August 26, 2003, Chandigarh, India
turmoil in Nepal
State of universities — 6
Students await their turn for counselling on the PTU campus at Jalandhar.
— Photo by the writer
Mumbai has been revisited by serial bomb blasts reminiscent of the 1993 explosions. There are no clues yet about the identity of the perpetrators, but it will be no surprise if the same mind - if not the same hands - is behind the heinous act. The commercial capital of the country was not all that peaceful even during the intervening period. Blasts had been occurring with chilling regularity. Now that one looks back, it is clear that these were only a dress rehearsal for the big strike, which finally came on Monday afternoon with a shocking loss of life and property. The way the blasts were synchronised and conducted at busy places where they could cause maximum death and destruction provides some clue about the scale of planning that was done by the malcontents. Obviously, the terrorists have a vast network for executing such operations. To that extent, it is a serious intelligence failure. Mumbai seems to have been particularly targeted. Such attacks in the commercial hub cause tremendous disruption which tells upon the business health of the nation. The sharp decline in the share market is the first consequence of the “success” that the enemies of the nation have achieved. Of course, Mumbai has the resilience to weather such storms as has been proved in the past.
The second obvious aim of the perpetrators was to incite a communal backlash. They are no friends of anyone but know the tricks of pretending that they are the fighting arm of a particular community. If those belonging to the majority community do not see through this nefarious design, there is a very real danger of them falling into the cleverly laid trap. It may be no coincidence that the blasts were carried out on a day when the Archaeological Survey of India was presenting its evidence about the existence of a temple in Ayodhya underneath the Babri Masjid.
What is noteworthy is that the blasts took place in Gujarati-dominated areas. This may have been done to send a message to the neighbouring state. There is also the danger of similar blasts being carried out in Gujarat. In fact, someone with a bomb and a crooked intent can take innocent lives in any part of the country. The red alert that has been declared in various states should not be a perfunctory drill but a genuine, effective exercise to prevent the recurrence of such incidents. At the same time, the police should also be on its toes to avert any counterattacks. Even while the nation mourns its dead, it has to take care that the social fabric is not torn asunder.
Ms Mayawati’s game is finally up. On Monday she plunged Uttar Pradesh into a political crisis that had to erupt sooner than later. The political marriage of convenience between the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party was a bad advertisement for parliamentary democracy. It had not worked on an earlier occasion and both Ms Mayawati and the BJP leaders of the UP unit knew that nothing had changed since then for the uneasy coalition to last a full five-year term. At the state-level only Mr Jyoti Basu and at the national level only Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee have been successful in making coalition governments work.
The isolation of the upper castes at the expense of the Dalits was among the many factors that was giving sleepless nights to the BJP leaders in Lucknow. However, the Taj corridor controversy gave them the opening to turn the heat on her. She did try to bluff her way out by holding Union Tourism Minister Jagmohan responsible for the project! The first sign of weakness became visible when she was made to withdraw the demand for his resignation. The Supreme Court’s directive to the CBI to investigate the role of certain big fish in the Taj scam may have proved to be the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back. A BSP minister is among those being interrogated by the CBI. Of late, there was increasing pressure on her to induct Mr Lalji Tandon as Deputy Chief Minister. Ms Mayawati has many weaknesses, but submitting to political arm-twisting is not one of them.
The Chief Minister claimed at a Dalit rally in Lucknow on Monday that the Cabinet had taken the decision to recommend the dissolution of the state assembly. But Mr Lalji Tandon’s letter to Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri withdrawing support to the government put a question mark over the credibility of her claim. It is doubtful whether Raj Bhavan will consider her request for early elections in the light of the letter from the BJP announcing the withdrawal of support to her. It is clear as daylight that without the BJP Ms Mayawati simply does not have the numbers to continue in office. Whether Mr Shastri will recommend imposition of President’s rule or invite Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, the single largest legislature party in UP, to head the government remains to be seen. As far as Ms Mayawati is concerned, once the dust has settled, she should take the trouble of reading Abraham Lincoln’s famous observation that “you can fool some of the people all the time. You can fool all the people some of the time. But you can’t fool all the people all the time.”
