Only Subscribed user can access the archives

Get full access to our 16 year old archives

Subscribe Now

Already subscribed? Sign In

COVER STORY

06-11-2009

fl262200-Cover

Briefing

Taking on Maoists

Taking on Maoists 20091106262200401jpg

THE longstanding tussle between the Indian security establishment and the Left extremist Communist Party of India (Maoist) is all set to enter a crucial and perhaps decisive phase in the next few months. This is the unmistakable message one gets from the developments over the past two months in New Delhi and different parts of central and eastern India.

Central to these developments and the projections that have emanated from them is the new strategy (and initiatives related to it) advanced by the Union Home Ministry and the Maoists own plans to impart a concerted thrust to their activities and spread to new areas.

Historically, the battle with the Maoists has raged since 1967 when the first Maoist rebellion erupted. The battle intensified over the last five years following the formation of the CPI (Maoist), in 2004, through the merger of two prominent naxalite groups, the Peoples War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC).

Over the past two months the government has pressed new battalions of security forces into anti-Maoist combat operations and many of them have been deployed. There have also been discussions about involving the Army and even the Air Force in the operations.

The CPI (Maoist), on its part, has intensified its attacks in different parts of the country. They include Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, which are the organisations strongholds, the Gadchiroli region in Maharashtra, where it is apparently recapturing lost space, and parts of West Bengal, where it has made forays in the past two years.

Officials in the Home Ministry coordinating the new combat initiative say the government has ventured into this with some spectacular successes. The reference, obviously, is to the arrest of Kobad Ghandy and Amitabh Bagchi, senior politburo members of the CPI (Maoist). According to security agencies, Ghandy was arrested in New Delhi on September 21 and Bagchi in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, on August 24.

The Maoists responded to these captures through a series of attacks across central and eastern India. Perhaps the most daring among these was the killing of 18 members of a police party in an ambush in Gadchiroli district on October 8, five days before polling in the State Assembly elections. The brutal beheading of abducted Jharkhand Police Inspector Francis Induwar two days earlier also captured widespread attention.

While these incidents evoked strong condemnation from several quarters, many senior Maoist activists who interacted with Frontline said the purpose of the attacks was to prove that the strike power of the Maoists remained undiminished despite the capture of some leaders. All these forays have asserted that the party is moving forward in fulfilling the organisational tasks laid out by the politburo in its historic circular of June 12, said CPI (Maoist) politburo member Koteswar Rao alias Kishenji to Frontline over telephone (see interview).

The June 12 intra-party circular titled Post Election Situation Our Tasks etched out a number of immediate and long-term tasks for the cadre. Kishenjis contention was that the Gadchiroli attack and the Ranchi killing showed that the party was on course to fulfilling these tasks.

According to Union Home Secretary Gopal Krishna Pillai, the arrests of Ghandy and Bagchi signify remarkable improvement in terms of intelligence gathering vis-a-vis Maoist operations. The series of inter-State meetings the Union Home Ministry organised over the past two years at different levels of political and administrative authority resulted in better coordination among the security forces in different States and that contributed to improved intelligence gathering, Pillai told Frontline.

20091106262200402jpg

The new Home ministry initiative is also broadly based on the confabulations that took place over the past two years under the auspices of the Ministry and involved Chief Ministers, State Home Ministers and senior officials in government and the police departments.

The discussions essentially centred on the rising Maoist influence across the country. According to informal estimates that came up in these discussions, the CPI (Maoist) has more than 20,000 armed cadre, apart from lakhs of supporters. The number of armed cadre is supposed to have doubled in the past five years. Home Ministry officials say this is an unprecedented number for an insurgency and point out that the militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir had only 3,000 armed cadre even at the peak of the militancy. The estimates also highlighted that Maoist activity had spread to 231 of the 626 districts in the country, or 37 per cent of the districts.

According to a number of Home Ministry officials involved in the anti-Maoist operations both at the Centre and in States like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, the theoretical framework of the new initiative is one that has been repeated for many years and involves aggressive thrusts by the security forces, followed by the implementation of pointed development schemes for the overall socio-economic development of the local population in these areas. Where it differs from earlier plans is in the detailing and the drawing up of specific action programmes.

Union Home Ministry officials pointed out that as part of the new initiative a detailed study of the Maoist-affected areas was done and the most sensitive and difficult areas were mapped. The study identified 11 areas as most sensitive, spread over 40 districts.

According to the Home Ministrys own figures, overall Maoist influence has spread from 56 districts in 2001 to 223 in 2009. It rated approximately 70 of these as worstaffected, and the 40 identified districts in the 11 mapped areas qualify as the worst-affected among these. An additional 70 battalions of security forces have been earmarked for operations in these 11 areas. The 40-odd battalions already deployed in Maoist-affected areas would not be withdrawn even after the induction of the additional forces.

Significantly, operations would be concentrated in one or two of the 11 areas at any given point of time, thus ensuring intense mobilisation in the selected area. All the forces would be under a unified command of the special task force trained at the Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College in Kanker, Chhattisgarh.

The forces deployed in an area would be followed by a back-up team that focuses on socio-economic development. Specialists in various fields, including socio-economic index researchers, development workers, health professionals, educators and others have also been recruited for the operation. Overall it is a comprehensive operational strategy that would first seek to clear an area of Maoists, occupy it militarily and follow it up with socio-economic development activity. The understanding is that it would take 18 to 24 months in each of the phases to operationalise the strategy and implement it successfully, said a senior Home Ministry official to Frontline.

A number of Maoist observers agree that this is one of the best laid out plans as far as anti-naxal operations are concerned. However, there is little agreement on the vital question whether the country and its security forces have the political and the administrative system to carry out the plan efficiently.

According to Ajit Sahni, one of the countrys foremost security analysts and executive director of the Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management, all well-laid-out plans can come a cropper if intense efforts are not made to enhance and improve general policing and remove political intervention in, and political corruption of, the security establishment (see interview).

According to experts, the shortage in terms of police personnel in the country is to the tune of several lakhs and that, too, as per the old proportion of having an inspector and six constables in a police station. As per modern police manuals, a police station requires as many as 20 policemen in a vastly populated country like India.

Sahni and many other security specialists also pointed out that the debate on involving the Army and the Air Force in the operations was an unwanted distraction. Talking to Frontline, Sahni indicated that such discussions are ludicrous and are symptomatic of the deep malaises that afflict the system .

The debate was taken to such levels, and that too by some senior Defence officers themselves, that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself was forced to issue a clarification on the issue. It was the IAF vicechief, Air Marshal P.K. Barbora, who maintained that the force had asked the government to be given the authority to open fire in self-defence if fired upon by the Maoists during operations. Manmohan Singh made it clear that the government was not considering any such plan. Notwithstanding the clarification, the confusion created by the debate remained, including in some segments of the media.

Maoist leaders also believe that the government is planning to involve the Army and the Air Force in the offensive in spite of the Prime Ministers denial. According to a number of senior Maoist activists, they can see the signs of this on the ground, particularly in Chhattisgarh. The senior Air Force officers let out the truth when they raised the issue. Now the effort is to cover up, said a senior Maoist leader from Jharkhand.

Several Left-wing social activists are also of this view. Talking to Frontline, G.N. Saibaba of Delhi university said that though the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister maintained that the military would not be used in the offensive, the military was involved for several months in intelligence gathering and in training the police and paramilitary forces in jungle warfare tactics and in the processes of planning the war. The Army is also involved in constructing vast roads across the jungles for the free movement of vehicles of the security forces. The construction of a major Army base near Raipur also indicates that soon the deployment of soldiers will also happen, he said. Saibaba is of the view that for all practical purposes this is a full-scale war by the government on its own citizens.

As for the Maoists, their leadership asserted that the government initiatives would not detract them from going ahead with their plans as laid out in the June 12 circular. The 14-page note, apparently drafted by Kobad Ghandy, analyses the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in detail and terms it as a sham verdict meant to legitimise neoliberal reforms and state oppression. In the background of this analysis, the document stated that more and more people belonging to the poor and oppressed sections of society would get attracted to Maoist activities and that this needed to be strengthened.

Under a specific subheading, immediate tasks, the circular states as follows:

In order to defeat the new offensive by the enemy and to protect the gains of our peoples war it is very essential to rouse the masses throughout the country to stand up in support of the struggles in Dandakaranya, Bihar-Jharkhand, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka and other places and build a broad-based countrywide mass movement against the fascist offensive by reactionary rulers with active assistance and guidance for imperialists. To defend our guerilla bases in Dandakaranya and Bihar-Jharkhand and to advance the armed struggle in guerrilla zones we have to carry out the following immediate tasks: prepare the people, the party and the PLGA [Peoples Liberation Guerilla Army] politically to confront the brutal enemy onslaught; educate the people regarding the scale and intensity of the enemy offensive, its cruel nature and the need for enormous sacrifices on the part of the party, PLGA and the masses; take initiative unite with other struggling organisations and forces to forge strong united fronts in various parts of the country and prepare them to undertake similar operations; enhance the initiative and involvement of the mass in fighting and defeating the superior enemy forces. The manner in which we had defeated the Salwa Judum should be projected as role model to be emulated elsewhere.

The document further stated: [P]repare and mobilise the entire party, Peoples Liberation Guerilla Army and the people for carrying out tactical counter-offensives and various forms of armed resistance and inflict severe losses to the enemy forces; attacks should be organised with meticulous planning against the states khaki-and-olive-clad terrorist forces, SPOs, police informants and other counter-revolutionaries and enemies of the people; these attacks should be carried out in close coordination with, and in support of the armed resistance of the masses; these should be linked to the seizure of political power establishment of base areas.

It also pointed out that any mistake on our part will be utilised by the enemy to isolate us, rally a section of the masses and also justify his attacks on us by pointing [to] our mistakes, magnifying them and branding us as anti-people and terrorists; hence we should take extra precautions not to cause damage to peoples property or cause inconvenience to people by our actions, and to apologise for our mistakes promptly assuring the people that such mistakes will not be repeated in the future.

20091106262200403jpg

According to Maoist activists in Jharkhand, the areas specifically earmarked for advancing the party are North Bengal, the plains of Bihar, central districts of Orissa, east Chhattisgarh and regions in Maharashtra and Haryana that are coming under a fresh wave of industrialisation through special economic zones (SEZs). Retailers affected by multinational retail companies, people displaced or affected by SEZs and unorganized workers are special targets for recruitment in Maharashtra and Haryana. The CPI (Maoist) has also devised its own detailed plans though its emphasis on building a broad-based movement has suffered on account of brutal assaults such as the beheading of Inspector Francis Induwar in Jharkhand.

Still, Maoist cadre point out that, by and large, their activities havereceived greater acceptance among the poorest of the poor. A case in point highlighted by a senior Maoist activist of Jharkhand was the story of over two dozen tribal hamlets in the Kanker district in south Chhattisgarh, where they physically prevented the State government from setting up police stations. People of the area apparently said the village as a whole, and particularly their women, would be safer without a police force establishing the rule of law in the area.

While this is the case in a rural centre where the party is deeply entrenched, activists point to the gains made in a semi-urban centre such as Yamuna Nagar in Harayana. The town, which has a number of sugar mills, wood industries and wine mills has seen a spurt of Maoist activity in recent months. So much so, as many as 30 naxalites have been arrested since April 2009 and a large cache of ammunition and volumes of propaganda material were seized.

Talking to Frontline over telephone about the partys growth plans, CPI (Maoist) politburo member Koteswar Rao said the original aim of the party at the time of the 2004 merger was to fill the ideological vacuum in terms of Leftist, people-oriented politics. We are steadily reaching there, especially because all mainstream parties have given up on core issues of the

The war zone

cover-story
Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

FROM what was a one-sided affair, we have moved to a see-saw battle now. It still cannot be said that the balance of power is in our favour, but it would not be out of place to claim that the Maoists are a bit rattled. Of course, there is a long way to go if we need to tilt the scales decisively in our favour.

This is how a senior Home Ministry official in Delhi summed up the situation in Jharkhand and Bihar with respect to the tussle between the security forces and the Communist Party of India (Maoist). He added that this change had come about essentially over the past four months and that it would indeed be a trying task even to hold on to the present situation. Especially because the Maoists are trying every trick to wrest back the advantage they had on the ground, the officer said.

Any neutral observer of the two States would find merit in this observation. It was indeed a one-sided affair in favour of the Maoists for long in the two States. In Jharkhand, the Maoists virtually dominated life; they even influenced vital administrative and police functions in as many as 20 of the 24 districts. They had significant presence in large parts of Bihar. The Maoists in the two States always shared their strike power and this resulted in daring attacks such as the Jehanabad jailbreak of November 2005.

The most notable signal of the one-sided affair changing into a see-saw battle came when the Maoists called an indefinite bandh in five States, including Jharkhand and Bihar, in the third week of August. The bandh was called demanding the release of two Maoists who, party spokespersons claimed, had been under the illegal custody of the Bihar Police since mid-August. The two activists, who were initially referred to as Anil and Karthik, turned out to be two of the senior-most leaders of the CPI (Maoist) in Jharkhand and Bihar. The 55-year-old Anil is actually Amitabh Bagchi alias Sumit-da, a politburo member of the party, while 35-year-old Karthik alias Tauhid Mula is a central committee member. Bagchi was the founder of the erstwhile CPI (ML-Party Unity) in Bihar and had worked among the landless in both Bihar and Jharkhand right from the 1980s. Significantly, Bagchi was also a member of the central military commission of the CPI (Maoist), which coordinates guerilla acts in different parts of the country.

On August 25, two days into the Maoist bandh, which witnessed widespread violence and arson across Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and West Bengal, Bagchi and Mula were produced in the Chief Judicial Magistrates Court in Ranchi and remanded to the central jail there. The police version in the court was that the duo had been arrested on August 24 from Ranchi. CPI (Maoist) spokespersons, however, claimed that the two leaders had been in police custody since August 19 and that they were detained in blatant violation of the democratic norms that the Indian state was supposed to follow. Whatever the merit of these arguments, the fact is that the capture of the two leaders has been a major blow to the Maoists.

The days following this did indicate that the CPI (Maoist) was indeed rattled by the turn of events. The party carried out a series of small attacks across the two States, many of which were not in keeping with the normal style of functioning of the organisation. As a rule, the party cadre do not attack women or children and refrain from targeting educational institutions or making a gory display of their victims. Normally, the institutions that are attacked are police stations, railway stations and other government establishments. But, following the arrest of Bagchi and Mula, reports from several parts of Bihar and Jharkhand indicated that the attacks had become somewhat indiscriminate. There were a couple of cases of attacks on educational institutions, including primary schools.

The Taliban-style execution of the police inspector Francis Induwar on October 6 was indeed out of character for the CPI (Maoist). The inspector, who worked in the intelligence wing of the Jharkhand Police, was abducted on September 30.

Highlighting his abduction, various committees of the Maoists made several demands, including ones for the release of Bagchi and Mula as also that of Kobad Ghandy, another politburo member of the party who was arrested in Delhi in the third week of September. Neither the State governments nor the Union government responded to these predominantly informal demands. Ten days after the abduction, Induwars body was found on a road in Ranchi, with the head chopped off.

A Maoist poster that was found near the body did not make any reference to the demand to release the leaders but said that the execution had been carried out to avenge the encounter killing of a party activist by the State police in September.

20091106262200902jpg

This brutal killing sent reverberations through the lower echelons of the State police. So much so that Ram Sarek Rai, president of the Special Branch Police Association, asserted that police constables and other lower- and middle-level officers would not work in rural areas if sufficient protection was not provided. Clearly, with this killing, the CPI (Maoist) has also rattled sections of the State police.

The senior Home Ministry official in Delhi who spoke to Frontline was hopeful that the battle in Bihar would gather greater momentum, especially because the State had a fairly streamlined administration with a number of dedicated officers. However, he was not that hopeful about Jharkhand, where, he said, almost every politician had some connection or the other with local Maoist leaders.

Many of them are dependent on Maoist clearance even to carry out their day-to-day political activity, and this is indeed difficult for the security personnel and administration officers to take their tasks forward, he said.

20091106262200903jpg

Obviously, the see-saw cannot be expected to tilt in favour of the government in the immediate future.

Purnima S. Tripathi in Raipur

OCTOBER 1. Muchaki Handa of Bhandarpadar village in Chhattisgarh is on his way back home from Andhra Pradesh after earning Rs.30,000 to buy a pair of bullocks and a plough. He is hacked to death by the police and Special Police Officers (SPOs). Six others are killed with him. October 1. Tomra Mutta of Chintagupha village is killed by the police and SPOs.

September 17. Madvi Deva, also of Chintagupha village, is picked up and killed by the police and SPOs and his mother, Dudhi Muye, is assaulted brutally and killed.

September 17. Kawasi Kosas 70-year-old father, who can walk only with support, is killed at Gachchanpalli village by the police and SPOs.

These are taken from a long list of incidents in which the police killed innocent citizens in Chhattisgarh in the course of their anti-naxal operations, compiled by a fact-finding team of intellectuals and academics working with the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) and the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram. The names they have listed, the team claims, are of people who had nothing to do with naxalites. The police dispute the claim saying every villager killed was a naxalite.

Human rights groups describe these killings in so-called encounters as cold-blooded murder. The police, admitting to a few of these instances, say some collateral damage cannot be ruled out in a war.

This unfortunate state of affairs arguably had its genesis in Salwa Judum (peoples peace movement, in the local Gondi language), which was launched in 2005 with government support. The movement, led by the then Congress legislature party leader Mahendra Karma, was described initially as a spontaneous uprising of people who took up arms to defend themselves against naxalites. Later, the government moved in to give these people shelter in camps in order to protect them from counter-attacks by naxalites and provided them with free rations and other logistic support.

Thus began a period of virtual civil war in the tribal, forested areas of Chhattisgarh, and it soon sucked everyone in. If you were not with the naxalites, you were with the police and Salwa Judum, and vice versa.

This mindless war is set to enter its most crucial phase now as the State prepares to launch a more concerted onslaught against the naxals. Since 2005, when the BJP government supported Salwa Judum, the tribal-dominated forested areas of Chhattisgarh have resembled a battlefield, with security personnel and naxalites engaged in pitched battles.

20091106262200904jpg

The violence has so far claimed over 1,000 lives and led to a massive exodus of tribal people from over 644 villages. Of the 3.5 lakh displaced tribal people, around 70,000 took shelter in the Salwa Judum camps of the government, while the rest went deeper into the jungle or to Andhra Pradesh or Orissa to escape police repression. Even in the camps they were not safe, as borne out by the July 2006 massacre by naxalites at the Errabore camp.

Though Salwa Judum was well-intentioned, it soon degenerated into yet another instrument of harassment, extortion and torture as its activists started indulging in loot, murder, rape and arson. Now most of these camps have been abandoned as people returned to their villages to try and piece together their broken lives.

But can normalcy ever return to this region? When a mere uprising by people against naxalites resulted in such massive destruction in the tribal areas, imagine what an armed offensive in conjunction with other States can do to the people, ask human rights activists.

But it is a war that cannot be avoided, says State police chief Vishwa Ranjan. For far too long we have been in a state of denial. Initially, we did not even admit that there was a problem. Then, when the problem grew, we described them [naxalites] as deviant tourists who had wandered in from other States. When the problem worsened, we described it as a law-and-order problem, and still later we described it as a political/ideological problem, and now, when it has reached its climax, we realise that this is a national problem and a big threat to internal security. Now is the time we must fight to the finish, he told Frontline.

With seven of the 20 police districts being badly affected, the State can no longer overlook the problem, he said. He admitted that past injustices led to massive deprivation and disparities, which provided a fertile ground for the naxal ideology to take root in these areas, but said that cannot be an excuse for not fighting the naxalites now.

Why did the State allow the problem to fester for so long? Why did the political leadership look the other way for so long, and what has changed their perception now? In our democratic set-up, the issue involved arriving at a consensus because there are other state players involved as well. It took time, but now all political parties, all States concerned, are on board and hence this concerted effort to fight them with a joint, coordinated operation, he says.

The operation, called Operation Green Hunt, is likely to begin in November once the Centre sends more troops. The coordination among the States will be taken care of by the CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) force commander, Vijay Karan. In the respective States, the Chief Minister will be the supreme commander and the DGPs will oversee the operational aspect.

Vishwa Ranjan, who has over 20 years of operational experience in tackling naxalism, believes this is the final assault on naxalites. But it could be a prolonged one, he cautions.

With the government having made its intention clear, there is palpable fear among people in the Bastar region. Manish Kunjam of the Communist Party of India (CPI), who unsuccessfully contested the last Lok Sabha election from Bastar, says the exercise will only make matters worse. Only poor, innocent people will die, nothing else will be achieved, he said.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) agreed with this assessment. The partys leader Balsingh, who lost from Sarguja in the last Lok Sabha election, said there was a great sense of fear among the people that the massive military operation would unleash unprecedented violence in the area. He added: The lives of the common people have become miserable. They cannot even run away; where will they go? There is pressure from both sides.

Human rights activists have launched a campaign to drop the plan for a military operation. The Bharat Jan Andolan, the National Front for Tribal Self Rule, the Jangal Adhikar Sangharsh Samiti of Maharashtra, the Adivasi Mahasabha of Gujarat, the Madhya Pradesh Jangal Jeevan Adhikar Bachao Andolan, the Jan Shakti Sangthan (Chhattisgarh), the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, the Orissa Jan Sangharsh Morcha, the Campaign for Survival and Dignity and the Adivasi Aiky Vedike (Andhra Pradesh) have jointly issued an appeal against any such operation. Even the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) has issued a statement demanding immediate withdrawal of the proposal for a military operation. The only road to peace in Bastar... can be for the State and Central governments to immediately put an end to the war on the people by private militia (Salwa Judum) and paramilitary, to ensure the return of the displaced Adivasis to their villages and guarantee them their rights to land, livelihood and life, it said.

Human rights activists point out that the police took five hours to reach the site when the son of Baliram Kashyap, Bastars Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament, was killed by naxalites, when the police station was only half a kilometre away, and that they took 12 hours to reach the house of CPI(M) activist Shakti Dey, in Kanker, where he was brutally killed, when the police station was only 500 metres away. Can such a police force actually mount an effective offensive against naxalites, they ask. There is cynicism all over. In order to justify the hype that they [police] have created, they will pick up the old and vulnerable as they are doing now and kill them, said CPI(M) State secretary M.K. Nandy. There has been no evidence to show that they are better prepared now, so I wonder whether this exercise will actually achieve anything.

But it has been a long time since such views mattered in Chhattisgarh. This is exactly what we have been saying for the last four to five years. Now the Centre and other States have come on board, and we are happy that a coordinated offensive is being launched against naxalites. Our stand has been vindicated, says State Information Commissioner Baijendra Kumar.

Thus, while the State government pats itself on the back for being proved right and the police are polishing their weaponry, people are waiting with bated breath. Said Balsingh: We are living in a war zone and cannot do anything about it.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan in Gadchiroli and Mumbai

The CPI (Maoist)s recent activities in Maharashtra are a classic example of the organisations capacity to introspect on its organisational failures, overcome reverses, regroup and reassert its control. The outfits activity in the State covers five districts. In Gadchiroli and Gondia, which have areas contiguous with Chhattisgarh, it has a more militant and structured presence.

Five years ago, when the Peoples War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) merged to form the party in its present form, Maharashtra was viewed, by both the Maoists and the security forces, as a State where the Maoists were suffering reverses.

The party suffered desertions from its ranks in the Gadchiroli-Gondia region, both from its armed cadre as well as from its front organisations, with some sections of the predominantly tribal population becoming disenchanted with it. When the Maoists first got a foothold there, they were perceived as fighters who had helped the Madi Gond tribals of the region to secure higher wages for collecting tendu leaves and cutting bamboo. With their strong-arm tactics, they had also checked corruption among forest staff. As the movement gathered momentum through the 1980s and 1990s, there was a period when the naxalite influence spread to almost all parts of Gadchiroli.

However, there was no serious developmental activity in the region, and propaganda by the authorities, including the police, blamed the naxalites for it. This campaign reached the remotest parts of Gadchiroli and Gondia, making cadre desert the CPI (Maoist), which in turn discouraged potential recruits.

Many of the former Maoist cadre were provided government employment, particularly in the State police. Their inputs were useful for the forces in combing and detection operations. Consequently, the armed wing of the party had problems organising offensives against security forces or in laying improvised explosive devices (IED). The party, which once had large tracts of the region under its control, found its influence restricted to a clutch of 25 villages on the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border.

In early 2007, the CPI (Maoist) held its first unity congress, and, by all indications it was decided that the reverses in the Gadchiroli-Gondia belt should be overcome. By the end of 2007, Gopanna alias Kosa, a senior CPI (Maoist) leader from Andhra Pradesh, was deputed to the region to rebuild the political and military organisation. Kosas introspection report in mid-2008 pointed out that the party had failed to strengthen its grip over Gadchiroli division and make any significant fresh recruitment in five years. It had also failed to launch serious attacks in this period. It also asserted that this situation could be changed with new military and political strategies.

At the military level, new tactical jungle training was imparted to the cadre. A separate military command was formed for North and South Gadchiroli regions as part of the Dandakaranya sub zonal committee. Developmental imbalances between the semi-urban and rural areas of the region were exploited effectively in the renewed organisational initiative. To give leadership to the new moves, motivated and well-trained leaders were brought in from Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The net result was a resurgent cadre, particularly in Gadchiroli. Their morale got a boost with the accumulation of nearly 5,000 firearms including self-loading rifles (SLRs), light machine guns (LMGs) and AK rifles. Soon, this started reflecting in fresh offensives against the security forces. In 2009 alone, the CPI (Maoist) cadre launched five assaults on security forces, killing 39 security personnel. The last attack, on October 8, near Lahiri police station in Gadchiroli, was the most lethal; 18 policemen were killed in the attack on a patrol party. Earlier attacks by naxalites had targeted policemen in Karepalli, Markegaon, Mungner and Hattigota.

Following the October 8 attack, the Union Home Ministry has identified the Gadchiroli-Chhattisgarh-Andhra Pradesh border as the area to launch the first major offensive against the Maoists. It remains to be seen how the CPI (Maoist) will respond to this move and whether the government forces will be able to advance decisively. By all indications, the Maoists are likely to disperse to other regions and continue with their activity on a reduced scale. Already there are intelligence reports that the Maoists are recruiting cadre in several villages where people have been displaced for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). These are not villages in the faraway tribal districts but close to the commercial capital of the country. Maharashtra, it seems, will develop as an important point vis-a-vis the tussle between security forces and the Maoists.

K. Srinivas Reddy in Hyderabad

JUST a decade ago, Andhra Pradesh was a beacon for the revolutionaries in India. The Maoists showcased it at international fora as a model that could be replicated not only by the revolutionaries in other Indian States but also by their brethren elsewhere in South Asia. Today, the State stands as the best example of the success of counter-revolutionary strategies of a government. The Maoists were forced to switch to self-defence, roll back their operations and move their armed cadre into the Bastar forests in neighbouring Chhattisgarh.

20091106262200905jpg

The Maoist movement now appears to be getting consolidated in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa and is making rapid strides in 16 other States. At every meeting called by the Centre to discuss the vexatious issue, Andhra Pradesh is singled out for lavish praise and other States are asked to follow the awe-inspiring Andhra model. It is acknowledged even by the Maoists that the revolutionary movement in Andhra Pradesh has suffered a setback. But contrary to popular belief, what enabled the Andhra Pradesh Police to turn the tables on the Maoists is not just the military superiority of Greyhounds, an elite commando force raised in 1989, but various other social and administrative factors.

The seeds of the naxalite movement in Andhra Pradesh were sown way back in 1969 as the Naxalbari movement was shaping up in West Bengal. A crackdown by the then Congress government crushed the armed struggle, which was mostly confined to the north coastal district of Srikakulam. But the post-Emergency period saw Maoist ideologues such as Kondapalli Seetaramaiah rekindle the revolutionary embers.

20091106262200906jpg

If the Srikakulam movement closely followed the class annihilation theory of Charu Mazumdar, Kondapalli Seetaramaiah adopted a different strategy. The idea was to seize power area-wise, starting from the ill-administered and inaccessible forest areas, and then encircle towns and cities. The second phase of the naxalite movement in Andhra Pradesh took birth mostly in the plains of north Telangana districts, which later spread to the forest areas.

The epoch-making decision to suspend the armed struggle in the post-Emergency period marked the beginning of the current form of Maoist movement. The August 1977 declaration, as it came to be known, took into consideration regional, national and international political situations and called for the launch of mass organisations without which no revolutionary movement can survive. The Kondapalli Seetaramaiah group formed the Radical Students Union (RSU), the Radical Youth League (RYL) and the Rytu Coolie Sangham (RCS). This was when the party launched the Go to Villages campaign, which received instantaneous support from students, youth and the peasantry.

The historic Sircilla and Jagtial jaitra yatras in 1978 spoke much about the success of the mass movements. Riding on the crest of this success, the ideologues announced the formation of the CPI(ML) Peoples War (PW). The blueprint for the spread of the underground party beyond the Godavari basin was finalised at this stage in anticipation of a crackdown on the movement. An interesting aspect of the Maoist movement in Andhra Pradesh is that it got massive support from different sections of society when it depended more on mass organisations rather than on armed squads. (Much later, the Maoists termed the suspension of armed struggle as a historic blunder.)

A Peoples War document, which chronicles the rise of the naxalite movement, notes that the Go to Villages campaign began with just 200 students, but the strength swelled to 1,100 in six years. There were 150 propaganda teams working in villages, and 2,419 villages were covered in north Telangana between 1978 and 1984, the document says.

Noted human rights activist K. Balagopal observed: Unlike the rest of the State where naxalites spread through armed squads, in northern Telangana there was a clear period in the late 1970s and the early 1980s when it was the mass organisations, mainly the agricultural labourers associations and the student and youth fronts, that were the instruments for the spread of Maoism as an ideology and a political practice. However, the mass organisation activity was soon to give way to armed action. People, too, began to depend on the armed squads for quick justice.

The mass organisations began to bring more and more villages under their control in north Telangana districts Adilabad, Nizamabad, Karimnagar, Warangal and Khammam. At the same time, with the idea of creating a retreat zone to which armed cadre could escape in the face of an imminent crackdown, six underground squads were formed in the forest areas of Eturu Nagaram (Warangal), Mahadevpur (Karimnagar), Bhadrachalam (Khammam), Sironcha (Maharashtra), and Adilabad and East Godavari districts (abutting Maharashtra and Orissa respectively).

Ironically, while the Maoist movement lies in a shambles in the place of its birth, the support structures established by these six squads beyond Andhra Pradeshs borders Gadchiroli in Maharashtra, Bastar in Chhattisgarh (formerly in Madhya Pradesh) and Malkangiri/Koraput in Orissa are now Maoist havens.

The north Telangana districts provided a perfect climate for them to ignite the passions of the downtrodden against the oppressive features of society the atrocities perpetrated by upper-caste landlords, insensitive public officials, and so on. Hence, when the armed activity began, people literally welcomed the annalu (brethren, as the naxalites were addressed) to their villages. It was a case of people becoming willing tools of revolution.

Their enthusiastic participation did indeed bring about some social change. The system of begar (bonded labour) faded out; untouchability was controlled to a large extent; atrocities by usurious businessmen and upper-caste landlords got reduced drastically as they fled the villages; peasants took over large tracts of lands though they were unable to cultivate it; and daily-wage workers started getting minimum wages. On the whole, a generation reaped the benefits of the Maoist movement.

The careful application of area-specific military strategies brought about a distinct change in the armed activity all over the State. North Telangana was declared a guerilla zone by 1995; and the south Telangana districts, the south coastal districts of Guntur, Prakasam and Nellore; and the Nallamala forests were regarded as prospective guerilla zones. The underground armed cadre took the shape of a proper military and the armed resistance against the police intensified as the squads mastered the art of laying landmines and carrying out ambushes.

Ideally, the naxalite movement should have grown from strength to strength in Andhra Pradesh, particularly in the north Telangana districts. But a decade later the movement began to fall apart and the aura of invincibility around the legendary naxalite leaders vanished. So much so that they had to abandon the battleground and take shelter in the Bastar forests. The retreat zone, which was felt necessary in the early 1980s, was to come in handy for them two decades later.

What brought about a sea change in the situation was the determination of the police and the politicians to change the conditions on the battleground. The climate that proved conducive to the growth of the Protracted Peoples War (PPW) changed over a period of time because of social evolution. By this time, there was also a generational change. If in one generation people felt beholden to the naxalites, in the next the movement acquired the characteristics of an insurgency. With this disconnect staring in the faces of the revolutionaries and the States panicky reactions metamorphosing into a readiness to fight through well-coordinated measures, the turnaround was evident from the late 1996. Mass organisation activity decreased as naxalite squads were mercilessly hunted by Greyhounds, closely supported by specific, actionable intelligence inputs.

Encounter killings became the order of the day as the police, assisted by the paramilitary forces, waged a do-or-die battle, which was unreservedly supported by politicians of all hues though they publicly distanced themselves from the counter-revolutionary measures.

That made the political class the number one enemy of the naxalites, who went on a killing spree. Former Home Minister A. Madhava Reddy paid with his life and other politicians such as N. Chandrababu Naidu and N. Janardhana Reddy (both former Chief Ministers) escaped by the skin of their teeth.

A decisive victory appeared within the reach of the police by 1999 itself as they brought about a qualitative change in the counter-insurgency strategies. The dreaded cordon-and-search operations, which meant torturing and foisting cases on all those suspected to be supporting naxalites, were called off. There were no more instances of midnight arrests, no more destruction of property and displacement of the kith and kin of underground naxalites.

These measures were initiated even while selectively using the most notorious tool killing. The police top brass had become acutely aware that it was the indiscriminate use of this that was distancing them from the people, whose participation was essential for changing the conditions on the battleground.

Large sections of society did not approve of the extrajudicial killings, euphemistically called encounter deaths. Similarly, they were opposed to the killings by the Maoists. The police used this social dichotomy in respect of societys reaction to the state violence as well as the Red violence to the maximum. They now resorted to selective killing of naxalite leaders while discarding the practice of torturing and falsely implicating naxalite supporters and sympathisers.

Coincidentally, the sweeping economic reforms introduced in the country too changed the situation. The working class (predominantly coal miners and the farming community), students, women, and the middle class (most of whom had hitherto supported the cause of the naxalites) began distancing themselves from the movement as the relevance of revolutionary activity in setting things right was diminishing fast. It is this change in the conditions on the battleground and to some extent the change in the social climate that contributed to the downfall of the naxalite movement in Andhra Pradesh, and not just the military capability of the elite commando force Greyhounds.

Prafulla Das in Bhubaneswar

THE increase in Maoist activities in the forested and backward interior regions of Orissa in recent months is a clear indication of their growing strength in the State. On the other hand, the State governments plans to thwart them have failed in virtually all aspects, barring the arrest and killing of some of them.

20091106262200907jpg

The Maoists have capitalised on the virtual absence of the administration in areas that do not have roads and other basic facilities, including hospitals and schools. They now have a strong presence in 18 of the States 30 districts and are entering newer areas every day.

The Special Operations Group (SOG), the anti-naxal strike force of the police, has not been able to penetrate the Maoist strongholds deep in the forests. Malkangiri district, which shares its borders with Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, is a good example of this.

The Maoists obviously enjoy the support of both tribal and non-tribal people in these areas. Faced with neglect by the administration, the local people have turned silent supporters of the extremists.

The Maoists have won over the majority of the tribal people by taking up their demands with the administration. The extremists have boycotted elections, observed bandhs and put up posters and banners to highlight the peoples demands.

For the police and the administration, the situation has taken a turn for the worse since the Centre and the State government announced recently the launch of a special operation. The Maoists, who almost routinely targeted railway lines and telecommunication networks, besides attacking policemen, forest staff and police informers, recently turned their focus on a member of the political class. In Mayurbhanj district on October 13, they attacked Sudam Marandi, president of the Orissa unit of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and a former member of the Lok Sabha. Marandi escaped under cover of darkness, but the Maoists killed three policemen and took away two AK-47 rifles.

The State government had announced that top officers of various government departments would visit different districts to review development works. But most of the bureaucrats simply did not go. As a result, development work suffered and the Maoists gained support. Now, the situation has reached a point where bureaucrats are scared of visiting the districts because of the naxal strikes.

The Naveen Patnaik government is contemplating a special drive to reach out to the people by involving both the administration and the police in it. We are now planning to adopt a two-pronged approach to deal with the Maoist problem, said Prakash Mishra, Director-General of Police (Intelligence). The administration would reach out to the people in Maoist strongholds with the help of the police, womens self-help groups and such other social groups, he said.

The State government has also not been able to strengthen its police force. The policemen on duty at police stations in the naxal-affected areas face frequent attacks. On several occasions the Maoists have been successful in looting arms and ammunition from police stations and armouries.

The SOG has been ineffective largely because it does not have enough men it has only 1,100 personnel. As regards raising India Reserve Battalions, the State government has been able to raise only three so far. For two more IRBs, the recruitment process has been completed and the cadets are to undergo training. Although the Centre has sanctioned another IRB, the State government has not been able to start the process of recruitment.

The State police have also not been able to coordinate effectively with the police of neighbouring States except Andhra Pradesh. While Orissa and Andhra Pradesh have special forces to deal with the Maoists, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand do not.

With the administration failing to implement the pro-poor welfare schemes, including the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, and the police ill-equipped to take on the Maoists, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik demands additional Central forces whenever there is a major Maoist attack in the State.

There are six battalions of Central paramilitary forces deployed in different parts of the State for various duties, including the anti-naxal operations. The Centre is yet to fulfil the State governments demand for seven additional battalions of Central forces for the anti-Maoist operations.

The State government cannot fight the Maoists by using the police force or announcing development schemes, says Janardan Pati, secretary of the Orissa State Committee of the CPI(M).

When thousands of tribal people sought land rights and agitated against the non-tribal people who had taken away their land in the past, the State government did not arrest even a single non-tribal person on the charge of taking away tribal land, says Pati.

He was of the view that the armed struggle by the outlawed CPI(Maoist) would not succeed in defeating the ruling class in the country. He, however, said the Maoists should not be treated as an enemy of the country. The problem, he added, could be solved only by ensuring economic development of the poor by providing them land, employment and basic necessities.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay in Kolkata

THE Maoists continue to hold on to their base in Lalgarh and its surrounding forest areas, known as Jangalmahal, in West Bengals Paschim Medinipur district despite the presence of Central forces in the area and the Centres plans to step up operations against the banned CPI (Maoist) across the country.

