reflects crass ignorance of the global situation, lack of professionalism and a pressing urge to play a larger role than is warranted. Contrast it with Russia and China's dignified restraint. Vajpayee clearly hoped to reap advantage in domestic politics. He exposed himself and the great nation he represented to a humiliating snub from a Condoleezza Rice. It should make any sensitive Indian feel sad.

`We will have to work hard to make CMP work'

cover-story

Interview with Jairam Ramesh.

As the Congress(I) gets ready to run the government with support from the Left parties, the biggest task it faces is the economic path it should follow. The defeat of the BJP-led coalition has made it clear that the people have rejected the NDA brand of economic reforms, which failed to improve the lot of the people. Reconciling the political and economic contradictions generated by the neoliberal path is going to be a major challenge especially because of the Left parties' distinct stand on economic reforms, which were originally initiated and carried forward by Congress regimes. Jairam Ramesh, secretary, All India Congress Committee and secretary of the party's economic affairs committee, agrees. "Co-habitation with the Left is going to be difficult," he tells Purnima S. Tripathi in an interview. Excerpts:

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The prospect of a Left-supported Congress government at the Centre has been viewed with some apprehension by the corporate world. What do you have to say on this?

The fears about a total policy reversal are totally unfounded; it is not feasible, it has never happened in the last 12 years. After the Congress government lost in 1996, the United Front government pursued the same policies during 1996-98 and then the NDA too took the same path. If at all any policy reversal happened, it happened during the NDA rule and within the NDA itself. So there is no reason to panic about a turnaround in the economic direction the country would take now. Besides, it was the Congress party that initiated the reforms. We are the architects of these reforms. But, yes, the Arun Shourie brand of mindless privatisation is certainly out. The emphasis would be on socially relevant privatisation. But there certainly would be no blanket assault on privatisation. We are of the opinion that the private sector and the public sector could happily co-exist. Take the power sector for example. There is a need for the public sector in generation and transmission, but in distribution, the private sector could be allowed.

So what essentially would be the policy direction of this government?

It would be growth-oriented, employment-oriented, investment-oriented and common man-oriented, along with liberalisation in the right direction.

But there could be differences between the Congress and the Left about what the right direction is? During the United Front government the Left parties, which were both inside and outside the government, had effectively stalled the Insurance bill.

Yes, there are apprehensions about the Left parties' role. Co-habitation is going to be difficult. Lots of adjustments would have to be made. All the more so because they look inclined to support the government from outside. The Left parties inside the government would be different from when they would be supporting from outside. In the latter case, they would be like loose missiles. We would prefer them inside the government.

What essentially are the areas of concern?

Basically privatisation and the public distribution system, as to how it should be run. Food security and labour reforms are other areas where there could be differences.

How does the Congress(I) plan to resolve these differences?

It will depend on the Common Minimum Programme. I hope the emphasis this time, unlike in 1996-98, is more on programme than on minimum. But we will have to work hard to make it work. Frankly speaking, I have seen the Left parties' manifesto and it might as well be our manifesto. There are no differences that cannot be surmounted. Besides, in today's world everyone has to be pragmatic and the Left parties, in the way they run their government in West Bengal, have proved themselves to be pragmatic. Moreover, it is not as though the Congress(I) has no concern for the poor people. We have all along advocated reforms with a human face.

What could be the new government's direction on issues like privatisation and disinvestment?

Our thrust would be co-existence of private and public sectors. Retain the public sector, give it freedom to innovate, and create the private sector work ethics in public sector environment. Allow them functional autonomy to operate as commercially viable units. [Former Finance Minister P.] Chidambaram's "Navratna" concept is a good model to follow. Disinvestment in the strategic sector is definitely out. But there could be areas, like power distribution, where the private sector should be allowed. The thrust would be on socially relevant selective privatisation and creative innovation in PSUs. For example, why can't the PSUs run like venture capitalists. There will have to be new ways of looking at the public sector. The state banks, for example, why can't they be given functional autonomy in recruitment and operations.

The most important factor that contributed to the defeat of the NDA was the agricultural crisis. What will the new government do about it?

It is wrong to say that agriculture was hit by reforms. Agriculture suffered because in the last decade or so, there has been no public spending in the agriculture sector, no improvement in infrastructure, no addition in irrigation facilities. Whatever public spending there was, it was by way of subsidy. We will have to increase investment on infrastructure in the agriculture sector.

Besides agriculture, what are the other areas crying for instant attention?

The unorganised sector, which has hardly got any attention so far. There is need to provide health insurance and social security to the unorganised sector.

A resurgent Left

The Left's re-emergence as a significant force at the Centre, with the highest number of seats in the Lok Sabha since Independence, owes a lot to its consistent campaign against communalism and neo-liberal economic policies.

in New Delhi

IN the run-up to the 14th Lok Sabha elections, the installation of a secular and pro-poor government was one of the prime objectives of the Left. The first part of the objective has been achieved with the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, the other has to be realised through a set of programmes and policies the new government will implement in the course of the next five years. Meanwhile, the Left parties, comprising the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), have decided not to join the government but to extend support to it from outside. Senior leaders of the CPI(M) said that any comparison with 1996, when the CPI(M) rejected the offer of the Prime Minister's post for Jyoti Basu, was untenable. At that time the Left, with a smaller mandate, was requested to lead the United Front government; now, it was asked to participate in a Congress-led government.

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Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M) Sitaram Yechury said: "With the understanding that there is a need for an alternative secular government, we are supporting the government from outside in order to thwart all attempts by the BJP to come back to power. It should also be realised that all the major seats contested by us were against the Congress. In West Bengal alone we were pitted against the Congress in 41 seats." Justifying the Left's decision to support the new government from outside, Polit Bureau member M.K. Pandhe said: "There is no guarantee that the Congress will implement all that it says in its own manifesto. We will have to wait and watch. We will support the good policies and put pressure if they don't."

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, a close ally of the Left, called on the Left parties to join the government in order to reflect the political reality of the day. He said: "There won't be a better opportunity than this for the Left parties." Responding to a question on the contradictory positions of the Left parties vis-a-vis the Congress in three States, V.P. Singh said that if the Left was paying a political price for supporting the Congress government from outside, it could also earn some benefits by participating in the government. In a joint appeal, over 200 intellectuals called on the Left parties to join the new government. The appeal said that the current "historical juncture" demanded a "creative and constructive initiative from the Left".

A significant aspect of verdict 2004 has been the re-emergence of the Left as a pivotal force with the potential to keep together all the diverse non-BJP and non-Congress parties. The situation was similar to the one in the run-up to the installation of the United Front government in 1996 when the Left, especially CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet, played a critical role in government formation. The Left's consistent opposition to communalism and the economic reforms seems to have increased its prestige among the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Samajwadi Party (S.P.). The affinity to the Left may also have to do with the compulsions of the current political situation, but it is evident that the Left played a role in convincing the non-BJP parties about the importance of installing a secular government at the Centre.

In this election, the Left has achieved its biggest presence in the Lok Sabha since Independence. On the face of it, a tally of 61 in the 543-member House may appear to be insignificant, but the implications of the Left's impressive performance in the current political situation have already alarmed even political pundits and media managers. When the stock markets crashed following media reports that the Left demanded the disbanding of the Disinvestment Ministry, editorials cautioned the yet-to-be formed government about the "pitfalls" in adopting Left-leaning policies. About this, CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said: "The Indian voter has proved his maturity. Both the politics of communalism and the foreign origin issue of the Congress president were rejected. The mandate for the Left is a positive one on two counts - it has consistently fought against communalism and protected the rights of minorities, and always struggled for the mass of the working class people against the economic policies."

The Left parties have decided to take decisions jointly regarding the form of support to be extended to the new government. There will also be a joint approach on the finer aspects of the changes to the economic policy. In fact, there is not much divergence of opinion among the Left parties over issues of disinvestment of profit-making public sector units, revival of the agriculture sector, and employment generation. The revival of the public distribution system (PDS) is also high on the agenda. The Left is expected to be unrelenting on labour reforms, especially of the kind recommended by the Second National Labour Commission. On the international front, opposition to imperialism, support to an independent and non-aligned foreign policy, promotion of multipolarity in international relations, dialogue with Pakistan without United States intervention, opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq and support for the Palestinian cause remain important items on the Left agenda. The common minimum programme being drafted by the Congress is expected to address all these issues.

In 2003, after the BJP government in Himachal Pradesh suffered a rout in the Assembly elections, senior BJP leader and Member of Parliament from Kangra, Shanta Kumar, suggested that it needed to be studied why the Left remained largely insulated from the anti-incumbency factor. He was probably referring to the almost three-decade-old rule of the CPI(M)-led Left Front in West Bengal. In fact, this time round too the performance of the Left Front in West Bengal defied all theories of anti-incumbency. It won 35 of the 42 seats in the State in contrast to 29 in 1999. In Kerala, the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) increased its tally from nine to 18 and in Tripura, the two sitting CPI(M) MPs retained their seats. The Left won the two seats it contested in Andhra Pradesh and increased its tally from one to four in Tamil Nadu. In Jharkhand, CPI candidate Bhubaneswar Prasad Mehta defeated External Affairs minister Yashwant Sinha in the Hazaribagh constituency by over one lakh votes.

On the other hand, the CPI(M) lost the Bhagalpur seat when sitting MP Subodh Roy was defeated by BJP State president Sushil Kumar Modi. The situation in the Hindi heartland too has remained much the same. Left candidates in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Uttaranchal failed to make their presence felt for a range of reasons including lack of alliances and electoral understanding among the non-NDA parties.

Over all, the Left gained almost 19 seats over its tally of 42 in the last Lok Sabha. The last time the Left parties got more than 50 seats was in 1971, when they won 51 seats.

Apparently, the Left's performance owes a lot to the aggressive nationwide campaign it launched against communalism and the economic policies of the NDA government. Although under-reported in the mainstream media, the campaign seems to have left an indelible impact on voters. Noteworthy campaigns based on issues of economic distress in the industrial and agricultural sectors appear to have captured the imagination of large sections of the affected people. The Congress apparently capitalised on such campaigns and reaped rich dividends in areas where a strong anti-incumbency factor was at work. Andhra Pradesh is a case in point.

`It is a new experience for us'

cover-story

Interview with Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

THE outcome of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections has left leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a state of shock. Even as senior leaders of the party avoided giving interviews to the media immediately after the declaration of results, V. Venkatesan and Siddharth Narrain met the BJP's all-India general secretary and spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi for his response to the party's electoral debacle. A former Member of the Lok Sabha from Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, Naqvi has served as the all-India vice-president of the BJP's Yuva Morcha, and as Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting with additional charge of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs. He is now a member of the Rajya Sabha. Known as the `Muslim face of the BJP', Naqvi rose steadily in the party hierarchy and enjoys the confidence of senior BJP leaders. Excerpts from the interview:

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The BJP's Parliamentary Board met to discuss the results of the elections. What is the initial reaction within the party?

Nobody is able to understand what has happened because there is no anti-incumbency on the ground level. People are perfectly happy with the performance of the government. There is no wave against the government or in favour of the Opposition. It is definitely a new experience for us and we will learn from it. It is a fractured verdict. The Congress(I) has performed badly in States such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra. In all the large States there is no verdict in favour of the Congress(I).

We are not saying that this verdict is in our favour. It is not. The Congress party had not projected Sonia Gandhi as a prime ministerial candidate while we had projected Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Congress has got only a fractured verdict and then projected Sonia Gandhi as Prime Minister.

You have said that the results were surprising. What were your expectations?

We expected the NDA to win 280-300 seats, of which we thought the BJP would get 200-220 seats. Our biggest loss is in Uttar Pradesh. We expected at least 30 seats from U.P.

Are you blaming your allies for the debacle?

No, we are not blaming anybody. We fought the elections on the same issues. In some places where we had governments we did not do well and in some places where we did not have governments we did well. In states such as Orissa where the NDA had a government we did well. It is a matter that has to be analysed.

Was it Kalyan Singh's re-entry into the party and the resultant infighting the major reason for the defeat in U.P.?

Infighting was one of the reasons for our defeat.

Did the sari stampede in Lucknow have an impact on the outcome?

No. Even in Uttar Pradesh?

There were other factors. We were expecting more of the Muslim vote, which did not happen.

Why?

One reason is that Muslims do not like persons like the Shahi Imam Syed Ahmad Bukhari of the Juma Masjid, Delhi. Bukhari's public appeal to Muslims to vote for the BJP would have led to the negative result.

Then why did the party ask for Bukhari's support?

We did not ask for Bukhari's support. The common Muslim is in favour of the BJP and its development plank. But when people saw people like Bukhari supporting us, they thought that the BJP is going down the same track as all political parties. I think that the process of taking along the minority population will continue.

There is the view that Muslims would have voted for the BJP if the party had removed Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi after the Supreme Court indicted him in the Best Bakery case. Do you agree with this perception?

I think the Best Bakery case and the Gujarat issue have been politically exploited by the Opposition and this has affected our electoral performance.

Where has it affected your performance?

It has affected us in Uttar Pradesh. The Samajwadi Party projected Gujarat as a major issue. In Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav made use of the same issue.

The Supreme Court judgment in the Best Bakery case was an issue during the elections. But we are not apologetic because there has been only one communal riot during our regime. There have been 32,000 communal riots in all the years that the Congress(I) has ruled the country.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu has said that the party is not against Sonia Gandhi as a person but does not want a person of foreign origin to become Prime Minister?

The day someone of foreign origin becomes the country's Prime Minister will be an unfortunate one. I think no one can deny the fact that foreign origin is an issue. In India, where we still suffer from the after-effects of foreign rule, how can the issue of foreign origin disappear?

There is a view within the Sangh Parivar that the BJP suffered a defeat because it strayed from the core ideology of Hindutva.

We have never differed on ideological issues within the party. Development issues can never be pushed to the background. Further, the Congress party has not swept these polls.

You projected the `feel good' factor, Vajpayee's leadership and launched the India Shining campaign. Do the results signal a rejection of these claims?

We are proud of our achievements over the past five years. We have helped the nation develop and built the image of our country. The last five years have been a golden era for the country according to us.

But why did the voters not realise this?

We can't explain the mentality of the voters. Had we realised that the voters do not understand the feel good factor, then we would have done something else.

Was there a disconnect between the party and the voter?

I think this is the first election that has been fought on issues of progress and development and we will continue to focus on these issues. We will not divert our focus on governance and development and are proud of Atalji's achievements. Once you lose an election all our positive points look negative to the media.

Do you think opting for early Lok Sabha polls was a mistake?

I do not think it was a mistake. We do not think there would have been a major change had the polls been held on schedule.

The Prime Minister's Office denied on May 12 media reports suggesting that if the BJP and its allies fall short of 250 seats in the next Lok Sabha, Vajpayee would not try to form a government. Does it mean that the NDA was not averse to try and form a government, whatever the shortfall?

Reports in the media said that if the NDA tally was less than 250 we would not form the government. Had we been in a situation where both the formations (NDA and the Congress) had less than a majority, it should not appear as if we did not want to form the government. The country needs a government.

So there is nothing inherently wrong in a post-poll alliance where parties of different ideologies may fight against each other and come together after the elections?

No, in Indian democracy all these combinations are possible.

So why is the party critical of the Congress-Left alliance?

If two different groups accept a common leader without any hesitation there is no problem. If there is hesitation on the question of leadership, then it is definitely a big issue. We are not opposed to the coalition of the Congress and the Left. But it is clear that there are major differences in policy between these parties. The coalition has our best wishes.

Why is the party reluctant to announce Vajpayee as the leader of the Opposition?

The Parliamentary Party has to sit and through a democratic process elect a leader. Vajpayee is the leader of the BJP and the NDA. Even if he is not leader of the Opposition, his stature within the NDA and the party will not change.

Is he reluctant to take up the post?

No he is never reluctant. The party will decide if he takes up the post or not.

Faked valour

PRAVEEN SWAMI the-nation

Soldiers on the Siachen glacier are caught inflating enemy kills to win honours and promotions.

IT is called tadka: the spicy fried onion, tomato, and spice seasoning poured on to a bowl of dal. When some officers of the Indian Army talk about tadka, however, they are not discussing cuisine. A little tadka is all it takes to win medals, register extraordinary military success, and eventually win a promotion without ever venturing much further than the nearest bunker.

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No one is now in much doubt about just what went on after the 5th battalion of the 5 Gurkha Rifles Regiment began its six-month tenure on the Siachen glacier last summer. Between July and November last year, Major Surinder Singh has confessed, he and other soldiers fabricated signals and video evidence to inflate the numbers of Pakistani soldiers killed on the glacier. In evidence given to a military Court of Inquiry, Surinder Singh admitted that he ordered troops under his command to pose as dead Pakistani soldiers for the benefit of the unit's video cameras, and fired missiles at non-existent enemy positions. The available evidence suggests that up to a third of the 52 or so Pakistani troops claimed killed on Siachen last year may have in fact been Indian troops: a fact concealed from the Army's Commander-in-Chief, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, when he visited the glacier earlier this summer.

Investigation into the scandal commenced when the 102 Brigade's commander, Brigadier H.P.S Bedi, became suspicious of the abnormal levels of kills on the Siachen glacier. Intelligence officers reporting to Brigadier Bedi also noted that Pakistani forces did not seem to be responding to supposed Indian attacks on their soldiers, or even to be responding on claimed missile attacks on their bunkers. Brigadier Bedi subsequently confronted Major Surinder Singh's superior, Colonel K.D. Singh on the issue. Colonel Singh promptly responded by attempting to pin the blame on his subordinates. Efforts were made to remove Surinder Singh from the regiment, and post him to the Assam Rifles. Efforts were also made to remove two soldiers who were key witnesses to the manufacturing of an attack on a non-existent Pakistani bunker. Surinder Singh responded by authoring protests to several senior officers, including the Chief of the Army Staff, General Nirmal Chandra Vij.

Precisely what happened next is unclear. Brigadier Bedi, for one, seemed unimpressed by Colonel Singh's claims that he had no knowledge of what was going on under his command. In one letter, he charged his subordinate with "concealing grave irregularities in operational matters". Brigadier Bedi also charged K.D. Singh with misleading top officers, including Director-General of Military Intelligence Richard Khare, on the actual level of kills in the Siachen glacier. Evidence emerged that Colonel K.D. Singh, had even recommended Major Surinder Singh for a Vir Chakra for an injury supposedly sustained in an attack on a Pakistani bunker. In fact, Surinder Singh had been hit by a rock fragment dislodged by the blow-back from a rocket-launcher firing at the non-existent post. Video footage of the incident shows the weapon being fired and records troops claiming a hit seconds later - but not the destroyed bunker itself.

Brigadier Bedi's decision not to hush up the affair laid the foundations for what followed. A Court of Inquiry was set up under Brigadier H.S. Nagra, the Deputy General-Officer Commanding of the Leh-based 3 Infantry Division, which has overall responsibility for the Siachen glacier. The Court of Inquiry, a fact-finding body whose determinations do not have evidentiary value, recommended the initiation of a Summary of Evidence against Major Surinder Singh, a procedure that precedes a court martial. Surinder Singh will face separate investigation for leaking documents to the media. Administrative action, which can include summary termination from service, was recommended against K.D. Singh. Investigators will also look into a welter of rule violations by the colonel, who admitted to have collected Rs.450,000 from his unit's troops, which was handed over as an interest-earning deposit to the Regiment's Bania, or in-house shopkeeper and financier. Major Mohit Lama, the adjutant responsible for administrative affairs in the 5 Gurkha Rifles, also faces administrative action on charges of leaking classified material to Surinder Singh.

Lawyers say the completion of the summary of evidence will take at least three months, after which the office of the Judge-Advocate General will decide whether it has enough evidence to initiate a court martial against Surinder Singh for his self-confessed crimes. Major Surinder Singh, at the end of the summary of evidence, moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court, complaining that he had fears of not receiving a fair trial. Lawyers for the Army, responding to his petition, promised the High Court that the summary of evidence would be conducted outside the jurisdiction of the Army's Northern Command and would be open to the public. Colonel K.D. Singh, for his part, has been removed from his command. Sources within the investigation, however, told Frontline that there was little hard evidence against him other than Major Surinder Singh's deposition. Separately, the Army has reopened files related to medals granted to soldiers for suspect operations, although it is unclear just how many such cases there actually are.

WHO actually engineered the Siachen scandal might turn out to be a secondary issue. What is most disturbing about the affair is that it points to pressures within the organisation to exaggerate kills, and the lack of a functioning system of audit to prevent such chicanery. Videotape evidence on the fake kills makes clear the fraud was crudely executed and should have been picked up early. One fragment of footage, a highly placed source told Frontline, recorded agitated signals traffic detailing an ongoing engagement - but not the actual sound of gunfire. Another fragment shows troops killing supposed enemy soldiers at a range of over 1,000 metres with successive shots, a feat that would do any sniper proud. Interestingly, the supposed Pakistani troops shown in several of the footage fragments are not roped up, a standard procedure for soldiers or mountaineers traversing dense snow or crevasse-ridden glacial terrain.

Someone in the chain of command ought to have been auditing the evidence much more carefully than they were. It most certainly should not have taken the 3 Division Headquarters almost six months to realise there was a problem on Siachen. The sad truth is that officers chose to bury their heads in the snow rather than face the dirt before them. Most officers serving in responsible positions in the division would have known that some forces operating in Jammu and Kashmir had inflated their operational successes by fabricating evidence of non-existent kills, much as their counterparts in Siachen have now been caught doing. Tadka had long been a popular game for Army units which have under-performed, officers whose careers are on the line because of their lack of success - and for those simply greedy for the cash rewards counter-terrorist successes bring with them. Officers had, from time to time, sought to put an end to the practice, but generally backed off from drastic action when faced with the prospect of regimental humiliation.

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Consider, for example, the operation of the tadka game in the sensitive border district of Poonch. In 1998, when the situation began to deteriorate sharply in the region, 114 terrorists were shot dead by Indian forces. In 1999, the figure rose to 155. The next year, in part the result of a large influx of terrorists brought about by the dislocation of troops during the Kargil war, the killings went up again, to 247. All this was roughly in line with State-level trends. Then, in 2001, something distinctly odd happened, 520 terrorists were claimed to have been killed by Indian forces, over double the number recorded the previous year. By contrast, overall killings of terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir grew only by a modest 17 per cent. Just as curiously, killings of terrorists fell precipitously in 2002, to 352, and to just 262 last year. In these years, however, the decline across Jammu and Kashmir was much lower - just 17.5 per cent between 2001 and 2002, and 16 per cent between 2002 and 2003.

So just what had happened in Poonch? Privately, top military and police officials accept that the figures on terrorist kills had been grossly overstated through the summer of 2001 until the spring of 2002. The fraud was at once ingenious and simple. As Indian forces began to operate in remote areas on the Pir Panjal range, field commanders began to argue that they could not bring down bodies to the nearest police station for burial. Instead, they took photographs of those killed and attached these to first information reports (FIR) lodged with the police, a mandatory formality. Never, however, were the negatives of the photographs handed over. As time went by, and printouts of scanned images were accepted for the records, the tadka scam became even easier to perpetuate. In essence, the same photograph, stored on a hard disk, could be printed out and repeatedly used as evidence of kills in different places. Since there was no audit mechanism in place to check the authenticity of the image produced when an FIR was lodged, the tadka scam went unchecked. It was only early in 2003 that a serious effort was made to curb the practice - one reason why kills in Poonch last year were so much fewer than in the past.

A final end to the tadka saga in Poonch came last year when Frontline blew the lid on its most flagrant example. Army claims of having killed between 60 and 182 terrorists in the remote Hil Kaka area and having unearthed underground bunkers and war-like stores, Frontline's investigation showed, were pure fiction. In fact, only 27 terrorists had been killed and weapons recoveries were minimal. In key senses, the expose itself was enabled by the fact that procedures for lodging FIRs had been tightened up, and flagrantly dishonest claims were no longer being entertained. Elsewhere, however, tadka flourished, perhaps because no one has ever been punished for it. No heads rolled after the expose on the Hil Kaka fraud, and no one was held accountable for the 2000-2001 tadka killings in Poonch. Indeed, Major-General Hardev Lidder, the officer responsible for the Hil Kaka fraud, is due shortly to command a corps.

General Vij deserves not a little credit for breaking Omerta, the code of silence that governs the Mafia but ought have no place in a professional army. Not a few within the Army are unhappy at Vij's course of action, but the fact is that officers and men who are dishonest with their peers and their own chain of command cannot be trusted to be true to the country. Yet, much more will have to be done to restore faith among the ranks of the vast mass of honest officers who have watched colleagues skilled in flattery and manipulation walk away with treasured medals and promotions. Scholarly military histories of the Kargil War, notably General Y.M. Bammi's Kargil: The Impregnable Conquered and General Ashok Kalyan Verma's Blood on the Snow, have shown that some soldiers masquerading as war heroes ought not be wearing their uniforms. Two key scandals from the war - the ritual sacrifice of Brigadier Surinder Singh for his superiors' failure to act on intelligence warnings, and the sacking of Major Manish Bhatnagar for blowing the whistle on the Siachen brigade's failure to report the first intrusions - took place in the 3 Division's area of responsibility.

Instead of taking action at the time, the Army stuffed its corpses in the cupboard. Now, years on, the stench has become too strong to suppress. Perhaps the time has come for an honest investigation, a full post-mortem, and then a decent burial.

A miracle in the making

The discovery of neural stem cells that are capable of replacing damaged brain cells raises hopes of effective treatment for degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

FOR decades, certain facts in medical science have been accepted without question. One such fact was that brain cells are constant and not regenerated. Medical doctors and scientists alike accepted as a matter of faith, that the neurons, or brain cells one was born with are all the brain cells one would ever have. So, any damage to these cells would cause one to lose that part of the brain and its function.

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However, Fred Gage, a neurobiologist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, showed in a groundbreaking experiment that brain cells are born even in adult brains. This discovery forced scientists to rethink some of their most basic ideas about how the brain works.

