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Himal South Asian Volume 16, Number 12, December 2003 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2003-12

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O    U    T    H
*~» •*»—£:
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and peaceful with authentic Tibetan decor and within ten minutes'
walking distance from the tourist shopping area of Thamel?
What better choice than Hotel Tibet!
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 Vol 16 No 12
December 2003
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29 May 1998?
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Sri Lanka: President+Prime
MJnister= Peace
by Jehan Perera
Revolution and Responsibility
by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
he Indo-Pak bomb
by Itty Abraham
Going nuclear, Talking nuclear:
A discussion
Simulated consensus
by T Mathew
This very uncivil society
by Rahul Goswami
A lawless Subcontinent
Hamza Alavi: A life.
is Iridia reaily shining?
by Mohan Guruswamy, Abhishek
Kaul and Vishal Handa
Sri Lanka: Bail and chain syndrome
by Suhas Chakma
An election at JNU
by Andrew Nash
RESPONSE                         3
LASTPAGE                       68
(in the festive season ...)
Kanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
Thomas 3 Mathew
Contributing Editors
Calcutta Rajashri Dasgupta
Colombo Mani kde Silva
dhaka Afsan Chowdhury
Karachi Seena Sarwar
imewdem MituVarma
n. America .Amitava Kumar
Editorial Assistant
Joe Thomas K
Design Team
Kam Singh Chepang
Suresh Neupane
Bilash Rai (Graphics)
Bhushan Shilpakar (Website)
advertising ® himalmedia. cam
Contributors to this issue
Aasim Sajjad Akhtar is a Rawalpindi activist involved with people's movements.
Andrew Nash studies South Asian history at the Jawarhlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
CK Lai is a Kathmandu engineer and columnist with the weekly Nepali Times.
Jehan Perera, a human rights activist based in Colombo, writes a column in the
Daily Mirror.
Mohan Guruswamy, Abhishek Kaul and Vishal Handa are with the New Delhi-based
Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Rahul Goswami, based in Singapore, is a correspondent with the Inter Press Service.
Suhas Chakma is direcotr of the Asian Human Rights Centre, New Delhi.
Zia Mian, scholar teaching at Princeton University academic, is the co-author of the
book Out of the Nuclear Shadow
Cover art by Kunda Dixit (Kathmandu) and Beena Sarwar (Karachi).
Cover and lastlast page design by Tiering Phuntsok. Lastlast page concept by Jfoe Thomas K.
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Judging Film
South Asia 2003
IT IS commendable that despite itself
being involved in Film South Asia '03
(FSA'03), Himal South Asian (November
2003) offered space for a discussion on
the awards. My contribution to the discussion pertains
to the three pieces: Lubna Mariurn's 'Judging Film South
Asia', Manesh Sftrestha's 'Goodbye documentary, hello
non-fiction', and Nupur Basu's 'Jury out on the jury'-
A note on the three authors: Marium was one of the
three-member jury that singled out five films for awards
from the short-listed 43. Manesh Shrestha is the director
of FSA. Basu writes in her capacity as 'participant-
observer'. My intervention is also in a similar capacity,
as a film viewer.
Basu is critical of the awards, and the bases on
which judgements were made. Common to Marium's
and Shrestha's articles is an attempt to justify the jury-
awards. This is obvious in Marium, but evidently also
informs Shrestha's aarticle that otherwise is a potted
survey of documentaries in South Asia.
The slogan of the festival was "documentaries can be
fun". Not all the award-winning films were 'fun'. The
fun aspect could be reinteipreted. None of the winners
made anyone really sweat; they did not question political
status quo. The absence of any directly political film
making it to the dream group of awardees lead Basu,
among others, to wonder if the jury was avoiding taking
strong decisions that made a statement to the
establishment, especially to the Indian government.
Marium and Shrestha justify the jury's decision on
grounds of the winning films' aesthetic appeal and
creative craftsmanship. According to them, these help
the films communicate better and reach to a wider
audience. Here both presume on behalf of the 'audience'.
Often it is the case that the popularity of a film rides on
its awards; witness the acceptability of Michael Moore's
Bowling for Columbine. 'Creative' can conveniently
become a euphemism for politically non-controversial,
Anand Patwardhan, Greg Stitt, Shubradeep
Chakravorty, Lalit Vachani, KP Jayashankar and Anjali
Monteiro, among others, used the audio-visual medium
to stunning effect. Creativity was integral to these films.
They spoke in the way audio or print could not. For
example, Patwardhan's film on the armament and
nuclear issue, put in print, would fill several issues of
Himal South Asian and even then the print version would
not communicate as effectively as the film did. Sanjay
Kak's Words on Water clearly showed the injustice
surrounding the Sardar Sarovar Project. Stitt's film was
fun, musical, aesthetic, and hit brutally at the core of
market-led globalisation. Rare footage of the complicity
of the RSS in the demolition of the Babri Masjid is among
the merits of Vachani's film. And Shubradeep
Chakravorty's is a bold film that examines the big
government-sponsored lie about Gujarat. Their films
are not all particularly "entertaining" in the manner in
which MTV is deemed to be, but neither can they be
tvpecast as 'developmentalist', 'activist', or 'academic'.
They are definitely not "governmental" since they
challenge the rhetoric of the nation-state. Why did none
of them make it to the golden five? Doubt enters and the
credibility of the FSA is put at stake. While earlier festival
awards too have generated debate, this was possibly
the most contentious of the festivals thus far.
The jury made some comments on the length of the
films. Was length a standard? The audience at the FSA'03
did not seem to find a short film necessarily riveting, or
a longer one trying. If length was a criterion, then it
should have been specified. If other considerations
prevailed, then those too should have been made
transparent. The decision of the jury seems arbitrary
and feeble efforts at justification on the bases of alleged
"creativity" or "aesthetic appeal" only reinforce the
fragility of the verdict.
Given the controversial decision of the jury and the
attempt by a section of it and the organisers to justify
the decision, a question arises: what were the criteria
for selecting the 43 films? Were some films dropped
because they did not meet with stringent quality controls
or aesthetic standards? Going by the lack of gravity of
some of them, one is left to wonder. The Nepal films
clearly disappointed. This brings me to the next point.
Shrestha, ruing the lack of hard-hitting films from
the country, explains it away by citing "fear of reprisals
from the government as well as the Maoists". First, fear
of reprisal has not stopped any artiste or writer in Nepal
thus far. Second, fear of reprisals is not exclusive to
filmmakers in Nepal. Nor is it a good enough reason as
the strongly anti-establishment films on display from
other locales prove. The filmmakers risked reprisal and
live with it.
Nepali films screened at the FSA'03 focused on
enjovable and light themes. The topics deserving
treatment are then left to foreigners, often donor driven,
with predictable results, A broader discussion on why
FSA '03 had such a poor showing of films with depth
from Nepal is needed. Here the role of the FSA'03, based
in Kathmandu, and emphasising "fun" before other
genres of the documentary in Nepal have been
adequately explored, needs to be confronted.
The FSA is one of the only available fora in South
Asia for alternative documentary films that engage with
the margins not merely of a tenuously-defined aesthetic
but also of the clearlv-definable establishment. If the
FSA encourages, subtly or overtly, through its selection
of jury and their selection of films, tolerance to a margin
or a border, then it abandons a crucial space and puts
at risk its own brand equity and identity. The outcome
of FSA'03 has given rise to a concern that the festival is
precariously poised on the boundary that separates the
alternative from the mainstream.
Ramesh Parajuli, Kathmandu
2003  December  16/12  HIMAL
Apart from the cost
considerations and
volatile political atmosphere, the main
reason an election is
not an alternative to
a negotiated solution
is that it simply will
not solve the problem. There is no
alternative to
civilised and rational
"give and take" at
the negotiating table
ACCORDING TO President Chandrika
Kumaratunga, the reason she took over the
key ministries of defence, interior and media
on 3 November was the deterioration of the
security situation in the country. The visible
advantages accruing to the LTTE due to their
ability to move about freely and enter
government-controlled territory in unlimited
numbers was one of the most criticised
aspects of the ceasefire agreement. However,
after taking control of that part of the
government most concerned
with security issues, President
Kumaratunga appears to be
conducting affairs in much the
same way as Prime Minister
Ranil Wickremesinghe was
doing when his ministers were
in charge of those ministries.
The president has made
repeated public statements that
she would honour the entirety
of the ceasefire agreement. She
also ordered the armed forces
to abide by the rulings of the
international monitors of the
Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission
(SLMM) and respect their status
as the arbiters of the ceasefire
agreement. This was quite a
turnaround from her past
conduct, when she had been a
strident critic of the SLMM, even to the extent
of publicly demanding that the Norwegian
government should remove its present head
for being biased. While the president has
not rescinded her demand that the head be
removed, she has legitimised the role of the
international monitors by her orders.
Furthermore, the president has not
followed one of her own controversial
directives to the former defence minister,
whose portfolio she took over. In October
the president had ordered the latter to
remove the camp put up by the LTTE in an
area of Trincomalee determined to be
government territory by the international
monitors. But, after assuming the role of the
defence minister, she has been quiet about
the LTTE camp, no doubt realising that any
effort to forcibly remove it could severely
endanger the ceasefire.
Therefore, it is clearly evident that the
president, who took over the three ministries
citing national security concerns, has not
changed anything fundamental compared
to what her predecessor as defence minister
was doing. In the last week of November
she even instructed the media ministry that
she took over not to criticise the LTTE. Her
own words towards the LTTE have become
more conciliatory and beginning to sound
more like that of the government that she
only recently was criticising for being too
soft on the Tigers.
This was followed by her proposal for a
power sharing scheme with regard to the
peace process which briefly raised hopes
that a quick solution may be in the offing. In
her proposal she sought to address the
peace process as a first priority. A little
earlier the president and the prime minister
had appointed a joint committee of high
officials to work out an agreement between
them that could resolve the political crisis,
but before the joint committee could submit
its mutually agreed proposals, the president
acted unilaterally and publicised her own
set of proposals. If the prime minister felt let
down that the president sought to gain an
advantage at his cost, he had reason to feel
that way. But it is in the interests of a
negotiated settlement that the president's
proposals should be evaluated on their
The proposals provide for a substantial
broad-basing of the peace process. One of
the major complaints regarding the process
has been the exclusivist attitude of the
government. Only the members of the
negotiating teams and a handful of others
knew what was really going on in the peace
process. It has sometimes been said that only
the prime minister knows where he wants
the peace process to go. The president's
proposals envisaged setting up a joint
council co-chaired by both the president and
prime minister which would set the overall
policy direction of the peace process and to
which the negotiating team would report.
The inclusion of presidential nominees in
the negotiating team and a civil society
advisory body are some of the other key
features in the president's proposals, which
in turn would ensure a much greater
participation from diverse interest groups
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
in the peace process. The proposals were
rejected by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in the first week of December.
In any negotiation much depends on the
spirit with which the negotiators enter into
the negotiations. An erosion of confidence
at the outset itself is a bad sign. But the
alternative to a negotiated settlement of
the cohabitation crisis is not preparing
for an election, as some members of the
government seem to believe. Apart from the
cost considerations and volatile political
atmosphere, the main reason an election is
not an alternative to a negotiated solution
is that it simply will not solve the problem.
There is no alternative to civilised and
rational "give and take" at the negotiating
table. This would also be the best way
for Sri Lanka's political leaders to show
the world that LTTE leader Velupillai
Prabakharan was mistaken in his analysis
of the present political crisis which had set
the government and the president against
each other as reflecting Sinhala racism.
Today, the vast majority of Sinhalese people
are united in desiring that the president
and the prime minister, representing two
different political parties, should work
together to take the peace process forward.
What stands .in the way is not Sinhala
racism but the politicians' quest for power.
The optimism that President Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe
would resolve the political crisis through a
compromise agreement is now giving way
to pessimism. It appears that decades of
party rivalry, bolstered by personal
differences, cannot be bridged. The leadership (as well as personality) factor in the
present crisis cannot be discounted. Both
the president and prime minister are undisputed leaders coming from opposing
parties. The decision-making structures
within their respective parties vest them
with enormous authority. They have the
power to set the tone for either confrontation
or compromise, which the rest of the party
membership can pick up. But their inability
to find a solution to the political crisis
brought about by the president's take-over
of the three key ministries puts both of them
in a potentially vulnerable situation.
The society-wide consensus that the
president and prime minister should work
together for the common good is born out of
two circumstances. The first is that the
solution to the ethnic conflict necessarily
calls for a bipartisan approach by the two
main political parties. If the president and
prime minister were to work together, a two-
thirds majority to change the constitution
is possible for a start, to get an interim
administration for the north-east underway.
If they do not work together, even the next
step forward cannot take place.
Tragically, much of the attention of the
country's policymakers and media is being
devoted to the political crisis rather than to
dealing with the many other problems
facing the country. In the north-east, for
instance, the LTTE is continuing to recruit
children on a significant scale, and the
Muslim people of the east are at the
receiving end of oppressive treatment. Yet
there is scarcely any attention being devoted
to these problems. The plight of displaced
Tamil people in the north-east, and the
economic reconstruction of the war ravaged
areas is getting further prolonged.
More compromise
When assessing the political career paths
of the president and prime minister, an
ascending and descending trend can be
seen. With the end of her second and final
presidential term due in less than two years,
President Kumaratunga is on a declining
trend. She faces the terrible prospect of
ending her political career as a person who
presided over a failed war for peace and
was kept out of the peace process that
succeeded. On the other hand, Prime
Minister Wickremesinghe is on an ascending trend. He has been more successful as
prime minister than was expected,
especially with regard to the peace process
with the LTTE.
Both the president and the prime
minister are currently involved in a tussle
over the defence ministry, which is a very
important institution of government. Both
have legitimate reasons to stake their claim
to it. Indeed, the president may have greater
claim because from 1978 onwards, the
presidents of the republic (there have been
three prior to President Kumaratunga)
retained the defence portfolio. Indeed, even
after his party lost its parliamentary
majority in 1994, President DB Wijetunga
retained the defence portfolio.
Further, if we accept the notion that the
party on the ascendant should compromise
more than the party on the decline, then it is
the prime minister who is in a better position
to compromise on the defence ministry
dispute. Accordingly, he should consider
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
Kumaratunga faces
the terrible prospect
of ending her political career as a person who presided
over a failed war for
peace and was kept
out of a peace
process that
accepting the president's offer of full
cooperation in the peace process that she
has requested him to take forward. There
are precedents for power-sharing with
regard to the defence ministry. In the mid-
1980s President JR Jayewardene created the
position of the national security ministry
and while he retained the defence portfolio,
he permitted Lalith Athulathmudali to
conduct the war against the LTTE as the
minister of mational security.
There are several advantages in the
prime minister accepting the president's
proposal that she would keep the defence
ministry but provide him with decisionmaking powers in relation to the peace
process. It will provide a golden opportunity
for the peace process to re-start on a firm
basis of bipartisan support. Even the LTTE
has recently been asking the
president and prime minister
to resolve their differences to
enable a stable government that
could re-start the peace process
with them. The Tamil people will
feel more confident that
the peace process will yield a
genuine solution if the president and prime minister are
jointly involved in the peace
process, as the constitutional
obstacles to a just political
solution will no longer be
insurmountable barriers.
There is of course, the
possibility that the president
will not cooperate with the prime minister
in a genuine manner, but seek to trip him
up, for instance by revealing the details of
secret negotiations with the LTTE. The
president has an unhappy track record of
being indiscreet and speaking her mind to
the detriment of both her friends and foes,
and indeed even herself. But peace-making
is always a risky proposition, whether it is
with one's democratic opponents or military
opponents. There are also conflict resolution
mechanisms, such as facilitators and
monitors, to make it more likely that the trust
placed will not be aibused.
Up until now the prime minister has
succeeded in the peace process with the
LTTE because he took risks on the basis of a
rational calculation that they would not go
back to war and because he set up an
international safety net. The LITF too has a
bad track record of suddenly going back to
war. But the advantages of the peace process
have kept them within its fold. The prime
minister needs to make the same rational
calculation now, and design adequate
safeguards, on the rationale that working
with the president is in the larger interests
of the country. In the event that the president
does not cooperate in good faith, the people
will know that the prime minister did his
best under the circumstances. Democracy is
about letting the people be the final judges, b
-Jehan Perera
THE RELEASE of the annual report of the
State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) was
accompanied by the usual fanfare,
including a very deliberate assertion
absolving the Pervez Musharraf regime of
any responsibility for the dramatic increase
in poverty in recent years that the report
begrudgingly acknowledges to be the
conspicuous feature of the present economy.
This admission follows long after the report
congratulates the Musharraf economic team
for improving macroeconomic performance
significantly. It is pointed out that this
improvement will provide the basis for a
genuine effort to address the huge poverty
The Musharraf tenure, like most periods
of rule that have preceded it, has been
characterised by a healthy rhetoric about
the "revolutionary" changes that are being
wrought by the government. The popularly
propagated notions about economic
recovery stand out in this regard. Despite
the acute increase in poverty that has taken
place since October 1999, the government
has continued to insist that the economy is
back on track and that it is a matter of time
before the benefits of macroeconomic
recovery trickle down to the wretched
masses. That there is no evidence to suggest
that the long-awaited trickle-down effect
will materialise is another matter altogether.
In any case, "revolutionary" changes in the
economic sphere are just the tip of the
iceberg. The consistent feature of all of the
"revolutionary" changes that have been
brought about, in the economic sphere or
otherwise, is in their total and utter
commitment to the status quo.
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 In the first instance, how can one ignore
the fact that so many sitting cabinet members
were on the MushaiTaf hit-list for quite some
time after the 1999 coup? Sheikh Rasheed,
Aftab Sherpao and Faisal Saleh Hyat were
all proclaimed corrupt offenders who were
to be given exemplary punishment in the
name of accountability. But then again
political horse-trading has become a regular
feature of the country's political landscape,
so perhaps we should ignore the fact that
these offenders redeemed themselves quite
miraculously, and focus instead on the
genuine "revolutions" that have taken place
in the life of the ordinary Pakistani.
Over the past four years, we have heard
a great deal about the incredible changes
that have been induced by the newly created
local governments under the vaunted
devolution of power programme. It is said
that this exercise has produced a new face
of representative politics at the grassroots,
yet another initiative that will eventually
lead to massive tangible benefits to the
ordinary Pakistani. But there is some time
before this revolutionary step does bear fruit
however—the government has admitted
that poverty-related expenditures remain
lower than stipulated on account of
bottlenecks in. the functioning of the new
local governments.
But just for the record, what has been
the devolution experience? As far as
ensuring smooth functioning of the October
2002 election and victories for the ruling
PML-Q party, the devolution exercise was
very successful. But why digress again into
the realm of political engineering? Instead,
let us consider what devolution has brought
to the people of this country. As such, the
local governments, and particularly those
at the lowest tier, are still waiting for trickle
down of finances so as to actually meet the
demand of their constituents. That is of
course, if the local governments are in any
way, shape, or form, independent of the local
elite from whom the devolution exercise was
meant to confiscate power. In fact, far from
confiscating power from the local elite, the
devolution exercise has largely consolidated power in the hands of the elite. There
is virtually no district nazim (nazims are
heads of the new local government system
established by President Musharraf under
the Legal Framework Order) who does not
hail from an old influential family. Therefore, to expect that service delivery at the
local level is all of a sudden free from the
patronage-based traditions
that dominate Pakistani
society is wishful thinking.
Indeed, the devolution exercise has reinforced existing social structures
and provided a whole new legitimacy to
local elite groups, some of whom were
struggling to maintain their control over
societies in which elite power bases are
being quickly eroded
In the absence of comprehensive realignments of social and economic power at the
local level, it is difficult to imagine the
outcome of any election being too different
from that of the local government elections
in 2001. And since the confident land reform
promises made by General Musharraf soon
after assuming power have given way to
Prime Minister Jamali's assurances that
land reform is not part of the government's
agenda, it is clear that comprehensive
alignments of power are not about to take
place anytime soon. And so, speedy justice
to the doorstep and all of those other good
things that were premised on the success of
devolution will just have to wait.
One other significant promise made by
the Musharraf government was that it
would strengthen the Pakistani federal
structure and address the nagging problem
of provincial autonomy. As the discord over
sharing of river waters has proven, there
have been no revolutionary changes on this
front either. In fact, the genuine concerns of
working class Pakistanis who face acute
water crises are even less likely to be
addressed than ever given the fact that the
dispute over water "rights" tends to
completely overlook the nuances of water
availability and access within the provinces
for marginalised groups.
Finally, it is worth examining the claim
that de-politicisation of state institutions
would take place. Even pro-army commentators in Pakistan now find it difficult to
defend the manner in which the army has
politicised state institutions to a degree that
was previously unimaginable. Between the
hundreds of army officers—serving and
retired—running civilian institutions, and
the sheer nepotism that characterises
decisions about everything from issuing of
contracts, building golf clubs, and picking
inept cricketers to represent the country, it
is clear that state institutions are worse-off
than ever, hardly responsive to the needs of
Stata Bank of Pakistan
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
Naive expectations
The army high command has succeeded in
proving that the army does truly enforce its
will on anyone and everyone, while
rendering all mechanisms of accountability
completely useless. And the army has also
done all the favour of proving that "elected"
governments in this country have never
truly been independent of the khaki veto,
further disillusioning ordinary people
about the possibility that the political
process offers them some hope.
In the midst of all of the mendacity, the
government has recently decided to once
again ban certain religious groups. The
three entities that have been banned in the
first phase of the "re-banning" are all
groups that were previously banned and
have since taken on new names and reorganised rather painlessly. That all it took for
them to continue on with their operations
was to change their names reflects how
serious the government was in the first
place, and why to expect any "revolutionary" changes on this front is as naive
as to expect them on any other front.
So at the end of the day, the rebuilding
of national confidence and morale, the first
of the seven points of General Musharraf's
famous initial agenda, which would
have potentially represented the most
revolutionary step of all, remains a pipe
dream. Among other things, there is an
urgent need to reconsider the now very
common practice of misrepresentation, as
the SBP report attempts to do by shifting the
burden of blame for poverty away from
those currently occupying positions of
It is true that every government, regardless of type, makes tall claims to have
addressed the critical problems facing the
polity. But given the background of General
Musharraf's ascendance to power, and the
persistent accusations that his government
has made about the mess that was made by
previous rulers, it is inexcusable that so
many "revolutionary" changes are taking
place that are exacerbating the massive
problems that existed well before General
Musharraf assumed the reins. More than
ever, this regime resembles the dictatorial
and self-serving ones that came before it. b>
-Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
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on Bombay branch.
 The Indo-Pak bomb
by Itty Abraham
In the progress of nuclearisation in South Asia, India
has been the leader in the sense of provoking the
next stage of escalation at every turn. In this context
one of the questions that needs to be asked is the degree
to which nuclear weapons in Pakistan has now become
part of the Pakistani identity and the extent to which
getting rid of nuclear weapons would need a certain
kind of vacuum at least within the elite circles.
May 1998 was a turning point in South Asian
nuclear history. The tests at Pokhran were initiated by
the BJP government which had just come to power
through a process which was characterised by extreme
secrecy so much so that even the ministry of defence
was one of the last to find out about it. The tests ended
a period which had been underway from 1974,
characterised by nuclear ambiguity or nuclear opaqueness. In 1974, India conducted its first nuclear test,
which was described as a peaceful nuclear explosion.
For the next 14 years, India worked hard to increase
nuclear capacity, and Pakistan tried to systematise a
haphazard nuclear programme. By the mid-1980s it was
clear that Pakistan had in fact the weapon, but it took
till 1998 really for that weapon to become public and
the official nuclearisation of South Asia to happen.
New Delhi's decision to proceed with the nuclear
explosions in 1998 is confusing from the point of view
of international relations. At one stroke, India managed
to get rid of its strategic advantage over Pakistan. India
is many times more powerful and has resources far
greater than Pakistan. The explosion allowed Pakistan
to equate itself with India simply by setting off their
own weapons. It became very clear that the aim of
setting of these weapons was in fact to provoke Pakistan
to do the same. Paradoxically, the fact that Pakistan
was able to respond in the way that it did, came as a
surprise to many in India. Until then, within the
scientific community in particular, there had always
been a suspicion that Pakistan's claims to have nuclear
weapons were in fact bogus. But among a number of
political leaders the attitude was that if India managed
to provoke Pakistan into following suit, it would
replicate in South Asia the putative cold war scenario
of the United States exhausting the USSR into submission.
What is confusing, however, is why a country which
already had a strategic advantage over another would
decide to take an action which equated the two of them.
The argument, confusing to some scholars, was that
once the two countries had nuclear weapons it would
result in a series of agreements and conventions which
would prevent further escalation and impart greater
stability in the relations between the two countries. This
seemed logical from a theoretical point of view.
Ironically of course this so-called theory of deterrence
did not seem to work in South Asia because within a
year of the tests, the Kargil war took place, initiated not
by the stronger but the weaker country. This clearly
seemed to suggest that not only had Pakistan equalised
its strategic position vis-a-vis India, it also acquired a
certain amount of freedom to take actions which in the
past would be seen as extremely provocative and would
perhaps have led to full-scale war. So the logic, now, of
nuclear weapons in South Asia appears to be that it
does not prevent war but prevents war from escalating.
So, we can now assume that the series of confrontations
and low-intensity conflicts that have been taking place
in the region for a long time will only increase.
No matter how sure political leaders are that nuclear
weapons are not meant to be used—that they are simply
meant to be brandished as political weapons rather than
as military weapons—all that is needed is a small
miscalculation on one side or the other for the threat of
nuclear use to become closer than it is today. Studies
have shown that under conditions of crisis, decisionmaking time is reduced as the crisis advances. The time
available is not sufficient for a response based on an
understanding of what has happened and the true
nature of the crisis. That is why mistakes happen, even
if there is a well-established path by which decisions
are meant to be taken, namely there is a chain of
command, and a set of minimum conditions to be met
before each succeeding step is taken. A burgeoning crisis
creates the compulsion to take decisions which under
normal circumstances may not have been taken. As the
crises follow one another, the danger of the use of nuclear
weapons becomes higher, and the possibility of
something going out of control comes closer each time.
The whole problem with nuclear weapons is that if they
have to be a credible threat, they have to placed in a
position where they can actually be credibly used,
which means that they cannot be kept as far away as
one would like for security purposes. They have
necessarily to be kept in a somewhat vulnerable
position. The Indian establishment claims that the chain
of command is very secure. But, these arrangements are
only as good as the first failure.
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
 Hy clear Eoundtaiil
There is also one school of thought which believes
that actually India and Fakistan have nuclear weapons
completely under their control because they are only
political weapons not ever intended for use as military
weapons. In the present context where there is one
global super-power and both countries are vying with
each other to gain its attention, w-hat better way of getting
its attention than to threaten the use of nuclear weapons.
There is a great deal of truth to this.
The United States' interests have to do with the
western side of Pakistan much more than the eastern
side of Pakistan. The Indian side is hoping that the
Americans will put pressure on Pakistan to stop cross-
border terrorism, as it is called in India in relation to
Kashmir. But the Americans show no interest, it seems,
in taking further steps to resolve the Kashmir issue.
Rather what is done is, what Pakistan has always
wanted, namely to internationalise Kashmir. Given the
strategic asymmetry betw-een the two countries, every
time Pakistan threatens the use the nuclear weapon it
invokes Kashmir in the same breath. Therefore,
Kashmir, is always on the table. It is not at all clear that
we have gotten any closer to a resolution of this problem,
which all said and done is the primary issue between
India and Pakistan.
These aspects constitute the general backdrop
against which the nuclear question in South Asian
needs to be discussed.
Polished shoes, dirty feet
India began its nuclear programme even before
independence. It was at that point clearly seen as an
energy programme, restricted to producing nuclear
power for civilian consumption. A peculiarity of the
Indian programme is the location of its facilities.
Bombay is not the place where you want to have these
facilities, if the idea was to make nuclear weapons. You
want to have them in the south or east, as far away from
a potential threat from Pakistan as far as possible. This
in a sense corroborates the view that the Indian
programme to begin with was part of the larger
developmental effort.
Homi Bhabha came back from England during the
second world war and without much difficulty
convinced Nehru and the political leadership that India
needed nuclear power if it was to develop. It was as
simple as that.
In 195.5, India in the pursuit of this objective made a
critical decision that was to open up other possibilities
later. This was the choice of reactor, an aspect that does
not always get the attention it deserves. The choice at
that time was between a light water reactor and a heavy-
water reactor. Light water reactors were the most
common form of nuclear reactors at that time. The
United States had it and General Electric was w-illing
to sell it. The Russians were also developing light water
reactors. Heavy water reactors were much more of an
unproven technology at that time, and only the
Canadians had gone in that direction. Because of the
heavy capital costs involved, India had to make a choice
between the one or the other, as changing course
subsequently would not be easy. At a closed door
meeting of Indian scientists, it was decided to opt for
the heavy water reactor because the case was made that
one of the advantages of heavy water reactors was that
plutonium was a by-product. Plutonium as a byproduct should have been seen as something that is
dangerous because it is an incredibly toxic metal.
Ironically plutonium was the reason that clinched
choice. So, by 1955, the initial idea of 1943-47 that India's
nuclear programme was to be oriented towards civilian
purposes had already gotten modified to the extent that
the option was now kept open. Accordingly, contracts
were signed with the Canadians.
As time passed, the amount of money sunk into the
nuclear programme began to escalate. There had also
been from the beginning some criticism from scientists
not involved in this programme that nuclear energy
was being monopolised by one or two centres and a
very small team of leading scientists. Also, the financial
resources they had access to were far in excess of what
they actually needed, which was depriving other parts
of Indian science of funds. In addition, there were no
results to show for all this expenditure. They had
promised in 1948 that within five years India would
have a w-orking nuclear reactor producing power. This
was far from the case. Even in 1969, Vikram Sarabhai,
who took over from Homi Bhabha, had promised that
in a decade there would be 20,000 MW of nuclear energy
being produced every year in India. It is still, today,
under 3000 MW.
A programme that began with enormous attention
had by the mid-1950s and even more so by the early
1960s lost its way and clearly was not going to fulfil its
original objective. Some time in the early-1960s, the
nuclear establishment decided that all Indian nuclear
scientists were going to consider themselves nuclear
weapons scientists as well. This would, incidentally,
save the nuclear programme from public scrutiny.
Within the Atomic Energy Commission there had
always been more than one faction. One of these was
committed to the original energy objective. There was
another group, perhaps more politically minded and
perhaps less sure of their technical ability, which felt
that the energy programme was not going anywhere
and therefore the best way to hedge the bet was to start
a weapons programme. This would in the long run
always ensure that this particular set of institutions
and people would be protected from any kind of
resource crunch.
Within the Atomic Energy Commission, from the
1960s onwards, the development of nuclear weapons
became an option being taken ever-more seriously. As
it became clear that the energy option was becoming
less and less viable—commercially and otherwise—the
weapons option became stronger. In the 1960s, scientists
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 did not play an active role in the debate that took place
after the Chinese tested, but from that point onwards,
especially with the death of Homi Bhabha in 1966, and
the death of his successor Vikram Sarabhai in 1971, the
so-called bomb faction within the Atomic Energy
Commission began to dominate, lt has dominated ever
since. That they had an interest in testing long before
1998 has become clearer with the admission by a former
Indian prime minister, that every Indian prime minister
has been approached as soon as they have came to
power with a request from the Atomic Energy Commission to be allowed to test. Every Indian prime minister
until Vajpayee said no.
All the five countries that have become nuclear
powers before India have all had well-established
separate military programmes of which the civilian
programme was an off-shoot. In India, it was the other
way around, a civilian programme having developed a
military programme as an off-shoot. Because the Indian
nuclear programme had an openly disclosed civilian
energy objective, it was allowed access to technology
from around the world, from which a secret military
programme was created.
The Pakistani model took this one step further. It
had a civilian programme of some kind in place but the
bomb came about through a completely parallel route.
It used covert means, using, for instance, connections
with the underworld. Both India and Pakistan broke
the mould for what new nuclear powers are meant to
Risk factor?
If you consider the production cycle from the extraction
of uranium to the processing of it, and making
plutonium to the manufacture of the bomb material,
and the final placement—and if you drew a line on the
map from the starting point to the end-point, the process
in a sense travels across the country. It begins at
Jadugoda in Jharkhand where most of India's uranium
is mined. From here it goes to Hyderabad, where the
nuclear fuel complex is located. The mined ore passes
through Jharkhand and Orissa to Andhra Pradesh.
There are no emergency mechanisms in case of a spill
or an accident. At Hyderabad, the uranium is converted
into fuel rods, and from there you could take it in any
one of a number of different directions, given that there
are reactors in Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh,
Kamataka. From there they are going to go all over the
place. If the material gets converted into bombs, they
could be sent to strategic storage facilities that may be
located anywhere.