On October 12, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee discussed the Maoist problem with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi. That very day Maoists shot down two people, in Binpur and Belpahari near Lalgarh. On October 10, a Congress worker was shot dead in Belpahari.

20091106262200908jpg

A combined force of 50 companies of Central and State Police is deployed in the area. But that has not stopped the killings and abductions. Intimidation, murders and destruction of private and public property have continued unabated. The CPI(M), which leads the ruling Left Front, has been the target of most of the attacks. According to party sources, more than 120 CPI(M) supporters and activists have been killed in Paschim Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia, three adjoining districts with a strong Maoist presence, since November 2008. In the Lalgarh region alone, 117 CPI(M) members were killed, and more than half of these murders were committed after the combined forces were deployed on June 18.

Though the root of the Maoist movement can be traced back to the 1967 uprising in Naxalbari in Darjeeling district, its impact in the State was, until recently, limited to Paschim Medinipur, Purulia and Bankura districts, which share a border with Jharkhand, though there were occasional reports of Maoist activity in other districts.

But the CPI (Maoist) started making its presence felt in the State from 2007 onwards. The Maoists were involved in the year-long bloody turf battle in Nandigram (Purba Medinipur district) in 2007 between the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress-led Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh (Land Eviction Resistance) Committee, a ragtag consortium of naxalites, the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI), the Jamait-i-Ulema-e-Hind and the Congress. They also participated in the violent agitation in Singur (Hooghly district) against the prestigious Tata Motors small-car project. All this pointed to long-term plans, Nandigram in 2007, Singur in 2008 and Lalgarh in 2009 clearly point to the increasing strength of the Maoists in West Bengal, a senior police intelligence source told Frontline. However, it is only the Lalgarh movement that the Maoists can take full credit for. The other two agitations were led by Mamata Banerjees Trinamool Congress.

The extent of the Maoist network in the State became clear when an attempt was made on the Chief Ministers life on November 2, 2008, at Kalaichand near the forested Lalgarh area. The arrests made in the area after the blast directed at Bhattacharjees convoy resulted in an unprecedented eruption among the local tribal population and the formation of the Maoist-backed Peoples Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) headed by Chhatradhar Mahato. Under the PCPAs leadership, the tribal people commenced a violent agitation and refused to allow the police to enter the area in a bid to establish a Muktanchal, or liberated zone, on the lines of what had been done in Nandigram.

It now became clear that the Maoists, whose presence was so far thought to be restricted to Paschim Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia districts, had for a long time been doing the groundwork to bring about the kind of situation that now exists in the State. The unaddressed backwardness of the forested areas of the three border districts and the abysmal living conditions of the tribal people gave the Maoists enough scope over the years to quietly spread their propaganda and present themselves as the liberators of the people. They came to be known locally as the Bon (Forest) Party.

A 10-page note submitted by A.K. Maliwal, Director, Security, West Bengal, to the Home Department said: The militancy demonstrated by the local population and violence unleashed by Maoists indicate that the initial stages of the protracted war, namely, the survey stage, followed by the struggle stage had nearly been completed in Lalgarh Axis by them. Exploiting the opportunity, they scaled up their activity to the resistance stage and the guerilla action stage and temporarily gave impression [to others] of liberated/base area stage, though they themselves must be clear that their job of creating resistance area guerilla area required much more to be done and required much more time. The note also said that the heightened Maoist activity in Lalgarh in the months preceding the deployment of forces appears to be a part of their strategic plan to extend the guerilla action zone beyond Belpahari-Binpur-Barikul-Rani Bandh-Bandwan Axis and attempt to create stretches of corridor to be linked up later to access Durgapur-AsansolDhanbad industrial centres and Birbhum-Burdwan-Hooghly strategic interest centres, and from Paschim Medinipur to Purba Medinipur for Nandigram-Haldia industrial centre.

The first, and so far the only, police breakthrough was the arrest of PCPA convener Chhatradhar Mahato. The PCPA served as the public face of the Maoists and enabled them to strike root in the State. It was the mask the Maoists used to make themselves more acceptable to a greater number of people. At the end of the day they are one and the same, a senior police source told Frontline.

However, Dr Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri, who was a senior naxal leader in the 1970s, has a different view.

In my opinion, the agitation in Lalgarh was initially an autonomous movement, which was not inspired by anything other than the success of the peoples movements in Nandigram and Singur and the Santhal heritage that is repeatedly emphasised in the way of their protest. I feel that the intervention of the state distorted the movement and brought the Maoists strongly into the picture, he told Frontline. Even if this is true, the line separating the PCPA and the Maoists has long become blurred. This is also clear from the Maoists reaction to Chhatradhars arrest they clamoured for his release, called bandhs, warned of dire consequences, and carried out more killings.

Mamata Banerjee, whose party workers fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the Maoists against the CPI(M) in Nandigram and Singur, has distanced herself from the Lalgarh movement after her success in the Lok Sabha elections and her induction into the Central government. She had at one time extended her partys unequivocal support to the PCPAs cause and on one occasion she shared the dais with Chhatradhar. Neither party has ever openly acknowledged being associated with the other, except for sharing certain common concerns, but Mamata Banerjees sudden turnaround has stung the Maoists, who have accused her of indulging in opportunistic politics (see interview with Koteswar Rao).

The Maoists have also lost the support of many old veterans of the naxal movement who once believed that annihilation of the class enemy was the only way to bring about a revolution. We realised later that individual assassination was not a fruitful approach, and I see the Maoists making the same mistake. Our main targets were big landowners, said Rai Chaudhuri. It is small farmers who are now being killed in Lalgarh for the crime of being CPI(M) supporters. The Maoists say, though, that party affiliation has less to do with the murders than association with the combined forces or membership of the Ganapratirodh Committee, a local resistance group.

As of now, officially, areas under 18 police stations in Paschim Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia districts have a strong Maoist presence. North Bengal is next on the Maoist agenda.

With all the crises in north Bengal, the situation is rife for a revolutionary movement there. There is the tea garden crisis, it is a gateway for the north-eastern States, it is on the Nepal border, and Bhutan too. Both Nepal and Bhutan are our friends in CCOMPOSA (Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia). Keeping all this in view, we have decided to extend our movement in north Bengal, CPI(Maoist) politburo member Koteswar Rao (alias Kishenji) told Frontline.

Any strategy has to be a five-year plan

AJAI SAHNI, Executive Director of the Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management and Editor of South Asia Intelligence Review, is known for his in-depth study and analysis of the security implications of left-wing extremism in India.

In an interview to Frontline in the context of the recent initiatives of the government to counter such extremism, Sahni emphasised that there could be no short-term solutions to any problem in the field of security. He says the model being followed by the government vis-a-vis left-wing extremism is replete with limitations and is unlikely to be effective even in the medium term. Excerpts from the interview:

The recent initiatives of the government to counter left-wing extremism have been seen as marking a structural change in approaching naxalism at the policy level. One part of it is what is called the Operation Green Hunt. How do you analyse these new developments?

I see a complete change of orientation. This does not, however, alter the capacities that the system has as a whole. Both the Central and State forces that are supposed to play a role in it are altogether deficient to deal with this problem. My understanding of it is that they are planning to put in around 70 battalions in the Maoist-affected areas. When I say 70, it seems to be a tremendous number. But when you talk about the actual deployment, each paramilitary forces battalion yields only around 400 men. So, you are basically talking about 28,000 men across the whole naxalite belt in thousands of square kilometres. Bastar alone is 40,000 sq km.

But the plan, apparently, is to deploy the forces in specific, selected areas according to sensitivity and not over the entire stretch under Maoist influence.

That has always been the strategy, but the point I am trying to make is that the Maoist is not going to confront you in your areas of strength. I believe that Lalgarh is the best example you have had of this. So much was said about it that it is going to be the decisive battle with the Maoists but they simply walked away from you. And then when they figured out where the actual deployments of forces were, they started walking back in.

Basically, you have to understand that if you squeeze, you also have to contain. If you only squeeze, they will simply squeeze out or overflow into other areas. If you read the June 12 document [CPI (Maoist) politburo statement], long before these operations started they had declared that the state at this juncture did not have the capacities to fight them in all their areas. Consequently, they decided to prepare themselves to widen their areas so that the state has to divide its forces. If you do not attain a certain saturation of forces, then there can be no rational deployment of forces. If you spread your present force evenly across the whole affected area, they will have to be on the defensive and cannot launch an offensive as was the case in the past. And if you concentrate your force, they will move out and try to increase the violence and conflagration in your peripheral areas.

Today the Maoists will only create situations where there will be significant loss of lives. You have no significant intelligence inputs, no idea of the environment. Thus, when you get a piece of information, you will send a troop of 40 people and they will attack you with 200 men, as in Gadchiroli where you lost 18 lives.

Unless you saturate, you are only sending these boys to their death. You do not have the capacity to fight them, and your surrender policy will not work at all. So, any strategy needs to be a five-year plan. It cannot be achieved in a night.

Is this what you have termed as the governments Rambo model in many of your papers?

It is the Rambo model. The idea that I can send very good fighting men like trained Cobras and Jharkhand Jaguars is nonsense. First of all, I find the entire nomenclature of this discourse offensive.

Green Hunt, Cobra, Jaguars, and the mildest of these is Greyhounds. Is this what we want the state to be seen as predatory animals, and hunters? There is some fundamental problem in our conception. I will train a special group of commandos, and they will go everywhere because, after all, who can beat a Rambo?

Everyone talks of the Andhra Pradesh model and then about Greyhounds. The Andhra Pradesh model is not Greyhounds. It is a model where there is a radical improvement in general policing to create an environment where Greyhounds can be effective. They created a system of general policing where 100 to 200 Maoists could not assemble in the State without the knowledge of the local police. Even the most traditional wisdom says that if you have to eat a plate of rice, you start eating it from the periphery. Do we have to relearn even the most rudimentary tactical wisdom, forget strategic wisdom?

Prepare your ground, get a smoke-screen up and then get to the beehive. This is a five-year plan on a very conservative estimate. And if you are killing a larger number of Maoists even now, you are probably killing the wrong people because you are killing without intelligence inputs and they are always poorly located without any local knowledge. Around the year 2000, when I used to talk to some very wise men sitting in the security establishment, everyone used to dismiss this as a problem of Telangana.

The contention was that it cannot go to coastal Andhra Pradesh and south Andhra. They used to give me a lot of sociological analysis for this argument. Now see, the Maoists are everywhere. As I said, you squeeze and they will overflow into other areas. It was your squeeze in Andhra Pradesh that made it necessary for their lead teams to go not only to Chhattisgarh and Orissa but also to Punjab, Delhi, Kashmir and Nepal. You are forcing them to adopt a more efficient technique and making them understand that they cannot remain concentrated in one region.

This is precisely what you are doing again, except in this case you are going unprepared. Andhra Pradesh had a long period of training, preparation and methods. Yet, the whole orientation in Delhi today is towards a special force. A special force can be efficient only in an environment conducive to its operation.

What about all this talk of deployment of the Army and the Air Force?

That is completely ludicrous. They should never be involved. The debate is taking place because some people are sucking up to the Ministers saying, we will do it. Ministers want results and something that can be achieved within a time frame of not more than six months. We are always in such a hurry that all our problems take decades to resolve. You never initiate fundamental and structural changes that are necessary. So, what happens is that after 15 years you find that you have become worse in your capacities and the enemy has grown. From 56 districts in 2001 to 223 districts now, according to the Home Ministers own statement.

Your police population in this period has been continuously declining. Orissa has 207 IPS officers sanctioned but currently only 84 officers are placed. In most of the States, DSP rank officers have not been recruited for a decade.

In addition, you are shutting down police stations or disarming policemen. In this situation, local policemen have worked out a deal with the Maoists as they have no other option. So, now the target areas of the Maoists are special forces.

The question is whether Pakistan and Afghanistan have become our models for counter-insurgency. Look at what they have done to their own countries? Why dont we learn from Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Tripura? Why has the government not studied this and prepared a document? Unless you create general force capability, no special force can be effectively deployed because the first responder is the general police. K.P.S. Gill always says that whether it is terrorism or insurgency, it is a small commanders war. It is the job of the leadership to empower the small commander. He should have the capacity to respond to a threat.

You have been on record repeatedly asserting that no terrorism in the world has been countered by an approach that stresses on socio-economic development. The new government initiative, however, lays emphasis on advancing a development-oriented approach after a particular area has been cleared militarily.

I have no theoretical problem with this approach. What I am trying to say is that development cannot be a counter-insurgency strategy. It is the duty of the government to carry out developmental activities. But it is a much-longer-term programme than counter-insurgency.

People who are talking about this are basically saying that good health is a solution to disease. But when you look at India demographically and its cumulative developmental deficits, 836 million people (77 per cent of the population) are living on less than Rs.20 a day. More than half of them live on less than Rs.10. They are living on the edge of survival, and are you telling me that the government has the capacity to bring this section to middle-class prosperity in 18 months?

The model of development here is also not unidirectional. Even as it is benefiting many, it is actually harming many people. Rural distress has increased in the past decades. Why dont you develop your areas where there is peace? In Delhi, the Maoists are recruiting students, retailers affected by the ceiling drive and multinational retail companies, people displaced or affected by SEZs, unorganised workers. If you have cancer, you have to treat it first. I cannot tell a cancer patient to go home and try to be in good health.

What is your view on holding negotiations with the Maoists? If you look at history, it is evident that giving indiscriminate powers to the security forces and using such security measures have often resulted in more chaos than good. Negotiations, on the other hand, have yielded results. For example, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), demanding a separate Nagalim in the north-east or, say, the Meiti National Movement in Manipur, has only grown in stature since a security-centric approach was adopted in the 1950s by the Indian government. The antithesis of it is the case of Mizoram, where the Centre went for a peace treaty, granting the people some autonomy.

Mizorams was among the most brutal military campaigns, using methods that no police officer would ever recommend. When the movement was destroyed completely, when 80 per cent of the population was forcibly relocated, then the negotiations happened to buy the rebels out. It was not a civilised negotiation at all.

One must understand that no insurgent group has ever negotiated in good faith when they are on the ascendant. They negotiate only when they are faced with near-complete annihilation or when they have been trapped in the war of attrition for decades and they see no gains and there are sufficient gains available at the negotiating table.

The third situation is Nepal, where the insurgent group believes that it can secure its objectives more efficiently and with less loss of lives through a negotiating process. What they engage in is tactical negotiation and not efficient negotiation as they did in Andhra Pradesh. Use negotiation as a tactical ploy to consolidate, recruit and build more ground. It is a different thing that the A.P. government used this period better than the Maoists.

There is a feeling that there is a distance between the states understanding of violence and that of the masses in the rural hinterland. A lower-ranking Maoist cadre would say that he had no option but to take up arms to survive the exploitation. How do we resolve that?

The only way to address these people in a reasonable time frame is to eliminate mobilisation of grievances. You must understand that the Maoist leadership is not trying to resolve these grievances. It is harvesting them. It is not concerned whether the people of Lalgarh are more secure in the post-Lalgarh agitation phase. In fact, the leadership is happy if it is able to provoke sufficient repression from the state in order to alienate more people. In one of their documents, they say explicitly that any partial struggle of the United Front that does not advance the war is irrelevant. So, if you eliminate this mobilisation, you will be able to resolve the problem of mass violence.

As for these grievances, we have to reach out with governance. Given the virtual decay of governance, it is not an easy task. But commit yourself to that and begin to act in good faith, not with the kind of endemic neglect and corruption that characterise the government. In most of the States when people try to raise funds because of the naxalite activity, they are mostly corrupt because they see this as preferred areas for capital disbursement as there is hardly any accountability in the naxalite-affected areas.

Finally, how do you see the police-capacitating process in isolation with the political culture you talked about? If this remains the political culture, police excesses could grow with increasing force.

Police capacitation itself alters the political culture. If we bring in elements of modernisation and retraining, you will see that there will automatically be a more accountable police force. With greater efficiency, there will be a better system of checks and balances with greater autonomy. It can happen only with greater political will. But at present the political community is deeply criminalised.

Brothers in arms?

THE Nepalese Maoists have fraternal relations with the Indian Maoists. This is an open secret, and neither of these parties ever concealed this fact though both have always denied any tie other than ideological. India also knows this although on some occasions in the past 10-12 years, especially when there was a monarchy in Nepal, intelligence sources claimed the involvement of the Indian Maoists in some of the armed actions inside Nepal. Nonetheless, they could not produce any evidence to substantiate their claim. From the very beginning, the Maoists of Nepal were in a position where they did not need material support from the Indian Maoists. Their closeness was reflected in the formation of the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA), a loose-knit organisation of South Asian Maoist parties. But this organisation has not made any impact in the current political situation.

Since the formation of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), or the CPI (Maoist), with the merger of Peoples War and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in 2004, there has been a qualitative change in the Maoist movement in India. Immediately after the formation, many armed actions took place in Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and in some other places, where the pattern of attacks were the same as those witnessed in Nepal. Maoist guerillas now stopped attacking police stations or jails in the dead of night with a small band of armed persons. Instead, they came in big groups, shouting slogans in full public view, sometimes with public address systems, and announced their reasons for the action. After capturing arms and ammunitions from police stations, they carried them away, paralysing the administration a lesson they learnt from their counterparts in Nepal.

The unity congress in which the CPI (Maoist) was formed was reportedly prompted by the advice and achievements of the Nepalese Maoists. Some important delegates of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), or the CPN(M), attended this congress.

However, there are major differences of opinion between the parties on the question of accomplishing a revolution in semi-feudal and semi-colonial countries such as Nepal and India. The differences were there from the very beginning but came to the surface as the Nepalese Maoists drew closer to capturing power. The Indian Maoists do not agree with the concept of multiparty competition propounded by the Nepalese Maoists. They consider it an ideological deviation and say that as long as the bourgeois parties are in existence, this practice will be suicidal and will eventually result in degeneration.

20091106262202702jpg

CPI (Maoist) spokesperson Azad accused Prachanda of bringing a dangerous thesis to the fore the thesis of peaceful coexistence with the ruling class parties instead of overthrowing them through revolution. The party is critical of the overall policies of the Nepalese Maoists, particularly after the beginning of the peace process, and thinks that it could lead to a reversal of the gains made by the people of Nepal in the decade-long peoples war.

The Indian Maoists do not think that any basic change in the social system can be brought about without smashing the present state, no matter how democratic the new Constitution may seem to be. In their view, the goal of a new democratic revolution cannot be achieved by just writing a new Constitution.

Both the parties believe in the doctrine of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM), but surprisingly, on most issues, such as building a new type of state, class dictatorship and proletarian leadership, democracy, integration of armed forces, and a united front, there is a great divide between them.

Prachandas February 2006 interview to The Hindu added fuel to the fire. When he was asked what he would say if he were to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Prachanda replied that he would say: If you release our comrades [from jail] and we are successful in establishing multiparty democracy in Nepal, this will be a very big message for the naxalite movement in India. In other words, the ground will be readied for them to think in a new political way. This statement infuriated the Indian Maoists. They were expecting Prachanda to demand that the the expansionist ruling classes stop all interference and meddling in Nepals internal affairs, but he talked of how their tactics would bring about a change in the outlook of the Maoists in India. Later, there were many occasions when, asked to comment on the tactics of the Indian Maoists, he said that it was up to them to decide what path they wanted to adopt. But it was perceived as a damage-management exercise.

This year, on May 20, the politburo of the CPI (Maoist) wrote an open letter to the Nepalese Maoists, which it made public on June 28. What prompted the party to make this letter public was also enunciated in the document: It was only when some of the ideological-political positions stated by your party publicly had deviated from MLM, or when open comments were made by your Chairman Prachanda on various occasions regarding our partys line and practice, or when open polemical debate was called for on international forums, that our party had gone into open ideological-political debates. This document has compared the tactics of the CPN(M) with the arguments put forth by the Khruschovite clique in the Soviet Union and concludes that in the name of fighting against dogmatism or orthodox communism the leadership of CPN(M) had landed into a Right opportunist line.

The trouble with the Indian Maoists is that they often forget that the CPN(M) is spearheading a revolution in Nepal not in India. The strategy and tactics adopted by it are in accordance with its assessment of the concrete situation of Nepal. CPN(M) leaders studied deeply the various revolutions and counter-revolutions of the 20th century and drew some lessons for Nepal. One cannot ignore their uniqueness in striking a balance and coordination between political and military interventions. Because of their ability to handle strategic firmness and tactical flexibility, they could use peace talks and ceasefire against the enemy in a new way. While doing this, they always placed their revolutionary political line at the centre. In 2005, when they made a 12-point understanding with the bourgeois political parties known as the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) against the monarchy, they were following the road map that was prepared by the historic central committee meeting in Chunwang (Rolpa).

The logical development of that line was the April 2006 mass movement, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the formation of Interim Government, and the election of the Constituent Assembly. They had launched the armed struggle to get these demands fulfilled, particularly that for an elected Constituent Assembly. The Indian Maoists had no objection to these demands. In Constituent Assembly elections, the CPN(M) emerged as the single largest party and was entrusted to lead the government. What was wrong with that? Was it proper to expect the CPN(M) not to accept the responsibility of leading the government? The Constituent Assembly result was shocking for India, the United States and many Western countries as well as the feudal and reactionary elements of Nepal, but they had no option but to accept the verdict. India had to welcome Prachanda as Prime Minister.

Interestingly, the open letter, while criticising Prachandas opportunism, could not differentiate between Prime Minister Prachanda and Prachanda as chairman of the Communist Party or Prachanda as Commander-in-Chief of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). Can a party that is spearheading the Indian revolution be so unaware of the intricacies of protocol? As a Prime Minister, he met many leaders of different political parties. The document describes these meetings in a very nasty way. During Prachandas official visit to India, it says, he also used the occasion to hobnob with comprador-feudal parties like JD(U) [Janata Dal-United], Nationalist Congress, Samajwadi Party, RJD [Rashtriya Janata Dal], LJP [Lok Janshakti Party], etc., besides informal meetings with Sonia Gandhi, Digvijay Singh, and some BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] leaders like L.K. Advani, Rajnath Singh and Murali Manohar Joshi. Perhaps his strategy was to cultivate good relations with the fascist BJP in case it wins the next parliamentary elections.

On the question of integrating the two armies in Nepal and disarming the PLA, the document builds a logic based on misrepresentation of facts. Citing the example of China, the document says that the Communist Party of China had kept intact its PLA and base areas in spite of repeated pressure by the Kuomintang, but Prachanda has disarmed the PLA and abandoned the base areas. Should we think that the politburo of the CPI (Maoist) has no knowledge of how Prachanda thwarted the conspiracy of international players to bring the PLA under the much-tested DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) scheme of the United Nations? He insisted that the DDR formula applies to defeated armies, which is not true in the case of the PLA. The party did not even agree to hand over to the U.N. the keys of the containers in which the guns of the PLA were kept in cantonments.

As for abandoning base areas, Prachanda recently said in an interview, published in the October issue of a Hindi journal: Our base areas are intact and the people in those areas are firm. The organisation in those areas is also strong. I in fact believe that we have succeeded in expanding our base areas. But the Indian Maoists hastily drew the conclusion that the CPN(M) deviated from the principle of proletarian internationalism and adopted a policy of appeasement towards imperialism, particularly American imperialism, and Indian expansionism.

No doubt, Nepal is passing through a transitional period and the party is confronting a situation that was never before witnessed by any revolution. The Nepalese Maoists refused to apply Marxism in a mechanical and dogmatic way and earned the wrath of their Indian friends.

Anand Swaroop Verma is a freelance journalist.

After the deluge

FOR 55-year-old Shankaramma, a marginal farmer of Pattadakal village in Karnatakas Bagalkot district, the south-west monsoon this year was a big disappointment. Her familys joint holding of three acres (1.2 hectares) of farm land and its corn and jowar crops were up against the weakest monsoon in 40 years. And the Karnataka government declared 2009 a drought year.

But on September 30, what is considered the last day of the monsoon season, Shankarammas prayers of the past four months were answered. The skies opened up. However, to her consternation, the rain never seemed to stop. It flooded the entire village, inundating her crops and destroying her house. To make matters worse, the Bennihalla, a nearby rivulet and a tributary of the Malaprabha river, breached its banks at many places. It was unable to discharge its flood waters into the Malaprabha fast enough, which was also in spate by October 2, thanks to a number of encroachments and obstructions.

Hundreds of kilometres away, Halvi Veerabhadra Gowda, 46, a resident of T.S. Kudlu village in Siruguppa taluk in Bellary district, became the hero of his village of 550 families. The owner of one of the two concrete houses in the village, Veerabhadra Gowda converted his terrace into a shelter for hundreds of people as the waters of the Hagari river inundated the village to a height of 3 metres. Bellary, like other districts in northern Karnataka, is a drought-prone area. Between September 28 and October 1, the district received 75 per cent of its average annual rainfall.

A low pressure system, which had developed over the Bay of Bengal and had passed through Andhra Pradesh, moved into Karnataka around September 28. It intensified over north interior Karnataka and caused until October 3 exceptionally heavy rainfall in the States northern districts and parts of the coastal region. This resulted in one of the worst floods in the region in over a century.

During that six-day period, north interior Karnataka received an average rainfall of 251 mm against the normal rainfall of 35 mm, the departure from the normal being an astounding 623 per cent. In Bagalkot district, the variation in rainfall was 924 per cent.

A fortnight later, Shankaramma nonchalantly sat in front of the 8th century Kashi Vishveshwara temple, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, swearing that neither she nor her two buffaloes would leave the place until her village was relocated to a safer area.

The Pattadakal monuments, which represent the high point of an eclectic art that flourished under the Chalukya rulers, were also partially submerged but thankfully suffered no damage.

Shankaramma was not alone: almost the entire village has relocated itself to the Pattadakal monuments. The view from Veerabhadra Gowdas terrace showed a devastated village.

The floods marooned or inundated almost 4,500 villages and destroyed over 500,000 dwellings. As many as 226 people were killed. About eight lakh people, most of them marginal farmers or landless labourers, were living under plastic sheets, in make-shift accommodation made with tin sheets, at schools, in temples and mosques or even under tractor trailers. Many were left not just homeless but with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Over 4,500 schools were damaged. Many students lost their books in the waters. An initial assessment placed the loss to the exchequer at Rs.20,000 crore, and this includes the loss of crops, road networks, power installations and other public and private property.

The road from Bellary city to Siruguppa taluk in the same district was lined with plastic tents. The families were staying with whatever little they managed to salvage.

20091106262203002jpg

Ironically, many of the villages affected by the floods are perennially susceptible to flooding. In 1993 and 1997, and again as recently as 2005 and 2007, north Karnataka districts were flooded when the rainfall was hardly a third of what fell this year.

Tin sheds put up by the government in 2007 were once again utilised, with villagers asking for more. But in many instances villagers who had been given this accommodation continued to use their dwellings in the low-lying areas.

The swirling waters transformed fields of paddy, corn and sunflower into stagnant pools. Harvested grain stocks and large quantities of fertilizers, which were stored in underground bunkers as is the wont in the region, were lost.

A more serious problem for villagers in Siruguppa taluk and in parts of Raichur district was the loss of electricity supply. Flood waters destroyed the electricity connections to the region. A vast portion of the standing paddy crop has been destroyed. If electricity supply is not restored soon, the surviving crop will wither away in the searing heat of the region.

We need electricity before anything else because there are thousands of hectares where the paddy will be ready to be harvested very soon and without irrigation these crops will die, said N. Mohan Kumar, president of the farmers association in Siruguppa taluk.

It is difficult to estimate the crop loss in the entire region because of the vast scale of the damage. Initial official reports from districts such as Bellary and Raichur estimate it at around 40,000 hectares in each district, but farmers organisations claim that the loss runs into lakhs of hectares. The farmers do not know how they will return the loans they took earlier this year. We hope that the government will waive the loans, said a farmer in Raichur.

As the blame game began, some sections accused the Irrigation Department of mishandling the situation. But irrigation engineers explained that there was little that they could have done in the Krishna basin because of the record rainfall. They also said that in many places the beds of rivulets and even seasonal rivers had been encroached upon by villagers, who used them for cultivation. In others places vegetation and other obstructions forced the rainwater to change course.

In parts of Bijapur district, lack of effective desiltation measures also caused problems. Here, even though the Centre had sanctioned Rs.5 crore for desilting the Dhoni river after the 2005 floods; it has still not been done. Bijapur city does not have an effective underground drainage network either. Sewage and flood waters entered many houses, and the residents accused politicians of not putting in place an effective sewage system. Sewage was being channelled for use as manure in farms owned by a few influential persons, they allege.

Administration officials in Bellary, Raichur, Bijapur and Bagalkot districts claim that relief works had begun immediately, but villagers had serious complaints about the administration. A common refrain in all the villages was that the government had not yet provided relief and rehabilitation. Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, while announcing that 100,000 houses each costing Rs.100,000 would be built, promised that 219 flood-prone villages with a combined population of 90,000 would be relocated.

As per the Calamity Relief Fund, norms the Revenue Department has started assessing the damage to houses. The compensation for fully damaged houses is between Rs.25,000 and Rs.35,000, for houses damaged seriously is between Rs.5,000 and Rs.10,000, and for partly damaged is between Rs.1,500 and Rs.5,000. Many villagers claimed that this money was inadequate to reconstruct or repair their houses. Some villages have not received this money yet.

Yeddyurappa went on a walkathon in Bangalore to create awareness about the floods and raise donations to help the affected people. He decided to impose additional taxes to raise Rs.2,000 crore for relief and welfare measures. But a lot is to be done. One of the biggest demands from the affected population is for the shifting of their villages, since almost every other year they face floods.

In places such as Talamari in Raichur district, the residents burnt the car of the visiting MLA to get the attention of the administration. Talamari, a large village with at least 4,000 residents, was completely destroyed except for the concrete houses. In Hatcholli village in Siruguppa taluk, residents refused to let the MLA and the Deputy Commissioners car pass to survey the area, demanding compensation for the reconstruction of houses that had been demolished.

While the intent of the State administration cannot be questioned, there is a disconnect between the measures taken and their effects. Take for instance the governments claim that gruel centres serving rice, dal and roti were set up almost immediately in all the affected villages. But the local people claimed that in several villages gruel centres were set up only days after the flood waters had receded and that they were closed in a couple of days though the villagers still did not have any alternative means to cook food. The government claimed that temporary sheds had been set up immediately after the waters receded, but they did not come up even a week after villagers were displaced in parts of Bellary district.

20091106262203003jpg

Rather embarrassingly for the government, in a number of villages in Bagalkot district, villagers refused to accept the food and instead sought permanent measures. A number of social, corporate and religious organisations promised to build houses or contribute money or other daily necessities in the same district. But in many cases, especially when religious or social organisations were concerned, the offerings saris, dhotis and a few utensils came with a rider. The beneficiaries had to listen to discourses before the goodies were handed out.

Another serious problem is the lack of coordination between the donors and the affected villagers. While some villages are garnering a large chunk of the donations pouring in from across the State and from international donors, there are isolated villages that are being completely ignored. The State administration has failed to ensure equitable distribution of relief. B. Shivappa, the Deputy Commissioner of Bellary, in his defence, claimed that the scale of the logistics of providing relief was challenging and that time was the biggest constraint. Another senior official, who was on a field trip distributing relief, was cynical about the claims of the affected villagers: There is absolutely no discipline on the part of these villagers, and the same set of people are benefiting from the relief measures. Scenes of lorries carrying relief material being mobbed by desperate villagers were common in the entire region.

The issue of caste-based discrimination has also cropped up while evaluating the relief and rehabilitation measures. Many of the severely affected victims include members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, who are daily-wage labourers working in the lands owned by upper-caste groups. The houses of these marginalised sections, constructed with mud, were the first to fall. When officials survey the loss, they only interact with the upper-caste people, leaving out the backward castes, alleged Marasandra Muniyappa, president of the Bahujan Samaj Party in Karnataka, while speaking to Frontline in Hirimagi village in Bagalkot district.

Another common allegation was that the relief measures were being routed through influential people in the villages who belong to the upper castes. In Talamari village, where the district administration had constructed temporary relief camps (resembling large cow sheds), the upper-caste people refused to stay with the Madigas (a S.C. community) in the same camp.

In Jageerpannur village in Manvi taluk of Raichur district, Dalit communities, who live in a separate quarter, alleged that no relief had been provided. Chaurappa, a coordinator with the Jagruti Mahila Sangathan, which works with Dalit women, speculated that more serious cases of discrimination against Dalits would become common in the coming weeks as more important welfare measures would be taken.

Asking the Central government to declare the floods a national calamity, the Yeddyurappa government is seeking Rs.10,000 crore under the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF). Voices of discontent are being heard from the State government that Andhra Pradesh is benefiting more than Karnataka as far as help from the Central government is concerned because the former has a Congress government. But analysts in Bangalore see it as the result of the failure of previous governments in Karnataka to lobby hard in New Delhi when the 12th Finance Commission was designating funds under various Central calamity assistance schemes a few years ago.

For the lakhs of displaced people, the challenge is to pick up their lives from the debris that surrounds them. Many proud farmers of the region do not like the idea of behaving like beggars, but left without any other option they have to squabble for the relief materials that land up in their villages. The affected people are looking to the State government for concrete action that will help them get their lives back on track again.

In full fury

APARNA ALLURI the-nation

FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD Krishna looks forlorn as he stands amid the debris of what was once his village. He is not sure when he will go back to school.

It will start again in a few days. But I have no books or any money to buy new ones, he says. The flood destroyed everything.

Even the clothes he wears are not his. The trousers are too long and the shirt is oversized and torn at the sleeve in the scuffle for relief materials that come every day in the trucks.

Until recently, Sunkesula was a tourist spot of sorts. Lying on the banks of the Tungabhadra river in Kurnool district, next to the Sunkesula barrage, the village offered a scenic view. But now the green fields are buried under the rubble of broken embankments. The 9th century temple on the riverbank is gone. Once the floodwaters receded, dry slush filled the houses.

It was around 6-30 in the morning when we heard a deafening noise. Smoke was rising from the broken bund, said Maheshwari, whose house is at the edge of the village, close to the river. We had no time to gather any of our belongings. We left with the clothes on our backs. Many of the residents went to the neighbouring village, Rematla. When they returned three days later, they found that people from other villages had taken away whatever valuables they had left behind, including money and jewellery.

We lost Rs.20,000 and some gold jewellery, said Maheshwari. We dont mind losing any of this. Even our house, we can rebuild. But the flood has swallowed 10 acres [four hectares] of our land. We cant identify our field, with all that rubble. Will the government pay us compensation for our land?

We have three children, she added. We took a loan to buy the land so that it will stay with the family for generations. Now its all gone. Our grain, our rice. Even our cattle are dead. The house is so filthy that I cant bear to look at it.

Maheshwari and her husband had been cleaning the house for three days when this correspondent visited it. Mats, blankets, utensils, slates and all the different things that make a household were heaped together, caked in mud.

We sleep outside but the smell of slush is worse here, she said. Dead animals are still trapped under the debris and household waste has been piling up. The stench is unbearable, but Maheshwari and others in the village have no choice. They sleep outside at the mercy of mosquitoes and snakes.

The flood, which has devastated parts of Kurnool and Mahabubnagar districts, came with no warning at all. Until September 30, the Tungabhadra and Almatti dams were discharging only 40,000 cusecs of water, which explains why the Srisailam dam was not expected to receive excess inflows. But between September 27 and October 1, these two districts and Raichur district in neighbouring Karnataka recorded rainfall up to 40 centimetres.

On September 30, Central Water Commission (CWC) officials announced that water in the Tungabhadra would rise to the warning level, 310 metres, at Mantralayam, upstream of the Sunkesula barrage. Since the water did not cross the warning level, Mantralayam and surrounding villages were in no danger.

On October 1, the officials predicted that the water level would cross 315 m, the level that the Krishna river reached the last time it was in spate, in 1992. Soon water started entering villages above Mantralayam, such as Nadichagi, Melanuru and Kumbalanuru, and people started leaving them since it was still daylight.

Mantralayam was flooded that night, trapping many villagers in their homes. On the same night, a team of engineers from the Irrigation Department reached Sunkesula barrage to monitor the water level. Twenty-four gates, including the four scour gates, were opened. Six gates were inoperable and could not be opened. As a result, the discharge was reduced by 1.1 lakh cusecs.

The barrage is designed to discharge water at the rate of 5.24 lakh cusecs. According to the official report, the rate of discharge was 6.14 lakh cusecs until 2-30 a.m. Around 6 a.m., the discharge rate rose to 7.16 lakh cusecs, and the right bund flanking Sunkesula was breached. At 9-30 a.m., the left bund also breached, flooding Rajoli and other villages in Mahabubnagar district, on the other side of the river.

The villagers blame the government for building a barrage with a storage capacity of just 1.2 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft), which cannot accommodate flood waters. But, officials say, a flood like this is very rare, and the Tungabhadra has never before crossed the danger level. So there has never been the need for a bigger barrage.

Ironically, the breach at Sunkesula saved the lives of the residents of another remote village, Gundrevula. Our village curves to one side, and we thought the water would not come beyond the curve but that was how we were trapped, said Ranganna. Some of the new houses had three floors, so we climbed onto the rooftop.

Nearly 500 of them were stranded atop three houses for 36 hours. It was pitch dark and it was pouring. The water was just 1.5 feet below us. If the bund at Sunkesula hadnt broken, we would have all died.

Gundrevula lost at least 300 houses and 1,000 acres of land. The entire village has been living in makeshift tents set up in a nearby field. We are going to ask for this land to be given to us, said Ranganna.

Relief has been pouring in, particularly from private donors and organisations, including non-profit ones. But not all of it has made its way to the right hands. Most of the relief trucks are mobbed en route and many less affected villages have been benefiting.

All the badly hit villages are close to the river. To come here the trucks have to come through other villages. Now we are given tokens for daily supplies of food and water, said Ranganna. Even with the tokens, people are seen running behind relief trucks and scrambling over each other for the food packets that are thrown down. Every vehicle that passes by is surrounded by people asking for water.

Clothes are strewn on the roads in and around the villages. They are grabbed quickly and discarded even faster. Shirts, trousers and salwar kurtas are lying everywhere, rejected because they cannot be draped like saris or worn like lungis.

Even the food is wasted because each person grabs a few packets and, unable to eat it all, throws away the rest. They send food we are not used to eating, said Maheshwari. We eat rice and dal. We dont use so much oil. Some organisations have come and set up open kitchens where they cook and serve fresh food.

