Perspective | Article | Middle | Oped | Reflections


On Record
We will withhold our guns but not withdraw, says Varavara Rao
by Ramesh Kandula
N a path-breaking effort, the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh has initiated a dialogue with naxalite organisations, most prominent of whom is the People’s War. The PW, which has been waging a guerilla war against the state for over three decades, has reciprocated the government’s gesture.

India’s electoral system, the finest in
the world
by R. Rathnaswamy
LECTION is one of the important elements of a democracy. The citizens must be able to pursue their interests and realise their goals. There must be equal participation of individuals or groups.


Doping shame
August 21, 2004
Delayed duty cuts
August 20, 2004
Silver streak
August 19, 2004
Peace in Parliament
August 18, 2004
Unrest in Northeast
August 17, 2004
Ethics in politics
August 16, 2004
We won’t force Centre to follow Left agenda, says Karat
August 15, 2004
Tiding over the flood
August 14, 2004
At cross purposes
August 13, 2004
Goodbye POTA
August 12, 2004
Loss of interest
August 11, 2004


Wajahat: In the eye of the storm
by Harihar Swarup
F freedom of speech and dissent are important ingredients of democracy, one cannot take a harsh view of Wajahat Habibullah’s opinion on the Kashmir dispute which runs somewhat contrary to India’s established policy since 1972. 

Comments Unkempt
Difference between East and West
by Chanchal Sarkar
F I were back in an ink-smelly newspaper office again I would commission a project for the reporters. It is: check what happens, over time, to institutions set up by private persons or groups with the intention of doing something for the public.

Diversities — Delhi Letter
PM to chair meet on Guru Granth Sahib fete
by Humra Quraishi
high-power meeting will be held here on Monday under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to finalise the programme for the quadri-centennial celebrations of the holy Guru Granth Sahib.







On Record
We will withhold our guns but not withdraw, says Varavara Rao
by Ramesh Kandula

P. Varavara Rao
P. Varavara Rao

IN a path-breaking effort, the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh has initiated a dialogue with naxalite organisations, most prominent of whom is the People’s War. The PW, which has been waging a guerilla war against the state for over three decades, has reciprocated the government’s gesture. The peace talks come in the backdrop of unending spiral of violence and killings by both sides for many years. P. Varavara Rao, well-known revolutionary writer and Maoist ideologue, is one of the three emissaries named by PW for holding talks with the government. Rao himself faced persecution by successive governments for his beliefs. He was imprisoned several times for alleged acts of sedition, including the Ram Nagar Conspiracy case, later dismissed by the court. The silver-hair spin-doctor for the ultra left, spoke to The Sunday Tribune about the scope of talks.


Q: What is the status of the peace initiative?

A: The government and the PW have arrived at a meeting ground on the modalities for talks. However, the PW is not willing to give up arms as a precondition for talks.

Q: What about the agreement signed by you and two other emissaries?

A: We wanted our dissent to be recorded. This was not done. At that time, it was only agreed that all political parties were free to propagate their ideology without fear of harm from anyone. This clause that the parties should not carry weapons during their campaign was not necessary. We maintain that we will withhold the gun, but not withdraw it.

Q: Why do you insist on carrying weapons as the ban on the PW has also been lifted?

A: We cannot give up arms just like that because we believe that armed struggle is the only way to achieve democratic revolution. Even the state Home Minister has said time and again that he was not going into the PW ideology and its beliefs on armed struggle at this stage. Besides, there are reasons for the underground armed Dalam members to carry guns because they have to defend themselves not only from the police but also from renegades, landlords, lumpen mafia who are out to finish the PW cadre.

What is relevant now is whether the PW has violated its commitment to ceasefire since June 15. When we insist on our right to carry weapons, we do not necessarily mean that our cadre carries weapons when they come out into the open for political propaganda. In fact, during the last many public meetings of PW after the ban was lifted, you would not have found even sticks that villagers normally carry about them, let alone guns. So, we feel this talk about weapons is a non-issue. Besides, the government and the PW are not engaged at this juncture in discussions about political power. So why get stuck at that?

