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EDITORIALS

Forgotten hostages
At least tell us what’s going on
T
HE families of three drivers held hostage in Iraq are a harried lot. The lives of their near and dear ones hang in the balance and that is the only thing they know for sure.

Assam in turmoil
Govt should try to win the hearts of the people
T
HE series of bomb blasts in Assam triggered by the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) that killed six persons and injured 60 in the past two days is alarming. These incidents come close on the heels of the explosion at Dhemaji in northern Assam that killed 16 children on Independence Day.


EARLIER ARTICLES

Dereliction of duty
August 27, 2004
Election season
August 26, 2004
Virtue out of necessity
August 25, 2004
On a different track
August 24, 2004
Congress parivar
August 23, 2004
We will withhold our guns but not withdraw, says Varavara Rao
August 22, 2004
Doping shame
August 21, 2004
Delayed duty cuts
August 20, 2004
Silver streak
August 19, 2004
Peace in Parliament
August 18, 2004
THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
Bench versus Bar
Lessons to learn from TN strike
T
UESDAY'S withdrawal of the controversial code of conduct for advocates evolved by the Madras High Court is welcome as it caused considerable consternation among the legal fraternity of the state during the past one month.
ARTICLE

Religion, politics and modern State
Secularism treated as a western concept
by Ram Puniyani
L
AST two decades have witnessed a constant invocation of religion in the arena of politics. From George Bush’s crusade against terrorism to Osama bin Laden’s jihad against the “greatest Satan”, US, to our own home-bred Hindutva ideology which aims at Hindu Rashtra, one constantly gets to hear that politics is to be guided by religion.

MIDDLE

Ooty anti-climax
by K. Rajbir Deswal
W
HILE setting foot for Ooty, the beautiful and salubrious south-Indian hill station, little did we realise that many anti-climaxes were in store for us. The shocks, though, weren’t totally unbearable, yet the experience was interesting in its peculiar way.

OPED

“July package” of WTO
Challenges to Haryana agriculture
by J. George
T
HE “July package” of WTO, hailed as the historic framework agreement to save the Doha mandate, has to be situated within the confines of the agriculture landscape of Haryana. That will help us to explore whether or not the state could continue to claim its major culture as agriculture.

Thatcher’s son in coup plot
by Kim Sengupta
A
crumbling African state with a fabulous fortune in oil, a murderous dictator accused of cannibalism, and a planned coup allegedly involving Sir Mark Thatcher, son of the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and mercenaries led by a former SAS officer.


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Forgotten hostages
At least tell us what’s going on

THE families of three drivers held hostage in Iraq are a harried lot. The lives of their near and dear ones hang in the balance and that is the only thing they know for sure. After a few days of consoling them before TV cameras, government officials have become their unconcerned self. Relatives of some of the hostages are unhappy that the government is not giving them information about the well-being of the hostages. It is not only the family members but also all country men who want to know what the government is doing for them. Latest reports say that the kidnappers are ready to release them if their employers halt operations in Iraq. But many such unconfirmed reports have been emanating from Iraq and one does not know what to believe. It is nobody's case that the government should reveal the sensitive contents of the negotiations that are going on along various tracks but it must at least reassure the families and the nation that the very best efforts are being made for their release.

In the absence of it, all sorts of rumours are being spread. Not only that, a feeling is also developing that the hostages have been left to fend for themselves just because they happen to belong to the lower strata of society. After all, the government went out of the way to concede the terrorists' demands when a minister's daughter was kidnapped in Srinagar. The country's Foreign Minister accompanied freed terrorists to Kandahar when passengers of a plane were held hostage.

It is dangerous to give the impression that India is a weak State which easily succumbs to blackmail. At the same time, it is also the duty of the government to save the life of each of its citizens. Whether the demands of the "Holders of Black Banner" are accepted or not, the hostage problem should be tackled according to a clear-cut policy.

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Assam in turmoil
Govt should try to win the hearts of the people

THE series of bomb blasts in Assam triggered by the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) that killed six persons and injured 60 in the past two days is alarming. These incidents come close on the heels of the explosion at Dhemaji in northern Assam that killed 16 children on Independence Day. Surely, the ghastly attacks were an attempt by the militant organisation to mark its presence. These blasts seem to be the handiwork of the anti-talk faction of the secessionist outfit, which has been opposing Dr Manmohan Singh government's offer for peace talks. What is clear is that this faction would like to show that ULFA is still a force to reckon with and even if its leaders joined the talks, they would do so from a position of strength.

