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EDITORIALS

Obama to Zardari
Pakistan must take all steps to defeat Taliban
T
he two-day meeting of President Asif Zardari of Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan with President Barack Obama at the White House that concluded on Thursday underlined the worries of Washington about the threat posed by the Taliban and Al-Qaida to Pakistan as also to international peace. Telling his guests that “the security of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US is interlinked”, Mr Obama made it clear that the forces of terrorism had to be fought to the finish.

May 16 and beyond
Too many imponderables in this poll
With all but 86 seats out of the total of 543 having gone to the polls at the end of the fourth phase in the country’s general elections and a hung Parliament a foregone conclusion, the real issue is which will be the largest pre-poll alliance — the UPA or the NDA — after the tabulation of results on May 16. Never before has the election been steeped in such uncertainty.




EARLIER STORIES

Wanted: Partners
May 7, 2009
Get back black money
May 6, 2009
Crisis in Nepal
May 5, 2009
On a fast track
May 4, 2009
Intellectual and society
May 3, 2009
Low voter turnout in Mumbai
May 2, 2009
Combating the Taliban
May 1, 2009
Mr Q. again
April
30, 2009
Modi remains in the dock
April
29, 2009
Guns fall silent in Lanka
April
28, 2009


Rape victims’ suicides
Police cannot escape responsibility
The recent suicide of a 22-year-old rape victim right in front of the IG office in Rohtak not only underlines the unbearable trauma of a rape victim but is also a clear indictment of a callous system. Not too long ago, another young woman Sarita had committed suicide in the police headquarters at Panchkula after the police failed to take action against fellow policemen accused of raping her. Both incidents have brought disrepute to the Haryana police.

ARTICLE

Maoists’ credibility at stake
Violence can damage peace process in Nepal
by Maj-Gen Ashok K. Mehta (retd)
G
en Rukmangad Katawal’s attempted dismissal by Mr Prachanda has led to a constitutional crisis casting a shadow over the peace process in Nepal and triggering rumours of the Maoists returning to the mountains and a soft coup. Nepal is in transition from feudal monarchy to a secular democracy with unsettled institutions. Prachanda has ruled out going back to the jungles, though after the damaging revelations on the video being called “Prachanda-gate”, it is difficult to take him at his word.

MIDDLE

Schools for humiliation
by Ravia Gupta
H
e was pleading with the teacher not to remove his pants in front of his classmates. We all were horrified and prayed to God to save us from witnessing such a monstrous punishment for being noisy in the class.

OPED

China flexes naval muscle in Indian Ocean
by Premvir Das
T
he Chinese Navy celebrated its 60th Anniversary by hosting an International Fleet Review at Qingdao. More than 40 warships participated in this ceremony, including those from India and other foreign navies, at which the Chinese displayed the best of their naval power, the submarines and an amphibious assault ship attracting the most attention.

Politics of appeasement
by Vijay Sanghvi
U
ttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayavati is not the first politician to use social engineering to appease the emerging social classes with political ambitions.

Fleeing refugees tell of Taliban crimes
by Pamela Constable and Haq Nawaz Khan
H
ajji Karim and his extended family of 70 were camped in a dirt-floor stable 10 miles outside Islamabad. It was as far as they could get from the Swat Valley, where thousands of people are fleeing from the ravages of the Taliban and the imminent prospect of war with government forces.


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EDITORIALS

Obama to Zardari
Pakistan must take all steps to defeat Taliban

The two-day meeting of President Asif Zardari of Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan with President Barack Obama at the White House that concluded on Thursday underlined the worries of Washington about the threat posed by the Taliban and Al-Qaida to Pakistan as also to international peace. Telling his guests that “the security of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US is interlinked”, Mr Obama made it clear that the forces of terrorism had to be fought to the finish. Since the role of the Pakistan army in this battle was crucial, he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton impressed upon Mr Zardari that Pakistan must forget about its “India obsession” as the only threat it was faced with was from within. The US wanted the Pakistan army to take the anti-Taliban drive to its logical conclusion. The fight should not be allowed to end up as an exercise aimed at only satisfying the US.

