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Exit America 49

What people say 96

Uncertain stand 114

Remembering TAGORE
On his 150th birth anniversary



Fiery trap in Kolkata


Higgs signal?


Iraq: Exit America
War crimes in the trash
December Revolution
Volatile state
India & China:
Troubled equations

DECEMBER 31, 2011 - JANUARY 13, 2012



ISSN 0970-1710

Timeless Tagore

As an activist, thinker, poet and rural reconstructionist, Rabindranath Tagore continues to be relevant. A tribute on the 150th anniversary of his birth. 4


Jayati Ghosh:
Mess in eurozone
R.K. Raghavan:
A lost battle?





Jungles of Borneo


Achuthan Kudallur’s journey 85

Of Quit India, Nehru
& Communist split


Understanding the PDS
Power of literacy
Coupon fiasco
Strong revival
Loud no to cash
Losing momentum
Interview: C. Rangarajan,
Chairman, PMEAC
Uncertain stand in Durban
Mullaperiyar dispute:
Deep distrust
Fallout of fear
Humble genius:
Mario Miranda
Korea’s Kim Jong-il
Bhaskar Ghose:
Looking back
Praful Bidwai:
Durban greenwash



Language barrier 14
Poet of the Padma17

The other Tagore 22
Unique landlord 29
Man of science 37






The American occupation troops withdraw from Iraq after waging a ‘dumb war’ which claimed the lives of a million Iraqis. 49

On the Cover
Rabindranath Tagore.
Published by N. RAM, Kasturi Buildings,

A survey in nine States shows that they have quietly revived and expanded their public distribution system. 96

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Chennai-600 002.
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: N. RAM (Editor responsible

India fails to extract emission cut commitments from Annex I countries in return for agreeing to the Durban Mandate at the climate talks. 114

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Cover Story

JANUARY 13, 2012

As an activist, thinker, poet and rural reconstructionist,
Rabindranath Tagore continues to be relevant.
A tribute on the 150th anniversary of his birth.

There is hope that the new appreciation of Tagore as a thinker will in the long run

OLKATA, Santiniketan, Hyderabad,
Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad; Marbach, Copenhagen, Lund, Zagreb and
Rijeka; London, Dartington, Cambridge, Birmingham and Hull; Stockholm, Leiden, Salamanca, Barcelona and Valladolid;
Washington and Chicago; Kuala Lumpur and Singapore….Who would have thought when I started learning Bengali in 1972 that Bengali and Rabindranath Tagore would take me all over the world? The
150th anniversary of his birth has kept me and other
Tagore specialists exceptionally busy in 2011, and the celebrations seem likely to continue, culminating with the centenary in 2013 of his Nobel Prize.
This interest worldwide is both unsurprising and surprising. It is unsurprising, given that after winning the Nobel Prize Tagore became, in the 1920s and 30s, the most famous poet in the world. Fame brought him many opportunities to travel, and he seized them eagerly, globetrotting in a way that was unprecedented before the age of air travel. Through his English translations and their secondary translations, through his lectures and his extraordinary dress and charisma, he left pieces of his legacy wherever he went, and it is not surprising that many of the events I have attended have been linked to his own visits and travels. But the enthusiasm and commitment of the organisers of these events is quite surprising, given that Tagore – except in Bengal – is hardly a household name. Many people have never



heard of him, and some of the events have had tiny audiences. Tagore alone is not now a crowdpuller, and organisers have had to be ingenious in finding ways of filling halls or seminar-rooms.
What has been gained? Perhaps it is too early to say. But I think it is possible to draw some initial conclusions about Tagore’s standing compared to what it was 40 years ago, and what trends relating to it can be expected in the future.
Tagore has attracted a good number of quips and sneers over the years, which are routinely trotted out by those who wish to make fun of him. One such quip is Jorge Luis Borges’ comment – referring to the
Nobel Prize – that Tagore was a “hoaxer of good faith, or, if you prefer, a Swedish invention”. Another is less well known:
If only Tagore
Wouldn’t draw!
His literary stuff
Is tedious enough.
Quoted to me many years ago by an uncle who had been in the Indian Civil Service, these lines will be useful to those who wish to pour scorn on the roving exhibition of Tagore’s paintings (December
12 to March 4) in the Victoria and Albert Museum in
London. I myself enjoy these quips when I am in the mood, and I suspect that Tagore would himself have



February 1931.

Tagore in


enhance the understanding of his creative achievements. B Y W I L L I A M R A D I C E

JANUARY 13, 2012



JANUARY 13, 2012

found them amusing. They also carry the bleak truth that for many non-Bengalis there is, with Tagore, a credibility gap. Contributors to commemorative events or volumes are convinced of his greatness, but there is a cold, harsh world outside full of people who are not so convinced.
Maybe as an Englishman I have been more acutely aware of this gap than admirers of Tagore from other cultures and countries. The British literary establishment has always been resistant to Tagore. Read Bikash Chakravarty’s introduction to his collection of letters to Tagore from literary figures (Poets to a Poet, 1912-1940), and you will learn that even at the height of his success with Gitanjali, his circle of friends and admirers in Britain was small and eccentric. Mainstream figures such as W.B. Yeats and Ezra
Pound who were enthusiastic to begin with quite rapidly lost interest. Despite all the work done since the 1980s to put Tagore’s reputation on a new footing, there are in
Britain entrenched views that have proved extremely hard to shift. Tagore is vaguely remembered for Gitanjali and other English translations that enjoyed an initial vogue, but which failed in the end to convince most mainstream writers and critics that he was a great and significant poet.
The resilience of this attitude was demonstrated by an article in The Guardian on May 7 by the veteran journalist
Ian Jack (who has a longstanding interest in India). It asked: “Is his poetry any good? The answer for anyone who

can’t read Bengali must be: don’t know. No translation is up to the job.” The article concluded that “perhaps the time has come for us to forget Tagore was ever a poet, and think of his more intelligible achievements”. No doubt Jack was being deliberately provocative, and the flurry of comment and protest that his article provoked was not a bad thing: it did at least get Tagore into the pages of one of our major newspapers. It appeared the day after Jack had chaired a lecture by Amartya Sen at the British Museum, which essentially argued the same: that Tagore the poet was inaccessible to non-Bengalis and the best thing to do was to learn from his valuable ideas about nationalism, universalism and history.

Amartya Sen’s authority as a Nobel laureate himself may have pushed Tagore’s reputation as a thinker up a few notches. This will not, of course, satisfy those who care passionately about his poetry, his songs, his plays, his fiction, or his paintings. I myself have argued in lectures and articles that to focus on Tagore’s ideas and ideals can not only be a distraction from his profound achievements as a creative artist but can also be misleading. Take any of his creative works, from a single song to a magnificent poem such as Tapobhanga (‘The Wakening of Siva’), or a full-scale novel like Gora, and you will find that they cannot be


JANUARY 13, 2012

TA G O R E W I T H J A W AH A RLA L Nehru, who took time off from a Calcutta trip in 1936 to visit Santiniketan for a day. No record of the conversation exists. That was also the year when Nehru lost his wife, for whom Tagore had held a condolence meeting at his ashram. Nehru shared a special relationship with
Tagore and sent his daughter, Indira, to study at
Visva-Bharati. As its Chancellor from 1951 to 1964, he visited Santiniketan regularly for its convocation ceremony. He took rides on the ferris wheel with the students at Poush Mela, ate khichri with them in the students’ canteen, ran around and played with children. (Facing page) Tagore felicitating Gandhi and
Kasturba at the mango grove in Santiniketan. Tagore and Gandhi held different views on the charkha, on the politics of non-violent non-cooperation, on modern science and birth control and celibacy. Yet they shared a deep personal friendship and mutual respect. There is a moving story of how Tagore slipped a note in Gandhi’s hands at the end of the
1940 visit, asking him to “accept this institution
[Visva-Bharati] under your protection”. Gandhi immediately responded, setting the poet’s mind at rest. Nehru’s government made good that promise in
1951 when Visva-Bharati was made a Central university through an Act of Parliament.

reduced to a ‘philosophy’: they have the complexity, manysidedness, paradox and ambiguity that we expect to find in any great work of art.
Nevertheless, a number of publications and conference papers in 2011 have given me hope that this new-found appreciation of Tagore as a thinker will in the long run enhance the understanding of his creative achievements.
Particularly significant is Michael Collins’ new book for
Routledge: Empire, Nationalism and the Postcolonial
World: Rabindranath Tagore’s Writings on History, Politics and Society. Dr Collins is a historian teaching at University College London and his book derives from his
Oxford D.Phil thesis. It is a highly academic work and will not be read much outside academic circles. But works of scholarship can spread ripples, and I foresee a considerable ripple effect from Dr Collins’ painstaking pursuit of unity amidst the often baffling contradictions of Tagore’s discursive writings. Was Tagore pro- or anti-West? Was he pro- or anti-modern? Scholars at Tagore conferences argue endlessly about such issues.
Through carefully reading Tagore’s English lectures and essays, Dr Collins has arrived at a conception similar to my own, that in everything he did he strove for purnata, wholeness or completeness. He could be deeply critical of imperialism or the nation-state or the dehumanising effects of capitalism and industrial production. But his belief in histo-



JANUARY 13, 2012

ry as an unfolding revelation – and in his own creative work as an expression of a unifying jivan-devata – made him also see the “spirit of the age” that spawned imperialist expansion or scientific advance as tending towards unity, internationalism and freedom. He believed this because, in
Dr Collins’ words, his “monistic spiritual perspective – derived largely from the Upanishadic insistence on the essential oneness of the universe – provided the basis for his philosophy of history”.
The marginalisation of Tagore is the fragmentation of
Tagore. If we can move even one aspect of him to the centre, as Dr Collins has successfully done with Tagore’s discursive writings in English, then his diverse achievements as a poet, composer, novelist, playwright and painter will cohere, make sense, join forces at the centre of the stage. This will not in any way diminish their radicalism, their subversive challenge to orthodoxy, whether in education, economic development, or man-woman relations. When really great writers or thinkers become central, as Shakespeare has done for so long, they have a tendency to seem more and more radical, not tame or respectable.

Let me now consider some other shifts that have started to occur during this anniversary year, in the perception and

S P E AKI N G AT B E R LI N University. Tagore spoke to packed halls during his first visit to war-ravaged
Germany in 1921. He revisited Germany in 1926 and
1930. Despite the adulation he received, the German reaction to him was mixed and sometimes hostile.

use of several aspects of Tagore’s creativity. They are shifts to a position that is both more central, but also more radical, and have real potential for the future. The first is an the awareness of the “activist” Tagore. One of the biggest triumphs of the anniversary year was the Tagore festival held in Dartington in Devon, May 1-7, inspired and masterminded by Satish Kumar. Three different venues at Dartington
Hall (founded by Leonard K. Elmhurst with money from his
American wife Dorothy, after he had worked with Tagore at
Sriniketan) were filled from morning to night with very well attended events: lectures, recitals, dance performances and poetry readings. Satish Kumar commands a considerable following in Britain through his editorship of the ecological magazine Resurgence. He is also the guiding light behind
Schumacher College at Dartington and the Small School at
Hartland, and he acknowledges Tagore as a major influence on his life and work. Through his wide network of international contacts, he was able to attract as speakers big names such as the conservationist Jane Goodall, the new


JANUARY 13, 2012


when he visited New York in 1930.


JANUARY 13, 2012

age guru Deepak Chopra, the environmentalist Jonathan
Porrit, the educationist Anthony Seldon, and many prominent poets, dancers and musicians. Many who attended or spoke at the festival did not know much about Tagore, but all were committed to his values. With our world now facing unprecedented challenges from overpopulation, global warming and environmental degradation, Tagore is likely to seem an increasingly compelling voice.
I thought of Dartington at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations’ (ICCR) conference on “Tagore’s vision of the contemporary world” at Azad Bhavan, in New Delhi,
October 10-12, especially when I heard Ananda Lal saying dryly about the exploitative dam in Muktadhara or the digging for gold in Raktakarabi, “If that is not topical, what is?” I also thought of Dartington when I heard, at the same conference, Eiko Ohira speaking so movingly about the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan on April 21 – telling us how cherry blossoms continued to bloom amidst the rubble. She quoted Eliot – “April is the cruellest month”
– but took strength and comfort from Tagore. Listening to my friend Dr Martin Kämpchen, speaking both in Delhi and at the seminar “My Tagore; why Tagore” in Ahmedabad on October 15, and hearing about his Tagore-inspired work as a community activist in Santali villages close to Santiniketan, I again reflected on how vital it is always to keep this aspect of Tagore’s vision in mind. It is a major reason for remembering him, and it attracts many people worldwide.

A second major area where there has been a shift – one that is particularly close to my heart – is in Rabindrasangeet, the unique and marvellous songs of Tagore. For Bengalis, and for Tagore himself, the songs are absolutely central, but for non-Bengalis worldwide, his songs have remained the least known, least understood aspect of his creative genius. The reasons for this have nothing to do with the songs themselves or the fact that they are composed in a language that very few non-Bengalis know. The main obstacle has been in their domestication, their – dare I say it – ‘ghettoisation’.
The conventional way of performing them, with harmonium and other instruments, metronomic tabla-rhythm, and excessive amplification; the ubiquity of Rabindrasangeet at every kind of Bengali celebration or social occasion; have made them as alien to non-Bengalis as British Christmas pantomime is to non-Britons, or Spanish bullfights are to non-Spaniards (or were before the recent Catalan bullfighting ban). In my experience, even in India outside Bengal,
Rabindrasangeet has had the effect of separating Tagore from others, not bringing him closer to them.
It has long been a dream of mine to persuade singers of
Rabindrasangeet to perform without the clutter of harmonium, tabla and other instruments. At Dartington, my friend Debashish Raychaudhuri and his daughter Rohini gave a wonderful performance of Rabindrasangeet, set free, so to speak, from performance conventions. Sung khali golay (‘with naked voice’), and combined with an explana-

tory conversation, they were immediately made as moving to a foreign audience as the songs of Schubert are to audiences who may not know a word of German. In Ahmedabad, we repeated the experiment, to a Gujarati audience who, because of a well-established interest in Gujarat in
Tagore and his songs, are normally quite happy to listen to
Rabindrasangeet sung in the conventional way. But for them, too, when they heard the songs sung with this new directness and simplicity, the experience was revelatory.
The ovations that Debashish and Rohini received in both
Dartington and Ahmedabad will remain with me as high spots of the anniversary year.

Once it is understood what
Tagore’s songs actually are, then the door is wide open for all sorts of imaginative fusion experiments.
I believe that this new way of performing Rabindrasangeet, which is largely a matter of bringing it up to global standards of performance, will have an increasingly powerful effect. Another manifestation of this sea change is the recent recording by Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta of the complete Gitabitan (collected songs of Tagore) with only tanpura as accompaniment. Hearing Rabindrasangeet sung in this way is like seeing an old master painting after layers of grime and varnish have been removed. Alongside this revolution in performance comes scholarly work by musicologists, especially Dr Lars Koch in Berlin, who gave a fascinating presentation at the ‘The Many Worlds of Rabindranath Tagore’, an international conference at the University of Chicago, October 27-28. Dr Koch has completed a major study in German of the songs of Tagore, published by
LIT Verlag, and his presentation implied that in this book he argues that corruption in the performance of Rabindrasangeet set in very early on – because the writing down of the songs in akarmatrik notation, and the control of their performance by the Visva-Bharati Music Board, led to a rhythmic rigidity that was absent in recordings of the songs by Tagore himself, or by disciples such as Sahana Devi.

Once it is understood what Tagore’s songs actually are, then the door is wide open for all sorts of imaginative fusion experiments. When I hear the best of these experiments, I feel that they take us closer to the spirit of the songs than the conventional way of performing them. In Ahmedabad, Professor Partha Ghose, whose knowledge of Tagore’s songs is as deep as his appreciation of Tagore’s scientific interests,



JANUARY 13, 2012

Maurice Gwyer (right) and
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan after a special convocation held by Oxford University at Santiniketan on August 7,
1940, to confer on Tagore the degree of D.Litt.


played us beautiful arrangements of Rabindrasangeet that he has recorded in Kolkata with a string quartet. Recently, in the town in Hexham near where I live in Northumberland, two fine local musicians performed arrangements of
Tagore songs by the French musicologist Alain Daniélou
(1907-1994), who translated the words into French and
English so that they fitted the melody, and added subtle

piano accompaniments that bring out the “latent harmonies” as perceptively as Partha Ghose’s string quartet versions. What matters above all in Rabindrasangeet, as in any great music, is quality, insight and feeling. This can be achieved in any number of ways so long as one’s starting point is the song as conceived and imagined by Tagore himself. Rabindrasangeet brings me to the third area where I feel exciting changes are afoot and where there is real potential for the future. Many of the best events in 2011 have been performances involving actors, dancers and musicians.
“Flying Man (pakshi-manab): Poems for the 21st century


JANUARY 13, 2012

by Rabindranath Tagore” at the British Library on May 17 was one of them. Some of the greatest poems of Tagore, with a special relevance to the anxieties and concerns of the 21st century, were read by me and two Bengali readers, in translation and in the original Bengali. Music was provided by
Zoe Rahman (piano) and her brother Idris Rahman (clarinet), two of Britain’s finest young jazz musicians. They showed that deeply felt jazz improvisations, combined with recitation, can give amazing new life and meaning to Tagore’s poetry. On August 5-6, Akademi, the Centre for
South Asian Dance, produced “Song of the City”, a radically innovative dance production based on Tagore. The dank and mysterious Southwark Playhouse Vaults in London were the venue, the choreographer was Ash Mukherjee, who is trained in both Bharatanatyam and Western ballet, and the part-live, part-recorded soundtrack combined Rabindrasangeet, recitation, and improvisations by another outstanding British jazz clarinettist, Arun Ghosh.

What matters in
Rabindrasangeet is quality, insight and feeling. This can be achieved in a number of ways as long as the starting point is the song as conceived by Tagore himself. Chicago on October 28, and in Hexham, Northumberland, on November 27. Everyone – absolutely everyone – is moved by this recording as soon as they understand the words. Among the things that I hope my own work in this anniversary year has given, especially in my translation of
Gitanjali for Penguin India, has been a new and transferable way of translating Tagore’s songs. In Spain, my translation of Tobu mone rekho was readily translated into
Spanish, and I think it will not be long before Spanish musicians turn this into a song of their own. Tagore wrote the song in 1887, and may not have been thinking of himself or his future legacy at all. But it is impossible to hear it now without thinking of the song as prophetic, and when I hear
Tagore sing it himself, with the rhythmic flexibility that is such a feature of his poetry, prose and paintings, and with a heartrending catch in his voice in the last line, which suggests that he had a lump in his throat and was scarcely able to get through it, I know in the core of my being that Tagore was one of those creative geniuses who make one feel privileged to be human. For as long as we walk this planet, and maybe one day other planets too, he will be remembered, and those who have participated in the commemorations in
2011, and have travelled so far in his globetrotting footsteps, can take pride in what we have done to ensure that he will be remembered. Remember me, still remember me, if I go far away, still remember me
If old love gets covered by the mesh of new love, remember me still remember me
If I stay close by, yet you cannot see whether, like a shadow,
I am present or not, remember me still remember me
If tears come to your eyelids
If tears come to your eyelids
If play ceases one day, one spring night, still remember me
If work is stopped one day, one autumn dawn, remember me
If I come to your mind, yet heavy tears no longer brim in the corners of your eyes still remember me
Remember me, still remember me

In Valladolid in Spain on October 4, the three city
“Tagore en España” festival coordinated by Indranil Chakravarty reached a stunning climax with a performance that combined Rabindrasangeet from Paramita Biswas, dance from Ananya Chatterjea, and flamenco from José Salinas and Raúl Olivar. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life: to stand and compère a complex programme in Spanish, to a large and rapturous audience, in a spirit of freedom, creativity and international cooperation that went right to the heart of what Rabindranath Tagore was all about.

Let me end with Tagore’s own voice. I cannot do that physically in a magazine article, but it is not difficult now to find on the Internet Tagore’s own rendering of his song
Tobu mone rekho. The recording was played at a number of the events this year: in Rijeka in Croatia on May 21, in

William Radice is a British poet, writer, and translator.
His translations of Tagore’s poems and stories are widely acclaimed. In August 2011, he retired from SOAS, London
University, where he used to teach Bengali language and literature. His latest book is a new English translation of
Gitanjali for Penguin India.



Cover Story

JANUARY 13, 2012

Language barrier
The bulk of Tagore’s poetry is available in translation in different languages, but the ambience of the original fails to come through in translation. B Y A S H O K M I T R A
IS songs will endure. Here lies the tragedy, for they will endure only for those who are not only born in the language, but also continue to be faithful to it. Any scope for hope for Tagore and his songs to be more than a totem rests with the Bangladeshis, who have clung to Tagore’s language.
A quantum of cynicism is in order. The year 2011 happens to be 150 years since Rabindranath Tagore’s birth. A spate of commemoratory celebrations, under both official and other auspices, is taking place.
Some courteous gestures are forthcoming from foreign embassies and consulates too. In quite a few countries, either the Indian diaspora or this or that international body is organising events to offer homage to Tagore’s memory. Why not be candid; much of all this is pure ritual. And it is particularly so in our own neighbourhood. This nation is currently in an obsessively globalised mood; its priorities and concerns have turned topsy-turvy.
When the man once hailed as the Father of the
Nation is now little more than a half-forgotten totem, Tagore could hardly expect a better treatment.
He, in any case, never had the same emotive appeal across the entire nation as Gandhi had, and is at most a regional icon. Still he was the first Indian to be awarded the Nobel Prize. That fact cannot be passed over; the colonial hangover is uber alles. After all, the ethereal beauty and intense spiritualism embedded in Tagore’s poetry came to be recognised in the country only after the nod arrived from the West. He



was immediately rendered into a deity. That status continues. Deities have dates when they are to be dusted and feted. Tagore is being duly feted this year: obeisance to a ritual.
Indians, however, love to convert every ritual into a carnival. The Tagore anniversary has been reduced to a potpourri of songs, plays, dances, dance dramas, seminars, workshops, learned-sounding discourses, exhibitions of his paintings and manuscripts, films on him or based on his themes, and whatever else can be thought of. At the end of the year, the sum total of all these events could well be a grand confusion. Carnivals, besides, have a magnetic attraction for racketeers. The Tagore season is proving to be no exception. Globalisation has imparted the lesson that the cardinal objective in life is to make money whatever the means; so what is the harm if a few fast bucks are made by way of pretending to pay homage to Tagore too?
Such frivolities apart, there is one big difficulty for the world at large to appreciate Tagore’s creativity or his message that enriched humanity. He wrote almost exclusively in Bengali, which is not an easy language to enter into. The language has a


TA G OR E A S BA LM I KI (facing page) in his dance drama "Balmiki Pratibha". He enjoyed directing, and acting in, his plays and did so quite late into his life. During the struggle to put Visva-Bharati on its feet, he went on tours staging performances to raise funds for it.


JANUARY 13, 2012

mixed-up heredity with derivatives from Sanskrit, Pali, Persian, Arabic and, later, Portuguese and English. No matter, it has acquired a structural maturity and a specific identity and has built a climate for itself which is doggedly insular with its subjective symbols and codes. For those aspiring to familiarise themselves with Bengali, it is therefore a case of hit or miss: should one be lucky, one might succeed in breaking the barrier and going inside the language, but most of the time one remains the frustrated outsider. Learning the script, the grammar, the vocabulary and the syntactical idiosyncrasies may not be enough; the totality of the sectarian mystique could still be beyond grasp.

The 2,000-odd songs he composed are to be enjoyed, savoured, played with, prayed with; they are often guiding stars to negotiate the tortuous course of existence.
Perhaps, Tagore’s humanistic passages get faithfully transmitted through renderings in other languages. The philosophy of eternal quest buried in his works also had, once, a clientele in the West. Most of that is now passé; mystic thoughts do not grip the West any more. Maybe some of Tagore’s short stories, despite their roots in the
Bengal milieu of the times, have a certain ubiquitous appeal. His novels mostly deal with contemporary problems and are generally reckoned to be no longer of any relevance.
The great bulk of his poetry is, of course, available in translation in different languages. But the ambience of the original poetry fails to come through in translation. The delicate whisper of thought, the depths of passion or devotion and the cadence in the crafted texture refuse to get transplanted in other languages. No fault lies with those who do the translations, the problem is an organic one that even a linguist can only mull over but cannot resolve.
The passage of time has bared another harsh truth: most of Tagore’s poems appear to be overwritten; to state it more plainly, they talk too much. The language of words and the architectural arrangements enchant; the sonorous expression of thoughts and ideas flows on and on, but we are stuck at a still point of cognosis. The absence of rigour,
Tagore was acute enough to realise, made poetry vulnerable to the moodiness of seasonality. It was a dilemma. He had beauty to convey and ideas to unload. He could, he was sanguine, reach out to the unarticulated yearnings of the human soul, and he had total command of the language which was his medium. The greater challenge, though, was of compression of what he desired to convey. Whether it was

spirituality or passion or any other instinct that nudges the poet, its expression has to be within the bounds of restraint.
Tagore discovered his salvation. He took to composing songs. In this genre, it is important to surrender to the sovereignty of discipline, collect one’s ideas within a limited ambit of words, and simultaneously marry the poetry with the appropriate music. There is no question that his songs have a magnificence that reduces the worth of all his other works. He himself was confident that this was indeed so.
The 2,000-odd songs he composed are to be enjoyed, savoured, played with, prayed with; they are often guiding stars to negotiate the tortuous course of daily existence, or otherwise solace at the moment of crisis and sufferings.
They take one along the meandering trajectory of feelings and emotions, via a fusion of language.
The themes range from passion to counter-passion, blind faith to threadbare reasoning, soul searching to revelry, love of nature to love of women. The music embellishing them is wondrously freewheeling, derived from classical
Indian ragas, Irish lullabies, Scottish ballads, the otherworldly chant of Bengali bauls, the bhajans chanted by
Rajasthani damsels while fetching water from distant villages, the deep resonance of Carnatic music, and, on occasion, even pickings from haughty military bands. Tagore plays the great innovator, he turns odds into evens, the assorted refrains are frequently made to coalesce and merge into one another and something devastatingly original, quintessentially Tagore, reveals itself.
His songs will endure. Here lies the tragedy, for they will endure only for those who are not only born in the language but also continue to be faithful to it. As of this moment,
Bengalis in India are in general keen to walk away from their native tongue. The reference here is to the Bengali middle class, who really matter in the polity and the economy. They are sure of what they want; they are in a scampering hurry to swim in worldly prosperity. The Bengali language offers no help towards attaining that goal; why waste time on it, better shift to foreign languages valued in global transactions and, above all, the language of information technology. Tagore, for this money-fixated species, is a dispensable embarrassment. They do not mind participating in carnivals organised on the pretext of Tagore as long as such involvement has commercial possibilities; that is all.
The story is different in Bangladesh. They have shed blood to win their war of liberation. One of the passions at the root of their revolt against Pakistan was their fierce love for their mother tongue, from which the authorities wanted to detach them by firman. Nothing doing; they clung to
Tagore’s language and wrested their freedom. Tagore is an integral part of their ethos. Not that the blight of globalisation is not affecting them either, but if there is any hope for Tagore and his songs to be more than a totem, that hope rests with the Bangladeshis. For the rest of the human race, they will be polite towards Tagore, but sorry, he will remain hugely irrelevant.
As told to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay


Cover Story

JANUARY 13, 2012

Poet of the Padma
How Tagore, once disowned as a Hindu poet by Bengali Muslims, became part of
Bangladesh’s freedom movement is fascinating history. B Y G H U L A M M U R S H I D
ENGALI-SPEAKING people were and, still are, sharply divided into two religious communities of nearly equal sizes,
Hindus and Muslims. Coupled with economic inequality as well as social hierarchy and a rigorous caste system, there was little communal harmony between them, particularly between the dominant upper class Hindus and Muslims in general. Inspired by the rising tide of religious nationalism in the 1940s, Muslims chose to form a separate country of their own, which came to be known as East Pakistan. Despite the fact that
Rabindranath Tagore was one of the greatest geniuses ever born, and the only Asian until then to have received the Nobel Prize, he was hardly identified by the Bengali Muslim community to be one of their own. Instead, he was branded by them as a Hindu poet. Therefore, it seemed almost unbelievable when, a quarter of a century later, in 1971, the predominantly Muslim Bangladesh chose one of the songs written and set to music by Tagore as its national anthem. How the once disowned and neglected Tagore became part of the freedom movement of Bangladesh is, indeed, a fascinating history.