Nuclear fuel, if its properly managed, is relatively
safe. We have no clear idea at this time what kind of
safety precautions are being taken—for instance
whether these trains that are carrying the material are
in fact protected by troops in anticipation of a hijack. In
case of an accident, are hospitals along the route
equipped to deal with radiation poisoning? The answer
clearly is no, because there are very few places in India
where this kind of facility in fact is available.
Finally, there are the corrosive effects that nuclear
weapons have on the form of democratic functioning.
The secrecy that envelops the nuclear programme
means that there is a certain kind of immunity given to
those within the institution. This often leads to
arrogance, and a tendency to take certain decisions
without considering the full costs. Insulation from
public pressure, accountability and responsibility
makes you prone to being aggressive and hostile in
posturing. These actions take place through the
decisions of a small number of people without proper
discussion, debate or scrutiny of publicly accountable
This happens even within polities based on
democratic party systems. Within a system which is
less than democratic and less accountable, the problems
are even greater. For instance, over in Islamabad,
decisions are being made for Pakistani citizens over
which they have no control. The media and the public
find out about developments well after the fact, and
even then only in passing. The danger is that even after
a democratic system comes back in full form in Pakistan,
there may well be critical areas which are off-limits.
Pakistan also had a nuclear programme since the
1950s. There were two phases to it. There was the early
nuclear programme during the 1950s and then the
second phase which began in the 1960s but which really
took off in the 1970s. In the 1950s 3 to 4 percent of
Pakistan's science and technology budget went towards
the nuclear industry. This was a comparatively small
figure, because in the Indian case between 15 to 20
percent of the whole science and technology budget
goes towards the nuclear industry.
After 1972, with the creation of Bangladesh and
Bhutto coming to power, it became very clear that
Pakistan was going to go full speed ahead and produce
a weapon. There were obviously very clear indications
that Pakistani decision-makers knew that India was
well on its way to acquiring nuclear capability. But,
this was going to be a deterrent against India, which
had helped dismember Pakistan once and clearly they
were going to do it again. The entire edifice of what is
called deterrence is premised on a certain kind of
communication that takes place between two sides. In
the India-Pakistan case this communication has been
always been a bit distorted because it has always gone
through some indirect form.
The surreptitious manner in which weapons
emerged in the two countries, the history of intractable
problems, and the secrecy surrounding the control
and command systems and the tendency towards
brinkmanship in bilateral politics makes the idea of a
real deterrence somewhat weak in South Asia. This is a
factor that needs to be kept in mind in reflecting on the
nuclear situation in the Subcontinent. A
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
 Nuclear Roundtable
A GROUP of journalists and scholars from India and
Pakistan met by a lakeside in northern Italy recently
to talk about a subject that is all important but little
discussed back home - the nuclearisation of the
Subcontinent. At the austere retreat in the village ot
Bellagio, the participants delved into not just the
nuclear threat, but also ail the underlying issues
related to India-Pakistan tensions which threaten to
take us down the road to atomic desolation.
Because we do not talk about the threat of
nuclear annihilation does not mean it does not exist,
and the South Asian enemies have come closer to
potential use than other adversaries in the past. The
density of population in South Asia, the short flight
duration for ballistic missiles, the innate solvability of
major India-Pakistan problems, all point to the
'nonsensibility' of contemplating the nuclear weapon
as an option of choice or of bellicosity in the Indus-
Ganga plains.
And yet, it does not do to merely wax eloquent
about the nuclear threat that hangs above us all.
What do we do about it? Approaching the subject
dispassionately, the participants at Bellagio took it
as a given that the nuclear weapon is a heinous
proposition, but they went further to look with clear
lenses at the inter-related problems of Indo-Pak
perceptions, the all-important Kashmir issue, media
jingoism, nuclear contamination at processing plants,
international exigencies, and so on.
When the presidents and prime ministers meet at
the saarc summit in Islamabad in early January, we
are certain that nuclearisation will not make it into
the agenda. We are also certain that 'civil society1
does not yet have enough clout to make
denuclearisation the focus of official attention. We
offer this issue of Himal as a contribution on a
subject that the political leaders and opinion-makers
of India and Pakistan do not have too much time to
consider, at saarc summits or elsewhere. Above all,
we commend the ability of the participants at the
'Bellagio Summit' to be critical of their respective
governments and national situations. This ability
alone will take us ahead on the path of denuclearisation of South Asia - which perforce has to happen
if we are not to convert ourselves into a killing fields
of millions upon millions. - editors
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 Itty Abraham,
Social Science
Research Council,
Washington DC.
Kanak Mani Dixit: How 'close' is close in the context
of a nuclear conflagration. Have we in these moments
of tension in the last few years between India and
Pakistan come close to use of tlie nuclear op tion by either
Itty Abraham: Before even starting
the discussion, it may   be worth
mentioning that the figures are
roughly like this: a bomb blast over
Bombay would kill three lakh people
immediately, within a second of
detonation. Another 12 lakh people
will die over tlie course of the next
few months. So a total of about 15
lakh people will be killed as an
immediate effect of the bomb over
Bombay, not counting the effects of radiation tliat will
persist over the long term. TMs also does not include
the effects of buildings falling and so on.
In terms of how close we have been to nuclear war
in South Asia, I think 1987 was a major turning point
in tensions in South Asia. It was the year of Operation
Brass Tacks when, after 14 years of relative calm, there
was clearly an effort within the Indian defence
establishment to not only conduct the largest exercise
that had ever taken place in the Subcontinent but also,
possibly, to use that opportunity to attack Pakistan to
"solve the problem once and for all". That did not
happen but Brass Tacks was followed later by some
Pakistani exercises. Brass Tacks was a serious crisis.
I think 1987 was another marker as that was when
the use of the Indian flag as a symbol, as a sticker, as an
image, proliferated as never before. From that point
onwards there were far more 'Mera Bharat Mahan' kind
of moments. There is a level of patriotism which was
being produced, a constructed patriotism, if you will,
which was never wound up.
In 1991 there was the Gulf War. It was not a crisis in
South Asia necessarily, but since then over the past 15
years or so we have been facing one military crisis after
another. Tn 1995-96 there were the NPT-CTBT debates
taking place in India, which brought up nuclear
weapons into discussion like never before. And then in
1998 there were the tests. In 1999, there was Kargil and
in 2002 we had the 10-month standoff between the two
armies. So, in the last 15 years, there have been about
eight fairly major crises. What it would have taken for
the next escalation to have happened is not clear but 12
nuclear threats were issued during the Kargil war.
Perhaps they were symbolic. It is certainly the case that
seen from the outside the situation in South Asia looked
far more dangerous than it was from within.
If you ask what is likely to lead to the use of nuclear
weapons, it is difficult to say. Rather than the conscious
decision to go ahead and attack somebody, we may
have to consider the question of accidents and
misperceptions which is far more likely as a source for
. the following reasons. During a crisis the time tliat is
available to make decisions is very short and the level
of misperception is very high. Once deployment of
nuclear weapons takes place, the decision is taken from
one place and the action for launch of weapons is taking
somewhere else. A little separation between the point
of decision and the point of launch—it could be a plane
or it could be a missile—means that ultimately
somebody else has their hands on the so-called trigger,
even when the order is issued by someone in Delhi or
It is not known the extent to which technical means
and systems have been put into place to prevent the
unauthorised launch or use of nuclear weapons in
South Asia. Both India and Pakistan have said they
will develop their own systems to prevent unauthorised
use. What these are we are not quite clear about yet.
Finally, there is the question of threshold. This is again
where the signalling issue comes in. There were two
Italians who said that they had been to Pakistan and
interviewed a whole range of generals and others,
asking them what would force them to use tlie bomb.
The generals laid out four conditions of which the key
one is as follows: if Indian troops cross into Pakistani
territory they feel that they have the right to use their
nuclear bomb. This brings up the obvious question of
why they would be mad enough to use it on their own
territory. They replied that if they used it on their own
soil it would not be considered a use of nuclear weapons
against another country. So, it would amount to nothing
more than a test in one sense except it happens to kill a
bunch of enemy troops.
Ramchandra Guha: But tliat could
have repercussions for Pakistani soil,
including Pakistani civilians who
will be affected.
Abraham: Absolutely. But this is
how the irrational enters the picture
SSIMLSSM   when it comes to using nuclear
Ramchandra Guha,   -weapons.
social scientist,
 : Siddharth Vaaradarajan: The Indian
no-first-use doctrine has now been amended to say "no
first use except if we are attacked—if India Is attacked
or Indian troops abroad are attacked'. In other words,
Pakistan could still be attacked.
Rehana Hakim: There are also questions about the
security of the nuclear weapons. In Pakistan they are
talking about stationing them in six different locations.
Abraham: Pakistan talks of a very rigorous and robust
system of command, which may not be true in the sense
that it is under the control of the military, lt may well be
the case that because of this we have a solid security
risk in place. The vigilance system allows these
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
weapons to be launched when the order
is given by the appropriate authority.
Hameed Haroon: But that is not
rigorous enough, because it is the
'appropriate authority' which is the
problem in Pakistan.
Abraham: You have to consider the
ratcheting up of tension. Each successive crisis now has raised the
threshold a bit more and that obviously
brings South Asia closer to war. Besides,
it begins to look like the creation of crisis
now is more about getting a foreign third-party mediator
involved, which is a very dangerous game. They are
playing with crisis over and over again in order to attract
American involvement.
Akbar Zaidi: But I think they have never come close to
it. I do not think nuclear war has been a real threat at all.
AS Paneerselvan: Well the first question here is where
does the civilian programme end and the military
AS Paneerselvan.
Sun TV. Madras.
programme start. This fine line has
never been demarcated in the Indian
context because the Defence Research Development Organisation
(DRDO) is technically in charge of
affairs after the spent fuel has been
re-processed. Till the re-processing it
is with the Department of Atomic
Energy. DRDO's own facilities in
Hyderabad and in Pune do not have
facilities to handle them. Which
means it should be handled in
Rajasthan or Bombay. Throughout
 —     the world you know exactly where
the making takes place but in India we have no clue
about the making of the weapon and delivery mechanisms. This is all the more dangerous because
everything can be done within the civilian guise-you
do not even have to assume a militarist posture. That is
why it is so frightening. In India, this is the only civilian
structure which is shrouded in so much of secrecy.
Abraham: Let me just take that one step further. Suppose
something goes wrong in the process of making the
Managing Editor,
The South Asian platform
Pakistan's PTV is seen as one of the leading
government organs. They have really skirted around
issues, and restricted themselves to putting out the
official version. Private channels like GEO on the other
hand get an interesting mix of opinion. Talk shows
for instance accommodate diverse points of view and
sometimes very radical views are expressed. Some of
these views question the very foundation of Pakistan,
the idea of India and Pakistan and so on. In this sense,
private channels discuss issues that have been buried
under the carpet for so many years. For the first time
there has been a fundamental questioning and the
production quality of television has ensured that it
has more audience appeal.
GEO TV has done quite a bit of coverage on defence
and the possibilities in the event of a flashpoint. There
have been several episodes on Bangladesh for the first
time in the history of the Pakistani electronic media.
These programmes actually went into asking questions about what happened in 1971, the conduct of
the military, about the genocide, about Mujib's,
Bhutto's and Yahya's role and so on. Given this trend
of looking at hard questions, the nuclear issue will
also be on the list of priorities for television. But, as
with newspapers, television news channels need a
peg to hang it on and that peg probably has not
The main language of debate is Urdu and the fact
that television operates in the vernacular makes a
tremendous difference. But to be effective, television
programmes require the presence of all parties to an
issue to be present. In this case, it will mean including
India. On the nuclear issue the debate has to be
constant and mutual because the nuclear phenomenon is continuous until it is disbanded and
involves India and Pakistan. Therefore, doing
programmes on a one off basis and doing them
without involving Indians is meaningless. The idea
is to try and create some sort of a South Asian platform
where these kind of ideas and discourses to take place.
It is also necessary to engage the fanatic elements.
Given a chance to appear on television, they will give
you the Quranic version of the atom bomb and they
will quote the fact that it is written in the Quran that
the mountains will fly like pieces of cotton and so on.
We have them engaged in some sort of a debate and
tried to counter their views by quoting other sources.
Television has this ability to expose them and since a
lot of them want to be on TV they also end up
discrediting themselves. There are hard questions to
be asked
The other problem of course is the extent to which
the Pakistani media is viewed in India and therefore
influencing Indian perceptions of the debate in
Pakistan. In the Indian media mindset, Pakistan does
not exist, apart from the nuclear issue, Kashmir and
terrorism. The purpose behind GEO was to engage in
a dialogue of channels with India so that
the distortions in perceptions could be rectified.
Unfortunately, the Indian channels do not think like
-Imran Aslam
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 Hameed Haroon,
Dawn, Karachi.
actual high explosive which combines
with the nuclear material type bomb,
what is immediately required is to first
determine whether this was an accident,
sabotage or an actual attack. What might
happen if, for example, there is an
accident? Are there sufficient systems in
place to inform the designated authority
in charge of taking the critical decision?
For the decision-maker there may not be
enough time to weigh the issue in
balance. In the context, there is always
the possibility of a television channel
immediately jumping the gun and
saying "We have been attacked and we have to
respond". The nature of the existing system within
South Asia actually allows them no other response in
case something goes wrong. And, if they chose to term
it sabotage rather than accident then pressure is going
to build up immediately to demand a response. In that
sense, a decision could be manufactured.
Haroon: When you do not consider your enemy or the
person across the border to be a rational person or a
humane person, war hysteria can itself operate
independently of more rational scenarios.
Dixit: To what extent does the media play a role in
escalating tensions that could lead to nuclear conflagration? What is the role of the print media?
Zaidi: I don't think that newspapers in Pakistan are
focussed on the nuclear issue. Official statements are
reported but I think there is a lack of persistence.
Perhaps after 1998 for a year or two there was some
attention. Even during Kargil, the war itself was more
important than the nuclear possibilities. In any case
that was a reflection of the reality because even though
Indian and Pakistani forces were at the border, the
nuclear threat did not exist. It was the forces that were
there at the border. There was possibility of war, the
high commissioners were going back and forth, but the
nuclear issue itself was not prominent.
Haroon: Are you saying that the nuclear issue does not
dominate the spectrum of Pakistani newspaper writing
vis a vis relations with India?
Zaidi: That is correct. India-Pakistan problems, yes,
war, always. Kashmir, also always. But not the nuclear
issue, because I do not think it is a real issue. I really do
not think that either India or Pakistan is going to use
the nuclear option
Imran Aslam: Also it's a settled issue, as far as the
Pakistani public is concerned.
Haroon: No, I think it is quite to the contrary. For the
generals who control the weapon, its use
is not the real issue. They will use it, when
they think it best and they will not use it
if they don't think it best. They are not
used to having public participation and
they are not concerned particularly about
it. The generals are not concerned
because they feel that the use of the
weapon is outside civilian control.
People don't have views about the
nuclear issue because the whole mechanism of the nuclear issue is not terribly
clear to them. Questions such as, how it
works, what are the factors governing
nuclear use, nuclear deployment, nuclear build-up, j
nuclear development, budgets. None of these things is
visible in the public domain, ft is all in secret. As a net
result, the media is not obsessed with the nuclear issue.
Another reason is that it is a difficult area to report on.
There is nothing to go by other than government
handouts, and government handouts will come when
the generals want it to come So it is not an easy terrain
to write about.
Zaidi: I think the genera] perception of the Pakistani
people at large would be that it is good that Pakistan
has nuclear weapons. The belief is that at least we have
nuclear weapons to defend ourselves, not as a means to
attack. Hameed is absolutely right in saying that the
generals do control the information situation. It is not
in the public domain. As a result there is no anti-nuclear
movement either except for a few NGOs. So the attitude
is that it is good to have these weapons so that if anyone
attacks us we can defend ourselves. Hence they are a
deterrent. Possibly it will never be used but it is always
there in case of a contingency. That is why it is a settled
issue and the people on Track II discussions who are
not in favour of this nuclear programme constitute only
a small lobby.
Haroon: But doesn't Track II have a certain acceptabilty ?
Two sessions on South Asia
This Nuclear Roundtable was organised by Panos
South Asia, which seeks to promote quality in media
in the region, with help from Himal South Asian.
The panel was brought together by Saneeya Hussain
(Karachi), Mitu Varma (New Delhi) and Aruni John
(Colombo), and moderated by Kanak Mani Dixit
(Kathmandu). The Bellagio meeting (20-23 July 2003)
followed up on an earlier meeting, held at Nagarkot
in Nepal (11-12 May 2002), to specifically discuss
the media in the context of India-Pakistan rivalry.
The discussions at Nagarkot can be downloaded
2003 December 16/12  HIMAL
 Nucleur Eouiiilf able
Zaidi: Yes of course, but in that sense there are also
independent generals who do not think that the military
should be involved with civilian affairs or government
and who also do not maintain a hawkish view on
militarisation and on the nuclear issue.
Aslam: Basically this theory that conventional forces
will be reduced once we go nuclear is also playing on
the minds of people within the army.
Even these retired army guys basically
do not know what this nuclear thing
is all about, who really controls it,
what the command structure is. No
one really knows it. There is a suspicion that over a period of time the
recruitment into the armed forces
might come down. Nobody is talking
to the people about these things for
fear of a reaction from the ordinary
people who are going to lose out in
Imran Aslam, President. GEO TV, Karachi.
Haroon: If you consider Kargil from the Pakistani side,
1 would say that it was not the nuclear issue which
offended the young officers and soldiers and others in
the army. It was the fact that it was bad conventional
strategy and that needless lives were lost. It was not the
fear of a nuclear threat. 1 would say that they acted
irresponsibly to bring the nuclear threat into the arena,
on both sides. The nuclear angle was not central to that
Aslam: Kargil also probed the extent to which tactical
conventional forces could be used in a nuclear
environment, to see at what stage people will panic,
and when people will start talking about using a
nuclear option. And of course it could also perhaps be
a method to gain some sort of ground on future
occasions, for instance with relation to the Kashmir issue
and internationalising it . It is a ploy to see the limits to
which the Indians can be tested. It is
perhaps a way of saying "if you push
us too far we will press the button".
Varadarajan: In fact Kargil and Operation Parakram in the aftermath of
the 13 December attack on the Indian
parliament, which was the largest
mobilisation of India troops along the
India-Pakistan border since 1971, can
be both read as excellent examples of
how overt nuclearisation has served
to ensure the cap-limit for even
conventional options.
Abraham: It would appear from all this discussion that
the role of the media in nuclear matters is completely
dependent. It has no autonomy of its own when it comes
to the nuclear issue or the Kargil case.
Haroon: I don't think that applies to the Kargil case. In
fact I would say that the Pakistani media was more
independent in reporting Kargil and more responsible
Communist control
The anti-nuclear movement in India has witnessed
what I would call the uneasy co-existence of
Gandhians and communists which goes back to the
peace movement of the 1950s. The Communist Party
of India (CPI) led the pro-Soviet section of the
movement and there was also a non-political
Gandhian movement. The Gandhians in the 1960s
were important figures in the anti-nuclear movement
in India but their contribution is completely ignored
even by the modem day anti-nuclear campaigners.
After 1998, for various reasons, the communists
have acquired more and more control over the peace
movement in India. I think a very critical lost
opportonity in the peace movement in India was the
debate around the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
(CTBT) from 1996 to 1998. That was one of the most
important moments because there was a fairly active
campaign, and even within the mainstream press
there was a debate and there was a strong position
that India should not sign it. This followed from the
view that a kind of nuclear apartheid was in place
that allowed only the white man to have the bombs.
The people who said that India should not sign the
CTBT basically followed the argument, partly of strategic
national interest and partly of racial pride
On the other hand there were people who were
vigorously articulating the need to salvage the CTBT.
One of the arguments was the need to de-escalate
tensions. The other was simply an adherence to the
long Gandhian and Nehruvian tradition of disarmament. A third view was that since India was
campaigning to become a permanent member of the UN
Security Council, signing the CTBT it would strategically
help the Indian case.
My personal view is that if India signed the CTBT,
there was the strategic advantage of compelling
Pakistan to also sign it. Conversely, Pakistan had the
option of not signing it if India did not sign it because
of the Pakistani fear arising from the asymmetry in
conventional weapons. Therefore, India signing the
CTBT would have been a considerable step towards de-
escalation in the Subcontinent.
This history of what happened is important in
understanding a crucial weakness of the Indian anti-
nuclear movement. In the debate on whether India
should sign the CTBT, the communists were against
HIMAL  16/12  December 2003
 than the Indian media. It was not as dramatic as the
Indian media but it was more responsible. It is on the
nuclear matter where there has been a total failure to
come to grips with the mechanics and the impact.
Dixit: Is there any truth to the belief that the Indian
army has the power to manipulate the situation when
it comes to nuclear issues?
Varadarajan: One could look at it in a
number of ways. If we take the case of
Operation Parakram and the deployment of Indian forces after the attack on
parliament, all the indications are that
the army was actually a restraining
factor. The politician wanted a quick-
fix solution, in essence summoning the
army guys and saying, "Look, tell me if
it is possible to exercise a ten day option
where we can go in and come out,
teaching Pakistan a bit of a lesson". The
army brass came back and said, "If we
do this, lets say we bomb a militant
camp, there is no way the Pakistan will
not retaliate. And once Pakistan retaliates, you tell us as a politician, will you be willing to
call it quits at that stage or will you want us to do
something further. Obviously you will want us to do
something further and gradually we will have to be
prepared for a longer and longer conflict in which
nuclear escalation is possible".
It is not just the army that is involved. The
international environment will have to be considered.
So the authorities very quickly concluded that there was
nothing much that could be done. But as far as both the
armed forces and the international community are
concerned, overt nuclearisation has reduced slightly
the possibilities of conventional warfare. The army is
less keen under the circumstances for obvious reasons,
and the international community is
also less keen because they know that
in the event of a conventional conflict
the boundary between one kind of war
and the other cannot be maintained,
especially when there is a lot of
aggressive statements coming from
Pakistan that if India attacks then all
options are open.
Abraham: Why would you think that
conflicts can be initiated but be
maintained within the limits of conventional warfare?
Siddharth Varadarajan, Deputy
Resident Editor, The Times of India,
We iv Delhi.
Varadarajan: In fact nuclearisation
     has not only increased the probability
of localised conventional conflicts, it has increased the
possibility of tension between the two countries. But at
the same time, you also have the imperialist core
working quickly to tackle the situation. There is more
international attention, but there are also more little
conflicts of shorter duration. The presence of nuclear
signing the treaty. Communists who were influential
in the mainstream press were gagging columnists who
were in favour of signing the CTBT. This part of the
history of the nuclear debate is important to recognise.
As early as the 1960s, C Rajagopalachari, a prominent
Gandhian and pioneer of the anti-nuclear movement
in India, had said, "We should rescue the peace
movement from the clutches of the communist party".
This observation is still relevant.
Despite the environmental hazards, the ethical
questions, the questions of secrecy in democracy and
given the absurd promises made by the nuclear
establishment that it would provide 10,000 megawatts
by a specified time and so on, there has been no scrutiny
of nuclear operations at all. This is an area which needs
serious investigation. And one of the reasons serious
investigation is not done is that the communists are as
gung-ho about nuclear energy as some other people are
gung-ho about the bomb. That is perhaps due to a naive
belief in science, or perhaps due to an old-fashioned
loyalty to nuclear energy collaboration with the
erstwhile Soviet Union.
After 1998, the Indian anti-nuclear movement has
been reduced to a single agenda of simply saying no
bombs. Among the reasons is the deep and pervasive
influence of nuclear nationalists, and also because
the communists, more specifically the Communist
Party of India (Marxist), which is in power in three
states increasingly controls the anti-nuclear movement in the country. Behind the scenes, they are trying
to manipulate the movement. The CFI(M) has an
ambiguous position on bombs In the early 1980s, EP
Thompson and others came to India and the people
who attacked them were the communists. The CPI(M)
led a campaign against Thompson on the ground that
he was an American agent undermining the security
of the Soviets.
For a more informed critique of the nuclear
industry and for recovering its own autonomy and
credibility among the uncommitted public opinion
in India, the anti-nuclear movement in India needs to
be rescued from the clutches of the communists. This
may be an unfashionable strategy but it is absolutely
important if the reach and influence of the peace
movement is to expand.
-Ramchandra Guha
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
Kazi Abid Asad.
proprietor-editor, Ibrat
group (Sindhi language).
weapons increases the frequency of tension, but it also
contains within it the inherent ability naturally to de-
escalate so that in the short term it does not go beyond
a certain level. I completely agree with the need to put
in place risk-reduction mechanisms. Various people
have made very sensible suggestions to this end and
even the bombwallahs are not opposed to it.
Guha: But there are political factors independent of
control systems that need to be considered. One of the
problems of the whole anti-nuclear discourse in India and which may also lead to
a misunderstanding in Pakistan is the
excessive demonisation of the Sangh
Parivar. The equation of nuclear machismo
with the Sangh Parivar or the equation of
Indian hegemonic aspirations with the
Sangh Parivar is not valid. I say this
because, hypothetically, if Sonia Gandhi
becomes prime minister, in a situation of
crisis and escalation and low-level conflict,
her Italian origin will compel her to strike
an even more nationalistic posture vis-avis Pakistan. You can be sure of this. There
will be more pressure on her to prove her
patriotic credentials, which actually is a
destabilising factor in this context.
Haroon: Before you can posit problems like the Sonia
factor, keep in mind that today conflict control is being
Hindi press and social forces
There are many stereotypes about nationalist jingoism
and responsible coverage in the media about nuclear
proliferation. There is a belief that all English
newspapers are basically very balanced and that the
Hindi or other regional language newspapers are
jingoistic. To say that most of the Hindi papers are
jingoistic is totally wrong.
Social forces basically make up a magazine or
newspaper's policy. The kind of response that you
get from readers, phone calls, letters, the kind of
articles that you get from contributors, all shape a
newspaper's policy on crucial issues. We find that
the reader's response forces us to take certain stands.
Our reflexes are based to a certain extent on the
readership profile.
Some of the regional papers in India are politically
correct, whereas some others are jingoistic. It may
sound ironical but at the level of the people there is a
lot of goodwill towards Pakistan. For instance, the
issue of the little girl from Pakistan who went to
Bangalore for heart surgery evoked many letters from
readers on the human aspect of the episode. The
goodwill of that level has of course to do with the
common heritage of culture, art, literature and so on.
handled not by two parties but multiple parties. Then
you have yet more actors entering the scenario even
though conflict perception and counter-measures and
confidence-building and de-escalation measures are
supposed to be the responsibility of two parties alone.
Then you also have to be able to put forward hypothetical postulates about American behaviour as well,
If the Americans decide that the Pakistanis are biting
too hard or the Indians are scoffing too much and that
the situation might be helped by a pull-back from
mediation, backdoor mediation, then that
can be a de-stabilising factor during
conflict escalation and lead to a really
dangerous situation. So the range of
destaibilising factors is quite vast.
Abraham: One of the many things that we
know now is that signalling is done via
the United States through the assumed use
of spy satellites. Indian and Pakistani
decision-makers know that satellites are
passing overhead. You want to signal that
a crisis is coming and you want American
intervention. You do things in an open,
blatant kind of way so that the satellites
will see it. What happens when the
satellites, for whatever reasons, do not see it? So what
you get in that case is that although the signal is meant
to have gone through it does not and then suddenly
the weapons are already in position because the
At the same time, despite this heritage there are deep-
rooted communal hostilities. In India when I interact
with people—politicians, bureaucrats, decisionmakers-—1 find deep prejudices at work. Scratch below
the surface and you find a communalist lurking below
In terms of the audience, the vernacular readership
may be unlike the English readership in that it could
perhaps be more communal. In 1992 the newly-
launched Gujarati edition of India Today had to be closed
because there were very few readers owing to the fact
that it had taken an an anti-communal stand. Similarly
in MP where half the people vote for the BJP, and half
the people vote for the Congress, there is a similar land
of response from the Hindi readers. Therefore, in taking
a stand on issues with communal overtones, we have
to be careful to reflect the views of the readers. This is
not necessarily a compromise but an attempt to
accommodate an influential point of view. /\n element
of this influential point of view, entertained by the
average Hindi middle-class reader, is that Pakistan is
hying to create problems in India. This is a perception
that cuts across party lines and political loyalties.
Therefore tills is a point of view that is bound to enter
the picture in the perception of the nuclear wreapons.
-NK Singh
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 pre-emptive exit option did not work.
Kazi Asad: The American factor and the fact that a lot
of India-Pakistan problems have been internationalised
by the nuclear issue is something that Pakistan is very
happy about to a large extent. It has always been talking
about mediation, always asking for observers on the
Line of Control and so on and so forth. The Indians
never wanted that. So gradually not only the Americans
but also the international community has been sucked
into this conflict. This has an impact on the nuclear
Haroon: The creation of a third party in what should
essentially be a bi-party risk evaluation system means
that the third party has to be predictable and has to
have its behaviour measured by certain parameters. But
nothing that India or Pakistan can do will change
parameters in Washington. Having three
factors can sometimes reduce risks and
sometimes increase it. It is important to
remember this as well in studying nuclear
risk in South Asia.
Varadarajan: I want to add one more
scenario. There was this article which talked
of American contingency plans to take over
Pakistan's strategic assets in the event of the
mullahs taking over, or a coup de etat by anti-
American generals and so on. Suppose
tomorrow some anti-American general
overthrows Musharraf it is logical for him to assume
that now his strategic assets are suddenly vulnerable
to American bombing. For various reasons the Indian
force would be on high alert anyway. The insertion of
this kind of an external dynamic into India-Pakistan
nuclear equations changes the picture completely.
Deterrence works to the extent it does in a situation
where you have only two players playing by similar
rules and calculations.
Asad: I think this is an image problem. The fact is that
the Indian bomb is in the hands of a fundamentalist
regime and a regime that a lot of people know has a
certain mindset. So that would apply for the things that
Siddharth was talking about. Somehow or the other it
is the Pakistani mad mullah or the mad general, who
seems to pose a problem. And Pakistanis fall back on
the argument that they are being discriminated against
because they happen to have the Islamic bomb. This is
being constantly fuelled. Nobody talks about Hindutva
in this context.
Dixit: Clearly there is a need to broaden the scope of
liberal and moderate opinion since the nuclear agenda
seems to be driven primarily if not exclusively by the
extreme end of the political and technocratic spectrum
in both countries. Given that the Urdu press tends to be
NK Singh. Editor-
in-Chief, Dainik
Bhaskar, Bhopal.
more conservative than the English press in Pakistan,
would Urdu television channels make a difference by
providing 'liberal opinion' to the Urdu mass?
Aslam: Definitely. That is certain indeed because that
brings in people into media who have exposure and
technological knowledge. The reporters will tend to be
from a class of people who speak that language.
Dixit: If that is the case in Pakistan then in India the
question would be about Hindi.
Paneerselvan: The danger with Hindi television is that
the people who are willing to speak this rashtra bhasha
are those who are part of the state, who have never
questioned the state. These are the kind of people who
are moving into Hindi. Because of a new breed of hawks
that began to dominate foreign affairs, a hawkishness
that was never there has entered the Hindi
mainstream. They were quite content with
Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan.
Now they have to suffer G Parthasarthy and
JN Dixit/
The television and the mainstream media
today are actually taken over by a small
segment. The Agra Summit was where I saw
these guys first hand. From the moment the
summiteers arrived the editors asked, "Don't
do you think its going to fail". Luckily I had
some access to the hotel through Murosoli
Maran. I called him and I said "These guys
are saying that the talks are going to fail". He said,
"Look, we haven't even met".
Aslam: I had an argument with one such Indian
commentator on television. He said, "get rid of all
Pakistani diplomats. Get them out of New Delhi. They
are all crooks". 1 replied, "We are two nuclear powers.
Some sort of listening post is necessary, some sort of
hotline is necessary".
Dixit: The Hindi satellite channels seem to command
the airwaves. How are the South Indian channels
Paneerselvan: Even though Star Television started
beaming in 1991, the Hindi channels are all post-BjP.
AAJTAK was not there before that. There was no Hindi
current affairs television. It is a creation of the Parivar,
a post-BJP government phenomenon. The southern
channels are different, there is programming on
international affairs and regional cooperation. North-
Indian television by contrast gave in to the aggressive
PMO-Parivar manipulation. Some half a dozen hand-
picked, sterilised byte-able guys began showing up all
the time on screen. That is the reason Hindi television
is scary.
It is a little different in the south as regards the print
2003  December 16/12 HIMAL
 media as well. The growth of vernacular newspaper in
south India brought in its wake reform movements like
the Dravidian movement, and in labour. The Hindi
press today is an out and out commercial enterprise
backed by very narrow political positions.