The cells that are responsible for this are not simple brain cells or neurons. Known as `neural stem cells' (NSCs), they are progenitor cells or master cells that can take up any form and function of brain cells. They have the ability to morph into any type of brain cell, depending on the chemical signals they receive as they grow. Researchers have shown that these cells are most commonly seen in the memory centres (called hippocampus) and in other deeper areas of the brain called neurogenic areas. Gage and his team have shown that a part of the hippocampus contains actively developing NSCs. They can be pressed into function by a simple but timely addition or subtraction of a few key growth factors in the brain's chemical soup.

The discovery of a `fountain of youth' for brain stem cells could lead to their use in treating degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease. They can also be useful in certain cases of traumatic brain injuries. A big effort is already under way to find out their usefulness in spinal cord injuries. The basis of these experiments is that the neural stem cells are immature cells that can develop into many of the different types of specialised cells that make up the brain. In neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, normal brain function is impaired because of progressive brain cell death. If neural stem cells could be coaxed into replenishing these brain cells, they could restore a damaged or destroyed brain tissue.

Parkinson's is a disease where cells in certain regions of the brain (Substantia Nigra) die. As these cells die, the chemical they produce (dopamine) is in a short supply. The shortage of dopamine leads to the malfunctioning of the various neuronal circuits in the brain. This results in the dreaded symptoms of the disease: tremors, rigidity and slow progressive deterioration of spontaneous movements. Drug therapy for this problem is effective initially. Slowly, the drugs become ineffective and cause multiple side-effects. New surgical treatments like deep brain stimulation are effective but expensive in the Indian context. Moreover, they do not correct the basic abnormality.

So, in a disease like Parkinson's, from a conceptual perspective, the perfect treatment would be to replace the cells lost. The challenge is to find a suitable cell that is not rejected by the organism of the patient, survives for a long period within the brain and integrates well into the brain structures so that they comply with a series of functions. This is where the NSCs come into the picture. These cells are a subtype of primitive brain cells that are capable of self-renewal and multilineage differentiation. The use of NSCs thus becomes an appropriate therapeutic tool as they provide an endogenous source of brain repair. The number of NSCs in an adult brain is very low and hence will not be sufficient for repair. Therapeutic efforts are directed at stimulating the production of endogenous NSCs or transplanting the exogenous ones.

Endogenous NSCs can be isolated through simple surgical techniques. NSCs thus harvested can be used in autologous neural stem cell transplantation, that is, the cells harvested directly from the brains of Parkinson's disease patients could be transplanted back after differentiating them into stable and self-renewable brain cells that secrete dopamine. NSCs can also be transplanted as undifferentiated cells and then stimulated with specific chemicals so that they undergo a subsequent site-specific differentiation. Alternatively, they could be pre-differentiated in the culture into a desired neuronal type. Studies have shown that human embryonic and fetal neural stem cells can be induced to generate dopamine-producing neurons.

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Using endogenous NSCs as a source of repair has certain advantages. Since these are patients' own cells, the immunological consequences of transplantation are completely avoided. Ethical and political concerns that shroud the use of fetal tissue are conveniently circumvented. In a different role, NSCs also constitute a very useful tool to deliver important genes with therapeutic value because they locally disperse after grafting, integrate in the host adult brain and differentiate into multiple, stable phenotypes. NSCs can thus be used as vehicle for gene therapy.

This research is a major step towards healing the brain, a difficult organ to treat. A majority of brain diseases are untreatable because of the basic limitation that brain cells do not grow. The discovery of neural stem cells and the research on the possibility of using them to replace damaged brain cells is a major step in modern medicine. Though in the experimental stages yet, this therapy definitely has the potential to grow into a modern miracle.

Milind Deogaonkar is a Research Fellow at the Department of Neurosciences, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Ohio, United States.

References:

Svendsen, C.N., et al., "Long-term survival of human central nervous system progenitor cells transplanted into a rat model of Parkinson's disease", Exp Neurol, 1997. 148(1): pages 135-146.

Gage, F.H., "Neurogenesis in the adult brain", J. Neurosci, 2002. 22(3): pages 612-613.

Parent, J.M., "Injury-induced neurogenesis in the adult mammalian brain", Neuroscientist, 2003. 9(4): pages 261-272.

Matarredona, E.R., et al., "Nitric oxide synthesis inhibition increases proliferation of neural precursors isolated from the post-natal mouse subventricular zone", Brain Res, 2004. 995(2): pages 274-284.

Magavi, S.S. and J.D. Macklis, "Induction of neuronal type-specific neurogenesis in the cerebral cortex of adult mice: manipulation of neural precursors in situ", Brain Res Dev Brain Res, 2002. 134(1-2): pages 57-76.

Bjorklund, A. and O. Lindvall, "Cell replacement therapies for central nervous system disorders", Nat Neurosci, 2000. 3(6): pages 537-544.

The incumbents' victory

in Guwahati

THE strong anti-incumbency wave that swept across the country seems not to have touched the seven northeastern States of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Tripura and Mizoram. In all the States, most of the ruling party candidates won or retained their respective parties' Lok Sabha seats. With the results of 23 of the 24 seats in the region declared, the Congress won 11, the Left parties two, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies seven and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) two.

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The Congress won nine seats in Assam and one each in Meghalaya and Manipur. The BJP won two each in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, and its allies, the Nagaland People's Front (NPF), the Mizo National Front (MNF) and the Nationalist Trinamul Congress (NTC), got a seat each. As expected, the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front won both the seats in Tripura with huge margins.

The election results have raised hopes among the Opposition parties of returning to power in the next round of Assembly elections and created apprehension among the ruling parties, barring the Left Front in Tripura. While the Congress is ruling Assam, Meghalaya and Manipur, the BJP is ruling Arunachal Pradesh and sharing power in Nagaland with the NPF. The BJP's ally MNF is ruling Mizoram.

Although the Congress could retain almost the same number of seats it defended in Assam, winning nine of the 14 seats against 10 won in 1999, the results indicate that the party has reasons to worry about the Assembly elections scheduled for May 2006. First, this time round traditional Congress supporters such as the tea garden workers did not fully repose faith in the party. This was evident in the performance of Congress candidates in areas dominated by tea garden workers - the defeat of Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president Paban Singh Ghatowar in Dibrugarh, a constituency the party had never lost since the first Lok Sabha elections in 1952, and the low victory margin of Bijoy Krishna Handique in the Jorhat constituency.

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Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi admitted that the party had failed to realise the erosion of its support base among the tea garden workers and that it had taken for granted its influence among this section of people. The erosion of support in several other Assembly seats dominated by tea garden workers was reflected in the result of the byelection to the Mariani Assembly constituency, which the Congress lost to the NTC. The byelection was necessitated by the death of Congress MLA and Minister Rupam Kurmi.

The party's vote share declined in Assembly segments with substantial numbers of tea garden workers and represented by Ministers such as Sarat Barkatoki, Hemoprabha Saikia, Rameswar Dhanowar and Hem Prakash Narayan and Assembly Speaker Prithvi Majhi. Congress leaders attributed the fall to the failure of the State government to convince the managements of tea gardens to pay adequate bonus to the workers during the Puja festival in 2003. However, the Congress' support base among the minorities remained intact as indicated by the party's victory in the Muslim-dominated seats of Barpeta and Dhubri in lower Assam.

Second, the AGP, which drew a blank in the last two successive Lok Sabha elections, not only wrested two seats from the Congress but it came second in four seats, thereby showing signs of a resurgence of regionalism in the State. The AGP pulled off a surprise when its candidate Sarbananda Sonowal, a former president of the All Assam Students Union (AASU), won the Dibrugarh seat. On the other hand, the squabbles within the Congress helped the AGP wrest the Lakhimpur seat where its candidate Arun Sarma defeated the sitting Congress MP, Ranee Narah. While the AGP's victory will help party president Brindaban Goswami to consolidate his position in the party, it dashed the hopes of Goswami's arch-rival and former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta to stage a comeback. Mahanta's supporters had planned to blame Goswami in the event of the party's defeat in the Lok Sabha polls. Meanwhile, Mahanta's wife Jayashri Goswami Mahanta suffered a humiliating defeat: she forfeited her security deposit in Dhubri where the Congress' Anowar Hussain won. Jayashri Goswami Mahanta was expelled from the AGP for contesting against the party candidate.

The BJP, which banked heavily on the `Vajpayee factor' and on the music maestro Bhupen Hazarika, failed to achieve anything substantial. The party retained the Nagaon seat where its former State president Rajen Gohain defeated his nearest rival, the Congress' Bishnu Prasad, and wrested from the Congress the Mangaldai seat where its candidate Narayan Barkatoki, a former State president of the party, defeated the sitting MP Madhab Rajbangshi. The party suffered a major setback in the State with the defeat in Guwahati of Hazarika, who had replaced the sitting MP and Union Minister of State for Water Resources Bijoya Chakrabarty. While Chakrbarty won the seat in 1999 by a margin of 75,238 votes, Hazarika lost to Congress candidate Kirip Chaliha by 72,849 votes. The Congress attributed its defeat in Mangaldoi to the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) lending support to the BJP. As the ABSU did not put up a candidate in the constituency, the division of non-Congress votes was on a smaller scale and thus ensured the victory of the BJP. On the other hand, the ABSU-backed independent candidate Sansuma Khungur Bwismuthiary was credited with the highest victory margin in the State, 4,84,129 votes.

THE Left reasserted its supremacy in Tripura by retaining both the seats with huge margins. While the sitting CPI(M) MP, Khagen Das, defeated his nearest Congress rival Nirmalya Dasgupta by 3,84,636 votes in the Tripura West constituency, in the Tripura East constituency, dominated by tribal people, the sitting CPI(M) MP, Bajuban Riyan, defeated his nearest BJP rival Pulin Dewan by over three lakh votes.

The margins of victory of both the ruling party candidates, which were double that in the last elections, were a reflection of the Left's increasing influence among the tribal people and the shrinking influence of insurgent outfits. They also indicated the decline of the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT) with which the BJP-NTC combine had struck an electoral alliance. Although BJP candidate Pulin Dewan overtook Congress candidate Jadu Mohan Tripura to claim the second position in Tripura East, Dewan trailed far behind the CPI(M) candidate in all the six Assembly segments represented by the INPT.

The Left Front described the sweeping victory as a positive mandate in favour of the development work initiated by the State government. Although the results in the State were a foregone conclusion, Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and other leaders of the Left Front had underlined the importance of mobilisation of more people in the struggle against communal forces and against the evils of insurgency.

In Nagaland, the ruling NPF, a constituent of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), wrested the only Lok Sabha seat from the Congress. Its candidate Wangyuh Konyak defeated Congress MP K. Asungba Sangtam by 4,05,000 votes. Despite the defeat, the Congress is expected to play an important role in deciding the fate of the ongoing peace process between the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) and the Centre and the ceasefire with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang). Former Chief Minister S.C. Jamir said that the PCC would project "the real political issue" to the party high command and hinted at the induction of a political figure in the peace talks. PCC president Hokheto Sumi went on record immediately after the results were declared as saying that the peace process would continue in a more transparent way, though the party put the ball in the court of the NSCN(I-M).

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IN Arunachal Pradesh, though the ruling BJP wrested both the Lok Sabha seats from the Congress, the former seemed to be more worried about holding on to the electoral gains until October when the popularity of the Gegong Apang-led government, the first of the BJP in the region, would be tested in the Assembly election. This explains why immediately after the results were announced, the BJP declared that all sitting MLAs would be re-nominated for the Assembly election. This was done in a bid to prevent the legislators from shifting loyalty to former Chief Minister Mukut Mithi whose government Apang toppled. The BJP's Tapir Gao defeated the sitting Congress MP, Wangcha Rajkumar, by 42,639 votes in the Arunachal East constituency where 1,497 Chakma and Hajong refugees voted for the first time since they fled their ancestral land in Bangladesh and settled in the State in 1964. Although the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU) had given a poll boycott call to oppose the granting of voting rights to Chakma and Hajong refugees, it failed to affect the turnout.

The election results in Meghalaya were on expected lines. Both the sitting MPs, former Lok Sabha Speaker and NTC leader Purno Agitok Sangma and the Congress' Paty Ripple Kyndiah, retained their seats. P.A. Sangma defeated State Public Works Department Minister Mukul Sangma in the Tura constituency. Sangma's victory margin, however, declined to 75,269 votes from 1,13,579 votes in 1999. With the Congress set to assume power at the Centre, Sangma has been caught on the wrong foot. He had vowed to resign as an MP if Sonia Gandhi became the Prime Minister.

In Manipur, where the elections were held under the shadow of the gun, the ruling Congress' candidate and State Higher Education Minister Thokchom Meinya won by 49,333 votes from the Inner Manipur seat. (Counting of votes for the only other constituency in the State, Outer Manipur (Reserved), has been postponed.) The sitting BJP MP and former Union Minister, Thounaojam Chaoba Singh, finished fourth. The BJP attributed the defeat to interference of militant outfits in the election process.

The underground Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) had warned that Chaoba would be killed and clamped a ban on electioneering by other party leaders and workers if Chaoba was not removed as the State BJP president. On the other hand, while the proscribed Revolutionary People's Front (RPF) clamped a boycott on the ruling Congress, the underground United National Liberation Front (UNLF) called for a boycott of the election.

The ruling MNF in Mizroam won the lone Lok Sabha seat in the State when its candidate Vanlalzawma defeated Mizoram Secular Force (MSF) candidate Laltlungliana Khiangte by 23,185 votes. The ruling party also won the byelection to the Kolasib Assembly constituency.

Mixed signals

PRAVEEN SWAMI the-nation

SOMEWHERE along the way, politicians in Jammu and Kashmir forgot that elections are about the lives of people.

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The 2004 Lok Sabha elections were cast as a referendum, one depending on who was making the speech; on opening the road to Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir; on the Islamic character of Jammu and Kashmir; and on the fate of the State's Hindu minority. It turns out now that the voters are concerned more about the buses that take their children to school than the one that could take them to Muzaffarabad; about jobs, electricity tariffs and water. The Lok Sabha results show that while the voters in Jammu and Kashmir have special concerns, they too have issues of daily life to deal with.

All major parties in Jammu and Kashmir fought the Lok Sabha elections on a variety of grand themes. The People's Democratic Party (PDP), which rules the State in alliance with the Congress, put up billboards across the State indicating the distance to Muzaffarabad. The result? One seat, and that in south Kashmir, where coercion by terrorists backing the PDP intimidated voters who might have backed the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or the National Conference. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for its part, cast the election as a decisive test on greater autonomy for Jammu and the protection of its citizens against the Muslim-dominated valley. Without terrorists on its side, the BJP won no seats at all.

At first sight, it would appear that the National Conference is the major beneficiary of the elections. Some within the party see its twin victories as a political rebirth, a vindication of a new campaign strategy, which focussed on atrocities by Indian security forces and threats to revive a movement for a plebiscite on the State's future. Yet, a careful study of the data debunks such conclusions. First, a united PDP-Congress candidate would have defeated the party in Baramulla. Then, if the National Conference's Lok Sabha performance were to be translated into Assembly seats, it would have won 21 seats in the Kashmir valley, up only marginally from 18 in the 2002 elections. As such, the revival of the party is at best limited.

More worrying for the National Conference, the Lok Sabha results show that the PDP would also have improved its score from 21 to 25 had it been an Assembly election. In the three valley seats, the National Conference won 38.3 per cent of the votes, against 30.4 per cent in 2002. The PDP's improvement is more dramatic, from 20.2 per cent in 2002 to 39.1 per cent. The rise is, of course, misleading, since the party fought for two of the three seats in alliance with the Congress. At once, however, the combined vote share of the PDP and the Congress in the valley has grown to 48.4 per cent, against 33 per cent in 2002. It is worth noting that the PDP's spheres of influence remain confined to south Kashmir and parts of the north and the Congress to the north alone, so the increase in vote share need not necessarily translate into more seats.

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As in Kashmir, the messages from Jammu are mixed. The BJP's failure to win either the Jammu or the Poonch Lok Sabha seat in fact masks a revival of the Hindu Right in the region. In 2002, a fractious BJP succeeded in winning just a single Assembly segment. This time around, BJP strategists built their hopes around the anger over the Permanent Residents Bill, through which the PDP controversially seeks to deny women who marry outside the State some inheritance rights. The BJP's efforts to represent itself as a defender of Hindu interests against the politicians of the Valley won the party a majority in 15 of the 37 Assembly segments in Jammu-Poonch and Doda-Udhampur. It is worth noting, however, that the BJP got nothing like a trans-Jammu endorsement of its communal platform from Hindus at large.

Nonetheless, the Congress succeeded in beating off the challenge in both constituencies. One reason was the disappearance of the National Conference from the region, which claimed seven seats here in 2002. In a sense, the National Conference's efforts to recast itself as an ethnic Kashmiri party cost it the support of its Muslim constituency. In the Jammu seat, for example, the National Conference backed a Rajput candidate, infuriating its traditional Gujjar and Bakkarwal supporters who defected en bloc to the Congress. Gujjar and Bakkarwal leaders have been protesting against the State government's efforts to grant Scheduled Tribe status to upper castes in the hills, a group that has considerable ethnic-Kashmiri affiliations.

Politicians could draw several conclusions in the weeks and months to come. For one, the Congress could conclude that its victory in five seats in the Kashmir Valley in 2002 was no fluke. If so, a PDP-Congress showdown over influence in the region could be in the offing. Second, the National Conference will realise that it needs an alliance partner, particularly in Jammu. Party president and Srinagar MP Omar Abdullah has announced that the National Conference MPs will sit in the Opposition, a possible sign that the party's uncomfortable relationship with the BJP could be revived, albeit sotto voce.

Most important of all, politicians from all parties may realise that there is little dividend in narrow, chauvinist platforms - a lesson which, if learned, could be the best news out of Jammu and Kashmir in years.

Rout of regional parties

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI the-nation

FORMER Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani gave one singular advice to a gathering at an election meeting at Palwal in Faridabad district of Haryana: "Do not waste your votes on regional parties. Vote for national parties. If you do not prefer the BJP, vote for the Congress." The electorate did exactly that. They ignored the ruling Indian National Lok Dal (INDL), they ignored the Haryana Vikas Party (HVP) and, worst of all, they ignored the BJP. They voted overwhelmingly for the Congress. The Congress registered comfortable victories in nine out of the 10 Lok Sabha seats, a big gain for the party considering that it drew a blank in the previous elections in 1999. However, in 1991, the Congress had won nine seats.

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What appeared to be a multi-polar contest got essentially reduced to a bipolar one. The INLD, which was perceived to be the main rival to the Congress, finished third in four constituencies and fourth in one. The rout of the BJP and the INLD is seen primarily as a result of the anti-incumbency factor.

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Among the prominent losers are Union Minister of State for Home I.D. Swami; Ajay and Abhay Chautala, sons of Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala; and Surender Singh, son of HVP leader Bansi Lal. Among the winners are Bhupinder Singh Hooda, leader of the Congress Legislature Party, from Rohtak; Kuldeep Bishnoi, son of Pradesh Congress Committee chief Bhajan Lal, from Bhiwani; former INLD strongman and Green Brigade chief Jai Prakash from Hissar; Rao Inderjit Singh, son of senior Congress leader Rao Birender Singh, from Mahendargarh; and Kumari Selja from Ambala.

The BJP, which won five seats in 1999, managed to avoid complete decimation. The party, which had put up candidates in all the 10 seats, just about managed to win the Sonepat seat. Even here its candidate Kishan Singh Sangwan won by a narrow margin. In Faridabad, Ram Chander Bainda, the sitting BJP MP, was pushed to the third place. The vote share of the BJP came down drastically to 17.21 per cent from 29.21 per cent in 1999.

The BJP's timely dissociation from the INLD did not help much. One argument given for the BJP's poor performance is its inability to forge a successful alliance. But even if the INLD and the BJP had an alliance, the results would not have been very different considering that the margins of victory of the Congress candidates show that the electorate was quite determined to defeat Chautala and those associated with his party. Even in the Assembly segment of Sirsa, Chautala's home constituency, INLD candidate Sushil Kumar Indora could not secure a lead. He lost to Atma Singh Gill, a political newcomer, by over 70,000 votes.

The virtual rout of the INLD did not come as a surprise. But unlike the BJP, the INLD did not suffer a sharp reduction in its vote share. In retrospect, perhaps the BJP was the only party to have sensed the growing disenchantment of the electorate with the INLD.

The elections also saw the rout of the HVP. The HVP, which had hoped to win at least the Bhiwani seat, saw its vote share going up marginally. Bhiwani was one among the many keenly contested seats as the sons and grandson of the three "Lals" - Bhajan Lal, Bansi Lal and the late Devi Lal - were in the fray. Kuldeep Bishnoi won by 28,000 votes, followed in the second and third places by Surender Singh and Ajay Chautala respectively. Ajay Chautala had won the seat in the previous election.

In fact the Congress was not in a very good position to take on the INLD-BJP combine, riven as it was with factionalism. There were doubts about the party winning the Karnal seat as the choice of official candidate had been resisted by a faction led by a senior leader Chiranji Lal Sharma. His son, Kuldip Sharma, who was denied the ticket, contested as a rebel only to end up in the fifth place after the Bahujan Samaj Party. Overcoming all hurdles, Arvind Kumar Sharma of the Congress won the seat with a comfortable margin of over 1.5 lakh votes. Here and in other places, the voters ensured that a division of votes did not take place; they gave the winners a clear majority. In Rohtak too, Bhupinder Singh Hooda won a four-cornered contest, won by one lakh votes. Apart from the BJP candidate, Hooda had to deal with the INLD candidate, Bhim Singh, the Vice-Chancellor of Maharshi Dayanand University, and his daughter-in-law Geeta Grewal who contested on the BSP ticket.

Factional fighting and the fall

NAUNIDHI KAUR the-nation

HEARING the news of the victory of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh's wife Parneet Kaur from Patiala, an enthusiastic party worker fired two shots in the air in village Zirakpur. Little did he know then that his two shots represented the Congress' final tally in Punjab. By evening his enthusiasm turned to gloom when the local police started making enquiries about the use of firearms in the party office. Gloomier was the atmosphere in the State Congress party office.

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In Delhi, the visibly glum National Democratic Alliance leaders broke into a smile when they heard of 11 seats - the combined tally of the Shiromani Akali Dal (eight) and the BJP (three). The anti-incumbency factor was quite the reason for the Congress' poor performance.

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It was apparent that the Congress was a divided house before the elections. Deputy Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal had left no stone unturned to wreck the chances of the party's candidates. She did not campaign in the Lehra Gagga region of the Patiala constituency. Yet Parneet Kaur managed to retain the seat. It is another matter that while SAD leader Prakash Singh Badal's son Sukhbir Singh Badal won with a margin of over 1.35 lakh votes from Faridkot, Parneet Kaur won with a relatively slender margin of 23,600 votes. The results, however, indicate that infighting did less damage to the Congress' chances than the presence of the Bahujan Samaj Party. The votes polled by the BSP candidates in all the 13 constituencies and the margins by which the Congress candidates lost prove this point. For instance, in Ropar, SAD (Badal) candidate and Gurcharan Singh Tohra loyalist Sukhdev Singh Libra wrested the seat from Shamsher Singh Dullo of the Congress. Libra, who got 44 per cent of the votes polled, won by a margin of 33,637 votes. The BSP clearly cut into Dullo's vote share. Maan Singh Manhera of the BSP, who got 9.9 per cent of the total votes, polled more than 75,000 votes.

At the same time, caste-related issues failed to ensure the defeat of Congress candidate Rana Gurjit Singh in Jalandhar, where Talhan village voted in strength for the BSP. Rana Gurjit polled 3,44,619 votes and defeated Naresh Gujral, SAD candidate and former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral's son, who polled 3,11,156 votes.

Dissidence and the absence of an alliance spoiled the game for the Congress. While the Akalis were a divided house in the 1999 elections following the Badal-Tohra standoff, this time round the absence of any internal bickering ensured the party's win. In fact Tohra's widow Joginder Tohra appealed to the people through newspaper advertisements to vote for the SAD.

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Voters appear to have taken local and development issues into consideration. This was evident in Gurdaspur where BJP candidate Vinod Khanna managed to do a hat-trick. Khanna, who has fallen several steps short of reaching his promise of making Gurdaspur a second Paris, is lauded for building the Naushehra Bhinder bridge, which has made Gurdaspur accessible to the rest of Punjab. Khanna even managed to increase his victory margin. In 1999, he won by 1,399 votes. This time his margin of victory over the Congress Sukhbuns Kaur Bhinder is 24,983. This is the third time that Sukhbuns Kaur has been defeated by Khanna.

Navjot Sidhu, cricketer-turned-commentator-turned-politician, who was dubbed a political novice and outsider by his Congress rival R.L. Bhatia, won the Amritsar seat with a margin of over one lakh votes. The votes were as much for Sidhu's star status as for the fact that Bhatia had failed to contribute much for his constituency even though he had been elected for a record six times.

From strength to strength

THE Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front not only held on to its bastion, West Bengal, once again, but increased its tally to 35 seats. In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, it secured 29 seats.

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The Left Front's remarkable performance was not confined to its traditional strongholds in rural West Bengal. Even in Kolkata, traditionally an anti-Left Front region, the Nationalist Trinamul Congress (NTC) could win just one seat, in fact the only seat it got in the State, when its leader Mamata Banerjee retained the Kolkata South seat. However, her margin dropped from over two lakh votes in 1999 to 98,429 votes. The Left Front also did well in other major urban and semi-urban areas such as Dum Dum, Asansol and Durgapur.

A number of factors seem to underlie the disenchantment of the urban middle-class with the NTC-Bharatiya Janata Party combine. While the progressive lowering of the interest rate hit the fixed-income groups, the disinvestment of profitable public sector enterprises (PSEs), a large number of them in West Bengal, led to widespread redundancy and retrenchment. Voluntary retirement schemes could offer little solace. On the other hand, the charisma of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the Left Front's efforts to win over the Bengali `Bhadralok' succeeded.