Q: What is the next step now?

A: The moment we get the message from the PW, we will pass it on to the Home Minister. We hope he will not go on insisting on the weapons condition. Once that is thrashed out, the government and the PW will name their representatives for the talks. There will be observers acceptable to both sides to oversee the process. Since the government has assured that it will provide safe passage to the PW leaders if they come out of underground to participate in the negotiations, they are willing to break the bread themselves. But we have told the government that its representatives will have to be political leaders, not bureaucrats, because the issues are political.

Q: What about your statement on the agenda for the talks?

A: We are basically demanding discussion on land issues, democratic rights and World Bank policies. But for a more detailed dialogue, we spelt out the issues, which are relevant to each of the three regions in the state. On Telangana, our demand is for carving out a separate state for the backward region, providing irrigation facilities and putting an end to police repression. For Rayalaseema and North Andhra, we want irrigation facilities, end to factional fights and distribution of land to the landless poor.

Q: Isn’t it true that the Congress has an agenda on which it was voted to power?

A: We want the Congress to implement its promises made during the elections. Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy said his party would distribute surplus land to the landless poor. He accused Chandrababu Naidu of selling valuable land to multinationals. This government should realise that people had rejected Chandrababu Naidu who wanted a referendum on his economic policies and anti-Naxalite stance.

We are demanding what people want. Every demand may not be acceptable to the government. But if there is an agreement, say on land reforms, between the government and the PW, let the administration work out the modalities of land distribution under the supervision of independent experts and execute the same.

Q: What about the fears that the PW might use this interregnum to expand its cadre and strengthen its stronghold?

A: We are certainly a parallel power (to the government). We have hegemony in many areas despite the earlier government’s repressive measures. But the PW goes into accelerated militarisation mode when it has to face state repression and fake encounters. When the party is allowed to function freely, the focus is on politicisation. The PW will take up more political activities to enlighten people and bring pressure on the government on various demands.

Q: Is there any time frame for the talks? Do you see any concrete results at the end of it?

A: There is no need for a time frame. If there is a broad consensus on crucial issues, the talks can continue as long as required. As for results, it is good that there is no violence due to the congenial atmosphere created for the talks. Besides, all political parties should welcome the talks because parties such as the BJP and the TDP, which were not even allowed to enter villages to campaign during the recent elections, can now openly canvass their ideology.

The PW said that it would not touch any political activist or kill cops during the ceasefire. It would not even target Chandrababu Naidu, as long as the ceasefire lasts. And this government will have to contend with less number of headaches, if it can make peace with the PW. It can focus on people’s problems. The continuation of talks is in everyone’s interest.



India’s electoral system, the finest in the world
by R. Rathnaswamy

ELECTION is one of the important elements of a democracy. The citizens must be able to pursue their interests and realise their goals. There must be equal participation of individuals or groups. No individual or group should have excess power over others because unequal power thwarts meaningful dialogue.

In India, all citizens of 18 years and above have voting rights subject to certain conditions as stipulated in the election law. There is no restriction in terms of colour, creed, caste, religion, race and region. After a long debate, the Constituent Assembly decided that the right to vote is a statutory right and not a fundamental right. Thus, the election law incorporates restrictions and limitations in the conduct of polls through various laws passed by Parliament, rules, court orders and other directions of the Election Commission.

The success of an election depends upon sound electoral laws and practices, the rule of law, the independent judiciary, and the well-defined separation of powers among the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. India has incorporated them while drafting the Constitution. India hardly spends any amount on electoral education. All the developed nations spend money on electoral education under the direct supervision of their Election Commissions. India is lagging behind. This is one of the factors responsible for low voter turnout, poll violence and other problems.

Nevertheless, in this year’s elections, the voter turnout was 58.3 per cent, which is reasonable compared to the situation in the developed nations but it is lower by 1.6 per cent compared to the 1999 polls. Chief Election Commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthi has rightly rejected compulsory voting as in Australia and a couple of other nations.

