Tuesday, December 19, 2000,
Chandigarh, India

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Positive pointers
Y formally welcoming the Ramzan ceasefire announced by the Vajpayee government, the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, after its executive council meeting on Sunday, has sent out a significant message. The 23-member conglomerate will not allow the elements sceptical of the Centre’s initiative to hijack it for serving the designs of their masters across the Line of Control.

Congress shifts to left
FTER months of confusion the Congress now seems to know its economic policy. Party president Sonia Gandhi lifted the veil at the FICCI anniversary function on Sunday. It is back to reforms and also back to social justice. Reforms with an intensely human face, if that were possible.


Reforms talk again
December 18, 2000
Global concern over children’s plight
December 17, 2000
A ritual with meaning
December 16, 2000
Bush and court ambush
December 15, 2000
Disadvantage public
December 14, 2000
Problems can wait, we are parliamentarians!
December 13, 2000
Custodial violations
December 12, 2000
Thaw in PM’s stand
December 11, 2000
Bhopal gas disaster
December 10, 2000
Paralysed Parliament
December 9, 2000


Postman’s knock
FTER keeping the country in turmoil for 13 days, the postal strike finally seems to be coming to a close, at least partially. It will be futile to blame either the government or the employees for the ugly situation because both contributed to the mess.


Subverting the right to education

by Praful Bidwai
F there is one thing that the Indian bureaucracy really excels at, it is evading public accountability. This is especially so where the subject of accountability is a function relevant to underprivileged, ordinary people. The bureaucracy can also invent extraordinarily imaginative ways to negate a good cause by, ironically, praising it to triviality. 

Drug abuse: India’s biggest challenge
by S. Zahur H. Zaidi
N estimate by the United Nations Drug Control Programme has put the worldwide number of drug abusers at a shocking 200 million. Illicit drugs are a global problem. No country or society can claim to be untouched by their reach.


“Suniye” attracts attention
UNIYE team’s visit to our house changed our lives,” asserted Sheila Sharma from Phagwara in Punjab. “ I gestured at Rajan, prompting him to speak out “namaste, glass, water”, but Madam Director stopped me quietly. “Let him say what he wants to.”


Allies uneasy over churning in BJP
by P. Raman
EJECTION of an Opposition motion in Parliament or a forced ‘‘assurance’’ by the Prime Minister can never be the last word on issues like the Ayodhya controversy. The Prime Minister has been able to ward off an immediate challenge to his position and postpone a crisis of confidence within the ruling alliance.



Positive pointers

BY formally welcoming the Ramzan ceasefire announced by the Vajpayee government, the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) , after its executive council meeting on Sunday, has sent out a significant message. The 23-member conglomerate will not allow the elements sceptical of the Centre’s initiative to hijack it for serving the designs of their masters across the Line of Control. These rabidly pro-Pakistan outfits — the Jammu and Kashmir Jamaat-e-Islami, the People’s League, the Islamic Students League, the Muslim League and certain other outfits — have been made to fall in line by the group led by the APHC chief, Prof Abdul Ghani Butt, under the cover of unity by stating that the “Hurriyat resolves to work unitedly and with discipline to reach its goal”. Only the other day Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the Jamaat chief, was furious at Mr Abdul Ghani Lone for the latter’s comment immediately after returning from Pakistan that religious extremism was causing great harm to the cause of peace and prosperity of Kashmir and that there was merit and sincerity in the Government of India’s latest move. The Hurriyat’s Sunday resolution has cleared the confusion, if there was any, about its intentions under the changed circumstances. The APHC is prepared to cooperate with New Delhi in its efforts to find a solution to the Kashmir imbroglio.

There are, however, two aspects to the whole crisis. The first is creating conditions conducive to initiating any meaningful discussion. The other is how to go about a broad political dialogue in search of an answer to the Kashmir conundrum. The Hurriyat’s role is crucial, but technically it can be involved only in case of the first aspect, though success at this level will influence the course of events later on. The APHC leadership wants to visit Pakistan with the specific purpose of discussing the question of violence with the militant leaders operating from the other side of the Indo-Pak divide. Perhaps it is hopeful of convincing the gun-toting elements that nothing is possible in Kashmir so long as there is no end to killings in the name of jehad. One should not be surprised if it is known after some time that the Hurriyat strategy is based on advice from the Pakistan government. After all, it is the regime in Islamabad which has been providing the APHC all kinds of sustenance, openly and clandestinely. In fact, Pakistan still considers the grouping as the authentic voice of the Kashmiris on this side of the LoC. In any case, the Vajpayee government in New Delhi has hinted that it has no objection to the Hurriyat leaders’ desire to help write a new chapter in Kashmir. The problem may arise at the time of handling the second aspect of the Kashmir issue — which means restarting a process of dialogue between India and Pakistan. New Delhi appears to be readying itself for a fresh political engagement with Islamabad. This inference can be drawn from Home Minister L. K. Advani’s recent statement on “the Centre’s preparedness to talk to Pakistan if violence ends or is reduced drastically”. If a dialogue process begins after Hurriyat leaders’ meeting with those controlling the militant outfits, they will earn the nation’s gratitude for their new and positive approach.