The organisation has returned to step up violent activity after periods of relative calm time and again in the past. Against this background, the government needs to tighten vigil and keep a close watch on ULFA to determine whether the current cycle of violence signifies the beginning of a new phase of militancy following a degree of regrouping or consolidation within the ranks of ULFA.

Undoubtedly, there is a fresh spurt of militant activity and the government should take every possible measure to thwart ULFA's designs. Security should be stepped up in oil installations in upper and lower Assam which were attacked by ULFA last year. Operations by the security forces should in no way cause harassment to the general public. The unrest in Manipur is mainly due to the highhandedness and questionable role of the jawans of Assam Rifles. The Assam government should try to win the hearts of the people who feel alienated from the national mainstream. The tragedy of the northeast is that continued insurgency has hit the pace of development in the entire region and affected normal life.

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Bench versus Bar
Lessons to learn from TN strike

TUESDAY'S withdrawal of the controversial code of conduct for advocates evolved by the Madras High Court is welcome as it caused considerable consternation among the legal fraternity of the state during the past one month. The advocates were on strike demanding its repeal. Work in the High Court and almost all district courts was paralysed. The advocates have been maintaining that the code, which was notified following an amendment to the rules framed under the Advocates' Act, was draconian and aimed at clipping their freedom of speech and expression. The code also banned meetings and processions and empowered the court to prevent erring advocates from entering the court premises for a period of up to one year. The advocates also questioned the competence of the court in drafting the code which, they say, could be done only by the Bar Council.

The other demand regarding the new Madurai Bench of the High Court has almost been fulfilled. As the advocates are opposed to the setting up of the Bench, the scheduled notification has been put on hold, pending review by a committee of judges on the territorial jurisdiction of the Bench. It is not clear whether the advocates are now firm on their other demand — the transfer of the Madras High Court Chief Justice.

While the courts should resume normal work immediately, the larger question remains — whether the advocates have the right to go on strike which, according to the Supreme Court, is illegal. Moreover, the conduct of some advocates was unbecoming of their profession. They had reportedly beaten up those willing to work right in front of the judges. This was shameful and will remain a blot on the High Court's image. Advocates are expected to uphold the majesty of law. However, if they themselves take the law into their hands, what kind of message will they send to the state and the nation?

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Thought for the day

Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Religion, politics and modern State
Secularism treated as a western concept
by Ram Puniyani

LAST two decades have witnessed a constant invocation of religion in the arena of politics. From George Bush’s crusade against terrorism to Osama bin Laden’s jihad against the “greatest Satan”, US, to our own home-bred Hindutva ideology which aims at Hindu Rashtra, one constantly gets to hear that politics is to be guided by religion. So when Mr L.K. Advani, the pioneer of Ram Temple movement which brought Hindutva to the fore, stated in Ahmedabad that if there was no religion in politics then it was of no use to him (July 26) it was not much of a surprise.

There are many an argument on this line, which regard secularism as a western concept, it being against religion, it being appeasement of minorities, it being an artificial graft in the body politic of India, which is the land of spirituality etc.

It is not only the Advani parivar, which will argue on these lines. This parivar is in the company of Taliban, Zia-ul-Haque and others from near the borders who also conduct their politics in the name of religion. On the face of it the two trends may sound antagonistic while there is a deeper conceptual unity in both the streams. This stream is joined by an unexpected quarter of post-modernists, the likes of Ashish Nandy to whom secularism is a western graft unsuitable and unnecessary here as diverse communities here have been living together peacefully in the same geographical area.

Somewhere in the middle of this argument Gandhi is quoted as if he was against secularism, also Nehru is quoted as being against religions and imposing this “alien” concept in Indian context.

