Sunday, September 10, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


E D I T O R I A L   P A G E



The state: protector turns pleader 
Erosion of authority a big threat
by Syed Anwar
HE Veerappan saga is becoming an albatross around the necks of the governments of both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The abduction of Kannada cinema icon Rajkumar has dragged on for more than 40 days.

Shakespearean drama in real life 
by R. C. Rajamani
HE Veerappan show goes on. Indeed it is fast turning out to be a soap opera of sorts — holding in its grip two state governments, the media and a baffled population. Holding Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar and three others hostage with their lives at the mercy of the forest brigand, the Veerappan drama essentially suggests a macabre theme. 


Procurement date
September 9, 2000
Calling USA on the cheap
September 8, 2000
“NaPak” and revolting
September 7, 2000
Food for free
September 6, 2000
RBI’s urgent warnings
September 5, 2000
Apex court is angry
September 4, 2000
Battle for White House hots up
September 3, 2000
Of numbers and seats 
September 2, 2000
Small mercy this 
September 1, 2000
Adding insult to injury 
August 31, 2000
  Villain-hero imago: The southern syndrome 
by Darshan Singh Maini
HOUGH the present piece is precipitated by the Veerappan outrage which has in recent weeks consumed acres of print and hours of TV time, it’s, I trust, not yet another footnote to the gathering commentary on the dark phenomenon which the scribes of instant books would soon convert into commodity.

By Harihar Swarup

Shrewd diplomacy, personal charm 

HE United Nations has never seen such a large gathering of world leaders since its inception 55 years back as at the current Millennium Summit of the world body in New York. More than 150 kings, Presidents and Prime Ministers assembled at the UN to discuss the issue haunting the nations since World War II — alleviating poverty and keeping global peace in the 21st century. 


Shanta Kumar rues food politics 

OLITICS is the staple diet for most politicians. But then, at times, it can get exasperating even for politicians. The Union Minister for Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution, Mr Shanta Kumar, finds himself in a somewhat similar situation as he realises that all his efforts to put the country’s food management back on the track coming to a naught, thanks to farmers’ politics in the crop growing States.


No spirituality in slums 
by Abu Abraham
HERE must be few countries in the democratic world where the politician is so maligned and despised as in India. We vote them to power in our assemblies and in Parliament, only to then denigrate them for all the failings of our nation.


The state: protector turns pleader 
Erosion of authority a big threat
by Syed Anwar

THE Veerappan saga is becoming an albatross around the necks of the governments of both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The abduction of Kannada cinema icon Rajkumar has dragged on for more than 40 days.

The release of Rajkumar from the clutches of the dreaded forest brigand appears to be jinxed as the negotiations being carried out by journalist and Nakeeran Editor R. R. Gopal, as the emissary of the two state governments, has reached a dead-end till the Supreme Court removes the stay on a public-interest litigation opposing the release of militants in jail in Tamil Nadu. That has added an entirely new dimension to the Rajkumar abduction drama and caught the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in a cleft.

Karnataka Chief Minister S. M. Krishna is facing the ire of the Opposition that the state government should now pursue an alternative strategy rather than adopting the soft course of securing the release of Rajkumar and others abducted by Veerappan through the good offices of Gopal. Even though the Congress high command has emphasised that there is no question of changing Mr Krishna as Chief Minister of Karnataka, the two state governments have been brought on their knees by Veerappan. What has compounded matters for Mr Krishna is that he is unwilling to change the present strategy of banking solely on Gopal to bail him out. Gopal, whose third mission into the jungles came to nought last week, continues to hold out hope that his discussions with Veerappan have not snapped and that the door is still open.

It is obvious Veerappan could not care less about the propriety involved with the Supreme Court’s observations and strictures passed against the Karnataka Government. He wants his colleagues in detention in jails in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to be set free and all charges against them dropped. Simply put, he wants the rule of law to be subverted against ruthless criminals and their role as history-sheeters obliterated. That indeed is the crux of the problem and the most depressing aspect is that both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are willing to play ball with him. This amounts to setting a dangerous trend and that is what the Supreme Court finds highly disconcerting.

Surprisingly, after the abduction of Rajkumar, Veerappan has not broached the subject of amnesty for himself. Will that demand be brushed under the carpet? That is the question uppermost in the minds of all. Is he holding back the amnesty question as his trump card after the initial demands as a protector of the Tamils are conceded by the two state governments. He has also fuelled the dormant chauvinistic tendencies among the Tamils and Kannadigas. The fear of Mr M. Karunanidhi and Mr Krishna, the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, respectively, is that one false move can create an explosive situation. The strain on the Karanataka police in maintaining law and order is much in evidence with officials drawing pointed attention to routine investigative work having come to a grinding halt.