Congress shifts to left

AFTER months of confusion the Congress now seems to know its economic policy. Party president Sonia Gandhi lifted the veil at the FICCI anniversary function on Sunday. It is back to reforms and also back to social justice. Reforms with an intensely human face, if that were possible. In other words, the party has resolved the ideological differences within its leadership with both pro-liberalisation and anti-reforms factions winning hands down. This is a cynical way of putting it but comes close to capturing the essence. The Congress fielded the normally hesitant president to unveil the policy and she did it with aplomb. She strongly supported the ongoing changes, asserting the party’s right to claim credit as the initiator. That is old hat. Then she went on to hark back to the Indira Gandhi days when poverty alleviation was the genuine concern. So she wants the reforms to pick up speed but also should the second track of fighting poverty and hunger. The desire is to ride two horses, and the party knows it is a risky, if not an impossible, task. Since it is the alliance government which has to pull this off, her party can woo both the urban middle class which sees a pot of gold at the end of the globalisation rainbow while nudging itself close to the rural and urban poor. She fired the first salvo by pointing to the anti-poor thrust of subsidy cutting. By increasing the price of foodgrains sold from the fair price network, the government has scored two self goals. It has taken foodgrains beyond the reach of the very poor and also forced the FCI to carry the burden of a growing mountain of buffer and operating stocks. An inevitable third crisis is what befell paddy growers in Punjab, Haryana and now Andhra Pradesh. She used this analysis as a springboard to accuse the government of being insensitive to the problems of the kisan. She could not have delivered a more effective election speech but most of her listeners were BJP supporters.

There was a brighter side too. She offered constructive opposition and support in passing new laws provided the government consulted it and took care of its concerns. Obviously she and her party are concerned at the hostile popular reaction to the disruption of parliamentary work for seven days. And hence this smiling face of cooperation. The ruling alliance should take her at her word and set up a small group with representatives from both sides. Leaders like Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr Jairam Ramesh should find a place as are persuasive ministers like Mr Murasoli Maran (once he resumes work). The Congress has said it will oppose any denationalisation of banks; it is sentimentally attached to the one policy that cast out the old guard and established Indira Gandhi as the supreme leader. It would need a lot of convincing to bring it around to supporting the Bill in the Lok Sabha. As for the rest, the party had voted for the insurance Act, is ready to back the fiscal responsibility measure and other legislation. But it will drive a hard bargain on the subsidy shrinking when it affects the poor and villagers. It is not all that negative. But it calls for careful handling and, as Mrs Gandhi says, it will also mean give and take. But it is without reckoning with years of antagonistic attitude. 


Postman’s knock

AFTER keeping the country in turmoil for 13 days, the postal strike finally seems to be coming to a close, at least partially. It will be futile to blame either the government or the employees for the ugly situation because both contributed to the mess. What is important is the awareness about the loss suffered by the nation and the hardship by the public. The chaos was felt more in rural areas because these still do not enjoy modern-day convenience like couriers, e-mail and telephones. In a country where more than 16 crore letters and packets are distributed daily and moneyorders worth over Rs 13 crore are despatched, the crippling effect can be well imagined. The problem of the government is that it has neither been able to instill confidence in the employee community about its policies nor has it tried to shed the impression that it oils only creaking wheels. On the other hand, government employees too have tended to behave like pressure groups rather than responsible workers. Postal employees are particularly notorious for their striking capabilities. Since 1989, they have been going on strike every two years. What they have done in the year 2000 is only a repeat of what they managed to do in 1989, 1992, 1994, 1996 and 1998. And as always, the government has agreed to "consider their demands sympathetically" only after being held to ransom. It has acceded to their several demands, including those of upgradation, extending special pay to certain categories and undertaking a cadre review. Why didn't it accept these before making the country go over coals?