India has a competitive electoral system, the best in the world, which applies to a multiparty system. It has led to political stability. In other Third World countries, this has led to stress and turmoil. As a result of our electoral system, several political parties representing different ideologies have grown slowly. The system has led to the emergence of regional parties and other such formations.

In 1977, the Janata Party came into prominence with its coalition government but could not sustain itself. In 1989, the Janata Dal with its allies came to power but it ended with a majority government. In 1996, the United Front came to power but could not last long. In 1998, the BJP with its allies came to power but the government fell after 13 days. Again, the BJP and its allies formed a coalition government which lasted only 13 months. In 1999, a BJP-led alliance government came into being and successfully completed its term.

Now Dr Manmohan Singh heads a coalition government. The 14th general election has not given a clear mandate to any single party, but has provided an edge to the Congress-led alliance over the BJP-led alliance. The biggest beneficiary of this election is the Left Front having won 61 seats. Among small beneficiaries are the Samajwadi party with 35 seats and the Bahujan Samaj Party with 19 seats.

In Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK-BJP alliance did not win a single seat and the Congress-led alliance could not get a single seat in Kerala. The average voter turnout in this election is 58.3 per cent which is lower by 1. 3 per cent compared to that of the 1999 elections. The average voter turnout in all the general elections is 55-69 per cent. Therefore, except for six states, the average turnout everywhere is about 50 per cent.

The 2004 general election is significant. The Congress has accepted coalition politics. In other words, the mandate of the people is not in favour of the single largest party. The growth of regional parties is an important factor in promoting coalition politics. India, being a vast country with linguistic, culture and other diversities, needs to have a pluralistic representation with flexibility which promotes solidarity.

Coalition governments are better placed to promote growth and development compared to a strong and single-party rule. The advantages of having a coalition government are several, the Common Minimum Programme being the most significant one. Secondly, no single party can impose its ideology, and it has to provide space for others. Thirdly, each party wants to prove a favourable point for future. Fourthly, the best skills are pooled to govern the nation due to the proportional ministerial berths. Fifthly, the urgency to fulfill its promises pays an important role.

Among the reasons for conducting the 2004 general elections successfully, a few factors are noteworthy. Political parties demanded a ban on exit and opinion polls. The Election Commission referred it to the Centre to get an Ordinance issued for the purpose since the Supreme Court had decided that the Commission had no power to ban the exit and opinion polls in 1999.

The Commission has similarly enforced the Supreme Court ruling on the disclosure of assets, criminal history, educational qualifications, etc, and offered the media to publish these for wider circulation among the voters before the casting of votes. The Commission has also issued orders to the electoral officers to inform it on every third day about the expenditure. This has a positive effect on the poll expenses of candidates.

Nonetheless, the Election Commission has to devise strategies for mobile polling stations to improve the voter turnout. There is a need for increasing the number of polling stations so that the voters living even in remote areas can exercise their right easily. Elections should be held with in a month after the filing of nominations. The manner in which the 2004 elections, spread over five phases, were held should be an exception. Efforts may also be made for an Internet voting system which will increase the voter turnout. The biggest achievement of the Election Commission is the decline in poll violence.

No institution is better than the people themselves. Therefore, the people must reprimand errant politicians for violations of the code of conduct and poor governance. This is the essence of democracy. This is the purpose of elections.

The writer, a Visiting Professor, Indian Law Institute, New Delhi, has authored two books, “Electoral Reforms” and the “Election Commission of India”.



Wajahat: In the eye of the storm
by Harihar Swarup

IF freedom of speech and dissent are important ingredients of democracy, one cannot take a harsh view of Wajahat Habibullah’s opinion on the Kashmir dispute which runs somewhat contrary to India’s established policy since 1972. An able IAS officer, known for his intimate knowledge of Kashmir affairs, he was targeted for putting forward the argument that the US could play a facilitator’s role to help resolve the Kashmir problem. India, on the other hand, has always ruled out the involvement of a third party in the dispute either as mediator or facilitator, more so when talks have resumed between India and Pakistan. Habibullah’s views are not off-the-cuff remarks but contained in a research paper entitled “The Kashmir problem and its resolution”. He wrote the paper during his year-long stint with the United States Institute of Peace where he had gone on a scholarship. There are several other aspects of the paper that need serious consideration.

