Tuesday, December 26, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Mounting peace pressure
N encouraging scenario is emerging in Kashmir. Every party directly affected by the crisis there has been making concessions ever since India announced the Ramzan ceasefire — now extended till Republic Day, January 26 — in its operations against militants.

Costlier power
howl of protest is sure to erupt following the upward revision of power rates in Haryana. It always does. After all, who wants to pay more for anything than what he was doing a year or two ago? This indignation is reserved for the services provided by the government, not the consumer items whose prices go up every now and then. 

No to ceasefire offer 
will be no Christmas-New Year ceasefire in Sri Lanka. The government has formally rejected the LTTE offer saying it prefers talks first and then a temporary stop to fighting. There is an additional condition. Negotiation should reach a reasonable level of seriousness before the cessation of hostilities. This has surprised everybody and has split the government.


Red Fort breached
December 25, 2000
Hijacking regulation of metabolism
December 24, 2000
Slap and Samba case
December 23, 2000
It’s now R-Day ceasefire
December 22, 2000
A rotting scandal
December 21, 2000
Hell called Pak jails
December 20, 2000
Positive pointers
December 19, 2000
Reforms talk again
December 18, 2000
Global concern over children’s plight
December 17, 2000
A ritual with meaning
December 16, 2000

Al Gore lost or democracy?
by Pran Chopra
after week, one sat in dismay as the drama of the latest presidential election in America unfolded itself in hour after hour of television and yard after yard of print coverage. The dismay was not over the indecisive outcome of the poll. In fact, such close contests sometimes confirm the intensity of the electorate’s engagement with issues. 


The virtuous scribbler
by Mohinder Pal Kohli
KNEW Piyare Lal quite intimately. His life can be summed up in a few sentences. Born in a decadent Sahukar family, he studied up to matriculation in a school, 12 miles away from his village. He worked for a sugarcane contractor before joining the Army during World War II and had a brush with death in the Middle East.

Trends and pointers


Year of fading hopes, souring ties
by P. Raman 
with great hopes, the first year of the millennium ends with sad memories, rising disillusionment and fears of an overall economic decline. There has been much euphoria among the business, middle classes and aspiring sections over the emergence of what looked a homogeneous team under an inspiring leader.



Mounting peace pressure

AN encouraging scenario is emerging in Kashmir. Every party directly affected by the crisis there has been making concessions ever since India announced the Ramzan ceasefire — now extended till Republic Day, January 26 — in its operations against militants. Pakistan, which first responded by giving an assurance of maintaining maximum restraint on the Line of Control, has declared that it will not insist on its inclusion in a peace dialogue at the initial stage. The startling commitment from Pakistani ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf is accompanied by his appreciation of the steps taken by India to find a feasible solution to the whole issue in the valley. This has been elaborated by Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar who finds it proper for India to invite Hurriyat Conference leaders to hold discussions with them at the preliminary stage to prepare the ground for comprehensive India-Pakistan parleys with Kashmir as the core issue. One can notice a clear scaling down of the position Islamabad had taken in its December 2 formulation on the subject. Despite the encouraging development, one cannot believe that all of a sudden Pakistan's intentions have become pious. The truth is that it is under tremendous pressure from internal as well as external factors to help create an atmosphere for a return to the "path of sanity", the only alternative available today in the case of Kashmir, as Hurriyat chief Abdul Ghani Bhat admits it. With Pakistan's economic woes continuing to multiply, the military regime has perhaps realised that the people's growing anger at its failure to lessen their hardships can no longer be kept under control by using the intoxicant called Kashmir. There is a limit to everything, and so it is in the case of Kashmir. Islamabad also finds itself badly isolated in the international community after India's latest initiative.

India has not stopped at the ceasefire initiative. It has expressed satisfaction at the changed situation at the ground level (at the LoC and all over the valley). Home Minister L. K. Advani has been quoted as saying that India is thinking of resuming talks with Pakistan as its next step after assessing the response of Islamabad during the extended period of ceasefire. Of course, India is watching with utmost concern Pakistan's role in cross-border terrorism which will influence any move for peace negotiations. But its earlier insistence that there could be no dialogue so long as terrorist killings completely come to an end seems to be waning. New Delhi is also not opposed to allowing a delegation of Hurriyat leaders to visit Pakistan with a view to telling the militant leaders there that terrorism will take Kashmiris nowhere. So far as the question of talks between New Delhi and the Hurriyat leadership is concerned, Mr Advani's viewpoint is that the National Conference, the Congress, the BJP, the leftists and those exclusively representing Jammu and Ladakh will have to be associated with such an exercise. He, it seems, intends to convey that no single political force can be accepted as the sole representative of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. That is why he is not averse to inviting to the negotiating table even leaders of militant outfits like the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen if they shun the path of violence. Happily, all that is being said on Kashmir today indicates that everybody wants the pressure for peace to be maintained. It is not a small achievement for the NDA government in New Delhi, which can claim to have brought the yearning for peace into the focus. But India, being the biggest player, will have to ensure that the peace pressure increases as quickly as possible. 