Even now, the strike has ended not because of any dawning of superior wisdom, but because of two unrelated reasons. One is the tough stand taken by the judiciary and the other the reduction in the armtwisting capabilities of the employees. The consequences of the strike were bad enough; these could have been even worse if faxes and e-mails, etc, were not there to fall back on. Much is being made of the failure of the government to implement the recommendations of the Talwar Committee. What is not being mentioned is that the committee also recommended downsizing of the department and freezing new recruitment. If the salaries are to be increased, then these recommendations also ought to be honoured. Instead, what the unions are demanding is the regularisation of the services of three lakh extra -departmental employees. That this will make the department totally unviable is no one's concern. Extra-departmental employees were posted in places where the volume of work is so low that the department cannot afford to post regular employees. If they are to be regularised, the deficit of over Rs 1,591 crore, which is already crippling the department, will go through the roof. Yet, the issue has been thoroughly politicised and even the employee leaders have accused certain parties of prolonging the agitation. Now that the employees have had their way to a considerable extent, perhaps they should ponder over the loss of public sympathy that they have suffered. It can be regained by bringing about a bit of institutional efficiency. 


Subverting the right to education
by Praful Bidwai

IF there is one thing that the Indian bureaucracy really excels at, it is evading public accountability. This is especially so where the subject of accountability is a function relevant to underprivileged, ordinary people. The bureaucracy can also invent extraordinarily imaginative ways to negate a good cause by, ironically, praising it to triviality. The Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry, combining these tactics, is about to undermine the cause of universal and free elementary education through the Constitution (83rd Amendment) Bill. This is likely to be placed before the Lok Sabha any day now — either in its original 1977 avatar or with tokenist changes. One can only hope it will be resoundingly defeated.

What is the 83rd Amendment all about? It pays lip service to Article 45 of the Directive Principles of the Constitution which casts a duty upon the State to provide, “within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.” It also speaks of the “political will and administrative resolve” to universalise elementary education and meet” the daunting challenge of achieving “education for all by 2000 AD.” It even mentions a financial figure (Rs 8,000 crore) as the likely annual expenditure. But, in substance, the Bill dilutes, whittles down and greatly weakens, the right to universal elementary education — rather than give it clear legal expression.

The Bill achieves this astounding feat by adding a new Article (21A) to the right-to-life Article 21, which says: (1) The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all “citizens” of the age of six to fourteen years. (2) The right to free and compulsory education shall be “enforced in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.” (3) The State shall not make any law for free and compulsory education in relation to “educational institutions not maintained by the State or not receiving aid out of State funds.”

Now, the very first clause removes, at one fell swoop, the 150 million-plus children in the age group 0 to 6 years from the purview of the right to free education. Educationists recognise this as a critical period in a child’s development with immense implications for his/her future in intelligence and personality formation. Much of what the child does in later years — school retention, performance, etc — is determined in this early period. Early Childhood Care and Education is a fundamental right derived from Articles 21 and 45 of the Constitution. A well-considered and yet far-reaching judgment of the Supreme Court in the Unni Krishna vs State of Andhra Pradesh mandates this right.

This judgment is the fountainhead of the Indian debate on the right to education, which made its way into all major party manifestos in the mid-1990s. This led to the Committee of Education Ministers (1996-97) headed by Hiteswar Saikia, and eventually, to the present Bill. The judgment pronounced that in their crucial aspects, the Fundamental Rights chapter and the Directive Principles chapter of the Constitution must be read together. Among all the Directive Principles, only Article 45 stipulates a time-limit, no other Article does. The judgment says that right cannot remain a “mere pious wish” for decades after the Constitution took effect and the State cannot flout the direction. hence the only way the promise of Article 45 can be redeemed within a reasonable period of time is by guaranteeing that a child has “a fundamental right to free education up to the age of 14 years.”

However, the 83rd Amendment Bill confines the right to only about half the 375 million children in the 0-14 age group. Worse, it fails to take into account the fact that most poor families cannot provide early childhood care and education without State support. There are 120 million women in the unorganised sector, many of whom cannot educate their very young children. The 70 million children under six who live in poverty will be forced to start work at a tender age—unless assisted by the State. About 70 per cent of the children who perform sibling care are girls. They account for the vast majority of the girls who never enrol at school. Hence kindergartens and daycare centres are absolutely essential for the poor. It is the State’s duty to provide these. But the Bill frees it of that duty. This means that only those who can send their young children to private pre-schools will enjoy the right to education granted to 6-14-year-old. This makes nonsense of the government’s own professed commitment to the universalisation of education.

In its present shape, the Bill is open to two ominous forms of abuse. First, it limits the right to education to “citizens”, not “children”. But a child does not become a citizen until a later age. Citizens alone enjoy certain rights. However, there are universal rights too. These are available to all. That’s the import of the Unni Krishna case verdict. So tomorrow, if a child demands education under the 83rd Amendment, an official can ask him/her to prove if she is an Indian citizen and not a Bangladeshi or Nepali! The communal implications of this need no comment.