The Congress, which was almost moribund and ridiculed by Mamata Banerjee as the "B-team" of the CPI(M), has got a fresh lease of life in the election. It won all the three seats in Murshidabad district, including Jangipur, contested by Pradesh Congress Committee president and former Union Minister Pranab Mukherjee. The victory in Murshidabad, where the Left Front lost two of its sitting seats, is largely attributed to the organisational efforts of the party's district-level leaders and functionaries. Overall, it doubled its tally from three in 1999 to six, which includes the Darjeeling seat, where the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) extended it decisive support at the last moment. This may be a straw in the wind for the State government. With a Congress-led government at the Centre, GNLF supremo Subash Ghising may revive his demand for a separate Gorkhaland State.

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The Congress' improved performance is largely owing to the disintegration of the Left Front's main rival, the NTC. The NTC has none to blame for its plight. Mamata Banerjee's inconsistent political stands and continuous infighting in the party brought about the NTC's downfall. For instance, in Kolkata Northwest the NTC candidate and Calcutta Municipal Corporation Mayor Subroto Mukherjee lost to the CPI(M)'s Sudhangsu Seal. This was not unexpected, considering that sitting MP Sudip Bandopadhyay, who was at one time Mamata Banerjee's right-hand man, contested as an independent candidate. He fell out with Mamata Banerjee and was denied the party ticket for his seat. Significantly, Sudip Bandopadhyay and Subroto Mukherjee together polled more votes than Sudhangsu Seal, thus proving that a united NTC would have retained the seat.

Elsewhere, in Jadavpur the CPI(M)'s Dr. Sujan Chakraborti defeated the NTC's sitting MP Krishna Bose, a scion of the family of freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose. Jadavpur used to be a CPI(M) stronghold until it was won by the NTC in 1996. Even in Kolkata Northeast, where the NTC's sitting MP and former Union Minister Ajit Kumar Panja was long considered invincible, the CPI(M) candidate and State Minister for Development and Youth Services Mohammed Salim won by a comfortable margin.

Another prized victory for the CPI(M) was in Dum Dum, which it wrested from the BJP's two-time winner and Union Minister Tapan Sikdar. The only other BJP MP, Satyabrata Mukherjee, a former Union Minister and an eminent barrister, too suffered defeat. He lost to the famous athlete Jyotirmoyee Sikdar of the CPI(M) in Krishnanagar. The BJP drew a blank in the State.

The election has thrown up some interesting electoral trends. First is the decline of the NTC as an important political factor in West Bengal. Apart from the virtual collapse of the party in the parliamentary polls, Mamata Banerjee has lost to a significant extent the support of the urban middle class because of her political somersaults and that of the minorities because of her alliance with the BJP.

On the other hand, the performance of the Left Front has proved that it is no longer solely dependent on support from the rural masses. The margins with which it won in the urban areas, especially Kolkata and its suburbs, suggest that the disenchanted lower middle class has returned to its fold. Moreover, the Bengali intelligentsia has realised that to voice its grievances against the policies of disinvestment, liberalisation, low interest rates and market supremacy, the CPI(M)-led Left Front would be a much better option than Mamata Banerjee's NTC and an effete Congress.

Although the gains made by the Congress have been impressive, they are localised, confined only to north Bengal, particularly to Murshidabad district. It is, however, not unlikely that the Congress may try to fill in the void left by a receding NTC, which never had much organisational support at the grassroots level. Again, any further growth of the Congress will depend to a large extent on its ability to provide leadership at the lower levels and the policies of the new Central government.

Bitter-sweet victory for the BJP

CONSOLIDATING the impressive gains made in the Assembly elections, the BJP added four seats to its tally in Madhya Pradesh - it won 25 of the 29 seats. The party wrested Dhar, Rewa, Rajgarh, Khajuraho and Khargone from the Congress. The Congress only managed to retain the three seats where its heavyweights were contesting. Kamal Nath managed to retain the Chhindwada seat, though with a much lower margin than in 1999, and Jyotiraditya Scindia .Kantilal Bhuria retained the Jhabua though this is in the tribal belt where the VHP and RSS are active. A bonus for the Congress' Ram Sevak Singh's was the Gwalior seat, which it wrested from the BJP. The BJP won most of its seats with large margins Kailash Joshi, the president of its state wing, won by over three lakh votes and Shivraj Singh Chauhan, the party's national secretary, by more than two lakh sixty thousand votes.

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The Congress must be ruing its chances of picking up a few more seats. In Bhind its candidate, Satyadev Katare lost by just 678 votes. Infighting within the party meant that it did not pick up any seat in the Vindhya region where the Congress was expected to pick up a few seats. Party leaders were quick to lay the blame on the BJP government misusing state smachinery to ensure that its candidates were elected. Says the party's spokesperson, Manak Agarwal, "The BJP used state smachinery to intimidate and harass people in order to ensure that they did not vote for the Congress."

But party workers admit that had they a hint of the results at the Centre they would have put in far more energy into the campaigns. The Congress looked like fighting a half hearted battle in Madhya Pradesh for most of the campaign period. Added to this most of the senior leaders from the state including Digvijay Singh did not contest these elections, and party leaders like Sonia Gandhi did not give much importance to the state while campaigning .

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The BJP is reading the verdict as a vote in favour of the policies of the Uma Bharati government. Says Uma Shankar Gupta, the party's spokesperson,, "The result is a reflection of the will of the people and of their faith in our government."

But the celebrations at the party's office were muted this time around as the partythe BJP will now sit in the opposition. Though the party's hold on the state has been strengthened this is probably because it is too early for the anti incumbency factor to have worked and two terms of rule by the Digvijay Singh government was still fresh in the memory of the people in state. One person who finds himself in a peculiar situation is Laxman Singh, the brother of Digvijay Singh, who moved from the Congress to the BJP before the elections much to the discomfort of his brother and BJP workers in his constituency Rajgarh. Though he won the seat by a comfortable margin, he finds himself sitting in the opposition.

The Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Gondwana Ganatantra Party drew a blank in the elections though they did make it a triangular contest in many seats. The Congress will hope that its performance at the national level will help revive its state unit. Party workers were jubilant even though they won only four seats. The focus now, it seems, will be on rebuilding the party's organisation in the state.

A caste formula that clicks

Except in a few States, including West Bengal, Verdict 2004 has come as a sharp indictment of the powers that be.

IN the final analysis, the real losers in the Bihar Lok Sabha elections are the opinion and exit pollsters. The majority of them predicted a spectacular victory for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) comprising the Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party, even when alliance leaders such as the Janata Dal(U)'s Nitish Kumar expressed doubts about repeating last election's performance.

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The predictions took a severe beating as the NDA suffered major losses to end up winning only 12 of the 37 seats the results for which have been declared. (The polling process in the three remaining constituencies - Chapra, Siwan and Bettiah - is yet to be completed.) The much-written-off Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-led combine consisting of the Congress, the Lok Janshakthi Party (LJP), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) almost matched the 1999 sweep of the NDA by winning 26 seats. If the remaining three seats also fall into the RJD kitty this time, the combine led by the party will have 29, only one short of what the NDA won in 1999.

The contention of the pollsters, which was backed by some political and media pundits, was that `development' was finally becoming an election issue in the caste-ridden politics of Bihar. They also maintained that it would only help the NDA, whose campaign was essentially spurred by "two shining stars of development, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nitish Kumar". More so because the RJD's 14-year-long rule had not witnessed any real development.

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However, Nitish Kumar himself was wary of such projections, and he made it clear midway through the campaign. Speaking to mediapersons on April 27, a day after the second round of polling in Bihar, he highlighted the `casteist dimensions' of the contest. He pointed out that the campaign by some NDA leaders such as George Fernandes and L.K. Advani advancing the cause of dismissing the "Yadavised" State government after the Lok Sabha polls was counter-productive. Nitish Kumar said that such a campaign was uniting the Yadav community in favour of Laloo Prasad and the RJD, in sharp contrast to the situation that prevailed in the community in 1999. Then, the Yadavs were divided between Laloo Prasad and Janata Dal(U) leader Sharad Yadav, and it even had led to the former's defeat at Madhepura in 1999. This time round the result there was different, with Laloo Prasad defeating Sharad Yadav by 70,000 votes.

The Madhepura result reveals only the tip of the iceberg of caste polarisation in Bihar. The majority of the State's population has now affirmed that the "social dignity" that the RJD government provided it is more important to it than development in terms of "bijli, sadak aur paani" (power, roads and water).

In many senses, the social polarisation also signified the success of the RJD combine's campaign strategy. The combine, particularly its leader the RJD, was clear right from the early stages of electioneering that its primary objective was to bring about a new social alliance comprising the Other Backward Classes (OBC) community of Yadavs, and Muslims and Dalits. The campaign was designed in such a manner that the combine turned its back almost completely to the upper-caste Hindu votes from communities such as Brahmins, Bhumihars and Thakurs.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi's decision to stay away from the campaign in the State was also, in all probability, in keeping with this design. It is well known that the Congress president's appeal in most northern States is mainly among the upper castes, particularly Brahmins.

The results show that the objective of unifying the lower castes and classes has been achieved to a great extent. The RJD combine not only rallied the Yadavs under the leadership of Laloo Prasad, but held on to its strong support base among Muslims and added a substantial section of Dalits to its ranks by aligning with Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP. Paswan belongs to the Dussadh community, which is known to vote en masse according to his political leanings.

The social polarisation is reflected in the difference of eight percentage points in vote share between the two major contenders. While the RJD-led combine polled 45.04 per cent of the votes polled, the NDA got 37.08 per cent. In 1999, when Paswan was with the NDA, the alliance got approximately 45 per cent of the votes polled and the RJD combine around 40 per cent. Clearly, the single most important factor that seemed to have caused the dramatic change in terms of electoral gains is the departure of the LJP from the NDA and its entry into the RJD combine.

The Dussadh community is numerically dominant in six to eight constituencies, including Hajipur and Rosera, from where Ram Vilas Paswan and his brother Ramachandra Paswan got elected this time too by margins of 2.37 lakh and 1.38 lakh votes respectively. But more significant are the 5,000 to 50,000 votes the community has in almost all the constituencies of the State.

Such a widespread presence is reflected in the results of several seats, including Barh, where Nitish Kumar lost by 37,000 votes. Unofficial estimates are that the seat has approximately 50,000 Dussadh voters. Nitish Kumar, however, managed to get elected from Nalanda. The Dussadh community has a significant presence - informal estimates put the figure at 8 per cent of the total voters - in Muzzafarpur too, the constituency from which NDA national convener and Janata Dal (U) leader George Fernandes scraped through with a margin of 9,000 votes.

As this social polarisation took centre stage, all other campaign points - the "Vajpayee factor", Sonia Gandhi's "foreign origin", Nitish Kumar's contribution to the State, the NDA's new initiatives to win over Muslim voters - were pushed to the background. Even some of Vajapyee's own personal efforts came to nought. Vajpayee promised to appoint two crore Urdu teachers if the NDA returned to power, with the specific intention of boosting the chances of BJP candidate and Union Minister Syed Shamsad Hussain in Kishanganj. Hussain lost by over 1.60 lakh votes to the RJD's Taslimuddin. Similar was the fate of Anwarul Haque, a former RJD MP, who joined the BJP just prior to the elections and fought from Sheohar. He lost by approximately 80,000 votes.

Laloo Prasad's comeback against predictions of a resounding defeat got the NDA leaders into a tizzy. The refrain among them is that it might be impossible to dislodge the RJD from office or minimise Laloo Prasad's control over the State's polity despite their consistent campaign about the party's "14-year misrule". Laloo Prasad, on his part, has started using his "larger role "at the Centre to consolidate further his support base among the depressed sections of the society. One of the first things he did after the results were announced was to demand restoration of agricultural subsidies and to take steps to reduce the prices of kerosene and diesel. Clearly, the elections have galvanised the politics of OBC-Dalit assertion in Bihar.

Voters' fury against AIADMK

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN the-nation

"TOMORROW is ours. All the 40 (Lok Sabha seats) are ours," proclaimed a hoarding put up by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) outside the venue of the party's conference that lasted from December 2003 to February near Vandalur in suburban Chennai. Interestingly, it was the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam(DMK)-led Democratic People's Alliance (DPA) that won all the 40 seats - 39 in Tamil Nadu and one in the Union Territory of Pondicherry. The DMK won 15 seats, the Congress 10, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) six, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) four, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the Communist Party of India (CPI) two each, and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) one. A tidal wave of people's anger routed the AIADMK and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party.

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In his hour of triumph, the 82-year-old DMK chief M. Karunanidhi, who was instrumental in cobbling up a formidable alliance comprising the Congress, the PMK, the MDMK, the CPI(M), the CPI and the IUML was level-headed. "I will not say that the DMK's strength is behind the victory. It is the alliance' strength," he said. In his assessment, "the communal government" at the Centre and the "anti-people government" in Tamil Nadu were the key reasons for the DPA's victory.

On May 15, the DMK executive committee decided to give enough time to Sonia Gandhi to form a government at the Centre, watch its approach and then decide on joining the government. Karunanidhi promised the DMK's support to ensure a stable government at the Centre. MDMK general secretary Vaiko announced his party's decision not to join the Union government.

The fury of the voters against the Jayalalithaa government was such that nine DPA candidates defeated the AIADMK or BJP candidates by a margin of more than two lakh votes. All but three of the other DPA candidates won by a margin of more than one lakh votes. Film actor Rajnikant's appeal to the people to vote for the BJP candidates; his specific plea to his fans to work against the PMK candidates in the six constituencies where they contested; and the presence of a third front called the People's Alliance comprising the Dalit parties such as the Dalit Panthers of India and the Puthiya Tamizhagam could not stop the DPA juggernaut. The Dalit parties did well despite contesting against two powerful alliances. DPI leader Thol. Thirumavalavan, who contested in Chidambaram, came second after the PMK's E. Ponnusamy, pushing the BJP candidate T. Periasamy to third place. Thirumavalavan received 2.55 lakh votes while Ponnusamy got 3.43 lakh votes.

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The voters rejected Jayalalithaa's rhetorical question whether the country needed "an experienced Indian" such as A.B. Vajpayee as Prime Minister or "a half-baked novice" such as Sonia Gandhi, who was of foreign origin. Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin was not an issue at all in the State.

While there are a host of reasons for the AIADMK-BJP's defeat, an important one was the imposition of the "current bill". The government had scrapped the free electricity scheme hitherto available to farmers and hut-dwellers. Although it virtually restored the free supply of electricity to these categories through a money-order payment scheme, people feared that she would abandon the free scheme once the elections were over. What aggravated the fear was that farmers and hut-dwellers were forced to install meters to measure the electricity they consumed. Hardly 10 per cent of the farmers and hut-dwellers received the money-orders from the government to pay their electricity bills. Besides, the government effected a big increase in the electricity tariff, which affected the working class.

What really incensed the people was the government's assault on the Public Distribution System First, it whittled down the amount of rice sold to ration card holders. Later, it restored it to 20 kg but introduced a dual-pricing system - Rs.3.50 a kg for 10 kg of rice and Rs.6 a kg for the remaining 10 kg. Then the government came up with a fiat that only the heads of families (whose photographs are affixed on the ration cards) should draw rice, sugar or kerosene from the ration shops. This fiat was later withdrawn. The government also introduced "honours" ration cards, that is, people who earned more than Rs.5,000 a month were summarily removed from the PDS. This "H" card system hit lakhs of working class families. The government also brought in an impracticable coupon system to draw rice, sugar or kerosene.

A long list of factors worked against the AIADMK-BJP alliance. This included a ban on the sacrifice of animals and birds in temples; anaemic implementation of the mid-day meal scheme for children; the stopping of the supply of eggs to children under the scheme; the termination of service of about 10,000 road workers; the government takeover of sandmining; and the denial of bus passes to a section of students.

The Jayalalithaa government antagonised every section of society - farmers, minorities, government employees, teachers, State-owned transport corporation workers, weavers, doctors and medicos, and the media - and still hoped to win. Farmers in the Cauvery delta districts were angry that she did not handle with finesse the stand-off with Karnataka over the sharing of the Cauvery waters. Government employees and teachers turned against the party after it ruthlessly put down a strike by them. The government reduced the retirement benefits of government employees and teachers. Transport workers lost several thousands of rupees when their monetary benefits were compounded. The government shut down many single-teacher schools.

The minority communities felt alienated from the AIADMK. Christians were upset over the enactment of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Act. Muslims were aghast at the Chief Minister's stand on the Ram temple issue and her alliance with the BJP.

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Jayalalithaa government jailed political opponents under the dreaded Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). The misuse of POTA was an important election issue and Vaiko, who along with eight other MDMK leaders, was arrested under POTA and later released, went to town on it.

Intra-party squabbles also contributed to the AIADMK's debacle. In the organisational elections held during December-February, loyalists received a short shrift. They remained inactive during the election campaign. Besides, Jayalalithaa gave the ticket to "new faces". Party insiders said this was her ploy to keep the party under her control but the strategy recoiled on her.

Much to the chagrin of enthusiastic voters, several names were found deleted from the voters' list. P. Ravichandran, convener, Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation - Tamil Nadu, alleged that in several booths in Neyveli in Chidambaram constituency, Dalit voters' names had been "deliberately" deleted. In Neyveli township, 300 Dalits who had voter identity cards could not vote because their names were missing, he said. The DMK executive alleged that the AIADMK got the names of members of the minority communities, government employees, teachers and others who would not vote against it removed.

Decisive defeat for Hindutva

ALL India Congress Committee general secretary Oscar Fernandes told Frontline in an interview sometime back that the Congress realised its weakness in Uttar Pradesh but was not in a position to do much about it and that it hoped that in a quadrangular fight, where the votes would get divided, the relevance of U.P. in national politics would diminish. This, he said, would ensure that even if the Congress put up a dismal performance in U.P., the outcome in the State would not be a stumbling block in the party's march to power at the Centre. How prophetic it sounds now.

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Elections 2004 now appear to have disproved the popular belief that the way to Delhi is essentially via U.P.

The two major parties in the State, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which appeared to hold the key to power at the Centre, seem to have lost their relevance in national politics for the time being as they have no major role to play in the government formation. The S.P., which put up an exemplary performance despite the conspiracy hatched by the BJP to paint it saffron and confuse Muslim voters, and which hoped to play the king-maker in the post-poll scenario, has been forced to become a mere bystander in the power game unfolding in Delhi. The imperious BSP leader, Mayawati, who had spurned offers of alliance from the Congress, has also been reduced to irrelevance to the extent that she has been forced to run to the Congress with the offer of "unconditional support". The irony of the situation is that the Congress, which had desperately sought an alliance with her before the elections, does not appear to need her support now.

What is astounding about the U.P. results is the defeat of the Hindutva forces. It is also a tribute to the intelligence of the voters at large: the way they have rebuffed the "India Shining" and "Feel Good" shams, despite the misleadingly benign presence of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's own candidature in Lucknow and the declarations by the Arun Jaitleys and the Pramod Mahajans that "there is an undercurrent of surge for a second term for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee".

The S.P. improved substantially upon its 1999 performance winning 36 of the 80 seats.. It had 28 seats in the dissolved House. Its electoral ally, the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal, won three seats, one seat more than its previous tally. This was possible despite the campaign by the BJP to drive the Muslim voters away from the S.P. fold by claiming that the party was "ideologically closer" to the BJP and could join the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the event of a hung Parliament. Even Vajpayee said this in his speeches. But the ploy did not work. The S.P.'s tally shows that Muslims voted for the party wherever its candidates were in a position to defeat the BJP. The theory, well-documented in these pages, that Muslims would vote tactically in order to defeat the BJP despite its overtures to the community was proved right. This is best illustrated by the fact that even in Rampur, a Muslim-dominated constituency where the Congress' Begum Noor Bano held sway, Muslims supported the S.P.'s non-Muslim candidate, Jayaprada, enabling her to win with a margin of over 85,474 votes. Another example of the minority community's preferences was seen in Kaiserganj where Arif Mohammad Khan, a recent convert to the BJP, was defeated by the S.P.'s Beni Prasad Verma by over two lakh votes.

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But it is not only the S.P. that has gained by this strange movement of votes. The BSP increased its tally from 14 in 1999 to 19. The most significant aspect of the U.P. results, however, is the trouncing of the most ardent advocates of Hindutva such as Union Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, Minister of State for Home Swami Chinmayanand, BJP State president and former Bajrang Dal chief Vinay Katiyar, and another outspoken proponent of the Ram temple movement Swami Ram Vilas Vedanti. While Joshi lost to the S.P.'s Reoti Raman Singh by a margin of 28,383 votes in Allahabad, Katiyar was relegated to the third position in Lakhimpur Kheri where the S.P.'s Ravi Prakash Verma defeated the BSP's Daud Ahmad. Swami Chinmayanand was also relegated to the third position in Jaunpur where Parasnath Yadav of the S.P. defeated the BSP's Om Prakash Dubey.

Interestingly, the BJP, which claims to be promoting the cause of Hindutva, has been ousted in all three favourite spots of the Sangh Parivar: Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura. In Faizabad, which includes Ayodhya, the BSP's Mitrasen Yadav defeated Lallu Singh of the BJP while in Mathura, Manvendra Singh of the Congress defeated Laxminarayan of the BSP. The BJP was nowhere in the race. In Kashi, which is part of the Varanasi constituency, Dr. Rajesh Mishra of the Congress defeated the BJP's Shankar Prasad Jaiswal by 57,436 votes. Similarly, Swami Ram Vilas Vedanti, who faced Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, was trounced decisively. Yet another BJP stalwart, Kesrinath Tripathi, who is also the U.P. Assembly Speaker, was defeated in Machlishahar.

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Kalyan Singh, whose return to the BJP was expected to fetch 20-25 seats for the party, could not influence any seat even in his stronghold of Aligarh and its surrounding constituencies. There is a clear message for the BJP: the U.P. voters have decisively rejected its brand of Hindutva.

As for the Congress, even the magic of Rajiv Gandhi's children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra could not help the party improve on its 1999 performance: its tally remained at nine.

But where do the respective parties go from here? "We are better off on our own. Taking either of them (the S.P. or the BSP) along would mean becoming dependent on them while we are in a position now to stand on our own feet. After a few years of work, we will be strong enough to return to power in Uttar Pradesh," senior Congress leader Mohsina Kidwai said.

As for the BJP, it is chintan (introspection) time once again but there is a strong possibility that the party will revert to the hardline posture. "Diluting our ideological plank has not helped. Development or Atal Bihari's moderate image has not fetched us votes whereas Advani's rath yatra had catapulted us to victory," a senior leader said.. Even the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh appears to be supporting this viewpoint. RSS spokesman Ram Madhav claimed that the BJP was trounced because it had lost its ideological moorings.

For the S.P. and the BSP, it seems like a long haul ahead, despite their exemplary performance. They don't seem to have too many choices either. With a rejuvenated Congress set to reclaim its dominant position in U.P., they have reasons to worry. The Congress' rise would mean a shifting of the vote base of Dalits and Muslims, which will affect the BSP and the S.P. respectively. "They were both averse to aligning with us because they have thrived at the cost of Dalit and Muslim votes. If the Congress is seen to be reviving in U.P. then even Brahmins would dump the BJP. The Congress is on a comeback trail in Uttar Pradesh," party spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy said.

Punishment for arrogance

FORMER External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha's initial reaction to his defeat in the Hazaribagh constituency was anything but diplomatic: "I do not know how and why the people of Jharkhand failed to see the value of the development programmes I had brought to the State." He conceded defeat to the relatively unknown Bhubaneshwar Prasad Mehta of the Communist Party of India (CPI) by a margin of over one lakh votes. Evidently, Sinha seems to believe that the people made a mistake by defeating him and his Bharatiya Janata Party colleagues in the State.

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Political observers in the State point out that the smugness reflected in Sinha's statement is one of the reasons for the BJP's rout. The party, which held 12 of the 14 seats in the State, could retain just one seat as the Congress-led alliance comprising also the Jharkhand Mukthi Morcha (JMM), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the CPI, swept to victory in 13 seats.

The miserable performance made bold even the BJP's smaller allies in the State government to talk about the "arrogance" of the party's leadership. Talking to Frontline, State Electricity Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Lalchand Mahato pointed out that "his party had repeatedly requested the State BJP to give us four seats so that we could fight the elections together but they imperiously turned down our request". In fact, Sinha challenged the Janata Dal(U) to contest all the 14 seats alone and claimed that it would not affect the BJP. "If only they had sense and fought the election in alliance with us, the results would have been different," Mahato added.

The Janata Dal(U) put up candidates in five seats after being spurned by the BJP. Predictably, their presence affected the prospects of the BJP in at least three seats. In Chatra, where Inder Singh Namdhari, the Janata Dal(U)'s tallest leader in the State, contested, the BJP was pushed to the third position. While Namdhari came second with 1,02,609 votes, the BJP candidate and State Minister for Social Justice Nagmani got 99,662 votes. The seat was won by the RJD's Dhirendra Agarwal, who polled 1,21,464 votes. At Godda, the Congress' Furkan Ansari won with a margin of approximately 27,000 votes. While the BJP came second, the Janata Dal(U)'s Suraj Mandal got 43,000 votes. However, the party polled only 3.8 per cent of the votes.

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According to several observers, what was more significant was the aversion of the BJP leadership to come to terms with ground realities. The leadership rated the "Vajpayee factor" too high and gave more credit to the Central government's developmental initiatives in the State than what they deserved. It also refused to give any importance to the strengthening anti-incumbency mood against the Arjun Munda-led State government and misjudged the strength of the Congress-RJD-JMM-CPI alliance. Above all, throughout the campaign, internal bickering between the groups led by Munda and former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi spoiled the BJP's chances.

While the Congress-RJD-JMM-CPI alliance won 45.04 per cent of the votes polled, the BJP's vote share was 33.01 per cent. Several political analysts are of the view that the figures suggest that even an alliance with the Janata Dal (U) would not have changed the BJP's fortunes dramatically. The formidability of the Congress-led alliance, pointed out RJD Legislative Party leader Girinath Singh, was something the BJP failed to understand. It helped even a new candidate like former Indian Police Service officer Rameshwar Oraon of the Congress to win the Lohardaga seat. Oraon defeated the sitting BJP MP, Duka Bhagat, by 70,000 votes. It also led to the collapse of a BJP bastion, Khunti, where party candidate and Union Minister Karia Munda lost to the Congress' Sushila Kerketta.