Dixit: if we cannot expect much from English press or
television, there is still the need to reach the
"vernacular intelligentsia" through the
NK Singh: In matters relating to India and
Pakistan the level of interest varies according
to the issue in the Hindi press. In July, the bus
service between India and Pakistan was
resumed and it was covered enthusiastically.
There was this little girl who came by the bus
to India for heart surgery, and she became a
celebrity. That probably suggests that people
on both sides would welcome peace aind they
The popular commonsense
There is no point of comparison between the English
press and the Hindi press. The miserable condition of
the Hindi papers arises basically because more and
more proprietors have become editors. When the proprietor becomes the editor of the paper there are only
two tilings on his mind—revenue and power.
The net outcome can easily be imagined. This
is what happens in the regional press. For
this reason the Hindi press suffers from a
lack of political vision. The other problem
with the Hindi press is that the popular
names from the English press—Khushwant
Singh, Kuldeep Nayar, Balraaj Mehta,
Menaka Gandhi—are reproduced in translation. Further, Hindi newspapers do not
have correspondents in the south. Moreover,
no Hindi newspaper has appointed a board of editorial directors. This deprives the paper of the skills of
more sophisticated analysis which can inform a larger
audience. That class is simply missing in Hindi newspapers.
This makes a difference in the way critical issues
are covered. On the nuclear issue per se, this failing
comes through very clearly. When newspapers do not
even have editorial meetings, when they do not have
people who can write and no editors to lead the publication, it is pointless to expect them write sensible
editorials on the subject. Therefore there is little point
in talking about leading the masses to the right direction through the Hindi newspaper.
The structure of large circulation Hindi newspapers like Punjab Kesri, Nayi Duniya, which have a huge
influence in the northern belt, limits the possibilities
of discussing such matters in depth. Basically, these
newspapers are geared to covering political activity.
want peace, even if this does sound cliched. But, nuclear
armament and nuclear issues constitute a different type
of problem because it is not purely bilateral. It has
something to do with world order. For India it is not a
question of just Pakistan.
S Akbar Zaidi,
independent economist,
To what extent does the media- whether the
vernacular press or the English publications, actually influence public opinion?
There is often an assumption that you can
change the way people think through articles
in newspapers. 1 am not sure how valid that
assumption is, especially in the case of
Pakistan. I think the nature of the state
dominates public opinion and how people
should be thinking, which is what is
reflected in newspapers. Barring a few
exceptions like Dawn, Nezvsline, Herald which
are usually in competition with the state,
most other newspapers, particularly Urdu
Om Thanvi, Editor,
Jansatta, New Delhi
There is no page in regional papers for international
news and therefore there is no editor who looks after
international news or evolving international politics.
There are no science reporters let alone someone who
understands nuclear issues to tackle serious issues
like disarmament, weapons development, and so on.
Usually, coverage on the subject is event-triggered
as when the 1998 explosions took place
or when there is some conflict with Pakistan. At such points the content tends to
be emotional or romantic. They tend to toe
the government's line in such matters.
The articles tend to mirror the popular
commonsense so that there is no informed
debate on nuclear weapons.
In the visual media, there is an equally
unhealthy trend. For instance, when
AAJTAK was launched they felt that building up the India-Pakistan issue would be useful from
a market point of view and so they did everything to
focus on conflict between the two countries. And then
Kargil happened and that is possibly what made
AAJTAK successful. The point is that conflict had the
visual potential to be saleable and so television took
it upon itself to sell themselves through war.
In this context there is an interesting anomaly in
the visual media. In the print media, the law requires
to state in print who the editor, publisher and printer
are, so that if there is any irresponsible behaviour there
are at least three people who can be prosecuted. But in
the case of television there is no such law and there is
no way of fixing responsibility for errors or irresponsible conduct. There is no separate law for television
that can check the content of output. This makes a
difference in terms of the lack of restraint in reporting
and discussing potentially emotive issues.
-Om Thanvi
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 newspapers and magazines follow the state's point of
Haroon: If it works in Dawn's case it ought to work in
the case of the others as well. The problem is not what
the media can do. The problem is what we the media
are doing. It is very easy to say that the media does not
make much of a difference. That in any case is not true.
However, the way we are going about it, we may be
marginalising ourselves on certain issues. 1 can make
out nothing more ill-informed than commentaries in
Pakistan on serious issues like nuclear conflict and the
impact and effects of the bomb.
Essentially therefore the question is not about what
the media can do in Pakistan. I am sure it is no different
in India. The media can raise a storm and can virtually
paralyse state policy. But on issues like this we tend to
remain silent
Aslam: But there is also the problem of whether or not
people want to do what you are asking them to do.
There is a lot of debate that goes on but when it comes to
the nuclear issue. There is this pride of being at par
with India in terms of deterrence. The issue gets very
difficult to pursue because it gets enmeshed in
nationalism. We have not reached that stage where we
can talk about ethical thresholds and so one. Remember,
the issue is linked to the very notion of survival of the
state. People in Pakistan live with that
:hought, possibly because of what happened in 1971. For them the nuclear umbrella
is something that is extremely satisfying. It
gives them some space and time to sit back
and say, "That is taken care of, now lets
move on". I am not sure that the media is
going to sit back and say, "Let us get rid of
the bomb". I don't think that is going to
Rehana Hakim, Editor.
Newsline, Karachi.
Haroon: The point I was making was that
where the Indians go wrong in understan-
ding Pakistan is in the mechanics of mobilising
opinion. Opinion must ultimately be based on knowledge, understanding of issues and such like. In
Pakistan even the smallest of academic institutions is
directly controlled by the state through appointments.
Control by the state of universities and academic
establishments has been so absolute that scholars, who
are the main persons to rely on for expert information,
are reluctant to take a strong position for fear of
repercussions. So, media organisations are not exactly
awash in a sea of information.
On the one hand there are internal constraints. These
could range from cost constraints to the government's
power of intervention in the newspaper industry, which
is unprecedented compared to that of any other
industry. Even wage levels are determined bv the
government. The media is the only private sector
industry in Pakistan whose wage structures are
determined by the government. Pakistan does not have
domestic newsprint production. The government can
turn off supply when it wants. The potential for
government control is even stronger in the case of
television. Though they have full rights under law to
use an uplink in Pakistan, they can quite easily be told
that the right has been withheld.
But when all is said and done, it is pointless harping
on the idea that the media does not have the power to
make a difference. The media does have the power to
do it.
Zaidi: Ironically there will never be a nuclear movement
in Pakistan unless you are close to a nuclear skirmish.
At the moment things are pretty much settled. There is
not going to be a nuclear war and people are not
concerned about it. The real issues are water, electricity,
unemployment, poverty. The nuclear issue is too
abstract. Even during Kargil, when the forces were at
the border, the nuclear issue was not an issue. Peace
was an issue.
Varadarajan: Even in the Indian context it is easier to
mobilise on the basis of a pro-peace platform rather
than an anti-nuclear one. In a sense the nuclear danger
helps emphasise the importance and relevance of
general India-Pakistan friendship and proper relations
between the governments. But, independent
of that the nuclear issue does not attract
much attention.
Haroon: But why do people see what they
see? In the anti-imperialist movement of the
'60s people saw Hiroshima and the bomb
as a failure of morality. Today what is the
impetus? Where is the ideological baggage
to define what the bomb can do? Does it
exist? How can you blame the people if you
do not give them information in a way that
they understand it.
Varadarajan: We should consider the nuclear discourse
in the West, where even the limited achievement of the
anti-nuclear campaign, which was the taboo on the use
of nuclear weapons, has once again broken down. The
kind of weapons development that is going on in the
United States and the sort of discussion that took place
in the American press in the run-up to the Iraq war,
with talk of bunker-busting nukes, tactical nukes, mini-
nukes, micro-nukes, has left the peace movement in
tatters. Once again generals and governments are
talking about battlefield nuclear weapons that could
actually be used. The peace movements are not able to
Hakim: In South Asia, the whole anti-nuclear debate is
restricted to just a few people, You can count on the
2003 December 16/12  HIMAL
 fingertips the people who are involved m it. As has
been pointed out there is no sustained movement, and
what little there is of it is scattered and restricted to
certain pockets.
Paneerselvan: When we talk about the media, we
cannot restrict ourselves to the newspapers and
television. There are other kinds of the media which
command a large readership. There are a lot of writers,
artists, and theatre persons who are doing wonderful
work and they succeed because they touch important
emotional chords. The language press in south India
j|j| has an entirely different approach from the north. The
W™* first thing is that they do not write essays on any of
these issues. They do not print long unending articles.
Instead they tend to fictionalise. A range of Japanese
short-stories have been printed in Tamil on the nuclear
issue and it created quite an impact.
Typically when we talk about the media, we focus
on reportage. This is the genre of the non-fictional
mainstream media which is terrorised, which is
unimaginative. They are our normal response managers, conventional media that depends on a lot of
structures. But the effective media is the one which is
fictionalised, which has imagination, which tries to use
other types of narratives. This has worked well in Tamil,
Malayalam and Telugu. The amount of knowledge such
fictional narratives have created is impressive. I cannot
visualise a Praful Bidwai or an Achin Vanaik or another
commentator, no matter how informal their style,
generating the same emotional content, the ability to
portray physical suffering and emotional loss. But there
is this tendency to place fiction one step below in the
hierarchy of knowledge. We should not make a fetish
of non-fiction reportage. At some level we have to get
into the notion of pain, of embeddedness, of agony rather
than always talking in terms of concepts.
Haroon: Politics is an important element in mass media
and when you consider the Pakistani scenario it is
necessary to include the Indian mass media which has
a powerful presence in Pakistan. What do Pakistanis
see everyday in the Indian media especially Indian
films. Indian films take up contemporary issues like
terrorism in a verv simple fashion, sometimes in a
'Hindu' fashion, like the film Border. Why is it that thev
cannot take up the bomb issue. It is the largest
entertainment industry in the world. The problem lies
in its own limitations and incapacities. If they make a
film starring Aishwarya Rai and build it around an
anti-nuclear theme I promise you every middle- and
lower-middle-class household in Pakistan will be glued
to the screen. But you need the will to do it.
Dixit: To what extent has radiation problems in the
Jadugoda mines been covered by the local media or
regional media in the north vis-a-vis covering the similar
issues in the south.
Prisoners of the official line
There are the two defining constraints of mass media
coverage of India-Pakistan relations in general and
the nuclear issue specifically and it is difficult to see
how they can easily disavow it. The first is that most
of the coverage is prisoner of the official discourse.
There may be individuals who look at things
differently and not depend on the government, but by
and large the news content is dependent on official
sources. Virtually every paper, in the wake of the 13
December attack on the Indian parliament, editorially
took a position against war in one way or the other,
but the pressure from the news side was different
simply because most of them consisted of official
descriptions of events, official perceptions of what was
happening, statements, declarations by ministers,
bureaucrats. It generated a momentum which was
impossible to counter through editorials written with
the best intentions.
This resulted in the paradox of the edit-page
invariably saying "India should not go to war with
Pakistan" or "Settle with dialogue", and yet with page
one having some minister saying, "Time not yet right
to strike". Or, reports that troops were being mobilised.
The ability of the state to regulate the temperature of
media coverage of Pakistan and India-Pakistan issues
is frightening. If the government says something
dramatic there is a rash of articles that begin appearing
about how terrible Pakistan is under Musharraf, and
how there can be no dialogue with cross-border
And the minute the signal comes of a softening of
the government's stance, as in Vajpayee's Srinagar
speech where he said "we offer our hand of friendship
again to Pakistan", all these same commentators and
journalists will come staunchly for dialogue with
Pakistan. The official line at any given point of time is
gospel for 95 per cent of the mass media and probably
100 percent of television.
The second constraint lies inherently with the 24
hour news television phenomenon that has burst on
the Indian scene involving four or five competing
channels rushing to make news out of very small
increments of events. Invariably, coverage of Pakistan
tends to be extremely one-sided and they always try
to magnify any potential problem. The live coverage
of trifling events provides misleading impressions.
For example, when Sushma Swaraj (then minister for
information and broadcasting) visited Pakistan for a
SAARC Information Ministers meet in March 2002, the
emphasis of Zee and AAJTAK was to show how
Sushma triumphed at various meetings.
-Siddharth Varadarajan
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 Varadarajan: Jadugoda as an issue pops up every two
or three years. Typically some newspaper or magazine
will write about it. The Times of India wrote about it last
year. Two years before that The Indian Express wrote
about it. Three years before that the Sunday magazine
covered it. It is one of those issues that never manages
to develop into a campaign. Television simply does not
pick it up even though there is great television material
there. It is somethmg that you could do a programme
on. But nuclear energy and the environment risks
involved are big taboo as far as television is concerned.
Dixit: If the nuclear energy issue is too abstract, and
nuclear weapons too political, one would have thought
that more local and concrete concerns such as mining
and contamination would get coverage. Now you seem
to be suggesting that even this is taboo.
Varadarajan: It is taboo not because of the government
per se but because nobody considers it important
enough. Even if the environment correspondent gets
excited about it, it is unlikely that the editor will. The
problem basically is the lack of interest on an issue not
considered hot enough. Also somewhere in the
background obviously is the sense of "let mc steer clear
of this path". That element is present but it is never
Abraham: It is useful to remember that in places like
Jadugoda and around the various facilities there are no
permanent upper middle-class residents. Therefore the
problem is one that afflicts only the most marginal
people, who are either adivasis or dalits. So there is a
built-in marginality to the subject.
Paneerselvan: I don't agree with that view. Barring
Jadugoda, the other Indian nuclear facilities are at the
heart of affluence. Chandrababu Naidu's Hyderabad
is seen as the future to which India should move. The
Nuclear Fuel Complex is located there. Important
facilities are located in Bombay, Chavara has titanium
separating units, there is a reactor in Kalpakam.
Abraham: These are seen as industrial units, as hi-tech
Paneerselvan: With reference to Jadugoda let us be very
clear. I have been to that plant. I have seen the way
tribals are being asked to clear out. You can actually
walk across the mines. You are not going to be exposed
because it is still raw. At Jadugoda, if you actually go
and measure the background radiation using a Geiger
counter there is far lower background radiation levels
than, say, at some of the side deposits in Agra. The real
problem comes from the plants and these plants are
actually located in urban centres, for instance in Narora
which is located close to Ahmedabad. And till date I
have yet to come across a single story on Narora. It is a
sort of a nation-building exercise which journalists have
taken upon themselves. They feel that it is their duty
not to cover such issues. They feel its their duty to put
the necessary gloss on it. They become spin-doctors,
hesitant, for example to write stories on the Atomic
Energy Regulatory Board.
In terms of coverage of the effects of radioactive
contamination and processing plants, in Tamil Nadu
and Kerala there will be local uproar, and the plants
are also closer to the cities. In Kerala substantial work
has been done. In Tamil Nadu, however, the activism is
losing steam. Things completely changed after Pokhran
II. After that quite a lot of people slipped into gung-ho
nationalism. Fear of war has created much trouble for
anti-nuclear groups. A whole range of members have
decided to pull out of such groups saying that nuclear
weapons were probably needed.
Dixit: What is the kind of coverage in Pakistan?
Asad: In Pakistan, environmental threats from foreign
companies doing oil exploration and the like are
reported. As far as nuclear contamination is concerned,
the press in Sindh does carry articles but those are not
original articles. To do that you need to have people
with the knowledge, which we do not have. But there
are other problems too. Let me cite an incident. We
published a piece on what we called a mysterious illness
around Kahuta. This went on for a little while and then
suddenly we went into this black hole. There were also
phone calls that were made saying, "Let's not talk about
it at all". It just disappeared in terms of follow-up. You
will see lot of UFO-citing type reportage in the vernacular
press as well as the English press, but nobody is able to
do scientific analysis and come out with some sort of a
credible report on whether the radiation levels are high.
And of course, the awareness of what a bomb could do
to you needs to be developed further.
Haroon: Forget the average journalist, even the informed
journalist has to be able to put it in an acceptable credible
narrative. That does not exist. To be honest, mainstream
print media does not produce that much original
material in Pakistan on the nuclear issue. Part of the
problem with the press is that most people with access
to technical information do not wish to be involved.
Generally speaking, writing on nuclear warfare or
on strategic aspects in response to India's positions
tends by and large to come from Islamabad and these
are people who are linked to the think-tanks, people
who are going after the foreign office, who meet the
intelligence agencies for lunch and dinner, who are
called to GHQ to lecture on various themes. These are
not a formal set of people, but a whole subset who are
considered kosher because the subject has to be kept
under the close scrutiny of Islamabad. It is doubtful
whether this kind of situation produces better writing.
However, there are some writers outside this circle of
2003  December  16/12 HIMAL
 ill I*538s
idea-implantation who come up with fairly honest and
original thinking.
The reporter would like to have an objective testing
mechanism for certain propositions in a story which
may be about nuclear attacks. This ability to process is
virtually absent. You can of course write sensible articles
about the nuclear issue in terms of the involvement of
people, the imperative for peace and so on, but,
ultimately there is no substitute for technically proficient
material. And it is time that media people are able to
relate to, understand and objectify. If you cannot
objectify facts you cannot even begin to comment on the
rights and wrongs of various government positions in
either Pakistan or India.
Asad: I do not entirely agree with Hameed because there
have been attempts and platforms. In the last five years,
our national newspapers have devoted space to the
political economy, where a lot of informed debate takes
place which we could tone down a bit for the message
to get across in a journalistic way. .And for five or six
years there was coverage of CTBT, how much deterrence
is necessary, what the Indian perspective is, etc. There
was a constant debate, to such an extent that sometimes
we were asked to tone it down. There were economists
and political scientists and academics writing, with
four to five pages every Sunday reflecting the ongoing
debate. Perhaps the quality is not as good as we would
like it to be, but at least there is debate and it is translated
Letting Kashmir go
The possibility of nuclear escalation becomes the
strongest when information exchange between the two
countries is at its weakest. Tlie restriction on the travel
of journalists between the two countries is the first
major stumbling block in the How of information. The
two countries need more honest brokers, and there are
some in the media but none among the political class.
The second problem is the perception in India of what
kind of political entity in Pakistan the Indians should
deal with—would they rather deal with Musharraf or
with a mullah government. The general view is that
they will wait for the right kind of government to come
to power in Pakistan. This was Indira Gandhi's and
Rajiv Gandhi's view-point. But when Benazir Bhutto
came to power it did not mean that the basic structure
of the Pakistani nation had changed. The extended
experiment by the Indian government to ignore the
Musharraf government for the first one and a half years
led nowhere.
Pakistan for its part has to accept that India is the
foremost state in South Asia and it is in Pakistan's
interest to help India up the ladder, because any
improvement in India's status vis-a-vis the world
situation should automatically lead to an improvement in Pakistan's status in the event of normal
as I said in fang and elsewhere.
Haroon: I wasn't talking about the absence of material.
I was referring to the absence of a methodical approach,
a uniform vocabulary, a uniform understanding of
issues across the print media. The efforts of individual
publications notwithstanding, an issue which is so vital
for the survival of society should receive higher priority.
It is not that the print-media is unable to recognise the
priority of this issue. It is that the lack of information on
the one hand plus the fact that papers don't wish to
wrangle on a detailed basis with the government.
To the Pakistani public at large, Kargil as a post-
nuclear conflict was an after-thought more than
anything else. They did not really understand the rules
of nuclear warfare and the containment of conflict in
this kind of scenario. Nobody was aware that the real
danger was not the loss of Kashmir or something
similar, but some kind of unlimited nuclear conflict on
the Subcontinent. That concept, except for specialists,
remains largely theoretical. And there lies the danger.
Guha: 1 think the one thing we should never do is to
underestimate the power of nuclear nationalism in
India. The Indian middle-class still feels naked because
China invaded India in 1962. And the ability of the
Indian government to push the nuclear case is because
you can continuously shift the goal post. If you say
Pakistan is not a threat then you say China is, if you
relations. Pakistan cannot get into an arms race with
India, because the country just does not have the
money. Likewise India has to accept, in absolutely
categorical terms, that it cannot be a nation of
considerable significance in world affairs without
resolving problems with Pakistan. How can a country
that cannot resolve a problem with Pakistan expect to
he taken seriously as a player in the international
Everybody pretends the Kashmir cannot be solved.
The Indian argument is based on a false legalistic
and a false historical notion. Borders are not cast in
stone. What is practical is that India and Pakistan
both have to learn to let go of Kashmir. Neither
Pakistan nor India should pick and choose what
voices they listen to. Putting the Kashmiri people into
the equation is the core issue.
The problem between India and Pakistan is not
psychological, it is the existence of large defence
establishments. The biggest cause of conflict between
the valley of the Indus and the valley of the Ganges
was resolved in the Indus Water Treaty in 1962. They
did it in a way that makes it all the more remarkable
that we cannot do it today. That was a far more difficult
problem to resolve than the reduction of tension in
-Hameed Haroon
HIMAL  16/12  December 2003
 say China is not a threat, you can say Pakistan is.
Nuclear nationalism is influential in India at all levels,
especially in north India, as in Pakistan. Don't make a
mistake. Nuclear nationalism in India, as said earlier,
is not the product of the Sangh Parivar. It goes much
deeper than that and is widespread across the political
spectrum and ordinary opinion. So the question of how
to challenge it becomes even more complicated.
The second problem is that the Indian intellectual
class represented in the media is not completely free. It
is more free in some senses than the Pakistani press,
but there it ends. Scientists in India are completely
aligned to the state. Credibility is very important, and
credibility will come from a top class PhD in physics
doing cutting edge work and who may even have done
nuclear work at some stage. But the Indian scientific
community is as unwilling to speak up as the Pakistani
counterpart. That is a great handicap for the anti-nuclear
movement. Historians are free, journalists are free,
sociologists are free, but not scientists. As the history of
the anti-nuclear movement in the West shows, the
absence of top quality scientists in the movement is a
setback. There are top scientists in India, but they will
never question anything remotely connected to the
nuclear programme.
Would it help if we move away from this obsession
with the opinion of the ordinary Indians and Pakistanis
that the nuclear weapons are needed for some unimaginable war? Could we look at other things, other
kinds of reciprocities and dialogues?
Dixit: But even if reciprocity and independent dialogues were hypothetically possible, there the Kashmir
issue will continue to have a bearing on competitive
Aslam: Whenever we talk about India and Pakistan 14
August will come along and 15 August will come along.
It appears that we cannot escape the focus on this very
traumatic moment of our history. In Pakistan the two-
nation theory to a large extent has been resolved. There
is no such thing anymore there. Ethnic cleansing or
whatever you want to call it compelled migration. Even
1971 was similar because Bangladesh did not become
part of West Bengal. It became an independent state
and the only reason why it was an independent state
was perhaps the fact that it had a Muslim identity. This
is one of the things that keeps us floating along. India
still has to understand this.
We might have regional disparities in Pakistan, we
might have ethnic dislocations and so on, but as a state
we hold dearly to this religious identification. India
has a problem with this, and it crops up repeatedly
with reference to Kashmir. This is because the Indian
Muslim ultimately does not pass any given test, the
cricket test or any other test. They are always presumed
to be looking to Pakistan for comfort. They are
discriminated against from time to time because of their
presumed natural loyaltv to Pakistan. I have seen this
myself whether it is in Old Delhi or elsewhere. Indian
Muslims have been living with this burden continuously.
This is because of the 'Destiny Kashmir' attitude.
Indian Muslims feel that there is a widening divide
between the two communities and it is not just in
Kashmir. They are looked upon as some sort of fifth
column among certain quarters in India. This has not
helped the cause of resolving issues between India and
Pakistan. For that reason, Kashmir becomes a very
important factor. In trying to bring about a resolution
India has to figure out what the state is actually all
about and that involves questions about secularism,
BJP, Indian Muslims. This is a festering problem.
Haroon: What is so sad and so pathetic about the India's
Kashmir policy is that it allows Pakistani authoritarians
to t.ip-dance to international acclaim because of the false
symbolism that has been created around Kashmir.
There is a simple case of double standards on Kashmir.
Indian society will not be able to survive the crisis in
democratic values by holding on to Kashmir by force
because nothing in India's democratic polity can
possibly endorse this kind of silent destruction of the
will of a whole people.
Abraham: Among Indian policy makers and opinion
leaders some things never ever get questioned. For a
long time, one of the justifications put forward by-
scholars and policymakers was that it is very important
for Indian secularism to have a Muslim majority state
in India. As a concept this is nonsense and yet this is
something that is repeated over and over, as a given of
Indian secularism that cannot be questioned.
Phoney talk
India and Pakistan have never come close to a
nuclear war so far despite the posturing and threats.
Such an outcome is not really a serious possibility.
People raise the nuclear option in conversation or
interviews but nobody specifies what the nuclear
option is. The nuclear option does not mean that
they are actually going use the bomb. If there was
any seriousness about the possibility of nuclear
action, it would be on the top of the list and
government would take it seriously. There are
problems about Kashmir but Kashmir and the
nuclear issue are not coterminous.
Both countries realise that the consequences of
one exploding the nuclear device could be followed
immediately by the other responding. That is the
deterrent that ensures that no one is going to use it
first. This nuclear umbrella actually allows space to
talk about the issues.
-Akbar Zaidi
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
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New Dell
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Interim Test Range (1TR)
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Establishment, Engineering (R&0E3
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• Mishra Dhatu Nigam Limited (MiDHANl)
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Paneerselvan: All the previous elections in Kashmir
could not be considered free and fair. But, the last
exercise was a major development. Mufti Moliammad
Sayeed coming in was actually a blow to a certain type
of Delhi-based real estate imagination of Kashmir. It
was as if Delhi's writ was being subverted by the people
of Kashmir. Is that enough? Nobody says it is enough
but for the first time the people were using an entirely
different yardstick, that is the ballot paper. They were
permitted to go ahead and exercise some choice of their
Haroon: Do you believe in your heart that the election
represented the real aspirations of what the Kashmiri
people want?
Paneerselvan: Casting a vote is not an expression of
every true aspiration. No election will ever be able to do
that. The issue is not whether India permitted a free
election or not. The issue is that a third option or a third
power has come to power there.
Varadarajan: At one level the lack of a policy in the
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 centre today vis-a-vis Kashmir is
disappointing because you have on
the one hand a landmark development like the election of the Mufti
government, but it has not been
accompanied by any of the other steps
or measures that New Delhi could
take in order to rapidly push forward
towards some kind of a solution. A
necessary ingredient for any peaceful
resolution of Kashmir is to talk to
Pakistan and to carry the people of
Kashmir with you.
On this question of carrying the
people of Kashmir, after 14 or 15 years
of problems how do you do it? You
have to build their confidence. You
have to start by having an honest
accounting of all the crimes that were
committed by the security forces over
fhe past 15 years, of the people who
have gone missing, of the people who
have been held in jail for 15 years
without significant charge.
Hakim: Siddharth you keep visiting
Kashmir? How do the Kashmiris
really speak?
Varadarajan: This may sound insensitive but when you meet Kashmiris
in a group and when you meet them
individually  their  responses  are
different. So, the so-called Kashmiri
street- or bazaar-opinion is always
very uniformly anti-government of
India, less uniformly anti-Pakistan
but also increasingly anti-Pakistan
and pro-azaadi. But, when you speak
to smaller groups then you get the
nuances. My reading is that were the government of
India to take certain steps and the first among them if
they could try army officers and security force officers
involved in some of the worst human rights violations,
that would make ordinary Kashmiris see some hope.
But, bizarre things happen—where the government
admits killing civilians in a fake encounter, the
whole thing is proven from DNA tests, and yet no murder
case is registered, no action is taken and things carry
Dixit: Are you saying that if the government of India
were to show a better face, Kashmiris might even be
willing to consider staying with India?
Varadarajan: For them to consider staying with India,
India has to be a very different country from what it is
today. Let's be frank about this, we have been discussing
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the nature of Pakistan and the nature of India, and I
think both thenature of Pakistan and the nature of India
have to change in order for Kashmir to be settled on a
long-term basis. But, yes if centre-state relations were to
change, if the whole question of the status of Muslims
in India were honestly to be addressed and the security
forces were to be held accountable and the rule of law
were to be genuinely established in Kashmir, that would
create an environment in which dialogue could take
place in which, finally, the Kashmiri people freely
express then opinion.
Guha: If you look at the history of hidia since 1947,
what die evidence tells you about the people ofthe Valley
is that there is no one voice in Kashmir. From 1947
onwards there have been periods in which Kashmiris
have been more interested in India and there have been
periods in which they have been very pro-Pakistan.
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
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There have been periods when they have toyed with
the idea of independence. A lot of it depends on the
in tenia tion al context, and how the government of India
There is a very interesting parallel with the Tamil
question in Sri Lanka. There have also been points
where the Tamils have been willing to be part of Sri
Lanka and there have been times when they felt so
alienated that they only want independence. You will
see tHs ebb and flow since 1956, which is why the
Tamil-Kashmiri analogy comes to mind. You have ihe
same kind of divides, constitutional versus militant,
the gun versus the ballot box.
As in Sri Lanka, there is also the question of what
you term terrorism. There are some Indian journalists
and secularists who only emphasise the human-rights
violations of the army and there are some Indian
journalists and Hindu-chauvinists who only emphasise
terrorist acts. And as long as Pakistani liberals and
Pakistani intellectuals are seen to, if not supporting
Musharraf, then at least being silent on this question
because they think that if they call what is happening
in Kashmir terrorism it would be playing into the hands
of Indian security forces and Hindu-chauvinists. This
will only diminish the possibilities of
registering the real aspirations of freedom
in Kashmir. This is something that cannot
be fudged and the Indian left-wing also
cannot fudge it.
Haroon: But, you have to distinguish
between the primary statement and the
secondary statement. Musharraf's main
premise is that he cannot control it.
Varadarajan: The Pakistani position has
been more subtle. They never say that killing
of civilians is freedom-struggle.
Guha: There has been an interesting
transformation in the so-called freedom
movement in Kashmir. This is something
which both Pakistani and Indian liberals
have not addressed for fear of playing
into the hands of the enemy. We have to
recognise the question of the perversion of
the freedom movement in Kashmir, the
perversion of their own context.
For example, the Hinduism of Togadia
is not the Hinduism of Gandhi. There has
been a fundamental transformation of the
character of political Hinduism and the
sooner we realise this and are able to
confront it, the better. Likewise with
Kashmir. Over the last 10 or 12 years—and
that is what affects the readers of Hindi
dailies like Dainik Bhaskar .and Jansatta—the
departure of the pandits from the Valley
was something which Indian secularists never took up
seriously because it would be seen to be playing into
the hands of the Hindu chauvinist and the BJP. They
do not talk about the suffering and plight of the Pandits.
The more you present a perspective from a one-sided
point of view, disregarding the word terrorism, the more
you will play into the hands of people like Togadia.
Dixit: Kashmir remains an intractable issue in the Indo-
Gangetic basin of Pakistan and India. Is it as much of
an issue outside this belt and if it is not, then does that
make it any easier to mobilise against the bomb in those
regions of India where neither Kashmir nor the pain of
Partition have had a significant impact?
Paneerselvan: Pakistan or Kashmir do not really figure
day-to-day in the south Indian media, There is an
overwhelming belief that the north is silent about
southern problems. They are not talking about Sri
Lanka which is very important for the south. When
Prabhakaran had his press-conference on 10 April and
journalists from all over the world were present, the
north India-based media was conspicuously absent in
Wanni. The Hindustan Times report came out two days
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 late because of some 'logistical'
problems. The general opinion in the
south is that the north Indian cannot
get involved in something geopolitical
without messing it up.
The only link between these north
Indian problems and south India are
provided by the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Foreign
Service, the military top brass, who
sometimes happen to be Tamil. At one
time all these scary guys wTere from
my state. Most of them are brahmins,
with a few exceptions.
The public became really interested
in Kashmir when the Hurriyat leaders
decided to travel to south India two
years ago, before the Agra summit.
Since Tamil Nadu always felt that it
has been deprived by New Delhi, the
natural sympathy is with the Hurriyat
and others similarly deprived. There
is a natural affinity towards people
who question the centre and the best
example was the reception given to
the Hurriyat leaders.
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Haroon: I would like to share something which Lone said to me about j
that trip. He said it was the single most j
significant trip that he had made
in his recent career. It completely
changed his perception as to where the struggle was
leading, and he felt that the response that they received
in Tamil Nadu and the south was sufficient to justify a
major change in emphasis for the Hurriyat movement
because for the first time they felt that they were getting
an understanding of their problem, from south India.
Dixit: But there still seems to be a passivity in the south
when it comes to Pakistan and Kashmir. What you are
saying is that we are not going to help until you pay
attention to us.