Traditionally, more than 97 per cent of Bengali Muslims, like the low caste Hindus, lived in villages and were mainly farmers and artisans. For generations, they adhered to their caste occupations and hardly had any interest in having any formal education. On

the contrary, upper caste Hindus eagerly accepted
English education and engaged in commercial activities with the English. Thousands of them also bought landed properties and became zamindars, or landlords. These caste Hindus, about 10 per cent of the entire Hindu population, formed the upper and middle classes in Bengali society and contributed to as well as benefited from the so-called Bengali Renaissance. Muslims lagged miles and decades behind them socially, culturally and economically. As a result, the Bengali Muslims, mostly poor farmers, were resentful of Hindu dominance and exploitation by zamindars, and identified themselves as not belonging to Bengal.
Apart from this, the English rulers used this
Muslim dissatisfaction to divide the two communities and pursue the advantageous policy of “Divide and Rule”. However, as a growing number of Muslims gradually came to have some education in the beginning of the 20th century and became more aware of their inferior status in society, the alienation between Hindus and Muslims increased.
This alienation was so strong that in the early
20th century, Muslims, who were very much sons of the soil and spoke Bengali for centuries, underwent an identity crisis and even raised the question whether their mother tongue was Bengali. Although the debate died down by the early 1930s, politics took a sharp turn and saw the growth of a movement for an independent Muslim land in the early 1940s.
After the creation of Pakistan, a unique state

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with its two wings separated by more than a thousand miles, its leaders realised that there was little in common between the people of West Pakistan and those of the East, except the unity of religion. Therefore, they planned to develop another element which they hoped would bond the two parts, namely, having a single official language. This they wanted to achieve by reducing the use of Bengali, importing as much of Arabic and Persian elements into Bengali as possible, and by making Urdu the only official language for both wings. In short, they wanted to discard Bengali, the mother tongue of the majority of the population of Pakistan. It was a well-calculated plan to destroy the Bengali identity of the people of East Pakistan and draw a dividing line between Hindu West Bengal and Muslim East Pakistan. Part of this plan was to replace Tagore, first with Allama
Iqbal, and then with Nazrul Islam, by projecting them as alternatives to Tagore. In short, they wanted the Bengalispeaking people in East Bengal to lose sense of their linguistic identity and cultural heritage.
Despite their indifference until then towards the Bengali language, Bengali Muslims resented this concerted assault by Pakistani leaders on Bengali and, soon after
Partition, started a political agitation demanding that Bengali be recognised as one of the official languages of Pakistan. In 1947-48, however, this movement remained confined among the teachers and students of Dhaka, particularly of the University of Dhaka. Police repression in
March 1948 turned it into an emotional issue and as time passed the movement gathered momentum and gradually spread throughout the province. It culminated in a bloody political movement on February 21, 1952, when the police opened fire on protesters, mainly students, and killed more than 10 people. The following day, more people were killed.
This brutal police repression, along with enormous disparity, particularly in the field of economy and participation in governance gave birth to a movement for democratic rights. It had an even more profound influence on their linguistic identity. Badruddin Umar calls it the return of the
Bengali Muslims to their own land. Until then, mentally and sentimentally, they lived in the Middle East (West
Asia), but soon after the language movement in the 1950s, they increasingly started to identify themselves with Bengal along with its language, literature, music and culture. It was during this time that they came to love Tagore. To them, he became the symbol of secular Bengali nationalism and someone who they could be immensely proud of. They could no longer ignore Tagore as a Hindu poet.

The language movement, emotional as it was, had a tremendous effect on the politics of East Pakistan and resulted in all but depleting the Muslim League as a political party in the 1954 elections. It was a very significant development because the Muslim League had created Pakistan. In fact, the language movement heralded the rise of a strong secular

and regional movement for more autonomy, which eventually led to the independence of Bangladesh. Thus the language movement was the beginning of the end of Pakistan.
The rise of this secular Bengali nationalism, replacing the very foundation of Pakistan, that is, Muslim nationalism, was reflected through small but important symbolic developments, such as giving children Bengali names, writing number plates of motor vehicles and names of houses in
Bengali, putting one’s signature in Bengali, celebrating the birth anniversaries of Tagore, Nazrul Islam and Sukanta
Bhattacharji (a promising poet who died very young) as well as celebrating seasonal festivals such as spring, monsoon and autumn. Tagore was, for the first time, loved by Bengali
Muslims as their own.
This tide of secular Bengali nationalism developed fast in the midst of a favourable atmosphere of the politics of discontent in East Pakistan. Utterly frustrated by the unequal treatment by West Pakistan in governance and economy, East Pakistan simmered in disgruntlement and looked for friends elsewhere. It was soon after the elections of 1954 that the demand for a country called “Bangladesh” was, for the first time, pronounced by Fazlul Huq, the Chief
Minister of East Pakistan. Even though he was soon silenced, the dream survived in the minds of young leaders such as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In fact, there is evidence that the latter went secretly to the neighbouring Indian
State of Tripura in 1962 to explore the possibility of getting help for freeing East Pakistan from the bondage of West

Tagore had strong ties with East Bengal. In order to manage his father’s large zamindaris in East Bengal, he lived in
Shilaidaha in the district of Kustia from 1890 to 1901. Apart from this, he lived temporarily in East Bengal on many an occasion. He was born and brought up in the seclusion of the aristocratic Tagore family in the city of Calcutta and had never been exposed to either rural Bengal or the inhabitants thereof. He has himself narrated how East Bengal broadened his vision and made him aware of what Bengali society was really like. In more than 200 letters he wrote to his niece, Indira Devi, during this time, which were later collected into a volume called Glimpses of Bengal, he describes passionately how he was stimulated vigorously both by the beauty of the landscape and the simplicity of the people he saw around him.
As a result, he encountered an explosion of creativity in different branches of literature and music. More significantly, he wrote his first short story almost immediately after he settled in Shilaidaha and went on writing many more. Out of a total of 119 stories, he wrote 59 while he lived in East Bengal between 1890 and 1901. Inspired by the scenic beauty of rural Bengal and the simple lifestyle of the people, he also wrote many poems and songs while there. In many of these poems, included mainly in Sonar Tari, Chitra and Chaitali, we find references to the exquisite beauty of



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W ITH V I C T O R I A O C A M P O , whose guest he was in
Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1924 for a couple of months. He called her Bijaya, Bengali for Victoria.
Much of "Purabi", the book of poems named after an evening raga, was written here. She encouraged him to draw after she chanced upon a manuscript that had drawings in it. Rathindranath says in his memoirs that she also organised and funded the first exhibition of his paintings in Paris in 1930.

golden Bengal. Indeed, East Bengal played a significant role in shaping his mind. Even though he moved away from East
Bengal to Santiniketan, East Bengal left a permanent impression on him and occupied a very important place in his world. It was during the period of the post-language movement that the people of East Pakistan started to sing his patriotic songs and use his poems, during the anniversary of the

language movement and on other occasions. They also made good use of patriotic songs and poetry by Hindu poets such as Atulprasad Sen and Dwijendralal Ray. This was a clear shift on the part of Bengali Muslims from their earlier stance of creating a Muslim Bengal and crafting a Bengali language “purified” with Muslim elements.

Tagore continued to reinforce his position among Bengalis in East Pakistan in this environment. The government could do little to stop this process. However, as the Tagore centenary in 1961 approached, it took definite steps to undermine the occasion by discouraging everyone, particularly government officials, from celebrating the occasion.
The largest circulated daily, Azad, joined hands with the government and started a propaganda war, claiming that
Tagore was a sectarian poet. There was not a single day before and during the celebrations when articles vilifying



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Tagore did not appear on its editorial page. This was not surprising in view of the fact that Azad was a staunch nationalist newspaper. However, what was more significant was that the dailies Ittefak and Sambad defended Tagore equally vocally, quoting what he had written about and in support of Muslims. This was important because it showed a definite shift in the tide towards and development of a secular linguistic nationalism. It also enhanced interest in the Bengali language and literature.
Tagore was remembered not just by these dailies or the people in Dhaka, but also by hundreds of educational institutions and cultural organisations all over the province, including those in villages, which celebrated the occasion with as much enthusiasm as they could. They perceived it as a protest against the government’s “ban” on Tagore and the suppression of Bengali culture. Hence, they observed it with grandeur. Whatever the quality of the celebrations, there was a revival of interest in Tagore among the people of East
Pakistan. The study of Tagore, the spread of his songs and a keen interest in films based on his stories and novels received an enormous boost from that time on.
The government’s efforts to discourage Tagore, however, continued unabated. One of the steps it took was to ban
Tagore songs on government-controlled TV and radio during the war between India and Pakistan in early September
1965. The ban continued until the anniversary of Tagore’s birth in May 1966. Harsher was the decision by the government in 1967 to stop Tagore songs from being broadcast on radio and television. The decision was announced in Parliament by the Information Minister.
The intelligentsia in Dhaka, particularly teachers and students, protested angrily against this announcement and

P AG E S FR OM THE manuscript of "Purabi", with the poems "Bipasha" (left) and "Baitarini". The poems of
"Purabi" are poems of love, where the object of love is ultimately unknowable. A rough translation of the last two lines of "Bipasha": "Let me not grasp for you in my yearning/Let your song come to me from the open skies, not from the cage of my heart."

asked the government to withdraw the decision immediately. The government initially ignored the agitation but when people from all over the country joined in a chorus of protests it withdrew the embargo.
The earlier ban on Tagore songs, in 1965, saw the establishment of a cultural organisation called Chhayanot. Its influence was unprecedented. It did not confine itself to just cultural activities, and soon took the form of a protest movement. It is said that the celebration of Rabindra Jayanti, that is, the anniversary of the birth of Tagore, in 1966, which Chhayanot had organised, was attended by tens of thousands of people. It goes without saying that all these people were not connoisseurs of Tagore songs and dances; they attended the open-air festivals and assemblies to protest against the government’s repression of their culture.
Chhayanot also began celebrating Bengali New Year’s Day, which has now, in the post-independence period, become the second largest celebration – after the Language Movement Day. Indeed, it has developed into a cultural movement rather than just being a cultural event.
Several educational and cultural organisations took
Chhayanot’s lead to celebrate Rabindra Jayanti defying the government’s attempts to discourage them. Thus Tagore, who had so long been limited mainly to textbooks, came


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English aphorisms, collected as
"Fireflies", published by Macmillan in New
York in 1928.
Translations of nearly all these brief poems can be found in
William Radice’s book "The Jewel That
Is Best" (Penguin

back to life in East Pakistan. East Pakistanis earned him through a political and cultural movement. The study of
Tagore certainly received a lift in Bangladesh. Articles and books on Tagore started to come out and performances of his plays and dance dramas became popular. Educated middle-class Bengali Muslims began to buy discs of Tagore songs, whether they really appreciated the songs or not. It was fashionable to be identified as Tagoreans. The people who did not show any interest in Tagore were considered by others to be less than cultured. The celebration of hardly any cultural event was regarded as complete without the rendering of Tagore songs. Gradually even East Pakistani films started to use them. This growing popularity of Tagore’s songs encouraged Chhayanot to release a set of discs in 1969. Tagore’s patriotic songs, in particular, were considered to be both inspiring and appealing.

It was during this process that his songs, such as ‘Amar sonar Bangla ami tomay bhalobasi’ (My golden Bengal, I love you) and ‘Sarthak janam amar janmechhi ei deshe’ (My life has been fulfilled as I was born in this country) and dozens of others, won the hearts of the people. These songs became so integral to their lives that people started to use them to boost their political and cultural movements. ‘Amar sonar Bangla’ was seen to be the national anthem of the future Bangladesh even before Bangladesh was created.
The song ‘Dhana-dhanya-pushpa-bhara’ (Full of wealth, rice and flowers, this country of ours) by Dwijendralal Ray also became extremely popular (now it is Bangladesh’s official patriotic song). A song by Atulprasad Sen – ‘Moder garob, moder asha/A mori Bangla bhasha’ (Our pride, our

hope/Oh, this Bangla language of ours) became a widely used slogan for banners. During the late 1950s and the entire 1960s, the people of East Bengal, who were once unmoved by Tagore, came to love him as their own and thus
“earned” him through a struggle in the face of strong opposition. He came out of textbooks and was transformed into a living entity.
However, the attitude towards Tagore in Bangladesh, after its independence, has changed to a large extent. Although the government gave him due recognition, the perception of the people towards him has changed. He is now no longer seen as their companion in their struggle for an independent Bangladesh, as the struggle itself has become redundant with no one to repress it. Moreover, at the instance of the rise of a global Islamic nationalism and with the monetary help of the Middle Eastern countries, especially of Saudi Arabia, there has been a revival of Islam in
Bangladesh. This attitude has also been enhanced by popular anti-Indian fear. India’s big brotherly attitude towards
Bangladesh has also contributed to it. Tagore is now no longer as inspiring and ‘alive’ as he was 40 years ago.
However, he still symbolises the spirit of a secular Bengali culture and Tagore songs are increasingly becoming popular and fashionable. The study of Tagore continues unabated as well, despite the fact that he has lost some of the ground he gained during the 1960s and the early 1970s.
Ghulam Murshid is a British writer of Bangladeshi origin, best known in India for his biography of the poet Michael
Madhusudan Datta (Ashar Chhalane Bhuli or Lured By
Hope) and his writings on Bengali literature and culture.
He is a Senior Research fellow at SOAS, London University.



Cover Story

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The Other Tagore
The “sage of Santiniketan” was rebellious and courted controversy sometimes to espouse a cause that mattered to him. B Y S A B Y A S A C H I B H A T T A C H A R Y A
HE Tagore we usually get to know is the icon of the “sage of Santiniketan”, the widely respected author resting on his laurels from 1913 up to his death in 1941 as the first non-European to get the Nobel Prize, an ideologue of the freedom struggle admired by leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose – a image of a pillar of the establishment.
Arguably, there was another Tagore who was rebellious, courting unpopularity at some turning points of his life, reviled by his countrymen as an apostate and a traitor, and acutely conscious of his conspicuous isolation due to his frequent failure to connect with prevailing public opinion. That other Rabindranath Tagore is hidden in his letters, most of which still remain unpublished, in his quiet self-reflections in some isolated and infrequently noticed writings, and in the events of his quotidian life in the years before he attained fame.



The first rebellion in Tagore’s life occurred before he reached his teens. As a child he rebelled against the system of schooling his generation suffered. He refused to go to school. He was successively transferred to four different schools by the elders of his family, and yet each time his non-cooperation defeated the elders. “I rebelled, young though I was. Of course, this was an awful thing for a child to do – the child of a respectable family! ….When I was thirteen I finished going to school. So long as I was forced to do so,

I felt the torture of going to school insupportable.”1
Tagore said he had used the freedom thus gained to educate himself. However, he soon found himself to be a literary outlaw because he was without the kind of education that gentlefolk in British India underwent. It was his “good fortune to escape” the prevalent colonial education system but he had to pay a price for it. “My ignorance combined with my heresy turned me into a literary outlaw….I had neither the protective armour of mature age, nor that of a respectable English education.” Thus he suffered
“castigation upon me from critics who were learned”, but in his “seclusion of contempt” he had a kind of freedom. Tagore felt that as he persisted in producing one book of poems after another through his youth, he obtained blame and praise “in the proportion of land and water on our earth”, and eventually he “gained a reputation in my country, but a strong current of antagonism in a large section of my countrymen” persisted. He felt that “I have never had complete acceptance from my own people”.2
Tagore’s perception that he was isolated was enhanced when he emerged from his shelter of the enchanted solitude of a poet into the public sphere.
He became a public intellectual in the Swadeshi movement against the partition of Bengal from
1905. In this phase, for the first time he made a conscious effort to connect with public sentiment against the vivisection of the Bengali people. However, very soon Tagore’s mind rebelled against the turn towards individual violence in the form of militant



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nationalist action through political assassinations. In 1908, his writings, especially a long tract entitled Ends and
Means3, abundantly signified a break with his compatriots who supported militant activism. Another thing that worried him was a feature of the anti-partition movement in
Bengal: the enforcement of diktats of the caste-Hindu upper-class leaders on Bengali’s peasantry, among whom
Muslims formed the majority. In the stance of the main protagonist Nikhilesh, in the novel The Home and the
World4, one can get a glimpse of Tagore’s tendency to rebel against the predominant cast of mind of the elite in Bengal in the days of the anti-partition agitation.
When Mahatma Gandhi appeared on the national scene with the mantra of non-cooperation, once again Tagore found himself in the lonely path of a pursuit of an ideal that he perceived as unattainable in terms of the strategy of the
Indian National Congress. From the beginning of the
1920s, Tagore found himself at odds with the line of action chosen by the Indian National Congress. Tagore’s relationship with Mahatma Gandhi was cordial and although they

T A G OR E P R E S I D I N G OVE R the foundation-stonelaying ceremony of Mahajati Sadan in Calcutta in 1939 at the invitation of Subhas Chandra Bose. He hailed
Bose as "deshnayak" or leader of the nation in the speech he gave on the occasion.

debated many issues they remained constant in their friendship.5 However, the same cannot be said of many in the ranks of the Gandhians. Tagore’s critique of the Gandhian approach in the 1920s was deeply resented by the followers of Gandhi. Even in Bengal, where Tagore was on the way to attaining the status of an icon, the Gandhians were not prepared to tolerate any criticism of the Mahatma.
This, for example, was the reaction in a leading Bengali newspaper to Tagore’s scepticism about the efficacy of the charkha as a means of political and economic struggle. “The charkha movement has been revealed to the poet’s intelligence as a hoax…. Only an extraordinary genius can say such an extraordinary thing. The ludicrous opinions of the poet may appeal to those who live in a dream world, but




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at the opening of the Santiniketan Arts and Crafts Exhibition at
Congress House, Royapettah, Madras. At extreme right is freedom fighter and Congress leader
S. Satyamurthi.


those who are grounded in the soil of this country will feel that the poet’s useless labours are sad and pitiful.”6 Scurrilous canards and spoofs lampooning the poet were published in Bengali newspapers. Tagore’s opponents were of the view that the poet’s “emotionalism” was too much in evidence and that his criticism of Gandhi was devoid of reasoning.7 Apart from specific issues such as Tagore’s doubts about the charkha as the panacea, or his warning against the boycott of educational institutions without creating a nationalist alternative to the colonial education system, there was a deeper-seated cause of potential conflict. This arose in the context of Tagore’s intellectual evolution from his position as a leader of the anti-partition Swadeshi agitation in
Bengal from 1905 to 1908, towards a world outlook that can be best described as a kind of humanist universalism. “I find myself obliged to separate myself from my own people with whom I have been working, and my soul cries out: The

complete man must not be sacrificed to the patriotic man, or even to the merely moral man. To me humanity is rich and large and many-sided.” As Tagore developed his own philosophy of humanist universalism, he felt compelled to condemn “the curtailment of humanity…often advocated in our country under the name of patriotism”.8 Although Mahatma Gandhi shared that philosophy of universalism, to the large majority of people in the nationalist ranks Tagore’s stance was no more than a pose and a cover for an unpatriotic ambiguity. Tagore’s differences with the nationalist enthusiasts in the Congress became obvious, even though his reputation as a litterateur kept growing.
Tagore’s break with the section of nationalists who were called biplabi, or revolutionary, in Bengal was even sharper.
From his political essays in 1908, questioning the strategy of the biplabi leadership, to the novel published in 1934, Four
Chapters (Char Adhayay), Tagore consistently expressed on the one hand his deep admiration for the militant nationalists’ courage of conviction and, on the other, his criticism of the path of individual violence chosen by them. The novel is remarkable for its ruthlessness in thinking through judgments about the ethics and strategic possibilities of political violence – and the novel is, at the same time, tenderly sensitive to human values. The revolutionary na-


Guru at his ashram in
Sivagiri near Thiruvananthapuram, in November
1922. "I have never come across one who is spiritually greater than Swami Narayana Guru or a person who is at par with him in spiritual attainment," Tagore said after the meeting.



tionalists were deeply shocked because Tagore had been and remained in the forefront of the movement for the release of political prisoners, mostly biplabis, who were imprisoned without trial. Many of the militant activists were his admirers. Nevertheless Tagore did not allow his judgment to be clouded by the sentiment that prevailed in
Bengal, a sentiment that amounted to unthinking enthusiasm for militant action by secret societies without preparation for a wider popular base. This novel of 1934 was in a sense Tagore’s last major engagement with the issues posed by militant nationalism. The reaction was so adverse that
Tagore felt compelled to offer an ‘explanation’ of his position in the editions after 1934.
Another schism Tagore recurrently refers to in his writings in the late 1920s and the 1930s is connected with his role as an institution builder from 1901 when he founded his school in Santiniketan until his death. He perceived an unsympathetic attitude in Bengal towards his effort to innovate a new pattern of education. He found the response from Bengal particularly disappointing in the crucially important early phase of his school at Santiniketan. Reflecting on his experience, he wrote in 1933: “I received no help from my own people; their opposition and animosity without reason impeded this school, but I ignored that and carried on my effort regardless”.9 Seven years later, shortly before his death, he spoke again in the same vein: “I remember the long and arduous path that led to this ashram. No one will ever know the intolerably woeful history of that struggle against unrelenting adversity.”10 Unlike in other contexts there is bitterness in these and many similar statements he made about absence of support from his “own people”.
These bitter remarks are directed mainly against the Bengali middle classes. Apropos of that one also recalls his rudely frank response to representatives of this class on a wellknown occasion. When they flocked to felicitate Tagore soon after the award of the Nobel Prize was announced, he chose that moment to recall “the insult and discouragement it has been my fate to receive from my countrymen”. The felicitations which came after recognition from abroad, he said, were no more than a part of a “momentary excitement” which might soon disappear because only a few in the celebratory gathering truly appreciated Tagore’s writings.
Thus Tagore, on this and some other occasions, conspicuously distanced himself from the middle class, or the bhadralok, although they constituted the head and front of his audience as an author.
Tagore’s alienation from such people can be contrasted with his perception that among the rural peasantry there was a “touch of humanity”.11 Undeniably, Tagore was a landlord in relation to the peasantry he was acquainted with in the family’s estates. He was acutely aware of that. He writes to his son in 1930: “The whole business of zamindari makes me ashamed….I feel sad to think that from childhood we have been raised as parasites.”12 However, beyond the bounds of the landlord-tenant relationship there were many other spheres of Tagore’s activities that created a


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at Villeneuve, Switzerland, near the Geneva Lake. Tagore cut short a trip to Italy in 1926 because he felt suffocated in the political atmosphere there and spent some time with Rolland.


sympathetic bond. There is plenty of evidence that he invested a good part of his inexhaustible energy and meagre financial resources to address issues of importance to the rural poor, for instance, the supply of potable water to the village people, prevention of malaria which was rampant in his villages which are in present-day Bangladesh, the absence of schools for children in rural areas, or the need for cooperative credit system for farmers (a major part of the
Nobel Prize money was put by Tagore in a cooperative bank for this purpose; it was from the worldly point of view a bad decision, for the capital melted way without a trace). It seems unlikely that Tagore was merely attitudinising when




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with his wife, Mrinalini. She was barely 11 when they were married, and he around 22.
It was with her support that he founded his school in
1901, and she handed over all her jewellery to raise funds for it. She died in 1902 when she was just under 30, from a mysterious illness that her elder son, Rathindranath, later speculated might have been appendicitis. Tagore nursed her himself, refusing to hire help, and was at her bedside day and night. She left behind five young children, three of whom were to predecease Tagore.



he asserted that he felt in his bones a bond with the peasantry. Moreover, that style of attitudinising was not yet fashionable in those times.
In the 1930s, the last decade of Tagore’s life, once again he felt besieged by apprehensions of being isolated and attacked because he had launched his debut as a painter towards the end of his life. Tagore was particularly despondent about the reception of his paintings among his own people. “I have no wish to acquaint the people of my province with my work as an artist….Alive or dead, I have no desire to make this creation of mine public here. My pictures will not be allowed to commit the same offence as my other creations.”13 Thus Tagore confided to a correspondent in Bengal his apprehensions that his artistic work would be rejected by his people. Indeed, he first exhibited his paintings in Calcutta towards the end of his life, long after numerous exhibitions in Europe and North America. In part this was due to his general conviction that India was not ready for styles of painting other than what was popular and usually known as “Oriental art”. He surmised that artists were browbeaten to toe the line laid down by persons who were not creative and he urged artists to vehemently
“deny their obligation carefully to produce something that can be labelled as Indian art”.14 His was a strident call for rebellion against stereotyped art labelled as Oriental art, and many years later Mulk Raj Anand used this essay by
Tagore as an agenda statement of modern art in India.
Perhaps Tagore’s last act of rebellion was against the tradition of the European Enlightenment, which he looked up to for inspiration throughout his life. This was when he famously uttered, a few weeks before his death, his judgment on the crisis of civilisation as he perceived it in 1941. In the beginning of his intellectual life he had looked upon
European civilisation as the pace-setter in bringing about a change in the mindset of the world with its message of rationality and science, democratic institutions, an agenda of abolishing slavery, and other analogous progressive values. Looking at the world in the throes of the Second World
War as a result of the imperialist aggrandisement of the
European powers, Tagore forcefully expressed his disillusionment. “As I look around I see the crumbling ruins of a vast civilisation strewn like a vast heap of futility. And yet I shall not commit the grievous sin of losing faith in Man.”15
Needless to say, in the heat and stress of the World War,
Tagore’s last judgment did not please the West.
It is interesting to reflect upon these and many other instances of Tagore’s tendency of mind to court unpopularity to espouse a cause that mattered to him. History knows of many other great minds, in advance of their times, striving against the prevailing current. The unusual poignancy in Tagore’s life was his loneliness. He often stood alone in the face of adversity. Since he rarely spoke of it except in private letters to a few confidants, this aspect of his life has received little attention in numerous biographies focussing on his external life. In his inner life the poet sang to himself ekla chalo re, “walk alone, walk alone”.16



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Tagore was well into his sixties when he took up painting and drawing as a serious pursuit. Below, at left, is a self-portrait and, at right, the artist at work.






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Pratima Devi, and
C.F. Andrews (right) at Travancore in 1922. Andrews gave up his teaching job at St. Stephens College, Delhi, in 1914 and remained a dedicated partner in all
Tagore’s projects until his death in 1940.



