Digital Himalaya Journals

Himal South Asian Volume 16, Number 11, November 2003 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2003-11

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 OUTH        ASIAN
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<>   <>
 Vol 16 No 11
November 2003
in Nepal
Sri Lanka: Playing to the Sinhala
by Jehan Perera
Softening the Line of Control
by Luv Puri
River Linking: Victimising rivers of
the South
by Sudhirendar Sharma
River Linking: Riparian
by Mrinmoy Bhuyan
WTO World Village
by Pankaj Sheksaria
The relentless tragedy of Ritwik
by Partha Chatterjee
Judging Film South Asia
by Lubna Marium
Jury out on the jury
by Nupur Basu
Goodbye documentary, hello
by Manesh Shrestha
Flogging the dying horse of
agricultural research
by Devinder Sharma
Dumbing down the Maldivian Atolls
by Michael O'Shea and Fareesha
Pakistan: The foundation of economic growth
by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Militarisation and democratic rule in
by Hari Roka
Nepal: Crisis beyond legality
by Yash Ghai
ELSEWHERE                                 68
On the road with the FARC
by Steven Dudley
cm ITUACIACDUCDC           7
Nepal: Trading off a jewel
by Santa B Pun
Introducing wiih this issue:
lastlastpagc (just as no WMDs
were found in Iraq...)
 Contributors to this issue
editors @
Kanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
Thomas J Mathew
Contributing Editors
Calcutta Rajashri Dasgupta
Colombo Manik de Silva
dhaka Afsan Chowdhury
Karachi Beena Sarwar
new deuhi Mitu Varma
n. America Amitava Kumar
Editorial Assistant
Joe Thomas K
Design Team
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Kam Singh Chepang
Suresh Neupane
Bilash Rai (Graphics)
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Himal was a Himalayan y'i
1987 toMarch of 1996. wht
a South Asian magazine.
Aasim Sajjad Akhtar is a Rawalpindi activist involved with people's movements.
CK Lai is a Kathmandu engineer and Nepali Times columnist.
Devinder Sharma is a food and trade policy analyst who chairs the New Delhi-based
Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security.
Hari Roka is completing his doctoral research on the political economy of Nepal at
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Jehan Perera, a human rights activist based in Colombo, writes a column in the Daily
Lubna Marium is a classical dancer from Dhaka currently based in Sagar on an Indian
Council for Cultural Relations scholarship.
Luv Puri is the Jammu correspondent for The Hindu.
Manesh Shrestha is the Director of Film South Asia, based in Kathmandu.
Michael O'Shea and Fareesha Abdulla are the editors of
Mrinmoy Bhuyan is a Guwahati-based engineer.
Nupur Basu is a television journalist and documentary filmmaker from New Delhi.
Pankaj Sheksaria, based in Pune, is a member of the environmental action group,
Partha Chatterjee is a filmmaker and writer on cinema based in New Delhi.
Santa B Pun formerly Officer on Special Duty with the Ministry of Water Resources and
ex-Managing Director of Nepal Electricity Authority is based in Kathmandu
Sudhirendar Sharma is a water expert and development analyst with the New Delhi-
based Ecological Foundation.
Yash Ghai is Sir YK Pao Professor of Public Law, University of Hong Kong.
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A MISTAKEN political judgement ha.s lead
the Sri Lankan President endanger the peace
process. Sagacity is now required from
both Ranil Wickremesinghe as well as
Vcllupillai Prabhakaran while this mess in
Colombo is sorted out.
After grappling with 20 years of conflict,
Sri Lanka was beginning to see positive
steps towards economic growth, peace
and stability when President Chandrika
Kumaratunga, exercising her constitutional
powers, took over three ministerial portfolios and prorogued parliament on 4
November 2003. This came in the wake of
the long awaited L'lTLi proposals on an
interim administration for the North East,
which were handed over on 31 October 2003
to the Norwegian facilitators to be forwarded to the government. Ihe business climate
had improved, and major foreign investors
were finalising their plans for investments
in the economy. It was at this juncture
that power politics in Colombo rudely
interrupted a process that seemed to have
regained its equilibrium after a long
Fortunately, the peace process is not yet
a victim of the political changes, though the
economy that has been weakened by the
sudden collapse of the stock market is likely
to deter long-term economic investments for
some time until stability is seen to be reestablished. Despite the LTTK sending in its
interim administration proposals, the peace
talks were not expected, in any event, to
recommence before the new year. But when
the president's take-over was announced,
and troops brought out onto the streets,
there was apprehension that the ceasefire
itself might be endangered. The president
responded to these concerns in a positive
manner by affirming her commitment to the
ceasefire, to the peace process and to the
rulings of the international monitors. To a
considerable extent, this was a reversal of
her earlier stance in respect of each one of
them.  In the coming weeks, until the
political crisis is resolved, it
will be very  important for
the president, the government
of    Prime    Minister    Ranil
Wickremesinghe and the I TTK
to act with utmost caution in I
relation to military matters. \   :
There are potential flash'   ■   . r.-.
points that could trigger off a
war that the people do not want and only
vested interests want. It will be difficult for
Wickremesinghe's government to ensure
stability in the peace process without
control over the defence ministry. This may
explain the decision to notify the general
public and the international community
that President Kumaratunga and her team
should take charge of the peace process at
this time. However, such a decision on the
part of the government to abdicate its
responsibility regarding the peace process
is not a responsible one. The
decision to call on President
Kumaratunga to take charge of
the peace process may be to
show the world at large that she
is unable to take on that task,
but this is a dangerous political
plov that could cost the country
dearlv. Realistically speaking, it
will be next lo impossible for
the president and her team to
negotiate successfully with the
I .TTK, whom they constantly
describe as terrorists and have
vowed to wage war with.
Further, it took them no more
than two days to reject the
l.'IT'H's interim administration
proposals in toto, clearly showing a certain ineptness when it
comes to conflict resolution.
The need to make up.
With its proposals
for an Interim Self
Governing Authority, the LTTE has
given concrete
form to its expectations in a manner that is essentially compatible
with peaceful coexistence in a
united Sri Lanka.
Sinhala gallery
The short shrift that the president's team
gave to the LTTE's proposals, which was
the product of six months of labour and
much advice that they solicited from
around the world, may have been intended to please the gallery of Sinhalese
nationalists. But it failed in the ABCs of
conflict resolution, which is to show respect
for the opponent with whom a negotiated
settlement is sought, lt is interesting to note,
in contrast, that the I TTK's move to present
its political proposals was immediately
welcomed bv the international community,
including the United States, as a step
2003  November  16/11   HIMAL
 The president
and her team
believed they
could actually
form a new government of their
own. This did
not materialise
and so the
president has
no parliamentary basis for
forward in the peace process. They
collectively urged a return to the negotiating
table. In those proposals, the LT1 E clearly
refrained from frontally addressing emotive
issues. They made no mention either of their
own military or of the right of the Sri Lankan
military to be present in the North East; or
of the Sinhalese settlements in the North
East. The proposals also did not call for a
change in the national flag or anthem or the
special place accorded to Buddhism in the
Sri Lankan Constitution as any mention of
these could have generated an emotional
response from Sinhalese nationalists.
The proposals, in sum, call for the
establishment of an Interim Self Governing
Authority (ISGA) for the North East
in which the LITE would have an
absolute majority of members.
Thereafter, the proposals indicate
that complete autonomy is sought
in virtually every aspect of the
political and economic life of the
people. The LTTE proposals call for
separate institutions to be set up
for the North East in respect of
the police, judiciary, elections,
taxation, local and foreign grants
and loans, and trade, among
others. There is an assurance
that internationally mandated
standards of human rights, accountability, multi-ethnic representation and free and fair
elections will prevail. But all the
institutions that are to be set up to
ensure such practices of good
governance will be under the sole
control of the ISGA.
For nearly six months the LITE focused
its attention on the formulation of its interim
administration proposals, holding a wide
range of consultations with local and
international experts in its capital of
Kilinochchi and also in numerous foreign
countries, including France, Northern
Ireland, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland. The document they have produced is
a concise exposition of Tamil thinking, over
which there is, of course, the final authority
of the LTTE. There is no doubt that the
proposals are maximalist in spirit, as indeed
could have been anticipated from an
organisation that has waged a long war for
the cause of complete Tamil separation from
Sri Lanka. But they are an opening offer in
negotiations in which there has got to be
give and take. With its proposals for an
Interim Self Governing Authority, the LTTE
has given concrete form to its expectations
in a manner that is essentially compatible
with peaceful coexistence in a united Sri
Lanka. The fact that the LTTE has recognised
the right of the Sri Lankan government to
appoint members to the ISGA, and has not
challenged the right of the Sri Lankan
security forces to be present in the North
East, are specific indicators of a preparedness to accept a united country.
Further, even with regard to the new
regional institutions they have proposed,
such as the police and judiciary, there
appears to be an openness to dialogue with
the government on how to set them up and
on their composition. It is unlikely that the
government will either have the ability or
the intention to set up new institutions that
supersede the existing ones during an
interim administrative period. New institutions that require legal and constitutional
change are more appropriate for the final
political settlement. There is much to
commend in the LTTE's proposals, in
particular their willingness to give weight
to the principles of good governance,
representative democracy and accountability. They are the result of a great deal of
effort and provide a basis from which to
engage in dialogue with other parties to the
conflict, such as the government and the
Muslims. The fact that the LTTE has invested
so much time and effort in a political
endeavour is to be appreciated by those who
seek a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict.
A delicate equilibrium
However, in a society where the spirit of
power sharing is yet to be learned and
practiced, obtaining an absolute majority is
a potential license for unilateralism. When
this potential is coupled with autonomy, the
result can be a high degree of control. It is
noteworthy that the LTTE's proposals make
no provision for integration with nationally
prevailing structures. Viewed in this
context, it is not surprising that the
Wickremesinghe government's response to
the LTTE proposals was cautious and
restrained. In its own proposals regarding
an interim administration for the North
East, the government specifically excluded
matters pertaining to police, land, revenue
and security from the purview of the interim
administration. But in the LTTE's counter
proposals, all the above, with the exception
of security arc specifically considered to be
HIMAL 16/11   November 2003
the domain of the ISGA. Further, in the
government's proposals, while an absolute
majority is conceded to the LTTE, provision
was made for a minority veto on matters
that affected the interests of the Muslim and
Sinhalese communities living in the North
On the ground, the Muslims and
Sinhalese of the East, who presently
constitute over 60 percent of the population
in this region, have strongly protested their
inclusion into an ITTE-dominated administration. The Muslims in particular have
been vociferous about their opposition, as
in the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SI MC)
thev have a political party that draws
virtually ail its strength from the East. The
SEMC's first response to the LTTE's proposals
has been to say that they do not meet Muslim
aspirations. The government's cautious
response to the LTTE's proposals could also
be due to its apprehensions about a
backlash against them from Sinhalese
nationalists bolstered by opposition
political parties. Pro-war Sinhalese
nationalists who call for the military
subjugation of Tamil nationalism very
recently physically attacked leading
Sinhalese and Tamil cultural artistes who
had gathered together for an inter-ethnic
cultural festival in Colombo. What this
increasingly frustrated minority needs is the
politically motivated backing by the major
opposition parties to run amok and riot on
the streets, as has happened on past
occasions when governments appeared to
make concessions to Tamil demands for
regional autonomy.
Given dangerous possibilities inherent
in such a delicate equilibrium, this is not
the time for political ploys to expose the
president and her team. Difficult though it
is, Wickremesinghe has to negotiate a
settlement with Kumaratunga while at the
same time continuing to take the peace
process forward. The basis for such a
negotiated solution would be recognition
of two realities. The first is that the president
is indeed vested with enormous executive
powers until the end of her term of office in
December 2005. She obtained those powers
legitimately by winning the presidential
election in December 1999. There is no
getting around that fact, which permits her
to take over tbe three ministries and more if
she so desires. The second reality is that the
president's take over bid was, in the final
analysis, a failure. Kumaratunga and her
advisors did not intend to merely
take-over three ministries and have
the process end with that. Thev jf-
r - a**ai«ftft;ft
had anticipated that members of
the government would cross over
to their side and provide the
president with a parliamentary
majority. The president and her
team believed they could actually
form a new government of their
own. This did not materialise and
so the president has no parliamentary basis for governance.
While it is true tliat the Sri Lankan
presidency is vested with enormous powers
in theory, the experience over the last two
years shows that a hostile parliament is
even more powerful. The president's call for
a grand alliance of all political parties in
parliament and for a government of national
reconciliation came only after this failure,
and will justifiably be discounted because
of it.
Aims versus gains
A compromise between the government and
president could be achieved on a three-fold
basis. First, it would be necessary for the
government to find a face-saving solution
for the president. She would not wish to be
seen to be relinquishing the three ministries
she took over. Therefore, it may be possible
for her to keep the three ministries, but have
three deputy ministers perform the day-today operations of the ministries. This was
the case with the ministry of defence during
the period of the last government. The
deputy minister for defence was clearly in
charge of defence. He stayed in that position
despite dismal results without the president
The second basis for a negotiated settlement would be to accede to a request made
by the president at the very commencement
of the government's term of office that her
nominee should be on the government's
negotiating team. This is a fair request, and
would add to the representative character
of the negotiating team. If the Muslim community could demand that it have a representative at the peace talks, surely the main
opposition party is entitled to have one too.
lt is a sign of the government's own unwillingness to recognise the basic principles of
cohabitation that it disregarded this early
request of the president in a most cavalier
fashion. The presence of a presidential nominee would ensure that the solution would
Norwegian Deputy
Foreign Minister
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
 The president
deserves recognition both
locally and
for the very
positive role
she once
be easier to legitimise amongst the Sinhalese people as well.
The third basis for a negotiated settlement would be to find a direct role for the
president as a democratically elected leader
of the country who herself commenced the
peace process with courageous leadership.
It was during her period that it became
uncontroversial to talk about an 'ethnic
conflict' rather than a 'terrorist problem'. It
was she who frontally confronted the critics of a federal type of political solution,
proposed a semi-federal model, and lest we
forget, it was Kumaratunga who invited the
Norwegians to be facilitators. The president
deserves recognition both locally and internationally for the very positive role she once
played. A new role for her, best suited to her
strengths, but mindful of her weaknesses,
needs to be found.
There is a need for urgency in
the task of resolving this particular unexpected conflict. Political
stability must quickly be re-established for Sri Lanka to fulfil
its economic promise and for the
people to enjoy fully the peace
dividend. The conflict between
the president and government
appears too much of an elite
struggle for power at all costs. Instead of trying to defeat each
other totally, and escalating the
conflict, the political leaders
need to negotiate with each other
in the same way the government is negotiating with the LTTE. And they need to keep
in mind, especially the president and her
team, that the mandate of the people at the
last general election was for a negotiated
peace and not for a war for peace. !>
-Jehan Perera
THREE ALTERNATIVE routes are better
than the road between Srinagar and
Muzafarrabad which New Delhi has offered to open.
The opening the Srinagar-Muzafarra-
bad road network is one of the confidence
building measures (CBM's) offered by the
Indian government to Pakistan on 22 October. This has been projected by analysts and
the media as a giant step towards solving
the problems of millions on cither side of
the Line of Control (LoC). However, these
gushing and effusive commentators, perhaps keen to highlight the magnanimity of
the centre's Kashmir policy, have not
paused to consider the ground realities before rushing to the conclusion that some act
of humanitananism has been performed.
The idea of 'softening' the border between India and Pakistan along the state of
Jammu and Kashmir is not a new one. lt is
an old idea that is being revived in a new-
context. The case for it is based mainly on
humanitarian grounds, which are supposed to be above political considerations.
The primary argument is that it will help
families, currently divided, to reunite. These
divided families are a permanent peculiarity of the illogical division of a society between two countries based on no particular
principle other than the fact that the line of
separation represented the respective militaries' state of control as on a particular day.
When the state of Jammu and Kashmir was
divided into two halves between India and
Pakistan on 1 January 1949 and the ceasefire
line announced, families were divided, by
a line, based on the territory held. In short,
the separation was on a completely random
basis. Since then, various proposals have
surfaced from different quarters to open up
the Jammu and Kashmir border,
The campaign for soft borders with 'Fa-
kistan-held-Kashmir' has been led bv various Kashmiri leaders who have dominated
the political spectrum of the state ever since
its partition. The tallest Kashmiri leader of
the last century, Sheikh Abdullah had also
pressed for opening of the border and continued this demand after his dismissal from
power in August 1953 till his death in September 1982. It was one of the main demands in the manifesto of his National Conference Party for the assembly election of
1977. The Mirwaiz of Kashmir, Maulvi
Umar Farooq, has also been a strong proponent of this idea on the humanitarian
ground that divided families long to reunited. He cites the example of his own family, which was divided in 1947.
Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad
Sayeed while repeating this demand has
linked it with the ultimate aim of restoration of peace in the state. The thrust of the
campaign to soften the border has been to
HIMAL 16/11  November 2003
allow the movement of men and vehicles
on the famous Rawalpindi-Srinagar road,
which connects not only Pakistan-held-
Kashmir with Indian Kashmir, but also wdth
the Punjab province of Pakistan via
Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir. But the emphasis on this route has been
at the cost of ignoring other parts of state,
which were also divided in 1947 and for
whom the opening of borders would have
much greater utility and appeal.
It thus becomes necessary to examine the
other possible routes for facilitating the reunion of divided families. The Kashmir valley, which has a very distinct identity, is
dissimilar to the culture prevailing in Azad
Kashmir on the Pakistani side. Before 1947,
only Muzaffarabad district of present-day
Pakistan-held-Kashmir was in Kashmir
province. The rest of the districts of Pakistani Kashmir were either in Jammu province or in the frontier province of Ladakh
and are now called Northern Areas in Pakistan. Even Muzaffarbad district, in linguistic and cultural terms, was closer to the
Jammu region. After 1947, Pakistan kept the
entity of Kashmir symbolically independent.
For instance, the head of the state is known
as the president and head of the government is known as the prime minister. The
power centre in Azad Kashmir is the roost
of Muslim Rajputs, proud of their martial
past. All of them are non-Kashmiri speaking and have close ties with the border districts of Jammu region.
During the partition of India, large scale
migration of Muslims took place from the
region to Pakistan-held-Kashmir and also
to other parts of Pakistan, quite apart from
the numerous families which were forced
to live on either side of the LoC. In the plains
belt of Jammu, most of the Muslim families
migrated to the Punjab province of Pakistan.
For the last 50 years, the families on both
sides have been trying hard to remain in
touch with their relatives across the border.
But since Indo-Pak tensions have become
an increasingly frequent phenomenon it is
difficult to do so. Today, in fact, even in the
less stressful interludes between the periods of tension there have been cases where
the death of a relative has been conveyed to
the kin after a gap of wreeks. Just recently
the case came to light of a woman from
Sialkot in Pakistan (11 km from Jammu) who
had come to her parental house on the Indian side during her pregnancy (a common
practice) more than two years back and has
• 1.
Pakistan  "^.
/ Himachal
v. Pradesh
l\n d i-a'
„  (v
since not been able to return because of continuing tensions following the 13 December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament
(as a result of which travel between the two
countries was suspended). Tales of such
tragedies in the region is unremitting. The
opening of the Suchetgarh-Sialkot road
across the international border would provide immediate relief to thousands of families who would otherwise have to take a
much longer route to cross over. As the border in that segment is in the plains, the
larger road network would make travel
The number of divided families in the
state is far more in the hilly belt of Jammu ie
Rajouri-Poonch than they are in the plains.
The Line of Control here not only divided
the territory, but also villages and even individual houses. The illegal movement of
families across the LoC has been a regular
feature of life since partition. As the terrain
in hilly areas comprises creeks, mountains
and numerous passes, people have been illegally going across the border on both festive and tragic occasions. The situation has
changed now. As the maximum infiltration
of militants takes place in these tracts, security has become very tight. The movement
of families across the LoC has decreased
dramatically as a result of increased security patrols, but desperate attempts to cross
the line are not at all uncommon.
The softening of the borders will provide
immediate relief to the Muslim families of
this hilly region. Even the Hindus on the
Indian side of the LoC have a nostalgic desire to visit the areas they left on the other
side. In the pre-1947 era most of the area
was part of the Jammu province. Mirpur
was the largest constituent of Azad Kashmir and comprises the tehsils of Bhimber,
Kotli and Mirpur. The district lies on the
2003 November 16/11  HIMAL
 Mangla Dam:
Mirpur's nemesis.
famous Mughal road,
passing through Mirpur-
Bimber-Rajouri, which
was the main artery connecting the state with the
rest of the country. The
present relationship of
Mirpur with the rest of
Pakistan is quite unsettled. In the 1960's the
Pakistan government
built the Mangla dam in
Mirpur which ended up
submerging the entire
town of Mirpur.
This encouraged the expatriation of
people from Mirpur, many of whom settled
down in large numbers in Britain and who
have continued their protest against the
construction of Mangla dam and its recent
extension. Prior to that, in the midst of the
partition riots, several thousands of Hindu
Mirpuris had to migrate from their ancestral homes and had to settle down in different parts of Jammu province in India. Since
then, their numbers have increased to several lakhs. Even after over 50 years of sustained tension between India and Pakistan
the sympathy of Hindu Mirpuris for their
Muslim counterparts remains at a very high
level and they express their support to the
latter in the struggle to save their home land
from the effects of the dam.
Of the other areas similarly affected,
Poonch, in 1947, was the only district of the
state which was itself bifurcated between
the two countries. It was, therefore, the worst
affected district. Many Muslim families were
separated from each other. As a result, ties
with the other side were never broken until
militancy surfaced in the state,. So high was
the level of contact that even marriage parties used to go from one side to the other, a
phenomenon that was rarely witnessed in
other parts of the region.
Since Jammu has the maximum number
of divided families as compared to any other
part of the country, opening three roads in
the region, namely the Suchetgarh-Sialkot
road, the Mirpur-Bimber-Rajouri or Mughal
road and the intra-Poonch route, would best
serve the cause of reuniting divided families. The special importance of these three
roads on ethnic, emotional and humanitarian grounds can hardly be disputed. Since
security is an obvious consideration, needful precautions along those lines can be
taken fairly easily. As a first step, since re
strictions on general movement of people
will be imposed, at least genuinely divided
families should be allowed to meet so that
their distress does not remain hostage to the
hostility between the two states. In the
longer run, when the security environment
permits, cultural bridges between the two
parts could be built through these roads,
failing which much headway will not be
made since temporary peace, as and when
it is restored, will be all too fragile. Opening
the Jammu borders would not only solve a
major humanitarian problem of the Subcontinent but will also go a long way in cementing the cultural bonds between the two
countries at the level that matters in everyday terms, between people. A
- Luv Puri
EVEN AS the Indian Ministry of Water Resources has been maintaining that it is inching closer and closer to implementing the
first of the proposed 30 links under the
grand programme of interlinking rivers (see
Himal, August, September 2003), the Kerala
Legislative Assembly showed just how
weak this claim is by passing a resolution
that called the linking of two rivers in the
state with one in neighbouring Tamil Nadu
as discriminatory and unconstitutional. The
proposed link would divert waters from the
Pamba and the Achankovil rivers of Kerala
to the Vaippar river in Tamilnadu.
This move by a state in India to question
the diversion of water to a neighbouring
state mirrors the opposition voiced by
Bangladesh to the Indian government's
ambitious project. Bangladesh has officially
protested what it has called "a unilateral
move to appropriate transboundary waters". It is evident that once serious thought
was given to the ramifications of the project
from affected quarters, the voices of protest
would not only increase in volume but
would also be raised from different corners
of the Subcontinent. The cavalier disregard
for issues of equity and fairness in the distribution of water displayed by the creative
HIMAL 16/11  November 2003
 thinkers who dreamt up this scheme in India has had its obvious consequences.
The architects of this fanciful scheme
have been forced to go into trouble shooting
mode since, unlike in the initial stages when
the opposition was being voiced from civil
society alone, the protests have now begun
to emanate from within official institutions.
On the international front, the crisis has
been managed by exerting diplomatic pressure and Bangladesh has been advised to
show restraint, as befits a smaller neighbour.
But in this particular case the international
dimension is more amenable to a forced solution than the domestic dimension is. If
Bangladesh is eventually short changed that
is a problem for the Bangladesh government
to deal with, whereas if a state in India feels
cheated it is likely to have more or less direct political repercussions. Besides, there
really is no mechanism similar to diplomacy
to iron out domestic discord.
lt is, therefore, not entirely surprising that
the Government of India has been conspicuously silent on the Kerala assembly resolution. Obviously the government at the centre, at present, is not keen to be embroiled in
a political tangle that may scuttle its desperate efforts to build consensus aimed at
gaining the desired electoral edge for the
general elections due next year. To make
matters worse, that the legislative assembly
of the most literate state in the country has
unequivocally condemned the project can
only vindicate the stand of critics outside
the arena of state institutions. This is the
first point of intersection between the polity
and civil society on this issue, and may well
set a trend that accelerates in momentum
with time.
Critics who have been studying the
ecological effects of the project have
welcomed the boost to their efforts that has
come from the political class. "It offers a
respite to Kerala rivers, which have a short
running span but significant ecological
functions to perform from their point of
origin in the Western Chats", says Dr Latha
of the Chalakudy Puzha Samarakshan
Samiti (Chalakudy River Conservation
Organisation) in Thrissur district of Kerala.
Of the 41 west-flowing rivers in the state,
only two rivers are allowed an uninterrupted flow into the Arabian Sea.
Storage or diversion of waters for irrigation from the remaining 39 rivers has caused
ecological damage reflected in the irreversible saline ingress along the state's coast.
Periyar, the longest river of the state, with a
length of 244-kilometres, has already lost
22 per cent of its average flow due to diversions. Likewise, the Bharathapuzha has
had its flow reduced by 12 per cent on its
209-kilometre-long journey to the sea. By
far, the biggest victim has been the 140-
kilometre-long Chalakudy river, which has
suffered a 37 per cent reduction in its natural flow. Interestingly, the tributaries of
these three rivers are the main culprits in
reducing the volume of flow, as they are
locked into a puzzling inter-basin water
transfer called the Parambikulam Aliyar
Project (PAP).
This particular transfer arrangement is
puzzling because the PAP treaty was signed
between Kerala and Tamil Nadu only on
29 May 1970, in a ritual act of post facto
validation. The construction of dams to
transfer the waters had been commissioned
much before the actual treaty legalising the
diversion was signed. It is puzzling also
because the state was reportedly forced to
sign the controversial treaty in exchange for
the majestic Idukki hydropower project.
And it is even more perplexing because the
three dams involved in the transfer—
Parambikulum, Peruvarippallam and
Thunacadavu—are all inside the territory
of Kerala, but the land on which they stand
and their operations are still under the control of the Tamil Nadu government. Is this
the model that the hydraulic visionaries at
the centre in New Delhi have in mind to
enforce the proposed new transfers?
Indeed, Kerala has been duped many
times in the past over inter-basin water
transfers by Tamil Nadu. The first such instance was in 1886, when the Maharaja of
Travancore signed the Mutlaperiyar Agreement with the British administration in the
Madras Presidency. By the terms of this
agreement the Madras administration was
granted the right to construct and maintain
the Mullaperiyar dam located in the
Travancore region of Kerala and divert the
water to irrigate arid lands in Madurai region. This 106 year old agreement was evidently the precursor for the 33-year-old
Parambikulam Aliyar Project treaty.
If these two treaties and the more recent
Siruvani treaty are any indication, the idea
of 'surplus water' has been consistently-
misconceived. PAP is one of the many cases
in Kerala that illustrate how vested interests have hidden facts from the public. The
nine dams built on the eight tributaries of
2003 November 16/11  HIMAL
 After a long history of compromising on ecologically sensitive issues by
succumbing to
the idea of surplus waters in its
rivers, the
Kerala government seems to
have learnt its
lessons finally
Periyar, Chalakudy and Bharathapuzha
rivers, as part of the Parambikulam Aliyar
Project, have made available a total of 33
thousand million cubic feet (TMC) of water
for diversion. As per the treaty, Tamil Nadu
is entitled to 16.5 TMC of water every year
from the yield of those three dams (viz,
Parambikulam, Peruvarippallam and
Thunacadavu) but in effect it is diverting
the entire flow into its territory.
By fudging the flow data, Tamil Nadu
has appropriated the entire available water
from PAP by forcing the three tributaries of
the Chalakudy river to run dry for a stretch
of anywhere between five to six kilometres
from the dam sites. All these dried stretches
lie in forested areas and are inhabited by
tribal populations. Further, as the water
is not released downstream, the Kerala
Sholayar and Poringalkuthu
hydropower projects on the
Chalakudy river operate well below their installed capacity.
More importantly, these diversions have forced the west-flowing
tributaries to flow eastward. The
ecological impact of such aberrant
acts is only now beginning to be
understood across the state. According to the noted environmentalist S Sathischandran Nair,
Kerala has already paid a heavy
price for the erroneous conception
of surplus flow in its rivers. In an
ecological context, no river can
have a drop of surplus. (For a discussion on the idea of surplus, see
'Rivers of collective belonging',
Himal, October 2003).
Given the fact that Kerala has a
unique topography that undergoes
significant altitudinal variations within its
maximum width of about 60 kilometres, the
management of its meandering rivers emerging from the forested Western Ghats assumes special significance. Since these rivers reach the sea in quick time, they must
perform significant ecological functions of
sustaining flora and fauna along their
course. Any discontinuation or reduction
in their flow could be ecologically disturbing. Needless to say, the impact of such ecological disturbances has already been felt
along the Kerala coast.
The assembly resolution has come at the
right time in recognising the merits of the
ecological critique of artificially diverting
rivers. This critique was articulated with
force at the National Conference on
Interlinking of Rivers, organised by the
Chalakudy Puzha Samarakshan Samiti
and the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), in July 2003 in
Thrissur. It was at this meeting that the state
administration confirmed its stand on the
Kerala component of the river-linking
scheme. The State Planning Board categorically stated that Kerala was opposed to the
Pampa-Achankovil-Vaippar link. It would
appear that after a long history of compromising on ecologically sensitive issues by
succumbing to the idea of surplus waters
in its rivers, the Kerala government seems
to have learnt its lessons finally, What remains to be seen is not only how the central
government reacts to this unexpected jolt,
but also how many other states arc enthused
to follow in the footsteps of the Kerala legislators, ft
- Sudhirendar Sharma
NEW DELHI has an extravagant vision. 56
million tones of cement, 2 million tones of
steel, 32 dams, and 30 canals, spread over
9, 600 kilometres linking 37 rivers will deliver 17.3 billion cubic metres of water to
irrigate 34 million hectares of land and supply water to 101 districts and five metros.
40 million man-years of employment will
be created for skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers. GDP growth will increase
by 4 percent. And food grain production will
go up from 212 million tones per year to 450
millions in the next 20 years.
Does New Delhi have the circumspection to keep from pursuing this extravagance? Past experience does not inspire confidence. In that case, does New Delhi have
the acumen to create a consensus in favour
of its extravagance? The rumbling protests
from the states do not seem to suggest so.
And if, despite all the opposition, New
Delhi lacks the prudence to desist from the
extravagance, does it at least have the
scruple to distribute the costs, colossal as it
will be, in proportion to the benefits, such
as they are. There is nothing in the historical evidence to support this view.
HIMAL 16/11   November 2003
In Assam, a state where grievances
against the centre have given rise in the past
to a sustained mass agitation first and eventually militancy, the issue has raised hackles. The Brahmaputra, one of the rivers the
centre has unilaterally, and in the national
interest, decided to relieve off its load of 'excess' water, is a river bisecting the state. But
the river is also something more than just
that; it holds deep emotional and symbolic
significance for the people of the state. Consequently, the Government of India will
have a difficult task on hand to persuade a
sceptical public to let it have its way.
New Delhi's concern for Assam's misfortunes is both recent and suspicious. True,
the monsoon floods of the Brahmaputra
have created havoc in the valley, inundating large areas of the arable land, washing
away houses and damaging property worth
crores of rupees over the years. Yet, until
now, the state's demand, periodically reiterated, to declare the flood problem in
Assam a national one, has never been given
due importance. Central assistance for flood
relief has also been consistently and grossly-
inadequate. But now, in the alleged attempt
to mitigate the misery of drought-prone
people on other parts of the country, the centre has suddenly remembered that Assam's
floods constitute surplus water.
Given the possibility that transferring
water via West Bengal could well aggravate
the already existing flood problem in that
state, it will be difficult for Assam to be persuaded that New Delhi is seriously concerned about floods, Even the promise of
corollary benefits, like the increased availability of power is unlikely to produce the
required groundswell of support for the
project. Among the litany of benefits being
advertised by the centre's Task Force on
River Linking is the projected 34, 000 Mw
of cheap and clean power that will be generated, which it is claimed will help facilitate industrial development in the country.
Some of this power, it is argued, will help
case the power crisis in Assam. Funnily
enough, until now the centre has never been
unduly bothered about improving the
power situation in the state, even after the
establishment of the National Power Grid.
As with the floods, so with power—
Assam's needs, long unfulfilled, have found
an unexpected solution, only on the condition that the Brahmaputra's waters are
made available for some distant purpose
identified by the water mandarins in New
Delhi. Not a word has been
uttered about the long-standing demand to expand electrification in rural Assam.
Meanwhile, while they
peddle the virtues of the river
linking project, its proponents are disturbingly silent
about the obvious hurdles
that stand in the way. There
is the thorny issue of interstate water sharing principles that will have to be
evolved. The Indian centre
has an abysmally poor record on this count. Is there
any guarantee that a state that has suffered
from New Delhi's indifference in the past
will be able to get a good deal out of the
proposed transfer of water? Then there is
the perennially unresolved question of rehabilitation. In the absence of any concrete
scheme for the rehabilitation of people displaced bv all the engineering activity envisaged on the Brahmaputra, there is unlikely
to be an excess of enthusiasm for the project.
Overall, New Delhi's biggest problem is
its lack of credibility. History since independence is littered with the broken pledges and
promises of the federal government. There
are many examples to cite. The Kosi project
in Bihar was started in 1955, but the land
for the resettlement of as many as 372 displaced villages has yet to be acquired. In
the case of the Mahananda and Bagmati
embankments of the 1970s, hundreds of villages received only 'shifting allowances' for
their houses, which amounted to a paltry
figure of between INR 250 and 500 per
household. The pathetic story of the victims
of the Kamla embankment is also well
known. They were not even told where the
rehabilitation office of the project was located. Under the circumstances, the florid
assurances of the river linking project's spin
managers are unlikely to wash with a sceptical Assamese public.
It is reassuring that those who run the
country from New Delhi are keen to solve
the problem of acute water shortage. At least
someone seems to be engaged with the problem. But the plan and policies that form part
of the so-called solution are not exactly
transparent. For instance, there has been no
public disclosure yet on the contour data or
the points from where the Brahmaputra's
water will be diverted in Assam. This link
is supposed to send the Brahmaputra to the
Assam Brahmaputra
by satellite: as the
'centre' of attraction.
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
 If New Delhi is
so confident
about its own
abilities south of
the Himalaya,
who is to guarantee that tomorrow China
will not go in for
a mega project
to divert the
Tsang-Po for its
own ends
Mahanadi through the Ganga over a 9000
kilometre maze of 30 canals, and there is
still not a single map on the horizon. But all
these are finally- only procedural questions
that concern the functioning of the bureaucracy. There has been no mention of the ecological problems that the project portends.
There are ample examples of rivers diverted
through canals which led to the drying up
of stretches of the affected rivers.
But even if the water bureaucracy is not
endowed with enough foresight to visualise
such deleterious consequences, surely there
must be at least some among them who
would have been struck by the international
ramifications of riparian unilateralism and
the reference here is not to
Bhutan, Nepal or Bangladesh.