No one ever thought the illiterate brigand would spring such a nasty surprise on Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The states have been after him for more than a decade, spending crores of rupees, training police teams exclusively to nab him. However, the brigand with a track record of 138 murders, killing 2,000 elephants and having smuggled sandalwood worth Rs 25 crores has proved elusive, hiding himself in the wild jungles. The last time, when the government emissary met him, Veerappan had wanted amnesty. This was considered a sign of weakness with the ageing Veerappan at last tired of being on the run. With politics taking precedence over the genuineness of the demand, amnesty was refused. Veerappan had then become a forgotten chapter till he sprang the nasty surprise of kidnapping the Kannada super star, Rajkumar. It made interesting headlines. “Villain kidnaps Hero,” ran an amused headline of a national daily.

The turn of events from then on has shifted from amusement to one of horror. The villain has decided to don a new role, that of the protector of six crore Tamils. The brigand, who now casually drops names like “Che Guevera,” wants to be known as a Tamil extremist. This stunning transformation of Veerappan has everyone bewildered and clearly worried. Definitely, from being a poacher to the protector of Tamils is a long way.

Born into a poor Tamil family with two brothers and a sister in Chengampadi village on the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border, Veerappan, as a kid, used to roam around the jungle, grazing cows. At times he used to accompany his father as a helping hand in hunting. It was hunting that helped the family to survive. Soon he became an expert hunter. At the age of 10, his uncle Sevi Gounder, whom Veerappan regards as his guru, initiated Veerappan into killing elephants. From then on there was no turning back. In a span of 25 years Veerappan went on to kill about 300 elephants. When trade in ivory was banned, Veerappan switched over to successfully smuggling sandalwood on the suggestion of one of his accomplices, despite a massive manhunt for him by two states.

Veerappan’s strength lay in the support he got and continues to get from both outside and, mainly, inside the forest. And that support came about only because of the skewed developmental policies followed by the governments. With Independence, the tribesmen lost right over their own forestland. Overnight, to their horror, they found many of their day-to-day activities being declared illegal. The government never bothered about alternatives for their livelihood. Interaction with government machinery meant only harassment. In this scenario, the likes of Veerappan thrived. Being part of his gang meant at least some decent money. And he is believed to have been generous on that count. Of course, he was ruthless when it came to those who crossed his line. It was a carrot and stick policy, which worked well with the tribesmen and ensured their continued loyalty, be it out of fear or respect.

Similarly, the governments continued their stranglehold over growing sandalwood (it continues even today), resulting in smuggling. The oil mills that required sandalwood relied on Veerappan and so were those involved in the ivory trade. With big money involved, the network had forest officials, local business as well as politicians, who ensured that Veerappan’s operations went off smoothly. As Veerappan flourished, his clout increased with the locals who came to him to solve their problems. The brigand who never went to school due to poverty was soon dispensing justice. Cases that dragged on for years in courts were dealt with swiftly. As Veerappan was successfully evading his captors, and taking on a larger role, his family was not so lucky.

Veerappan believes his family was shattered mainly by Karnataka foresters and the police. His elder brother, Madhayan, was first arrested by Karnataka DFO Srinivasan on false cases, according to Veerappan. Madhayan spent seven years in prison. Srinivasn later arrested Veerappan’s brother-in-law and, according to him, brought his sister and lodged her in a house in Chengambadi and used to visit her in the night. She committed suicide. Veerappan did avenge by beheading the DFO. His younger brother Arjunan, who surrendered to the police, was found dead in a Karnataka prison after having consumed cyanide. This again Veerappan felt was the handiwork of the Karnataka police.

In his first TV interview telecast on SUN TV, Veerappan spits venom that hundreds of Tamils lost their properties. An infuriated Veerappan immediately retaliated by raiding Ramavaram police station. Says he in his first interview, “The fellows were lying in the police station, I got them straight on my gun... chattaar chattaar... chattaar.... One after the other they died with blood gushing out in streams. You chaps, who let Tamil blood flow like water.”