Paineerselvaan: No it is not passivity. It is very supportive
of them in a veiy different manner. The south has never
justified the Indian Army's excesses and the army has
never been lionised there. The elections in Kashmir were
never seen as a great democratic exercise. Whenever
southerners look at Punjab versus Delhi, they immediately think in terms of the Sikhs who were burnt in
the wake of Mrs Gandhi's assassination. After Rajiv
Gandhi's assassination there were gross violations of
human-rights in Tamil Nadu, which did not even
register in the north Indian press. Another sore point
was the vilification of a person called Premadasa by
the New Delhi media. It was the first time that Indian
diplomats started calling journalists and telling them
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if you are going to have a dhobi for president, do you
think Sri Lanka can ever progress? Premadasa's origin
was a real issue to hit at him by New Delhi,
Dixit: What about the China axis to the nuclear question
between India and Pakistan? Are there not issues
outside the framework of India-Pakistan security
Abraham: One aspect of Pakistan's nuclear policy,
which may be worth considering, is the so-called
attention given to North Korea, which was first
announced by American sources and has not really
been deconfirmed by anybody. This raises the question
of China and its role, for the key link between Pakistan
and North Korea is via Beijing.
India has always invoked China as being the
ultimate threat to which it is trying to respond. This is
ironic because in 1998 when the Pokhran tests
happened, the relations between the two countries had
been better than they had been in a very long time. China
was trying to show itself as being even willing to make
concessions on border issues and so on, which it had
never done before. To invoke China at that point really
was simply to say "turn some of those Chinese missiles
towards India".
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
 Nuclear Roundtaiil
Haroon: I do not think that the Chinese have been ecstatic about Pakistan's nuclear capability. They know
that Pakistan can be rash. They know that there are
times when Pakistan causes problems. And there was
also the period of strong Chinese suspicion of the pro-
Taliban policy in Pakistan which the Chinese were not
happy with because of its potential implications in
Xingjian, in Tashkent and other places inside and in
the western vicinity of China.
Abraham: The China factor has to be seen in two respects. One is that India regards China as an adversary
with whom it is in strategic competition. So there is the
well-established way of invoking China as being the
cause for India's nuclear programme, which is simultaneously a way of saying it is not Pakistan. China has
become more successful and powerful so we know who
the enemy should be. It is, in a way, saying let us get a
bigger enemy than Pakistan, let us get ourselves a big
one like China.
This is the political language which says that these
are the reason why we are doing what we are doing.
But 1 think you have to go a bit further and ask—is this
viable. At the level of the competition between China
and India, there is no comparison at all. China is way
ahead of India in many respects and the nuclear one is
certainly one of them.
Aslam: Therefore, while it no doubt looks better to have
a bigger adversary, when you think in terms of real
deployment, there does not seem to be very much point
in countering China
Abraham: There is of course the whole question of delivery systems. Until the Agni II missile becomes viable
and actually deployable there is nothing you can attack in China which is within reach. Bombing Lhasa is
Pre-and post-test satellite image comparison
of the Pakistan nuclear test site showing
physical effects
not going to help. But even so the China threat or the so-
called threat is enormously popular. A lot of people
buy the argument.
Varadarajan: There are two ways of looking at it. The
first reading is that it was another naive attempt by
advisors close to Prime Minister Vajpayee, such as
Brajesh Mishra, to try to align India with the US in the
mistaken notion that the US is anxious to actually encircle and contain China. It was perhaps the belief that
in the light of this contain-China policy the Indian
nuclear programme would become more acceptable to
the Americans. The second reading, more dramatic, was
to send a signal to the Chinese and to begin to be taken
seriously bv Beijing.
Aslam: Talking about the immediate fallout of the tests,
the rhetoric that came out of India, apart from the statements of George Fernandes and a couple of others, who
tried to link it to the so-called Chinese threat, it was
essentially Pakistan-specific. I think that was also part
of the game.
Haroon: There was a very successful Indian delegation
to Beijing in September-October 1998 which fairly
clearly explained the sort of impetus behind the tests.
My impression was that the Chinese were quite satisfied. The Chinese seemed to believe that the Indians
had not aimed the tests specifically at them. They knew
there was a marketing ploy on. The Chinese are very
cynical about this kind of thing, and what they are more
concerned about is that India and Pakistan would destabilise the regional equations.
Varadarajan: George Fernandes' "China is our biggest
enemy" statement which came around March-April of
1998, creates the impression that the anti-Chinese element was an obsession. There is a very
high possibility that Fernandes was not
even in on the decision taken to carry out
the Pokhran II test.
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Paneerselvan: There are two papers written by two Delhi hawks, one by Bharat
Karnad and the other one by K Subrahmanyam. These were about the selection of Balasore in Orissa as a test range.
According to them there was a conscious
decision to locate it in the east because the
threat to India is from the east. And the
moment you say that, it is clear that you are
not talking about Pakistan, and definitely
you are not talking about Myanmar or
Bangladesh. It has to be China. Keep in
mind that Karnad and Subrahmanyam
are both part of the establishment. It is also
Karnad's thesis that if Tndia bombs Kahuta,
Pakistan it will become the supreme power.
HIMAL  16/12 December 2003
 Haroon: Where would you deliver a bomb from Orissa?      UN Security Council and to be seen as a larger player    -
Paneerselvan: Why is India developing Agni II? Because Agni II is directed towards the so-called biggest
enemy. If we try to discern some rationale behind the
articles or this posturing, there is really nothing there,
be it from Subramaniam or Karnad or even Raja Mohan
of The Hindu. It does not really add up to anything. It is
just a fancy idea because they want to sound original.
Abraham: There could be one more potential reading. If a hawkish opinion-maker, pulls out the idea
that China is the threat, it can become something of
a resource within the government between different
factions who are vying for central positions. Suppose there is an anti-China faction within the NDA,
they can use this particular article as a truth. But,
we have to ask are these opinions by the hawks reflecting the existing positions of the government or
is it the other way round7
in international affairs. What role does that play in all
this, if at all?
Varadarajan: I think it is a non-factor. Getting into the
Security Council is not going to be easy.
Guha: It is not the Security Council per se. Forget the
Security Council. India's ambition is to be what I call
the United States of South Asia. But there are problems
of recognition of this role. For instance, Bush has yet to
visit India.
Haroon: The scenario would change in two minutes if
there was peace between India and Pakistan and Pakistan supported India's application to become a permanent member of the Security Council. The only thing
which is preventing India from assuming a larger status in world affairs is that it cannot solve problems in
its own backyard.
Dixit: Paneer would you agree that there is a method in
the madness in the kind of articles that Subrahmanyam
and others write?
Paneerselvan: I see only madness. And it is working.
Madness works.
Zaidi: I recently did a survey of 119 MLAs and 200
elected representatives in local government in Pakistan.
This was a few days before the Americans invaded Iraq.
One question I asked was—do you think Pakistan
should give up its nuclear programme. 300 respondents
said absolutely not, under no circumstance. The second question was, what about the Americans and the
weapons of mass destruction. They said, fine, we need
our weapons. Another question which was asked
was—which country do they think our government
favoured the most. Obviously the answer was America.
Then, the next question was—to which country do you
think the Pakistani government should give greatest
priority, and the answer was China. India did not feature at all—which was surprising. There was China
and then there was something called the Muslim
world—Saudi Arabia, Iran—a couple of people said
Iran, but mostly Saudi Arabia. India and SAARC and
South Asia did not seem to exist for my respondents.
And these are the people who are supposed to make
policy as elected representatives.
These people seemed to think that China was the
direction Pakistan should be looking to and with whom
bridges ought to be built. Perhaps it is because China is
now also emerging as an economic power and seems to
be getting bigger. It is perhaps a shift in the consciousness after Afghanistan, and the belief that Pakistan
needs another friend.
Zaidi: India has ambitions of a permanent seat in the
Guha: The question is whether India's ambitions affect
the situation in South Asia. There is a burning desire
within the two main parties—the BIT and the Congress—to, in some way, play a larger role in world affairs. This actually goes back to Nehru. This is also a
general problem with the Indian Foreign Service. They
have over-developed egos because they were told from
the beginning that they should get much greaiter attention.
Haroon: The attitude is very simple, asking why does
China deserve the status and respect which India does
Guha: The argument among the political class in Delhi
is "to be taken seriously we must be militarily strong
and self-reliant in order to take on all kinds of threats,
and particularly to withstand the pressure from Pakistan". That is the kind of logic that is driving them.
There is a leader of public opinion who lives in my
hometown of Bangalore. He is Narayanmurthy of
Infosys, the company that is leading the IT revolution
in India. Narayanmurthy would say, to be taken as seriously as China, grow, generate new technologies, use
the opportunities in the world market. It is only then
that India can be expected to be taken seriously. In effect, removing illiteracy, under-nourishment, creating
good hospital systems and infrastructure is the key to
being taken seriously.
Haroon: But China got its permanent seat before its
global market operations. In hindsight, how strong was
China when it first got its UN Security Council seat?
What is it that India does not have that China had? It
all really boils down to perception. b
2003 December 16/12  HIMAL
 Simulated consensus
by T Mathew
The number of independently nuclear states in
Asia has risen to four. Though the increment to
the total nuclear capacity on the continent is
marginal, the potential for a nuclear catastrophe
remains high. The current destructive capacity of India
and Pakistan is admittedly limited. But the permanent
state of friction between the two countries, arising from
the protracted dispute over Kashmir, increases the
possibility of any one of the recurring conventional
conflicts escalating into nuclear revanchism. Given the
high density of subcontinental population, particularly
in the large metropolises of both countries, even these
two limited kiloton arsenals can unleash extraordinary-
Polities built on hyper-real security anxieties
deliberately shun mechanisms for verifying the popular
consent for measures that purport to be in the interest
of national defence. Consequently, through intermediary argents in the political, academic and information
arenas, the belief is orchestrated that the nuclear
talisman will exorcise its own nihilistic spectres. This
conviction of the security establishment is deemed for
all practical purposes to represent a national consensus.
Rodham Narasimha, a leading exponent of India's
current policy, claimed that the committee that prepared
the Draft Nuclear Policy was composed ot a broad cross-
section of views and hence represented a national
consensus. Since a consensus predisposed to policies
already decided is forged by stealth in select committees,
it is also simultaneously necessary to obstruct any-
discordant public campaign that disputes the legitimacy
and rationale of the simulated consensus.
Through a process, eloquently described by the
eminent historian and peace campaigner, EP Thompson, critics of this putative consensus are consigned to
a recalcitrant, lunatic fringe that supposedly does not
appreciate the gravitas of state. The police, the press,
both 'sophisticated' and scurrilous, political parties,
scientific luminaries and strategic analysts are
commandeered to certify the imprudence of the
dissenters and the illegitimacy of their belief, even if
they are otherwise people of professional eminence and
distinction. This is the state-inspired environment of
hostility that confronts the incipient anti-nuclear
movement in South Asia.
An obvious aspect of the current South Asian reality
is that potential weapon-level nuclearisation is a very
recent development. Inevitably, the movement against
it is embryonic, more sporadic than continuous, and
has yet to secure for itself a large enough domestic
constituency to attain the critical mass that could even
minimally inhibit nuclear gusto, let alone determine
positive policy outcomes in its favour. By contrast,
reflecting the long history of nuclear escalation in the
NATO countries, the nuclear disarmament campaign
has been tempered by more than fifty years of experience.
Oppenheimer and Einstein
In the years immediately following the second world
war, campaigns against nuclear weapons were stronger
in Europe than they were in the United States. By the
mid-1950s, several groups had emerged in Britain, the
most prominent being the National Council for the
Abolition of Nuclear Weapons Tests, the H-Bomb
National Campaign, and the Direct Action Committee
Against Nuclear Weapons, more famously known as
the DAC. These early efforts prepared the ground for
the emergence of arguably the most influential and well-
publicised anti-nuclear group in the world—the
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), established
in 1958 on a platform of unilateral disarmament.
In the Netherlands the Dutch Interchurch Peace
Council (IKV), was active in the anti-nuclear campaign
against NATO's nuclear plans. The Dutch protests had
an impact in the Flemish part of Belgium, while West
Germany, being a frontline state also witnessed fairly
hectic anti-nuclear activity. In Europe, while the
movement maintained a constant schedule of campaign
activities, it peaked in two phases, first from the late
1950s to the mid-1960s and then from the late 1970s to
the mid-1980s. Both these cycles of resurgence coincided with crucial policy measures being considered by
European governments concerning the upgradation of
nuclear weapons, as part of the NATO's strategic plans.
In the US the anti-nuclear movement came into
existence a few years later than it did in Europe. This
was not simply due to the fact that the American
mainland experienced no fighting during the second
world war, unlike Europe, which was left to rebuild
itself from the rubble. The political climate in the US
placed too many hurdles in the way of open dissent
against the sacred aspects of US strategic policy.
Consequently, a distinctive feature of the US anti-bomb
campaign was that it was first initiated by some of the
most eminent scientists of the time, not all of whom
were immune from persecution. Beginning with Robert
Oppcnheimer's disavowal of the atom bomb, and the
petition by scientists, among them Albert Einstein,
pleading against the use of nuclear knowledge for
destructive ends, many leading scientists lobbied
against weapons' production. In 1946, Albert Einstein
and eight other scientists formed the Emergency
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 Committee of Atomic Scientists, to educate American
people about the nature of nuclear weapons and
nuclear war. Leo Szilard, the physicist and bio-
physicist, who had worked on the Manhattan Project,
undertook extensive lecture tours on the perils of
nuclear war.
The earliest organised initiatives from outside the
scientific community came in the late 1950s with the
founding of the Committee for Non-Violent Action
(CNVA) by the War Resisters League. The tradition of
distinguished scientists campaigning against nuclear
proliferation gave rise, in 1958, to one of the most
enduring and respected groups, the Committee for a
Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), founded by the 1954
chemistry Nobel laureate Linus Pauling along with the
Norman Cousins. This period also saw the emergence
of sectional and professional campaign groups
advocating disarmament.
As in Europe, the peace movement saw renewed
anti-nuclear activity and an expansion in the number
of groups from the mid-1970s, signalling the increase
in tension and in nuclear proliferation. This period saw
the growth of more local level activity, such as the
Clamshell Alliance, formed in 1976 in New London,
Connecticut, which became a model for grassroots anti-
nuclear groups across US, and the Livermore Action
Group in 1982. Groups seeking a wider constituency
continued to emerge. These included the Mobilization
for Survival (MOBE) in 1978, and the US Comprehensive
Test Ban Coalition in 1985.
Interiors of state
Viewed in terms of membership and activities, the
nuclear disarmament movement has an impressive
record of achievements. But viewed in terms of the actual
numbers of nuclear weapons that were produced and
the number of tests conducted the net results are rather
more disappointing. In addition to the fact that till 1996
there had been a total of 2046 tests, the global tally of
nuclear warheads has steadily increased from a few
hundred in 1950 to 38,000 m 1968 reaching a peak of
about 70,000 in the mid-SO's, before declining to the
current figure of about 36,000. In other words, after 50
years of sustained campaigning, the size of the arsenal
is marginally smaller than it was 30 years ago.
Through the five decades of peace activism the US
maintained a nuclear weapons production complex
consisting of 19 sites occupying more than 3900 square
miles. The complex has involved over its life several
hundred facilities, and more than 900 uranium mines
and mills. The complex includes 14 production reactors,
eight separation and reprocessing plants, and 239
underground storage tanks for high-level waste.
Clearly, the anti-nuclear movement was very
effective in mobilising people and co-ordinating their
activities, but what was this mobilisation doing? The
relationship between the movement and the nuclear
establishment, in terms of its influence on testing,
production and deployment appears to have been rather
limited. Decisions were being taken from the insulated
interiors of the state that did not pay any heed to the
protest movement.
It is customary for groups within the movement to
point to the various treaties that punctuated the Cold
War as a sign of their influence. However, anti-nuclear
activism merely provided a general backdrop against
which the treaties were concluded. But even if the
argument were to be conceded, in the context of the
unremitting escalation between 1950 and 1987, the
question that arises is, precisely what purpose did these
treaties serve.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1963 was demonstrably inadequate to check the expansion of the global
arsenal, and the current total of warheads is in excess
of the 1963 level. The only other treaty of any
significance during the Cold War was the 1972 Strategic
Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT 1), which was concluded
after two and a half years of talks, and consisted of an
Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and an Interim
Agreement on Strategic Offensive Arms. The ABM Treaty-
served many purposes internal to the nuclear establishments on both sides and contributed very little to
the cause of nuclear risk reduction. If anything it
accentuated the risk.
In effect, the ABM was a fait accompli, in that it
reduced, on paper, the role of the defensive system that
in practice was deemed to be unworkable. On the other
hand, the Interim Agreement, while freezing strategic
ballistic missile launchers at existing levels of
deployment and construction, permitted an increase in
Sea Launched Ballistic Missile launchers up to an
agreed level, subject only to the condition that a
corresponding number of older SLBM's or Inter-
Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) be destroyed or
dismantled. In short, SALT I simply upheld the theory
of deterrence, which would have been undermined by
the construction of a comprehensive defensive shield.
A functioning and efficient shield would quite simply
have rendered offensive weapons and its corollary, the
theory of deterrence, redundant.
The redundance of deterrence clearly did not suit
an entrenched and autonomous nuclear establishment,
and hence the consistent effort to salvage the ABM treaty
by linking all other subsequent treaty talks to strict
adherence to the ABM. The only agreement that actually-
addressed the issue of reducing the offensive arsenal,
though signed in 1979, was never ratified, and it was
only after the collapse of the Soviet Union that the
Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty came into effect, ten
years after talks on it had commenced.
In the circumstances, START can be clearly be
ascribed to the end of necessity, and not to the
compulsion for peace. If. therefore, the treaties prior to
it are attributed to the influence of the peace movement,
that does not add up to much of a success, since the
treaties were the routine rituals of the Cold War, for the
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
most part clearing the board, eliminating obsolete
weapons, and laying the rules for sustained production
of offensive weapons. Talks and treaties were paying
more attention to the technical details of strategic and
defensive balance than to the peace movement, and was
in effect rationalising the arsenals by clearing the board
under agreed rules and conditions.
The unresponsive polity
Beneath the appearance of success lurked some
memorable failures. Two instances, from the UK and
the US respectively, where the peace movements were
strongest, point to the specific issues on which the anti-
nuclear campaign failed comprehensively. These
failures were not uniquely because of the inadequacy
of the movement. They were in large part due to the
inadequacy of the so-called liberal state.
The UK example brings out the anomalies of liberal
political theory, highlighting the conflict between
interest groups in civil society and interest groups in
the state and the inadequacy of the electoral mechanism
to resolve the dispute in favour of civil politics. In
Britain's 1964 general elections, the Labour Party,
following sustained pressure from the CND, campaigned on a platform of cancelling the sitting
government's plans to purchase Polaris nuclear
submarines for upgrading missile delivery to the SLBM
system. On coming to power, Labour Prime Minister
Harold Wilson reneged on the electoral commitment,
and proceeded with the purchase of the submarines
from the USA. In the case of the US, the entire elected
system simply refused to accede to a popularly-
expressed opinion. Senators Edward Kennedy and
Mark Hartfield introduced, in March 1982, a nuclear
freeze resolution. Despite the evident popular support
for the freeze resolution the House of Representatives
rejected the resolution by a narrow majority.
Clearly the anti-nuclear movement was a victim of
politics in unresponsive polities in which they failed
in general, barring very few exceptions, either to
transform themselves into entrenched political forces,
or to orient existing political forces toward their goals.
In contrast, movements that managed to either
transform themselves into political parties or acquire a
surrogate political partner achieved some limited
success. In the UK, the movement suffered from the fatal
flaw of being irrelevant to mainstream electoral politics
and was therefore unable to inspire politics. In the US,
though the movement by and large belonged to the
mainstream, it was far too depoliticised to inspire
politics. Consequently, neither was able to react in any
coherent way to an unresponsive polity, some of whose
security institutions ran on semi-clandestine lines.
Mobilising South Asia
Clearlyr, the western experience in anti-nuclear
campaigning has some lessons for South Asia, despite
the vast difference in context. These differences are
important. Unlike in the Cold War campaign, where
the two nuclearised zone were mutually inaccessible,
in the case of India and Pakistan, peace activists in
both countries can work in tandem, and there has been
some limited though continuous contact between the
respective anti-nuclear constituencies.
But this advantage notwithstanding, the two
movements still have much to do by way of expanding
their capacity for mass mobilisation. By way of a
beginning the National Convention held in November
2000 in New Delhi has given rise to the national-level
Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP).
Likewise, in Pakistan, the multi-body Pakistan Peace
Coalition has come into existence. Unless these two
umbrella organisations create their respective,
permanently mobilised, domestic disarmament
constituencies, there is little point in cross-border inter-
organisational co-operation.
But as the UK and US experience suggests,
simply mobilising a mass of people serves no purpose,
even in polities that are far more responsive to
organised interest groups and electoral lobbies than
South Asian states are. An environment of exaggerated
threat perception is not conducive to responsive politics.
As a result of the inability to command politics, the UK
and US movements could do little to promote detente,
let alone deter deployment. In a sense they were
dropouts from politics. In the vast South Asian
landscape, politics is the only truly mass medium and
instrumentality. While independent sectional groups
are essential to constrain the sectarian tendencies of
political parties, they are by themselves incapable of
mobilising the critical mass to inhibit trigger-happyr
In Pakistan, the anti-nuclear movement has to go
one step further and invent a new mass politics, since
to begin with there is currently very little independent
politics, and to the extent that there is such a thing, it is
constituted by the remains of the erstwhile major
parties, all of which have in the past displayed a taste
for making domestic politics an extension of bilateral
But the most important contribution of the western
peace movements, and the one that is least applauded
in the scramble to detect tangible achievements, is that
it raised the ethical threshold of nuclear use, in an age
that abandoned all ethics in the accumulation
armament surpluses. The Western movement engineered a moral atmosphere against actual use m a
nuclear balance built on overloaded offensive capacity-
set to go off at a moments notice. A subcontinental
movement that can raise the ethical threshold to the
same level and combine with a broad spectrum of
political parties, will perhaps, achieve by way of non-
nuclear deterrence, what five decades of activism and
energyr could not achieve in the Cold War. b
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 This very uncivil society
They call it humanisation with a global face-or is it the other way
around? From 16 to 21 January 2004, the World Social Forum
(WSF) convenes in Bombay, the first departure from its home in
Brazil. Can the model be successfully exported? Should it?
  by Rahul Goswami     	
There is an unmistakeable seduction that works to
suck one into the global common good. Chief
among the weapons of seduction is the lyricism
of international mnemonics, which works like sacred
chant and catechism: Porto Alegre, Seattle, Cancun,
Mumbai, "another world is possible", "democratise the
budget", "ethical globalisation", Miami, Free Trade
Area of the Americas (FTAA), World Social Forum, WTO,
IMF, World Bank, World Economic Forum, civil society,
marginalised groups, "giving a voice to the voiceless",
"the indispensable nation", and so on.
There is the thrill of the parallel sessions to the state-
sponsored summits, the feelgood oneness of the protest
marches, the delightful fringe groups, the right-of-
centrists, the benign Islamists, the occasionally pinko
Hindutvavadis, the champagne socialists, the oddities
of every flavour and hue. The party is a magnificent
one. The euro-dollars flow. The presses clatter. Digital
flashes record the moment onto gleaming Sony Memory
Sticks'". It is the kandy-koloured kadillac, but now
spray-painted with the tones of khaki and khadi. The
mission is a globe-spanning one. The need is to create a
network of networks and a movement of movements.
It is a valuable idea but there are dangers, which
have been made clear by all variety of participants and
observers ever since the eruption that was the first World
Social Forum in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre in
2001. Is it all becoming too centralised? Speaking with
too homogenous a voice? Being identified with too
visible a set of locations? Moving towards a secretariat
when all that it opposes also have secretariats, thus
becoming the opposite of a network7
That 'other world' is mine
Are there emerging struggles for power within the WSF,
undertones of political intrigue? The questions are endless and many come from within. Viewed antiseptically,
the concept of civil society rests on the fundament of
single-issue activism. Yet the World Social Forum and
its habitues indicate the opposite is always true, and
even were it not so before, the immutable logic of its
slogan—"another world is possible"—makes it so now.
If we follow the argument that one person's terrorist
is another person's freedom fighter, then isn't one
person's civil society group another's pressure group?
Yes, of course. In fact, when it is said that civil society-
must be recognised as a new force in international
politics, the implicit meaning is a certain kind of civil
society, in other words a certain kind of political
movement. Why should this be the case? Because a
descriptive term is being misused as an ideological or
moral one.
But this is getting ahead of the argument. Let us
look at the charter of the World Social Forum. This
document describes the forum as "a permanent process
of seeking and building alternatives" and "an open
meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate
of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of
experiences and interlinking for effective action, by
groups and movements of civil society that are opposed
to neo-liberalism and to domination of the world by-
capital and any form of imperialism..."
There is a substantial amount of feelgood declamation that talks about a "plural, diversified, non-
confessional, non-governmental and non-party context"
and so on. If one decides to critically edit the intent and
concentrate on the content however, the conclusion one
arrives at is that the World Social Forum, by its own
definition of itself, is prohibited from embarking on any-
meaningful action. "The meetings of the World Social
Forum do not deliberate on behalf of the World Social
Forum as a body", explains the charter. "No one,
therefore, will be authorised... to express positions
claiming to be those of all its participants. The
participants in the Forum shall not be called on to take
decisions as a body... on declarations or proposals for
action that would commit all, or the majority, of them
and that propose to be taken as establishing positions
of the Forum as a body. It thus does not constitute a
locus of power..."
How open is this meeting place? At the 2001 Forum,
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
2003  December  16/12  HIMAL
which has been carrying on a long-standing armed
struggle against the Colombian government and which
is the main target of the US's massive Plan Colombia,
were kept out. At the forum a year later, the Cuban
delegation was not given an official status nor a
prominent role (how7ever, one gathers, their cigarillos
were appreciated). The Venezuelan president, Hugo
Chavez, battling ferocious US efforts at overthrowing
his elected government, was not invited to WSF 2003.
He decided to turn up nevertheless, to find himself shut
out of from the official forum, despite his evident
popularity among the participants.
The WSF's diversity has its limits, and they far too
often resemble the hierarchical boardroom-like universe
of the multinationals, the very ones who are spreading
the globalisation the forum is disturbed by. The forum,
does however, need to be just as global, as Candido
Grzybowski, one of the key organisers of the WSF in
Porto Alegre, said recently, "We cannot remain only in
Porto Alegre. Asia is half of humanity, we need to be
there and be in tune with the people there, their needs
and their demands". Encouraged by the success of the
Porto Alegre jamborees, the WSF organisers have been
trying systematically to expand the forum's influence
even further. They have recently organised art Argentina^
Social Forum meet in Buenos Aires, a European Social
Forum in Florence, a Palestine Thematic Forum in
Ramallah, an Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad, and
an African Social Forum in Addis Ababa. It is as part of
this "internationalisation" process that the WSF bodies
(the Brazilian Organising Committee and the International Council) decided to hold the next WSF gathering
in India. "They see problems there we don't have", said
Grzybowski of India. "And so the WSF in Mumbai will
be looking at issues such as casteism and religious
fundamentalism that we do not face a lot". He thinks
that moving the WSF to India "will be like a laboratory—
it is a risk, but it is important for the WSF to take that
"Laboratory" and "risk" in the same sentence may
w7ell sound like a specialist fund manager debating
whether to invest money in a biotech start-up. Moving
to Asia however is critical in view of the aims of the WSF
and its organisers. What after all are the reasons for
these large assemblies of social movements, such as the
WSF, the European Social Forum and their various
transcontinental variations? They were specifically
created as an alternative to meetings of global business
and political elites, such as the World Economic Forum
at Davos, Switzerland. However, they are not simply
an anti-summit hodgepodge of rallies and raucousness.
They have specific functions.
"The fact is that we were brought to the WSF so we
could listen—not so the rank-and-file could participate", says Hebe Bonafini, head of the Madres de
Plaza de Mayo, an organisation of the mothers of those
'disappeared' by the Argentinean military dictatorship
of 1976-83. The organisers aim to establish their
credibility as leaders of the social movements. In this,
once again, they blend into the behaviourism that
defines the opposition. There is more, however—the
similarity with the global business forums also suggests
that these activists see themselves as equivalent to the
global business leaders. 'Global' is a touchstone of a
word in this universe —one hears a great deal of "global
civil society" or "global governance" or "global
partnerships". It is an evolving model, a work-in-
progress, but one whose shape is beginning to reveal
itself. The model implies that there are three main actors
in global politics—global business, national governments, and transnational non-governmental groupings
or organisations. Taken to its logical conclusion, the
global governance model implies that this trinity should
run the world together. The WSF in fact has also been
cynically defined as a Greenpeace-Shell World
As a supranational, non-governmental body that
seeks to shape the global agenda, with no accountability
to and far removed from those whose daily lives are
affected, such a beast would be about as relevant to a
just vision of governance as a winged sphinx is. Like j
the World Economic Forum, a WSF that is proceeding %
down an evolutionary path offers an informal, fluid
and yet centralised networking environment for the
globally influential—in this case, those in the 'nonprofit' and 'movement' sectors. Such influence on the
world stage can soon translate into a power that rivals
or may even exceed that of nation-states. That is perhaps
the meaning of the "risk" referred to earlier.
Monopolising the movement
The Research Unit for Political Economy, a Mumbai-
based group concerned with analysing various aspects
of the economic life of India and its institutions, devoted
its latest issue to the WSF and its provenance. "No less
than three World Social Forums have taken place; they
are only the beginning. The World Social Forum is a
'permanent process', one that is to spread to new parts
of the world..." noted the group. "If one could quantify
discussion, unprecedented quantities have been
generated by the first three meets. Yet, in stark contrast
to the movement to which it traces its birth, the WSF has
not yielded a single action against imperialism.
However, in entangling many genuine forces fighting
imperialism in its collective inaction, the WSF serves
the purpose of imperialism".
Still, let us not be mealy-mouthed about the
grandness of the vision that unfolds with each
successive forum, each parade of multi-kulti world
citizenry, each orgy of speechifying in the name of all
those who are otherwise too occupied with survival to
be there. Of all the new models that seek to establish a
global authoritarianism (remember "with us or against
us"?), the World Economic Forum's (WEF) can be said
to be the most avant-garde. It is certainly not alone in its
quest to "further economic growth and social progress",
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
which is the flip side of "another world is possible".
Institutions from the World Bank to the European Union
to the US military-industrial-media-government
complex share the same pursuit. What sets the WEF
apart is its deft use of the weapons of mass seduction.
To borrow its own language, the WEF's membership
meets in "a unique club atmosphere", and does so "to
shape the global agenda" or to "mould solutions" with
the aim of controlling socio-politico-economic processes
to its own advantage. This is potentially dangerous
The Mumbai Resistance 2004 clearly thinks so, but
has couched its views on the WSF in language that
does much to indicate just how mainstream the Forum
is seen to be by some grassroots organisations. The tone
is polite but with an almost professorial irritation to it,
as if from a senior member of the struggle against
imperialism to a flashily-dressed upstart. "We find that
the WSF, as it is structured - only for 'reflective thinking'
without conclusions and plans for action - does not
allow for the development of a clear anti-imperialist
perspective", says a recent Mumbai Resistance (MR)
The MR's position is explained clearly; its logic visa-vis the universe of the Forum is laid out transparently,
and above all its credentials as a coalition of groups
that have fought and continue to fight the organs and
executioners of world neoliberal government are
evident. There is no waffling here, no recourse to a
collegial atmosphere occasionally punctuated by pithy
slogans. "Though the WSF claims through its charter to
be against 'all forms of imperialism', it has in fact no
clear understanding regarding this, nor are those in
the leadership of WSF actually against imperialism in
practice", states the MR manifesto. "Further the charter
of the WSF itself restricts constituent organisations to
non-violent forms of struggle. It specifically closes the
door on all other forms of struggle. At a time when the
growing aggression of the imperialists has forced the
masses in numerous places to resort to more and more
militant forms of struggle, such restrictions can only
serve to divide the forces standing up against
Who is the Mumbai Resistance? .Among the list of
"initiators", as they are called by the MR, is the
International League for Peoples' Struggles, World
Peoples' Resistance Movement, South Asia, Anti-
Imperialist Camp (Austria), Bayan (Philippines),
Confederation of Turkish Workers in Europe, Militant
Movement (Greece) as non-Indian partners. Then there
are the All India Peoples Resistance Forum, Bharat Jan
Andolan, Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha, Kamataka Rajya
Raitha Sangha, and Lokshahi Hakk Sangha tana
among the indian partners. The initiators seek to
turbocharge the 'anti-imperialist' movement in India,
using an Indian idiom and context, and spur
international mobilisation against the growing
concentration of capitalist forces across the globe and
the ravages of their globalisation. The MR can see no
other way out of the Western neoliberal dungeons in
which we wander, apparently unfettered in the choices
we may exercise in the shopping malls that showcase
the baubles of globalisation, but certainly imprisoned
What these groups see, singly and together, is a cold
futility in the processes that underlie the WSF and other
allied fora. The "another world is possible" mantra does
little to either light up or relieve the bleak landscape of
the current international socio-economic structure. The
remedy sought is a "total break from all controls,
domination and subjugation by imperialism and the
institutions of the world capitalist system - such as
World Bank, IMF, WTO, TNCs". The MR is lor socialism,
revolution, proletariat, nationalism, class struggle and
action versus capitalism, reform, bourgeoisie,
imperialism, civil society and reflection. Its opposition
is at work on several fronts, and in its repudiation of all
these it is ruthless.
