Back to Advani
End of Veerappan
Broadband in sight
New policy will provide quicker access
A 24-hour Internet access at speed will seem like a dream come true to a majority of Net users in India, thanks to the new policy announced by the Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Mr Dayanidhi Maran.
Nobel for Wangari
An early awakening
Back to Advani
THE change in the leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party is nothing but dramatic. The explanation Mr Venkaiah Naidu proffered for quitting the post was just for public consumption. It took no time for the senior leaders to ask Mr L.K. Advani to take over from him. This suggests that there is more than meets the eye in the change of leadership. Mr Naidu's continuance had become problematic because it was under his leadership that the BJP fought the Lok Sabha elections and then the Maharashtra elections with disastrous results. He was not responsible for his party's losing the elections, but he will certainly be remembered for some of his faux pas and volubility.
For a party which prides itself in having a second tier of leadership, it is surprising that it had to turn to Mr Advani who has already presided over it for eight years. It is the fear that handing over the reins of the party to anyone like Ms Sushma Swaraj, Ms Uma Bharati, Mr Arun Jaitley and Mr Pramod Mahajan will trigger off a power struggle that perhaps forced the senior leaders to turn to Mr Advani. Obviously, the party does not also want someone like Mr Murli Manohar Joshi at its top because the Advani camp is opposed to him. Small wonder that the BJP thought that the former Deputy Prime Minister was the best bet under the circumstances.
Given the fact that Mr Naidu was Mr Advani's nominee for the party post, few will see any significance in the change of leadership. In the elections to both the Lok Sabha and the Maharashtra Assembly, the veteran leader had a major role to play, be it in the selection of candidates or in drawing up the party's campaign strategy. Mr Advani along with other senior leaders is, therefore, as much to blame for the electoral setback the party suffered as Mr Naidu. Nonetheless, what will stand him in good stead as he sets about building confidence in the party cadres is his seniority. But what is the plank he is going to stand on? Once he could revive the fortunes of the party by hitching the BJP to the Ram temple bandwagon. But because of the diminishing value of Hindutva, he will have to think of some other idea than the one he has been stubbornly sticking to. The coming elections in Haryana, Jharkhand and Bihar will show whether he still has it in him to make a difference to the prospects of the BJP. He would not succeed unless he gives up a few of his ideas which have become irrelevant today.
End of Veerappan
Koose Munusamy Veerappan is dead. This brings to an end the nearly 20-year hunt for the brigand who killed over 120 people and 2000 elephants, and ran a flourishing racket in ivory and sandalwood from the jungles straddling Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Predictably enough, the two state governments would claim it as a victory for the forces of law and order. There would also follow allegations about the covert links of many people to Veerappan, which enabled him to remain at large all these years. Now, with the bandit eliminated, the authorities should begin the process of unravelling his vast network of connections that linked politics, the administration, caste-based outfits, extremist groups and, unfortunately, even some NGO and civil liberties activists. This needs to be done in right earnest.
Over the years, Veerappan had acquired patrons, collaborators, informants and advocates across sections of society. The projection of this murderous criminal as a Robin Hood pitted against the might of the State in defence of poor and deprived forest-dwellers is an image that ensnared many including in the media and activist groups. He was elevated to the status of a cult figure. His links with armed Tamil militant groups — which is suspected to have extended to the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka — lent him a political colour, casting him as a champion of certain caste groups as well as self-styled liberation fronts. These outfits in turn sought to rally some misguided NGO and human rights activists to defend Veerappan’s associates ignoring that he was a terrorist who thought nothing of killing so many innocents, officials and policemen.
Veerappan’s tentacles ran so wide and deep that he was said to have politicians, officials and policemen who were either sympathetic to him or unwilling to risk him getting nabbed. Now is the time for a thorough and impartial enquiry to lay bare his nexus. If the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments cannot rise above their state and intra-state politicking to carry out such a probe in public interest, then the Centre must take on this responsibility without delay.
