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COVER STORY

16-07-2004

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Briefing

The man behind the image

A.G. NOORANI cover-story

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Bharatiya Janata Party's mask of moderation so far, has in fact been an unwavering adherent of the Sangh Parivar's credo and policy, whether on Hindutva, the Babri Masjid, or the communal riots in India since 1967.

"EVEN a despot exercises his powers in accordance with his character, which is itself moulded by the circumstances under which he lives, including under that head the moral feelings of the time and the society to which he belongs. The Sultan could not, if he would, change the religion of the Mohammedan world... . People sometimes ask the idle question why the Pope does not introduce this or that reform? The true answer is that a revolutionist is not the kind of man who becomes a Pope, and that the man who becomes a Pope has no wish to be a revolutionist."

These scintillating words of the great constitutional lawyer, A.V. Dicey, provide a clue to a correct assessment of the outlook and character of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. His remarks on the Gujarat pogrom, on June 12 and 13, followed by the usual "clarification" on June 14, must be read with his entire record during the gory episode, since February 27, 2002, and its aftermath to this day. They reveal the man behind the image.

A product of the Sangh Parivar, Vajpayee had not acquired power on its behalf, as Prime Minister, in order to dilute its ideology or foil its programme. He himself held out no such promise. He said in 1996: "Let me make it clear that all this is part of the Left's Goebbelsian propaganda - I am a moderate, the party is not; I am secular, the party is not" (Frontline, November 15, 1996).

In truth, the Left had no such illusions. They were nursed by some in the media and outside who, appalled at the grossness of the Parivar's words and deeds, sought comfort in Vajpayee's occasional and calculated expressions that distinguished him from the rest. But, not once did he depart from the Sangh's credo or its policy; whether on the Babri Masjid, Hindutva or on the "communal riots" from 1967 to this day. Not once did he express any sympathy for the Muslims; not once.

Reports of the Commissions of Inquiry on the Ahmedabad (1969) and Bhiwandi (1970) riots belied the charges he freely made against Muslims. In the debate in the Lok Sabha, on May 14, 1970, he was intemperate to a degree and invited a tongue-lashing from Indira Gandhi (Rajdeep Sardesai published excerpts from his speech in Indian Express on April 23, 2002).

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During the recent election campaign, Vajpayee and his deputy and Home Minister L.K. Advani made a bid for Muslim votes; but, without offering any concessions whether on the Babri Masjid or any other issue. They stooped so low as to give a communal colour to the peace process with Pakistan when addressing Muslim audiences. Vajpayee's set refrain was: "Gujarat should never have happened and we should all resolve that in future Gujarat will never happen again" (emphasis added, throughout). The "we" was typical. Narendra Modi and the BJP-VHP-Bajrang Dal goons were not exclusively responsible for the pogrom. Rather inconsistently, in Ahmedabad on January 13, 2004, Vajpayee pleaded for forgiveness from their Muslim victims - who have yet to be rehabilitated. "One who forgives is a greater person that one who seeks forgiveness."

Equally belated was his promise: "Those guilty will be punished." He knew only too well then that the Gujarat government headed by Narendra Modi, which was responsible for launching prosecutions, had absolutely no intention of punishing the guilty. Some of its Ministers were among them. Why make false promises and play with people's emotions? A plea for "forgiveness" is an admission of "wrongdoing" and guilt. Vajpayee has consistently defended Modi and consistently cited the Godhra carnage in mitigation, if not justification. Incidentally, he did not plead for forgiveness for the Godhra criminals. Rightly so. Gujarat is equally unforgivable.

Vajpayee's post-poll cries, on June 12 and 13, were provoked by the shock of unexpected electoral defeat and loss of power; which is why they are incoherent and inconsistent. On June 12 Vajpayee told the press: "One impact of the violence was that we lost the elections." He said emphatically: "The BJP's handling of Gujarat was not wrong," adding, "They (the Opposition) tried to reap political benefits out of it." Then why did he speak of Modi's dismissal the very next day? Vajpayee revealed that when, in April 2002, "the entire responsibility on this issue was put on me... I felt that holding elections [to the State Assembly] would be more beneficial."

He knew that those elections would be held in a charged atmosphere and communal polarisation - to the BJP's gain. Modi had no qualms about arousing communal emotions during the election campaign. He hurled threats at "Mian Musharraf". Speaking at Bhuj on November 30, Advani said, "Let there be a fourth war with Pakistan." The pogrom and its aftermath - together with the State and the Central governments' policies - yielded the desired result in the polls held on December 12, 2002. The BJP bagged 127 of the 182 seats. The Assembly had been dissolved on July 19 to reap immediate rewards. They were delayed thanks only to the Election Commission.

But this strategy failed dismally in the Lok Sabha elections in Hindutva's laboratory, Gujarat. The BJP won only 14 of the 26 seats. The Congress bagged 12. It is the shock of this result and the spectre of defeat in the next Assembly polls - the political cost and not the mayhem and the loss in human lives - that induced retrospect in Vajpayee: "We did not realise that this strategy would be exploited so much outside Gujarat... . The kind of films that were distributed... . The whole thing was run like a campaign." This has been a recurring theme in his utterances and those of Advani - the pogrom, its perpetrators and abetters, directly or by deliberate inaction, should not be exposed to the public. "Sometimes speaking the truth may not be an act of responsibility," Advani admonished journalists on April 6, 2002 - at Tirupati, of all places (The Telegraph, April 7, 2002). That is his raj dharma (the ethics of governance).

Since the thought of Modi's sacking was inspired by politics, not ethics, its recantation was easy once other political considerations were brought to his notice on June 14 by BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu, who also said: "The propaganda on the Gujarat riots by the Opposition did hurt us." On this, both are agreed. But Venkaiah Naidu and the rest feel that dropping Modi now would hurt the BJP's interests. Since Vajpayee had gone public, a public snub was required with Advani's backing - Modi's ouster would not even be discussed. That done, the usual mollification of Vajpayee followed. If Narendra Modi is ever sacked, it will not be because he performed as a Nero in 2002 but because he failed to perform as a hero in 2004. However, on June 22, in Mumbai in his presidential address to the National Executive, Venkaiah Naidu did more than reaffirm the Hindutva commitment. He suggested thrice that "the BJP is not a personality-based party". An ungrateful remark considering how Vajpayee's photograph had been printed on almost every page of the BJP's manifesto. Venkaiah Naidu could not have spoken thus without Advani's backing. Time will reveal the effects of this snub.

Not for the first time the Parivar cut Vajpayee down to size; not for the first time either did he buy peace with it on its terms. It was in Mumbai in 1995 that Advani had anointed Vajpayee as leader on the eve of the 1996 general elections. It was in Mumbai again that he showed Vajpayee his proper place now that the polls are over. What began with a bang at Manali on June 13 ended in Mumbai as a poor joke on June 24. No words were left unsaid to mollify Vajpayee, of course. But he would do well to remember a Gujarati saying gala kati ne pagdi pinao (Narendra Modi will translate it for him - "slit the man's throat and crown his head with a turban of honour"). It was a vastly diminished Vajpayee who emerged from the Mumbai session of the BJP executive. He will campaign vigorously to retain his position. The Opposition will teach him to ridicule. The people of Maharashtra will not forget the ridiculous condition to which he reduced himself in the State's capital.

Gujarat could not have happened if the BJP regime had not signalled to its men that they would not be called to account if they persecuted members of any minority community. It began with attacks on Christians in the Dangs district in Gujarat in 1998, no sooner the BJP-led NDA government came to power at the Centre. Vajpayee simply called for a debate on conversions. Before long, Gujarat was in the throes of attacks on Christians. The Archbishop of Delhi, Alan de Lastic, noted later on November 22 that they had increased "ever since the government came to power at the Centre". On December 4, around 23 million Christians, across the country observed a protest. On October 8, Gujarat's Director-General of Police C.P. Singh said authoritatively: "One thing was clear in the pattern of incidents. It was the activities of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal who were taking the law into their own hands, which posed a serious danger to peace in Gujarat." Yet, Advani said in Baroda on August 2: "There is no law and order problem in Gujarat." Neither the Prime Minister nor the Home Minister would condemn the outrages or their identified perpetrators.

Advani asked the Lok Sabha on December 16 not to give a communal colour to the attacks. Ergo, a rape should not be invested with "gender bias", nor a pogrom with group hate. He said: "Apprehensions were expressed in many quarters that there would be a lot of bloodshed if the Vajpayee government came to power but the facts tell an entirely different story."

At the Inter-State Council meeting on January 22, 1999, Advani expressed a "firm view" that the Centre had a constitutional duty "to keep constant vigil monitoring ground realities in the entire country very closely". It was a regime of double standards. Soon after becoming Union Home Minister in March 1998, Advani sent a team of officials to Chennai to prepare a case for dismissal of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Ministry headed by M. Karunanidhi, in order to fulfil his election promise to ally Jayalalithaa, the AIADMK supremo. The officials could find not a tittle of evidence of breakdown of law and order. Later in the same year, an attempt was made to sack the Bihar government despite President K.R. Narayanan's minutes recording his objections on September 25, 1998. If ever there was a case for imposition of President's Rule on grounds of collapse of law and order in the State, it was in Gujarat in March 2002. But Narendra Modi was spared despite clear proof of his personal encouragement and the active complicity of some of his Ministers, MLAs and police officials in the killings. A government at the Centre that connives at this is equally culpable. It also deserves the censure the Supreme Court administered to Narendra Modi in the Best Bakery case in words that will never be forgotten. "Those who are responsible for protecting life and properties and ensuring that investigation is fair and proper seem to have shown no real anxiety. Large number of people lost their lives... . The modern day `Neros' were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be saved or protected" (Zahira Habibullah H. Sheikh vs. State of Gujarat (2004) 4 Supreme Court Cases 158, pages 197-198). Fifty-eight persons were burnt to death in coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express around 7-48 a.m. on February 27, 2002, near the Godhra railway station. There is a good survey of the mayhem that followed in Gujarat in the Report of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal: Crime Against Humanity, Vols. 1 and 2.

A record of Vajpayee's comments from March 1, 2002, to this day does more than put his recent remarks in perspective. It is of decisive importance in any appraisal of his personality as a politician and worth as India's Prime Minister. It was a moment of trial that tested him. But neither humanity nor morality governed his or Advani's responses. They were shaped by politics throughout from the very beginning to this day.

On February 27, Janyala Sreenivas and Darshan Desai reported from Ahmedabad: "Both Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Home Minister L.K. Advani strongly urged the VHP to exercise restraint in the wake of the Godhra killings today. May be their message would have been more effective had they slipped in a couple of words for their own party and government in Gujarat. For, there is evidence to show that both the State and the party are actively pitching in for the VHP's current Ayodhya campaign and no one is shy of admitting it" (emphasis added, Indian Express, February 28, 2002). All distinctions were gone. The State government, the BJP and the VHP were one. If the correspondents knew it, so did the Prime Minister and Home Minister, surely. That unity came into full play during the pogrom.

On March 1, Vajpayee and leaders of all major political parties issued an appeal for peace. Speaking to the press, Advani "appeared confident that... the administration would be able to bring back normality" (The Hindu, March 2). In fact, Vajpayee and Advani were more concerned with the VHP's March 15 deadline for shifting the carved stones to Ayodhya to build a temple there than its crimes in Gujarat. They "met RSS leaders to discuss not what the RSS activists were doing in Gujarat, but the Ayodhya issue" (Manoj Joshi and Siddharth Varadarajan, The Times of India, March 2). The RSS played a clever game. It acted as a mediator between both its creatures, the BJP and VHP. The BJP sought its help to rein in the VHP; the RSS obliged on its own terms, extracting more concessions. On March 2, the Prime Minister spoke on television of this "black mark on the nation's forehead" which had "lowered India's prestige in the world". He was busy simultaneously seeking the RSS' help to restrain the VHP on Ayodhya (The Hindu, March 31).

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In Ahmedabad, on March 3, Advani spoke of "a black spot that undid all the good work done by us in the past four years". While he dubbed Godhra as a "premeditated act of terrorism", he characterised the pogrom as a "communal, flare-up" fuelled by the heightened passions; a variant of Modi's thesis: "reactions by the masses" to the Godhra carnage. "The visit, all of six days after the Sabarmati Express killings, was a let-down. Advani skirted most sensitive areas including Naroda, Chamanpura and Bapunagar, and at the press meeting he looked like he had yet to come to grips with the situation" (Vinod Sharma and Chandan Nandy; The Hindustan Times, March 4). He was clearly disinterested. So was Vajpayee. He regretted the "disgraceful" violence but blamed the media for its "exaggerated" reports when he met activists on March 3. The media should play a "constructive" role. He rejected their plea to ban the VHP and the Bajrang Dal.

On March 6, an all-party meeting was convened in Delhi. On March 11, Advani gave himself away in the Rajya Sabha. He defended Modi, said that the reaction to Godhra was "selective", claimed that never before in Gujarat had such "communal violence" been controlled within 72 hours, and claimed that a large number of those killed were Hindus. Vajpayee gave no indication that his feelings were different.

A correspondent in Ahmedabad reported on March 24 that Gujarat "continues to burn" - long after Advani's 72 hours. The burning would end, Modi said on March 24, only when the Lok Sabha session concluded. "There is a systematic attempt made by hypocrites sitting in Delhi to exaggerate the Gujarat situation and they are using Parliament." Vajpayee summoned Modi for a briefing on March 27, when Advani was also present.

It was only on April 4 that Vajpayee went to Ahmedabad, seven weeks after the killings broke out. Rhetoric never fails him. Rajdharm ka palan kare ("uphold the ethics of governance"), he famously said, having failed to follow the maxim himself as Prime Minister. There were the predictable expressions of sorrow, "heart-rending" and personal concern: "With what face, I do not know, will I go abroad after all has happened here." Already by then Modi had flouted the Prime Minister's directive on March 27 on rehabilitation measures. People noted that he first visited the burnt carriage at Godhra as if it was a place of pilgrimage. It was to highlight the thesis of cause and effect, which he advocated - along with Modi.

Only a week later, at the BJP's National Executive meeting in Goa on April 12, Vajpayee revealed himself in his true colours, for all time. No Prime Minister has ever spoken publicly in disparagement of a section of his own people and of the faith to which they subscribe as Vajpayee did on April 12. That he did so while defending Narendra Modi, the man responsible for the carnage that had engulfed Gujarat since February 28 and while a lakh of Muslims lay forlorn in relief camps, only aggravates an offence that is grave enough even on a textual reading of his remarks.

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Vajpayee said, first, "what happened after the Godhra incident is reprehensible, but the issue is, who started it?" This was communal linkage in its grossest form. Not the identified individual criminals of Godhra, but the Muslim community "started it" and bore responsibility for what it had suffered. Victims of a carnage are taunted, not consoled; still less succoured.

Secondly, the Muslim community was condemned en bloc globally. "Wherever there are Muslims, they do not want to live with others. Instead of living peacefully, they want to preach and propagate their religion by creating fear and terror in the minds of others." There were problems even in Indonesia and Malaysia, which have large Muslim populations. "Islamic fundamentalists are spreading terror and intimidation. This is [the] opposite [of] the culture of Hinduism."

The arrest of Al Qaeda activists in Singapore inspired this remark from Vajpayee. "Wherever Muslims live in large numbers, the rulers apprehend that Islam could take an aggressive turn."

Thirdly, "we" are different from and superior to the "later arrivals"; "we were secular even in the early days when Muslims and Christians were not here. We have allowed them to do their prayers and follow their religion."

It is necessary to set out these propositions for two reasons. An attempt was made through a sanitisied text to refute reports in reputed dailies and even in television coverage by citing his later corrections. "I had said Islam [sic] has two forms. One is that which tolerates others... . But these days militancy in the name [sic] of Islam leaves no room for tolerance." But what he had actually said was: "Once Islam meant toleration, truth and compassion. From what I see now, it has come to mean forcing their opinion through terror and fear. Islam [sic] is run on jehad."

Vajpayee knows that every faith preaches compassion but has followers who practise terror in its name. That he overlooked the VHP and the Bajrang Dal's doings and contrasted Islam with Hinduism was significant. He was Prime Minister and his remarks had grave constitutional implications for our secular polity.

Vajpayee's comments in Goa about Islam and Christianity as later arrivals - whose followers are "allowed" to practise their religion - were inconsistent with his address to the Iranian Majlis on April 11, 2001. He had stated in Teheran: "We do not consider any religion foreign to us. For nearly a thousand years, Islam has been part and parcel of our national life."

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Two days later came the usual Vajpayee "clarification". He had referred to "some people", a claim belied by Neena Vyas' report in The Hindu and Smriti Koppikar's quote from the original in Hindi in Indian Express (Harjagah jahan Muslims bahut sankhya mein rahte hain: Wherever Muslims live in large numbers). Even the Lok Sabha's record was doctored. On May 16, Vajpayee admitted in the House that he had interpolated the word "such" before "Muslims". Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi pointed out that in the video recording of the Goa speech, the word "such" did not find place. Vajpayee admitted it was a "corrected version". Passions spin the plot: /We are betrayed by what is false within - Meredith.

In the Lok Sabha on May 1, Vajpayee launched a frantic damage control exercise: "It seems I have lost all I have earned in my life. I have never discriminated against anybody in my life on the basis of caste or religion", not even in his speeches on communal riots presumably or on the Jan Sangh's "Indianisation" programme. On the Babri Masjid he himself said that he spoke as a Swayamsewak of the RSS and as a Hindu (Indian Express, April 7, 1989). He announced a Rs.1,500-crore rehabilitation project. But the old Adam surfaced irrepressibly. "Had the Sabarmati Express train incident been condemned, the subsequent violence could have been avoided."

The Rajya Sabha unanimously adopted a motion moved by Arjun Singh on May 6: "This House expresses a deep sense of anguish at the persistence of violence in Gujarat for over six weeks leading to the loss of lives of a large number of persons, destruction of property worth crores of rupees and urges the Central government to intervene effectively under Article 355 of the Constitution to protect the lives and properties of citizens and to provide effective relief and rehabilitation to the victims of violence."

By then Vajpayee's authority had reached a nadir. In July 2001, Advani overruled him and wrecked the Agra Sumit. In April 2002 he overruled Vajpayee on his choice of the presidential candidate, Vice-President Krishna Kant. On June 29 Vajpayee submitted. He made Advani Deputy Prime Minister.

Advani rejected (July 23) demands for relief and rehabilitation before the Assembly polls, accused (July 7) "vested interests" of prolonging the violence, and said (July 24) that Narendra Modi's handling of riots was the best job by any Chief Minister in the past 50 years (Asian Age, July 25).

Father Cedric Prakash found the situation as bad as before. He has been harassed, as were Medha Patkar and Mallika Sarabhai.

As the election campaign began in Gujarat, Modi poured venom in speech after speech. He told Muslims: "You have missed the bus again and again to improve relations with Hindus and establish your secular credentials... you cannot expect one side to always condone your crimes and still maintain good relations between the two communities. One community alone cannot ensure peace and communal harmony" (Manas Dasgupta, The Hindu, November 12). This, after a pogrom over which this Nero had presided.

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Neither Vajpayee nor Advani pulled him up. In the Lok Sabha on November 18, Advani said: "An impression was being created the world over that Muslims were not safe as long as there were Hindus in Gujarat." This palpable and mischievous falsehood drew a protest from Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi. But Advani was unrepentant. Indeed, on November 27, he threatened to highlight Godhra during the election campaign if the Opposition accused the BJP and Modi of encouraging communalism. Debates in Parliament "only give strength to me and my party's leader in Gujarat".

Modi's electoral triumph confirmed Vajpayee in his belief that he was right, after all. His speech at the BJP's Parliamentary Party meeting on December 17, 2002 was in the same vein as the Goa speech before the National Executive on April 12. He sang a different tune only after the electoral debacle in May 2004. This is what he said on December 17: "Why didn't many people of the Muslim community condemn the Godhra incident? Even today there is no repentance." He remarked: "There had not been much opposition from the minority community after the Godhra carnage" (The Telegraph; December 18). The implications are best left unspelt. Vajpayee was all praise for Narendra Modi for the "good work" he had done. That was not all. He asked: "Will Godhra be repeated elsewhere? That is what I will say to those who ask the question on the Gujarat formula," adding "there should have been stronger criticism of Godhra from Muslims" (Neena Vyas, The Hindu, December 18). The Goa speech was no aberration or solitary lapse. It expressed Vajpayee's deep emotions.

While Venkaiah Naidu threatened (December 23), "We shall replicate the Gujarat experience everywhere... . It was a mandate for the (Hindutva) ideology," Vajpayee extolled the "Gujarat energy" in a press interview (The Statesman; December 26, 2002).

There was no reference to Gujarat in Vajpayee's Goa Musings on New Year's Day 2003. All through 2002 Vajpayee spoke on Gujarat as a Hindutva ideologue, bar the occasional expression of sorrow. There is continuity of theme in all his pronouncements, which is ignored by those who cite one statement here or another there. To repeat, Goa was no aberration. Nor was the somersault during the 2004 election campaign when he sought forgiveness from Muslims, nor for that matter the somersault in June 2004 when he called for Modi's ouster. In every single case, political considerations moved Vajpayee leaving his ideological commitments unaffected.

What distinguishes Vajpayee from Advani is that, for all this, he would like to build up a wider coalition albeit with the BJP as the core; to scan a wider horizon, but without losing sight of the BJP's goals. He would do good if convenient; he would not refrain from doing wrong, if necessary. On May 28, 1996, he pledged he would not "touch... power" if it entailed "breaking parties". He meant it, then. But he was present at the swearing in of the BSP defectors to Kalyan Singh's Uttar Pradesh Ministry in Lucknow on October 27, 1997. He truly desired an accord in Agra. But when attacked for it at the BJP executive on July 28, 2001, he launched a personal attack on President Pervez Musharraf - 12 days after the collapse of the summit - in language that was as unseemly as it was unprecedented in the annals of summitry. Had he put his foot down and made it an issue of prestige, he would have acquired ascendancy in the Cabinet - which Advani denied him - and also raised the country's prestige. But Vajpayee could not do that and remain Vajpayee.

One is at a loss to understand the studied indifference of this poet to the reconstruction of the tomb of the great Urdu poet Wali Mohammed Wali - who was born in Aurangabad in 1667 and died in Ahmedabad in 1707. He was Wali Gujarati to some and Wali Dakhani to others. His tomb was deliberately demolished and a tar road built over it, right opposite the Police Commissioner's office. One of the pioneers of Urdu poetry, he linked the South to the North by introducing his divan (collection) to Delhi. But then Gujarat itself has been in a sense, "a continuing pogrom" (Dionne Bunsha, Frontline, March 12, 2004 and Biraj Swain and Somnath Vatsa, Himal (Kathmandu) March-April 2004).

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Vajpayee never showed serious concern in rehabilitating the victims of the pogrom, his fellow citizens and fellow mortals whose lives his own party men had blighted. Nor did he show any real sympathy for them except for the record.

On every single divisive issue the Parivar raised since the Jan Sangh was set up in 1951, Vajpayee enthusiastically followed its line - communal acts, Indianisation and Babri Masjid, you name it. He has also been its most successful vote-getter.

To the Parivar, he says, "Get me a majority in our own right and I'll carry out your programme fully." Others are told in strict confidence that but "for me these hotheads would get out of control". The compromises he has made to form a government were the ones the Parivar understood if power was to be won at the Centre. He soon reneged on the promise to freeze the three issues: Article 370 cannot be abrogated constitutionally; a uniform civil code is a political impossibility; Vajpayee revived the Ayodhya issue in 2002.

Yet none can deny that Vajpayee is a man who feels; an endearing trait which no objective assessment should ignore any more than one can ignore his desire to reach out to those who differ. But no one should ignore the constancy of his commitments and his Hindutva roots. It is a quaint blend. He is stung to the quick by criticism. "Don't put me in the dock of the accused," he once said in the Lok Sabha as if Prime Ministers should not be accountable. If Hindutva alone had consumed him, he would have been another colourless Advani. If he had discarded it, he would have attained greatness. But Indian politics would then have lost a complex and colourful figure. He remains Atal Bihari Vajpayee - ideologue and conciliator, a crafty politician who uses rhetoric to enable and mislead, one who constantly invites criticism but is hypersensitive and finds criticism very painful. He is not lofty; but is not common either.

He is in a class by himself. The best appraisal of Vajpayee's personality lies in the words the celebrated Junius addressed to Sir William Draper in his letter of March 3, 1769: "Do you really think that if I were to ask a most virtuous man whether he ever committed theft or murder, it would disturb his peace of mind? Such a question might, perhaps, discompose the gravity of his muscles, but I believe it would little affect the tranquillity of his conscience. Examine your own breast, Sir William, and you will discover that reproaches and inquiries have no power to affect either the man of unblemished integrity, or the abandoned profligate. It is the middle compound character, which alone is vulnerable, the man who, without firmness enough to avoid a dishonourable action, has feeling enough to be ashamed of it."

A second wind for Modi

DIONNE BUNSHA cover-story

Chief Minister Narendra Modi escapes removal at least for the time being as the top leadership of the BJP does not want such an action to be linked to the Gujarat riots.

"The atmosphere in Gujarat is like that of a mini-emergency. People are afraid. Even MLAs [members of Legislative Assembly] can't speak."

- Former Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel.

ALTHOUGH it was deliberately kept out of the official agenda, the issue of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's removal dominated behind-the-scenes discussions at the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) National Executive meeting in Mumbai. Modi's opponents would have never imagined that they would be responsible for saving his skin. All their efforts to get him removed backfired. The more vociferously they demanded his dismissal, the more strongly the party high command rallied behind him.

Ever since the BJP lost seven Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat in the recent general elections, its MLAs have been demanding Modi's dismissal. Many members feel alienated and are miffed with his `autocratic' style of functioning. "When MLAs or party workers approach him for some work, he brushes them aside. He has no respect for and doesn't listen to anyone," said a BJP member. Party members resent Modi's unwillingness to share power. There has been no Cabinet expansion since he was elected. Corporation and board chairpersons are all Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers, not MLAs or party workers.

The Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), the farmer's wing of the party, launched an eight-month-long agitation against the substantial hike effected in power tariffs by Modi. In retaliation, Modi made the BKS vacate its office in Gandhinagar, which was situated in an MLA's room. A settlement was arrived at after a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) pracharak, Laljibhai Patel, went on a hunger strike supporting the BKS cause and criticising the `dictator'. However, most BKS members were unhappy with the compromise.

The growing dissatisfaction within the party was reflected in the results of the Lok Sabha elections. Modi's opponents used the electoral setback to highlight their grievances. Around 60 BJP MLAs reportedly came together to demand Modi's dismissal. They were supported by Keshubhai Patel, who presented their plea before the party's national leaders. "Since I am the seniormost in the party and I live in Gandhinagar, many MLAs who are turned away by the Chief Minister come to my house," said Keshubhai. After he was ousted from the post of Chief Minister to make way for Narendra Modi in October 2001, Keshubhai has been the guiding force for all dissidents.

The party's national leaders quelled the unrest by assuring dissidents that Modi would be removed after the Assembly session was over. At this stage, former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee stepped in unexpectedly. While on a vacation in Manali, he told the press that the communal violence in Gujarat was one of the reasons why the BJP lost the elections. He said that Gujarat would be discussed at the party's National Executive meeting. However, BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu and some others backed Modi in an effort to avoid any further embarrassment to the party. He said that there was no proposal to change the leadership of the BJP government in Gujarat "at this juncture". He added that the issue would not be on the agenda of the meeting of the national executive in Mumbai. The decision was taken at the BJP Parliamentary Board meeting held two days before the Mumbai conference. Party leaders did not want Modi's removal to be linked to the Gujarat violence and so went back on their decision to sack him. So, by attacking him, Vajpayee ended up rescuing Modi.

The RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) also supported Modi. They felt that the dismissal of Modi would signify that the party was moving away from Hindutva. At the Mumbai meet, Venkaiah Naidu and L.K. Advani highlighted the need to `rededicate' themselves to their ideology, without `being apologetic about Hindutva'. The party decided to fight the forthcoming Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Bihar, Haryana, Jharkhand and Arunachal Pradesh on the Hindutva platform. The party's ally in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena, also felt that Hindutva should be highlighted in the coming elections. Sena chief Bal Thackeray backed Modi, fearing that any move to remove him may be seen as diluting the saffron agenda. "Where is the need to remove Modi?" he asked. "It will send a wrong signal.... Hindus will be upset and Muslims will be emboldened," he said.

But Gujarat's dissidents refused to give up. Keshubhai Patel stayed away from the Mumbai meeting, saying he was unwell. He went live on television with his statement about the "mini-emergency" in Gujarat and further annoyed the BJP high command. Advani summoned him and he showed up at the meeting the next day. Later, Keshubhai met Vajpayee and was assured that Modi would take measures to rectify the situation.

Modi has managed to escape unscathed for the third time. There were several demands in the past for his removal. Soon after the communal riots in March 2002, the Opposition and a few allies of the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) wanted him out. But the BJP refused. Later, at the BJP's National Executive meeting in Goa in April 2002, some party members called for his dismissal. In a well-orchestrated drama, Modi submitted his resignation and the party leaders refused to accept it. In one stroke, all opposition was put to rest.

The extent to which Modi's handling of the communal violence influenced the Lok Sabha results in Gujarat remains unclear. It is the anti-incumbency factor and the farmers' anger at the power tariff hike that seems to be the overriding factors. Upset with Modi for not addressing their problems, party MLAs and workers were not as motivated as in the past. As a result, the BJP won 14 out of 26 seats, as against its previous tally of 21.

But will Keshubhai's visit to Mumbai dissipate the dissatisfaction that has been building up for months within the Gujarat BJP? Only a drastic change in Modi's attitude can quell the rumblings of dissent. "MLAs' mouths are closed. They are not given a chance to speak even in party meetings. There is so much security for Modi that they cannot approach the Chief Minister. Even a former Minister was caught by the neck by security guards in Mantralaya. People are upset. Their work is not getting done. I have asked our leaders to change the present situation (of fear) in Gujarat or the party will suffer," said Keshubhai Patel.

For the moment, however, luck and the high command certainly seem to be in Modi's favour.

The blame game in Mumbai

The BJP calls its National Executive for an analysis of the electoral debacle based on "sound principles", but the session yields little more than an exchange of innuendoes among senior leaders.

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THE Bharatiya Janata Party is in a state of disarray and confusion. More than a month after losing power at the Centre, its leaders are still to figure out what led to the historic electoral setback. The search for the answers to the `riddle' of Elections 2004 continues within the party, even after its National Executive, the top policy-making body, met in Mumbai for three days from June 22 to analyse the results. At the meeting various perceptions were aired on why the party was routed, forcing party president M. Venkaiah Naidu and other senior leaders to defer serious analysis until the committee constituted to do a comprehensive review of the results submitted its report.

However, four mutually conflicting `macro' interpretations emerged despite Naidu's efforts to keep the introspection and analysis rooted in certain sound principles. But as the meeting progressed, the principles gave way to an exchange of innuendoes among senior leaders, and the inference was that the party could do nothing much to correct the `distortions'.

In what appeared to be an admission that projecting Vajpayee's personality was a mistake, Naidu said: "The virus of individualism has to be got rid of. Each one of us must realise that we are what we are because of the party. It is the party consciousness, party personality and party identity with which we should align our own individual consciousness, individual personality and individual identity." This philosophical underpinning of Naidu's latest catch-phrase, "Nation first, party next, self last", however, hardly helped to paper over the embarrassment of projecting Vajpayee's leadership against what he had described as "question marks" in the non-BJP combination of parties.

Whether by coincidence or by design, at the June 22 press conference of party spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the huge banner in the backdrop carried no pictures of Vajpayee, Advani and Naidu. Instead, the only pictures on it were those of former presidents of the Jan Sangh, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya.

Naqvi admitted that the party had no option but to project Vajpayee's personality, as he was the party's prime ministerial candidate. For the record, the party sees no contradiction between Naidu's current campaign against individualism and its celebration of Vajpayee's leadership before the elections. Different situations call for different responses, which need not necessarily be contradictory, implied Naqvi. "The party continues to consider Vajpayee as its tallest leader," Naqvi hinted in response to the misgivings created by Naidu's speech. But this perhaps should not dissuade the party from reflecting on the merits of having run a campaign predominantly on the personality of Vajpayee as its trump card, relegating other issues to the background. Although Naidu made these remarks in a different context - while referring to organisation building - the emphasis he added to these remarks led to the inevitable inference.

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Naidu cleverly avoided being specific about his own role in the party's rout. He had promised that he would remain party president only until the accomplishment of Mission 2004 - the party's grand strategy to ensure success in the general elections - and would not accept any post or responsibility thereafter. With the Mission not accomplished Naidu found an excuse to continue as party president. He told the delegates at the meeting: "As the president of the party, I have to admit my responsibility not only for my individual actions, but also for the performance of the party as a whole." If one thought that resignation was the natural corollary of admission of responsibility, the BJP seemed to have no space for such lofty principles.

Naidu continued: "I sincerely thank my leaders as well as my colleagues for the confidence they continue to repose in me. I pledge to work with redoubled energy and strive my utmost to fulfil the high responsibility placed once again on my shoulders." Naidu did not specify how and in what manner he failed to fulfil his responsibility as party president, which leading to the debacle. "Each one of us, at an individual level, has to examine our own decisions and actions and weigh their contribution to the overall outcome of the elections," he told the delegates. Had Naidu, who once described himself as "everybody's president" in the party, followed his own precept, the party could have been spared the painful process of introspection and the embarrassment over the public display of finger-pointing and a covert blame game.

IT was left to Advani to explain the second significant reason for the debacle. It was, he claimed, the dichotomy between governance and politics. He said the BJP's record in governance and on the development front was very good, but perhaps its political strategy was not prudent. Elaborating, he said, the BJP neglected two types of constituencies - geographical and ideological. The fact that 50 per cent of the sitting BJP MPs lost showed, mostly, that they were remiss in their work and did not nurse their constituencies well. Their lack of coordination with local party units and activists resulted in the absence of enthusiasm and a common resolve among party workers to get them re-elected, he said.

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The BJP's ideological constituency, according to Advani, includes its activists, the Sangh Parivar, and its social support base. "Somehow our political strategy and conduct during the past six years were not oriented to strengthening and enthusing our karyakartas (activists), our ideological parivar, or our social support base. Indeed, there was a sense of alienation in our Parivar and a weakening of the emotional bond with our core constituency," Advani told the delegates. He then pointed to this irony to drive home his thesis: The Parivar and the BJP's cadre, thus, did not recognise the government as the "Hindutva government", even though it was described so by others, including the BJP's adversaries.

Advani referred to the `dual membership' issue, which rocked the Janata Party government and resulted in its downfall in 1979. The leaders of the erstwhile Bharatiya Jan Sangh, which had merged with the Janata Party, were accused of having dual membership, in the party and in the RSS, and, therefore, dual loyalties. The leaders rejected the suggestion to leave the RSS and this led to the birth of the BJP in 1980. Had the BJP leaders compromised on the issue and abandoned its core constituency for the sake of power, the BJP would not have been born, Advani suggested.

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Advani did not go into the specifics of the BJP's alienation from its ideological constituency. That job was left to his close followers. An Advani loyalist in the party offered this example: "In order to please Arundhati Roy and those who admire her public interest activism you cannot displease the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), which is part of our ideological parivar." Does it mean the BJP ought to have tried to appease people like Pravin Togadia and Ashok Singhal and cater to their divisive communal agenda even at the cost of the unity of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)? Neither Advani nor his loyalists were ready to rebut this inference at the Mumbai meet.

A senior BJP general secretary explained: "What Advani meant was that you should not go out of your way to please a constituency from which you do not expect any substantial electoral gains, at the cost of a core constituency, whose support is crucial for your political survival." This was the same strategy Narendra Modi appeared to have followed with success in Gujarat. Modi, the general secretary suggested, was conscious of the need to be sensitive to the Gujarati press but gave a damn to the English media because he believed it catered to very few Gujaratis, and even they were not BJP supporters. As the Gujarati press reflected the concerns of the BJP's core constituency, Modi's strategy was in tune with what the BJP's supporters wanted - a majoritarian bias in governance and politics. The BJP was reluctant to follow Modi's strategy elsewhere because of the misgivings it created among its secular allies. But with the party no longer in power at the Centre, it faces no such compulsion.

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Advani perhaps believed that VHP and RSS cadre, and the BJP's social support base did not contribute sufficiently to the party's electoral performance because of the `alienation' caused by the compulsions of being in power. Clearly, it was a great turnaround for Advani, who had once suggested that large areas of governance have nothing to do with ideology. Although Advani has argued that the BJP should not be apologetic about its ideology, he always sought to maintain a subtle distinction between governance marked by the compulsions of managing a coalition and the pursuit of ideology. Now, it appears, he realises that such a distinction is inexpedient in electoral politics. Naidu's oft-repeated slogan `Ek haat me BJP ka jhanda, doosre me NDA ka agenda' (The BJP flag in one hand and the NDA agenda in the other) was thus given a quiet burial.

Advani's formulation was in direct contrast to how Vajpayee was perceived by vast sections of people - as a moderate and a liberal, he was considered the leader best suited to lead a multi-party coalition, by keeping the hard-line sections of the Sangh Parivar at bay. This perception helped Vajpayee stay on despite his failure to contain the 2002 Gujarat carnage. The mask of a liberal that Vajpayee wore has perhaps outlived its utility for the party.

Advani admitted that his analysis could be interpreted to mean that he was against the principle of rajdharma and the need for a government to treat all its citizens equally. He said: "In the given situation, however, we should have balanced our focus on governance and development with an equally sustained political focus on our core constituency - through constant dialogue at various levels. Individually and collectively, we did not pay as much attention to our core supporters as we should have."

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Vajpayee praised Advani for his incisive analysis at the Mumbai meet. He confined his attack to those like party general secretary Pramod Mahajan, who believed that an election campaign run exclusively on the mass media and on a `scientific' basis by employing the principles of modern communication and management could help a party win. Thus, while the BJP ran a `high-tech' campaign, transmitting Vajpayee's appeal to the electorate through telecommunication channels such as the telephone and the mobile phone, the Congress had its ear to the ground.

Vajpayee spoke disapprovingly of Mahajan's electoral strategy without naming him. Vajpayee also felt that the two major achievements of his government trumpeted by the party - the telecommunication revolution and the building of national highways - did not really touch the poorer sections of the electorate. In the November 2003 Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Mizoram and the National Capital Territory of Delhi, the BJP spoke the language of the people - bijli, sadak, pani (electricity, roads and water) - and made significant gains. However, in the Lok Sabha elections such people-centric issues were relegated to the background, he felt.

Vajpayee could perhaps have added what he told party workers at the party's chintan baithak (brainstorming session) in Mumbai last year. Political power, he had said, had an intrinsic quality of reducing people's trust in rulers. Therefore, the party's conduct in government and as functionaries of the ruling party should be such as to neutralise this trust-eroding quality of power. However, as the delegates at the National Executive session, held in a seven-star hotel in Mumbai, discovered, there was very little they could have done to neutralise it, as they were so used to their luxurious lifestyles, far removed from the reality of the poor standards of living of the people with whom they were expected to build a rapport.

There was also the fourth factor, ably articulated by a party general secretary, who did not wish to be identified. He claimed that the BJP lost because it ran a `positive' campaign on the basis of the achievements of the NDA government. A purely positive campaign, he felt, was unlikely to fetch the party favourable returns in an election. He pointed out that the BJP won the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh Assembly elections because of a negative campaign, that is, by harping on the negatives of the Congress governments in those States. To sway the electorate, the party should focus on the `negatives' of its opponents rather than on its own strengths, he reasoned.

His analysis was in conflict with what Naidu stated in his address to the meeting. Naidu denied that the BJP would give up its focus on development, which the party had made an important plank in its campaign. He appealed to the activists to give overriding importance to the development-related issues in their "political and practical activities".

The committee set up by the party to examine the reasons for the debacle has a difficult agenda, balancing these conflicting perceptions. The committee has general secretary Sanjay Joshi (from Gujarat) as its convener and general secretary Shivraj Singh Chauhan (Madhya Pradesh), Sushil Kumar Modi (Bihar), Ananth Kumar (Karnataka) and Sudheendra Kulkarni, secretary to the party president, as its members. Whatever the findings of the committee, the direction of the party will be determined inevitably by the perception that secures the party's endorsement. If the mood in Mumbai is any indication, Advani's line is sure to overshadow other perceptions.

Alone at the top

V. VENKATESAN cover-story

Vajpayee's statements on the continuance of Narendra Modi as Gujarat Chief Minister and about himself being under attack for the first time have not met with any sympathetic response from senior BJP leaders. His isolation within the party appears to be complete.

FORMER Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee might not have realised that being candid about his role in the Bharatiya Janata Party and in the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre would result in the diminution of his own stature within the party. Even as he used his holiday in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, on June 13 to throw fresh light on the outcome of the elections, the BJP's central leadership in New Delhi was simply not ready to wash dirty linen in public within a month of the party's electoral debacle. It sought to neutralise Vajpayee's musings by coming to the defence of the person who was the object of his attack - Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Indeed, Vajpayee's might well have been a sincere reflection on the 2002 Gujarat riots. He claimed that although he wanted to remove Modi after the riots he was confronted with two views within the party. Ultimately, he believed that opting for Assembly elections in Gujarat under Modi's leadership would be the right step. However, looking back, he felt it was not correct. He alleged that the riots came in handy for the BJP's adversaries to attack the party in their campaign, for example by distributing films on the riots. He hinted that it could have affected the party's image. The question of a change of leadership in Gujarat was open and the BJP National Executive in Mumbai could discuss it afresh, he suggested.

The timing of Vajpayee's revelations, however, confounded his critics and admirers in the party. Informed sources in the BJP confided that top leaders had agreed, even before Vajpayee left for Manali, that Modi should soon be removed from the post of Chief Minister in view of the growing indiscipline in the party. Nearly 80 per cent of the BJP's MLAs in Gujarat wanted his removal, the main reason being his autocratic style of functioning. Yet, the party deferred any action against Modi in view of the Lok Sabha elections. Removing Modi soon after the Lok Sabha elections would, again, have strengthened the argument of Modi-baiters in the BJP and the NDA that it was his handling of the riots and its aftermath that cost the coalition dearly in Gujarat and outside.

The Sangh Parivar used the same logic to stymie Vajpayee's effort to reopen the issue in Mumbai. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) intervened to tell the BJP that it had no objection to Modi being replaced but that it could not accept the argument that his handling of the riots led to the debacle in the elections. The pressure from the RSS, exerted directly by its general secretary (sarsanghchalak) K.S. Sudarshan, forced the BJP to repudiate Vajpayee publicly. BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu spoke to Vajpayee who was in Manali three times over telephone on June 14, and secured his consent for a statement `clarifying' his views. Venkaiah Naidu denied that the Mumbai National Executive would have Modi on its agenda, but hinted that the issue could be discussed on its sidelines. The decision was seen as a snub to Vajpayee.

The issue, however, refused to die down. At a public meeting in Manali, Vajpayee appealed to the party not to run away from a debate on the outcome of the elections, forcing the BJP to search for a suitable forum to accommodate his demand. The party announced the meeting of the party's Parliamentary Board - consisting of 10 senior leaders - on June 20 to discuss the poll debacle. It was felt that the National Executive, which has 78 members, 21 special invitees, and several permanent invitees, cannot meaningfully discuss a subject like the electoral outcome in three days because of its complexity. Therefore, presidents of the party's State units would present reports on their respective States, followed by a discussion, as per the party's tradition, the spokesperson said. As Vajpayee also referred to a possible discussion on the change of leadership in Gujarat, the Parliamentary Board was considered the right forum to clinch the issue.

At the Board meeting held at Venkaiah Naidu's residence in New Delhi, however, Vajpayee was further isolated. The party again `secured' his consent to announce that there would be no change of leadership in Gujarat "at this juncture". Unofficially, however, it was revealed that Modi would be replaced at a later date, possibly after the Maharashtra Assembly elections in September. The deadline for Modi's ouster was thrust by the RSS, whose representative, joint secretary Madan Das Devi, was available at the meeting for consultations. However, it appears, the suggestion to await the outcome of the Maharashtra elections to replace Modi did not come up at the meeting; it was most probably added as an after-thought to give a fresh lease of life to Modi. Fixing any deadline for Modi's ouster would have signalled a triumph for Vajpayee.

At the concluding day of the Mumbai meet, Venkaiah Naidu declared that Modi would not be removed from power even after three weeks. He sought to dispel reports that the party intended to remove him within a week. But the message he sought to send to the Vajpayee camp in the party was unambiguous: Modi was going to stay. The dominant view within the party was that Modi was not an issue in the Lok Sabha elections either in Gujarat or elsewhere, and therefore the timing of Vajpayee's outburst was misplaced.

Indeed, Vajpayee's outburst in Manali seems to have caused a drawing of battle lines within the BJP. In Mumbai, Vajpayee was silent on the issue; he even met Modi to discuss the leadership issue, which was brought up by his rival and former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel. Had Vajpayee not spoken out earlier, the rebellion in the party would have forced Modi out of office.

Vajpayee's candour came as a blessing in disguise for Modi as the entire Sangh Parivar and even his critics came to the defence of Modi. Vajpayee's critics questioned his motives in raising the Modi issue now. "Vajpayee is looking ahead, and probably believes that he would be the obvious legitimate candidate for the post of Prime Minister if the present government at the Centre falls owing to internal contradictions. He thinks that Modi's removal from power would boost his secular image. The rest of the party does not think so," said Prafull Goradia, a National Executive member and a former member of the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat.

Goradia wrote to Vajpayee saying that his remarks in Manali had hurt him and Gujaratis as a whole. Disagreeing with his analysis that the BJP suffered losses because of the Gujarat riots and Modi, Goradia questioned Vajpayee's commitment to the Sangh Parivar. He urged him to retract his remarks or express regret. "Don't precipitate a split in the Hindutva movement," he warned. Goradia's outburst was followed by another, by Rajya Sabha member and former Minister, Sangh Priya Gautam, who at the Mumbai meeting appealed to Advani to take up the party leadership.

Vajpayee's embarrassment became acute after he addressed a rally of party workers in Mumbai on June 23 to mark the death anniversary of the party's founder Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. Releasing a book on himself, Atalji: The Pathfinder, edited by an admirer, Ramesh Patange, Editor of the Marathi weekly Vivek, Vajpayee expressed hope that the book would come to his help at a time when he was "for the first time under attack". In response to the slogan "Agli bari Atal Bihari (Next time it is Vajpayee) raised by party workers, he said in Marathi: "No next time, enough is enough."

Vajpayee's off-the-cuff remark created a flutter within the party. But senior leaders were in no mood to display their loyalty to him publicly, as they would have otherwise done, if he had been in power. Sensing the mood, Vajpayee retracted the following day and clarified that his remarks about not seeking another term in office were made in a lighter vein and that he would work more vigorously than before for the party's success in the Mahrashtra Assembly elections. But there was no denial either from him or from the party on his remark that he was under attack. Observers note that he could not have referred to the invectives flung at him frequently by leaders of the VHP, who promptly urged his retirement. Nor could he be referring to the attacks from his adversaries in other parties as they were obviously not made for the first time. Clearly, he was alluding to the overt and covert attacks against him from within the BJP; senior leaders of the party did nothing to assuage his hurt.

The isolation of Vajpayee within the BJP appears to be complete.

Voters hit back

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JUNE 13 was not a lucky date for most incumbent European governments. As the results of the European parliamentary elections trickled in, it became clear that the majority of the voters had been stricken by a massive case of the sulks, while those that did vote had delivered a stinging slap in the face to their rulers.

It was the lowest turnout ever recorded in European Union (E.U.) parliamentary election history, with only 45 per cent of the 320-million-strong electorate voting. Contrary to expectations, it was not the electorate from the older E.U. member-states that stayed away, but voters from the 10 new entrants that had knocked hard on Europe's door for membership. The abstention rate was 53 per cent in the wealthier older E.U. nations, the club of 15, whereas it was 75 per cent in the new entrants from Eastern Europe, with only 16 per cent voting in Slovakia.

In almost every country, incumbents suffered heavy losses. In France, the Opposition Socialists came out on top, while in Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democratic Party (SDP) got the drubbing of its life with just 22 per cent of the vote. It was the same story in Britain, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Portugal, Austria and Finland: voters used these elections to tell parties in power that they had become deeply unpopular. In Greece and Spain, where the governments of Prime Ministers Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Costas Caramanlis are just a few months old and where the honeymoon period is not yet over, voters showed themselves more indulgent. Stalwarts like British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, all had their noses rubbed into the ground.

More significant than voter apathy and the anti-incumbent vote is the fact that in many countries there has been a shift to the Right, with euro-sceptic parties doing much better than expected.

"One must be careful, however, when speaking of a definite shift to the Right and a victory of the euro-sceptics. This has been, above all, an anti-incumbency vote," said Jerome Jaffre, an eminent French political scientist. "In France, for instance, the anti-European parties from the Left as well as the Right have been mauled, the main victor being the pro-Europe socialists. There is no right-wing sweep as such. The same is true of Austria, Denmark, Italy, Portugal and Estonia, where the ruling Centre-Right lost. In Belgium, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Britain, Latvia, Slovenia and Hungary, where the Social Democrats were in power, right-wing parties have done remarkably well. In some of these countries - Britain, Belgium, Poland and the Czech Republic - anti-European parties have scored. Of course, we should sit up and take notice of this discontent, this lack of enthusiasm, even antipathy, for the idea of Europe."