And where the Prince commanded, now the
Of wind is flying through the court of state;
'Here', it proclaims, there dwelt a potentate,
Who would not hear the sobbing of the weak.
- Tenth-century Arab poet al-Maarri
Peter Waterman, author of Globalisation, Social
Movements and the New Internationalisms, and a critical
observer of the genesis and processes of the world of
such fora, has described the MR as "a counter-
hegemonic movement from the period of national-
industrial-colonial capitalism. This was a machine-age
capitalism, and it gave rise to mechanical interpretations of Marxism. MR belongs, more specifically,
to the 'Marxist-Leninist' (Maoist) tendency..."
Regardless of tendency, and resisting the urge to
'locate' the MR in an ideological matrix, the truth is
that the MR approach is immediately refreshing when
compared to the soup-thick fug that is the sum and
substance of the pronouncements which emanate from
the WSF and its allied gatherings. Like ectoplasm
issuing from the mouth of a medium, the resolutions
and calls to arms (whose arms? against whom?) arc
fascinating, but all too often dissipate into nothingness.
Compare this with the robustness of the MR line. It is
"totally opposed to the privatisation and disinvestment
policies of governments", it "unequivocally rejects the
foreign debt accumulated by the anti-people rulers of
the oppressed nations", it "opposes the massive attack
on the working class throughout the world, taking place
under the signboard of globalisation".
This is far from empty rhetoric, for it is backed by an
impressive history of grassroots work. The Zapatistas
of Mexico say that by asking questions we walk, and
indeed the constituents of the MR bring with them a
raft of questions. For them, human history and cultures
have devised manv different ways to allow individuals
and communities to access a myriad of livelihoods, and
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
to share them or exchange them among themselves. This
is an interdependent social construction, a world, that
needs to contain and encourage many ways to access
different sorts of livelihoods. But the forces in our world
are a sometimes brutal, sometimes dangerously
charming combination of states, armies, police,
transnational corporations and media that deny the
different livelihoods, one after another, with just as
much regularity as we see free trade agreements signed,
contingent credit lines renewed, sovereign currency
crises engineered, and hear of hopelessly indebted
farmers who hang themselves from trees.
For the real other world', turn left
It is a fundamental critique of the WSF that its organisers
appear to be rushing the process, attempting to establish
themselves as the leadership of a movement that has
developed without their participation in the first place.
That they are adopting such an approach instead of
taking the grassroots route, which takes some time to
build up, has been pointed out by several observers
from within and without the anti-capitalist universe.
In a series of letters made public on the Indymedia UK
website, Professor MD Nanjundaswamy, president of
the Kamataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), which is a
farmers union in the southern Indian state of Kamataka,
made clear that the KRRS could not participate in the
Asian Social Forum because it "expresses its
dissatisfaction about the way in which ASF is being
launched by NGOs little known by the people of India".
Tariq Ali, a longstanding editor of the New Left
Review and a uthor of more than a dozen books on history
and politics, is not particularly critical of the WSF and
its processes but sees the export of its model to Asia as
ill-timed and probably unnecessary. "Just for the sake
of moving to another continent, on this curious ground
that this might trigger our social movements in India, I
am not convinced by that argument", he has said in an
interview. Ali does however favour "a regional social
forum in Asia, like the one held in Hyderabad". Ali's
view appears to be that the WSF, as a product of Latin
America, is a tool best utilised there and that, "maybe
in five to six years time it could shift, but at the moment
I think it is a mistake—I don't think that there is that
degree of mobilisation in India, from social movements
or the Left, which is necessary to maintain such an
enterprise". For the practioners of the parallel, as the
MR will be in January 2004 in Mumbai, the issue is not
at all whether the scope for mobilisation for the Forum
is there, or about who stewards the movement. The issue
is one that provokes the thousands of localised assaults
against the world economy model in place today. The
andolans, the sanghas, the morchas and the
sanghatanas—whatever their size and scope and
ambit—are raising their voices against the all-
encompassing market and its deadly side-effects,
against the merciless tide of economic globalisation,
the monstrous dominance of financial capital, and the
crushing weight of national debt.
Can the Forum and the fora it has spawned ever be
truly representative of an internationalism of the future?
Examine the architecture. The Forum itself is a 'mela'
in which there are a few large, well-lit and noisy circus
tents. The media and the pundits converge on the biggest
and brightest of the tents because it is in here that the
luminaries of the new world social order are holding
forth, and in attendance are the celebrities who endorse
the "another world is possible" tagline. Around this
centra! glitter are scattered dozens upon dozens of
seminars, workshops, plenaries and what-have-yous
organised by social movements, political organisations,
academic institutions and even individuals. The
marginal events compete for visibility, for actual real
estate, for translators, equipment, and their subject
matter often overlaps with or even reproduces those of
others. Yes, it is gloriously plural, but rampant
pluralism does not make for a statement or a course of
action that would necessarily engage the attention of a
member of the Kamataka Rajya Ryota Sangha.
Nor would such a member swallow uncritically the
notion that the rapid growth of NGOs /civil society is a
social phenomenon. Earlier, financing by international
financial institutions and governments went essen- j
tially to NGOs whose role was to accompany the
dismantling of public utilities and services (NGOs active
in the areas of medical care, education and garbage
collection, for example). What is new today is that an
increasing share of this financing goes to NGOs which
the World Bank says are organisations that promote
"social causes" and "social protest movements". This
can of course be read as a euphemism for political
The mission of such civil society - a term that is
impregnated heavily with moral symbolism, and which
seems to have been designed to convey the gravitas that
a pillar of the new internationalism must possess - is
contained not only in the tagline of the WSF but also in
the meditations of the funding organisations. A reading
of the World Bank's Report on Development: 2000/2001
provides an indication: "Social tensions and divisions
can be eased by bringing political opponents together
within the framework of formal and informal forums,
and by channelling their energies through political
processes, rather than leaving confrontation as the only-
form of release".
A face for globalisation or globalisation toppled, co-
option or confrontation, the market or the working
masses. Those are the issues that will define the
difference between two sets of voices that will be heard
in Bombay in January 2004. Building a civil society that
can cope where nations have failed will be the
continuing theme song of the World Social Forum, but
the true anthem of the worldwide mass movement for
social justice and equality is very likely to be heard
elsewhere. b
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 A lawless Subcontinent
A study of the abuse of human rights and the human spirit in
"democratic India" reveals the extent of the problem of lawlessness
by the state, which can only become much worse when all of South
Asia is taken into account. This review regarding the state of respect
for human rights in India, and four smaller sections on Bangladesh,
Burma, Nepal and Pakistan, are carried here by
arrangement with the Asian Human Rights Centre in New Delhi.
The creeping tendency towards
rampant lawlessness in
South Asia has accelerated in
recent times to become an institutionalised practice. Given its vast
size and large population the numbers involved may not seem as
alarming as the violations they
represent. On the one hand there is
the question of justice for those
.dready affected. On the other hand,
there is the problem of restraining
the organs of .the state both legally
and judicially so that the state itself
does not transform into an overbearing, unaccountable leviathan.
That process is underway in al! the
countries of the Subcontinent. This
is all the more dangerous since the
regions is afflicted by conflicts of a
violent kind, which, if not resolved
promptly and in appropriate ways,
will degenerate into a self-perpetuating cycle of brutality that
could become institutionalised.
Some of the longest running
conflicts in post-war global history
have been going on in South Asia.
The duration of these conflicts has
undeniably increased because of the
attempt to resolve them through
military solutions. This has not only
increased the death toll across the
board, it has also seen the emergence of legal mechanisms that
confer extraordinary powers on the
security organs of the state. This in
turn has led to mounting repression
of ordinary citizens unconnected
with any act or movement that may
be construed as a threat to the state.
Sometimes this repression extends
also to areas that are not even in the
so-called conflict zones. As a consequence, the legitimacy of the state
and its laws is further undermined
leading to greater doses of opposition and repression. Unless this
problem is urgently addressed, a
Subcontinent already afflicted by
numerous other maladies that require democratic political solutions
can expect to find itself crippled bv
the lack of institutional mechanisms to deal with them.
While, constitutionally the state
has been mandated to secure the
rights of the citizen, its different
organs have come to place their own
security above the protection of the
individual citizen. In South Asia,
human rights has been sacrificed
for defending the overriding interests of the state. Even as human
rights acquires the status of an
universal concern, specific national
laws and practices have compromised not only the spirit of the
constitutions from which they
derive, but also made individuals
extremely vulnerable to legal and
extra-legal forms of coercion. A
critical thematic examination of
human rights issues in India, by far
the largest country of South Asia
with a billion-plus population,
brings certain trends to the fore.
India, which has the distinction
of being referred to as the largest
democracy in the world also has the
largest law, order and security-
apparatus in the region. Given the
sheer size and weight of its state,
India also has perhaps the largest
number of legal provisions in place
that need scrutiny from a human
rights perspective. Indian law and
police practices require urgent
Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002
There is no doubt that states have
legitimate reasons, right and duty
to take all due measures to eliminate
terrorism to protect their nationals,
human rights, democracy and the
rule of law and to bring the perpetrators of such acts to justice.
However, the counter-terrorism
measures adopted in the post-
September 11 period have often been
taken without any respect for the
due process of law. India's Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA),
rolled into law by calling a joint
session of the Indian parliament on
26 March 2002 is a classic example.
The highest numbers of detainees
under the POTA are not from Jammu
and Kashmir, the central focus of
India's war against 'terror'. Instead,
the majority of the detainees are
from Jharkhand, the heartland of
India's indigenous peoples, the
adivasis. The detainees include
children as young as 12 and people
as old as 81.
The lack of procedural safeguards under POTA is well-known.
The act does not contain a precise
definition of terrorism, and provides
for harsh punishments, including
the death penalty, regardless of the
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
 absence of the required higher
standards of scrutiny. Furthermore,
the provisions of POTA are already-
covered under the existing legislation, including a host of national
security laws. According to India's
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), "existing laws are
sufficient to deal with any eventuality, including terrorism, and there
is no need for a draconian POTa".
The latter empowers the state to
hold the accused for a prolonged
period of detention (180 days)
without filing a chargesheet. The
burden of proof lies on the accused
and the prosecution can withhold
the identity of witnesses. It also
treats confessions made to police
officers above a certain level admissible as evidence. The public prosecutor is empowered to deny bail
and the judges have little discretion
regarding the severity of sentencing.
After the government forced
through POTa in March 2002,
Union Home Minister LK Advani
announced the formation of a Re
view Committee under Section 60 of
the act, responding to criticisms
about its potential for abuse. In the
words of ,<\dvani, the committee
would "take a comprehensive view
of the use of the legislation in various states and give its findings and
suggestions for removing shortcomings in the implementation of
POTA". However, the various state
governments have refused to provide necessary information to the
Review Committee. Despite this
lack of co-operation, the POT.<\ Review Committee managed to refer 80
complaints to five states. The results
were disappointing. All that happened was that the Review Committee received dismal responses from
the concerned state governments.
The ineffectiveness of the POTA Review Committee is reflected from the
following facts:
1. POTA is in force in 10 states:
Andhra, Delhi, Gujarat, Jammu
and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu,
UP, Himachal
2. Number of POTA detainee as
of 21 October 2003: 185 in
Jharkhand, 89 in Jammu and
Kashmir, 69 in Gujarat, 38 in
Delhi and 36 in Andhra Pradesh.
3. SO complaints of misuse have
been referred to five states.
4. Number of complaints received
state-wise: 36 in Maharashtra, 35
in Tamil Nadu, 16 in Jammu
and Kashmir, six in Delhi, three
in Uttar Pradesh and two in
Because of the increasing misuse
of the POTA for settling political
scores at the state level, as happened with its earlier avatar, the
now lapsed Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act
(TADA) of 1985 (amended 1987), on
21 October 2003 the union cabinet
approved the ordinance to amend
POTA to confer more powers to the
central and state review committees
and to make their decisions binding
on the central and state govern-
Nepalis and their army
NEPAL, WHICH has the reputation of having a relatively softer state than India's, has b>een in the throes of
a civil war that is now eight years old and has seen
some disturbing trends in the last few years. Alarmingly, despite the increased focus on human rights in
recent times there is no let up in the number of killings.
If anything the situation seems to be deteriorating.
A total of over 8,184 people have been killed since
13 February 1996 in the ongoing conflict between the
Maoists and government of Nepal. About 1000
persons have been killed since the collapse of the ceasefire agreement on 27 August 2003. On 2 November
2003, Sushil Pyakurel, member of the NHRC of Nepal
stated that, "Till date over 600 people have been
arrested by the masked security personnel and they
also put maslcs over the faces of those arrested". They
are detained incommunicado and relatives are not
even informed of their detention.
On 13 November 2003, the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights' Special Rapporteur
on Torture, Theo van Boven, the Special Rapporteur
on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression,
Ambeyi Ligabo, and the Chairperson-Rapporteur of
the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Leila
Zerrougui, expressed their concern over reports that
dozens of individuals are being detained secretly in
Nepal and are therefore at risk of suffering torture
and other forms of ill-treatment. In the last two
months, they have sent 31 urgent appeals, most of
them jointly, to the government of Nepal regarding
the alleged detention of 56 people in unknown locations. The National Human Rights Commission of
Nepal has also received complaints of over 100 cases
of abductions and subsequent disappearances. The
security forces and the army ignore the notices issued
by the NHRC
The contempt of the judiciary by the Nepal's army
is unprecedented. At least four army barracks—
Bhairav Nath Gan, Chhauni Gan, Bhadrakali Gan
and Jagadal Gan—had the audacity to decline the
notices of the supreme court with impunity. On 13
November 2003, when a court official went to the
Bhairav Nath Gan barrack to serve the show cause
notice as to why one Surendra Khadgi was detained,
officials at the barrack did not accept it. On an earlier
occasion as well, the Bhairav Nath Gan had declined
to receive the notice issued by the supreme court regarding a plea for release of another individual.
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 merits and the police officers investigating the cases. On 18 December
2003, parliament passed the Prevention of Terrorism (Amendment)
Bill. Earlier, on 16 December 2003,
the supreme court upheld the constitutional validityr of the POTA.
Surprisingly, while considering
the ordinance to amend POTA, the
three-member Review Committee
headed by AB Saharya, was not
even consulted. Union Law Minister, Arun Jaitley and Home Secretary N Gopalaswamy met Justice
saharya two days after the cabinet
cleared the ordinance, and the proposed law was not even discussed
at the meeting. Commenting on the
ordinance to amend POTA, Justice
Saharya stated, "I am involved in
collection, scrutiny and evaluation
of facts about POTA detenus right
now. The ordinance does not come
into play here". Non-cooperation
from various states is one of the
main problems. As Saharya puts it,
"For me the most important job at
hand is getting hold of material.
Without them, how would I reach
an objective conclusion? The power
that the ordinance gives to the review committee would come into
play at the stage of the final report,
not now". Since the ordinance does
not spell out the time being given to
the states to respond to the review
committee, there is no wonder as to
why the limbo prolongs.
On 13 November 2003, the
Central Review Committee sought
a response from the government of
Tamil Nadu about the arrest of the
leader of the political party
Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra
Kazhagam (MDMK), Vaiko and the
editor of Nakkeeran, RR Gopal under POTA. MDMK is a member of the
ruling alliance in New Delhi. Even
the focus of the Review Committee
were they are allowed to function
has been questioned, however. As
the Review Committee of the POTA
serves its political masters in New
Delhi against the repression of political allies, the amendment of the
POTA appears to have meaning only
for political leaders. Innocent victims, such as 14 year old Mayanti
Raj Kumari, a student of Class VII
do not register on the radar screen
of the Review Committee. She was
arrested on 9 Julyr 2002 for allegedly-
waging war against the state (under Sections 121A and 122 of the
Indian Penal Code) and POTA while
returning from her school. She is
presently detained in Ranchi jail
and not in a juvenile home as required under the law regarding the
arrest of minors. The Asian Centre
for Human Rights (ACHR) has details of the cases of seven children
arrested under POTA.
The fate of torture
Although India signed the United
Nations Convention Against Tor-
Custodial deaths in India
ture in 1997, it is yet to ratify the pact.
The Indian National Human Rights
Commission's annual reports illustrate the use of torture in the administration of criminal justice in India.
According to the NHRC, it received
complaints of 34 custodial deaths
(in both police and judicial custody-)
in 1993-94. By 2000-2001, the number was up to 1037. These custodial
deaths are in addition to disappearances, illegal detention, false implication, other police excesses and
violations by armed forces. It does
not help matters that the armed
forces are outside the purview of the
NHRC under section 19 of the Human Rights Protection Act, 1993.
The practise of 'extracting confessions' to fulfil the concerned authorities' personal/professional
agenda is not uncommon. There is
no impartial mechanism for receiving complaints against torture as the
complaints inevitably have to be
made to the police authorities themselves. This only allows the police
to bring pressure and harassment
onto the victims, who are the de facto
The Convention against Torture
requires impartial investigation.
Unfortunately, in India the police
force is not independent. Torture in
India is not treated as per the requirements of the convention. Only
two sections in the Penal Code (sections 330 VI) deal with punishment
for use of force in obtaining confessions. However, if torture is to be
dealt with effectively, it is essential
that it be made an offence in terms
of the convention, including provisions for adequate punishment
against torture. The law against torture in India is extremely inadequate
in terms of international understanding and jurisprudence. Indian
citizens do not have the opportunity
to find recourse in remedies that are
available under international law
due to the failure on the part of the
Indian government to ratify the Convention against Torture. Indian
practices with respect to torture do
not come under international scrutiny. Since the country has also not
signed the Optional Protocol to the
International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, its citizens also do
not have the right to make individual complaints to the UN Human
Rights Committee. Torture remains
unaccounted for and not prosecuted
and the victims are trapped with the
local system of unresponsive law.
Nothing is more imperative than the
need to mobilise an effective campaign in India for ratification of the
Internationalising human rights
India has consistently refused
invitation to the Special Rapporteurs
of the United Nations Commission
on Human Rights. Recently, the
Special Rapporteur on the Right to
Food sought an invi-tation to visit
India. The Permanent Mission of
India reportedly advised the Special
Rapporteur to focus on the sub-Saharan region, as there is no violation of the right to food in Tndia.
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
 In the first week of November
2003, the National Human Rights
Commission of India, acting on a
matter raised by a group of citizens,
issued notice to the Uttar Pradesh
government about the starvation
deaths of at least 18 tribal children
of the Ghasia community over the
past 11 months at Naibasti village
in Sonebhadra district of Uttar
Pradesh. The Ghasias were hounded out of their ancestral villages
with the nationalisation of forests,
which forced them to migrate from
their villages to Naibasti, some eight
kilometres from the main township.
The Ghasias had been deprived of
their land holdings and were forced
to survive on poor quality rice, wild
mushrooms and grass. "The adults
somehow survive the ill-effects of
the poisonous food but most of
the children succumb within two
years", a petition by the People's
Vigilance Committee said. The
petition further pointed out that the
community had not been provided
with ration cards or mid-day meals
nor had they been given alternative
land holdings. Moreover, according
to the petition, the children of
Ghasias were not even covered
under the recent immunisation
drives launched by the Uttar Pradesh government.
The death penalty
A large number of laws in India
prescribe the death penalty. These
include the Indian Penal Code
(which lists as many as 11 offences
punishable by death), the Army Act
of 1950, the Air Force Act of'1950
and the Navy Act of 1956, POTA
2002, Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act of 1987, the Narcotics,
Drugs & Psychotropic Substances
(Amendment) Act of 1988, and the
Scheduled Caste and Scheduled
Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act
of 1989.
Tire constitutional validity of the
death penalty has been upheld by
the Supreme Court of India in the
Jagmohan Singh vs State of UP
(October 1972) The court on that
ocassion stated that the death
penalty should be a narrow exception, not the rule, in sentencing.
The court also explained that the
law could not prescribe the death
penalty for all persons committing
certain crimes, but instead the
circumstances of each offence
would be considered. Indian courts
have sought to apply the "rarest of
Mob rule in Bangladesh
ON 23 February 2003, the Bangladesh parliament
passed the Joint Drive Indemnity Act, 2003 to provide
immunity to the security forces from prosecution for
their involvement in "any casualty, damage to life
and property, violation of rights, physical or mental
damage" between 16 October 2002 and 9 January 2003
during Operation Clean Heart. More than 11,000
persons were arrested in Operation Clean Heart, of
which only about 2,400 were listed as alleged
criminals. Approximately 44 people reportedly died
during the operation, either in custody or immediately
afterwards. A survey report of Odhikar, a rights group,
based in Dhaka states the 56 people were killed by
law enforcement personnel and 61 others died in
police and jail custody in the first nine months of 2003.
The 1 October 2001 general elections in Bangladesh were marked by organised and systematic
backlash against the Hindu minorities. None has
been prosecuted for these atrocities. After the
Bangladesh parliament passed an amendment to the
Vested Property Return Act, 2001 on 26 November
2002, the return of the confiscated properties has
virtually been shelved. On 18 November 2003, 11
members of a Hindu family were burnt to death at
Banshkhali, Chittagong. The police blamed the
incidents on dacoits. Hindus are often terrorised with
patronage of the dominant political parties to grab
the lands of the Hindus. The Vested Properties Act
brought into legislation after 1965 Indo-Pak war has
been the main cause of displacement of millions of
The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord of 1997
is in tatters. According to official statistics, 3,055
returnee indigenous Jumma refugee families out of
12,222 families are yet to get back their dwelling
houses, jhum lands, mouza lands, and crematorium.
Approximately 40 indigenous Jumma villages, six
Buddhist temples of Chakmas and two Hari temples
of Tripuras and one Buddhist orphanage are still in
the possession of illegal plain settlers and army or
aAnsar forces in violation of the Article 17(b) of the CHT
Accord. In late July 2003, the Prime Minister's Office
(PMO) of the government of Bangladesh directed the
CHT affairs ministry to suspend rice rations to 65,000
indigenous Jumma refugees in violation of the
agreements reached with the refugees. The order of
the PMO however directed to give free rice rations to
26,000 illegal plain settlers' families, who are one of
the causes of the conflict.
Indigenous Jummas of the CHT continue to face
serious human rights violations. On 26 August 2003,
Bangladesh army personnel and illegal plain settlers
burnt down 10 indigenous Jumma villages under
Mahalchari sub-district of Khagrachari district. Nine
month old baby, Kiriton Chakma was strangulated to
death in front of his grandmother, who was then raped
by Bangladesh army personnel. The settlers and the
army also raped 10 Jumma women including four girls.
In April 1996, the government of Bangladesh
initiated the process of establishing the NHRC. Seven
years later, the process of establishing NHR1 has become
another gravy train. £
HIMAL  16/12 December 2003
rare" doctrine, but in practise, the
awarding of the death penalty
indicates otherwise.
On 29 October 2003, a judgement
of the Delhi High Court upheld the
death penalty for Mohammad Afzal
and Shaukat Hussain Guru for causing the death of nine persons during
the attack on the Indian Parliament
on 13 December 2001. The court
imposed the death sentence on them
under Section 121 of the Indian Penal
Code (IPC) for "waging war against
the country". The POTA court earlier
had sentenced all four accused to
death. The high court acquitted the
remaining two accused, in a similar
-. erdict on 7 November 2003,
Additional Sessions Judge GP
Thareja sentenced to death Sushil
Kumar Sharma in the Naina Sahni
murder case. Tlie court ordered that
Sharma be "hanged by the neck till
dead". Sharma was also sentenced
for the offence under Section 120 (B)
(Conspiracy) read with Section 201
(Destruction of evidence) of IPC to
seven years rigorous imprisonment
with a 'fine of Rs 10,000.
On 15 November 2003, the Bangalore Rural District and Sessions
Court awarded death sentence to
four people—Krishna, Shtvalmga,
Manjunath and Ramesh (all between 20 and 25 years of age)—in
connection with the murder of a
lorry cleaner, which took place in
December 1998. Unfortunately,
many judgements delivered by the
sessions courts awarding death
penalty are not challenged before
the high courts due to the high litigation costs which many detainees
cannot afford.
Displacement of
Indigenous Peoples
Displacement is one of the most serious problems faced by indigenous
peoples, the so-called scheduled
tribes of India. According the
government's ministry of tribal affairs, "Since independence, tribals
displaced by development projects
or industries have not been rehabilitated to date. Research shows that
the number of displaced tribals till
1990 is about 85.39 lakhs (55 percent of the total displaced population) of whom 64 percent are yet to
be rehabilitated". According to the
1991 census, the population of
scheduled tribes in India is 67.8
million, a little over 6 percent of the
total population of the country. The
fact that this percentage of the total
population of India constitutes 55
Aung San's Burma
BURMA HAS been under protracted dictatorship despite the existence of a strong democracy movement
and despite strong international pressure Burmese
pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi has been in
detention since 30 May 2003. Although, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) sought Suu
Kyi's release in the June 2003 summit, India
maintained silence. From 2 to 6 November 2003,
India's vice president, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat visited Burma to solidify Indo-Burmese relations. India,
which raises the lack of democracy on the western
front vis-a-vis Pakistan, has maintained silence on
the denial of democracy on its eastern front, Burma.
The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)
has so far scuttled international initiatives for national
reconciliation and restoration of democracy in Burma.
It has managed to choreograph the pace of the so-called
dialogues. In July 2003, the prime minister of Thailand,
Thaksin Shinawatra proposed a road map for national
reconciliation in Burma. In an attempt to scuttle the
Thai roadmap, on 30 August 2003 the SPdDC announced
a seven-stage "road map to democracy". Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt stated that the first step would
be the resumption of a national convention to establish
a new constitution. It would comprise the same participants as when it was suspended in 1996 following the
walk out of the National League for Democracy.
Although the ASEAN made a surprising departure
from its policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of member-states to demand the release of Aung
San Suu Kyi at the June 2003 summit at Phnom Penh,
ASEAN leaders then tamely accepted Burma's claim
that it is committed to democracy at the Bali summit
in October 2003. In a joint statement, they welcomed
the military generals' "seven-point road map" to democracy, even though it contains no time frame for
implementation. They have also accepted the junta's
explanation that by moving Suu Kyi from a secret
prison to imprisonment in her home, it has made a
major political concession to the jailed leader.
Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Special Rapporteur of the
United Nations Commission on Human Rights visited Burma from 2 to 8 November 2003 and met senior
officials including the prime minister. The special
rapporteur expressed his deep concern for those political prisoners who have been detained since 30 May
2003 as well as for all remaining political prisoners.
In addition, the special rapporteur reiterated that any
credible process towards political transition requires
the lifting of all remaining restrictions on the freedoms of expression, movement, information, assembly and association and the repealing of the related
"security" legislation.
The UN Secretary General's Special Envoy, Razali
Ismail has so far failed to make any significant breakthrough despite the initiatives of the ASEAN. The military generals of Burma rely heavily on the support of
China and India. Unless, China and India actively
support the initiative of the United Nations, ASEAN
and Thailand, Burmese military generals are unlikely
to take any concrete initiative for national reconciliation and restoration of democracy in Burma. b
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
 Pakistan: Medieval justice
ON 12 December 2003, the anti-terror court in
Bahawalpur, Punjab ruled that Mohammad Sajid
who carried out an acid attack on Rabia Bibi in June
2003 ruled, "Acid drops will be thrown into his eyes
in line with the Islamic laws". Although such strict
rulings based on Islamic justice handed out by lower
courts in Pakistan are often overturned by higher
courts, the distinction between ordinary crimes and
terrorist acts are blurred in Pakistan. As General
Parvez Musharaf muzzles press freedom and
freedom of association and assembly by arresting
leaders such as Javed Hashmi, President of the
Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, the nexus
of evil and medieval justice in the war against terror
has become clear.
Several hundred Pakistanis have so far been
handed over to US custody in violation of Pakistan's
extradition law and international prohibition of
extraditing anyone to a country where their rights
may be abused. On 13 July 2003, Adil al-Jazeeri, an
Algerian national and allegedly a leading member of
Al-Qaeeda, was handed over to US agents by
Paldstani authorities. He was reportedly arrested on
17 June 2003 by members of Pakistan's security
services in the residential district of Hayatabad,
On 5 November 2003, the Islamabad senior civil
judge issued notice to the United States and other
respondents in a suit for damages of USD 10.4 million
filed by Muhammad Sagheer, a Pakistani prisoner
released from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba after more
than a year. So long the US supports President
Musharaf, he does not give a hoot for international
law. b
percent of total displaced people
indicates of the massive victimisation of indigenous peoples.
An estimated 10 million indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities are on the verge
of eviction pursuant to the order of
Union Ministry of Environment
and Forests in May 2002. This eviction order has brought the issue of
"Nature without People" to the
forefront. The order was issued in
furtherance of an order of the Supreme Cou rt of India on 23 November 2001. The supreme court in its
order has restrained the central
government from regularisation of
alleged encroachments of forest
lands in the country under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and ordered to frame a time bound
programme for eviction of the alleged encroachers from the forest
lands. This has happened despite
the fact that the government has
not resolved the ambiguities and
claims on forests since independence.
Atrocities against the Dalits
About 300 million people are victims
of caste discrimination. The minister of state for home affairs, ID
Swami, informed parliament on 23
April 2002 that over 28,000 incidents
of crimes, including murder and
rape, were committed against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes
across India during 2001. Swami
further informed that close to 25,000
cases were reported regarding
crimes against scheduled castes and
as many as 3691 crimes were committed against scheduled tribes. The
maximum number of cases—close
to 5000—against scheduled castes
was reported from the state of
Rajasthan, while Madhya Pradesh
topped the list in atrocities against
scheduled tribes with 1643 cases.
The statistics pertaining to the
calendar year 2001 show that the
states of Uttar Pradesh (7356 cases),
Madhya Pradesh (4336 cases), Rajasthan (1996 cases), Gujarat (1760
cases), Andhra Pradesh (1288 cases)
and Orissa (1125 cases), collectively
accounted for over 82 percent of total
number of 21,678 cases charge
sheeted in the courts in the country.
These statistics constitute only
the tip of the iceberg since most caste
offences in rural areas are not registered. Nonetheless, the statistics
provided by the government of India clearly establish that caste violence has been increasing. The ascending patterns are disturbing. In
1999, 34,799 cases were registered.
This increased to 36,971 registered
cases in 2000 and then to 39,157 in
The majority of states of India
have failed to set up special courts
under the Scheduled Castes and the
Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of
Atrocities) Act, 1989. As of 2 February 2003, exclusive special courts
have been set up only in Andhra
Pradesh (12), Bihar (11), Chattisgarh
(7), Gujarat (10), Kamataka (6),
Madhya Pradesh (29), Rajasthan
(17), Tamil Nadu (4), Uttar Pradesh
(40) and Uttaranchal (1). The remaining states and union territories
have notified the existing courts of
sessions as special courts for the
trial of offences under the 1989 act.
As the courts in India are already
over-burdened with 35,40,000 cases
at the level of the high courts in 2002,
according to the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on
Home Affairs, designation of the
court of sessions as special courts
helps little in terms of expediency
and further adds to judicial delay
in India. b
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 Hamza Alavi: A Life
Hamza Alavi, the renowned Pakistani scholar and political activist
passed away on 1 December 2003 in his native Karachi
unremarked by too many. He belonged to the first generation of
independent Pakistan's professionals. As an employee of the
Reserve Bank of India, he moved on after Partition to help set up
the State Bank of Pakistan before embarking on a career of
political activism and academic study. He was one of the pioneers
of South Asian social science, particularly the study of agrarian
society. Here we reproduce in three segments extracts from an
autobiographical sketch by Hamza Alavi titled 'Fragment of a Life',
all of this before he began his academic career.