Costlier power

A howl of protest is sure to erupt following the upward revision of power rates in Haryana. It always does. After all, who wants to pay more for anything than what he was doing a year or two ago? This indignation is reserved for the services provided by the government, not the consumer items whose prices go up every now and then. To that extent, the explanation of the Haryana Electricity Regulatory Commission (HERC) is not without merit. The increase is limited to less than 15 per cent and has come about after a gap of more than two years. And it is also claimed to be the lowest hike in the last eight years. In this period the prices of most of the inputs have risen and if basic laws of economics are to be respected, this has to be reflected in the tariff to some extent. That, unfortunately, is rarely done because political considerations come into play, at times to the exclusion of good sense. The power hike this time has come coupled with a subsidy of over Rs 200 crore for the farm sector. This will keep the traditional supporters of the Indian National Lok Dal in good humour somewhat. What it will do to the budgetary estimates is another matter. The increase has been criticised by not only the Congress and the Haryana Vikas Party but also by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is an ally of the ruling INLD. But the Chairman of the HERC, Mr V.S. Ailawadi, has blunted their fulmination somewhat by pointing out that none of the political parties came up with any affidavit when the public hearings on the proposed rate of tariff were being held in the state.

Mr Ailawadi has candidly pointed out that the consumers were having to pay for the failings of the power utilities. The Haryana Vidyut Prasaran Nigam has been pegging its transmission and distribution losses at a staggering 33 per cent, while the HERC says these may actually be as high as 40 per cent. Such a loss is unheard of in any other country and is only a way to hide the theft, corruption and inefficiency that plague the utilities. Such a sorry state of affairs exists not only in Haryana but also all over the country. Apparently, the hesitant and perfunctory corporatisation has not improved things much. The name has changed but not the mindset. Till a lot of managerial and attitudinal changes are brought about, the power utilities may not find themselves out of the red. The rationalisation of tariff has to move in step with the rationalisation of the functioning of the organisations. Influential political leaders like the Haryana Finance Minister, Prof Sampat Singh, have been saying that the age-old system of public sector working has to be shed and a corporate style of functioning introduced. What is to be done is well settled. It is only a question of when. 


No to ceasefire offer 

There will be no Christmas-New Year ceasefire in Sri Lanka. The government has formally rejected the LTTE offer saying it prefers talks first and then a temporary stop to fighting. There is an additional condition. Negotiation should reach a reasonable level of seriousness before the cessation of hostilities. This has surprised everybody and has split the government. There was much speculation when the Tamil Tigers said there would be no fighting for one month from the midnight of December 24-25. The announcement came from the LTTE office in London at a time when President Chandrika Kumaratunga was there for treatment of her eye problem. It led to speculation that back channel diplomacy had been at play and she had given her nod. The government is now very eager to correct the impression and hence the statement pointedly says that it has been cleared by the President. The rigid stand has dismayed moderate Tamil groups, frustrated the efforts of Norwegians to broker peace and exposed the confusion and conflict within the Cabinet. Doves had vociferously welcomed the ceasefire proposal, thinking that this time the chances of peace were bright. The army is buoyant and has recaptured some of the posts it had earlier lost to the Tigers. International opinion is sharply turning against the guerrillas and there is a chorus for across-the-table negotiations leading to an agreement. Senior officials from the USA and Britain have come to Colombo on morale-boosting visits and Norwegian chief mediator Erik Solheim has even managed to get photoghraphed with LTTE supremo Prabhakaran in a jungle hideout. All this raised visions of early talks and even early peace. This particularly stemmed from the military success against the Tigers and the recovery of the bodies of more than a dozen child guerrillas, indicating that Prabhakaran was running out of volunteers or keeping adult fighters in reserve. Is the government intent on inflicting a defeat on the battlefield or is it wary of a Sinhala backlash if it were forced to make concessions which are inevitable during peace discussion?