However, it is not so easy for Mr Zardari to make the Pakistan army go whole hog against the Taliban, the offspring of the ISI. The possibility of the army and the ISI indulging in a double game — what Gen Pervez Musharraf did after 9/11 —cannot be ruled out. On the pretext of fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaida, he provided them safe havens in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The Obama administration, therefore, must maintain strict vigil to ensure that Islamabad shows the desired results on the anti-terror front.

Whatever action the Pakistan army is reported to have taken could not have come in the absence of the pressure that was brought to bear on Islamabad by Washington. The Army initially remained a mute witness on the pretext of the missing political consensus on the use of the armed forces against the Taliban. That may be the reason why the US has reportedly been seeking Saudi Arabia’s help to use its influence to persuade former Prime Minister and PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif to cooperate with the Zardari-Yousuf Raza Gilani regime to continue the army action against the Taliban. Nothing should be allowed to come in the way of defeating the Taliban in Pakistan so that the battle against the scourge can be won in Afghanistan. The victory over the Taliban in both countries has become crucial for the entire region.

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May 16 and beyond
Too many imponderables in this poll

With all but 86 seats out of the total of 543 having gone to the polls at the end of the fourth phase in the country’s general elections and a hung Parliament a foregone conclusion, the real issue is which will be the largest pre-poll alliance — the UPA or the NDA — after the tabulation of results on May 16. Never before has the election been steeped in such uncertainty. Among the many imponderables is the ultimate choice of prime minister. Will Dr Manmohan Singh pip the other aspirants to the coveted chair or will the incumbent be one of the many others in contention? Will the regional parties form a formidable pressure group to dictate the course of events to the Congress and the BJP? Will the coalition that would emerge be a ragtag one, tottering on the brink and collapsing prematurely under the weight of its internal contradictions?

While the fourth phase on Thursday saw the fate of many stalwarts sealed in EVMs, the fifth phase on May 13 would perhaps be crucial in so far as it would determine the outcome in a crucial state like Tamil Nadu with 39 seats. It was the rout of Ms Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK and the triumph of the DMK-Congress combine that gave the UPA the edge in the 2004 elections. This time around, the alliance is on a shaky foundation and Ms Jayalalithaa has recovered lost ground. But the mercurial lady has made it known that she would examine all options before taking a decision on which combination to support.

There is cause for relief that, barring some killings in Naxalite-infested areas, the elections have been largely peaceful. For an exercise of such gigantic proportions, this is truly significant. While money power has been on the increase, campaigning on the whole has been low-key. The turnout of voters has been generally disappointing with the searing heat of summer being a dampener. All eyes are now on May 16 when the EVMs will unravel the results. Judging by the uncertainty of alliances, one can only hope that the country does not slip into a phase of instability.

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Rape victims’ suicides
Police cannot escape responsibility

The recent suicide of a 22-year-old rape victim right in front of the IG office in Rohtak not only underlines the unbearable trauma of a rape victim but is also a clear indictment of a callous system. Not too long ago, another young woman Sarita had committed suicide in the police headquarters at Panchkula after the police failed to take action against fellow policemen accused of raping her. Both incidents have brought disrepute to the Haryana police. In both cases, the hapless women apparently took this extreme step for they had little hope of justice. Even otherwise, there is a huge trust deficit in the force. Not surprising, for in 2008 as Haryana reported a 25 per cent increase in rape cases over the previous year, policemen were alleged to be involved in several such cases.

Rape is a widespread crime against women. India has earned the dubious distinction of being the third worst rape offender in the world. In fact, the official figures reveal only the tip of the iceberg. A large majority of rape cases are not reported. The fear of shame and loss of reputation in society prevents the victims from knocking at the doors of justice. The tardy trial system and low conviction rate discourages many others.

In fact, rape is perhaps the only crime in which the victim is not only victimised but also branded guilty even before the proceedings can be initiated against the accused. Worse still, while the victim fights with a slur on her reputation for the rest of her life, the accused often walk away with mild punishment and in some cases even go scot-free. The inertia of the law enforcing machinery in registering cases of crimes against women compounds the suffering of the victims. While the Haryana police has much to answer for, there is an urgent need to sensitise as well as upbraid the investigative agencies. The law is meant to reduce, not increase, the agony of rape victims. Until rapists are dealt with severely, the offence will continue to breed and grow.