Political activism
Before I moved into an academic career in 1966,1 spent
ten years in London in political activism, writing,
lecturing and giving seminars at universities. When I
first came to London, 1 joined the London School of
Economics (LSE) for a PhD on banking in Pakistan,
which given my years of first-hand involvement in
building it up, I could have written blindfolded. But 1
was sick of that subject. j\nd 1 was disenchanted by empty academicism. I
found myself attending sociology, social anthropology and political science
seminars. I devoured a vast amount of
literature. 1 was full of questions. What
had happened to my country? 1 studied and wrote. In those days there was
nothing much to read about Pakistan,
to discover what had gone wrong. So
one had to study, analyze and write! 1
founded and edited Pakistan Today
(1957-62), a quarterly journal. Each issue would have an article that 1 wrote.
We would bring out an issue as soon
as there was a major development in
Pakistan. After the Ayub coup we came out six times
a year. Pakistan Today had a circulation of several
hundred. The peak was about 1500 for our final issue
which was wholly devoted to an article entitled The
Burden of US Aid. The journal was sent to East and
West Pakistan and clandestinely reproduced there or
placed in libraries. The US Aid issue was reprinted
as a booklet by Faiz dAhmad Faiz. It was also reprinted
in the United States by a new left journal called New
10 April,  1921 to
1 December, 2003
University Thought and as a booklet by the Detroit
Radical Education Project (who also reprinted some
of my later articles in booklet form). Tariq Ali acknowledged it as a source in his first book. We got letters
from sympathisers in Europe and North America.
When there was total silence in Pakistan itself, it was
a worthwhile thing to do. A lot of my time was invested in it.
1 became a political activist. My wife
and I joined one or two like-minded
friends, notably Tassaduq Ahmad from
Dacca and his wife. We worked amongst
Pakistani students and workers very successfully from 1955 to 1966. We founded
a number of organisations designed for
activity at different levels. The Pakistan
Youth League was a broad liberal to socialist forum. We met fortnightly and
about 150 to 200 would turn up. Besides
ourselves, speakers included scholars on
the left, like Stuart Hall, Tony Benn and
Eric Hobsbawm. The Pakistani Socialist
Society was a smaller group. Ata broader
political level, soon after the Ayub coup,
we set up a Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in Pakistan. At an international level we ran a
group called The Forum which brought together socialists from Asia, Africa and Latin America for a dialogue.
It fell apart when Khruschev intervened in the Belgian
Congo and our common ground of free and open, non-
sectarian, debate with mutual respect was gone. We
were also active organising Pakistani workers through
two Pakistan welfare associations, one based in the East
2003  December  16/12  HIMAL
End of London (mainly Bengali) and the other in Slough
I was a founding member of the Campaign against
Racial Discrimination (CARD), a UK-based wide multiracial organisation of Pakistanis, Indians, West
Indians and White British, to fight the rising tide of
racism. Some of us, so-called 'leaders' of black
communities in Britain, had been invited by Martin
Luther King at his London hotel to talk about racism
in Britain, when he was on his way to receive his
Nobel Prize. We met not only Martin Luther King. We
also met each other. We realised that there was much
to be gained from joining forces against racism in
Britain. So we met again and launched CARD. David
Pitt, a West Indian member of the Greater London
Council, who was an 'establishment' figure in the
Labour Party, was elected chairman. An Indian Maoist
and a white American Trotskyite (both women) were
elected joint secretaries. At CARD's first national
convention I was elected vice-chairman. With David,
I was a member of the National Council of the British
Overseas Socialist Fellowship (our chairman was
Fenner Brockway).
A decade of political activism was exhilarating.
But I could not keep it up for much longer for a number
of reasons. There were too many problems, some of
them personal. So far we had managed on a small
income that my wife had from Tanzania. But that
could' not go on. I needed a job, an academic job,
simply to live. I had also to think of making the best
use of my time. Our political activities had turned into
full time welfare work for immigrants. One would get
telephone calls from Indian and Pakistanis friends
whenever there was a problem, usually at the airport.
One had to intervene. It was more than I could cope
with. I could not go on like that. I decided to leave
political activism and turn to full time academic work.
So in 1966,1 joined the Institute of Development Studies
at fhe University of Sussex.
My first career
I had joined the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in 1945 as
a Research Officer on the recommendation of, indeed
at the behest of my supervisor for PhD at the Gokhale
Institute at Poona. Professor DR Gadgil had been
asked by RBI to recommend candidates for their
research department. He asked me if I wanted the job.
When I told him that my aim m life was to make a
career in the academic world he said: "Young man,
you had better learn something about life before you
start teaching". He pointed out that my starting salary
with RBI would be far higher than that of a university
lecturer. "You can come back to the academic world
at any time on your own terms". So I joined the Reserve
Bank in 1945.
When   Partition   was  announced,  Governor
Chintaman Deshmukh called me and pointed out that
since too few Muslim officers had opted for Pakistan,
the State Bank of Pakistan would have great problems
without trained officers. It is interesting that a
Maharashtrian brahmin was so concerned whether the
State Bank of Pakistan would be able to function
properly or not. Why should he care? He pointed out
that research was a luxury. The State Bank of Pakistan
would need people who could do practical jobs. He
suggested that 1 should get some training. So 1 was put
on a programme of intensive training in the Exchange
Control Department.
With Partition 1 came home to Karachi. Technically
we were to remain under RBI until July when the State
Bank would take over. But, as soon as 1 found myself in
a position to do so, in March 1948, 1 decided to take
over, de facto and set up a headquarters for Exchange
Control at Karachi which would give us time to build
up our organisation well before the D-Day.
Everything was in a state of chaos. We moved from
crisis to crisis. Part of the problem was the clerical
mentality of many of our senior colleagues. Most of the
senior officers were twice my age. Their style of work
and thinking had been shaped by their long experience
of serving, virtually as clerks, under white masters. The
first concern of these glorified clerks was personal
survival. As long as they acted in accordance with their
precious manuals no one could hang them. They were
petty bureaucrats and lacked the imagination to see what
was at stake. They blocked innovation at every stage,
which took up a lot of our energy when we tried to get
things done. They had neither the will nor the ability to
take responsibility. Mercifully, there were one or two
brilliant exceptions to them. Thanks to them we survived.
I flourished in that climate of successive crises.
Looking back 1 realise that I had two assets. One was
my ignorance. It was a blessing in disguise that 1 did
not know the manuals backwards as my senior
colleagues did. Those manuals were, fn any case, out of
date and had little relevance to our conditions. I realised
that given our situation we will have to write our own
manuals. I actually did just that in 1950 when I
compiled the Exchange Control Manual for the
guidance of banks. Some of us were able to see things
from a fresh perspective. Every time that a problem
landed on my desk, I would'work out a logical solution
based on 'first principles' and act on it. We were
constantly innovating and improving on old, out-of-
date systems.
The exchange control system was set up in India in
1939 by a man called Cayley, a true colonialist. The
system that he built up discriminated blatantly against
Indian interests. Cayley had groomed his successor, a
Parsee called Jeejeebhai who carried on in the same
way. In Pakistan I realised that we would have to
change Cayley's system radically, to end discrimination
HIMAL  16/12 December 2003
against our own banks and our own people. I had a
great time discovering these and making changes. I was
able to act with confidence as I enjoyed the full backing
of our ministry of finance. 1 had great fun in a game of
one-upmanship with Jeejeebhai, for technically 1 was
still under him until July 1948. But I set up our own de
facto independent head office, in advance of the formal
change. Jack Kennan, a remarkable Englishman who
soon joined us as my boss, backed what 1 was doing.
We went in for innovations that the Reserve Bank of
India would, belatedly, copy.
Stint in Dacca
After we concluded an agreement with India in 1951,
we had to introduce exchange control with India. Tftis
raised new and difficult problems and fears. East
Pakistan had a very large informal trade with India, in
rish and firewood, chicken and eggs, which was
handled by enormous numbers of very small people
and carried by country craft. The government was afraid that any ham-
fisted bureaucratic interference with
that trade could create incalculable
and terrible political repercussions.
They needed someone who could be
relied upon to take quick and sensible
decisions on the spot and treat the
small fishermen and farmers with understanding,
1 had played a role in the negotiations with India. Immediately when
they were concluded I had to prepare
instructions for the banks (for which 1 had contingency
drafts already), lt was a Sunday morning. Governor
Zahid Hussain summoned me to his office. Mumtaz
Hussain, joint secretary finance, who was responsible
for State Bank affairs in the ministry, was with him. I
told them that the circulars were ready and were being
printed. The banks would have them on Monday
morning. Everything was under control. Zahid Hussain
then told me that in that case I should catch the afternoon
plane to Dacca and take up overall charge in East
Pakistan. I was sent to Dacca at a few hours' notice.
Zahid Hussain and Mumtaz Hussain told me about
their worries about East Pakistan, of which 1 was
already aware. Zahid Hussain gave me my marching
orders saying that 1 would have complete responsibility and full powers in East Pakistan. "It will be entirely
up to you", he said. Mumtaz Hussain was more emphatic, "Do what you think best. For god's sake do not
refer anything to Karachi". They knew that references
to Karachi would mean delay and possibly trouble, lt
was a heavy burden of power for me to carry. After all I
was, as yet, only in my late twenties.
No one had gone before to East Pakistan with such
a 'carte blanche'. It was to be expected that I would
I was sent to East
Pakistan with the instruction, "Do what
you think best. For
god's sake do not
refer anything to
become the focus of attention. There were many interests who would want to exploitme. I would be courted
and flattered. I had to be on my guard. Predictably,
soon after I landed In Dacca, Ghulam Faruq, chairman
of the Jute Board, accompanied by his close friend
Mirza .Ahmad lspahani (who controlled 30 percent
of the jute trade) called on me at my office to welcome
me to East Pakistan. At first they indulged in
predictable flattery. Ghulam Faruq was a powerful
member of the bureaucracy, an old Indian Civil
Service (ICS) man who later became a multi-millionaire industrialist! As chairman of the Jute Board, he
said to me rather patronisingly: "Young man, I am
sure you know nothing about jute. Look at me. 1 am a
seasoned old official. I have spent my entire career in
Bengal. I still do not know anything about jute.
Luckily we have amongst us Mr lspahani who knows
everything there is to know about jute. Jute is in his
blood. When 1 have any problem I consult him. It
would be wise for you to do the
"""""""""■""^ same", lspahani wanted to have the
State Bank in his hands, just as he
had all other relevant departments
of government under his thumb, lt
was the beginning of a long struggle.
I was soon fighting a quixotic
battle against two of the most
powerful men in East Pakistan. It is
a long story. 1 survived more by good
luck than good sense. I seemed to
win every round in our extra-ordinary contest. But it was a very tense
period for me. 1 knew that if I made just one slip, they
would have me hanged. Fortunately I had the backing
of Governor Zahid Hussain though 1 do not think he
knew just how the cards were stacked, lt was all very
stressful. For the first time 1 wondered about resigning
from the bank. My wife in fact suggested it. Not
unreasonably she had long complained that 1 was
'married to the bank'. Was this all worth it, she asked.
While 1 was still thinking about resigning, I was appointed to the post of secretary to the Central Board at
Karachi, one of five 'Principal Officers' of the Bank, lt
was sheer vanity that made me set aside thoughts of
resigning. 1 wanted to hold that post, at least for a
while. The promotion had come rather soon, though
I was next in line for it. I half suspect that it was manipulated by powerful men to get me out of East Pakistan. 1 would not put it past them.
My health was deteriorating from overwork. In
May 1953 1 was finally allowed to go on leave. We
went to Tanzania to spend time with my wife's family,
lt was there that, looking at everything in perspective
and encouraged by my wife's brother who was like a
father to her, I finally decided to resign from the State
Bank. So ended my first career. lb
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
Is India really shining?
Not if you compare it to China, not if you study the indicators of
public welfare, not if you look at centralisation...
by Mohan Guruswamy, Abhishek Kaul and Vishal Hands
ecent reports from varied sources such as the
Reserve Bank of India (RBI), International
-Monetary Fund (IMF) and several rating agencies and merchant banks that the Indian economy is
poised to register a growth rate that could be as high as
7 percent have given rise to a self-laudatory mood. A
recent article "Can India overtake China?", in the prestigious US journal Foreign Policy, co-authored by
Yasheng Huang and Tarun Khanna accounts for a good
bit of the gloss on it. Both come with impressive credentials. Huang is an associate professor at MIT's Sloan
School of Management, and Khanna is a professor at
the Harvard Business School. But it is Huang who, by
virtue of being an ethnic Chinese, gives the article its
special credibility. While 7 percent is good, evidence
suggests that the underlying basics of the Indian economy remain unchanged. Nothing makes this more explicit than a comparison with the economic and social
indicators of China after the economic reforms. Par from
catching up with China, India seems to be falling well
We must not forget that 7 percent comes after a year
of 4,6 percent, preceded by performances of 5,7 percent
and 3.9 percent, which shows the average growth rate
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 to still be in a low- trajectory. But even if we accept that
India is indeed 'shining', how good is that shine? Is it
a burnish that reveals the quality of the metal beneath
or is it a thin coat of varnish that just puts a superficial
gloss? To understand that we must go into how good
the years after the so-called reforms have been. Very
simply, the decade after the launch of the so-called reforms has not been very much better than the decade
before it. Gross National Product (CNP) growth for the
post-reform period (1992-01) crept up by a mere 0.2
percent to 5.9 percent. With a performance like that it
would be extremely difficult to make a case that the
economic reforms or liberalisation, call it what you will,
have made much of an impact on the nation as a whole.
Of course some have benefited. As Sushma Swaraj,
currently health and family welfare minister, famously told the lower house of the Indian parliament recently, there are no more queues for telephone and gas connections. But with India's teledensity a mere 3.2 per
Table 1(a): Demographic Indicators in 2001
Population (million)
Birth Rate (per 1000)
Death Rate (per 1000)
Infant Mortality rate (per 1000)
Life Expectancy (years)
Source: World Development Indicators 2003
Table 1(b): Prosperity Indicators 2001
Availability per 1000
Telephones (landlines)
Cellular phones
Personal Computer
Television sets
Source: World Development Indicators 2003
Table 1(c): International poverty line (2000)
Population below
USD 1 a day
Population below
USD 2 a day
Source: World Development Indicators 2003
Table 1(d): National poverty line
Source: World Development Indicators 2003,
100, and with just 58 million of the 180 million households with gas connections, clearly suggesting that most
households with an annual income of less than INR 80,
000 arc without cheap and subsidised energy, the
country seems quite some way off from a satisfactory
distribution of benefits. Nevertheless, no queues for
phones, gas, and even for Maruti cars and Bajaj scooters and motorcycles is still good news. But certainly
not enough to warrant an outpouring of self-congratulations for it is indices for infant mortality (69 per 1000),
life expectancy- (63 years), literacy (65 percent), as well
as energy sufficiency (527 billion kilowatt hours) and
energy consumption (a mere 379 kilowatt hours per
capita) that make the living reality of India. Additionally, however well it might have done, the country has
fallen well behind China and it will take some effort to
catch up.   (Tables 1(a), 1(b), 1(c) and 1(d)).
A comparison of the first ten years of the economic
performances of India and China after reforms (from
1992 for India and from 1979 for China) is instructive.
China entered the first decade of reforms as a fast developing and modernising country with an average
decadal growth rate of 5.5 percent. But more important
Table 2: Social indicators at pre-reform stage
in 1980
in   1991
IMR (per 1000)
Life expectancy (years)
Adult Literacy ( percent)
Sources: India Health Repoh, UNESCO, World
Development Indicators 2003, Sen and Dreze, India:
Economic development and social opportunity
Table 3: Growth rates (percent)
Pre reform period
Pre reform period
Post reform period
(First 10 years)
Source: Calculated from World Development Indicators 2003
Table 4: GDP and population
Growth rate
GDP  (USD  billion)
Source: World Development Indicators, National Accounts
Statistics (India) and China Statistical Yearbook
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
 Table 5: FDI statistics for China
Foreign direct investment,
net inflows
(BOP, current USD, million)
Gross foreign direct
(percent of GDP)
Source: World Development Indicators 2002
Table 6: FDI statistics for India
Foreign direct investment,
net inflows (BOP, current USD,
Gross foreign
direct investment
(percent of CDP)
Source: World Development Indicators 2002
than this was the performance byr 1980 of reducing infant mortality to 42 per 1000, elevating life expectancy
to 67 years, and raising adult literacy to 66 percent.
India by contrast had a better growth rate of 5.7 percent
in the 1980s but came burdened with an infant mortality of 119 per 1000, life expectancy of 59.2 years, and
adult literacy of 48.41 percent (Table 2). Many reasons
have been advanced for China's stupendous performance. Few are as valid as what Amartya Sen wrote:
"China's relative advantage over India is a product of
its pre-reform (pre-1979) groundwork rather than its
post-reform redirection".
Yet another comparison would be even more instructive. In 1978, at the inception of its reforms, China's per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (in constant 1995 USD) was USD 148, whereas that of India in
the same year was USD 236. Seven years after it began
its reforms, in 1986, China caught up with India in per
capita GDP terms (USD 278 vs USD 273) and a decade
after reforms in 1988 was comfortably-
ahead of India with a per capita GDP of
USD 342 compared with India's USD
312. Tn the first post-reform decade the
Chinese economy grew at a little over 10
percent while the Indian economy grew
at 5.7 percent in the corresponding decade (Figure 1 and Table 3). Quite clearly the 1990s was India's lost decade.
But what did India achieve in the first
decade of its reforms? In 1992, the first
year of reforms, India's per capita GDP
was USD 331. This grew to USD 477 in
2001. In the same period the Chinese per
capita GDP surged from USD 426 to USD
878 in 2001. In the 1990s China grew at
rates close to 10 percent while India grew
at 5.9 percent. Quite clearly, far from
beginning to catch up, India fell well
China's GDP (1995 constant USD) has
grown eight-fold since 1979 and stood
at over USD 1 trillion in 2001. Chinese
GDP was lower than that of India in
absolute terms in 1978 but caught up
with India in the very next year. The size
of the Chinese economy now is twice that
of India's. In 2001 India's GDP stood at a
mere USD 492 billion with a population
of 1.03 billion. While India seems to be
catching up with China on the
population front, China's CDP still
remains a distant and difficult target
(Table 4).
It is true that both countries have
transformed themselves after they embarked on the path of economic reform.
But the transformations were entirely
different in nature. In 1980, the sectoral
break-up of China's economy was as follows:
agriculture 30 percent, industry 49 percent and services
21 percent. In 1990 that changed to agriculture 27
percent, industry 42 percent and services 31 percent. In
2000, that picture transformed further. Agriculture fell
to 16 percent; industry grew further to 51 percent while
services steadied at 33 percent. Note the growth in the
share of industry now. This was primarily made
possible by overseas foreign direct investment (FDI),
which amounted to USD 290 billion (Ministry of Foreign
Trade and Economic Cooperation, Beijing) during the
decade (Tables 5 and 6).
Apart from the millions of new jobs created, the role
of FDI in making China a major manufacturing centre
in the world is seen in the share of FDI enterprises in
total exports, which rose from under 2 percent to 45.5
percent in 1999. In India it was just 8 percent for the
same year. The share of world trade in the GDP's of the
two countries, not surprisingly, is also very different.
HIMAL 16/12  December 2003
Table 7: Sectoral Break up of GDP (percent)
Sources: China Statistical Yearbook: 2001,
India's National Accounts Statistics (various issues)
Figure 1: Growth rate comparison of first 10
years of reforms
Table 8(a): Sectoral Growth rates in the 80s (percent)
Source: World Development Indicators 2003
Table 8(b): Sectoral Growth rates in the 90s (percent)
Source: World Development Indicators 2003
Table 9: Sector wise employment (percent)
Sources: China Statistical Yearbook 2000.
K Sundaram, Employment in the nineteen nineties: Further
results from the NSS 55th round employment-
unemployment survey, 1999-2000, July 2001
Table 10: Population in productive cohort (million)
Sources: United Nations, World Bank
Table 11: Central Govt expenditure as
percent of total expenditure
Source.National Accounts statistics. China Statistical Yearbook
16 -i
14 -
12 -
10 -
B  -
2 •
0 -
GDP growth rate (%)
/ ^'"v
V'                                >i             J**""    '">■
s^                 >^
— China
— india
~\0b jr     ~~~^              X--—.
 S^r                    \_/             ~s*--a._——
1        2       3      4      5       6       7      8
9      10
Figure 2: Population in productive cohort
% of Population
fifi -
64 -
62 -
60 -
58 -
56 -
54 -
52 -
64        64
a 2000
a 2050
a^K]      :   5
ou -
While trade accounts for as much as half (49 percent) of
China's GDP, it accounts for less than a thi rd (29 percent)
of India's GDP. Also, while China's enjoys a 3.7 percent
share of total world trade, India's share in world trade
is less than one per cent.
In recent days there has been much speculation as
to whether the FDI gap between China and India is
indeed as large as it is made out to be. Chinese (as well
as the IMF's) FDI figures include what are classified in
India as Foreign Institutional Investor (FH) investments
in equity markets, loans etc, whereas in India FDI refers
only to direct investment in industries. Even if these
adjustments are made, however, FDI in China is still
many times larger than that in India.
The emergence of China as the global base for
manufacturing is also predicated on the surge in
China's research and development (R&D) expenditure.
The latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD) science, technology and industry
scoreboard has ranked China as the third largest R&D
spender in the world, amounting to USD 60 billion
(Purchasing Power Parity) in 2001. Though India
ranked among the top ten spenders worldwide, it spent
only a third (USD 19 billion) of what China invested in
R&D in 2001. Such huge Chinese investments in
furthering the base of knowledge suggests that India
can only fall back further in terms of industrial growth
rates and competitiveness.
2003 December 16/12  HIMAL
Figure 3: Decentralisation in China
Share of Central govt, expenditure in total
administrative expenditure (%)
i i i i i \ i i-i
iS    ->   cb-    aQ
Ml   I   III   I 'I   I   I   I
111   I   I   t  II
<b     ST   So1   Av
^    a ^ -^     ^       ^   .J?   ^   ^   j-    j1
S   »fe'   A'   ti?    eft    *   _d&
&'<&' <& &
$7^^ ebb   c&J Ti' Ob"
Figure 4: Centralisation in India
80 -
60 -
40 -
20 -
Share of Central govt, expenditure in total expenditure (%)
*'r"S. '■'.                '■;■.
Zl^J^          "^~^-~-^^*^~\
;:;:;;.''                                              :    "^^~-~-^-^^^,
<&   <&    <&   <&   <8>   AK   "J*   ^    ^   <#   nfc   <&    .&•   <&>    C?3
f $> $> ^ N# ^ ^ ^ N# ^> n$> *? ^ N# ^
The Indian sectoral picture makes for a study in
contrasts. The share of agriculture fell somewhat from
31 percent in 1990 to 28 percent in 2000. The share of
industry too fell from 28 percent to 26 percent. Services
grew from 41 percent to 46 percent. Software apart, the
biggest contributing factor to the growth of India's
services sector has been the growth of public
administration, which has been bounding at an average
rate of 32.5 percent each year from 1993-94 onwards. In
2001 alone, central, state and local governmental
salaries together topped INR 167,715 crores. This kind
of spending w^as not what Keynes had in mind when
he advocated public spending to stimulate the economy
(Tables 7, 8(a) and 8(b)).
The impact of these sectoral growth rates is reflected
in the job creation patterns for the two nadons. Today
China's workforce is 705 million (1999). About half of
this workforce, or 353 million, is employed in
agriculture, 28 percent or 190 million in services, and
22 percent or 162 million in industry. By contrast India's
total workforce is 397 million (1999). The major employer
is still the agricultural sector with 60.5 percent or 240
million, industry is a relatively small at 16.8 percent or
67 million, services seem rising but employs only 22.7
percent or 90 million (of which government alone
accounts for 19.4 million). Quite clearly, in terms of
employment we are still an agrarian society (Table 9).
But there is something else to be understood. Chi
na's population in terms of age break-up is
passing through a phase of great demographic
advantage. The cohort in the productive phase
(15-60 years) of the life cycle is at its peak. On
the other hand, the dependency ratio in India
is, relatively speaking, adverse (Figure 2). While
64 percent of China's population currently falls
in the productive cohort, the corresponding
figure for India is 59 percent. However in 20
years from now, while China's productive
popxilation will stagnate at 64 percent India's
productive cohort will rise to 64 percent and
hence catch up with China. The picture will
further change by 2050 with India (61 percent)
overtaking China (55 percent). Transformation
is however not just limited to percentage terms
but is more importantly also palpable in
absolute terms as India would have become
the most populous country in the world with
1.5 billion. Thus while at present China's
productive population stands at a whopping
812 millions, and India's seemingly way
behind at 599 million, by 2050 India's
productive population will be a huge 962
million and China would be far behind at 824
million (Table 10). But whether India is able to
convert this into economic advantage will have
to be seen? For this, India will have to tool up
to create a more productive and able workforce,
stimulate investments and create a much bigger market for goods and services.
This favourable demographic trend is as much a
window of opportunity as it presents a danger. If India
grasps the opportunity, it can elevate the economy to a
much higher level of prosperity. On the other hand if
India fails in this, it will move into a period of unfavourable demographic distribution when the society will be
saddled with a rapidly greying population that will act
as a natural brake against fast economic growth. China
has so far successfully seized this opportunity, but will
India be able to?
On the face of it, China seems to be deploying about
the same proportion of its GNP as India towards
education and health. Yet it seems to be achieving better
results. Quite clearly there are lessons to be learnt. While
under the communist system supreme power may be
centralised in a coterie of un-elected leadership, it is
equally true that the management of the economy and
services like education and healthcare are greatly
decentralised. By contrast, India with a supposedly
more representative political system has become highly
centralised. Nothing reflects this better than the pattern
of expenditure on salaries for government employees
(Figures 3 and 4). The percentage share of central government salaries and expenses of the total under this
head in China has been continuously declining and
has come down from a high of 73.9 percent in 1953 to
28.9 percent in 1998. The corresponding trend in India
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
is discouraging, as it hovers at around 40 percent over
the decades (Table 11). Quite evidently in China government is moving downwards to the tiers that have
greater interaction with the people, whereas in India
decentralisation is as distant a goal now as it was in
the early years of the republic.
Yet another notable feature of the Chinese economic
reforms and decentralisation has been the degree of
autonomy conferred to the state owned enterprises
(SOE's). In sharp contrast to this, Indian public sector
undertakings (PSU's) have become adjuncts of
administrative ministries with all entrepreneurial spirit
crushed by mindless bureaucracy and uncertain
From the inter-sectoral picture we have now it is
quite clear that China is a fast industrialising country
whereas India seems to be entering the post-industrial
phase without having industrialised. Tins trend needs
to be reversed by stimulating industrialisation, especially since it creates more jobs and has greater multiplier effects on the economy. This calls for far greater
investments in infrastructure especially since civil
projects such as roads, railways, dams, canals and
building construction require not only large amounts
of material such as steel and cement, but they will also
employ large numbers of the least skilled workers. The
uncontrolled growth of this segment of India's
population poses the greatest economic challenge and
their gainful employment is its only solution. Quite
clearly, government must spend less on itself and more
for the people.
The challenge ahead of India is not catching with
China's growth rate, which inevitably must slow down.
When nations compete, growth rates matter little if one
is already well ahead in terms of robust social-sector
indices. Can India do what China did to India in 1986
when it caught up with Indian per capita GDP rates
within seven years of its initiating market reforms? Can
India come abreast with it? To do that in 2020 India
needs to grow at 11.6 percent and to do that long after
most of us alive today are gone in 2050, India must
grow at 8.9 percent every year. Catching up with growth
rates is not good enough. If that were the game India is
already doing much better than the United States,
Europe and Japan. So if the RBI or IMF says that India
will do 7 percent, that is very good. But that is just one
swallow and it does not mean that India's season in
the sun is at hand. b
Touchable Tales:
Publishing and Reading Dalit Literature
Ed. S. Anand
Mainstream publishers in India and abroad
are seeking out daiit literature. Dalit writers
are being invited to literary festivals abroad.
Dalit literature is also being taught in universities. Bui who decides what gets published?
Who are these interlocutors—the publishers,
translators and editors? Why ate autobiographies priohlized? While dalits in Tamil Nadu
are being forced to consumeshit and piss, who
are the consumers ol dalit literature in English? In this book, those involved with the publishing, teaching, and creation of dalit
literalute—Ravikumar Mini Krishnan, Gail Omvedt, K. Satyanarayana, Arundhati Roy,
Alok Mukherjee, Anin Prabha Mukherjee, Sivakami. K.P.Singh, ManditaSen, Narendra
Jadhav, Anand Teltumbde—debate these issues.
Brahmans and Cricket:
Lagaan's Millennial Purana and Other Myths
S. Anand
Cricket unites Indians, Cricket is nationalism, Cricket is religion. We are told cnckel
is also secular. A leftist and a hindutvawadi equally celebrate an Indian victory.
However, lill recently, a cricket team comprised a majority of brahmans, sometimes 8
out of 11 players. How did a priestly class-
soft, even effeminate—come to dominate a
sport? Why does such dominance not extend lo hockey or football? In Brahmans and
Cricket, S. ANAND seeks answers to unasked questions. Beginning with a critique
of Aamir Khan's 2002 blockbuster Lagaan
and the politics of representation of its dalit
character. Kachra. the aulhat tangentially examines why the nation is under the
thrall of cricket and cinema. SUDHANVA DESHPANDE and LUBN A MARiAM respond.
A debate ensues. A must-read for those interested in sports, politics, film, caste and
identity politics.
Postmodernism and Religious Fundamentalism:
A Scientific Rebuttal to Hindu Science
The promotion of an anti-Enlightenment, anti-
modernist view of the world by the seemingly
leftwing, postmodernist scholars with indigenist , ._„._.,
sympathies has ended up affirming the com- 0ri0O~:
mon sense of rightwing fundamentalist move- :-:-:-„:.:
ments. We have landed in a situation where 7£7:k:
Hindu. Islamic and Christian fundamentalists ?ft|>5
assert the right to their 'own' science, and this .-..
sits well with the postmodernist denigration of
science as a 'western construct. Hindutva, this
book demonstrates, speaks the same language as academic postmodernism popularized in India by the neo gandhian and postcolonial critics of modernity. The
secularization of science—the hard-won freedom of science from churches,
brahmans and mullahs^s under threat. However, philosopher of science MEERA
NANDA, in this collection—an essay, a review of her work, and an interview wfth
her—sees hope in 1he ideas of Ambedkar, the dalit movement and neo-Buddhism
Ambedkar: Autobiographical Notes
B.R. Ambedkar
In six autobiographical sketches, B.R.
AMBEDKAR, India's fotemosl civil rights
leader, teminiscences his experiences of
untouchability. Beginning with an incident
when he was nine years old. Ambedkar recalls his humiliation at a Parsi inn in Baroda
soon after his relum from studies abroad,
later as a tourist at the Daulatabad fort,
and a few other incidents. In his introduction, RAVIKUMAR, activist-theoretician olthe
dalit movement, tries to understand the complex mannet in which the 'private'
and the 'public' operate for a dalit person. He situates our lack of access to
Ambedkar's private in this binary of the dalit self.
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
 Sri Lanka
Ball and chain syndrome
by Suhas Chakma
The failure of the latest round of talks on 10 December between the warring political foes in Colombo dashed any hope for an early solution to
the over-a-month-old political impasse. After the expiry of 15 December 2003 deadline set by the two leaders,
no fresh deadline has been set. Earlier on 5 November,
President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who belongs to the
opposition Peoples Alliance (PA), in a constitutional
coup declared emergency in the country-. Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinglie of the United National Party (UNP), which holds majority in the parliament, was
on a visit to the United States and it was in his absence
that on 4 November 2003, President Kumaratunga
sacked the ministers for information, defence and home,
suspended parliament for two weeks upto 19 November and ordered deployment of the troops at key installations.
President Kumaratunga has so far
been able to sell her drastic measures
on the grounds of the alleged threat to
national security arising from the submission of the proposals for the Interim
Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) by the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
on 31 October. While most political analysts and Sri Lanka watchers bought
her story, the question remains whether
allowing the LTTE to put across its proposals constitutes what President Kumaratunga calls "making too many concessions", and
warrants the imposition of emergency. The president's
drastic action in reality has more to do with the UNP
government's adventurism in submitting a motion for
impeachment of the controversial Supreme Court Chief
Justice Sarath N Silva. The move sought to arrest an
impending judgement from the apex court as to who
really is the 'boss' of the defence forces as well as the
government of Sri Lanka. Since any impeachment motion against the president ultimately has to be referred
to a referendum by the chief justice, many Peoples Al-
laince (PA) leaders saw the impeachment of the chief
justice as the first step towards impeaching President
Kumaratunga. The president has asked for the impeachment motion to be withdrawn.
