Tuesday, October 10, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


War drums in West Asia
WAR has been banished and even the tide of civil war is receding all over the world. But there is one exception and that is West Asia. Hot heads from both Israel and the Arab world love to hate each other and occasionally trade gun shots and rockets. And they are now doing precisely that.

A deft political move
HE Sangh Parivar’s gameplan for winning the trust of the backward castes is interesting. The best brains seem to have worked overtime for preparing the project which could help the Bharatiya Janata Party absorb the shock of having shown Mr Kalyan Singh the door. 



Obsolescence of majority-minority paradigm
by Gurbhagat Singh
HE present turmoil and turbulence in Jammu and Kashmir, the North East, Andhra and the recent impactful violence of Punjab, all tell that everything is not alright with the Indian democratic system. Somewhere something has gone woefully wrong.



Freedom of Information Bill
by T.D. Jagadesan
UDICIAL intervention in India has ensured that the right to know is recognised as an essential component of the range of freedoms guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution. The right of free speech and expression would not achieve its full scope and range when the citizen does not have the right to know and be informed.


PM’s authority faces challenge
by P. Raman
OMORROW marks (October 11) the completion of the NDA Government’s first year in office. The PMO has been debating whether the occasion should be made into a big official celebration or be ignored. It is a painful paradox indeed. Vajpayee is gaining in stature but the BJP is badly losing in all its strongholds. Indians are making miracles in information technology but India itself is 15 years behind. Foreign investors praise India’s economic strides but the FDI has dropped from $3.5 billion under Chidambaram to $2.2 billion under the BJP last year.




War drums in West Asia 

WAR has been banished and even the tide of civil war is receding all over the world. But there is one exception and that is West Asia. Hot heads from both Israel and the Arab world love to hate each other and occasionally trade gun shots and rockets. And they are now doing precisely that. Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a seeming dove, has set a 42-hour deadline for the Palestinian Authority to produce peace or face the might of his ruthless army. Since Mr Yasser Arafat has a puny defence force, the meaning of the warning is reoccupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It will be 1967 all over again and the Arabs will have to enter the scene and enlarge it into a regional war with horrendous prospects. Actually, an Arab summit is planned for later this month in Cairo to discuss exactly this possibility and ultra hawk Maummar Gaddhafi is visiting other countries decrying the growing weakness of the Arabs and peddling his plea for an all-out combat with the Zionists. Syrian President Basheer al-Assad is close on his heels and experts believe that he favours caution. The seriousness of the situation is evident from what Mr Clinton is doing. He has cancelled fund-raising visits to two states and is constantly on the telephone trying to head off an armed conflict. He has already talked twice to Mr Barak, once to Mr Arafat and Egypt’s Mr Hosni Mubarak. Israel’s is not just a threat. It has moved tanks and troops to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank apart from blasting buildings. It has been bombing southern Lebanon since Sunday, apart from deploying additional army divisions there. Its army chief has said that he is prepared to unleash its awesome might to discipline the Palestinians and their fellow nationals settled in southern Lebanon. Some Palestinians want their leader to declare an independent state which he wanted to do on September 13 but postponed to fecilitate a peace agreement with Israel. If Mr Arafat goes ahead now, a negotiated settlement is as good as dead, with all the unpredictable consequences.

One man is responsible for the latest setback to the US efforts to broker an accord between Mr Arafat and Mr Barak. He is Mr Ariel Sharon, an ultra hawk and a former Defence Minister who started the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and supervised the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in two camps in Beirut. Eleven days ago he visited the area near the al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, the second holy place of the Muslims after Mecca, provoking the Palestinians into angry protests. The Israeli police retaliated in the traditional way of excessive use of force. Soon firing began from both sides and so far nearly 90 persons, most of them Palestinians, have died. It is the worst since Intifada in the eighties. Only three of the victims are Jews, indicating that the violence is totally one-sided and Israeli bullets are felling protestors. The UN Security Council has condemned the Israeli reliance on the gun to restore order and the USA abstained after the strongly worded resolution stopped short of naming the Jewish country for the mass murder. It is the first time in at least two decades that the USA has indirectly denounced its closest ally and client in such harsh terms. That shows both the unmistakable sentiment all over the world and its frustration at the imminent collapse of its efforts to bring peace to West Asia. President Clinton wanted to seal off his term in the White House with a peace accord and took great troubles in July to mediate one in Camp David. It seems that instead he may have a bloody war in the closing months of his presidence. That will be a bitter personal blow to a man who tirelessly worked for peace in trouble spots like Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia.

