|Monday, January 3, 2000, |
After the long nightmare
THE WISE ELEPHANT
The morning after
Follow the Constitution, says the HC
Hijack trauma ends, vital queries emerge
January 3, 1925
After the long nightmare
AMIDST the growing controversy over the manner in which the passengers and the crew of the Indian Airlines flight IC-814 were freed from captivity on Friday in Kandahar, certain facts have become clear. As External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh told the media on Saturday, "all footprints" led one to Pakistan. The five hijackers were Pakistanis, he emphasised. They took advice (or orders) between the sessions of the long negotiation from a "third party": the first and the second parties were the Indian negotiators and the Taliban. There was much explosive material in boxes put on the aircraft as "luggage". The source of this "luggage" was Pakistan. Loaded at Kathmandu, the explosives were meant to be used to blow up the plane; threats to this effect had come from the hijackers frequently. The Government was given a list of unthinkable demands the release of 35 or 36 hardcore terrorists, the return of the body of a Harkat-ul-Ansar saboteur and killer duly buried months back and a sum of $200 million. The Government, Mr Jaswant Singh claimed, achieved much by getting the passengers, the crew and the aircraft released by giving away only three militants. The part of the story dealing with "freedom" from terror for a considerable number of men, women and children is incontrovertible. But the means used to achieve the objective will continue to haunt the socio-political consciousness of the nation for a long time.
The agony had dragged on for eight days. A large number of familiesthose of the hostages, their relatives and friends and, of course, of empathising persons all over the country had begun to get agitated and then angry. The giving away of three terrorists did not seem to be a large price. But what about "the loss of face"? The External Affairs Minister defended his Government's decision to trade with the terrorist as correct. "National honour and national security have not been diminished by saving the lives of 150 people", he stated in New Delhi. Was it necessary for him to escort the despicable trio and to hand them over personally to the hijackers? "Someone at the political level had to take decisions on the spot" : this was his answer, which was inadequate or incomplete. What about the failures and the options? Well, an intensive inquiry will tell.... And the tributes paid to the Taliban and the future of the seemingly improving relations with them? The tributes were earned by the cooperating Taliban. But, "there is no change in India's Afghan policy". This means that having traded "gratefully" with the administration in control of a very large part of the country, India supports the "opposition alliance" and the Burhanuddin Rabbani Government. This situation is anigmatic. India has to put some logic into its stance. The Taliban-Pakistan nexus continues. The Afghan militia's attitude remains unchanged. The relief from terror cannot be stretched beyond a point. There will be more debate acrimonious and justificatory in the coming weeks, nay, months. The crisis was deepened by lack of information and by inaction. Even the Prime Minister did not know that IC-814 had been hijacked when he ought to have known. People generally feel good now about the "moderately satisfactory" end of the latest hijacking episode. But what they believe to be below the nation's dignity in a regularly projected environment of security is being stated by professionals like Mr K.P.S. Gill and politicians like Mr Harkishan Singh Surjeet. Their views may not symbolise "the minority perception" in this vast land of immense self-esteem and experiences of living from crisis to crisis.
Yeltsin quits, puts Putin in
ECCENTRIC and unpredictable as ever, Mr Boris Yeltsin chose New Year Eve to bow out and nominate a person who has the best chance of winning the coming presidential election. The ailing former Russian President resigned five months ahead of the end of his term but gained enormously in the process. His successor, Mr Vladimir Putin, who also continues to be Prime Minister, has granted him immunity from criminal prosecution which covers even interrogation. Two, with the war in Chechnya becoming popular by the hour and Mr Putin fully identifying himself with it, he should emerge as the clear winner in the March election. After that he can be banked on to protect the interests of the family, which term covers not only Mr Yeltsin and his daughter, who have stashed away billions of dollars in foreign banks but also their close friends who too have become enormously rich during the past nine years of capitalism. Of all the politicians and bureaucrats, Mr Putin offered the best hope of insulating the former President from harassment and worse and hence the clever resignation and holding election at least two months ahead of schedule. It is thus essential from Mr Yeltsins point of view that his successor should win and he can win only when the war in Chechnya is going in Russias favour. Military leaders have assured the government that they will bring Grozny, the capital of the runaway republic, under control by March, by which they mean that they will occupy the place. But then that is the easier part of the operation. The tougher part will be to hold on to the city and weather guerrilla attacks. In 1995-96 Russian troops swept into Grozny but disaster struck as the Chechen irregulars counterattacked and killed hundreds of Russian soldiers, making Mr Yeltsin both insecure and unpopular. This time that eventuality has to be stopped before the polls and hence the hasty resignation and the bringing forward of the voting date.
