Sunday, March 25, 2001,
Chandigarh, India

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


The rise of extra-constitutional authority
V Gangadhar
N a democracy, presidential or parliamentary, the President or the Prime Minister, along with members of the Cabinet are supposed to be in charge of running the government. It is their job and they are to be held responsible for the same.

Corruption in the Army: not as bad as it seems
Harwant Singh
EHELKA's revelations have thrown up a whole range of issues, such as the selection and evaluation system of military equipment, the role of middlemen, probity of defence officials connected with purchase, political influence of the ruling party in these transactions and the extent of executive accountability of the Defence Minister and perhaps the government as a whole in these sleazy deals.




After the tehelka dust settles, let the public decide
Rakshat Puri
HE so-called exposure by of corrupt elements in the farcical set-up that passes for a “political system” has created furore and confusion everywhere — in Parliament, among politicians, in the political parties, in the public, in the media, and in the security agencies.


All the Prime Minister's men
RIME Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee does not want to give the impression that he is caving in to pressure from either the Sangh Parivar or the hawks within the BJP who want to see the back of Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra and the OSD, Economic Relations, Mr N.K.Singh in the PMO. 

  • By George!

  • Mamata as engine driver

  • Little at stake for BJP

  • Tailpiece


Harihar Swarup
The man who leads the Taliban
set of three photographs tell so explicitly the story of one of the worst vandalism of the world. The first shows a ball of fire rising below the Bamiyan Buddha; the second depicts billowing clouds of smoke rising over the arch where the 170-foot Buddha stood for centuries and the third a gray stone wall.


Humra Quraishi
Vienna orchestra to play for the quake-hit
HERE’s never been such a busy week... Foremost support for the Gujarat earthquake victims is continuing and this time it is the Vienna Chamber Orchestra that’s been here for this cause. 


  • AND MORE...



The rise of extra-constitutional authority
V Gangadhar

IN a democracy, presidential or parliamentary, the President or the Prime Minister, along with members of the Cabinet are supposed to be in charge of running the government. It is their job and they are to be held responsible for the same. But over the years, both in India and the USA, two of the largest democracies, the role of the Cabinet is getting diminished and its powers usurped by the so-called special advisers, aides or members of the Prime Minister’s office.

This piquant and undesirable development was debated freely following the release of the ‘Tehelka’ tapes following which there was an endless uproar for the sacking of the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary, Mr Brajesh Mishra and another member of the PMO, Mr N. K. Singh. Believe it not, when politicians had been urged not to hold dual posts, Mr Mishra was also designated the National Security Adviser. The dual responsibility made him more powerful than most of the ministers.

We had been discussing the role of the PMO, which came to the limelight from the time of Indira Gandhi. The office was run by eminent bureaucrats like Mr L. K. Jha, who remained what they were, eminent bureaucrats. They did not interfere with the duties of the Cabinet. Indira Gandhi no doubt consulted them, but took her own decisions. Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, unfortunately, is no Indira Gandhi and it is generally accepted that he could be influenced at all levels.

The Indian political system hardly gives the leader of the House, the Prime Minister, the freedom to appoint ministers of his own choice. He had to be influenced by pulls from various directions — regional, caste, communal, linguistic and so on. This often results in mediocre people being appointed to hold important ministerial portfolios. The functioning of the government has suffered. In our political system, incompetent ministers seldom received the sack. They were protected by the cushion of their political clout..

Cabinet formation became more difficult when a coalition government came to power. Ever since the eclipse of the Congress party, the Central government had been in the hands of political groups which had nothing in common and came together only for the sake of holding power. The Prime Minister was under tremendous pressure to choose his ministers. Every group pulled in different directions, the different political parties in power, put forward the names of their own candidates for ministerial berths. No one cared for efficiency, merit or honesty.

If Vajpayee’s candid comments on his ministerial colleagues, could be heard, I am sure it would make shocking reading. But he is left with the Cabinet baby! This type of frustration lead to his leaning more towards the PMO, which was run by handpicked officials who owned him their personal loyalty, The Prime Minister was at ease in their midst, they talked and understood the same language. Political power shifted from the unruly, undisciplined Cabinet ministers who kept on making impossible demands on the Prime Minister. Everyone knew that the Prime Minister’s men decided all the major issues. Such unlimited power could easily be misused and lead to controversies. Mr Brajesh Mishra, for instance, is known to have his finger in every pie and wants to run the government single-handed. His interference with the running of the External Affairs Ministry and efforts to post his own men for all the key posts had been acknowledged. No doubt, when a national crisis dawned, the guns were drawn against Mr Mishra.

Can a presidential system of government avoid the rise to power of such extra-constitutional powers? The American President, who was elected directly by his people, certainly enjoyed more powers. He was free to choose members of his cabinet from any group. Thus the President of the USA could scout for talent from universities, industry, cultural field and the diplomatic circuit.

President John F Kennedy, a life-long Democrat, chose as his Defence Secretary, a staunch Republican, Mr Robert McNamara, who was the head of the Ford Motor Co. He appointed Prof John Kenneth Galbraith as his country’s ambassador to India.