The reason behind the rejection seems to be the deep mistrust the government has about Prabhakaran’s intentions. In the past he had waved the ceasefire olive branch just after military reverses, the government had grabbed it with enthusiasm allowing the LTTE leader to regroup and rearm his men and then call off both talks and ceasefire. He had done this at least thrice. This time too the sequence is the same. He has received a few telling knocks and needs time to buy weapons and train new recruits. So the wily supremo tried to turn the table on the government by seemingly bowing to international demands for talks. This time, however, the government has refused to walk into the trap even if it means losing the goodwill of a few friendly countries. Not only that. The army has continued its operations even after the London announcement of a ceasefire. Nothing can be so revealing of the official thinking as talking through the gun. There will be regret in several quarters like the British government whose junior Foreign Minister had welcomed the ceasefire and asked the government to start talking immediately. In the midst of this chattering, the silence from New Delhi is meaningful. After the April fiasco when it was all set to evacuate the Sri Lankan soldiers from the Jaffna peninsula as though the LTTE had already taken it over, the Indian government is anxious not to commit another blunder. Also it seems to be busy with its own ceasefire in the Kashmir valley. Supporters of Sri Lankan peace will like to believe that one ceasefire deserves another and the government must use whatever clout it still enjoys to gently prod the Sri Lankan government to the negotiating table. 


Al Gore lost or democracy?

by Pran Chopra

Week after week, one sat in dismay as the drama of the latest presidential election in America unfolded itself in hour after hour of television and yard after yard of print coverage. The dismay was not over the indecisive outcome of the poll. In fact, such close contests sometimes confirm the intensity of the electorate’s engagement with issues. The dismay was over the way America went about dealing with the problem, betraying democracy by stultifying the voters’ choice instead of liberating it from arbitrary deadlines.

What was on display was evidence that the world’s most powerful democracy was not uplifted by a healthy and effectively engaged public opinion. That seems strange to say of America, the most media-driven country. But it did happen that, apart from the voters directly affected in Florida, the American public in general, mesmerised by the drama enacted in — and by — the courts, failed to hammer home the two most important facts. One, a flawed — twisted? — voting procedure had failed to register the vote of a large number of voters. Two, their number was large enough to make Mr Al Gore the President, not Mr George Bush.

Even the highest judicial body in America, the Federal Supreme Court, surrendered to this limitation. When the case went to it the court titled it as “Gore vs Bush”. But that was not the issue. The issue was how to render justice to those crucial number of voters who had been denied their right to vote despite their effort to cast it, and how to make the final verdict conform to the preference of the majority. The court did not deny that an injustice would be done to those who would in effect be disfranchised. But its judgement only reinforced the Bush camp’s self-seeking argument that there was no time left for due justice because some procedural deadlines had to be respected, never mind the respect due to the voters’ rights.

It is not surprising that four out of the nine judges bemoaned the fact that the Federal Supreme Court’s “reputation for impartiality has been compromised”, and the electorate “would never know who it had elected as President”. But the effect goes beyond that. America has given itself a “lame-duck” President. Not Mr Clinton for his remaining few weeks but Mr Bush for his whole term, because he not only lacks the mandate of a proven majority but only has the mandate of voters who are convincingly suspected to have been in minority. This has happened because of the failure of the Florida process, and the unbending reluctance of the state’s administration, to count two kinds of votes. First, called “dimple” votes, those in which the voting machine did not fully pierce but only dimpled the place where the voter tried to indicate his preference by cutting a hole in the right position. Second, “chad” ballots, in which the hole occurred but only partially. When it appeared that Mr Bush would become President, largely on account of a judgement of the Federal Supreme Court which, in effect if not by intention, would be partial to Mr Bush, a prankster’s poster declared him to be the President of Chad, one of the states in Africa in which unsavoury things have happened.

In any worthwhile democracy the remedy for any malfunctioning of the voting mechanism (even assuming it was unintentional but all the more so if it was not) would have been to adjust procedures on the side of the voters who were threatened with disfranchisement. India’s Election Commission has often insisted, and ensured, that where the prescribed process can be shown to have malfunctioned it must be rectified and repeated, to the extent of a re-poll where needed, except if it is obvious that even if all the denied voters had voted against the leading candidate he would have won, in which case he could be declared elected. But that was not so in Florida.