It seems the Union Government and the All-Party Hurriyat Conference are moving towards a dialogue for restoring normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir. This is a welcome development. The very idea of holding the Inter-State Council meeting in Srinagar on August 27-28 provides an indication of something special happening soon. Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has been vigorously campaigning for such a dialogue for some time. During the council meeting, he is expected to persuade Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani to extend an invitation to the Hurriyat for parleys. If talks with Hurriyat leaders are not possible on the sidelines of the council meeting, the dialogue may be held in December. It would prepare the ground for the Prime Minister to exchange views with Gen Pervez Musharraf in January on the occasion of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation conference in Islamabad.
A meeting between Mr Vajpayee or Mr Advani and Hurriyat representatives led by softliner Moulvi Abbas Ansari may help further isolate the hardliners like the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Syed Ali Shah Gilani. There is a clear change in the attitude of the Hurriyat since Moulvi Ansari took over as its chairman. It no longer insists on involving Pakistan in a dialogue between the Hurriyat and the Government of India. According to one interpretation, the Hurriyat’s new stance reflects its desire to project itself as having nothing to do with Pakistan. If there is any grain of truth in this, it is a major victory for India. New Delhi had been making it clear to the Hurriyat leadership that it can gain nothing by aligning itself with Islamabad.
The Prime Minister’s April 18 offer of dialogue to Pakistan and his Independence Day invitation to it to get ready for a journey on the road to peace have changed considerably the political climate in the subcontinent. One hopes at least now the Hurriyat will abandon the path of confrontation with the Centre and denounce militancy for the good of Jammu and Kashmir. This is what the people of the troubled state expect from it in their hour of agony.
Thought for the day
In violence, we forget who we are.
Political turmoil in Nepal
The stalled peace talks between the Maoists and the King’s government in Nepal have been retrieved almost from the brink of collapse. The last round of talks, held in Kathmandu on May 9, concluded on a discordant note with the Maoists blaming the then government, led by Mr Lokendra Bahadur Chand, of not implementing the decisions taken in the previous rounds. In the May round, the two sides also put forth differing views on a very sensitive issue of the Royal Nepal Army’s (RNA) movements. While the Maoists asserted that their proposal for keeping the RNA’s movements confined to within five kilometres of their barracks was accepted after the green signal from the palace, some members of the governmental delegation denied that there was any consensus on this issue. Following this round, the King terminated the Chand government and installed Mr Surya Bahadur Thapa as the new Prime Minister in June. Perhaps, the RNA had refused to abide by the proposed restraints on its movements.
The Maoists issued an ultimatum to the new government that if by July 31 “an appropriate atmosphere” for talks could not be prepared, they will go to war again. Five conditions were laid down for such “an appropriate atmosphere”, which included release of four Maoist Central Committee members, disclosing the whereabouts of other Maoists kept under the government’s custody, specific commitment of the King and the RNA to the outcome of the peace talks, limiting the RNA’s movements and termination of the counter-terrorism agreement signed between Nepal and the US, including the expulsion of US military personnel and advisers from Nepal. This ultimatum put the government in a quandary. The government quickly ran a reality check on its security preparedness and realised that it could not afford to take the Maoists military challenge.
This forced the government to craft an accommodative response to the Maoists. The Central Committee members were released, whereabouts of another 35 of the Maoists detainees were identified and promise to go into other such cases was made. The army officially issued assurances that it would not disturb the peace process and will abide by the decisions taken during the government-Maoists parleys in future. Credible statements were also made on behalf of the King that the government was fully authorised to negotiate with the Maoists and the outcome of these negotiations will be honoured and sincerely implemented. The government also promised that they will put forth the King’s bottomline for a final settlement in the forthcoming round.
Accordingly, the government has prepared a concept paper in response to the Maoists’ political demands. The proposals in this paper have been approved by the King at a meeting held between the King and the Prime Minister that also included the two government nominees for the peace talks. The government has given an amicable explanation on the US-Nepal counter-terrorism agreement, with a denial that there were US military personnel in Nepal. In addition, the government has also agreed to hold the talks in Nepalganj, the western district headquarters, in the Maoists dominated region, as preferred by Maoists, instead of Kathmandu.
The government’s response, at least partially, meets most of the Maoists’ preconditions. The Maoists have not insisted on full compliance because they are also not prepared to pay the political costs of ending the ceasefire. It might deprive them of people’s sympathy as everyone wants peace. There is also international pressure on the Maoists against resorting to violence. And militarily, even if the Maoists may have the confidence to engage the RNA, it is nowhere near the capability of capturing power by force. That is why the talks are being resumed.