The only consolation for the BJP was the victory of Babulal Marandi, who was unceremoniously dislodged from the Chief Minister's chair 14 months ago. He won from Koderma by 1.54 lakh votes. Interestingly, Marandi was one of the few candidates who did not project the "achievements of the Munda and Vajpayee governments" because he was the `rebel' in the State BJP. But that fact, in contrast to Sinha's superciliousness, seems to have worked with the masses.

LETTERS

the-nation
Battle for U.P.

The Cover Story rightly explained the enigma called Uttar Pradesh. ("Battle for U.P.", May 21) With 80 Lok Sabha seats, the State has always been the hotbed of Indian politics and the ultimate challenge for psephologists. It is only by paying obeisance to U.P. that any party could think of capturing power at the Centre.

>Siddhartha Raj Guha Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh

Thank you for consistently highlighting the plight of Dalits and other oppressed classes ("Seeking alternatives," May 21). After 56 years of Independence the Muslim and Dalit communities live in squalor and degrading conditions with high levels of illiteracy and unemployment. There has been hardly any upward mobility among these communities in political and socio-economic terms. This miserable condition is also because of the leaders and the elite sections of the community. This is especially true of Dalits.

There are too many Dalit leaders and too little unity. Among Muslims, Urdu-speaking sections tend to dominate the top positions in organisations such as the Wakf Board.

In spite of their large population, neither community has a political organisation that tirelessly works for its upliftment. During elections, banners and posters bearing the image of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar are used by all political parties to woo Dalits.

D. Karthikeyan Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu

Education

This refers to the article "A historic ruling on schools" (May 21). The judgment of the apex court will check the ongoing commercialisation of education.

In Tamil Nadu, there are many engineering colleges without the basic infrastructure. Polytechnics that were opened in the early 1980s are on the way out. Managements are not concerned about education. Their mantra is profit.

Hari Virudhunagar, Tamil Nadu

The Supreme Court deserves praise for the landmark ruling regarding fee structure of unaided schools. Managements of most unaided schools treat them as business enterprises. They have no qualms in fleecing the students and their parents. Little attention is given to the needs of teachers. Basic facilities such as toilets, drinking water and canteen are not available in most schools.

As education is an essential service, some regulations are necessary to discipline unaided schools.

S. Raghunatha Prabhu Alappuzha, Kerala

Judiciary

It is distressing that judges who condemned lawyers' strikes as illegal and wholly unjustified resorted to actions such as en masse leave as a form of protest in Punjab ("An unprecedented act," May 21). Their action crippled work in the High Court. This episode underlines the need for an effective mechanism to deal with errant judges of the higher judiciary.

V. K. Sathyavan Nair Kottayam, Kerala

The Best Bakery case

Frontline calls a spade a spade ("Best Bakery case for retrial," May 7). The strictures passed by the Supreme Court do not constitute a clarion call for new scales of justice, but an anguished cry for restoring what the Constitution promises.

S. Soundararajan Hampshire, U.K.

Heritage

The feature on the syncretic religious and philosophical traditions of the Kashmir valley (`A composite culture', May 7) by Benoy K. Behl was enlightening. The photographs were captivating.

The author has dealt with the broad contours of the philosophical traditions in the valley with clarity. Surveying the transition of ancient Hindu cultural tradition to the Buddhist one and later its transformation under the Islamic influence, he has spun a rich tapestry without losing the continuity. However, he should have devoted some space to the many Sufi saints who crossed over to the valley from Central Asia and Iran to preach the message of love and brotherhood. Sufis like Bulbul Shah, Shah-e-Hamadan, Makhdoom Sahib and Shah Walli contributed enormously to the development of Sufism in Kashmir.

The most prominent influence on Sufi traditions of Kashmir has been of Lal Ded and Sheikh Nurrudin Wali. Together, they can be called the fountainhead of Kashmiriyat. The syncretic faith that they nurtured is reflected in their poetry. It transcended the religious boundaries and touched high spirituality. No doubt then, that Sufi shrines were visited by Hindus and Muslims alike. This joint legacy saved Kashmir from burning in the communal fires that raged in the Indian subcontinent during the tumultuous years of British withdrawal.

Mohammad Junaid Anantnag

New power centres

The article "Dravidian power" (April 23) was interesting. It is stated that the demand of the Dravidian parties that Tamil be declared a classical language, which had the backing of all the national parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party, was not conceded.

But the celebration in 2000 of the "year of Sanskrit" and conceding the classical status to that language are portrayed as wrong actions. Sanskrit is not only the oldest language in the world, but also a systematic and scientific one. Its grammar is perfect and it has attracted scholars worldwide. It fulfils 11 qualities prescribed for a classical language.

A.J. Rangarajan Chennai

The cover story on New Power Centres (April 23) had wonderfully analysed Indian politics. It is true that the Congress has realised the importance of alliances. Now that the party is in power, it remains to be seen how the coalition works. Indian democracy needs just three or four cohesive parties.

S. Narayanan Chennai

BJP's vision

As usual Praful Bidwai's discerning eye brings out the real face of the BJP politics ("`Vision' and vitriol," April 23). Since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya the political atmosphere is highly vitiated and in true Nazi spirit the BJP has been having a great time fishing in troubled waters.

Ravindra Vadh Thane

Praful Bidwai has rightly pointed out in his column that the BJP's opposition to Sonia Gandhi holding public office as any other Indian spelt a danger to freedom and democracy. India is not a nation ruled by kings and queens but a democracy governed by people who are equal under the Constitution.

R.R. Sami Tiruvannamalai

A reversal of fortunes

DIONNE BUNSHA the-nation

THINGS are not so good in the laboratory of Hindutva. The chemistry seems to have gone awry.

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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled the State for more than 10 years, suffered a major reversal of fortunes in the Lok Sabha elections. It just about managed to retain its edge over the Congress(I), winning 14 of the 26 seats. In the 1999 elections, it had gained a thumping majority with 21 seats. The BJP's slide has come as a surprise for even the Congress(I), which has more than doubled its previous tally.

Perhaps a similar result was on the cards in the December 2002 Assembly elections? Then too, the BJP was losing mass support. The Congress(I) had swept the district and taluk panchayat elections in 2000. It won every subsequent byelection. A nervous BJP central leadership brought in the hardliner Narendra Modi as Chief Minister to rescue the sinking ship.

Then the Godhra massacre happened. The BJP used it to engineer a communal pogrom across the State. The places where the Congress(I) would have won, such as Mehsana, Banaskantha, Kapadvanj, Dahod, Godhra, Kheda, Anand and Chottaudaipur, were precisely the places that were targeted during the communal clashes. Ahmedabad and Vadodara, the only other places affected by riots are BJP bastions. The hysteria and terror generated helped the BJP stem the tide of anti-incumbency.

The frenzy has abated now. The anti-establishment wave has returned. Indeed, the BJP has to deal with the morning after.

The Congress(I) has recovered its hold over the Adivasi vote, which had shifted to the BJP after the Ayodhya campaign in the early 1990s. In each of Gujarat's four zones, it has managed to capture a few seats. In north and central Gujarat (Anand and Chottaudaipur), the party has emerged stronger.

An anti-government wave has ensured an effortless comeback for the Congress(I). "There's an old Gujarati saying that goes: `While yawning, you got a sweet'. That is what has happened to the Congress(I). The seats have just fallen into its lap. If it were more organised, it could have won even more seats," says P.M. Patel, a political analyst from M.S. University, Vadodara.

COMPARED to the last Assembly elections, when the BJP was voted in with an overwhelming majority, the current results show a fall in its popularity. The elections were held just months after the communal carnage. The BJP pursued an aggressive communal campaign to divert attention from the real problems and squelch simmering discontent.

Now, that discontent has returned. Voters seem to have become wiser. Many are still reeling from the economic after-effects of the violence. Chief Minister Narendra Modi has not delivered much more than gimmicks and propaganda. Water scarcity and unemployment are the two major problems affecting people.

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Shankarsinh Vaghela, Congress(I) leader said: "If they had not raised the communal issue, the BJP would have lost the Assembly elections. The people realise now that they were fooled. The BJP governments at the State and the Centre have done nothing about the unemployment and law and order problems."

Within the BJP as well, there has been a lot of dissent. In fact, soon after his election, Narendra Modi faced opposition from the farmers' wing of the BJP, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS). The BKS's agitation against his decision to double power tariffs for farmers and install meters in farms lasted several months. Narendra Modi, known for his authoritarian ways, took an adamant stand. Finally, central BJP leaders had to intervene to broker a compromise. However, farmers are still angry. Many are bankrupt and deeply in debt. During this election, BKS supporters may not have worked for the party.

"Sangh Parivar workers were also not as motivated as they normally are. They were upset because the Supreme Court is opening up riot cases, and the government that they thought would shelter them has not been able to do much. Also, they felt let down on the Ayodhya issue," says Achyut Yagnik, activist and sociologist.

The BJP blames its defeat on poor voter turnout. This time, 45 per cent voted, as compared to 61.5 per cent in the 2002 Assembly elections. "The BJP supporter is easy-going and waits till the end of the day to vote. This time, people may not have gone out because of the summer," Suresh Mehta, the party's campaign manager, told Frontline. He refused to comment on whether the BJP's downturn might have been caused by voter discontent.

In several places, the BJP's margin of victory has also reduced. For example, the vote share of Kashiram Rana, who was elected from Surat for the sixth consecutive time, has fallen. In Baroda and Dahod, the BJP won by small margins. Top BJP leaders like L.K. Advani and Haren Pathak managed to increase their vote share in their traditional stronghold Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad.

This setback might make the BJP re-work its formula. Will it forget the `feel good' factor and go back to Hindutva?

Reward for Performance

NAUNIDHI KAUR the-nation

HOW come the Bharatiya Janata Party won a seat in Delhi? This was the question being asked in the Delhi Congress(I) headquarters as the results came in giving the Congress(I) six out of seven seats. Coming after the sweep in the municipal and Assembly elections, the party's victory in the capital was not a surprise.

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The lone BJP win has to do with the Congress(I) candidate R.K. Anand who put up an ineffectual fight. Vijay Kumar Malhotra, the BJP winner, told reporters after his victory that the work done by Sangh Parivar activists in the constituency helped him gain an edge over his rival. The Assembly constituencies of Tilak Nagar, Hari Nagar and Janakpuri, which are considered BJP strongholds, recorded 52-56 per cent polling. Anand's workers were obviously caught napping as they could manage only 40 per cent of the people to vote in the Okhla Assembly constituency, which is a Congress(I) stronghold. The South Delhi seat has 10 Assembly segments and in the last three general elections the BJP had won this seat given the high percentage of Punjabi voters. Management guru Shiv Khera, who stood as an independent candidate, managed to secure only 1 per cent of the votes cast.

The Congress victory in the remaining six seats was not unexpected, given the record of good governance of the Sheila Dixit government. The results show that the people took note of local development issues while voting. Slogans of candidates such as Vijay Goel in the Sadar seat (Atal ko Vijay do, or Give victory to Atal) failed to enthuse voters. Vijay Goel, who was the sitting Member of Parliament from Chandni Chowk, lost to Congress(I) candidate Jagdish Tytler by 15,974 votes. Tytler makes a comeback after eight years.

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The BJP's strategy of fielding television actress Smriti Irani failed. Irani lost in the Chandni Chowk seat against Kapil Sibal, who defeated her with a margin of 79,417 votes. It was expected that women who are considered dedicated viewers of prime-time television soap operas would support the actress. The polling percentage of women in Chandni Chowk was 10 per cent lower than that of men, 57.4 per cent of whom voted. What helped Kapil Sibal most was the fact that the local Member of the Legislative Assembly, Shoaib Iqbal, who commands substantial support among Muslim voters, did not contest the elections. He supported Sibal's candidature. The results show that the Muslim-dominated areas of Chandni Chowk, including Ballimaran, Matia Mahal and Paharganj, voted for Sibal.

A keenly watched contest took place in the New Delhi constituency, where Union Urban Development Minister Jagmohan lost to `CNG man' Ajay Maken by 12,784 votes.

Jagmohan has represented the constituency for a record three times. A factor that contributed to his defeat was the anger of Central government employees over his high-handed behaviour. Government employees and their family members constitute 80 per cent of the population in the constituency. The second reason was the relocation of the Yamuna Pushta slums, which was a pet project of Jagmohan. Pushta voters, who have traditionaly voted for the Congress(I), gave their overwhelming support to the party. The slum residents were relocated to Bawana and Holambi Kalan a month before the elections. The Election Commission provided buses to ferry voters from Bawana, to the polling booths in the Pushta. Some of these voters travelled for three hours to cast their votes.

The highest victory margin of 2.3 lakh votes was achieved by Chief Minister Sheila Dixit's son Sandeep Dixit. He defeated Lal Bihari Tiwari of the BJP, who had defeated Sheila Dixit in 1999. The Assembly segment-wise break-up of the results shows that areas considered as BJP strongholds, such as Yamuna Vihar, Karawal Nagar and Narela, voted for Sandeep Dixit.

In Outer Delhi Congress candidate Sajjan Kumar won by 2.24 lakh votes. In the 1996, 1998 and 1999 elections the BJP's Sahib Singh Verma had won the seat. Voting patterns show that the 15-lakh relocated slum-dwellers voted against him. They have been unhappy with the lack of basic amenities in their areas. Sahib Singh Verma also antagonised the Schedule Caste voters when he manhandled the son of Dalit leader and Delhi's Minister of Education Raj Kumar Chauhan at a public meeting.

For Chief Minister Sheila Dixit the victory comes with a caveat - the victories of arch rivals Jagdish Tytler and Krishna Tirath could mean trouble ahead.

A red-wash in the South

in Thiruvananthapuram

KERALA is still smugly savouring the election verdict that it delivered on May 10. For the first time since Independence, not a single Congress(I) candidate was elected as its representative in the Lok Sabha. For the first time since 1952, Manjeri, one of the two Muslim League bastions in the State, voted in favour of a secular Left Democratic Front (LDF) candidate of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The State, which is yet to elect the Bharatiya Janata Party on its own to either the Assembly or the Lok Sabha, chose a BJP-led National Democratic Alliance candidate in one constituency and gave a nearly 30 per cent share of votes (the biggest so far) to a BJP candidate in another. Kerala also refused, for the first time, to endorse the appointment of a Minister by the ruling party, by choosing to defeat him in an Assembly byelection literally imposed on the electorate. Moreover, the State thwarted the dynastic ambitions of prominent politicians by delivering the `nay' vote to their children who were locked in prestigious fights in three constituencies.

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Given the option of choosing either the Congress(I) and its ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) or the CPI(M) and its Opposition LDF as an alternative to the NDA, Kerala left no room for doubt that it preferred the Left rather than the Congress(I) as an anti-BJP secular alternative at the Centre. By doing so, it also seemed to favour the LDF's campaign against the neo-liberal economic policies of both the State and Central governments led by the Congress(I) and the BJP respectively. Irked and betrayed by the way the Congress party-led UDF had squandered the 100 (out of a total 140)-seat mandate that it got in the 2002 Assembly elections, by neglecting governance and indulging in a debilitating group war centred around the personal and dynastic ambitions of a handful of top party leaders and functionaries, Kerala voted against all the 17 Congress(I) candidates in the fray this time around.

Veteran Congress(I) dissident K. Karunakaran's son K. Muraleedharan, appointed Electricity Minister three months earlier as part of an election-eve ceasefire formula, lost to a relatively obscure CPI(M) candidate in the Wadakkancherry Assembly byelection. Karunakaran's daughter Padmaja Venugopal conceded defeat to former Minister and CPI(M) candidate Lonappan Nambadan by a whopping 1.17 lakh votes, over 51 per cent of votes polled in the Congress(I) stronghold Mukundapuram. Similarly, in Muvattupuzha, a UDF stronghold, veteran Kerala Congress(M) leader and Revenue Minister K.M. Mani suffered a humiliation when his son Jose K. Mani, the ruling UDF's candidate, was relegated to the third position. Union Minister of State for Law and NDA candidate P.C. Thomas notched the BJP-led alliance's first-ever significant victory in Kerala in Muvattupuzha by defeating his nearest rival, the CPI(M)'s P.M. Ismail, by a squeaky margin of 529 votes. Former Assembly Speaker V.M. Sudheeran in Alappuzha, former Union Minister Mullappally Ramachandran in Kannur, AICC(I) secretary Ramesh Chennithala in Mavelikkara, sitting Members of Parliament A.C. Jose in Thrissur, V.S. Sivakumar in Thiruvananthapuram and Kodikkunnil Suresh in Adoor, all Congress(I) candidates, lost to CPI(M) or CPI candidates.

The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the second largest constituent in the ruling UDF, which has never lost a Lok Sabha election in its two north Kerala strongholds of Ponnani and Manjeri, also got the shock of its life when the predominantly Muslim Manjeri chose a CPI(M) candidate, T.K. Hamsa. Manjeri was the icing on the cake for the LDF. Along with neighbouring Ponnani, this Lok Sabha constituency had been claimed as a stronghold of the IUML. The LDF stormed the green citadel through impressive tactical electoral positioning. A group of Sunni Muslims openly declared its support for the CPI(M) candidate, and so did the People's Democratic Party (PDP) of Abdul Nasser Mahdani, the Indian National League (INL) of former Muslim league president Ibrahim Sulaiman Sait, and some extremist groups such as the National Democratic Front (NDF). The results indicate that the CPI(M) candidate would have won the votes of Congress workers too, who are clearly frustrated at the continuing domination of the Muslim League in the region. The CPI(M) also benefited from the support of traditional IUML workers who are resentful about several recent decisions, if not the increasingly pro-rich orientation, of the Muslim League leadership.

Compared to the results in the 1999 elections, among the constituencies that switched sides to the LDF were Thiruvananthapuram, Adoor, Mavelikkara and Alappuzha in south Kerala, Ernakulam, Mukundapuram and Thrissur in central Kerala and Manjeri and Kozhikode in the north. The LDF won an unprecedented 18 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats, most of them with margins of over 50,000 votes. The CPI(M) won all the 13 seats it contested, eight of them with high margins of between 60,000 and 1.2 lakh votes. Its ally, the Communist Party of India, won three of the four seats it contested. Victorious CPI candidates included former Chief Minister P.K. Vasudevan Nair, who won with 37.45 per cent of the votes polled in a tough three-cornered fight in the capital Thiruvananthapuram against the Congress(I)'s Sivakumar (30.39 per cent of the votes) and the BJP candidate, Union Minister of State O. Rajagopal (who won nearly 2.28 lakh votes, a never-before 29.86 per cent in any constituency in Kerala by the BJP).

The other notable victory for the CPI was in Thrissur where former M.P. and Member of the Legislative Assembly C.K. Chandrappan defeated the 1999 winner, the Congress(I)'s A.C.Jose, by 45,961 votes. The Kerala Congress (Joseph), another LDF partner, retained its seat in the hilly Idukki constituency. In Kozhikode, former Union Minister and Janata Dal-Secular State president M.P. Veerendra Kumar defeated V. Balaram (the MLA who vacated the Wadakkancherry Assembly seat for Muraleedharan) by 65,376 votes. The UDF's only victory was in Ponnani, where Muslim League leader E. Ahmed won with a margin of 1.02 lakh votes, nearly 27,000 fewer than the League's victory margin in 1999.

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Significantly, (from preliminary figures) the ruling UDF's vote share dropped nearly eight percentage points and the Congress(I) lost over 12 lakh votes, when seen in the light of the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. In contrast, the LDF's vote share increased only by about 2.5 percentage points. The NDA gained nearly 5.5 percentage points in its vote share. The BJP has continued to exhibit the trend of incremental increase in its vote share in Kerala, winning over 18.23 lakh votes in the State and coming first in the previously UDF-held Assembly strongholds of Thiruvananthapuram East, Thiruvananthapuram North, Pala and Kanjirappally and the LDF-held Poonjar constituency in Muvattupuzha. O. Rajagopal won over 70,000 votes more than he did in 1999 in Thiruvananthapuram and lost to the second place Congress(I) candidate by just 3,402 votes. The BJP also won over 1.47 lakh votes in Palakkad (87,948 in 1999) or 18.05 per cent of the votes polled, registering the third highest tally for the party in 2004. In 1999, the UDF had won 11 and the LDF nine Lok Sabha seats. A gauge of the UDF's fall from the people's grace in a short span of nearly three years is that of the 140 Assembly segments within the 20 Lok Sabha seats, LDF candidates won the highest number of votes in 111; the UDF was ahead only in 24 seats; and, for the first time, the BJP-led NDA came first in five Assembly segments of Thiruvananthapuram and Muvattupuzha Lok Sabha constituency. In the Assembly segments now held by 14 (of the total 20) State Ministers, including Chertala, Chief Minister A.K. Antony's constituency, UDF candidates failed to win. Only one of the nine Assembly constituencies now held by Congress Ministers stayed with the UDF this time.

Verdict 2004 in Kerala, which pooh-poohed the election-eve compromise camaraderie in the State Congress(I) between Antony and Karunakaran and his children and their warring supporters and detractors, is a lesson well-taught. But more than the disgust at the unending `group' tamasha within the Congress(I), the election results reflected the anger of Kerala voters at the near-paralysis of the State administration because of it, and the belying of the rosy promises that the Antony-led coalition had extended to the people in the days before the 1999 elections.

As they faced one of the worst droughts in the State's history in the months before the elections, and the government failed miserably to extend help except immediately before the polls, the full impact of the half-baked neo-liberal policies implemented by the Congress(I)-led government too had hit the voters. Added to this, was the clear drifting away of the substantial Christian and Muslim minority voters for various reasons ( Frontline, May 21).

Alongside, the changing contours of communal, caste and religious equations and the dilemma of the minority communities following the slow spread of the saffron coalition in the State combined to make the emphatically pro-Left verdict in Kerala not such a surprising out-of-the-box one.

A tale of two mandates

The patently irrational behaviour of finance cannot be allowed to influence policymaking, since that would amount to allowing the authoritarian "mandate" of a minuscule minority of speculative wealth-holders to overturn the democratic mandate of the majority.

FINANCIAL profiteers are once again seeking to influence economic policy in their favour. On May 14, the Bombay Stock Exchange Sensex collapsed by 330 points to 5069. The media headlined this development, highlighting its magnitude by focusing on the fact that it was the biggest single-day decline in four years. One financial newspaper, the front page of which is an insult to the intelligence of anyone whose eyes may set on it, banner-headlined its estimate that the fall had wiped out Rs.1,00,000 crores of paper wealth.

A collapse of the Sensex per se should bother none. The stock market even in the United States is neither a significant source of finance for new investment nor a means of disciplining the managers of firms. It is predominantly a site for trading risks and is mainly a secondary market for trading pre-existing stocks or new financial instruments, such as derivatives, that are based on them. Therefore, if anybody loses from short-term swings in the market, it is only those who have speculatively invested their wealth in trading stocks in the hope of quick capital gains.

That such speculators dominate the market and can indulge in deception to earn their profits is clear from the multiple instances of accounting fraud and market manipulation that have recently come to light in instances varying from Enron to Merrill Lynch. These features are even truer of the Indian stock market in which few shares are actively traded, few investors such as the financial institutions, big corporates and foreign institutional investors (FIIs) dominate, and a small proportion of the stocks of most companies is available for trading. What is more, nobody has inflicted on investors the notional loss that has occurred in India's markets prior to and after the elections. Some market participants have brought it upon themselves and other investors.

However, market analysts and the media have gone to town suggesting that the reason for the May 14 collapse were statements by leaders of the Left parties that the new government should shut down the separate Ministry for Disinvestment created by the National Democratic Alliance and revise the policy of privatising profit-making public sector units. This may well be true. But it is important to pose the right question. Was the "error" that triggered the market's fall attributable to the leaders concerned, who were merely articulating their well-known positions on a controversial matter like privatisation, or to the knee-jerk reaction of speculative investors who were hoping to reap huge profits out of further doses of privatisation at bargain prices?

It is clear that although dissent over disinvestment was the specific trigger for the May 14 decline, if the new government is to respect its mandate, there are a host of policies that it will have to adopt, which could result in a similar collapse of expectations and the Sensex. Thus, the government may have to moderate increases or even reduce the administered prices of a host of direct and indirect inputs such as power, oil and fertilizer, in order to alleviate the difficulties being faced by the farming community. The implicit subsidy this involves may have to be financed in the first instance by an increased resort to deficit financing and in the medium term through an increase in direct taxes on the higher income groups and indirect taxes on luxuries.

Such fiscal adjustments may be necessary also to launch large-scale employment generation programmes to make up for the slow pace of employment expansion and the consequent persistence of poverty during the 1990s. Further, similar policies may be needed to widen the coverage and increase the availability of subsidised food through the public distribution system. Increased food availability at subsidised prices is crucial to reversing the decline in per capita food consumption and in calorific intake reported by the National Sample Survey in a country where a large proportion of the population is at the margin of subsistence.

All of this would be seen as "populist" and "anti-reform", since NDA-style, International Monetary Fund-inspired reform requires a cut in the fiscal deficit, a lowering of direct taxes, an increase in administered prices and a reduction in subsidies. Any attempt to redress the intensely inegalitarian path of development under the NDA can therefore be identified as damaging by the "market" and those who advocate its cause. In fact, sections of the media that had celebrated neoliberal economic reform under the NDA, have implicitly declared that all of the policies noted above can be a cause for market distress. The markets are nervous, they argue, because of uncertainty about the attitude of the new government regarding the "economic reform" process.

Note the use of the word uncertainty. The election result, which contrary to all expectations delivered a massive defeat to the NDA, clearly indicates that certain aspects of the reform must be reversed. The defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies suffered in all but three States has been widely seen as the result of two factors: mass rejection of the communal policies of the BJP and mass anger with the devastating impact of the neoliberal economic policies of the NDA government on rural India and the poor and lower middle classes in urban India.