But it was Mr Kennedy who enlarged the role played by the White House aides who were not members of the Cabinet but worked at a more personal level. The institution of the White House aides had existed before, during the presidency of Mr Dwight Eisenhower. But it was not a happy institution. Mr Sherman Adams, who was a close personal friend of the President had to resign for alleged corrupt practises. No wonder, Mr Eisenhower came to rely more and more on his cabinet members, particularly the notorious Cold War warrior, Mr John Foster Dulles.

The American system also posed certain constraints. While Mr Kennedy could appoint anyone he liked for Cabinet posts, he found impossible to dislodge men like FBI Chief, Mr Edgar Hoover and the CIA boss, Mr Allen Dulles, whom he had inherited from the previous administrations. Mr Hoover had a stranglehold on the FBI because he had dossiers on practically everyone in the government, which included details of sexual dalliances. Using crude blackmail and his clout with the extreme right wings in the country, Mr Hoover was in an unassailable position. He had taped evidence of the President’s numerous affairs with Hollywood stars and other pretty women. No wonder, Mr Kennedy had to handle him with kid gloves.

Perhaps that was one of the reasons, why Mr Kennedy packed his White House staff with intellectuals and liberals like Mr Theodore Sorensen, Mr Richard Goodwin, Mr Kenneth O’Donnell and old cronies from the Navy, Mr Paul Fay. These men had very little administrative experience but were totally loyal to the government. Mr Kennedy was also a ‘strong’ President who favoured his aides than some of the Cabinet members and Chief of Staff who had urged him to launch the ill-fated offensive against Cuba, the Bay of Pigs invasion, which failed miserably and made the USA the laughing stock of the world.

Yet the institution of the White House aides (like our own PMO) often caused embarrassment to the President. One of them, Mr Jenkins, who was caught soliciting for homosexual partners in a Washington DC public toilet, embroiled President Lyndon Johnson in a major controversy. Both Mr Ronald Reagan and Mr George Bush appointed White House aides who brought them no credit. More recently, Mr Bill Clinton, on the Whitewater issue, was badly served by his own group of White House aides.

While the Indian Prime Ministers and the American Presidents often felt they were bogged down by delays in cabinet decisions, they found it easier to work with their handpicked aides in the PMO or the White House. These aides had no political ambition but they basked in the glory of being in the political limelight. They posed no challenge to the political authority of the nation’s leader who could let off steam in their presence. One would love to hear Mr Vajpayee’s unexpurgated remarks on Ms Jayalalita and Ms Mamata Banerjee in his chat with the PMO officials.

A strong leader who was secure in power can handle such situations without any problem. But Mr Vajpayee knows he was batting on a sticky wicket. His allies in the government created more problems than those in the Opposition.

Under such circumstances, he could lean a bit too much on the ‘old faithfuls’ in the PMO and allow the Brajesh Mishras to run riot. He must learn to draw the line so that his aides will not embarrass him. And also keep out foster sons-in-law from taking decisions on behalf of the government.

The author is former Editor-in-Chief, Readers Digest.


Corruption in the Army: not as bad as it seems
Harwant Singh

TEHELKA's revelations have thrown up a whole range of issues, such as the selection and evaluation system of military equipment, the role of middlemen, probity of defence officials connected with purchase, political influence of the ruling party in these transactions and the extent of executive accountability of the Defence Minister and perhaps the government as a whole in these sleazy deals.

It has been known for a fairly long time that there are pockets of corruption and malfeasance in the defence services. But in scope, spread and scale it pales in front of what is prevalent in almost every facet of civil life. The military stands out in that corruption is unacceptable and is looked down upon and where detected, positive and purposeful action is initiated. On an average, 30 to 35 court marshals are held every year in corruption cases or for any infringement of financial regulations and those found guilty are sent to prison and/or cashiered. The future of many more found lacking in integrity is sealed. Yet, Tehelka selected the military to home on to and only defence deals became target when behind every conceivable deal or government transaction there is a stinking scandal. Be that as it may, we need to look into the issue exposed in the disclosures. For any transaction between two parties there has to be someone to facilitate the deal or, at best, represent the seller. How else can a foreign peddler of military or other goods to be sold to a government agency navigate his way through the bureaucratic jungle of the Government of India, where you and I can easily loose our way.

The Delhi scene was dominated by a handful of arms agents with the right political connections. They were ipso facto linked to be party in power. Then, in the 1980s, finding the proposition very lucrative, some retired defence officers joined the business. It was soon discovered that they were trying to cut into the business of regular ‘official’ agents. To put an end to this, Rajiv Gandhi (as an act of needless hypocrisy) imposed a ban on defence agents and, as a follow up to it, exemplary punishments were meted out to Larkin, Law and Jasbir. An old Army Headquarters telephone directory found in his possession was enough to send Lt-Col (retd) Jasbir Singh to prison. This ban on defence agents is ridiculous because unofficially they regularly interact with MoD officials to exchange information, discuss requirements and product pricing and at times even establish liaison with trials.