Apart from suggesting that the US could play a “crucial role” as a facilitator, keeping in view the deep mistrust that Kashmiris have of India and their growing mistrust of Pakistan, Habibullah has made a plea for revitalising the state’s economy. A large section of the people are either orphans or destitutes, the suicide rate in the valley is high, and psychiatric services for post-traumatic stress are virtually nil. They have to be provided succour. Also, he has suggested a more open private sector to provide employment opportunities to Kashmiri youth and greater stake in their future. More important, he has contended that cross-border terrorism has to stop to help achieve these objectives.

Making a plea for opening of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road, he pointed out that the simple step would go a long way in ameliorating the sufferings of the people. “Ending the road closures would not only facilitate the ability of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to function as one regional entity but also improve the effectiveness of any economic development initiatives undertaken in the region”. Evidently, as Habibullah pointed out, key to any solution to the problem lay not in territorial compromises between states but focussing on the needs of the people on both sides of the border.

He said the Kashmiri people should be made to feel free and be able to run their own lives and this does not mean territorial changes. Also the absence of any dialogue with separatists’ (not militants) leadership has further deteriorated the situation. In addition, the human rights abuses committed by the Indian security forces deployed to combat the insurgency have only increased local sympathy for the infiltrators.

Having worked in Kashmir for long years in various capacities, few know the state, its ethos and the people so well as Wajahat. Unlike many bureaucrats, he was able to establish rapport with the people even during the peak period of militancy. This helped him to succeed almost always as a negotiator. He came to limelight during the Hazratbal hostage crisis in early nineties when he had a brush with death. He was Srinagar’s Commissioner then. Returning from a round of negotiations with the militants, holed up inside the shrine, his bullet-proof car met with an accident, which some suspected, was pre-planned, and he was badly injured. First report flashed by the agencies said he died in the crash but he survived miraculously. He recovered after months of treatment.

Kashmir was in turmoil since 1990 when militancy surfaced and got intensified. Wajahat took over as Srinagar’s Commissioner when the rapport between the people and the government had completely snapped. Militants had given a call that no one should accept relief of any kind from the government and even the victims refused the same. There were firings by security forces, casualties and strike by government employees but the kith and kin of victims would not accept compensation. During the strike, Wajahat would sit alone in his office and his only aide was his PA. Once when a widow, whose husband was killed in the BSF firing, met him in his office, she too was injured. When Wajahat had visited her in hospital and offered Rs 1 lakh as compensation, she refused. She now wanted the money in defiance of the militants’ instructions. Asked why she changed her mind, she told the Commissioner that her in-laws had shunted her out and she wanted to be on her feet instead of going to her parents and, therefore, wanted money.

Since there was no staff, Wajahat himself signed the cheque and handed it over to the widow. The word went round that people started turning at Wajahat’s office who heard them patiently about their sufferings and misery. He attended to their problems and provided prompt relief. The rapport between the people and the administration was gradually restored and, in the process, Wajahat won the confidence of the people.

A 1968 batch IAS officer, Wajahat’s first posting in Kashmir was in 1969. G. M. Sadiq was the Chief Minister then. Luckily, Sadiq was a friend of Wajahat’s father, Major-Gen E. Habibullah and the young officer, hailing from UP, got a good start in his career. It is said that Wajahat played an important role in firming up the Sheikh Abdullah-Indira Gandhi accord in 1975. Later, Wajahat worked in the PMO during the tenures of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and became quite close to the Gandhi family. His mother, Begum Hamida Habibullah too was close to Indira Gandhi and had two terms in the Rajya Sabha. She is now 88 and lives in Lucknow, Habibullah’s home town.