That anger was all the greater because of the cynical way in which the NDA was seeking to win another term by misusing manipulated indices of economic performance and celebrating the gains that a small upper crust had derived from the liberalisation process. Given the nature of this mandate, unless the new government currently being formed refuses to take account of its full meaning and reneges on its own election promises when formulating its policies, a substantial dilution and major reversal of certain components of the NDA government's economic reform are inevitable.

Thus, if few investors who drive the "markets" are nervous about the nature of economic policy, the error lies in their expectation that economic policies that benefit them but adversely affect the majority can be sustained in a democracy where the poor have a voice, even if only at intervals of five years. Those expectations were patently wrong and so were the bets based on them. This is not to say that adopting policies that are less elitist would not guarantee normal profits for investors. They only threaten the abnormal speculative profits that policies tailored to please finance and big business, such as privatisation, were expected to ensure.

SEEN in this light, the message that has been delivered by the "markets", and sensationalised by the media ever since the exit poll results suggested that an NDA victory is not certain, should be dismissed as undemocratic and unacceptable. But the matter is not as simple as it may seem. The real difficulty arises because, enticed by the lavish returns that the policies of the NDA government promised, FIIs have poured investments into India and come to occupy an influential presence in the markets. These investors are known to have brought in over $10 billion into India's stock market during the last financial year. When they choose to sell out, convert their rupee gains into dollars and exit from the Indian market, the demand for foreign exchange tends to increase. In India's liberalised foreign exchange market this weakens the value of the rupee, as seen in the significant decline over the first fortnight of May 2004.

Movements of this kind can trigger a speculative attack on the currency and threaten a currency collapse. That possibility has substantially increased over the last one year because, drunk with the hype that India's rising foreign reserves generated, the NDA government has significantly liberalised capital account transactions and allowed Indian residents to transfer legally and otherwise their wealth out of the country. Hence, if a speculative attack on the rupee results in capital flight, domestic wealth holders may join the herd and help precipitate a crisis. A currency crisis of this kind can have damaging consequences for the real economy, necessitating painful adjustments even in countries where the real economy was initially doing well.

Thus, it is not the losses suffered by investors in the market as a result of their unwarranted expectations that are the problem. It is really the fact that FIIs whose expectations had fuelled the speculative highs that the markets had reached can damage the real economy to an extent greater than what was achieved under the NDA. To boot, it appears that even a mere restatement of the well-known positions of individual parties that would be associated in some form with the new government can trigger a market collapse.

This has some lessons for policy in the days ahead. The patently irrational behaviour of finance cannot be allowed to influence policymaking, since that would amount to allowing the authoritarian "mandate" of a minuscule minority of speculative wealth-holders to overturn the democratic mandate of the majority. Since the actions of the minority of wealth-holders threatens to diminish the manoeuvrability of the new government and undermine its ability to fulfil the people's mandate, the authoritarian threat from finance needs to be met.

The response should not be to dilute the thrust and efficacy of a new economic programme, but to bolster it with controls on currency and capital movements that restrict speculative activity and restore power to the levers of economic policy. There is a large menu of polices to control speculative capital flows and stall speculative attacks on a currency that is available in the books. At the time of the Asian financial crisis, President Mahathir of Malaysia experimented with some of these in a small way with much effect. There is no reason why the new government cannot use similar means, with greater vigour, to deliver on the promises that won it a mandate and demonstrate the vitality of Indian democracy.

Russia's worries

CHARU SINGH in Moscow world-affairs

The latest expansion of the European Union worries Russia as it can affect its economic interests and virtually isolate it from the Baltic region and Eastern Europe.

in Moscow

HARDLY a month after the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (NATO) expansion into the Baltic states on March 30, Russia had an even bigger cause for worry: the European Union's (E.U.) expansion into the Baltics and Eastern Europe on May 1 with the absorption of eight former communist states. It is ironical that the idea of a united "European homeland" first originated in Russia during the period of perestroika, carefully crafted by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Today, even as a united Europe does seem to be emerging, Russia has been left out in the cold. There has been considerable consternation in Russia about the latest E.U. expansion and experts are divided on the extent of economic losses for Russia that it is going to result in. However, on the strategic front they fear that a "paper wall" may be coming up in Europe: the reference is to the 2,400 km border that has now emerged between Russia and Europe.

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Predictably, tension has built up between Brussels and Moscow over the past few months. As a reaction to the E.U.'s expansion plan, Moscow laid down as early as February "14 conditions" as vital to the extension of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) to the 10 states. (The PCA is the cornerstone of the relations between the E.U. and Russia.) Of these, at least 12 related to economic concerns and 2 were political. Intensive negotiations between diplomats and government officials representing the two sides went on for weeks preceding the E.U. expansion. Russia's concerns, both economic and political, were discussed at length. An agreement was reached on April 27 in Luxembourg and Russia toned down its stand on the PCA and agreed to extend it in return for certain concessions from the E.U. An E.U.-Russia joint statement said that the two sides would work towards creating "opportunities to further strengthen their strategic partnership offered by the enlargement of the E.U.".

A major worry in Moscow is that the expansion will affect Russia's economic interests. German Gref, Minister of Economic Development and Trade, recently suggested that the E.U. expansion could cost Russia $150 million in lost trade. Many observers put the cost at $600 million. Some experts believe that the move will make a minimal impact on Russia and will even benefit it economically in the long run. Others feel that with the development, Russia is isolated from Europe strategically and this can have a negative bearing on its relations with Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. Yuri Bortko, Director of the Centre of Integration European Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the RIA Novosti news agency that he had "mixed feelings" about the Luxembourg agreement. He said: "On the one hand, the E.U. made certain concessions at the last possible moment, though it could have done so before. On the other, the joint statement includes promises to take into account Russia's concerns over the near doubling of E.U. membership. Promises are good, but what will they come to?"

However, the Luxembourg deal seems to have fetched Russia substantial economic concessions from the E.U. For one, the average tariff on Russian imports to the 10 new member-states is expected to fall from 9 to 4 per cent. The E.U. has assured Russia that its existing exports to the new member-states will be preserved, so that trade in the region is not affected. Further, Russia's quota of steel exports to the E.U. is expected to increase by some 480,000 tonnes; its current exports to the new E.U. member-states total less than 200,000 tonnes. The E.U. has also assured Russia that customs duty on aluminium will be raised only at a gradual pace, over a period of three years until it reaches 6 per cent by 2007. Thus Russian traders are given enough time to acclimatise their business to changes brought about by the expansion. The E.U. has also agreed in principle to Russia maintaining its existing contracts on delivering nuclear fuel to plants in four of the new member-states. In addition, it has agreed to waive the noise regulations for the transit of Russian jets to Budapest and Vilnius and given them permission to continue their service in this belt. Lastly, the E.U. accepted Russian demands for an increase in the country's grain export quota to more than the 2003 level. Thus, at least on the economic front it seems that the Russian losses owing to the expansion will be minimal.

A major political issue that has been causing tension between the E.U. and Russia for some time concerns the Kaliningrad enclave. Kaliningrad is Russia's western-most extension and is geographically cut off from the mainland. The enclave was originally known as Konigsberg and was the capital of East Prussia. It was ceded to the Soviet Union after the Second World War under the Potsdam Agreement and was renamed after the Soviet statesman Mikhail Kalinin. Bordered by Poland and Lithuania, today it is an isolated swath of Russian territory encircled by E.U. states. Kaliningrad is infamous for its underdevelopment and crime, especially smuggling, and is a source of considerable concern for the E.U. For some time, Russia has had problems with the E.U. about Kaliningrad's growing isolation and the overland transit of Russian trains to the enclave through E.U. territory. Anatoliy Khramchikhin, head of the analytical department at the Institute of Military and Political Analysis, said that the E.U. expansion "could bring about a massive economic crisis in Russia's western-most region". However, the E.U. seems to have yielded somewhat to Russia and allowed cargo transit between the Russian mainland and the enclave. The E.U. has also agreed to continue to work to ease visa restrictions for Russians travelling between Moscow and Kaliningrad. Also being allowed is the passage of sealed high-speed Russian trains through Lithuania to Kaliningrad. Analysts have welcomed this as a major political agreement between the two sides.

However, the issue that created the maximum tension between the two sides concerned Russian demands for the protection of minority rights within the new E.U. states, especially the rights of Russians settled in Estonia and Latvia. Russia raised the issue of their alleged ill-treatment with the E.U. and made the protection of their rights almost critical for the extension of the PCA. However, the deadlock was broken in Luxembourg with a relatively watered-down joint statement which ambiguously referred to an E.U. pledge to encourage the "social integration" of ethnic minorities into the new member-states. The statement made no mention of the situation in Estonia and Latvia and said that "the E.U. and the Russian Federation welcome E.U. membership as a firm guarantee for the protection of human rights and the protection of persons belonging to minorities". Analysts feel that on this issue Russia only managed to extract a weak assurance from the E.U. and this very assurance could result in the Chechnya issue being raised by the West.

On the whole, the E.U. expansion has upset Moscow a lot more than the NATO expansion. Further, Russia had considerable economic interaction with the eight former Soviet states that have now been absorbed into the E.U. Thus, Moscow's apprehension on account of the economic fallout of the May 1 expansion has to be taken seriously. Currently, it does look as though any economic reverses that Russia may have had to face owing to the move have been contained. The E.U. remains Russia's largest trading partner.

Nevertheless, Moscow's fears have merely been tempered down and not dispelled. The reality remains that Russia today faces an ironical situation: it is getting isolated in its own traditional playground, the Baltics and Eastern Europe. Effectively, Russia is facing the prospects of a pro-active E.U. and NATO touching its borders and calling the shots in Eastern Europe and the Baltics. Moscow no longer harbours the hope of joining the E.U. Its long-term reaction to the recharting of Europe's borders is what remains to be seen.

Cuba, in focus

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The Bush administration has unveiled a series of measures to undermine Cuban sovereignty, apparently with an eye on the forthcoming presidential elections.

FACED with a military and political fiasco in Iraq, the George Bush administration is now redoubling its efforts to undermine the government in Cuba. By announcing a series of draconian measures against the island republic on May 6, the "neoconservatives" running the United States hope to achieve what governments over the past 40 years could not do. The sudden shift in focus to Cuba is also related to the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. It was the fraudulent vote count in the State of Florida that helped Bush step into the White House. Right-wing Cuban migrs close to the President's younger brother, Jeb Bush, had played a key role in subverting democracy in the State during the elections. Miami, the capital of the State, is also the city where "terrorist" plots are constantly hatched against the socialist republic.

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Talking to select members of the media while campaigning in Florida on May 6, President Bush announced that his administration would bring into force new interventionist measures against Cuba. The main aim of these measures, Bush announced grandiosely, was "to hasten the day that Cuba is a free country". The same day, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega spelt out the government's plans. Incidentally, Noriega, who is of Cuban descent, is a veteran anti-Fidel Castro activist having close links with the ultra-Right Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), which has a stranglehold on politics in Miami. Noriega said that the U.S. government was acting on the basis of a State Department report. However, according to Cuban officials, the report is a litany of lies and reflects the bitterness and frustration of the anti-Cuba elements in the U.S. Cuban officials say that even among the Cuban exile community, those harbouring anti-Castro and anti-socialist views are in a minority. The majority of American Congressmen, Democrats and Republicans, are in favour of lifting the sanctions against Cuba.

The significant recommendations of the report include the creation of an international fund to develop "civil society" in Cuba, which will involve the hiring of volunteers from third countries to travel to Cuba ostensibly to spread the message of democracy. The Cuban government views this as a blatant interference in its internal affairs and an undisguised attempt to provide financial and logistical support to the counter-revolution and the mercenaries working inside Cuba. The Bush administration proposes to make available $59 million over the next two years to implement the recommendations of the report. An extra $18 million will be earmarked for the U.S.-run television and "Radio Marti". To beam its counter-revolutionary propaganda, the Bush administration proposes to use a C-130 Commando Solo platform. The Bush administration hopes that the Cuban government will not find ways to jam signals emanating from an airborne plane.

The other recommendations of the report include the further limiting of remittances sent by Cuban residents in the U.S. They will be allowed to send money only to blood relatives. Remittances of any kind will be prohibited if the recipient is a "government official or member of the Communist Party". The number of visits by Cuban-Americans to their homeland will now be limited to one every three years; until recently, they could visit their country once every year. The Cuban government has pointed out that the Bush administration is taking these measures at a time when food prices and transportation costs have doubled in most developing countries, including Cuba.

The Bush administration wants to stop people from coming to the island just when tourism - an important source of hard currency for Cuba - is picking up once again. Owing to the American blockade and machinations, Cuba has very little access to international financial aid or loans. The American media have reported that the Bush administration had assigned five times as many agents to investigate violations of the embargo on Cuba as it had assigned to track Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Reflecting the mainstream opinion in the U.S. Congress, Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan expressed the hope that "somebody in the administration will come to his or her senses and start directing our resources where they are needed. Politics is clearly diverting precious time, money and manpower away from the war on terrorism here".

On the diplomatic front, the Bush administration is now targeting Cuba in third countries. Recently, Mexican President Vincente Fox, who has on previous occasions caved under American pressure, accused two Cuban Communist Party officials who were on a visit to the country at the invitation of fraternal parties there of espionage. Every year there is an exchange of visits by Cuban and Mexican Communist party officials. A senior Cuban diplomat was declared "persona non-grata". Cuba has since recalled its Ambassador to Mexico. Interestingly, the majority of members of the Mexican Parliament has expressed its solidarity with Cuba. For the first time, Mexico along with Peru voted against Cuba in the United Nations Human Rights Commission meet in Geneva. Before Fox took over, Mexico and Cuba had the best of relations.

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During his traditional May Day speech, Fidel Castro described Mexico under Fox as a pawn of the U.S., its "prestige and influence gained in Latin America and the world turned to ashes". Another reason why the Mexican President is upset with the Cuban government is the revelations of "dirty tricks" against one of Fox's political rivals, the popular Mayor of Mexico City, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. A businessman who has close links with the President's party confessed to Cuban authorities that he had secretly videotaped an associate of the Mayor allegedly accepting kickbacks. The plan was hatched to discredit the Mayor, who many Mexicans think will be the next President. The businessman was arrested by Cuban authorities after Interpol alerted them of his presence on the island. Details of his shenanigans came out when he was interrogated by Cuban authorities before being sent back to Mexico.

Cuba has also been successful in exposing the duplicity of the U.S. on the issue of human rights when the U.N. Commission met in Geneva. Despite the intense pressure that Washington put on poor developing countries to vote against Cuba, an overwhelming majority of countries voted with Cuba or abstained. The U.S. Ambassador in India is reported to have visited the Bhutanese King to convince him to vote against Cuba. While 22 countries voted in favour of the American resolution on Cuba, 21 voted against it and 10 abstained. "It is almost suicidal to vote in Geneva against a resolution drafted and imposed by the United States, especially if it is against Cuba, the country which for almost 50 years has defied its arrogance and imperiousness. Even the strongest and most independent states find themselves obliged to take into consideration the political and economic consequences of their decisions," Castro said in his May Day address.

Cuba wanted a resolution passed against the U.S. for the illegal and arbitrary detention of over 600 people, including minors, at the Guantanamo naval base, which has been occupied illegally by the U.S. on Cuban territory. Tremendous pressure was brought to bear on the countries represented on the U.N. Commission by Washington. "The new U.S. administration and the states in the European Union made the mistake of forgetting that at the extreme eastern end of Cuba one of the most horrendous examples of human rights violations ever to take place in this world was under way," Castro had said in a speech recently. Even Cuba's suggestion of sending a representative from the U.N. Commission to Guantanamo was not accepted. American diplomats had to work overtime to convince countries like India not to support the Cuban resolution. For diplomatic reasons, Cuba did not force a vote on the Guantanamo issue. "Cuba reserves the right to go back on this issue at the forthcoming session and in any other forum that it deems appropriate," Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told the 60th session of the Commission on Human Rights.

Against all laws and conventions

R.K. MAYA world-affairs

THE International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was instrumental in developing International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and plays a role in its implementation. IHL is a body of rules which, in wartime, seeks to protect people who are not or are no longer participating in an armed conflict. It is based on the principles of the inviolability of the individual, non-discrimination and security.

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The first Geneva Conventions were signed by 12 nations in 1864 and they referred to the treatment of the wounded and the protection of medical personnel and hospitals. It was revised and amended at conferences held by the ICRC in 1906, 1929 and 1949. In 1949, four Geneva Conventions were adopted dealing with the laws of war. These are: Convention I on the amelioration of the condition of the wounded and sick in armed forces in the field; Convention II on the amelioration of the condition of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked members of armed forces at sea; Convention III on the treatment of prisoners of war; and Convention IV on the protection of civilian persons in times of war.

In 1977, two additional protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions were adopted. These are: Protocol I relating to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts and Protocol II relating to the victims of non-international armed conflicts.

The United States and the United Kingdom have signed and ratified the Geneva Conventions of 1949 in 1955 and 1957. Hence they are bound by international law to respect the provisions of the Conventions.

Under Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which is common to all four Conventions and is known as Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, each party to a conflict is bound to apply, as a minimum, certain provisions of the Convention: "(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities: including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat (out of fight) by sickness, wounds, detention or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

"To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above mentioned persons: a. violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; b. taking hostages; c. outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment... ."

Additional Protocol II, which refers to victims of non-international armed conflicts, expressly prohibits at any time and at any place "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, rape, enforced prostitution and any other form of indecent assault".

Torture is defined as a "... particularly barbaric violation of the right to physical and mental integrity... " Article 1 of the 1948 United Nations Convention against Torture defines torture as "acts of public officials which intentionally inflict severe physical or mental pain in order to fulfil a certain purpose, such as extortion of information or confessions or the punishment, intimidation or discrimination of the victim". Treatment that lacks the elements of this definition is called cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which is prohibited under Article 7 of the same Convention. Various international and regional human rights conventions have also expressly banned torture, even in emergency situations. Torture is banned under Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is regarded as an essential component of the International Bill of Human Rights. Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, Article 5 of the American Convention of Human Rights and Article 5 of the African Charter of Human and People's Rights have banned torture.

As the distinction between torture and cruel or inhuman and degrading treatment is blurred, states are able to get away with "torture" by projecting it as a case of mere "inhuman treatment".

Marines and Malacca Straits

The U.S. proposal to intervene in the Strait of Malacca in order to prevent any traffic of cargo relating to weapons of mass destruction raises the hackles of some littoral states.

in Singapore

STRATEGIC game plans are the basic stuff of the "initiatives" proposed by the United States from time to time as part of its "global war on terrorism". The latest such proposal is for a Regional Maritime Security Initiative (RMSI), which is considered a logical corollary to, or indeed as an intrinsic part of, the ongoing Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) project.

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Some operations envisaged under the PSI are forbidden under existing international law. This view is shared, in varying degrees, by China and India, among other countries. In question is the validity of interdicting suspected "rogue ships" on the high seas by the member-states of the PSI.

Several European countries, besides Japan, Australia and Singapore, which are along the Asiatic Rim of the Pacific Ocean, have joined the U.S. under the PSI framework. "Most recently" India too "has indicated to us [the American authorities] that they would like to be part of [the] PSI", the U.S. Pacific Command chief, Admiral Thomas Fargo, said in his March 31 congressional testimony in Washington - an indication of India's latest stance on the PSI, the legality of the initiative notwithstanding.

The PSI, as the name suggests, is intended to prevent the transfer of manufacturing equipment and components of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by state or non-state entities to other countries or terrorist networks.

It does not obviously cover the WMD-related activities of the five designated nuclear powers and the members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Proliferation-conscious India is in a unique category. However, nuclear Pakistan is of concern to the PSI countries in view of Islamabad's suspected nexus with North Korea.

It is significant that much of the PSI's focus has so far been on North Korea as the suspected WMD-producer, although no findings, if any, of Pakistan's involvement as a proliferator have been made public. Much of the PSI's exercises and actual operations have so far remained confined to the maritime zone, although plans for WMD-related interdictions across the skyways and along the land routes have not been given up.

The Strait of Malacca, whose littoral states are Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, is strategically a pivotal waterway for the PSI. It is against this background that the RMSI has been conceived. It is primarily to interdict suspected terrorists, pirates, human traffickers and drug-peddlers as also their sea vessels.

As proposed tentatively by the U.S, the RMSI will be designed for interdiction activities other than those dealing with WMD-related transfers across the seas.

Fargo's testimony to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee has, therefore, attracted criticism from Malaysia. The strategic bottom line, in Malaysia's view, is that there is no need for the U.S., an extra-regional force, to get involved in matters of security across the strait. Indonesia, which can hardly be expected to be enamoured of the U.S. move, is too preoccupied currently with national elections to join issue with Washington.

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On the other hand, Singapore Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean said on April 26: "What is in place today is not adequate, as it is an intensive and complex task to safeguard regional waters against maritime terrorism." Maintaining that "the primary responsibility for the safety and security of the Malacca Strait lies with the three littoral states", he noted: "No single state has the resources to deal effectively with this threat." While "the full effects of maritime terrorism extend far beyond the littorals", all the users of the immensely busy strait "have a strong economic if not strategic interest" in ensuring that the waterway "is kept open and safe". In Teo's perspective, progress on this front could be achieved if all the "stakeholders... proceed on the basis of consultation and within the bounds of international law".

As for the inviolability of international law with regard to RMSI, Western diplomatic sources maintain that Fargo never really outlined a totally unilateral military initiative by Washington to safeguard the Strait. In his testimony, Fargo did say: "We are looking at things like high-speed vessels, putting Special Operations Forces on high-speed vessels, putting, potentially, Marines on high-speed vessels so that we can use boats that might be incorporated with these vessels to conduct effective interdiction." While the Marines and the Special Operations Forces would certainly mean U.S. personnel, Fargo did, it is pointed out, preface the reference to them with his own expectation about a multilateral initiative. His prefatory remark was as follows: "With respect to the Regional Maritime Security Initiative, I expect a very broad range of support.... We need to gain control of the sea space. I think you will find that all of the countries in the region have an equity here and a means to make a contribution, however modest."

In significant contrast to the current controversy, the incident-free military escort that India extended to U.S. vessels nearly two years ago for the safe passage of "high value" American cargo across the strait, produced no adverse effect on the region. On the occasion, the "capability of India" was matched by its "acceptability" to the regional powers, according to Western sources.

The overall challenge for South-East Asian states, as pointed out by analyst Alan Collins, is that their "desire to keep extra-regional powers at arm's length is complemented, or perhaps contradicted, by the region's need and desire to involve the great powers for economic and security purposes".

The lessons from Dien Bien Phu

V. SURYANARAYAN world-affairs

The historic defeat of the French colonial forces in Dien Bien Phu 50 years ago, seen by the people of the Third World as a significant event in the struggle against colonialism, offers valuable lessons to the United States which faces strong resistance in Iraq.

SPEAKING on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the fall of Dien Bien Phu, the legendary Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap reminded the world that we can learn many lessons from Vietnam's unbreakable and indomitable will. Fifty years after the event, it is necessary to recall the significance of the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu.

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Dien Bien Phu is located in the valley bordering Laos and Vietnam. As part of a grand strategy, the Vietminh forces laid a trap in Dien Bien Phu while striking simultaneously at the French forces in Laos and central Vietnam. Outnumbered and outmanoeuvred, the French garrison surrendered on May 7, 1954. It represented one of the most glorious moments in Asia's anti-colonial struggles. It struck the death knell of French colonialism in Indo-China. As Professor Tran Quoc Vong, who in 1954, as a student volunteer in the Vietminh, brought rice to the soldiers in the front, told a British Broadcasting Corporation correspondent that Dien Bien Phu became a "metaphor for great victory" in many languages.

The fall of Dien Bien Phu unfortunately did not usher in an era of peace and stability in South-East Asia. It set in motion a series of events that made South-East Asia, especially Indo-China, a cockpit of superpower rivalry. During the first Indo-China conflict, which lasted from 1945 to 1954, there was the inevitable confrontation between the forces of French colonialism and the resurgent nationalist aspirations of the Indo-Chinese peoples. The ideological conflict and Washington's refusal to reconcile itself to political realities led to the Second Indo-China War (1959-1975), which began first in Vietnam and later on spread in Laos and Cambodia. It was rationalised as an attempt to defend the "free world" against "monolithic communism"; however, it gradually turned out to be a bitter conflict between the United States and its allies and the radical nationalist forces in Indo-China, supported for their own reasons by China and the Soviet Union. On April 29, 1975, the curtain finally came down on the U.S. misadventure in Indo-China, when the last American soldier was airlifted from Saigon.

During the Third Indo-China War, there was a vicious attempt in the U.S. and the rest of the Western world to distort the true nature of the Vietnamese revolution. The U.S. protagonists maligned and vilified the Vietnamese as war-mongers and tried to legitimise, in retrospect, the U.S. military intervention in Indo-China. We must be on our guard against this distortion of history. The revolution in Vietnam, under the dynamic leadership of Ho Chi Minh, Vo Nguyen Giap and Phan Van Dong, forms one of the most brilliant chapters in modern history. With support both from the Soviet Union and China, but only with their reluctant assent and occasionally even against their wishes, the heroic people of Vietnam humbled the U.S. and struck a death blow to imperialism and neocolonialism. No amount of mudslinging and distortion can erase the glory of the Vietnamese revolution.

During the summer of 1975, Nayan Chanda, the well-known journalist, visited Hanoi. Nayan Chanda has given an account of the jubilant mood that prevailed in the Vietnamese capital at that time. After going through the ordeal of fire and defeating the most powerful nation on earth, Vietnam was ready to take its rightful place in the world. A senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs quoted a fifteenth century poem written after the last of the Ming invaders had been driven out of the country:

There are no more sharks in the sea There are no more beasts on earth The sky is serene Time is now to build peace for ten thousand years.

Cambodia suffered the most during the Third Indo-China War. The Pol Pot regime embarked on a revolution that led to the evacuation of urban areas and establishment of forced labour sites and an extensive network of torture camps. It was a spectacle of violence and genocide unparalleled in history. It turned Cambodia into "killing fields"; nearly 1.5 million people (out of eight-million population) were tortured or starved to death. The government alienated the people and weakened the country so much that it could offer little resistance when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in December 1978 and installed Heng Samrin in power. Heng Samrin, who was a close associate of Pol Pot earlier, had got disenchanted with the leadership and sought political asylum in Vietnam.