Mr Putin launched his election campaign within hours of taking over as acting President and at the most expected place, the Chechnya battlefield. He struck the right note by telling the soldiers that they were not only fighting to re-establish the honour of the country (an allusion to the 1996 debacle) but also to scotch all attempts at breaking up the country. He is obviously plugging an ultra nationalist line and it is evoking warm response from the people. Many Russians see the war as the last opportunity to regain part of the lost glory as a super power. Many more support the war in the belief that it would stop terrorist attacks in Moscow, which had claimed hundreds of lives a few months back. A small minority thirsts for revenge for the killing of hundreds of troops in 1996. Initial opposition to the war in which the casualties and sufferers are mostly civilians has grown weak in the wake of the fighting being dressed up as a patriotic game. The Yabloko, led by Gregori Yavlinski, has been a consistent critic of the war. With the announcement of the election and Mr Putins hawkish stance, a leading contender too has joined the ranks of opponents of the war. Mr Yevgeny Primakov, a former Prime Minister and until now the most popular politician, has come out against the fighting, pointing out that peace-loving Chechens have been driven out of their homes and forced to seek refuge in neighbouring republics. Grozny itself is being reduced to rubble with no money available to rebuild it and the lives of the people. For Mr Putin, however, it is turning out to be a lovely war.
THE WISE ELEPHANT
THIS is the first week of the 21st century and a good time to take stock. The ascent of a country from poverty to prosperity, from tradition to modernity is a great and fascinating enterprise. India has recently emerged as a vibrant, free market democracy after the economic reforms, and it has begun to flex its muscles in the global information economy. The old centralised, bureaucratic state which killed our industrial revolution over the past 50 years has begun a subtle but definite decline. The lower castes have gradually risen through the ballot box.
Most Indians instinctively grasp the spirituality and poverty of India. But the significance of this quiet social and economic revolution eludes us. The change is partially based on the rise of social democracy, but more importantly on a sustained 5-7 per cent annual economic growth that India has experienced for the past two decades. It has tripled the size of the middle class, which is expected to become half the Indian population within a generation. In the end, this "silent revolution" is more significant than the constantly changing fortunes of political leaders that so absorb us.
In the fifties we passionately believed in Nehru's dream of a modern and just India. But as the years went by, we discovered that Nehru's economic path was taking us to a dead-end, and the dream soured. Having set out to create socialism, we found that we had instead created statism. We were caught in a thick jungle of Kafkaesque bureaucratic controls. Our sense of disillusionment reached its peak during Indira Gandhi's autocratic rule in the seventies. There was a glimmer of hope when Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister in the eighties, but it quickly died when we discovered that he did not have what it takes. It was not until July, 1991, that our mood of despair finally lifted with the announcement of sweeping liberalisation by the minority government of Mr Narasimha Rao. It was as though our second independence had arrived: We were going to be free from a rapacious and domineering state. Although the reforms have been slow, hesitant and incomplete, they have set in motion a process of profound change in Indian society. It is as important a turning point as Deng's revolution in China in December, 1978.
In part, the past 50 years is a story of the betrayal of the last two generations by India's rulers. In stubbornly persisting with the wrong model of development (especially after 1970, when there was clear evidence that this path was doomed) they suppressed growth and jobs and denied their people an opportunity to rise above poverty. It is ironic that men and women of goodwill created this order and they were widely admired. After all, they had succeeded in institutionalising democracy. The tragedy is that they pigheadedly refused to change course in the seventies in the name of the poor. All the countries of East Asia did far better. Our failure in the end was less from ideology and more from poor management.