These kinds of statements should have been music to the ears of members of the Tamil National Liberation Army (TNLA), says a senior police official. The TNLA, which advocated separatism, had only a handful of members. They were constantly on the run. Its main leader, Tamilarasan, was killed during an attempted bank robbery in his own village Ponparappi. The group had then splintered into three factions. As the police started closing in, the jungles became a safe hideout with some of them having returned from helping the LTTE in the Vanni jungles across the Palk Straits in the Jaffna peninsula. Their current leader, Maaran, succeeded in meeting Veerappan and joining hands with him.

For Veerappan, who was already looking for a larger role for himself, it suited after amnesty was denied to him. And, according to Gopal, who met Veerappan for the latest mediation, it is Veerappan who is in control of the new set-up. One has to wait and see.

The two main characters 


Though he never went to school formally, he claims to have learnt to read and write Tamil when he was 20. A regular listener of radio, including the BBC, he is also said to read magazines and books. Some of the books that he carries along include Ramayana, Mahabharata, biographies of MGR and the LTTE supremo Pirabhakaran. Deeply religious, Veerappan begins his day after a bath with prayers. Though he hunts animals and birds for food, he never kills a peacock as it is considered to be the “vahana (vehicle)” of his favourite Lord Murugan. According to Siva Subramanian, who interviewed Veerappan a number of times along with Gopal, Veerappan is well versed with animal and bird sounds and draws them near by making their sounds and hunts them down.

R. R. Gopal

With special police teams set up to nab Veerappan drawing a blank even after a decade of man-hunt, no wonder Gopal’s access to Veerappan has caused great resentment with the police forces of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Walter Dewaram, the then DGP who was assigned the task of capturing Veerappan, was so agitated about Gopal that he is even believed to have issued oral orders to shoot anyone from Nakkeeran entering the forest, according to Gopal. The Karnataka police had also filed cases against Gopal. The cases were only recently withdrawn to facilitate his mediation efforts for the release of Rajkumar.

However, the question uppermost in everyone’s mind is, “How does Gopal manage it? “Gopal’s brand of journalism is mostly investigative, even if it meant taking on the ruling establishment. During Jayalalitha’s tenure, Nakeeran ran a series of stories on Jayalalitha’s authoritarian role, titled, “A Hitler here too.” He and his team were continuously harassed, power was cut off to the press, copies of his Nakeeran confiscated and burned. The dare devil Editor lived a life of constant threat and used to go underground on Friday evenings and surface only on Mondays, as he feared being arrested by the state police. An arrest on Friday evening meant there was no chance of securing a bail till the courts reopened on Monday.

The first meeting with Veerappan happened with the help of Sivasubramanian, who interviewed Veerappan initially. From then on, Gopal seems to have earned the trust of Veerappan. Siva Subramanian continues to accompany Gopal in all his meetings with Veerappan and, it seems, his only job is to maintain contact. Also, Nakeeran has by far given a better coverage of Veerappan than other magazines, who tend to exaggerate and call the brigand names. The other thing is, it has worked to the advantage of both. Veerappan gets his views across effectively and Gopal gets his scoop. It definitely is a delicate role with Gopal being accused of helping Veerappan. But in journalism, where does one draw the line? asks a senior journalist. If Veerappan requests for medicines to be delivered, can Gopal refuse it? Or even batteries, which can be either used for torch lights or in detonating bombs. It is definitely a tricky job. However, to Gopal’s credit, it has to be said hat Veerappan’s killing spree has been brought down after the two met. That seems to be a bigger achievement. 



Shakespearean drama in real life 
by R. C. Rajamani

THE Veerappan show goes on. Indeed it is fast turning out to be a soap opera of sorts — holding in its grip two state governments, the media and a baffled population. Holding Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar and three others hostage with their lives at the mercy of the forest brigand, the Veerappan drama essentially suggests a macabre theme. But the goings on since the hostage crisis began on July 30 in the thick forests on the Tamil Nadu- Karnataka border have thrown up such other elements as comedy, romance and farce in good measure.

While the dreaded criminal has emerged as a hero, a Robin Hood of sorts, not a little due to the media hype, two other important dramatis personae — Chief Minister S.M. Krishna of Karnataka and his Tamil Nadu counterpart M Karunanidhi — have been reduced to the status of page boys in the true Shakespearean dramatic tradition. They appear to be only too eager to do the brigand’s bidding. Their apparent helplessness in the face of atrocious demand by Veerappan has only made the two, notwithstanding the entire might of the state behind them, objects of public ridicule.

