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COVER STORY

18-06-2004

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Briefing

A coalition of rivals

PARVATHI MENON cover-story

A CHIEF MINISTER from the Congress and a Deputy Chief Minister from its coalition partner, the Janata Dal (Secular), were sworn in on May 28 in Bangalore, bringing to a close two weeks of hard political bargaining between the two parties. Dharam Singh, a senior though relatively low-profile Congress leader, is the new Chief Minister, and Siddharamaiah of the JD(S), the Deputy Chief Minister. This is Siddharamaiah's second stint in the post. (He had held the position under the Chief Ministership of J.H. Patel).

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The leadership issue on which the prospects of a coalition government appeared to flounder was finally sorted out in New Delhi in a final round of negotiations between Congress president Sonia Gandhi, JD(S) president and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Ideological opposition to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which emerged as the single largest party in the Assembly, with 79 out of 224 seats, is the only binding force between the Congress (65 seats) and the JD(S) (58 seats). It was not easy for the JD(S) to come to terms with the prospect of having to do business with its principal rival against which it fought a bitter electoral battle. It, therefore, felt fully justified in expecting to become the leading partner of the coalition, with the post of Chief Minister being given to a person from its party. That the Congress had lost its mandate was made clear by the election verdict, as the JD(S) and the BJP together won 137 seats. The final outcome of the negotiations in New Delhi, in which the JD(S) was strong-armed by the Congress high command into accepting a "compromise" formula has disappointed JD(S) party workers and leaders alike.

Apart from the post of Deputy Chief Minister, the JD(S) has been promised almost all the key portfolios like Home, Finance, Revenue and Excise, and Rural Development. The post of Speaker is to go to the JD(S) while the Congress will take the post of Deputy Speaker.

During the negotiations over power-sharing, the JD(S) argued for the "Jammu and Kashmir coalition model" in which the smaller party gets the Chief ministership for the first half of the five-year term of the Assembly. The Congress, on the other hand, argued for the Maharashtra model, where the alliance partner that won the larger number of seats would get the Chief Minister's post. The Jammu and Kashmir model was rejected by the Congress high command, which held that Jammu and Kashmir was a special case where the Congress was willing to make the compromise, as the installation of a secular government there was an overriding priority. The situation in Karnataka could not be compared to that of Jammu and Kashmir.

The party threatened to sit in Oopposition rather than join the government if the post of Chief Minister did not go to the Congress. It was willing, however, to accede to the request of Deve Gowda to nominate someone other than former Chief Minister S.M. Krishna as the new Chief Minister. Deve Gowda argued that the JD(S) had, after all, fought the elections against the Krishna-led Congress and that the MLAs of his party would refuse to work under him.

In the Congress there were several other able contenders for the position of Chief Minister, among them former Home Minister M. Mallikarjuna Kharge, and H.K. Patil, former Minister for Medium and Large Irrigation. The fact that Dharam Singh does not belong to any of the major caste groups worked in his favour.

With the Congress digging its feet in on the leadership issue, the JD(S) had few options before it. Intransigence on its part would have played straight into the hands of the BJP and its ally, the Janata Dal (United). The JD(S) Legislature Party had elected Siddharamaiah as its leader soon after the elections and projected him as their candidate for Chief Minister. The party, however, knew that a prolonged show of disunity would lower the image of the coalition even before it took office.

The imposition of President's Rule in the State was another eventuality that it wished to avoid. As part of the final agreement, Siddharamaiah was offered a Cabinet berth at the Centre, which he initially appeared inclined to accept. However, he declined the offer at the last moment stating that he wanted to stay in State-level politics.

The misgivings between the coalition partners are unlikely to disappear in a hurry. The election platform of the JD(S) was built on a pro-farmer, anti-economic reform agenda, a rejection of the policies that the Congress implemented during the five years of its tenure. Whether the Congress as a coalition partner is prepared to reverse some of these policies depends on the lessons it has learnt from its electoral debacle.

Shock and somersault

S. VISWANATHAN cover-story

Verdict 2004 stops Chief Minister Jayalalithaa dead in her tracks and makes her reverse some of the reform-oriented steps taken by her government in Tamil Nadu.

WHEN the Bharatiya Janata Party-All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam combine drew a blank in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP leadership sought to belittle the verdict by stating that the electoral battle in Tamil Nadu was fought only on "local" issues. Reinforcing this view, somewhat was the contention of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and some of its allies that it was essentially a vote against the Jayalalithaa government's mishandling of the severe drought in the State for the past three years and the related issue of its failure to ensure supply of the Cauvery water to farmers in Thanjavur.

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It is true to a large extent that the Tamil Nadu electorate had voted on "local issues", but most of these issues, such as the agrarian crisis, the paucity of irrigation water, the hike in power tariff, the failure of the public distribution system (PDS) and the growing unemployment problem have not been peculiar to the State. Indeed, these issues are directly linked to the neo-liberal economic policies being pursued vigorously by successive Union governments for the past 10 years.

Although shocked by the verdict, Chief Minister and AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa sought to comfort herself by claiming that the people had, after all, voted for change at the Centre. However, a couple of days later she withdrew many of the measures that cost her heavily at the hustings.

The government, in one stroke, removed the income ceiling of Rs.5,000 a month for receiving supplies under the PDS, restored free power supply to agriculturists and hut-dwellers; ordered the resumption of free travel passes for students in State-owned bus services; withdrew cases and penal action against State government employees and teachers who went on a strike in 2003; dropped cases filed against leaders of political parties on charges of instigating the government employees strike work and the large number of defamation cases against newspapers and periodicals (the government gave an assurance that the privilege motions against The Hindu would also be dropped); and rescinded the State Act that banned "forcible" religious conversions.

The Chief Minister's response brought cheer to the various sections of affected people. People from the minority communities were happy that the anti-conversion Act had been withdrawn. Not surprisingly, the Hindu Munnani questioned the wisdom of scrapping the Act. The Opposition parties welcomed the rollbacks, pointing out that they had been opposing those measures from the beginning and that Jayalalithaa had at last bowed to the people's verdict. A.K. Padmanabhan, vice-president of the State unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), pointed out that all these measures had been linked to the reforms process under the Centre's neo-liberal economic policy and that Jayalalithaa became a votary of this policy a few months after she assumed charge as Chief Minister for the second time in 2001.

The Tamil Nadu verdict, therefore, is as much a rejection of the Vajpayee government's economic policies as a negation of what the Opposition describes as "authoritarian and anti-people policies" of the Jayalalithaa government.

Interestingly, Jayalalithaa came to power in 2001 by campaigning against the policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. During the election campaign she used to remind the people that in her first stint as Chief Minister in 1991 she opposed the liberalisation policy and was, in fact, a vehement critic of the World Trade Organisation accord.

WHEN she became Chief Minister again in 2001, the country was into the reforms regime for over a decade and the "second stage of reform" was being contemplated. One of the core components of the second stage of reforms is "labour reform" - taming the labour force by curtailing its collective strength and serving the interests of trade and industry. After some initial hesitation, she chose to back the reforms regime. That she was firm on this became evident in October-November 2001, when the government suppressed a strike by employees of the State transport corporations called to protest against a drastic cut in bonus. Many other benefits, such as festival advance, enjoyed by government employees and workers of government-owned undertakings were either withdrawn or drastically reduced on the grounds that the State was going through a financial crunch, which, Jayalalithaa said, her government had inherited from the previous government led by the DMK. The employees' efforts to highlight their plight through memorandums, public meetings, demonstrations and even a day's token strike did not move the government. Instead, it enacted the draconian Tamil Nadu Essential Services Maintenance Act (TESMA) about six months later.

In November 2002 the government took one more major initiative to further the reforms process by announcing a plan to downsize the operations of the 21 government-run road transport corporations. The ultimate aim was to denationalise the public transport system in the State, one of the best-run services in the country. The proposal, which came in the form of a Gazette Extraordinary, was said to be based on the recommendations of a high-level committee headed by the Chief Secretary after a "detailed" study of the finances of the corporations, most of which have been reporting losses for many years. Announcing, in the State Assembly on May 3, the decision to form the committee, Transport Minister R. Viswanathan said, amidst protests from the Opposition that the government would go in for "structural reforms" - a euphemism for "privatisation". This had upset a lakh employees of these corporations. They protested and warned of an agitation against the move. The notification was challenged in the Madras High Court. Nine days later, Jayalalithaa clarified that there would be no privatisation of the transport corporations and what the government proposed to do was "to privatise" select routes and services.

In 2003 the government issued an order that radically altered the rules governing the computation of the employees' terminal benefits, such as pension and gratuity. The G.O. led to a massive strike by over a million government employees, which was suppressed. Thousands of employees and teachers were arrested and lakhs of them were dismissed from service (Frontline, August 1, 2003). Then came the startling Supreme Court judgment that denied the workers their right to strike. The ruthlessness with which the strike was suppressed proved in no uncertain terms the government's eagerness to take the State more aggressively on the path of the second stage of the structural reforms.

The actions against the government employees, teachers and transport workers were seen as a clear warning against the working class as a whole. In fact, the government's "firm" handling of the strike was commended by industrial and business bodies, which wanted the government to enact laws that will enable them to take similar action against striking workers.

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The government's reform-oriented moves in other areas also affected a large number of people. The withdrawal of free supply of electricity to agriculturists,, particularly when they were reeling under unprecedented drought conditions, came as a cruel shock to them. "The denial of free electricity to agriculturists was a clear signal that the State government would go by the book," said Padmanabhan. This was also part of the reforms package. In the press release that carried the roll-back decision the Chief Minister referred to the compulsions under which she had to stop free supply of electricity. The government, she said, had to resort to the move after it failed to convince the Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission, because the Commission had to go by the principles laid down by the Electricity Regulatory Commissions Act, 1998 .

The attack on the PDS, again as part of the reforms process, was the unkindest cut of all. The income ceiling of Rs.5,000 was considered too low by any standards. The ceiling excluded large sections of workers whose real wages were lower than this and insufficient for a family.

Trade union leaders expect even more sincere action from the government to demonstrate that it had really learnt the lessons from Verdict 2004. They point out that the draconian TESMA is still in the statute book. Even as they appreciate the government's action in retracing the "anti-people" and "authoritarian" measures, they want it to take affirmative action in redressing the grievances of the workers, marginal farmers and farm workers. Although the cases against government employees have been withdrawn and the punishments meted out to them have been dropped, their basic demands remained unmet. They did not fight for new demands; instead, they wanted the restoration of the existing benefits that were withdrawn.

Trade union leaders expect the government to renegotiate wage settlements in several sectors. Only such actions, they believe, would instil confidence in the minds of the affected people about the government's intentions.

Reactivating the labour advisory boards and conciliatory machinery and arranging for the implementation of court orders in favour of workers could be significant steps in this direction, the labour leaders aver.

Kisan leaders suggest that the rural economy can be put back on track by restoring the cooperative and other institutional credit facilities, modifying the water management techniques to suit the changing agrarian needs and ensuring a farmer-friendly procurement system.

The rural anger in Karnataka

PARVATHI MENON cover-story

Policy decisions in tune with the neo-liberal agenda actively supported by the World Bank alienated large sections of people from the S.M. Krishna-led Congress government in the State.

SPEAKING to the media soon after it became apparent that the Congress was heading towards a major defeat in the State Assembly elections in Karnataka, Chief Minister S.M. Krishna attributed its poor performance to two factors. The first, he said, was his own miscalculation in calling for Assembly elections simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections, even though the State Assembly had six months to complete its five-year term. The so-called "Vajpayee wave" that influenced the Lok Sabha voting pattern also influenced the way people voted for the State elections, he said. The second factor responsible for the extremely poor performance of the Congress, he said, was the drought that had affected large parts of the State in four out of the five years of his government's tenure. "Drought has always been a cause for people to vote against the government. Look at what happened in Rajasthan in the last elections," he said. The Chief Minister also agreed that there was a need to "introspect" on the "urban bias" that informed governance during his tenure.

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If the introspection that the Chief Minister promised does take place, it will uncover the reasons for a near livelihood crisis that a majority of people in the State, particularly in the rural areas, faced during his government's tenure. It is a crisis that will continue unless it is squarely addressed by the new government. Drought only exacerbated the impact of several policy decisions implemented by the Krishna government. The State has experienced droughts of greater severity in the past (the drought of 1985-87 being a case in point): never, however, did the phenomenon of suicides amongst debt-ridden farmers - perhaps the most chilling manifestation of the crisis - take place in such large numbers and over such a wide geographical area.

The promised introspection will surely also take into account the reasons for the failure of the government and its machinery to see the seriousness of the agrarian crisis. The government, for example, was in denial over farmer's suicides for a long time.

When the problem surfaced in the media and could no longer be ignored, government spokespersons first contested the numbers. (Although the media was only quoting from official sources; 650 farmers had committed suicide in the previous 10 months, according to a release from the office of the Development Commissioner in March 2004. Not a week passed without the newspapers reporting cases of suicide from different parts of the State.) The government then argued that the deaths occurred for reasons other than indebtedness. An official commission of inquiry set up by the Congress government actually listed alcoholism as the reason for the majority of suicides. When the government finally acted on the problem by announcing a compensation package of Rs.1,00,000 for the families of suicide victims, the criteria for eligibility were so unrealistic that barely 10 per cent of needy families actually received compensation. Some official spokespersons were quoted as saying that farmers were committing suicide because of the compensation package. If this were indeed true, it would have been a telling commentary on the degree of desperation that farmers had been pushed into.

Krishna's image as a savvy, pro-big business head of government was next only to that of his counterpart in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, N. Chandrababu Naidu, who was routed in the elections after nine years in power. As in Andhra Pradesh, the mainstream media in Karnataka too played a critical role in fostering that image and in celebrating it. Krishna, and by extension the government he headed, was eulogised for his proactive role in pushing Bangalore into the league of fast-paced, globalised cities, and in fostering the growth areas of information technology and biotechnology. Starry-eyed about a government that was aggressively in favour of economic reform, the media tended to ignore the impact of the government's policies on the rural areas, in small towns, and even on the poor in big cities like Bangalore. Once elections drew near and the scent of a massive anti-incumbency mood was in the air, the Karnataka government tried hard to fulfil some part of its mandate to the people by announcing a series of sops - too little, too late.

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REFORMS in the power sector, an essential component of the conditionalities that came with the Karnataka Economic Restructuring Loan (KERL) from the World Bank, was a major reason for rural anger and discontent against the Karnataka government. The first tranche of the loan of $150 million (approximately Rs.720 crores) was sanctioned by the World Bank to the government in 2001. In order to be eligible for the loan the government had already initiated a package of fiscal and governance reforms. The Bank had identified the power sector as an area where reforms were essential. "The ultimate objective of the power sector reforms is for the government to withdraw from the power sector as an operator and regulator of utilities," the Bank noted in a report dated May 25, 2001. The government passed the Electricity Reform Act, 1999, and the Cabinet approved a reform policy in December 2001 that drew a privatisation map for the power sector. The government also set up the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC). Although it committed itself to the privatisation of power distribution by 2002, it was an objective that it could not achieve.

The vote against the Congress was in large part a rejection of power sector reforms in agriculture. The Krishna government unbundled power distribution by setting up five government-owned distribution companies in the State. Power tariffs were hiked significantly over five years, although the collection of dues varied over different regions of the State and was often dependent on the strength of farmers' organisations in resisting such payments. For example, in the Ramdurg taluk of Belgaum district, the tariff on pumpsets was hiked from Rs.300 to Rs.540 per horsepower per month once the distribution company for the region, was set up. Those who did not metre their pumpsets were threatened with a Rs.50,000 fine and imprisonment by the Hubli Electricity Supply Company, which in addition set up a "Pulikesi Brigade" to implement the order. Farmers organised themselves under the Belgaum District Pumpset Owners Association, and retaliated by setting up the "Sangoli Rayanna Brigade" to counter this draconian order. They publicly burnt bills for arrears of Rs.70,000 to Rs.80,000, which they were suddenly saddled with, and resisted the attempts by the "Pulikesi Brigade" to disconnect non-metred pumpsets.

The Bhagyajyothi and Kuteerjyothi schemes of subsidised power for poor rural homes were reorganised with monthly costs raised from Rs.10 to Rs.30 and homes metred. This pushed up the cost of living for poor families. Free power for agricultural pumpsets was withdrawn. Faced with the failure of crops owing to drought, and caught in the stranglehold of debt incurred for agriculture, poor farming families were then presented with bills for electricity arrears that ran into thousands of rupees. Several of the cases of suicide reported in the media were of farmers who, suddenly confronted with a fresh payment burden from the Hubli Electricity Supply Company, decided to end their lives.

The most telling comment on the power scenario comes from Phillipose Mathai, the present Chairman of the KERC. "The Karnataka regulators have always pointed out that in the power sector, justice was not being done in the rural sector at all," he said. "It has always pointed out that farmers were not being supplied with reliable, or any power, even for three hours a day... Any reform cannot overlook the concerns of the poor, especially the rural farmers."

DROUGHT only added to the plethora of burdens on rural homes. The increase in power tariffs, the reorganisation of the public distribution system, which excluded large sections of the poor, and the sudden increase in the costs of cultivation owing to the lifting of subsidies on inputs like fertilizers, drove farming families ever deeper into debt.

It is in such a situation that the State government reduced food subsidies to Rs.170 crores in 2003-2004 from Rs.295 crores in 2000-2001. In its Medium Term Fiscal Plan, the State government claimed success in weeding out "bogus ration cards" and in reducing the number of ration cards from 62 lakhs to 42.7 lakhs.

In a recent article on agricultural credit, former Chief Minister M. Veerappa Moily noted: "Most suicides are by small farmers who owe between Rs.50,000 to Rs.70,000 to private moneylenders, whereas his debt to the bank or cooperative society is minimal. It is also a matter of concern that unlike former days, the poorer farmers are struck off from the BPL [below poverty line] category, thus becoming ineligible for subsidised food. It is because of these reasons that a single year of drought or crisis can drive poor farmers into total desperation."

Small farmers deeply in debt to private moneylenders constituted the largest segment of suicide victims. The withdrawal of bank credit to the agricultural sector, and to poor farmers in particular since the late 1990s, is well-documented. Nationalised banks have not opened any new branches in the rural areas in the last five years, and rural branches have been shutting down in this period. The Banking Service Recruitment Board (BSRB), set up for the recruitment of clerical cadre in banks, was abolished by the National Democratic Alliance government, as were the posts of rural development officers in rural branches. In March 2000 in Karnataka, the total number of rural banks was 2,250, a number which came down to 2,201 in March 2002. Agricultural advances to total advances from banks decreased from 21.38 per cent to 18.86 per cent in the same period. This went up again to 19.5 per cent in December 2002, but largely on account of corporate agricultural loans.

The only scheme that brought the government some dividends was the mid-day meal scheme for primary school children in government schools. This excellent and largely well-administered scheme was gratefully acknowledged by rural voters, although it did not always compensate for perceived failures on other fronts. It was, ultimately, the rural voter who delivered the verdict on the efficacy of the State government's economic reform policies.

`The farmer's success is our strength'

cover-story

Interview with West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front in West Bengal runs one of the longest serving governments in the history of parliamentary politics, having won all the six Assembly elections since 1977. In the Lok Sabha elections since 1977, when the Left won 23 of the 42 seats in the State, the coalition has gone from strength to strength. In the just concluded elections, the Left Front won 35 seats, up from 29 in 1999.

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With a powerful presence at the Centre now, the Left parties, which have always opposed communalism and the neo-liberal economic policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance and the previous Congress government, can now hope to influence policy-making and give it a pro-people orientation. In an exclusive interview, West Bengal Chief Minister and party Polit Bureau member Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee spoke to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay about the tasks ahead for the Left and the importance of supporting the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre. Excerpts:

How do you view the fact that the anti-incumbency sentiment has not worked against the ruling Left Front in West Bengal? In fact, the Left Front has added 6 more Lok Sabh seats to its tally. What does this signify?

Many foreign political observers are asking the same question. The point is that every time there is an election - Assembly or parliamentary - we also face the anti-incumbency factor: there is scarcity of drinking water, many villages in our State are not yet electrified and then there is the problem of maintenance of roads. But in spite of that we could withstand anti-incumbency sentiments working against us because of our basic success in implementing radical land reform programmes and our success in stepping up agricultural production. The landless poor, including small and marginal farmers and sharecroppers who benefited from our reforms, constitute 94 per cent of our farmers, and till 70 per cent of the cultivable land in the State. The success of the farmers is our strength. I can humbly claim our rural sector is the most organised if you compare it to any other State. For that reason we could withstand the anti-incumbency factor.

The main issues in this election were mainly national issues - Whether India would stay secular or not. In our State the BJP has very few followers and the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] and its other outfits are not that powerful, and the people of the State could understand the danger of the BJP coming back to power, which would destroy the secular structure of this country. The whole of India would then become another Gujarat. That the people of West Bengal did not like this to happen is one reason why we have got more seats this time. Another reason is that Vajpayee's propaganda of `India Shining' boomeranged on them. Last but not the least, with 70 per cent of the population of the State living in the rural areas, our success there paid off. The Left's margin of victory in the rural constituencies has grown tremendously.

Its also important to note that we have won back a lot of urban seats - Kolkata Northeast, Kolkata Northwest, Jadavpur, Dumdum, Diamond Harbour and others - which had gone to the Opposition earlier.

Does this mean that the Left has finally managed to win over the urban voters in West Bengal?

The composition of urban voters is not homogeneous. This time we could send a message to traders and corporate houses that we are an investment-friendly government. The urban middleclass realised that they could not depend on the Opposition. To them stability in the State is of paramount importance. Most importantly, this time the urban poor voted for us. Earlier, a section of the urban poor had left us to support the [Nationalist] Trinamul Congress; that was very unfortunate, because we represent this section. We have to carry on with the task of eradicating unemployment and poverty in the urban and semi-urban areas.

The mindset of the urban voters towards the Left seems to have changed, especially in the last few years since you assumed the post of Chief Minister. The Bengali `bhadralok' wants to vote for a Left Front led by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Your comments.

I don't think so. It is not a question of `I'. It is a question of `we'. I cannot claim that it is because of me that the urban voters started leaning to the Left. It was a collective effort and our Front could capture the imagination of the urban voters.

Will the economic policies that have succeeded in West Bengal over the last 30 years be incorporated into the Central government's programmes?

Everybody knows the differences between our party's programmes and the Congress' economic policies. We differ on some basic issues also, no doubt. But we are trying to come to a consensus. We are against ruthless disinvestment. Manmohan Singh himself has spoken of reforms with a human face. Public undertakings, unemployment, rural economy are all very important issues for us. Manmohan Singh has praised us highly for our success in agriculture and land reforms. I do not think there will be 100 per cent consensus, but we have to find out a way to work together.

In spite of the fact that the Left has not always seen eye to eye with the Congress on economic policies?

The Congress will also have to do some introspection and find out why their earlier programmes alienated them [from the people]. They have to learn from their past mistakes. We also have to act responsibly and not create a situation that would hamper the stability of this government. We have to keep in mind that the basic condition of supporting this government is to keep the BJP out of power. That is the most important thing.

How optimistic are you about the prospects of the new coalition at the Centre?

We will never allow the BJP to come back to power again, and we will try our best to mobilise all our forces for the stability of this government. The real problem of the country is whether India will stay secular or not; whether the RSS will march forward and the fascist forces will destroy our democracy and secularism. We will have to see to it that they cannot create any problem for this government. On this aspect we sincerely support this government, so that the BJP cannot take any advantage of our differences in economic perception and policies.

The CPI(M) Polit Bureau meeting in Kolkata on May 25 decided to make Somnath Chatterjee the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Why not participate in the government?

Our's is a `symbolic participation'. We want to send the message that we are very much with the United Progressive Alliance. But after discussing at the Central Committee the major issue of whether we should join the government or not, we finally decided not to join. You know we have some differences, basically on economic issues, and so we cannot be a part of the government and would instead support it from outside. But we responded to their request of having the Speaker from our party, and we decided that Somnathda should take over. We are also in the process of developing a mechanism to enable us to monitor the government functioning from outside.

There is hardly any political opposition to the Left Front government in West Bengal today. Do you see a further disintegration of the Opposition with the Left Front getting stronger? Is the absence of a strong Opposition in the Assembly good for democracy?

In a democracy, there is a need for a responsible Opposition party. But things are not moving in that direction in our State. I'm sorry to say the Opposition did not play a responsible role in the last two to three years. All it did was create pandemonium in the Assembly. But I feel that a responsible Opposition is needed not only inside the Assembly but also outside to criticise government failures and also come up with constructive suggestions. That way we can improve our performance and further strengthen democracy.

How do you reconcile the fact that the Left and the Congress, allies at the Centre, are bitter political enemies in the State?

Our main reason to support the Congress at the national level was to remove the BJP from power. We also decided before the election that we will not compromise our position in places where we are strong, notably West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. Just because we are supporting the Congress at the national level does not mean that we are going to allow it to make inroads into our strongholds. But in places where we have very little support or following we had no hesitation in telling people that they should support the Congress to ensure the defeat of the BJP. India is a very big country and therefore formulating tactical lines is not a simple thing. At the national level, there is one line, in States where the Left dominates, another, and in places where the Left is weak, yet another. It is not possible to adopt a straitjacket formula.

Considering the strategic position of West Bengal, you got a sympathetic response from former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani when you spoke about the security concerns of the State. With the change of government at the Centre, what will be your approach?

Certainly. I think the Centre will continue to appreciate the gravity of the situation - the problem of terrorist outfits operating in different parts of the country and particularly in West Bengal. We have to fight them all over the country. In West Bengal there are three major issues that need to be addressed. First, Islamic fundamentalists backed by the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] who are operating from Bangladesh. Another is the People's War Group [PWG], which is operating in certain pockets of Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia. They are taking advantage of the border we share with Jharkhand. When pursued they retreat into Jharkhand. A joint committee of the States concerned was formed to combat this. And as far as the KLO [Kamtapur Liberation Organisation] problem is concerned, after being driven out of Bhutan they have not been able to regroup. But we are still keeping a close watch.

Another aspect that should not be ignored is that we have to speed up socio-economic programmes for rural uplift in these affected areas. Although the majority of the people in these areas support the Left Front, a section comprising mainly young people have been alienated. We have to win over their confidence. I appealed to the KLO youth to give up arms and come back into the mainstream when the crackdown in Bhutan was taking place. That offer still stands.

In tribal dominated areas, where the PWG is active, we have already speeded up some development programmes in the irrigation and health sectors. We are encouraging new forms of livelihood, drawing upon local resources such as Kendu leaves, saal leaves, sabui grass and so on. If we can help these people, then the PWG will not be able to strike roots in our State.

You have completed three years of your first term as Chief Minister. How do you look back on this period?

That the people will decide (smiles). But I am trying my best to consolidate our success in agriculture and the rural economy. I am trying to attract further investments into the State and new investments are coming in different sectors like iron and steel, chemicals, plastics, agro business and, of course, information technology. I am trying to improve the quality of education from the primary to the higher levels. We have developed a big network in our health service. We cater to 70 per cent of the population of the State. Perhaps no other State has taken up so much responsibility in this sector.

But we have to improve health administration and hospital infrastructure. I try to motivate our employees to be punctual and to perform. How far I have succeeded people will judge. Nobody can be his own judge (smiles).

A backlash in Kerala

A development vision that has set aside the objective of social justice and concentrated on making Kerala a private capital-friendly State takes a beating in the general elections.

in Thiruvananthapuram

AS luck would have it, the third anniversary of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government in Kerala came within a week of its shocking electoral debacle.

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In the elections to the 20 Lok Sabha seats held on May 10, the Congress failed to win even a single seat, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) lost one of its only two stronghold seats in north Kerala, one of the constituents of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance won its first ever seat in the State and the Opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) scored a historic 18-seat triumph. Chief Minister A.K. Antony, the man who led the UDF election campaign by embarking on a north-to-south election road show, the leader who authored the UDF's 100-seat (out of a total 140 seats) victory in the Assembly elections through a similar poll-eve journey, failed completely to catch the imagination of the people this time.

Yet, anniversaries normally are occasions for a State government to celebrate its `shining' achievements. But organising such a celebration on May 17, after the verdict blew on its face, would have been too embarrassing and the UDF government chose to ignore the occasion. While the Chief Minister spent the anniversary week in New Delhi for no apparent reason, his friends and foes in the State within and outside the party were busy discussing the future of an administration under him and the possibility of his stepping down or his removal from the post by the Congress high command. The only UDF politician still sparring was Antony's evergreen party foe K. Karunakaran.

Kerala had emphatically rejected Karunakaran's dynastic ambitions too. His children, Padmaja Venugopal, who sought a Lok Sabha seat from Mukundapuram and K. Muraleedharan, who had become the Electricity Minister recently in the hope of winning an Assembly byelection from Vadakkancherry, were defeated. Both got seats as part of an election-eve ceasefire formula worked out within the faction-ridden State Congress. Strangely, it was Karunakaran's children alone who were fully behind Antony after the Congress rout in the elections. Other party leaders were demanding a change in his style of functioning and policies or his removal from leadership.

APART from the aversion of the State's voters to the absurd factional power game within the State Congress and the alienation of the prominent minority communities from the UDF, there is a flip side to the stunning verdict against the Antony government in Kerala. It assumed office in May 2001 selling the dream of a drastic transformation of the State's economy through a categorical negation of the policies pursued by the previous Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government. But from its initial days in power, the inability of the Antony administration to rise up to this task and the impact of its new policies and reforms, implemented under the directive of international donor agencies or in the name of "unavoidable" policies of privatisation and liberalisation, began to alienate the people from the government.

In a State with the highest rate of unemployment in the country, the Antony government's first action was to declare a moratorium on new recruitments and creation of posts and to cut employee emoluments through a series of measures. The move virtually paralysed governance in its initial months in power when the State government employees' unions launched an indefinite strike to protest against the government decision.

Its flagship event to boost the sagging State economy, the Global Investor Meet (GIM) held in Kochi in January 2003, meant to throw the doors open for large-scale private investment in Kerala and which promised to bring in investments worth Rs.50,000 crores, proved to be hogwash. Kerala soon became a "graveyard of MoUs", the words of warning given by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh at the inauguration of the GIM. GIM also turned out to be a "confidence trick", "a mela of vested interests detrimental to the State's development interests", as Opposition Leader V.S. Achuthanandan described it later. In the days that followed, the Opposition could effectively put the UDF in the dock for big-time corruption and for trying to sell off public resources including government land, buildings, sea-sand and water from the State's rivers.

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In three years, the economic policies of the UDF government proved to be the curse of the underprivileged sections of society, including Kerala's 10 million farmers and agricultural workers, lakhs of labourers who lost their jobs in the traditional and plantation sectors, struggling under the weight of falling prices and wages and neo-liberal policies. The State's employment situation remained bleak with the government failing to create sufficient number of permanent job opportunities. The new policy of pampering investors and providing concessions to them came unstuck, and also proved costly in social and environmental terms. In three years, the gap between the haves and have-nots in the State widened and the new thrust towards privatisation of education and health sectors began to affect even its acclaimed human development achievements. The rights of labour, achieved through long years of struggle, too were undermined.

Perhaps the State's small farmers were the worst affected lot. Removal of quantitative restrictions on imports resulted in a drastic fall in the prices of agricultural commodities. The withdrawal of input subsidies and low investment in infrastructure had serious consequences for Kerala's farmers, mostly committed to perennial crops and hence at the mercy of the highly volatile international markets. The State, which has a substantial share in the plantation crops of rubber, tea, coffee and cardamom, with nearly 14 lakh families dependent on them, has been facing the threat of unbridled inflow of these commodities as a result of the removal of import restrictions under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) regime.

The government could hardly do anything to help the farmers when, as the Lok Sabha elections neared, Kerala reeled under the worst drought it had faced in recent times. All over the State, farmers, affected by the sharp fall in income and spiralling debt burden, demanded relief and support. But the Antony government failed even to ensure that the State received its due share of irrigation water under the inter-State agreements on sharing river waters. Nearly 30 farmers committed suicide all over the State in the two months just before the elections. When the government finally announced some relief, as elections came close, it was described as "too little, too late" by the farmers.

THE Antony government could not offer solace to the 40 lakh workers employed in the traditional sector. For example, in the coir sector, the nearly four lakh workers, about 75 per cent of them women, were pushed further into poverty though the sector itself was growing, with increasing global demand for natural fibres. In the cashew sector, liberalisation policies have been instrumental in destroying labour unity and rights attained through years of struggle. In the first 35 months of the Antony government, according to Opposition leaders, the 30,000 workers in the public sector Cashew Development Corporation were provided work for a mere 17 days. Government investment in the handloom sector fell sharply, thereby gradually destroying its ability to compete in the international market. In the fisheries sector, which has the largest section of people living in poverty after those in the tribal areas, the export-oriented policies of the State and Central governments, the permission granted to foreign trawlers for deep sea fishing, the reduction in the quantity of kerosene supplied through the public distribution system (PDS), the fall in fish catch because of extensive environmental damage and the rise in cost of fishing have increased the woes of fisherfolk.

Of the 59 public sector industrial units wholly owned by the State government, nearly a dozen are inactive, liquidation proceedings have been initiated in five and 56 have been categorised as loss-making. Kerala has one of the largest number of sick units in the registered small scale sector. In the Kerala State Electricity Board and the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation, the public sector enterprises employing the largest workforce in the State, employee resentment was growing owing to privatisation policies. Water and power tariffs were hiked and the government was slowly withdrawing from the responsibility of providing drinking water in many local bodies.

Since the UDF government came to power, electricity tariff was increased three times, causing much resentment and protest. Against its promise of increasing electricity production by 1,200 MW, a mere 12.5 MW was produced additionally. The State has also seen a reduction in welfare investment and the rise of the private sector in key areas of health and education. Service charges and fee for education, especially in the mushrooming self-financing education sector, took education beyond the reach of the common people. New guidelines for assessing poverty removed a large disadvantaged section of the State's population from several government programmes, the rationing system and concessional medical and educational facilities. One of the most effective PDS in the country was thoroughly weakened after the introduction of targeted PDS and new norms for assessing `poverty'. Currently, the PDS prices and open market prices of basic foodgrain and fuel are almost equal. This is a significant blow to Kerala, which imports more than 70 per cent of its foodgrain from other States and where 97 per cent of the population is covered by the PDS.

But like other southern State governments, the Antony government too chose to ignore or could not respond properly to the widespread concerns expressed on these counts and others and stuck to its view that the mechanism of growth was powered by privatisation and liberalisation and that social justice was perhaps an objective that could be achieved separately. It had an apologetic rationale for organising the GIM as it had for seeking financial assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) under conditionalities that were criticised by the Opposition parties as being "anti-poor and serving the interests of the local elite and transnational players at the cost of local labour, capacity, resources and industry".

During the early days of his government, still enjoying the euphoria of the 100-seat victory in 2001, Antony had declared: "The government is helpless. It has no money. Government revenue is not enough even to meet its own expenditure or pay the salaries of government employees. The government can no longer be a big employment agency. It will be a disservice to the people if the government continues to cling to the old and resist change. Kerala has no other go but to seek private investment like the other States. Until now Kerala has failed to find itself a place in the list of investment destinations in south India, which are attractive to domestic or foreign private capital. This situation has to change. The government has to become a catalyst that encourages private capital, to prevent Kerala from continuing to be the State with the largest number of educated unemployed in India."

The results of the Lok Sabha elections in Kerala is as much a vote against the state of affairs in the State Congress and the ruling UDF as it is against Antony and his government which failed so comprehensively to deliver. The victories of the LDF candidates in constituencies comprising the Wayanad and Idukki districts where the crisis in the farm and plantation sectors has been acutely felt, in Chirayinkeezhu and Kollam, known for their traditional industries, and in the Ernakulam industrial district can be attributed to this. No wonder, the argument of the LDF that higher economic growth can be achieved only through an activation of the productive capacities and demands of the poorer sections of the population, especially in the rural areas, and that this requires egalitarian redistribution of assets, seems an attractive agenda in the State.

EMPIRE'S NIGHTMARE

AIJAZ AHMAD the-nation

The Iraqi people have risen in glorious defiance, forcing the United States itself into a crisis, pinning down the world's most awesome military machine, creating a full-scale cleavage in the European state system, and setting an example for the Third World that even a full-scale military occupation can be resisted and fought back by a people who have suffered some 15 years of the most brutal aggression.

WHEN the British occupied Iraq at the end of the First World War, some 80 years ago, they too had claimed to be liberating the country from tyranny - "Turkish tyranny," it was then called - and restoring sovereignty and civilisation to Iraq. They devised a Hashemite monarchy to embody that "sovereignty", hired a bunch of notables to provide an Arab facade for British occupation, confected an army under officers of their choice, handed over the country's oil resources to their own companies, and carried on with a ruthless colonial rule over and above the facade. The modern Iraqi nation was born in the course of the anti-colonial, anti-monarchical resistance, which lasted until 1958, when the monarchy was overthrown and a secular, multi-ethnic, independent state was proclaimed and the remaining vestiges of colonial rule dismantled. In this second round of colonisation, undertaken by the United States with the British bringing up the rear, the process is unlikely to take that long. The imperial dream is already turning into a full-fledged nightmare.

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The coalition itself is tottering. Barely a year after Bush had announced "victory" in Iraq, Jose Maria Aznar, the Spanish Prime Minister who was Bush's closest ally in continental Europe, lost the national elections by a wide margin on the single issue of having sent Spanish troops to Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition, and Jose Luis Rodrigus Zapatero, the Socialist Prime Minister who succeeded him, promptly announced that he will withdraw the troops. Indeed, the very last Spanish troops are leaving Iraqi soil as I begin to draft this article. The Spanish announcement of withdrawal was followed by similar decisions by weak little countries that had been pressed by the U.S. into service: Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Kazakhstan. Bulgarian and South Korean troops were pulled back to their bases, and New Zealand said it was withdrawing its engineers. Similar noises are emanating from El Salvador, Norway, the Netherlands and Thailand.

In India, some of the luminaries of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had wanted to send a contingent of Indian troops on the side of the U.S. but the widespread dismay in the country prevented them from doing so, and they kept hoping that the United Nations (U.N.) would provide the U.S. with some kind of a fig leaf and Indian troops could then be despatched as part of an international `peacekeeping' force. Now, with the overthrow of the BJP-led government, the new External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh spoke at length in his very first press conference of his intent to revive the close links that India historically had with the Muslim country (during what Jaswant Singh during his fraternal visit to Israel had described as "the lost decades", that is, the years of India's independent foreign policy). Now, with the defeat of the communal forces, one hears again of Panch Sheel and non-alignment.

In Britain, the most loyal of the U.S. allies, Tony Blair faces the possibility of going the way of Aznar. His current popularity ratings are the lowest since he first became Prime Minister some eight years ago. The Labour Party faces the choice of either getting rid of him before the elections and electing a new leader not directly tainted with the crimes of Iraq, or probably losing the next elections. In an extraordinary letter addressed to Blair in the last week of April, more than 50 former British Ambassadors declared that "time has come to make our anxieties public", and focussed their anxieties on the two issues of Palestine and Iraq. The letter says, in part:

"... the international community is now been confronted with the announcement by Ariel Sharon and President Bush of new policies which are one-sided and illegal... you yourself seem to have endorsed it, abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to promote peace in the Holy Land ... . This abandonment of principle comes at a time when rightly or wrongly we are portrayed throughout the Arab and Muslim world as partners in an illegal and brutal occupation in Iraq. The conduct of the war in Iraq has made it clear that there was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement. All those with experience of the area predicted that the occupation of Iraq by the coalition forces would meet serious and stubborn resistance, as has proved to be the case. To describe the resistance as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful."

Similar dissidence has been brewing in the U.S. as well, where Bush too, like Blair in Britain, is facing the lowest popularity ratings since he became President - and this, when the presidential election is less than six months away. Before the invasion of Iraq began, Britain had already witnessed something of a mutiny by about a third of the Labour Members of Parliament. And Liberal Democrats have always been opposed to the invasion, even though not as strongly as they should have been, but there was no visible dissent in the armed forces. In the U.S., by contrast, virtually the whole of Congress had stood firmly behind Bush, with some honourable exceptions such as Senators Robert Bird and Edward Kennedy. However, scepticism ran deep among many professions of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the State Department and even the armed forces, to the extent that the then Chief of the Army Staff had made it known that he disapproved of Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld's plan and thought and, that the U.S. would eventually have to commit "several hundred thousand troops" for the kind of war of occupation it was contemplating. Many high officials of the CIA were telling journalists that Rumsfeld and his gang had simply overruled information and advice offered by the professions and had created within the Pentagon an intelligence agency of its own which was designed to produce evidence that would justify invasion. That dissension seems now to be coming to a head, after hundreds of photographs have been shown to members of Congress which prove that torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers is not an exception but quite the norm. Excellent reports on the question of torture which have appeared in such influential publications as New Yorker and Newsweek seem to rely heavily on extensive background briefings by highly placed officials who are explaining how Rumsfeld and his closest aides in fact put in place the whole apparatus of systematic torture over a period of two years.

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Some sense of this deepening disquiet even among the U.S. soldiery comes through, for example, in an editorial that appeared in an in-house journal, ArmyTimes, on May 17, 2004. It says, in part:

"A failure of leadership at the highest levels while responsibility begins with the six soldiers facing criminal charges, it extends all the way up the chain of command to the highest reaches of the military hierarchy and its civilian leadership. The entire affair is a failure of leadership from start to finish. From the moment they are captured, prisoners are hooded, shackled and isolated. The message to the troops: Anything goes... . In addition to the scores of prisoners who were humiliated and demeaned, at least 14 have died in custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army has ruled at least two of those homicides. This is not the way a free people keeps its captives or wins the hearts and minds of a suspicious world... . Army commanders in Iraq bear responsibility for running a prison where there was no legal adviser to the commander, and no ultimate responsibility taken for the care and treatment of the prisoners."

The Washington Post

"Deep divisions are emerging at the top of the U.S. military over the course of the occupation of Iraq, with some senior officers beginning to say that the United States faces the prospect of casualties for years without achieving its goal of establishing a free and democratic Iraq... . Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, `I think strategically, we are.' ... Army Col. Paul Hughes, who last year was the first director of strategic planning for the U.S. occupation authority in Baghdad, said he agrees with that view and noted that a pattern of winning battles while losing a war characterised the U.S. failure in Vietnam."

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On the civilian side, Admiral David Nash, who oversees the distribution of reconstruction contracts, reported that there are days when as many as 75 per cent of the Iraqis employed by the occupation authorities just do not report to work. With unemployment rate running at 50 per cent of the labour force, many Iraqis are forced by hunger and destitution to take up work for the Americans but then stay away from work thanks a whole range of motivations, from patriotic hatred of the occupier to the sense of insecurity that comes from working for an authority itself under attack. For, no place in Iraq is safe for the Americans and their collaborators.

The resistance has now spread to virtually all parts of the country and the freedom fighters seem able to attack any and all targets: pipelines, moving military vehicles and convoys, encampments, even the headquarters of the so-called Coalition Provisional Authority which is in fact the current colonial government in Iraq. Some 1,500 foreign contractors are said to have fled the country and even major transnationals like General Electric have stopped work on most of their projects.

Many of those who had come to supervise what they thought was going to be Iraq's smooth transition to a free market economy and a safe haven for foreign capital have relocated their offices to Amman. Disaffection within the U.S. armed forces seems to be escalating. Soldiers who had come under the impression that they were going to be greeted with garlands by those whom they were going to "liberate" find themselves constantly under attack, and the tour of duty that was supposed to last merely few weeks now seems endless, after full 15 months of occupation. Among those who have returned to the U.S., more and more are beginning to speak up about what they saw and did, as indicated by the editorial in ArmyTimes.

What, then, about the collaborators? Izzadine Saleem, the chairman of the Iraqi Governing Council, the puppet group the Americans have confected, was killed in an ambush while his car was waiting to get into the so-called "Green Zone" which serves as the headquarter of the occupation forces. A couple of days later, the so-called "defence minister", an appointee of the Americans, barely escaped an ambush. Nor is this lack of deep hatred of, and lack of security for, some of the key collaborators the only sign of disarray and disquiet at the top. Four members of that same Governing Council resigned their posts in disagreement over the brutal nature of the U.S. operation in Falluja which, according to medical sources, killed upward of 600 civilians. The most bizarre case, however, is that of Ahmed Chalabi, the convicted criminal who had been hand-picked by the Pentagon hawks as the man fit to run Iraq for them.

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Chalabi is a scion of a family perhaps the richest in Iraq in the days of the monarchy but which then lost some of its wealth after the anti-monarchical revolution, departing then to settle in Britain. After a chequered career, Chalabi had eventually shown up in Jordan where he set up the once highly successful Petra Bank but then had to flee the country when criminal charges were brought against him. He was tried and sentenced in absentia to a prison term of 27 years on 31 charges of embezzlement, theft, currency speculation and so on. Later, he showed up in the U.S., sensed that the U.S. was willing to spend a lot of money on Iraqi, particularly Shia, opponents of Saddam Hussein, created an outfit called the Iraqi National Congress, went on the CIA payroll which is said to have steadily given him a purse to the tune of $340,000 a month - a total of $27 million over the years, it is said. In time, he wormed himself into the affections of the group of the far-right hawks who currently run the Pentagon and supplied them with the "defectors" - imposters, all of them - who supplied them with all the - false - information about Saddam's nuclear weapons programmes, weapons of mass destruction and so on, which was touted as the reason for the invasion. After the occupation, he was flown in and he was the one who assembled the several hundred paid agents who pranced around in front of the cameras of the BBC, CNN and so on, while Saddam's statue was brought down and a scene of jubilant Iraqis had to be staged. He was then appointed to the Governing Council where he took over the finance committee and saw to it that he was the one who got the bulk of Saddam Hussein's secret files.

That seems to have been the first thing that made the occupiers uneasy, since those files contain a lot of incriminating evidence of the U.S. and British collaboration with Saddam Hussein, even to the extent of supplying him with the technical means to produce chemical and biological weapons. That the so-called `information' he and his friends had supplied turned out to be so completely false, and no weapons of mass destruction were to be found, was the second irritant.

As an illustrious member of the Governing Council, he placed several of his relatives and lieutenants in key positions in the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Commerce, the Central Bank and other key posts. But then he also did two other things that seem to have offended the authorities. First, it was chiefly on his advice that Paul Bremer, the U.S. pro-consul in Iraq, disbanded the Iraqi army and police while also dismissing tens of thousands of state employees on the pretext of "de-Baathification" of Iraq. This one move cost jobs to hundreds of thousands, inflicted economic hardships on their families, and fuelled mass anger, while leaving the occupying authorities no personnel with which to tackle law and order issues.

Bremer eventually came to believe that this advice was as misguided as the "information" Chalabi generated for Rumsfeld was false. (Whether or not the U.S. could have elicited loyalty from that army, police and civil service is another question altogether.) Bremer seems to have come to believe that Chalabi - having been sentenced for high crimes in Jordan, having fed false information to the Pentagon, having been paid $27 million of the U.S. money, having offered wrong-headed advice to Bremer himself - was perhaps not quite the star he was supposed to have been, and was perhaps even a liability. There is reason to believe that Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. envoy who is helping the U.S. in putting together a new group of clients to whom "sovereignty" is to be transferred on June 30, was thinking of sidelining Chalabi in the new dispensation.

However, what seems to have led to the parting of the ways is that once he had established himself in Baghdad, and witnessing the drift of events, Chalabi well understood that new power centres were developing among the Shias, supposedly friendly toward the Americans, which would be key elements in the power structures that would eventually arise after the Americans have done all their damage. And he started opening his own independent channels with those dissident elements, possibly including Muqtada al-Sadr against whom the U.S. is currently fighting in the holiest of Shia cities, notably Najaf. Meanwhile, Chalabi was also getting closer to the more hardline faction in Iran and was attempting to emerge as one of their clients; he had certainly received a very warm welcome in Tehran. It is possible that he too had sensed that his days with the Americans were now numbered and he should think of a different power base and look for new sponsors. Joining up with the Shia resistance and becoming a full-time client of Tehran was certainly an option. Thus it came to pass that, on the morning of May 20, American troops surrounded Ahmed Chalabi's headquarters and home in Baghdad, put a gun to his head, arrested two of his aides, and confiscated huge piles of documents. In the process, they also invaded the headquarters of the very Governing Council they had devised and confiscated more documents there.

Chalabi's own future does not interest us here. The point is that the elaborate game the U.S. has been playing with its Coalition Provisional Authority and its Iraqi Governing Council for a year or so is already in complete shambles. Little of it now exists, and they have to find a completely new, different set of clients. That is the secret behind the American insistence on the charade that is to happen on June 30 when Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. envoy who staged the Loya Jirga in Afghanistan and imposed the Karzai dispensation there - in the name of the Security Council, the international community, and the rest - is to produce a whole new set of faces to continue the job in a "transfer of sovereignty" that will leave the whole of the occupation force in place, beyond even the whiff of any control by the new "sovereign", and will also leave in place all the laws enacted by the U.S. which the new Iraqi "sovereign" shall have no authority to change in any manner; indeed, this "sovereign" shall have no authority to either make or alter any laws, or to change the tenure of the vast array of officials and advisors who will have been appointed by the US for the coming many years.

Baghdad now has the largest CIA station the world has seen since the fall of Saigon in 1975. The Embassy will have 1,300 U.S. officials and at least 1,500 Iraqi employees. It will be so sprawling that it will have three officials of ambassadorial rank, with John Negroponte, who supervised the "contra" invasion of Nicaragua from El Salvador, as the presiding deity.

NO Iraqi - or any other court outside the U.S. - shall have the jurisdiction to try any American for anything he or she might have done in Iraq, no matter how criminal their act. The Americans shall be not just above the law; they shall be the law. It is in this setting that the Security Council is currently in session, considering for adoption a resolution drafted by the U.S. which makes the U.N. a party to all this, with perhaps some minor modifications here and there. Even by the wording of this resolution, which seeks the U.N. to take up a direct role in policing Iraq and seeks a "peacekeeping force" under the U.N. flag, the U.S. shall retain all authority and the "peacekeeping force" shall be under its command.

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France seems to be the only major power deeply opposed to this arrangement. Whether or not it will use its veto power to scuttle the plan is unclear. Kofi Annan appears to be in a dilemma. He desperately wants to have a piece of the show but also knows that, thanks to the U.N.-imposed sanctions which ravaged the Iraqi population for over a decade, the U.N. remains a deeply hated entity in Iraq and will be attacked with great relish. So, he takes the absurd position that the U.N. personnel will go in only if the occupying power, in essence the U.S., shall guarantee security for the personnel, unmindful of the fact that getting seen in the company of the U.S. troops is certainly the most dangerous thing one could do in today's Iraq.

As for the photographs and other evidence of the most harrowing kinds of torture that U.S. troops in particular, but also the British to a lesser degree, have been conducting in the prisons in Iraq, so much has already been splashed, so sensationally, in the press around the world that one may skip the details and simply make a few points of substance. First, too great a concentration on the issue of the most extreme forms of torture involves the risk of neglecting the vast system of routine abuse, which takes extreme form in those particular photographs. Second, only the victims are new, the system is not; colonising armies have always done it, and what the Americans are doing today in Iraq does not yet match the scale on which all of this was done in Iraq.

The extremity of such torture is an index of the powerlessness of the powerful; the desperation of the victor in the midst of a defeat. We know from extensive investigative reporting in the U.S. media itself that authorisation for this kind of "interrogation" - not every single action but the general practice - came from the highest authorities in the U.S., including President Bush, and that the legal consul to the white house wrote in a memo addressed to Bush that he himself had said that the global war against terror was a new kind of war, and, logically therefore, laws such as the Geneva Conventions which were designed for older kinds of warfare no longer applied. The jubilant little American torturer inside the Abu Ghraib prison is simply the other side of the face of President George W. Bush, not to speak of his minions. Extremities of this kind only proves that the guerrilla has won, and the imperial masters know it.

FROM the very beginning, resistance has taken two distinct forms which have for the most part remained distinct but have also overlapped at important points. There is the overflowing of political resistance in the form of demonstrations, newspapers, leaflets, public speeches, sermons in holy places, and so on. And, alongside this non-combatant, peaceful resistance which mobilises public opinion against foreign occupation, armed actions by small groups also began emerging within the first three months of the occupation. In the beginning, the armed resistance was confined to a relatively small area comprised of districts mainly to the north of Baghdad itself whereas the political resistance comprised of mass mobilisations was from the beginning spread over vast areas of the country, as much in the north as in the south and the east, involving both of the major Islamic denominations in Iraq, namely the Shia as well as the Sunni.

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In both cases, the outstanding feature of the political resistance as well as of the armed combat has been its extreme decentralisation. As months passed, two shifts became discernible. One was that even as the occupiers kept talking about "remnants" and "small groups" of "Saddam loyalists" making a last-ditch stand even as most Iraqi were said to be enthusiastic supporters of the American masters, the territorial expanse where direct combat was taking place as well as the frequency of attacks by the Iraqi resistance kept widening and increasing, while the capture of Saddam Hussein, which was supposed to have ended all resistance by these so-called "loyalists", in fact, made no difference to the expansion of the resistance and the increasing ferocity of the armed confrontations.

The second major shift over the months was that while attacks in the early months were essentially hit-and-run operations by very small groups, battles became increasingly more intense, involving larger groups, very frequently in densely populated urban areas with attackers enjoying visible widespread support among the immediate populace. Geographically, the resistance was now spread over most of the national territory, across the respective regions with the Arab-Sunni, or the Shia, or the Kurdish concentrations. Hit-and-run operations were now increasingly combined with more recognisable forms of urban warfare, much larger sections of the urban population were now more actively and visibly sympathetic toward the arms resistance, combat was correspondingly more concentrated in cities and towns than in the outlying areas of the countryside and the desert, and there was much greater propensity now on the part of the resistance forces to take over and hold for varying durations of time specific towns and/or parts of larger cities. The nation was occupied but fast becoming altogether ungovernable.

Bush made his arrogant, premature announcement of "victory" in May 2003. Eleven months later, in the first week of April 2004, Iraqi resistance first took on the proportions of a something resembling a national uprising, as battles broke out simultaneously in a large number of cities, including Baghdad, Basra, Falluja, Ramadi, Najaf, Nasiriyah, Amarah, Kirkuk and so on. In the interim, the U.S. acted on the assumption that appointing a government of clients and direct takeover of Iraq's vast economic assets would be as easy as the military occupation of the country had been, and it only needed to "mop up" the few disgruntled elements ("remnants" of the "Saddam regime," as it called them) who dared to put up a fight. This "mopping up" was to be carried out with enormous brutality, so as to also terrorise the rest of the populace into submission. As the resistance spread, the level of brutality also increased, which in turn united more and more people in solidarity with the forces of resistance.

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By April 2004, the U.S. took three steps, which may eventually go down in the history of this war as the ones that decisively shifted the balance of moral force in favour of the occupied. First, it laid siege to the city of the predominantly Sunni city of Falluja when forces of resistance there killed some mercenaries working for U.S. contractors, on the pretext that it was a stronghold of "Saddam loyalists" who needed to be taught a tough and perhaps final lesson. Now, Falluja has certainly been a centre of anti-imperialist resistance since the U.S. occupation but the idea that all Iraq Sunnis are "Saddam loyalists" is a pathetic figment of the American imagination. Falluja is in fact a centre of the Wahabbi variant of Islamic fundamentalism and its religious elite have a rich history of persecution by the stridently secular Saddam regime; it is a centre of anti-American resistance not out of any love for Saddam but out of hatred for foreign, colonial occupation. The extraordinarily brutal American siege - killing at least 600 people - not only united the city against them but also brought forth an extraordinary wave of solidarity with the city elsewhere in Iraq; convoys of people came with food and medicine for their besieged compatriots, and countless shopkeepers in Baghdad itself were reported to be collecting money for their compatriots in Falluja. Belatedly, the Americans requested a ceasefire. Outgunned militarily, the city won in the moral realm.