First, what happened there was not entirely free of suspicion. The administrative machine in America, including the electoral staff, is the creature of the party in power, and that is by design, not by the scope for the party to manipulate it, as in India. The design operates even more clearly in states than at the federal level, and perhaps still more clearly in a state like Florida than, say, in New England. The head of the administration in Florida, elected by the Republican Party, is a younger brother of the Republican candidate, Mr George Bush. He had assured the elder brother, on television, that he need not worry about Florida; it would be delivered to him even though conspicuous parts of the Florida electorate were traditionally Democratic. And when the outcome of the vote became doubtful, the Florida Republicans announced that the voters’ verdict could be replaced by a verdict of the Florida legislature, which has a Republican majority. The date set for this intervention by the state legislature is one of the deadlines which the Federal Supreme Court weighed against the rights of the voters.

Second, the number of ballots which remained undeciphered because of the flaws in the voting process was many times bigger than the margin by which Mr Bush was leading over Mr Gore in the deciphered ballots. Third, the flaws turned out to be because of flawed voting machines. Fourth, the Democrats pointed out that the flawed machines were disproportionately numerous in areas which had high concentrations of the relatively disadvantaged and non-white voters, who usually vote for Democrats. Fifth, on this plea the Democrats obtained from the Florida Supreme Court a more careful re-examination of these ballots. Sixth, this re-examination revealed a trend so decidedly in favour of Mr Gore that, if allowed to proceed, it would have given him a majority of the Florida vote, and with that the whole electoral college of the state, and with that the presidency. Seventh, as the Democrats demanded re-examination the remaining ballots which, being without the full hole, had not been counted, the Republicans countered with the demand — more a threat — that as the re-counts were laborious and time-consuming Florida’s electoral college should be elected by the state’s (Republican majority) legislature.

The obvious answer to the problem of deadlines would have been to let the concerned Florida counties continue to re-examine the uncounted ballots, which they had been doing fast enough to be on target, and to examine their admissibility if and when the occasion arose for counting them. But the Federal Supreme Court suspended the count for three critical days, and thus ensured the success of the argument of the Florida administration that there was no time left to right the wrong that would be done to the concerned communities, most of them non-white and disadvantaged. As a consequence, it might not be possible now for future scholars and historians to invoke the First Amendment and to discover what was the actual vote.

To the extent that the Supreme Court depended on any principles at all, it depended on two. First, the principle of “equal protection”, and second the principle of “safe haven.” Both sounded lofty, as the court projected them. But neither was relevant to the case, and each aggravated the injustice the court did to the highest principle in democracy: that the result must truly ascertain and reflect the voters’ verdict.

The purpose of “equal protection” is that all voters should have the benefit of the same protection which is extended to any voter for safeguarding his rights as a voter. On the face of it, this meant that if the votes of any Florida voters were going to be checked in order to give a second chance to any voter whose ballot had remained doubtful as it came out of the counting machine, then the votes of all voters who had used similar machines must be recounted too. But, as in the Indian practice, this needs to be done only in the voting precincts and constituencies in which the difference between the vote share of the candidates is such that it could be overturned in a recount in case all the doubtful votes went in favour of the losing candidate. The court had access to all the information it needed for deciding whether there were any other constituencies also, apart from the obvious ones in Florida, in which the available verdict was similarly vulnerable.

But instead of using that information, it decided that such a protection would be too extensive to be provided in time for a deadline fixed in Florida under the “safe haven” clause. But in that case it should have adjusted the date instead of applying it in a way which would make the defeated candidate an unavoidable winner. The haven clause means that if the results of the poll in a state cannot be determined within a specified date — December 12 in the case of Florida — then the legislature of that state can allot its electoral college to one or the other candidate, regardless of the result of the popular vote.

But, in the first place, this provision is meant to be used in such cases in which a natural or unnatural calamity can so interfere with the results of a poll as to make them irreparably defective and unreliable. In the second place, the choice of the US President, meant to be made by the American people as whole, had come to depend in this case on who got the Florida college. If it went to the candidate who had lost the nation-wide popular vote, as Mr George Bush clearly had, and had also lost the Florida popular vote, which he was widely suspected to have lost, then the haven clause would in this case mean that the Florida legislature would override the national popular vote and probably the Florida popular vote as well. In the third place, December 12 marks only a procedural stage in the Florida calendar and is not nationally binding in constitutional terms.