I owned a hotel and I feel so helpless now, said Sashipani, a resident of Alampur in Mahabubnagar district, which was submerged by the backwaters of the Srisailam reservoir. If I had a few bags of rice left, I could have fed my village people. If they want food, they have to walk for 5 km.

The signboard is the only way to tell that the slushy interiors housed a hotel until a week ago. Sashipani is busy cleaning even as Alampur is filled with police officers and district officials preparing for a visit by Chief Minister K. Rosaiah. When asked if he would attend the Chief Ministers public meeting, Sashipani smiled. What is the point of going for the meeting? He has so much security. They wont even let us close to him.

They wont let us talk at the meeting, will they? asked Divanamma, a coolie. Now that everything is gone, where do we work? How do we make ends meet? She left on October 2 when flood waters entered the village, only to return five days later and find everything either washed away or covered in slush. We have no food, no clothes. We didnt have time to take anything with us. I didnt bathe for a week because there was no water, she said.

We have to run behind trucks for food. We have to fight for the packets because that is the only way to get hold of them. And the police hit us with lathis if we dont stay in line.

Water first entered Alampur on the evening of October 2. It was flooded by the backwaters of the Srisailam reservoir and not the Tungabhadra. On October 3, the water level in the Srisailam reservoir touched 896.5 feet, 11 ft above its full reservoir level. It reached full reservoir level on September 30 itself, when water first started seeping into the villages located along the backwaters.

From September 30 to October 3, there was sufficient time for Guntur and Prakasam districts to be warned. When villages were evacuated, people could leave their homes, taking with them whatever belongings they could gather.

Time was a luxury that Gundrevula, Sunkesula, Rajoli and many other villages on the banks of the Tungabhadra did not have. They had no choice but to leave everything they owned to the river.

A land battle

FOR a long time, Kerala watched uneasily the twists and turns of an agitation demanding land for livelihood by hundreds of marginalised people, the majority of them Dalits, who encroached on a rubber estate near Chengara in Pathanamthitta district on August 4, 2007, and have been living there ever since. The encroached land was part of a plantation held on long lease for decades by Harrisons Malayalam Ltd, now owned by one of Indias largest industrial groups, RPG Enterprises. The agitation was spearheaded by the Sadhujana Vimochana Samyukta Vedi (SVSV), a relatively new outfit, led mainly by a hitherto unknown champion, Laha Gopalan, a former government employee and a self-proclaimed Communist Party of India (Marxist) worker.

Though it ran for 795 days on the demand for five acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) of cultivable land for every participant family, the struggle ended abruptly on October 6, with clear signs of divisions in the leadership and the ranks of the agitators. Gopalan told Frontline that he was being forced to stop the agitation temporarily and accept an unsatisfactory resolution package drawn out jointly by the government and the Opposition against the interests of Dalits and under threat of violent reprisals from CPI(M) cadre if he did otherwise.

The SVSV came into being as an organisation mostly of Dalits and Dalit Christian labourers and agricultural workers (and a minority of tribal and other marginalised people) and sustained its struggle all this while without much patronage from mainstream political parties and social organisations in Kerala. For several months, hundreds of agitators, including about 200 children, braved the rains, virulent outbreaks of communicable diseases, slander campaigns and opposition from the plantation workers belonging to almost all trade unions who had lost their jobs because of the struggle.

At times the agitators were forced into hunger and isolation within the estate because of blockades of the road by the workers. At one juncture, with the Kerala High Court too ordering their eviction without bloodshed, many of the agitators seemed even ready to commit suicide by hanging themselves from the rubber trees or by immolating themselves with kerosene they had stored in cans.

As months passed with the agitators sticking to their demand and the High Court ordering their eviction, there were signs of division in the ranks of the agitators, allegations of nepotism and corruption against its leaders, and reports of steady infiltration of extremist elements and ideology into the struggle.

A few weeks before Gopalan announced that he was reluctantly ending the Chengara struggle, three young motorcycle riders, allegedly members of a new Dalit organisation, hacked to death a 60-year-old man who was out on his morning walk at Varkala in Thiruvananthapuram district. They also tried to kill another person, a tea shop owner, in the neighbourhood. Several members of the three-year-old Dalit Human Rights Movement were arrested immediately, and the police said the group had plans to conduct eight such murders in the State, to shock and awe Kerala and perhaps draw attention to its demands that were yet to be fully articulated.

But it was clear from the beginning that the Chengara agitation, if left unsolved, would become a cause for embarrassment for the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala. After all, the State had initiated a wide-ranging land reform process right from the day the first Communist Ministry took office in 1957.

The choice of a plantation to launch the struggle turned out to be quite symbolic as it highlighted the reality in Kerala of large tracts of land still remaining in the hands of landlords, while a substantial section of the downtrodden went without even a piece of land to make a living, a legacy of the incomplete land reform process.

As is well known, the original land reform process launched by the first Communist Ministry underwent much dilution after the Congress government at the Centre dismissed the Ministry and replaced it with less committed coalition governments. By the early 1970s, when the reform process finally ended, it had been reduced to the distribution of surplus agricultural land. Forests and plantations were excluded from its purview as they were treated as industries (in the context of the relationship between the plantation owners and workers).

Certainly, when looked at in the contemporary social context, the changes the reforms brought about in Kerala society were revolutionary, breaking as they did the stranglehold of the upper-caste janmi landlords by abolishing statutory landlordism and imposing a ceiling on household landholdings. It made about 28 lakh tenants owners of their own land and gave about 5.8 rural poor ownership rights to their homestead land (kudikidappu), raising the bargaining power and wages of agricultural workers. The progress that Kerala made in the late 1970s and 1980s in the areas of education and health care was a result of this reform process.

However, it is also true that the part of the reform process that dealt with the identification of land held above the ceiling and its redistribution was a failure. Though the land ceiling laws were expected to create large extents of surplus land, most landlords circumvented the legal requirement through bogus transfers, gift deeds, and so on.

Successive coalition governments representing powerful landed groups made several dilutions in the original law. The result was that many of the landowners managed to retain much of the surplus, and a major part of the land that was eventually redistributed went to the traditional intermediate smallholder stratum of Kerala society. Today mainstream society often forgets that it was on the land ownership system that the caste system was thriving in its most obnoxious form in Kerala. We fail to realise the reality of caste in the land reform process. The families of the rural poor who actually worked on the land were only given small plots of homestead land [10 cents, or one-tenth of an acre; five cents; or three cents depending on whether they lived in a village, town or city] after the land reforms and all of them belonged to Dalit castes. They never became owners of cultivable land and are facing the worst hardship, with no means of a dignified livelihood, said Sreeraman Koyyon, vice-chairman of the Chengara Solidarity Forum.

Two or three generations down the line, how do Dalit families, with their children now married and with families of their own, live together in these small strips of land? By the 1980s we were being largely herded into Harijan colonies and community homes built under the One-Lakh Housing Scheme. Crores of rupees set apart for us by the Central and State governments is again used to buy small plots of homestead land, build low-cost houses or toilets for us. Will any of these measures help Dalit families overcome the poverty and hardship that they face every day? That is why we demanded five acres for each participant family, for cultivation as a means of livelihood and to lead a dignified life, Gopalan told Frontline soon after announcing the end of the Chengara agitation.

In the settlement package announced by Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, the government promised 50 cents each to 832 participant Dalit families, one acre each for 27 tribal families (as it was promised to the Scheduled Tribes in other parts of the State) and 25 cents each to the landless others. In all, land and housing assistance were offered to 1,432 participant families whose applications were in the official records. The government was also to provide housing assistance to the landless as well as to those families that had only less than five cents of land.

At a joint press conference following the announcement of the package in the presence of Opposition Leader Oommen Chandy (who played a key role in formulating the settlement), the Chief Minister said it was difficult to find the necessary land in Kerala even to implement the package that was being offered and there was no way the government could fulfil the SVSVs demand for more.

Gopalan said that his organisation was accepting the leftover offer under protest, convinced that this was the best that Dalits could expect from both the ruling and Opposition coalitions. He, however, said the agitators would leave Chengara only after the land promised by the government was actually allotted to them.

Some other leaders claimed that the package was a sell-out and that it kept a large number of families that were part of the struggle outside the list of beneficiaries.

Sreeraman told Frontline: Dalits in Kerala are going to lose a lot because of the Chengara package. We are all disappointed. There is a clear scaling down of the extent of land that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes can claim from now on. Dalits were demanding one acre; the package says they are eligible for 50 cents. Not long ago Adivasis were promised up to five acres, but the government now says they will get only one acre.

(Hardly six years have passed since Kerala saw the five-decade-old dream of another group of landless and marginalised people in the State turning sour with the police action against tribal encroachers at the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary in Wayanad district.)

Chengara is yet another indication of the restlessness that is building up in the lower strata of Kerala society, which is sought to be articulated pointedly under a caste (rather than class) identity, and disturbingly, at times, with extremist overtones. There is need for caution because at its root is the issue of land, a primary resource, or rather the lack of it a serious and complex problem in a shoestring-shaped State where the land-people ratio is one of the highest in the country.

Stifling a revolt

in Harda and Betul 20091106262204001jpg

THE day started out as usual for the social activist Shamim Modi at her Vasai residence in Mumbai on July 23. It was hardly a month since she moved in there from Harda in Madhya Pradesh to join the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) as an assistant professor. It turned out to be a day of terror when the watchman of her apartment barged into her house in an alleged attempt to kill her. Her throat was slit, her hands were broken and her head was smashed. Her husband, Anurag Modi, says it is only her will power and courage to fight that enabled her to survive. Shamim had to have 118 stitches all over her body.

The police initially tried to pass off the incident as a case of robbery. But Shamims political background indicates that there is much more to it than meets the eye. Her decision to move base from Harda and Betul in the tribal hinterland of Madhya Pradesh itself was a deliberate one, to ward off the unwarranted attention she was getting in her efforts to organise the Korkus and Gonds (the two majority tribes in the region) under the banner of the Shramik Adivasi Sangathan (SAS). For the past 13 years, the SAS has been enabling the tribal people to fight for their land rights and to protest against their exploitation by Forest Department officials.

The SAS entered urban space last year by helping sawmill workers and hammals (porters) unionise against the exploitative industrial nexus in Harda, which has the largest number of sawmills in India. The timber industry thrives in the area because of its dense forest cover. With more than 50 per cent of the population in the region being tribal, it was easy for the rich, who belong to the upper castes, and the settler Gujarati business community to employ dirt-cheap labour. The SAS made it possible for sawmill workers to organise and protest against the denial of basic rights such as minimum wages and mishap costs.

The Modi couple, who were also among the leaders of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, faced stiff resistance from forest contractors and industrialists and also the district administration and the Forest Department. That Shamim contested the elections (twice to the Assembly and once to the Lok Sabha) on the Samajwadi Jan Parishad ticket from Harda made the resistance worse.

The administration slapped several charges on Shamim and Anurag, including that of preparing the ground for naxalite activity. Recently, stating lack of evidence, the Madhya Pradesh High Court stayed a report of the District Judge that accused them of breeding naxalism in the region.

Like the Modis and other dedicated SAS activists, the tribal people who showed any kind of sympathy to the SAS, too, could not escape the wrath of the administration. Shamim had to move to Mumbai in order to proceed with the movement more tactfully, Anurag said.

Shamims decision to contest the Assembly elections had brought her into direct confrontation with Kamal Patel, the local legislator belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Kamal Patel, a former Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad leader, is known to be a powerful Jat leader. He later became a four-time MLA from Harda and was once the Revenue Minister in the State. He is known to secure the interests of Jats and Gujjars, who form the bulk of the landlords.

Anil Bansal, a resident of Harda, recently filed a public interest petition against Kamal Patel, accusing him of amassing assets disproportionate to his known sources of income. To this Kamal Patel replied that he owned only 200 acres of land (one acre is 0.4 hectares). Bansal then filed another case under public interest litigation (PIL), accusing him of violating the Land Ceiling Act. This is only one of the highlighted cases against him, said Hemant Tale of the Congress, who contested against Kamal Patel.

20091106262204002jpg

The SAS movement, Anurag said, apparently jolted Kamal Patel as it not only disturbed the balance of the exploitative status quo but also encouraged the tribal people not to exchange votes for cash. Anurag said Shamim had lodged a complaint with the local police after receiving death threats.

Matters worsened between Kamal Patel and the SAS during the November-December elections in 2008 when Natwar Patel, a close aide of his and president of the sawmill owners association, was detained by an order of the Election Commission for threatening Shamim and preventing her supporters in the sawmills from campaigning for her. A few months later, when the mill workers, under the SAS, called a strike for their basic rights, the mill owners association told the District Collector that the mills would be closed down unless Shamim was arrested in 48 hours. The very next day Shamim was arrested and was detained for more than a month on charges as old as two years instigating the tribal people and organising a dharna at the collectorate. She was shifted to the Hoshangabad jail, in the neighbouring district, and was allegedly tortured mentally and physically.

Kamal Patel could not be reached despite several efforts by Frontline.

She was attacked earlier twice in 2007. We explained this at the Manikpur police station in Mumbai. Yet they tried to pass this off as a robbery case. I came to know of this when I visited the police station on July 27.

The senior police sub-inspector wanted me to sign on a paper which read, My wife informed me over phone that the watchman attacked her for money. This prompted me to check my wifes statement, and I got to know that it had been doctored. With pressure from the activist Medha Patkar, Chandra Iyengar, Additional Chief Secretary (Home) of the Maharashtra government, and a delegation from TISS, her actual statement was recorded on August 3. And only recently was Section 307 [attempt to murder] invoked, because of the interference of the Mumbai High Court, said Anurag. The watchman is still absconding.

The Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), TISS, and the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), which sent their own fact-finding teams to the region, came across the exploitative nexus between the industry and political powers. According to them, the district administrations at Betul and Harda were using exclusive and specific repressive measures against the SAS, other social action groups working for human rights, political and social activists, and the tribal people, who were denied their rights to land, water and forest.

So much so that the provisions of the Madhya Pradesh Rajya Surakshya Adhiniyam 1990 (generally described as a black law) were invoked against political and social activists, including harsh measures such as externment from six to nine districts for a period of one year.

The political platform that the SAS had set up in the region must have provided enough reasons for the attack on Shamim. The investigation until now has lacked direction.

20091106262204003jpg

The rising number of incidents of exploitation in Harda and Betul over the past decade has been drawing public attention, thanks to the SAS. Thus, it has been found that the age-old systemic exploitation of the tribal people in the forests is slowly getting converted into incidents of torture and false criminal charges.

This correspondent travelled to two such forest villages, Dhega and Ucchabarari. Destruction of agricultural fields and torture have allegedly been repeated by the Forest Department despite the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, which grants the tribal communities the right to forest land. Both villages are situated in difficult hilly terrain. For the villagers, the authorities simply mean an exploitative combination of nakedaar, hawaldaar and patwari (forest guard, police guard and the lowest-level revenue inspector). The residents have been strongly opposing the arbitrary practices of the forest administration.

In some cases, tribal people charged under bailable sections or booked for compoundable offences have been denied bail. In some instances, the Indian Penal Code section regarding destruction of public property, which the Forest Department is not permitted to invoke, has been added to make the charge non-bailable. The nature of offences varies from encroachments of forest land to the use of forest resources.

This is despite the fact that the Forest Rights Act has given them the right to use their land and forest resources if they have been staying in a forest village since December 13, 2005. To establish that right, the gram sabhas have to put their claims with the district administration, which, after due verification, has to grant the land rights to the forest-dwelling people.

On July 13, Sunita, a 15-year-old, was allegedly beaten badly and dragged into a vehicle by forest guards while she was working in the field. When my uncle Subedar objected, he was arrested and he is still in jail, she said. Later, the guards came to know that she was the only tribal girl to have passed the Board examination with first division in Class X. They did not arrest her because her name had been publicised in the local media. However, she is still traumatised and too weak to return to school.

In a similar incident on July 20, in Ucchabarari, an activist of the SAS was surrounded by forest guards when he was going for a meeting, and beaten and arrested. He is in jail.

In both these cases, the family members are unaware of the charges made against them. Such denial of basic information makes it impossible for any accused to defend himself or herself.

20091106262204004jpg

Some villagers complained that the seeds of jatropha and babool shrubs were thrown into their fields so that the Forest Department could establish that these lands were not cultivated by the villagers. The Department has apparently put a band of watchers in the village community on its payroll to prevent cultivation on encroached lands.

The administrations apathy towards the tribal cause seems evident despite the State Cabinets decision in 2007 to dismiss around 4.5 lakh petty cases against the tribal people. Section 4 (5) of the Forest Rights Act also strictly instructs that no tribal village be dispossessed until the process of verification is complete. From what can be seen in Harda and Betul, it is apparent that the Forest Department is violating the Act by evicting villagers from their own land.

Under such circumstances, the politicisation of the tribal people by the SAS posed a threat to many. In a strange turn of events, the District Collector, the Superintendent of Police and the District Forest Officer in Harda were transferred within 15 days of the attack on Shamim. So, though Harda District Collector Renu Pant said she would look into the matter, she pleaded innocence of all the happenings in the past.

Sub-Divisional Officer of Police Jitendra Singh Pawar, however, told Frontline: There is no need to see this incident in a sociological context. The villages are run in a certain tradition and they cannot function in a new way. The SAS has been instigating people to encroach on forest lands, which we cannot allow.

The attitude of Forest Department officials in the State capital, Bhopal, was also one of denial. There is no exploitation of people in the villages. The forest guard system is one of the best in forest management. It is our job to prevent the girdling of trees, which the tribal people often do. Encroachments will not be tolerated. Rights have been an excuse for the villagers to encroach on lands. We have a grievance redress forum meeting every Tuesday. Why dont these people come there and complain? said R.N. Saxena, the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests.

Asked about frequent resettlement of these villages by the government being cited as one of the reasons for such encroachment, he said the department would address the problem in due course.

Major resettlements in 1977 and 1980 and smaller ones later have left the forest-dwellers with no choice but to cultivate new lands. In 1977, the government recognised the forest dwellers right to land and decided to grant them pattas, or title deeds. While the intention was to settle the villagers in their original places, the process of giving pattas was fraught with discrepancies. So, many villages had to change their location. This happened again in 1980.

Now the Forest Rights Act recognises the right of traditional forest-dwellers to claim forest land held before December 13, 2005, but the fear of being left out in the verification process and faulty issuance of land rights lurks again. The historical injustice that the Forest Rights Act intended to remove has been cropping up in various forms.

Why dollar rules

IF time lag matters, news of the dollars demise as the worlds principal reserve currency is grossly exaggerated. That prediction has been heard periodically at least since the early 1970s when the United States brought to an end the Bretton Woods arrangement by breaking the link between the dollar and gold. As is obvious, whatever else may be said of the U.S. role in the world system, this expectation of the dollars displacement as the currency that is as good as gold has not materialised.

This, however, is not to say that the dollar fulfils its role adequately or even satisfactorily. Not surprisingly, with the strength of the U.S. economy once again in question, the dollar has begun to slide. The euro, between its low of 1.2932 to the dollar on April 21, 2009, and its value at the end of September 2009, has appreciated by 13 per cent vis-a-vis the dollar. This (and other similar tendencies) has triggered predictions of the demise of the dollar as the lead currency. Should and will a new currency replace the dollar as the paper that is treated as good as gold?

A noteworthy feature of the debate on the dollars worthiness as a reserve currency is that most people who say it is time for the dollar to go, do not base their argument on the greater strength of an alternative currency (such as the euro, the yen or the Chinese renminbi) that should take the dollars place. Rather, their alternative is the International Monetary Funds (IMF) Special Drawing Right (SDR), which is more a unit of account than a currency and which derives its value from a weighted basket of four major currencies.

There are three implications here. First, even when the weakness of the U.S. and the dollar is accepted, the case is not that the dollar should be completely displaced; even in the basket that constitutes the SDR the dollar commands an influential role. Second, there is no other country or currency that is capable of taking the place of the U.S. and its dollar at least in the near future. And third, the search is not for a currency that can be used with confidence as a medium of international exchange but for a derivative asset that investors can hold without fear of a substantial fall in its value when exchange rates fluctuate, because its value is defined in terms of, and is stable relative to, a basket of currencies.

It should be clear that in the absence of another currency that can play a similar role in the world economy, rhetoric alone will not end dollar hegemony. The question, therefore, is whether the SDR can serve as an actual currency, or is the focus on the SDR diverting attention from alternative real currencies?

Early expectations of the displacement of the dollar came with the birth of the euro on January 1, 1999, and the irrevocable fixing of the exchange rates between the then member-countries of the European Union (E.U.). The idea of the euro as an alternative to the dollar came when, after a brief period of stability and then depreciation relative to the dollar, it appreciated from close to $0.80 in end-April 2000 to $1.60 in April 2008. Since then, after a period of depreciation to around $1.25 in November 2008, the euro has on average appreciated to reach $1.50 in September 2009.

There are two ways in which to view this relative decline in the dollars value. The first is to see it as a gradual depreciation of the dollar as part of an effort to correct for the loss of export competitiveness of the U.S. The second is to see it as a challenge posed to the dollars supremacy by the new currency.

The supporting evidence to back the second proposition is difficult to come by. Consider, for instance, the euros role in international transactions. By September 2006, 30 per cent of outstanding international securities were denominated in euros compared with around 20 per cent in 1999. But this was not because of any significant decline of the dollars role in this area, since its share had fallen from just around one half to 46 per cent. In foreign exchange markets, the euros share remained stable at around 20 per cent of all transactions, compared with the dollars 44 per cent. And, finally, among countries that reported the composition of their foreign exchange reserves, the euro accounted for a stable 25 per cent of the holding. All in all, the euro did not appear to be displacing the dollar as the major reserve currency.

This is not surprising given the fact that the euro is not the currency of a single national political formation backed by a single powerful state. Though monetary policy in these countries is harmonised through the European Central Bank, which sets interest rates for all, these countries, which are characterised by very different levels of development, have considerable fiscal policy independence (despite the Growth and Stability Pact).

This does not inspire confidence in the ability of the E.U. as a formation to influence the value of the euro as desired. Besides, no single state in this formation has the military strength or activism to assert power and stabilise the value of the currency when required. Put simply, while some of the European nations are economically strong, such as Germany, though less so than before unification, a look at the conditions that helped sustain the dollar as the reserve currency makes it clear that this united formation of legally independent sovereign states falls short in terms of the prerequisites for the euro to displace the dollar as reserve currency.

The debate over the SDR as an alternative currency gathered momentum when in the aftermath of the 2008 global crisis the governor of the Peoples Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan, called for replacing the dollar with the SDR as reserve currency. There are, however, many hurdles between this stated desire and the actual transformation of the SDR into the worlds reserve.

Created in 1969, the SDR was initially seen as a supplemental reserve that could help meet shortages of the then prevailing reserve assets: gold and the dollar. The IMF issues credits of SDRs to its member-nations, which can be exchanged for freely usable currencies when required. The value of the SDR was initially set to be equivalent to an amount in weight of gold (0.888671 grams), which was then equivalent to one dollar. After the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1973, however, the value of the SDR was reset relative to a weighted basket of currencies and quoted in dollars calculated at the existing exchange rates. The basket of currencies today consists of the euro, the Japanese yen, the pound sterling, and the U.S. dollar. The liquidity of the SDR is ensured through voluntary trading arrangements under which members and one prescribed holder have volunteered to buy or sell SDRs within limits.

Further, when required, the IMF can activate its designation mechanism, under which members with strong external positions and reserves of freely usable currencies are requested to buy SDRs with those currencies from members facing balance-of-payments difficulties. This arrangement helps ensure the liquidity and the reserve-asset character of the SDR. So long as a countrys holdings of SDRs equal its allocation, they are a costless and barren asset. However, whenever a members SDR holdings exceed the allocation, it earns interest on the excess. On the other hand, if a country holds fewer SDRs than that allocated to it, it pays interest on the shortfall. The SDR interest rate is also based on a weighted average of specified interest rates in the money markets of the SDR basket currencies.

The volume of SDRs available in the system is the result of mutually agreed allocations (determined by the need for supplementary reserves) to members in proportion to their quotas. Until recently, the volume of SDRs available was small. They have been allocated on four occasions. The first tranche, to the tune of SDR 9.3 billion, was issued in annual instalments during 1970-72, immediately after the SDRs creation. The second, of SDR 12.1 billion, occurred during 1979-81, after the second oil shock. The third, of SDR 161.2 billion, was issued on August 28, 2009. And the fourth, of SDR 21.4 billion, took place on September 9, 2009.

As a result, the total volume of SDRs in circulation has reached SDR 204.1 billion, or about $317 billion. As can be noted, an overwhelming proportion of the allocation has occurred in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. But even now the quantum of these special reserves is well short of volumes demanded by developing countries.

Does the recent substantial increase in the amount of SDRs allocated herald its emergence as an alternative to the dollar? There are two roles that the SDR can play, which favour its acceptance as a reserve. First, it can help reduce the exposure of countries to the dollar, the value of which has been declining in recent months because of the huge current account deficit of the U.S., its legacy of indebtedness, and the large volume of dollars it is pumping into the system to finance its post-crisis stimulus package. Second, since the value of the SDR is determined by a weighted basket of four major currencies, the command over goods and resources that its holder would have would be stable and even advantageous.

There are, however, five immediate and obvious obstacles to the SDR serving as the sole or even principal reserve. First, the $317 billion worth of SDRs currently available are distributed across countries and constitute a small proportion of the global reserve holdings, estimated at $6.7 trillion at the end of 2008, and of the reserve holding of even a single country such as China. Since all countries would, if possible, like to hold a part of their reserves in SDRs, the fraction of this $317 billion that would be available for trade against actual currencies would be small, implying that even with recent increases in allocations the SDR can only be a supplementary reserve.

Second, expansion of the volume of SDRs in circulation requires agreement among countries that hold at least 85 per cent of IMF quotas. With the U.S. alone having a 16.77 per cent vote share, as of now it has a veto on any such decision. Whether it will go along with the decision to deprive it of the benefits of being the home of the reserve currency is unclear. And even if it does, there could be others with a combined vote share of 15 per cent-plus who may not be willing to go along.

Third, since SDR issues are linked to quotas at the IMF and those quotas do not reflect the economic strength of members anymore, the base distribution of SDRs is not in proportion to the distribution of reserve holdings across countries. Reaching SDRs to those who would like to hold them depends on the willingness of now weaker countries to sell. Fourth, since the value of the SDR is linked to the value of four actual currencies, the reason why a country seeking to diversify its reserve should not hold those four currencies (in proportion to their weights in the SDRs value) rather than the SDR itself is unclear. This would also give countries flexibility in terms of the proportion in which they hold these four currencies, which is an advantage in a world of fluctuating exchange rates, since weights of currencies constituting the SDR are reviewed only with a considerable lag, currently of five years.

Finally, as of now, SDRs can only be exchanged in transactions between central banks and not in transactions between the government and the private sector and, therefore, in purely private sector transactions. This depletes its currency-like nature in the real world. It also reduces the likelihood that a significant number of economic transactions would be denominated in SDRs.

While this can be corrected, such a correction can throw up a host of additional problems. But this has not prevented suggestions from some like John Lipsky, the IMFs First Deputy Managing Director, that the SDR can be used as the foundation to build a new currency that would be delinked from other currencies and issued by an international organisation with equivalent authority to a central bank in order to become liquid enough to be used as a reserve.

This presumes that we have, or can think of, a single global state, which as of now is not a possibility. To the many difficulties associated with treating the SDR as a normal currency must be added the lack of confidence in its ability, not being the national currency of any country, to serve as a viable reserve currency for the world. While the SDR may be good as a supplementary reserve that aids diversification of the composition of reserves of individual countries, it as yet falls short of the requirements that a true reserve currency must meet. If despite this, the SDR is the focus of attention in the search for an alternative to the dollar, that can only be because there is as yet no national currency that can displace the dollar. While the dollar lacks the legitimacy to serve as the worlds reserve, it dominates because the time for its substitute is yet to come.

Bringing hope

B. MURALIDHAR REDDY world-affairs
in Colombo 20091106262204701jpg

The visit to Sri Lanka of a group of 10 Members of Parliament of the ruling combine in Tamil Nadu from October 10 to 14 was the first of its kind since the struggle by the Tamil parties in the island nation for their political, economic, cultural and linguistic rights acquired a militant character three decades ago.

Unfortunately, despite the enormous potential it had to provide a much-needed healing touch to the minorities and the symbolic significance attached to it, the mission was mired in needless controversies even before the MPs arrived at the Katunayaka International Airport at 1-30 p.m. on October 10. And the heat and dust it generated is not expected to subside well after the delegation submits its report to Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.

Overzealousness on the part of the ruling alliance in Tamil Nadu and the Indian mission in Colombo to shield the MPs from the media, including the Colombo-based Indian contingent, was primarily responsible for the mess.

The cussed attitude towards the media only helped reinforce the suspicions in the ranks of the opposition that the mission, apart from being brazenly partisan in its constitution, had a hidden agenda. However, the simple truth is that despite the best efforts of the MPs and the officials in the Indian mission every single action of the delegation during its five-day stay (barring the meetings with representatives of the Tamil and Muslim parties at India House) was in full public glare.

It is a mystery what prompted the Tamil Nadu ruling combine to exclude the opposition parties from the mission when it had everything to gain and nothing to lose by having them on board. After all, for several months now President Mahinda Rajapaksa has extended an invitation to both Karunanidhi and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief Jayalalithaa to lead an all-party delegation to the country to see for themselves the ground realities rather than rely on second-hand accounts.

Hopefully, the Chief Minister will, in the next few days and weeks, be able to mollify the opposition and build on the positive outcome of the MPs mission, considering that the welfare of Sri Lankas Tamils is at the core of the agenda of every party in Tamil Nadu in particular and India in general. The anxieties of the political parties in Tamil Nadu about the life of Tamils, both Sri Lankan and those of Indian-origin in the plantation areas, is not difficult to understand given the centuries-old bond.

The representatives of the ruling combine the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Congress and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi in the course of their stay did succeed, albeit partially, in reassuring the 2.4 lakh war-displaced Tamils, currently housed in government-run welfare villages, that they would tell New Delhi to prevail upon Colombo to ensure their resettlement in their original places of habitation and to expedite the process for resolution of the ethnic conflict with meaningful devolution of powers.

By allowing the Tamil MPs from India, though they did not represent all sections of the Tamil polity, to visit the refugee camps in Vavuniya, the Jaffna peninsula and the plantation sector in the hill district where Indian-origin Tamils are settled, the Rajapaksa regime conveyed a clear message that Colombo understands the political sensitivities of the people of Tamil Nadu.

There were avoidable occurrences, including the high-handed behaviour of a senior member of the delegation with the woman District Collector of Vavuniya. Karunanidhis daughter Kanimozhi showed her human side by rushing to comfort the visibly hurt Collector and preventing a potentially ugly situation.

The delegations visit to the East was cancelled for reasons not clear yet. The Eastern Provincial Chief Minister, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan, is at loggerheads with his erstwhile mentor V. Muralitharan (Col Karuna), now a Minister in the Rajapaksa government.

The MPs got an audience with, among others, President Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayaka, Senior Adviser to the President Basil Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and had extensive interactions on a range of issues relating to the war-displaced and to finding a solution to the ethnic conflict.

In their meetings with Tamil and Muslim party representatives, they asked some searching questions, including questions about the fate of the 10,000-odd cadre of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who are in the custody of the Sri Lankan authorities and whether India could have at any stage stopped the war. They were told that the suspected Tiger cadre were safe and that it was too late for New Delhi to have averted the military defeat of the LTTE.

The pro-Tamil National Alliance (TNA) team complained to the MPs that Colombo was not serious about resettling the refugees as it had other plans for the Wanni area, previously controlled by the LTTE. The government categorically refuted the charge and asked the TNA to produce proof.

The TNA delegation pointed out that only 50 days remained for the Sri Lankan government to fulfil its promise to resettle 80 per cent of the refugees in 180 days. True, time is ticking away and Colombo may not be able to keep its promise given the enormous tasks ahead, including the demining of and the creation of rudimentary infrastructure in the war-ravaged north.

Rauff Hakeem, the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), told the delegation that any settlement of the North Eastern question would have to take into account the Tamil-speaking Muslims also, as they suffered under the LTTE and were marginalised by Sinhalese majoritarianism. There was consensus on the subject.

The most significant element of the mission was the visit to Jaffna and the Manik Farm camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Vavuniya, where most of the war-displaced are housed.

In Jaffna, in response to a request by the leader of the delegation, T.R. Baalu, the people who gathered outside the Jaffna Library talked about the difficulties faced by fisherfolk owing to constant poaching by Indian fisherfolk in the territorial waters of Sri Lanka. They also asked India to help Sri Lanka find a political solution to the Tamil cause.

One member of the public complained that a number of issues were brushed under the carpet in the name of development. He wanted action taken immediately to ensure that normalcy returned. Another person wanted the 13th amendment implemented as early as possible and the high security zone restrictions in the peninsula removed.

In his response, Baalu said the delegation was there on the instructions of Chief Minister Karunanidhi given in consultation with the Union government. He said they would visit the IDP camps and hoped that the government of Sri Lanka would expedite the resettlement process.

The implementation of the 13th amendment as a political solution to the Tamil cause is essential, but it needs adequate time since the war ended only recently, he reportedly said. In her remarks, Kanimozhi said the MPs would extend assistance through the Government of India to the Sri Lankan Tamils, helping all citizens to live with equal, legitimate rights.

Jaffna University students, in their interaction, suggested that the Indian government should consider allocating some seats for Sri Lankan students in Indian universities, especially in medical and engineering courses.

The MPs meeting with Rajapaksa was described as productive and cordial. In response to their concerns over the possible difficulties the war-displaced could face with the onset of the monsoon, they were told that the government was taking all possible steps to minimise the suffering.

I dont want to keep them in camps, but unless the demining is complete the government is helpless. My government is committed to [finding a] political solution but it will have to be acceptable to all stakeholders in Sri Lanka and satisfy our neighbour, Rajapaksa told them on the evening of October 13.

Said a member of the delegation: We came to Sri Lanka with a certain mindset and are returning on a positive note. We hope and pray the government and all other parties deliver on their commitments and promises and make everyone in the country, particularly Tamils, feel as equal citizens.

Halting progress

B. MURALIDHAR REDDY world-affairs

IN the second week of October, it will be one year and five months since the first Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) in Sri Lanka came into being. The Eastern Province, one of the nine provinces in the island nation, is unique in every conceivable sense, in pre- and post-independence Sri Lanka as well as in the context of the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May this year.

Since the governments success in forcing out the Tamil Tigers in July 2007, the province has been at the centre of a political debate. The Mahinda Rajapaksa regime has showcased it at world fora as proof of its endeavour to seek a consensus for resolving the decades-old ethnic conflict with emphasis on equal treatment and opportunities to minorities.

Twenty-seven months after liberation from the clutches of the LTTE (the government declared the East liberated in July 2007), where does the province stand and how far has the government travelled in implementing its promises? A thorough assessment at this juncture is difficult, but the tentative conclusion is that it is a mixed report card.

Home to the districts of Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara, the Eastern Province covers an area of around 9,800 square kilometres, or about 15 per cent of the countrys land area. The landscape is varied, with paddyfields, forests, scrublands, wetlands and lagoons. The estimated population of the province in 2007 was 1.5 million, or 7.8 per cent of the national provisional population figure. There has been no island-wide census since 1981.

Of all the provinces, the Eastern Province is the most complex; it is multi-ethnic, multilingual and multicultural. As per 2007 statistics, Tamils constitute 42 per cent of its population, and Muslims and Sinhalese 37 and 21 per cent respectively. Among the 7,500-odd other people are Christians, Burghers, Malays and a small group of Kafirs, Muslims who were brought as slaves by the Dutch, the Kandiyan kings and the British.

Tamil nationalists see the province as an integral part of their elusive homeland and complain bitterly about what they perceive as the deliberate attempts by the state to change its ethnic constitution and undermine its Tamil character.

The judgment of the Supreme Court on October 16, declaring the temporary merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces null and void on technical grounds has brought to the fore the divide between the Tamils. Contrary to expectations, there was no uproar in the Eastern Province over the verdict and the subsequent de-merger. The subject hardly figures in the political discourse here.

The Muslim community in general, mostly Tamil-speaking, and the Muslim nationalists in particular, largely a product of the communitys insecurity caused by armed Tamil groups and the Sinhala-dominated government, see parts of the province as their future homeland. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) has demanded that the government designate the Muslim-dominated areas on the lines of the Union Territories in India.

The Sinhala nationalists advocate treatment of the province on a par with the other provinces, with equal opportunities for all Sri Lankans, and passionately debate the need to defend and preserve the hundreds of ancient Buddhist sites littered across the province and what they perceive as a rich Sinhala cultural heritage.

It is against this background that the actions or inactions of the Rajapaksa government in the past 17 months have to be viewed. True, the government has delivered on some of its difficult and what appeared to be ambitious promises. It held relatively peaceful local government and provincial council elections in March and May 2008 respectively, marking the symbolic rebirth of democracy in the province.

On the basis of what it has achieved, the Rajapaksa regime wants to convince the world that terrorism can be defeated and that terrorists can be brought into the democratic mainstream. The breakaway faction of the LTTE, known as the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP), contested both the local body and provincial council elections in alliance with the ruling United Peoples Liberation Front (UPLF) and now presides over the EPC with the partys deputy leader S. Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan (27) as the Chief Minister.

Ironically, the erstwhile LTTE eastern commander-turned-rebel, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman, is today Minister of National Integration in the Rajapaksa government and a vice-president of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the largest party in the ruling alliance. He merged his faction of the TMVP with the SLFP and has urged the remaining members of the TMVP to follow suit. Little wonder he is at loggerheads with the Eastern Province Chief Minister on the subject of party identity as well as devolution of powers to provinces. Col Karuna sees no rationale in treating the province as a special case.

Ironically, it was Karunas defection from the LTTE in late 2004 and the Tigers decision in August 2006 to shut the sluice gates of an irrigation project in the east that acted as triggers for Eelam War IV, which lasted 34 months and ended in the decimation of the Tigers and the death of their leader Velupillai Prabakaran.

That is not the only part of the irony. President Rajapaksa is a beneficiary of the actions of not only Karuna but also Prabakaran. The November 2005 election victory of Rajapaksa was with the active support of the Tigers, thanks to their diktat to Tamils to boycott the polls. Rajapaksa fought against his rival, Ranil Wickremesinghe, on a platform critical of the peace process.

