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Himal Southasian Volume 20, Number 2, February 2007 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2007-02

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 February 2007
Vol 20      No 2
Assam's Bloodbath
Walter Fernandes, -i r\
Wasbir Hussain
Constitutional Reform
In Sri Lanka
DBS Jeyaraj *■
Pakistan Economic
Regulation Failure
Faisal Bari
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The general at the samadhi
Our cover image this issue is of Senior General Than
Shwe at Delhi's Rajghat, videoed by filmmaker Amar
Kanwar. To lead off our cover section, we present
four write-ups by Kanwar - on Than Shwe himself,
on the growing military connection between New
Delhi and Rangoon, on the recently deceased activist
Thet Win Aung and the long-dead Win Maw Oo.
These pieces were originally conceived by Kanwar
as part of a video installation, which was first
exhibited at a Southasian film festival in Bangalore
Mai! 5
Befriending the junta 7
The year of Kashmir 8
The Shia-Sunni rift 9
'Ahmad Khan Kharral' 10
Soutftasian briefs n
Couer slorn
Gandhi and the general 24
Amar Kanwar
Reframing the 'Burma question' 27
Thant Myint-U
The distasteful Burma-India embrace 30
Soe Myint
The victims of Operation Leech 32
Soe Myint
Oil in the eyes 35
The promise of the interim 16
Mahtab Haider
Hawks descend on Assam 19
Walter Fernandes
Constitutional reform for Sri Lanka 21
DBS Jeyaraj
Waiting for neighbourhood gas 38
Sudha Mahalingam
Hunting for rebels, looking for peace 41
Wasbir Hussain
Failure of government to failure of market 48
Faisal Bari
in early December. While the footage on Win Maw Oo
and Thet Win Aung used images available to Kanwar,
the segment on Than Shwe required clandestine
filming of a general who is notorious for the distance
he wants to keep from the camera. A part of the Than
Shwe segment was filmed at the lobby of a New Delhi
hotel, while the remaining was filmed at the cremation
place of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, at Rajghat.
Selections of the video presentation can be
downloaded at
Speeial report
Nepal's perplexing moment of opportunity        51
Prashant Jha
Questions about Nithari 64
Ashis Roy
Denial and polarisation 46
Sanjana Hattotuwa
The poor poetry of industrialisation 67
Aditya Nigam
Indian blogs and MSM 74
Shivam Vij
'Milakpani te aitibo' 44
Sanjay Barbora
'Sezophilia' and the coming mutiny
Pfioto immm 69
Naypyitaw: Dictatorship by cartography
Siddharth Varadarajan
Mediafile 72
Beak tmim
Fictional testimonies and real darkness 77
Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta
Repression, co-option and triumph 78
Anagha Neelakantan
Oi) the mm wa 86
The southern watershed
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 Vol 20   No 2
February 2007 |
Kansk Mani Dixit
Assistant Editors
Prashant Jha
Himali Dixit
Desk Editor
Carey L Biron
Business Advisor
Monica Bhatia
Marketing Manager
Komal More
Editorial Assistance
Frakrili Mishra
Contributing Editors
Calcutta Rajashri Dasgupta
Colombo       Jehain Perera
Delhi Mitu Varmtl
Dhaka Afsan Chowdhury
Karachi Beena Sarwar
Kathmandu   Deepak Thapa
Manisha Aryal
Creative Director
Bilash Rai
Roshan Tamang
Rupendra Kayastha
Sunita Sihval
s uhs cri p tion@hima
Santosh Aryal
Shahadev Koirala
Bazar International
Himal Southasian is published by
The Southasia Trust, Lalitpur, Nepal
Office address
Patan Dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal
Mailing address
Q'O Box: 24393, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: +977 1 5547279
Fax: +977 1 5552141
subscri p tion@hima
ISSN 10129804
Libra ry of Congress Control number
88 912882
Image setting: ScanPro
Printed at: Jagad.imba Press, Lalitpur, Nepal
Contributors    to    this    issue
Aditya Nigam is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).
He lives in New Delhi.
Amar Kanwar is an independent documentary filmmaker based in Delhi.
Anagha Neelakantan is the Kathmandu-based executive editor of the Nepali
Ashis Roy is a student at the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies, University of Delhi.
C K Lai is a columnist for this magazine and for the Nepali Times.
David B S Jeyaraj is a Toronto-based journalist who writes regularly on Sri Lanka
for many journals.
Faisal Bari is an associate professor of Economics at Lahore University of
Management Sciences (LUMS).
Kim is a student activist and member of the All Burma Students League, based in
India, and the founder of the Shwe Gas Movement, India.
Mahtab Haider is an editor with the New Age, Dhaka.
Sabir Nazar is a Lahore-based cartoonist with The Friday Times and the Daily
Sanjana Hattotuwa is a senior researcher at the Centre for Policy Alternatives, and
head of Information and Communication Technology and Peacebuilding at InfoShare,
both in Colombo.
Sanjay Barbora is programme manager for Panos South Asia in Guwahati.
Shivam Vij is a features correspondent with Tehelka. His writings can be found at
Siddharth Varadarajan is the Delhi-based associate editor of The Hindu. His
writings can be found at
Soe Myint is editor-in-chief of Mizzima News Agency, which specialises on Burma
and related issues. He lives in India as a refugee recognised by the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Sudha Mahalingam is a senior fellow with the Delhi-based Centre for Policy
Thant Myint-U is a historian, former United Nations official, and grandson of former
UN Secretary General U Thant. His most recent book is The River of Lost Footsteps.
Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta is in the Indian Administrative Service and based in
Bombay. Her writings can be found at
Walter Fernandes is the director of the North Eastern Social Research Centre,
Wasbir Hussain is the director of the Centre for Development and Peace Studies,
| Address-\^J
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February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Armymen and policemen
The commentary in the January
Himal, "India, the need to be
unpatriotic," was a brilliant, hardhitting piece! It says all that needs
to be said on the subject, notably that
"Delhi's myopic, military-centred
solutions have repeatedly resulted
in alienation, which in turn
feeds militancy". Indeed, the
generals must understand that
when they kill militants in cold
blood after capture, there will be
more militants than ever.
The myopic attitude of state
security officials was obvious most
recently in Nepal, where the
army generals believed that there
was no alternative to terrorising
the people not "to support" the
Maoists,   which   actually
meant feeding or giving
shelter     even     under
duress.  The  generals
supported Gyanendra
enthusiastically every
step of the way, from
when the latter began
^showing his ambitions
in October 2002; they
told him that they were
"winning", and every week
produced      (mostly      by
extrajudicial executions) "the
body count" statistics "to prove it".
Reading the commentary, I was
referred back to the excellent article
in the December Himal by Peerzada
Arshad Hamid, "Soldiers under
stress". There is a direct and potent
link between the stupidity and
futility of the exclusive pursuit of
"the military-centred solution"
and    the   stress   which   leads
to soldiers killing their comrades
and   themselves.   One   of   the
acknowledged    lessons    from
Vietnam is that long, long before
the top brass and the politicians,
the soldiers on the ground knew
that the policy was not working
and adjusted their effort and
Learn from Nepal
From C K Lai's analysis on
Bhutani: refugees and the apathy
of the Indian and Bhutani
governments, (See. Himal January
2007, "A republic and two
kingdoms") we can clearly
acknowledge to what extent the
Wangchuk regime is reckless,
mean and corrupt.
The Wangchuk government
should always keep in mind that
fresh generation that was born as
refugees, who have grown up with
courage in heart and rage in mind.
Those who were exiled in their
early days have also: crossed
through their teens, learning to
associate dissatisfaction and rage
with the Dnik regime, as they are
socially, culturally and politically
boycotted from their ancestral
homeland. However, they are also
a very tolerant group of people.
But if, even now, their voices
remain unaddressed, these youth,
who currently could be likened to
over^inflated balls, could
suddenly burst. As such, only two
options remain for Thimphu: one
is to face the fate of Gyanendra,
the former majesty of Nepal; the
other is to be ready to send
refugees to America, which is
anticipating such an eventuality
for unclear reasons. Either way,
the existence of the Bhutani
refugees can no longer be ignored
by Thimphu.
limesh Pokharel
behaviour accordingly. This is
exactly what is happening now in
Iraq and Afghanistan, where
soldiers on the ground have long
since come to the conclusion that the
military effort by the West is leading
nowhere except to a worsening of
the situation. So why should they
risk their lives in such an ignoble
and futile effort?.'
The article by Swatfii Mehta in
the December Himal also caught my
eye, with its strong resonances to a
pressing need all over Southasia. If
only the courts everywhere could
act in the strong and impartial
way described in the article
in relation to the Supreme
Court of India! The politicisation,
incompetence and corruption of tlie
Indian police are well known and
are being widely commented on at
the moment in the context of the
horrific Noida case; but the Supreme
Court initiative means that at last,
however belatedly, something
substantive is going to be
done about the problem. But
everywhere in Southasia, police
reform at the ground level must
be high up the list of "urgent
actions required".
Sreeram Chakravarty
On pickles
On the trial of opening pickle
containers, I sympathise. One
reason I gave up milk/cream in
coffee was those awful little
containers that you finally wrench
open, and the ensuing air bubble
spurts a dollop of the viscous
stuff onto your lap. All very
embarrassing and trying.
John Friedland
Send your comments, questions and corrections to
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 Democratic values
I was interested to read your back-
to-back issues on democracy ("But
for democracy in Pakistan",
December 2006, and "Democracy:
Object of desire", January 2007). On
the latter, I have to take issue with
the notion that in the Southasian
version of democracy, not much
importance is placed on the rule of
law. If you think about it, rule of law
is the essence of democracy, and to
say that there is a Southasian
version of 'democracy' is
meaningless. What next, that the
Indian version of an elephant does
not need to have a trunk? If you are
talking about democracy in the
absence of rule of law, you are
talking about something else, for
which you have to find another
name. Democracy is not a piece of
software with versions.
The main d rawback of the survey
on democracy seems to be that its
sample universe is too diverse. Sri
Lanka and Pakistan are at very
different stages on the path
to democracy, for instance. Asa
result, the survey focuses for the
most part at the lowest common
denominator - ie, the appetite for
■ 101
Thank you for the brief
photographic coverage of Tehri
Dam in Uttaranchal. There
■ certainly is an important question
mark over the construction Of the
■world's 5th highest dam in an
earthquake-prone area: Apart
from that, if the project is concerned
essentially with quenching the
thirst of the people of New Delhi
and to fulfil:the country's poWer
.demands.   while    potentially
■ ■ i . .   j-
sacrificing    the    downstream
inhabitants,: then the Tehri dam,
: ean't be considered justifiable.
..... r
The extent to which we can
harness our natural resources
without affecting the surrounding
environment, and limiting its
repercussions worldwide, should
e a public de
democracy, which is a very basic
question, and the answers are not
surprising. Real democracy is so
much more than free and fair
elections. For instance, the problem
with democracy in India is that at
the party level there is virtually no
democracy. There is no leadership
race, the leadership of the Congress
is more or less dynastic, and further
down the ladder the choice of the
candidate to receive the party ticket
depends on the whims of the
leadership rather than local
party associations. So there is a
huge democracy deficit within
Such issues are also of significant
importance to, Nepal at the
moment, where a huge hydel
power potential exists.
Prakash Tiwari
By email
the political party itself, which will
have to be fixed for democracy to
be meaningful.
The utility of the survey is
limited because it cannot go into
details, and this is because the
five countries chosen are too
diverse in terms of their democratic
evolution. It would have made more
sense, from my perspective, to
have compared and surveyed
democracy in Sri Lanka, India and,
say, the Philippines. Many more
similar-ities there - for example, on
how democracies deal with
separatist movements.
'One person one vote' is only one
half of the equation; tire other is who
gets to stand for an election. Do the
parties really give citizens choices
in terms of ideology and social
philosophy, or are they purely
vehicles to acquire power?
Now that sort of comparison
between reasonably functioning
democracies would have been an
interesting read.
Dipika Damerla
Himal's November issue on food
was a joy to read. But every article
has now left me with cravings
that I am not sure I can fulfil. May
be I should be angry rather
than pleased!
Srishti Pandey
By email
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
Befriending the junta
Burma is the starkest example of a closed society in
Southasia. An oppressive regime continues to hold
sway over the. country. Respect for human rights is, for all
purposes, an alien concept. Rule of law, based on universal
and just principles, finds no place in the firmament of the
generals. What is as striking as the primitive brutality of
the rulers is the manner in which they seem to have gotten
away with it all. In the wake of ruthless suppression, the
democratic opposition has been brave, but till now fairly
ineffectual in shaking the system. And the international
community, to a large extent, has accepted the fait
accompli of a dictatorship in the country.
In the mid-1990s, during the time of the Bharatiya
Janata Party government, India joined the league of
countries that wanted to be friends with the junta. New
Delhi sought to build strong ties - spanning political,
economic and even military spheres - with Burma, much
to the chagrin of many Indian politicians and liberals, who
have long sympathised with the democratic movement.
Indeed, this reflected a change in the Indian government's
own stance, for it had through the early 1990s put its
weight behind the Aung San Suu Kyi-led opposition.
The New Delhi government even gave Suu Kyi a
prestigious national award, at the cost of embittering ties
with the Rangoon government. Leading politicians,
including the erstwhile socialist George Fernandes, had
open-door policies at their homes for Burmese exiles
battling the regime.
So it came as a shock to many, and sparked valid
outrage, when the BJP government pushed towards
intensive engagement with the Burmese generals. The
fact that Fernandes himself was defence minister when
the change was effected tells us volumes about the
dilemma at the heart of New Delhi's Burma policy. The
New Delhi establishment would like Burma to be
democratic, but is unwilling to invest political capital into
Close clasp: Indian Air Force chief Shashindra Pal Tyagi meets
with Than Shwe, November 2006
transforming internal politics along the Irrawaddy.
India's policy change on Burma was finally driven by
security and strategic concerns, primarily the rising
influence of China, the presence of militant groups active
in the Indian Northeast using Burmese territory as safe
haven, and the need to exploit natural-gas reserves in
the Arakan province when Bangladeshi gas was proving
to be a mirage. Realpolitik thus clearly emerged as the
victor over India's stated commitment to
democracy. What helps Delhi policymakers rationalise
this realistic yet immoral engagement with the Rangoon
generals is the claim that actively boycotting the junta
has failed in inducing democratic change; instead, goes
the argument, it is time to see if working with General
Than Shwe and his cohorts may provide a breakthrough.
Remembering the despots
It is open to question whether India will be able to derive
long-term gains from this policy - New Delhi cannot hope
to match Beijing's proximity to the military rulers, and the
pipeline from the Shwe gas fields is in limbo due to
opposition by both Burmese dissidents and Indian
insurgent groups. But would it be correct, on ethical
grounds, to hold New Delhi guilty for engaging with the
Burmese government? To be intellectually honest, it
would be naive, and even unfair, to expect India to have
higher standards than other states when it comes to
Burma. After all, India is a proximate state ofthe region,
and cannot hope merely to make democratic noises from
the distance of the trans-Atlantic or northern Europe.
And yet it is critical that we do not forget the brutality
ofthe illegitimate military junta in Burma. The people of
Burma aspire for popular self-rule as does the rest ofthe
population of Southasia fsee Himal January 2007 cover
story, "Democracy: Object of Desire"), and that wish has
to be respected. In this issue of Himal, we bring you that
dark but overwhelming facet of the junta: the manner in
which dissidents are killed and locked up, the corruption
and ruthlessness of the rulers, and the consequences
and costs of joint economic projects in the realm of
environment and human rights. Even if countries are
queuing to shake hands with Gen Than Shwe, we must
always remember that he and his ilk are the most
despotic set of rulers modern Southasia has seen. The
general should not have been allowed access to the
samadhi sthat of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
We have tried to understand India's stated position
on Burma, but do not believe that the newfound
engagement will deliver what South Block says it will. By
abandoning the moral high ground, India will still not
manage to compete with Chinese influence on Burma.
With no gain on this front, it has disenchanted the
democrats who will be defining the Burmese future
whether the generals like it or not. It may be that the
change in Indian policy will in the long-term push Burma
further away from Southasia - not towards China but
further towards Southeast Asia. That is a long way to go
for a country that is more Southasian than not.
Himal Southasian | February 2007
The year of Kashmir
Never in the past two decades has the situation been
as favourable as now for progress on one ofthe most
intractable Southasian conflicts of our times. We are
talking of Kashmir,
The non-aggressive style of Manmohan Singh and the
freethinking autocracy of Pervez Musharraf have
delivered a remarkable and sustained transformation
of the Kashmir equation. The international as well as
domestic conditions in India and Pakistan appear to be
just right to build on the peace momentum. There is also
developing opinion among the public Kashmiri figures in
Srinagar itself that it is time to accommodate the
concerns of New Delhi and Islamabad in order to break
the impasse.
Look at Pakistan first. General Musharraf has shown
remarkable flexibility. He has given up demands for
implementation of the United Nations resolutions of
1948, a plebiscite among Kashmiris on what they would
want, as well as third-party mediation. And the general is
throwing up innovative ideas for a solution even as he
prepares the domestic audience for a compromise. He
is telling Kashmiri separatist leaders who would want
out of India, and whom Pakistan had been supporting,
that azadi is a pipedream. And Gen Musharraf is engaging
with the moderates of Srinagar. In consistently pushing
for more engagement with India, the general has gone
further than any other Pakistani leader since as far back
as, perhaps, Ayub Khan. And so we have
come to see the day, for example,
when the ruler of Islamabad
asserts that Pakistan holds no
territorial claim over Kashmir,
Gen Musharraf's evolving
position may be the result
of several factors: international pressure, the search for
calm on the eastern front at a time when the Afghan front
is strife-torn, the realisation that a Kashmir stalemate
does not serve Pakistan's economic interests, or even a
desire to craft a legacy as a means to thwart the political
parties that he has shoved aside but which will doubtless
make a comeback. Whatever be the precise motivation,
it is undeniable that the general has pushed the envelope
on Kashmir.
A constant refrain among Pakistani intellectuals, as
well as liberals in India, is that New Delhi has not done
enough to reciprocate the general's gestures. The
suspicion that India is happy with the status quo, and is
willing to wait it out hoping that the dispute will lose its
steam, is not entirely out of place. But to say that there
has been no movement from New Delhi's side is not
accurate, for the handlers of Indian foreign policy have
fought several conservative strands, within and outside
the establishment, to engage with Pakistan. They have
done this even as militant attacks have continued in
Kashmir and in parts of India.
Prime Minister Singh's statement that while he had no
mandate to redraw boundaries, the two countries could
together make the India-Pakistan border irrelevant was a
bold departure, particularly given New Delhi's obsession
with creating more fences (much disparaged in these
columns). The Indian government has also
engaged in direct talks with Kashmiri separatist outfits,
albeit sporadically.
New Delhi's motivations in pushing ahead with the
Kashmir peace process are not difficult to gauge. South
Block has arrived at the conclusion that India will not be
taken seriously as a global power if its relations with
neighbours remain acrimonious and the region remains
unstable. The other reason for optimism in the current
context is the timing. Two foreign-policy issues have
constantly held India back on the world stage - its nuclear
programme and relations with Pakistan. With the civilian-
nuclear deal with the US accommodating India into the
established nuclear order, Prime Minister Singh now wants
to move on the next contentious issue. Addressing
Kashmir as the main bottleneck in the relation with
Pakistan will reflect well on the Indian government and
the prime minister's personal report card.
And what ofthe Kashmiri? As with Palestine, any people
fightingfor identity amidst a sense of occupation and made
pawns to larger geopolitical considerations will find politics
a dangerous game, where compromise can easily be
projected as betrayal. The easy recourse to
violence against those who espouse moderation also
constricts matters. It requires the sheer passage of time
- and suffering - for politicians to rise to the occasion,
even as the ground realities change to allow space for
the moderates.
The Kashmiri people on both sides of the Line of
Control have undergone a decade and a half of violence
and strife, and are ready for a compromise solution. The
overwhelming sentiment for azadi is accompanied by the
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 realisation that independence, defined as sovereign
statehood, is not possible within the existing geo-political
situation. As for moderate leadership, even while radical
outfits continue to operate in various parts of Jammu &
Kashmir, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq has emerged as the
favourite of both New Delhi and Islamabad as a consensus
figure. Leader of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, and
presently a PhD student of Sufi culture, Mirwaiz has
inherited the mantle of high priest of the valley from his
late father, Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq. who was shot
dead by assailants in 1990 {see Himal January 2006,
"Himal-Panos Roundtable on Kashmir").
The sea-change on Kashmir is reflected in the flurry of
activities and meetings that have marked the second
half of 2006. Prime Minister Singh's special envoy. S K
Lambah, and Gen Musharraf's pointsman. Tariq Aziz, have
held hectic bilateral parleys. Mirwaiz Farooq has been
moving between international capitals and is in touch
with both the Islamabad and New Delhi policy
establishments. Even the foreign ministers of both
countries have admitted that there has been progress on
the Kashmir question. And the broad contours of a
Kashmir solution are clear - more autonomy to Azad
Kashmir and J & K, on two sides of the LoC, joint control
of certain areas, and softer borders that facilitate greater
contact between the Kashmiris themselves.
Entrenched interests
The task now for Gen Musharraf and Prime Minister Singh
is to deftly move their respective establishments towards
accepting this solution. Of course, severa comp.exities
and obstacles remain. The general has to deal with
sections in the military, intelligence services, religious
outfits and civil society that have found easy recourse for
six decades on radical rhetoric about Indian occupation
of Kashmir. Many sections have developed not just vested
but entrenched interests in the perpetuation of the conflict.
We are told that when the Foreign Office spokesman in
Islamabad reiterated Gen Musharraf's statement that
Pakistan had never asserted territorial claim over Kashmir,
some journalists walked out of the briefing. On the
Indian side, the rightwing parties and intelligence services
are expected to oppose, and even subvert, any bold
initiative emanating from the prime minister's office and
South Block.
While there will surely be attempts at derailing the
Kashmir peace process in New Delhi and Islamabad, the
real challenge lies within Kashmir proper. Violent outfits,
especially those that have wriggled out of the control of
Islamabad, are likely to try and sabotage the process. We
must expect violence and plan to a) prevent it, and b)
work around it. The Kashmiri moderates, led by Mirwaiz.
will have to proceed gingerly as they try to develop
credibility beyond the support provided from the Indian
and Pakistani capitals. They have the hardest task of all,
because theirs is the lived reality, whereas things are
vicarious for New Delhi and Islamabad strategists.
Let the words of caution and scepticism be given their
due weight, but let them not devalue the momentum that
has developed over 2006 on Kashmir. There is possibility
of breakthrough due to the evolution in international and
regional politics, the specific situation in both countries
and, most importantly, popular aspiration in Kashmir for
peace. Will 2007 see the breakthrough on Kashmir? Al
Southasians sincerely hope so, and may the moderates
win the day! £
A rift engineered and
The conflict between Shias and Sunnis, though ancient
in its origins, has come to the fore with dramatic
ntensity on the international stage with the execution of
ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Sectarian strife
rooted in centuries of hostility between these two sects
of Islam has often taken the form of virulent public
campaigns and violent clashes, too. Yet never before did
it impinge on global consciousness, and consequently in
the realm of public affairs, as is happening now after the
US-led occupation forces in Iraq overturned the rule of
the minority Sunnis - symbolised by Saddam Hussein -
and foisted a puppet regime of Shias.
Initially, the US found the Shia-Sunni conflict useful to
sustain and boost opposition to Hussein's vestigial forces
and reinforce a government that could appeal to the
majority Shias. However, as the conflict unravelled and
violence between the Shia and Sunni militias spiralled
out of control, Washington, DC has come to realise that
deepening this divide would weaken its grip on Iraq, and
that the militias of both the sects have to be reined-in in
order to achieve a measure of order. More importantly,
neighbouring Shia-dominated Iran could exploit the
conflict to leverage the crossborder Shia axis against US
hegemony in the region. This is fraught with dangerous
consequences for the US - not only in keeping a lid on
Iraq but taking on Iran, too, as it has chosen to do.
If the West, trying to play cop in the tinderbox of West
Asia, is now caught in this conflict, Southasia is not
unaffected by the Shia-Sunni divide. In the Subcontinent,
too, the execution of Saddam Hussein provoked anger
and grief among Sunnis, while sections of Shias went
about celebrating. This regressive manifestation -jarringly
more pronounced and visible now - that characterises
Shia-Sunni relations today can be traced to the late 1970s,
when Pakistan's General Zia-ul Haq came to power.
Until then, for all the acknowledged religious, political,
juristic and other minor differences, the story of Islam in
Southasia was largely one of harmony between the Shia
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 and Sunni. When the sectarian rift did surface occasionally,
it was a muted affair and did not involve the two
communities as warring factions. Demographics are
against the Shia in Southasia, whose spread varies
between five and 20 percent of the total Muslim
population in different parts, reflecting also more or less
the global ratio. There was always the odd report of a
fracas on occasions such as Muharram, but generally
Muslims in Southasia did not witness overt or violent
expressions of the Shia-Sunni divide.
in Pakistan, india
General Zia's drive to make Pakistan an Islamic state
during his long rule from 1977 to 1988 triggered the
emergence of the sectarian monster. The 1979 Islamic
(Shi'ite) revolution in Iran, much like the execution of
Saddam Hussein, also provided a fillip to the Shia-Sunni
contest in the Subcontinent. Gen Zia infused a Sunni edge
to the Islamisation of Pakistan, if only to gain legitimacy
for his regime in the eyes and interpretations of a majority
of the clergy. There gathered a violent campaign against
the Shias, buttressed by demands for declaring them non-
Muslims orkafir, and the rise of a number of militant Sunni
outfits. Thus were the seeds of strife sown in
Pakistan, which ripened into bitter fruits of violence, large-
scale Shia-Sunni riots, waves of killings, and attacks on
each other's congregations that occur with unsettling
frequency. The Shia-Sunni rift was engineered, deepened
and institutionalised.
In India, there has been negligible bloodshed, fewer
killings and clashes - with these confined to the Lucknow
region of Uttar Pradesh, besides stray outbreaks in
Gujarat - but relations between Shias and Sunnis have
been vitiated at the institutional level. In 2005, the Shia
set up their own All India Muslim Personal Law Board
after breaking away from the parent body. This bodes ill
at a time when there is increasing emphasis on the
differences that divide the two sects, even as well-
meaning leadership of both Shias and Sunnis are
working to keep up a dialogue. The rift is out in the open,
but probably has not attained virulent and violent forms
as in Pakistan because both sects are faced with the
aggressive fascism of Hindutva. The danger represented
by Hindutva intolerance requires that the Shia and Sunni
not let their differences get out of hand.
The Shia-Sunni divide is cause for both reflection and
vigorous revival of dialogue between leaders and
organisations of the two sects. The argument that the
divide is perpetuated by enemies of Islam is denigrating
to Muslims - suggesting that they are not autonomous
agents who can determine their own condition and intra-
faitb relationship. Islam, as with any other religion, has
its enemies and, perhaps, the challenges and threats it
faces are greater. All the more reason, then, that
the dialogue between Shias and Sunnis be initiated
and sustained at every level, regardless of whether it is
for co-existence, reconciliation, convergence or
agreeing to disagree.
'Ahmad Khan Kharral'
I nan old myth of the Subcontinent, a giant bird or demon
swallows the moon, plunging the earth into darkness. In
this painting by Sabir Nazar, however, most of the world
is oblivious to the presence of this demon, with life
continuing on in regular cycles of night and day. Both the
moon and the inky night sky remain within the beast,
along with knowledge of the stark fate of those it has
devoured. The beast overwhelms the viewer, its large,
dark presence dominatingthe painting. Its wings are lifted,
as if it might soon spread them; at the moment that it
does so, the entire scene will be engulfed in darkness.
But the neighbourhood does not notice. As at the bottom
of the painting, people go about amusing themselves; at
the top, they work and pray. The bird-demon looks at them
hungrily, a malicious smile on its beak.
Ahmed Khan Kharral was a freedom fighter who led a
powerful revolt against British rule in the area around
Okara in present-day Pakistan. After finally suppressing
the revolt, the colonial authorities had Kharral decapitated
and his head kept in a pot in their fort. His face now gazes
out from a broken vessel, witness to the darkness and
the indifference around him.
24" x 36" watercolour
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
Shipping restarted
' a/vf
 —-Ja//Mgs  -
In mid-December, india
and Pakistan signed a
revised protocol that
restored an important
cargo-shipping option
between the two
countries. Now, for the
first time in 30 years,
vessels from either
country will be allowed
to lift the cargoes of a
third country from each
other's ports, and
vessels from third
countries will be
allowed to ply between
Pakistani and Indian
ports. The new
agreement is a revision
of the 1975 Shipping
Protocol, and is
expected to help
increase bilateral
trade. All it needs now
is publicity. A
Last-ditch reconstruction
In an effort to quell
rising levels of chaos
in the country, the Kabul
government is
considering a new
initiative that has the
potential to bring a
modicum of stability to
lawless areas. USD 76
million culled from the
government's budget
and from international
donors will be used to
fund reconstruction
projects in 88 districts
near the border with
Pakistan. These will
focus on rebuilding
infrastructure facilities
for local communities.
Some observers note
that the project could be
one of the most crucial
chances the
government has to win
over those communities
that may harbour
sympathy for
the Taliban, and who live
on both sides ofthe
Durand Line.
Zalmay Hewadmal,
cultural advisor to
President Hamid Karzai,
has said that much of
the programme's focus
will be placed on the
most volatile areas of 12
provinces in the country's
south, southeast, east
and southwest. In these
areas, and particularly in
the border districts of the
south and east, most
Afghans go to Pakistan
for medical or other
needs. "The move was
aimed to assure Afghans
in the farthest parts of
the country that they are
citizens of Afghanistan,
and that the" government
was committed to
provide living facilities for
them," Hewadmal
noted. What we have to
say is: Better that these
are development
projects than barbed-
wire fences. A
Free media for all
The South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) on 11
January helped establish six new regional press
commissions, five of which are country-specific, and one
a region-wide organisation that will work to protect
journalists' rights throughout Southasia. SAFMA president
K K Katyal explained that the decision to set up
the individual commissions was made during the period
of autocratic rule by King Gyanendra in Nepal, at which
time the freedom of the Nepali press was severely
curbed and SAFMA seems to have felt the need for
protection everywhere.
The new 'South Asia Press Commission' will be holding
a convention in New Delhi at the beginning of March.
Separately, a report released by SAFMA in early January
named Pakistan as the country most dangerous in the
region for working journalists. Well, what about some
Southasian countries - and we know a couple of tiny ones
at the least - who do not have journalism of which to
speak? Do they count? A
More Bollywood in Pakistan
Despite a government
ban on screening
Indian movies in place in
Pakistan since 1965, two
popular Bollywood films,
Woh Lamhe and Omkara,
were screened in
December at the
Karafilm Festival in
Karachi. The festival,
which has become
Pakistan's leading film
event, is garnering fame
internationally as a
proving ground for
makers of
groundbreaking cinema
in South and Central Asia.
Indian filmmaker
Mahesh Bhatt, a regular '■
at the festival since its
inception, finds: that it has
also served as a place for
Pakistani and Indian
filmmakers to meet and
exchange ideas. According
to Kara's director Hasan
Zaidi, "The festival started
off as an experiment six
years ago, and was
basically meant to
highlight alternate cinema
and documentaries; but it
has now evolved into
something bigger." Around
170 films from 37
countries were screened
at the festival; Any festival
that can break tabooS,
including bringing Indian
films to Pakistan, has to
be welcomed. A
Himal Southasian | February 2007
India halts exit permits
On 31 December, the
Indian government
stopped issuing exit
permits to Tibetan
refugees, effectively
halting the movement of
the large number of
Tibetans who use India
as a stepping-stone
before moving on to
Shipping containers and
food grains
New Delhi's nervousness regarding a peaceful diffusion
of Nepal's Maoists has had it actively involved in
facilitating talks between the political parties and the
Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) when Gyanendra was
ruling the roost. Since then, India has kept minute-by-
minute watch over the negotiations that brought the
erstwhile rebels into a peace agreement and into the
Interim Parliament in Kathmandu. ■:':.
Thereafter, New Delhi started providing hardware for
o the peace process. To begin
with, responding to an SOS
: from the United Nations
monitors, it reached into its
shipping yards and brought
out containers to be used
to place the Maoist
weapons. These shipping
containers have been
.»..-.-;■....,,.,;-,,„,„,-,.-.,,, ... painted: white and
gentrifled, and are now in the process of being filled with
arms in seven rebel cantonments.