Therefore, the Supreme Court should have adjusted the deadline instead of handing over the presidency to the defeated candidate, and all the more so since it was clear that the recount in the concerned counties, which the Florida Supreme Court had ordered, would have been completed well in time if the Federal Supreme Court had not ordered that it be suspended for those crucial three days or so which it gifted to Mr Bush.

It will be a matter of speculation for some time as to how the doubtful legitimacy of the victory conferred on Mr Bush will affect the working of the Bush presidency at home or abroad. His first senior appointments show an effort to reach out to American blacks and the Hispanics, who had most reason to be annoyed about what happened in Florida.


The writer is a former Editor of The Statesman. 


The virtuous scribbler
by Mohinder Pal Kohli

I KNEW Piyare Lal quite intimately. His life can be summed up in a few sentences. Born in a decadent Sahukar family, he studied up to matriculation in a school, 12 miles away from his village. He worked for a sugarcane contractor before joining the Army during World War II and had a brush with death in the Middle East. After demobilisation he did small jobs, saw the great divide of 1947 and was a keen observer of many a political twist of independent India. He died in June, 1974.

A responsive mind, he was addicted to writing regularly. I happened to go through his Roznamcha (diary) written in Urdu. Rather trivial, but incisive and amusing, the entries reflect the mind of the man who was great in his smallness. Here is a loose translation of a few picked up at random:


Woke up early at 4 to catch the first train to Jalandhar, to receive Chanan Ram coming from Multan. He did not come. Wasted two annas on fare and came back to the village on foot in the afternoon.


Pakhar paid four annas as interest to Bhaiya but started weeping on coming out of our haveli. Told me that he had no money to buy medicine for his ailing son. I stole four annas from the steel box and gave Pakhar. God, forgive me for stealing.


The whole convoy was stuck in the sandy desert (in Iraq) because a gun car would not move despite great efforts of the accompanying mechanical engineers. I saw a hole in the carburettor, took out a thread from my turban and pushed it into the hole with a match stick. It worked. Next day I was made a Lance Naik. God is great. He favoured a small man.


Great are the Irani Sikhs who extended hospitality to some 300 Punjabi soldiers in Teheran for 10 days before we returned to India.


Went to the city along with Rulda, Chhajju, Saudagar, Ram Nath and Jaani. Listened to the fiery lectures of some pucca Gandhians. Were pleased and inspired when they said that Pakistan would be created on their dead bodies. God bless them.


Just came back from Lahore. Everybody there talks about Pakistan. Our leaders are true or the masses are true. All are confused.


Took with us basketful of rotis and buckets of daal for distribution among the refugees from Rawalpindi. They stood in a queue. Each got two chapatis and some daal. I recognised a young lad trying to conceal his first share and spreading the other hand for an additional one. I slapped him. He said: “Give me one more slap, but please give me two chapatis more”. I gave him more. Tears welled up my eyes. Dilawar, Altaf and Jaani have migrated to Pakistan. My only satisfaction is that I could protect them as long as they were with me.


Jawahar Camp, Gandhi Camp, Bhargava Camp — all in the names of great leaders who never wanted Partition. Sad day indeed.


Nathuram Godse killed the great Mahatma. I wept the whole day. In fact, he had already been killed morally by our power-hungry leaders.


No permanent job for me. All night I worked in the ice factory and watched the formation of ice blocks. No duty is ugly. No duty is impure. Even Vyadh became a saint.

Purchased monthly rations from Gurdial. I know his rates are higher and he weighs less. Is it not enough that he gives things on credit?


Prime Minister Shastri is dead. A little man but large of heart, and of sublime humility. Bad luck for the country.


It is unfortunate that the Prime Minister berated Jayaprakash Narayan rather angrily. The loss of temper is the loss of face. Dark days are ahead. But I believe that somewhere in the darkest night a candle glows.


One day before he died peacefully, he wrote: “Distributed sweets among children. Lied to my wife that the only fiver I had, was picked. Why did I tell a lie? I do not know. My friend Darshan Singh from America wrote to me that I was an Ajaatshatru. But I think the most enviable title is that of an honest man”.

A humble, charitable, virtuous scribbler indeed.


No-torture campaign seeks support

Amnesty International has received valuable support to end torture against Thai people in Thailand. The move was launched in Thailand to coincide with the launch of a similar programme in 60 other countries.

The campaign received the support of no less a person than, the Thai Minister of Justice, Mr Suthas Ngernmuen. He signed his name in the book pledging his support for the “We’re against torture” Campaign. He went further by placing a yellow strip with the slogan “Torture Free Zone” around his Ministry’s logo signifying a commitment to eradicate torture from all the agencies of the ministry.