The first question to ask regarding diverting the Brahmaputra
is, "who controls the flow ofthe
Brahmaputra in its Tibetan segment? It is the People's Republic to the north. China with its
propensity for big water projects
has already planned to pump
out, yearly, 48 trillion litres of
water from the Yangtse river
along its 800 mile course
to draught stricken northern
China. The Brahmaputra,
known as Tsang-Po in its first
700 miles, is on the northern
slope of the Himalaya. If New
Delhi is so confident about its
own abilities south of the
Himalaya, who is to guarantee
that tomorrow China will not
go in for a mega project to divert the upstream Tsang-Po for
its own ends A little humility is all it takes
to keep hubris in its place. Failing that, some
upstream unilateralism will do the job just
as effectively. Even if the Task Force cannot
bring itself to abandon the whole project, it
would do well to reflect a bit more on the
Brahmaputra. b
- Mrinmoy Bhuyan
THE FIFTH ministerial of the World Trade
Organisation (WTO) failed and the Indian
media was quick enough to lap it up as a
huge success for India and the developing
world. Some of the leading dailies had dramatic headlines on 16 September:
"Cancun's fall: the rich hardsell, poor don't
buy" - Indian Express
"India gains at Cancun" - The Times of India
"Cancun meet collapses after standoff"
- The Hindu
The stories that followed eloquently and
proudly informed readers of how India had
bravely warded off the unfair and unequal
trade order being imposed on the world and
how it played a leading role in protecting
the interests of millions of farmers and poor
people from developing countries. "India
Inc. hails Jaitley", read another headline,
applauding the Union Minister for Commerce Arun Jaitley for successfully leading
the fight against the vested economic and
political interests of the developed world.
"The fact that we brought the concerns of
developing countries to the centre stage reflects the success of Cancun", Jaitley is reported to have said at the conclusion of the
Centre stage and success? One had all
along been led to believe, with a vehemence
that brooked no misgiving, that the whole
purpose of trade liberalisation and the WTO
was always to benefit the developing world.
Now one is expected to believe that these
concerns were not even in the picture in the
first place, and that the entire struggle is to
get them to the centre stage, and that 'success' lies in actually achieving this objective. It is interesting to look at the semantics
of the media take on the talks—the talks
failed? Or did they succeed? If they failed,
did India gain? If India gained, did the talks
fail? How could they fail? If India gained
because the talks failed, who actually failed?
Who lost? If nobody lost, how did the talks
fail? If everybody lost, why the celebration?
If failure is success, why were the talks held
in the first place? And who wanted them?
Who continues to want them?
For the last decade the political elite and
economic experts of the country have lost
no opportunity to push the TINA (there is
no alternative) factor vis-a-vis the WTO—in
its success is salvation for the poor and the
solution to the poverty of this country and
that this was the route to becoming a 'developed' country. Also, that the WTO is the
only gateway to larger international markets to improve trade and that increasing
trade was the only way of improving our
own lives and lifestyles—even if this re-
HIMAL 16/11   November 2003
 quired the sacrifice of a large part of individual economic sovereignty for the country. Those who disregarded the 'bounties'
of unfettered international trade had vested
interests in opposing the WTO or keeping
national markets closed. These were 'anti-
nationals' who opposed development and
did not understand the needs and desires
of the people of the country. The world was
becoming a village and staying out of it was
bad economics. If all that the political, economic and media bosses have tried hard to
convince the people of was indeed true,
what happened now? Why the celebrations?
There is now convincing proof that
liberalisation and opening up of the markets is destroying the livelihoods of millions
of third world farmers. Jt is penury and starvation, not the promised wealth and prosperity that is coming their way. But, has the
media learnt to look deeper than simply report on farmer suicides and industrial layoffs? One day before the talks in Cancun
collapsed, an 'expert' explained in his
weekly column in an Indian national daily
as to why "imports are better than exports",
But he could do no more than to simply assert that "exports are a bad thing and imports are a good thing" and that this was
actually good for the poor. But the fact is,
there are still some die-hard believers who
cannot bring themselves to abandon the
faith. A day after the talks failed, an article
in a national daily explained that too much
(unnecessary) focus was being laid on the
protectionism in the rich countries. "The
Cancun collapse", the author argued, "was
in no small measure due to the unwillingness of developing countries to make credible market-open concessions to match those
they demanded from the rich countries".
Efforts were needed, he concluded, to
strengthen the ability of leaders in developing countries to sell liberalisation to their
domestic constituencies. Clearly the skewed
'handouts' after a decade of this process and
the accompanying statistics have failed to
raise a consideration on the part of 'experts'
that something is not right—the emperor
may be naked, but so what? long live the
emperor! For them, and minister Jaitley must
have surely received a good dressing down
from them when he returned, liberalisation
has to be 'sold'. iMarkets have to be opened,
whatever the cost and whosoever may have
to pay for it.
The best must be saved for the last— and
.': s'-'«
as always, the most self-serving
opinion comes from The Economist, the mantra-provider for the
world's well-heeled. Its special
report, titled 'WTO under fire'
(20 September), explains that
one of the three reasons for the
failure of the talks in Cancun
was the WTO itself. "Finally",
says the weekly, "the blame
belongs to the WTO's own decision-making procedures, or
rather the lack of them...Its
predecessor, the old GATT
system ...was run by rich
countries. Poor countries had little power,
but also few responsibilities. The WTO, by-
contrast, is a democratic organisation that
works bv consensus, but with no formal
procedures to get there. Any one of the
organisation's 148 members can hold up
any aspect of any negotiation. Efforts to create smaller informal groups are decried as
'non-transparent' by those left out....The
worst problem, though, is that the WTO's
requirement for consensus makes it virtually impossible for it to be reformed". This,
not surprisingly, is the kind of view held by
the US and European Union (EU) trade representatives as well.
The irony of the situation would be hilarious if actually it was not this tragic. The
Economist wants the WTO reformed and if
this means that it loses its apparently democratic and transparent nature and consensus mode of decision-making, so be it. Large
portions of the developing world fought for
the failure of Cancun because they thought
the way the WTO talks were headed, was
unfair. If a democratic and consensus-based
system itself was found to be unreasonable
and unfair, it is amazing that The Economist
and others can believe and say what they
actually do. And if, indeed, The Economist's
wishes were to come true, will the media in
the developing world once again simply
echo the sentiments of this, their market-
- Pankaj Sheksaria
Thoa-aa,     T*"
tade talks
The gentlemen do not
favour consenus.
2003 November  16/11   HIMAL
 . ■'"iHiiftft
iSSii::.ii : ■.. -M. b£i:i,Zj^Uk ti!
jKb^sTiamkiSM^^^Kt,- ■ ■  Zi.
The relentless
tragedy of Ritwik
Nearly quarter of a century after his death, Ritwik Ghatak's films show the
power of creativity of a people's artist who authored an Indian/SouthAsian
language of cinema. If only we knew...
by Partha Chatterjee
n artiste, even in this age of mindless greed and
hurry, captures the public imagination, if only
.for a moment or two, should he or she answer
to type, that is, of being a romantic idealist. Ritwik
Ghatak, the Bengali filmmaker and short story writer,
was such an individual and an alcoholic to boot, like
the Urdu poet of romance and revolution, Majaz
Lucknawi; or Sailoz Mookerjea, the painter whose soul
made a daily creative journey across continents—from
the French countryside of the Impressionists to the verdant green Bengal of his childhood and youth, and
austere, dusty Delhi where he finally settled down. Like
them, Ghatak died young - in his fifty-first year, on 6
February 1976. His send-off was perfunctory, like the
ones accorded to Majaz and Sailoz, and it took a long
time for a larger public to gauge the worth ofthe three of
them. The reason for this neglect was probably the lack
of access to their work.
In retrospect, Ghatak stands a better chance of being
in the public gaze because of the nature of his medium—
cinema—which has a far greater reach than either poetry or painting. He had problems finding finance for
his films because of his inability to suffer fools, especially in the film world, and this compounded with a
talent for insulting hypocrites, including would-be producers, when drunk, made his own life and that of his
family completely miserable.
He forgot that he lived in a country that was simultaneously half-feudal and half-capitalist and was still
emerging from the shadow of colonialism. Directness
and honesty in private and professional life were qualities lauded in the abstract but viewed with suspicion,
even fear, in the real world. In Ghatak's case, it was
inevitable that alienation and unemployment would
lead to alcoholism, bankruptcy and an early death. His
worldly failure was somehow seen as the touchstone of
'artistic worth' by a certain section of the Indian elite
and he was claimed by them as one of their own some
ten years ago. This is all the more ironic for they have
neither knowledge nor intuition of the language or the
culture that made a genius like him possible.
Like many communists of his time, Ghatak came
from the feudal class, but from its educated minority
that had access to Sanskrit, Bengali, Persian, English,
the literature and philosophy of Europe, including the
writings of Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx, and the heritage of Hindustani and Western classical music. To
this formidable intellectual baggage he added, in later
years of artistic maturity, the ideas of the psychoanalyst, CG Jung, the explorations in cultural anthropology, including the Great Mother image in Joseph
Campbell's prose, derived from Erich Neuemann's The
Great Mother, and the vast repertoire of folklore and folk
music of India, and the two Bengals—East and West.
Like many young people of his generation, Ghatak
joined the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA),
the cultural wing of the Communist Party of India (CPI).
This organisation had rendered yeomen service during the Bengal famine of 194.3, which witnessed a death
toll of five million. IPTA had brought succour to the
starving and destitute in the state by bringing them food
supplies and, in Bijon Bhattacharya, found a dedicated
actor and playwright who wrote the path-breaking
Bengali play Nabanna (New Haroest) on the cataclysm.
Bhattacharya, was to soon marrv Ghatak's niece,
Mahashweta Devi, who is the celebrated writer and
activist of today.
IP1A travelled from village to village and to the small
towns in Bengal, apart from playing in Calcutta and its
suburbs, and soon had roots all over India. It did contemporary Indian plays and significant Western ones
as well. In addition, the 'song squad' was famous for
HIMAL  16/11   November 2003
 its musical acumen and rousing repertoire. The
organisation's role in the evolving of cultural values in
independent India was seminal. To say that modern
ideas in Indian theatre and cinema grew out of the activities of IPTA would be no exaggeration.
Ghatak's own growth as an artiste and a socially
conscious individual can be linked to his apprenticeship in the IPTA as a fledging playwright, actor and
director. He took his first tentative steps in the cinema
in Nemai Ghosh's left-wing neo-realist Chimin mool,
about East Bengali refugees who come to Calcutta after
partition. He himself played a young comb seller.
Ghatak could never give up acting and cast himself in
cameo roles in some of the films he was to direct later.
The three earth-shaking events of twentieth century
India, viz, the Bengal famine, the second world war
and the partition of country in 1447 marked him for
life. The bestiality and madness that perverted human
relations during this period made him a confirmed pessimist, though he tried bravely to bring hope and sunshine in the last scenes of all his films. The psychological effect usually was the opposite.
When Ghatak made his first film, Nagarik, in 1952,
he was nearing 27. It was produced on  	
half-a-shoe-string budget with actors
mostly from IPT/\, and had for its story
the travails of a middle-class refugee
family from East Bengal which had
banked unwisely on the job prospects
of the older son to keep it afloat. Rather
a grim beginning for a budding artiste.
The film was never released in his lifetime and only a negative struck from a
damaged print discovered at Bengal
Lab, in Tolly gunge, Calcutta, a year      	
after his death made a token two-week
commercial release possible.
The lack of outward polish in Nagarik could not
suppress innate qualities that revealed a genuine involvement with social issues; a caring attitude towards
the sorrows of the deprived; an unusual sense of music, incidental sound and camera placement and confident handling of actors. The great Bengali stage actress,
Prabha Devi's performance as the nurturing mother
was the high point of the film and a close second was
Kali I'rasanna Das's music, that included the song,
Triye Pran Kathin Kathore', set to the lyrics of Maithili
mystic poet, Vidyapati. There was enough in this first
work to indicate the arrival of ai director capable of rising to great heights given the opportunity. But that was
still five years away.
His second feature film, Ajantrik, came after much
struggle. Following the non-release of Nagrik, three-and-
a-half years were spent in Bombay, writing scripts, first
for Filmistan Studio whose boss, S Mukherjee, he tried
to wean away from the hackneyed charm of commercial Hindi cinema. Ghatak then worked for Bimal Roy
Productions and wrote the story and screen play for
The most illuminating moments occur
in Ghatak's cinema
not in great bursts
of dramatic action
but in the gaps
between them.
the memorable ghost-romance, Madhttmati. His other
worthy script was for Hrishikesh Mukerjee's debut film,
Musafir, that included in its three tales O Henry's The
Last Leaf.
Ghatak's 1957 release Ajantrik too was based on a
literary work, like his very first venture, Bcdini (19.51),
abandoned after a 20-day outdoor schedule when the
shot footage got spoilt by a camera defect. Tarashankar
Bandopadhyay's tale about gypsies never got to the
screen, but Subodh Ghosh's memorable short story did.
It was about a cranky, poetic cab-driver's attachment to
his 1926 model Chevrolet named jaggadal that he drives
in the Chhotanagpur tribal belt in Bihar. It was Ghatak's
first major artistic success. He had prepared for it by
directing a two-reel documentary simply entitled The
Oraons of Chotanagpur on the tribe of that name for the
Aurora Film Corporation, Calcutta, and another short,
Bihar Ke Kuch Darshaniye Sthaan (Some scenic locales of
Bihar), for the state government. These exercises helped
Ghatak develop a grasp of the landscape that became
an organic part of Ajanthk's narrative. Perhaps it was
for the first time that nature was used with such poetic
authority in an Indian film to bring into focus both its
concrete and abstract elements.
When the jalopy is sold as scrap,
after its final breakdown following an
expensive restoration job, to a dealer
wearing diamond earnings, the most
stone-hearted viewer's heart is
wrenched despite the premonition of
the inevitable that hovers over the film
almost from the beginning. The final
moments have indeed the clarity of a
parable, as Bimal (Kali Banerjee), the
taxi driver, hears and sees a little boy-
playing with the discarded horn of
his beloved car on which he had lavished the attention
he would on a dearly loved wife. The wisdom and
charm of Ajantrik is elusive, almost metaphysical, although it deals with a very real situation in human
terms. The Communist Party of India welcomed the film
writh open arms after driving away its director on
grounds of being a Trotskyite. The left felt it depicted
the dialectics between man and machine to great effect.
Still others saw it as a satire on the haphazard industrial development in the newly independent country
and its negative effect on the countryside. But there were
too many disparate elements within the story to ensure
a clear-cut, all-embracing interpretation.
What, however, could not be accounted for was the
prominence given to the local lunatic, Bula (played
unforgettably by Keshto Mukherjee), who is attached to
his aluminium plate and is the butt of cruel jokes of the
children who hover around him. The only concession
to rationality in the conception of his role is w?hen, towards the end of the film, he is seen jubilantly hugging
his new plate and dancing around, saying, "Oh my
new thali, mv new thali"! This hit prepares us for the
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
 Meghe Dhaka Tara (i960)
idea that will assert itself in the end, that the old makes
way for the new and, therefore, of the continuity of life.
It is, however, difficult to interpret in strictly intellectual terms the backward descent of Jaggadal down a
steep slope, with fields of ripening paddy on either side,
during its test run after Bimal has spent all his savings
towards repairs.
Then, of course, there is that deceptive shot that follows soon after. It looks pat but is not. Bimal pushes his
broken-down car over a high bridge with the help of
adivasi men and women, some of whom are sealed in
the vehicle, Just as they reach the middle, a steam locomotive comes roaring in on the tracks below. There is
also the charming little scene of Bimal all dressed up
with his boy assistant to get himself
and his car photographed by the local
view-camera master who asks him not
to smile foolishly lest the picture be
spoilt! A night dance in the forest by
the Oraon tribals that Bimal attends
and is quite drunk at the end of, is extremely lyrical. Shots of the car making its way through rain-lashed landscapes and, of course, Ustad Ali Akbar
Khan's haunting rendering of raga
Bilas Khani Todi on the sarod, all add
up to create a work of art that makes
the viewer feel that he has been onto
important things, indeed privy to secrets related to man and nature.
A fairly low negative cost of one
lakh thirty-five thousand rupees was
difficult to recover with Ajantrik's release. Even the money spent on prints
and publicity expenses was not recouped. The Bengali audience of 1957
was completely bewildered by a film
in which a recalcitrant old car was the
hero, with its eccentric driver as its most
effective supporting cast, there were,
of course, other fine cameo performances. But the viewers in Calcutta,
despite Bather Panchali and Aparnjito
by Satyajit Ray, were completely un- '	
prepared for Ghatak's cinematic poem. More than a
quarter of a century went by before recognition came
for the film's path-breaking qualities. Cahiers dil Cinema compared its director's unique juxtaposition of
sound and image, after its Paris screening in 1983, to
the explorations of great European experimentalists like
Jean Marie Straub, Jacques Tati and Robert Bresson.
Sadly, recognition first came .abroad. Small sections of
discerning viewers in India gradually woke up to its
merits. The film's use of incidental sounds served the
purpose of another 'voice', giving a human dimension
to a machine by its presence.
Pramod Lahiri, the producer, had already made a
Meghe Dhaka Tara
is a seminal depiction of the existential
dilemma of the Indian lower middle
class, where the
sacrifice of
the one good,
meek, dutiful daughter ensures the survival of the rest of
the family.
and was about to embark on a new film with him when,
at Ray's insistence, he decided to do Bari Thekc Paliye,
based on a story by humorist Shibram Chakravarti, in
1959 with Ghatak in the hope of making up his losses
on Ajantrik. The story of a stern village schoolmaster's
pre-teenage son who runs away to the metropolis of
Calcutta in search of the El Dorado that he has read
about did not gell. What could have been a sparkling
children's film became a dull tract on the heartlessness
of city life where only the poor have humanity and the
rich are indifferent. The director fell prey to the necessity of having a sabak or moral lesson for the prospective young viewer. What one remembers after al! these
years about the film is the charming performance of
young I'arambhattarak Lahiri, the
producer's son, as Kanchan, the runaway little boy, and the lilting musical score by Salil Chowdhury. Predictably, the film failed. Even Khaled
Chaudhury's hilarious poster could
not attract children in sufficient numbers to see it
A married man with responsibilities, Ghatak turned now desperately
to 'saleable material'. For his new
venture he chose a well-written popular novel, Koto Ajaana Rei/by Shankar.
Mihir Law, a successful paint manufacturer, provided the wherewithal
for an expensive production, albeit by-
Bengali standards. Ghatak bought
additional insurance by engaging a
big star like Chabi Biswas to play
Barwell, the English barrister, a crucial figure in the novel. He also had
Anil Chatterjee, a fine actor whose
star was rising at the box-office, and
a supporting cast that included
Karuna Banerjee from Pathar Panchali
and Aparnjito, and a powerful voung
left-wing theatre actor named Utpal
Dutt. The shooting progressed well
and both director and producer were
 " happy with the results. Then, as on
many other occasions in the artiste's later life, shooting
came to a halt over an absurd incident. He had instructed the literal minded 'Gorkha' watchman of the
studio not to let anyone in as he was shooting a crucial
scene in the script. The producer, Mihir Law too was
denied admission by the zealous sentry. Deeply insulted, he closed down production after having already
sunk several lakhs of rupees; big money for a black-
and-white production in the late 1950s!
Ghatak kept the home fires burning by scripting
Sioaralipi for Asit Sen, a successful commercial director
and a highly skilled craftsman. Mahendra Kumar Gupt,
the  producer  of  this  film,  teamed   up  with   the
touching serio-comedy, Paras Pathar with Satyajit Ray      scriptwriter with a certain talent for attracting trouble
HIMAL  16/11   November 2003
 Komal Gandhar (1961)
to produce in 1959-60 Meghe Dhaka Tara, a film that
turned the tide in the director's life and art. At the outset, Ghatak felt he had been forced into a commercial
transaction. But it proved a big hit and, to everybody's
surprise, a genuine critical success as well, lt is the one
film on which Ghatak's reputation rests; the one work
that everyone hails as an unqualified masterpiece; a
seminal depiction of the existential dilemma of the Indian lower middle class, where the sacrifice of the one
good, meek, dutiful daughter - she dies tragically of TB
in the end - ensures the survival of the rest of the family.
Shaktipada Raj Guru's ordinary melodrama, Chena
Mukh, thus became the source of one of the most emotionally rich films ever made anywhere in the world.
Gross misdemeanours
Ghatak promptly invested the two-and-a-half lakh rupees he had earned from this film in the new one, Komal
Gandhar, a marvelous picaresque comedy with serious undertones that obliquely examined the causes behind
the failure of the IPTA and, by extension, the CPI. It was a glorious artistic-
achievement and, ironically, a hopeless tactical error that was to ruin the
rest of his life. An original screenplay
full of pathos, humour and music and
daring technique - the film was twenty
years ahead of its time - there was
enough in Komal Gandhar to drive an
aware filmmaker wild with jealousy
and the party bosses, who thought
they had seen the last of him, to despair.
To digress to the background of the
film and its subject matter: the communist movement in India reached its
height in 1948-49 when, in the
Telangana district of Andhra Pradesh,
an armed struggle by the peasantry led
by the CPJ against the Indian state took
place. The ill-fed, barely-armed revolutionaries were soon overwhelmed
and the CPI was banned by the ruling party, the Indian
National Congress. The left, so to say, was wiped out in
a trice, and, after a humiliating compromise in the early
1950s, came back to participate in parliamentary politics. There was an elected communist government in
Kerala in 1957 and then the breakaway Communist
Party of India-Marxist (CP1-M) led by Jyoti Basu formed
the ministry in West Bengal in 1977. Having eschewed
revolutionary politics, the communists in 1960-61, at
the time of Komal Gandhar's making and release, had
become, particularly their middle and upper class leadership, adept coffee house debaters. Their hold on the
poor rural peasantry and the exploited urban working
class was eroding rapidly. Moreover, their finest cu
There was enough in
Komal Gandhar to
drive an aware
filmmaker wild with
jealousy and the
party bosses, who
thought they had
seen the last of him,
to despair.
pic party ideologue by the name of Sudhi Pradhan.
Most of them, like Ghatak, Balraj Sahni, Salil
Chowdhury, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Kaifi Azmi,
Shailendra, Vishmitra Adil and KA Abbas, left to earn
a living in the cinema, while Shambhu Mitra, Bijon
Bhattacharya and Utpal Dutt prospered in theatre.
Ghatak's criticism of the party's cultural policy in
his new film was seen as gross misdemeanor by the
bosses and worthy of severe punishment. Of that later.
Komal Gandhar was about a committed theatre group
that reached out to the people in the countryside, bringing to them genuine works of art. There is the staging of
Shakuntala, the Sanskrit classic by Kalidas, in the film,
which perhaps was Included as an extension of
Ghatak's own memories of having directed onstage
Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and
Rabindranath Tagore's Visarjan for IPTA in the early
1950s. There arc resonances and nuances within the
story that would have got to the sensibilities of even the most obtuse of
partymen. The inclusion of a scene
from Shakuntala looks like deliberate
guerilla warfare despite its redolent
romance. Shakuntala helped by her
female companions, is dressing up in
her guru's jungle ashram to look beautiful for her lover Dushyanta, a king
travelling incognito with his entourage. He, getting her with child, shall
forget her on reaching his kingdom.
Nothing of the latter part of his life is
shown but the story is too well-known
in India and Shakuntala at her toilette
on camera would subliminally help
the audience to imagine her fate.
Shakuntala is of course India,
Dushyanta the CPI and their prospective child the ordinary people of
Laughter and tears are good companions in this moving film that makes
nonsense of artificial geographic borders and manufactured history. A common heritage of language, music and customs brings
people together and the machinations of demented politicians forcibly divide them along with the land where
they have their roots. All the wars fought in the last
hundred years have been over purely commercial considerations; racism has always been used alongside as
an excuse to consolidate business gains. A snatch of an
old folksong is heard in the film - Acy Paar Paddaa 0
Paar Paddaa/ Moddi Khaaney Chaur/Tahaar Moddeye
Boshei/e/Aachen Shibo Sandagor ("On this bank is the
river Padma / On the other bank is the Padma too /
And an island lies between them / Where lives Lord
Shiva / The trader-great").
Another example of the syncretic culture of undi-
tural workers had already been driven away by a mvo-      vided Bengal that inflects the film is the chorus literally
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
 crying out "Dohai Alii" (Mercy Ali!) in gradually increased speed as the camera simulates the movement
of a train hurtling forward towards the end of the railway tracks that are closed to acknowledge the presence
of the new country - Pakistan. There is also the repeated
use of the wedding song from East Bengal - Aam Totaaye
Zhiimttr Zliaamur/Kaula Tinolnaye BiyaajAayec lo
Shundorir Zhaamaayee/Mukut Maathaye Dii/aa ("A stirring of breezes cool in the mango grove/A wedding
blessed by the auspicious green plantains all around/
Comes now the groom for the beauteous bride/Wearing chivalry's glorious crown").
This song comes on at the most unexpected moments
in the background, most expressively in the landscape
shots of the undulating khoai in Santiniketan when the
two protagonists Bhrigu (Abaneesh Bandopadhyay)
and Ansuiyya (Supriya Choudhury), unknown to themselves, fall in love with each other, There is also the
snatch of a bhawaiyya sung by Debabrata Biswas towards the end of the film as he comes to a concert early
in the morning. The use of the two Rabindra Sangeets
is  effective:   first with  actor  Anil _____
Chatterjee who lips on camera
Debabrata Biswas's rendering of
Aakash Bhatiraa/Shurjo Taara ("This
endless expanse of sky filled/with
Suns and Stars") to great effect in broad
daylight in Kurseong, of all places; and
then in a poetic simulation of moonlight Aaj Jyotsna Raatey Shobaaee
Gaecheye Bonei/e ("On this full-moon
night/lovers together, go to the
woods") sung by Sumitra Sen on the
soundtrack. There are old IPTA group songs too that
add to the texture of the film's narration and serve the
same purpose as an obligato would in a musical score.
Komal Gandhar, for all its adolescent preoccupation
with the idea of mother and motherland and, at the
same time, the authentic poetic connection between the
two, is also a loving tribute to the nation-building energies that went into the activities of the IPTA which was,
before it was sabotaged from within by the CPI, an
organisation of idealists who had a purity of purpose
and dreamt of building a contended egalitarian India.
The release was stymied reportedly by* the party with
the help of goons who owed allegiance to the ruling
Congress party. According to Ghatak, Komal Gandhar
played to a responsive packed house in the first week.
Then, at the beginning of the second, he began to notice
strange happenings in the dark of the theatre. Loud
sobbing would be heard from different parts of the hall
during funny or romantic scenes and raucous laughter
at moments of sorrow, sending conflicting messages to
the audience, Attendance rapidly dwindled by midweek and fell away altogether at the end of it. The film
had to be withdrawn, causing an enormous financial
loss to the two producers, Mahendra Gupt and Ghatak
himself, lt was later discovered that a fairly large num-
Shakuntala is of
course India,
Dushyanta the CPI
and their prospective child the ordinary people of India
ber of tickets were bought by shady characters, who
had been instructed to disturb the real audience.
The failure engineered by forces inimical to his integrity as an artiste and person, completely shattered
the director. He could not believe that the very people
who not so long ago had been his comrades could get
together to sink him. His descent into alcoholism had
begun. Beer suddenly gave way to hard liquor and relentless drinking occupied him more than cinema, literature, the plastic arts or music. "He was signing in
three bars for his drinks, and, not being able to drink
alone, was also being the generous host", remembered
Barin Saba, iconoclast, filmmaker and social activist in
1977, a year after the director's death. Quite naturally,
funds were going to run out sooner than later. People
had barely understood Komal Gandhar during its subverted release and that fact too undermined his self-
confidence, then, Abhi Bhattacharya, an old actor
friend, appeared out of nowhere to bail him out.
Bhattacharya took Ghatak back with him to Bombay,
where he lived and worked, to help him recuperate from
the excesses of his emotional life. One
evening he came back with a proposal.
A friend of his, one Radheyshyam
Jhunjhunwala, was willing to finance
a feature film in Bengali with Abhi
Bhattacharya in the lead and to be directed by his beleaguered friend. There
was, however, one condition—that the
volatile director behave himself during
the entire period of its making. The
story, or its bare skeleton, was provided
by the producer himself. It was about a
brother and sister who are separated in childhood and
meet as adults quite by accident, she as a prostitute
making her debut and he as her first customer. When
they suddenly recognise each other, she kills herself. A
desperate Ghatak agreed and took enough of an advance to complete the shooting of the film.
The golden line
Siibarnarekha (1962) was an act of magic in which the
artiste transformed the producer's puerile story into a
multi-dimensional meditation on life, with the partition serving as a backdrop. When he saw the rough cut,
Jhunjhunwala panicked and ran away. Ghatak then
did the only advertising short of his life for Imperial
Tobacco Company, publicising the popular brand of
Scissors cigarettes, courtesy his old friend, Chidananda
Dasgupta, who was chief of public relations there. With
the proceeds he got the first print of Siibarnarekha out of
the laboratory. It was only after Siibarnarekha was sold
to Rajshree Pictures, owned by Tarachand Barjatia, to
'balance' their books in a particularly profitable year,
that Jhunjhunwala reappeared on the scene.
In the three years between the completion of
Subamarekha and its release in 1965, Ghatak's life was
like a see-saw. He tried unsuccessfully to get backing
HIMAL 16/11   November 2003
 Subarnarekha (1962)
for a film based on Bibhuti Bhusan Bandopadhyay's
Aaranynk. Ghatak was perfect for the subject, for no one
since the American documentary poet, Robert Flaherty,
had responded to nature with such feeling and understanding in cinema. Set in the wilderness, the novel ran
as a counter point to the urban world. It was worthy as
anything written by the great writer on nature in English literature, WH Hudson. If there was anyone who
could grasp the link between the metaphysical and tlie
physical that was there on the written page and transfer it to the screen without loss of intensity, it was
Ghatak. But Jagganath Koley, heir to a well known
Calcutta biscuit company and minister of information
and broadcasting in the state government, could not,
despite his best efforts, convince the
bureaucracy under him to sponsor the
film and waive the mandatory bank
guarantee that the director was unable
to provide.
Then, of course, there was the adaptation from Italian Alexander
Blassetti's hit serio-comedy, Tim Steps
into the Clouds, filmed in 1941, Bagalar
Bangadarshaii, in its 1964 Bengali reincarnation is completely transformed to
suit the local milieu. It flows elegantly
in print and captures the abiding values of rural Bengal without appearing
to be remotely reactionary, and with
unusual wit and charm. The four reels
that were actually shot were lovely to
look at but Ghatak's inability to oblige
an unusually decent producer, Raman
Lai Maheshwari, by not drinking on
the sets—as his quick mood changes
unsettled the actors—led to its closure.
Had it been completed, Bagalar
Bangadarshaii would have posed real
problems for all those people who pigeon-hole him as the tragedian of the
partition of India. The story of an absconding village tomboy, brought
home by a young, married Calcutta
medical representative she meets on    	
the way, was both touching and hilarious. On their
return to her village he is mistaken for her husband.
Her fiance lurks about nearby without being able to do
anything. It is discovered in the course of events that he
ran away after impregnating her in Calcutta because
she was in the habit of beating him up! Of course, all
ends well in the script of this comedy of Shakespearean
The release of Subarnarekha, meanwhile, was a success and it played to packed houses before Rajshrce
Pictures realised it had actually bought the film as a tax
writeoff, haying made huge amounts of money earlier
with a Hindi melodrama, Dosti. To Ghatak's shock and
surprise, his film was withdrawn from Calcutta the
The filming of
Subarnarekha, it is
reported, was improvised on a day-today basis and not
even a master im-
proviser like the
Swiss-French director Jean-Luc
Goddard, had ever
been through such
an ordeal.
atres without explanation, lt was the most demand
ing film he had ever made, and, in scope and breadth
surpassed everything he had done before. The filming,
it is reported, was improvised on a day-to-day basis.
Not even a master improviser like the Swiss-French director Jean-Luc Goddard, had ever been through such
an ordeal.
Subarnarekha is about rational elements like history,
war and its aftermath, mass displacement and loss of
an old habitat and hence roots on the one hand, and
irrational entities like destiny and fate that are not supposed to but do affect human beings and their conduct
to alter their lives irreversibly on the other. Ishwar
Chakravarti, a man of god as his first name seems to
suggest, comes after partition as a refugee from East Bengal to live with his
fellow sufferers in Navjeevan Colony,
a settlement for the displaced on the
outskirts of Calcutta. With him is his
little sister, Sita, and an orphan,
Abhiram, whom he has accepted as
his little foster brother.
Ishwar meets Rambilas, an old
friend and now a prosperous industrialist, accidentally in the street. Hearing of his plight, he offers Ishwar a job
managing his factory by the river
Subarnarekha in Bihar. Harprasad,
the schoolmaster who has nurtured
the new home of his fellow unfortunates, accuses Ishwar of being a coward and for thinking only of his own
welfare and not that of the others
around him. We are plunged into the
heart of a morality tale that can only-
end in tragedy. And a tragedy it is,
borrowing its narrative method from
the ancient Indian epics and folk tales
where there are digressions in the
shoreline with moral and metaphysical ideas thrown up for the audience's
knowledge, but the end effect is overwhelming, cleansing and uplifting.
      Sitbnruarckha illustrates the idea, long
before the Russian master, Andrei Tarkovsky, thought
of it and used it as the title of his autobiography, that
cinema is indeed sculpting in time.
The most illuminating moments occur in Ghatak's
cinema as in Luis Bunuel's, a director he particularly
admired, not in great Lmrsts of dramatic action but in
the gaps between them. The bravura scenes are there
only to confirm what we have intuitively gathered to be
the essential ingredients of the unfolding story. These
are the real moments of revelation. This is true particularly of Subarnarekha, where plainness and exaggeration coexist in a technique born out of necessity; the
producer had to be lulled into believing that a lurid
melodrama was in the making, which would on its re-
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
 lease make a killing at the box-office.
The most talked about revelatory moment in the film
is of course when the child, Sita, accidentally runs into
the boharupcc (quick change artiste) dressed as
Mahakaal, the scourge of time, and is shocked at the
sight of him. When he is chided by the broken-down
old accountant of the factory where Ishwar is manager,
for scaring a little girl, the man replies, "I did not try to
scare her, sir, she sort of ran into me". The little scene
takes on a new dimension when it is learnt that the old
man consoling her has been in a precariotis emotional
state himself ever since his own daughter eloped with
her lover. The scene is further enriched when he and
Sita walk away from the camera and we hear him ask
her name and on hearing it proceeds tell her the story of
Janak, the king of Mithila, who one day found his
daughter, Sita, in the very soil he was tilling. When
seen in the context of the whole film, the scene's function seems to be oracular, a prediction, as it were, of Sita
and Abhiram's tragic future together as adults.
There is a sudden flash of prophetic intuition in a
scene from Sita and Abhiram's childhood when they pretend to be aircraft
taking off from a long-forgotten, dilapidated second world war British
airstrip near Panagarh in the Bengal
countryside. At the climax of their
game, through the use of a subjective
camera, they appear to personify an
aircraft taking flight. Truth in the
arts, particularly the cinema, is
achieved through such enunciatory
acts. There are other instances of poetic insight in a film where the paradox and irony of life become appar- "~
ent all of a sudden.
