Sunday, May 6, 2001, Chandigarh, India

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Elections and ethics in India, the Jayalalitha factor
M.G. Devasahayam
OR the past few years there has been a running battle between institutions trying to uphold probity and integrity in public life and forces of corruption and criminality working against these values. 

Marketing the American anti-missile shield
V. Gangadhar
HEY may well be singing “God Bless America” and “Star Spangled Banner” at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA); New Delhi relations with the USA have never been rosier.

Small-change squabbles on Bangla border
Rakshat Puri
HE setting on the India-Bangaladesh border seems tailor-made for the kind of incident that has taken place with 16 members of the Border Security Force brutally done to death.


Special status
May 5
, 2001
A transparent Lok Pal
May 4
, 2001
A slap on Pak wrist 
May 3
, 2001
Unwed “widows” scam
May 2
, 2001
Explosive situation
May 1
, 2001
Ties hot and sour
April 30
, 2001
India’s lurching democracy
April 29
, 2001
Parroting master's voice
April 28
, 2001
An undebated budget
April 27
, 2001
Pre-election defeat
April 26
, 2001
Two losers in impasse war
April 25
, 2001



Harihar Swarup
Potential of becoming a great leader
HE dreaded militant outfit-Al Ummer Mujahideen has held out a death threat to Shabir Shah if he accepted the offer for a dialogue with the Centre's chief negotiator, Mr K.C. Pant, but Shabir is not the person to succumb to such intimidation.


What's cooking between Vajpayee and Advani?
HEN the country's two most powerful men sit down to eat together, it is no ordinary event. It was in this context that an impromptu luncheon meeting between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Home Minister L.K. Advani last week was talk of the town.

  • Getting paid in the same coin

  • Stepping into Devi Lal's shoes

  • Tehelka overdrive

  • Media sparring


Humra Quraishi
Lack of focus on Africa Day
HIS week two important events didn’t really get the attention they ought to have received. Unfortunate, but then, that’s the way it happened. One, of course, was the lack of focus on Africa Day. 

  • UN’s Family DayTop


Elections and ethics in India, the Jayalalitha factor
M.G. Devasahayam

FOR the past few years there has been a running battle between institutions trying to uphold probity and integrity in public life and forces of corruption and criminality working against these values. At the vanguard of these institutions are the Supreme Court and the Election Commission of India.

The latter has been particularly proactive in issuing stringent orders and laying down strict procedures for the conduct of elections that determine political power. One of these is the now-famous order dated August 28, 1997, on the subject of “Criminalisation of politics—participation of criminals in the electoral process as candidates—disqualification on conviction for offences—effect of appeal and bail”. The operative part of this order issued under the plenary powers vested with the Commission by Article 324 of the Constitution of India reads as below:

“Now, therefore, the Election Commission has, after taking due note and paying due regard to the above judicial pronouncements of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and the Hon’ble High Courts, come to the considered view that the disqualification under Section 8 of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951, for contesting elections to Parliament and State Legislatures, on conviction for offences mentioned therein, takes effect from the date of conviction by the trial court, irrespective of whether the convicted person is released on bail or not during the pendency of appeal [subject, of course, to the exception in the case of sitting members of Parliament and State Legislatures under Sub-Section (4) of the said Section 8 of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951].“Accordingly, the Election Commission, in exercise of its powers of superintendence, direction and control of election to Parliament and State Legislatures vested by Article 324 of the Constitution, hereby directs that all the Returning Officers, at the time of scrutiny of nominations, must take note of the above legal position and decide accordingly about the validity or otherwise of the candidature of contestants disqualified under the said Section 8 of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951.”

This order, which has far-reaching effect in combating corruption and criminality in public life, has been brought into sharp focus due to its strict application on the candidacy of Ms Jayalalitha, the beleaguered former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, by the Returning Officers in the state. As a consequence, Ms Jayalalitha has been disallowed from contesting in the forthcoming elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly. The bravado exhibited by the AIDMK spin-doctors prior to the commencement of electoral process notwithstanding, her disqualification was very much on the cards, particularly after the Election Commission reaffirmed the validity of its 1997 order. In doing so, the commission had tacitly implied that the recent ‘obiter dicta’ of a Madras High Court Judge — which Ms Jayalalitha’s legal advisers and supporters had touted as fool-proof approval for her to contest — had no material bearing on its order.