Mr Saovanee Limmanoni, acting director of Amnesty International, Thailand, said that the campaign, which will continue in Thailand till September next year, intends to seek the support of agencies like schools, prison and police stations in removing all forms of torture from the country. Members of the general public were also invited to participate in the programme by signing their names in the book.

In an attempt to lobby for support from the government, Mr Saovanee said that procedures, laws and international conventions already existed and the government could use them as a basis for eliminationg torture from Thailand. (WFS)

SUVs more dangerous

Pedestrians who are struck by one of the many large sport utility vehicles (SUV) found on American roads are more likely to sustain severe injuries or be killed than those who are hit by other types of motor vehicles, according to researchers.

“When we compared SUVs to conventional cars we found that there was a compounded effect based on larger mass and higher speed that made the injuries sustained by the pedestrian worse,” said study lead author Michael Francisco Ballesteros.

Ballesteros is from the department of epidemiology and preventive medicine at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He presented his findings at a recent American Public Health Association conference held in Boston, Massachusetts.

The investigators analysed records collected by the Maryland state police records concerning all in-state front-end accidents between 1994 and 1998 involving one SUV or standard automobile and one pedestrian.

Ballesteros and his team found that more fatalities and disabilities resulted from accidents involving SUVs. They also noted that while fewer accidents overall occurred in areas with lower posted speed limits, this connection was strongest for SUVs. For all cars, the higher the speed limit where the accident occurred, the more severe the injury—a fact that was magnified when an incident involved an SUV.

The researcher likened a collision between a vehicle and a pedestrian to a two-car crash, where one car is larger than the other. ``The pedestrian is a stripped down version of an occupant in a smaller car, in that he or she has absolutely no protection,’’ Ballesteros told Reuters Health. ``And it’s a known fact that when two cars hit, the larger car offers more protection for the person.’’

Ballesteros added that redesigning SUVs so that they bear lighter overall weight while providing for more flexible front-end equipment might help reduce the severity of injuries when an accident occurs. But he suggested that there is no substitute for raising public awareness of the need for vigilance when crossing streets. (Reuters)

Adolescent sexuality

Edith Versoza, is a 17-year-old volunteer working with the Women’s Health Care Foundation in the Philippines.

Versoza started work with the Foundation when she was 15 years old and discusses issues like gender equality, adolescent sexuality and also sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and teenage pregnancies with youngsters from her age group.

The Women’s Health Care Foundation holds small group discussions, symposiums and visits youth clinics to discuss these issues. Though the Foundation deals with women and also tackles issues like drugs and alcohol, it lays emphasis on issues connected with sex — which Versoza says are often ignored.

Working as a volunteer in this field is not easy for Versoza because of her religion. Says she: “Because artificial contraceptives are supposed to be prohibited, it is difficult to talk about these methods. Pills are considered forbidden because they are believed to cause abortions. Some people use them to induce an abortion instead of preventing a pregnancy and when this happens, we are the ones who get blamed. The fault isn’t ours, but of the persons who misuse contraceptives.”

Versoza’s work with teenagers should be viewed in the light of alarming statistics in the Philippines, where 2.4 per cent of teenage girls in the 15 to 19 years age bracket have one child each and contraceptive prevalence in the country is the lowest amongst this age group. (WFS)


Year of fading hopes, souring ties
by P. Raman 

Heralded with great hopes, the first year of the millennium ends with sad memories, rising disillusionment and fears of an overall economic decline. There has been much euphoria among the business, middle classes and aspiring sections over the emergence of what looked a homogeneous team under an inspiring leader. The NDA, swiftly formed the previous year, looked like giving fresh ideas and new remedies for all ills. Unlike the laborious debates on the UF's common minimum programme, the National Agenda was signed almost overnight.

For most part of the year, everything seemed to work smoothly. The whole sentiment was that of triumph and a firm trust in the liberal Prime Minister's ability to steer clear of troubles. Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee had emerged as the sole leader of the entire NDA, including that of the allies who left everything to his discretion. Every time the RSS outfits talked of the Hindutva line, Mr Vajpayee's stature as a bulwark against the religious extremism soared. In the early days of the honeymoon, even Ms Mamata Banerjee took him as her guru. Arranging a meeting with Mr Vajpayee had become the panacea for all troubles within the NDA. Everything was decided informally after a telephone talk with the Prime Minister or his emissary. Ironically, barring the RSS and its Swadeshi Jagran Manch, none of the BJP allies had bothered about the policy decisions.