On the same desolate airstrip Sita sings a bandish in
raga Kalavati, "Aaj ki anando" ("Oh, how joyful is the
day"). The raga is also used to create a sombre mood,
when she sings a different composition at the same sight
at dusk, after her elder brother, who is like a father to
her, rejects the fact that she and Abhiram are in love
and would like to marry. The abandoned airstrip is
used for the last time in the final quarter of the film,
when Ishwar and the ghost from his past, Harprasad,
the Idealist schoolteacher and founder of Navjeevan
Colony, arrive there after a night of despair, when he is
prevented by his friend's sudden appearance from
hanging himself out of grief following Sita's elopement
with Abhiram.
The final scene, heart-breaking and of surpassing
beauty with Ishwar and Binu, the orphaned little son
of Sita and Abhiram, walking away towards a craggy
landscape with the horizon far in the background, accompanied by choral chanting of the Charni betiye mantra on the sound track, in search of a new life, sums up
the forced political and hence historical displacement
of millions, in our own times and earlier, people whose
Ghatak filmed a tree
in the early morning
light in black-and-
white in order to help
his students connect
with nature in their
lives and art. The
result was exquisite.
only crime was that they had sought a little peace, dignity and happiness in their lives.
Betrayed by belief
While Ishwar and his nephew were able to go out to
find a new life at the end of Subarnarekha, Ghatak's own
was fast reaching a point of no return. A cherished documentary on Ustad AUauddin Khan of Maihar, the father figure of Hindustani instrumental music in the post-
1940 era, had to be abandoned after the shooting because Ghatak had the first of his alcohol-related breakdowns. After waiting for a recovery that did not come
quick enough, the producer Harisadhan Dasgupta, reluctantly patched together a version for the Films Division of India. It was predictably, not the film Ghatak
had conceived.
Sheer economic necessity had forced him to join the
Film and Television institute of India, Pune, in 1965 as
Vice Principal. His controversial 18 months there
proved him to be an outstanding teacher. He did ghost-
direct the haunting short, Rendezvous, a diploma film
credited to Rajendranath Shukla,
photographed ingeniously by
Amarjeet Singh at the Karla caves in
Lonavala near Pune. Always a practical man when it came to filmmaking, Ghatak had once filmed a tree in
the early morning light in black-and-
white in order to help his students
connect with nature in their lives and
art. Needless to say, the result was
exquisite. This single shot of three
hundred feet or three minutes and
twenty seconds in 35mm was pre-
' ~       served in the institute vaults for many-
years and may still be there to inspire new generations
of filmmakers.
Ghatak came back to Calcutta, having resigned his
job at Pune, to resume a career that was already in the
doldrums. He wrote the story, 'Pandit Mashai', now
lost, in a non-stop seventeen-hour session, and collapsed at the end of it. He produced a screenplay based
on it called janmabhoomi that still survives. The story is
of a Sanskrit scholar and teacher who seeks refuge
after the partition in a traditional crematorium or burning ghat along with his young daughter. Their lives are
destroyed in the course of events, as it happened with
millions in Ghatak's generation who, in order to live,
had to adapt to the cruelty and indifference of changing times but could not. They were people who believed
in the regenerative powers of love for themselves and
for others and were betrayed for their beliefs.
Ghatak adapted Manik Bandopadhyay's classic
novel, Padda Nadir Majhi for the screen and carried a
bound copy with him till the end and tried to get his old
friend, producer Hiten Choudhury, sculptor Sankho
Choudhury's elder brother and editor Sachin
Choudhurv's younger brother, to produce it in colour.
HIMAL 16/11  November 2003
 He also wrote the script for the Ashtamsarga of Kalidas's
Kumara Sambhava. These were two projects that he
wanted to do very badly. But failing health and
hospitalisation for psychiatric disorders, including a
diagnosis of dual personality by doctors at the Cobra
Mental Asylum, Calcutta, and chronic lack of even basic expense money prevented him from filming them.
His wife, Surama, in the meanwhile, had gone out to
teach and keep the wolf from the door.
In 1968, he began Ranger Golam, an adaptation of a
novel by Narayan Sanyal, "with amazing confidence",
in the words of Anil Chatterjee, who was to play the
lead. Chatterjee had earlier played a
cameo as an irresponsible, thieving
young husband in Ajantrik and then
stellar role in Meghe Dhaka Tara as
Shankar the classical singer to whom
fame and money come in time to pull
his family out of the financial mire but
too late to save the life of the beloved
tubercular elder sister, Nita. And of
course, he was the rebellious, thinking theatre actor in Komal Gandhar.
"Seeing him work, you wouldn't believe he had been so ill just before he
began Ranger Golam", said Chatterjee.
A melancholic script added to
Ghatak's refusal to stop drinking at
work led to the closure of this production as well. He was unable to understand that people investing money in
a production directed by him also had
the right to feel emotionally secure in
his presence.
Ghatak wrote the screenplay for
Premendra Mitra's heart-wrenching
short story Sansar Seemante. He wanted
Madhavi Mukherjee and Soumitra
Chatterjee in the lead for the new film.
Madhavi was moved to tears by the
script and declared it was the best thing she had ever
come across. But, she said she would only do the film if
Ghatak did not drink on the sets. He flew into a rage
and stormed out of her house, kicking her pet Pomeranian standing in his way. Shakti Samanta, a successful
producer-director in the Hindi cinema of Bombay, and
an admirer of Ghatak's work, offered to produce two
films of his choice, giving him complete artistic freedom. Again, Ghatak's by-now-notorious temper proved
a stumbling block. He sent Shakti packing. Another fine
opportunity was lost.
Between 1968 and 1970, the director made four documentaries on commission. Scientists of Tomorrow and
Yeh Ki/on were for the Films Division of India, and Amar
Lenin and Chan Dance of Purulia for the Government of
West Bengal. Of them, only Chan Dance of Purulia had
any artistic merit, with certain moments of genuine
poetry in it. The rest were bread and butter jobs or, bet-
Jukti Takko Aar Gappo (1971)
Jukti Takko Aar
Gappo was the
story of one
Neelkantha Bagchi,
a played-out
alcoholic, once a
respected teacher
and intellectual. It
is a not-so-veiled
self-portrait of the
director himself.
ter still, 'drink providing' jobs. The war of liberation
in Bangladesh in 1971 made him direct Durbaar Gati
Padma, a twenty minute piece of fiction with the improbable pairing of Biswajeet, a chocolate-box hero of
Hindi films, and a resurrected retired female icon,
Nargis Dutt. To put it mildly, it was a strange film but
had some impressive black-and-white shots of his beloved river Padma.
Ghatak's anvil
Ghatak had known Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in
the distant past and liked to call her his Santiniketan
connection. She had as a girl been ali
too briefly a student there during
Rabindranath Tagore's lifetime. He
happened to know people close to her,
particularly PN Haksar, an ex-communist and her main advisor. It was
through her good offices that he got
the National Film Development Corporation of India to finance lukli Tappo
Aar Gappo in 1971. The selection committee felt that he was too much of an
alcoholic to actually complete and deliver a film within a given time-frame.
Their objections were overruled by the
prime minister herself.
jukti Takko Aar Gappo had enormous promise as a script, it was the
story of one Neelkantha Bagchi—the
name is deliberately chosen to draw
parallels between Lord Shiva's blue
throat after having swallowed all the
poisons-of-the-world during the
churning of the ocean and the character in the film, a played-out alcoholic,
once a respected teacher and intellectual. It is a not-so-veiled self-portrait
of the director himself. His wife and
son leave him for being a failed breadwinner and family man. He is about to leave his rented
house before the landlord evicts him, when he runs
into Banga Bala, literally meaning Lass of Bengal, who
is a refugee from Bangladesh and, like him, is in futile
search of a shelter. The return of his protege after the
sale of a ceiling fan prompts him to take to the streets
with the two youngsters in tow. The rest of the film is
about Neelkantha's misadventures and eventual death
in the cross-fire between Maoist revolutionaries and
the police. Peripatetic but top-heavy with dialogue, the
film did nothing for Ghatak's reputation.
While he was making jukti in 1971, Bangladesh was
liberated, and Pran Katha Chitro, a Bangladeshi production company, invited him to direct a film for them
the following year. He chose Adwaitya Malla Burman's
literary saga of an East Bengali fishing community in
the early decades of the twentieth century, Titash Ekti
Nadir Naam. He shot it in a record 17 days and nearly
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
died in the process. He had to be evacuated from location by helicopter and spent the next 18 months in hospital. The producers released the film, much to his chagrin, without showing him the final cut. Having recovered somewhat, he went over to Dakha to re-cut the
film. "I am 75 per cent happy with the film. Work needs
to be done on the sound", he declared in March 1975 to
this writer after a screening of the film in Sapru House,
New Delhi, during the first retrospective of his work in
his lifetime, organised bv the Bengalee Club, Kali Bari,
New Delhi.
Titash Ekti Nadir Naam is a relentless tragedy. There
is no let-up through its two-and-a-quar-
ter hour run. lt is dynamically photographed and the ensemble acting is
spirited throughout. The cinematic rendering of the novel is a curious case of
Thomas Hardv meeting with Hegel
and Karl Marx in the riverine culture
of Bengal just as industrialisation is
beginning to make a dent. The film succeeds perhaps because of its authentic
local flavour. Even jades in far-off .Manhattan, New York City, were moved to
tears seeing it in a retrospective of his
films in 1996.
Ghatak's conscious effort to keep
the narrative on an even keel, giving
prominence to fhe river and the village
near its bank and the characters living
there, would fool the viewer for a while
into believing that a documentary by a
superior sensibility was unraveling on
the screen. Then, suddenly, inexplicably ambiguous poetic elements begin
to make their presence felt, infusing
tragic grandeur into a story of a river
drying up and leaving the fishing community on its banks without livelihood
or purpose, and making them prey to
attacks of goondas in the pay of city
businessmen who wish to take over what has become
real estate.
Titash is by no means flawless. But its charge of
emotion is genuine and sustained from beginning to
end and there is a sense of loss in its depiction seldom
approached in post-war cinema. Had it been his last
film, it would have been a worthy farewell but that was
not to be.
jukti Tappo Aar Gappo was received enthusiastically
by the young turks of the film society movement in
Calcutta, but it was not a film worthy of his genius,
four excellent sequences notwithstanding and also
Ghatak's own gripping performance as a drunken
gadfly. The picturisation of the Tagore song, "Kaeno
Cheye Aacho go Maa" on Ghatak himself is kingly in
its austerity. But, his health had completely failed and
he ran high fever, was vomiting blood during the film
ing special
Titash Ekti Nadir Naam (1973)
The charge of emotion in Titash Ekti
Nadir Naam is
genuine and sustained from beginning to end and the
sense of loss in
its depiction is seldom approached in
post-war cinema.
ing. The end was near.
When death came, he had for some years borne a
resemblance to King Lear. His hair had turned white,
his body had shrunk and he looked thirty years older
than his actual age. Yet there was something majestic
about him. Broken in health but ever optimistic, Ghatak
was full of plans. He had always wanted to make a
genuine children's film and actively engaged in negotiations with the Children's Film Society of India to produce Princess Kalavati, based on a famous Bengali
folktale, "Buddhu Bhutum". He devised ways of achiev-
effects elegantly and effectively for the film
within a modest budget.
The second important project on
Ghatak's anvil was Sheye O
Bishiiuprii/a, a contemporary tale of
rape and murder juxtaposed with the
fate of the real Bishnupriya, the unfortunate third wife of the medieval
Vaishnav saint Sri Chaitanya
Mahaprabhu of Nabadwip, West Bengal. At another level, the script dealt
with the male's gradual loss of paitrush
or manliness and sensitivity, his fear
of woman's innate goodness and creativity, and his attempts to first reject
and then destroy it in the course of history.
Also on the anvil was an untitled
comedy about a fishmonger, who is
believed to have won a huge lottery
and his predictable rise in the esteem
of certain greedy business folk who
want to grab his prize money. But luck
decrees otherwise. It is revealed that
he has actually lost by the margin of a
single crucial digit blurred by the constant handling of his lottery ticket with
grubby hands. Ghatak wrote the script
in tribute to his hero - Charlie Chaplin.
The best of Ritwik Ghatak continues to be invigorating cinema twenty-seven years after
his death: prescient, plastic and rich with under-stated
possibility. He always claimed that he did not care for
storytelling in his films and that for him the story was
only a starting point. But in his own way he was a
terrific storyteller, who could, like the Indian literary
masters before the industrial age and much earlier, digress from the main story in a seemingly arbitrary fashion and always return to enrich it. In this respect,
Ghatak resembled his friend, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan,
the supreme improviser in Hindustani music, who at
his best can take the listener by complete surprise with
his digressions from the main composition in a given
raga; by his sly asides, and his startling return to the
dominant theme to create new, unforeseen avenues of
thought and feeling.
There are long stretches in Ajantrik, Meghe Dhaka
HIMAL 16/11  November 2003
 Tara, Kama! Gandhar, Subarnarekha and
Titash Ekti Nadir Naam that create a bond
with the viewer, thus making him/her
an integral part of the film's creative process. Only the finest of artistes in the performing arts have this quality. Ghatak at
his best certainly did.
It is a subcontinental pity he did not
work more and was constantly strapped
for cash, and that he let the demons in
his professional life take over his personal life to the ultimate destruction of
both. Ghatak did not have a strong survival instinct like Bertolt Brecht did. He
allowed mean and vicious people to hurt
him repeatedly and drive him to irreversible alcoholism, at which point he began
to hurt those who loved him the most and
tried to help him. The left that had made
him an artiste in the first place, had by
the end of his life - much earlier, actually    	
- abdicated its responsibility towards the exploited and
the spurned and begun to nurse bourgeois aspirations.
Only he continued to dream of being a people's artiste,
of working towards an Indian film language, though
riot consciously. He was forced to accept, in penury, a
Ritwik Ghatak: prescient, plastic and
rich with understated possibility.
documentary on Indira Gandhi, deluding himself that he would get the
better of her by portraying her as Lady-
Macbeth. He was released from his
agonv when he turned up late and
drunk at Dliih Dum airport in Calcutta
during a leg of the shooting and she took
him off the project, inadvertently saving
his dignity for posterity.
For a further understanding of the
man, one must go back to Paras Pathar, a
story he wrote as a young man of twenty-
three. In it, Chandrakant Sarkar, a
humble clerk in a colliery and a connoisseur of Hindustani music, attacks and
robs the assistant manager carrying the
company's payroll. He does so in order
to fund the research based on knowledge got from a travelling sadhu to bring
back to life the recently dead. When the
law catches up with him he is seen by a
waterfall in the jungle, completely unhinged by the fact
that he has lost the piece of paper that had the formula
the shaman had given him. Ritwik Ghatak's greatness
and his vulnerability are symbolically predicted in this
Brahmans and Cricket:
Lagaan's Millennial Purana and Other Myths
S. Anand   '
Cricket unites Indians. Cricket is nationalism. Cricket is religion. We are told cricket is
also secular, A leftist and a hindutvawadi
equally celebrate an Indian victory. However, till recently, a cricket team comprised
a majority ot brahmans, sometimes 8 out of
11 piayers. How did a priesliy class—soft,
even effeminate—come lo dominate a
sport? Why does such dominance not extend to 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
ol its dalit character. Kachra, the author langentially examines why the nation is
under the thrall of cricket and cinema, SUDHANVA DESHPANDE and LUBNA MARIAM
respond. A debate ensues. A must-read tor those interested in sports, politics, film,
caste and identity politics.
Touchable Tales:
Publishing and Reading Dalit Literature
Ed. S. Anand
Mainstream publishers in India and abroad
are seeking ou! dalil literature. Dalit writers
are betng invited to literary festivals abroad.
Dalit literature is also being taught in universities. But who decides what gets published? Who-are these interlocutors—the
publishers, translators and editors? Why are
autobiographies prioritized? While dalits in
Tamil Nadu are being forced to consumeshit
and piss, who are the consumers of dalit literature in English? In this book, those involved with the publishing, teaching, and
creation of dalit literature—Ravikumar Mini Krishnan, Gail Omvedt, K. Satyanarayana.
Arundhati Roy, AlokMukherjee, Arun Prabha Mukherjee, Sivakami, K.P.Singh, Mandira
Sen, Narendra Jadhav, Anand Teltumbde—debate these issues.
Postmodernism and Religious Fundamentalism:
A Scientific Rebuttal to Hindu Science
The promotion o( an anti-Enlightenment,
anti-modernist view of the world by the seemingly leflwing, postmodernist scholars wiih      	
indigenist sympathies has ended up affirming the common sense of rightwing funda- - ■ 0
mentalist movements. We have landed in a
situation where Hindu, Islamic and Christian '- .
fundamentalists assert the right to their 'own' ™-v
science, and this sits well with the : "
postmodernist denigration ol 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—is under threat. However,
philosopher of science MEERA NANDA. in this collection—an essay, a review of her
work, and an interview wiih her—sees hope in the ideas of Ambedkar. the dalit
movement and neo-Buddhism.
Ambedkar: Autobiographical Notes
B.R. Ambedkar
In six autobiographical sketches, B.R.
AMBEDKAR. India's foremost civil rights
leader, reminiscences 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 alter his return from studies abroad,
ater as a tourist at the Daulatabad fort,
and a few other incidents. In his introduction, RAVIKUMAR, activist-theoretician olthe
dalit movement, tries lo understand Ihe complex manner in which the private' and
the -public' operate lor a dalit person. He situates our lack ol access lo Ambedkar's
orivate in this binary of the dalit self.
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
Judging Film South Asia
by Lubna Marium
I tend to disagree with the concept of art for art's
sake and view all creative activity as purposive - be
it literature, art, music or even cinema, However, I
have often wondered too how these purposes have been
achieved and, in attempting to understand tbe entire
process, have come to agree with scholars of yore who
view all art experience as a tripartite event which includes the author, the medium of expression and, finally, the empathiser who is either the reader, the listener or the viewer, according to the medium of expression. The onus of achievement, however, lies in the ability of the work to be able to inspire a response in the
mind of the empathiser. All creative
activity is actualised when and
only when it finds a resonance in
the empathiser.
Having danced for the last 35
years and written for about half of
those many years I tend to view my
audience and my reader with a
healthy respect and treat each of
their responses with due consideration. It took Film South Asia to
teach me that the same goes for every other form of expression.
I was admittedly apprehensive
when asked to be a member of the jury of Film South
Asia '0.1 in September 2003, together with Mark Tully,
of radio fame, and Mizorams' Lalswamlani, of the India international Centre Film Club (New Delhi). Films
are not my line of expression. 1 wondered if J would be
able to do justice to a medium which used celluloid
images and a specialised technology that I knew nothing about. I motivated myself for the juryship by convincing myself that visual images are just another tool
for expression and could possibly, at one level, be judged
merely on their success in articulating just what they
had intended to, irrespective of the technicalities inherent in the mode.
Watching the 43 films in final line-up at FSA '03 with
my fellow jurors, 1 was not proved wrong. However, in
those three and a half days of intense viewing 1 added
another criterion, subjective though it was. Documentaries, I had thought, differed from features by the fact
that they presented reality as it is without editorialised
narration. 1 came to realise that, on the contrary, clocu-
The 18th Elephant - 3 Monologues
mentaries were all about editorial interpolations which
were all the more forceful when they came not just as
verbal narratives but as visual images; images that made
you 'see' the world, that you had grown up with, anew.
For me that principle became the determining factor.
Did the visuals add to the discourse on that subject in
the print media thus justifying their usage? 1 searched
for convincing visual tracts that enhanced my knowledge of a particular subject and in this way gauged
their efficacy.
There was, of course, another major concern.
Through the years, FSA has come to stand for a platform where liberal filmmakers are
assured uncensored screening of
their work. If not explicitly, implicitly it is the activist's stage. FSA is
all about documentaries that speak
for the people of South Asia and
about issues that are tearing the region apart. FSA can proudly say it
stands for the voice of the people of
South Asia - be they marginalised
segments of society, or unheralded
men and women on the streets and
in the villages. Given the character
of FSA, we, the members of the jury
wondered if we were to make a political statement
through our choice. After some sou) searching we decided otherwise. The bottom-line was to be the craft
As such, I emphatically feel that our choice of P
Balan's The 18th Elephant - 3 Monologues allowed us to
remain true to our conscience while awarding the young
filmmaker from South India for his exquisite use of the
moving picture to document the unscrupulous attitude
of mankind towards mute fellow creatures. Kawsar
Chowdhury's documentation of the atrocious happenings of 25 March 1971, when the Pakistani army had
attacked academic quarters in Dhaka, was the cause of
much personal angst for myself. While we had, all of
us, been convincingly touched by the stark recreation
of that dark night, I was personally of the opinion that
such films served only to deepen divides while jettisoning the need to forgive and move ahead with our
lives. I reminded myself that the awards were not a
testimony of mv beliefs and the Tale ofthe Darkest Night
HIMAL  16/11   November 2003
 was definitely a fine example of the genre of reconstructed reportage. I set aside my reservations. The visuals of Sand and Water, truly, told the tale of the unknown heroes of South Asia, the unadorned blend of
sorrow and joy, filmed in the Bangladeshi delta, speaks
of the resilience of South Asians as a people and could
have been filmed anywhere in the Subcontinent. Our
choice of Fire Within was absolutely undisputed. It had
brought to life the unfair marginalisation of ethnic minorities true for all the nations of South Asia. And of
course, with Bhedako Oon Jasto we gave in to the sheer
joy exuded by the entire exercise of "searching for a
song" in the hills of Nepal. There were undertones in
the films which said much through suggestive images
The choices for the outstanding films of Film South
Asia '03, though initially difficult, w7ere made unani-
■noiislv, and left us satisfied about a job well done. It
was not to be.
Ihe awards ceremony over at the Jai Nepal Cinema
Hall, the efficient team of festival organisers gathered
together the assorted group of participants (filmmakers, volunteers, jury members) and drove us to the exquisite premises of the Patan Durbar Square for a sumptuous Newari feast signalling the closure of festivities.
As judgments are bound to do, ours
too had brought with it its fair share
of concurrence and conflict. It was
of course just as expected. So far so
Then I was introduced to this
handsome filmmaker who looked at
me down his nose. After a brief
brooding glance, Anand Patwardhan accosted me outright about the
absence of any "anti-fascist" films
in our list of awards. 1 had not been
expecting such a direct confrontation and quietly replied that as jury
we had felt that these films could have been better crafted.
Patwardhan was grossly affronted and challenged my
credentials for telling off a filmmaker like him who had
been in the business for 30 years and went on to inform
me that documentaries were not about aesthetics and
"beautiful sunsets". On hindsight, 1 do concede that I
could have been more sensitive towards a filmmaker of
Patwardhan's stature and skill, for his War and Peace
had deeply impressed us all. What I should instead
have said was that the films that had been awarded
were, we felt, better crafted.
Of course, 1 realise that that too would not have
pleased Patwardhan. Undeterred, 1 asked him if he
thought that the IStli Elephant was not made well
enough. My adversary replied in disgust, "It is a good
film, but how many people do you see taking up arms
for mere elephants? Our country is under the siege of
fascists and you play it safe by awarding a film on elephants! It really doesn't say much about your beliefs
Bhedako Oon Jasto
and your understanding of documentaries". This time
1 firmly stated that the awards were not a statement of
our politics and went on to disclose that taking into
consideration the vision of South Asia that FSA held to,
most of the 'activist' films were in fact being included
in the 15 films for Travelling Film South Asia which
would, be screened at venues throughout the various
countries of South Asia and overseas. This proved to
be the final straw, and Patwardhan spoke to me no
Back home now, I continue to believe that we made
the right choices. I firmly believe that South Asia is fortunate to have a large number of people who continue
to be concerned about the sorrowful plight of humanity
in all our countries. Of course each finds his, or her,
own cultural response and modus operandi to confront
the situation. It is unjust to discard P Balan's film as a
mere documentation of elephants. While the film may
not implicitly be about fascism in saffron or bearded
garbs, it too brings to light a fundamental question
about man's tyrannical and uncaring attitude towards
his fellow creatures and also towards the environment
in general. The 18th Elephant does make us question
our personal mores and values, which go a long way in
contributing towards the generally unhappy situation
in our countries. A little compassion for each other's battles would
go a long way in improving our
lot. After all aren't we all fighting
for the same end?
Documentaries have played a
major role in disseminating information and creating an awareness
of issues crucial to our lives. That
does not go to say that the craft and
technique cannot be improved
upon.   Saying   the   right   thing
  doesn't necessarily guarantee that
one has said it to the best of one's
abilities. I agree with Patwardhan that aesthetics is not
about "beautiful sunsets". Any aesthetic experience is
all about the force with which images touch your heart.
And, incidentally, I do believe there isn't a single sunset in the films awarded at FSA '03, while a few have
scenes that are gruesome enough to leave one nauseous
and gasping for air.
Furthermore, entering one's work in a festival necessitates the need to understand that this immediately
entails a brush with critique. The jury panel seemed to
be a balanced mix of the lay and professional observer.
1 do, too, however believe that every viewer as an
empathiser has the right to critique a work. Film South
Asia is a festival for the people of South Asia and will
at the end of the day be judged by them alone. I see
myself as a representative of this mainstream audience
which forms the benchmark for the success of our films.
After all, the more people one can reach out to the more
successful is a venture. ;'■■
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
 Jury out on the jury
by Nupur Basu
'ilm South Asia 2003 began with sobriety and
ended with heartburn. This was the fourth edi
tion of the Kathmandu-based biennial festival of
South Asian documentary films, a routine and robust
fixture on the festival calendar since its inception in
1997. Sobriety- is a virtue that the documentary medium
has steadfastly clung on to, when all the other media
have succumbed to flippancy in their haste to capture
the market. The mood of the opening was therefore entirely in keeping with the spirit of the medium.
Documentary filmmakers from cities from all over
the Subcontinent like Bombay, Karachi, Dhaka, Colombo, and from smaller corners like
Peshawar, Ranchi and the Maldives
were present in strength, reflecting the
festival's reach. Another sign of the extent to which the fixture has evolved
as an institution is the transformation
it has wrought in Kathmandu. For a
city whose cinematic tradition is incipient at best, the documentaries on
show attracted an extraordinary degree
of interest. Despite all that is sometimes
said about the documentary's lack of
dramatic appeal, the ticket booths at
the Russian Cultural Centre at Kamal-
pokhari in Kathmandu, where FS.A '03
was screened from September 25 to 28,
almost always had a 'SOLD OUT' sign
at the box office.
"The increasing popularity of documentaries not only with audiences but
also with the filmmakers can be measured from the fact that in 1997 when
the first festival was held we had 135
film entries and in 2003 the entries
climbed to 203", said Manesh
Shreshta, the Director of Film South
Asia (FSA). dAn experiment started by a     	
group of print journalists associated with the magazine Himal in 1997 to create this special space for South
Asian documentary filmmakers had worked!
Though the festival began with a dash of Bollywood,
which normally evokes scorn in the documentary world,
this time it was Bollywood making all the appropriate
noises. A director known for his outspoken views and
unconventional images, Mahesh Bhatt, opened the fes-
market for it"
"There needs to
be dynamism in
storytelling and
presentation and a
major investment
in creating a viable
- Mahesh Bhatt
tival with his key-note address and said what documentary filmmakers like to hear: "I am hopeful for the
documentary because essentially those that work with
me in the dream machine feed from the same reality
that the documentary portrays". He recounted his own
encounter with the true power of the documentary
while working with OXFAV1 after the cyclone in Orissa
in 1999, He realised at that point how dramatic and
powerful the imagery of real life situations could be.
"There needs to he dynamism in story telling and presentation and a major investment in creating a viable
Bhatt pointed out.
Although the masala Hindi film is
the genre that continues to dominate
the popular imagination of the entire
Subcontinent, small budget, small star,
experimental films, more in tune with
the urban realities, are beginning to
find popularity in the growing multiplexes across India. Fven the documentary, the poor and neglected cousin
of mainstream cinema, has finally begun to catch the attention of big-time
filmmakers. Despite the fact that documentaries have become a little more
visible in the public sphere than they
were, regular venues for their routine
screening are few and far between.
Filmmakers therefore still have to depend primarily on festivals and special screenings to reach an audience.
This is even more so for those who
make what are, with a hint of condescension, called 'serious' films. It is not
surprising that F'SA '03 attracted so
many of these serious films. Though
the slogan for the festival this time
around was "Documentaries can be
      fun!", the background note from the
organisers aptly described the real mood of most of the
films: "The films being exhibited in FSA describe the
tumultuous times we live in. Everywhere fundamentalism is on the rise. The gun is increasingly the option
of choice. Communal conflagrations provide a foretaste
of more catastrophic times ahead. Societies and cultures are buckling under the pressure ot a rapacious
market that is unchecked by government, academia,
HIMAL  16/11   November 2003
 media or civil society. And yet the people cope, make
do, survive and nurture the hope for better days. The
films selected for screening at FSA reflect the concerns
of the times and mood of the people of South Asia. In
the hands of masters of non-fiction, the films help us
look at ourselves".
What unravelled on celluloid over the next four days
were the fault lines in the Subcontinent, lhe documentaries held up a disturbing fare of reality images from a
region with a population of over one and half billion—
mired in poverty, illiteracy, hunger, gender discrimination, exploitation of children, caste conflicts, growing
fundamentalism and ethnic strife, nuclear mongering
and the politics of hate. Video had set free a rush of
images that gave the marginalised a voice and unleashed a torrent of critique of governments that are
sometimes ranged against their own people.
"The best way for different parts of a diverse South
Asia to know of each cither's concerns is through the
documentary film. Fortunately, documentary films are
now being made more and more with the audience in
mind, so they are more riveting and hence are able to
carry the message across", says Kanak Mani Dixit,
chairman of ISA. For a Subcontinent mired in conflict
and mutual distrust among neighbours this, as always,
seemed like the ideal South Asian melting pot. The endorsement came from the filmmakers themselves.
"Where else would 1 see films from Pakistan, Sri
Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal? This festival creates for us
a very special South Asian space. We share the same
sensibilities here and break out of Western stereotypes",
says Indian filmmaker Gargi Sen, whose film The Story
Tellers, was one of the entries at the festival.
From Pakistan, the sensibility was the same even if
the emphasis was slightly different. "It was a long journey to get here but worth every bit of the trouble, lt is an
eye opener for me to see the sense of freedom that Indian filmmakers have and great to watch the films they
have made. In Pakistan, although the print media has
been an independent force, documentary filmmaking
has still not reached any critical stage. Our middle class
base is so small that we are not effectively combating
the issues that are facing us ...people are
scared...nobody has seen my film in Pakistan although
it has been screened all over in the US", says Sharmeen
Obaid, director of Terror's Children.
Samar Minallah, a woman filmmaker from
Peshawar, in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province,
spoke of a predicament that many other documentary
filmmakers from the Subcontinent routinely face. "I did
not enter my film in any Western festival because 1 know
they will use my critique of the custom of swara to beat
Islam with. I made the film for mv country and my
people and I entered it at the Film South Asia because
here I will find an empathetic audience not an exploitative one". Minallah's film, Swara: A bridge over troubled
waters is a hard-hitting comment on the Takhtun practice of giving minor girls in marriage to an "enemy fam-
The jury from left to right: Lubna Marium, Lalsawmliani
Tochhawng and Mark Tully.     _ 	
ily" in reparation for serious crimes like murder committed by male members of the little girl's family. The
issue is now before the country's Supreme Court and
Minallah is hoping that legislation will be introduced
soon to ban the practice.
Implicit in what Minallah says is the idea that the
films being made and screened today have evolved in
form and content to emerge as powerful critiques. This
is a view that is forcefully and explicitly articulated by
others. "The kind of documentary films that are being
made these days ...rongtc khade kame wale hole hain (they
make your hair stand on end!)", said Meghna th, director of Development Flows from the Barrel of the Gun.
'Locating' the festival
A compact documentary festival in a country without
its own entrenched tradition of independent film-making has many advantages. For one, it has the potential
to accord filmmakers from different countries equal
standing in the absence of what could be perceived as a
home advantage. For another, it can promote the culture of documentary films in the countries whose filmmaking tradition is weak and create an environment of
visual literacy in the medium both for making films
and viewing them. Further, because the festival is regional in scope and its venue is geo-politically 'neutral', it can facilitate the emergence of networks of survival among embattled filmmakers from the Subcontinent. FSA certainly afforded this opportunity and, between screenings, documentary- filmmakers took time
off to plot new marketing strategies for distributing their
But it is not at all certain that all the potential inherent in a festival of this kind was actually realised. In
particular, it is a matter of some doubt whether the manner in which the jury exercised its judgement will contribute very much to the cause of serious filmmaking in
the adverse circumstances that prevail in South Asia.
And it most certainly is the case that the jury squandered the advantage of Kathmandu's reputation as a
neutral venue in order to make some distinctly- simplistic decisions. Or is it the case that such conspicuous
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
 simplicity is what makes for a 'neutral' repute?
Whatever the reasons for the jury's verdict, there
were a great many protesting voices among both filmmakers and film viewers as the curtain came down on
ISA '03. The jury had evidently satisfied itself, but it had
done very little to satisfy the rest. That the jury's choice
of award winning films had not gone down well became clear not only from the murmurings of protest
from the discerning audiences which had flocked to
see these films and given mental marks to their favourite
"bold" documentaries. The jury was told in so many
words by some of the filmmakers themselves.
The jury's choice was critiqued primarily because it
appeared to have steered clear of controversial political films that had taken on governments. There was
clearly an expectation that the jury would be as bold in
its judgement as many of the films
they were called upon to judge.
Without doubt, the jury failed to
live up to that expectation and
chose instead to play it safe by conferring awards on themes and subjects that would not offend or ruffle
any establishment. The charge
against a jury that had come to
judge a documentary festival was
as severe as it could get. They had
gone to some lengths to remain studiously apolitical and, in doing
that, simply ignored the merits of
some of the entries, which had been
made under extremely difficult circumstances.
Whatever individual members
of the jury may say in defence of
the criteria they applied in arriving at their decisions, it is evident
that they did not take into account
the context in which such films are
made. It is of course important to
judge any creative output on its internal merits, but where complex
issues are concerned that cannot
be the sole ground for judgement. It is equally important, in the case of an endangered activity like documentary filmmaking, to give due weight to the themes
on which they are made and the conditions under which
they are made. This is all the more true when the mass
media has increasingly silenced itself on sensitive matters in the effort to stay on the right side of the political
establishment. To that extent, the timing of the judgement hurt filmmakers who, in the pursuit of their craft,
are prepared to step beyond the permissible limits established by polite consensus. At a time when documentary filmmakers are struggling against the censorship regime imposed by their governments, the jury's
choice of award winning films seemed to be unmindful
of these grim realities. The organisers sensed the dis
comfort and seemed to get equally uncomfortable. At
the closing dinner in Patan Museum, so painstakingly
hosted by the organisers, the atmosphere was glacial.
It is not as if documentary filmmakers make films
solely to win awards. Far from it. They make films because, first of all, thev have consciously opted to work
in this genre and they have a commitment to document
the struggle of people in the non-fictional mode. But at
another level, shunned by the establishment and cinema theatres as they are because they choose to portray
controversial subjects, documentary festivals are their
onlv life-line of recognition and encouragement. An
award is always a bonus in a documentary filmmaking
career that is pursued in an overall climate in which
neither the genre nor the filmmaker gets due recognition. Awards help bring hitherto neglected works and
their themes into focus.
It is in this context that the decision of the FSA '03 jury ti) completely
ignore sharp and well made sociopolitical documentaries wdiich
showed the chilling consequences
of possible conflicts in South Asia:
like Anand Patwardhan's Jung aur
Aman (War and Peace) which takes
the lens close to nuclear nationalism; Sanjay Kak's 85-minute long
powerful documentary on the
Narmada andolan, Words on Water, which deftly pits the grassroots
movement of the Narmada Bachao
Andolan against the powers that
be in the World Bank in yet another
riveting documentary on the
Narmada struggle; Greg Stiffs Diverted to Delhi, a film on the cultural
disasters of globalisation through
the example of call centres; Gopal
Menon's Resilient Rhythms, on the
continuing oppression of dalits in
India; and Samar Minallah's Swara:
A bridge over troubled waters, a hardhitting comment on a reprehensible
Pakhtun practice.