Falluja was said to be anti-American because it was Sunni. Shias, by contrast, were supposedly friends of the U.S. That was the American fantasy. Just as they were laying siege to Falluja, the Shia sections of Baghdad erupted in a rebellion so intense that the U.S. was forced to use the Apache helicopter-gunships to put it down, on the pretext that they were "containing" the "terrorists" loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, whom Paul Bremer had declared an "outlaw". Indeed, the U.S. has issued arrest warrants for al-Sadr and tends to portray him as a "firebrand" and a minor cleric whose militia is something of a minor irritant. Nothing could be farther than the truth.

Muqtada al-Sadr is the nephew of the greatly revered religious figure, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who had been assassinated by Saddam Hussein and whose mantle the nephew has inherited. Muqtada is said to command a militia of some 10,000 devotees, the direct allegiance of several hundred thousand and may be respected by as many as perhaps a third of the Iraqi Shia - which comes to the total of about a fifth of the Iraqi population. Transnationally, his uncle was the mentor of Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, generally considered the founder of the Lebanese Shia organisation Hezbollah, which fought against the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon for 18 years and finally succeeded in driving away the occupiers - the only time in history that Israel has been forced by military means to relinquish the territory it has occupied. Any prolonged confrontation between the U.S. and the young Muqtada is likely to unite the more militant sections of the Shia across West Asia, in their hundreds of thousands, behind Muqtada and would consequently put enormous pressure on the more sedate and senior Shia clerics, such as Ayatollah al-Sistani, to adopt a harder posture against the U.S. if they are not to lose substantial sections of their own following. According to polls carried out by the Americans themselves, only 2 per cent of the Iraqis were staunch supporters of Muqtada three months ago, but more than 50 per cent now support him, half of them strongly.

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U.S. propaganda speaks constantly of an impending "civil war" between Shias and Sunnis in Iraq. In reality, no Iraqi is yet on record preaching communal strife between Shias and Sunnis. The earliest demonstrations in Baghadad after the U.S. occupation were deliberately organised as united Sunni-Shia demonstrations, the first spectacular one taking off from in front of a Sunni mosque and including large numbers of Shias from the poorer neighbourhoods of Baghdad. The simultaneous uprisings of the Sunnis in the north and the of the Shias in the south in April 2004 is in keeping with these early trends which have just become stronger; during this very uprising, the U.S.-appointed officials were evicted out of Sadr city, the vast Shia section of Baghdad named after Muqtada's uncle, by a combined force of Shias and Sunnis that is said to have included very few members of Muqtada's militia, the Jaish-e-Mahdi. The U.S has sought to create a communal divide between Shias and Sunnis in Iraq even as it oppresses the nation as a whole; in reality, no such communal divide has existed in Iraq historically, and oppression of the nation as a whole has only served to bring members of the two sects together in something of a national alliance against the foreign occupiers.

THE world, the Third World in particular, owes the Iraqi Resistance an immense debt of gratitude. The existence of the Soviet Union and the support it offered to national liberation struggles was a great contributing factor in the very large numbers of such struggles that erupted throughout the world after the Bolshevik Revolution. The wars of national liberation in countries of Indochina, in the Portuguese colonies in Africa, as well as revolutions in such countries as Cuba and Southern Yemen would have been inconceivable without that pole of resistance against imperialism, the U.S. imperialism in particular. Even policies of non-alignment and relatively independent development that were followed in diverse countries in the Third World, including such countries as India or Egypt or Iraq itself, presumed that alternative pole of support. The dissolution of the Soviet Union led to enormous despondency throughout the world, with a widespread sense that imperialism was now invincible. The Sandinistas in Nicaragua had to beat a retreat, and the anti-apartheid forces in South Africa, sustained so much by the Soviet Union, were forced to make a compromise with imperialism as they won the war locally but lost the great ally that the Soviet Union had been.

The U.S. launched its war on Iraq with the confidence that a poor Third World country now had no choice but to submit to its dictates, and the occupation of Iraq was to serve as an example to every Third World country as a demonstration of what could be done to it if it dared to defy. The Iraqi people have risen in glorious defiance, forcing the U.S. itself into a crisis, pinning down the world's most awesome military machine, creating a full-scale cleavage in the European state system, and setting an example for the Third World that even a full-scale military occupation can be resisted and fought back by a people who have suffered some 15 years of the most brutal aggression.

The U.S.-U.K. alliance had thought that the demise of the Soviet Union had ushered in an era where colonial occupation would yet again be the order of the day. The people of Iraq have shown that even in this era, when revolutions of the working class have suffered a historic setback, war of national liberation remains on the agenda. Indeed, people's wars against imperialism shall be the motor force of the history of the 21st century until such time as the anti-imperialist revolution gets transformed into revolutions against capitalism itself and the transition to socialism is resumed on the global scale.

`Reforms cannot be a dogma'

cover-story

Interview with Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.

Congress workers from every section of society throng the Andhra Pradesh Secretariat eager to meet Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, popularly known as YSR. Having led the party from the front, he is clearly the hero of the Congress' spectacular electoral triumph. His master stroke was the 1,500 km-long padayatra that he undertook across Andhra Pradesh in May 2003, well before elections were announced. The medical doctor-turned-politician who hails from the Rayalaseema region was instrumental in focussing attention on the plight of farmers in the State. It is widely believed that the Congress campaign succeeded because it struck a chord with the mass of peasantry, which still remains mired in an unprecedented crisis, exemplified by the spate of suicides by farmers in the State.

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Soon after assuming office, Rajasekhara Reddy got on with the task of implementing the electoral promises made by the Congress. His first act, soon after taking oath, was to waive the electricity dues of farmers and to provide free power to farmers in the State. Although he believes that his predecessor, N. Chandrababu Naidu, has ruined State finances, he said that his first priority is to provide support to farmers in distress. Speaking to V. Sridhar soon after attending a Cabinet sub-committee meeting to discuss the suicide by farmers, he listed the government's priorities, problems and tasks. Excerpts:

During your campaign you highlighted the extreme distress of large sections of the people. How do the issues, particularly those related to the agrarian crisis, fit into your priorities now?

Our priorities will be the following: Agriculture, rural development, irrigation, industry, power and employment. We are not against industry. Nor are we against IT [information technology] or biotechnology. Basically, it is a matter of fact that in 1993-94 agriculture contributed 26 per cent of the State's gross domestic product (GDP). And, 67 per cent of the people in the State depended on this sector for their livelihood. In 2003-04, agriculture contributed only 13 per cent of the State's GDP. This is the reason behind so many farmers' suicides in the State.

It appears that the government has to provide immediate relief to farmers. But long-term measures may also be needed to tackle the problem. What steps are you planning to prevent suicide by farmers?

On every front we are doing everything that is possible. Immediately after coming to power we kept our promise of providing free power to farmers. We also kept our promise to waive almost Rs.1,200 crores dues from farmers for power. We are planning some strong proactive measures. Most of the suicides are because of failed irrigation systems, mainly because of the non-completion of projects. In the next five years, we plan to spend Rs.36,000 crores on such projects. These will extend irrigation to 65 lakh acres. These measures will also stabilise another 20 lakh acres which are already under irrigation.

How do you plan to mobilise the funds for these projects, the power subsidies and other measures?

We will need about Rs.46,000 crores for these measures. We will definitely be able to mobilise the funds. We are already in the process of doing this. Last year, the State government spent just Rs.900 crores on major irrigation works. The average annual expenditure on the measures I mentioned works out to about Rs.9,200 crores over the next five years. Where is Rs.900 crores and where is Rs.9,200 crores? We have already started making efforts to mobilise these funds. I am sure we will be able to provide at least Rs.6,000 crores to Rs.7,000 crores this year for these measures.

We have almost finalised a loan of Rs.2,000 crores from the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC). Despite the serious debt burden, Andhra Pradesh has never failed in its (repayment) commitments. And, we are clear that all the money we borrow will only go to finance projects, mostly irrigation-related. This means that the impact will only be on the fiscal deficit, not the revenue deficit. We will try and correct the revenue deficit. The State has a revenue deficit of almost Rs.3,000 crores. Our objective is to substantially reduce this.

At least seven to eight districts are in the rain shadow area. These constitute almost 30 per cent of the State's area. We are planning to create extensive bio-diesel plants in these areas. This will change the ecology of the area. We are also planning extensive micro-irrigation (drip irrigation) systems in these areas. For all these we need money. We intend to make sure that every paisa that we borrow goes into activities that promote development. We intend to involve oil companies such as Indian Oil Corporation and Reliance Petroleum in these projects. We plan to bring about 40 to 50 lakh acres under such plants in the next three to four years.

In the run-up to the elections you promised to review several projects, particularly the power-related ones. How far will you go on this issue? The issue is significant because it has a bearing on how much the government will be able to save so that it can cover the deficit on account of providing free power to farmers...

Oh! Yes we will review these projects. In the next three to four weeks you will see the results.

How many power purchase agreements (PPAs) are under review?

Three PPAs are being reviewed. A review of these three will enable us to cut costs substantially. The Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) of India pointed out that the costs were too high. The CAG said that two PPAs signed by the government with Spectrum Power and the GVK Group were costlier by at least Rs.200 crores when compared to other power generation projects. Since I assumed office, some of these managements are ready to scale down fixed costs of the power plants, which will result in lower tariffs.

Since last May, when you went on a padayatra, and particularly during your election campaign in association with the Left, the World Bank's conditionalities figured prominently...

The Left's ideology is slightly different from ours. We are not against reforms. We are also not against the World Bank. But they have some conditionalities which are not pro-poor. Sometimes they work against farmers. We know that the agricultural sector gets attention from the government even in the U.S., Japan and Europe. But when we give some free power to farmers, there is a hue and cry. We have to tell the bank that this is not correct, that so many farmers are committing suicide. Is it not a fact that something has gone terribly wrong? We have to tell the Bank that such things have to be reviewed. Reforms cannot be a dogma.

What about industrial activity? So many units have closed down in Andhra Pradesh...

That will be a major thrust area. We will make every effort to revive small industrial units. Capital worth thousands of crores is lying idle. Industrial units in the State are not able to compete because of two major factors. One, the cost of power is too high here. Secondly, the cost of finance is high. We want to subsidise the interest cost of small units. We have promised interest rates of 3 to 5 per cent to small units. This interest rate will be related to prompt repayment by borrowers. The government will bear the burden arising out of the subsidy that it will offer these units.

In order to do many of the things that you have promised the electorate, you will need the support of the Centre.

The Centre is an immense help to us. Our leaders in Delhi regard Andhra [Pradesh] as a special case. They have said that the Andhra Pradesh farmer should be given free power.

There has been a spate of suicides by farmers in the State in recent weeks. How are you tackling the issue?

The farmer is not a beggar. But if he is in a bad shape, is it not the duty of the government to help him? Some of the deaths in recent days are not really suicides, but natural deaths. We have started helplines for farmers. In the past six years, Andhra Pradesh accounted for three out of four farmer suicides in the country. Chandrababu Naidu did not address the reasons for the distress.

Is there not an immediate need to intervene to prevent suicides by farmers? Will the government declare a moratorium on debt repayment by farmers?

In the past two weeks we have been monitoring this on an everyday basis. We have had half a dozen meetings on this subject. No, we have not decided to declare a moratorium on repayments.

Farmers' power

Gujarat's farmers, victims of the power sector reforms initiated by the Narendra Modi government under the guidance of the Asian Development Bank, give a shock treatment to the Chief Minister through electronic voting machines.

in Sabarkantha

THEY may not have power in their fields. But they have power in the electronic voting machines. In the Lok Sabha elections, farmers' anger with the Gujarat government cost the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dearly. "Any government that does injustice to farmers will go," says Jayesh Patel, a farmer from Modasa, Sabarkantha district in north Gujarat. "See how the BJP lost most of the rural areas in this election." The BJP was routed in seven constituencies, one-third of the seats it occupied in the last Lok Sabha. The party barely kept its lead over the Congress, winning 14 of the 26 seats. The dominance that it has enjoyed for 10 years seems to be waning.

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The most vociferous expression of the farmers' discontent with Chief Minister Narendra Modi has come from within the Sangh Parivar itself. For almost a year, the Bharatiya Janata Party's farmers' wing, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), has been protesting against the steep power tariff hikes for agriculture. A compromise was reached in February this year (Frontline, February 27, 2004). But the BKS feels it got a raw deal.

"How can we cultivate anything without water or electricity? If we don't grow grain, what will people eat? Can they produce it in their factories?" asks Jayesh. Over the last five years, his losses have piled up to over Rs.1.5 lakh. On the day this correspondent met him, Jayesh had drilled a well 270-feet deep. But there was no water. He sunk Rs.20,000 in a matter of hours. In the water-starved areas of north Gujarat, electricity supply is essential for pumpsets. The lack of irrigation facilities has forced farmers to drill deep into the water table. It is a race to the bottom. In some areas, tubewells are as deep as 1,800 feet. The aquifers are close to depletion. In some places, farmers are tapping fossil water that is thousands of years old. Many people here suffer from fluorosis, a disease in which bones become brittle owing to excess fluoride in the water. Around 57 tehsils in north Gujarat have been termed "dark zones" by the Gujarat government. Their water tables are dry. Yet, farmers continue to invest lakhs of rupees in tubewells. Those who own wells sell water at Rs.40 per hour.

Already an expensive proposition, agriculture became even less profitable last year when the government announced an almost three-fold hike in power tariffs - from Rs.350 per horsepower (hp) to Rs.1,050 per hp. Cultivators were furious. The BKS launched an eight-month long agitation against the Modi administration. After months of animosity, the government agreed to reduce the rate to Rs.750. Still more than double the original rate.

Lalji Patel, a senior Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leader and BKS founder, went on a hunger-strike against Modi's adamant stand. Finally, a settlement was reached and the Chief Minister budged by reducing the rate by a further Rs.50 per hp. BKS members were livid not only with Modi but also with their leaders for caving in so easily.

The BKS is dominated by Patels, a powerful farming community that comprises around 16 to 20 per cent of the population. They have traditionally played an influential role in the State's politics. Former Chief Minister and BJP leader Keshubhai Patel supported the BKS struggle from the sidelines.

The Gujarat government says power tariff hikes for farmers are imperative under the power sector reforms it has initiated. In the past five years, the Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB) has accumulated a loss of Rs.6,000 crores. The State took a $200 million loan from the Asian Development Bank for reforms in the power sector. Reducing subsidies was one of the conditionalities. "The subsidy to agriculture is Rs.1,700 crores every year," said Saurabh Patel, Minister for Energy. "As part of our power sector reforms, we have passed an act promising that subsidies will not be more than 67 per cent of the cost of power production. At present, we charge 42 paise a unit when the actual cost is Rs.2.50 a unit - a mere 17 per cent of the production cost."

Like other parts of the country, agriculture in Gujarat is facing a crisis. "Over the last 30 years, input costs have increased by 1,000 to 4,000 per cent. But the market prices of agricultural produce have gone up by only 400 per cent. Farming is no longer profitable," says Maganbhai Patel, general secretary of the BKS. For example, he points out, the cost of producing 20 quintals of foodgrain like wheat or maize is Rs.250, but the market rate is Rs.120-150 for wheat and Rs.90-100 for maize.

Farmers like Jayesh are being bled dry. "In the last five years, the rains have been bad. Last monsoon, I invested around Rs.30,000 on my five-acre plot. The yield was poor. I kept most of it for consumption at home. I sold a little and got just Rs.5,000," he says. In the rabi season, Jayesh spent Rs.18,000 on a wheat crop. He got only 1,000 kg, of which he gave 300 kg for water charges. And kept the rest at home. In effect, Jayesh's cost was Rs.18 per kg of wheat. The retail price is Rs.8 per kg.

Losses are mounting for most farmers, pushing them deeper into debt. "Small cultivators are selling off their land and becoming casual workers," says Ismail Bandi, director of the Modasa Agricultural Produce Market Committee. "The divide between rich and small farmers is growing. Large farmers are buying small plots. Peasants are deeply in debt, paying interest of 60 per cent to 120 per cent to moneylenders." Many feel that policies are skewed against agriculture. "You city people buy a bottle of mineral water for Rs.12 when we have to sell our milk for Rs.6 or 7. Is our milk less valuable than water," asks Narsibhai Patel from Jitpur village, Sabarkantha. "A small car costs less than a tractor, which is Rs. 3 to 4 lakhs. And, the interest rates for car loans are much less - 4 per cent as compared to 12 to 14 per cent for tractors. Can I plough my farm with a car?"

"We don't want power subsidies if the government gives us proper irrigation facilities and regular power supply. Right now, we are investing lakhs in tubewells that run dry in a few years," says Maganbhai.

Many voters are also annoyed with Modi's publicity blitz, sponsored by corporates, promising several new irrigation and other schemes, but delivering very little. "Modi has announced that he will provide water from the Mahi river, knowing fully well it is not possible. Gujarat has no legal right to water from the Mahi; it is meant only for Rajasthan. He keeps harping on his pet project - the Rs.6,800 crore Sujhlam Sublam - when the Central government has not even spent a penny for the project. The only thing he has done is celebrate every festival with great fanfare," said a BJP leader.

Soon after the people's verdict, BJP MLAs have turned against Modi and are demanding his removal. Many are fed up with his autocratic style of functioning. The only thing holding back the rebellion, backed by the Keshubhai camp, is the BJP's central leadership. The BJP's allies like the Shiv Sena, and the Telugu Desam Party also feel that Modi's complicity in the Gujarat communal violence contributed to their defeat. But many in the BJP high command feel it would be embarrassing to replace Modi now.

It is rare to find party members happy with their own defeat. But in Gujarat, several BJP workers deliberately stayed away from campaigning. They did not mind sitting back and letting the Congress win. As the MLAs and Modi battle it out, whichever faction prevails will have to address the problems that got the BJP into this crisis. Or, they may face the same fate in the next Assembly elections as well.

They will have to focus on rural problems, which have been ignored for too long. As one farmer put it, "If they can build so many highways, then why can't they also start constructing canals?"

The verdict and the way ahead

C.P. CHANDRASEKHAR cover-story

From the economic point of view, Verdict 2004 was a vote against neo-liberal economic reforms. To respect this verdict and to make democracy meaningful, the new government should formulate a socially beneficial growth strategy.

THERE are many meanings that could be read into the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). It was, in the first instance, a rejection of the pursuit, through state-mediated and independent channels, of a divisive social and communal agenda. But, one must remember, the BJP had sensed the danger of using, for electoral purposes, the blatantly communal platform that had in the past helped it rise rather rapidly from near obscurity to national prominence. It had, therefore, made its self-perceived success in governing the economy the focus of its election propaganda. Hyped by its media managers, this took the form of the now-ridiculed "India Shining" campaign.

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However, in reality, notwithstanding the buoyant stock market, the large foreign reserves, the Information Technology-enabled boom and the rebound from drought year 2002-03, economic performance during the NDA rule was poor. An agrarian crisis, decelerating employment growth, higher morbidity and mortality in the small business economy and the wearing down of a social sector starved of funds had all meant that much of India was waning not shining. Not surprisingly, as revealed by a post-poll survey of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and Lokniti (The Hindu, May 20, 2004), economic performance during NDA rule was perceived as poor, with some variation depending on the class position of the respondents. While just 20 per cent of the poor felt that there was any improvement in their economic condition under the previous government, even among the upper middle class only 41 per cent perceived an improvement.

In addition, there are signs that there is some resentment over the unequal distribution of the benefits of whatever growth did occur. The perception that government should reduce inequalities in land ownership through ceilings on land holdings and intervene to redress income inequalities that seemed to predominate among those surveyed. Verdict 2004, therefore, can also be seen as an expression of anger at the adoption of a strategy and of success indicators that meant little for most Indians, especially the poorer among them.

Significantly, the dissatisfaction with their economic condition, which was "high" among about a third of the poor, seems to have translated itself into a rejection of the economic policies that constitute the neo-liberal reform programme embraced by the NDA. Disinvestment found favour with just 20 per cent of those polled and downsizing of government found just 29 per cent in favour. Responses such as these do suggest that the lack of improvement in or even worsening of their economic condition was seen by those affected as being related in some sense to the acceleration of the "reform" programme by the NDA government. That is, from the economic point of view, Verdict 2004 was a vote against neo-liberal economic reform as well.

It is not surprising, therefore, that commentators of widely varying persuasions sense in the verdict a disillusionment with reform, even, if not always, a complete rejection. What is surprising, however, is the response of much of the media and large sections of the urban elite to this feature of the verdict. The concern is not with the ways in which the reform can be stalled, modified and even reversed where necessary in order to respect the popular mandate. Rather, the sections of the media and market analysts seem to be gripped by the fear that the new government would actually respect the verdict and resort to such measures. Every indication of caution or a rethink on reform is treated as a recipe for disaster. And every statement from Ministers in the new Cabinet is searched through for signs of reassurance that the reforms would continue.

This campaign for "continuity" is backed of course with a suitable reading of movements of the Sensex. Any decline is presented as evidence that an irresponsible statement or act has frightened the markets; any rise is seen as evidence that normalcy is being restored and continuity assured. The message is clear: the role of the government is to calm the market. And the index of a calm market is asymmetric: the Sensex cannot decline, but it can rise without fear.

It should be obvious that when the new government formulates and then fleshes out its economic programme it must dismiss this market-linked rhetoric that reforms must continue whatever the verdict. But it cannot ignore these manoeuvres. It is not just that the media and the markets can be used to create panic of a kind that browbeats the government into holding back on what the mandate requires it to do. Inasmuch as the principal movers in today's markets are foreign institutional investors and the notorious hedge funds, their exit on being dissatisfied with any effort by the government to respect the popular mandate, will involve the outflow of foreign exchange that can impact on the currency market and lead to a run on the rupee. Even if the Reserve Bank of India today has large foreign currency reserves that it can put to use to defend the rupee, every such action can be read as a signal that the rupee is weakening, accelerating the outflow and threatening a currency crisis.

If such a crisis ensues, the experience of a large number of similarly placed developing countries indicates, the room for manoeuvre for the new government will be severely restricted. It would be confronted with deflation but would be under pressure not to reflate the economy by increasing its expenditure. To prevent itself from being straitjacketed by those financial profiteers who have thrived on the outcomes of "economic reform" under the BJP and by sections of the media which too have benefited from the easy liquidity conditions and the credit-financed boom in urban enclaves that capital inflows had generated, some action to curb volatile capital flows, both in and out of the stock market, is necessary. Thus, the first step on the way ahead must be a minimal set of measures of capital control that helps the government retain and even expand its room for manoeuvre. This is not blasphemy: it is what all developed countries did when they were at and beyond a stage of development similar to India's, and this is what some other developing countries, such as Chile and Malaysia, did at different points in time with positive effect.

Once such room for manoeuvre has been garnered, there are two issues that the new government must squarely confront: First, if markets fail from the point of view of the vast majority, as they clearly have, they must be reined in. So the areas in which the state must restore and even expand its role need to be identified and the segments in which markets must be regulated and controlled and agents must be disciplined singled out. Second, if the state is to restore and expand its role in these and other areas, it needs the wherewithal to finance that role. This requirement is the greater because of evidence that the deceleration and even decline of public investment in areas such as agriculture, infrastructure and the social sectors, were crucial in delivering the outcomes that were rejected by Verdict 2004. The new government must, therefore, find ways of raising the rate of investment, despite the fact that under pressure from international finance and the international financial institutions, previous governments have internalised the logic that aggregate expenditure must be curtailed in order to keep the fiscal deficit under control. With revenue expenditures proving sticky and "reform" eroding the tax base, this has necessitated a cut in much-needed capital and social sector expenditures.

THE most damaging failure of the growth process since the early 1990s has been its inability to deliver adequate employment opportunities. Results from the quinquennial surveys of the National Sample Survey Organisation reveal a sharp, and even startling, decrease in the rate of employment generation across both rural and urban areas. Indeed, so dramatic is the slowdown in the rate of employment growth that it calls into serious question the pattern of growth over the last decade.

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This deceleration in employment growth occurred despite the immense opportunity for expanding employment that arose in the late 1990s because of the accumulation of huge food stocks with the government. Using these stocks and combining it with some rupee expenditure, the government could have launched a massive food-for-work programme geared to improving and creating rural infrastructure of various kinds. Inasmuch as inadequate investment in such infrastructure was principally responsible for the slow growth of agricultural gross domestic product (GDP), such a programme would have helped stimulate agricultural growth as well and ensured second-order employment generation effects. The launch of such a programme, parallel to existing employment generation programmes that must be strengthened, must be a high priority for the government.

Overall, greater dynamism in agriculture and its concomitant effects on non-agricultural employment in rural areas are crucial for accelerating employment growth. This in turn requires reversing the decline in capital formation in agriculture. Given the evidence that private investment follows public investment in the agricultural sector, public capital formation needs to be stepped up substantially.

The other important means for increasing employment is a revival of the small business economy, damaged by the withdrawal of measures of protection, including protection from import competition. For example, reserving areas of production for the small-scale sector makes little sense if simultaneously imports of those products are not merely liberalised but duties on them reduced substantially. In addition, a major reason for the closure of small-scale units is inadequate access to credit of the right magnitude at the right time. Even prior to the reforms of the 1990s, small industry had complained about the lack of access to credit. Since financial liberalisation has diluted programmes aimed at directing credit to the priority sectors, undermined development banking institutions, and rendered the banks less willing to lend to small customers with limited collateral by making profitability the sole indicator of banking performance, this problem has increased substantially. Thus a rethink of the nature and direction of financial sector reform is called for when considering options for accelerating employment generation.

It is not just import liberalisation and deficient rural credit that affects employment. It is indeed true that foreign direct investment (FDI) is not as inimical to the economy as speculative financial capital. But FDI often displaces domestic production by acquiring local firms rather than creating greenfield projects, as has happened in several sectors such as the soft drinks industry. Since the import intensity of foreign firms is high, this amounts to a form of implicit de-industrialisation. So foreign investment should be encouraged only in areas where it expands domestic production, either by using India as a base to supply hitherto inaccessible export markets or by substituting for imports in essential high-technology areas. This would also ensure that foreign exchange needed to meet outflows from these firms is simultaneously earned or saved. That is, FDI should be encouraged in areas where it expands domestic economic activity without adverse balance of payments implications.

FINANCIAL reform must be reassessed also because of the second area of concern that the new government must tackle immediately: rural indebtedness. Reports of suicides by farmers routinely point to an unbearable debt burden as being the cause of their extreme action. While a range of factors such as the failure of high-cost cash crops into which farmers have diversified or an unexpected fall in prices of those crops account for the inability to repay debt, an important factor is the high interest rates paid on debt taken from informal sources. The evidence suggests that the dependence of rural producers on such debt has increased during the 1990s. With financial reform resulting in reduced access to debt from the formal sector and banks even closing down rural branches as part of a process of restructuring, this dependence has increased substantially. The shift to "universal banking" at the expense of development banking and directed credit programmes has far-reaching implications, necessitating a halt to, and even some reversal of, such policies.

In the long run, improving the lot of the agriculturists requires ensuring a reasonable return for them. This requires reining in their costs and guaranteeing them appropriate prices. On the cost front, the government must ensure that the prices of crucial inputs such as power and fertilizer are not allowed to escalate on the grounds that prices charged by those providing those inputs must include a healthy return over and above actual and not even normative prices. This requires the acceptance of two principles. The first is that the prices charged by public sector units should not be assessed in isolation but treated as one among the many instruments that constitute the government's tax-cum-subsidy regime. In the past, on the one hand, public sector prices have been raised to increase budgetary revenues or reduce budgetary expenditures and, on the other, large tax concessions have been handed out to those in the higher tax slabs, which has contributed to a decline in the tax-GDP ratio. This implicitly treats public sector prices as one element in a redistributive fiscal regime, even though this reality is shrouded in the rhetoric of efficiency. While continuing to use public sector prices as redistributive instruments, it is necessary to ensure that such redistribution favours the poor.

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The second is that prices received by farmers must not be allowed to fall relative to costs as a result of the liberalisation of imports, reduction of import duties and the gradual dismantling of the minimum support price scheme. This has indeed been one consequence of the reform, which needs to be corrected.

WHILE these are policies directly aimed at alleviating some of the most adverse consequences of reform for the poor, corrective reform is required in other areas as well. One is the strengthening of the public distribution system (PDS). Experience under the NDA has made clear that efforts at targeting subsidies at the poor neither achieve their goal nor result in a reduction in the subsidy bill. Hence, as the high-powered committee set up by the NDA government itself had recommended, there is need for a universal PDS that makes no distinction between populations above and below the poverty line. The tendency to raise the prices of food issued through the PDS must be abjured since the expectation that this would reduce subsidies has been proved completely wrong. It only reduces offtake from the PDS resulting in an accumulation of stocks with the government. The consequent increase in the carrying costs of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) results in a large subsidy bill, which does not reach the poor. Moreover, embarrassed by the large stocks, the previous government callously chose to sell it to traders for export purposes at below poverty line (BPL) prices, ensuring that the subsidy ended up as trader's profits or benefited international consumers.

Another area that must be urgently tackled is the decline in social sector expenditures and the consequent shortfall in social sector provision. To make such expenditures effective, they must be linked to a set of specific objectives, among which must figure the provision of free and universal primary education of quality, and free and universal primary health care of quality, within a fairly short time horizon.

If employment programmes are appropriately designed, efforts at achieving better social sector provision can be supported with infrastructure created with such programmes. This would allow a given expenditure to realise more than one goal.

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The real challenge before the new government when dealing with the above issues is that of breaking the barrier to increase public expenditure in the name of meeting fiscal deficit targets implicitly set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. To do so would require reversing the decline in the tax-GDP ratio. It has been estimated that, if the ratio of Central government tax revenue to GDP which prevailed in 1990-91, prior to the onset of the current reforms, were prevailing today, then the Central government would have got an additional amount in excess of Rs.30,000 crores per annum at current GDP. Since India's tax-GDP ratio is known to be lower than that of other similarly placed countries, there is an obvious need to raise tax revenues through appropriate measures of progressive taxation, including larger taxation of the service sector, wealth taxation, especially taxation of financial assets, and so on.

Besides taxation, expenditures can be increased by dropping the obsession with the fiscal deficit, even when comfortable levels of foodstocks and foreign exchange reserves are available and industrial capacity remains unutilised because of lack of demand.

The previous government, rather than exercising this option, sought to deal with the fiscal crunch through the soft option of "mobilising" resources for the budget with disinvestments. This must be stopped. Disinvestment of profit-making public sector units (PSU) at throwaway prices is obviously irrational. But even in some PSUs that are loss making their condition is explained by the level of prices they charge rather than inefficiency.

Finally, a truly socially beneficial growth strategy cannot be put in place without a major role for the States. But State governments have for some time now been trapped in a fiscal crunch, which has become unmanageable after the implementation of the Fifth Pay Commission's recommendations. An important cause for the fiscal crisis faced by the State governments is the extremely high interest rates on loan provided to them by the Centre. By resorting to a combination of debt write off and swaps of high interest debt for low interest debt, the financial position of the States should be improved immediately.

These are some of the measures that the new government must adopt, to respect Verdict 2004 and make Indian democracy meaningful.

To undo the damage

NAUNIDHI KAUR cover-story

The new Human Resource Development Ministry has several important tasks at hand - reverse the communalisation of education, allocate more funds for elementary education and ensure the autonomy of premier institutes.

WITH elections having dealt a blow to the political career of former Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, the Human Resource Development Ministry in the new government is faced with the task of undoing his controversial acts. (Joshi lost to the Samajwadi Party's Reoti Raman Singh in Allahabad.) The immediate task, as one educationist summed up, is "detoxification and re-construction after the Talibanisation of education by Joshi". Issues before the new Minister include the saffronisation of education, reduction of fees at the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), curtailment of autonomy of premier institutes, appointment of Sangh Parivar sympathisers to research councils and change in approach to primary education.

Institutions that need a complete overhaul include the University Grants Commission (UGC), the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE), the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) and the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS).

However, it is in the primary and secondary education sectors that the new Ministry will have to do much work. The new textbooks written by academics appointed by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) came under fire for plagiarism, factual errors and distortion of facts. For instance, "Modern India", the NCERT's history textbook for Class XII, lifted major portions from historian R.C. Majumdar's classic History and Culture of Indian People. Similarly, "Ancient India" reproduced entire paragraphs from Romila Thapar's History of India. Many of the textbooks are replete with incorrect statements about places, dates and events. They also seem to have been carefully doctored in order to suppress inconvenient facts. Rather than improving on the textbooks in use, the NCERT printed new versions that omitted historical events not corresponding to the "national identity" prescribed by the BJP regime. Questions have also been raised about the fate of NCERT Director J.S. Rajput, who was appointed during Joshi's tenure. He is due to retire in a few months.

The Left parties have demanded that the new government revert to the old textbooks. Communist Party of India general secretary A.B. Bardhan said: "A review committee of experts should be set up to go into all the mistakes and distortions. The saffronised textbooks should be withdrawn and revised ones printed again."

In his first meeting with mediapersons after assuming office, Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh said that he was willing to correct the wrongs, but only after a thorough review. Arjun Singh said that he was aware of the Left's demand but did not want to take any decision in haste.

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One of the first things he did after assuming office was to meet the NCERT staff and the IIM heads. Congress and alliance leaders had opposed Joshi's interference in the IIMs and condemned his decision to slash their fees by 80 per cent. With the IIM fee issue in court, the government will not be able to take a decision now.

A possible patch-up with the autonomous School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi, which was to be taken over by the Ministry, could also be delayed because a case in this regard is pending before the Delhi High Court. SPA Professor K.T. Ravindran said: "In the short term the new government should remove the uncertainties around the SPA which have demoralised the faculty. The academic autonomy of the SPA needs to be restored immediately."

The work of the last government has proved that the very administrative structure of professional institutes makes them susceptible to government pressures. Ravindran said: "This is not good for any institute. There is a need for changing the system structurally to make it free from political pressure and leanings."

The new government also needs to put the policy on elementary education in order. After spending several thousand crores on elementary education, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was able to bring down the dropout rate in primary schools by only about 2 per cent. Justifying its work, the government said that all major schemes of universalisation of elementary education started after 2000. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the government's most ambitious project on elementary education, was launched in 2001. The 86th Constitution Amendment Act (since re-enacted as the Free and Compulsory Education Bill) that made elementary education for all children a fundamental right was enacted in 2002.

Objections have been raised against the Free and Compulsory Education Bill too. Former NCERT author and historian Arjun Dev said: "The Bill provides legitimate space at various administrative and academic levels for extra-constitutional authorities, including communal bodies such as the Sangh Parivar organisations, to introduce their ideological agenda in school education while keeping them outside the purview of the constitutional framework."

Delineating the problematic areas in the Bill, Dev points out that it promotes privatisation and `corporatisation' of school education; franchises parts or whole of districts to corporate or religious bodies for running the elementary education system; shifts the constitutional obligation of the state to support elementary education to parents and local communities; promotes `special schools' for the disabled children at the cost of inclusive education; and introduces a range of other distortions in the elementary education system.

The Bill exemplifies the inept approach of the NDA government towards elementary education, which worked on the assumption that a school type facility would ensure attendance of children in schools. On the other hand, experts point out that there is an urgent need to devise a curriculum that would be more relevant to the needs of children in rural areas. The Bill enforces primary education by compromising on the overall quality of education for the underprivileged.

The new government would also need to overhaul the education system so that it benefits girl students who have a higher dropout rate than boys. The NDA government reduced the budgetary allocation to several educational schemes that benefited the girl child. One such project is the Kasturba Gandhi Swatantra Vidyalaya (KGSV) programme. (Under KGSV, approximately 35 million girls, who were out of school, were to be offered free accommodation and condensed academic courses until they were ready to be inducted into the formal school system.) In 2003 the Ministry stipulated that Rs.1,200 crores would be needed to run the project, but the government allocated only Rs.489 crores. For Mahila Samakhya, another gender-specific programme on elementary education, the Ministry initially proposed to spend Rs.250 crores. However, only Rs.100 crores was allotted to the scheme in the Tenth Five Year Plan.

Critics warn that such massive reduction in funds for elementary education will push back the literacy programmes by several years. A reduced budget may mean fewer teachers, lesser and poor quality teaching aids and a compromise in the implementation of the schemes. The NDA government spent Rs.15,588 crores on elementary education under the Ninth Plan, about Rs.1,000 crores less than the original allocation of Rs.17,000 crores. This year the budget for primary and adult education has gone up by Rs.1,100 crores. Experts say that the amount is still not sufficient. Under the Tenth Plan, the Mahila Samakhya, the KGSV, Free Education for Girls and Secondary Education for Girls schemes would require around Rs.4,100 crores.

Experts point to the need to fill the cumulative gap built up since the Education Commission's recommendations in 1964-66 within a 10-year time-frame. In the case of elementary education, it was to fill this cumulative gap that the Tapas Majumdar Committee (1999) recommended an additional investment of Rs.13,700 crores a year for the next 10 years, which amounts to about 0.6 per cent of the current gross domestic product (GDP).

Catching the cyber criminal

The proliferation of cyber crime around the world poses new challenges to law enforcement agencies.

A BOY in his teens operating from a remote village in northern Germany brought the computer giant Microsoft and millions of computer users to their knees very recently. The virus "Sasser" that Sven Jaschan, possibly working in tandem with a few others, unleashed on the computer world, caused an astronomical loss to businesses and individuals that is yet to be accurately assessed. At least one large bank in Finland closed down more than 100 of its branches to avoid its system getting infected, reflecting an utter lack of faith in its anti-virus programme. Unlike many other viruses, Sasser moved from machine to machine through the Internet and not via e-mail attachments. Home computers, more than those in offices, bore the brunt of the attack, a phenomenon that most experts failed to predict.

Ironically, a few days before Sasser produced major damage, Microsoft highlighted a hole in its Operating System and advised users to take immediate action by using a patch. (It is possible that Microsoft had been tipped off or its monitors had detected patterns suggesting an impending catastrophe.) Not many took this warning seriously, and this cost them dearly. Fortunately, the virus did not delete files, but merely switched off systems frequently causing tremendous disruption and inconvenience.

Sven has been arrested by the German Police and questioned. While we do not know the outcome, including whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation will seek his extradition, he is described as a "computer freak" and a loner. His computer teacher speaks of his impressive technical knowledge, but admits that his student had overreached himself. Interestingly, Sven boasted to his father several months earlier that he had, in fact, released a worm. He had possibly spent several days and nights sitting in the basement of his house and fine-tuning his diabolic operation. His parents either took little note of such labour or just did not know how to handle him.

The fact is, law-enforcement officials all over the world are going to face younger and younger offenders who just do not know the gravity of their actions. Coupled with this lack of awareness is the certainty that many of them are going to use modern technology that is easily available at affordable prices.

A German police official calls Sven a common criminal, whose youth does not give him any licence or the privilege of kid-glove treatment. Such a hard posture is not surprising, coming as it does from a law-enforcement perspective. It could, however, be utterly insensitive to the growing phenomenon of technology-savvy youngsters going berserk but remaining unidentified. There are not many clues as to what motivates young people to stray away from family values. Is it the thrill of adventure or the need for money to cope with the ever-rising requirements of fashionable living?

I must confess that my knowledge of technology-aided crime is nothing to boast of. Exposure, therefore, to a day-long presentation on the subject recently by experts to an international police gathering at the Bramshill Police Training Centre in Hampshire was beneficial. There were many revelations that could make policemen as well as law-abiding citizens sit up and take notice of the dangerous ambience that surrounds all of us. The first characteristic of the current scene is that more than individuals, it is the well-welded multinational gangs that account for substantial high-profile computer-based crime these days. (Normally, only hackers operate all by themselves, although lately one can detect their invisible collusion with virus writers.)

This explains the numerous operations in the areas of trafficking in human beings, especially women and children, drug peddling, pornography and money-laundering that have been unearthed recently. The Internet provides a vehicle for intra-gang communication as well as for deceiving the victims.

The United Kingdom (U.K.) has been dogged lately by controversies relating to rising immigration, both legal and illegal, from eastern Europe. It was just a couple of months ago that a member of the Blair Cabinet had to resign, following the allegation that large numbers of people had been allowed to come into the country from Romania and Bulgaria through authorised channels, without proper verification of their credentials, despite the opposition of a senior U.K. diplomat based in Bucharest. It is against this backdrop that one must look at the prevalent view that many east European countries are contributing a lot to crime in the U.K., particularly of the hi-tech variety. This phenomenon is difficult to explain. Is there a spurt in young men and women coming out of polytechnics in eastern Europe, alongside a lack of opportunities to use their knowledge? Poverty and unemployment alone cannot explain this.

FINANCIAL institutions are a major target for computer criminals. The expansion of online banking facilities has been beyond belief. Banks have benefited greatly by making them more and more attractive to customers and have seen a large number of their clients using and feeling comfortable with them. The emphasis is on making such access more and more customer-friendly, but this comes with a price. There is a feeling that many banks tend to underplay the simultaneous need for making their systems more secure. This is out of sheer ignorance, as well as a reluctance to make a heavy investment in IT security. This unhappy situation has been exploited by many crooks who do not hesitate to buy skills in the market - gadgets as well as human resources - to break into online banking systems. According to a recent CSO magazine survey conducted in collaboration with the United States Secret Service and the Cyber Security Centre of the Carnegie Mellon University, electronic crime during 2003 accounted for a loss of $666 million.

Customer negligence has also contributed to valuable information such as User IDs and passwords falling into wrong hands. While major break-ins have not been either frequent or well publicised, what is most appalling is that many banks have refused to let cyber investigators probe such breaches. This apathy is prompted by the fear that an admission of system vulnerability would result in the loss of customer confidence and could even lead to a run on the bank. Many are deterred also by the tortuous processes of the criminal justice system and the loss of valuable business time if incidents are reported to the police. "Phishing" is the name given to activities such as the illegal copying of an authorised, well-established website for a dishonest purpose, such as identity theft. (Here, frauds originate bogus mails to unsuspecting customers and ferret out valuable personal data such as computer IDs and passwords that are later used to withdraw deposits.) This modus operandus is now quite popular with many gangs. Organisations dealing in money are a particular target. A study by an Anti-Phishing Working Group, Tumblewood (an Internet security firm) in the U.S., reveals a 75 per cent increase in phishing crime during the past year. The study reported 1,125 such cases. It is difficult to prevent phishing, but what is required is a swift response to such attempts when an organisation is alerted by its customers.

Another favourite crime that has been spawned largely by business rivalries - so much a part of modern commerce - is the Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS). Many huge organisations such as the FBI, Yahoo, America-online, eBay and Amazon.com (the popular online bookseller) were subjected to this type of attack in February 2000. Here, the aggressor, with the help of a secret software programme, manipulates a sudden flood of unexpected visits at a designated time from a large number of computers located at different sites, to a popular website, thereby denying access to many genuine customers. The damage caused is incalculable, and if a website is attacked repeatedly within a short spell of time, the loss of revenue could prove ruinous. This is somewhat analogous to the spam mail that we receive each day that involves cleaning up our Inboxes on a daily basis. Imagine one of our adversaries suddenly deciding to hurt us by initiating about a thousand unsolicited messages every day. All our time would be lost only in eliminating them, without getting a moment for the normal use of the e-mail facility. Total incapacitation of a business rival or an adversary is what an aggressor aims at, and he achieves this often without getting caught.

It has been recognised the world over that crime prevention calls for a two-pronged approach: target hardening and deterrence. A host of studies by experts such as Prof. Ron Clarke (whose specialisation is in the area of situational crime prevention) of Rutgers University in the U.S. have proved that heightened efforts to make the object of crime less accessible and therefore harder to hit at, contribute to a definite reduction in crime. Modern emphasis of criminology has, therefore, been on proactively making systems and facilities difficult to penetrate. The growth in sophistication of computer security systems has been remarkable, although there are sceptics who believe that no amount of security can put off a determined intruder. Another piece of criticism has been the enormous cost of many computer security products.

This negative feeling has been engendered by the almost weekly arrival in the market of anti-virus packages. The reporting of new viruses such as Sasser only buttresses the argument against further investment in computer security. This cynical stand is blind to the fact that viruses are a class apart, and that, being programme-based, there is no limit to human ingenuity in creating and floating viruses by the dozen. Just as we cannot put a cap on programmes or programmers, so can we hardly prevent new viruses from being invented. Setting aside the issue of viruses, there is so much that is available to keep intruders at bay from committing other types of assaults on the computer system. Firewalls situated imaginatively within a network, intrusion detection systems (IDS), cryptography, digital signatures and logical controls that restrict access to protected systems are all measures that lower risks of an intrusion. These will necessarily have to be supplemented by user sensitivity to possible mischief. Such sensitivity is brought about by repeated indoctrination through training. For all this to happen in a large organisation, there is a need for a comprehensive security policy drawn on the lines suggested by many security standards, most prominent of which is the British Standards (BS) 7799. It is regrettable that the learning of many reputed corporations in this regard has been painfully slow. Such tardiness only encourages the underworld to design more attacks on flimsily guarded systems.

Finally, deterrence involves honing of the existing criminal justice system in response to an increasingly computer-savvy criminal of our times. This would call for a realistically framed cyber crime law, which makes penalties stiffer and more certain. While most of the developed world has generally succeeded in this respect, others have lagged behind.

In India, the Information Technology Act, 2000, is a great march forward. We must, however, remember that being basically a law to regulate e-commerce, it deals only incidentally with cyber crime. While it lists offences such as tampering with computer source documents, hacking and publishing obscene information electronically, several other important offences such as cyber stalking have been ignored. There is, therefore, a cry from experts and law enforcement agencies that India should have an exclusive law against such crime. Meanwhile, several amendments have been suggested to the existing IT Act to make it more oriented to cyber crime. It is not known whether the government will act on these.

An important requirement amidst all this is the need to train police officers so that they face the new challenges squarely and effectively. A small beginning has been made in India, with the Central Bureau of Investigation giving a thrust to cyber investigation, which is complicated. It requires greater perseverance than ordinary crime. More than this, an anxiety to keep track of global developments in offender ingenuity is the sine qua non for achieving results. It is here that liaison with outfits such as the FBI and the U.K.'s Hi-Tech Crime Unit becomes meaningful. I am certain that somebody in the Indian Police, particularly the CBI, will establish this link. Collaboration with other agencies in the world that are known for their professional excellence can bring in learning of great value to India's cyber crime investigators.

Suicides again

V. SRIDHAR cover-story

DEATH stalks the countryside. More than 80 suicides by peasants have been reported between May 18 and 29. Details about the suicides, gathered from across the State by reporters of the Telugu daily Prajashakti, provide a chilling account of the widespread distress among the peasantry. A cross section of people told Frontline - academics, peasants and representatives of peasant organisations, politicians and social workers - that the spate of suicides in a short span of about two weeks is unprecedented in the history of Andhra Pradesh. The State enjoys the dubious distinction of accounting for three out of every four suicides by farmers reported in the country in recent years, according to Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.

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Suicides by farmers have been reported from every part of the State, including one by a woman in the Chief Minister's constituency of Pulivendla in Cuddapah district. Although most of the suicides have been reported from the dry parts of the State, a number of them have occurred in Prakasam, West Godavari and Krishna districts, which are considered better irrigated. Clearly, the distress is not confined to peasants cultivating a particular crop. Those growing chillies, groundnut, pulses, cotton, vegetables and even paddy are among those who have taken the extreme step.

Anantapur district is possibly best designated as the "suicide capital" of India. According to the Anantapur district secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangam, Vishweshwar Reddy, more than 450 peasants have committed suicide since 2000. The district has been hit by a series of droughts in recent years. But that is only to be expected since it generally records the second lowest rainfall in the country (next to Jaisalmer district in Rajasthan).

Groundnut is grown in 90 per cent of the cultivable land in the district. The small and marginal peasant incurs a production expenditure of about Rs.3,000 to Rs.4,000 an acre, but has to bear the uncertainty of crop failure without any assistance from the state. Most farmers in Anantapur grow only one crop, which means that the fields are fallow for 8 to 9 months a year. Less than 10 per cent of the cultivated area is irrigated. Vishweshwar Reddy points out that the ten-fold increase in the import of edible oils has meant lower prices for the peasant.

Even land prices have dropped dramatically in the past few years. Land in Anantapur, which used to command a price of Rs.40,000 to - Rs.50,000 an acre five years ago, now goes for Rs.10,000. Peasants in distress have sold all that they had - cattle, houses and even their land. Many have migrated in the hope of escaping extreme distress.

According to D. Narasimha Reddy, Dean, School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad, the life of the small and marginal peasant has become uncertain and risky. Crops are themselves uncertain because of the widespread shortage of water. Peasants, desperate to get water, undertake even more risk by investing in the risk-laden business of digging borewells. According to a Prajashakti report, a small peasant in Mehboobnagar district recently dug 10 borewells without success and took his own life after the 11th well also turned dry. Narasimha Reddy points out that the lack of state investment in irrigation has forced the peasant to bear a greater burden of risk. Even if the crop yields a reasonable return, the peasant faces risks in marketing the produce. This explains why farmers growing a range of crops have committed suicide. Narasimha Reddy said that though input costs have been increasing in the last few years, the price that the peasant is able to command for his produce fluctuates. This is largely on account of the failure of the government to intervene in agricultural markets to stabilise them.

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Even rich farmers are able to get only 20 per cent of their credit requirements from institutional sources. Obviously, small and marginal peasants do not enjoy even this cushion of lower interest rates. According to the Prajashakti survey, most of the peasants who committed suicide in recent weeks took loans from private moneylenders, pesticide and fertilizer dealers and local "finance companies". These loans carry a heavy price tag. Interest rates generally range from 36 to 60 per cent and may, according to some sources, even go up to a whopping 120 per cent. Narasimha Reddy said that the peasant is often humiliated severely in public by the lenders. Cattle is snatched from the peasants and their houses are attached.

Vishweshwar Reddy told Frontline that the Telugu Desam Party government arrested thousands of peasants in Anantapur district when they failed to pay their power dues. "Instead of providing relief to the peasant, the TDP government appointed Special Circle Inspectors in the police department to conduct raids on the houses of peasants who were unable to pay their power dues," he said. He also said that the government collected Rs.120 crores as fines from farmers for their failure to pay their dues in time.

WHAT explains this sudden surge in suicides by the peasantry, even after the new government, which promised to improve the lot of the peasant, assumed office? Soon after assuming office, Rajasekhara Reddy announced a relief package to the families of farmers who had committed suicide - Rs.1 lakh to repay the debts and Rs.50,000 as relief. Cynics, who hate the notion of "relief measures", were quick to point out that the spate of suicides in the State was because of this package.

However, B.V. Raghavalu, secretary of the Andhra Pradesh unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has an explanation for the phenomenon. He points out that the moneylenders refrained from pressuring the peasants as long as the election process was on. The Rythu Sangam also observed that in Anantapur and Mehboobnagar districts, for instance, the moneylenders feared that the new government, under popular pressure, would cancel the loans due to them from the peasants.

There appear two distinct issues in the recent suicides. First, it is obvious that relief must be provided to the affected families. The other set of issues relates to the medium and long-term measures that the government must undertake in order to prevent such deaths from happening. Raghavalu said that the government must separate the two issues clearly. He said while it was important for the government to provide reassurance to the peasant by conducting public campaigns, such measures alone were not enough. He demands that the government "immediately declare a one-year moratorium on debt repayments by farmers. Only if this happens will the moneylenders stop harassing the peasants. Once this is done, the government can devise ways and means for farmers to repay their loans. It can evolve different sets of solutions for various classes of borrowers. The poorest peasants may require a complete waiver of dues, others may be able to do with a debt relief package of staggered repayments of their dues".

Raghavalu believes that the panchayats, by virtue of being the nearest available institutional mechanism in the life of the peasantry, can be involved in tackling the problem. Panchayats can organise psychological support to debt-burdened peasants by encouraging them to confide in the panchayat members and seek its protection when they are harassed by moneylenders. Moreover, any debt-relief package announced by the government can be implemented by the panchayat.

Although an immediate moratorium on repayments by the peasantry would appear to be a rational response, Rajasekhara Reddy has ruled out any such move. Instead, he flagged off a rally of film and television personalities and sportspersons in Hyderabad who urged farmers not to take their lives.

Welcome UPA, without illusions

The installation of the new government marks a positive break from a vicious phase in Indian politics. But the United Progressive Alliance will have to strive hard against its adversaries within to translate the people's mandate into real action.

AS I write this, barely 10 days after the swearing in of Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister, three broad trends are discernible. First, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is already under intense pressure from the Right to adopt a conservative stance not in keeping with the electoral mandate. Second, it has negotiated, not least because of the Left parties, a centrist "social market economy"-oriented Common Minimum Programme, although not without compromises, ambiguities and flaws. And third, the Council of Ministers is a mixed bag. Some key portfolios have been allotted to leaders either lacking in dynamism or with a distinctly pro-business disposition and a Right-leaning orientation.

The government's top leaders will face heavy odds in translating the electoral mandate into policies, which can inflict a decisive defeat on the socially retrograde forces represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies. Such a defeat is today's categorical imperative. All secular public-spirited citizens must welcome the UPA, but they should have no illusion that the alliance will deliver - unless progressive parties and people's movements mount moral pressure on it.

Of the three trends, the first became manifest even as the election results were coming in. The Sensex lost 200 points and then another 800 - a warning, the pink press declared, of the mood of the "investing community" which apprehended that the NDA's policies would be reversed. It now turns out that the stock crisis was exaggerated and made out to be unique to India, when in reality Asia's major "emerging markets" - China-Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan, besides India - saw share values decline by a huge 15 per cent-plus in two weeks.

This was largely due to foreign portfolio investors pulling out a chunk of the $500 billion-plus they had invested in the region over preceding two years - wing to high oil prices, fear of inflation and an upturn in the U.S. economy, which has gained 900,000 jobs in four months. Evidence suggests the Indian markets were rigged in order to solicit pro-business signals from the new government and influence key appointments.

Sections of the media luridly played up the "bloodbath" and how it destroyed tens of thousands of crores in share value. On May 18-19, they launched a campaign of disinformation alleging that Sonia Gandhi had decided to turn down the prime ministership because the President advised her to do so or questioned the legality of her naturalisation as an Indian under the Citizenship Act. Since then, they have relentlessly poured scorn on the UPA's effort to formulate the CMP, and on its contents, branding it the "Crash Markets Programme". They have painted the UPA's coalition-building process in dark hues.

The central thrust of this media campaign, with all its inaccurate or unchecked allegations and unsolicited editorial advice to Manmohan Singh - interestingly, this was rarely offered to NDA leaders - has been to construct elaborate apologia for neo-liberalism and for the perpetuation of the obnoxious Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). Equally, it is to legitimise the BJP's ludicrous claim to be the "natural" party of governance and India's best candidate for coalition-building. In fact, the UPA enjoys the support of 320-plus Lok Sabha members, a number the NDA could never reach despite all manner of compromises and inducements to allies. Some of the media campaign has apparently had an effect, especially as regards appointments to some key Ministries.

The second trend - negotiation and finalisation of the CMP - in many ways represents the opposite process. The UPA by and large stood up to pressure from the pro-neo-liberal media and business groups. The CMP is undoubtedly a compromise document. Its final version differs significantly from the original draft on issues such as employment, labour, foreign investment, electricity, foreign policy, and defence and security. The differences are largely attributable to the suggestions made by the Left parties.

The "six basic principles of governance" are unexceptionable within the context of today's largely forward-looking, Left-leaning, secular dispensation. They emphasise "social harmony" and enforcement of the law "to deal with all obscurantist and fundamentalist elements"; sustained 7-8 percent economic growth "in a manner that generates employment so that each family is assured of a safe and viable livelihood"; "welfare and well-being of farmers, farm labour and workers, particularly those in the unorganised sector"; and empowerment of women - "politically, educationally, economically and legally"; and "full equality of opportunity, particularly in education and employment for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs [Other Backward Classes] and religious minorities". The sixth principle is about unleashing "the creative energies of our entrepreneurs, businessmen, scientists, engineers and all other professionals and productive forces of society".

These together mark a definite improvement over the Congress party's election manifesto. The UPA has taken to heart the salience of unemployment associated with the current pattern of growth and placed it on top of the agenda. It promises to "immediately enact a National Employment Guarantee Act. This will provide a legal guarantee for at least 100 days of employment, to begin with, on asset-creating public works programmes every year at minimum wages for at least one able-bodied person in every rural, urban poor and lower-middle class household. In the interim, a massive food-for-work programme will be started". Agriculture, education and health also figure prominently in the CMP. As do schemes for Dalits and Adivasis, and women.