The fanfare with which Europe's 10 new members were inducted into the club on May 1 would have led one to imagine much more enthusiasm for the E.U. and its institutions. Why then this disenchantment with its Parliament?

Voters from these new countries know little about European institutions and had almost no interest in casting their ballot for a faraway, complex and apparently toothless Parliament. This comes on top of the fact that there is a sense of disillusionment and apathy about politics in general, especially in Poland and the Czech Republic. The idea of Europe has yet to take strong root in the new member-countries, and only in the next parliamentary elections, in 2009, will it become clear whether people from the East have come any closer to the older members in dreaming the European dream.

The vote, of course, will have an immediate effect on the composition of various parliamentary groups within the newly elected body. The conservative Centre-Right EPP-ED (European Popular Party-European Democrats), which, along with the Socialists, is one of the two most powerful groups in Parliament, is likely to implode. Centrist parties resent the presence of euro-sceptic formations like Berlusconi's Forza Italia, Czech President Vaclav Klaus' Civic Democratic Party or Hungarian nationalist and former Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz within the EPP-ED. They also fear that the success of the anti-Europe U.K. Independence Party in Britain will push the British Conservatives to seek more hard-line right-wing policies. It is quite likely, therefore, that more centrist elements will leave to form a separate political grouping.

Such a regrouping could have a direct impact on the election of the next President of the European Commission. Italy's Romano Prodi is to be replaced by October end and the race is on to find his successor. Under the present rules, the President of the Commission must have the support of Parliament.

Left- and right-wing parties do not see eye to eye on the choice of a candidate. If the Right favours Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel, the Left is vehemently opposed to him on the grounds that he has governed with the support of the extreme right-wing Freedom Party. However, the EPP-ED may not be in such a strong position in a couple of weeks. If pro-European centrist parties form a separate parliamentary group, a candidate backed by the more united socialists just might win approval.

Several names are already doing the rounds: Luxemburg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Junker (Christian Democrat), Portugal's E.U. Commissioner for Justice Antonio Vitorino (Socialist), Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern (Conservative), Spain's Javier Solana (Socialist) and Denmark's Conservative Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Britain's Chris Patten and Belgium's Guy Verhofstadt, backed respectively by Britain and the Franco-German duo, cross each other out.

A positive fallout of the parliamentary elections was that it was a severely chastised and more accommodating bunch of leaders that was in Brussels on June 17 and 18 to adopt Europe's new Constitution.

Having failed to reach an agreement at their summit meeting in December under the bumbling and incompetent presidency of Berlusconi, they could hardly risk failing again. The meetings began with ferocious spats and mutual recrimination, especially between Chirac and Blair. The process was smoothed over by the remarkable negotiating skills of Bertie Ahern, who managed to imbue the proceedings with a spirit of compromise.

The 333-page document they adopted was indeed historic. It has been in the making for over two years. Without a Constitution and with creaking institutions, a 25-member Europe had become ungovernable. Europe will now give itself a Foreign Minister and a full-time President. It will also allow for more majority voting. Under the new rules, any decision must have the backing of at least 55 per cent of the member-states representing 65 per cent of the population from at least 15 countries. This gives some guarantees to small nations that they will not be crushed under the feet of economic and political giants like France, Germany and Britain. The Constitution also gives more weight and real powers to the European Parliament.

The heads of state and government, however, failed to agree on a name to replace Romano Prodi. Bertie Ahern will attempt to convene an extraordinary summit before his term as E.U. President comes to an end on June 30. But it is doubtful if enough time will be found, the European political agenda being chock-a-block with a United States-E.U. summit and a major meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

The bitter quarrels over the choice of President have once again underscored the deep divisions that exist within Europe. The adoption of the Constitution is unlikely to heal these differences and give back the Union some of its lost elan. The text is still not final and needs ratification either by national Parliaments or through national referenda. Given the enthusiasm generated by the parliamentary elections, winning approval from a disgruntled electorate would be a risky proposition at best. The constitutional debate has ended in victory for Tony Blair, who opposes the idea of a federalist Europe and has managed to retain his veto over fiscal and social issues.

Europe is at a crucial and difficult stage. Countries like France, Germany and Belgium would like to push for more federalism in the belief that only a united Europe armed with an independent foreign and defence policy would be able to hold its own against U.S. unilateralism. Countries like Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands and several East European nations are loath to cut loose from NATO and the U.S. umbrella. The differences that surfaced over Iraq are only the tip of the iceberg, a colliding, not colluding, vision of what Europe as an economic and political entity can and should achieve.

Distress and politics

The dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the sharing of Cauvery waters, which needs to be resolved within the mechanism already in place, continues to hold farmers in the basin hostage owing to, among other things, political one-upmanship.

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN in Chennai PARVATHI MENON in Bangalore

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IT caused the first cracks in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre. The dispute over the sharing of Cauvery waters between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, with its long history of bitterness and unresolved claims, could not be papered over by any amount of coalition bonhomie. As June 12, the day water from the Mettur dam is traditionally released, neared, pressure was exerted on the Central government by both States: by Tamil Nadu for the release of water from the Karnataka reservoirs for the commencement of sowing operations for its kuruvai crop, and by Karnataka against any measure that would force it to reduce its own utilisation.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was petitioned by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to convene the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) "forthwith" and to finalise the distress-sharing formula. Members of Parliament from the Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA) in Tamil Nadu urged him to talk to the Karnataka government to "create conditions congenial to begin farming operations here" and to implement the Interim Order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, which stipulates the release of 10.16 tmcft of water in June to Tamil Nadu. This was followed by a representation by a delegation of MPs from Karnataka that gave Manmohan Singh the State's reaction: "We have no water to spare, and we must protect the interests of the Karnataka farmer."

The Congress(I) and the Janata Dal(S), coalition partners in Karnataka, put on hold their quarrels over the allocation of ministerial portfolios to speak in one voice against any release of water to Tamil Nadu. So did the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the single largest party in the State Legislature. "On the Cauvery, we all stand together," said B.S. Yediyurappa, Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly. Significantly, there was no dilution of the hard-line rhetoric, nor any desire on Chief Minister Dharam Singh beginning his tenure on a note of political goodwill. Even as a delegation from Tamil Nadu was politely received in Karnataka, there was no yielding from the stated position.

In Tamil Nadu too, the issue lent to a not unfamiliar game of political one-upmanship. The issue hit centre stage in the first week of June after the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) stole a march over the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and its general secretary Jayalalithaa by leading an all-party delegation to meet Manmohan Singh and Dharam Singh. DMK president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi wrote separate letters to them, urging them to release the water to Tamil Nadu. While the AIADMK joined the delegation to meet the Prime Minister, the party sent a separate official delegation to meet the Karnataka Chief Minister.

As late as June 14, the Karnataka government held on to the position, despite "exhaustive consideration" of Tamil Nadu's request, that it would not release any water to Tamil Nadu. By now water levels were going up steadily in Karnataka's reservoirs. On June 14, the inflow into the Krishnarajasagar dam was 11,004 cusecs, the highest this year. The water level was 86 feet as against 68 feet last year. The inflow into the Kabini and Hemavathy reservoirs was also steadily rising owing to heavy rainfall in the catchment areas.

For the delta farmers in Tamil Nadu, the prospects of yet another year - the fourth in a row - of no kuruvai cultivation loomed large. (If that indeed happens, it will be the seventh paddy crop in succession that they will be losing.) Pressure groups from the State upped the demand for Karnataka to release water immediately and for the two States to finalise urgently a "distress-sharing" formula. They also called for an urgent meeting of the CRA and the Cauvery Monitoring Committee (CMC) to discuss this issue. Apart from Jayalalithaa and MPs from the DPA, the "Cauvery Family", a body formed recently comprising farmers' representatives from the two States, in its meeting held in Tiruchi, Tamil Nadu, on June 11, underlined the need to evolve a deficit-sharing formula. On June 24, the Tamil Nadu secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), N. Vardarajan, appealed to the Centre to convene the CRA and ensure that Tamil Nadu received enough water. R. Nallakannu, State secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI), said the Karnataka government's decision that only when there was increased inflow into its reservoirs would it release more water to Tamil Nadu had greatly disappointed farmers in Tamil Nadu. Nallakanu urged the Centre to impress upon the Karnataka government to release enough water for kuruvai cultivation in Tamil Nadu.

The Karnataka government said in response that there was no need to call a meeting of the bodies, as there was no distress in the basin. Even so, it refused to release water. A meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) convened by Manmohan Singh in New Delhi endorsed his decision to ask Karnataka to release water to Tamil Nadu. Manmohan Singh spoke to Dharam Singh and former Prime Minister and former Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Deve Gowda.

Nature, and some political expediency, finally resolved the issue. Karnataka started releasing water on June 17, at the rate of 12,000 cusecs a day, from the Kabini, but only, as the Chief Minister took pains to tell his constituency, because the water had reached the danger mark and that impounding it further could cause flooding of the nearby areas. Reinforcing this, M. Mallikarjuna Kharge, Karnataka's Minister for Water Resources, said that the release of water would be stopped when the rain stopped.

For the Cauvery delta farmers in Tamil Nadu, to go in for cultivation of kuruvai now will be a risk because the water level in the Mettur dam is not sufficient. Kuruvai is cultivated from June to September on about 5.5 lakh acres (2.2 lakh hectares): in 4.25 lakh acres in the Cauvery delta districts of Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam, in about 75,000 acres in Tiruchi district, and in another 75,000 acres in Pudukottai and South Arcot districts. Kuruvai needs 135 tmcft of water for its completion, aided by releases from the Mettur dam and local rainfall. The height of the dam is 120 feet (36 metres) and its capacity is about 93 tmcft of water. As on June 24, the water level in Mettur stood only at 50 feet, or the storage was about 17.84 tmcft. "It will be very risky to take up the cultivation of kuruvai unless there is at least 45 tmcft of water before July 6 in Mettur dam," S. Ranganathan, secretary, Cauvery Delta Farmers' Welfare Association, told Frontline. Tamil Nadu farmers allege that Karnataka has been treating the Cauvery as a mere "drainage system", releasing surplus waters only when its reservoirs cannot impound them.

Hopes in the Cauvery delta in Tamil Nadu soared from June 18. Tamil Nadu farmers rejoiced when the overflowing waters of the Kabini reservoir reached the Mettur dam on June 19 and 20. The level in the Mettur dam stood at a mere 40.66 feet. However, the joy was short-lived with the rain in the Cauvery catchment areas stopping, and the overflow from the Kabini dwindling. Between June 20 and 24 Mettur received about 5 tmcft of water (6 tmcft, in Karnataka's estimate). As on June 26, with the water level at just about 18.3 tmcft in Mettur, it appears unlikely that the Cauvery delta farmes can raise kuruvai. Therefore the sluices of the Mettur dam were not opened.

AT the core of a solution to the dispute, according to the noted irrigation and water expert Ramaswamy R. Iyer, lies in the approach that must hold good in times of both plenty and distress. This is based on the premise, he argues, that there are no ownership rights over water, but only user rights. Nor is there any hierarchy or primacy of rights among States. There is only an equality of rights, which does not of course mean a right to equal entitlement. A water-sharing agreement, therefore, has to hold good in years of plenty as well as in years of water shortage, and must be based upon a mutually agreed ratio in which water is allocated among the basin States. An upper riparian State, in a year of water shortage, cannot argue that its needs must be met before it releases water to the lower riparian State/s, however acute the scarcity for irrigation or drinking water is.

The Interim Order gave a schedule of water-sharing, but this was based on the assumption of normal rainfall and water flow in the river. It was also a sharing agreement based on absolute volumes and not on proportionate sharing. For distress years, the guidelines it prescribed were left open to interpretation. In the 13 years since the Interim Order was passed, many changes have taken place in the agro-economic status and rainfall pattern in the Cauvery basin. The past three years witnessed acute rainfall shortages in the basin. The genuine problem of sharing in years of shortage has been further subjected to the pulls and pressures of competitive politics. To argue for the release of Cauvery water in Karnataka used to be viewed as politically incorrect; today it is seen almost as an act of betrayal of the State's interest.

It is this unstated ownership right, expressed as a right to prior use owing to its position as the upper riparian State, that Karnataka has been accused of asserting over the past few years. This approach has stalled any meaningful negotiations, even in bodies like the CRA and the CMC, which were set up to tide over interim problems of sharing before the final award of the Tribunal was given. During the last few years of drought, the State could not abide by the terms of the Interim Order, which stipulates that 205 tmcft of water must be released to Tamil Nadu in a rainfall year. But with both States equally suffering the impact of drought, a proportionate sharing of distress could never be worked out, and much of the blame for this has been laid at the door of Karnataka, which always held the position that it would release water only after its own needs were fully met. It appears that the Tribunal's Final Award alone can bring some finality to this intractable dispute.

An Indian American election

VIJAY PRASHAD world-affairs

Increased self-assertion by Indian Americans is evident from the rise in the number candidates from the community for the upcoming elections and the many organisations that exhort community members to participate in politics and to address concerns of wider import.

AT the Republican National Convention in New York City in August, six Indian Americans will take their seats as delegates. They will get an opportunity to meet and greet the top leaders of the dominant party in the United States, offer their votes on behalf of incumbent President George W. Bush, and pledge more of their substantial money to the party's war chest. One of the delegates told the India Abroad newspaper: "I am a Republican because they believe in lower taxes, more personal responsibility, and family values. We are a new minority community and need to be given our place. We have to look out for our children. We are all very successful individuals, but as a community we have more to accomplish."

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In early June, meanwhile, the Indian American Leadership Initiative held an event to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the congressional campaigns of three Indian Americans Peter Mathews, Ram Uppuluri and Neil Dhillon. All three contested as Democratic Party candidates, and while all three lost, they fought close races that certainly put Indian Americans on the electoral map. In the keynote address, Maryland House of Delegates leader Kumar Barve, who holds the highest elected office for an Indian American, exhorted more Indian Americans to get into politics, to be inspired by the strong attempts of the 1994 triumvirate. A few days later, the Democratic Party announced that Barve would be the Vice-Chairman of the Rules Committee for the Democratic National Convention to be held from July 26 in Boston. He will be the most senior of a "healthy number" of Indian American delegates to the Democratic Party. "A lot of Indian Americans are involved in the Democratic Party," said Barve. "It is no longer a novelty in contrast to the Republican Party."

Since 1990, when Barve won his post to the Maryland House of Delegates, Indian Americans across the country have run for elected office. They are now Water Commissioners, State Representatives, School Board Members, and District Attorneys. There has been a general upsurge of interest in elections. The first generation, the migrants who came to the U.S. from the subcontinent after 1965, have now become naturalised and are generally confident about their place in the country. The children born of these migrants, the second generation, are now coming of political age, and they have also entered politics. These are good times for Indian Americans who are interested in politics, and it is, therefore, only natural that there are now a host of organisations to bring Indian Americans to the polls and to make them run for office.

IN February 2003, two young desis (Indian Americans), Mekhail Anwar and Maya Nambisan, formed an organisation called South Asians for Kerry in 2004 (SAKI2004) and quickly recruited over 200 volunteers from across the country. Some of those who joined have had a long-standing interest in public policy, some have been involved with the Democratic Party already, but many simply believe that Bush's variety of rule is unacceptable for the U.S., and for Indian Americans. Alongside SAKI2004 is another organisation, the South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), an initiative by Tanzila Ahmed, a young woman from Los Angeles. SAAVY is part of a nation-wide effort to get young people to the polls, many of whose voices, including Ahmed's, can be found in a new anthology entitled How To Get Stupid White Men Out of Office: The Anti-politics, Un-boring Guide to Power, published by the League of Pissed-Off Voters earlier this year. SAAVY plans to recruit youth to reach out to the South Asian community across the country to get about 300 people trained to draw young desis to the polls. SAKI2004 and SAAVY recognise that only about a third of the desis who are eligible to vote exercise their franchise, and among young desis the percentage is even lower. Since the median age of the Indian American community is 29, the emphasis on youth is significant. There are no available statistics for Indian American youth alone, but for Asian American youth in the 18-24 age group the numbers of those who are registered to vote dropped from 50 per cent in 1990 to 35 per cent in 2000. SAKI2004's Reshma Saujani has also formed South Asians Vote, a "clearing house for South Asian voters" to find out about and register to vote.

IF SAAVY and SAKI2004 want to get desis to the polls, the Indian American Leadership Incubator (IALI) wants to get desis to run for political office. Set up in August 2001, IALI believes that while desis have excelled in many professional fields in the U.S., the one area left open is electoral politics. The "incubator" provides support to and trains prospective candidates regardless of their party affiliation. Started by Varun Nikore, who cut his political teeth in the Al Gore campaign of 2000, IALI has launched a "10 in 10" campaign, which seeks to have 10 desis in the U.S. Congress within 10 years. For a small community that numbers under two million in a country of 270 million, the challenge is bold, but it is not outside the realm of possibility. Already a slew of desis have run for office, and some are poised to run competitive races this November.

Nikore's efforts are not unlike those of SAAVY, because both believe that desis should be organised in order to have a greater voice in public policy. The premise that both work on is that if people are organised to vote they can exert political power. Their mission is unlike that of the lobbyist group USINPAC (U.S. India Political Action Committee), based in Washington D.C., which uses its political contacts to push an agenda of items in a manner similar to its closest allies, the main Zionist lobbies. USINPAC, like many of the main desi Republicans, is more interested in the mobilisation of money and influence to push the agenda in Washington than in the organisation of the community to do so. Class divisions within the desi community produce different political strategies to gain sway in society: the wealthy want to buy influence whereas the rest want to win it through political organisation.

There is indeed a very deep class fissure that runs through the Indian American community, and it seems that most of the well-off desis tend to go Republican, whereas the rest either vote Democrat or Green or nothing at all. Kumar Barve noted: "At the Democratic Convention we do have high-dollar donors, but we also have those that work in the trenches." The six desis who will be Republican delegates have never sunk into the trenches, because their political clout comes from their money. Zach Zacharaiah is not only one of the Republican Party's biggest fund-raisers, but he and the three other delegates from Florida are close friends of Governor Jeb Bush. Jeb Bush nominated Zacharaiah to the Florida Board of Governors, a body that oversees the State's institutions of higher education, while two other delegates run the Florida Board of Medicine and the Florida Council of Education Policy. Some of these Republican delegates are Pioneers, a designation used by the Bush campaign for those who raise more than $100,000. People with such clout are far from the American desi community: a full quarter of Indian Americans live in households with incomes below $25,000 - even though Indian Americans reported the highest median household income ($49,696). This means that the rate of inequality in the community is very high, with a few millionaires and a considerable number who live in the basement of U.S. society. You cannot go into an urban hospital in the U.S. without being treated by either an Indian doctor or an Indian nurse. Yet, a fifth of Indian Americans have no health insurance, a higher percentage than the national average.

Not only do the wealthy have a different political strategy in the electoral arena, but they also have different issues to put on the table. Groups like SAAVY know that if the field of politics is left to the wealthy, then they will dictate the issues of the community. In this case, the issues of the community will be the class-driven issues of the rich. For instance, the Republican delegates' chosen issues were "lower taxes, more personal responsibility and family values", whereas Tanzila Ahmed notes that among her constituency the issues are "affirmative action, increasing cost of education and hate crimes". My own research shows that Indian Americans are generally against immigration controls, against the death penalty, for the right of a woman to have access to reproductive technologies, for better wages for working people, for better care for the elderly, for health insurance coverage for all, and generally, for peaceful negotiated solutions to conflict rather than a rush to war. Among the second-generation, the liberal trend is even deeper, a fact well-illustrated in the many second-generation political organisations that dot the U.S. landscape, as well as the many second-generation desis who work in the non-profit or progressive organisations that fight for social justice. At least for domestic U.S. matters, American desis are generally liberal, not allied with the kind of fanatical extremism promoted by the Bush Republicans.

For this reason, when desi Democrats come before a desi audience, they generally lead with their issues. High on the current agenda is the opposition to the war in Iraq, as evidenced by the strong but failed primary run of Rohit Khanna from Silicon Valley and of Peter Mathews' statement to define his candidacy for Congress: "The main reason I am running is that America is at a crossroads. The U.S. is involved in an expensive quagmire in Iraq. Some $150 billion has already been spent. I want us to have a more multilateral, new and responsible foreign policy. I also want to bring funds back into my district, which is heavily minority."

Upendra Chivukula's successful run for the New Jersey State Assembly was on a platform to rethink how public education is funded so as to make schools more equitable in different class neighbourhoods, to defend and extend open, green spaces in cities, and to make sure that children of immigrants get tuition breaks for college. Swati Dandekar, who runs John Kerry's presidential campaign in Iowa, successfully campaigned for the State House on a platform that included urban renewal by job creation and by an end to the death penalty. Finally, Kamala Harris, who recently won the election to become San Francisco's District Attorney, is a strong advocate of civil rights and civil liberties. This list is abbreviated, but as veteran Democratic Party organiser Toby Chaudhari says of such people, they are "progressive democrats".

Not the same with Republicans, who want to stress their ethnic ties as they remain silent about their links to the Bush party. Nikki Randhawa Haley, who is running for the South Carolina Assembly on the Republican ticket, told the Indian-American press: "Does it matter for the Indian community whether a candidate is Republican or Democrat? What we need are more people in political office. The candidate's party affiliation is irrelevant for us as a community at this time." But at this time one's party affiliation might be more than relevant - it is crucial. The re-election of George W. Bush and the growth of Bush Republicans in the U.S. Congress would only embolden the right-wing to move ahead with its policies to adjust democracy further structurally and to export its militarism from Iraq to elsewhere.

In a new book, veteran journalists Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber call the Bush party Banana Republicans because they are entirely motivated by corporate-military interests, because their intolerance for dissent has made their right-wing media outlets ridicule the Democratic Party's platform, and because they have been able to ensnare a range of politicians and intellectuals to serve their "war on terror" rather than the public interest.

In 1980, Bertram Gross prophesised that the type of political extremism possible in the U.S. is "friendly fascism", and in the guise of the Bush Banana Republicans, that seems to have come to pass. For desi Republicans, ethnicity is a useful cover against their intolerant bag of political goods.

A defeat of the Bush team will not necessarily change anything in the overall structure of U.S. power, but it will make the Kerry camp less able to be so brash in the use of military power in the world, and of police power at home. Whatever the result, this is the election of Indian Americans - not simply because so many will run in races across the country, but also because political activists in the community have moved into the electoral field like never before. Indian Americans no longer support candidates based on their views of the subcontinent's problems, but they now see that the wider issues are of import. For that itself, one could say that the Indian Americans have put themselves firmly on the electoral map.

Women and German fascism

Gender and Power in the Third Reich: Female Denouncers and the Gestapo (1933-45) by Vandana Joshi; Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire and New York, 2003; pages xx + 229, 45 (hardbound).

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FOR someone in India, reviewing a book related to the Holocaust can be rather disturbing. It also brings memories of the `democratically' sponsored riots by the Gujarat government, during which even people from the margins - women and Adivasis - were drawn into the barbaric expeditions. In fact, the book under review can perhaps open one's mind to the complexities of how repressive and totalitarian regimes can transform human beings and the inner world of the `home'.

Vandana Joshi has researched on a theme that seems to have been ignored even by German historians. Her expertise in the German language enabled her to explore 366 Gestapo files at the State Archives of Dsseldorf in Germany as a major source.

Although the theme of denunciation has been widely examined by scholars, female denouncers do not seem to have attracted much attention. As explained by Vandana Joshi, denunciation in the context of modern European history meant accusations of wrongdoing made by ordinary citizens or officials about fellow citizens or officials to the authorities. These were mostly acts that drew punishment. The concept of denunciation acquired new meanings in Nazi Germany. It set into motion a power struggle among ordinary women, who used it as an instrument to fight their individual battles at various levels in society. In fact, what makes the work striking is that it delineates the way a consensus for fascism was created by women, who were apparently powerless and weak, through their day-to-day lives. Whereas mass organisations of women did exist in Nazi Germany, denunciation provided women with power in their immediate environs. It is perhaps in this sense that the book focusses on gender history and on how the Nazi system worked "from below".

Historians who have focussed on women in Nazi Germany have predictably progressed from the starting point of locating women as victims of patriarchy, as accomplices, and, finally, as perpetrators themselves. Vandana Joshi's method follows a track that accommodates gender as a historical category with all the associated complexities of good and evil. Besides, though she focusses on women denouncers, she tunes her work to the life of women and the overall context of racism and the question of forced foreign identity.

As delineated by the author, Nazism attempted to replace class and gender hierarchies with one based on race. This placed `Aryan' men at the top and `Aryan' women below them. After all, patriarchy was very much a part of Nazism and was harmoniously integrated with it. Although perhaps discriminated against in the job market, women were extremely vital for their reproductive power, which was necessary to procreate, nurture, preserve and defend the `Aryan race'. This division coexisted with a clear preference of the `master' race and the `othering' of `inferior' races. What is fascinating about the book is the way it focusses on the shifts and changes in Nazi policies relating to women and the Jewish people. And, while attempting this, Vandana Joshi elaborates the changing face of patriarchy itself.

Explaining the way in which the two worlds of men and women were located differently, Vandana Joshi highlights how the "small world" of women (that is, home) was expected to provide stability to the big world `outside'. This idea of different spheres introduced a form of fascist empowerment that provided ordinary housewives with a host of possibilities - to be racial educators and guardians of society and get associated with the power structure. It is precisely in such a manner that they legitimised fascism in their day-to-day lives.

On the basis of the Gestapo files, the author lists 52 categories of offences. Interestingly, the category `Communist Party' with 1,440 cases tops the list, followed by `Jews', with 1,289 cases. There were denunciations against some for singing the `Internationale' and listening to Radio Moscow news bulletins. In this context, the author's opinion that the largely male membership of the Communist Party made it more vulnerable, seems to be a serious argument. Nevertheless, given the turbulence of the phase, one can perhaps argue that the situation would have remained unaltered even if there were many more women in the Communist Party. In such a situation they would have been denounced as relatives of the husbands by women denouncers. Vandana Joshi refers to "race defilement" cases where women who were identified as "illegitimate" children of Jewish fathers were charged with concealing their identity and expected to be "treated as... Jew(s)". In fact, this sounds rather familiar to someone living in 21st century India.

A MAJOR contribution of the author is to interrogate historians - including feminists - who virtually legitimise fascism by projecting women as innocent and ignorant of Nazi crimes. It had been acknowledged that the `private' world - the home front - was as vital as the battlefront. This implied the invasive character of the Nazi state. As the author goes on to show, women from the poorer sections of society subverted gender hierarchies at home, while demonstrating allegiance to the totalitarian Nazi regime.

Vandana Joshi refers to the way the private world of `home' got politicised. She mentions cases of many wives in situations as varied as those in which women were exposed to domestic violence and those wherein relationships had soured. As denouncers they tilted the power structure to fight for dignity, with a desire to subvert patriarchy. As outlined, this phenomenon could get incorporated into agendas of revenge. The author refers to women who used the weapon of denunciation against the female relatives of their husbands. She points out that denunciation remained a predominantly female-centred activity, which provided women with an extra-judicial forum to express the anger and resentment caused by the adverse conditions faced by them in their `homes'. It saved unemployed housewives the resources necessary to use the judicial structure to fight their adversaries. In this sense the Gestapo - and in a broader sense the Nazi state - provided them with an alternative space. Stressing the urban and working class component of the denouncers, the author delineates the conditions that made communism and race prominent components that were taken up for investigation by the Gestapo.

While touching upon the social history of Nazi Germany, Vandana Joshi projects the repressive working conditions and the lack of freedom to express views in the public sphere that made some people adopt dual lives. It was in such a context that the inner world seemed safer to criticise. Nevertheless, the private-public dichotomy had been dismantled not only by the fascist state, but also by ordinary women from within their homes.

Vandana Joshi also refers to the sexist perceptions of the regime when it came to relationships involving Jewish men and `Aryan' women. Thus she refers to the dominant assumption of a `Jew' being an "eternal seducer" and a "lecherous parasite" with insatiable desires - perceptions that sound so familiar to the communal location of the `Muslim' in contemporary India.

While referring to the motives of the denouncers, the author focusses on various features that range from anti-Semitism to social and professional jealousies. Vandana Joshi refers to the silence of Jewish women - who were particularly vulnerable to violence, sexual harassment, abuse and assaults by `Aryan' men - in the Gestapo files. This is in sharp contrast to the oral testimonies that she has encountered. In a context where many Jewish women were left to fend for themselves, this is a particularly disturbing feature.

The author also examines the position of the Gestapo when it came to those designated as foreign workers and foreign minorities. The `Aryan' men could get away most of the time and, in cases where their crime could be established, the punishment never lasted for more than three months. What is remarkable is that crimes like rape committed by `Aryan' men were not taken as serious offences - rather "dereliction of duty" was the reason for which they were punished. Cases where German women - the upholders of `Aryan culture' - "polluted" and "defiled" themselves by having friendships with non-`Aryans' were dealt with seriously. If proved, women were subjected to traumatising treatment, which included imprisonment or even being paraded with shaven heads. In fact, public humiliation became a part of Nazi culture. Sexual promiscuity was only allowed to the soldier, but not his wife. At the same time, any relationship between a German woman with a `foreigner' was located very clearly as an act of `sexual aggression'. Paying no heed to the woman's voice, the regime hanged these men since their crime was considered as deserving capital punishment.

Vandana Joshi refers to the emergence of `moral guardians' in Nazi Germany, who `took care' to enforce codes on women whose husbands were out fighting. This is again a feature that we encounter in a weaker form in contemporary times, especially when it comes to targeting people for celebrating the so-called foreign and hence polluting festivals.

This is a path-breaking work and it is indeed creditable that in 2002 the author, an Indian, won the Fraenkel Prize for Contemporary History for it. Vandana Joshi's book would attract not only those interested in history but anyone who wants to have a glimpse of how fascism can alter and transform human beings into beastly creatures.

For someone in India, this book has an additional significance since it would enable the reader at least to conceptualise what `Modi-fication' in its developed form can be like. From their experiences in the past, the people in Hitler's country have learnt to reject fascist politics. Do Indians need to relive this experience in order to learn to do the same?

The quest for freedom

The astonishing story of the Egyptian writer Miral-al-Tahawy's journey in self-discovery from the sheltered existence in a patriarchal Bedouin village.

THIRTY-FIVE-YEAR-OLD Egyptian writer Miral al-Tahawy was born in Geziret Saoud in the Eastern Nile delta. Her first collection of stories Riem al-barai al-mostahila (The Exceptional Steppe Antelope) appeared in 1995. This was followed by the novels Al-Khibaa (The Tent), Al-Badhingana al-zarqa (The Blue Aubergine) and Naquarat al-Zibae (The Gazelle's Tracks). Two novels, The Tent and The Blue Aubergine, have been translated into English by Anthony Calderbank, published by the American University Press, Cairo. Her third novel is currently being translated.

Miral is a Bedouin of the Al-Hanadi tribe, which migrated to the Al-Sharqiyya province of Egypt in the 19th century. She grew up in a conservative Bedouin village, around a three-hour drive from Cairo. She stepped out from her home unaccompanied by a male relative for the first time when she was 26, and still had to be covered from head to foot.

Miral has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Arab Literature from Close University. In 1995, she got her Master of Arts in Arabic Language and Literature from the University of Cairo. She is now an assistant professor in the Department of Literature and Criticism at the University of Cairo. She is working on her doctoral thesis on the desert novels in Arab literature.

Miral writes in Arabic. Her publisher Hosni Soliman established the Sharqiyaat publishing house in the early 1990s. He is credited with having discovered this new generation of writers in Egypt, known as the 1990s generation. The female protagonists of The Tent and The Blue Aubergine, both semi-autobiographical novellas, narrate their stories in a stream of consciousness mode. Miral says that the first-person style gives her a lot of freedom of expression. She is evolving a unique style that combines the stream of consciousness technique with the confessional form, but in an autobiographical manner. Miral's protagonists are not people she knows. They represent different aspects of herself. She says that they are actually many different girls running around inside her, waiting to get out. "Just as the soul can be many characters in many ways the characters and the stories of my writing are multi-layered as well. It may seem like one linear narrative, but it is a style/story that has encompassed many different days, generations, stories etc. We are like the transitional generation." The structure of the autographical style allows Miral to "synthesise with the girls". According to her, the first-generation writers did not use their writing to make a story of their own lives, but "my writing is like my testimony".

The 1990s generation of Egyptian novelists only use the novella form, unlike the older novelists who used writing as a weapon, and chose words in the traditional way. The new novelists aim at greater clarity, writing about common feelings and problems, such as hurdles faced by women. Their way of expression is very concentrated and extremely rich, but they do not care about details. It is all an emotional narrative as it forces the reader to engage himself or herself with the text. The only way the reader can understand the writing is by following and being sensitive to the authors' emotions. It is certainly "stream of consciousness technique, but with a unique structure to it".

Miral grew up in a house occupied by a large, extended joint family. She is a descendant from the fifth wife of her trader grandfather. Her grandmother has been the catalyst for Miral's freedom. Miral's grandfather spotted her on one of his travels, when he was in his 70s and she a young woman - not a Bedouin but an Egyptian. In her younger days Miral's grandmother was used to a great deal of freedom in all senses of the word: in her dress (wearing clothes that did not cover her from head to foot), in her speech, in her relationships with men. She was not prepared for the seclusion and isolation to which Bedouin women were subjected. As the wife of a Bedouin, she was so cut off from the world and her own community that even when her father died, her husband did not allow her to attend the funeral.

Miral's father, unlike other Bedouin men, was quite liberal and modern in his outlook. He was a doctor and a member of the Egyptian Congress. Yet he continued the Bedouin tradition of keeping the women in seclusion. His mother found this hard to take. One of Miral's vivid recollections is that of her grandmother singing songs of freedom.

English does not come easily to Miral al-Tahawy, but you can hear the passion as she talks about her grandmother: "My grandmother is feeling like me to get her freedom. She was a good storytellesr and had nice energy. She started to tell me about her childhood and about the times that she was open. I made notes. I discover I want to express my feelings."

MIRAL is the youngest of seven children, one of two girls. When she was 21 or so, relatives began pressurising her to get married. Bedouins usually marry within their tribe and family. Marriage offers began coming for Miral but she was only keen to pursue higher studies and if possible work. Fortunately, her mother and grandmother supported her decision; (her father had passed away when she was 15.) So, after completing her graduation she worked as a schoolteacher in the village. Then at the age of 26 she decided to enrol and work in the University of Cairo.

At first there was horror at her decision. She was not allowed to accept the offer or work. Fed up with the continual restrictions on her movement and expression, and the poor status of women, Miral was adamant. When she did not receive any support from her relatives, not even her mother, she packed her bags one night and left for Cairo. For a while, her mother tried to conceal the fact that Miral had moved to Cairo, saying that her daughter was unwell. She plumped up the bedding in such a way as to give the impression that Miral was in bed, sleeping. Every night, she would plead with Miral on the telephone, "Please come home. I'll manage another solution." Miral refused, saying, "here I am in a good position and this is what I dream of."

Eventually relatives came to know that Miral was teaching in Cairo. The driver was sent to Cairo to fetch her from the university. At home, she was treated badly. Few were willing to talk to her, let alone acknowledge her presence. After much discussion, Miral and her family reached a compromise. She could travel everyday to Cairo, attend her classes and return home. She would not be allowed to spend the night in the city. Miral agreed. Every day she would leave home at 5-30 a.m., travel for three hours to reach Cairo, attend her classes and come home exhausted in the evening. At 5-00 p.m. Miral's mother would call the driver to check whether she was on her way home. The daily ordeal began telling on Miral's health. Finally, another compromise was reached. She was to squeeze the time required to spend at the university into two days. She would now be able to spend the night on the campus. Miral was delighted. This was her first taste of actual freedom. For the first time, her movements were not going to be monitored and she was free to talk and interact with whom she wished, without any restrictions whatsoever.

MIRAL says she felt awkward and uncomfortable when she went to Cairo for the first time. Her clothes were old-fashioned; she felt uncomfortable talking to men; she did not really know how to conduct herself in public, nor could she look people in the eye. Her room on the university campus overlooked the banks of the Nile. From her window, she would see couples cuddling and kissing. The sight was strange to Miral; it made her rather uncomfortable as well. "I had so much pain. I cannot love someone." She used to write of this in her diary, and has quoted parts of it verbatim in her second novel The Blue Aubergine: "I didn't like playing brides and grooms. I didn't like being a goal-keeper. Three times I broke my arm as they shot and I fell and they applauded. I was afraid of climbing trees... in case I died... and I didn't like hopscotch because my mother said my legs weren't pretty and my toes were too long like my grandfather's. I didn't like hide-and-seek because when I covered my eyes the boys kissed my friends behind the pigeon towers and in the alleyways between the houses and they let me bump from wall to wall and I didn't catch anybody. Now I like tag. I say: `Go!' and all the men run after me and none of them can catch me. I just pop my head out and then hide again, they can only hope to catch me in the seclusion of their dreams. I stick my tongue out at them and say; `I'm the moon. You can't reach me.' And when I say to the one who has my secret in his eyes: `Come closer," he says: `You don't know what love is'."

"I am not normal enough. Writing gives me this stability. It gives me my freedom."

Miral's low self-esteem was caused partly by her mother who would constantly belittle her by telling her that she was not beautiful, definitely not the princess that she thought she would grow up to be. When Miral came to the city, she realised that people considered her beautiful and that did wonders for her confidence. She narrates an amusing incident. She was being introduced by a journalist as this "shooting star on the Egyptian literary scene who is also young and beautiful". He half expected Miral to be affronted by the epithet "beautiful". He was taken aback when she acknowledged it as a compliment. Miral argues: "Why not be happy? I am also a human being who can appreciate compliments. There is nothing wrong in being received as beautiful. It is an aspect of me, just as my writing is."

Miral's first published book was a collection of short stories that was "based on a lot of memories. These were stories swirling in my mind. Stories that I had heard my grandmother narrate. My work is written in a form of Arabic that is quite difficult to read. I use my knowledge of Classical Arabic, which I learnt in the University, and the dialect that I grew up using. Every author creates his/her own language. It is like a fingerprint.

"Once my short stories were published and I began receiving acclaim and complimentary reviews, then translators began visiting me. My mother looked at me as if I was someone important. She thinks I am abnormal, but she also thinks that it is possible to be talented. She wonders why I put her in my books. But that is not the only relationship that I put in my books. It is all my experience. It is a very hard relationship with my mother as she cannot make distance between her dream and me. She cannot understand this image about myself. She affects something... my self-confidence. This in turn affects my relationships. It takes time to discover myself and writing gives me that self-confidence to do so.

"Writing also enables me to travel, meet people and I have to learn. I am like someone in prison. I have suddenly achieved freedom. I want to do everything. It takes me time to understand simple things like that it is easy to be very friendly and have a relationship. I discover that it is easy, but it takes time. Sometimes, I think that it is also not easy to change old things easily and it is as if inertia has set in.

"Writing has changed my relationship with my mother and sister. My mother for instance, has accepted me as a writer now. She feels that maybe writing is something that I really wish to do, and it is my talent. She says, `my girl cannot concentrate on anything. She cannot cook and she cannot be a mother.' But my mother realises that writing has made me real and strong.

"This transformation is something that my sister too realises. Earlier I would look up to my elder sister. There is nearly eight years gap between the two of us. She is very similar to our mother and though a trained pharmacist, running her own pharmacy, she is like our mother; a nurturing, sensitive, caring and a `good' woman. Earlier she knew my life, but now she discovers that I am strong. All because of the fact that I have learnt to express myself.

"My writing gives me the understanding to just look at myself and be honest. I do not have a strong imagination, but I guess I am a good writer. Because I have very sensitive feeling. I am not very good or very close to human feeling.

"I learnt to read English because I had been trained in Old Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Urdu. But I wanted to express myself in English. When I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's autobiography, he said something that was so true. He said, that whenever he gave interviews in English, he wanted to say much more, but was restricted by his vocabulary. I guess it is my deep relationship with language that made me learn English with ease. Yet, I use Old Arabic as the language for my writing as it has a lot of information about the history, culture, songs, poetry etc. It is very hard to read it, but it gives me a huge variety."

MIRAL writes about the problems of women and how to deal with freedom once attained, and yet she is not totally free. She does not have the space to deal with politics or recording other aspects of life known to her. The status of the women bothers her. This is possibly the reason why Fatima and Nada, the protagonists in The Tent and The Blue Aubergine, are in some senses outcastes. One is a cripple and the other is ugly. Both are total misfits in Bedouin and Egyptian society. But this is exactly what enables the young female protagonists to explore, question, and comment upon the world around them without really ever having to tussle with the `mainstream' world.

The world of politics - democracy in the Arab world, dynastic tendencies even in non-monarchies such as Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak's son is tipped to succeed him, and the freedom of media in Egypt, the Israel-Palestinian issue - does not interest her at the moment as she feels that politicians have not really done much to improve the status of women.

While in college she was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and had even written articles for the movement, now she totally rejects its ideology and beliefs. Insisting upon the veil, and confining women to fixed roles and not really giving them their freedom is actually regressive, she says. Now there are far stronger women visible as role models.

The women now have a better chance of expressing themselves and, what is more, gaining the support for their views that was earlier absent: "Something has changed in our society." In any case, whatever kind of politics one may swear by (the Left activist boyfriend and the Islamicist brother of Nada), the situation of the woman never changes. This is a huge disappointment. Nada cannot grow up properly. She cannot be mature and she certainly cannot expect any kind of stability. She is in a constant dilemma: "Writing gives us a medium by which to express ourselves, but not necessarily to help us locate the answers."

In her novels, whether it is set in a Bedouin village or in Cairo, Miral always has a Bedouin grandmother figure who is tyrannical and autocratic, the chief matriarch who runs the establishment in her husband's or the chief patriarch's absence. Given that the Bedouins are usually traders, the men disappear for very long periods of time on work, leaving the women and children at home. The women are then usually responsible for agriculture, the protection of the children, and so on. This prompts the Bedouin woman to become more aggressive and more aware of her value. In some sense, the rule of men and women elides and becomes one and the same. The woman, according to Miral, comes "out of her gender" as she becomes the less repressed.

For Miral, writing fiction is about her own thinking. She does not have any kind of ideology. Her writing is all about feeling and about understanding the work. She has chosen not to be a part of any ideology as, "our society has not grown up enough to understand what it is, to be liberal and free. It is all very well to reflect on conflict, but it is also important to try and locate solutions for the status of women".

Jaya Bhattacharji is editor, Zubaan, an associate of Kali for Women.

East Asia's dilemma

China's yes vote on the Iraq resolution in the Security Council is cast with the hope of an early resolution of the problem as well as the constraints placed on it by the Taiwan issue, while Japan and South Korea commit themselves to a larger presence in Iraq based on considerations of realpolitik.

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UNITED Nations Security Council Resolution 1546 on Iraq has given Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi an opportunity to repackage his policy of siding with the United States. In spite of popular opposition at home to the growing Tokyo-Washington strategic confluence outside Japan, Koizumi had sent troops to Iraq several months ago on a `humanitarian' mission there under overall U.S. military command. The resolution has now come in handy for Koizumi to rationalise the extension of the `non-combat' role of his troops beyond the June-end "transfer of sovereignty" to the Iraqi people.

Koizumi's decision has been justified almost entirely on the basis of Resolution 1546. Significantly, he had cited the need to stand by the U.S. as the main strategic reason for his earlier decision to send several hundred Self-Defence Forces (SDF) personnel to Iraq. But under post-imperial Japan's `pacifist' and `anti-war' Constitution there are constraints on the use of force by SDF units. This aspect, apart from the genuine opposition to the U.S.' "imperial project", should account for the public criticism of Koizumi's decision.

Defending his latest move, Koizumi said on June 17 that the SDF units already in Iraq would now become "part of the multinational force", purportedly "requested by the Iraqi interim government", and that it would function under the terms of "the unanimously adopted new U.N. Security Council resolution".

Four cardinal principles would govern the activities of the SDF, he asserted. The SDF would "operate under Japanese national command", indicating that these troops would no longer come under the overall military jurisdiction of Washington, even if the U.S. were to spearhead a new U.N.-authorised multinational force under the provisions of Resolution 1546. Another aspect is that the Japanese soldiers would "restrict their activities to non-combat areas".

More important, SDF personnel would not be deployed as an "integral part" of a multinational squad with a duty profile involving "the use of force". The last but not the least of the conditions was that the SDF units would "operate [entirely] within the framework of the [existing Japanese] Law Concerning the Special Measures on Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq".

Suffice it to say that even a quick glance at the restrictions on the SDF's activities in Iraq, even under a U.N.-authorised process, would be a tall order to sustain in the volatile situation in that U.S.-occupied country.

FOR South Korea too Resolution 1546 has provided a new context. However, President Roh Moo-hyun, who is politically stronger after his recent judicial reinstatement, has decided to send additional troops to Iraq on the basis of some familiar political logic, which is rooted largely in the conundrum of the long-time U.S.-South Korean military alliance. Seoul's action is also to project itself as being Washington's friend-in-need. Roh, thus, has announced the decision to send about 3,000 additional troops, including combat-ready personnel, to Iraq to join the 600-odd "non-combat'' soldiers already there on a "humanitarian'' task. In fact, the Roh administration did not explicitly seek the political "cover" of the Security Council's mandate or authorisation.

There is, however, an element of realpolitik in Roh's decision to stay the course on Iraq. It is related to the U.S.' move to reduce the size of its military personnel in South Korea by shifting thousands of them to Iraq and by relocating others within South Korean territory, and Seoul's perception that the U.S.' help would be needed to face the challenge of the North Korean nuclear weapons programme.

Despite the beheading of South Korean national Kim Sun-il in Iraq on June 22. Roh reaffirmed his decision on June 23, justifying it as Seoul's contribution to help the Iraqi people. But the moot point is public opinion in the new context. A growing number of people do not see the decision through Seoul's official prism. For a variety of reasons, public opinion in the country is veering towards a critical assessment that the U.S. is an overbearing benefactor at best and a hegemonic power at worst. It now remains to be seen how the Roh administration can harmonise a U.S.-friendly foreign policy with the popular perception in the country.

It is, however, the attitude of China, a permanent member of the Security Council, that matters more to the U.S. than the actions of the "friendly'' governments in allied countries. Beijing has gone along with the U.S. and other permanent members of the Security Council in the final stages of the passage of Resolution 1546. In 2003, in contrast, China did keep the U.S. guessing on Iraq. That turned out to be one of several key factors that resulted in a no-vote situation in the Security Council - a stalemate that Washington, in a unilateralist overdrive, sought to overcome by invading Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the name of a "coalition of the willing".

War studies analyst Lawrence Freedman recently argued that "when France, followed by Russia, led the opposition [at] the Security Council to the move against Iraq [in 2003], China said very little, not raising its head above the parapet". In this line of thinking, "if France and Russia had reached a compromise with the United States, the assumption is that China would have gone along".

While it is a fact that China remained circumspect during the run-up to the formation of the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq in 2003, it remains debatable whether it would have simply fallen in line behind the U.S. if it had struck a "compromise" with France and Russia. Two critical factors were at play for China. First, the new leadership of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao had just assumed office in March, with Jiang Zemin remaining as the backstage elder statesman. Second, international opinion against a U.N. mandate for war against Iraq was very strong indeed.

Now, with international opinion further hardened against the way the U.S. and its coalition partners have carried out their combat operations and "collateral" operations in Iraq, why did China choose to help the U.S. on Resolution 1546?

Four reasons have been cited by China in support of its position. A firm belief has been voiced that "this Resolution will help realise [the objective of] an Iraq governed by the Iraqi people". Another is the possibility of "national reconciliation" in Iraq as a sequel to the "transfer of sovereignty" to an interim government in Baghdad. The Resolution may also help set the stage for "economic reconstruction" , it is claimed. Finally, in China's thinking, "Iraq's return to the international community" could be "facilitated" by this Resolution.

If these arguments still leave room for questions about China's Iraq policy, the answer can be traced to the current state of flux as regards Beijing's equation with Washington. Given the nature of the Taiwan issue, which the U.S. is still able to hold out as a critical "card" in its dealings with China, and given also the strategic complexities of the North Korean nuclear issue, Beijing continues to tread carefully insofar as Washington's "interests" in Iraq are concerned.

Viewed differently, China has been commended in certain circles for its decision to vote for Resolution 1546 instead of abstaining.

According to an estimate, in the period August 1990-December 1999, China cast as many as 41 "abstentions" in the Security Council, citing "principled opposition" on such questions as the use of force, humanitarian intervention and the formation of international criminal tribunals. Critics of such "excessive use of abstentions", such as Pang Zhongying, argued as recently as two years ago that such actions might only compromise rather than enhance, China's position as a great power with a matching sense of responsibility. A logical corollary to this line of reasoning is the question whether China will join, at some stage, any multinational initiative, under Resolution 1546 or otherwise, to ensure peace and stability in Iraq in the period ahead. The answers might depend not only on China's own evolving world-view in the context of the U.S. activism of the current geopolitical complexion but also on the unfolding Iraqi situation itself.

A few U.S.-friendly countries in South East Asia, too, have extended varying degrees of logistical support for Washington's military presence in Iraq. However, South Korea's U.S.-related challenges are qualitatively different, even from those of Japan.