Comments Unkempt
Difference between East and West
by Chanchal Sarkar

Ramakrishna Mission Hospital, New Delhi
Ramakrishna Mission Hospital, New Delhi

IF I were back in an ink-smelly newspaper office again I would commission a project for the reporters. It is: check what happens, over time, to institutions set up by private persons or groups with the intention of doing something for the public. In Bengal, as I am sure it must be in what were the other “provinces”, there were so many schools, colleges and charitable dispensaries set up, often by people from the village who had made good in the city. As distinct from government or municipal institutions they usually carried the names of the donors — B.M. College, Barisal, K.N. College, Berhampore, T.N.C. College Pathanamthitta and scores of schools. Of course, in earlier days it didn’t cost much to collect some land, put up a structure with four or five rooms and start off, say, a T.V. Nair Secondary School, or a Krishnavedantam Charitable Dispensary.

As one travels in rural Bihar, Bengal or UP one sees a spread of these institutions in advanced stages of decay. Walls falling, rickety desks, no drinking water or toilets. The zamindars, successful city lawyers or businessmen who set them up are long dead and their descendants are on lean days or indifferent or both. Once governments came in the picture changed. The donors ducked and, for a while, governments did provide grants. Then government budgets shrank, the grants tapered off or remained unpaid for years and the institutions carried on, dented dog-eared and anxious.

This is the great difference between the East and the West, between France, Britian, Germany, Norway or Japan on the one hand and Bangladesh, Pakistan and India on the other. There the old are lovingly rebuilt (even after disastrous wars) and continued. Had Bihar been Bavaria then Nalanda would still be a functioning university, and Nalanda itself would be as the young novitiate Bhikshus in saffron robes from China, Sri Lanka or Cambodia saw it, with modern amenities but carefully adapted to time. Paris has changed but parts of Kolkata remain as was Paris in Charles Dickens and Ronald Colman’s “Tale of Two Cities”.

Surely, it is a matter of feeling, social conscience and the will to do something. Thousands of alumni have gone into the world from Presidency College. Kolkata, Government College Lahore, Madras Christian College and Sydenham College, Pune. Yet how many are the millions they have sent back to their colleges once they were established in life? The Alumni Association Reports from Harvard or Oxbridge are enormously interesting as they show how money flows in and how wisely and creatively it is put to use. Indian alumni have the money but there is little energy to collect and use it.

This is how it is world wide. Since World War II the wealth of the Western countries and that of the rich in the so called poor countries (Even, perhaps especially) in failed states have increased enough to feed, clothe, house, educate, provide work and medical treatment for every child and adult living and yet we have Darfur in Sudan. So much in the television that is shown to us in India is garbage but it also pictures for us the state of the world — the billions of dollars that go to stage a modern Olympics and the utterly inhuman conditions in the refugee camps on the border with Chad.

We quote but then forget the sentence Gandhiji had fashioned: “The world has enough for everyone’s need but not for their greed”. This applies not only to the richest economies of the world like the United States, Japan and other European countries but to us as well, to our 250 million who are well off. If this sector gave a rupee a day every year, all poverty would disappear from our country. But do we have a mechanism by which to harvest that money?

When President Roosevelt and a colleague thought up an idea of appealing to the children of America to contribute a dime each to fight polio, the White House got nearly washed away by the cascade of dimes that descended on it. Can’t we do that for Amlashole in West Bengal where people were dying of hunger or for the farmers in Andhra who are committing suicide? Why can’t our young people take charge of the two-rupee coins that would be sent? There will be doubts about the honesty of the post offices in delivering the envelopes and of the recipients in collecting them. But we still do have organisations like the Ramakrishna Mission that could manage the flood of two-rupee coins if they were persuaded to collect them. Very probably they would be frightened by the prospect and rear back. But they could be persuaded and maybe the major banks could undertake to turn the coins into currency notes and draft it to the Ramakrishna Mission or to Mother Teresa’s sisters of Charity. There is enough coins in your pockets and, yes, mine, to wipe the tears from every eye in India.