To top this tale of India's lost decades, members of the Indian ruling elite are not contrite. They complacently proclaim, "after all, we have done rather well compared to the 3.5 per cent Hindu rate of growth." There is no more defeatist expression in the dictionary than this fatalistic phrase. They feel no humiliation that India has lagged behind in a Third Worldish twilight while its neighbours in East and South-East Asia have gone ahead. There is no feeling of shame that countries with a fraction of India's natural and human resource potential have created some of the most prosperous societies in the world. They have used he recent troubles of East Asia to justify our incomplete and frustratingly slow reforms. When individuals blunder, it is unfortunate and their families go down. When rulers fail, it is a national tragedy.
Indians have not traditionally accorded a high place to making money. Hence the merchant or Bania is placed third in the four-caste hierarchy, behind the Brahmin and Kshatriyas are getting MBAs and want to become entrepreneurs, India is in the midst of a social revolution rivalled, perhaps, only by the ascent of Japan's merchant class during the 1968 Meiji Restoration, which helped transform Japan from an underdeveloped group of islands into a thriving, modern society and economy.
The beginning of the 21 century is a time of ferment. Two global trends have convergedboth of which work to India's advantage, and raise the hope that it may finally take-off. One is a liberal revolution that has swept the globe in the past decade, opened economies that had remained isolated for 50 years and integrated them spectacularly into one global economy. India's economic reforms are part of this trend. They are dismantling controls and releasing the long suppressed energies of Indian entrepreneurs. They are changing the national mindset, especially among the young. Because we are endowed with commercial castes, we may be in a better position to take advantage of this global tendency. Banias understand from birth the power of compound interest; hence they know how to accumulate capital.
Meanwhile, the information economy is transforming the worldthis is the second global trend. We may not be tinkerers, but we are a conceptual people. Thus, the knowledge age potentially plays to our advantage and our success in software and the Internet is the first emerging evidence. We have wrestled with the abstract concepts of the Upanishads for three thousand years. We invented the zero. Just as spiritual space is invisible, so is cyberspace. Hence our core competence is invisible. In information technology, we may have finally found the engine that could drive India's take-off, and eventually transform our country. The Internet has also levelled the playing field so that any mad, passionate Indian entrepreneur can write our country's future.
India embraced democracy first and capitalism afterwards, and this has made all the difference. India became a full-fledged democracy in1950, with universal suffrage and extensive human rights, but it was not until 1991 that it opened up to the free play of market forces. This curious historic inversion means that India's future will not be a creation of unbridled capitalism, but it will evolve through a daily dialogue between the conservative forces of caste, religion and the village, the leftist and Nehruvian socialist forces which dominated the intellectual life of the country for 40 years, and the new forces of global capitalism. These "million negotiations of democracy," the plurality of interests, the contentious nature of our people, and the lack of discipline and teamwork imply that the pace of economic reforms will be slow and incremental. It means that India will not grow as rapidly as the Asian tigers, nor wipe out poverty and ignorance as quickly.
The Economist has been trying, with some frustration, to paint stripes on India since 1991. It doesn't realise that India will never be a tiger. It is an elephant that has begun to lumber and move ahead. It will never have speed, but it will always have distance. A Buddhist text says, "The elephant is the wisest of all animals/the only one who remembers his former lives/and he remains motionless for long periods of time/meditating thereon." The inversion between capitalism and democracy suggests that India might have a more stable, peaceful, and negotiated transition into the future than, say, Chine. It will also avoid some of the deleterious side-effects of an unprepared capitalist society, such as Russia.
Although slower, India is more likely to preserve its way of life and its civilisation of diversity, tolerance, and spirituality against the onslaught of the global culture. If it does, then perhaps it is a wise elephant. The struggle of one-sixth of humanity for dignity and prosperity is a drama of the highest order and of great consequence to the future of the world. It has meaning for all of humanity and sheds new light on the future of the world.
Gurcharan Das is the author of three plays and a management consultant. He was the CEO of Procter & Gamble India and the Vice-President and Managing Director, Strategic Planning, Procter & Gamble Worldwide.
Will Israel give up Golan Heights?
HAVING achieved partial success in bringing together Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) for a permanent peace in West Asia, President Bill Clinton would like nothing better than to seal off his Presidency brokering a peace deal between Syria and Israel. The two countries had been bitter enemies for nearly 50 years. But now there are clear signs of a thaw.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq-al-Shara, after much prodding from President Clinton decided during their talks in Washington recently to resume full-fledged peace talks in the first week of January, 2000. That will be a nice way of opening the new millennium, particularly in a region torn by tension and war for nearly five decades.