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Thought for the Day

People who have given us their complete confidence believe that they have a right to ours. The inference is false: A gift confers no rights. — Nietzsche

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Corrections and clarifications

n In a report on medical facilities in jails (Page 4, May 6), it should read as 17 more. In a front page report from Udhampur about a bus accident ( May 5), it should read ‘ three more’.

n In a report on Chidambaram being on a sticky wicket (Page 2, May 5), it should read ‘allaying fears’ and not ‘inciting fears’.

n In a PTI report on the trilateral summit (Page 13, May 5), Afghanistan President’s name should read as Hamid Karzai and not Hamid Ansari.

n In a report from Khanna on the campaign trail of a candidate (Chandigarh Plus Page, Page 3) it should read ‘electorate’, not ‘electorates’.

n In a report from Yamunanagar (Page 9, May 3) on suicide by an employee, it should read colleagues and not colleges.

Despite our earnest endeavour to keep The Tribune error-free, some errors do creep in at times. We are always eager to correct them.

We request our readers to write or e-mail to us whenever they find any error. We will carry corrections and clarifications, wherever necessary, every Tuesday & Friday.

Readers in such cases can write to Mr Uttam Sengupta, Associate Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh, with the word “Corrections” on the envelope. His e-mail ID is uttamsengupta@tribunemail.com.

H.K. Dua
Editor-in-Chief

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ARTICLE

Maoists’ credibility at stake
Violence can damage peace process in Nepal
by Maj-Gen Ashok K. Mehta (retd)

Gen Rukmangad Katawal’s attempted dismissal by Mr Prachanda has led to a constitutional crisis casting a shadow over the peace process in Nepal and triggering rumours of the Maoists returning to the mountains and a soft coup. Nepal is in transition from feudal monarchy to a secular democracy with unsettled institutions. Prachanda has ruled out going back to the jungles, though after the damaging revelations on the video being called “Prachanda-gate”, it is difficult to take him at his word. Unlikely for the present, a soft coup cannot be ruled out. The moral hurt claimed by the ruling Maoist government over civilian control of the military hides their real agenda, a glimpse of which is contained in the video.

Just step back a bit. The 10-year-long People’s War between the Maoists and the Nepal Army ended in a stalemate. Prachanda then switched from bullet to ballot and won an election but with no let-up in sniping at the Army, calling it, on his first public appearance, a “bunch of murderers and rapists”. With Prachanda as Prime Minister, the war between the old foes was carried out by other means to undermine the only institution that stood between the Maoists and their vision of a single-party republican state.

En masse integration of the Maoists’ own PLA with the Nepal Army was seen as a legitimate means of ideologically reorienting the Army under Maoist control. Katawal was seen as obstructing this process. His dismissal was forced by party hardliners like Mohan Baidya, Baburam Bhattarai and Ram Bahadur Thapa, who want quick results on integration and establishing a People’s Republic. For them, democracy and consensus are tokens, just tactics of the grand strategy. Yet, a guerilla force giving up power earned through the ballot is either a grievous miscalculation or a political master-stroke.

The nine-month-old Prachanda government was characterised by political instability, violence and unkempt promises. Maoists thrive in a climate of strife and violence, nibbling away at the hard and soft institutions of the state - subversion from within. Some of their good work in the socio-economic sector has been masked by the lawlessness of its paramilitary, the Young Communist League (YCL). Theirs is the only organisation in the world heading a government still on the US Terrorism Exclusion List, three years after they joined the political mainstream. US Ambassador in Nepal Nancy Powell said last month that the YCL was the main obstacle to drafting a new constitution. Clearly, the Maoists have been unable to graduate from a revolutionary guerrilla force to a democratic political organisation.

The Maoists are represented by 238 legislators in the 601-Constituent Assembly, exceeding the combined strength of the Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist Leninist parties. Their control and influence in large parts of rural and urban Nepal remains intact if the recent byelections, in which they won half the seats, are any indicator. Prachanda’s televised resignation address portraying the Maoists as underdogs prevented from performing for the people will go down well in the countryside. He also mentioned upholding of democracy and commitment to the peace process. As with most Prachanda pronouncements, there is a gap between what he says and what the Maoists do. Almost immediately afterwards, Baburam Bhattarai, his deputy, threatened to block Parliament and the peace process unless the President apologised for his “unconstitutional” reinstatement of Katawal.