Old rivalry and biased judiciary
The rivalry between the president and the prime minister in Sri Lankan politics has been continuing for over a
The LTTE proposals are all set to test
the limits of permissibility of the right of
within one constitutional framework
decade. But it has become even more apparent since the
UNP came to power after the last general elections held
in December 2001. While President Kumaratunga welcomed the start of negotiations with the LTTE, she gradually hardened her stand. Meanwhile, the government
and the LTTE signed a ceasefire agreement in February
2002 and formal peace negotiations started in September 2002. The talks broke down in April 2003, in large
part because of Kumaratunga's increasingly provocative actions, in league with sections of the armed forces.
Tlie last two rounds of talks were disrupted by naval
incidents involving the seizure or sinking of LTTE vessels. To add to it, on 25 October 2003, Kumaratunga
wrote to the Norwegian prime minister, Kjell Magne
Bondvik requesting the recall of the head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), Major General Tryggve
Tellefsen. The president also wrote to
"^^"^™*"^™"™ the armed forces chiefs on 24 October
2003 directing them not to follow any
of the SLMM's instructions or advice.
Since the UNP came to power, President Kumaratunga has sought to
maintain her direct control over key elements of the state apparatus, particularly the security forces. For long, the
government and the president have
been engaged in a feud over who decides top appointments. Kumaratunga's extention of the service of navy vice
admiral, Daya Sandagiri and army commander, Lionel
Balagalla—regarded as her supporters—beyond their
due retirement dates and her overruling a proposal by
interior minister, John Amaratunga for a similar extension for the present inspector general of police were
significant. In an attempt to counter the president's
move, the defence minister promulgated regulations to
retire commissioned officers of the Sri Lanka Army at
the age of 55, which, however, was promptly referred
by the president to the supreme court under Article 129
of the constitution.
In September 2002, the UNP government sought to
clip the power of the president by bringing the controversial 19"1 amendment to the constitution, which,
among other things, sought to amend Articles 49 and
70 of the constitution to curtail the president's powers
to dissolve parliament unilaterally after one year of the
previous elections. About 20 odd members of parliament from Kumaratunga's own party reportedly sup-
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 ported the government's move. The amendment also
empowered parliamentarians with "cross-voting
rights" so that they could vote according to their conscience without being deprived of their seats for defying party discipline.
On this occasion, the supreme court led by Chief
Justice Sarath N Silva came to the president's rescue
and shot down the proposed 19th amendment. The
court ruled the sections empowering MPs with cross
voting rights as unconstitutional. As for the president's
power to dissolve parliament, the bench ruled that apart
from ensuring the support of a two-thirds majority in
parliament for it, the nation at large has to endorse it in
a country-wide referendum for the 19th amendment to
become law. The court however added a caveat that no
referendum was necessary if the present one-year period
restricting the president from dissolving parliament was
extended simply to a three-year period—a two-thirds
majority alone would suffice for the purpose if the 19th
amendment were on those lines. Since constitutional
amendments could be made with two-thirds majority,
the order of a referendum raised questions about the
independence of judiciary.
The supreme court also struck down the proposed
18th Amendment which provided that "no legal suit or
proceedings shall be instituted against the Constitutional Council (CC), its chairman, a member, the
secretary or an officer of the council regarding any act
done or omitted by them in performing or discharging
any duty or function, conferred or assigned to them
under the Constitution or any other law". It also sought
to empower the Constitutional Council to make rules to
set out procedure and guidance to be followed by it
while performing duties and actions assigned under
the constitution. The 17th amendment, which through
which the Constitutional Council of Sri Lanka was
constituted, provided for legal action to be taken against
council members under the fundamental rights
provisions in the constitution. The supreme court,
however, upheld constitutional validity of such
impunity under the Prevention of Terrorist Act (PTA) of
1979, and allowed the judiciary to function under the
order of the attorney general and the defence minister.
During the hearing on the defence minister's
regulations on retiring commissioned officers at the age
of 55, the chief justice criticised the government's
conduct and indirectly tried to cast aspersions on the
government-LTTE ceasefire agreement. As the outcome
of the verdict on the issue was clear, on 3 November,
the ruling UNP announced its decision to place the
motion for the impeachment of the chief justice. The
motion was scheduled to be tabled in parliament on 6
November after the government parliamentary group
sources claimed that, as required by the constitution,
they already had the signatures from the required
number of parliamentarians to move the impeachment.
President Kumaratunga decided to strike back and
suspend parliament. By suspending parliament, the
president effectively stalled any impeachment proceedings against Justice Silva or herself.
On 4 November, the supreme court sent its
determination on the defence minister's proposal for
retirment of commissioned officers to the president. As
expected, the supreme court held that the president shall
exercise the executive power of the people including
the defense of Sri Lanka, and that the minister of defence
has no legal authority to amend the existing regulations
under the Army, Navy and Air Force Acts. The power
to frame regulations is vested only with the president,
said the supreme court.
'Emergencies' of convenience
On 31 October 2003, the LTTE submitted its proposals
which, among other things, calls for the establishment
of an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) which
some political commentators describe as "nothing but
a restatement of the LTTE's demand for Tamil Eelam, or
an independent Tamil state in north-east Sri Lanka".
While questions have been raised about democratic
pluralism, Article 2 of the proposals refers to the
composition of the ISGA as nominated by the LTTE and
government of Sri Lanka and members appointed by
the Muslim community in the north-east. At the same
time, the LITE proposals include control over marine
resources, which would mean access to the seas, the
power to engage external economic relations, direct
access to funds for the reconstruction of the northeast
and full administrative powers for the Tamil-majority
The LTTE proposals are ail set to test the limits of
permissibility of the right of self-determination within
one constitutional framework. On 1 November, the Sri
Lankan government said the LTTE proposals "differ in
fundamental respects" from its proposals made on 17
July 2003, which offered the LTTE a Provisional
Administrative Structure, but specifically excluded
control over land revenue, police and security. But in
an attempt to restart the process, the government said it
was "convinced that the way forward lies through
direct discussion of the issues". Given the substantive
divergence between the proposals of the government
and the LTTE, the declaration of emergency by the
president on the pretext of threat to national security
must be described as nothing but an attempt to block
the peace process.
Sri Lanka was under emergency between 1983-2001
until the UNP came to power in December 2001.
Thousands of people have suffered under the emergency regulations. Although the emergency regulations
were allowed to lapse in July 2001 due to the lack of
support in parliament, the president issued regulations
under the PTA providing that "any person w-ho had
been remanded terms of any other written law, and
has also been connected with or reasonably suspected...with any unlawful activity within the meaning
of the PTA, shall be deemed to have been remanded
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
 Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva
ADMITTED AS an advocate of the Supreme Court
of Sri Lanka in June 1967, having served as the
attorney-general as well as on the president's counsel
in 1996, Justice Sarath Nanda Silva was appointed
the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka by
President Chandrika Kumaratunga on 16 September
1999 and has since then been the sharpest
weapon in the armoury of the president
and a thorn in the flesh of the UNP.
On 3 November 2003, the UNP government decided to move an impeactiment motion against Justice Silva on the basis of a
complaint filed by nine retired judges from
the high court, district court and magistrate's court before the speaker, Joseph
Michael Perera in March 2003 to redress
their termination from the courts and victimisation by the chief justice.
The nine judges—Mahanama Thilakaratne (ex-
high court judge), HW Liyanage, (ex-district judge),
C Hegoda, (ex-district judge), DM Siriwardhana (ex-
district judge), SP Bandaranayake (ex-district judge),
DMTB Dissanayake, (ex-district judge), SW Surendran
(ex-magistrate), LC Costa (ex-magistrate) and Hiran
Ekanayake (ex-magistrate)—complained that some of
them were terminated without any inquiry and others after pseudo inquiries that served prepared agendas. Justice Silva serves as the ex-officio Chairman of
the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) which is in
charge of appointments and disciplinary control of
the district judges and magistrates and transfers of
high court judges. The judges alleged that Justice Silva was "personally instrumental in getting rid of
judges towards whom he was ill disposed as the
Attorney General or influenced by political
personalities". Some of the arbitrary acts said to have
been committed by the chief justice include issuing
circulars to judges threatening them with disciplinary action for not complying with his action on court
hearings; resorting to disciplinary action against
judges who have given judgments against the attorney general's department; taking action against judges based on complaints made to him by politicians
close to him; and victimising judges who made judicial orders that did not find favour with him.
Justice Silva allegedly plays favourites in appointments to key positions, irrespective of seniority. In
June 2001, a parliamentary opposition impeachment
motion to remove him was restrained by the supreme
court, which he heads. In August 2001,
the International Bar Association (1BA)
maintained that judges were removed by
the chief justice without enquiry. Further,
the IBA concluded that there was "an
overwhelming need for an independent
credible judicial system" in Sri Lanka, lt
detailed instances of lack of accountability, breach of natural justice and potential
for undue interference and pointed out
that institutions which should be protecting the rule of law, including the president, government and the chief justice, were acting to
undermine it.
Justice Silva also "stunned" and "shocked" global civil society including then UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers,
Param Cumaraswamy, by hearing a case against himself filed by trade unionist, Michael Anthony Fernando and later sentencing Fernando to jail for one year
in February 2003. Fernando was treated like a hardened criminal while at the National Hospital for treatment and was tortured inside the prison bus by the
jail guards while returning from hospital. Cumaraswamy said, "No one can be his/her own judge",
adding that he did not know what crime Fernando
had committed to warrant a year's imprisonment.
Fernando was later released in October 2003 for "good
In 2002, Victor Ivan's book The Unfinished Struggle
exposed extensive misconduct and abuse of authority
by Sarath Silva when he was the attorney general
and as chief justice. However, Justice Silva has
maintained a studied silence with regard to the
revelations in the book. There has been no official
denial of the allegations made in the book nor has the
author been subjected to legal action.
under the PTA". In effect, all those who were detained
under the emergency regulations were thus brought
under the PTA.
Immediately after the declaration of the state of emergency on 5 November, President Kumaratunga asked
the chairman of the government-owned media group,
Lake House, Nalin Laduwahetty to leave, making it clear
that she seeks to stifle freedom of expression and opinion.
Back in 1994, President Chandrika Kumaratunga had
established a number of committees to look into matters
relating to the media. The committees' aims included
broad-basing of the Lake House newspaper group; reform
of laws relating to the media and to media freedom;
establishing a media training institute and improving
conditions for media personnel. The reports of all these
committees were handed over to the president by
HIMAL 16/12  December 2003
the end of 1996. However, implementation of the
recommendations set out in these reports has been slow.
On 9 December 2003, the president's spokesman,
Harim Peiris said, "The president does not intend to
and will not hand over defence responsibilities to anyone... Even if she wanted to, constitutionally she cannot". The judgment of the supreme court headed by
Justice Silva on the defence minister's order on
retirement age for commissioned officers has virtually
ruled out any possibility for negotiation on matters
related to the defence ministry. Prime Minister
Wickremasinghe can neither meaningfully negotiate
with the LTTE without total control over security forces
nor can he accept Justice Silva's continuation in office
by acceding to the president's demand for withdrawal
of his impeachment motion. At the same time, President
Kumaratunga does not have the necessary support in
the parliament to ratify the emergency regulation by
the parliament within 10 days as required under Article
155 of the constitution nor can the PA form a government. Therefore, the only option before the president
would be to either back down for the sake of democracy
and peace; or dissolve parliament and call for snap
polls. As of now, despite the international community's
concerns over the fragile peace process Prime Minister
Wickremasinghe's government has virtually been
In reality, Sri Lanka is inexorably heading towards
snap polls but the all-important question remains as to
who will take the initiative. The president is unlikely to
invite further international condemnation by calling
snap polls. As she holds the constitutional authority to
sack ministers and dismiss the government at any time
one year after holding general elections on various pretexts, the prime minister may be constrained to take the
controversial decision of calling for snap polls. However, the opinion of the international community may
not influence Sri Lankan electoral politics. The right-
wing Janata Vimukti Perumuna has already urged the
president not to hand over home and defence ministries. Given such polarisation, not surprisingly, although both UNP and PA considered the holding of
snap polls on many occasions since the December 2001
general elections, neither was confident of outright victory, let alone a two third majority.
The average Sri Lankan appears to be tired of successive elections and war, having voted for a presidential election in December 1999, general elections in October 2000, another round of general elections in December 2001 and local elections in March 2002. If snap
polls are not held, Sri Lanka is unlikely to find permanent solutions either to the Tamil problem or the conflicts between the president and the prime minister. Any
devolution of power to the LTTE will require a constitutional amendment, ie, a two third majority which the
UNP does not enjoy. Justice Silva and company had
already declared cross voting unconstitutional. In any
event, President Kumaratunga would have opposed
any deal signed by the UNP government as unacceptable for being a threat to territorial integrity.
The peace process with the LTTE has undoubtedly-
been influenced by the 'War on Terror' in the post-
September 11 period and the lack of legitimacy of the
LTTE and its methods at the international level. The
LTTE has so far maintained a "judicious silence" and
has refused to play the UNP ball game by blaming the
southerners. As the southerners appear all set to fail
the north and easterners once again, the question is
whether LTTE will wait. Tliere have been credible reports
about forced conscriptions (including 80 child soldiers
in October 2003 alone) by the LTTE, indicating its
preparation for an impending war. But, neither the LTTE
nor the Sn Lankan government is keen to take the blame
for starting another war. As the LITE seeks international
legitimacy, peace will have to remain in suspended
animation at least until the expiry of the current
president's term at the end of 2005. Even if there were
no snap polls and the LTTE and Sri Lankan government
were to "talk" to each other, a final settlement with the
LTTE will remain a mirage because of the inherent
contradictions in Sri Lankan politics and a flawed
constitution and biased judiciary. £>
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2003  December 16/12  HIMAL
 An election at JNU
The elections for the students' union at Jawaharlal Nehru University pits
Hindutva against the Congress against the Marxists against the Marxists
Leninists. It is all very civilised, still, the feelings run deeper in South Delhi.
by Andrew Nash
By the time the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad
(ABVP) presidential candidate, Mukesh Kumar
Mishra, rises to speak at the 18 October debate of
the Jawaharlal Nehru University Student's Union
(JNUSU), it is already 11 pm and the candidates of the
Congress and Samajwadi (SP) parties' student wings
have had their turn. The audience, a thousand students
spilling out of a maroon tent on a patch of lawn between
two hostels, includes several hundred party backers
sitting in blocks chanting down one another or flailing
Once he starts, it quickly becomes clear that Mukesh
is not a gripping orator, even though his height gives
him a stage presence. To make matters worse for him,
students affiliated with the Communist Party of India
(Marxist) or CPI(M) launch into several rounds of jeering
as he tries to find his stride. His voice suddenly becomes
choppy; spectators see him gesture and move his mouth,
but no sound comes out of the speakers. The audio
system has failed partially, and comes back momentarily before going out completely. Election workers
scurry about to investigate and repair, and a confused
Mukesh retakes his seat on stage. The presidential
debate on hold, the audience turns its attention back on
"Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Mirth! We shall fight w-e shall win!"
shout supporters of the CPI (M) affiliated Students
Federation of India (SFt), w-ho stand face-to-face with
the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-allied ABVP. "Vande
Mataram boh, Allah se kaam nahi chalega", is their
response. The two groups straddle the median of the
tent—the SFI on the left, the ABVP on the right—while
behind them smaller groups of student activists of the
Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), (CPI-ML),
the Congress Party, Samajwadi Party, and the Indian
Justice Party heckle one another to the beat of drums.
These last two groups are new- arrivals on campus, the
first looking for a boost from SP party chief Mulayam
Singh Yadav's ascendancy to Uttar Pradesh chief
ministership on 8 September, the second a dalit party.
Both started campaigning on campus late this fall and
conventional wisdom counts them out. Outside the tent,
students mill about or head over to the nearby dhaba
for tea. Up on the stage, election workers continue to
fiddle with electrical equipment. Minutes pass.
Sunny Dutta, a JNU alumnus now working for the
ABVP national organisation, stands at the side of the
tent counselling ABVP members. The interruption in
Mukesh's speech, he claims, is no accident. Dressed in
an over-sized Chicago Blackhawks windbreaker, he
relates in his refined phrases the plot he sees in the
putative technical failure: the election committee, at the
SFI's behest, is sabotaging the ABVP presidential
candidate's speech. He knows, he says, that many
election officials are former SFI activists, and says that,
"if the debate doesn't happen, elections should be
cancelled. There should be no student union this year".
Back inside the tent, the SFUABVP shouting match grows
tenser, and someone in the ABVP camp produces a.
camcorder to record taunts. Sunny surveys the scene as
ABVP activists begin to taunt the election workers and
observes, "Violence could be possible if the debate is
not restarted".
As it happens, the situation remains under control.
Despite an aggressive streak of student activism, JNU
campaigns have remained free of the strong-arm tactics
and big money that characterise many university
elections in India. Students may shout, even push, but
violence is rare at JNU. In its early days in the 1970s, the
university was actually known for its theory-laden
debates among 'leftists' than petty hooliganism.
After a nearly two-hour interruption, the sound
system is up again. Mukesh retakes the mike and
students drift back from the dhaba at the call of his
amplified voice, which is swamped by occasional
swells of audience jeers and ABVP applause. Following
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
Mukesh is the fourth speaker, Rohit, the incumbent
student union president from SFI and the widely-
acknowledged front-runner in this year's poll. Rohit
wears a maroon kurta, the same shade as the tent, and
puts his oratorical gifts on display, sliding easily
between English and Hindi, alternating gestures of
clenched fists with pointed fingers. He wraps up at
1.20 am, and the final two candidates, from the Justice
Party and CPI-ML-backed All India Students Association
(AISA), get their turns at the mike. At two in the morning,
the election committee stops accepting audience chits
for the question-and-answer session, but the crowd
remains large and attentive despite the late hour. At 4
am, candidates are making their final remarks,
technically violating by several hours the ban on
electioneering for Sunday, the mandated cool-off day
before Monday's voting.
As students head back to their hostels in the chilly
pre-dawn, the SFI is still the party to beat, mmm,^^^^^
but it's up in the air as to which
organisation stands the best chance of
knocking it off: ASIA, the 'uncompromising' 'left'; the NSUI, the Congress
Party's student wing with a weak
organisational base at JNU but strong off-
campus support; or the ABVP, the
Hindutva ideologues who captured the
student union presidency by one vote
in 2000.
candidates, returned to the JNU campus to mingle
among Congress supporters.
29 posts are up for grabs every year in the JNU elections, four on the university-wide central panel and 25
councillor seats divided among the schools within the
university. In 2002-03, the SFI held all four central panel
seats while the councillor seats for the different schools
were shared between the SFI, AISA and ABVP, with SFI
leading in number. With five councillor seats, the School
of Social Sciences is a bastion of the left—it is often a
solid SFI panel, though in 2002-03 it gave AISA a seat -
while the science schools tend to back the ABVP. The
most hotly contested posts are those in the School of
International Studies and the School of Languages, both
of which are perceived as swing constituencies. While
the elections are technically open to students without
organisational backing, independents never receive a
large share of the vote.
_„,_,,._, In the weeks preceding the university
elections, on-campus students elect hostel
presidents and mess committees in fiercely
fought contests making use of 'masked'
party support. During the university
elections, the standard procedure of parties
is to distribute public statements at
mealtimes that announce meetings in the
Study and struggle
While the presidential debate marks the
official climax to the annual campaign,
activism and recruitment are year-round
activities for all groups at the JNU cam-    —— ^—
pus. During the two weeks of admission to college in
July-August, they set up shop at the administration
building, guiding 'freshers' through lines and building
personal connections that often lead to membership.
Once classes start, groups organise meet-and-greets
laden with ideology; in August this year, the ABVP
sponsored a trivia contest with prizes like the book
The Concept ofthe Hindu Nation. On 15 August, India's
independence day, the SFI took out a torchlight
procession to protest "imperialism" while the ABVP
hosted a "patriotic song" rally. On 7 September, in
protest against Ariel Sharon's state visit to India,
the AISA burnt an effigy of the Israeli prime minister
with a US flag emblazoned on the chest, and the
'left' united for a protest march downtown. After the
NSUI's sweep in the Delhi University (DU) student
union polls, earlier in September, in which 40,000
students cast ballots, the new cross-town office-bearers came to JNU to address an open-air gathering in
a hostel parking lot. On the night of the presidential
debate, Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) joint
secretary, Ragini Nayak, whose 15,664 vote-margin
of victory was the largest among the victorious NSUI
arm tactics and
big money that
many university
elections in India.
Despite an aggressive streak of
student activism,
JNU campaigns
have remained
free Of the StrOnQ- even'n8 "°pen to ah members and sympa-
x x. ^ thisers". The meetings, usually post-
dinner, typically last 90 minutes, and,
during the final week of the campaign,
party organisers hand out bamboo torches
to attendees as they exit, creating fire-lit
cavalcades that wind through JNU's leafy
campus in a show of organisational
—————    strength.
As is suggested by the presence of national political
parties on campus, as well as the print media attention
devoted to campaigns—the Delhi dailies carry news
on DU and JNU elections almost every day in the runup to the polls and plaster the winners on page one—
university politics in India is a gateway to mainstream
politics and by virtue of its physical proximity to the
national power centre, JNU's elections attract more than
average attention. JNU alumni's on the political scene
include Sitaram Yechuri and Prakash Karat of the CPI-
M politburo. KR Narayanan, president of India 1997 to
2002, also served as JNU's vice chancellor. Many JNU
professors have formal or informal links to mainstream
political bodies.
Even so, as elections approached this fall, a common refrain among older students and faculty members was that the 2003 campaign was a let-down from
previous years: no serious campus issue captured students' imagination, they say, and the national political
climate, barring revived agitations in Ayodhya, did not
hold much potential for mobilisation like it had in years
like 1990, when the ABVP made in-roads on campus
following VP Singh's acceptance of the Mandal Com-
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
 mission Report, or 2002, when the Gujarat carnage was
still fresh in memory.
Ballot boxing in the national ring
In one sense, student groups are just an extension of
mobilisations occurring throughout society, as well as
reflections of the fractious character of Indian politics.
The relationship between the Congress and the NSUI is
illuminating on this point, since the Congress has had
an electoral presence in virtually all parts of the country
for some period of time since 1947 and the NSUI has
served as an important feeder organisation. In August
1999, for instance, Sonia Gandhi called on students of
the NSUI to prepare for "an ideological crusade" on the
parent body's behalf. The CPI-M, in a November 2002
statement, maintained that the JNU NSUI "has pinned
its hopes on the funds of its parent body and the
patronage of the Congress state government". The
endemic divisions plaguing many Congress states units
also find parallel in the NSUI.
For its part, the ABVP shares with the RSS and VHP a
vision of itself as an oftentimes unappreciated steward
of Indian society. On its website, the ABVP declares that,
"It would not be out of place to say that only a few
people in this country appreciate the uniqueness of this
organisation or realise its distinction from other
organisation[s] or realise its distinction and understand
its contribution to the national life". Despite the "few
people" thinking this, its officially-counted ranks have
nonetheless swelled, reaching 1,029,646 in 2000-01—
the first year it stood above one million—from a
membership base of 186,674 in 1986-87 and the paltry
totals of the 50s and 60s. The ABVP also highlights its
connections to extra-curricular politics, listing on its
websites the names of 33 ABVP, RSS and BJP "martyrs"
killed by Maoists in Andhra Pradesh between 1979 and
1997, even giving accounts of the murders, such as that
of Gore Main, who "was killed by axing his limbs one
by one" The ABVP also stands by the records of the bjp
state and union governments, and highlights alumni
in positions of power, such as Murli Manohar Joshi,
the Union Human Resources Minister who served as
the ABVP All India General Secretary in the early fifties
and was recently charge-sheeted for his participation
in the Babri Masjid's demolition.
While the NSUI and ABVP act as extensions of and
recruitment bodies for the Congress and BJP, leftist
student formations, despite links to parent bodies, must
operate in a national political scene where the left carries
little weight and an international climate in which
communism is seen as being in retreat. One solution to
an inhospitable external situation is consciously linking
leftist student activities to anti-globalisation movements, which, despite encompassing non-leftist
elements, are increasingly popular among young
people globally in general, and particularly so among
students in India, home to the first-ever Asian Social
Forum in January 2003 and the scheduled host (in
Bombay) of the 2004 World Social Forum in January.
As the case of JNU shows, this tactic is somewhat
successful, though the SFI's detractors, such as a writer
in The Pioneer of Allahabad, argue that the student
group, "cast originally in the Stalinist mode, is now
finding it difficult to reconstruct itself in a less
authoritarian form". Another approach, taken by SFI
supporters and critics, is to stake the SFI's credibility
(or lack thereof) on CPl-M-led governments in West
Bengal, a somewhat odd strategy that leads students in
Delhi or Maharashtra to cast ballots on the basis of
policies of a government that runs over 1000 kilometres
away in the east. SFI backers highlight land reform and
investment in education as the policies to be proud of;
detractors note recent moves in Calcutta to sell off public
sector units and reports of cynical CPI-M vote-bank
electoral strategies.
AISA's parent body, the CP1-ML, whose legislative
presence is limited to an oppositional role in a few
eastern states of India, has never held power at the state
or union level, thus making it impervious to charges of
maladministration, but making it equally difficult to
excite potential supporters with reports of party
electoral success and prospects of career advancement
within the organisation. According to media reports '
published in the summer of 2001 referring to Indian
intelligence sources, the CPI-ML is linked to the
Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and
Organisations of South Asia, an umbrella organisation
of Naxalites including the CPI-ML People's War that
allegedly maintains contacts with Sri Lanka's Tamil
Tigers aind Nepal's Maoists. At any event, AISA supports
the rhetoric of revolution if not its (violent) practice,
and its mobilisation strategy, like the CPI-ML's, focuses
on the recruitment of disaffected communists or fellow
travellers who view the CPI-M and SFI as sell-outs. As a
consciously ideologically-loaded and doctrinaire
organisation, AISA's prospects for large-scale mobilisation rest on its ability to 'politicise' young people.
In this context, the anti-globalisation movement
presents both opportunities and pitfalls, on the one
hand providing an avenue through which to capture
young imaginations, on the other offering its ideological
rivals an opportunity to (re)assert their 'leftist'
A leader from Siwan
A month before the JNU elections, Tapas Ranjan Saha,
a CPI-ML party worker, conducts an evening information session on the differences within the Indian 'left'.
Criticising the "outright opportunism" of the CPI-M,
which has led a 'left'-front government in West Bengal
for a quarter-century, Tapas says that the true Indian
'left' movement, the CPI-ML, faces two dangers,
becoming the tail of another movement—the path of
the Social Democrats—and indulging in unsustainable
"left adventurism". The CPI-ML, he says, charts the
middle path between these two options, while the CPI-
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
M makes unacceptable compromises, such as aligning
itself with landlords. A student in the audience asks if
the Indian 'left' should set aside its differences and unite
against the forces of communalism and capitalism, and
Tapas says that while this does happen to a limited
extent in public protests, the CPI-M is too compromised
to take strong stands on economic and foreign policies.
The AISA has a smaller membership base at JNU than
the SFI—Tapas addresses an assemblage of only 60
students, not all of whom will join AISA—but its
members note Mao's dictum that a small communist
movement can be successful if it succeeds in leading
Although AISA was founded in JNU only in 1990, its
roots date to 1967, when disgruntled CPI-M members
left the party to form the CPI-ML after the newly-elected
CPI-M government of West Bengal declined to support
the peasant uprising in Naxalbari in March of tliat year.
Owing to the split that goes back 35 years, much of
AISA's ire is reserved for the SFI, the dominant 'left'
organisation on campus and student mmmmmmmmmmm
wing of the CPI-M. "The [SFI-led student]
union has allowed the ABVP to actually
get away with communal violence on
:ampus and allowed the administration
to pursue a privatisation agenda", says
Kavita Krishnan, a JNU Students Union
central panel officer from the mid-nineties who now serves as All-India AISA
president. "I don't believe in the concept
of an 'extreme left'. You're either a revo-	
lutionary or you're not".
AISA's most successful leader at JNU was
Chandrashekhar Prasad, a Bihar native who quit the
National Defence Academy to study at JNU and became
the students union vice president in 1993 and a two-
term president in the following years. According to
Kavita, Chandrashekhar-led unions took on important
fights at JNU, leading universities across Tndia against
the concerted privatisation push in 1995, partially reversing a 1983 JNU policy limiting reservations, and
leading protests against the rape of dalit women in Rajasthan and Orissa. Chandrashekhar left JNU in January
1997 to pursue CPI-ML party work back home in Siwan,
a town midway between Patna and Gorakhpur, but his
post-university party service was brief. At four in the
afternoon on 31 March 1997, according to AISA, goons
of the Rashtriya Janata Dal parliamentarian
Shahabuddin assassinated him and another ML leader
as they spoke from a three-wheeler at a Siwan
intersection. No one has ever been convicted of the
AISA has declined at JNU in recent years, losing every
central panel race since Chandrashekhar left campus,
a trend Kavita attributes to SFI's de-politicisation of the
student body. "Students are told that protesting isn't a
good idea—'you might go to jail'", she says, but there is
hope in the AISA camp that this year will be different.
"I don't believe in
the concept of an
'extreme left'.
You're either a
revolutionary or
you're not"
Early evening on election night, 20 October, several ASIA
members sit around a table near the counting station
and revisit the campaign over tea. Kavita reviews the
day and asserts that "AISA is definitely in the running",
especially its general secretary candidate, Mona Das,
who served as a councillor in the School of Social
Sciences the previous year and "is expected to be strong
because people saw her play an active role in the union".
Later that night, after preliminary totals have been
announced in the School of International Studies races,
showing an ASIA candidate likely to win a seat there,
the leadership congregates around a table while party
backers loiter inside the tent. The AISA leadership is
more laid back than that of the other groups; a cigarette
floats from the hands of presidential candidate Inteshar
Ahmad to two others at the table, while Kavita leisurely
converses about ideology, electoral calculations and
brings up personal anecdotes. Standing quietly inside
the tent are Murari, Vinay and Murtaza, students from
Bihar who appear disoriented amidst the shouting and
         carnival atmosphere of election night.
They lack the leadership's social ease.
Murari, from Dharbanga in northwest
Bihar, says that the SFI is "an elitist 'leftist'
organisation" and that he joined AISA
only in his second year at JNU after surveying the different groups on campus.
"Their struggle is not divorced from the
people's movements, for movements for
tribals and dalits", he says. Vinay and
Murtaza nod in agreement as a train of
ABVP flag-bearers march by chanting slogans. Murari adds that he met Chandrashekhar during
a visit to the JNU campus in the mid-nineties, and that
he was impressed with the AISA leader's humble
One theme of AISA's campaign was that the SFI
surrendered the student struggle by failing to fully
support student protests against privatisation of a
hostel mess and signing a compromise with the ABVP
to refrain from violence following a confrontation
provoked by the visit of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader
Ashok Singhal on campus in August 2002. Mirroring
the schism of their parent parties, AISA castigates the
SFI's "culture of compromise". "People say that when
they vote for us they split the 'left' vote and help the
ABVP to win", says Arvind, an AISA backer and
American studies student. "But our battle is against
both opportunism and communal fascism. We don't
Comrades on campus
The other, larger communist force on campus, AISF-SFI,
an alliance between the CPI's smaller All India Students
Federation (AISF) and the SFI, sees things differently.
"Every year AISA creates the impression that they'll
sweep, and every year it doesn't happen", Ena Panda,
the outgoing union general secretary and the 2003 SFI
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
candidate for vice president, says on election night
while battling illness and exhaustion. "In 2000, when
the ABVP presidential candidate won by one vote, AISA
helped them out". The following year, the SFI bounced
backed, garnering 54 percent of the vote in a four-party
presidential election, though its vote share dropped to
44 percent in 2002. (The AISA's shares in the presidential
elections of 2001 and 2002 were 8 and 13 percent,
On Thursday, 9 October, the SFI hosts its first of three
general body meetings for the upcoming elections.
Students trickle in slowly, and some comrades at a
central table pass the time by singing songs ridiculing
the Shiv Sena, but only about 20 students seem to know
the words. After opening remarks from SFI organisers,
.Albeena Shakeel, the highest-ever vote-getter in a JNU
presidential election takes the stage. The speech is well
delivered and wide-ranging, canvassing the SFl's work
on campus, the national political scene, the upcoming
Delhi state polls, and the situation in West Asia.