Handicapped intelligence

PRAVEEN SWAMI the-nation

Bureaucratic manipulation and turf wars frustrate efforts to reform the intelligence agencies, which face the challenge of containing increasingly sophisticated terrorist violence.

IN May 2001, an unknown bureaucrat replaced pages 16 to 40 of the Recommendations of the Group of Ministers on Reforming the National Security Apparatus with a single blank sheet. "Government Security Deletion", reads the white page. Words, it is becoming clear, were not the bureaucracy's only victims. More than three full years have passed since the Group of Ministers (GoM) set up to review India's security system in the wake of the Kargil war gave its assent to a sweeping reform of India's intelligence services. Yet, trenchant resistance by the mandarins who man the Ministries of Home Affairs and Finance have shot dead efforts to bring about qualitative improvements in the technology available to the Indian intelligence agencies - and, more important, their training and recruitment procedures.

Led by former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, the GoM recommendations were based on the findings of several expert task forces. The task force on intelligence reforms, arguably the most important of these, had an all-star cast. Led by former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief Girish C. Saxena, the task force had at its disposal the services of former Foreign Secretary K. Raghunath, former Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) chief M.K. Narayanan, former Home Affairs Special Secretary P.P. Shrivastava, former RAW Additional Secretary B. Raman, and R. Narsimhan of the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS). What emerged from their work was the first definitive review of the problems in the Indian intelligence system and a blueprint for enabling it to respond to the challenges of changed times.

Among the most important recommendations of the Saxena-led task force was that both the I.B. and RAW upgrade their personnel profile to meet the increasingly sophisticated means used by terrorists. "The most vital asset of any intelligence organisation", the still-classified report reads, "is the quality of the personnel manning it. In order to improve the performance of intelligence agencies, it is essential to enhance the quality of the people entering it". Put simply, the I.B. and RAW - which has a particularly unsavoury reputation for nepotism - simply were unable to find the kind of human resource they needed. Resentment and frustration were common, particularly among junior staff. To this end, the report recommended that "incentives should be introduced at every level to motivate officials to do their best".

Underlying this recommendation was the realisation that the I.B.'s field staff - the people who actually conduct espionage on ground in terrorism-related cases - have perhaps the worst terms of service of any police organisation. It can, for example, take I.B. field staff up to three decades to reach the rank equivalent to Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) - well over twice as long as it would in a state police force. Nor do personnel from the IB's own cadre of personnel - as opposed to the Indian Police Service (IPS) staff who make up its senior ranks - receive hazardous duty benefits available to their counterparts in uniformed services, like free rations or access to subsidised canteens. Unsurprisingly, the best of the pool of talent available to police forces simply does not want to head towards the I.B., posing a series of long-term problems.

According to the Saxena report, a two-member committee made up of the RAW Secretary and the I.B. Director was to have made recommendations for improving pay, promotions and perquisites within three months. Three years on, nothing has been done. Resistance from the Ministry of Finance forced both organisations to set up sub-committees to review the entire issue. According to sources, the two-member committee's final recommendations, which are based on the sub-committee findings, will only reach the Ministry of Home Affairs in coming weeks. After this, discussions will begin anew with the Ministry of Finance. Officials in the Ministry of Finance are apprehensive that pay hikes for intelligence personnel could lead to similar claims from other departments. No one has any idea how long the bargaining process might take - or what its final outcome might be.

Delays like these are of a piece with the fate of other key recommendations of the GoM. Sensitive to the growing sophistication and spread of terrorist violence in India, the Saxena Committee had recommended a massive expansion of the I.B.'s field presence. Three elements were key to this process. Inter-State Intelligence Support Teams were to have been set up to aid state police forces by providing modern technology and personnel skilled in espionage techniques. A Joint Task Force on Intelligence or JTFI, was to have been set up in each State, with a counter-terrorism training centre and online access to I.B. data. Finally, a state-of-the-art Multi Agency Centre, MAC, was to collate and disseminate data arriving from field agents in all intelligence organisations. This would have brought it a step closer to acquiring the data-processing capabilities that the western intelligence organisations have had for decades.

Estimates were drawn up in-house by the I.B., suggesting that at least 3,000 additional personnel were needed for the new tasks. In the end, only 800-odd new jobs were sanctioned. The financial constraints cited for this downscaling, however, evidently did not apply to organisations controlled by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), for example, was authorised to raise over 10,000 new men in order to replace the Border Security Force (BSF) on counter-terrorist duties - a transfer which, ironically enough, now stands stalled. The JTFI system exists on paper, but no cash has been made available for centres in which regional police officials may be trained. Nor is there provision for secure on-line communication. If there had been, MAC could not cope: currently run on the I.B.'s internal resources, it will get just 50 additional personnel, who will process data on networked personal computers, not even a low-end mainframe.

What explains this state of affairs? Part of the problem, experts say, is the historic antipathy of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) bureaucrats who staff the Ministry of Home Affairs to the police-led I.B. The Saxena Committee, critically, had insisted that the Ministry of Home Affairs will have to stop seeing or treating the organisation as an "appendage or subsidiary unit". The I.B. Director, who currently has less power than the Secretaries heading major Ministries, was to have wide-ranging autonomy in financial and operational decision-making. As things stand, the I.B. has no say over handling its own budget - its Director, for example, cannot even authorise the purchase of a new desktop computer for his secretary without the approval of the Ministry of Home Affairs' Procurement Wing. The IAS, for the most part, is happy with this situation, as it provides leverage over the I.B.

Other lobbies, too, have been at work. RAW, for example, made progress in implementing the Saxena Committee's calls for improving technical espionage - notably in the sphere of satellite communication interception. Its National Technical Intelligence Communication Centre, headed by former Army officer R.S. `Billy' Bedi, is believed to possess some of the most sophisticated communications intelligence equipment in the world. However, there has been tremendous resistance to the Saxena Committee's calls for more rigorous recruitment procedures. Dozens of officer-level RAW personnel are immediate relatives of senior personnel in the organisation, hired without any written examination procedure - in sharp contrast with the rigorous selection model followed by most overseas intelligence services. Nor has the organisation been open to calls for independent audits of the quality of its intelligence, choosing instead to reject the Saxena Committee's calls for "an honest and in-depth stock-taking of their present intelligence effort".

Meanwhile, the much-advertised Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), which was meant to coordinate the functioning of the intelligence wings of the three services, has turned into something of a pre-retirement holding station. Although the DIA was intended to be responsible to the still-to-be-created Chief of Defence Staff, its personnel are still bound to their parent organisations. Annual performance assets, for example, are written by superiors in the parent intelligence organisations, not the DIA.

In general, insiders say, the Army, the Air Force and the Navy continue to resist sharing information with one another, and intelligence coordination is almost unknown. Based on a secret authorisation issued by Prime Minister V.P. Singh in 1990-1991, the DIA was to have been empowered to undertake cross-border espionage work but in reality has little say in any actual covert work. The DIA Chief, currently Lieutenant-General Avtar Singh Gill, has no powers to demand compliance from the services.

In the final analysis, the problem is political: few Members of Parliament either understand the business of intelligence, or feel concern over its management. Intelligence issues almost never feature in public discourse, except when there is a scandal or a catastrophic failure. Until political leaders actually start making an effort to engage with the issues at stake, and compel accountability, all efforts at reform will remain hostage to bureaucratic manipulation and turf wars.

Women and the high risk

ALTHOUGH the human immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) are still considered the problems of "others", it is no secret that the infection is spreading in India. No respecter of social barriers, the virus has long ceased to be a problem of only commercial sex workers; it has infected monogamous women and children alike. In 2004, monogamous housewives accounted for over 22 per cent of HIV infection cases.

India, with four million known carriers, has the second largest number of HIV/AIDS patients after South Africa. The spread of the infection is attributed to low investment in public health infrastructure, high poverty levels, illiteracy and ignorance, strong gender biases, myths and taboos associated with the infection, and silence on sexuality.

The spread of HIV in the country varies with societal patterns, regions, States and metropolitan areas. Heterosexual behaviour is the most common way of HIV transmission, followed by the multiple use of infected needles by drug abusers.

Although the prevalence rate of HIV is low (0.8 per cent), the overall number of infected persons is high. The country has no system of collecting HIV testing information from the private sector, which provides 80 per cent of the health care. Thus, the official figures do not reveal the exact level of infection. Compounding this are the weaknesses in the surveillance system, the biases in targeting groups for testing and the non-availability of adequate testing services in several parts of the country. The limited statistics on the disease make it hard to map trends and identify new risk groups. But one frightening dimension is that women - especially vulnerable owing to their low socio-economic position even within households - are registering a higher rate of infection than men.

Globally, women below 25 are increasingly falling prey to HIV. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 12-13 women are infected for every 10 men. Even more disturbing is the fact that in 11 African countries the infection rate among women in the 15-25 age group is six times that of men.

In India, although HIV/AIDS is still thought to be largely concentrated in the high-risk populations including commercial sex workers, intravenous drug users, and truck drivers, surveillance data suggest that the epidemic is moving beyond these groups into the general population. It is also moving from urban to rural areas. In July 2003, Dr. Meenakshi Datta Ghosh, Project Director, National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), agreed that HIV/AIDS no longer affected only high-risk groups or urban populations, but was "gradually spreading into the rural areas and to the general population". The majority of reported AIDS cases have occurred in the sexually active and economically productive 15-44 age group.

It is estimated that 39 per cent of the known HIV/AIDS positive cases in India at the end of 2002 were women. The effect of the rising HIV prevalence among women is seen in the increase in the mother-to-child transmission rate.

It is difficult to ascertain the exact number of children orphaned by AIDSs, but it could be high. In 2001, the number of such children was estimated at 1.2 million.

In a number of States HIV prevalence in pregnant (antenatal) women is over 1 per cent, according to data obtained by the screening of women coming to antenatal clinics (ANCs). Such prevalence rates are only relevant to sexually active women, but they provide a reasonable estimate of HIV prevalence in the general population in the respective State. According to NACO figures, in 2002 the antenatal prevalence rate in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra was 1.25 per cent; in Goa it had increased to 1.38 per cent in 2002 from 0.5 per cent in 2001; and in Karnataka it had increased from 1.13 per cent in 2001 to 1.75 per cent.

In Manipur, the transmission route of HIV/AIDS is no longer confined to intravenous drug users; the infection has spread to female sexual partners and their children. The antenatal prevalence rate in the State in 2002 was 1.12 per cent, and among drug users, it was as high as 39.06 per cent at three surveillance sites. The epidemic took off quickly among male drug users in Mizoram with some drug clinics registering HIV rates of more than 70 per cent among their patients in 1998. In 2002, the antenatal prevalence rate was 1.5 per cent. In Nagaland, where intravenous drug use has been driving the HIV epidemic, the antenatal prevalence rate was 1.25 per cent and the HIV prevalence rate among drug users 10.28 per cent.

When the surveillance systems in Tamil Nadu showed a rising HIV infection rate among pregnant women - the figure trebled to 1.25 per cent between 1995 and 1997 - the State government set up an AIDS society, which worked closely with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), to develop an active prevention campaign. The antenatal prevalence in the State was 0.88 per cent in 2002, although an infection rate of 33.8 per cent was recorded at the one surveillance site for drug users. By September 2003, Tamil Nadu had recorded 24,667 cases of AIDS, the highest number reported to NACO by any State.

According to Dr.N.M. Samuel, Head of the Indian Experimental Medicine and AIDS Resource Centre of the Chennai-based Dr. MGR Medical University, in India 20 million births occur every year with between 1 and 4 per cent of pregnant women testing HIV positive. In his paper, "Do women need microbicide", he quotes a study which showed that one out of every 12 pregnant HIV positive women who received anti-retroviral treatment (ART) gave birth to one HIV positive baby; the rate went up to three without ART.

Only 59 per cent of the women who tested positive returned for treatment. Drug affordability and accessibility continue to be obstacles to health care, and 43 per cent of women give birth at home with trained or untrained midwives.

According to Dr. Alan Stone of the United Kingdom Medical Research Council, women are most vulnerable to HIV infection. Women accounted for more than half the 5.3 million new HIV infections in 2000. Pointing to India, he said the STD (sexually transmitted disease) clinics in Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi had noticed a sharp rise (by over 60 per cent) in HIV cases in the past decade.

This brings to the fore issues of women's vulnerability, their decision-making power within the household, her control over sexual behaviour, and her socio-economic status.

Recently, the International Labour Organisation (India) published the results of a study it initiated to understand the socio-economic impact of HIV/AIDS on infected persons and their families. Conducted in collaboration with the network of People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) it underlined the adverse economic impact of HIV/AIDS and the trauma arising out of the stigma, discrimination and ostracism.

The study focussed on Delhi, Maharashtra, Manipur and Tamil Nadu, which recorded a high rate of prevalence of the infection. The most disturbing aspect of the findings pertains to the impact of HIV/AIDS on women. Conducted among 292 people, of whom 42 per cent were women, the study revealed that 74 per cent of the HIV positive women faced discrimination and underwent hardships, especially within the family of the husband, by whom they had been infected.

Although the majority of women were infected by their husbands, they were blamed for the husband's death. In many cases, the woman was accused of causing her husband's illness, and either disowned or driven out by her in-laws.

The children of infected parents are also heavily discriminated against; they are taunted, abused and not allowed to interact with other children. Over 35 per cent of the children were denied basic amenities and about 17 per cent had to take up petty jobs to augment the family income.

Education is considered an important tool for bringing about attitudinal changes. In keeping with this view, the study found that a relatively high level of education among the infected (and by implication their families) had an impact on the extent of discrimination the women suffered. Fifty-nine per cent of the postgraduate respondents faced discrimination compared to 74 per cent of those educated up to the school level and 71.42 per cent of those who were illiterate. Women were more vulnerable, with 17.21 per cent being illiterate compared to 11.18 per cent of the men. While 22 per cent of the men had college education, only 8 per cent of the women were in that category.

The study also indicated that the average monthly income of a PLWHA member was about Rs.1,117, whereas the average monthly expenditure was Rs.3,185. In many cases, this gap was met by loans or the sale of assets, leading to increased indebtedness, averaging Rs.4,818 a family. While medical costs varied in accordance with the stage of the illness, the fact that HIV-infected persons have to go in for regular check-ups underscored the economic impact of the infection.

The ILO study also reinforced the fact that women are at risk of HIV infection and are all the more vulnerable, as they have no say over sexual behaviour. Microbicides can be a saviour to most women who cannot say "No".

`Kashmir jehad cannot break up India'

world-affairs

Interview with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the founding chief of Hizb-e-Islami, is the Federal Bureau of Investigation's most wanted Afghan warlord who carries $25 million on his head. He used to be the Central Intelligence Agency's `blue-eyed' boy during the United States' proxy war against the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s.

Hekmatyar stayed in exile in Mashad (Iran) until Teheran, annoyed by his anti-U.S. statements, asked him to leave the country in March 2002. A Kharotay Ghilzai Pashtun, Hekmatyar was born in 1948 at district Imam Sahib in Kunduz province. His family migrated to the north in 1948 from village Goral Uluswali Qarabagh (Ghazni province). Like the rest of the Kharotays, the family had led a nomadic life.

Hekmatyar graduated from the Sher Khan High School; did a two-year course in Military High School, Mehtab Qala, Kabul; joined the College of Engineering, Kabul University, but could not complete his studies owing to his involvement in political and religious activities. He was accused of killing Saidal Sukhundan, a student of Shola-i-Javaid (a Maoist organisation), for which he was jailed. After his release, Hekmatyar left for Peshawar, Pakistan, along with several other Afghan Islamists where they became active with the support of Pakistan against the Afghanistan Republic of President Daud in the early 1970s.

In alliance with Pakistan's Jamat-e-Islami, Hekmatyar became the recipient of the largest amount of monetary and military hardware assistance compared to other parties and groups in the CIA-funded war against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Mohammad Shehzad, a freelance journalist based in Islamabad, conducted this interview with Hekmatyar over the phone from Peshawar. Hekmatyar was talking through a sat-phone from an unknown place in Afghanistan. Excerpts:

Jehadist like Hafiz Saeed and Syed Salahuddin believe that the Kashmir jehad could break up India just like the Afghan jehad led to the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Being a veteran jehadi, do you think that is possible?

One has to be realistic in analysis. The USSR was a superpower. It was the number one enemy of the U.S. It is true that the USSR broke apart through the Afghan jehad. But the Afghan jehad was financed by a number of countries. Saudi Arabia and the U.S. spent money like water in the Afghan jehad. Other Western countries also joined them. Trillions of dollars were spent over a decade. It is also true that it was done by the mujahideens alone. But without a huge and generous financial support, it was not possible.

The dynamics of the Kashmir jehad are totally different. India is not a superpower. It is not the U.S.' enemy. It is not a potential threat to anyone in the region. The Kashmir jehad is not financed by foreign forces the way the Afghan jehad was financed. Moreover, the Kashmir issue is more of a political nature. In our case, the forces of `unbelief' had invaded Islam. That similarity does not exist in the case of Kashmir. So, I don't think India will break apart through the Kashmir jehad. According to my understanding, the Indian economy is improving. It is Pakistan that is heading towards disintegration. The Pakistan Army is committing state terrorism in South Waziristan. The MQM (Muttahida Quami Movement) is committing sectarian terrorism in Karachi. Baluchistan is also not at peace. It is also in the grip of sectarian violence. So, lawlessness and anarchy are writ large on Pakistan's face.

Are you saying that what is going on in Kashmir is not a jehad?

No, I am not saying that. Of course, it is jehad. You asked me whether the Kashmir jehad could break apart India or not. I am saying it cannot. I am not denying that the mujahideens' struggle is not jehad. It is 100 per cent jehad and I salute all the Kashmiri mujahideens - Hafiz Saeed, who is my leader, has fought jehad in Afghanistan; Syed Salahuddin, who is a great freedom fighter, as well as Maulana Masood Azhar who has given India a tough time.

You have just admitted that the U.S. and Saudi dollars had made the Afghan jehad successful. You are currently fighting a jehad against the U.S. - without the foreign support. How are you going to win it this time?

You are right that we don't have the U.S. or Saudi support this time. But if you have studied the history of Afghan jehad you would know that the foreign assistance came much later. The Afghans had waged a guerilla war of their own within their meagre resources and gave the Russians a tough time. It was the courage and determination of the Afghans that attracted the foreign support. Jehad is not fought with the money alone. Jehad requires passion.

Look at the Palestinian jehad. Do the people of Palestine have any weapons? Their weapons are stones and their own bodies. They would fight the armoured tanks of Israel by tying explosives around their body and blowing themselves up. We might not be able to break the U.S. apart but we are quite capable of making Afghanistan the U.S.' Waterloo. Moreover, we are not unarmed. We have arms in huge quantities. We snatch arms and ammunition from the Afghan Army as well as the coalition forces.

In a nutshell, we have sufficient wherewithal to carry out jehad for years. And we are quite confident to throw the U.S. out of Afghanistan. In fact, the sense that Afghanistan has become a quagmire for the U.S. has prevailed upon [George] Bush. That is why the U.S. is trying to find an `honourable' exit from Afghanistan as a face-saving measure.

This statement contradicts the one you made last year in the course of an interview you gave me for The Sunday Times. You had predicted the U.S.' disintegration through your jehad...

It must be in a different context. But one thing is for sure. The U.S. cannot stay in Afghanistan for a long time. It will have to pack up and leave. Otherwise, Afghanistan will become its graveyard and that would be the first nail in the U.S.' coffin.

Your aides - Commander Khalid Farooqi, Maulvi Sarfraz Janbaz and Abdul Hadi - have recently met Karzai, General Fahim and Zalmay Khalilzad. Karzai and Khalilzad have promised not to issue any statement against you. Karzai has allowed you to participate fully in the country's political activities and re-organise your party. When are you going to accept his offer?

These are just rumours spread by the U.S. through its media to demoralise the mujahideens. We could join hands with Karzai if he could ask the U.S. and the coalition forces to vacate Afghanistan and leave the future of Afghanistan to the Afghans. It is obvious that Karzai cannot accept such demands because he is an American stooge. It is true that Karzai these days is wooing some former mujahideens to muster support for the forthcoming presidential election. This is not his act. He is doing it at the U.S.' behest. But this is not going to make life easy for the U.S. or Karzai because the so-called mujahideens Karzai is talking to are `paper-tigers'. The real mujahideens are the Taliban and people like us. We matter, not them. We will continue to fight Karzai and his master - the U.S. By the way, Karzai's days are numbered. Very soon, our mujahideens will get him.

How could peace be restored in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan used to be peaceful. Unfortunately, it became a centre for the big powers' intervention. First of all, the Russians interfered in its affairs and destroyed its peace. Then Pakistan tried to make it its fifth province. The notorious ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) installed the Taliban and tried to remote-control Afghanistan from Islamabad. Now, the Americans are doing the same experiment. When the foreign interference ends, peace will return to Afghanistan.

Do you know about the whereabouts of Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden?

Mullah Omar is sick these days. The Taliban are being led by Mullah Jalaluddin Haqqani. I am not sheltering Osama. To the best of my information, he is in Kandahar.

Are you behind the recent killing of the Chinese?

I have no idea about it. The Taliban have split now. The other faction is led by Mullah Soban. It could be his brainchild. I have expelled some miscreants from my party. It could be their handiwork. I really have no idea.

But the Afghan government strongly suspects that you have masterminded it. They have good reasons to believe this. In fact, you have admitted it `off-the-record' while talking to some journalists...

It is not true. I cannot accept the responsibility if some miscreants have masterminded it at the U.S.' behest. I believe it is the handiwork of the Americans. They have used some greedy mujahideens for this inhuman act to defame the true mujahideens. I suspect that the Americans have also masterminded the killing of Chinese in Gwador, Baluchistan. The U.S. agenda is to malign jehad and jehadis.

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said in an interview that you cannot be offered amnesty under the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation of Militia, and Reintegration of Combatants) Programme because you have committed heinous crimes against humanity...

Abdullah Abdullah conveniently forgets the heinous crimes that the Northern Alliance has committed against the innocent people of Afghanistan. Ahmad Shah Masood was a callous murderer. He massacred thousands of innocent Pushtuns. It is really ironic that the Karzai administration has given a war criminal like Masood the status of a national hero.

A progressive film-maker

K. Subrahmanyam, whose birth centenary was celebrated in Chennai recently, was perhaps the first Tamil film-maker to challenge religious orthodoxy and fight social maladies through cinema.

THE fact that five successive Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu over the past four decades have all been film personalities is often cited to establish that as far as Tamil life is concerned politics and cinema are inseparable. Since its inception, Tamil cinema has had close links with politics - of the ruling class, of gods and goddesses, of kings and queens, and of the national and Dravidian movements. So, when Tamil cinema began to speak in 1936, it spoke mostly politics. The formative years of the film industry (1936-1946) in Tamil Nadu were also a crucial period in the history of the struggle for Independence, when the Congress was attempting to enlarge the mass base of the movement.

During this period, thanks to the solid base built by a popular stage with the active participation of patriotic artists and the entry of some committed intellectuals who explored the potential of cinema as an instrument of change, Tamil cinema played a significant role in mobilising support for the freedom movement, particularly among the unlettered and under-privileged sections.

Film director and producer K. Subrahmanyam was one such committed intellectual who was keen to make films that were artistic and purposeful. Apart from enlisting support for the freedom movement, his films sought to make people aware of a host of social issues crying for solution, such as the near-enslavement of women, child marriage, the dowry system, the ill-treatment of widows, and untouchability. Thus, Subrahmanyam helped the national movement move towards its climax with a larger mass participation and sowed the seeds of social reform, paving the way for the Dravidian Movement to play its role in post-Independence cinema.

Led by former President R. Venkataraman, an array of speakers paid tributes to the late film-maker at his birth centenary celebrations in Chennai recently. They recalled his contribution in enriching Tamil cinema by making purposeful films with high professional skill and mobilising support for the cause of political independence, social reforms and a cultural renaissance.

20040716001508202jpg Thyaga Bhoomi

Prominent among the 20-odd films he produced during nearly two decades of active life in the film world are Bala Yogini (1936), Seva Sadhanam (1938), Thyaga Bhoomi (1939) and Bhakta Chetha (1940). Besides holding aloft the banner of Independence, his films highlighted the social ills that slackened the progress of the Tamil people.

Subrahmanyam introduced a number of artists to a career in films, foremost among them being the Carnatic music stalwart M.S. Subbulakshmi. Others include the eminent actor-singer M.K. Thiagaraja Bhagavathar, S.D. Subbulakshmi, music composer Papanasam Sivan, `Baby' Saroja (a niece of Subrahmanyam), the Bharatanatyam trio Lalita, Padmini and Ragini, B. Saroja Devi and K.J. Mahadevan. Another music exponent of the period, D.K. Pattammal, was introduced as a playback singer in Thyaga Bhoomi. Subrahmanyam's wife Meenakshi, who wrote and composed songs for his films, was perhaps Tamil cinema's first woman lyricist and music director. He introduced his daughter Padma Subrahmanyam as a dancer in the film Gita Gandhi.

An institution-builder, Subrahmanyam was instrumental in founding many professional bodies such as the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce, the South Indian Film Artistes Association, the Film Institute, and the Nadaswaram Artists Association. After he stopped producing films, he worked for the welfare of film artistes. He visited several nations, including the United States and the erstwhile Soviet Union, as member of cultural delegations. He arranged for the visits of many foreign film personalities and facilitated their interaction with Tamil artists. His progressive mind and humanitarian outlook made him a close friend of Marxist leaders such as V.P. Chintan and P. Jeevanandam. He also served as the president of the Indo-Soviet Cultural Society.

BORN into an orthodox Brahmin family based in Kumbakonam on April 20, 1904, Subrahmanyam studied law. He left the Bar after a brief stint to enter the film field. He joined Associate Films, Chennai, in 1928 during the era of silent films and made a few films such as Anathai Pen (1931) on contemporary themes. After a short break during which he served as a member of the Scout Movement, he returned to the film industry in 1934. Convinced of the rich potential of cinema, he started making films under the banner of his own business unit, Madras United Artistes Corporation.

20040716001508203jpg Bala Yogini

Why did Subrahmanyam choose to expose social maladies instead of making films based on mythology unlike the rest of his clan?

Although a believer, he did not approve of many social practices that were ritually sanctioned by religion. One possible explanation for this unorthodox mindset is given by the film historian S. Theodore Baskaran in his book The Message Bearers (Cre-A, 1981). Based on an interview with Subrahmanyam's son S. Krishnaswamy, he writes: "His (Subrahmanyam's) father C.S. Krishnaswamy Ayyer was a lawyer handling the cases of big mutts around Kumbakonam. He would often feel guilty about being a party to the injustices perpetrated by the mutts in the name of religion and deplored that the priesthood was not playing the positive role it should in society. Subrahmanyam imbibed all these ideas from his father, and his highly critical view of the priesthood was reflected in all his films, particularly in Bala Yogini, in which he treated priests with ridicule and even used scenes showing priests for comic relief." In fact, Subrahmanyam's interest in art and culture seems to have been the result of the influence of his father, who was an amateur stage actor, deeply interested in Shakespearean plays. The political and social conditions of the period were also ideal for Subrahmanyam to venture into the field with progressive ideals.

THE 30 years that followed the birth of cinema in southern India in 1916 constitute one of the most eventful periods in the political, social and cultural history of Tamil Nadu. After nearly two decades of silent films, Tamil talkie emerged in 1936. The evolution of cinema into a mass entertainer coincided with the growth of the Indian National Congress, which spearheaded the freedom struggle, into a mass movement. The Jallianwallah Bagh massacre (1919) shocked the nation and the protest against British Raj spread to different regions. The Congress had by then come under the leadership of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Gandhi's policy of using non-violence and passive resistance to bring about political and social changes had won him public acclaim. He launched the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1921 and the Civil Disobedience Movement and the Salt Satyagraha 10 years later as part of the struggle for Independence. These agitations received tremendous response from people across the country and thousands were imprisoned. The Government of India Act, 1935 provided for political rights to people at the provincial level. The formation of Congress governments in many provinces, including Madras, following elections to State Assemblies helped reduce the rigours of alien rule that were until then experienced in various fields, including the film industry. It gave people hope that the Congress governments in the Provinces would implement many of Gandhi's declared ideals and reformist policies to help build unity among the people fighting for liberation.

Alongside the nationalist movement, there was the growth of the Self-Respect Movement led by the iconoclast Periyar E.V. Ramasami, which would evolve into the Dravidian Movement. Periyar's movement stood for social equality, annihilation of caste-related discriminations and an end to irrational beliefs. Gandhian ideals and rationalist thought spread among the people. During the same period the kisan movement began to take root in rural Tamil Nadu. Struggles by agricultural workers in Thanjavur district under the leadership of the Communist Party highlighted the social and economic disabilities of these people, the majority of whom were Dalits. The active presence of these socio-political movements provided a fertile ground for political cinema to make its appearance. "At the time of the appearance of the Tamil talkie," observes Theodore Baskaran in The Message Bearers, "the political atmosphere in Madras (Province) was such that no performing art as mass-based as the cinema could remain unaffected by it for long." He further writes: "Stimulated by the political fervour of the day, Tamil cinema gained a new content and course. The challenge of foreign rule and the awareness of the need for social reforms as a part of the society's efforts to meet this challenge profoundly affected Tamil cinema. As the mass basis for the demand for freedom widened and the people began participating in elections, film-makers responded increasingly to the political tensions of the times by mirroring this mood."

The presence of a political theatre prior to the advent of the cinema, whose performers were dedicated patriots, and the patronage that Congress leaders such as S. Sathyamurthy extended to the two art forms, cinema and drama, with a view to using cinema to mobilise support for the freedom movement encouraged the production of films on patriotic themes. Tamil cinema and the freedom movement became increasingly dependent on each other. At least a few producers seized the opportunity, Subrahmanyam being a notable example.

Although the political atmosphere inspired film-makers to produce films on national movements, the colonial government's attitude to such films was understandably unfriendly. As the censorship rules were rigid, most film-makers chose the easier option of producing films centred on romance or mythology. However, Subrahmanyam was keen to produce offbeat films, while making a few commercials to stay in the industry.

Bala Yogini was a bold attempt to portray the pathetic condition of widows in orthodox middle-class Brahmin families of the time. "The film attacked the caste system, exposed the hypocrisy in the priesthood and pleaded for better treatment of widows. There was a sequence showing a Brahmin widow and her little daughter taking shelter in the household of a low-caste servant who offered to take care of them," writes Theodore Baskaran. The splendid performance of Baby Saroja was a special feature of the film.

Recalling his impressions of the film, octogenarian Marxist leader N. Sankaraiah says, "I saw Bala Yogini when I was a schoolboy. The film made a deep impression on me. It touched an important social issue concerning middle-class Brahmin families of those days - ill-treatment of widows. The film was really a bold attempt. A widow lived a life of terrible agony. In those days, one could see in every Brahmin family at least one young widow. It was mostly because of the prevalence of child marriage. Marriages were made at a very young age resulting in many young girls becoming widows. When these girls had no option other than living in their parents' places, they were considered a burden on their fathers and brothers. Their health and well-being came last in the family's priorities. Director Subrahmanyam through this brave venture succeeded in creating public awareness about the problem."

Bhaktha Chetha focussed on caste-based segregation of a significant section of society, which was categorised as "outcastes" and "untouchables". It told the story of a cobbler winning God's favours through his devotion. The story was based on an episode from the Mahabharata. Yet it was unacceptable to religious die-hards. Two orthodox Sanatanists of Madurai took the issue to court. They prayed that the film be banned on the grounds that it was a misrepresentation of Hindu dharma and the orthodox Sanatana movement and that it would influence the politics of temple entry in Madurai. (The reference here is to the movement led by veteran freedom fighter and Congress legislator of Madurai A. Vaidyanatha Iyer to take Dalits, then known as Harijans, into temples, where certain sections of society, particularly the "untouchables," were refused entry.) Bhaktha Chetha sought to create awareness among the people about the movement for the eradication of untouchability launched by Mahatma Gandhi.

Seva Sadhanam championed the cause of women's equality. Based on a novel by Premchand, the film was a bitter attack on the dowry system, which often compels poor young girls to marry men much older to them. The film forcefully discussed the havoc caused by the incompatibility between such couples and sympathised with the victims. Subrahmanyam introduced M.S. Subbulakshmi as an actress in the film, which was a big success. Tamil film critic and historian Aranthai Narayanan observes in his book Thamizh Cinemavin Kathai (The Story of Tamil Cinema) that Seva Sadhanam proved a turning point in the history of Tamil cinema. In the climax, the aged husband, now a totally changed man, was shown as casting aside with utter contempt his `sacred thread', which symbolises his Brahmin superiority. It came as a stunning blow to the orthodoxy, the critic writes. The author admires the high professionalism of the director in choosing a real-life widow, with a shaven head and a white saree, to play the role of a widow.

Describing Seva Sadhanam as an "unusual film" on the age-old practice of old men marrying young girls as their second wives, "sanctioned by customs and religions'' in a male-dominated society, Sankaraiah says the film was highly successful in bringing out the sufferings of the girl and the mental agony of the aged husband. F.G. Natesa Iyer's performance in the role of the old man was impressive, Sankaraiah says.

However, it is Thyaga Bhoomi that remains the most acclaimed of Subrahmanyam's films. It is based on a story written by the novelist Kalki R. Krishnamurthy ("Renaissance Man", Frontline, October 22, 1999), which was serialised by a Tamil weekly during the making of the film. The magazine used stills from the scenes shot every week as illustration for the story.

The film, which had the Salt Satyagraha as its backdrop, focussed on women's rights and untouchability. It tells the story of the daughter of a poor Brahmin priest. Discarded by a rich and Westernised husband, the girl returns to her village. Unable to find her father, who had by then been banished from the village for throwing open the temple to Dalits who were victims of a cyclone, the girl migrates to a city. When she becomes rich, her former husband comes back to her but she rejects him. The husband moves the court to get his matrimonial rights restored, but the girl tells the court that she would rather pay alimony than be reunited with him. She dedicates herself to the cause of the nation by joining the freedom movement - an idea that was considered revolutionary even for the times. The film, which received tremendous response, was banned not because it propagated revolutionary ideals, but because it contained scenes relating to the freedom struggle. It showed a large number of women, including the heroine, being arrested, when they went in a procession. "It was the first time that women's participation in the freedom struggle in such large numbers was shown in a film and it inspired women everywhere," Sankaraiah says.

20040716001508204jpg Seva Sadhanam

Speaking of the overall impact of Subrahmanyam's films on society, L. Ilayaperumal, veteran freedom fighter, Dalit leader and former Member of Parliament, says that their message was received well and it helped mobilise support for the freedom movement in a big way. Dalits were happy that the films highlighted their sufferings "with the good intention" of eradicating untouchability. "We welcomed such films because they were doing the maximum they could at that point of time to bring awareness among the people about the atrocities against Dalits," Ilayaperumal says.

Recalling his impressions of Subrahmanyam's films, writer and journalist P. G. Sundararajan (Chitti), who turned 95 this May, says, "He was perhaps the first film-maker to make films on serious social problems without, at the same time, ignoring the entertainment aspect. What the stories and novels of eminent men of the Manikkodi group of writers, such as Va. Ra., and novelists such as Vai. Mu. Kothainayagi, could not achieve was made possible by these films. That is, the creation of awareness."

Why should such a brilliant film-maker downsize his operations after Independence? He made very few films between 1940 and 1971 when he passed away. "Father made handsome profits at the box office but lost it all owing to post-War economic changes. By the mid-1950s, films could no longer be made without black money, the handling of which was unthinkable for a genuine Gandhian. My father gave up film-making and remained a social activist," says son Krishnaswamy.

The agonising wait for the genuine and the bold among prospective film-makers seems to be continuing.

Endgame in Iraq

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The installation of the Ayad Allawi government in Baghdad may only increase the chaos in the country, which faces the prospect of internal conflicts and balkanisation.

IN the weeks preceding the installation of the partially sovereign Iraqi government under Prime Minster Ayad Allawi, chaos and violence has escalated across the country. Top officials of the new government are targeted relentlessly. Staying alive seems to have become a priority of the officials running the new government. In the third week of June, the head of security of Northern Oil Company in Kirkuk was killed. He was a close relative of the Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani. In the same week, Kamal Jarrah, the number two in the Education Ministry and Bassam Salih Kubba, the Deputy Foreign Minister, were also assassinated.

The turbulence had its repercussions in Saudi Arabia, where foreigners, especially Americans and British nationals, are being targeted by extremists. The beheading of a South Korean civilian working for a defence contractor by insurgents in late June hogged the headlines. The resistance forces had demanded the withdrawal of South Korean troops from Iraq. The decision by the South Korean government to send more troops to Iraq seems to have sealed the fate of the innocent South Korean. Saboteurs hit oil pipelines exporting Iraqi crude, bringing the oil industry to a standstill for more than a week. Allawi has estimated the losses to the petroleum industry as more than $1 billion.

Allawi is threatening to crack down on the resistance. He is also trying to acquire a Saddam-like image of an authoritarian ruler. In his first press conference after having been anointed to the job, Allawi said that he intended to use extraordinary methods to counter the insurgency. "We will do all we can to strike against enemy forces aiming at harming our country, and we will not stand by with our hands tied," Allawi told the media in Baghdad. He also said that for the foreseeable future, the Iraqi army and security services would be battling insurgents rather than securing the borders of the country. The Americans will continue to have around 150,000 troops in Iraq. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad will have more than 1,000 Americans in its pay. They will be the real power behind the scenes after the so-called transfer of sovereignty on June 30. Every Iraqi Ministry will have at least one key American adviser.

Not surprisingly, Allawi supported the American missile attacks on a building housing civilians in the volatile city of Falluja. Twenty-two civilians, including women and children, were killed in the first attack. Another attack followed a week later. In the brutal attack, launched in April, more than 750 civilians were killed. As American casualties mount, there are signs that the U.S. army is once again planning to renew the offensive against resistance strongholds such as Falluja. Members of the disbanded Iraqi Army, which fought the Americans for Saddam Hussein, have now been invited to rejoin the security services. Re-Ba'athification of the Iraqi government and army seems to have gained momentum. Allawi has said that the disbanding of the Iraqi Army by the American occupation forces was a "big mistake". Former Ba'athists have now more seats in the new Cabinet than those representing religious parties.

The new government has also threatened to introduce "emergency rule". Allawi has a reputation for ruthlessness. He started his political career as a Ba'ath Party enforcer. He progressed to become a senior official in the Iraqi secret police - the Mukbarat. After his defection in the early 1980s, Allawi became a full-time employee of the CIA and had a hand in the bombing campaign against Iraqi civilians in the mid-1990s. One such attack targeted schoolchildren in a bus.

Allawi will have to tread warily now as not many Iraqis have a high opinion of him. Results of an opinion poll published in the third week of June showed that the most popular figure among Iraqis continued to be the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, closely followed by the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The rise in Sadr's popularity has a lot to do with the uprising his Mahdi militia launched against the American occupation. That uprising filled the political and military vacuum that had been created in southern Iraq. The other major Shia groupings that were accommodated by the Americans in the power structure in Baghdad have seen their popularity erode after Sadr audaciously launched the uprising. The Americans had at one time threatened to capture the young cleric "dead or alive". Many attempts were made on his life. However, despite his forces absorbing a lot of punishment, his militia fought on and he continued with his fiery Friday sermons urging "jehad" against the Americans.

Sadr suddenly changed tack in mid-June and accepted a cessation of hostilities in the holy city of Najaf where the Mahdi militia had engaged the American forces for several weeks. When the plans for the transfer of sovereignty were first announced, Sadr severely them and refused to recognise the authority of the government led by Allawi. Now, with tacit American approval, the new government in Baghdad has given Sadr the green signal to form his own party and participate in politics. His supporters may find a place in the new government. The Mahdi militia has, however, not disarmed and seem prepared for any eventuality. One of the most radical anti-occupation groupings - the Sunni-dominated Islamic Front for Iraqi Resistance - has described the government led by Allawi as the facade for the "hidden occupation" by Americans.

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The Allawi government, in a bid to advertise its independence, had demanded the immediate handing over of Saddam Hussein to its custody. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that the continued detention of the Iraqi ruler was illegal under the Third Geneva Convention. The Americans are technically required to release Saddam Hussein because of his prisoner of war status before the restoration of limited sovereignty in Iraq. "In theory, when a war ends and when an occupation ends, the detaining force has to release prisoners of war," the chief spokesperson of the ICRC said in Geneva in the third week of June. The legal director of Human Rights Watch said that prisoners of war should be released at the end of the conflict or occupation if they were not charged with any crimes.

The new Iraqi government claims that Saddam Hussein will be handed over to it by the U.S.-led Provisional Authority. The director of Iraq's war crimes tribunal, Salem Chalabi, a cousin of Ahmad Chalabi, has already said that Saddam Hussein would face the death penalty if found guilty of war crimes and human rights abuses. If he is handed over by the American authorities to the present Iraqi government, he will be facing a murderous mob.

Internationally, very little credibility is given to the government that will be ostensibly running Iraq from July 1. Reports emerging from Washington talk about an alternative scenario for Iraq being envisaged in the corridors of power there. The more realistic officials in the Bush administration seem to have reconciled to a military and political setback in Iraq. Israel, Washington's closest ally and at one time the most enthusiastic backer of the Iraq adventure, is now actively working towards the balkanisation of Iraq. The American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who has access to the top echelons of the American and Israeli political establishments, has written that the Israeli government is betting on the creation of an "independent" Kurdistan that will be carved out of northern Iraq. The plan, which is said to have the support of the "neoconservatives" in the Bush administration, is to amalgamate Mosul and Kirkuk into a Kurdish zone. Kirkuk is the country's most important oil centre.

According to reports coming out of northern Iraq, ethnic-cleansing is already under way. Arab residents in many of the smaller towns in the north have been forced out and thousands of them are living in squalid refugee camps. Observers of the Iraqi scene feel that if the Kurdish militias forcibly try to expel non-Kurds from big cities like Kirkuk and Mosul, there will be blood-letting on a massive scale. As of now, Arabs and Turks constitute the majority in the two key oil cities. Hersh quotes former Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Barak as telling U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney that the only option for the Americans "was choosing the size of your humiliation". A senior foreign diplomat of European origin, who until recently was posted in Amman, told this correspondent that the Israelis had moved into Iraq in a big way, buying up real estate in Kirkuk, Mosul and Baghdad, exploiting their long-standing relationship with the two Kurdish factions, which today have enormous clout in Iraq.

Hersh quotes a senior American intelligence officer as saying that the Israeli priority after June 30 "is to build up Kurdish commando units to balance the Shiite militias - especially those who would be hostile to the kind of order in southern Iraq that Israel would like to see". The Kurdish militias will also be used to fight the Sunni militias, which are even more opposed to Israel than Saddam Hussein was. The Turkish government, which until recently was very close to Israel, is known to be alarmed at the developments in its backyard. The Kurds are claiming large swathes of territory in Turkey, Iran and Syria as part of Kurdistan. Many of Washington's European allies like Germany have warned that the creation of a new state in West Asia will have extremely damaging repercussions in the region and beyond.

Israeli intelligence officers told Hersh that they had trained Kurdish commandos to kill and eliminate the leadership guiding the Iraqi resistance. Israeli intelligence agents are also fomenting trouble in neighbouring Syria and Iran, using northern Iraq as a springboard. Hersh said that some Israeli agents along with Kurdish commandos have crossed the border into Iran to install sensors and other sensitive devices. The capture and brief detention of British navy men who crossed into Iranian waters along the Shat-al-Arab waterway in late June reflects Iranian anxiety about the activities along its borders. The British patrol boats intercepted by the Iranian Navy were carrying a lot of guns and high-tech equipment.

Promising microbicides

Third World women's hope against infection by the human immunodeficiency virus may lie in emerging prevention methods such as the use of microbicides. But the research into them is severely underfunded.

THERE is some good news for women who face the risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. With several microbicides - which when applied locally can kill, neutralise or block HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) - into final stages of trial or nearing release, women need no longer negotiate the use of protectives such as condoms. Unlike a condom, which must be worn by her partner, the microbicide - in the form of gels, creams, lubricants or even a ring, which gradually release the active ingredient - is used by the woman, who is biologically and sociologically more vulnerable to contracting HIV infection.

For many women, the most common HIV risk factor is being married. According to Pamela Norick, legislative and policy consultant with the International Health Development (IHD), Washington D.C., marriage is becoming a social hazard in India, where women can neither refuse sex nor demand protection. The same holds true for most of the world's women, who have little or no control over when or with whom they have sex. Citing World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, she says that men are eight times more likely to transmit the virus than women, although the reverse is true when it comes to contracting the infection.

Addressing a group of 12 journalists from developing countries attending a seminar on reproductive health organised by the Population Reference Bureau in Washington D.C. in May, Norick said: "Forced to leave sexual decision-making to men, women are unable to negotiate condom use due to various factors, including violence, coercion and economic dependence. While gender-biased social norms often encourage men to seek multiple partners, women bear the burden of shame and stigma associated with the infection."

In this context, experts agree that prevention strategies that focus on abstinence, mutual fidelity and male condom use are meaningless for many Indian women. Women's hope may lie in emerging prevention methods such as use of microbicides, female condoms and cervical barriers.

How do microbicides work?

Microbicides kill or immobilise sexually transmitted infectious (STI) pathogens, form a barrier between the pathogen and the vaginal or rectal tissue, block the infection early on, prevent the pathogen from replicating once it has entered the cells, and boost the vaginal defence system. Norick says that microbicides protect both partners and that some can even prevent pregnancy. Most of them will eventually become available across the counter and inexpensively too.

"Six microbicidal products that scientists believe can effectively prevent the transmission of HIV are in advanced stages of being tested," says Norick. According to her, the products are undergoing efficacy testing in developing countries such as Botswana and India, where there is high HIV prevalence. But their availability across the counter would depend on the results of the efficacy tests. "Each product must undergo rigorous testing in both the laboratory and human clinical trials, to adhere to the guidelines set by the drug regulatory authorities, international and national. "If a reasonable level of effectiveness is documented in the large effectiveness trials now under way, the first microbicide may reach the market in the next three to five years," she adds.

The typical phase of effectiveness testing is about three and a half years and costs some $45 million. It involves 300 to 30,000 people.Norick also believes that the introduction of microbicides can have a major public health impact. "A microbicide with 60 per cent efficacy introduced in 73 low-income countries can avert 2.5 million HIV infections over three years in women, men and infants. This would lower the incidence rate of HIV with subsequent productivity benefits and large savings in health care costs," she says.

A potent vaccine for HIV/AIDS is still some time away, and the cocktail of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs remains comparatively expensive for the affected, largely poor. Thus there is a desperate need for alternatives, especially for women, among whom HIV infection is rising sharply in Africa and Asia.

The announcement by British scientists of trials in Africa of two gels has raised the hope that women will soon have a product to protect themselves from HIV infection. The United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) is providing up to $23.5 million over five years for the microbicide development project. Clinical trials involving around 12,000 women in South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda and Cameroon are to be taken up over the next three years. According to the DFID, if successful, the products would hit the market before 2010.

Microbicides are not the only method to stem the spread of HIV. According to Norick, no one strategy can be the magic bullet to kill the HIV virus. The most effective approach to combating HIV globally is to employ a combination of strategies that have the potential to prevent transmission, broaden coverage, and tighten the collective grip on the AIDS epidemic. "However, microbicides could be an integral part of this strategy," she says.

AND indeed, much is happening in the research and development of microbicides. For instance, one big hope is the seaweed-based microbicide - Carraguard, an initiative of the New York-based Population Council, an affiliate of the Rockefeller Foundation, which has given a grant of $20 million for microbicide research. Carraguard is made from carrageenan, a carbohydrate gel derived from seaweeds growing along the coasts of Chile and Nova Scotia (Canada). Carraguard is undergoing clinical trials.

Currently, 60 microbicides are in different stages of development across the globe. There are 14 microbicide product leads in the pre-clinical phase. Six product leads - cellulose sulphate, PMPA, PSS, CSIG, Acidiform, and DS - have completed phase I (initial safety trials). Three products - Carraguard, Lactobacillus crispatus, and PRO 2000 - have completed phase II (rigorous demonstration of efficacy and safety) trials. They have to go through phase IIIA (conducted on target population), phase IIIB (quality of life and marketing issues) and phase IV (post-marketing experiences of the target population) trials, according to Dr. Gita Ramjee of the Medical Research Council in Durban, South Africa.

Only two products have undergone large-scale phase III trials until now - both are Nonoxynol-9 based products, Conceptrol and Advantage 24. But the trials had to be given up because besides killing sperm and viruses, N-9 also killed vaginal wall cells and caused ulcerations, opening up an entry point for HIV. These trials were disappointing primarily because they were largely held in the sex workers' community (where the frequency of sexual intercourse is high) and lesions once formed inside the vagina can take two or three days to heal.

Among the more promising products, according to the Global Campaign for Microbicides (an amalgam of research institutions, pharma companies, governments and researchers interested in microbicide development), are Buffergel from Reprolect of Baltimore; Pro 2000 from Interneuron Pharma; Cellulose Sulphate from Polydex Pharmaceuticals; and Carraguard from the Population Council.

According to Norick, the cost of phase III clinical trials (in which stage several microbicides are), which must cover a large test population, can go up to $46 million, which incidentally, exceeds the U.S. government's total budget for microbicide research.