While the Nepalese may heave a sigh of relief on the retrieval of the peace process, the situation is far from the possibility of a reassuring outcome of these talks. To begin with, there is a serious lack of confidence between the two sides. There is no adherence from the either side on the code of conduct agreed in January for preserving ceasefire. Besides abductions, extortions and arms acquisitions, the Maoists continue to attack the police and army posts. It is possible that through these attacks the Maoists are trying to force the RNA to remain confined within five kilometres of its barracks. The RNA on its part is also continuously fortifying its positions, acquiring arms and training and having new recruits. While doing so, they are also hitting at the Maoists wherever they find it possible and convenient to do. Thus, there is a clear gap between the objectives of ceasefire and the ground realities. There are also reports that there are RNA-sponsored attacks on political party cadres to blame this on the Maoists, so as to keep them and the political parties apart from each other.
The ensuing round of talks will deal with the political agenda, but there is a wide gulf in the positions of the two sides. The Maoists continue to insist on a constituent assembly, interim government and the control of the RNA by elected representatives. The government’s concept paper underlines the centrality of monarchy in the Nepali polity, accommodation of backward classes through constitutional amendments and stress on agricultural and economic development. The government’s position in the talks is further undermined by the fact that a section of the palace is active in discrediting Mr Thapa’s leadership. Sponsored rumours are being encouraged to the effect of reviving the Deuba government through the good offices of anti-Koirala Nepali Congress leaders like Mr Krishna Prasad Bhattarai.
There is also the dilemma about the role of the political parties that are agitating against the King. The political parties have not accepted the Maoist demand of joining the peace negotiations, nor are they willing to back the Thapa government, which is seen as a new manifestation of the King’s dominance in the political structure. There does not seem to be the prospects of a lasting solution emerging from the presently structured peace process unless the marginalisation of political parties is ended, violence against their cadres is stopped and they are integrated with the process firmly.
In the prevailing political order in Nepal, all powers are concentrated in the palace. Any negotiated settlement will emerge only on the basis of the King agreeing to shed his powers and patronage in favour of the people’s representatives, whether they are the Maoists or the political parties or preferably a combination of both. Such a combination will also require an end to violence by the Maoists in lieu of their appropriate place in Nepal’s mainstream political process, which is being obstructed only by an assertive monarchy, backed by the RNA and international vested interests.
Farewell, Gopal Kaith!
This column will not read the name of Gopal Kaith in future because he has gone in search of a great perhaps. That “snub-nosed one”, that “drear candlesnuffer” snatched him and his pen from us when he was just in his forties. I knew him more through the “middles” that he used to write for The Tribune. Otherwise we were on “Hello, how are you” terms.
Whenever I met him, his eyes would show respect that he had for me not because I was senior to him in service but that I was senior to him in “middle-writing”. I had gathered his CV from the “middles” that were published in The Tribune.
He was unpretentious and would place the cards as they were before the readers. In “Black and White Resolutions” “he had written,” I was born in a village. My family owned a herd of cattle. Two oxen. With them we ploughed our fields. Two cows Naudhi and Tholi. The latter was hornless ..... Schooling separated me from home. And I came to Shimla where father was a government official. For the first time I had the taste of adulterated milk.”
In one of his last published pieces, “Where Eves teased Adams”, he had written, “A quarter century ago, I joined MA (English) in Himachal Pradesh University at Shimla. It was a class of 30 students.... The class was completely dominated by half a dozen damsels from St. Bedes. They were elegant, eloquent and ethereal.” Then he had ended the note stating that though he was a “country cousin” for the young ladies, he could clear the State Administration Examination. He was Additional Excise and Taxation Commissioner when he suddenly went to that “dreamless sleep”.
I could gather from his another piece that he had a daughter who had cleared the ICSE and a younger school-going son besides a dog that used to wait for his home-coming and would not go to his manger till he had played with him. Would he now be waiting like Argos, the dog of Ulysses, for the return of his Master? I do not know.
The only self-sufficient university in the state, Punjab Technical University, Jalandhar, has never been far from controversies ever since its inception on January 16, 1997. There have been allegations that many study centres affiliated to the university were virtually auctioned without their having a proper infrastructure. The fees are high and there have been a slew of problems with the way examinations have been conducted by the university.