Broadband in sight
A 24-hour Internet access at speed will seem like a dream come true to a majority of Net users in India, thanks to the new policy announced by the Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Mr Dayanidhi Maran. The policy is a welcome, though belated, effort on the part of the Union Government to make the Internet more accessible at a decent speed to many more users who now rely on dialup connections, which are slow and unreliable. For the uninitiated, broadband is a kind of communication channel capable of supporting a wide range of frequencies, typically from audio to video frequencies. A broadband channel can carry multiple signals by dividing the total capacity into multiple, independent bandwidth channels, where each channel operates on a specific range of frequencies. It, thus, provides subscribers with lighting fast connections. However, in India, the connections will not be as fast as expected elsewhere, since 256 kbps is the minimum speed given, which can, at best, be called a good start.
A major bottleneck that remains for potential broadband users is the “last mile” problem, since the copper lines that connect phones to the outside world are still controlled by the telecom providers, MTNL and BSNL. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s recommendation of unbundling these lines has not been accepted by the government and thus the Internet service providers are at the mercy of the telecom giants for getting connectivity to the users. The government has, however, made it mandatory for the telecom operators to provide access to the ISPs, though there will be friction, especially in settling the rates of compensation. For many, however, the delicensing of certain frequencies for Wi-Fi points out to a better future, since it would get over the local loop constraints and provide better access. The initiative has to be commended which will hopefully give a push to the broadband movement in the country.
Nobel for Wangari
ONCE again and for the second successive year this time the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has gone beyond the criteria laid down by the founder of the award. Alfred Nobel’s testament has directions for the awards instituted by him. In physics, chemistry and physiology or medicine, he wanted the prizes to be given to those conferring “the greatest benefit to mankind” during the preceding year. For the literature prize the qualification is the “most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency”.
Nobel chose to spell out at a little more length about who should be awarded his peace prize: “The person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” The accent clearly is on disarmament, international amity and eradication of armed conflicts. Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist, has been named the prize winner for this year for her Green Belt movement that has 30 million tree plantings to show across Africa. Last year the prize went to Shirin Ebadi of Iran for her struggle for democracy, justice and rights of women and children within the bounds of the law in her country.
The world could not but have changed much in the 104 years since the award of the first Nobel prizes. International fraternity no longer implies prevention of wars alone. The landmark Nobel Peace Prize to Albert Schweitzer in 1952 was the celebration of the idea of transcontinental and cross-racial brotherhood which the German physician and musicologist translated into reality by living with and doing whatever he could for the people of black Africa. But some of the awards in more recent years unrelated to weapons, armies and wars, raised controversies. The naming of Andrei Sakharov for the prize (1975), when the Cold War was still raging, angered Moscow. This award could nevertheless be justified from the Nobel viewpoint since here was a figure refusing to compromise with a dictatorship on his opposition to nuclear weapons.
The honouring of Lech Walesa with Nobel’s medal for his fight for trade union independence in Poland was less logical and might have been influenced by a strong international political current. The five wise men of the Norwegian parliament choosing the world’s best peace activist of a year are not always the paragons of impartiality they are thought to be. It is now admitted that powerful foreign influence and racial prejudice had created an unbridgeable gap between the Nobel Peace Prize and Mahatma Gandhi. The selectors took 41 years after the death of Gandhi to realise that the non-violent struggle for the liberation of a people deserved Nobel recognition and they honoured the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi. And this time Beijing and Yangon were incensed.
The Nobel Committee has quite a few times found it necessary to explain what weighed with its members in deciding upon a particular winner. During the Sakharov controversy it took the position that its interpretation of Nobel’s will had “varied in accordance with the changing attitudes to the concept of peace over the years.” This is true otherwise the honouring of Albert Schweitzer (1952), Martin Luther King (1964), Mother Teresa (1979), Nelson Mandela (1993, jointly with F.W.de Klerk) with Nobel’s prize would not have been so universally approved. This prize has also helped in bringing from comparative obscurity to the limelight Rigoberto Menchu Tum, a Guatemalan heroine whom brutal repression could not stop upholding the rights of the indigenous peoples of Central America. The award jointly to Carlos Belo and Jose Ramos Horta in 1996 whipped the world out of its neglect of the case for the freedom of the people of East Timor.