And now, in a further show of support for Nepal's peace
process, New Delhi has offered to supply food grains to
feed Nepali Maoist fighters confined to the same
cantonments under United Nations supervision, Indian
Officials Have also offered vehicles and equipment to
energise the dispirited Nepali police force. The offers to
supply food grains for nearly 30,000 Maoists and to
provide 200 vehicles and communications equipment to
the police have been made repeatedly. "India always
remains committed to supporting all efforts that are aimed
at achieving peace, democracy and development in
Nepal," External Affairs, Minister Pranab Mukherjee said
■rj'uringa December visit to. Kathmandu.:   ■ .-; A
Western countries.
Tibetans going to India
in exile via Nepal are
issued Special Entry
Permits (SEPs) at the
Indian embassy in
Kathmandu. The SEPs are
issued to those travelling
to India in pilgrimage (one
month), for education (one
year) as well as in other
categories. Many Tibetans
take the longer SEP, and
then apply for a
registration certificate
once they reach
Dharamsala or another
Tibetan settlement in
India. This certificate later
entitles them to apply for
an identity certificate,
which is similar to a
passport, whereupon they
are able to seek an
exit permit to go to
other countries.
After New Delhi
informed the Tibetan
government-in-exile in
Dharamsala of its
decision, the Kashag (the
cabinet), always aware of
host government
sensitivities, went as far as
to say that the Indian
government must have
"felt uncomfortable" with
the rapidly increasing
number of Tibetan
immigrants seeking exit
permits. According to
Dharamsala sources,
many Tibetans have
migrated to Western
countries in recent years,
often using the Tibet-
Nepal-India route to
escape. Currently, there
are over 100,000
Tibetans living in India and
around 30,000 more living
in other countries outside
China. Whatever the
reason for New Delhi's
decision, this is a major
event in Tibetan diaspora
politics, and its long-term
impact may be in the
reduction of Tibetans
leaving for India via Nepal.
Perhaps that was the idea
among Indian policy
makers looking to keep
Beijing happy. A
Pilgrims and gelex
The southern Tamil Nadu island town and pilgrim centre
of Rameshwaram is reportedly emerging as a vital
channel for the trafficking of explosives to Sri Lanka. The
recent seizures of explosives called 'gelex boosters' and
other consignments meant to be routed through
Rameshwaram have given rise to suspicions that India
could be a major source of such munitions for the LTTE.
And now comes news that this route is being used by the
Colombo government.
In Madurai on 7 December, police stopped a truck for
inspection and found that it was carrying 40 cartons of
explosives meant for the Sri Lanka Navy, on their way
from Nagpur to Sri Lanka. When questioned, the truck's
driver showed transport papers for the materials, as well
as an official request for the explosives from the
government of Sri Lanka.
Such findings have raised new concerns for the ruling
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party in Tamil Nadu,
where pro-LTTE sentiments are currently high. Citing
potential attacks on civilian Tamils as a consequence,
pro-LTTE leaders in Tamil Nadu have raised strident
protests against any assistance by India to Colombo.   £
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
Bhutani oranges and
Dhaka bandhs
While national strikes
and political
uncertainty wreak havoc
in Bangladesh, the
Shockwaves are traveling
far and wide - including
to Bhutan, where the
export of oranges has
been drastically affected.
The Bangladesh-India
border has been sealed
for months, and
Bangladesh - the main
market for Bhutani
oranges - thus closed off.
According to the Bhutan
Agriculture and Food
Regulatory Authority, the
export figure had
plummeted by almost
400 percent by the
end of December. £
Unrestricted visas make
good neighbours
A significantly updated
and liberalised visa
regime is set to be put in
place between India and
Pakistan, according to a
agreement signed in mid-
January. Designed to allow
unrestricted travel
anywhere, the policy allows
for freer visas for
businesspersons and
tourists. New options will
also be extended to divided
families living across the
Indo-Pakistani border. The
updates will amend the
strict 1974 visa agreement
between Islamabad and
New Delhi, which had
allowed for the provision of
visas for specific cities for
those applicants who
showed a verifiable
address of relatives or
friends. Multiple-entry visas
will soon be available for
periods of two years.
According to a senior
Pakistani Interior Ministry
official, both sides have
agreed to increase the
number of consular offices,
and plan to issue over
1000 visas daily to
businessmen and tourists,
India will open a new visa
office in Lahore, while
Pakistan will open one in
Hyderabad (Deccan).
Presently, visas are only
issued from Bombay,
New Delhi, Karachi
and Islamabad. A
Promises, promises
The newly crowned King Jigme Khesar Namgyel
Wangchuck of Bhutan recently pledged to renounce
the absolute power wielded by his father, Jigme Singye
Wangchuck. The 26-year-old also promised to play only
a constitutional role in Bhutan's future.
In a speech made before roughly 40,000 Druk
citizens, the former prince expressed commitment
towards carrying on his father's legacy of transforming
the secluded Himalayan kingdom into a parliamentary
democracy. "My father has handed over his
responsibilities to the people. And now it is our turn to
take the country forward by following his legacy," he
declared in his first public address since taking power,
referring to the draft constitution that would end almost
a century of monarchical rule in Bhutan after national
elections in 2008. A
Indian chai seeks Pakistan
Along with the many crucial issues on Pranab
Mukherjee's list ahead of his 12 January visit to
Islamabad, the External Affairs Minister seemed
determined to make every Pakistani a lover of Indian tea.
One of Mukherjee's priorities on the diplomatic visit was
to convince Pakistan to let Indian tea enter its market
through Wagah, rather than through the current circuitous
route by way of Dubai.
India's tea talks with Pakistan were supposed to start
coming to a boil as early as last July, when a delegation of
tea marketers was scheduled to visit Pakistan. The
subsequent Bombay blasts, however, put those plans on
the backburner.
The new westward push comes as
part of a more general emphasis on
rebuilding the country's flagging tea
industry. In early January, Minister of
State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh
announced the formation of a new USD
1.1 billion fund, which he predicted
would allow the sector to grow by up to
50 percent in the next half-decade. India
will also host its first International Tea
Festival in Guwahati this November.
Though India is the world's largest tea
producer, it consumes 80 percent of its |||
tea domestically. Traditionally, 90
percent of Indian tea exports have gone to Russia, Iraq,
the UK and the United Arab Emirates. Three new focus
markets have now been identified - Iran, Egypt and
Pakistan. Pakistan is the world's second largest importer
of tea, with annual imports of 140 million kilograms.
While India's share of this was as low as eight million kg
till last year, exports are expected to double in 2006-07 -
and to increase many times more, if Indian tea can
enter at Wagah, A
Himal Southasian | February 2007
Rohingya on
the move
In late December, the
first group of Muslim
Rohingya refugees from
Burma was finally
resettled, when an initial
batch of 13 individuals
were sent from
Bangladesh to Canada.
Currently, over 26,000
ethnic Rohingyas are living
in two camps near Cox's
Bazaar, where most have
been for the past decade
and a half. Their stateless
status is due to the
contention by the
Burmese military - and
some other Burmese
communities - that the
Rohingya are not
Burmese but migrants
from West Bengal.
The United Nations High
Commission for Refugees
started operating in
Bangladesh in 1992, and
a memorandum of
understanding was signed
with the Dhaka
government the following
year. Since then, UNHCR
has been providing the
refugees with protection,
and has assisted Dhaka in
the voluntary repatriation
of more than 236,000
back to their homes in
Burma. The original
number of refugees was
250,000, most of whom
were from Burma's
northern Rakhine state.
According to a UNHCR
official, the International
Organisation for Migration
will be providing an
orientation programme for
the refugees being
INDIA f BHUTAN        	
Renegotiating treaties
As a new king brings promises of change and hope
to Bhutan, the country's mighty southern neighbour
also seems to be following suit, as it prepares to
amend the 1949 India-Bhutan treaty - held out as
the document that undermines Bhutani sovereignty
by making its foreign policy subject to South
Block directives.
To allow the Thimphu government freedom in the
outlining of its foreign policy, India now proposes
rewriting parts ofthe treaty that are widely believed to
be unfair. Article 2, which demanded that Bhutan be
"guided by the advice ofthe government of India in
regard to its external relations", will, according to a
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson, be replaced
by a sentiment in the "language of friendly
cooperation", in other words, so long as Thimphu does
not impinge on Indian interests, it need not consult
New Delhi in its foreign-policy decisions.
Article 6, which said that Bhutan is allowed to import
"arms, ammunition, machines, warlike materials or
stores" only with India's "assistance and approval", will
be loosened to permit Bhutan to purchase non-lethal
military equipment without prior consent from India. A
relocated to Canada and
will also be bearing the
costs of medical tests and
transportation. Canada will
be accepting another nine
Rohingya refugees in late
January. No other country
has yet stepped up to offer
asylum to the group. All in
all, the number being
resettled is awfully small,
and in great contrast to
the 60,000 Lhotsampa
refugees from Bhutan
that the US has agreed to
take in. A
Kabul Express halted
After scenes from a Bombay movie about journalists
in war-torn Afghanistan were deemed offensive to
an Afghan ethnic minority group, Kabul banned the movie
from entering the country. In addition, the independent
station Afghan TV also imposed a ban on all Indian movies
and songs, as retaliation against the discriminatory
sentiments expressed in the film.
Kabul Express "has some sentences which were very
offensive toward one of Afghanistan's ethnicities, namely
the Hazara," said Minister of Culture adviser Najib
Manalai. Hazaras, who make up one-tenth of the Afghan
population, were implied to be the "most dangerous tribe
of Afghanistan," for whom "looting is their business."
"They would have looted and [stripped] you," one of the
film's characters notes. "Then they would have hit you in
the head with a nail. Then they would have sold your car
in Pakistan."
Ali Afghans involved in the making of the film, including
the actors who articulated the statements that cause
offence, are to be investigated by a prosecutor who will
ultimately decide whether any action needs to be taken
against them.
■ Kabul Express chronicles a two-day journey into post-
Taliban Afghanistan by two Indian journalists. The film
follows them as they attempt to get an interview with an
evasive member of the Taliban, and enlist the help of an
Afghan jeep-driver in the process. The movie was filmed
on location in 45 days under heavy security provided by
the Afghan government. For those who saw it, it seemed
to have been filmed in one location, given the way
the same destroyed armoured personnel carrier from the
Soviet era showed up again and again, even as the
film supposedly progressed from Kabul towards the
Pakistan border. A
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Blue reds
While the rest of the
world applauds the
renunciation of violence by
Nepal's Maoists, their
comrades in India have yet
to come around on the
evolution of events. In
recent issues of Jung and
Kranti, two Communist
An eye for an eye
a city for a city
While there may be talk of relaxing the visa regime between
India and Pakistan, the same goodwill does not seem
to apply to the countries'diplomats. Foreign and home offices
in both countries have continued to engage in petty one-
upmanship this winter. Last autumn. India barred Pakistan
High Commission diplomats in New Delhi from traveling to
the satellite cities of Gurgaon and Noida. After India did not
reconsider its decision for three months, Pakistan retaliated
in early January by restricting Indian diplomats to Islamabad,
and asking them henceforth to seek permission if they want
to visit Islamabad's twin city Rawalpindi or the nearby hill-
station of Murree.
The tit-for-tat intensified as India suggested that it might
even restrict Pakistani diplomats to precincts of New Delhi.
Not to be outdone, Pakistan countered that, since Islamabad
also had two parts (rural and urban), Indian diplomats might
be allowed movement in urban Islamabad only-
India claims that Gurgaon had never been on the approved
list of places Pakistani diplomats could visit without prior
notification, and so the matter was of enforcing an existing
regulation. South Block also argued that by equating Delhi
and Islamabad, Pakistan ignores the fact that Delhi is
significantly larger than the Pakistani capital: this evidently
implied that there is enough for Pakistani diplomats to do in
New Delhi, while the Indian diplomats in Islamabad could be
seriously culturally deprived if they were not able to vis t Murree
resorts or Rawalpindi dhabas.
Pakistani diplomats reportthat they and their families make
use of many facilities available in the urban sprawl outside of
New Delhi proper. The restrictions also made life difficult
because New Delhi's airport is located in the city's suburbs.
Islamabad insisted that its decisions were made solejy on the
haloed principles of reciprocation and retaliation.
This game of petty payback has been brought to a close for
now. however, as an agreement has been made to extend
diplomats access to two restricted towns in either country.
While Pakistan's representatives in New Delhi will no longer
be barred from Gurgaon and Noida, Indian diplomats in
Islamabad are being granted unsupervised access to Taxila
and to Hasanabdal, near Taxila, which houses an important
Sikhshrine. A
Party of India (Maoist)
publications, Nepal's
Maoists have been
vehemently criticised for
abandoning their
campaign so completely
and so quickly.
While the Communist
Party of Nepal (Maoist)'s
signing of the interim
constitution and
subsequent entrance
into multi-party politics
have been labelled
"opportunistic and anti-
revolutionary", particular
scorn has been set aside
for rebel leader Pushpa
Kamal Dahal
('Prachanda'). Indeed,
brooding poet P Varavara
Rao labelled Dahal's
decade-long guerrilla
career as short and
having had little impact
on the international
Maoist movement.
Similar dissatisfaction
was expressed by CPI
(Maoist) central
committee member
Azad in Jung: "Prachanda
has sought to ridicule
three decades of Maoist
movement to share
political power in the
Himalayan kingdom."
Others have expressed
the view that Dahal
single-handedly decided
the future of the party
without gauging the
(assumably more-
fervent) desires of
its members.
The Indian Maoists
appear particularly upset
about the rejection of the
prospects of the much-
ballyhooed 'red corridor'
stretching from Andhra
Pradesh to Nepal, which
had led to much
consternation in 'North
Block', where the Indian
Ministry of Home Affairs
resides. In November,
Prachanda had
dismissed the idea as
"an impossibility". Azad,
in apparent retaliation,
noted that the
Nepali rebel "appears [to
be] heavily under the
influence of the
Chinese government."    A
Economic outlook rosy
Despite an extreme
escalation in conflict
in the island nation, the Sri
Lankan government is
expected to seal
development and financial
deals worth USD two
billion in order to achieve
its target growth rate of
7.5 percent for 2007.
According to Treasury
Secretary P B Jayasundera.
2007 will reap the
benefits of the
momentum created in
2006. -'Overall, 2006 was
a healthy year for the Sri
Lankan economy," he
noted recently. He also
confirmed that exports
had exceeded eight
percent, remittances were
over USD two billion, and
tourism that continued
through the military
offensives had added
USD 450 million to
the economy.
"Except for inflation
said, "last year was a good
year. Government revenue
increased and
unemployment also
declined to 6.3 percent.
We are equally ambitious
in 2007." For 2007,
Jayasundera estimated
that official remittances
may exceed USD 2.7
billion, and revenue from
tourism will increase to up
to USD 500 million. A
Himal Southasian | February 2007
The promise of the interim
Bangladeshis may be sick of the decades of skirmishing between the country's two
major parties, but the interim government may not be able to clean house in the
way that many hope.
mouth existence. The lucrative apparels industry,
which contributes to the vast majority of the country's
export earnings, was reporting losses of millions of
dollars. By 11 January, when a state of emergency was
declared and a gentrified coup d'etat by a civilian
administration took place, the country's politics were
perched on the edge of disaster.
At the heart of the protests that bedevilled the
elections is a crude power struggle between the two
major political parties, the Awami League (AL) and the
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which had
relinquished power in late October to a caretaker
government that was to oversee the polls. The former,
leading a 'grand alliance', was set to boycott the
elections, accusing the arch-rival BNP of rigging the
voter list with phantom names during its five-year
tenure in power. These contentions have been
confirmed repeatedly, including by a recent study by
the US-based National Democratic Institute for
International Affairs, which reported that the voter rolls
did indeed have more than 12 million names that
were either "errors or duplicates". The AL also claimed
that the BNP and its coalition partner, the religious,
rightwing Jamaat-e-Islami, had planted BNP-friendly
bureaucrats in both the Election Commission and the
interim government that was empowered by the
Constitution to conduct the elections.
In a move that may have averted an imminent
crisis but perhaps doomed the eventual elections,
President lajuddin Ahmed, appointed during the BNP's
2001-2005 tenure, assumed the role of Chief Adviser
to the interim government in the last days of October
(See Himal December 2006, "Trying times for the
Bangladeshi democrat"). After that, Ahmed
systematically prevented every attempt by his interim
cabinet to ensure the neutrality of the electoral
process - including resisting the removal ofthe
controversial Chief Election Commissioner, M A Aziz,
who in turn had strenuously attempted to prevent a
correction of the erroneous voter rolls.
Enter Ershad
For these reasons, the political parties that made up
the AL's grand alliance had reasonable justification not
only to boycott the polls, but also to form nationwide
election-resistance committees, all of which took
The unslain demons of Bangladesh's politics have
returned to haunt a democracy that the small
Southasian state has struggled to preserve for
nearly two decades. On 22 January, Bangladesh was
supposed to go to the polls to elect a new government.
Instead, the elections have been scrapped, the
democratic political process has been derailed, and a
military-backed interim government now rules the
country by fiat. Had the political standoff of the first
week of January persisted, there is little doubt that a
bloodbath would have ensued.
Over the past three months, the streets of Dhaka
have seen a kind of political violence that has become
all too familiar. Police and protestors exchanged volleys
of teargas shells and Molotov cocktails that left
hundreds injured - all the while egged on by political
masters for whom any means is justified to achieve
power. Transport blockades crippled the economy,
particularly hurting the urban poor, who lead a hand-to-
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 place in the face of heavy state-sponsored intimidation.
Over this there can be little dispute. Unfortunately,
these were not the reasons why the grand alliance
ultimately withdrew its nomination papers for the
January elections. The real clash between the BNP
and the AL arose over the political allegiance of s
former military dictator, H M Ershad, whose autocratic
regime they had collaborated to topp e in a mass
uprising in 1990.
During the last week of December 2006, the Awami
League had accepted the flawed voter list, the
presidency of lajuddin Ahmed as well as the scheming
of M A Aziz. Just as the country was bracing itself for a
major political face-off, the transport blockades and
pitched street battles between the cadres of the AL and
BNP had looked likely to end. The AL subsequently
submitted its nominations to the Election Commission
after a few days of intense negotiations.
Then, during the first week of January, the AL and its
allies radically changed their stance. They accused the
BNP of leaning on the judiciary to resume proceedings
of a corruption case against H M Ershad - a member of
the League's grand alliance - that had disqualified him
from participating in the polls. Ershad is accused of
having helped himself to large amounts cf state funds
through crony contracts and theft, and a slew of
corruption cases had been filed against him after he
was ousted from power in 1990. The former gereral.
who has held on to a clutch of parliamentary seats in
the north, was initially courted by the BNP-Jamaat
alliance, and it was presumably in exchange for his
promise of loyalty that a number of corruption cases
against him were dropped in the run-up to the elections.
When Ershad defected to the AL's grand alliance in
early January, however, one of the pending corruption
cases against him suddenly came up for trial; in
accordance with rules that prevent criminals from
running for public office, his election nomination was
subsequently barred.
Whatever reasons the Awami League and its allies
may provide for their boycott of the elections, the reality
is that Ershad's exclusion from the polls threw a
spanner into their electoral calculations. The grand
alliance was clearly not ready to participate in elections
it stood a chance of losing.
Further indication is easily found of just how self-
serving and ideologically hollow the players of
Bangladesh's political arena have become in recent
years. The Awami League - traditionally backed by
Dhaka's intelligentsia for its secular roots - recently
signed a pact with the minor rightwing Islamist party
Khalefat-e-Majlish, agreeing to legalise fatwa, and to
legislate anti-blasphemy laws during its next stint in
power. Issuing a fatwa is currently a criminal offence
under Bangladeshi law not only because it undermines
the state's justice system, but also because it has
traditionally been used to perpetuate cruel, outdated,
patriarchal practices. What rationale could justify this
legal reversal by a political party whose founding fathers
had dreamt of    and fought for - a secular
Bangladesh9 The answer is remarkably simple: the
Awami League wants to cosy up to the Islamists, not
only to woo the 'Muslim' vote bank that won the BNP
the 2001 elections, but also to attract millions of
dollars in funding from West Asia in exchange for
espousing perceivably 'Islamic values".
And the BNP? During its years in power since 2001,
the party has been content to pawn whatever ideals its
own founding fathers had. in exchange for a stronger
grip on the sceptre of power. Over the past five years,
the BNP-Jamaat regime has sanctioned widespread
corruption; unabashedly politicised the judiciary, the
bureaucracy and the police; and tried every means
possible to ensure its safe return to power through
rigged elections. As the country's law-and-order
situation spiralled out of control due to the accelerating
merger between political parties and crime, the BNP-
Jamaat alliance tried to appease voters by creating an
elite commando unit, the Rapid Action Battalion, in
early 2004. The RAB has since killed over 700
'terrorists' in what are widely believed to be false
encounters, with an immunity that defiles every
democratic ideal. It was also through the political
patronage of powerful BNP leaders that radical Islamist
outfits steadily grew in power and influence,
orchestrating a series of suicide bombings and targeted
assassinations of their critics, even as the government
continually denied their existence.
National soap opera
While both political parties routinely cite the
Constitution to bar each other's moves, they are
unequivocally opposed to abiding by any rule ofthe
game that the Constitution specifies. And they are able
to justify the use of every means - legal or violent - to
capture power.
The level of banality to which the political process
has descended is best described by the bitter hatred
between the two leaders ofthe AL and BNP. Sheikh
Hasina, who heads the former, inherited her party
position from her father, Bangladesh's founder-
president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was killed
along with most members of his family in a military '
coup in 1975. Khaleda Zia on the other hand is the
widow of Major General Ziaur Rahman, whose four-year
presidency ended with his assassination in a military
coup in 1981. While both women have served terms as
the prime minister or the leader ofthe opposition in
Parliament over the last 15 years, they never speak to
each other, and often hurl the most acrimonious of
insults at one another through the media-
Sheikh Hasina believes that Ziaur Rahman was
among those who plotted and killed her father on 15
August 1975, and frequently says as much in public. At
the same time, Khaleda Zia has taken to celebrating
her own birthday on 15 August, baulking its observance
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 The Awami League - traditionally backed by Dhaka's intelligentsia for its secular
roots - recently signed a pact with the minor rightwing Islamist party Khalefat-e-
Majlish, agreeing to legalise fatwa, and to legislate anti-blasphemy laws during its
next stint in power.
as a day of national mourning when the AL is in power,
and cancelling state mourning altogether when she was
prime minister.
During her stint in power from 1996-2001. Sheikh
Hasina changed school textbooks to depict her father
as the hero of the country's 1971 War of Independence
against Pakistan, and the one who made the ultimate
proclamation of independence. She also made it
mandatory for every government and quasi-government
office to hang portraits of Sheikh Mujib, proclaiming
him as the father of the nation and issuing bank notes
depicting his image. When Khaleda Zia came to power
in 2001. she had the textbooks rewritten, and they now
depict her late husband as the 1971 war hero and
credit him with the proclamation of independence. She
also had Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's portraits removed
from government offices, and replaced the bank notes
with a new issue.
Extra-constitutional intervention
It is against this backdrop that the recent assumption
of power by a non-political third force is being seen by
Dhaka's middle and upper classes as a 'compulsion of
national interest'. Dhaka's influential elite believe a
'massive clean-up' is necessary before the political
process resumes, and the interim government, led by a
former World Bank economist, has already announced
that it may not be able to hold elections for another six
months at least. In its first week in power, the interim
government made ample use of its powers to arrest
without warrant. With the army prowling the streets,
over 12,000 people have been arrested, and the crime
godfathers are reportedly in hiding. The interim
government has also taken steps to separate the
judiciary from the executive branch and it now plans to
launch a nationwide voter-ID-card project to resolve
controversies over the voter rolls.
There is a sense of heady exhilaration among
Dhaka's educated classes - a feeling that the interim
government will indeed be able to translate rhetoric
into reality and stem the country's corruption and
political acrimony in one fell swoop. Unable to curb
their enthusiasm, a number of editors of influential
national dailies - who assume they speak as the
nation's conscience - have already stamped their
endorsement of the right of a government
that - well-intentioned as it may be - is undemocratic
and non-political, to make decisions on the people's
behalf. For their part, the political parties are playing
the waiting game, intimidated by the possibility that
the interim administration may punish dissent by
probing the links some of them have to organised crime
and big business.
In not internalising that this interim government, too,
will have its own compulsions, the Bangladeshi
intelligentsia may be setting itself up for
disillusionment. The Bangladeshi Constitution demands
that when a state of emergency is declared, the next
parliament must amend the Constitution to ratify the
actions undertaken during that emergency. When the
interim government eventually lifts its state of
emergency to hold elections, it will face becoming extra-
constitutional and its members liable for prosecution
unless the Constitution is changed by the next
Parliament in order to retrospectively justify its actions
and to legalise its members' tenure. Amendments to
the Constitution, however, can only be made through a
two-thirds majority decision in Parliament. This will
require the support of both major political parties, as
neither is likely to hold a two-thirds majority on its own if
existing alliances hold. It was similar circumstances
that led former military dictator H M Ershad to form his
Jatiya Party in 1986. which swept the sham elections
he held and went on to amend the Constitution and
legalise his rule.
The first signs of decay are already evident in the
current interim government's actions. Detainees have
started suddenly falling 'ill' and dying at the hands of
law enforcers. Black-money magnates are eluding
arrest as the joint forces run window-dressing night
raids on brothels. Dhaka's roads are wider because its
makeshift kitchen markets have been bulldozed and
its hawkers banished, but few of the fortunes made
during the tenure of the past BNP government are being
scrutinised. There are rumours that the ambitious voter-
ID-card project could take over a year to complete,
paving the way for a long stint in power of an non-
elected government that, as the media has recently
found, has no compulsion to be accountable.
Sadly, it seems increasingly that the promised cleanup ofthe political process, crack-down on corruption
and reform ofthe electoral mechanism are not as likely
as they had seemed in the second week of January.
This realisation is now percolating through society, and
people are reconciling themselves to the fact that they
must consider once again the age-old question of what
can realistically be achieved' in their hopes for the
interim government. As this happens, the question is
being asked as to whether the citizens of Bangladesh
are willing to see their fundamental human rights
suspended in a state of emergency perpetrated by a
government they did not elect. &
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
Hawks descend on Assam
In the realm of Assamese aspirations, there are important distinctions between
'independence' and 'sovereignty'.
Two years ago, it had looked as though talks
between the United Liberation Front of Asom
(ULFA) and the government of India would begin,
and a solution would be found to a conflict some
describe as terrorism for secession and others as a
nationalist struggle for space and identity. A good
beginning was made when the ULFA issued a manifesto
that described its economic ideology and political
stratedgy. The document spoke of the nation of Assam
being ready to deal with the nation of India as well as
other nations within Assam, and mentioned
sovereignty rather than independence. The socialist
Assamese nation would have overall control of the
economy, especially the tea industry, which makes up
56 percent of India-wide output, but which is controlled
from Calcutta.
It had seemed that the ULFA wanted the manifesto
to be the starting point for talks with the central
government, and for the first time a militant outfit was
spelling out its political as well as economic positions.
While the political positioning seemed ambiguous and
the socialism espoused somewhat dated, the
manifesto certainly provided the basis for negotiations.
The Centre responded positively, committing itself
openly to talks. The ULFA formed the People's
Consultative Group (PCG) as a think tank to assist it
in the parleys.
Problems began immediately, for within weeks came
an army crackdown on the ULFA in a wildlife sanctuary
in Dibrugarh District. An explosion attributed to the
rebels killed several children at Dhemaji on
Independence Day, 15 August 2005, There were
explosions in Guwahati and elsewhere throughout the
following year, ail of which were attributed to the ULFA.
The latest act was the killing of Biharis in the Tinsukia
and Dibrugarh districts in January 2007. The
government has invariably attributed the explosions
and killings to the ULFA, without producing adequate
proof, and with each blast or killing the possibility of
negotiations recedes. The killings of Biharis have now
pushed back talks indefinitely.
Hawks on Assam
To understand the players in the Assam problem, it
needs to be accepted that neither the ULFA nor the
government of India is monolithic. Within each, there
are both hardliners and those who accept the need for
dialogue. While many political figures in the present
government in New Delhi seem willing to keep an open
mind, one could not say the same about the security
forces, nor the apparatchiks within the Ministry of
Defence. Additionally, there is a hawkish mindset
among those from mainland India who control the
economy of the Northeast, including Assam. The ULFA,
too, has its hawks, many of them inhabiting Upper
Assam, but not exclusively so.
There is a distance in both ideology and the
understanding of 'sovereignty' and 'autonomy' between
the two sides. The hardliners in the ULFA seem to veer
towards independence, while the mainland hawks
believe in centralisation, in addition to perceiving the
Northeast as a buffer zone to be maintained under the
total control of the Centre. There is such a focus on
national security and territorial matters that there is no
openness to the concept of autonomy. The mainland
hawks like to speak of a single Indian culture,
which of course reflects the culture of Hindi-speaking
India. As one scholar says, Indian-ness is determined by
one's Aryan-ness.
This goes against the struggle for Assamese identity
that is central to the ULFA cause. While the Assamese
people do not support violence, nor some of the other
ULFA positions, the demand for cultural and identity-
based exclusivity as well as autonomous economy has
near-universal support among the population. The
majority may not support the hardliners of Upper Assam
who talk of secession from India, but the identity issue
can nevertheless mobilise the masses, who feel
dominated by the Hindi-speaking region.
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 Many of the attacks which contributed to stalling the
peace process have to be situated within this scenario.
The Assamese hawks are wary of any dialogue, and it is
also true that a long-drawn conflict creates its own
vested interests. The low-intensity warfare has been
beneficial to the security forces and to those who are
involved in the arms and drug trades. Meanwhile, the
power centres controlling the economy would have a
strong vested interest against rapprochement and
consideration of autonomy demands, because that
would automatically signal loss of control over the
economic levers. Similar vested interests have also
developed within the militant groups, with rampant
extortion and consolidation of social and political power
amidst the insurgency. Some Guwahati analysts believe
that many security operations are conducted not
because they are needed, but to forestall the dialogue
process. The security forces themselves on occasion
are thought to be engineering explosions.
But no one considers the hardliners in the ULFA to be
innocent, and the latest killings are seen to be their
handiwork. In a plebiscite conducted on the matter of
'sovereignty' recently, out of three million Assamese
polled, 95 percent opposed sovereignty. Newspapers
with little sympathy for the cause of autonomy
highlighted this issue. Identifying 'sovereignty' with
independence', these papers presented the ULFA as
isolated from the Assamese population. The killings
came two days later, as a message from the ULFA
hardliners that they cannot be taken for granted.
Immigrant demographics
The Northeast and Assam have had an immigrant
problem, and the focus of the media and the political
parties is on the Bangladeshi migrants. In reality, the
2001 census shows that the Bengali-speaking Muslims
make up only about a third of the immigrants. In 2001,
Assam had four million more immigrants than shown in
the 1971 census, and about 1.7 million of those were
Bengali-speaking Muslims, the rest being Biharis and
Nepalis. The Muslims live mostly in western and
southern Assam, while the Hindi-speakers are
concentrated in Upper Assam, particularly in Tinsukia.
The Assamese view the growing number of outsiders
- whether Bengali. Hindi-speaking or Nepali - as an
attack on their identity, and also as a threat to their
economy through land encroachments. The immigrants
also do low-paid jobs as construction workers, rickshaw
pullers and the like. In the context of high
unemployment in Assam - about three million is the
estimate in a population of 27 million - resentment is
easily developed towards them. The Bengali-speaker
becomes the prime target as the predominant group in
lower Assam, whereas in Upper Assam and Karbi
Anglong it is the Hindi-speaking Biharis.
The immigrant encroachments to an extent explain
the ambiguity in the muted reaction of ethnic Assamese
to the January killings. Most of them condemned the
action, but local groups such as the All Assam Students'
Union did not call a bandfi. That call was given by the
Bihari-dominated Assam Bhojpuri Association, which
received poor response from the locals and was
observed mainly on the main highways and in the Barak
Valley of southern Assam, where there are a good
number of Bengali-speaking immigrants.
There are more complexities under the surface. The
Hindu-fundamentalist forces in the state are alleging
that the killings were a conspiracy to turn Assam into a
Muslim-majority state by sending Hindus away. A daily
newspaper went as far as to ask the ULFA why it was
attacking Hindu Biharis and not the Muslim
Bangladeshis, overlooking the fact that Upper Assam
does not have many Muslim immigrants. The overall
reaction of the political parties and state bodies
was to demand retribution with no talk of a search for
peace based on justice. In the process, the
thinking that identifies 'sovereignty' with
'independence' is legitimised.