With a total staff of 144, and really no place to call its own as yet, this is clearly a university where "under construction" signs should be hanging prominently. So also should be various "caution" symbols customary in such sites. However, its new Vice-Chancellor Yagnaswamy S Rajan, is an eminent scientist who has taken on the challenge of bringing the university on a par with other institutions in the nation.
PTU has been recently allotted 100 acres on the Kapurthala road near Jalandhar, but it is functioning on the premises rented from B.Ed College in Jalandhar that traces its roots to pre-partition Punjab.
This year, there have been 2,500 more admissions in the university, according to Dr Sadhu Singh, who is in charge of admissions. This brings the total number of students to 9,630. Of these, 1,250 seats have been allocated to students from Jammu and Kashmir. Jammu and Srinagar universities each have been given half the number of these seats.
Where do so many students go to study? There are 98 colleges affiliated to the university and their excess infrastructure is being utilised to serve the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Responding to a query about the quality of affiliated colleges and their infrastructure, Dr. S K Salwan, Senior Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor said a new Task Force on Engineering and Technology has been constituted under the chairmanship of Dr. A. Kalanidhi, former Vice-Chancellor, Anna University, Chennai, which is re-examining these institutions and at the same time recommending changes necessary to streamline various courses conducted by the university. An interim report has already been submitted by the task force.
Some centres have been found to be lacking in infrastructure and even in the qualifications of the staff, and they have been served notice to either improve or face disaffiliation.
A letter received by The Tribune from a former student of Regional Institute of Management and Technology, Mandi Gobindgarh, alleges 500 out of the 800 marks are in the hands of the college where "closeness to the teachers" matters more than merit. He has listed names of various students who are related to teachers and were thus awarded high marks.
He also states that though job placement charges are taken from students, few placements have been provided. While thousands of students finish their studies every year, the placements are in hundreds. The university authorities agree that placement is a major problem area but, pointing out to the general state of the industry, say they are taking initiatives to improve the university-industry interaction.
PTU has signed memoranda of collaboration with Defence Electronics Application Laboratory, Dehradun, Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC), Dehradun, Canadian Institute Of Information Sciences, SAS Nagar and Semiconductor Ltd., SAS Nagar. These will, hopefully help in the placement of students and in fine-tuning the syllabi.
During the visit to the university headquarters, one saw a few hundred students milling around listlessly, as they waited their turn during the counselling session. When asked, many said they were opting for electronic engineering, since nowadays the intake in IT and computers was less. Mechanical engineering has maintained a steady pace and is still an attractive course, with fairly good placement opportunities. "Students whose fathers are in the construction business join civil engineering," said an aspirant for the electronic engineering degree.
PTU is often described as a "holding company" by officials. What it "holds" is, however, far from uniform. There is a wide disparity in the kind of establishment that are affiliated with it. Many have faculty members who are yesteryear students, and do not have the requisite experience. There have been widespread allegations that the entry bar has been lowered too much to accommodate more candidates.
Dr Rajan maintains that the PTU Act is better than any such Act for other universities since it makes decision-making easier. He agrees that the university should have had more people at the top level. The entire layer of middle management too is missing, but he is trying to do the best that can be done with the given set of conditions.
"We are no longer a traditional university with departments. Some of our colleges are far ahead in our infrastructure," he says pointing out that earlier students had to go to other states for getting education in engineering.
Referring to the issue of high fees, the Vice-Chancellor says that people often level charges without sufficient information and his survey has found that the fee in Haryana and Rajasthan is between Rs 40,000 and 42,000 per annum. From this year, it is around Rs 45, 000 in PTU. Dr Rajan points out the Punjab Government promised to give Rs 2 crore ever year, but has only given Rs 3.2 crore till now.
He is confident of restructuring the university with inputs from various task forces that he has constituted to look into different aspects of its functioning. The response to advertisements for top posts placed with the recommendation of the Joshi Committee has been good, says the Vice-Chancellor, who is confident of attracting good talent to his university.
But all this pertains to future. At present, as last week’s demonstrations at the Sukhmani Institute of Engineering and Technology at Dera Bassi showed, there is much discontent among students as they face changed circumstances and toughening up of implementation of rules.
PTU has come in for criticism for introducing new courses like architecture and pharmacy, without consolidation of its existing resources. The decision of the authorities to give only five days for depositing fee to the candidates clearing the latest combined entrance test was resented by students, since they stood to lose Rs 10,000 in case they changed their mind. Event the result of the examination was delayed in June.