In India, phase I and II trials of Praneem, the neem-based poly-herbal microbicide being developed by the Pune-based National AIDS Research Institute (NARI), have shown encouraging results. According to Dr. Sanjay M. Mehendale, Deputy Director, NARI, Praneem has proved to be very effective in in-vitro studies and it is now being tested on high-risk groups and the general population. Subject to its viability, the microbicide could be available to Indian women in six or seven years. Buffer Gel, Pro 2000 and Carraguard are into phase III multi-centric trials in India.

The slow progress in microbicides is attributed to the lack of interest from drug majors, which do not see them as money-spinners and are hence not allocating funds for research. Microbicides are a public health good; its social benefits are high but economic incentive to private investment at this stage appears low. "Therefore," says Norick, "public funding is the best hope for now."

However, while the cost of developing a first-generation microbicide (with a global market size of $900 million by 2011) would have to be borne by public sector funding, an analysis by the Rockefeller Foundation suggests that the second-generation product could get to the market without public sector subsidy. And because of the increasing market size and the declining development cost, the third generation products may offer potential for significant returns - estimated at over $428 million (with sales of over $1.8 billion by 2020). "Of course," the Rockefeller Foundation report "Mobilisation for Microbicides" observes, "the real challenge is to mobilise interest around something that does not exist but has the potential to bring in high returns."

The National Institute of Health (NIH), the leading health-research funding agency in the U.S., has developed a strategic plan for the development of microbicides. The NIH's Fulvia Veronese, who was in India to attend an International AIDS conference in Chennai, said that with HIV vaccines still some time away, the growing involvement of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Melinda and Gates Foundation, USAID and the Global Microbicide Concerns augured well for accelerated development of a microbicide. Commendable is the effort of the International Working Group on Microbicides to get various key players - from the WHO to such local agencies as the AIDS Resource Centre at Dr. MGR Medical University in Chennai - involved.

The Global Campaign for Microbicides has mobilised $40 million in the past two years for research on microbicides. Persistent efforts by the Global Campaign for Microbicides have brought in 35 biotech companies, 44 non-profit research institutions and four public sector entities into the field.

The Global Campaign for Microbicides has involved stakeholders and policy-makers in discussions to get a major programme going in India. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has a task force on microbicides. In terms of research, NARI, the ICMR's apex body on HIV/AIDS research, is actively involved in basic pre-clinical and clinical research trials of microbicide candidates. Other research institutions such as the NIPER (National Institute of Pharmacological Education and Research, Chandigarh) and the IRR (Institute for Research in Reproduction, Mumbai) are developing microbicide candidates for pre-clinical and clinical trials and are also participating in clinical trials.

According to Jayanti Pramanik of the IRR, trials of 6 per cent cellulose sulphate, a microbicide candidate product, are under way. Dr. K.V.R. Reddy, Head of Immunology at the IRR, is researching a possible microbicide candidate, Magainin-A (Mag-A), which has proven to be an effective contraceptive in pre-clinical animal-model studies. It also provides protection against most prevalent STI pathogens.

Dr. Alka Garg from the University Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Punjab University, is conducting laboratory research with sulphonated hesperidin, a bioflavonoid found abundantly in the citrus species. It has a broad spectrum of anti-microbial activity, being an effective inhibitor of HIV, HSV-2, gonorrhoea and Chlamydia. It could also be a contraceptive as it inhibits the functional activity of sperm.

Acceptability studies by institutions, including NARI and the Delhi-based Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), of microbicides in India show that people are interested and willing to use them.

People who have had the opportunity to use microbicides in trials have predominantly reported positive experiences. According to a study conducted in Tamil Nadu's Namakkal district by Dr. N. M. Samuel of the Experimental Medicine and AIDS Resource Centre of the Dr. MGR Medical University, 91 per cent of the women interviewed said they would use microbicides. According to a Women's Feature Service report, 60 per cent of the women interviewed in Chennai expressed their willingness to use a vaginal product to protect themselves from the infection.

The issue of the ethics of microbicide research and development, as in other medical trials, is often tricky and controversial. According to Dr. Gita Ramjee, in a microbicide - COL 1492 - multi-site study of 477 sex workers, several ethical concerns came to the fore, including the exclusion of some HIV-positive women from the study, lack of care and support to HIV seroconverters (those testing positive during the course of the trial), and the process of obtaining informed consent. According to her, informed consent is an ongoing process and there is a pressing need for repeated verification, monitoring (by independent agencies), and reiteration at every available opportunity. Sensitivity to cultural and moral values and the building of mutually respectful relationships between the research community and women undergoing trials emerged as significant concerns during the COL 1492 study.

"Complex ethical issues in clinical trials," she argues, "can only be resolved if developing countries come up with their own guidelines and researchers, community, and service providers work together - and not in isolation."

Issues pertaining to ethics in clinical trials, particularly of the informed consent process, remain as debatable in India as elsewhere in the world. The key challenges include whether to provide medical treatment and care to those who test HIV positive during trials and inducement to trial participants.

The ICMR has developed comprehensive guidelines on the ethical questions, which are being followed in microbicide clinical trials. But their complete implementation is the real challenge. The larger challenge, of course, is to ensure that the voices of the poor and vulnerable women are heard as the research progresses.

Researchers and policy-makers alike regret that research on microbicides, hailed as a powerful woman-controlled method, should remain severely underfunded and politically marginalised despite its enormous scientific and public health potential.

The Rockefeller Foundation and the Population Council are directing efforts to prove to the drug majors the feasibility of microbicides and show them that they are indeed potential money-spinners. Several microbicide candidates, such as Carraguard, are expected to emerge as a commercial product in the next five years, but the process can be accelerated only if pharmaceutical companies pitch in.

Building confidence

JOHN CHERIAN the-nation

The confidence-building measures arrived at by India and Pakistan are expected to help demonstrate to the rest of the world that the two countries are mature enough to manage their nuclear arsenals and allay fears that South Asia is becoming a nuclear flashpoint.

WITH the coming to power of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, India-Pakistan relations have got off to a good start. After high-level talks between the two sides in New Delhi on June 19 and 20, a set of confidence-building measures (CBMs) on nuclear weapons was announced. This is the first set of significant CBMs to be announced on the issue since both the countries went nuclear formally in 1998. Global concerns about the two countries' nuclear arsenal were heightened as the spectre of war cast its shadow on the subcontinent two years ago. Senior officials from both sides of the border made threatening noises at that time about resorting to the nuclear option.

Pakistan has been in the spotlight particularly after the recent revelations about the Dr. A.Q. Khan network's sale of nuclear know-how to countries such as Iran, North Korea and Libya, Bush administration officials are reportedly insisting on a rollback of the country's nuclear programme.

The United States continues to exert pressure on New Delhi too. U.S. officials have indicated that while they are "realistic" about the Indian and Pakistani nuclear programmes, the goal is to limit what they perceive as the damage the two programmes have caused to world security and the non-proliferation regime.

Statements from the U.S. State Department's Director of Policy Planning Mitchell B. Reiss have made it clear that the U.S. wants India's nuclear reactors to be under the watch of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He has stated categorically that the U.S. will not sell nuclear reactors to India in the near future unless India shows more flexibility on the nuclear issue.

The international community has welcomed the joint statement released after the recent India-Pakistan expert-level talks on nuclear CBMs. The two countries have agreed formally to renew a moratorium on nuclear testing. There is, however, an escape clause. The joint statement said the moratoriums were to be observed "unless either side, in exercise of its national sovereignty, decides extraordinary events have jeopardised its supreme interests". Importantly, the two countries have agreed to put in place a "dedicated" hotline between their Foreign Secretaries and Directors-General of Military Operations (DGMOs) "to prevent misunderstandings and reduce risks relevant to nuclear issues". The new hotline between the DGMOs will also be upgraded. The existing hotline was being used once a week since the Kargil War. The joint statement also said that the two countries would work towards concluding an agreement with "technical parameters on pre-notification of flight testing of missiles".

This is a belated follow-up to the Lahore Declaration, which stated that both countries "shall take immediate steps for reducing the risks of accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons and discuss concepts and doctrines with a view to elaborating measures for confidence building in the nuclear and conventional fields, aimed at prevention of conflict".

ACCORDING to experts long-range missiles possessed by the two countries constitute the single greatest threat to the region. The time taken by a missile to travel between the two countries is the shortest among nuclear powers - four to six minutes. Another ominous fact is that India and Pakistan lack the technology that allows for the recall of missiles once they are fired.

Pakistan and India have exchanged the drafts of agreements that will formalise the existing understanding between the two countries whereby a notice is issued about an impending missile test, warning the shipping and aviation companies about the specified areas where the tests will be conducted. Even as the talks were going on, Defence Minster Pranab Mukherjee was quoted as saying that India would test the Agni-III "as and when required". Pakistan wants India to take the initiative in stopping the missile race between the two countries.

The joint statement issued on June 20 emphasised that the nuclear capabilities of both countries "are based on their national security imperatives, and constitute a factor for stability". The statement went on to add that both countries were "conscious of their obligations to their peoples and the international community" and "committed to work towards strategic stability". This is meant to be a signal to the West that both the countries are mature enough to manage their nuclear arsenals and that the international community need not fear about South Asia becoming a nuclear flashpoint. The two countries have also called for a dialogue with acknowledged nuclear countries, which include the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. "Both countries call for a regular working level meeting to be held among all the nuclear powers to discuss issues of common concerns," the joint statement said.

According to disarmament experts, it is unlikely that the P-5 countries would welcome the India-Pakistan suggestion of holding regular meetings. Countries such as Japan, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and South Korea had joined the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) based on the understanding that no other country besides the P-5 would declare itself as a nuclear power. The 1998 nuclear tests by India and Pakistan are still seen by these countries as a challenge to the NPT, which allows for only five temporary nuclear weapons states.

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Many of these countries are also unhappy with the double standards the West has been adopting towards Israel on the nuclear issue. In terms of quantity and quality of its nuclear arsenal, Israel's weaponry is apparently more advanced than that of China.

Some Western commentators have been saying that a way out of this current impasse is to give the three countries the status of associate membership in the P-5 category under a new agreement that would permit them to retain their programmes but prohibit further development. The agreement envisages compliance with international nuclear export controls, prohibition of new tests, and phased elimination of fissile materiel production. Those proposing such a solution say that, unlike Iran and North Korea, India, Pakistan and Israel are not signatories to the NPT.

External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh's statement about distancing India from the U.S-led Missile Defence Initiative must come as a relief for Pakistan. Though the Bush administration's ambitious programme is aimed primarily against China, Pakistani officials say that their country will also be affected adversely by the move.

The Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman, who was part of the official delegation, told the media in New Delhi that there had been progress and "movement towards dialogue and confidence building and constructive and consistent engagement". In the last week of June, the two neighbours also held talks on the Baglihar project. Pakistan has been objecting to the design of the Baglihar dam saying that it would affect the flow of water downstream. These talks were followed by talks between the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries.

Natwar Singh had a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Khursheed Mahmood Kasuri in the Chinese city of Qingdao on June 21, during the Asian Cooperation Dialogue. This was the first meeting between the two Foreign Ministers.

An External Affairs Ministry spokesman said that both the Ministers discussed all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistani officials believe that once the Kashmir issue is solved, all other issues would be resolved within no time. They point out that most other outstanding issues like Sir Creek, Tulbul and Siachen have been discussed threadbare.

The Konkan tragedy

ANUPAMA KATAKAM the-nation

The June 16 accident involving the Matsyagandha Express highlights the need for fool-proof safety measures against landslips on the Konkan Railway, particularly during the monsoon.

THE best warning signals are only as good as the next accident they are designed to prevent, as the tragedy involving the Mumbai-bound Matsyagandha Express on the Konkan Railway on June 16 showed. Boulders on the track near a bridge between Karanjawadi and Veer stations, about 200 km from Mumbai, took the engine driver by surprise and the impact sent the engine and four coaches hurtling down some 20 metres into the ravine, killing 16 passengers and injuring almost 100.

According to the Konkan Railway's Managing Director B. Rajaram, the boulders had probably rolled on to the track a few minutes before the accident, which happened at around 6 a.m. Of the four coaches that fell off the bridge, two were general coaches, which usually overflow with passengers. Six other coaches lay scattered between the bridge and the rock cuttings. Rajaram suggested that boulders on the hillside adjacent to the track got dislodged from the soil loosened by incessant rain and rolled on to the track. The Konkan Railway, built on the Western Ghats, is subjected to the fury of the southwest monsoon from June to August and, in spite of precautions such as boulder-warning signals, the risks are high.

There was apparently no warning signal on the section of the track where the accident happened. It ran through a five-metre cutting and was thought to be not prone to landslips. Over the past year, the Konkan Railway has spent around Rs.60 crores on safety works, said its spokesperson Vaishali Patange. On June 22 last year, the Karwar-Mumbai holiday special derailed near Ratnagiri after hitting a boulder on the track in heavy rain at around 10 p.m., killing 51 passengers and injuring nearly 60. Since then the Konkan Railway has put in place special safety and precautionary measures, including specially fabricated high-strength steel nets strung along 10-metre high cuttings.

The emphasis was on activating the system, through warning signals, against possible natural calamities so that it could take automatic action, said Patange. Along with the medium- and high-strength boulder nets spread over 4.3 lakh sq km, the Konkan Railway also installed 2,000 indigenously developed "inclinometers", which can detect soil movement in cuttings along the slopes. Another 18,000 inclinometers would soon be installed. Once an inclinometer detects activity, it activates "Raksha Dhaga" boxes on the towers nearby, which in turn send signals to the approaching train. The Raksha Dhaga warns approaching trains with flashing lights and hooters in a range of 500 metres from the area where soil movement was detected, so that the driver has enough time to stop the train.

"We tried our best to take all necessary precautions before the monsoon," said Rajaram. The derailment was an example of "nature humbling man", he told mediapersons on the day of the accident. He said steel nets would be put even on five-metre cuttings to ensure safety against such landslips.

Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav announced at the accident spot on the day of the tragedy that a pilot engine would be run before every passenger train on vulnerable sections to provide clearance against landslides. In fact, pilot trains were run routinely on the route soon after it was commissioned, but the practice was discontinued subsequently. Railway officials said the speed of trains on the Konkan Railway would be reduced to 70 km an hour as against the normal speed of 100 km an hour. According to officials, the tracks were built with technology that would allow trains to run at a speed of 150 km an hour.

THE 760-km Konkan Railway, from Mangalore to Mumbai, was commissioned on January 26, 1998, eight years after construction work began. The entire project involved building 179 major bridges, 1,819 minor bridges and 92 tunnels and earthwork to the extent of 89 million cubic metres in cuttings and embankments.

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The project did not have a smooth start. Even when the area was being surveyed in the late 1980s, environmentalists raised the issue of damage the railway line would cause. They also pointed out that the south Konkan part of the Western Ghats was dominated by laterite rock and soil, which was soft and very porous and absorbed water easily, and warned of the possibility of landslides during the monsoon.

Questions were also raised about the "surveys" that were conducted, and the ecology expert Madhav Gadgil even distanced himself from the positive environment impact assessment report. Yet, the Konkan Railway not only went ahead with the project, but completed it in record time. "It should have taken at least 10 years to complete," said a former Konkan Railway official. He said the Konkan Railway Corporation should have given more importance to surveying the region and spent more time on it before beginning construction.

"Cutting into the hills have to be done in a certain way. You have to take into account the fact that roots stabilise the soil. Which is why it is necessary to inspect the entire track and stabilise the surroundings wherever necessary. Sensors can only do so much," he said.

But the Konkan Railway seemed intent on completing the project quickly. "In fact it even sought relaxation in the foreign exchange rules to import equipment that would enable it to complete the project soon," said the former official.

Despite all the controversy, the railway line is a dream come true for the people of the region. It has made travel and transportation of goods to Mumbai easy, especially so for the people of Goa, who had just two broad gauge stations in the State.

The route itself is picturesque, with the Sahyadri hills on the east and the Arabian Sea on the west. But there are times when nature humbles man despite the best of precautions.

The great Indian divide

PRABHAT DATTA social-issues

The sharp increase in rural-urban disparities in India after decades of planned development is alarming, for planning itself was conceived as an instrument to narrow down such disparities.

RURAL-urban disparities, particularly in post-colonial countries, have for long been one of the causes of concern for the policymakers. The disparities are seen in all spheres of human life - economic and non-economic. The extent of disparities, however, differs from country to country. The long colonial rule in India had created an urban-rural divide. What causes great concern now-a-days is the sharp increase in the level of disparities after a few decades of planning, especially because planning was conceived as an instrument to narrow down rural-urban disparities.

Rural India encompasses a little less than three-fourths of the country's population and is characterised by low income levels, poor quality of life and a weak base of human development. Nearly one-third of the national income comes from villages, but there is a significant rural-urban divide.

Agriculture is the mainstay of most post-colonial countries. It supports roughly two-thirds of the workforce. But the lion's share of India's national resources is directed to the non-agricultural sector, as is evident from the table.

The agricultural sector has been growing at less than half the pace of the other sectors. During the Seventh Plan, agriculture and allied sectors grew at a rate of 3.4 per cent, while the national economy grew at 6 per cent. In 1997-98, there was a negative growth of 2 per cent in the agricultural sector, although the national economy grew by 5 per cent.

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The slower rate of growth of agriculture has serious implications for the rural-urban relationship. In an article in Alternative Economic Survey, Kripa Shankar has shown that it results in the further widening of the divide, as the following data relating to agricultural and non-agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) at 1980-81 prices indicate. The GDP per agricultural worker was Rs.2,442.49 in 1950-51, followed by Rs.3,196 in 1970-71 and Rs.3,627 in 1995-96. The GDP per non-agricultural worker rose sharply from Rs.4, 469.63 in 1950-51 to Rs.9,179 in 1970-71 and to Rs.16,715.08 in 1995-96. There has been a further steep rise after the Central government accepted the Structural Adjustment Programme. While the GDP per agricultural worker rose from Rs.3,544.98 in 1990-91 to Rs.3,627 in 1995-96, the per non-agricultural worker rise was from Rs.14,660 to Rs.16,715.08 during the same period. The data tend to show that the ratio between the agricultural output per farm worker and the average output per non-farm worker, which was 1:1.83 in 1950-51, rose to 1:4.6 in 1995-96.

The introduction of the policy of liberalisation has affected non-farm employment in rural areas. In 1997-98, the annual increase in non-farm employment in rural areas was 4.06 per cent. In 1983-84 it was 3.28 per cent. During 1999-2000 it came down to 2.14 per cent. The consequence has been a very slow reduction in rural poverty. In 1993-94 it was 39.36 per cent, in 1999-2000 the figure came down marginally to 36.35 per cent.

Agricultural investments account for 10 per cent of the total investments in the country. The neglect of agriculture and allied sectors is evident from the budgetary allocation. It has never been more than 20 per cent. In 1997-98 the Central and State governments spent Rs.12,000 crores on the police, which was marginally lower than the Central and State plan outlay on agriculture and allied activities.

According to one estimate, the average income of an urban dweller is four times higher than that of a rural dweller. Rural deprivation becomes crystal clear if we look at the data on rural India's contribution to the GDP and what the rural areas get back. Rural contribution is 27 per cent but the return is 5 per cent.

THE Human Development Report of India (1999) attempted to divide the rural and urban household on the basis of their incomes as shown in the table. The income status is reflected in the per capita consumption expenditure. In 1999-2000 the per capita per month consumption expenditure on the rural areas was Rs.486.08 and in the case of urban areas it was Rs.854.96, according to HDR 2002.

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Data collected by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) show that the average per capita expenditure (MPCE) in rural India during 2000-01 amounted to Rs.499.90, which was a little over the corresponding figure of Rs.914.57 for an urban dweller. Interestingly, the gap between the average for urban and rural areas has widened by over 8 percentage points between 1987-88 and 2000-01. As 1987-88 was a drought year, the increase in the disparity level is all the more significant. The NSSO data show that while 75 per cent of the country's population in 2000-01 resided in rural areas, they accounted for less than 62 per cent of the total consumption expenditure.

If we look at the poverty data, a similar situation is noticed. India, a developing economy of over a billion people, recorded a relatively high economic growth during 1980-2000, especially during the 1990s, a decade known for noteworthy structural economic reforms. This period also recorded a decline in the incidence of poverty and improvement in parameters of human development such as levels of literacy, health and nutrition conditions. Development policies focussed on enhanced and targeted public investments in programmes that facilitated improvements in the quality of life of the masses, but the disparity remains.

THE disparities in the social development sector are mind-boggling. Rural adult illiteracy is a matter of alarming concern. In 2001, the urban literacy rate was 80.06 per cent but the rural literacy rate was 59.21 per cent. Thus, the difference in rural - urban areas in terms of percentage points is 20.85. Data released by the Planning Commission show that among illiterate people aged 60 years and above, 78.2 per cent live in rural areas. In urban areas the figure is 48.2 per cent. Of the illiterate people who are 15 years and above but not beyond 60 years, rural areas have 55.8 per cent and the urban areas 25.1 per cent.

Of the school-going children in the age group of 5-14 years, 82.4 per cent live in urban areas. The rural figure is 63.3 per cent. Kerala has been able to bring this disparity down quite considerably - 93.2 per cent in villages and 94.3 per cent in urban areas.

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Data collected from the sample registration system show that while the life expectancy at birth in rural areas is 58 years, in the case of urban India it is 64.9 years. Kerala's performance again is noteworthy - 71.8 years in rural and 79.8 years in urban areas.

The disparity is noticeable even in respect of the sex ratio. Census 2001 data have shown a general improvement in this regard because in 1991 the sex ratio was 927 women for 1,000 men while in 2001 it was 933 women for 1,000 men. The Census data have also given the urban-rural break-up, which shows that while in the case of urban India the ratio is 901 women to 1,000 men, in the case of rural India it is 946 women to 1,000 men.

The Indian state has the primary responsibility to supply safe drinking water to all the people in the country irrespective of their place of habitat. But the situation is far from desirable. The National Sample Survey (NSS) data (1998, 5th round) show that while 70.1 per cent of urban dwellers have access to piped water, in the case of the rural people it is as low as 18.7 per cent. Public health facilities are so inadequate in rural areas that the death rate per 1,000 is 9.6 per cent while in urban areas it is 6 per cent. In rural areas the infant mortality rate is 77 per 1,000 but in urban areas it is as low as 45.

Data on rural-urban disparity on the availability of sanitary facilities indicate the gravity of the problem. The NSS data indicate that 84.4 per cent of rural households are devoid of toilet facilities; in the case of urban areas it is 23 per cent.

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The same scenario emerges if we look at the data on households with access to toilets tabulated in the National Human Development Report, 2002, prepared by the Planning Commission. In 1991, such facilities were enjoyed by only 9.48 per cent of rural households; in the case of urban households it was 63.85 per cent.

Policymakers are of late talking about the introduction of technology to improve the quality of life of the people. Electricity is the basic requirement. In India, according to the data tabulated in HDR 2002, only 30.54 per cent of rural households had electricity; in the case of urban areas it was higher: 75.78 per cent.

The bias of the state in favour of urban areas is evident from the per capita expenditure on basic services. According to the estimate of the Eleventh Finance Commission, per capita expenditure on basic services in rural areas during 1997-98 was Rs.24, but in urban areas it was Rs.49. Rural India contributes 27 per cent to the GDP, but gets back only 5 per cent, which is less than one-fifth of its contribution.

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Abusalef Shariff and others, in an article in Economic and Political Weekly (March 1, 2002), have shown that while the share of expenditure on urban poverty alleviation programmes in the total budgetary allocation by the Central government declined from 1 per cent to 0.8 per cent during the period between 1990-91 and 2000-01, the per capita expenditure for urban poor increased from Rs.11 to Rs.28 during the same period. But for the rural poor, the per capita expenditure it is just one-eighth of this.

In a post-colonial capitalist country like India, uneven rural-urban development or rural-urban disparity is not unusual. While it is almost impossible to bring it to an end, it is possible to reduce the disparity to a tolerable level. It may be recalled that Gandhiji emphasised on rural growth and pleaded for village swaraj. He wanted the engine of India's development to start rolling down from the villages. But it became clear from the discussions in the Constituent Assembly that it would not happen. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar characterised villages as "a sink of localism, ignorance and communalism". Nehru felt that villages were culturally backward and no progress could be made from such places. Urban bias was clearly reflected in the attitude of the policymakers. This seems to be continuing unabated.

In the Human Development Index prepared by the Planning Commission, there is a significant divide. The value for rural areas is 0.340, in the case of urban areas it is as high as 0.511. The index is a composite of variables capturing attainments in three dimensions of human development namely, economic, educational and health. The same is the situation in respect of the Human Poverty Index: rural 42.25 and urban 44.8.

Given the situation, what can be done to reduce the level of disparity to a desirable level is a matter that calls for serious consideration. There is no doubt that India's rural economy cannot grow without agricultural development. Capitalist agricultural productivity is constrained by the system itself. Effective land reform coupled with non-land input support to the beneficiaries can result in an increase in agricultural productivity.

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Apart from taking steps to increase human development facilities in the villages, such as health and education, and develop appropriate infrastructure such as roads and marketing facilities, there is the need for generating employment, which can better the living conditions of villagers. We need to adopt a long-term policy, keeping in mind the requirements of the rural and urban areas. A close look at the development plan exercises tends to demonstrate that ad-hocism permeates the policy processes.

In the rural areas there are many resources lying unutilised. It is time to identify these and make proper use of them. The application of Information Technology can be of great help in identifying what is lying unutilised or underutilised.

In West Bengal, it is being done in some rural and municipal areas. Jalpaiguri has done a remarkable job in this regard. It is the only district in the State to go in for participatory decentralised planning. Under this programme, the people themselves prepared village registers, electoral constituency-wise (gram sansad). These registers are mines of information, and they record the people's perceptions of development. The database is important for the development planning exercise.

Kerala has shown the way through the people's campaign for decentralised planning. Rural-urban disparity is the least in Kerala. There is a rural-urban continuum, rather than a divide. The people's campaign has definitely helped to make further improvement in the situation. The fact, however, remains that these steps at the State level, no matter how significant they are, cannot fully take care of the problem unless there is a shift of policy at the national level. This calls for sustained pressure from the bottom, that is, rural India. Secondly, urban development in a country like India has to dovetail with rural development. Otherwise, rural out migration will upset the applecart.

The author is Centenary Professor of Public Administration, Calcutta University and Honorary Adviser, Institute of Local Government and Urban Studies and State Institute of Panchayats and Rural Development, Government of West Bengal.

A new doctrine for the Navy

RAHUL BEDI the-nation

The Indian Maritime Doctrine, released in April by the Navy Chief, urges the Navy to recognise its responsibilities towards developing a credible minimum nuclear deterrence and builds a strong case for it to acquire a "non-provocative strategic capability" through the submarine.

THE Indian Navy has revised its earlier defensive doctrine centred on coastal protection to an aggressively competitive strategy aimed at developing a credible minimum nuclear deterrence (MND), pursuing littoral warfare and dominating the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

According to the Indian Maritime Doctrine, released in April by the Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Madhvendra Singh during the Commanders' conference at the Eastern Naval Command headquarters in Visakhapatnam, the Navy is endeavouring to project power through "reach, multiplied by sustainability" across its "legitimate areas of interest" stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Straits.

For the first time, the Navy has stressed the need for a submarine-based credible MND capability that is "inexorably linked" to India pursuing an independent foreign policy posture. "If India is to exude the quiet confidence of a nation that seeks to be neither deferential nor belligerent, but is aware of its own role in the larger global scheme, it will need to recognise what constitutes strategic currency in a Clausewitzian sense," the 148-page analysis declares.

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It goes on to state that for India to occupy its "appropriate" place in the global hierarchy as a secular, vibrant and economically thriving democracy there is a "strong case" for it to acquire a "non-provocative strategic capability" through the "most viable platform" - the submarine. The document strongly urges the Navy to "recognise" its MND responsibilities and to vindicate them swiftly.

After conducting multiple nuclear tests in 1998, India declared that its MND would be based on a triad of weapons delivered by aircraft; mobile, land-based missiles; and sea-based platforms.

Official sources said that to achieve the sea-leg of India's under-construction MND, the Navy reportedly entered into a covert agreement with Moscow recently for the lease-purchase of two Akula (Bars)-class Type 971 nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) for around $700 million each, with the option of acquiring a third one. The first submarine would reportedly be handed over by 2005.

The agreement was believed to have been completed after months of hard bargaining for the highly publicised but `related' $1.5-billion deal signed earlier this year for the 44,570-tonne Kiev-class aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov and 16 MiG 29 K ground attack/interceptor aircraft that are to form its air group. The Navy is acquiring the 17-year-old carrier - which forms part of its overarching strategy of becoming "an effective instrument of foreign policy" - for around $675 million, which is estimated to be the price of its refit at the Sevmash ship-building facility in Severodvinsk on Russia's northern White Sea coast. The retrofit is likely to be complete by 2008-09.

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Indian and Russian officials, however, declined to comment on the SSN lease. They also refused to confirm or deny Russian involvement in resolving the technical problems faced by India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) in jointly building the classified SSN, known as the advanced technology vessel (ATV). Indian military planners, though consistently refuting the ATV's existence, have subtly hinted that it forms part of the country's MND.

Russian technicians had reportedly helped miniaturise the ATV's 40-55 MW pressurised water reactor, mating it successfully with the hull. The SSN is likely to be ready for trials by 2008-09, several years behind schedule, officials sources conceded.

The continuing involvement of private defence contractors Larsen & Toubro (L&T), which started in 2001, has helped fast-forward the moribund ATV programme as well as the stalled but related development of Sagarika, the equally secret submarine-launched cruise missile, which has been facing technical setbacks and a resource crunch.

Official sources said the Navy had "shelved" for now its earlier, associated proposal to lease four Russian Tu 22M strategic bomber/maritime strike aircraft. Instead, it was utilising its resources to upgrade three Il-38 `May' maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) to the Il-38SD standard. The first of these is undergoing flight tests and is expected to be handed over to the Navy late next year.

The Navy is about to conclude an agreement to buy two second-hand Il-38s to replace the pair it lost in an accident two years ago adjoining its base at Hansa in Goa. These will be upgraded with the Morskoi Zmei (Sea Dragon) radar system rendering the MPAs compatible with the proposed SSN induction and the overall MND configuration.

The Sea Dragon is capable of detecting surface vessels and submarines within a 150-km range, in addition to mines and air-borne targets. Fitted with an electronics warfare suite and armed with Russian R-73RDM2 (AA-11 Archer) short-range air-to-air and Uran surface-to-air missiles, the Navy's MPAs are expected to remain in service for 25 to 30 years.

Admiral Madhvendra Singh told mediapersons recently that the Navy was also negotiating the purchase of eight to 10 refurbished Martin Lockheed P 3C Orion maritime strike/reconnaissance aircraft via American foreign military sales (FMS) to extend the Navy's reach as part of its revised doctrine of growing "longer sea legs".

THROUGH a prudent concentration of force and its judicious dispersal, the Navy plans to play a proactive role that is operationally capable of countering effectively distant, emerging threats, protecting sea lanes of communication (SLOC) and combating piracy. It also wants to control the strategically located IOR, the world's busiest waterways, by dominating "choke points, important islands and vital trade routes". Over the past decade, the IOR had been the largest recipient of warships - almost half of those transferred worldwide.

To activate this strategy the Navy plans to start policing the IOR later this year, along with the navies of Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines, to check piracy, trafficking of weapons and narcotics, and all potential threats to commercial sea lanes. Earlier, at the United States Navy's request, as part of the growing India-U.S. military cooperation, the Indian Navy's missile boats had patrolled the Malacca Straits alongside U.S. Navy vessels for a year after 9/11.

Two `Petya class' patrol craft of the Indian Navy, INS Sujata and INS Savitri, provided security cover to the three-day World Economic Forum meet that ended in Mozambique on June 5. This followed a similar initiative last July when the Navy provided protection to the African Union summit in Mozambique, making it the furthest afield the Indian Navy had ever ventured (Jane's Defence Weekly, June 4, 2003).

"This (patrolling the IOR) is a subtle hint to (nuclear rival) China from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) member-states that India is a credible ally and long-term partner," said Commodore Uday Bhaskar of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi. To bolster its profile, the Navy has quietly stepped up the frequency of naval manoeuvres with the U.S., France, Russia, ASEAN and West Asian states including Iran, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The Navy views with trepidation the rapid resurgence of the Chinese Navy, the only Asian navy with SLMB capability and one that was rapidly moving from being a coastal navy to a formidable ocean going force. In addition to operating an aircraft carrier by 2015 - the Chinese have acquired decommissioned carriers from Australia and Russia in order to study their construction details - the Indian Navy envisages China embarking on the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) as soon as it is able to project power well beyond China's shores.

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China, which spends 24 per cent of its defence outlay on PLAN according to the Indian Navy's analysis, also has burgeoning naval cooperation with Myanmar. It is helping Myanmar modernise its naval bases at Hainggyi, the Coco's islands, Akyab, Za Det Kyi, Mergui and Khaukphyu by building radar, refitting and refuelling facilities.

The Chinese are also believed to have established a Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) facility on Coco's islands, 30 nautical miles from the Andaman and Nicobar islands, enabling them to monitor India's missile tests off the eastern Orissa coast.

To counter PLAN and to expand its strategic reach, the Indian Navy views itself in 2012-15 as a force comprising about 135 vessels - down from the present strength of around 150 ships, but far less than the optimum level of 200 vessels - and centred round at least two, if not three, carrier battle groups (CBGs). These are to include boats with long-range precision-guided weapons capable of anti-ship, anti-submarine and decisive land-attack missions.

Over the next decade, the Navy hopes to commission the indigenously designed 32,000-35,000 tonne air defence ship (ADS), work on which is to begin, following repeated delays, sometime later this year at Cochin Shipyard Limited.

Admiral Madhvendra Singh declared that the Navy plans to keep INS Viraat, its only aircraft carrier (Centaur-class), in service through upgrades until Gorshkov is commissioned.

Meanwhile, the three Project 1135.6 Talwar-class frigates - the last, INS Tabar, was commissioned in Russia in April - are to be fitted with the supersonic BrahMoS anti-ship cruise missile, a joint India-Russia product with a range of 290 km carrying a 200 kg conventional warhead, enabling the Navy to determine the outcome of land-based battles. The three frigates - of which the Navy is likely to order three more - would also be equipped with the vertical launch Russian Kulb-N missile capable of engaging surface targets and submarines at ranges of 10 km-220 km.

On June 4, the Navy launched INS Satpura, the second indigenously built 4,900-tonne, Project 17 New Nilgiri (Leander) class stealth frigate at Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), over three years behind schedule. INS Shivalik, the first Project 17 ship launched a year ago and an enlarged and modified version of the Project 1135.6 frigates, is likely to be commissioned by 2005-06. INS Satpura and INS Sahyadri would be ready at 18-24 months intervals thereafter.

Alongside, under Project 75, the Navy plans to build six French Scorpene submarines at MDL. While price negotiations for it were concluded last year at Rs.90-100 billion ($2-2.2 billion), the deal is awaiting finalisation. Navy sources said the new Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government was likely to clear the Scorpene deal sometime this year.

Thereafter, as part of the 30-year plan to construct 24 conventional submarines in order to maintain adequate operational force levels that will be down to 10-12 submarines by 2010, the Navy hopes to build another six boats. These, in all probability, will be Russian Amur-1650 diesel-electric submarines to assist the Navy in maintaining its strategic ambition.

Judicial benchmarks

R. KRISHNAKUMAR education

WHEN the practical scheme evolved by the apex court in the 1993 Unnikrishnan case to check commercialisation of education and ensure social justice and quality in self-financing professional education was found to be defective in several respects, the judgment was reviewed by an 11-Judge Bench (in the 2002 T.M.A. Pai Foundation case), which declared it "unconstitutional."

The Bench specifically objected to the provision in the 1993 judgment that forced students studying under the payment quota to subsidise the cost of education of those admitted under the merit quota. But it failed to suggest an alternative scheme, leaving its judgment open to different interpretations by the governments and various educational institutions. Therefore, in a judgment on August 14, 2003, in the Islamic Academy of Education case, a five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court sought to clarify the doubts and anomalies raised before it about the ruling in the T.M.A. Pai Foundation case and its practice.

In its judgment, the court reiterated that merit should be the criterion for admissions and warned against profiteering and the charging of capitation fees by private self-financing educational institutions. However, the court also said that the government should not fix a rigid fee structure in these colleges. The government could insist on merit-based selection while allowing the managements sufficient discretion in admitting students. This could be achieved, it said, for instance, "by reserving a certain percentage of the seats for admission by the management" for those students who have passed the common entrance test held by "itself or by the State", while the rest of the seats may be filled up on the basis of counselling by a state agency. The court said that the percentage (of seats) for this purpose was to be prescribed by the government "according to local needs" and that "different percentages could be fixed for minority unaided and non-minority unaided and professional colleges."

Significantly, the court stipulated that each unaided private college would be entitled to "its own fee structure", keeping in mind the need to generate funds to run the institution and to provide facilities necessary for the benefit of the students. They must also be able to generate surplus funds "which must be used for the betterment and growth of that educational institution", the court explained. However, it pointed out that "imparting of education is essentially charitable in nature" and that there should be "no profiteering" or a system to collect "capitation fees".

It suggested that the States set up two committees each, one to propose the fees that could be collected, and the other to oversee the admission tests and procedures and ensure that they are administered in a fair and transparent manner.

The first committee comprising five members, including a chartered accountant, professionals and bureaucrats and headed by a Retired High Court Judge, was to decide whether the fees proposed by an institute "is justified". The court had said that the fees fixed by the committee should be binding for a period of three years, at the end of which the institution could seek a revision. Any amount charged over and above the fee fixed by the committee was to be considered as "capitation fee", and would lead to loss of recognition and affiliation to the university.

The Bench also said that admissions had to be based on common entrance tests. "We thus hold that the management could select students, of their quota, either on the basis of the common entrance tests conducted by the State or on the basis of a common entrance test to be conducted by an association of all colleges of a particular type in that State, for example, medical, engineering or technical," the Bench said. If any professional college chose not to admit students from the common entrance test (CET) conducted by the association, then that college had to admit students from the CET conducted by the State, it said.

The second "permanent" committee that the Bench proposed would ensure that the tests conducted by the association of colleges are fair and transparent. The committee should be headed by a retired judge of the High Court, nominated by the Chief Justice of that State, and should include a doctor or an engineer of eminence, the Secretary of the State in charge of Medical or Technical Education, an independent person of repute in the field of education and one of the Vice-Chancellors of the universities in that State as members. It will have the powers to monitor the entrance tests conducted by the association, including the power to call for the proposed question papers, know the names of persons setting the papers and the examiners, and check the method adopted to ensure that the question papers are not leaked. The committee shall also have the power to permit an institution, "which has been established and which has been permitted to adopt its own admission procedure for the last, at least, 25 years", to adopt its own admission procedure, the court said.

These are among the major observations of the Bench in the Islamic Academy of Education case, which together form a sort of evolving standard, against which the schemes of the various States to regulate admissions and fees in self-financing professional colleges are compared in order to determine their affinity to the constitutional provisions. But the Kerala government is trying to overrule the court's judgment itself through many of the provisions of the Bill proposed to be introduced in the State Assembly soon. However, the extent to which the State can regulate admissions and the fee structure in private, unaided professional colleges continues to be a matter of convenient interpretation, even after several interventions by the Supreme Court.

Slow to act

At a convention of Sahmat, historians voice the demand of secular-minded forces to undo the damage done to NCERT textbooks during the rule of the BJP-led coalition at the Centre.

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WHEN the Congress-led government took charge at the Centre, it was assumed that one of the first things it would do would be to withdraw the textbooks for secondary and higher secondary education, which were revised during the tenure of the previous Bharatiya Janata Party-led regime. The textbooks, brought out by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), had got mired in controversy on account of the communal, plagiarised as well as erroneous information they contained. Schools under the Central Board of Secondary Education stream use NCERT textbooks, which also serve as models for preparing textbooks for schools under State boards and other examination boards.

The new Union Minister for Human Resource and Development, Arjun Singh, is proceeding with a kind of a caution that appears to many as unnecessary. This is in stark contrast to the haste with which the previous government set about systematically "removing" and "replacing" textbooks authored by historians who it chose to label as "Left". The removal of the textbooks was ostensibly done to reduce the burden on children and to make education relevant. The social science textbooks in particular turned out to be, as a historian put it, "tremendously anti-Left in character".

The HRD Ministry, of course, made some interventions but none of them has been of the hard-hitting kind that would indicate that the government means business. It has set up a three-member committee comprising Professors S. Settar, Barun De and J.S. Grewal to look into the controversial textbooks and suggest corrective measures. There is no timeframe for the committee to submit its report though it is learnt that it will do so within a few weeks. Secondly, the Ministry has started looking for a successor to J.S. Rajput, the present Director of the NCERT whose tenure comes to an end on July 15. Thirdly, it has nominated four new members, all with impeccable secular and academic credentials, to the executive committee of the NCERT. They are Professor Chandrakant Deotale, writer and scholar; Mridula Mukherjee, Professor of History and a member of the Delhi Historians Group; Professor Anita Rampal, Department of Education, Delhi University; and Dr. M.P. Parameswaran, founder-director of the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad.

The setting up of a committee to look into the controversial textbooks is no doubt a politically prudent move, but any delay in restoring the status quo ante can have an adverse impact. The academic session for 2004-2005 is already under way and any decision regarding the introduction of new textbooks has to be done expeditiously. Students and teachers would find it difficult if it were done half way through the session.

The government must show some urgency, feel historians and other academics. The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat) had as early as May 20 (soon after the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was routed) demanded that the present textbooks in history and social science be withdrawn immediately.

The Delhi Historians Group, led by Mridula Mukherjee and Aditya Mukherjee of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), issued a statement that "as an immediate first step, the textbooks replaced by the NCERT must be brought back forthwith and reprinted so that students starting school after the vacation are not forced to read the dangerous trash now circulated...in short, the secular formations must now take on the communal challenge on a war footing."

ON June 11, at a detailed Sahmat convention historians Irfan Habib, Surajbhan, D.N. Jha and Aditya Mukherjee, Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court Rajeev Dhawan, economist Prabhat Patnaik and educationist Anil Sadgopal underscored the need to act immediately to restore the earlier textbooks with any updating that may be required.

Prabhat Patnaik stressed that there should be no political interference in the writing of textbooks. History, he said, should be left to historians and the writing of textbooks should be based on vigorous research; the books should impart to the students some basic values.

Aditya Mukherjee, Professor of History from the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU, said that the BJP had appropriated some icons of the Indian freedom movement; the scholars selected by the previous government to revise the history books portrayed the national movement more as a religious movement than as a reaction to colonialism. He said: "The entire section on contemporary India had only references to Muslim communalism and not Hindu communalism." Making a strong plea for the withdrawal of the "illegitimately introduced National Curriculum Framework" (NCF) and the implementation of the recommendations of the National Steering Committee on textbook evaluation, he said that the government must ensure that no student is exposed to hatred and bias. "Communalism is not just about bias. It is not a Left or Right issue. It is like anti-Semitism or racism," he said. Education, he stressed, was not just about increasing budgets or government expenditure; but the elimination of communal bias through education was a civilisational and constitutional imperative.

Arjun Dev, former head of the Department of Education in Social Sciences and Humanities at the NCERT, said that a disinformation campaign was on to stall the replacement of the textbooks. There is a deliberate attempt to plant the impression that new textbooks could be introduced only after the constitution of the Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE). He said: "It is strange that the previous government framed a national curriculum which did not take the CABE into account at all." The NCF was national only in name, said Arjun Dev, as at the two general body meetings of the NCERT, several participants including State Education Ministers denied that they had approved the framework. The new government, he said, should declare the NCF of 2002 as null and void.

Historians, academics and teachers feel that the errors listed out by an Indian History Congress (IHC) report should have been sufficient reason for the government to initiate action. The IHC, the sole national body representing the country's historians, had found fault with the textbooks. In its Calicut University session in December 1999, it expressed its reservations. It passed a resolution at its Kolkata session in 2001 questioning not only the manner in which history was treated in the school curriculum but also the way "values" were being linked to "education in religion". In 2002, four new textbooks were published, two each for Classes VI and IX, which had units assigned to History; two other textbooks, on Ancient and Mediaeval India for Class XI, were also published. Taking cognisance of the new approach to History, the executive committee of the IHC at its 63rd annual session held at Amritsar in 2002 resolved to arrange for a scrutiny of the textbooks.

A three-member committee comprising Professors Irfan Habib (Aligarh), Suvira Jaiswal (Hyderabad) and Aditya Mukherjee (Delhi) was asked to examine the books and give a report to the IHC. In June 2003, the committee submitted a 130-page treatise titled "A Report and an Index of Errors". The report observed that errors appeared to have been caused by an eagerness to present history with a very strong chauvinistic and communal bias. It held: "The textbooks draw heavily on the kind of propaganda that the so-called Sangh Parivar publications have been projecting for quite some time... with such parochialism and prejudice as the driving force behind these text-books, it is clear that these cannot be converted into acceptable textbooks by a mere removal of the linguistic and factual errors pointed out in our Index. In many cases, the basic arguments in the textbooks are built on these errors of fact, and so the errors cannot be removed without changing the main ideas behind the textbooks."

Any review of the textbooks would have to go beyond a mere correction of the errors, both factual and grammatical. As Rajeev Dhawan put it: "The government should call a meeting of the CABE. Any decision it takes should be between now and the end of June." He wondered how another edition of the current textbooks could be printed when the corrigenda (as compiled by the IHC) ran into more than a hundred pages.

The most scathing criticism came from Irfan Habib, who said that the textbooks ought to be removed, as they were completely hostile to the idea of a "composite culture". There was a total negation of the legacy of the national movement, he said. "This kind of a thing should not be taught in schools," he said. Irfan Habib could not understand why the government had set up another committee to look into the textbooks especially after the detailed "treatise" brought out by the IHC.

D.N. Jha from the University of Delhi, who chaired the Sahmat convention, cautioned against the squandering of the secular mandate.

The Sahmat convention adopted a statement that opined "not a day should be lost in withdrawing the curriculum framework of 2000 and recalling the textbooks, especially those of history and social sciences prepared under it". The government should initiate steps to restore the NCF of 1988 and reissue the old textbooks with the necessary updating, it stated. The convention was emphatic that the changes ought to be effected from the current academic session itself.

Distress and politics

The dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the sharing of Cauvery waters, which needs to be resolved within the mechanism already in place, continues to hold farmers in the basin hostage owing to, among other things, political one-upmanship.

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN in Chennai PARVATHI MENON in Bangalore

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IT caused the first cracks in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre. The dispute over the sharing of Cauvery waters between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, with its long history of bitterness and unresolved claims, could not be papered over by any amount of coalition bonhomie. As June 12, the day water from the Mettur dam is traditionally released, neared, pressure was exerted on the Central government by both States: by Tamil Nadu for the release of water from the Karnataka reservoirs for the commencement of sowing operations for its kuruvai crop, and by Karnataka against any measure that would force it to reduce its own utilisation.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was petitioned by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to convene the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) "forthwith" and to finalise the distress-sharing formula. Members of Parliament from the Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA) in Tamil Nadu urged him to talk to the Karnataka government to "create conditions congenial to begin farming operations here" and to implement the Interim Order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, which stipulates the release of 10.16 tmcft of water in June to Tamil Nadu. This was followed by a representation by a delegation of MPs from Karnataka that gave Manmohan Singh the State's reaction: "We have no water to spare, and we must protect the interests of the Karnataka farmer."

The Congress(I) and the Janata Dal(S), coalition partners in Karnataka, put on hold their quarrels over the allocation of ministerial portfolios to speak in one voice against any release of water to Tamil Nadu. So did the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the single largest party in the State Legislature. "On the Cauvery, we all stand together," said B.S. Yediyurappa, Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly. Significantly, there was no dilution of the hard-line rhetoric, nor any desire on Chief Minister Dharam Singh beginning his tenure on a note of political goodwill. Even as a delegation from Tamil Nadu was politely received in Karnataka, there was no yielding from the stated position.

In Tamil Nadu too, the issue lent to a not unfamiliar game of political one-upmanship. The issue hit centre stage in the first week of June after the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) stole a march over the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and its general secretary Jayalalithaa by leading an all-party delegation to meet Manmohan Singh and Dharam Singh. DMK president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi wrote separate letters to them, urging them to release the water to Tamil Nadu. While the AIADMK joined the delegation to meet the Prime Minister, the party sent a separate official delegation to meet the Karnataka Chief Minister.

As late as June 14, the Karnataka government held on to the position, despite "exhaustive consideration" of Tamil Nadu's request, that it would not release any water to Tamil Nadu. By now water levels were going up steadily in Karnataka's reservoirs. On June 14, the inflow into the Krishnarajasagar dam was 11,004 cusecs, the highest this year. The water level was 86 feet as against 68 feet last year. The inflow into the Kabini and Hemavathy reservoirs was also steadily rising owing to heavy rainfall in the catchment areas.