Indira Goswami, the facilitator of the dialogue
between the establishment and the rebels, has
declared at a press conference that she does not
support sovereignty. Meanwhile, the killings have
provided the security forces the legitimacy required to
take charge of the region, and the Bihar Regiment has
been brought to Upper Assam. During the next few
months one can expect every Assamese village to
feel the burden of threat. The fear will result in
resentment, and one can expect the cause of the ULFA
to gain sympathisers. Many of the new converts
will be hardliners.
The central government takes a large portion of the
blame for the renewed descent into violence in Assam.
It has maintained an ambiguous position with regard to
the PCG as the civil-society interlocutor, knowing full
well that the ULFA requires such a group to facilitate the
parley. Most of the ULFA cadre who had a political
understanding of the issues and would be in a position
to skilfully negotiate were killed in the Bhutan operation
of December 2003. The equivocal position of the state
and central governments towards the PCG was also
reflected in the media.
It is important to realise that the ULFA represents the
socio-economic and political aspirations of the people
of Assam, even as most Assamese do not support the
means it uses. But the fact is that the matter of
militancy in Assam cannot be resolved through use of
the armed forces against the ULFA. The political process
has to be re-started, and the national-security issue, as
seen through a New Delhi lens, must not be allowed to
dominate the agenda. Territory is not the central issue
in Assam; it is the matter of identity and autonomy. If
repression becomes the main tool, one can expect
resentment to grow and violence to follow. The
vicious circle in Assam has to be broken through a
political process, for which the state side must
reactivate civil society. A
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
Constitutional reform for
the republic of Sri Lanka
Despite some initial scepticism, a series of high-level
committees have formulated some surprisingly
progressive proposals for the future of Sri Lanka. Much
now depends on how the government's hard-line
elements respond.
Two cabinet ministers
flanked Sri Lankan President
Mahinda Rajapakse when he
met visiting Indian Foreign Minister
Pranab Mukherjee in mid-January,
One was Mukherjee's counterpart
Mangala Samaraweera. The other
was Minister for Science and
Technology Tissa Vitharana. The
latter was present not in his
ministerial capacity but in his
new avatar as chairman of an
all-party forum convened by
Rajapakse to formulate proposals for
constitutional reform.
Vitharana's role in the meeting
was to explain in depth the recent
progress made by Sri Lanka in the
sphere of constitutional reform. New
Delhi had been exerting pressure on
Colombo to evolve a political
consensus on such reform among
political parties represented in
Parliament. This consensus was to
include agreement on a scheme of
devolution aimed at resolving the
Tamil national question. Vitharana, a
leader of Sri Lanka's Trotskyite Lanka
Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), had
played a prominent role in the search
for greater devolution, and
there could not have been a better
man to hold forth on the subject for
India's benefit.
Ethnic relations in Sri Lanka have
reached a terrible low after
Rajapakse became president in
November 2005. The February 2002
Ceasefire Agreement between the
government of Sri Lanka and
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
has been nominally in force, and yet
since Rajapakse came to power, an
undeclared war has been raging
between the security forces and the
Tigers. In the past year, the conflict
has resulted in the death of more than
3000 people and displaced more
than 125,000.
Amidst such a gloomy scenario, the
constitutional-reform process has
provided the only ray of hope. History
may insist that it is premature to pin
expectations on the current exercise,
since constitutional reform in Sri
Lanka has often started with a bang
but inevitably degenerated into
negative whimpers. But given the
fact that few expected the reforms
idea process to come even this
far, a little optimism may not be
entirely unwarranted.
It was international pressure
spearheaded by India that compelled
Rajapakse to convene an All Party
Representative Committee (APRC) in
July last year. The president also
appointed a Committee of Experts to
advise the APRC on constitutional
reform. All parties in Parliament
except for the Tamil National Alliance
(TNA), which has pro-LTTE leanings,
were invited. The United National Party
(UNP), the main opposition, declined
but indicated before long that it would
participate if the APRC came up with
some concrete proposals. The UNP
attended sittings in December after
the expert reports were presented to
the APRC. It also indicated its
preference for the majority report
above others.
There is reason in the UNP's
scepticism. Various all-party
conferences have been held before
this without meaningful results. Their
meetings have been meandering,
time-consuming exercises. Often they
have been time-buying ruses for
governments entertaining dreams of
Himal Southasian ! February 2007
 Rajapakse asks
Vitharana for help
bringing an end to the conflict through
military means. As such, there
were doubts when President
Rajapakse first embarked upon the
current exercise.
The majority report
The APRC had representatives from
13 political parties. It was headed by
the much-respected Professor
Vitharana, while the experts
committee was chaired by eminent
lawyer H L de Silva. Suspicion that
Rajapakse was using the APRC as a
'showcase' to hoodwink the world at
large gained ground soon after the
committee and its panel of experts
commenced sittings in September.
Later, de Silva stepped down and was
replaced by retired civil servant M D D
Peiris. The APRC proceeded aimlessly
as expected, with the political parties
refusing to budge from their
entrenched positions.
The Committee of Experts had 17
representatives. These were mainly
lawyers, academics and legal officials
specialising in constitutional law. This
panel, too, had its divisions. Two broad
schools of thought emerged among
its members. One advocated
maximum devolution within a unitary
state. The other was not prepared to
go that distance. Since Rajapakse's
stated vision - known as 'Mahinda
Chintana' - was of a unitary state,
the terms of reference entirely
excluded the term federal.
Through November, pressure
mounted to speed up the process of
putting together a draft of
recommendations for constitutional
reform. Rajapakse had reportedly
assured Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv
Shankar Menon that such a draft
would be ready by 15 December. The
onus was now on the experts to
deliver. As activity was expedited,
other rifts within the group appeared
on the surface. The expert panel
fragmented even further. Of the 17
experts, 11 formulated what came to
be known as the 'majority report'. Six
of those who endorsed this were
Sinhala, four were Tamil, and one was
Muslim. Four other Sinhala members
ofthe panel presented another report,
described by the media as the
'minority report'. Two other Sinhala
members submitted a dissenting
report each. Thus, on 6 December, the
APRC had presented before it four
different reports.
When details of the reports came
to light, it became apparent that the
'majority' report, formulated by a muiti-.
ethnic majority ofthe panel members,
also featured the most progressive
recommendations. It suggested, for
instance, that a senate be set up; that
two vice-presidents be designated,
from ethnicities different to that ofthe
president; that an internally
autonomous zonal council be created
for the up-country Tamils of recent
Indian origin; that a bill of rights be
tabled; that the right to self-
determination be acknowledged; and
that asymmetrical powers be given for
the northeast directly, and for other
units too, if deemed necessary by the
respective provinces.
The report recommended that the
country be called the Republic of Sri
Lanka, without explicit reference to
the nature of the republican state.
Though it did not stipulate whether the
state should be 'unitary' or 'federal',
maximum devolution of powers was
recommended, amounting almost to
a proposal of federalism. The province
was to be the unit to which powers
would be devolved.
On the question of whether the
Northern and Eastern provinces
should left as one or de-merged, the
report proposed four options. One
option was of a merged, Tamil-majority
northeast with sub-units within it for
the Sinhala and Muslim communities.
The second was to de-merge the two
provinces but to have an overarching
apex council linking them. The third
was to re-draw existing boundaries
and re-demarcate the east, paving the
way for a  new,  Muslim-majority
province. The fourth was to keep both
provinces merged for ten years and
then hold a referendum by which the
eastwould   decide   whether  the
merger should continue.
Constitutional punditry
While the majority report received the
support of a substantial section of
national and international opinion, it
caused a furore among Sinhala
ultra-nationalists. The nationalist-
socialist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna
(JVP) withdrew from the APRC and
accused the government of
backing a condemnable report. As
opposition mounted vociferously,
President Rajapakse distanced
himself from the report. Cabinet
spokesperson Anura Priyadharshana
Yapa, in a convoluted official
communique, disassociated the
government from it.
APRC chairman Vitharana calmed
these troubled waters somewhat by
stating that he would compile some
fresh proposals for further discussion
at the APRC. He said that he would
collate the better points made by all
four documents into one
comprehensive report. Given the
contradictory contents of the four
reports, to find or forge commonality
seemed a near-impossible task.
Some expected the final product
to be severely diluted in content
and form.
The veteran Trotskyite pleasantly
surprised the sceptics. On 8 January,
Vitharana presented his report to the
APRC as a confidential document
titled "Main Proposals to Form the
Basis for a Future Constitution of Sri
Lanka". Discussions on the proposals
were scheduled for 22 January. In
the meantime, the controversial
document found its way into the
media's hands. According to media
reports, the Vitharana proposals had
incorporated the bulk ofthe majority
report. Aside from some significant
changes, including the matter of
concurrent powers to be granted to
both centre and periphery, and doing
away with suggestions such as
granting asymmetrical powers to
the North-East Province and a zonal
council   for   up-country   Tamils,
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 While a wider consensus is important, realpolitik decrees that a bi-partisan consensus
of the SLFP and LUMP is essential to the functioning of any process of political change.
the Vitharana proposals do not differ
substantially from those of
that document.
So when Pranab Mukherjee arrived
in Colombo on 10 January, the Sri
Lankan government had proposals
ready to show. Vitharana was made
to present at Rajapakse's meeting
with Mukherjee, and the professor
assured the Indian foreign minister
that the final document would be
ready in three months. Mukherjee
seemed impressed.
Three possibilities
Several rounds of discussions are
expected to take place in the coming
weeks, in preparation of the final
report. According to constitutional
pundits, the working paper remains
the best effort in proposed reform
thus far. It remains to be seen whether
the proposals will benefit or suffer
from further deliberations. Three
developments threaten the future
course of the APRC. One is the
pressure mounted on Rajapakse by
Sinhala ultra-nationalists, and it will
be important to watch how he reacts
to this pressure. It has been reported
that the president is displeased with
the Vitharana proposals and that he
would like to jettison them. As
Rajapakse was elected on a hard-line
platform with much support from
Sinhala hawks, it may be difficult for
him to disregard their influence even
if he would like to do so.
Another development to watch is
the sour turn in the relationship
between the government and the
chief opposition. The history of post-
Independence Sn Lanka is replete
with instances of massive political
rivalry between the currently ruling Sri
Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the
UNP. This rivalry has badly impacted
the ethnic problem, as when one
proposes a solution the other
almost invariably opposes it. The
growth of the two-party system in Sri
Lanka can be argued to be closely
inter-related to the deterioration in
ethnic relations.
International observers have
identified the lack of a majoritarian
or even a Sinhala or Southern
consensus as one of the major
impediments to resolving the Tamil
national question, and the APRC is a
result of subsequent international
efforts. The committee would not
have come into being, however,
without the memorandum of
understanding signed between the
SLFP and UNP last October. While a
wider consensus is important,
realpolitik decrees that a bi-partisan
consensus of the SLFP and UNP is
essential to the functioning of any
process of political change. Together,
these two parties make up almost
two-thirds of the present Parliament.
They also share 72 percent
of the popular vote. Since major
amendments to the present
Constitution as well as the promulgation of a new constitution both require
a two-thirds majority and ratification
by a nation-wide referendum, a SLFP-
UNP alliance is indispensable.
While the signing of the
memorandum of understanding, by
which both parties pledged to work
together to find a political settlement
to the ethnic problem, and the
participation of the UNP in the APRC
both gave the committee a significant
boost, now a new problem has
appeared. Between 15 and 20
MPs from the UNP are currently trying
to defect to the ranks of the
government. Rajapakse is encouraging the defections in order to
bolster his majority in the Parliament.
The UNP has pointed out that such
actions would violate the spirit of the
MoU, and Rajapakse has been
told to choose between the MoU and
the defections. Indeed, a mass
defection would jeopardise the
MoU, and this in turn would
affect the chances the APRC
has of forging consensus on
constitutional reform.
The third factor that will impact the
proceedings of the APRC is the war. If
the LTTE responds on a greater scale
to the military push by the state
security forces, the conflict could
intensify and spread. Escalation
would alter the political climate
drastically, and a major casualty could
be the constitutional-reform process.
Whatever pitfalls lie ahead, there is
no denying that progress has been
made on the road to constitutional
reform. There is light at the end of the
tunnel. Let us hope it comes from a
place we want to be. i
Himal Southasian available at Oxford!
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Bangoloie, Madras and Bombay.
Thoughtful - Irreverent - Coherent - Regional
Himot 5outhasion - The monrhly magazine fmm Koltimandu
Himal Southasian | February 2007
Gandhi and the general
New Delhi's appeasement of the Rangoon junta is perhaps best exemplified by a
ceremony that took place during General Than Shwe's October 2004 visit to India.
If you want to see the most brutal dictator in the
world at present, go to Rajghat in Delhi, the site
where Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was
cremated on 31 January 1948. It is a special
sight indeed.
The tinting is early morning on 25 October 2004.
Senior General Than Shwe, the supreme head of the
Burmese military dictatorship, along with his
entourage, comes in through the main entrance. The
grass is well manicured, the flowers placed by the
Horticulture Department are immaculate, and a sickly-
sweet smell reminds you that someone has placed
incense sticks in all the right placeaS. Hidden speakers
gently release Gandhi's favourite hymn into the calm
morning air, Vaishnav jan to iaynay kahyeeye.
Translated, the softly intoned words say:
A godlike man is one,
Who feels another's pain
Who shares another's sorrow,
And pride does disdain.
Who regards himself as the lowliest of the low,
Speaks not a word of evil against any one
One who keeps himself steadfast in words, body and mind,
Blessed is the mother who gives birth to such a son.
Appropriately, Than Shwe's wreath is made up of
white flowers. Two bodyguards are carrying the
wreath, and walk a step ahead of the Supreme
Dictator. The bodyguards are in dark suits and ties,
clean shaven, smart arid tough. They are all wearing
new white sneakers. The Supreme Dictator hmtself is
impeccably dressed in a dark suit and tie, but he wears
black leather shoes. The entourage moves slowly.
General Shwe's aide instinctively flicks a speck of dust
off of the back of the bodyguard carrying the wreath -
just in case the general sees it and disapproves. Almost
everybody looks pleasant, although Shwe has no
expression on his face, and the gathered Indian
dignitaries seem a little apprehensive.
The Supreme Dictator eventually reaches the all-
important spot, where Gandhi's feet would have been
when he lay on the funeral pyre. The wreath is placed.
Tt is time for the parikrama. Tire entourage must now
respectfully walk around the funeral site, and the
general comes back to the spot again. He is still stone-
faced at the end of the circumambulation. As he
encircles the sacred spot, the volume from the
speakers inexplicably rises. A basket of rose petals
appears from nowhere.
The photographers ready their cameras. The
Supreme Dictator is very particular about his image -
he does not like to be seen too often. In person, he seems
to be the silent, standing-in-the-background, grim-
faced tough sort of character. He is very superstitious,
and perhaps also a nervous kind of dictator; he does
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 not kill simply, but likes to watch his country's
resistance leaders bleed to death. He is very aware of
the blood on his hands. As chairman of the ruling State
Peace and Development Council, or SPDC, and
commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Than Shwe
is the seniormost leader of the military regime, which
he has led since 23 April 1992.
Born in 1933 near the town of Mandalay, Than Shwe
is said to be an introvert, who often makes decisions
after consultation with his personal astrologers. He
worked in the postal service before joining the army's
Officer Training School at age 20, where he became an
members reportedly prefer to address each other with
royal titles.
Blood-red petals
The moment finally arrives. Than Shwe has come back
to the place where Gandhi's feet laid at his final resting
place. It is the 21st century. Aung San Suu Kyi is still
Imprisoned. Thousands of political activists, artists,
poets, journalists across three generations have been
killed, lie in prisons or are scattered in exile across the
globe. Blithely, the Supreme Dictator picks up a
handful of soft rose petals and tosses them gently into
expert in psychological warfare. .An army captain in
1960, by 1985 he was promoted to Major General and
named Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army. After the
bloody crackdown on Burma's pro-democracy
student demonstrations in 1988, Shwe became
vice-chairman of the then-ruling State Law and Order
Restoration Council (SLORC), Deputy Minister of
Defence, and the Army Chief of Staff. In 1990, he was
promoted to general.
Those who have spent significant time around Than
Shwe say that he thinks and acts as though he is a
king, and Is rumoured to seat visitors at his home in
chairs lower than his own -just as did his predecessor,
the longtime dictator Ne Win. Than Shwe's family
the air. They fall silently on Gandhi. The Supreme
Dictator reaches out again towards the basket. There
is no still no change in his expression.
Suddenly, a panicky photographer shouts, evidently
having missed the choice moment: "Excuse me, sir,
excuse me! Once more! Once more, please!" The general
pauses for a moment - Vaishnav jan to taynay kahyeeye
swells on the speakers and Than Shwe shoots the
photographer a quick, loaded glance from the corner
of his eye. An aide whispers into the general's ear.
The mask remains expressionless. Nonetheless, he
obliges the lensman and tosses the rose petals yet again.
The aides smile, obviously in relief. The photographer
clicks repeatedly.
Confidence-building manoeuvre
As exemplified by Than Shwe's 2004 visit to one of
India's most venerated national sites, New Delhi's
policies towards its undemocratic eastern neighbour
arefarfrom motivated by an understanding of Burma's
appalling human-rights record. This past December,
another Burmese general visited India - the country's
secbndHn-command, General Thura Shwe Mann. At
India Gate, Thura Shwe was allowed to flag off e race
dubbed the India-Burma Friendship Car Rally. At the :
ceremony, the genera! stood alongside Defence Minister
A K Antony and the Indian Army chief J J Singh.
Thura Shwe also toured the National Defence
Academy in Khadakvasla, India's premier officer-
training school, and visited the headquarters ofthe
Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, as well
as the-Tata Motors plant in Pune, which manufactures
vehicles for the Indian military. The Burmese delegation
reportedly discussed issues including border security and
military cooperation. An Indian Ministry of Defence;
spokesman dubbed Thura Shwe's visit a major
confidence-building    manoeuvre    between    the
two capitals.
The journey was really just the latest in a String of
increased military cooperation and discussions between
New Delhi and Rangoon. Just a month earlier, Indian Air
Force chief S P Tyagi had offered a multi'milliond-dollar
aid package to. Burma's military. Defence Secretary
Shekhar Dutt quietly visited Rangoon in September
2006, a trip that J J Singh himself had made the previous
November. On 21 January 2007, Pranab Mukherjee,-
the new Foreign Minister, held confabulations with
Vice-Senior General Maung Aye at Burma's new
administrative capital of Naypyidaw, increasing India's
military aid to the junta.
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 The hymn is now very loud, shrieking in frenzy.
The general picks up the rose petals again and tosses
them, again and again and again.
Miraculously, the basket of petals never
seems to empty; our supply of rose petals
is endless, and the general keeps throwing
and throwing. He is still throwing them
there today. If you want to see the most
brutal dictator in the world at present, go
to the Rajghat. It is a special sight indeed.
The posture is awkward, the face a little
strained, but he is still throwing, the petals falling on
the Samadhi sthal in a quiet flurry. Jk
Despite New Delhi's
strengthening of ties
with the Burmese junta,
Rangoon's crackdown on
resistance continues
unabated. On 16 October
2006, Thet Win Aung, then
aged 34, died in a Mandalay
prison. He was serving a 59-
Thet Win Aung
year prison sentence for having taken part in organising
student protests since 1988, when he was a high-school
student. Although students are not officially allowed to
form unions, in 1989 Thet Win became Vice-General
Secretary of the Basic Education Student Union (BESU),
an organisation set up in 1988 without official
approval. Two years later, he was dismissed from school
and imprisoned for nine months. During much of his
time in prison, Thet Win was reportedly
severely tortured.
Following Thet Win's initial release, he
became a leading member of the All Burma
Federation of Student Unions, the unauthorised umbrella
organisation for student unions in Burma. He again
became involved in publishing leaflets and organising
demonstrations, and was forced to go into hiding after
the authorities tried to arrest him in 1994. He nevertheless
took part in student demonstrations in December 1996
and, in 1998, helped to rally students against the poor
quality of education and denial of human rights.
Thet Win Aung was finally arrested in October 1998.
The following January he was sentenced to 52 years
in prison, which was increased to 59 years after
further interrogation. Eight years after he was
arrested, police informed his parents that their son had
died in prison. The authorities subsequently rejected
the request of Thet Win's father to postpone the funeral
service by one day and to allow his son's body to be brought
back to Rangoon, telling the bereaved that "everything
has been arranged".
"We believe that physical and psychological torture
inflicted on [Thet Win] by his captors was the main reason
for his untimely death," said Aung Din ofthe US-
based Campaign for Burma. The pressure group
estimates that there are currently 1600 political
prisoners in Burma.
On 19 September 2006, Burmese activists
Rangoon marked the 18th anniversary of
the death of Win Maw Oo, a high-school student
who was shot dead by Burmese soldiers during
the 1988 student protests. Win Maw Oo was one of the
hundreds of protestors killed in Rangoon after the military
coup of 18 September 1988.
"1 got a phone call from the hospital. She was  \A/jri   IWIsiU/   Oo
and brothers weren't able to see her when we
buried her. At the funeral, there were only
25 people at most. We had to do it behind
locked doors."
"I still miss my daughter every day," says Win Maw Oo's
mother, Khin Htay Htay Win. "Today, I want to cry the way
still conscious at the time," Win Maw Oo's father,
Win Kyu, recounted about learning of his daughter's fate.
"She gave them the names of her father, mother, home
address, telephone number. At the hospital, after the
operations, she was put in the intensive-care room. She
was unconscious.! had to retrieve her body from a doctor.
When 1 asked the cause of her death, the doctor told me
it was due to shrapnel wounds. Only then was I able to
retrieve her body. Then, I was told to bury her within 24
hours ... I also had to sign a pledge saying that she was
not involved in [political] activities. Her younger sisters
my daughter cried.
They said that they
opened fire in the sky.
But they aimed at her
straight. That's why she
died straight away. In
my heart, my daughter
did it for her country;
she gave up her life for
the country."
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Over the monsoon of 1946, as the contest
between the Congress Party and the Muslim
League was determining the fate of the
Subcontinent, a very different fortune for colonial India's
erstwhile province of Burma was also being framed.
A little a more than four years earlier, the Fifteenth
Imperial Army of General Shojiro lida had driven the British
out of Burma, turningthe country into a gigantic battlefield
in a vicious fight that led to the complete destruction of
nearly every city and town. The radical nationalist fighters
under Aung San had first collaborated with the Japanese,
and then in the spring of 1945 turned against their
mentors, Aung San declaring himself an Allied commander
and head of a provisional government.
The returning British at first chose to sideline Aung San,
planning for a long period of reconstruction, elections and
gradual transfer of power. But Aung San upped the
pressure, attracting huge crowds of supporters and quietly
threatening a mass uprising. Jawaharlal Nehru insisted
that the Indian Army would not be available to quell a
Burmese revolt and the British, their hands full with
Palestine and India, decided that the prudent thing to do
was to quit Burma.
And so they did, in January 1948. But six months
beforehand, Aung San, together with most of his Cabinet,
had been gunned down in a still-mysterious terrorist
attack. The most senior Burmese in the Indian Civil
Service, U Tin Tut, a King's Commissioned Officer and
Refraining the
'Burma question'
It is important that Burma's well-wishers better understand the country's complex
history and complicated present, and use creative and sensible ways of negotiating
with its military establishment.
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 slated to head the new Burma Army, would soon be killed
as well, by unknown assailants. Even worse, the country's
leading communists - including many of the brightest
and most capable of their generation - had gone
underground and were plotting rebellion. By the time the
last of the Yorkshire Light Infantry had sailed away from
Rangoon harbour to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne", Burma
was already at civil war - a warthat has continued without
interruption to this very day. the longest-running armed
conflict in the world.
For months, the infant Burmese government, under
Aung San's friend and colleague U Nu, battled against an
array of communist insurgencies, at first depending on
the loyalty of ethnic Karen and Kachin battalions, trained
by the British and now merged together with the Japanese-
trained battalions of Aung San's partisan force. Slowly,
however, the army began to splinter. New militia and
bandit gangs overran the Irrawaddy Valley. Meanwhile,
the Karen, seeking their own state within the
Commonwealth, split from the Burma Army and raised
their own flag of rebellion. In early 1949, the Karens and
the communists jointly occupied Mandalay. The soldiers
of U Nu's government, led by General Ne Win, fought to
hold the frontline just outside Rangoon. Over the next few
years, the fighting would only intensify, but with a new
inter-ethnic element, adding to the immense destruction
already wrought by the Second World War.
Today, sixty years later, there is a belief among many
that the 'Burma problem' is something new. The anti-
government demonstrations of 1988, crushed with great
brutality; the failure of the military government to respect
the results of the 1990 elections; the rise of Aung San
Suu Kyi as leader of the opposition - all of these frame a
seemingly straightforward picture of 'democracy vs
tyranny' and 'progressive change vs intransigence'. For
many, the problem of Burma is the problem of the present
military government and that government's failure to
move towards meaningful democratic reform. There is a
sense that all would be well if only the military would step
aside, and to make this happen many advocate sanctions,
boycotts and long-distance condemnation as a way of
pressuring the Burmese generals to see the error of their
ways. But all this is based on a singularly ahistorical
understanding of Burma's present predicament, of the
country's poverty, war and dictatorship. To be more mindful
of the country's past is the first step in knowing better
how to help Burma today.
The old kingdom
There is no doubting that the Burmese military
governments are much to blame. That blame runs deep,
not just to the past ten or 15 years but to the very
beginnings of army rule in 1962, and perhaps even further
back to the corrosive role of militant nationalism during
the country's emergence from colonial rule in the 1940s.
But we must begin at an even earlier date: 1885, the end
of the old kingdom.
it was in 1885 that Lord Randolph Churchill. Secretary
of State for India, decided that the kingdom of Burma
would be annexed to the British Indian Empire. His hope
was for a speedy colonial victory, one which would bolster
chances for his Conservative Party in the general
elections that November. The expeditionary force under
Sir Harry Prendergast reached Mandalay with little
opposition and immediately exiled King Thibaw to
Madras, and then to Ratnagiri on the Konkan coast. But
soon, unexpectedly, a determined guerrilla campaign
emerged to fight the British occupation. To crush this
would require a further 40,000 British and Indian troops,
summary executions and the large-scale forced
displacement of entire communities. By the end of it all.
in the early 1890s, Burmese society had been turned
upside down. The old social structure, one which had
evolved in the Irrawaddy Valley over centuries, was no
more. Burma, more than any other part of the British
Empire in Asia, would enter the 20th century with an
abrupt, traumatic rupture with the past.
The Burmese were left with other problematic colonial
legacies. With the old order destroyed, the British
imported nearly wholesale the governing institutions of
the rest of British India, entirely alien to the Burmese
experience and political culture. A massive flood of
people from all parts of the Subcontinent then entered
the country in the wake of the occupation. Immigration
on a large scale is bound to have its difficulties in any
country, but to have this happen under colonial
domination led to a bottling up of tensions that in the
1920s spilled over into violence. The hill regions of
Burma, inhabited by minority peoples and comprising
about a third of the country's population, were
deliberately kept apart by British policy - something
which would ha ved ire consequences for the future. Then,
the British withdrew almost as quickly as they had come,
after only some 60-odd years. Colonialism dismantled
Burmese tradition but left behind only the most fragile of
institutions for the new, post-independence leadership.
It was into this vacuum that the Burmese army
stepped. In the 1940s the army was down to a couple of
thousand men. including the Japanese-trained officers
of General Ne Win's own Fourth Burma Rifles. They fought
back the insurgents and reclaimed territory, all the while
expanding, purchasing new arms from abroad, learning
lessons, becoming more professional and, in many
places, forming the de facto administration. There were
setbacks, and there was foreign interference. The US.
for example, supported remnants of Chiang Kai-Shek's
nationalist armies as they retreated into eastern Burma
and established opium-producing sanctuaries. Thailand
long supported the Karen fighters along its border. And
Beijing, in the late 1960s, all but invaded Burma in order
to claim a vast swathe of territory for its proteges in the
Burma Communist Party. Slowly, however, the Burmese
army prevailed, mounting new and ever more brutal
counter-insurgency campaigns, and becoming for all
purposes a shadow government. In 1962, it was easily
able to overthrow U Nu's elected government.
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 The media soon brought to light glaring gaps in the
government's story. The newspaper Andamans Today
exposed the fact that those arrested and killed in the
operation belonged to the National United Partv of
Arakan (NUPA) and the Karen National Union (KNU),'
ethnic ruuiondlities' urbanisations from 13urma that
have been fighting against the military regime for
decades for self-determination and human rights. It
was discovered that they had come to India after an
agreement with Indian intelligence operatives that they
would be allowed a base at Landfall Island in the
Andaman and Nicobar atoll in exchange for their
cooperation with intelligence gathering along the
Burmese coast. One particular Indian military
intelligence officer, a certain Lieutenant Colonel
Grewal, was found to have betrayed the trust of
the Burmese freedom fighters at the behest of the
military junta and to have killed six of their leaders in
cold blood.
The freedom fighters were kept under illegal
detention at Campbell Camp on Nicobar Island in
horrific conditions for several months and then
transferred to the prison at Port Blair. The Indian
Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) failed to file a
charge sheet for a full six and half years. Its
representatives told the lower court that they could
not file one because the Ministry of Defence was not
co-operating with them.
Those that tried to reach the detainees were
intimidated. When the Delhi-based South Asia Human
Rights Documentation Centre sent the lawyer Henry
Tiphagne to assist them, for instance, he was roughed
up and denied access. The Calcutta-based Association
for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) sent a team
led by its general secretary, Sujato Bhadra, to Port Blair,
but the intelligence agencies did not allow the team to
meet the jailed Burmese. Despite the intimidation and
lack of access, human rights lawyer Nandita Haksar
managed to file a petition for bail on their behalf. Tbe
detainees were granted bail, but the Port Blair police
immediately rearrested them and put them under
police detention.
Two of the freedom fighters were alleged to have
absconded in tourist speedboats. The local
administration managed to recover the speedboats but
they did not give any explanation as to the
whereabouts of the missing men. In a bizarre turn of
events, lawyer T Vasanda, daughter of the editor of
Andamans Today, died under suspicious
circumstances. Local papers have linked her murder-
to the fact that Vasanda was helping the Burmese
freedom fighters.
Finally, Nandita Haksar filed a writ petition in her
own name before the Supreme Court, stating that the
Burmese were being kept in illegal detention and that
there was no hope of their being put on trial because
the Ministry of Defence was refusing to co-operate with
the CBI, Within a month, by December 2004, the CBI
had hastily filed an untenable charge sheet against
the freedom fighters.
The Burmese detainees then filed a transfer petition
asking the Supreme Court to transfer their case to
Calcutta. While knowing full well that they may not
get bail and would probably have to go into judicial
custody, thev wanted to be put on trial to prove that
they were freedom fighters, and they were confident
that they would get justice in Calcutta. While the
freedom fighters were still in the Andamans, the Indian
intelligence operatives tried to divide them and to sow
seeds of mutual suspicion. Thev tried to stop the
transfer of the case to Calcutta because they did not
want the trial to take place in full public glare.
The Supreme Court requested a former solicitor
general to look at the case's entire record and then to
recommend whether it should be transferred. The
senior lawyer recommended that either a trial should
be held in Port Blair with the state paying the lawyers'
fees, or the case should be transferred to Calcutta. The
Burmese detainees wanted the transfer because they
had faith in the solidarity of Indian human rights
groups. The case was finally transferred in October
2006 to a Sessions Court in Calcutta, and the freedom
fighters were put in the Presidency Jail. The case is
now before City Sessions Judge Ashim Kumar Roy.
Post-Independence jail
Not long after the transfer, the CBI sought to arrange
for the trial to be held within prison. The authorities of
the Presidency Jail have been denying access to the
Burmese prisoners, and it seems that the intelligence
agencies have a hand in this. The freedom fighters are
in a particularly vulnerable position as they are
foreigners in the country in which they are being held
and tried, and most of them do not speak English,
the language of the court. Many of them are also
villagers who became freedom fighters not through
learned ideology but due to the oppressive military
rule they suffered.
On 18 December 2006, the intelligence agencies in
collusion with the jail authorities are believed to have
instigated a clash between the Burmese and the
convicts inside the jail. The unsuspecting Burmese
prisoners were attacked and some of them were very
badly injured. ,After the skirmish, one of their leaders,
Danyalin, was put in solitary confinement. He
was attacked there as well. All in all, the detainees'
situation is dire.
Citing security reasons, the CBI put in a request with
the West Bengal state government that the trial be held
inside the jail, away from the public eye. Such a request
is inappropriate on the part of the CBI, which is a partv
to the case and which is in no way responsible for the
safety and security of the freedom fighters. The state
government issued an order on 15 December that the
Burmese prisoners not be removed from jail, for reasons
of security. If the trial proceedings are to be held inside
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 jail, it is highly probable that the accused will not get a
fair trial. The media will be effectively barred from
reporting on the proceedings, and this will severely
impact transparency in a case that even otherwise is
not getting the attention it deserves from the Indian
press and public.