Mr Bill Clinton said he was satisfied that the difficult Israeli-Syria peace process had got off to a good start. But the peace process will not be easy. As soon as he returns home, Mr Barak must prepare the ground for the January summit on the land-for-peace accord with Syria. The question will revolve mainly around the strategic Golan Heights, which Israel captured during the six-day war of 1973. Mr Barak will also handle the added responsibility meeting a February target date for a final Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty. It can be safely said that the forthcoming three months will be of great historical importance to Isreal and its future.
Syria too faced daunting problems. It has to prepare Lebanon, which is guided on political issues by Syria, to negotiate peace talks with Israel next January. The USA and Israel made it clear that it was Syrias responsibility to control the Iranian-backed Hizbollah guerrillas who were determined to oust Israeli forces from Southern Lebanon. The USA, of course, will be a key figure in adding a successful chapter to the 20-year-old peace process which began with Israels peace treaty with Egypt and concluded with the 1998 Wye River Israeli-Palestinian interim peace accord.
While Egypt, Jordan and the PLO had reconciled themselves to the existence of Israel even in some of its occupied territories, Syria had been insisting that a complete peace process in the region was not possible till Israel withdrew from all of its occupied territories and paid compensation to the millions who had been affected by the Israeli aggression. Israel, of course, was in no mood to give up Jerusalem or the entire portion of the West Bank. Yet it had been sending out feelers to Syria that it was ready to give up Syrian territories it had been occupying for years, particularly the sensitive Golan Heights. A near-total withdrawal could also be contemplated from Lebanon which is almost a protectorate of Syria.
Such feelers began from the Madrid summit of 1991 where Israel, for the first time, gave its nod to the more land for peace theory. At Oslo where the West Asian peace progress really began in 1993, there were reports about Israels willingness to give up Golan Heights back to Syria. The same theme was followed up at the 1996 meeting of the Chief of Staffs of Israel and Syria. Unfortunately, with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister who was keen on permanent peace in the region, the entire process got stalled. His successor, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, a hawk, damaged the process, much to the chagrin of his friends, including the USA.
Mr Ehud Barak was the leading negotiator with Syria in 1996. Today, he is the Israeli Prime Minister and appears to go ahead with the peace process. If finally Israel agrees to return the Golan Heights and other occupied territories, it would be an offer which Syria would find it difficult to refuse. Syria under President Hafeez Assad no longer dreams about a united West Asia where it is the leader. Syrians have understood and accepted certain pragmatic and harsh realities of life. Israel is there to stay. Economic development is more important than Arab rhetoric and flag waving. This can be brought about only by lasting peace. Israel too would like to mend fences with Syria so that it can focus its attention on those hawkish elements among the Palestinians who were earlier determined to thwart the peace process at all costs.
It is an irony of fate that the future of such an agreement rests on the ageing and ailing President Assad, long regarded as an implacable enemy of Israel and a leading hawk on the Arab issues. Yet it is understood in the region that the Alawwai sect, to which the Syrian President belongs, was noted for its moderate views and ethos. Damascus is an open city, and so is the rest of the country. People move around freely; women wear Western-style clothes and enjoy as much freedom as men. Syria is also remarkably independent of Saudi infiltration groups addicted to Islamic fundamentalism. There is a growing realisation in the country that without peace, the region will be left out in the race for a better future. Syria needs peace which alone would be able to usher in economic reforms, industrial development and foreign investment.
Both Israel and Syria had realised that time was running out for such peace moves. The failing health of the President had created rumours of political uncertainty. President Assad had ruled Syria for such a long time that at least for sometime a future without him would be unthinkable, particularly when the country was poised for a breakthrough on the political and economic fronts.
Syria has its quota of hardline groups which are ready to take over power. They had also created a rift in the Alawwai sect by propping up the Presidents brother, Rifaat, as a rival focus of power. Settled abroad, Rifaat argued that power was not hereditary in Syria and that the Presidents son, Basheer, could not automatically succeed him. These views are supported by hardline Arabs and the followers of Osama bin Laden. Some of these groups recently joined hands to form an Islamic jehad group, which was determined to carry on the anti-Israeli campaign even after a peace settlement with that country.