Remember Win Chadha in a group photograph with the trial team at the School of Artillery, Deolali? Hundreds of defence agents operate in India; about 80 as regular suppliers in Delhi itself. Ironically, our Supply Missions attached to our embassies in the UK and Washington, etc, officially continue to make purchases of defence equipment, especially for the DRDO, through Indian agents based in India. Defence PSIs that supply equipment to the military also openly use the services of agents of foreign companies. Many seem to infer from the Tehelka revelations that our systems and methods of evaluation and selection of military equipment leave scope for manipulation and fudging, resulting in malpractices and corruption on the part of those operating the system. Once the requirement for a particular type of weapon, equipment or ammunition—which cannot be developed by the DRDO—is accepted, it is made known to suppliers directly or through our embassies. A trial directive is made out based on the relevant General Staff Qualitative Requirement. Offers are vetted and equipment subjected to user trials as per the trial directive. Trials are normally conducted independently by at least three different Army commands (because of vastly differing terrain and climate conditions under which the equipment is to be deployed) and their findings and views in the chain of command recorded. At the same time DGQA, DRDO, EME and the respective user Directorate, record their independent findings and views. Often all or some of these activities are carried out concurrently, depending on the number of pieces made available for trials. The General Staff evaluation and recommendations are the final view of the Army and based on the trials and opinion of the commands and others and the Army Headquarters’ own inputs. Therefore, purchase of inappropriate equipment cannot take place. At the same time, no fudging in trial reports and General Staff evaluation is possible, nor can any one in the MoD later fool around with it. But, the MoD can put a case on hold for years or jettison it altogether, as has happened in a number of cases, and that is where speed money or Enron’s ‘education’ factor comes into play. In the case of the Bofors gun, it is believed that the MoD asked the Army Headquarters to have a fresh look at it’s preference of guns as it did not feel ‘safe’ to go in for the Bofors gun without change of preference in it’s favour, though this gun was always acceptable to the Army and the final selection would have rested on pricing, transfer of technology, ammunition supply, spares etc.

It would be seen that trial and evaluation procedures, methods and systems are sound and transparent enough. A dishonest operator can and will always find ways and means to influence the final decision basing on other related factors. Many a story from even the Akbar-Birbal episodes would prove the point. The focus should be to catch the wrongdoer, punish him swiftly and not further complicate the existing lengthy procedures. The presence of agents should not overly worry us. No agent can corrupt an honest officer or politician. Under normal circumstances, the Indian Army does not buy weapons, equipment and ammunition without proper evaluation and trials. In fact, the efficacy of the weapon, equipment and ammunition concerned in our setting, in terms of terrain, tactical environments, battle field milieu and shelf life, etc., has to be established and the same has to conform to our long-term equipping policy before the trial and evaluation is accepted or undertaken.

But any system is as good as those who operate it. Given the ingenuity, propensity and capacity of the Indian mind for corruption and the very remote possibility of being trapped, accompanied by the comforting feeling that even if caught an obliging investigating agency and a clever lawyer can get one off the hook, makes malfeasance and corruption a low risk but a highly profitable under-taking. While the system of selection of equipment is elaborate and fair, the “goodwill factor” and speed money or “education” of the babus and politicians concerned often help in smoothing the rough edges. Since the final “go-ahead” signal for purchase and price negotiations is in the hands of the MoD, that is where the maximum scope for corruption rests. At times, though not too frequently, conditions are contrived or get generated, as in the case of the Kargil conflict, to circumvent the mandatory requirement of trials and evaluation or seek the purchase of equipment which otherwise would not have been accepted. At other times, misplaced enthusiasm or officers’ petty loyalties to own arm or service comes into play to equip it with what is perceived to be the latest and most modern equipment. It is here as elsewhere that the General Staff of the Army has to step in to check inappropriate acquisition of weapons and equipment. That is one reason why only General Staff cadre officers need to occupy key positions of ADG, Weapons and Equipment, and ADG, Perspective Planning, etc.

Unfortunately, and for some unknown reason, this has not been the case, more so during the past one decade. The Indian Army’s inventory does have a fair sprinkling of ammunition and equipment purchased without due consideration and evaluation. It would be relevant to mention a few cases. In the seventies, APDS ammunition for T-54/55 tanks was purchased without trials. In subsequent trials it completely failed and became dead inventory. Perhaps the 155mm Krasnopol ammunition (possibly some other items as well) purchased in the wake of the Kargil conflict for Rs 150 crore may fall in the same category. The Army never considered this type of ammunition cost effective, because cheaper and better methods of engagement of targets have always been available. I recall that at one time there was great pressure to buy ‘influence anti-tank mines’ from France. In this case the E-in-C branch’s interest was guided by a desire to acquire the latest but the MoD had some other angle to the deal; not difficult to guess! While these had somewhat passed the trials, their efficacy in our setting could not be established. So I had declined to buy these. The next Deputy Chief, too, held the same view. But in his absence of 10 days’ leave the deal was clinched. When the MoD develops an interest in a particular item, files move at high speed. These mines bought at great expense are perhaps a dead inventory now. Stentor radars, Gaz navigation vehicles, tank fire-control system (TFCS) for Vijayant tanks, to mention only a few cases, fall in the same category. During the Sri Lanka operations, the then DGMO, in the presence of the COAS, demanded that we should acquire the hand-held radio sets in use with the LTTE, which were available in the Singapore market, for our infantry deployed in Sri Lanka as these were better than those with us (incidentally provided by Punwire, Chandigarh, and were giving reasonably good service). It was explained to the DGMO that those with the LTTE were not “military hardened” and that purchase could be undertaken provided he gave in writing that the requirement was operationally so urgent that it could not await trials. The demand was never repeated. In another case a joint secretary in the MoD called up to say that a company in Singapore had out-board motors (OBMs) which could be purchased to meet the Army’s long-standing shortage and possible floods that year and that trials need not be carried out. His interest in the purchase was obvious and the suggestion never accepted. These instances are noted to point out that the existing systems do have the necessary checks and balances.