On 29 December 2006, the Association for Protection
of Democratic Rights (APDR) organised a press
conference at the Kolkata Press Club to protest the
maltreatment meted out to the Burmese in confinement
and of the sinister plan of the CBI to have the trial held
inside the jail. The press conference was addressed
by, among others, well-known author and activist
Mahashweta Devi and APDR leader Sujato Bhadra.
They called for a fair and open trial for the political
prisoners. In a recent letter to two Burmese journalists
in India, former presidential candidate and legendary
Indian National Army (INA) freedom fighter Dr (Col)
Lakshmi Sehgal has also expressed her solidarity.
She writes, "1 feel very disturbed that Burmese freedom
fighters are languishing in post-independence
Indian jail."
On 1 Januaryr 2007, some well-known intellectuals
and politicians signed an open letter to West Bengal
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, requesting
him to ensure that the Burmese prisoners are treated
with dignity and that their trial is in court as per the
direction of the Supreme Court. The signatories include
former West Bengal Finance Minister Ashok Mitra,
filmmaker Mrinal Sen, writer Madhusree Mukherjee
and National Women Commission member Malini
Bhattacharya. Burmese democracy activists and
organisations based in India submitted a
memorandum to the chief minister on the same day
asking that he withdraw all charges against the
freedom fighters in a gesture of solidarity with the
democratic aspirations of the.Burmese peoples.
On 3 January 2007, the state government of West
Bengal reversed its previous order that the accused
not be removed from jail. The order states that the
government will produce the prisoners before court
on each and every hearing of their case. The date for
hearing the charges has been fixed for 29 January 2007
at the City Sessions Court and it is likely that the
Burmese freedom fighters will be charged by the court
on that day.
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
Oil in
the eyes
The desperation
for natural gas in
the larger countries
of Asia has been a
good thing for
Burma's junta and
bad for the people.
Even as Southasia's energy-strapped, fast-
growing economies have led many to wonder
whether antagonistic neighbours may be
pushed together into forced cooperation, on the eastern
edge of the region a less optimistic dynamic is playing
out Indeed, the huge natural-gas reserves of Burma
have caused many Asian governments to turn a blind
eye to Rangoon's continued oppressive and non-
democratic tactics.
Burma stands on the world's tenth largest natural-
gas reserves, estimated at more than 90 trillion cubic
feet (tcf) in 19 on-shore and three major offshore fields.
As the economies of South, Southeast and East Asia
have soared upwards in recent years, the Shwe 'gas
block' in western Burma's Arakan state has instigated
intense competition between India, China, South
Korea, Thailand, Japan and Singapore. South Korea's
Daewoo International estimates that just two blocks
from the Shwe gas field together have a reserve of about
20 tcf, equivalent to about 3.5 billion barrels of oil. There
are currently four stakeholders in the Shwe Gas Project
- Daewoo (which controls 60 percent), KOG AS of South
Korea, and two Indian interests, the Oil and Natural
Gas Corp (ONGC) and the Gas Authority of India
Limited (GAIL).
India has outlined several options for importing gas
from the Shwe field, including three land and three
sea routes, besides transporting the product In
liquefied or compressed states - LNG or CNG. New
Delhi's most preferred option would be to construct a
pipeline through Bangladesh to West Bengal (see
accompanying story, "Neighbourhood gas").
Intransigence in Dhaka, however, has led to the
formation of several preconditions unacceptable to
India: a reduction of the Indo-Bangladeshi trade deficit,
transit for trade goods to and from Nepal and Bhutan,
as well as a guarantee from India to import more
Bangladeshi goods. India's difficulty in changing
Dhaka's mind on the pipeline project has led to fraying
tempers in Rangoon, where junta officials have urged
India to look to alternative plans, including setting up
electricity-generation projects near the gas fields.
In December 2005, the Indo-Bangladeshi standoff
on the matter led Burmese officials to sign a
memorandum of understanding with PetroChina, one
of China's largest privately owned companies and its
second largest power generator. According to the
agreement, by March 2006 PetroChina had completed
a survey for a 2380 km pipeline from Kyakphu in
Burma to China's Yunnan province. As part of the
deal, Burma's military regime would have received a
USD 84 million soft loan from Beijing. The
pipeline would traverse central Burma's 'Dry Zone',
hosting over 25 percent of the country's population,
and home to some of the country's most pressing
humanitarian needs.
Meanwhile, in June 2006 GAIL announced that it
had completed a feasibility study for laying a 1400
km-long pipeline, worth USD 1.3 billion, from Sittwe
in Burma to Gaya in Bihar via Aizawl, Silchar,
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 Summit Hotel
Same^ere special
Summit Hotel, Kopundol Height,
P.O. Box 1406, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Tel: 55 21810. Fax: 55 23737
Email: np
In the Kathmandu Valley...
•4   the Summit is the preferred hotel for visitors who want to get away
^fc from the packaged environment and the noise of downtown
■ ■'ft
-^■■-Kathmandu. This is where a wide range of travelers come to rest
and recuperate. A popular bar and spacious gardens make the Summit
a favoured, base for many who came to Kathmandu to. work. The diplomat,
the scholar and the development expert alike, enjoy the ambience and;
our friendly service, Our Friday evening barbecue is the
talk of the Valley, The Summit Apartments cater
to al! the: needs of long-term visitors. If you want a break even
from ali of this, then a walk to the cafe which we run, at the
Museum in Patan Durbar Square, is recommended,
Capacity Reinforcement Officer
Association pour le Dfiveloppement Ecohomique R6gional (ADER), a development NGO which has been working in India for 10 years, implements 3 post-
tsunami projects in the State of Tamil Nadu.
Location: Pondicherry, with frequent travel to various areas of Tamil Nadu, South India
Underthe supervision ofthe Mission Director, in liaison with the Programme Manager and tlie Dalit Project Representative, the Capacity Reinforcement
Officer wil I be responsible for:
•Supervision ofthe capacity reinforcement projects concerning the local NGOs
■A project concerning financial and project management capacity reinforcement, as well as networking local development NGOs.
■A lobbying/awareness capacity reinforcement project concerning a federation of Dalit human rights organisations.
•Implementation of participatory capacity assessments in conjunction with the managers and the employees of the NGOs concerned, as well as the
monitoring of the assessments carried out by the partners.
* Recruitment and training of project staff in collaboration with local partners.
*Participatinginthe definition of train ing programmes for various beneficiaries, in the selection of the trainers and in the definition of the teaching
contents and methods.
•Supervision ofthe experience build-up and published documentation activities concerning the two projects.
•Writing of monthly, six-monthly and final activity reports.
Profile sought;
"Higher education: (Masters degree level) in social sciences, preferably with an option in the sociology of organizations or adult education.
•Documented experience in the management of projects concerning the reinforcement of the capacities of local NGOs in developing countries,
preferably in Asia.
•Experienced trainer preferred.
•Good knowledge of the problems of Dalits in India would be an advantage.
•Highly skilled in analytical work as well as report writing, able to work in a multi-cultural team, flexible and diplomatic.
•Fluent English and French
•5 years of practical in-the-field experience.
Vacancies Contact
Mrs Melanie Raynal at before 15 February 2007.
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 The junta stands to profit by USD 17 billion dollars from the Shwe Gas Project over
its lifespan, which could become the government's single largest source of revenue.
Guwahati, Tinsukia and Bengal. In return, the Export-
Import Bank of India would extend a line of credit to
Rangoon worth USD 20 million. This gasline would
be constructed along the banks of the Kaladan River,
where approximately one million people reside, 98
percent of whom lack electricity.
Oil for arms
In dealing with the evolving situation over Burmese
petroleum, international oil firms have found
themselves on the front lines, wrestling with issues of
geopolitical significance and juggling new human-
rights and environmental challenges. Weapons and
military equipment purchases by the junta have
increased substantially in recent years, as the generals
have gained significant earnings from the sale of the
country's natural resources to the increasingly energy-
hungry neighbours of Asia.
Tlie December 2006 indictment in South Korea of
14 Daewoo officials illustrates just how close the
relationship between arms deals and natural-gas
concessions can be in Burma. In 2001, Daewoo
International, Doosan Infracore and Daewoo Heavy
Industries allegedly signed a contract worth nearly
USD 134 million to provide technology and materials
to Rangoon to help build an ammunition plant capable
of producing tens of thousands of shells per year for a
variety of weapons. From rhe Shwe Gas Project, Daewoo
International is expecting to net profits of USD 86
million per year (or two decades.
While China remains the prime dealer of military
equipment to Burma, India is currently stepping up
both military and energy deals with the junta. This
past December, the international watchdog Human
Rights Watch released a report critical of New Delhi's
proposed milita ry assistance to Rangoon. At the sa me
time, Burma's Military Chief-of-
Staff, General Thura Shwe
Mann, was reportedly meeting
with the leader of the Indian
Army's Eastern Command,
Lieutenant-General Arvind
Sharma, to discuss joint counter-
insurgency training exercises.
The meeting coincided with the
announcement that India had
signed a new deal to acquire
exploration rights to Burma's
offshore gas fields. The Indian
Ministry of Defence has
confirmed that exporting
weaponry to Burma is part of a
strategy to establish closer links
with the country's military
regime, in order to counter China's growing influence
in the area.
Burma remains one of the most repressive countries
in Asia, despite promises for political reform and
national reconciliation by its government, which
continues to spend 40 percent of the country's
national budget on defence, and just five to ten percent
on health and education. Burma's military, the
Tatmadaw, is Southeast Asia's second largest
conventional force, estimated at over 400,000 troops.
The junta stands to profit by up to USD 17 billion
dollars from the Shwe Gas Project over its lifespan,
which could become the government's single largest
source of revenue - up to USD 825 million per year.
Aside from not being able to capitalise on this
additional revenue, the construction of the Shwe
gasline itself could have a dramatic and direct impact
on many Burmese communities. Severe human-rights
abuses and environmental negligence associated with
the construction of pipelines has already been
experienced in Burma. In the early 1990s, the Rangoon
government partnered with the US company Unocal
and France's Total to construct the Yadana and
Yetagun pipelines through southern Burma. This
massive project had disastrous effects on local
communities, leading to increased militarisation and
systematic human-rights abuses by the Burmese
military - including widespread forced labour,
confiscated lands, forced relocation, and instances of
rape, torture and extrajudicial killings in the pipeline
area. As per information available at the time of
writing, the Burmese military has already begun
conscripting forced labourers to build military camps
and roads near the proposed pipeline routes to India
and China.
Meanwhile, in early January 2007, just days after
China and Russia jointly blocked
g a  proposal  before  the  United
« Nations   Security   Council   to
| censure   Rangoon's   continued
"" human-rights abuses, the Chinese
government landed a new deal to
further explore Burma's petroleum
resources. Negotiations between
India and Burma over gas pricing
are continuing, with an agreement
expected by the middle of the year.
Such is the desperation for Burmese
natural gas in India, and such a fear
of growing Chinese influence on
Burma, that human-rights issues
will cut much ice in New Delhi -
particularly if the Indian civil
society continues to keep mum.   k
Himal Southasian ] February 2007
Waiting for neighbourhood gas
An update on India's gas-pipeline options.
Thousands of years ago, in the historic silk-route
city of Baku on the banks of the Caspian Sea,
ancients worshipped a phenomenon they
could hardly comprehend-, pillars of fire leaping
skywards out of the ground. Tlie flaming columns were
in fact high-pressure natural-gas fields that had
caught fire and could not be extinguished. We have
traveled a long way since those times. Technology has
enabled us to tame this gas, pipe it for burning in
homes, offices and factories. More importantly, with
the  advent of the combined-cycle gas-turbine
technology, humankind has learned to harness the
full potential of natural gas, converti ng it into electricity,
the most convenient form of energy. Being clean-
burning, natural gas has acquired salience in a post-
Kyoto world exercised over global warming caused
by the indiscriminate burning of dirty fossil fuels such
as coal and oil.
The ease with which natural gas can be transported
bv way of pipelines makes it essentially a regional or
continental resource. While liquefaction
that allow for the fuel to be transported in containers
have been around for several decades, and while the
cost of liquefaction has been declining steadily over
that time, liquefied natural gas (LNG) still accounts
for no more than a tenth of the global gas trade. LNG
remains an option only where pipelines cannot reach.
The big gas consumers - the US and Europe - are
crisscrossed by gas pipelines, those in the.former
carrying the fuel in from Canada and those in the latter
from Russia, the North Sea and even Algeria. New
pipelines are being built everywhere: the west-east
pipeline in China, for instance, recently started
supplying Shanghai with gas from Xinjiang, and the
newly completed Blue Stream pipeline runs from
Russia to Turkey under the Black Sea. Many other such
•  lines are under construction in different parts of the
world  For India, too, it is ideal that gas be supplied
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 through pipelines from neighbouring countries, not
least because the price of LNG is firmly linked to crude
prices, which in the last two vears have not onlv been
volatile', but have distinctly moved to a more expensive
bracket. Besides, once constructed, pipelines offer
security of supply because piped gas. unlike INC
tankers, cannot be diverted by recalcitrant producer
states to other markets.
Natural gas currently accounts for around eight
percent of India's energv use. With its energy-intensive
growth paradigm, and given technological factors,
efficiency and environmental obligations, the countrv
has ai virtually bottomless appetite for natural gas,
especially for power generation and fertiliser
production, both of which together constitute over 80
percent of all gas consumed in the country. Gas is an
ideal fuel for power generation because it is converted
into electricity more efficiently than coal, diesel or fuel
oils and. unlike these, also burns relatively cleanly.
Unlike hydropower projects, the use of gas to produce
electricity does not displace great numbers of people,
and unlike the use of nuclear power it produces no
hazardous waste.
Fortunately, the Indian peninsula is ringed by gas-
rich neighbours on virtually all sides - Pakistan to the
west, Iran a bit further to the west, Turkmenistan to the
north, Bangladesh to the east, and Burma to the
southeast. In the last few years, substantial offshore
gas finds have also been reported bv Indian companies
in the Krishna-Coda vari Basin off the country's east
coast. It is estimated that this basin could contain up
to I a trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas. When brought on-
strcam, such a reserve could take away the urgency to
tap neighbourhood gas. But transnational gas
pipelines promise to be to Southasia what thev have
proven themselves to be the world over: not only energy
lifelines, but the cement for geo-political alliances and
business ties. .Also in favour of piping gas from
neighbourhood countries is the fact that the Krishna-
Codavari Basin finds are deep-sea, offshore fields: the
technological challenge thev pose and the cost of
extraction renders neighbourhood gas an attractive
alternative for the moment.
South Pars to Southasia
Of the three pipeline projects that are under active
consideration by the Indian government, the Iran-
Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline is perhaps the most
promising. Iran is home to the world's second largest
deposits of natural gas - deposits in the South Pars
offshore region alone are estimated to contain 500 tcf,
a sixth of the world's discovered gas. Especially
given the severe impact of international sanctions,
energy exports are critical to Iran's economy.
They currently account for 80 percent of the country's
export earnings.
Ihe logical markets for the South Pars field are the
countries closest to Iran. Since those to the west, north
,ind south have substantial reserves of oil and gas
themselves, it stands tei reason that Iran will have to
look east - to Pakistan, India and China. That Iran
and lhe Subcontinent share cultural t\nd historical ties
augurs well for clinching commercial relationships.
Pakistan's economy, unlike India's, is already heavily
gas-based, its depleting domestic gas reserves spell a
vulnerability that piped gas from Iran could mitigate
to a iairge extent.
Southasia has heen home to simmering hostility and
conflict for manv decades now, and this has severely
affected the growth potential of both India and
Pakistani. The building of transnational energv
pipelines in other parts of the world has demonstrated
the ability of nation states to put aside political and
other differences in pursuit of what is never a zero-
sum game. There is no reason why India and Pakistan
should not be able to follow that example. As a
precedent, the two countries have the specific instance
of the Indus Water Treaty, which has weathered
political differences and conflicts.
While there are various estimates being floated
about the extent of investments required to build the
2700 km IPI pipeline, the least it would cost is USD 5
billion. Such a massive investment would create stakes
in peace not only for the supplier and consumers of
gas served bv this pipeline, but also for the international
community of financiers, bankers and energv
companies involved in the project.
In 2(106, there was considerable progress on the il'i
project. After regular meetings between ministers and
officials of the three countries to discuss its contours
and structure, there is now some degree of consensus
on the route to be followed. The pipeline from the
offshore South Pars gas field will pass through Bandar
Abbas and follow the coast of the Gulf of (Aman to
reach Karachi, and then move on to Munabao on the
Indian border. The fact that this route follows
Pakistan's road and rail networks means that security
ami maintenance will pose fewer problems. The pipe
will be bb inches in diameter, and will he able to ferry
up to 60 million cubic meters (mem) of gas per day to
Pakistan and 90 mem per day to India. This flow will
continue for 25 years.
While Manmohan Singh commented on a recent
visit to Washington, DC on the difficulty of financing
the IPI pipeline, his statement was made in the context
of the Indo-US nuclear deal and must be taken with a
grain of salt. Disagreements with regards to pricing
As a precedent to the IP! gasline, India
and Pakistan have the specific instance
of the Indus Water Treaty., which has
weathered political difference and
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 Gas markets are such that yesterday's
extortionate prices may appear
reasonable today and downright cheap
formulae are currently the main obstacle in the path of
the pipeline. On this New Delhi and Islamabad are on
tlie same side, an early indicator of how gas pipelines
can bring antagonists together. While Iran might insist
on linking the rate to the price of crude oil, both Pakistan
and India would like to agree on a price range with a
set floor and ceiling. In December, UK-based Gaffney,
Cline and Associates was tri-laterally appointed to
advise on the matter. At deadline there was no public
information about the pricing formula recommended
by the consultant, although on 26 January the three
parties "finally" came to an agreement on the gas-
pricing issue.
Pipelines everywhere
Another pipeline project on India's horizon involves
the reserves in Burma's Arakan peninsula. India's
public sector companies Oil and Natural Gas Corp
(ONGC) Videsh Limited and Gas Authority of India
Limited (GAIL) together hold a 30 percent stake in Shwe
A-l, a field which is operated bv Daewoo and said to
contain 8 tcf of gas. Four routes have been identified
by which Shwe A-l gas might reach India, the nearest
market. Two of them traverse the Chittagong tracts of
Bangladesh and make their way west; one enters India
by way of its border with Burma in India's Northeast;
the last, involving an undersea pipeline to India's
eastern shore, has been declared unfeasible due to the
region's shifting seabed.
In 2005, a tripartite meeting of energv ministers of
India, Burma and Bangladesh had agreed on building
a pipeline to reach India bv way of Bangladesh. Since
then, however, India has been unwilling to cede the
reciprocal conditions Bangladesh has placed. The
proposal of late has thus been a pipeline that would
enter through India's northeastern states, unlocking
Tripura's stranded gas reserves along the way.
Opposition to the pipeline from groups both in
Burma and in the Northeast, however, has been
building steam. The proposed pipeline will traverse
Arakan state, one of the poorest regions of Burma,
where electric supply comes from diesel generators,
that too rationed and onlv after sunset. This is only
one of the areas in Burma that could well use the
country's gas to fuel its own development aspirations.
Further opposition comes from the fact that the
Burmese people's past experience with gas pipelines
has not been a happy one. The controversial Yadana-
Yetagun pipeline built and operated bv Unocal has
supplied gas to Thailand since 1998. It was built
despite opposition from local communities and has
been under the scrutiny of US courts for alleged
human-rights violations and use of forced labour.
Whether due to opposition or to the difficulty posed
bv the terrain, an alternative proposal has emerged
from Burma, lhe plan is now to build a power
plant at Sittwe and transmit electricity to India instead
of gas. If feasible, this is an eminently better
option, since it would give the local people a
stake in the project through the creation of
employment opportunities.
The third pipeline project under consideration is
the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pa kis tan-India
pipeline. Doubly landlocked Turkmenistan is home to
one of the largest gas reserves in the region. Deposits
are currently estimated to contain a staggering 100 tcf,
but it is probable that reserves as yet undiscovered
contain ten times as much. Until recently, ,
Turkmenistan only exported its natural gas via a
pipeline that traveled north through Uzbekistan and
Kazakhstan on its wav to Russia. A proposal for a
pipeline originating in Dauletabad on the Afghanistan
border and passing through Pakistan to reach India
has been on the anvil tor many years. The Asian
Development Bank recently declared the project prima
facie feasible. Fhe 1680 km pipeline is to run through
Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan, the Pakistani
cities of Quetta and Multan, and on to the Indian
border town of Faz.ilka. The construction of the
pipeline up to that point is estimated to cost USD 3.5
billion. If it is to he extended to Delhi, it will have to
traverse another 600 km. The proposal had gained
momentum as of November 2006 when, during his
trip to New Delhi, Hamid Kar/ai expressed a keenness
to facilitate an energy bridge to India.
The ultimate viability ol the Turkmenistan pipeline J
will depend on the amount ot surplus gas available in |
the country's fields, over and above what has been
committed to other Olivers. In the past, Turkmenistan
has driven away two interested investors - Bridas of
Argentina and Unocal of the US - because of its
unstable and inconsistent policy environment. While
Turkmenistan's ratification of the Energy Charter
Treaty has introduced a modicum of certainty and
stability, the sudden death of President Saparmurat
Nivazov in December 2006 has left political equations
disrupted. India and Pakistan mav have to wait for
the dust to settle before planning further.
Gas markets are such that yesterday's extortionate
prices may appear reasonable today and downright
cheap tomorrow, fhe sooner India, for one, can start
accessing gas from its surrounding countries, the better
it will be for its energy security. Politics does stand in
the way, as Turkmen gas cannot really be accessed
until Afghanistan stabilises, and even the IPI pipeline
will require enormous confidence-building measures.
Given its needs, however, it is vital that India do
whatever it can to settle differences with its neighbours
and start building those wonderful fuel lines. i.
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
Hunting for rebels,
looking for peace
A series of blunders by both New Delhi
and Assam's ULFA rebels in recent
months have certainly complicated the
peace process, but aii is not yet lost.
Assam is bleeding. In the first week of January,
armed with Kalashnikovs and other weaponry,
rebels of the United Liberation Front of Asom
(ULFA) carried out a series of massacres across five
districts of eastern Assam, killing 61 Hindi-speaking
migrant workers. Close to 8000 of the survivors, most of
them hailing from Bihar, have now been moved to about
50 government-run shelters for protection. There is panic,
and quite a few of these seasonal migrants who work in
dispersed brick kilns and dairy farms, or do odd jobs all
over, have taken the train out ofthe state.
The ULFA, one of the Indian Northeast's most potent
insurgent groups, clearly wanted to sow terror in an
attempt to force New Delhi to take it seriously. Hindi
speakers, after all, are regarded by radical sections in
Assam and elsewhere in the Northeast as symbols of the
dominant political class ruling the country - hence, the
deliberate targeting of Hindi speakers.
The timing of the attacks might be instructive: the
tentative peace talks that began in September 2005
derailed exactly a year later, over preconditions set by
both the rebels and the central government. The ULFA
possibly wants the peace process resumed, but in terms
favourable to it, and hence the need for some attention-
grabbing violence in the run-up to Republic Day, 26 January.
The ULFA, in fact, called a 17-hour general strike from one
in the morning on 26 January to enforce its call for a
boycott of India's national day. The ULFA may also have
wanted everyone to take seriously its call for a boycott of
the upcoming National Games, India's biggest sporting
event. The games are to be hosted by Assam in Guwahati
on 9-18 February.
The ULFA may indeed have achieved its immediate
objective - that of making New Delhi sit up and take
notice. Starting with the junior minister for home affairs,
Sriprakash Jaiswal, government leaders have also been
flocking to the sites of carnage, besides Guwahati. Those
visiting Assam included Railway Minister Laloo Prasad
Yadav, who himself hails from Bihar and has been its
chief minister, Defence Minister A K Antony, and Indian
Army Chief General J J Singh.
As expected, a massive joint operation with the army,
police and paramilitary has been launched, adding teeth
to the continuing counter-insurgency offensive in the state.
Maj Gen N C Marwah, the Indian Army commander in
charge ofthe operations in eastern Assam, told this writer
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 that troops are being dropped
from helicopters in remote and
heavily wooded areas to
pursue the elusive rebels. Four
rebels had been killed in earlier
operations, while several
others, including a seven-
member group trying to sneak
into Burma through adjoining
Nagaland. have been captured
along with weaponry. With the
government having responded
to ULFA violence by raising the
stakes, what Assam and the
Northeast have in store for themselves in the immediate
future is the question on everyone's mind.
Sovereignty and socialism
It has been more than 16 years since the Indian
government put the army, police and paramilitary on the
ULFA's tail. The counter insurgency offensive first launched
on the night of 27 November 1990, which was meant to
rapidly neutralise the dreaded group, continues to this
day. Over the years, the ULFA - formed in 1979 with the
objective of achieving a "sovereign, Socialist Assam" -
has established trans-border linkages, and the Indian
security establishment has been openly talking of the
group's alleged patronage by authorities in Bangladesh
and Pakistan. Indian authorities are convinced that the
outfit's top leaders operate out of Bangladesh, a charge
Dhaka has consistently denied.
In December 2003, the ULFA's largest base outside
India, located in the jungles along southern Bhutan, was
demolished, and up to 2000 fighters expelled by an India-
supported Bhutani military assault. Today, the group is
thought to have major jungle hideouts only in Burma's
Sagaing division. (Bhutani authorities, including Bhutan's
ambassador to India, Dago Tshering, have denied reports
about rebels re-entering Bhutan, although Indian
intelligence officials do say that the ULFA has been using
places in Bhutan as temporary resting spots once again.)
Statistics available from the Assam Police show that
between 1991 and October 2006, the Indian security
forces had killed 1128 ULFA cadres and captured 11.173.
During the same period, 8465 militants surrendered
before authorities. Despite these reverses, the ULFA
continues to maintain its presence by striking at regular
intervals. Unlike targeted assassinations in the past, the
ULFA today does not hesitate to trigger off blasts using
improvised explosive devices in public places. In early
January, for instance, civilians were killed in four explosions
set off in the heart of Guwahati.
Prodded by the state government in Guwahati, which
maintained that a military solution would be difficult to
The government bungled by not talking in u
achieve, New Delhi had agreed to search for a negotiated
political settlement. On 7 September 2005. the rebels
made the surprise announcement of setting up of a
People's Consultative Group (PCG) to prepare the ground
for talks. The nine-member hand-picked team, comprising
journalists, rights activists, lawyers and academics, was
led by Indira Goswami. a celebrated Assamese writer and
Delhi University professor, who was entrusted with the
task of coordinating between the PCG and the Indian
government. She was being assisted by Rebati Phukan, a
childhood friend ofthe ULFA's elusive boss, 'Chief of Staff
Paresh Barua. Phukan had also served as a go-between
in a failed peace initiative in the early 1990s.
The PCG held three rounds of talks with the federal
authorities in New Delhi, with the first meeting on 26
October 2005 being attended by Manmohan Singh
himself. The second round was held on 7 February 2006,
and the last one. on 22 June 2006. was attended by
Home Minister Shivraj Patil. What did the PCG achieve in
these three rounds of 'exploratory talks' with New Delhi?
• It was able to tell the government, from a position
that had the sanction of the ULFA. that the rebel
group was indeed serious about restoration of peace
through an acceptable solution achieved through a
dialogue process.
• It pressed for. and argued with the centra
government about the need to release the five
imprisoned leaders, who are members of its 18-
member decision-making Central Committee, so
they could help prepare for direct ULFA-government.
• It encouraged the government to go for a temporary
halt to military operations against
the ULFA, which New Delhi did announce in
August 2006.
What the PCG failed to achieve was to create conditions
for a ceasefire between the ULFA and the government. As
a result, violence by the ULFA and the government's
counter-insurgency responses - if not full-fledged
'operations' - continued even while the PCG-government
talks went forward. According to the Assam Police.
between September 2005 and June 2006 the militants
had triggered as many as 52 blasts. During
that period, more than 40 civilians were killed and
135 injured,
Tasks break down
Why did the ULFA carry out violent activities even while
indicating its willingness to resolve matters through talks?
Security officials fee! that the ULFA was buying time by
talking of peace while engaged in regrouping and raising
money through extortion. At the same time, the ULFA is
know;n to demonstrate its stnke potential from time to
army's expression of doubts
over the peace process through a press statement was significant and unnecessary.
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 time, by way of making a point. A much more likely
explanation as to the continuing acts of violence is that
the hardliners, who may not necessarily be part of the
ULFA top leadership, could be unwilling to join the peace
bandwagon as yet. The ULFA, of course, denies that the
group is divided over peace talks, and an independent
assessment is not easy.
There are those in the Indian security establishment
who ask whether the ULFA top brass even has the
freedom to take independent decisions on starting a
peace dialogue to resolve the 28-year-long insurrection
in Assam. They ask the question because, in then-
assessment, the top ULFA leaders are based in
Bangladesh and are under the 'care and influence' of
the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and its
Bangladeshi equivalent, the Directorate General of Forces
Intelligence (DGFI).
Significantly, the issue of ceasefire or no ceasefire was
not what led to the stalemate, if not derailment, of the
oeace process in Assam. What were the reasons the
peace process went off track?
• The government of India wanted the ULFA to
formally name its negotiating team, while the
insurgents responded that for this they needed the
five Central Committee members freed.
• New Delhi then called for a firm commitment
from the ULFA, in writing, that it was interested in
talking peace with the government. The ULFA
responded by asking New Delhi to give a written
assurance that the group's core issue of sovereignty
would figure in the talks.
• The ULFA also insisted on information on the
whereabouts of 14 of its members who had gone
missing' after the 2003 Bhutani military operation.
• The army expressed its doubts publicly through a
press statement about the ULFA's intentions, even
while the so-called truce was on, suggesting that
the Centre was talking in different tongues.
Eventually, as the ULFA violence continued. New Delhi
called off its unilateral decision of August 2006 to
suspend counter-insurgency operations in Assam, and
the security forces were once again put on the ULFA's
trail on 24 September.
izy outlook
As far as the blame for the return to conflict was
concerned, the government bungled by not talking in one
voice - the army's expression of doubts over the peace
process through a press statement was significant and
unnecessary. The government was also ill-advised in
sticking to its demand for a written assurance from the
ULFA, because if the rebels had not been interested in
peace they would not have set up the PCG in the first
place. The government could also have set the five
detained ULFA leaders free unilaterally, which would have
required the ULFA to reciprocate meaningfully.
If the rebels had not been interested in
peace they would not have set up the
PCG in the first place
As for the PCG, it made the biggest blunder by formally
announcing that it was withdrawing from the process of
negotiations when the government resumed
military operations in October. It gave the impression
that it was nothing more than a group working under
directions from the ULFA, without any relevance or role
of its own.
The scenario in Assam, and the dynamics for the
engagement between the ULFA, the state government
and the Centre, changed dramatically after the early
January killings. The ULFA-endorsed peace facilitator
Indira Goswami has openly expressed her distress at
the massacres, and Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has
conceded that the ULFA used the six-week truce to
regroup and refocus its strategy. The message coming
out now from both the central and state authorities is
that there can be no peace talks with the ULFA unless
the group announces a halt to violence. This would only
mean that the battle is poised to continue for some
time, as such a rejection of violence cannot be expected
from the insurgents at present.
Despite the depressing outlook, however, there are
those who believe that the peace process can be revived
and the stalemate broken if New Delhi were to extend a
fresh Invitation to the PCG for resumption of talks. If the
PCG refuses to accept such an invitation, people like
Indira Goswami or Rebati Phukan could be approached
to act as facilitators in their individual capacities. Fhe
Centre would also be advised to appoint an interlocutor
or a 'Group of Ministers' to exclusively deal with the ULFA
issue. Simultaneously, the government could work out
its own modalities for a ceasefire, publicise them, and
ask the rebels to reciprocate. The five ULFA leaders could
be released if the PCG or facilitators are able to confirm
that such a move would lead to direct talks.
Assuming that the two sides agree to look beyond the
killing of innocents and actually talk peace, what is it
that the ULFA could settle for to bring the curtains down
on its armed struggle? Everything hinges on the
possibilities on that score. Fhe Bodos, the Karbis or the
Dimasas, all major ethnic groups in Assam, can perhaps
still be given more autonomy. But can the majority
Assamese of Assam also be given autonomy under a
new constitutional arrangement9 That would, firstly, beg
the question of who is an Assamese', for if the Bodo,
Karbi and Dimasa communities are also to be bracketed
under the inclusive term 'Assamese' and regarded as
part of the greater Assamese society - which they
actually are - will a possible autonomy package also
include them? Things are hazy to say the least, and
arriving at acceptable solutions to these issues will be
no easy task.