A particularly healthy part of the CMP is the emphasis on regional development, and redressing growing imbalances, between and within states, "through fiscal, administrative, investment and other means". On the agenda are debt relief, special programme for social and physical infrastructure development in the poorest districts, and transfer of all centrally-sponsored schemes (except in "priority areas like family planning") to the States. Also welcome, despite its slow pace, is the commitment to eliminating the Centre's revenue deficit by 2009, so as to release "more resources for the social and physical infrastructure".

Reassuringly, the CMP does not go ga-ga over the river-linking proposal so mindlessly peddled by the NDA. It only promises "a comprehensive assessment of the feasibility of linking of the rivers... This assessment will be done in a fully consultative manner... " The CMP promises "steps to ensure that long-pending inter-State disputes on rivers and water-sharing like the Cauvery waters dispute are settled amicably at the earliest".

Having said this, ambivalences, inadequacies and flaws do remain. For instance, to achieve food security, India badly needs to universalise the Public Distribution System, in place of "targeting", which has very nearly destroyed the PDS for the poor. Yet, the CMP only says: "UPA will work out, in the next three months, a comprehensive medium-term strategy for food and nutrition security. The objective will be to move towards universal food security over time, if found feasible (emphasis added)". Yet, the central issue is not feasibility, but the will.

Again, the CMP does not rule out privatisation of profit-making public sector companies: "generally", they will not be privatised. The promise is to retain "the existing `navaratna' companies, while these companies raise resources from the capital market. While every effort will be made to modernise and restructure sick public sector companies and revive sick industry, chronically loss-making companies will either be sold off or closed after all workers have got their "legitimate dues and compensation". One can read some formulations as offering a justification for privatisation - for instance, that "the UPA government believes that privatisation should increase competition, not decrease it". Also that, "there must be a direct link between privatisation and social needs - like, for example, the use of privatisation revenues for designated social sector schemes".

In the conclusion of the economic section, the CMP reiterates its "abiding commitment to economic reforms with a human face, that stimulates growth, investment and employment. Further reforms ... will be carried out in agriculture, industry and services. The UPA's economic reforms will be oriented primarily to spreading and deepening rural prosperity, to significantly improving the quality of public systems and delivery of public services to bring about a visible and tangible difference in the quality of life of ordinary citizens ... ". Since this does not specify what is meant by "reforms", one can only take it to connote neo-liberal policy changes, albeit with "a human face" - a classic World Bank-International Monetary Fund formulation. There is no mention of equity and equality in the CMP, although "growth", "investment" and "employment" are repeatedly stressed.

The broad point is there is no commitment in the CMP to dismantling the macro-economic structure of neo-liberal policies, not even to progressive taxation with which to rectify imbalances in the government's finances.

The CMP takes a step backwards as regards India's nuclear policy. It ignores the Left's opposition to the 1998 nuclear tests and to plans to make and deploy nuclear weapons. It says the government is "committed to maintaining a credible nuclear weapons programme while at the same time it will evolve demonstrable and verifiable confidence-building measures with its nuclear neighbours. It will take a leadership role in promoting universal nuclear disarmament and working for a nuclear weapons-free world". This is definitely a retrograde departure even from the Congress' reiteration of a commitment to the Rajiv Gandhi plan of 1988 for global disarmament.

The CMP promises "an independent foreign policy, keeping in mind its past traditions. This policy will seek to promote multi-polarity in world relations and oppose all attempts at unilateralism". There is a welcome effort to play down India's recent proximity with the United States and no mention of "strategic partnership": "Even as it pursues closer engagements and relations with the U.S., the UPA government will maintain the independence of India's foreign policy position on all regional and global issues. The UPA is committed to deepening ties with Russia and Europe". The emphasis on the South Asian region too is welcome. What this will mean in practice remains to be seen. On the World Trade Organisation, there is no mention of the urgent need to protect services, in addition to agriculture and industry.

On the whole, the CMP is a reasonably good broad framework, whose ultimate test will lie in actual policy-making and implementation. The government must be held accountable on its commitments in favour of the people.

Unlike the CMP process, government formation has been messy and driven by exigencies. Some major appointments remain unsatisfactory. Among the positive ones are those of Natwar Singh (External Affairs), Arjun Singh (Human Resource Development), S. Jaipal Reddy (Information and Broadcasting), Mani Shankar Aiyar (Petroleum and Panchayati Raj) and Prithviraj Chavan (Minister of State in the PMO). However, the downside is strong too. Take three key portfolios: P. Chidambaram (Finance), Pranab Mukherjee (Defence) and Shivraj Patil (Home). Chidambaram is an ideologically driven neo-liberal who, like many other Harvard Business School graduates, remains dedicated to "free-market" doctrines. Manmohan Singh by contrast is no "free-market" zealot. He opposes dismantling of the public sector "for ideological reasons".

Neither Mukherjee nor Shivraj Patil can be accused of being imaginative or firm in adhering to principle. That is sorely needed today in Defence, which cries out for streamlining, deep cuts in wasteful budges and action against corruption. Similarly, Home holds the key to bringing the culprits of the Babri Masjid demolition to book, to resolving the Ayodhya dispute, abolishing POTA, and outlawing Togadia-style hate-speech and VHP-Bajrang Dal-style hate-acts. Similarly, Kamal Nath (Commerce) inspires no confidence whatsoever. The Minister will be called upon to play a crucial role in the coming round of WTO negotiations in which India's stand, like that of Brazil and South Africa, as well as the least developed countries', will matter. At stake is unrestricted trade in services, which will be disastrous for the Third World.

Equally disturbing is J.N. Dixit's appointment as National Security Adviser. Dixit's role during the Indian Peace-Keeping Force period in Sri Lanka was embarrassing. He is a known hardliner on the nuclear issue, and on relations with Pakistan. In the early 1990s, as Foreign Secretary, he gave hawks a free run in determining India's nuclear policy. Since 1998, he has openly advocated nuclearisation. He was singularly responsible for removing any reference to the Rajiv Gandhi plan from the Congress manifesto and for committing the party for the first time to "a credible nuclear weapons programme" - without debate or discussion. This composition does not suggest a great beginning. The UPA will have to do better than give the impression that it might soon drift towards conservativism.

NEO-LIBERALISM SPURNED

In a stunning verdict, the people of Andhra Pradesh convincingly reject their Chief Executive Officer N. Chandrababu Naidu and the neo-liberal development model he assiduously promoted in his nine years as Chief Minister. The electoral experience of other Chief Ministers who have embarked on a similar economic programme is no different. Here, an assessment of the performance of five Chief Ministers and the people's response, starting with Andhra Pradesh.

in Hyderabad

THE stunning defeat of the government led by the shining icon of economic liberalisation in India, N. Chandrababu Naidu, is perhaps the single most important result of the recent elections. Heading the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government in Andhra Pradesh for nine years, Chandrababu Naidu changed the nature of politics and turned the very notion of economic development on its head. His public appearances, invariably through video teleconferences, endeared himself to the media as an IT-savvy, modern-minded chief executive officer (CEO) of Andhra Pradesh Inc. But living up to an image always is risky.

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The mind-numbing regularity with which news of suicides by farmers in the State has flowed in in the last few weeks best illustrates all that is wrong with a system that has marginalised the poor while heaping favours on the privileged. Chandrababu Naidu rocked every social institution and engineered a social cleavage that demarcated the winners from the losers. In fact, it is not surprising that the elections were thus highly contentious. Both winners and losers were desperate to win this time - the winners to protect what they had gained and the losers hoping to gain something after having lost everything.

Nothing captures this gulf in society better than the contrast between the glitz in a small part of Hyderabad and the wave of farmer suicides that has swept the countryside in recent weeks. To reduce the electoral verdict to a "rural-urban divide" would, of course, be a grave injustice to the will of the electorate. For instance, in the Khairatabad Assembly constituency in the heart of Hyderabad, which has more glitz than any other place in the State, TDP Minister and former director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) K. Vijaya Rama Rao lost by a margin of more than 32,000 votes. The HiTec City, Cyberabad, the Indian School of Business, the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Banjara Hills, where Hyderabad's elite reside, all fall under this constituency. How could things have gone so badly wrong for Chandrababu Naidu here? Ashhar Farhan, an engineer who has an IT start-up in the city, points out that Khairatabad may appear glitzy, but there are also working class slums in the constituency. He said: "The underclass voted with their feet against the TDP because they had nothing to gain from Chandrababu Naidu's notion of development."

The roots of the popular anger against the TDP can be traced back to Chandrababu Naidu's deviation from the path charted by the TDP founder and popular film icon N.T. Rama Rao (NTR). It is significant that Chandrababu Naidu's path coincided with the vision that the World Bank had for the State. D. Narasimha Reddy, Dean, School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad, pointed out that Chandrababu Naidu was the "first politician in India who did not talk in terms of the weaker sections and the poor, even during times of elections". Political democracy was instead a matter of managing society. Although he assumed office in 1995, his real break with the legacy of NTR occurred the following year when he effected sharp increases in user charges for a range of public services such as drinking water and public transport. The popular base of the TDP under NTR was strengthened by his prohibition policy and the decision to supply rice at Rs.2 a kg. This expanded the TDP's appeal among the other backward classes (OBCs) and provided a political platform for the growing economic clout of the rich peasantry that rose as a result of the Green Revolution in coastal Andhra Pradesh. Narasimha Reddy pointed out that under the leadership of NTR the State budget allocated more funds for education and health, reflecting a distinctly welfare state orientation.

B.V. Raghavalu, secretary of the Andhra Pradesh unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said that the increase in user charges effected in 1996 paved the way for the Chandrababu Naidu government's subsequent association with the World Bank. In 1997, the World Bank initiated a massive loan programme for the State, which required a comprehensive alteration of almost every conceivable aspect of its economy. The Andhra Pradesh State Electricity Board, one of the profitable and efficient state-owned electricity grids in the country, was to be dismantled. State-run industrial units were to be privatised or closed down. In the field of agriculture, the State agreed to dismantle subsidies and stop the supply of free power to farmers.

Chandrababu Naidu was forced to slow down the pace of reforms by the uncertainties of coalition politics on the national stage and the Assembly elections in 1999. However, after he won the elections in 2000 he announced a massive hike in power rates, which triggered protests across the State. It also led to closer cooperation among the Opposition parties. As a result of the economic policies, the State suffered a massive problem of industrial sickness. According to C. Ramachandriah, reader at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies in Hyderabad, about one lakh small-scale industrial units have closed down in the State in the past five years, leaving about 15 lakh people jobless. Raghavalu said that as many as 55 public enterprises were handed over to private industrialists "at throw-away prices". Many others have been closed down, downsized or disinvested. To oversee this restructuring programme, the Chandrababu Naidu government established an Implementation Secretariat, which is advised by consultants of the Adam Smith Institute, a United Kingdom-based think tank that advises governments across the world how to go about dismantling state-owned enterprises.

Even as people were being thrown out of jobs in the industrial sector, the misery in the agricultural sector worsened. Narasimha Reddy said that the past five years witnessed a serious agrarian crisis. He pointed out that the crisis had a long history, going back more than two decades. While investment in agriculture has fallen, both at the national and State levels, the cost of production in the sector has risen, despite the subsidies. Product prices have fluctuated wildly in this period and marketing has become a serious problem for the peasantry. Moreover, the growing dependence on ground water resources added to the uncertainty. This has resulted in small and marginal farmers having to make risky investments. The phenomenon of farmer suicides in the last five years is unprecedented. Narasimha Reddy said: "Although these issues needed the attention of the government, these were precisely the issues Chandrababu Naidu was least bothered about." Instead, he issued a White Paper on agriculture, which considered issues related to small and marginal farmers as being part of "an old paradigm". The "new" thinking, according to him, was to make agriculture work for global markets, through contract and corporate farming. "There was a benign neglect of agriculture, despite the talk of investing in irrigation," said Narasimha Reddy.

Chandrababu Naidu tried to make up for the slide in the real economy by concentrating on visibility rather than substance. Narasimha Reddy, who has observed the former Chief Minister as a Ph.D student (he did not complete his thesis) at S.V. University in Tirupati in the mid-1970s, said that "he always focussed on imagery and visibility". In this the financial press proved a willing ally, especially because he caught its imagination and spoke its language. Thus, while the media ignored the widespread phenomenon of suicides by farmers and weavers, it focussed on the former Chief Minister's managerial style. Narasimha Reddy points out: "There is not a single meaningful programme to come to the rescue of people working in the handloom and powerloom sectors." The State apex cooperative has worsened the plight of the weavers by delaying their payments. Weavers have borrowed money at interest rates as high as 36 per cent and have been unable to clear their debts. He said: "There are many schemes but there is no effective mechanism to provide relief to the weavers. Instead, the master weavers who control the business, particularly the supply of subsidised yarn, have an effective hold on the fortune of the hapless weaver."

The Janmabhoomi programme, introduced by the Chandrababu Naidu government, was marred by allegations of misuse of funds meant for local bodies. Under the programme, funds were distributed through the State bureaucracy (nodal officers) instead of elected representatives. A lot of publicity at considerable expenditure accompanied the Janmabhoomi programme. Referring to the new government's decision to abolish Janmabhoomi, Narasimha Reddy said: "People outside the State may have a feeling that the new government has destroyed what Chandrababu Naidu has built. But people outside Andhra Pradesh are not aware of how, in the name of Janmabhoomi, the basic features of democratic decentralisation have been destroyed by Chandrababu Naidu." Narasimha Reddy also alleged that the only beneficiaries of the government programmes were vested interests. Most of the schemes were aimed at distribution - distribution of seeds, food for work and so on. The only other kind of work undertaken was building of roads. "Everybody knows that there is money to be made by vested interests in such schemes. A road to a village means there is a cut for someone," said Narasimha Reddy. There were also widespread allegations that foodgrain meant for the food-for-work programme was diverted to TDP functionaries. In the last two years, Chandrababu Naidu used his leverage with the Central government to get a substantial portion of the rice distributed by the Centre for Andhra Pradesh. But there were allegations that only a small portion of it reached the poor. Raghavalu said that ordinary people started feeling that while they were suffering, a section was making money at their expense. "Chandrababu Naidu was cut off from the people. His grand gestures, through teleconferences, were nothing but a gimmick," he said.

Although the TDP government introduced a number of schemes for every conceivable section of society - farmers, women, tribal people, weavers, artisans and even the minorities - these did not have much effect on their lives. In fact, there is evidence to show that the World Bank was willing to accommodate the requirements of its client who was going into election mode. The World Bank, on the eve of recent elections, extended Rs.900 crores to the government. However, it is evident that the massive "leakage" of funds, in favour of local elites - both urban and rural - increased popular ire against the TDP.

Raghavalu argues that the TDP's core social base, among those who have benefited from its policies, remains more or less intact. He said that the rich and middle peasants and the rural rich "vehemently" supported the TDP in the elections. After all, the TDP-BJP alliance got 39 per cent of the votes polled in the Assembly elections. The Congress, the Left parties and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) together polled 8 per cent more votes than the TDP-BJP alliance. The margin was 12 per cent in Telangana, 7 per cent in coastal Andhra Pradesh and only 2 per cent in Rayalaseema. Raghavalu said that the richer sections of the peasantry support the TDP because they have benefited in many ways (from the World Bank funds, for instance). He pointed out that the government spent about Rs.1,000 crores for digging canals. Almost all the contracts were given to the water users associations, in which the rural rich enjoy clout. About Rs.1,200 crores was spent in Janmabhoomi works and the main beneficiaries were the contractors. Raghavalu said that the TDP had developed a network of the rural elite, consisting of ration depot owners, rural and urban contractors, chairpersons of the education committees and water users associations and Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) groups. He said: "This organisational network worked for the TDP and they, in turn, benefited from the contracts issued by the State. In fact, it is this machinery that prevented the complete erosion of the TDP in rural Andhra Pradesh. The TDP is unique in the sense that it is the first political party that has tied its destiny to the implementation of the World Bank's agenda while building its own organisation in the process. The beneficiaries from this were the elite, the World Bank and the TDP. This mechanism worked as a bulwark for the TDP, cushioning the impact of this electoral defeat."

The Congress campaign, focussed as it was on the widespread distress in the countryside, engaged the attention of the peasantry. Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, while undertaking his 1,500-km long padayatra in the summer of 2003, talked about their problems. His popularity also enabled him to establish himself as the undisputed leader of the party in the State, which is marred by infighting. His major promise to the peasantry was free power and waiver of electricity dues, which he promptly adhered to soon after taking oath as Chief Minister on May 14. During the campaign, Rajasekhara Reddy promised free power, elimination of liquor chains known as "belt" shops in the rural areas, inquiry into corruption scandals, help to peasants to prevent suicides, enhancement of family, old-age and widow pensions, 180 days of agricultural employment, completion of irrigation projects in a time-bound manner (24 projects, costing Rs.42,000 crores, within five years), the establishment of a pay revision commission for employees, dearness allowance revision for pensioners, loans for DWCRA groups and peasants at lower interest rates ("four annas", three per cent a year) and the protection of the minorities.

Narasimha Reddy pointed out that when the Congress raised the issue of waiver of electricity dues and free power it caught the imagination of the people. However, Chandrababu Naidu and other critics have said that this is not feasible. Narasimha Reddy said: "I think the whole issue has been reduced and placed in a World Bank kind of framework. The point is that the rural sector is in deep crisis and needs some transfer of funds as relief. Farmers argue that when NTR made power supply free, it enabled a poor peasant to save Rs.3,000 a year, which enabled him to avoid debt. Now, the situation is that the peasant has to borrow to make this payment. He now is burdened by a debt of Rs.6,000, which he is unable to clear. It is very obvious that even in the richest countries of the world, the farming community cannot survive without state support. My argument is that we need to transfer Rs.3,000 to Rs.5,000 to provide relief to distressed farmers; we can call it what we want but this transfer is absolutely essential to the life of the peasant. It is also possible to do this."

Although he has "grave apprehensions about the Congress government's ability to solve the problems of the State", he believes that it has "started off with a very big advantage" - a "genuine identification of the problems of the people".

Prof. G. Hargopal of the University of Hyderabad argues that the peasantry is not asking for free power, it is only asking for power at reasonable rate. He points out that the peasant's main problem is access to resources. Private moneylenders are extremely oppressive. He pointed out that the peasant's demand for power is different from what people in urban areas may imagine. "He needs power mainly to draw water. The question really boils down to whether the state can do something to give the farmer water at an affordable rate. Water is in short supply. Production is risky. And, on top of all this, the farmer has no idea what he will get for his produce."

Raghavalu believes that the promises made by the Congress can be implemented if it has the political will. However, he said: "But, given its track record, we cannot hope that it will do so. Half of the promises made by it do not require major financial allocations. For instance, land distribution to the landless. According to one estimate, there are about 60 lakh acres of vacant land, for which pattas can be issued. There are 30 lakh applications pending for house sites. Most of this can be given by the government without incurring any financial liability." He believes that once the government establishes its commitment it can tackle the other issues of a long-term nature. As the supply of free power and waiver of power dues will cost the government Rs.450 crores and Rs.1,100 crores respectively, it may have to explore other avenues to make up this loss. Raghavalu argues that the supply of free power should be discriminatory; they should be focussed on small and marginal farmers. Otherwise, there is a danger of the entire scheme collapsing because of big farmers acting as free riders on a scheme meant for the small peasantry. Raghavalu observes that four lakh applications from farmers awaiting pumpset connections are pending before the government. If and when all these are connected to the grid, the bill will be substantially more than the Rs.450 crores that the State is going to incur annually.

Post-poll pundits in the media have added their own spin to the electoral verdict, commiserating with Chandrababu Naidu. In particular, they argued that the TDP was defeated by the "anti-incumbency factor", despite its government's contribution to the "development" of Andhra Pradesh. But Chandrababu Naidu's critics argue that the "anti-incumbency" argument conceals the widespread anger against neoliberal policies. Raghavalu says: "Anti-incumbency is a shallow argument and is only a euphemism to camouflage the real reasons for the rejection of the Chandrababu Naidu government. People from all major sections voted against the TDP and the BJP. The reforms had a universal impact, and the verdict has also been universal."

In a critical condition

SIDDHARTH NARRAIN cover-story

With the public health system in a shambles and private hospitals beyond their reach, basic health care proves to be a luxury for a majority of Indians.

UNION Minister for Health and Family Welfare Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss has his task cut out. Basic health indicators in the country are far from encouraging. The infant mortality rate is 68 per thousand live births every year. The rate of decline in infant mortality has slowed down in the last decade. About 130,000 mothers die during child birth every year. The maternal mortality rate has increased from 424 maternal per 100,000 live births to 540 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Social and environmental dislocation along with a weakening public health care system has led to a resurgence of communicable diseases such as malaria, dengue, encephalitis and kala azar. According to the latest National Family Health Survey, half of all Indian children are undernourished and half of all adult women suffer from anaemia.

Government expenditure on public health care has declined sharply since the beginning of `reforms' and structural adjustment in 1991. Only 17 per cent of all health care expenditure in India is borne by the government, making it one of the most privatised health care systems in the world. The capital expenditure in the health budget of the Central government has declined from Rs.45.09 crores in 1996-97 to just Rs.7.3 crores in 2001-02. The current annual per capita expenditure on public health care is only Rs.160. Since health is a State subject under the Constitutional framework, States are expected to contribute to a major part of the finances allocated to the health sector. But the budgetary allocation of States for health has declined form 7 per cent to 5.5. per cent in the period between 1990 and 1999. The Central government's contribution to public health investment in the country is only 15 per cent. The National Health Policy, 2002, suggests that this be increased to 25 per cent by 2010.

Dr. Mira Shiva, Director of Women's Health and Development and Rational Drug Policy of the Voluntary Health Association of India and founder-member of the People's Health Movement said: "The health budget has to be looked at as an investment in people's health and should be used to address the morbidity and mortality pattern of the country. It is unforgivable that even today six lakh children a year should die of diarrhoea when it can be prevented by safe drinking water and sanitation and by the timely administration of oral rehydration solutions."

The government will have to look carefully at how resources have been allocated within the existing budget. Dr. C. Sathyamala, epidemiologist and member of the Medico Friends Circle added: "The Tenth Five Year Plan has allocated most of its funds towards programmes dealing with contraception and the Pulse Polio Programme. What is the point in asking for an increase in the budget if the government does not look at where the resources are going?"

Increasingly, community and public health care experts in the country have begun to point out that vertical programmes such as the pulse polio and tuberculosis (directly observed treatment - short course) vaccination programmes have been given too much emphasis. "Vaccination is looked at as a solution instead of improving nutrition, safe drinking water and sanitation, which will automatically raise resistance levels to diseases. The focus on vaccines has meant that routine health services and basic health facilities have suffered," says Dr. Ravi D'Souza, consultant in community health. The previous government paid no attention to the Supreme Court's order of November 2001, asking to provide for a functioning anganwadi in every `settlement'.

The Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) says that public expenditure on health care will be increased from the current 0.9 per cent to 2 to 3 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) over the next five years, which is far below the 5 per cent recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The CMP says that a `national cooked nutritious mid-day meal scheme' will be introduced in primary and secondary schools. The UPA will also universalise the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme to provide a functional anganwadi in every settlement and ensure full coverage for all children.

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THE privatisation of health care has accelerated since 1991 with the unprecedented expansion of the private medical sector, the entry of private insurance in health care and the introduction of payment for medical services or "user fees" in the government sector. The last decade has seen the country move towards a dual system of health care - a high technology-based medical service on a par with what is available internationally to cater to the elite from India and abroad, while for the poor, the government is obliged to provide a minimal clinical package as suggested by the World Bank Report in 1993.

According to Dr. Sathyamala, while the proclaimed objective of user fees is to generate resources for the public sector, it has resulted in people being weaned away from public to private hospitals as people do not want to settle for what appears to be `second best' if money has to be paid in both cases. It has also meant that a large number of people are not seeking help from anyone. This has led to a paradoxical situation where the standard of medical care in public hospitals is degenerating even as user fees are introduced as a source of income.

The National Health Policy (NHP) of 2002 omits the concept of comprehensive and universal health care, thus departing from the National Health Policy of 1983 and India's obligation under the Alma Ata Declaration on Primary Health Care of 1978. Instead the NHP makes out a case for privatisation of existing public hospitals, creating new private hospitals and abdicating the government's responsibility to non-governmental organisations (NGO).

The Jana Swasthya Abhiyan, a national network of organisations that work in the area of health, organised a meeting with parliamentarians just before the elections to the Lok Sabha. The policy document that was released at this meeting, points out clearly that the health care system has been weakened by the policies of successive governments since 1991. The document points out that the proportion of those who are unable to afford health care has increased from 10 to 21 per cent in urban areas and 15 to 24 per cent in rural areas in the past decade. Forty per cent of those who are hospitalised are forced to borrow money or sell their assets to pay for the expenses resulting in two crore people being pushed below the poverty line every year, the report says. Only 38 per cent of all Public Health Centres (PHC) have all the critical staff. Health facility surveys conducted by the International Institute of Population Sciences(Mumbai) show that only 69 per cent of PHCs have at least one bed and 20 per cent have a telephone.

THE government needs to re-examine the current drug pricing policy. Most countries have some form of price controls to make sure that essential drugs are available to the public at an affordable rate. In India this is done through the Drug Price Control Order (DPCO). The number of drugs that are under price control have come down from 347 in the 1979 DPCO to the current 74. The National Pharmaceutical Policy of 2002 suggests that this be further reduced to 34. Dr. Anurag Bhargav, who is involved with this issue, said: "The pharmaceutical companies' logic that the market will act as a regulator of prices is a myth. Though Indian drugs are touted as the cheapest in the world; they are overpriced and unaffordable. In the pharmaceutical industry, it is the doctor who makes the choice for the consumer and the consumer has no easy way of evaluating the doctor's prescriptions. Both the assumptions of a free market and that of competition reducing prices are contestable."

The criteria for drug price control in the Pharmaceutical Policy of 2002 have been challenged in court by LOCOST, which is a non-profit trust that produces generic drugs at low prices; the Jana Swasthya Sahyog; the All India Drug Action Network and the Medico Friends Circle. Anurag Bhargav adds: "The criteria of the Pharmaceutical Policy 2002 have little to do with how essential the drugs are, the therapeutic importance of the drug or its importance in national programmes. As a result drugs that have escaped price control are overpriced and the monitoring agency of the government, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has no transparent methodology to identify and monitor drugs that need to be put under price control."

Spurious drugs are a major concern that the government has to tackle. The previous government, alarmed by the growing market for fake medicines in the country, set up the Mashelkar Committee to look at the various aspects of the menace. The committee found existing laws were too soft and called for death penalty for makers and stiff punishment for sellers of spurious medicines that could cause death or serious suffering. At the moment the issue is governed by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, which provides for stringent punishment to those manufacturing, promoting and selling fake and substandard drugs. The Mashelkar Committee Report observes that the Drug Control Authority under the Health Ministry, which is the appropriate body for dealing with this issue, has not used the existing provisions effectively. The committee has recommended that a single drug administration authority must be set up to monitor the segment.

The CMP says that the government will `provide leadership to national Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) control efforts'. Previous governments have not integrated their responses to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus /AIDS problem within the public health care system in the country. According to National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) estimates, there were 3.97 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the country at the end of 2001. Most HIV/AIDS initiatives are funded by international agencies which have the resources but in return exercise control over the HIV/AIDS discourse in the country.

Says Vivek Diwan from the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit: "Though the common perception is that there is a lot of money for HIV/AIDS, the fact is that the government spends a very small amount on addressing HIV/AIDS. The government needs to invest in surveillance mechanisms so that it is possible to estimate accurate numbers of people who are HIV positive. People have to be encouraged to test themselves by making sure there are enough voluntary testing and counselling centres (VTCTs) that have qualified counsellors who are adequately paid. There must be a genuine attempt to understand people who are affected the most, such as sex workers and homosexuals and to remove legal barriers that make it impossible to deal with the epidemic."

Till recently, the Indian government did not support ARV (anti-retroviral) treatment because of its prohibitive cost. Previous Health Minister Sushma Swaraj initiated a programme by which ARVs were provided free to one lakh HIV/AIDS patients in six States. It was launched in April this year but there are questions about where the money to sustain it is going to come from. The government is hoping that Indian pharmaceutical companies like Cipla, Ranbaxy, Hetero and Matrix will continue to provide ARVs at a lower cost to the government. But this may not be possible when the Third Patents (Amendment) Act that will bring patent law in India in compliance with the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) comes into force. Akshay Khanna, a lawyer who has dealt with HIV/AIDS issues and is a student of medical anthropology, said: "The government has to explore options on how to use the Doha Declaration to continue to produce cheaper drugs. The government also needs to look at the possibility of using the `public non-commercial use' exception in TRIPS to enable public sector pharmaceutical companies to produce ARVs."

The previous government had initiated an effort to draft a law on HIV/AIDS, which is still at the stage of consultations. The Health Ministry and NACO had engaged the Lawyers Collective's HIV/AIDS unit to draft the law and has been trying to engage as many stakeholders as possible. According to Vivek Diwan: "The draft is expected to be ready by August. Its emphasis will be on anti-discrimination and will cover the privates sector too. It will address issues of informed consent and confidentiality." The challenge before the Health Ministry is to continue its efforts to make the drafting process as consultative as possible.

A step forward

VENKATESH ATHREYA cover-story

Although the Common Minimum Programme does not make a clean break with the set of economic policies that have been repeatedly rejected by the people in every election held since 1991, it is a welcome first step forward in the process of building a confident, democratic and socially and economically modern and just society.

THE Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), released on May 27, 2004 - exactly 40 years to the day Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru passed away - represents, in part, a return to some of the goals that Nehru had held dear. It constitutes a step forward in the process of building a secular India, which is also more socially and economically inclusive than has been the case in recent years. While it does not fully reflect the meaning of the electoral verdict of 2004, insofar as it does not make a clean break with the set of economic policies that have been repeatedly rejected by the people in every election held since 1991, it nonetheless recognises that these policies have not addressed the needs of significant sections of the population and seeks to make partial course corrections. Being a document of a coalition of parties, it reflects the political give-and-take inevitable in such an arrangement.

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The CMP advances six basic principles of governance, which are welcome and unexceptionable. These include:

* Preserving, protecting and promoting social harmony and resolutely opposing communalism.

* Ensuring sustained, employment-oriented economic growth.

* Enhancing the welfare of farmers, agricultural labourers and workers.

* Empowering women and promoting gender equality.

* Ensuring equality of opportunity for socially disadvantaged groups and religious minorities.

* Unleashing creative energies and promoting productive forces.

The CMP recognises the damage done to the pluralist and secular nature of Indian society and its key institutions by the onslaught of fundamentalism and obscurantism of various hues and by the active promotion of religious fanaticism in pursuit of political advantage in recent years. Its commitments in this regard by the reiteration of the secular principles that have been the bedrock of our multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual nationhood, and its upholding of a secular polity are most welcome. Its restatement of the commitment to the letter and spirit of Article 370 of the Constitution pertaining to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and the specific attention paid in the CMP to the educational and other needs of the minorities should go a long way in addressing the genuine concerns of the minorities in the current political conjuncture without in any way pandering to minority communalism.

The CMP makes an effort to address the issue of social exclusion characteristic of India's growth path in recent times when it spells out its commitments to disadvantaged classes and social groups, including farm workers, farmers, other workers especially in the unorganised sector, Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Castes, the backward classes, women and minorities. Its attention to agriculture, education and health will be welcomed by all. These are sectors that have been badly affected during the decade and more of mindless pursuit of policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation (LPG). However, there is room for concern over the policies proposed in the CMP to address some of these issues.

The CMP contains welcome corrections to the foreign policy pursued by the National Democratic Alliance regime, which bordered on servility to the sole superpower and acquiesced in its efforts to ensure its global domination through unilateral actions, including the invasion of sovereign countries and colonial occupation. The CMP's commitment "to promote multipolarity in world relations and oppose all attempts at unilateralism" is timely. The explicit commitment to "the cause of the Palestinian people for a homeland of their own" is also most welcome. Its assertion that "... the UPA government will maintain the independence of India's foreign policy position on all regional and global issues" as well as its emphasis on promotion of closer ties with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries, China and Russia are consistent with India's national interests. While there may be diplomatic reasons for the reference in the CMP to the pursuit of closer engagements and relations with the United States, it needs to be underlined that the current U.S. foreign policy has been exceptionally aggressive and based on the unacceptable premise of the U.S.' right to intervene militarily anywhere in the world if it perceives a threat to its interests.

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While the need to meet commitments made to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as on date may be unavoidable, this does not and should not preclude serious efforts to renegotiate several existing treaty obligations under WTO, which are patently unfair to the Third World, the agreement on intellectual property rights being a case in point. There is a need in this context to build on and strengthen the solidarity among Third World countries, particularly India, China, Brazil and South Africa, which was demonstrated in the Cancun Ministerial meeting of the WTO. It is worthy of note that the CMP does make a reference to this aspect.

ONE of the positive features of the CMP is its explicit promise to repeal the dreaded Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). The abrogation of basic democratic rights in the name of fighting terrorism cannot be countenanced. There are enough laws in the country, which, if implemented without fear or favour, will be far more effective than legislation such as POTA that lead to arbitrary actions and gross misuse of powers by undemocratic governments.

On another important aspect of the exercise of democratic rights, the CMP has made the commitment that "... the right to strike according to law ...will not be taken away or curtailed", although it has not spoken of bringing in legislation to protect the right to strike, which was felt necessary by almost all workers' organisations cutting across political lines.

On economic issues, the CMP makes a promising beginning by focusing on employment, food, nutrition security, agriculture and rural credit. One of the key negative features of the economic policy and performance of the decade and more of "economic reforms" of the LPG variety has been the extremely slow growth in employment in general and rural employment in particular. Between 1993-94 and 1999-2000, rural employment grew at an abysmal rate of 0.66 per cent per annum, while the overall rate of growth of employment was around 1 per cent per annum. Verdict 2004 has confirmed that things did not get any better since 1999. It is therefore appropriate that the CMP has laid emphasis on employment as an important policy objective, and one that will not be automatically ensured by growth per se. Its explicit commitment to "... provide a legal guarantee for at least 100 days of employment, to begin with, on asset-creating public works programmes every year at minimum wages for at least one able-bodied person in every rural or urban poor and lower-middle class household" and its assurance that, "in the interim, a massive food-for-work programme will be started" represent an important break with the policies of the past.

Another key negative feature of the "economic reforms" period has been the stagnation in agriculture and the decline in the rate of growth of foodgrain production to levels below the rate of growth of population for the first time since Independence. Ironically, despite the slower growth of foodgrain production, the "reform policies" ensured that India would end up with huge stocks of unsold foodgrain in public godowns, even while a significant proportion of the population suffered from chronic hunger. It did this by raising the prices of foodgrain supplied through the public distribution system (PDS) and by depriving access to these foodgrain for a large segment of the needy population by pursuing the so-called Targeted PDS.

Progressive economists have been arguing for quite some time now that the Targeted PDS must be replaced by a system of universal access, and that a massive food-for-work programme would provide employment, create productive rural assets and reduce unsold stocks with the Food Corporation of India and thus reduce the subsidy cost of food. Moreover, such a programme, by putting purchasing power in the hands of a large segment of the rural population, will help the domestic market expand and thus revive industry as well. The CMP implicitly recognises the merit of this argument although it is still unwilling to accept a universal access PDS to ensure food security as recommended by the Abhijit Sen Committee.

THE CMP has partially recognised the irrationality of indiscriminate sale of public sector enterprises and disinvestment as an ideology. It has taken the view that, `generally, profit-making companies will not be privatised'. However, it has not also questioned the rationale of privatisation in general. That privatisation of public sector enterprises has become an article of faith with most proponents of the kind of economic reforms under way since 1991, including many in the UPA camp, is a reflection of the hold of neo-liberal ideology, which presumes that, other things being equal, the private sector is always to be preferred to the public sector. Such a mindset does not recognise the crucial role that the public sector has played in India and continues to play not only in meeting strategic needs but also in mobilising resources for development and strengthening self-reliance.

One has only to recall the state of India's external dependence in respect of the oil industry prior to the establishment of oil refining capacity in the public sector in the early 1960s or the problems we faced in establishing a strong steel sector in the 1950s, or in more recent times, the contribution made by the public sector insurance industry to mobilising resources for development, to understand the critical importance of the public sector and the absence of any compelling generalised rationale for privatisation. Arguments for privatisation on the grounds of so-called `efficiency' have been largely ideological.

A related issue in this context is the role of the private sector in infrastructure. Here, even while agreeing to review provisions of the Electricity Act, 2003, in response to the concern expressed by many State governments, the CMP reiterates a commitment "to an increased role for private generation of power, and more important, power distribution". Again, given the poor track record of the so-called fast-track power projects of the `independent power producers' over the last decade and more, the rationale for this commitment is far from obvious.

In the wake of the results of the 2004 elections, and the mandate received by the Left parties, which have consistently opposed certain key aspects of the policies pursued in the name of "economic reforms" for over a decade and more vigorously by the NDA regime in the past six years, commentators have sought to downplay the verdict against the reform policies. The key role of the Left in supporting a secular government from outside has, it is claimed, caused considerable apprehension among foreign institutional investors, in particular about the possibility of reversal of reforms, and this, it is alleged, has led to sharp declines in the stock market indices.

All this is then presented as some kind of a catastrophe, the responsibility for which is to be laid at the door of the Left party spokespersons who had merely restated their well-known policy positions during the process of government formation. The basic question to be raised in fact is why should the Indian economy and its policies be held hostage to a group of international financial speculators and domestic bear cartels, and not the alleged irresponsible utterances of political party spokespersons.

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It is in this context that one must take issue with the CMP's commitment to encourage foreign portfolio investments. These are globally recognised to be "hot money" flows that do not contribute to productive investment, but merely enhance the vulnerability of the economies that receive such flows to the vagaries of international financial markets.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is in a different category, and a case can certainly be made for attracting FDI flows. Even here, however, the matter must be put in perspective. Between 1992 and 2001, India received a total of $40 billion as capital inflows. Of this, $22 billion was portfolio investment, and $18 billion constituted FDI. Of this FDI amount, nearly half went into mergers and acquisitions, so that effective greenfield FDI was hardly $9 billion or less than $1 billion a year. This amounts to less than 1 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) and hardly 4-5 per cent of our gross domestic capital formation. FDI flows have increased in recent years, but not a great deal.

The point is not that we do not need FDI flows, but that its importance should not be exaggerated. Further, as the Chinese experience shows, FDI tends to go to an expanding economy and not the other way round. In other words, one cannot rely on FDI as the kick-starter or prime mover of growth. Government policies that encourage expansion of markets through enhancing the purchasing power of the population and through accessing export markets are critical. This last point brings us to the issue of basic land reforms.

The experience of many countries - and these include Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China - demonstrates that land reform is the key to sustained economic development. Redistributive land reforms expand the number of stakeholders in the rural economy, unleashing the creative energies that the CMP talks about, and enables the growth of a home market, which can then become an engine of growth.

Besides, in our context, such reforms would have the salutary effect of breaking the hold of structures of caste oppression and expanding the democratic space. The CMP does make a reference to the implementation of land reforms in passing but does not give the issue the importance it deserves.

These observations notwithstanding, the CMP does reflect, on the whole, the mandate of elections 2004 for a secular and more inclusive society, economy and polity. It is a welcome first step forward in the process of building a confident, democratic and socially and economically modern and just society.

Lessons from history

A.G. NOORANI cover-story

For the UPA to succeed in office, good governance must be coupled with an ideological onslaught on Hindutva.

THE United Progressive Alliance (UPA) faces a challenge of which it is, understandably, dimly aware. Voted to power by a verdict none expected, it is beginning to tackle problems that demand immediate attention. The historical perspective seems a luxury; but it is very necessary if the UPA is to discharge the trust the nation has reposed in it. It must not follow the precedent of the Janata Party, which betrayed it when its leaders squabbled, broke up the party in 1979 and paved the way for the return of Indira Gandhi whom the people had voted out of office in 1977. That verdict caused little surprise, so obvious and powerful was the wave of resentment at the Emergency.

This time no such wave was apparent, but the silent majority did not hesitate to speak up when it was asked to give its opinion. Explanations for the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) debacle vary; but one thing is clear - its effort to mould a national ethos that would reflect the ideology of Hindutva has failed miserably. The spirit of Hinduism triumphed over the ideology of Hindutva. The edifice, which its de facto leader L.K. Advani sought to build after Atal Bihari Vajpayee failed to perform as BJP president, has come crashing down. Recall the stages - electoral debacle in 1984; exploitation of the Shah Bano case, the Muslim Women's Bill and the Babri Masjid issue in 1986; the Palampur resolution of 1989 on the Masjid, on the eve of the Lok Sabha polls, which yielded impressive gains; Advani's rath yatra in 1990 and his wrecking of the V.P. Singh government; further gain in 1991; demolition of the Masjid in 1992; and, at long last, capture of power in 1998. People can be aroused to religious frenzy only for a while. In retrospect, both the demolition and the Gujarat pogrom cost the BJP dear. Its dream of emerging as the national party of governance is shattered.

A full documented record of the BJP's misdeeds in power is necessary. Suffice it only to say that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) it drummed up failed to check the BJP. Its convenor George Fernandes belittled the Staines' murders and the Gujarat pogrom. Saffronisation of education was one of the more obvious ventures in Hindutva. Another escaped notice because public uproar stalled it. Advani's Home Ministry wrote a letter to the BJP government in Gujarat on July 13, 1999, permitting recruitment of members of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in State service in breach of the Gujarat Civil Servants Conduct Rules, 1971.

It was a short step to their recruitment at the Centre. That move was stalled. But one could not help asking. "If they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?" (St. Luke; 23:31) Vajpayee said in Ayodhya on February 8, during the election campaign, that he needed "five more years" in order to "fulfil my promise to build the temple". He had said, in New York on September 9, 2000, at a Sangh Parivar meeting, "If the electorate gives us a clear two-thirds majority, we will build the India of our dreams." We have been spared that; but an opportunity might yet come its way if the UPA goes the Janata way.

The Morarji Desai government did not misgovern, but it squabbled in full public view and betrayed its mandate. It reneged on its promises to give autonomy to All India Radio and Doordarshan, thanks to the Information and Broadcasting Minister L.K. Advani; on ensuring public accountability and on much else. The UPA has not begun too well. Reneging on promises to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam was bad enough. Giving Ministerial berths to persons who face prosecutions is condemnable and it is no excuse that Vajpayee publicly, repeatedly condoned this when he was in power. It would be singularly unfortunate if the UPA provides the BJP with the fodder it needs for its survival.

Political decline, if not demise, is the dire prospect, which the BJP faces. It is also the challenge that confronts the UPA. If the Manmohan Singh government performs even moderately well and, more, lasts its full term, the effects on the Sangh Parivar will be tectonic. After a long struggle, first as the Jan Sangh and next as the BJP, the RSS' political arm tasted power. A cruel electorate snatched it from its mouth, leaving it demoralised. The noises we have heard from its usual noisy ones reflect that. But misgovernance will win them public support. Deprived of it, both the BJP and the RSS will collapse. The two elders, especially Vajpayee, have no stomach for another fight. Advani and Vajpayee are the only ones with a mass base. The seconds whom Advani groomed have no such support. They are either operators like Pramod Mahajan or raucous college debators on TV channels like Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj. At odds with one another, they lack the maturity, which enabled Vajpayee and Advani to work together.

The RSS boss K.S. Sudarshan lacks the authority of even Rajendra Singh, let alone Balasaheb Deoras. Adversity will exacerbate differences, especially if the prospect of return recedes from the horizon as the UPA succeeds.

But good governance in the UPA must be coupled with an ideological onslaught on Hindutva and a thorough cleansing of the institutions, which the BJP defiled. Secularism, an integral part of the Gandhi-Nehru ethos, must be practised and advocated vigorously, with none of the compromises of the P.V. Narasimha Rao regime on secularism or on corruption. History will not forgive the UPA if it fails to deliver on its promises and sells the pass to the BJP.

Down, but not out

K.N. PANIKKAR cover-story

The BJP is defeated politically, but communalism is alive and active. The electoral victory has gifted secular forces with a golden, and perhaps the last, opportunity to counter it.

THE main reason attributed by the spokesman of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) for the defeat of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the failure of the government to implement fully the Hindutva agenda. The international president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) also echoed the same opinion. He is of the view that the present leadership of the BJP has ignored the interests of the Hindus by marginalising the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and, therefore, deserves to be voted out of power. He demanded a change in the leadership in favour of a new `Hindu face' like that of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharati whose conscience would not be troubled by moderation in the pursuit of Hindu interests. The controlling forces in the Sangh Parivar have evidently realised that the cleverly crafted `statesmanship' of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the charioting abilities of Lal Krishna Advani are not likely to lead them to realise the goals they had set for themselves. It is time to draft a new script, the form of which has already been spelt out, but the words are yet to be filled in. The agenda of the Sangh Parivar during the next five years is likely to focus on a re-articulation, even a redefinition, of Hindu interests in order to expand its social base and political influence. In the process, new sites of agitation and mobilisation are likely to be invented.

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The disenchantment of the RSS and the VHP with the performance of the BJP government during the last five years, despite its unmistakably communal character, is not because the latter did not own the Hindutva agenda. Nor is it true that the BJP has not achieved a measure of success in colouring the state institutions saffron and turning them into powerful instruments for the generation and propagation of communal discourse. The impact of this effort is quite evident in the fields of education, science and technology and culture. Simultaneously, secular values and practices have been undermined and the secular character of public institutions has been deformed. The truth is that these efforts did not satisfy the hardcore advocates of Hindutva and their unhappiness is not born out of the frustration of electoral defeat alone. The Sangh Parivar is understandably disappointed that the political opportunity could not be used to satisfy the religious aspirations they had aroused in their followers. Their credibility as the champions of Hindu interests was therefore at stake. Hence the rather frantic attempt to distance themselves from the present leadership which had their support during the last five years.

CHOOSING the representatives of the people is the avowed goal of an election, but it is not its sole objective in a democratic system. The process by which the voter arrives at a decision as to whom to choose has much greater salience for political education. Ideally, the elections are meant to deepen the commitment of the people to democratic values and culture. The election campaigns are, therefore, supposed to be the battlegrounds of ideas and the sites for the clash of contending views about the future of society and polity. It is such debates that help the voter to make informed electoral decisions. Only if the campaigns are undertaken with this perspective can their democratising potential be realised.

To what extent did the election of 2004 contribute to this political process? Among the several issues of policy and governance that agitated the electorate, two were of crucial significance. First, the communalisation of the state and society witnessed during the tenure of the NDA government - a process approved and promoted by it. The consequent communal-secular divide in society reflected a contest between two systems of political and social values. Second, the NDA rule witnessed an unprecedented surrender of the Indian economy to the interests of multinational capital. The BJP sought to fudge these issues, as it feared that in both cases its record could not be defended. Therefore, the nature of the campaign was so designed to bypass these crucial issues and to focus on the unreal and the uncritical. Thus slogans such as `India Shining' and `Feel Good Factor' were invented which, it was hoped, would arouse the patriotic pride of the people and, in turn, induce them to submerge their misery in the pool of common good. But the life of the common man was not shining anywhere, nor did he have anything to feel good about. Like the Fascists in Europe, the BJP believed that people could be duped by propaganda, that too by using the money collected from them. That was not to be. The credibility gap was so wide that even the BJP could realise the futility of this fraud. Hence it shifted the focus of the campaign to issues that could arouse emotion and patriotic fervour, such as the "foreign origin" of Sonia Gandhi.

No electoral campaign had touched such low level of decency and public morality as that of the BJP in this election. As its fortunes ebbed during the protracted electoral process, the quality of its campaign was increasingly drained of parliamentary decorum. Fascism among other things, as Jawaharlal Nehru said, is "crude and vulgar". On that count alone, a clear homology between Fascism and Hindu communalism is in order. Never before was this character of Hindu communalism so clearly expressed than during the run-up to this election. The way the "foreign origin" issue was handled by the BJP leadership not only betrayed the anxiety for survival, but a lack of elementary courtesy and decency.

The language and demeanour of the Modis, the Togadias, the Sushma Swarajs and the Vinay Katiyars can perhaps be dismissed as individual aberrations, but the approval of their behaviour by the national leadership of a party that ruled one of the oldest civilisations of the world can hardly be condoned. And the BJP takes particular pride in the achievements of that civilisation. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister, who is hailed as a statesman, chose to keep quiet. He had nothing to say about this uncultured behaviour of his party members. But then did he also not resort to puns, for which he is popular, to demean his opponents?

The rather vulgar and indecent campaign was neither accidental nor the result of individual hallucination. It is the outcome of deliberate planning. Otherwise the Hindi songs, which would unsettle the sensitivity of any cultured person, could not have found such a prominent place in the BJP's campaign. Written by a well-known lyricist of the Hindi film world, who was obviously commissioned to do so, their language is foul, diction offensive and pun revolting. The common man in India values civilised behaviour and disapproves indecency, particularly if it is against women. One of the widely shared strains in Indian tradition is the respect and consideration it accords to women, so much so that several Hindu religious reformers hold that the greatness of a civilisation is marked by the way it treats women. Is the rejection of the BJP in this election a reaction of the common man to the uncivilised behaviour of its leaders?

JOHN GALBRAITH, the famous economist, once remarked that no generalisation holds good for India as a whole. This observation most certainly applies to the electoral verdict of 2004. No single reason can be ascribed to the way the people exercised their franchise in various parts of the country. Yet, there is no denying the fact that there was a widely shared sentiment against the BJP. It did not manifest itself as an upsurge as in 1977 only because the intensity of this resentment was not widely realised, given the pro-BJP impression created by the media. The BJP, in the reckoning of most scribes, was the front-runner. The main contribution of the psephologists and pollsters to the election of 2004 was the construction of this expert, but false, assessment. Despite this `positive' role of the media, had the secular formations had greater organisational ability, the results would have been quantitatively different and the BJP would have been totally decimated, even if it managed to preserve its earlier support base. The sentiment against the BJP was generated neither by anti-incumbency nor by any particular policy of the government. The administrative measures of the government anchored in the interests of multinational capital were indeed a decisive factor influencing the electoral behaviour. But what persuaded people to exercise their franchise against the BJP was the character of its rule, which was communal, authoritarian and anti-people. The verdict, however, was not against the government and the party alone, but equally against the Sangh Parivar as a whole.

The Sangh Parivar looked upon the government led by the BJP as an instrument and not as an end in itself. The importance of political power and the opportunity it would provide, even as a part of a motley coalition, were fully realised. One of the purposes of the BJP's participation in the government was to enable the Sangh Parivar to pursue the larger agenda of creating the social, cultural and ideological structures as a necessary precursor to the construction of a Hindu Rashtra. Therefore what was expected of the BJP was that it would use the government authority for two purposes. First, to ensure the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya and, if possible, to `liberate' the temples at Kashi and Mathura. Second, to take steps to further the influence of the Sangh Parivar in civil society and at the same time to create the necessary conditions for controlling the state institutions.

Regarding the former, despite its commitment to the cause, the BJP could not make much headway owing to the constraints of coalition politics. A semblance of moderation was necessary in the pursuit of communal interests, if the coalition government were to be preserved. In the event, the BJP chose to tread cautiously; supporting the construction of the temple on the one hand, and, on the other, assuring the coalition partners about the government's commitment to them in the matter. Although the government did not involve itself directly in the various agitations launched for constructing the temple, it did lend support to the attempts of the Sangh Parivar to force the issue. The Prime Minister himself played out this dual role to perfection. Whenever attempts were made to disturb the status quo at Ayodhya, he expressed his anguish, but soon gave the impression that such acts were inspired by the legitimate aspirations of Hindus and thus justified what he had earlier disapproved. Even the most militant among the Sangh Parivar would not have expected the BJP-led government to implement fully the Hindutva agenda. The main and immediate aim was to construct the temple at Ayodhya, which in fact was a demand of the VHP. The RSS was not unduly exercised over the temple construction issue. It was more concerned with the fulfilment of long-term interests.

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In the case of long-term interests of the Sangh Parivar, the BJP government has very effectively pursued its brief. It has succeeded in putting in place an ideological structure, which would ensure the displacement of secular ideas and practices from state institutions and agencies. The Ministry of Human Resource Development, under the stewardship of RSS stalwart Murli Manohar Joshi, relentlessly pursued this ideal. By using the powers of patronage, it has managed to ensure the collaboration of a section of the intelligentsia in this effort. Several `independent' intellectuals and cultural leaders were more than willing to act as his hatchetmen.

Ensconcing themselves in places of power, the cohorts of Joshi have succeeded in denuding the educational, cultural and research institutions of their academic character and transformed them into communal outfits. In the bargain, the University Grants Commission (UGC), the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR), the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) and several other such institutions became centres for the dissemination of obscurantism and the irrationality of `Joshism'. The prestigious Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have been saved from this disaster by the people. At the same time the communalisation of state institutions such as the police and the bureaucracy had also been effected.

The overthrow of the BJP government, therefore, does not automatically mean the end of communal influence. It would persist in the administration and continue to be felt in institutional practices. Dismantling the ideological structures and institutional arrangements is urgently necessary, if communalism is to be rooted out of the country's public life. This cannot be achieved by administrative changes alone. For instance, in the field of education, the entire curriculum has been given a communal orientation, history has been rewritten and the achievements of indigenous science have been romanticised. To implement these ideas, a large number of schools have been set up, particularly in tribal areas. Even the funds of scientific research institutions have been diverted to `invent' and privilege the "Hindu sciences". The `achievements' of the BJP government in these areas being of a high order, it would require considerable effort to undo the damage to the educational system of the country. But it goes without saying that it is an urgent task.

HINDU communalism is at the threshold of a new phase in its history. By articulating its ideology as `integral humanism', it had sought to expand its political influence through participation in coalition governments from 1977. This policy has resulted in enormous political benefit, as its electoral performance steadily improved; so much so that it gained enough ascendancy to lead the government in 1999. The aim of the experiment at governance, conducted with the help of an unwieldy coalition, was to expand its social support in order to gain a majority in Parliament on its own. During the campaign, the BJP president had repeatedly stated that the aim was to win 300 seats for itself, so that the party could be free from the stranglehold of the alliance partners in the implementation of the Hindutva agenda. After all, have not the BJP leaders repeatedly stated that they would take up the contentious issues only when the party gets a majority on its own?

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The general elections have pushed the BJP to the backseat. Although the coalition strategy had yielded considerable political leeway, its limitations were exposed by the electoral verdict. Without the active support and collaboration of its allies, the BJP would not have succeeded in keeping its nose above water during the last five years. Yet, they could not be taken for granted. M. Karunanidhi and Ram Vilas Paswan changed sides and N. Chandrababu Naidu and Jayalalithaa proved unpopular. The ability of the `statesman' Prime Minister to manage the contradictions within the coalition slowly but steadily vanished. The pre-election euphoria thus turned into a nightmare. If the success of the BJP in the election of 1999 was a result of the support extended by the allies, the defeat in the present elections indicated how fragile and undependable the coalition was. The BJP has, therefore, been forced to look for an alternative route to power. Would it usher in a new phase in the history of Hindu communalism?

During the last 10 years of its leap forward, the Sangh Parivar adopted different strategies to advance and reinforce its appeal. Among them, religious mobilisation through emotive issues have yielded maximum dividend. Beginning with the Ram Janmabhoomi issue such efforts have covered almost all regions. Other sites of religious contestation, such as Baba Budhangiri (in Karanataka) and Bhojshala (in Madhya Pradesh), were invented. Agitations were launched in protest against artistic representations of Hindu deities and scholarly interpretations of history. Such agitations with a religious focus were continuously kept alive. Such efforts achieved a very high degree of success in forcing a sense of division in society, since all these issues were advanced as matters of religious interests.