The political party in power at the Centre has often used defence deals, and almost all other deals, to rake in funds for the party and, in the process, private pockets also get lined. When greed gets the better of judgement, slush money goes into private pockets as it happened in the case of the Bofors gun deal. When the cover gets blown and the sleaze and muck comes out in public view, at a scale uncovered by Tehelka, the minister concerned cannot escape responsibility. Much has been said about his good work in the ministry, both by himself and others. The facts point to the contrary. The anomalies arising out of the Fifty Pay Commission recommendations have not been resolved to this day, even after years of efforts of the Army Headquarters. I asked a PSO at the headquarters as to why the issues are not being progressed with the RM directly, he said the bureaucracy has placed him in quarantine and he does not see him, while we continue to put up with the ridiculous situation where a Brigadier gets more pension than a Major General. A jawan gets less than half the lowest pension given to a civil employee in this country and a cook with the Indian Antarctica team gets more than twice as much in allowances compared to a jawan at Siachen, whom the minister claims to have visited 18 times, ostensibly to boost his morale or perhaps to get publicity for himself. A jawan or an officer loosing his leg at Siachen from frostbite or those who suffered similar injuries during Kargil or elsewhere in J and K, get less disability benefits than a civil employee loosing it in a terrorism incident while proceeding even on LTC. The babus from his ministry that he sent to Siachen never went beyond Leh. Troops do not air their problems out of deference for rank and discipline, but they expect their officers to know these on their own, resolve the difficulties and look after their interests. However, the efforts of their officers at Delhi were always stonewalled by the MoD. The Defence Minister personally dishing out hospitals, compression chambers, etc, indirectly undermines the position of Army top brass as they are seen to be ineffective on their own. In the case of the sacking of Admiral Bhagwat, the minister could not reasonably justify his action and had merely become a handmaiden to the then Defence Secretary against whom the Delhi High Court had to pass some very damning strictures. The government’s dithering in accepting his resignation and later appointing him the NDA convenor is an affront to public opinion and political cussedness of a kind.

It can be said with a fair degree of fairness that in this all-pervasive climate of corruption in the country, only certain components of the defence services are in this game, that too marginally. That is one of the reasons why Tehelka’s expose and Army officers’ involvement in the murky dealings as portrayed in the tapes have caused, within the officer cadre of the Army, widespread shock, disgust and consternation. In one voice, the demand for the involved officers to face the full rigours of the military law has been raised. As opposed to this, every other group exposed in these tapes is working overtime to pull excuses and cover tracks. The investigating agency has given a wake-up call and provided an excellent opportunity to the Army (and the other two services as well as the nation) to ruthlessly root out corruption in every area of its’ functioning. The Army Chief has already set about the task in the right earnest and let others down the ladder join him in this crusade.

Finally, a more serious issue has emerged out of this crisis. For days the government suffered from inaction, if not paralysis, when faced with the Tehelka disclosures. A swift action to force the politicians concerned to resign, place affected officers under suspension and initiate investigation would have vastly mitigated the fall-out; instead, the Cabinet dithered and looked for excuses where none existed. If such a situation can palsy the system’s ability to act decisively, then how can it handle more time-sensitive exigencies arising in a nuclear scenario!


After the tehelka dust settles, let the public decide
Rakshat Puri

THE so-called exposure by of corrupt elements in the farcical set-up that passes for a “political system” has created furore and confusion everywhere — in Parliament, among politicians, in the political parties, in the public, in the media, and in the security agencies. The confusion and the furore were by no means unexpected. Opposition politicians and leaders, themselves mud-splattered from previous corrupt deals, began to sling mud at those in the ruling combine and to demand that the Government resign for its moral lapses..

The common man in all this tumult has yet to decide where to turn. There is anger and indignation at what has been and is happening in the higher echelons of a political “system” abused regularly for unwarranted and usually criminal party or individual self-gain; and also excitement over the possible turn that it may all take. If the Vajpayee Government does not act immediately, public anger and indignation will stale and become part of “custom”. The Prime Minister himself may in that case be splattered by the mud that is being thrown about. The farce that is the existing “political system” will fatten and flourish. Cynicism will grow.