For the delta farmers in Tamil Nadu, the prospects of yet another year - the fourth in a row - of no kuruvai cultivation loomed large. (If that indeed happens, it will be the seventh paddy crop in succession that they will be losing.) Pressure groups from the State upped the demand for Karnataka to release water immediately and for the two States to finalise urgently a "distress-sharing" formula. They also called for an urgent meeting of the CRA and the Cauvery Monitoring Committee (CMC) to discuss this issue. Apart from Jayalalithaa and MPs from the DPA, the "Cauvery Family", a body formed recently comprising farmers' representatives from the two States, in its meeting held in Tiruchi, Tamil Nadu, on June 11, underlined the need to evolve a deficit-sharing formula. On June 24, the Tamil Nadu secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), N. Vardarajan, appealed to the Centre to convene the CRA and ensure that Tamil Nadu received enough water. R. Nallakannu, State secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI), said the Karnataka government's decision that only when there was increased inflow into its reservoirs would it release more water to Tamil Nadu had greatly disappointed farmers in Tamil Nadu. Nallakanu urged the Centre to impress upon the Karnataka government to release enough water for kuruvai cultivation in Tamil Nadu.

The Karnataka government said in response that there was no need to call a meeting of the bodies, as there was no distress in the basin. Even so, it refused to release water. A meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) convened by Manmohan Singh in New Delhi endorsed his decision to ask Karnataka to release water to Tamil Nadu. Manmohan Singh spoke to Dharam Singh and former Prime Minister and former Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Deve Gowda.

Nature, and some political expediency, finally resolved the issue. Karnataka started releasing water on June 17, at the rate of 12,000 cusecs a day, from the Kabini, but only, as the Chief Minister took pains to tell his constituency, because the water had reached the danger mark and that impounding it further could cause flooding of the nearby areas. Reinforcing this, M. Mallikarjuna Kharge, Karnataka's Minister for Water Resources, said that the release of water would be stopped when the rain stopped.

For the Cauvery delta farmers in Tamil Nadu, to go in for cultivation of kuruvai now will be a risk because the water level in the Mettur dam is not sufficient. Kuruvai is cultivated from June to September on about 5.5 lakh acres (2.2 lakh hectares): in 4.25 lakh acres in the Cauvery delta districts of Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam, in about 75,000 acres in Tiruchi district, and in another 75,000 acres in Pudukottai and South Arcot districts. Kuruvai needs 135 tmcft of water for its completion, aided by releases from the Mettur dam and local rainfall. The height of the dam is 120 feet (36 metres) and its capacity is about 93 tmcft of water. As on June 24, the water level in Mettur stood only at 50 feet, or the storage was about 17.84 tmcft. "It will be very risky to take up the cultivation of kuruvai unless there is at least 45 tmcft of water before July 6 in Mettur dam," S. Ranganathan, secretary, Cauvery Delta Farmers' Welfare Association, told Frontline. Tamil Nadu farmers allege that Karnataka has been treating the Cauvery as a mere "drainage system", releasing surplus waters only when its reservoirs cannot impound them.

Hopes in the Cauvery delta in Tamil Nadu soared from June 18. Tamil Nadu farmers rejoiced when the overflowing waters of the Kabini reservoir reached the Mettur dam on June 19 and 20. The level in the Mettur dam stood at a mere 40.66 feet. However, the joy was short-lived with the rain in the Cauvery catchment areas stopping, and the overflow from the Kabini dwindling. Between June 20 and 24 Mettur received about 5 tmcft of water (6 tmcft, in Karnataka's estimate). As on June 26, with the water level at just about 18.3 tmcft in Mettur, it appears unlikely that the Cauvery delta farmes can raise kuruvai. Therefore the sluices of the Mettur dam were not opened.

AT the core of a solution to the dispute, according to the noted irrigation and water expert Ramaswamy R. Iyer, lies in the approach that must hold good in times of both plenty and distress. This is based on the premise, he argues, that there are no ownership rights over water, but only user rights. Nor is there any hierarchy or primacy of rights among States. There is only an equality of rights, which does not of course mean a right to equal entitlement. A water-sharing agreement, therefore, has to hold good in years of plenty as well as in years of water shortage, and must be based upon a mutually agreed ratio in which water is allocated among the basin States. An upper riparian State, in a year of water shortage, cannot argue that its needs must be met before it releases water to the lower riparian State/s, however acute the scarcity for irrigation or drinking water is.

The Interim Order gave a schedule of water-sharing, but this was based on the assumption of normal rainfall and water flow in the river. It was also a sharing agreement based on absolute volumes and not on proportionate sharing. For distress years, the guidelines it prescribed were left open to interpretation. In the 13 years since the Interim Order was passed, many changes have taken place in the agro-economic status and rainfall pattern in the Cauvery basin. The past three years witnessed acute rainfall shortages in the basin. The genuine problem of sharing in years of shortage has been further subjected to the pulls and pressures of competitive politics. To argue for the release of Cauvery water in Karnataka used to be viewed as politically incorrect; today it is seen almost as an act of betrayal of the State's interest.

It is this unstated ownership right, expressed as a right to prior use owing to its position as the upper riparian State, that Karnataka has been accused of asserting over the past few years. This approach has stalled any meaningful negotiations, even in bodies like the CRA and the CMC, which were set up to tide over interim problems of sharing before the final award of the Tribunal was given. During the last few years of drought, the State could not abide by the terms of the Interim Order, which stipulates that 205 tmcft of water must be released to Tamil Nadu in a rainfall year. But with both States equally suffering the impact of drought, a proportionate sharing of distress could never be worked out, and much of the blame for this has been laid at the door of Karnataka, which always held the position that it would release water only after its own needs were fully met. It appears that the Tribunal's Final Award alone can bring some finality to this intractable dispute.

Resistance and reprisal

PRAVEEN SWAMI the-nation

Marrah is not ready to give up despite the brutal massacre, but the June 26 incident highlights the fact that the battle against terrorism is far from over.

IN January this year, residents of the small mountain village of Marrah marched north to the Hil Kaka bowl and unfurled the Indian flag there for the first time in 15 years. It was, in a key sense, their own victory: without Marrah's support, successive efforts of the Army to evict terrorists from its most well guarded bastion in Poonch had failed. It was an unprecedented demonstration of Muslim resistance to the Islamist right-wing and proof, if any was needed, that terrorists did not speak for the people of the region.

Punishment came just as many had predicted. On June 26, the Marrah area saw the worst massacre in Jammu and Kashmir in recent months. Survivors' testimony suggests that between 10 and 15 terrorists, believed to be from the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Hizbul -Mujahideen's Pir Panjal Regiment reached Teli Katha at about 3 a.m. Teli Katha, which is home to a large high-altitude pasture, is used by Marrah residents to graze their cattle in the summer. This year, some 70 people from a dozen Gujjar families had made their way up to the meadows with their herds of buffaloes and goats. People were asleep in their dhokes, temporary earth-and-stone shelters used by pastoralists on the Pir Panjal range, when the terrorists opened fire with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

Most of the victims were killed or injured within the first few minutes of fire. Unsurprisingly, most of the victims were those slow to react: children and the elderly. Among the 11 killed were two 75-year-olds, Noor Mohd and Lal Hussain, 14-year-old Parveen Akhtar and Nazaqat Hussain, eight-year-old Niaz Ahmed and four-year-old Imtiyaz Ahmed, and a three-month-old who was yet to be named. Most of the 10 injured met the same profile: two 80-year-old men and a 60-year-old woman and three children were among those who received gunshot and shrapnel wounds. The terrorists who fired at the dhokes would have known that entire families were sleeping inside: their intention, quite clearly, was to kill.

It could have been worse if five armed Village Defence Committee members were not guarding the dhokes. Within 15 minutes, VDC members Lal Hussain, Mohd Aslam, Mohd Qasim, Aijaz Ahmed and Lal Din fired more than 360 rounds from their rifles, forcing the terrorists to retreat. The nearest Army picket was several kilometres away, which meant reinforcements could not have arrived in time to stop the massacre. It was not until the morning that members of the Marrah VDC made their way to the scene of the massacre, apprehensive that something had gone wrong. "Had the VDC members on the dhoke not fought back," said Poonch Senior Superintendent of Police Mukesh Singh, "I doubt that anyone on the dhoke would have made it out alive. They fought like heroes."

Courage, however, was not enough. In a key sense, the tragedy was inevitable. Two months ago, a terrorist attack on a wedding in Marrah was beaten off by a local woman member of the VDC. On that occasion, time was on the villagers' side. Since the attack targeted the village itself, other VDC members and members of the local Army picket could respond rapidly. Knowing that retaliation would soon arrive, the terrorists who carried out the attack fled at the first sign of resistance. Two earlier attacks on armed villagers in Marrah had also failed for similar reasons. This time, the terrorists chose their target carefully. According to the VDC members, the terrorists hid behind rocks a fair distance from the dhoke and blocked paths that offered an escape route.

Signs of a terrorist regrouping in Poonch had long been evident, something that held obvious dangers to resistance in Marrah. Winter efforts to evict terrorists from Sillan Dhoke, on the fringes of the Hil Kaka, had failed. Intelligence reports suggested that up to 50 terrorists, mainly from the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Tehrik-ul-Jehad Islami, had built up caches of rations and semi-permanent shelters to replace the facilities lost in Hil Kaka. Residents of the Marhot area said terrorists had made them haul substantial supplies of wood, grain, tarpaulin and gas cylinders up into the mountains, presumably for use in building up semi-fortified structures. After Poonch Muslims defied the terrorist fiat and voted in the recent Lok Sabha elections, it was clear that the most visible emblem of resistance would come under assault.

MARRAH'S extraordinary story began three years ago, when village elder Mohammad Arif heard the story of a local woman who said she had been repeatedly raped by Lashkar-e-Toiba cadre. Arif took the unusual step of complaining to their commander, a Pakistan national code-named Abu Faris. Days later, he received justice: Arif was declared an Army informer and was executed ritually by having his throat slit. Arif's killing was just one of hundreds of similar outrages that have taken place over the years in the high mountains of rural Jammu. It was, however, to have the most unusual consequences. Far away in Riyadh, Arif's brother, Fazl Husain Tahir, decided enough was enough. The marble-tile artisan decided to set up a vigilante organisation, the Pir Panjal Scouts, to hit back.

By 2002, the Pir Panjal Scouts were functioning as an undercover unit, the Jammu and Kashmir Police's Special Group III. Its personnel were hired as Special Police Officers and were paid Rs.1,500 as stipend a month to carry out counter-terrorist operations. The 15 Rashtriya Rifles, the Army's counter-insurgency force tasked with securing Marrah, provided muscle power; Special Group III local knowledge. When Operation Sarp Vinash was launched last summer to clear terrorists from the Hil Kaka bowl, members of Special Group III played a key role in aiding crack soldiers from the 9 Para-commando Regiment to pinpoint and destroy terrorist defences. Anger against terrorists ran so high that villagers refused to bury those killed, claiming their crimes meant they had renounced Islam.

Soon after Sarp Vinash, though, it became clear that Marrah had become a potential target of terrorist assault. A VDC was set up with a first batch of 50 volunteers, who were trained in the use of aging but effective .303 rifles. By early this year, the results were evident. In November last year, Mohammad Akbar, the headman of the village of Azmatabad, was brutally beaten by terrorists for having encouraged local men to volunteer for recruitment in new Territorial Army units. Marhot village headman Noor Ahmad had a similar experience two months earlier. Across Poonch, killings targeted at those perceived as pro-India - or just not sympathetic to Islamists - continued apace. In Marrah, however, there was quiet.

Now, however, it has become clear this peace came at great cost. Sadly, it was left to officials to help out the victims of Marrah. Not one politician saw it fit to make the six-hour walk to the village - or, indeed, to take the easier route of flying there by helicopter. Massacres of Hindus in the Jammu region have almost without exception led to visits by top politicians from New Delhi and Srinagar, but killings of Muslims by terrorists have generally provoked only apathy. Outside Jammu and Kashmir, it is little understood that the overwhelming majority of civilian victims of terrorism each year are Muslim. Muslim politicians, dependent on terrorists for election-time support, rarely speak out in favour of resistance. Hindu politicians, in turn, choose not to care about deaths that do not provoke religious ire among their constituents.

To Muslims who have chosen to oppose Islamists, the story is familiar. On the night of February 9, 2001, soldiers noticed a fire in the village of Kot Charwal. By late evening the next day, 15 bodies had been dug out. Seven were of children, the youngest of them just four years old. The victims of that massacre were the families of Bakkarwal shepherds who had dared to take on terrorist groups active on the mountains above Rajouri. The hamlet had formed the first all-Muslim Village Defence Committee in December the previous year, after one local resident was executed brutally by cadre of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. When troops were pulled out in the course of the Ramzan ceasefire, to meet commitments elsewhere, brutal reprisal followed.

Kot Charwal spelt the end of armed Muslim resistance in Rajouri and Poonch until Marrah emerged as its epicentre. What, now, of its future? "We need some more guns," Tahir said a few minutes after he arrived at the site of the Marrah massacre, "and then we need to kill whoever did this." Marrah is not ready to give up, it would seem, at least not just yet.

The wages of hate

The June 15 shooting in Ahmedabad that killed four alleged Lashkar operatives shows that the State and its Hindu fundamentalist leaders will continue to be targeted for the anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002.

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ISHRAT JEHAN RAZA, like many people of her age, occasionally cruised the Internet. If, as the Gujarat Police maintain, the Mumbai college student who was killed in Ahmedabad on June 15 was a Lashkar-e-Toiba operative, she would most certainly have seen a graphic image on the organisation's website: riot survivor Qutubuddin Ansari begging for his life. Underneath the image, the Lashkar's site designer had added a slogan: "Don't you think he should have a gun?"

A fortnight after Ishrat's death in an encounter in Ahmedabad sparked off a nationwide furore, just what happened in the pre-dawn shootout is still not clear. What a Frontline investigation has discovered is that the claims of the police that the four alleged Lashkar terrorists they killed intended to execute an attack on the State's Chief Minister Narendra Modi, may have been overblown. While members of the group did indeed plan a suicide-squad attack on Hindu fundamentalist leaders, the mission was monitored by Indian intelligence at each stage, and infiltrated from its outset. It was an intelligence coup: a fiction conceived by an Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) mole in the Lashkar, and authored by his handlers.

It all began, as all great espionage novels do, with a small clue. Nestled among the belongings of Lashkar commander Ehsan Illahi, who was eliminated along with six other terrorists in a shootout at Arai in the border district of Poonch on February 20, was a blue inland letter. Written by Haji Sadiq Ahmad, a Poonch resident held in the Ahmedabad Central Jail for his role in a related terrorism-crime in 2003, the letter provided I.B. considerable insight into the Lashkar's pan-India apparatus. Sadiq Ahmad asked for Rs.2 lakhs "to get ourselves freed from here". He proceeded to name suspected I.B. sources in Poonch, and asked that the Lashkar help four recruits from Hyderabad hide out in Poonch.

Most important, though, Sadiq Ahmad's letter mentioned the name of a key member of the Lashkar's support network in Gujarat - a local lawyer, whose name Frontline is withholding for his security. The lawyer had been peripherally involved in transporting six men from Ahmedabad to Poonch for training with the Lashkar in 2003. One of the six, Munir Ahmad, died in an encounter, while the other five managed to make their way across the Line of Control. It turned out that the lawyer's elderly mother, during questioning, had passed on information to the Ahmedabad Crime Branch on the group of six. Sadiq Ahmad's letter made clear that the Lashkar knew of this betrayal. Most likely, the Ahmedabad Police told the lawyer that the score would be settled. It took little effort to persuade the lawyer to cooperate.

The lawyer was instructed to tell Javed Sheikh, a Pune resident who was amongst those killed on June 16, that the infrastructure was in place to execute an attack on Modi. By early May, Sheikh had requisitioned two suicide-squad volunteers. The Border Security Force's (BSF) in-house intelligence wing, the General Branch, picked up signs of the movement in mid-May. Signals intelligence staff of the BSF intercepted coded communications asking two Lashkar cadre to report to a handler in Udhampur, near Jammu, and then proceed to their final destinations. New Delhi was referred to as Rajdhani, and the final destination, Ahmedabad, as Manzil. The personnel chosen were Jishan Johar, a resident of Gujaranwala in Pakistan, and Amjadali Rana, who hailed from Sargodha (also in Pakistan) and worked with a Lashkar unit in the Reasi area of Udhampur.

Just like the Lashkar operatives who carried out the earlier attack on the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar (Gujarat), the terrorists probably hoped to reach Ahmedabad just days or hours before the intended assault. In this case, however, there was no target: just a police ambush. Ishrat's family, like most people in Mumbra (in Thane), refuse to believe that the young woman had anything to do with terrorists. Her mother admitted during questioning that Ishrat left home on at least three occasions for job interviews, but could not explain who the potential employers were. Investigators have also found records of dozens of calls she made to Sheikh from a public telephone centre, Tavakkal Communications, and most important of all, a diary with coded entries that match names listed in a register maintained by the Pune man. These code words, investigators believe, were used in communication with the terrorists through the Thuraya satellite phone they carried.

The code names do not leave much doubt about who the members of the Lashkar cell believed were their enemies. Bajrang Dal leader Vinay Katiyar is referred to as `Kutta', or dog; fundamentalist demagogue Pravin Togadia as `Tingu', or dwarf. Narendra Modi is coded `Mubarak' (congratulations) - a reference to what would be passed on to his assassins. Ishrat was not the only young person who the Gujarat pogrom had taught to hate. Apart from six men known to have trained in Poonch, investigation into the assassination of former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya and the Mumbai serial bombings of 2003 led to the arrest of over a dozen people recruited while working in West Asia. Key figures in such recruitment include Abdul Bari, a Hyderabad resident last seen in Saudi Arabia operating under the nom de guerre Abu Hamza. Sheikh, like several of those involved in recent terrorist crime, is believed to have been recruited on the second of two visits to Oman.

Like most things to do with the organisation, the Lashkar's plans for Gujarat are no secret. Ever since the pogrom of 2002, the organisation has been publicly calling on Indian Muslims to join its jehad. In an English language article published that year on the Lashkar website, its political head Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed asked "the Muslims of India that they themselves rise up for their protection". "Only jehad," he continued, "is the defence of the oppressed Muslims. The riots have proved that the Hindus are fully armed but the Muslims are badly ill-equipped to cope with such a situation." Sayeed's article proposes a way forward, arguing "the only way for the Muslims of India is to organise their movements [sic.] for liberation. There is no other way out." "Why to die helplessly?" the Lashkar chief asks.

It would, however, be facile to link recent recruitment only to the Gujarat pogrom. Lashkar recruitment outside Jammu and Kashmir dates back to the immediate aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Three individuals at the cutting edge of Lashkar activity in India through the 1990s - Abdul Karim `Tunda', Dr. Jalees Ansari and Azam Ghauri - first joined hands to defend Muslims in Bhiwandi against communal violence.

Ishrat's neighbourhood, the ghetto of Mumbra, has a strong subterranean tradition of support for the Lashkar, which predates Gujarat and is underpinned by the influence of the local Ahl-e-Hadis seminary - the sect from which the terrorist group derives its religious legitimacy. In 2000, four top Lashkar terrorists were arrested in Mumbra. In essence, the climate of fear generated by decades of anti-Muslim violence has enabled right-wing religious organisations such as the Tabligh-i-Jamaat and Ahl-e-Hadis to propagate communitarian separatism. Like the Hindu right-wing, these organisations reject the syncretic traditions and practices that have bound Hindus and Muslims together for centuries.

ALL of this, however, only shows that Ishrat would not have been exceptional if she had chosen to participate in an assassination plot - not that she actually did so. As important, it is far from clear whether the encounter was a genuine response to an imminent attack, or a cold-blooded execution. On the face of it, several parts of the police narrative on the encounter do not make sense. According to the Ahmedabad Crime Branch, the four suspects were interdicted at Himmatnagar, on the bypass that skirts the city. The route is used by most traffic approaching Ahmedabad from Maharashtra. Assistant Commissioner of Police Narendra Amin, who led one of the ambush groups, later told journalists that the shootout lasted some 30 minutes.

Critics note that this account leaves several key questions unanswered. The car used by the four alleged terrorists would have taken at least four and a half hours to reach Ahmedabad from the Gujarat border near Vapi. This leaves open the question of why the police waited to ambush the vehicle until it almost entered the city. Nor did the police find in the car the Rs.5 coupon its occupants would have purchased to use the toll bridge near Sarkhej, just short of the city. None of this, however, is conclusive. The Ahmedabad Crime Branch could have waited to execute the ambush in their own jurisdiction, reluctant to share credit with another police district. The toll coupon, in turn, could have been thrown out of the window after purchase. While Amin's claims of a half-hour encounter seem overblown, since the first bullets directed at the car would have claimed the lives of those inside, those who have faced fire know that the duration of the engagement often appears longer than it actually was.

Whatever the truth, the fact is that the Gujarat Police carry part of the blame for their current crisis of credibility. Thirteen suspects held in an earlier alleged assassination attempt on Modi were discharged after the killing of key suspect Samirkhan Pathan, on whose confession the prosecution had been based. Pathan was, the police claimed, shot while trying to escape, at the very spot he had earlier killed an officer. Apart from the fact that Pathan's death made it impossible to substantiate his confession, the High Court also attacked the prosecution charge-sheet for being in general implausible. The Ahmedabad Crime Branch also faced embarrassment after the Jammu and Kashmir Police blew open their claims that several Muslim residents of Ahmedabad had collaborated in the storming of the Akshardham temple. In both instances, critics charged that criminal investigations had become a generalised anti-Muslim crusade, with the police charging people for no better reason than the merest association with key suspects.

It is also true that since at least 1999, when the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 to Kandahar forced India to release top terrorists Mohammad Masood Azhar, Sayyed Omar Sheikh and Mushtaq Zargar, police forces across India have been reluctant to take prisoners. Yet, in the absence of a political decision on not negotiating with hostage-takers, holding high-value terrorists poses problems for those working on the ground. Then, despite years of debate on police modernisation and reform, forces also do not have access to the kinds of technology needed to secure convictions.

On top of it all, India has no witness protection programme. As such, anyone deposing on a terrorist crime does so at considerable risk to his or her life. All of this has manifested itself in a dismal conviction rate in terrorism-related offences: less than 50 people have been convicted for the tens of thousands of civilian deaths in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. "Policemen are finding that law and order are sometimes in opposition," argues a senior official.

What is known about the Ahmedabad case does not enable an unequivocal finding of fact. Advanced forensics could settle the questions: tests exist, for example, which could establish whether any of the four accused had fired a weapon during the shootout. What the controversy has underlined, however, is the need for a transformation of the criminal justice system: a process that needs both cash and political will. More important, real effort is needed to establish that the state can deliver justice to the victims of the pogrom of 2002, and of earlier violence. Of this keystone for rebuilding faith, there is still no sign.

ADMISSION IMPASSE: The tug of war in Karnataka

There is serious uncertainty about admissions to private self-financing professional colleges in several States this year as the managements refuse to accept the positions of the State governments concerned and the latter take measures, often half-hearted, to restrain them. In Karnataka, the managements want more seats and higher fees, while in Maharashtra it is more about fees than seats. In Kerala, the government tries to slip in an ordinance to regulate the admission process and fee structure after the report of the committee it appointed draws angry responses from all concerned.

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ADMISSIONS to the private professional colleges in Karnataka have come to a halt with the government and the managements deadlocked on the issues of sharing of seats in the colleges and the fees to be charged. The government has also postponed by 10 days, to July 8, the selection of candidates to all the professional colleges, including those run by it. And with both parties approaching the court, over 120,000 candidates face an uncertain future, as the impasse is unlikely to end soon. Many of them have even joined undergraduate courses in science or commerce, in many cases by paying the entire course fee, knowing that they will have to forfeit it if and when they secure admission in a professional college. Their parents, unwittingly dragged into the tug of war over the money-spinner that professional education has become, are left to shoulder the additional burden.

The crux of the problem is that while the State government wants a say in the allotment of 75 per cent of the seats, the managements, especially those of medical and dental colleges, say the government quota should be restricted to 50 per cent. The managements of 16 medical colleges, 26 dental colleges and 26 engineering colleges have formed the Consortium of Medical, Engineering and Dental Colleges of Karnataka (Comed-K) to press their case. Its chairman, senior Congress politician R.L. Jalappa, runs a medical college. Other managements, particularly those running engineering colleges, look to the government to allot seats. This is not surprising, considering the fact that around 5,000 seats in the many engineering colleges were not filled in the last two academic years.

Said Jalappa: "It is a question of our right. We have invested crores of rupees in our colleges and we are responsible for the quality of education. What business does the government have to insist on 75 per cent of our seats? In fact, they should only get 25 per cent." That the Justice S. Venkataraman Committee, appointed by the Karnataka government under the directions of the Supreme Court to oversee seat-sharing, has upheld the government's stand is of no consequence to these managements.

At the end of the allotment process the managements are usually left with a number of unfilled seats, especially in engineering and to a lesser extent in the dental stream, which they can hand out to applicants of their choice. Bookings for these `unfilled' seats have started. Also, a large number of candidates have passed the common entrance tests conducted by the government (on May 18-19) and the managements (on May 14-15) and many of them are likely to opt for government seats. The vacancies so created can also be utilised by the managements. (The common entrance test conducted by the government goes by the popular acronym CET.)

Some managements are willing to hand over their seats to the government after retaining a small portion. Explained D.P. Nagaraj, Assistant Secretary of the Rashtreya Sikshana Samithi: "We have given all our engineering seats to the government. But private managements must have a small discretionary quota to admit students of their choice: sportspersons, children of staff members, physically challenged candidates and so on. Otherwise philanthropists will not be prepared to enter the field of education."

While the managements may differ on the question of seat-sharing, on fees they are unanimous that they should be increased. The fee structure fixed by the committee constituted by the State government under the directions of the Supreme Court is not acceptable to the managements. The Committee for the Fixation of Fee Structure of Private Professional Colleges, headed by A.B. Murgod, a retired High Court Judge, has fixed fees varying between Rs.1,40,000 and Rs.1,65,000 for the medical stream and between Rs.90,000 and Rs.1,10,000 for the dental stream.

The M.S. Ramaiah Medical College challenged the new fee structure in the High Court. Its petition stated that it had fixed a fee of Rs.3,19,000 for the medical undergraduate course but the Murgod Committee revised it to Rs.2,55,000. "Only a veterinary college can be run with the fees fixed by the Murgod Committee," claimed Jalappa. Another Comed-K member told Frontline that the fees fixed by the Committee were unrealistic and that it was just playing to the gallery. This member said: "A member of the Committee got a seat for his son in our medical college under the management quota a few years ago without paying a rupee. Does he expect us to do the same with all our seats? Where is the money to fund our colleges? After the court rulings banning capitation fee-based education came, it is only fees that can sustain our institutions."

The Murgod Committee, which was set up nearly four months ago, is yet to complete the scrutiny of the statement of accounts of all the colleges since many of the colleges did not submit their accounts in time. Meanwhile, the managements of medical colleges have recommended to the Committee annual fees of between Rs.2,75,000 and Rs.5,00,000. They contend that if they are to run the colleges either the fees should be substantially increased or they should be given a percentage of seats they can `allot' on their own terms.

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As for engineering colleges, the Committee is likely to fix a fee of around Rs.30,000. The managements want a fee closer to Rs.60,000. Said Prof M.R .Doreswamy, chairman of PES Institutions: "My staff get salaries that match the pay scales of the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE). This costs me Rs.1 crore a month. This is just one of my expenses. In my college, the annual cost of education per student works out to Rs.60,000."

Said Prof Y. Vrushabhendrappa, Principal of Babuji Institute of Technology, Davengere: "Just to meet our institution's recurring expenses such as salaries, maintenance and so on, we need to charge Rs.70,000 a year. What about upgrading our infrastructure? We need to charge a further Rs.35,000 a year for this. A fees of Rs.45,000 will mean a hand-to-mouth existence. The government is in no position to fund professional education. Even in the aided colleges they haven't appointed a single teacher since 1984. Teachers have been taken on contract and the principals have no control over them. Last year, the government could not fill up all the seats that we had given them. They surrendered 100 seats to me at the last moment. I had to fill them up. In some colleges, the managements were forced to give away seats at less than the prescribed fee."

According to Nagaraj, given the current rate of development, engineering fees should be pegged at around Rs.1,10,000 a year. "We have spent Rs.8 crores on new infrastructure and we can't run our colleges with the fees fixed by the Murgod Committee. Some of us are contemplating closing down our colleges. Or, let the government nationalise our colleges after paying us compensation for the land, buildings and other infrastructure."

Dr. R.R. Patil, an academic who has taken up cudgels on behalf of the students, disagrees that managements cannot run their colleges with the existing fees. "When they managed with 15 percent why can't they do so with 25?" he asked. He added: "The argument that they need astronomical fees if they are to adhere to the strict norms of statutory bodies such as the MCI is flawed. Yes, the report of the government's own Chandrashekar Shetty Committee on the admission issue said that it costs Rs.2,00,000 a student a year for the medical course and Rs.1,25,000 for the dental course. Also, a study commissioned in 1994 by the MCI and undertaken by A.F. Ferguson & Co said the cost of imparting medical education was Rs.3,18,000 a student a year. But the A.F. Ferguson & Co and the Shetty Committee studies were calculated with certain parameters factored into the cost per student.

"For example, the A.F. Ferguson report cited that the number of teaching doctors for a college with an annual intake of 100 should be 215. This is not maintained. A medical college near Bangalore, which has an intake of 150 students, has a teaching faculty of around 90. The same college produced a statement of accounts to the Karnataka High Court where the cost of medical education included such things as legal fees, which is Rs.2,00,000 in the case of one college, and garden maintenance. A leading engineering college in Bangalore prides itself as having the best computer science faculty but doesn't have teaching staff in adequate numbers in this very department."

Informed sources said that many colleges showed inflated expenses by claiming that they spent huge amounts of money in subscribing to numerous foreign journals and even by showing X-Ray and ECG equipment as consumables. Managements, especially those running dental and medical colleges, in a bid to meet the norms of statutory bodies, are also wont to show postgraduate students as part of the teaching faculty. The managements defend the inclusion of such items as legal fees by saying that somebody has to pay for it.

UNTIL 1993, Karnataka was a haven for capitation fee-based institutions, with almost all the seats handed out for a fee. However, the situation changed after the 1993 Supreme Court judgment in Unnikrishnan J.P. vs Andhra Pradesh and the starting of the CET for admissions and the distribution of seats under the free, payment and management categories. The CET was just a fig leaf to cover up the problems associated with the admission process. While the vast majority of students and parents were reconciled to the CET process, the managements were against it because it left them hardly 15 per cent of the seats to fill at their discretion. The managements went to court almost every year seeking a greater role in both the administration of their colleges (read fees they could charge) and the selection process (more number of management seats).

On October 31, 2002, a 11-Judge Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court ruled in T.M.A. Pai Foundation vs State of Karnataka that merit should be the sole criteria for selection. It also ordered that the managements must be allowed to conduct their own entrance test; that the fees, while being uniform for all students, could be different from institution to institution depending on factors such as facilities, location and so on; and that the managements could budget for a "reasonable surplus", to be used for the future development of their colleges, and charge the students for it. The orders of the apex court came in the wake of cases in which the court went into issues such as the ban on capitation fees, the methodology to draw up a merit list, the fees to be charged from students and the sharing of seats (seat matrix) between the government and the managements.

But with the court's orders in the T.M.A. Pai case being interpreted variously, in August 2003 a five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Islamic Academy of Education vs State of Karnataka, while interpreting the October 2002 judgment, ruled that for the academic year 2003-04, given the shortage of time, seats in privately managed institutions shall be shared equally by the government and the managements. The Bench also ruled that committees headed by retired Judges would prescribe the fees and the admission norms to these colleges until such time that the Union government enacted a law. The Karnataka government constituted the Murgod and Venkataraman Committees subsequently.

However, the 50:50 ratio for seat-sharing could not be adhered to for the 2003-04 academic year as the State government's CET Cell had, by August 2003, published a seat matrix for up to 75 per cent of the seats and had started counselling candidates. For their part, the managements had distributed their 25 per cent of the seats without conducting any entrance examination. Both sides were in violation of the Supreme Court's orders in the T.M.A. Pai case. But, in a cosy quid pro quo, the managements agreed to be `satisfied' with 25 per cent of the seats, while the government would turn a blind eye to the process that the managements had adopted in admitting students. Clearly, the managements had not conducted any entrance test, nor had they drawn up a merit list. Seats were handed out for considerations other than merit. Worse, most private managements had collected fees far in excess of the prescribed fees, with many institutions even taking the entire course fees in advance, which was a violation of the Supreme Court's orders in the T.M.A. Pai case (Frontline, October 10, 2003).

The managements apparently saw the Supreme Court's August 2003 directive as "a liberation and a restoring" of their right to fill up the seats in their colleges. They made it clear to the government that their sacrificing of 25 per cent of their seats was applicable only for the 2003-04 academic year and that for the next academic year they would have to be given 50 per cent of the seats.

This is something the new Congress-led coalition government of Dharam Singh is holding out against. Rather, it is vacillating between cajoling the managements to toe the 75:25 line and threatening court action, promulgation of an ordinance or enactment of a law. But legal experts point out that under Article 142 of the Constitution only Parliament has the power to annul a Supreme Court ruling. But can the State government supersede committees appointed under the direction of the apex court on fees and seat-sharing?

Given the number of politicians who own or are an integral part of private professional institutions, how long can the government take a tough line? According to many academics, the government's decision to postpone CET counselling by 10 days will favour the managements, giving them time to approach the court. They felt that if counselling had got under way it would have been difficult for the court to roll back the process.

Said P.G.R. Sindhia, Karnataka's Large and Medium Industries Minister and a member of the sub-committee constituted to go into the admission issue: "We cannot give away 50 per cent of the seats to the managements. We need to enhance our share to fulfil our commitment to social justice. We will file a review petition in the Supreme Court seeking 75 per cent of the seats." According to former Chief Minister M. Veerappa Moily, the "anarchy" over admissions can be solved only by enacting a law at the Centre on the lines of the Land Reforms Act and including it in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution.

But the government's bid not only to allot 75 per cent of the seats but also to subsidise the fees of successful CET candidates belonging to the weaker sections could put a huge financial burden on the exchequer. According to Sindhia, the government will need Rs.800 crores for this.

An unconventional convention

JEAN DREZE the-nation

A convention in Bhopal offers an opportunity to share the experiences of the struggle for the right to food and work, and to explore possibilities of further action.

THIS is a preliminary, informal and somewhat personal account of a recent convention on the right to food and work, held in Bhopal on June 11-13, 2004. It is preliminary and informal because the proceedings are not available at the time of writing. It is somewhat personal because, as a member of the "programme committee", my experience of the convention is bound to be quite subjective. Making a virtue out of necessity, I shall try to share, as openly as possible, my perception of the achievements and limitations of this convention.

The convention was facilitated by the support group of the "right to food campaign", in collaboration with a dozen like-minded networks.1 The decision to call the convention was taken at a meeting held in Mumbai in January 2004, on the sidelines of the World Social Forum and Mumbai Resistance. A common need was felt, at that time, for an opportunity to share the experiences of the struggle for the right to food and work, and to explore possibilities of further action.

As it turned out, the convention was timely, coming as it did in the wake of the 2004 parliamentary elections. With the dramatic rout of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, deeply hostile to democratic rights and responsible for gross violations of the right to food (such as the accumulation of 70 million tonnes of grain in public warehouses at a time of widespread hunger), the air felt cleaner and there was a new sense of possibility. It would be naive to expect sweeping changes in social policy from the new government since the real masters (the corporate sector and other privileged groups) are more or less the same. Nevertheless, there are new opportunities at this time that deserve to be pursued, such as the government's interest in an "Employment Guarantee Act" (EGA), expressed (in a limited form) in the Common Minimum Programme (CMP).

Initially perceived as a daunting challenge, the organisation of the convention turned out to be a reasonably smooth affair. Two preparatory meetings were held in Delhi (on April 11 and May 16, 2004) to forge a consensus on the basic parameters of the convention. Two committees (a "programme committee" and a "logistics committee") were formed at the first meeting, which went about their tasks from then on. The programme committee invited different persons to coordinate parallel workshops on each of the 12 main themes identified at the preparatory meetings. In Bhopal, a local organising committee (initially convened by the Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti) took charge of the logistics. After the nuts and bolts were in place, things unfolded in a fairly orderly fashion. And in spite of the odd skirmish, inevitable in this kind of work, the whole operation was remarkably free of acrimony. This I attribute largely to the shared commitment that united all the participants, in spite of their differences.

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Having said this, there was much scope for better preparation. The convention was held at relatively short notice (the date was fixed on April 11, just three months in advance of the event), and time was short on all fronts. Further, despite the pressure of time, many of the participating organisations did not swing into action until late May or even early June. In activist circles, there is a funny habit of doing everything in crisis mode at the last minute. Invitations for a demonstration or meeting are typically circulated a few days before the event, if not the day after. Prior information is scarce and advance preparations are kept to the minimum. To some extent, the convention on the right to food and work fell into this trap, despite individual efforts to get things moving early on. For instance, while early announcements were circulated by e-mail, the written invitation in Hindi was despatched as late as the third week of May. One unfortunate consequence of this delay is that many grassroots organisations outside the e-mail circuit were informed at the last minute, if at all. As a result, these organisations were somewhat under-represented at the convention.

The Bhopal convention was held in Gandhi Bhavan, a fine venue with all the basic facilities: a large hall with a good sound system, plenty of meeting rooms, breezy rooftops, open spaces with natural shade, a typing centre, and more. The managers were good enough to make the premises available for a song. About 500 participants turned up from far and wide, and most of them stayed at Gandhi Bhavan itself. Staying together for three days (stacked like sardines at night, all over the halls and rooftops) was a great experience. The only drawback was an acute shortage of bathrooms, forcing some participants to wake up in the middle of the night for a quick bath, or to settle for a dip in Bhopal's magnificent lake, just down the road. Fortunately we enjoyed blissfully cool weather (if such a thing is possible in the middle of June) throughout the convention.

RIGHTLY or wrongly, the convention started on a relatively high-profile note, with an opening plenary starring Nusrat Bano Ruhi (local organising committee), Kavita Srivastava (PUCL), Colin Gonsalvez (HRLN), Paul Divakar (NCDHR), Brinda Karat (AIDWA), M.P. Parameswaran (BGVS), Aruna Roy (MKSS) and Kuar Bhai of Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan. The speakers' brief was mainly to introduce the thematic workshops. For instance, Colin Gonsalvez spoke on the legal aspects of the right to food, Paul Divakar on Dalit perspectives as well as land rights, and Aruna Roy on the connections between the right to food, the right to work and the right to information. It is impossible to summarise the speeches in a few lines, especially Brinda Karat's masala-packed appeal to link the campaign with the larger struggle against sensex-driven economic policies. Beyond the details, what I retain from them is a strong sense of the interlinked nature of different aspects of the right to food, and of the willingness of activists from diverse backgrounds to join forces on this issue, in spite of their differences on specific points.

Dalit activists and organisations were quite well represented and their active participation greatly enriched the whole event. Indeed, Dalit perspectives often differ from other activist perspectives on crucial issues, and I believe that there is a need for much greater sensitivity to Dalit voices in India's social movements. In this case, Dalit activists helped to put land rights issues on the agenda of the right to food campaign. Also, there was an interesting note of dissent from NACDOR on the question of "universalisation" of food entitlements (initially with reference to the public distribution system).

The concern, as I understand it, is that universalisation is sometimes a threat to the special entitlements of Dalits and other marginalised groups. Personally, I believe that this concern does not undermine the case for universalisation, since universalisation does not mean uniformity (that is, universal coverage can be combined with special facilities for disadvantaged groups). However, this note of dissent was quite helpful in drawing attention to the need for a deeper and more critical understanding of the case for universalisation of basic entitlements.

The programme of the convention was built around 12 thematic workshops, held in three sessions of four parallel workshops (with cultural and other activities in between). The themes were: (1) the right to work and livelihood; (2) the public distribution system; (3) agriculture and trade; (4) land rights and food sovereignty; (5) children's right to food; (6) Dalit perspectives; (7) perspectives of indigenous communities; (8) drought and survival; (9) women's perspectives; (10) legal action for the right to food and work; (11) marginalised people and state responsibility; and (12) right to food and right to information. Since I attended only three workshops (one in each session), and since the proceedings of other workshops are not available at the time of writing, it is not possible to present a full-fledged account of the discussions in this article. However, a brief account of the three workshops I did attend may help to convey the flavour of these discussions.

AS a starter, I attended the workshop on "the right to work and livelihood", coordinated by Shiraz of Kashtkari Sangathan. The bulk of the discussions actually focussed on the prospects for a national EGA. Clearly, employment guarantee is only one aspect of the right to work, and the right to livelihood can be seen as an even larger notion. Aside from employment guarantee, typically offered in the form of wage labour, the right to work also encompasses other issues such as minimum wages, the need for employment-oriented economic policies and the rights of self-employed workers. The right to livelihood, for its part, is concerned not just with labour rights but also with the dignified survival of those who are unable to work, such as elderly widows and the chronically ill. There was broad agreement at the workshop that bringing about an EGA was a burning issue at this time, but also that a sound campaign for the right to work and livelihood needs to go beyond this particular demand. Further, an EGA itself should encompass, as far as possible, some of the larger livelihood issues; for instance, the rights of unorganised workers and migrants labourers.

As far as the EGA issue itself was concerned, the discussions began with presentations of Maharashtra's experience in this respect. Maharashtra passed an Employment Guarantee Act in 1977, which laid the basis of its well-known "employment guarantee scheme" (EGS). During the 1970s and 1980s, the scheme did relatively well, with about half a million persons (mainly women) employed on an average day, and much larger numbers during periods of drought. In the 1990s, however, employment generation under the EGS declined sharply and the principle of guaranteed employment seems to have been quietly buried. Meanwhile, enormous amounts of money (more than Rs.9,000 crores at the time of writing) have accumulated in Maharashtra's "employment guarantee fund", which is meant to be earmarked for EGS. The unused funds are effectively diverted for other purposes, ostensibly as a "loan" but with no assurance that they will ever be returned and utilised for the purpose of employment generation. This gradual undermining of the Act fits in a general pattern of dismantling of many social services in recent years.

On a more positive note, the CMP of the new government includes a commitment to "immediately enact a National Employment Guarantee Act". The proposed guarantee is limited to 100 days of employment, for one person per household, and in this respect it falls far short of the right to work in the full sense of the term. Nevertheless, there was a strong sense that a concerted effort should be made to hold the government accountable to this promise. Following on this, the participants shared ideas of possible ways to step up the campaign for an EGA.

THE second workshop on my list focussed on "children's right to food". Few participants were expected, as children's issues often take the back seat in public debates (with the consequences that we know). However, the workshop turned out to be jam-packed, to the extent that focussed discussion became quite difficult as most of the 100-odd participants had one point or another to make. The workshop took off from M.P. Parameswaran's crystal-clear assertion (in the opening plenary of the convention) that "every child has a right to a full life", and his observation that "this right cannot be enforced by children themselves". Following on this, Shantha Sinha made a very enlightening presentation on children's right to food, with special reference to children under six - the most important and most neglected age group. Drawing on many years of experience on the ground, she described how prevailing social policies constantly overlook and undermine children's health and nutrition rights. She argued that the best way to protect these rights was to ensure that every child under six attended an active anganwadi. Shantha Sinha also explained how taking children's rights seriously paved the way for far-reaching political change, as those working for children's rights were inevitably led to challenge the system in all sorts of ways.

This opening presentation led to a flood of interventions as the participants shared their own experiences of working for children's right to food in different parts of the country. There was also much discussion of recent Supreme Court orders, calling inter alia for the provision of cooked mid-day meals in primary schools, and also for the universalisation of Integrated Child Development Services (that is, extending it to all children under six and other eligible groups). While some progress has been made with mid-day meals, with prospects of further expansion and improvement of mid-day meal programmes in the near future, the Supreme Court order on the ICDS has been blissfully ignored by the government. The main reason for this contrast seems to be that court orders on mid-day meals were supplemented with active public pressure, while the ICDS remained out of focus. There was wide agreement on the need for a joint campaign on the universalisation of the ICDS. The discussions also helped to identify a wide range of other issues on which effective advocacy is possible.

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The third workshop I attended was concerned with "marginalised people and state responsibility". This one unfolded in a different mode: it consisted mainly of testimonies of affected persons, including destitute widows, street children, members of so-called "primitive tribes", persons with disabilities and victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy. It was quite moving to feel the spirit of solidarity that ran through the audience, in spite of the widely divergent social backgrounds of the participants. The testimonies were a telling reminder of the fact that the right to food is nowhere near being realised in India, in spite of a fair amount of agitation on this issue in recent years. Even the most basic directions of the Supreme Court are routinely violated. Destitute widows, for instance, told us how they are made to run from pillar to post when they apply for pensions or Antyodaya cards, in spite of being entitled to public support as a matter of right. There were also some signs of hope, such as the mobilisation of Pahari Korwas (a so-called "primitive tribe") in Surguja district in Chhattisgarh district on food security issues, leading not only to the distribution of Antyodaya cards to all members of this community but also to a new sense of confidence.

Brief reports from the workshops were presented at plenary sessions on June 12. Some workshops were mainly of an "educational" nature, but many ended with some sort of agenda for action, or at least with a list of issues that could be taken up by the participating organisations. For instance, the workshop on "agriculture and trade" articulated specific positions on key issues such as World Trade Organisation (WTO) regulations and genetically modified crops. Similarly, the workshop on "drought and survival" recommended that the so-called Famine Codes (also known as Relief Codes in some States) should be radically revised and made legally binding. Detailed suggestions for revision were made and, if all goes well, this agenda will be taken forward by the participants in the near future.

THE main recommendations were consolidated at the concluding plenary on June 13, with a special focus on joint activities involving broad coalitions of the participating organisations. For instance, there was unanimous agreement on the need to launch a broad-based campaign for a national EGA. As a first step, a decision was taken to organise a "day of action for the right to work" on October 16, (World Food Day). In advance of this event, a draft EGA will be prepared and discussions will be held with representatives of the new government as well as with the left parties. Similarly, the participating organisations agreed to join forces for a week to assert children's right to food, with a special emphasis on the universalisation of ICDS. This week of action is due to start on November 14 (Children's Day in India), and to culminate on November 20 (Universal Children's Day). A proposal was also made that kala jathas on the right to work and children's right to food should be held across the country during the period separating these two activities - from October 16 to November 20.

Land rights is another issue on which a strong need was felt for coordinated action. Various proposals were made at the workshop on "land rights and food sovereignty" and concrete decisions on this are likely to be taken quite soon at follow-up gatherings.

The concluding plenary also took up some crucial organisational matters, particularly the decision-making structures of the campaign in the months ahead. These matters had been discussed in some detail at two preparatory meetings held on June 11 and 12, respectively. Unfortunately, wider discussion was relegated to the end of the closing plenary and by then little time was left for this important topic. Briefly, the plenary endorsed a proposal to constitute a provisional "steering group" for a period of one year or so (until the next convention). The basic role of this steering group is not to "lead" the campaign, or even to get directly involved in organising activities, but rather to facilitate the process of mutual support among the participating organisations. Specifically, the proposed responsibilities of the group are: (1) to facilitate the next convention; (2) to ensure the smooth flow of information within the network; (3) to initiate a process of wider discussion of the organisational aspects of the campaign, and prepare a proposal on this for the next convention; and possibly (4) advocacy with the Central government. For the rest, the campaign is expected to continue in the informal, decentralised mode in which it has operated so far - at least for now. No doubt, the organisational aspects of the campaign would have benefited from further discussion. A sound organisational base is essential for the sustainability and long-term effectiveness of the whole effort.

The achievements of a convention of this kind are best assessed in the light of the various roles it is expected to play. At least four roles can be envisaged. First, a convention is an opportunity for the participants to educate themselves, as they share their insights and experiences. Second, a convention can act as a springboard for further action, particularly collaborative action involving a wide range of like-minded organisations that are otherwise very loosely connected if at all. Third, this convention was an opportunity to review and consolidate the organisational basis of the right to food campaign. Last but not least, a convention has an important social dimension: it fosters personal interaction between people who share a strong commitment to particular issues, in this case the right to food and work.

In my view, the convention was most successful in its educational and social roles. The depth of the discussions was impressive, at least in the sessions I attended. And the level of motivation of most participants was very high. Further, the convention created (or strengthened) many personal bonds. Aside from their intrinsic value, these personal bonds are perhaps the greatest strength of the campaign.

The convention was also reasonably effective as a springboard for further action. I was hoping for more in this respect, and left Bhopal with a sharp awareness of our timidity in seizing the opportunities in front of us. Nevertheless, some solid groundwork was done, and there are good prospects of lively activity in the months ahead. Much depends on the initiative and imagination of the participating individuals and organisations.

Finally, the convention did not go very far in terms of clarifying the organisational aspects of the campaign for the right to food and work. The campaign's informal and decentralised mode of functioning is both a strength and a weakness. On the positive side, it fosters initiative and enables diverse individuals and organisations to work together on the basis of voluntary association and shared concerns, with few institutional shackles. On the other side, the present approach is not always conducive to coordinated action. Further, the process of voluntary association requires some basic safeguards against arbitrariness and abuses of power, if it is to remain participatory and democratic.

Let me try to explain why I consider this a very important issue. If one looks around at India's "social movements", and specifically at their organisational aspects, three problems stand out. One is that there is a lot of quarrelling and factionalism within these movements, with devastating effects on their ability to have a real impact. The second is that they are largely personality-based. Indeed, leadership (formal or informal) is typically the means through which infighting is resolved or suppressed. The third issue is that the "leaders" almost invariably come from a privileged social background. However sensitive they may be to the viewpoint of the underprivileged, they cannot but carry a certain baggage associated with their own position. The bottom line is that, with few exceptions, social movements in India (or for that matter elsewhere) are far from democratic. This lack of internal democracy jars with the values we claim to stand for, and creates a deep inconsistency between means and ends.