In his November 2005 Heros Day speech, Prabakaran described Rajapaksa as a pragmatist and said his outfit would give him the benefit of the doubt to do justice to Tamils. All that changed within months. Provocative actions of the LTTE, including the attempt on the life of the then Army chief Sarath Fonseka, are part of well-recorded contemporary history.

In July 2006, the military launched a humanitarian operation to force open the sluice gates of the irrigation project, and by mid-July 2007, it had succeeded in clearing the east of the LTTE. The military success came at a heavy human cost. As per conservative estimates, 300 civilians were killed and some 165,000 were displaced. Civilians suffered multiple displacements in the face of intense war and remained in camps for many months.

Today, evidently, life has improved and the overwhelming majority of the displaced have returned to their homes. However, the calm is only on the surface. Twenty years of destruction and insecurity, as well as displacement by the December 2004 tsunami, have brought with them a host of administrative problems that contribute directly to land disputes.

Some of the thoughtless actions of the government, such as the nomination of Rear Admiral (retd) Wijewickrama, a member of the majority community with a military background, as Governor of the province, have not been helpful in the battle to win the hearts and minds of the people. In the first week of October, the Ceylon Teacher Union complained to the President that although most of the teachers and students in the provinces schools communicated in Tamil, the top-most officials were Sinhalese and so all documents had to be translated.

On account of the conflict and the tsunami, the numbers of orphan children and disabled persons in the province have increased. Nearly 120,000 houses were damaged or destroyed in the province. Sixty-five per cent of the damaged houses are uninhabitable. Of these, 95 per cent are in Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts.

Furthermore, during the conflict period most children faced physical intimidation or assault and became offenders. A number of children and women were exposed to physical and sexual abuse, and some of them continue to face such situations. Given the dangerous situation and poverty in the conflict areas, a significant number of men and women migrated to other countries, often leaving their families behind. The state of economic and physical dependency of the elderly, particularly when traditional family support have broken down, requires attention.

After the formation of the EPC, the government promised devolution of powers to local and provincial politicians but there is little evidence of action on this front. The Chief Minister complains that he is totally powerless and wants the government to devolve police and land powers to the provinces.

He has made efforts to reach out to Muslims and the Sinhalese, but a section of Muslims continues to distrust the TMVPs intentions. Both Tamils and Muslims harbour suspicions that the government plans to Sinhalise the east through development projects. The development plans for Trincomalee district, in conjunction with a high security zone that has forced some 8,000 Tamils off their land, are objects of particular suspicion. In an October 2008 report titled Sri lankas Eastern Province: land, development, conflict, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) noted: Sri Lankas government must address the security needs and land-related grievances of all ethnic communities in its Eastern Province or risk losing a unique opportunity for development and peace.

The physical change as one crosses into the Eastern Province is difficult to miss. The bumpy roads have become less bumpy and the innumerable security checkpoints that dotted the landscape have disappeared.

The road from Habarana Junction (gateway to the east) up to near Kantale has been black-topped and widened from five metres to eight metres, and hundreds of workers can be seen building rudimentary infrastructure.

The military gains and other progress made in the east could wither away unless credible and fast-paced measures are taken for a meaningful devolution of power and the redress of the legitimate grievances of all communities. Given the tensions in the past over the demographic change brought about by state-sponsored colonisation, there was a suggestion from some quarters to go in for a rotation arrangement, in which the chief ministership is shared by the Muslim and Tamil groups that did well at the polls. Not only has it gone unheeded but there are no indications that those who matter are even considering it.

The tasks before the government are daunting but achievable if there is political will. Among the challenges are complete rehabilitation of the displaced, rebuilding of the war-affected areas and disarming of the militant groups, especially the cadre of the Karuna faction, and their integration into civil society and democratic politics.

Trincomalee beckons

world-affairs

TRINCOMALEE, the capital of the Eastern Province, remains a sleepy town on week days and comes to life only during the weekends when people from all parts of the island flock in for their first glimpse of the east after years. A few houses along the road even have Lodging Available boards in Sinhala.

The tariffs for furnished houses vary from Sri Lanka Rs.3,500 to Rs.5,000 a day. ($1 fetches Sri Lanka Rs.114). Nilaveli is one of the main beaches where the ocean is calm and a sea-bather could venture far out into the sea. On weekends the beach is packed with vehicles and families can be seen frolicking.

Another attraction is the seven hot-water wells at Kinniya, on the outskirts of the town. The waters of the wells are considered to have mineral properties that help in healing skin eruptions and rheumatic pain.

The springs are under the care of the local municipal council, and the authorities need to do a lot more to make them tourist-friendly. The entry fee per person is Sri Lanka Rs.20. A wall surrounds the area, which has shelters and separate changing rooms for men and women.

A must-visit location in the town is Koneswaran Kovil, or Swami Rock, within the Old Dutch Fort overlooking the sea. The temple and the famous Lovers Leap are favourite destinations. Local lore has it that a Dutch soldier and his lover, the wife of a superior officer, committed suicide by jumping into the ocean from the vantage point, which came to be known as Lovers Leap. It is a 100-metre fall into the ocean. Swami Rock attracts thousands of devotees.

The Tourism Ministry hopes that by 2012 it can transform Trincomalee into a major tourist hub. A conceptual zoning plan is being prepared in an attempt to achieve this. Currently, the only star hotels in and around the town are the Nilaveli Beach Hotel, Blue Oceanic at Uppuveli, and the Welcome Hotel near the inner harbour. Room rates are Rs.8,000 for a double room with full board and Rs.9,500 for a deluxe double room. There are plenty of hotels and eating houses in the town, but most are in a dilapidated condition.

B. Muralidhar Reddy

Carrot and stick

VIJAY PRASHAD world-affairs

IN September, the worlds crises came together on American shores. Climate change, financial turbulence and Iran nothing was left off the table. Then, to top it off, in early October, President Barack Obama won the Nobel Prize for Peace. It has been a blistering, bewildering month. The prize came the day after the eighth anniversary of the United States war in Afghanistan, whose future was being debated in the White House. It is unlikely that the President will reduce troop levels or find a way to end this conflict.

The United Nations General Assembly gathered at its magisterial home, where the issue of climate change made its way to the centre of things. All this was preparation for the U.N. Climate Change Conference to be held in Copenhagen in December. The G-8 countries wanted to put down a marker, demanding that India, China and Brazil make significant concessions as a prelude to what will be the 15th U.N. Conference of the Parties on climate change (the first was in Berlin in 1995).

Fander Falconi, Ecuadors Minister for Foreign Affairs, put the case of the developing nations quite plainly: the rich nations and over-consuming elite have done the most to destroy the climate, for that reason they must assume the costs of carbon emission reduction. He went further, into territory that neither India nor China nor Brazil ventured, that the G-8 should pay reparations that recognise the ecological debt, the historic responsibility for excess of emissions during several decades even when the warming effect was already detected.

Indias External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna, was more measured at a round table discussion, but he too pointed out: We cannot get away from the fundamental fact that unsustainable lifestyles and patterns of production and consumption in the developed world have caused climate change. This cannot continue. He did not use the term reparations, which is a red flag. But he did point out that developing countries must be supported financially, technologically, and with capacity-building resources so that they can cope with the immense challenges of adaption.

In the back rooms of the U.N. and in the salons of New York, the locomotives of the South (India, China, Brazil, South Africa) acknowledged that they would have to make some concessions or else the U.S. Senate would simply refuse to go along with whatever comes out of Copenhagen. Already the Indian government has agreed to quantify its efforts to mitigate climate change, a position that it was not willing to take as recently as June 2009.

From New York, a select group of states, the Group of 20, gathered in Pittsburgh to discuss the continued turmoil in the worlds economy. In the U.S., the unemployment rate is hovering around 10 per cent, with the total unemployed population in excess of 15 million.

The World Economic Outlook of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) came out with the projection that the recession is now over, with growth rates expected to rise to about 3 per cent. But any improvement relied on strong public policies across advanced and emerging economies that, together with measures deployed by the IMF at the international level, have allayed concerns about systematic financial collapse, supported demand, and all but eliminated fears of a global depression. These fears had contributed to the steepest drop in global activity and trade since World War II.

At Pittsburgh, which is a city whose population has dropped from 650,000 to 310,000 in the past five decades, the mood among the G-20 delegates was grim. They were not prepared to celebrate the end of the recession. Indeed, even the IMF had to admit to its fears, as complacency must be avoided. Despite these advances, the pace of recovery is expected to [be] slow and, for quite some time, insufficient to decrease unemployment.

The G-20, like the IMF, took credit for the overall health of the global economy. The carrot thrown to India and China was that the G-8 might support their quest for greater voting rights in the IMF. (We are committed to a shift in IMF quota share to dynamic emerging markets and developing countries of at least 5 per cent from over-represented countries to under-represented countries using the current quota formula as the basis to work from.) Much the same was to happen at the World Bank. What was asked of them was loyalty to the current international economic order. Welcome to the club, in other words.

As the G-20 meeting began to slumber along, the leaders of France, the United Kingdom and the U.S. took the stage. They announced that they had just presented the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with detailed evidence that Iran was building a covert uranium enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom. It later turned out that the U.S. intelligence community had known about this for a few years and, indeed, that Iran was already prepared to notify the IAEA about the plant. It also turned out that this site was not yet operational; it is a year away from going online. But the announcement came with all the intended effect. It mesmerised the hallways, where discussions about interest rates were compounded by fears of an imminent attack on Iran. President Barack Obama used measured language, but President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the U.K. talked of more sanctions. Brown even used the ominous phrase, the international community has no choice today but to draw a line in the sand. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush used those same words, and in 2003 his son President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair used them to indicate imminent hostilities. Brown could not be unaware of the gravity of this phrase.

The announcement and the threats came at a curious time. The Obama administration had promised to de-escalate from the brinkmanship of George W. Bush and use negotiation as the method to calm things down between the U.S. and Iran. The fracas over the Iranian election provided Obama with the opportunity to call for a democratic regime change, but he refrained from using any such language. Instead, he called upon the regime to refrain from the use of violence against the very large number of protesters. Obama said that he was troubled by the violence and that he was moved by the protests. Nevertheless, it was for the Iranian authorities to deal with what he called the irregularities.

The U.S., he promised, would pursue a tough, direct dialogue between our two countries. That seemed to be the standard that would be followed by the State Department.

Even when Iran launched its Shahab-3 and Sejil-2 ballistic missiles, which are capable of reaching Israel and U.S. military targets, the Obama administrations response was measured. Everyone with an ounce of sense realised that this was posturing on the road to a significant meeting in Geneva a few days later.

Indeed, a week after Obamas announcement in Pittsburgh and three days after the missile tests, the parties concerned gathered in Geneva to go over Irans nuclear ambitions and programme. In fact, the U.S. representative, William Burns, and his Iranian counterpart, Saeed Jalili, held direct talks. The outcome was clear, that Iran would open the Qom facility to IAEA inspections and that it would ship a large part of its enriched uranium to Russia to be further enriched. The U.S. pledged to climb down from the language of sanctions.

This was a major step forward. Obama had to clarify, however, that the tough talk was not simply verbiage. Were not interested in talking for the sake of talking. If Iran does not take steps in the near future to live up to its obligations, then the United States will not continue to negotiate indefinitely, he said. Sanctions, in other words, or worse, are yet on the table. But Israel pointed out that it would, for the present, avoid a strike on Iranian soil.

20091106262205402jpg

Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution does not believe that Irans comedown should be taken at face value. The Obama administration backed off from the Bush policy of extending the missile shield into eastern Europe, and therefore threatening Russia. In return, Russia put pressure on Iran to make what Pollack calls symbolic compromises with the U.S. At present, Pollack adds, Russia wields considerable influence in Teheran, and it may be for purposes of their own [that] the Russians want the Iranians to appear more reasonable so that the Russians can make the case to the U.S. that they are pressuring the Iranians as Washington desires.

Sanctions do not worry Iran, he points out, as much as its relationship with Russia. Indeed, Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, a scholar at the Wolfensohn Center for Development also at Brookings, points out that the Iranian economy is in distress not because of the current sanctions (which have been in place since 2007) but because of the redistributive policies pushed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad through the banks. These policies, Salehi-Isfahani points out, have produced a power bloc for Ahmadinejad that includes the conservatives and the economic underclass. It is unlikely that any additional sanctions will have much punitive impact on Ahmadinejads regime, but it will certainly hit the lower classes, who may rally around the government in greater numbers.

For the American liberal intelligentsia, there is no good policy for the U.S. apart from using Russia to lean on Teheran, which is exactly, it seems, what Obama has done. Talk of sanctions is simply bluster. Calamity seems averted once more.

At the U.N., Obama took the pledge for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. He, of course, did not mention that the U.S. not only holds the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons but its client in West Asia, Israel, is also a stealth nuclear power. He also neglected to mention that while the world economy suffered last year, the arms market thrived. For that market, the U.S. now supplies almost 70 per cent, or $37.8 billion worth, of weaponry.

One is reminded of President Eisenhowers farewell address, where he warned about the role of the military-industrial complex, where the tired general said, In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

Obama does not have the temperament of the military-industrial complex; neither does he command the will to change the bargain that holds the U.S. in its pre-eminent position. Turbulence in the economy and pollution in the atmosphere are genuine crises. As these are set aside, along comes a manufactured crisis, that of Iran.

A new tactic?

P.S. SURYANARAYANA world-affairs
in Singapore 20091106262205701jpg

MYANMARS celebrated democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi is the only Nobel Peace laureate to languish in detention now. While this is a widely discussed fact, not equally known is the reality that she often turns to Mahatma Gandhi for inspiration. It is not as if her peaceful struggle is not known. It is just that the international community does not readily see Gandhiji as her primary hero in politics. It was, all the same, ironic that Suu Kyis appeal to end her house arrest was turned down by a Yangon court on Gandhi Jayanti day, October 2. As this is written, the planned revision petition against this verdict of a divisional court has not been formally moved.

The current phase of her house arrest was ordered on August 11 by an executive fiat that superseded a Yangon trial courts verdict against her on the same day. And thereby hangs an intricate tale of unexplored possibilities. In a sense, these possibilities have little to do with her overall detention for over 14 years so far mainly house arrest and also a brief spell in prison. Nor do the new possibilities have much to do with the so-called facts of the current case against her. The American national who she was accused of sheltering for a few days in violation of the terms of the previous phase of her house arrest has already been deported after being convicted for a parallel offence of seeking her out undetected by the security forces.

Another material fact in the maze of details about her current status is that Myanmars military rulers have eased her penalty but not revoked the trial courts guilty verdict against her. While that court sentenced her to a three-year rigorous imprisonment, the junta altered the punishment to a new round of house arrest for a reduced period at her Yangon lakeside residence.

At the legal level, Suu Kyis close political associates in her National League for Democracy (NLD), who also serve as her counsel, are determined to get the guilty verdict overturned through the remaining avenues of appeal. However, the legal process in Myanmar, overshadowed overwhelmingly by martial law, is not as clear-cut as in a democracy. This is especially so at this time on two counts.

One, it is for the first time that the junta has accessed the judicial process in a bid to keep Suu Kyi out of the political domain. Before the present case, the first against her, the junta had promoted the same objective through a naked exercise of political prerogatives.

More importantly, the second factor, now in focus behind the scenes, is the possibility of a three-way engagement between Myanmars junta, Suu Kyi, and the United States. In a larger sense, the juntas leader, Senior General Than Shwe, so used to arbitrary rule as in the cases of martial law in other countries, may decide the future status of Suu Kyi on the basis of such a three-way engagement.

Significantly, in this context, Aung Kyi, a Minister designated by the junta to liaise with Suu Kyi even as it crushed a recent uprising by Buddhist monks, met her twice in quick succession after her judicial appeal for freedom was turned down on October 2. With the junta releasing no details of these conversations, her close associates, who were not privy to this sudden dialogue, could only speculate about the nature and scope of the new engagement. Although her associates were denied access to her in this context, they were aware of the possibility of a qualitatively different kind of dialogue between her and the junta.

Nyan Win, Suu Kyis long-time lieutenant and NLD spokesman, told this correspondent from Yangon in the first week of October that the junta was possibly trying to figure out how she might help secure an end to the existing international sanctions on Myanmar. The reasoning was that these talks took place soon after she categorically offered to cooperate with the junta in getting the economic embargo lifted for the benefit of Myanmars people.

Another subject of actual or potential interest to the junta in engaging Suu Kyi was its own possible dialogue with the U.S. The Barack Obama administration has surprised many observers in East Asia by offering to hold direct talks with not only North Korea but also Myanmars military rulers. One of the reasons cited by the U.S. for these parallel moves is the suspicion of emerging links on arms-related issues between Kim Jong-ils North Korea and Than Shwes Myanmar. The suspicion in the West extends to the possibility of Kim helping Than Shwe develop nuclear weapons.

On a different but related front, the latest U.S. move for separate bilateral talks with North Korea and Myanmar does not bristle with open overtones of seeking a regime change in any of these countries. On the contrary, the U.S. has packaged the move as some kind of realpolitik of dealing with these two leaders in their own right because of their critical relevance to the local situations.

For Suu Kyis NLD associates, the relevant issue is not really centred on the tactical or strategic logic that drove Washington to initiate its new move. In their view, any dialogue between the U.S. and Myanmars junta would be pointless without a parallel or overlapping conversation between the NLD and the Obama administration. In fact, shortly after the new U.S. gesture to the junta became known, Suu Kyi let a word out, through her now-free NLD lieutenants, that she would like the U.S. to engage not just Myanmars junta but also the countrys opposition camp, especially her own party.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, Than Shwes decision to depute a Minister for urgent talks with Suu Kyi, even as the ink on a judicial order against her appeal for freedom had not yet become dry, acquired the proportions of a new political game plan. From the NLD standpoint, the juntas talks with her in early October offered the prospects of some form of a three-way engagement that could involve the U.S. as well. With Washington yet to firm up its own ideas on how to engage the junta, the NLDs position, as of October 9, was that the three sides could talk not only about ending the Myanmar-specific sanctions but also about the countrys long-term political question itself.

20091106262205702jpg

The notion of the three sides sitting together for talks was, of course, just that a notion. However, it was not an idle pastime to imagine that some criss-crossing or even parallel contacts between the three sides could occur. For that to happen, the junta should, of course, be willing either to free Suu Kyi or at least to let her talk to the U.S. or the West.

For long, the junta had accused Suu Kyi of being a devilish advocate of the international sanctions that only hurt the interests of ordinary Myanmarese. While this was not true, she also had not, until early October, offered proactive cooperation with the junta to get these sanctions lifted, NLD sources said.

The junta, no doubt, remains wary of going the extra mile to engage Suu Kyi and the U.S., lest that should inexorably lead to the beginning of the end of military rule in Myanmar. An idea of striking a bargain for some form of controlled democracy is, therefore, seen to be driving the junta in denying her freedom even while engaging her.

Will the NLD lawyers be able to bring about a game-changer now by pursuing further judicial appeals for Suu Kyis freedom? The juntas track record should rule out this possibility. But the lawyers are in no mood to give up, especially after winning a crucial legal point in the Yangon divisional court on October 2.

When this is written, she is yet to review the situation following the divisional courts verdict against her first-stage appeal.

Dismissing that appeal, the court ruled that the 1974 Constitution, which the prosecution had cited as the overarching framework for her trial, is not valid in law. However, the divisional judge upheld the validity of the 1975 State Protection Law, which was invoked to set the terms for her previous house arrest, which she was accused of violating.

The NLD lawyers saw this as a very controversial ruling that could be challenged judicially. Their reasoning was that the invalidation of the 1974 Constitution, which they demanded during the hearings, would imply a constitutional vacuum.

This should strengthen the case against any state protection law, however enacted or promulgated. The hope of the NLD lawyers was that a successful appeal in the form of a revision petition before the apex court would not only exonerate her of any wrongdoing but also undermine the basis of the executive order on her current detention.

Such legal niceties under a martial-law regime and the emerging political possibilities call for some problem-solving creativity, which those outside Myanmar have rarely, if at all, credited the junta with.

Fragile heritage

KODAIKANAL is notable for a variety of reasons that have made it one of southern Indias most popular hill stations. Historically, the Palani Hills, which host Kodaikanal, have been less populated and developed than their northern neighbours, the Nilgiri Hills. Their position in the rain shadow of the south-west monsoon means that Kodaikanal is drier than other large hill stations at this time of the year.

Kodaikanal had a unique beginning as a hill station American missionary families (as opposed to the British colonial powers) established it, in 1845. For much of the 20th century it was a sleepy town catering to honeymoon couples, missionaries, retired civil servants, and school students. The area around Kodai (as the hill station is popularly known) offers a variety of nature-based activities (walking, cycling, horse riding, boating, and so on) for visitors. They come for the cool weather, the local produce (cheeses, eucalyptus oil, chocolate, honey and fine pastries, to mention a few) and a unique blend of pan-Indian culture with that of a smattering of expatriates domiciled in the hills. One of Kodais least-appreciated attractions is a small patch of woods known as Bombay Shola, lying within the municipal limits and adjacent to the lake in the town.

20091106262206402jpg

Kodai has seen unprecedented change in the past two decades. The number of visitors has risen exponentially and it is now a year-round tourist site rather than being a seasonal one. The peak season is in May when on a busy day this year nearly 3,000 vehicles (including cars, vans and buses) entered the municipal-run gate in a single day. The pressure on resources, namely water and land, has been significant. A construction boom has physically altered the appearance and ambience of the town as well its peripheral neighbourhoods and outlying villages. The explosion of non-degradable packaged consumer items and the resulting waste is a significant challenge to a town that is defined by its beauty. On occasion, the problem of solid waste has attracted media attention. Mercury pollution from the Ponds factory was a lightning-rod environmental issue eight years ago.

Though unrecognised, Bombay Shola is a 25-hectare living heritage set amidst the growing chaos and haphazard development of the surrounding municipality. It was named in 1852 by a Major Partridge of the Bombay Army, who camped on its eastern edge near what is now Bryant Park. In a curious twist, he was the first to introduce the non-native eucalyptus trees into the hills! This deed changed the ecological face and hydrology of the hills but provided firewood alternatives to the native shola species.

20091106262206403jpg

A shola (Tamil for dense thicket or evergreen forest) is a montane evergreen forest that is unique to the upper altitudes (1,500-2,695 metres)1 of the Western Ghats. In undisturbed habitats these South Indian cloud forests are associated with grasslands to create a complex ecosystem. The grasslands that once surrounded Bombay Shola have long been replaced by non-native species of trees and property development.

The fact that the original shola still survives in the 21st century is remarkable. It was designated a reserve forest before Independence, but that is not to say that there has not been pressure on its resources and space. In an exhaustive 2004 publication from the Bombay Natural History Society and Birdlife International, Bombay Shola is listed as an Important Bird Area that is worthy of protection for its avifauna and habitat (Islam and Rahmani). Efforts are now under way to protect Bombay Shola with collaboration from the communities that live in its shadow.

20091106262206404jpg

A reading of the early history of settlement in Kodai makes the unique role of Bombay Shola succinctly clear. Over the last two millennia, there has been a long pattern of human penetration into the lower Palani Hills, as is attested by the remains of dolmens and a string of villages such as Poombarai and Manavanur. The upper plateau, at 2,000 m, was not permanently settled until the early 19th century. The first two bungalows (Sunnyside and Shelton) that were built on the Sholas western edge in 1845 marked the beginning of permanent settlement in the upper basin. We can only imagine the sense of untarnished wilderness that the scene must have evoked. Early records note the presence of the Nilgiri langur in Bombay Shola and the Nilgiri tahr on the cliffs above the shola. Nearby shola patches were named for the bears and tigers that once inhabited them.

20091106262206405jpg

Bombay Shola looks over the large basin that was dammed in 1863 to make the star-shaped lake that every visitor to Kodai knows well. Around the same time, a church and a cemetery were built on the shola edge. A cyclone blew down the original building and a new location was chosen near what is now Coakers Walk to rebuild it. The gravestones from this neglected site bear testimony to the disease and other occupational hazards that shortened lifespans in the 19th century. Beyond the anonymous headstones entitled baby is one of a missionary from the Scudder clan who was born in Boston, served in Madurai, and was tragically drowned in the Vaigai river in 1862. Another headstone marks the final resting place of Dudley Linnell Sedowick, who was killed by a bison while hunting in the Pulney Hills. Age 31.

20091106262206406jpg

Bombay Shola has a structure similar to other montane forests in the southern Western Ghats. Shola species are characterised by their slow growth, which inhibits rapid recovery after disturbances. At the canopy level, a variety of trees such as Syzigium densiflorums, Memecylon randerianum, Litsea wightiana and Elaeocarpus recurvatus compete for sunlight. One enormous and resplendent S. densiflorums on the Upper Shola Road is known as the oldest tree (estimated to be 500 plus years old) in Kodaikanal. Many of these large trees have striking, gnarled crowns that have been sculpted by winds. The rare S. caryophyllum on Violet Lane is an excellent example.

Vines and lianas, a feature that gave Kodaikanal its name, are now rare in the forest. There are several impressive examples of Derris brevipes, a liana so large that it has been categorised as a tree. Other lianas, such as Ficus laevis and the lemon-scented Toddalia asiatica, have been cut for fuel wood, and are lucky finds for roving naturalists. Other mid-storey trees in short supply are Memecylon and Prunus ceylanica and Celtis timorensis.

20091106262206407jpg

The streams in Bombay Shola were once densely populated with large tree ferns (Cyathea sp.). At the shrub level, Bombay Shola has Strobilanthes sp., though most of these have been reduced by grazing and cutting. Botanical records in days past describe the carpet of Calanthes triplicata (a leafy ground orchid) that was once abundant in Bombay Shola. Other sholas in the Palanis still have such undisturbed ground cover and provide encouraging models for restoration.

20091106262206408jpg

One of the most important, yet least appreciated, roles that Bombay Shola plays is in ensuring water security for the town and downstream communities such as those of the temple town of Palani. The shola combined with the large marsh continues to play a critical role in filtering the water seeping into the lake, which is a main source for the stream that feeds Palanis reservoirs. Plantation trees (Eucalyptus, Pinus and Acacia species) have been found to do just the opposite and deplete water tables because of their relatively high transpiration rates. Ecologists have described natural forests, like Bombay Shola, as serving as natural sponges soaking up seasonal rains and releasing them slowly in leaner periods. In a land where droughts are a life-and-death issue, the connection to water security has become a significant rallying call for protection in the entire Western Ghats.

20091106262206409jpg

In recent years, as the demand for water has surged, the township has had to depend on several wells in the marsh to supplement its reservoir near Observatory Hill. The marsh, of course, is fed by Bombay Shola and the larger catchment area of the lake. Trucks carrying water from these wells to hotels and homes are a ubiquitous part of Kodais traffic. Scant thought is paid to the role of the shola and the marsh in this vital service to the township.

20091106262206410jpg

Reflecting the larger Western Ghats range, Bombay Shola harbours a unique biodiversity that is an important justification for its preservation. Endemic bird life is rich in the interiors of Bombay Shola with the white-bellied shortwing (Brachypteryx major), the grey-breasted laughing thrush (Garrulax jerdoni), the black-and-orange flycatcher (Ficedula nigrorufa) and the Nilgiri woodpigeon (Columba elphinstonii) being resident year round. Birds of prey such as the crested goshawk (Accipiter trivirgatus), the rufous-bellied eagle (Hieraaetus kienerii), the Oriental honey buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus), and the brown wood owl (Strix leptogrammica) have all been recorded to be found in the shola.

20091106262206411jpg

Mammals include the shy and little-seen Indian giant flying squirrel (Petaurista philippensis). Indian giant squirrels (Ratufa indica) have been making a comeback after decades of vigorous poaching. There are also numerous amphibians and reptiles, which include endemic shieldtails (Uropeltis sp.), bush frogs and spiny lizards (Salea sp.), many of which are encountered in gardens adjoining the forest.

20091106262206412jpg

Perhaps most astounding is the presence of herds of gaur (Bos gaurus), which pass through Bombay Shola on their way to Bryant Park and the lawns of lakeside bungalows. My fathers own recollections of seeing the gaur in the 1950s were that they were extremely rare in the near and outer Palani Hills (there had apparently been an outbreak of rinderpest that decimated populations across the Palanis). When I was a student in Kodai in the 1980s, seeing the gaur on a school hike was a rare delight. In the 1990s, I remember being surprised about reports of the gaur being seen on the golf course (seven kilometres from the town) regularly. Their movement into the very edge of the Kodaikanal township through Bombay Shola is a phenomenon that only started about two years ago. Earlier this year, in a compound next to Bombay Shola, a resident walked by a gaur thinking it was a cow. He was lucky and escaped with his life and 17 stitches in his derriere.

20091106262206413jpg

In the past there have been several human fatalities from human-gaur interactions in the Palani Hills. The possibility of unintentional conflict between the gaur and residents and tourists is a significant problem that will have to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

Bombay Shola has enjoyed protection as a reserve forest and was first notified in the early 20th century. Like other state-managed forest areas, it has been protected by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department. Their resources, however, are stretched thinly as the District Forest Office has the entire 2,064-sq km block of Palani Hills to look after. In 1987, the shola was fenced to reduce firewood collection and cattle-grazing, and to demarcate the boundary clearly. A polished granite stone, now neglected and cracked, marks the date of fencing on the Upper Shola Road. However, fencing can only go so far, and the forests preservation is dependent on human communities on its boundaries, not to mention maintenance and vigilance on the part of the Forest Department.

20091106262206414jpg

Low-income families living on Bombay Sholas edge in informal settlements have used the shola as a source of fuel wood. Others in the township have used it as a place to dump undesirable waste. There are also concerned citizens living near and around its borders. There is the Palani Hills Conservation Council (PHCC), which is situated adjacent to the cemetery. The Vattakanal Conservation Trust (VCT) has been doing restoration work with the Forest Department in the neighbouring Pambar Shola.

Bombay Shola is now under stress as I learnt while spending several weeks in Kodai this summer. I have a long and intimate association with the shola, having been privileged to spend many happy childhood and adult years in its shadow. Before there were fences and before garbage fouled the sholas streams, I explored and played among the large moss-covered trees and sheltered thickets. Over the years I have returned regularly to spend time in its presence. My interests have strayed from those childhood pursuits to photographing and documenting endemic birds, reptiles and plants as I learn more about the composition and complexity of the shola. Over the last few years my association with the VCT has helped deepen my knowledge of the sholas ecology. My usual tools to document what I have seen have been my cameras, binoculars and field guides, but I have been increasingly using a Global Positioning System (GPS) and GIS software to map its different attributes better.

20091106262206415jpg

One of the blessings of being in the hills is the opportunity to forsake motorised vehicles and walk. Walking through and around Bombay Shola gave me an opportunity to assess its status better. Some of the developments are disheartening while others, like the spike in resident guar populations, are downright surprising.

20091106262206416jpg

Ecologically, the forest has been invaded by fast-growing non-native species, a fact that is rarely noticed by visitors unfamiliar with the shola ecology. Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon), Himalayan cherry (Prunus cersoides) and others have colonised the openings and the edges. They tend to grow far higher than the shola canopy and so are vulnerable to seasonal winds during the north-east (winter) monsoon. When they fall they take down a large number of healthy trees. The resulting gaps on the forest floor would normally offer young shola species an opportunity to compete for the available space and light. Instead, invasive shrubs such as Eupatorium (Ageratina adenophora) and Lantana camara step in before the area is overtaken by more non-native trees, which can germinate and sprout earlier than the shola species. The native rubus (raspberry) also proliferates over these unnatural gaps and makes a challenging environment for natural recovery. The result is that Bombay Shola is riddled with gaps and areas where non-native vegetation is replacing the shola.

The fence that is supposed to protect the forest from encroachment, woodcutting and cattle-grazing is dilapidated and broken in numerous places. Pathways through the forest are worn in a number of locations. Illegal timber collection and cutting, mainly of small to medium-size trees that would grow into large shola trees, is common. Thus, in some area the forest floor is devoid of this critical next generation. Two years ago, the Forest Department and the VCT worked together to survey wood foraging in Bombay Shola. They found that 80 low-income families collected wood on a weekly basis and that this was used for cooking and (mainly) heating water. Subsequently, there was a proposal to provide solar water heaters to the community as a way to reduce illegal cutting. The proposal awaits implementation.

20091106262206417jpg

In recent years the shola has become a dump; an unfortunate reality that is glaringly obvious if you walk through the Lower or Upper Shola roads. Some of this is from careless tourists who picnic alongside the two roads running through the forest. For a few people the forest is a place for nefarious activities, and it is not uncommon to find vehicles with darkened windows parked along the roads that cut through Bombay Shola. Empty bottles and food packaging make up a significant amount of waste. Municipal workers diligently sweep up rubbish and then toss it into unnoticed corners of the forest! Meanwhile, larger local businesses use the shola to dump truckloads of construction debris and garbage in the night. One of the two large streams in the shola is choked with foul-smelling waste and has become a breeding zone for mosquitoes, once a rarity in Kodai.

The plight of Bombay Shola offers an opportunity for the Forest Department to work with active citizens groups and local communities on a small scale. While issues such as the proposal for a Palani Hills protected area (see Frontline, August 15, 2003) are still awaiting official sanction, Bombay Shola provides a project on a small, more manageable scale.

The VCT has an admirable record of ecological restoration and has the experience of successfully working with the Forest Department on Pambar Shola as well as the Mukkurthy National Park in the Nilgiris. Other organisations such as the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and the PHCC can help facilitate the bridging of citizens, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government offices to protect Kodaikanals fragile heritage.

There are several important steps to be taken with the goal of restoring and protecting Bombay Shola for its role in water security and biodiversity. The boundary needs to be fixed and maintained and most of the illegal paths should be discouraged.

At the same time, one or two paths that have been worn through key points should be formalised with stonework. These can facilitate the movement of local communities without causing further damage to the ground cover. Further, they can also serve as pathways for students and others interested in learning about the ecology of the shola.

There is an urgent need to weed out non-native species of trees and shrubs from Bombay Shola. This is an income-generating activity that would pay for itself. Finally, there is the need to reintroduce native plants in areas that have been maligned by invasive species. This is just the sort of thing that organisations such as the VCT have successfully worked with the Forest Department to do in the neighbouring Pambar Shola.

It would also be useful to encourage long-term ecological studies of Bombay Sholas hydrology and biodiversity. The spike in gaur populations amid such dense human settlement is certainly an issue that needs urgent attention and study.

Like most ecological battles, there is a crying need for better information. Kodai residents have a decent awareness of the hill stations unique ecology, but a greater challenge is informing the sheer number of visitors who come up for short visits about it. A modest interpretation centre or panels of information would be the first steps to address this.

Bombay Shola has survived the last 160-plus years since humans settled on its borders. Its future is now in question, while the promise of its restoration and protection offers a rare opportunity for cooperation among citizens, NGOs and the Forest Department.

1. There is variation on when the grasslands/shola habitat starts depending on local climatic conditions. Some ecologists place the shola/grasslands system as starting at anywhere between 1,200 and 1,800 m. Key plants indicative of a shola/grasslands system are recorded at 1,500 m in the Palani Hills.

Facets of Nehru

EVEN a cursory glance at the contents pages of this volume prompts one to ask which other Prime Minister in India or abroad had the same range of interests as Jawaharlal Nehru. It covers topics from the economy, food and agriculture and the cooperative movement to education and culture, including in its sweep burning issues concerning Indias domestic and foreign policies. This volume, edited by Professor Mridula Mukherjee, Director of the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, makes a welcome appearance.

One is struck by the contemporary relevance of very many of Nehrus comments on encounter deaths, for instance. In an earlier volume he had, in a letter to Home Minister G.B. Pant on May 2, 1956 (Volume 33, page 261), wobbled a bit. He now came down unequivocally on encounters in a letter to Maulana Azad dated November 10, 1957. It concerned D.S. Grewal, Superintendent of Police of Karnal.

The charge against Grewal is of shooting some people in cold blood. Whether those people were criminals or not does not affect this charge. The Punjab Police in the past has been guilty on some occasions of thus shooting offenders in cold blood and we have taken strong exception to this Grewals defence is that this was done in an encounter, but from such evidence as we have, there was no such encounter and in fact the shooting was decided upon previously.

Nehru was for a liberal visa policy; for wide discretion to editors; and for an open archives policy. He wrote to his Principal Private Secretary, K. Ram, on November 30, 1957:

I think you have been dealing with this matter. The Home Ministry had decided not to permit these people to see some of our old archives. I did not quite understand this or agree with it. I could understand some special papers not being shown, but for all our old papers to be kept away from some people who were suspected of communist tendencies seemed to me absurd.

The records of the Simla Conference (1914) were denied to Pandit H.N. Kunzru and remain closed in the National Archives to this day. Indian scholars such as Parshottam Mehra had to go to London to study the negotiations on the McMahon Line.

20091106262207802jpg

Barred from forming political parties, Sheikh Abdullah and his friends began to discuss revolt against Maharaja Hari Singhs despotic rule from a Reading Room in Srinagar. It became known as the Reading Room Party.

In a city like Mumbai, in former years the Municipal Corporation ran Reading Rooms in which newspapers were made available. They faded away. As president of the Sahitya Akademi, Nehru said on November 6, 1957, the minutes record, that while he was glad to note that a free reading room had been opened by the Sahitya Akademi, he would like that the time during which the reading room remained open to the public should be longer and that it should also remain open on Sunday mornings. There is an adolescent protest by V.K. Krishna Menon at Nehrus mild reproach for his boorish behaviour in the United Nations Security Council. Bakshi Gulam Mohammed, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, kept feeding the Prime Minister garbled reports about the imprisoned leader, Sheikh Abdullah.

On December 30, 1956, he wrote to Nehru. Sheikh Abdullah, who was under house arrest since August 1953, was planning to bring out a pamphlet containing his correspondence with the national leaders. According to Bakshi, in an introduction to the pamphlet, whose publication was to coincide with Sheikhs Abdullahs impending release, the latter had stated that, threatened by the tribal invasion, the people of Kashmir had provisionally acceded to India. Gradually a large section of the people became convinced that they were not getting their due representation in various fields, and the Muslims felt that the State was being treated as a conquered territory. Sheikh Abdullah brought these facts to the notice of Nehru and [Abul Kalam] Azad in 1952 but to no avail.