Earlier, exhilarated by the single Judge’s passing observations, some rabid AIADMK supporters and allies had declared that “even God could not now stop Ms Jayalalitha from contesting the election.” So when the rejection—which was perfectly legal and within rules—came it was responded to with vituperative language and vilification against the Election Commission and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi. It was sad to see a former Supreme Court Judge, who had earlier been the Chief Justice of the Punjab & Haryana High Court, join the fray in lampooning the Election Commission and the Returning Officers concerned for doing their duty as per law. In a TV show he even went to the absurd extent of suggesting conspiracy against Jayalalitha by the Election Commission and advocated separate electoral laws for different states depending on observations made by various High Court Judges. It looked as if a discredited political establishment, with the support of non-political heavyweights, was hitting back at the one institution battling corruption and criminality in public life against heavy odds.

The fact of the matter is that Ms Jayalatitha on some inexplicable advise had herself chosen to commit hara-kiri by filing her papers in four Tamil Nadu Assembly constituencies despite the fact that the Representation of the Peoples Act expressly lays down: “If it is found at the time of the scrutiny that a candidate has been nominated from more than two constituencies of the same class of a general election or the simultaneous bye elections, his/her nomination paper will be rejected.” This act of hers had quite correctly become an additional ground for disqualification in a couple of constituencies. To the serious observers of Tamil Nadu election politics dominated by the AIDMK hype of ‘Grand Alliance,’ this looks like a deliberate ploy by Ms Jayalalitha to garner sympathy votes in the event of being disqualified to contest due to criminal conviction. This, she now claims, she has in abundance, that will carry her straight to the Chief Minister’s chair!

Ms Jayalalitha’s and her minions’ tirade against the Election Commission would have fizzled out in a day but for the acceptance of Mr Balakrishna Pillai’s (a former Kerala Minister and sitting MLA) nomination from the Kottarakara Assembly constituency in Kerala. This gave birth to the argument, ‘one law for Mr Pillai and another for Ms Jayalalitha.’ The discriminatory manner in which electoral law treats sitting MPs/MLAs and non-members of a legislature has been driven home by the acceptance of the former’s nomination papers and rejection of the latter’s. The material circumstances are similar: both the sitting Kerala MLA and the AIADMK chief have been convicted of corruption, have been sentenced to more than two years of imprisonment and have pending appeals against their convictions. But while Ms Jayalalitha is disqualified from contesting the Tamil Nadu Assembly election for falling foul of Section 8 (3) of the Representation of the Peoples Act (RPA), Mr Pillai’s candidature is approved because he attracts Section 8 (4) of the same Act, which specifically exempts legislators from the disqualification process that governs non-members.

In permitting Mr Pillai to contest the election, the Returning Officer was only going by the letter of the law. His decision had at least one precedent. In West Bengal, a nominee of the CPI (M), who was convicted by a session’s court for murder and later released on bail, was permitted to contest the 1996 Assembly election on the ground that he was already a sitting MLA. After hearing a petition which sought a declaration that the MLA’s re-election was illegal and void, the Calcutta High Court dismissed it on the ground that Section 8 (4) of the RPA was enacted specifically for the “benefit” of legislators and that the MLA was entitled to avail of it. The court, while refusing to declare the provision ultra vires, held that convicted legislators could avail of it to retain their membership of the House as well as to contest further elections.

Nevertheless, the Balakrishna Pillai episode throws up a larger and disturbing issue—one that deserves serious attention. The primary objective of any election law pertaining to disqualification should be to prevent the criminalisation of politics and foster probity in elections. And there is something terribly wrong about a legal provision that permits convicted legislators to remain in the legislature as well as fight fresh elections. Apart from being discriminatory, Section 8 (4) of the RPA deserves to be quashed on the ground that such a provision will only foster, rather than prevent, the criminalisation of politics. At a political level, the approval of Mr Balakrishna Pillai’s nomination has given Ms Jayalalitha another handle to portray herself as a “victim of injustice” and repeat her unfounded allegation that her disqualification was a result of political pressure and manipulation. Her supporters and opponents are together in claiming that the electoral law should not discriminate between Mr Pillai and herself. But the conclusion that the supporters have sought to draw—namely, that Ms Jayalalitha should have been allowed to contest too—is untenable. The real issue that emerges from the Pillai episode lies in questioning why a legislator convicted for corruption and sentenced to five years of imprisonment should be allowed to contest an election and respond to it in a non-discriminatory manner.