The central organisational challenge for the right to food campaign is to develop ways of working together that are both effective and consistent with our basic values - including democracy, equality and transparency.

I would like to think that this is possible, but it requires an explicit and collective engagement with this challenge. Hopefully, the next convention will be an opportunity to take up this unfinished agenda.

1. These include the Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS), the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA), the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), the National Conference of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR), the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), the National Campaign Committee for Rural Workers (NCCRW), the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and the National Campaign for the People's Right to Information (NCPRI). About 120 organisations participated in the convention.

Handicapped intelligence

PRAVEEN SWAMI the-nation

Bureaucratic manipulation and turf wars frustrate efforts to reform the intelligence agencies, which face the challenge of containing increasingly sophisticated terrorist violence.

IN May 2001, an unknown bureaucrat replaced pages 16 to 40 of the Recommendations of the Group of Ministers on Reforming the National Security Apparatus with a single blank sheet. "Government Security Deletion", reads the white page. Words, it is becoming clear, were not the bureaucracy's only victims. More than three full years have passed since the Group of Ministers (GoM) set up to review India's security system in the wake of the Kargil war gave its assent to a sweeping reform of India's intelligence services. Yet, trenchant resistance by the mandarins who man the Ministries of Home Affairs and Finance have shot dead efforts to bring about qualitative improvements in the technology available to the Indian intelligence agencies - and, more important, their training and recruitment procedures.

Led by former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, the GoM recommendations were based on the findings of several expert task forces. The task force on intelligence reforms, arguably the most important of these, had an all-star cast. Led by former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief Girish C. Saxena, the task force had at its disposal the services of former Foreign Secretary K. Raghunath, former Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) chief M.K. Narayanan, former Home Affairs Special Secretary P.P. Shrivastava, former RAW Additional Secretary B. Raman, and R. Narsimhan of the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS). What emerged from their work was the first definitive review of the problems in the Indian intelligence system and a blueprint for enabling it to respond to the challenges of changed times.

Among the most important recommendations of the Saxena-led task force was that both the I.B. and RAW upgrade their personnel profile to meet the increasingly sophisticated means used by terrorists. "The most vital asset of any intelligence organisation", the still-classified report reads, "is the quality of the personnel manning it. In order to improve the performance of intelligence agencies, it is essential to enhance the quality of the people entering it". Put simply, the I.B. and RAW - which has a particularly unsavoury reputation for nepotism - simply were unable to find the kind of human resource they needed. Resentment and frustration were common, particularly among junior staff. To this end, the report recommended that "incentives should be introduced at every level to motivate officials to do their best".

Underlying this recommendation was the realisation that the I.B.'s field staff - the people who actually conduct espionage on ground in terrorism-related cases - have perhaps the worst terms of service of any police organisation. It can, for example, take I.B. field staff up to three decades to reach the rank equivalent to Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) - well over twice as long as it would in a state police force. Nor do personnel from the IB's own cadre of personnel - as opposed to the Indian Police Service (IPS) staff who make up its senior ranks - receive hazardous duty benefits available to their counterparts in uniformed services, like free rations or access to subsidised canteens. Unsurprisingly, the best of the pool of talent available to police forces simply does not want to head towards the I.B., posing a series of long-term problems.

According to the Saxena report, a two-member committee made up of the RAW Secretary and the I.B. Director was to have made recommendations for improving pay, promotions and perquisites within three months. Three years on, nothing has been done. Resistance from the Ministry of Finance forced both organisations to set up sub-committees to review the entire issue. According to sources, the two-member committee's final recommendations, which are based on the sub-committee findings, will only reach the Ministry of Home Affairs in coming weeks. After this, discussions will begin anew with the Ministry of Finance. Officials in the Ministry of Finance are apprehensive that pay hikes for intelligence personnel could lead to similar claims from other departments. No one has any idea how long the bargaining process might take - or what its final outcome might be.

Delays like these are of a piece with the fate of other key recommendations of the GoM. Sensitive to the growing sophistication and spread of terrorist violence in India, the Saxena Committee had recommended a massive expansion of the I.B.'s field presence. Three elements were key to this process. Inter-State Intelligence Support Teams were to have been set up to aid state police forces by providing modern technology and personnel skilled in espionage techniques. A Joint Task Force on Intelligence or JTFI, was to have been set up in each State, with a counter-terrorism training centre and online access to I.B. data. Finally, a state-of-the-art Multi Agency Centre, MAC, was to collate and disseminate data arriving from field agents in all intelligence organisations. This would have brought it a step closer to acquiring the data-processing capabilities that the western intelligence organisations have had for decades.

Estimates were drawn up in-house by the I.B., suggesting that at least 3,000 additional personnel were needed for the new tasks. In the end, only 800-odd new jobs were sanctioned. The financial constraints cited for this downscaling, however, evidently did not apply to organisations controlled by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), for example, was authorised to raise over 10,000 new men in order to replace the Border Security Force (BSF) on counter-terrorist duties - a transfer which, ironically enough, now stands stalled. The JTFI system exists on paper, but no cash has been made available for centres in which regional police officials may be trained. Nor is there provision for secure on-line communication. If there had been, MAC could not cope: currently run on the I.B.'s internal resources, it will get just 50 additional personnel, who will process data on networked personal computers, not even a low-end mainframe.

What explains this state of affairs? Part of the problem, experts say, is the historic antipathy of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) bureaucrats who staff the Ministry of Home Affairs to the police-led I.B. The Saxena Committee, critically, had insisted that the Ministry of Home Affairs will have to stop seeing or treating the organisation as an "appendage or subsidiary unit". The I.B. Director, who currently has less power than the Secretaries heading major Ministries, was to have wide-ranging autonomy in financial and operational decision-making. As things stand, the I.B. has no say over handling its own budget - its Director, for example, cannot even authorise the purchase of a new desktop computer for his secretary without the approval of the Ministry of Home Affairs' Procurement Wing. The IAS, for the most part, is happy with this situation, as it provides leverage over the I.B.

Other lobbies, too, have been at work. RAW, for example, made progress in implementing the Saxena Committee's calls for improving technical espionage - notably in the sphere of satellite communication interception. Its National Technical Intelligence Communication Centre, headed by former Army officer R.S. `Billy' Bedi, is believed to possess some of the most sophisticated communications intelligence equipment in the world. However, there has been tremendous resistance to the Saxena Committee's calls for more rigorous recruitment procedures. Dozens of officer-level RAW personnel are immediate relatives of senior personnel in the organisation, hired without any written examination procedure - in sharp contrast with the rigorous selection model followed by most overseas intelligence services. Nor has the organisation been open to calls for independent audits of the quality of its intelligence, choosing instead to reject the Saxena Committee's calls for "an honest and in-depth stock-taking of their present intelligence effort".

Meanwhile, the much-advertised Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), which was meant to coordinate the functioning of the intelligence wings of the three services, has turned into something of a pre-retirement holding station. Although the DIA was intended to be responsible to the still-to-be-created Chief of Defence Staff, its personnel are still bound to their parent organisations. Annual performance assets, for example, are written by superiors in the parent intelligence organisations, not the DIA.

In general, insiders say, the Army, the Air Force and the Navy continue to resist sharing information with one another, and intelligence coordination is almost unknown. Based on a secret authorisation issued by Prime Minister V.P. Singh in 1990-1991, the DIA was to have been empowered to undertake cross-border espionage work but in reality has little say in any actual covert work. The DIA Chief, currently Lieutenant-General Avtar Singh Gill, has no powers to demand compliance from the services.

In the final analysis, the problem is political: few Members of Parliament either understand the business of intelligence, or feel concern over its management. Intelligence issues almost never feature in public discourse, except when there is a scandal or a catastrophic failure. Until political leaders actually start making an effort to engage with the issues at stake, and compel accountability, all efforts at reform will remain hostage to bureaucratic manipulation and turf wars.

Women and the high risk

ALTHOUGH the human immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) are still considered the problems of "others", it is no secret that the infection is spreading in India. No respecter of social barriers, the virus has long ceased to be a problem of only commercial sex workers; it has infected monogamous women and children alike. In 2004, monogamous housewives accounted for over 22 per cent of HIV infection cases.

India, with four million known carriers, has the second largest number of HIV/AIDS patients after South Africa. The spread of the infection is attributed to low investment in public health infrastructure, high poverty levels, illiteracy and ignorance, strong gender biases, myths and taboos associated with the infection, and silence on sexuality.

The spread of HIV in the country varies with societal patterns, regions, States and metropolitan areas. Heterosexual behaviour is the most common way of HIV transmission, followed by the multiple use of infected needles by drug abusers.

Although the prevalence rate of HIV is low (0.8 per cent), the overall number of infected persons is high. The country has no system of collecting HIV testing information from the private sector, which provides 80 per cent of the health care. Thus, the official figures do not reveal the exact level of infection. Compounding this are the weaknesses in the surveillance system, the biases in targeting groups for testing and the non-availability of adequate testing services in several parts of the country. The limited statistics on the disease make it hard to map trends and identify new risk groups. But one frightening dimension is that women - especially vulnerable owing to their low socio-economic position even within households - are registering a higher rate of infection than men.

Globally, women below 25 are increasingly falling prey to HIV. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 12-13 women are infected for every 10 men. Even more disturbing is the fact that in 11 African countries the infection rate among women in the 15-25 age group is six times that of men.

In India, although HIV/AIDS is still thought to be largely concentrated in the high-risk populations including commercial sex workers, intravenous drug users, and truck drivers, surveillance data suggest that the epidemic is moving beyond these groups into the general population. It is also moving from urban to rural areas. In July 2003, Dr. Meenakshi Datta Ghosh, Project Director, National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), agreed that HIV/AIDS no longer affected only high-risk groups or urban populations, but was "gradually spreading into the rural areas and to the general population". The majority of reported AIDS cases have occurred in the sexually active and economically productive 15-44 age group.

It is estimated that 39 per cent of the known HIV/AIDS positive cases in India at the end of 2002 were women. The effect of the rising HIV prevalence among women is seen in the increase in the mother-to-child transmission rate.

It is difficult to ascertain the exact number of children orphaned by AIDSs, but it could be high. In 2001, the number of such children was estimated at 1.2 million.

In a number of States HIV prevalence in pregnant (antenatal) women is over 1 per cent, according to data obtained by the screening of women coming to antenatal clinics (ANCs). Such prevalence rates are only relevant to sexually active women, but they provide a reasonable estimate of HIV prevalence in the general population in the respective State. According to NACO figures, in 2002 the antenatal prevalence rate in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra was 1.25 per cent; in Goa it had increased to 1.38 per cent in 2002 from 0.5 per cent in 2001; and in Karnataka it had increased from 1.13 per cent in 2001 to 1.75 per cent.

In Manipur, the transmission route of HIV/AIDS is no longer confined to intravenous drug users; the infection has spread to female sexual partners and their children. The antenatal prevalence rate in the State in 2002 was 1.12 per cent, and among drug users, it was as high as 39.06 per cent at three surveillance sites. The epidemic took off quickly among male drug users in Mizoram with some drug clinics registering HIV rates of more than 70 per cent among their patients in 1998. In 2002, the antenatal prevalence rate was 1.5 per cent. In Nagaland, where intravenous drug use has been driving the HIV epidemic, the antenatal prevalence rate was 1.25 per cent and the HIV prevalence rate among drug users 10.28 per cent.

When the surveillance systems in Tamil Nadu showed a rising HIV infection rate among pregnant women - the figure trebled to 1.25 per cent between 1995 and 1997 - the State government set up an AIDS society, which worked closely with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), to develop an active prevention campaign. The antenatal prevalence in the State was 0.88 per cent in 2002, although an infection rate of 33.8 per cent was recorded at the one surveillance site for drug users. By September 2003, Tamil Nadu had recorded 24,667 cases of AIDS, the highest number reported to NACO by any State.

According to Dr.N.M. Samuel, Head of the Indian Experimental Medicine and AIDS Resource Centre of the Chennai-based Dr. MGR Medical University, in India 20 million births occur every year with between 1 and 4 per cent of pregnant women testing HIV positive. In his paper, "Do women need microbicide", he quotes a study which showed that one out of every 12 pregnant HIV positive women who received anti-retroviral treatment (ART) gave birth to one HIV positive baby; the rate went up to three without ART.

Only 59 per cent of the women who tested positive returned for treatment. Drug affordability and accessibility continue to be obstacles to health care, and 43 per cent of women give birth at home with trained or untrained midwives.

According to Dr. Alan Stone of the United Kingdom Medical Research Council, women are most vulnerable to HIV infection. Women accounted for more than half the 5.3 million new HIV infections in 2000. Pointing to India, he said the STD (sexually transmitted disease) clinics in Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi had noticed a sharp rise (by over 60 per cent) in HIV cases in the past decade.

This brings to the fore issues of women's vulnerability, their decision-making power within the household, her control over sexual behaviour, and her socio-economic status.

Recently, the International Labour Organisation (India) published the results of a study it initiated to understand the socio-economic impact of HIV/AIDS on infected persons and their families. Conducted in collaboration with the network of People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) it underlined the adverse economic impact of HIV/AIDS and the trauma arising out of the stigma, discrimination and ostracism.

The study focussed on Delhi, Maharashtra, Manipur and Tamil Nadu, which recorded a high rate of prevalence of the infection. The most disturbing aspect of the findings pertains to the impact of HIV/AIDS on women. Conducted among 292 people, of whom 42 per cent were women, the study revealed that 74 per cent of the HIV positive women faced discrimination and underwent hardships, especially within the family of the husband, by whom they had been infected.

Although the majority of women were infected by their husbands, they were blamed for the husband's death. In many cases, the woman was accused of causing her husband's illness, and either disowned or driven out by her in-laws.

The children of infected parents are also heavily discriminated against; they are taunted, abused and not allowed to interact with other children. Over 35 per cent of the children were denied basic amenities and about 17 per cent had to take up petty jobs to augment the family income.

Education is considered an important tool for bringing about attitudinal changes. In keeping with this view, the study found that a relatively high level of education among the infected (and by implication their families) had an impact on the extent of discrimination the women suffered. Fifty-nine per cent of the postgraduate respondents faced discrimination compared to 74 per cent of those educated up to the school level and 71.42 per cent of those who were illiterate. Women were more vulnerable, with 17.21 per cent being illiterate compared to 11.18 per cent of the men. While 22 per cent of the men had college education, only 8 per cent of the women were in that category.

The study also indicated that the average monthly income of a PLWHA member was about Rs.1,117, whereas the average monthly expenditure was Rs.3,185. In many cases, this gap was met by loans or the sale of assets, leading to increased indebtedness, averaging Rs.4,818 a family. While medical costs varied in accordance with the stage of the illness, the fact that HIV-infected persons have to go in for regular check-ups underscored the economic impact of the infection.

The ILO study also reinforced the fact that women are at risk of HIV infection and are all the more vulnerable, as they have no say over sexual behaviour. Microbicides can be a saviour to most women who cannot say "No".

Promising microbicides

Third World women's hope against infection by the human immunodeficiency virus may lie in emerging prevention methods such as the use of microbicides. But the research into them is severely underfunded.

THERE is some good news for women who face the risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. With several microbicides - which when applied locally can kill, neutralise or block HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) - into final stages of trial or nearing release, women need no longer negotiate the use of protectives such as condoms. Unlike a condom, which must be worn by her partner, the microbicide - in the form of gels, creams, lubricants or even a ring, which gradually release the active ingredient - is used by the woman, who is biologically and sociologically more vulnerable to contracting HIV infection.

For many women, the most common HIV risk factor is being married. According to Pamela Norick, legislative and policy consultant with the International Health Development (IHD), Washington D.C., marriage is becoming a social hazard in India, where women can neither refuse sex nor demand protection. The same holds true for most of the world's women, who have little or no control over when or with whom they have sex. Citing World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, she says that men are eight times more likely to transmit the virus than women, although the reverse is true when it comes to contracting the infection.

Addressing a group of 12 journalists from developing countries attending a seminar on reproductive health organised by the Population Reference Bureau in Washington D.C. in May, Norick said: "Forced to leave sexual decision-making to men, women are unable to negotiate condom use due to various factors, including violence, coercion and economic dependence. While gender-biased social norms often encourage men to seek multiple partners, women bear the burden of shame and stigma associated with the infection."

In this context, experts agree that prevention strategies that focus on abstinence, mutual fidelity and male condom use are meaningless for many Indian women. Women's hope may lie in emerging prevention methods such as use of microbicides, female condoms and cervical barriers.

How do microbicides work?

Microbicides kill or immobilise sexually transmitted infectious (STI) pathogens, form a barrier between the pathogen and the vaginal or rectal tissue, block the infection early on, prevent the pathogen from replicating once it has entered the cells, and boost the vaginal defence system. Norick says that microbicides protect both partners and that some can even prevent pregnancy. Most of them will eventually become available across the counter and inexpensively too.

"Six microbicidal products that scientists believe can effectively prevent the transmission of HIV are in advanced stages of being tested," says Norick. According to her, the products are undergoing efficacy testing in developing countries such as Botswana and India, where there is high HIV prevalence. But their availability across the counter would depend on the results of the efficacy tests. "Each product must undergo rigorous testing in both the laboratory and human clinical trials, to adhere to the guidelines set by the drug regulatory authorities, international and national. "If a reasonable level of effectiveness is documented in the large effectiveness trials now under way, the first microbicide may reach the market in the next three to five years," she adds.

The typical phase of effectiveness testing is about three and a half years and costs some $45 million. It involves 300 to 30,000 people.Norick also believes that the introduction of microbicides can have a major public health impact. "A microbicide with 60 per cent efficacy introduced in 73 low-income countries can avert 2.5 million HIV infections over three years in women, men and infants. This would lower the incidence rate of HIV with subsequent productivity benefits and large savings in health care costs," she says.

A potent vaccine for HIV/AIDS is still some time away, and the cocktail of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs remains comparatively expensive for the affected, largely poor. Thus there is a desperate need for alternatives, especially for women, among whom HIV infection is rising sharply in Africa and Asia.

The announcement by British scientists of trials in Africa of two gels has raised the hope that women will soon have a product to protect themselves from HIV infection. The United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) is providing up to $23.5 million over five years for the microbicide development project. Clinical trials involving around 12,000 women in South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda and Cameroon are to be taken up over the next three years. According to the DFID, if successful, the products would hit the market before 2010.

Microbicides are not the only method to stem the spread of HIV. According to Norick, no one strategy can be the magic bullet to kill the HIV virus. The most effective approach to combating HIV globally is to employ a combination of strategies that have the potential to prevent transmission, broaden coverage, and tighten the collective grip on the AIDS epidemic. "However, microbicides could be an integral part of this strategy," she says.

AND indeed, much is happening in the research and development of microbicides. For instance, one big hope is the seaweed-based microbicide - Carraguard, an initiative of the New York-based Population Council, an affiliate of the Rockefeller Foundation, which has given a grant of $20 million for microbicide research. Carraguard is made from carrageenan, a carbohydrate gel derived from seaweeds growing along the coasts of Chile and Nova Scotia (Canada). Carraguard is undergoing clinical trials.

Currently, 60 microbicides are in different stages of development across the globe. There are 14 microbicide product leads in the pre-clinical phase. Six product leads - cellulose sulphate, PMPA, PSS, CSIG, Acidiform, and DS - have completed phase I (initial safety trials). Three products - Carraguard, Lactobacillus crispatus, and PRO 2000 - have completed phase II (rigorous demonstration of efficacy and safety) trials. They have to go through phase IIIA (conducted on target population), phase IIIB (quality of life and marketing issues) and phase IV (post-marketing experiences of the target population) trials, according to Dr. Gita Ramjee of the Medical Research Council in Durban, South Africa.

Only two products have undergone large-scale phase III trials until now - both are Nonoxynol-9 based products, Conceptrol and Advantage 24. But the trials had to be given up because besides killing sperm and viruses, N-9 also killed vaginal wall cells and caused ulcerations, opening up an entry point for HIV. These trials were disappointing primarily because they were largely held in the sex workers' community (where the frequency of sexual intercourse is high) and lesions once formed inside the vagina can take two or three days to heal.

Among the more promising products, according to the Global Campaign for Microbicides (an amalgam of research institutions, pharma companies, governments and researchers interested in microbicide development), are Buffergel from Reprolect of Baltimore; Pro 2000 from Interneuron Pharma; Cellulose Sulphate from Polydex Pharmaceuticals; and Carraguard from the Population Council.

According to Norick, the cost of phase III clinical trials (in which stage several microbicides are), which must cover a large test population, can go up to $46 million, which incidentally, exceeds the U.S. government's total budget for microbicide research.

In India, phase I and II trials of Praneem, the neem-based poly-herbal microbicide being developed by the Pune-based National AIDS Research Institute (NARI), have shown encouraging results. According to Dr. Sanjay M. Mehendale, Deputy Director, NARI, Praneem has proved to be very effective in in-vitro studies and it is now being tested on high-risk groups and the general population. Subject to its viability, the microbicide could be available to Indian women in six or seven years. Buffer Gel, Pro 2000 and Carraguard are into phase III multi-centric trials in India.

The slow progress in microbicides is attributed to the lack of interest from drug majors, which do not see them as money-spinners and are hence not allocating funds for research. Microbicides are a public health good; its social benefits are high but economic incentive to private investment at this stage appears low. "Therefore," says Norick, "public funding is the best hope for now."

However, while the cost of developing a first-generation microbicide (with a global market size of $900 million by 2011) would have to be borne by public sector funding, an analysis by the Rockefeller Foundation suggests that the second-generation product could get to the market without public sector subsidy. And because of the increasing market size and the declining development cost, the third generation products may offer potential for significant returns - estimated at over $428 million (with sales of over $1.8 billion by 2020). "Of course," the Rockefeller Foundation report "Mobilisation for Microbicides" observes, "the real challenge is to mobilise interest around something that does not exist but has the potential to bring in high returns."

The National Institute of Health (NIH), the leading health-research funding agency in the U.S., has developed a strategic plan for the development of microbicides. The NIH's Fulvia Veronese, who was in India to attend an International AIDS conference in Chennai, said that with HIV vaccines still some time away, the growing involvement of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Melinda and Gates Foundation, USAID and the Global Microbicide Concerns augured well for accelerated development of a microbicide. Commendable is the effort of the International Working Group on Microbicides to get various key players - from the WHO to such local agencies as the AIDS Resource Centre at Dr. MGR Medical University in Chennai - involved.

The Global Campaign for Microbicides has mobilised $40 million in the past two years for research on microbicides. Persistent efforts by the Global Campaign for Microbicides have brought in 35 biotech companies, 44 non-profit research institutions and four public sector entities into the field.

The Global Campaign for Microbicides has involved stakeholders and policy-makers in discussions to get a major programme going in India. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has a task force on microbicides. In terms of research, NARI, the ICMR's apex body on HIV/AIDS research, is actively involved in basic pre-clinical and clinical research trials of microbicide candidates. Other research institutions such as the NIPER (National Institute of Pharmacological Education and Research, Chandigarh) and the IRR (Institute for Research in Reproduction, Mumbai) are developing microbicide candidates for pre-clinical and clinical trials and are also participating in clinical trials.

According to Jayanti Pramanik of the IRR, trials of 6 per cent cellulose sulphate, a microbicide candidate product, are under way. Dr. K.V.R. Reddy, Head of Immunology at the IRR, is researching a possible microbicide candidate, Magainin-A (Mag-A), which has proven to be an effective contraceptive in pre-clinical animal-model studies. It also provides protection against most prevalent STI pathogens.

Dr. Alka Garg from the University Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Punjab University, is conducting laboratory research with sulphonated hesperidin, a bioflavonoid found abundantly in the citrus species. It has a broad spectrum of anti-microbial activity, being an effective inhibitor of HIV, HSV-2, gonorrhoea and Chlamydia. It could also be a contraceptive as it inhibits the functional activity of sperm.

Acceptability studies by institutions, including NARI and the Delhi-based Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), of microbicides in India show that people are interested and willing to use them.

People who have had the opportunity to use microbicides in trials have predominantly reported positive experiences. According to a study conducted in Tamil Nadu's Namakkal district by Dr. N. M. Samuel of the Experimental Medicine and AIDS Resource Centre of the Dr. MGR Medical University, 91 per cent of the women interviewed said they would use microbicides. According to a Women's Feature Service report, 60 per cent of the women interviewed in Chennai expressed their willingness to use a vaginal product to protect themselves from the infection.

The issue of the ethics of microbicide research and development, as in other medical trials, is often tricky and controversial. According to Dr. Gita Ramjee, in a microbicide - COL 1492 - multi-site study of 477 sex workers, several ethical concerns came to the fore, including the exclusion of some HIV-positive women from the study, lack of care and support to HIV seroconverters (those testing positive during the course of the trial), and the process of obtaining informed consent. According to her, informed consent is an ongoing process and there is a pressing need for repeated verification, monitoring (by independent agencies), and reiteration at every available opportunity. Sensitivity to cultural and moral values and the building of mutually respectful relationships between the research community and women undergoing trials emerged as significant concerns during the COL 1492 study.

"Complex ethical issues in clinical trials," she argues, "can only be resolved if developing countries come up with their own guidelines and researchers, community, and service providers work together - and not in isolation."

Issues pertaining to ethics in clinical trials, particularly of the informed consent process, remain as debatable in India as elsewhere in the world. The key challenges include whether to provide medical treatment and care to those who test HIV positive during trials and inducement to trial participants.

The ICMR has developed comprehensive guidelines on the ethical questions, which are being followed in microbicide clinical trials. But their complete implementation is the real challenge. The larger challenge, of course, is to ensure that the voices of the poor and vulnerable women are heard as the research progresses.

Researchers and policy-makers alike regret that research on microbicides, hailed as a powerful woman-controlled method, should remain severely underfunded and politically marginalised despite its enormous scientific and public health potential.

The Rockefeller Foundation and the Population Council are directing efforts to prove to the drug majors the feasibility of microbicides and show them that they are indeed potential money-spinners. Several microbicide candidates, such as Carraguard, are expected to emerge as a commercial product in the next five years, but the process can be accelerated only if pharmaceutical companies pitch in.

Building confidence

JOHN CHERIAN the-nation

The confidence-building measures arrived at by India and Pakistan are expected to help demonstrate to the rest of the world that the two countries are mature enough to manage their nuclear arsenals and allay fears that South Asia is becoming a nuclear flashpoint.

WITH the coming to power of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, India-Pakistan relations have got off to a good start. After high-level talks between the two sides in New Delhi on June 19 and 20, a set of confidence-building measures (CBMs) on nuclear weapons was announced. This is the first set of significant CBMs to be announced on the issue since both the countries went nuclear formally in 1998. Global concerns about the two countries' nuclear arsenal were heightened as the spectre of war cast its shadow on the subcontinent two years ago. Senior officials from both sides of the border made threatening noises at that time about resorting to the nuclear option.

Pakistan has been in the spotlight particularly after the recent revelations about the Dr. A.Q. Khan network's sale of nuclear know-how to countries such as Iran, North Korea and Libya, Bush administration officials are reportedly insisting on a rollback of the country's nuclear programme.

The United States continues to exert pressure on New Delhi too. U.S. officials have indicated that while they are "realistic" about the Indian and Pakistani nuclear programmes, the goal is to limit what they perceive as the damage the two programmes have caused to world security and the non-proliferation regime.

Statements from the U.S. State Department's Director of Policy Planning Mitchell B. Reiss have made it clear that the U.S. wants India's nuclear reactors to be under the watch of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He has stated categorically that the U.S. will not sell nuclear reactors to India in the near future unless India shows more flexibility on the nuclear issue.

The international community has welcomed the joint statement released after the recent India-Pakistan expert-level talks on nuclear CBMs. The two countries have agreed formally to renew a moratorium on nuclear testing. There is, however, an escape clause. The joint statement said the moratoriums were to be observed "unless either side, in exercise of its national sovereignty, decides extraordinary events have jeopardised its supreme interests". Importantly, the two countries have agreed to put in place a "dedicated" hotline between their Foreign Secretaries and Directors-General of Military Operations (DGMOs) "to prevent misunderstandings and reduce risks relevant to nuclear issues". The new hotline between the DGMOs will also be upgraded. The existing hotline was being used once a week since the Kargil War. The joint statement also said that the two countries would work towards concluding an agreement with "technical parameters on pre-notification of flight testing of missiles".

This is a belated follow-up to the Lahore Declaration, which stated that both countries "shall take immediate steps for reducing the risks of accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons and discuss concepts and doctrines with a view to elaborating measures for confidence building in the nuclear and conventional fields, aimed at prevention of conflict".

ACCORDING to experts long-range missiles possessed by the two countries constitute the single greatest threat to the region. The time taken by a missile to travel between the two countries is the shortest among nuclear powers - four to six minutes. Another ominous fact is that India and Pakistan lack the technology that allows for the recall of missiles once they are fired.

Pakistan and India have exchanged the drafts of agreements that will formalise the existing understanding between the two countries whereby a notice is issued about an impending missile test, warning the shipping and aviation companies about the specified areas where the tests will be conducted. Even as the talks were going on, Defence Minster Pranab Mukherjee was quoted as saying that India would test the Agni-III "as and when required". Pakistan wants India to take the initiative in stopping the missile race between the two countries.

The joint statement issued on June 20 emphasised that the nuclear capabilities of both countries "are based on their national security imperatives, and constitute a factor for stability". The statement went on to add that both countries were "conscious of their obligations to their peoples and the international community" and "committed to work towards strategic stability". This is meant to be a signal to the West that both the countries are mature enough to manage their nuclear arsenals and that the international community need not fear about South Asia becoming a nuclear flashpoint. The two countries have also called for a dialogue with acknowledged nuclear countries, which include the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. "Both countries call for a regular working level meeting to be held among all the nuclear powers to discuss issues of common concerns," the joint statement said.

According to disarmament experts, it is unlikely that the P-5 countries would welcome the India-Pakistan suggestion of holding regular meetings. Countries such as Japan, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and South Korea had joined the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) based on the understanding that no other country besides the P-5 would declare itself as a nuclear power. The 1998 nuclear tests by India and Pakistan are still seen by these countries as a challenge to the NPT, which allows for only five temporary nuclear weapons states.

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Many of these countries are also unhappy with the double standards the West has been adopting towards Israel on the nuclear issue. In terms of quantity and quality of its nuclear arsenal, Israel's weaponry is apparently more advanced than that of China.

Some Western commentators have been saying that a way out of this current impasse is to give the three countries the status of associate membership in the P-5 category under a new agreement that would permit them to retain their programmes but prohibit further development. The agreement envisages compliance with international nuclear export controls, prohibition of new tests, and phased elimination of fissile materiel production. Those proposing such a solution say that, unlike Iran and North Korea, India, Pakistan and Israel are not signatories to the NPT.

External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh's statement about distancing India from the U.S-led Missile Defence Initiative must come as a relief for Pakistan. Though the Bush administration's ambitious programme is aimed primarily against China, Pakistani officials say that their country will also be affected adversely by the move.

The Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman, who was part of the official delegation, told the media in New Delhi that there had been progress and "movement towards dialogue and confidence building and constructive and consistent engagement". In the last week of June, the two neighbours also held talks on the Baglihar project. Pakistan has been objecting to the design of the Baglihar dam saying that it would affect the flow of water downstream. These talks were followed by talks between the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries.

Natwar Singh had a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Khursheed Mahmood Kasuri in the Chinese city of Qingdao on June 21, during the Asian Cooperation Dialogue. This was the first meeting between the two Foreign Ministers.

An External Affairs Ministry spokesman said that both the Ministers discussed all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistani officials believe that once the Kashmir issue is solved, all other issues would be resolved within no time. They point out that most other outstanding issues like Sir Creek, Tulbul and Siachen have been discussed threadbare.

The Konkan tragedy

ANUPAMA KATAKAM the-nation

The June 16 accident involving the Matsyagandha Express highlights the need for fool-proof safety measures against landslips on the Konkan Railway, particularly during the monsoon.

THE best warning signals are only as good as the next accident they are designed to prevent, as the tragedy involving the Mumbai-bound Matsyagandha Express on the Konkan Railway on June 16 showed. Boulders on the track near a bridge between Karanjawadi and Veer stations, about 200 km from Mumbai, took the engine driver by surprise and the impact sent the engine and four coaches hurtling down some 20 metres into the ravine, killing 16 passengers and injuring almost 100.

According to the Konkan Railway's Managing Director B. Rajaram, the boulders had probably rolled on to the track a few minutes before the accident, which happened at around 6 a.m. Of the four coaches that fell off the bridge, two were general coaches, which usually overflow with passengers. Six other coaches lay scattered between the bridge and the rock cuttings. Rajaram suggested that boulders on the hillside adjacent to the track got dislodged from the soil loosened by incessant rain and rolled on to the track. The Konkan Railway, built on the Western Ghats, is subjected to the fury of the southwest monsoon from June to August and, in spite of precautions such as boulder-warning signals, the risks are high.

There was apparently no warning signal on the section of the track where the accident happened. It ran through a five-metre cutting and was thought to be not prone to landslips. Over the past year, the Konkan Railway has spent around Rs.60 crores on safety works, said its spokesperson Vaishali Patange. On June 22 last year, the Karwar-Mumbai holiday special derailed near Ratnagiri after hitting a boulder on the track in heavy rain at around 10 p.m., killing 51 passengers and injuring nearly 60. Since then the Konkan Railway has put in place special safety and precautionary measures, including specially fabricated high-strength steel nets strung along 10-metre high cuttings.

The emphasis was on activating the system, through warning signals, against possible natural calamities so that it could take automatic action, said Patange. Along with the medium- and high-strength boulder nets spread over 4.3 lakh sq km, the Konkan Railway also installed 2,000 indigenously developed "inclinometers", which can detect soil movement in cuttings along the slopes. Another 18,000 inclinometers would soon be installed. Once an inclinometer detects activity, it activates "Raksha Dhaga" boxes on the towers nearby, which in turn send signals to the approaching train. The Raksha Dhaga warns approaching trains with flashing lights and hooters in a range of 500 metres from the area where soil movement was detected, so that the driver has enough time to stop the train.

"We tried our best to take all necessary precautions before the monsoon," said Rajaram. The derailment was an example of "nature humbling man", he told mediapersons on the day of the accident. He said steel nets would be put even on five-metre cuttings to ensure safety against such landslips.

Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav announced at the accident spot on the day of the tragedy that a pilot engine would be run before every passenger train on vulnerable sections to provide clearance against landslides. In fact, pilot trains were run routinely on the route soon after it was commissioned, but the practice was discontinued subsequently. Railway officials said the speed of trains on the Konkan Railway would be reduced to 70 km an hour as against the normal speed of 100 km an hour. According to officials, the tracks were built with technology that would allow trains to run at a speed of 150 km an hour.

THE 760-km Konkan Railway, from Mangalore to Mumbai, was commissioned on January 26, 1998, eight years after construction work began. The entire project involved building 179 major bridges, 1,819 minor bridges and 92 tunnels and earthwork to the extent of 89 million cubic metres in cuttings and embankments.

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The project did not have a smooth start. Even when the area was being surveyed in the late 1980s, environmentalists raised the issue of damage the railway line would cause. They also pointed out that the south Konkan part of the Western Ghats was dominated by laterite rock and soil, which was soft and very porous and absorbed water easily, and warned of the possibility of landslides during the monsoon.

Questions were also raised about the "surveys" that were conducted, and the ecology expert Madhav Gadgil even distanced himself from the positive environment impact assessment report. Yet, the Konkan Railway not only went ahead with the project, but completed it in record time. "It should have taken at least 10 years to complete," said a former Konkan Railway official. He said the Konkan Railway Corporation should have given more importance to surveying the region and spent more time on it before beginning construction.

"Cutting into the hills have to be done in a certain way. You have to take into account the fact that roots stabilise the soil. Which is why it is necessary to inspect the entire track and stabilise the surroundings wherever necessary. Sensors can only do so much," he said.

But the Konkan Railway seemed intent on completing the project quickly. "In fact it even sought relaxation in the foreign exchange rules to import equipment that would enable it to complete the project soon," said the former official.

Despite all the controversy, the railway line is a dream come true for the people of the region. It has made travel and transportation of goods to Mumbai easy, especially so for the people of Goa, who had just two broad gauge stations in the State.

The route itself is picturesque, with the Sahyadri hills on the east and the Arabian Sea on the west. But there are times when nature humbles man despite the best of precautions.

A new doctrine for the Navy

RAHUL BEDI the-nation

The Indian Maritime Doctrine, released in April by the Navy Chief, urges the Navy to recognise its responsibilities towards developing a credible minimum nuclear deterrence and builds a strong case for it to acquire a "non-provocative strategic capability" through the submarine.

THE Indian Navy has revised its earlier defensive doctrine centred on coastal protection to an aggressively competitive strategy aimed at developing a credible minimum nuclear deterrence (MND), pursuing littoral warfare and dominating the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

According to the Indian Maritime Doctrine, released in April by the Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Madhvendra Singh during the Commanders' conference at the Eastern Naval Command headquarters in Visakhapatnam, the Navy is endeavouring to project power through "reach, multiplied by sustainability" across its "legitimate areas of interest" stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Straits.

For the first time, the Navy has stressed the need for a submarine-based credible MND capability that is "inexorably linked" to India pursuing an independent foreign policy posture. "If India is to exude the quiet confidence of a nation that seeks to be neither deferential nor belligerent, but is aware of its own role in the larger global scheme, it will need to recognise what constitutes strategic currency in a Clausewitzian sense," the 148-page analysis declares.

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It goes on to state that for India to occupy its "appropriate" place in the global hierarchy as a secular, vibrant and economically thriving democracy there is a "strong case" for it to acquire a "non-provocative strategic capability" through the "most viable platform" - the submarine. The document strongly urges the Navy to "recognise" its MND responsibilities and to vindicate them swiftly.

After conducting multiple nuclear tests in 1998, India declared that its MND would be based on a triad of weapons delivered by aircraft; mobile, land-based missiles; and sea-based platforms.

Official sources said that to achieve the sea-leg of India's under-construction MND, the Navy reportedly entered into a covert agreement with Moscow recently for the lease-purchase of two Akula (Bars)-class Type 971 nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) for around $700 million each, with the option of acquiring a third one. The first submarine would reportedly be handed over by 2005.

The agreement was believed to have been completed after months of hard bargaining for the highly publicised but `related' $1.5-billion deal signed earlier this year for the 44,570-tonne Kiev-class aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov and 16 MiG 29 K ground attack/interceptor aircraft that are to form its air group. The Navy is acquiring the 17-year-old carrier - which forms part of its overarching strategy of becoming "an effective instrument of foreign policy" - for around $675 million, which is estimated to be the price of its refit at the Sevmash ship-building facility in Severodvinsk on Russia's northern White Sea coast. The retrofit is likely to be complete by 2008-09.

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Indian and Russian officials, however, declined to comment on the SSN lease. They also refused to confirm or deny Russian involvement in resolving the technical problems faced by India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) in jointly building the classified SSN, known as the advanced technology vessel (ATV). Indian military planners, though consistently refuting the ATV's existence, have subtly hinted that it forms part of the country's MND.

Russian technicians had reportedly helped miniaturise the ATV's 40-55 MW pressurised water reactor, mating it successfully with the hull. The SSN is likely to be ready for trials by 2008-09, several years behind schedule, officials sources conceded.

The continuing involvement of private defence contractors Larsen & Toubro (L&T), which started in 2001, has helped fast-forward the moribund ATV programme as well as the stalled but related development of Sagarika, the equally secret submarine-launched cruise missile, which has been facing technical setbacks and a resource crunch.

Official sources said the Navy had "shelved" for now its earlier, associated proposal to lease four Russian Tu 22M strategic bomber/maritime strike aircraft. Instead, it was utilising its resources to upgrade three Il-38 `May' maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) to the Il-38SD standard. The first of these is undergoing flight tests and is expected to be handed over to the Navy late next year.

The Navy is about to conclude an agreement to buy two second-hand Il-38s to replace the pair it lost in an accident two years ago adjoining its base at Hansa in Goa. These will be upgraded with the Morskoi Zmei (Sea Dragon) radar system rendering the MPAs compatible with the proposed SSN induction and the overall MND configuration.

The Sea Dragon is capable of detecting surface vessels and submarines within a 150-km range, in addition to mines and air-borne targets. Fitted with an electronics warfare suite and armed with Russian R-73RDM2 (AA-11 Archer) short-range air-to-air and Uran surface-to-air missiles, the Navy's MPAs are expected to remain in service for 25 to 30 years.

Admiral Madhvendra Singh told mediapersons recently that the Navy was also negotiating the purchase of eight to 10 refurbished Martin Lockheed P 3C Orion maritime strike/reconnaissance aircraft via American foreign military sales (FMS) to extend the Navy's reach as part of its revised doctrine of growing "longer sea legs".

THROUGH a prudent concentration of force and its judicious dispersal, the Navy plans to play a proactive role that is operationally capable of countering effectively distant, emerging threats, protecting sea lanes of communication (SLOC) and combating piracy. It also wants to control the strategically located IOR, the world's busiest waterways, by dominating "choke points, important islands and vital trade routes". Over the past decade, the IOR had been the largest recipient of warships - almost half of those transferred worldwide.

To activate this strategy the Navy plans to start policing the IOR later this year, along with the navies of Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines, to check piracy, trafficking of weapons and narcotics, and all potential threats to commercial sea lanes. Earlier, at the United States Navy's request, as part of the growing India-U.S. military cooperation, the Indian Navy's missile boats had patrolled the Malacca Straits alongside U.S. Navy vessels for a year after 9/11.

Two `Petya class' patrol craft of the Indian Navy, INS Sujata and INS Savitri, provided security cover to the three-day World Economic Forum meet that ended in Mozambique on June 5. This followed a similar initiative last July when the Navy provided protection to the African Union summit in Mozambique, making it the furthest afield the Indian Navy had ever ventured (Jane's Defence Weekly, June 4, 2003).

"This (patrolling the IOR) is a subtle hint to (nuclear rival) China from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) member-states that India is a credible ally and long-term partner," said Commodore Uday Bhaskar of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi. To bolster its profile, the Navy has quietly stepped up the frequency of naval manoeuvres with the U.S., France, Russia, ASEAN and West Asian states including Iran, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The Navy views with trepidation the rapid resurgence of the Chinese Navy, the only Asian navy with SLMB capability and one that was rapidly moving from being a coastal navy to a formidable ocean going force. In addition to operating an aircraft carrier by 2015 - the Chinese have acquired decommissioned carriers from Australia and Russia in order to study their construction details - the Indian Navy envisages China embarking on the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) as soon as it is able to project power well beyond China's shores.

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China, which spends 24 per cent of its defence outlay on PLAN according to the Indian Navy's analysis, also has burgeoning naval cooperation with Myanmar. It is helping Myanmar modernise its naval bases at Hainggyi, the Coco's islands, Akyab, Za Det Kyi, Mergui and Khaukphyu by building radar, refitting and refuelling facilities.

The Chinese are also believed to have established a Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) facility on Coco's islands, 30 nautical miles from the Andaman and Nicobar islands, enabling them to monitor India's missile tests off the eastern Orissa coast.

To counter PLAN and to expand its strategic reach, the Indian Navy views itself in 2012-15 as a force comprising about 135 vessels - down from the present strength of around 150 ships, but far less than the optimum level of 200 vessels - and centred round at least two, if not three, carrier battle groups (CBGs). These are to include boats with long-range precision-guided weapons capable of anti-ship, anti-submarine and decisive land-attack missions.

Over the next decade, the Navy hopes to commission the indigenously designed 32,000-35,000 tonne air defence ship (ADS), work on which is to begin, following repeated delays, sometime later this year at Cochin Shipyard Limited.

Admiral Madhvendra Singh declared that the Navy plans to keep INS Viraat, its only aircraft carrier (Centaur-class), in service through upgrades until Gorshkov is commissioned.

Meanwhile, the three Project 1135.6 Talwar-class frigates - the last, INS Tabar, was commissioned in Russia in April - are to be fitted with the supersonic BrahMoS anti-ship cruise missile, a joint India-Russia product with a range of 290 km carrying a 200 kg conventional warhead, enabling the Navy to determine the outcome of land-based battles. The three frigates - of which the Navy is likely to order three more - would also be equipped with the vertical launch Russian Kulb-N missile capable of engaging surface targets and submarines at ranges of 10 km-220 km.

On June 4, the Navy launched INS Satpura, the second indigenously built 4,900-tonne, Project 17 New Nilgiri (Leander) class stealth frigate at Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), over three years behind schedule. INS Shivalik, the first Project 17 ship launched a year ago and an enlarged and modified version of the Project 1135.6 frigates, is likely to be commissioned by 2005-06. INS Satpura and INS Sahyadri would be ready at 18-24 months intervals thereafter.

Alongside, under Project 75, the Navy plans to build six French Scorpene submarines at MDL. While price negotiations for it were concluded last year at Rs.90-100 billion ($2-2.2 billion), the deal is awaiting finalisation. Navy sources said the new Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government was likely to clear the Scorpene deal sometime this year.

Thereafter, as part of the 30-year plan to construct 24 conventional submarines in order to maintain adequate operational force levels that will be down to 10-12 submarines by 2010, the Navy hopes to build another six boats. These, in all probability, will be Russian Amur-1650 diesel-electric submarines to assist the Navy in maintaining its strategic ambition.

ADMISSION IMPASSE: The tug of war in Karnataka

There is serious uncertainty about admissions to private self-financing professional colleges in several States this year as the managements refuse to accept the positions of the State governments concerned and the latter take measures, often half-hearted, to restrain them. In Karnataka, the managements want more seats and higher fees, while in Maharashtra it is more about fees than seats. In Kerala, the government tries to slip in an ordinance to regulate the admission process and fee structure after the report of the committee it appointed draws angry responses from all concerned.

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ADMISSIONS to the private professional colleges in Karnataka have come to a halt with the government and the managements deadlocked on the issues of sharing of seats in the colleges and the fees to be charged. The government has also postponed by 10 days, to July 8, the selection of candidates to all the professional colleges, including those run by it. And with both parties approaching the court, over 120,000 candidates face an uncertain future, as the impasse is unlikely to end soon. Many of them have even joined undergraduate courses in science or commerce, in many cases by paying the entire course fee, knowing that they will have to forfeit it if and when they secure admission in a professional college. Their parents, unwittingly dragged into the tug of war over the money-spinner that professional education has become, are left to shoulder the additional burden.

The crux of the problem is that while the State government wants a say in the allotment of 75 per cent of the seats, the managements, especially those of medical and dental colleges, say the government quota should be restricted to 50 per cent. The managements of 16 medical colleges, 26 dental colleges and 26 engineering colleges have formed the Consortium of Medical, Engineering and Dental Colleges of Karnataka (Comed-K) to press their case. Its chairman, senior Congress politician R.L. Jalappa, runs a medical college. Other managements, particularly those running engineering colleges, look to the government to allot seats. This is not surprising, considering the fact that around 5,000 seats in the many engineering colleges were not filled in the last two academic years.

Said Jalappa: "It is a question of our right. We have invested crores of rupees in our colleges and we are responsible for the quality of education. What business does the government have to insist on 75 per cent of our seats? In fact, they should only get 25 per cent." That the Justice S. Venkataraman Committee, appointed by the Karnataka government under the directions of the Supreme Court to oversee seat-sharing, has upheld the government's stand is of no consequence to these managements.

At the end of the allotment process the managements are usually left with a number of unfilled seats, especially in engineering and to a lesser extent in the dental stream, which they can hand out to applicants of their choice. Bookings for these `unfilled' seats have started. Also, a large number of candidates have passed the common entrance tests conducted by the government (on May 18-19) and the managements (on May 14-15) and many of them are likely to opt for government seats. The vacancies so created can also be utilised by the managements. (The common entrance test conducted by the government goes by the popular acronym CET.)

Some managements are willing to hand over their seats to the government after retaining a small portion. Explained D.P. Nagaraj, Assistant Secretary of the Rashtreya Sikshana Samithi: "We have given all our engineering seats to the government. But private managements must have a small discretionary quota to admit students of their choice: sportspersons, children of staff members, physically challenged candidates and so on. Otherwise philanthropists will not be prepared to enter the field of education."

While the managements may differ on the question of seat-sharing, on fees they are unanimous that they should be increased. The fee structure fixed by the committee constituted by the State government under the directions of the Supreme Court is not acceptable to the managements. The Committee for the Fixation of Fee Structure of Private Professional Colleges, headed by A.B. Murgod, a retired High Court Judge, has fixed fees varying between Rs.1,40,000 and Rs.1,65,000 for the medical stream and between Rs.90,000 and Rs.1,10,000 for the dental stream.

The M.S. Ramaiah Medical College challenged the new fee structure in the High Court. Its petition stated that it had fixed a fee of Rs.3,19,000 for the medical undergraduate course but the Murgod Committee revised it to Rs.2,55,000. "Only a veterinary college can be run with the fees fixed by the Murgod Committee," claimed Jalappa. Another Comed-K member told Frontline that the fees fixed by the Committee were unrealistic and that it was just playing to the gallery. This member said: "A member of the Committee got a seat for his son in our medical college under the management quota a few years ago without paying a rupee. Does he expect us to do the same with all our seats? Where is the money to fund our colleges? After the court rulings banning capitation fee-based education came, it is only fees that can sustain our institutions."