This Advani-Nandy duo suffers from multiple confusions. To begin with secularism is not a mere western concept. It is true it began in the West. But it began not to sort out the quarrels between religions but it came up with the introduction of industrialisation, with the emergence of two modern classes, industrialists and workers. Till that time it was the king-landlord who had the divine sanction to rule on the direct approval of the almighty. While king was the son of God, landlord his representative, the clergy, the most visible part and the custodian of religion, was the legitimiser of this ideology.

Secularism essentially was an outcome of secularisation process in which the divine power of the king-landlord and the social hold of clergy was done away with.

While secularisation is presented as an external process, the deeper inner logic of this was to do away the hierarchy of caste and gender. In Indian context due to colonial rule and the landlord-British alliance, the process of secularisation could not be completed. The hold of landlord-priest and the accompanying values of caste and gender hierarchy persisted though in less intense form. At this point of time secularisation process was represented by Jotiba Phule, Savitriba Phule, Bhimrao Babasaheb Ambedkar and Periyar Ramasamy Naicker at social level and by the likes of Gandhi, Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad at political level. While many a difference can be seen if one sees their ideologies in a superficial way, the deeper unity of their thoughts was apparent as these luminaries spearheaded the social process of opposing the inferior treatment to shudras and women at social level and relegating the clergy-landlords at political level.

Advani is able to confuse himself as the world religion has many components and many meanings. Gandhi did state that those who think religion has nothing to do with politics understand neither religion nor politics. This is his oft-quoted sentence. But what “his” religion means needs to be seen. The first and foremost, one has to see that the claim of being custodian and so the arbiter of religion is taken away from clergy, mullahs and Brahmins. Then one has to see that religions’ facets are diverse, moral values; holy books; holy places; communitarian functions and the like. Also one has to see that within a single religion there are various sects. What people like Gandhi and Azad mean by religion is totally in contrast to what Advani, Taliban, Jinnah and Godse mean by it. As per Gandhi, “Indeed religion should pervade everyone of our actions. Here, the religion does not mean sectarianism. It means a belief in ordered moral government of the universe. This religion transcends Hinduism, Islam and Christianity etc. It does not supercede them. It harmonises them and gives them reality.”

The claim of Nandy’s that Gandhi could do without the concept of secularism is again based on the ignorance about values of Father of the Nation who said: “Religion and state will be separate. I swear by my religion, i will die for it. But it is my personal affair. The state has nothing to do with it. The state will look after your secular welfare, health, communications, foreign relations, currency and so on, but not your or my religion. That is everybody’s personal concern.”

One has seen the impact of religion in politics through the politics of the Muslim League, the Hindu Mahasabha, the RSS, Taliban and the like. It will be worth its while to think as to with what aspect of life we associate religion with — the dictates of clergy or with the humanistic teachings of saints. Here, there is no point in asserting that clergy and saint were both religious. Yes both of them were talking in the language of religion, clergy on behalf of those in power and saints on behalf of those poor and destitute struggling for their survival. One has seen Advani’s “politics with religion” leading to demolition of the Babri Masjid and Taliban’s “politics with religion” leading to demolition of Bamiyan Buddha.

The relationship between state, politics and religion could not have been defined better than what Nehru has to say on the issue, “What it means is that it is a state which honours all faiths equally and gives them equal opportunities; that as a state, it does not allow itself to be attached to one faith or religion, which then becomes the state religion...In a country like India, no real nationalism can be built up except on the basis of secularity...narrow religious nationalisms are a relic of the past age and no longer relevant today.”

The writer is a Professor at IIT Mumbai

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Ooty anti-climax
by K. Rajbir Deswal

WHILE setting foot for Ooty, the beautiful and salubrious south-Indian hill station, little did we realise that many anti-climaxes were in store for us. The shocks, though, weren’t totally unbearable, yet the experience was interesting in its peculiar way.

First we did not find Ooty on the map of India. I have my own collection of info-packs from tourism departments on many places of interest but no brochure contained the calling or plotting of Ooty. It was only after reaching the place that we came to know that the name given to it was Udhagmandalam which the then British rulers transformed for convenience into Ootacamund.

Hardly had we settled in Tamilagam, the sprawling state guest house and the most preferred location for shooting films than we found out that friends calling from Delhi didn’t know that we had to pay exorbitantly on using a roaming mobile phone. I was about to switch off the cell-phone when a very dear colleague called up and without waiting for a go-ahead “ irshad” from me, he continued cutting down on my balance at double speed.