The trouble in Lebanon is slightly less serious but closely related to the violence in the Palestinian Authority. Many Palestinians gathered across the border in southern Lebanon to protest against the uncontrolled violence by Israeli soldiers. A few tried to pull down the border fence and enter a disputed area. Israeli soldiers started firing and killed a demonstrator. Some time later three Israeli soldiers were forcibly taken to Lebanon and their whereabouts are unknown. It was in retaliation to this kidnapping that Israel launched its planes and helicopters to bomb what it calls Hizbollah hideouts which are actually randomly selected villages and towns. The Hizb has said it will release the three men if Israel frees several of its cadre detained for several years, yes years. The USA is fully in the picture trying to work out a swap before things spin out of control. US Secretary of State Madeliene Albright is coordinating efforts both to end the violence in Palestine and in southern Lebanon. In a manner of speaking, it is an extension of what she has been doing of late. Last month she brought Mr Arafat and Mr Barak together in Paris to restart the stalled peace process but failed. She will dearly love to succeed this time. So would the whole region, shuddering at the possibility of the present growls and gunshots escalating into a hot war and undoing all that has been achieved in recent years. One report suggests that President Clinton himself might visit the region if he fears the worst. If he comes, it will accurately reflect the crisis in all its frightening dimensions. 


A deft political move

THE Sangh Parivar’s gameplan for winning the trust of the backward castes is interesting. The best brains seem to have worked overtime for preparing the project which could help the Bharatiya Janata Party absorb the shock of having shown Mr Kalyan Singh the door. The think tank deserves a grudging salute even from those who see red at the mention of the political rise of the saffron brigade. The central leadership of the party had evidently put into place an alternative strategy for winning back the support of the backward castes before calling the bluff of former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. Ms Uma Bharati, the maverick sanyasin from Khajuraho, merely followed the script given to her when she made the dramatic announcement of resigning from the Union Council of Ministers some months ago. Her conditional return from self-imposed political sanyas recently is a crucial part of the same script. Had she remained holed up in the Himalayas, as she had threatened to do, BJP President Bangaru Laxman, a backward caste member, would have found the task poaching on the shared Dalit territory of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ms Mayawati and Mr Kalyan Singh in UP a bit daunting. However, Ms Bharati’s histrionics and her visage of the rare liberal in the Hindutva camp may work the magic in favour of the BJP during the crucial assembly elections in UP. And four years later Ms Bharati may even find herself as a serious candidate for replacing Mr Digvijay Singh as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. Her vociferous demand for an OBC quota for women is old hat. Part one of the play for capturing the political space, lost to the BJP with the departure of Mr Kalyan, was to make Ms Bharati go through the motions of rejecting ministerial comforts in Delhi, because her heart bled for the downtrodden in Madhya Pradesh. She kicked a lot of dust on the justified retrenchment of the daily wage workers, for whom the employers had no meaningful work. Why? To establish herself as the political voice of the downtrodden.

Part of the same play was to show to the people her disinterest in the kind of politics being encouraged by the moderates in the Sangh establishment. What better way to prove that she meant business than to submit a letter to the Prime Minister stating her intention to quit the Lok Sabha and then make a well- publicised retreat to the mountains in search of spiritual bliss. Had she been serious, she would have sent the letter to the Lok Sabha Speaker, who would have had no option but to accept it. The Bhopal drama helped her establish her concern for the livelihood of the poor. The second act, which included a stint at a temple in the Himalayas, gave substance to her Ayodhya related war-cry which exhorted the faithful to “garv se kaho hum Hindu hain”. This was essential for winning back the trust of those who had been attracted to the BJP for its professed commitment to the Hindutva ideology. And now, just before Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee was to go to Mumbai for the knee replacement surgery, she made a dramatic return to Delhi announcing her conditional comeback to active politics. Among the three conditions which she laid down before the Prime Minister was the one for reservation of seats for OBC women in Parliament and the state legislatures. This is what the Mandal parties have been demanding for their support to the contentious women’s reservation Bill. However, Mr Sharad Yadav, Mr Ram Vilas Paswan, Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav included the demand for reservation within reservation not because of their love for social justice, but because deep down they are with the rest of the male politicians who are uncomfortable at the idea of having to give one-third of the seats to women candidates. However, if Ms Uma Bharati is allowed to move the proposed amendment for reservation of seats for OBC women, and the Bill is passed by Parliament, the political advantage of such an initiative would logically go to the BJP. It is indeed a very clever move for retaining the trust of the traditional constituency while creating a soft spot for the BJP among the politically important Dalit constituency.