While the VHP was mainly in the forefront of these agitations, the RSS was engaged in constructing a more abiding influence through the activities of cultural and social institutional network. The access to power during the last five years considerably benefited these organisations, as RSS stalwarts such as Murli Manohar Joshi used their official position to patronise and promote them. What has happened, as a result, was not Hindu revivalism alone, but more grievously, the communalisation of the marginalised. Although these efforts have covered considerable ground, several social groups, particularly among Dalits and the Adivasis, have not yet been fully brought under the umbrella of Hinduisation. The Ekal Vidyalayas being set up in the tribal areas, manned by RSS cadre, and the sanskritisation of Dalit and tribal worship practices are part of imparting a Hindu identity to tribal people as a first step in their cooption to the communal fold.

The administration of the BJP had sought to project a modern face by advocating a capitalist development agenda. Despite the objections and opposition of the more conservative sections of the Sangh Parivar, the government enunciated and pursued a policy of liberalisation and globalisation, mainly to garner the support of the middle class, even if, in the process, it subordinated the economy to the imperial interests. The subordinate capitalist development, which ensued, was hailed as the model for future India. It was on that plank that the State Assembly elections of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan were fought and won. The campaigns of `India Shining' and `Feel Good Factor' were also informed by the same perspective.

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DESPITE the electoral debacle, the Sangh Parivar is not likely to renounce any of these strategies. For they all appeal to various sections of its existing social base. But then the existing social base is not wide enough to ensure a majority on its own. The popular vote the BJP has received so far has remained in the region of about 20 per cent. In the given configuration of political forces, it is not likely to mark any substantial increase. Even in the first past the post system it is not sufficient to ensure a majority in Parliament. An increase of at least about 10 per cent is required to achieve it. In the coming years, therefore, the Sangh Parivar would be forced to refashion its strategies, if it wants to expand its social base. Then only can it hope to realise its oft-repeated dream of gaining a majority that would enable it to implement the agenda of Hindutva without constraints. Such a reorientation of strategy would mark a new stage in the history of Hindu communalism.

The character of the new stage would constitute a conscious preparation for a Fascist order. The Sangh Parivar had not bargained for a premature take over as happened in 1999. It was one of those accidents in history, from which it tried to derive maximum mileage. The aim of the Sangh Parivar was to come to power only when their social and ideological structures were firmly put in place in society. The Fascism of Hindu communalism would come to stay only if it flows out of such a social situation. Therefore the future portends the `return' to the civil society by expanding the RSS programme of `constructive' cultural, social and intellectual interventions. The hitherto communally uncolonised sections of society such as Dalits and Adivasis are likely to be the targets of Hindutva `social engineering'. That the extension of such interventions into new areas would intensify violence, particularly against Christian missionaries who are engaged in social and philanthropic work among the tribal people, is a distinct possibility.

Upsetting all calculations and predictions, the people have provided an opportunity to retrieve the secular ethos of Indian society and politics. This is a triumph occasioned by the active mediation and involvement of a variety of forces. Individuals, political parties and voluntary organisations have contributed to this secular assertion. What has happened as a result is the defeat of communal forces at the hustings, but communal ideology has not been worsted. It is still alive and active. And during the next five years it would be more assertive. The secular forces have been, so to say, gifted with a golden and perhaps the last opportunity to countermand communalism; to dismantle its ideological structures, to undermine its social ascendancy and to marginalise its political influence. History never repeats itself. Another such opportunity may not materialise at all.

K.N. Panikkar is Vice-Chancellor, Sri Sankara University of Sanskrit, Kalady, Kerala.

To rebuild infrastructure

R. RAMACHANDRAN cover-story

Though the Common Minimum Programme of the new government does not give much importance to science and technology, a lot needs to be done in this sector. Implementing the Science and Technology Policy of 2003 would be a good first step.

BEYOND the rhetoric, science and technology (S&T) are not areas that political parties are genuinely concerned about usually. But, since they do vaguely perceive its importance, party manifestos make pro forma statements with regard to the sector. The Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, for instance, contains some general all-inclusive statement about S&T. Considering that the draft CMP, authored by the Congress, included the same paragraph, it is obvious that the parties in the coalition are not overly bothered about the sector one way or the other. More interesting is the fact that while the 1999 election manifesto of the Congress had a substantial paragraph on S&T, that of 2004 had nothing to say on the subject. The 2004 manifesto of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), on the other hand, had put out an eight-point agenda for S&T but its performance in this field in the past six years leaves much to be desired. The change of regime at the Centre cannot, therefore, be expected to greatly alter the current S&T scenario in the country, which is fairly dismal.

For instance, will the new Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister, Arjun Singh, and the new S&T Minister Kapil Sibal initiate steps to undo the patently irrational and retrograde move by the University Grants Commission (UGC), recently endorsed by the Supreme Court, to introduce Vedic Astrology (Jyotir Vigyan) in university curricula? Interestingly, the BJP manifesto included creating a scientific temperament in society and raising popular awareness about science. Obviously, the party did not view introduction of courses in astrology as running counter to this. In fact, creating a scientific temper in society is one of directive principles of the Constitution. It also forms one of the key objectives of the new Science and Technology Policy (STP-2003) unveiled in January 2003.

Though the NDA manifesto promised to "vigorously implement the Science and Technology Policy", the insincerity of such proclamations is apparent from the fact that hardly any steps towards its implementation were evident. The new government can seize the opportunity and begin implementing the policy in earnest. "The issues to be addressed by the new government are those that have been spelt out in the policy document," pointed out M. S. Valiathan, President of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), which was involved in its framing. Echoing the same view, Shobo Bhattacharya, director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), said: "The policy document is a good one. Beginning to implement it will be a good step."

From the perspective of STP-2003, what should be the top-most priority for the new government to implement? "The government should worry about higher education," says P. Balaram, a biologist at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, and the editor of Current Science, a premier scientific journal of the Indian Academy of Sciences (IASc). "It has to think about what to do for the sciences in universities, how new faculty can be inducted. There is a real dearth of quality people in the universities. While the reasons in State universities are financial or freezing of new appointments or reservation policies, in Central universities it is the lack of infrastructure and the appropriate research environment. The average age of faculty in the universities is increasing, and bright young people are not going to the universities. This is beginning to tell upon all other institutions and scientific departments, including space, atomic energy and defence. In China, for example, there are positive programmes being initiated every now and then. We do not seem to be doing anything about it and nobody seems to be bothered in the government."

"There is an urgency to rebuild S&T infrastructure and rejuvenate the environment in the university sector," says Goverdhan Mehta, Director of IISc and former president of INSA. "In the past decade or more, there has been a marked thinning of S&T activity as our vast university system languished and remained utterly neglected," he adds.

"The universally time-tested social vehicles of economic and intellectual growth, namely universities, need to be purposefully, strongly and selectively supported," says T.V. Ramakrishnan, Professor Emeritus at Benares Hindu University and president of the IASc.

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The university system is also getting undermined in yet another manner. In the past few years, with privatisation of higher education, there is a proliferation of and granting of "deemed university" status rather indiscriminately, without any evaluation. The hype over and the lopsided priorities of the government to information technology and now biotechnology (the so-called vocational courses) have greatly contributed to this trend. Besides, a whole lot of foreign institutions have begun to grant degrees remotely or lure students to poor institutions overseas. As a result, the quality of students coming out of our higher science education system, already affected by a steep drop in enrolment, has declined perceptibly over the years. The impact of this is already being felt in the country's top research institutions.

EVEN though we had the Minister for S&T and HRD rolled into one in Murli Manohar Joshi, this burning issue of building a human resource base in the sciences through the universities never seemed a priority to him. The communication gap between the two Ministries has only continued to grow. For example, schemes like the enhancement of student scholarships administered by the Ministry of Science and Technology were being held up by the bureaucracy of the HRD Ministry. In a move that defied logic, in January 2002, Joshi (apparently for the sake of one top scientocrat) also extended the retirement age to 64 years for "eminent scientists of international stature... if such extension is in the public interest." With no ground rules for determining eminence or public interest, scientocrats have been taking undue advantage of this.

As Balaram pointed out in a perceptive editorial in Current Science (April 10, 2002): "If science in India is struggling, it is not for lack of administrators; rather we need to maintain and enhance the pool of productive scientists by vigorously promoting recruitment and by introducing new, innovative schemes to tap the potential of retiring scientists... Unfortunately... in the true traditions of bureaucracy, even science administrators have learnt to feather their own nests... Apres mois deluge (after me, the flood) is surely a sentiment to which most of our science administrators subscribe."

If not annul the notification, the present government would do well to exercise utmost discretion in granting extensions and the conditions of eminence and public interest be strictly applied through international peer review. Interestingly, de-bureaucratisation in S&T institutions was one of the objectives of the NDA manifesto. The former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had given the mandate to R. Chidambaram, the Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA), to effect this process, but it has not had the desired impact yet. "This needs to be given top priority and the process needs to be kept up," says R. A. Mashelkar, Director-General of CSIR.

While, on the one hand, the former Minister readily granted extensions to some scientocrats, institutions like the Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) and the Technology Development Board (TDB), which have been able to establish new paradigms of technology development and management in the country, have been allowed to remain without executive heads for about two years. As a result, inefficiency has slowly crept into these organisations and their capability to leverage technology development is also bound to decline. The new Minister should, on a priority basis, finalise these appointments.

An important indicator that TDB's technology development has provided is that while the overall industry investment in research and development (R&D) may be low, industry in-house R&D units rank the highest among technology providers. On the other hand, technology provided by national laboratories is well short of desired levels. In this light, the various generously funded programmes launched by the former Minister in the CSIR and other national laboratories, such as the Millennium Missions, the New Millennium India Technology Leadership Initiatives (NMITLI) and the National Genomics Initiative need to be strictly monitored on their progress and claims.

A rather peculiar thing about S&T administration in the country is the differential between the so-called strategic sectors of atomic energy and space and the rest of the scientific establishment - the former being traditionally vested with the Prime Minister. This has led to distortions in policy makers' perceptions on what constitutes essential S&T for the country. This became particularly pronounced with the nuclear tests of May 11, 1998, which was followed by differential pay packages for the scientists of the strategic Trimurti of atomic energy, space and defence. Exploding a bomb or launching a missile is valued so highly that May 11 is now being celebrated as Technology Day, when there is no technological achievement at all in exploding a nuclear weapon.

Contrast this with National Science Day, celebrated on February 28. It was the day C.V. Raman discovered the Nobel Prize-winning Raman Effect. Whatever the previous government did or did not do, it certainly contributed to the skewed priorities of national security and the so-called strategic technologies in the national S&T system. Indeed, this finds a separate mention in STP-2003 as well. But, with these strategic sectors too facing the problem of lack of quality human resource, it is time that this differential in the S&T system was done away with.

Through STP-2003, a policy decision on the continued existence of an apex S&T advisory body has been made. But the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet (SACC), with the PSA to the government at its helm, has hardly been an effective body. According to some members of SACC, the body hardly functions. Moreover, it lacks any executive authority and its recommendations are only on paper with implementation being left to various Ministries or State governments. Apparently, even though secretaries of scientific departments are ex-officio members of SACC, they perceive external advice from a body like SACC as an infringement. So, if the need for an advisory body is indeed felt, the task before the new government is to revamp and make it an effective body by giving it executive powers.

The target for R&D investment set by STP-2003 by the end of the Tenth Plan, which will largely be administered by the new government, is 2 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). After peaking at 0.91 per cent in 1987-88, there was a steady decline up to 1995-96 to 0.71 per cent. According to available data, it slowly picked up in 1998-99 to 0.81 per cent, increased to 0.87 per cent in 1999-2000 and to 0.94 per cent in 2000-01, the highest so far. Though the last two figures are provisional estimates, it is clear that there has been an increase in R&D expenditure as a function of GDP during the NDA regime. But it has not been due to any significant increase in industry spending on R&D, which remains still less than 25 per cent of the total investment. The STP-2003 points out that this will come about only if there is a steep increase in industry's R&D expenditure.

Clearly, the task before the new government to meet the target is to initiate policy measures that will shore up industry investment. The usual policy of fiscal incentives, like tax holidays and weighted tax exemptions, do not seem to work in the Indian context. After the Information Technology downturn, the sunshine area of biotech industry has not shown the promised growth. And lack of availability of quality personnel to serve in the industrial R&D set-ups is an important contributing factor to the stunted growth. "I know of drug and pharma leaders who want to employ hundreds of Ph.Ds now. But they are facing extreme shortage of quality and special skills," says Mashelkar.

Besides the problem of lack of skilled people in the biotechnology and biomedical R&D, there are problems with the regulatory structures that have been put in place. Indeed, one of the first remarks that Sibal made after assuming office as the new Minister for S&T was that he would like to change the regulatory structure in biotechnology. One is the long-standing issue of animal testing for biomedical research where the premise for the regulatory framework has been dictated by the hidden "anti-vivisectionist" agenda of the former animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi. The Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA) was set up by Maneka Gandhi when she was the Union Minister for Environment and Forests (MoEF). The functioning of the committee has been completely usurped by its animal rights activist members, and it is not run along professional lines.

As a result, basic research is suffering and the industry is being forced to go abroad to have products tested, at high cost. Even import of animals with laboratory-bred strains is being controlled by the CPCSEA. This is an issue for Sibal to tackle on a priority basis.

The other regulatory framework pertains to the testing and release of genetically modified (GM) organisms, an important and sensitive issue. The apex regulatory body is the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), under the MoEF. With genetic engineering becoming a highly specialised activity, it requires a professional set-up that will take a balanced view based on science and is not carried away by the extreme positions of either the industry or the anti-GM activist groups. Such a body should ideally be under the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) with representatives from the MoEF.

Similarly, genetically engineered drugs is a growing industry and, with the year 2005 soon upon us, we might face a situation of multinationals bringing in recombinant drugs. In fact, companies like Shantha Biotech have suffered because of the archaic regulatory framework. A professional body is needed to evaluate and regulate their introduction into the market. A 12-member committee under Mashelkar has been set up to recommend a proper structure and the report will be out anytime now.

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Funding has not been a major issue in the Indian context. Budgetary support has been fairly adequate. What is lacking are good ideas and worthwhile projects resulting in marketable technologies. So, in some sense, the target of 2 per cent of GDP may even be unrealistic. As STP-2003 has stated, what is of utmost importance today is effective, expeditious, transparent and science-based monitoring and reviewing. "We need to recognise and acknowledge, boldly and honestly, that our S&T performance has remained stagnant, if not gone down, for over a decade, while countries like China and Brazil among others have shown clear upward movement," points out Mehta. "We need a major rethink and policy-level intervention," he adds.

STP-2003 has called for a new funding mechanism for research. According to Mehta, our science support system and funding mechanisms are not adequate to meet the challenges of internationally competitive research. "Science support and promotional systems must be autonomous and outside the government departments," says Mehta. Both Mehta and Ramakrishnan recommend the creation of a large comprehensive National Science Foundation to promote greater public-private partnership. Such a body will be useful in planning for the future, particularly in frontier technologies. "Our investments in emerging technologies are sub-critical," points out Mashelkar "For instance, in nano-technology, our investment is $2 million as compared to $40 million in Singapore, $110 million in Taiwan and $200 million in China."

The moot point is that the spending is commensurate with the skill and specialisation base that the country has. That is what is sub-critical. "We need to foster high quality research in our S&T system and attract the brightest of youngsters to careers in S&T," says K. Kasturirangan, former Indian Space Research Organisation Chairman. Unfortunately, it is easier said than done. Even world-class projects like the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) have failed to attract bright youngsters. Big projects like the proposed moon mission or the astronomical satellite or the neutrino observatory will certainly kindle interest in young minds. But is that sufficient to lure them into our S&T system? Are policy instruments in place to leverage employment opportunities in basic sciences, especially in the universities? The answer is no. The biggest challenge for the government and the scientific community is to change this situation.

War and peace

PRAVEEN SWAMI cover-story

The notion that India is at peace is in fact the consequence of artifice: a trick perhaps unprecedented in its scale and sheer audacity.

"INDIA," said General Shankar Roy Chowdhury, former Chief of the Army Staff and Rajya Sabha Member, at a recent conference in New Delhi, "is at peace." It was a throwaway remark, made in the middle of a thoughtful presentation on India's military modernisation priorities - but does illustrate how insidious illusions can be.

Draw an arc on the map from Jammu and Kashmir to Tripura. Almost all the areas within it are besieged by some form of violence. Despite Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's energetic efforts at making peace with Pakistan, levels of violence in Jammu and Kashmir remain appalling. Small arms inflows from Nepal could well lead to a sharp escalation of violence between caste militias in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. West Bengal's government has expressed concern over the growing influence of Islamists in Bangladesh, as well as that country's reluctance to act. Almost the entire northeastern region is torn by strife. Trace another arc, this one from the northeastern region to Tamil Nadu, and it is much the same: Maoist violence in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh; the uncertain impact of events in Sri Lanka on Tamil Nadu.

Alarmist? In all, 4,374 people - civilians and Indian security personnel; terrorists and insurgents - died in major conflict zones in India through 2003, a figure which excludes the dozens more eliminated in the course of caste and communal skirmishes, as well as terrorist bombings inflicted by Pakistan-backed terrorist cells operating across the country. It is only in India that the scale of carnage witnessed year after year could be described as a time of peace. Like the National Democratic Alliance's "Feel Good" campaign, the notion that India is at peace is in fact the consequence of artifice: a trick perhaps unprecedented in its scale and sheer audacity. Now, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government faces the unhappy task of trying to set right the mess.

Tragic as it was, the May 24 bombing of a bus carrying Border Security Force troops and their families at Lower Munda, on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, served one useful purpose. It provided the just-sworn in Union Ministers for Defence and Home, Pranab Mukherjee and Shivraj Patil, a stark illustration of the challenges confronting them in Jammu and Kashmir, India's single largest security challenge.

According the Union Ministry of Home Affairs' internal data, the basic truth is this: more than four months after the initiation of the ceasefire along the Line of Control, Vajpayee's peace initiative has not yet led to an improvement in the ground situation. As many as 106 Indian soldiers, policemen and militia members were killed in combat between January and April this year, up from 93 in the same months of last year. It is true that the numbers of civilians killed in these months fell to 232 this year from 246 last year, but this reduction is of no great statistical significance. Crucially, however, fewer terrorists have been eliminated in the winter and spring of 2004 than in 2003 - figures that debunk the Indian Army's claims that terrorists are facing imminent decimation.

None of this, of course, is an argument against deepening the dialogue with Pakistan. It does, however, illustrate the need for a structured and introspective decision-making process. Much of the dialogue was carried out by a small group within the Prime Minister's Office, notably Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra. For the most part, the Ministry of External Affairs, along with the military, the intelligence services and much of the Union Cabinet, was kept out of the loop. No one really knows what Mishra was up to, but some disturbing signs are evident. Pakistan believes India could concede some variant of the Chenab Plan, which contemplates a communal division of Jammu and Kashmir. Former Pakistan Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz even claimed that R.K. Mishra, a long-standing Reliance Industries employee and Vajpayee's chosen back-channel negotiator during the Kargil war, had made a commitment to this effect. In Pakistan's strategic imagination, this communal carve-up could be delivered as part of a quid pro quo for an oil pipeline through its territory, key to securing and developing Reliance's oil interests in western India.

WHAT needs to be done now? First, the UPA government needs to draw some red lines: lines that cannot be crossed without jeopardising the detente process itself. One red line, quite obviously, must be terrorism. The Hizbul Mujahideen, which carried out the Lower Munda bombing, is based in Pakistan, as is its supreme commander, Mohammad Yusuf Shah. As such, Pakistan cannot evade responsibility for acts of terrorism, which are executed by the organisation. Second, India's new government will need to start pushing for delivery on promises on the winding down of terror training camps and action against jehadi groups. Organisations like the Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba have resumed fund-raising and recruitment, a violation of express commitments made by Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf. One major obstacle Indian negotiators could face is that Musharraf has already received part of the prize he sought through dialogue with New Delhi - notably, international legitimacy and aid.

Similar problems could confront the UPA's negotiators in both Jammu and Kashmir and in the northeastern region. Although the NDA initiated dialogue with the Maulvi Abbas Ansari-led centrist faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, there is so far little clarity on the direction of future dialogue. In the northeastern region, too, two rounds of talks with Naga insurgents have not crystallised into a peace process of substance. New interlocutors may be appointed in coming months, but new vision is needed along with new faces.

What the UPA cannot afford to do is accord the northeastern region a relatively low priority. On the face of it, the situation is grim. Large parts of Manipur are no longer governed by the Indian state, for example, and are now ruled by a welter of warring tribal militia. Nagaland is somewhat well-governed, but the ongoing ceasefire between Indian forces and insurgents is at best fragile. Tripura remains a major conflict zone, a situation exacerbated by the use of terrorism as an instrument to undermine the Left Front government that now rules the State. Further crises stare the region in the face, notably the free flow of narcotics from Myanmar and the high incidence of HIV infection caused by the unsafe use of intravenous drugs it has brought in its wake. Corruption and inefficient governance have conspired to ensure that Prime Minister Vajpayee's generous aid package for the region has served mainly to enrich contractors - of a piece with past experience.

Benign neglect, however, is no longer an option. Bangladesh is emerging as a major base for both northeastern secessionists, as well as Islamist organisations. No coherent explanation has been given by Bangladesh of the massive recovery of weapons there (Frontline, June 4), but the Mayor of Chittagong publicly asserted that the weapons had been shipped in from Pakistan for the training of terrorist groups in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Large-scale gatherings and camps conducted by far-right Islamist groups have also aroused concern across the world. Dependent on Islamists for political support, the Bangladesh government has been hesitant to clamp down on their activities. Foreign policy means will, of course, be used to address the Bangladesh question, but methods need to be found to tighten up border policing. At once, political enterprise will be needed to address the complex mosaic of ethnic and religious conflicts that underpin violence in the northeastern region.

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In Jammu and Kashmir, India's resolve will most likely be tested by increased terrorist violence. "Pakistan's military will see escalation as a means to place pressure on a new government," says former Research and Analysis Wing chief Vikram Sood, "and, quite frankly, I'd do the same in their shoes." Major carnage could bring immense pressure on the Congress, sensitive as it is to charges that it is unpatriotic. Intemperate action, however, will most likely prove counterproductive. India needs, in its own interests, to build on the progress made by the NDA regime in key areas like nuclear confidence building and people-to-people contact. Just as worrying, the United States' continued dependence on Pakistani cooperation for its operations in Afghanistan further limits India's options. Pranab Mukherjee and Shivraj Patil - as well as their colleague in External Affairs, Natwar Singh - will, most likely, be burning more than a little midnight oil at their new offices.

From Kohima to Kupwara, then, similar challenges are evident. "But before we can do what needs to be done," says the strategic analyst Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, "we first need to work out what we want to do."

For the past several decades, experts have debated just what India expects from its armed services. Will their principal roles in the foreseeable future be counter-terrorist? Or should their primary purpose be preparation for conventional, and even nuclear war? UPA leaders have promised to address several short-term issues, including nagging delays in defence procurement, caused by cumbersome procedures and the fear of scandal. In its party agenda, the Congress also noted that "despite tall claims about the high priority being given to defence, expenditure on defence as a proportion of gross domestic product has fallen to an all-time low of 2.12 per cent", and asserted that the NDA had "failed even to effectively utilise resources amounting to nearly Rs.24,000 crores sanctioned by Parliament to modernise our defence systems." Progress is now expected in several strategic capability initiatives, including India's nuclear submarine project, which has been without a head since January.

Yet, equipment and funds are a secondary question - and putting off the effort to find answers to the big questions could have dangerous consequences. Several roadmaps for change were prepared by the expert committees formed by the NDA government after the Kargil war, but progress has been slow and patchy. Internal security management has, for one, changed little. Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troops were scheduled to phase out the Border Security Force in counter-terrorist operations, but the organisation does not yet have the capabilities it needs for the task. Its personnel in Srinagar, for example, do not have dedicated signals or intelligence apparatus, nor heavy weapons. Little effort has been made, either, to transform the CRPF's ageing ranks, or to give it the autonomy to operate without the close officer support of local police forces. Progress has been made in giving the police new equipment - but not in giving officers security of tenure and freedom of operation, both essential for meaningful field success.

INDIA'S intelligence services have fared little better. The Intelligence Bureau's (IB) Multi-Agency Centre, which was intended to become a state-of-the-art computer centre capable of gathering and analysing information in real time, consists of a handful of Pentium personal computers. The problem? A war with the Union Finance Ministry, which is unwilling to pay salaries for the personnel needed by the IB. State police forces are often loath to work with the IB. The Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), founded with much fanfare in 2001, is dysfunctional. Intended to be led by the Chief of Defence Staff, a new post, which was to have been set up to coordinate the three armed services, the DIA at present is an orphan in the military family. For the most part, the Military Intelligence Directorate resists cooperation with the DIA, as do the other armed services intelligence organisations.

Again, the problem is not one of management, alone: core issues need to be answered, and the new government needs to take an honest look at what options exist to deter Pakistani sub-conventional war. After the Pokhran-II nuclear tests of 1998, it was evident to all that India could not respond to Pakistan-backed terrorism by unleashing the Indian Army's perceived conventional might. Under the protection of its nuclear umbrella, Pakistan was able to pursue low-intensity warfare with increased confidence from the late-1980s, certain that the risks to India of a full-blown war outweighed its potential benefits. Put crudely, the costs of small war in Jammu and Kashmir were lower than the risk of one that could lead to an annihilation of New Delhi or Mumbai. After the collapse of Operation Parakram, the massive military build-up ordered in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament House, strategists have been mulling over their options.

One option will be presented to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the coming weeks. Like his predecessors, the Prime Minister will receive a briefing on the offensive sub-conventional capabilities India possesses, and shall be asked if he wishes them to be activated. The use of Indian sub-conventional assets, essentially covert groups capable of doing to Pakistan what it does in Jammu and Kashmir, are last believed to have been used under the regime of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. India is, in the mid-1980s, alleged to have carried out a limited sub-conventional campaign in Karachi as retaliation for Pakistani support for Khalistan terrorists. In the mid-1970s, tired of then-Pakistani premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's backtracking on converting the LoC into a border, India is also alleged to have lent some support to Bhaluch insurgents. In general, however, such covert enterprises have not been successful.

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In the final analysis, it all boils down to politicians understanding and taking security issues seriously. Endless deliberations about national security challenges take place frequently in New Delhi, but Members of Parliament rarely, if at all, show any interest in them. Unlike the United States, for example, India has no aggressive political oversight system, and only a small number of politicians equipped to either interrogate or direct the services' actions. Responses to crises are much as they were in the Mughal era - when New Delhi sent out a Risallah [letter] to resolve troubles in the provinces. All those at the apex of the UPA's security and defence establishment are familiar with the problems - problems the Congress had no small part in creating during its decades in office.

Time, seminar circuit couch-warriors often say in New Delhi, is on India's side. Perched in an increasingly troubled corner of the world - and bracing for the aftershocks generated by Washington's ill-executed adventure in Iraq - India can no longer afford that illusion.

A backlash in Kerala

A development vision that has set aside the objective of social justice and concentrated on making Kerala a private capital-friendly State takes a beating in the general elections.

in Thiruvananthapuram

AS luck would have it, the third anniversary of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government in Kerala came within a week of its shocking electoral debacle.

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In the elections to the 20 Lok Sabha seats held on May 10, the Congress failed to win even a single seat, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) lost one of its only two stronghold seats in north Kerala, one of the constituents of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance won its first ever seat in the State and the Opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) scored a historic 18-seat triumph. Chief Minister A.K. Antony, the man who led the UDF election campaign by embarking on a north-to-south election road show, the leader who authored the UDF's 100-seat (out of a total 140 seats) victory in the Assembly elections through a similar poll-eve journey, failed completely to catch the imagination of the people this time.

Yet, anniversaries normally are occasions for a State government to celebrate its `shining' achievements. But organising such a celebration on May 17, after the verdict blew on its face, would have been too embarrassing and the UDF government chose to ignore the occasion. While the Chief Minister spent the anniversary week in New Delhi for no apparent reason, his friends and foes in the State within and outside the party were busy discussing the future of an administration under him and the possibility of his stepping down or his removal from the post by the Congress high command. The only UDF politician still sparring was Antony's evergreen party foe K. Karunakaran.

Kerala had emphatically rejected Karunakaran's dynastic ambitions too. His children, Padmaja Venugopal, who sought a Lok Sabha seat from Mukundapuram and K. Muraleedharan, who had become the Electricity Minister recently in the hope of winning an Assembly byelection from Vadakkancherry, were defeated. Both got seats as part of an election-eve ceasefire formula worked out within the faction-ridden State Congress. Strangely, it was Karunakaran's children alone who were fully behind Antony after the Congress rout in the elections. Other party leaders were demanding a change in his style of functioning and policies or his removal from leadership.

APART from the aversion of the State's voters to the absurd factional power game within the State Congress and the alienation of the prominent minority communities from the UDF, there is a flip side to the stunning verdict against the Antony government in Kerala. It assumed office in May 2001 selling the dream of a drastic transformation of the State's economy through a categorical negation of the policies pursued by the previous Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government. But from its initial days in power, the inability of the Antony administration to rise up to this task and the impact of its new policies and reforms, implemented under the directive of international donor agencies or in the name of "unavoidable" policies of privatisation and liberalisation, began to alienate the people from the government.

In a State with the highest rate of unemployment in the country, the Antony government's first action was to declare a moratorium on new recruitments and creation of posts and to cut employee emoluments through a series of measures. The move virtually paralysed governance in its initial months in power when the State government employees' unions launched an indefinite strike to protest against the government decision.

Its flagship event to boost the sagging State economy, the Global Investor Meet (GIM) held in Kochi in January 2003, meant to throw the doors open for large-scale private investment in Kerala and which promised to bring in investments worth Rs.50,000 crores, proved to be hogwash. Kerala soon became a "graveyard of MoUs", the words of warning given by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh at the inauguration of the GIM. GIM also turned out to be a "confidence trick", "a mela of vested interests detrimental to the State's development interests", as Opposition Leader V.S. Achuthanandan described it later. In the days that followed, the Opposition could effectively put the UDF in the dock for big-time corruption and for trying to sell off public resources including government land, buildings, sea-sand and water from the State's rivers.

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In three years, the economic policies of the UDF government proved to be the curse of the underprivileged sections of society, including Kerala's 10 million farmers and agricultural workers, lakhs of labourers who lost their jobs in the traditional and plantation sectors, struggling under the weight of falling prices and wages and neo-liberal policies. The State's employment situation remained bleak with the government failing to create sufficient number of permanent job opportunities. The new policy of pampering investors and providing concessions to them came unstuck, and also proved costly in social and environmental terms. In three years, the gap between the haves and have-nots in the State widened and the new thrust towards privatisation of education and health sectors began to affect even its acclaimed human development achievements. The rights of labour, achieved through long years of struggle, too were undermined.

Perhaps the State's small farmers were the worst affected lot. Removal of quantitative restrictions on imports resulted in a drastic fall in the prices of agricultural commodities. The withdrawal of input subsidies and low investment in infrastructure had serious consequences for Kerala's farmers, mostly committed to perennial crops and hence at the mercy of the highly volatile international markets. The State, which has a substantial share in the plantation crops of rubber, tea, coffee and cardamom, with nearly 14 lakh families dependent on them, has been facing the threat of unbridled inflow of these commodities as a result of the removal of import restrictions under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) regime.

The government could hardly do anything to help the farmers when, as the Lok Sabha elections neared, Kerala reeled under the worst drought it had faced in recent times. All over the State, farmers, affected by the sharp fall in income and spiralling debt burden, demanded relief and support. But the Antony government failed even to ensure that the State received its due share of irrigation water under the inter-State agreements on sharing river waters. Nearly 30 farmers committed suicide all over the State in the two months just before the elections. When the government finally announced some relief, as elections came close, it was described as "too little, too late" by the farmers.

THE Antony government could not offer solace to the 40 lakh workers employed in the traditional sector. For example, in the coir sector, the nearly four lakh workers, about 75 per cent of them women, were pushed further into poverty though the sector itself was growing, with increasing global demand for natural fibres. In the cashew sector, liberalisation policies have been instrumental in destroying labour unity and rights attained through years of struggle. In the first 35 months of the Antony government, according to Opposition leaders, the 30,000 workers in the public sector Cashew Development Corporation were provided work for a mere 17 days. Government investment in the handloom sector fell sharply, thereby gradually destroying its ability to compete in the international market. In the fisheries sector, which has the largest section of people living in poverty after those in the tribal areas, the export-oriented policies of the State and Central governments, the permission granted to foreign trawlers for deep sea fishing, the reduction in the quantity of kerosene supplied through the public distribution system (PDS), the fall in fish catch because of extensive environmental damage and the rise in cost of fishing have increased the woes of fisherfolk.

Of the 59 public sector industrial units wholly owned by the State government, nearly a dozen are inactive, liquidation proceedings have been initiated in five and 56 have been categorised as loss-making. Kerala has one of the largest number of sick units in the registered small scale sector. In the Kerala State Electricity Board and the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation, the public sector enterprises employing the largest workforce in the State, employee resentment was growing owing to privatisation policies. Water and power tariffs were hiked and the government was slowly withdrawing from the responsibility of providing drinking water in many local bodies.

Since the UDF government came to power, electricity tariff was increased three times, causing much resentment and protest. Against its promise of increasing electricity production by 1,200 MW, a mere 12.5 MW was produced additionally. The State has also seen a reduction in welfare investment and the rise of the private sector in key areas of health and education. Service charges and fee for education, especially in the mushrooming self-financing education sector, took education beyond the reach of the common people. New guidelines for assessing poverty removed a large disadvantaged section of the State's population from several government programmes, the rationing system and concessional medical and educational facilities. One of the most effective PDS in the country was thoroughly weakened after the introduction of targeted PDS and new norms for assessing `poverty'. Currently, the PDS prices and open market prices of basic foodgrain and fuel are almost equal. This is a significant blow to Kerala, which imports more than 70 per cent of its foodgrain from other States and where 97 per cent of the population is covered by the PDS.

But like other southern State governments, the Antony government too chose to ignore or could not respond properly to the widespread concerns expressed on these counts and others and stuck to its view that the mechanism of growth was powered by privatisation and liberalisation and that social justice was perhaps an objective that could be achieved separately. It had an apologetic rationale for organising the GIM as it had for seeking financial assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) under conditionalities that were criticised by the Opposition parties as being "anti-poor and serving the interests of the local elite and transnational players at the cost of local labour, capacity, resources and industry".

During the early days of his government, still enjoying the euphoria of the 100-seat victory in 2001, Antony had declared: "The government is helpless. It has no money. Government revenue is not enough even to meet its own expenditure or pay the salaries of government employees. The government can no longer be a big employment agency. It will be a disservice to the people if the government continues to cling to the old and resist change. Kerala has no other go but to seek private investment like the other States. Until now Kerala has failed to find itself a place in the list of investment destinations in south India, which are attractive to domestic or foreign private capital. This situation has to change. The government has to become a catalyst that encourages private capital, to prevent Kerala from continuing to be the State with the largest number of educated unemployed in India."

The results of the Lok Sabha elections in Kerala is as much a vote against the state of affairs in the State Congress and the ruling UDF as it is against Antony and his government which failed so comprehensively to deliver. The victories of the LDF candidates in constituencies comprising the Wayanad and Idukki districts where the crisis in the farm and plantation sectors has been acutely felt, in Chirayinkeezhu and Kollam, known for their traditional industries, and in the Ernakulam industrial district can be attributed to this. No wonder, the argument of the LDF that higher economic growth can be achieved only through an activation of the productive capacities and demands of the poorer sections of the population, especially in the rural areas, and that this requires egalitarian redistribution of assets, seems an attractive agenda in the State.

`Reforms cannot be a dogma'

cover-story

Interview with Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.

Congress workers from every section of society throng the Andhra Pradesh Secretariat eager to meet Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, popularly known as YSR. Having led the party from the front, he is clearly the hero of the Congress' spectacular electoral triumph. His master stroke was the 1,500 km-long padayatra that he undertook across Andhra Pradesh in May 2003, well before elections were announced. The medical doctor-turned-politician who hails from the Rayalaseema region was instrumental in focussing attention on the plight of farmers in the State. It is widely believed that the Congress campaign succeeded because it struck a chord with the mass of peasantry, which still remains mired in an unprecedented crisis, exemplified by the spate of suicides by farmers in the State.

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Soon after assuming office, Rajasekhara Reddy got on with the task of implementing the electoral promises made by the Congress. His first act, soon after taking oath, was to waive the electricity dues of farmers and to provide free power to farmers in the State. Although he believes that his predecessor, N. Chandrababu Naidu, has ruined State finances, he said that his first priority is to provide support to farmers in distress. Speaking to V. Sridhar soon after attending a Cabinet sub-committee meeting to discuss the suicide by farmers, he listed the government's priorities, problems and tasks. Excerpts:

During your campaign you highlighted the extreme distress of large sections of the people. How do the issues, particularly those related to the agrarian crisis, fit into your priorities now?

Our priorities will be the following: Agriculture, rural development, irrigation, industry, power and employment. We are not against industry. Nor are we against IT [information technology] or biotechnology. Basically, it is a matter of fact that in 1993-94 agriculture contributed 26 per cent of the State's gross domestic product (GDP). And, 67 per cent of the people in the State depended on this sector for their livelihood. In 2003-04, agriculture contributed only 13 per cent of the State's GDP. This is the reason behind so many farmers' suicides in the State.

It appears that the government has to provide immediate relief to farmers. But long-term measures may also be needed to tackle the problem. What steps are you planning to prevent suicide by farmers?

On every front we are doing everything that is possible. Immediately after coming to power we kept our promise of providing free power to farmers. We also kept our promise to waive almost Rs.1,200 crores dues from farmers for power. We are planning some strong proactive measures. Most of the suicides are because of failed irrigation systems, mainly because of the non-completion of projects. In the next five years, we plan to spend Rs.36,000 crores on such projects. These will extend irrigation to 65 lakh acres. These measures will also stabilise another 20 lakh acres which are already under irrigation.

How do you plan to mobilise the funds for these projects, the power subsidies and other measures?

We will need about Rs.46,000 crores for these measures. We will definitely be able to mobilise the funds. We are already in the process of doing this. Last year, the State government spent just Rs.900 crores on major irrigation works. The average annual expenditure on the measures I mentioned works out to about Rs.9,200 crores over the next five years. Where is Rs.900 crores and where is Rs.9,200 crores? We have already started making efforts to mobilise these funds. I am sure we will be able to provide at least Rs.6,000 crores to Rs.7,000 crores this year for these measures.

We have almost finalised a loan of Rs.2,000 crores from the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC). Despite the serious debt burden, Andhra Pradesh has never failed in its (repayment) commitments. And, we are clear that all the money we borrow will only go to finance projects, mostly irrigation-related. This means that the impact will only be on the fiscal deficit, not the revenue deficit. We will try and correct the revenue deficit. The State has a revenue deficit of almost Rs.3,000 crores. Our objective is to substantially reduce this.

At least seven to eight districts are in the rain shadow area. These constitute almost 30 per cent of the State's area. We are planning to create extensive bio-diesel plants in these areas. This will change the ecology of the area. We are also planning extensive micro-irrigation (drip irrigation) systems in these areas. For all these we need money. We intend to make sure that every paisa that we borrow goes into activities that promote development. We intend to involve oil companies such as Indian Oil Corporation and Reliance Petroleum in these projects. We plan to bring about 40 to 50 lakh acres under such plants in the next three to four years.

In the run-up to the elections you promised to review several projects, particularly the power-related ones. How far will you go on this issue? The issue is significant because it has a bearing on how much the government will be able to save so that it can cover the deficit on account of providing free power to farmers...

Oh! Yes we will review these projects. In the next three to four weeks you will see the results.

How many power purchase agreements (PPAs) are under review?

Three PPAs are being reviewed. A review of these three will enable us to cut costs substantially. The Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) of India pointed out that the costs were too high. The CAG said that two PPAs signed by the government with Spectrum Power and the GVK Group were costlier by at least Rs.200 crores when compared to other power generation projects. Since I assumed office, some of these managements are ready to scale down fixed costs of the power plants, which will result in lower tariffs.

Since last May, when you went on a padayatra, and particularly during your election campaign in association with the Left, the World Bank's conditionalities figured prominently...

The Left's ideology is slightly different from ours. We are not against reforms. We are also not against the World Bank. But they have some conditionalities which are not pro-poor. Sometimes they work against farmers. We know that the agricultural sector gets attention from the government even in the U.S., Japan and Europe. But when we give some free power to farmers, there is a hue and cry. We have to tell the bank that this is not correct, that so many farmers are committing suicide. Is it not a fact that something has gone terribly wrong? We have to tell the Bank that such things have to be reviewed. Reforms cannot be a dogma.

What about industrial activity? So many units have closed down in Andhra Pradesh...

That will be a major thrust area. We will make every effort to revive small industrial units. Capital worth thousands of crores is lying idle. Industrial units in the State are not able to compete because of two major factors. One, the cost of power is too high here. Secondly, the cost of finance is high. We want to subsidise the interest cost of small units. We have promised interest rates of 3 to 5 per cent to small units. This interest rate will be related to prompt repayment by borrowers. The government will bear the burden arising out of the subsidy that it will offer these units.

In order to do many of the things that you have promised the electorate, you will need the support of the Centre.

The Centre is an immense help to us. Our leaders in Delhi regard Andhra [Pradesh] as a special case. They have said that the Andhra Pradesh farmer should be given free power.

There has been a spate of suicides by farmers in the State in recent weeks. How are you tackling the issue?

The farmer is not a beggar. But if he is in a bad shape, is it not the duty of the government to help him? Some of the deaths in recent days are not really suicides, but natural deaths. We have started helplines for farmers. In the past six years, Andhra Pradesh accounted for three out of four farmer suicides in the country. Chandrababu Naidu did not address the reasons for the distress.

Is there not an immediate need to intervene to prevent suicides by farmers? Will the government declare a moratorium on debt repayment by farmers?

In the past two weeks we have been monitoring this on an everyday basis. We have had half a dozen meetings on this subject. No, we have not decided to declare a moratorium on repayments.

Farmers' power

Gujarat's farmers, victims of the power sector reforms initiated by the Narendra Modi government under the guidance of the Asian Development Bank, give a shock treatment to the Chief Minister through electronic voting machines.

in Sabarkantha

THEY may not have power in their fields. But they have power in the electronic voting machines. In the Lok Sabha elections, farmers' anger with the Gujarat government cost the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dearly. "Any government that does injustice to farmers will go," says Jayesh Patel, a farmer from Modasa, Sabarkantha district in north Gujarat. "See how the BJP lost most of the rural areas in this election." The BJP was routed in seven constituencies, one-third of the seats it occupied in the last Lok Sabha. The party barely kept its lead over the Congress, winning 14 of the 26 seats. The dominance that it has enjoyed for 10 years seems to be waning.

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The most vociferous expression of the farmers' discontent with Chief Minister Narendra Modi has come from within the Sangh Parivar itself. For almost a year, the Bharatiya Janata Party's farmers' wing, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), has been protesting against the steep power tariff hikes for agriculture. A compromise was reached in February this year (Frontline, February 27, 2004). But the BKS feels it got a raw deal.

"How can we cultivate anything without water or electricity? If we don't grow grain, what will people eat? Can they produce it in their factories?" asks Jayesh. Over the last five years, his losses have piled up to over Rs.1.5 lakh. On the day this correspondent met him, Jayesh had drilled a well 270-feet deep. But there was no water. He sunk Rs.20,000 in a matter of hours. In the water-starved areas of north Gujarat, electricity supply is essential for pumpsets. The lack of irrigation facilities has forced farmers to drill deep into the water table. It is a race to the bottom. In some areas, tubewells are as deep as 1,800 feet. The aquifers are close to depletion. In some places, farmers are tapping fossil water that is thousands of years old. Many people here suffer from fluorosis, a disease in which bones become brittle owing to excess fluoride in the water. Around 57 tehsils in north Gujarat have been termed "dark zones" by the Gujarat government. Their water tables are dry. Yet, farmers continue to invest lakhs of rupees in tubewells. Those who own wells sell water at Rs.40 per hour.

Already an expensive proposition, agriculture became even less profitable last year when the government announced an almost three-fold hike in power tariffs - from Rs.350 per horsepower (hp) to Rs.1,050 per hp. Cultivators were furious. The BKS launched an eight-month long agitation against the Modi administration. After months of animosity, the government agreed to reduce the rate to Rs.750. Still more than double the original rate.

Lalji Patel, a senior Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leader and BKS founder, went on a hunger-strike against Modi's adamant stand. Finally, a settlement was reached and the Chief Minister budged by reducing the rate by a further Rs.50 per hp. BKS members were livid not only with Modi but also with their leaders for caving in so easily.

The BKS is dominated by Patels, a powerful farming community that comprises around 16 to 20 per cent of the population. They have traditionally played an influential role in the State's politics. Former Chief Minister and BJP leader Keshubhai Patel supported the BKS struggle from the sidelines.

The Gujarat government says power tariff hikes for farmers are imperative under the power sector reforms it has initiated. In the past five years, the Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB) has accumulated a loss of Rs.6,000 crores. The State took a $200 million loan from the Asian Development Bank for reforms in the power sector. Reducing subsidies was one of the conditionalities. "The subsidy to agriculture is Rs.1,700 crores every year," said Saurabh Patel, Minister for Energy. "As part of our power sector reforms, we have passed an act promising that subsidies will not be more than 67 per cent of the cost of power production. At present, we charge 42 paise a unit when the actual cost is Rs.2.50 a unit - a mere 17 per cent of the production cost."

Like other parts of the country, agriculture in Gujarat is facing a crisis. "Over the last 30 years, input costs have increased by 1,000 to 4,000 per cent. But the market prices of agricultural produce have gone up by only 400 per cent. Farming is no longer profitable," says Maganbhai Patel, general secretary of the BKS. For example, he points out, the cost of producing 20 quintals of foodgrain like wheat or maize is Rs.250, but the market rate is Rs.120-150 for wheat and Rs.90-100 for maize.

Farmers like Jayesh are being bled dry. "In the last five years, the rains have been bad. Last monsoon, I invested around Rs.30,000 on my five-acre plot. The yield was poor. I kept most of it for consumption at home. I sold a little and got just Rs.5,000," he says. In the rabi season, Jayesh spent Rs.18,000 on a wheat crop. He got only 1,000 kg, of which he gave 300 kg for water charges. And kept the rest at home. In effect, Jayesh's cost was Rs.18 per kg of wheat. The retail price is Rs.8 per kg.

Losses are mounting for most farmers, pushing them deeper into debt. "Small cultivators are selling off their land and becoming casual workers," says Ismail Bandi, director of the Modasa Agricultural Produce Market Committee. "The divide between rich and small farmers is growing. Large farmers are buying small plots. Peasants are deeply in debt, paying interest of 60 per cent to 120 per cent to moneylenders." Many feel that policies are skewed against agriculture. "You city people buy a bottle of mineral water for Rs.12 when we have to sell our milk for Rs.6 or 7. Is our milk less valuable than water," asks Narsibhai Patel from Jitpur village, Sabarkantha. "A small car costs less than a tractor, which is Rs. 3 to 4 lakhs. And, the interest rates for car loans are much less - 4 per cent as compared to 12 to 14 per cent for tractors. Can I plough my farm with a car?"

"We don't want power subsidies if the government gives us proper irrigation facilities and regular power supply. Right now, we are investing lakhs in tubewells that run dry in a few years," says Maganbhai.

Many voters are also annoyed with Modi's publicity blitz, sponsored by corporates, promising several new irrigation and other schemes, but delivering very little. "Modi has announced that he will provide water from the Mahi river, knowing fully well it is not possible. Gujarat has no legal right to water from the Mahi; it is meant only for Rajasthan. He keeps harping on his pet project - the Rs.6,800 crore Sujhlam Sublam - when the Central government has not even spent a penny for the project. The only thing he has done is celebrate every festival with great fanfare," said a BJP leader.

Soon after the people's verdict, BJP MLAs have turned against Modi and are demanding his removal. Many are fed up with his autocratic style of functioning. The only thing holding back the rebellion, backed by the Keshubhai camp, is the BJP's central leadership. The BJP's allies like the Shiv Sena, and the Telugu Desam Party also feel that Modi's complicity in the Gujarat communal violence contributed to their defeat. But many in the BJP high command feel it would be embarrassing to replace Modi now.

It is rare to find party members happy with their own defeat. But in Gujarat, several BJP workers deliberately stayed away from campaigning. They did not mind sitting back and letting the Congress win. As the MLAs and Modi battle it out, whichever faction prevails will have to address the problems that got the BJP into this crisis. Or, they may face the same fate in the next Assembly elections as well.

They will have to focus on rural problems, which have been ignored for too long. As one farmer put it, "If they can build so many highways, then why can't they also start constructing canals?"

The verdict and the way ahead

C.P. CHANDRASEKHAR cover-story

From the economic point of view, Verdict 2004 was a vote against neo-liberal economic reforms. To respect this verdict and to make democracy meaningful, the new government should formulate a socially beneficial growth strategy.

THERE are many meanings that could be read into the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). It was, in the first instance, a rejection of the pursuit, through state-mediated and independent channels, of a divisive social and communal agenda. But, one must remember, the BJP had sensed the danger of using, for electoral purposes, the blatantly communal platform that had in the past helped it rise rather rapidly from near obscurity to national prominence. It had, therefore, made its self-perceived success in governing the economy the focus of its election propaganda. Hyped by its media managers, this took the form of the now-ridiculed "India Shining" campaign.

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However, in reality, notwithstanding the buoyant stock market, the large foreign reserves, the Information Technology-enabled boom and the rebound from drought year 2002-03, economic performance during the NDA rule was poor. An agrarian crisis, decelerating employment growth, higher morbidity and mortality in the small business economy and the wearing down of a social sector starved of funds had all meant that much of India was waning not shining. Not surprisingly, as revealed by a post-poll survey of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and Lokniti (The Hindu, May 20, 2004), economic performance during NDA rule was perceived as poor, with some variation depending on the class position of the respondents. While just 20 per cent of the poor felt that there was any improvement in their economic condition under the previous government, even among the upper middle class only 41 per cent perceived an improvement.

In addition, there are signs that there is some resentment over the unequal distribution of the benefits of whatever growth did occur. The perception that government should reduce inequalities in land ownership through ceilings on land holdings and intervene to redress income inequalities that seemed to predominate among those surveyed. Verdict 2004, therefore, can also be seen as an expression of anger at the adoption of a strategy and of success indicators that meant little for most Indians, especially the poorer among them.

Significantly, the dissatisfaction with their economic condition, which was "high" among about a third of the poor, seems to have translated itself into a rejection of the economic policies that constitute the neo-liberal reform programme embraced by the NDA. Disinvestment found favour with just 20 per cent of those polled and downsizing of government found just 29 per cent in favour. Responses such as these do suggest that the lack of improvement in or even worsening of their economic condition was seen by those affected as being related in some sense to the acceleration of the "reform" programme by the NDA government. That is, from the economic point of view, Verdict 2004 was a vote against neo-liberal economic reform as well.

It is not surprising, therefore, that commentators of widely varying persuasions sense in the verdict a disillusionment with reform, even, if not always, a complete rejection. What is surprising, however, is the response of much of the media and large sections of the urban elite to this feature of the verdict. The concern is not with the ways in which the reform can be stalled, modified and even reversed where necessary in order to respect the popular mandate. Rather, the sections of the media and market analysts seem to be gripped by the fear that the new government would actually respect the verdict and resort to such measures. Every indication of caution or a rethink on reform is treated as a recipe for disaster. And every statement from Ministers in the new Cabinet is searched through for signs of reassurance that the reforms would continue.

This campaign for "continuity" is backed of course with a suitable reading of movements of the Sensex. Any decline is presented as evidence that an irresponsible statement or act has frightened the markets; any rise is seen as evidence that normalcy is being restored and continuity assured. The message is clear: the role of the government is to calm the market. And the index of a calm market is asymmetric: the Sensex cannot decline, but it can rise without fear.

It should be obvious that when the new government formulates and then fleshes out its economic programme it must dismiss this market-linked rhetoric that reforms must continue whatever the verdict. But it cannot ignore these manoeuvres. It is not just that the media and the markets can be used to create panic of a kind that browbeats the government into holding back on what the mandate requires it to do. Inasmuch as the principal movers in today's markets are foreign institutional investors and the notorious hedge funds, their exit on being dissatisfied with any effort by the government to respect the popular mandate, will involve the outflow of foreign exchange that can impact on the currency market and lead to a run on the rupee. Even if the Reserve Bank of India today has large foreign currency reserves that it can put to use to defend the rupee, every such action can be read as a signal that the rupee is weakening, accelerating the outflow and threatening a currency crisis.

If such a crisis ensues, the experience of a large number of similarly placed developing countries indicates, the room for manoeuvre for the new government will be severely restricted. It would be confronted with deflation but would be under pressure not to reflate the economy by increasing its expenditure. To prevent itself from being straitjacketed by those financial profiteers who have thrived on the outcomes of "economic reform" under the BJP and by sections of the media which too have benefited from the easy liquidity conditions and the credit-financed boom in urban enclaves that capital inflows had generated, some action to curb volatile capital flows, both in and out of the stock market, is necessary. Thus, the first step on the way ahead must be a minimal set of measures of capital control that helps the government retain and even expand its room for manoeuvre. This is not blasphemy: it is what all developed countries did when they were at and beyond a stage of development similar to India's, and this is what some other developing countries, such as Chile and Malaysia, did at different points in time with positive effect.

Once such room for manoeuvre has been garnered, there are two issues that the new government must squarely confront: First, if markets fail from the point of view of the vast majority, as they clearly have, they must be reined in. So the areas in which the state must restore and even expand its role need to be identified and the segments in which markets must be regulated and controlled and agents must be disciplined singled out. Second, if the state is to restore and expand its role in these and other areas, it needs the wherewithal to finance that role. This requirement is the greater because of evidence that the deceleration and even decline of public investment in areas such as agriculture, infrastructure and the social sectors, were crucial in delivering the outcomes that were rejected by Verdict 2004. The new government must, therefore, find ways of raising the rate of investment, despite the fact that under pressure from international finance and the international financial institutions, previous governments have internalised the logic that aggregate expenditure must be curtailed in order to keep the fiscal deficit under control. With revenue expenditures proving sticky and "reform" eroding the tax base, this has necessitated a cut in much-needed capital and social sector expenditures.

THE most damaging failure of the growth process since the early 1990s has been its inability to deliver adequate employment opportunities. Results from the quinquennial surveys of the National Sample Survey Organisation reveal a sharp, and even startling, decrease in the rate of employment generation across both rural and urban areas. Indeed, so dramatic is the slowdown in the rate of employment growth that it calls into serious question the pattern of growth over the last decade.

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This deceleration in employment growth occurred despite the immense opportunity for expanding employment that arose in the late 1990s because of the accumulation of huge food stocks with the government. Using these stocks and combining it with some rupee expenditure, the government could have launched a massive food-for-work programme geared to improving and creating rural infrastructure of various kinds. Inasmuch as inadequate investment in such infrastructure was principally responsible for the slow growth of agricultural gross domestic product (GDP), such a programme would have helped stimulate agricultural growth as well and ensured second-order employment generation effects. The launch of such a programme, parallel to existing employment generation programmes that must be strengthened, must be a high priority for the government.

Overall, greater dynamism in agriculture and its concomitant effects on non-agricultural employment in rural areas are crucial for accelerating employment growth. This in turn requires reversing the decline in capital formation in agriculture. Given the evidence that private investment follows public investment in the agricultural sector, public capital formation needs to be stepped up substantially.

The other important means for increasing employment is a revival of the small business economy, damaged by the withdrawal of measures of protection, including protection from import competition. For example, reserving areas of production for the small-scale sector makes little sense if simultaneously imports of those products are not merely liberalised but duties on them reduced substantially. In addition, a major reason for the closure of small-scale units is inadequate access to credit of the right magnitude at the right time. Even prior to the reforms of the 1990s, small industry had complained about the lack of access to credit. Since financial liberalisation has diluted programmes aimed at directing credit to the priority sectors, undermined development banking institutions, and rendered the banks less willing to lend to small customers with limited collateral by making profitability the sole indicator of banking performance, this problem has increased substantially. Thus a rethink of the nature and direction of financial sector reform is called for when considering options for accelerating employment generation.