Some of the stars of the tinsel world, particularly from the South, including former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha, have introduced ingredients of farce by their brave, impractical proposals. Rajya Sabha MP and former actress Jayapradha said she would go and tie “rakhi” on Veerappan to secure the release of Rajkumar, while Jayalalitha tried to make political capital by criticising the government of her arch rival M. Karunanidhi for failing to nab the forest brigand. It was like pot calling the kettle black. For she was in power for five years from 1991 to 1996 and her government too failed to catch Veerappan.

The editor of “Nakeeran”, the moustached R.R. Gopal who has emerged as the confidant of both Veerappan and the two state chief ministers, fits the role of the supporting hero, acting as the sobering influence on the forest brigand. He has indeed earned the admiration of the entire intelligentsia and countless T.V. viewers, having met the dreaded Veerappan several times in the past few years.

He had successfully brokered the release of forest officials held hostage by the brigand a few years ago. The videocassette of his interview with Veerappan at that time was a rage with the viewers of Sun T.V. which must have raked in a fortune. For it was for the first time anyone saw the brigand in his hideout deep down in the Satyamangalam forests.

The Supreme Court, true to its now celebrated judicial activism, has come out as the character actor, calling the spade a spade and putting the two state governments, particularly Karnataka, in their places. The apex court’s indignation at the way the hostage crisis has been handled by the Karnataka government is apparent. While giving an indefinite stay order on the release of Veerappan’s associates for freeing Rajkumar, the court has come down heavily on the Karnataka government for ordering the release of the brigand’s associates.

In strong observations during the hearing of the “Veerappan associates’ release case”, the Court has bluntly criticised the Karnataka government for its inability to apprehend the forest brigand for the past eight years.

“What have you (the State Government) done for the past eight years to apprehend the man? We make it clear it is the responsibility of the State Government to maintain law and order. If you cannot do it, then quit and make way for somebody else who can,” the three-Judge Bench said.

These are telling words, delivered with brutal force, much like the character actor emerging in the last scene to put everybody in his place to secure justice for the silent sufferers of the drama.

The agonising sufferers in the Veerappan drama, apart from the hostages, are the father of Sub-Inspector Shakeel Ahmed and the widow of Superintendent of Police Harikrishna who were killed allegedly by Veerappan in 1992 during a daring police operation to nab the notorious brigand.

The sentiments of Ahmed’s father, himself a retired police officer in his late 70’s and the widow of Harikrishna are quite understandable. Freedom to Veerappan and his associates fly in the face of natural justice and is tantamount to betraying the sacrifice made by the two valiant police officers.

The painfully prolonging drama deep down in the forest cannot but be a traumatic experience for Rajkumar and his countless admirers. The drama appears to have reached a deadlock, leaving the fate of the Kannada superstar nerve-wrackingly uncertain.

How will it end? The whole nation prays that the drama is scripted on happy conclusion and the curtain on the “Pre-Winter’s Tale” comes down as “All’s Well That Ends Well”.


Villain-hero imago: The southern syndrome 
by Darshan Singh Maini

THOUGH the present piece is precipitated by the Veerappan outrage which has in recent weeks consumed acres of print and hours of TV time, it’s, I trust, not yet another footnote to the gathering commentary on the dark phenomenon which the scribes of instant books would soon convert into commodity.

In my little script, then, the jungle bandit remains only a trigger that sets into motion a different line of thought and inquiry — something away from the putative and transparent facts or statistics relating to Veerappan’s demonic career.

Briefly, my effort would be to uncover the fixations and fantasies that make peoples of the southern states peculiarly vulnerable to the celluloid culture, and, therefore, to certain types of unconscious pressures.

In sum, in tracing the Verrappan virus, we have to understand the pathology of the case, as also the state of the corporate psyche when a crisis degenerates into a kind of psychosis.

And that’s precisely the nature of the imbroglio that has tied up two state governments, the wobbling Centre, and a whole lot of agents, intermediaries, touts, fixers and wheeler-dealers.

A potentially insignificant jungle thief has been blown up a la cine super-stars, and his image projected in the media as a cinematic huge cut-out on the highways of politics.

A villain-hero imago which subsumes anything from Frankenstein to Robin Hood seems to have emerged and held the southern imagination captive.

A part of this anguish was clearly transparent in the President’s Independence Day message. The nexus between the politicians and the criminal elements in our society has to be brought out into the open in a big way. And as I have tried to argue, the third dimension of this trimurti, the celluloid star (Dr Rajkumar is only my referential point) needs to be considered in some depth if we are to understand the massive, worked-up to-do about the Jungle “King” now exacting “tribute” from some of the highest in the land.

Could one think of a greater slide down the slope of infamy? This is political harlotry without even a fig-leaf to cover its shame. An outlaw dictating a political agenda apart from the ransom money and terms!