The existence of such groups could vitiate the peace process. Further, certain sections of the Israeli society still viewed President Assad as the number one enemy. It was because Syrian troops opened fire on the Israelis during the 1967 war that the Golan Heights were captured, they argued. The Syrians were also uneasy that nearly six lakh Palestinian refugees in Syria were not reconciled to the peace process. But this attitude did not stand scrutiny. Recent developments in West Asia clearly indicate that the Palestinians are keen to bury the hatred and misery of the past and build their lives once more. This will not be possible unless Syria is encompassed in the peace process.
The USA had achieved a fair amount of success in brokering peace in the region. The US Secretary of State, Ms Madelein Albright is a highly-trusted functionary of the Clinton government. She would like nothing better than yet another political coup, brought about by the State Department. This would be a summit between Mr Assad and Mr Barak and bring together Syria and Israel. Both leaders face enormous problems from within, but as recent developments in the region show, nothing is impossible. President Assad should show to the world that he is personally interested in brokering peace and make himself available for talks. The Israeli Prime Minister has already done this.
Israel possesses such a vast arsenal of modern weapons and missiles that its war strategy can do without the occupation of the Golan Heights. It is an open secret that Israel possesses a formidable arsenal of nuclear weapons. Such is the might of Israel that even Saudi Arabia, the richest and strongest among the Arab states, dare not challenge the Jewish state directly. Israel need not set impossible conditions for future negotiations with PLO and Syria.
The morning after
THIS little homily is written, hopefully, for the benefit of those indefatigable votaries of Bacchus who occasionally worship too freely at the shrine of this jolly, little god.
In one of the understatements of all time the OED defines a hangover as the unpleasant after-effects of (esp. alcohol) dissipation. Believe me, its a great deal more and a great deal worse.
A psychologist of the Freudian school has described a hangover as the state in which some of you is sober enough to realise how drunk the rest of you is. It follows from this that as a first step towards a cure, and future prevention, you should store in the sober half of yourself, a practical knowledge of what exactly hit you the night before and how you should go about picking up the pieces that was you.
I am addressing this piece not to dipsomaniacs but to those who, like myself, are inclined to have the proverbial one over the eight on special occasions such as a wedding, a funeral or when ones mother-in-law leaves ones house after a prolonged stay.
A too liberal intake of alcohol produces a mood of euphoria in which you are likely to blurt out a few home truths (in vino veritas?) or do some extraordinary things on impulse such as phoning Rashtrapati Bhavan and asking to speak to the President; or phoning your boss and telling him what you always wanted to tell him to his face or, most dangerous of all, making a pass at a pretty girl while your wife is all ears and eyes.
Biologically, what happens is that after several drinks alcohol anaesthetises the brain cells which then struggle to compensate by adapting their structure. Next morning, when the alcohol has left the brain, the cells are still in their state of increased awareness, hence your hypersensitivity to strong light and loud noises such as your wifes imprecations.
And all this time you are in a pitiable state. You awake dry of mouth and muzzy of head. You get up to go to the bathroom and the leaden weight in your head hurts like hell. Your heart feels like its being sucked through your soles. Silently, you vow never to do this to this to yourself again, knowing that you will, come Divali, or Christmas or New Years Eve.
How does one avoid a hangover? The obvious answer is, dont touch the stuff. Easier said than done, at least in my younger days. Fortunately, there are other ways, more scientific and less drastic.
Bubbles speed up alcohol absorption. So take it with water, or on the rocks as extreme cold delays absorption.
Charcoal tablets are an excellent absorbent but I cant quite see myself popping the little black pellets into my mouth at a party.
Food prepares the stomach for an onslaught by the demon. Proteins aid metabolism; fats line the innards and hamper absorption. Hence the admonition, never drink on an empty stomach. Interestingly, in most western countries, especially the UK people do their drinking either with their meals or afterwards at a pub. The sundowner before dinner was a colonial custom inherited by us along with a few other foibles of our erstwhile masters.
In Scandinavian countries, I am told, people who wish to avoid a hangover the next morning roll naked in the snow on leaving the pub or their hosts residence. In England, where certain Victorian ideas still prevail, this sort of antidote would result in the revellers being hauled up for indecent exposure.