How then this cordial and informal arrangement — which at some stage looked like a model coalition — collapse all of a sudden? Why did the sweet smiles and perfect relations lose their sheen, and was replaced by acrimony and assertion by the allies? Even in the third quarter of the year, few in the Opposition and the ruling alliance had expected that any NDA constituent would rise up against the BJP with such vehemence. The atmosphere of confrontation came so sudden that the senior leaders of the BJP and its secular allies seem to be at a loss to find out what really went wrong.

The fault is not with the stars nor with the intransigence of the parivar, Mr Vajpayee or his secular regional allies. It has been due to excessive reliance on a carefully crafted and marketed myth that all previous coalitions failed due to the absence of an ‘‘able and stable leader.’’ Attached to this has been another theory that there should always be one domineering party within the coalition that could make the ‘‘disruptive’’ Janata parivar irrelevant. The longevity of the Left coalition in West Bengal has been cited to prove the point. The whole Vajpayee project has been assiduously built on this premise. Once these three conditions are fulfilled the stability and efficiency of a coalition could automatically be ensured.

The BJP had placed so much faith in such faulty formulations that its political managers did not even think it necessary to discuss the government's important policies and programmes among the NDA partners — something very crucial for the success of any coalition in a country like India. It thought personalised public relations like making a Chief Minister's son or nephew Union Minister or helping out their friends in their business would be a substitute for healthy consultations and mature political relationship. For a long time, the coalition was called the ‘‘BJP and its allies’’. It got the name NDA much later. The BJP had made it a point that consultations should always be bilateral, i.e. separately with each ally —and not in a coordination committee.

It was thought that Mr Vajpayee's Indira-style authoritarian pre-eminence within the NDA would automatically enforce discipline and his popular appeal would bring in votes for the entire NDA. Sadly, both these theories collapsed at the altar of India's great diversity. BJP leaders like Mr L.K. Advani and Mr Pramod Mahajan often attribute the failure of the 1977, 1989 and 1996 experiments to too much of ‘‘unnecessary’’ discussions among the partners which had formalised dissensions. A series of open conflicts within the NDA in the post-surgery period should convince the BJP leaders that neither strong brand loyalty, public relations nor political marketing can provide a durable coalition.

The secret of Left coalitions can be traced to the homogeneity of its constituents and its proven crisis-resolution mechanism based on pre-discussion, rather than post-persuasion, on crucial issues at its coordination panel. Mr Jyoti Basu's pre-eminence and CPM's domination were only contributory factors. Unlike the NDA, all Left Front partners shared a broadly common ideology, policy frame and functional style. From the beginning, the BJP managers had ignored this crucial factor. Lack of coordination and cohesion has been the root cause of the increasing conflicts and confrontations within the NDA.

Already, serious damage has been caused to the system by the practice of personalised political deals and politicisation of federal support to the states. A remarkable aspect of our regional parties have been that none of them really had any regionalistic agenda. In effect, they are provincial parties with a strong national perspective. During the earlier coalitions the same parties had taken care not to rake up provincial demands to gain political leverage. The Vajpayee Government's strategy of earning the regional allies' support through direct political deals has brought about a very dangerous situation. Mamata had insisted on wresting the Railway Ministry with the proclaimed purpose of doing favours to her state and thus help strengthen her vote bank. She presses for her own West Bengal plan as a price for the support.

On the eve of the Bihar elections, Mr Vajpayee filled his ministry with a large number of MPs from the State in the hope that this would enhance the NDA's chances against Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav. The urge to please the allies have led to curious situations. Everyone knows that the best way to get a demand approved or to frustrate a move is to do it through Hyderabad or Calcutta. Mamata and Mr Chandrababu Naidu can get anything done. Thus the Vizag plant and West Bengal PSUs are safe from the Disinvestment Minister's axe. A threat by the normally friendly Mr Badal had forced Mr Vajpayee to buy damaged foodgrains at higher rates. This sparked regional feelings in neighbouring Haryana where too the Prime Minister had to bend rules.