Himal Southasian  | February 2007
'Milakpani te ahibo, sopna te dekhibo'
Nilikesh Gogoi, an Assamese local legend, was shot to death by Central Industrial
Security Force troops on 23 January 2007.
Usually, legends have a larger-
than-life aura around them.
They are masters of all they
survey. While this may be the general
trajectory, it does not explain how
legends are born (and killed) in small
towns in far-off places like Assam.
Nilikesh Gogoi was a coal trader, a
poet, a farmer, a collectivism an oral
historian and a man who resolved
conflicts that arose between hill
people and authorities. He was, in
short, a local legend.
On 23 January 2007, Nilikesh and
his two of his business associates
were returning from a trip to the hills
that border Gelekey in upper .Assam.
On the way, they overtook a slow-
moving jeep manned by Central
Industrial Security Force (CISF)
personnel. Just when they were about
to clear the vehicle in front on them,
they were shot at. Nilikesh Gogoi and
his pillion rider, Bholu Gogoi, died
instantly, but their companion, Arup
Saikia, survived the shooting. The fact
that the CISF troops felt empowered
enough to take these lives in this
manner - and expected to get away
with it - is a statement about the
tragedies that unfold under the
Government of India's current security
policy for the Northeast.
Nilikesh Gogoi was the undisputed
scamp and pixie-king of the Assam-
Naga foothills. His universe stretched
from Sibsagar town to the villages of
Anakhi Imsen - not a very large tract
of land, but stable enough to be a
storehouse of history, myths and
folklore. He crisscrossed the winding
Pioneer Road, whizzed across the
Lahdoigarh Line, and stumbled
around as though borders made not
an ounce of difference. Truth be told,
he was not too convinced by modern
maps and surveyingtechniques. Over
several shots of rum, he would reel
off names of villages and towns that
were the domain of the Naga people
in the olden days. At times like
this, his conversations - like his
wonderful imagination - would be
free from chronological and political
fetters. The past, with its myths
and   immense   possibilities   of
romance, was what could happen
tomorrow. Spouting such sentiments,
he was irresistible.
Bum and tales
One day, not so long ago, Nilikesh
strapped to his back a rucksack
belonging to this writer's partner. He
then proceeded to take her up a
treacherous mountain track to meet
with her fellow Naga people, who lived
along the frontiers of a plantation
complex. He explained to her that he
needed her rucksack because he was
carrying with him something very
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 important - a jug of rum, along with
stories about how the planters came
to the area during the 19th century,
cut the forests to make tea chests,
and pushed the Nagas further from
the valley where they would come to
trade. These stories grew bigger and
more real as he narrated how the
Lahdoigarh Line sequestered the
hill people, and how planters
brought in troops to secure their
precious investments.
Nilikesh's stories, fuelled by a bit
of rum, spoke of the times when his
ancestors, realising the limits of their
power, had made peace with the
Naga people and evolved a civilised
system of respect for each other's
authority. He iiked that part of the
past. He half-jokingly wore the mantle
of a latter-day Supatphaa (Gadadhar
Singha), the great Ahom adventurer
king of the 17th century, and issued
mock commands to his grinning
friends. Later, in the course of this
rough ride up the mountain, he would
look remorsefully at the ground while
being berated for his impossible
projects. To make up for his almost
adolescent trespass, he sang a Naga
Bihu song: "Milakpani te ahibo. sopna
te dekhibo ..." (I shall come to the
River Milak, and you will see me in
your dreams). That song was a
personal anthem of this writer, when
my colleague and I walked the
streets of Bangkok trying to connect
with our Thai cousins. Sitting on the
streets of the city with a bewildered
audience, we sang his song and it
made us proud.
Nilikesh's grasp of history and
politics was unparalleled. He kept a
critical distance from dominant
political parties and organisations.
His universe was rather small, but
like any good activist, he knew it well.
The plantations that dot the
landscape of Gelekey. the local marts
where people barter their good and
incur debts, the small settlements of
migrants - all of these were part of
his politics and life. He knew that the
lines between legality and illegality
were ambiguous in the frontiers, and
that the presence of a gun blurred
those boundaries further. As with any
person who has to survive such a
He always believed that legends could not die, they
always reaupearnij in iiine.
predicament, he pushed himself into
work that would make life a little
more to his liking.
He had a bed and a warm meal
ready for him in all the Naga villages
along the foothills. To them, he was a
friend who could talk to the police
and contain the type of conflicts that
would arise when Naga villagers
would come to the valley markets.
For him. the Naga villages were his
home. His political strategies were a
matter of scale. Of course, he also
spoke about the indignities heaped
upon the people of Iraq, but he was
equally passionate about the
collective farm that he had helped to
start. He was always in a hurry to
point out where history, politics and
economy met up in his universe of
40 square kilometres.
Ghosts and spirits
One was always surprised with
Nilikesh's natural ability to navigate
through the vicious politics that
surrounded the various security
agencies in the area. For a small
place. Gelekey has an inordinate
number of people with guns. The
government and security agencies
would have us believe that this is
because there are Naga and
Assamese rebels in the area. Even if
that were true, the government, not
to be outdone, has thrown in its
companies of army and paramilitary
personnel, thereby making the area
a veritable garrison, Nilikesh saw
these security forces as temporary
trespassers, like the British planters.
He charmed them, perhaps even
nfuriated them, but he always looked
right through the barrel of their guns.
His smali-town life was always a
chaotic run for documents, titles, the
occasional conversation with a friend.
a few stern words to errant
associates; he took all of this -
including runs-in with the authorities
- in stride. In the evenings, when
friends dropped in from faraway
places, he would wrap his fingers
around a cup of tea and narrate mad
stories about ghosts and spirits.
Forthoseof us not used to the layered
life of Gelekey. it seemed that
the ghosts and spirits were all around
us. He would taunt these ghosts,
as he would taunt the armed
paramilitary personnel for their
corruption. He was never exhausted,
and on such evenings he was
nearly unstoppable.
Ironically, that is what the CISF is
now saying- that Nilikesh did not stop
when ordered to do so. His associate
who survived has a dramatically
differing story - that they were shot
and killed without any provocation.
There is talk of a high-level cover up.
even as the state government
announced a compensation package
and arrested one of the accused. As
one tries to come to terms with the
oss, one realises that this is an
unending and vicious cycle of lies and
subterfuge. Following all the
innumerable loss of lives in
Assam, the administration will walk
the tired road and hope for things to
become a little quieter, before
ploughing the barren fields of security
and counter-insurgency.
They may reduce Nilikesh Gogo
to another statistical victim of
counter-insurgency, but if he were
alive he would cackle into his glass of
tea. He always believed that
legends could not die; they always
reappeared in time. This, then, is his
time to reappear.
Nilikesh Gogol's universe has just
become bigger. From Palo Alto to
Purona Bosti, those who knew him
and what he stood for will sing
his Milakpani song. Those in power
will wonder what this song means. It
is a reminder of peoples' histories,
passions and dreams that run
against ambitious state-driven
projects. It is, after all, a simple song
about the legends, myths and folklore
of the foothills, it is about how our
people live despite the conditions
imposed upon us, and that, in
some wild, wonderful way. justice will
be done. :
Himal Southasian | February 2007
Denial and polarisation
2007 offers little hope of a return to peace in Sri Lanka,
as a survey finds alarming support for the escalating
war. Meanwhile, those in Colombo who speak for peace
and federalism are reviled as anti-nationals.
The undeclared Eelam War IV
in Sri Lanka shows no signs
of abating. The Ceasefire
Agreement, whatever is left of if, is
enervated and made more
irrelevant daily. Violence in the
north and the east increased
dramatically in 2006. Thousands
continue to be displaced - unable
to return to their homes, starving,
without access to basic human
necessities or redress against
repeated human-rights violations.
Many more have fled Sri Lanka to
South India, bringing back
memories of the exodus of refugees
in the late 1980s. In Colombo, a
draconian government with scant
regard for human rights uses the
continuing intransigence of the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as
an excuse to clamp down on civil
society, NGOs and the media.
Legislation enacted in 2006,
most notably the anti-terrorism
regulations, has stifled democratic
rights and civil liberties. Many-
peace rallies around the countrv
have been routed bv thugs and
goons affiliated to current members
of Parliament.
A growing culture of impunity
pervades the country. Ihe
establishment of the International
Independent Croup of Eminent
Persons (IICEP), meant to
display the government's interest
in investigating high-profile
assassinations, killings and
disappearances, is only a halfhearted attempt for the benefit of the
international community. Supine
government advisors, jostling for
favour, write long columns
espousing military offensives as
the onlv way towards a sustainable
peace, with a militarily-emaciated
LTTE believed to be more interested
in a victor's peace process.
The ETTE, for its part, shows no
interest whatsoever in confidence-
building measures and actions that
could lead to a substantive peace
process. The intensity of armed
conflict, coupled with the alleged
suicide bombings and terror attacks
against civilian targets in the south,
galvanise the perennial suspicion
that the Tigers want 'Eelam' at any
cost and will not countenance any
other option.
Vanishing middle ground
Given the intransigence on either
side, securing a modicum of peace
in Sri Lanka in 2007 is going to be
possible onlv through an emphasis
on human rights. In this framework,
the denial of livelihoods and the
large-scale displacement of citizens
in the north and east, in the
interests of national security, are
inexcusable failures of the
Mahinda Rajapakse government.
The idea of those in power to
cleanse the Eastern Province of the
LTTE and position in its place
Karuna and his 'political partv', the
Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal
(TMVP), is extremely disturbing.
Concerns raised by local activists
and international missions about
the Sri Lankan Army's complicity
in Karuna's regime of violence in
the east are met with vehement
denial bv the renegade rebel as well
as the government. But Karuna is
no democrat, and the allegations of
extortion, killings and violence, to
which the government turns a blind
eye, are true. Fhe emplacement of
the TMVP would  only  subject
communities in the cast to another
regime with scant regard for
democratic governance.
But then, denial is the order of
the day. The government has
denied almost every criticism of its
conduct since it assumed power in
November 2003. The polity and
society in Sri Lanka today
are increasingly and perhaps
irrevocably divided - one camp
believes that the actions of the
government will foster peace, the
other that they will exacerbate the
conflict. Tbe middle ground has
shrunk immensely. The space in Sri
Lanka for constructive dissent and
debate on contemporary issues
have severely eroded. With the
president himself stating that
citizens are either with him and the
common man in the war against
terror or against them both, this is a
difficult time for those who oppose
such gross over-simplifications.
And as polarisation increases,
civil society is progressively
marginalised - especially those
voices in support of a negotiated
settlement and the prioritisation of
human rights. Ihe festering mix of
intolerance and impunity is
creating a situation ripe for the
escalation of violence.
As noted in the November 200b
report of the Peace Confidence
Index (PCI) survey conducted bv the
Centre tor Policy Alternatives,
support for a military solution is
rising in the Sinhala communitv. A
quarter of those Sinhalese surveyed
said thev supported a military
solution. The poll finds that
opinion varies significantly
between the communities when
respondents are asked about the
commitment of the government and
the I,TIE to a negotiated peace
settlement. Many Sinhalese agree
that the government is fully capable
of aind committed to a negotiated
peace settlement, and a majority of
up-country Tamils feel that the
LITE is committed to finding peace
through talks. At the same time, the
majority of those polled believe that
it is likely a war will resume. A
majority of Sinhalese polled also
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 agreed that the government should
expand its military action -
including to an all-out war - in
order to weaken the LTTE, possibly
on account of the (willing and
coerced) media blackout on human-
rights violations and ground
conditions in the country's north
and east.
Norway remains unpopular as
a facilitator amongst the Sinhalese,
the majority of whom are
dissatisfied with its role and
disapprove of it continued
involvement with the peace
process. A majority of Sri Lankans
believe that it is the government that
is responsible for protecting human
rights. While 55 percent of the
Sinhala community believes that
the government has done enough
to protect human rights, there is a
sharp difference of opinion
amongst the Sinhalese and up-
country Tamils on this issue; nearly
78 percent of the latter feel human-
rights protection by the government
is inadequate.
These findings reveal the
splinters of a fractured nation.
Showing growing support for a
resumption of a war (albeit of a
Hobbesian nature) that will quickly
weed out the LTTE and its threat to
Sri'Lanka's territorial integrity; they
also flag the growing differences of
opinion regarding conflict and
peace-building between ethnicities.
The victims of this warlike
mentality are both human and
conceptual. The human cost of
renewed conflict is already in the
thousands, not counting the
thousands of families rendered
homeless and hopeless. The
conceptual cost of renewed
hostilities, perhaps even more
disturbing, is the stifling of voices
in support of federalism, democratic
governance and a rights-based
approach to peace-building. Voices
such as that of Kethesh Loganathan
- a noted Tamil-nationalist
intellectual, who at the time of his
assassination was the Deputy
Secretary General of the
government's Peace Secretariat -
have already been brutally silenced.
Many other people, fearing for their
lives, have contemplated exile, or
are now censoring their articles and
interventions in the media and in
public life. The fear of death,
palpable and real, stalks many
leading peace activists in Sri Lanka
today. The generation of this fear
has largely escaped international
condemnation because of its
relative invisibility in light of the
visceral atrocities in the north and
east of the island-
War for peace?
Given such a scenario, how can one
maintain optimism and hope7 This
is a difficult question to answer. The
onlv alternative to the ethnic
conflict in Sri Lanka is a federal,
negotiated solution that secures the
inalienable democratic rights of all
citizens. To this end, war may not
be a mad idea conceptually - if it
miraculously goes according to
plan, the expectation is that it will
'liberate' tracts of lands and peoples
in the north and east, delivering
unto them democracy denied for
over two decades.
Given the warranted suspicion
by manv of this ever taking place -
not to mention the democratic
deficit in the south, and the sordid
history of manv botched vvars-for-
peace efforts in the past - war must
be considered a bad idea. In other
words, military offensives mav
secure tracts of land, but it is
impossible to think that the
incumbent government can secure
the hearts and minds of those who
have borne the brunt of war. And is
it not the case that the same
problems with governance,
corruption, nepotism and lack of
delivery of government services that
have led to so much hardship and
despair in the war-affected areas are
borne by all citizens, even those in
the south? This must be the central
case for federalism - that it is not
merely a solution to the ethnic
conflict but a means bv which to
secure better living conditions,
better governance, better service
delivery, and more accountable,
transparent and responsive state
institutions in the service of citizens
in the south, west, east and north of
Sri Lanka.
Regrettably, the articulation of
such views in Sri Lanka todav
immediately relegates the speaker
to an increasingly abhorred
minoritv. Worse, this minority is
one that is perceived to write and
speak in favour of enemies of the
state, and is thus to be 'contained'
at all costs. And containment
involves abduction, torture, the
threat of violence and even outright
murder. Todav, Sri Lanka is not just
at war against the LTTE. It is at war
with those who support democracy,
justice, the rule of law and
fundamental rights. It is imperative
that the international community
support democratic voices within
Sri Lanka to ensure that the country
does not emerge victorious against
the LTTE, only to find that it suffers
a severe deficit of democracy.
Accordingly, urgent and sustained
measures are needed to secure and
strengthen rule of law and
democracy. And, as noted in the
January 2007 report released by All
Party Representative Committee
(APRC) chairman Tissa Vitharana,
we need to develop a more robust
idea of what it is to be 'Sri Lankan':
The right of every constituent
people lo develop its own language,
lo develop and promote its culture
.md to preserve lis history anai the
right to its due share ot State power
including the right lo due
representation in institutions of
government shall be recognised
without in onv wav weakening the
common Sri Lankan identity.
This larger Sri Lankan identity,
one we are so desperately in need
of today, is founded on respect for
human rights, fostered through
democratic means, sustained
through non-military measures
and made possible by meaningful
power-sharing along federal lines.
It is this simple point that needs to
be drilled into the minds of those in
power, those with arms in Sri Lanka
and those who call for war - this
vear, and in the years to come.      |.
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 1 "'■■;" ' *',.   ''"-
Throughout the 1990s and
into the current decade, the
rhetoric of the various
governments in Pakistan regarding
economic policy and the mantra for
success has revolved around
privatisation, deregulation and
liberalisation - the foundational
pillars of the so-called Washington
Consensus. Sympathetic Western
economists propagated the idea that
these three acts have four
significant effects. First, they would
unleash the potential of private
initiative in areas of international
trade, as well as in sectors that the
private sector had previously been
barred from entering. Second,
thev would make the public sector
more competitive by privatising
substantial chunks of it, bv
increasing competitive pressures
being offered by private-sector
alternatives or by introducing of
corporatisation within the public
sector. Third, they would limit the
losses of the public sector. And
fourth, doing so would hopefully
allow the government to lower
fiscal deficits and possible impacts
of explicit or implicit, actual or
contingent liabilities.
Bv the dictates of the Washington
Consensus, the role of government
is redefined. 'Right-sizing',
'ciown-si/ing' and 'restructuring'
would allow the government to
remain only in areas where it could
actually deliver something, or
where its presence was necessary.
The 'commanding heights' of the
economy were to be turned over to
the private sector, and the
government was to become a
guarantor oi a level playing field',
ensuring that the 'rules of the ganie'
were clear and adhered to bv all.
And this was not just rhetoric,
lhe successive governments ol
the 1990s and early 2000s did
indeed pursue these objectives
enthusiastically. Trade barriers
were significantly lessened: average
tariffs were brought down, tariff
spreads were reduced, most
quantitative restrictions on imports
and exports were abolished, and
'negative   lists'   were   trimmed
Failure of
to failure
of market
While privatisation has led
to some important gains in
Pakistan in recent years,
Islamabad policymakers
have been too accepting
and uncritical of Western
market economics. In
particular, regulation in the
country's newly liberalised
markets needs to he
substantially. Vlost of the industrial
enterprises in the public sector have
now been privatised; banking,
insurance and non-bank financial
sectors are now mostly private; and
manv utilities were privatised.
What has been left is slated for
privatisation over the next few
vears. Islamabad has opened up
almost all of the country's sectors -
barring a few related to defence,
nuclear energv and other strategic
areas - to private investment. Over
the last decade and a half,
government expenditures have
been trimmed, fiscal deficits have
been more than halved and even
international debt has been
restructured to furnish more fiscal
space for tlie government.
The deeper thinking behind the
emphasis on privatisation,
deregulation and liberalisation,
has been about government
failure (as contrasted with market
failure) and the inability of
government-owned and -operated
organisations to resolve issues
related to principal-agent problems,
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 high-powered incentives, hard
budgets and so on. But what was
not appreciated enough was that
the government had entered these
areas precisely because these
sectors were not verv competitive,
had significant fixed- and sunk-
cost elements, were prone to
externalities and other market
failures, and had elements of
oligopolies or monopolies. So,
while pointing out government
failure was important, it did not
make sense to suggest that
privatisation, liberalisation and
deregulation would lead to better
outcomes in all sub-sectors and
under all conditions.
Instead, what was needed was a
careful deliberation on market
technologies and market
conditions and structures in these
areas and a consideration of what
would be the best of four options.
In the first scenario, the government
would continue to be the dominant
player in the area, but with better
incentives for delivering efficiency.
In the second, the area would be
opened up for competition from the
private sector, but with better
incentives for delivering efficiency.
In the third, the government would
be removed from the sector
completely. .And in the fourth, a
sector-specific and/or general
regulator would be introduced
in the area, irrespective of
the constitution of its players.
In the forced enforcement of
the Washington Consensus,
this careful consideration was
almost completely ignored, lhe
government went in for major
initiatives in privatisation,
liberalisation and deregulation,
without carrying out a nuanced
analysis of the sectors beforehand.
This has led to some outcomes in
service areas where the state was
previously active that have
definitely not been improvements
over the initial conditions.
Monopoly* Control Authority
In the early 1990s, the government
of Pakistan decided that it had no
business owning, controlling or
The only area where the regulator has been
strengthened sufficiently, and is doing well, is in
operating cement plants. It thus
decided to allow the private sector
to enter into the area, and to
privatise all the plants that it
owned. By the mid-1990s, most of
the transition had been achieved,
and the control of the sector was
shifted from the State Cement
Corporation to the market
and private sector. .Almost
immediately after the change of
stewardship, prices in the sector
rose significantly, prompting
charges that a cartel had been
formed to raise prices and that
certain players had begun making
significantly higher profits.
The charge of cartelisation was
not completely absurd. At that time,
as now, the industry had plants that
were both new and old; older plants
had machinery that had been
already paid for and so had lower
costs; certain plants were following
different production technologies
and different inputs. But all were
coexisting in the same market. At
the same time, prices were well
above costs of production, and there
was excess capacity lying
unutilised. The price increases also
could not be explained bv increases
in costs ot inputs or changes on the
demand side. As such, there was
sufficient evidence to suggest that
something was afoot in the sector.
The national Monopoly Control
Authority (V1CA) did investigate
the charges, eventually ruling that
the sector was indeed cartelised
and needed intervention. The ruling
was set aside by the government of
the time, but since then there have
been repeated episodes of price
increases and supply disruptions
in the cement sector, and allegations
of cartels have been commonly
voiced in the media. The MCA has
subsequently investigated the area
multiple times, and there have also
been calls for investigations from
the National Accountability
Bureau (currently Pakistan's main
anti-corruption bod v), but there has
not been anv definitive action
undertaken bv the government.
Prices in the sector do show a
pattern: stable, high prices for some
time, followed bv a period of
decrease and variability in prices
before thev again become high and
stable. This pattern could be the
result of periods of cartel activity"
(which would explain the stable
prices) followed by periods when
the cartel breaks down (which
explains the erratic episodes). Such
patterns are possible when, in a
dynamic situation, there are
incentives for both forming a cartel
and cheating; or when the
environment keeps intruding - for
instance bv unpredictable supply,
cost or demand shocks, or changes
in expectations. Nonetheless, a
more detailed study of the area is
needed to be sure about the facts
and to figure out what should be
done as a remedy.
Herein lies the rub: privatisation of
areas with significant noncompetitive elements can lead to
cartels, monopoly pricing, as well
as other non-competitive
behaviours and practices that can
harm the interests not only of lhe
consumer, but also of other existing
and potential competitors as well.
In fact, there are certain practices -
such as raising rivals' costs,
deterring entry, deterring
innovation, and so on - that can
distort competition for the future as
well as the pace and direction of
innovation and research and
development ol an area. To deal
with such potential eventualities, at
least three elements are needed:
sophisticated competition laws that
acknowledge the possibility of such
activities; a competition authority
or     sector-specific     regulatory
Himal Southasian \ February 2007
 The senior staff in these regulators ali have well-paid
jobs, they do not do a whole lot, do not have the
capacity for the sophisticated work that is needed, and
do not have the necessary government backing.
authority that not only has the
power to keep an eye on things, but
also the power to investigate if any
such activity is indeed hampering
fair competition and if anyone is
using any unfair practices; and a
legal system that effectively backs
the regulator to give it power and
authority to punish transgressors.
While privatisation and
liberalisation started in Pakistan in
the late 1980s, no changes were
made to the competition law and
none instituted in the workings of
the MCA. There were also no
investments made to enhance the
capacity of the MCA to detect and
investigate issues, and there was no
backing for the MCA's role. In fact,
it is only within the last couple of
years that there has been talk of
creating a Competition Authority to
replace the MCA, with a revised
law and increased powers,
resources and capabilities fc>r
research, investigation and
analysis. But this is still just talk,
despite more than a decade of
complaints from the cement sector.
In other areas, privatisation
started before the creation of a
sector-specific regulator and in fact,
the creation of the regulator was
delayed precisely to allow
privatisation to occur before the
regulator could have a role in
managing it. Even once they were
created, the regulators were neither
financed sufficiently, given the
requisite human resource, nor
otherwise allowed the backing from
the government that they required.
Take the case of Pakistan's
electricity sector. Private power
generators were allowed to start
projects in the late 1980s and early
1990s, before the National Electric
Power Regulatory Authority
(NEPRA) was in place and could
start functioning effectively. Even
today, after more than a decade,
NEPRA does not have the ability to
conduct research on optimal tariffs;
does not have detailed information
on the cost of production of the
Water and Power Development
Authority (WAPDA); does not have
the capability to analyse most issues
related to the optimal mix of energy,
topping up policies, policies related
to time-of-dav tariffs and so on; does
not have the ability to validate or
invalidate WAPDA's assertions on
costs or efficiency, and thus
cannot do the job of protecting the
interests of consumers, existing
and potential competitors,
or society as a whole. The
government's level of commitment
is also apparent in the fact that the
post of the head of NEPRA is
considered a cushy retirement
hangout for army generals.
It is clear that the government is
not interested in creating regulators
that are well-financed and well-
equipped in terms of manpower
and hardware, as the same pattern
is found in the government's
treatment of other regulators. The
Pakistan Telecommunication
Authority (PTA), the Oil and Cas
Regulatory Authority (OCRA), and
Pakistan Electronic Media
Regulatory Authority (PFMRA), all
face the same sorts of problems. The
senior staff in all these regulators
all have well-paid jobs, do not do a
whole lot, do not have the capacity
for the sophisticated work that is
needed, and do not have the
necessary government backing.
Dangerous oversight
There are areas that still do not have
effective regulators. Though
Pakistan Railways is being
corporatised, it is still acting as the
sole provider of railway services in
the country, and behaving as if it
were the regulator as well. Clearly
this is not healthy. Private entry has
been allowed in the aviation sector,
but Pakistan International Airlines,
the longtime monopoly provider, is
still the main carrier in the domestic
sector, and other private companies
complain that the government and
related authorities allow it too
much leeway and that the playing
field is uneven. In service delivery,
as well as in education, health,
water provision and solid-waste
management, the government
has not even started thinking
about regulation in any
systematic manner.
The onlv area in which the
regulator has been strengthened
sufficiently, and is doing well, is in
banking, lhe State Bank of
Pakistan, which holds the power
to regulate all of the country's
banks, has been performing the
function reasonably well. It
has been able to deter and avoid
manv a crisis, or at least to handle
them judiciously.
Poor regulation and regulatory
environment is not just an issue for
the consumer - it creates problems
for competitors and can create
significant hurdles in the optimal
development of entire sectors as it
distorts incentives for entry,
competition, innovation and R&D.
The government of Pakistan, in its
haste to privatise, deregulate and
liberalise, has focused on getting
out, cutting its liabilities and
lowering its deficits. In doing so, it
has mainly tried to live up to its
commitments to the multilaterals.
The government authorities have
not given much thought to the
medium- to long-term impacts of
their oversights. In some areas,
Pakistani citizens are already
seeing the costs of these failings; in
others, they are sure to become
apparent soon enough. The
Islamabad government must
realise that optimal regulation is a
facilitator of competition and
growth, anti not merely a 'control
mechanism'. Until it does, the
country will continue to pay the
price for one sort of failure (that of
the market) if not for the other (that
of the government). a
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Future students of Nepali society will look back
at the period from 2005 to 2007 with awe and
bewilderment, for rarely in Southasia has
'history' evolved at such breakneck speed. A few
images have come to define this fast-paced political
process: the sour-faced Gyanendra announcing the
royal coup on national television on 1 February 2005;
public protests on Kathmandu streets during 2005-06;
the text of the 12-point understanding between the
Maoists and the political parties; the first public
appearanee of Pushpa Kamal Dahal (aka 'Prachanda')
in decades; the 19-dayr countrywide Jana Andolan; Girija
Prasad Koirala's appointment as prime minister;
Dahal's arrival in Kathmandu for a summit meeting
with the PM by helicopter and escorted by the home
minister; and, at the end of it all, political leaders and
interlocutors posing for a photo-op after agreeing on a
draft of the interim constitution.
On 15 January, a video image, possibly the most
definitive, wras added to this list. More than 70 Maoists,
many ex-fighters among them, entered the ornate and
overcrowded central hall of the national Parliament
as members of the interim legislature. It was a moment
that symbolised the transformation of a rebel
Nepal's perplexing
moment of opportunity
An interim constitution is in place in Kathmandu, and with the Maoists placing their arms in
containers under the eye of United Nations monitors, the rebels are about to join the government.
Successful in the arena of making peace, the octogenarian Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala
now watches with perplexity as disaffection grips the countryside, and particularly the Tarai
plains, There is deep suspicion among many that they will be left behind in the process of
constitution-making, even as government administration fails to provide the minimal law and
order the public has a right to expect. Something is keeping the country together, and it probably
is the confidence the people still harbour that Nepal could be the showcase for representative
government in Southasia.
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 underground force into a mainstream 'parliamentary'
political party, even if the topmost leaders chose to
stay away from a legislature which thev had often
described as a fraud on the people, likening it to a
butcher's shop. After hiccups and delays over the last
few months, the image came at an important juncture,
for it reassured both the Nepali people and the
international community that the peace process was
on track.
Indeed, in the big political picture, iNepal appears
to be moving in accordance with the Comprehensive
Peace Agreement (CPA) signed on 21 iNovember 2006,
which declared the end of the Maoists' People's War
and laid out a roadmap for the future. The interim
constitution has been promulgated; the process of
monitoring Maoist arms and fighters by the United
Nations has begun; the interim government, with
Maoist participation, will be in place within a few
weeks; and preparations for the conduct of the
Constituent Assembly elections in mid-June are on.
But politics, much less history, is never as unilinear.
The interim constitution, which will define Nepal's
polity during the transition period, has come under
heavy flak from several quarters. There is scepticism
about the arms-supervision process, about whether the
rebels will put down all their guns (accompanied by-
dark suggestions of a weapons-buying spree in the
Bihar underground), and whether they have indeed
shed their hierarchical, militarist mindset. Serious
doubts persist about whether elections can be held in
early June, as per the CPA. Excluded communities, and
especially the Madhesis in the Tarai belt in the latest
instance, are agitated that their concerns about
electoral system in place for the assembly polls have
not been heard. A group from the eastern Tarai that
had fractured from the Maoists (and now has itself
also broken into two) has taken up arms to fight the
state for its version of 'Madhesi rights'.
Political alliances are in ferment in Nepal today, as
the experiments of peacemaking and state-
restructuring move in parallel. There is an air of
anarchy, with the erosion of the state's authority that
has been progressing since the April People's
Movement suddenly becoming apparent to one and
all. Amidst the cacophony, there has been little public-
debate on the critical campaign issues that will be part
and parcel of the Constituent Assembly debates on
restructuring of the state - federalism versus
centralism, affirmative action, electoral systems, and
myriad other issues on the basis of which the various
parties will have to formulate their election campaigns.
There is a sense of flux, with even the well-informed
unclear about what the immediate future holds. Indeed,
Nepal is at a critical, and utterly confusing, moment in
its political evolution, a moment that could be used to
build or to destroy.
Political constitutionalism
For all the progress over the past vear, Nepal's political
structure has been in legal limbo. Political changes
since April - from the reinstatement of the House of
Representatives to the flurry of historic declarations
passed by it, such as the one that clipped the wings of
the monarchy - have drawn their legitimacy from the
Jana Andolan of April, and a consensual interpretation
of what it represented. But formal government systems
require more than an abstract expression of popular
will. While the Constituent Assembly has the mandate
to write a constitution for a 'new Nepal', political actors
clearly realised the need for a document that would
award the present situation legitimacy, draw the
Maoists into the mainstream, lav out guidelines for
the transition period, and outline a roadmap for the
assembly elections.
After intense wrangling and deliberation, the Seven
Party Alliance (SPA) and the Communist Party of Nepal
(Maoist) agreed on an interim constitution draft in the
middle of December 2006. Among other provisions,
the detailed statute dealt with the composition of the
interim legislature, the rules during the transition
period, and the electoral system for the Constituent
Assembly. It was decided that the interim legislature
would include 330 members - 209 from the present
Parliament, 73 new Maoist members, and
48 individuals from civil society, a number eventually
split up between the eight parties including
the Maoists.
It took a month for the Parliament to promulgate the
draft - a delay explained by the lack of preparedness
on the part of the state and the United Nations to
institutionalise arrangements for arms management
so soon, as well as the criticism from various quarters
of the interim constitution and the manner in which it
was framed. Strikingly though, the draft was adopted
in its original form bv the House, without taking into
account these concerns. The whip was used by the
party leaders to force through the document without
compromising, a decision they may live to regret with
the instability in Tarai heightening the last week of
January 2007.
Amidst the cacophony, there has been little public debate on the critical campaign
issues that will be part and parcel of the Constituent Assembly debates on restructuring
of the state - federalism versus centralism, affirmative action, electoral system, and a
myriad other issues on the basis of which the various parties will have to formulate
their election campaigns.