Though the initial arguments for and against the AIADMK chief’s candidature were based on legal or technical considerations, she and her cohorts have now given a disturbing moral dimension to the issue by insisting that the disqualification will not inhibit her from being Chief Minister in the event of a victory by the AIADMK front. This is an indefensible and unsustainable position to adopt—one that deserves to be rejected outright for failing to respect due institutional process and the established canons of probity in public life. It is true that the law is silent, or at least ambiguous, about whether a person disqualified from contesting an election or convicted in a court of law may be sworn in as Chief Minister. But this is purely because the framers of the Constitution never anticipated such an outlandish possibility. The constitutional provision that permits a person who is not a member of a legislature to become a Chief Minister (with the proviso that he or she be elected within six months thereof) was never intended to cover those who have been expressly disqualified from contesting elections. Therefore, Ms Jayalalitha’s chief-ministerial ambitions violate the very spirit of the law.

All right-thinking citizens who have the future of democracy at heart wish the Election Commission well in their unenviable task of cleansing Indian politics of corruption and criminality. As soon as this election is behind them, the Commission should seek a verdict from the Supreme Court or issue unambiguous instructions on their own concerning two important issues raised during this election. One, the unacceptable discrimination in favour of ‘sitting legislators’ and, two, the claim of candidates rejected due to criminal conviction to be appointed as Minister or Chief Minister even for six months. Only then could unscrupulous and unprincipled politicians, who have no qualms about bending and even breaking laws at will, could be reined in.


Marketing the American anti-missile shield
V. Gangadhar

THEY may well be singing “God Bless America” and “Star Spangled Banner” at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA); New Delhi relations with the USA have never been rosier. Didn’t US President George Bush make this clear when he invited our Minister for External Affairs, Mr Jaswant Singh, for a chat when he accidentally ran into him at the Oval Office? What more can one ask for?

MEA officials are not hiding the fact that the USA is wooing India with a vengeance. They are basking in the glory over the statement made by US National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice that ‘India is ready to sup at the table of great nations.’ While ignoring Pakistan, the USA had despatched Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State to Delhi, to explain to Indian officials the advantages of the controversial anti-missile shield system, which the Bush Administration is determined to introduce at the cost of the popular and effective 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which, many experts believe, has stood the test of time.

But then George Bush has promised his right-wing cronies in the Republican Party that the US needs a new defence system. The technical details are still vague, but not the public relations drive. Senior State Department officials have been despatched to various world capitals to explain the implications of the new system. Since the USA has chosen to regard India as a world power, New Delhi has not been ignored. And the MEA is not complaining.

The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was the result of years of hard work among world leaders in the USA and the USSR who knew what they were doing. It took into consideration the possession of thousands of warheads carrying deadly nuclear weapons, which the two world powers possessed in abundance. The USA and Soviet leaders who hammered out the details of the treaty were keenly aware of the dangers of their own massive nuclear arsenals and were keen to take safety and preventive measures. The treaty that they worked out took into consideration all aspects of big power rivalry, but overall, it recognised the dangers of a nuclear war.

The current US President is one of the least experienced world leaders who has not been able to adjust to problems of reality. The USA is the only super power in the world. The threat of nuclear war against Russia has disappeared and the 1972 treaty has done its work. According to Bush, the treaty has become ‘outdated’ and failed to recognise the threats of the modern world. The USA, according to Bush, is concerned about the likely possession of nuclear arms by smaller states that he has named as ‘rogue states.’ These make up traditional enemies like Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, and Iran, which have failed to toe the US line on international disputes.

Was there any suspicion that some of these states possessed the capabilities of making nuclear weapons? After being routed in the 1990 Gulf War, Iraq was subjected to intense scrutiny by UN-sponsored teams that were packed with biased US officials, some of whom had links with the Central Intelligence Agency. Their frequent ‘inspections’ did not reveal details of Iraq’s possession of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Yet the USA and its major western stooge, Britain, were convinced about the dangers posed by Iraq and subjected the country with rigorous economic sanctions that only affected the lives of its people.

From the time of the partition of the Koreas, in the early 1950s, while South Korea has literally been ‘taken over’ by the USA and reduced to the level of a satellite, North Korea has been targeted as yet another ‘enemy.’ There has, however, been no evidence of North Korea possessing the deadly weapons, which, according to the USA, should be the monopoly of bigger nations. There is some logic in such thinking, but how can the USA and some of its western allies label nations as ‘rogue’ in the absence of any clear evidence of their possession of nuclear or chemical weapons?

President Bush believes that the 1972 anti-missile treaty is meant to cover only the big powers enmeshed in the Cold War and ignores the dangers posed by the possession of deadly weapons by the smaller nations. He is being clearly guided by the right-wing elements and friends of the military-industry complex who have the backing of the Republican Party. The new anti-missile shield is expected to cost billions. Bush has no definite plans on how to set aside funds for the project without raising taxes.