A powerful and recurrent theme at the festival was
the growing fundamentalism in India. The Gujarat carnage appears to have become a focal point for several
documentaries. Shubradeep Chakravorty's Godhra Tak
: The Terror 'Trail is 60 minute-long clinical investigation of who possibly set fire to the train in Godhra (and
who certainly did not) and it Vachani's 98-minute film
The Men in the Tree, on the rise and influence of the
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in India, were
perhaps the best explorations of this theme. Likewise,
ace directors KP Jayashankar and Anjali Monteiro provide a moving personalised tale of communal harmony
in Mumbai's biggest slum, Dharavi, in their film Nata
(The Bond). 'Fhe list is long.
HIMAL  16/11   November 2003
 But none of these passionate, well crafted and well
argued documentaries found favour with the FSA jury.
None of them featured in the list of awards and special
mentions announced by the trio led by former BBC journalist, Delhi-based Mark "Fully and his co-jurors, Lubna
Marium from Dhaka and sawmliani Tochhawng from
Mizoram. It is as if the jury had somehow missed the
pulse ofthe festival and its very essence—political documentaries that challenge the global world order and
the pursuits of narrow nationalism. Thev seemed lo be
entirely oblivious to the mechanics of the production of
these films—to the struggle and anxieties of documentary filmmakers who make these films against heavy-
odds and sometimes with little or no money, and only
their convictions to sustain them. It is as if the jury had
carefully plucked these out and put it in their reject bin
almost as a conscious choice and selected those which
were made under much less difficult circumstances.
More importantly they seemed to have picked films that
did not upset the apple cart. In effect, thev had completely disregarded the socio-political impulses that are
driving the documentary community in the Subcontinent.
After all what is it that makes a Michael Moore lift
the Oscar with his documentary Bowling for Columbine?
Or an Alanis Obomsawin, with her powerful documentary from Canada, Kanebsatakc: 270 i/cars of Resistance
pick up over 18 international awards? Or journalist,
writer, and documentary filmmaker, John Pilger, stand
out with his innumerable political documentaries? Is it
not the fact that they dare to take on the politics of their
governments and expose the lies?
Defiant grammar
Defiance is the grammar of cinema write as established
bv some of the world's finest documentary filmmakers
over the ages. At a time when mainstream media is
driven by the urgings of the market place, this is the
only form of cinema that is continuing to fight on rights
issues, whether it be of indigenous or poor people in
the world, the forces of neo-colonialism, or the dangerous fallout of the global arms trade. After all, the documentary genre itself was a reaction against the pleasure machine of mainstream cinema and an attempt to
take celluloid back to a socially driven mode of filmmaking. As Jean-Luc Godard pithily summed it up, "The
problem is not to make political films, but to make films
The tenuous existence of films that expressly articulate views and perspectives that militate against the
confirmed orthodoxies and cannons of the nationalist
faith is what makes jury awards more than just symbolically significant. The award is also more than just a
ritual gesture of empathy. It is a statement endorsing
the legitimacy of both the subject of the film and the
dissident sensibility that informs its treatment. For that
reason the award is a statement of its own politics. In
this sense, the award privileges certain kinds of world
Lubna Marium with Anand Patwardhan.
views over others, and in a world that has increasingly
circumscribed the public space for dissidence, a documentary audience expects the jury to at least honour
the tradition of democratic dissent by recognising such
films. And in an otherwise arid landscape, it provides
filmmakers with the reassurance that their efforts have
been worth the trouble. "We come to these festivals not
only to show our own films but also to see the works of
other filmmakers. The awards are crucial in a sense
because that gives us newcomers into the field an idea
of what kind of films should be our role models...which
should set the benchmark...the selection by this jury-
has left us baffled", said Samar Minallah, filmmaker
from Peshawar, whose film on the male-dominated
North West Frontier province was made under extremely trying circumstances. She was not alone in her
criticism as many others echoed her sentiments.
It is ironic, though not necessarily surprising, that
the jury chose so pointedly to distance itself from the
political documentary in the immediate aftermath of
an unprecedented and aggressive display of hostility
against documentary filmmakers by government of India. Just prior to FSA '03, they had run headlong into a
major crisis when the government suddenly made it
mandatory for documentary filmmakers to get censor
certificates for their films as a precondition for submitting them for the bi-annual Mumbai International Film
Festival (MIFF). The festival is billed as one of the biggest and best documentary festivals in India and no
such rule had been applicable prior to this peculiar
stipulation, lhe censorship clause provoked a huge
protest in the documentary film community. As many
as a 170 Indian documentary filmmakers threatened to
boycott the festival. Some foreign filmmakers too joined
them in support. An embarrassed government finally
backtracked and is now pleading with filmmakers to
send in their entries.
The censorship certificate
In circumstances when filmmakers have to go through
extraordinary trouble to not only make their films but
also to have it screened, political filmmakers need to be
given due encouragement if the genre of documenta-
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
 ries is not to go the way of the other media, by eschewing its real investigating and critical functions in favour
of fun films that will meet with the jury's approval. This
is all the more so because the general context that permits such serious anti-status quoist documentaries has
not fully emerged in South Asia. In India, documentaries are made in reasonable numbers but the state tries
to screen them from the public. According to it Vachani,
director of The Men in the Tree, "The state clearly perceives a threat from documentary filmmakers who are
critical of its functioning...there is a growing paranoia
in the establishment about the visual medium ...and
under these circumstances it is getting more and more
difficult to screen films which arc seen as controversial
in public film has found it very hard to get
venues in India.,.a screening set up      ,„.,.„._.„.
at the National Institute of Design
(N1D) in Ahmedabad was cancelled
at the last minute.,.".
There are indications that this
trend is looking increasingly attractive to other countries of the region,
like Bangladesh and Nepal. In Nepal,
FSA 03 was almost up in the air this
time with the government demanding
that films should have censor certificates before they could be screened at
the venue. Last minute backroom cinema-diplomacy with Nepal's Information Ministry and the fear that the
cancellation of the festival could	
cause acute embarrassments, allowed
the festival to happen. FSA '03 was held as usual without anyone knowing the hurdles that had almost short-
circuited it! But from another, more country-specific
angle, overt censorship is not even required since the
conditions simply do not exist to encourage the emergence of a culture of political documentaries. How else
is one to explain the scarcity of political documentary
makers in Nepal, a country that has been going through
acute political turmoil for close to a decade.
The situation is no different in Sri l.anka where the
censorship regime has made it very difficult for documentary filmmakers to operate and make films critiquing the establishment. And this accounts for the fact
that there was no Sri Lankan film at FSA 2001 and only
one entry at this year's FSA. And even this lone entry-
was not made in Sri Lanka, having been made by Yasin
Khan, who lives in Canada and works for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
Besides overt censorship and subtle pressure tactics, states also resort to cruder methods of intimidation. Says Anand Patwardhan, one of India's most consistent and tireless documentary filmmakers, "1 have
had policemen barge into auditoriums and try to stop
the screening of my films...till I produce my censor certificate and then they are forced to leave., .that's the one
reason that I make it a point to get a censor certificate".
Whatever individual
members of the jury
may say in defence
of the criteria they
applied in arriving at
their decisions, it is
evident that they did
not take into account
the context in which
films are made.
Patwardhan goes on to add, "The state has always
been jittery about documentary films, whether it be the
Congress government or the BJP". He recalls that Satyajit
Ray, had to intervene on behalf of his film Prisoners of
Conscience, which was made just after the emergency in
1978 and the government had tried to censor it. Since
then, this filmmaker has fought innumerable cases in
court to ensure that his films are not blocked. "They
wanted 21 cuts in all in my film War and Peace this time.
1 finally won the court case in April this year and got a
censorship certificate without a single cut...luckily our
democratic system still functions from time to time !",
says Patwardhan.
Clearly then, the dissident film, the film as a critique
of holy cows, is an endangered craft, given the difficul-
     ties encountered before, during and
after the making of the film. Odds of
this magnitude are enough to daunt
young filmmakers from using their
medium to attempt what the other
media have for the most part abandoned. It is entirely understandable,
though not excusable, why states in
South Asia have a preference for soft
films over tough films. What is less
understandable is the FSA '03 jury's
disinterest in the very form that the
more politically informed expected
them to uphold. While the organisers
merely believed that documentaries
can be fun, the jury emphasised that
documentaries should be fun. Some
documentary- films can no doubt be fun, but what happens in the meanwhile to all the cinematic chronicles
of people who are dead, dying or living like the dead,
across the South Asian landmass. In Sanjay Kak's film,
Words on Water, an epitaph on the gravestone of a
Narmada tribal read: "This is the true war against terror".
The parallel with documentary films is obvious.
They are the true, and sometimes the only, challenge to
terror in our societies. But did the FSA '03 jury think
about such issues? b
The first line oi Siriyavan Anands review (Himal October
20O3) of Meera Nanda's book Breaking tlie Spell of Dharma
and Other Essays should read as follows:
In recent times, there have been very few intellectual voices
from among the English-using sections of India with the
commitment and courage to take on both Hinduism and
Hindutva Even the most passionate spokespersons of
secularism in India seem to invest faith in 'good Hinduism' and its 'plurality' and seem content to direct their
critical energies against Hindutva, refusing to see the
fundamental links between the former and the latter.
(Tlie error is regretted)
HIMAL 16/11   November 2003
 Goodbye documentary,
hello non-fiction
The director of Kathmandu's Film South Asia festival of documentaries looks back at the history of documentary films, maps evolving
trends in the genre, reflects on the emergence of a substantial body
of viewers for serious non-fiction and ponders on the ways in which
these films can be taken to a larger audience.
by Manesh Shrestha	
"hen the Travelling Film South Asia festival of
non-fiction films arrived in the central-Nepal
hill-town of Pokhara in early November, the
screening of 15 films—some light-hearted, but mostly
activists' fare—proved to be the documentary filmmakers' dream come true. Could this really be happening?
The venue, a commercial cinema hall with capacity of
600, was often showing documentaries to a packed hall
of more than a thousand, tickets of twenty rupees were being sold in 'black' for up to Rs
200. Even an eighteen-minute
film on the sexual identity of
Bombay transvestites got a respectable audience of 250.
"Let us have a screening
revolution!" has been a slogan of the organisers of
the biennial Film South Asia
festival in Kathmandu. The
Pokhara response to the travelling festival seemed to herald just such a revolution. It
proved that documentaries,
firstly, had audiences aplenty even beyond the serious
connoisseurs in the capitals and main metros. Pokhara
also proved that an audience that is not accustomed to
seeing documentaries has nevertheless developed a
taste for it, from word-of-mouth travelling all the way
west from Kathmandu, from watching documentaries
on television, and generally being capable of imbibing
more information in audio-visual format than earlier
The overwhelming response in Pokhara, which was
much more than what the FSA organisers had seen anywhere in South Asia in eight years of organising docu-
A Rough Cut on the Life and Times of Lachhuman
Magar (1997). 	
mentary festivals, was also due to the fact that there
were several Nepal-made documentaries in the lineup, including an archival film from the 1950s by a Swiss
geologist, and several films on cultural themes made
with deftness and depth by Nepali filmmakers who
had themselves been groomed over years of watching
documentaries from all over, in successive Film South
Asia festivals.
What was missing in the
Nepali films was the passion
of the activist, which has defined much of independent filmmaking in South Asia before
this, but that lack was more
than made up for by films from
the rest of the Subcontinent,
^^^ from a scream of pain on behalf
f| M     of elephants (P Balan, Kerala)
/ ^HtB^B     [0 questions about what really
happened in the burnt railway
coach at Godhra (Subhradeep
Chakravarty, Delhi), the sacrifice of girls to assuage male fam-
i ly prid e i n the Northwest Fron-
tier Province (Samar Minallah, Peshawar) and the
rhythms of life in a poor village in the delta region of
Bangladesh. All these films were received enthusiastically by the Pokhara audience.
The documentary film has travelled a fairly long
distance in the matter of just a few years in South Asia,
taking advantage of tbe rapid advance in both production technology (the digital camera, editing on computer,
etc) as well as screening equipment (most importantly,
the video projector, video tapes and DVDs). Meanwhile,
the tastes of the audience have been sharpened by the
evolution in South Asian cinema (particularly the 'A'
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
 IF AWARD winning documentaries at Film South
Asia held in Kathmandu since 1997 are any indication, the 'better' films as adjudged by the juries
(led variously over the years by Goutam Ghose,
Shyam Benegal, Mark Tully) are ones that tell stories of societies via the medium of individual experience. The award winners have included
Tsering Rhitar's The Spirit Does Not Come Anymore
which told the story of intergenerational conflict
between a Tibetan faith healer and his son; Farjad
Nabi's take on the life of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan as
well as his No One Beliei'es the Professor, about the
eccentric Lahori theatre actor; Thin Air, about magicians in Bombay and their hopes and insecurities; Sabeena Gadihoke's Three Women and a Camera about individual women photographers; My
Migrant Soul, the very personal story of a
Bangladeshi migrant labourer, his hopes and
fears; and A Rough Cut on the Life and Times of
Lachhuman Magar. The story of awards was no different in the Film South Asia '03 just concluded in
Kathmandu, when the jury awarded the 'best' film
award to The 1.8th Elephant - 3 Monologues, which
is a 'personal' story about three elephants.
market 1 lindi film), and the plethora of television channels and programmes. What has been missing is diversity in the documentary genre of a kind that includes
not only propaganda at one extreme and activism in
the other, but lightness, cultural commentary and even
humour in the delivery of the message if there is one.
Even more importantly, there is as yet no screening network which really appreciates the value of the documentary and the appeal that it has in society. That the
audience for documentary films does exist in sufficient
volume to even sustain a moderate level of commercial
success was proven by the Pokhara event, which has
been repeated in the smaller cities of South Asia that
have hosted the Travelling Film South Asia. If a medium-sized hill-town in Nepal with no history of documentary film festivals can provide an audience that
turned up in early November, cine can imagine the unfulfilled demand that exists in the far corners of South
Asia which have been more socialised into non-fiction
film than Pokhara has been,
When the Nepali film A Rough Cut on tlie Life and
Times of Lachhuman Magar was declared the second t>est
documentary at Film South Asia '01, a filmmaker in the
audience remarked, "That is not even a documentary,
how could it win an award?" The 38-minute long
Nepali film was a portrait of a retired soldier from the
Indian Gorkha regiment, working as a sweeper in a
tourist lodge. A raconteur with self-deprecating bent
and an eye for women in the village paddy fields and
Kathmandu streets alike, Lachhuman Magar was an
unlikely subject for 'traditional' documentaries, given
over as thev are either to present governmental and developmental propaganda, or the deeply-held views and
convictions of tlie documentary-maker-as-activists.
Lachhuman Magar thus marked a departure into another realm of filmmaking in Nepal too, delving into
artistic expression, pleasant emotions and engaging description. The life and times of the former soldier, as
captured by the hand-held camera of filmmaker Dinesh
Dcokota, does deal with deep issues such as poverty,
exploitation, deprivation and politics, but none of it
With the expansion in the repertoire of the non-fiction film, it was but natural that a parting of ways would
come about between filmmakers of the earlier moulds
and those who were branching out to explore new avenues of expression. This divergence was exemplified
in the tension between filmmakers who are among the
best in the line of activist documentary-making and the
three-member jury of FSA '03, because the latter decided
to reward aesthetic appeal as a necessary element in
presenting films to an audience. This was, in fact, the
most radical departure from all FSA festivals in the past,
where the commitment and political vision of the film
was given maximum weight.
That there was such a difference of vision is itself a
positive factor, for it indicates that the entire spectrum
of possibilities in the making of documentary films is
now in the process of being filled. Documentary filmmakers are also becoming more alert to the needs of the
audience, and utilising more sophisticated cinematic
techniques to reach them. There is also a visible trend
towards a more nuanced rendering of subjects to an
alert audience. The fact that the majority of films that
are now being submitted to Film South Asia for exhibition are actually made in the 'regional' or national languages rather than English also indicates that the target audience of these films is no more the English-speaking film aficionados of the major metros. This relationship between a new type of filmmaker and a new type
of audience has freed the documentary from some of its
typecast roles and made for a greater realism and honesty that is universal in its appeal and accessibility
despite the need to communicate dialogue through subtitles.
The early documentary
There have been two ways to understand the 'documentary'. One is as the public was brought up until
recently to believe — that it is essentially a medium for
the public information output of government as packaged in the classical newsreel. More recently, it has come
to be associated in the public perception as the vehicle
for subtle propaganda by development agencies,
whether domestic or foreign, of their aims, objectives
and achievements. In contrast to this propagandist
view, is the understanding of the 'purist', of the documentary as real life film which raises issues, provides a
voice of dissent, documents the natural world or por-
HIMAL 16/11   November 2003
 trays a way of life that needs to be brought to the notice
of a larger public, embellished with the voice of good
narration. Lachhuman Magar was not, by these definitions, a documentary. Unless the definition of the 'documentary' can he expanded to include these types of films,
it may be wiser to use the more generic and neutral
category 'non-fiction' for such films as they evolve over
time to explore new themes and techniques of representation.
Indeed, the South Asian documentary has come a
long way since 1910 when the first moving-picture documentation was made on celluloid film. Dhundiraj
Govind Phalke, or Dadasheb as the pioneer was known
in the world of early Hindi cinema, recorded on film
the growth of a pea plant over one and half months. The
Growth of Pea Plant was a 200-foot film which ran two
minutes, and it was a documentary made with no
higher purpose than to convince would-be investors
about making a feature film. Thus was the Hindustan
Film Company formed in 1.917. Phalke, who went on to
lay the foundations of the Indian film industry, made
several documentaries including one entitled How Films
are Made. It was in 1938 that, what we now know as,
documentaries were made for the .    ...
first time in India when a two-reel
film on the Indian National Congress session at Haripura was
The film on the 1938 Congress
conclave became the prototypical
documentary for those who came
later. Such was the propaganda
value of films that the British set
up three establishments within India— the Film Advisory Board
(FAB), the Information Films of India and the India News Parade—
with the aim of building support
for their cause in the second world war. The establishment of the Films Division in 1948 by the Indian government post-independence simply continued the tradition, and the audience was captive as the output was
to be compulsorily screened at cinemas before the commercial features. This tradition was continued in Pakistan by the Department of Film and Publication, and in
Sri Lanka bv the Government Film Unit. Not to be left
behind, government newsreels were produced in
Bangladesh by the Department of Film and Publications and in Nepal by the National] film Development
Corporation, churning out a variety films on cultural
landscapes, development efforts, national integration
and 'desh darshan' travelogues.
VV hi le fi 1 m ma kers-as-go vern men t-e mpl oyees picked
up the camera in support of the state, in the bJ^Os, a
small 'independent' filmmaking movement was begun
by Paul Zils, a refugee from Hitler's Germany who had
landed in the Subcontinent. A Short Film Guild was
organised, later to evolve into the Indian Documentary
Thin Air (1999).
Producer's Association, and the new genre of films
sought to widen the scope of the non-fiction celluloid.
Zil's former assistant, S Sukdcv, introduced activism
into filmmaking in India with his debut film The Saint
and the Peasant (1958), about the land reform movement
led by Vinoba Bhave. Sukdev believed that filmmakers,
as artists, must be aware of their social role and responsibilities and use cinema as a weapon to expose the
truth about society. The movement started by Sukdev
continues powerfully to this today, particularly in India, with the activist exposing the dark underbelly of
subcontinental societies. Given the impulse for free expression that has survived in India, it is only natural
that films that courageously question given mores have
had a more fertile ground there than in the
neighbouring countries, where only lately has the activist film begun to be regarded as a possibility.
In fact, the activist film seeking to challenge social
prejudices seems only- now to be extending roots in Pakistan, Bangladesh, which does produce fine documentaries, is still locked into learning from the catharsis of
1971, while Nepal is moving firmly along the path of
producing engaging films on cultural matters but keep-
_. „ ing well clear of uncomfortable
- * ^ "•"- social and political truths ata time
'■- ca.  .. c    - • r
when the national society confronts extended crisis. Inexplicably, Sri Lanka as the country
which could have been expected
to produce the best of South Asian
documentaries because of its alert
urban intelligentsia, the legacy of
a media inherited from colonial
times and a whole raft of societal
issues to tackle, has been surprisingly the laggard when it comes
to documentary-making.
Development docs
The advent of television meant a sudden jump in the
reach and quantity of documentaries, but quality was a
different matter. Government-owned television stations
did no better than the films divisions, proffering films
with a didactic tone and little creativity and imagination. As a result, the image of the documentary as propaganda material—or at the very least as pedestrian
productions—churned out by government became even
more imprinted in the popular imagination.
Though the initial promise of television as a medium of creativity was not fulfilled, the more or less
simultaneous advent of the videotape did promote a
democratisation of the discipline. Cumbersome 16mm
and 35mm cameras and sound equipment and post-
production facilities and expensive raw stock gave way
to easv-to-carry and affordable cameras, post-production equipment and much cheaper tapes to shoot the
films on. With the drastic reduction in investment required, an individual or a small company could con-
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
 sider becoming a producer with equipment purchased
or hired. But, to be fair to government television, it did
help produce manpower, for in the absence of film
schools, on-the-job training was the only way to learn
the craft.
In India, the state of emergency imposed by Indira
Gandhi in 1975 provided an impetus for dissident filmmaking, and productions like Anand Patwardhan's
Waves of Revolution and Prisoners of Conscience (1976)
opened the sluice gates for activist films. Following the
footsteps of Sukdev, his protege Tapan Bose made An
Indian Story (1981), on the blinding of prisoners by the
police in Bhagalpur, Bihar. Suhashini Mulay produced
Bhopal: A Genocide in the 1980s on the gas tragedy. As
could be expected, these politically charged films have
had their share of problems with the
censors. These earlier films were
expensive to make they used
celluloid stock, and the market was
almost non-existent. For being political and anti-establiashment, they did
get some support in Western utniver-
sitics and elsewhere, which made it
possible for the filmmakers to live an-
other day and plan another onslaught against 'the establishment'.
Till the early 1990s, independent
documentary films invariably focused on political marginalisation,
social movements, or the portraiture
of famous renegade personalities.
Tliere was, however, a gradual shift
to a slightly wider arena, including
a focus on social ills, and a particular proclivity towards films on not-
so-famous traditional artistes like
puppeteers, singers and dancers—
perhaps attracted by the photogenic appeal of the subjects. This period also saw an increase in the developmental film. If earlier documentaries on celluloid were
meant for the public at large, documentaries in the development genre tended to be made for more limited
audiences. Mostly funded by in-country or overseas development agencies, these films were of two 'types'—
one which profiled the activities of the aid agency, and
the other highlighting their concerns in areas such as
gender, children's rights, human rights, environmental degradation, decentralisation and social challenges
such as casteism.
As the documentaries became a favourite of aid agencies as an effective audio-visual medium to publicise
their work for fund-raising and other purposes, many
documentary makers cashed in on the bonanza. The
pay was good even if the subject and treatment did not
correspond with their own creative impulses. In many
cases, neither hinder nor the funded filmmaker really
understood the genre, so what you got were films with
the omniscient narrator, didactic productions project
ing the developmental optimism of the funding
organisation or how-to films supposedly meant for the
grassroots 'target' community. Innovation and creativity were at a premium in the absence of a local audience
for these films, since most of them, in the initial stages,
tended to be in English and targeted at the overseas
viewer or, at the very least, their 'native' coimterparts
in the South Asian metros.
With no ma rket for independent documentaries, filmmakers in India thus submitted to the requirements of
development agencies, corporations or government
entities. In the process of pleasing the hinders, the filmmakers ended up compromising their art. Fortunately,
the tide has begun to turn, and those who had not entirely abandoned their creativity are now looking to a
documentary viewership that is
slowly beginning to take shape. At
the same time, innovative and often
irreverent young filmmakers are
coming out of film schools, or taking
a side brack from the world of advertising or feature films, and dabbling
in non-fiction. They are picking up
where Sukdev, for one, left off and
coming up with films that are as
committed, but are also responding
to the larger market by putting more
'craft' into their productions.
In addition to the filmmakers of
tlie big cities who have better exposure, access to funds and the modest
overseas market, a lot of films are
now being made all over India. In the
south, especially Kerala, there has
been a proliferation of films on cul-
Abhimanyu's Face (2001)
tural and social issues. Tlie emerg
ing activist film movement, led by
Shriprakash among others, in. Jharkhand also needs to
mentioned. These films from the 'moffussiT are in the
vernacular and are made for local audiences rather than
for the English-speaking elite, and often uses the VHS
home video camera, as Shriprakash (he uses only one
name) does. Usually made on a shoestring, and hence
often completed over a long period of time, these films
tend to me more 'honest' and come from the heart. P
Balan's The 18th Elephant - 3 Monologues (2003) and
Meghnath and Biju Toppo's Development Flows from the
Barrel of the Gun (2003) are examples. These are in contrast to the activist films that come out from the cities,
which tend to be broader in scope, more ambitious and
more sweeping in their 'take'. Meanwhile Madhu.shree
Dutta of the Majlis group in Bombay and Amar Kanwar
of Delhi are engaged in incessant experimentation.
Dutta's Scribbles on Akka (2000) and Kanwar's A Night
of Prophecy (2002) are artistic attempts to take the non-
fiction film further along on its path of South Asian
Since 2000, a great many documentaries have been
HIMAL 16/11  November 2003
 commissioned by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust
of India and many of these get telecast on national television albeit outside primetime, In the evolving scenario,
there is a shift away from what may be (some would
say unfairly) called films with the "Delhi proclivity".
These films are symptomatic ot how Delhi looks at the
rest of India. 'Elite' filmmakers go, shoot and telecast
with little empathy tor the subject matter. Such films
tend often to be insular and superficial. These are the
equivalent of commissioned development films in other
countries of the region. Delhi filmmakers are, in fact,
the recipients of the lions-share of grants (national and
international) as well—we are talking of 50-70 films in
the past few years—which filmmakers elsewhere in the
Subcontinent are often unaware of. Ihe PSBT, for one,
could help in national integration bv commissioning
films from those in the 'mofussil'.
Without the Sukdevs and Patwar-
dhans to follow, and lacking the relatively freer environment for expression
in India, non-fiction filmmakers
bloomed late elsewhere in South Asia.
While, on the one hand, government
film units ruled the roost till recently,
the arrival of the donors wanting to
project themselves on the audio-visual
medium meant that the few filmmakers who were around got picked up
and converted into purveyors of development. Working within the parameters of donor interests, only exceptional filmmakers were therefore able to produce
films that were political and aclivistic. So, while films
began to be made in the 1980s, outside of the purview
of government, and organisations like Worldview International Foundation were set up in Nepal and Sri
Lanka specifically to train a new breed of filmmakers,
the fact is that the power of the audio-visual medium
was wrested from the government but then hijacked bv
the development agencies. Although the subject matter
of these films made with donor funding differed from
those made bv government, the instructional tone remained. However, with this new donor-driven industry, the volume of films being produced went up sharply
and some sort of innovation and experimentation was
India, for historical and political reasons, is obviously ahead of every other South Asian country in documentary production of every type—governmental, developmental and independent. Bangladesh comes second, in terms of quality and volume of output, and the
last decade has seen a surge in independent productions. The large donor presence in Dhaka naturally
seems to have encouraged young professionals to pick
up filmmaking as a career, with the Germans having
held a series of documentary workshops in the late
The fact is that the
power of the audiovisual medium was
wrested from the
government but
then hijacked by
the development
1980s and 1990s. More important perhaps was the
cine-club movement that had existed in Dhaka for decades, which led to a trend towards making low-cost
short fictions and documentaries on socio-political subjects in the late 1980s. The result was the emergence of
the Bangladesh Short Film Forum in 1986, and film festivals began lo be organised in the country from 1988
onwards, which gave exposure to budding film professionals. Dhaka went on to become perhaps the first city
in South Asia where a documentary film achieved commercial success in the cinema halls. This was Tareque
and Catherine Masud's Muktir Gaan on the Bangladesh
liberation war of 1971 and the role of a cultural troupe
in it.
The war of liberation has been the recurring leitmotif
of Bangladeshi films, and till today filmmakers have
staved with this theme—while also making liberal use
of different genres of Bangla melody,
from the music of Rabindrasangeet to
that of the Bauls. This musical bent
appears to give Bangladeshi documentaries a natural upper hand with
the viewers. Muktir Gaan was of course
the controversial cause celebre in the
genre of 1971 films, but the trend continues. Fhe latest in the lineup is Shei
Raler Kotha Boltc F.shechi (Tale of the
Darkest Night) by Kawsar Chaudhary
(2001), on a Pakistani army attack on
Dhaka University academics just before the 1971 vv<ir. Themes dear to development agencies, such as child
labour and gender issues, have also
been recurring subjects for Bangladeshi documentaries.
But of late Dhaka documentarists have been diverging
to wider arenas of public concern, with an example to
be found in Man/are I lasaain's Rokeya (1997), a film
which unravels the life of Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain,
one ot the pioneers of women's liberation and social
progress in Bengal in the early twentieth century. Pauzia
Khan's Perception - Tbe Oilier Canvas (2001) profiles six
women painters of Dhaka, while Tareque and Catherine
Masud's A Kind of Childhood, delves into child labour,
the Ram Bahadur Trophy for best film in Film South
Asia '01 went to My Migrant Soul by Yasmine Kabir, a
film tailored around the audio tapes sent home by a
Bangladeshi migrant who was to die as an expatriate
labourer in Malaysia.
After India and Bangladesh, it is Nepal which seems
to be producing the largest number of independent documentaries in the region. Documentaries in Nepal, too,
have their provenance in propaganda films made in
the early years of the Panchayat regime, starting with
heroic portrayals of King Mahendra as he toured the
country in the early 1960s. The arrival of Nepal Television in the mid-1 L'80s saw a surge in films seeking to
promote national integration bv extolling the cultural-
physical bounty of the country. Then came the 'donors',
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
and a string of documentaries followed to cover development themes, few of which are remembered today.
Significantly, many films on Nepal tended to be
made by Westerners, as the central Himalaya became
the stomping ground of the climber, the trekker, the
anthropologist and the 'development professional'. A
genre of 'Shangri La' documentaries brought out touristic documentaries that tended to focus on the High
Himalayan rather than midhill or plains' societies of
the country. Anthropologists shot 'real-time' footage of
all manner of subjects, from shamanistic rituals among
the Magar of the western hills to full-length films on
animal sacrifice in Kathmandu Valley—films which
keep alive the cultural specificities of the country. One
significant production on Nepal was The Fragile Mountain (1982), by California-based filmmaker Sandra
Nichols, which set the mindset
for the coming decades on
population pressures leading
to land erosion in the hills (a
hypothesis that has now been
convincingly     disproved).
Nepali filmmakers themselves,
in the meantime, were rapidly
being converted into development-peddlers by the surfeit of
aid agencies with deep pockets, so independent filmmaking took a back seat. $
It was only in the late 1990s Sand and Water (2002)
that some Nepali cinematographers woke up from the 'bikasey' (development) slumber, and cast about for other themes. The energy for this
came from the growth of an audience that had been
created by a string of documentary film festivals in
Kathmandu, starting in 1994 with a Himalayan film
festival which evolved into the biennial Film South Asia
documentary film festival. The existence of a growing
and responsive audience inspired filmmakers to produce invigorating and cultural commentaries with a
light touch, such as A Rough Cut on the Life and Times of
Lachhuman Magar (Dinesh Deokota, 1997), ltihaas
jitneharuko Laagi (History for Winners) (Franay Limbu,
2003) and Bhedako Oon jasto ...In Search of a Song (Kiran
Krishna Shrestha, 2003). What is missing in these productions, however, is any reference whatsoever to the
excruciating times the Nepali people are passing
through in the context of the ongoing civil war. The
Killing Terraces (Dhruba Basnet, 2001) and The Living of
jogimara (Mohan Mainali, 2002) have been the rare attempts at capturing the origins of the 'people's war' as
well as the state's cruel response, but overall, filmmakers have preferred to pick cultural themes because of
political difficulties in dealing with harsh realities, with
fear of reprisals from the government as well as the
A similar diffidence with regard to political
powerbrokers seems to have stymied independent film
production in Pakistan, which is all the more galling
since the country is as much an inheritor of the legacy
of documentary in the Subcontinent as is present-day
India. Political factors have played a major part keeping the lid on independent filmmaking in Pakistan,
where the focus has been on social ills rather than political infirmities. Filmmakers such as Sahiba Sumar,
Mustaq Gazdar and Shirin Pasha have been the noted
independent documentarists of Pakistan, but of late
their production has trailed (and in the meantime
Gazdar passed away in 2001). While Sumar's and
Gazdar's films took up social issues, Pasha's were on
the culture and lifestyle of the country. The cultural dis-
sidence exhibited by exponents of Hindustani classical dance (Kathak, Bharat Natyam) against 'fundamentalist' forces has been one theme picked up more than
once by documentary filmmakers of Pakistan. Increasingly,
however, there are films that
     challenge the conservative notions of the woman's place in
society, including the 2003 production by Samar Minallah, on
the sacrifice of young girls to
rival clans to save male honour
in the NWF13. Similar to the
trend in Nepal, constricted in
the political sphere, Pakistani
filmmakers are experimenting
with cultural expression, as
with the joumalist-turned-film-
maker, Farjad Nabi, whose debut in 1997 was Nusrat
Has Left the Building ... But When, on the flowering and
decay of the musical soul of the sufi-inspired Pakistani
qawwalt Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. His second film was on
an iconoclastic thespian in Lahore.
The relative decline of Pakistani non-fiction filmmaking—or at the very least its inability to move along
with the times and feed the audience that doubtless
existaS—could be attributed to restrictive censorship pol i-
cies and the lack of exposure of young people to the
excitement of a career in documentary. As elsewhere,
independent filmmakers of potential have also been co-
opted by 'development' to highlight important issues
in a superficial manner. The absence of regular film
festivals, which were not held in Pakistan till a couple
of years ago (there is one now in Karachi), also kept
people away from alternative and independent cinema,
including documentaries.
In the case of Sri Lanka, the Government Film Unit
(GFU) was established in 1948 to produce newsreels
and documentaries to educate people on their newly
won independence, though over the years GFU films
emerged as tools for outright government propaganda.
Even though Sri Lanka now boasts of several television
channels, and it is also home to Young Asia Television
which would be churning out young audio-visual talent, independent filmmaking in Sri Lanka is surpris-
HIMAL 16/11  November 2003
 inglv the least energetic in all of South Asia. This is
surprising, given that Colombo as a metropolis lias all
the ingredients for the advance of documentary—an
alert intelligentsia, English exposure which opens up
a world of possibilities in medial, .-in agonisingly long
ethnic crisis, and so on. Unfortunately, non-fiction filmmaking has remained more or less where it was when
the GFL was established more than half a century ago.