The gains of the peace process could unravel anytime. The immediate fallout from this crisis is more serious bouts of violence and protest, not just in Kathmandu but elsewhere in the country too. The YCL has been alerted and the Maoists have served notice on rival political formations in some districts to vacate the area. Nepal is stricken with price rise, fuel shortage, loadshedding for16 hours a day and interminable bandhs. Clashes between Maoists and security forces and other political groupings could bring the Army out on the streets, a red line which must be avoided at all costs.

Nearly 25,000 PLA men located in 28 cantonments have been alerted to counter any coup. The keys to the UN-supervised arms containers with 3500 weapons are with PLA divisional commanders. But any return to the jungles is an unlikely folly on the part of the Maoists notwithstanding their periodic threats to do so. Similarly, the threat of an Army coup can be discounted unless the Maoists attempt a power grab. Katawal has consistently said he is committed to supporting a legitimately elected government, upholding the constitution and protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Nepal. The Maoists will calibrate their violence to keep the pot boiling.

More effective than violence is political dissent. Blocking proceedings in the House is a popular tool of destruction and the Maoists will only be reciprocating what the political Opposition had done during their term.

The long-term impact of the Maoists indulging in violence and non-cooperation in Parliament can only damage further the three-and-a-half-year-old peace process which was heralded in the UN as a model for conflict resolution. A delay in “integration” is inevitable as is a third extension beyond July, 2009, for the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN). Drafting the constitution will also be delayed beyond its deadline of 2010.

The formation of an alternative national unity government is beset with challenges. Ideally, the Maoists must be on board the new government or support it from outside. Prachanda has already said that the Maoists will lead the new government. The Madhesh Janadhikar Forum with 53 seats holds the key to the formation of a new government which must take up integration on a war-footing.

India has been widely criticised for its interventionist role in the reinstatement of Katawal though Prachanda said he had not named any country. But Baburam Bhattarai unequivocally blamed India for derailing the peace process. Bhattarai is the author of the Look Beyond India Vision Paper. The Maoists have given an unprecedented opportunity to China for reclaiming space in Nepal with some 30 official delegations and many unofficial visitors. China is spreading its tentacles right across Nepal. In his first major TV interview, Prachanda had noted that China was needed “to balance India”.

But for the political crisis, Prachanda should have been in China this week, signing a historic new Nepal-China friendship treaty, mirroring the 1950 treaty with India. China, which had condemned the Maoists for anti-national activities during the war, and the only country to continue supplying arms to the Nepal Army after the Royal takeover, is now its strongest ally. Jiang Ju, China’s official spokesperson said last week that it supported the integration of armies. China is determined to add Nepal to its string of pearls.

The “Prachanda-gate” video depicts him bragging to the PLA how he bluffed the UN about its strength by inflating numbers. He also said that the revolution would be taken to its logical conclusion of a single-party state. In the past, he was similarly anecdotal about the actual number of weapons deposited with the UN.

With the exception of China, an unlikely non-Maoist-led government will be palatable to the US, the international community and India, most of all. But for the people of Nepal, the Maoists locked in the government is a preferable option and, therefore, India, which has invested hugely in the peace process - a fact acknowledged by Maoists - has to reach out to them again.

Having tasted power and the fruits from Baluwatar, Prachanda will be loath to sit in the Opposition. The Katawal episode cannot be delinked from the “Prachanda-gate” which Maoists are trying to laugh away. Their credibility as a responsible political entity is at stake.

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MIDDLE

Schools for humiliation
by Ravia Gupta

He was pleading with the teacher not to remove his pants in front of his classmates. We all were horrified and prayed to God to save us from witnessing such a monstrous punishment for being noisy in the class.

“Removing uniform” and then standing in the middle of the school playground, which had a main road running side by, was what my teacher in MHAC School (Akhnoor branch) used to do to keep us disciplined, during my early school days when I was in Class III.

There was no bias; both girls and boys (between 6-8 years of age) had to face this dreadful punishment of standing “naked” in the open for almost 30 minutes for either not doing homework or for making noise. This harsh punishment by a teacher, who was the wife of an Army officer, had everyone on one’s toes.