It is not just import liberalisation and deficient rural credit that affects employment. It is indeed true that foreign direct investment (FDI) is not as inimical to the economy as speculative financial capital. But FDI often displaces domestic production by acquiring local firms rather than creating greenfield projects, as has happened in several sectors such as the soft drinks industry. Since the import intensity of foreign firms is high, this amounts to a form of implicit de-industrialisation. So foreign investment should be encouraged only in areas where it expands domestic production, either by using India as a base to supply hitherto inaccessible export markets or by substituting for imports in essential high-technology areas. This would also ensure that foreign exchange needed to meet outflows from these firms is simultaneously earned or saved. That is, FDI should be encouraged in areas where it expands domestic economic activity without adverse balance of payments implications.

FINANCIAL reform must be reassessed also because of the second area of concern that the new government must tackle immediately: rural indebtedness. Reports of suicides by farmers routinely point to an unbearable debt burden as being the cause of their extreme action. While a range of factors such as the failure of high-cost cash crops into which farmers have diversified or an unexpected fall in prices of those crops account for the inability to repay debt, an important factor is the high interest rates paid on debt taken from informal sources. The evidence suggests that the dependence of rural producers on such debt has increased during the 1990s. With financial reform resulting in reduced access to debt from the formal sector and banks even closing down rural branches as part of a process of restructuring, this dependence has increased substantially. The shift to "universal banking" at the expense of development banking and directed credit programmes has far-reaching implications, necessitating a halt to, and even some reversal of, such policies.

In the long run, improving the lot of the agriculturists requires ensuring a reasonable return for them. This requires reining in their costs and guaranteeing them appropriate prices. On the cost front, the government must ensure that the prices of crucial inputs such as power and fertilizer are not allowed to escalate on the grounds that prices charged by those providing those inputs must include a healthy return over and above actual and not even normative prices. This requires the acceptance of two principles. The first is that the prices charged by public sector units should not be assessed in isolation but treated as one among the many instruments that constitute the government's tax-cum-subsidy regime. In the past, on the one hand, public sector prices have been raised to increase budgetary revenues or reduce budgetary expenditures and, on the other, large tax concessions have been handed out to those in the higher tax slabs, which has contributed to a decline in the tax-GDP ratio. This implicitly treats public sector prices as one element in a redistributive fiscal regime, even though this reality is shrouded in the rhetoric of efficiency. While continuing to use public sector prices as redistributive instruments, it is necessary to ensure that such redistribution favours the poor.

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The second is that prices received by farmers must not be allowed to fall relative to costs as a result of the liberalisation of imports, reduction of import duties and the gradual dismantling of the minimum support price scheme. This has indeed been one consequence of the reform, which needs to be corrected.

WHILE these are policies directly aimed at alleviating some of the most adverse consequences of reform for the poor, corrective reform is required in other areas as well. One is the strengthening of the public distribution system (PDS). Experience under the NDA has made clear that efforts at targeting subsidies at the poor neither achieve their goal nor result in a reduction in the subsidy bill. Hence, as the high-powered committee set up by the NDA government itself had recommended, there is need for a universal PDS that makes no distinction between populations above and below the poverty line. The tendency to raise the prices of food issued through the PDS must be abjured since the expectation that this would reduce subsidies has been proved completely wrong. It only reduces offtake from the PDS resulting in an accumulation of stocks with the government. The consequent increase in the carrying costs of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) results in a large subsidy bill, which does not reach the poor. Moreover, embarrassed by the large stocks, the previous government callously chose to sell it to traders for export purposes at below poverty line (BPL) prices, ensuring that the subsidy ended up as trader's profits or benefited international consumers.

Another area that must be urgently tackled is the decline in social sector expenditures and the consequent shortfall in social sector provision. To make such expenditures effective, they must be linked to a set of specific objectives, among which must figure the provision of free and universal primary education of quality, and free and universal primary health care of quality, within a fairly short time horizon.

If employment programmes are appropriately designed, efforts at achieving better social sector provision can be supported with infrastructure created with such programmes. This would allow a given expenditure to realise more than one goal.

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The real challenge before the new government when dealing with the above issues is that of breaking the barrier to increase public expenditure in the name of meeting fiscal deficit targets implicitly set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. To do so would require reversing the decline in the tax-GDP ratio. It has been estimated that, if the ratio of Central government tax revenue to GDP which prevailed in 1990-91, prior to the onset of the current reforms, were prevailing today, then the Central government would have got an additional amount in excess of Rs.30,000 crores per annum at current GDP. Since India's tax-GDP ratio is known to be lower than that of other similarly placed countries, there is an obvious need to raise tax revenues through appropriate measures of progressive taxation, including larger taxation of the service sector, wealth taxation, especially taxation of financial assets, and so on.

Besides taxation, expenditures can be increased by dropping the obsession with the fiscal deficit, even when comfortable levels of foodstocks and foreign exchange reserves are available and industrial capacity remains unutilised because of lack of demand.

The previous government, rather than exercising this option, sought to deal with the fiscal crunch through the soft option of "mobilising" resources for the budget with disinvestments. This must be stopped. Disinvestment of profit-making public sector units (PSU) at throwaway prices is obviously irrational. But even in some PSUs that are loss making their condition is explained by the level of prices they charge rather than inefficiency.

Finally, a truly socially beneficial growth strategy cannot be put in place without a major role for the States. But State governments have for some time now been trapped in a fiscal crunch, which has become unmanageable after the implementation of the Fifth Pay Commission's recommendations. An important cause for the fiscal crisis faced by the State governments is the extremely high interest rates on loan provided to them by the Centre. By resorting to a combination of debt write off and swaps of high interest debt for low interest debt, the financial position of the States should be improved immediately.

These are some of the measures that the new government must adopt, to respect Verdict 2004 and make Indian democracy meaningful.

To undo the damage

NAUNIDHI KAUR cover-story

The new Human Resource Development Ministry has several important tasks at hand - reverse the communalisation of education, allocate more funds for elementary education and ensure the autonomy of premier institutes.

WITH elections having dealt a blow to the political career of former Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, the Human Resource Development Ministry in the new government is faced with the task of undoing his controversial acts. (Joshi lost to the Samajwadi Party's Reoti Raman Singh in Allahabad.) The immediate task, as one educationist summed up, is "detoxification and re-construction after the Talibanisation of education by Joshi". Issues before the new Minister include the saffronisation of education, reduction of fees at the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), curtailment of autonomy of premier institutes, appointment of Sangh Parivar sympathisers to research councils and change in approach to primary education.

Institutions that need a complete overhaul include the University Grants Commission (UGC), the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE), the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) and the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS).

However, it is in the primary and secondary education sectors that the new Ministry will have to do much work. The new textbooks written by academics appointed by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) came under fire for plagiarism, factual errors and distortion of facts. For instance, "Modern India", the NCERT's history textbook for Class XII, lifted major portions from historian R.C. Majumdar's classic History and Culture of Indian People. Similarly, "Ancient India" reproduced entire paragraphs from Romila Thapar's History of India. Many of the textbooks are replete with incorrect statements about places, dates and events. They also seem to have been carefully doctored in order to suppress inconvenient facts. Rather than improving on the textbooks in use, the NCERT printed new versions that omitted historical events not corresponding to the "national identity" prescribed by the BJP regime. Questions have also been raised about the fate of NCERT Director J.S. Rajput, who was appointed during Joshi's tenure. He is due to retire in a few months.

The Left parties have demanded that the new government revert to the old textbooks. Communist Party of India general secretary A.B. Bardhan said: "A review committee of experts should be set up to go into all the mistakes and distortions. The saffronised textbooks should be withdrawn and revised ones printed again."

In his first meeting with mediapersons after assuming office, Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh said that he was willing to correct the wrongs, but only after a thorough review. Arjun Singh said that he was aware of the Left's demand but did not want to take any decision in haste.

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One of the first things he did after assuming office was to meet the NCERT staff and the IIM heads. Congress and alliance leaders had opposed Joshi's interference in the IIMs and condemned his decision to slash their fees by 80 per cent. With the IIM fee issue in court, the government will not be able to take a decision now.

A possible patch-up with the autonomous School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi, which was to be taken over by the Ministry, could also be delayed because a case in this regard is pending before the Delhi High Court. SPA Professor K.T. Ravindran said: "In the short term the new government should remove the uncertainties around the SPA which have demoralised the faculty. The academic autonomy of the SPA needs to be restored immediately."

The work of the last government has proved that the very administrative structure of professional institutes makes them susceptible to government pressures. Ravindran said: "This is not good for any institute. There is a need for changing the system structurally to make it free from political pressure and leanings."

The new government also needs to put the policy on elementary education in order. After spending several thousand crores on elementary education, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was able to bring down the dropout rate in primary schools by only about 2 per cent. Justifying its work, the government said that all major schemes of universalisation of elementary education started after 2000. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the government's most ambitious project on elementary education, was launched in 2001. The 86th Constitution Amendment Act (since re-enacted as the Free and Compulsory Education Bill) that made elementary education for all children a fundamental right was enacted in 2002.

Objections have been raised against the Free and Compulsory Education Bill too. Former NCERT author and historian Arjun Dev said: "The Bill provides legitimate space at various administrative and academic levels for extra-constitutional authorities, including communal bodies such as the Sangh Parivar organisations, to introduce their ideological agenda in school education while keeping them outside the purview of the constitutional framework."

Delineating the problematic areas in the Bill, Dev points out that it promotes privatisation and `corporatisation' of school education; franchises parts or whole of districts to corporate or religious bodies for running the elementary education system; shifts the constitutional obligation of the state to support elementary education to parents and local communities; promotes `special schools' for the disabled children at the cost of inclusive education; and introduces a range of other distortions in the elementary education system.

The Bill exemplifies the inept approach of the NDA government towards elementary education, which worked on the assumption that a school type facility would ensure attendance of children in schools. On the other hand, experts point out that there is an urgent need to devise a curriculum that would be more relevant to the needs of children in rural areas. The Bill enforces primary education by compromising on the overall quality of education for the underprivileged.

The new government would also need to overhaul the education system so that it benefits girl students who have a higher dropout rate than boys. The NDA government reduced the budgetary allocation to several educational schemes that benefited the girl child. One such project is the Kasturba Gandhi Swatantra Vidyalaya (KGSV) programme. (Under KGSV, approximately 35 million girls, who were out of school, were to be offered free accommodation and condensed academic courses until they were ready to be inducted into the formal school system.) In 2003 the Ministry stipulated that Rs.1,200 crores would be needed to run the project, but the government allocated only Rs.489 crores. For Mahila Samakhya, another gender-specific programme on elementary education, the Ministry initially proposed to spend Rs.250 crores. However, only Rs.100 crores was allotted to the scheme in the Tenth Five Year Plan.

Critics warn that such massive reduction in funds for elementary education will push back the literacy programmes by several years. A reduced budget may mean fewer teachers, lesser and poor quality teaching aids and a compromise in the implementation of the schemes. The NDA government spent Rs.15,588 crores on elementary education under the Ninth Plan, about Rs.1,000 crores less than the original allocation of Rs.17,000 crores. This year the budget for primary and adult education has gone up by Rs.1,100 crores. Experts say that the amount is still not sufficient. Under the Tenth Plan, the Mahila Samakhya, the KGSV, Free Education for Girls and Secondary Education for Girls schemes would require around Rs.4,100 crores.

Experts point to the need to fill the cumulative gap built up since the Education Commission's recommendations in 1964-66 within a 10-year time-frame. In the case of elementary education, it was to fill this cumulative gap that the Tapas Majumdar Committee (1999) recommended an additional investment of Rs.13,700 crores a year for the next 10 years, which amounts to about 0.6 per cent of the current gross domestic product (GDP).

Suicides again

V. SRIDHAR cover-story

DEATH stalks the countryside. More than 80 suicides by peasants have been reported between May 18 and 29. Details about the suicides, gathered from across the State by reporters of the Telugu daily Prajashakti, provide a chilling account of the widespread distress among the peasantry. A cross section of people told Frontline - academics, peasants and representatives of peasant organisations, politicians and social workers - that the spate of suicides in a short span of about two weeks is unprecedented in the history of Andhra Pradesh. The State enjoys the dubious distinction of accounting for three out of every four suicides by farmers reported in the country in recent years, according to Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.

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Suicides by farmers have been reported from every part of the State, including one by a woman in the Chief Minister's constituency of Pulivendla in Cuddapah district. Although most of the suicides have been reported from the dry parts of the State, a number of them have occurred in Prakasam, West Godavari and Krishna districts, which are considered better irrigated. Clearly, the distress is not confined to peasants cultivating a particular crop. Those growing chillies, groundnut, pulses, cotton, vegetables and even paddy are among those who have taken the extreme step.

Anantapur district is possibly best designated as the "suicide capital" of India. According to the Anantapur district secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangam, Vishweshwar Reddy, more than 450 peasants have committed suicide since 2000. The district has been hit by a series of droughts in recent years. But that is only to be expected since it generally records the second lowest rainfall in the country (next to Jaisalmer district in Rajasthan).

Groundnut is grown in 90 per cent of the cultivable land in the district. The small and marginal peasant incurs a production expenditure of about Rs.3,000 to Rs.4,000 an acre, but has to bear the uncertainty of crop failure without any assistance from the state. Most farmers in Anantapur grow only one crop, which means that the fields are fallow for 8 to 9 months a year. Less than 10 per cent of the cultivated area is irrigated. Vishweshwar Reddy points out that the ten-fold increase in the import of edible oils has meant lower prices for the peasant.

Even land prices have dropped dramatically in the past few years. Land in Anantapur, which used to command a price of Rs.40,000 to - Rs.50,000 an acre five years ago, now goes for Rs.10,000. Peasants in distress have sold all that they had - cattle, houses and even their land. Many have migrated in the hope of escaping extreme distress.

According to D. Narasimha Reddy, Dean, School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad, the life of the small and marginal peasant has become uncertain and risky. Crops are themselves uncertain because of the widespread shortage of water. Peasants, desperate to get water, undertake even more risk by investing in the risk-laden business of digging borewells. According to a Prajashakti report, a small peasant in Mehboobnagar district recently dug 10 borewells without success and took his own life after the 11th well also turned dry. Narasimha Reddy points out that the lack of state investment in irrigation has forced the peasant to bear a greater burden of risk. Even if the crop yields a reasonable return, the peasant faces risks in marketing the produce. This explains why farmers growing a range of crops have committed suicide. Narasimha Reddy said that though input costs have been increasing in the last few years, the price that the peasant is able to command for his produce fluctuates. This is largely on account of the failure of the government to intervene in agricultural markets to stabilise them.

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Even rich farmers are able to get only 20 per cent of their credit requirements from institutional sources. Obviously, small and marginal peasants do not enjoy even this cushion of lower interest rates. According to the Prajashakti survey, most of the peasants who committed suicide in recent weeks took loans from private moneylenders, pesticide and fertilizer dealers and local "finance companies". These loans carry a heavy price tag. Interest rates generally range from 36 to 60 per cent and may, according to some sources, even go up to a whopping 120 per cent. Narasimha Reddy said that the peasant is often humiliated severely in public by the lenders. Cattle is snatched from the peasants and their houses are attached.

Vishweshwar Reddy told Frontline that the Telugu Desam Party government arrested thousands of peasants in Anantapur district when they failed to pay their power dues. "Instead of providing relief to the peasant, the TDP government appointed Special Circle Inspectors in the police department to conduct raids on the houses of peasants who were unable to pay their power dues," he said. He also said that the government collected Rs.120 crores as fines from farmers for their failure to pay their dues in time.

WHAT explains this sudden surge in suicides by the peasantry, even after the new government, which promised to improve the lot of the peasant, assumed office? Soon after assuming office, Rajasekhara Reddy announced a relief package to the families of farmers who had committed suicide - Rs.1 lakh to repay the debts and Rs.50,000 as relief. Cynics, who hate the notion of "relief measures", were quick to point out that the spate of suicides in the State was because of this package.

However, B.V. Raghavalu, secretary of the Andhra Pradesh unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has an explanation for the phenomenon. He points out that the moneylenders refrained from pressuring the peasants as long as the election process was on. The Rythu Sangam also observed that in Anantapur and Mehboobnagar districts, for instance, the moneylenders feared that the new government, under popular pressure, would cancel the loans due to them from the peasants.

There appear two distinct issues in the recent suicides. First, it is obvious that relief must be provided to the affected families. The other set of issues relates to the medium and long-term measures that the government must undertake in order to prevent such deaths from happening. Raghavalu said that the government must separate the two issues clearly. He said while it was important for the government to provide reassurance to the peasant by conducting public campaigns, such measures alone were not enough. He demands that the government "immediately declare a one-year moratorium on debt repayments by farmers. Only if this happens will the moneylenders stop harassing the peasants. Once this is done, the government can devise ways and means for farmers to repay their loans. It can evolve different sets of solutions for various classes of borrowers. The poorest peasants may require a complete waiver of dues, others may be able to do with a debt relief package of staggered repayments of their dues".

Raghavalu believes that the panchayats, by virtue of being the nearest available institutional mechanism in the life of the peasantry, can be involved in tackling the problem. Panchayats can organise psychological support to debt-burdened peasants by encouraging them to confide in the panchayat members and seek its protection when they are harassed by moneylenders. Moreover, any debt-relief package announced by the government can be implemented by the panchayat.

Although an immediate moratorium on repayments by the peasantry would appear to be a rational response, Rajasekhara Reddy has ruled out any such move. Instead, he flagged off a rally of film and television personalities and sportspersons in Hyderabad who urged farmers not to take their lives.

NEO-LIBERALISM SPURNED

In a stunning verdict, the people of Andhra Pradesh convincingly reject their Chief Executive Officer N. Chandrababu Naidu and the neo-liberal development model he assiduously promoted in his nine years as Chief Minister. The electoral experience of other Chief Ministers who have embarked on a similar economic programme is no different. Here, an assessment of the performance of five Chief Ministers and the people's response, starting with Andhra Pradesh.

in Hyderabad

THE stunning defeat of the government led by the shining icon of economic liberalisation in India, N. Chandrababu Naidu, is perhaps the single most important result of the recent elections. Heading the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government in Andhra Pradesh for nine years, Chandrababu Naidu changed the nature of politics and turned the very notion of economic development on its head. His public appearances, invariably through video teleconferences, endeared himself to the media as an IT-savvy, modern-minded chief executive officer (CEO) of Andhra Pradesh Inc. But living up to an image always is risky.

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The mind-numbing regularity with which news of suicides by farmers in the State has flowed in in the last few weeks best illustrates all that is wrong with a system that has marginalised the poor while heaping favours on the privileged. Chandrababu Naidu rocked every social institution and engineered a social cleavage that demarcated the winners from the losers. In fact, it is not surprising that the elections were thus highly contentious. Both winners and losers were desperate to win this time - the winners to protect what they had gained and the losers hoping to gain something after having lost everything.

Nothing captures this gulf in society better than the contrast between the glitz in a small part of Hyderabad and the wave of farmer suicides that has swept the countryside in recent weeks. To reduce the electoral verdict to a "rural-urban divide" would, of course, be a grave injustice to the will of the electorate. For instance, in the Khairatabad Assembly constituency in the heart of Hyderabad, which has more glitz than any other place in the State, TDP Minister and former director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) K. Vijaya Rama Rao lost by a margin of more than 32,000 votes. The HiTec City, Cyberabad, the Indian School of Business, the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Banjara Hills, where Hyderabad's elite reside, all fall under this constituency. How could things have gone so badly wrong for Chandrababu Naidu here? Ashhar Farhan, an engineer who has an IT start-up in the city, points out that Khairatabad may appear glitzy, but there are also working class slums in the constituency. He said: "The underclass voted with their feet against the TDP because they had nothing to gain from Chandrababu Naidu's notion of development."

The roots of the popular anger against the TDP can be traced back to Chandrababu Naidu's deviation from the path charted by the TDP founder and popular film icon N.T. Rama Rao (NTR). It is significant that Chandrababu Naidu's path coincided with the vision that the World Bank had for the State. D. Narasimha Reddy, Dean, School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad, pointed out that Chandrababu Naidu was the "first politician in India who did not talk in terms of the weaker sections and the poor, even during times of elections". Political democracy was instead a matter of managing society. Although he assumed office in 1995, his real break with the legacy of NTR occurred the following year when he effected sharp increases in user charges for a range of public services such as drinking water and public transport. The popular base of the TDP under NTR was strengthened by his prohibition policy and the decision to supply rice at Rs.2 a kg. This expanded the TDP's appeal among the other backward classes (OBCs) and provided a political platform for the growing economic clout of the rich peasantry that rose as a result of the Green Revolution in coastal Andhra Pradesh. Narasimha Reddy pointed out that under the leadership of NTR the State budget allocated more funds for education and health, reflecting a distinctly welfare state orientation.

B.V. Raghavalu, secretary of the Andhra Pradesh unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said that the increase in user charges effected in 1996 paved the way for the Chandrababu Naidu government's subsequent association with the World Bank. In 1997, the World Bank initiated a massive loan programme for the State, which required a comprehensive alteration of almost every conceivable aspect of its economy. The Andhra Pradesh State Electricity Board, one of the profitable and efficient state-owned electricity grids in the country, was to be dismantled. State-run industrial units were to be privatised or closed down. In the field of agriculture, the State agreed to dismantle subsidies and stop the supply of free power to farmers.

Chandrababu Naidu was forced to slow down the pace of reforms by the uncertainties of coalition politics on the national stage and the Assembly elections in 1999. However, after he won the elections in 2000 he announced a massive hike in power rates, which triggered protests across the State. It also led to closer cooperation among the Opposition parties. As a result of the economic policies, the State suffered a massive problem of industrial sickness. According to C. Ramachandriah, reader at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies in Hyderabad, about one lakh small-scale industrial units have closed down in the State in the past five years, leaving about 15 lakh people jobless. Raghavalu said that as many as 55 public enterprises were handed over to private industrialists "at throw-away prices". Many others have been closed down, downsized or disinvested. To oversee this restructuring programme, the Chandrababu Naidu government established an Implementation Secretariat, which is advised by consultants of the Adam Smith Institute, a United Kingdom-based think tank that advises governments across the world how to go about dismantling state-owned enterprises.

Even as people were being thrown out of jobs in the industrial sector, the misery in the agricultural sector worsened. Narasimha Reddy said that the past five years witnessed a serious agrarian crisis. He pointed out that the crisis had a long history, going back more than two decades. While investment in agriculture has fallen, both at the national and State levels, the cost of production in the sector has risen, despite the subsidies. Product prices have fluctuated wildly in this period and marketing has become a serious problem for the peasantry. Moreover, the growing dependence on ground water resources added to the uncertainty. This has resulted in small and marginal farmers having to make risky investments. The phenomenon of farmer suicides in the last five years is unprecedented. Narasimha Reddy said: "Although these issues needed the attention of the government, these were precisely the issues Chandrababu Naidu was least bothered about." Instead, he issued a White Paper on agriculture, which considered issues related to small and marginal farmers as being part of "an old paradigm". The "new" thinking, according to him, was to make agriculture work for global markets, through contract and corporate farming. "There was a benign neglect of agriculture, despite the talk of investing in irrigation," said Narasimha Reddy.

Chandrababu Naidu tried to make up for the slide in the real economy by concentrating on visibility rather than substance. Narasimha Reddy, who has observed the former Chief Minister as a Ph.D student (he did not complete his thesis) at S.V. University in Tirupati in the mid-1970s, said that "he always focussed on imagery and visibility". In this the financial press proved a willing ally, especially because he caught its imagination and spoke its language. Thus, while the media ignored the widespread phenomenon of suicides by farmers and weavers, it focussed on the former Chief Minister's managerial style. Narasimha Reddy points out: "There is not a single meaningful programme to come to the rescue of people working in the handloom and powerloom sectors." The State apex cooperative has worsened the plight of the weavers by delaying their payments. Weavers have borrowed money at interest rates as high as 36 per cent and have been unable to clear their debts. He said: "There are many schemes but there is no effective mechanism to provide relief to the weavers. Instead, the master weavers who control the business, particularly the supply of subsidised yarn, have an effective hold on the fortune of the hapless weaver."

The Janmabhoomi programme, introduced by the Chandrababu Naidu government, was marred by allegations of misuse of funds meant for local bodies. Under the programme, funds were distributed through the State bureaucracy (nodal officers) instead of elected representatives. A lot of publicity at considerable expenditure accompanied the Janmabhoomi programme. Referring to the new government's decision to abolish Janmabhoomi, Narasimha Reddy said: "People outside the State may have a feeling that the new government has destroyed what Chandrababu Naidu has built. But people outside Andhra Pradesh are not aware of how, in the name of Janmabhoomi, the basic features of democratic decentralisation have been destroyed by Chandrababu Naidu." Narasimha Reddy also alleged that the only beneficiaries of the government programmes were vested interests. Most of the schemes were aimed at distribution - distribution of seeds, food for work and so on. The only other kind of work undertaken was building of roads. "Everybody knows that there is money to be made by vested interests in such schemes. A road to a village means there is a cut for someone," said Narasimha Reddy. There were also widespread allegations that foodgrain meant for the food-for-work programme was diverted to TDP functionaries. In the last two years, Chandrababu Naidu used his leverage with the Central government to get a substantial portion of the rice distributed by the Centre for Andhra Pradesh. But there were allegations that only a small portion of it reached the poor. Raghavalu said that ordinary people started feeling that while they were suffering, a section was making money at their expense. "Chandrababu Naidu was cut off from the people. His grand gestures, through teleconferences, were nothing but a gimmick," he said.

Although the TDP government introduced a number of schemes for every conceivable section of society - farmers, women, tribal people, weavers, artisans and even the minorities - these did not have much effect on their lives. In fact, there is evidence to show that the World Bank was willing to accommodate the requirements of its client who was going into election mode. The World Bank, on the eve of recent elections, extended Rs.900 crores to the government. However, it is evident that the massive "leakage" of funds, in favour of local elites - both urban and rural - increased popular ire against the TDP.

Raghavalu argues that the TDP's core social base, among those who have benefited from its policies, remains more or less intact. He said that the rich and middle peasants and the rural rich "vehemently" supported the TDP in the elections. After all, the TDP-BJP alliance got 39 per cent of the votes polled in the Assembly elections. The Congress, the Left parties and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) together polled 8 per cent more votes than the TDP-BJP alliance. The margin was 12 per cent in Telangana, 7 per cent in coastal Andhra Pradesh and only 2 per cent in Rayalaseema. Raghavalu said that the richer sections of the peasantry support the TDP because they have benefited in many ways (from the World Bank funds, for instance). He pointed out that the government spent about Rs.1,000 crores for digging canals. Almost all the contracts were given to the water users associations, in which the rural rich enjoy clout. About Rs.1,200 crores was spent in Janmabhoomi works and the main beneficiaries were the contractors. Raghavalu said that the TDP had developed a network of the rural elite, consisting of ration depot owners, rural and urban contractors, chairpersons of the education committees and water users associations and Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) groups. He said: "This organisational network worked for the TDP and they, in turn, benefited from the contracts issued by the State. In fact, it is this machinery that prevented the complete erosion of the TDP in rural Andhra Pradesh. The TDP is unique in the sense that it is the first political party that has tied its destiny to the implementation of the World Bank's agenda while building its own organisation in the process. The beneficiaries from this were the elite, the World Bank and the TDP. This mechanism worked as a bulwark for the TDP, cushioning the impact of this electoral defeat."

The Congress campaign, focussed as it was on the widespread distress in the countryside, engaged the attention of the peasantry. Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, while undertaking his 1,500-km long padayatra in the summer of 2003, talked about their problems. His popularity also enabled him to establish himself as the undisputed leader of the party in the State, which is marred by infighting. His major promise to the peasantry was free power and waiver of electricity dues, which he promptly adhered to soon after taking oath as Chief Minister on May 14. During the campaign, Rajasekhara Reddy promised free power, elimination of liquor chains known as "belt" shops in the rural areas, inquiry into corruption scandals, help to peasants to prevent suicides, enhancement of family, old-age and widow pensions, 180 days of agricultural employment, completion of irrigation projects in a time-bound manner (24 projects, costing Rs.42,000 crores, within five years), the establishment of a pay revision commission for employees, dearness allowance revision for pensioners, loans for DWCRA groups and peasants at lower interest rates ("four annas", three per cent a year) and the protection of the minorities.

Narasimha Reddy pointed out that when the Congress raised the issue of waiver of electricity dues and free power it caught the imagination of the people. However, Chandrababu Naidu and other critics have said that this is not feasible. Narasimha Reddy said: "I think the whole issue has been reduced and placed in a World Bank kind of framework. The point is that the rural sector is in deep crisis and needs some transfer of funds as relief. Farmers argue that when NTR made power supply free, it enabled a poor peasant to save Rs.3,000 a year, which enabled him to avoid debt. Now, the situation is that the peasant has to borrow to make this payment. He now is burdened by a debt of Rs.6,000, which he is unable to clear. It is very obvious that even in the richest countries of the world, the farming community cannot survive without state support. My argument is that we need to transfer Rs.3,000 to Rs.5,000 to provide relief to distressed farmers; we can call it what we want but this transfer is absolutely essential to the life of the peasant. It is also possible to do this."

Although he has "grave apprehensions about the Congress government's ability to solve the problems of the State", he believes that it has "started off with a very big advantage" - a "genuine identification of the problems of the people".

Prof. G. Hargopal of the University of Hyderabad argues that the peasantry is not asking for free power, it is only asking for power at reasonable rate. He points out that the peasant's main problem is access to resources. Private moneylenders are extremely oppressive. He pointed out that the peasant's demand for power is different from what people in urban areas may imagine. "He needs power mainly to draw water. The question really boils down to whether the state can do something to give the farmer water at an affordable rate. Water is in short supply. Production is risky. And, on top of all this, the farmer has no idea what he will get for his produce."

Raghavalu believes that the promises made by the Congress can be implemented if it has the political will. However, he said: "But, given its track record, we cannot hope that it will do so. Half of the promises made by it do not require major financial allocations. For instance, land distribution to the landless. According to one estimate, there are about 60 lakh acres of vacant land, for which pattas can be issued. There are 30 lakh applications pending for house sites. Most of this can be given by the government without incurring any financial liability." He believes that once the government establishes its commitment it can tackle the other issues of a long-term nature. As the supply of free power and waiver of power dues will cost the government Rs.450 crores and Rs.1,100 crores respectively, it may have to explore other avenues to make up this loss. Raghavalu argues that the supply of free power should be discriminatory; they should be focussed on small and marginal farmers. Otherwise, there is a danger of the entire scheme collapsing because of big farmers acting as free riders on a scheme meant for the small peasantry. Raghavalu observes that four lakh applications from farmers awaiting pumpset connections are pending before the government. If and when all these are connected to the grid, the bill will be substantially more than the Rs.450 crores that the State is going to incur annually.

Post-poll pundits in the media have added their own spin to the electoral verdict, commiserating with Chandrababu Naidu. In particular, they argued that the TDP was defeated by the "anti-incumbency factor", despite its government's contribution to the "development" of Andhra Pradesh. But Chandrababu Naidu's critics argue that the "anti-incumbency" argument conceals the widespread anger against neoliberal policies. Raghavalu says: "Anti-incumbency is a shallow argument and is only a euphemism to camouflage the real reasons for the rejection of the Chandrababu Naidu government. People from all major sections voted against the TDP and the BJP. The reforms had a universal impact, and the verdict has also been universal."

In a critical condition

SIDDHARTH NARRAIN cover-story

With the public health system in a shambles and private hospitals beyond their reach, basic health care proves to be a luxury for a majority of Indians.

UNION Minister for Health and Family Welfare Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss has his task cut out. Basic health indicators in the country are far from encouraging. The infant mortality rate is 68 per thousand live births every year. The rate of decline in infant mortality has slowed down in the last decade. About 130,000 mothers die during child birth every year. The maternal mortality rate has increased from 424 maternal per 100,000 live births to 540 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Social and environmental dislocation along with a weakening public health care system has led to a resurgence of communicable diseases such as malaria, dengue, encephalitis and kala azar. According to the latest National Family Health Survey, half of all Indian children are undernourished and half of all adult women suffer from anaemia.

Government expenditure on public health care has declined sharply since the beginning of `reforms' and structural adjustment in 1991. Only 17 per cent of all health care expenditure in India is borne by the government, making it one of the most privatised health care systems in the world. The capital expenditure in the health budget of the Central government has declined from Rs.45.09 crores in 1996-97 to just Rs.7.3 crores in 2001-02. The current annual per capita expenditure on public health care is only Rs.160. Since health is a State subject under the Constitutional framework, States are expected to contribute to a major part of the finances allocated to the health sector. But the budgetary allocation of States for health has declined form 7 per cent to 5.5. per cent in the period between 1990 and 1999. The Central government's contribution to public health investment in the country is only 15 per cent. The National Health Policy, 2002, suggests that this be increased to 25 per cent by 2010.

Dr. Mira Shiva, Director of Women's Health and Development and Rational Drug Policy of the Voluntary Health Association of India and founder-member of the People's Health Movement said: "The health budget has to be looked at as an investment in people's health and should be used to address the morbidity and mortality pattern of the country. It is unforgivable that even today six lakh children a year should die of diarrhoea when it can be prevented by safe drinking water and sanitation and by the timely administration of oral rehydration solutions."

The government will have to look carefully at how resources have been allocated within the existing budget. Dr. C. Sathyamala, epidemiologist and member of the Medico Friends Circle added: "The Tenth Five Year Plan has allocated most of its funds towards programmes dealing with contraception and the Pulse Polio Programme. What is the point in asking for an increase in the budget if the government does not look at where the resources are going?"

Increasingly, community and public health care experts in the country have begun to point out that vertical programmes such as the pulse polio and tuberculosis (directly observed treatment - short course) vaccination programmes have been given too much emphasis. "Vaccination is looked at as a solution instead of improving nutrition, safe drinking water and sanitation, which will automatically raise resistance levels to diseases. The focus on vaccines has meant that routine health services and basic health facilities have suffered," says Dr. Ravi D'Souza, consultant in community health. The previous government paid no attention to the Supreme Court's order of November 2001, asking to provide for a functioning anganwadi in every `settlement'.

The Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) says that public expenditure on health care will be increased from the current 0.9 per cent to 2 to 3 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) over the next five years, which is far below the 5 per cent recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The CMP says that a `national cooked nutritious mid-day meal scheme' will be introduced in primary and secondary schools. The UPA will also universalise the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme to provide a functional anganwadi in every settlement and ensure full coverage for all children.

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THE privatisation of health care has accelerated since 1991 with the unprecedented expansion of the private medical sector, the entry of private insurance in health care and the introduction of payment for medical services or "user fees" in the government sector. The last decade has seen the country move towards a dual system of health care - a high technology-based medical service on a par with what is available internationally to cater to the elite from India and abroad, while for the poor, the government is obliged to provide a minimal clinical package as suggested by the World Bank Report in 1993.

According to Dr. Sathyamala, while the proclaimed objective of user fees is to generate resources for the public sector, it has resulted in people being weaned away from public to private hospitals as people do not want to settle for what appears to be `second best' if money has to be paid in both cases. It has also meant that a large number of people are not seeking help from anyone. This has led to a paradoxical situation where the standard of medical care in public hospitals is degenerating even as user fees are introduced as a source of income.

The National Health Policy (NHP) of 2002 omits the concept of comprehensive and universal health care, thus departing from the National Health Policy of 1983 and India's obligation under the Alma Ata Declaration on Primary Health Care of 1978. Instead the NHP makes out a case for privatisation of existing public hospitals, creating new private hospitals and abdicating the government's responsibility to non-governmental organisations (NGO).

The Jana Swasthya Abhiyan, a national network of organisations that work in the area of health, organised a meeting with parliamentarians just before the elections to the Lok Sabha. The policy document that was released at this meeting, points out clearly that the health care system has been weakened by the policies of successive governments since 1991. The document points out that the proportion of those who are unable to afford health care has increased from 10 to 21 per cent in urban areas and 15 to 24 per cent in rural areas in the past decade. Forty per cent of those who are hospitalised are forced to borrow money or sell their assets to pay for the expenses resulting in two crore people being pushed below the poverty line every year, the report says. Only 38 per cent of all Public Health Centres (PHC) have all the critical staff. Health facility surveys conducted by the International Institute of Population Sciences(Mumbai) show that only 69 per cent of PHCs have at least one bed and 20 per cent have a telephone.

THE government needs to re-examine the current drug pricing policy. Most countries have some form of price controls to make sure that essential drugs are available to the public at an affordable rate. In India this is done through the Drug Price Control Order (DPCO). The number of drugs that are under price control have come down from 347 in the 1979 DPCO to the current 74. The National Pharmaceutical Policy of 2002 suggests that this be further reduced to 34. Dr. Anurag Bhargav, who is involved with this issue, said: "The pharmaceutical companies' logic that the market will act as a regulator of prices is a myth. Though Indian drugs are touted as the cheapest in the world; they are overpriced and unaffordable. In the pharmaceutical industry, it is the doctor who makes the choice for the consumer and the consumer has no easy way of evaluating the doctor's prescriptions. Both the assumptions of a free market and that of competition reducing prices are contestable."

The criteria for drug price control in the Pharmaceutical Policy of 2002 have been challenged in court by LOCOST, which is a non-profit trust that produces generic drugs at low prices; the Jana Swasthya Sahyog; the All India Drug Action Network and the Medico Friends Circle. Anurag Bhargav adds: "The criteria of the Pharmaceutical Policy 2002 have little to do with how essential the drugs are, the therapeutic importance of the drug or its importance in national programmes. As a result drugs that have escaped price control are overpriced and the monitoring agency of the government, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has no transparent methodology to identify and monitor drugs that need to be put under price control."

Spurious drugs are a major concern that the government has to tackle. The previous government, alarmed by the growing market for fake medicines in the country, set up the Mashelkar Committee to look at the various aspects of the menace. The committee found existing laws were too soft and called for death penalty for makers and stiff punishment for sellers of spurious medicines that could cause death or serious suffering. At the moment the issue is governed by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, which provides for stringent punishment to those manufacturing, promoting and selling fake and substandard drugs. The Mashelkar Committee Report observes that the Drug Control Authority under the Health Ministry, which is the appropriate body for dealing with this issue, has not used the existing provisions effectively. The committee has recommended that a single drug administration authority must be set up to monitor the segment.

The CMP says that the government will `provide leadership to national Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) control efforts'. Previous governments have not integrated their responses to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus /AIDS problem within the public health care system in the country. According to National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) estimates, there were 3.97 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the country at the end of 2001. Most HIV/AIDS initiatives are funded by international agencies which have the resources but in return exercise control over the HIV/AIDS discourse in the country.

Says Vivek Diwan from the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit: "Though the common perception is that there is a lot of money for HIV/AIDS, the fact is that the government spends a very small amount on addressing HIV/AIDS. The government needs to invest in surveillance mechanisms so that it is possible to estimate accurate numbers of people who are HIV positive. People have to be encouraged to test themselves by making sure there are enough voluntary testing and counselling centres (VTCTs) that have qualified counsellors who are adequately paid. There must be a genuine attempt to understand people who are affected the most, such as sex workers and homosexuals and to remove legal barriers that make it impossible to deal with the epidemic."

Till recently, the Indian government did not support ARV (anti-retroviral) treatment because of its prohibitive cost. Previous Health Minister Sushma Swaraj initiated a programme by which ARVs were provided free to one lakh HIV/AIDS patients in six States. It was launched in April this year but there are questions about where the money to sustain it is going to come from. The government is hoping that Indian pharmaceutical companies like Cipla, Ranbaxy, Hetero and Matrix will continue to provide ARVs at a lower cost to the government. But this may not be possible when the Third Patents (Amendment) Act that will bring patent law in India in compliance with the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) comes into force. Akshay Khanna, a lawyer who has dealt with HIV/AIDS issues and is a student of medical anthropology, said: "The government has to explore options on how to use the Doha Declaration to continue to produce cheaper drugs. The government also needs to look at the possibility of using the `public non-commercial use' exception in TRIPS to enable public sector pharmaceutical companies to produce ARVs."

The previous government had initiated an effort to draft a law on HIV/AIDS, which is still at the stage of consultations. The Health Ministry and NACO had engaged the Lawyers Collective's HIV/AIDS unit to draft the law and has been trying to engage as many stakeholders as possible. According to Vivek Diwan: "The draft is expected to be ready by August. Its emphasis will be on anti-discrimination and will cover the privates sector too. It will address issues of informed consent and confidentiality." The challenge before the Health Ministry is to continue its efforts to make the drafting process as consultative as possible.

A step forward

VENKATESH ATHREYA cover-story

Although the Common Minimum Programme does not make a clean break with the set of economic policies that have been repeatedly rejected by the people in every election held since 1991, it is a welcome first step forward in the process of building a confident, democratic and socially and economically modern and just society.

THE Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), released on May 27, 2004 - exactly 40 years to the day Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru passed away - represents, in part, a return to some of the goals that Nehru had held dear. It constitutes a step forward in the process of building a secular India, which is also more socially and economically inclusive than has been the case in recent years. While it does not fully reflect the meaning of the electoral verdict of 2004, insofar as it does not make a clean break with the set of economic policies that have been repeatedly rejected by the people in every election held since 1991, it nonetheless recognises that these policies have not addressed the needs of significant sections of the population and seeks to make partial course corrections. Being a document of a coalition of parties, it reflects the political give-and-take inevitable in such an arrangement.

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The CMP advances six basic principles of governance, which are welcome and unexceptionable. These include:

* Preserving, protecting and promoting social harmony and resolutely opposing communalism.

* Ensuring sustained, employment-oriented economic growth.

* Enhancing the welfare of farmers, agricultural labourers and workers.

* Empowering women and promoting gender equality.

* Ensuring equality of opportunity for socially disadvantaged groups and religious minorities.

* Unleashing creative energies and promoting productive forces.

The CMP recognises the damage done to the pluralist and secular nature of Indian society and its key institutions by the onslaught of fundamentalism and obscurantism of various hues and by the active promotion of religious fanaticism in pursuit of political advantage in recent years. Its commitments in this regard by the reiteration of the secular principles that have been the bedrock of our multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual nationhood, and its upholding of a secular polity are most welcome. Its restatement of the commitment to the letter and spirit of Article 370 of the Constitution pertaining to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and the specific attention paid in the CMP to the educational and other needs of the minorities should go a long way in addressing the genuine concerns of the minorities in the current political conjuncture without in any way pandering to minority communalism.

The CMP makes an effort to address the issue of social exclusion characteristic of India's growth path in recent times when it spells out its commitments to disadvantaged classes and social groups, including farm workers, farmers, other workers especially in the unorganised sector, Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Castes, the backward classes, women and minorities. Its attention to agriculture, education and health will be welcomed by all. These are sectors that have been badly affected during the decade and more of mindless pursuit of policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation (LPG). However, there is room for concern over the policies proposed in the CMP to address some of these issues.

The CMP contains welcome corrections to the foreign policy pursued by the National Democratic Alliance regime, which bordered on servility to the sole superpower and acquiesced in its efforts to ensure its global domination through unilateral actions, including the invasion of sovereign countries and colonial occupation. The CMP's commitment "to promote multipolarity in world relations and oppose all attempts at unilateralism" is timely. The explicit commitment to "the cause of the Palestinian people for a homeland of their own" is also most welcome. Its assertion that "... the UPA government will maintain the independence of India's foreign policy position on all regional and global issues" as well as its emphasis on promotion of closer ties with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries, China and Russia are consistent with India's national interests. While there may be diplomatic reasons for the reference in the CMP to the pursuit of closer engagements and relations with the United States, it needs to be underlined that the current U.S. foreign policy has been exceptionally aggressive and based on the unacceptable premise of the U.S.' right to intervene militarily anywhere in the world if it perceives a threat to its interests.

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While the need to meet commitments made to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as on date may be unavoidable, this does not and should not preclude serious efforts to renegotiate several existing treaty obligations under WTO, which are patently unfair to the Third World, the agreement on intellectual property rights being a case in point. There is a need in this context to build on and strengthen the solidarity among Third World countries, particularly India, China, Brazil and South Africa, which was demonstrated in the Cancun Ministerial meeting of the WTO. It is worthy of note that the CMP does make a reference to this aspect.

ONE of the positive features of the CMP is its explicit promise to repeal the dreaded Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). The abrogation of basic democratic rights in the name of fighting terrorism cannot be countenanced. There are enough laws in the country, which, if implemented without fear or favour, will be far more effective than legislation such as POTA that lead to arbitrary actions and gross misuse of powers by undemocratic governments.

On another important aspect of the exercise of democratic rights, the CMP has made the commitment that "... the right to strike according to law ...will not be taken away or curtailed", although it has not spoken of bringing in legislation to protect the right to strike, which was felt necessary by almost all workers' organisations cutting across political lines.

On economic issues, the CMP makes a promising beginning by focusing on employment, food, nutrition security, agriculture and rural credit. One of the key negative features of the economic policy and performance of the decade and more of "economic reforms" of the LPG variety has been the extremely slow growth in employment in general and rural employment in particular. Between 1993-94 and 1999-2000, rural employment grew at an abysmal rate of 0.66 per cent per annum, while the overall rate of growth of employment was around 1 per cent per annum. Verdict 2004 has confirmed that things did not get any better since 1999. It is therefore appropriate that the CMP has laid emphasis on employment as an important policy objective, and one that will not be automatically ensured by growth per se. Its explicit commitment to "... provide a legal guarantee for at least 100 days of employment, to begin with, on asset-creating public works programmes every year at minimum wages for at least one able-bodied person in every rural or urban poor and lower-middle class household" and its assurance that, "in the interim, a massive food-for-work programme will be started" represent an important break with the policies of the past.

Another key negative feature of the "economic reforms" period has been the stagnation in agriculture and the decline in the rate of growth of foodgrain production to levels below the rate of growth of population for the first time since Independence. Ironically, despite the slower growth of foodgrain production, the "reform policies" ensured that India would end up with huge stocks of unsold foodgrain in public godowns, even while a significant proportion of the population suffered from chronic hunger. It did this by raising the prices of foodgrain supplied through the public distribution system (PDS) and by depriving access to these foodgrain for a large segment of the needy population by pursuing the so-called Targeted PDS.

Progressive economists have been arguing for quite some time now that the Targeted PDS must be replaced by a system of universal access, and that a massive food-for-work programme would provide employment, create productive rural assets and reduce unsold stocks with the Food Corporation of India and thus reduce the subsidy cost of food. Moreover, such a programme, by putting purchasing power in the hands of a large segment of the rural population, will help the domestic market expand and thus revive industry as well. The CMP implicitly recognises the merit of this argument although it is still unwilling to accept a universal access PDS to ensure food security as recommended by the Abhijit Sen Committee.

THE CMP has partially recognised the irrationality of indiscriminate sale of public sector enterprises and disinvestment as an ideology. It has taken the view that, `generally, profit-making companies will not be privatised'. However, it has not also questioned the rationale of privatisation in general. That privatisation of public sector enterprises has become an article of faith with most proponents of the kind of economic reforms under way since 1991, including many in the UPA camp, is a reflection of the hold of neo-liberal ideology, which presumes that, other things being equal, the private sector is always to be preferred to the public sector. Such a mindset does not recognise the crucial role that the public sector has played in India and continues to play not only in meeting strategic needs but also in mobilising resources for development and strengthening self-reliance.

One has only to recall the state of India's external dependence in respect of the oil industry prior to the establishment of oil refining capacity in the public sector in the early 1960s or the problems we faced in establishing a strong steel sector in the 1950s, or in more recent times, the contribution made by the public sector insurance industry to mobilising resources for development, to understand the critical importance of the public sector and the absence of any compelling generalised rationale for privatisation. Arguments for privatisation on the grounds of so-called `efficiency' have been largely ideological.

A related issue in this context is the role of the private sector in infrastructure. Here, even while agreeing to review provisions of the Electricity Act, 2003, in response to the concern expressed by many State governments, the CMP reiterates a commitment "to an increased role for private generation of power, and more important, power distribution". Again, given the poor track record of the so-called fast-track power projects of the `independent power producers' over the last decade and more, the rationale for this commitment is far from obvious.

In the wake of the results of the 2004 elections, and the mandate received by the Left parties, which have consistently opposed certain key aspects of the policies pursued in the name of "economic reforms" for over a decade and more vigorously by the NDA regime in the past six years, commentators have sought to downplay the verdict against the reform policies. The key role of the Left in supporting a secular government from outside has, it is claimed, caused considerable apprehension among foreign institutional investors, in particular about the possibility of reversal of reforms, and this, it is alleged, has led to sharp declines in the stock market indices.

All this is then presented as some kind of a catastrophe, the responsibility for which is to be laid at the door of the Left party spokespersons who had merely restated their well-known policy positions during the process of government formation. The basic question to be raised in fact is why should the Indian economy and its policies be held hostage to a group of international financial speculators and domestic bear cartels, and not the alleged irresponsible utterances of political party spokespersons.

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It is in this context that one must take issue with the CMP's commitment to encourage foreign portfolio investments. These are globally recognised to be "hot money" flows that do not contribute to productive investment, but merely enhance the vulnerability of the economies that receive such flows to the vagaries of international financial markets.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is in a different category, and a case can certainly be made for attracting FDI flows. Even here, however, the matter must be put in perspective. Between 1992 and 2001, India received a total of $40 billion as capital inflows. Of this, $22 billion was portfolio investment, and $18 billion constituted FDI. Of this FDI amount, nearly half went into mergers and acquisitions, so that effective greenfield FDI was hardly $9 billion or less than $1 billion a year. This amounts to less than 1 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) and hardly 4-5 per cent of our gross domestic capital formation. FDI flows have increased in recent years, but not a great deal.

The point is not that we do not need FDI flows, but that its importance should not be exaggerated. Further, as the Chinese experience shows, FDI tends to go to an expanding economy and not the other way round. In other words, one cannot rely on FDI as the kick-starter or prime mover of growth. Government policies that encourage expansion of markets through enhancing the purchasing power of the population and through accessing export markets are critical. This last point brings us to the issue of basic land reforms.

The experience of many countries - and these include Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China - demonstrates that land reform is the key to sustained economic development. Redistributive land reforms expand the number of stakeholders in the rural economy, unleashing the creative energies that the CMP talks about, and enables the growth of a home market, which can then become an engine of growth.

Besides, in our context, such reforms would have the salutary effect of breaking the hold of structures of caste oppression and expanding the democratic space. The CMP does make a reference to the implementation of land reforms in passing but does not give the issue the importance it deserves.

These observations notwithstanding, the CMP does reflect, on the whole, the mandate of elections 2004 for a secular and more inclusive society, economy and polity. It is a welcome first step forward in the process of building a confident, democratic and socially and economically modern and just society.

Lessons from history

A.G. NOORANI cover-story

For the UPA to succeed in office, good governance must be coupled with an ideological onslaught on Hindutva.

THE United Progressive Alliance (UPA) faces a challenge of which it is, understandably, dimly aware. Voted to power by a verdict none expected, it is beginning to tackle problems that demand immediate attention. The historical perspective seems a luxury; but it is very necessary if the UPA is to discharge the trust the nation has reposed in it. It must not follow the precedent of the Janata Party, which betrayed it when its leaders squabbled, broke up the party in 1979 and paved the way for the return of Indira Gandhi whom the people had voted out of office in 1977. That verdict caused little surprise, so obvious and powerful was the wave of resentment at the Emergency.

This time no such wave was apparent, but the silent majority did not hesitate to speak up when it was asked to give its opinion. Explanations for the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) debacle vary; but one thing is clear - its effort to mould a national ethos that would reflect the ideology of Hindutva has failed miserably. The spirit of Hinduism triumphed over the ideology of Hindutva. The edifice, which its de facto leader L.K. Advani sought to build after Atal Bihari Vajpayee failed to perform as BJP president, has come crashing down. Recall the stages - electoral debacle in 1984; exploitation of the Shah Bano case, the Muslim Women's Bill and the Babri Masjid issue in 1986; the Palampur resolution of 1989 on the Masjid, on the eve of the Lok Sabha polls, which yielded impressive gains; Advani's rath yatra in 1990 and his wrecking of the V.P. Singh government; further gain in 1991; demolition of the Masjid in 1992; and, at long last, capture of power in 1998. People can be aroused to religious frenzy only for a while. In retrospect, both the demolition and the Gujarat pogrom cost the BJP dear. Its dream of emerging as the national party of governance is shattered.

A full documented record of the BJP's misdeeds in power is necessary. Suffice it only to say that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) it drummed up failed to check the BJP. Its convenor George Fernandes belittled the Staines' murders and the Gujarat pogrom. Saffronisation of education was one of the more obvious ventures in Hindutva. Another escaped notice because public uproar stalled it. Advani's Home Ministry wrote a letter to the BJP government in Gujarat on July 13, 1999, permitting recruitment of members of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in State service in breach of the Gujarat Civil Servants Conduct Rules, 1971.

It was a short step to their recruitment at the Centre. That move was stalled. But one could not help asking. "If they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?" (St. Luke; 23:31) Vajpayee said in Ayodhya on February 8, during the election campaign, that he needed "five more years" in order to "fulfil my promise to build the temple". He had said, in New York on September 9, 2000, at a Sangh Parivar meeting, "If the electorate gives us a clear two-thirds majority, we will build the India of our dreams." We have been spared that; but an opportunity might yet come its way if the UPA goes the Janata way.

The Morarji Desai government did not misgovern, but it squabbled in full public view and betrayed its mandate. It reneged on its promises to give autonomy to All India Radio and Doordarshan, thanks to the Information and Broadcasting Minister L.K. Advani; on ensuring public accountability and on much else. The UPA has not begun too well. Reneging on promises to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam was bad enough. Giving Ministerial berths to persons who face prosecutions is condemnable and it is no excuse that Vajpayee publicly, repeatedly condoned this when he was in power. It would be singularly unfortunate if the UPA provides the BJP with the fodder it needs for its survival.

Political decline, if not demise, is the dire prospect, which the BJP faces. It is also the challenge that confronts the UPA. If the Manmohan Singh government performs even moderately well and, more, lasts its full term, the effects on the Sangh Parivar will be tectonic. After a long struggle, first as the Jan Sangh and next as the BJP, the RSS' political arm tasted power. A cruel electorate snatched it from its mouth, leaving it demoralised. The noises we have heard from its usual noisy ones reflect that. But misgovernance will win them public support. Deprived of it, both the BJP and the RSS will collapse. The two elders, especially Vajpayee, have no stomach for another fight. Advani and Vajpayee are the only ones with a mass base. The seconds whom Advani groomed have no such support. They are either operators like Pramod Mahajan or raucous college debators on TV channels like Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj. At odds with one another, they lack the maturity, which enabled Vajpayee and Advani to work together.

The RSS boss K.S. Sudarshan lacks the authority of even Rajendra Singh, let alone Balasaheb Deoras. Adversity will exacerbate differences, especially if the prospect of return recedes from the horizon as the UPA succeeds.

But good governance in the UPA must be coupled with an ideological onslaught on Hindutva and a thorough cleansing of the institutions, which the BJP defiled. Secularism, an integral part of the Gandhi-Nehru ethos, must be practised and advocated vigorously, with none of the compromises of the P.V. Narasimha Rao regime on secularism or on corruption. History will not forgive the UPA if it fails to deliver on its promises and sells the pass to the BJP.

Down, but not out

K.N. PANIKKAR cover-story

The BJP is defeated politically, but communalism is alive and active. The electoral victory has gifted secular forces with a golden, and perhaps the last, opportunity to counter it.

THE main reason attributed by the spokesman of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) for the defeat of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the failure of the government to implement fully the Hindutva agenda. The international president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) also echoed the same opinion. He is of the view that the present leadership of the BJP has ignored the interests of the Hindus by marginalising the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and, therefore, deserves to be voted out of power. He demanded a change in the leadership in favour of a new `Hindu face' like that of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharati whose conscience would not be troubled by moderation in the pursuit of Hindu interests. The controlling forces in the Sangh Parivar have evidently realised that the cleverly crafted `statesmanship' of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the charioting abilities of Lal Krishna Advani are not likely to lead them to realise the goals they had set for themselves. It is time to draft a new script, the form of which has already been spelt out, but the words are yet to be filled in. The agenda of the Sangh Parivar during the next five years is likely to focus on a re-articulation, even a redefinition, of Hindu interests in order to expand its social base and political influence. In the process, new sites of agitation and mobilisation are likely to be invented.