When he discovered that a majority of the members of the National Conference had been bribed in India and the States Constituent Assembly had lost its representative character, the only solution that appeared to him was a fair and impartial plebiscite. As he made a final attempt to secure the rights of the people of Kashmir by a common agreement among all the four parties to the dispute India, Pakistan, Kashmir and the U.N., a conspiracy was launched against him and he was removed from office and arrested. Sheikh Abdullah also said that India was holding Kashmir by force and in order to give a semblance of democracy to this occupation, the State constitution was finalised and farcical election were held.

Bakshi added that after his release, Sheikh Abdullah was likely to lay stress on the following: holding of a plebiscite enquiry into the events of August 1953; suspension of the Constitution; imposition of the Presidents rule; and holding of election under U.N. auspices.

Bakshi further said that Sheikh Abdullah might try and capture the main mosques in Srinagar to keep a permanent platform alive, and also forcibly take possession of Mujahid Manzil, the National Conference headquarters. Bakshi stated that all the above factors had to be reckoned with and all the moves forestalled. Sheikh Abdullah was released on January 8, 1958. He was rearrested during the night of April 29-30, 1958. Is it any surprise that we are in such a mess in Kashmir today?

Nehrus Note on Tibet to the Foreign Secretary, from Darjeeling on December 26, 1957, belies Chinas charge that Nehru wanted to detach Tibet from China. He pulled up Appa Pant, Political Officer in Sikkim and Bhutan, for his report on Tibet, which he found utterly biased against China.

The series is a boon to students of the times and reveals the man who strode through them like a colossus.

Haunting melodies

THE Dada Saheb Phalke Award for 2007 has gone to Manna Dey, one of the finest singers to have sung for Hindi and Bengali and other regional language films. The honour, in the opinion of many, has come to him rather late in the day. It cannot be truly exhilarating to be recognised for ones contribution to the art of playback singing at the age of 90, especially if the last memorable song one sung was well over 30 years ago.

Manna Dey shot into fame in the early 1950s with his rendering of Chaley Radhey Rani, a kirtan-based song for Bimal Roys moving cinematic rendering of Sarat Chandra Chatterjees Bengali novel Parinita. His sound training in Hindustani music was amply evident here as was his feeling for an emotive form like the kirtan, which he inherited from his uncle, the legendary Krishna Chandra Dey.

After this song, Manna Dey was recognised as a singer with immense potential. Doors opened for him in the Hindi film industry of Bombay, as Mumbai was known in those days. The legendary actor-director Raj Kapoor invited him to sing for Shree 420, the formers take on socialism; and sing he did. Manna Dey, along with Lata Mangeshkar, sang Pyaar hua iqrar hua, written by the poet of the people, Shailendra, and tuned by the music composer duo Shankar-Jaikishan. Recorded 55 years ago, this romantic duet continues to be aired on the radio to this day. It is amongst the finest in the annals of Hindi film songs.

In his autobiography Memories Come Alive, Manna Dey remembers the composer duo thus: The most interesting feature of Shankar and Jaikishans melodies was their sheer novelty and, in that respect, they remain unrivalled. He felt particularly indebted to Shankar, who, he felt, brought out the best in him. He does not feel the same way though about another stalwart, Sachin Dev Burman, who, when he engaged Manna Dey to render Upar gagan vishal for Nitin Boses Mashaal, actually wanted him to resurrect K.C. Deys style. Of course, it is one of Manna Babus finest songs and is terribly difficult to sing. But S.D. Burman never asked him to sing regularly for him even after the singer proved his mettle a hundred times over with other noteworthy composers.

The Hindi film industry has always lacked imagination and has therefore toed the line of least resistance and closed the possibility for innovation. Just because Manna Babu was classically trained and could sing raga-based compositions really well, he was considered unsuitable for singing playback on a regular basis for the leading actors of his time, such as Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. This problem, however, did not affect Mohammed Rafi, also classically trained, who was asked to sing very often for Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar, Bharat Bhushan, Guru Dutt, Rajendra Kumar and Shammi Kapoor, not to forget Dharmendra and Jeetendra. Why Manna Babu was not given similar opportunities remains inexplicable.

It is not that he did not sing for major composers. He did, but they thought he was at his mellifluous best only when he sang raga-based melodies or folk melodies. Given half a chance, he always excelled. There are not many romantic duets to equal the four he sang with Lata Mangeshkar for Chori Chori, the 1956 romantic comedy based on the 1934 Hollywood blockbuster It Happened One Night. Panchi banu udti phiru, Ye raat bheegi bheegi, Jahan meye jatee hoon, and Aja sanam madhur chandni meye hum are among Shankar-Jaikishans loveliest and deceptively intricate melodies. These songs certainly needed the technical expertise, or taiyyari, that Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar could offer. The plaintive quality of Manna Deys voice perfectly complements the sheer sweetness in Latas.

It was said of Manna Deys voice that it acquired a silvery sheen as it went higher. An apt example is Aja sanam madhur chandni meye hum. This skill was hard won. After training under Ustad Abdul Rehman Khan of the Patiala gharana, Manna Dey turned to Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan. Manna Babu told him that he was more comfortable in the lower register than in the upper. Khan Saheb asked him to take a more flexible approach. Normally, I preferred singing in D sharp. Ustadji asked me to change from the fifth key to the sixth before practising my notes. I did so for a couple of days and was delighted with the results. I had actually done it! Travelling down the notes had become childs play for me, Manna Dey said.

Mohammad Rafi too had noticed this positive change in his colleagues voice. Manna Babu believes that his ustads training extended the range of his voice, and for that alone he feels eternally grateful.

Madan Mohan, another great composer from Hindi cinemas Golden Age, while still finding his feet in the film industry, did the music for the film Dekh Kabira Roya. It did only average business, but the songs are still remembered especially Kaun aya mere man ke dwarey sung by Manna Dey. Despite having composed exquisite melody after exquisite melody, Madan Mohan never quite had a hit film to his credit. In his pursuit of success, he opted for well-known playback singers with box-office hits in their kitty, such as Talat Mahmood and later, more consistently, Mohammad Rafi, both artists of exceptional calibre. Manna Dey was every bit their equal and to boot as versatile as Mohammad Rafi, but he was sidelined.

His destiny, it would seem, was to sing haunting melodies either for character actors or to have them used to comment on the onscreen action. His first song to become a nationwide hit was Chaley Radhey Rani, picturised on a wandering mendicant in Parinita. In retrospect, that one example decided the fate of Manna Deys career as a playback singer in Hindi films. Take for instance the powerfully emotive qawwali Na toh karva ke talash heye from the Golden Jubilee hit Barsaat Ki Raat. Sahir Ludhianvis lyrics and Roshans music are brought vividly to life by the singing of Manna Dey in particular.

His heart-rending solo Aye mere pyare watan, from Hemen Guptas Kabuliwalla, is picturised on an acquaintance of the protagonist. Salil Chaudhurys composition set to Prem Dhawans lyrics continues to work its magic on music lovers, especially on account of Manna Babus singing.

In mid-career he sang Kasme vadey pyar wafa sab for Pran, the riveting character actor, in Manoj Kumars Upkar. It was a difficult song, but Manna Dey rendered it effortlessly. Predictably, the Kalyanji-Anandji composition became a huge hit. Everybody praised the singing. Excellence had, after all, become second nature to the singer.

Manna Babus career in Bengali films was a different story. The veteran Anil Bagchi, composing the music for the Uttam Kumar-Tanuja starrer Anthony Firangi, which was based on the life of an excellent Bengali poet of Portuguese origin, called for Manna Dey to do the playback for the most enduring hero of Bengali cinema. Manna Babus rendering of Ami jey jalsha ghaurey and Ami jamini tumi shashi hey sat perfectly on Uttam Kumars lips. Manna Deys position in Bengal as a playback singer and as a singer of adhunik or non-film songs remains unchallenged. He did some of his most interesting work in the second phase of his career in Calcutta, now Kolkata.

In the early 1960s, S.D. Burman summoned him to render Poocho na kaise mainey raen bitaee in the raga Ahir Bhairav for Meri Soorat Teri Ankhen, produced by actor Pradip Kumar. It was picturised on Ashok Kumar in blackface. The primitive, not to say distorted, conception of the scene notwithstanding the protagonist was supposed to be ugly and therefore black-complexioned the song sung by Manna Dey is haunting. The poignancy inherent in Shailendras lyrics is brought out effortlessly. There is a story about the composing of the song. S.D. Burman had only given a cryptic brief that the song was to be in Ahir Bhairav and had asked his singer to do what he could with it. Manna Babu actually chiselled out the form given to the melody, and so he deserves credit as its composer.

Composing was a part of his training under K.C. Dey. When Manna Babu accompanied him to Bombay in 1942, he did not expect to be anything other than his uncles assistant and an occasional singer in the films carrying his music. It was quite by chance that he sang for composer Shankar Rao Vyas for the film Ram Rajya directed by Vijay Bhatt. The film, made in Hindi and Marathi, had the famous actor Badri Prasad playing the role of the sage Valmiki.

The director was keen that K.C. Dey sing the songs for Valmiki. To Vijay Bhatts utter consternation, he refused, saying that he [K.C. Dey] sang only for himself in the films he acted in. He suggested that they try his nephew, young Manna. The producers, at first doubtful, decided to give the greenhorn a chance. Manna Dey came good as a singer and also assisted Shankar Rao Vyas with the composing. The year was 1943.

Manna Babu went on to assist Hariprasanna Das, who did the music for Kadambari, a film starring Shanta Apte and Pahari Sanyal. Ironically, his career as a music director did not take off despite his obvious talent. Singing, his subsidiary talent, suddenly became primary. He made steady progress as a singer and, within a short time, carved a niche for himself in the competitive world of playback singing in Bombay. His yen for composing did not go away. Over the years, he composed songs in Hindi and Bengali, and many of them became popular.

He has boundless admiration for Anil Biswas, who composed for him a melody of surpassing beauty, Ritu aye sakhi ree, man ke in four ragas Sarang, Malhar, Jogiya and Basant Bahar to depict the change of seasons, in the film Hamdard. He also has great respect for Salil Choudhury, who made him sing immortal duets such as Hariyala sawan dhol bajata aya and Dharti kahey pukar ke with Lata Mangeshkar for Bimal Roys Do Bigha Zameen, and then 18 years later, in 1970, Zindagi kaisey ye paheli haye, picturised on the ebullient romantic hero Rajesh Khanna in Hrishikesh Mukherjees Anand.

Hot favourites for his fans include his songs from the film Basant Bahar under Shankar-Jaikishans music direction. Think of Sur na saje, Bhay bhanjana vandana, Nain miley chaen kahan (a delectable duet with Lata), and Ketaki gulab (a genuinely fine duet with the Hindustani classical vocalist Bhimsen Joshi, who was then at the peak of his career). The two songs from Raj Kapoors Boot Polish composed by Shankar-Jaikishan O raat gayee phir din aya and Lapak jhapak tu aa re badariya are also very popular. There are many more songs that touch the heart.

Manna Deys career has been rich and varied, despite the ups and downs. Indeed very few singers in popular genres like film music and light vocal music have had such a long and distinguished career. He has given continuous pleasure to discerning listeners since the early 1950s. His contribution to film music in its most fecund period is as great as that of any of his gifted male contemporaries.

His wife, Sulochana, who is a Keralite, sums up his art simply and accurately: He sings from the heart. That indeed is the secret of his enduring popularity.

For a better life

THE recently released United Nations Development Report-2009, titled Overcoming Barriers: Human Mobility and Development, presents a strong case for governments all over the world to encourage human mobility. Migrations, including those of low-skilled workforce, pay dividends all round, the report says. However, it does not quite attempt to seriously understand why people migrate, sometimes subjecting themselves to horrific situations in destination countries or even within their own countries. The report cautions that migration cannot be a solution to all economic ills or a major factor in development though remittances from migrants may complement and enhance human and economic development. In many countries, the money sent home by migrants often exceeds official aid. For India, such remittances add up to 1.5 times more than foreign direct investment. Then there are the so-called social remittances. These may be in the form of reduction in fertility, higher school enrolment rates and empowerment of women.

These benefits, however, can also be achieved by countries that invest sufficiently in these areas. The report seems to see migration as a boon in disguise for low-skilled and underpaid sections. But to view migration as a strategy for development is to offer a short cut where what is needed is long-term investment by governments. The emphasis on low-skill migration is also slightly disconcerting.

The report presents a core package of reforms, the six pillars, as it calls them: opening existing entry channels for more workers, especially those with low skills; ensuring basic human rights for migrants, from basic services such as education and health care to the right to vote; lowering the transaction costs of migration; finding collaborative solutions that benefit both destination communities and migrants; easing internal migration; and adding migration as a component of the development strategies of the countries of origin.

The question is why can the origin countries not address the livelihood issues of low-skilled workers and provide them with long-term solutions that not only enhance their personal well-being but also boost overall growth? Indeed, the report seems to see the need for migrations from the point of view of developed countries. It says that there is a strong case for increased access to sectors with a high demand for labour, particularly for the low-skilled and that this is particularly important for developed countries because their populations are ageing. Therefore, it is in the overall interest of developed countries to end discrimination against migrants.

The worlds population will grow by a third over the next four decades, and much of this growth will be in developing countries. The report says that in one in every five countries, including Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation, populations are expected to shrink. It argues that a demographic transition has begun; the ageing of populations is a widespread phenomenon, a natural consequence of a decline in death rates and a slower decline in birth rates that has occurred in most developing countries. It is also estimated that within the next 15 years, new entrants to the labour force in developing countries will far exceed the total number of working-age people. These trends will put a burden on wages and increase the incentives to move among potential employees in poorer countries.

In developed countries, the proportion of the elderly will rise markedly so that there will be 71 non-working age people for every 100 of working age. This, argues the report, will make it more difficult for developed countries to pay for the care of their children and old people as publicly funded education and health systems are paid with taxes levied on the working population. These demographic trends, the report concludes, go in favour of relaxing the barriers to the entry of migrants.

The report presupposes that people have an innate urge to migrate. Even if that is true, it does not alter the fact that the compelling circumstances that lie behind this phenomenon should be addressed. The report also presupposes that much of migration takes place voluntarily. It is not a voluntary decision that forces a villager in India, used to living under the open skies, to take up residence in a congested urban slum. The report does not adequately explore what makes people decide to migrate.

The report, however, does not advocate wholesale liberalisation of the migration process, arguing that people in the destination countries have a right to shape their societies. It argues that research commissioned by the UNDP shows that people in destination countries are generally supportive of further migration when jobs are available and appreciate the gains economic, social and cultural that increased diversity can bring. Therefore, migrants are welcome in a country that has already many jobs to offer.

The report seems to downplay the impact of recession. Jeni Klugman, the lead author, argues that a job crisis is bad for migrants and admits that several destination countries are taking steps to encourage or compel migrants to leave. With recovery, he says, many of the same underlying trends that have been driving movement during the past half-century will resurface, attracting people to move. But it is futile to suggest until such a recovery that developing countries should encourage their low-skilled workers to migrate.

The 1997 Human Development Report had observed that the principles of free global markets were applied selectively and that the global market for unskilled labour was not as free as the market for industrial country exports or capital. There has not been much change in the situation since then. The 2009 report admits that the current recession is likely to have long-lasting, maybe even permanent, effects on incomes and employment opportunities. It says that the financial crisis has turned into a job crisis. Quoting from studies, it says that the unemployment rate has already exceeded 8.4 per cent in the United States, which by May 2009 had lost nearly six million jobs since December 2007, with the total number of jobless people rising to 14.5 million. In Spain, the unemployment rate climbed as high as 15 per cent by April 2009 and topped 28 per cent among migrants.

The report corrects certain popular misconceptions. It says that most migrants do not even cross national borders but move within their own countries: Nearly 740 people are internal migrants, almost four times the number of international migrants. Among international migrants, less than 30 per cent move from developing to developed countries. For instance, only 3 per cent of Africans live outside the country of birth. Intra-country migrations are also fraught with problems, especially when migrants have to face questions regarding their identity.

Instead of making out a strong case for governments to address the root causes of migration by the very poor, including what is now called distress migration, the report seems to present an idyllic picture. It claims that migrants from the poorest countries saw an average 15-fold increase in income, doubling in education enrolment rates and a 16-fold reduction in child mortality after moving to a country with more opportunities.

Quoting recent research, the report claims that the health of migrants improved markedly during their first year in the destination country. Is migration, then, the policy that poorer countries should evolve to bring about an improvement in the health of their populations? Does the solution not lie in policies that enable such population to build better lives in their own countries?

The ranking of India, a developing country, in the Human Development Index, released each year as part of the annual Human Development Report, is a pathetic 134 out of 182 countries, the same as it was in 2006. Peoples lives, then, have not changed much during this period of high growth in the country. The report attempts to see migration of certain sections from the developing to the developed world as a positive thing. But that may not be the perception of governments or even people, especially in a context of economic hardship. It is no coincidence that jingoism, xenophobia and inclusiveness are accentuated in an economic crisis that takes away jobs.

In such a situation, large-scale migrations from developing countries to developed countries without legal commitments from the host and guest nations may not result in the kind of benefits presupposed throughout the report.

Handling naxalism

AN excerpt from the Communist Party of India-Maoist, or CPI (Maoist), document on Strategy & Tactics reads thus: However strong the enemys military power may be and however weak the peoples mil itary power, by basing ourselves on the vast backward countryside the weakest position of the enemy and relying on the vast masses of the peasantry, eager for agrarian revolution, and creatively following the flexible strategy and tactics of guerrilla struggle and the protracted peoples war following the policy and tactics of sudden attack and annihilation, it is absolutely possible to defeat the enemy forces and achieve victory for the people in single battles.

If this categorical statement does not adequately explain the recent escalation of Maoist violence, nothing else will. The CPI (Maoist) has left no one in doubt. It will increasingly concentrate on rural India and confound and terrorise an administration and law-enforcement machinery that is more comfortable handling urban chaos rather than the fallout of decades of neglect in the rest of India. It does not require extraordinary powers of comprehension to understand the Maoist when he goes on the rampage.

It is true that the average unlettered tribal person is being led by the nose and misguided by the more aware and educated Maoist leader. But to say that otherwise the former would have remained mute and soft forever is being somewhat naive, especially at a time when the divide between him/her and the rest of the lot is becoming more and more galling. The average tribal person believes he/she has nothing to lose in life, and the only way he/she could make himself/herself heard is by fighting an unjust social order. On the face of it, this may sound too simplistic an interpretation. In the absence of any other plausible theory, we have to be persuaded by the one that cites growing disparities in society as the propeller for Maoist violence.

Since the Telangana peasant movement in July 1948, which revealed that the poorest of agricultural workers would not take rural disparities lying down, there have been ups and downs in the fight against oppression by the rich and landlord classes. Periods of quiet in these years had lulled everyone in the administration into complacence until the Naxalbari revolt broke out in the late 1960s. It showed that there was verve in the movement for landlord-peasant parity, which was too dangerous to ignore. Once those difficult days were overcome with a degree of professionalism, there was unjustified optimism that agrarian unrest could be contained with a few carrots and the display of state power. The happenings thereafter were seen as an aberration that did not constitute a trend, and therefore, there was no threat to rural stability.

Events of the past five years or so have, however, transformed the scene, with happenings in Nepal providing the needed first inspiration. The so-called red corridor running down the Indian terrain from Bihar to Andhra Pradesh, and covering parts of Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Maharashtra, is a formidable geographical stretch that will become increasingly hard to govern. It is not that governance elsewhere in the country is on an even keel. It is only a shade better but has the potential to push the regions concerned towards the red corridor.

Another significant aspect of the scene is that it is no longer just a struggle against the landholder. It has become a fight against administrative oppression and corruption, both of which now act as the trigger to rural rebellion. There are accounts of horror showing how even lowly placed civil servants have been treating tribal people with the greatest contempt. When they show resentment, the police machinery is set upon them. The resultant anger often generates the kind of violence that we have been witnessing in most of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and parts of Maharashtra. There are no indications that this violent phase will end soon.

The indications are to the contrary. The situation is no doubt grim and is possibly going out of control. There is visible panic in the administration both at the Centre and in the States. There is, however, a welcome realisation that the current scene has tremendous implications for the future, and there is an immediate need for a carefully drawn strategy. The hope is that an integrated approach that combines rural development with firm law-and-order responses will pay dividends. Not that such an approach had not been tried earlier.

The truth is that the kind of anxiety displayed and the quantum of investment both rural development and police infrastructure now promised had not been seen earlier. This has won half the battle for the citizens of the country who are worried that what happened in Lalgarh or Gadchiroli could replicate itself in regions that now remain untouched by Maoist violence. The million-dollar question is how much of this integrated approach will translate itself on to the field.

There is undisputed cynicism across the country about whatever the government does. This is on two counts. One is the infusion of politics into the least controversial of measures, and the other is the seepage of funds for which the Indian administration is so notorious. All of us should be particularly concerned about the latter. It is no secret that corruption at the grass roots of administration and the allied miscarriage of justice are twin factors that ignite Maoist anger against the whole order.

The whole situation is nearly unprecedented for the scale of violence unleashed. The Indian police have many lessons to learn. Recent Maoist attacks on the police in Jharkhand (where an inspector was beheaded), Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra (where scores of policemen were lured into a trap and brutally murdered in Gadchiroli) portray a level of aggression that is most frightening.

The average police constable knows why the Maoist acts as recklessly and heartlessly as he does now. But he simply does not have a clue about correct response. His superiors are equally confused. The incidents have been far too many and the number of lives lost is enormous and the impact on the innocent police families that lost their breadwinners is so huge that there is a need for the police top brass to counsel the lower formations against inaction and depression.

Demoralisation in the ranks is inevitable. This has serious implications for the credibility of the police leadership. The fact that a majority of policemen killed in naxalite violence come from the lowest ranks and that the supervisory levels are relatively unharmed will not go unnoticed. Deliberate evasion of duty in the affected areas by sections of policemen is very much on the cards. This is going to cause personnel management problems that will have a long-term impact impinging on the credibility and reputation of police forces in the country.

Naxalism has been known for the aura built around its leaders. As in the case of many insurgency movements the world over, it has attracted men and women who are from the cream of society. The name that is now doing the rounds is Kobad Ghandy, a member of the CPI(Maoist) central committee, who looked after propaganda and publicity. An alumnus of the prestigious Doon School of Dehra Dun and a chartered accountant trained in London, Ghandy is a classic example of how the elite in society get drawn into leftist movements.

The sacrifices made by him and his late wife can bring tears to many of us. He is under treatment for cancer and possibly came for treatment to Delhi where he was nabbed. The Maoists allege that Ghandy was betrayed by a courier. They now put on a brave face saying that Ghandys arrest will hardly have any impact on the party. Even if this were true, I would expect more reprisals against the police and the intelligence agencies. This is unfortunate at a time when we want a highly motivated law enforcement machinery.

A question that nags me is how to prevent more people joining the Maoist ranks. This is where the efficacy of developmental work counts. But I am more concerned about how to transform the police forces into sleek organisations that will handle Maoist terror professionally and with greater restraint. The temptation is to meet violence with violence. This has, however, not worked. More focussed training programmes and greater incentives for discipline in handling violence could help. A new force dedicated to the task is also a logical response.

But then how many more forces are we going to raise? How are we going to train them in quick time and make them available to the administration? These are questions that should agitate Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and his team in the North Block. The silver lining to what is otherwise a nightmarish situation is that naxalite violence has ushered in a new era of Centre-State cooperation in the realm of policing. This is how it should be if we are to infuse more confidence into the minds of average citizens and enhance their faith in the States capacity to protect them.

Revival plan

cover-story

REVIVING the Maoist movement in Andhra Pradesh will be crucial for the ultra-Left party in the current situation where different States are getting ready to launch an all-out offensive against it with the full backing of the Centre. The Maoist leadership is preparing for a showdown and appears to be all set to reclaim lost ground in Andhra Pradesh, especially in the north Telengana districts. This is evident from the increased movement of armed cadre in Adilabad, Nizamabad, Karimnagar, Warangal and Khammam districts. In the last three months Maoist hit squads killed two people in Karimnagar and one person in Warangal, and robbed a bank in Khammam.

However, the revival of the movement will not be that easy. As the activity at mass organisation activity is almost zero in the State, the party will have to depend exclusively on violent acts such as attacks on politicians, civilians branded as informants, and the police. But it was this overdependence on the military activity that led to its downfall in Telengana. In effect, the party is not in a position to organise partial struggles on any peoples issues, an essential component of the Protracted Peoples War (PPW). That the Maoists had earlier failed even to take advantage of an emotive issue like a separate Telengana State speaks volumes about the peoples support to the causes taken up by the Maoists.

They did indeed try to take up the proposal to start an open-cast coal mining project in Karimnagar and called a bandh, but it did not evoke any response. Interestingly, after killing a villager, Ramlal of Yatnaram village in Karimnagar, on October 12, the Maoists left a letter listing several demands, including the supply of 50 kg of rice a month and Rs.1,000 as pension to every household, 10 hours of power supply, and fee waivers to all students.

Broadly, the Maoists strategy is simple. They expect that the security forces withdrawn from Kashmir will be redeployed in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand, where the revolutionary movement is intense. Their counter-strategy is to strike in newer areas just to divert the attention of the enemy [state], as stated in the July 12, 2009, politburo document. The document was issued two days after Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram announced the phased withdrawal of the Central Reserve Police Force from Kashmir.

The Maoist influence is relatively strong in Bastar bordering Khammam, Warangal and Karimnagar districts of north Telengana, and in Malkangiri, Koraput and Ganjam districts of Orissa, bordering the north coastal districts of Andhra, and Gadchiroli, abutting the forest areas of Adilabad. This enables its squads to dart into the State, strike and retreat into the relative safety of Orissa, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh.

The revival plan is not just part of the overall strategy of the Maoists. On a different plane, the central leadership representing the erstwhile CPI(ML) Peoples War (PW) in the unified CPI(Maoist) feels slighted in front of comrades from the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI). In the post-2004 merger phase, there has been a severe setback in Andhra Pradesh, where the PW was strong. But in MCCI-controlled areas such as Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, the movement has been growing stronger. Another embarrassment for PW leaders in the united Maoist party is that they outnumber their MCCI counterparts in the all-powerful Central Committee and the politburo. At every meeting, MCCI leaders make it a point to express their reservations about the capability of Andhra leaders to lead the movement.

K. Srinivas Reddy

Revival plan

cover-story

REVIVING the Maoist movement in Andhra Pradesh will be crucial for the ultra-Left party in the current situation where different States are getting ready to launch an all-out offensive against it with the full backing of the Centre. The Maoist leadership is preparing for a showdown and appears to be all set to reclaim lost ground in Andhra Pradesh, especially in the north Telengana districts. This is evident from the increased movement of armed cadre in Adilabad, Nizamabad, Karimnagar, Warangal and Khammam districts. In the last three months Maoist hit squads killed two people in Karimnagar and one person in Warangal, and robbed a bank in Khammam.

However, the revival of the movement will not be that easy. As the activity at mass organisation activity is almost zero in the State, the party will have to depend exclusively on violent acts such as attacks on politicians, civilians branded as informants, and the police. But it was this overdependence on the military activity that led to its downfall in Telengana. In effect, the party is not in a position to organise partial struggles on any peoples issues, an essential component of the Protracted Peoples War (PPW). That the Maoists had earlier failed even to take advantage of an emotive issue like a separate Telengana State speaks volumes about the peoples support to the causes taken up by the Maoists.

They did indeed try to take up the proposal to start an open-cast coal mining project in Karimnagar and called a bandh, but it did not evoke any response. Interestingly, after killing a villager, Ramlal of Yatnaram village in Karimnagar, on October 12, the Maoists left a letter listing several demands, including the supply of 50 kg of rice a month and Rs.1,000 as pension to every household, 10 hours of power supply, and fee waivers to all students.

Broadly, the Maoists strategy is simple. They expect that the security forces withdrawn from Kashmir will be redeployed in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand, where the revolutionary movement is intense. Their counter-strategy is to strike in newer areas just to divert the attention of the enemy [state], as stated in the July 12, 2009, politburo document. The document was issued two days after Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram announced the phased withdrawal of the Central Reserve Police Force from Kashmir.

The Maoist influence is relatively strong in Bastar bordering Khammam, Warangal and Karimnagar districts of north Telengana, and in Malkangiri, Koraput and Ganjam districts of Orissa, bordering the north coastal districts of Andhra, and Gadchiroli, abutting the forest areas of Adilabad. This enables its squads to dart into the State, strike and retreat into the relative safety of Orissa, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh.

The revival plan is not just part of the overall strategy of the Maoists. On a different plane, the central leadership representing the erstwhile CPI(ML) Peoples War (PW) in the unified CPI(Maoist) feels slighted in front of comrades from the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI). In the post-2004 merger phase, there has been a severe setback in Andhra Pradesh, where the PW was strong. But in MCCI-controlled areas such as Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, the movement has been growing stronger. Another embarrassment for PW leaders in the united Maoist party is that they outnumber their MCCI counterparts in the all-powerful Central Committee and the politburo. At every meeting, MCCI leaders make it a point to express their reservations about the capability of Andhra leaders to lead the movement.

K. Srinivas Reddy

To establish a liberated area

KOTESWAR RAO, alias Kishenji, is a politburo member of the banned CPI (Maoist) and is in charge of the partys operations in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa. He was drawn into the revolutionary movement when he was doing his B.Sc. (Mathematics) in Karimnagar, Andhra Pradesh. He became a full-time member of the CPI-ML (Peoples War) in 1974.

We plan to spread our movement to north Bengal, the plains of Bihar, the central districts of Orissa and eastern Chhattisgarh, he told Frontline in an exclusive telephonic interview in which he talked about the Lalgarh movement, the Maoist programme of individual killings and future plans of the Maoist movement. Excerpts:

Do you think the movement in Lalgarh is the fallout of the Singur and Nandigram movements rather than a heritage of the Naxalbari movement?

The movement in Lalgarh is the fallout of the Naxalbari movement, but the movements in Nandigram and Singur also had an impact on the Lalgarh movement and the people of Lalgarh. Such a long and sustained movement on a political issue has never taken place in the history of independent India. The main reason for this is the increase in political awareness among the masses.

At the same time, there is, on the one hand, a worldwide economic crisis and, on the other, Indian multinationals seizing the land and property of the common people. These, too, had a role to play in the eruption in Lalgarh.

And of course the Nandigram and Singur agitations, in which we were also present, are certainly big factors. At present, it is not possible to carry out just a peaceful agitation in West Bengal; along with peaceful agitations there must be huge rallies and meetings involving the direct participation of thousands of people.

There is a view that the Lalgarh movement is a spontaneous tribal movement that became so big that the CPI (Maoist) had to get on to it or be left behind. Your comments.

It is not as if we started doing our groundwork in the region yesterday; we have been doing our groundwork for a long time. The Maoist role and leadership in the area has been a continuous process. But, at the same time, the PCPA [Peoples Committee against Police Atrocities] and the Maoist movement are not the same, and it would be incorrect to say that the people of the region have been influenced only by Maoists; they have been very much influenced by the PCPA, too.

But if there were no arrests following the assassination attempt on Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on November 2 last year, would you have been able to build such a strong movement?

Not something like this. It would have developed in a slow process. But the reaction of the people worked to our advantage much more than it did in Nandigram or Singur. We didnt have any demand other than that the police apologise to the people, but the State government did not agree to it. We were left with few options.

Did you at any point think that the movement might not need you?

Yes, I did. We expected a movement after November 2, but nothing so big. I expected the strength of the movement to be around 50 per cent of what it eventually became. But the movement itself has undergone a qualitative change over the months. Earlier, when the villagers protested, they assembled in large numbers with their traditional bows and arrows. Then the combined forces entered the region and many villagers fled.

Subsequently, they all returned and now they are not fleeing anywhere. They are standing their own ground and collecting weapons to strike back. So tell me, where do you think this spirit to retaliate is coming from? Whom do you think the villagers are supporting now?

In 2007, it was decided that the CPI (Maoist) would broad-base its activities and not focus only on individual killings like the earlier naxalite movement. But Maoist killings are being reported almost every other day. So in what way is it different from the old programme?

At that time, annihilation of the class enemy was the only form adopted to bring about the revolution. We have changed that. We say that annihilation is one of the forms. This was not invented by Maoists; we have seen in history that the masses have always allowed it. To us, annihilation is one aspect of our total movement.

It was not a regular feature earlier as you claim. It became a regular feature only after the combined forces entered the region. If you recollect, before the deployment of Central forces, we held a Jana Adalat [peoples court] for 30 CPI(M) people in Madhupur [near Lalgarh].

More than 12,000 villagers attended the trial. The public wanted the death sentence for 13 of those under trial. But Bikas [the Maoist commander of operations in Lalgarh], after hours of persuasion, finally managed to convince the public that the time was not right to mete out such a punishment. Finally, the public agreed that those 13 people be just made to wear garlands of chappals and apologise. The other killings took place only after continued disregard of repeated warnings that were sent to the victims both by us and by the people of the region.

The victims were not just police informers, they practically marched with the combined forces. It is not that we killed only CPI(M) people, we killed members of the Jharkhand Party, too, for helping the combined forces and for joining the Gana Pratirodh [Peoples Resistance] Committee; and I would also like to add that there is no difference between the Salwa Judum and the Gana Pratirodh Committee.

We killed the main leaders of the committee. Of the six main leaders of the Gana Pratirodh Committee, three were from the CPI(M) and three from the Jharkhand Party. Here again, we killed them after repeatedly requesting them to desist from forming such a committee. They did not listen to us and we had no other alternative.

The annihilation policy of old and what we do today are not the same. Along with individual assassinations, there are also other forms of actions that we undertake different kinds of mass movements, social boycotts of culprits, and various developmental works.

In fact, recently, in Shankabanga village [in Purbo Medhinipur], we dug a seven-kilometre canal for irrigation. We have done similar work in many villages.

The CPI (Maoist) had announced that it will spread the movement to new areas following the general elections this year. Which are the areas that have been identified?

North Bengal, the plains of Bihar, the central districts of Orissa and eastern Chhattisgarh. All these are backward areas where multinational companies are trying to penetrate, and the State governments are signing memorandums of understanding with them. The strategic location of these areas will also help us in our movements.

The movement in Orissa is one of the most upcoming movements by our party and it will facilitate a combined consolidation of our movements in the neighbouring States of Jharkhand, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, bringing as many as 15 districts under our control.

Tell us something about your plans in West Bengal.

Very simply, to establish a liberated area. We decided in 2007 that this [the Jangalmahal] would be a guerilla area. Since then we have progressed a lot, we have already reached out to more than half the population of the region and made it politically aware. I can tell you only so much. Our politburo does not allow us to divulge the tactical aspects of our programmes.

But is there widespread recruitment into your movement from the region?

There has to be recruitment, or else how will the movement grow?

There are reports of fresh plans by your party to try and assassinate the Chief Minister, and even storm Writers Buildings. Your comments.

The media need sensational news, and the police need to justify their fat salaries. Do I really need to elaborate? As I have repeatedly said, to kill Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was not my decision. It was the decision of the people of Nandigram, the people of West Bengal, and even sections of the liberal bourgeoisie.

Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, who earlier extended her support to the PCPAs movement, seems to have distanced herself from it. Your comments.

I have been asking Mamata Banerjee for the last three months to make her stand clear. After the general elections her fortune has soared, but what about the fortune of the Ma, Mati, Manush [Mamatas political slogan of Mother, Earth, and People]? Their situation remains the same. What Mamata Banerjee is doing is indulging in opportunistic politics.

With the State and the Centre now planning to launch a much stronger attack, do you not think that your movement, as it stands today will endanger the lives of thousands of innocent and apolitical villagers?

The state should think about that. People like Manmohan Singh, [P.] Chidambaram and Buddhababu are responsible for the situation as it stands today. Ultimately, they are the ones responsible for the killings. We still want peace, it is the government that does not.

So are you willing to sit for dialogue with the government for the sake of peace?

You are probably the 210th person to ask me this question. Chidambaram and Buddhababu have clearly said there will not be any dialogue; they have already arrayed their forces for war, and still you people from the media keep harping, You will all not survive this. This is clearly to break the spirit of the common people. I do not understand why you all are continuously asking me this question. It really is not possible for me to provide routine answers to such routine questions. I am standing in a battlefield here.

Flawed programme and practice

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI cover-story

AS a party based on the Marxist-Leninist ideology, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has serious differences in theory and practice with the Maoist groups in the country. In an interview to Frontline, party general secretary Prakash Karat explained why the tactics of the Maoist groups will never help solve the problem of poverty. Excerpts:

How does the CPI(M) assess the spurt of Maoist activity? Politically, how do you view the approach of the Maoist groups?

The Maoists claim to be a revolutionary force. But they are far from being an organisation based on a Marxist outlook. Though they call themselves a communist party, their ideology and practice go against the basic principles of Marxism and what a communist party should be. Their programme and practice are flawed; they do not even recognise the realities. They harp on India being still a semi-colonial country; their politics is based on the gun and the use of violence, which essentially disrupts the working class movement and mass mobilisation. By indulging in senseless violence mainly directed at its political opponents, the Maoists end up helping the state to come down heavily on the people they claim to champion.

The Left Front government in West Bengal has been at the receiving end of such violence for some time now. How has the character of such activities changed over the years?

The Maoists have been trying to organise and be active in West Bengal for quite some time now. They have failed to acquire a mass base. Where they are active is mainly in the border districts of Paschim Medinipur, Purulia and Bankura, all bordering Jharkhand. Here we have seen how, in the past few months, they have systematically targeted the cadre and supporters of the CPI(M). Though they claim to have popular support, the Maoists are not willing to put it to the test. The CPI(M), which has a large mass base among the tribal people, is opposed to the disruptive politics and violence of the Maoists. That is why they are indulging in targeted assassinations and killings. Some of the people they have killed have been executed in a brutal fashion, in front of their family members. How can the killing of CPI(M) workers, most of them poor tribal people, be considered a revolutionary activity by any standard? It is now well known that the Maoists collaborated with the Trinamool Congress to fight the CPI(M) and the Left Front. This is a feature of the Maoists elsewhere too. Their squads have no hesitation in backing one bourgeois party or the other. It can be seen in Bihar and in other States too. Most of the people killed by the Maoists, apart from policemen, are poor peasants, agricultural workers or the rural poor.

There has been a palpable change in the Central governments approach to these Maoist groups. It now views them as a serious threat. At the Chief Ministers conference on internal security in Kolkata recently, Home Minister P. Chidambaram described naxalites as the biggest threat to internal security. Do you think that just stepping up police and other paramilitary support is enough to quell the activities of these groups?