What lies ahead
What lies tit the core of the lack of independent and
quality documentary filmmaking in South .Asia obviously is not so much the absence ot a market as the
inability to reach it. Filmmakers will emerge il onlv they
had venues to show their films. And an audience will
congregate if only they had venues see these films. Television might have provided a ready market, especially
with the spread of the terrestrial network in the 1980s
and the boom in satellite television in the 1990s. However, the new commercial channels, too, ended up telecasting off-the-shelf, film-based programmes on the
cheap, and the idea of 'servicing' the people has not
entered the minds of producers and proprietors. Government television stations, if genuinely autonomous,
would have evolved as public television over time, but
at present thev shy away from anything but the most
descriptive and non-analytical documentaries on social and cultural challenges before the people. The very-
nature and high costs of the television medium—
whether government or privately owned—seems to
make them wary of documentaries. And so the challenge of getting an audience for documentaries must besought elsewhere and not television, at least for the foreseeable future. This is wliere the experience over the
last seven years of Film South Asia and its Travelling
Film South Asia offshoot might prove useful, for it indicates that the audience does exist in the required numbers for documentaries, particularly those made in the
local languages, and that what is required are innovations in distribution, sales, marketing and projection.
As far as marketing is concerned, there is a ready
demand for South Asian documentary films in the West,
which have been effectively filled by filmmakers such
as Anand Patwardhan, whose documentaries are distributed worldwide and also broadcast on overseas
channels. Other examples of high sales in the West in
the know of the Film South Asia organisation are
Dhurba Basnets 'The Killing Terraces (2002), which has
sold hundreds of copies in VHS video format, and
Yasmine Kabir's My Migrant Sou! (2001).
The sale of video prints, priced in the range of USD
150-200, provides unprecedented income for the non-
fiction filmmaker, as well as exposure overseas. However, this does not really answer the need to make and
show films for and to the local audiences of South Asia.
Marketing and distribution remain a hurdle. Other than
the fledgling Clearinghouse of South Asian Non-fiction Film launched by Film South Asia in 2001, there is
no organisation that is dedicated to the marketing of
South Asian films within the region or externally. An
effective marketing effort would give filmmakers economic independence to make the kind of lilms they
would want to and allow them to experiment and be
innovative. Since filmmakers do not have the time or
the wherewithal to market their films, there is a need
for documentary film marketing agencies to foster the
art in the region.
lhe development of a market, however, can only-
come when thousands of diverse organisations, communities and clubs across South Asia realise that there
already are, made by the dozens and even hundreds,
films that can draw audiences. When, with the use of
video projection systems, they begin to organise documentary showings or festivals, this will as a matter of
course1 lead to a rise in demand Irom a public that is
suddenly alive to the possibilities of enjoyment, information and education via the non-fiction film. From
then on, the market will feed demand which will Iced
supply. For various reasons, South Asia can prove thai
documentaries can work here the wav it cannot in most
other parts of the world—the freedom that exists here,
as does not in large parts of the third world in relative
terms on the one hand, and the plethora of subjects and
themes available here stand out in contrast to the situation in the more sanitised, democratic societies of the
developed world. There are just so much more 'stories'
in South Asia—per hectare or per thousand population—than there is in, say, Western Europe or North
America. South Asia is, indeed, documentary heaven if
only we (public, filmmaker, connossieur) knew it.
Defining documentaries
Even in the case of donor-funded films the luture is not
bleak, and this is important because development agencies will remain important sources ol funding documentaries for some time to come. Filmmakers need to
put their foot down when it comes to deciding how to
convey the 'development message'. The fact is, most
donor agency officials with the hand on the purse
strings do not understand the moving image, and the
interest is to provide subtle propaganda that will ultimately help the agency's own work, including fund-
raising. Filmmakers who have a sense of responsibility
towards the societies thev cover can try and buck the
trend, and remain auteurs true to the subject rather than
to the funding agency. These filmmakers must convince
the agencies that educating the larger public about issues they (the agencies) are interested in can only be
achieved if they (the filmmakers) are given a free hand
and their creativity is not stunted by excessive interference.
Nepal-based director Alex Gabbay's Kathmandu:
(Infold Stories (2002) and ,4 Man Called Nomad (2002)
both provide examples of how a filmmaker who sticks
to an independent point of view can end up making a
film that is useful over the long term. The donor's brief
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
 Swara - A Bridge over Troubled Water (2003)
for the former was to make a film on HIV/AIDS and
young people—a staid production to interview HfV/
ATDS patients and ask them questions about how they
got the virus, what they had to say to the young and to
repeat the donor's point of view in the narration. Instead, Gabbay talked to young homosexuals, drug users, vulnerable individuals, as well as other youngsters
about their concerns, lifestyles and relationships with
peers and parents. The product was a film with stories
most Nepali, or for that matter South Asian, young people
could identify with. The film, if it gets the exhibition it
deserves, would have a lasting impact compared to the
traditional donor-defined documentary. A series of four
films on young masculinity
in Bangladesh, Tndia, Nepal
and Pakistan made in 2000,
supported by the Save the
Children UK, treats their subjects similarly, and is an example of a donor actually
being ahead of the filmmaker
in terms of understanding
what 'clicks' with the target
What is clear to the observer is that the audience exists for the documentary in
South Asia, for the documentary in all its diversity, from
the light-hearted commentary to the polemical treatise
on the ills of society. The more documentaries are made
in the local languages rather than in English, the more
impact they will have where it matters at the grassroots.
Till now it is the inability to find the audience that created an obstacle for aspiring non-fiction filmmakers,
and there is a continuing need for a 'screening revolution' so that films that are already made are presented
before local audiences in thousands of venues—and
not only at film festivals. For this, distribution channels will have to come up, and the advances in production technology will have to be understood and utilised.
The emergence of audiences in the far corners of South
Asia will have the immediate impact of spawning new
filmmakers who could well make make films on increas-
ingly localised subjects. At that
time, we will be coming close to a
documentary revolution, where the
human desire to hear a story well
told in audio-visual format is finally
transferred from the feature film
genre to the non-fiction til m. Tlie experience of showing Travelling
Film South Asia in the town of
Pokhara in early November proves
all that has been said above—that
there is a 'mass' audience for non-
fiction film, that films already exist
to show before such audiences Us
ing video projection systems, and that the more you
show, the more you give birth to new filmmakers. The
road to a revolution in non-fiction film is already
charted, and only needs to be embarked upon, keeping
the people in mind.
What has also become obvious over the years is that
the definition of 'documentary' is being continuously
expanded by filmmakers who are striving to fill the full
spectrum of what a non-fiction production can achieve.
From a time when the 'documentary' meant governmental newsreels and propaganda, we evolved to a
point when the larger public understood that it also
means films on development projects and issues. For a
more select audience, the documentary signified films with an
activist edge, that challenged
given social and political mores and spoke—howsoever indirectly and rarified a fashion—
for the 'people'. These films
were made to "expose the
truth",as Sukdev put it, and
their intention was never to win
awards but to promote social
movements if possible. It just did
not help that many of these films
tended to be in English, but that
is changing.
Today, documentary filmmakers have diverged and are making films that are
much more 'cultural' and thereby touching a heartstring
of the South Asian audience with more localised films
on local issues in local languages. There have been delightful commentaries, profiles of heretofore unknown
personalities, travelogues, experimental films, 'documentaries' with dramatisations, often relying on local
music as accompaniment.
Given that the documentary film has been typed in
the minds of the public as a) governmental, b) developmental, c) activistic, and with the scope that exists to
expand the repertoire that is available, perhaps it is
time to stop saying 'documentary' when we refer to
non-fiction film. And, in fact, begin to say 'non-fiction
film'. .ft
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Blessed with a vision that
is rare in politics, Chief
Minister Pawan Chamling
has taken Sikkim to new
frontiers of progress and
development. Under the
Sikkim Democratic Front
(SDF), led by Chamling,
the state has acquired a
unique position in India,
primarily because of the
implementation of policies
that are responsive to the
future needs of society.
So, how did Sikkim scale
these Olympian heights?
Sikkim became the 22nd state of India
with effect from 26th April, 1975. The
state is divided into nine Sub-Divisions for administrative purposes. Being
part of the inner mountain ranges of the Himalayas, topographically Sikkim is hilly
having varied elevation ranging from 300
to 8540 meters. The state has a unique blend
of cultural and natural landscapes - the
population comprises three groups viz. Nepalis, Bhutias and Lepchas and geographically its nestled on the Himalayas with the
beauty of Alpine meadows, Rhododendrons and other forms of fauna and flora.
The USPs of the government are many.
16,800 ft.
Rest Camp
a     ,      nuei vajsmu
5 km   ' '     aTkmXX
A Zemu Glacier nT4 km
Kartchendzonga a.
In terms of regional stand-
To Lachen/
ing, the state was accorded full member status to the North Eastern Council (NEC) in
December 2002 which allows it access to
Central government funds allocated for the
region as a whole and also allows the youth
of Sikkim far more leverage today in terms
of access to prestigious educational institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati. At the national level, participation at the level of national institutions
has meant an integration of the region both
economically as well as at the physical-emotional level. With per capita net state domestic product growth rates running fifth
in the country as a whole, Sikkim has a lot
to show in terms of tangible achievements
as well. Internationally, Sikkim has acquired a new role as a deserving destination for development funding by multilateral and other donor organisations.The government, as one of main actors in the development process, has achieved this with an
inclusive, equitable and responsive approach to governance. Sikkim, in its second
consecutive term under the SDF is a changed
Growth has been achieved under very
democratic conditions with transparency
exercises like tlie Janata Mela, which allows
the government, under a unique system of
public meetings, to go to the people directly
and assist them with their needs. A Basic
Needs Approach has ensured the lesser-off
populace of the state with outright grants
worth INR 20,000 to assist the construction
of their houses under the 'Rural Housing
Scheme'. Tlie Chief Minister's Self Employment Scheme (CMSE) enables the educated
unemployed youth to start their own ventures and at the same time an effective net of
development institutions has meant that educated men and women have access to interest free loans up to INR one lakh. The
quantum of soft term loans thus disbursed
with the initial launch of the CMSE programme was of the order of INR five crore,
with 30 per cent of the recipients comprising females. The idea to empower does not
come into effect in the job-seeking phase, but
the government has ensured, with schemes
like the Kaushal Vikas Kosh (Skill Development Fund), that the youth are trained and
Composition of Expenditure, 1985/86 - 1998/99
85-86        90-91        93-94        98-99
1.    Social Services
2.    Economic Services
3.    Developmental (1+2)
4.    Non-Developmental
5.    Total Expenditure
6.    (3) as % of (5)
Source: Reserve Bank of India, Report on Cu
rrency a
nd Finance,
Vol, ii, S
tatistical State-
q ments, Bombay, various issues.
HIMAL 16/11  November 2003
 equipped with professional skills through
sponsoring of their education to regional
and national institutions for acquiring professional degrees and skills in areas like
tourism, rural management, software, communications, among others.
Similarly, the stress on school education
has been uncompromising. In 2002, Sikkim,
with a total population of a little over 5
lakh, had a total enrolment of 1, 37,656 students in government and government-aided schools. What is remarkable is that almost 50 per cent of the total enrolment in
the state comprises girl children. The government has put to practise the slogan of
maintaining gender equality in its administration as well with the appointment of
women for the first time to positions like the
Speaker of the Assembly, Chairperson of the
Sikkim Public Service Commission and
Cabinet ministers among other positions.
The onus for rural development has been
shared in a responsive manner with
the rural people themselves through the
amendment of the Sikkim Panchayat Act,
1993. Party based Panchayat elecbons were
held for the first time in the history of Sikim
in October 1997 with due representation secured for women, SCs, STs and OBCs, as
stipulated by the Constitution. The SDF continues to empower the Panchayats at the
grass root level by delegating incrementally, administrative and financial powers. As
for reaching out to the public, the Chief IVtin-
ister, Pawan Chamling himself meets the
public every Wednesday and Thursday of
the week. The grievances gathered thereupon are directed to different State Departments. Other ministers and senior officials
likewise meet the public on a regular basis.
Tlie internet has been made use of for public convenience. If you access http:// you can
post your grievance directly to the chief minister cutting through bureaucratic hurdles.
Delays are cut short in meting out justice to
the people by die constitution of Lok Adalats
or People's Courts in all nine sub-divisions
of the state, which deal with different kinds
of litigations, ranging from human rights
abuses, marital/family problems to consumer rights.
Economic planning and implementation
is professionally guided by the Sikkim State
Planning Commission, comprising well-
known economists and administrators as
members. Tlie requirement to submit monthly progress reports by state government de-
Population Below Poverty Line
The percentage of population below poverty line has gone
down steadily after recording shap jump in 1993-94)
ii 3971 4143
Jsn        36.06 ■■
I      I    I     I      I
Year  1973-74  1977-78  1983  1987-88  1993-94  1999-2000
Surce: Planning Commission, Draft Tenth Five-Year
Plan (2002-2007) Vol III, New Delhi, p 40
partments has only added to the opemiess
and transparency of the administration.
This, when seen with the governments
felt need to address areas where NGO
intervention is required, allows for a
balanced participatory set-up for other actors involved in governance. Tlie
minutiae of economic planning are
no less transparent. Fiscal reforms
have paid attention to reducing non-
plan expenditure and market borrowings, while close to 75 per cent
of the total state expenditure as of
1998-99 was devoted to developmental expenditure. Fiscal deficit
has been reduced from 11 per cent
in 1999-2000 to four percent in
2002-03. This, coupled with the
steady rise in small savings generated by
the people has meant better standards of
living for the people of Sikkim - per capita
income has doubled from INR 8905 to TNR
16143 between 1995 and 2002. Paralleling
2003 November 16/11  HIMAL
this has been the sharp fall in the population below the poverty line from 41 percent
to a little over 36 per cent between 1993 and
The growth model is intended to be self-
sustaining, with the government focussing
on developing high-value and low-volume
products. Agro-industry, medicinal plants,
hand looms and textiles, information technology among others are pitched to be the
engine of growth for Sikkim. Tourism options like 'village tourism' (housing tourists in villages) and eco-tourism (travelling
to experience natural areas) are being promoted as areas of core competence. With its
fourth consecutive national award for the
best performing State in the North East for
2001-02, Sikkim Tourism does show promise in the field of tourism. Sikkim has also
seen a structural shift with tertiary or service sector contributions making up the largest share of state domestic income, which,
in other words, means that communications, banking, tourism etc, are the income
spinners for the state and as of 1999-2000
made up close to 55 per cent of the gross
domestic product of the Sikkim economy.
With the government's progress report on
investing in education charting over 70 per
cent literacy rates, the educated workforce
could only build up on this.
Sikkim is one of the few states with the
lowest consumption rates for chemical fertilisers. Organic farming is encouraged and
the departments of Agriculture and Horticulture have already adopted measures to
discourage use of artificial fertilisers. Whether it is commercial large cardamom, typical
buckwheat or unique pulses - all are 100
per cent organic produce. Though its geographical-climatic constraints force dependence on Union government allocations for
food grains, the state government has diligently ensured delivery of the same to rural
areas, where accessibility is still a major hurdle. With the help of the Swiss Development
Agency, Sikkim will soon be reaching self-
sufficiency in milk production and likewise
its performance in livestock, poultry production and horticulture production is on the
Industrial policy planning has been prudent. The Onion government has now extended the new industrial policy for the state
of Sikkim on the lines of the existing North-
East Industrial Policy. This includes excise
and income tax exemption to al) new industries as well as expansion of existing units
for a period of 10 years from the date of commencement of commercial production. The
policy also entails granting of financial concessions to 12 identified thrust areas in industries irrespective of where they are located in the state, including among others -
Sikkimese Economy: Stuctural Change in the Gross Domestic Product
1980-81        1985-86        1990-91 1995-96      1992-2000
Source: Sikkim Ninth Five Year Plan 1997-2002 Volume 1 and Sikkim in Brief 1998, Bureau of Economics and
Statistics, Planning & Development Department, Government of Sikkim.
HIMAL 16/11  November 2003
 eco-tourism, handicraft and handloom,
agro-based industries and pharma-prod-
ucts. The emphasis on the quality of companies also reflects the governments' intentions, namely, having a market leader in
each sector of industrial activity so as to allow industrial activities to consolidate their
role in the development process as opposed
to having a bulk of registered companies
floating around.
Investment decisions are guided by perceptions to a large extent. As an investment
destination, Sikkim's competence has been
affirmed by national business magazines
like Business Today which bring out the improved perception of investors vis-a-vis Sikkim on several counts like the quality of electric power, social infrastructure and state
government support. Add to this, the state
governments' initiative in setting up the
Board of Investment under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister to implement a
'Single Window Policy' and you have an
apex body to service prospective investors
in terms of speedy project approvals, grant
of facilities and coordination among government agencies. With interactive investment promotion meetings held in different
pa rts of the country from 2001, the state now
has a number of formal applications by investors for setting up industrial units in the
Infrastructure-wise, with a new airport
at Pakyong in east Sikkim under construction, tourist and indusftial connectivity will
be improved. The Teesta Hydroelectric
Project State-V (one of the six hydro-power
schemes in the cascade identified on the
Teesta basin) has a proposed installed capacity of 510 MW and considering that the
project generates 2172 million units annually, the sale rate of energy has been worked
out to a little under TNR 3 per unit after considering 12 per cent free power to the home
state. The SDF government also has two infrastructure projects in the pipeline for early approval by the Union government. One
is to build an alternative highway to the
present 31-A National highway and the other being the extension of the East-West Corridors to Sikkim to link it with the Golden
Quadrilateral under the National Highway
Development Project.
But all of this has not been at the cost of
the environment. With over 50 per cent of
Sikkim's land area covered with forests and
over 5000 species of angiosperm (a plant
whose ovules are enclosed in an ovary; a
Tourist Arrivals - Dramatic Increase
Domestic       Foreign          Total
Source: Government of Sikkim, Department of Tourism, Gangtok.
flowering plant), the government has been
conscious of the need to protect its environment and ecosystems. His nomination as
tlie "Greenest Chief Minister of India", in a
national opinion poll conducted by the
Centre for Science and Environment, New
Delhi, is an indication of the commitment
Pawan Chamling has shown, with the help
of the state agencies, in conserving the
state's natural bounties.
The future has more in store for the people of Sikkim. Chief Minister Pawan Cham-
ling's vision is to have by 2015 -a poverty-
free state, a total organic state (farming), to
make available sustainable livelihood options to each household and to ensure a
100 per cent literate Sikkim. Considering
the government's 'report card' from 1994
and thereon, it is not difficult to imagine a
Sikkim with all of these benchmarks under
its belt. Sikkim has all it takes to be the
model state for die rest of India. ■
2003 November 16/11 HIMAL
Fauji's foundation
Before starting to question the logic of why the Fauji Foundation is
buying out PSO, it is worth considering why PSO is being sold in the
first place.
by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
"ft has been publicly reported that
J the Fauji Foundation of Paki
-stan is foremost amongst the
bidders for the soon-to-be-divested
Pakistani State Oil (PSO) enterprise.
Before one starts to question the
logic of Fauji Foundation buying
out PSO, it is worth considering
why PSO is being sold in the first
place. Along with the Oil and Gas
Development Company (OGDC),
PSO is one of the few profitable
state-owned enterprises in the
country, and in fact generates substantial profits for tlie national exchequer.
The International Monetary
Fund (IMF), which has pushed long
and hard for the privatisation of
OGDC and PSO, typically claims that
privatisation of state owned enterprises (SOFs) in poor countries such
as Pakistan is necessary to address
major structural inefficiencies in the
operation of such enterprises, or, in
other words, to extricate them from
perennial losses. Therefore, the
offloading of PSO and OCDC to the
private sector would appear to be
rather unjustified given that these
enterprises have been raking in
profits consistently in recent years.
The IMF, and its sister institutions, have also made a point in recent times to emphasise the fact that
the Pakistani state does not have
satisfactory revenue-generating capacity, and has demanded unequivocally that revenues be increased through a variety of means.
On the ground, it has been the imposition of general sales tax (GST)
on a number of basic commodities
that has been the main source of increased revenue in recent times.
Given that the resulting price increases of basic commodities have
had clear poverty-enhancing impacts, particularly over the past four
years, it is intriguing that enterprises such as PSO and OGDC are
being offloaded, as such divestments will surely transfer the revenue-generating burden onto the
time-debates, like
those over the unemployment that is
caused by
privatisation, no
longer even command positions of
The contradictory claims of the
international financial institutions
(IFIs) aside, the fact of the matter is
that there is a frenzied rush to capture and control oil and gas resources the world over. The invasions and Occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are'clear examples in
this regard. In countries such as
Pakistan, where the comprador elite
classes facilitate the capture of such
resources, it is hardly necessary to
resort to direct military intervention.
In the case of PSO, the corporate interests of the local elite, ie tbe army,
represent the only economic logic at
work, and this is quite acceptable to
the IFIs and the global financial elite
at large.
Perhaps one can argue that as
an independent private entity, Fauji
Foundation is entitled to invest in
any sector it so pleases. Such an argument would be well and good if
Fauji Foundation's interest in taking over the country's monopoly
producer of oil and gas-related products represented an isolated instance. In fact, Fauji Foundation,
and a host of other army-run corporate enterprises in the country, have
come to control such a huge proportion of the economy that it would
not be unreasonable to suggest that
the armv literally controls the destiny of a sizeable proportion of the
country's population. In the circumstances, the global elite are
more than willing to indulge the extravagances of the army so as to ensure that the former's larger geo-political interests are protected.
If, today, Fauji Foundation is
buying up I'SO, we should rest assured that some very important
forces in the oil and gas corporate
world are in the loop and are quite
willing to facilitate the process.
HIMAL  16/11   November 2003
 sits It fit''!
Needless to say, these same forces,
even if they do not directly possess
and control the oil and gas of PSO,
will be able to exercise control over
these resources through their cooperative partners in Pakistan The
once-upon-a-time-debates, like
those over the unemployment that
is caused by privatisation, no longer
even command positions of semi-
importance. This reflects just how
bankrupt the capitalist system has
become, and how the unbridled supremacy of the market has condemned the vast majority of people
in the world to obscurity and in
Sn the final analysis, the
privatisation of PSO and OGDC, and
who is buying up the companies,
is neither truly about what is genuinely good for the economic health
and sovereignty of the state, nor,
and more importantly, about the
needs of the people of Pakistan. In
fact, ordinary Pakistanis will lose
from this business of privatisation,
as they have in the past from trade
and financial liberalisation. The
fact is that privatisation and
liberalisation do not even take place
in the way that their neo-liberal
preachers suggest they will. It
would be one thing if the global financial elite actually played by
their own stipulated rules, but they
do not even do that. Structural adjustment policies have not only impoverished Pakistan; such policies
are also simultaneously designed
to allow the local elite to maintain
their monopoly on resource-allocation, For all of tbe talk of reform,
Pakistan's economy still resembles
a neo-colonial one that is based on
the accumulation of resources by
the rich and powerful, and the continuing exploitation of the working
It is indeed unfortunate that
these sorts of issues do not make
headlines in Pakistan, even when
the army's political role is discussed
every day. It would not be inaccurate to argue that the Pakistani
economy now functions as one unit,
with provincial economic autonomy
virtually non-existent. The tall
■^■W-HL-y '■*" •s^i «D»
1 (CMH Mardan)
Institute of Management & Computer Sciences
College of Education
Intermediate Colleges
Model Schools
Vocational Training Centres
Technical Training Centres
Referral Hospitals
Rural Hospitals
Fauji Foundation Medical Centres
Mobile Health Units
Wards in CMH
Fauji Corn Complex, Jehangiria
Fauji Cereals, Rawalpindi
Foundation Gas, Rawalpindi
Fauji Metals, Rawalpindi
Fauji Polypropylene Products, Hub Chowki
Fauji Sugar Mills, Tando Muhammad Khan
Fauji Sugar Mills, Khoski
Fauji Sugar Mills, Sangla Hill
Fauji Foundation Experimental & Seed Multiplication Farm, Kukerji, Sind.
Fauji Software Company, Rawalpindi.
Fauji Medical Transcription, Rawalpindi.
Fauji Institute of Information Technology & Medical transcription
Fauji Foundation Institute of Management & Computer Science's, Rawalpindi
Fauji Oil Terminal Company, Karachi.
NIC Project, Islamabad.
Fauji Cement Company Ltd
Fauji Fertilizer Company Ltd
Fauji Jordan Fertilizer Company Ltd
Fauji Kabirwala Power Company Ltd
Mari Gas Company Ltd (
claims of the Legal Framework
Order (constitutional amendments promulgated by President
Musharraf in 2002 which gave a
constitutional role to the armed
forces, power to the president to dissolve the National Assembly and
whimsically extended his term as
president) notwithstanding, those
committed to the people of Pakistan
really ought to recognise the serious
economic plunder that is taking
place within the country, led bv the
army, and given cover by the IFIs.
Those who believe that democracy-
should reign supreme would do
well to remember that there is no
political democracy without economic democracy. It is time for those
who can and will to take the road
less travelled. That will make all the
difference. A
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
 The politics of informatior
Dumbing down
the Maldivian atolls
As far as the Male ruling elite is concerned,
control, not development, is the first priority in
their relationship with the rest of the country.
by Michael O'Shea and Fareesha Abdulla
Over the last decade, growing
business opportunities,
successful government and
private education initiatives, and the
popularity of Western and Indian
fashion, music and films, have
helped spread knowledge of English arid Hindi among Maldivians
throughout many islands of the
atolls. In the last few years a wide
range of information accessibility,
delivered via popular English and
Hindi cable and satellite television
channels and the Internet, has
raised the level of awareness of the
outside world, but news specifically
from Maldives is reported only
through media controlled by
the President Maumoon Abdul
Gayoom, his ministers and trusted
associates. The state-owned radio
and television stations are directed
by the Minister for Information and
Culture, Ibrahim Manik, brother-in-
law of first lady, Nasreena Ibrahim,
while the three daily newspapers
are controlled by other close associates of the president. Mohamed
Zahir Hussein, Minister for Youth
and Sports, owns the Haveeru daily
paper. He has been an intimate
friend of Gayyoom since their
student days at Al Azhar University in Cairo during the 1950s.
Miadhu newspaper is co-edited by
Gayyoom and owned bv Minister
for Health, Ahmed Abdullah. Abbas
Ibrahim, brother of Nasreena
Ibrahim and head of the National
Council for Linguistic and Historical Research, owns Aafathis, the
third daily paper.
The local media carries no information about the inner workings of
the Male government, or anything
that might embarrass the president
and his administration. There is no
analysis of government policy or official decisions. Information within
The local media carries no information
about the inner workings of the Male government, or anything
that might embarrass
the president and his
Maldives is suppressed by a carefully designed presidential system
for censorship and suppression of
criticism. This system is based on
similar authoritarian practices developed in twentieth century Syria,
Iraq,   Egypt   and   Libya.   It  has
allowed not only the Maldives National Security Service (NSS), but
also cliques within the administration including the president, to act
without legal and ethical restrictions. Any suggestion of reform is
treated as a personal threat to these
groups. Maldives is a tightly managed society and NSS actions of violence and intimidation without any
regard for the legal rights of the
people, requires organised connivance by a state acting well beyond
the boundaries of traditionally- accepted Maldivian norms.
The criminal procedure law of
December 2002 gave the NSS complete control over the investigation
process so much so that the arrested
person's defence lawyer may now
face criminal charges at the discretion of investigating officers. The
real high court in the Maldives is
the President's Office, and judges of
politically sensitive cases receive
their verdicts directly from there. In
the past, Male's judges often intervened to prevent abuse of court processes by government, but after the
new 1998 Constitution placed the
judiciary under direct presidential
control, judges lost any semblance
of independence.
As far as the Male ruling elite is
concerned, control, not development, is the first priority in their relationship with the rest of the country. Traditionally, the elite's attitude
towards the atolls, and people outside their families' circles of power,
was one of feudal disdain and indifference, but limited accessibility
to distant atolls from the capital
meant that large areas of the country were semi-autonomous. When
they came into contact with their
rulers in Male, common islanders
were required to perform ritual subservience to their rulers. In modern
Maldives, these rituals remain important. They are performed in government-sponsored clubs and
organisations, at public school meetings and every official function.
Non-attendance at these functions
is interpreted as disloyalty to the
state and a personal criticism of the
attending officials and guests.
HIMAL 16/11   November 2003
 Despite regular election promises to decentralise government administration and build resorts in
distant atolls, President Gayoom
has refused to direct department
sections and resorts away from the
Male area. Ignoring offers from foreign airlines and governments, he
continues to resist the establishment of international airports in the
north and south of the country.
These are heavily populated but
economically depressed areas that
need tourists and the consequent
increased demand for fresh fish,
imported vegetables and rice, government services and employment.
In the midst of unparalleled wealth
in Male, the government's obsession
with control and suppression of
criticism has effectively prevented
any comparable economic development beyond the capital. Jealousy,
fear of devolution of Male's power,
greed and limited national vision
are the root causes of this attitude
among Gayoom and his supporters,
and over the years, these, along with
myopic greed have become dominant factors.
According to the United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP) statistics, the Maldives has
the highest per capita income in the
South Asian region, at over USD
2,000, (when adjusted for purchasing power parity—USD 4,000), but
the cost of living is very high and
there are significant income differentials in society, and between the
capital Male and the atolls where
most of the population live. In 1998
during an economic boom, Male's
per capita income was 75 percent
higher than in the atolls. Life expectancy in the atolls is much lower than
for Male—77 years in the capital
compared to 68 years for atoll dwellers. 30 percent of the Maldives popu-
lation lives below the poverty line,
and 43 percent of children below the
age of five are underweight. Worker
participation rates for women in
Maldives are among the lowest in
the world, being as low as 19 percent in 1998.
In 2000, tourism earned 70 percent of Maldives' foreign exchange
from exports and generated a third
of the country's GDP, but Maldivian
participation in the resort industry-
is low. Many resort staff are low-
paid foreign contract workers from
Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India,
while the resorts themselves are
deliberately- concentrated around
Male and the country's sole international airport next door. This ensures that the profits flow directly
into the capital and bypass all other
islands and most Maldivians. Some
Male families have become extremely wealthy, and all landowners in the capital have been enriched
by the phenomena] increase in land
values and rents.
Elsewhere in the country, frustration and anger are common
among the many who cannot share
directly in the tourist bonanza, government jobs or increased land val-
As far as the Male
ruling elite is concerned, control, not
development, is the
first priority in their
relationship with the
rest of the country.
ues. In the one industry to which
they are permitted limited access—
fishing—the profits from the atolls'
fleets, as well as investment decisions are controlled by exporters
and officials in Male. There is widespread unemployment among
young people in the capital and the
islands, and drug addiction and
burglary have become commonplace. Male judges have always
found the atolls as convenient
places to exile people to, and with
the rise in the city's crime rate and
the overcrowding of nearby prisons, many law-breakers now serve
their sentences in economically depressed islands, thereby enlarging
the networks of the drug distributors and stolen property receivers.
At the 2003 Atoll Chiefs'Conference
in Male, there were continual complaints about these criminals and
their negative influence on young
The arming and military training of the NSS is supposedly designed to protect the Maldives from
foreign mercenaries and to prevent
illegal fishing in its territorial waters. Instead, it has become an expensive enforcer for a police state of
less than 400,000 citizens with a total land area of only 300 square
kilometres (about half the size of
Singapore). The strict enforcement
of drug and sex laws, especially for
unemployed young people, combined with the incarceration of
growing numbers of non-violent political activists, have overcrowded
the prisons, where inmates are subjected to planned NSS programmes
of torture, beatings, dehydration
and starvation. Directly under the
command of President Gayoom, the
same NSS officers perform military,
policing, prison guard and torture
Against this background of increasing brutalisation, alienation
and frustration in Dhivehi society,
the official presidential referendum
campaign of 2003 may have seemed
surreal to foreign observers. The
shootings in Maafushi prison (sec
Himal October 2003) and civil unrest in Male shocked the elite families, not because they were not
aware that torture and killings were
normal NSS procedure, nor because
they are unaware of President
Gayyoom's commanding role. They
were shocked because people who
they consider inferior, dared to publicly protest the president and the
behaviour of his NSS, and they were
embarrassed and angry because the
political inequalities that underpin
their wealth and power were being
exposed internationally and undeniably, for the first time.
Maldivian society is fast approaching a crossroads, where the
class differences, and regional discrimination are fuelling discontent.
Can we expect the Male elite to respond to the growing storm with
sagacity? b
2003 November 16/11  HIMAL
 If J* Ml!!?-'
Reporting the Maldives
PERHAPS THE only source of independent information on the Maldives, was
originally established in 1999 to publish the editors'
translations and research, and to attract scholars
and writers interested in Maldives. Using the site
and email, chat rooms and discussion boards, the
founders established a broad range of contacts with
Maldivians and foreign researchers. It is this cyber-
community that really runs,
and their combined talents and hard work have
given the site the influence and respect it now
By government order, the site was blocked in the
Maldives from the sole internet proxy server in the
country, after pages were uploaded that highlighted
the number of close relatives and long-term friends
of President Maumoon Gayoom and his wife
Nasreena who held many powerful positions in the
executive, the administration and the licensed media. Tlie pages included extensive quotes from the
Dhivehi Forum site where arguments and discussions in English were raging among Maldivians and
making these disputes accessible to an international
audience for the first time was not taken well by the
government/family apparatus. Along with the ban,
the editors were subjected to a continuing and sustained hate campaign from anonymous websites
and emails over the last two and a half years.
The special challenge for
is to appeal to both Maldivians and foreigners in a
way that treats both groups of readers with respect.
Some complain that news and articles on the site
are too bleak and negative, but officially sanctioned
torture, arbitrary arrest and police harassment are a
growing social problem in Maldives, adversely
affecting the lives of many individuals and their
The translation in 2002 of Ibrahim Luthfee's letters, originally written in Dhivehi in 1999 and sent
to the president, ministers and Majlis members, was
a watershed in the website's efforts to reveal the true
nature of the Gayoom regime. Luthfee's defiance of
the president and Ahmed Abdullah, and their efforts to relocate their Miadhu newspaper offices into
Luthfee's residence and business premises, led to
him being harassed and imprisoned. The letters detail this saga of injustice and torture, but they were
completely ignored officially. The letters are a damning indictment of President Gayoom, some of his
ministers, the NSS and the courts in Male.
In 2002, Ibrahim Luthfee received a life sentence
| *Xll(fives Culture  -
for defamation and treason after publishing and distributing, via the Internet, the Dhivehi language newsletter, Sandhaanu. At Maafushi prison, where he was
serving his sentence, Luthfee's injuries from torture
and mistreatment became so severe he was moved to
Sri Lanka for treatment. In May this year, Luthfee escaped from a Colombo hospital room and for four
months he shifted constantly to avoid capture by NSS
officers and Maldivian spies operating in Sri Lanka.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees,
which had been informed about Luthfee's case partly
through the translations on,
granted him political refugee status and in October he
left Sri Lanka for asylum in Europe.
Immediately after his escape from hospital, Luthfee
contacted and predicted correctly that violence would break out soon in Maafushi
unless torture at the prison ceased. The uprising in
Male, in September this year, in response to torture
and shootings at Maafushi galvanised widespread
opposition to Maumoon Abdul Gayoom among influential people in Maldives and expatriate Maldivian
communities, and the website has become increasingly
important for them. Gayoom has made politics central
to all social and intellectual life in the country, and as
long as he forbids any reporting of the country's inexorable reform process, it can be expected that the
website of will continue to play
an important role informing Maldivians and rest
of the world about the affairs of this fast changing
society. A
( is run by
the writers of the accompanying article, Michael
O'Shea ami Fareesha Abdutla)
HIMAL  16/11   November 2003
 Wi *&% && 01 ££*» &£&
Trading off a jewel
The present Nepali dispensation has agreed to let India build
a hydropower project that it (Nepal) holds dear. Let the terms be
fair, however.
by Santa B Pun
t an October 2003 'track two' meeting in the Ne
pali capital between the Centre for Policy Re, (CTK) from New Delhi and the Institute
for Integrated Development Studies (IIDS), Kathmandu
on Indo-Nepal water resources development, the Indian delegation extolled the virtues of the 'Bhutan model'. According to them the USD 600 per capita income
accruing from the 336 megawatt (Mw) Chukha project
is expected to rise to USD 1200 once the 1,020 Mw Tala
hydroelectric project comes on stream in 2005. The CI'K
team also apprised the Nepali participants that India's
National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Limited
(MIl'C) was in town, negotiating the 300 Mw Upper
Karnali hydropower project. A CI'K delegate further stated that the estimated equity distribution for the project
could be 85 percent for NHPC, 10 percent for tbe Nepal
Electricity Authority (NHA) and the remaining 5 percent for the Soaltee Group, a Nepali private company.