The viability of the new system has been questioned by unbiased military experts and defence planners even within the USA. They argue that the new system is unproven and expensive while the old concept of deterrence has not become outdated. Senior Democrat Joseph Biden, who is a member of the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee, observed, “To abandon the ABM with the hope to get that missile defence capacity somewhere down the line would jeopardise the security of the USA.” If the new missile shield works, it might trigger yet another arms race; if it does not, the world will be back to the dangers of nuclear war in the absence of the old treaty.

Perhaps, that is why most of the allies of the USA continue to have reservations on the new system. Britain and Canada have issued statements that stopped short of endorsing the plan. Sweden, Germany and New Zealand are, in fact, more critical. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said he believes that the new missile shield system would inevitably have an ‘impact on global security and strategy.’ Russia is openly hostile and fears that the new system is meant to encircle her with hostile elements under the NATO banner.

President Bush, of course, has also promised to sharply cut down the number of nuclear missiles owned by the USA and urged Russia to do so. But such actions can best be performed under mutual trust and co-operation. Bush’s insistence of the anti-missile shield has created such a hostile environment that it would be futile to expect any co-operation from Russia on this issue.

Where does India stand on the nuclear missile shield? At the time of the signing of the original ABM treaty in 1972, India was a respected world power, appreciated for its neutrality. It played a major role in promoting the treaty. But today, with India moving closer to the USA, there is a tendency of it being taken for granted. We are happy over small gestures like the Clinton visits, Bush’s chat with Jaswant Singh and so on. Perhaps, these are the reasons behind India’s slight turnaround on the nuclear shield issue. The Vajpayee government’s recent announcement welcoming the Bush plans for the new defence system is in sharp contrast to India’s past stand on the issue.

India has lauded the US initiative for a clean break from the past, particularly from the adversarial positions during the Cold War. That is all right, but the stand deliberately chose to ignore the implications of such a change and the USA opting for a system which could upset the power balances all over the world. When Jaswant Singh visited Moscow earlier, he had extended support to Russia’s stand in opposing the nuclear shield plans of the US. This view was reiterated by the MEA. Today, unfortunately, our foreign policy is dictated by how other nations react to Pakistan. Since the USA is constantly rapping Pakistan over the knuckles for aiding and abetting cross-border terrorism, we tend to support the USA on all global issues. This is a myopic way of formulating foreign policy.

India must realise that if and when Pak-based terrorists stop attacking US personnel and institutions, the USA would take a fresh look on its relations with Pakistan. Over the years, the USA has been more sympathetic towards our neighbour. While we should welcome Washington’s support over cross-border terrorism, it did not mean that we support every controversial action by the USA that would have an impact on global issues.