Secondly, the word “compulsory” can be so interpreted that the compulsion is cast upon on the child’s parents. They can be punished for failing to enrol their children. After all, the Bill empowers the State to act in “such manner as the State may... determine.” This can lead to re-victimisation of the original victim of poverty and illiteracy. Surely, this could not have been the intent of the framers of the Constitution!

Equally blameworthy is the emphasis on making the enforcement of rights conditional upon the whims of the State. This would allow the State to plead that it lacks the resources or administrative capability to universalise education. The Centre can also pass the buck to the states. Nobody could then be held accountable. However, the Unni Krishna case judgment was explicit the Article 45 mandates free education irrespective of the State’s economic capacity or level of development.

Equally flawed is the Bill’s third clause, which explicitly states that the State should “not make any law” for free education in respect of educational institutions “not maintained by the State or not receiving (its) aid.” Now private schools are not some isolated islands unconnected to public institutions for their registration, certification, curricula and degrees. Often they receive preferential treatment from public agencies in respect of land, water, taxation, etc. You can’t leave out this substantial and growing sub-sector if you want to universalise education. Surely, it should be possible for the State in areas where government schools are non-existent or under huge pressure, to compel private schools to teach underprivileged pupils free of cost. Such power must be exercised wisely, but it must exist. The Bill disempowers the government, while privileging private schools. This is obnoxious.

The Bill is open to criticism on issues of quality and non-compliance with the National Policy on Education of 1986. It shows no recognition of education as part of an integrated process of development of the individual and of society. Without clarity about this, all education could be reduced to mere literacy, or to a low-quality affair for the underprivileged. But, fundamentally, the Bill is an attempt to wriggle out of a constitutional obligation cast upon the government, and that too through the dubious route of altogether removing Article 45, rather than by amending specific laws. The Rs 8,000 crore annual budget it mentions represents just 0.4 per cent of the GDP. But what is needed is a doubling of the present total spending on education (3.2 per cent of the GDP), which the government says it’s committed to.

The 83rd Amendment bears comparison with another initiative taken four years ago to make the right to work a fundamental right — as demanded by the trade union movement for decades. This is a worthy demand, which can improve people’s lives through specific entitlements. But unless the State is serious about guaranteeing the right in practical terms, the whole thing can become a joke, an object of ridicule — a right on paper cruelly negated in practice. That’s probably worse than not having a “legal” right. Thankfully, that move was dropped. So should the 83rd Amendment Bill.

There is a larger issue here. Education is a fundamental entitlement of children. In this hierarchical, mass deprivation-based society, it is perhaps the sole instrument of social mobility. The issue also concerns the legitimacy of the State. In modern society, the State doesn’t come before the people or out of divine right. It exists in order to subserve the functions relevant to the people. That alone gives it legitimacy. The Indian State’s record in the social sector, especially education, is appalling. It is proceeding to sack trained school teachers, and replace them with ill-trained shiksha karmis, indeed dismantle whole institutions. Unni Krishna was to be an antidote to this. The 83rd Amendment Bill will all but kill it — and cheat India’s poor children.

The writer is a well-known commentator.


Drug abuse: India’s biggest challenge
by S. Zahur H. Zaidi

AN estimate by the United Nations Drug Control Programme has put the worldwide number of drug abusers at a shocking 200 million. Illicit drugs are a global problem. No country or society can claim to be untouched by their reach. What is even more alarming is that the images span all segments of the society — the urban professional snorting cocaine at the night clubs, rickshaw-pullers smoking hashish and smack, farmers addicted to the opium they grow and the teenage Ecstasy user chilling out in “rave parties”. A more recent trend in India is the consumption of boot polish and iodex, spread on slices of bread, with powered Disprin sprinkled on it — in vogue among college-goers and schoolchildren, in search of a cheap “high”.

No one begins taking drugs thinking that he or she will become addicted. In fact, some people can try and experiment with drugs and stop without getting addicted while many cannot. People take drugs because they make them feel “good”. In scientific terms drug use is a “rewarding behavior” because the high or pleasure it induces, tends to reinforce the drug taking activity. Many people start to use drugs at parties and with friends without realising the disastrous effects of abuse. It is more for the thrill associated with experimentation.

For some people drug use gets out of hand. They learn to take drugs for emotional support: “I had a bad day so I smoke a joint or snort cocaine.” Gradually, physiological changes begin to take place and the dose needed to get a “high” escalates and its frequency also increases. After a while a habitual drug user cannot work normally without it and withdrawal symptoms begin to appear.