We’re now nearing the heart of the matter — that psychological state of mind where images displace reality and become imperious and self-propelled. Rogue images that wouldn’t obey the whip of the mind. It’s not as though this is altogether a new phenomenon or development where the southern states — Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka (Kerala is a case apart in some respects) — are concerned. If we care to look into the long history of these ancient and venerable states, we are likely to come up with a viable answer.

Image-worship, idol-adoration which, to be sure, also produced some of the world’s greatest temples and rock sculpture, did, over a period of centuries, produce a mock, surrogate reality which eventually caused Hinduism to degenerate into ritualism, casteism and several other regressions. The thought becoming more and more abstract became non-human, if not inhuman, and the Vedic impulse of life sublime was lost enroute.

Now the Tamil-Telugu mind, in particular, has two distinct strains — the Brahmanical and the Dravidian, and this mind in conjunction has produced some of the finest things — in poetry, in philosophy, in mathematics etc — though it’s the Dravidian side which has, in view of its unhappy, repressed past, found in the celluloid images and stories a fuller outlet for its deeper psychic and erotic urges.

The tendency, therefore, to fantasise, to indulge in heavy day-dreaming, to identify itself with the screen image has resulted in making film stars larger-than-life in their imagination, and they have assumed the status of “gods” and “goddesses” with the right to rule the world. And that’s where the wily politicians make their hay and convert the cinema medium into a message and a mantra. And the charmed circle is complete when a N.T. Rama Rao, and MGR, and even a lesser diety like Jayalalitha seize the moment to become masters of the state, inducing a state of hysteria in their “devotees” and political cadres if the idols are in any way challenged, denigrated or exposed.

They are in such situations prone to vandalising things and unleash mob-violence. The idol’s death or defeat results even in self-immolation and suicide in extreme cases. Karunanidhi and his party, like MGR earlier or Jayalalitha, stride the two worlds — of the screen and the political stage, with the mafia elements in tow. And, finally, the distinction between all these three lines is erased, and the syndrome in question gets settled as a psychosomatic complexity hidden from their view.

To return, finally, to the ground of our premise, and to the point of the argument, the Dr Rajkumar affair fits perfectly into this frame. He enjoys virtually the same status as a demi-god that MGR and N.T. Rama Rao once enjoyed, and the inflamed sensibilities of millions of adoring Karnataka men and women have become a mine-field of mischief ready to explode, should any harm come to their deified star.

Anti-Tamil riots as a palpable danger are being announced in advance to get past the Constitution, the law, the administrative process.

One may not minimise such dangers, though there are easier methods to deal with the problem. It has been suggested that whatever the past history of Veerappan’s 16-year “rule” and immunity, it’s perfectly possible to bomb him out of his hide-outs with the help of satellite surveillance, or even with a forceful commando action. But that perhaps spoils the show for Karunanidhi in any case, and the jungle thug, meanwhile, keeps hoping to sit in Parliament next to “the bandit queen”, Phoolan Devi!

This, of course, is a weird dream of a man wilding in bush and bramble, for the contexts, the circumstances and the moment are vastly different. Nevertheless, a TV penallist did predict such a “primrose” path for the outlaw if the compulsions of the polls later warrant it. Fancy this “disgrace abounding”!

This inevitably raises forcefully, once again, the question: “Is India a soft state”, always vulnerable to pressures regardless of the name and moral health of the nation? That where a VIP or his kith and kin are concerned, the Centre has shown such a weakness is undeniable. And we may ruefully recall George Olwell’s well-known words, “All men are equal, but some are more equal than others”.

It must, however, be remembered that where an innocent woman is held to ransom (as in the case of Mufti Saeed’s daughter), or the life of scores of hijacked persons is the issue as in the Kathmandu-Kandahar hijack case, the law is made to bend in the larger humanist interests. And that’s an understandable lapse, if you like. But where a brigand with a gory and frightful history is concerned, a radically different treatment is needed. Yes, Dr Rajkumar’s life is dear and precious, but it has to be saved in some other suggested ways.

The vote-bank politics have to be set aside if India is to be seen as a power on the rise.



2000: July: Veerappan kidnaps Dr Rajkumar along with three relatives.

1998: Veerappan raids Vellitiruppur police station. Kills a police informer and his friend in Kollegal.