The ideological pronouncements of the Khmer revolution, as Karl Jackson has pointed out, mirrored radical Maoism, especially the primacy of human will over machine and weapons, the superiority of the wisdom of the common people over academic learning and the power of heroic labour to overcome all natural and material obstacles. Apparently, Mao Zedong was delighted with Pol Pot's "achievements"; he told Pol Pot that "you have achieved with one stroke what we failed with our masses". The moderate section of Chinese leadership was, however, unhappy with Khmer adventurism. In his absorbing book, The Brother Enemy, Nayan Chanda has written that Zhou Enlai, from his deathbed, entreated Kieu Samphan: "Please go slowly towards communism. You cannot reach communism in one step, but step by step. Please take many steps, slowly and surely." Even more poignant was his advice: "Do not follow our example of the Great Leap Forward."

The new configuration of forces kept not only the Heng Samrin government out of the United Nations, it also provided legitimacy to the genocidal Pol Pot regime. Except India and, later on Australia, no country pointed an accusing finger at the Khmer Rouge. It was a strange paradox that three decades after going to war in Vietnam to fight "Chinese expansionism", the U.S. became a silent partner in China's war against Vietnam. The end of the Cold War led to the gradual disengagement of the U.S. from South-East Asia. The bases in the Philippines were closed down and political commentators pointed out that the U.S. would no longer deploy its forces in South-East Asia.

Like the Bourbons of France, the U.S. does not learn from history, and Washington once gain has embarked on a policy of expansionism in different parts of the world. As part of the global war on terrorism Washington has enhanced its military presence in South-East Asian countries. After September 11, the Bush Administration has rapidly seized the opportunity; it has opened a "second front" in South-East Asia. Security links with the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have been stepped up.

It is in this context that Vo Ngueyn Giap's prophetic words assume great significance. Giap said: "Nothing is more precious than freedom and independence." He added that powerful countries should not underestimate weaker nations' desire for independence. Giap said that he had not visited Iraq, so he could not comment specifically on the war strategy of the coalition forces led by the U.S. But he had one piece of advice: "Any force that wishes to impose its will on other nations will certainly face failure."

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Giap's ringing words should be analysed in the backdrop of one major factor that has contributed to the rise and fall of great powers. Paul Kennedy, the Yale University historian, in his monumental book Rise and Fall of the Great Powers has analysed how imperial powers reached a point of over-reach that eventually carried seeds of their own destruction. Too much obsession with security and disproportionate spending on defence were associated with the fall of all empires, including more recently, the Soviet Union. Is the U.S. embarking on a policy of over-reach? Will the over-reach have similar effects that led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union? Time alone will provide the answer.

Dr. V. Suryanarayan is former Director and Senior Professor, Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras, Chennai.

China's gesture

China acknowledges India's sovereignty over Sikkim by issuing a revised map of the relevant region.

in Singapore

CHINA'S latest gesture of recognising Sikkim as an integral part of India, by issuing a revised map of the relevant region, has certainly helped tone up the quality of the current comfort level in the bilateral relationship.

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India, therefore, has reason to feel vindicated in its belief that the status of Sikkim would cease to be a contentious issue in Sino-Indian interactions in due course and that the new "development" should be seen as a corollary to the understanding reached during Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to Beijing in June 2003.

However, China's carefully calibrated moves on the diplomatic front relating to Sikkim, evident for nearly a year now, have fallen dramatically short of a formal declaration or an official pronouncement which Beijing could perhaps have made to signal a categorical acceptance of India's sovereignty over Sikkim. The reasons at stake will be easier to comprehend in the light of the nature and scope of the step-by-step approach that Beijing has chosen to adopt.

China's latest cartographic recognition of India's sovereignty over Sikkim is actually a sequel to the memorandum on Sino-Indian border trade signed in June last and Beijing's move last October to erase Sikkim from the list of independent countries posted on the website of the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

China's latest World Affairs Year Book has, for the first time, portrayed Sikkim as a "subsumed part" of the overall Indian landmass in a revised map of the relevant region. No less important is the fact that the annual reference book, brought out by a publishing house affiliated to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, no longer classifies Sikkim under the index of independent states.

The Year Book is considered to be a valuable source material for the maps and basic data that would be widely accessible to the Chinese people. This should help sensitise the Chinese people to Beijing's gradual acceptance of the ground reality concerning India's sovereignty over Sikkim. In this sense, the new gesture to India is more important than China's earlier steps.

While the Chinese Foreign Ministry website has its place in reflecting the country's perceptions of the international scene at any given time, the Sino-Indian border trade protocol set up a new marker for bilateral exchanges. At one level, the memorandum, which identified "Changgu of Sikkim State" as a new "venue for border trade market", was portrayed by Chinese officials as a trade-related aspect of a "win-win solution". Tempering the temptation to read the memorandum as any kind of border agreement insofar as Sikkim was concerned, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan emphasised last June that Sikkim, "an enduring question left over from history, ...cannot be solved overnight". It would require to be "solved in a gradual manner".

With the meaning of "gradual manner" now becoming clearer, it now remains to be seen whether China's next white paper on foreign policy, expected to be issued later this year, will amplify the reality reflected in the new official map. Until now Sikkim had been regarded as an independent entity for the purpose of China's overall world-view.

While critics of New Delhi point out that India declared its recognition of "the Tibet Autonomous Region as part of the territory of People's Republic of China" last June without securing a similar statement from China on Sikkim, two relevant aspects still need to be kept in focus.

First, while Sikkim is now shown as part of India in China's official map, the overall Sino-Indian border would still require to be politically defined and strategically outlined through a final settlement of the dispute through negotiations, including those at the level of special representatives.

The second and equally important reality pertains to the reasons why China has chosen a calibrated approach towards the Sikkim issue. Beijing's latest move is in line with the indications given to this correspondent by informed sources in the Chinese establishment last June that a suitable revision of the relevant map would best address Beijing's sensitivities in recognising the ground reality of India's possession of Sikkim. China's perception, it was pointed out, was that India had in the 1970s "annexed" Sikkim, which indeed enjoyed historical links with Tibet until the British "imperialist design" ruptured them.

Quite apart from China's perception of the international law regarding Sikkim, Beijing's hesitation so far to issue a formal statement acknowledging India's sovereignty in this case is an anomaly, although neither country portrays this as a lacuna.

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In a sense, the anomaly can be traced to the basic asymmetry that exists in the Sino-Indian equation. To underline the evident asymmetry, or at least an impression of some inequality, is not meant, however, to downplay the incremental dynamism in the Sino-Indian engagement at this point.

For China, which wants to play a global role in the current context of the U.S.' efforts to dominate the international scene, India is still little more than a giant neighbour or a potential competitor in a wider domain. This should explain the asymmetry. However, the Chinese foreign policy mandarins continue to echo what was eloquently stated by Sha Zhukang in the late 1990s: Beijing "always considers itself an equal member of the international community" although "it goes without saying, of course, that China has its own national interests to protect". While India's recognition of China's plenary sovereignty over Tibet is certainly a matter of "national interests", Beijing has calculated that its interests would be served by gradually accepting the ground realities regarding Sikkim.

Speaking from Beijing, Zhou Gang, China's former Ambassador to India, said in a telephonic conversation on May 11 that the "process" of adopting "a more flexible attitude" towards the Sikkim issue, as indicated by the Chinese leadership last June, "is moving in the right direction". A long-time Chinese expert on India, Wang Hongwei, told Frontline that the Sikkim issue in the Sino-Indian context was "now basically solved" through a "step-by-step" process. His "personal view" was that it might "not [look] good" for China to make a formal declaration on India's sovereignty over Sikkim, in view of the perception that India's annexation of that territory in 1974 was "not valid" in international law.

Sticking to their guns

Even as several Republican and Democrat lawmakers and people at large react critically to the Abu Ghraib prison incidents and hold the Pentagon responsible, the Bush administration stands by the Defence Department and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

in Washington

THE humiliating treatment of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison by United States guards, whether they belonged to the Army, private security agencies or the intelligence agencies, has been seen in most of the country as an outrage for which a price will have to be paid.

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No amount of sidetracking the issue by the civilian authorities and the Pentagon top brass is working or will work down the line when more shocking images and videos of abuse are exposed. Much of the shock and disbelief in the U.S. has come from Capitol Hill. Republicans and Democrats have wasted no time in criticising the Pentagon for not bringing the serious and sensitive issue to the attention of lawmakers and for trying to get off the hook by suggesting that the issue of abuse and the action taken by the Pentagon's powers that be were actually publicised in the form of a "press release" as early as January.

"Any public announcement in January is a joke," said the South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham who along with other lawmakers have made the point that the Pentagon cannot get away by pointing to a press release that it routinely issues. "I don't want to be on notice every time there is a press release," remarked Democratic Senator Ben Nelson, stressing that press releases and media conferences were not substitutes for direct congressional notification.

Neither have the lawmakers been happy with some of the recent antics of the Pentagon. While on the one hand senior officials in the Defence Department have said that they were willing to come before congressional committees, the Pentagon insisted on "packing" a witness list when the Senate Armed Services Committee wanted to hear first hand from Major General Antonio Taguba, the first senior officer who probed the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison. Apparently, the Defence Department insisted that the Under Secretary of Defence for Intelligence and another senior military officer appear along with Gen. Taguba. The idea was not to expose Gen. Taguba for a lengthy period of time and alone, critics alleged.

The Pentagon has tried to get out of the current mess of its making by saying that it had not tried to conceal the issue, rather that it had made the allegations public on January 16 and followed it up with an announcement on March 20 that six soldiers had been charged. But what was missing in all the claims was the nature and extent of prisoner abuse and how far up the chain of command was involved in the incidents and who led the interrogation at Abu Ghraib. Supporters of the administration, in Congress and elsewhere, argued that detractors were making a "big deal" and putting pressure on Rumsfeld to resign and that in the absence of visual evidence there would be no such pressure on Rumsfeld to quit. But this is precisely the point of the images - as Republican Senator John McCain eloquently put it, a picture speaks a thousand words.

BUT what was shown on the television channel CBS' "60 Minutes II" programme was explosive and if the Pentagon and the Bush administration believed that they could get away with some fuzzy explanation, they were wrong. But the television network was not the only thing that rattled the Republican administration, for soon other images and investigative writing flooded the media. And the White House knew that the problem went far beyond allowing soldiers to take digital cameras along with them to battle stations - it was systematic and gross abuse that was sadistic and criminal.

The worst part of the unfolding drama was that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had brought to the attention of the administration a pattern of abuse in Iraqi prisons. A confidential report was first presented to coalition authorities in Baghdad on February 12. The ICRC Report makes the point that the prison facilities in central and southern Iraq depicts "a consistent pattern with respect to times and places of brutal behaviour during arrest". The ICRC Report stressed that a variety of harsh treatment was employed, ranging from insults, threats and humiliations to physical and psychological coercion "which in some cases was tantamount to torture".

But the administration and the Pentagon have steadfastly maintained that what took place at Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident and did not amount to a pattern and that those accused would be held accountable. Even Gen. Taguba, who said that what had come about was the result of poor leadership, training and supervision, maintained that it could not be traced back to one overarching policy. "We did not gain any evidence where it was an overall military intelligence policy of this sort," he told lawmakers.

Members of Congress could not be easily satisfied, especially when serious issues are before them that have brought about dishonour and disgrace to the country as a whole. Many wanted to know not just who the abused persons were, but how far up or down the military chain of command was aware of the goings on. "I cannot help but suspect that others were involved - that military intelligence personnel were involved or people further up in the chain of command - in suggesting to the guards specific types of abuse designed to break these prisoners," Republican Senator Susan Collins remarked.

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Some in Congress asked for Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation right away. Others called on the President to dismiss his Defence Secretary. The critical assessment was that the issue was far too important for the administration to sit on because what was at stake were the serious wounds inflicted on the Iraqi people as a whole, the continuing traumatisation of the affected persons, the angry response in the Arab world and utter dismay among friends and allies the world over. The administration knows that it has a big problem on its hands, but still thinks that it can ride out of the storm.

Lawmakers such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senior Senator Edward Kennedy were publicly "gunning" for Rumsfeld. Privately, several others came to the conclusion that if President George W. Bush was to come clean on the issue, he would almost certainly have to dismiss his entire team, including Rumsfeld, Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers and any senior military and civilian officer involved in the overseeing of the prisons system in Iraq, especially those in charge of interrogations.

The second message from Capitol Hill was equally clear: for the U.S. to come clean in the episode, the Pentagon has to come to terms with the remaining images and video footage. Lawmakers cutting across party lines said that the Defence Department would be better off making the remaining photographs and video footage public - the essential point being that the Pentagon's public relations exercise relating to the first set of images was a major disaster, to say the least.

Apparently, political reasons lay behind the slow response of the administration and the White House to calls to dismiss Rumsfeld and their subsequent support to the beleaguered Defence Secretary.

The White House and the powers that be were also looking at public opinion and must have been gratified that in spite of the revulsion at the images, 70 per cent of U.S. citizens, according to one survey, said that Rumsfeld need not resign. But overall, there is no question that the prisoner abuse issue has affected the popular support for the administration's Iraq policy and the approval ratings of the President, both of which have taken a beating in recent days and are at an all-time low.

The White House was studying the political situation on Capitol Hill, especially among the Republicans, to see if any action against Rumsfeld was needed. It was a major relief, when during his back-to-back sessions with the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, no lawmaker publicly called on the top civilian Pentagon official to quit though the exchanges between Rumsfeld and members were testy at times. Republicans such as Senator McCain expressed frustration several times that the Defence Secretary was not answering pointedly to the questions posed, particularly ones that related to the chain of command, in the context of interrogations.

When the White House realised that Republicans in the House and the Senate were standing behind it by not calling on Rumsfeld to resign, it decided to go all out and pitch for the Defence Secretary. Starting with Vice-President Dick Cheney, who said that Rumsfeld was the best Defence Secretary the U.S. has ever had, the basic message was simple: Rumsfeld had the full confidence of the President.

But what was amazing - and appalling - was the way in which Bush defended his Defence Secretary. "You are courageously leading our nation in the war against terror. You are doing a superb job. You are a strong Secretary of Defence and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude," the President said in comments that might come to haunt his re-election campaign.

Weakened and shamefaced

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

Condemnation the world over of large-scale human rights abuses committed by U.S.-led forces in Iraq and the continuing resistance to the occupation have further weakened the Bush administration's credibility and its control over the fast deteriorating situation.

THE revelation of large-scale human rights abuses by the United States- and United Kingdom-led occupation forces in Iraq have made the position of the George W. Bush administration more untenable than before. Even a U.S. Army newspaper saw it fit to criticise the country's Defence Department's handling of the occupation. It took the prime-time release of a video on a U.S. television channel in the first week of May for the controversy to snowball into a major crisis for the Bush administration. The sight of President Bush and his Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld apologising on television to the Iraqi people was not sufficient to make them forget the crimes committed during one year of the U.S.-led occupation.

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Hours after Bush appeared on an Arabic television channel to express remorse, a car bomb went off outside the U.S. military headquarters in Baghdad, killing six people including a U.S. soldier. Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric whose Mahdi army is fighting against the occupation, issued a call to all Iraqis to unite and throw out the occupying forces. "What sort of freedom and democracy can we expect from you when you take such joy in torturing Iraqi prisoners?," Sadr asked his supporters in the holy city of Kufa. In the second week of May, a U.S. hostage was beheaded by a group of militants. The gory incident was videotaped and shown on television the world over.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Tony Blair continued to insist that the photographs of Iraqi prisoners being tortured by U.K. troops published in a London-based newspaper were fabricated. On May 12, U.S. lawmakers were shown even more graphic photographs of Iraqi prisoners being brutalised and dehumanised. Rumsfeld warned that more evidence of U.S. atrocities would be in the public domain soon. The U.S. military establishment has also admitted that widespread abuse has taken place in Afghanistan too. Reports in the Arab media suggested that many Iraqi prisoners were transported to neighbouring countries that have strong links with the U.S. The notorious secret police, Mukhbarat, then used its time-tested methods to extract information from the detenus.

The U.S. Defence Department has admitted that the majority of the Iraqis who are in prison and who were tortured were innocent civilians, picked up during search-and-cordon missions. However, all this has not stopped President Bush from reiterating his confidence in the Defence Secretary. In fact, the Republican Party establishment told the President to ignore criticism the world over and go on with his task of "democratising" Iraq.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had warned the Bush administration about the atrocities being committed by the occupation forces. ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger had briefed the top U.S. leadership, including the Defence Secretary, the Secretary of State and the National Security Adviser, about the rampant human rights abuses in Iraq during his visit to Washington in January. A senior Red Cross official told the media in the first week of May that the ICRC knew for a long time that "worse things than what was shown in the photos" were taking place at the Abu Ghraib prison. According to the official, several reports were forwarded to the U.S. and British governments about the human rights abuses. "The photos are certainly shocking but our reports are worse," said the official. The ICRC told the Bush administration that what was going on in the Abu Ghraib prison was "reprehensible".

The ICRC said that U.S. military police personnel moved unregistered Iraqi prisoners, known a "ghost detainees", around the Abu Ghraib jail to hide them from the ICRC. The U.S. Army's Major General Antonio Taguba's investigations into the abuses have substantiated the ICRC's contentions. Taguba described in detail how "ghost detainees" were moved around when the ICRC team was visiting the prison. The Geneva-based ICRC has described the practice as "deceptive, contrary to army doctrine, and in violation of international law". An ICRC report that appeared in the third week of May said that "prisoners were held completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness". The report said that U.S. military intelligence officers admitted that the methods of physical and psychological coercion used by the interrogators "appeared to be part of standard operational procedures by military intelligence personnel to obtain confessions and extract information". Amnesty International too brought out a report detailing various human rights violations committed by British forces in Iraq.

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THE Bush administration admitted that many of the atrocities were committed under the supervision of the mercenaries or "contract workers", as the Western media prefer to call them. Companies dealing in mercenaries have been thriving since Bush assumed the U.S. presidency. Since 2001, the profits of Blackwater Security Consulting, a leading U.S. private security company, have increased by more than 300 per cent. The U.S. Army looked the other way when mercenaries in Iraq routinely violated international law. They regularly use armour-piercing, limited-penetration rounds, bullets banned by the U.S. military as they inflict horrific damage such as the shredding of internal organs. Rumsfeld and his cabal of "neo-con" advisers had succeeded in convincing President Bush that around 20,000 heavily armed mercenaries deployed in key areas would be sufficient to subdue the Iraqi resistance.

Bush had also asserted that the time-honoured Geneva conventions did not apply in the so-called war on terror. In fact, he boasted to the U.S. people that many "terrorists" were physically eliminated using unconventional ways. Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the United States has ratified, states that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

In fact, Bush seemed to have been acting with foresight when the U.S. government refused to recognise the International Court for War Crimes. Moreover, the U.S. put tremendous pressure on Belgium to amend its Constitution as Belgian courts were on the verge of allowing cases of human rights abuses against the U.S. and Israel to be heard on its soil. The Bush administration threatened to move the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) headquarters from Brussels if Belgian courts went to the extent of indicting senior U.S. officials for war crimes.

Before the big scandal about human rights abuses became public, the Bush administration announced the posting of John Negroponte as the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. Documented cases exist of Negroponte covering up the cases of torture and murder of left-wing activists and guerillas in Honduras when he was the U.S. Ambassador to the country. The torture methods being used in Iraq are similar to those used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Central America in the 1980s and earlier in Vietnam. A 1983 CIA manual advised interrogators to "manipulate the subject's environment, to create unpleasant or intolerable situations". The manual also recommends that prisoners be deprived of food and sleep, and made to maintain rigid positions, that they be threatened with rape or death and that their families be threatened. During Negroponte's tenure in Honduras from 1981-85, Washington ran its first successful "war on terror". The terror unleashed by the U.S.-backed Honduran military dictatorship was condemned by the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Negroponte was recently quoted as saying that "the American military is going to have the freedom to act in self-defence and they are going to be free to operate in Iraq as they best see fit".

THE serious cases of widespread human rights abuses have further galvanised the Iraqi resistance. U.S. officials admit that the photographs of Iraqis being abused have become recruiting posters for the resistance. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said recently that there was "general dismay and disgust" in the Arab world after the publication of the pictures. The U.S. Army was virtually forced to withdraw from Falluja in the first week of May after three weeks of brutal military siege of the city, which has been the epicentre of the Iraqi resistance. President Bush had earlier threatened to bring into play all the force he could command to bring the belligerent city into line. The U.S. forces did try their best to subdue the fighters in the city by destroying mosques, hospitals and other civilian structures. Many ultimatums were given to the Iraqi fighters to surrender. Ultimately, the will and perseverance of the resistance fighters prevailed.

The U.S. has now hastily drafted an Iraqi force comprised of soldiers who served the ousted Baathist government. The force is under the command of General Jasim Saleh, a senior officer who belonged to the elite Republican Guards under Saddam Hussein. He was accepted by the residents of Falluja after they were assured that U.S. forces would not patrol the town. The Iraqi Army officer has stated that he would prefer U.S. forces to stay out of Falluja and let Iraqi forces "deal with security". He has also rejected U.S. claims that there were "foreign fighters" in Falluja. On the other hand, the U.S. authorities are no longer demanding the handing over of "foreign fighters" or heavy weapons. Instead they have allowed the Sunnis to have their own militia like the two Kurd factions and the Shia Badr brigade.

The decision to deploy Iraqi forces in Falluja was in keeping with another major reversal of U.S. policy on Iraq - to halt the de-Baathification process. The U.S. announced that the remnants of Saddam Hussein's Army would be brought back and deployed for security work in sensitive cities such as Falluja. The Bush administration also gave the green signal for the re-induction of the civil servants and others sacked because of their membership in the Baath Party. These moves have not been popular with the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, whose members blame the Baathists for all the ills of Iraq. They also do not want the Baath Party to re-emerge as a key player in Iraqi politics.

The U.S. is trying to bring around Moqtada al-Sadr to the negotiating table through the auspices of other influential Shia clerics. So far, Sadr has refused to give in. In a speech at a mosque in Najaf in the third week of May, the young cleric urged Iraqis to follow the example of the Vietnamese in their struggle against U.S. occupation. U.S. forces have been specifically targeting his strongholds in Baghdad and in the southern parts of the country. They claimed to have killed more than 40 fighters belonging to the Mahdi army in the first fortnight of May.

Sadr's militia, on its part, has spread its struggle up to Basra, the second biggest city in Iraq, which is under the control of British troops. Sadr said that the only way to earn the respect of the U.S. forces was to fight them as the citizens of Falluja did. The U.S. has toned down its rhetoric against him and is no longer talking of capturing him "dead or alive".

The recent events will not enthuse the international community or the United Nations to venture into Iraq. Some military analysts predict a messy U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq within six months. It is feared that the disclosure of new atrocities would also weaken the commitment of those countries that still have troops in Iraq. Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski said in the second week of May that "there was no justification for these type of actions. We need to apologise for those who have been so badly degraded". Poland has 2,500 soldiers in Iraq, whose deployment was unpopular in the country. The Polish government has hinted that it is considering the withdrawal of troops.

For skill-intensive training

THE field of Information Technology education has developed to a level where institutions need to provide extremely focussed skills to companies on the lookout for talent. Although software development has acquired much attention, software testing has been a relatively neglected area.

Testing is a critical part of the software development process. Software developers need to ensure that newly developed products or enhancements of an existing product meet stringent functional and performance parameters. The risks involved in releasing a product that is not yet ready is so great that developers need to eliminate the danger of the product failing in a critical situation.

The most effective way to reduce risk is to start testing at an early stage in the development cycle and to test iteratively, with every build. With this approach, defects are removed even as features are implemented. The testing of the application is completed shortly after the final features are coded. As a result the product is ready for release much earlier. Additionally, the knowledge of the kind of features that are completed (both coded and tested) offers managements greater control over the process and promotes effective execution of business strategy.

Testing early offers several key advantages. The process enables the identification and reduction of risk at the primary stage. Spotting a mistake late can mean substantial cost over-runs for the developer. Repairs to problems are less costly. The establishment of a robust testing system enables the developer to predict the release date of the software. This will enable the marketing to be done in a more focussed manner. Apart from these advantages, a good testing system sets the base for a more transparent system in the organisation.

Although software testing is essential, not all organisations have the expertise or resources to carry out the testing process. Moreover, it may not be a core activity in most organisations that require it. In such a situation, the outsourcing of testing activity has acquired importance. Outsourcing enables a company to concentrate on its core activities while software outsourcers handle the work of testing the software. Chennai-based STC Technologies offers software testing services to companies that require them.

STC Technologies offers training programmes with industry-recognised certification programmes such as CSTP (Certified Software Test Professional) and white box testing programmes such as ADST (Advanced Diploma in Software Testing).

A range of options

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN advertorial

The University of Madras has an effective system to guide students in choosing courses of study and careers.

A WHOLE range of courses with good career prospects is available for students these days. That is what Dr. Susila Mariappan, Director, University Students' Advisory Bureau, University of Madras, tells every student and anxious parent who visit her office for guidance. Every working day one would find at least 50 students waiting outside her office, and she does not turn away any of them. Dr. Sushila keeps tabs on the latest trends in education, the courses in demand, students' predilections and career prospects. She patiently answers their questions about what courses are on offer and what they should opt for. In the process, she explodes the myth that "general courses" such as a degree course in Physics, Mathematics or Chemistry do not promise a bright future; or tells them how a diploma in radiation technology, optometry, physiotherapy, respiratory therapy, audiology and speech therapy, ECG technology or dialysis therapy can get them jobs abroad; or how it is better to study Biotechnology at the post-graduate level than at the degree level.

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"A course in Biotechnology is in great demand now. The Central Department of Biotechnology, however, feels that the course will be more effective at the master's level because the infrastructure and facilities available at that level will be better and there can be a quality programme," she says. In Tamil Nadu, the University of Madras, Bharathidasan University, Madurai Kamaraj University and Bharathiar University, among others, offer post-graduate courses in Biotechnology. However, new deemed universities offer B.Tech in Biotechnology. Students can do B.Sc. in Zoology, Botany or Microbiology and study Biotechnology at the master's level, she says.