Small-change squabbles on Bangla border
Rakshat Puri

THE setting on the India-Bangaladesh border seems tailor-made for the kind of incident that has taken place with 16 members of the Border Security Force brutally done to death. Those who drew the line at the time of Partition some 54 years ago blithely left small pockets of East Pakistani territory on the Indian side, and similar pockets of Indian territory on East Pakistan’s side. They left the headache of settling the issues that would follow to the successor governments. If these governments did not arrive at any settlement, but kept squabbling over these pockets of territory, good for the future interests in this area of the departing British! Unofficial, and possibly also official, representatives of the British authorities, almost immediately after Whitehall relinquished administrative control in India’s north-eastern sector, had begun openly to patronize separatist elements, such as those in Nagaland under A. Z. Phizo. There were, from all accounts, some 162 small pockets of territory remaining to be settled, in addition to about 6.5 km of the boundary line which still had to be demarcated. Of the 162 pockets of territory, 51 are said to be Bangladeshi (previously Pakistani) inside India. These remained unsettled in the nearly quarter of a century that passed before East Pakistan became Bangladesh. They have remained unsettled also in the 30 years that have passed since the emergence of Bangladesh. There has never been a clear explanation about whether there is any strategic, economic or other importance attached to the small pockets of territory on the two sides of the India-Bangla border. To all appearances there is none. The picture drawn in the mind with the occasionally frowning official references in New Delhi and Dhaka to the scattered enclaves is one of petty squabbling over small change—the squabblers egged on by a ring of interested onlookers. If winning game-and-checkmate is more important than saving pieces and losing the board, why hasn’t the Union Government moved decisively and promptly to settle the issue—even if it should mean handing all the bits of territory, all the small change, to Bangladesh? Especially the 111 Indian pockets of territory situated on the Bangladeshi side of the border? There may be a great deal for New Delhi to gain from this, in India’s larger Asian and world perspective. The general absurdity of the present hesitation and inaction on these enclaves is enhanced by consideration of the way in which these pockets came originally to be created. According to a commentary in a Delhi newspaper by former BSF Director-General Ram Mohan, who retired last November, the enclaves are a legacy from the British Raj days when Cooch-Behar (now in India) and Rongpur (now in Bangladesh) were princely States ruled by Rajas. The Rajas were given to playing cards most of the time and the estates, which are now enclaves scattered on both sides of the international border, were passed on to each other as the stake. The two Rajas in this way acquired small pockets of territory in each other’s State. After the Partition, Cooch-Behar went to India and Rongpur to East Pakistan. New Delhi and (at that time) Karachi were left holding the issue, which with passage of time has developed to become the present squabble over small change. Today, the issue of these enclaves is usable and exploitable by interested parties within and outside the sub-continent. One newspaper report from Kolkata claims to have been informed in some detail by sources in the Research and Analysis Wing that Bangladesh Chief of General Staff Nazmul Ahmed Choudhury himself in person ordered Major-General Fazlur Rahman of the Bangladesh Rifles to move against the BSF at Pyrdiwah in Meghalaya on April 16. The offensive followed the bringing to the notice of General Choudhury—by Major-General Nazrul, Director-General of Bangladesh’s Forces Intelligence—of a road that the BSF was said to be building in Bangladeshi territory near Pyrdiwah. Did this road-building, even if illegal and unwarranted, require a sudden and major armed response? On the other hand, if the BSF really was building a road through Bangladeshi territory, why was prior permission not obtained? Which authority in this country sanctioned the road and ordered the BSF to take it through Bangla territory, and why? The public may get to know the full story only if and when New Delhi and Dhaka investigate fully, formally and objectively all that transpired, including, possibly, the less immediate cause or causes of the crisis. There has been a great deal of speculation over the possibility of the present unpleasantness on the border being related to the coming parliamentary election in Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League is due to relinquish office some time in July. A neutral caretaker government will then take over and conduct the election, to be held within three months—that is, some time in October. In early April, on the eve more less of the border incident, forces of the Opposition alliance, led by Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh National Party, are reported to have enforced over 200 hours of “hartaal,” with occasional bomb explosions, arson and looting. The main allies of the BNP in the alliance have been the Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Oikya Jote and the Jatiya Party of General H. M. Ershad, who is said to be at present out on bail from prison. The BNP alliance—the heir of those who supported and possibly were instrumental in the murder of Mujibur Rahman and the bloody overthrow of his administration—has organised riots and rallies against Sheikh Hasina’s government. The anti-Hasina slogans include “Stooge of India”; and the many speeches being made by agents and supporters of Khaleda Zia’s alliance include raging references to Sheikh Hasina’s “surrender to the enemy, India.” In effect, as commentators point out, the situation in Bangladesh on the eve of its parliamentary election has crystallised into a fight between two clear and well-defined camps: the secularists led by Sheikh Hasina, who want a non-religious dispensation, a South Asian community and intensified economic development; and the “Islamists,” religion-minded and increasingly aggressive fundamentalists whose politics and approach seem modelled on Afghanistan’s Taliban. The Bangladeshi fundamentalists under Khaleda Zia leave the impression of being unsympathetic towards the formation of a South Asian community. This seems strange in view of the fact that the first South Asian leader to suggest the formation of such a community was her husband, the late Zia-ur-Rahman. If reports are to be believed, Ershad and his Jatiya Party have cut adrift from the Khaleda Zia alliance. He is said to be attempting to form another coalition. Could the Bangladesh army under General Nazmul Ahmed Choudhury be acting in tandem with Khaleda Zia and her fundamentalist alliance? It seems very unlikely that Sheikh Hasina would have given General Choudhury the order to move against the BSF. Would Choudhury risk a charge of treason by acting, in the way he did, without orders from the highest civilian authority? Would Khaleda Zia and her Opposition colleagues risk the charge of treasonable conspiracy by going beyond legitimate politicking and joining with the army under Choudhury, merely to create a Bangla-Indian crisis for embarrassing Sheikh Hasina in an election fray? If these approaches are unlikely and unthinkable, what could have led to Choudhury’s ordering Fazlur Rahman to act in the way he did, and almost explicitly helping thereby the cause of Khaleda Zia? Among the aims of those who supported and possibly held the strings that moved the actors in the border crisis, the prime objective may have been to sour relations between Dhaka and New Delhi, and help Khaleda Zia’s alliance win the election so that the deliberately created sourness in Indo-Bangla relations might last. Whose interest would this serve? (Asia Features)


Potential of becoming a great leader
Harihar Swarup

THE dreaded militant outfit-Al Ummer Mujahideen has held out a death threat to Shabir Shah if he accepted the offer for a dialogue with the Centre's chief negotiator, Mr K.C. Pant, but Shabir is not the person to succumb to such intimidation.