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The disenchantment of the RSS and the VHP with the performance of the BJP government during the last five years, despite its unmistakably communal character, is not because the latter did not own the Hindutva agenda. Nor is it true that the BJP has not achieved a measure of success in colouring the state institutions saffron and turning them into powerful instruments for the generation and propagation of communal discourse. The impact of this effort is quite evident in the fields of education, science and technology and culture. Simultaneously, secular values and practices have been undermined and the secular character of public institutions has been deformed. The truth is that these efforts did not satisfy the hardcore advocates of Hindutva and their unhappiness is not born out of the frustration of electoral defeat alone. The Sangh Parivar is understandably disappointed that the political opportunity could not be used to satisfy the religious aspirations they had aroused in their followers. Their credibility as the champions of Hindu interests was therefore at stake. Hence the rather frantic attempt to distance themselves from the present leadership which had their support during the last five years.

CHOOSING the representatives of the people is the avowed goal of an election, but it is not its sole objective in a democratic system. The process by which the voter arrives at a decision as to whom to choose has much greater salience for political education. Ideally, the elections are meant to deepen the commitment of the people to democratic values and culture. The election campaigns are, therefore, supposed to be the battlegrounds of ideas and the sites for the clash of contending views about the future of society and polity. It is such debates that help the voter to make informed electoral decisions. Only if the campaigns are undertaken with this perspective can their democratising potential be realised.

To what extent did the election of 2004 contribute to this political process? Among the several issues of policy and governance that agitated the electorate, two were of crucial significance. First, the communalisation of the state and society witnessed during the tenure of the NDA government - a process approved and promoted by it. The consequent communal-secular divide in society reflected a contest between two systems of political and social values. Second, the NDA rule witnessed an unprecedented surrender of the Indian economy to the interests of multinational capital. The BJP sought to fudge these issues, as it feared that in both cases its record could not be defended. Therefore, the nature of the campaign was so designed to bypass these crucial issues and to focus on the unreal and the uncritical. Thus slogans such as `India Shining' and `Feel Good Factor' were invented which, it was hoped, would arouse the patriotic pride of the people and, in turn, induce them to submerge their misery in the pool of common good. But the life of the common man was not shining anywhere, nor did he have anything to feel good about. Like the Fascists in Europe, the BJP believed that people could be duped by propaganda, that too by using the money collected from them. That was not to be. The credibility gap was so wide that even the BJP could realise the futility of this fraud. Hence it shifted the focus of the campaign to issues that could arouse emotion and patriotic fervour, such as the "foreign origin" of Sonia Gandhi.

No electoral campaign had touched such low level of decency and public morality as that of the BJP in this election. As its fortunes ebbed during the protracted electoral process, the quality of its campaign was increasingly drained of parliamentary decorum. Fascism among other things, as Jawaharlal Nehru said, is "crude and vulgar". On that count alone, a clear homology between Fascism and Hindu communalism is in order. Never before was this character of Hindu communalism so clearly expressed than during the run-up to this election. The way the "foreign origin" issue was handled by the BJP leadership not only betrayed the anxiety for survival, but a lack of elementary courtesy and decency.

The language and demeanour of the Modis, the Togadias, the Sushma Swarajs and the Vinay Katiyars can perhaps be dismissed as individual aberrations, but the approval of their behaviour by the national leadership of a party that ruled one of the oldest civilisations of the world can hardly be condoned. And the BJP takes particular pride in the achievements of that civilisation. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister, who is hailed as a statesman, chose to keep quiet. He had nothing to say about this uncultured behaviour of his party members. But then did he also not resort to puns, for which he is popular, to demean his opponents?

The rather vulgar and indecent campaign was neither accidental nor the result of individual hallucination. It is the outcome of deliberate planning. Otherwise the Hindi songs, which would unsettle the sensitivity of any cultured person, could not have found such a prominent place in the BJP's campaign. Written by a well-known lyricist of the Hindi film world, who was obviously commissioned to do so, their language is foul, diction offensive and pun revolting. The common man in India values civilised behaviour and disapproves indecency, particularly if it is against women. One of the widely shared strains in Indian tradition is the respect and consideration it accords to women, so much so that several Hindu religious reformers hold that the greatness of a civilisation is marked by the way it treats women. Is the rejection of the BJP in this election a reaction of the common man to the uncivilised behaviour of its leaders?

JOHN GALBRAITH, the famous economist, once remarked that no generalisation holds good for India as a whole. This observation most certainly applies to the electoral verdict of 2004. No single reason can be ascribed to the way the people exercised their franchise in various parts of the country. Yet, there is no denying the fact that there was a widely shared sentiment against the BJP. It did not manifest itself as an upsurge as in 1977 only because the intensity of this resentment was not widely realised, given the pro-BJP impression created by the media. The BJP, in the reckoning of most scribes, was the front-runner. The main contribution of the psephologists and pollsters to the election of 2004 was the construction of this expert, but false, assessment. Despite this `positive' role of the media, had the secular formations had greater organisational ability, the results would have been quantitatively different and the BJP would have been totally decimated, even if it managed to preserve its earlier support base. The sentiment against the BJP was generated neither by anti-incumbency nor by any particular policy of the government. The administrative measures of the government anchored in the interests of multinational capital were indeed a decisive factor influencing the electoral behaviour. But what persuaded people to exercise their franchise against the BJP was the character of its rule, which was communal, authoritarian and anti-people. The verdict, however, was not against the government and the party alone, but equally against the Sangh Parivar as a whole.

The Sangh Parivar looked upon the government led by the BJP as an instrument and not as an end in itself. The importance of political power and the opportunity it would provide, even as a part of a motley coalition, were fully realised. One of the purposes of the BJP's participation in the government was to enable the Sangh Parivar to pursue the larger agenda of creating the social, cultural and ideological structures as a necessary precursor to the construction of a Hindu Rashtra. Therefore what was expected of the BJP was that it would use the government authority for two purposes. First, to ensure the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya and, if possible, to `liberate' the temples at Kashi and Mathura. Second, to take steps to further the influence of the Sangh Parivar in civil society and at the same time to create the necessary conditions for controlling the state institutions.

Regarding the former, despite its commitment to the cause, the BJP could not make much headway owing to the constraints of coalition politics. A semblance of moderation was necessary in the pursuit of communal interests, if the coalition government were to be preserved. In the event, the BJP chose to tread cautiously; supporting the construction of the temple on the one hand, and, on the other, assuring the coalition partners about the government's commitment to them in the matter. Although the government did not involve itself directly in the various agitations launched for constructing the temple, it did lend support to the attempts of the Sangh Parivar to force the issue. The Prime Minister himself played out this dual role to perfection. Whenever attempts were made to disturb the status quo at Ayodhya, he expressed his anguish, but soon gave the impression that such acts were inspired by the legitimate aspirations of Hindus and thus justified what he had earlier disapproved. Even the most militant among the Sangh Parivar would not have expected the BJP-led government to implement fully the Hindutva agenda. The main and immediate aim was to construct the temple at Ayodhya, which in fact was a demand of the VHP. The RSS was not unduly exercised over the temple construction issue. It was more concerned with the fulfilment of long-term interests.

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In the case of long-term interests of the Sangh Parivar, the BJP government has very effectively pursued its brief. It has succeeded in putting in place an ideological structure, which would ensure the displacement of secular ideas and practices from state institutions and agencies. The Ministry of Human Resource Development, under the stewardship of RSS stalwart Murli Manohar Joshi, relentlessly pursued this ideal. By using the powers of patronage, it has managed to ensure the collaboration of a section of the intelligentsia in this effort. Several `independent' intellectuals and cultural leaders were more than willing to act as his hatchetmen.

Ensconcing themselves in places of power, the cohorts of Joshi have succeeded in denuding the educational, cultural and research institutions of their academic character and transformed them into communal outfits. In the bargain, the University Grants Commission (UGC), the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR), the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) and several other such institutions became centres for the dissemination of obscurantism and the irrationality of `Joshism'. The prestigious Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have been saved from this disaster by the people. At the same time the communalisation of state institutions such as the police and the bureaucracy had also been effected.

The overthrow of the BJP government, therefore, does not automatically mean the end of communal influence. It would persist in the administration and continue to be felt in institutional practices. Dismantling the ideological structures and institutional arrangements is urgently necessary, if communalism is to be rooted out of the country's public life. This cannot be achieved by administrative changes alone. For instance, in the field of education, the entire curriculum has been given a communal orientation, history has been rewritten and the achievements of indigenous science have been romanticised. To implement these ideas, a large number of schools have been set up, particularly in tribal areas. Even the funds of scientific research institutions have been diverted to `invent' and privilege the "Hindu sciences". The `achievements' of the BJP government in these areas being of a high order, it would require considerable effort to undo the damage to the educational system of the country. But it goes without saying that it is an urgent task.

HINDU communalism is at the threshold of a new phase in its history. By articulating its ideology as `integral humanism', it had sought to expand its political influence through participation in coalition governments from 1977. This policy has resulted in enormous political benefit, as its electoral performance steadily improved; so much so that it gained enough ascendancy to lead the government in 1999. The aim of the experiment at governance, conducted with the help of an unwieldy coalition, was to expand its social support in order to gain a majority in Parliament on its own. During the campaign, the BJP president had repeatedly stated that the aim was to win 300 seats for itself, so that the party could be free from the stranglehold of the alliance partners in the implementation of the Hindutva agenda. After all, have not the BJP leaders repeatedly stated that they would take up the contentious issues only when the party gets a majority on its own?

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The general elections have pushed the BJP to the backseat. Although the coalition strategy had yielded considerable political leeway, its limitations were exposed by the electoral verdict. Without the active support and collaboration of its allies, the BJP would not have succeeded in keeping its nose above water during the last five years. Yet, they could not be taken for granted. M. Karunanidhi and Ram Vilas Paswan changed sides and N. Chandrababu Naidu and Jayalalithaa proved unpopular. The ability of the `statesman' Prime Minister to manage the contradictions within the coalition slowly but steadily vanished. The pre-election euphoria thus turned into a nightmare. If the success of the BJP in the election of 1999 was a result of the support extended by the allies, the defeat in the present elections indicated how fragile and undependable the coalition was. The BJP has, therefore, been forced to look for an alternative route to power. Would it usher in a new phase in the history of Hindu communalism?

During the last 10 years of its leap forward, the Sangh Parivar adopted different strategies to advance and reinforce its appeal. Among them, religious mobilisation through emotive issues have yielded maximum dividend. Beginning with the Ram Janmabhoomi issue such efforts have covered almost all regions. Other sites of religious contestation, such as Baba Budhangiri (in Karanataka) and Bhojshala (in Madhya Pradesh), were invented. Agitations were launched in protest against artistic representations of Hindu deities and scholarly interpretations of history. Such agitations with a religious focus were continuously kept alive. Such efforts achieved a very high degree of success in forcing a sense of division in society, since all these issues were advanced as matters of religious interests.

While the VHP was mainly in the forefront of these agitations, the RSS was engaged in constructing a more abiding influence through the activities of cultural and social institutional network. The access to power during the last five years considerably benefited these organisations, as RSS stalwarts such as Murli Manohar Joshi used their official position to patronise and promote them. What has happened, as a result, was not Hindu revivalism alone, but more grievously, the communalisation of the marginalised. Although these efforts have covered considerable ground, several social groups, particularly among Dalits and the Adivasis, have not yet been fully brought under the umbrella of Hinduisation. The Ekal Vidyalayas being set up in the tribal areas, manned by RSS cadre, and the sanskritisation of Dalit and tribal worship practices are part of imparting a Hindu identity to tribal people as a first step in their cooption to the communal fold.

The administration of the BJP had sought to project a modern face by advocating a capitalist development agenda. Despite the objections and opposition of the more conservative sections of the Sangh Parivar, the government enunciated and pursued a policy of liberalisation and globalisation, mainly to garner the support of the middle class, even if, in the process, it subordinated the economy to the imperial interests. The subordinate capitalist development, which ensued, was hailed as the model for future India. It was on that plank that the State Assembly elections of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan were fought and won. The campaigns of `India Shining' and `Feel Good Factor' were also informed by the same perspective.

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DESPITE the electoral debacle, the Sangh Parivar is not likely to renounce any of these strategies. For they all appeal to various sections of its existing social base. But then the existing social base is not wide enough to ensure a majority on its own. The popular vote the BJP has received so far has remained in the region of about 20 per cent. In the given configuration of political forces, it is not likely to mark any substantial increase. Even in the first past the post system it is not sufficient to ensure a majority in Parliament. An increase of at least about 10 per cent is required to achieve it. In the coming years, therefore, the Sangh Parivar would be forced to refashion its strategies, if it wants to expand its social base. Then only can it hope to realise its oft-repeated dream of gaining a majority that would enable it to implement the agenda of Hindutva without constraints. Such a reorientation of strategy would mark a new stage in the history of Hindu communalism.

The character of the new stage would constitute a conscious preparation for a Fascist order. The Sangh Parivar had not bargained for a premature take over as happened in 1999. It was one of those accidents in history, from which it tried to derive maximum mileage. The aim of the Sangh Parivar was to come to power only when their social and ideological structures were firmly put in place in society. The Fascism of Hindu communalism would come to stay only if it flows out of such a social situation. Therefore the future portends the `return' to the civil society by expanding the RSS programme of `constructive' cultural, social and intellectual interventions. The hitherto communally uncolonised sections of society such as Dalits and Adivasis are likely to be the targets of Hindutva `social engineering'. That the extension of such interventions into new areas would intensify violence, particularly against Christian missionaries who are engaged in social and philanthropic work among the tribal people, is a distinct possibility.

Upsetting all calculations and predictions, the people have provided an opportunity to retrieve the secular ethos of Indian society and politics. This is a triumph occasioned by the active mediation and involvement of a variety of forces. Individuals, political parties and voluntary organisations have contributed to this secular assertion. What has happened as a result is the defeat of communal forces at the hustings, but communal ideology has not been worsted. It is still alive and active. And during the next five years it would be more assertive. The secular forces have been, so to say, gifted with a golden and perhaps the last opportunity to countermand communalism; to dismantle its ideological structures, to undermine its social ascendancy and to marginalise its political influence. History never repeats itself. Another such opportunity may not materialise at all.

K.N. Panikkar is Vice-Chancellor, Sri Sankara University of Sanskrit, Kalady, Kerala.

To rebuild infrastructure

R. RAMACHANDRAN cover-story

Though the Common Minimum Programme of the new government does not give much importance to science and technology, a lot needs to be done in this sector. Implementing the Science and Technology Policy of 2003 would be a good first step.

BEYOND the rhetoric, science and technology (S&T) are not areas that political parties are genuinely concerned about usually. But, since they do vaguely perceive its importance, party manifestos make pro forma statements with regard to the sector. The Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, for instance, contains some general all-inclusive statement about S&T. Considering that the draft CMP, authored by the Congress, included the same paragraph, it is obvious that the parties in the coalition are not overly bothered about the sector one way or the other. More interesting is the fact that while the 1999 election manifesto of the Congress had a substantial paragraph on S&T, that of 2004 had nothing to say on the subject. The 2004 manifesto of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), on the other hand, had put out an eight-point agenda for S&T but its performance in this field in the past six years leaves much to be desired. The change of regime at the Centre cannot, therefore, be expected to greatly alter the current S&T scenario in the country, which is fairly dismal.

For instance, will the new Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister, Arjun Singh, and the new S&T Minister Kapil Sibal initiate steps to undo the patently irrational and retrograde move by the University Grants Commission (UGC), recently endorsed by the Supreme Court, to introduce Vedic Astrology (Jyotir Vigyan) in university curricula? Interestingly, the BJP manifesto included creating a scientific temperament in society and raising popular awareness about science. Obviously, the party did not view introduction of courses in astrology as running counter to this. In fact, creating a scientific temper in society is one of directive principles of the Constitution. It also forms one of the key objectives of the new Science and Technology Policy (STP-2003) unveiled in January 2003.

Though the NDA manifesto promised to "vigorously implement the Science and Technology Policy", the insincerity of such proclamations is apparent from the fact that hardly any steps towards its implementation were evident. The new government can seize the opportunity and begin implementing the policy in earnest. "The issues to be addressed by the new government are those that have been spelt out in the policy document," pointed out M. S. Valiathan, President of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), which was involved in its framing. Echoing the same view, Shobo Bhattacharya, director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), said: "The policy document is a good one. Beginning to implement it will be a good step."

From the perspective of STP-2003, what should be the top-most priority for the new government to implement? "The government should worry about higher education," says P. Balaram, a biologist at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, and the editor of Current Science, a premier scientific journal of the Indian Academy of Sciences (IASc). "It has to think about what to do for the sciences in universities, how new faculty can be inducted. There is a real dearth of quality people in the universities. While the reasons in State universities are financial or freezing of new appointments or reservation policies, in Central universities it is the lack of infrastructure and the appropriate research environment. The average age of faculty in the universities is increasing, and bright young people are not going to the universities. This is beginning to tell upon all other institutions and scientific departments, including space, atomic energy and defence. In China, for example, there are positive programmes being initiated every now and then. We do not seem to be doing anything about it and nobody seems to be bothered in the government."

"There is an urgency to rebuild S&T infrastructure and rejuvenate the environment in the university sector," says Goverdhan Mehta, Director of IISc and former president of INSA. "In the past decade or more, there has been a marked thinning of S&T activity as our vast university system languished and remained utterly neglected," he adds.

"The universally time-tested social vehicles of economic and intellectual growth, namely universities, need to be purposefully, strongly and selectively supported," says T.V. Ramakrishnan, Professor Emeritus at Benares Hindu University and president of the IASc.

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The university system is also getting undermined in yet another manner. In the past few years, with privatisation of higher education, there is a proliferation of and granting of "deemed university" status rather indiscriminately, without any evaluation. The hype over and the lopsided priorities of the government to information technology and now biotechnology (the so-called vocational courses) have greatly contributed to this trend. Besides, a whole lot of foreign institutions have begun to grant degrees remotely or lure students to poor institutions overseas. As a result, the quality of students coming out of our higher science education system, already affected by a steep drop in enrolment, has declined perceptibly over the years. The impact of this is already being felt in the country's top research institutions.

EVEN though we had the Minister for S&T and HRD rolled into one in Murli Manohar Joshi, this burning issue of building a human resource base in the sciences through the universities never seemed a priority to him. The communication gap between the two Ministries has only continued to grow. For example, schemes like the enhancement of student scholarships administered by the Ministry of Science and Technology were being held up by the bureaucracy of the HRD Ministry. In a move that defied logic, in January 2002, Joshi (apparently for the sake of one top scientocrat) also extended the retirement age to 64 years for "eminent scientists of international stature... if such extension is in the public interest." With no ground rules for determining eminence or public interest, scientocrats have been taking undue advantage of this.

As Balaram pointed out in a perceptive editorial in Current Science (April 10, 2002): "If science in India is struggling, it is not for lack of administrators; rather we need to maintain and enhance the pool of productive scientists by vigorously promoting recruitment and by introducing new, innovative schemes to tap the potential of retiring scientists... Unfortunately... in the true traditions of bureaucracy, even science administrators have learnt to feather their own nests... Apres mois deluge (after me, the flood) is surely a sentiment to which most of our science administrators subscribe."

If not annul the notification, the present government would do well to exercise utmost discretion in granting extensions and the conditions of eminence and public interest be strictly applied through international peer review. Interestingly, de-bureaucratisation in S&T institutions was one of the objectives of the NDA manifesto. The former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had given the mandate to R. Chidambaram, the Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA), to effect this process, but it has not had the desired impact yet. "This needs to be given top priority and the process needs to be kept up," says R. A. Mashelkar, Director-General of CSIR.

While, on the one hand, the former Minister readily granted extensions to some scientocrats, institutions like the Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) and the Technology Development Board (TDB), which have been able to establish new paradigms of technology development and management in the country, have been allowed to remain without executive heads for about two years. As a result, inefficiency has slowly crept into these organisations and their capability to leverage technology development is also bound to decline. The new Minister should, on a priority basis, finalise these appointments.

An important indicator that TDB's technology development has provided is that while the overall industry investment in research and development (R&D) may be low, industry in-house R&D units rank the highest among technology providers. On the other hand, technology provided by national laboratories is well short of desired levels. In this light, the various generously funded programmes launched by the former Minister in the CSIR and other national laboratories, such as the Millennium Missions, the New Millennium India Technology Leadership Initiatives (NMITLI) and the National Genomics Initiative need to be strictly monitored on their progress and claims.

A rather peculiar thing about S&T administration in the country is the differential between the so-called strategic sectors of atomic energy and space and the rest of the scientific establishment - the former being traditionally vested with the Prime Minister. This has led to distortions in policy makers' perceptions on what constitutes essential S&T for the country. This became particularly pronounced with the nuclear tests of May 11, 1998, which was followed by differential pay packages for the scientists of the strategic Trimurti of atomic energy, space and defence. Exploding a bomb or launching a missile is valued so highly that May 11 is now being celebrated as Technology Day, when there is no technological achievement at all in exploding a nuclear weapon.

Contrast this with National Science Day, celebrated on February 28. It was the day C.V. Raman discovered the Nobel Prize-winning Raman Effect. Whatever the previous government did or did not do, it certainly contributed to the skewed priorities of national security and the so-called strategic technologies in the national S&T system. Indeed, this finds a separate mention in STP-2003 as well. But, with these strategic sectors too facing the problem of lack of quality human resource, it is time that this differential in the S&T system was done away with.

Through STP-2003, a policy decision on the continued existence of an apex S&T advisory body has been made. But the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet (SACC), with the PSA to the government at its helm, has hardly been an effective body. According to some members of SACC, the body hardly functions. Moreover, it lacks any executive authority and its recommendations are only on paper with implementation being left to various Ministries or State governments. Apparently, even though secretaries of scientific departments are ex-officio members of SACC, they perceive external advice from a body like SACC as an infringement. So, if the need for an advisory body is indeed felt, the task before the new government is to revamp and make it an effective body by giving it executive powers.

The target for R&D investment set by STP-2003 by the end of the Tenth Plan, which will largely be administered by the new government, is 2 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). After peaking at 0.91 per cent in 1987-88, there was a steady decline up to 1995-96 to 0.71 per cent. According to available data, it slowly picked up in 1998-99 to 0.81 per cent, increased to 0.87 per cent in 1999-2000 and to 0.94 per cent in 2000-01, the highest so far. Though the last two figures are provisional estimates, it is clear that there has been an increase in R&D expenditure as a function of GDP during the NDA regime. But it has not been due to any significant increase in industry spending on R&D, which remains still less than 25 per cent of the total investment. The STP-2003 points out that this will come about only if there is a steep increase in industry's R&D expenditure.

Clearly, the task before the new government to meet the target is to initiate policy measures that will shore up industry investment. The usual policy of fiscal incentives, like tax holidays and weighted tax exemptions, do not seem to work in the Indian context. After the Information Technology downturn, the sunshine area of biotech industry has not shown the promised growth. And lack of availability of quality personnel to serve in the industrial R&D set-ups is an important contributing factor to the stunted growth. "I know of drug and pharma leaders who want to employ hundreds of Ph.Ds now. But they are facing extreme shortage of quality and special skills," says Mashelkar.

Besides the problem of lack of skilled people in the biotechnology and biomedical R&D, there are problems with the regulatory structures that have been put in place. Indeed, one of the first remarks that Sibal made after assuming office as the new Minister for S&T was that he would like to change the regulatory structure in biotechnology. One is the long-standing issue of animal testing for biomedical research where the premise for the regulatory framework has been dictated by the hidden "anti-vivisectionist" agenda of the former animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi. The Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA) was set up by Maneka Gandhi when she was the Union Minister for Environment and Forests (MoEF). The functioning of the committee has been completely usurped by its animal rights activist members, and it is not run along professional lines.

As a result, basic research is suffering and the industry is being forced to go abroad to have products tested, at high cost. Even import of animals with laboratory-bred strains is being controlled by the CPCSEA. This is an issue for Sibal to tackle on a priority basis.

The other regulatory framework pertains to the testing and release of genetically modified (GM) organisms, an important and sensitive issue. The apex regulatory body is the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), under the MoEF. With genetic engineering becoming a highly specialised activity, it requires a professional set-up that will take a balanced view based on science and is not carried away by the extreme positions of either the industry or the anti-GM activist groups. Such a body should ideally be under the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) with representatives from the MoEF.

Similarly, genetically engineered drugs is a growing industry and, with the year 2005 soon upon us, we might face a situation of multinationals bringing in recombinant drugs. In fact, companies like Shantha Biotech have suffered because of the archaic regulatory framework. A professional body is needed to evaluate and regulate their introduction into the market. A 12-member committee under Mashelkar has been set up to recommend a proper structure and the report will be out anytime now.

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Funding has not been a major issue in the Indian context. Budgetary support has been fairly adequate. What is lacking are good ideas and worthwhile projects resulting in marketable technologies. So, in some sense, the target of 2 per cent of GDP may even be unrealistic. As STP-2003 has stated, what is of utmost importance today is effective, expeditious, transparent and science-based monitoring and reviewing. "We need to recognise and acknowledge, boldly and honestly, that our S&T performance has remained stagnant, if not gone down, for over a decade, while countries like China and Brazil among others have shown clear upward movement," points out Mehta. "We need a major rethink and policy-level intervention," he adds.

STP-2003 has called for a new funding mechanism for research. According to Mehta, our science support system and funding mechanisms are not adequate to meet the challenges of internationally competitive research. "Science support and promotional systems must be autonomous and outside the government departments," says Mehta. Both Mehta and Ramakrishnan recommend the creation of a large comprehensive National Science Foundation to promote greater public-private partnership. Such a body will be useful in planning for the future, particularly in frontier technologies. "Our investments in emerging technologies are sub-critical," points out Mashelkar "For instance, in nano-technology, our investment is $2 million as compared to $40 million in Singapore, $110 million in Taiwan and $200 million in China."

The moot point is that the spending is commensurate with the skill and specialisation base that the country has. That is what is sub-critical. "We need to foster high quality research in our S&T system and attract the brightest of youngsters to careers in S&T," says K. Kasturirangan, former Indian Space Research Organisation Chairman. Unfortunately, it is easier said than done. Even world-class projects like the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) have failed to attract bright youngsters. Big projects like the proposed moon mission or the astronomical satellite or the neutrino observatory will certainly kindle interest in young minds. But is that sufficient to lure them into our S&T system? Are policy instruments in place to leverage employment opportunities in basic sciences, especially in the universities? The answer is no. The biggest challenge for the government and the scientific community is to change this situation.

War and peace

PRAVEEN SWAMI cover-story

The notion that India is at peace is in fact the consequence of artifice: a trick perhaps unprecedented in its scale and sheer audacity.

"INDIA," said General Shankar Roy Chowdhury, former Chief of the Army Staff and Rajya Sabha Member, at a recent conference in New Delhi, "is at peace." It was a throwaway remark, made in the middle of a thoughtful presentation on India's military modernisation priorities - but does illustrate how insidious illusions can be.

Draw an arc on the map from Jammu and Kashmir to Tripura. Almost all the areas within it are besieged by some form of violence. Despite Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's energetic efforts at making peace with Pakistan, levels of violence in Jammu and Kashmir remain appalling. Small arms inflows from Nepal could well lead to a sharp escalation of violence between caste militias in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. West Bengal's government has expressed concern over the growing influence of Islamists in Bangladesh, as well as that country's reluctance to act. Almost the entire northeastern region is torn by strife. Trace another arc, this one from the northeastern region to Tamil Nadu, and it is much the same: Maoist violence in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh; the uncertain impact of events in Sri Lanka on Tamil Nadu.

Alarmist? In all, 4,374 people - civilians and Indian security personnel; terrorists and insurgents - died in major conflict zones in India through 2003, a figure which excludes the dozens more eliminated in the course of caste and communal skirmishes, as well as terrorist bombings inflicted by Pakistan-backed terrorist cells operating across the country. It is only in India that the scale of carnage witnessed year after year could be described as a time of peace. Like the National Democratic Alliance's "Feel Good" campaign, the notion that India is at peace is in fact the consequence of artifice: a trick perhaps unprecedented in its scale and sheer audacity. Now, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government faces the unhappy task of trying to set right the mess.

Tragic as it was, the May 24 bombing of a bus carrying Border Security Force troops and their families at Lower Munda, on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, served one useful purpose. It provided the just-sworn in Union Ministers for Defence and Home, Pranab Mukherjee and Shivraj Patil, a stark illustration of the challenges confronting them in Jammu and Kashmir, India's single largest security challenge.

According the Union Ministry of Home Affairs' internal data, the basic truth is this: more than four months after the initiation of the ceasefire along the Line of Control, Vajpayee's peace initiative has not yet led to an improvement in the ground situation. As many as 106 Indian soldiers, policemen and militia members were killed in combat between January and April this year, up from 93 in the same months of last year. It is true that the numbers of civilians killed in these months fell to 232 this year from 246 last year, but this reduction is of no great statistical significance. Crucially, however, fewer terrorists have been eliminated in the winter and spring of 2004 than in 2003 - figures that debunk the Indian Army's claims that terrorists are facing imminent decimation.

None of this, of course, is an argument against deepening the dialogue with Pakistan. It does, however, illustrate the need for a structured and introspective decision-making process. Much of the dialogue was carried out by a small group within the Prime Minister's Office, notably Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra. For the most part, the Ministry of External Affairs, along with the military, the intelligence services and much of the Union Cabinet, was kept out of the loop. No one really knows what Mishra was up to, but some disturbing signs are evident. Pakistan believes India could concede some variant of the Chenab Plan, which contemplates a communal division of Jammu and Kashmir. Former Pakistan Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz even claimed that R.K. Mishra, a long-standing Reliance Industries employee and Vajpayee's chosen back-channel negotiator during the Kargil war, had made a commitment to this effect. In Pakistan's strategic imagination, this communal carve-up could be delivered as part of a quid pro quo for an oil pipeline through its territory, key to securing and developing Reliance's oil interests in western India.

WHAT needs to be done now? First, the UPA government needs to draw some red lines: lines that cannot be crossed without jeopardising the detente process itself. One red line, quite obviously, must be terrorism. The Hizbul Mujahideen, which carried out the Lower Munda bombing, is based in Pakistan, as is its supreme commander, Mohammad Yusuf Shah. As such, Pakistan cannot evade responsibility for acts of terrorism, which are executed by the organisation. Second, India's new government will need to start pushing for delivery on promises on the winding down of terror training camps and action against jehadi groups. Organisations like the Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba have resumed fund-raising and recruitment, a violation of express commitments made by Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf. One major obstacle Indian negotiators could face is that Musharraf has already received part of the prize he sought through dialogue with New Delhi - notably, international legitimacy and aid.

Similar problems could confront the UPA's negotiators in both Jammu and Kashmir and in the northeastern region. Although the NDA initiated dialogue with the Maulvi Abbas Ansari-led centrist faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, there is so far little clarity on the direction of future dialogue. In the northeastern region, too, two rounds of talks with Naga insurgents have not crystallised into a peace process of substance. New interlocutors may be appointed in coming months, but new vision is needed along with new faces.

What the UPA cannot afford to do is accord the northeastern region a relatively low priority. On the face of it, the situation is grim. Large parts of Manipur are no longer governed by the Indian state, for example, and are now ruled by a welter of warring tribal militia. Nagaland is somewhat well-governed, but the ongoing ceasefire between Indian forces and insurgents is at best fragile. Tripura remains a major conflict zone, a situation exacerbated by the use of terrorism as an instrument to undermine the Left Front government that now rules the State. Further crises stare the region in the face, notably the free flow of narcotics from Myanmar and the high incidence of HIV infection caused by the unsafe use of intravenous drugs it has brought in its wake. Corruption and inefficient governance have conspired to ensure that Prime Minister Vajpayee's generous aid package for the region has served mainly to enrich contractors - of a piece with past experience.

Benign neglect, however, is no longer an option. Bangladesh is emerging as a major base for both northeastern secessionists, as well as Islamist organisations. No coherent explanation has been given by Bangladesh of the massive recovery of weapons there (Frontline, June 4), but the Mayor of Chittagong publicly asserted that the weapons had been shipped in from Pakistan for the training of terrorist groups in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Large-scale gatherings and camps conducted by far-right Islamist groups have also aroused concern across the world. Dependent on Islamists for political support, the Bangladesh government has been hesitant to clamp down on their activities. Foreign policy means will, of course, be used to address the Bangladesh question, but methods need to be found to tighten up border policing. At once, political enterprise will be needed to address the complex mosaic of ethnic and religious conflicts that underpin violence in the northeastern region.

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In Jammu and Kashmir, India's resolve will most likely be tested by increased terrorist violence. "Pakistan's military will see escalation as a means to place pressure on a new government," says former Research and Analysis Wing chief Vikram Sood, "and, quite frankly, I'd do the same in their shoes." Major carnage could bring immense pressure on the Congress, sensitive as it is to charges that it is unpatriotic. Intemperate action, however, will most likely prove counterproductive. India needs, in its own interests, to build on the progress made by the NDA regime in key areas like nuclear confidence building and people-to-people contact. Just as worrying, the United States' continued dependence on Pakistani cooperation for its operations in Afghanistan further limits India's options. Pranab Mukherjee and Shivraj Patil - as well as their colleague in External Affairs, Natwar Singh - will, most likely, be burning more than a little midnight oil at their new offices.

From Kohima to Kupwara, then, similar challenges are evident. "But before we can do what needs to be done," says the strategic analyst Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, "we first need to work out what we want to do."

For the past several decades, experts have debated just what India expects from its armed services. Will their principal roles in the foreseeable future be counter-terrorist? Or should their primary purpose be preparation for conventional, and even nuclear war? UPA leaders have promised to address several short-term issues, including nagging delays in defence procurement, caused by cumbersome procedures and the fear of scandal. In its party agenda, the Congress also noted that "despite tall claims about the high priority being given to defence, expenditure on defence as a proportion of gross domestic product has fallen to an all-time low of 2.12 per cent", and asserted that the NDA had "failed even to effectively utilise resources amounting to nearly Rs.24,000 crores sanctioned by Parliament to modernise our defence systems." Progress is now expected in several strategic capability initiatives, including India's nuclear submarine project, which has been without a head since January.

Yet, equipment and funds are a secondary question - and putting off the effort to find answers to the big questions could have dangerous consequences. Several roadmaps for change were prepared by the expert committees formed by the NDA government after the Kargil war, but progress has been slow and patchy. Internal security management has, for one, changed little. Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troops were scheduled to phase out the Border Security Force in counter-terrorist operations, but the organisation does not yet have the capabilities it needs for the task. Its personnel in Srinagar, for example, do not have dedicated signals or intelligence apparatus, nor heavy weapons. Little effort has been made, either, to transform the CRPF's ageing ranks, or to give it the autonomy to operate without the close officer support of local police forces. Progress has been made in giving the police new equipment - but not in giving officers security of tenure and freedom of operation, both essential for meaningful field success.

INDIA'S intelligence services have fared little better. The Intelligence Bureau's (IB) Multi-Agency Centre, which was intended to become a state-of-the-art computer centre capable of gathering and analysing information in real time, consists of a handful of Pentium personal computers. The problem? A war with the Union Finance Ministry, which is unwilling to pay salaries for the personnel needed by the IB. State police forces are often loath to work with the IB. The Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), founded with much fanfare in 2001, is dysfunctional. Intended to be led by the Chief of Defence Staff, a new post, which was to have been set up to coordinate the three armed services, the DIA at present is an orphan in the military family. For the most part, the Military Intelligence Directorate resists cooperation with the DIA, as do the other armed services intelligence organisations.

Again, the problem is not one of management, alone: core issues need to be answered, and the new government needs to take an honest look at what options exist to deter Pakistani sub-conventional war. After the Pokhran-II nuclear tests of 1998, it was evident to all that India could not respond to Pakistan-backed terrorism by unleashing the Indian Army's perceived conventional might. Under the protection of its nuclear umbrella, Pakistan was able to pursue low-intensity warfare with increased confidence from the late-1980s, certain that the risks to India of a full-blown war outweighed its potential benefits. Put crudely, the costs of small war in Jammu and Kashmir were lower than the risk of one that could lead to an annihilation of New Delhi or Mumbai. After the collapse of Operation Parakram, the massive military build-up ordered in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament House, strategists have been mulling over their options.

One option will be presented to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the coming weeks. Like his predecessors, the Prime Minister will receive a briefing on the offensive sub-conventional capabilities India possesses, and shall be asked if he wishes them to be activated. The use of Indian sub-conventional assets, essentially covert groups capable of doing to Pakistan what it does in Jammu and Kashmir, are last believed to have been used under the regime of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. India is, in the mid-1980s, alleged to have carried out a limited sub-conventional campaign in Karachi as retaliation for Pakistani support for Khalistan terrorists. In the mid-1970s, tired of then-Pakistani premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's backtracking on converting the LoC into a border, India is also alleged to have lent some support to Bhaluch insurgents. In general, however, such covert enterprises have not been successful.

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In the final analysis, it all boils down to politicians understanding and taking security issues seriously. Endless deliberations about national security challenges take place frequently in New Delhi, but Members of Parliament rarely, if at all, show any interest in them. Unlike the United States, for example, India has no aggressive political oversight system, and only a small number of politicians equipped to either interrogate or direct the services' actions. Responses to crises are much as they were in the Mughal era - when New Delhi sent out a Risallah [letter] to resolve troubles in the provinces. All those at the apex of the UPA's security and defence establishment are familiar with the problems - problems the Congress had no small part in creating during its decades in office.

Time, seminar circuit couch-warriors often say in New Delhi, is on India's side. Perched in an increasingly troubled corner of the world - and bracing for the aftershocks generated by Washington's ill-executed adventure in Iraq - India can no longer afford that illusion.

Coalition pangs

The Congress-led government begins its tenure with a lot of tension over allotment of portfolios to coalition partners.

WISH-LISTS are a compulsion of coalition politics and the partners in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) were out with theirs, seeking plum portfolios, the moment the Congress named the Prime Minister of the coalition government. Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Laloo Prasad Yadav wanted to be Deputy Prime Minister and take charge of the Home portfolio, while Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar decided on Defence for himself and Civil Aviation for his colleague Praful Patel. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) had its own list of Ministers and Ministries and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Ram Vilas Paswan was tracking Telecom or Railways.

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Unfortunately, in many cases their wish was not Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's command. After all, the Congress, as the senior partner in the alliance, had its own wish-list - Home, Defence, Finance, Commerce and Information and Broadcasting - on which it was unwilling to compromise. What followed was the compulsion of running an 18-party coalition government, as the Congress went about persuading and placating its allies. Laloo Prasad, who had joined forces with Sharad Pawar even as he battled Ram Vilas Paswan over the Railways portfolio, was perhaps the easiest to pacify. On May 20, he went away to Patna when it became clear that neither of his demands would be met and threatened to rethink about joining the government. But he returned to Delhi the next day and went into a huddle with Pawar on whether to support the government from inside or outside.

Subsequently, the two leaders announced their decision to join the government. Laloo Prasad, it was decided, would get Railways, besides other Ministries for his party colleagues, and Pawar would let go of Defence for two other Ministries - Agriculture and Food & Civil Supplies, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution - and Civil Aviation for Praful Patel.

The loser, it turned out, was Paswan, the Dalit leader from the Dussad community that seemingly played a significant role in the victory of the RJD-Congress-LJP-NCP-CPI(M) alliance in Bihar. When it became clear that he would be getting neither Railways nor Telecom, his supporters took to the streets just hours before the swearing in on May 22, shouting slogans and blocking traffic. It took a phone call from Sonia Gandhi and the intervention of NCP leaders and former Prime Minister V.P. Singh to bring Paswan around. Finally, he had to settle for the Ministries of Steel and Chemicals & Fertilizers. As he went for the swearing in, he told waiting mediapersons that a portfolio could be an issue for "first-timers", not for him, an obvious reference to Laloo Prasad. He also emphasised that his alliance with the RJD was only for the Lok Sabha elections and not the Assembly elections in Bihar due next year.

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There was trouble brewing in the South as well, with the DMK, which leads the Democratic People's Alliance in Tamil Nadu, putting its Ministers on hold. The DMK had maintained all along that it would watch the situation for a while before deciding on joining the government, but on May 19 DMK president M. Karunanidhi inked his approval after Sonia Gandhi met him in his hotel suite in Delhi. Only the previous evening Sonia had declined to accept the prime ministership and she sought the DMK's participation to strengthen the government. Seven Ministers from the party - three of Cabinet rank and the rest Ministers of State - came as a bonanza, but the mood changed once the portfolios were announced. The promised portfolios of Shipping, Personnel and Internal Security, and Finance with Revenue Department (for a Minister of State) had not been given to the DMK and Karunanidhi asked his Ministers not to take charge.

"Such things happen in a coalition government but the issue will be resolved soon," said Parliamentary Affairs Minister and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad. While the issue was eventually resolved to the DMK's satisfaction, it raised questions about the Congress' attitude towards its coalition partners. Speaking to reporters in Chennai, Karunanidhi absolved Sonia Gandhi of any role in the mess-up, but held a "coterie" around her and the Prime Minister responsible for the confusion. He produced a letter signed by him and Congress leader N. Janardhana Reddy, which clearly mentioned that among the three Cabinet Ministers of the DMK, T.R. Baalu would hold the Surface Transport portfolio with Highways and Shipping departments, Dayanidhi Maran would hold Communications and Information Technology and A. Raja Environment and Forests. Among the Ministers of State, S.S. Palanimanickam was promised Finance with Revenue, K. Venkatapathy Law, S. Reghupathy Home with Personnel and Internal Security and Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan Social Justice and Empowerment.

With the Left parties throwing their weight behind the DMK, the issue acquired a sense of urgency. CPI national secretary D. Raja said it was not proper on the part of the Congress to deny the DMK what it had promised. "Karunanidhi certainly has a point. If there was an agreement to this effect, and there certainly is one as is clear by the letter, the Congress should honour its commitment. The Congress will have to sort it out," he said.

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The Congress honoured its commitment by requesting the Telengana Rashtra Samithi leader K. Chandrashekhara Rao to give up the Shipping portfolio. The Minister without portfolio later told mediapersons that he was only emulating Sonia Gandhi's example of renunciation in the interest of the nation. However, his interest is clearly in achieving a separate State of Telengana, the mention of which in the Common Minimum Programme was a condition for his joining the government.

Telengana will be one of the many sticky issues for the Manmohan Singh government, given the Congress' ambivalence on it. But in the immediate-term it is the "compulsions of coalition politics". For instance, the DMK got seven ministerial berths, including a heavy portfolio such as Communications and IT for Dayanidhi Maran, a first-timer in Parliament. The Paattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), another ally from Tamil Nadu, got for its nominee, Anbumani Ramadoss, the Health & Family Welfare portfolio. Anbumani is the son of the PMK leader S. Ramadoss and is not even an MP. Another PMK Minister, R. Velu, a retired officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), is a first-time MP.

Yet another `compulsion' for the Congress was the inclusion in the Cabinet of E. Ahmed of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a trusted ally of the Congress in Kerala. The Kerala unit of the CPI(M) has taken exception to his inclusion, with Polit Bureau member and Leader of the Opposition in Kerala V.S. Achuthanandan calling it a negation of the people's verdict against the "aggressive communalism and disastrous economic policies of the NDA government". He termed the decision "undemocratic" and "a stain on secularism" and said that the Congress had only reaffirmed its policy of "communal appeasement".

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The inclusion of members who have criminal cases against them in the Ministry is also likely to create some friction. They include Laloo Prasad and his colleagues Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav and Mohammad Taslimuddin. While Laloo Prasad is facing trial in the fodder scam and disproportionate assets cases, Taslimuddin has a number of cases against him, including those on charges of murder and rape. He had to quit the Deve Gowda government in 1996 following a furore over his inclusion. Jay Prakash Narayan has cases of forgery and fraud against him.

Leaders of the Left parties are of the view that the Prime Minister, with his "Mr Clean" image, should have avoided including the tainted members in his Ministry. "This is not a welcome development, but we don't want to make this an issue so soon. But, undoubtedly, this will give the NDA an issue to criticise the government in Parliament. We will find it difficult to defend the government in that case," said a senior Left leader.

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The Left parties also have their reservations on defeated candidates being included in the Cabinet and given charge of key portfolios. Shivraj Patil, who lost from Latur in Maharashtra, is the new Home Minister and P.M. Sayeed, who lost narrowly from Lakshadweep, is the Minister for Power.

There is also Praful Patel, who lost from Bhandara in Maharashtra, but is now the Civil Aviation Minister. "This is not an encouraging development and makes a mockery of the democratic process," said a senior Left leader.

What Manmohan Singh will perhaps find most difficult to defend is the under-representation of States in his 68-member Ministry. Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha, has only two Ministers, Mahabir Prasad and Sri Prakash Jaiswal, while Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh have very few or none at all. On the other hand, Tamil Nadu, with 39 members, has 13 Ministers and Bihar, where the RJD-led alliance won 23 seats, has 11 Ministers.

Man for the moment

V. VENKATESAN cover-story

THE choice of Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and his endorsement by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the Left and even the Opposition has underlined his impeccable credentials and clean image. When Sonia Gandhi abdicated her claim to the top post, there was no guessing who her nominee would be. Manmohan Singh has been the undisclosed mascot of the Congress at least since 1998, when Sonia Gandhi assumed the post of the party president and invited the wrath of those within the party and outside opposed to her becoming the Prime Minister one day because of her foreign origin. There was no doubt about his status in the party hierarchy and about the fact that he enjoyed the trust and confidence of Sonia Gandhi.

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Contrary to other political leaders claiming "closeness" to Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh's rise in the party was not because of loyalty alone. His scholarship, simplicity, frankness and objectivity are the main attributes that endeared him to Sonia Gandhi.

Manmohan Singh's first stint in politics was in June 1991 when he became the Finance Minister in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government, which came to power in the elections held in the background of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Narasimha Rao was looking for an expert, rather than a politician, to be the Finance Minister at a time of deep economic crisis. Manmohan Singh, who had just then taken over as the Chairman of the University Grants Commission, suited Narasimha Rao's requirements perfectly. He was adviser to Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar on Economic Affairs (1990-1991) and before that the Secretary-General and Commissioner, the South Commission, Geneva (1987 to 1990).

Indeed, Manmohan Singh had become part of the economic policy establishment in 1971, as Economic Adviser in the Ministry of Foreign Trade and later as Chief Economic Adviser in the Ministry of Finance (1972 to 1976). He is perhaps the only person to have held every important position in the economic/civil service hierarchy in India including Secretary, Economic Affairs, in the Ministry of Finance; Governor, Reserve Bank of India between 1982 and 1985; and Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission.

He was widely known as a voice of sanity, good sense and moderation in a period when Indian planners and policy-makers followed policies of import substitution and public sector domination. He is known for his mild-mannered but firm approach in pushing good ideas, while trying to carry others along and avoiding confrontation.

Experts credit Manmohan Singh with evolving a package of measures in July 1974 to control inflation when the inflation rate had crossed the level of 20 per cent in two successive years, following a sharp acceleration in the international price of oil. The package included, for the first time, measures to restrict disposable incomes directly. The success of this package, experts say, established his reputation both domestically and internationally. He was then Chief Economic Adviser in the Ministry of Finance.

As Finance Minister, Manmohan Singh authored economic reforms, which became linked inseparably with his name. The term "Manmohanomics" gained currency to describe the economic rationale of the new policies. Indeed, his five-year tenure was the longest for a Finance Minister in India in two decades. Although the period witnessed a scandal of enormous proportions in the stock market and the banking system, he remained personally untainted. His critics insisted that his innocence was sustainable more in the technical than in the moral sense. His admirers sought to make a distinction between his personal honesty and his errors of judgment.

When the Joint Parliamentary Committee's inquiry into the securities scandal indicted the Narasimha Rao government's functioning, Manmohan Singh tendered his resignation without delay or fuss. The Congress converted the debate that ensued in Parliament into an occasion to extol his personal integrity and applaud his "visionary" policy of liberalisation. Narasimha Rao had no option but to ask Manmohan Singh to continue as the Finance Minister.

After 1996, when the Congress lost the elections, Manmohan Singh kept a reasonable distance from Narasimha Rao, whose government was accused of being part of many scandals. In a gentle reproach to Narasimha Rao, who was then the Congress president, he said at a meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party that, like Caesar's wife, the party should not merely be free of taint, but be seen to be so. Narasimha Rao's successor as the Congress president, Sitaram Kesri, nominated Manmohan Singh to the Congress Working Committee in recognition of his growing stature in the party. Manmohan Singh had no compunctions in reiterating his basic commitments as a Congressman and declaring that he would serve only in a government constituted by that party, when there was speculation that the United Front government, supported by the Congress from outside, could induct him as Finance Minister.

Manmohan Singh has been "ordinarily a resident" of Guwahati, Assam, to qualify for the membership of the Rajya Sabha from that State since 1992. He had a brief encounter with direct election when he was the party's candidate for the 1999 Lok Sabha elections from the South Delhi constituency. He lost to the BJP's V.K. Malhotra but it did not undermine his appeal within the party and outside.

BORN in Gah village of Jhelum district (now in Punjab, Pakistan) on September 26, 1932, Manmohan Singh migrated to India during Partition. He did his M.A. in Economics in Punjab University, and followed it up with an Economics Tripos from Cambridge University and D.Phil from Oxford University.

He began as a lecturer in Punjab University in 1957, and in 1969 became a professor of international trade at the Delhi School of Economics. Although he quit academics in 1971, he intended to return to it in 1990, when he was selected for professorship by Punjab University. However, the university syndicate rejected his selection saying "his first love was politics rather than economics".

In hindsight, the university's loss is the nation's gain. As the first Prime Minister to hail from the minority Sikh community, Manmohan Singh is the perfect choice of the UPA to honour the secular mandate of the 2004 elections.

New challenges

JOHN CHERIAN cover-story

The CMP and the statements of External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh on the foreign policy priorities of the new government have set the tone for a much-needed course correction.

THE United Progressive Alliance government in New Delhi faces many dilemmas and problems in the foreign policy arena. Many of the problems have been inherited from the National Democratic Alliance government. The first challenge for the new government, according to most foreign policy analysts, is to rectify the pro-American tilt of the earlier government. During its six years in power, the NDA government's handling of many important foreign policy matters was not to the nation's advantage.

After India went nuclear in 1998, considerable effort had to be undertaken to overcome the country's diplomatic isolation. The conciliatory moves towards the United States and the concessions that the government subsequently made were aimed at getting the punitive sanctions imposed by the West removed.

The Bharatiya Janata Party leadership has always been in favour of a "special relationship" with the U.S. The Americans also had long-term strategic goals in the region, especially vis-a-vis China. Washington wanted New Delhi to play a key role in curbing China's growing influence. India was among the first countries to welcome the George W. Bush administration's missile defence programme, which is aimed specifically against China. Former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, in an interview to the Washington Post, even went to the extent of supporting the continuation of U.S. military bases in the Central Asian countries that share borders with China.

When Washington became preoccupied with the war on terror and shifted its attention to West Asia, the NDA government improved relations with Beijing, as China had slipped from the American radar screen. Since the visit of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Beijing in September last year, four rounds of high-level talks have been held on the border issue.

Natwar Singh's statements after taking over as External Affairs Minister have been positive. He indicated that building strong ties with China is a top priority for the new government. He pointed out that Sino-Indian relations "are problem free except for the border question but a mechanism has been set up for addressing that problem". Natwar Singh said that the breakthrough in Sino-Indian relations came in December 1988 when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made the historic visit to China, enabling a thaw in relations.

Chinese officials like to emphasise that they do not view India as a regional or strategic rival. "It is always better for your own security that your neighbour remains a friend and is not an enemy," said a Chinese analyst. China like many other countries was quick to welcome the change of government in New Delhi. The Chinese Foreign Office spokesman said that his country appreciates "the positive remarks made by Foreign Minister Singh after assuming office. We hope that the two governments will make joint efforts to maintain the good momentum of development of bilateral relations and to promote the new progress in the building of a constructive cooperative partnership between the two." The new National Security Adviser J.N. Dixit, who has the rank of Minster of State, will continue with the high-level talks with Beijing to resolve the border issue.

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The government will have to work on convincing the Arab and Muslim world about its commitment to a just and multi-polar world. Former National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra had called for a Washington-Tel Aviv-New Delhi axis while on a visit to the U.S. last year. Immediately after the events of September 11, 2001, the NDA government offered Indian military bases to the U.S. for use in its war against terror. It is another matter that the U.S. preferred to use Pakistani bases instead, as it made more strategic and geopolitical sense in the war in Afghanistan. The government, apparently was ready to despatch an entire Indian Army division to Iraq at the Bush administration's behest. A division was put on stand by for the mission. Interestingly, the Congress party, then in Opposition, had not raised any objections initially. Better sense prevailed at the eleventh hour and the U.S. request was put on the back burner by the government.

According to diplomatic sources, the NDA government had kept open the possibility of dispatching troops to Iraq provided there was a United Nations Security Council resolution authorising such a move. The question of dispatching troops to Iraq will be one of the first major foreign policy challenges the new government is likely to face, as indications are that the Security Council is likely to pass a resolution authorising the deployment of peacekeepers in Iraq. Most countries are reluctant to send their forces to Iraq even under the fig leaf of a U.N. mandate. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, for instance, has said that his country will oppose the deployment of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops in Iraq.

The UPA government will be under pressure from Washington to lend it a helping hand. Natwar Singh had characterised the American actions in Iraq as a "misadventure" and a "disaster". He was speaking to a news agency as head of the AICC foreign affairs cell, a few days before joining the Cabinet. He said: "[A]s friends of the Americans, it is our duty to share our concerns about Iraq with them. That is friendship not subservience". However, there are some influential elements in the new government who earlier had supported the sending of troops to Iraq. "India should make its position clear on Iraq, especially on the plans of bestowing pseudo-sovereignty on the country," said Prakash Karat, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member. He also wanted the new government to make its displeasure with Israel to be made public, especially after the events in Rafah and other parts of the occupied territories.

The influence of the pro-American elements was evident in the copy of the first Congress draft of the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) relating to foreign affairs. "Even as it pursues closer strategic and economic engagement with the U.S., the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) will maintain the independence of India's foreign policy stance." The Left parties pointed out that this foreign policy formulation did not even conform to the Congress' election manifesto. In the CMP draft presented by the Congress, only the U.S. was given the exalted status of a "strategic partner". Traditional allies of India such as Russia were ignored.

The Left parties insisted that the government should pursue an independent foreign policy based on the country's foreign policy traditions based on non-alignment. They argued that the foreign policy should promote the goals of multipolarity in international relations and should be against hegemonism of the kind being practised against countries such as Iraq. The Left sought a clear commitment from the Congress that there should be a specific mention of forging close alliances with Russia, the European Union and China. The Left also insisted that special mention should be made about the need for forging closer relations with major developing countries such as South Africa and Brazil.

Significantly, the Left Parties demanded a foreign policy course correction in the government's policy towards West Asia, including the reversal of pro-Israeli policies and a reiteration of India's traditional ties with the Arab world and support to the Palestinian cause. The NDA government had given a great deal of importance to its "strategic" relations with Israel. The Jewish state had emerged as the second leading arms seller in the lucrative Indian arms bazaar. It was argued that buying arms from Israel was good tactics as it served the twin purposes of getting advanced technology of American origin and at the same time gaining political leverage in Washington through Jewish lobby groups. Diplomats from Arab countries feel that the new government could at least follow the example of Turkey, a traditional ally of Israel. It has recently announced that it would stop buying weaponry from Israel and downgrade relations if the country continues with its brutal occupation policies.