The crying and pleading of my classmates, who forcefully underwent this punishment, still haunt me. I feel lucky that I could escape because my dad got transferred to some other place and I left that school.

Thank God I didn’t have to compromise with my pride to learn or to become disciplined. But the recent incident of 11-year-old Shano Khan, who died after she was punished by her school teacher, for not being able to recite an alphabet, brought back my horrifying childhood memories and now I wonder if teachers feel that by wounding the pride of a child, public humiliation, or by imposing harsh punishment they can motivate “under achievers” to get better grades?

Shano’s incident was not the only one. On March 24, Sri Rohini, a six-year-old student of St Maria Annai Primary School in Tamil Nadu, died after her teacher hit her on the head and locked her up in a cupboard. On March 10, a Class V student of Holy Mission Academy School in Bihar was beaten to death by the principal.

Why is this happening regularly in Indian schools despite a clear ruling from the Supreme Court in 2000, which directed states to ensure that children are not subjected to corporal punishment?

Look at Germans who were once known for their stern child rearing and believed that “a good spank never hurt anyone”, but now they prefer to use “dialogue” rather than physical punishment to correct wayward children.

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OPED

China flexes naval muscle in Indian Ocean
by Premvir Das

The Chinese Navy celebrated its 60th Anniversary by hosting an International Fleet Review at Qingdao. More than 40 warships participated in this ceremony, including those from India and other foreign navies, at which the Chinese displayed the best of their naval power, the submarines and an amphibious assault ship attracting the most attention.

Chiefs of navies from many countries, including India, were present at this event. All told, it was a grand affair, as most such naval pageants are. Yet, more need not be read into this spectacle than is warranted.

Two decades ago, the Royal Malaysian Navy held a similar review at Penang with about the same participation of foreign warships and dignitaries.

India, itself, held an international review in 2001 at which 21 ships of foreign navies were present along with about 40 of its own. So, there is nothing earth-shattering in what happened at Qingdao.

Yet, there is something afoot in the maritime environment which needs recognition. Some years ago, the Chief of Logistics of the Chinese Navy had observed that the Indian Ocean was not India’s Ocean.

This is actually quite true, just as the East and South China Seas are not Chinese waters and the Sea of Japan does not ‘belong’ to Japan. But there is a definite and logical geographic linkage.

This does not mean that there is any sense of ownership; only that there is an inherent interest in what goes on in these waters. This concern is both at the strategic level and more proximate.

India has widespread economic interests, largely related to the sea, which extend from the Gulf countries on one end to those of South East Asia on the other and extending southwards towards the island nations of Mauritius and Seychelles.

As the major regional maritime power, it has a responsibility both in maritime security and in maritime governance, including the safe movement of sea-borne commerce.

It is for this reason that it is involved in cooperation with maritime forces of friendly countries both in the east and the west. The presence of its warships off Somalia is not India specific, just as it is not off Seychelles; these deployments are to safeguard its own interests and those of other littoral countries.

There are ships of several other countries engaged in this task as well, both from within the region and external to it. The latest to join this cooperative effort are warships of the Chinese Navy.

Until some years ago, the Chinese Navy, despite operating nuclear-powered submarines, some fitted with nuclear warhead missiles, was essentially a coastal force. Thereafter, as China grew economically and as a major power, this small ‘defensive perimeter’ was extended to what was termed ‘the first island chain’ which required credible operating capability in the waters up to and including Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines.

The next step was to enhance this coverage to the ‘second island chain’, an expanse of water going up to Guam in the Pacific.

In its modernisation, the Chinese have placed special emphasis on the enhancement of naval power through platforms capable of operating at long distances away from home, consistent with its growing stature.

The foray in the Gulf of Aden is to be seen in this context. As a cooperative measure, it is a step to be welcomed. If there is more to this deployment, then it is a matter of concern.

The deployment of ships to enable a continuing presence is not easy. Logistics can be ensured to some extent with ships replenishing from suitable vessels or even ‘friendly’ ports but that itself cannot be enough. The breakdown of machinery and equipment off and on are inevitable and repairs to warships often require dedicated support.