13. Tagore, letter to Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, December 20, 1929.

1. ‘Autobiographical’, in Talks in China, 1925. In writing this essay I have drawn upon citations in the following forthcoming book: Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, Rabindranath Tagore: An Interpretation (Viking/Penguin, 2011).
2. Talks in China, 1925.
3. Path O Patheya (Ends and Means), 1908.
4. Ghare Baire (The Home and the World) 1916.
5. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, ed., The Mahatma and the Poet: Letters and
Debates between Gandhi and Tagore (New Delhi, 2009).
6. Ananda Bazar Patrika, August 19, 1929.
7. e.g. Editorial in Bombay Chronicle, September 9, 1925.
8. Tagore, letter to C.F. Andrews, January 14, 1921.
9. Tagore, Visva-Bharati, in Rabindra Rachanavali, Vol. IV, page 280.
10. Tagore, Visva-Bharati, in Rabindra Rachanavali, Vol. IV, page 290.
11. Tagore, letter to C.F. Andrews, July 23, 1915.
12. Tagore, letter to Rathindranath Tagore, October 31, 1930.

14. “Meaning of Art”, Lecture at Dhaka University, February 1926, in S.K.
Das, ed., English Works of Rabindranath Tagore (Sahitya Akademi), Vol. III, page 586.


15. Crisis in Civilization, 1941, page 21.
16. ‘Jodi tor dak sune keu na ashe tabe ekla chalo re’, translation by Tagore, unpublished until his death, “If they answer not thy call, walk alone”, in
Krishna Kripalani ed., Tagore’s Poems, 1942.

Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, formerly Vice-Chancellor,
Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, and
Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University, is the author of Talking Back: The Idea of Civilization in the Indian Nationalist Discourse (Oxford
University Press); Vande-Mataram: The Biography of a Song (Penguin).


Cover Story

JANUARY 13, 2012

Unique landlord
The heart of the country, Tagore repeatedly said, lay in its villages and no real progress could be achieved without alleviating rural poverty. B Y S A R B A R I S I N H A
N attempting to write on Rabindranath Tagore as a landlord, it is hard to resist the temptation to start with that often-told story, a favourite of all biographers of the poet – the day in 1891 when the newly anointed “zamindar” attended his first “Punyah”, the rent collection ceremony, at
Shilaidaha in undivided Nadia district, now a part of
Kustia district in Bangladesh. Most descriptions are cinematic: the tall, handsome, young man, dressed in dhoti, kurta and shawl, arriving for the function amid ululation, the blowing of conch shells, ceremonial gunshots, and music. The programme includes a
Brahmo prayer service and a Hindu worship, at the end of which the priest smears sandalwood paste on the landlord’s forehead and receives his priestly dues of new clothes, curd, fish and money. And then begins the rent collection.
That is the script, except that Rabindranath throws it out of the window. He declares that the
Punyah cannot start unless the seating arrangement is changed.
The traditional arrangement, in place since the days of the poet’s grandfather Prince Dwarkanath
Tagore, marked out seating areas on the basis of caste and religion. The ryots sat on the floor, Hindus on a part of the mat covered with a white sheet, with a separate space for Brahmins, while Muslims sat on the bare mat. There were seats for the estate managers and other employees, all demarcated according to rank. “Babumashai”, the landlord, sat on a richly upholstered throne-like chair.



At Tagore’s behest, the ryots, both Hindus and
Muslims, enthusiastically removed all the chairs and the white sheets, and everyone in the room sat on the floor, clustered around the young landlord. The estate manager and other senior employees, mostly
Hindus, walked out and threatened to resign unless the old arrangement was restored, but Tagore was unmoved. In the end, he persuaded them not to resign and to join the function.
The seating arrangement for rent collection was not the only thing that Tagore changed about the
“zamindari” he inherited. It is important to remember this story because it is symbolic of much of the work that he did during the long years he spent supervising the family estate. But first, a word about where this “zamindari” was located.
Dwarkanath and his father had invested heavily in land in eastern Bengal (now in Bangladesh) and
Orissa. In eastern Bengal, the Tagores were the rentcollecting landlords under the Permanent Settlement in large chunks of land in Birahimpur Pargana of Kustia, with the rent office in Shilaidaha; Sajadpur Pargana in Pabna district, with the rent office at
Sajadpur; Kaligram Pargana in Rajshahi district, with the rent office at Patisar. They also owned land in Hooghly, Jessore (now in Bangladesh) and Rangpur (also in Bangladesh) districts, and in Cuttack district in Orissa. Under Debendranath Tagore’s last will made in 1899, the property in Orissa went to his son Hemendranath, while three other brothers,
Dwijendranath, Satyendranath and Rabindranath,

JANUARY 13, 2012

together got the property in Birahimpur and Kaligram. The
Sajadpur property in Pabna had gone to the descendants of
Debendranath’s brother Girindranath.
Rabindranath was under 30 and already an established poet when he first found himself in charge of this jointly held family estate. He was directly engaged in managing it from 1890 to 1922, though his son Rathindranath shouldered much of the responsibility from 1910 onwards. The poet was initially also responsible for the property in Sajadpur and Cuttack, but these two estates subsequently went out of his supervision. In the end, after Satyendranath’s son,
Surendranath, chose Birahimpur, Rabindranath was responsible only for Patisar, the supervision of which was eventually taken over entirely by Rathindranath.
Tagore’s creative flow was uninterrupted through this phase of his life; indeed, this was the period when he came into his own as a poet and story-teller. The countryside, with its joys and sorrows and its own inimitable conversations and songs, inspired poems and lyrics and many of his unforgettable short stories. The world now remembers him for the way he changed Bengali literature forever. But in this age of strife and ever-conflicting interests, it is no less important to remember what he did as a landlord.
An indication of what he intended to do came on that very first day, when he radicalised the seating for the rent collection. He declared, his biographers (see Jamidar Rabindranath by Amitava Choudhury) record, that it was his mission as a landlord to “save the Sheikhs from the Sahas”.
Pramatha Choudhury, who was married to Rabindranath’s niece Indira and worked on the Tagore estate for many years, has also written that one of the major duties for those entrusted with the running of the property was to “save the
Sheikhs from the Sahas” (Ryoter Katha, or “Story of the
Ryots”). Amitava Choudhury has explained that Rabindra-

or Kuthibari, at
Shilaidaha, built in 1892. The ground floor was used as the revenue office. This was where Tagore took direct charge of his children’s education, trying out ideas that he would later put to use at his school. The house is a protected building now in Bangladesh.



nath did not refer to a particular caste or racial group as
“Sahas” or “Sheikhs”. Most of the wealthy and powerful moneylenders in his zamindari were Sahas, a Hindu caste of the lower middle order, but most of the poorest peasants were Muslims. What Rabindranath meant, says Choudhury, was that his priority as landlord was to save the poorest peasants from sinking into an endless cycle of debt that made a certain section rich.
Yet, this statement confronts us with a reality that culminated in the 1947 partition of Bengal. As historians have pointed out, the land relations of this province were such that what was in essence a conflict of classes and economic



JANUARY 13, 2012

L U NC H A T T H E ’Kuthibari’ at Shilaidaha with family members. Tagore’s wife and children moved to
Shilaidaha in 1899, and the family lived there until Tagore moved to Santiniketan to found his school in 1901.

interests became a conflict between cultures and communities, between Muslim peasants and Hindu landlords/moneylenders. Tagore’s own financial interests lay with the landowning class, yet he was one of the first to unflinchingly point to this truth and sound a warning that history has justified. Tagore was also one of the first to point to the coinciding of interests of Muslims and the Scheduled Castes in rural
Bengal. This was another prediction that came all too true in the years immediately preceding Partition, when S.C. peasants in eastern Bengal overwhelmingly supported the
Muslim League (only to be horribly betrayed, of course, by the new regime in East Pakistan).
Tagore’s thoughts on this separation of interests began to crystallise even during the heady days of 1905 when he briefly plunged into the movement against the first partition of Bengal and wrote for it some of his most memorable songs. The songs survive in popular memory, but the poet’s




JANUARY 13, 2012

W I T H K A L I M O H A N GH O S H , a swadeshi activist whom Tagore drafted into his rural reconstruction mission in 1908. Ghosh also taught at Santiniketan and from 1922 was intimately involved with the building up of Sriniketan, Tagore’s project for imparting vocational training in various crafts to help rural reconstruction. Ghosh died in 1940.

doubts and anxieties lie buried in his largely ignored essays, letters and that wonderful and now almost forgotten novel,
Ghare Baire (Home and Beyond, written in 1916). Yet these prescient doubts, which explain his eventual withdrawal from that movement and what he himself described as his
“flight” to Santiniketan, need to be rescued from the cloistered world of scholarship.
In a 1907 article titled “Byadhi O Pratikar” (The disease and its remedy), Tagore wrote about a meeting organised in
Calcutta in October 1905, where the nationalist leader Bipinchandra Pal was among the speakers. The audience comprised mostly Muslims. Roughly translated, this is what he wrote: “The benefits of the Hindu and Muslim communities coming together were being explained to the Muslim audience.… I could not at that time resist saying that this was not the occasion to talk about benefits and interests. It might make good financial sense for two brothers to live under the same roof, but that should not be the chief reason

for their staying together. The most important thing is that we share the same land, and we are human beings. If we cannot live with each other, then that is shameful and immoral. We are both children of the same land, and if that divinely ordained tie does not impel us to not only pursue our mutual interests jointly but also be prepared to face all adversities together, then shame on our humanity. It is not our mutual interests that should bind us, but love and the ideal of selfless service. Only if we can do this will we be able to use all opportunities for progress and face all adversities successfully.” Indeed, few Bengali bhadralok intellectuals in the first decade of the 20th century were more aware than Tagore of the way mutual interests did not, in fact, bind the two communities. A large section of Bengali Muslims welcomed the partition of the province and were persuaded by the colonial administration’s promise of more efficient administration, improved roads and connectivity, more schools and better health care and greater opportunities that would follow. Some historians in recent years have shown how the partition did indeed result in improved literacy rates and other indices of progress among Bengali Muslims in eastern
Bengal (Jahirul Hassan, Banglai Mussalmaner Aatsho
Bachhar, or “Muslims in Bengal Over Eight Hundred
Years”). As a landlord deeply involved in the welfare of the


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poor in rural Bengal, Tagore could not help being aware of this. Ghare Baire, written some 10 years after the partition of
Bengal, reflects this conflict of interest. It is now an accepted generalisation that Nikhilesh is the kind of landlord that
Tagore himself was. Nikhilesh cannot bring himself to support the swadeshi movement against the partition of the province because he knows that his Muslim ryots do not stand to gain anything from that movement led by the
Hindu landed gentry and intellectuals. The novel also fleetingly touches upon the greater acceptance that puritan
Muslim maulvis were beginning to enjoy in the villages of eastern Bengal by this time.
Amid the heady days of the movement, before and after
1905, Tagore repeatedly made known his objection to the politics of boycott, especially in relation to education and universities. His observations did not cut much ice in a political environment dominated by Surendranath Banerjea. Tagore did not also approve of the way swadeshi gangs led by zealous Hindu youth looted shops and terrorised the countryside to enforce their political agenda of boycotting
British-made goods (see “Desh-heet”, or “For the good of the country”, an essay he wrote in 1908). Indeed, Tagore was clearly able to see the movement as one motivated by the financial interests of the Hindu landowning class and was justifiably alarmed by the prospect of the communal animosities it could inspire. Ghare Baire touches upon the problem of Hindu communalism provoking a Muslim response. In “Byadhi O Pratikar” he had written: “That Muslims can be used against Hindus is worth a thought. Who might use them is not so important. The devil cannot gain an entry unless the door is kept open for it. It is better to be concerned more about the open door than about the devil. …
For a community that builds its religious practices on a culture of hate, for people who believe themselves to be damned if they so much as drink water offered by a neighbour, who preserve their caste purity by humiliating others, the fate of being humbled in turn is inescapable. We [Hindus] have prepared the way for our own damnation, created hurdles that prevent progress, and once we have fathomed this truth beyond a shadow of doubt, we must resolve to save ourselves and our country. Save from whom? From the consequences of our own sins. Is it only by the strength of their own might that the British dominate the country so completely today? It is our own weaknesses that provide them their strength” (a rough translation).
Taunts about the “bourgeois” poet notwithstanding, few of the intellectuals of Tagore’s time were as familiar with the heart of the country as he was, and this familiarity came from his years as a “landlord”, years during which he came in intimate contact with the countryside, spent long hours with farmers discussing seeds, fertilizers and insecticides, installed a sugarcane-processing mill, experimented with the cultivation of potatoes, tomatoes, corn and silkworms, introduced tractors in a land tilled only by ploughshare

until then, tried out the latest findings of agricultural science, fought civil suits to protect the boundaries of the property, ran a rural bank for 20 years that made available loans to peasant entrepreneurs at reasonable rates, and did his best to encourage cottage industries to alleviate poverty in the countryside.
Researchers find it hard to reconstruct those years in detail because there are so few records. Records of the
Tagore estate did not survive the 1947 Partition, and there is very little original material available, says Amitava Choudhury in his book. Yet, Tagore’s biographers have a fair idea of those years from Tagore’s own letters, essays and reminiscences by people associated with his work, including a book of memories by his son Rathindranath (Pitrismriti or
Memories of My Father).

The most revolutionary of all Tagore’s initiatives, says Amitava Choudhury, was the “mandal system” he introduced in
1908. It was bound to fail, and so it did in the long run, because it sought to undermine too many vested interests.
The Permanent Settlement had over the years built up a network of exploitation in rural Bengal, comprising landlords, wealthy farmers, moneylenders and managers and accountants working for the landlords, and this network had a stake in the perpetuation of rural poverty. The “mandal system” sought to carve out an independent economic and social space for poor, rent-paying peasants that would allow them, with constructive help from the landlord, to take charge of their lives in a meaningful way.
The Birahimpur Pargana was divided into five mandals, while the Kaligram Pargana was divided into three. Each mandal had an “adhyaksh,” or manager, who was entrusted with the task of engaging the people of the mandal to repair roads, ensure continuous supply of potable water, resolve disputes without resorting to litigation, establish schools, clear out jungles, and set up a granary as a buffer for famines. Each mandal had a committee of four members, two Hindus and two Muslims, apart from the manager.
Half of the funds for these works were raised from the people, the other half was provided by the estate. Each mandal made its own budget and kept track of how much money was being spent.

Taunts about the “bourgeois” poet notwithstanding, few of the intellectuals of
Tagore’s time were as familiar with the heart of the country as he was.




JANUARY 13, 2012

Madhurilata, born in 1886, and eldest son, Rathindranath, born in 1888. Madhurilata died of tuberculosis when only 31. Rathindranath was among the first five boys at Tagore’s school. He went on to teach genetics at Visva-Bharati and was its first Vice-Chancellor when it became a Central university in 1951.




JANUARY 13, 2012

It was the cooperative principle that led him to found a rural bank in Patisar in 1905 with money borrowed from friends. The Nobel Prize money was sunk in this bank. The objective was to free peasants from the clutches of moneylenders, without which, Tagore realised, they would never have the means to invest in cottage industries or in better seeds and fertilizers. Rathindranath has said in his memoirs that the bank was so successful in its initial years that moneylenders in Patisar wound up their business and left in search of greener pastures. The bank failed in 1925, sinking the ageing poet in debt.
Tagore also tried to protect the poor from the cost of litigation. Peasants in the Tagore estate did not take their disputes to courts of law. The residents of every village chose a “gram pradhan”, who formed a committee of five men, or pancha pradhan. All disputes were referred to the pancha pradhan, while final appeals were made to the poet himself.
Amitava Choudhury says the system continued in Kaligram even after Tagore’s death and ended only with Partition.


The effect was spectacular in Patisar, which largely welcomed the initiative. Shilaidaha, immortalised in Tagore’s work, did not take it too well. (Shilaidaha, incidentally, was the place where the poet set up home in 1899 with his wife and young children, living sometimes at the famous
“kuthibari”, now a protected building in Bangladesh, sometimes on his boat on the Padma, giving rise to the lasting, and misleading, image of the rich poet writing his poems and stories in infinite leisure while sailing on the river.) But in Patisar, the system soon resulted in new roads, a free dispensary, schools and madrasas, and the flourishing of cottage industry initiatives.
In both Shilaidaha and Patisar, however, estate managers and other senior employees, mostly Hindus, were unhappy with the system. So were large landholders and moneylenders, the section that thrived on the endless cycle of poverty and debt. The peasants who stood to gain from his initiatives were also sometimes distrustful and wary, which meant that Tagore had to fight a battle for hearts before he could achieve anything. A large section of the
Muslim peasants in the Tagore estate, especially in Patisar, were cooperative because they stood to gain the most.
Tagore, however, did have a few dedicated workers who tried to give concrete shape to his vision of a prosperous countryside. The two men most often mentioned by his biographers were Kalimohan Ghosh in Shilaidaha and Atul
Sen in Kaligram. The obstacles and hostilities they encountered were formidable, but they received constant encouragement from Tagore, who kept himself abreast of all developments in his estate and went through the books and accounts regularly. His letters to them give an idea of what he expected of them. In a letter to Atul Sen, quoted by
Amitava Choudhury, he said: “Put all your heart and mind into the effort to win over people’s hearts, you will see all hurdles will disappear. …It is not of course possible to have everyone on your side when you are trying to do your duty, but the people should be made to understand that you completely deserve their respect, that all your efforts are dedicated to their service. If you can achieve this, then all obstacles are bound to recede.”
Tagore had a keen interest in cooperative farming. He realised that the hopelessly fragmented landholdings did not provide the best conditions for modern methods of farming and the creation of wealth. He tried to talk his peasants into setting up a cooperative model of farming, but the initiative did not make much headway. Suspicions about such a model were too strong. What he saw in Soviet
Russia in 1930 revived his old regrets about the situation:
“It had been my objective to make the peasant strong through his own initiative. Two things keep playing on my mind all the time – the land does not rightfully belong to the landlord, it is the peasant’s. Secondly, if landholdings cannot be brought together under cooperative farming, there can be no progress in agriculture. Trying to farm fragmented holdings with the ancient ploughshare is like pouring water into a leaky pot.” (Letters from Russia)


TE ACHI N G AT S AN TI N I KE TA N . In 1901, when
Tagore founded the school, his mind was immersed in the so-called glory of ancient India, with its varnashram and its Upanishadic monotheism. His poetry of this period, notably ’Naibedya’ (1901), reflects this. The school was started on the ideal of the ancient Indian "tapovan" and was known as
"Brahmacharyashram". Over the years, as Tagore increasingly embraced internationalism and a humanist universalism, the vision of the school also changed. In 1916, he wrote to Rathindranath from
Chicago that Santiniketan must become India’s link with the world. In the 1920s, when he founded VisvaBharati and travelled widely with the message of global cooperation in the realm of thought, he stressed that schools in India should be the meeting ground of the East and the West.


JANUARY 13, 2012

B R I K S H A R O PA N , O R T REE- P LA N T I N G ceremony, at a village near Santiniketan in 1928. Three generations of the Tagores had turned green the arid landscape around Santiniketan through a project of afforestation, resulting in the famous mango grove and the sal wood. In 1928, Rabindranath turned the tree-planting ceremony into a festival to be observed every year. He described the event in a letter to his daughter-in-law, telling her that he had used one of her potted plants for the ceremony.

Schools, hospitals, roads, drinking water, cottage industries, scientific methods of farming, a rural bank for loans at reasonable rates – no aspect of rural development was absent in the vision of this unique “zamindar”. No work was too mundane for him, there was nothing that he could not set his mind to. He scrutinised the books of accounts with infinite care and personally supervised all the civil suits that his estate had to fight, becoming in the process an expert in the finer points of law. Unlike the absentee landlord described by Amitav Ghosh in Sea of Poppies, the zamindari was not for him an avenue to create wealth to be spent on luxuries in the city, but an opportunity for service. In his letters and essays, Tagore repeatedly said that the heart of the country lay in its villages and that no real progress could

be possible without the development of agriculture and alleviation of poverty in the countryside.
In a speech towards the end of his life, in 1938, he said:
“My duties once drew me into close intimacy with rural
Bengal. I witnessed the lack of drinking water in villages, I observed the havoc that disease and hunger played on human bodies. Time and again, I came across proof of the way the lack of education and mental stagnation led to endless exploitation and oppression. The city-bred, English-educated sections who were trying to steer the ship of national progress did not spare a thought on the way the cumulative helplessness of the people in villages was one day bound to drown that ship” (rough translation).
And to the “landlords” he said at the Pabna Provincial
Conference in 1907: “This is what I am saying to the landlords: if you do not empower the unfortunate ryots and allow them to be independent and able to save themselves from your own clutches and those of others, no laws, however good, and no government, however friendly, will be able to save them. The tongues of the greedy start watering the moment they see these people. If the majority of the people are forever exposed to the machinations of landlords, moneylenders, policemen and court officials, how do you expect them to take charge of their own destinies?”
A hundred years later, those words remain relevant.


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JANUARY 13, 2012

Man of science
Tagore: “I am not a scientist, but from childhood my strong desire to enjoy the rasa of science knew no bounds….” B Y P A R T H A G H O S E
ABINDRANATH TAGORE was a quintessential poet-philosopher with a deeply rational and enquiring mind who strove for freedom (mukti) from every possible limitation of the human mind.
He broke away from a life of contemplation of the other-worldly philosophy of the Upanishads to which he was initiated in childhood by his father,
Maharshi Debendranath, into the enchanting real world “of forms, colours, sounds and movements” revealed by his senses. He declared in Gitanjali (73):
“Deliverance is not for me in renunciation. I feel the embrace of freedom in a thousand bonds of delight.” And again (96):
“When I go from hence let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassable.”
Rabindranath’s song akash bhara soorjo tara expresses a sense of deep “wonder” in the universe.
All creative geniuses have this sense of insatiable wonder at the mysteries of the universe. Charles
Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species:
“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
Einstein admitted (in Ideas and Opinions):
“A knowledge of the existence of something we



cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitutes true religiosity; in this sense, and this alone, I am a deeply religious man.”
In the preface to his only book on science, Visva
Parichay, dedicated to the scientist Satyendranath
Bose, Rabindranath wrote about his fascination for science from his childhood – how his teacher Sitanath Datta used to thrill him with simple demonstrations like making the convection currents in a glass of water visible with the help of sawdust. The differences between layers of a continuous mass of water made obvious by the movements of the sawdust filled him with a sense of wonder that never left him.
According to him, this was the first time he realised that things that we thoughtlessly take for granted as natural and simple are, in fact, not so, and this set him wondering.
The next wonder came when he went with his father to the hills of Dalhousie in the Himalayas. As the sky became dark in the evenings and the stars came out in their splendour and appeared to hang low, Maharshi Debendranath would point out to him the constellations and the planets and tell him about their distances from the sun, their periods of revolution round the sun and many other properties.
Rabindranath found this so fascinating that he began to write down what he heard from his father.
Thus, his first long essay in serial form was on sci37


JANUARY 13, 2012

in Berlin in 1930. The scientist asked: "Do you believe in the Divine as isolated from the world?" Poet: "Not isolated. The infinite personality of Man comprehends the
Universe.... [T]he truth of the Universe is human truth." The scientist said: "Then I am more religious than you are."


ence. When he grew older and could read English, he started reading every book on astronomy that he could lay his hands on. Sometimes the mathematics made it difficult for him to understand what he was reading, but he laboured through them and tried to absorb their gist. Sir Robert
Boyle’s book he liked the most. Then he started reading
Aldous Huxley’s essays on biology. He writes in the preface to Visva Parichay (1937):
“The universe has hidden its micro-self, reduced its macro-self or shelved it out of sight behind the curtain. It has dressed itself up and revealed itself to us in a form that man can perceive within the structure of his simple power.
But man is anything but simple. Man is the only creature

that has suspected its own simple perception, opposed it and has been delighted to defeat it. To transcend the limits of simple perception man has brought near what was distant, made the invisible visible, and has given expression to what is hard to understand. He is ever trying to probe into the unmanifest world that lies behind the manifest world in order to unravel the fundamental mysteries of the universe…. “It is needless to say that I am not a scientist, but from childhood my strong desire to enjoy the rasa of science knew no bounds…. My mind was exercised only with astronomy and life science. That cannot be called proper knowledge, in other words, it does not have the sound foundation of scholarship. But constant reading created a natural scientific temper in my mind. My lack of respect for the stupidity of blind faith has, I hope, saved me from the extravagance of cleverness to a large measure. Nevertheless,
I have never felt that it hurt my poetry or imagination in any way. “Today, at the end of my life, my mind is overwhelmed with the new theory of nature – scientific mayavada. What I


JANUARY 13, 2012

read earlier I did not understand fully, but I kept on reading.
Today also it is impossible for me to understand everything of what I read, as it is for many specialist pundits too”
(translation by author; emphasis added).

His lifelong and intimate friendship with Acharya Jagadish
Chandra Bose must have also helped him no end to develop a reverence for science. The Acharya’s life was devoted to the search for reason in the workings of nature, for a unity in the diversity of nature, a synergism between spiritualism and reason. This search did not remain confined to philosophical speculation alone but led him to invent instruments of unprecedented precision and sensitivity for collecting direct evidence from nature. This must have greatly influenced Rabindranath who also searched for a synergism between spiritualism and reason in the Indian tradition. Not only did Rabindranath help his friend with money to carry on his pathbreaking experiments in England, he also wrote extensively about them and made them known to the public at large in Bengal.
He also had extensive conversations with other leading scientists of his time, such as Albert Einstein, on the nature of reality and causality in Germany in 1930, and with
Werner Heisenberg, the discoverer of the famous Uncertainty Principle of quantum physics, who came to Calcutta in 1928 to meet him. Fritjof Capra has this to say about what transpired between Heisenberg and Rabindranath (Uncommon Wisdom, 1989):
“In 1929 [1928] Heisenberg spent some time in India as the guest of the celebrated Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, with whom he had long conversations about science and Indian philosophy. This introduction to Indian thought brought Heisenberg great comfort, he told me. He began to see that the recognition of relativity, incommensurability, interconnectedness and impermanence as fundamental aspects of physical reality, which had been so difficult for himself and his fellow physicists, was the very basis of
Indian spiritual traditions. ‘After these conversations with
Tagore,’ he said, ‘some of the ideas that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense. That was a great help for me.’” (parenthesis added; the year quoted by D.M. Bose was
This understanding of science and empathy with science helped him develop his own interpretation of the
Upanishadic philosophy of Nature. It engrossed his mind when he delivered the Hibbert lectures in Oxford in 1930.
These lectures were later published as the Religion of Man
(1931) in which he writes, “The idea of the humanity of our
God, or the divinity of Man the Eternal, is the main subject of this book.”
Although he was critical of technology dominating over man in some of his plays (Muktadhara, Raktakarabi), he readily embraced its beneficial effects. In Sriniketan, where the emphasis was on rural reconstruction, he introduced many technologies like weaving, carpentry, leather work




TA G OR E A N D THE scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose were close friends. During Tagore’s years as a landlord at Shilaidaha, Bose visited him at his residence every weekend and demanded a new story. Tagore wrote feverishly during the week to get a story ready for his weekend friend, his son
Rathindranath has written in his memoirs.