The view of the Left parties was finally incorporated in the final version of the CMP. Prakash Karat said that the section relating to foreign policy represents "a break from the Vajpayee government's pro-American stand. Corrective measures have been provided on relations with Israel." He said that the CMP provides an "explicit commitment to multi-polarity". The Left would have preferred a critical reference to U.S. unilateralism in world affairs. The CMP states that the government "will seek to promote multi-polarity in world relations and oppose all attempts at unilateralism". The entire world knows that it is only the U.S. that is indulging in unilateralism in world politics today, Prakash Karat added. "The document is a reiteration of the traditional ties with West Asia and the Palestinian people," he asserted. He also pointed out that the document stresses the improvement of ties with China and the continuation of the dialogue process with Pakistan. "This is a good basis for the extension of support to the new government."

Natwar Singh said that the Congress-led government will continue to have "close relations with the United States of America" while at the same time strengthening relations with other important nations such as Russia, China, the European Union and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is evidently a priority for the new government.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, after assuming office, stated that the dialogue process with Pakistan would continue. Natwar Singh, who had served as India's High Commissioner to Pakistan in the 1970s said that the new government would "further strengthen, widen and deepen our relations with Pakistan".

The Pakistan government has welcomed the commitment by the new government to continue the peace process. Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf has invited Congress president Sonia Gandhi to visit Pakistan. Musharraf and the Pakistani political establishment had taken it virtually for granted that the BJP led government would be swept back to power. The diplomatic concessions offered by Pakistan in January during Vajpayee's visit there were to a great extent dictated by the assumption that Islamabad would have to deal with a right wing Hindu nationalist government in Delhi. There was also the feeling in Islamabad that only a party like the BJP could afford to make concessions on the thorny issue of Kashmir and sign a comprehensive peace pact with Pakistan. The Pakistani leadership has taken positive note of the statements by Congress leaders that they were demanding normalisation of relations with Islamabad when the NDA government was threatening war against Pakistan. The CMP states: "Dialogue with Pakistan on all issues will be pursued systematically and on a sustained basis."

The BJP-led government was also generally indifferent to issues concerning the developing world. The Non-aligned Movement (NAM) was sought to be downplayed. Instead of leading from the front, New Delhi came to be identified with the group of nations who were close to the West. New Delhi's hand was seen in the dilution of the recent NAM resolutions on Iraq and Palestine. Vajpayee had not found the time to attend the G-77 summit at Havana, which was held three years ago. The summit was attended by the heads of state of all the leading developing countries, including Malaysia, South Africa and Nigeria.

The UPA government has pledged in the CMP to "pursue an independent foreign policy, keeping in mind past traditions". The new government has also promised to "play a proactive role in strengthening the emerging solidarity of developing countries in the shape of G-20 in the WTO".

For a new fiscal covenant

A concept paper from the Planning Commission suggests the waiver of all Central loans granted to the States. In a political context that demands a sharp increase in developmental expenditure, this may be a vital plank on which to build a new fiscal covenant between the Centre and the States.

in New Delhi

NEW beginnings in politics normally signal new beginnings in economics. But with the financial markets, rather than public welfare, being the final arbiter of sound economic policy, there is a powerful incentive for the newly installed Ministry to emphasise elements of continuity rather than change. Where the need for change is conceded, it is to underscore the new intent to provide larger investments in social and physical infrastructure that would be of direct benefit to the poor.

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When he is able to turn his attention away from the health of the financial markets, even the most vocal proponent of reforms would concede that the plummeting levels of investment in agriculture have been a source of serious distress in the rural areas. Neither is he likely to dispute seriously the proposition that outlays in essential social services - health and education primarily - are far short of what they should be. Despite all the fatuous talk of private sector initiatives making good the serious lacunae in the welfare sectors, the realisation is now dawning across a broad political spectrum, that there is no substitute for public outlays in these areas.

The figures here are compelling. In the year 2002-03, total developmental expenditures by all State governments amounted to Rs.246,000 crores according to their budget estimates. Under every single head of developmental expenditure, it is clear, the greater responsibilities devolve upon the State governments rather than the Centre. The simple fact then is that increasing developmental outlays involves raising the fiscal capacity of the States.

Yet the reality here is rather grim. Ever since they moved from a fiscal surplus to deficit in the late-1980s, the States have had to earmark an increasing share of their total expenditure for non-developmental purposes. In 1990-91, well under 25 per cent of total State government expenditures went into non-developmental heads. By 2002-03, this proportion had increased to over 37 per cent. A major contribution to this increase, that is, about half of it, came from interest incurred on loans - as a proportion of total expenditure, these payments increased from under 10 per cent to over 16 per cent. N.J. Kurian, who recently retired as an Adviser on Financial Resources in the Planning Commission, estimates that the interest burden has since gone up rapidly, indicating the potential for a rapid meltdown of State finances.

Another major source of deterioration of State finances has of course been the implementation of the Fifth Pay Commission recommendations on compensation for public servants. But this was a one-time shock to which the fiscal apparatus adjusted within a few years. A more durable source of instability comes from pensions, which are entirely paid out of revenues. As demographics change, life expectancies increase and increasing numbers of government employees retire, State governments have had to brace themselves for a relentless increase in the pension burden. Tentative efforts have recently been set under way, to compel new entrants into the workforce to opt for "defined contribution, variable return" pension schemes. Although a number of State governments have made such efforts, their returns are only likely to accrue when recent recruits into the service begin retiring, conservatively speaking, 25 years from now.

Demography holds the key to the increase in pension payments. And a feature that has mitigated this burden on State finances in recent times has been the moderation in the numbers retiring from active service. Since public sector employment as a whole, including the State, Central and enterprise sectors, have been stagnant for well over two decades, the number of people retiring from service has also reached equilibrium. This has afforded the States' revenue collection effort an opportunity to catch up with the galloping burden of pensions. And indeed, in a mere three years since 1997-98, when the Pay Commission recommendations were implemented, pension payments as a proportion of State revenues and expenditures had begun to decline. Interest payments, in contrast to all other major items of expenditure of the State government, have the property of increasing on an accelerating scale. As the fiscal deficit widens, the rate of borrowing every year increases, leading to higher interest payments in all succeeding years.

This widens the fiscal deficit still further, necessitating still higher borrowings. In 1999-2000, a measure was set in motion to moderate the rapid rise of State government debt. Small savings collections until then used to be channelled to the States by the Centre as part of its aggregate lending programme. A new accounting procedure introduced that year allowed State governments to issue special securities to a newly designated agency called the National Small Savings Fund (NSSF), to meet a part of their borrowing requirements. In the space of that year, the States' collective dependence on Central loans fell from between 40 to 50 per cent of the gross fiscal deficit to an average of about 14 per cent. In 2002, a scheme enabling States to use a portion of their small savings accruals to retire a portion of their loans from the Centre was introduced.

Since the pool available under the NSSF is fixed, this means that States would have to divert a portion of the receipts that would otherwise have been used to fund the fiscal deficit into retiring existing debt. This was a recipe for acute liquidity problems. Unsurprisingly therefore, recourse to this facility has been limited. And with the difference in interest rates being only one percentage point between borrowings from the Centre and the NSSF, the magnitude of the relief obtained by State governments has not been very significant.

Kurian's estimate is that about 40 per cent of the total debt burden of the States is in liabilities to the Centre. Though there have been efforts to mitigate the burden in recent years, there has been no fundamental rethink on the processes of federal transfer. For instance, Kurian points out that the loan component of Central assistance for State plans still stands at 70 per cent. This is in accordance with the D.R. Gadgil formula adopted in 1969, when plan expenditure of the States used to be distributed in the 70:30 ratio between capital and revenue components. With more assets coming into existence since then and increasing portions of Plan spending going into their upkeep, the ratio between capital and revenue expenditure in the States now stands at 40:60. Capital assets were expected in the early years to yield a return on investment rather than be a sponge of limitless capacity absorbing State revenues. But the situation is quite contrary to this expectation. To remedy this and return their capital assets to a semblance of viability, the State governments need the kind of breathing space that is not available under the currently prevalent, straitened fiscal circumstances.

A recent study of fiscal transfers in a federal context, by C. Rangarajan, Chairman of the Twelfth Finance Commission, has found that substantial loan transfers from the federal Centre to the States is a practice unique to India. The universal practice otherwise is to transfer as outright grants or to devolve increasing fiscal powers to the federating units. A further irrationality in India has been the increasing spread between the rate at which the Centre raises its loans and the interest that it charges the States. The gap now is of the order of five percentage points - States pay on average, 10.5 per cent as interest to the Centre, when the rate payable on borrowings from the market is no more than 5.5 per cent. This has provided an incentive for several States to directly tap the market.

Although Article 293 of the Constitution specifically prohibits any borrowing by the States without the concurrence of the Centre, a way has been found around this through the device of the "special purpose vehicle" (SPV). These entities, floated with the intent to develop a particular sector, have become an increasingly important source of borrowings for the State government. But with the underlying assets being unprofitable, typically in the irrigation, power or road transportation sectors, servicing these loans has become an increasingly onerous task. This is especially so since few norms are in place regulating market borrowings by the State, with the Centre preferring to avert its supervisory gaze from the practice of borrowing through SPVs.

Critical situations call for critical thinking that goes beyond established parameters. Kurian has proposed in a paper circulated within the Planning Commission just prior to his retirement that all Central loans to the States should be written off as a one-time measure. With this, the practice of issuing loans from the Centre to the States would itself be ended. With appropriate revisions in the Gadgil formula, all federal transfers would then take the form of grants.

It has been estimated that once relieved of interest liabilities on Central loans, State revenue budgets would rapidly regain a semblance of balance. The capital budget would of course have to be financed through borrowings, by the States from other sources. There is legitimate reason for worry that the poorer States may not be able to raise market finance on the strength of their balance sheets. But this is where the Centre could conceivably play a remedial role through standing guarantee. In an environment of cooperative federalism, appropriate norms should not be difficult to evolve.

A complete loan waiver would entail a loss to the Centre on its capital budget. But this would be completely offset by lower borrowings since loans to the States would be ended. In the final reckoning, the net loss would only be of the order of Rs.15,000 crores on the revenue budget of the Centre, which is the interest it earns every year from the States. This would have to be made good through an additional taxation effort. Since the so-called process of reforms was instituted in 1991, successive governments at the Centre have promised that tax rate cuts are not a source of worry, that indeed, lower rates will lead to higher receipts because of the growth effect and the higher degree of compliance that is induced. This has been the underlying assumption of fiscal policy over the last 12 years.

Needless to say, the reality has been that tax receipts of the Central government have at no time responded to the stimulus of lower rates and have indeed, been a near-disaster area. If early prognoses have not been borne out, there are possibly two explanations: either the initial reading of the Indian fiscal scenario was askew, or the Centre has been completely remiss in enforcing the administrative measures necessary to make tax buoyancy a reality. Either way, the political change that has recently been effected at the Centre, which is, by all readings, a decisive vote against the direction that economic reforms have taken thus far, is perhaps the appropriate juncture to begin remedying the situation

EMPIRE'S NIGHTMARE

AIJAZ AHMAD the-nation

The Iraqi people have risen in glorious defiance, forcing the United States itself into a crisis, pinning down the world's most awesome military machine, creating a full-scale cleavage in the European state system, and setting an example for the Third World that even a full-scale military occupation can be resisted and fought back by a people who have suffered some 15 years of the most brutal aggression.

WHEN the British occupied Iraq at the end of the First World War, some 80 years ago, they too had claimed to be liberating the country from tyranny - "Turkish tyranny," it was then called - and restoring sovereignty and civilisation to Iraq. They devised a Hashemite monarchy to embody that "sovereignty", hired a bunch of notables to provide an Arab facade for British occupation, confected an army under officers of their choice, handed over the country's oil resources to their own companies, and carried on with a ruthless colonial rule over and above the facade. The modern Iraqi nation was born in the course of the anti-colonial, anti-monarchical resistance, which lasted until 1958, when the monarchy was overthrown and a secular, multi-ethnic, independent state was proclaimed and the remaining vestiges of colonial rule dismantled. In this second round of colonisation, undertaken by the United States with the British bringing up the rear, the process is unlikely to take that long. The imperial dream is already turning into a full-fledged nightmare.

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The coalition itself is tottering. Barely a year after Bush had announced "victory" in Iraq, Jose Maria Aznar, the Spanish Prime Minister who was Bush's closest ally in continental Europe, lost the national elections by a wide margin on the single issue of having sent Spanish troops to Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition, and Jose Luis Rodrigus Zapatero, the Socialist Prime Minister who succeeded him, promptly announced that he will withdraw the troops. Indeed, the very last Spanish troops are leaving Iraqi soil as I begin to draft this article. The Spanish announcement of withdrawal was followed by similar decisions by weak little countries that had been pressed by the U.S. into service: Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Kazakhstan. Bulgarian and South Korean troops were pulled back to their bases, and New Zealand said it was withdrawing its engineers. Similar noises are emanating from El Salvador, Norway, the Netherlands and Thailand.

In India, some of the luminaries of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had wanted to send a contingent of Indian troops on the side of the U.S. but the widespread dismay in the country prevented them from doing so, and they kept hoping that the United Nations (U.N.) would provide the U.S. with some kind of a fig leaf and Indian troops could then be despatched as part of an international `peacekeeping' force. Now, with the overthrow of the BJP-led government, the new External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh spoke at length in his very first press conference of his intent to revive the close links that India historically had with the Muslim country (during what Jaswant Singh during his fraternal visit to Israel had described as "the lost decades", that is, the years of India's independent foreign policy). Now, with the defeat of the communal forces, one hears again of Panch Sheel and non-alignment.

In Britain, the most loyal of the U.S. allies, Tony Blair faces the possibility of going the way of Aznar. His current popularity ratings are the lowest since he first became Prime Minister some eight years ago. The Labour Party faces the choice of either getting rid of him before the elections and electing a new leader not directly tainted with the crimes of Iraq, or probably losing the next elections. In an extraordinary letter addressed to Blair in the last week of April, more than 50 former British Ambassadors declared that "time has come to make our anxieties public", and focussed their anxieties on the two issues of Palestine and Iraq. The letter says, in part:

"... the international community is now been confronted with the announcement by Ariel Sharon and President Bush of new policies which are one-sided and illegal... you yourself seem to have endorsed it, abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to promote peace in the Holy Land ... . This abandonment of principle comes at a time when rightly or wrongly we are portrayed throughout the Arab and Muslim world as partners in an illegal and brutal occupation in Iraq. The conduct of the war in Iraq has made it clear that there was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement. All those with experience of the area predicted that the occupation of Iraq by the coalition forces would meet serious and stubborn resistance, as has proved to be the case. To describe the resistance as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful."

Similar dissidence has been brewing in the U.S. as well, where Bush too, like Blair in Britain, is facing the lowest popularity ratings since he became President - and this, when the presidential election is less than six months away. Before the invasion of Iraq began, Britain had already witnessed something of a mutiny by about a third of the Labour Members of Parliament. And Liberal Democrats have always been opposed to the invasion, even though not as strongly as they should have been, but there was no visible dissent in the armed forces. In the U.S., by contrast, virtually the whole of Congress had stood firmly behind Bush, with some honourable exceptions such as Senators Robert Bird and Edward Kennedy. However, scepticism ran deep among many professions of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the State Department and even the armed forces, to the extent that the then Chief of the Army Staff had made it known that he disapproved of Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld's plan and thought and, that the U.S. would eventually have to commit "several hundred thousand troops" for the kind of war of occupation it was contemplating. Many high officials of the CIA were telling journalists that Rumsfeld and his gang had simply overruled information and advice offered by the professions and had created within the Pentagon an intelligence agency of its own which was designed to produce evidence that would justify invasion. That dissension seems now to be coming to a head, after hundreds of photographs have been shown to members of Congress which prove that torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers is not an exception but quite the norm. Excellent reports on the question of torture which have appeared in such influential publications as New Yorker and Newsweek seem to rely heavily on extensive background briefings by highly placed officials who are explaining how Rumsfeld and his closest aides in fact put in place the whole apparatus of systematic torture over a period of two years.

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Some sense of this deepening disquiet even among the U.S. soldiery comes through, for example, in an editorial that appeared in an in-house journal, ArmyTimes, on May 17, 2004. It says, in part:

"A failure of leadership at the highest levels while responsibility begins with the six soldiers facing criminal charges, it extends all the way up the chain of command to the highest reaches of the military hierarchy and its civilian leadership. The entire affair is a failure of leadership from start to finish. From the moment they are captured, prisoners are hooded, shackled and isolated. The message to the troops: Anything goes... . In addition to the scores of prisoners who were humiliated and demeaned, at least 14 have died in custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army has ruled at least two of those homicides. This is not the way a free people keeps its captives or wins the hearts and minds of a suspicious world... . Army commanders in Iraq bear responsibility for running a prison where there was no legal adviser to the commander, and no ultimate responsibility taken for the care and treatment of the prisoners."

The Washington Post

"Deep divisions are emerging at the top of the U.S. military over the course of the occupation of Iraq, with some senior officers beginning to say that the United States faces the prospect of casualties for years without achieving its goal of establishing a free and democratic Iraq... . Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, `I think strategically, we are.' ... Army Col. Paul Hughes, who last year was the first director of strategic planning for the U.S. occupation authority in Baghdad, said he agrees with that view and noted that a pattern of winning battles while losing a war characterised the U.S. failure in Vietnam."

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On the civilian side, Admiral David Nash, who oversees the distribution of reconstruction contracts, reported that there are days when as many as 75 per cent of the Iraqis employed by the occupation authorities just do not report to work. With unemployment rate running at 50 per cent of the labour force, many Iraqis are forced by hunger and destitution to take up work for the Americans but then stay away from work thanks a whole range of motivations, from patriotic hatred of the occupier to the sense of insecurity that comes from working for an authority itself under attack. For, no place in Iraq is safe for the Americans and their collaborators.

The resistance has now spread to virtually all parts of the country and the freedom fighters seem able to attack any and all targets: pipelines, moving military vehicles and convoys, encampments, even the headquarters of the so-called Coalition Provisional Authority which is in fact the current colonial government in Iraq. Some 1,500 foreign contractors are said to have fled the country and even major transnationals like General Electric have stopped work on most of their projects.

Many of those who had come to supervise what they thought was going to be Iraq's smooth transition to a free market economy and a safe haven for foreign capital have relocated their offices to Amman. Disaffection within the U.S. armed forces seems to be escalating. Soldiers who had come under the impression that they were going to be greeted with garlands by those whom they were going to "liberate" find themselves constantly under attack, and the tour of duty that was supposed to last merely few weeks now seems endless, after full 15 months of occupation. Among those who have returned to the U.S., more and more are beginning to speak up about what they saw and did, as indicated by the editorial in ArmyTimes.

What, then, about the collaborators? Izzadine Saleem, the chairman of the Iraqi Governing Council, the puppet group the Americans have confected, was killed in an ambush while his car was waiting to get into the so-called "Green Zone" which serves as the headquarter of the occupation forces. A couple of days later, the so-called "defence minister", an appointee of the Americans, barely escaped an ambush. Nor is this lack of deep hatred of, and lack of security for, some of the key collaborators the only sign of disarray and disquiet at the top. Four members of that same Governing Council resigned their posts in disagreement over the brutal nature of the U.S. operation in Falluja which, according to medical sources, killed upward of 600 civilians. The most bizarre case, however, is that of Ahmed Chalabi, the convicted criminal who had been hand-picked by the Pentagon hawks as the man fit to run Iraq for them.

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Chalabi is a scion of a family perhaps the richest in Iraq in the days of the monarchy but which then lost some of its wealth after the anti-monarchical revolution, departing then to settle in Britain. After a chequered career, Chalabi had eventually shown up in Jordan where he set up the once highly successful Petra Bank but then had to flee the country when criminal charges were brought against him. He was tried and sentenced in absentia to a prison term of 27 years on 31 charges of embezzlement, theft, currency speculation and so on. Later, he showed up in the U.S., sensed that the U.S. was willing to spend a lot of money on Iraqi, particularly Shia, opponents of Saddam Hussein, created an outfit called the Iraqi National Congress, went on the CIA payroll which is said to have steadily given him a purse to the tune of $340,000 a month - a total of $27 million over the years, it is said. In time, he wormed himself into the affections of the group of the far-right hawks who currently run the Pentagon and supplied them with the "defectors" - imposters, all of them - who supplied them with all the - false - information about Saddam's nuclear weapons programmes, weapons of mass destruction and so on, which was touted as the reason for the invasion. After the occupation, he was flown in and he was the one who assembled the several hundred paid agents who pranced around in front of the cameras of the BBC, CNN and so on, while Saddam's statue was brought down and a scene of jubilant Iraqis had to be staged. He was then appointed to the Governing Council where he took over the finance committee and saw to it that he was the one who got the bulk of Saddam Hussein's secret files.

That seems to have been the first thing that made the occupiers uneasy, since those files contain a lot of incriminating evidence of the U.S. and British collaboration with Saddam Hussein, even to the extent of supplying him with the technical means to produce chemical and biological weapons. That the so-called `information' he and his friends had supplied turned out to be so completely false, and no weapons of mass destruction were to be found, was the second irritant.

As an illustrious member of the Governing Council, he placed several of his relatives and lieutenants in key positions in the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Commerce, the Central Bank and other key posts. But then he also did two other things that seem to have offended the authorities. First, it was chiefly on his advice that Paul Bremer, the U.S. pro-consul in Iraq, disbanded the Iraqi army and police while also dismissing tens of thousands of state employees on the pretext of "de-Baathification" of Iraq. This one move cost jobs to hundreds of thousands, inflicted economic hardships on their families, and fuelled mass anger, while leaving the occupying authorities no personnel with which to tackle law and order issues.

Bremer eventually came to believe that this advice was as misguided as the "information" Chalabi generated for Rumsfeld was false. (Whether or not the U.S. could have elicited loyalty from that army, police and civil service is another question altogether.) Bremer seems to have come to believe that Chalabi - having been sentenced for high crimes in Jordan, having fed false information to the Pentagon, having been paid $27 million of the U.S. money, having offered wrong-headed advice to Bremer himself - was perhaps not quite the star he was supposed to have been, and was perhaps even a liability. There is reason to believe that Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. envoy who is helping the U.S. in putting together a new group of clients to whom "sovereignty" is to be transferred on June 30, was thinking of sidelining Chalabi in the new dispensation.

However, what seems to have led to the parting of the ways is that once he had established himself in Baghdad, and witnessing the drift of events, Chalabi well understood that new power centres were developing among the Shias, supposedly friendly toward the Americans, which would be key elements in the power structures that would eventually arise after the Americans have done all their damage. And he started opening his own independent channels with those dissident elements, possibly including Muqtada al-Sadr against whom the U.S. is currently fighting in the holiest of Shia cities, notably Najaf. Meanwhile, Chalabi was also getting closer to the more hardline faction in Iran and was attempting to emerge as one of their clients; he had certainly received a very warm welcome in Tehran. It is possible that he too had sensed that his days with the Americans were now numbered and he should think of a different power base and look for new sponsors. Joining up with the Shia resistance and becoming a full-time client of Tehran was certainly an option. Thus it came to pass that, on the morning of May 20, American troops surrounded Ahmed Chalabi's headquarters and home in Baghdad, put a gun to his head, arrested two of his aides, and confiscated huge piles of documents. In the process, they also invaded the headquarters of the very Governing Council they had devised and confiscated more documents there.

Chalabi's own future does not interest us here. The point is that the elaborate game the U.S. has been playing with its Coalition Provisional Authority and its Iraqi Governing Council for a year or so is already in complete shambles. Little of it now exists, and they have to find a completely new, different set of clients. That is the secret behind the American insistence on the charade that is to happen on June 30 when Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. envoy who staged the Loya Jirga in Afghanistan and imposed the Karzai dispensation there - in the name of the Security Council, the international community, and the rest - is to produce a whole new set of faces to continue the job in a "transfer of sovereignty" that will leave the whole of the occupation force in place, beyond even the whiff of any control by the new "sovereign", and will also leave in place all the laws enacted by the U.S. which the new Iraqi "sovereign" shall have no authority to change in any manner; indeed, this "sovereign" shall have no authority to either make or alter any laws, or to change the tenure of the vast array of officials and advisors who will have been appointed by the US for the coming many years.

Baghdad now has the largest CIA station the world has seen since the fall of Saigon in 1975. The Embassy will have 1,300 U.S. officials and at least 1,500 Iraqi employees. It will be so sprawling that it will have three officials of ambassadorial rank, with John Negroponte, who supervised the "contra" invasion of Nicaragua from El Salvador, as the presiding deity.

NO Iraqi - or any other court outside the U.S. - shall have the jurisdiction to try any American for anything he or she might have done in Iraq, no matter how criminal their act. The Americans shall be not just above the law; they shall be the law. It is in this setting that the Security Council is currently in session, considering for adoption a resolution drafted by the U.S. which makes the U.N. a party to all this, with perhaps some minor modifications here and there. Even by the wording of this resolution, which seeks the U.N. to take up a direct role in policing Iraq and seeks a "peacekeeping force" under the U.N. flag, the U.S. shall retain all authority and the "peacekeeping force" shall be under its command.

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France seems to be the only major power deeply opposed to this arrangement. Whether or not it will use its veto power to scuttle the plan is unclear. Kofi Annan appears to be in a dilemma. He desperately wants to have a piece of the show but also knows that, thanks to the U.N.-imposed sanctions which ravaged the Iraqi population for over a decade, the U.N. remains a deeply hated entity in Iraq and will be attacked with great relish. So, he takes the absurd position that the U.N. personnel will go in only if the occupying power, in essence the U.S., shall guarantee security for the personnel, unmindful of the fact that getting seen in the company of the U.S. troops is certainly the most dangerous thing one could do in today's Iraq.

As for the photographs and other evidence of the most harrowing kinds of torture that U.S. troops in particular, but also the British to a lesser degree, have been conducting in the prisons in Iraq, so much has already been splashed, so sensationally, in the press around the world that one may skip the details and simply make a few points of substance. First, too great a concentration on the issue of the most extreme forms of torture involves the risk of neglecting the vast system of routine abuse, which takes extreme form in those particular photographs. Second, only the victims are new, the system is not; colonising armies have always done it, and what the Americans are doing today in Iraq does not yet match the scale on which all of this was done in Iraq.

The extremity of such torture is an index of the powerlessness of the powerful; the desperation of the victor in the midst of a defeat. We know from extensive investigative reporting in the U.S. media itself that authorisation for this kind of "interrogation" - not every single action but the general practice - came from the highest authorities in the U.S., including President Bush, and that the legal consul to the white house wrote in a memo addressed to Bush that he himself had said that the global war against terror was a new kind of war, and, logically therefore, laws such as the Geneva Conventions which were designed for older kinds of warfare no longer applied. The jubilant little American torturer inside the Abu Ghraib prison is simply the other side of the face of President George W. Bush, not to speak of his minions. Extremities of this kind only proves that the guerrilla has won, and the imperial masters know it.

FROM the very beginning, resistance has taken two distinct forms which have for the most part remained distinct but have also overlapped at important points. There is the overflowing of political resistance in the form of demonstrations, newspapers, leaflets, public speeches, sermons in holy places, and so on. And, alongside this non-combatant, peaceful resistance which mobilises public opinion against foreign occupation, armed actions by small groups also began emerging within the first three months of the occupation. In the beginning, the armed resistance was confined to a relatively small area comprised of districts mainly to the north of Baghdad itself whereas the political resistance comprised of mass mobilisations was from the beginning spread over vast areas of the country, as much in the north as in the south and the east, involving both of the major Islamic denominations in Iraq, namely the Shia as well as the Sunni.

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In both cases, the outstanding feature of the political resistance as well as of the armed combat has been its extreme decentralisation. As months passed, two shifts became discernible. One was that even as the occupiers kept talking about "remnants" and "small groups" of "Saddam loyalists" making a last-ditch stand even as most Iraqi were said to be enthusiastic supporters of the American masters, the territorial expanse where direct combat was taking place as well as the frequency of attacks by the Iraqi resistance kept widening and increasing, while the capture of Saddam Hussein, which was supposed to have ended all resistance by these so-called "loyalists", in fact, made no difference to the expansion of the resistance and the increasing ferocity of the armed confrontations.

The second major shift over the months was that while attacks in the early months were essentially hit-and-run operations by very small groups, battles became increasingly more intense, involving larger groups, very frequently in densely populated urban areas with attackers enjoying visible widespread support among the immediate populace. Geographically, the resistance was now spread over most of the national territory, across the respective regions with the Arab-Sunni, or the Shia, or the Kurdish concentrations. Hit-and-run operations were now increasingly combined with more recognisable forms of urban warfare, much larger sections of the urban population were now more actively and visibly sympathetic toward the arms resistance, combat was correspondingly more concentrated in cities and towns than in the outlying areas of the countryside and the desert, and there was much greater propensity now on the part of the resistance forces to take over and hold for varying durations of time specific towns and/or parts of larger cities. The nation was occupied but fast becoming altogether ungovernable.

Bush made his arrogant, premature announcement of "victory" in May 2003. Eleven months later, in the first week of April 2004, Iraqi resistance first took on the proportions of a something resembling a national uprising, as battles broke out simultaneously in a large number of cities, including Baghdad, Basra, Falluja, Ramadi, Najaf, Nasiriyah, Amarah, Kirkuk and so on. In the interim, the U.S. acted on the assumption that appointing a government of clients and direct takeover of Iraq's vast economic assets would be as easy as the military occupation of the country had been, and it only needed to "mop up" the few disgruntled elements ("remnants" of the "Saddam regime," as it called them) who dared to put up a fight. This "mopping up" was to be carried out with enormous brutality, so as to also terrorise the rest of the populace into submission. As the resistance spread, the level of brutality also increased, which in turn united more and more people in solidarity with the forces of resistance.

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By April 2004, the U.S. took three steps, which may eventually go down in the history of this war as the ones that decisively shifted the balance of moral force in favour of the occupied. First, it laid siege to the city of the predominantly Sunni city of Falluja when forces of resistance there killed some mercenaries working for U.S. contractors, on the pretext that it was a stronghold of "Saddam loyalists" who needed to be taught a tough and perhaps final lesson. Now, Falluja has certainly been a centre of anti-imperialist resistance since the U.S. occupation but the idea that all Iraq Sunnis are "Saddam loyalists" is a pathetic figment of the American imagination. Falluja is in fact a centre of the Wahabbi variant of Islamic fundamentalism and its religious elite have a rich history of persecution by the stridently secular Saddam regime; it is a centre of anti-American resistance not out of any love for Saddam but out of hatred for foreign, colonial occupation. The extraordinarily brutal American siege - killing at least 600 people - not only united the city against them but also brought forth an extraordinary wave of solidarity with the city elsewhere in Iraq; convoys of people came with food and medicine for their besieged compatriots, and countless shopkeepers in Baghdad itself were reported to be collecting money for their compatriots in Falluja. Belatedly, the Americans requested a ceasefire. Outgunned militarily, the city won in the moral realm.

Falluja was said to be anti-American because it was Sunni. Shias, by contrast, were supposedly friends of the U.S. That was the American fantasy. Just as they were laying siege to Falluja, the Shia sections of Baghdad erupted in a rebellion so intense that the U.S. was forced to use the Apache helicopter-gunships to put it down, on the pretext that they were "containing" the "terrorists" loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, whom Paul Bremer had declared an "outlaw". Indeed, the U.S. has issued arrest warrants for al-Sadr and tends to portray him as a "firebrand" and a minor cleric whose militia is something of a minor irritant. Nothing could be farther than the truth.

Muqtada al-Sadr is the nephew of the greatly revered religious figure, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who had been assassinated by Saddam Hussein and whose mantle the nephew has inherited. Muqtada is said to command a militia of some 10,000 devotees, the direct allegiance of several hundred thousand and may be respected by as many as perhaps a third of the Iraqi Shia - which comes to the total of about a fifth of the Iraqi population. Transnationally, his uncle was the mentor of Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, generally considered the founder of the Lebanese Shia organisation Hezbollah, which fought against the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon for 18 years and finally succeeded in driving away the occupiers - the only time in history that Israel has been forced by military means to relinquish the territory it has occupied. Any prolonged confrontation between the U.S. and the young Muqtada is likely to unite the more militant sections of the Shia across West Asia, in their hundreds of thousands, behind Muqtada and would consequently put enormous pressure on the more sedate and senior Shia clerics, such as Ayatollah al-Sistani, to adopt a harder posture against the U.S. if they are not to lose substantial sections of their own following. According to polls carried out by the Americans themselves, only 2 per cent of the Iraqis were staunch supporters of Muqtada three months ago, but more than 50 per cent now support him, half of them strongly.

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U.S. propaganda speaks constantly of an impending "civil war" between Shias and Sunnis in Iraq. In reality, no Iraqi is yet on record preaching communal strife between Shias and Sunnis. The earliest demonstrations in Baghadad after the U.S. occupation were deliberately organised as united Sunni-Shia demonstrations, the first spectacular one taking off from in front of a Sunni mosque and including large numbers of Shias from the poorer neighbourhoods of Baghdad. The simultaneous uprisings of the Sunnis in the north and the of the Shias in the south in April 2004 is in keeping with these early trends which have just become stronger; during this very uprising, the U.S.-appointed officials were evicted out of Sadr city, the vast Shia section of Baghdad named after Muqtada's uncle, by a combined force of Shias and Sunnis that is said to have included very few members of Muqtada's militia, the Jaish-e-Mahdi. The U.S has sought to create a communal divide between Shias and Sunnis in Iraq even as it oppresses the nation as a whole; in reality, no such communal divide has existed in Iraq historically, and oppression of the nation as a whole has only served to bring members of the two sects together in something of a national alliance against the foreign occupiers.

THE world, the Third World in particular, owes the Iraqi Resistance an immense debt of gratitude. The existence of the Soviet Union and the support it offered to national liberation struggles was a great contributing factor in the very large numbers of such struggles that erupted throughout the world after the Bolshevik Revolution. The wars of national liberation in countries of Indochina, in the Portuguese colonies in Africa, as well as revolutions in such countries as Cuba and Southern Yemen would have been inconceivable without that pole of resistance against imperialism, the U.S. imperialism in particular. Even policies of non-alignment and relatively independent development that were followed in diverse countries in the Third World, including such countries as India or Egypt or Iraq itself, presumed that alternative pole of support. The dissolution of the Soviet Union led to enormous despondency throughout the world, with a widespread sense that imperialism was now invincible. The Sandinistas in Nicaragua had to beat a retreat, and the anti-apartheid forces in South Africa, sustained so much by the Soviet Union, were forced to make a compromise with imperialism as they won the war locally but lost the great ally that the Soviet Union had been.

The U.S. launched its war on Iraq with the confidence that a poor Third World country now had no choice but to submit to its dictates, and the occupation of Iraq was to serve as an example to every Third World country as a demonstration of what could be done to it if it dared to defy. The Iraqi people have risen in glorious defiance, forcing the U.S. itself into a crisis, pinning down the world's most awesome military machine, creating a full-scale cleavage in the European state system, and setting an example for the Third World that even a full-scale military occupation can be resisted and fought back by a people who have suffered some 15 years of the most brutal aggression.

The U.S.-U.K. alliance had thought that the demise of the Soviet Union had ushered in an era where colonial occupation would yet again be the order of the day. The people of Iraq have shown that even in this era, when revolutions of the working class have suffered a historic setback, war of national liberation remains on the agenda. Indeed, people's wars against imperialism shall be the motor force of the history of the 21st century until such time as the anti-imperialist revolution gets transformed into revolutions against capitalism itself and the transition to socialism is resumed on the global scale.

A canine victory

A CORRESPONDENT the-nation

Ch. Right Staff of Harase Garten, a Dobermann, owned by C.V. Sudarsan, wins The Hindu Trophy for the Dog of the Year for the show season 2003-2004.

CH. RIGHT STAFF OF HARASE GARTEN, a Dobermann, won The Hindu Trophy for the Dog of the Year for the show season 2003-2004. Imported from Japan and bred by Mariko Harase of the famous Harase Garten Kennels in Japan, this elegant dog is owned by C.V. Sudarsan of the Magic Million Kennels in Chennai. The Hindu Trophy was instituted in 1980 by S. Rangarajan, Managing Director, M/s Kasturi and Sons. The trophy is awarded to the dog that obtains the maximum points over a show season, which starts with the South of India Kennel Club show held at Udhagamandalam during the second weekend of May every year.

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Sudarsan is an International All Breeds Judge and a committee member of the Kennel Club of India, the sole body for all canine affairs. He is also the secretary of the Madras Canine Club.

There are around 50 clubs affiliated to the Kennel Club of India, which has chosen 23 premier clubs and awarded them special show status. Each of these 23 clubs conduct two shows simultaneously and those competing for The Hindu Trophy and other major trophies have to exhibit at all the 46 shows.

The exhibitor who secures the maximum number of points at the 46 shows is declared the winner. A Best in Show (BIS) is awarded 10 points, the second BIS is awarded 8 points and the third and the fourth BIS are awarded 6 and 4 points. Further, while exhibiting more than once under the same judge, only the highest points secured can be taken into account.

As the show season in India is mainly between December and February, often there are two or three shows being held at different locations over the same weekend and competitors often miss out on the other shows.

Sudarsan's journey to victory this year has been difficult. It started with winning a BIS and second BIS in Cochin. The next show was in Hyderabad, which was followed by one in Bangalore a week after. The dog was then taken to Noida, Coimbatore, Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram, Chennai, Agra, Bangalore and Jalandhar. In the final leg of the journey were Mumbai and Chandigarh. Without a respite, the dog was exhibited continuously at 26 shows every weekend across the country.

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Great care was taken during this period to maintain the dog's weight and coat condition, apart from continuing its regular exercises. The ordeal finally ended at Chandigarh, where the dog was declared the winner, when it beat his closest competitor, a beautiful German Shepherd imported from Germany, and a V-7 at the Seiger Show held there, by a clear 30 points.

The success of a dog in the show ring depends not only on its quality, but also the manner in which it is exhibited. Unless it is handled efficiently, it could easily lose. Most winning dogs abroad are invariably handled by professional handlers. In India there are very few professionals. This year's prize-winning dog was handled by S. Siddharth, Sudarsan's son, who was largely responsible for its win.

Sudarsan has been involved in the sport of dog shows for almost 30 years now. Though he has owned several breeds in the past, the Dobermann remains his first love. He has been breeding and showing Dobermanns for more than 20 years. As judge on the Kennel Club of India's panel for more than two decades, he has visited more than 16 countries spanning five continents. The biggest show that he has judged is the Brisbane Royal in Australia, which had almost 6,000 dogs. His ambition is to judge at least once in every country.

Sudarsan has been a successful exhibitor and his exhibit has won the Dog of the Year award on three different occasions - Standard Smooth Dachshund Ch.Sans Craintes to Reckon With, in 1985-86; Dobermann Ch.Rising Star of Harase Garten, an import from Japan in 1994-95; and Ch. Right Staff of Harase Garten, another import from the same kennel in Japan, this year. He has also won Reserve Dog of the Year twice, Dog of the Year Bred in India thrice and the Puppy of the Year once. Sudarsan has owned, bred and exhibited several other breeds such as Pugs, Dachshunds, German Shepherds, Fox Terriers, Beagles, Bulldogs and Labradors. He currently houses several Dobermanns, Bulldogs and Pugs.

Bulldog breeding is considered most difficult as the females do not deliver the natural way, and have to have caesarean section operations. As this has been the trend generation after generation, they seem to have lost their maternal instinct and hence are very poor mothers. Sudarsan last year helped deliver a litter of eight puppies by caesarean section and was perhaps the only person in India to have succeeded in saving all the puppies delivered at the same time. He has specialised in the art of saving orphaned puppies by using the method of tube feeding and providing artificial methods of mothering, which is considered very crucial for the first 10 days of a puppy's life.

A dog lover since childhood, Sudarsan has developed a passion for dogs irrespective of whether they are pedigreed or not. His ultimate aim is to start a shelter for unwanted dogs on the lines of those he has seen abroad. All this will need a lot of funds, which he hopes to raise with the help of friends and well-wishers. He is a Chartered Accountant and is now a businessman.

LETTERS

the-nation
Congress comeback

This is with reference to your Cover Story ("Congress comeback", June 4). No doubt the Congress has made a comeback with a bang, but it has the daunting task of undoing the anti-people policies of the previous government and making the reform process humane. At the same time, it has to strengthen the party unit and reconcile the conflicting interests of its coalition partners.

Siddhartha Raj Guha Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh

Verdict 2004, as you rightly said, is a vote against the Bharatiya Janata Party's divisive and communal politics. False propaganda such as "India Shining" and the Vajpayee factor made the National Democratic Alliance fare badly. If the BJP leaders want to win the people's faith again, they should not hinder the new Congress coalition government at the Centre but extend full support to the socio-economic reforms planned by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The return of the Congress bears testimony to the fact that Indian democracy will always survive, whatever ordeals and trials it undergoes. The power of the people will see to it that the spirit of democracy prevails at all times for a shining future.

R.R. Sami Tiruvannamalai

The resurgence of the Left augurs well for the country. ("A resurgent Left", June 4). The people have rejected the theory of the emergence of a bipolar political set-up propagated by a large section of the media.

The methodology for conducting the opinion and exit polls needs thorough introspection. This is a country where a majority of the people do not politicise themselves openly.

Viji Ganesh Madurai

Your Statewise assessment of Verdict 2004 is on the whole correct. In the case of Maharashtra, your correspondent is right in assessing the mood of Hindi-speaking voters in Mumbai, and that their vote for the Bahujan Samaj Party proved harmful to the Congress. People in the regions of Vidarbha and Marathwada were annoyed with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party because of their duplicity on developmental issues.

In providing drought relief the ruling front favoured western Maharashtra more than any other part of the State.

W.H. Pande Akola, Maharashtra *

In a surprising and unprecedented manner, the Indian electorate has voted the Congress and its allies to power.

Arrogance and overconfidence on the part of NDA leaders, unrealistic slogans such as "India Shining," and repeated personal attacks on Sonia Gandhi on the grounds that she is a "foreigner" led to the debacle. The Congress and its allies, on the other hand, gauged the mood of the electorate and identified themselves with the masses, using simple slogans.

L.K. Advani's "Bharat Uday Yatra", the iconic stature of Vajpayee and the last minute wooing of Muslims by the BJP failed to have any impact on the electorate. The NDA's jettisoning of the DMK and its allies and its new-found alliance with Jayalalithaa also proved to be very costly for it.

Now that Sonia Gandhi has declined to hold the office of Prime Minister, the Congress and its allies should introduce a legislation barring citizens of foreign origin from holding key posts in the government, so that the NDA is not given the opportunity to raise this issue again.

S. Balakrishnan Jamshedpur

This refers to "Misreading the Mandate" (June 4). The BJP's vote bank was the urban middle class, but due to a decrease in bank interest rates from 13 per cent to 6 per cent, they were annoyed. In India only 10 per cent of old people get pension. Others depend on the monthly interest on their deposits for survival. Only the upper middle class gained under the NDA government. They can get loans to build houses and buy cars, but this class rarely votes.

Inder S. Gandhi Ambala, Haryana

The electoral success of the BJP in the Assembly elections in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh emboldened it to call for early parliamentary elections. But the "India Shining" slogan, the exit polls, taped personal telephone calls to mobile phone subscribers by Prime Minister Vajpayee seeking votes for BJP candidates, the foreign origin issue and other campaign cards failed to win the NDA votes.

While Vajpayee in his message to the nation before stepping down termed the verdict a victory for India and its democratic system, many stalwarts of the BJP kept themselves busy making irresponsible statements.

Many people of Indian origin have held the highest executive office. Some examples are the President of Fiji and the Prime Ministers of Mauritius and British Guyana. Choudhary Khaliquz Zaman, who after Partition remained in India, later migrated to Pakistan and rose to the highest executive post there.

A. Wasay Bhagalpur

Kudos to the Congress, in particular Sonia Gandhi, for its splendid performance. The BJP made a wrong alliance in Tamil Nadu. Jayalalithaa's actions such as the dismissal of government servants, transfer of police personnel and the introduction of "H" ration cards, were unwarranted. The people have taught her a lesson. M. Karunanidhi's decision to align with the Congress was a shrewd political move.

R. Srinivasan Chennai

Iraq

The abuse of the Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison by the occupying forces is shameful and utterly inexcusable. ("Sticking to their guns", June 4).

American forces went into Iraq to restore dignity to a populace brutalised by years of Saddam Hussein's authoritarian rule. Photographs of the inhuman treatment of Iraqis in prison is just the opposite of what the U.S.-led coalition proclaimed as its goal.

In fact, according to the human rights organisations, these incidents of abuse are not isolated but form a systematic pattern of behaviour. What is more appalling is that President Bush has defended his Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to the hilt.

Paramdeep Singh Kanpur

Despair and democracy

Outer Manipur lives in the perennial shadow of guns, drugs and disease, and the system has failed to offer a way out. Still the people participate in large numbers in the democratic process of electing their representatives to Parliament.

PRAVEEN SWAMI recently in Chura Chandpur Photographs: Parth Sanyal

SOMEWHERE along the road to Singnat, the Indian state disappears. Tarmac gives way to unpaved rock and earth, churned up by thunderstorms and passing trucks. A local militia, the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), in return for a small toll fee, ensures travellers are not looted, kidnapped or shot by other, less civilised armed groups; the police and paramilitary forces who ought to be doing this job do not care to travel down the road. For a day, electronic voting machines (EVMs) also made their way up the road. Strangely, it sparked off some hope. "Who knows," said local college student Jeff Hmar, "things might change. Miracles do happen, don't they?"

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On paper, Singnat is a subdivisional headquarters, a key administrative centre within the border district of Chura Chandpur. The Sub-Divisional Officer's headquarters, though, has been abandoned in the past decade, its run-down rooms stripped of so much as a filing cabinet. Not much remains of the police station either, which was set on fire by ethnic-Meitei insurgents in 1993. The fire department has no staff, but an almost-red truck rusting in a shed bears witness to the fact that it once existed. A hospital building exists, but no doctors come to work there. There is also a government-run school, but again, without teachers. The boarded-up Singnat post office still has a sign proclaiming that it works from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but no one who is not well past their teens has any idea what the red cylindrical box outside the building is for.

Across the street are the only signs that this is, in fact, a part of India. The beaming visage of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, among others, looks down on those gathered around Singnat's sole water tank, which holds just enough to give each resident of the town one bucket a day. While the posters are normal, the politics is not. Vajpayee's poster endorses the campaign of D. Loli Adanee, who has the support of the ZRA. The ZRA's sometime-friend, sometime-foe, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim's Isaac-Muivah faction or the NSCN(I-M), chose to back independent candidate Mani Charenamei. On one occasion, NSCN(I-M) cadre stopped Adanee at gunpoint, and warned him against campaigning in their area. Other groups, each claiming to represent a specific tribe, backed other candidates. The president of the ZRA's parent organisation, Thanzlianpau Guite, a former Member of Parliament in Myanmar, said: "We did not want to get involved in the elections, but since other organisations have stepped in, we have to defend the rights of our community." Terrorist violence, poll fraud and landslides meant that voting in the Outer Manipur constituency could only be completed on May 17, well after Indians knew who would rule them.

Can democracy function where nothing else does? Here is a mystery: well over half of the district's voters chose to cast their vote. It is tempting to be dismissive about these turnout figures. Elders in parts of Outer Manipur have been known to cast votes for their entire family, a practice respected by both polling agents and election staff. Candidates have also secured the support of the welter of tribal militia and insurgent groups who pepper Manipur, a practice that has led to the institutionalisation of booth-capturing in some areas. Yet, these problems are not unique to the Manipur hills; other areas that suffer from election fraud do not register high turnouts. What, then, is going on?

HE says he is 16 but looks 12, and will only identify himself as `Nixon'. It is afternoon. An M-16 assault rifle in hand, `Nixon' is collecting a toll of Rs.100 paid by the Chura Chandpur-Aizawl bus service's conductor at the small village of Swangdoh. `Nixon' dropped out of school after the 5th grade, since his parents could no longer afford to send him to school. After a few years of hard, unrewarding labour on fields owned by his parents and with no prospect of a job in sight, `Nixon' volunteered to serve with the ZRA. He receives no pay, but the weapon in his hand seems to have given him some sense of self worth. "I joined the ZRA," he says, "to defend my people." Asked who he is defending them against, `Nixon' is uncertain. "Our enemies," he says, after a long pause.

`Nixon' is the child of a failed state. In 1992-1993, NSCN insurgents initiated the wholesale ethnic cleansing of the Kuki from Nagaland, in reprisal for the support that elements of the tribe had given the Indian Army. Kuki refugees streamed into Chura Chandpur, dislocating the fragile balance of tribes in the region. At about the same time, the Zomi Reunification Organisation (ZRO) came into being with the support of several social and church groups, claiming to represent a welter of non-Naga hill tribes spread across India and Myanmar, mainly the Paite, Simte and Vaipeh. Although Zomi ideology included the Kuki among its ranks, the tribe, the poorest of those in the hills, felt otherwise. Convinced that the newly formed ZRA, the armed wing of the ZRO, was allying itself with the NSCN, Kuki insurgents joined ranks with Meitei insurgents in the plains of Manipur, who have historically opposed Naga claims.

Like in Akira Kurosawa's classic film Rashomon, everybody's accounts of what happened next are different and mutually exclusive. Whatever the truth, a full-scale ethnic war broke out in 1996. No accurate figures exist on how many died, but the figures could run into hundreds of people. For the most part, the Indian state did nothing to stop the carnage. A generation of young people turned to the armed groups within their tribes. Today, members of each tribe pay a percentage of their salaries to the militia organisations. Most militia groups have an unsavoury reputation for extortion, and politicians routinely pay protection money. Sometimes wars break out. The ZRA, for example, exchanged fire this spring with Hmar insurgents along the India-Myanmar border. Alliances form and re-form. Three years ago, warring Hmar groups took the help of the Meitei PREPAK to settle a feud; Kuki factions have sometimes turned to their enemy, the NSCN.

Today, Manipur has what former Border Security Force (BSF) chief E.N. Rammohan described as a "degenerated insurgency". In key senses, both the insurgency and the degeneration were New Delhi's doing. The welter of insurgent groups who sprang up in the Meitei-dominated plains of Manipur from the 1950s - PREPAK, the People's Liberation Army, or the United National Liberation Front - in part represented chauvinist resentment against the growing assertiveness of the hill tribes. Considered untouchables by the Hindu people of the plains, the growth of Church-led education, and political awareness in the hills represented a serious challenge to the ambitions of traditional elites. However, the Meitei insurgents also tapped the anger against corruption and developmental failures. New Delhi's policy, Rammohan has written, was "to flush (sic) the north-east with funds". Political hangers-on in New Delhi benefited from the funds paid for roads and bridges that were never built, and the loot was "carried back to Delhi by this coterie of contractors". As time went by, the political establishment and administration joined in the pillage.

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In time, though, so did the insurgents. The wages of their involvement in narcotics and protection rackets have been calamitous for their own communities. "It's like a water tanker," says Guite, "some of the water is bound to splash out."

A recovering addict at the Sahara rehabilitation facility in Chura Chandpur talks about `shooting galleries': stick your arm through a hole in the wall with a Rs.50 note clenched in your fist, and someone will stick in a needle filled with Number 4, the local name for the high-grade heroin that makes its way in from Myanmar. Chura Chandpur has perhaps the highest rate of intravenous drug use in India, and for a while had the distinction of being the HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) capital as well. Now officials claim that things have improved, but the decline is illusory. Hospitals have a three-month waiting list for HIV tests, and most addicts have no interest in queuing up. Sahara itself is short of funds because officials handling grants would not release them without bribes, and the organisation wants to stay clean. Other non-governmental organisations have alternative sources of funding, but no one can treat despair: the despair felt by young people with no jobs, no dignity and no future.

Number 4 came to the Manipur hills along with the insurgents, who needed protection money to pay for their weapons, often hand-me-downs purchased by dealers from the remnants of South-East Asian armies such as the Khmer Rouge. Insurgent armies often shoot street peddlers and those within their own ranks who use narcotics to demonstrate their care for their communities. De-addiction facilities in Chura Chandpur regularly receive clients shot through the knees - former members of insurgent groups who turned to peddling narcotics when they ended their military service, putting their military skills to work in order to make a living. No group, however, seems to have made a serious effort to stop the flow of drugs through the areas it controls. It is part of a larger pattern. Part of the kerosene supplies routed through the public distribution system to Chura Chandpur are handed over to insurgents, as are stocks of grain. So, too, are a large chunk of development funds.

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Part of the solution is, obviously, military: communities that feel secure will not turn to tribal militia. In April, the Army launched a brigade-strength holding operation in Tajik Sampak, in the district of Chandel. For local residents, it holds out hope. The Deputy Commissioner of Chandel had shifted to Imphal, along with all other government officials, after November 2000. At that time, NSCN and United Kuki Liberation Front cadre had disarmed his escort and forced him to sign cheques for Rs.44,80,000 - District Rural Development Agency money meant for development projects. Since the bank had closed for the day, the Deputy Commissioner was then kept in custody until the cheques could be encashed. Neither the Manipur Rifles nor the police even bothered reporting the incident. Local rumour has it that the Chandel operations will soon be widened into the ZRA-held territory around Singnat and to free National Highway 150, now under the de facto control of Kuki and Meitei insurgent groups who had made it impossible to traverse.

Oddly, for a man committed to carving out a new State, the ZRA's Guite seems calm at the prospect of military intervention: "We have never fought the Indian Army, and never will". It takes little to understand the sentiment. For most people, the stated ideological objectives of most insurgent groups - new states, unified homelands - seem almost surreal. Students from the hill tribes at Chura Chandpur note that their college has just four part-time science teachers, because academics from the plains do not wish to serve there.

Others talk of the need for cooperatives to replace traditional slash-and-burn agriculture, now in terminal decay. People want electricity for more than two hours a day, an assured supply of drinking water, a decent education for their children and jobs. Politicians could have worked for these ends, for the creation of genuine developmental assets, which would encourage inter-tribe dialogue and reconciliation. Like everyone else, though, they are now paying the price for choosing the easier way.

Will this election change anything? Decades ago, Tonsing Vunglallian chose not to cash in on his degree from New Delhi's prestigious St. Stephen's College and returned to Chura Chandpur to set up a school.

He has stayed on, despite the violence and ethnic carnage. "When I go to bed," he says, "I know I have done a little good for one or two children. It isn't much, but I sleep well." It is time, perhaps, that Manipur's politicians went back to school.

Freedom at the workplace

Organizing for Social Justice, Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work 2004; International Labour Office, Geneva.

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PRIME among the reasons that India has offered for not ratifying two of the global conventions that guarantee the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are its concerns with public sector employees. As an official statement of the Labour Ministry puts it, "the main reason" why India has declined to ratify these conventions is the government's "inability" to "promote unionisation" of public sector employees "in a highly politicised trade union system". The rights and guarantees enshrined by International Labour Conventions 87 (on freedom of association) and 98 (on the right to collective bargaining) are available under the Indian Constitution to all citizens, the Ministry argues. The government has "promoted and implemented the principles and rights envisaged under these two Conventions in India and the workers are exercising their rights in a free and fair democratic society". In the circumstances, ratification of the two conventions would be superfluous and would serve no useful purpose.

This rather half-hearted affirmation of the principles that were adopted in the late-1940s perhaps set the context for the extraordinary ruling by the Supreme Court last year, extinguishing the right to strike for government employees. At a subsequent meeting convened by the International Labour Office (ILO), this ruling came in for pointed criticism, with experts in industrial relations law seeking a clear affirmation from the Indian government that there would be no long-term damage to worker interests from the Supreme Court's ex cathedra denunciation of the right to strike. That affirmation is yet to be given and trade unions in India are currently exploring two options: to either challenge the ruling through judicial processes or to confront it in practice.

Organizing for Social Justice is part of the ILO's follow-up to the 1998 "Declaration of the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work". It is a successor report to the 2000 volume Your Voice at Work. The picture it draws of the contemporary global scene on freedom at the workplace is optimistic, since there has been a distinctly improving trend in recent years. But the downside is all too evident. As the report observes, "violations of freedom of association rights persist in different forms, including murder, violence, detention and refusal to allow organisations the legal right to exist and function". Among the sections most vulnerable to the denial of these rights are public sector employees, domestic workers, agricultural labourers, migrant workers and workers in export processing zones (EPZs). As part of its mandate to follow up on the 1998 declaration, the ILO report looks closely at each of these categories of workers to identify the specific problems they face.