A constant and credible presence is possible only if base facilities are available, preferably, dedicated bases, such as the USA has at Diego Garcia. These are not available to China as of now.

Three port development projects are presently in motion in this region with Chinese assistance, in Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. There are fears that some of these might be made available for basing Chinese naval forces.

This is easier said than done; political and diplomatic pressures on these countries from those who have leverage will make it very difficult.

However, as a possibility, it cannot be ruled out. So, the prospect of the Chinese Navy becoming an Indian Ocean player is a real one. For India, this is not a comfortable thought. For ships of the two navies to exchange port visits and otherwise interact at high level is positive as also cooperative engagement at sea, but a permanent naval presence has a different dimension. With the induction of aircraft carriers in a few years, as seems likely, the situation will become more ominous.

India needs to take note of developments of strategic interest in its area. The Indian Navy’s modernisation plans must recognise the capabilities that are being created and respond to them. The force level of ships and submarines has been languishing, the former just holding and the latter, falling. Acquisitions must be hastened, both from abroad and by building at home.

And, just as the Chinese are busy focussing on technology, so must the Indian forces. Considerable time has been lost in developing maritime power of the type that is needed even as others have rapidly changed profile; further delay can act to our serious detriment.

The writer is a retired Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command.

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Politics of appeasement
by Vijay Sanghvi

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayavati is not the first politician to use social engineering to appease the emerging social classes with political ambitions.

Her offer is not of a decisive role to them in the system of governance and share in power. It is a method of binding them to party discipline without assigning them any vital role in the decision-making process.

Every party has been practising it in the last five elections. There has been no conclusive evidence to establish that each caste preferred a candidate of its own caste to send to Parliament. Most parties adopt ethnic considerations in selecting candidates.

They definitely want to lure voters of different castes by promising that their caste was given a due representation in its list of candidates. Yet since the 1971 massive verdict, there has been no discernible pattern of voting on caste lines.

The 1971 election verdict came on the promise of two meals a day for every one. But the next election was fought on the promise of restoration of democracy that Indira Gandhi had derailed by imposing the Emergency in June 1975.

Her dramatic return was based on concerns of national integration and unity as fight among the three old men for power in the Janata Party had threatened the fabrics of society.

The anger over the assassination of Indira Gandhi resulted in a massive mandate for Rajiv Gandhi in the 1984 December election. That was the end of the wave elections. So also was an end of a mandate in favour of a single party with a clear majority. The vacuum ushered in the coalition politics.

In the first three decades, the growth rate was not impressive. And it was much less in the agricultural sector as it remained stuck below 3 per cent a year. Yet the Green Revolution brought about an improvement in the economic conditions in the rural areas. The satisfied appetite led to aspirations for political power and growth of regional parties based on narrow ethnic and caste specific interests.

The emerging new class with specific demands and interests naturally led to the shrinking geographical and social base of the main parties that were found mainly on the urban support. The BJP was virtually an urban phenomenon.

But the OBCs and the Dalits had already begun to assert their numerical superiority to cause shock waves to both the main parties. So they had to devise new methods for appeasing the classes that were asserting their strength. The term social engineering came into existence. It was nothing more than appeasing the different sections based on their caste or class.

Neither of the major party found a place for them in their decision-making body. They were merely given the party ticket to fight the election on hand. It was hoped that they would bring their entire caste backing for the party not only in their chosen constituency but also in other constituencies.

The Bharatiya Janata Party tried it in the 1998 assembly election in Rajasthan but could not win back power. The Congress attempts also proved futile in the state assembly elections. Neither main party realised that the awakened new class did not want merely crumbs. Their bid was for a share of power.

The main players could not fully appreciate the achievement of Kanshi Ram in uniting the Dalits and giving them courage to stand up with their heads held high. The Dalits had very quietly walked to stand next to them and were mouthing slogans of slapping them.

Mayavati shocked them with a clear majority in the UP assembly in June 2007. Yet neither of the two parties was willing to believe the fact as a reality. They took it as a one-time aberration. The BJP assumed that Mayavati could and would damage only the Congress. She managed to get nearly 14 per cent vote in the Delhi assembly by grabbing 8 per cent of the votes that the Congress had dropped. The BJP could not come back to power in Rajasthan. Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh were a scaring experience due to the presence of Mayavati.