Obsolescence of majority-minority paradigm
by Gurbhagat Singh

THE present turmoil and turbulence in Jammu and Kashmir, the North East, Andhra and the recent impactful violence of Punjab, all tell that everything is not alright with the Indian democratic system. Somewhere something has gone woefully wrong.

The groups or cultures that are militantly protesting against the system that has either neglected them or threatened their identities are both “minorities” and “subalterns”. For this discussion let us accept the definition of “minority” given by Gerard Chaliand, the author of an important essay, “ Minority Peoples in the Age of Nation-States.” He defines minorities “as those groups that see themselves as different — ethically, religiously or linguistically — and are concerned to preserve their special features.” The celebrated six volume series entitled Subaltern Studies, edited by Prof Ranjit Guha, through the analyses and elaborations of different authors, establishes subaltern as the subject that does not see himself-herself from the perspective of hegemonisers/colonialists but in relation to the soil, native traditions or indigeneity. This seeing itself is an act of defiance according to Gayatri Spivak, a contributor to the sixth volume on the perspective of the subaltern.

It is difficult to separate the terms, “minority” and “subaltern” because wherever a minority becomes conscious of its neglect or of an injustice done to it in relation to its difference, it becomes subaltern as well.

The point to be understood is that primarily “minority” and “subaltern” are not numerical concepts. As Alain Fenet, the author of an excellent paper, “The Question of Minorities in the Order of Law,” points out, they belong to the “politico-legal” vocabulary. In other words, which group or culture is to be termed a minority or subaltern, is determined in power relationship. The ruling elite holding reins of power makes this determination for subordination to its superstructures. The numerical perspective that is pushed to the surface is simply to mystify the hidden power strategies.

Now we know after the experience of nation-states for the last two hundred years, first in Europe and then in Asia in imitation of the European model, that the so-called minority-subaltern problem is the creation of national states. Gerard Chaliand has said very assertively that the problem has stemmed directly from the organisation of the nation-state. The class, religion, or elite in power, creates or determines minorities to impose its hegemony.

What happens in a nation-state is that the hegemonic elite, due to its strategies or majoritarian status, puts itself into power. To rule, it establishes various institutions, including law for interpellating and subordinating what it calls “minorities.” The rule uses both persuasion and violence exercised through ideology, police, military, etc. The so-called “minorities” as a determined idea in this nation-state also refers to those groups that are small in number, but mainly to those that due to their specific territory, language, traditions and ethology are suppressed as well as oppressed but are otherwise worthy of becoming nations. The term “minority” is imposed upon those potential nations for bringing them into the nation-state. If they do not shape up, then state violence is sanctioned against them by the law and the uni-nationalist ideology of the nation-state.

It is important to understand that the problem related to the nation-state model that Indian leaders adopted before and after getting Independence, as has been pointed out by Prof Hamayun Kabir in several of his books, having a parallel in the writings of Jawaharlal Nehru, that the Indian subcontinent developed from the village based small democracies. These democracies with their base of languages further developed into distinct regions. The continent’s inaccessibility due to the surrounding seas and the Himalayas, helped these regions in developing their internal and external trade, along with nourishing their native traditions, kinships and languages. There was almost negligible political interference with their progress. These regions with their autonomous cultures were ready for their differential explosion and independent assertions by the 12th century. Their languages and literatures had developed distinct ontologies that we in our contemporary thinking assign to nations. Long before the advent of the 19th century nation-state model, the Indian subcontinent had witnessed the reality of autonomous cultural regions, which with the European kind of ideology or infrastructure could have become sovereign states.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Punjab that became a sovereign state in the late 18th century is an example of this potential.