Avoiding withdrawal is a powerful force motivating people to keep using drugs. The user enters a new stage in his relationship with drugs — not for pleasure but to avoid pain and discomfort of withdrawals. The solution to most of life’s problems becomes drug use, and doing without them brings anxiety and sickness. For a drug addict there is no life without drugs. Everything else — family, friends, jobs — falls by the wayside. Often drug addicts get fired from their jobs because they cannot function well and their families may break because they resort to stealing, in order to support a drug habit.

Drug abuse is directly responsible for the loss of wages, soaring health care costs, broken families and deteriorating communities. Intravenous drug use has also fuelled the rapid spread of AIDS and hepatitis. There is a direct link between drugs and the rise in crime and violence in society. In some countries drug addicts supporting their habits commit more than 50 per cent of thefts. In most countries teenage crime revolves around drug abuse and alcoholism.

Revenue from illicit drugs fund some of the most deadly armed conflicts in the world. Narco trade finances various terrorist organisations and a lucrative nexus has emerged. A vicious circle of arms acquisition, narco-terrorism, domestic violence and cross-border smuggling has been on for quite sometime. Over a period of time, catches of arms from drug smugglers by the police on the Punjab, Rajasthan, and Gujarat borders have increased, both in frequency and in quantity. Thus we can see the North-East reeling under insurgency and drug-related diseases, rising crime and a powerful drug mafia appearing in Mumbai and other metros, while narcotics from across the border are fuelling militancy in Kashmir.

India is precariously placed between two major opium-producing regions of the world — the Golden Triangle (Myanmar, Thailand and Laos) on the east and the Golden Crescent (Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan) on the western border. There are two key ingredients in the problem before India — the trafficking of South-West Asian heroin across the Indo-Pakistan border and the smuggling of heroin from Myanmar into the North-Eastern States. These factors entail the problems of transit, domestic consumption, abuse and export trafficking.

In addition to this, the domestic production of Cannabis and related products and diversion of licit opium for abuse are a further cause for concern. The metros of the country are slowly emerging as major centres of drug abuse. Even mofussil towns and villages are not unaffected. Slowly but surely the menace is spreading throughout the country.

Apart from the physiological damage to the individual who abuses drugs and the spread of deadly diseases like AIDS and hepatitis, society and the government also suffer tremendously. The financial costs to society are staggering. Enormous sums of money are spent to strengthen the police forces and specialised agencies involved in checking the menace of drug-trafficking. Border police has to be strengthened to prevent the smuggling of narcotics. A huge amount of public money is spent on the investigation of cases and on the judicial system and on treatment and rehabilitation programmes. This money would have otherwise gone towards development and nation-building.

The social costs are equally jarring. Society has to suffer street violence, gang warfare, fear and shattered lives. Unless drastic measures are taken, the social and economic costs will be prohibitive, especially for a developing country like India. The big question before us, therefore, is how to tackle this menace? The action should be two-pronged: (1) efforts to reduce drug demand; (2) efforts to reduce drug supply.

The efforts to reduce the demand for drugs must focus on the promotion of health and social well-being among individuals with emphasis on collective efforts — taking society along. As the first step, it is important to assess and identify the abusers and ascertain the reasons for the incidence of abuse in any community. This is a rather difficult task because most abusers are shy of talking about their problems. The community could play a significant role in this regard. Some people may need special attention for which it is necessary to involve the victim’s family.

Once the abusers are identified, they must be treated sympathetically. An abuser must never be seen as a problem, rather he/she is the key resource in any abuse prevention programme. Their ideas and experience must find place in the overall strategy. The victims of drug abuse must trust the abuse prevention programme. Only then will they come forth to assist.

Similarly, efforts towards the reduction of drug supply must focus not only on the eradication of illicit crop by government agencies but as a comprehensive and participative approach. People who indulge in growing these illicit products are often ignorant of the existing laws. Many a times the “illicit” crop is perceived differently in some cultures. For instance, in some areas of the upper hills, cannabis plant is the only source of fibre. It has been used for centuries to make ropes, which find use in agriculture and numerous related activities. The residents of such areas must not be seen as mere offenders. Rather they must be informed about the diversion of traditional and seemingly harmless products for use as illicit drugs, their abuse and their ill effects. Their knowledge of the area must be put to use in order to identify the tracts used for illicit cultivation by drug-traffickers and their destruction.

The public could also provide significant information about the sources of drug supply, drug peddlers and the criminal networks engaged in drug-trafficking. The public would cooperate only if it trusts the people involved and is encouraged to work as part of a team.