The Murgod Committee, which was set up nearly four months ago, is yet to complete the scrutiny of the statement of accounts of all the colleges since many of the colleges did not submit their accounts in time. Meanwhile, the managements of medical colleges have recommended to the Committee annual fees of between Rs.2,75,000 and Rs.5,00,000. They contend that if they are to run the colleges either the fees should be substantially increased or they should be given a percentage of seats they can `allot' on their own terms.

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As for engineering colleges, the Committee is likely to fix a fee of around Rs.30,000. The managements want a fee closer to Rs.60,000. Said Prof M.R .Doreswamy, chairman of PES Institutions: "My staff get salaries that match the pay scales of the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE). This costs me Rs.1 crore a month. This is just one of my expenses. In my college, the annual cost of education per student works out to Rs.60,000."

Said Prof Y. Vrushabhendrappa, Principal of Babuji Institute of Technology, Davengere: "Just to meet our institution's recurring expenses such as salaries, maintenance and so on, we need to charge Rs.70,000 a year. What about upgrading our infrastructure? We need to charge a further Rs.35,000 a year for this. A fees of Rs.45,000 will mean a hand-to-mouth existence. The government is in no position to fund professional education. Even in the aided colleges they haven't appointed a single teacher since 1984. Teachers have been taken on contract and the principals have no control over them. Last year, the government could not fill up all the seats that we had given them. They surrendered 100 seats to me at the last moment. I had to fill them up. In some colleges, the managements were forced to give away seats at less than the prescribed fee."

According to Nagaraj, given the current rate of development, engineering fees should be pegged at around Rs.1,10,000 a year. "We have spent Rs.8 crores on new infrastructure and we can't run our colleges with the fees fixed by the Murgod Committee. Some of us are contemplating closing down our colleges. Or, let the government nationalise our colleges after paying us compensation for the land, buildings and other infrastructure."

Dr. R.R. Patil, an academic who has taken up cudgels on behalf of the students, disagrees that managements cannot run their colleges with the existing fees. "When they managed with 15 percent why can't they do so with 25?" he asked. He added: "The argument that they need astronomical fees if they are to adhere to the strict norms of statutory bodies such as the MCI is flawed. Yes, the report of the government's own Chandrashekar Shetty Committee on the admission issue said that it costs Rs.2,00,000 a student a year for the medical course and Rs.1,25,000 for the dental course. Also, a study commissioned in 1994 by the MCI and undertaken by A.F. Ferguson & Co said the cost of imparting medical education was Rs.3,18,000 a student a year. But the A.F. Ferguson & Co and the Shetty Committee studies were calculated with certain parameters factored into the cost per student.

"For example, the A.F. Ferguson report cited that the number of teaching doctors for a college with an annual intake of 100 should be 215. This is not maintained. A medical college near Bangalore, which has an intake of 150 students, has a teaching faculty of around 90. The same college produced a statement of accounts to the Karnataka High Court where the cost of medical education included such things as legal fees, which is Rs.2,00,000 in the case of one college, and garden maintenance. A leading engineering college in Bangalore prides itself as having the best computer science faculty but doesn't have teaching staff in adequate numbers in this very department."

Informed sources said that many colleges showed inflated expenses by claiming that they spent huge amounts of money in subscribing to numerous foreign journals and even by showing X-Ray and ECG equipment as consumables. Managements, especially those running dental and medical colleges, in a bid to meet the norms of statutory bodies, are also wont to show postgraduate students as part of the teaching faculty. The managements defend the inclusion of such items as legal fees by saying that somebody has to pay for it.

UNTIL 1993, Karnataka was a haven for capitation fee-based institutions, with almost all the seats handed out for a fee. However, the situation changed after the 1993 Supreme Court judgment in Unnikrishnan J.P. vs Andhra Pradesh and the starting of the CET for admissions and the distribution of seats under the free, payment and management categories. The CET was just a fig leaf to cover up the problems associated with the admission process. While the vast majority of students and parents were reconciled to the CET process, the managements were against it because it left them hardly 15 per cent of the seats to fill at their discretion. The managements went to court almost every year seeking a greater role in both the administration of their colleges (read fees they could charge) and the selection process (more number of management seats).

On October 31, 2002, a 11-Judge Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court ruled in T.M.A. Pai Foundation vs State of Karnataka that merit should be the sole criteria for selection. It also ordered that the managements must be allowed to conduct their own entrance test; that the fees, while being uniform for all students, could be different from institution to institution depending on factors such as facilities, location and so on; and that the managements could budget for a "reasonable surplus", to be used for the future development of their colleges, and charge the students for it. The orders of the apex court came in the wake of cases in which the court went into issues such as the ban on capitation fees, the methodology to draw up a merit list, the fees to be charged from students and the sharing of seats (seat matrix) between the government and the managements.

But with the court's orders in the T.M.A. Pai case being interpreted variously, in August 2003 a five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Islamic Academy of Education vs State of Karnataka, while interpreting the October 2002 judgment, ruled that for the academic year 2003-04, given the shortage of time, seats in privately managed institutions shall be shared equally by the government and the managements. The Bench also ruled that committees headed by retired Judges would prescribe the fees and the admission norms to these colleges until such time that the Union government enacted a law. The Karnataka government constituted the Murgod and Venkataraman Committees subsequently.

However, the 50:50 ratio for seat-sharing could not be adhered to for the 2003-04 academic year as the State government's CET Cell had, by August 2003, published a seat matrix for up to 75 per cent of the seats and had started counselling candidates. For their part, the managements had distributed their 25 per cent of the seats without conducting any entrance examination. Both sides were in violation of the Supreme Court's orders in the T.M.A. Pai case. But, in a cosy quid pro quo, the managements agreed to be `satisfied' with 25 per cent of the seats, while the government would turn a blind eye to the process that the managements had adopted in admitting students. Clearly, the managements had not conducted any entrance test, nor had they drawn up a merit list. Seats were handed out for considerations other than merit. Worse, most private managements had collected fees far in excess of the prescribed fees, with many institutions even taking the entire course fees in advance, which was a violation of the Supreme Court's orders in the T.M.A. Pai case (Frontline, October 10, 2003).

The managements apparently saw the Supreme Court's August 2003 directive as "a liberation and a restoring" of their right to fill up the seats in their colleges. They made it clear to the government that their sacrificing of 25 per cent of their seats was applicable only for the 2003-04 academic year and that for the next academic year they would have to be given 50 per cent of the seats.

This is something the new Congress-led coalition government of Dharam Singh is holding out against. Rather, it is vacillating between cajoling the managements to toe the 75:25 line and threatening court action, promulgation of an ordinance or enactment of a law. But legal experts point out that under Article 142 of the Constitution only Parliament has the power to annul a Supreme Court ruling. But can the State government supersede committees appointed under the direction of the apex court on fees and seat-sharing?

Given the number of politicians who own or are an integral part of private professional institutions, how long can the government take a tough line? According to many academics, the government's decision to postpone CET counselling by 10 days will favour the managements, giving them time to approach the court. They felt that if counselling had got under way it would have been difficult for the court to roll back the process.

Said P.G.R. Sindhia, Karnataka's Large and Medium Industries Minister and a member of the sub-committee constituted to go into the admission issue: "We cannot give away 50 per cent of the seats to the managements. We need to enhance our share to fulfil our commitment to social justice. We will file a review petition in the Supreme Court seeking 75 per cent of the seats." According to former Chief Minister M. Veerappa Moily, the "anarchy" over admissions can be solved only by enacting a law at the Centre on the lines of the Land Reforms Act and including it in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution.

But the government's bid not only to allot 75 per cent of the seats but also to subsidise the fees of successful CET candidates belonging to the weaker sections could put a huge financial burden on the exchequer. According to Sindhia, the government will need Rs.800 crores for this.

East Asia's dilemma

China's yes vote on the Iraq resolution in the Security Council is cast with the hope of an early resolution of the problem as well as the constraints placed on it by the Taiwan issue, while Japan and South Korea commit themselves to a larger presence in Iraq based on considerations of realpolitik.

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UNITED Nations Security Council Resolution 1546 on Iraq has given Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi an opportunity to repackage his policy of siding with the United States. In spite of popular opposition at home to the growing Tokyo-Washington strategic confluence outside Japan, Koizumi had sent troops to Iraq several months ago on a `humanitarian' mission there under overall U.S. military command. The resolution has now come in handy for Koizumi to rationalise the extension of the `non-combat' role of his troops beyond the June-end "transfer of sovereignty" to the Iraqi people.

Koizumi's decision has been justified almost entirely on the basis of Resolution 1546. Significantly, he had cited the need to stand by the U.S. as the main strategic reason for his earlier decision to send several hundred Self-Defence Forces (SDF) personnel to Iraq. But under post-imperial Japan's `pacifist' and `anti-war' Constitution there are constraints on the use of force by SDF units. This aspect, apart from the genuine opposition to the U.S.' "imperial project", should account for the public criticism of Koizumi's decision.

Defending his latest move, Koizumi said on June 17 that the SDF units already in Iraq would now become "part of the multinational force", purportedly "requested by the Iraqi interim government", and that it would function under the terms of "the unanimously adopted new U.N. Security Council resolution".

Four cardinal principles would govern the activities of the SDF, he asserted. The SDF would "operate under Japanese national command", indicating that these troops would no longer come under the overall military jurisdiction of Washington, even if the U.S. were to spearhead a new U.N.-authorised multinational force under the provisions of Resolution 1546. Another aspect is that the Japanese soldiers would "restrict their activities to non-combat areas".

More important, SDF personnel would not be deployed as an "integral part" of a multinational squad with a duty profile involving "the use of force". The last but not the least of the conditions was that the SDF units would "operate [entirely] within the framework of the [existing Japanese] Law Concerning the Special Measures on Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq".

Suffice it to say that even a quick glance at the restrictions on the SDF's activities in Iraq, even under a U.N.-authorised process, would be a tall order to sustain in the volatile situation in that U.S.-occupied country.

FOR South Korea too Resolution 1546 has provided a new context. However, President Roh Moo-hyun, who is politically stronger after his recent judicial reinstatement, has decided to send additional troops to Iraq on the basis of some familiar political logic, which is rooted largely in the conundrum of the long-time U.S.-South Korean military alliance. Seoul's action is also to project itself as being Washington's friend-in-need. Roh, thus, has announced the decision to send about 3,000 additional troops, including combat-ready personnel, to Iraq to join the 600-odd "non-combat'' soldiers already there on a "humanitarian'' task. In fact, the Roh administration did not explicitly seek the political "cover" of the Security Council's mandate or authorisation.

There is, however, an element of realpolitik in Roh's decision to stay the course on Iraq. It is related to the U.S.' move to reduce the size of its military personnel in South Korea by shifting thousands of them to Iraq and by relocating others within South Korean territory, and Seoul's perception that the U.S.' help would be needed to face the challenge of the North Korean nuclear weapons programme.

Despite the beheading of South Korean national Kim Sun-il in Iraq on June 22. Roh reaffirmed his decision on June 23, justifying it as Seoul's contribution to help the Iraqi people. But the moot point is public opinion in the new context. A growing number of people do not see the decision through Seoul's official prism. For a variety of reasons, public opinion in the country is veering towards a critical assessment that the U.S. is an overbearing benefactor at best and a hegemonic power at worst. It now remains to be seen how the Roh administration can harmonise a U.S.-friendly foreign policy with the popular perception in the country.

It is, however, the attitude of China, a permanent member of the Security Council, that matters more to the U.S. than the actions of the "friendly'' governments in allied countries. Beijing has gone along with the U.S. and other permanent members of the Security Council in the final stages of the passage of Resolution 1546. In 2003, in contrast, China did keep the U.S. guessing on Iraq. That turned out to be one of several key factors that resulted in a no-vote situation in the Security Council - a stalemate that Washington, in a unilateralist overdrive, sought to overcome by invading Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the name of a "coalition of the willing".

War studies analyst Lawrence Freedman recently argued that "when France, followed by Russia, led the opposition [at] the Security Council to the move against Iraq [in 2003], China said very little, not raising its head above the parapet". In this line of thinking, "if France and Russia had reached a compromise with the United States, the assumption is that China would have gone along".

While it is a fact that China remained circumspect during the run-up to the formation of the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq in 2003, it remains debatable whether it would have simply fallen in line behind the U.S. if it had struck a "compromise" with France and Russia. Two critical factors were at play for China. First, the new leadership of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao had just assumed office in March, with Jiang Zemin remaining as the backstage elder statesman. Second, international opinion against a U.N. mandate for war against Iraq was very strong indeed.

Now, with international opinion further hardened against the way the U.S. and its coalition partners have carried out their combat operations and "collateral" operations in Iraq, why did China choose to help the U.S. on Resolution 1546?

Four reasons have been cited by China in support of its position. A firm belief has been voiced that "this Resolution will help realise [the objective of] an Iraq governed by the Iraqi people". Another is the possibility of "national reconciliation" in Iraq as a sequel to the "transfer of sovereignty" to an interim government in Baghdad. The Resolution may also help set the stage for "economic reconstruction" , it is claimed. Finally, in China's thinking, "Iraq's return to the international community" could be "facilitated" by this Resolution.

If these arguments still leave room for questions about China's Iraq policy, the answer can be traced to the current state of flux as regards Beijing's equation with Washington. Given the nature of the Taiwan issue, which the U.S. is still able to hold out as a critical "card" in its dealings with China, and given also the strategic complexities of the North Korean nuclear issue, Beijing continues to tread carefully insofar as Washington's "interests" in Iraq are concerned.

Viewed differently, China has been commended in certain circles for its decision to vote for Resolution 1546 instead of abstaining.

According to an estimate, in the period August 1990-December 1999, China cast as many as 41 "abstentions" in the Security Council, citing "principled opposition" on such questions as the use of force, humanitarian intervention and the formation of international criminal tribunals. Critics of such "excessive use of abstentions", such as Pang Zhongying, argued as recently as two years ago that such actions might only compromise rather than enhance, China's position as a great power with a matching sense of responsibility. A logical corollary to this line of reasoning is the question whether China will join, at some stage, any multinational initiative, under Resolution 1546 or otherwise, to ensure peace and stability in Iraq in the period ahead. The answers might depend not only on China's own evolving world-view in the context of the U.S. activism of the current geopolitical complexion but also on the unfolding Iraqi situation itself.

A few U.S.-friendly countries in South East Asia, too, have extended varying degrees of logistical support for Washington's military presence in Iraq. However, South Korea's U.S.-related challenges are qualitatively different, even from those of Japan.

`Kashmir jehad cannot break up India'

world-affairs

Interview with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the founding chief of Hizb-e-Islami, is the Federal Bureau of Investigation's most wanted Afghan warlord who carries $25 million on his head. He used to be the Central Intelligence Agency's `blue-eyed' boy during the United States' proxy war against the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s.

Hekmatyar stayed in exile in Mashad (Iran) until Teheran, annoyed by his anti-U.S. statements, asked him to leave the country in March 2002. A Kharotay Ghilzai Pashtun, Hekmatyar was born in 1948 at district Imam Sahib in Kunduz province. His family migrated to the north in 1948 from village Goral Uluswali Qarabagh (Ghazni province). Like the rest of the Kharotays, the family had led a nomadic life.

Hekmatyar graduated from the Sher Khan High School; did a two-year course in Military High School, Mehtab Qala, Kabul; joined the College of Engineering, Kabul University, but could not complete his studies owing to his involvement in political and religious activities. He was accused of killing Saidal Sukhundan, a student of Shola-i-Javaid (a Maoist organisation), for which he was jailed. After his release, Hekmatyar left for Peshawar, Pakistan, along with several other Afghan Islamists where they became active with the support of Pakistan against the Afghanistan Republic of President Daud in the early 1970s.

In alliance with Pakistan's Jamat-e-Islami, Hekmatyar became the recipient of the largest amount of monetary and military hardware assistance compared to other parties and groups in the CIA-funded war against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Mohammad Shehzad, a freelance journalist based in Islamabad, conducted this interview with Hekmatyar over the phone from Peshawar. Hekmatyar was talking through a sat-phone from an unknown place in Afghanistan. Excerpts:

Jehadist like Hafiz Saeed and Syed Salahuddin believe that the Kashmir jehad could break up India just like the Afghan jehad led to the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Being a veteran jehadi, do you think that is possible?

One has to be realistic in analysis. The USSR was a superpower. It was the number one enemy of the U.S. It is true that the USSR broke apart through the Afghan jehad. But the Afghan jehad was financed by a number of countries. Saudi Arabia and the U.S. spent money like water in the Afghan jehad. Other Western countries also joined them. Trillions of dollars were spent over a decade. It is also true that it was done by the mujahideens alone. But without a huge and generous financial support, it was not possible.

The dynamics of the Kashmir jehad are totally different. India is not a superpower. It is not the U.S.' enemy. It is not a potential threat to anyone in the region. The Kashmir jehad is not financed by foreign forces the way the Afghan jehad was financed. Moreover, the Kashmir issue is more of a political nature. In our case, the forces of `unbelief' had invaded Islam. That similarity does not exist in the case of Kashmir. So, I don't think India will break apart through the Kashmir jehad. According to my understanding, the Indian economy is improving. It is Pakistan that is heading towards disintegration. The Pakistan Army is committing state terrorism in South Waziristan. The MQM (Muttahida Quami Movement) is committing sectarian terrorism in Karachi. Baluchistan is also not at peace. It is also in the grip of sectarian violence. So, lawlessness and anarchy are writ large on Pakistan's face.

Are you saying that what is going on in Kashmir is not a jehad?

No, I am not saying that. Of course, it is jehad. You asked me whether the Kashmir jehad could break apart India or not. I am saying it cannot. I am not denying that the mujahideens' struggle is not jehad. It is 100 per cent jehad and I salute all the Kashmiri mujahideens - Hafiz Saeed, who is my leader, has fought jehad in Afghanistan; Syed Salahuddin, who is a great freedom fighter, as well as Maulana Masood Azhar who has given India a tough time.

You have just admitted that the U.S. and Saudi dollars had made the Afghan jehad successful. You are currently fighting a jehad against the U.S. - without the foreign support. How are you going to win it this time?

You are right that we don't have the U.S. or Saudi support this time. But if you have studied the history of Afghan jehad you would know that the foreign assistance came much later. The Afghans had waged a guerilla war of their own within their meagre resources and gave the Russians a tough time. It was the courage and determination of the Afghans that attracted the foreign support. Jehad is not fought with the money alone. Jehad requires passion.

Look at the Palestinian jehad. Do the people of Palestine have any weapons? Their weapons are stones and their own bodies. They would fight the armoured tanks of Israel by tying explosives around their body and blowing themselves up. We might not be able to break the U.S. apart but we are quite capable of making Afghanistan the U.S.' Waterloo. Moreover, we are not unarmed. We have arms in huge quantities. We snatch arms and ammunition from the Afghan Army as well as the coalition forces.

In a nutshell, we have sufficient wherewithal to carry out jehad for years. And we are quite confident to throw the U.S. out of Afghanistan. In fact, the sense that Afghanistan has become a quagmire for the U.S. has prevailed upon [George] Bush. That is why the U.S. is trying to find an `honourable' exit from Afghanistan as a face-saving measure.

This statement contradicts the one you made last year in the course of an interview you gave me for The Sunday Times. You had predicted the U.S.' disintegration through your jehad...

It must be in a different context. But one thing is for sure. The U.S. cannot stay in Afghanistan for a long time. It will have to pack up and leave. Otherwise, Afghanistan will become its graveyard and that would be the first nail in the U.S.' coffin.

Your aides - Commander Khalid Farooqi, Maulvi Sarfraz Janbaz and Abdul Hadi - have recently met Karzai, General Fahim and Zalmay Khalilzad. Karzai and Khalilzad have promised not to issue any statement against you. Karzai has allowed you to participate fully in the country's political activities and re-organise your party. When are you going to accept his offer?

These are just rumours spread by the U.S. through its media to demoralise the mujahideens. We could join hands with Karzai if he could ask the U.S. and the coalition forces to vacate Afghanistan and leave the future of Afghanistan to the Afghans. It is obvious that Karzai cannot accept such demands because he is an American stooge. It is true that Karzai these days is wooing some former mujahideens to muster support for the forthcoming presidential election. This is not his act. He is doing it at the U.S.' behest. But this is not going to make life easy for the U.S. or Karzai because the so-called mujahideens Karzai is talking to are `paper-tigers'. The real mujahideens are the Taliban and people like us. We matter, not them. We will continue to fight Karzai and his master - the U.S. By the way, Karzai's days are numbered. Very soon, our mujahideens will get him.

How could peace be restored in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan used to be peaceful. Unfortunately, it became a centre for the big powers' intervention. First of all, the Russians interfered in its affairs and destroyed its peace. Then Pakistan tried to make it its fifth province. The notorious ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) installed the Taliban and tried to remote-control Afghanistan from Islamabad. Now, the Americans are doing the same experiment. When the foreign interference ends, peace will return to Afghanistan.

Do you know about the whereabouts of Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden?

Mullah Omar is sick these days. The Taliban are being led by Mullah Jalaluddin Haqqani. I am not sheltering Osama. To the best of my information, he is in Kandahar.

Are you behind the recent killing of the Chinese?

I have no idea about it. The Taliban have split now. The other faction is led by Mullah Soban. It could be his brainchild. I have expelled some miscreants from my party. It could be their handiwork. I really have no idea.

But the Afghan government strongly suspects that you have masterminded it. They have good reasons to believe this. In fact, you have admitted it `off-the-record' while talking to some journalists...

It is not true. I cannot accept the responsibility if some miscreants have masterminded it at the U.S.' behest. I believe it is the handiwork of the Americans. They have used some greedy mujahideens for this inhuman act to defame the true mujahideens. I suspect that the Americans have also masterminded the killing of Chinese in Gwador, Baluchistan. The U.S. agenda is to malign jehad and jehadis.

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said in an interview that you cannot be offered amnesty under the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation of Militia, and Reintegration of Combatants) Programme because you have committed heinous crimes against humanity...

Abdullah Abdullah conveniently forgets the heinous crimes that the Northern Alliance has committed against the innocent people of Afghanistan. Ahmad Shah Masood was a callous murderer. He massacred thousands of innocent Pushtuns. It is really ironic that the Karzai administration has given a war criminal like Masood the status of a national hero.

Endgame in Iraq

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The installation of the Ayad Allawi government in Baghdad may only increase the chaos in the country, which faces the prospect of internal conflicts and balkanisation.

IN the weeks preceding the installation of the partially sovereign Iraqi government under Prime Minster Ayad Allawi, chaos and violence has escalated across the country. Top officials of the new government are targeted relentlessly. Staying alive seems to have become a priority of the officials running the new government. In the third week of June, the head of security of Northern Oil Company in Kirkuk was killed. He was a close relative of the Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani. In the same week, Kamal Jarrah, the number two in the Education Ministry and Bassam Salih Kubba, the Deputy Foreign Minister, were also assassinated.

The turbulence had its repercussions in Saudi Arabia, where foreigners, especially Americans and British nationals, are being targeted by extremists. The beheading of a South Korean civilian working for a defence contractor by insurgents in late June hogged the headlines. The resistance forces had demanded the withdrawal of South Korean troops from Iraq. The decision by the South Korean government to send more troops to Iraq seems to have sealed the fate of the innocent South Korean. Saboteurs hit oil pipelines exporting Iraqi crude, bringing the oil industry to a standstill for more than a week. Allawi has estimated the losses to the petroleum industry as more than $1 billion.

Allawi is threatening to crack down on the resistance. He is also trying to acquire a Saddam-like image of an authoritarian ruler. In his first press conference after having been anointed to the job, Allawi said that he intended to use extraordinary methods to counter the insurgency. "We will do all we can to strike against enemy forces aiming at harming our country, and we will not stand by with our hands tied," Allawi told the media in Baghdad. He also said that for the foreseeable future, the Iraqi army and security services would be battling insurgents rather than securing the borders of the country. The Americans will continue to have around 150,000 troops in Iraq. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad will have more than 1,000 Americans in its pay. They will be the real power behind the scenes after the so-called transfer of sovereignty on June 30. Every Iraqi Ministry will have at least one key American adviser.

Not surprisingly, Allawi supported the American missile attacks on a building housing civilians in the volatile city of Falluja. Twenty-two civilians, including women and children, were killed in the first attack. Another attack followed a week later. In the brutal attack, launched in April, more than 750 civilians were killed. As American casualties mount, there are signs that the U.S. army is once again planning to renew the offensive against resistance strongholds such as Falluja. Members of the disbanded Iraqi Army, which fought the Americans for Saddam Hussein, have now been invited to rejoin the security services. Re-Ba'athification of the Iraqi government and army seems to have gained momentum. Allawi has said that the disbanding of the Iraqi Army by the American occupation forces was a "big mistake". Former Ba'athists have now more seats in the new Cabinet than those representing religious parties.

The new government has also threatened to introduce "emergency rule". Allawi has a reputation for ruthlessness. He started his political career as a Ba'ath Party enforcer. He progressed to become a senior official in the Iraqi secret police - the Mukbarat. After his defection in the early 1980s, Allawi became a full-time employee of the CIA and had a hand in the bombing campaign against Iraqi civilians in the mid-1990s. One such attack targeted schoolchildren in a bus.

Allawi will have to tread warily now as not many Iraqis have a high opinion of him. Results of an opinion poll published in the third week of June showed that the most popular figure among Iraqis continued to be the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, closely followed by the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The rise in Sadr's popularity has a lot to do with the uprising his Mahdi militia launched against the American occupation. That uprising filled the political and military vacuum that had been created in southern Iraq. The other major Shia groupings that were accommodated by the Americans in the power structure in Baghdad have seen their popularity erode after Sadr audaciously launched the uprising. The Americans had at one time threatened to capture the young cleric "dead or alive". Many attempts were made on his life. However, despite his forces absorbing a lot of punishment, his militia fought on and he continued with his fiery Friday sermons urging "jehad" against the Americans.

Sadr suddenly changed tack in mid-June and accepted a cessation of hostilities in the holy city of Najaf where the Mahdi militia had engaged the American forces for several weeks. When the plans for the transfer of sovereignty were first announced, Sadr severely them and refused to recognise the authority of the government led by Allawi. Now, with tacit American approval, the new government in Baghdad has given Sadr the green signal to form his own party and participate in politics. His supporters may find a place in the new government. The Mahdi militia has, however, not disarmed and seem prepared for any eventuality. One of the most radical anti-occupation groupings - the Sunni-dominated Islamic Front for Iraqi Resistance - has described the government led by Allawi as the facade for the "hidden occupation" by Americans.

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The Allawi government, in a bid to advertise its independence, had demanded the immediate handing over of Saddam Hussein to its custody. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that the continued detention of the Iraqi ruler was illegal under the Third Geneva Convention. The Americans are technically required to release Saddam Hussein because of his prisoner of war status before the restoration of limited sovereignty in Iraq. "In theory, when a war ends and when an occupation ends, the detaining force has to release prisoners of war," the chief spokesperson of the ICRC said in Geneva in the third week of June. The legal director of Human Rights Watch said that prisoners of war should be released at the end of the conflict or occupation if they were not charged with any crimes.

The new Iraqi government claims that Saddam Hussein will be handed over to it by the U.S.-led Provisional Authority. The director of Iraq's war crimes tribunal, Salem Chalabi, a cousin of Ahmad Chalabi, has already said that Saddam Hussein would face the death penalty if found guilty of war crimes and human rights abuses. If he is handed over by the American authorities to the present Iraqi government, he will be facing a murderous mob.

Internationally, very little credibility is given to the government that will be ostensibly running Iraq from July 1. Reports emerging from Washington talk about an alternative scenario for Iraq being envisaged in the corridors of power there. The more realistic officials in the Bush administration seem to have reconciled to a military and political setback in Iraq. Israel, Washington's closest ally and at one time the most enthusiastic backer of the Iraq adventure, is now actively working towards the balkanisation of Iraq. The American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who has access to the top echelons of the American and Israeli political establishments, has written that the Israeli government is betting on the creation of an "independent" Kurdistan that will be carved out of northern Iraq. The plan, which is said to have the support of the "neoconservatives" in the Bush administration, is to amalgamate Mosul and Kirkuk into a Kurdish zone. Kirkuk is the country's most important oil centre.

According to reports coming out of northern Iraq, ethnic-cleansing is already under way. Arab residents in many of the smaller towns in the north have been forced out and thousands of them are living in squalid refugee camps. Observers of the Iraqi scene feel that if the Kurdish militias forcibly try to expel non-Kurds from big cities like Kirkuk and Mosul, there will be blood-letting on a massive scale. As of now, Arabs and Turks constitute the majority in the two key oil cities. Hersh quotes former Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Barak as telling U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney that the only option for the Americans "was choosing the size of your humiliation". A senior foreign diplomat of European origin, who until recently was posted in Amman, told this correspondent that the Israelis had moved into Iraq in a big way, buying up real estate in Kirkuk, Mosul and Baghdad, exploiting their long-standing relationship with the two Kurdish factions, which today have enormous clout in Iraq.

Hersh quotes a senior American intelligence officer as saying that the Israeli priority after June 30 "is to build up Kurdish commando units to balance the Shiite militias - especially those who would be hostile to the kind of order in southern Iraq that Israel would like to see". The Kurdish militias will also be used to fight the Sunni militias, which are even more opposed to Israel than Saddam Hussein was. The Turkish government, which until recently was very close to Israel, is known to be alarmed at the developments in its backyard. The Kurds are claiming large swathes of territory in Turkey, Iran and Syria as part of Kurdistan. Many of Washington's European allies like Germany have warned that the creation of a new state in West Asia will have extremely damaging repercussions in the region and beyond.

Israeli intelligence officers told Hersh that they had trained Kurdish commandos to kill and eliminate the leadership guiding the Iraqi resistance. Israeli intelligence agents are also fomenting trouble in neighbouring Syria and Iran, using northern Iraq as a springboard. Hersh said that some Israeli agents along with Kurdish commandos have crossed the border into Iran to install sensors and other sensitive devices. The capture and brief detention of British navy men who crossed into Iranian waters along the Shat-al-Arab waterway in late June reflects Iranian anxiety about the activities along its borders. The British patrol boats intercepted by the Iranian Navy were carrying a lot of guns and high-tech equipment.

Foreign policy dilemmas

America Unbound : The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy by Ivo H. Daadler and James M. Lindsay; Brookings Institution, 2003.

Soft Power: The Means to success in World Politics by Joseph S. Nye Jr; Public Affairs, 2004.

Colossus: The Rise and Fall of American Empire by Niall Ferguson; Allen Lane (Penguin Group), 2004.

Allies at War: America, Europe and the Crisis in Iraq by Philip H. Gordon and Jeremy Shapiro; Brookings Institution, 2004.

DESPITE all his public bravado and bluster, President George W. Bush must be an extremely worried man. Recent events in Iraq have not exactly gone in his favour, and the dip in his popular ratings casts serious doubts over whether he will return to the White House next spring. The last straw could be the 9/11 Commission's unequivocal finding that whatever evidence had been let in did not suggest an Iraq-Al Qaeda nexus prior to the 2001 catastrophe. This should give enough grist to the mill of Bush detractors - not inconsiderable in number - who have been ceaselessly assailing him for a myopic foreign policy that had alienated the U.S. from almost the rest of the world. The U.S. foreign policy, resting on shifting stands, is therefore under clinical scrutiny everywhere, not merely in West Asia where Bush has shown himself extremely vulnerable, for launching a highly questionable war.

Four well-researched books on the subject reviewed here clarify many issues. What is most apparent from them is that the focus of debate in the November presidential poll could almost wholly be Iraq and the substance of the actual foreign policy perceptions that drove the misadventure.

In a recent essay in Foreign Affairs (May-June 2004), Samuel Berger, former National Security Adviser, branded the current U.S. policy as "gratuitous unilateralism", an expression that should find resonance universally. He marvels at the enormous power that the country currently wields - the power of a dimension that it had never enjoyed before in its more than 200 years of existence. He is at the same time struck by the revelation that power and influence did not go hand-in-hand in international affairs, a fact exemplified by America's inability to convert other nations to its philosophy that rogue nations could be disciplined outside the ambit of the United Nations, whenever the occasion demanded it.

Candidate Bush won many hearts during Campaign 2000 when he said that the U.S. could win allies only through humility that was distinctly free from arrogance. Those who survey the scene now are exasperated that Bush is anything but humble, particularly when he waxes eloquent over Iraq and also when he hints that the other two members of the "Axis of Evil", namely, Iran and North Korea, could also shortly receive his attention.

Bush's tough talking takes our minds back to Senator McCarthy and John Foster Dulles in the 1950s, for whom the world was just white and black. It must, however, be remembered that these two strong personalities were influenced by the Cold War, a prominent academic and political obsession of those days. We have come far way from it ever since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. We are now in a unipolar world where the U.S. strides the global scene like a colossus that few can challenge militarily.

Nye and others reviewed here are distressed that notwithstanding this enviable position of authority, the U.S. President should opt for an acerbic rhetoric that eggs him on to engage continually one nation or the other. This was as if there was no other way to disseminate the country's conviction that it discountenanced any form of government that was not democratic.

WHAT should a country's foreign policy seek to achieve, especially when it advertises that it disdains hegemonistic aspirations and acts only out of altruism? In a layman's perception, such policy should first ensure that a country's own security is not imperilled on any account.

Secondly, it should give that country enough moral authority to influence the thinking of a vast majority of nations, irrespective of whether the latter are geopolitically important or not, so that they subscribe to the former's view of the world. If the U.S. believes that democracy is the best form of government, it should be able to win friends for such a political arrangement by convincing them of its benefits. You just cannot slam democracy down the throats of countries to whom it is a mere shibboleth alien to their culture. Nye and company seem to suggest that this is precisely what the U.S. is trying to do in West Asia.

Joseph Nye Jr. was Assistant Secretary in the Clinton administration and is currently a widely respected Dean at Harvard's JFK School of Government. Of all those reviewed in this column, he stands out for his conceptual view of where the U.S. stands and where it should. `Soft power' is the term that he coined several years ago, and he brings this back to present times to great effect. Such power is synonymous with a country's ability to attract and win friends in the global community, and persuade them to join camp in collectively wrestling with the problems of international relations. Its chief strengths are logic and an appeal to the better senses of a country and its rulers. It stands in sharp contrast to `hard power' that rests on force and the efficacy of the bullet. It seeks to intimidate in wresting conformity from another nation, a tactic that is resented in our times and often transforms mere adversaries into sworn enemies.

Nye recalls what Machiavelli once told the Italian princes: "It is more important to be feared than loved." In the present day world of extreme sensitivities and jealously guarded sovereignty, Nye feels it is better to be both feared and loved. What he possibly means is that the U.S. should be content with an opponent understanding its might, rather than actually using force to subjugate another country that does not fall in line. He rightly draws attention to the fact, that with all its might and a track record of victories in the Gulf war of 1991 and subsequent triumphs in Kosovo, Bosnia and Afghanistan, the U.S. did not escape from the savage Al Qaeda attack of 2001. He is disappointed that, unlike his illustrious predecessors Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt (and possibly, to an extent, Kennedy), Bush has not understood the gains of a persuasive foreign policy that flows from an appreciation of the nuances of soft power. He cites Norway as an example of a small country that does not have the might of a massive army but has capitalised on soft power. Its stature as one that can mediate international disputes, as in Sri Lanka, has won for it enormous goodwill, enhancing thereby the incentive for employing soft power in many areas of the world.

It is an entirely different question whether such a strategy can actually solve conflicts. Undoubtedly, it can at least defuse tensions. What more does a foreign policy need to do to earn worldwide respect and acceptance for a country that may or may not be mighty in economic and military terms?

The focus of well-known Brookings Institution scholars Philip Gordon and Jeremy Shapiro in their incisive Allies at War is on the U.S.' relations with Europe, and how, since 9/11, these have deteriorated after initial sympathy and resolve of a united fight against terrorism. Here again, the end of the Cold War had made all the difference. The common threat of a Soviet might, especially in Europe, had provided the glue that bound the countries on two sides of the Atlantic. After assigning a protectionist role to the U.S., the European nations seemed to believe that they would rather concentrate on building a zone of prosperity for themselves. The continued indifference of most of Europe, possibly with the exception of the United Kingdom, to building on military strength has annoyed the U.S. because of its own assessment that perpetuating the status quo was not desirable or acceptable to it because of the arrival of some rogue nations that unabashedly use religion to whip up passions against the West.

Gordon and Shapiro do not fault the U.S. for whatever it has done to retaliate the mindlessness of Al Qaeda. What they are concerned about is the U.S.' complacence that it does not have to carry the rest of the world with it in fighting Osama bin Laden and his sympathisers.

Ivo H. Daadler, a Brookings researcher and James Lindsay, Vice-President, Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. take note of a new `revolution' in foreign policy launched by President Bush. They would have been happy if this was a revolution of objectives. Sadly, this was, one of how to achieve the goals already set by the U.S. for itself. The policy "revolution" has turned out to be an acceleration and intensification of the by now familiar U.S. pressure tactics to ensure conformity.

Daadler and Lindsay are critical of several tendencies displayed by the Bush team. These are the unilateral and arbitrary exercise of power outside the ambit of international institutions, the advocacy of a proactive doctrine of preemption after deemphasising the value of a reactive strategy of deterrence and containment, the promotion of forceful interdiction and the preference for a regime change to a dialogue with a country that it considers to be recalcitrant. What is most relevant at this stage of evolution of the European Union into a strong, unified entity is the U.S.' apparent unhappiness over the emergence of a formidable bloc.

The two writers go to the extent of charging the Bush administration with exploiting the dissensions within Europe, a complete turnaround from the days of the founding fathers who believed that U.S. should maintain absolute neutrality between a feuding England and France. The now widely differing perceptions of the two with regard to Iraq speak for themselves.

THE approach of Professor Niall Ferguson, who teaches Modern European History at Jesus College, Oxford, is more positive than that of the others reviewed. He would demand a proactive role for the U.S. in creating conditions conducive to the free exchange of capital and labour, an interaction in which it is already engaged. If its objective is to build not just an `empire' but a `liberal empire' based on values, the U.S. should work towards peace and order, the rule of law and the setting up of non-corrupt administrations. As opposed to this requirement, the U.S. is now generally seen to `consume' rather than `conquer' whenever it transgresses the sovereignty of another nation.

This is in sharp contrast with the attitudes of many other nations, especially England when that country colonised in so many parts of the world. For instance, highly educated Englishmen with Oxbridge backgrounds and coming from aristocratic families, were willing to join the Indian Civil Service in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and sweat it out in the dusty district towns of India which could hardly boast of any facilities that these men were used to at home. This was mainly because they were actuated by a nationalist sentiment that was proud of whatever their country stood for. (Ferguson recalls what Arnold Toynbee told his Oxford tutorial pupils embarking on a career in the Indian Civil Service: "If they went to India, they were to go there for the good of her people on one of the noblest missions on which an Englishman could be engaged.")

Very few Americans - except possibly with the exception of a handful of Christian missionaries - would however like to rough it out in remote corners of the world and attempt to bring in new methods of work and expose the locals to facets of U.S. culture. This is a major regret of Ferguson who is appalled that the average American is so insular despite his country's huge capital indebtedness to nations across the globe. Ferguson identifies three deficits - economic, labour and attention - as characteristic of the present-day U.S. While the first two can be taken care of respectively through external borrowing and import of manpower (both military and non-military), the third, that is, attention-deficit has to do a lot with systemic problems of the U.S. polity.

American foreign policy has the supreme advantage of being critiqued by scholars belonging to a wide spectrum of beliefs and political philosophies placed in different parts of the world. It has the added benefit of reputed think tanks within the U.S. itself. All inputs from this immense variety of sources can have an impact only if policy architects are open to learning and are conscious of their own limitations.

It is highly doubtful, whether in an election year, a disturbingly overconfident Bush administration would be receptive and do a major course correction. It will be a tragedy, however, if they remain unaffected by the wisdom of the pen wielded by Nye and company.

Women and German fascism

Gender and Power in the Third Reich: Female Denouncers and the Gestapo (1933-45) by Vandana Joshi; Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire and New York, 2003; pages xx + 229, 45 (hardbound).

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FOR someone in India, reviewing a book related to the Holocaust can be rather disturbing. It also brings memories of the `democratically' sponsored riots by the Gujarat government, during which even people from the margins - women and Adivasis - were drawn into the barbaric expeditions. In fact, the book under review can perhaps open one's mind to the complexities of how repressive and totalitarian regimes can transform human beings and the inner world of the `home'.

Vandana Joshi has researched on a theme that seems to have been ignored even by German historians. Her expertise in the German language enabled her to explore 366 Gestapo files at the State Archives of Dsseldorf in Germany as a major source.

Although the theme of denunciation has been widely examined by scholars, female denouncers do not seem to have attracted much attention. As explained by Vandana Joshi, denunciation in the context of modern European history meant accusations of wrongdoing made by ordinary citizens or officials about fellow citizens or officials to the authorities. These were mostly acts that drew punishment. The concept of denunciation acquired new meanings in Nazi Germany. It set into motion a power struggle among ordinary women, who used it as an instrument to fight their individual battles at various levels in society. In fact, what makes the work striking is that it delineates the way a consensus for fascism was created by women, who were apparently powerless and weak, through their day-to-day lives. Whereas mass organisations of women did exist in Nazi Germany, denunciation provided women with power in their immediate environs. It is perhaps in this sense that the book focusses on gender history and on how the Nazi system worked "from below".

Historians who have focussed on women in Nazi Germany have predictably progressed from the starting point of locating women as victims of patriarchy, as accomplices, and, finally, as perpetrators themselves. Vandana Joshi's method follows a track that accommodates gender as a historical category with all the associated complexities of good and evil. Besides, though she focusses on women denouncers, she tunes her work to the life of women and the overall context of racism and the question of forced foreign identity.

As delineated by the author, Nazism attempted to replace class and gender hierarchies with one based on race. This placed `Aryan' men at the top and `Aryan' women below them. After all, patriarchy was very much a part of Nazism and was harmoniously integrated with it. Although perhaps discriminated against in the job market, women were extremely vital for their reproductive power, which was necessary to procreate, nurture, preserve and defend the `Aryan race'. This division coexisted with a clear preference of the `master' race and the `othering' of `inferior' races. What is fascinating about the book is the way it focusses on the shifts and changes in Nazi policies relating to women and the Jewish people. And, while attempting this, Vandana Joshi elaborates the changing face of patriarchy itself.

Explaining the way in which the two worlds of men and women were located differently, Vandana Joshi highlights how the "small world" of women (that is, home) was expected to provide stability to the big world `outside'. This idea of different spheres introduced a form of fascist empowerment that provided ordinary housewives with a host of possibilities - to be racial educators and guardians of society and get associated with the power structure. It is precisely in such a manner that they legitimised fascism in their day-to-day lives.

On the basis of the Gestapo files, the author lists 52 categories of offences. Interestingly, the category `Communist Party' with 1,440 cases tops the list, followed by `Jews', with 1,289 cases. There were denunciations against some for singing the `Internationale' and listening to Radio Moscow news bulletins. In this context, the author's opinion that the largely male membership of the Communist Party made it more vulnerable, seems to be a serious argument. Nevertheless, given the turbulence of the phase, one can perhaps argue that the situation would have remained unaltered even if there were many more women in the Communist Party. In such a situation they would have been denounced as relatives of the husbands by women denouncers. Vandana Joshi refers to "race defilement" cases where women who were identified as "illegitimate" children of Jewish fathers were charged with concealing their identity and expected to be "treated as... Jew(s)". In fact, this sounds rather familiar to someone living in 21st century India.

A MAJOR contribution of the author is to interrogate historians - including feminists - who virtually legitimise fascism by projecting women as innocent and ignorant of Nazi crimes. It had been acknowledged that the `private' world - the home front - was as vital as the battlefront. This implied the invasive character of the Nazi state. As the author goes on to show, women from the poorer sections of society subverted gender hierarchies at home, while demonstrating allegiance to the totalitarian Nazi regime.

Vandana Joshi refers to the way the private world of `home' got politicised. She mentions cases of many wives in situations as varied as those in which women were exposed to domestic violence and those wherein relationships had soured. As denouncers they tilted the power structure to fight for dignity, with a desire to subvert patriarchy. As outlined, this phenomenon could get incorporated into agendas of revenge. The author refers to women who used the weapon of denunciation against the female relatives of their husbands. She points out that denunciation remained a predominantly female-centred activity, which provided women with an extra-judicial forum to express the anger and resentment caused by the adverse conditions faced by them in their `homes'. It saved unemployed housewives the resources necessary to use the judicial structure to fight their adversaries. In this sense the Gestapo - and in a broader sense the Nazi state - provided them with an alternative space. Stressing the urban and working class component of the denouncers, the author delineates the conditions that made communism and race prominent components that were taken up for investigation by the Gestapo.

While touching upon the social history of Nazi Germany, Vandana Joshi projects the repressive working conditions and the lack of freedom to express views in the public sphere that made some people adopt dual lives. It was in such a context that the inner world seemed safer to criticise. Nevertheless, the private-public dichotomy had been dismantled not only by the fascist state, but also by ordinary women from within their homes.

Vandana Joshi also refers to the sexist perceptions of the regime when it came to relationships involving Jewish men and `Aryan' women. Thus she refers to the dominant assumption of a `Jew' being an "eternal seducer" and a "lecherous parasite" with insatiable desires - perceptions that sound so familiar to the communal location of the `Muslim' in contemporary India.

While referring to the motives of the denouncers, the author focusses on various features that range from anti-Semitism to social and professional jealousies. Vandana Joshi refers to the silence of Jewish women - who were particularly vulnerable to violence, sexual harassment, abuse and assaults by `Aryan' men - in the Gestapo files. This is in sharp contrast to the oral testimonies that she has encountered. In a context where many Jewish women were left to fend for themselves, this is a particularly disturbing feature.

The author also examines the position of the Gestapo when it came to those designated as foreign workers and foreign minorities. The `Aryan' men could get away most of the time and, in cases where their crime could be established, the punishment never lasted for more than three months. What is remarkable is that crimes like rape committed by `Aryan' men were not taken as serious offences - rather "dereliction of duty" was the reason for which they were punished. Cases where German women - the upholders of `Aryan culture' - "polluted" and "defiled" themselves by having friendships with non-`Aryans' were dealt with seriously. If proved, women were subjected to traumatising treatment, which included imprisonment or even being paraded with shaven heads. In fact, public humiliation became a part of Nazi culture. Sexual promiscuity was only allowed to the soldier, but not his wife. At the same time, any relationship between a German woman with a `foreigner' was located very clearly as an act of `sexual aggression'. Paying no heed to the woman's voice, the regime hanged these men since their crime was considered as deserving capital punishment.

Vandana Joshi refers to the emergence of `moral guardians' in Nazi Germany, who `took care' to enforce codes on women whose husbands were out fighting. This is again a feature that we encounter in a weaker form in contemporary times, especially when it comes to targeting people for celebrating the so-called foreign and hence polluting festivals.

This is a path-breaking work and it is indeed creditable that in 2002 the author, an Indian, won the Fraenkel Prize for Contemporary History for it. Vandana Joshi's book would attract not only those interested in history but anyone who wants to have a glimpse of how fascism can alter and transform human beings into beastly creatures.

For someone in India, this book has an additional significance since it would enable the reader at least to conceptualise what `Modi-fication' in its developed form can be like. From their experiences in the past, the people in Hitler's country have learnt to reject fascist politics. Do Indians need to relive this experience in order to learn to do the same?

A progressive film-maker

K. Subrahmanyam, whose birth centenary was celebrated in Chennai recently, was perhaps the first Tamil film-maker to challenge religious orthodoxy and fight social maladies through cinema.

THE fact that five successive Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu over the past four decades have all been film personalities is often cited to establish that as far as Tamil life is concerned politics and cinema are inseparable. Since its inception, Tamil cinema has had close links with politics - of the ruling class, of gods and goddesses, of kings and queens, and of the national and Dravidian movements. So, when Tamil cinema began to speak in 1936, it spoke mostly politics. The formative years of the film industry (1936-1946) in Tamil Nadu were also a crucial period in the history of the struggle for Independence, when the Congress was attempting to enlarge the mass base of the movement.

During this period, thanks to the solid base built by a popular stage with the active participation of patriotic artists and the entry of some committed intellectuals who explored the potential of cinema as an instrument of change, Tamil cinema played a significant role in mobilising support for the freedom movement, particularly among the unlettered and under-privileged sections.

Film director and producer K. Subrahmanyam was one such committed intellectual who was keen to make films that were artistic and purposeful. Apart from enlisting support for the freedom movement, his films sought to make people aware of a host of social issues crying for solution, such as the near-enslavement of women, child marriage, the dowry system, the ill-treatment of widows, and untouchability. Thus, Subrahmanyam helped the national movement move towards its climax with a larger mass participation and sowed the seeds of social reform, paving the way for the Dravidian Movement to play its role in post-Independence cinema.

Led by former President R. Venkataraman, an array of speakers paid tributes to the late film-maker at his birth centenary celebrations in Chennai recently. They recalled his contribution in enriching Tamil cinema by making purposeful films with high professional skill and mobilising support for the cause of political independence, social reforms and a cultural renaissance.