The distance education programme of the university is a cash cow though students have been complaining of not receiving study material in time. With 300 centres, including over 200 in Punjab alone and one in Dubai, it is a vast enterprise that serves over 20,000 students. Given the paucity of staff (question papers were distributed from the home of the officer concerned in a recent examination), one can sympathise with the authorities, but the students have every reason to expect nothing but full service for what they have enrolled and paid for. This they are certainly not getting, though improvements have been made, especially since the Kalanidhi committee submitted its recommendations a few months ago.
Other initiatives launched by the PTU include a "knowledge reservoir" scheme of lectures. The first lecture was at Jalandhar on April 24. Dr. Lasar Mathew, Director, St. Francis Hospital, Ajmer, spoke on latest trends in cancer treatment and control and 93 students of pharmacy from different colleges participated.
A project to digitalise relevant books in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University and the Indian Institute of Science is underway and books are currently being scanned. The scanning centres are at Guru Nanak Dev Engineering College (Ludhiana), Gian Jyoti Institute of Management and Technology (SAS Nagar), Baba Banda Singh Bahadur Engineering College (Fatehgarh Sahib), Lala Lajpat Rai College of Engineering and Technology (Moga), Sh. Sai College of Engineering and Technology (Pathankot). This project, when completed, would make latest books, journals and reports available to students. PTU is also a member of Delnet.
It has to be remembered that students are often at the mercy of the colleges they are affiliated to and this is one of the weakest links of the university. The new smart card provision is supposed to keep track of the students and give them the facility to exchange information throughout the intranet, but this will take time.
Asked about the paucity of jobs for the students, the VC says that the number of engineers produced in the South fuelled the IT revolution there. Now there will be a pool of engineers from the North. The students who are getting admission now will come out as engineers four years hence. Thus even though past four years have been tough for IT placements, the situation is changing. Engineers will be available to the industry when needed.
He points out that children in Punjab now have a home advantage and people are getting empowered, though at a relatively low cost system. A rather positive fact is that 30 per cent of the intake of students of the university is girls. This makes for a quiet socio-economic revolution that is taking place here. Thus you have grandfathers selling a part of their properties in order to educate and empower the granddaughters. Thus there will be a pool of trained talent for the next wave when such skills are needed.
Even if one agrees with the VC, a fact that there will too many engineers pumped out by the end of four years cannot be ruled out. There was an IT boom a few years ago. It crashed leaving many burnt fingers and bankrupt wallets. Will the same happen to engineering courses and our future engineers who are riding the crest now? Will there be a large number of frustrated engineers looking for jobs, or will these engineers be engines of new growth in Punjab? Only time will tell.
That PTU is no
fly-by-night operation was conclusively established after President APJ
Abdul Kalam came as the chief guest at the first convocation that the
university held in March this year. Though it is a university where
ad-hocism ruled, and still does to a certain extent, and systems were
marked by their absence, there are positive changes afoot. It will be a
tough challenge to meet the expectations of the students. There are
miles to go and promises to keep. This is an experiment that cannot be
allowed to fail as too much of the region’s future depends on its
It may be that I shall find it good to get outside of my body — to cast it off like a disused garment. But I shall not cease to work! I shall inspire men everywhere, until the world shall know that it is one with God. — Swami Vivekananda He knows the sorrows of the poor, He destroys their pain and suffering, He upholds those who serve Him. — Guru Arjan Dev Cut off the head, O Nanak, That bows not to the Lord; Burn the wretched flesh That feels not the pain of separation. — Guru Angad Dev Meditation is the nurse of thought, and thought the food for meditation. — C. Simmons Right intention is to the actions of a man what the soul is to the body, or the root to the tree. — Jeremy Taylor
— Swami Vivekananda
He knows the sorrows of the poor,
He destroys their pain and suffering,
He upholds those who serve Him.
— Guru Arjan Dev
Cut off the head, O Nanak,
That bows not to the Lord;
Burn the wretched flesh
That feels not the pain of separation.
— Guru Angad Dev
Meditation is the nurse of thought, and thought the food for meditation.
— C. Simmons
Right intention is to the actions of a man what the soul is to the body, or the root to the tree.
— Jeremy Taylor
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