As far as the CPI(M) is concerned, we think that the Maoists have to be fought and countered politically and ideologically. Wherever they are active and try to mobilise the tribal people and poorer sections, they must be combated politically. When they indulge in violence and terrorising of political opponents, administrative steps have to be taken to curb them. It is not possible to deal with them only politically when they are resorting to large-scale killing. In Lalgarh alone, in the past few months, more than 60 CPI(M) supporters were killed by the Maoists.

The Central government has announced it will deploy more paramilitary forces in some of the Maoist-affected States. This alone is not sufficient. In those areas, the government must embark upon socio-economic development; there have to be immediate measures to execute land reforms and provide basic services to the people. Without a comprehensive approach that deals with peoples problems in backward and tribal areas, the Maoist threat cannot be contained. The government should identify such areas and plan concrete measures, which is not being done sufficiently at present.

The Maoists have to understand that they wont be able to accomplish anything by their sectarian and adventurous approach of resorting to arms and violence. They should learn from the experience of the Maoist party in Nepal. Building a mass movement on a political platform and relying on the people for political change can be the only correct perspective.

There have been expressions of support for the Maoist cause, sporadically of course, from a section of the intelligentsia. It confers a certain degree of legitimacy to the Maoist approach and acceptance of their tactics.

Some intellectuals and civil liberties organisations refuse to see the enormous damage being done by the Maoists by their senseless and indiscriminate violence. For some of these intellectuals, it seems as if they do not want to get into the hard work and grind of building a genuine mass movement but take vicarious satisfaction in supporting such pseudo-revolutionary activities.

Poverty can never be eliminated by such violent tactics as it only disrupts the possibility of developing a powerful and united mass struggle against exploitation and the iniquitous order. By just targeting a few so-called enemies of the people, one cannot bring about any change in the system of injustice existing today.

A new tactic?

P.S. SURYANARAYANA world-affairs
in Singapore 20091106262205701jpg

MYANMARS celebrated democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi is the only Nobel Peace laureate to languish in detention now. While this is a widely discussed fact, not equally known is the reality that she often turns to Mahatma Gandhi for inspiration. It is not as if her peaceful struggle is not known. It is just that the international community does not readily see Gandhiji as her primary hero in politics. It was, all the same, ironic that Suu Kyis appeal to end her house arrest was turned down by a Yangon court on Gandhi Jayanti day, October 2. As this is written, the planned revision petition against this verdict of a divisional court has not been formally moved.

The current phase of her house arrest was ordered on August 11 by an executive fiat that superseded a Yangon trial courts verdict against her on the same day. And thereby hangs an intricate tale of unexplored possibilities. In a sense, these possibilities have little to do with her overall detention for over 14 years so far mainly house arrest and also a brief spell in prison. Nor do the new possibilities have much to do with the so-called facts of the current case against her. The American national who she was accused of sheltering for a few days in violation of the terms of the previous phase of her house arrest has already been deported after being convicted for a parallel offence of seeking her out undetected by the security forces.

Another material fact in the maze of details about her current status is that Myanmars military rulers have eased her penalty but not revoked the trial courts guilty verdict against her. While that court sentenced her to a three-year rigorous imprisonment, the junta altered the punishment to a new round of house arrest for a reduced period at her Yangon lakeside residence.

At the legal level, Suu Kyis close political associates in her National League for Democracy (NLD), who also serve as her counsel, are determined to get the guilty verdict overturned through the remaining avenues of appeal. However, the legal process in Myanmar, overshadowed overwhelmingly by martial law, is not as clear-cut as in a democracy. This is especially so at this time on two counts.

One, it is for the first time that the junta has accessed the judicial process in a bid to keep Suu Kyi out of the political domain. Before the present case, the first against her, the junta had promoted the same objective through a naked exercise of political prerogatives.

More importantly, the second factor, now in focus behind the scenes, is the possibility of a three-way engagement between Myanmars junta, Suu Kyi, and the United States. In a larger sense, the juntas leader, Senior General Than Shwe, so used to arbitrary rule as in the cases of martial law in other countries, may decide the future status of Suu Kyi on the basis of such a three-way engagement.

Significantly, in this context, Aung Kyi, a Minister designated by the junta to liaise with Suu Kyi even as it crushed a recent uprising by Buddhist monks, met her twice in quick succession after her judicial appeal for freedom was turned down on October 2. With the junta releasing no details of these conversations, her close associates, who were not privy to this sudden dialogue, could only speculate about the nature and scope of the new engagement. Although her associates were denied access to her in this context, they were aware of the possibility of a qualitatively different kind of dialogue between her and the junta.

Nyan Win, Suu Kyis long-time lieutenant and NLD spokesman, told this correspondent from Yangon in the first week of October that the junta was possibly trying to figure out how she might help secure an end to the existing international sanctions on Myanmar. The reasoning was that these talks took place soon after she categorically offered to cooperate with the junta in getting the economic embargo lifted for the benefit of Myanmars people.

Another subject of actual or potential interest to the junta in engaging Suu Kyi was its own possible dialogue with the U.S. The Barack Obama administration has surprised many observers in East Asia by offering to hold direct talks with not only North Korea but also Myanmars military rulers. One of the reasons cited by the U.S. for these parallel moves is the suspicion of emerging links on arms-related issues between Kim Jong-ils North Korea and Than Shwes Myanmar. The suspicion in the West extends to the possibility of Kim helping Than Shwe develop nuclear weapons.

On a different but related front, the latest U.S. move for separate bilateral talks with North Korea and Myanmar does not bristle with open overtones of seeking a regime change in any of these countries. On the contrary, the U.S. has packaged the move as some kind of realpolitik of dealing with these two leaders in their own right because of their critical relevance to the local situations.

For Suu Kyis NLD associates, the relevant issue is not really centred on the tactical or strategic logic that drove Washington to initiate its new move. In their view, any dialogue between the U.S. and Myanmars junta would be pointless without a parallel or overlapping conversation between the NLD and the Obama administration. In fact, shortly after the new U.S. gesture to the junta became known, Suu Kyi let a word out, through her now-free NLD lieutenants, that she would like the U.S. to engage not just Myanmars junta but also the countrys opposition camp, especially her own party.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, Than Shwes decision to depute a Minister for urgent talks with Suu Kyi, even as the ink on a judicial order against her appeal for freedom had not yet become dry, acquired the proportions of a new political game plan. From the NLD standpoint, the juntas talks with her in early October offered the prospects of some form of a three-way engagement that could involve the U.S. as well. With Washington yet to firm up its own ideas on how to engage the junta, the NLDs position, as of October 9, was that the three sides could talk not only about ending the Myanmar-specific sanctions but also about the countrys long-term political question itself.

20091106262205702jpg

The notion of the three sides sitting together for talks was, of course, just that a notion. However, it was not an idle pastime to imagine that some criss-crossing or even parallel contacts between the three sides could occur. For that to happen, the junta should, of course, be willing either to free Suu Kyi or at least to let her talk to the U.S. or the West.

For long, the junta had accused Suu Kyi of being a devilish advocate of the international sanctions that only hurt the interests of ordinary Myanmarese. While this was not true, she also had not, until early October, offered proactive cooperation with the junta to get these sanctions lifted, NLD sources said.

The junta, no doubt, remains wary of going the extra mile to engage Suu Kyi and the U.S., lest that should inexorably lead to the beginning of the end of military rule in Myanmar. An idea of striking a bargain for some form of controlled democracy is, therefore, seen to be driving the junta in denying her freedom even while engaging her.

Will the NLD lawyers be able to bring about a game-changer now by pursuing further judicial appeals for Suu Kyis freedom? The juntas track record should rule out this possibility. But the lawyers are in no mood to give up, especially after winning a crucial legal point in the Yangon divisional court on October 2.

When this is written, she is yet to review the situation following the divisional courts verdict against her first-stage appeal.

Dismissing that appeal, the court ruled that the 1974 Constitution, which the prosecution had cited as the overarching framework for her trial, is not valid in law. However, the divisional judge upheld the validity of the 1975 State Protection Law, which was invoked to set the terms for her previous house arrest, which she was accused of violating.

The NLD lawyers saw this as a very controversial ruling that could be challenged judicially. Their reasoning was that the invalidation of the 1974 Constitution, which they demanded during the hearings, would imply a constitutional vacuum.

This should strengthen the case against any state protection law, however enacted or promulgated. The hope of the NLD lawyers was that a successful appeal in the form of a revision petition before the apex court would not only exonerate her of any wrongdoing but also undermine the basis of the executive order on her current detention.

Such legal niceties under a martial-law regime and the emerging political possibilities call for some problem-solving creativity, which those outside Myanmar have rarely, if at all, credited the junta with.

For a new term

world-affairs

PREDICTABLY, it is mega election(s) time in Sri Lanka. The three-decade-long military conflict is behind it. President Mahinda Rajapaksas popularity ratings are at an all-time high. The Southern Provincial Council (SPC), which went to the polls on October 10, is completely in the bag of the ruling party. In a clear sign that a presidential poll, followed by general elections, is in the offing, the Cabinet presided over by Rajapaksa on October 6 decided to present a vote on account to Parliament instead of a full-fledged budget for 2010.

The term of Parliament is scheduled to end in April next year. In an interview to The Hindu published in July, Rajapaksa had declared that he would seek re-election as President before the parliamentary elections.

Minister of Mass Media and Information Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, who is also the Cabinet spokesman, told a news conference that since Parliaments term was to end in April, the presentation of the budget for the whole year was not the accepted custom.

Under the Constitution, the President is empowered to call the presidential election once he/she completes four years of the six-year tenure. Rajapaksa completes four years in office in the third week of November. In the event of a presidential election held upon the incumbents completion of four years in office, the person elected to the office shall take oath only after the incumbent completes his/her full six-year term.

In his July interview to The Hindu, in response to a question on the much-needed and awaited political solution to the ethnic problem, Rajapaksa said:

I know what to give and I know what not to give. The people have given me the mandate, so Im going to use it. No way for federalism in this country. For reconciliation to happen there must be a mix [of ethnicities].

Even tomorrow I can give that [political solution] but I want to get that from the people. I am waiting, but it will be after my [re]election [as President].

Observers are of the view that Rajapaksa wants an early second term as his popularity ratings in the south are high after the military defeat of the LTTE in May and the death of its leader Velupillai Prabakaran.

Managers in the Presidents camp believe that if Rajapaksa is re-elected for a second term he will have a firmer grip on ruling party candidates for the parliamentary elections and be better placed to seek a clear majority for the alliance led by him in the new House.

At his rally on October 6 for the SPC, Rajapaksa asserted that the people of the south would react accordingly to international allegations levelled against the leaders who pioneered the humanitarian mission against the ruthless terrorists. His supreme confidence vis-a-vis the rest of the world is not difficult to understand. Barring the Northern Province, all the other eight provinces where elections were held after the commencement of Eelam War IV in August 2006 (it concluded in May 2009) voted in favour of the Rajapaksa-led alliance.

Were Rajapaksa to gain a two-thirds majority in Parliament, he would have the votes to change the Constitution in a bid to evolve a political consensus to hammer out a solution acceptable to all stakeholders in the ethnic strife.

There was never any doubt on the outcome of the SPC elections, and the debate centred only on the margin by which the ruling combine would take over the Council. The English daily Island, in an editorial on the day of polling for the SPC, wrote:

Suffice it to say that the JVP may consider it an achievement, if it could secure at least one seat in the 53-member Southern Provincial Council (SPC). And the UNP [United National Party] will have a good reason to be happy if it could fare a wee bit better than it did in Uva.

And the government will have won only if it could surpass itself in its stronghold, the South. That is, it will have to better its last performance in Uva, where it polled a little over 72 per cent of the valid votes. Even if it wins without achieving that target, it will leave room for the Opposition to claim [that] the end of the Rajapaksa regime has begun!

The UNP is already in the throes of a debilitating crisis, and it could only get worse if its leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, a former Prime Minister, fails to evolve quickly a suitable strategy to face the impending presidential election and the general elections.

As things stand, Rajapaksa is a sure winner if he chooses to seek a second term as his popularity is at an all-time high despite the fact that the minorities, Tamils and Muslims are not going to be on his side.

Whether the equation holds for the parliamentary elections as well is difficult to say now. In the past one year and five months, the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) has been on an electoral roller coaster, winning all eight P.C. elections: Southern, Eastern, North Central, Sabaragamuwa, Central, North Western, Western and Uva.

The first P.C. election held under the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa was to the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC). It was held after a gap of 20 years, on May 10, 2008. But more crucially, it was the first P.C. election held after the separation of the East from the North-East Provincial Council (NEPC).

In order to muster more support, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader Rauff Hakeem, along with two other party stalwarts, chairman Basheer Segudawood and general secretary Hasen Ali, resigned their seats in Parliament to contest in the predominantly Muslim East.

The UPFA, along with the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) led by former rebel leader Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan (Pillaiyan), emerged victorious in the election, winning 52.21 per cent of the votes (308,886) and obtaining 20 seats (including two bonus slots) in the 37-member Council.

The opposition UNP, as part of which the SLMC contested, won 15 seats, obtaining 250,732 votes (42.38 per cent). The JVP and the Tamil Democratic National Alliance (TDNA) won one seat each, obtaining 1.53 per cent and 1.3 per cent respectively of the votes.

In the history of the Proportional Representation (PR) System, this was the first time a Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)-led coalition won in the East.

However, Rajapaksa and his ruling combine would be entirely mistaken if they interpreted the electoral victories as a complete endorsement of the programmes and policies of the regime. Sri Lanka will continue to be polarised unless the government, with the support of all political parties, moves quickly to address the core issues pertaining to the legitimate grievances of the minorities in general and Tamils in particular, which gave birth to militant politics on the island.

B. Muralidhar Reddy

Danish flavour

advertorial

THARANGAMBADI, called the land of the singing waves for the humming sound made by the lashing sea waves at twilight, is a coastal town in Nagapattinam district. Formerly the Danish colony of Tranquebar, it has many structures that stand testimony to the distinct architectural and cultural commingling in the area. The Tranquebar fort, or Dansborg, on the Tharangambadi coast, is one such early instance.

Inscriptions from the 14th century describe Tharangambadi as a trading port that was part of the Thanjavur kingdom. A Danish colony was set up here after the arrival of the Danish team of Ove Gjedde to the court of the Nayaka ruler in 1620. Land was leased out to the Danes as part of a treaty between King Ragunatha Nayaka of Thanjavur and the King of Denmark. However, a threat of annexation came from the Nayakars following a disagreement, and this led to the fortification of Tharangambadi. The town gate at the entrance to Kings Street is part of this fortification.

The compartments in the lower level, adjoining the ramparts of the fort, served as godowns, prisons, and rest rooms for soldiers. The rooms in the upper level were the residences of the governor and the priests. It now houses a Danish museum displaying cannons, war weapons and vintage artefacts. In 1845, the Danes sold Tranquebar to the English East India Company for Rs.12.50 lakh. The sale deed is displayed at the Dansborg Museum. Tharangambadi retained its importance as a centre of trade and commerce until the setting up of a railway line in Nagapattinam in 1861.The Masilamani Nathar temple was erected on land granted by King Maravarman Kulasekara Pandian in 1306. Despite its dilapidated condition, it breathes a charm. Its rocky edges protrude some 50 metres into the sea; this part is said to be its frontal extension, which went under water owing to erosion. A section of the gopuram, destroyed by the December 2004 tsunami, lies beneath the boulders placed to check waves. The tsunami washed ashore a lingam, which is now housed in the Dansborg Museum.

A few metres away from the Masilamani Nathar temple is a Siva temple, which is being renovated by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. The Zion Church on Kings Street, sanctified in 1701, is the oldest Protestant church in India. The New Jerusalem Church was constructed in 1718 following the arrival of German missionaries such as Bartolomaus Ziegenbalg in order to accommodate the growing Christian population. Its intricate ornamentation is reminiscent of the architecture of European churches.

The consolidation of Danish influence saw the arrival of Muslim traders, German theologians and missionaries, and Moravian entrepreneurs. Each community is said to have impacted on the culture of the area. The Danes pioneered several initiatives. These include the first evangelical Lutheran Church, the first printing press to print the Tamil translation of the New Testament, and the first girls school.

Danish architecture is marked by spacious rooms, columned verandahs, high ceilings and projecting pelmets. The predominant Danish streetscape did not wipe out the prevalent Tamil streetscape, as is evident from the houses on Goldsmith Street. INTACH renovated the five Tamil houses here, taking care to retain the charm of the old architecture. The dilapidated Governors Bungalow briefly functioned as a sessions court during British rule. INTACH is now renovating the structure.

The Ziegenbalg Museum complex, which has a prayer hall, reportedly housed the first printing press. The German government helped in the renovation of the house.

The Old Danish Cemetery to the west of the fort dates to the same period as the fort. There are about 33 heritage buildings in the area, of which the bungalow on the beach, the Nayak House and the Gate House maintained by the Neemrana Group provide high-end tourist accommodation. Besides, there is the Tamil Nadu Hotel, which provides budget accommodation.

P.V. Srividya in Nagapattinam

Controversial choice

THE Supreme Courts collegium comprising the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and four senior judges, which recommends appointees to the Supreme Court, exercises a crucial responsibility. It has a decisive say in the appointment process, which includes a mandatory consultation with the government. The CJIs view, formed and fortified by the supporting views, in writing, of just two other members of the collegium, has primacy. Although the government can return a recommendation for reconsideration by the CJI and the collegium for specified reasons, they can reiterate their recommendation, which will be binding on the government.

This legal position means that once the CJI and the collegium make a recommendation practically nothing can be done to change it. Once a judge is appointed, it is virtually impossible to remove him or her from office because the process of impeachment of a judge by Parliament is long and cumbersome. The judgment of the Supreme Courts nine-judge Bench in the Supreme Court Advocates-on-record case in 1993, (known as the Second Judges Case), which heralded the era of collegium with primacy to the CJI, said so clearly while laying down the grounds on which the government could reject the CJIs recommendation:

If the non-appointment in a rare case... [of a recommended appointee] turns out to be a mistake, that mistake in the ultimate public interest, is less harmful than a wrong appointment.

However, by limiting severely the grounds for rejecting a CJIs recommendation with regard to appointments, the Supreme Courts judgments in the Second and Third (1998) Judges Cases, according to observers, paved the way for several wrong appointments.

With the collegiums deliberations shrouded in secrecy, it was inconceivable that any wrong recommendation of the collegium would come to public notice. There is a gap of six to 10 weeks (which can stretch up to a maximum of 16 weeks, if there is disagreement among members of the collegium) between the governments receipt of a proposal from the CJI and the actual appointment of a judge. But this period is almost always rushed through, with little public transparency over the written opinions of the members of the collegium. The 1993 judgment makes these opinions non-justiciable but not non-disclosable to the public.

A report that appeared in The Hindu on August 27 about the collegiums recommendation to appoint five new judges lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding the minutes of the collegium. The names recommended were Ananga Kumar Patnaik, Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court; Tirath Singh Thakur, Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court; Surinder Singh Nijjar, Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court; P.D. Dinakaran, Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court; and K.S. Radhakrishnan, Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court.

Responsible legal circles in Chennai who read The Hindus report were perturbed to learn the background of one of the appointees, Justice Dinakaran. The Forum for Judicial Accountability (FJA), of which R. Vaigai, an advocate in Chennai, is the convener, received information about certain allegations against him. The allegations related to land-grabbing, acquisition of assets disproportionate to known sources of income and abuse of office.

On September 9, the FJA made its first written complaint, in detail, to the collegium about these allegations. Senior advocates in the Supreme Court, Fali S. Nariman and Shanti Bhushan, handed over the complaint to the CJI and other members of the collegium. Asked why the FJA did not disclose these allegations when Justice Dinakaran was elevated as the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, Vaigai told Frontline that the FJA did not have the information earlier. Only now, could we get the information backed with documentation, she said.

On September 17, the FJA forwarded to the collegium additional materials regarding Justice Dinakarans assets and his rather unusual judicial orders. Shanti Bhushan and fellow senior Supreme Court advocates Anil Divan and Kamini Jaiswal handed over to Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily a copy of the second missive and requested the government not to proceed with Justice Dinakarans appointment. Reports in the media on the allegations forced Justice Dinakaran to opt out of an official visit to Australia along with the CJI and other judges of the Supreme Court.

The FJA, on October 1, sent to the collegium more information relating to the amassing of property and exercise of judicial powers to decide cases in his own cause by Justice Dinakaran. It also provided further documentary proof of the acquisitions detailed in the FJAs earlier representations.

The most serious of the allegations, on which substantial evidence is available, pertained to land-grabbing at Kaverirajapuram village, Tiruttani taluk in Tiruvallur district in Tamil Nadu. Justice Dinakaran was a judge of the Madras High Court between December 19, 1996, and August 6, 2008, before his elevation as the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court.

According to the 2001 Census, Kaverirajapuram is a village with 491 households and a population of 1,878. The number of Scheduled Castes is 1,083, and the literacy rate is 57.15 per cent. Nearly 500 people of the village work as marginal agricultural labourers and about 127 work as agricultural labourers. The total extent of the village, according to the FJA, is about 1,700 acres (688 hectares).

The FJAs investigation revealed that the encroachment of government land and public property meant for the villagers deprived them of their resources and livelihood. The encroached area includes the government Anadhinam land, meant to be assigned only to landless poor for small holdings and personal cultivation, and poromboke land, which is meant for all residents and cannot be occupied by any individual. Under a recent scheme of the State government, they can be distributed only to the landless poor.

The investigation found that the encroachment also extended to water bodies such as lakes, canals and streams, to common village pathways and to an ancient mud fortress abutting his patta land. Access to the water source for the village was also restricted by the extensive use of water for the judges farm, the investigation found. The erection of a fence around the encroached property deprived the local residents of access to common-property resources of the village, on which many of them depended for their livelihood.

According to the FJA, Justice Dinakaran is in possession of approximately 440 acres in the village alone, almost one-fourth of the village. Of these, more than 300 acres are owned by him, his wife and two daughters. This is clearly in violation of the ceiling limit under the Tamil Nadu Land Reforms (Fixation of Ceiling on Land) Act, 1961, under which a family of five persons can possess not more than 15 standard acres. Enclosed within the fenced area (440 acres) is nearly 150 acres of government and village common land meant for community use. The FJAs complaint said that nearly 600 families of Dalits and landless poor in the village had sought distribution of poromboke and Anadhinam lands to them as per the State governments G.O. (Ms) No.241 dated September 12, 2006. The applicants have not yet been assigned these lands. The FJA claimed that immediately after this the common and government lands were fenced in. The FJA estimated the market value of the area to be Rs.20-25 lakh an acre.

The FJAs September 9 complaint apprehended that the fence around the encroached areas, witnessed by its members, might be removed once its complaint became public, and brought to the collegiums notice that the common village lands near Justice Dinakarans property were out of bounds for the people. The complaint also alleged that the local police were used to prevent access to the area. As if to vindicate the FJAs concern, on October 10 some persons attempted to remove a portion of the barbed-wire fencing around the poromboke land adjacent to the patta land. It was foiled by the Tiruvallur district administration.

20091106262212202jpg

The bid to remove the fencing took place in the context of reports that Tiruvallur District Collector V. Palanikumar had sent to Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan a report on the landholdings of Justice Dinakaran, as requested by the CJI.

Tiruttani Tahsildar R. Vijayaraghavulu along with the Revenue Divisional Officer in charge, Tiruttani, B. Balasubramaniam, Village Administrative Officer R. Govindasamy and other officials rushed to the spot on receiving information about the attempt to remove the fencing. The officials were accompanied by the police but were stopped by the manager of the land, Rajkumar, who handed over to Vijayaraghavulu a mobile phone saying that Justice Dinakaran was on the line. Vijayaraghavulu alleged that the person at the other end threatened him with dire consequences. He also alleged that the person told him that officials could not enter the land without his knowledge and that he would take criminal action against them for trespass. The Tahsildar said he filed a complaint with the Collector.

In the meantime, the Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam, affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and to the All India Kisan Sabha, submitted a memorandum to the Collector seeking action against those who tried to remove the fencing. The district administration is also reported to have sent a report to the State government.

According to K. Balakrishnan, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam, as per the A register of the village, the total extent of land in the village is 3,243.36 acres, of which poromboke land alone constitutes 671.66 acres. The implication seemed to be that the extent of encroachment was much more than what it was claimed to be.

Balakrishnan was equally critical of the State government for its lack of commitment to implement the Tamil Nadu Land Reforms Act and to enforce the land-ceiling limits by prosecuting those who amassed land with impunity. The Sangam recently organised a days fast by its activists to protest against the State governments inaction against land-grabbing.

Even the district administration has admitted that the current land records of the village are not accessible, even though records for other villages are available. At the Tiruttani taluk office, the touch-screen facility to access land records of the village is inoperative. Only a thorough investigation can establish who tampered with the land records.

Fortunately, the original land records, that is, before they were updated, are available. These records indicate the extent of government and private land in the village and were the basis for the FJAs allegations. Vaigai told Frontline that the FJA interacted with long-time residents of the village. She said that according to them lands where they used to take their cattle and which had lakes had been fenced in.

Collector V. Palanikumars report to the CJI, sent through the State government, has not yet been made public. The CJI has reportedly sought Justice Dinakarans response to the report, consistent with the principles of natural justice, before proceeding further. According to a report in The Hindu, the Collector is said to have reported that the extent of encroachment was 197 acres of government and public land and that four types of violations of the law had taken place.

The National Commission for the Scheduled Castes decried the campaign in the media against Justice Dinakaran and the CJI, for having recommended him, because both were Dalits. Some groups in Tamil Nadu insinuated that the campaign against Justice Dinakaran smacked of casteist overtones.

But the FJA made it clear that it was against Justice Dinakarans appointment not because he was a Dalit but because the allegations were serious. The FJA cautioned the collegium that his addition to the Supreme Court would only diminish the image of the great institution. It, therefore, requested the collegium to withdraw the recommendation to appoint him and to initiate an inquiry into his conduct.

Prashant Bhushan of the Committee on Judicial Accountability (COJA), New Delhi, pointed out that the collegium did not consult Justices Markandey Katju and A.K. Ganguly, who were Chief Justices of the Madras High Court when Justice Dinakaran was a judge there. Such consultation was a requirement under the Supreme Courts judgment in the Second Judges Case.

The Supreme Court had pointed out in that case that the CJI was expected to ascertain the views of the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court whose opinion was likely to be significant in adjudging the suitability of the candidate by reason of the fact that he had come from the same High Court, or otherwise. In other words, the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court whose view is sought by the CJI on behalf of the collegium must be from the same High Court where the person proposed to be recommended served.

It is understood that the collegium defended its decision by pointing out that the CJI sought the views of Justice R.V. Raveendran, the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court who served in the Karnataka High Court, before recommending Justice Dinakaran. But the spirit of the judgment would have required a much wider consultation with senior judges who might have been familiar with Justice Dinakarans long tenure in the Madras High Court.

20091106262212203jpg

Meanwhile, Justice Dinakaran continued to preside over his Bench at the Karnataka High Court, ignoring a resolution passed by the Advocates Association of Karnataka on September 17 that he desist from holding court at the High Court until he was cleared of the allegations. However, as the legal fraternity in the State was divided over the issue, the threat of boycott did not fructify. The State Advocate-General urged Justice Dinakaran to preside over the court until the CJI took a decision on the matter.

But options appeared to be running out for both the collegium and the Law Ministry, which has been awaiting an appropriate signal from the collegium. It appeared as though the collegium would ask the Ministry to delink its recommendation on Justice Dinakaran from the other four appointees so that the process of appointing the other four Judges could go ahead. Once delinked, the collegium may formally have to withdraw its recommendation to appoint Justice Dinakaran so that the in-house inquiry against him can be set in motion to decide whether he can continue as the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court.

If the collegium recalls its recommendation to elevate Justice Dinakaran, it will be the first time it will be admitting to a lapse in nominating a non-suitable person as a judge. A repetition of such lapses can be avoided if the court takes deliberate steps to make the process more transparent than it is now.

A land battle

FOR a long time, Kerala watched uneasily the twists and turns of an agitation demanding land for livelihood by hundreds of marginalised people, the majority of them Dalits, who encroached on a rubber estate near Chengara in Pathanamthitta district on August 4, 2007, and have been living there ever since. The encroached land was part of a plantation held on long lease for decades by Harrisons Malayalam Ltd, now owned by one of Indias largest industrial groups, RPG Enterprises. The agitation was spearheaded by the Sadhujana Vimochana Samyukta Vedi (SVSV), a relatively new outfit, led mainly by a hitherto unknown champion, Laha Gopalan, a former government employee and a self-proclaimed Communist Party of India (Marxist) worker.

Though it ran for 795 days on the demand for five acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) of cultivable land for every participant family, the struggle ended abruptly on October 6, with clear signs of divisions in the leadership and the ranks of the agitators. Gopalan told Frontline that he was being forced to stop the agitation temporarily and accept an unsatisfactory resolution package drawn out jointly by the government and the Opposition against the interests of Dalits and under threat of violent reprisals from CPI(M) cadre if he did otherwise.

The SVSV came into being as an organisation mostly of Dalits and Dalit Christian labourers and agricultural workers (and a minority of tribal and other marginalised people) and sustained its struggle all this while without much patronage from mainstream political parties and social organisations in Kerala. For several months, hundreds of agitators, including about 200 children, braved the rains, virulent outbreaks of communicable diseases, slander campaigns and opposition from the plantation workers belonging to almost all trade unions who had lost their jobs because of the struggle.

At times the agitators were forced into hunger and isolation within the estate because of blockades of the road by the workers. At one juncture, with the Kerala High Court too ordering their eviction without bloodshed, many of the agitators seemed even ready to commit suicide by hanging themselves from the rubber trees or by immolating themselves with kerosene they had stored in cans.

As months passed with the agitators sticking to their demand and the High Court ordering their eviction, there were signs of division in the ranks of the agitators, allegations of nepotism and corruption against its leaders, and reports of steady infiltration of extremist elements and ideology into the struggle.

A few weeks before Gopalan announced that he was reluctantly ending the Chengara struggle, three young motorcycle riders, allegedly members of a new Dalit organisation, hacked to death a 60-year-old man who was out on his morning walk at Varkala in Thiruvananthapuram district. They also tried to kill another person, a tea shop owner, in the neighbourhood. Several members of the three-year-old Dalit Human Rights Movement were arrested immediately, and the police said the group had plans to conduct eight such murders in the State, to shock and awe Kerala and perhaps draw attention to its demands that were yet to be fully articulated.

But it was clear from the beginning that the Chengara agitation, if left unsolved, would become a cause for embarrassment for the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala. After all, the State had initiated a wide-ranging land reform process right from the day the first Communist Ministry took office in 1957.

The choice of a plantation to launch the struggle turned out to be quite symbolic as it highlighted the reality in Kerala of large tracts of land still remaining in the hands of landlords, while a substantial section of the downtrodden went without even a piece of land to make a living, a legacy of the incomplete land reform process.

As is well known, the original land reform process launched by the first Communist Ministry underwent much dilution after the Congress government at the Centre dismissed the Ministry and replaced it with less committed coalition governments. By the early 1970s, when the reform process finally ended, it had been reduced to the distribution of surplus agricultural land. Forests and plantations were excluded from its purview as they were treated as industries (in the context of the relationship between the plantation owners and workers).

Certainly, when looked at in the contemporary social context, the changes the reforms brought about in Kerala society were revolutionary, breaking as they did the stranglehold of the upper-caste janmi landlords by abolishing statutory landlordism and imposing a ceiling on household landholdings. It made about 28 lakh tenants owners of their own land and gave about 5.8 rural poor ownership rights to their homestead land (kudikidappu), raising the bargaining power and wages of agricultural workers. The progress that Kerala made in the late 1970s and 1980s in the areas of education and health care was a result of this reform process.

However, it is also true that the part of the reform process that dealt with the identification of land held above the ceiling and its redistribution was a failure. Though the land ceiling laws were expected to create large extents of surplus land, most landlords circumvented the legal requirement through bogus transfers, gift deeds, and so on.

Successive coalition governments representing powerful landed groups made several dilutions in the original law. The result was that many of the landowners managed to retain much of the surplus, and a major part of the land that was eventually redistributed went to the traditional intermediate smallholder stratum of Kerala society. Today mainstream society often forgets that it was on the land ownership system that the caste system was thriving in its most obnoxious form in Kerala. We fail to realise the reality of caste in the land reform process. The families of the rural poor who actually worked on the land were only given small plots of homestead land [10 cents, or one-tenth of an acre; five cents; or three cents depending on whether they lived in a village, town or city] after the land reforms and all of them belonged to Dalit castes. They never became owners of cultivable land and are facing the worst hardship, with no means of a dignified livelihood, said Sreeraman Koyyon, vice-chairman of the Chengara Solidarity Forum.

Two or three generations down the line, how do Dalit families, with their children now married and with families of their own, live together in these small strips of land? By the 1980s we were being largely herded into Harijan colonies and community homes built under the One-Lakh Housing Scheme. Crores of rupees set apart for us by the Central and State governments is again used to buy small plots of homestead land, build low-cost houses or toilets for us. Will any of these measures help Dalit families overcome the poverty and hardship that they face every day? That is why we demanded five acres for each participant family, for cultivation as a means of livelihood and to lead a dignified life, Gopalan told Frontline soon after announcing the end of the Chengara agitation.

In the settlement package announced by Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, the government promised 50 cents each to 832 participant Dalit families, one acre each for 27 tribal families (as it was promised to the Scheduled Tribes in other parts of the State) and 25 cents each to the landless others. In all, land and housing assistance were offered to 1,432 participant families whose applications were in the official records. The government was also to provide housing assistance to the landless as well as to those families that had only less than five cents of land.

At a joint press conference following the announcement of the package in the presence of Opposition Leader Oommen Chandy (who played a key role in formulating the settlement), the Chief Minister said it was difficult to find the necessary land in Kerala even to implement the package that was being offered and there was no way the government could fulfil the SVSVs demand for more.

Gopalan said that his organisation was accepting the leftover offer under protest, convinced that this was the best that Dalits could expect from both the ruling and Opposition coalitions. He, however, said the agitators would leave Chengara only after the land promised by the government was actually allotted to them.

Some other leaders claimed that the package was a sell-out and that it kept a large number of families that were part of the struggle outside the list of beneficiaries.

Sreeraman told Frontline: Dalits in Kerala are going to lose a lot because of the Chengara package. We are all disappointed. There is a clear scaling down of the extent of land that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes can claim from now on. Dalits were demanding one acre; the package says they are eligible for 50 cents. Not long ago Adivasis were promised up to five acres, but the government now says they will get only one acre.

(Hardly six years have passed since Kerala saw the five-decade-old dream of another group of landless and marginalised people in the State turning sour with the police action against tribal encroachers at the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary in Wayanad district.)

Chengara is yet another indication of the restlessness that is building up in the lower strata of Kerala society, which is sought to be articulated pointedly under a caste (rather than class) identity, and disturbingly, at times, with extremist overtones. There is need for caution because at its root is the issue of land, a primary resource, or rather the lack of it a serious and complex problem in a shoestring-shaped State where the land-people ratio is one of the highest in the country.

Facets of Nehru

EVEN a cursory glance at the contents pages of this volume prompts one to ask which other Prime Minister in India or abroad had the same range of interests as Jawaharlal Nehru. It covers topics from the economy, food and agriculture and the cooperative movement to education and culture, including in its sweep burning issues concerning Indias domestic and foreign policies. This volume, edited by Professor Mridula Mukherjee, Director of the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, makes a welcome appearance.

One is struck by the contemporary relevance of very many of Nehrus comments on encounter deaths, for instance. In an earlier volume he had, in a letter to Home Minister G.B. Pant on May 2, 1956 (Volume 33, page 261), wobbled a bit. He now came down unequivocally on encounters in a letter to Maulana Azad dated November 10, 1957. It concerned D.S. Grewal, Superintendent of Police of Karnal.

The charge against Grewal is of shooting some people in cold blood. Whether those people were criminals or not does not affect this charge. The Punjab Police in the past has been guilty on some occasions of thus shooting offenders in cold blood and we have taken strong exception to this Grewals defence is that this was done in an encounter, but from such evidence as we have, there was no such encounter and in fact the shooting was decided upon previously.

Nehru was for a liberal visa policy; for wide discretion to editors; and for an open archives policy. He wrote to his Principal Private Secretary, K. Ram, on November 30, 1957:

I think you have been dealing with this matter. The Home Ministry had decided not to permit these people to see some of our old archives. I did not quite understand this or agree with it. I could understand some special papers not being shown, but for all our old papers to be kept away from some people who were suspected of communist tendencies seemed to me absurd.

The records of the Simla Conference (1914) were denied to Pandit H.N. Kunzru and remain closed in the National Archives to this day. Indian scholars such as Parshottam Mehra had to go to London to study the negotiations on the McMahon Line.

20091106262207802jpg

Barred from forming political parties, Sheikh Abdullah and his friends began to discuss revolt against Maharaja Hari Singhs despotic rule from a Reading Room in Srinagar. It became known as the Reading Room Party.

In a city like Mumbai, in former years the Municipal Corporation ran Reading Rooms in which newspapers were made available. They faded away. As president of the Sahitya Akademi, Nehru said on November 6, 1957, the minutes record, that while he was glad to note that a free reading room had been opened by the Sahitya Akademi, he would like that the time during which the reading room remained open to the public should be longer and that it should also remain open on Sunday mornings. There is an adolescent protest by V.K. Krishna Menon at Nehrus mild reproach for his boorish behaviour in the United Nations Security Council. Bakshi Gulam Mohammed, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, kept feeding the Prime Minister garbled reports about the imprisoned leader, Sheikh Abdullah.

On December 30, 1956, he wrote to Nehru. Sheikh Abdullah, who was under house arrest since August 1953, was planning to bring out a pamphlet containing his correspondence with the national leaders. According to Bakshi, in an introduction to the pamphlet, whose publication was to coincide with Sheikhs Abdullahs impending release, the latter had stated that, threatened by the tribal invasion, the people of Kashmir had provisionally acceded to India. Gradually a large section of the people became convinced that they were not getting their due representation in various fields, and the Muslims felt that the State was being treated as a conquered territory. Sheikh Abdullah brought these facts to the notice of Nehru and [Abul Kalam] Azad in 1952 but to no avail.