Follow the Constitution, says the HC
(W)E must never forget, said US Chief Justice John Marshall in McCulloch vs Maryland (1819), making what is perhaps the most famous statement in the history of constitutional adjudication, that it is a Constitution we are expounding.
Three months after it had made the Himalayan blunder of forgetting this simple but vital fact, the Punjab and Haryana High Court more than made up last week with a scathing 29-page order in the Haryana panchayat poll case. Panchayats and municipalities are now subjects of the Constitution, not merely ordinary laws, and the holding and completion of their elections within five years and no longer a peremptory constitutional obligation.
The High Court cannot, says the order, rejecting a State plea to defer the elections and pouring scorn, assist in the continuation of a constitutional impasse which has been engineered by the State government itself.
The reference is to the courts earlier order of September 30, a half-a-page order passed unwittingly in ignorance of the Constitution at the behest of the State government speaking through the Advocate General. An order obtained by consent (of the opposite party) hedged with collusion and fraud on the court, and having the effect of postponing panchayat and municipal elections in Haryana till at least June, 2000, about six months beyond the five-year limit prescribed by the Constitution.
Confessing deep embarrassment at having been misled into passing the September 30 order, the High Court recalled it on December 3. And completed its corrective action last week by directing the Haryana government to hold elections to all panchayats, panchayat samitis, zila parishads and municipalities in the State, barring a few, positively by the end of February, 2000.
In the interregnum, on December 14, the Haryana Assembly was dissolved all of a sudden on the advice of the Chief Minister, some 17 months prior to the expiry of its normal tenure.
(A)s the same administrative machinery and material will be in use in both the elections (Assembly and panchayat), the State government now swore before the court on affidavit, pleading a democratic overlap, a minimum of 15 days gap is required between the two for preparations. A carefully crafted argument for postponement of the panchayat polls which might have prevailed in normal circumstances, but the High Court, taken for a ride earlier, would have none of it.
The extreme reluctance of the State government to hold the elections in time, says the order passed by Justice H.S. Bedi and Justice A.S. Garg last week, lends credence to... the allegation that a political game was being played out. We cannot possibly have any objection to any political benefit that may accrue to the State government by virtue of a legitimate political decision (to dissolve the Assembly), but we certainly do object to the court being made an unwitting tool in that direction.
It is, to the best of my knowledge, the sharpest indictment ever made in Indian judicial history of the abuse, or attempted abuse, of the judicial process for political purposes at the level of a State government.
No qualms have been expressed (added the Bench) in securing an order from this court which has the effect of denying millions of voters in about 6500 gram panchayats, the right to exercise their franchise within the time-frame fixed by the Constitution and the statute, but copious tears are now being shed for the smaller number who may have come of qualifying age now.
The last part of the observation alludes to the controversy over the voters list for the panchayat and municipal polls.
Is it necessary that the polls, like the coming Assembly elections, be held on the basis of a new list to be prepared with January 1, 2000 as the qualifying date, as contended by the State government? In which case it is obvious that they cannot be held immediately. Or can the old electoral rolls drawn up as of January 1, 1999 still be serviceable with some additions and deletions?
The issue is not free from difficulty, to use the lawyers cliche, though the High Court, following the State Election Commission and consistent with its own anxiety not to seem to be frustrating the constitutional mandate any further, has chosen the latter option.
It is for the State Election Commission, says the High Court, to decide the electoral rolls on the basis of which the election is to be held. And not for the State government to contend that a particular roll should or should not form the basis for an election. Nor, it holds, can there be any dispute that the State Election Commission and that body alone is competent to fix a date for the elections.
The ultimate direction that the panchayat and municipal polls in the State must be held by the end of February, 2000, is based, in fact, on the Election Commissions estimate of the time necessarily required for organising the polls. The State government must find ways and means, concludes the High Court, using a familiar parliamentary expression, to hold the polls as proposed by the Commission and as per the provisions of the Constitution.
The moral of the story, if there be one, is that it is the Constitution, not the court (and certainly not the executive), that is truly supreme. And that however uneasy may lie the head that wears the judicial wig, it must never forget (as John Marshall said) that it is a Constitution it is expounding.