With the diverse and autonomous cultural regions with full potential to be sovereign nations on the Indian subcontinent, it was a mistake to adopt the European uni-nationalist model in which one nation dominates over the lesser, less fortunate or subordinated nations or nationalities, both through the so-called democratic “consensus,” to use the term of German philosopher Habermas, and through violent apparatuses of the state. Europe developed this model and practiced it for the growth and economic cum political push of the Christian bourgeois as it replaced monarchy and feudalism. After the two world wars and the inflow of alien national groups in each state and playing a vital role in its economy and social organisation, even the uni-nationalist model is being interrogated. Some prophecy of its cracking and eventual dismantling has also been made. Recent diaspoic thinkers like Edward said, Stuart Hall, Homi Bhabha have questioned the elaboration of nation as closed formation and emphasised its “hybridic” constitution for which it cannot articulate any pure or one-dimensional thought or perpetuate a unicentred practice.

If no culture/nation is pure or uni-ideological, as within it there are many contests and tensions, then it is difficult to organise a society from a close perspective on diversity. It is more problematic in the case of India where regional cultures are, to use an expression of Alain Fenet and Santi Romano, “jural orders”. What they mean by this expression are the communities, groups or cultures that can self-generate their own laws and organise themselves accordingly. They have an internal force to effect their laws on their members. Through jurality, they develop their distinct identities which relate to or resist external powers according to their inner laws. The cultural communities of different regions of the Indian subcontinent are such jural orders.

Whether we call them potential nations or jural orders, it is impossible and even historically and ontologically unjust to try to bring them into a uni-nationalist fold. The gravest mistake committed in this connection is the Constitution of India that was written by our elder statesmen and experts following the uni-nationalist model of Europe. This Constitution is now a meta-narrative that describes the Indian people with the paradigm of majority-minority. Although the word “minority” has been used a few times without defining it, yet what needs to be understood is that this paradigm reduces all the numerically small but potential nations or autonomous cultures in different regions of the Indian subcontinent to the status of politically determined minorities. This gradation itself inherently denies equal status to these minorities that somehow with their own seeing have become subalterns as well.

The most acute problem before India is how to organise an intercultural or intermediative narrative and develop institutions that can bring together the diverse potential nations/autonomous regional cultures so that they feel cared and fulfilled by getting what they need. And these cultures in their ontologies are distinct and unique in the sense in which an anthropologist Clifford Geertz calls such cultures “ineluctably local, indivisible, from their instruments and encasements.”

If India is to be guided and administered by the present Constitution and the political institutions shaped accordingly, then the uni-nationalist thrust and the majority-minority paradigm will continue blocking and demeaning the diverse regional cultures awaiting to be nations with full growth.

India needs a re-educated or new polity that may understand that what we needed to free India from the British colonialism, is not relevant anymore. The uni-nationalist model and the majority-minority paradigm into which the colonialists had put us are redundant. The Indian National Congress, and the various British missions and commissions, the Constituent Assembly and its sessions even after Independence, followed same thinking about India. Even when India was organised on a linguistic basis during the Nehru era, the regional cultures were understood as linguistic cultures, and not as autonomous national cultures. It was a partial implementation of the Leninist-Stalinist idea of national cultures, leading India nowhere. North Eastern Hills reality pertaining to Christianised and other adivasi people remained inadequately dealt with altogether.

The main discontentment of those colourful and distinct cultures is with the constraints imposed upon by the ruling elite perpetuating an alien system that neglects and belittles their traditional institutions and kinships which should be opened to new developments rather than ruined.

What is happening or what is going to happen in the future is multicultural transformation of the state and its various institutions. This transformation, hopefully, is going to create a new exciting, and fulfilling reality in which the distinct cultural/national ontologies will relate as well as preserve each other dynamically. Instead of being a repressive situation, as it happens with the majority-minority paradigm, like we have witnessed in J&K and a little before in Punjab, multicultural relationship becomes a joyful relationship. Peter Caws, a philosopher of multiculturalism, calls it as a moment of “expansive celebration”.