Atal Behari Vajpayee has a rare opportunity to tear away the cover of false “democracy” that conceals the farce. “Acting immediately” would require more than ordering a judicial or other inquiry. If the intention indeed is to save the Defence Ministry and the other institutions and individuals from becoming “a shuttlecock tossed between allegations and explanations”, nothing less than the Government’s seeking a fresh mandate from the people will be effective.

In his statement last week, the Prime Minister noted that “throughout the hours of recording, no deal is actually struck. No Minister is involved. The boasts and allegations which the actors hurl are patently false. . . .” He added that “what has come into view goes beyond security; the ease with which persons posing as arms merchants gained access to our defence personnel and politicians shows how far the cancer has spread . . . . Leaders of all parties should sit together and initiate reforms across the whole range of our political and administrative life.” A good idea. But what about the public’s participation? The public’s participation can only come in an early election, conducted strictly by a rigorous election commission, in which candidates are screened for integrity, in which criminal elements are resolutely out, and in which party and political funding is checked and made transparent.

In the generally confused aftermath of the release of the tapes many voices are being heard, often talking unexpectedly at cross-purposes. For example, one of the reporters who was in the two-man exposure-team, Mathew Samuel, left for Kerala. In his hotel room at Thiruvananthapuram he is reported telling selected journalists that the website had much more material than had been released. He said a “senior Minister” was implicated in getting a contract for an Israel-based company from the Ministry of Home Affairs for border fencing and communication systems. Samuel also indicated that the tapes had altogether around a hundred hours, of which no more than about four or five hours had been released. Where are the remaining tapes? In whose possession?

Within hours of Samuel making his statement in Thiruvananthapuram,’s chief editor Tarun Tejpal denied it in Delhi. He said there was nothing more to what had already been released and that nothing more was coming. He was reported to have given a written apology to the Home Ministry. The internal discrepancy between journalists who have worked on the story together for months is almost sinisterly intriguing. It comes in the midst of rumours, speculation and unconfirmed reports about the inspiration of the’s enterprising endeavour. For example, as somebody has pointed out in a letter published by The Hindu, “a leading financial daily has reported that a bear operator under investigation for the recent crash holds over 30 per cent stake in tehelka. It is significant that recordings done months earlier were released on a Tuesday (last day of settlement in the National Stock Exchange), leading to a fall of over 300 points in the sensex”.

It is also pointed out that the release of the tapes has come at a time when the Hinduja brothers are here, in a difficult situation, when efforts are from all accounts under way to bail them out, and when Justice Agarwal in the Delhi High Court has reportedly asked the CBI if it is ready to prosecute them straight away or would prefer wait for the arrival of Quattrocchi from Malaysia. Questions are also being raised about the funding of the investigation by An interviewer asked Tejpal where he got “the money to pay all these bribes”. The simple and unconvincing reply was, “I paid from my news budget.”

Tejpal has alleged that the Prime Minister’s Office, especially the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary, Brajesh Mishra, is engaged in a slander campaign against him: “The evidence is out in the open . . . they are saying we have links with the ISI, Dawood Ibrahim, the Congress and Ketan Parekh. . . .” Curiously, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which has been described as “the ideological parent” of the BJP, has also almost simultaneously criticised the PMO.

K. S. Sudarshan was reported criticising the PMO and advising against any “extra-constitutional centre”; and suggesting that “decisions should be made by the Cabinet”. He did not name any particular person. He was reported, earlier, criticising Vajpayee for not heeding his advice —- later he said his views had been twisted. Sudarshan does not want the Vajpayee Government to resign. Reports indicated that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad too, like the RSS, was critical of the Vajpayee Government..

To further confound the confusion, suspicion has been voiced, in categorical terms, by leaders such as the president of the J-K National Panthers Party, Bhim Singh,. The Press Trust of India reports him as saying that the exposure is part of a “war of succession among NDA partners”: “It is a straight fight between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Home Minister L. K. Advani with the sole object of sidelining former Defence Minister George Fernandes who was getting closer to Vajpayee.” George Fernandes for his part has charged, in an interview by Karan Thapar in the BBC’s Hard Talk programme, that “manipulated and concocted” the tapes: “To what extent have they [the tapes] been manipulated —- manipulation is not the word, my belief is they have been concocted —- and I donon’t know what kind of crimes have been committed in the process!” Fernandes said he was considering whether to take to court on charges of defamation and libel. But stood by what its tapes had shown. Tarun Tejpal dismissed the threats of a defamation suit as “a typical reaction that politicians come up with when faced with authentic criticism and serious evidence.”

However, questions have been raised in other quarters about some parts of the tapes —- those dealing, for instance, with R. K. Jain, about whose status in the Samata party some uncertainty has been expressed (Jaya Jaitly stated that he had resigned from the partyy’s primary membership on Thursday last week), and with R. K. Gupta, who has been described vaguely as a “RSS trustee”. At a press conference on March 17, someone referred to “so many gaps that cannot be verified in the statements of treasurer of the Samata Party, R. K. Jain, and so-called RSS trustee R. K. Gupta”.