There is another side too. On not a few occasions the peace prize has gone to undeserving candidates. In the twenties, Austen Chamberlain, Aristide Briad and Gustav Streseman — all with substantial records of aggressive imperialism — got the Nobel prize for their Locarno pact which was nothing more than a power play to prevent Germany from drawing close to Bolshevik Russia. More recently, Henry Kissinger managed one-half of a Nobel prize for the pretence of an agreement to end the Vietnam war in 1973. For the other half Le Duc Tho was named but his self-respect did not allow him to accept it since he could see the agreement as useless for peace immediately.
The Norwegian selectors shamed the Nobel Peace Prize by giving it to Menahem Begin jointly with Anwar Sadat for their Camp David peace, which amounted to an Egyptian betrayal of the Palestinian cause. An unrepentant terrorist of Deir Yassin notoriety, Menahem Begin went on as Prime Minister of Israel with a Nobel peace medal round his neck to war on Lebanon and massacre, among others, a few thousand unarmed women, children and old men in the Palestinain refugee camps at Sabra and Chatila opposite Beirut airport. In a bizarre sequel, Mother Teresa rushed to Lebanon to lend succour to the victims of a war another Nobel peace laureate had unleashed. A little forethought could have prevented the premature rush to decorate Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. The tatters of the Oslo Agreement now mock these three Nobel medals.
The selection of Wangari Maathai, signalling a farther widening of the Nobel Committee’s ken to include work for a better environment for life, is unexceptionable. Ms Maathai has suffered for her struggle to stop the degradation of the landscape of human life over a large area in eastern and southern Africa and emerged a heroine. The fact remains at the same time that the Nobel Committee is looking away from the Iraq war and its primary obligation in terms of the founder’s testament. The wise men in Oslo are unmoved by the global opposition to this neo-imperialist war and seem not to have been touched even by the turnout of more than a million people in 600 cities and towns in the world on a single day, February 15, 2003 — the biggest demonstration in human history — in an attempt to stop the invasion of Iraq. A suspicion has grown in recent years that the choice of Nobel Peace Prize awardees is dictated sometimes by hidden motivations and tends to serve American
An early awakening
In the days of my youth I was not known for any great accomplishment either in my studies or on the sports field. I did, however, learn the facts of life at an early age though the first time I was faced with one I was terrified.
I was about seven years old when, one day, my fox terrier bitch, Betty, disappeared in the morning. Some of our neighbours had seen her being followed by about half-a-dozen pariah dogs but no one could say where she had gone. That same evening I saw her in our garden ‘hitched’ to a dog twice her size. I ran inside crying and begging our servants to come and save my pet from certain death but they just stood enjoying the spectacle and laughing. A little later Betty came in shaking all over and looking pleased with herself.
I was, at the time, and till the age of ten, at a co-ed school. I could have stayed there longer but for a report from the headmistress to my parents that I had formed the bad habit of sticking globs of chewing gum on the pigtails of my female classmates and, occasionally, pinching their bottoms.
The college I joined in Delhi accepted a limited number of girls. Two of them were in my class. In the fashion of the time, they wore saris and blouses (no salwar-kameez) with long sleeves and did their hair in fat buns. Their faces, of course, were innocent of powder or lipstick.
Those days I looked upon all women as paragons of virtue, an opinion I have had cause to revise since then in regard to some of them. Anyway, in my second year at college, I fell desperately in love with one of the paragons. The trouble was that with little or no contact between boy and girl students outside the classroom, I had no means of declaring my strictly honourable intentions to the girl.
An opportunity presented itself when my college was playing another in the final match of the university cricket tournament. It had rained a bit the night before and a chilly wind was blowing across the field. I approached the spot where the object of my adoration, along with a couple of other girls, was seated on the grass.
Like that famous Elizabethan, Sir Walter Raleigh, I took off my tweed jacket and, bowing from the waist, laid it on the ground beside the girl. She must have been rather dense because, instead of thanking me for my noble gesture, simply stared at me as if I had gone off my head. Then she nudged the girl squatting next to her and whispered into her ear.
All three girls got up and moved to another part of the field. I picked up my jacket and marched off in high dudgeon, swearing that never again would I waste my time on the stupid girls in my college.
A bandit who thrived
on political links
The death of sandalwood and ivory smuggler and killer Veerappan is unlikely to end the mystique of a bandit with powerful political connections that had grown around him, but it clarifies a certain ambivalence in what he represented, at least as far as the people of Karnataka are concerned.