A very vital change that will materialise with the coming of multicultural or multinational states will be the absence of a fixed centre and a frozen ideology or perspective with a classical notion of democracy serving a uni-nationalist Constitution, as it is in the case of India. The threat of an imposing hegemonic centre always looms large. The continuous military solution of the North Eastern Hills’ resentment aimed at winning recognition and accommodation of distinct cultures, and then the similar treatment of Kashmiri nationalism and Punjabi nationalism led by the Sikhs, reduced to a “fundamentalist” problem by the state, are examples of a democratic Centre left behind times. Ernesto Laclau, who has advanced some futuristic and fast spreading ideas about democracy in the West, has suggested in his pathbreaking book Emancipations published in 1996, that the “universal” is an empty signifier, an absent fullness which emerges from the particular. If we replace the word universal with democracy it becomes a new idea of democracy that is not administered by the Central with full content but as an incomplete horizon that constantly gets its content from the diverse nations, cultures or communities constituting it. The centre as no-Centre, always acquiring new relevance and fresh perspective according to the pragmatic needs of the enjoining identities. Paradoxically this no-Centre or empty signifier will always brim with a new vitality and life, its organisation will cater to the differential cultures, through highly sensitive, temporalised and reciprocity honouring institutions. It is not a day dream. Despite their problems, the present Russia, the USA and Canada have already become practicing examples. The confederal Switzerland had made a similar beginning long before.

In brief, what I am suggesting here is that if the different cultures or potential nations are to be kept in peace by situating them in the institutional organisation catering to their differential aspirations, then the entire project of Indian democracy is to be rethought. Its unitarian thrust to empower the Centre under the outdated uni-nationalist slogans demeaning the regional identities has to be substituted by a multicultural/multinational democracy with a tentative Centre always renewing and empowering itself with the content of multiplicity. The division of responsibilities is to be remade. Simply giving financial autonomy will not lead to any lasting solutions. In this new thinking and organisation: the states as homes of distinct national-cultural identities are to be made prior. The idea that this will lead to the disintegration of India is only a greedy and hegemonic idea of the present ruling elite, whether it in the form of BJP, the Congress, or the historically backward and traditional Communist parties.

For prioritising the states as homes of regional cultures/nations, the Constitution is to be rewritten. The majority-minority paradigm is to be discarded. Indian democracy, in the new century of incredibly increased identity consciousness of diverse cultures, cannot evolve without de-centredness that cannot occur with the present paradigm. Even Prof Hamayun Kabir, who was a beloved colleague of Jawaharlal Nehru in his Cabinet, says categorically in his book Minorities in Democracy (1968): “Without a multiplicity of centres of power, there cannot be a democracy. Where you have a completely homogeneous, monolithic society, the chances of survival of that society or community are always less than those of a heterogeneous society.” To maintain heterogeneity means as Tagore says, “To unite with all differences intact”. The challenge of globalisation can also be met positively to enrich, if Indian democracy remains a network of ipseitically organised or other recognising heterogeneity, otherwise the steamrollering sway of the present transnational capital can de-base culturally and ruin our mosaic.

To condense the argument, for giving due honour and tension-free growthful space to the regional national cultures, now called “minorities” by the ruling elite for its hegemonic advantage, Indian democracy has to move from its present uni-nationalist thrust to a multicultural and multinational confederalism with a new Constitution de-centred around the reality of our remarkably heteroglossal society.

The author is a former Professor of English and Dean of Languages at Punjabi University, Patiala. Top


Freedom of Information Bill
by T.D. Jagadesan

JUDICIAL intervention in India has ensured that the right to know is recognised as an essential component of the range of freedoms guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution. The right of free speech and expression would not achieve its full scope and range when the citizen does not have the right to know and be informed. Nor would the right to life and livelihood be quite a functional principle without the citizen being at liberty to obtain access to information that may have a bearing on the sustenance of life, the Supreme Court has held.

These broad enunciations of principle constitute a basis for public action, for direct interventions by citizens’ groups seeking information on matters of public concern. Efforts to enforce a measure of accountability and transparency on the agencies of the state have, however, been hamstrung by the absence of a formal law on freedom of information.

Among the states, Goa, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan have, since 1997, enacted laws ensuring public access to information, although with various restraints and exemptions. Pressure had been building upon the Central Government to set the example by making freedom of information a generally applicable principle. Various drafts were submitted for consideration by empowered bodies such as the Press Council of India and by Independent citizens’ groups. But the Freedom of Information Bill, which has finally reached Parliament, has disappointed almost all those who campaigned for its introduction.