Hijack trauma ends, vital queries emerge
WITH the hijack trauma ending on December 31 night, the government has got the entire weekend to mop up on various fronts and gear up answers to some very vital queries. Foremost it will have to tell the public where the three released militants have finally reached (remember, Taliban gave them just 10 hours to get moving from Afghanistan and if that deadline was really implemented in all seriousness then by now they would be in another country). And also a follow-up on the hijackers fate, for nexuses to emerge it is important to know what the Taliban intends to do with them. Some other aspects also stand out lack of security at the IA counter at Kathmandus Tribhuvan International Airport, the conflicting reports coming from Amritsars Raja Sansi Airport, the delay in sending the negotiating team to Kandahar, did this negotiating team consist of several commandos and if so why the change in the decision of not using their services and finally the apparent lack of coordination amongst the various agencies of the government. And when contacted, one of the top government spokespersons denied that there were any differences at all. In any meeting different opinion are voiced and discussions take place before coming to a consensus.... Obviously that does not mean that there are differences within the government as reported in certain sections of the media. And the other criticism that we do not have the infrastructure to deal with such emergencies is baseless because the Crisis Management Group headed by the Cabinet Secretary and with the Home Secretary, Civil Aviation Secretary, the Foreign Secretary as its members is there to deal with such emergencies.
It is still a little too premature to state whether a special committee would be set up to conduct a post mortem on this latest hijack and the aftermath but by early this week the picture would get clearer. On all fronts.
The new start
There was a dip in the millennium hype as most got interested in gathering details of the last stage of the hijack episode. In fact, I am told that journalists could not be spotted in most of the new year bashes (how could they be when they had deadlines to meet) and that put the hosts in a rather disheartening position. And as I mentioned in last weeks column most of the whos who I spoke to were determined to spend the night in home confines so it gets a bit difficult to figure out who danced and who went wild that night. Before moving ahead, let me fit in that the other category of people who didnt make merry the last day or the century were the top government brass here for most it was night to sit back and relax, after a week full of tension, with meetings even going up to 1 a.m. In fact, a senior official dealing with the hijack crisis confided that the entire week he never left his office before midnight.
There were, of course, no get-togethers hosted by the government because of the seven-day state mourning declared on the demise of the former President of India, S. D. Sharma. But details pouring in bring in an exception, alright. The big event planned by ITDC together with the administration of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands at Katchal Islands, went ahead with an alteration Three Union Ministers scheduled to be there as special guests cancelled their programme and also the classical dances lined up for the occasion were scrapped from the entertainment list but several of the delegates, tourists, tourism ministry officials and travel writers did assemble at MV Swaraj that set sail for Katchal on December 31 itself. And when contacted the Director of Tourism refused to give more details, adding that it was the Andaman and Nicobar Islands administration that was primarily responsible for the event so the finer details are with them.
Meanwhile all iftars to be hosted by politicians and men in office have been postponed. There was some talk of the Prime Minister hosting an iftar on January 4 evening but the news could not be confirmed.
50 years of Supreme Court
British Councils latest Newsletter (January 2000) has this interesting announcement I quote: If you are a Supreme Court judge and are on the special invitees list, then you have something to look forward to this January. Twenty three Supreme Court judges, distinguished law officers and a few eminent lawyers are slated to attend the hosting of a formal Bar dinner by the British High Commissioner in agreement with the Honble Chief Justice of India. The event will recreate the Inns of Court dinner with speeches from leading Indian and British speakers....
The British Council will also bring out a set of 10 posters on a series of landmark judgements made by Supreme Court of India. Among others these will be judgements about vehicular pollution in Delhi, the Geeta Hariharan case for custody of the child, the Bandhua Mukti Morcha litigation to stop employment of children below the age of 14 in the carpet industry of U.P. In fact these posters will be displayed at the National Museum in Delhi between January 10 and February 12, 2000. The exhibition will then travel to Calcutta to be displayed there.
January 3, 1925
ALTHOUGH we are not in a position to disclose what transpired at the several informal conferences that took place at Lahore during Mahatma Gandhis stay in our midst, we give out no secret when we say that while no settlement of any kind was arrived at there was an important interchange of views among the representatives of the several communities.
Each party having stated its position with clearness and force and no decision being found immediately practicable, the discussion was adjourned to a date immediately before the Belgaum Congress.
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