Next in the series of the surprises thrown was the case of “Guinness Plantations”. We were told that some enthusiastic bureaucrat had attempted a rare and laudable feat of organising plantation of one lakh saplings in a single day — a record of sorts in its own right — and make it to the Guinness Book. Thrilled, we drove for 10 kilometres to Kurtukulli, only to find that the effort had ended in an embarrassingly unsuccessful event. Still we liked the idea being related to environment.

The last anti-climax took place in a glass house where innumerable varieties of plants had taken roots. The serenity and calmness enhanced in their effect by the supplementary presence of lovely buds and flowers made us desirous of having a photograph there. Wife suggested that one of the three tribal women working there could take our joint photo.

“No!” I said for she wouldn’t understand our language nor would she handle the camera. Lo and behold! The paan -chewing woman cleansed her soiled hands with her sari , grabbed the camera, saw through the viewfinder before clicking the right, red button and said, “Smile” followed by “Thank you” to our utter amazement. On processing we found that the photo was a perfect frame in focus and composition.

Now we understood why for his anti-climaxes Mahesh Bhatt, the famous Bollywood director chooses Ooty as an apt location for a perfect rounding off.

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“July package” of WTO
Challenges to Haryana agriculture
by J. George

THE “July package” of WTO, hailed as the historic framework agreement to save the Doha mandate, has to be situated within the confines of the agriculture landscape of Haryana. That will help us to explore whether or not the state could continue to claim its major culture as agriculture. It is now well recognised that the state has witnessed a paradoxical situation of simultaneity in economic growth as well as social regress. Haryana has a tough task of reforming her agriculture sector since the new order of world trade in agriculture products is highly demanding and full of challenges in the form of non-tariff barriers.

The “July package”(JP) in the Annex A elaborates a framework for further negotiation based on the three pillars of the agreement on agriculture (AoA), namely domestic support, export competition and market access. While under the export competition pillar the JP framework text attempts to address the Doha mandate for elimination of all export subsidies and a variety of export incentives by a credible date, there are about 25 member countries that can subsidise exports for only those products on which they have commitments to reduce the subsidies and India is not among them. The manner and other finer details will be worked out once the negotiators reassemble in different designated groups after the August break.

The most contentious domestic support pillar has been largely disappointing for the developing countries. The domestic support is considered under three boxes, namely green, blue and amber. It was the amber box elements that were under commitments to be reduced since they distorted trade in agriculture products. The green and blue box entities were not to be reduced. At the Cancun ministerial, pressure was built up to bring in reduction and discipline in these two boxes. The JP framework did not fully accept demands of the developing countries. Instead, the framework talks about reviewing blue box primarily to include new criteria to further enlarge the support under this box.

The main gainers are going to be EU and US as US will attempt to go up to 5 per cent of agriculture production value. EU, the main user of blue box subsidy, has already planned to shift many blue box items into the green box to stay within this 5 per cent limit.

Thus one can see in Para 15 that the main concerns of the developed country agriculture have been incorporated in the framework text. This would imply that the developing countries’ concerns would have to be strongly argued before the committee when it is reconvened.

The JP text on green box, instead of capping, has once again talked about reviewing and clarifying to ensure that no or minimal trade distortion effects are imparted. Under the amber box, that every member is subjected to the Uruguay round commitment, the developing countries have been put into a trap. Consider the language used in Para 11 of JP text: “reduction in de minimis will be negotiated taking into the principle of special and differential treatment. Developing countries that allocate almost all de minimis support for subsistence and resource poor farmers will be exempt”. The restrictive language is now open for acrimonious discussion when the negotiators reconvene the committee meeting next month. This clause is severely going to impact all developing countries, including India.

The developing countries can for the time being take solace in the language used to convey that substantial reduction in the aggregate level of trade distorting domestic support from the bound levels (amber box support) plus permitted de minimis and blue box support will be carried out according to a tiered formula to bring in harmonisation. It needs to be noted here that harmonisation concept in the domestic support pillar is a new addition to placate the developing countries’ concerns. Here the politics of agriculture trade is seeking support from arithmetic and legal experts. That would mean long and painful processes of discussion. This is literally a minefield and the developing countries are certainly going to be facing heavy casualties.