Cover Story


JANUARY 13, 2012

TAG O R E ’ S L A S T D A Y S were darkened by the shadow of the Second World War. His faith in the
European Enlightenment seemed shaken in "Crisis of Civilisation", the essay he wrote a few weeks before his death in August 1941. Yet, he did not lose faith in humanity and declared that it would be a sin to do so. Here, on a train in 1940.

and so on. In Personality (1917) he wrote: “Science is at the beginning of the invasion of the material world and there goes on a furious scramble for plunder. Often things look hideously materialistic, and shamelessly belie man’s own nature. But the day will come when some of the great powers of nature will be at the beck and call of every individual, and at least the prime necessaries of life will be supplied to all with very little care and cost. To live will be as easy to man as to breathe, and his spirit will be free to create his own world.”
To Rabindranath scientific truths were not mere abstractions and formulas but concrete living truths that inspired him to write great poems and compose wonderful songs. He assimilated and internalised the scientific spirit and weaved it into the very fabric of his philosophy and his artistic creations. So complete was the fusion that the songs and poems appear to stand by themselves as great artistic creations far removed from the world of science.
Let me end with a poem that he wrote on creation on
February 3, 1941, just a few months before his death.

This gigantic creation
Is a fireworks display of
Suns and stars across the skies
On a cosmic time scale.
I too have come from the eternal and the imperceptible
Like a spark in a tiny remote corner of space and time.
Today as I enter the final Act of departure, The flame weakens,
The shadows reveal the illusory character of the play,
And the costumes of grief and hap piness begin to slacken.
I see the colourful costumes
Left over by hundreds of actors and actresses across the ages
Outside the arena of the theatre.
I look up only to find
Beyond the backdrop of hundreds of extinguished stars
Nataraj, silent and lonely.
(The author’s translation of Birat srishtir kshetre atash bajir khela akashe akashe, ‘Arogya’.)
Professor Partha Ghose is Senior Scientist Platinum
Jubilee Fellow, National Academy of Sciences, India.


JANUARY 13, 2012

The States/West Bengal


rescued from the
AMRI Hospitals in
Kolkata when a fire broke out there. PTI

Fiery trap
Criminal negligence and flagrant violation of fire safety norms cause more than
90 deaths in a private hospital in West Bengal. B Y S U H R I D S A N K A R C H A T T O P A D H Y A Y

According to the Fire Department, combustible materials kept in the basement, which was used to house a pharmacy and a storeroom, added to the toxicity of the smoke.

DEATH came stealing in the wee hours of December 9 to AMRI Hospitals, Dhakuria, a prestigious private hospital in south Kolkata, and claimed more than 90 lives in a major fire disaster. There were 164 patients in the annexe building of the hospital when a fire broke out in its upper basement. The toxic smoke rose rapidly up the six-storeyed building. As the windows of the centrally air-conditioned building were sealed, there was no exit for the smoke to escape. This left the inmates completely helpless.

JANUARY 13, 2012

Local youth, alerted by the cries and desperate signals from patients, tried to help, but they were turned away by hospital staff who claimed that the situation was under control. It was a disaster that was precipitated by the negligence and callousness of the hospital authorities.
The fire apparently broke out a little before 3-00 a.m., but the Fire Department was alerted only at 4-10 a.m., and that, too, by a relative of one of those trapped in the building. According to police sources, hospital staff wasted more than 90 precious minutes by trying to douse the fire on their own.
By then thick smoke had spread, killing trapped invalids and convalescents.
The staff, it appears, were reluctant to call the fire brigade immediately because in an earlier instance an employee of the hospital had been suspended for calling the fire brigade without authorisation from the higher authorities when a minor fire broke out in the hospital precincts. Police sources said that the higher authorities of the hospital had been alerted by the staff long before the fire services were called.
“There was complete violation of all fire safety norms in the building,” said D.P. Biswas, Additional Director
General, Fire Services. The basement, which was meant for car parking, was used for various purposes, including housing a pharmacy, a biomedical department and a storeroom. According to the preliminary report prepared by the Fire Department, combustible materials kept in the basement prolonged the fire and added to the toxicity of the smoke. Subsequent investigations showed that a disaster of this scale could have been averted had a mandatory precaution been followed and a vertical fire stop installed in the building. In centrally air-conditioned buildings, the vertical fire stop seals off the maintenance shaft at every other floor to prevent air from passing through and spreading to the other floors.
According to Damyanti Sen, Joint
Commissioner (Crime) of the Kolkata
Police, smoke and fumes went up the

shaft to the upper floors as these vertical stops were not in place. Moreover, the fire also prompted the authorities to switch off the mains, which stopped the air-conditioning. Lack of air circulation in the sealed building hastened the death of those inside. Police sources also suspect that the smoke alarms in the hospital had been switched off; it is not known why.

Investigations have revealed what the police called “active omission” on the part of the hospital authorities. On
September 5, the hospital had given an undertaking to the Fire Department that hazardous materials would be removed from the basement. “We have found that in a board meeting held sometime in November, after the hospital had given an undertaking to the
Fire Department, a resolution was taken to look into the issue of safety measures,” said Damyanti Sen. However, the issue of safety continued to remain ignored. Investigations have revealed
omission” on the part of the hospital authorities.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who holds the Health portfolio, said, “It is a criminal offence.
It is a crime.” The police arrested seven directors who were allegedly involved in the day-to-day functioning of the hospital: Shrachi Group chairman
S.K. Todi, Shrachi director Ravi Todi,
Emami vice-chairman R.S. Goenka and Emami directors Prashant Goenka and Manish Goenka, AMRI director R.S. Agarwal and its executive director Dayanand Agarwal. S. Upad42


hyay, senior vice-president and the hospital’s safety committee chairperson, and Sanjib Pal, administrative officer, have also been arrested.
Mamata Banerjee cancelled the hospital’s trade licence. The patients in the other buildings were shifted to various other hospitals.

The death toll would have been lower had the authorities and the hospital security staff not refused the aid volunteered by the youth of the nearby slum who came rushing to the hospital the moment they heard of the fire. “My friends and I rushed to the hospital around 3-00 a.m. There were people screaming inside and flashing the light on their mobile phones and banging desperately on the windows, signalling for help,” Biswajit Chakraborty, a local resident, told Frontline.
He and four other youth then approached the security guards, only to be turned away. “Meanwhile the screams from inside were getting louder and it was impossible for us to remain mute spectators. So we climbed up the building from the back side with bamboo ladders,” said Biswajit. Risking their own lives, they saved five people. One of those who came forward to help, Shankar Maity, had to be hospitalised soon after, having inhaled the deadly fumes.
“It was terrifying inside. It was pitch dark with suffocating smoke everywhere, and we could see people lying around and heard others gasping from unseen corners,” said Biswajit.
He said many more lives could have been saved had more youth from the neighbourhood been allowed to enter the building. Biswajit, a construction worker, is at present unemployed.

Biswajit’s words are borne out by 77year-old Anjali Mitra, a patient on the third floor of the hospital and one of the survivors. “It was the people from the slums who saved me and many others. We received no help from the hospital staff,” she told Frontline. She said that when the local people told the

JANUARY 13, 2012


L OCA L Y O UT H S UC H as the one in the picture came rushing to the hospital when they heard of the fire and began rescue operations. The toll would have been lower had the hospital authorities and security staff let them in earlier.

trapped victims that they were not being allowed to come in, some of the patients pleaded with them to “enter forcibly”. “As we were choking, the hospital staff kept telling us not to worry and that everything was under control; at the same time we could hear screams of the people from the floors below,” she said.
She and the other patients on her floor managed to break one of the thick glass windows, and it was perhaps that little opening which kept them alive. It was past 4 a.m. when the local rescuers carried her down to safety.
Among those who died that day were two nurses, Remya Rajappan and
P.K. Vinita, who hailed from Kerala.
They lost their lives while saving eight patients in the women’s ward.
All other staff members, curiously, were unscathed in the tragedy. Most of

them, according to reports, fled the scene as soon as they sensed danger.
The scene outside the hospital was also traumatic. The trapped patients had called their near and dear ones on their mobile phones and hundreds of them had gathered in the narrow lane leading to the hospital. They were helpless as they could not get in or get any information on those inside. One by one, their phone calls to those inside went unanswered, and their plea to evacuate the patients fell on deaf ears.
The police estimated that more than 3,000 people had gathered outside AMRI that morning. Their apprehension turned to grief and anger as the bodies began to be brought out.
People scrambled among the corpses to look for their loved ones. Among those frantically searching was Paritosh Sen from Tripura, whose brother
Santosh had been admitted in the hosFRONTLINE


pital. Nine days after the incident, on
December 18, Sen had still not traced his brother.
As the morning progressed, the situation turned more and more chaotic until the Chief Minister herself arrived on the scene and took charge of crowd control. The tragic irony is that many of the victims had fought off serious aliments and were on their way to recovery.
Krishna Chakraborty, 62, had undergone a successful brain operation and had practically recovered when the accident claimed her life. “I had spoken to my mother just the day before and she was fine, and then this happened,” said her son Bhaskar Chakraborty.
Then there were those who had come with very minor problems. “Criminal negligence” turned an institution designed to save lives into one that destroyed lives instead.


JANUARY 13, 2012

Higgs signal?
Physicists hope that they are closing in on Higgs boson, the crucial missing link in the subatomic world of elementary particles. B Y R . R A M A C H A N D R A N

In early December, rumours abounded in physics blogs that a
Higgs signal at a mass-energy of
125 GeV had been seen in the CERN experiment. But CERN said much more work had to be done to know whether it was the same as Higgs.
JUST four months ago, at the International Lepton Photon Symposium in Mumbai (LP2011), the widely held expectation that new data from the highenergy proton-proton collision experiments with the
Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the Europe-

an Organisation for Nuclear Research in Geneva, would reveal the existence of Higgs boson, a particle that has been sought after by physicists for over three decades, had been belied. Although the data did not rule out its existence, the general feeling that prevailed at the end of the conference was that the particle perhaps did not exist (Frontline, September
Higgs is the crucial missing piece in the otherwise highly successful theoretical framework that describes the subatomic world of elementary particles. Higgs, which can be likened to an ether-like all-pervading force-field in the universe, is postulated to exist by this theory, which is known as the
Standard Model (SM), as particles in the theory can acquire mass (as they should to describe correctly the real world) only through their interaction with the
Higgs field. The Higgs boson is the particle associated with such an all-pervading force-field. The aim

director-general, flanked by Fabiola Gianotti (left),
ATLAS experiment spokesperson, and Guido Tonelli, CMS experiment spokesperson, at a news conference at CERN at Meyrin, near Geneva, on December 13.





JANUARY 13, 2012

with the Large Electron-Positron Col- that a Higgs signal at a mass-energy of lider (LEP) at CERN itself and, more 125 GeV had been seen. That is, Higgs recently, the Tevatron accelerator ex- is 125 times heavier than a proton, periments at Fermilab, United States, which has a mass of about 1 GeV enerhad ruled out the region 156-177 GeV. gy equivalent. The evidence, the ruThough Tevatron scientists felt that mours said, was based on a slight they had a chance of seeing Higgs by excess of events (over a zero signal) doing an intense data analysis in the seen in the search for Higgs by both the region 115-155 GeV, the U.S. Depart- experiments in the channel in which ment of Energy decided in September Higgs decayed into two photons.
Higgs, according to the SM, is a to shut down the machine for ever
Vivek Sharma, a physicist from the very short-lived particle with a fleeting
University of California at San Diego lifetime of about 10-22 second; that is,
(UCSD) associated with the experi- ten-thousandth of a billionth of a bilment CMS, had said at the time of lionth of a second. Once created, it
LP2011: “We will triple the data set by would immediately decay into several end of October. And if you combine channels. The experiments analyse both CMS and ATLAS data…we will these different channels that the SM know if Higgs doesn’t exist. We will allows Higgs to decay into. In this parknow if [Higgs] was indeed science ticular channel, in which two photons fiction by the end of the fly apart in opposite direcyear.” In principle, of course, tions, there is a clean signal from an experimentalist’s for clear identification in the perspective, the experiment debris of a multitude of parshould also search in the ticles that high-energy prorange beyond 450 GeV for a ton-proton collisions in non-SM Higgs. particle colliders produce
In the first week of De(Figure 1a & 1b). For examHIGGS cember, rumours abounded ple, in this decay mode, the
D E CA YI N G in physics blogs that these
CMS experiment will detect experiments had found evi- I N TO two these photons by its detector dence for Higgs. They claimed photons. called the Electromagnetic


of particle physicists in the last nearly four decades has been to find evidence for its existence even as experiments have verified all predictions to great precision made with the SM with the assumption of the existence of Higgs.
The model itself does not predict a value for the mass of Higgs; there are indirect constraints on the Higgs mass from phenomenological considerations based on other processes governed by the SM. These constrain its mass to be less than 161 gigaelectronvolt
(GeV) of energy (in accordance with
Einstein’s E=mc2 relation). A proton has a mass-energy of about 1 GeV.
Such a Higgs is termed as ‘low mass
Higgs’ because there are other theoretical models which allow Higgs to be much heavier, up to 600 GeV. This
‘low mass Higgs’ is, in fact, referred to as the ‘Standard Model Higgs Boson’.
But the SM Higgs has eluded searches in experiments at various accelerators so far.
The LHC is designed to explore the new energy domain in the teraelectronvolt (TeV) scale and is expected to show up such a low-mass Higgs, if it exists. The LHC is currently operating at a peak energy of 3.5 TeV per beam, which means a total of 7 TeV is available in every collision event for particle production. The high expectations in summer 2011 that evidence for Higgs, one way or the other, would soon be found arose with the high rate of data gathering, much higher than the target that had been set for 2011 during the early months of the LHC’s operation.
By excluding its existence in vast regions of energy, the data presented at the Mumbai conference by the two
CERN experiments, ATLAS and CMS, had narrowed the limits for the Higgs mass to a small window of 115 GeV-140
GeV. ATLAS and CMS are nearly identical multipurpose experiments with the search for Higgs as one of their primary objectives. Earlier, at the European High Energy Conference at
Grenoble, the two experiments had already excluded Higgs from existing in the range 150-450 GeV. Higgs with mass below 115 GeV had already been ruled out by the earlier experiments

A T Y P I C A L C A N DI D A TE event including two high-energy photons whose energy (depicted by red towers) is measured in the CMS electromagnetic calorimetre (ECAL). The yellow lines are the measure tracks of other particles produced in the collision.


JANUARY 13, 2012

Calorimeter (ECAL). The ECAL, ac- nal. A signal for Higgs (or any new cording to the CMS website, is able to particle) among such data means that tell the mass of the particle to better in a plot of events observed in the exthan 1 per cent if the Higgs is relatively periment, a peak clearly sticks out over light, below about 140 GeV. The most the background from other particle distinctive signature for Higgs in a processes governed by the SM that lightly higher mass range, between 150 mimic the decay of Higgs into two and 180 GeV, would have been its de- photons. But such excess of events cay into two W bosons, the carriers of should be statistically significant to be the weak nuclear force, which then de- ascribed to a new entity such as Higgs.
That is, it has to be ensured cay into two leptons (partithat the excess seen is not cles like the electron that due to statistical fluctuinclude the muon and the ation in the background tau) and two neutrinos. So and are indeed events asyou do not see Higgs itself cribable to processes inbut detect the particles it volving Higgs. decays into and see if the
Perhaps prompted by decay parameters are in acthese rumours, on Decemcordance with the SM preber 6, CERN announced a dictions and such decays public seminar to be held are in sufficient numbers to on December 13 in which be statistically significant H I GGS D EC A Y I N G
ATLAS and CMS would for it to be reckoned as a I N T O two Z bosons present the status of their discovery. (carriers of weak searches for the SM Higgs.
The task is to sift data force) which in turn
In any case such a seminar from trillions of collisions decay into four was due as, even in its norand look for the Higgs sig- muons.



four muons. This event is consistent with coming from two Z particles decaying. Both Zs decay into two muons each.
This view is a zoom into the central part of the detector. The four muons are shown as red tracks. Other tracks and deposits of energy in the calorimetres are shown in yellow.




mal course of operation, the LHC was scheduled for a maintenance shutdown for a few months after Christmas. A CERN press release of
December 6 said: “These results will be based on the analyses of considerably more data than presented at the summer conferences [at Grenoble and
Mumbai] sufficient to make significant progress in the search for the
Higgs boson, but not enough to make any conclusive statement on the existence or non-existence of the Higgs”
(emphasis added). The data analysed included the entire data sample of proton-proton collisions collected up to the end of 2011 run.
To put the increased data in perspective, at the Mumbai conference the analyses were based on a technical parameter of ‘one inverse-femtobarn
(fb-1)’ required for being able to see statistically significant physics results at 7 TeV. This is equivalent to data of
70 trillion proton-proton collisions events. This means that the LHC recorded this much of data since it began operations in March 2010. In fact, this was the target that had been set for the end of 2011. But because of extremely good performance of the machine, increase in the intensity of the beams attained by the machine has been much faster and hence a higher event rate. As of end-2011, the total data amount to 4.7 fb-1. This means nearly five times the data gathered until summer. That is indeed fantastic performance. According to the CMS group, with this amount of data the experiment can study Higgs production in almost the entire mass range above the
LEP limit of 114 GeV and up to 600
GeV and, as we shall see, the CMS has set limits on the non-existence of
Higgs in that high-mass region.
The italicised part in the CERN release was clearly to scotch the rumours that were flying all around of
Higgs having been discovered. But given the claims made in the rumours, there was considerable excitement all around and the seminar naturally got all the media hype. Indeed, it was a big draw even within the physics community as well, with physicists around the

JANUARY 13, 2012

front, which was a tighter limit on the real estate now available for Higgs to be present. As against the window of
115-140 GeV set at Mumbai, the main conclusion was that the SM Higgs bo-




world catching the presentation live on the video streaming from the overflowing large auditorium at CERN.
A release from CERN after the seminar stated the main finding up



son, if it exists, is most likely to have a mass in the range 115-130 GeV. But, more significantly, it added the following: “Tantalising hints have been seen by both experiments in the same mass region, but these are yet not strong enough to claim a discovery.” This marked a clear change in tone from the
Mumbai conference. It was a positive statement. It also added a more specific statement.
Both ATLAS and CMS had analysed several decay channels – not just the two photon channel as the rumours had said – and the experiments see small excesses in the low mass region in the past few weeks that has not yet been excluded. “Taken individually,” the CERN release said, “none of these excesses is any more statistically significant than rolling a die and coming up with two sixes in a row. What is interesting is that there are multiple independent measurements pointing to the region of 124 to 126 GeV.” It also quoted the ATLAS spokesperson Fabioal Gianotti as saying, “This excess may be due to a statistical fluctuation, but it could also be something more interesting. We cannot conclude anything at this stage. We need more study and more data. Given the outstanding performance of LHC this year, we will not need to wait long for enough data and can look forward to resolving this puzzle in 2012.”
The CMS spokesman echoed similar views. “We cannot exclude the presence of the SM of the SM Higgs boson between 115 and 127 GeV because of a modest excess of events in this mass region that appears quite consistently in five independent channels,” said
Guido Tonelli. “The excess,” he added,
“is most compatible with a SM Higgs in the vicinity of 124 GeV and below but the statistical significance is not large enough to say anything conclusive. As of today, what we see is consistent either with a background fluctuation or with the presence of a boson.” The slightly more detailed press release from the CMS group said: “Our results were achieved by combining results in a number of predicted Higgs



JANUARY 13, 2012

C OMB I N A T I O N O F L EP (phase II) + Tevatron + CMS + ATLAS data. Peak sits at a Higgs mass of about 125 GeV.

‘decay channels’ including pairs of W or Z [another carrier of the weak force besides the W], which decay into four leptons, pairs of heavy quarks, pairs of tau leptons and pairs of photons (Figures 2a & 2b)
In June 2011, the LHC attained the key data milestone ‘one inverse-femtobarn (fb-1)’ required for being able to see statistically significant physics results at 7 TeV, which is equal to 70 trillion proton-proton collisions events. This was the target that the
LHC had set in 2010 for the entire
2011 runs but this was achieved within a record time of just three-four months. The CMS experiment excludes the existence of Higgs in the mass range 128-525 GeV at 99 per cent
‘confidence level’ (CL). A mass is said to be excluded at ‘95 per cent CL’ if the chance of SM Higgs boson showing up in the excluded mass range is 5 per cent of the time in a set of repeated experiments. That means their exclusion of
Higgs beyond 128 GeV is now far more stringent than it was in Mumbai. What
CMS does not exclude now is the region 115-127 GeV as Tonelli had said.
“If we explore the hypothesis that our observed excesses could be the first hint of the presence of SM Higgs, we find the production rate (‘cross section’

in high-energy physics terminology relative to the SM prediction) for each decay channel is consistent with expectations, albeit with large uncertainties. However, the low statistical significances mean that these excesses can reasonably be interpreted as fluctuations in the background. More data, to be collected in 2012, will help ascertain the origin of this excess.”
Statistical significance is measured in terms of what is called standard deviation (called sigma). For any discovery in particle physics, the signal should be at least at ‘5 sigma (σ) level’ over the background, which is equivalent to a CL of being wrong only one part in about 30 million. Current levels of excesses in both the experiments are still in the region of 2.4-3.6 σ, which is still far from the ‘Golden Rule’ for a discovery in particle physics (Figures
3a, 3b and 3c). The statistical significance, particularly in this tantalising region of around 125 GeV where both experiments seem to see an excess of events, would be greatly improved if a completely statistical analysis is done using the data sets of both the experiments together for each individual channel. However, such a detailed exercise would take considerable amount of


time, and probably one can expect such an analysis carried out during the period of LHC shutdown for a couple of months from now.
However, the physics community outside the experimental groups is not waiting. One theoretical physicist,
Philip Gibbs, has already carried out an approximate analysis of this kind in his blog and he sees a clear signal for a
Higgs with mass at around 125 GeV with sufficiently improved statistical significance (3σ). Gibbs has combined the results of LEP, Tevatron, CMS and
ATLAS where the signal strength fits neatly on 125 GeV (Figure 4). Indeed, some would like to believe that Higgs has already been seen with this new data. The higher the number of sigma, the more incompatible the data are with having only background and no
Higgs. In his blog, Tommaso Dorigo of the CMS group has even ventured to term it as firm evidence for Higgs. The general physics community will, of course, wait until it hits the bar of 5σ to say that Higgs has been found. According to Gibbs, the experiments would need to achieve data mark of 25 fb-1, which means five times more collisions. This should be achievable by the
LHC in 2012, and that is precisely why the statements have been cautious in making claims and have said that a conclusive picture should emerge by
So the wait for its clear evidence, despite the fact that its discovery appears now more imminent than ever before, has to continue, until the end of
2012. In case a signal does show up with sufficient statistical significance, what we can say is, ‘yes, there is a new particle, which looks like the SM
Higgs’. But is it the SM Higgs? Much more work will have to be done to check if that particle has exactly the same characteristics of the SM Higgs.
That will take many more years of data from the LHC. It could also happen that it does not turn out to be an SM
Higgs. But there are non-SM Higgs models which would open doors to new physics beyond the SM. Either way there is exciting particle physics in store in the years to come.

JANUARY 13, 2012

world affairs

Exit America
The American occupation troops withdraw from Iraq after waging a dumb war


which claimed the lives of a million Iraqis.

of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, board a C-17 transport plane at Camp Adder, now known as Imam Ali Base, near Nasiriyah on December 17.


Once the invasion phase morphed into the occupation of Iraq, it became clear that the reasons given for the war were false: no WMDs were found and there was no proof of Saddam Hussein’s link with Al
Qaeda or his plan to attack the U.S.
ON December 16, the United States armed forces handed over Camp Adder to the Iraqi government. It was the last base to be officially handed over, as the troops boarded their trucks for the convoy ride to
Kuwait. “We have turned the last page of the occupaFRONTLINE

tion,” Hussein al-Asadi told the assembled crowd at the base. Al-Asadi represented Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had spent some time with President
Barack Obama earlier in the week and received assurances that the U.S. would remain engaged with
Iraq. Several thousand U.S. forces are garrisoned in
Iraq even after the withdrawal, and the U.S. will continue to maintain its sprawling embassy compound in Baghdad. The bases in general have come to resemble ghost towns, with plans for the construction of a luxury hotel being executed inside the former Green Zone.
Sections of the country that saw the greatest

Letter from America

JANUARY 13, 2012


By late 2001, it was clear that the Bush administration wished to extend the battlefield in its Global War on Terror from Afghanistan to Iraq. Hours after
9/11 itself, Defence Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld scrawled, “Hit S.H. @ same time – not only UBL,” which is to say hit Saddam Hussein (Iraq) at the same time, not only Osama bin Laden (Afghanistan).
The drums of war beat louder and louder into 2002. By the end of the summer, it appeared as if war would be inevitable with pressure on the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) and on the European partners moving in one direction alone. By the summer of 2002, President George W.
Bush had been making noises about the need to strike Iraq before it completed production of an array of biochemical weapons. Bush went to the
United Nations in September, warning: “Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.” A few weeks later, in his weekly radio address, Bush said: “Saddam Hussein recently authorised Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons
– the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have.” The narrative from the White House was simple: Iraq had chemical weapons, and if the U.S. does not act in some way (preferably militarily) then Saddam Hussein would use those weapons in a replay of 9/11.
Washington’s narrative was thin.
There was no evidence that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11, and less that it had the capability or investment in a strike on the U.S. The IAEA’s then
Director-General Mohamed ElBara-

dei cautioned the U.N. on the authenticity of the U.S. claims (the IAEA and
ElBaradei won the Nobel Prize for
Peace in 2005). Nothing seemed to add up. In 2007, ElBaradei told Le
Monde that the run-up to the invasion of Iraq was “a glaring example of how, in many cases, the use of force exacerbates the problem rather than solves it”. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, otherwise quite amenable to
Washington, brought back the Swedish politician Hans Blix to run a U.N. study team of Iraq’s weapons programme. Blix, who was quite outspoken about Iraq’s obduracy in the
1990s, was nonetheless cautious in
2002. There was simply no evidence that required the international community (namely the U.S.) to go to war.
“I have detractors in Washington,” Blix told The Guardian. “There are bastards who spread things around, of course, who planted nasty things in the media, not that I cared very much.”
Blix is not known for such colourful language. He had, however, run up against a massive media blitz orches-


resistance to the U.S. occupation remained unbending. In Fallujah, a thousand protesters burned American flags, and in Sadr City, protests welcomed the withdrawal of the U.S. troops. “The Americans are leaving behind them a destroyed country. The
Americans did not leave modern schools or big factories behind them,” said Mariam Khazim. “They left thousands of widows and orphans.”