1997: October: Kidnaps photographers Kripakar and Senani with seven tourists at Bandipur national park; releases hostages after 14 days. Abducts three TN forest officials and seeks ransom of Rs 5 crore. Kidnaps 10 forest officials; releases one and offers to surrender again. January: Offers to surrender through Nakkeeran Editor R. R. Gopal.

1994: Kidnaps TN Deputy SP Chidambaram and five others. Escapes narrowly in a police chase, his brother Arjunan arrested.

1993: August-December: Special Task Force guns down 26 Veerappan men. July: Veerappan on the run strangulates his infant daughter fearing that the child’s cry may attract the police. Six of his followers nabbed. May: The police captures Veerappan’s wife and a child. April 9: Veerappan blasts a police van near Palar bridge, killing 22 persons, including 15 informers.

1992: Veerappan raids Ramapuram police station in Karnataka, kills five policemen and decamps with arms and ammunition.

1991: Offers to surrender. Invites Deputy Forest Conservator Srinivasan and later beheads him.

1990-1991: Over 100 gang members nabbed.

1990: The police captures sandalwood worth Rs 1.5 crore while being smuggled by Veerappan in Silvekal forest.

1989 August: Kidnaps three forest officials and kills them. June: Kills five persons from a rival gang in Gopinatham for opposing him.

1984-86: Veerappan gang kills four forest officials from Karnataka.

1986: Arrested for the second time by the Karnataka police during SAARC conference in Bangalore.

1972: Arrested by the police for the first time. 1955-1980: Veerappan killed over 300 elephants for tusks.

1955:Veerappan’s first crime. He is just 10 when he guns down a tusker with the help of his Guru Sevi Gounder. Nabs three forest officials and kills them.


Shrewd diplomacy, personal charm 
By Harihar Swarup

THE United Nations has never seen such a large gathering of world leaders since its inception 55 years back as at the current Millennium Summit of the world body in New York. More than 150 kings, Presidents and Prime Ministers assembled at the UN to discuss the issue haunting the nations since World War II — alleviating poverty and keeping global peace in the 21st century. It is not a sheer coincidence that the UN at this historic occasion is headed by Mr Kofi Atta Annan, a true son of Africa, a black and this itself is a landmark in the annals of the world body.

As Secretary-General of the UN Kofi Annan successfully held for the past three years what has been come to be known as ‘‘the most impossible job in the world’’ and also, at the same time, became the most politically influential African in the world .

Declaring open the Millennium Summit, Mr Kofi Annan, listed misery, poverty and disease as great challenges of the present times and told the world leaders ‘‘people look to you to protect them from these great dangers of our time and let us not disappoint them’’. He asked both rich and poor nations to develop an agenda that would help mankind to get rid of poverty and disease and forge peace.

Effecting wide ranging reforms in the functioning of the UN has been an article of faith with Mr Kofi Annan and he has often stressed that with the ending of the cold war, the member states, as they define their relationship with each other, must agree on what kind of United Nations they were prepared to support. For this organisation, along with the rest of the world, must change. ‘‘Let every member state welcome this change, not resist it. For this organisation, along with rest of the world, must change. Let us make change our ally, not our enemy; seize it as an opportunity, not a threat; recognise it as a necessity, not an imposition’’.

What the Secretary-General has been stressing found fulfilment when he told the Millennium Summit that a panel of independent experts had produced a report detailing suggestions for strengthening the UN in the crucial areas of peace and security. He urged the leaders to study the report and work together at global level. The first persons from sub-Saharan African to head the United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan is also the first Secretary-General to have risen through the ranks of the organisation. A life long diplomat, Annan assumed the UN’s top post in January 1997 to serve a term ending on December 31, 2001. He began his term under pressure to reform the large and economically troubled UN bureaucracy. Following his appointment, Annan pledged to improve the effectiveness of UN programmes in poor countries, saying ‘‘economic development is not merely a matter of projects and statistics, it is above all a matter of people. Real people with basic needs — food, clothing, shelter and medical care’’.

Mr Kofi Annan was born into one of Ghana’s most prominent and influential families. His father was a hereditary chief, a chief of the Fante people and a high-ranking civil servant. After studying science and technology in Ghana, in 1959, Annan travelled to the United States where he matriculated at Macalester College in St Paul, Minnesota. ‘‘It was an exciting period’’, says Annan. Two years earlier Ghana had declared its independence and in America the civil rights movement was gaining momentum. He graduated from Macalester in 1961 with a degree in economics, saying that his American years had taught him, if it taught him saying, ‘‘that you should never walk into a situation and believe that you known better than natives. It was a lesson Annan applied often during his diplomatic career.