Dr. Sushila says a student graduating in Physics or Mathematics has a lot going for him: he/she can pursue M.Sc. in Nuclear Physics, Biophysics, Astronomy or Astrosphysics. "These subjects are science-oriented and, of course, they are tough subjects. But students want an easy walk," she says. She points to how a post-graduate degree holder in Physics, Mathematics, Astronomy or Astrophysics can have a good career if he or she were to join the Department of Atomic Energy's (DAE) Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) or the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore, or the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai.

Students have a wide choice, as a number of new professional courses are available now. They include post-graduate courses in Remote-sensing, Geo-Information Technology, Plant Genetic Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Plant Biotechnology, Animal Biotechnology, Eco-Biotechnology, and Genomics. Madurai-Kamaraj University pioneered courses in Biotechnology, Plant Genetic Engineering, Microbiology, Experimental Genomics and Proteomics and Biochemical Technology. The University of Madras has courses in Criminology and Forensic Sciences and Geographic Information Systems Management at the master's level. Periyar University offers a B.Sc degree in Bio-Informatics.

Other professional courses that are sought after include B.Sc. in Visual Communications, M.Sc. in Financial Management, Master's in Foreign Trade, International Business and Corporate Secretaryship. At the graduate level, a student can obtain a degree in Information Science and Management, Plant Biology and Plant Biotechnology (a single course) or Electronic Media.

There appears to be a general decline in the students' preference for engineering courses in view of the dull job prospects. But the demand for engineering courses in Information Technology is stable. "The Army, the Navy and the Air Force wish to recruit graduates in mechanical, civil, electrical and electronics engineering. But graduates from South India generally hesitate to join the Services," she says.

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There is a clamour for the integrated five-year course in Computer Science and Technology that is offered by several colleges. A student who has passed Plus 2 is eligible for admission to this course. Seventeen colleges under the University of Madras and Anna University offer M.Sc. in Computer Science and Technology.

The Alpha Arts and Science College, located in Porur, is recognised for excellence in academics and the overall personality training that is imparted to undergraduate students. The syllabus is up-to-date, reflecting the current trends in the field of the arts and sciences. The industry-academia interface programmes hosted by the college and supported by leading industries have helped the young institution secure a place among the well-known colleges of arts and science in the city.

At Alpha, the boom in biosciences is felt intensively. The Department of Biotechnology and the Department of Bioinformatics, which offer post-graduate courses, introduce experts from the fields to garner maximum knowhow and to minimise the gap between theory and practice. Research projects occupy a prominent place in the curriculum. Conducted tours to leading institutions in the field of science and Information Technology and the corporate sector each year help students to keep abreast of the latest advancements in science and technology. IT personnel frequently deliver lectures to scholars enrolled in Computer Science and allied disciplines.

For students who have passed Plus 2, there is a whole range of two-year diploma courses. The Christian Medical College, Vellore, maintains goods standards in paramedical courses, Dr. Susila Mariappan says. These are in leprosy treatment, physiotechnology, radiation technology, optometry, neurophysiology, respiratory therapy, audiology and speech therapy, dialysis therapy, dietectics, ECG technology, mental retardation, and medical virology. "There is a lot of demand in the United Kingdom for students passing these courses, and also for medical technicians," she says. Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Research Institute, a deemed university near Chennai, offers M.Sc. in Nursing, M.Sc. in Human Genetics, M.Phil. in Clinical Psychology and B.Sc. in Allied Health Sciences.

The University Students' Advisory Bureau holds an annual exhibition, Informex, on the various courses available in colleges and university departments in Tamil Nadu in order to enable students to plan their studies and chart their career. In short, it is an exhibition on career guidance. About 60 institutions took part in the Informex 2004, held from April 21 to May 2, and about one lakh students, including students from interior Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, visited it.

Engineering colleges and institutions such as the National Institute of Fashion Technology, the Central Leather Research Institute, the Central Footwear Training Institute and the Small Industries Services Institute, belonging to both the Central and the State governments, had put up their stalls. The State government was represented by the Directorate of Employment and Training, the Social Welfare Board and the Women' Development Corporation. These agencies provided information on how to mobilise money, how to start an industry, how to market products and so on.

Dr. Sushila Mariappan has compiled an exhaustive reference book, Academic Profile of Tamil Nadu. It contains information on all the universities in Tamil Nadu, the colleges affiliated to them, the myriad courses they offer, the scholarships available to students, the competitive examinations conducted by various agencies, and career options. The book is updated when new courses are introduced. "The book has been brought out to make students aware that plenty of avenues are open for them and that they are the creators of their destiny," she says.

Learning online

IN recent years, the concept of e-learning appears to have caught the imagination of students who seek a cost-effective alternative to actually going abroad to study. Recently, Loyola College became the first college in Chennai to gain access to the international Gale Group's online service through the Chennai-based Edutech India. Two other Chennai-based institutions - the TB Research Centre (ICMR) and Cognizant Technology Solutions (CTS) - have also subscribed to this service. Students from other colleges and the knowledge-seeking members of the public can also access the international database of reference material.

The Gale Group, an operating unit of the Thomson Learning Division (TLD) of the Thomson Corporation, claims to be the largest publisher of reference material in the world. Its online database gives users access to over 6,000 international journals, which include full texts and abstracts, with relevant information dating back to 20 years. The content includes encyclopaedias, almanacs, bibliographies, biographies, statistics, monographs and directories. More than two lakh researchers across the globe access more than 10 million web pages on their online databases every day. The Gale Group also publishes more than four million essays or entries, two million indexed periodical articles, 50,000 photographs, diagrams and maps, which can be accessed by students.

Loyola College, which invested more than Rs.1 lakh to subscribe to the service, offers it free of cost to its students. This is done on the college's own intranet, which connects all the departments by optical fibre cable. Students can access reference material on any discipline from all over the world, either from the computers in their departments or at the college's Internet centre. The result is substantial savings to the students and the college since subscription to specialised journals in print would be costly and the journals would take time to reach the hands of the students.

Loyola College has also entered into a tie-up with Egraduate Institute India Pvt. Ltd. for providing online education to its students. Its parent company, Egraduate Pvt. Ltd, is an education management service company devoted to "promoting, harnessing and facilitating e-learning through interaction, collaboration and learning by appropriate integration of web technology". The company claims to provides a "one-stop service for education programmes, corporate training courses and further education-related services". Through its education portal, Egraduate offers corporations and institutions of higher learning an opportunity to obtain access to a range of corporate training courses and certificate, diploma and university degree programmes.

Apart from its tie-up with Loyola College, Egraduate also has a tie-up with the Mohammad Sathak group of colleges, offering full-time and part-time courses to their students.

A spokesperson of Egraduate told Frontline that the company catered to students "who may chose to do foreign-based undergraduate or post-graduate programmes locally and be awarded with a degree, which carries the same recognition as studying abroad in that university." Students have the option of completing their first year and second year in India and completing the final year in the U.K. or Australia, or may choose to complete the entire programme in India. Naturally, the fee for the former programme will be higher.

Irrespective of the options that are chosen, students will be assured of the fullest attention towards their aspirations in obtaining internationally recognised qualifications. Egraduate claims that its trained student counsellors will assist students in choosing the right course.

Its courses are offered in three modes. The full-time mode offers students "extensive coaching and tutorials", conducted by the company's partner college faculty members. Classes are conducted throughout the day as in the case of normal undergraduate programmes. The part-time mode is meant for those who are working, with classes being conducted on weekends and in the evenings. The online mode is meant for those who are unable to attend classes, in a "virtual learning environment on the web".

Egraduate claims that the e-learning system drives students to be more creative and inquisitive, using new technologies. Moreover, students have the flexibility to access course notes and participate in online chats and discussion forums to communicate with their facilitators at their convenience. The company informed Frontline that being a flexible system, it offers an alternative to "traditional classroom-type courses". Students are able to submit assignments on the web although examinations are held at designated venues in the written format.

A gateway to opportunities

Chennai, the educational hub of South India, offers students a wide variety of courses and career options, despite a growing trend of commercialisation of education.

CHENNAI, historically regarded as the hub of education in South India, is moving with the times. In the mid-19th century, particularly after the establishment of the University of Madras, Chennai started attracting students from all over India, particularly the states that formed part of the erstwhile Madras presidency. Premier educational institutions such as the Madras Christian College were established even before this, in 1837.

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However, the real impetus for education came in a second wave, after Independence, when a number of educational institutions were established, reflecting the urgency among the people to get on with the task of addressing the scourge of illiteracy. Initiatives towards achieving striking advances in the field of education and addressing the tremendous backlog of underdevelopment that colonialism had imposed on the nation were undertaken. In Tamil Nadu, the social justice movement, particularly the system of reservation, made education accessible to the vast section of underprivileged people.

The third wave of growth in the field of education, which began in the mid-1980s, has been characterised by commercialisation. Riding on the back of a liberal regime, which regards education as a service industry of sorts, there has been a proliferation of a variety of educational institutions. Kindergartens offering pre-school "English" education have mushroomed all over the city. The desperate search by parents to find a medical or engineering "seat" for their wards has resulted in the emergence of a rash of private institutions offering technical and medical education. Chennai's status as a leading software hub, which is based, in large measure, on the network of technical education institutions in the city, has also fuelled the boom. The mushrooming of "coaching" institutions to help students to "get it right" somehow in the entrance examinations, is an essential part of the story of commercialisation of education. Naturally, a seat in such institutions comes with a steep price tag. Prices vary according to the kind of degree that is sought. Called "capitation fees", or simply a "donation", the prices range from about a lakh for a seat in an engineering college to nearly Rs.30 lakhs for a "medical seat". The self-financing colleges, rather anachronistically termed because money is generally known to come from the students, have been the prime movers of this wave of commercialisation. Not surprisingly, education is seen as an industry and Chennai has emerged as a leading player in the education business.

THE three pillars of higher education in Chennai are the University of Madras, the Anna University, which specialises in technical education, particularly engineering, and the Tamil Nadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University. Based on the model of London University, the University of Madras was incorporated in 1857. The university has four campuses, which house 68 departments of study and research. It imparts education at three levels, through the departments of study and research, the Institute of Correspondence Education, and the affiliated colleges. It has over 208 professors, 46 readers, nine lecturers and an administrative staff of more than 1,000. The main campus of the university is on Marina Beach Road, with the Senate House as headquarters. The university guesthouse and post-graduate hostel are also on the main campus. The science departments are housed on the Guindy campus, while the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences is at Taramani.

Anna University, which was established in 1978 as a unitary type of university, offers higher education in engineering, technology and allied sciences. The University offers 33 undergraduate degree programmes, 47 post-graduate degree programmes, four post-graduate diploma programmes and M.Phil programmes in four disciplines. Facilities for doing Ph.D Programmes are available in all the faculties. The intake for the undergraduate programme is about 1,040 students and that for the post-graduate programme, including the P.G. Diploma Programme, is about 670 students. The university has nearly 5,130 students enrolled for the full-time and part-time programmes, nearly 18 per cent of whom are women. With more than 540 teachers, the university's student to faculty ratio is approximately 10:1.

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Apart from the academic programmes, Anna University offers continuing education, through short-term courses, evening courses, and summer and winter schools. In keeping with the current thrust, the University has been increasingly active in promoting University-Institute collaboration through consultancy services, sponsored research, training programmes and testing activities. In keeping with this spirit, Anna University has entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Sun Microsystems. While Sun offers High Performance Computing (HPC) technology, the university supplies its expertise and human capital. Students and researchers apply the power of resources supplied by Sun to large-computation projects. Sun provides the technical resources and training to support Anna University's requirements to promote the usage of HPC by industries and other collaborative partners. The deployment of Sun's hardware on campus includes Sun Fire Ultra SPARC III Enterprise server and a cluster of workgroup servers and Ultra SPARC workstations.

The Tamil Nadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University was established in 1987 and it started functioning the following year. It is the second largest health sciences university in India and the only medical university in Tamil Nadu that grants affiliation to medical and paramedical colleges, whether run by the government or "self-financed". Degrees in medical sciences, earlier awarded by the University of Madras, have since 1988 been awarded by the Tamil Nadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University. The university regulates dental education and education in the Indian systems of medicine under a single umbrella.

THE established university system and its network of colleges in the city were unable to cope with the Information Technology boom of the 1990s. Hundreds of teaching establishments emerged in the city, many with single-room structures, working in shifts round the clock in order to meet the demand of the IT industry. But when the IT bubble burst about three years ago, many of these "institutes" and "coaching centres", which were merely acting as fronts for unscrupulous fly-by-night operators, folded up. In fact, established IT companies welcomed the development because they found that the system was unable to deliver well-trained personnel who could man their operations on a reliable basis.

Students now realise that they need to develop more broad-based, but focussed, skills. Training institutions have realised that credible training programmes need to be developed to attract students. Many institutions have forged alliances with overseas institutions to provide such services. For instance, in Chennai the SSN School of Advanced Software Engineering, in association with Carnegie Mellon University, offers a post-graduate programme for students. The company claims that it offers "a mix of technology, management and strategy courses", enabling students to develop an "understanding of IT from both operational and strategic perspectives". The course also has two specialisation streams, one in software engineering and the other in robotics technology.

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At the height of the IT boom, many companies established their own teaching and training centres. The move was dictated by the need to generate a captive and cost-effective pool of talent that would serve the software development business of the companies. NIIT, for instance, was among the pioneers in developing and pursuing this strategy. Today its business strategy has two components - one aimed at addressing the teaching and training segment and the other aimed at the software development business.

The NIIT Learning Solutions wing seeks to address the teaching and training wing. By stratifying the business of its IT education segment into Career Programmes, Skill Upgradation Programme, IT Awareness Programme and School Curriculum Support Programme, NIIT seeks to adopt a more focussed approach to the business of IT education.

NIIT's Futurz Classic programme aims to "create a complete software professional" suitable for employment in the IT industry. The company claims that its training enables students not only to obtain employment in the IT industry but also acquire the ability to be "flexible" in the fast-changing world of IT. The company also claims that its "special bouquet" of training programmes will enable students to get into occupations ranging from manufacturing to travel and health care. The duration of the courses in the bouquet ranges from six months to four years, depending on the set of skills the students opt for. The company claims that it is thus able to deliver "industry-relevant professionals".

The maturing of the software development business, particularly after the onset of the business process outsourcing boom, has led to the emergence of niche areas in software development. In this context, the software-testing segment of the business has acquired critical importance (see separate story).

THE commercialisation of education has meant that higher education is increasingly stratified, aimed at addressing extremely focussed educational market segments. While this is best exemplified in the field of IT education, there are other examples too. Courses tailored to suit the requirements of individual industries have become the norm. In recent years, hotel management, fashion designing and some other areas have attracted attention. Going under the broad nomenclature of "professional courses", these highly targeted segments have attracted attention from the student community because of the situation of unemployment. Students hope that a degree or a diploma in such "professional" courses will fetch them the job they desperately seek. At the height of the IT boom the "herd behaviour" led thousands of students to opt for IT-based courses, often of spurious quality. Experts in education regard the situation as an extremely dangerous consequence of unbridled commercialisation in higher education.

The relentless commercialisation of higher education has in recent years affected the quality of school education too. The growing inequalities in society and the rise of the neo-rich, both direct consequences of economic liberalisation, have resulted in the emergence of "islands" of learning at the school level. Chennai has a host of residential schools that offer "quality education", but only to the very few who can afford it. The St John's International Residential School, for instance, is a "top-notch" school that offers "quality education". Run by the St John's Educational Trust, the school offers "all-round education with special emphasis on moral and ethical instruction as well as physical education." The facilities it offers - a closed circuit television system connected to a dish antenna, a department store and a laundry, among other things - are not available in most Indian schools. The campus has its own hospital and students are taken on outings, picnics, package tours, study trips and educational tours.

The Crescent Residential School offers "superior coaching" and "life-oriented and value-based education". It claims to have an "Islamic foundation" and yet a "highly secular outlook". Extracurricular activities such as driving, karate, swimming and horse-riding, are taught at the school, which has its own swimming pool, tennis courts and football ground. Besides, there is an in-house hospital and a mess that serves excellent food. The liberalisation of the economy has increasingly made education abroad an option worth considering. Besides the United States and the United Kingdom, which were favoured destinations until a decade ago, places ranging from Moscow to Australia are also being considered by those who have the means. Realising the importance of the Chennai market, educational institutions from overseas are increasingly holding roadshows in the city to attract its student population. To those who may not have the money to move overseas to study, there is the e-learning option. In recent times, several institutions have been offering students the option of securing "a foreign degree", in partnership with institutions abroad (see separate story).

Experts in the field of education have pointed out that the rapid growth of the education business, largely unbridled, is likely to be the areas of concern. Physical facilities and teaching personnel are likely to pose problems. More significantly, market-led growth of the sector at the higher education level might impose constraints on the relevance and quality of the degrees and diplomas on offer. Students have to be exposed to cross-disciplinary learning across fields such as the arts, humanities, sciences and engineering. Whether a full-blown commercial system of learning can deliver the results is an open question. How Chennai addresses the question will determine where it will head in the years ahead.

Teaching a relevant economics

Globalisation and the Developing Economies: Theory and Evidence edited by Aditya Bhattacharjea and Sugat Marjit; Manohar Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi, 2004; pages 234, Rs.475.

A DIFFICULTY that serious teachers of economics in colleges and universities face is the absence of books that deal cogently with problems specific to developing countries, and in a manner that is ideally accessible to the post-graduate student or at least to the teacher. The Anglo-Saxon neoclassical tradition is dominant in the leading universities of India and many other developing countries, a fact not unrelated to the economic as well as ideological hegemony of the metropolitan countries over their erstwhile colonies in the post-Second World War period. While mainstream neoclassical economics provides a useful tool kit for certain microeconomic problems of limited interest, it is singularly unhelpful in dealing with macro economic issues. In fact, neoclassical economics implicitly denies the possibility of a macroeconomics, which is not deducible from axiomatic microeconomic foundations. It tends to view many problems of great complexity and contemporary interest through the methodological prism of individualism and does not grapple with structures or processes at meso- or macro-levels in an economy. It claims to be universally applicable and shows scant regard for differences in the nature of economic institutions and their implications for answers to economic questions. But as Professor Amiya Kumar Bagchi points out in his foreword to the book under review: "... [E]conomics as a discipline within the broad area of human sciences is necessarily context-specific." In a hugely unequal world, where the majority of countries are ex-colonies deformed by colonial and continuing neocolonial exploitation, the context becomes all the more important in the case of development economics. The book is a very innovative effort to address the problem of developing material for use in teaching economics at the postgraduate level in a developing country context. It is the outcome of a conference held in December 1999 at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Kolkata with the support of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

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The book consists of nine essays, each dealing with a distinct issue, but there is an overall unity to the book in the sense that most essays attempt to grapple with contemporary problems of great relevance and complexity using theoretical-empirical frameworks that go well beyond conventional neoclassical economics. The first three essays are country-specific studies dealing respectively with the disastrous economic transition in Russia, the South Korean experience and Malaysia's handling of the East Asian crisis as it affected that country. The next four essays deal with different but important aspects of the contemporary international economy and its implications for developing economies, addressing critically in the process the mainstream understanding of the relevant issues. The penultimate essay deals with the crucial issues of malnutrition and poverty in India over the last three decades. The final essay focusses on the socio-economic aspects of the issue of reproduction and the family. Most of the essays are carefully constructed, with an evident effort at pedagogical clarity as well.

IN an elaborate and insightful essay, the veteran Russia specialist Professor Nirmal Chandra raises the question whether Russia will survive the International Monetary Fund (IMF) medicine. Tracing the key indicators of the Russian economy through the 1990s, Chandra shows that the Russian economy has been devastated by the neoliberal shock therapy forced on it by the IMF and implemented by a venal political leadership. The Russian economy has been in a state of depression for quite some time. There has been massive capital flight from Russia. The country's political rulers are in league with financial oligarchs and criminals and are dependent on the Western powers, especially the United States, for survival. Finally, Russia has experienced a demographic catastrophe with a sharp decline in birth rates, a steep increase in death rates and a sizeable absolute decline in population. Chandra draws attention to the fact that the interests of the Russian mafia-oligarchs and Western governments were often intertwined. Supporting a joint statement issued in June 2000 by a group of distinguished economists from both the U.S. and Russia, which essentially amounts to a repudiation of the reforms imposed by the IMF in Russia at the behest of the Western powers and in line with its own flawed understanding, Chandra raises a question. If the illegal privatisations are annulled, as implicitly suggested by the joint statement, most firms will either fall into the hands of foreign investors who alone will have the wherewithal to buy the firms at appropriate prices, or in the likely event of strong popular opposition to such a move on both economic and nationalist grounds, the firms will revert back to state ownership. Will the U.S. countenance such a possibility? Chandra, citing Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, believes that the U.S. will not, and concludes: "Either Russia must forsake its dependence on the IMF and the U.S. treasury, or go on suffering indefinitely."

In a fascinating account of the evolution of South Korea's economic policies over the decades of its emergence as an economic powerhouse, Chul Gyue Yoo brings out the fact that South Korea's rapid industrialisation occurred during the period when financial policy was subordinate to and run as an accessory to industrial policy. This has obvious implications for other developing countries. A policy regime that subordinates the interests of industry and agriculture, and of productive investment more generally, to the dictates of finance cannot deliver sustained economic growth over a long period. As Yoo says, such a policy as the one followed in South Korea meant that "... the interests of the financial class were repressed... based on the view that the financial rentier class was... a parasitic group... " The much maligned "financial repression" is not such a bad thing after all. Unfortunately for South Korea, monetarist thinking, imposed by the IMF, displaced the earlier focus on material economic growth and put "... the interest of the financial sector before that of the industrial sector... "

Yoo draws attention to the fact that globalisation and neoliberal ideology, which in his view derive their influence less from anonymous market forces and more from political intervention through institutions like the U.S. government and international organisations, try to promote homogenisation among national capitalist economies. He makes the important point that "... the effects of the neoliberal regime on individual countries, despite strong pressure for convergence towards one model of capitalism, will always be mediated by the distinctive institutions and practices specific to each country".

The essay by Eu Chye Tan takes a rather more sanguine view of speculation in forex markets than would be warranted by global experience, but in the specific context of Malaysia since 1998. Tan's view that speculation will help stability in forex markets and that economic agents will learn to hedge against exchange rate risk is unconvincing. In contrast, in a brief but pithy paper, Professor Amit Bhaduri shows that speculation can be destabilising under reasonable assumptions about the real world. He argues against a binary divide between control and deregulation, taking the position that exchange rate deregulation can be combined with greater regulation of short-term portfolio capital flows and by adopting a cautious policy towards foreign borrowing. A point that needs to be made here is that formal mathematical models only give you what you have put into them in the first place. In most cases, they are at best aids in stating elegantly what is plausible, but at the risk of concealing assumptions about the real world in a maze of algebra, as the late Maurice Dobb had warned more than 60 years ago in a brilliant essay entitled "Some tendencies in modern economic theory".

ADITYA BHATTCHARJEA'S essay is easily one of the best in this collection. In a careful and rigorous reading of the more recent literature on the relationship between increasing returns to scale, trade and development that makes an effort to go beyond the dominant neoclassical paradigm, the author demonstrates that the new literature continues to be hampered by its roots in the same paradigm. However, the author also notes that they "... capture some of the important stylised facts of development and of production subject to IRS (increasing returns to scale) that cannot be dealt with satisfactorily in traditional versions trade theory".

In an essay on wages, labour mobility and international migration, Sugata Marjit and Saibal Kar take an unwarranted dig at the student movement when they assert: "Often sound economic judgment has to take a back seat because of the shameless hypocrisy of the so-called egalitarian student movement. Higher education invariably accommodates students coming from more privileged segments of society and they always protest vehemently if the subsidy is reduced even by a bit." The presumption that higher education must not be subsidised is not validated by the fact that the services of a section of those receiving subsidised higher education are lost to a country because of emigration. What such a situation calls for is a more nuanced approach to the issue than simple and unargued railing against subsidy, and in the bargain, innuendo against an undefined "so-called egalitarian student movement". From the standpoint of scientific and technological self-reliance, the case for subsidising higher education remains valid. The modalities of delivering subsidy effectively to those most in need of it do certainly need to be explored.

Prabirjit Sarkar's essay on export diversification and market shares notes that in spite of the increasing importance of manufactured products in the exports of the countries of the South to the countries of the North in the period since the Second World War, the commodity terms of trade (CTT) of the South has continued to deteriorate. As Sarkar points out, diversification of export structures has helped some developing countries in market penetration in the sense that the more diversified a country's export structure is, the more is its share in world exports. However, the rate of deterioration in its CTT does not decline even if its exports are more diversified. What this means, in layman's terms, is that the purchasing power of the exports of developing countries and their relative gains from trade are being constantly reduced. What also needs to be borne in mind is that the intra-firm trade of multinational corporations dominates world trade and they use the technique of transfer pricing to siphon out surpluses from Third World countries bypassing extant regulations in the process.

Professor R. Radhakrishna and his co-authors have examined the issues of nutritional intake, nutritional status and changing food preferences in India over the last three decades. While their focus on changing food and more generally consumer preferences tends to obfuscate matters a bit, their overall findings are clear and sobering. They conclude that India has "... failed to make much dent in reducing widespread malnutrition. As many as half of the preschool children suffer from malnutrition and close to half the adult population suffer from chronic energy deficiency in rural areas". Moreover, "The bottom 30 per cent of the rural population had a per capita intake of only 1,670 kcal per day, compared to the nutritional requirement of 2,200 kcal per day". The authors note that "Economic growth, left to itself, may not have a dramatic impact on the nutritional situation in the near future... ", a point which does not figure in the official celebrations of `India Shining'.

The final essay in the book is by Professor Nirmala Banerjee on the socio-economic analysis of reproduction and the family. It is an insightful and fascinating survey of the relevant literature.