P RES I D EN T BAR A C K OB AM A . The war was not perfect, he accepted, but its outcome was good, with the troops leaving behind “a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq”.


trated by the White House and conducted enthusiastically by the
Murdoch machine. (At Davos in 2007,
Charlie Rose asked Murdoch if News
Corp. had shaped the agenda for the
Iraq War. “No I don’t think so,” replied
Murdoch. “We tried. We basically supported the Bush policy in the Middle
East [West Asia]”.)
As debates continued in the U.N., with the White House eager for Security Council sanction for its new war, the anti-war movement germinated in the
U.S. and elsewhere. It would come to a head when 10 million people marched against the impending war on Iraq in
February 2003, perhaps the largest coordinated protests of all time (some estimate that the number is closer to
30 million). Three million people took to the streets of Rome, while about a million staggered through the very cold avenues of New York City.
The alliance against the war was vast: it included those who were generally anti-war to those who were against what they saw as an unnecessary war.
Among the latter was a State Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who gave a well-regarded anti-war speech in
Chicago in October 2002. “I don’t oppose all wars,” Obama told the crowd.
“What I am opposed to is a dumb war.
What I am opposed to is a rash war.
What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul
Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne. What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl
Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income, to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression. That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.”
The war nonetheless began on
March 19, with a campaign known as
“Shock and Awe”. Saddam Hussein’s


JANUARY 13, 2012


a rally to celebrate the departure of U.S. troops,

on December 14. military collapsed. Resistance to the
U.S. forces came not from the organised units of the Iraqi military but from new guerilla fighters, some
Baathists, but mostly Iraqi nationalists of various stripes. Even as Bush declared that combat operations ended in May, this was far from the case.
Combat operations would continue into 2010, with more U.S. personnel killed in Iraq (over 4,000) than Americans in the attacks on 9/11. The death toll of Iraqis is too horrendous to comprehend (some count a million dead, with The Lancet offering a slightly smaller number – near 700,000).
Soon after the invasion phase morphed into a U.S. occupation of
Iraq, it became clear that all the reasons for the war had been false. As U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq, there is little discussion about this particular problem: that no chemical or biological weapons, or weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), were found, that no link between Saddam Hussein and
Al Qaeda could be established, and that Saddam Hussein had no plans to attack the U.S.

In the past few years, memoirs by the main players in the Bush administration have appeared, with Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defence
Secretary Rumsfeld defending their roles and State Department head Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice putting the onus on Cheney and Rumsfeld. Few recall the lies that led to war. Part of the problem for the Bush team is that despite the outcome, when the war was being planned they were all in agreement. “On one major issue, Rice, Cheney and Rumsfeld were in total agreement – the war in Iraq,” writes
Elisabeth Bumiller in her biography of
Rice. “Rice helped conceive it and was one of its chief advocates, and when the President finally asked her if he should take the country to war, she said yes.” No one has taken responsibility for the Iraqi fiasco. At most the former managers of the country simply blame each other for poor execution of the war (too little planning, say some, too few troops, say others).
Obama, who had made his own position clear in 2002, could not reviFRONTLINE


sit them in 2011: he is now the Commander in Chief and would find it awkward to belittle the sacrifices of troops who were sent to fight a false war. At most Obama could acknowledge the debate before the war, with the lead-up “a source of great controversy here at home, with patriots on both sides of the debate”. The Iraq war was not perfect, he accepted, but its outcome was good, with the troops leaving behind “a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people”. American liberalism is not capable of any more than that.
To go beyond this is to accept that
Iraq was not a “dumb war” but the outcome of a system premised on militarism and one that is capable of the harshest violence against its enemies.
During the week of the pull-out, a reporter for The New York Times found
400 pages of U.S. military investigations on the 2005 massacres at Haditha, where U.S. marines killed 24
Iraqis (including a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair, children and toddlers).
Most of the U.S. troops had been acquitted by their justice system, leaving a bad taste in the Iraqi body politic. As
Michael Schmidt put it in The Times,
“That sense of American impunity ultimately poisoned any chance for American forces to remain in Iraq, because the Iraqis would not let them stay without being subject to Iraqi laws and courts, a condition the White House could not accept.”
It was the aftermath of Haditha that forced the Iraqi government to no longer give a carte blanche to the U. S. troops (with the Sadrites, a parliamentary partner of Maliki’s government, putting pressure on the Prime Minister not to allow U.S. troops to continue on such terms that allow Iraqis to be humiliated). The Iraqi Parliament, in a sense, ejected the U.S. because Washington would not allow its troops to come under Iraqi jurisdiction.
No one mentioned Haditha, nor did they remember Abu Ghraib, now renamed the Baghdad Central Prison.
The same week as the withdrawal, the
U.S. will finally bring Private First


JANUARY 13, 2012

stands guard at the Abu Ghraib prison as prisoners are released. The prison, which was built by British contractors in the 1960s, was a centre of torture for the occupation forces. It was renamed the "Baghdad
Correctional Facility" by the U.S., and was eventually transfered to
Iraqi control in September 2006.

A U .S. SO L D I E R

result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American lives and other costs of attacking Iraq, or not?” (67 per cent no, 24 per cent yes). The cost to Iraqis simply does not feature.
“It is the end for the Americans only,” wrote Emad Risn, an Iraqi columnist, in a government-funded newspaper. “Nobody knows if the war will end for Iraqis too.”
And few Americans seem to care.
It has been some time since Iraq featured at all on the nation’s priorities, let alone high. Rightly, Americans fret about the fate of veterans returning to a depressed economy with a range of both physical and mental disabilities. But Iraqi civilians barely get a look-in.
According to The New York
Times report, among the discarded

testimony was an interview with Sergeant Major Edward Sax. “I had marines shoot children in cars, and deal with the marines individually, one on one, about it because they have a hard time dealing with that.” When they told him they didn’t know there were children on board he told them they were not to blame, claiming killing would impose a life-long burden on them. Progressives, seeking to link the economic collapse to military misadventure, often argue that nation building should begin at home, not in Iraq, thereby – wittingly or not
– transforming Iraqis in the public imagination from victims of illegal warfare to recipients of illicit welfare.
Without any apparent irony,
Obama marked the end of the occupation by calling on others not to meddle in Iraq’s internal affairs. The combined effect of all of this is like breaking someone’s jaw with your fist only to bemoan the excruciating pain that has been visited on your hand.
The U.S. is not alone in this. Amnesia and indifference are the privileges of the powerful. It is for the
Kenyans and Algerians to recall the atrocities committed by the British and the French under colonialism while the colonisers remain in flight from their history. “The essential characteristic of a nation is that all its individuals must have many things in common,” wrote the 19th-century
French philosopher Ernest Renan,
“and must have forgotten many things as well.”
No wonder then that a recent
Pew poll found that despite all the evidence to the contrary, 56 per cent of Americans said they thought the invasion had succeeded in its goals while the number of those who think the invasion was the right decision stands at its highest in five years. The cost of doing business always seems more reasonable when someone else is paying the price.
Gary Younge
© Guardian News & Media 2011



Class Bradley Manning to court. Manning is accused of handing over secret files to WikiLeaks. Among those files lay a secret video that documented the
2007 killing in cold blood of Reuters’ photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver Saeed Chmagh. Like
Haditha, the impunity towards the
Apache helicopter pilots rankled the
The U.N. High Commissioner for
Refugees counts about two million
Iraqis as displaced. That is a conservative estimate. Others would like to see the figure doubled. Either way, this is the largest displacement in West Asia, and it is entirely a product of the war.
Instead of a discussion on how the war created this massive and ongoing refugee crisis, the U.S. tightened its own policy towards allowing in asylum seekers (when the Vietnam War went badly, the U.S. allowed its allies in
Vietnam to seek entry into the U.S. – not such an open policy for its Iraqi allies). The Bush war cost at least $1 trillion, if not more. It was to make Iraq a model private-sector country. All this failed as the Iraqis refused to be utterly pliant. The U.S. miscalculated the neighbourhood. The assumption was that the U.S. forces would be able to create a satellite in the area that could checkmate Iran’s ambitions in the region and provide some relief to Israel.
Instead, the wave of democracy that swept the region was not inclined to
U.S. power but was against it. Even
Iraq’s government was not as docile as hoped. The costs of war suggest the law of intended consequences. The anti-war movement suggested that the bloodshed would not welcome U.S. troops into Iraq “with sweets and flowers”, but it would open up sectarian fissures and create far more human suffering than imagined. Iraq has been resilient enough to demand more than a public relations withdrawal. Having Iraq exercise its sovereignty is not sufficient to justify the war in the first place. Eight years after the war, no justifications remain. It was a dumb war, and it remains so.

World Affairs/Russia

JANUARY 13, 2012

Protests triggered by the alleged mass rigging of the parliamentary election result in a groundswell of opinion against the ruling party.

The protesters demand cancellation of the tainted election and the overhaul of the election legislation.
Former Soviet President Mikhail
Gorbachev has supported the calls for annulling the “rigged” vote.
IT has already been called the Great December
Revolution, an allusion to the Great October Revolution that changed the political system in Russia and brought to power the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir
Lenin. Almost a century later, tens of thousands of
Russians again took to the streets in Moscow and other Russian cities to demand political change.
The protests were triggered by the alleged mass rigging of the December 4 parliamentary election, which was won by the ruling party, United Russia.
The official tally gave United Russia 49.3 per cent of the votes, a loss of 15 per cent compared with the last election four years ago but enough to guarantee it an absolute majority in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament. Independent monitors said the party’s real support hovered around 30 per cent. Russian Internet overflowed with amateur videos of ballot-box stuffing, “carousel” multiple voting, and rewriting of final protocols.
The scale of protests took everyone by surprise, including its organisers. Two weeks before the election, when an opposition group applied for permission to hold a post-election rally, it cited the likely attendance of up to 300 people. Three days before

the event, the organisers raised the estimate to
30,000 and the authorities had to change the venue as it was thought too small for such a crowd. In the end, up to 100,000 people turned up on Bolotnaya
Square in central Moscow on December 10. On the same day, rallies rolled across dozens of cities from
Vladivostok in the far east to Kaliningrad in the west.
It was a striking display of civic activism unheard of in Russia for almost 20 years.
The protests immediately became enmeshed in symbols and parallels that were not necessarily accurate. As in the Arab Spring revolutions, the Internet served as a crucial medium in mobilising Russian protesters. State-controlled television totally ignored the election controversy and initial protests, but people used social networking sites and Twitter to inform each other of planned rallies. With more than 50 million Russians having access to the Web, more than anywhere else in Europe, the Internet played the role of what Lenin called “collective organiser and collective propagandist”. The authorities pressured Russia’s largest social network provider, vKontakte, to close opposition groups on the site, but it refused.
As in Tunisia and Egypt, protests in Russia were driven by the middle classes, but in Russia they were not the disgruntled unemployed youth but reasonably well-off educated professionals and office workers. Artists, writers and musicians joined the protests for the first time since the early 1990s.
The protests were by no means violent. The most resonating plea on Facebook and Twitter was for the protests to be peaceful. As one blogger wrote, “We had our Tahrir 20 years ago.” In 1993, hundreds died when President Boris Yeltsin sent tanks to suppress an armed revolt led by the pro-Communist legislature. Demonstrators in Bolotnaya Square gave flowers to the police in a gesture of peace and solidarity as



supporters protesting against the official results of the parliamentary elections, in Manezh Square in
Moscow on December 18. the authorities backed away from the rough handling and detention of protesters during the first post-election rallies. The Russian authorities saw haunting similarities with the “colour revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine several years ago. “Colour revolutions are special schemes to destabilise society,” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said during a traditional televised callin show after the first wave of protest rallies. Earlier he accused the U.S. of inciting the protests and financing the opposition. The government, however, did not produce any proof of a foreign hand apart from pointing the finger at GOLOS, a Russian vote monitoring organisation partially funded from the U.S, which played a key role in exposing the election fraud.
The Russian protests have entirely domestic roots. Those who thronged the streets of Moscow and other cities revolted against the Russian system of
“managed democracy” based on the socalled “Putin contract”. After the chaotic 1990s, Russians treasured the stability and increased living standards during Putin’s presidency. Putin was genuinely popular. People took

denying them registration under various pretexts and harassing businessmen who dared support them.
Characteristically, none of the “official” opposition parties played any role in the protests even though they all complained of election fraud. According to media reports, the Kremlin asked the opposition parties to stay away. A few party members took part in protest rallies, but were booed with cries “give up your Duma mandate”.

pride in the resurgence of Russia and its global clout and were prepared to put up with the authoritarian political system dominated by one man, “national leader” Putin.
However, resentment built up gradually as corruption grew to staggering proportions, bureaucratic hurdles strangled small businesses, courts served the rich and the powerful, and the economy remained critically dependent on the export of hydrocarbons and metals. Meanwhile, people could not change the system through elections.
The opposition parties sitting in
Parliament – Communists, left-leaning Just Russia and the Liberal Democrats of the clownish Vladimir
Zhirinovsky – are fully integrated into the establishment and manipulated by the Kremlin.
The authorities have firmly put down attempts to set up new parties,




JANUARY 13, 2012

(foreground) and President Dmitry
Medvedev at the United Russia party headquarters after voting closed in the parliamentary elections, in
Moscow on December 4.


Many of those who took to the streets in December had not bothered to vote earlier because they saw little election choice. In this year’s election, political apathy gave way to a sudden surge in activism. “Vote for any party but United Russia” was the most compelling campaign slogan. Russians played by the Kremlin rules and won. Their overwhelming vote against the ruling party headed by Putin forced the Kremlin to resort to glaring falsifications in order to avoid a humiliating defeat. This sparked mass protests.
People felt cheated, just as they were two months earlier when Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev announced their decision to swap roles in the presidential election in March
2012. Many in Russia were shocked by what one commentator called “a cynical private deal that traded the institution of the presidency like a piece of furniture”.
Medvedev, ironically called “Twitter President” for his childish fascination with electronic gadgets, may have been pathetically weak as Putin’s successor, but he generated hopes of change with the promise of political and economic modernisation, a vibrant multiparty system, an independent judiciary, and anti-corruption drive. So when he suddenly abdicated power even before his reforms gained traction, people felt robbed of their hopes. Putin’s decision to reclaim presidency was seen as a step backward, not forward, especially since he downplayed economic modernisation and political liberalisation and emphasised

World Affairs/Russia stability, which many read as stagnation. The prospect of 12 more years of
Putin, who is 59, at the helm (the presidential term was extended from four to six years two years ago) has put off many. Popularity ratings of Putin and
Medvedev, as well as United Russia, went down after the job-swap announcement. A post-election poll by the
Public Opinion Foundation showed that only 44 per cent of Russians had complete trust in Putin, his lowest support level in a decade.
While it was the complaints against election fraud that brought people out to the streets, the real target of their anger was Putin: some of the most popular slogans were “Putin the
Thief” and “Russia without Putin”.
The big question now is, what happens next? The protesters have demanded the cancellation of the tainted election and the overhaul of the election legislation. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who had pioneered democratic reforms in Russia, has supported the calls for annulling the “rigged” vote.
“With each passing day, more and more Russians refuse to believe that the election was honest,” said Gorbachev. “The country’s leaders must admit there were numerous falsifications and rigging and the results do not reflect the people’s will.”
However, these demands are unacceptable for the Kremlin. They would amount to the dismantling of the system of “managed democracy” and undermine Putin’s grip on power.

The Kremlin appears to have settled for a two-pronged strategy. It has sought to discredit the protest movement while at the same time promise political concessions to show that the protesters’ voice has been heard. Putin claimed people were paid money to attend the rallies.
“There are people who have Russian passports but work for the interests of a foreign state, for foreign money,” he said during the call-in session on December 15.
In a calculated slight, he went as

JANUARY 13, 2012

far as to compare the white ribbons demonstrators wore as a symbol of peaceful protests to unwrapped condoms. “To be perfectly honest,” he said,
“when I saw something on some people’s chests… I thought that this was part of an anti-AIDS campaign, that these were, pardon me, condoms.”
Putin was clearly addressing his more conservative constituencies, including low-earning industrial labourers and old-age pensioners, who could probably like this rude joke, but if he hoped to dampen protests, the tactics backfired. Within hours of his remarks thousands signed up in social networks for new protest rallies and the
Internet exploded with photoshopped pictures of Putin wearing an unravelled contraceptive pinned to his coat.
On another track, Putin promised that “betterment of the political system” would be one of the priorities of his third presidential agenda. “We need to expand the basis of democracy in Russia. We ought to re-establish the link between the people and the powers that be at all levels (local, regional, and federal). It will restore trust in the powers that be,” he said.
Putin said he was ready to consider the possibility of restoring direct elections for regional governors and the upper house of Parliament, which he cancelled seven years ago, and easing the registration procedure for new parties. The Kremlin has replaced State
Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, best known for a notorious remark attributed to him that the “Duma is no place for discussions” and let the opposition parties control more parliamentary committees.
But it has so far refused to meet the protesters’ main demands – a revote and reform of the electoral system to allow real political pluralism and to remove government control over the election process. To ensure transparency, Putin ordered that web cameras linked to Internet be installed in all ballot stations, but experts dismissed the move as a publicity stunt.
As of now the Russian protests are


unlikely to derail Putin’s re-election as
President next March as none of the opposition leaders who have registered to run can put up a challenge.
But the Putin magic is gone and he may need a second round run-off to win. New opposition leaders thrown up by the burgeoning protest movement need time to set up a political base and gain nationwide popularity. They include 35-year-old lawyer and blogger
Alexei Navalny, who shot to prominence by exposing corruption in leading state companies and who coined the now famous nickname for United
Russia – “the party of thieves and crooks” – and social activist Yevgeniya
Chirikova, a 34-year-old mother of two, who has stood up in fearless defence of an age-old Moscow forest condemned to cutting down under a
Kremlin-backed multi-billion project to build a new highway.
One thing is clear: tectonic shifts are under way in Russian society as it has woken up from slumber. The December protests were largely confined to the urban middle class, but in the new year they may be joined by wider working class masses who will be hurt by the post-election budget hangover.
The government will have to adopt very painful cost-cutting measures after it tripled military salaries, raised pensions and steeply hiked national security spending in the run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections. Russia may need an average oil price of $126 a barrel to balance its budget next year, compared with an earlier forecast for $118.
The Russian leaders should stop clinging to power and embark on democratic reforms to open the system to grass-roots political forces, experts warned. “The authorities must begin building institutions for rejuvenation of the polity while they still have some reserves of strength left,” said Tatyana
Stanovaya of the Political Technologies Centre. “If they do not do it in an evolutionary way from the top, the process will start revolutionary from the bottom.”

JANUARY 13, 2012

World Affairs/Pakistan

Volatile state
Pakistan, a country buffeted by mysterious if not entirely holy forces, seems to


have surrendered to its fate. B Y D E C L A N W A L S H

Viewed from the outside, Pakistan looms as the
Fukushima of fundamentalism: a volatile, treacherous place filled with frothing Islamists and double-dealing generals.
EVEN before you reach Pakistan there is reason to fret. “Ladies and gentlemen, we will be landing shortly, inshallah,” says the Pakistan International
Airlines pilot, 10 minutes outside Islamabad. To the
Western ear this ancient invocation – literally “God willing” – can be disconcerting: you pray the crew are relying on more than divine providence to set down safely. But these days it is about right – Pakistan, a country buffeted by mysterious if not entirely holy forces, seems to have surrendered to its fate.
Viewed from the outside, Pakistan looms as the
Fukushima of fundamentalism: a volatile, treacherous place filled with frothing Islamists and doubledealing generals, leaking plutonium-grade terrorist trouble. Forget the “world’s most dangerous country” moniker, by now old hat. Look to recent coverage: “Hornet’s Nest” declares this week’s
Economist; “The Ally from Hell” proclaims The Atlantic.
Western condemnation has a moral quality, the tinge of wounded betrayal. Much of it is rooted in
Afghanistan, where many blame Pakistan for the
Taliban resurgence. Some years ago a senior United
Nations official in Kabul warned me the United
States could launch unilateral air strikes if Pakistan did not get into line. Surely it would be unwise to destabilise a nuclear-armed country of 170 million people, I said. “Well”, he shot back grimly. “Maybe they deserve it.” Yet for all the stone-throwing, hard facts are elusive. Did the powerful Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI) spy agency really shelter Osama bin Laden? Does it control the notorious Haqqani network? Did it play a role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks? If smoking guns abound, the Pakistanis are remarkably good at wiping their fingerprints from the trigger. Instead, we are left with a murky stew of allegations, coincidences and the steamy whispers of
Western spies.

Perhaps the embodiment of this conundrum is
Pervez Musharraf, the former military ruler once beloved of the West. In a recent interview, the BBC’s
Stephen Sackur harangued him about Pakistani perfidy. What of the Taliban safe havens? Sackur demanded. Or the Quetta Shura? Or reports that the monocular Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, resides happily in Pakistani suburbia? Musharraf sat through the mauling, visibly bristling, then shot back: “You say it is true. I say it is all nonsense,” he said, wearing his trademark wounded-puppy face.
“This is a mirage. This is what people say. This is what you think.”
But what should we think – conspiracy, cock-up or thinly veiled chaos? Puzzling out the answers to that question has been central to my seven years reporting from Pakistan for The Guardian. Much of it was dominated by the banner dramas: bombs and political heaves, spy scandals and shootings. But there were also, I discovered, truths to be gleaned from the smaller things – such as the way people drive. Pakistanis swerve into heavy traffic without looking, do not stick to their lane or indicate, which makes it hard to predict where they are coming from or going to. Social graces are rare – horns honk, headlights are impatiently flashed – but social hierarchy is observed: hulking four-wheel drives (increasingly armour-plated) barge through the swarms of matchbox cars. Off to the side, the police are taking bribes.
But pull off the road and everything changes.
Pakistanis are welcoming, generous and voluble.
They insist you stay for tea, or the night. They love to gab, often with glorious indiscretion – national politics and local tattle, cricket scandals, movie stars and conspiracy theories. This is fun, and good for the business of journalism.

While Islam is technically the glue of society, you learn, the real bonds are forged around clans, tribes, personal contacts. To get anything done, the official route is often pointless – the key is sifarish, the reference of an influential friend. Journalists use sifarish a lot; occasionally they are called on to dispense it too.
Late one night, shortly after the last election, I got a surprise phone call from a ruling party official. Previously chatty and relaxed, he spoke in a loud and oddly deliberate voice. “Do you remember that place you mentioned last night – the ‘Cat House’?” he said. I remembered no such thing. “Well, the police have turned up,” he continued.
“And I was hoping you might have a word with them.” Seconds later the line dropped; I didn’t call back.
Two days later the papers carried reports of a police raid on a speakeasycum-brothel in a smart part of Islamabad, called the Cathouse. They seized dozens of bottles of liquor and arrested
Russian and Chinese women, and a number of punters – including a newly elected ruling party Member of Parliament and his entourage, including my friend. But they were released without charge, the reports noted, after a phone call from a “higher-up” in government.
I thought that was the end of the matter until a police video of the raid surfaced on the Internet some months later. It showed officers storming into the Cathouse, arguing with Russian women and, at one point, a middleaged man in a crowded corridor, shouting into his phone. “Do you remember that place you mentioned last night?” says my friend, “The Cathouse?”
Such laughs have been regrettably rare. When I arrived in 2004, Islamabad was a somnolent, reliably dull city.
By night, the sons of the rich dragraced their daddys’ cars along deserted streets, swerving to avoid wild boars ambling from the bushes. Foreigners mocked the capital for its provincial feel. “Islamabad – half the size of a
New York graveyard but twice as dead” went the diplomats’ tired gag as white-


JANUARY 13, 2012

gloved waiters served gin and tonic on manicured lawns.
Then the Taliban came to town. It started with the bloody siege of the
Red Mosque complex in July 2007, just before Pakistan’s 60th birthday.
Bullets zipped through the leafy streets; I dusted off my flak jacket.
Then came the bombs: at markets, check posts, the naval headquarters,
U.N. offices, the five-star Marriott Hotel. Up the street from my house, Benazir Bhutto gave speeches from behind barbed wire, during a brief-lived house arrest. Weeks later she drove out to
where she was assassinated. Today the blasts have stopped, mostly, but the city is cloistered in concrete. Fortified walls rise over the streets, vehicles slalom through elaborate check posts, hotel entrances resemble prisons with gold-buttoned guards. Embassies are retreating into a sandbagged, Green Zone-style enclave; the presidency and even the ISI headquarters are similarly isolated.
That, however, is just the cosseted capital – the real pain has been felt elsewhere. Pakistan has paid a high


blood price for what my colleague Jason Burke calls the “9/11 wars”. Since
2001, up to 5,000 Pakistanis have died in more that 300 suicide attacks; the victims range from toddlers to threestar generals. Another 13,000 have been wounded.
This is partly the legacy from the military’s decades-old dabbling in Islamist extremism, but for most Pakistanis the culprit is America.
Television shows fizz with antiAmerican anger; many say the “Ally from Hell” epithet applies to the U.S., not them. Things have never been worse: outrage at the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a murky border incident triggered a blockade on North
Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) supplies, the closure of a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) drone base and the boycott of a conference on the future of Afghanistan – and that is just in the last fortnight.
Washington, meanwhile, is moving to restrict $700 million in aid. The relationship is beset by frustrations and misunderstandings on both sides, but the net effect is that Pakistanis are more profoundly isolated from the

JANUARY 13, 2012


bomb blast devastated the five-star Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on September 20, 2008.

outside world than they have been in decades. This cannot be good.
Many Pakistanis – educated, ambitious, modern – resent being lumped in with the terrorists. “Why don’t you write about the other Pakistan?” is a frequent refrain – “other” being the country of software companies, pizza dinners, effervescent art shows and quality literature. When I could, I did, with a tendency towards the counterintuitive: the booming brewery across the street from military headquarters; the transvestite civil rights movement, the punk rock bands and oxygen bars and rambunctious polo tournaments in the heights of the Hindu Kush. But perhaps the most memorable experiences were rooted in the rich cultural and religious heritage. One of my best trips was in Sehwan Sharif in Sindh, a glorious Sufi festival on the banks of the Indus with a mesmeric mix of party and prayer – a spectacle to make the head spin and the heart sing.
Still, there is no getting around it:
Pakistan is beset with problems that no amount of jolly beer stories or whir-

ling dervishes can remedy. It is, as a psychologist might say, a country with serious issues. Most are decades old – the overweening army, the confused place of Islam, the covert support for jehad, deep-rooted corruption, the poisoned bond with America. Resolving them has never been so urgent.
One reason is Afghanistan. As
Western troops draw down by 2014,
Pakistan can help construct a stable future for the war-ravaged country – or spoil a deal it dislikes. But beyond that, it is the internal stability of Pakistan that is more worrying. It is riven by ethnic, tribal and political fault lines, which, in turn, are being exacerbated by galloping population growth and deepening poverty. Turmoil in a country with at least 120 nuclear warheads and a projected population of 300 million people by 2030 could make Afghanistan look like a walk in the park.
Talk of a “nuclear Somalia” is overstated, but you get the point.
Yet there is little sign of revolution.
As the Arab spring swept the Arab nations, Pakistan was quiet because, in a


sense, it already has what others are demanding: elections. The problem is that few like the results. Asif Ali Zardari, the accidental President, suffers a crippling legitimacy deficit driven by perceptions of corruption and a more fundamental struggle for supremacy.
Just a few years ago the Army chief,
General Ashfaq Kayani, mused to the
U.S. Ambassador about the possibility of a coup. In early December, Zardari suddenly flew to Dubai, triggering fresh speculation that such an upset was about to happen. The hype seems unfounded, and Zardari says he will soon return. But few doubt Kayani is the real power.
Will ordinary Pakistanis tire of this power game? While there is no sign of a spring tide, millions of tiny waves are lapping the shores of despair. In October, Raja Khan, an unemployed man from Sindh province, travelled hundreds of miles to Islamabad. Standing outside Parliament he doused himself in kerosene, then struck a match.
Hours later, racked with pain, the 23year-old died. Poverty had ground him

World Affairs/Pakistan down, Khan said in a farewell note. As his coffin was nailed shut, his wife gave birth to their third son. His elderly father cried out: “Oh, Zardari, where are you?”
It is not just Pakistan – over the seven years foreign correspondence changed drastically, too. In 2004, The
Guardian focussed on U.K. readers; today, through the Internet, our audience is at once global and intensely local. Pakistanis leap on every story, scrutinising and commenting, particularly on Twitter, a medium many have embraced with gusto. It helps to project less obvious stories, such as a feature on the appalling wave of alleged state-sponsored killings in Balochistan earlier in 2011. But the intriguing feedback I received came in the form of an old-fashioned letter.
Charles Burman was 92 years old, a former British Army signals sergeant who had fought a long-forgotten colonial campaign in the tribal belt in the
1930s and 1940s. In wobbly handwriting, he sent a fascinating account of his experiences; Waziristan was pretty dangerous back then, too, it turns out.
Not everyone liked the coverage.
Fatima Bhutto, niece of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto, once suggested I was “on the PPP payroll”, referring to the government party; pro-government blogs suggested I was peddling the ISI line; the ISI-monitored my phone calls and occasionally rang to voice its own displeasure. The U.S. military in Afghanistan blacklisted me briefly; the Taliban called with a ransom demand for a kidnapped hostage;
Pervez Musharraf threatened to sue.
That was all fine – multi-directional criticism is a compliment – but sometimes the story came a little too close.
In 2008 a Guardian fixer was abducted and tortured while investigating a story on intelligence agency abduction and torture. In 2010, for a few nail-biting hours, a close friend’s father was caught up in a brutal gun attack on a mosque belonging to the minority Ahmadi community in Lahore. He survived but more than 100 others died. The bombings took a toll.
A few minutes after the 2008 suicide

bombing of the Marriott, a hotel where
I got my hair cut and had coffee with contacts, I found myself standing in the rubble, dazed by the enormity of the atrocity. A giant crater occupied the park, staff in bloodstained uniforms stumbled through the lobby, hunting for survivors, orange flames licked the ash-laden sky. Blood squelched underfoot.
Retreating outside I found a preppy looking young man sitting on the verge, staring numbly into the inferno.
His name was Ehsan Peerzada and he was 19 years old, articulate and educated, the son of a senior civil servant. In other circumstances, I might have interviewed him for a story on savvy, westernised Pakistanis. Now he railed in a stream of invective against everyone – Islamist extremists, Americans, drone strikes – struggling to make sense of it all. “It’s not fair,” he mumbled. “It’s not fair.”
It is not all darkness; away from the bang-bang, life in Pakistan can be richly rewarding. I’ve been humbled by inspiring figures, traversed jaw-dropping landscapes and attended some wild parties, on one occasion with a roomful of transvestites. Where else can you find yourself with a bearded, joint-rolling character, as I once did in
Omar”? Even the news can be fun.
Some years ago the cricket board issued a press release detailing “genital warts” of its errant star, Shoaib Akhtar.
These days, bomb stories vie for space with Veena Malik, a daring actress who appeared topless wearing nothing but a tattoo that read “ISI”. Veena Malik has denounced the pictures, claiming – but of course – that they are the product of conspiracy.