Aniruddha Bahal, one of the team, answered the question: “All those speaking, mainly Jain and Gupta, talked to Mathew Samuel first. Then they replicated these things, which are on tape, to me. Jain, for instance, is trying to impress me. And it’s only human memory. So if he had cooked up something when he was talking to Samuel, then he was trying to re-cook the story for me.” When asked if this meant that some of what they said had been cooked up, Bahal said: “I don’t know.” When asked if the facts given by Jain and Gupta had been verified, Bahal said: “It’s only the context in which the talk was happening that is important, not exactly what they said.” There was no explanation —- and none apparently was asked for —- about why the talk with Gupta and Jain had to be replicated. The entire episode seems getting murkier by the day.y.

In the circumstances, while Fernandes might advisedly take to court for defamation, the Prime Minister would do the country a great deal of good by immediately ordering a mid-term parliamentary election. In the obtaining socio-political circumstances, a judicial or other inquiry is unlikely to do effective good. (Asia Features)


All the Prime Minister's men

PRIME Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee does not want to give the impression that he is caving in to pressure from either the Sangh Parivar or the hawks within the BJP who want to see the back of Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra and the OSD, Economic Relations, Mr N.K.Singh in the PMO. Mr Vajpayee is also under criticism for the alleged ‘‘extra-constitutional authority’’ role being played by his foster son-in-law, Mr Ranjan Bhattacharya.

Deep down, sources say that the Prime Minister is convinced that he cannot retain his confidant Brajesh Mishra and superannuated ‘‘Nandu Singh’’ in the PMO for any extended length of time. The Prime Minister has made it a prestige issue that if he has to get rid of his own confidants then it is better also for him to give up the job as the country's Chief Executive.

As for Mr Ranjan Bhattacharya, the Prime Minister let Mr Brajesh Mishra do the explaining. According to Mr Mishra he has not seen Mr Bhattacharya in the PMO for the last three years and as for his proximity to the Prime Minister at home he had this to say: ‘‘My family lives in my house. Does that make them extra-constitutional?’’

Clearly the Prime Minister is playing on the susceptibility of the leaders in the BJP and its NDA partners, hoping that the issue will die down with public memory being short. The Sangh Parivar is, however, unwilling to keep a blind eye to the presence of Mr Mishra and Mr N.K. Singh in the PMO. And that is proving to be a thorn in Mr Vajpayee's flesh. Sources say Mr Vajpayee is now looking forward to his upcoming tour to culturally-rich Iran next month as a diversion for all the ‘‘tehelka’’ at home.

By George!

It is the season of apparent similarities and giant paradoxes. First it was the two Laxman(s) who hogged the limelight and now it is the turn of two George(s). Except for VVS Laxman, who sheet-anchored India's victory in the second Test against Australia, the massive media attention must be eminently forgettable for the other headline heroes.

BJP workers say that picturisation of Mr Bangaru Laxman accepting Rs 1 lakh, even if for party funds, had caused immense loss to the BJP's image of being an honest party with a difference.

Of the two Georges (Mr George Fernandes and Mr Vincent George) in the dock, former Defence Minister George Fernandes is making all-out efforts to come clean of the charges of corruption. Against this, Mr Vincent George, long-standing personal aide to the Nehru-Gandhi family who has been nailed in a CBI disproportionate assets case, is enigmatically silent.

But while the two Georges may be frowning and fretting, another may just be smiling. George Verghese, eminent journalist, has been appointed information consultant in the Defence Ministry. One George to defend another!

Mamata as engine driver

Even while Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee and the BJP leadership are trying to figure out their relationship after the post-Tehelka developments, several members in the National Democratic Alliance are happy that the temperamental leader from West Bengal is out of the alliance. Several NDA members were peeved at her arm-twisting tactics and with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee going out of his way to oblige her. The hike-free Railway Budget, and the rollback of petroleum prices were her contribution to the Government. Summing up the mood in the NDA, a senior Minister's apt comment was indicative of the frustration that NDA colleagues had been nursing for all these years since they came into her orbit. ‘‘Thank God that she was only a Minister and not the engine driver. Had it been so, the NDA train would never have reached its destination but would only have been shunting on tracks all these months’’, he observed.

Little at stake for BJP

Election managers in the Bharatiya Janata Party are not unduly worried about the fallout of the Tehelka expose. The reason: they have very little stake in the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Pondicherry, Assam and Kerala.

Describing the scenario ahead, a senior party leader said the fight in Tamil Nadu was among ‘‘immoralists’’ as both the AIADMK and the DMK were accusing each other of corruption. In Kerala the fight is between the moralists while in West Bengal it is the battle of the Right and the Left.

At the most the Tehelka expose may cost the BJP the few seats that it is contesting. But this fact would not be highlighted as the victors would steal the limelight. The leader drew parallel with a cold drink advertisement to highlight the BJP's position. ‘‘Jo chahe ho jaye, BJP will enjoy’’.


Congress limerick against the government following the Tehelka expose:

There are deals within deals,

and wheels within wheels,

all of which reeks of sleaze, sleaze, sleaze.