Mr Chandrababu Naidu has a case when he sought similar concessions for his state and threatened to strike at Mr Vajpayee. Why his State alone was singled out by the FCI? He got it. But in the process a whole set of regionalistic sentiments had to be aroused. This happens when the Government gropes without any consensus-based policies and shows signs of weakness. The ugly kind of politicisation often leads to rampant regionalism and punishment of an entire State. West Bengal suffered the worst flood in recent memory. But Mr Vajpayee has denied them the required aid just to please Mamata. Bihar, another Opposition State, suffered a similar fate. It is high time for the Prime Minister to realise the dangerous regional backlash from such outright discrimination.

Each Minister presses his or her agenda with hardly anyone bothering to evolve a common approach. Ms Mamata Banerjee's agenda confines to West Bengal and all her programmes are aimed at strengthening her position against the Left Front. Now she wants a populist Rail Budget to please her Bengal voters. Many of her colleagues had complained to Mr Vajpayee about diversion of railway resources from their states to West Bengal. Just this month Ms Uma Bharti alleged that Madhya Pradesh suffered due to Mamata's parochial priorities. Of late, Mr Fernandes' priority is saving cricketer Ajay Jadeja. Now even Ms Uma Bharati seems to have fallen in line because everything is decided by the strength of lobbying.

Just a fortnight back, a bitter fight between two women ministers, Mamata and Maneka, over a train that was carrying cows to West Bengal had reached the Prime Minister. The animal lover wanted to stop the train but Mamata would not allow. At last the latter won because she had more MPs with her. Last month, while one set of Ministers under Mr Vajpayee were according an official reception to Rangoon's junta leaders in Delhi, the rebel Burmese group was functioning from its full-fledged office in the Defence Minister's bungalow.

The government's indecision and utter mismanagement of the economy has made the year-end really pessimistic. Prices are rising unchecked. Industrial production has badly slipped with the business reluctant to invest. Even foreign investment has gone down. The industry has raised alarm about the flooding of the market with cheap foreign consumer goods. The government finances are not better. The only silver lining has been a rise in exports. But that has been due to the big fall of the rupee. Foodgrains are rotting in FCI godowns while the downtrodden in rural areas go half-starved.

What is still worse, no one in the government or industry has any idea as to how to overcome the impending crisis. The ‘‘more-reform’’ mantra hardly inspires them. There is a marked change in the tone of the discourse at the apex body meetings. Of late, Mr Vajpayee reads from listless texts at such conclaves and repeats old rhymes like cutting government flab and increasing productivity as ways to tide over the gathering crisis. In the midst of politicking, Ministers have no time to spare for settling popular agitations. Talks on the postal strike began ten days after the strike began. Other sections like the power staff and bank employees are also on the warpath. But few in the government bother about them. The emergence of what Ms Mamata Banerjee calls mahajot within the NDA — a rather new development — has made it worse.


Spiritual Nuggets

Just as the light of the sun invigorates flowers and fruit, man draws sustenance from the power of his inner self. He who is cynical, goallness and despondent fails to do great deeds in life. He proves useless for himself and for society like a leave-less tree. Tog gain inner power one must resort to such auto suggestions as "I am a part of God"; "God's divine power lies in me"; "God is always with me"; "I am working on behalf of God". He who surrenders all his deeds at the feet of the Lord, remains calm and balanced and is pervaded by His spirit all the time, achieves thaumaturgic strength within.

— Krishnananda Shastri, Mantraanushthan padyatih


There is no power greater than courage. A courageous person can achieve everything in life. By way of enterprise he can change his fate, his destiny. On the other hand a person devoid of courage and having a malignant mood spoils his work and invites trouble for himself. Courage is the source of all types of wealth; courage and enterprise one must have concentration of mind, inward happiness, a sense of inner power, physical strength and the art of preserving vigour.

— From Dr Manjula Sehdeva, Maharishi Valmiki Ke Upadesha


Maintain in your soul, O! man,

Longing for meeting the beloved.

Fix your gaze in the eyes of the murshid,

But conceal it from others.

Maintain an urge within yourself

For merger of the beloved with yourself,

Take very fast steps

For binding your mind with the beloved,

Fix your thought firmly

I remembering the beloved, says Nimana.

— Nimana Fakir, a woman sufi saint, Nimanal Maan


I am in love with Shyam Sunder,

Shyam Sunder also called Krishna.

He has rings in ears and flute on lips,

His face radiates with the charm of the flute.

He is Madan Mohan with the flute,

He grazes cows in Gokul in his sport.

Hearing the flute I have renounced my heart,

Miskeen is united with Ghanshyam by the flute.

— Sai Hadi Baksh, Miskeen Namo

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