Certainly the ambivalence, specifically in terms of the Robin Hood element in that mystique, was less in Karnataka than in Tamil Nadu.
As a member of the backward Vanniyar caste and a Tamil, Veerappan played up that identification with the Tamil cause, especially on issues like the Cauvery waters dispute. This came to the fore when he held as hostage Kannada actor Rajkumar from July to November 2000. Most of his targets, either police officials or political persons, were from Karnataka. Tamil nationalist politicians like Nedumaran also played up this angle.
In the Mysore region, bordering the forests which Veerappan had made his own, the mystique was only about his apparent invulnerability. When the traffic police in Mysore got a little high-handed, Mysoreans have been known to yell at them: “instead of troubling us, why don’t you go show your heroism with Veerappan and catch him.”
Karnataka itself has around 138 cases of murder registered against him, apart from cases concerning the killing of elephants and the smuggling of ivory and sandalwood. Here are just a few of the instances: in 1992, Karnataka Special Task Force chief T. Harikrishna and Sub-Inspector Shakeel Ahmed and four other STF men were ambushed and killed near Meenyam. In another attack on the Ramapuram police station five policemen were killed. Superintendent of Police Gopal Hosur was hurt and five policemen killed near Rangaswamyoddu between M.M. Hills and Talabeta.
Dozens of people were arrested under TADA, and Veerappan, after kidnapping Rajkumar, demanded that the detainees be freed. The Karnataka government had to drop the TADA charges and secured the release of the accused on bail on August 28, 2000. Shakeel Ahmed’s father, Deputy Superintendent of Police (Retd) Abdul Kareem, gained a lot of sympathy for his battle in the courts to prevent the release of the TADA detenus, adding another dimension to the efforts to get Rajkumar released.
The state reeled under the high-profile kidnapping of Rajkumar, with then Chief Minister S.M. Krishna facing the worst crisis of his political life. It continues to haunt him with allegations of a huge ransom, in the region of Rs 20 crore, having been paid to get Rajkumar released. The then Karnataka Director General of Police, Mr C. Dinakar, has also suggested as much in a book he wrote after his retirement. Krishna has consistently denied that any such ransom was paid.
Veerappan kidnapped former Karnataka minister H. Nagappa in August, 2002. His body was found in December, with bullet wounds. Veerappan, in his now famous video cassette messages, said that it was the Tamil Nadu STF which shot him by mistake in an encounter, which the STF of course denies. Many people in official circles find that plausible and lend some credence to that claim. Nagappa’s family, of course, only deplores the fact that it did not get the kind of support that Rajkumar got.
The power of the mystique was such that people greeted the news with disbelief. Is it really him? Did he die in an encounter, or could his death have been averted? Did he have to die as otherwise, uncomfortable truths will have to be dealt with in the public domain? It is still widely believed that he had powerful political connections in both Karnataka and Tamil nadu, and this is what prevented his capture all these years.
It is this belief that Chief Minister Dharam Singh was forced to address at his press conference after returning from New Delhi on Tuesday. He has announced a probe into the extent of this political and financial nexus, saying that he would first decide on the nature of the enquiry to be conducted.
There is, of course, general relief, as his death will translate into some distinct changes. Tourism in the areas of his domain can now thrive. Actor Rajkumar, reacting to the news, declared that it was “good riddance. It should have happened long ago,” He added: “Unseen hands supported him, unfortunately.”
Was the encounter
The death of Koosai Muniasamy Veerappan (65) in an encounter with the Special Task Force of the Tamil Nadu Police last night at Papparapatti village in Dharmapuri district in Tamil Nadu has pulled the curtains on a torturous history of crime which emanated from serious socio-economic issues.
Born in a poor Tamil family belonging to the backward Vanniar community in Gopinatham village in kollegal taluka of Karnataka bordering Tamil Nadu, Veerappan began his career as a wood-cutter. Though he lacked even basic education, he was intelligent and knew the mountainous jungles like the back of his hand.