Wearing glasses and a pink salwar kameez, .Albeena
stands to the side of the central table, gesturing with
her right hand to emphasise points. She criticises the
Congress for its "soft communalism" and the BJP for
saffronisation of education, and praises the student
body for its commitment to progressive politics. "The
ABVP doesn't take political positions at JNU", she
declares. "Why? They don't have the guts to". The
audience continues to swell during her speech until it
reaches' the room's 300-person capacity, but the only
disruptions are the occasional mobile phone ring and
the roar of planes approaching the Indira Gandhi
International .Airport. Albeena concludes by noting that
the Sangh Parivar is weak on campus, but that the
university community is still under threat from it. "The
RSS realised that it can't win through elections here.
Now they have a new agenda: to close JNU". After
Albeena finishes, another former JNUSU president
speaks, following which the room fills with choruses
of "Ial salaam" as candidates appear at the room's front
and then lead the assembled to the exits.
Eight days later, the SFI hosts its third pre-election
meeting; CPI-M politburo member Sitaram Yechuri and
left activist Sahiba Farooqui speak, and more women
fill out the 350-person audience than on previous nights.
One purpose of the high profile guest speakers is to
draw in listeners who might otherwise fail to hear
student candidates speak, and so before Yechuri and
Farooqui make their addresses, general secretary
candidate B Mahesh Sarma attempts to make himself
known. He criticises the NDA government's economic
policies and the predictions of a 7 percent economic
growth in 2003 floated in newspapers in the preceding
days—"growth is happening, but it's in an enclave. 80
percent of people are unaffected"—and pivots his feet
back and forth, opening his body to all sides of the U-
shaped audience. Mahesh hits the standard SFI talking
points, privatisation and communalism, but his
delivery style is awkward; he lacks Rohit's easy stage
presence or Kavita's conversational range.
The SFI claims by far the largest membership total at
JNU—1031 this year out of a student body of less than
five thousand—but it also receives criticism that it
mobilises students, particularly Bengalis, along ethnic
lines, and that many of its voters care less about its
ideology than about supporting a winning party. Before
the 17 October SFI meeting, a group of prospective SFI
female voters sit on a retaining wall outside the hostel
cafeteria discussing university politics. "We Bengalis
are clannish in our ways", one says. "It's nice to .have
someone we know in charge". Another ventures that
about 60 percent of SFI's voters at JNU don't fully share
the organisation's ideological positions, but this is an
off-hand estimate. Still, she adds, "ideology is just an
excuse, just a banner people run under". For its part,
AISA notes that three former SFI-JNUSU presidents from
the 1990s have left the CPI-M to join the Congress,
tibandoning the cause of the 'left'.
Regardless of why JNU students vote for the SFI, the
fact remains that many consistently do, and that, at
least in its public statements, SFI consistently takes a
vocal stance on anti-imperialist, privatisation and
communal themes. SFI voters know that they are voting
for a communist formation, notwithstanding AISA's
contentions about SFI making compromises. In the last
year, in addition to leading protests against Singhal's
visit tand the US war in Iraq, the SFI-led union sponsored
speeches by leading 'left' intellectuals and documentary
screenings on topics ranging from aAyodhya and
Palestine to the WTO negotiations. At a time when the
left presence at university campuses throughout India
is relatively weak, that JNU students have voted in SFI-
led student unions for most of the university's 30-plus
elections indicates that the JNU student body is either
disproportionately left-leaning relative to the national
Indian electorate, or that the JNU unit of the SFI is
uniquely capable in mobilising swing voters—or
perhaps both. As a disgruntled .^BVP supporter notes,
"JNU is a leftist school. After Kerala and West Bengal,.
it's a qila (fort) of the left".
Parivar matters
On election day, the maroon tent from the presidential
debate reappears on the School of International Studies
lawn. In the evening, inside the building, the election
committee counts votes while, outside, close to 1000
students gather after hostel messes close at nine to feast
on snacks from 'transplanted' dhabas. They congregate
as ABVP, AISA, SFI and NSUI supporters. Election results
will be released in stages over the next 24 hours, and
even though voting is over, cadre are still leading rounds
of chants, and ABVP supporters wind their way through
the tent waving saffron flags.
As on the night of the presidential debate, the ABVP
takes up position on the tent's far-right, and Sunny Dutta
is back to direct activities. He speculates that fewer
HIMAL  16/12  December 2003
students showed up for polling today than in previous
elections, which he takes as a positive sign. "Whenever
there's a low turn-out, the ABVP does well", he says.
According to Sunny, younger students tend to vote
ABVP, while the 'left' polls better among MPhil and PhD
students. Inside the tent, some of Sunny's young voters
hang out, playing with flags or huddling against the
October chill.
Sunil, from Balia, UP, predicts that the SFI will win,
"but I hope that the ABVP does well". When asked for
comment, Shubonil, an SFI organiser, agrees with the
likelihood of a Rohit victory, but offers a different spin
than Sunny's on the ABVP's electoral calculations. "The
ABVP is weak this year but they have a strong core.
Their voters won't leave them, at most they just won't
It was in 1989, the year the BJP won 89 seats in the
lower house of the Indian parliament (Lok Sabha), the
the ABVP opened shop at JNU. Throughout the 90s, the
BJP increased its national political presence and the
ABVP enjoyed similar success at JNU, claiming three of
the top four posts in the 1996 student elections and, for
the first time, the presidency in 2000. "The _mmmmm_
Ayodhya events of 1992 had a tremendous
effect on campus", says Sunny, who was
then a student in the history centre. "The
growth of the ABVP at JNU was linked to
it". Since its presidential victory three
According to
Sunny, younger
students tend to
unified block. .Vloreover, the SFI is actually a front
organisation of the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence unit,
which has infiltrated JNU.
Attendance at the Karyakarta Sammelan (unlike other
groups, the ABVP avoids saying 'General Body
Meeting'), which begins an hour late, hovers around
only 100, despite membership claims by ABVP leaders
of ten times that number. While ABVP campaign
literature is attack-oriented, the meeting's speakers focus
instead on the Hindutva message and the upcoming
elections. Yet, despite having finished second in polling
the previous year, the leadership does not appear
hopeful. "It doesn't matter if we win or lose—it's up to
god—but if we win, you win", declares Gautam
Chakrabarti, the joint secretary candidate.
The Kan/akarta Sammelan, like other student
meetings, is predominantly male in attendance, though
it differs in other respects. Speakers focus less on
national politics than on national 'cultural' questions.
"Hmdutva's time has not come for a millennium, but
now it will run rampant, it will triumph", predicts the
body-building general secretary candidate Ramesh
^^^^^^^ Babu K. Barring presidential candidate
Mukesh, the speakers are strong orators,
their crisp, confident language matched
by athletic swagger, in contrast to the
pensiveness of many in the AISA and the
mechanised excitement of the NSUI. The
years ago, however, the ABVP has lost     VOte ABVP   While     audience is quiet, if attentive, refraining
momentum, losing all university-wide
elections and witnessing a drop in its
presidential vote to 32 percent in 2001 and
26 percent in 2002.
On the backfoot, the ABVP launched
its 2003 campaign at JNU by releasing a
series   of  pamphlets   attacking   "the    	
chameleon called the Indian left" for what it says is the
communists' failure to recognise the essential unity of
India. Its 14 October release, which announced a public
meeting that evening, concludes:
"It is time for us to be aware of these "Paki Marxists
and Paki Agents". If we really have to save India from
the ISI we have to first finish off these 'Paki Agents'
who are the internal terrorists of our country...Time
has come for us to understand this nefarious design of
the so called progressive Marxist in India in the garb of
secularism... in reality what they preach, practice and
sell is nothing but promoting the process of India's
disintegration and pan-Islamisation through their
Anti-National Politics".
Due to a delay in gettmg access to the women's hostel
mess where the 14 October meeting is scheduled, Sunny,
who says he authored this pamphlet, has to wait at the
hostel's gate along with 20 other ABVP backers until
security says the meeting can begin. During the wait,
he discusses the AISA-SFI fight, calling it a ruse; the
'left' leadership is unified, he says, and it always issues
a "fatwa" at the last minute to corral the cadre into a
the 'left' polls
better among
MPhil and PhD
from the chanting that characterises other parties' meetings. The audience does
not raise questions or cheer at the announcement of candidates' names. Dialogue from a Hindi serial in a neighbouring room drifts in, and behind the speak-
  ers sits an inattentive security guard looking disinterestedly into the night. At the Karyakarta
Sammelan's conclusion, despite a call for the audience
to assemble outside for a torchlight parade, attendees
drift off to a dhaba or head back to their hostels, even as
shouting from an AISA procession can be heard in the
When making hostel visits to shore up support,
Mukesh predicts a major victory in the Monday poll—
1200 votes for his campaign, 25 more than Rohit's total
from the previous year. Mukesh says that the ,\BVP has
performed poorly since its narrow 2000 presidential
victory because of "leftist organisations' propaganda
and polarisation", but that this year will be different.
Along with him is Ramesh, who recently returned from
Israel where he inspected the new West Bank security
wall. A similar barrier on India's western border may
be necessary, he says.
If it is true that some students vote for the SFI because
it is perceived as the inevitable victor, some students
back the ABVP just to protest the SFI. On election night,
Rajnish, a Patna native studying Japanese, shrugs his
shoulders and laughs when asked about his vote. "I
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
have no option. I don't like the 'left', so I support the
ABVP". Samir, a friend of Rajnish's from Bhagalpur,
huddles in a wool shawl and laments what he expects
will be an ABVP defeat. "We've been unable to convince
the girls on campus to vote for us. Most of them are from
West Bengal and vote for the SFI".
'We're here to study'
Between the close of polls at five o'clock on election day
and the post-dinner rallies, the maroon tent is nearly-
empty. Candidates steal a few hours of sleep before the
all-nighter or meet in private to make assessments. A
few party organisers, including "Ravita and Sunny, si\
with groups of a half-dozen cadre as dhaba workers
unpack trays of food between the tent and the counters'
The NSUI has taken up position on the far left tonight
in the tent, leaving AISA and SFI squeezed together in
the middle. At 8.30 pm, no JNU students are on hand at
the NSUI table, but a few national body representatives
and Delhi University joint secretary Pankaj Kochar are
sitting behind the table. Pankaj, who won his seat by
an impressive 6,748 votes, slouches in a folding chair
and says he does not want to discuss JNU politics. He
came out tonight, he says, "to enjoy the election", but
his insights are limited to predicting a resounding NSUI
victory; his attendance appears required. Facing Pankaj
in another chair is Kuntal Krishna, the NSUI national
spokesperson, who is eager to talk, though he sticks to
platitudes about progressivism and secularism, offering
a circular analysis on the elections.
"Why should JNU students elect Prem Chand
"Because Prem Chand is the NSUI unit president".
"But why should students support him?"
"Because he represents the ideology of NSUI".
Kuntal, whose maternal grandfather was a Congress
minister in Bihar in the seventies, dismisses charges
from critics that the organisation has no guiding
ideology and slips back into a discussion of progressivism, which he says is "not indulging in antisocial activities, like terrorism". Behind Kuntal,
Avantika Makan, national general secretary of NSUI and
daughter of Delhi State Transport Minister Ajay Makan,
concludes a mobile phone call, and the three of them
briefly elaborate on NSUI's national activities. Avantika
mentions a recent visit she made to Cotton College in
Guwahati, and Krishna says that he has just returned
from Allahabad University, where students voted in
favour of the NSUI. All three say they plan to run for
office as Congress candidates after completing their
studies, and Pankaj casually mentions that he will stand
for the DUSU presidency in 2004. Where will they be in
twenty years? Kuntal and Avantika suggest perhaps
the Lok Sabha; Pankaj goes as far as to suggest prime
The NSUI has not won a councillor or central panel
seat in a JNU election for a dozen vears, and it lacks the
organisational base on campus of the three other major
groups. But is has a stronger national organisation—
NSUI student unions are in power in several universities
in the states and since many JNU students previously
studied at Delhi University in the north of the city, the
NSUI's rout of the ABVP there is expected to bolster the
organisation's profile here in the south Delhi campus.
Also, political heavy-weights like Delhi Chief Minister
Sheila Dikshit visited campus the Thursday before the
election to rally support for the NSUI.
While the ABVP and 'left' groups rely, respectively,
on rhetoric about "Paki Marxism" and "communal
fosCiSTn", iY\e NSUI paints itself as a clean-cut organisation eschewing extremism. Printed political art is
banned at JNU, so groups produce gigantic hand-made
creations; in the Teflas canteen, an ABVP placard
denounces the rape of women in CFS-M-ruled West
Bengal, while next to it a colourful AISA design shows
a female figure in cubic repose above the World Social
Forum motto "Another World is Possible". At the front
of the canteen, on a wall visible from the student union
door, is a poster with one of NSUI's central messages:
"We are here to study, not to fight". On it, gangs of
ABVP and SFI students square off with lathis (cane sticks),
while below NSUI supporters sit on the ground clutching
their heads.
Praveen Kumar Nayak, an NSUI councillor candidate
in the School of Social Sciences, from Chattisgarh,
epitomises the conscientious image his group tries to
project. A first-year student from a Congress family, on
election night he stands at the back left of the tent,
shaking hands with supporters and conferring with
other NSUI candidates. He has a businesslike air slightly
incongruent with the night's blend of festivity and
combativeness, his starched collared shift tucked neatly
into pressed khaki pants, a Nokia mobile phone in his
left hand put to use every few minutes for short, punchy
conversations. "The NSUI has challenged the SFI, and
now they're mentally threatened by us", Praveen says,
but he's also mindful that weakening the SFI could help
other rival parties. "Inteshar and Mona have worked
hard", he concedes, referring to AISA's presidential and
general secretary candidates. Ashik, a soft-spoken NSUI
backer from Kerala, is more direct than Praveen. "SFI
will win", he shrugs.
Prem Chand, NSUI's presidential candidate, sits
cross-legged at the centre of two dozen supporters,
slouched over in a shawl and chatting with a fellow
candidate as the cadre chant about a predicted victory.
The campaign is over now, and Prem is trying to manage
expectations. "I didn't perform well in my [presidential
debatel speech", he says. "The AISA and Samajwadi
Party candidates' speeches were issue-related and
ideological. I'm not a strong orator". In the next NSUI
circle sits Batti Lai Bairwa, one of the former SFI-JNUSU
presidents who joined the Congress. Batti, who hails
from a dalit family in Rajasthan, says he grew
disillusioned with the CPI-M because of its limited reach
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
throughout the country. "The Congress fights against
saffronisation. The CPI-M talks about fighting saffroni-
sation, but it can't fight it outside of three states".
A new day
At nine on Tuesday morning, sixteen hours after voting
ended, the crowd has dispersed and Kavita and Sunny
are reviewing the polling information thus far released
at their respective tables. Behind them, a few dozen
students wrapped in blankets sleep on the ground
amidst a sea of tattered campaign fliers. There is no
news yet of results from the central panel, but the
councillor seat picture is coming into focus: SFI held
three seats in the School of International Studies, the
remaining two going to AISA and NSUI, and the School
of Languages delivered all four of its seats to SFI. At 60
percent, voter turnout is within a percentage point of
last year's.
Tuesday morning is partially occupied by the fallout
from a late-night confrontation between    ,^______„
SFI and NSUI supporters. Jayant, a first-
year student with no ties to JNU's political
formations, says that SFI and NSUI supporters hoisting flags pushed into each
other during a shouting match around
two-thirty, and the shoving led to a few
punches being thrown; a female student
left with a black eye. Jayant, who had been
excited about the election, says that next
year he won't vote, as "these groups aren't
interested in ideology, they're interested
in money and power". On Wednesday,
22 October, Madhumita Chakraborty, the
NSUI unit convener, calls on members at a
public meeting to "support the organisation" in the event that sexual harassment
charges stemming from the incident are
filled against NSUI rank-and-file. At
week's end, the ABVP capitalises on the
incident, declaring in a public release that, "the SFI
determinedly upheld their legacy of lumpenism and
grappled with the NSUI with all its ferocity".
By five in the evening, although the vote total has
not been finalised, the electoral trends are clear: Rohit,
Ena and Murtaza Ali Athar, three SFI candidates for
the central panel, are safely ahead, and the AISA general
secretary candidate Mona Das will claim a seat in the
next union. But the losers are not inconsolable. Prem
Chand, the defeated Congress presidential candidate,
stands on the NSUI table, rallying a group of supporters
to the cry "March on Prem Chand!" and Ashok Sharma,
the ABVP's spokesperson, says that this year's returns
put his party in a strong position for 2004. "Next year
we'll sweep the polls", he predicts. "There will be a
divide in the 'left' and we'll sweep in. Mona Das' victory
will help us out".
The returns hold mixed lessons for each of the
parties. The SFI is satisfied that it maintained power,
Will Hindutva
acquire staying
power at what is
India's most left-
Will the national
political scene
and mainstream
culture seep into
this insulated
taking 16 councillor seats on top of its central panel
majority, but, as a post-election statement puts it, "it
will be our effort in the coming times to rectify our
shortcomings and live up to the expectations of the
student community". AISA perhaps gained the most,
winning a central panel seat and two councillorships
with its small base. However, other than Mona, its
central panel candidates failed poorly. For the NSUI, it
is disappointing to have claimed only one councillor
seat, but the organisation's vote total gained significantly, finishing second in presidential polling after
garnering only 8 percent in 2002. The ABVP, which saw
its share of the central panel vote continue to drop,
perhaps fared worst in the elections, but at least it can
take solace in its grip on the 'safe' councillor seats in
schools where the SFI presence is weak or absent.
The Friday after the elections, Diwali eve, Sunny
Dutta, dressed in jeans and a black leather jacket, is
back on campus to meet with ABVP students. The ABVP
made a disappointing showing in the
elections, he says, because of internal
problems in the campus unit—a group of
dissidents felt alienated and failed to
bring out the vote. He praises Mona Das
for her well-run campaign, and, appearing to change his opinion on covert left
collusion, says that the message from this
year's election is that students vote for
people, not parties, hence why AISA's
vote-take on the central panel ranged from
291 to 1064. He says that he will spend
the next six months dividing his time
between revitalising the JNU ABVP unit,
building up the BJP's World Youth
Council Against Terrorism, and organising non-political programmes with
embassies in Delhi.
Praveen Nayak, the NSUI councillor
" candidate, is likewise optimistic about
next year despite having polled only 127 votes this time
around. "People at JNU have accepted that NSUI is an
alternative to the extreme left and right", he says, and
notes that a fellow NSUI councillor candidate in the
School of Social Sciences lost by only 11 votes. "We
weren't strong before the elections, but now we are".
Members of all parties note that Lok Sabha elections
will occur next year, and look forward to the coat-tail
effects of a successful campaign by their parent bodies.
Intuitively, the ABVP and NSUI stand the most to gain,
as neither the CPI-M nor the CPI-ML are likely to play a
determining role in the 2004 national elections. If the
ABVP recaptures the JNU presidential post after a four-
year drought, it . If the NSUI wins, it would suggest
that the national political scene characterised by a BJP-
Congress divide has finally seeped into this insulated
university. t>
2003 December 16/12 HIMAL
 Words struggling to break the shackle
If they snatch my ink and pen,
I should not complain,
For I have dipped my fingers
In the blood of my heart.
I should not complain
Even if they seal my tongue,
For every ring of my chain
Is a tongue ready to speak.
—Faiz Ahmad Faiz (translated by Azfar Hussain)
Kabuli voice
In Kabul, people have started talking. There are not just
cursing the Taliban. Many of them are also loudly complaining about how bad things are in their locality, their
city, their country. Afghans have begun to ask: why are
the Americans hitting their children in bombardments.
Sometimes eloquence can be a pose to hide one's fears
and frustrations. More often, however, it reflects the
warmth of confidence, which is what in the end melts
the icy block of silence and un-democracy. For millennia, the image of normality in any human society has
remained the same—people talking. And boy, are they
talking across South Asia!
Bellicose army
Pakistanis are talking too, but more about the future
than the glory, suffering, or the shame—real or imagined—of the past. The authoritarian regime of General
Musharraf seems to have realised that unless it can
deliver something dramatic—peace on the eastern front,
development in the western region or social harmony
in the south—its days are numbered, verdict of the
rigged referendum (98 percent voters granting a five-
year term to a self-appointed 'president' generalissimo)
and the highly contentious provisions of the Legal
Framework Order (LFO) notwithstanding.
Post-9/11, Pakistanis know that their sovereignty
is not unconditional. Even an impressive arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles has little meaning if it is
not backed by popular support. Subservience to the generals of CentCom is the price that the defense forces of
Pakistan pay for their bellicosity at home, where they
prosecute people on such flimsy grounds as "causing
humiliation to the country's armed forces". However,
when the 'authorities' harass an Amir Mir for his views,
voices in his defence are not intimidated by the prospect
of retaliatory prosecution anymore.
The words of the Pakistani voices are not unidirectional. While running down India is still the main
theme of the official discourse, even the chattering
classes of Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore have begun
to ask themselves: why is that Pakistan is one of the
only two nations outside of sub-Saharan Africa—the
other being Nepal—placed at the bottom rung of the
Human Development Index? That one question will
probably do what constitutionally proscribing military
coups has failed to achieve: challenge the legitimacy of
ambitious generals who undermine civil regimes,
overthrow them on the slightest pretext, and then rule
as if they were a breed apart from all others. The defense
forces of Pakistan have lorded over the country for much
of its history, but what the generals have to show for it
is not very inspiring—dismemberment, backwardness,
underdevelopment, and disillusionment of a nation of
limitless potential.
Tibetan silence
On the other side of Himalaya, native Tibetans have
not yet started talking. Silence is still the medium of
their protest. The ones in exile do speak, but over the
decades, they have developed their own stakes that are
somewhat different from what Tibetans living in Tibet
want for themselves. It is doubtful that what Richard
Gere says is indeed in the larger interest of the Tibetan
people. After years of suffering and struggle, HH Dalai
Lama appears to have realised that the trail from
Dharamshala to Lhasa passes through Beijing.
Sooner than later, the mandarins in Beijing are going
to realise that their interests and the desire of His Holiness have begun to converge. The temporal ambitions
of the post-communist regime in China and the material
aspirations of entrepreneurial Tibetans of a new generation are not all that different—both of them perhaps
wish to see Indo-Chinese trade grow manifold from the
USD 7 billion annually at present and to be able to cash
in on it. Re-establishment of the primacy of the Potala
Palace in Tibet is sure to be mutually beneficial. It will
not be very surprising if the railwav brings optimism,
along with goods and services. For now, all we hear
from the activists are the fears of further Han-isation of
Tibet, which is doubtless also true. But for Tibetans to
begin to take charge of their own affairs—and stand up
to the Han influx—Tibetans have to find their own voice
and stop depending upon the noise created by western
dharma lobbies and others with their own axes to grind
against the Chinese.
Aung San
In Burma, renamed Myanmar by its superstitious generals, words remain in chains. But that will change too.
How long can Rangoon continue to resist the pressure
of world opinion and yet hope to engage in trade, get
aid, and wish that the portion of the Asian Highway
passing through its territory be built? Sanctions upon
the military regime did not work, constructive engagement—with appropriate carrots and sticks—probably
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
 will. The military rulers of Burma cannot keep Aung
San in endless custody.
The morality police continue to prowl the streets of Dhaka, where Bangladeshi authorities once again banned
celebrity-author Taslima Nasreen. Earlier, she survived
the fatwa, a price on her head, and death threats, for
Lajja—a powerful story indifferently told. Nasreen is
sure to survive the present pillorying as well, but why
is a society as tolerant as that of the Bengalis fearful of
a book as pedestrian as Dwikhandita is said to be? A
critic described the book as "a good casual read, but
not literature", but even that did not deter the leftist
government of West Bengal from banning it in that state
too. The author must surely welcome the free publicity.
I read Lajja in Nepali translation; perhaps the ban and
consequent controversy will inspire the same translator to work on Dwikhandita too? Repressed voices have
their own ways of sneaking out and spreading.
Train to Bihar
Parochial Asamiyas attacked Bihari migrants in the
Indian Northeast and opened the wounds of the Nellie
massacre of 1983. The shock troops of Laloo did not
exactly cover themselves in glory either when in
retaliation they attacked hapless Assamese passengers
in trains passing through Bihar. The inability to express
oneself verbally is perhaps one of the factors that drives
societies to violence. Violence can only be countered by
voices, not more violence.
The accursed state of Bihar was also the stage of a
tragic act of silencing. Satyendra Dubey, a 31-year civil
engineer working with the Golden Quadrangle Highway,
a pet project of Atal Behari Vajpayee, was killed because
he had dared to write to the prime minister to demand
that the rampant corruption in the National Highway
Authority project be investigated. Dubey had made the
specific request that his name be kept secret, but people
in the office of the prime minister made sure that it was
exposed. T mourn the death of Satyendra (the deity- of
truth) Dubey, and am impressed by the iron resolve of his
father, who says that all he wants is justice, not
compensation for the death of his truth-seeking son.
Hopefully, the spirit of Satyendra will continue to harass
the conscience of the comfortable classes of India even as
his father seeks justice. Voices of truth have an uncanny
habit of rising over the artificial din of falsehood.
Amma with cape
In Madras, which is now Chennai, loyal acolytes of the
Lady with Several Cupboards-Full of Silk Saris and
Fancy Shoes struck again, when the Tamil Nadu Assembly exercised its privilege to prosecute and punish
journalists. To send an unmistakable message that no
one was above the whims of the Amma in Cape, the
Tamil Nadu assembly chose to tackle the most respected of them all—The Hindu group. Happily, the boomer
ang has been even more powerful. In the wake of the
Tamil Nadu state assembly versus The Hindu controversy, the press, the intelligentsia, and society at large
seem to have come to a common conclusion, which is
that whenever there is a conflict between the powers of
the state (legislature, executive and the judiciary) and
the fundamental rights of citizens, the latter must
Kathmandu's democracy
In Nepal, voices of reason continue to languish on the
margins while the fight between the extremism of the
left and the right occupy centre stage. Stung by criticism, the extra-legal regime presently ruling from the
Singha Darbar secretariat has sought to retaliate with
an insidious campaign against democratic politics and
independent press. However, challenges before the
military-backed non-representative regime appointed
by the king are hardly slight. Over a decade of raucous
democracy in the country has instilled a culture of
asking questions. Even when no answers are presently
forthcoming, the powers that would ignore the barrage
of enquiry do it at their own peril.
Lankan general
It is the persistent questioning of the general population that has stopped President Chandrika Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka from completely derailing the peace
process initiated by her Prime Minister Rami Wickremesinghe. President Kumaratunga was snubbed by the
international community, too, when her international
affairs advisor, Lakshman Kadirgamar, lost the race
for the post of Secretary General of Commonwealth to
current incumbent Don McKinnon of New Zealand.
The questioning has become so persistent that even the
army chief of Sri Lanka was forced to admit the
inevitability of the peace process. "There was
temporary suspension of the peace talks. They will
resume as soon as a consensus is reached between the
Sri Lankan president and the prime minister",
Lieutenant General P L Balagalle reportedly proclaimed
in Srinagar while on a visit to Kashmir. People's voices
find expression in the strangest of places.
SAARC and freedom
When the heads (of state or government) of SAARC
member states gather for a summit in Islamabad in the
first week of January 2004, there is one decision they
must take—they must vow to break the chains that
shackle the voices of protest in their respective countries. In fact, they can go a little further than that and
declare collectively that all South Asians are free to
speak for and against any issue that involves one, several, or all the countries of the Subcontinent. But, you
ask, would that not be asking a bit too much of a collective that is made up of presidents Kumaratunga and
Musharraf, and prime ministers Thapa, Zia and Vajpayee? Perhaps. ^
2003  December  16/12  HIMAL
How do you confront a century]
CJ~ here's a funny thing about naming empires. There
^ was the Roman Empire, the British Empire, the
French Empire, even the Belgians had an empire. Those
are the kinds of empires that we've grown up with.
They are empires which identify a people and a place
as the carriers of that empire.
Yet people seldom, today, refer to the US Empire.
The US doesn't like to refer to itself this way. In 1941,
Henry Luce wrote his famous essay in Life magazine
about the American Century. Sixty years later, the Project
for a New American Century (PNAC) advocates what it
calls "American global leadership". The PNAC brings
together the likes of Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and
other key members of the Bush administration. They
claim the next hundred years are 'ours'.
They're claiming not a place, but every place, for the
next hundred years. So, the US empire is both
intrinsically global and not actually, necessarily, about
occupying territory per se. The implication, of course,
is that whether you want it or not, you're all within the
boundaries of the American Empire, whether you are
in Pakistan or Botswana. Because you are all living in
the Twentieth Century and now the Twenty-first
Century. How do you confront a century?
Empire is not just about geography and history, it's
about a'relationship. Too often, we use a lazy notion of
empire. We think of Roman legions, British ships,
American troops chasing up and down. The important
aspect about the imperial relationship are those who
are willing to collaborate with empire. There are not
just economic dependencies, but social and cultural
In analysing 19lh century British novels, the late
Edward Said pointed out that underneath all the
politeness of society, there is this substructure of
domination and exploitation at work. Said reminds us
to pay attention to what's there, but not spelt out. This
is the architecture of the building. Don't just look at the
interior decor.
Now the Bush administration has embraced
imperialism as a policy. This is not a matter of any
debate or dispute. If you read their most recent imperial
edict, it's called the National Security Strategy of the
United States, September, 2002 . ft starts out by saying,
"The United States possesses unprecedented and
unequaled strength and influence in the world".
Unprecedented and unequal. Strength and influence,
lt draws distinctions between these things that are
important. In other words, we are capable of being
Second, this is a time of opportunity for America. In
other words, the US government plans to use its
strength and influence to extend imperial control, The
third part is the classic imperial rationale. The aim of
this strategy, it says, is to help make the world not just
safer but better. We're going to make the whole world
better. How can you argue with that?
What do you say? But all empire builders make the
same spurious claim.
Many of the people who are in power in the George
W Bush administration, were also there in the first
President Bush's administration. They produced in
1992 this infamous document called Defense Planning
Guidance 1992 . It was written for Cheney by Wolfowitz
and others at the end of the Cold War to say, OK, we
won. What do we do now?
Our first objective, it says, is to prevent the re-
emergence of a new rival either on the territory of the
former Soviet Union or elsewhere. The strategy requires
, that we endeavour to prevent any hostile power from
dominating a region. Cheney and friends are not just
talking about dominating the world, they're saying
we're not even going to let any power arise that can
dominate a region of the world, especially a region whose
resources would, under consolidated control, be
sufficient to generate global power. In other words, the
route to power is through control of the resources that
are in regions. We will not let any power gain control
over those resources, even in their own region.
But there are inconsistencies, of course, because in
the pursuit of empire, of political collaboration rather
than just brute force, you have to work with the people
who are in charge in all these other countries. Power
often only recognises power. So what does the US do? It
says, well, who's the most powerful institution in these
countries? It's usually the military. What does the
military want? More guns. So, we'll sell them some.
Then the military will be our friends and that's the end
of that. They won't want to fight us because we sell
them guns.
So it should come as no surprise that consistently
now, for over a decade, the US has been overwhelmingly
the largest global supplier of weapons to the world. As
a single state it is now responsible for over 45 percent of
all the arms sales in the world. That leaves the other
192 countries in the world making up the rest. Now,
you'd think selling weapons when you're trying to rule
the world was a bad idea. But, empire has contradictions. You want to work with institutions that
are powerful, you want a currency that you can deal
with them in and so then you sell them guns. Sometimes
those guns are turned against you, and you're stuck.
Since the US has more weapons, it presumes it will
-Zia Mian
HIMAL 16/12 December 2003
^ Bolivia Colombia Haiti Peru Venezuela
dfe Georgia Kosovo Russia Spain Turkey United Kingdom Greece
efe Afghanistan Bangladesh Burma Cambodia China East Timor India - Pakistan Sri Lanka Indonesia Kyrgyz Republic Nepal
North Korea Philipines Solomon Islands Uzbekistan
6B Iran Iraq Israel Jordort Kuwait Lebanon Yemen
efe Algeria Tunisia Angola Burundi Central African Republic
Chad Congo Democratic Republic of Congo Ghana Guinea Ivory Coast Kenya Liberia Nigeria Senegal Somalia South Africa
Sudan Uganda Zimbabwe
Warm Wishes?
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: itmrnmiin
ivr tr
Size: 6.15-134PR
Uses: Carfiaxi
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Uses: BusfTraJcfc.
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Uses: Bys.TrucK
Size: 9.00-20-16PR
Size: 6.5D-16-8PR
Uses: Mini Bus/Jeep
Marketing Office:
P.O.Box No.:1700, KalimatL Kathmandu
Tel: 4274537,4271102, 4276274
Plants Head Office:
Majuwa, Deurali. Gorkha. Nepal.
Tel: 065-540079
Fax: 00977-65-540080


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