The preambular declaration sets out a fairly ambitious set of objectives for the Bill:“To provide for freedom to every citizen to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, consistent with public interest in order to promote openness, transparency and accountability in administration and in relation to matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

The initial chapters in the Bill deal with definitions and rules of procedure. Citizens seeking information on any matter permitted under the law could approach specially designated officials with their requests either “in writing or through electronic means”. The draft Bill that was circulated among various departments for close to a year, allowed for requests to be made only in writing.

The recognition of the validity of requests made “through electronic means” is in line with this government’s rather overstated posture that it sees national salvation in Information Technology (IT). But apart from that, the Bill that has been introduced in Parliament represents a dilution of even the very moderate standards of disclosure that were required under the initial draft.

The efficiency of the proposed law can be judged by the number of exemptions in grants from public disclosure of information. The Press Council’s proposal had limited the number of such exemptions to certain well-defined cases where public safety and order, national security and sovereignty, ongoing criminal investigations, the individual’s right to privacy and commercial information protected by law were involved. The initial draft that was widely circulated within governmental department embellished and tightened all these exemptions while adding several more. The Bill that is now in Parliament extends the range of exemptions still further.

In the initial drafts, “Cabinet papers, including records relating to the deliberations of the Committee of Secretaries” were immune from public disclosure. This attracted a great deal of criticism. There were a number of complaints over the exemption of Cabinet papers, from the scope of the law. But these reservations were suppressed, since Cabinet deliberations are generally exempt from disclosure in the right to information legislation. However, there was no obvious rationale for extending this restraint to deliberations of the Committee of Secretaries, since this is no more than an arrangement of administrative convenience without any statutory status.

The Bill, far from curtailing the scope of these exemptions, actually extends it. One of the restraints introduced by the Bill pertains to “Cabinet papers, including records of the deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers.” In effect, this means that the conduct of all officers of the State would be immune to any form of public scrutiny.

Another restraint that has been inscribed into the Bill relates to the “legal advice, opinion or recommendations made by an officer of a public authority during the decision making process prior to the executive decision or policy formulation”. As campaigners for the right to information point out, scrutiny of the decision-making process is essential to ensure full accountability. And while secrecy and confidentiality — to the degree required — are protected by other clauses, this particular provision confers too far reaching an immunity on officials.

One respect in which the Bill marks a definitive advance over initial drafts is in doing away with the exemption on information connected to “the management of personnel of public authorities.” Recruitment to public agencies, it has been said, is a procedure riddled with corruption and nepotism. There are issues of equity and fairness involved in ensuring adequate representation for various sections in the exercise of executive power. To have taken these matters out of the domain of the right to know would have done serious damage to the law at the moment of its birth.

A law on public access, campaigners say, should institute both a credible process of appeal and penalties for denial of information. But the Bill is either silent or totally inadequate in both these respects. The jurisdiction of the courts has been ruled out since appeals can only go up further through the government hierarchy. This confines the appeals process to the executive branch of the state, which is likely to be the principal respondent in all cases involving the right to information. The officers who would deal with requests from the public — are totally unencumbered by the prospect of any penalty for wilful denial of any access. (INFA) 


PM’s authority faces challenge
by P. Raman

TOMORROW marks (October 11) the completion of the NDA Government’s first year in office. The PMO has been debating whether the occasion should be made into a big official celebration or be ignored. It is a painful paradox indeed. Vajpayee is gaining in stature but the BJP is badly losing in all its strongholds. Indians are making miracles in information technology but India itself is 15 years behind. Foreign investors praise India’s economic strides but the FDI has dropped from $3.5 billion under Chidambaram to $2.2 billion under the BJP last year.

Adi Shankara’s advaida uses an exegetical device to prove the existence of two levels of truth — conventional reality at the lower level and absolute truth at the higher. In this millennium we too have two levels of truth — what media depicts and what the people believe. While Shankara deftly superimposes the higher truth on the former, we frequently get ourselves caught in this painful paradox of our own creation. Until the Gujarat shock came suddenly, no one gave even an inkling of the impending disaster for the ruling party. Mamata Banerjee struck with full fury just when we were all repeatedly being reminded of the total stability of the coalition and the PM’s “full command” over the allies.