Conventions 87 and 98 have had almost universal acceptance in Europe. A major ratification drive, spearheaded by trade unions was undertaken in the 1970s. The coverage of the conventions became almost complete when the Eastern Bloc began the transition to market orientation in the 1990s.

In Africa and the Americas, coverage of the conventions is substantial though not universal.

Curiously, the hold-outs in the Americas include the two most affluent nations, the United States and Canada. Like India, the U.S. continues to insist that it is committed to the fundamental principle of freedom of association and the "effective recognition" of the right to collective bargaining. But it does not credibly explain why it should resist the international trend of explicitly ratifying Conventions 87 and 98. The only explanation perhaps, is the U.S.' cultural aversion towards international treaties and conventions. With Canada though, the main impediment appears to be the system of legal rights and obligations under its federal Constitution. This necessitates extended consultations with the "provinces and territories" and Canada is in the process of undertaking such consultations.

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Ratification levels are the lowest in the Asia Pacific region and the Arab states. Convention 87 has been ratified by a mere 46 per cent of the countries in the former region and Convention 98 by 64 per cent. These figures obscure the larger reality that the two largest countries in the world - China and India - remain hold-outs. India's sensitivities on the status and role of public sector employees have been hard to placate. And China continues to follow the "single-union system, under political control of the leading party". It is a situation that renders both unionisation and the process of collective bargaining irrelevant, since working conditions are determined as part of an agreement between the government and the enterprise. The ILO has in the past, expressed itself rather strongly against this situation. And with liberalisation processes in China bringing in new notions of enterprise autonomy and capital mobility, labour rights may be on the threshold of radical change.

Beyond the plain figures of formal ratification, the reality of operationalising these rights is quite another matter. "For their active engagement in pursuing rights," the ILO report observes, "trade unionists can pay with their freedom and even with their lives." Figures compiled from diverse sources, reveal that in 2002, 213 trade unionists were killed worldwide, some 1,000 were injured or subjected to violence, 2,562 were arrested or detained and 89 were sentenced to prison terms.

The number of killings has been tragically inflated by the single case of Colombia, which witnessed no fewer than 184 trade union murders in 2002, mostly, the ILO observes, carried out by "paramilitary groups" and to a smaller extent by "armed opposition groups". There have been "repeated calls" for an international inquiry, but the Governing Body of the ILO has never been able to summon up the required degree of consensus within. A less confrontational course was then adopted, which involves a "special technical cooperation" programme between the ILO and Colombia, intended to create "a minimum basis for protecting fundamental rights". This involves preparing a "map on freedom of association" and tempering some of the most virulent manifestations of anti-union activity such as mass dismissals. The ILO estimates that in 2002 alone, some 40,000 public servants were dismissed from service in Colombia.

By this template, India had a dubious contribution to make to the annals of undemocratic actions: the Tamil Nadu government's mass dismissal of 170,000 striking employees last year, as also their reinstatement, conditioned by the Supreme Court's extraordinary strictures against the right to strike. These events perhaps came too late in the year for the ILO's consideration. But in an extended treatment of the status of public sector employees, the ILO report points out that Convention 87 "applies to all workers, without distinction, although it (does allow) national authorities to make exceptions for the armed forces and police". Convention 98 also leaves an area of discretion for national authorities to decide how far the "guarantees laid down in it apply to the armed forces and the police". Convention 98, however, does stipulate that its provisions shall not be "construed as prejudicing" the "rights and status" of public sector employees in any way.

To clarify all areas of ambiguity, the ILO in 1978 adopted the Labour Relations (Public Service) Convention (or Convention 151), which guarantees the right to organise for "all persons employed by public authorities, to the extent that more favourable provisions in other international Labour Conventions are not available to them". Convention 151 is specific in calling for "protection from anti-union discrimination and the involvement of public employees in decisions affecting them".

The suggestion that public employees should be accorded the right to being heard on major issues is of a piece with the ILO's advocacy of "social dialogue" as a major ingredient of good governance and the development process. Viewed in this light, it is striking how far the 1990s debate on the role of the public sector has proceeded without any real dialogue between the government and its employees. Privatisation was embraced as a reflexive, ill thought through reaction to the fiscal crisis. "Downsizing" of government departments was proposed when public services - from law enforcement to traffic regulation to industrial safety - remain woefully inadequate and essential infrastructure reveals glaring gaps and lacunae.

The ILO report warns that conflict within the public sector could become endemic in a context of growing privatisation and out-sourcing of government functions. In the case of the French public sector, unilateral moves by the government to effect a change in conditions of work and retirement, led to a prolonged strike. Though the new terms proposed were not in themselves adverse to worker interests, a sense of resentment at not being consulted boiled over in industrial action. With worker organisation being high and fiscal constraints generally discouraging wage settlements that could compare with the more rapidly growing sectors of the global economy, the government sphere in future years could be a zone of sharpening friction. A culture of dialogue and a cooperative endeavour to meet larger social goals could well be an antidote. A participatory environment is not merely more effective in preserving harmony, but also in ensuring that basic services reach intended beneficiary groups.

Particularly, vulnerable groups such as agricultural workers, domestic workers and migrant labour, the ILO observes, still remain in large part, excluded from all efforts at organisation. Nearly half the world's workforce derives its livelihood from agriculture. But where legislative barriers are not present, other obstacles to organisation have proven insurmountable. And where collective agreements had been concluded, an ILO survey revealed, they were "either not well respected (41 per cent) or systematically violated (14 per cent)". With the "exception of large plantation sectors in Asia and some African countries", the "representation rates" among farm workers have generally been low. Globally, the ILO survey revealed, there has been no indication "that the number of mass-based organisations representing agricultural workers (has) increased in recent years". It is a problem that the new work processes generated by the process of globalisation has considerably aggravated.

To talk about globalisation of course is also to talk of the obsessive exports push that most developing countries have been compelled to undertake. Between 1975 and 2002, the ILO points out, the number of EPZs increased from 79 in 25 countries, to 3,000 in 116 countries. The number of workers involved now stands at 43 million, of which some 30 million are in China alone. The phenomenon has attained sufficient magnitude to warrant special attention by the ILO. And the prognoses are not entirely hopeful. The lack of worker protections and the inapplicability of national laws in these zones, it has pointed out, "undermine the ability of zones to upgrade skills, improve working conditions and productivity and thereby to become more dynamic and internationally competitive platforms". These in turn mean that intended functions of transferring "technology, expertise and improved production methods to host countries", remain unfulfilled.

The ILO is of course a tripartite organisation that seeks to harmonise the interests of labour, capital and governments. Its prescriptions cling faithfully to the path of moderation, but some of its propositions on freedom at the workplace have the ring of radicalism to them merely because they have come in a context dominated by the discourse of capital. Manifestations of dissent have become increasingly frequent and powerful in recent times. The ILO report now serves as a timely reminder that in speaking of a rights-based approach to development, it is not merely the rights of capital that need to be reckoned with, but the larger democratic rights of the larger mass of the people.

`Early detection of kidney disease is important'

the-nation

Interview with Dr.A. Vishnu Moorthy.

"India cannot afford to manage its rapidly rising chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients. The best long-term option for the country is to resort to preventive and early detection methods," says Dr. A. Vishnu Moorthy, Professor, Department of Medicine, University of Wisconsin, who was in Chennai recently on a Fulbright Fellowship. According to him, the subject of early diagnosis of kidney disease in India raises three questions: why should we diagnose early? How does one diagnose? And what does one do after diagnosis?

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A graduate of Chennai's Stanley Medical College, Dr. Vishnu Moorthy has been on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin's Medical School as a nephrologist since 1977. As a clinician educator, he teaches medical students, internal medicine residents and nephrology fellows.

In 2003-04, on sabbatical from his university, he taught undergraduate and senior medical students at seven medical colleges in Chennai and Vellore in Tamil Nadu and Manipal and Mangalore in Karnataka, where he also lectured large groups of practising nephrologists and primary physicians. He had support from the Fulbright International Scholar Exchange Program and the International Society of Nephrology.

Dr. Vishnu Moorthy lays emphasis on early diagnosis and use of measures to prevent progression of kidney failure. According to him, medical colleges in India do not deal with kidney disease at the undergraduate level. The curriculum covers nephrology selectively, practically ignoring recent developments in early diagnosis and prevention. He feels that the medical students in India are tested more on clinical diagnostic skills and less on laboratory studies or therapeutics. According to him, it is important to address this issue.

Excerpts from the interview he gave Asha Krishnakumar:

What are the reasons for the rising incidence of kidney diseases in India?

Diabetic kidney disease is a worldwide epidemic caused largely by lifestyle changes. People of the Indian subcontinent are more susceptible to diabetes mellitus. Perhaps genetic factors along with lifestyle changes are responsible for the high incidence. WHO [World Health Organisation] estimates are that there will be 57.2 million diabetics in India by 2025; the country will have the dubious distinction of being the diabetes capital of the world.

Why is it important to diagnose CKD early?

CKD is a silent epidemic of the 21st century. Its occurrence is universal; not confined to the developed countries. The numbers afflicted with CKD are going to rise sharply because of the rising incidence of diabetes mellitus and hypertension (two of the major causes of CKD). Now, when patients develop kidney disease, they are managed by renal replacement therapy including haemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis and kidney transplantation. These programmes are also increasingly available in the developing world. Unfortunately, they are not sustainable in the long run due to lack of resources.

Over a million people are on dialysis worldwide, 90 per cent of them in the developed world, which accounts for less than 20 per cent of the world population. So, it is obvious that not all patients in the world have access to renal replacement therapy. That is why early detection of CKD is important.

Despite the effort and expenditure on dialysis, the outcome is not great. The median survival period of patients (aged 55 to 65) on dialysis in the United States today is as low as 2.7 years. This is much less than the outcome of many patients with several kinds of cancer. Kidney transplantation, which is more effective as a renal replacement therapy, is limited by the limited availability of organs. Kidney transplantation is not available in many parts of the world. Hence, it is obvious that early diagnosis and prevention of need for dialysis and transplantation are crucial to prevent CKD fatalities.

Is early diagnosis possible particularly as most often patients tend to meet a nephrologist only when one kidney has failed and the other is working at less than 10 per cent of its capacity? What is your experience in India?

Early diagnosis is possible and prevention of kidney failure requiring renal replacement therapy is feasible. For many patients early diagnosis is actually the difference between life and death.

Information on the incidence and outcome of CKD in India is not available. Unlike elsewhere in the world, there is no end-stage renal disease (ESRD) registry in India. According to information gathered by nephrologists of New Delhi and published in the journal Kidney International in 2002, (Volume 62, page 350), diabetes mellitus is still the main cause of kidney disease in adults in the 40-60 age group. Hypertension accounts for 5 to 15 per cent of the patients.

It is estimated that 100,000 patients develop ESRD every year in India but 90 per cent of them never see a nephrologist. A mere 9,000 are started on haemodialysis every year. But a whopping 60 per cent of them do not come back for dialysis, unable to afford the programme. Nearly 20 per cent of the remaining die because of complications or inadequate dialysis. Some 20 per cent of the patients who consult a nephrologist opt for transplantation from either living related or unrelated donors. Only a small set of patients continues on maintenance dialysis. It is obvious that in India dialysis is not possible for all ESRD patients.

More and more patients are opting for kidney transplantation in India. It is estimated that more than 3,000 transplants are done every year in approximately 100 centres in the country. These are from living unrelated or related donors. Cadaver transplantation is extremely uncommon. Not much of follow-up is available on patients after kidney transplantation. Only a few centres provide post-transplantation information. After kidney transplantation, the patient becomes highly susceptible to infections and the mortality rate varies from 20 per cent to 60 per cent.

Renal replacement therapy is, for the most part, paid by the patients or the family. According to the findings of Dr. M.K. Mani (of Apollo Hospitals, Chennai), published in Kidney International in 2002, it is estimated that haemodialysis in India costs the equivalent of $8,500 a year. Kidney transplantation costs the same amount of money for the first year, but thereafter the annual expense for immunosuppressive medication is up to $3,000 a year. But even these costs are significant and beyond the reach of most patients, when one notes that the per capita income in India in 2000 was only $279. The per capita health expenditure by the Government of India is less than $8. It is unlikely that the government will be able to initiate a programme to support renal replacement therapy. Many nephrologists in India agree that the country cannot afford to treat ESRD.

Thus, it is important to diagnose kidney disease early. Renal replacement therapy, as it is practised today with dialysis and kidney transplantation, is not an option for the large number of patients who are likely to develop ESRD.

How does one diagnose CKD early on?

There are four points I wish to make regarding the early diagnosis of CKD. Early CKD does not cause symptoms. One should routinely evaluate asymptomatic persons who are at high risk for CKD. Adults, especially those in the high-risk group - with strong family history of diabetes, the obese and those with hypertension - should be routinely screened for diabetes and kidney disease.

Serum creatinine and blood urea levels are insensitive markers of kidney dysfunction. Measurement of serum creatinine and estimating the glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) using a formula such as Cockcroft and Gault or the MDRD (Modification of Diet in Renal Disease) is the recommended approach for early detection.

The second approach to detect kidney dysfunction is by urinalysis in high-risk patients. The tests should include a urinalysis and if needed a urine-to-protein/creatinine ratio measurement. In those diabetic patients in whom there is no proteinuria, microalbuminuria is the earliest manifestation of kidney disease.

Lastly, blood pressure should be measured in every adult. Hypertension is also often asymptomatic. Currently persons with a blood pressure higher than 140/90 mm of Hg are hypertensives; most with a systolic blood pressure of 120-140 mm of Hg are said to be pre-hypertensive. The latter should be monitored because they are likely to develop hypertension. In diabetics, the desirable blood pressure is less than 130/80 mm of Hg.

What should be the optimal care of CKD patients so that the disease does not progress?

Once kidney disease develops in a patient, it tends to progress with further loss of kidney function. Several controlled clinical trials have shown effective strategies to prevent progressive kidney damage. These measures are simple and can be instituted by primary care physicians. If necessary, a consultation with a nephrologist, if one is available, may be appropriate.

What are the ways of preventing progression of CKD?

There are eight simple principles that are useful in preventing progression of CKD.

One, early diagnosis of diabetes mellitus, hypertension and other diseases that predispose a person to kidney failure. In high-risk patients early detection is possible by estimating the eGFR and measuring urine protein.

Two, in a diabetic, it is crucial to maintain good glycemic control with therapeutic measures, including weight reduction, dietary management, caloric restriction and use of oral anti-diabetic agents or insulin as necessary. The level of haemoglobin, which should be measured every few months, should be less than seven per cent. Poor glycemic control can cause various complications, including CKD.

Three, control of blood pressure. The blood pressure in a diabetic should be less than 130/80 mm of Hg. This may often be difficult to achieve and will require both dietary measures, such as salt restriction, and multiple medication.

Four, urinalysis and measurement of protein in urine. It has been shown that protein in the urine can further damage the kidney. Patients with greater amount of urinary protein show rapid progression of CKD. Drugs such as angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARB) are effective in reducing both proteinuria and microalbuminuria and have been shown to preserve kidney function. These drugs should be used in patients with diabetes who have proteinuria even when they have normal blood pressure.

Five, dietary modifications, including salt and caloric restrictions, as well as low fat intake.

Six, monitoring of serum lipids. Elevation in serum lipids is shown to be significantly associated with increased morbidity and mortality in patients with kidney disease. Use of drugs of the group called statins has been effective in lowering the serum cholesterol level and preventing cardiovascular morbidity as also in limiting kidney failure.

Seven, management of anaemia with iron supplements or vitamins and use of erythropoietin (EPO). Correction of anaemia has been shown to lower chances of cardiovascular failure in patients with CKD.

Eight, stopping smoking. Smoking is a significant cause of worsening of kidney failure and cessation of smoking alone can decrease kidney failure by as much as 30 per cent.

If a patient with 50 per cent kidney failure is managed on the basis of these principles, it is possible to slow the progression of the disease and postpone the need for dialysis and transplantation for a considerable period.

If, however, one were to initiate these preventive measures when the patient's kidney disease is not advanced, then it is possible that one can induce remission in kidney failure and preserve their functioning for the lifetime of the patient. This would make the costly and scarce programmes of renal replacement therapy unnecessary.

Is preventing the progression of CKD only the job of nephrologists?

This effort to prevent the epidemic of CKD will require participation of the primary care physicians. Nephrologists would need to provide support for the programme. Education of the practising primary physician will be useful. Also important is to include prevention of CKD in the undergraduate medical curriculum so that those beginning to practice after graduation are able to detect CKD early on and manage it. Community awareness of CKD and the participation of government and non-governmental agencies will also be necessary.

How expensive are early diagnosis methods?

Not very expensive, particularly when compared to the cost of managing the rapid rise in CKD patients.

Based on your observations and the feedback from physicians, what are your suggestions for addressing the problem of CKD?

I have a few suggestions. While these are specific to India, they may well be applicable to any country.

India has an increasing number of patients with Type-2 diabetes. In the urban areas, the percentage of adults with diabetes is 12 per cent. Hypertension is also common. Studies have noted that more than 1 per cent of asymptomatic adults in the rural areas have hypertension. The problem of obesity has increased considerably in the recent years. Cigarette sales, which are declining in the developed world, are actually rising in India. The general population and even the medical community are not sufficiently aware that all this raises the risk of cardiovascular and renal diseases. Methods to raise this awareness in the general population must be initiated and must involve the government as well as local and international NGOs. This effort may be performed in conjunction with cardiology and diabetology physician groups. Educating the general public on a healthy lifestyle is likely to be useful in the long run.

Students leaving medical schools are not sufficiently aware of the extent of the problem of CKD. In medical school they are not taught diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to address this problem. The medical school curriculum has to be modified to include these topics. The Medical Council of India, which has an important role in this process, is the right body to address this issue.

Programmes must be streamlined to emphasise CKD prevention and early diagnosis. Recertification is another possible method to educate practising physicians on the newer approaches to CKD prevention.

The tools for early diagnosis are not routinely used in India. Early diagnosis of CKD involves laboratory studies - such as microalbuminuria in a diabetic, or estimation of eGFR by the MDRD formula. These are not familiar to the educator in Indian medical colleges or to practising physicians. Efforts to subsidise these lab tests must be considered. Laboratory standardisation is critical to ensuring reliability of results. Many physicians are hesitant to use medication which may be nephrotoxic as they are unable to rely on lab results from anywhere expect their own hospitals.

The task of patient education and follow-up must be shared by physician extenders - nurses, nurse clinicians, dietitian, clinical pharmacists and social workers - individually or in groups. As of now they are few and underutilised.

These long-term approaches are likely to be physician-intensive and expensive. But they are likely to yield good results if implemented properly with long follow-up periods. The preventive approach is particularly suited to India where half the population currently is under 25.

Over the past several years the International Society of Nephrology has been very helpful in developing the subspecialty of nephrology in India and other developing countries. At this time to manage the epidemic of CKD all practising physicians and medical students - the physicians of tomorrow - will have to be brought on board. Daunting though it may be, this endeavour is likely to yield rich rewards.

Mindless in Gaza

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The latest Israeli atrocities in Gaza provoke the ire of the international community and a section of Israelis themselves.

MAY 2004 was one of the bloodiest months for the Palestinian people since the Arab-Israel war of 1967. In the second week, the Israeli military entered in force the Gaza Strip and chose the Rafah camp as its special target. The Palestinian resistance blew up two Israeli tanks in Zeitun and Rafah, killing 11 Israeli soldiers and the Israeli Army cordoned off Rafah, one of the impoverished areas of Gaza. The Israeli soldiers who perished were part of the force sent by the Israeli government into Rafah to demolish Palestinian houses. The Israeli action followed soon after Prime Minster Ariel Sharon lost a vote within his Likud Party on the issue of the army's withdrawal from Gaza.

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Sharon's plans for Gaza were controversially endorsed by United States President George W. Bush. Sharon had signalled that he was determined to implement his plan of withdrawing troops and Israeli settlers from most of Gaza, but at the same time he did not want the world to interpret the withdrawal as a military defeat at the hands of the Palestinian resistance. The fierce fight put up by groups like the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade has made the continued presence of the Israeli settlement in Gaza untenable. Sharon thought that by leaving a trail of blood in Gaza he would be able to convince the Israeli hawks that he was leaving Gaza on his own terms.

Israeli forces fired missiles and tank shots into a crowd that was protesting against the random demolition of houses and the killing of children. Palestinian officials say that more than 23 Palestinians died in this incident alone. In all, more than 120 Palestinians and around 20 Israelis were killed in May. For more than a week, Israeli forces went berserk, using Apache helicopters to target civilians in their homes and on the streets. More than 100 tanks were used in the operations, which according to the Israeli government, was aimed at closing the tunnels used for smuggling weapons from neighbouring Egypt. But in their week-long siege of Rafah, Israeli officials could show the media only one "tunnel". Even if Israeli propaganda is to be believed, these tunnels were only used to smuggle in AK-47s to fight the Apache helicopters and F-16s used by the Israeli occupation forces against the Palestinian resistance. Palestinian officials point out that the areas in which the Israeli Army launched its most brutal attacks were several kilometres away from the border with Egypt. According to the Palestinian Housing Ministry, more than 1,800 houses have been destroyed by the Israeli Army in Rafah in the past three-and-a-half years. The American peace activist Rachel Corrie was killed by Israeli forces in Rafah while trying to save a Palestinian house from being demolished. (Frontline, April 11, 2003) Palestinian Deputy Foreign Minister Abd Allah Abd Allah issued an impassioned plea to the international community to intervene immediately and stop the "genocide" in Gaza. Graphic TV footage showed some children and boys with their heads virtually blown off.

The mayor of Rafah described the massacre as "Gestapo-like". He said that the Apache helicopter pilots could see the smallest objects. "The pilots knew that they were slaughtering children and women." Abd Allah characterised the international community's reactions to Israel's "acts of murder and terror in Gaza" as completely inadequate. He said that the Bush administration was aware of what the Israelis were doing in refugee camps such as Rafah. "The Americans know quite well what Israel is doing in Rafah. The fact that they don't even condemn these atrocities suggests that the Bush administration is a culprit in these crimes. We have to call a spade a spade, especially when we find it in the hands of the grave-diggers."

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It may have been a coincidence that the murder of innocent Palestinians coincided with the carnage by American forces of Iraqi civilians. A wedding party of more than 40 Iraqis, many of them women and children, were killed by the American occupation forces near the border with Syria around the same time the Israeli Army was on a bloodletting spree in Gaza. However, the wider Arab and Muslim world may be in no mood to give the Americans the benefit of the doubt, perhaps its guilt conscience prompted the Bush administration to take the unprecedented step of not vetoing the United Nations Security Council resolution passed on May 19, criticising the Israeli government's actions in Gaza. Only a few days before this, President Bush had publicly supported Sharon's atrocities. At a fund-raiser organised by an American Jewish group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he said that Israel had the right to defend itself against "terrorism".

Security Council Resolution 1544, which was passed by 14-0, expressed "grave concern at the continued deterioration of the situation on the ground in the territory occupied by Israel since 1967" and condemned "the killing of Palestinian civilians that took place in the Rafah area". The resolution called on Israel to "respect its obligation under international humanitarian law, and insists, in particular, on its obligation not to undertake demolition of homes contrary to that law". The day after the resolution was passed, Israeli forces pushed deeper into Rafah and actually escalated the killing and demolitions. The resolution contains no mechanism for enforcement. Israel knows that as long as it has Washington's tacit backing, it fears no serious consequences.

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Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry has also been careful to not offend the powerful Jewish lobby in American politics. He too has been making statements justifying the Jewish state's right to use indiscriminate force against civilians in the occupied territories. After the events in Rafah, public opinion within Israel seems to be changing. Israeli Justice Minster Yosef Lapid said in the last week of May that the violence perpetrated by the Israeli military in Rafah reminded him of the Holocaust in Germany. Lapid, himself a Holocaust survivor, was quoted by Israeli officials as saying that a picture of an old Palestinian woman on the rubble of her home in Rafah reminded him "of my grandmother in the Holocaust". Lapid said that there "is no forgiveness for people who treat an old woman in this way". Lapid is no peacenik and is known for his hard line views. On May 15, more than 150,000 Israeli demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv to demand the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. It was the result of the first serious effort by the Left in Israel in more than four years to send a serious message to their government.

Earlier the mayor of Rafah, Said Zurub, described the events happening in his town as similar to what Hitler had "done to the Jews". In a thought-provoking article entitled "Symbolic Genocide", an Israeli Professor of Sociology at the Ben Gurion University, Lev Grinberg, said: "Unable to recover from the Holocaust trauma and the insecurity it caused, the Jewish people, the ultimate victims of genocide, are currently inflicting a symbolic genocide upon the Palestinian people." Grinberg describes symbolic genocide as the systematic destruction and eradication of Palestinian symbols, its national leaders and political institutions. "It is a dangerous policy. It poses an existential threat to the Palestinian people, but also to the state of Israel and its citizens, thereby endangering the entire Middle East [West Asia]."

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INDIA too has condemned the atrocities committed by the Israeli occupation forces in Gaza. When the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led government was in power, the pronounced pro-Israeli tilt in foreign policy resulted in cautious statements concerning Israel. With the NDA out of power, the Indian Foreign Office was quick in issuing a strong statement criticising Israel. Condemnations are not enough for the Palestinian people. They want the state of Israel to be held accountable for its grave violations of international law, which include extrajudicial executions, severe restrictions on freedom of movement and the construction of the "separation wall". The international community has so far only stood aside and watched as Israel continued with its illegal acts in the occupied territories. Mainly because of Israeli actions, two-thirds of Gaza's population of 1.3 million live in abject poverty. Many Palestinians believe that the real goal of Ariel Sharon is to destroy as much of the Gaza Strip as possible so that the creation of a viable Palestinian State is jeopardised. It is also meant to be a warning to the Palestinians living in the West Bank that they too will be subjected to inhuman treatment if they keep demanding the implementation of full Palestinian statehood.

When the Israeli occupation forces were venting their fury on Rafah, an Israeli Court convicted the Palestinian leader, Marwan Barghouti, on May 21, on murder charges. He now faces life imprisonment. Barghouti, one of the popular resistance leaders, is the seniormost Palestinian leader in Israeli custody. He refused to acknowledge the right of the Israeli Court to try him, saying that he was illegally abducted from the West Bank city of Ramallah. In a statement, Barghouti said that the Israeli court that sentenced him was a "tool used by the Israeli security to keep committing crimes against the Palestinian people and to give legitimacy to these crimes".

Barghouti, whom many think will one day succeed Arafat, called on the Palestinians "to continue the struggle".

A new beginning

CHARU SINGH in Moscow world-affairs

Relations between the European Union and Russia are put back on track at the end of a high-power summit, where the E.U. agrees to back Russia's bid for entry into the WTO and Putin indicates his willingness to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

in Moscow

FOR most of the post-Soviet decade, relations between Russia and the European Union have been mired in a rather civilised but strategic stalemate over two outstanding issues: Russia's ardent desire for inclusion in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the European Union's demand that Russia ratify the Kyoto Protocol. In a high-power summit held in Moscow on May 21, Russia and the E.U. took a landmark step towards resolving this stalemate: the E.U. promised to back Russia's bid to enter the WTO and, in turn, Russian President Vladmir Putin indicated that Russia may ratify the Kyoto Protocol in the near future. In addition, the two sides discussed a rather complex trade agreement.

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At the end of the deliberations a satisfied European Commission President, Romano Prodi, said: "Both sides gave way in order to accommodate the delicate political and economic issues important to each." Bilateral talks leading up to this summit began six months ago, though most of the groundwork for this deal had been done over the past two-three years. Negotiations intensified after European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref met in Luxembourg on April 27.

President Putin indicated after the summit that the concurrence achieved on the trade deal facilitated the E.U. to back Russia's bid for entry into the WTO and that this could prompt Moscow to move quickly towards a ratification vote on the Kyoto Protocol. "The E.U. has met us half way in talks over the WTO and that cannot but affect positively our position on the Kyoto Protocol," Putin told mediapersons. He stressed that Russia "did not package the issues of WTO and the Kyoto Protocol". Nevertheless, Putin stopped short of giving a firm commitment on Kyoto, saying that certain sections in his government still had concerns about the "obligations" imposed by the treaty and it was "not 100 per cent certain" that Parliament would endorse the treaty.

Analysts, however, are convinced that "horse-trading" did happen at the summit and that there is a clear link between Russia's entry into the WTO and the Kyoto issues. Moscow-based economist Mikhail G. Delyagin, chairman of the Institute for Globalisation Problems (Moscow), indicated to the media that it was clear that Russia had agreed to a quid pro quo. He said: "What Putin said about the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol means that today's summit was not Russia's diplomatic victory at all. Russia has paid for its accession to the WTO by giving up its positions on Kyoto." Moscow's signature is vital for the survival of the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to reduce greenhouse gases to 5.2 per cent below the 1990 level by 2012. However, Putin's turnaround on Kyoto is also expected to put pressure on the United States' decision to abstain from voting on the controversial protocol.

Fears abound in Moscow on the negative impact of the protocol on Russia's economy. As recently as last month, Andrei Illarionov, Putin's economic adviser, indicated that ratifying Kyoto would be equivalent to sending the economy into "Auschwitz". He had then said that "the Kyoto Protocol is a death treaty because its main purpose is to stifle economic growth and economic activity". Analysts interpret these remarks as little more than posturing preceding the summit.

The Russian Academy of Sciences, in a comprehensive report addressed to Putin on the eve of the summit, concluded that compliance with Kyoto would cost the nation "tens of trillions of dollars" over the next century but environmental benefits would be minimal. However, sources within the E.U. believe that ratification of the protocol could lead to substantial gas-saving infrastructure investment and would entail significant European investment in Russia. Analysts also believe that Russia could sell the surplus carbon emission "credits" that were earned due to a temporary decline in production in Russia.

The trade compromise worked out at the summit is especially critical for Russia now. The recent E.U. expansion into the Baltics and Eastern Europe makes the E.U. not only Russia's chief trading partner but also the bulwark of its future economic prosperity. One of the main items on the agenda was the E.U.'s demand that Russia liberalise its gas prices, and a compromise of sorts seems to have been reached on this front. Under strong pressure from the E.U. to raise low domestic gas prices for industrial users, Russia agreed to increase the price from the current $28 to $37-42 per 1,000 cubic metres by 2006 and $49-57 by 2010.

Until now the E.U. was adamant that Russia equalise its gas prices despite the risk of severe damage to its economy and this was held as a condition for its support for Russia's entry into the WTO. But right now it appears as though the E.U. is letting Russia get away with manageable losses. They have asked Russia merely to double its domestic gas price and agreed to Russia maintaining monopoly over the state-owned gas company, Gazprom. However, the E.U. is expected to gain limited access to Russian pipelines, though not transit rights. Export duties on gas will be capped at 30 per cent. In addition to this, compromise was reached on a vast array of other trade issues as well.

On the whole, analysts are optimistic about this deal despite the horse-trading and expect that Russia could end up joining the E.U. as early as the end of this year or in 2005. However, Russia is expected to complete similar agreements with the U.S., China and Japan before this can happen. Further, there is the feeling that with the current rapprochement and the E.U.'s expansion, the dynamics of Russia's relations with the E.U. could undergo a major change. In the post-Soviet period, Russia-E.U. relations were constantly frustrated by these three major issues - WTO, the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and the hiking of gas prices - and many minor issues. However, with the major hitches seemingly removed, the relationship should even out despite minor problems. This is an optimistic development and heralds a new beginning for E.U.-Russia relations.

Tracking Venus

The transit of Venus, which led to the calculation of the Astronomical Unit, has evoked tremendous interest among the scientific community through the ages.

SINCE we know that the sun rises in the east, it would be a surprise if it did on the west. But if one lived on Venus, this is precisely what would happen since the rotational directions of Venus and the earth on their own axes are opposite to each other. Historically, Venus is important in another sense - the comparison of its motion with that of the earth established that planets move around the sun. On June 8, 2004, Venus will `eclipse' the sun, an event that last occurred 122 years ago. In recorded history, people have seen it only five times. Importantly, this is the first time in our own life-time and the first of the only "pair" of transits in the present century, with the next one being in 2012. Unlike Halley's comet, which returns every 76 years, no one has lived long enough to see the "pair" of Venus transits twice. However, the transits are not periodic and prediction of the dates and times must incorporate the motions of both the earth and Venus around the sun.

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The eclipse of the sun by Venus is called a transit because Venus, while moving between the earth and the sun, will not be seen to gobble up the sun. It will be seen as a tiny dot, moving across the sun's disc, that is, it will be seen in transit. The first ever transit of a planet, Mercury, was seen by Pierre Gassendi in Paris in 1631 using the Galilean telescope. Galileo had first used the instrument in 1609 to look into the heavens and a year later to look at Venus. The great astronomer Johannes Kepler had predicted that a transit of Venus was due in 1631, but he did not live to see it; he died in 1630. The rest of the world, too, did not observe it because it occurred after sundown in most of Europe and in other parts of the world people were not aware of Kepler's predictions and even if they were they did not have telescopes to observe the event.

The first recorded observation of the transit of Venus was by British clergyman Jeremiah Horrocks in 1639. The other observer was his compatriot William Crabtree. Horrocks not only observed the event, but also used his observations to measure the distance between the earth and the sun. Called the Astronomical Unit (A.U.), this distance had defied measurement for about 2,000 years at that time. Greek astronomer Aristarchus (circa 310 B.C.-240 B.C.) was the first to try to measure the distance. He observed that if one looks at the sun from two different points on the earth at the same instant of time, the direction of the sun changes. For example, if one moves a distance L on the surface of the earth and finds the direction of the sun to change by an angle , then elementary geometry suggests that the earth to sun distance is given by S=L/. He tried to measure L and the corresponding change, that is, each time he shifted by a certain distance (must be very large) he tried to find the change in the direction of the sun. His results showed that the earth-sun distance was 6,500 kilometres! He also found that the diameter of the sun was about one-tenth of the earth-sun distance. The second result was indeed correct but the first was wrong as Aristarchus took the earth to be a flat disc. About a 100 years after Aristarchus, Erastothenys of Syrene repeated Aristarchus' observations essentially and showed that it was in fact the proper method to find the radius of the earth, considered to be a sphere.

Erastothenys made his observations at two points, Alexandria and Syrene, separated by 5000 stadia. He found that on the solar solstice, while the sun's rays vertically illuminated a well in Syrene, it came at an angle of 70 at Alexandria. The circumference of the earth can be easily calculated to be 2 R = 5000 x 360/7 = 257142 stadia, which finally gives the radius of the earth to be R = 40926 stadia. It is not known what the unit called stadia was, but the above method gave the fundamental principle for determining the radius of the earth, and was one of the greatest experiments in the history of science. It really showed how big the earth really is. We know today that this radius is nearly 6,500 km.

On the appointed day, Horrocks took his 1.5-inch telescope and projected the image of the sun on the wall of a building near his church, magnifying the image to a 6-inch size diameter. The diameter of the image was divided into 30 equal parts, that is, he virtually drew a graph paper with his own hands. Horrocks tried to track the transit from 9 a.m. onwards until 1 p.m. From 1 p.m. to 3-15 p.m., he had to leave for conducting prayers, described by him as "business of highest importance, which for these ornamental pursuits, I could not with propriety neglect". When he returned at 3-15 p.m., he could see the shadow of Venus, as a tiny dot, in transit across the sun. This could not be mistaken for a sunspot, as the size of the dot was larger than that of a typical sunspot. And it moved.

Horrocks wrote: "At this time, an opening in the clouds, which rendered the sun distinctly visible, seemed as if Divine Providence encouraged my aspirations: When, Oh most gratifying spectacle! the object of so many earnest wishes, I perceived a spot of unusual magnitude and perfectly round form, that had just wholly entered upon the left limb of the sun, so that the margin of the sun and spot coincided with each other, forming the angle of contact."

Horrocks could see only three observations, which he recorded, at 3-15 p.m., 3-35 p.m. and 3-45 p.m. He measured the diameter of Venus' shadow and compared it with that of the sun's and found the former to be 4 per cent of the latter. The sun's disc, when viewed from the earth is seen to make an angle of 31'30" (0.5252), while Venus makes 1'16" (0.0210). He found from simple geometry that the method really did not give the earth-sun distance but gave the clue that Venus subtends an angle of 28", that is, 0.0070 at the centre of the sun. He then used an assumption (a remarkably correct one at that) that the earth too subtends an angle of 28 at the centre of the sun. This is called the solar parallax. This automatically gave that the earth-sun distance equals 14,700 times the radius of the earth, which turns out to be 150 million km. And what an astounding number it was - a distance scale no one had ever conceived of.

Man's concept of the universe kept changing. The process that Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus began at a Christian seminary was brought to completion nearly 100 years later. Copernicus said that planets moved in orbits and Horrocks explained how big these orbits were. Such outstanding contributions have come once in several centuries. It was indeed the contribution of a lifetime, at least fate ordained it to be so. Jeremiah Horrocks died at the age of 22, after giving mankind the Astronomical Unit, that is, the equivalent of a "metre scale" for the universe - an act reminiscent of Mozart's completion of his masterpiece, prophetically called `The Requiem', during the time he was terminally ill.

The 1761 transit of Venus received great attention from the astronomical community. As early as 1716, Edmund Halley urged astronomers to conduct expeditions worldwide and to follow the transit. Halley died in 1742 but had seen the 1676 transit of Mercury from the island of St. Helena and commanded the astronomical community from the "gulph of the Ganga to the Kingdom of Pegu" to follow the 1761 event in right earnest. His idea was to find an accurate value of the solar parallax, which he said was within human reach, "without any other instruments than the telescopes and good common clocks and without any other qualifications in the observer than fidelity and diligence, with a little skill in astronomy".

The All India People's Science Network (AIPSN), a science popularisation group, has taken up Halley's cause and plans to mobilise school children to view the 2004 transit and repeat Horrocks' observations through simple experiments and calculate the A.U. for themselves - programmes ideally suited for the year of scientific awareness.

The Venus transit has always attracted experts and also evoked interest among the people, for whom mass viewings have been conducted. In India, the 1874 transit evoked a lot of interest. Chintamani Raghunathachary and Ankitam Venkata Narasinga Rao observed the transit from India. Raghunathachary had produced a book on this event, in Urdu, preparatory to the transit, but his observations are not known. Narasinga Rao made observations of the event from his private observatory in Visakhapatnam and published them in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1875.

Expeditions do produce heroes but they also produce tragic heroes. One such person was French astronomer Joseph Hyacynthe Jean-Baptiste Le Gentile de la Galaisiere. The year 1761 was the time of the Seven Years War between England and France. In spite of hostilities, scientists of warring nations were allowed passage through enemy nations. Le Gentile decided to view the event from Pondicherry, but by the time he arrived, Pondicherry had fallen to the British. He decided to board a ship, sailing to Mauritius and the transit occurred during his voyage, making it impossible to conduct any observation. Undaunted, he waited in Madagascar for the next transit, studying the flaura, fauna, and anthropology of the island. He came to Manila in 1766 but got into problems with the local administration. Le Gentile moved to Pondicherry again for the 1769 transit. The British lent him a telescope for the observation. On June 2, 1769, the weather was perfect but the next day, the due date for the transit, the sky became overcast. Half an hour after the transit, the sky cleared up. The next transit being due in 1874, Le Gentile returned to France. There he found that he was thought to be dead and his property was being distributed amongst relatives. Le Gentile fought and won legal battles for the restoration of his rights. The fascinating story of this tragic hero shows how the pursuit of science produces people of dauntless character, whose only aim is to see the triumph of knowledge.

The people's leader

E.K. Nayanar, 1919-2004

in Thiruvananthapuram

PERHAPS death gave communist leader and former Kerala Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar the most resounding mandate of all. Even seasoned politicians, including close comrades, looked on incredulously at the unprecedented swell of emotion that swept Kerala as crowds, unmindful of the driving monsoon rain, thronged the AKG Centre, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)'s State headquarters, and the Durbar Hall of the government Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram, lined the nearly 600-km route that his funeral procession took overnight in virtually incessant rain from the State capital to his native Kannur district in the north, and waited patiently in serpentine queues at the town halls in Kozhikode and Kannur to have a glimpse of his body. A hero's farewell was finally accorded to him at the Payyambalam beach in Kannur, late in the night on May 21, two days after his death at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi.

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Without doubt, Nayanar had touched the hearts of people irrespective of their politics in a State where he was the longest serving (4,009 days spread across three tenures) Chief Minister. The bond that the genial politician with his seemingly innate populist streak forged with the man on the street, with his rustic dialect-laced humour, earthy logic, endearingly sharp tongue and communist convictions had made him stand apart from most of his political contemporaries who were given to circumlocution and aloofness.

The 85-year-old Nayanar was admitted to the AIIMS on April 26 for advanced treatment of diabetes, after a brief stay at the Medical College Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram earlier. His condition became worse following kidney and heart failure on May 6 when he was put on the life support system.

ERAMBALA KRISHNAN NAYANAR was the last of the generation of political leaders in Kerala, feudal in origin and radical in politics, who had committed themselves to the lot of the ordinary and downtrodden people and earned their uninhibited respect and affection. He was born into wealth and privilege in British-ruled Malabar (north Kerala), at a time when the Congress was considered by the authorities as a recruiting ground for subversives, and communist ideas were sprouting in the country. His father Govindan Nambiar, however, believed in the feudal way of life and would often fly into a rage when the young Nayanar began to frequently don the Gandhi cap as a student volunteer enticed into the national movement by his close relatives, most prominently, uncle and the late communist leader K.P.R. Gopalan.

Nayanar would say later that among the events that made a deep impression on him at that time was the commotion at home and his village following the admission of a Dalit girl in the local family-run school at the behest of K.P.R. Gopalan and his compatriots. Nayanar famously helped in the establishment of a library and named it `Shri' Harshan Library, after Harshan, a member of the oppressed caste who was tortured to death at the Kannur Central Jail for his participation in the national movement.

Northern Kerala then was a den of pervasive class and caste oppression, corruption and brutal policing methods. The first signs of protest too had emerged and like many of his contemporaries Nayanar played an ardent role in the student and youth movements in his native Kalliasseri village. He dropped out of school in his final year, as political activity began to demand much of his time, even running away from home for a brief time when his father beat him up for participating in an anti-liquor agitation. The event led to a change in domestic equations and made him enter politics full time. By the late 1930s, Nayanar had become an active member of the student and farm worker's movements in Malabar and was led into the socialist path by prominent leaders like P. Krishna Pillai.

Nayanar became known as a political organiser soon after he was put in charge of the workers of the Aaron Mill in Kannur district. He was entrusted with the job of organising the mill workers in secret but the union's activities became well-known and the management dismissed about 30 workers. What followed was an indefinite strike by the workers seeking reinstatement of their colleagues and demanding more concessions. The 46-day-long agitation was led by Nayanar locally, with support from Krishna Pillai and the legendary A.K. Gopalan from outside. Rallies of farmers carrying farm produce were held to help the starving families of the agitating mill workers. The agitation spurred the growth of the communist movement in north Kerala even while it firmed up the management's resolve to suppress it. Workers and their leaders, including Nayanar, were beaten up and arrested.

Kerala was in turmoil by the time Nayanar came out of jail after six months. The Pradesh Congress Committee with its socialist orientation was then organising a protest against rising prices of essential commodities and the oppressive policies of the government. Nayanar was one of the organisers of a protest rally at Morazha in Kannur district on September 15, 1940, in which a sub-inspector and a head constable belonging to a police party trying to disrupt the meeting were killed. Nayanar went into hiding for over six years without realising that he was not listed as an accused in the case. During this period he played an important role in the establishment of the communist and farm worker's movements in Kasaragod district and south Karnataka. In fact, Nayanar's elder brother was instead named as the accused in the case and sentenced to life imprisonment, at the initiative reportedly of the managers of the Aaron Mill.

Like many members of the fledgling communist movement, Nayanar too was intoxicated by the thrill of organising the party. Under Krishna Pillai's instructions, he worked in the Kayyur-Cheemeni areas of Kasaragod district, even while trying to escape detection by the police. A strong movement had grown in a short period of time against the oppressive feudal system. A head constable who tried to abuse and beat up some activists leading a demonstration was stoned by party workers. The constable jumped into the river Tejaswini and drowned. The police then unleashed a reign of terror at Kayyur. Nayanar and a few of his friends escaped to the forests of East Eleri. Nayanar was listed as the third accused in the case, though he was not directly involved in the particular incident. Four other accused in the case were sentenced to death. He continued to work for the party incognito until 1946, when the new provincial government decided to drop the case.

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In later years, Nayanar used to recite a Malayalam poem repeatedly to his comrades, which roughly translated, meant: "A life, however beautiful, my friends, has something missing in it, if it has not been to the hangman's chambers, the prison or the battle field." It had a lot of meaning for Nayanar, who had indeed worked "underground" in all regions of the State. After the Kayyur incident, Nayanar had switched his area of activity to Travancore (south Kerala) where, masquerading (initially) as a proof reader in a prominent Malayalam newspaper, Kerala Kaumudi, he organised party activities from Thiruvananthapuram to Kanyakumari and later in Kottayam and Alappuzha. Nayanar devoted boundless energy to the communist cause and rose in the Communist Party of India (CPI), becoming the Kannur taluk secretary in 1948 and the Kozhikode district secretary in 1955. In most of his media interviews, Nayanar reminded everyone in his inimitable naughty style: "Does (Chief Minister) A.K. Antony know every panchayat in Kerala? He does not. But I know every village in this State like the back of my hand. There is no place where I have not been in hiding from the police."

Nayanar was a member of the national council and State executive of the undivided CPI. When the party split in 1964, he was among the 32 members who walked out of the CPI national council to form the CPI(M). He became a Member of Parliament in 1967 from Palakkad but faced defeat five years later, in Kasaragod. In 1972, he found himself at the helm of affairs of the CPI(M) when he was elected the party State secretary. He fought a tough by-election at Irikkur in Kannur district to become a member of the State Assembly for the first time in 1974.

Six years later, the party chose him to lead the first Left Democratic Front (LDF) coalition in government as Chief Minister. Nayanar, with his guileless persuasive skills, was the natural choice then to lead an experimental coalition after nearly a decade. However, the government fell in 20 months, when a section of Congress MLAs led by A.K. Antony withdrew support to it. But when the people grew weary of the successor Congress-led United Democratic Front government, the LDF won an impressive victory again in 1987, though it had declared a no-truck policy with the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a bold one in the coalition-ruled State.

A new pattern was emerging in the public life of Nayanar. During the election campaign, though (then) party colleague K.R. Gouri Amma was reported to be the choice for new Chief Minister, eventually it was again, Nayanar. He became Chief Minister once again in 1996, though he did not contest the election and was leading the party as its State secretary. But when the then Opposition leader V.S. Achuthanandan, who was expected to be the Chief Minister, suffered defeat at the CPI(M) stronghold of Mararikkulam in Alappuzha district, Nayanar got the top post. Nayanar would always say that he would forcefully argue in support of his viewpoints within the party fora, but once the party took a decision, "like a true communist, I would abide by it and support the party view in public".

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EVEN during the early 1980s, Kerala was seeing an amazing transformation in the public profile of Nayanar, from an old-fashioned communist organiser to an egalitarian man of the masses, a charming speaker, an impertinent and witty political entertainer whom the crowds, comrades and political opponents loved to watch and listen to. People began to demand his affable presence and assurance at every public occasion and, like a lucky mascot, Nayanar led the LDF government when it launched all of Kerala's best known developmental and welfare initiatives since the land and educational reforms of the first communist Ministry led by E.M.S. Namboodiripad. They included the successful efforts to strengthen the public distribution system, to boost agricultural production and to decentralise power (through the district council experiment) and the inspiring mass campaigns that made Kerala the first fully literate State in the early 1990s. It was during his last stint as Chief Minister that the LDF launched the People's Planning Campaign in 1996, the radical experiment in democratic decentralisation that caught the attention of the world.

Nayanar lived modestly, but Kerala was not always sure how to deal with such a politician. Their Chief Minister next door and their party secretary perhaps did not understand the niceties of his position, but it was a delight watching him on stage or on camera, especially in one of his waspish moods. He had a manner of saying obvious truths in a hilarious way, abruptly, flashing his toothy grin, vivifying the most serious of political occasions. It never failed to make the audience roar with laughter. He showed an effortless irreverence in the use of unfamiliar ideas and languages such as English. No topic daunted him. He was not a stickler for protocol.

Although he was an extremely skilful politician, he sometimes liked to call himself a journalist. Indeed, he edited the party's Malayalam newspaper, Desabhimani. His favourite second newspaper was The Hindu. He read a lot and wrote several books and some poems (after a fashion). Whatever his other hobbies were, spending money was not one of them, as his doting wife Sarada ("retired teacher," as Nayanar fondly used to describe her) would tell everyone. He gave his wife and children the freedom to choose the life they wanted, not necessarily as communists, to believe in god, to worship in temples and to select their vocation. He had a sweet tooth and even during his last days would reach for payasam at an opportune moment when his wife or comrades turned away their attention. He also used to puff at a beedi, clandestinely. All this is part of the Nayanar lore in Kerala.

But, significantly, throughout the rough and tumble of coalition rule in such a politically volatile State, it is this lore and the person behind it that persuaded a lot of simple people in Kerala into believing that besides ideological commitment, a lot of pragmatism too was needed in day-to-day politics to run democratic governments. It is this quality that has found Nayanar a place in the hearts of the people of the State, and perhaps makes him one of the most popular communist leaders Kerala has produced, along with E.M.S. Namboodiripad and C. Achutha Menon, multi-faceted personalities known more for their intellectual prowess and administrative skills. With his heart never far from the red flag, Nayanar, on the other hand, could literally present himself to the party as a leader who could help it concoct a winning political formula on several occasions.

A variety of lovable cartoon characters have been cast in Nayanar's image, wearing a banian, a chequered lungi, a headband and smoking a beedi, and constantly in conversation with the common man on everyday problems of life and politics. It is this interactive Nayanar who came to life in myriad ways for thousands of people in Kerala as they watched his eldest son light the pyre at the Payyambalam beach and his comrades raised the slogan: "No! No! Nayanar is not dead! He lives, he lives, he lives through us!"

Bread and kozhi curry

ERAMBALA KRISHNAN NAYANAR - in his 47-year-old life Narender Kumar had not heard the name even once. But on the morning of May 21, Nayanar's name and a host of images associated with him practically arrested the attention of this coiffeur, hailing from Bijnor in western Uttar Pradesh, in the most unusual manner.

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As is his wont, Kumar was surfing television channels at his modest haircutting salon in west Delhi before beginning the day's work. That is when he saw those visuals aired by a couple of Malayalam channels - hundreds of thousands of people braving torrential rains to have a glimpse of the mortal remains of an aged man. "Who is this, whose death has evoked such massive grief in lakhs of men and women, young and old?" was the question that passed through Kumar's mind as he sat watching the visuals.

It was with this question that he stopped me - one of his few south Indian acquaintances - near his salon. What I told Kumar initially was the bare, journalistic information about Nayanar. That he was a freedom fighter who fought many heroic battles against British colonialism, that he was one of the foremost leaders of the strong communist movement in Kerala, that he had three terms as Chief Minister of the State and that he and his movement had done immense service to the people.

Kumar was hearing about Nayanar for the first time in his life, but he did not take much time to dismiss my matter of fact, almost bland, reporting about the leader. "Saab, what you have said about this man can be said about many other politicians too. I have also seen some, in Uttar Pradesh and in Delhi, and many of them had fought for the country's Independence, led their parties and did service to the people. But I do not think any one of them would have got a farewell like this." Kumar was certain that I had missed out on a vital qualitative dimension of the special bonding between Nayanar and his admirers and followers.

Of course, I had missed out. For, no journalistic description can really capture the emotional essence of the relationship that existed - and continues to exist - between Nayanar and the people of Kerala. Over the last 22 years, I have had intermittent interactions with Nayanar and have seen some manifestations of this unique relationship. And, trying to analyse them, I realise that it is almost impossible to define the chemistry between Nayanar and the masses.

At one level, the relationship was not even about politics; it was about basic human characteristics like affection and love. At another, it was about a very political factor called accessibility to the people, a quality increasingly becoming absent among `contemporary' politicians.

THE memory of one afternoon in the small village of Madikai in the north Kerala district of Kasaragod remains with me as one of the most amazing expressions of affection that this politician evoked among the people. It was 19 years ago, in 1985, during the campaign for a by-election in Uduma, an Assembly constituency in the district.

Madikai had about 300 houses and an adult population of around 1,200 people at that time. The panchayat was a known Communist Party of India (Marxist) stronghold and Nayanar had stayed `underground' in the village during the freedom struggle and in the early days of India's Independence as the undivided Communist Party of India pursued the "Calcutta thesis" calling for an armed struggle against the Indian state.

In 1985, I was the district correspondent of Deshabhimani, a Malayalam daily, and often used to accompany Nayanar in his by-election campaign tours. On that day there was a public meeting at Madikai and it was around lunchtime that the meeting concluded. Since Nayanar had a long personal association with the village and its people, the local party unit had prepared one of the leader's favourite dishes - bread and kozhi (chicken) curry.

The lunch was organised at a house close to the venue of the meeting and Nayanar and those who accompanied him ate a sumptuous meal. Lunch over, Nayanar and I started our return journey to the nearby town of Kanhangad. Our car hardly moved about 100 metres when we saw an elderly woman standing in the middle of the road.

Obviously, she was determined to stop the car. "Is that not Kausalya, one of our comrades?", Nayanar recognised the woman instantly. The car was stopped and Nayanar got out to meet the party worker. But Kausalya had come to invite her leader for lunch. She had also prepared bread and kozhi curry. She would have none of Nayanar's protestations against a second lunch and the two of us were forced to have a `small bite' in the house of this comrade too.

Once again, we said good bye and the car started moving. About 100 metres away stood another woman in her fifties, again on the middle of the road. Nayanar recognised this comrade too and stopped the car to meet her, only to be barraged by a volley of complaints. How could Nayanar eat in other houses when she and her family had prepared bread and kozhi curry and were waiting for him all this while? Nayanar tried to explain that he had two lunches already and had no "space" for one more, but the CPI(M) activist did not want to hear all that.

At one stage in the conversation, an agreement was reached that the food would be packed and eaten later. By that time, more local party workers surrounded the car and they gave an astonishing piece of news. Close to a hundred households in the village had prepared bread and kozhi curry in the hope that the leader would chose their house to have lunch.

Clearly, the expression of love of the people of Madikai for their leader had created a small `crisis' in the village. Finally, it was decided that the kozhi curry and bread from all the houses would be packed and taken to Kanhangad for workers at the central election office.

A huge vessel, generally used to cook wedding lunches, was called for and all the kozhi curry was poured into it. It found its way into the trunk of the car. The backseat of the car presented a bizarre picture at the end of `operation food packing' - Nayanar on one side of the seat and a huge pile of bread on the other. The effort, of course, was not wasted. Workers at the central election office had a great evening meal that day.

Later, inquiries revealed that the local party unit had made it clear well in advance as to where Nayanar would have his lunch that day. Still, each household hoped privately that Nayanar would finally come to that house. Such a hope was founded essentially on the way Nayanar carried himself as a politician and as a human being.

I have travelled with Nayanar throughout the length and breadth of Kerala and have noticed with wonder how he remembers the names of people and places, including those of remote and obscure streets.

When he talked to people it was not only about ideological issues, but also about little things such as the education of children and marriages in the family. And his language was never coloured by "politicalese"; it was the robust language of the rural man.

I would think it was such characteristics of the man that resulted in a farewell that moved Narender Kumar to sit up and take notice of a south Indian leader he had never heard about earlier. Watching Kumar as he learns to pronounce the name of a leader he discovered rather late in life I get a telephone call from Ravi, a beedi worker from my home town of Kannur. Ravi asked a simple but pained question: "How long will people like me have to wait to get another leader on whose shoulder I could put my arms and talk about personal problems and clear my political doubts?"

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Oct 9,2020