The market access pillar that had served as another rallying point for all developing countries again has mixed offering. Whereas certain principles enunciated by G20 in their May 28, 2004, proposal find place in the framework paper, the language is going to pose severe limitations in the subsequent negotiation talks. The crucial issue of tariff peaks and escalation as also the non-tariff barriers have been ignored in spite of repeated representation.

It is evidently clear now that non-tariff barriers like sanitary and phytosanitary measures will be strictly imposed. As things stand today most of the burden of compliance has fallen on to the smallholder producers and the state agencies have been a mute spectator to this spectacle. That would mean that export potential of the agricultural products from the state, though miniscule, would suffer heavy adjustment cost.

Agriculture, no doubt, is a state subject and the existing support mechanism under the amber and other two boxes will be a function of the federal policies as well as the fiscal muscle of the state budgets.

Limitations of budgetary and other provisions are real and the contract farming designs do not address the poor investment in the sector. That will bring into sharper focus the price support mechanism that has to be WTO compatible.

The final scenario that would thus appear is going to be an extremely tight bargaining terrain. It will be the ingenuity and focused concerns of the smallholder producers that will pave the way for the future market oriented reform agenda.

The writer, an independent commentator on WTO issues, is Professor and Head, Faculty of Economics and Development Planning, HIPA, Gurgaon.

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Thatcher’s son in coup plot
by Kim Sengupta

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher

A crumbling African state with a fabulous fortune in oil, a murderous dictator accused of cannibalism, and a planned coup allegedly involving Sir Mark Thatcher, son of the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and mercenaries led by a former SAS officer.

These are the extraordinary ingredients in a tale of intrigue, violence and realpolitik, catapulted to international headlines by the arrest of Baroness Thatcher’s son at his £2m home in Cape Town.

At its heart lies an alleged plot to overthrow Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the President of Equatorial Guinea, a country deeply impoverished, but which is also Africa’s third-largest oil producer. He was to be eliminated and replaced, it is claimed, by a government led by an exiled opposition leader, Severo Moto Nsa, who would reward those who financed the mercenaries with lucrative oil contracts.

A central figure is Simon Mann, an Old Etonian former soldier and scion of the Watney brewing empire whose father once captained England at cricket, who is now on trial in Zimbabwe, accused of being the leader of the plot.

His contacts in Britain were said to include Sir Mark, and Ely Calil, a London-based oil trader who made his fortune in Nigerian oil. In June 2002, Mr Calil was arrested by the French police investigating payments of millions of pounds in commission by the French oil company Elf Aquitaine to Sani Abacha, the former dictator of Nigeria.

Mr Calil, of Lebanese background, is a former financial adviser to Jeffrey Archer. The disgraced peer and former Tory deputy chairman is alleged to have paid Mr Mann £80,000, but he has denied knowledge of any coup plot.

The oil trader lives in a £12m house in Chelsea, and has several other properties he rents out. Peter Mandelson, while Northern Ireland Secretary, was a tenant, renting a £500,000 apartment in Holland Park. But there is no suggestion Mr Mandelson has other connections to Mr Calil.

Mr Mann, who has been held at Chikuribi prison, outside Harare, for five months, pleaded for help from Sir Mark, who inherited the baronetcy of his late father Denis’s title, and is a neighbour of Mr Mann in the exclusive Cape Town suburb of Constantia.

The accused mercenary leader also asked for aid from David Hart, another Old Etonian, and a businessman with right-wing views.

In a letter from his cell on March 31, to his wife Amanda and his legal team, Mr Mann, 51, said: “Our situation is not good and it is very urgent. They [the lawyers] get no reply from Smelly and Scratcher [who] asked them to ring back after the Grand Prix was over! This is not going well. I must say once again: what will get us out is major clout. We need heavy influence of the sort that” ... Smelly, Scratcher ... David Hart, and it needs to be used heavily and now. Once we get into a real trial scenario, we are f....d”. South African colleagues of Mr Mann have confirmed that Scratcher is Mark Thatcher, and Smelly is Mr Calil.

By arrangement with The Independent, London

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