The Nepali participants were not bowled over by the
Bhutan model as they were constructed entirely on India's financial strength and ended up with India-imposed power tariffs. The Nepalis instead questioned
the status of several regional projects: the American-led
Four Border South Asian Regional Initiative on Energy
(SARI/L), the Asian Development Bank (ADli)-led Arun
Valley Development and the Australian Snowy Mountain Electric Company's seven-year old project called
West Seti. Furthermore, the Nepalis summed up that all
roads lead to Delhi. But it was on the Upper Karnali
issue that Nepali eyebrows were raised, for the 85-10-5
sharing of the spoils was not something that was in the
public domain before this.
How much private sector?
The fact that His Majesty's Government of Nepal
(HMGN) had traded off the 300 Mw run-of-the-river
Upper Karnali to the Government of India (GOI) had
been reported in the media for some time. However, the
sudden appearance ot the GOI owned public sector
undertaking, NHPC, in the present politically troubled
waters of Nepal does indeed raise many questions, at
least among the more critically inclined. When HMGN
offered these two projects to GOI, it was believed that
the private sector of both the countries— the Federation
of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNC-
Cl), the Confederation of Indian Industry (CU), and the
Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (F1CCI)— would be involved. During King Gyanendra's last India visit, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between f-'NCCI and I'ICCI was initiated
for joint private sector participation in trade and investment with a tourism and hydropower development
focus. In fact, knowledgeable circles assert that the
strong Indian multinational, the Reliance Group of the
Ambanis, was very keen to execute the Upper Karnali
project. Reliance must also have had its eyes on the
much larger jewel, the 10,800 Mw Karnali Chisapani
"Kohinoor", to demonstrate that it could seicceed where
Enron had failed in the past (see Himal March 2002).
As it transpired, it was the GOI which effectively blocked
Reliance's bid. GOI's policy, for the time being, seems to
be that all infrastructure projects in Nepal will have to
have the full stamp of Indian public sector undertakings. It was presumably this presence of the public sector that prompted the Embassy of India in Kathmandu
to go out of its way to extend reassurances to Nepal.
The Commercial Secretary of the embassy made the laboured explanation that this is "...the first time that an
Indo-Nepal hydel project is being envisioned on commercial lines. ... It is not a project run on a government
to government basis but being done by a company on a
commercial basis that makes sound economic sense".
Nepali reactions
There were varying reactions to the recent developments
on Upper Karnali but all have the same conclusion:
that the aggressive approach of GO! and NHPC indicates that they are going for the "quick and final kill".
Some, like Ananda Bahadur Thapa, former Executive
Secretary of Nepal's Water and Energy Commission,
bemoaned the possible death of a 4,000 Mw storage
scheme that could also have been built on the river at
this stretch. It will be interesting to see how the two
governments react to this complaint: a run-of-the-river
2003  November 16/11   HIMAL
 Comparison of existing run-of-river projects with the proposed Upper Karnali project
Table: 1
Power House
Capacity Cost
Capacity ir
i    Avg. Annual Energy
Head in   1
Gwh (gigawatt hours)
Meters     1
Khimti (no
transmission line)
Bhotekosi (with
transmission line)
Kali Gandaki A
(under const.)
Upper Karnali
Bhutan's Tala, IC Rs
40 Billion Bhutan's
Chukha, IC Rs 2.46
Billion in 1989
(USD 864 Million)
Source: NEA/Generation, 2003 Annual Re
port with the exception of Khimti,
Bhotekosi and Upper Karnali
power-only project as opposed to a project with valuable stored water in addition to power. Others lamented that the "jewel in the crown" in the country's hydro-
power treasure chest should have been for Nepal's own
domestic use and is wrongly being licensed tor export.
The cheap power, they argue, would have played a
vital role in stabilising Nepal's spiralling power tariff.
There are still others who question the tiny 15 percent
equity that Nepal is being apportioned. This point has
been rebutted by some Nepalis themselves with the query, "How much cash does NEA have? Has NKA ever
paid dividends to HMGN? Therefore, in the circumstances, can NF.A afford to cough up the equity investment
for Upper Karnali?" Apparently these Nepalis have
been badly bitten by the "commercialisation bug" of
the industrialised countries which now plagues the
developing world. The question that should actually
be raised is, which South Asian electric utility coughs
up its own cash for its capital intensive generation expansion works? But one does, however, hear that some
Nepali investors are seriously jockeying for reasonable
stakes in the pie. There is no question that the pie needs
to be apportioned properly. As the rightful owner of
the resource, it is Nepal, and no one else, that should be
doing the apportioning.
The Upper Karnali project is located in the corner of
the districts Dailekh-Achham-Surkhet in midhill west
Nepal, on the Karnali river (the Ghaghra in India), one
of the mighty tributaries of the Ganga emerging from
the central Himalaya (see map). The backwater of the
10,800 Mw Karnali Chisapani project is quite far away
from the Upper Karnali powerhouse site. One does,
however, notice the tellingly seductive loop of the Karnali river when it suddenly changes its course by a full
hundred and eighty degrees. No doubt, this is nature's
precious gift to Nepal. A mere 2.2 kilometre tunnel creates a drop of 141 meters to generate an average annual
energy of 1915 million units. In contrast, the 144 Mw
Kali Gandaki project, financed bv the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and japan's Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (OFCT), has a six km tunnel to get the
115 metre drop to produce only 842 million units. In
the case of the Upper Karnali, accessibility is already
available through the Surkhet to Jumla road that touches the project's proposed headworks. A mere 22 kilometres of road is necessary to connect the headworks
with the powerhouse. This is the reason why all eyes
are focused on this 300 Mw "jewel".
Very Hot Tariff
With an average selling price of NRN 7.02 per unit (US
cents 9.5 at an exchange rate of NRN 74.09 to the dollar), Nepal's electricity tariff is the highest in South Asia.
The USA's average national tariff is about six cents per
unit, but in hydro-dominated states like Washington
the average tariff is only four cents per unit. Among the
major reasons attributed for Nepal's high tariff are:
heavy reliance on bilateral and multilateral agencies,
extensive employment of international consultants and
contractors, difficult terrain with non-existent infrastructures and very limited in-house construction and
manufacturing capability. Sadly, Nepal has also been
unable to capitalise on the economies of scale. This is
what has led to the recent spurt of many small hydro-
HIMAL 16/11   November 2003
power projects. As in most South Asian countries, corruption, no doubt, is instrumental in padding up that
tariff. There is, however, one aspect that many do not
factor in, namely, project selection. Projects are supposed
to undergo a rigorous Least Cost Generation Expansion Plan (LCGFP) before they are finally selected for
implementation. But when the statistics are conveniently fudged and "sexed up" by the decision makers themselves, then the proverbial garbage in/garbage out is
the outcome, naturally. Ihis is one of the main, often-
glosscd-over reasons for Nepal's inordinately high tariffs. The aborted Arun 111 project of east Nepal on the
Arun tributary of the Kosi is a case in point. 'Ihe 1CGFP
debate on Arun III is still shrouded in a lot of smoke.
The two concerned multilateral do- mmmmmmmmmmmmmmt
nors, the World Bank and ADR, were
not on the same wavelength regarding the Arun III project, with the latter criticising it for its high costs and
the former hell bent on pushing it
through. The dilemma was very succinctly expressed by a very senior
ADB staff at a Kathmandu donors'
meet in 1994 when he said, "While
Arun III is in our head, it is Kali Gandaki that is in our heart". When
Arun 111 ultimately did get "smoked
out", ADB was quick to pick up the
Kali Gandaki project. It was now7 the
turn of the World Bank to gleefully
criticise the project - Kali Gandaki -
for being too expensive! Only a stern official letter from
the ADB to the World Bank, querying point blank "Do
you or do you not support Kali Gandaki?" permitted
,\DB to finally proceed with the project.
The jewel in the crown
Given the maladies that have plagued hydro-development in Nepal it will be useful to compare the proposed
Upper Karnali project with other schemes that have
been implemented. Table 1 provides details of some of
the existing run-of-the-river plants incorporating tunnels in the Nepal power system, both public and private sector, compared with Upper Karnali and Bhutan's Chukha and Tala project.
Leaving aside the two "take or pay" Khimti and
Bhotekosi projects in the private sector, the major work-
Table: 2
With an average
selling price of NRN
7.02 per unit (US
cents 9.5 at an exchange rate of NRN
74.09 to the dollar),
Nepal's electricity
tariff is the highest in
South Asia.
horses of Nepal Electricity Authority (NFA) are the 462
Gwh Marsyangdi and 842 Gwh Kali Gandaki power
stations. Both were built through multilateral/bilateral donor loans and have very high capacity cost of over
USD 2,600 per Kw. There may still be some increase in
the cost of Kali Gandaki when the contractors' 'claims'
are settled. Though Marsyangdi, funded mainly by the
World Bank and the German bank, Kreditanstalt fur
Wiederaufbau (KfVV), is stilt the most expensive project,
proponents assert that the project was constructed during the difficult "trade embargo" period with India.
About 60 percent of any hydropower project's total cost
is notched up by civil works, with the headrace tunnel
accounting for a major portion of that cost. Both Kali
Gandaki and Marsyangdi have
tunnels over 6 kilometres in length.
Even the tiny I'uwa and Chilime,
that generate a meagre 48 Gwh and
137 Gwh respectively, have tunnels in the range of 3 kilometres.
Bhutan's much talked about 336
Mw, 1320 Gwh Chukha project,
despite a 468 metre head, needed a
6.5 kilometre tunnel with a twin
0.95 kilometre tailrace tunnel. Similarly, Tala in order to produce 3962
Gwh of energy needed a 23 kilometre tunnel plus the 3.1 kilometre
tailrace tunnel. The production of
1915 Gwh from a mere 2.2 kilome-
~ tre tunnel truly makes Upper Kar
nali Nepal's "jewel in the crown".
Upper Karnali was therefore not kept on HMGN's
"solicitation list" of 22 projects. HMGN feverishly doled
out the licenses to such media savvy developers as Eu-
roOrient, which promised to immediately start the
spado work on the famous 402 Mw Arun 111 project.
None of the 22 "solicited" and licensed projects have
started their 'spade' work despite the lapse of four years.
The World Bank, that was involved in both the pre-
feasibility and feasibility studies of Upper Karnali, did
toy around with market testing this project for Nepal's
incipient Power Development Fund (I'D]■'). But then the
Bank sheepishly settled for the tiny 30 Mw Kabeli to
market test PDF. ADI5 was approached for a possible
public/private joint venture. But this was ill-timed as
both ADB and OFCF were then totally engrossed with
Size in Mw
Energy in Gwh
Tunnel Length (In Km)      Total Cost
6.5                                           TC Rs 2.46 Billion
23.0                                       IC Rs 40 Billion
(USD 864 Million)
6.2                                           USD 240.3 Million
Nepal/Upper Karnali
2.2                                           USD 454.3 Million
(1998 Canadian consultant estimate)
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
Chart-1: Ownership structure of the Theun-Hinboun Power Company
Nordic Hydropower AB
20 percent
Statkraft SF
50 percent
Vaittenfall AB
50 percent
Power Company Ltd.
Elcctricite du lnos
60 percent
MDX Lao Company Ltd.
20 percent
Government of
tao PDR
100 percent
;GMS Power Public;
Company Ltd.
90 percent
Crown Property
10 percent
the Kali Gandaki. There were then a lot of behind-the-
scene manoeuvring to pocket the Upper Karnali license.
One of them was a Nepali private power developer who,
through a lot of Delhi/Lucknow pilgrimages, had an
invitation to come for the LJpper Karnali power purchase discussion on the official pad of India's Uttar
Pradesh State Electricity Board. The strong Canadian
firm SNJC Lavelin did use its own "influence" unsuccessfully. It was the "weird" French humanitarian organisation, Elysses Frontier, that finally pocketed the
license by offering NF.A/HMGN 30 percent equity without having to dole out a single paisa from their coffers.
That the Cabinet Committee on Fast I rack Projects
could approve such a questionable agreement made
one question the very credibility of the Cabinet Committee itself. But this is how the new "privatisation and
liberalisation" mantra works in the Nepali power sector, particularly when the political environment is
murky. With the "jewel" now firmly in the hands of
GOI/NHPC, no more "pundits with new mantras" are
The Laotian way
So then, how can Nepal and India move forward? There
is no question of reneging on the Indo-Nepal agreement to implement the Upper Karnali. No one questions the Indian participation, as the consuming market is theirs. But Upper Karnali belongs to Nepal and
the power to utter an emphatic "no" on the terms and
conditions rests with Nepal. Hence, it all boils down to
an equitable sharing of the pic, and the 80-10-5 formula
that has been inadvertently leaked can certainly not be
considered fair bv a huge margin. iNepal must not even
remain content with a mere "30 percent equity", as some
have suggested, whether this be in the public, private
or combined domain. .Nepal simply does not have the
luxury of relinquishing its "fair and equitable share"
in such an attractive project. For those who question
where Nepal can access the funds required for Upper
Karnali, perhaps a look at the Laotian-Thailand model, the 210 Mw Theun-Hinboun hydropower project,
would provide the answer.
Thailand is to Laos what India is to Nepal—a large
industrialised giant breathing down the neck of a small
landlocked country rich in water resources, [be joint
public-private Theun-Hinboun power plant in Laos is
dedicated to the Thai market, as would be Upper Karnali to the Indian market when built. It is an inter-basin
transfer wliere a 6.2 kilometre tunnel creates a head of
240 meters and generates an average annual energy of
1645 Gwh. The project component also includes the 86
kilometre 230 Kv double circuit transmission line to the
power delivery point on the Laos-Thailand border. The
project construction started in November 1994 and by
March 1998 the plant had started commercial operation, ie, within 40 months. Despite the use of international consultants such as Norconsult and electrical
and mechanical contractors such as ABB and Kvaern-
er, the total project cost of this plant was an incredibly
modest USD 240.3 million or USD 1144 per Kw. The
ownership structure of the Theun-Hinboun power company is indicated in Chart 1 while Chart 2 depicts its
complex financial structure.
INepal needs to note how Elcctricite du Laos got the
finance for the 60 percent equity. ADB provided a USD
57.7 million loan to the Laos government at the usual
one percent service charge, 40 years maturity period
with ten years grace. The government then re-lent USD
51.5 million to Elcctricite du Laos at 6.21 percent interest, 25 years maturity and five years grace. The government also provided a loan of USD 8.5 million to the
Theun-Hinboun power company but at a higher commercial interest rate ot 10 percent with only 16 years
maturity and four years grace period. Commercial banks
HIMAL 16/11   November 2003
 Chart-2: Financial structure of the Theun-Hinboun Power Company
Norwegian .Agency
for Development
United Nations
Development Bank
Development Fund
7.1 Million
Grant L_k__
0.4 Million     "-K
57.7 Million
Loan L—N_
'.3 Million    ^^
Ministry of Finance, Lao PDR
Export Credit
1.30.3 million
Theun-Hinboun Power Company
240.3 million    \.     .:*
66.0 million
Elcctricite du Laos
110.0 million
22.0 million
22.0 mil lion
Note: All figures in USD
(Source: Appendix 7)
also lent out USD 64.8 million and there was a good
portion of USD 58.6 million as export credit. It is high
time that Nepal learn a lesson or two from this Laotian
model. Thailand, which purchases the power generated by the company, was quite content with a humble 20
percent equity, So was Nordic Hydropower, on whose
strength the export credit was availed. After commercial operation, ADD noted, "The equity investment is
expected to be fully returned within six operating years
of the Project".
The final word
Table 2 demonstrates where Nepal's Upper Karnali
stands. It clearly stands head and shouldesr above Bhutan's much acclaimed Chukha and Tala projects. By
2005, India will start commercial operation of the 1,020
Mw Tala hydroelectric project in Bhutan, constructed
at a cost of about IC Rs 40,000 million or USD 864 million (at the exchange rate of IC Rs 46.3 per USD). This
works out to a capacity cost of USD 847 per Kw. By this
same formula, Upper Karnali will cost only USD 254
million and not USD454.3 million as estimated by some
Canadian consultants. The normal 70:30 loan/equity
financing ratio would mean a total equity of USD 76.2
million. So what exactly is a "fair and equitable" share
for Nepal in this 'jewel'? A 60 percent stake is the min
imum that Nepal should settle for. It is not asking too
much of HMCN/NFA to hunt for the measly USD 46
million that the 60 percent equity constitutes. The World
Bank and ADB, after having invested so heavily in Nepal's power system, cannot abandon it in knee-jerk fashion. But it is HMGN that must nudge the two institutions and GOl/NHPC to create a conducive environment.
One must not forget that Nepal's fledgling private
sector should also get a firm berth in this project. The
policy of negotiating with the Soaltee Group alone does
convey the wrong impression. There are a number of
other corporates as well in Nepal—the Choudhary, Jyoti, Panchakanya, Golchha groups - to name just a few.
Are they untouchables? Why should they be marginalised? One may then naturally ask, would GOI/NHPC' be
interested in such a Laotian model? If India is as pragmatic as the Thais showed themselves to be, and there is
no reason to suppose that they are not, then they should
have no objections at all. GOl/NHPC is well aware that
all the goods and services (consulting, civil, mechanical
and electrical contracts) including the cheap power accruing from Upper Karnali are all destined to head India's way. GOl/NHPC must remain pragmatic with a
modest portion of the project. Otherwise, Nepal will be
forced to perceive that it is not just the "jewel" that India
wants but the entire "jewellery shop" itself! b
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
Flogging the dying horse of
agricultural research
by Devinder Sharma
ill Gates' donation of USD 25 million for
'biofortification'—breeding crops with higher
levels of micronutricnts—is an effort to provide
a life-saving shot to the dying family of public-sector
international agricultural research institutes. Ironically,
the Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research (CGIAR), the much heralded institution responsible for ushering in the green revolution technology, is
now seriously struggling to keep itself alive. Faced with
huge staff layoffs, drastic reductions in research
programmes, declining research output and vanishing
financial commitments, the CGIAR is contemplating a
series of mergers to stay afloat. Gasping for breath, the
institute is even considering the merger of two of its
premier institutes—the International Rice Research Institute (1RR1) at Los Banos, in the Philippines, and the
International Crop Research Centre for Wheat and
Maize (CIMMYT), in Mexico City.
Such has been the level of desperation that the CGIAR
has deviated from its stated position of working for the
public good when in 2002 it decided to take on board
Syngenta Foundation - an agency established by
Syngenta, a global leader in agribusiness. The
company's primary business is crop protection bio-technology and high-value commercial seeds, whose sales
in the year 2000 were USD 6.9 billion. This major shift
in CGIAR's known public image had prompted the
group's committee of non-government organisations to
freeze its relationship with the organisation, The NGOs
believe that the CGIAR has abdicated its responsibility
of ensuring food security for the world's poor by bringing in technologies that lead to economically viable and
sustainable farming systems. Instead, the CGIAR is
evolving into a service centre for corporate interests.
The decade of the 1970s was the period when
CGIAR's green revolution technology, supported by
appropriate national farm policies, ushered in food self-
sufficiency for many of the chronically food deficit countries. Two decades later, in the 1990s, intensive agriculture had begun to take its toll. Apart from the deterioration of the environment that it unleashed, there were
other consee"|uences too. Thousands of farmers all over
the world, from the technology-sophisticated and subsidy-rich United States, European Union, Japan and
Canada to the poor and marginalised majority of the
world in India, China, Argentina, Zimbabwe, Mexico,
the Philippines and many other countries, have been
plunged into a crisis of sustenance. In the poorer coun
tries, the commercial control that agribusinesses have
established over the production process has pushed
small and medium farmers over the brink of security
and into a vortex of mounting debt, leading eventually
to the loss of their meagre pieces of land.
All the while, the CGIAR has remained a mute spectator. Not even once did it find it worthwhile to look
into the real causes behind this spate of agrarian bankruptcies. If anything it is tainted by association, because
the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI),
one of the organisations funded by CGIAR and which
was a beneficiary of Bill Gates' largesse, has concentrated its energies on pushing market reforms in the
guise of "sustainably meeting the food needs of the developing world" (as its mission statement says). IFPRI
is at the forefront of the frantic campaign to dismantle
national policies that had propelled countries to take
advantage of the green revolution technology. Such has
been its descent into business fetishism that it even
wants to bring relief within the purview of the market.
If PR1 has gone to the extent of suggesting that food aid,
which is governed by an inefficient UN Food Convention, be actually brought under the World Trade
Organisation's ambit. Is it not time that the CGIAR begins its own restructuring by closing down the IFPRI?
After all, by the principles of market rationality, where
is the need to duplicate what the World Bank can do
more effectively!
It is evident the CGIAR has abandoned the marginal
farmer to join the anachronistic chorus extolling the
virtues of corporate-controlled agriculture. An international research system, dominated entirely by Western
experts scarcely acquainted in any real sense with the
ground realities in developing countries, sooner or later
had inevitably to collapse, to the attempt to rectify its
own maladies it has once again succumbed to the same
forces that led it to abandon its original mandate. Bill
Gates' donation comes as a bailout gift for the ailing
organisation, but the net result is that its agendas will
become more and more detrimental to the interests of the
larger agrarian community in the developing world as
CGIAR throws its weight behind the corporate club.
Crank solutions
Ever since the release of the dwarf wheat and rice crop
varieties some 25-30 years ago, international agricultural research centres have only been engaged in maintenance research. They have simply been trying to pro-
HIMAL  16/11   November 2003
tect what has already been evolved and released. With
no clear-cut direction and vision, the donors had begun to drift away. The CGIAR therefore attempted a number of options, such as special thematic research
programmes under the 'challenge programmes', but in
the end it could come up with no purposeful plan of
action to keep itself alive. Floating in the winds of
change, it followed the neo-liberal consensus, dumping food security in favour of climate change, and
sustainable agriculture for market reforms and
Biofortification was one of the misplaced research
priorities that CGIAR had proposed earlier but was unable to undertake in the light of the outcry against it.
Moreover this particular priority made no research
sense, but that was not an insuperable objective since
research programmes are no longer required to make
any semse. The idea behind this venture was to breed
crops that supplement micronutrients. 'Golden rice' is
just one instance of the kind of irrational research that
is carried out in today's climate. This much-touted variety of rice, the sum total of whose micronutrient value-
addition amounted to a
miniscule quantum of i
beta-carotene, has now    a^J&L-, ^*^^M /V ^)
been widely accepted as     ^^p^ ^^^Jl^^^a
misadventure. Distin-    -—■—    - —      "™™"
guished scientists have already confirmed that golden
rice cannot address the problem of Vitamin A deficiency.
But ordinary constraints have not stood in the way
of crank solutions being developed and dignified as
scientific remedies to what are ultimately economic problems. Fortified crops cannot eradicate nutrient deficiency. Technology simply cannot address this problem. Whether the newly evolved genetically-modified
crops contain supplements of Vitamin A, iron or zinc,
these foods will bring no benefits to those who need it
desperately—the malnourished. The reason is simple.
The human body requires adequate amount of fats to
absorb these nutrients, which is conspicuously absent
in malnourished populations. The chronically hungry
therefore gain nothing by eating these food supplements, What is more, recourse to this futile technological fix only accentuates the original problem. The higher
market price of such grains, owing to their high intellectual property costs, erodes the capacity to buy other
kinds of food. In the process, further imbalances are
created in one's nutritional status. The biofortification
programme is in reality aimed at restoring the credibility of the discredited biotechnology industry, which has
come under increasing attack from a number of
organisations and groups in Europe and elsewhere.
Bill Gates was probably not properly advised, and
for obvious reasons. Harvest Plus, a mere CGIAR public
relations outfit, is in dire need of financial resources
and therefore used the emotional card of hunger and
malnutrition to seek funding from the Bill and Melinda
Gates Foundation. Not realising that 'hidden hunger',
Nourishing thn Future
through Scientific Excellence
as nutrient deficiency is generally referred to, cannot be
removed by providing the poor and hungry with an
'informed choice' of novel and functional foods. What
the poor need is food—which is abundantly available—
and that too food rich in nutrients. In India, for instance,
which is home to one-third of the world's hungry and
malnourished, more than 30 million tonnes of wheat
and rice (which was a record 65 million tonnes a year
ago) are rotting in the open. The surplus food contains
an average of nine percent proteins—four to nine times
more than is to be found in any fortified GM crop that
scientists have developed so far.
A greater humanitarian purpose would have been
served if Bill Gates had instead donated grants to institutes and groups that would have helped reach the
abundantly available food to tbe poor, to ensure that
the hungry are adequately fed. The reality is that the
poor and hungry do not have the means to buy the food
that is available and going bad in front of their eyes. If
the hungry cannot afford to buy their normal dietary
requirement of rice (or for that matter any other staple
food) for a day, how the CGIAR proposes to make high
cost 'golden rice' available to
them is something that the Gates
Foundation programme officers
probably forgot to ask. The global scientific and development
community (including CGIAR) has failed to understand
that if they had aimed at eradicating hunger in the first
place, there would be no 'hidden hunger'.
Would Bill Gates understand that biotechnology,
the way it is being promoted by corporate interests, has
the potential to further the great divide between haves
and have-nots? The twin engines of economic growth—
technological revolution and globalisation—will only
widen the existing gap between the well-fed and the
hungry. Biotechnology will, in reality, push more people
into the hunger trap. With public attention and resources being diverted from the ground realities, hunger will only grow in the years to come.
CGIAR's blind support for the corporate agenda,
therefore, is a pointer to the growing irrelevance of the
international agricultural research institutes. Such is
the poverty of ideas to meet the growing food needs of
the world that the CGIAR has been gradually made to
die a premature death, much of which of course was its
own doing. It is time for the CGIAR board, which is firmly
in the grip of the World Bank and the Japanese government, to follow what is enshrined in its original mandate. The CGIAR should handover the 16 research centres that it supports to the respective countries where
these are located. This is what the forefathers of the
research system had said at the time of creating the
CGIAR, and they were so right. Nothing can revitalise
this dying horse, not even Bill Gates with his millions,
if the CGIAR cannot stand up for the cause of the poor
and marginalised farmer. 0
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
 Militarisation and
democratic rule in Nepal
Nepal's Maoists initiated the process of crippling the institutions of
parliamentary democracy by giving primacy to military means over
the political. Mainstream parties, unable to resist petty politicking,
allowed themselves first to be bludgeoned into submission by Maoist
violence and then reduced to irrelevance by autocratic strategems. If
civil politics has to triumph, it is up to the political parties to marshal
their energies and undertake a non-violent political movement
against the current and evolving tendencies in the polity.
by Hari Roka
On 4 October 2002, King Gyanendra seized state
power in violation of the 1990 Constitution of
Nepal when he dismissed the elected government of Sher Bahadur Deuba and nominated Lokendra
Bahadur Chand, leader of the royalist Rastriya
Parjatantra Party (RPP), as prime minister. Caught unawares, the mainstream political parties could do nothing except belatedly condemn the king's rapidly unfolding actions. They were not even able to organise
maSaS protest rallies against what really was a palace
coup. This failure of the main
political parties to mobilise
mass opinion against the new
dispensation in Kathmandu,
led both the king and Maoist
rebels presumed that the process of polarisation of the polity between themselves had
been completed. Therefore,
the political parties were ignored in the subsequent talks
between the king's government and the Maoists.
On 29 January 2003 the
nominated government and
People on the road to nowhere.
the Maoists agreed to a ceasefire. When there seemed to
be a glimmer of peace on the horizon, the mainstream
political formations forged an alliance at the end of
March 2003. They jointly finalised an 18-point common minimum programme and launched a movement
against the monarchic takeover. Since then, the power
struggle in the country has acquired a tripartite character and tlie balance of forces in the polity has been such
that a political settlement has not been reached and
none seems to be in sight because the current bargaining positions are mutually incompatible. The palace,
backed by the Royal Nepal Army (RNA), is looking to
resume the role in the national polity that it enjoyed
before the 1990 Constitution came into effect and circumscribed its power. The Maoists, by contrast, are adamant in their demand for the creation of a constituent
assembly to draft a drastically revised constitution that
does away with perceived anomalies in the relationship between state and society. In opposition to both
these positions, the mainstream political parties are
demanding a return to constitutional government
through the restoration of
the dissolved parliament or
the creation of an all-party
transitional government.
These irreconcilable demands have obstructed the
peace process and provides
little hope for a long-term
truce between the two armed
forces as well as the over-ground political parties. The
possibilities of peace are being further eroded by the
consolidation of military capability on both sides. The
fighting strength of the RNA is being upgraded through
aid from the USA, the UK and India, while the Maoists
have been freely recruiting cadres in the countryside
and replenishing their armoury. After three months of
ceasefire, starting end-January this year, the official re-
HIMAL 16/11  November 2003
 gime and the rebel regime sat at the negotiating table in
April this year after agreeing to a code of conduct. At
the second round of talks, the government acceded to
the Maoist demand of restricting the movement of the
army to a five kilometre-radius from their barracks.
While it has been reported that this concession had
King Gyanendra's all-important sanction, the army-
denied that any such consensus had been arrived at.
Following the army's refusal to submit to the five
kilometre restriction, the nominated government of
Prime Minister Chand collapsed in May since it had
lost the confidence of one of the most crucial entities in
the post-constitutional polity.
After tbe departure of the Chand government, the
mainstream political parties were still hopeful of finding a meaningful role in the political process. If they
had any expectations from the palace, these were clearly
unjustified. The king studiously disregarded their
claims and, instead, nominated Surya Bahadur Thapa
(also of the Rastriya Parjatantra Party) as prime minister. This reconfirmed the suspicion of the mainstream
political forces that the democratic rhetoric emanating
from the palace was so much eye-wash and that the
takeover of 4 October 2002 had not been a short-term fix
for an immediate problem but an attempt at institutional
consolidation to recover past glory. The Maoists, who
had hitherto deluded themselves into believing that
they constituted the decisive factor in the prevailing
equilibrium, also realised that the hopes they entertained of a share in state power had come to nothing.
The negotiations could obviously go no further, but the
ceasefire remained in force since the Maoists were constrained by public pressure and unfavourable circumstances to respect it.
In August 2003, the king's government put forward
its political agenda for the last round of negotiations,
which, while being long on the social agenda, clearly
and unequivocally repudiated the core Maoist demand
on constituent assembly. This brought an official closure to the negotiating process, since there was nothing left to be negotiated. Almost simultaneously, the
Royal Nepal Army launched an anti-insurgency operation in which 19 Maoist activists were killed in
Doramba, Ramechhap districts. This signalled the collapse of the ceasefire, and the country resumed its interrupted civil war.
Towards militarism
The declaration of the 'people's war' by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in 1996 was the first step in
the creeping militarisation of national society that has
now suddenly gained momentum. The immediate goal
of the rebels was to render parliamentary government
obsolete by crippling its functioning, while its long-
term goal was the overthrow of the monarchy and the
capture of state power. Therefore, in the short run they
targeted democratic institutions and the mass base of
the parliamentary forces. They proved to be adept at
using the situation to their advantage and exploiting
the contradictions between the palace and the parliamentary forces, as also the inter- and intra-party conflicts at the core of the political mainstream. These stratagems gave them the space to expand their influence in
large parts of the country from their original, limited
'base area' in the mid western hills.
Concentrating their operations in rural areas, the
rebels first went after and often killed politically influential persons affiliated to the Nepali Congress, when
that party was in government. They refrained from attacking the army and instead concentrated their firepower on the civilian police force since this would effectively neutralise the capability of the government. In
the initial phase of the 'people's war', the leadership of
the Nepali Congress believed that, in the long-run,
Maoist activity would diminish the mass base of its
nearest political rival, the Communist Party of Nepal
(United Marxist Leninist), though it was their own cadre
which was at that time at the receiving end of the violence. For its part, the leadership of the CPN (UML) was
misled by the early Maoist focus on Nepali Congress
cadres into the believing that the long-run effects of the
war would be to weaken the Nepali Congress. This
misreading was encouraged by the fact that the retaliatory killing of Maoist cadres was taking place on the
orders of the incumbent Nepali Congress government.
This process, the mainstream communists believed,
would eventually be beneficial to them. Tbe political
parties relied too much on these mechanical calculations, and to that extent they fell victim to the Maoist
leadership's shrewd strategy of creating and exploiting contradictions within first the political parties and
then the ranks of local administrative institutions.
This accentuation of contradictions within the constitutional polity was a necessary precondition for the
Maobaadi strategy of building 'red bases' in the countryside until the revolutionary armed forces were ready-
to capture political power in the main cities. Within
Maoist thinking, the "principal area of struggle is the
countryside". The situation in the country was conducive for a rapid consolidation based on the disenchantment among the masses, lhe rivalry between the political parties, their disregard for development, extraordinary levels of corruption while holding the reins of
power, and the accentuation of neo-liberal economic
policies were the cause of extreme frustration among
the rural populace, which was compounded by the
absence of employment opportunities in urban areas.
The political parties were bereft of any radical agenda
for socio-economic transformation and bringing about
more inclusiveness in the polity. The Maoist slogan that
the rebellion would provide a solution to the ethnic,
religious, linguistic and regional conflicts as well as to
the political and economic problems besetting the nation evoked a popular response in the countryside. This
slogan attracted disgruntled radical elements in all
parties, as also deprived sections of the people who
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
 faced   economic,   social,   cultural   and   political
Seen in a comparative historical context, the Nepali
Maobaadi strategy differs substantially from the Chinese peoples' war strategy. The leadership of the
Maobaadi has given priority to the militaiy rather than
the political strategy. After the breakdown of tbe second ceasefire last August, the Maoists have been implementing a politico-military strategy (pol-mil), which
was first implemented by the Vietnamese Communist
Party from 1936 to 1939, when they were fighting
against French colonial oppression. This strategy was
later adopted by a number of other radical parties in
the Philippines, such as the Workers Party of Philippines, the Revolutionary Workers Party, and the Marxist-Leninists. This strategy relied more on the military
component and included individual acts of terror designed to destabilise the state, create a dramatic impact, give a warning to individual capitalists and the
armed forces, and exert pressure on the ruling class or
its individual representatives through assassinations,
bombing, sabotage, 'expropriation' and other punitive
From the elected to the selected: Deuba. Chand and Thapa.
acts. This strategy unleashed the progressive
militarisation of both state and society.
Since the inception of the Maoist insurgency in
Nepal, the palace and the Kathmandu valley elite in its
attendance were more than satisfied with the systematic targeting of parliamentary institutions and their
mass base, which was the main bulwark against monarchical absolutism prior to the people's movement
that culminated in the 1990 Constitution, The
organisational and institutional dismantling of parliamentary forces at the grassroots gave the king a greater
leverage over the political process. The Maoists, meanwhile, made the most of this rivalry within the mainstream polity to strengthen themselves organisationally
and militarily.
The demise of civil authority
What helped the Maobaadi in particular was the ambiguous position of the army in the state system. While
the rebels were attacking the cadres of the over-ground
political parties, restricting their political activities
among the rural masses, immobilising the police, and
destroying the physical infrastructure in the control of
the civil government, the army refused to engage in com
bat on two counts. The army leadership claimed that it
could not be party to the killing of Nepalis bv Nepalis.