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Despite flaws, some of which can be corrected in the interim legislature, the constitution
does serve the purpose for which it seems to have been framed - it is an interim
document meant to integrate the Maoists into the political system, legally sidelining
the monarchy, and providing the basis for future developments.
One major criticism of the statute is that it violates a
cardinal principle of liberal democracy - the
separation of powers. Under the present system, the
executive in command of both the legislature and
judiciary. The prime minister plays a key role in the
appointment of judges, and even swears in the chief
justice of the Supreme Court. This sparked outrage in
legal circles, but to no avail other than to alert the public
to the dangers inherent in the interim constitution. The
suggestion that a three- or four-member council perform
the functions of the head of state was ignored, and
that role was also given to the prime minister.
Additionally, the interim constitution does not have a
provision for the removal of the prime minister by a
House vote. Some observers suspect that this move was
engineered by the Maoists, who see themselves as
potential contenders for the prime ministerial position
if the frail 85-year-old Girija Prasad Koirala decides
to let go of the reins. Indeed, Koirala himself
has expressed concern in private and public over
the supreme powers vested in his office by the
interim statute.
"The April movement was for democracy, not for a
totalitarian system. We have created a new dictator to
negate the old dictator," argues journalist Yubaraj
Ghimire. Others, however, are not as worried. While
agreeing in principle with the criticism, political
scientist Krishna Hachhethu points out that it was the
need to marginalise the king, and keep a check on the
judiciary - "a conservative institution" and "an ally
of the monarch" - that resulted in making the prime
minister all-powerful. Besides, there are enough
differences within the disparate eight-party alliance
to keep in check any hegemonistic tendencies, say
others. Political analyst (and columnist for this
magazine) C K Lai points to the exceptional
circumstances in the country: "An interim
arrangement is by definition meant to tackle an
emergency-type situation. In such times, normal
theories of political science may not necessarily fit in."
But there are other problems as well. Some analysts
claim that the statute emplaces a monopoly of the eight
parties, including the Maoists, over the entire political
system. This is reflected, for example, in rules put in
place for registration of new parties, whereby only
those parties that can present 10,000 signatures and
that agree with the preamble of the interim constitution
will be recognised by the Election Commission. "This
is the constitution of the eight parties, not of the
people," says Sushil Pyakurel, a leading human-rights
and political activist. "In a post-revolution phase, there
is often a tendency to see all opponents as counterrevolutionaries, and that is what is happening right
now. The eight parties never had the mandate to draw
such a detailed constitution and d ictate terms. We must
be careful."
Indeed, the eight parries seem to have created some
problems for themselves and the country by?
formulating a detailed interim constitution. The
elaborate nature of the draft has undermined faith in
the Constituent Assembly as the proper venue for
resolving issues. Groups left out of the consultative
process, and whose demands have not been addressed,
suspect that the interim constitution will be presented
as fait accompli and will form the core basis of any
future text, in which case they will lose out. The fact
that the interim period may last as long as three years,
if not more, adds to the worries of these groups. Some
observers suspect that it is the Maoists who pushed
for a long text, for they are tmsure about whether they
will be able to muster the required numbers in the
Constituent Assembly to have constitutional clauses
of their choice.
The lack of broad-based consultation is most clearly
reflected in the fact that all vital elements were
essentially decided by Koirala and Dahal and their
deputies, with other leaders merely acting as
rubber-stamps. It may have been impossible to
negotiate the draft constitution by committee, but it is
also a fact that in focusing only on bringing the Maoists
in from the jungle, the festering unhappiness of
numerous communities around the country was not
paid heed to.
Despite its flaws, some of which can be corrected in
the interim legislature, the constitution does serve the
Himal Southasian j February 2007
 While the statute does moke a reference to
the need to restructure the unitary model
of the state, the need for a federal system
has not been explicitly recognised, which
has angered groups representing
marginalised communities.
purpose for which it seems to have been framed - it is
an interim document meant to integrate the Maoists
into the political system, legally sidelining the
monarchy, and providing the basis for future
developments. Politicians argue that the fact that
disparate political forces could agree on a common
text is in itself a remarkable achievement. Indeed, the
text does accommodate divergent interests, which also
possibly explains its detailed nature. But there is no
denying that there is one problem inherent in the
elaborate statute, which has the potential to set society
spinning out of control: the document's lack
of 'inclusion' and failure to recognise the plurality of
the populace.
Madhesi cauldron
Across the political spectrum of Madhes - inhabited
by communities of the Tarai plains - the anger is
palpable, if MPs from the Nepal Sadbhavana Party
(Anandi Devi), representing Tarai aspirations,
presented their objections to the interim constitution
in Parliament, the Madhesi janadhikar forum, a
recently formed political outfit, burned copies of the
document outside. The Janatantrik Tarai Mukti
Morcha, a Maoist splinter group led by Jai Prakash
Goit, continues its armed rebellion in the south of the
country. A breakaway faction of the JTMM, led bv Jwala
Singh, has embarked on a separate armed campaign.
The more radical of these groups have the stated aim
of creating an 'independent' Tarai, a slogan which is
seen by most as a bargaining chip in order to get the
hill-centric Nepali political structure to at long last
listen to the Tarai people as full citizens rather than
While many of these groups do not necessarily have
a coherent set of demands, the common theme is the
exploitation of Madhesis bv the mid-hill elite
throughout history. In the present context, two
objections come to the fore: the absence of any specific
reference to federalism in the interim constitution, and
a blatantly unfair and unrepresentative electoral model
for the Constituent Assembly.
Excluded communities in Nepal, especially the hill
ethnic groups and Madhesis, blame the Bahun-Chhetri-
dominated Kathmandu-centric nature of the state for
the history of suppression they have undergone. While
the statute does make a reference to the need to
restructure the unitary model ot the state, the need tor
a federal system has not been explicitly recognised,
which has angered groups representing these
communities. The fact is that this is merely an interim
draft, and the debate on federalism has not yet even
begun to take into account the myriad complexities of
the country. It is indeed the Constituent Assembly that
will deliberate on the specificities of the federal
structure, but this argument does not go down well
with these groups. "The entire political and
constitutional system has been changed in this
document. Why do the leaders remember the
Constituent Assemble onlv when it comes to the issue
of federalism? Thev clearly don't want to commit
themselves to devolution or share power with the
regions,'' savs Anil Kumar jha. a leader of the Nepal
Sadbhavana Party (A).
While a firmer reference to a federal structure may
be enough to assuage the discontented, what is proving
to be more contentious is the electoral system for the
Constituent Assembly. At present, the CPA and the
interim constitution provide tor 42a seats in the
assembly, with a mixed electoral system. 205 members
are to be elected on the basis of the 'first past the post'
(FP'fP) svstem from the same electoral constituencies,
which were in place tor the earlier Parliament; another
204 members are to be elected according to
proportional representation (PK), wherein parties will
nominate additional members to the assembly
according to the percentage of votes they poll. Another
16 individuals, possibly representing the intelligentsia
and other groups, are to be nominated to the assembly.
Manv of the smaller groups, along with some larger
parties - including, claim its leaders, the CPN (Maoist)
- were initially demanding a completely PR-based
system, this would, thev argued, facilitate the
inclusion of minorities in the constitution-making
exercise, as such a svstem is more conducive for parties
that are in a position to garner a sizeable vote share at
a broader level, but not to win in constituencies on
their own. The system could also have required the
major parties to make their lists of candidates inclusive
and representative of population groups.
The choice of the mixed electoral system has thrown
up two broad sets of objections. Analysts point out
that in a context in which parties do not have a good
track record of representing and moderating
aspirations of different groups, it mav have been more
prudent to introduce a completely population-based
proportional representation system in the first place.
Groups representing Dalits, women, tbe hill-ethnic
Janajatis as well as Madhesis are concerned about the
selection of candidates under both systems. Thev are
demanding an equitable share not onlv during the
ticket-distribution stage for the FP1 P svstem for 205
seats, but also want the parties to commit themselves
to a list that is representative of diverse population
groups - and prioritises the marginalised communities
 - under the PR system. In their public statements, the
parties claim they are willing to do so, and even to
frame rules in this regard in consultation with the
Election Commission.
But it is the second objection that seems more
difficult to manage. Madhesi groups, as well as many
independent observers, have alwayrs felt that the
present demarcation of constituencies violates the
principle of equitable population representation, given
that the number of people in electoral districts in the
Tarai far outnumbers those in the majority of hill
constituencies. For instance, in some constituencies in
the south, more than 100,000 people send in one
candidate to the erstwhile Parliament, while in
Manang, in the upper reaches, there are less than
10,000 people in an entire constituency. "This has
always been a recipe for Pahadi [hill] domination,"
argues Bijay Kanta Kama, a Madhesi activist. "It just
shows the vote of every Nepali is not given equal value.
And the Madhesis bear the brunt of this
discrimination. The proposed electoral model, with the
same constituencies, will only perpetuate the
discrimination." In addition, the lack of fairness is
compounded because the very parties who win
through the FPTP system are also to choose the
members for the 204 proportional representation seats.
The solution to this quagmire could entail going
back to the table and redrawing all constituencies in a
more equitable manner. Others suggest that a positive
'gerrymandering' of the electoral districts of the Tarai
belt, or adding more constituencies in the plains, might
be able to provide a quicker way out. There is another
possibility - that of adding more seats under the PR
list, which would be reserved for communities that
have low representation among the elected members.
While some bigger parties, especially the Nepali
Congress, appear unwilling, it may make sense to go
back and even examine the possibility of a 100-percent
proportional system for the entire election exercise,
which could give more space to smaller otrtfits. rather
than have a mixed FPTP and PR system.
The proportional system has its problems,
including the fact that people do not get to choose
specific individuals, the decision being left largely to
the choices of party bosses. Irrespective of what model
would be best, the political actors must recognise that
there is an extremely urgent need to think about the
issue, look at various options, and change the electoral
system. To claim, as some leaders are prone to der, that
these issues will be discussed in the Constituent
Assembly is to miss the point, for the idea is to ensure
all communities feel represented and have a say in the
assembly in the first place.
But considering alternative models seems like an
academic exercise at present, given the eight-party
government's intransigence. Major political leaders are
clearly unwilling to change the electoral system,
whether for fear.of losing a handle on (from their
perspective) a tried-and-tested system, or for fear of
opening up a Pandora's Box. Says Jhalanath Khanal,
a senior leader of the Communist Party of Nepal
(Unified Marxist-Leninist) and a key negotiator in the
peace process: "We do recognise the inequity inherent
in the present demarcation, which should be changed
at some point. But we also need to stick with our
commitment of holding elections by mid-June, since a
delay might encourage reactionary forces. So we have
decided not to change the electoral system for now,
and go ahead with what is already agreed upon."
What complicates the situation further is that the
ferment in the Tarai often has more to do with the
memory of being historically suppressed than with
substantive demands. There is also the all-too-familiar
'nationalist' dimension - some Kathmandu
commentators claim that India must be playing a part
in inciting trouble in the Tarai, as a strategy^ to undercut
Maoist influence in the belt. Sources in the Indian
Embassy, however, deny this claim. "Look, Nepal is
proving to be a rare success case for Indian diplomacy
in the region," says one embassy official. "Our entire
'The state must remember that no one is
willing to die for a bright future, but there
is no dearth of people willing to die for a
bleak past,'
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 strategy is aimed at creating a stable neighbourhood.
Why would we incite trouble so close to our border?"
Others flag off the possibility of a royalist hand in
stirring trouble.
It is indeed possible that the palace may take
advantage of the instability, as could some renegade
Indian intelligence agency or Hindutva groups intent
on the retention of a 'Hindu kingdom' - howsoever"
impossible that may seem to most. But the issue is
fundamentally domestic, and will need to be addressed
in Kathmandu and the towns of the Tarai - not by
pointing fingers at New Delhi or the Narayanhiti
Palace. Beneath the clutter and noise of the ever-
increasing number of splinter groups lies anger about
real and perceived discrimination, accumulated over
years, which is being tapped by outfits at a time of
political assertivencss all around.
While hill ethnicities had found their voice since
the introduction of democracy in 1990, the Tarai
people had remained quiet and felt progressively
stifled. When they realised that they had gotten a raw
deal yet again with the flaws in the interim constitution
- which would prevent fair representation and deprive
them of a chance to shape the future state structure -
these groups rose up to assert themselves. The assertion
is indeed a positive sign, as it is important that the
marginalised speak up and claim their rightful share
in all spheres. But unfortunately, there is a danger of it
descending into politics of violence. This is partly
because the political culture is such that government
does not seem to respond to moderates, and also
becasue of growing perception among some groups
that they have to raise the gun to be heard. This is
politically naive and dangerous, besides being morally
questionable. One can only dread the chain reaction
such a mindset can potentially set off if discontent
groups - from the far-westerners and Dalits of the hills
and plains to Tharus - come to believe violence is the
way to go.
The present flux can also be attributed to the fact
that the problems are just at an airing phase in Nepal.
The extreme diversity of the populace and the growing
identity-based assertion have created complexities -
as soon as there is a question of power-sharing, the
need for cohabitation becomes obvious. The present
system is finding it difficult, for a host of reasons, to
accommodate these divergent aspirations. The fact that
all this is happening even as the process of bringing
the Maoists into mainstream politics is just taking
shape restricts the space available to the state to act.
The state seems to have little clue about how to
politically manage these sentiments, though there are
reports of back-channel communications wtith the
armed groups of the Tarai. Tlie fact that these militant
groups are offshoots of the Maoists has not helped
matters. The former rebels are reported to be most
resistant to the idea of the government engaging with
either or both factions of the JTMM and thereby giving
them any sort of legitimacy. Senior Maoist leaders have
been heard advocating stringent action by security
forces against the JTMM, and Dahal has rebuffed the
idea of talking to these groups by dismissing them as
'criminals'. Ironically, the entire Tarai issue has had
the unintended consequence of making the Maoists
look and act a part of the establishment and state
structure, which was in a sense the aim of the present
process. The challenge of running a country such as
Nepal, much more difficult than spouting rhetoric
unaccountably and behind the barrel of the gun, has
hit the former rebels straight-up in the face.
Jt is clear that such a strategy would only exacerbate
the situation. What is needed instead is active political
engagement. Notes C K Lai: "The government just
needs to listen to all groups. If they listen, they will
realise that no major party has a Madhesi chairperson
or secretar\r; that out of the 500 or so political
appointments since the Jana Andolan, less than one
percent have been Madhesis. Right now, the situation
is at the level of grievances. If not heeded, it will
translate into demands, which will soon become
conditional and then turn non-negotiable. The state
must remember that no one is willing to die for a bright
future, but there is no dearth of people willing to die
for a bleak past." Mter a decade of senseless violence,
it is time that custodians of the Nepali state - nowr
including the gentrifying leaders of the CPN (Maoist)
- learn that lesson, and address the anger that is
spreading across the plains.
Interim challenges
Even as the Tarai emerges as fhe centre of attention, it
is important to remember that a peace process is still
in progress in Kathmandu and beyond. The interim
period, which will see an innovative political
arrangement with Maoist participation, is expected to
throw up its own set of challenges.
All eyes will be on the Maoists, and their
transformation from a rebel force to a part of the state
structure, which will require reconciling the radical
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 demands of their frontal organisations with their role
in government (including the post of 'senior deputy
prime minister'). The fact that top leaders of the partv,
including Dahal, ideologue Baburam Bhattarai and
military commander Kam Bahadur Thapa ('Badal')
have not joined the interim legislature mav provide an
alarming clue to Maoist strategy. With the top leaders
outside, the Maoists clearly plan to plav a dual role, bv
being in the government as a ruling force as well as on
the streets as a radical opposition.
While there may be some differences in the number
of arms given up by the erstwhile rebels and the
government's own estimation of the number, the
process of arms monitoring is nevertheless expected
to move smoothly. For something that was considered
the major hurdle till a month ago, 'arms management'
is now regarded as a problem that has been
surmounted, just as the Indian 'go-ahead' for United
Nations involvement is no longer talked about even
though New Delhi's acquiescence was seen as all-
important till the middle of 2006.
Ihe expectation that 'arms management' will be
smooth has fundamentally to do with the fact that the
Maoists - at all levels, though with a difference in
degree - have come to terms with the need to engage in
popular politics. Reports that the Maoists are sending
in newer and younger recruits to the cantonments,
while keeping soldiers ofthe People's Liberation Army
(PLA) outside, may have an element of truth to them.
Bui it is important to keep things in perspective. As
Deepak Thapa, a scholar on the Maoist movement,
explains, "There is little difference between political
and military cadre in such parties. Many PLA members
are out because thev will be used for partv
campaigning during the Constituent Assembly-
elections." Ihe assurance regarding the disarmament
process also has to do with confidence in the
involvement of the United Nations in the
monitoring. The UN team, which is headed by longtime international peace-maker Ian Martin, former head
of Amnesty International, is expected not to
make compromises on international standards
of disarmament, nor to allow the Maoists to
take shortcuts.
The other challenge is the weakening capacity,
reach and authority of the state. There is currently an
air of anarchy in the country, with groups blocking
roads and bringing the country to a halt at the slightest
pretext. These groups have various demands, and
believe that this is the time, with the state in a relatively
weak position, to make their demands heard. Part of
the problem can also be ascribed to the continuing
demoralised state of the Nepal Police, which does not
have the political backing to take action for the sake of
maintaining a base level of law and order. Home
Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula, who is seen to have
acted admirably in the difficult task of ensuring the
'safe-landing' of the Maoists, is given failing grades
For a!! their differences, parties know thai
anyone seen as jikiymy the spoiler in the
peace process wiii lose credibility and
support, perhaps irreparably.
for his inability to maintain a semblance of
administration in the country. This has resulted in more
lawlessness than there might otherwise have been.
Manv observers are worried about the anarchy.
"There is a total erosion oi the authority of the state,
And civil society, with its unreasonable demands on
the state, is only pushing it further towards death,"
savs journalist Chimirc, referring to the populism
resorted to by manv civil-society faces, with some of
the prominent ones being perceived as apologists for
the Maoists, "fhe lack ot a minimum level of state
administration has political scientist Hachhethu
concerned as well; "In the past vear, our big success
has been the transformation ol the Maoists into a
mainstream force; our biggest failure has been in the
realm of governance."
Lhe frail health ot the octogenarian Koirala is also a
major source of concern. The prime minister has weak
lungs from 45 years of chain-smoking, and is extremely
low on physical energv and stamina. What after Girija?
is a question doing the rounds not only in Kathmandu
political circles but across the country. Koirala has
indeed emerged as the tallest leader over the past few
years - standing up to Gyanendra's designs, getting
all parliamentary parties on one platform, becoming
indispensable to Dahal and other Maoist leaders in
their movement towards mainstream politics, and
handling the delicate interim phase with what became
the trademark astuteness of a near-recluse.
But Koirala has centralised power in his own person
and has no known lieutenant to which he can hand
over the reins. What would happen to the process it he
were to be incapacitated? While there is bound to be a
succession struggle, analysts are confident it will not
now derail the process. Thanks to Koirala himself, the
difficult phase of getting the Maoists on board is over,
and foundations for the political evolution ahead have
already been laid. As it has done ever since it facilitated
talks between Dahal, Koirala and others in 2003, and
whether anyone likes it or not, India is expected to
play an important role in ensuring that the situation
remains on track in case of turbulence generated by
Koirala's withdrawal. The decision-making
mechanisms have thus far included a cast of characters,
and a more collective form of leadership can take
charge and push the process forward.
There is apprehension - with good reason, given
past experiences - that the king, in alliance with the
army, may try some other tricks to subvert the present
process. But the cohabitation of an opportunist army
and an unconstitutional monarch has probably seen
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 the end of its day. The top generals of the Nepal Army
have of late come to understand that the king can
protect neither their personal interests nor the army's
institutional concerns. Furthermore, officers in what
remains even today at best a semi-professional army
have become too used to plum United Nations blue-
helmet assignments to risk one more misadventure.
Within the army, there is a substantial presence of
officers, especially at the mid- to lower levels, who are
not ensconced in the royal network and will no longer
play along with any future royal assertiveness.
Koirala's decision to appoint Rukmangat Katuwal as
army chief - despite his role in promoting Gyanendra's
designs during the year and a half of autocracy
through pseudonymous articles in local papers - is
widely suspected to be a ploy on the part of the prime
minister to keep the generals from derailing the peace
process at the time when they may have feared for their
perks and privileges. It is crucial, however, that the
political parties remain vigilant as far as the rightist
reactionaries are concerned. This is true primarily
because Gyanendra has shown repeatedly his inability
to understand the writing on the wall, and he may yet
feel he can make another bid for power when anarchy
takes over the land.
In the months leading up to the Constituent
Assembly elections, it is natural that the competition
for political space at the ground level will take on
increasingly confrontational overtones. How this
dynamic is kept from affecting the unity between the
topmost party echelons will be critical in ensuring
whether Nepal stays on the peace track. "There is
bound to be competition at all levels, but what we will
witness is more partnership with less conflict at the
top, and less cooperation and more conflict at the
ground level," says political scientist Hachhethu.
Others believe that this inter-party competition already
exists and will only become more civilised within the
framework of a healthy multiparty system, in which
the Maoists will be a recognised part of the political
structure. In the scramble, all parties, including the
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February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Maoists if they want to emerge as a popular force, will
have to rely on argumentation and dialogue. And for
all their differences, parties know that anyone seen as
playing the spoiler in the peace process will lose
credibility and support, perhaps irreparably.
The biggest challenge will be to keep on the rails a
political process that has already achieved so much -
relieving the Nepali people of a king's autocracy, a
ruthless military and a brutal insurgency. The next
step towards tbe larger goal of restructuring the Nepali
state is the election of the Constituent Assembly, slated
for mid-June. The alliances, debates and issues around
the polls will shape Nepal's future.
Sambidhan Sabha
In mid-winter, amidst swirling fog infused with a
heavy dose of smog, Kathmandu Valley is rife with
speculation about whether the elections can indeed
happen on that schedule. Some believe it is logistically
impossible to hold polls so soon, given the enormity
of the administrative exercise-by-laws need to be
enacted, local election-support committees are not yet
established, officials and even political workers have
not returned to the villages, fresh electoral rolls have
to be prepared, citizenship certificates have not been
distributed to a large section of the populace, and
security forces are not yet in place. Security forces of
course means the police, because the Nepal Army, with
its experience in elections past, is disqualified for its
recent adventures.
There are others who believe that if there is political
will, the logistical issues can be surmounted with
relative ease. "If the government decides to devote even
10 to 15 percent of its employees to the task of election
preparation, it can definitely be organised,"
emphasises Hachhethu. "The three main political
parties have nationwide networks which can be easily
activated, and they can help in the task of voter
education. Add to this the advances made in the realm
of science and technology, especiallyr electronic voting
machines. June is feasible."
More than logistics, the timing of the polls will
depend on the political will of the key players. If the
Nepali Congress, CPN (UML) and the Maoists decide
that they do want the elections in June, administrative
hiccups can surely be overcome. Though the leaders
of all three profess their commitment to the agreed
timetable, the capital's political grapevine is filled with
conflicting versions of the intentions and calculations
of these parties.
Some sources, involved with negotiations between
Prime Minister Koirala and Dahal, say that both
leaders are indeed, firm on holding the elections soon,
but for different reasons. Koirala is keen because of
two different factors - he feels that the Nepali Congress
is in a strong position to win, and also that a successful
completion of the Constituent Assembly elections will
firmly cement his political legacy in the history of
Ironically, the entire Tarai issue has had
the unintended consequence of making the
Maoists look and act a part of the
establishment and structure
modern Nepal as the person who stabilised the society
and rid it of autocracy and 'revolution'. Dahal, on the
other hand, hopes that the elections will make the
Maoists a fully legitimate force. He also knows that
prolonging the interim period will leave his cadre edgy,
besides making politically difficult the task of managing
the divergent ethnic aspirations that the Maoists
encouraged through the 'People's War'. According to
this school of thought, the CPN (UML), as the main left
party, would also be keen to go in for the polls because
it retains the strongest base among its committed cadre,
who are ready and willing to come out in force now
that the gun is in the process of being removed from the
political arena.
But there are other observers who are equally
convinced that all parties - except perhaps the CPN
(UML) - will be open to the idea of pushing the election
dates as soon as the Maoists join the interim
government. The Maoists would be willing to do so
because they will continue to have a share in the power
structure to a level not plausible, according to these
observers, as per their popular base. Delaying the
assembly elections would give the CPN (Maoist) time
to transform the party structure from a militarist to a
political one. At present, anecdotal information from
the districts of Nepal indicate that the Maoists
command a fairly limited vote share, contrary to the
publicity they have received and the bravado the rebel
leaders exhibit. Most importantly, if Girija Prasad
Koirala is truly keen on saving a ceremonial monarchy
- which he has thus far advocated - and feels the
country would not vote that way in the present situation,
he may be amenable to pushing elections to a later date.
This would be based on the expectation that the
acceptance of the king as a constitutional force will be
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February 2007 I Himal Southaste
 greater if more time is allowed t(i lapse - since the
appearance ot anarchy will lead to some having second
thoughts about the institution, and the memorv of
Gyanendra's excesses will have receded.
The timing of the polls will also be determined, to
some extent, by the shape and strength of alliances. In
Nepali's decade-long democrtic interlude, the most
unlikely coalitions have been formed, with the result
that very few observers today are willing to hazard a
guess about which way political equations are beaded.
It is possible that the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led Nepali
Congress (Democratic) will merge with its parent parts'.
Koirala's Nepali Congress. There is also talk of .1
republican front, composed of the left parties. If the left
vote is split, the beneficiary is bound to be the Congress,
which has prompted a few left activists to exert pressure
on the leadership of the UML and the Maoists to forge
some kind of an understanding. Despite narrow
differences between the two parties at the policv level
(the Maoists having given up the use of the gun),
such an alliance goes against political wisdom. This is
because these left parties are ultimatelv competing
for the same political space and have a
bitter history that cannot be shelved this early - the
memory of violence by Maoists against UML cadre being
still raw.
Some insiders point to an unlikely behind-the-scenes
understanding that is showing signs of emerging - that
between the Nepali Congress and the Maoists. The
Maoists need the .NC, for thev realise that partnership
with the Congress is the only way to achieve
international legitimacy and credibility. The Congress,
for its part, sees the Maoists as an effective counterpoise
to undercut the political base of its main electoral rival,
theCTN (UML). However, despite the permutations and
combinations being worked out in different partv
offices and speculation elsewhere, it is entirely possible
that the main parties may opt to go it alone and test
their strength.
The more important question is not whether the
Constituent Assembly elections are held in June, but
the implications of the polls not being held as per
schedule. Nepal has not had a particularly pleasant
experience with extended interim periods, especially if
one looks back to the 1950s, when the country saw a
decade of instability and royal interventions - this was
also the period during which the promise for elections
to a Constituent Assembly was never fulfilled. Instead,
there was political regression amidst the growing
anarchy. "If polls are not held on time, it will shake the
people's confidence in the present process, and give
rise to suspicion about the motives of the parties,"
savs journalist Ameet Dhakal. "With all parties
claiming to be the true representatives of the Nepali
Janata at present, the sooner their strength is put to test,
the better for the polity."
It is also important to remember that the interim state
has neither a truly representative legislature, nor a
democratically elected government. The interim
constitution is flawed and lacking in some basic values
of liberal democracy, such as independence of judiciary
and separation of powers, and so the longer it remains
in place the more harm it mav do. The draft was put
together as a wav to bring the Maoists out of the jungle.
It does not incorporate the crucial values of 'inclusion',
which the Constituent Assembly needs now to address,
[his is why, some observers argue, it is vital not to
postpone the assembly polls. It that were to
happen, they would have to be rescheduled according
to the Nepali climato-cultural calendar - after the
monsoon and following the Dashain-1 ihar festivals of
At the same time, there are voices that point out that
the aim is not onlv to have polls for the sake of having
polls, but to make the process as inclusive as possible.
In the present context - in which several groups are
unhappy with the electoral svstem and other
provisions, with some even threatening to disrupt polls
-it mav irkike more sense to first create a more conducive
environment, even it this means a delayed schedule.
"If the eight parties decide to go in tor elections without
addressing the concerns ot protesting groups, it will
not be a free and fair poll, and would give rise to future
conflicts," warns activist Sushil Pyakurel.
It is when the polity overcomes this broad set of
challenges - (laws in the interim constitution, trouble
in the Tarai, political competition and wrangling, the
continuous process of Maoist transformation,
preparations tor the polls - that Nepal will finally move
towards a Constituent Assembly, lhe logistics seem
manageable; the Maoists are not about to opt out; and
the trouble in the Tarai as well as the disgruntlement of
so manv communities would be addressed if the eight
parties were to agree em either a full proportional
election, or a formula to make up for the non-
representation in the FPTP 205 seats - either bv
reconfiguring constituencies or remedying the gap in
their allocation of the 204 proportional seats. This
seems a small 'price' to pay for the opportunity to build
a new future for the country. And that new future will
be built when the assembly takes decisions on certain
kev issues - the status of monarchy, the nature ol the
federal svstem it it is to be a federal one, positive
discrimination and what kind in a country of
minorities, security-sector reform, the electoral system
for the long term, economic and foreign (including
neighbourhood) policy - that warrant and necessitate
considerable thought and preparation.
It is indeed a perplexing moment in Nepal's history,
with a cacophony of voices and perspectives reflecting
the confusion that characterises this unique Southasian
peace process. But it is a rare and beautiful opportunity
as well, where the populace and their political
representatives can look forward to shaping a country
of their choice. More history will be made, and more
images captured. ;
Himal Southasian | February 2007
C K Lai
'Sezophilia' and the coming mutiny
India is on horseback
I'epsi-Cola in one hand, clutching condom in another
Third armed with Rampitri knife, in fourth the 'Hon Om' banner
What a seductive, dashing fellow, India on horseback.
- Ashtabhuja Shukla in Bharat ghode par sabar Inn
chat in
cups is a
thing of
.soda in a
bottle is a
badge of
New Okhla Industrial Development
Authority (NOIDA) falls in the territory
of Uttar Pradesh and is administered
from Lucknow. But for all practical purposes,
it is an extension of the New Delhi metropolis.
This teeming township is the brainchild of
Sanjay Gandhi, enfant terrible of the Nehru-
Gandhi dynasty. He conceived Noida as an
urban cluster that would take the "immigrant
load" off the stately boulevards of New Delhi.
At the height of his megalomania, during
the years of dreaded Fmergencv (1475-1977),
Sanjav initiated a brutal beautification drive
to free the Indian capital! of what he called
"filth". He wanted the streets of New Delhi
safe for his People's Car. Though he failed to
produce a single piece of his pet vehicle, the
ideology that he let loose has begun to canter.
Consumerism, chauvinism, criminality and
communalism are the four arms of the monster
astride the horse called Growth - with an
upper-case G, as in Globalisation. This beast
tramples over the weak, the marginalised, the
poor and the differently-abled, even as its
rider gloats over the devastation it has
wrought in its wake. The village of Nithari on
the outskirts of Noida is a testimony to the
cruelties of this brute (sec accompanying story,
"Questions about Nithari").
lt is tempting to dismiss the horrors of
Nithari as an aberration. It is even more
convenient to make a scapegoat of the culprits.
Explanations of persona) pathology have the
strange effect of transforming perpetrators of
grisly crimes into victims of human failings.
But the ease with which Moninder Singh
Pandher and his servant Surender Koli are
accused of engaging in horrifying acts of
molestation and murder of children is a
symptom of a much deeper malaise, a social
disease slowly eating into the innards of
Southasian society. It is dreadfully difficult
to describe a devil, and superstitiously
dangerous to name it; but call it 'Sezophilia',
as in paedophilia, to understand its nature.
Sezophilia claims manv victims as it matures,
but it begins to devour migrants from the
moment its initial symptoms manifest.
Sezophilia is named after Special Economic
Zones (SL/s), hybrid territorial entities that
enjov more 'liberal' economic laws than does
the rest of a country. Deng Xiaoping is
credited with having pioneered the concept
in the 1980s, with an eye towards letting
capitalism enter gingerly into the world's
strongest communist bastion. I he disease has
since completely transformed tlie People's
Republic of China; now it is a safe haven for
exploitative capitalists from all over the world.
As a johnnv-eome-lateh to the liberalisation,
privatisation and globalisation race, India
wants to do in two years what China took
two decades to achieve.