No one can predict Mamata’s next moves. She may hit back again. Or in her benign manifestation she could pardon Vajpayee. But the week-long drama has exposed the disjointed functioning of the NDA Government and the total helplessness of a Prime Minister besieged from all sides. The most unpleasant fact has been Vajpayee’s total isolation from his own colleagues. Possibly for the first time, his personal decision arrived at full glare of publicity in Calcutta, has been brutally challenged by his own party detractors. In the process, he had to suffer humiliation twice in 36 hours — first at the hands of Mamata and then his own angry colleagues in Delhi.

When the Trinamool boss dropped the bombshell, Vajpayee had only resorted to the standard BJP response in all such situations right from the days of Jayalalitha. “Aapatti kim karaneeyam? Sharaneeyam charanam ambayaam’ (What should one do when in disaster? Seek refuge at the Amba’s feet). As usual he rushes the tired troubleshooter George Fernandes and his own OSD in a defence aircraft to propitiate the angry “Amba” in Calcutta at midnight. Next day, again at midnight, the OSD returns to her with specific proposals for the rollback in the prices of petroleum goods.

Officials circles in Delhi readily disclose the rate of new cutback as Re 1 per litre of kerosene, 50 paise for diesel and Rs.50 a cylinder of gas. Mamata gleefully quotes Vajpayee’s telephonic assurances to her to get the agreement endorsed by his Cabinet on October 6. Not only this. The PMO had also enlisted the support of other NDA Chief Ministers to persuade her to accept the token rollback offer and return to the Cabinet. Many allies respond to it by publicly hailing the rollback ‘decision’ as a token gesture from the government. Every one presumed that the Prime Minister’s humiliating surrender has, as usual, warded off another Trinamool threat.

Why then did L.K. Advani and others force Vajpayee to undergo a more humiliating surrender before them in full public view? Fernandes is NDA chairman and a party to Vajpayee’s decision. At least he should not have charged the PMO with acting in isolation without consulting the senior colleagues. The Cabinet colleagues, too, had enough time to raise their objections to the rollback surrender even before the OSD’s second trip to Calcutta. Instead, they all waited until the PMO made a public commitment and hit at Vajpayee at the Cabinet meeting and then force him again to phone a shocked “Amba” about the breach of his own earlier solemn assurance to her.

The Prime Ministerial credibility and authority were challenged twice — first by a coalition partner and then by his own partymen. By accident or design, Vajpayee was made to look like a helpless and confused man, days before he was to enter the operation theatre. While doing so, his detractors have given the signal that hereafter what will be done in the name of the PMO may not always be final. Thus for the first time after the BJP’s Chennai session, which marked the delegation of total power to Vajpayee even on party matters, the status of the “undisputed” PM has been considerably weakened.

It is too early to say whether by vetoing Vajpayee’s decision to appease Mamata, these men also seek to give a ‘no-nonsense’ image to the party in dealing with recalcitrant allies. Or they may have a different strategy to tackle her. A few weeks back, Vajpayee had blessed a move by some journalist-turned operators of the “parivar” to rope in P. Chidambaram. A powerful Cabinet Minister put his weight behind a particular state BJP faction and scuttled one of Vajpayee’s initiatives for “heterogenisation” of the BJP.

At the centre some senior leaders believe that Mamata had already decided to ditch the BJP in favour of a tie-up with the Congress. The BJP’s vote share is just 4 per cent in the state. With the 18 per cent plus minority votes, the Trinamool-Congress alliance could be a formidable combination against the Left Front. Therefore, Mamata is bound to desert the BJP and project herself as a great secular hero to garner Muslim votes. Those who subscribe to this theory at the Centre also tried to use it against Vajpayee.

The Gujarat shock makes the BJP the worst victim of our own ‘two levels of truth.’ As L.K. Advani himself lamented at the office-bearers’ meeting, the total rout of the party in the panchayat and civic elections came without any warning. An obliging media avoided telling unpleasant things - as they did in Bihar. The BJP lost 21 out of 23 district panchayats and over 80 per cent of the 210 taluka panchayats. It lost Ahmedabad and Chief Minister’s home town, Rajkot, after 13 years of BJP rule.