It is important to forge a partnership with people and not work in isolation. Drug abuse reduction programmes must involve the government, community-based organisations and the private sector. A concerted effort is the need of the hour. We must join hands and work together, towards the eradication of drug abuse. It would be infructuous to forge any strategy for the prevention and eradication of the menace that threatens to destroy our society, without active participation of the people.

The writer is an IPS officer posted in Shimla.


Suniye” attracts attention

“SUNIYE team’s visit to our house changed our lives,” asserted Sheila Sharma from Phagwara in Punjab. “ I gestured at Rajan, prompting him to speak out “namaste, glass, water”, but Madam Director stopped me quietly. “Let him say what he wants to.”

“Rajan held Madam President by her hand and led her to his playroom. I pointed to the pictures of a dog, a cat, a box — words that Rajan had learned to pronounce, but again I was stopped short....

“Back in the living room, Madam Vice-President demonstrated how I should sit next to Rajan and get him to pronounce the name of the food with every morsel so as to improve his speech and vocabulary. I had to make sure that light was falling on my face so as to allow him to read my lips.

I was relieved beyond words. After knocking from door to door for seven long years, we had at last found a team of friendly and experienced people who were genuinely interested in the progress of our only son — suffering from profound hearing loss.”

SUNIYE, a voluntary association of parents of hearing impaired children, started home visits by its experts five years ago, even though it first came into existence some seven years earlier.

“A number of us parents of hearing impaired children used to meet informally from time to time to find out ways and means to improve the language of our children,” said Mr S. Ramakrishnan, formerly Conver-ner of Suniye. “These meetings used to take place in the house of a parent or at the hospitals we visited. During these meetings we came across many new cases of hearing impairment with parents trying desperately to get help. So some of us would then get together to counsel them, helping them to avoid the pitfalls we had faced and directing them to places where they could get the best attention and facilities.”

From these seedling efforts was born the registered society of SUNIYE with a number of interested professionals like teachers, doctors, audiologists and speech therapists joining in. The sporadic meetings of parents now became monthly interactive gatherings addressed by experienced senior parents or professionals at the Press Club of India. “ I found the lecture on oto-toxic drugs and their effects by Dr Jagjit Bhatia and Dr Kukreja good,” remarked Mrs Aradhna Makhija, mother of 10-year-old Pranshu, studying at the Shriram School, Vasant Vihar. “Their list of drugs which are harmful for our children will be truly useful for reference in future.” (Grassroots)

Why the heart fails

Scientists have identified gene mutations that seem to underlie inherited cases of a common heart muscle disease. Understanding the genetics behind the condition, called dilated cardiomyopathy, may also advance treatment of non-inherited forms of the disease, according to the researchers.

Dilated cardiomyopathy occurs when diseased muscle fibres in the heart cause one or more of the heart’s chambers to enlarge. This impairs the heart’s pumping and can lead to heart failure. Although the condition is most common in middle-age, it can strike at any age. In some cases, dilated cardiomyopathy is inherited.

In the December 7th issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers report their finding that mutations in sarcomere protein genes appear to be behind 10% of all cases of inherited dilated cardiomyopathy. Sarcomeres are the basic structure of muscle function. According to the report, mutations in sarcomere protein genes may be particularly common among young people with signs of dilated cardiomyopathy.

Dr Mitsuhiro Kamisago of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, led the study. Kamisago’s team studied 21 unrelated people with familial dilated cardiomyopathy. They found that four had mutations in sarcomere protein genes. The investigators then looked at the patients’ families and found that other family members with dilated cardiomyopathy also had the gene mutations.

“Based on the finding of four mutations in 21 individuals, we would estimate that sarcomere protein mutations account for at least 15% of inherited dilated cardiomyopathy,” study co-author Dr Christine E. Seidman said. (Reuters)


Allies uneasy over churning in BJP
by P. Raman

REJECTION of an Opposition motion in Parliament or a forced ‘‘assurance’’ by the Prime Minister can never be the last word on issues like the Ayodhya controversy. The Prime Minister has been able to ward off an immediate challenge to his position and postpone a crisis of confidence within the ruling alliance. But seeds of bitterness and mistrust have already been sown. Like an unsatiated spirit, the mandir-masjid ghost is bound to haunt the alliance in a more fierce form in the early months of the New Year.

The crucial issue now is not the immediate survival of the NDA Government. It can, at least for some time. But the real question is how Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee is going to tackle the tricky issue of the RSS parivar's massive preparations to take the Ayodhya agitation to a breaking point. On this depends how far can his NDA allies go along with him in the government. Mr Vajpayee has already yielded much ground to the parivar's pressures. This has been the message of his statement virtually supporting the VHP movement.