Annan took his first UN job at the World Health Organisation. After more than a decade of diplomatic work, he took a break to serve from 1974 to 1976 as Director of the Ghana Tourist Development Company. Four years later, he was given a high-level UN post as deputy director of administration and head of personnel at the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees. By 1990 he had risen to the office of Assistant Secretary-General for Programme and Planning, Budget and Finance. Mr Annan’s 1993 appointment as Head of Peacekeeping operations made him one of the UN’s most visible, and also controversial leaders .

He gained international reputation, not only for shrewd diplomacy, but also for his candor and for his great personal charm. When the USA campaigned against a second term for Mr Boutros Boutros-Ghali, it was Mr Kofi Annan that it turned to and subsequently he became the seventh Secretary-General of the World body.

The word ‘‘Kofi’’ in his native language means ‘‘Friday born’’. Incidentally, it was on Friday that the Security Council recommended to the General Assembly Annan’s name for putting its seal of approve for the top post. There were reasons for double celebrations at the UN as 59-year old Kofi assumed the Secretary-General’s office. Kofi has been a popular name in the corridors of the UN and for years the representatives of the member states as well as the large press corps, covering the UN, have been familiar with him. Double celebrations were described as ‘‘hail-and-farewell’’; it was farewell to Kofi and hail to the new Secretary-General.



Shanta Kumar rues food politics 

POLITICS is the staple diet for most politicians. But then, at times, it can get exasperating even for politicians. The Union Minister for Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution, Mr Shanta Kumar, finds himself in a somewhat similar situation as he realises that all his efforts to put the country’s food management back on the track coming to a naught, thanks to farmers’ politics in the crop growing States. The Minister has adopted a number of measures to rationalise food procurement, especially in Punjab and Haryana and plug loopholes that lead to corruption and irregularities. However, his efforts have been nullified as the Punjab Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, often makes an appearance at the Prime Minister’s house and fights for the farmers’ rights in his State.

Grapevine has it that during the last Cabinet meeting, Mr Shanta Kumar really lost his cool and voiced his opinion against the current food policy. He spoke about the need to do away with the minimum support price, change the system of procurement in Punjab besides recommending other measures. His presentation was well received. He was, however, told that while his stand was economically logical, it could not be implemented as it had political ramifications.

Cow on Vajpayee’s trail

A giant “cow” will follow the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee throughout his visit to the USA. It is not any “swadeshi” stunt. On the contrary, it is a western concept of protest. The giant cow will hold a sign reading “Vajpayee: stop cruel cattle transport” to protest against the alleged suffering of India’s cattle in the international leather and meat trade.

“We are appealing to the Prime Minister to stop this cruel business”, says India’s representative of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Complaining Mayawati

Bahujan Samaj Party Vice-President, Ms Mayawati had a lot to complain against the Lucknow-based media, specially TV representatives, during her recent interaction with reporters in the Capital. Pointing to the microphones placed before her, she said that an equal number of representatives from various channels come to her press conferences in Lucknow but the results are hardly visible. “But nothing comes on the air in the evening,” she rued. “Though the reporters insist that they have sent the cassettes, enquiries from their offices in Delhi reveal that the cassettes have not landed. It seems the Delhi-bound flights from Lucknow change their course midway,” Ms Mayawati remarked evoking smiles from those present. “But all of you in Delhi do a good job and I have no complaints,” she said, perhaps to ensure that lack of exposure in Lucknow is adequately compensated in Delhi.

No to USA

Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar is, these days, one of the main opponents of the Centre’s economic policies. No speech of his is without a critical reference to the WTO as also the USA whose suggestions, he feels, are loaded against the poor. But it was he who quietly allowed US planes refuelling facility during the Gulf War — a decision that raised an uproar all over the country. “I did not take the decision under any pressure. The US planes were part of a multilateral force. But once a controversy erupted, I withdrew the decision though the then US President telephoned me on the issue,” the Samajwadi Janata Party (Rashtriya) chief said recently.

Mr Chandra Shekhar, whose party is not really in the news does not have much hope either from the BJP or the Congress on economic matters. And the third front, he surmises, is a non-starter as none of the likely constituents is serious. As for the conclave of former Prime Ministers, he says that it was not his idea. “When we met, we did not know what was the agenda,” he said in his typically blunt manner.