Leaders comprising the cluster called Hurriyat Conference might have rejected the Centre's overture, ostensibly, because of the fear of the gun but Shabir's long years of struggle manifests that he could not be cowed down by strong-arm tactics.

The motto of his life has been: ‘‘Jiyo to aise jiyo ki dushman bhi rask kare; agar maut ayae to duniyan hamesha matam manati rahe’’. (If you want to live, live with your head high so that even the foe is envious of you and, if you die, the whole world should for ever mourn for you). He has emphatically told the Hurriyat leaders that it was a very wrong decision on their part to have turned down the offer for talks with Mr Pant.

Shabir's long years in jail earned him the sobriquet ‘‘Nelson Mandela of Kashmir’’. He was declared ‘‘prisoner of conscience’’ by Amnesty International as he had been in and out of the jail from 1969 to 1989 for over a dozen times; he underwent a maximum sentence of 41 months at a stretch.

Initially, he was pro-Pakistan but long years in prison and harsh reality made him change his views. The hardships of prison life did not break his spirit but made him more tough and determined.

He was in jail when the famous Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord was hammered out in early 1975. Sheikh Abdullah and his wife visited Shabir in prison in an attempt to persuade him to give up resistance and rally round to their view. The young leader remained unmoved.

Subsequently, he joined the Hurriyat Conference in the fond hope of unifying all forces for a cause but was greatly disappointed because the ‘‘Hurriyat has its own agenda’’. Shabir then formed his own party — Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party — but the outfit could not make the desired impact.

He had been reported many times as saying: ‘‘My spirit is never broken; I refused bail when in prison because I have committed no crime’’.

Shabir's jail life had taught him a lot: "Insaan sahi mane me insaan ban jata hai’’, is the experience of the young Kashmiri leader.

He was first arrested when he was barely 14 years old. Son of a Block Development Officer, Shabir had lived with dignity. Even the death of his father when he was in custody did not deter him from his conviction.

Soon after his release from jail in 1995, he made it clear he did not recognise the Line of Control and wanted to liberate occupied Kashmir also. ‘‘We have never recognised the LoC on the body of our state. Nor shall we do so in future’’. His demand was right to self-determination for entire Kashmir, including the POK which in effect means so-called ‘‘Azadi’’ or carving out a separate state, independent of both India and Pakistan. This demand itself was elusive and impractical.

He now wants to bring Pakistan as a party to the negotiating table, even though at a later stage, and wants to know if militants will also be associated with future dialogue?

The Centre, obviously, wants to initially restrict talks to Indian groups, including militants, with a view to bringing much needed peace to the trouble-torn valley before addressing to other vexed issues.

He had, at one stage, suggested direct talks between India and Pakistan with active involvement of the representative of Kashmiri people to find a permanent solution to the vexed Kashmir problem.

Strongly opposed to division of Jammu and Kashmir, he had asserted that ‘‘Kashmiris will never accept freedom if it comes as a result of partition of the state’’. What happened after Pakistan-backed tribals attacked Kashmir and occupied a part of it?

As President of DFP, Shabir launched a scheme to help the needy people, distributed Rs 50 lakh among widows, orphans and needy with the promise to disburse one crore rupees in the next phase. He also toyed with the idea of setting up a charitable trust for this kind of activities.

There is also a powerful anti-Shabir Shah lobby which has been carrying on a rather malicious campaign against him. ‘‘Shabir Shah bik chuka hai’’ (Shabir Shah has been sold out) has been the refrain of their battle against him but the ‘‘prisoner of conscience’’ is not bothered and says: ‘‘Whatever I am doing is not to appease this agency or that. These people are simply damaging their own credibility’’.

Shabir has the potential of becoming a great leader provided he follows the right course. Young as he is, 47 only, he may well be Kashmir's future leader if he does not pursue illusionary objectives. While Hurriyat leaders have been a bundle of confusion, represent several lobbies, including that of Pakistan, Shabir has, at least, taken a clear cut stand whatever may be its worth. 


What's cooking between Vajpayee and Advani?