Mr Vajpayee is certainly aware of the rising protests within the parivar against his liberal line and his own loosening grip on his party during the post-surgery period. For the past few weeks, a wider section within the BJP, even those in his own faction, have been talking about the disturbing revulsions within the ranks. His statement on ‘‘the national aspiration’’ on Ram mandir has been an uncontrolled outpouring of this suppressed sentiment. Now that he has been proved vulnerable, the hardliners in the parivar have begun pressing ahead with their anti-minority programmes with full determination.

By a stroke of irony, Mr Vajpayee's present position within the ruling establishment is strikingly similar to both that of Mr V.P. Singh in the final stages of his government and the dual membership controversy of the Morarji Desai era. It is to the credit of Mr Vajpayee that so far he has been able to successfully experiment with his ‘‘dualism’’ by carrying along both the secular allies and his own religious bigots. Now his own approval of the RSS line on Ayodhya highlights the irreconcilability of the dual role. The coming months will show the heavy strains on this neodualism. Similarly, like Mr V.P. Singh, Mr Vajpayee is also faced with the option between yielding to the mandir construction demand or losing the prime ministerial chair.

Incidentally, again, it was Mr Vajpayee himself who conveyed the BJP decision to withdraw support to the V.P. Singh Government at the peak of the Advani rath yatra. Mr V.P. Singh, true to his pledge, stood his ground and faced doom. From all accounts, Mr Vajpayee, a former pracharak and a life-long swayamsevak, is not expected to take to the V.P. Singh option. Instead, he is certain to ultimately respond to the call of his alma mater. His adoption of the ‘‘national sentiment’’ slogan and frantic pleadings to the NDA allies to save the government revealed this sad old dilemma.

A belief commonly shared by sections of the BJP, its secular allies and the Opposition has been that the same old Ram mandir frenzy could not any more give electoral dividends to the saffron party. Like a cheque that can be encashed only once. However, in the agenda now being crafted and implemented by the RSS parivar and those within the BJP behind Mr Vajpayee's back, the mandir agitation is only just one ingredient. What is being done is not a second encashment of the mandir cheque but casting a deadly brew of Ayodhya and a heavy dose of Hindutva blended with fresh bout of anti-Muslim and anti-Christian onslaughts.

The Prime Minister is well aware of the preparations under way to create a high-pitch frenzy on the dual issue of temple and incessant war on the semitic religious groups. Unlike in the early stages of his rule, he is finding it impossible to discipline the parivar outfits. In a way, this has been the logical conclusion of an unwritten agreement with the RSS allowing the BJP pedal its own secular line as head the ruling coalition. While freezing the three controversial items, Mr Vajpayee was confident that he could silence his parivar hotheads with the promise of early realisation of their dreams of establishing a full-fledged BJP government. On the same logic, he was also forced to agree to both sides pushing their own ideas even while avoiding a confrontation.

At first it looked a neat arrangement by the two sides to keep different sections in good humour. Now a conflict between those who have benefited from the power sharing at the Centre and the more ideological, large have-nots attached to the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, BMS, etc has become unavoidable. If Mr Vajpayee's BJP could impose their own rules, the VHP side too could press its own programmes. For over a year, Mr Vajpayee could frustrate the VHP moves. But in October last at Goa, the VHP outfits finally decided to set a firm date for starting the construction after getting the formal endorsement of the dharma sansad. This conclave of the VHP sadhus is scheduled during the Kumbh Mela next month at Allahabad.

Later the VHP outfits had a meeting in Delhi at the former's headquarters to clear the Ayodhya project at the highest level. Apart from RSS chief, Mr K.S. Sudarshan, other RSS functionaries, especially those in charge of the project, were present. It endorsed the draft plan for beginning the construction of the temple as per the layout from the adjacent undisputed government land. Hundreds of artisans are cutting and carving stones for the temple at workshops in Rajasthan and in Ayodhya — enough for up to the floor of the temple. As the work on the halls etc progresses, it could quietly extend it to the sanctum sanctorum which falls on the disputed side. True, even for using the government acquired land, the VHP trust undertaking the work needs official sanction. As on earlier occasions, this is bound to create tension and violence. The VHP also plans to mobilise public opinion through yatras covering lakhs of villages.

A worried Mr Vajpayee did take up this new threat with the RSS chief and others this month at a special meeting at his Race Course Road residence. His subsequent endorsement of the RSS line on the temple construction had come a few days after this. He was also influenced by the impact of the hardening of the RSS position on the BJP. A larger chunk of the BJP's rank and file have begun feeling perplexed over the stagnation caused by the constraints of coalition. Recent elections revealed large erosion of the BJP's traditional upper caste base in its strongholds like Gujarat and UP.