.According to the Indian government's
investment policies, Sfc'Zs are deemed to be
foreign territories for the purpose of trade,
duties and tariffs. New Delhi has alreadv
created over 200 SHZs across the length and
breadth of India, and wants to have many more
to entourage the Salems and Tatas of the
world to feel welcome and safe in Nandigram
and Singur. A multi-partisan consensus
seems to have developed over the desirability
of SFZs. She Communist Partv of India
(Marxist) wants them in West Bengal and
Kerala, Congress (I) would love to have them
all over the place, and the Bharatiya Janata
Party cannot do without these enclaves in
Gujarat and Rajasthan. The Samata Partv of
Amar Singh would do anything to let
moneybags have their way in   Uttar Pradesh.
SF'Zs have thus all too quickly become fait
accompli in India. These territorial creations
seem to be compulsions of a future Southasia,
as states of tire region vie with each other for
ever-elusive foreign investment currently
flowing towards Thailand, Vietnam and other
ASF AN countries. At this juncture, attempts
need to be made to understand the symptoms
of Sezophilia so that social treatments for its
debilitating psychological effects can be
devised before it is too late.
Contempt for the powerless
The logic of SF.Z-based economic growth
assumes that 'back-the-winner   is the best
February 2007 |  Himal Southasian
 strategy for countries mired in poverty, lack
of savings, low investment, slow growth and
low consumption leading to stagnancy and
deprivation. This is the reasoning that
sometimes makes race-horse breeders shoot
the infirm in the stables. State-of-the-art
technology, competitive pay packages and
cutthroat completion make SFZs oases of
'excellence' in the desert of mediocrity. Lv en
when there is acute shortage of drinking water
in New Delhi, sprinklers on the Noida golf
course - said to be among the best in the region
- run on as usual. Were it not for the objection--
of the super-rich in their designer houses, thi'
Noida administration would have built a
kilometre-high building to mark the arrival of
India on the global capitalist map.
Another manifestation of Sezophilia is the
creation of urban agglomeration sans
urbanisation. Urbanisation implies
development of secondary associations. In an
urban settlement, trade unions, social clubs,
cultural associations and professional
organisations take the place of institutions of
primary bonding such as family,
neighbourhood, clan, caste or tribe. In
settlements that grow around SFZs, every
individual of some means is a ruthless
dictator, unwilling to submit to any
association that he cannot dominate. Pandher
probably thought that he could lord over
Nithari village with relative ease, so he built
his kothi away from the dwell ings of his equals.
The third symptom of the social disease is
even more insidious, as 'VVestoxication' (the
fixation on symbols of the West) is understood
as the only method of modernisation. Masala
chai in earthen cups is a thing of ridicule, but
sweetened soda in a plastic bottle is a badge
ot honour. Eating pitn-bhaji from a leaf plate
is infra dig, but gnawing at stale meat in a
burger is posh. These innocent symptoms hide
a deeper contempt for the powerless than
v isible on the surface. Fhe modernised elite
begin to treat the laggards as lesser beings.
The victims of Muktsar in Punjab were ragpickers. The women and children of Nithari
were poor immigrants from Bihar, Bengal and
Nepal. Thev were aliens for the comfortable
classes of Noida - the administration, the
police, the media, and the civil society did not
think of them as being worthy of their
attention. The establishment was forced out
of its slumber only when the court poked in
its nose and wanted an answer concerning
the whereabouts of a missing teenager girl
from Uttarakhand. At least 40 victims appear
to have been devoured in Nithari alone, but
the Indian intelligentsia refuses to recognise it
as the manifestation of <i lurking disease
worthy of serious attention.
The fourth manifestation of this social
pathology strikes its victims who flock to SEZs
like moth to flames. Thev either die by its
intense heat - as when their children are run
over bv speeding SUV's, which the police refuse
to record even as accidents - or are condemned
to live in the darkness below the lamp. Pandher
and Koli attracted their victims with promises
of sweets or a seat on the sofa at the screening
of DVD movies. Born and brought up in tightly-
packed bast is where one cannot survive for a
single day without blindly trusting the £
neighbours, these children were betrayed by =j
their gullibility. .Attracted bv the opportunity
to take a peek at heaven - for that is precisely
what thev presume to be inside the kothis - they
were consumed bv the fire ot hell that resides
in the houses of the rich without conscience.
Migrants on the margins
Without cheap migrant labour, the horse of
growth will starve and the engine of capitalism
will grind to a halt. Capitalism thrives bv
creating migrants - it evicts poor cultivators
from their farmlands, marginalises the
unskilled bv introducing high-tech
manufacturing and forces organised labour to
accept contract employment. The result is
invariably the same: helpless, hopeless and
desperate drifters at the margins of cities begin
to flock to saviours on horseback. In Bombay,
organised crime shelters and exploits migrants
from Purvanchal and Udipi alike. In New
Delhi, thev rush to dealers of vote-bank politics
for protection and are often mistreated and
abused in return.
Pike a swashbuckling knight astride a
stallion, Manmohan Singh is busy spreading
the gospel ot globalisation everywhere. It seems
that the ruling clique in New Delhi has
accepted the inevitability of thousands of
Nitharis, as hundreds of SFZs are built to
produce millions of Pandhers. Perhaps that is
the price a passive population has to pay to
catch up with those ahead. Or there mav be a
far more destabilising outcome: mutiny of the
masses, which will destroy islands of
prosperity in the sea oi poverty. Indira Gandhi
learnt quickly the lesson of neglect of the
masses. Her heir and super-premier, Sonia
Gandhi, seems to be besotted with the legacy
of her brother-in-law Sanjay. Even if onlv one
of the 'million mutinies' gets out of hand, there
is no telling the fate of globalising India - and
by implication, the entire Southasia.
Himal Southasian | February 2007
Questions about Nithari
How serious is our engagement with the trauma of the Noida killings?
It's a village surrounded by villas. Nithari. A "well-
concealed eyesore", according to one newspaper
account. It is inhabited by migrant labourers, some
employed as domestic servants in the surrounding
bungalows and some as drivers and fruit vendors,
About two years ago, the children of the village began to
go missing. Family members reported to the police but
received no response. The parents of one of the
missing girls were told that she must have eloped.
Despite the number of complaints, the police did not
register even one case. Newspaper reports now suggest
that the villagers knew that something was amiss in D-5
of Sector 31, Noida. They suspected the cook who
stayed in that house - Surinder Kohli, also known as
Satish - of having designs on their children.
Homeowner Moninder Singh Pandher was rarely seen
and neighbours had always been discouraged from
entering his house. When 20-year-old Payal went
missing, investigations led the police to Surinder.
And then, unexpectedly, out tumbled confessions of
sexual assault and the murder of six of the village's
missing children.
As the media picked up the story, it emerged that
Moninder had studied at the elite institutions of Bishop
Cotton School, Shimla and St Stephen's College, Delhi.
He drank a lot, said one of his relatives during a
television interview: he was absolutely fine, said a
friend from school on NDTV channel's We the People
programme. He was employed in Joseph Cyril Bamford.
a construction and agricultural equipment
manufacturing company, was married but separated
from his wife, and was a loving father - who could not
have done such a thing, said his son. Television
programmes described the incident with the headlines
'Children of a lesser God' and 'Noida Killings: India's
Shame'. Upon finding the remains of their children, the
aggrieved and outraged parents attempted to destroy
the house. "There was blood in the bathroom inside the
house," said one of the parents; "The police don't want
us to go in." In the midst of all this, the younger brother
of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav,
Shivpal Yadav, who visited Nithari to offer condolences,
said, "Such incidents keep on happening." Such a blase
statement does seem fitting after the neglect with
which the children's disappearances were treated for
so long.
The news regarding Nithari has changed. Nithari has
entered the imagination: it is now a landscape of the
mind. It has subsumed the accused. The case is no
longer about Surinder and Moninder Singh. Could
Nithari have happened without them?
A question dogs the mind: Why didn't the police do
anything? According to some reports, the residents of
the village even hired a private investigator when their
children went missing. He too pointed at Surinder and
Moninder. Even then, the local police thana was not
bothered. On the episode of We the People devoted to
the Nithari killings, Director Genera! of the Bureau of
Police Research and Development Kiran Bedi lamented
glaring oversights such as this, and suggested that they
occur because the police are not trained. Another
panelist was Rajat Mitra. a psychologist heading
Swanchetan, an NGO that works with the Delhi Police in
the area of crisis intervention. He said that when
children go missing in many other countries, the police
are immediately on the lookout for paedophiles. Mitra
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 felt that people like Moninder are diabolical in nature,
irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds. Was
background important here?
By saying that the Nithari atrocities are 'India's
shame' and that the missing were 'Children of a lesser
God', are we giving the victims and their families their
due? Is such media portrayal of the incidents the only
way we have of trying to understand the lives of the
residents of Nithari? Moninder lived in a villa while his
victims came from what could be called a slum. What if
there had not been a class divide? Would the media's
representation of the case be the same? As reflected in
the coverage that we consume, is it our desire to do
away with the shame highlighted by the press, and then
to move on? Or is there some way that we can become
neighbours to the residents of Nithari?
Some of the families of the Noida victims have
received compensation, the amount of which was
raised from two to five lakh INR. The Congress Party, the
Bahujan Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party
have criticised Mulayam Singh Yadav's UP government
on various fronts and demanded that the chief minister
step aside and hand the case over to the Central
Bureau of Investigation. People who have been through
trauma related to violence on their children, such as
Naresh Gupta. CEO of Adobe India, whose toddler
son was kidnapped and then found last year, and
Neelam Katara, who is fighting a legal battle to punish
the murderers of her son Nitish Katara, have also
visited Nithari.
What do the residents of Nithari feel? What is their
sense of rage, impotence, anger, and despair? How
does it feel to be part of a group of people w^o knew
that something was happening around then, that their
missing children might have been through unspeakable
suffering, that others were probably in danger? Who
tried to do something about it, but could not? Some
have identified their children, others are hopeful of
finding theirs. What sort of trauma does a separation
like this create? What sort of mourning can there be
after such horrific deaths?
Why is it that, till the time of writing, there has been
no effort to extend any mental health services such as
counselling or therapy to these people? What
compensation is money for their loss? How long are
people going to continue to visit the victim families at
Nithari, or to want to visit them? When the visitors stop
coming, what good will their visits have done9 What
does one say to parents who have seen the severed
limbs of their child, who are left with the knowledge
that their child was sexually abused and then
slaughtered? The media has reported experiences of
auditory hallucinations by the residents of Nithari, as a
symptom, as an aftermath. What do the villagers hear?
And will they be heard? Or will the discovery of their
lives and their tragedy be an accident - something
happened upon by chance, a small anomaly that
might have been overlooked - like the finding of
Payal's cell phone?
Pornographic CDs have been recovered which
contain footage of Moninder. The torsos ofthe bodies
are missing. Have they been eaten? The bodies had
been dismembered in an identical manner and the
vertebral columns split. These are some of the bits of
information and fantasy that have made the rounds. A
section of the media wants to 'enter' Moninder. After
announcing, "And now we will enter the mind of
Moninder Singh," the anchor of We the People turned to
Moninder's childhood friend, who told the audience
that the man was absolutely normal. A sociologist on
the same programme said that Moninder was just one
of many, a part of the system of organ trade. The organ-
trade-theory is suspect because it requires more
specialisation, for instance in storage equipment, than
what the findings suggest.
More questions: Were the duo born to do this or did
they make a choice? Can we make sense of the lives
they have led? Is it enough that they be convicted and
sentenced? As a society, where are we left after that?
What was the reality they inhabited and how did they
construct a reality that involved not only having sex with
children but mutilating and killing them? And if the
Noida killings were connected to the organ trade, what
are the social conditions that sanction this?
In his book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness,
Erich Fromm, a psychologist with a psychoanalytic
orientation, writes about sexual and non-sexual
necrophilia, the desire to be close to corpses and to
dismember them. Some of the questions that he deals
with pertain to the manner in and the degree to which
specific conditions of human existence are responsible
for the quality and intensity of a person's lust for killing
and torturing. According to Fromm, the passion for
transforming something from alive into 'unalive' is
something that surfaces only in humans. What quality
do people possess for whom this becomes an active
interest? In Fromm's words, it is the manifestation of a
feeling of nothingness within. This form of love with the
dead is a wish to do away with life. To end all. To have to
kill. To return to where one started, by destroying -
repeatedly. The necrophilous desire is not the same as
the sadistic desire, for which control over the object of
desire is imperative. For a sadist, the victim needs to
remain living, whereas for a necrophiliac, the person
needs to be destroyed and dismembered. What
perversion compels a person to indulge in such
intimacy as the sexual act and then to dismember the
body? Is this an attempt to 'do away with' both the
crime and the compulsion? What creates such an urge?
What sort of a life does such a person live?
The media now reports of dead bodies being found
elsewhere. The terror of the serial killer has spread.
What will become of Nithari. what legacy it will leave, is
difficult to say. If something has happened at the
margins of society, near the capital of the country and in
a culture that predominantly sees it as shameful, it is
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 imperative to understand what is being said about it.
Is Nithari an isolated incident or is it reflective of a
deeper malaise? Does the periphery reflect how the
centre functions?
The Noida Bar Associates has refused to defend
Moninder Singh Pandher and Surinder Kohli. A recent
newsreport suggested that the two might be sent to a
psychoanalyst. Their existence is difficult to
comprehend. People have necrophilous fantasies but
seldom act them out. And yet the presence of these
fantasies cannot be denied. Is there a tendency in
humans and society to transform life into a commodity?
Dostoevsky said, "It is not by confining one's
neighbour that one is convinced of one's own sanity."
Does Nithari force us to see aspects of ourselves that
we would otherwise not want to address? Not to
recognise the shame would mean to ignore a lot.
Processing the shame is not easy. What about the
trauma of the residents of Nithari? How does it feel
when people come and poke at your sense of loss to
get something out of it? Will this happen again? If it
does, will it be hushed up? Will we be more cautious?
How will people assimilate this experience, especially
those of us who have been brought closer but who have
the luxury of distancing ourselves? Are we fascinated
with dead things? In our expressions of horror, shock,
despair and indifference, we are all participating in the
drama of the events. But that is the extent of our
participation. Ours is not a serious engagement with
Nithari's tragedy and the trauma it has caused.
And what about Surinder? I seem to have forgotten
him. The media obsesses over Moninder Singh, but
wasn't Surinder the one who confessed to assaulting the
children? What assumptions do we make about him?
How is it that his family has hardly been talked about?
What about the choice he made? But he is not one of
'us'. He is not that close: he is not threatening. Moninder
is. Threatening not only to our security but more so to the
image that we nurture of ourselves and the likes of us.
Between the accused, we choose Moninder; and from
the victims, the word Nithari suffices - concealing both
our ignorance and our indifference. It's true: Nithari, at
best, is a well-concealed eyesore.
Nithari is not independent of Moninder, Surinder, or
any of us. Events like these evoke in us the need for a
sense of closure. Socio-political conditions, however, are
complex, and to insist on closure is often to simplify and
falsify them. The final picture is yet to be seen as far as
Nithari is concerned. The effort here is not to try to
escape the complexities, but to elucidate them. We
have a tendency to create 'others' in such a way as to
maintain a positive view of ourselves. Is there a way that
we can avoid doing this?
And yet, isn't only intellectualising the issue
tantamount to killing it? To seek to know without
-seeking to understand? To truly experience
understanding, we would have to experience a
fragmentation of our selves. We would have to listen to
both - the self and the other - even as we try to locate,
in Nithari, 'Moninder, Surinder and I'.
Country Director, Sri Lanka
Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED)
ACTED, the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development is an International Non Governmental Organization
with global operations in Africa, Central Asia, Europe,'Latin America, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. ACTED main
areas of intervention encompass emergency response, food security, health promotion, education and training, cultural
promotion, economic development. instiUjtidribuilding and regional dialogue.
The Country Director has overall responsibility of the management, coordination and supervisori of ACTED Sri Lanka programs. He/She will work on
the design and overview of the,programmes in Sri Lanka and will report to the General Delegate and the Director of Operations.
Essentia! tasks:
-'Define the Mission's overall-strategy in relation with ACTED R<
- Liaise with donors artd.g&yernment officials
- Mainstream key sectoral issues with a specific emphasis on incorporai
- In collaboration with ACTED India's Country Coordinator, contribute to de
programmes iii.Norttrf'- North-eastern Sri. Lanka with those in Tamil Na
- Overview the Country mission's internal organisation.
- Report regularly to headquarters, providing regular and timely updates c
- Organise ACTED Sri Lanka's internal training when needed, as appropri
Qualifications required:
- Previous experience in a high management position,
- Strong organizational skills and proven capabilities in leadership required. •
- Extensive fundraising and representational experience.
- Excellent skills in written and oral English.
Vacancies Contact;
Please send the CV along with a cover letter and references to the HP, department before 10 February 2007.
i\ Director for South-East Asia and ACTED General Direction in HQ.
rating best practices learned from ACTED's experience in other countries.
develop programmatic synergies and experience sharing mechanisms between
igional priorities ofthe organisation.
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
The poor poetry of industrialisation
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) in wonderland.
The West Bengal Chief
Minister and the ruling Left
Front (LF) government's
former poet-commissar, Buddhadeb
Bhattacharya, translator of
Mayakovsky, is busy with another kind
of poetry these days. He is transposing
the 'poetry' of industrialisation - as it
happened on the soil of England -
onto the land called Bengal. Dazzled
by the dreamworld of capital,
Buddhadeb has been quick to shake
off the shackles of his earlier
convictions and seek aesthetic
pleasure in his new role as the
'Commissar of Industry and Progress'.
For quite some time now,
Bhattacharya has been trying to
convince prospective investors to
take the leftists at their word when
they say they really are in favour of
neo-liberal reforms; "We are realists
and we know it's either reform or
perish." Progress, he understands,
entails the death of all that is archaic
- revolutionary convictions and
agriculture, for instance.
Rapid industrialisation is the only
way forward, and Special Economic
Zones (SEZs) are the quickest way to
industrialise. The idea of SEZs has
been directly imported into India - and
indeed into West Bengal - from
China, and from the neo-liberal's point
of view, such units are the important
first step in the direction ofthe brave
new world of capital. Eventually, these
enthusiasts intend to extend to the
entire country the facilities enjoyed by
SEZs - tax holidays, exemption from
labour laws, unrestricted import
facilities, cheap land taken over from
Adivasis and peasants, and the
freedom of unrestrained exploitation
of natural resources.
China is Bhattacharya's
immediate inspiration and
justification; but alas, unlike in China,
he has a democracy to deal with. The
process of industrialisation that
Bhattacharya and his party, the
CPI(M), have initiated would be every
bit as ruthless and violent as it is in
China - but for this fact of democracy,
which allows the peasants to
manifest their resistance.
Thus it happened that on 1
December 2006, several thousand
police and paramilitary troops
descended on a small and obscure
place, the name of which very few
outside the state of West Bengal had
heard of: Singur. They came to fence
off an area of 997 acres of prime
agricultural land in Hooghly District so
that it could be handed over to the
Tata conglomerate, who would
establish on it a plant for the
manufacture of cheap cars.
What happened in Singur revealed
in a flash to all of rural Bengal the
plan for the much advertised
industrialisation programme: The
peasants would be dispossessed at
any cost to clear the way. The police
fired teargas and rubber bullets at the
protesting villagers. They were beaten
up and their paddy harvests set on
fire. For the
peasants did not p—"    "3i"       "1
i (NBA) and the National Alliance of
Peoples' Movements (NAPM), helped
draw attention to the issue, while the
active championing of the cause of
the peasants and sharecroppers by
the Trinamool Congress leader
Mamata Banerjee brought in the
dimension of electoral calculus.
Weak wicket
The Bhattacharya government has
been claiming that the acquisition
process has been transparent and
democratic, and that ofthe 997 acres
required for the project, the consent
of the owners had already been
acquired for 952 acres by December.
These owners - so claimed the LF
government and the CPI(M) leader
Brinda Karat- had not only given their
consent, but were enthusiastically
queuing up for the attractive cash
compensation package. In a show
that smacked of manipulation, the
CPI(M) even got these villagers to set
up an organisation to "support
industrialisation". Revealingly - and
a trifle farcically - it was called
give up their land I
The       anger
among the loca
population   has
been building up
ever since the news of
the Tatas' plans for the
factory reached Singur in
May 2006, even as the newly-
elected Left Front government     M
was taking oath. As mass   ,7:
discontent became apparent,  Z77b7o.
various   smaller   leftwing reorganisations,   especially I
Naxalite      groups      and   *r
intellectuals, started
becoming      involved.      The
involvement of Medha Patkar, leader
of the Narmada Bachao Andolan
Himal Southasian [ February 2007
 'Pragatisheel Swechchha Jomi
Bikreta, Shilpa Sthapan 0 Shahar
Unnayan Committee (Committee of
Progressive, Voluntary Land-Sellers.
Supporters of Industrialisation and
City Development!'. These people
were apparently dying to give up
their land at prices far below
the market rate for the noble cause
of industrialisation!
Be the case of the land-seller' as
it may, what about the animal called
the sharecropper? What about the
people who work the land but do not
own it? What about those for whom
the CPI(M) had in the early 1980s
devised the well-known 'Operation
Barga', to protect their tenure by
means of registration? By the time
Singur happened, however, the
landless peasant/sharecropper had
all but disappeared from CPI(M)'s
horizon. When cornered, the party's
leaders said they had ensured that
the landless would be given jobs in
the factory. Given that all labour laws
are null and void within an SEZ. it was
left unclear how CPI(M) would
ensure that the job guarantee would
be affected.
Critics have pointed out that even
government statistics show 333,372
hectares of fallow and 119.146
hectares of uncultivabie land
available in West Bengal, in addition
to over 40,000 acres of land locked
in mills and factories no longer
functioning, which could be used for
the purpose of setting up a new
factory. Amitdyuti Kumar, vice-
president of the Association for the
Protection of Democratic Rights
(APDR), also refers to a memorandum
submitted by the CPl(M) MP Santasri
Chatterjee. president of the Hooghly
District chapter of the Centre of Indian
Trade Unions, to the local district
magistrate, demanding use of such
premises for the establishment of
new industrial units.
Interestingly. Chatterjee's
memorandum also states that the
Birlas were given 744 acres in 1948
in order to set up Hind Motors in the
district, but that they only used 252
acres - 500 acres had remained
unused for 58 years. Critics argue that
automobile factories, including the
Tatas' own. do not need such large
parcels of land. They also point out
that, even by Tata Motors' estimates,
there is no way the project will
generate more than 2000 jobs. Yet
the number of people losing
ivelihoods. including sharecroppers,
is likely to be in the region of 15,000.
The government's claim that the
Singur land is good onlyforsingle-crop
cultivation, or that it is wasteland, has
also been shown to be false. Most of
the land concerned is fertile multi-
crop land, and the government's
claims on the matter seem to be
based on land records that have not
been updated for decades. Noted
eftwing historian Sumit Sarkar
recently affirmed, after a visit to
Singur, that most of the government's
claims are indeed highly questionable;
neither was the process of acquisition
democratic and transparent, nor was
the claim that the land was single-
crop correct.
Outsiders, insiders
Singur was still creating a stir when a
major eruption occurred in the
Nandigram area of East Midnapore
District. Here, in early January, the
villagers were up in arms, as news
reached them of an order by the
Haldia Development Authority, under
which Nandigram falls, identifying
land for acquisition in the preparation
of two new SEZs in the area. One of
these is to be set up by the Salim
Group, an Indonesian multinational
corporation that was at the centre of
much controversy last year, as
Buddhadeb had committed it 5000
acres of land without consultation
with other government functionaries.
The drastic amendments he
proposed to existing laws in order to
facilitate these acquisitions, however,
were rejected by a unanimous vote
of the state assembly.
The two SEZs in the Haldia area
will involve much more land than did
the Tatas' venture - somewhat over
14,500 acres to begin with. As the
leaked news reached Nandigram,
panic set in and preparations were
made on a war footing for the possible
arrival of police and paramilitary
forces,   to   implement  the   land
acquisition. The rage of the
population fell on the local CPI(M)
cadres, who had to flee for their lives.
An angry crowd alsosetthe local party
office on fire and put up roadblocks
in the approaches to the village. Sumit
Sarkar's report on.Singur laments
that the word cadre has become a
term of abuse in local parlance.
The party's response to this
outburst was to mobilise more
'cadres'from neighbouring areas and
to launch a pre-meditated
counterattack in which at least six
people were killed.
In the course of its troubles in
Singur and Nandigram. the CPI(M)
leadership needed a scapegoat by
means of which to discredit the
struggle against its policies. They
found this in the figure of the
'outsider', a representation that
encompasses anyone who is not
directly affected by the land
acquisitions. The outsider could be
Medha Patkar, the local Naxalite
activist, students or intellectuals
from Calcutta, or even local activists
of parties such as the Trinamool
Congress and the Socialist Unity
Centre of India (SUCI). This is a
strange argument for the
communists to make, given that not
one of their unions in any factory
could have been set up without the
active support of people from
outside'. But more to the point, might
one be pardoned for asking, Are the
Tatas and the Salim group of
industries 'insiders'? Is Buddha Babu,
who committed other people's land
to these companies against the will
of the owners, an insider?
Though there is an apparent calm
for the time being, the West Bengal
countryside is simmering, and much
will depend on whether Mr
Bhattacharya and the CPI(M) are
prepared to rethink their strategy of
rapid industrialisation. Agriculture in
its present form might not be the
best option, but if the rationale
behind industrialisation is that it will
create more jobs, it is clearly
misplaced. Does Buddha Babu have
any other strategy in mind, and will
he act on it before irreversible
damage is done? i
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
Dictatorship by cartography
Burma's artificial new capital is
Vast and empty, Burma's new capital will not fall
to an urban upheaval easily. It has no city centre,
no confined, public space where even a crowd of
several thousand people could make a visual - let
alone political - impression.
Naypyitaw, then, is the ultimate insurance against
regime change, a masterpiece of urban planning
desigiifd to defeat any putative 'colour revolution' -
not by tanks and water cannons, but by geometry and
cartography. 320 kilometres to the south, Rangoon,
with five million people, is home to one-tenth the
country's population. But even if that city were brought
to a standstill byr public protests and demonstrations,
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 Burma's military government - situated happily in
the middle of paddy fields in the middle of nowhere -
would remain unaffected.
Of all the possible reasons why the junta chose to
relocate their capital to this isolated, dusty place, this
is perhaps the most plausible. And judging by the pace
and scale of construction underwayr here, the transfer
of capital is intended to be as final and irrevocable as
the grip on political power of the Tatmadaw, the
Burmese military.
On 6 November 2005, at a time and date apparently-
chosen by an astrologer close to Senior General Than
Shwe, the process of shifting Burma's seat of
government to a vast but barren tract of land near
Pyinmana village in Mandalay Division officially
began. A little more than a year later, every single
ministry has moved here. Naypyitaw is still very much
a work in progress, but the amount of road-building
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 and construction that has been completed is nothing
short of impressive.
In terms of spatial design, the emergent city is
reminiscent of Islamabad or Brasilia. A 'hotel zone'
with several luxury establishments has come up on
the city's 'outskirts', a district that the capital's
planners say will eventually become "downtown".
Further in, a number of brightly painted apartment
buildings line the left side of the road, all of which are
occupied by civil servants. And finally there is the
government district, with ministries separated by a
distance of what seems like several kilometres. In the
military, zone, the four-lane road makes way for one of
eight lanes, purpose-built to allow small aircraft to land
and take off. Later this year, Rangoon-based embassies
will be offered plots in the new capital, and eventually
all will be expected to make the move.
While it is likely that Naypyitaw will ultimately
grow to fill in the empty spaces between the ministries
and to develop the usual civic amenities one associates
with a capital, it will always lack the urban cadences
and unpredictable rhythms that characterise city life
in Rangoon or Mandalay. And this is precisely what
makes the new capital so attractive to the generals.
Scholars such as Michael Aung-Thwin and Sunait
Chutintaranond have argued that the shift from
Rangoon is not irrational but part of a historical
tradition. Rulers of the region, they say, have long moved
their capitals in order to regenerate their kingdoms.
One example from within Burma Is that of King
Mindon, who moved his capital from Amarapura to
Mandalay - a city built for the purpose - in 18a59, only
to have his son, Thibaw, defeated and exiled by the
British. Some thousand years earlier, Burma's most
illustrious ruler, the great Anawrhata, had begun his
dynasty from Bagan.
Judging by this history, Naypyitaw may not remain
the country's capital forever. But there is no doubt that
it will endure longer as a city than the regime that
ordered it built.
Himal Southasian | February 2007
Indians need no longer worry that their country has
'made it', when The Times of London advises
Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime-Mi nister-in-
waiting Gordon Brown to pay heed to New Delhi's
new status on the world stage as he headed out east
in mid-January. Things have come to such a pass with
the rise of Great India that The Times leader writer is
quite unabashed on the need for Britain to court India:
"He [Mr Brown] also has to deploy charm to convince
India's leaders of how much they have in common
with what used to be described as the 'West' in the
Cold War era (when Delhi affected neutrality). Tony
Blair has spent much of his time in office seeking to
make Britain a 'bridge' between Europe and America.
Under Mr Brown, Britain can also be, and should
want to be, a bridge between Tndia and America."
Note: Brown is being asked to act as bridge not
between Asia or Southasia and America, but India.
Okay, we get the message!
Interesting idea. is a
consumer-report website that has just
been launched in Pakistan, and
visitors do their own ratings. Though
many of the products are not yet rated
- Chhetria Patrakar went straight for
PIA but found no one had dissed it yet
- there is enough indication that the site will prosper.
Good to see that the site also goes crossborder, and so
there is a consumer report on the Govinda starrer
Amdani Athanni Kharcha Rupaiya: "lhe performance
was not too good but this movie can be seen once."
Expectedly, Shoaib Akhtar has got good reviews, as
has Air Blue, Paldstan's energetic private airline. For
Aamna Shariff (and CP does not even know who she
is), there is no review in on her yet. Let's Google her.
Okay, she started her career a few years ago with the
teleserial 'Kahiin To Hoga', where she plays the role
of Kashish. "Viewers were roped in by her
immense talent and charming personality. A
designer's dream - Aamna brought to television the
latest trends of India." Aha, so that's where she gets
all those nifty outfits!
Chhetria Patrakar hears that
Newsline, the monthhr out of Karachi,
published by a women's cooperative
and stridently independent, has come
under attack from the authorities for
their December 2006 cover on the
Pakistani military, titled "Soldiers of
Fortune". Go to
There was only the venerable Pakistan Television at
the turn of the millennium. Today, Paldstan's
airwaves are a cacophony of more than 50 channels,
all of them almost certainly losing money. The big
players in television, besides the state-owned PTV, are
Eye (broadcaster of Hum TV), Aaj TV, ARY, Geo and
Indus. Many of these companies have multiple
channels. For example, Eye has a food channel called
Masala, and Indus has just opened MTV Pakistan
from an old office building in Karachi. Other music
channels include Aag of Geo, ARY's The Musik, and
Aaj TV's Play. Meaaaanwbile, everyone is waiting to
see how the powerful proprietors of the Dawn daily
are going to do with their up-market all-English
DawnNews TV, which will also do business.
For those of who you wanted to know how these
channels are faring, the reporter Talib Qizilbash
reports in Newsline that this is boomtime for the
successful channels. "Across Pakistan," he writes,
competitive economic environment coupled with
strong consumer spending has catapulted the
advertising industry to new heights." .Apparently the
telecom industry as a big spender on advertising is
bullish, especially with the entry of two new
companies, Telenor and Warid, with aggressive
promotion of their services. Banking, too, is an
energetic advertiser on television, while the
construction business is just begirrning to kick in. So
what of the rates? Qizilbash reports that when Geo
launched, it was selling ad time for between 5,000 to
10,000 rupees per minute, and now they are quoting
tariff rates at 75,000 rupees per minute at prime time.
ARY One World and Indus Vision are asking 60,000
rupees per minute, while Hum TV and Aaj TV are at
45,000 and 38,000 rupees respectively for a 60-second
prime time spot.
Up and coming
Bollywood actors Dia
Mirza and Kunal
Kapoor are apparently
going out, which they
have a right to, and
that is not what CP is
interested in. Instead,
it is the English cop\r
in the Hindustan Times of 8 January: "What's with our
Dia Mirza and Kunal Kapoor? They entered the show
separately and exited ditto too." Huh? Is this, like, the
only in Mumbai that talking like this is permissible?
Tell na!
Tunku Varadarajan was born in New Delhi, grew up
in Lucknow, taught law at Oxford, gave it all up to
become a reporter for The Times of London in Madrid
and then New York, and is now named Assistant
Managing Editor of The Wall Street Journal in NYC.
But he writes well! In February 2003, he wrote in a
column in the WSJ a critique of the Indian and
Pakistani cricket teams:
There is no team more compelling to watch when on a
roll, more mesmerizing for the neutral fan, than Pakistan.