WHEN the country's two most powerful men sit down to eat together, it is no ordinary event. It was in this context that an impromptu luncheon meeting between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Home Minister L.K. Advani last week was talk of the town.

What added grist to the speculation mill was that the lunch was at Advani's residence with Vajpayee giving a go-bye to protocol to invite himself over.

The two leaders were closeted for over two and a half hours at Advani's modest Pandara Park residence. Since no aides were present, what took place at the meeting remains a subject of speculation. Instead of the discussions revolving around what they ate (it was a vegetarian fare), it was what they discussed that became food for thought.

One theory was that a beleaguered Prime Minister, who had lost considerable hold over the BJP ever since his ‘‘Man Friday’’ and former party President, Bangaru Laxman, was caught (rather filmed) red-handed while accepting money from a fictitious arms dealer, had gone over to Advani's place to smoke the peace pipe.

With a section of the Sangh Parivar baying for the blood of some key officials in Vajpayee's office, the Prime Minister had approached Advani to settle things in the Parivar. Official sources later said that it was only natural that the two leaders would have discussed other issues like the Assembly elections and the just-concluded Parliament session.

Another version, which according to reports was revealed by Advani himself was that the Prime Minister had called up his wife to convey his wish to have lunch at their place.

At the lunch, the two leaders were joined by Advani's wife and two children. The Home Minister felt that he could have gone down to the 7 Race Course Road residence of the Prime Minister if some important issues were to be discussed. Apparently, this was Vajpayee's way of denying stories about his differences with Advani.

Getting paid in the same coin

This is a case that the Chief Vigilance Commissioner N. Vittal did not ask for. Vittal is at the receiving end this time with a member of the Lok Sabha levelling charges of corruption against him.

The MP, Jagdambi Prasad Yadav, has urged the Prime Minister to order an inquiry into the allegations. Vittal has denied the charges as baseless and an attempt at character assassination.

The Prime Minister, however, finds himself in a piquant situation. It is not easy to dismiss a Lok Sabha colleague so easily. Will he oblige the MP? Moreover, Yadav has sought that the findings of the inquiry be made public and displayed on the CVC website that is popular for the infamous names figuring on it.

Stepping into Devi Lal's shoes

The Haryana Chief Minister, Om Prakash Chautala, is making serious attempts to step into his late father, Devi Lal's shoes and emerge as the messiah of the farmers. The Chief Minister, who till the other day was talking about making Haryana another Silicon Valley, has shifted focus and is trying to woo farmers in all possible ways.

His latest effort was to make impromptu visits to foodgrain mandis in the State. His penchant to be with the farmers is, however, giving his security personnel a tough time.

Sources reveal that while on his way to Hisar, the Chief Minister on the spur of the moment decided to divert his car to a nearby foodgrain mandi. This left his escorts baffled as they had already raced ahead.

Realising that the Chief Minister had disappeared, the red-faced security personnel reversed their vehicles and tried to catch up with Chautala. The Chief Minister was found at the mandi talking to farmers and hearing their woes of inadequate storage space.

Tehelka overdrive

The Congress is on a Tehelka overdrive and is scouting for exposes even where there are none. At one of its scheduled briefings last week, the Congress spokesman was waxing eloquent on how the government was hiding the truth behind the Tehelka expose.

The government, he said, was insincere about the ‘‘unilateral’’' judicial probe it had ordered into the Tehelka expose and had gone to the extent of brazenly extending the tenure of this one-man commission headed by Justice Venkatswamy.

Curious scribes wanted to know where had the spokesperson laid his hands on this vital information about extension of the judicial probe of which none of them knew. It soon came out that the spokesperson, in his enthusiasm to go for the Tehelka kill, had confused the extension given to the Army's inquiry into the Tehelka expose with the Venkatswamy Commission.

The rescue mission was mounted soon after the party briefing. ‘‘When one inquiry has been extended, there is a possibility that the second would be too,’’ was the line suggested. Scribes were hurriedly contacted to make the amends but not all obliged.

Media sparring

The watchdog of the press, the Press Council of India, is under fire. Lacking the teeth to penalise erring newspapers, several editors have demanded that the institution be folded up. It has been left to the PCI Chairman, Justice P.B.Sawant, to defend the institution.

Some editors are of the view that in a fast-changing media scenario due to emerging economic changes and technological breakthroughs there is no need for the PCI.

In spite of what some of the editors think, several scribes are of the view that the PCI is an important institution. No doubt, when the PCI called for nominations, the Press Association of India, the representative body of accredited journalists in the capital, had to hold elections for the coveted posts. Several scribes contested the elections. The victors are awaiting their appointment orders.