The mandir episode, the first major controversy of political-ideological nature in the coalition, has brought to the fore many a home truth for Mr Vajpayee and his NDA allies. First, for the first time Mr Vajpayee himself has become the centre of controversy. In all earlier occasions, he kept himself above others and as an arbiter helped resolve the NDA's internal tussles. Often he was authorised to take a decision on disputes. Thus his unique position as a consensus Prime Minister and a venerable father figure within the NDA now stands considerably eroded.

Second, Mr Vajpayee has lost his much acclaimed liberal profile which enabled him to stand apart among a group of Hindutva supremacists. This image earned for him large support from the liberal polity. In early days of the NDA, Mr Vajpayee had a constituency of his own comprising youth in some places. As a bulwark against the Hindutva hotheads, even the regional parties had noticed this trend. True, in the subsequent elections this was found to be wearing off. Now by upholding the hardcore Hindutva line, he has lost his most impregnable protective political shield that had given him a special position in the pack.

Third, an immediate victim of Mr Vajpayee's shifting posture on Ayodhya is going to be the much hyped Nagpur ‘‘message’’. All laboured efforts by Mr Vajpayee and the new party chief, Mr Bangaru Lakshman, to woo the minorities and Dalits have come to a naught. The sudden spurt of attacks on the Muslims and Christian institutions — Ahmedabad, Surat, Rae Bareily, Moradabad, Neemghat in Patna, Ranchi, Tamil Nadu, etc — soon after the Vajpayee-speak reveals the sharp reaction from the sections the Nagpur ‘‘message’’ sought to woo.

Four, for the first time the NDA found itself sharply divided between ‘‘you’’ and ‘‘we'’. The secular allies — though they voted with the government — held separate meetings to chart out their own strategy before the NDA met. Ms Mamata had walked out and Mr Jaswant Singh had to broker a patch-up at the last moment. Barring Mr George Fernandes, all secular parties tried to isolate the BJP at the first NDA meeting to discuss the Vajpayee-speak. Those who have a strong separate identity like the TDP, the Trinamul Congress, the DMK, Mr Om Prakash Chautala, National Conference etc made it a point to repeatedly warn Mr Vajpayee that any more slide towards Hindu fundamentalism would not be tolerated. They are being forced to redraw the terms of their relationship with Mr Vajpayee.

Fifth, the tearing off the secular mask, the secular allies' continued discomfiture and the political churnings within the BJP, give a fresh opportunity to the Congress to regain its heterogenous constituency. Until a month back Mr Vajpayee has been making determined efforts to chip away this traditional Congress constituency by way of his role as the only person capable of protecting liberalism and secularism from the parivar outfits. Now the field is left free for the Congress and the state-level parties.

The tenacity with which the RSS outfits are going ahead with the hard Hindutva, the growing feeling in the BJP that the Vajpayee line benefits only a few lucky ones in the government while the whole party is losing its traditional Hindu, upper caste constituency, and the erosion of the support base in traditional strongholds — all this will make the Prime Minister's position more unenviable. 



Life exists only through death-that is the paradox. And one can become conqueror only by surrendering - that is the paradox. One can have only by losing; that is the paradox. And one can be full only when one is empty; that is the paradox.... Life is paradoxical; Truth is paradoxical.


To be depressed is a habit, to be angry is a habit, to be sad is a habit - and naturally they are very wrong habits. To be happy again is another habit. It is the same energy that becomes unhappiness or happiness; you just have change your habit, your outlook, your attitude, and immediately energy starts flowing into a new channel. So from this moment, become happy, become loving, become grateful, become celebrating.


Be in tune with nature and you will gain much.... may not be much financially but much spiritually... Exploiting nature is almost like incest - raping your own mother - because nature is your mother. And nature is always ready to give, but do not snatch! Persuade.... lovingly persuade.


When you are completely 'loose' you become porous. Doors and windows open in your being and god rushes into you. When you are tense you become hard and doors and windows all close. You contact with reality.... you gather a crust around yourself.


Real worship is out of love. It needs no church, it needs no temple. You can go into the temple, you can go into the church, but your house is as okay as any other place. It needs only a loving heart; that is the real temple.


God is everywhere. Whenever you look with deep loving eyes, he is revealed!.... Only people who have love flowing in their eyes can see God.... From everywhere comes his message, in every stone is his sermon, in every silence is his music; one just has to be lovingly receptive.


God is not separate from the world, god is the world... god is the world! So the world has to be lived in and loved.


A seed has to become a tree and man has to die to become god, but this death is simply a process of resurrection.

—Excerpted from Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh, The Zero Experience: A Darshan Diary. (March 1-3, 17, 1977).

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