It also argued that the army could be mobilised only
after the political parties had forged a consensus on the
issue and insisted that its intervention was predicated
on royal initiative since the king is the RNA's supreme
commander. It was clear from these preconditions that
the military did not see itself as being subordinated to
the elected government but as an institution loyal to the
While King Gyanendra was looking for a legal route
to concentrate power within the palace, the army was
taking the first steps in driving a wedge within the state
system that the monarchy could utilise for its own political purposes, lhe deliberate refusal to engage militarily with the Maoists at Holery village in Rolpa district in July 2001, despite the army having been dispatched there lor that purpose by the then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala of the Nepali Congress, was
part of this tactic. The RNA's refusal to obey civil instructions had the desired outcome in the form of
Koirala's resignation. It is significant that Koirala was
the one political entity to have consistently refused to do the palace's bidding. Consequently,
on his resignation, he refused to dissolve parliament, a move that the royalists and the army
were banking on to take their plans further.
Therefore, royal take-over required a few more
steps to be taken before the objective was
This task was made somewhat easier bv the
fact that Koirala's successor was Sher Bahadur
Deuba, who, in order to retain power, was more
than willing to appease both the palace and
tbe army. The royalist takeover proceeded at an accelerated pace during Deuba's incumbency, as civil government and parliamentary institutions, weakened by-
seven years of pounding by the Maobaadi, ended up
taking several measures that handed over power to the
monarch. The crucial event in the consolidation of
monarchic power was the Maoist termination of negotiations with Prime Minister Deuba (who had by then
broken off from the main Congress party of Koirala)
and the simultaneous unprovoked attack on the army
barracks in Dang in November 2001. The timing and
motive behind this seemingly ill-conceived Maoist
move, which brought the army dramatically into the
fray, is shrouded in mystery. This was the first time
that the Maoist leadership had made a seemingly self-
defeating tactical move, and what is more, this uncharacteristic gambit came at a time when the international
circumstances, in the aftermath of 9/11, were none too
conducive for such actions.
Whatever the motivations, this development
prompted the fulfilment of one of the RNA's main preconditions for entering the combat zone, namely the
imposition of a state of emergency and the suspension
of civil laws by the Deuba government. In effect, the
HIMAL  16/11   November 2003
army's entry into combat was primarily a political move.
The consolidation of the anti-constitutional forces was
finalised, ironically enough, by the parliamentary-
forces, which gave the declaration of emergency their
stamp of approval twice, first through legislative ratification and then through renewal six months later, lhe
seeds of the subsequent dissolution of parliament were
sown with these two acts of surrender to the palace.
This paved the way for the militarisation of the state
to match the militarisation of society by the Maoists. To
achieve this, the last vestiges of civil government had to
be removed and the first move in this direction was the
dissolution of parliament in May 2002 by the ever pliant Deuba in order to re-impose emergency in the face
of stiff opposition from the non-royalist political forces,
who were now convinced that the re-imposition was a
ploy to strengthen the palace and the military. The dissolution of parliament for the purpose of renewing the
emergency was a contradiction in terms, because at the
moment of dissolution both the rationale and the instrument for the re-imposition of emergency also ceased
to exist, since the takeover of the polity mjmmmtmamjaami^lm
by the anti-constitutional faction was
practically complete. All that remained
to be done was to remove all elected local bodies (in villages and districts) and
this happened a month later. The foundations of state-led militarisation had
been laid with these two climactic acts,
dissolution of parliament and local
bodies. The Deuba government, in effect, represented a transitional regime,
facilitating the replacement of a parliamentary government by a palace government.
At this stage in the proceedings, with
the gun dominating the countryside, it
was quite clear that the climate was not
suitable for seeking a fresh political mandate on a nation-wide scale. The promise of elections was no more
than a fig leaf to destroy what was left of civil government after Deuba's leadership. The final blow was delivered on 4 October, when the now politically redundant prime minister, having fulfilled his role of handing over the polity to the palace, was removed by the
king on grounds of incompetence.
With the total elimination of parliamentary forces
from any reckoning on the ground, and a royal surrogate in the saddle, the situation was ripe for rightist
forces to launch an all-out militarisation of the nation
in the name of suppressing the insurgency. Predictably,
the incumbent Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa
announced, recently, the introduction of a unified command, which subordinates civilian and political decisions at all levels to the military command. A unified
command had been introduced earlier too, during
Deuba's tenure, but that was of a qualitatively different
order, entailing a mechanism for coordination between
the army and the police in counter-insurgency operations. The present mechanism is just a more dignified
name for military rule.
The unified command signifies the seal of approval
and governmental authority to militarisation that has
now become country-wide in scope. Its effects are comprehensive. The role of parliamentary forces and statutory bodies has been severely restricted while the operation of constitutional rights has been curtailed. The
abrogation of freedoms has reached such absurd levels
that the police and army are prohibiting the sale of progressive books and literature. More ominously, even in
Kathmandu, where Maoist activity has been low-key,
people are being killed on suspicion without verification of their antecedents, and houses are being raided
without judicial warrants. In the countryside matters
are even grimmer, with encounter killings becoming
routine. The army officers have achieved such a level of
control over the polity that they nonchalantly disregard judicial orders to present their detenus in court.
Koirala's successor was Sher
Bahadur Deuba,
who, in order to
retain power, was
more than willing
to appease both
the palace and
Managing civil obedience
With the rise of the military in the affairs of the nation, there has been a proportionate neglect of state institutions
that fall within parliamentary jurisdiction. The election commission is, for all
practical purposes, defunct as it not
only has no chief election commissioner;
it has no members at all. The Public Service Commission is similarly devoid
of commissioners. Procedurally, the
present constitution provides no way
out of this institutional paralysis. Theoretically, the king has the nominal right
to make appointments to all constitutional bodies. But this right can be exorcised only on the recommendation of
the prime minister in his capacity as Chairman of tbe
Constitutional Council. This body has five members,
namely, the prime minister, the chief justice, the speaker
of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the
Upper House, and the loader of the opposition in the
1 louse of Representatives. 5ince May 2002 there has
been no House of Representatives, therefore the posts
of the speaker and leader of the opposition do not exist.
Meanwhile, the term of office of the chairman of the
Upper House also expired in June. Three out of the five
mandatory offices are vacant and two of them cannot
be filled without a general election. King Gyanendra
has also been avoiding appointments to several vacant
constitutional offices despite the necessary recommendations by the full council.
But it is not just vacancy of office that creates problems. Even where institutions have their full complement of officials, the absence of a parliament hinders
proper functioning. Bodies like the Department of auditor General, the Commission for the Investigation of
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
 f vi
Abuse of Authority, the Nepal Human Rights Commission, the Public Service Commission, the Office of the
Attorney General and other constitutional bodies directly accountable and responsible to the House of Representatives have no parent body to report to.
With the Constitution having been given a de facto
burial, the governance of the nation is currently being
conducted through ordinances signed by King
Gyanendra. In the absence of any .accountability, royal
whims seem to take precedence over national concerns.
Because the state is ruled by the hukuini sliasau (direct
rule) of the king, the institution most symmetrically
aligned to the interests of the palace—the Royal Nepal
Army—has placed itself beyond law and legality, and
its adventurism reflects the excitement of an institution
that has suddenly discovered power after long being in
the shadows. Since the collapse of the second ceasefire
in August this vear, the army and the Maoists have,
between them, been killing, on average, as many as 17
people per day. While not much may be expected of
rebels who declare themselves to be unbound by law
and see violence as a means to a political end, the impunity with which the army is conducting itself takes it
far beyond the pale of the law.
Economic incompetence
The civil government of Deuba was dismissed bv King
Gyanendra for being 'incompetent'. More than a year
has passed since the country has been taken over by
royalists. What has been their performance in the department of performance? The death toll in the conflict
has mounted dramatically and there is no end in sight.
The consequences for the economy have been severe.
Government spending on development projects has
fallen drastically due to the diversion of funds to the
military and inability to spend in the Maobaadi-con-
trolled countryside. Further, due to political instability
and deteriorating security, development, construction
and investment have ccime to a standstill, In a country
where the government is the largest investor in the infrastructure sector, there has been no fresh investments. This has adversely affected both the purchasing
capacity and the overall employment climate, fuelling
frustrations that do not bode well for the prospects of
peace. National capital is gradually fleeing the country. All available economic indicators suggest a marked
Overall, the government's revenue mobilising capacity has plunged to new depths and the deficit in the
budget is being kept in some kind of control only by-
contracting debts. In other words, the burden of maintaining the security establishment at greatly expanded
levels is being borne by pushing the country into a debt
trap. The so-called counter-insurgency operations being directed by the king's government is being financed
through externa! borrowings. This is the kind of "efficiency" that the country was awaiting after being delivered from tbe evils of civil government.
In 2002-03, direct investment in Nepal decreased by
a50.4 percent over the previous year, and employment-
related industries grew only by 0.09 percent. Leaving
aside the question of how neo-liberal ideologues will
explain away this uncomfortable fact, there is the even
more serious problem of the political consequences in
the countryside of this reversal. In this regard, the consumer price index does not bring any cheer either. The
price of food and beverage has increased by 6.1 percent
in 2002-03 as against an increase of 3.5 percent in the
corresponding period of the previous year. But the price
of rice and pulses has decreased. In other words, the
peasantry of Nepal has to bear the burden of declining
real incomes. On the other hand, the prices of all imported goods have increased. The price of government-
controlled goods has seen an increase of over 11 percent. The price index is more than adequate to demonstrate the proof of rising misery. In such a grim economic climate, the only relief comes by way of financial
remittances from Nepali labourers overseas, particularly in the Gulf and Malaysia, which has seen an increase of 28 percent over the previous year. But thi?
repatriation of funds also highlights the Nepali tragedy. Today, caught between the ever-present Maobaadi
threat and the military dragnet, able-bodied males have
all fled, many of them to work in low-paying jobs in
India and overseas. A reorientation of the country's fundamental economic activities to military expediency is
Completing the circle
While the government has failed abysmally to arrest
the declining trend in the economy, Maoist activity has
been undermining the basis of livelihood in countryside. The rebels have been destroying small hydro-electric projects, post offices, irrigation projects, offices of
the village development committees, telephone towers,
forest offices, public health posts and every other kind
of service delivery infrastructure. They have also been
looting banks and cooperatives in the countryside, besides disrupting schools and other social sector institutions. The Maoist method of financing the "people's
war" has subjected the rural economy to enormous
stress. The public distribution system in many areas is
non-functional since Maoist cadres and the RNA commandeer what remains of the supplies after government officials and contractors have taken their share of
the spoils. In the case of the army, the seizing of public
food stocks is also a counter-insurgency technique to
prevent supplies from falling into Maoist hands. Whatever be the official logic, the net result is to push vulnerable families to the edge of starvation. Today, most of
the mountainous and hill districts of the country are in
the grip of acute food scarcity as essential commodities, including medicines, are diverted to facilitate the
prosecution of a war that threatens to become permanent. Maoist extortions have increased and the financial demands being imposed on small and marginal
HIMAL  16/11   November 2003
peasant families are often well beyond the carrying capacity of the household budget. ,Ali this, compounded
by the violence and the government's failure to manage
the economic downslide, has increased the compulsion
on people to leave the country in search of the most
menial of livelihoods.
By now, militarisation has left its stamp on practically every aspect of national life. Militarisation is not
merely the increased presence of armed forces in the
public sphere. It is the comprehensive reorientation of
national energies and resources to the prosecution of
war. On both sides of the conflict, it subordinates politics to the military purpose so that the institutional arena
loses its civil character. Most importantly, organised
violence is normalised and nationalised as the
organisations of war reach all corners of the country
and penetrate every level of social and economic activity. In Nepal today, even short-distance bus journeys
take an inordinately long time as security checks hold
up traffic along the highways. And the checks are so
intrusive that little heed is paid even to the ordinary
protocols that govern the public interaction between
men and women. The militarisation of the country has
gone so far that it now routinely invades the modesty of
the village woman. What makes it worse for the ordinary citizen is that the primacy accorded to the military
conflict has been at the expense of political activity,
which for the last decade has been their only medium
of articulating grievances. Political silence is the most
perverse outcome of the militarisation, as the civil institutions are intimidated into submission.
Reinstating the democratic system
lhe extreme right and the adventurist left have commandeered the country, and in polarising the
depoliticiscd polity between them they have circumscribed the revival of mass democratic politics. But in
doing this thev also share the common delusion that
they have destroyed mass democratic politics. In the
absence of any system of registering what people in
society want, this is clearly a premature conclusion.
Unfortunately, diplomatic missions and country offices
of international institutions also partake of the same
feast. In September, when the five-party democratic
combine was preparing to launch a mass struggle
against the palace to force it to restore the Constitution
and the Parliament to its rightful status, there was a
frantic bout of diplomatic activity as the ambassadors
of India, the UK and the USA rushed about the capital
to defuse what they considered to be a crisis. And the
so-called crisis was eventually resolved in favour of
the palace-military combine as pressure was brought
to bear on the parties, by these three countries currently
most active in the internal affairs of Nepal. In fact, the
concerned ambassadors extended their assurance to
the leaders of the agitation that they would impress
upon the king the need to restore the parliamentary
process. Of course, they omitted to mention a time frame
for the restoration. Once again the parties which represent the political spectrum and are presumably the true
representatives of the people again proved their naivete
and their inability to sustain political activity even for
the purposes of self-preservation.
Both internal 'nationalist' forces and international
'democratic' forces have assumed a recalcitrant attitude to the restoration of the political process in Nepal.
The reasons are obvious. The extreme right, including
the institutions of international neo-liberalism, and the
extreme left, both share a paranoid fear of mass democracy, and the current configuration is ideal for all antidemocratic forces to abide by a common commitment to
keep parliamentary institutions defunct.
The belief shared by the palace, the Maoists and the
more powerful members of the international community in Kathmandu, that parliamentary parties have
become defunct, is simply a by-product of their current
political expediency. The space for mass politics does
exist, The problem is that since influential forces believe it does not exist, that becomes a self-fulfilling
prophecy as they deploy their influence to ensure that
it at least looks like it does not exist. This is one of the
main difficulties facing the beleaguered parliamentary
forces in the current phase of amplified militarism. Political parties face a verv difficult situation today. Mass
politics thrives on mass contact and if it is prevented
from reaching out to its defining constituency by the
reign of terror unleashed by militarised politics, the illusion will be perpetuated that no one needs mass politics any more. But the absence of mass politics currently
does not signify the absence of the urgent need for mass
politics. In the countryside, the acceleration of the war
lias revived faith in the political process because of the
ways in which the military process bears down on society with such oppressive weight. Caught between two
sides whose sole objective is not to lose a war that they
are fighting in the belief that they will win it, the rural
populace has nowhere to turn to but the political process to articulate their interests.
In such a situation, and despite the opposition of
'patriots' inside the country and 'democrats' outside
the country, political parties can play a major role if
thev assess the balance of forces objectively, forge alliances on the basis of a common minimum understanding (just as the 'other side' has done), jointly cultivate
the constituency for peace and parliamentary revival
and organise a non-violent movement against the current and evolving autocracy. By doing so they will have
responded to a genuine need that exists but is not allowed to be expressed. The sovereignty of the masses
was at least nominally established in 1990. It was taken
away in 2002-2003. To begin with, that nominal sovereignty can be restored through the same joint platform
that secured it for the first time a decade ago. Once they
have regained their native turf, the political parties can
then resume their ideological and political rivalries in
parliamentary ways.
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
 • 7 m i; §w*
Crisis beyond legality
Will constitutional amendment provide for the social and political
needs of the Nepali people and polity? Or a new constitution? And
by what procedure?
by Yash Ghai	
"epal is caught in what most people assume to
be a constitutional crisis. There are two aspects
to this crisis which need to be kept distinct.
The first, and the more transient, though it may turn
out to be the more problematic, is the result of the dissolution of the House of Representatives and the failure
to hold elections within six months of dissolution, as
stipulated by the 1990 Constitution. Consequently, the
country is presently, at best, operating under half or a
quarter of a Constitution, Parliament
does not exist and therefore the validity
of government itself is questioned as
ministers must be drawn from parliament, except for a specified short period
that has already lapsed. Moreover there
can be no parliamentary accountability
of the cabinet. The present practice of
accountability to the king has no constitutional legitimacy, nor any political
legitimacy. Article 127 (which provides
that the king may issue orders "necessary to remove difficulties in bringing
the Constitution into force") is too fragile a feed to sustain the burden of the
governance of the country and cannot
act as life-support for the Constitution,
in the context of the collapse of the entire parliamentary system that lies at
heart of the 1990 document.
The second crisis is about the legitimacy of the Constitution itself. The conflict of the last decade, by effectively disabling the state from discharging its fundamental Constitutional obligations to
individuals and communities, has rendered the Constitution meaningless. The roots of the
Maoist rebellion lay in their dissatisfaction with the
way the Constitution was framed, its orientation and
how it has operated. But there are other groups as well
which are troubled by the lack of constitutional recognition of national diversity or social justice, and which
consider that the state has been monopolised by high
caste and other privileged groups. While the Constitu-
The present practice of accountability to the king
has no constitutional legitimacy,
nor any political
tion has its supporters, there is now a general
acknowledgement that it needs, at the least, to be revised, if not replaced.
It is not self-evident how the current Constitution
can be resurrected—and without its resurrection there
seems to be no obvious way to return to constitutional
rule or to find means to tackle problems of reform and
national reconciliation. So paradoxically, while the
Constitution has some excellent provisions and with
reform can serve as the vehicle for future political and social developments,
it is clear that the procedure for its revival and reform has to come from outside its own framework. At heart,
Nepal's problem is not constitutional
but socio-political—the present Constitution contains the seeds of development to respond to present anxieties
but they will not germinate without
political nourishing. Nepal needs a
process to draw up a consensus on its
vision of the future and to affirm it in a
national compact. Fortunately, that
possibility lies within Nepal's grasp.
There seems to be considerable consensus on what needs to be done and on
the willingness to engage in a process
for this purpose. What is lacking is
agreement on the procedure to achieve
The reforms
The debate has, not surprisingly,
  centred on the ability of the 1990 Constitution to deal with social and political problems facing Nepal. The vision of the Constitution is sufficiently broad-ranging to encompass the aspirations of Nepal's different groups and communities. The difficulty lies in the technique. While a part of
the political settlement that lies behind the abandonment of the Panchayat system and introduction of multiparty democracy was effected in the Constitution, some
other components, like inclusivencss and social jus-
HIMAL 16/11   November 2003
tice, were acknowledged but not incorporated in legal
forms that lend themselves easily to implementation or
enforcement. Constitutional reform now must ensure
the complete implementation of the 1990 settlement and
understandings explicit in the Constitution.
The claims and passions which now animate
Nepali politics are themselves the result of the limited
democratisation promoted by the 1990 Constitution.
Democracy does stir things up. Those who advocate
democracy must accept that its ideology and aspirations create new forms of consciousness, identity and
empowerment whose inclusion is necessary to achieve
fully the political and social benefits of democracy, lhe
striking thing for an outsider is the similarity in analysis by the key protagonists of the problems facing Nepal
and the reforms necessary to solve them. To take the
matter forward it is necessary to assess the strengths
and weaknesses of the Constitution. The general assessment may well be that that while the Constitution
has several good points, it needs important reforms in
some kev respects.
First the good points, The document acknowledges
the supremacy of the people and pro-    	
claims the supremacy of the Constitution over laws (and presumably administrative policies and acts). It recognises
the ethnic and linguistic diversity of the
people (but not adequately the religious
diversity), lt has a reasonable chapter
on fundamental rights with a special
concern for its enforcement. The Directive Principles of State Policy establish
important social and economic goals. It
seeks to insulate some critical state powers and functions from political control
or influence by vesting them in independent commissions, authorities and offices, such as conduct of elections, appointments to the judiciary, and appointments to aind the management of
the public service. An independent
court system has the powers of judicial
review and the authority to maintain the rule of law. A
constitutional council exists to ensure independent appointments to sensitive .state posts such as that of the
chief justice and auditor-general. The Constitution sets
up an independent authority to investigate abuse of
office, including corruption, with powers of prosecution. Recognising that democracy is not possible without national and democratically run political parties, it
provides for the regulation of political parties.
Now to the weaknesses. An overriding goal of the
Constitution, besides the celebration of diversity, is
national unity and the political integration—an objective which is to be achieved by "promoting healthy and
cordial social relations amongst the various religious
groups, castes and classes, communities and linguistic
groups..." (Article 26.2). The approach of "cordial so-
The 1990 Constitution was principally concerned
with balancing the
interests of the
monarchy with
those of the political parties. Hence
the interests to be
balanced were
cial relations", accompanied by some remedial action
to alleviate discrimination against the disadvantaged,
contrasts with a constitutional approach based on
rights and entitlements. Some members of the Constitutional Recommendation Commission considered that
too explicit a recognition of minorities would perpetuate differences and might even lead to the break-up of
the country (while others were of the view that some
recognition was essential to ward off criticism that the
commission had ignored minorities). Indeed here we
have a major dilemma regarding the organisation of
the state in multi-ethnic societies. The answer lies perhaps in a middle position, in which people's multiple
identities are recognised for some purposes, but within
the overarching citizenship of the country.
Thus, while diversity and social justice are presented as kev goals, they are insufficiently accommodated in the Constitution. The foremost reform must
aim towards inclusiveness—bringing into state and
power structures communities that have hitherto been
excluded or marginalised. A review of the electoral system is necessary to achieve this, although more vigor-
,„„„„___ ous recruitment by political parties
and the promotion of candidates from
the marginalised communities are also
necessary. The issue of the design of
the state cannot be avoided. There is
need for further democratisation
and participation through regional
decentralisation of state power to enhance democracy, development and
regional equity. Parliamentary government, on which there appears to be very-
wide consensus, should be strengthened through the clarification of relations between the king, the government
and the legislature (and perhaps by
removing immunity for acts done by
the monarch in the exercise of his public functions - Articles 32 and 56.1 -
and restricting some of his rule-making powers, eg, Articles 39, 40.
While these reforms may satisfy supporters of constitutional monarchy (who are numerous), they may be
resisted by two groups on the opposite ends of the spectrum—the royalists who may consider that they undermine the institution of the monarchy and Maoists, who
have been opposed to the very notion of monarchy and
want a republic. The parliamentary system, on which
there seems to be universal consensus, also needs
'stabilisers' to ensure stability and effectiveness of government (lacking in some measure so far). This might
perhaps be achieved firstly by adopting the German
method of the "constructive vote of no confidence"—
which requires the motion of no confidence to nominate the successor prime minister—and secondly by
restricting, if it is possible, the fragmenting of political
parties. The status and role of armed and defence forces
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
should be defined with greater clarity, emphasising the
commitment to the security of individuals and communities and the principle of civilian control. Another
imperative is social justice, particularly the removal of
the severe economic discrimination against dalits and
indigenous communities and affirmative action for a
transitional period. The greater participation and integration of women, who do not enjoy full equality with
men under the Constitution, in the political and economic spheres brings together many of these objectives'—inclusiveness, social justice and participation—
and must be a priority for reform.
All this may seem to constitute a new and radical
agenda. But the truth is that this agenda is drawn from
tbe Constitution itself. The Constitution recognises ethnic and linguistic diversity but only partially provides
tor its incorporation (and, in disregard of religious diversity, makes tbe state 'Hindu'). The Constitution upholds the equality of all citizens and prohibits discrimination on the basis of the various factors that constitute
the diversity of Nepal. Every community is guaranteed
the right to conserve and promote its language, script,
culture and religion (Articles 18 and 19). The Constitution commits the state to "promote the conditions of
welfare on the basis of tbe principles of open society by-
establishing a just system in all aspects of the national
life, including social, economic and political, while at
the same time, protecting the life, property and liberty
of the general public" (Article 25.1).
The state is committed to eliminating "all types of
economic and social inequalities which is possible
through the establishment of harmony amongst the
various castes, tribes, religions, languages, colour and
communities" {Article 25.3), and to pursuing affirmative action (Article 26.11). Another Constitutional commitment, to promote democracy, is "the maximum participation of the people in the governance of the country through the medium of decentralisation of administration" (Article 25.4). The Constitution places special
emphasis on gender equity. Not only is the
maximisation of opportunities for women in the "task
of national developmenf'a state policy (Article 26.7),
but a specific method—albeit in the event relatively ineffective—is prescribed for the political representation
of women; at least 5 per cent of the candidates of any
party for elections to the House of Representatives must
bo women (aArticle 114).
The proposed provisions would make the Constitution not merely a political instrument to allocate power
among state institutions, but also the social charter that
so many people want it to be, responding to their sense
of identity and the quest tor justice. According to the
chair of the Constitution Recommendations Commission of 1990, 95 percent of the suggestions to the commission related to culture, language and religion. Perhaps these were not seen as relevant to the Constitution then; certainly thev are not proportionately reflected
in it,  these social dimensions provide a wonderful vi
sion of Nepal: the richness of many traditions and cultures, the recognition of the several identities its citizens carry, yet its diverse communities united in their
common allegiance and loyalty to Nepal, and all committed to establish a democratic, open and just society.
It seems that there is more or less a national consensus
on this vision. Fhe challenge of reform is to turn it into
The procedure
If outsiders are struck by the broad consensus on reforms that are required, they are equally struck (and
surprised) bv the lack of a consensus on the procedure
for reform, including the method of return to constitutional rule. On the former, differences revolve around
two principal options. The first (which has the support
of the king, the present government and most political
parties) is to secure reforms through amendments to
the present Constitution using the amendment procedure provided in Article 116. The other view (held particularly by the Maoists and minorities) is that reforms
should take place through a constituent assembly. The
difference on procedure can become a real stumbling
block to reform. So what hangs on the difference?
What hangs on the difference are the scope of change
and the dynamics of the procedure, lt may be possible,
at a technical level, to improve the Constitution sufficiently to accommodate the concerns of most groups.
But the procedure has its own dynamics, and may legally or practically restrict the scope of change, privilege some groups at the expense of others, and affect
people's consciousness of the new dispensation. This
involves the scope of change. The power of parliament
to amend the Constitution is restricted by Article 116.1,
which states that an amendment bill "must not be designed to frustrate the spirit of the Preamble of this Constitution". This formulation has resonances with the
judicially developed doctrine of "basic features" of the
Constitution which the Indian Supreme Court has used
to control the amendment powers of the Indian parliament. Presumably the Nepali courts would have the
authority to examine whether an amendment violates
this restriction.
What may be said to constitute the "spirit of the
Preamble"? From the phraseology of the Preamble, the
following principles could be identified as the basis of
the Constitution: (a) people as the source of sovereignty;
(b) guarantees of basic human rights to every citizen;
(e) social, political and economic justice for the people;
(d) adult franchise; (e) parliamentary system of government; (f) multi-party democracy; (g) constitutional monarchy; (h) an independent and competent system of justice; and (i) fraternity and the bond of unity on the basis
of liberty and equality. Some of these principles are not
easy to demarcate, but there was some common understanding of them in the struggle for reform in 1990.
For the present purposes it will suffice to say that
looking at the present consensus on reform described
HIMAL 16/11   November 2003
above, the only problematic area is constitutional monarchy, which precludes the republican option favoured
by the Maoists. Their present position may be less rigid
now and a truly constitutional monarchy of the kind
implied in the preceding discussion may be acceptable
to them. But of course, Article 116.1 does preclude some
kinds of change. There also remains the difficult question of what meaning might be ascribed to "amendment". Indian courts (and some academic authorities)
have taken the position that "amendment" cannot cover
wholesale changes to the Constitution (although some
countries, such as Guyana and Fiji, have relied on
"amendment" to introduce entirely new constitutions).
If the narrower view of "amendment" were adopted,
this would impose a restriction on changes (though
perhaps only the principle of constitutional monarchy-
is potentially a sticking point).
The constituent assembly approach would not start
with any restriction of this kind, It would, moreover,
start with a clean slate. This is its at-     __________
traction to its supporters, and the flaw
to its opponents. Those who favour the
1990 political settlement with the necessary adjustments outlined above are
afraid that a constituent assembly may
open a Pandora's Box and the fundamentals of that settlement may be
thrown out. The constituent assembly
procedure is, for them, too open ended
and too be hijacked, and they
prefer the parliamentary route of reform
through amendment. There may well
be anxieties about popularising politics, which could result from a broad
participatory process. On the other
hand, those who advocate a constituent assembly fear that the elites who
dominate parliament and fashioned the
1990 settlement as reflected in the Constitution may not adopt the necessary
reforms. Once the framework of Article
116 is accepted, there would be no way to force change
on parliament. It is therefore useful to look at the dynamics of the two approaches.
The parliamentary procedure would put a premium
on a consensus among political parties (which for the
most part they seem to have developed). It is probable
that political issues would prevail over the social and
economic ones. There may also be a propensity to retain power at the centre. The king would have considerable leverage over the process and outcome, as he is
given a (limited) veto. He can refuse to assent to the
amendments and force the two houses of parliament to
reconsider them. Only if they can send the same or another bill to the king, supported in a fresh vote again by
a majority of at least two-thirds of the members, would
he be compelled to assent.
The constituent assembly would give a greater
Perhaps the
easiest way to
break the logjam
may be for the
king to convene
a roundtable
which will take
the process at
least to the point
where a constitutional commission is set up.
direct voice to other organised groups as well. It would
be clearly based on people's sovereignty and more likely
to educate the people in tbe niceties of constitution engineering and thus more likely to secure legitimacy. But
the process could take a longer time and there is some
risk that with too many claimants staking their
demands, and the dominant forces somewhat
marginalised in the assembly, those forces would resist a new Constitution, inside or outside the assembly,
perhaps successfully. On the other hand, the constituent assembly may have a greater capacity to fashion a
genuinely national consensus if all key interests are
represented, putting a closure on constitutional controversies.
Tliere is of course no one method that a consbtuent
assembly has to follow and the opportunities and threats
vary with the precise method used. For example, the degree of popular participation depends on how the draft
constitution is prepared. If it is prepared by a committee
of the assembly (as happened in India),
people's participation may not be much
greater than in a parliamentary process.
lt is also possible to have an independent and expert commission with the
task of preparing a draft for the constituent assembly, after full consultation
with the people.
The constitutional recommendation commission seems to be a well-
tested device in Nepal and it is likely
that its use would bridge, at least to
some extent, the differences between
the two approaches. Such a commission, provided it was sufficiently reflective of national diversity, could provide the forum for public participation
and promote a nation-wide debate on
the ills of and cures for the constitutional order. Its report and recommendations must reflect the recommendations of the public. In this way, the demands that the review process must engage the people
and provide the basis for national reconciliation can be
met short of a constituent assembly.
The prospects of the process would depend on the
degree of prior agreement on the objectives of review
and the values and principles that must inform the new
or amended constitution. Indeed a substantial degree
of agreement should be the pre-condition for the start of
the process. Fortunately, although there may not be total consensus, it seems that there is enough to prevent
this from heing a major problem. The differences that
remain can be negotiated during the review process
when an environment of understanding, goodwill and
compromise will have developed.
If the device of prior agreement on the pre-conditions and the appointment of a constitutional commission can bridge the differences between the parliamen-
2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
tary and constitutient assembly routes, then does it matter which approach is adopted? Perhaps it does. A constituent assembly has the great merit that it can be
organised to truly reflect the full diversity of the nation.
Groups which are not adequately represented in parliament—and they include the Maoists—need to be
present as participants at the moment of the birth of the
new constitutional order. The 1990 Constitution was
principally concerned with balancing the interests of
monarchy with those of the political parties, and so the
interests to balance were limited. Now the larger agenda
has raised a multiplicity of issues which require wider
participation to balance competing interests. The character of a constitution as a compact among its people
and communities is marked more appropriately through
negotiations and in a constituent assembly than in the
less inclusive forum of parliament. And there is of course
the additional difficulty that there is no parliament now
to which the nation can turn.
Doctrine of necessity
First, all the key interests groups must come together. A
pre-condition for such a meeting is
the cessation of violence. An effective ceasefire will open several options. Therefore the first priority is a
truce and an undertaking by all interest groups to pursue a settlement
only by peaceful and, if necessary,
sustained negotiations. They must
agree to negotiate in good faith and
be prepared to make concessions.
The groups must also undertake to
respect the human rights of all individuals and communities, Negotiations cannot take place in an atmosphere of violence or the threat of violence.
Even with a truce, the way forward is contested. The lack of a parliament and with no easy way to convene another, the breakdown in the
talks between the government and the Maoists, the declining legitimacy of the king, and the refusal of political parties to engage in constitutional talks without the
recall of parliament make a meeting exceedingly difficult. But it is not impossible. Tliere are various options
to emerge from the present predicament. The king could
convene a meeting of all the groups to discuss the way
forward. If the invitation is sent to a sufficiently wide
spectrum of organisations representing social and political diversity, a recalcitrant group will find it hard to
stay out. This meeting could be the first of a .series of
roundtables until agreement is reached on all aspiects
of the review process. (The roundtable could also agree
on the running of the government in the interim, as the
South Africans did pending a final constitutional settlement). Another possibility is the restoration of the par-
The longer the impasse and the governance of the
country through
arrangements incompatible with the
Constitution, the
greater is the threat
to the very notion of
and rule of law.
liament and reliance on the procedures of the Constitution to ratify agreements towards reform.
Perhaps the easiest way to break the logjam may be
for the king to convene a roundtable which will take
the process at least to the point where a constitutional
commission is set up, which means that decisions on
the goals and scope of reform and subsequent procedures have been agreed on. A constituent assembly may
be the best mechanism for the examination and adoption of the Constitution draft—even if violence continues. The assembly could be composed of the members
of the dissolved parliament, and representatives of
Maoists, women, dalits, minorities and other social and
economic groups nominated or elected by their own
organisations. It would be highly desirable in that case
that the Constitution is adopted before the next general
elections, so that the next general elections can bring
the Constitution into effect. Otherwise the implementation of the Constitution could be delayed by several
years as the new parliament runs its course.
Some way should be found to give legal effect to the
agreement of the roundtable. People will need assur-
 ,„„ „„ ■■  ance not only that all parties are committed to it but also that no one will
be able to disregard, violate or scuttle
it. One way to do this would be for the
king to issue a legislative instrument
containing the agreement. Better still,
parliament might be reconvened for
the express, and sole, purpose of entrenching the agreement in the Constitution (and authorising resources
tor its implementation) which would
give a high degree of guarantee.
Is such a procedure legally possible? Yes, most probably. If the
roundtable is able to agree on the procedure and if the procedure and objectives of review are close to the spirit
of the present Constitution, either of
the above measures will carry the
" force of law under the doctrine of ne
cessity which recognises deviations from the strictly
legal rules and procedures if that is the only way to
preserve the integrity of the state, or ensure order and
stability so that the security of the people is safeguarded.
It is obvious that in the present circumstances, the strict
constitutional and legal procedures cannot be followed.
Steps must therefore be taken to return to constitutional
rule as speedily as possible. These steps must involve
the Maoists and probably other non-parliamentary
groups as well to ensure that the agreement is adhered
to. No other steps seem as likely to facilitate the return
to constitutionality. The Supreme Court in all probability will endorse the agreement under the doctrine of
necessity. To strengthen the legal basis of whichever of
the two procedures is followed, the Supreme Court
might be requested to give an advisory opinion on this
HIMAL 16/11   November 2003
matter after the steps proposed here have been taken.
While the nation waits for talks about talks, it is
unnecessary that the debate on reform be suspended.