Two crucial aspects of the Gujarat rout should cause worry to the BJP. First, the routine leadership problem. An ailing Chief Minister surrounded by a coterie of sycophants is incapable of dealing with the conflicting interest groups within and outside the party. Almost the entire Cabinet has blamed him for allowing the favoured ones to run riot. The BJP dispensation has thus been proved to be more inefficient and seen as much more corrupt by the villagers and city-dwellers alike. Keshubhai Patel had scornfully ignored all suggestions to rectify the situation. Narendra Modi was shunted for this reason. The great BJP dilemma is that now a change of leadership is bound to create a UP-like crisis in the only state where the BJP rules on its own. Apart from creating a Kalyan Singh or another Vaghela, it might lead to more chaotic functioning under a weak incumbent.

Second, the prevalence of a Hindutva backlash. Gujarat has been one state where Hindutva groups at the ground level have been incessantly working up passion. This has been a major factor for the BJP success in the state. Now the VHP publicly asserts that it had, as a protest against the departure from the pro-Hindu policies, not cooperated with the BJP this time. So far, there has not been any serious study into the role of the Hindutva backlash in the Gujarat poll.

The Shiv Sena’s attacks on BJP’s ‘Muslim appeasement’ may have also influenced these sections. Moreover, the Shiv Sena has been making determined forays into Gujarat to grab the Hindutva base on the eve of the poll. Many senior Sena leaders had gone there and at least one BJP legislator joined them. The recent byelection results also strike a grim warning to the BJP leadership about its dwindling acceptability. If the Hindutva factor had really worked, there is going to be a rethinking within the BJP ranks on the viability of the new Vajpayee line.

Our two levels of truth makes it really risky to dismiss so many straws in the present political wind as entirely inconsequential. Consider Nitish Kumar’s recent moves. True, even the wildest speculator would not predict his early patchup with Laloo Prasad Yadav. He is quite comfortable in the Vajpayee establishment. Still no one can say for certain what is going to be the “absolute” truth. Until a few months back, even an exchange of smile between the two rivals might have been unthinkable. Their sitting together to discuss Bihar’s economy (without Paswan or BJP men), talking like friends and subsequent vague contacts by the mutual friends can have future implications. Janata politicians are so unpredictable, and many in their lineup had such innocuous beginnings.

There are many straws in the wind for the ruling combine even in the south. The DMK has expressed its ire to the Prime Minister over the way nominee A. Raja’s portfolio was changed without consulting the Chief Minister. The PMK, the second strongest component of the NDA in Tamil Nadu, has intensified its threat to switch over to the rival front. An open war of words has been going on between the DMK and PMK. Within the BJP, which is electorally not a major force in Tamil Nadu, a faction war has led to open statements by the two sides accusing each other. Recently, a senior BJP leader had quit in disgust. Now the Hindu Munnani, an old “parivar” outfit, has announced its decision to join the AIADMK. It held black flag demonstrations against the BJP President.

As of now, none of these straws in the wind poses any immediate threat to the NDA Government. Vajpayee has easily steered clear off still worse crises. But together they do signal the emergence of a disturbing trend. Top



… by rhythmic breathing and controlled thought, you are enabled to absorb a considerable amount of prana (Vital energy) and are also able to pass it into the body of another persons, stimulating weakened parts and organs and imparting health and driving out diseased conditions.

—Yogi Ramacharaka, The Science of Psychic Healing


Whatever evil or sinful act we have committed

With thy help, O prana, life breath,

The remover of sin and pervader in the body,

We wipe it off.

—Atharva Veda, 7.65.2


And Jesus said, who touched me? When all denied, peter and they that/were with him said, Master the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou who touched me?

And Jesus said, somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.

And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately.

And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole: go in peace.

—The Holy Bible, The Gospel According to St. Luke, 8: 45-48.


Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.

—The Holy Bible, The Gospel According to St. Mathew 10:8


Devils can be driven out of the heart by the touch of a hand on a hand, or a mouth on a mouth.

—Tennessee Williams, The Milk Train Does Not Stop Here Anymore, 5


Touching is of great importance and is language in itself. It is a language that the body at primal level, understands and responds to.

—Anika Bergson and Vladimir Tuchak, Shiatzu: Japanese pressure Point Massage


How we use our hands shows what is in our hearts. In terms of energy, the heart represents the balancing centre or Chakra between the base physical energies of the sacrum and abdomen, which are connected with intuition, and the mental consciousness centre of the mid-brain.

The hands, by energy and function, are extensions of the heart and help us to outwardly express the sum total of our intuition and consciousness, or what could be called judgement.

— Saul Goodman, The Book of Shiatsu, Introduction 

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