I think it doesn’t happen because of what scholars and analysts are fond of calling lack of political will”. Otherwise take the T.K. Ghosh Academy in Patna where Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Dr. B.C. Roy have been pupils. The school is in a terrible state of decay for lack of funds. There is also a well-known heart hospital in Delhi which is slowly but surely declining, losing patients and doctors and is unable to move with the time and devolve responsibility to its doctors. Maybe it should be taken over by, preferably, a devoted institution like the Ramakrishna Mission or, effectively but not perhaps preferably, an industrial house.

Then it would not be heamorraging as it is and be like the Ramakrishna Seva Pratisthan in Kolkata — a hospital that has grown to include all the disciplines, where the environment is clean and where fees are reasonable. The project that I would give reporters is to examine why this happens in a few places but not in most.



Diversities — Delhi Letter
PM to chair meet on Guru Granth Sahib fete
by Humra Quraishi

Manmohan Singh 
Manmohan Singh 

A high-power meeting will be held here on Monday under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to finalise the programme for the quadri-centennial celebrations of the holy Guru Granth Sahib.

What I find particularly worth mentioning in this context is the fact that participants in this meeting are not necessarily Sikhs and political leaders but people drawn from different religious faiths.

Those who would be attending the meeting are United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting S. Jaipal Reddy, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, Andhra Pradesh Governor Surjit Singh Barnala, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and Congress leader and former Union Minister Buta Singh.

There would be others too like distinguished writer, author and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Rajmohan Gandhi, Professor Ausaf Ali, Professor Nambiar Singh, Dr Amrik Singh, Kapila Vatsyayan, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, Vincent Concessao, Karam Masih, Samdhung Rimpoche, Dr Sayeeda Hameed and several other scholars.

Among the 37 invitees for this meeting, there are many scholars representing different  religious faiths. This I find truly nationalistic in character. Otherwise, because of the widening political divide, it has always been narrow demarcations along religious lines. Now the time has come for a unique synthesis of all religions and faiths, togetherness and a sense of oneness.

Hopefully, Monday’s significant meeting and the celebrations that follow in the days to come will usher in a new era of religious peace, tranquility and harmony, the cause for which Guru Nanak is revered in the world.

Gursharan attends Khushwant’s do

At Khushwant Singh’s 90th birthday celebrations which coincided with the release of two of his books very recently, it was absolutely the who’s who in the Capital who had come to wish him.

Heading the list was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s wife Gursharan Kaur, daughter   Upinder and son-in-law Vijay Tankha. In keeping with the low profile, the family maintains, Gursharan Kaur sat quietly whilst the daughter and the son-in-law mingled with the academics around (plenty that evening).

For reasons of space, it would not be possible for me to mention about those present  but you can guess the numbers from the fact that the main hall of hotel Le Meridien was packed. Khushwant spoke for almost 8-10 minutes — the basics centering his life, his writings and about the man he respects — Dr Manmohan Singh. He has this to say about the Prime Minister: “Dr Manmohan Singh has three qualities which are very  difficult to find in any one individual in today’s times — he is highly intelligent, very   honest and together with that extremely modest”.

Chandigarh girl, UNIC Director

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed Shalini Dewan as the new Director of the United Nations Information Centre in New Delhi. Prior to joining the United Nations, she worked as a journalist for a newspaper in New Delhi. She later took over as the Editor of the Children’s Book Trust in New Delhi.

Ms Dewan hails from Chandigarh. A post-graduate in journalism, she did her BA (Honours) in English from Panjab University, Chandigarh. She was born in India, but became a citizen of the United States in 1983. She began her career with the United Nations in 1978 as an Information Officer in the Department of Public Information in New York.



In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.

— Mahatma Gandhi

Both the ocean and the dharma are full of gems and pearls and jewels, and both afford a dwelling place for mighty beings.

— The Buddha

I am a bought-slave of the Lord and my name is Lucky. I was sold at the Master’s shop at bidding and now I go the way He bids.

— Guru Nanak

That fasting is true when the person observing it does not entertain any inauspicious thought, when his senses do not become weak and when the activities of his mind, speech and body remain unimpaired.

— Lord Mahavir


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