The hitch, however, has been the Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj's decision to broadbase the PCI and make it a representative media council, that would have representations from the electronic media. If the Minister is to be believed, the watchdog is there to stay and may be with more powers this time.

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


Lack of focus on Africa Day
Humra Quraishi

THIS week two important events didn’t really get the attention they ought to have received. Unfortunate, but then, that’s the way it happened. One, of course, was the lack of focus on Africa Day. And when I met Ahmed Al Mansour Diop — who is the Ambassador of Senegal and also the Dean of the Diplomatic Corp — at a special function hosted by the Lebanese ambassador to India, Nuri El Fituri Al Madani, I asked him exactly this. Why are the biases, distorted impressions and the general prejudices still prevalent against the people of Africa continent, so much so that it is drilled into our heads that AIDS erupted from Africa or that African men are even beyond MCPs (in fact, on the contrary, I must write that last year when I interviewed Sudanese Embassy’s Press Attache’s scientist spouse she told me that Sudanese make the best husbands in the world and a number of her Indian friends are marrying Sudanese men. Probably they make best fathers too for her four children call the father ‘mama’, “as he spends more time with them than I do “she had admitted without batting an eyelid).

Anyway, about this lack of focus on Africa, the Dean of Diplomatic Corp had this to say: “I know prejudices still exist and there are vested interests at play ..the whole system works around interests ...I don’t want to mention those powerful countries which want to see us remain backward and that’s why all those notions about us ...but we’re in no competition and not in a hurry to move at some abnormally crazy pace...”. But isn’t it absolutely essential that they counter the Western propaganda about wrong/biased images. At least this is what I tell my diplomat friends from the Arab and African countries.

And the other incident which went somewhat unnoticed was the passing away of the 91-year-old Hungarian artist Elizabeth Brunner who had made India her home for the last several decades — in fact eversince she came here with her mother in the 1930s at the invitation of Rabindranath Tagore, I had met her on several occasions, the last being last year on her 90th birthday when she had come in a wheelchair and planted a sapling in the Hungarian Embassy premises. Her Rabindra Nagar home was full of her paintings and pet and stray dogs and till the last day she lived alone . One marvelled not only at her painting prowess but the fact that she decided to make India her permanent home. She looked content, although she lived amidst very obvious financial constraints and a deteriorating health condition but one look at her and you sure were to nod along the cliched lines that happiness is a state of the mind. In fact, even in that frail condition she would hold your hand with deep affection and speak about her meetings with Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and, of course, with Rabindranath Tagore. Tears would well up in her eyes as she would describe how her mother suddenly passed away, whilst they were camping in Nainital… “she had kept staring at a rat as though she could see in its eyes death, for the very next morning she had died. In fact whenever she spoke of her mother there was that look of intense love coupled with awe, “my mother had this dream that Rabindranath Tagore was inviting her and we landed at Shantineketan and stayed there before we went on a tour of India... as times, for weeks my mother would withdraw from everybody as though she was in the midst of a deep thinking process “. In fact with the passing away of Brunner, New Delhi has lost an institution, a great India lover who lived with the memories of some of our statesmen. In fact, I still recollect that once when I had asked her about her impressions of the present day politicians she had looked angry, had shut her eyes tight, very tight and had muttered anger laden words, pleading that I should never ask her this again. Such was her hurt seeing the state to which we have got have reduced to.

In fact before I move on I must mention here that in a certain context I met some Germans settled here (who have opted to make New Delhi their permanent home) and once again they spoke of those glorious days of Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi .....Actually there’s no need to even introspect where exactly we have gone wrong fact I am tempted to quote Kashmiri poetess Lalla Arifa that there seem to be no men around!

UN’s Family Day

With the family structure weakening to a certain extent the joke going around here is that which family are we talking about — of the parivar comprising political patriarchs or the original family structure comprising of the man and the woman and the child ..see what politicians have done — brought in confusions here too.

But coming to a more serious aspects, related to the family and all that it contains, there’s an informal discussion ongoing on the very recent case of a school boy (studying in the Air Force Bal Bharti School) getting rusticated for indulging in pornography on the Internet. Have we bothered to get to the root cause, have we bothered to stop the near porn that is screened on the small screen hour after hour, have we questioned ourselves on the seducing effects of those well-padded half-clad heroines jumping around the bigger screen. And here instead of the principal or the school authorities trying to reach out to the boy they have finished him once and for all, by slapping the rustication notice on him.Top

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