I hoped that my reporting portrayed the rich complexity of a society that, below the surface, defies its stereotypes. But on some occasions there was just nothing to be said. A few months ago I visited a house in Rawalpindi with a giant poster over the windows, depicting a heroic warrior on a gallant white steed. The warrior was Mumtaz


JANUARY 13, 2012

Qadri, the police bodyguard who gunned down the Punjab Governor
Salmaan Taseer in January 2011, and this was his house.
Outside, young children shouted slogans for Qadri, a curly bearded extremist who killed Taseer because he championed the case of a poor Christian woman who had been prosecuted under the country’s notorious blasphemy laws. Others joined them, protesting against Qadri’s prosecution for murder. The air was thick with talk of persecution. “Qadri is a great martyr,” said one man. “What he did is permitted by Islam.” Then the crowd poured through the streets and on to the highway leading to Islamabad. The police closed the road and watched.
The celebration of Qadri, a deluded fanatic, was deeply depressing. So was the fact that nobody dared raise their voice against his supporters, not even the government. Instead, the judge who sentenced Qadri has fled
Pakistan. Aasia Bibi, the Christian at the heart of the furore, remains in jail.
And Taseer’s son, Shahbaz, has been kidnapped – probably by Qadri sympathisers. An ugly spectacle, it betrays questions about something deeply unhealthy at the core of Pakistani society.
Still, many Pakistanis have similar doubts. There is a striking amount of national introspection in a hearteningly vibrant press. But which way out of the quagmire? Imran Khan, the cricket-star-turned political sensation, says he has the answers. He exudes the confidence of a man who believes his time has come. But his ideas are controversial and, critics say, naive.
People often ask the most basic question about Pakistan: will it survive? The question has been going round for decades; the naysayers inevitably silenced. Is the current situation any more precarious? The country has deep stores of resilience, but is more vulnerable to external shocks than ever before. One thing, however, is clear: inshallah may have worked until now, but it is no longer enough.
Note: Declan Walsh’s book Inshallah
Nation is out next year.
© Guardian News & Media 2011

India & China

JANUARY 13, 2012

Troubled equations
The postponement of the latest round of India-China border talks does not mean that all is not well with the bilateral relations. B Y J O H N C H E R I A N

THE eleventh-hour decision by Beijing to postpone the India-China border talks, which were scheduled for November 28, seems to have caught
New Delhi off guard. Dai Bingguo, the senior-most official of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, was to head the Chinese delegation to New
Delhi that was to hold talks with India’s National
Security Adviser, Shiv Shankar Menon. Both of them are the designated Special Representatives of their respective governments tasked with finding a solution to the long-running border row.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that China had objected to the holding of the Global
Buddhist Congregation 2011 in which the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, was to give the concluding speech. New Delhi had insisted that the
Buddhist meet was a purely spiritual event and had no political connotations. The MEA’s Public Diplomacy Division was the co-sponsor of the conference.
Scholars and religious leaders from 31 countries attended the conference held from November 27 to
30. The star of the show was the Dalai Lama. It was the first time that leaders representing the three main branches of Buddhism came together for such a high-profile international event.
Although the Indian government formally continues to treat the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader, the Chinese side views him purely as the leader of the
Tibetan exile movement out to divide the country.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, speaking after the postponement of the border talks, reitFRONTLINE


China’s unhappiness over Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama’s speech at a Buddhist meet in India was behind the decision. But India’s
External Affairs Ministry officials insist that bilateral relations were on a good footing until recently.
India’s Chiefs of Staff
Committee and Chief of Naval Staff, with General
Ma Xiaotian, Deputy Chief of General Staff of
China’s PLA, during the fourth India-China Annual
Defence Dialogue in New Delhi on December 9.


erated that Beijing considered the Dalai Lama “as one who has been engaged in separatist activities for a long time under the pretext of religion”. An article put out by the Chinese news agency Xinhua blamed the Dalai Lama for inciting the suicides by 11 Tibetan monks in the past few weeks. The monks had, in separate incidents, carried out self-immolation protests in the western Chinese province of Sichuan.
The Dalai Lama’s statement last year that Arunachal Pradesh and the town of Tawang there are integral parts of India had also angered Beijing. The
Tawang monastery is among the most sacred places of worship for Tibetan Buddhists. New Delhi has so far been careful not to allow the Tibetan leader to question directly Chinese sovereignty over the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The Chinese government has also been signalling its unhappiness to the Indian government at the deferential treatment being accorded to the Dalai Lama. Beijing has objected to the meeting of the Tibetan spiritual leader with the
Indian Prime Minister and other senior officials.
The indefinite postponement of the border talks has indicated that the Chinese side is toughening its diplomatic posture towards New Delhi. Beijing’s decision came only a week after Prime Minister Man61

JANUARY 13, 2012



an official. Reports appearing in the
Indian media about regular border incursions were not based on facts on the ground, said highly placed Indian officials. They added that “effective mechanisms are in place” to prevent untoward incidents happening on the
LAC. The officials also denied that the two countries were competing for influence in the region and insisted that
India was not interested in raising tensions at the behest of outside powers.
They pointed out that bilateral trade had grown significantly this year. China is already India’s biggest trading
ON THE I N D I A - C H I N A border, Indian troops at a location situated at a height partner. Officials admit that Chinese of 4,800 metres, 35 km from Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. A file picture. companies are very competitive and
The two governments were busy are deservedly active in many key secmohan Singh met with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao at the Associ- preparing a “Working Mechanism for tors of the Indian economy.
Though there are differing strateation of Southeast Asian Nations Consultation and Coordination on
(ASEAN) summit in Bali, Indonesia. Border Affairs”, when the border talks gic perceptions on neighbouring counThe last round of border talks was held got postponed. However, the high-lev- tries – especially regarding Pakistan – a year ago on the sidelines of the last el defence and security dialogue be- India and China have been cooperatASEAN summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. At tween the two countries continues to ing on key issues in various internathat time, the two Prime Ministers had be on track. The Deputy Chief of the tional forums such as the World Trade asked their Special Representatives to Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA), Ma Organisation (WTO) and the United press ahead with “the framework ne- Xiaotian, led the Chinese military del- Nations. The two countries are part of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South gotiations”. The two sides had agreed egation for talks on December 9.
Indian officials admit that resolv- Africa (BRICS) grouping, which is on the political parameters and guiding principles that would provide the ing the border issue is going to be a emerging as a counterweight to the framework for the talks during Pre- long-drawn-out affair. Large sectors of West in international affairs. There are mier Wen’s visit to India in 2005. Al- the Line of Actual Control (LAC) re- ongoing consultations on issues affectready, 14 meetings have taken place main undelineated. According to offi- ing the West Asian region. Both counbetween the Special Representatives cials in New Delhi, differences in tries depend on oil from the region to of the two countries on the border is- perception will persist on large areas of keep their economies running. Indian sue. China’s top expert on India, Ma disputed territory until the LAC is de- officials blame the West for hyping up
Jiali, has said that the border dispute lineated and it is unrealistic to expect a the so-called rivalry between the two countries. As an illustration, they cite was the most important issue between breakthrough at this juncture. the Western media reUntil recently, MEA the two countries, surpassing issues portage on an incident in such as maritime and economic officials were insisting the South China Sea inthat bilateral relations competition. volving an Indian naval
In March this year, Prime Minister were on a good footing. ship and the Chinese naManmohan Singh and Chinese Presi- This was contrary to the val authorities. A leading dent Hu Jintao announced the re- overblown reportage in
U.S. newspaper had resumption of high-level defence sections of the Indian ported that there was a interaction and the starting of a high- media about worsening
“confrontation” after the level economic dialogue. India sus- ties. The officials played
Indian ship was told to pended defence exchanges in 2010 af- down stories of border inleave the “disputed” water the Chinese government issued a cursions and noted that ters. No such “confrontastapled visa to a senior Indian Army military patrols from both tion” took place, aver officer serving in Kashmir. For some sides inadvertently crossIndian officials. years now, China has been issuing sta- ed the unmarked borders.
There was also a conpled visas to citizens hailing from Jam- “Not a single bullet has THE D ALA I LAM A at troversy of sorts regardmu and Kashmir and Arunachal been fired in the past 30 the Global Buddhist ing the contract signed
Pradesh. China views both the Indian years along the LAC by ei- Congregation 2011, in by the Indian oil compather side,” noted an Indi- New Delhi.
States as “disputed territories”.



JANUARY 13, 2012

( FR OM L E F T ) PR I ME Minister Manmohan Singh, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Chinese President Hu Jintao,
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, and South African President Jacob Zuma during the BRICS summit in Sanya,
China, on April 14. The group is emerging as a counterweight to the West in international affairs.

ny ONGC-Videsh and Vietnam to explore jointly two blocks off the disputed Spratly Islands in the South
China Sea. The area is claimed by both
Vietnam and China. China had objected to the deal. The Chinese Foreign
Ministry spokesman had stressed on the “indisputable sovereignty” of his country over the South China Sea and expressed the hope that foreign countries would not get involved in the dispute. “For countries outside the region, we hope they will respect and support countries in the region to solve this dispute through bilateral channels,” the spokesman had said. The
Chinese Communist Party newspaper, in an editorial, accused India and Vietnam “of reckless attempts in confronting China”. Indian officials deny that
China had presented a diplomatic “demarche” that oil exploration in the
South China Sea be stopped. At the
Bali ASEAN summit, Manmohan
Singh had said that it was India’s
“commercial right” to explore for oil and gas in the South China Sea.
China is warily watching the recent
Indian and American moves along its borders. India is being increasingly viewed as a de facto ally of the West after the signing of the India-U.S. nuclear deal. The U.S., India and Japan are to hold a trilateral summit in
Washington soon. China feels threatened by the heightened level of activity in the South China Sea and around its borders. The Western media are talking about a “new great game” unfold-

ing in the region. The Barack Obama administration in the U.S. is encouraging India to follow a more aggressive
“Look East” policy. Beijing feels that there is some amount of coordination between Washington and New Delhi on East Asia.
The People’s Daily recently warned
India about “the price to be paid for taking what America offers”. The recent statement of Australian Foreign
Minister Kevin Rudd backing a trilateral military pact between his country, the U.S. and India is indicative of the new contours of alliances that are emerging in the region. Australia also announced that it had removed the ban on exporting uranium to India.
Australia until now had insisted on
India signing the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) before it could sell uranium for the latter’s nuclear reactors. China is helping Pakistan build new nuclear reactors.
The message sent by Malabar
2007, the joint military exercise involving the navies of the U.S., India,
Australia, Singapore and Japan in the
Bay of Bengal, has not been lost on
China. At the 2011 ASEAN summit, the U.S. led the chorus against the emerging China threat. Interestingly,
U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta had earlier described both India and
China as potential rivals who challenged American interests in the region. Before he reached Bali for the summit, President Obama had loudly declared in Canberra (Australia) that


the U.S. was “a Pacific power and was here to stay”. His administration also announced plans to station 2,500 U.S. marines in Australia to assist U.S. allies and their interests in the region.
Around the same time, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a visit to the region, was busy assuring allies such as the Philippines that her country supported their territorial claims in the disputed waters of the South China
Sea. The U.S. has huge military bases in Japan and Korea. China may be viewing India’s foray into the South
China Sea as part of the Western stratagem to needle it. Its fears have a basis.
The U.S. Defence Department’s report to the Congress in August notes that
China “would face great difficulty” if threats arose to the U.S.’ shipping through the South China Sea and the
Straits of Malacca. Chinese commentators have been saying that the U.S. should not treat the South China Sea as “an American lake”.
China feels further threatened by the fast pace of the events unfolding in
Myanmar. The sudden thaw in the relations between the military-dominated government and Washington has made Beijing’s antennae go up. China is Myanmar’s biggest trading partner, but there are signs that the relationship is fraying a bit. Recently, the
Myanmar government suspended the
$3.6-billion China-funded Myitsone dam project. China does not want another unfriendly country along its long borders. Travel

JANUARY 13, 2012

Gloriously wild
Canoeing down the Kapuas river in the deep jungles of Indonesian Borneo.

Even as your eyes take in chlorophyll that comes in a range of shades and shapes, your ears are tuned to the irresistible cacophony that rules the rainforest. It either pours or drips and you are perpetually drenched to the bone.
THE Kapuas may not be as well known as the
Cauvery river, but is as wide and impressive. Its delta is a tangle of tributaries, each as wide as the parent river itself, and spreads over several kilometres. At
1,143 km, the Kapuas, originating in the highlands of central Kalimantan and flowing west into the South
China Sea, is the longest and biggest river on the island of Borneo, Indonesia. Unlike the Cauvery or the myriad other great rivers that flow through our planet, the Kapuas seems to support few human settlements, at least in this part of Indonesian Borneo called Kalimantan Barat (or West Kalimantan.
The entire Indonesian portion of the Borneo island is referred to as Kalimantan in Indonesia). No flourishing civilisations have ever been found on its banks, no ancient ruins, no archaeological finds to challenge historians, and not even such modern townships that one finds in almost every corner of the earth. Could it be that the Kapuas holds brackish water, which can support little more than mangroves? I bend over the side of my tiny boat and scoop up a handful of water to taste it. It tastes different, but not brackish.


I N TE LUK M E LAN O village, where the speedboat ride to the Kubang hill begins.

This is the first part of a two-part article.


JANUARY 13, 2012



JANUARY 13, 2012

Our motorised canoe splices the tranquil water like an arrow and speeds merrily, riding the crest like a graceful swan, creating nary a ripple.
And, of course, there is absolutely no traffic on this river. Every 10 miles or so, an occasional village perched on stilts fleets past. Even these villages are recessed and away from the river and have no more than a dozen houses, all thatched and floating on water. You know there is a village only by a rudimentary jetty with logs bobbing up and down next to a floating platform made of bamboo and thatch. We stop over in one such village. We have to be hauled over a floating log and virtually pick our way through floating platforms. Now I know why there are not many settlements in this part of Kalimantan. There is hardly any land here on the banks of the river. Huts are perched on floating and shifting land.
Fishing is the sole sustenance of these villages. They do not even have regular transport to go to towns down the riv66


JANUARY 13, 2012


by the Kapuas.

Huts stand on stilts.

There is hardly any land on the banks of the river.




the Borneo rainforest from the top of the Kubang hill.


JANUARY 13, 2012


proboscis monkeys frolicking on the Kubang hill. (Below) The nest of the orang-utan.

er, only an occasional one like ours which would give them a ride. That means they are self-sustaining enough to remain isolated. We realise we are in the true wilderness.
Lush mangroves of a unique variety, some with fronds like tropical palms and others laden with fruits that look like mangoes but are inedible, wave a cheery welcome. The horizon is a perfect arc, splattered by a setting sun carelessly dripping resplendent ochre across the firmament. That skies like this still exist gives you an exhilarating sensation. The setting is tranquil to the point of being surreal. Cool

winds caress your face and transport you into another world – sublime and primordial. If ever there is something called bliss, this must be it.
We are on our way back from the
Kubang hill, where we had been, primarily to spot wild orang-utans and proboscis monkeys. The Kubang hill is somewhere in the deep jungles of Indonesian Borneo, reached only by the determined, persistent and hardy traveller. Ours is a motley group of two teenagers, two seniors and a middleaged woman, all from India. We had flown from Jakarta to Pontianak, a
West Kalimantan town perched right on the Equator, taken a seven-hour ferry to Ketapong along the shores of the South China Sea, driven a couple of hours in a sports utility vehicle to Sukhadana at the mouth of the Kapuas, and made it our pit stop to explore the wilderness around the region.
To get to the Kubang hill, the only hill for miles around in this flat plateau, dense with primordial jungles, you need to first drive to a village called
Teluk Melano and from there hire two speedboats – each can take no more than three, and we are five. The first couple of hours are a peaceful sail


through the Kapuas, the only sound being that of your outboard motor, with the fronds waving a ceremonial welcome and the expansive horizon receding further as you move towards it.
At some point you take a right turn into a mangrove creek where you transfer to two paddle canoes.
Canoeing in the creeks of the Bornean jungles is an experience of a lifetime. The creek is narrow – not more than eight feet wide in most places with sticky red residue floating along the edges, suggesting the presence of oil. The vegetation overhead is so low that in many places you have to crouch on the floor of the canoe to avoid getting tangled in the creepers and branches. They form a continuous canopy overhead all along the way. The reflections offer a kaleidoscope of unique designs that no graphic designer can hope to reproduce. There is deafening silence all around, occasionally rent by the helicopter-like sound of a hovering hornbill in search of its dinner or the strident calls of gibbons feuding over territory. The two young boys who paddle our canoe avoid making any sound so that we do not scare away game.

JANUARY 13, 2012


mangrove-canopied creek off Teluk Melano.

The setting is straight out of a ghost movie. Monster roots of mangroves jut out of the water in scary shapes; they appear double since the placid waters reflect them faithfully.
Even the tree trunks seem to take on a fierce demeanour like the forest in
Noddy books. The overhanging branches have all but blocked out any sunlight. We paddle gently and very slowly looking for movement on the banks. Ali, one of the paddlers, points to snakes dangling from the branches overhead. We can see only their pinkish underbelly. We deftly avoid the snake-laden branch to paddle deeper and deeper into the jungle. Occasionally a branch swings violently, testifying to the presence of a primate perhaps, but we can hardly see anything through the dense foliage. A rotting log felled by a tropical storm blocks our passage. The two boys climb down into the knee-deep water and heave it away from our path. Dar, our

guide, tells us how the previous year a crocodile had swallowed a local villager. That is when we realise how courageous the two village lads have been, rolling up their trousers and plunging into the waters.
After about two hours of paddling, we reach the Kubang hill camp, a halfbuilt shelter on one bank of the creek.
The Kalimantan forest department has put up this shelter but has not completed it yet. It still lacks a roof. It is most basic with absolutely no amenities, not even water. The bank is all clay; it is slippery and there are no steps or even a ladder. We have to heave ourselves up the slope to reach this partial shelter.
Earlier in the day, at Sukhadana,
Dar had been resourceful enough to pick up rice and vegetable stew wrapped in the local Bahasa newspapers.
We perch on fallen logs sprouting iridescent woodchips to savour our lunch. Butterflies in psychedelic colFRONTLINE


ours provide a fetching distraction.
And then begins our ordeal. We have to reach the top of the hill where there are massive durian trees bursting with fruit. Not that spotting durian takes any effort, your olfactory nerves sense their presence long before you spot them. Just follow your nose, as they say. Easier said than done though.
Each of us has two sticks to help us navigate this treacherous stretch through pristine jungle. There is kneedeep water throughout, left behind by the rains of the supposedly dry season.
No one minds getting wet, especially if you choose to come to Kalimantan, but here, at Kubang hill, you do not know what you are stepping on.
Often it could be a tree-stump that cuts your toes or tries to throw you off balance. But more often than not, you are the target of scores of leeches that latch themselves on to every part of your anatomy. We had to take off our shoes and wade barefoot and almost at



JANUARY 13, 2012

fronds like tropical palms.

every three metres or so, we would stop to pick out leeches from between our toes or from various parts of our feet and legs. Sometimes they manage to leap and settle on the neck or hand.
You pluck all those you notice, but what about all those you did not, especially because their bites are quite painless? Only the bloody clothes reveal how you have been outwitted by a mere leech that has had its fill and left its mark.
But leeches were the lesser of our problems on the Kubang hill. We could be stepping on snakes, venomous insects or plain thorny shrubs that could lacerate your feet. There is nary a dry spot throughout this trek. Many a time you step on a pile of metre-deep sodden leaves with insects lurking underneath. The trees in the jungle are so tall that you can hardly see the canopy unless you crane your neck. Finally,
Dar stops and points to a fruiting durian tree. The tree in the wild grows to a height of over 30 metres and its fruit is the favourite of orang-utans, gibbons

and macaques. But all you can see on top is a hairy blur and a fleeting flash of fur which Dar says is an orang-utan.
Despite tiptoeing to the spot, the big ape seems to have sensed our presence and with one swing of the branch, vanishes. All we are left with, after all this effort, is a violently shaking branch and a few durian peels, spiky and mushy, on the ground.
But orang-utan or no orang-utan, this forest is gloriously wild, a true feast for the senses. Even as your eyes take in chlorophyll that comes in a range of shades and shapes, your ears are tuned to the irresistible cacophony that rules the rainforest. Strange bird calls resound at sunset while insects set up their own orchestra. It either pours or drips, and you are perpetually drenched to the bone. Almost every other tree seems to sport an orangutan nest – a leafy pile that the primates make every night to lie on, but we cannot sight the beast. We spot quite a few gibbons. Soon it is time for us to turn back since the forest shelter


is not yet ready and there is no way of camping in this waterlogged jungle. So we reluctantly hop on to our canoes and paddle our way back through the same vine-festooned creek with its weird and varied flora and fauna. Once we reach the Kapuas river, we have a riot of proboscis monkeys darting from branch to branch, in an effort to catch the last of their supper before nightfall.
Our hotel in Sukhadana is a traditional Kalimantan structure perched on stilts and jutting out into the sea. Its walls are decorated with colourful and intricate rush mats woven by villagers in isolated hamlets. The hotel is surrounded by green expanse on three sides and an inscrutable grey sea on the fourth. We dine by moonlight on a wooden deck that overlooks the sea. In the morning, the low tide leaves behind sea snakes and scores of mud skippers; the latter entertain us with their mesmerising courtship dance.
Mudskippers are amphibians that use their pectoral fin on land and are quite at ease swimming in and out of slush.