(Contributed by TRR, Satish Misra, T.V. Lakshminarayan, Prashant Sood and P.N. Andley)


The man who leads the Taliban
Harihar Swarup

A set of three photographs tell so explicitly the story of one of the worst vandalism of the world. The first shows a ball of fire rising below the Bamiyan Buddha; the second depicts billowing clouds of smoke rising over the arch where the 170-foot Buddha stood for centuries and the third a gray stone wall. In the same disgraceful manner the second largest statue of the apostle of tolerance — signifying goodwill to all — was obliterated.

Who ordered the dastardly act? The world knows his name but very few have seen him. Mullah Muhammed Omar, the reclusive supreme leader of the Talibans, had issued an edict on February 26 to his fanatic followers; destroy piece-by-piece all Buddha statues because ‘‘these have been gods of infidels’’.

Very little is known about Mullah Omar to the outside world and it took days for this correspondent to piece the information collected from the diplomats who had worked in Afghanistan and other sources. The elusive Mullah is known among the bands of his rabid followers as ‘‘Amirul Momineen’’ (commander of faithfuls) and every Afghan has to obey his decree. One reason why the hardline Islamic movement remained united and strong is said to be the presence of the supreme leader whose authority cannot be challenged.

Mullah Omar has unbelievable hold over his Islamic militia and he is both revered and feared by the people. He treats his heavily armed men in the age group ranging between 18 and 30 as his disciples and, exercises authority of an ‘‘ustad’’ over them; can even hit them. Who else could have the gumption to slap his local commander as the Mullah did to his garrison chief in Kabul when found talking to ‘‘kafirs’’; four foreign correspondent, including a woman, four years back. Few outside Afghanistan had heard or known him till he burst into the limelight with the fall of Kabul and the gruesome hanging of Najibullah and his brother by the Talibans. Fortynine-year-old Mullah Omar has, however, been a well-known figure in Kandahar, his headquarters during the days of struggle.

He abhors foreigners and talks to them with his faced covered with a thick veil. When someone close to him asked him why he does so, the Mullah replied: ‘‘I do not want the ‘napak nazar’ (unholy sight) of ‘Kafir’ (infidel) to fall on my face’’.

Mullah Omar lost one leg and one eye in what the Talibans call ‘‘jihad’’ against erstwhile Soviet forces; possibly blown by a shell. He limps but moves fast with an artificial wooden leg and sports a grayish, untrimmed beard.

Though the worst type of religious fundamentalist and a diehard, Mullah Omar is a family man. Contrary to Islamic tenet, he has married only once and has a 24-year-old son, who like his father, is also a committed Taliban. His wife looks after him with dedication. So strong are his religious leanings that the Mullah despises anything non-Islamic as sub-standard.

When a group of Americans met him a few years back and expressed concern over increasing poppy cultivation in Afghanistan and drug smuggling on a large scale, he sternly remarked: the drug is meant for ‘‘Kafirs’’.

Having been educated in an Islamic “Madarsa” (school), Mullah Omar himself became an “ustad” (teacher) at Miram Shah town of North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan and took to teaching.

Soon he came under the spell of Harkat-e-Inqalabi-e-Islam (HII), meaning movement for Islamic revolution, spearheaded by Moulvi Mohammed Nabi Mohammadi. The HII was one of seven Afghan Mujahidden groups which fought in the ‘‘jehad’’, actively backed by Pakistan and the USA.

Soon he developed sharp differences with Nabi Mohammadi, having been disgusted with the power struggle among the Mujahidden and the corruption and crime they perpetrated. Mullah Omar came to Kandahar and took to teaching, starting his own “madarsa”. An incident changed the course of his life again. A few women were kidnapped by a Mujahidden commander with the complicity of the Governor and raped. The outrage infuriated the Mullah and he again took to arms, organised local people and wanted to wreck revenge on the culprits. The Governor managed to escape but the local commander was executed. Omar became a hero.

He took full advantage of the situation, organised students of his religious school and preached that Mujahiddens were corrupt and unislamic while Talibans were pious and would bring peace, prosperity and stability. Mullah Omar’s movement became very popular and, heading the Taliban militia, he captured Kandahar in September, 1994. He had the full backing of Pakistan’s ISI and America in this venture.

Initially, the ISI tried to prop up Hikmatyar as infighting among the Mujahiddens gained momentum but did not meet with much success. Mullah Omar and the rising popularity of the Talibans came to the notice of the ISI and it was Pakistan’s the then Interior Minister, Nasrullah Babar, who helped in raising, training and arming the Talibans as early as 1994.

Obviously, Pakistan’s top intelligence agency saw in Mullah Omar and the Talibans great potential to control Afghanistan. Within three months of Pakistan’s support, the Talibans brought under its control (in September, 1994) the key city of Kandahar and made it as its base. Its cadres were drawn from ‘‘madarsas’’ of NWFP and were highly motivated with their brains washed. They blindly believed in religious fundamentalism and anything non-Islamic was alien to them.

The Talibans are basically Sunni fundamentalists and preach the intolerant side of their religion. Their militia constitutes a very restive force. They have turned Afghanistan into a huge ‘‘religious laboratory’’. A glimpse of life under Taliban rule is already visible in Afghanistan.