The debate should be initiated now by those interested
in reform. Political parties, civil society, academics, etc,
can promote the debate, prepare materials for civic education on constitutional issues, including an analysis
of the present Constitution, and distribute papers on
options for reform. In this way, when the roundtable
meets, its members will be well briefed and so will the
public when the Constitution Commission begins to
collect public views. Civil society can in the meanwhile,
building a peace movement, continue its pressure on
key interests groups to begin negotiations.
Trudging the possible
Nepal needs desperately to get out of its political
immobilisation. Yet this is a good moment to seize the
opportunity for a durable political settlement. People
are weary of the war and hunger for peace and normality in their lives. The major interest groups are willing
to enter into negotiations. There is sufficient consensus
on reforms and the need to engage people in the review
process so that a deal can be struck quickly. An early
settlement of the political crisis will enable Nepal to
resume social development and economic growth, and
to ensure physical and psychological security to the
There are very considerable dangers in the continuance of the political and constitutional impasse. The
longer the impasse and the governance of the country
through arrangements incompatible with the Constitution, the greater is the threat to the very notion of constitutionalism and rule of law, so hard fought for. With
every day that passes, the culture of violence strikes
deeper roots. Numerous lives are lost and communities
destroyed needlessly as the impasse continues. The role
and influence of the army will increase and its concerns and demands will constitute another set of issues that will need to be negotiated, making a political
settlement that much harder. Polarisation within society will increase, ft is almost certain, given the dynamics of multi-ethnic societies, that minorities and other
marginalised communities will lose patience and escalate their demands and will perhaps resort to violence
of their own. Society will become more militarised. The
economy will continue to decline, bringing further suffering and despair to the people. The continuing impasse and the lack of energy or willingness to break out
of it will diminish the ability of the king to fashion and
supervise consensus building. History and the people
of Nepal will then judge their leaders very harshly,   b
320 EAST 43rd STREET, BOX 193, NEW YORK, NEW YORK-1 (X) 17
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2003 November 16/11   HIMAL
On the Road with the FARC
ON A foggy morning in mid-February, a single-engine
Cessna Caravan 208 carrying four US military contractors and one Colombian army pilot was flying over the
southern jungles of Colombia. The contractors were on
a reconnaissance mission — searching out coca fields
and the secret camps of the hemisphere's largest rebel
group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia,
better known as the FARC.
As jobs went, this seemingly dangerous mission was
fairly routine for these experienced contractors. The
pilot would climb through the thick cloud cover, and
the contractors would use high-powered aerial cameras to photograph drug-producing areas allegedly
under the control of the rebels. The US and Colombian
authorities would use this re-
con to fumigate the guerrillas'
lifeline, the coca crops, and perhaps stage some military assault on the group. The United
States also uses infrared technology on the airplanes to locate insurgent command posts.
Somewhere in this flight,
however, something went terribly wrong, and the Colombian pilot had to crash-land into
the side of a mountain. By the
time the authorities arrived at
the site, they found the plane
riddled with rounds from an M-
60 machine gun, with all five
of the men missing. Two of
them, one American and the
other Colombian, were later
found dead. They'd been shot
in tbe head and the chest. Three
others had vanished.
Since that day, the United
States has sent in more than 100
Special Forces soldiers, and the
total number of US personnel      	
in Colombia has briefly climbed above 400 for the first
time since people started keeping tabs. But rescue efforts have faltered. In late March, another US rccon
plane smashed into the side of a mountain just miles
from where the first went down. The second crash killed
the three 'US contractors aboard.
The sudden loss of life has turned a boondoggle
into a quagmire. The United States has sent more than
USD 2 billion to Colombia in the last four years, most of
it in the form of military hardware, intelligence equipment, and training. But during that time period, they've
lost several airplanes and close to thirty helicopters.
What's more, the aid has had little real impact on the
The United States has
sent more than USD 2
billion to Colombia in the
last four years, most of it
in the form of military hardware, intelligence equipment, and training.
rebels, the primary target of this military assistance.
The man thought to have captured
the three US contractors resembles an
elf. He has a little round head, short legs, and a skull-
hugging haircut. He likes to wear a camouflage baseball hat, and he gives orders in a rubbery, monotone
voice. His soldiers look a lot like he does: sturdy peasant farmers who have filtered into the ranks of the FARC
by the thousands, especially in the last few years. The
rebel group's membership has climbed to close to 20,000
troops. When I last saw him, Jose Benito Cabrera, better
known as "Fabian Ramirez", walked around his jungle
camp with the slow, methodical pace of a general. He
was obviously not in a hurry. Nor was his "movement",
the name he <and the rest of the guerrillas like to use for
the FARC. He was happy, even jovial during those days
I spent with him.
it was late February 2002.
Fabian had recently been promoted to the Estado Mayor, the
twenty-seven-mcmbcr command structure of the guerrillas. And his troops had just
played a major role in breaking
up a three-year-long peace process the FARC had been carrying out with the government. A
week earlier, a special unit under Fabian's command had hijacked a commercial airplane,
forced it to land on a major highway, , kidnapped one of the
passengers {a prominent senator), then streaked into a 16,000-
square-mile area the government bad handed over to the
guerrillas to hold the peace
talks. The audacious act had
been carried out with James
Bond-like precision: In order
for the plane to land safely,
guerrillas on the ground had cut
some of the trees on the side of
the road.
One day later, in a national address to the nation,
Colombia's President Andres Pastrana called off the
peace process. The president said the FARC was using
the 16,000-square-mile area to stockpile weapons, hold
kidnap victims, run guns-for-drugs deals, and launch
attacks on neighbouring villages. And he was right.
Following his speech, the president ordered bombing
raids and sent thousands of troops to the area amidst
great fanfare and press coverage.
But Fabian's soldiers seemed as if they'd been preparing for this for several years. Within hours after the
triumphant return of Colombia's military, Fabian's sizable group of urban and rural militias had successfully
HIMAL 16/11  November 2003
shut down electricity, water, and transportation in the
area. Tire province was paralyzed for weeks, and the
military commander in charge of the region resigned in
As if to put an exclamation point on his operation,
Fabian's troops had kidnapped Ingrid Betancourt as
she drove through the war-torn area under Fabian's
control. Betancourt was at the time a presidential candidate who'd fought for years for some of the same
things that Fabian had declared he would die for when
he'd joined the FARC as a teenager. For Fabian,
Betancourt's politics of anti-corruption and redistribution of wealth didn't matter, only her membership in
the status quo. Betancourt's father had been a lifetime
diplomat, and she had spent many of her formative
years in France. "She's in good spirits," he told me as
we toured his steamy jungle camp located under the
cover of fifty-foot-high foliage. "She's drafting a law of
the 'swapables' ".
The "swapables" are those the FARC hopes to exchange for its rebels being held in Colombian jails. It's
part of a larger game the guerrillas have been playing
with the government for a long time. Prisoner exchange
means more than swapping prisoners; it means recognition as a state — something the rebels have been seeking for nearly forty years. There are an estimated 3,000
guerrillas in Colombian jails. Tliere are a dozen politicians and well over 100 policemen and soldiers in FARC
prisons. With the downing of the US plane, three US
contractors have joined the ranks of the "swapables."
The possibility of a swap increased after a Colombian journalist interviewed on video both Betancourt
and the three US captives. The proof of life put the delicate issue on the table again. For the FARC, it's poetic
justice. For the United States, it's a nightmare that seems
only to get worse with time. The United States has been
attacking the Fa^RC from the very beginning. In 1964, it
assisted a Colombian military offensive against 42 communist rebels and a smattering of civilians in an area
about 140 miles southwest of the country's capital,
Bogota. The communists had established a stronghold
in five mountainside municipalities. It was a harmless
political experiment during a volatile time. The communists and their rural leaders-men like the legendary
Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda-were asking for a few
hundred chickens and some livestock in return for the
promise of peace. But at the time, tlie country wasn't
ready for communists in the countryside, and the military wasn't ready to give anyone peace. Colombia was
still reeling from twenty years of political bloodshed.
Thou sands had been killed during what Colombians
simply refer to as La Violencia. And Colombian politicians and tire military were worried about replicas of
Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara emerging on
their own soil. When a conservative senator labelled
the communist enclaves "independent republics", the
military got its wish.
Colombian pilots, manning US fighter planes,
Free-for-all: a paramilitary group in action.
dropped napalm, and more than 10,000 Colombian
troops ripped through the area. The communists fled,
and the Colombian government declared victory. But
while tlie Colombian elite had succeeded in temporarily
ridding the country of some Che-wannabes, what they
got was much worse: a bunch of stubborn peasant farmers with guns. Marulanda and his troops regrouped
farther south, and the communists in the cities hailed
their resilient comrades. Two years later, at the behest
of the Comrminist Party, Marulanda formed the FARC.
Colombia's modern-day war had begun, bur it would
be a long time before the rebels even registered on the
country's radar again.
During the next 15 years, the FARC played a minor
role in the larger communist strategy. While the Communist Party ran unions, student movements, and peasant leagues in the cities, the rebel group formed part of
the rear guard in the rural areas and spent most of its
time running from the army. Meanwhile, the FARC's
guerrilla rivals -- the April 19 Movement (M-19), the
Popular. Liberation Army (BPL), and the National Liberation Army (ELN)—were growing rapidly, especially
in the cities. Jealousy turned to anger, and soon a conflict arose between the Communist Party, which was
supposed to be making the decisions, and FARC leaders. The guerrillas wanted to be in the cities; the communists wanted to restrict them to the countryside. By
the late 1970s, the FARC began to assert its independence.
The rebels started their rise to prominence by making themselves financially autonomous. They did this
by kidnapping for ransom and collecting taxes from
illegal drug traffickers and producers. These two new
financial schemes brought in huge revenues as well as
unforeseen problems. Kidnapping eventually extended
2003 November 16/11  HIMAL
 'a Is
to the middle class professionals and small shop owners. Soon this middle class turned against the FARC and
began supporting the paramilitary groups emerging in
the war-torn zones. Drug trafficking led to corruption.
Over time, money threatened to replace politics as the
guerrillas' reason for being. It's an internal battle that
continues to this day. But in the beginning, the new
resources bolstered the confidence of the guerrilla leaders, and they became steadily more ambitious. In a 1982
national conference, the FARC planned an eight-year
strategy to take over the country. Guerrilla commanders called for the creation of an army of 30,000 troops
and added the words "Army of the People", or EE to
their name. They said they would take to the offensive
and slowly surround the country's major cities. To advance this strategy, the PARC launched
a peace process with the Colombian
government during which it created a
political party of its own. The rebels
called the partv the Patriotic Union, or
Fabian Ramirez joined the I ARC in
the early 1980s, the time when the guerrillas were negotiating peace with the
government and creating the UF; in the
years prior, he'd grown steadily more
radical. It's easy to see why. He went to
a Jesuit school in a rural village of the
southern province of Caqucta, not too
far from where the US plane would
crash many years later. Caqueta was
Colombia's Wild West. Aside from a
few elected officials, the government
had little presence in the area. And
while the church may have run the
schools, leftist guerrillas and drug traffickers ran the villages. The drug traffickers employed people; the FARC was
the law. dVlost of the kids went one wav
or the other, one of Fabian's former classmates remembered. "I became a drug trafficker", he nonchalantly
told me, "Fabian, well, he joined the FARC",
The stout and energetic Fabian became part of the
XIV Front. The guerrillas are split into fronts or columns.
These fronts are part of six regional "blocs" that answer to what's known as the "Secretariat", or leadership council. Since even before Fabian's time, the XIV
Front has been one of the FARC's biggest money-makers. Under the command of a pudgy-faced, rotund commander known as Mono Jojoy, the XIV institutionalized the drug tax, orthe gramaje, as it's known. It quickly
became the single most important source of income for
the guerrillas, and the XIV became one of the most influential fronts. For his part, Mono Jojoy would rise quickly
through the ranks and soon svmbolize everything that's
wrong with the FARC.
But when Fabian joined, rebels like Mono jojoy were
in the shadows, and the FARC was at the height of its
When Fabian
joined, rebels
like Mono Jojoy
were in the
shadows, and
the FARC was at
the height of its
political power.
political power. With the cease-fire the FARC had
brokered with the government, the guerrillas were organizing the UP in the open. In rural townships and
villages all over the country, guerrilla soldiers spread
their message. In cities, rebel politicians talked on the
radio and television and gave interviews for the newspapers. In its first election in 1986, tbe UP elected 24
provincial deputies and 275 municipal council representatives. The party also elected three senators and
four congressional representatives. The winners included two active guerrillas, though not everyone in
the UP or even every candidate of the U P was a member
of FARC. In fact, the vast majority of its members were
simplv inspired leftists who thought the UP represented
a political alternative and a means toward peaceful reconciliation. In the first presidential elections two months later, the UP garnered
nearly four percent of the vote, more than
any leftist party in the historv of Colombia.
While the FARC talked peace and
pushed politics in public, behind the
scenes rebel leaders were preparing for
more war. Despite their electoral showing and their rising support amongst
non-rebels, the guerrillas did not give up
their arms and continued with the eight-
year plan to build an armv and surround
the cities. UP offices were often converted into recruiting centres and politicking guerrilla soldiers frequently
brought back more than votes. In the period of the UP's greatest popularity, the
FARC doubled in size. Some UP members abandoned the party because of this
dangerous strategy. But many stayed
with the UP. It would cost some their
lives — rightwing paramilitaries working closely with the Colombian military
would not tolerate the gains of the UP. In a wholesale
political slaughter, they wiped out an estimated 3,000
to 4,000 partv activists. This ended the FARC's political
experiment. And as peace talks fell apart in 1987, it
was clear the guerrillas were gearing up for one thing:
a prolonged war.
Despite its Marxist-Leninist roots, the FARC is more
Maoist than anything else. It's primarily rural in character. The guerrillas, even their leaders, come from peasant backgrounds. Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda came
from a coffee-growing family, and he was a small shop
owner before sectarian violence ripped across the country and carried him with it. "1 started to look for a solution," he once said of the beginnings of La Violencia.
"Already you heard people saying, 'Who do we get?
Who will join us? Guns? Where are the guns, and how
do we get them? If we stay quiet, they're going to kill us
all', we couldn't take any more punishment". More than
200,000 people died during La Violencia, most at the
HIMAL 16/11   November 2003
 [i5--?:;-■:!:■■ :;■..-
hands of the state and its proxies. The period shaped
Marulanda's violent response to tlie government. He
has spent the better part of tire past five decades dodging the army and seeking revenge. His enemies have
tried unsuccessfully to stop him. He's been declared
dead on more than a dozen occasions. The declarations have only enhanced his mystique. "He's incredibly serene, but at the same time a powerful force", one
person who met him told me. "Make no mistake, he's a
warrior". Through five decades of fighting, Marulanda
has become the undisputed symbol of the FdARC. With
little flash, he has silently created the largest rebel army
in the hemisphere; most of his troops emulate his sturdy
lead-by-example tradition. Words are .spare. Charisma
is at a premium. And speeches are less important than
Fabian Ramirez is made in this mould. Indeed, he is
said to be one of Marulanda's concentidos, or favourites.
He talks in a slow, methodical tone. He doesn't rush to
respond to criticisms and is rarely taken off guard by
questions. When I told him that the army was saying it
had the rebels on the run, he laughed, "We want them
to come out to the countryside, not just on television",
he said. "That way, they can find the guerrillas, and we
can talk about it". The army's bombing campaign had
been going on for a week when we met. Yet Fabian was
talking to me in a camp that had obviously been there
much longer. The guerrillas all slept on wooden beds
they'd constructed. Beneath several dark green canopies, they'd set up a kitchen, a dining hall, and a television room where they watched the news and cartoons
beaming over a Direct TV satellite perched on the side
of a tree. Every morning, the young rebels would wake
and pack their homemade backpacks. They travelled
light. Frivolity was a luxury they couldn't afford, although some of the girls still managed to stuff glittery
makeup bags into their packs, and some of the boys
traded cassette tapes of the popular Mexican ranchera.
The early morning started with a light workout, a jog
and some callisthenics. They then had breakfast of a
tamale and hot cocoa followed by political instruction.
This consisted of watching the news over the satellite
television and then commenting on it. While I was there,
Fabian's unit dominated the news. Every time Fabian
was mentioned, they exchanged wry smiles. The rest of
the day was spent doing chores, cleaning weapons, or
just hanging out. Being a guerrilla is about patience,
and patience may be the FARC's greatest weapon.
"War isn't just about shooting a gun", Fabian told
me as we sat on some tree stumps on the edge of the
camp. "War is a fight against hunger and a struggle so
that you don't die. War is a fight so that you have clothes.
War is a fight to have a roof and to not get rained on.
War is a fight to be able to read and not be illiterate.
What I mean is that war is a fight so that you don't die,
and that's why you fight against all temptation so that
this war doesn't enter your own heart".
Colombians are enduring an increasingly emotional
war. These days, rebels don't run from the army when
they destroy entire villages. Last year, the FARC hurled
a homemade bomb at their enemies which accidentally
hit a church where people were taking cover. 119 people
were killed, incl ud ing at least 48 children. For their part,
the army and its proxies, the rightwing paramilitaries,
have been even more brutal. While they've begun to
shy away from committing wholesale massacres of suspected guerrilla supporters, the paramilitaries still assassinate people by the hundreds. Amnesty International said that 172 unionists had been killed in Colombia in 2002, most at the hands of tlie paramilitaries.
Human Rights Watch noted that "presumed" rightwing
groups assassinated 16 human rights workers last year.
The paramilitaries also continue to work closely with
the military, especially on their incursions into, enemy
territory where they routinely pull people from their
homes, their offices, and their watering holes to dispose of them. Bodies often disappear, as do the government investigations that follow. In all, about 4,000
people die per year because of political violence. This is
a dirty war all around, which makes it virtually impossible to bring the sides together, much less talk about
In this type of conflict, FaARC commanders like Fabian
shine. In the last few years, he has become one of the
most important FARC commanders in Colombia. He's
also one of the fiercest. He led troops in two of the most
important ambushes in Colombian civil war history:
More than 100 Colombian soldiers died in these FARC
sneak attacks in the mid-1990s, and the guerrillas took
more than 100 soldiers captive (who were later
"swapped" for jailed rebels in the first prisoner exchange). Following these attacks, Fabian's reputation
extended far and wide. He is wanted on twelve charges
of rebellion, homicide, and kidnapping. Interpol has
2003 November 16/11  HIMAL
 .,  r§.-b^:>ih
■ ft
■ft   i ■ '     \ -, >....
0    \t
"Vfj  ■
From left to right: An unhappy President Andres Pastrana, the rebels and their flag.
issued a warrant for his arrest, and the United States is
said to be readying a request for his extradition on
charges of trafficking drugs.
In the areas he controls, Fabian is known as a stem,
even ruthless commander. While the peace talks proceeded, he ran the FARC's "gulags" - work camps where
locals who had broken rebel laws were building roads,
digging ravines, and constructing bridges. Fabian told
The Boston Globe at the time that he hoped the workers
would help the guerrillas drive from Ecuador to the
Venezuelan border one day. Fabian is also charged with
ordering the assassination of prominent congressman
Diego Turbay and his mother after the two were stopped
along a road in Caqueta in late 2000. It's a charge he
doesn't deny. The FARC declared the Turbay family its
enemy long ago. The senator whom Fabian's men kidnapped 'from the airplane just prior to the end of the
peace talks was also a Turbay. The Turbay family, the
FARC says, are cattle ranchers who exploit the land and
the workers-and hire paramilitaries to protect their interest. The accusation .isn't wholly untrue, but the
FARC's brutal response only further polarizes the situation.
j Fabian's actions have made him the latest in a long
list of rebel scourges; easy targets to show that the FARC
is just a bunch of bullies. And in many ways, the rebels
are. Over the years, the guerrillas have lost their moral
compass. Some of the PARC's commanders control huge
swaths of territory as if they were their private fiefdoms.
And rebels frequently dispense law in an arbitrary and
ruthless manner reminiscent of the very regime they'd
like to replace. They are also kidnapping thousands of
people per year, many of them middle class and even
poor farmers and shop-owners. Last year, over half of
the 2,200 kidnappings were attributed to the rebels. But
the number is probably three times as high since few
report the kidnappings to avoid endangering their relatives. A recent attempt to rescue a kidnapped governor
and a former defence minister served as a vivid reminder of what can happen: The guerrillas were tipped
off to the raid, and just before they fled the scene, they
killed ten of the hostages including the governor and
the former defence minister.
The old XTV Front commander, Mono Jojoy, and his
brother, Grannobles, top the list of these scourges. The
United States holds the two responsible for the murder
of three US activists in 1999. The three Americans were
working closely with an indigenous tribe when they
ran into one of Grannobles's units, which carted them
into the jungle and shot them. Following the murders
of the three Americans, Colombia's profile rose to unprecedented heights. The Clinton Administration
pushed through a USD 1.3 billion spending package.
Tlie United States elevated its troop presence here and
trained three special battalions to fight the guerrillas in
drug-producing areas. But these battalions have been
largely ineffective. In fact, the guerrillas have grown
during this time period. This may help explain the eagerness with which Fabian challenges his mighty
northern neighbours to the type of protracted battle the
United States fears most.
"It's uneven from the standpoint of guns", Fabian
explained to me, referring to the technological superiority the United States has. "But from the point of view
of consciousness, I think that this wins over whatever
guns the Colombian and US military have. There Isn't
a weapon any bigger or more effective than your own
mind. And when they take away everyone's possibility
to have a better life, then they make sure that this
weapon, which is the people's consciousness, overcomes all the technology the army brings".
When I left Fabian's camp, I saw the US nightmare
firsthand. Tlie Colombian army had sent in thousands
of troops but controlled nothing. Urban militias were
zooming up and down the roads in motorcycles, burning taxis, buses, and cars. The province was paralyzed.
A few miles from Fabian's camp, 1 ran into an army
checkpoint. .
"Where are the guerrillas?" the excited soldiers
asked. "Have you seen any guerrillas?"
After my taxi driver and 1 told them no, they let us
pass. Then we ran into two rebels dressed in civilian
"Did you see the army?" they asked.
By pursing his lips and turning them, tlie taxi driver
motioned back where we came from. The men sped off
in the other direction. b
—Steven Dudley
(Reproduced from The Progressive)
HIMAL 16/11  November 2003
Macaulay's Orphans:
The rotten core in the middle
Touch him, and you zvillfind he is all gone inside
just like an old mushroom, all wormy inside, and hollow
Under a smooth skin and upright appearance
Full of seething, wormy, hollow feelings
Rather nasty—
How beastly the bourgeois is!
— DH Lawrence, "How beastly the bourgeois is!"
MUSLIMS AND Sikhs are ready to die to defend the
honour of their women. For tlie Jains, every living being
is sacred. Hindus claim that they worship their women
as Mother Goddess. The presiding deity of Dushhera,
celebrated last month, is Durga, a
power-personified woman.
Laxmi, yet another woman of sub-
stance, is worshipped during
Deepawali as a symbol of wealth
and prosperity. Then, why is it
that the crime against women is
on the up.swing in these very societies? What land of social order
is it that makes its mothers go
through the harrowing torment of
female foeticide?
Perhaps the explanation lies
outside the realm of culture. Questions are social, but answers have
to be searched elsewhere too. Perhaps it is the rootless nature of the
British model of bourgeoisie in
South Asian societies that make
them as brutal as they has become?
Even if to refute such a possibility, more serious intellectual attempts are necessary to explore
the hypothesis that the de-politi-
cisation of the middle-class is responsible for most of the ills that
are afflicting this region and its mass of population.
"We must at present do our best to form a class",
Macaulay wrote in his famous Minute of 1835, "who
may be interpreters between us and the millions whom
we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and
colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and
in intellect". Today's subcontinental middle-class is a
testimony to the success of Macaulay's social engineering. The class that he helped form is no less beastly
The woman of 'substance
than DH Lawrence's English bourgeois. This (South
Asian) class has no master to interpret issues and events
to enhance its understanding, and today finds itself
lost in the sea of the masses that it has been taught to
fear. These orphans of Macaulay are responsible for a
large proportion of the ills tliat beset South Asian societies, because they are the ones whose values become
the norm that the masses aspire to adopt.
The vacuity of the subcontinental intelligentsia is
most obvious in the way it reads our shared history of
over several millennia. It is a popular perception in the
West that India has a past, but no history. The Pakistani intelligentsia confirm this
view by relegating its history, older than 1600 years, as merely a
past that must lie buried, hi order
to assert their Muslim identity,
opinion makers of Islamabad are
ashamed to claim that they too are
the inheritors of the civilisation
that built the temples of Ajanta,
Ellora, Dwarakadhish and Varanasi. Their ancestors achieved
these feats when the Bedouins of
the Arab desert had not yet learnt
to sew a proper tent.
The past of Hindutvawadis of
Bharatvarsh, on the other hand,
ends just before tlie reign of Babar and begins once again only
with the destruction of Babri
Masjid. For these pretenders to
Aryan glory, there is no difference
between the Mughals who made
Hindustan their home and the
East India Company that turned
the territory into a jewel of the
British crown. Macaulay's children seem to have done their work rather well: the South
Asian middle-class is resentful of the Mughal rule that
gave birth to the very idea of an unified Hindustan, but
grateful towards the British who partitioned the region
as a parting kick after lording over it for over two centuries.
The language of Macaulay's orphans is no less pretentious. It has no roots in either the history or the culture of this region. It floats on the surface in all its impe-
2003 November 16/11 HIMAL
rial majesty. The 'vernacular' of the Pakistani state is
Urdu, a language that is more at home in the mansions
of Old Delhi. The 'official' language of India is Hindi,
an artefact that has no home anywhere in the Subcontinent except in the studios of All India Radio and Doordarshan. The so-called Hindi belt speaks languages
with histories as old as tlie Ganga, but you will not find
the proponent of 'Khadi Boli' speaking of the virtues of
Pahari, Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Magadhi or Maithili.
The Indian scholar of the Awadh, Sanjay Joshi has
argued tliat, in its bid to assume social leadership, the
middle class in colonial Lucknow created new norms
of respectability by reworking nawabi traditions and
tempering them with colonial modernity. This postula-
tion holds true for much of South Asia, and the subcontinental middle class is yet to overcome the contradictions caused by its failure to accommodate the conflicting values of 'pahle
aap' and 'koi hai'. But then Macaulay
has given them a tongue to hide their
confusion—the English language.
They use the vernacular in their dealing with the masses—whether it is Sonia Gandhi's halting Hindi or General Musharraf's Punjabi Urdu—but
lapse into the colonial language while
conversing with their own kind.
English is the lingua franca of the
South Asian literati. Even those writers who emote in the vernacular have
to take resort to English if they want to
be taken seriously in their own society. The official language of all discourse in the Subcontinent—discourse
defined by the scholars of post-modernity as "a socially and historically specific system of assumptions, values
and beliefs which materially affects social conduct and social structure"—is
Ironically, while the Page Three
crowd of New Delhi is gloating over
the projection that India will be home
to the largest number of people who
transact (most of them still lapse into
mother tongue when emoting, hence
they can't be called English-speakers)
in a somewhat bastardised version of the Queen's Language, the state of Bihar has decided recently to revert
back to the Hindi of the All India Radio variety for all
its official communication.
After the mystification of history and confusion of
languages, the subcontinental middle-class has mired
itself in needless controversy over its 'official religion'.
Tlie West settled this controversy in the middle of the
seventeenth century with the Treaty of Westphalia. Archaeologists of South Asia are still digging the fmrnda-
tions of a mosque that may have been built over a tern-
A large proportion
ofthe ills that
beset South Asian
societies can
be traced to
his cult.
pie, which in itself might have sprung up by dismantling a stupa, which in turn may have been the site of
an animist shrine of the aboriginals long long ago. Can
someone please define how original is an original?
Darwin holds that we have all evolved from monkeys.
Ergo, the controversial site at Ayodhya should be
turned into a forest. Lord Ram would be a happy man,
to see his collaborators in the Invasion of Lanka roaming free at a location purported to be his birthplace.
Adam's acolytes
The subcontinental bourgeois has suddenly discovered
Adam Smith, or even more appropriately, Atlas Shrugged's
Ayn Rand. Tlie favourite mantra of the newly enabled
intelligentsia in Islamabad, New Delhi, Colombo, Dhaka and Kathmandu is LPG—liberalisation, globalisation
and privatisation. This, despite the fact
that the arthritic hand of the free-market has brought nothing but misery for
the masses at the bottom rung of South
Asian society. No doubt, India has broken the barrier of the 'Hindu Rate of
Growth' by bringing Detroit to Gurga-
on, Texas to Ahmedabad, and Silicon
Valley to tlie Banjara Hills. But the price
that such a globalisation has extracted
is unsettling — generations to come
among the disadvantaged, be it in Haryana, Gujarat or Telangana, will continue to curse the class that institutionalised inequality in society. Many of
them will revolt, as some have already
done. VS Naipaul may rejoice in the million mutinies because he doesn't have to
live in Bhatinda, but it is axiomatic that
every revolution—be it of the left or of
the right—devours its own children
Female foeticide is most prevalent
in the newly prosperous regions of
western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan. Religious bigotry
is more common among the commercialised middle-class of Maharashtra,
Madhya and Gujarat. Meanwhile, left extremism is widespread in
the backyard of Cyberabad. Banditry
of the Veerappan variety flourishes in the shadow of
South Asia's Silicon Plateau. Beyond the islands of
prosperity, the sea of inequity that exists, more the rule
than the exception, is akin to the badlands of Bihar. If
the sale of automobiles were to be the sole criteria to
judge a society's health, North Bihar would be near the
top of Indian society: despite the condition of the roads
in and around Muzaffarpur, the Maruti dealer of that
less than remarkable city sells more vehicles per month
than many posh metropolitan areas of western Tndia.
The free market has added to the woes of a societv
HIMAL 16/11 November 2003
that was already languishing in extreme poverty. When
financial success becomes the sole criterion to judge
one's station in life, dowry death, abduction for ransom, and banditry are its inevitable consequences. The
Harshad Mehtas of the world dupe investors, and the
Laloos feast on fodder, their difference is only on how
they made their lucre. Both display the same trait celebrated by Ayn Rand—individual initiative for personal benefit. Perhaps it is the blind adoption ofthe World
Bank and International Monetary Fund's conditions
that has put Pakistan and Nepal towards the bottom
level of the L'NDl' Human Development Index, as the
only two non-African states to have performed so miserably. Perhaps there is some connection there with the
fact that Islamabad and Kathmandu embraced the
Structural Adjustment Programmes and free-market
fundamentalism of the Bretton Woods sisters most enthusiastically.
The situation looks so bleak that no escape from the
enveloping darkness seems possible. But escape we must.
lt is going to be a long wait if we are to wait for the proletariat to shrug off its own leaders. The middle-class has
to reform itself if the region of 1.4 billion is to have any
future. There is only one approach towards this daunting challenge, with faith in Gramsci's aphorism: "Pessi
mism of the intellect, and optimism of the will".
South Asia needs to read its history as that of the
clash of classes, not of religions, cultures, creeds, castes
or communities—even dalit as a social category probably owes its origin to the political economy of Aryan
expansion into the Ganga plains and the Deccan. The
Subcontinental bourgeoisie has to accept the multiplicity of languages within national boundaries as wholly
arbitrary. It has to learn to control the greed of the few
and pay more attention to the needs of the many. Tliere
is nothing new here, Gandhi said it all in one word—
Swaraj. It is the self-rule free from the trappings of
Macaulay and Ayn Rand that will release this region
from the misery of its own making.
It is politics that creates the environment for change,
and the politicisation of the subcontinental middle-
class must be the number one priority of anyone interested in saving the region from self-destruction. As Rosa
Luxemburg put it, "it's either socialism or barbarism".
The core has to shift to the left if it is not to destroy
itself by raping sisters, burning brides, killing foetuses
of daughters, and exporting pampered sons abroad to
become non-resident bigots remitting fascism back
- CK Lai
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2003 November  16/11   HIMAL
I have nothing but contempt for the covert agencies../'
SAJJAD LONE became the chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir People's Conference
after the assassination of his father Abdul Ghani Lone on 21 May 2002 in Srinagar. He is
married to the daughter of Amanullah Khan, ihe head of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation
Front. Lone's party is represented in the Executive Council of the All Parties Hurriyat
Conference (APHC). Islamabad journalist Mohammad Shehzad talked to 36-year old
Lone on the phone.
Has the Hurriyat split? If yes, which faction is legitimate and which is renegade?
In the absence of a registering authority for parties,
like the election commission of Pakistan or India, any
person can claim to have split a partv. The Hurriyat
has not split. Only the people of Kashmir can judge
who is a traitor and what constitutes betrayal. Neither
the media, not the political establishments of India and
Pakistan have anv say in it. It is exclusively a domain
of the Kashmir people.
Who masterminded the split?
This perception of split suits covert agencies on hoth
sides of the border. The so-called split could be a joint
venture of these covert agencies or else a solo venture
by one agency with tbe other facilitating the process.
The truth is, this whole thing could hot have been done
without the implicit or tacit cooperation of both the
Is there any individual that could claim to be the true
lender of Kashmiris?
No there is no single leader, but that is nothing special. Diffusion of leadership is not just a Kashmiri but
South Asian phenomenon, The era of solo performers
such as the Bhutto, Gandhi or the Sheikh families is
over. In Kashmir there is an added dimension. India
and Pakistan use their resources to thrust leaders on
the people.
You had accused the ISI of masterminding the murder of
your father. Are you still sure?
At the spur of the moment 1 did accuse them. Till
date, I do not have any proof to substantiate it. Having
said that, I would not be surprised if they were involved.
1 do not feci that the ISI, or for that matter RAW, is sacred. I have nothing but contempt for all the covert agencies, especially in South Asia. More than anybody else
they have harmed the citizens of their own countries
whom they purport to defend.
What do you have against elections in Kashmir?
1 am not against the concept, but against the Indian
viewpoint that elections are a substitute for plebiscite.
People elected to administer the state should not be
marketed as political leaders to decide the future of
What is the role of Lashkar and jaish in the struggle of
Lashkar and Jaish are the products of those coun
tries that have glamourised violence by ignoring politics, The onus of diluting, marginalising or eliminating
the role of violent elements is on India. If they accept
there is a problem and engage political elements, the
violent elements will simply be crowded out.
VV/ro rs presently targeting civilian Kashmiris?
All the violent elements in Kashmir are targeting
civilians. This is the truth and the truth,
fs militancy a solution to the Kashmir issue?
Militancy has helped in the past in highlighting an
issue that was almost forgotten, the unresolved Kashmir dispute. However, continued militancy could prove
counterproductive. Whichever way you turn the prism,
militancy is detested throughout the world. It is unwise to get excited bv the gains of militancy at the local
level and ignore the negative political impact it has
around the world.
How do you sec the role of Pakistan television vis-a-vis
the Kashmir issue?
lt is negative. PIV has emerged as a biased mouthpiece out of tune with the era of media invasion. Their
newsroom is a hub of fiction. It is difficult to tell whether one is watching PTV drama serials or watching PTV
news. They don't report, they create.
Hoiv do you look at India's confidence building measures announced on 22 October?
On the face of it thev do look innocent and harmless. But including humanitarian issues like the treatment of Pakistani children was petty and mean, and
Pakistan merely mimicked India in its repsonse. Humanitarian issues are better left to the people of India
and Pakistan. Overall it does seem that India has not
been able to convince Pakistan that they mean business,
Do you think India and Pakistan can sort out their problems ou their own?
Never. Third party facilitation or supervision or
participation or coercion is an imperative in trying to
resolve the Kashmir issue.
What do you think is wrong with the approach of India
and Pakistan to Kashmir?
Over 55 years after independence, their behaviour
is a matter of shame for every South Asian. Irrespective
of their public postures, both the countries are averse to
the idea of allowing Kashmiris to choose their own
HIMAL 16/11  November 2003
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