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Dashing, occasionally dirty - they've
been known to scuff the ball, illicitly,
with their fingernails, so as to get it to
swing unplayably in the air - they are
perhaps unique in world of sport as
being the most talented team in a game,
yet the most unloved. The Pakistanis
are viewed with a mixture of awe and
loathing. They squabble onfield, hector umpires, swear at
opposing players, have a history of throwing matches (for
money), and generally comport themselves in ways that
might be described as ungracious. Such is their talent,
however, and their panache, that one is alzuays surprised
when they lose ... The Indian team, by contrast, is genteel.
Bookish, almost geeky, they are often accused of having a
'Hindu' diffidence. A couple of the players are computer
programmers, and one ofthe team's fast bowlers - Javagal
Srinath - is celebrated as the fastest vegetarian bowler in
the 'world. Steak has never passed his lips, nor an unkind
word, not even when he fells a batsman with a quick ball
to the helmet. By contrast, a Pakistani bowler, were he to
knock an opposing batsman down, would glower, then
grab the. ball back, the quicker to hurl it at the batsman
again. A telling contrast in cultures.
on like an obstinate ghost. In addition there were other now
familiar props like identity cards and computers.
Here's another piece of good
prose that Chhetria Patrakar just
came across, though this is not
complete in itself. It is from an
essay by Shuddhabrata
Sengupta titled "The Ghost of
the Middle Ground", in the
team blog, which
describes itself as a space for
critical engagement at a time when "the space of
critical public discourse has been so completely
colonized by the corporate media". In any case,
Sengupta is writing about the death penalty
handed down to Mohammad Afzal Guru by the
Indian Supreme Court for what is known as the
'Parliament Attack':
There is undoubtedly a customary chill in the portents
of December in Delhi. In December 2000, the absurd
theatre ofthe now almost forgotten attack on the Red Fort
was built on the foundations of a bizarre script. The plot
featured a corpse that had undergone a post-mortem
identity crisis (the dead Kashmiri 'terrorist' called 'Abu
ShamaT turned out to be a migrant youth from Western
Uttar Pradesh). A harvest of mobile phone numbers found
miraculously at the scene of the crime written-cm a slip of
paper instantly delivered suspects. An unexplained
connection in the form, of a link between the prime suspect,
'Ashfaq', a Pakistani illegal immigrant, (currently
awaiting, like Mohammad Afzal Guru, the execution of a
death sentence in Tihar Prison) and a man called Nain
Singh, who happens to work as a field officer with the
Research and Analysis Wing of the Cabinet Secretariat
(and in 'whose house 'Ashfaq' stayed for months) lingered
Shekhar Pathak is a historian and journalist, and
editor of the Hindi journal Pahar, which comes out of
Nainital. He sent around the following message for
2007, titled "Dreaming a New Year":
Wishing you a very creative, green, peaceful new
Let the equity come and hunger go.
Let the smile come to the faces of all the children of
the planet.
Let the poetry flow and the music vibrate.
Let the nature start believing human beings.
Let the surplus go to the poor
And wilderness remain in many corners.
This may be a dream.
But let me dream like this.
"After 17 years of making commercials in Bombay, I
wanted to do something which
reconnected me to the earth," writes
Jenny Pinto. a\nd so she moved to
Bangalore and immersed herself in
her first love, paper crafts. "As raw
material, I use onlv natural fibres
that are waste from agriculture and
the rural cottage industry. Banana,
mulberry, kora grass, jute, sisal ...
wonderful fibres that make
beautiful, strong paper." Jenny has created one
vertical lamp, with a shaft of paper tiiat lights up the
way you have never seen paper luminescent like that
before. She writes, " I have given the lamp the name
TLSA - Traveling Light South Asia - as it's simple to
pack and go." But she warns, make sure you always
use a CFL, as normal bulbs will burn the inner paper.
And if you have the time and inclination, look up
www .jen
It is always important
n t\f: i n ^>\a/c   t0 give a &au^xt for
LJ U I   loVVj      the Lhotshampa, the
i Vterklng far yOur ngh; r<d Mtematto, over.a-lakh   Bhutan]
refugees who no one seems to care for. And yet, there
is a website that is not bitter, that focuses on news
and opinion, and seeks to do justice for all Bhutanis,
including tlie Lhotshampa in exile. It is important to
give this website maximum coverage. It is APFAnews,
at Write the editors: "Our aim
would be for the development and promotion of
democratic principle and values in the country,
focusing especially on the issues of undemocratic
activities, human-rights abuses and implementation
of the 'un-guaranteed' but stated press freedom in the
draft constitution."
- Chhetria Patrakar
Himal Southasian | February 2007
Indian blogs and MSM
Blogs reflect opinions missing in the mainstream media,
but both blogs and mainstream media reflect the
blinkered nature of the middle class.
Since they didn't find Bush or bin
Laden newsworthy enough to
put on their year-end cover,
Time magazine decided to name
"You" the person of the year. 'You' is
anyone using Web 2.0 technologies -
web platforms that allow for ordinary
Individuals to be both creators and
consumers of media, thus
empowering anyone and everyone.
The Indian media jumped on this
bandwagon, including 'You' in a
number of its own year-end lists. This
could have been an opportunity to
look into issues such as the digital
divide, Jurassic-era e-governance in
the time of Web 2.0, or even what
Web 3.0 would entail. But the
overarching concern in the
mainstream papers and online was
that 'bloggers can write anything they
want without fear of law'. Reminders
were also ubiquitous of cases such
as that of the social networking site
Orkut, which has been getting in
trouble in India this winter for its
'Dawood Ibrahim fan club'.
Such coverage of new, web-based
media, especially on the part of Indian
television channels, perhaps came
from the experience of having been
at the receiving end of unflattering if
not sometimes slanderous
comments on a blog called 'War for
News'. This blog (from web log) is
almost dead now, as the journalist
who runs it is rumoured to have been
found out and threatened. 'War for
News' would pronounce regular
judgements on the coverage of events
on TV news and make comments
about the capabilities of a reporter or
the pronunciation of an anchor that
were not taken kindly. What was
worse, the blog would refuse to censor
objectionable anonymous comments
on its posts that often had to do with
who was sleeping with whom. The
blog claimed to be committed to free
speech, but it left a bad taste in the
mouth of those at the receiving end
of its attentions.
"Why is there so much hate and
venom on blogs?" "Why do blogs hate
the mainstream media?" I was asked
these questions on a TV show the day
Time came out with its 'You' gimmick,
and I was expected to defend the
blogging community against such
charges. But I wouldn't: blogs carry
hate and venom because there is hate
and venom in the real world. The only
difference is that the venom now has
a medium for expression. While
everyone else is exposed to the critical
eye of the media, the media itself is
used to playing judge, jury and
executioner. No wonder, then, that
senior journalists are feeling
uncomfortable at being nonchalantly
criticised. Anonymous blogs seem to
cause the most unease, but it can be
argued that these are the blogs
that help push the boundaries of
fearless speech.
The conflictual relationship
imagined between blogs
and mainstream media
('MSM' in blogging lingo)
because ofthe criticism
conventional media
often faces in the
ignores   the
fact that many bloggers in India and
across the world are journalists.
Indeed, the writer and most readers
of 'War for News' were journalists.
Recent instances in which plagiarism
in film reviews and other articles in
the Indian press have been brought
to light by bloggers perhaps can also
be explained by this close
cohabitation. If there is a war, it is as
much within as it is without. But the
relationship of cooperation between
blogs and MSM is one that is often
not acknowledged: journalists in India
and the world over follow blogs for
story ideas, leads and contacts and
to track what their audiences are
interested in.
Apart from this more recent spate
of coverage, there have been some
other occasions on which blogging has
made news. One instance was when
bloggers created a collaborative
tsunami help site in 2004. This not
only collated information from the
world over but also had Indian
bloggers visiting and reporting on
tsunami-hit areas for their blogs -
sometimes relaying information via
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 SMS where the Internet was not
accessible. On another occasion, a
management institute sent two
bloggers a "legally notarised email"
in an attempt to intimidate them into
deletingcertain posts critical of it. The
bloggers madethis a public issue, and
their outrage gained wide sympathy
and brought irreparable disrepute to
the institute. In the brouhaha that
followed, the management institute
even managed to pressure the
employer of one of the bloggers
into sacking him. The incident
established an important precedent
for commercial organisations
dealing with bloggers. Many Indian
companies, especially in banking and
telecommunications, now hire
specialised Internet marketing
agencies to watch what people are
saying about their services online.
Those expressing dissatisfaction
with a company's services are
often approached directly in order to
provide solutions to the problems they
have faced.
In a third case, the Indian
government arbitrarily ordered
internet service providers (ISPs) to
block 17 websites last year. Four of
them were blogs hosted on Google's
Blogger service - essentially sub-
domains on
Incompetent as they were, and
unable to censor specific sub-
domains, the ISPs blocked as a whole, thus
impeding access by the entire country
to millions of non-Indian and Indian
blogs. The government and ISPs took
a week to correct the mistake, after
bringing themselves international
embarrassment which included
somewhat exaggerated comparisons
with Internet censorship in China.
What was common to all three
cases was that a few dozen bloggers
had come together to share
information and resources and to
petition government officials or file
Right to Information applications - all
over the Internet. This was like 50
journalists working on one big story,
together and at the same time. The
term collaboration is too mild to
describe the excitement of such an
experience. In the case involving the
management institute, the bloggers
that united in protest managed to
unearth information about actions
that the institute engaged in that were
even more questionable than those
that had originally caused offence,
These are examples of what
is somewhat pompously called
'citizen journalism', a phenomenon
mainstream media outlets in India
and the world over are desperately
trying to co-opt. TV channels, for
instance, have begun asking viewers
to send in pictures of newsworthy
events or stories on videotape - such
materials are used particularly in
times of calamity. But on an average
day blogging is hardlyjournalism, and
although the media features stories
from time to time in which 'prominent'
bloggers are displayed like exotic
animals in a zoo, none of these have
been able to capture the mood of the
Indian blogosphere or to analyse the
place it holds as alternative media.
Libertarian cartel
Perhaps it is difficult to understand
the world of blogging if one has not
experienced the bliss of creating a
media platform single-handedly in
which one is writer, editor, and
marketing agent all at the same time.
Blogging truly begins to excite once
one's site has a hit counter, which tells
how many people have visited and
from where, and who has read which
posts. The stereotype that bloggers
are lonely individuals sitting in dark
rooms and typing away to catharsis is
untrue as bloggers actively participate
in a public sphere. As Rebecca
MacKinnon, former CNN journalist
and co-founder of the blog aggregator
'Global Voices Online', famously said,
"We use the Web not to escape our
humanity but to assert it."
Instead of repeating ad nauseaum
that blogging is trash, as The Times of
India does, the mainstream media
should be interested to see what this
'sphere' is actually up to. What are
the concerns, motivations and trends
it reveals? If the blogosphere is an
adda - and it can well be likened to a
teashop where people meet and
discuss the day's news over a cuppa
- what is being said there?
What is perhaps most fascinating
about the Indian blogosphere is the
great presence here of right-wing
voices - far greater than is to be found
in the mainstream English media.
Many bloggers, for instance, have long
insisted that the India-Pakistan peace
process ought to be scrapped, as
Pakistan has not given up the use of
terrorism as a state policy. When the
Bombay train system was bombed in
July, these blogs seemed to say "We
told you so." This stands in direct
contrast to the insipid way in which
the media toes the South Block line
on relations with Pakistan, at the
present time in an indulgent tone.
Debates on economic policy in
India often centre on whether or not
profit-making public sector units
should be privatised. A group of
bloggers who would insist that the
answer is obvious have organised
themselves into what they ironically
call "the libertarian cartel of Indian
bloggers". Given that they bring to
pubic attention an ideology that has
few takers in India, it is no wonder
that the "cartellians" have their critics.
The blogosphere allows ideologies
such as libertarianism to surface
because writers here are
independent individuals who need
not follow an agenda set by an editor
or a big media house. This is only one
example of issues, debates and
ideologies found on the web that are
absent in mainstream media.
Comparison with the blogosphere
brings to light the uncomfortable truth
that much of the B JP-voting middle
class does not find its perspectives
reflected in the Indian media in
English, which is largely dominated by
various shades of left-liberal opinion.
Of course it is not only when it
comes to right-wing views that the
blogosphere provides a space for
issues and opinions that otherwise
do not receive coverage. The Blank
Noise Project, started by Banglore-
based photo-artist Jasmeen Patheja,
is one example. On the eve of
Women's Day, Patheja's site invited
visitors to write posts on street sexual
harassment, abuse that is suffered
by virtually every Southasian woman
but which receives next to no space
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 National boundaries do not exist on the Internet: why
do Indian bloggers act as if they do?
or airtime in conventional media. The
web thus once again became a space
in which people frustrated with a
problem could become the media
themselves. The Blank Noise Project
soon expanded from its origins on
the internet to become a movement
on the street, and the coverage
it attracted on primetime news
brought the issues it raised to much
wider attention.
When the Indian government
announced its intention to extend
reservations to the Other Backward
Classes, coverage on TV channels and
in newspapers was overwhelmingly in
opposition. Many publications and
programmes recalled the protests
against the first measure to bring
about reservations for OBCs in 1991.
Images of a student immolating
himself that year were played and
replayed, as if the media were calling
students out into the streets: can we
have some protests please? The
protests did come some ten days later,
but until then there were only taking
place on the web, and especially on
blogs. It was perhaps the first time in
India that an internet protest became
the lead story in a paper: "Mandal II is
being fought in Cyberia". But among
the voices the MSM missed, and it
seems deliberately so, were those
that defended the government's
move. These included a new site
called 'OBC Voice', written by a
Banglore-based copywriter and
definitely the best blog to be found
on the subject. At a time when the
media - conventional and online -
was piling wholesale on to the anti-
reservation bandwagon, OBC Voice
had stepped in to fill a gaping void in
the counter direction.
Bombings in Bombay and Delhi
tend to receive much attention in the
blogosphere while those in Guwahati
do not. This is once again a reminder
of the insular nature of the middle
class. The insularity of the Indian
blogosphere becomes even more
apparent when one realises that
events in the rest of Southasia, let
alone in the wider world, are
immaterial to it. Even diasporic blogs
rarely write about the politics of the
countries from which they are written
unless it directly involves the Indian
diaspora. National boundaries do
not exist on the Internet: why do
Indian bloggers act as if they do?
Perhaps it is not surprising that
international news has been a dud
as far as the Indian media is
concerned: Indians don't want to read
it. To draw lessons from citizen-
generated media for mainstream
media and vice versa, and to have
more and better discussions
between the two. would surely lead
to the broadening of public debate in
India. It is time that the two media
put personal differences aside to
pursue the wide world of journalism
that awaits them.
Deputy Regional Director
The Micronutrient Initiative
New Delhi. India
The Micronutrient Initiative (Ml) is an international not-for profit organization ihat works to ensure the poor - especially
women and children - in developing countries get the vitamins and minerals they need to survive 3r.<} lead productive
lives. Governed by an international Board of Directors. Ml works in Asia, Africa. Latin America and the Middle East and
reaches people in over 70 countnes. With headquarters in Ottawa, Canada, Ml maintains regional offices in New Delhi,
ndia and Johannesburg. South Africa that manage our country offices in Asia and Africa
Within the framework ol the Mi's objectives, strategic and operational plans, the Deputy Regional Director will guide the
delivery and quality assurances of Ml Asia's portfolio of micronutrient programs in countries specified by the Regional
Director. Asia, and will direct the implementation of regional and national initiatives in partnership with national and
international bodies.
Travel required (30 40% of time, mainly in South Asia)
Cover letter and resume can be sent to Carrie Belair by email at OR by regular mail addressed lo:
Carrie Belair
Executive Assistant
The Micronutrient Initiative
180 Elgin Street, Suite 1000
Ottawa. Ontario K2P 2K3
Application deadline is 16 February 2007.
For a full job description please visit our website at http://www.micronutrient,org
We appreciate all those interested; however only those selected to partake in the interview process will be contacted.
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
Fictional testimonies and
real darkness
In Raj Kamal Jha's first novel The
Blue Bedspread, readers stood on
a Calcutta balcony and watched
the snow fall; in his second book If
You Are Afraid of Heights, we climbed
onto the back of a crow to float up
towards the top of an impossibly tall
building; in Fireproof, his third
and most unsettling novel, we stand
on a street and thud thud thud, a
strange rain of bodies begins to fall
around us.
Jha's dreamlike, elliptical prose
speaks directly to his readers. It
by Raj Kamal Jha
Picador India, 2006
compels us to go beyond his fantastic
images and see what is only too real
- to see not just the edifice rising
endlessly towards the sky, but also the
narrow service lane choked with
garbage wrapped furtively in plastic
bags, a dreary place where hardly
anyone ever goes, and at the end of
which we will discover the body of a
child who has been raped, murdered,
and thrown to the bottom of a canal.
Not a pretty sight, and neither are
the methods of Jha's prose pretty -
one reason why his writing tends to
attract extreme reactions. He won't
just tell you that the baby has no arms
or legs; he'll add, "None of the four,
not one, neither left nor right." He'll
play with words, use capital letters in
the middle of sentences to drive a
point home, draw us into the most ugly
dreams. "An arm shoots up from within
the toilet bowl, grabs me, pulls me
down." No, not pretty.
But how powerfully his novels work
to force the reader's attention on to
things easily ignored or forgotten - not
only the violence in the world outside,
but also the brutality within the
human heart. Welcome to the
Ahmedabad of Jha's Fireproof, a
book whose front cover has on it
neither the title nor the author's name,
only the words HELP ME in reverse, in
block capitals drawn darkly on the
grainy blue of the book jacket, with
parts of the word already fading out
of existence and the £ dripping inkily,
desperately, down the page. Even
before they appear in front of the
central protagonist, the words
challenge the reader with their sharp
immediacy. Did people call out? Did
we hear? Would we have...? - Already
the uncomfortable questions are
forming in our minds.
The novel begins with an opening
statement addressed to the reader. It
is only in the sixth paragraph of this
statement that we learn who is
speaking. These are the voices of
dead, those who were killed
"beginning the morning of February
28, 2002... killed in ones and twos,
sometimes in groups of three, four.
Sometimes thirty, forty, fifty,
sixty, seventy, eighty. At one time,
even ninety."
Chilling, but that's just the
prologue. We then move into the
novel itself, which is narrated by one
ofthe living, a man waiting for his wife
to delivertheir first child. "In a hospital
that night," as the dead have told us,
"where we lay dead and dying in the
city on fire." The hospital (which, don't
forget, is located on a road named
after Mahatma Gandhi) is already
filling up with the victims of that night's
violence. Chapter by painful chapter,
the novel tells the story of a childbirth
gone terribly wrong, the anguish ofthe
father, the awkward kindness of
hospital staff, and the silent tears of
a not-quite baby. All the while, the
voices ofthe murdered whisper from
the footnotes.
Early in the novel, the prose comes
up chokingly against the horror of what
happened: "That night it was that
night," says the narrator. But the story
comes breaking out of him like a
torrent. Almost physically, he yanks
out all adjectives "until there is glass
dust on the floor, dust so fine it reflects
nothing." And thus he begins his
pages-long, cold, clinical, and
nevertheless deeply anguished
description of the not-quite baby
whom he calls It-him.
Style has never really been Jha's
strong point; his strength is substance,
and in this novel he serves up great,
raw, visceral chunks of it. We already
know about the numbers who died,
we remember the photographs - the
face of someone pleading for his life,
a hand holding up a sword. But in Jha's
book we find individual stories that
go beyond the images and the
numbers to show us the
heartbreakingly ordinary details of
people's lives. The boy who went out
to buy some flour, the old woman who
swept the floors of people's houses,
the doctor who wanted to do an MD
but couldn't make it despite two
attempts, and who earned a little
extra money by running a private
practice instead. Unflinchingly, the
novel asks those infinitely difficult
questions: what happened, exactly?
How did it happen? To whom did it
happen? What did they see? What did
they hear? Where did they run? What
did they say when they begged for
their lives?
And how could it have happened
at all?
These imagined testimonies form
the blazing core of the novel. The
perpetrators are not named - they are
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 called A, B, C and D, all the way to Z -
and this is one of the ways in which
this fictional account of the violence
marks its difference from non-
fictional reports and analyses of the
atrocities of that day. Nor are the dead
named - the opening statement
offers a set of binaries instead, such
as "bird beast, black blue. Hindu
Muslim, Muslim Hindu, fire ice..."
It is for non-fictional accounts to
record the survivors' testimonies, list
out the dead, identify the accused,
frame charges and hand out
convictions. What, then, is the role of
fiction'? In May 2002, Jha, a
newspaper journalist himself, wrote
a non-fictional account of his visit to
Gujarat. It was structured as a show-
and-tell description of things he
discovered during his visit, including
a child's textbook, an NT research
paper, and the empty gaze of four
Muslim boys at the Shah Alam relief
camp. The report appeared in the
Indian Express on 13 May 2002. titled
"I Went To Gujarat As A Riot Tourist
And All I Got Was This." Already, within
the crisp newspaper format of the
report, one could sense the stories
struggling to emerge, clamouring
insistently to be heard - the uterus
that marched for justice; the child's
textbook, with what Jha calls its
alive smell".
Stories wanted to tell themselves,
they wanted the open space through
which to surge into the world, and that
is what Fireproof is most powerfully
about. It is fiction, after all, that can
take us deepest into the heart of
darkness; imagination that can give
us a fleeting sense of what happened
and how it must have felt. Fiction can
redefine words and give new
meanings - "Friendship,"forexample.
now stands for the moment "when
both of you watch the fire burn." Only
fiction can make the human body
fireproof. Within the democratic space
ofthe novel, even the dead can speak
- and they do speak to us, directly, in
matter-of-fact tones, from the other
side of the violence. They speak from
the footnotes of every chapter, from
under water, inside ice and across
worlds; they challenge us from the
empty pages of a schoolbook. from
the blank face of a watch, and from
the cover of this book itself, saying.
demanding, "HELP ME."
Not least of all. if justice still
remains to be done, perhaps it is
fiction's turn to see what it can do.
Not only to let the dead tell their own
stories, but also to let them write a
new story in which they can begin to
set right the wrongs that have
been done to them - and restore the
moral fabric of our world so that
corpses needn't rain down on
the sfeets again. This is the
important, audacious project at the
heart of Fireproof. 0
co-option and triumph
A controversial cover of The
Economist last year asked,
with not much self-reflexive
irony. "Who killed the newspaper?"
The suggestion of death seems, in
hindsight, grossly exaggerated. Asia
Media Report: A crisis within explores
a more specific and far-reaching
concern: the death of news as we
know it.
This is familiar ground. The large-
scale takeover of news outlets by big-
money corporations and the
concomitant rise of infotainment to
cater (advertisers insist) to the needs
of a mythical dumbed-down 'market'
have been widely lamented, as have
Asia Media Report: A crisis within
edited by Johanna Son, Satya
Sivaraman, Suman  Pradhan
IPS Asia-Pacific Centre Foundation,
the problems of cross-ownership and
consolidation, and the challenges o*
reporting and publishing news under
repressive regimes or in otherwise
hostile environments.
But this multi-part, multi-author
report, commissioned and published
by Inter Press Service Asia-Pacific, is
not just a hand-wringing ode to a lost
cause. It presents articulate essays on
specific trends in countries across the
region, including how news for people
IK ing in Burma is produced in exile,
and how entertainment in Pakistan
comes increasingly in the form of
spiritual teachings that are both arch-
conservative and designed to attract
urban youth. Also included are
assessments of the 'media
environment' in different countries,
such as under dictatorship in Nepal,
and amid the lure and power of money
in India and Thailand. And in each
analysis, the report makes strong
empirical arguments for its premise:
that free, responsible media is
indispensable to the success of any
Political repression is the
straightforward part of the story. Under
next-to-impossible conditions.
Burmese journalists in exile produce
news for their fellow citizens back
home. During King Gyanendra's
dictatorial rule, Nepali journalists
fought back with metaphorical or
absurd editorials, printed gibberish
when a defiant blank space was not
allowed, sang the news on FM radio,
and more.
Where politics is violent and
enmeshed with economic interests
from the most local to the highest
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
 national level, it becomes less easy to
identify a single 'enemy of the fourth
estate'. And yet, though the suppressor
and its affinities may change from
region to region, the results remain
the same for journalists who challenge
the local status quo: physical attacks
and murder.
A less deadly - but more depressing
- response to corruption in politics and
the state's dismissal of its citizens'
concerns is discussed in an essay on
the Philippines. Here, it is argued,
entertainment does not just rule the
roost, but even the news takes on the
forms, methods and outcomes of
entertainment - from the indiscretions
and media-whorishness of TV stars, to
the peccadilloes of politicians. Politics
itself has become a spectator sport,
says author Antonio P Contreras. and
the knee-jerk clinging to entertainment
is how Filipinos maintain their sanity
in a country plagued by crises. It is, he
says, a "postmodern" state of
spectacle. This defence of "bad
[proletarian] taste" makes a modicum
of sense, but it is still a way of
encouraging people to revel in their
powerlessness while letting the media
off the hook with regard to its role in
keeping the state accountable.
More insidious than political
repression, or the wholesale
abandonment of the idea that media
- and its lower-end consumers - have
a role to play in keeping civic concerns
inthe limelight, are financial influences
and considerations. A Crisis Within
examines two ways that big money
leaches away the media's sphere of
influence, in Thailand, under former
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra,
the power of money indirectly dictated
what could and could not be
covered in the press. Thaksin's vast
empire included advertisers
whose non-participation could
bankrupt publications.
In India and Indonesia the situation
looks even worse, and here business
has, for the most part, not gotten into
bed with politics. The report explores
the manner in which once-respected
Indian publications have undergone a
"Murdochisation", whereby editoria
space and time are treated as
products to generate revenue, and
news is limited to items that are
sensational, feel-good, lifestyle-
oriented and jingoistically nationalist,
but which rarely present the realities
of the majority of the population. In
India the greater the strides the
economy appears to make, the more
conservative the media becomes by
compulsion or by choice.
In Indonesia, despite a boom in
local television and radio, ownership
- and cross-ownership - of media
remains with a handful of people with
close connections to the upper political
and economic strata of society. The
report sees cross-ownership of media
as underminingthe content presented
to the Nepali public as well.
A thousand ways around
But not all is gloom and doom. A Crisis
Within also examines creative
responses to restrictions on media.
The case study of China's respected
Caijing weekly shows how a non-
negotiable editorial emphasis on
detailed, irrefutable research findings,
a strict separation of editorial and
marketing roles, and a wealthy but
hands-off ownership together allow a
publication the roles of watchdog,
whistleblower and respected analyst.
Often, the report shows, the path to
editorial freedom lies in adopting a
new business model. The example is
given of the attempt of the Malaysian to turn into an
economically viable long-term product
a website that began as a mere space
for dissenting opinion following the
arrest of then-Deputy Prime Minister
Anwar Ibrahim in 1998. Seven years
later, Malaysiakini still relies on
occasion on donor money, and its
online subscription drives have not
always been successful; nonetheless,
it continues to exist.
A Crisis Within is valuable also
because it contains cautionary tales
about what happens when radical or
underground media outlets are
institutionalised. An analysis of the
case of Hankyoreh, the 'citizen-owned'
Korean daily, shows how an editorial
stance, when it sticks to a particular
line of dissent and does not respond
to changes, can become ossified -
even to the extent that a publication
which has its origins in a popular civil
movement comes to be associated
with the state, or is left behind by
competitors that now cover the same
social issues but more
comprehensively. Palestinian media,
which before the Oslo accords were
signed played an important role in
political consciousness-raising, should
in the freer environment of recen:
years have been discussing how to
build the Palestinian state. Instead.
they continue to focus largely on the
dynamic of 'evil Israel vs poor,
victimised Palestine'.
One introductory overview of the
report rightly points to the irony that
although - or perhaps because - radio
is a cheap medium with enormous
reach, it is tightly controlled across
Asia. Here. Nepal's proliferation of
community radio stations provides a
notable exception, though India and
Sri Lanka are mentioned as being
likely to follow suit. In Thailand, the
report notes the "mushrooming" of
community radio, despite the fact that
community access to frequencies
(which by policy are under public
ownership) is heavily restricted.
The next edition of IPS's report, if
there is one, would do well to include
comparative analyses that for now are
left to the reader. There are also a few
noteworthy omissions in the case
studies: the Korean Ohmynews
'citizen journalist' model, and the
challenge posed by Al Jazeera TV to
Western-directed coverage of the
Arab-speaking world. However, these
are minor gripes. The case studies,
general country essays and media
indicators in A Crisis Within are well-
written and informative, and some of
the illustrations are witty and
could have replaced a few pages
of pontificating.
In every instance here, erosion of
the independence of media is
accompanied by a lowering of the
volume of discussion about citizens
and their rights. The many illustrious
writers present a uniformly liberal front
and do a good job of showing, rather
than telling, why media and its
freedoms need to be "defended by
maximum application", even when
not under overt threat.
Himal Southasian | February 2007
 M On the wa
. ^	
A  rreh! Arrehl Kya baatl
£^      Readers who have a Hindostani (Hindi-
/I Urdu) heritage will have no difficulty
following those exclamations, but they never stop
and consider that these are alien terms to those from
the Southasian South, whose categories of
population do not fall within the Hindostani
umbrella or its shadow.
Not only North India and Pakistan, but the enti re
Southasian North, with linguistic affinity to
Hindostani (including Bangla, Nepali and Akhomia
in that Perso-Sanskritik fold), form part of the
demography which will
understand an arreh ('now,
hold on') or a zindabaad or
m.urdabaad ('up with, down
with'). Besides, they have
been exposed to Hindostani
films and television for so
long that they do not think
twice in saying 'haan or )
'achhab to indicate
agreement. Things are
completely different for the
South Southasian, and the
quicker those in the north
know this, the better.
When SAARC conclaves
are held, large or small,
there is a subconscious '-
bonding between those
who come from the Indus, Ganga and Lower
Brahmaputra /Jamuna watersheds. Whether you arc
Kashmiri or Bangladeshi, you will accept the other
person's Arreh bhai! or O sahab! over fhe dinner table
without batting a Northern eyelid. There is a taking-
for-granted condescension inherent in the descent to
Hindostani, which takes the Maldivian, Sinhalese or
Malayali for granted.
All this, by way of introducing the topic of the
day: all of Southasia's problems seem to emanate
from the north. If the future of our region were to be
left not to the Delhis, Islamabads and Dhakas, but to
the .societies who drink the waters of the Kaveri,
Godavari and Mahaweli, we would probably have
had a differently evolved Southasia. SAARC would
today be a strong organisation striding the world
stage, putting the ASEANS and the OAUs to shame,
and the SAARC Secretariat would be a spic-and-
span glass tower of sky-scraping dimensions, with
suited-booted modern babus (another North
Southasian term) rushing hither and yon - rather
than the sad, dank two-storey structure of today,
without central heating in the Kathmandu winter,
and serving as nothing more than a conference
servicing centre.
.And so the proposal, that organising
Southasian regionalism be left to the region south
of the 18th parallel. Look at all that would happen:
Kashmir would stop being a festering wound, no
one would be talking of river-linking, the barbed-
wire and steel pylons would bo dismantled on the
India-Pakistan and India-Bangladesh frontiers,
Afghanistan would be trading with India through
Pakistan, Bangladeshi natural gas would sell in
India, the same for Nepali hydroelectricity, and
'crossborder militancy' would end.
"Learn from the South" should be the rallying
cry for the Southasian future. The SAARC summit,
when it is finally organised in Delhi, we hope in
April, must think out of
the box. To begin with, let
us do away with the
pretentious speeches,
including the umpteenth
one by Mohammed
Abdul Gayoom, who has
been there from the start
even as kings, presidents
and prime ministers have
died around him, been
exiled or entered
crotchety retirement.
What the Fourteenth
SAARC Summit should
do when Theeru
Manmohan picks up the
chairman's gavel in New
Delhi is to do away with
all the embarrassing pomp and ceremony of the
summits past. No more long speeches - every
summitteer president, dictator or interim prime
minister to be limited to five minutes each. Then,
announce a "Learn from the South Southasia Plan
of Action", which would be guided by the need to
"take lessons from the Kavery, Godavari and
Mahaweli watersheds and assorted atolls and
islands, in the understanding that the linguistic
diversity and the absence of Hindostani hegemony
has meant that the southern society has less
historical baggage, less hierarchy and more
collaborative processes, which will lead to better
regional relationships in Southasia and,
ultimately, the ability to achieve the Millennium
Development Goals..."
If we can do that, we will finally be heading
towards the Southasian Century-. Kya baatl Ooops!
February 2007 | Himal Southasian
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