JANUARY 13, 2012

Morals and progress
The author applies Gandhian principles in his collection of essays to show why ethics should become the basis for economic development. B Y C . T . K U R I E N
OOKS on ethics are rare to come by. Books on ethics by economists are still rarer. Apart from Amartya Sen’s On Ethics and
Economics (1987) there is not any that comes to mind immediately. This is not the only reason for the significance of M.V. Nadkarni’s book. Nadkarni the economist is a philosopher too, well acquainted with both Western and Indian philosophy. Writing from a
Gandhian perspective, Nadkarni is more rooted in Indian philosophy.
Even those who are not familiar with ethics as a field of inquiry will know that it is related to how one orders one’s life. Sen, writing on ethics and economics, had pointed out that for Socrates and Aristotle as well as for
Kautilya the basic ethical question was, “How should one live?” That is a broad enough question indeed and hence, as Nadkarni points out, will deal not only with specific issues such as economic development and environment, but also with broader ones such as humanism and religion.
But Nadkarni goes a step further.
He takes the position that both in the
Indian concept of dharma and in the
Western approach to ethics as moral philosophy, ethics is much more than a guide to good conduct. Ethics as a field of inquiry, he points out, is the quest for determining what is virtuous. It is in this sense that Bertrand Russell considered it a science. But since life consists of relationships, Nadkarni prefers to call ethics a social science which may not have the kind of precision that physical sciences claim to



Ethics for Our Times: Essays in Gandhian Perspective by
M.V. Nadkarni; Oxford
University Press, 2011; pages 262, Rs.650. have, but is very much an ordered line of reasoning and inquiry leading to propositions that can be generalised.
As the Gandhian perspective informs Nadkarni’s essays, his treatment of Gandhi’s position deserves special attention. Truth and non-violence were the guiding principles of Gandhi’s life and hence the essential principles of his ethics. He practised these twin principles in his personal life and put them forward as the basis for social life. The connection between truth as the principle for living and as the foundation for ethics can be seen from its
Sanskrit equivalent satya, which is derived from the verb sat, which means
‘to exist’. It is in this sense that truth is


the essence of being and of ethics. Ethics as moral truth is inclusive of “nonviolence, honesty, simplicity, self-control, equity and justice”. Truth is also the basis of knowledge. Says the German philosopher Herbert Marcuse: “If a man has learned to see and know what really is, he will act in accordance with truth.” It is this commitment to truth that made every aspect of Gandhi’s life “an experiment with truth”.
Satya led Gandhi to ahimsa as its practical or applied principle. Ahimsa for him was not merely abjuring violence, but represented the positive virtues of kindness, compassion and care.
In this sense ahimsa was complementary to truth, the two becoming two sides of the same coin. Because of this intimate link between truth and ahimsa, for Gandhi there was also an organic unity between ends and means.
Nadkarni applies these Gandhian principles to indicate why ethics should become the basis for economic development. From this perspective, economic development cannot be merely technological progress or the increase in things though both these may be necessary. To be meaningful and lasting, it will have to be the development of people, or human development in the broadest sense. Gandhi would have endorsed Amartya Sen’s view that development must aim at enabling all people, including (and especially) the weak and the differently abled, to achieve the fullness of their capabilities. For this to become a reality, much more than increases in income or even provision for individual advancement is required. There has to

JANUARY 13, 2012

be a collective effort, for in its absence the very process of development would become distorted with the few becoming acquisitive and the many being left untouched or even being pushed into adverse conditions. While Nadkarni emphasises this, he does not go into the necessary collective conditions.
Gandhi on moral grounds urged those with excess resources to treat these as trust being held for the common good, but there is hardly any historical evidence to prove that this would become effective either through individual decisions (though there are some noble exceptions) or on the basis of public appeals alone.
It is being recognised that in the process of economic development special consideration will have to be given to the environment. That indiscriminate use of natural resources can lead to depletion and damage is now widely accepted as a matter of global concern.
And even though there are no clear specific measures to avoid future catastrophes, there have been several rounds of discussions and negotiations to move forward with caution.
But there is a more basic question: is the only or even the most important reason to take nature seriously the fact that it is becoming limitational? We have the cultural tradition of referring to the earth as “Mother Earth”. Is this just a matter of reverence or is there a robust ethical basis for the respectful treatment of nature? To pose the question more sharply: human beings, of course, are dependent on nature and animals for their survival and well-being, but is that the only reason to respect nature and animals, or do they have rights of their own just as humans have their rights? To Nadkarni, that is the ethical question and his answer is clearly in the affirmative. If the basic aspect of ethical concerns is the transcendence of narrow self-interest and taking the interest of others also into account, these ‘others’ must include the animal kingdom and nature as well. That is Nadkarni’s position and he finds support both from Gandhi and the Bhagwad Gita. The reach of one’s caring for others in thought and

Commitment to truth made every aspect of
Gandhi’s life
“an experiment with truth”. action becomes the measuring rod of one’s moral standing, says Nadkarni.
There are bound to be situations where decision-making will become difficult if this approach is taken seriously, admits Nadkarni. What must be one’s approach to forests, for instance?
Should it favour nature as was shown in the decision regarding the Silent
Valley, or is it legitimate to destroy a part of nature for the sake of human welfare? Should rivers be let to take their course, or is it acceptable to divert their course, again to benefit human beings? In such instances, the ethical question is not merely nature versus humans but who among the humans must have priority: the urban dwellers who will have assured water supply, or the humans upstream whose dwellings will have to be uprooted?
Another dilemma that Nadkarni poses is that we who claim to have a rich cultural heritage which is ecofriendly do not seem to have any hesitation in polluting our rivers, including the ones considered to be sacred, and in callously piling up garbage in public places in urban areas.
One of the essays in the collection is a discourse on justice, taking off from Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice. Indicating that while ethics includes compassion, courtesy, generosity, tolerance, forgiveness and equanimity, it is chiefly justice because justice is the basis of collective life. A moral order or dharma is necessary to sustain society. That is why justice has received the attention of philosophers of the East as well as the West. As a background to a critical appraisal of
Sen’s position, Nadkarni pays special


attention to the philosophers Immanuel Kant and John Rawls. Sen admittedly builds on Rawls’ emphasis on rights, but Nadkarni brings into the discourse the traditional Indian concern for duty, especially Krishna’s advice to Arjuna in the Bhagwad Gita about the importance of doing one’s duty irrespective of the consequences.
Sen would not accept this position especially if it is raised to the status of niti, or absolute standard of justice.
Sen’s emphasis is on nyaya, or realisable justice. Nadkarni finds the sense of duty a more reliable guide for action as duties are more directly enforceable than rights.
To show that the concern for ethics is not confined to some higher realm removed from the ordinary pursuits of life, Nadkarni moves to its application in social science research. Understandably research in general, and social science research in particular, is on specific topics. ‘Narrowing down’ the scope of inquiry is a standard procedure in research. But Nadkarni points out that unless one keeps the larger domain in mind, inquiry into restricted aspects will tend to get distorted.
He emphasises the need for a ‘holistic approach’ in social science research.
Nadkarni quotes Tagore: “When we see the wholeness of a thing from afar that is true seeing: in the near view trivial details engage the mind and prevent us from seeing the whole, for our powers are limited.” In fact, this emphasis on wholeness can be traced back to the Gita. According to the Gita, knowledge that synthesises, which views the object of knowledge holistically, and finds what is unifying, common or universal from the diversity of particulars, and sees how different parts relate to each other is the highest form of knowledge. Meaningful research is totalising in essence.
Nadkarni deals with other issues also, conceptual as well as practical, thus demonstrating that ethics must be considered not as the exclusive domain of philosophers and savants, but as a guide to thought and action for all who take life seriously. Therein lies the value of this collection of essays.


JANUARY 13, 2012

Response & riposte
The Indian discourse on civilisation was not produced as a parallel to the discourse of nationhood, but as part of it. B Y B . S U R E N D R A R A O
HE colonial experience of
India has been, among other things, excitingly or sometimes sickeningly wordy.
The British conquered India as much and as often with words as with swords. They had much to say about the land and the people that came under their rule, to tell them what they had been before and what they would be under their rule. For the best part of the 19th century they had the rostrum all for themselves and had their monologue going, but thereafter, to the accompaniment of stirring nationalism, Indians began to “talk back”. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, in this brilliant exploratory book, traces the patterns and rhythms of the Indian response, which produced a good harvest, both sentimental and intellectual.
If they did not quite trigger a dialogue, they could at least produce an alternative discourse that increasingly grew more assured as Indian nationalism gathered strength.
But the initial British evaluation of
Indian civilisation was polyphonic.
There were curious explorers, critical missionaries, enthusiastic Orientalists, serious scholars, swaggering dilettantes and a whole lot of people who wanted to make sense of India. There was both Indomania and Indophobia, the former represented by Orientalists such as Sir William Jones, Charles
Wilkins, H.H. Wilson and their ilk, and the latter by missionaries who hoped their gospel would exorcise the primitive cults and religions of India, as also the ‘philosophical historian’
James Mill, who hoped to order the
British administration differently.
Mill’s History of British India (1817) had imperiously evaluated the Indian



Talking Back: The Idea of
Civilization in the Indian
Nationalist Discourse by
Sabyasachi Bhattacharya;
Oxford University Press, 2011; pages 182, Rs.495. civilisation, both Hindu and Muslim, and did so censoriously, declaring that
Indians were merely crawling pathetically at the lowest rung. Mill’s inferences were impudent and he did not seem to have any serious knowledge of, or familiarity with, India. Since his
History received official recognition at the Haileybury College and he himself got an influential position in the East
India Company, his judgments seemed to out-shout the findings and views of romantic Orientalists or even the occasionally sympathetic administrator-historians such as Mounstuart
Elphinstone and Sir Alfred Lyall. They formed the basis of the imperial theme of the white man’s burden of civilising
It was in the fitness of things that


the earliest graduates from Indian universities should respond to the British reproaches against Indian civilisation.
Bankimchandra Chatterjee and R.G.
Bhandarkar indeed did so. Influenced by the writings of Buckle, Lecky,
Comte, Herbert Spencer and others,
Bankim found that a drive for material betterment, which propelled Europe to the pursuit of rationalism and the cultivation of the natural sciences, was missing in Indian civilisation. Bankim’s early writings tended to excoriate
for this backwardness, although his later writings contained several tomes on religion and philosophy. While he was intensely patriotic, he did not find ancient Indian civilisation an ideal inspiration; he was sure India had many things to borrow from the West, particularly lessons in modern science and nationalism.
Bhandarkar was an assiduous Indologist who admired the Rankean ideal of critical scholarship. He was no blind admirer of ancient Indian civilisation, or of European scholarship on it. Reflecting the reformist mood of
19th century India, he believed that
“without a reform of our social institution real political advance is impossible”. He was also happy that some competent Europeans, “the apostles of a higher and progressive civilisation… had come out to rouse the mind and conscience of India…”
The mood, however, did not last long. Though history had but a feeble presence among the welter of interests of Mahatma Gandhi, his iconic little book Hind Swaraj (1909), written in
10 days while on a ship on his return from England to South Africa, has much to say on the theme of civilisa-

JANUARY 13, 2012

tion. Written in the form of a dialogue, it berates the materialistic, acquisitive
Western civilisation for trampling the rest of the world under its heels. Indian civilisation is projected as its antonym, as it were. The Mahatma owes his debt to Western thinkers like Ruskin, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Schlegel and others and yet indulges in “gross simplification of a complex European culture”. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya rightly thinks that here the Mahatma was using the West as a metaphor for the culture of materialism, of the conquerors. He would much rather define civilisation in moral terms.
Rabindranath Tagore’s engagement with the theme was, however, much more tortuous, nuanced and tension-ridden. Melding history with patriotism, he began with history as hero worship, but after 1902 increasingly came to contrast the aggrandising propensity of the state-centred civilisation of Europe with the assimilative genius of India. His famous critique of nationalism (1917) that it reeked of power and conquest was made against the backdrop of the First
World War. He declared that “India has never had a real sense of nationalism” and though brought up on the teaching that “idolatry of Nation is almost better than reverence for God and humanity, I believe I have outgrown that teaching”. He was critical of the nationalist adulation of India’s past, particularly of the caste system, whose immutability had become an anachronism, for “mutability is the law of life”. His ideas of India’s syncretism underwent changes in the last phase of his life, and he became increasingly sceptical of the role of religion. The forces of casteism, communalism and purblind traditionalism that stalked the country were too great for him to retain faith in the syncretism to which he was so fondly attached earlier.
In the nationalist perspective, Indian civilisation was often shown to possess a strong adhesive in Hindu culture, as may be seen in Radha Kumud Mookerji’s The Fundamental
Unity of India (1914) or even Vincent
Smith’s Oxford History of India

(1919), though neither was impressed with the idea of the assimilative chemistry of its civilisation. V.D. Savarkar’s notion of Hindutva, on the other hand, sought to set apart the timeless glory of
Hinduism from the intrusive diversities that beset the country, depriving the civilisation of its precious exclusivity – a wrong screaming out for redress. There were also scholarly responses to the phenomenon of diversity in the nationalist context, and
Sabyasachi Bhattacharya reminds us of the “archival movement” in Maharashtra with which the names of M.G.
Ranade and V.K. Rajwade are associated, as also of the work of Akshay
Kumar Maitreya in Bengal.

But mostly the association of Indian civilisation with spirituality seemed mulishly insistent, which could be slippery in the context of nationalist activism. Swami Vivekananda, who interpreted India to the West in nationalist idioms, sought to strike a balance between the spiritual and the material. For, mere reflective spirituality could be a recipe for retreat; what
Indians needed was “nerves of steel”; and if Indians needed to learn from the
West, the West too had much to learn from the East. It was a striking riposte to the familiar colonial prose. Aurobindo, a revolutionary who turned a philosopher-sage, developed the same idea, though at a more abstract level, and highlighted the difference between the East and the West without conceding the inferiority of the former.
The most well-known nationalist portrait of Indian civilisation appeared in Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India (1946), which seemed to orchestrate the familiar idea of unity in diversity with occasional poetic exuberance, as if to mask the harsher realities outside the Ahmedabad Fort Jail in which he wrote the book. But he was aware of its setbacks. He was aware that if the caste system had given the civilisation its continuity, it had also produced stasis and degeneration.
History for him was not a mirror of
Narcissus but a school of learning. Yet


syncretism remained a refrain in many of the reflective histories written on
India after Independence, by Abul Kalam Azad, Sardar K.M. Panikkar, M.
Mujeeb, S. Abid Hussain and others, carrying the debt of Nehru’s Discovery.
Sabyasachi Bhattacharya also follows the trails of evaluation of civilisation in India after Independence, in terms of its material basis, as D.D. Kosambi had done, or on synchronic lines, which sociologists like G.S. Ghurye and Nirmal Kumar Bose preferred.
He takes notice of the burgeoning literature on nationalism, figuring such scholars as Ernest Gellner, Benedict
Anderson and Eric Hobsbawm, which have sought to see nations as civilisations, reaching its reduction absurdum in Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations. Edward Said’s Orientalism
(1978) highlighted the hegemonic Euro-centrism stalking the world of knowledge and it has triggered a whole lot of debate in the post-colonial contexts and thinking. Once dismissed as a history-less culture, India is now shown as possessing her own historical sense and literature by Romila Thapar,
A.K. Warder, David Schulman, Sanjay
Subrahmanyam and others. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya also looks at the critical evaluation of European master narratives by Dipesh Chakrabarty and the India-centred thinking that has gone into it in the writings of Ashish
Nandy and Amartya Sen.
The Indian discourse on civilisation was not produced as a parallel to the discourse of nationhood, but as part of it. Civilisation does not suo moto describe itself; it does so only when it is inspired or provoked by an evaluation from outside. India’s nationhood was also similarly argued out as a response to its denials. The nationalist discourse of Indian civilisation was thus a response-discourse. It had accommodated many facts and hopes, naïveté and wish-fulfilments. They all go into the making of the nation. Their real test lies not in their ‘truth value’ but in the dynamic forces they released. Talking Back brilliantly brings out the complex terrain in which history speaks while making it.


JANUARY 13, 2012

Black and white
A posthumous compilation of Howard Zinn’s writings that challenge the ingrained opinions on racial matters. B Y S H E L L E Y W A L I A
OWARD ZINN, an important dissident voice in
America for half a century and one of the most prominent anti-racist essayists, educators and activists, has challenged racial inequities as a community organiser, public speaker, and writer. Having begun his career as the
Chairperson of the History Department in Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia, he came to an early understanding of upheavals in history seen in revolutionary movements which had behind them as impetus not leaders but people who forced upon the state the imperative of justice and responsibility. It being the oldest college for black girls, Zinn’s early views of the problem are framed within a location deeply volatile in its racial discriminatory culture. Incidentally, the writer and activist Alice Walker was his student here and spoke highly of
Zinn’s classroom lectures, which always remained relevant to the outside world and the demands of freedom and equality by Southern blacks soaked in a bloody history. Zinn writes: “I did not see how I could teach about liberty and democracy in the classroom and remain silent about their absence outside the classroom.”
He was pained to see around him no justice and no reason except the air filled with “blood and bullets exploding around the heads of sleeping children”. Harking back to the Russian civil war, Zinn remembers Tolstoy’s words:
“To make the individual sacred we must destroy the social order which crucifies him.” His passionate stand against racial discrimination brought him close to Martin Luther King and spurred him to initiate the Student



Howard Zinn on Race; Seven
Stories Press, New York; pages 239, $14.95.
Movement Coordinating Committee
(SMCC). He was dismissed from the college after seven years for ‘insubordination’, a dismissal that became the impelling force behind his unshakable pursuit of fundamental humanitarian principles and firm commitment to equality. Alice Walker, who also left the college later, expressed her admiration for Zinn: “What can I say that will in any way convey the love, respect, and admiration I feel for this unassuming hero who was my teacher and mentor.”
Professor Cornel West writes in the introduction to the book under review thus: “Zinn looked at history and soFRONTLINE


ciety through the lens of those Frantz
Fanon called the wretched of the earth
– poor and working people, women, gays, lesbians, indigenous people, Latinos, Asians, Jews, Arabs, and especially black people.” An activist throughout, he “moved smoothly from the library to the street, from the office to the jail, from the lecture room to the political rally”.
Standing up against the institutional and structural racism that pervades American society, Zinn, in his famous book A People’s History of the
United States, had drawn attention to history from below, a history where no one is a bystander but a participant:
“History looked at under the surface, in the streets and on the farms, in GI barracks and trailer camps, in factories and offices, tells a different story.
Whenever injustices have been remedied, wars halted, women and blacks and native Americans given their due, it has been because ‘unimportant’ people spoke up, protested and brought democracy alive.” The subaltern, thus, can speak, and speak to powers so as to make a difference.
Therefore, to the question “Does history have meaning?”, the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur’s ambiguous answer would be quite valid: “Yes, insofar as we are able to approach universality and systems; no, insofar as this universality does violence to the life of individuals whose singularity always remains invincible.”
In this singularity lie the voices of struggle of the marginalised in America which is mostly absent from history books. It is this absence that is given place in Zinn’s recent book, a compilation of his shorter writings and lectures, in which he gives his readers the experience of the key moments in his-

JANUARY 13, 2012

tory when “some of the bravest and most effective political acts were the sounds of the human voice itself”. The collection draws our attention to the major movements from the periphery that are not just imbued with words but raise vital issues concerning racism and class conflict.
At the heart of his writings is his ideology of “democratic socialism”, which he describes as “socialism that uses resources for human needs of production based on need rather than on profit, a roughly equal distribution of the country’s wealth; there should be no person without adequate health care, housing, employment. And there should be no control of thought or speech.” HISTORY OF SLAVERY

Examining the history of slavery, it becomes clear that the Declaration of Independence made on July 4, 1776, upholding the notions of equality, life, liberty and happiness, has been more or less a rhetoric that obliterates the right of the people to alter or abolish anti-racist, draconian practices. In spite of the constant dread of the lash, slaves could not be prevented from composing their own religious songs of resistance implying their disagreement with the sermon: “If you disobey your earthly master, you offend your heavenly Master.”
Fugitive slave author Harriet Jacobs has written on the relationship between the church and slavery and how religion was used as a tool to prevent slave rebellion. Zinn uses an advertisement which appeared in a
‘Runaway Slave Newspaper’ in 1835 to show how a reward of $100 for Harriet
Jacobs’ apprehension was one of the many such announcements intended for the perpetuation of slavery and blatantly opposed to the idea of freedom that the American leadership was so proud of.
Zinn takes up in this hard-hitting work the bitterness of the contemporary debate over racially charged issues and racial justice and the general nature and implications of liberalism in a nation which faces the worrying prob-

lem of intolerance. He maintains that social justice can be achieved only through fairness and not through the principle of colour blindness. It cannot be denied that people and institutions mete out treatment to individuals according to their colour though he realises that “once the superficiality of the physical is penetrated and seen for what it is, the puzzle of race loses itself in whatever puzzle there is to human behaviour in general. Once you begin to look, in human clash, for explanation other than race, they suddenly become visible, and even where they remain out of sight, it is comforting to know that these non-racial explanations exist, as disease began to lose its eeriness with the discovery of bacteria, although the specific problem of identifying each bacterial group remained.”
To evolve an unbiased action plan for the rights of the minorities, this paradox of universalism and cultural autonomy must be taken into account so that the politics of recognition and difference forms the basis of a critical frame that can counter any kind of cultural imperialism that fails to recognise both marginalised groups and particular identities. One way out of this impasse can nudge us towards a more accommodating liberalism which cuts down a little on the universalism aspect and gives concessions for the recognition of cultural groups.

The concept of universal human rights has been criticised by some who argue that these rights reflect the anti-communitarian, self-centred individualism of the
with a disproportionate focus on individual autonomy. It can instead be posited that communities can exist in modern
Western societies which protect not only the civil and political rights but the whole spectrum of individual human rights, including economic rights.
To my question whether he could elaborate on his becoming class-conscious at an early stage in life, Zinn had replied, “I grew up in a working class family, saw how hard my father


worked, how hard my mother worked, without becoming prosperous. On the other hand, I saw in newspapers and magazines the photos of the rich, and I could not tell whether they did any work or not, and when I found out what kind of work some of them did it seemed to me dangerous for society.
When I went to work in the shipyard, long hours, hard work, at little pay I realised that most of the people on the planet work hard, with very little compensation.” The essays in this collection are interesting although, in many ways, unsettling as they challenge the ingrained opinions on race matters. The influence of race on life in America cannot be denied. Provocatively and engagingly put, Zinn’s arguments and first-hand experience compel Americans to take serious cognisance of the
Declaration of Independence as well as the long tragic history of “blood and bullets” inflicted on their fellow citizens without any provocation.
The pervasiveness of racism even when a black occupies the White
House has a subconscious effect on
Americans that can only be altered by forcing the issue into the open. Zinn emphasises that white Americans themselves must be at the vanguard of the policy shifts essential to remedy the nation’s racial discrimination in crime, health, wealth, education and more. Zinn would like individuals to be treated fairly, and to achieve this, it would be important to enact colourconscious policies. In a post-racial society, race-bound problems require race-conscious remedies. The compilation of his writings, though posthumous, indeed makes a heartfelt plea for true equality, driving out the myth of racial transcendence in post-Obama
America, with emphasis on the ongoing need for civil rights action in this century. Zinn sends out a clear admonishment of his country’s rulers:
“Men who have no respect for human life or for freedom or justice have taken over this beautiful country of ours. It will be up to the American people to take it back.”

books/in brief

JANUARY 13, 2012

Srinagar’s grandeur
The two volumes document the built and natural heritage of the historic city of
Srinagar, which was founded over 1,500 years ago. B Y A . G . N O O R A N I
N a sense India has been more alienated from Kashmir than
Kashmir has been from India.
During the Raj there were some superb books on Kashmir’s beauty by men like Cecil Earl Tyndale-Biscoe, Arthur Neve, Frederick Drew and others. A small work published in 1888 ranks as a collector’s prize. It is Ince’s
Kashmir Handbook: A Guide for Visitors by Joshua Duke, who had served as Civil Surgeon in Gilgit and Srinagar.
It was a rewrite of Dr Ince’s book and deserves to be reprinted.
These two excellently produced



Shehar-i-Kashmir: Cultural
Resource Mapping of
Srinagar City (2004-05),
Volumes 1 and 2; Indian
National Trust for Art and
Cultural Heritage, J&K
Chapter; pages 888,
Rs.3,500 for the set. volumes are to be welcomed warmly.
They document and list the built and natural heritage of the historic city of
Srinagar, which was founded by King
Pravarasena II over 1,500 years ago.
Its history dates back at least to the 3rd century B.C.



Srinagar city from the
Hari Parbat Fort built in A.D. 1808.


Volume I has an informative introduction by M. Saleem Beg, Convener, Indian National Trust for Art and
Cultural Heritage (INTACH), J & K
Chapter, the moving spirit behind this project. A former civil servant, the Director General of Tourism, he is steeped in the State’s cultural history. It is a treat visiting historic sites in his company listening to his comments on their significance. There is a brief survey of history by Prof. R.L. Hangloo; an essay by Hakeem Sameer Hamdani on Srinagar; a description of the rich and varied architectural styles, followed by the meticulous cultural resource mapping spread over both volumes. The project began with Romi
Khosla’s report: Identification of Architectural Heritage Zone in Srinagar
City in 1989. The process was started in 2004. Four zones were identified.
The methodology is described clearly.
The results of this prodigious labour


are these most informative and excellently illustrated volumes. No such work exists on any other city of the entire subcontinent. But then, Srinagar is unlike any other city; it is the repository of varied influences.
Saleem Beg and his colleagues wisely associated the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organisation (UNESCO) in the work.
It presents in rich authentic detail the mapping of the architectural and cultural assets of the city of Srinagar, capturing its medieval-world charm. The work covers the geographic and sociocultural history of Kashmir; the evolution of Srinagar city, settlement pattern and city life; the monumental, colonial and vernacular architectural traditions of the region along with various building typologies; the decorative and architectural elements that define Kashmiri architecture, along with pictures; and the architectural and historical description, condition assessment and grading of more than
800 listed properties and precincts with photographs of religious, residential, civic, public, natural and manmade sites, including the historic
Mughal gardens.
The book also includes tables on major socio-cultural events of the city, man-made and natural disasters, and residential neighbourhoods associated with different arts and crafts of Kashmir. The properties listed in the book have been mapped on a heritage map for 130 sq km of the historic city of
Srinagar and its colonial extensions.
The two volumes are more than a feast for the eyes. They promote thought. This is a historically and culturally rich city. Time has not served it well. books/interview

JANUARY 13, 2012

Biographer of cancer
In conversation with Siddhartha Mukherjee, who won the Guardian First Book award for “The Emperor of All Maladies”. B Y D E C C A A I T K E N H E A D
T is the convention of awardsceremony etiquette for the winner to perform a convincing impression of bashful disbelief. The man I met just hours before he was awarded the Guardian First Book award on December 1 has just stepped off a flight from New York, however, only an hour ago, and his bearing does not say “What, little old me? Wow!” so much as “So what time is it here anyway?” In fact, he conveys that precise blend of exhaustion, distraction and authority instantly recognisable from any hospital ward in the world. This should come as no surprise, for he is a senior oncologist – assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, and staff cancer physician at Columbia
University Medical Centre. And yet, until we met it had seemed scarcely possible that the author of The Emperor of All Maladies (Scribner, New
York; pages 592) could really be an actual doctor and not a writer, so exquisitely is his book crafted and paced.
Published a year ago, The Emperor of All Maladies has won the Pulitzer
Prize for non-fiction, been shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle award, and named one of the Top 10
Books of the Year by The New York
Times, Time magazine and Oprah
Winfrey; the sort of success that soars beyond the wildest heights of literary ambition into the stratosphere of fantasy. Yet when Siddhartha Mukherjee talks about his book, it is with a striking air of uninterested detachment. At first I put it down to jet lag.
Then I think, no, of course, the poor man must just be so accustomed by now to the carousel of plaudits and prizes and media demands, he has re-


ached the glaze of autopilot. Soon, though, I realise that is not it either.
Mukherjee’s impression of reluctant ownership of his own success is, I suspect, down to a profound sense of personal insignificance in the face of his subject’s enormity. Mukherjee decided to write a history of cancer when a terminally ill patient asked him a simple question: could he explain exactly “what it is I’m battling?” But as
Mukherjee immersed himself in research, the disease quickly began to assume the characteristics of a personality, and so cancer’s historian became its biographer.
He takes us from the earliest records of cancer in 2,500 BC, through medieval theories of black bile and bloodletting, on to the surgical butchery of 19th-century mastectomies, performed with no anaesthetic or penicillin but reckless confidence, be80


fore reaching the rollercoaster of 20thcentury medical politics, which swung between indifference, euphoria and despair, each wild lurch owing more to socio-economic fashion than to anything resembling solid science. Mukherjee brings every new medical plot twist alive by populating the pages with a vivid cast – patients, physicians, politicians and, at times, himself – whose humanity and fallibility elevate what might have been a dry medical textbook into a thriller, thus presenting the publishing world with quite a category challenge.
“I couldn’t write a book proposal,”
Mukherjee explains, “because it was impossible to explain. How do you explain that there’ll be a thread of memoir in it, which is small, and then the backdrop, which is much, much larger? One of the things about the book is that the scale shifts very dramatically; you’re in a very narrow pinhole” – an individual’s story – “and then in something much larger, and you go back and forth.
The book lives in its seams, it lives in the connections in the shifts between scale, so it was really like writing a jigsaw puzzle. How do you fit all these moving parts together? You can’t explain that in a book proposal.” So the doctor had another idea. “I thought: you know what, I’m just going to write the book.”
After 250 pages, he showed it to publishers. “Their response was very bipolar, very two-sided. Either publishers said: ‘’No one’s going to read about cancer’ – or they said: ‘My God, why hasn’t this book been written before?’” Some were worried cancer would scare readers off. “To me that was the wrong response, because if

people are scared, then that’s all the more reason to talk about it.”
I confess that when I first heard about the book, it struck me as a marketing stroke of commercial genius – for what reader exists in the world who is unaffected by cancer? “Yes,” Mukherjee concedes. “But it’s not a feelgood memoir. It’s not your plucky, feelgood cancer memoir.”
Instead, he wanted to write an intelligent examination of a complex and highly technical subject, and yet accessible enough for a total novice to find it readable. But Mukherjee knew next to nothing about the discipline of writing.
“So I invented rules, such as you won’t go through two chapters without meeting a real human character. How does one write the history of the epidemiology of cigarette smoking, for example – which is so abstract, and a story we all know superficially – how can one write that as if it’s a discovery, so that you feel it’s a discovery? It was very important to me to write this book not as an expert. Because writing anything as an expert is really poisonous to the writing process, because you lose the quality of discovery. So every time I felt I knew something particularly well
I tried to unlearn it, and learn new things.” But how did a literary novice, with a full-time job and a young family, teach himself to write so beautifully? “I think the cardinal rule of learning to write is learning to read first. I learned to write by learning to read.” He read everyone from Susan Sontag to Primo
Levi and Mary Shelley, but wrote the book in 15-minute bursts, snatched from scrag ends of his working day.
“But the book was also a conversation going on in my head,” he quickly adds,
“so I’d write after thinking for five hours.” One of its most arresting observations was inspired by a conversation between Mukherjee and a friend many years earlier “about the nature of interior and exterior”, which returned to him as he was working on the book.
“Every era,” it suddenly struck him,
“casts cancer in its own image.”