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Prominent among the 20-odd films he produced during nearly two decades of active life in the film world are Bala Yogini (1936), Seva Sadhanam (1938), Thyaga Bhoomi (1939) and Bhakta Chetha (1940). Besides holding aloft the banner of Independence, his films highlighted the social ills that slackened the progress of the Tamil people.

Subrahmanyam introduced a number of artists to a career in films, foremost among them being the Carnatic music stalwart M.S. Subbulakshmi. Others include the eminent actor-singer M.K. Thiagaraja Bhagavathar, S.D. Subbulakshmi, music composer Papanasam Sivan, `Baby' Saroja (a niece of Subrahmanyam), the Bharatanatyam trio Lalita, Padmini and Ragini, B. Saroja Devi and K.J. Mahadevan. Another music exponent of the period, D.K. Pattammal, was introduced as a playback singer in Thyaga Bhoomi. Subrahmanyam's wife Meenakshi, who wrote and composed songs for his films, was perhaps Tamil cinema's first woman lyricist and music director. He introduced his daughter Padma Subrahmanyam as a dancer in the film Gita Gandhi.

An institution-builder, Subrahmanyam was instrumental in founding many professional bodies such as the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce, the South Indian Film Artistes Association, the Film Institute, and the Nadaswaram Artists Association. After he stopped producing films, he worked for the welfare of film artistes. He visited several nations, including the United States and the erstwhile Soviet Union, as member of cultural delegations. He arranged for the visits of many foreign film personalities and facilitated their interaction with Tamil artists. His progressive mind and humanitarian outlook made him a close friend of Marxist leaders such as V.P. Chintan and P. Jeevanandam. He also served as the president of the Indo-Soviet Cultural Society.

BORN into an orthodox Brahmin family based in Kumbakonam on April 20, 1904, Subrahmanyam studied law. He left the Bar after a brief stint to enter the film field. He joined Associate Films, Chennai, in 1928 during the era of silent films and made a few films such as Anathai Pen (1931) on contemporary themes. After a short break during which he served as a member of the Scout Movement, he returned to the film industry in 1934. Convinced of the rich potential of cinema, he started making films under the banner of his own business unit, Madras United Artistes Corporation.

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Why did Subrahmanyam choose to expose social maladies instead of making films based on mythology unlike the rest of his clan?

Although a believer, he did not approve of many social practices that were ritually sanctioned by religion. One possible explanation for this unorthodox mindset is given by the film historian S. Theodore Baskaran in his book The Message Bearers (Cre-A, 1981). Based on an interview with Subrahmanyam's son S. Krishnaswamy, he writes: "His (Subrahmanyam's) father C.S. Krishnaswamy Ayyer was a lawyer handling the cases of big mutts around Kumbakonam. He would often feel guilty about being a party to the injustices perpetrated by the mutts in the name of religion and deplored that the priesthood was not playing the positive role it should in society. Subrahmanyam imbibed all these ideas from his father, and his highly critical view of the priesthood was reflected in all his films, particularly in Bala Yogini, in which he treated priests with ridicule and even used scenes showing priests for comic relief." In fact, Subrahmanyam's interest in art and culture seems to have been the result of the influence of his father, who was an amateur stage actor, deeply interested in Shakespearean plays. The political and social conditions of the period were also ideal for Subrahmanyam to venture into the field with progressive ideals.

THE 30 years that followed the birth of cinema in southern India in 1916 constitute one of the most eventful periods in the political, social and cultural history of Tamil Nadu. After nearly two decades of silent films, Tamil talkie emerged in 1936. The evolution of cinema into a mass entertainer coincided with the growth of the Indian National Congress, which spearheaded the freedom struggle, into a mass movement. The Jallianwallah Bagh massacre (1919) shocked the nation and the protest against British Raj spread to different regions. The Congress had by then come under the leadership of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Gandhi's policy of using non-violence and passive resistance to bring about political and social changes had won him public acclaim. He launched the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1921 and the Civil Disobedience Movement and the Salt Satyagraha 10 years later as part of the struggle for Independence. These agitations received tremendous response from people across the country and thousands were imprisoned. The Government of India Act, 1935 provided for political rights to people at the provincial level. The formation of Congress governments in many provinces, including Madras, following elections to State Assemblies helped reduce the rigours of alien rule that were until then experienced in various fields, including the film industry. It gave people hope that the Congress governments in the Provinces would implement many of Gandhi's declared ideals and reformist policies to help build unity among the people fighting for liberation.

Alongside the nationalist movement, there was the growth of the Self-Respect Movement led by the iconoclast Periyar E.V. Ramasami, which would evolve into the Dravidian Movement. Periyar's movement stood for social equality, annihilation of caste-related discriminations and an end to irrational beliefs. Gandhian ideals and rationalist thought spread among the people. During the same period the kisan movement began to take root in rural Tamil Nadu. Struggles by agricultural workers in Thanjavur district under the leadership of the Communist Party highlighted the social and economic disabilities of these people, the majority of whom were Dalits. The active presence of these socio-political movements provided a fertile ground for political cinema to make its appearance. "At the time of the appearance of the Tamil talkie," observes Theodore Baskaran in The Message Bearers, "the political atmosphere in Madras (Province) was such that no performing art as mass-based as the cinema could remain unaffected by it for long." He further writes: "Stimulated by the political fervour of the day, Tamil cinema gained a new content and course. The challenge of foreign rule and the awareness of the need for social reforms as a part of the society's efforts to meet this challenge profoundly affected Tamil cinema. As the mass basis for the demand for freedom widened and the people began participating in elections, film-makers responded increasingly to the political tensions of the times by mirroring this mood."

The presence of a political theatre prior to the advent of the cinema, whose performers were dedicated patriots, and the patronage that Congress leaders such as S. Sathyamurthy extended to the two art forms, cinema and drama, with a view to using cinema to mobilise support for the freedom movement encouraged the production of films on patriotic themes. Tamil cinema and the freedom movement became increasingly dependent on each other. At least a few producers seized the opportunity, Subrahmanyam being a notable example.

Although the political atmosphere inspired film-makers to produce films on national movements, the colonial government's attitude to such films was understandably unfriendly. As the censorship rules were rigid, most film-makers chose the easier option of producing films centred on romance or mythology. However, Subrahmanyam was keen to produce offbeat films, while making a few commercials to stay in the industry.

Bala Yogini was a bold attempt to portray the pathetic condition of widows in orthodox middle-class Brahmin families of the time. "The film attacked the caste system, exposed the hypocrisy in the priesthood and pleaded for better treatment of widows. There was a sequence showing a Brahmin widow and her little daughter taking shelter in the household of a low-caste servant who offered to take care of them," writes Theodore Baskaran. The splendid performance of Baby Saroja was a special feature of the film.

Recalling his impressions of the film, octogenarian Marxist leader N. Sankaraiah says, "I saw Bala Yogini when I was a schoolboy. The film made a deep impression on me. It touched an important social issue concerning middle-class Brahmin families of those days - ill-treatment of widows. The film was really a bold attempt. A widow lived a life of terrible agony. In those days, one could see in every Brahmin family at least one young widow. It was mostly because of the prevalence of child marriage. Marriages were made at a very young age resulting in many young girls becoming widows. When these girls had no option other than living in their parents' places, they were considered a burden on their fathers and brothers. Their health and well-being came last in the family's priorities. Director Subrahmanyam through this brave venture succeeded in creating public awareness about the problem."

Bhaktha Chetha focussed on caste-based segregation of a significant section of society, which was categorised as "outcastes" and "untouchables". It told the story of a cobbler winning God's favours through his devotion. The story was based on an episode from the Mahabharata. Yet it was unacceptable to religious die-hards. Two orthodox Sanatanists of Madurai took the issue to court. They prayed that the film be banned on the grounds that it was a misrepresentation of Hindu dharma and the orthodox Sanatana movement and that it would influence the politics of temple entry in Madurai. (The reference here is to the movement led by veteran freedom fighter and Congress legislator of Madurai A. Vaidyanatha Iyer to take Dalits, then known as Harijans, into temples, where certain sections of society, particularly the "untouchables," were refused entry.) Bhaktha Chetha sought to create awareness among the people about the movement for the eradication of untouchability launched by Mahatma Gandhi.

Seva Sadhanam championed the cause of women's equality. Based on a novel by Premchand, the film was a bitter attack on the dowry system, which often compels poor young girls to marry men much older to them. The film forcefully discussed the havoc caused by the incompatibility between such couples and sympathised with the victims. Subrahmanyam introduced M.S. Subbulakshmi as an actress in the film, which was a big success. Tamil film critic and historian Aranthai Narayanan observes in his book Thamizh Cinemavin Kathai (The Story of Tamil Cinema) that Seva Sadhanam proved a turning point in the history of Tamil cinema. In the climax, the aged husband, now a totally changed man, was shown as casting aside with utter contempt his `sacred thread', which symbolises his Brahmin superiority. It came as a stunning blow to the orthodoxy, the critic writes. The author admires the high professionalism of the director in choosing a real-life widow, with a shaven head and a white saree, to play the role of a widow.

Describing Seva Sadhanam as an "unusual film" on the age-old practice of old men marrying young girls as their second wives, "sanctioned by customs and religions'' in a male-dominated society, Sankaraiah says the film was highly successful in bringing out the sufferings of the girl and the mental agony of the aged husband. F.G. Natesa Iyer's performance in the role of the old man was impressive, Sankaraiah says.

However, it is Thyaga Bhoomi that remains the most acclaimed of Subrahmanyam's films. It is based on a story written by the novelist Kalki R. Krishnamurthy ("Renaissance Man", Frontline, October 22, 1999), which was serialised by a Tamil weekly during the making of the film. The magazine used stills from the scenes shot every week as illustration for the story.

The film, which had the Salt Satyagraha as its backdrop, focussed on women's rights and untouchability. It tells the story of the daughter of a poor Brahmin priest. Discarded by a rich and Westernised husband, the girl returns to her village. Unable to find her father, who had by then been banished from the village for throwing open the temple to Dalits who were victims of a cyclone, the girl migrates to a city. When she becomes rich, her former husband comes back to her but she rejects him. The husband moves the court to get his matrimonial rights restored, but the girl tells the court that she would rather pay alimony than be reunited with him. She dedicates herself to the cause of the nation by joining the freedom movement - an idea that was considered revolutionary even for the times. The film, which received tremendous response, was banned not because it propagated revolutionary ideals, but because it contained scenes relating to the freedom struggle. It showed a large number of women, including the heroine, being arrested, when they went in a procession. "It was the first time that women's participation in the freedom struggle in such large numbers was shown in a film and it inspired women everywhere," Sankaraiah says.

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Speaking of the overall impact of Subrahmanyam's films on society, L. Ilayaperumal, veteran freedom fighter, Dalit leader and former Member of Parliament, says that their message was received well and it helped mobilise support for the freedom movement in a big way. Dalits were happy that the films highlighted their sufferings "with the good intention" of eradicating untouchability. "We welcomed such films because they were doing the maximum they could at that point of time to bring awareness among the people about the atrocities against Dalits," Ilayaperumal says.

Recalling his impressions of Subrahmanyam's films, writer and journalist P. G. Sundararajan (Chitti), who turned 95 this May, says, "He was perhaps the first film-maker to make films on serious social problems without, at the same time, ignoring the entertainment aspect. What the stories and novels of eminent men of the Manikkodi group of writers, such as Va. Ra., and novelists such as Vai. Mu. Kothainayagi, could not achieve was made possible by these films. That is, the creation of awareness."

Why should such a brilliant film-maker downsize his operations after Independence? He made very few films between 1940 and 1971 when he passed away. "Father made handsome profits at the box office but lost it all owing to post-War economic changes. By the mid-1950s, films could no longer be made without black money, the handling of which was unthinkable for a genuine Gandhian. My father gave up film-making and remained a social activist," says son Krishnaswamy.

The agonising wait for the genuine and the bold among prospective film-makers seems to be continuing.

Fettered childhood

Effective state intervention to eliminate inequities, including class and caste barriers to employment and other opportunities in areas such as health and education, is required to end child labour.

THE World Day Against Child Labour, observed on June 12, went largely unnoticed as millions of children around the world continued to live and work in hazardous conditions and in dire poverty, with no access to education and health services. The limitations of just a few national and international agencies trying to raise public awareness about child labour is clear by its widespread prevalence, as indicated by statistics brought out by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

According to estimates, in 2000 there were nearly 211 million working children, the largest number in the Asia-Pacific region, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Globalisation, coupled with the flooding of cheap imported industrial goods, has resulted in the destruction of local arts and crafts industries, destroying the livelihood of a vast section of the populace, especially women and children. The constant need to reduce costs to be competitive internationally has led to the lowering of real wages for adult workers and an increase in the employment of child workers on low wages.

The withdrawal of the state from social sectors, coupled with the privatisation of resources and the lack of employment opportunities, has aggravated the situation. Indeed, the jobless growth of the past decade has increased the pressure on the poor to adopt livelihood strategies that have resulted in each member of the family having to earn for a living. With rising job insecurity, children and women play an important role by supplementing the family income by working in tanneries, brick kilns, backyard enterprises, the cottage clothing industry or the sports goods industry.

Child labour, consisting of children below 14 years of age, is defined by the ILO as "the type of work performed by children that deprives them of their childhood and their dignity, which hampers their access to education and acquisition of skills and which is performed under conditions harmful to their health and their development" (ILO/United Nations Children's Fund, 1997). These children are often employed in low-skill, low-wage jobs with long working hours. Many of them work in hazardous occupations as bonded labour and are frequently abused by their employers.

Many children work as domestic labour or as industrial and agricultural labour or do street work, and are prone to commercial and sexual exploitation. Young girls have been drawn into prostitution and drug trafficking and peddling.

IN India, the 1999-2000 National Sample Survey (NSS) data indicate a high incidence of child labour, with 8.4 million children active in the labour force. If the wider definition of child labour is accepted, which is that all the children who do not attend school should be counted as child labour, the incidence of child labour is enormous. Nearly 53.95 million children did not attend school in 1999-2000, which would mean 62.35 million children in the labour force, or 27.32 per cent of the child population between five to 14 years of age.The vicissitudes of rural agricultural and non-agricultural work and the schedule of schools do not necessarily preclude school-going children from working for wages or in family occupations. Hence the data on the precise numbers of child workers can at best be tentative. Schools, which could be a source to wean children out of the labour market and put them through a process of learning, skill enhancing and, maybe, just living a healthy childhood, cannot do so in a vacuum.

The differential access to school education varies according to the place of residence - rural or urban - and income levels. Poorer sections of the population neither can afford school expenses nor find them useful, especially when the family is undernourished and under-clothed. In some instances, children from disadvantaged castes and poor backgrounds might stay enrolled in a school to avail themselves of mid-day meal schemes or other such incentives. Generally, `self-employed' children on family farms and other occupations appear to opt for work rather than school. This, therefore, is a decision of the family where the returns from school education at a later date are less significant compared to the labour contribution made by these children at present.

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In any case, most of the children are employed in the agricultural sector or in the low skill sectors where years of schooling is not seen as being of much use. The evidence from the NSS data indicates that the decline in the incidence of child labour was sharp between 1987-88 and 1993-94, which slowed down in the subsequent period of 1993-94 to 1999-2000, This has to be seen in the context of an overall decline in labour force in all the States during this period, the deceleration of economic activity from 1995 onwards, the under-reporting of child workers in general and in particular to utilise the mid-day meal schemes wherever implemented, and the international campaign against child labour. A large proportion of rural children active in the labour force are from Scheduled Caste households. There has been a continuous increase in the proportion of children employed as `casual' labour. Labour force participation by girls in the five-14 age group is highly prevalent. In fact, urban female child labour plays an important role in the enterprises in the unorganised sector.

The decline in the incidence of child labour need not necessarily imply improving economic conditions of the households, which could have led to the withdrawal of children from the labour market. Rather, it could be a result of the lack of availability of jobs in the segment for child labour the shifting of child workers to the subsistence sector, the campaign against child labour and, at times, exaggerated data on school attendance of children. This is particularly true of rural children.

There is a high degree of regional variation in the incidence of child labour. Kerala has the lowest incidence of child labour and has no child workers for the 5-9 age group. Andhra Pradesh has the highest number of male and female child workers. The incidence of child workers is above the national average in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. The vast difference in the incidence of child labour between rural and urban areas is significant at 9.1 per cent for rural boys and 4.9 per cent for urban boys in 1999-2000. Similarly, the incidence of female child labour was at 9.6 per cent in rural areas and 3.6 per cent in urban areas in 1999-2000.

The policies of structural adjustment, liberalisation and globalisation in India have resulted in jobless growth during the 1990s. Since 1995-96, the agricultural growth rate has been very low and industrial growth too has slowed down. It is the service sector and the unorganised manufacturing sector that have grown relatively rapidly. However, they have not been able to offset the decline in employment levels in the farm sector and the organised industrial sector. There has also been pressure on the government, particularly during the 1990s, to cut the expenditure on public sector enterprises, the social sector and welfare measures as also on rural infrastructure.

While the reduction in the expenditure on public enterprises and rural infrastructure has led to a decline in employment, the cuts in the expenditure on the public and social sectors and on welfare measures has led to a rise in the cost of living and a decline in the quality of life for both the rural and urban poor. They have to spend more on education and health while paying higher costs for food and other necessities. The crisis is further compounded as businesses keep wages low in order to be competitive in an increasingly globalised economy.

The poor have to redefine their survival strategies, in such a way that each member of the household, including children, has to contribute either through direct participation in the labour market or through helping in the house as a caretaker. Children, working in fields, grazing cattle or winnowing paddy, not only are extra hands but enable adult labour to seek employment away from the villages.

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Migrating to towns and cities becomes an important component of this survival strategy where children are employed in carpet factories, brick kilns, lock-and-toy making units, the sports goods industry and other enterprises in the unorganised sector. The ever-increasing numbers of old and young migrant workers living in the slums and shantytowns in cities constitute the low-wage, low-skill labour for the small and medium enterprises.

While the poor might consider child labour as one of the components of their survival strategies, the demand for such labour for specific tasks and enterprises needs to be noted. The persistence of child labour in a period when the unemployment levels for adult workers are increasing appears to be paradoxical. If the adult population is unable to find employment and is available for work, the employment of children for specific types of work and in specific industries occurs because of the demand for such labour and not labour shortages.

This can be explained by the nature of the labour market, which is segmented owing to caste, gender and class divisions and, therefore, provides distinct areas for employment for child workers. Owing to the complex structure of the labour market, children who work in brick kilns, at construction sites and in related activities belong to specific castes. In urban areas, children work as domestic help or as labour in small and large enterprises of various types, many of them in tune with the caste to which they belong. Many of the menial tasks for which children are employed have always been assigned to the poor in society, which are categorised as the `lower castes'.

The caste/class-based segmented labour market in India has led to a situation where occupational groups are demarcated and child workers have to stay within the bounds of caste and class affiliations. The child workers, therefore, do not compete with the overall adult labour force, nor are the issues of skills, knowledge or productivity primarily related to the occupations they are employed in.

The combination of caste, class and gender keeps girls entrenched in family occupations. They work on the fields and carry out essentially productive tasks, such as cattle care and cooking. Although female labour participation is very low owing to the traditional roles of a wife and a mother assigned to Indian women, which confines them to their homes, young girls are pushed into employment to supplement the family income despite their wages being far below the average male wage. Young girls constantly face sexual and physical abuse at the workplace and are kept away from long-term schooling.

The discriminatory wages paid to child workers, particularly female child workers, keeps them apart as a segment in the labour market so that they are not seen as competition to adult workers. Child workers, both in urban and in rural areas, are not paid the adult wage, as children are not considered the main breadwinners or as productive as adult workers. Children from poor and disadvantaged sections of society are taken as apprentices and trained over a period of time mostly without any payment. At times, wages for the children are paid in advance as loans to the parents, and it is the children who have to work in bondage to pay back the loan. Child workers thus help in maintaining pre-capitalist relations when they work in bondage to help repay loans taken by their parents.

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It is often argued that the phenomenon of child labour can be eradicated by the spread of universal elementary education. However, a few studies have discounted a direct relationship between the incidence of child labour and the number of children enrolled or the number of schools in the area. Nonetheless, the dropout rate from schools is correlated with the incidence of child labour in these studies. The need to send children to school would depend normally on the expectations of the parents from the labour market.

The education of girls is more dependent on interrelated factors like patriarchy, class and caste than on improving their status in the labour force. Studies have shown that a regular income and salaried employment of parents are significant factors for keeping children at school. The significance of quality universal education at the elementary level cannot be questioned and the necessary facilities should be supplied by active state action.

The deleterious effect of the work that child workers perform results in ill health, malnourishment, lack of sleep and other disorders. These children carry such ailments into their adult life, thus forming a part of the sick and under-productive labour force. For example, tobacco dust causes burning of eyes, conjunctivitis rhinitis, mycosis, dryness, occupational dermatitis, bronchitis; cutting, shaping or polishing a gemstone by holding it against a fast-moving circulating disk often causes blisters or cuts in the fingers which at times can cause gangrene; or peering closely at gems for eight to 10 hour a day for 10 to 15 years of continuous employment in the gem industry can permanently damage the eyes.

Children who start working at a young age, particularly in factories and sweatshops in urban slums, develop chronic health problems. Long hours of work, lack of sleep, half-empty stomachs and work on complex machines contribute to accidents. Studies have shown that the majority of the child workers have a low capacity to work, as they are anaemic and malnourished. They are, therefore, condemned to even longer working hours to accomplish their tasks. The overcrowded and unhygienic workplaces become ideal sources of infections and diseases of various types. Children are also exposed to toxic substances in mines, factories and hothouses. Postural disabilities are developed in jobs that require constant bending. Children exposed to lead poisoning in their workplaces face detrimental effects in their brains.

The strategies discussed to eradicate child labour include banning it, providing universal elementary education, providing learning facilities at workplaces, and offering mid-day meals in schools. While the state has to implement effectively the laws against child labour, it also has to play an important role to empower economically the disadvantaged sections that are dependent on children's earnings.

The children of migrant workers, female-headed households, agricultural labourers who migrate in search of work, children of brick kiln workers (who are most often from Dalit and tribal households), children of commercial sex workers, street children, children of home-based workers, and children of nomadic tribes constitute a broad target group for state intervention. The effectiveness of the intervention will, however, depend on the removal of poverty, availability of long-term employment, and the removal of class and caste barriers to employment and other opportunities in society.

Child workers as a segment of the labour market, employed at discriminatory wages in low-productivity sectors, counteract interventionist strategies such as universal elementary education and mid-day meal schemes and other incentives to the children and their parents. While these and other, more elaborate, initiatives need to be sustained, particularly by the state, it is important to underline the processes that provide the seed-bed for child labour. A society divided along lines of caste and class, where opportunities are limited, leads to the negation of any positive impact of measures for keeping children away from work. These children from the poorer sections are disadvantaged from their childhood as they suffer from malnutrition, ill health, unhygienic living conditions, illiteracy and the limits set by factors like class and caste. These are further compounded by the economic policies of the state, which serve to marginalise large sections of the population.

Shakti Kak teaches in the Department of Economics, Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi.

Cross-border challenges

The militant menace in the northeastern States, especially Tripura and Manipur which share borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar, can be met effectively only through a combined operation by the two neighbouring countries against the militant camps on their territory.

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A MASSIVE operation by the Army currently on in Manipur, to secure a zone "liberated" by militants along the India-Myanmar border and the measures taken to contain a fresh spurt of insurgent activities in areas along the India-Bangladesh border in Tripura have once again served to highlight the anti-India activities carried out by rebels of the northeastern region from two neighbouring countries. In Manipur, after a heavy gun battle with militant outfits, the 44th Brigade secured Sajik Tampak, a strategic area in the State's most backward district of Chandel, which was used by militant outfits as a transit point for access to the "liberated zone". Sajik Tampak is one of the main bases of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). The People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and the Kangleipak Communist Party are the other groups that have bases in the area.

In Tripura, the banned National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), after lying low for some time, struck in a big way by abducting 24 non-tribal people, mostly small traders, on June 14 in North Tripura district, which borders Bangladesh. The NLFT has taken the hostages to its bases in Bangladesh and demanded a ransom of Rs.55 lakhs. It has threatened to kill the hostages if the ransom is not paid by June end. Security forces are at a major disadvantage in both the landlocked States in the absence of coordinated action by Myanmar and Bangladesh to prevent the militants from operating out of their territories.

Although the security forces have cut off the supply lines to 3,000-odd militants holed up in camps along the border in Manipur, the latter continue to control the interior hill areas along the international border beyond Sajik Tampak. A large contingent of the Army was sent to Sajik Tampak to "neutralise the militants and secure the area" before Lok Sabha polls were held in the Outer Manipur constituency on April 20. Militants created havoc during the elections by calling for a ban on political parties and a boycott of the elections. The polls witnessed a series of violent incidents, with militants targeting political workers and security forces.

It takes about three hours on foot from Sajik Tampak to the border and about an hour and half on the bumpy hill road that connects Sajik Tampak and Chakpikarong, where the Army brigade is now based. Army units had also been posted at Sugnu, Serou, Sangaikhong and other nearby areas to intercept militant groups before launching a flush-out operation in the interior regions.

However, a full-scale operation would require not only more troops but also a simultaneous operation by the Myanmar Army if not a joint operation. A 14-member delegation of the Myanmar Army led by its vice-chief Lt Gen. Ye Myint met officials of the Indian Army's 3 Corps at Dimpaur in Nagaland on June 20. However, Army officials described it as a routine coordination meeting and denied that there was any discussion on a joint operation.

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There have been claims and counter-claims by the Army and the militant outfits about the casualties suffered in Sajik Tampak. The operation led to the displacement of hundreds of villagers who, despite the Army's appeal, are reluctant to return home as shooting goes on.

The Army has initiated development activities such as the holding of medical camps, the construction of bridges and the drilling of borewells. Under the Civic Action Programme, a medical camp was conducted in Serou under the aegis of 7 Sikh Light Infantry. About 700 persons attended it, and medicines were provided free of cost. Army personnel constructed two waiting sheds for buses and levelled a playing field in Serou. Army engineers are constructing a heavy load bridge over the Chakpi river to improve Serou's connectivity with other places.

The militants have enjoyed a Robin Hood image among the villagers. They ran a parallel government and were engaged in developmental activities such as running schools and constructing roads. In January last year, advancing Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers had to retreat from Sajik Tampak after a three-day battle with UNLF militants. Most of the police stations and outposts in areas controlled by militants are understaffed and ill-equipped as armed policemen are more often than not overpowered by militants and their weapons looted.

Governance seems to be absent in most areas - public health centres do not have doctors and paramedics, sub-divisional offices do not have the required staff. As a temporary measure, security personnel have begun to move out of school buildings previously occupied by them to allow the resumption of classes. Village chiefs of Sajik Tampak and Chakpikarong told a visiting media team in the second week of June that villagers could now move about freely without being intimidated. They also said that they were allowed to accompany security personnel for rounding up suspected militants. However, they maintained that owing to the fear of being caught in a crossfire between the security forces and underground elements, villagers were afraid to carry out agricultural operations.

In Tripura, the fragile peace was shattered once again when militants of the banned NLFT-Biswamohan Debbarma faction abducted 25 persons who were going to the weekly market. The militants released one person and took the others hostage. Apart from money, the militants have demanded five tonnes of rice, medicines and various other items such as jungle boots as ransom. Earlier, the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) militants had kidnapped five jackfruit traders from Kachubari Chowmuhani in Khowai subdivision. The market is famous for jackfruit trading, most of which is smuggled into Bangladesh. The rescue of the hostages is now beyond the reach of the Tripura government as the NLFT whisked them away across the Tripura-Bangladesh border into the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

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The incident has brought centre stage the twin issues of the shortage of forces available for counter-insurgency operations in Tripura and the existence of support structures for the militants of the NLFT, the ATTF and other outfits from the northeastern region in Bangladesh. Tripura's ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front has been urging the Centre to rush in more troops to deal with the insurgency effectively and to mount pressure on Bangladesh to demolish the camps run by militant outfits. After two camps of the Assam Rifles located in the area were withdrawn recently, NLFT militants, led by the Biswamohan faction of the NLFT, made a major strike.

The disintegration of the NLFT started in 2001 after a few senior leaders like Joshua Debbarma and Nayanbashi Jamatia were expelled from it because of their differences with Biswamohan and his followers. Bickerings within the NLFT and its political wing led to a spate of violent clashes in Bangladesh and Tripura. The split was mainly because of the reluctance of the central executive committee (CEC) of the NLFT, led by Biswamohan, to nominate Joshua as the King of `Tripura Kingdom', misappropriation of funds by some leaders, the lavish lifestyles of senior leaders and the forcing of Christianity on the tribal people.

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The NLFT (Nayanbashi Jamatia faction), with a strength of about 125 hardcore rebels, entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Centre and State government on the eve of the recent Lok Sabha elections. Close on the heels of the ceasefire agreement, 71 militants of another faction of the outfit, led by Montu Koloi, surrendered.

During a meeting between personnel of the BSF and the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) held in Dhaka in April, the BSF handed over a fresh list of 210 militant camps in Bangladesh and urged the BDR to initiate operations against them. Replying to a question in the State Legislative Assembly on June 15, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar disclosed that over the past five years terrorists had killed more than 952 people and abducted over 1,200 persons in Tripura. He said that in the same period more than 633 people were injured because of militant activity and 111 houses were set ablaze by militants. A total of 179 terrorists belonging to different outfits were killed, 836 had surrendered, and 858 were arrested. Describing the abduction of traders by NLFT militants as "an act of frustration due to disillusionment among its cadre leading to surrender", Sarkar reiterated the State government's view that the solution to the menace lay in New Delhi putting pressure on Dhaka to launch a Bhutan-like operation to destroy the militant camps on its soil.

On February 20, Governors and Chief Ministers of the northeastern States unanimously adopted a resolution, at the 49th meeting of the North Eastern Council (NEC) held in Shillong, urging the Centre to exert pressure on Bangladesh and Myanmar to follow Bhutan's lead and dismantle the militant camps on their soil. The resolution was adopted after a presentation on the security scenario by the then Director-General, Assam Rifles, Lt. Gen. H.S. Kanwar, during which he disclosed facts about militant groups in Manipur "liberating" areas in Chandel district and about the northeast militants carrying out hit-and-run operations from their camps in both the neighbouring countries. The situation prevailing in Manipur and Tripura is such that the heads of northeastern States will have to remind the United Progressive Alliance government about the urgency of implementing the resolution adopted at the NEC meeting.

Resisting oppression

The death of a Dalit youth in a police station sparks violence in a village in Punjab, a State that has of late seen a rise in the attacks against the community and its increasing resolve to fight back.

in Balachaur

ON June 6, two policemen arrived at Rakesh Kumar's home in Rakkran Dhahan, wanting to talk to him about a stolen sack of sugar. The next afternoon, he was found dead. It was a case of suicide, policemen told Kumar's family, but the tap from which the 22-year-old was supposed to have hanged himself was just four feet high.

The Punjab town of Balachaur, in Nawanshahr district, was torn apart by rioting after Dalit residents took to the streets to protest against the alleged murder of Kumar. One Dalit, 42-year-old Kewal Krishan, was shot dead by the police who opened fire to control the mob. Riots broke out on June 8 in protest against what the Dalits describe as system-wide biases against the Scheduled Castes in Punjab. The violence in Balachaur came almost a year to the date after similar violence rocked Jalandhar in the wake of an upper-caste blockade of Dalits in the village of Talhan: and yet again served to demonstrate just how fragile caste relations are in a State which prides itself on its peace and prosperity.

Kumar's arrest was routine. Dalits in Punjab, although better off than their counterparts elsewhere in the country, are relatively poor, and many young men, like the underprivileged everywhere, find themselves in situations of confrontation with the police. No one, however, expected Kumar to be detained overnight, especially since the theft he was to be questioned about was minor. On June 7, members of the local panchayat visited the Balachaur police station, and were told he was fine. "A few hours later, when we visited the police station again to enquire when he would be released, the police told us he was dead," says Kumar's sister-in-law Sukhwinder Kaur. "The police said he had hanged himself using his trousers from a tap in the police station - which was on the face of it ridiculous."

Family members refused to cremate Kumar's body until investigations were carried out. The next morning, local Dalit men - often at the receiving end of bruising, if generally non-lethal, confrontation with the police - spilled out on to the streets. Barricades were set up inside Balachaur's Dalit quarter, and vigilante squads set up to keep the police out. Then, according to the Balachaur police, a mob of around 600 Dalits attacked the police station. The rioters first knocked down the boundary wall of the police station to force their way inside. Then they set a generator on fire. Evidence of the violence is not in short supply. Blood stains and chipped plaster, caused by flying stones, were visible on the walls. Tyres, set on fire by the mob, lay scattered over the premises.

Teargas and water canon failed to stop the violence. Police officials said they opened fire in self-defence. Local residents, however, allege that the police's use of force was disproportionate. Krishan was, notably, shot through the chest, suggesting the officer who fired at him intended to kill. Interestingly, none of the dozens of injured had bullet injuries in the lower parts of their bodies, suggesting no preliminary effort was made to quell the rioters. Curfew had to be imposed, and tensions died down only after a compromise was hammered out. As things stand, the families of Kumar and Krishan will receive a government job and cash compensation. No criminal action will be initiated against the mob that surrounded the Balachaur police station.

State government officials have moved to contain the damage as best as they now can. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has promised a full investigation. An investigation by the Balachaur Sub-Divisional Magistrate has affirmed that Kumar was killed in custody. Police authorities have also arrested Sub-Inspector Kulwant Singh, who was officiating as Station House Officer at the time of Kumar's death, along with Head Constable Ram Krishan and Constables Jatinder Singh and Mohan Singh. A committee, made up of Deputy Inspector-General of Police Paramjit Singh Sarao and Deputy Commissioner H.S. Grewal, along with 31 residents and politicians, mainly from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), has been set up to help keep the peace.

ALL this, however, could prove too little to contain the larger caste conflagration that has been under way in Punjab ever since the Talhan-inspired riots (Frontline, July 18, 2003). Although events such as the Balachaur riots attract some national attention, most incidents of violence directed at Dalits in Punjab pass unnoticed. Although reliable figures are hard to come by, many observers agree that such violence has accelerated in recent times. One explanation is that Dalit resistance to exploitation has firmed up even as Jat landowners are facing debt-related distress. Another possibility is that growing political awareness among Dalits - which has manifested itself in growing support for the BSP, rather than the Congress - means oppression tolerated over the years now meets resistance.

Consider, for example, the events in Kuttianwali village on June 10. Jagir Singh, an agricultural worker, refused to work on Jat-owned fields without wages. Punishment was promptly delivered. Jagir Singh was beaten and his face blackened with dung before he was paraded through the village with shoes strung around his neck. This ritual humiliation illustrates, if nothing else, the fact that local elites think that they can punish Dalits with impunity. Gurcharan Singh, the husband of the village's woman sarpanch, and another landowner, Jagtar Singh, were later arrested for the offence. A third suspect, Chinder Singh, the son of the sarpanch, is evading arrest. Dalit activists in Punjab say dozens of such cases go unreported.

In general, the State apparatus pitches in on the side of village upper-caste elites. At about the same time as the Jagir Singh outrage, the police evicted a Dalit family from homes allotted to them under a landless-labour protection scheme at Lehri village, near Talwandi Sabo. Buta Singh's family was allotted two tenements in 1974, but since these were already occupied, it took over two other vacant properties. Without serving legal notice - or, indeed, following any other procedural formalities - the police threw out the Buta Singh family's belongings and helped another family usurp the plot. Buta Singh's wife, Sarabjit Kaur, claims the land-grab had the backing of a local Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader.

Often, violent reprisal follows Dalits' efforts to secure the protection of the State apparatus. On June 11, Binder Kaur and her son were attacked and beaten up by a group of assailants outside her home at Bhisiana near Bhatinda. The attack came shortly after her husband Bikkar Singh insisted on pressing charges after the attempted rape of his daughter-in-law by members of the upper castes in the area. Binder Kaur's efforts to file a complaint were rejected by the local police, who, she says, made her place her fingerprints on a blank sheet of paper. Nor was she medically examined for injuries sustained in the course of the assault. The family received threats in the wake of its decision to pursue the case, but received no protection from the local authorities.

Interestingly, this kind of caste oppression in rural areas has rarely met serious resistance. Last year's violence, for example, took place not in Talhan - where Dalits were subject to a bruising economic and social boycott - but in Jalandhar, home to a large urban concentration of the community. Again, the reaction to Kumar's killing took place in a major urban centre. Some observers believe that the real radicalisation of Dalits in Punjab has taken place not in the countryside - where oppression is at its worst - but in cities. Here, it could be argued, Dalits are reacting not only to the stark disparities between their conditions of life and those of the upper castes, but also to the influence of new ideas - notably, the distinct idiom of the BSP forged in Uttar Pradesh.

In coming months, Amarinder Singh is scheduled to launch an ambitious new plan to help Dalits: building private toilets for each rural Dalit family. Some of the things he will not do include initiating a rigorous effort to strip the police and the administration of their caste biases, take the side of the Dalits in conflicts between the landless and landed, and pump funds into the State's education system. Tokenism helped win Dalits to the Congress' side decades ago. Now, their large-scale defection to the BSP makes it clear that sugary sops like these no longer mask the bitter taste of the everyday life of Dalits in Punjab.

Amarinder Singh's failure to protect Dalits from bruising levels of abuse and discrimination cost his party in the recent Lok Sabha elections.

A failed venture in Kerala

The one-year-old Milma-Mother Dairy joint venture seems destined for a premature death owing to differences between the NDDB subsidiary and the State cooperative KCMMF.

R. KRISHNAKUMAR in ThiruvananthapuramR. Krishnakumar in Thiruvananthapuram

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IN the end, it was not the idea but its implementation that turned sour. Milma Foods Ltd. (MFL), the joint venture marketing company established a year ago by Mother Dairy India Ltd., a subsidiary of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), and the Kerala Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (KCMMF), the State cooperative that owns Kerala's market-leader milk brand `Milma', is about to cease operation.

Following an offer from top NDDB officials in March 2004 to "withdraw its (100 per cent) subsidiary from the venture, if the State cooperative was not so enthusiastic about it any longer", a general body meeting of the KCMMF held in Thiruvananthapuram on June 9 "unanimously decided" to pull out from the joint endeavour. KCMMF Chairman P.T. Gopala Kurup told Frontline that "the atmosphere has become one of mutual distrust, the marketing gains expected from the joint venture did not materialise and the two profit-making (of the total three) regional cooperative unions of the federation incurred heavy losses after the company took over their marketing activities."

According to the Mother Dairy representatives in the MFL, however, "the State federation failed to provide the promised support and honour several commitments and went against the grain of professional marketing strategies on several instances and, rather prematurely, began blaming the NDDB and Mother Dairy for all the inevitable failings and initial shortcomings."

Both sides claim they are unhappy about the outcome but want to part ways "amicably, as friends". The blame game is very subdued, with many officials and representatives reluctant to go on record.

The MFL was the first of the joint venture companies formed by Mother Dairy with State dairy cooperatives, in the backdrop of the unsavoury controversy between the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), the path-breaker cooperative which owned the country's leading `Amul' brand, and the NDDB, a Central government statutory corporation (established by an Act of Parliament as a sort of techno-financial-managerial consultancy and venture capital fund for dairy and agro-processing cooperatives), which had 100 per cent stake in Mother Dairy. With the leaders of India's dairy cooperative movement, GCMMF Chairman Dr. Verghese Kurien and his protege Dr. Amrita Patel, now the Chairperson of the NDDB, locking horns over the issue, the fate of the few joint ventures that were proposed became a matter of keen business interest with far-reaching consequences for the cooperative dairy sector. The grand dispute (Frontline, March 28, 2003) was about the dangers of a government-owned statutory body like the NDDB, potentially bound to follow government policies in an era of globalisation and liberalisation, entering as a majority stake-holder in joint ventures with dairy cooperatives and threatening the core principles of equity, democratic control and equality within cooperative institutions and perhaps deflecting them from their orientation towards the welfare of dairy farmers. What eventually came of the joint venture experiments was to help in the arbitration of the dispute.

Several issues and questions that had a bearing on the larger controversy were raised at the time of the formation of the MFL. The KCMMF, for example, had declared that its mission was "the prosperity of its farmers through the satisfaction of its customers". The primary motive of the new joint venture company, however, was to seek profits for its shareholders. Importantly, the majority of the shareholders in the enterprise (in which Mother Dairy held 51 per cent stake) were not dairy farmers. It was argued that the fledgling venture would also usurp the only revenue-earning part of the value chain in a dairy business - the marketing of milk and milk products - leaving the procurement and processing functions alone to the regional cooperative unions. It would thus convert the well-established three-tier cooperative structure into a two-tier arrangement where the key marketing function would rest with the company and the farmers were unlikely to get good realisation for their efforts. The State marketing federation would be left with no job to do. Another concern was that if the skills of the State federation and the weakness of the marketing infrastructure were the real problems, would the forming of a collaborative venture with a government body be the right solution to them at all? Should not the problems be solved by strengthening the federation itself, instead of leading the way for the government's entry into the cooperative business? Also, Milma already had 76 per cent of Kerala's urban liquid market and it was not clear how the new project would benefit either the federation or its member-farmers.

But it was also true that since its inception in 1981, the KCMMF had remained at best a mere "distributor" of milk and milk products, even though it had grown in a matter of over two decades to gain a Rs.400-crore market in Kerala, largely in an environment where it had no rivals for a long time. The need for "aggressive marketing" began to be acutely felt with the opening up of the economy, and with over 35 private players entering the market in Kerala, establishing their presence in specific areas and nibbling at the cooperative's profits. Although the three regional unions of the federation (based in Thiruvananthapuram and Ernakulam and in the Malabar region) together continued to sell over seven lakh litres of milk every day, its rivals soon gained a marketshare of over 2.5 lakh litres a day in the State in a short span of time. Moreover, multinationals such as Britannia and Nestle were threatening to enter the Kerala market in a big way, and the cooperative's capital base, infrastructure and marketing skills were often found to be wanting to meet the new challenges.

Although Milma has existed for over two decades, the entire range of its milk and milk products were not well known to consumers in the State. Some products were available only in certain regions while products of one union could not be sold in zones demarcated for others. Production too was not economical, with different units being forced to produce the same product, even though it made more sense to do it at one place. The regional unions had too much on their hands selling liquid milk alone, and hence they could spare very little effort and resources to market the entire range of products.

Milma had to shape up or increasingly share its profits with its ever-stronger rivals to the detriment of the State's marginal farmers, nearly seven lakhs of them members of over 2,400 primary Anand-type dairy cooperatives under the three regional milk unions, to which the federation passed on nearly Rs.80 lakhs every day towards the value of milk received twice a dayat the primary cooperative collection centres.

THIS was the context that led to the launching of the MFL on March 21, 2003, despite the resentment expressed by the regional unions, especially the profit-making Thiruvananthapuram and Malabar unions, which did not like to part with their hard-earned share of the profits with a new company over which the federation or its member-farmers had little control. They were also unhappy about the dismantling of the three-tier cooperative structure and the take-over of the key marketing function by the new company, under the pretext of bringing in long-term benefits to the cooperative movement. Employees of the federation too were concerned about their prospects when the new marketing company came into being, and used the labour negotiations that were going on then to delay the shifting of employees to the new company and to ensure that they would remain temporary employees of the company, over whom company managers would have little control. Eventually, according to a federation representative, when they joined the new company, many of them did not get the expected positions of power or pay. For several months after the MFL came into being, Mother Dairy failed to appoint a suitable person to head the key department of marketing. In the initial months, therefore, as marketing efforts began to go awry, resentment and distrust began to grow between the joint venture partners.

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According to officials of the MFL and the State federation, the drifting apart started even before the new company started functioning fully. During the reinventing of marketing strategies, Mother Dairy representatives suggested a different pricing system for the three different unions with their own separate cost factors, but the Federation demanded a "uniform price" for milk supplied to the company for marketing and hence a uniform commission for the company for every litre of milk sold throughout the system.

The argument of the Federation representatives was that since the procurement price and the selling price were uniform, the purchase price (for processed milk supplied by the unions to the company for marketing) should also be uniform, a move suggested to benefit the loss-making Ernakulam union. Officials of the MFL told Frontline that the purchase price was "arbitrarily" fixed at a uniform Rs.12.05 a litre, without any cost analysis. This immediately worked to the disadvantage of the Thiruvananthapuram and Malabar unions, which were then realising Rs.12.10 and Rs.12.12 respectively for every litre of milk they sold in the market; the Ernakulam union was getting only Rs.12 for a litre.

About the same time the unions had to incur an additional expenditure owing to the hike in the prices of petroleum products, electricity and skimmed milk powder. Thus when the new company entered the fray, both the profit-making unions, which were expected to better their performance, were suddenly seen to incur losses. An MFL official said that this was only to be expected because the State federation had insisted on a uniform purchase price. "If indeed the federation had wanted to help the Ernakulam union, which was declared as a unit under rehabilitation, the incomes of the three unions should have been combined and then shared equally in true cooperative spirit to overcome individual handicaps. Instead, for no fault of ours, the NDDB and Mother Dairy are now being blamed for the losses incurred on account of the policies the Federation had imposed on the company," he said.

In the subsequent months there were several instances when the interests of the new company and those of the Federation clashed. During the Onam festival season in 2003, the Federation, which was forced to buy ghee from the open market because of a severe shortage, unilaterally increased the retail price of ghee sold through Milma outlets. Mother Dairy representatives did not find it amusing as the joint venture "had specified that a price revision should be implemented only through mutual consent". Again, during the lean season, when the unions wanted a Re.1 hike in milk prices, the company was of the opinion that the quantum of hike should be decided only after some more time, perhaps during the flush season. This time MFL managers too were called for discussions. The Federation insisted on the hike and got it. "Without any explanation as to how the additional one rupee was to be shared as per the costs incurred, the company's share was fixed at 2 paise. The unions objected strongly even to such a small portion of the additional rupee going to the new company," an official said.

P.T. Jacob, Managing Director of the MFL, told Frontline that even a year after the company was established, the spirit of collaboration and sense of partnership that should have been there was missing. "The Federation could not honour many clauses in the agreement, especially regarding the daily supply and the rate and quality that needed to be maintained. While protracted labour negotiations were going on, supply was disrupted several times. We needed to ensure quality and the professionals appointed for the purpose were treated like intruders and even physically threatened. Our plans for aggressive marketing could not be implemented for want of cooperation," he said.

But according to the Federation Chairman the advantages that the unions expected to see with the formation of the joint venture company did not materialise. "The expectation was to increase our market share by 11 per cent, but the actual growth was only 7.4 per cent. The general body of the Federation felt that there was no need for a separate company to achieve such a growth in sales," Gopala Kurup said.

Indeed, MFL managers are of the view that the company's success or failure was being judged too quickly and harshly. "We had invested Rs.3.5 crores in infrastructure development and marketing. The visibility of the products had improved, vehicles were remodelled to transport milk at a fixed low temperature, and puff boxes were provided for many retailers. We also made an effort in rural marketing, to spread the sales network in rural areas. These were long-term investments and the results would not be immediate. For reasons beyond our control, the unions began to incur a loss and unjustly made the company the scapegoat. The Federation representatives and officials could not also agree to the new professional culture that we were insisting on if we were to succeed. Surely there were instances of some of the union representatives wanting the company to provide jobs for favourites," one of them said, on condition of anonymity.

Representatives of the State cooperative have a different perspective. They feel that the Federation gave the company a Rs.400-crore market "on a silver platter". Milma, they said, was already the market leader in Kerala and had a lot of goodwill. "There was no need for a gestation period. The results should have been immediately visible. But we found ourselves in a situation where the ones who toiled were at a disadvantage while the facilitator was making money. There was a drift in the operations of the new company. Had it continued, it would have eaten into the profits of the unions," a Federation representative said.

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Asked why the experiment failed so quickly, a top official of the Federation said on condition of anonymity that the key issue was the losses incurred by the originally profit-making unions "perhaps because of the Federation's wrong decision to insist on a common purchase price. On the other hand, had the unions been able to make additional profits in the crucial first year, this unfortunate situation would not have come about. The concept was good, but the implementation was faulty. The Federation too will have to share the responsibility," he said.

Both sides now want to get out of the joint venture. The NDDB game plan of having a number of such collaborative ventures with various State cooperatives and finding a good upcountry market for milk products under the Mother Dairy mnemonic (that of a stylised drop of milk) as a symbol of quality and homogeneity for the products of all dairy cooperatives in the country too seems to have failed. State cooperative managers say that this may be another reason why it is losing interest in the Kerala venture.

The Kerala experience may have a bearing on similar arrangements elsewhere in the country. A similar joint venture is in place in Uttaranchal, albeit on a small scale. The proposed joint venture in Andhra Pradesh is yet to take off.

A formal announcement of the winding up of the Kerala venture is to be made by the middle of July, according to Gopala Kurup. P.T. Jacob, however, told Frontline that even a fortnight after the KCMMF general body meeting, neither Mother Dairy nor the NDDB was informed of the decision. Sources in the KCMMF said that the dissolution of the MFL was now only a formality since the general body decision to withdraw was merely waiting for the "concurrence" of the State government. However, the decision will also depend on the NDDB. But in all likelihood, the MFL seems destined for a premature death.

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Oct 9,2020