Bulldozer man at it again

The Minister for Land and Urban Development, Mr Jagmohan, is at it again. He has let bulldozers loose on the city’s slum dwellings and other unauthorised constructions. Overnight, shanty dwellings are being demolished and levelled. The city is indeed acquiring a new look. The Minister’s initiative notwithstanding, it appears the Capital still has a long way to go before becoming presentable.

The Delhi High Court recently took the city Government to task for its failure to remove stray cattle from the city. “Despite repeated directions from the courts, the menace still continues. It is presenting a sight of 18th century. What impression will the foreigners have about us?” the judges asked. Seeking personal appearance of the Director, Animal Husbandry of the Delhi Government, the court asked him to explain why action had not been taken to remove the cattle. Delhiites can definitely look forward to a better city now.

Wedding bliss

Couples travelling to London can now look forward to an ultimate wedding high. They can exchange vows 450 feet up from the top of London’s favourite attraction.

British Airways London Eye, the world’s biggest observation wheel, has been granted a wedding licence and hopes to stage its first nuptials in the New Year. After tying the knot, couples can come back down to earth from the British capital’s newest landmark and have their reception in nearby County Hall opposite the Houses of Parliament. The weddings, however, would have to be planned in advance. Prospective brides and grooms-to-be should intimate British Airways London Eye in advance.

(Contributed by T.V. Lakshminarayan, Tripti Nath, Prashant Sood, and P.N. Andley)


No spirituality in slums 
by Abu Abraham

THERE must be few countries in the democratic world where the politician is so maligned and despised as in India. We vote them to power in our assemblies and in Parliament, only to then denigrate them for all the failings of our nation.

If the electoral process is the measure of our democratic well-being, we’ve done quite well, and if our personal freedom is a yardstick we are better off than other countries. But we don’t seem to be doing well in terms of economic progress or the elimination of poverty.

We have the worst roads I have seen anywhere in all my travels (so bad that our tyre manufacturers have to make special ones ‘for Indian roads’!). We have a third rate health service. Our hospitals, except for those that serve the wealthy, are a disgrace. Our towns and cities have become unmanageably dirty. Slums proliferate. Crime abounds. And for all these ills we blame the politicians, never thinking that we ourselves are partly responsible. The politician has become our national scapegoat, never given any credit for any positive achievement that he can lay claim to.

Everyone knows that corruption exists at all levels of society. Officials, doctors, lawyers, teachers, businessmen, religious leaders, they all indulge in it but they don’t look inwards to see if they too may have sinned. There is a scapegoat at hand.

Not a day passes when we are not told by our “spiritual” leaders that the nation’s salvation lies in more religion, more spirituality. Yet, our religious leaders, too, are steeped in corruption. Almost all of them tell their followers to remain true to tradition, that is to hold on to all the false beliefs and superstitions. Our godmen shut their eyes to the social evils around them. They ignore the iniquities of the caste system, indeed, they perpetuate them. They turn their eyes away from dowry deaths, from the ill-treatment of women. According to a news report, there were 6,637 dowry deaths last year. (The year before there were 5000). Yet have you heard of any godman commenting on this? Our ‘spirituality’ enables our people to remain undisturbed by the cruelties we see all around us. Female infanticide is common in some parts of India, even Sati happens from time to time.

Our spirituality is an escape from social responsibility. It is merely an attempt to ensure our place in heaven. Billions of man-hours are lost every year in puja and prayer, in rituals and pilgrimages.

One man in our time who spent most of his life preaching spirituality was Swami Vivekananda. Spirituality, he said again and again, was India’s strength, our backbone. With it we can conquer the West. The Swami didn’t dirty his hands with mundane things like social welfare or the reform of our ancient (often evil) traditions. In this respect he was a contrast to Gandhi.

Gandhi didn’t spend too much time on airy philosophy and platitudes. He was a man of action and involved himself with the people. He concerned himself with poverty and the rights of the citizens. He did, of course, mix a little religion with politics, but this was because he believed that religion promoted moral behaviour.

Nehru didn’t quite like this side of Gandhi’s personality. He writes in his autobiography: “I used to be troubled sometimes at the growth of this religious element in our politics, on both the Hindu and the Muslim side. I did not like it at all. Much that moulvis and maulanas and swamis and the like said in their public addresses seemed to me most unfortunate. Their history and sociology and economics appeared to me all wrong, and the religious twist that was given to everything prevented all clear thinking. Even some of Gandhiji’s phrases sometimes jarred upon me — thus his frequent reference to Ram Raj as a golden age which was to return....”

What this country needs most today is social reform. Even at our present slow pace of advancement, it can make a great difference to the lives of the common people. But where are the reformers?


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