When he discovered that a majority of the members of the National Conference had been bribed in India and the States Constituent Assembly had lost its representative character, the only solution that appeared to him was a fair and impartial plebiscite. As he made a final attempt to secure the rights of the people of Kashmir by a common agreement among all the four parties to the dispute India, Pakistan, Kashmir and the U.N., a conspiracy was launched against him and he was removed from office and arrested. Sheikh Abdullah also said that India was holding Kashmir by force and in order to give a semblance of democracy to this occupation, the State constitution was finalised and farcical election were held.

Bakshi added that after his release, Sheikh Abdullah was likely to lay stress on the following: holding of a plebiscite enquiry into the events of August 1953; suspension of the Constitution; imposition of the Presidents rule; and holding of election under U.N. auspices.

Bakshi further said that Sheikh Abdullah might try and capture the main mosques in Srinagar to keep a permanent platform alive, and also forcibly take possession of Mujahid Manzil, the National Conference headquarters. Bakshi stated that all the above factors had to be reckoned with and all the moves forestalled. Sheikh Abdullah was released on January 8, 1958. He was rearrested during the night of April 29-30, 1958. Is it any surprise that we are in such a mess in Kashmir today?

Nehrus Note on Tibet to the Foreign Secretary, from Darjeeling on December 26, 1957, belies Chinas charge that Nehru wanted to detach Tibet from China. He pulled up Appa Pant, Political Officer in Sikkim and Bhutan, for his report on Tibet, which he found utterly biased against China.

The series is a boon to students of the times and reveals the man who strode through them like a colossus.

Haunting melodies

THE Dada Saheb Phalke Award for 2007 has gone to Manna Dey, one of the finest singers to have sung for Hindi and Bengali and other regional language films. The honour, in the opinion of many, has come to him rather late in the day. It cannot be truly exhilarating to be recognised for ones contribution to the art of playback singing at the age of 90, especially if the last memorable song one sung was well over 30 years ago.

Manna Dey shot into fame in the early 1950s with his rendering of Chaley Radhey Rani, a kirtan-based song for Bimal Roys moving cinematic rendering of Sarat Chandra Chatterjees Bengali novel Parinita. His sound training in Hindustani music was amply evident here as was his feeling for an emotive form like the kirtan, which he inherited from his uncle, the legendary Krishna Chandra Dey.

After this song, Manna Dey was recognised as a singer with immense potential. Doors opened for him in the Hindi film industry of Bombay, as Mumbai was known in those days. The legendary actor-director Raj Kapoor invited him to sing for Shree 420, the formers take on socialism; and sing he did. Manna Dey, along with Lata Mangeshkar, sang Pyaar hua iqrar hua, written by the poet of the people, Shailendra, and tuned by the music composer duo Shankar-Jaikishan. Recorded 55 years ago, this romantic duet continues to be aired on the radio to this day. It is amongst the finest in the annals of Hindi film songs.

In his autobiography Memories Come Alive, Manna Dey remembers the composer duo thus: The most interesting feature of Shankar and Jaikishans melodies was their sheer novelty and, in that respect, they remain unrivalled. He felt particularly indebted to Shankar, who, he felt, brought out the best in him. He does not feel the same way though about another stalwart, Sachin Dev Burman, who, when he engaged Manna Dey to render Upar gagan vishal for Nitin Boses Mashaal, actually wanted him to resurrect K.C. Deys style. Of course, it is one of Manna Babus finest songs and is terribly difficult to sing. But S.D. Burman never asked him to sing regularly for him even after the singer proved his mettle a hundred times over with other noteworthy composers.

The Hindi film industry has always lacked imagination and has therefore toed the line of least resistance and closed the possibility for innovation. Just because Manna Babu was classically trained and could sing raga-based compositions really well, he was considered unsuitable for singing playback on a regular basis for the leading actors of his time, such as Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. This problem, however, did not affect Mohammed Rafi, also classically trained, who was asked to sing very often for Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar, Bharat Bhushan, Guru Dutt, Rajendra Kumar and Shammi Kapoor, not to forget Dharmendra and Jeetendra. Why Manna Babu was not given similar opportunities remains inexplicable.

It is not that he did not sing for major composers. He did, but they thought he was at his mellifluous best only when he sang raga-based melodies or folk melodies. Given half a chance, he always excelled. There are not many romantic duets to equal the four he sang with Lata Mangeshkar for Chori Chori, the 1956 romantic comedy based on the 1934 Hollywood blockbuster It Happened One Night. Panchi banu udti phiru, Ye raat bheegi bheegi, Jahan meye jatee hoon, and Aja sanam madhur chandni meye hum are among Shankar-Jaikishans loveliest and deceptively intricate melodies. These songs certainly needed the technical expertise, or taiyyari, that Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar could offer. The plaintive quality of Manna Deys voice perfectly complements the sheer sweetness in Latas.

It was said of Manna Deys voice that it acquired a silvery sheen as it went higher. An apt example is Aja sanam madhur chandni meye hum. This skill was hard won. After training under Ustad Abdul Rehman Khan of the Patiala gharana, Manna Dey turned to Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan. Manna Babu told him that he was more comfortable in the lower register than in the upper. Khan Saheb asked him to take a more flexible approach. Normally, I preferred singing in D sharp. Ustadji asked me to change from the fifth key to the sixth before practising my notes. I did so for a couple of days and was delighted with the results. I had actually done it! Travelling down the notes had become childs play for me, Manna Dey said.

Mohammad Rafi too had noticed this positive change in his colleagues voice. Manna Babu believes that his ustads training extended the range of his voice, and for that alone he feels eternally grateful.

Madan Mohan, another great composer from Hindi cinemas Golden Age, while still finding his feet in the film industry, did the music for the film Dekh Kabira Roya. It did only average business, but the songs are still remembered especially Kaun aya mere man ke dwarey sung by Manna Dey. Despite having composed exquisite melody after exquisite melody, Madan Mohan never quite had a hit film to his credit. In his pursuit of success, he opted for well-known playback singers with box-office hits in their kitty, such as Talat Mahmood and later, more consistently, Mohammad Rafi, both artists of exceptional calibre. Manna Dey was every bit their equal and to boot as versatile as Mohammad Rafi, but he was sidelined.

His destiny, it would seem, was to sing haunting melodies either for character actors or to have them used to comment on the onscreen action. His first song to become a nationwide hit was Chaley Radhey Rani, picturised on a wandering mendicant in Parinita. In retrospect, that one example decided the fate of Manna Deys career as a playback singer in Hindi films. Take for instance the powerfully emotive qawwali Na toh karva ke talash heye from the Golden Jubilee hit Barsaat Ki Raat. Sahir Ludhianvis lyrics and Roshans music are brought vividly to life by the singing of Manna Dey in particular.

His heart-rending solo Aye mere pyare watan, from Hemen Guptas Kabuliwalla, is picturised on an acquaintance of the protagonist. Salil Chaudhurys composition set to Prem Dhawans lyrics continues to work its magic on music lovers, especially on account of Manna Babus singing.

In mid-career he sang Kasme vadey pyar wafa sab for Pran, the riveting character actor, in Manoj Kumars Upkar. It was a difficult song, but Manna Dey rendered it effortlessly. Predictably, the Kalyanji-Anandji composition became a huge hit. Everybody praised the singing. Excellence had, after all, become second nature to the singer.

Manna Babus career in Bengali films was a different story. The veteran Anil Bagchi, composing the music for the Uttam Kumar-Tanuja starrer Anthony Firangi, which was based on the life of an excellent Bengali poet of Portuguese origin, called for Manna Dey to do the playback for the most enduring hero of Bengali cinema. Manna Babus rendering of Ami jey jalsha ghaurey and Ami jamini tumi shashi hey sat perfectly on Uttam Kumars lips. Manna Deys position in Bengal as a playback singer and as a singer of adhunik or non-film songs remains unchallenged. He did some of his most interesting work in the second phase of his career in Calcutta, now Kolkata.

In the early 1960s, S.D. Burman summoned him to render Poocho na kaise mainey raen bitaee in the raga Ahir Bhairav for Meri Soorat Teri Ankhen, produced by actor Pradip Kumar. It was picturised on Ashok Kumar in blackface. The primitive, not to say distorted, conception of the scene notwithstanding the protagonist was supposed to be ugly and therefore black-complexioned the song sung by Manna Dey is haunting. The poignancy inherent in Shailendras lyrics is brought out effortlessly. There is a story about the composing of the song. S.D. Burman had only given a cryptic brief that the song was to be in Ahir Bhairav and had asked his singer to do what he could with it. Manna Babu actually chiselled out the form given to the melody, and so he deserves credit as its composer.

Composing was a part of his training under K.C. Dey. When Manna Babu accompanied him to Bombay in 1942, he did not expect to be anything other than his uncles assistant and an occasional singer in the films carrying his music. It was quite by chance that he sang for composer Shankar Rao Vyas for the film Ram Rajya directed by Vijay Bhatt. The film, made in Hindi and Marathi, had the famous actor Badri Prasad playing the role of the sage Valmiki.

The director was keen that K.C. Dey sing the songs for Valmiki. To Vijay Bhatts utter consternation, he refused, saying that he [K.C. Dey] sang only for himself in the films he acted in. He suggested that they try his nephew, young Manna. The producers, at first doubtful, decided to give the greenhorn a chance. Manna Dey came good as a singer and also assisted Shankar Rao Vyas with the composing. The year was 1943.

Manna Babu went on to assist Hariprasanna Das, who did the music for Kadambari, a film starring Shanta Apte and Pahari Sanyal. Ironically, his career as a music director did not take off despite his obvious talent. Singing, his subsidiary talent, suddenly became primary. He made steady progress as a singer and, within a short time, carved a niche for himself in the competitive world of playback singing in Bombay. His yen for composing did not go away. Over the years, he composed songs in Hindi and Bengali, and many of them became popular.

He has boundless admiration for Anil Biswas, who composed for him a melody of surpassing beauty, Ritu aye sakhi ree, man ke in four ragas Sarang, Malhar, Jogiya and Basant Bahar to depict the change of seasons, in the film Hamdard. He also has great respect for Salil Choudhury, who made him sing immortal duets such as Hariyala sawan dhol bajata aya and Dharti kahey pukar ke with Lata Mangeshkar for Bimal Roys Do Bigha Zameen, and then 18 years later, in 1970, Zindagi kaisey ye paheli haye, picturised on the ebullient romantic hero Rajesh Khanna in Hrishikesh Mukherjees Anand.

Hot favourites for his fans include his songs from the film Basant Bahar under Shankar-Jaikishans music direction. Think of Sur na saje, Bhay bhanjana vandana, Nain miley chaen kahan (a delectable duet with Lata), and Ketaki gulab (a genuinely fine duet with the Hindustani classical vocalist Bhimsen Joshi, who was then at the peak of his career). The two songs from Raj Kapoors Boot Polish composed by Shankar-Jaikishan O raat gayee phir din aya and Lapak jhapak tu aa re badariya are also very popular. There are many more songs that touch the heart.

Manna Deys career has been rich and varied, despite the ups and downs. Indeed very few singers in popular genres like film music and light vocal music have had such a long and distinguished career. He has given continuous pleasure to discerning listeners since the early 1950s. His contribution to film music in its most fecund period is as great as that of any of his gifted male contemporaries.

His wife, Sulochana, who is a Keralite, sums up his art simply and accurately: He sings from the heart. That indeed is the secret of his enduring popularity.

For a better life

THE recently released United Nations Development Report-2009, titled Overcoming Barriers: Human Mobility and Development, presents a strong case for governments all over the world to encourage human mobility. Migrations, including those of low-skilled workforce, pay dividends all round, the report says. However, it does not quite attempt to seriously understand why people migrate, sometimes subjecting themselves to horrific situations in destination countries or even within their own countries. The report cautions that migration cannot be a solution to all economic ills or a major factor in development though remittances from migrants may complement and enhance human and economic development. In many countries, the money sent home by migrants often exceeds official aid. For India, such remittances add up to 1.5 times more than foreign direct investment. Then there are the so-called social remittances. These may be in the form of reduction in fertility, higher school enrolment rates and empowerment of women.

These benefits, however, can also be achieved by countries that invest sufficiently in these areas. The report seems to see migration as a boon in disguise for low-skilled and underpaid sections. But to view migration as a strategy for development is to offer a short cut where what is needed is long-term investment by governments. The emphasis on low-skill migration is also slightly disconcerting.

The report presents a core package of reforms, the six pillars, as it calls them: opening existing entry channels for more workers, especially those with low skills; ensuring basic human rights for migrants, from basic services such as education and health care to the right to vote; lowering the transaction costs of migration; finding collaborative solutions that benefit both destination communities and migrants; easing internal migration; and adding migration as a component of the development strategies of the countries of origin.

The question is why can the origin countries not address the livelihood issues of low-skilled workers and provide them with long-term solutions that not only enhance their personal well-being but also boost overall growth? Indeed, the report seems to see the need for migrations from the point of view of developed countries. It says that there is a strong case for increased access to sectors with a high demand for labour, particularly for the low-skilled and that this is particularly important for developed countries because their populations are ageing. Therefore, it is in the overall interest of developed countries to end discrimination against migrants.

The worlds population will grow by a third over the next four decades, and much of this growth will be in developing countries. The report says that in one in every five countries, including Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation, populations are expected to shrink. It argues that a demographic transition has begun; the ageing of populations is a widespread phenomenon, a natural consequence of a decline in death rates and a slower decline in birth rates that has occurred in most developing countries. It is also estimated that within the next 15 years, new entrants to the labour force in developing countries will far exceed the total number of working-age people. These trends will put a burden on wages and increase the incentives to move among potential employees in poorer countries.

In developed countries, the proportion of the elderly will rise markedly so that there will be 71 non-working age people for every 100 of working age. This, argues the report, will make it more difficult for developed countries to pay for the care of their children and old people as publicly funded education and health systems are paid with taxes levied on the working population. These demographic trends, the report concludes, go in favour of relaxing the barriers to the entry of migrants.

The report presupposes that people have an innate urge to migrate. Even if that is true, it does not alter the fact that the compelling circumstances that lie behind this phenomenon should be addressed. The report also presupposes that much of migration takes place voluntarily. It is not a voluntary decision that forces a villager in India, used to living under the open skies, to take up residence in a congested urban slum. The report does not adequately explore what makes people decide to migrate.

The report, however, does not advocate wholesale liberalisation of the migration process, arguing that people in the destination countries have a right to shape their societies. It argues that research commissioned by the UNDP shows that people in destination countries are generally supportive of further migration when jobs are available and appreciate the gains economic, social and cultural that increased diversity can bring. Therefore, migrants are welcome in a country that has already many jobs to offer.

The report seems to downplay the impact of recession. Jeni Klugman, the lead author, argues that a job crisis is bad for migrants and admits that several destination countries are taking steps to encourage or compel migrants to leave. With recovery, he says, many of the same underlying trends that have been driving movement during the past half-century will resurface, attracting people to move. But it is futile to suggest until such a recovery that developing countries should encourage their low-skilled workers to migrate.

The 1997 Human Development Report had observed that the principles of free global markets were applied selectively and that the global market for unskilled labour was not as free as the market for industrial country exports or capital. There has not been much change in the situation since then. The 2009 report admits that the current recession is likely to have long-lasting, maybe even permanent, effects on incomes and employment opportunities. It says that the financial crisis has turned into a job crisis. Quoting from studies, it says that the unemployment rate has already exceeded 8.4 per cent in the United States, which by May 2009 had lost nearly six million jobs since December 2007, with the total number of jobless people rising to 14.5 million. In Spain, the unemployment rate climbed as high as 15 per cent by April 2009 and topped 28 per cent among migrants.

The report corrects certain popular misconceptions. It says that most migrants do not even cross national borders but move within their own countries: Nearly 740 people are internal migrants, almost four times the number of international migrants. Among international migrants, less than 30 per cent move from developing to developed countries. For instance, only 3 per cent of Africans live outside the country of birth. Intra-country migrations are also fraught with problems, especially when migrants have to face questions regarding their identity.

Instead of making out a strong case for governments to address the root causes of migration by the very poor, including what is now called distress migration, the report seems to present an idyllic picture. It claims that migrants from the poorest countries saw an average 15-fold increase in income, doubling in education enrolment rates and a 16-fold reduction in child mortality after moving to a country with more opportunities.

Quoting recent research, the report claims that the health of migrants improved markedly during their first year in the destination country. Is migration, then, the policy that poorer countries should evolve to bring about an improvement in the health of their populations? Does the solution not lie in policies that enable such population to build better lives in their own countries?

The ranking of India, a developing country, in the Human Development Index, released each year as part of the annual Human Development Report, is a pathetic 134 out of 182 countries, the same as it was in 2006. Peoples lives, then, have not changed much during this period of high growth in the country. The report attempts to see migration of certain sections from the developing to the developed world as a positive thing. But that may not be the perception of governments or even people, especially in a context of economic hardship. It is no coincidence that jingoism, xenophobia and inclusiveness are accentuated in an economic crisis that takes away jobs.

In such a situation, large-scale migrations from developing countries to developed countries without legal commitments from the host and guest nations may not result in the kind of benefits presupposed throughout the report.

The moon

other

The Cover Story (Lunar surprise, October 23) on the Chandrayaan mission was interesting. Notwithstanding its failure a lot of valuable data was gathered, which will be useful for future moon missions. We can be happy that the efforts of our scientists have not gone in vain.

K.R. Srinivasan Secunderabad * * *

Kudos to the Chandrayaan-1 team. But what does the discovery of water on the moon mean to Indians living below the poverty line? Can it bring water to those Indians who are deprived of safe drinking water? The government should take care of these matters first.

E.A. Ibrahim Vyttila, Kerala William Safire

THE demise of William Safire has removed from our midst an outstanding linguistic prodigy (Language maven, October 23). He was a phenomenon in the realm of language and its myriad uses. Adept at etymological discoveries, his expressions were extraordinarily lively, aside from being intelligent and incisive.

Safires The English Language column in Frontline used to be a real intellectual treat to readers like me. Syllabic slicing (Frontline, June 19), a piece with an autobiographical note was the crown of his career.

R. Soundararajan Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu Islamic banking

It is good to hear India is moving towards establishing Islamic banking. Kenya, which has a smaller Muslim minority, has two shariah-compliant banks.

Badru Jaffar Kenya Temple trouble

It is unfortunate that the name of god is so frequently employed by vested interests (Unholy row, October 23). The trouble at the Chidambaram temple stands out as a sterling example of this kind of exploitation. Communalists have been projecting temples as divine establishments whose activities should neither be doubted nor audited.

It is pitiable that the Central government is unable to close this non-issue without wasting time and resources.

Sattrajit Varma Jamshedpur, Jharkhand Bababudan

The Sri Guru Dattatreya Bababudan shrine, which gets both Hindu and Muslim pilgrims, is a symbol of religious harmony (Communal work, October 23).What is wrong if the people of two religions can find a place where they can offer prayers together?

Tathagata Ghosh Uttarpara, West Bengal The Maldives

No country can afford to salvage its people and territory in a phased manner when faced with rising sea levels (A sinking feeling, October 23). The Maldives vis--vis the countries responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases is like a Davidfighting Goliath.. Its government is even ready to purchase new territory from neighbouring countries. All the other Davids of the world should support the war the government of the Maldives is waging .

K. Ravindran Salem, Tamil Nadu India-China

China cannot be relied upon as a friend (China bogey, October 23). India should neither provoke nor appease China. The Chinese attitude towards India is quite negative and does not promote good neighbourly relations despite increasing trade relations, thanks to globalisation. If it gets a chance, it will annexe Arunachal Pradesh by force.

S. Raghunatha Prabhu Alappuzha, Kerala Encounter killings

FRONTLINE deserves praise for drawing attention to extrajudicial killings in India (Cover Story, October 9). The way Ishrat Jahan was killed makes a mockery of the legal and moral ethos of our democracy.

THE fake encounter that claimed the lives of Ishrat Jahan and three others is a blot on Indian democracy. The case must be probed painstakingly and the culprits brought to book irrespective of their status.

Ippili Santhosh Kumar Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh

Vanchi Aiyar

THE article An Irish link (September 25) gives an insight into the level of patriotism that prevailed in South India during the freedom struggle. R. Vanchi Aiyar, who killed Robert Ashe in 1911 before killing himself, is no less a martyr than Bhagat Singh.

K. Nehru Patnaik Visakhapatnam ANNOUNCEMENT

Letters, whether by surface mail or e-mail, must carry the full postal address and the full name, or the name with initials.

Land shortage is a serious issue

AFTER the Kerala government announced a settlement package for the landless people agitating in Chengara, Frontline met A.K. Balan, the Minister for Welfare of Backward and Scheduled Communities and Electricity. Excerpts from the interview:

What is the governments approach to the struggles by the landless poor which are increasing in frequency in Kerala?

The truth is that the government does not have land for distribution. That is the limitation. But we consider it our responsibility to somehow find the land for providing at least a homestead plot and a house to all landless people in the State. We are doing a lot for the welfare of the downtrodden, and people are well aware of it. But non-availability of land is a serious issue, and Kerala society has to address this problem jointly with a sense of urgency. The government alone cannot solve it; the judiciary and the executive too need to play their part. For example, 342 cases involving 13,000 acres of surplus land set apart for redistribution to Dalits by the [land] tribunals have been pending in appeal before the Kerala High Court for over 25 years. The cases have dragged on for so long that it is becoming more and more difficult for the government to reclaim them for the landless people. Similarly, 1,436 cases are pending before the tribunals.

On the very day the Chengara agitation was withdrawn, its leaders gave a call for another agitation.

The intention of a section of people is to use this issue to try and destroy the LDF and the CPI(M) practically and ideologically. But the people of Kerala know very well that within our limitations we are committed to the cause of the downtrodden and that we have done a lot for this section of society. Now they are trying to position Dalits against the party and to provoke the government into launching a police action against them. They cannot otherwise succeed in their efforts. So they are engineering isolated incidents. The murder at Varkala, for example. A murder needs a motive. It should have a purpose. But when those arrested were questioned, they told the police that they did not have a specific purpose and that it was meant to attract attention, to create anarchy.

Anarchy is not a common word. It is a product of an ideology. There may be countries where it will have some relevance. But in Kerala or in Indian society, killing innocent people and creating anarchy to attract peoples attention has been proved ineffective. It has been proved in the context of the naxalite movement in the State that people will not accept such an ideology.

But still, products of that ideology continue to operate in the State. They know that the Left government may not try to use repressive measures against them. Taking advantage of this, they are trying to sow the seeds [of anarchy] among the downtrodden sections. But the government will not let that happen. If that happens, the Dalit community will get isolated from the rest of Kerala society and no one will be able to address any of the problems of that community any longer. Because the problems of these downtrodden people cannot be solved in isolation. They can be solved only if they are seen as the common problem of society in general. That can only be done through the ideology of the working class people and their party.

But increasingly there is an emphasis on caste identity in the agitations that are going on...

If you think that only a Dalit organisation can solve Dalit issues, you must look at Bihar, which gave birth to so many Dalit organisations. Has that State been able to achieve anything like the land reforms that were implemented in Kerala? It is part of a big conspiracy, a product of a politically motivated ideology, to form such organisations, to inject extremist ideas into them, to make them Dalit murderers and to earn for them the enmity of an entire society and then to make them tell themselves, we are isolated, only our own organisation can save us. We are now seeing such trends in many parts of India.

Does the government feel that the problem is spreading in Kerala? Is there any evidence of infiltration of such elements into Dalit colonies and Adivasi hamlets in the State?

That is what it seems. In the context of the Varkala incident, we have realised that in some pockets it has spread very wide and deep. They had planned to conduct eight murders. To kill eight innocent people! To kill you as you walk along the road and to create terror. Is it not the same as what we saw in Wayanad years earlier as part of the revolution led by [naxalite leaders] Varghese and K. Ajitha? We cannot... the Dalit community will never benefit from such actions. At the same time, there are many livelihood issues, which need to be addressed and which Kerala society needs to take up urgently.

So what you mean is that the demands are justified, but their methods are wrong?

The demands are justified as far as they refer to the demand for land by the landless. We will not oppose such a demand.

Difficult legacy

K. FABIAN other

DAVID E. SANGER is eminently qualified to write about what President Barack Hussein Obama has inherited from his predecessor. As the chief Washington correspondent of The New York Times, Sanger accompanied President George W. Bush on his official visits abroad and has had access to many of the world leaders Bush met with during his tenure.

Candidate Obamas words Yes, we can, symbolising the paradigm shift he would make as President, resonated not only through the United States but also the rest of the world. The subtitle of the book reads The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power.

Sanger begins with an apt quotation from Winston Churchills My Early Life about the unwisdom of starting a war. Let us learn our lessons. Never, never, never, believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on that strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. Obviously, the reference is to the two wars on Iran and Afghanistan that Bush started with more enthusiasm than judgment. Sanger wants to look backward at the seismic events that led America to lose so much standing and leverage in the world and looks forward to re-imagine ways we can rebuild our influence and power. Clearly, the book is not an attempt by a concerned global citizen to find out what went wrong with the Bush presidency and how best President Obama can lead the international community towards building a better world. The motivation is rather patriotic and nationalistic. In brief, the U.S. deaths count, not necessarily the Iraqi ones.

Sanger wants to explore the huge costs of distraction under Bush. By focussing on Iraq in a reckless manner, Bush failed by and large to disarm the U.S. enemies. Iran pressed ahead with its plans for the nuclear bomb; Al Qaeda saw a chance to regroup; the Taliban saw its chance to retake territory; and other militants saw their chance to destabilise Pakistan. The North Koreans set off a nuclear blast. China concluded that a distracted U.S. was unable to react effectively to its rise.

Sanger narrates in a chapter significantly titled Regime-Change Fantasies a little-known incident that throws much light on the relations between the post-Shah Iran and the U.S. In November 1979, Robert Gates, 36, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer deputed to the White House, accompanied Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carters National Security Adviser, to Algiers where the 10th anniversary of the Algerian Revolution was being celebrated. The Americans were there not exactly to celebrate the revolution but to meet with revolutionary Irans Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan. Ayatollah Khomeini was in Iran as the Supreme Leader. The CIA had earlier confidently predicted, when Khomeini came to Teheran from exile, that he would not last more than one month. One day before Brzezinski and Gates called on Bazargan, President Carter had invited the Shah to come to the U.S. as he needed urgent medical treatment. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance had warned Carter of the likely adverse reaction in Iran. Brzezinski told Bazargan that the U.S. wanted good relations with Iran and that the two countries should together oppose Soviet expansionism. In reply, Bazargan and his aides chanted: Give us back the Shah. Brzezinski replied, To return the Shah to you would be incompatible with our national honour. The Iranian reaction was mild and the meeting ended inconclusively. Three days later, the U.S. Embassy was occupied and two weeks later Bazargan was removed. Such was the genesis of the embassy hostage crisis that would dominate the Carter presidency and deny him a second term. Secretary of Defence Gates recalls, Every President since has tried to open a dialogue with the Iranians and none of them have turned out well. And a couple nearly got presidents in jail.

The key ingredients of the Bush legacy are inclusion of Iran in his axis of evil and his insistence on Iran discontinuing uranium enrichment even when there was no evidence that Iran was pursuing a programme to make atomic bombs. Bush got approved an amount of $400 million to destabilise Iran. Though Obama has sent some conciliatory signals to Iran right from the beginning, he has failed so far to achieve a breakthrough. The direct talks between Iran and the U.S. in Geneva (October 2009) is an important indicator of the prospects of reconciliation between the two. Has Obama taken too long to make the right move?

The reader is left to wonder: Does Obama realise that he will not be able to do what he wants to do in Iraq and Afghanistan without Irans support? Maybe. Does he realise that the best way to prevent Iran from pursuing the bomb option is to agree to enrichment up to the industrial grade and flood Iran with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors? Maybe. Does he have the freedom to overrule Israel, which wants military confrontation with Iran and the resultant chaos in the region? We do not know.

If Obama wants to signal Iran that he is serious, all he has to do is de-freeze the Iranian deposits in U.S. banks. It seems, at least for the time being, that a good part of the Bush legacy prevails. We have to conclude that so far Obama has not succeeded in putting a reset button on the relations with Iran, and the inheritance from Bush weighs heavy. Let us hope that the resetting of the button has begun.

The next section is on Afghanistan. Bush rushed to attack Iraq without completing the task he had undertaken in Afghanistan, assuming that the task was achievable. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen summed up well the U.S. predicament when he said in late 2007: In Afghanistan we do what we can. In Iraq we do what we must.

Bush had a weakness he liked to compare himself to historys great ones. In April 2002, he went to the Virginia Military Academy from where General Marshall had graduated 101 years earlier. Bush said, Marshall knew that our military victory against enemies in the Second World War had to be followed by a moral victory that resulted in better lives for individual human beings. The Marshall Plan for Afghanistan turned out to be more rhetoric than action.

This reviewer understands well that for Obama the presidential candidate, it was politically correct to endorse the war in Afghanistan, especially since he had opposed the war in Iraq. By endorsing the war in Afghanistan, Obama shored up his national security credentials. But as President, he has the option to ask, and seek an answer to, the fundamental question: Is it a winnable war within a sustainable time frame and cost, with the means available to the U.S. and its allies? If the answer is in the negative, as seems to be the case, he can take consequential action. Has he asked the fundamental question? It appears not. He has basically arranged for a surge in Afghanistan, and the thought of a defeat a la Vietnam does not seem to have been taken seriously. Obama risks repeating the historic error of another young President, John Kennedy, who, much against his better judgment, permitted the CIA to go ahead with the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation, and later through the lesser-known Operation Mongoose, which generated the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The section on Pakistan, How Do You Invade An Ally?, is indeed insightful. Sanger went to visit Khalid Kidwai, the man in charge of keeping Pakistans nuclear weapons safe from Al Qaeda. Since 9/11, Washington started worrying about the safety of Pakistans nuclear weapons. An amount of $100 million was secretly set apart for this purpose. Asked about the threat from Al Qaeda, Kidwai told Sanger that it was overblown rhetoric. Kidwai claimed that the security system was safe and that there would never be any repeat of A.Q. Khan. Sanger was hardly convinced. He also failed to get a clear answer to the question about how the secret fund of $100 million was spent. Kidwai proudly told Sanger that Pakistan did six tests against Indias five in 1998.

In October 2001, Bush sent Secretary of State Colin Powell for a general-to-general talk with Pervez Musharraf about the safety of Pakistans nuclear weapons. Powell made no headway. In 2005, Musharraf told the author that any hint or rumour that he was allowing American hands to be put on Pakistans great source of power would be a death knell for any Pakistani leader. Washington considered and rejected the idea of giving the PAL (Permissive Action Links) technology to Pakistan. The PAL works like an ATM up to a point. If you type in the correct numbers, you get your money from the ATM. In the case of the PAL, when you type in the wrong numbers more than once, the nuclear-armed missile will get disabled. On its part, the Pakistan Army was not keen to get the PALs from the U.S. They feared that the Pentagon might disable the missiles through remote action. As far as Sanger could make out, under Bush no real progress was made in securing Pakistans nuclear weapons.

Sanger writes of A.Q. Khans second thoughts about his lifes work. In January 2008, he wrote to a colleague that it was the traumatic moments in his early life, starting with his familys flight from Bhopal to Karachi at the time of Partition and, later, Indira Gandhis dismemberment of Pakistan that prompted him to go in for the bomb. But he never dreamt or thought of army rule for all time and in retrospect what he did looks like a mistake. But Khan shows his mettle when he ends his letter, No use of self-pity.

Initially, Bush was taken for a ride by Musharraf, and the latter was seen as a reliable and true ally in the war on terror. By January 2008, he began to doubt Musharrafs ability and willingness to deliver what the U.S. wanted in the war in Afghanistan. He slowly, and reluctantly, understood the reasons for the Musharraf policy of keeping the Taliban option open to be used when a weary U.S. eventually started withdrawing. Before visiting Washington in July 2008, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani arranged for a raid on a big madrassa and told Bush about it. Bush told his interlocutor that he had heard that some of these raids and arrests amounted to less than met the eye. Gilani was puzzled. A Bush aide told Sanger that he would not call it the Presidents worst meeting with a foreign leader ever. At the joint press conference with Gilani, Bush complimented Pakistan as a vibrant democracy and said twice that he respects Pakistans sovereignty. Of course, he did not make any mention of the order he had already issued to the Special Forces to enter Pakistani territory.

Sanger draws an important lesson from Bushs dealings with Musharraf. Bush invested far too much confidence in his personal relationship with a single strong man, exactly the mistake that he rightly criticised Bill Clinton for making in dealing with Russia during the [Boris] Yeltsin years. Bush thought that he could pick up the phone, talk to Musharraf, and get what he wanted from Pakistan. It is only in the past 18 months or so that Bush started to realise that he was wrong about Musharraf.

After two sections on North Korea and China, the author takes us to the epilogue. He starts with a quotation from Theodore H. Whites The Making of the President 1960 to the effect that Kennedy never believed that men were powerless to ask new questions or define new rules, or that individuals were helpless as the engines of history rolled towards them. After a year in office, Obama cannot blame his predecessor any longer for the mess he left. Part of Obamas task in the first year will be to destroy four illusions, two created by Bush and two created by his team during the election campaign. The first is that the international system installed after the Second World War, with the U.S. at its centre, can last. The second is that the rest of the world will naturally seek to emulate the U.S. model and embrace democracy, free expression, and free market. There is the third illusion, created by Obamas team, to the effect that free trade caused Americas problems. In other words, the jobs migrated to Bangalore. The last one is that America will not need to use the Big Stick.

It is exceedingly difficult to predict the course of a presidency. Bush in his campaign projected a humble foreign policy. But, in fact, Bush entered the White House with much certitude, but little compass. Obamas situation is different. The troubles are so large that the country and the world is primed for big solutions. Obama cannot only deal with the crises but also change the system that generates such crises. Dean Acheson, President Harry S. Trumans Secretary of State, wrote about being present at the creation. Obama and his wise women and men can be present at the recreation.

Sangers book should be read by the global citizen in order to understand the U.S. psyche. There is a frank admission that Bush messed it up. There is hope that Obama will undo the mess, if he can get his act right. But, for the reader, the key question is whether Obama is getting it right. His talking to Iran is a move in the right direction. His move to hasten the establishment of a Palestinian state might boomerang. If he persists, he might lose his second term, as Carter did when he gave asylum to the Shah. It will be more prudent to focus on the Israel-Palestine imbroglio during the second term. But, the U.S. public will judge him primarily in terms of the pace and strength of the economic recovery.

Politics is the art of the possible and there is much that we expect of Obama. He is not a surgeon who can cut away the toxic Bush legacy from Americas body politic. The more he trusts his own good sense, intuition and values, the better he will do.

Courts & governance

THE Supreme Court must take credit for provoking Madhav Godbole, a former civil servant, to write the highly informative book The Judiciary and Governance in India. In 2004, Godbole and his former colleague in the civil service, E.A.S. Sarma, filed a public interest petition in the Supreme Court seeking measures to retain the apolitical character and independence of the civil service, and to improve its efficiency, integrity, morale and public image.

Their petition urged the court to declare good governance and an apolitical and independent civil service a part of the basic structure of the Constitution, and the right to good governance a fundamental right under Articles 14, 19 and 21. When it came up for preliminary hearing, the court dismissed it as not necessary and observed that if there was a specific case of grievance, the court could look into it but that it could not rewrite the Constitution or run the administration.

The court was also not in favour of declaring good governance a fundamental right as this would mean that the court would have to look into every aspect of governance. The dismissal disappointed the petitioners who saw the public interest litigation (PIL) as the last resort in view of the failure of the executive and the legislature to deliver on governance.

Godbole, while referring to this episode in the chapter Government by Judiciary, shows that the judiciary is actively addressing issues of good governance through PIL petitions all over the country. As if to buttress his contention, the author has provided in Appendix V an illustrative presentation of the ever-expanding horizon of PIL in its second phase from the 1990s. He has classified PIL into six major categories: 1) protection of the interests of the poor, oppressed, downtrodden and marginalised; 2) protection of the environment; 3) public grievances; 4) cleansing of public life; 5) policy issues; and 6) recommendation by courts for enactment of new laws and amendment of existing laws.

The author contends that his 2004 PIL petition did not intend to sanctify government by the judiciary. On the contrary, he hoped that a declaration of the right to good governance as a fundamental right by the court would empower citizens to insist on greater accountability and transparency in governance. Answering the Supreme Courts concern that it would open a Pandoras box if the plea of the petitioners was granted, Godbole suggests, citing another legal expert, that apprehension of a spate of petitions is an irrelevant consideration for judicial review and can never be relied on in arguments on fundamental rights.

Indeed, confronting the Supreme Court with hard facts on PIL is one of the achievements of this book. The author has found that the rules for listing cases for hearing are far from clear and not in the public domain. For instance, the PIL petition pertaining to strike by lawyers, which was filed in 1989, was decided only in 1995. The petition pertaining to discretionary quota for Members of Parliament has been pending before the court for over a decade. The PIL on police reforms languished for a decade before it was decided in 2006.

Godbole has also challenged the Supreme Courts oft-repeated assertion in its judgments that PIL is different from adversary litigation. Using the results of his survey of PIL petitioners, he points out that PIL petitions have often met with stiff resistance from the government and its agencies.

He also underlines the repeated adjournments of hearings in PIL cases, frequent observations by the courts expressing their frustration at the officers lack of interest and their lukewarm response, and the non-implementation of decisions in PIL matters. The PIL petition filed in 1995 by Common Cause, a citizens organisation, seeking appointment of Lok Pals and Lok Ayuktas was finally adjourned sine die, on September 12, 2003, after 29 hearings, as none was ready with the matter to make submissions.

At a time when the Supreme Court itself is seized of the issue of laying down proper guidelines to be followed in admitting PIL matters, Godbole must be complimented for carrying out a survey on the efficacy and impact of PIL petitions. The results of the survey notwithstanding the poor response to his questionnaire from civil society must be an eye-opener. Godbole considered the outcome of 16 PIL petitions 13 filed by respondents to his survey and three others initiated on the basis of published data. In almost all these cases, the problem is non-compliance by the authorities with the Supreme Courts orders.

According to Godbole, the founding fathers of the Constitution did not envisage the courts having a hand in running the government as it is done now. By unleashing the PIL innovation, the judiciary started to ride a tiger which it does not know how to dismount from, he says.

The thrust of the higher judiciary, he suggests, must be on laying down ground rules for good governance rather than the court itself redressing public grievances, formulating development schemes and monitoring them, and so on. He points out that the Supreme Courts decision that made it obligatory for every candidate contesting an election to provide information about his or her financial assets and criminal background has made a lasting impact on the governance of the country.