Vienna orchestra to play for the quake-hit
Humra Quraishi

THERE’s never been such a busy week... Foremost support for the Gujarat earthquake victims is continuing and this time it is the Vienna Chamber Orchestra that’s been here for this cause. And on March 23 and 24 the 30-member Viennese Chamber Orchestra will bring to life some of the finest classical compositions of A. Vivaldi, W.A. Mozart, P.I. Tschaikowsky, Franz Schubert and accompanying the music will be a ballet couple who teach the donor guests (Rs 3500 per person and of course the proceeds go for the earthquake victims) how to go about waltzing! Yes, along with the orchestra there will also be the Viennese Ball evenings at the Taj group of hotels I am purposely writing ‘will be’ for I’m filing this column a couple of days before I can put on my dancing shoes! Will get back to you next week on what happens thereafter to me and to the other dancers !Credit definitely goes to the Austrian Ambassador Herbert Traxl and spouse Shovana for making the orchestra evenings possible here .


What with changes all about town and all around us, the art scene has also undergone some differences. ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ as you view this fun ‘Kitsch Kitsch Hota Hai’ exhibition put up by journalist Madhu Jain at the Habitat Centre. For art gets mixed and matched with the changes on the scene and included sociologist Patricia Uberoi’s posters/calendars that are enough to depict the changes we are going through as a society as a whole. And almost simultaneously opened another very major exhibition here — Sahmat’s art on the move ‘exhibition’, which is going to travel the coming weeks within town on the wheels of carts! Conceptualised by artist Vivan Sundaram (who also happens to be Amrita Shergil’s nephew) the entire concept has been extremely well received. After all this exhibition once again focuses on the changes taking place in the last decade. “Most cities in India have seen enormous changes taking place in the last decade. The city is a devastated site: it reflects in very direct ways the new political and economic agendas of contemporary India. The rapid displacement of people and the arrival of an extraordinary workforce from the entire subcontinent, convert cities into mini Indias” The concept and the effects created by the art wares by 20 selected artists the opening day itself left an impact. And as hundreds of viewers collected at the Vithal Bhai Patel House on Sunday afternoon one could see push-carts rolling by with the artist — almost as though he was all set to talk about his wares and get an immediate response from the audience! Impossible to fit in details of all the ‘wares’ of the 20 artists selected from all over the country, but what I found particularly touching was artist Veer Munshi’s cart with the caption Burial - 2001. It is a Kashmiri’s yearning for peace and an open disgust with the situation prevailing in the Valley. I quote him. “The boat, which was once again an invitation to the happy valley of J&K no longer floats on the still waters of Dal Lake... the boat is inverted and placed on a cart and plastic flowers rest on it... this installation sees present day human creatures in the grip of irrational and vicious violence. The content involves not only the political degradation but also the tension and the lull between victims and tormentors. The horrendous happenings have reduced the status of a common Kashmiri to a label: secessionist, extremist, fundamentalist, or for that matter displaced, migrant, exiled, refugee....” Munshi must be in his mid- forties but had deep pain in his eyes as he wheeled his cart around. One could just sigh along with him and along with the others as the artists touched on the growing turbulence and divides coming about.


No, there were no push-carts wheeling about tehelka dot com’s findings. Obviously for no other reason but the very obvious — this exhibition was planned months back. But thanks to tehelka there has come about another set of very obvious changes — politicians have taken the back seat and speak with less confidence, the common man is suddenly extremely aware of the corruption he has to live with and the bureaucrats couldn’t be more cautious. Let me quickly fit in some more — last Sunday there happened to be a Loreto get-together of old girls (who’s old !) which took place at a senior bureaucrat’s home which happened to be situated just opposite Bangaru Laxman’s bungalow on Kushak Marg . The place looked deserted as though nobody had ever lived there and none of the guards shooed us off as we stared at the very look of vacancy spread all around the house and the garden expanse. And, mind you, there have been no reactions from the government at the way former Navy Chief Vishnu Bhagwat has been blasting the setup, left and right. He was here last week and for very obvious reasons looked extremely triumphant and repeated whatever he had uttered when he had quit office. The mood in bureaucracy has been so downbeat that when I had to get in touch with a senior civil servant for an appointment for an interview he sounded almost paranoid and said, “Without seeing your face I’ll not be able to give an appointment... it could be someone else!” In fact, the absence of civil servants and politicians at the recent dos has been rather evident and it confirms that they definitely want to be as cautious as possible.


I must end this column on a extremely sensitively written book of love poems, “Lovelines — Poems of Longing and Despair (Virgo). It might surprise you to know that it is written by former bureaucrat JP Das (1958 batch of the Orissa cadre IAS) who resigned from the service about 20 years back to take to writing “I wanted to take to full time writing and I wanted to resign from the service to become free.” Free to write from the heart and he has written several books and talks without inhibitions about love and all that goes with it — pain and otherwise .That explains why he had to resign otherwise he couldn’t have been so brutally frank, for the system is such that it inevitably weans you towards hypocrisy. Anyway, these poems are a must read for the sensitive amongst us who have gone through emotional pain.

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