While the editors' claim that "... getting familiar with the materials presented here will not cause any undue burden on the students of the Third World... " is perhaps overly optimistic and ambitious, the book will be an excellent aid to serious teachers of economics at the post-graduate level.

A celestial spectacle

The transit of Venus, a rare astronomical event, will occur on June 8 and will be visible all over India.

A TRANSIT of Venus over the disc of the sun will occur on June 8, 2004. Astronomers are eagerly awaiting this rare event, as it will be taking place after a gap of 122 years. No one alive at present has seen a transit of Venus - the last one occurred in 1882.

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In describing the motions of the planets relative to the earth, it is convenient to divide them into two classes - those nearer the sun than the earth are called inferior, those that are more remote are called superior. Thus, Mercury and Venus are inferior planets. An inferior conjunction of Venus occurs when the planet comes in between the sun and the earth. During a superior conjunction, Venus is on the opposite side of the sun in relation to the earth. The apparent yearly path of the sun against the background stars, passing through the patterns of the zodiac, is called the ecliptic. The ecliptic plane is really the projection of the earth's orbital plane around the sun onto the celestial sphere.

Like all planets, Venus orbits the sun in the same sense as the earth - counter-clockwise, as seen from the north celestial pole. The orbital plane of Venus is inclined at approximately 3 to the plane of the ecliptic. The two points on Venus' orbit where it crosses the ecliptic plane are known as nodes. The line joining them, which is also the line of intersection of the earth's orbit and the orbital plane of Venus, is known as the line of nodes. Since its orbit is slightly inclined to the ecliptic, Venus usually passes north or south of the sun at inferior conjunction. (Inferior conjunction occurs at an interval of 584 days.) But if such conjunction occurs when Venus is near its node, then it is seen from the earth as a small, dark spot moving from east to west across the sun's luminous disc along a path sensibly parallel to the ecliptic. This is known as the transit of Venus. The condition necessary for a transit is similar to the requirement for a solar or lunar eclipse.

A transit is analogous to an annular eclipse of the sun. It is an astronomical event, where a smaller, dark object passes in front of a larger, bright one. In other words, a transit occurs when the shadow of an inferior planet falls upon the earth. Thus it is possible in the case of the inferior planet Mercury too, and we do witness transits of Mercury occasionally. However, solar transits of Venus are exceedingly rare events - rarer than the transits of Mercury - primarily because Venus is farther from the sun and the proper alignment occurs less frequently. But when they occur, they do so in pairs, eight years apart, in June or December. After the June 2004 event, the next transit is due in 2012, and then only in 2117 and 2125.

There are four phases during a transit: two at the start (known as ingress) and two at the end (known as egress). The first exterior contact occurs when the planet first appears to touch the sun's edge or limb; the first internal contact is the point at which the planet is fully upon the sun's disc but still contiguous with its limb. The second internal contact occurs when the planet touches the opposite limb of the sun, having crossed its disc; and the second external contact happens the moment the planet's trailing limb finally clears the sun's disc.

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Venus is the third brightest object in the sky after the sun and the moon and that is why it is very easy to see, even when it is close to the sun or low in the sky. Although Venus is not a star, it appears more than 10 times brighter than the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius. Venus can be seen even during daytime, if we know just where to look for it. On a moonless night, away from city lights, the faint shadow cast by the planet is visible. Its brightness stems from the fact that it is highly reflective with an albedo of over 0.7 - that is, more than 70 per cent of the sunlight reaching Venus is reflected back into space. Most of the sunlight is reflected from clouds that are high in the planet's dense atmosphere. Venus appears to swing back and forth in the sky, during its synodic period, from one side of the sun to the other. Therefore we can see Venus from the earth only just before sunrise or just after sunset and as such the planet is often called the "morning star" or the "evening star", depending on where it happens to be in its orbit. The early Greek astronomers thought that the morning Venus and the evening Venus were two separate objects. By about the 6th century B.C., the truth had become clear and the planet was named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love; Venus is her Roman name.

One might expect Venus to appear the brightest when it is "full", that is, when the entire sunlit side is visible. Venus is full when it is in superior conjunction, but we cannot see this phase as it is lost in the sun's glare. We can see an almost full Venus within a few degrees of superior conjunction. When Venus is closest to the earth, at inferior conjunction, the planet is at the new phase, lying between the earth and the sun. At this time it cannot be seen because the sunlit side is on the other side. As Venus moves away from inferior conjunction, more and more of it becomes visible. The planet's maximum apparent brightness actually occurs about 36 days before or after inferior conjunction. The elongation of the planet at this time is 39 and it is seen as a rather fat crescent.

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Venus is surrounded by a thick cloud, whose reflectivity makes the planet so prominent in the night sky. At the same time it makes it impossible for us to discern any of the surface features of the planet, at least in visible light. Until the advent of suitable radar techniques in the 1960s, astronomers did not know the rotation period of Venus. Radar observers announced that the Doppler broadening of their returned echoes implied a sluggish 243-day rotation period. Furthermore, Venus's spin was found to be retrograde - that is, opposite to that of the earth and most objects of the solar system, and in the opposite sense to Venus's orbital motion. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Magellan spacecraft reached Venus in 1990. It carried a synthetic aperture radar, that is, a radar that allows scientists to combine data from a sequence of positions as the spacecraft flies along the trajectory. Magellan mapped about 99 per cent of Venus' surface with a resolution of about 200m.

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If we could stand on the surface of Venus and see the sun, which is not possible, it would rise in the west and set in the east nearly two earth months later, rising again in the west two Earth months after that. As the rotation of Venus is so slow, the planet's solar day is quite different from its 243-earth-day sidereal rotation period. In fact, one Venus day is a little more than half a Venus year (225 earth days). Such backward orbital revolution around the sun is called retrograde rotation - to distinguish it from forward (direct) rotation. Nearly all the planets in the solar system rotate counter-clockwise as seen from the north. Uranus and Pluto are exceptions, and so is Venus. Venus' slow retrograde rotation is mysterious. Why is Venus rotating backwards, and why so slowly? Nobody knows definitely why Venus rotates "the wrong way".

Transits of Venus have been used in attempts to determine the solar parallax. To understand the importance of a transit of Venus to 19th century astronomers, one needs to understand first the concept of parallax. In fact, a number of astronomy books - both old and new - define the measurement of the earth-sun distance as the calculation of the solar parallax. Parallax is defined as the apparent displacement of an object against a background when the object is viewed from different locations. If you hold your thumb at arm's length and alternately close first one eye and then the other, the position of your thumb seems to change against the background objects. This apparent shift is called parallax. In relation to a transit of Venus, we substitute two observers on earth for our two eyes. Venus takes the place of our thumb and the brilliant disc of the sun becomes the background. When Venus is seen by two observers separated by as wide a distance as possible (or practical), the amount of displacement may be measured. From that displacement (parallax), the distance can be calculated. For this procedure to be of value, an accurate measure of timings throughout the transit must be made by all observers. The most important measurements are those of the four contact points. It was Edmond Halley who first realised how to calculate the earth-sun distance by using measurements obtained during a transit of Venus. His theory inspired astronomers in many countries to mount expeditions to observe the transits of 1761 and 1769. Although Halley successfully predicted the measurement of the earth-sun distance from the observation of a transit of Venus, he could not see the transit of 1761. He died in 1742.

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Mikhail Vasilievitch Lomonosov, the Russian poet and chemist, observed the transit of Venus from St. Petersburg in 1761 and detected a faint halo of light surrounding Venus, at ingress and egress. Lomonosov correctly interpreted this as owing to a dense atmosphere around the planet itself, and this was the first objective proof of the Venusian atmosphere. Another interesting effect can be witnessed at ingress or egress. This is the "black drop" effect. As Venus passes onto the sun it appears to draw out a dark extension between itself and the sun's limb, making the planet look like a black tear-drop. The black-drop is really an image distortion in the proximity of the solar limb. The primary causes of the black-drop effect are atmospheric turbulence and diffraction in the telescope. The black-drop effect caused significant variations in the recorded times of contact during the transit of 1761.

The transit of Venus on June 8 will be visible in Europe, most of Africa and all of Asia except the very Far East. The transit will be visible from all corners of India. The general beginning of the transit is at 10 hours 44 minutes (Indian Standard Time) and the ending is at 6h 56m IST. (For the local circumstances relating to the four metropolitan cities, see table.)

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Unlike the transits of Mercury, Venus transits are visible to the naked eye. Since Venus is nearly one arcminute in diameter, it is visible without any optical aid, as a small black dot passing across the disc of the sun. But under no circumstances should an observer look at the sun without using an approved, safe filter. The safest way to observe the transit is by projecting the sun through a small refracting telescope onto a piece of card. Never look along the telescope to line it up. Always have your back to the sun and use the shadow of the tube to home in on the sun. Keep finderscopes capped at both ends for safety (the little plastic ones melt if left uncapped). If you want to observe directly, you must use a genuine solar filter. Make sure it has a proper mounting that securely fastens to the telescope.

Prof. Amalendu Bandyopadhyay is Senior Scientist, M.P. Birla Institute of Fundamental Research, M.P. Birla Planetarium, Kolkata.

Making art from work

Journalistic photographs taken to illustrate articles, morphed into a formal compositional cohesion for an exhibition at the Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi, stand out on their own as aesthetic objects.

I HAVE always believed that there is no distinction between objects as art and as things in themselves, except how we choose to present them. Unusual rocks are found everywhere but when one sees them properly mounted and arranged, as in the imperial palace at Beijing, one realises that we have the capacity to make an artistic statement out of almost anything.

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It was with this premise that we arranged the exhibition of the photographs of J. John, director of the Centre for Education and Communication (CEC) in New Delhi, at the Lalit Kala Akademi. The photographs were part of a large body of works taken to illustrate articles in Labour File or for reports of the CEC. As such, they were what one would call journalistic exercises. But when we began to look at them from the perspective of an exhibition, not only did works emerge that stood out on their own as aesthetic objects, but we were also able to give them a formal compositional cohesion.

First, the theme of the exhibition was Work in Progress. From this angle, it was only a step forward to see where the photographer had treated the subject creatively. Either by capturing a moment in action, as in the case of a jute worker of Bengal treating the fibre, or from the angle of evocation, as in the case of a construction worker seemingly trapped in a column of rods of his own making. From here, we could choose works embodying action on the one hand and those whose imagery told a story.

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We could then rise above both immediacy and the narrative to give the exhibition a compositional cohesion. One thing we noted was that John's eye had caught the cross-form in a number of the photographs. The form has a number of meanings historically, as is obvious from the writings of the noted Indian historian D.D. Kosambi. But essentially it is the process of joining things, of bringing them together, that is highlighted by the use of the cross-form in religious icons and in these photographs of the work process.

Indeed, it is no accident that Jesus Christ, with whom this form is most closely associated, was a carpenter by training just as our most powerful syncretic-thinker Kabir was a weaver. But that is only part of the story. The task of the social joiner is fraught with danger and oppression, for those who rule do so only by dividing the people and keeping them separate from each other. So the joiner is a threat to exploiters and oppressors and has to be dealt with. In the Christian context, it is ironic that the joiner meets his end on a wooden cross, almost as a warning against the act of joining itself.

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From this perspective the narrative of the crucifixion seemed particularly apt. There were photographs of labour as an act of bringing things together, like a carpenter making a window. There were photographs in which the cross-form was embedded, as in the picture of Kerala headload workers carrying pipes along a road. And one could go beyond that symbolism in photographs like the one of a Pakistani food-seller, where the cross-form blends with that of the crescent, reminding us that despite the fulminations of Samuel P. Huntington, Christianity and Islam have much more in common than the perspective of the clash of civilisations would care to admit. The joiner sees these links and strengthens them, the oppressor tears them apart to dominate and plunder. Indeed, the joiner perspective goes beyond the crucifix and we see the cross-form change into the hammer and sickle, the symbol of worker peasant unity and liberation from both exploitation and oppression.

The pursuit of the cross-form purely as a form then organises the rest of the photographs of the labour process in a sequence from bondage to craft production and industry, spanning the history of civilisation from slavery to serfdom, capitalism and socialism. In fact, one of the photographs in the lot was of a child carrying Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) banners at a demonstration, a picture that narrated the message that `Socialism is the Future'.

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TO me, the importance of this aesthetic effort is that it presents the process of labour from the angle of creativity. And the best approach to labour is to make it creatively satisfying. This it cannot be as long as the profit motive dominates production. And this exhibition reflects what happens to work, one of the motors of human civilisation, when it becomes a captive in the hands of profiteers.

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It breeds child labour, which ruins the health of children rather than train them to acquire new skills. This we can see from the football production in Punjab, the Zardozi embroiderers of Varanasi or the child carpet - weavers of Bhadoi. It also shows how increasing casualisation and mechanisation have made work more arduous, how women are being forced to do the jobs of men but at lower wages, how hazardous jobs are undertaken by the desperately unemployed without any protection, and how a process that has helped one of the apes from developing into man with a complex civilisation as a support base, is today being used to destroy skills and casualise labour, driving the vast mass of workers to conditions reminiscent of the jungle. This is the fate of the vast majority of workers under globalisation in South Asia.

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However, the main strength of these pictures is that they show how the processes of cooperation, communication and organisation inherent in the labour process also breed an inherent resistance to its being dismantled into something more primitive. But this resistance does not take a correct direction automatically. It has to be organised and trained systematically. This is what comes across in the picture of a young boy carrying red flags at a demonstration. Upsurges are spontaneous but organisations give them direction. It is interesting how these questions too are raised and answered by the photographs that were taken largely to document various types of work.

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This exhibition reminds one of how beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Objects exist both in nature and in culture. But they must be put together with a perspective. And that perspective gives them the quality of art.

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Learning online

IN recent years, the concept of e-learning appears to have caught the imagination of students who seek a cost-effective alternative to actually going abroad to study. Recently, Loyola College became the first college in Chennai to gain access to the international Gale Group's online service through the Chennai-based Edutech India. Two other Chennai-based institutions - the TB Research Centre (ICMR) and Cognizant Technology Solutions (CTS) - have also subscribed to this service. Students from other colleges and the knowledge-seeking members of the public can also access the international database of reference material.

The Gale Group, an operating unit of the Thomson Learning Division (TLD) of the Thomson Corporation, claims to be the largest publisher of reference material in the world. Its online database gives users access to over 6,000 international journals, which include full texts and abstracts, with relevant information dating back to 20 years. The content includes encyclopaedias, almanacs, bibliographies, biographies, statistics, monographs and directories. More than two lakh researchers across the globe access more than 10 million web pages on their online databases every day. The Gale Group also publishes more than four million essays or entries, two million indexed periodical articles, 50,000 photographs, diagrams and maps, which can be accessed by students.

Loyola College, which invested more than Rs.1 lakh to subscribe to the service, offers it free of cost to its students. This is done on the college's own intranet, which connects all the departments by optical fibre cable. Students can access reference material on any discipline from all over the world, either from the computers in their departments or at the college's Internet centre. The result is substantial savings to the students and the college since subscription to specialised journals in print would be costly and the journals would take time to reach the hands of the students.

Loyola College has also entered into a tie-up with Egraduate Institute India Pvt. Ltd. for providing online education to its students. Its parent company, Egraduate Pvt. Ltd, is an education management service company devoted to "promoting, harnessing and facilitating e-learning through interaction, collaboration and learning by appropriate integration of web technology". The company claims to provides a "one-stop service for education programmes, corporate training courses and further education-related services". Through its education portal, Egraduate offers corporations and institutions of higher learning an opportunity to obtain access to a range of corporate training courses and certificate, diploma and university degree programmes.

Apart from its tie-up with Loyola College, Egraduate also has a tie-up with the Mohammad Sathak group of colleges, offering full-time and part-time courses to their students.

A spokesperson of Egraduate told Frontline that the company catered to students "who may chose to do foreign-based undergraduate or post-graduate programmes locally and be awarded with a degree, which carries the same recognition as studying abroad in that university." Students have the option of completing their first year and second year in India and completing the final year in the U.K. or Australia, or may choose to complete the entire programme in India. Naturally, the fee for the former programme will be higher.

Irrespective of the options that are chosen, students will be assured of the fullest attention towards their aspirations in obtaining internationally recognised qualifications. Egraduate claims that its trained student counsellors will assist students in choosing the right course.

Its courses are offered in three modes. The full-time mode offers students "extensive coaching and tutorials", conducted by the company's partner college faculty members. Classes are conducted throughout the day as in the case of normal undergraduate programmes. The part-time mode is meant for those who are working, with classes being conducted on weekends and in the evenings. The online mode is meant for those who are unable to attend classes, in a "virtual learning environment on the web".

Egraduate claims that the e-learning system drives students to be more creative and inquisitive, using new technologies. Moreover, students have the flexibility to access course notes and participate in online chats and discussion forums to communicate with their facilitators at their convenience. The company informed Frontline that being a flexible system, it offers an alternative to "traditional classroom-type courses". Students are able to submit assignments on the web although examinations are held at designated venues in the written format.

A gateway to opportunities

Chennai, the educational hub of South India, offers students a wide variety of courses and career options, despite a growing trend of commercialisation of education.

CHENNAI, historically regarded as the hub of education in South India, is moving with the times. In the mid-19th century, particularly after the establishment of the University of Madras, Chennai started attracting students from all over India, particularly the states that formed part of the erstwhile Madras presidency. Premier educational institutions such as the Madras Christian College were established even before this, in 1837.

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However, the real impetus for education came in a second wave, after Independence, when a number of educational institutions were established, reflecting the urgency among the people to get on with the task of addressing the scourge of illiteracy. Initiatives towards achieving striking advances in the field of education and addressing the tremendous backlog of underdevelopment that colonialism had imposed on the nation were undertaken. In Tamil Nadu, the social justice movement, particularly the system of reservation, made education accessible to the vast section of underprivileged people.

The third wave of growth in the field of education, which began in the mid-1980s, has been characterised by commercialisation. Riding on the back of a liberal regime, which regards education as a service industry of sorts, there has been a proliferation of a variety of educational institutions. Kindergartens offering pre-school "English" education have mushroomed all over the city. The desperate search by parents to find a medical or engineering "seat" for their wards has resulted in the emergence of a rash of private institutions offering technical and medical education. Chennai's status as a leading software hub, which is based, in large measure, on the network of technical education institutions in the city, has also fuelled the boom. The mushrooming of "coaching" institutions to help students to "get it right" somehow in the entrance examinations, is an essential part of the story of commercialisation of education. Naturally, a seat in such institutions comes with a steep price tag. Prices vary according to the kind of degree that is sought. Called "capitation fees", or simply a "donation", the prices range from about a lakh for a seat in an engineering college to nearly Rs.30 lakhs for a "medical seat". The self-financing colleges, rather anachronistically termed because money is generally known to come from the students, have been the prime movers of this wave of commercialisation. Not surprisingly, education is seen as an industry and Chennai has emerged as a leading player in the education business.

THE three pillars of higher education in Chennai are the University of Madras, the Anna University, which specialises in technical education, particularly engineering, and the Tamil Nadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University. Based on the model of London University, the University of Madras was incorporated in 1857. The university has four campuses, which house 68 departments of study and research. It imparts education at three levels, through the departments of study and research, the Institute of Correspondence Education, and the affiliated colleges. It has over 208 professors, 46 readers, nine lecturers and an administrative staff of more than 1,000. The main campus of the university is on Marina Beach Road, with the Senate House as headquarters. The university guesthouse and post-graduate hostel are also on the main campus. The science departments are housed on the Guindy campus, while the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences is at Taramani.

Anna University, which was established in 1978 as a unitary type of university, offers higher education in engineering, technology and allied sciences. The University offers 33 undergraduate degree programmes, 47 post-graduate degree programmes, four post-graduate diploma programmes and M.Phil programmes in four disciplines. Facilities for doing Ph.D Programmes are available in all the faculties. The intake for the undergraduate programme is about 1,040 students and that for the post-graduate programme, including the P.G. Diploma Programme, is about 670 students. The university has nearly 5,130 students enrolled for the full-time and part-time programmes, nearly 18 per cent of whom are women. With more than 540 teachers, the university's student to faculty ratio is approximately 10:1.

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Apart from the academic programmes, Anna University offers continuing education, through short-term courses, evening courses, and summer and winter schools. In keeping with the current thrust, the University has been increasingly active in promoting University-Institute collaboration through consultancy services, sponsored research, training programmes and testing activities. In keeping with this spirit, Anna University has entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Sun Microsystems. While Sun offers High Performance Computing (HPC) technology, the university supplies its expertise and human capital. Students and researchers apply the power of resources supplied by Sun to large-computation projects. Sun provides the technical resources and training to support Anna University's requirements to promote the usage of HPC by industries and other collaborative partners. The deployment of Sun's hardware on campus includes Sun Fire Ultra SPARC III Enterprise server and a cluster of workgroup servers and Ultra SPARC workstations.

The Tamil Nadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University was established in 1987 and it started functioning the following year. It is the second largest health sciences university in India and the only medical university in Tamil Nadu that grants affiliation to medical and paramedical colleges, whether run by the government or "self-financed". Degrees in medical sciences, earlier awarded by the University of Madras, have since 1988 been awarded by the Tamil Nadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University. The university regulates dental education and education in the Indian systems of medicine under a single umbrella.

THE established university system and its network of colleges in the city were unable to cope with the Information Technology boom of the 1990s. Hundreds of teaching establishments emerged in the city, many with single-room structures, working in shifts round the clock in order to meet the demand of the IT industry. But when the IT bubble burst about three years ago, many of these "institutes" and "coaching centres", which were merely acting as fronts for unscrupulous fly-by-night operators, folded up. In fact, established IT companies welcomed the development because they found that the system was unable to deliver well-trained personnel who could man their operations on a reliable basis.

Students now realise that they need to develop more broad-based, but focussed, skills. Training institutions have realised that credible training programmes need to be developed to attract students. Many institutions have forged alliances with overseas institutions to provide such services. For instance, in Chennai the SSN School of Advanced Software Engineering, in association with Carnegie Mellon University, offers a post-graduate programme for students. The company claims that it offers "a mix of technology, management and strategy courses", enabling students to develop an "understanding of IT from both operational and strategic perspectives". The course also has two specialisation streams, one in software engineering and the other in robotics technology.

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At the height of the IT boom, many companies established their own teaching and training centres. The move was dictated by the need to generate a captive and cost-effective pool of talent that would serve the software development business of the companies. NIIT, for instance, was among the pioneers in developing and pursuing this strategy. Today its business strategy has two components - one aimed at addressing the teaching and training segment and the other aimed at the software development business.

The NIIT Learning Solutions wing seeks to address the teaching and training wing. By stratifying the business of its IT education segment into Career Programmes, Skill Upgradation Programme, IT Awareness Programme and School Curriculum Support Programme, NIIT seeks to adopt a more focussed approach to the business of IT education.

NIIT's Futurz Classic programme aims to "create a complete software professional" suitable for employment in the IT industry. The company claims that its training enables students not only to obtain employment in the IT industry but also acquire the ability to be "flexible" in the fast-changing world of IT. The company also claims that its "special bouquet" of training programmes will enable students to get into occupations ranging from manufacturing to travel and health care. The duration of the courses in the bouquet ranges from six months to four years, depending on the set of skills the students opt for. The company claims that it is thus able to deliver "industry-relevant professionals".

The maturing of the software development business, particularly after the onset of the business process outsourcing boom, has led to the emergence of niche areas in software development. In this context, the software-testing segment of the business has acquired critical importance (see separate story).

THE commercialisation of education has meant that higher education is increasingly stratified, aimed at addressing extremely focussed educational market segments. While this is best exemplified in the field of IT education, there are other examples too. Courses tailored to suit the requirements of individual industries have become the norm. In recent years, hotel management, fashion designing and some other areas have attracted attention. Going under the broad nomenclature of "professional courses", these highly targeted segments have attracted attention from the student community because of the situation of unemployment. Students hope that a degree or a diploma in such "professional" courses will fetch them the job they desperately seek. At the height of the IT boom the "herd behaviour" led thousands of students to opt for IT-based courses, often of spurious quality. Experts in education regard the situation as an extremely dangerous consequence of unbridled commercialisation in higher education.

The relentless commercialisation of higher education has in recent years affected the quality of school education too. The growing inequalities in society and the rise of the neo-rich, both direct consequences of economic liberalisation, have resulted in the emergence of "islands" of learning at the school level. Chennai has a host of residential schools that offer "quality education", but only to the very few who can afford it. The St John's International Residential School, for instance, is a "top-notch" school that offers "quality education". Run by the St John's Educational Trust, the school offers "all-round education with special emphasis on moral and ethical instruction as well as physical education." The facilities it offers - a closed circuit television system connected to a dish antenna, a department store and a laundry, among other things - are not available in most Indian schools. The campus has its own hospital and students are taken on outings, picnics, package tours, study trips and educational tours.

The Crescent Residential School offers "superior coaching" and "life-oriented and value-based education". It claims to have an "Islamic foundation" and yet a "highly secular outlook". Extracurricular activities such as driving, karate, swimming and horse-riding, are taught at the school, which has its own swimming pool, tennis courts and football ground. Besides, there is an in-house hospital and a mess that serves excellent food. The liberalisation of the economy has increasingly made education abroad an option worth considering. Besides the United States and the United Kingdom, which were favoured destinations until a decade ago, places ranging from Moscow to Australia are also being considered by those who have the means. Realising the importance of the Chennai market, educational institutions from overseas are increasingly holding roadshows in the city to attract its student population. To those who may not have the money to move overseas to study, there is the e-learning option. In recent times, several institutions have been offering students the option of securing "a foreign degree", in partnership with institutions abroad (see separate story).

Experts in the field of education have pointed out that the rapid growth of the education business, largely unbridled, is likely to be the areas of concern. Physical facilities and teaching personnel are likely to pose problems. More significantly, market-led growth of the sector at the higher education level might impose constraints on the relevance and quality of the degrees and diplomas on offer. Students have to be exposed to cross-disciplinary learning across fields such as the arts, humanities, sciences and engineering. Whether a full-blown commercial system of learning can deliver the results is an open question. How Chennai addresses the question will determine where it will head in the years ahead.

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Oct 9,2020