Therefore, Godbole believes, the judiciarys concern must be to direct the creation and strengthening of an institutional framework for good governance, which will uphold the rule of law, command public respect and will be independent and sensitive to the sufferings of the people.

20091106262208002jpg

Godboles concerns on PIL petitions are valid, but his conclusions are off the mark. In the chapter Confrontation: Parliament and Executive, he suggests that the judiciary has become not just the central pillar but the only pillar of our democracy and that no great wisdom or foresight is necessary to see the instability of this architectural marvel. He says the gap between the judiciary and Parliament on the one hand and the executive on the other in understanding and appreciating each others position is widening.

While one would agree with him that the public spectacle of continuous sniping at each other is undermining the image and standing of all the three organs of the Indian state, his prescription to the President to seek an advisory opinion from the Supreme Court under Article 143 of the Constitution (Power of the President to consult Supreme Court) does not appear to be the right remedy. One would assume that such tensions between these organs of the state are a sign of the health of our democracy.

Indeed, Godbole suggests several other areas where he thinks there is no clarity and where he believes a presidential reference to the Supreme Court can help, if only to obviate the possibility of the constitutional amendment being struck down later by the Supreme Court. Constitutional pundits, however, will differ from him on the point that one of the objectives of Article 143 was to give immunity to a constitutional amendment from being struck down by the Supreme Court. Godboles account of the experiment with judicial reform in India is one of disappointment and dejection, which he attributes to a lack of will on the part of the authorities.

The Asia Pacific Judicial Reform Forum (APJRF), however, as the second book under review shows, is optimistic about such experiments succeeding. Contributors to this volume identify the strengths and weaknesses of the reform programmes in their countries, which include Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vanuatu.

The APJRF is a network of 49 superior courts, justice sector agencies, and judicial education institutes in the Asia-Pacific region. It came about as a result of the Manila Declaration on Judicial Reform in 2005. The APJRF works in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme Regional Centre in Bangkok, and the present study was funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund.

Contributors to the APJRFs volume find proactive leadership of the judiciary central to the success of their reform endeavours. Among the country-specific studies, it may be of interest to look at the Indian reform experience.

The essay, written by Mohan Gopal, head of the National Judicial Academy in Bhopal, acknowledges the complexity in India right in the beginning. Some 12,000 judges (against some 15,000 judicial positions) handle over 45 million cases a year on an average, disposing of some 18 million cases each year. The judicial system, he admits, is still plagued by many challenges, including chronic delay, inadequate infrastructure, and a shortage of judges.

However, he adds, in the last three decades, the Indian judiciary has substantially reformed itself to become a model to the world for its innovative and proactive justice jurisprudence, with its public-interest-based decisions now being emulated.

Within India, the judiciary has emerged as one of the most trusted organs of the state. The judiciary has reformed processes for judicial appointment so as to significantly enhance judicial independence, says Mohan Gopal, with whom many observers, including Godbole, will disagree. As one reads further, it becomes clear why Mohan Gopal marvels at the Indian judiciary.

20091106262208003jpg

He classifies its history into two distinct 30-year periods, since Independence. He finds it remarkable that the reform initiative transformed the role of the Indian judiciary from being seen as the conscience keeper of the status quo (in the first three decades) to being seen as the conscience keeper of justice (in the following three decades), and that this reform was conceived, developed and implemented by the judiciary itself.

Critics like Godbole will disagree with this assessment precisely because the latter period has nothing to show in terms of a successful judicial reform agenda.

Mohan Gopal admits that the symptoms of judicial delay and arrears are yet to be fully addressed. Yet, he boasts that the judiciary has transformed itself into a key force promoting not only democracy, human rights and sustainable development but also economic investment and growth. Obviously, these are debatable claims.

Even as Parliament is grappling with the Bill to set up a National Judicial Council (NJC) in order to take disciplinary action against erring judges of the higher judiciary, Nepals experience with a similar council since 1991 may be instructive.

The essay on Nepal, written by Hari Phuyal, an advocate in the Supreme Court of Nepal, suggests that mere constitutional structures are not sufficient to create an independent, impartial and accountable judiciary though they can arrest further deterioration. He believes that planning and visionary leadership are instrumental for meaningful and lasting changes to take hold. Simply taking action against a few judges is not adequate. The NJCs impact on ethics, integrity and accountability should be capable of objective verification, he says.

These two books help us understand how different observers look at the interrelated issues of judicial reform and good governance from dissimilar perspectives.

Was JFK great?

HOW do we assess greatness? Judging by Indian uneasiness and even anger whenever a book or a film portrays the love affairs of Jawaharlal Nehru or Subhas Chandra Bose, it seems that we want our heroes to be immune to the temptations of ordinary mortals and be bereft of emotions that govern their lives. Was Gandhi any less great for the fact that, as his grandson Rajmohan Gandhi records, he fell for a married woman?

In early 1920, Gandhi, who had turned fifty the previous October, felt strongly drawn towards a gifted woman three years younger than him who wrote, spoke and sang compellingly. Related to Tagore, Sarladevi was the wife of Ram Bhuj Dutt Chaudhuri, a man of standing in Lahore. Catapulted in 1919 to national leadership and investigating the Punjab atrocities in 1920, Gandhi found and enjoyed Sarladevis company, and was attracted by her personality and promise. For a while thinking that they were meant for each other and meant together to shape India to a new design, Gandhi wondered about a spiritual marriage, without being clear about its meaning.

Fifteen years later he said to Margaret Sanger that he had nearly slipped after meeting a woman with a broad cultural education but had fortunately been freed from a trance. The reference was undoubtedly to the 1920 relationship with Sarladevi. In March 1947 Gandhi recalled an episode that perhaps involved Sarladevi, who was not named.

To Amrit Kaur he wrote: With one solitary exception I have never looked upon a woman with a lustful eye. I have touched perhaps thousands upon thousands. But my touch has never carried the meaning of lustfulness. I would like those who have felt otherwise, if there are any, truly to testify against me. Even the one solitary instance referred to by me was never with the intention of despoiling her. Nevertheless my confession stands that in that case my touch had lustfulness about it. I was carried away in spite of myself and but for Gods intervention I might have become a wreck. (The Good Boatman; Penguin, 1995; pages 180-181.)

Lloyd George was utterly unscrupulous, financially corrupt and a philanderer to boot. He provided steady leadership to Britain during the First World War. In any fair assessment, moral lapses must not be ignored, but the commitment to the national weal must not be ignored either. The truth is that heroes can have, most do have, feet of clay, flawed personalities who grapple with baser emotions while they serve the nation. It is the commitment, soundness of judgment and the vision that matter.

The wisest British Prime Minister was not Palmerston, whom our wise pundits in New Delhi so fondly and consistently misquote. It was George Canning. His speech in the House of Commons on April 30, 1823, on negotiations with Spain is a masterpiece of its kind. It is delightful to read: Among those who have made unjust and unreasonable objections to the tone of our representations at Verona, I should be grieved to include the honourable member for Bramber [Mr Wilberforce], with whose mode of thinking I am too well acquainted not to be aware that his observations are founded on other and higher motives than those of political controversy. My honourable friend, through a long and amiable life, has mixed in the business of the world without being stained by its contaminations, and he, in consequence, is apt to place I will not say too high, but higher, I am afraid, than the ways of the world will admit the standard of political morality.

I fear my honourable friend is not aware how difficult it is to apply to politics those pure, abstract principles which are indispensable to the excellence of private ethics. Had we employed in the negotiations that serious moral strain which he might have been more inclined to approve, many of the gentlemen opposed to me would, I doubt not, have complained, that we had taken a leaf from the book of the Holy Alliance itself, that we had framed in their own language a canting protest against their purposes, not in the spirit of sincere dissent, but the better to cover our connivance. My honourable friend, I admit, would not have been of the number of those who would so have accused us, but he may be assured that he would have been wholly disappointed in the practical result of our didactic reprehensions.

Michael OBrien, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, wrote a major and widely acclaimed biography of John F. Kennedy (2005) based on 11 years of research into letters, diaries, financial papers, medical records, manuscripts and oral histories. One cannot think of a single biography of any of our heroes written with such painstaking and thorough research. Court historians are provided the papers by the heirs and they produce the desired result.

Macaulay described it beautifully in his devastating review of the Rev. G.R. Gleigs biography of Warren Hastings: This book seems to have been manufactured in pursuance of a contract, by which the representatives of Warren Hastings, on the one part, bound themselves to furnish papers, and Mr Gleig, on the other part, bound himself to furnish praise. It is but just to say that the covenants on both sides have been most faithfully kept, and the result is before us in the form of three big bad volumes, full of undigested correspondents and undiscerning panegyric.

OBriens present work on John F. Kennedy is a concise analytical portrait of the man written with the sureness of touch that only someone who has studied the subject in depth can command. He steers clear of the varieties of revisionism. To some of our scholars, it provides an instructive model. Scholarship need not be dull, but readability must not be bought at the expense of depth. The sweep of the brush that some in India acclaim produces shoddy work masquerading as scholarship.

O Brien has a whole Chapter (14) on Woman and Sex written in impeccable taste. The object is not titillation. It is to discover why Kennedy was driven thus and the effect it had on his life and personality. As with other chapters, the documentation is thorough and the purpose is serious. Read this to appreciate the quality of OBriens insights and judgment: Kennedys personal life did indeed affect his performance as President. His retention of Hoover as director of the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], for example, can partly be explained by his womanising. Hoovers bulging file on the Presidents sexual encounters went back to Kennedys affair with Inga Arvad during World War II. Kennedy may have kept Hoovar in his post because the President feared that Hoover would make incriminating information public.

The link between Kennedys private life and his presidential performance, though, should not be exaggerated. He disconnected his personal life from his work. He was as consistently cautious in his policy-making as he was reckless in private, historian Mark White has accurately observed. Kennedy didnt send American soldiers into Cuba during the Bay of Pigs debacle, or deploy combat troops in Vietnam, and preferred the blockade option rather than the dangerous air-strike alternative during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Nonetheless Kennedys sexual liaisons were damaging, or potentially damaging, in several ways. They exposed him to blackmail from scorned women, the Mafia, the FBI, the Teamsters, the Soviets, or some hostile foreign intelligence service. Fortunately for him, none of his lovers objected to being used and discarded. None complained and found the ear of a brave reporter or editor.

Given Kennedys acute sensitivity in most aspects of his political career, his reckless philandering is almost incomprehensible. He must have convinced himself that the media and the Republican opposition would continue to be discreet. He seemed to have an aristocratic view of public leaders and their private sexual adventures, historian James Giglio correctly observes. Kennedy felt sorry for [John] Profumo, without thinking that the same thing could happen to him. He might not have survived a second term without a devastating expose.

20091106262208302jpg

Kennedys stand on civil rights and other issues of domestic policy, on Vietnam, Berlin, the misadventure in the Bay of Pigs, the statesmanship in the Cuban Missile Crisis and the vision that inspired the Test Ban Treaty won him undying fame and respect.

For all the conciseness, the author does not skip the formative years. Kennedy impressed his teachers. For his senior thesis, he decided to write about Britains policy of appeasement of Hitler. He studied briefly under Harold Laski at the London School of Economics (LSE). Kennedy argued that leaders are responsible for their failures only in the governing sector and cannot be held responsible for the failure of the nation as a whole. Joseph Kennedy, his father, who was appointed Ambassador to the Court of St. James, disagreed and asked him not to whitewash the leaders. The book was entitled Why England Slept (1940).

Kennedy used unworthy tactics during election campaigns and against people he disliked, like Adlai Stevenson. He had inherited Eisenhowers plans to overthrow Fidel Castro and carried out the Central Intelligence Agencys (CIA) schemes. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. I doubt my presidency could survive another catastrophe like this. That was in the first months of his presidency, in April 1961. Two months later, he met Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna. Contrary to James Restons estimate, formed immediately after Kennedy had met Khrushchev and spoken to Reston, OBrien holds that Kennedy came out of the encounter pretty well.

It is Kennedys masterly handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis on which his fame, largely but not entirely, rests. Instead of assembling the National Security Council or the Cabinet, he gathered around him those advisers and experts whose judgment he trusted, the Executive Committee of the National Security Council, or Ex-Comm. It included Dean Rusk, Ted Sorensen, Robert Kennedy, McGeorge Bundy, Robert McNamara, Douglas Dillon, Maxwell Taylor, John McCone, Under Secretary of State George Ball, Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson, and a few others.

The Soviet action infuriated partly because it was surreptitious and deceitful. The United States had openly installed its own missiles in Turkey. The intensity of the American reaction in October was very largely a function of the deception, McGeorge Bundy later said. No U.S. President could politically survive if he allowed the Soviet Union brazenly to enter the Western Hemisphere and establish missile bases ninety miles off Florida. It would have undermined NATOs [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] confidence in the will and determination of the United States and disturbed all the nations in North and South America.

Kennedy showed remarkable restraint. At each stage of the crisis, he chose the moderate and prudent course, as Tony Judt observed. Instead of an invasion he favoured an air strike on missile bases; instead of a blanket air strike he favoured selective strikes only; he insisted that no strikes, however selective, should happen until warning had been given. He opted for a naval blockage over immediate military action, and a partial naval quarantine over a blanket blockage on all shipping.

That episode has been recorded in many a volume. The massive tome The Kennedy Tapes, edited by the distinguished historian Ernest May and Paul Zellikow, is a record of the Ex-Comms meetings from October 13 to 29 in 1962. There is also the collaborative effort by a Russian and an American scholar, Alexander Pursenko and Timothy Naftali, entitled One Hell of a Gamble. Both were written over a decade ago. Michael Dobbs is a reporter for The Washington Post who spent most of his years as a foreign correspondent specialising in Russia and its former Warsaw Pact allies. His work provides the most complete and authentic record of the Cuban Missile Crisis that a single volume can. It is based on exhaustive new research and written in a style that is riveting.

The tapes reveal that the Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis Le May, with 3,000 nuclear weapons under his command, barked at Kennedy that his blockade of Cuba was almost as bad as the appease at Munich and suggested that the President was a coward.

General Maxwell Taylor, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, knew better. He had made a detailed study of the Soviet military doctrine. He was alarmed to discover that the standard Soviet plan of attack called for an army group to be equipped with 250 to 300 nuclear weapons. The general had also received reports of a military exercise in the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Europe in July 1961, during which Soviet troops planned to use as many as 75 tactical nuclear weapons in a surprise first strike against NATO. Taylor warned of the emotional resistance in some quarters against tactical nuclear weapons. In his view, the real issue was not whether to develop such weapons but how to make them sufficiently small and flexible to permit a separate stage in escalation short of the use of weapons of mass destruction.

Other Kennedy advisers believed that a limited nuclear war was a contradiction in terms. They recalled an exchange with Dean Acheson soon after the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Living up to his hard-line reputation, Acheson advocated an immediate air strike against the missile sites. Someone asked him how the Soviets would react to such a strike.

I know the Soviet Union very well, the former Secretary of State replied with his trademark confidence, they will knock out our missiles in Turkey.

Well, then what do we do? someone else asked.

I believe under our NATO treaty, with which I was associated, we would be required to respond by knocking out a missile base inside the Soviet Union.

Then what would they do?

By now, Acheson was becoming a little less sure of himself. Well, he said with some irritation. Thats when we hope that cooler heads will prevail, and theyll stop and talk. This is precisely how hardliners talk, possibly without thinking through the possible consequences.

Other Ex-Comm members felt a real chill descend on the room as they listened to the legendary wise man of the Truman era. Unwittingly, Acheson had laid bare a sombre Cold War truth: it was impossible to know where a limited nuclear war would end.

Acheson was appalled by the unstructured nature of the sessions, more reminiscent of a freewheeling academic seminar than a presidential council of war. He favoured targeted air strikes against the missile sites to eliminate the threat and dismissed fears that this would kill thousands of Soviet technicians as emotional dialectics. Acheson attributed the peaceful outcome of the crisis to plain dumb luck.

Three whole decades later, after the Cold War had ended, living American and Russian participants in the crisis met and learnt a shocking fact Soviet missiles with nuclear warheads had been placed on Cuban soil. Defence Secretary Robert McNamara was one of the participants. Khrushchev was careful to send a message to his man in Havana, General Issa Pliya: It is categorically confirmed that it is forbidden to use nuclear weapons from the missiles. Without approach from Moscow. Confirm receipt.

Michael Dobbs has no use either for Kennedys apologists like Arthur Schlesinger or his detractors. Kennedy did not take one straight line during the crisis. He wavered, but unlike Stevenson he wanted to use the U.S. missiles in Turkey as a bargaining chip at the end. Bobby Kennedys role was exaggerated by the court historian Schlesinger. (His counterparts flourished in the Nehru era and beyond.)

It is a nuanced, objective account, which makes this book a work of integrity and scholarship. The focus on the test of wills between Kennedy and Khrushchev at the expense of the chaotic vagaries of history was unfortunate. The missile crisis came to be viewed as an exemplary example of international crisis management. According to Bartlett and Alsop, the peaceful outcome of the Cuban crisis inspired an inner sense of confidence among the handful of men with the next-to-ultimate responsibility. The Presidents men began to believe their own version of history. Confidence turned into hubris. JFK had ignored the advice of his own military experts but had nevertheless won a great victory by sending carefully calibrated signals to the leader of the rival superpower. It did not occur to anybody that many of these messages were misinterpreted in Moscow, or that Khrushchev responded to imaginary signals, such as the mistaken belief that Kennedy would shortly go on television to announce an attack on Cuba. The success of the strategy was justification enough.

Wrong lessons were drawn in Vietnam and in Iraq. Dobbs does not withhold praise when it is justly due. The crisis demonstrated that nuclear wars are unwinnable and restraint is a dire imperative. The Cuban Missile Crisis demonstrates the sometimes pivotal role of personality in politics. Character counts. Had someone else been President in October 1962, the outcome could have been very different. Bobby Kennedy would later note that the dozen senior advisers who took part in the Ex-Comm debates were all bright and energetic amongst the most able people in the country. Nevertheless in RFKs view, if any of half a dozen of them were President, the world would have been very likely plunged in a catastrophic war. He based that conclusion on the knowledge that nearly half the Ex-Comm had favoured bombing the missile sites in Cuba, a step that probably would have led to an American invasion of the island.

20091106262208303jpg

Even with the benefit of hindsight, it is impossible to know what would have happened had JFK followed the advice of the hawks. It is conceivable that Khrushchev would have swallowed the humiliation. It is possible that he would have lashed out in Berlin or elsewhere. It is also conceivable that Soviet Commanders on Cuba would have used tactical nuclear weapons to defend themselves, whatever their instructions from Moscow. A breakdown in military communications would have effectively devolved control over such weapons to the captains and majors who commanded each individual battery. We have seen how it would have taken just a few minutes to fire a nuclear-tipped cruise missile into the Guantanamo Naval Base. Had such an attack occurred, Kennedy would have been under enormous pressure to order a nuclear response. It would have been difficult to confine a nuclear war to Cuba.

The CIA estimated that there were 6,000 to 8,000 Soviet advisers on the island. There were in fact more than 40,000 Soviet soldiers in Cuba, including at least 10,000 highly trained combat troops. They were not sent there for a picnic.

Dobbs refers, in a striking phrase, to the corrosive effects of conventional wisdom. The greater the pervasiveness of the wisdom, the deeper the corrosion. In conformist India with card-carrying professional hawks, the danger is great. An American diplomat suggested to this writer during the Kargil crisis that the Missile Crisis merited study. It was during Operation Brasstack (1986-87) and Operation Parakram (2001-02) that the ignorance of the truths of international life became glaringly evident. In both cases, the climbdown was inevitable and pathetic.

Knowing what we now know, it is hard to quarrel with JFKs decision to go with a blockage of Cuba rather than an air strike leading to a possible invasion. He was surely justified in not taking the risk of provoking the Soviets into what McNamara called a spasm response. We can only be grateful for his restraint. For all his personal flaws and political mistakes, perhaps in part because of them, Jack Kennedy cuts a very human figure. At a time when politicians were routinely demonising the other side, he reminded Americans what they had in common with Russians.

Kennedy was a highly educable person. Months before his assassination he spoke at the American University in Washington, on June 10, 1963: No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue. As Americans, we find communism profoundly repugnant as a negation of personal freedom and dignity. But we can still hail the Russian people for their many achievements in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture and in acts of courage.

He asked Americans to appreciate the horrific price the Soviet people had paid during the Second World War. No nation in the history of battle ever suffered more than the Soviet Union suffered in the course of the Second World War. At least twenty million lost their lives. Countless millions of homes and farms were burned or sacked. A third of the nations territory, including nearly two-thirds of its industrial base, was turned into a wasteland.

He warned let us not be blind to our difference but stressed that common interests should not be neglected either. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our childrens future. And we are all mortal. That reflected greatness the ability and the will to reach out to the adversary.

On his assassination, James Reston made the perfect comment: What was killed in Dallas was not only the President but the promise. It was the promise of greatness. All over the world people mourned deeply because, for all his flaws, the world was much the poorer without John F. Kennedy.

I want to carry on singing

MOHAMMED RAFI, Manna Dey, Mukesh, Hemant Kumar and Kishore Kumar formed a quintet of male playback singers who dominated Hindi film music of an era. Among them Manna Dey is the only one to receive the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke award, the highest national award for lifetime contribution to Indian cinema.

Prabodh Chandra Dey, or Manna Dey, began playback singing way back in 1943, in a duet with Suraiya for Tamanna. Upar gagan vishal in Mashaal gave him a solid footing as a playback singer and Dharti kahe pukar ke made him an icon in the true sense of the term.

Nephew of the legendary singer-composer K.C. Dey, Manna Dey is the only singer to have rendered a duet with the maestro Bhimsen Joshi and earned his appreciation. He has rendered hundreds of songs in Hindi, his mother tongue Bengali and also other regional languages. Excerpts from an exclusive interview the legendary singer gave after his return from a tour of the United States:

Do you like being branded a classical singer?

I dont. I am not a full-fledged classical singer like Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Bhimsen Joshi or Amir Khan. I did have my training in classical music and still practise my riwaz daily for three hours. My uncle [K.C. Dey] wanted me to be involved fully in classical music. I was really not interested. Classical music appeals to only a class of audience and it is very difficult to reach out to the masses. Music based on pure ragas and bandishes has limitations.

The Dada Saheb Phalke Award must mean a lot to you.

Not exactly. I feel honoured but am in no mood to go overboard as I passed that period of my life long ago. Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh or Kishore Kumar never received the Phalke Award. It does not lower their status as singers in any way. My real award is when I hear a man on the streets of Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore humming Laga chunri mein daag or Aye meri zohra zabin. Nothing can beat that recognition. A singer should be identified on the basis of his songs, and a listener should be able to figure out the name of the crooner of a number even with his eyes closed.

You have rendered a wide variety of songs in your illustrious career spanning seven decades.

20091106262209102jpg

If I was monochromatic as a singer, I would have been nowhere. Just as I was at ease with raga-oriented songs, I could equally sing pop, sentimental songs and numbers with rhythm. Right from the beginning, it was my nature to experiment with different melodies.

Take the number Gori tore banke from Adhe Din Adhe Raat. I rendered it in pure Bhairavi but composer Chitragupta conducted a pure Western musical background to the song with the Spanish guitar, the bongo and snare drums. It was a unique experiment. He requested me to render the lines Gore gore mukhde pe with a rock-and-roll punch. The song was a super hit.

Who is the best music director you have worked with?

Shanker-Jaikishan, obviously. The duo, the most versatile in the nation, composed the maximum number of hits in the maximum number of films possible. Shanker-Jaikishan understood my full depth as a singer and used me brilliantly to sing for Raj Kapoor, Raaj Kumar and Shammi Kapoor. I rendered the majority of my memorable songs for Raj Kapoor, whom I consider a genius. The other music directors I have worked very well with include S.D. Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Madan Mohan, Roshan, Ravi [Ravi Shankar Sharma alias Bombay Ravi] and R.D. Burman.

You forgot to mention C. Ramchandra.

Thank you for reminding me. In his days, Annasaab was the greatest music director and I owe a lot of my success to him. A uncompromising music director, he had a perfect sense of melody. I still fondly remember the number Dil ka gulzar jhuta in Amardeep, which he tuned and which I sang jointly with Rafi, Lata [Mangeshkar] and Asha [Bhonsle]. It was a marvellous tune based on the beats of the dholak something which only C. Ramchandra could compose. He could not adjust with the Hindi film world later.

What sort of rapport did you share with your colleagues?

We were healthy competitors and never rivals. Rafi was undoubtedly the greatest playback singer, Mukesh was nonpareil in his nasal tone, Hemant Kumar had a golden voice, and Kishore was a self-trained genius. I sang the maximum of my duet numbers with Rafi and we shared a deep silent regard for each other. The competition I had with Kishore whilst singing Ek chatur naar is something unknown to todays singers. Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle are versatile and powerful. Sandhya Mukherjee has a tremendous range in classical music, and Geeta Dutts voice seeped with emotion.

What was the difference in singing for Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Chatterjee in Bengali films?

Uttam was a trained musician and his sense of music was more than that of Soumitra. Though Uttams voice suited Hemanta Mukherjee the best, he adapted very well to my singing and never had any problems. Uttam Kumar and Raj Kapoor were two actors who were lip masters. Soumitra Chatterjee is a method actor who accommodated himself well to each song situation and delivered what was required of him well.

Which are your most favourite Bengali numbers?

Raat jaga duti chokh, Tumi aar deko na and Aami tar thikana rakhini. I tuned a number of Bengali songs and sang them too. Music directors who worked very successfully with me include Nachiketa Ghosh and Sudhin Das Gupta. Bengali lyrics in those days were at their peak by virtue of their words, feelings and depth. Even a popular number like Aami shri shri had some lyrical essence.

How did you adjust to South Indian songs?

I did sing a number of them confidently. My wife [a Malayalee] and daughter helped me with the right pronunciation and I rehearsed thoroughly before the recording of each number. South Indian pronunciation requires a special sort of accent without stylisation, and needs to appeal at once.

What are your immediate plans?

Currently, I am recording [Rabindranath] Tagore songs, a non-filmy Hindi album and a Bengali album in the blues style. At 90, I still love to accept challenges, experiment and want to carry on singing as long as I am alive.

Boating thrills

advertorial

GATEWAY to a new experience announces a board at the entrance to the Muttukadu boathouse, about 35 km from Chennai on the way to Mamallapuram. The Muttukadu boathouse, which was opened in 1984 with seven boats, has seen a remarkable transformation. Attention to detail is evident everywhere in the eco-friendly buildings with bamboo-plaited roofs; the cafeteria; and on the stone benches on the lake front. What is more, there is a strong emphasis on safety.

The Thekkady [Kerala] boat capsize [on September 30] has not affected us. Since 1984, not a single casualty has occurred thanks to our emphasis on safety. Besides, the depth of the lake is only between three feet and six feet, said Samson Kanagaraj, the boathouse manager.

The Muttukadu lake, with a waterspread of 235 acres, is a commingling of the backwaters of the Bay of Bengal and the Buckingham Canal. It is today one of the star attractions on the East Coast Road, offering rides on a variety of boats, including imported water-scooters and speedboats. On Saturdays and Sundays, between 3,000 and 5,000 tourists visit the lake.

An added attraction is the flock of pelicans that nest from October to February on the thorny trees growing in the lake.

That there is a premium on safety is evident in the boathouse. Those going for rides should wear life jackets. There are lifebuoys on every boat. There is a separate rescue boat with a driver and a lifeguard. Tourists cannot drive the water-scooters. There is a driver, and two tourists can go with him, said S. Baskar, a motorboat driver. The motorboats were designed by the Department of Ocean Technology of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras.

The boathouse run by the TTDC at Mudaliarkuppam, about 55 km from Muttukadu, on the way to Puducherry, is also a big draw. Besides the rides, the spotlessly clean beach island here is a hit with weekend revellers. They are not allowed to drink hard liquor or litter the place.

Said C. Krishnamoorthy, the boathouse manager: On the one side is the Bay of Bengal. On the other is the Buckingham Canal. The beach is clean. The air is pure. There is silence everywhere. What more can one ask for?

There is emphasis on safety, too. We check the life jackets every day. If anybody refuses to wear the life jacket, we dont allow him/her to get into the boat. We instead refund the money for the ticket, he said.

T.S. Subramanian

Paradise found

KOLLI Hills in Namakkal district and Yercaud in neighbouring Salem district have been classified as lesser-known tourist spots, but they occupy pride of place on the tourism map of Tamil Nadu.

These emerging tourist centres are unique yet similar in many ways. Both form part of the Eastern Ghats. But unlike the dry and rocky hills that mark the rest of the Eastern Ghats, the two are known for their gorgeous greens and awe-inspiring woods. Wondrous waterfalls, precious medicinal plants and a salubrious climate are among their other common features.

More than 90 per cent of the inhabitants in both places are Tamil-speaking Malayali (people belonging to the hills) Scheduled Tribes. Commercialisation and pollution are far less here compared with several other hill stations in the State, though ecological problems do exist.

Though these two hill stations have tremendous tourism potential, the governments strategy has been one of taking measured steps to preserve the ecology and natural beauty. Another reason for the cautious approach could be the keenness to safeguard the tribal population and their cultural traditions. Under the guidance of Tourism Secretary V. Irai Anbu, District Collectors and other officials belonging to the Revenue, Public Works, Tourism and Local Administration departments are striving to implement various tourism-promotion schemes.

Located at an altitude ranging from 1,000 to 1,300 metres above sea level and covering an area of around 441 square kilometres, Kolli Hills is believed to have been inhabited from prehistoric times.

It is 55 km from Namakkal and includes a 26-km ghat section from Karavalli, the village at the foothills. There is no gainsaying that the drive on the ghat road, with its 70 hairpin bends, provides an enjoyable experience.

Tourists can enjoy trekking, rock-climbing, bird-watching, cave exploration and swimming in the hill station.

The places of interest include the 12th century Arapaleeswarar temple, dedicated to Siva at Periakoviloor, not far from the magnificent Akasagangai waterfall, which cascades from a height of 76 m. According to experts, inscriptions of the Chola period are found at the temple. A megalithic burial site has also been unearthed here.

An added attraction is the newly found waterfall near Semmedu in the Kolli Hills. It has been named Masilla falls in view of the purity of its water. The view points at Solakkadu, Seekuparai, Akasagangai and Selur Nadu enable tourists to get a birds-eye view of the entire range.

The Kollipavai, or Ettukkai Amman temple, the Arapaleeswarar temple and the Periyasamy temple attract a large number of devotees and pilgrims on full moon and new moon days. During the Valvil Ori festival in the first week of August, thousands of people throng the hill station.

The authorities have already completed 16 major works, at a total cost of Rs.1 crore, under schemes for 2008-09 aimed at improving basic infrastructure facilities in the hill station. The Central government sanctioned Rs.3.27 crore for tourism promotion in the hill station under the Destination Development Scheme for 2008-09.

Located at an altitude of 1,515 m, Yercaud is on the Shervaroyan Hills in the Eastern Ghats and it takes 20 smart hairpin bends on the ghat road to get there. The hill station, which is 32 km from Salem, apparently got its name from the picturesque yeri (lake) that was once surrounded by kaadu (forest). The temperature never rises above 30Celsius and never falls below 13C. This has ensured round-the-year visits by tourists.

Boating in the Emerald Lake, the breath-taking view of the hills from Pagoda Point, the 27-metre high waterfalls at Killiyur, the Bears Cave near the Norton Bungalow, the rose garden, the greenhouse and the silk farm are major attractions. The Shervaroyan-Kaveri Amman cave temple of the tribal people attracts thousands of Malayali pilgrims during the annual festival in May. The bisons are another attraction.

Tourism development works at a total cost of Rs.1.118 crore, earmarked for 2008-09, have been completed; works are on for the current year at an estimated cost of Rs.3.81 crore. The hill station, which covers an area of 383 sq km, has over 39,000 inhabitants spread over nine panchayats.

Though the State government has been appealing to tourists to ensure that the hill stations remain free of plastic and garbage dumping, the response so far has not been encouraging.

Grabbing of land belonging to the tribal people, tree-felling and the abandoning of traditional farming practices pose serious problems in both the hill stations. But the government has not lost hope of creating public awareness so that the ecosystem of these hills can be preserved.

Yelagiri Hills have plenty to offer. Situated 1,050 m, the hill station has ideal weather throughout the year. The maximum temperature is about 33 Celsius and the minimum 12C.

A 14-km ghat road that starts from Ponneri junction on the Vaniyambadi-Tirupattur road with 14 hairpin bends leads to the hilltop. The small hill station, which has a population of about 6,000, all tribal people, living in 12 villages, still retains its rustic charm. Athanavur and Nilavur are the main villages.

A colourful shandy with a distinct rural flavour assembles every Friday on the main road in Athanavur. Produce from the plains, including vegetables, jaggery and pottery, jostle for space with hill-grown produce. The main road also has several lodging houses, including the Yatri Nivas.

Until a few decades ago, Yelagiri and Javadhu Hills and the Sathyamangalam forests up to Mysore accounted for 60 per cent of the worlds sandalwood trees.

What attracts tourists to Yelagiri is its proximity to Bangalore (a two-and-half hour drive) and Chennai (four-and-half hour drive). At Nilavur, 6 km from Athanavur, is another park and boathouse. The Tourism Department has expanded a pond into a small lake, with boating facilities. Nilavur has a lovely rural ambience with quaint homesteads and fields where crops such as samai and tur dal are grown.

Hasu Infotech (India) Private Limited has set up 10 kudils here. These kudils have a back-to-the-basics concept. There is no television and no plug points either. Tourists have to sleep on mats on the floor, said Saravan Ramasamy, chief executive officer, Hasu Infotech. Both Yatri Nivas and the Tourist Information Centre provide mountain terrain bikes.

The Yelagiri Adventure Sports Association (YASA) is promoting paragliding, trekking, rock-climbing and other adventure sports. A paragliding festival, held from September 11 to 13, attracted participants from across the country.

The Yelagiri Hills Nature Conservation and Cultural Society is actively trying to conserve nature.

There are seven trekking routes on Yelagiri Hills: Mangalam to Swami Malai, Tourist Information Centre to Koosi Kuttai, Puthur to Perumadu waterfalls, Kottaiyur to Pulicha Kuttai, Nilavur to Amma Kuttai, Nilavur to Jalagamparai waterfalls and YMCA to Karadi Parai.

S.G. Sudhagar, the Tourist Information Officer of the Vellore District Collectorate, took the Frontline team on the 5-km-long Puthur-Perumadu waterfalls trek. He said tourists preferred the Mangalam-Swami Malai trek beginning at 4-45 a.m. because they could enjoy the sunrise.

The real estate boom, the mushrooming of lodges and the accumulation of garbage is causing concern.

K.S. Ramamurthy, president of the Society for the Development of Economically Weaker Sections, said: Unlike the Nilgiri Hills, Kodaikanal and the Shervaroyan Hills, which are wide in range and permit expansion in all directions, Yelagiri is a depression surrounded by hills. It has limited scope for expansion. Unplanned growth and overexploitation of groundwater will disturb the ecology.

Danish flavour

advertorial

THARANGAMBADI, called the land of the singing waves for the humming sound made by the lashing sea waves at twilight, is a coastal town in Nagapattinam district. Formerly the Danish colony of Tranquebar, it has many structures that stand testimony to the distinct architectural and cultural commingling in the area. The Tranquebar fort, or Dansborg, on the Tharangambadi coast, is one such early instance.

Inscriptions from the 14th century describe Tharangambadi as a trading port that was part of the Thanjavur kingdom. A Danish colony was set up here after the arrival of the Danish team of Ove Gjedde to the court of the Nayaka ruler in 1620. Land was leased out to the Danes as part of a treaty between King Ragunatha Nayaka of Thanjavur and the King of Denmark. However, a threat of annexation came from the Nayakars following a disagreement, and this led to the fortification of Tharangambadi. The town gate at the entrance to Kings Street is part of this fortification.

The compartments in the lower level, adjoining the ramparts of the fort, served as godowns, prisons, and rest rooms for soldiers. The rooms in the upper level were the residences of the governor and the priests. It now houses a Danish museum displaying cannons, war weapons and vintage artefacts. In 1845, the Danes sold Tranquebar to the English East India Company for Rs.12.50 lakh. The sale deed is displayed at the Dansborg Museum. Tharangambadi retained its importance as a centre of trade and commerce until the setting up of a railway line in Nagapattinam in 1861.The Masilamani Nathar temple was erected on land granted by King Maravarman Kulasekara Pandian in 1306. Despite its dilapidated condition, it breathes a charm. Its rocky edges protrude some 50 metres into the sea; this part is said to be its frontal extension, which went under water owing to erosion. A section of the gopuram, destroyed by the December 2004 tsunami, lies beneath the boulders placed to check waves. The tsunami washed ashore a lingam, which is now housed in the Dansborg Museum.

A few metres away from the Masilamani Nathar temple is a Siva temple, which is being renovated by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. The Zion Church on Kings Street, sanctified in 1701, is the oldest Protestant church in India. The New Jerusalem Church was constructed in 1718 following the arrival of German missionaries such as Bartolomaus Ziegenbalg in order to accommodate the growing Christian population. Its intricate ornamentation is reminiscent of the architecture of European churches.

The consolidation of Danish influence saw the arrival of Muslim traders, German theologians and missionaries, and Moravian entrepreneurs. Each community is said to have impacted on the culture of the area. The Danes pioneered several initiatives. These include the first evangelical Lutheran Church, the first printing press to print the Tamil translation of the New Testament, and the first girls school.

Danish architecture is marked by spacious rooms, columned verandahs, high ceilings and projecting pelmets. The predominant Danish streetscape did not wipe out the prevalent Tamil streetscape, as is evident from the houses on Goldsmith Street. INTACH renovated the five Tamil houses here, taking care to retain the charm of the old architecture. The dilapidated Governors Bungalow briefly functioned as a sessions court during British rule. INTACH is now renovating the structure.

The Ziegenbalg Museum complex, which has a prayer hall, reportedly housed the first printing press. The German government helped in the renovation of the house.

The Old Danish Cemetery to the west of the fort dates to the same period as the fort. There are about 33 heritage buildings in the area, of which the bungalow on the beach, the Nayak House and the Gate House maintained by the Neemrana Group provide high-end tourist accommodation. Besides, there is the Tamil Nadu Hotel, which provides budget accommodation.

P.V. Srividya in Nagapattinam

Other Issues

View All
Oct 9,2020