Villagers in south-west Tamil Nadu, which used to be known as “Verappan country”, say that he was inspired by Malayur Mammattiyan, a notorious bandit of the 1950s and 60s.The first murder Veerappan committed was that of Paramasivam, brother of Karuppan who killed Malayur Mammattiyan.
Along with poaching elephants, Veerappan also took to sandalwood smuggling in the 6000 sq km forest in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in the late 70s.
He was once arrested in 1986 by the Karnataka Police and lodged in Mysore jail. That was the only time the police could have him in custody.
In 1987 Veerappan shot into fame when he killed an honest Tamil Nadu forest officer, Chidambaram. Gradually he became a myth.
While to the state he was a dreaded criminal wanted for killing 120 persons, poaching more than 2,000 elephants and for smuggling ivory and sandalwood, to the poor he was a Robin Hood.
He was dreaded by the rich in the area. A prominent Salem-based politician, who is said to be one of the first benefactors and collaborators of the brigand, told a journalist a few years ago that he feared Veerappan like hell.
He said, “I might have employed him sometime. I do not exactly remember. I was a leading contractor for clearing bamboo and other trees. We all used to stray beyond the marked areas for us and make good money. It was not difficult as we used to grease the palms of forest officials. He might have learnt a trick or two from contractors like us. But that was in the early 70s.”
But the poor Vanniar woodcutter soon befriended poachers and became an expert hunter.
He began killing elephants and selling ivory to smugglers who would transport them to as far as south-east Asian countries and Japan.
He soon formed a cartel along with his politician mentor and their business flourished of course with official backing. Veerappan soon took also to sandalwood smuggling, which he found less risky and more lucrative.
From a poor illiterate woodcutter emerged a myth. The Coimbatore-salem region in south-west Tamil Nadu is stricken with poverty with the people depending on forest produce for their living.
They would frequently be the target of forest officials. Veerappan with arms which he used to poach with came to the rescue of the poor and began killing forest officers and policemen.
He earned his popularity among the locals by restricting his killings to people who came in his way. Surprisingly, in an area which is known for high form of feudalism and sexual exploitation, Veerappan never committed a single crime against women.
With development in the area and lack of earning opportunity youths flocked to join Veerappan’s gang which swelled at one time to more than 150. The police did not even have his photograph till a Tamil magazine Nakkeeran published his interview in the early 90s.
What happened last night was inevitable for Veerappan. He missed the opportunity of a possible offer of amnesty in 2000 after the Rajkumar kidnap episode.
His gang had dwindled to only five members and he had fallen sick.
Human rights activists in Chennai feel that going by the bullet injury on the left side of his head, it was a “false encounter”. One of the lawyers in Madras High Court said, “The STF might say they wanted to capture him alive but when he fired they returned the fire and killed him. The injury shows he was shot from point blank range. They knew that Veerappan in jail will be too much trouble for officials as well as politicians.”
With the death of Veerappan many secrets too have died like the amount of ransom the Karnataka government had allegedly paid him to secure the release of hostages and politicians who patronised him for their gains.
Boast not of youth or friends or wealth; Swifter than eyes can wink, by Time Each one of these is stolen away. Abjure the illusion of the world And join yourself to timeless Truth. — Sri Adi Sankaracharya Sing with Bhakti the hallowed ‘name’ of the Lord, and the mountain of your sins will vanish, just as a mountain of cotton will burn to ashes and disappear if but a spark of fire falls on it. — Sri Ramakrishna Meditation is the final gateway to reality. All spiritual practices take you up to this gateway. The different courses purify your mind of your wordly thoughts and desires. They prepare you, qualify you for concentration and meditation. —Swami A. Parthasarathy
Swifter than eyes can wink, by Time
Each one of these is stolen away.
Abjure the illusion of the world
And join yourself to timeless Truth.
— Sri Adi Sankaracharya
Sing with Bhakti the hallowed ‘name’ of the Lord, and the mountain of your sins will vanish, just as a mountain of cotton will burn to ashes and disappear if but a spark of fire falls on it.
— Sri Ramakrishna
Meditation is the final gateway to reality. All spiritual practices take you up to this gateway. The different courses purify your mind of your wordly thoughts and desires. They prepare you, qualify you for concentration and meditation.
—Swami A. Parthasarathy