The BJP found it difficult to accept the clear indication that except the upper castes others had no appeal for its slogan of Hindutva. The“aam adami” theme impressed them even less to put the Congress in a commanding position in the state polls.

The main themes of the two major parties became redundant. Their social engineering does not lure the OBCs and the Dalits.

The assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh in 2002 and 2007 and the Lok Sabha polls in 2004 saw the two main parties pushed to the third and fourth positions while the first and second positions have been taken by two regional parties. Even in Bihar, both of them have become dependent on one or the other group that has OBC support. Does it not show the limits to which the two main parties can grow or even be reduced to?

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Fleeing refugees tell of Taliban crimes
by Pamela Constable and Haq Nawaz Khan

Hajji Karim and his extended family of 70 were camped in a dirt-floor stable 10 miles outside Islamabad. It was as far as they could get from the Swat Valley, where thousands of people are fleeing from the ravages of the Taliban and the imminent prospect of war with government forces.

When Taliban fighters first entered Karim’s village last month, he recounted, they said they had come to bring peace and Islamic law, or sharia. But the next day, two of the fighters dragged a policeman out of his truck and tried to slit his throat. Horrified, a crowd rushed over, shouting and trying to shield the officer. The fighters let him go, but the incident confirmed the villagers’ worst suspicions.

“We all said to each other, what sort of people have come here? And what kind of sharia is this? Cutting off people’s heads has nothing to do with Islam,” recounted Karim, 55, a bus driver. “The people were filled with great rage, and great fear.”

Authorities in North-West Frontier Province said that with the conflict intensifying, they expect half a million people to flee the once-bucolic Swat region near the Afghan border, much of which is now occupied by heavily armed militants.

Officials announced on Tuesday that they plan to open six refugee camps in the safer nearby districts of Swabi and Mardan, but until then, many who leave home to escape the violence are facing the arduous task of finding their own shelter.

As the refugees begin streaming out of Swat and the neighboring Buner district in northwest Pakistan, they carry with them memories of the indignities and horrors inflicted by occupying Taliban forces — from locking women inside their homes to setting donkeys on fire — as they tried to force residents to accept a radical version of Islam.

The government has not helped, refugees said, with its erratic, seesawing efforts to both appease and fight the militants. Some said they felt confused and trapped, unsure whether to trust the peace deal forged by the government and Taliban leaders last month, or to flee in anticipation of the fighting that has now begun as the peace accord collapses.

Sher Mohammed, a property dealer from Mingora, the main town in Swat, was one of the first people to reach a new refugee camp in the Mardan district with his wife and children Tuesday night. On Wednesday, he kicked the dirt outside their tent despondently, saying that after enduring two years of fighting and Taliban abuses, he had had enough.

“I feel like I have lost my mind,” he said. “I work hard to make a respectable life and educate my children. Now we are living in a camp, and my sons are talking of guns.”

Mohammed said he did not understand why the country’s powerful army had not been able to defeat the militants before they took over the valley. Even now, after a week of sporadic fighting, military officials have not announced an offensive against the militants who occupy much of Swat and Buner. The Taliban has repeatedly rejected government overtures to salvage the peace deal, in which the militants agreed to disarm if sharia courts were made the exclusive form of justice in Swat.

Army officials said 35 militants and three soldiers were killed Wednesday in Swat in sporadic fighting, including a shootout near several emerald mines that Taliban forces are using as hideouts. They said militants looted three banks and occupied police and civil administration buildings in Mingora. The military reported that an additional 50 militants had been killed in Buner.

The United Nations humanitarian office in Islamabad said it has already registered more than 2,200 families in new camps, “many of them arriving with little more than the clothes they are wearing.” In a statement, the office said it would also increase assistance to help about 6,000 additional families in existing camps for Afghan refugees.

Pakistan has hosted millions of refugees from conflicts in Afghanistan during the past two decades, with networks of camps in the northwest and in the southwestern province of Baluchistan. There have been frequent accusations that militant groups infiltrate the camps to use them as sanctuaries and recruiting pools. Military analysts say they suspect that the Taliban leadership of Afghanistan uses refugee camps in Baluchistan for these purposes.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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