The United States in the 1970s was haunted by Cold War fears of the enemy within – and so the “big bomb” was replaced by “the big C”. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) overshadowed the following decade, and then the search for cancer-causing viruses became oncology’s new obsession.
Now that we are obsessed with genetics, the focus of research has moved on to hereditary causes. “When a disease insinuates itself so potently into the imagination of an era,” he writes, “it is often because it impinges on an anxiety latent within that imagination.”
If the book has one pre-eminent message, it is simple: “Cancer is not one disease, but many diseases.” A silver bullet that could cure all forms is a fallacy, he argues, because every cancer is a different disease, demanding different treatment. We have to stop talking about cancer, and think about cancers. Other central themes are more nuanced. The “war on cancer” declared by
U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1971, a convert to the populist campaign of pressure conducted by a socialite lobbyist called Mary Lasker, was supposed to represent a victory. In fact,
Mukherjee argues, it became responsible for propagating the scientifically baseless delusion that government money could cure cancer as easily as it had landed men on the moon. The simplistic hubris of Lasker’s slogan –
“Let’s find a cure for America for its
200th birthday. What a great gift that would be” – draws a wry smile from
Mukherjee. “But was it all useless hubris?” he reflects. “Absolutely not. This kind of rhetoric also swept away the cobweb of nihilism that had so deeply surrounded cancer.”
He is similarly ambivalent about the impact of Nixon’s war on cancer on research methods and funding. Until then, scientists had been largely free to pursue their own theories, however outlandish – but the war on cancer would now be won by bureaucrats demanding goal-orientated research defined by strict parameters.
Nixon’s war had no place for the colourful, constitutionally ungovernFRONTLINE



JANUARY 13, 2012


was very important to me to write this book not as an expert. Because writing anything as an expert is really poisonous to the writing process.” able and haphazardly qualified experimentalists who had dominated the field of cancer research until then, and
Mukherjee’s respect for those earlier pioneers is palpable throughout his book. Does a part of him wish he had been born earlier, into the early 20thcentury generation working in the wild west of research? “Yes, absolutely. The
National Cancer Institute was literally called the wild west of cancer, because they did all these things that would have been impermissible today.” The professionalisation and specialisation of medical training today has come at the cost of inspired idiosyncrasy, he suspects. “We have lost something.”
Mukherjee himself belongs to an altogether different era – less flamboyantly anarchic, more cautiously measured. Born to middle-class Indi-

books/interview an parents in New Delhi in 1970, he studied at Stanford before winning a
Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, and fell almost by accident into oncology while at Harvard. He has that impenetrable sheen of the Ivy League star – effortlessly sophisticated and erudite, but ultimately rather unknowable – but his aversion to medical dogma is clear.
Still, I cannot help asking for a ruling on some of the questions most of us wonder about today. Can a positive mental attitude, for example, really cure cancer?
“I think it does a nasty disservice to patients. A woman with breast cancer already has her plate full, and you want to go and tell her that the reason you’re not getting better is because you’re not thinking positively? Put yourself in that woman’s position and think what it feels like to be told your attitude is to blame for why you’re not getting better. I think it’s nasty.” But is it true?
“No, I think it’s not true. It’s not true.
In a spiritual sense, a positive attitude may help you get through chemotherapy and surgery and radiation and what have you. But a positive mental attitude does not cure cancer – any more than a negative mental attitude causes cancer.”
A lot of my friends worry that stress is going to give them cancer. “I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s true. There’s a role of the immune system in cancer, but it’s not as simple as people make out. It’s not as if you get stressed, your immune system gets depressed, and all of a sudden you get cancer. Some cancers are more affected by it, such as lymphomas. But others – for example breast cancer – have very little to do with the immune system. There’s no evidence that stress gives you breast cancer.” And yet we – particularly women – have been encouraged to blame ourselves for cancer. Mukherjee cites a study which found that women with breast cancer recalled eating a high-fat diet, whereas women without cancer did not. But the very same study had asked both sets of women about their diets long before any of them developed cancer, and the diet of those who

JANUARY 13, 2012

now had breast cancer had been no more fatty than the rest. “In other words, women with breast cancer recalled – I suspect in an attempt to essentially blame themselves – having diets high in fat. It tells you how biased recollection is – but also how stigmatised the idea is, even today, because women think I must be to blame for something, I must have done something to myself.”
When people ask Mukherjee to name the five things they should do to prevent cancer, he tells them: “Give up smoking, give up smoking, give up smoking, give up smoking, give up smoking.” Like most of us, I’ve often been told that oncologists smoke more than anyone else – but when I ask how many of his colleagues smoke, he looks surprised. “Now? None. Zero. It used to be true. But not now.”

“A positive mental attitude does not cure cancer – any more than a negative attitude causes cancer.”
What does he make of that other popular claim – that people have cured themselves of cancer with a diet of fruit juice and wheatgrass? “More power to them,” he shrugs, reaching for his coffee. How does he explain their claims?
“We know there are spontaneous remissions in cancer, it’s very well documented. Many cancers are chronic remitting relapsing diseases – that’s their very nature. And human beings are pattern-recognising apes. It’s the secret of our success; we recognise patterns. So we induce patterns; we have an unbelievably inductive imagination, and we say to ourselves, if the sun rose in the east for the last 365 days it must rise in the east tomorrow. So we


typically indulge in inductive rather than deductive reasoning. It’s very successful. But the problem with pattern recognition in this context is that it can become flawed. You might have a chronic remitting relapsing cancer and imagine it’s remitting because you’re drinking apple juice. But I don’t think it’s true. I think you’re having a chronic remitting relapsing cancer – and that’s the nature of your cancer.
“Maybe there are miracle substances out there that change the behaviour of particular cancers,” he adds diplomatically. “But history suggests to us that we have to be sceptics here. If it was so simple then it would have been solved a long time ago.”
Mukherjee could scarcely be less like the medical zealots he writes about in the early years of cancer research, who come across as frankly raving egomaniacs. The question that elicits by far his most unqualified response concerns the other books on the Guardian prize shortlist. “I read many of them.
Amy Waldman is a very good friend, and I’d have given the prize to Amy – it’s an amazing book, a transformative book, it’s riveting and smart, and it’s contemporary without being like a schtick. I loved it.”
In fact, he mentions, chuckling,
“my wife [the artist Sarah Sze] and I are both in the credits. I think Amy’s in my credits too. How many times has there been a book prize in which two shortlisted books have actually been critiqued and edited by other shortlisted authors?”
The self-effacement makes me wonder how he has coped with his transformation from a jobbing oncologist to an international literary star.
“I’ve tried to take it in my stride,” he says. “And the research grounds you because of the uncertainty – 99 per cent of what we do in the laboratory is going to fail. So you deal with failure in a very fundamental way. And I was on call last weekend, the Thanksgiving weekend – and that grounds you. All of a sudden you come into hospital, and it grounds you in a way that’s essential.”
© Guardian News & Media 2011


JANUARY 13, 2012

Looking back
In the new year let there be more transparency in decision-making and discussions, unlike 2011, which had more than its fair share of crises.
HIS essay is being written in the last days of 2011, a year that had more than its fair share of crises and traumas, and is being read in the early days of 2012, a time of expectation and anticipation about the new year and what it may bring. That makes it, possibly, the most pleasant part of the year, of any year.
But the sense of anticipation should not make us forget what happened in the past year or in the years before that; pleasant or unpleasant, the experiences of previous years have a bearing on events in a new year. They may be events that begin in the new year or the planning for events that may begin in the years to come.
One should not, for example, forget the United Progressive Alliance
(UPA) government’s mindlessness in taking a decision to allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail when Parliament was in session.
Such a decision, entirely within the remit of the government, could have been taken at another time that would have allowed for some consequent action, even if it was only in the stock market. It would have also gone down
– these decisions are known far more quickly now than they were a generation ago – to the level of the farmers and one would have been able to gauge their reaction to it.
Instead, someone was being too clever by half when he/she counselled that the decision be taken when Parliament was in session, obviously under the harebrained belief that it would either be barely noticed because of
Parliament’s preoccupation with the
2G spectrum scam and the Lokpal Bill, or that it would divert attention from


Point of View
BHASKAR GHOSE these issues. Either result, so the clever cuts thought, would give the government some breathing time. Neither of the two happened; Parliament was stalled for days on end, and the government had, in the end, to back-track and agree to defer the decision on FDI in retail. Nor did the hammering the government received on the Lokpal
Bill or the 2G spectrum scam ease; if anything, the 2G spectrum scam’s ambit spread to the Union Home Minister.
Perhaps in the new year the government will learn to be wiser in timing its decisions; as the opposition may also do. L.K. Advani’s yatra achieved nothing except the fanning of speculation on who the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was going to be. The trouble with the BJP is that it seems to think elections are imminent and has already started jockeying for positions in a government it fancies it will form.


However, these are just instances of public decisions that have proved to be hopelessly ill-timed; one is not really talking about those but about the host of other decisions taken by individuals, groups, corporates, associations and, of course, governments.
Too often we go ahead with the here and now, and only rarely look back at past decisions to identify mistakes or successes and use them to make present decisions more practical and valuable.
It conforms uncannily with a fine poem written by the American poet
John Crowe Ransom, which I must reproduce to make the point:
I am a gentleman in a dustcoat trying To make you hear. Your ears are soft and small
And listen to an old man not at all,
They want the young men’s whispering and sighing,
But see the roses on your trellis dying And hear the spectral singing of the moon; For I must have my lovely lady soon, I am a gentleman in a dustcoat trying. I am a lady young in beauty waiting Until my truelove comes, and then we kiss.
But what grey man among the vines is this
Whose words are dry and faint as in a dream?
Back from my trellis, Sir, before I scream! I am a lady young in beauty waiting. If one takes the old man to be the



JANUARY 13, 2012

FDI in Lucknow on December 1. The UPA government decided to allow FDI in multi-brand retail when Parliament was in session.


past year, and the young woman to be the new one, the relevance is apt. The words of the old man are “dry and faint” as indeed are, to many in high places, the experiences of the last year.
And thus what the past is trying to tell the present is not really heard – that the present too will wither like the
“roses on the trellis dying” and become what he, the old man, is. The arch of time, the poet says, and says with truth, is too often forgotten in the magic of the present.
What one is trying to underscore is that in major policy decisions, at the level of the state and individually in one’s personal life, the consciousness of the past, particularly the immediate past, needs to be a major factor. It is, in many cases; equally it is not in some.
And quite often this indifference to what has gone before, just before, can have grave consequences.
If nothing else, the Commonwealth Games and 2G spectrum scams revealed how imperative transparency is in all public decisions; and yet many

decisions will be taken under a shroud of secrecy in the new year.
We tend, particularly in administrative matters, to use the bogey of security to quell any questioning, any demand to know the facts. But what is security? What is it that makes it possible for some people, who may be academically third class or mediocre second class at best, to decide that others, who are far more intelligent than them, are not supposed to know? It

The CWG and
2G spectrum scams revealed how imperative transparency is in all public decisions. 84


leads to a general conviction that secrecy is a cloak for thievery, for making money. If it is not, as is loudly claimed, then let people know that without the ludicrous excuse of security. Everyone except a complete fool knows that those we consider as having interests inimical to ours know all there is to know about us; technology and plain bribery are effective enough. The only ones who are kept in the dark are the people. Which is why one makes this plea: for goodness’ sake, let there be more transparency in our decision-making and discussions. Let us not make the mistakes we made in the past and then have the media burrow into files and records and drag out the real state of affairs. That only makes the state look silly; and it is left with such comic excuses as “drafting errors” and someone “forgetting” something, and so on.
If we can do that in all walks of life, we will make the new year a more open, free and less oppressive one than it might otherwise be.


JANUARY 13, 2012

Achuthan’s journey
Achuthan Kudallur, the reputed abstractionist, is one of those artists who get their teeth into their idiom through sheer intuition. B Y T H E O D O R E B A S K A R A N

WHEN the artist Achuthan Kudallur, along with the poet Manushyaputhiran, appeared on a Tamil television show and talked on the Mullaperiyar dam issue a few weeks ago, he established that sensitive artists, with their concern for the external world and people, can play a critical role in society. The Chennai-based Achuthan has been active on the national art scene for the past 30 years and has emerged as an internationally reputed abstractionist.
The art historian Ernst W. Koelnsperger of Munich records: “You have the impression that his pictures are breathing, that they can be recognised like pulsars from a faraway colourful yet always systematic world nearby. Kudallur definitely is one of the few international artists who have retained in their pictures the colourful vivacity of the ‘cosmos’ – and
‘cosmos’ being the Greek word for ‘gem’ in the sense of diversity. The luminous power of his absolute colours gives an almost mythical power to his pictures, which seem to come from inside, and we here very clearly see the relationship with the term ‘cosmos’ as medieval philosophers used it.”
Except for the evening classes Achuthan attended at the Government College of Fine Arts in Madras
(now Chennai), he has had no formal education in art. (The Madras Art Club, which functioned until
1980, conducted evening classes for aspiring artists and also prepared those who wanted to join the institute for regular courses.) Clearly, Achuthan is one of those artists who get their teeth into the idiom they handle through sheer intuition. In 1972, K.C.S.


He has an important place in the development of an abstract idiom in India though he had no formal education in art except for the evening classes he attended at the Government College of Fine
Arts in Chennai.

ACHUTHA N KUD ALLUR . LI KE most painters, he began his artistic journey with figurative works, including line drawings.

Panikkar and Sultan Ali were selecting paintings of members of the Madras Arts Club to be exhibited in the annual show conducted by the British Council.
Two works of Achuthan were chosen, a watercolour and a drawing in crayon. That was his first show.
Like most painters Achuthan began his artistic journey with figurative works, including line drawings. He did many illustrations for magazines and book covers, which incidentally brought modern art closer to readers unfamiliar with the idiom. It was a time when he was nursing a desire to be a writer in
Malayalam. In fact, his short stories appeared in
Malayalam magazines such as Kalakaumudi, Anveshanam and Sameeksha. He would often think of the pictorial possibilities of what he read. When he read Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis, one of his favourite authors, the scene in which Zorba is holding on to a window, digging his nails into the sill and looking at the hills beyond and then just dropping dead made a big impact on Achuthan. He won85

JANUARY 13, 2012

6 0 ” X 120”

acrylic on canvas. In the collection of the Airports Authority of India, Mumbai International Airport.

dered whether he could capture that moment on canvas, but he could not think of ways to bring out visually the emotional dimensions of the scene.
Many modern artists have experienced this sense of slippage between word and feeling. But Achuthan did produce many works that captured the spirit of the subject. I recall the cover drawing titled “Dark Interiors” he did for a government report on job opportunities for visually handicapped people. India Today (Malayalam) carried drawings of well-known artists to illustrate short stories. Achuthan’s drawings illustrated stories by Paul
Zachariah and Vaikom Muhammad
During this figurative phase, he produced some disturbing images of alienation and fear. One such memorable work is an oil painting titled “The
Song for the Dead”, now in the collection of Neville Tully. It has been used on the cover of the English translation of M.T. Vasudevan Nair’s anthology of short stories titled The Demon Seed and Other Writings. The English version of Asokamithran’s famed novel
The Eighteenth Parallel had Achuthan’s drawing on the cover.
But in a few years, he got bored

with figurative work. He found painting a figure or two and then balancing the background as the space demanded monotonous. He termed it objectspace paradigm and found that it was becoming formulaic. This realisation pushed him away from the world of figures and towards abstraction. This was a turning point in his artistic career. However, he points out that abstraction is a natural extension of figurative work. The general sense of ferment that prevailed in the south in those years in art and literature facilitated this transition on the part of

In the first one-man show he held, in
1977 at the Max Mueller Bhavan in
Chennai, he exhibited a few figurative paintings but the others were abstract works through which his mature art began appearing. When he moved to abstraction from figurative paintings, colour was his primary concern. In each of his paintings, one colour dominates, particularly red. Gita Hudson, a
Chennai-based artist and film-maker, made a 35-minute documentary on
Achuthan titled Red Symphony.
When he moved from figurative to


abstract work, he was not clear about the possibilities. For him it was uncharted territory, where more challenges awaited him in terms of colour and space. During this early phase, some of his paintings were reminiscent of certain aspects of nature, such as the bark of a tree or a rocky surface.
He found it difficult to get rid of this likeness at first, but was able to achieve that in time. Now he confidently states that his kind of abstraction does not try to report nature and that it has an autonomous existence of its own, in colour. For him, it is not a mutilated version of nature but something that comes from within. Even his figurative works are not from nature. He would describe them as expressionistic.
Achuthan has an important place in the development of an abstract idiom in India. When abstractionism blossomed in the Madras Art Movement in the 1970s, through the works of Achuthan, K.M. Adimoolam and V.
Viswanathan, critics did not notice it much as the vocabulary to deal with abstract art did not exist in Madras at that time. Achuthan was one of the early painters, along with V.S. Gaitonde and S.H. Raza, to show the rest of the world, particularly in the 1970s,

JANUARY 13, 2012

that there was indeed a vibrant abstract school in India. Critics outside
India were surprised by these paintings and the modernism and contemporariness that they represented.
Achuthan points out that it is not correct to say that abstraction was brought in from the West. There has always been a streak of abstraction in
Indian painting, and he cites examples from Ajanta and the Sittannavasal frescos. He says he sees an element of abstraction controlling these murals, not in thematic content but in the placing of shapes and in breaking the picture plane.
Born in 1945 in Kudallur in Palakkad district in Kerala where his father was a schoolteacher, Achuthan grew up in a village where the rivers Bharathapuzha and Kunthipuzha meet.
Electricity came to the village only in
1960. But there was a lot of light owing to the vast expanse of sky over the river.
While in school, Achuthan started drawing, and some of his pictures were exhibited on school day. Although he secured the first rank in the school, the family could not afford to send him to college. The erosion created by the river had caused losses to the family property. He got a diploma in civil engineering and moved to Chennai in
1964. Achuthan realised that it would be a dead-end career and so joined evening classes to get an AMIE (Associate Member of the Institution of Engineers) certificate. He could not finish that course and joined the Railways where he worked for nine months.
Then a regular job in the Public Works
Department of the Tamil Nadu government came his way. Assured of a regular income, Achuthan continued his inner search. The opportunities
Chennai offered – to be in touch with artists, watch films and go to concerts – made him give up promotions and stay on in the city.
Sitting on the terrace of his Neelankarai house, not far from the seafront, I have had many interesting conversations with Achuthan. Although rather taciturn, he is fascinating when he gets talking. He has remained single not by default; he has

"H O M A G E TO HUS A I N " , 48” x 48” acrylic on canvas.

" Y ELLO W 2", 24”

x 24” oil on canvas.



JANUARY 13, 2012


x 48” acrylic on


4 6 ” X 33”

acrylic on canvas, untitled.

well-thought-out reasons for the life he has chosen. He says: “Most of them
[marriages] exist on the anxiety of tomorrow. I am not against that kind of life but I could not fit into that routine.” Achuthan responds intensely to literature, music and films. He can talk comfortably about contemporary Tamil and Malayalam writers in addition to his English favourites. At one stage in his life, he was deeply engaged with the subject of suicide. But one reading of Albert Camus’ Rebel changed his life. Now he believes that what is important is the intensity of life. It is a great experience to watch films with him and discuss them later. His participation in the Film Appreciation

"G R E E N ", 24” X

course at the Pune Film Institute has honed his perception of cinema. He is familiar with the works of masters, in
India and abroad. “After seeing a great film, you are not the same person,” he says. “Such a film creates a new awareness in you of life and the world.”
He often discusses music in the context of abstract painting. It is not literature, he points out, but music that he would compare with abstract art. Artists handle colour in an abstract work the same way musicians handle sound. We have two musical traditions
– Hindustani and Carnatic – that are very abstract. We enjoy this music not so much for the lyrics as for the patterns of the sound created.
After nearly 10 years, Achuthan


24” oil on canvas.

will hold a one-man show at the Vinnyasa Premier Art Gallery, Chennai, from January 5 to 15, 2012. Since his first show in Chennai in 1977, he has held 23 one-man exhibitions all over the country, the last being in Kochi in
2010. This is in addition to the several group exhibitions he has participated in, in India and other countries.
Awards have come his way: the Tamil Nadu Lalit Kala Akademi award in
1982, the National Academy Award in
1988 and nomination as a commissioner for the 10th Indian International Triennial in 2001. His works are sold at Sotheby’s and Christie’s (both in London), and he maintains his stature as an internationally respected abstract artist, prolific and fecund.


JANUARY 13, 2012

Of Quit India,
Nehru & CPI split
Stalin upbraided CPI leaders for not supporting the Congress on the Quit India
Movement. B Y A . G . N O O R A N I

OF all the Communist leaders interviewed in the
Oral History Programme of the Nehru Memorial
Museum & Library in New Delhi, Makineni Basavapunniah was the most outspoken. The armed struggle in Telangana, which began in 1946, was directed against the Nizam’s government. But “from September 1948 onwards it was regular armed invasion. It was not a police action. Either the special armed police or the Malabar Police or the army, nearly
50,000 were employed for three full years to suppress the movement. Indian Army was not more than one and a half lakh or two lakhs in those days. A good part of it was locked up in Kashmir. Other part had to remain somewhere stationary. Then to spare as nearly 40,000-50,000 armed forces at one spot was not a small thing. So they concentrated their best and did their worst. Ten thousand people were put as detenus for three-four years; nearly a lakh of people were put in concentration camps for months on end;

This is the last part of a three-part article.


“Stalin also cautioned the CPI leaders that the Nehru government was not a puppet government. It had a social base and mass support and could not be overthrown easily. He asked the leaders to... work together, save the party and take it forward.”

was a member of the
Communist delegation that met Stalin in Moscow.
Here, he is giving a talk on "My visit to Russia" in the weekly BBC Marathi magazine programme
"Radio Jhankar". The others in the delegation were Ajoy Ghosh, M. Basavapunniah and
C. Rajeswara Rao.

S . A. D AN G E . HE

thousands of women were raped.” Dr Hari Dev Sharma asked: “By the military?” Basavapunniah replied:
“Of course, military and the other armed forces, like
Central Reserve Police, Malabar Police, Special Police, like that so many.”
He added: “Particularly after September 1948 when the Government of India intervened, as I said earlier, it intervened with very big armed forces. The entire modern military technique was used against us. General J.N. Chaudhuri, who intervened there on

JANUARY 13, 2012

behalf of the Government of India, took hardly half a dozen days to manage the army of the Nizam and the
Razakars, etc. After that the main direction was against the Communist
Party which was leading the struggle.”
He explained why he developed reservations over the Ranadive thesis adopted by the Second Party Congress at Calcutta in February 1948. Experience in Telangana flew against the thesis. “The Andhra document was submitted in the month of May 1948.
The Politburo was keeping its discussions confined to it till the month of
November 1948. So it was only in the month of November and December
1948 that this reached all the State units. The whole of the year 1949, there was an inner party discussion going on. By March 1950 the whole cycle was complete and the line that was adopted at Calcutta was proved wrong and we were asked to take the responsibility of the Central Committee leadership. Then came the question of going and meeting Stalin, and then working out all the lines.” The Communist Party of India unit in Andhra disagreed with the leadership. In the earlier articles, we have Basavapunniah’s account of the Moscow meeting, which was arranged to avert a split.
Like his colleagues, P. Sundarayya also dilated on the alliance with the
Congress Socialist Party in the 1930s and how the Kerala, Andhra and Madras units of the CSP went over to the
CPI. Conflict was inherent in the alliance. “Right from the beginning, from
1934 itself, this conflict had been there.
Because in the earlier period, some of our writings [aid] that Congress Socialism was contradictory in words and would pave way to fascism. Such kind of articles were written. The
[Congress] Socialist Party leadership also attacked [saying] that the communists were responsible for fascism coming in Germany by not having a united front. They had their own ideology; Gandhian ideology also influenced [sic] that the communists were anti-national. They also used to say all these things…. Similarly, Sajjad Zaheer, Dr K.M. Ashraf, Dr Z.A. Ahmed,

Dange was a fascinating character, a brilliant orator, pamphleteer and a supple tactician. [Soli] Batliwala were all big Congress leaders; they were all leftists and were in the Congress Socialist Party. They were all pro [communists]; some of them were party members also.… So, this struggle went on till they found that they could not function in a united way. Then they decided to remove us and we also found that it was difficult to convince a good chunk of them. We had to function more and more independently than through the Congress
Socialist party. That phase came towards the end of 1938.”

Sadly, S.A. Dange’s recorded Interview ends abruptly before the crises of the
1940s. He was a fascinating character, a brilliant pamphleteer, orator and a supple tactician. He was known to be close to the mill owner Sir David Sassoon. On March 7, 1964, Current, a
Bombay [now Mumbai] tabloid, edited by D.F. Karaka, published a letter from Dange to the Governor-General of India dated July 28, 1924, from Sitapur jail in the United Provinces (U.P.) where he was serving a four-year sentence in the Kanpur Conspiracy Case.
It said: “Exactly one year back, the
Deputy Commissioner of Police of
Bombay, Mr Stewart, was having a conversation with me, in his office regarding my relations with M.N. Roy and an anticipated visit to me of certain persons from abroad. During the course of the conversation the Honourable officer let drop a hint in the following words, the full import of which I failed to catch at that moment.


Mr Stewart said, ‘You hold an exceptionally influential position in certain circles here and abroad. Government would be glad if this position would be of some use to them.’ I think I still hold that position. Rather it has been enhanced by the prosecution. If Your Excellency is pleased to think that I should use that position for the good of
Your Excellency’s government and the country, I should be glad to do so, if I am given the opportunity by Your Excellency granting my prayer for release. “I am given the punishment of four years’ rigorous imprisonment in order that those years may bring a salutary change in my attitude towards the
King Emperor’s sovereignty in India. I beg to inform Your Excellency that those years are unnecessary, as I have never been positively disloyal towards
His Majesty in my writings or speeches nor do I intend to be so in future.
“Hoping this respectful undertaking will satisfy and move Your Excellency to grant my prayer and awaiting anxiously a reply.
I beg to remain,
Your Excellency’s Most
Obedient Servant,
Shripat Amrit Dange.
Written this day 28th July, 1924
Endorsement No. 1048, dated
Forwarded in original to I.G. [Inspector General] of prisons U.P. for disposal. Sd/- W.P. Cook
Col. I.M.S.
Superintendent of Jail.
Seal of I.G. Prisons
13070 Dated 1-8-1924.”
On March 16, Basavapunniah and
P. Ramamurthi went to the National
Archives in New Delhi and again on
March 17 and 19. What they found was set out in a pamphlet published by the
Communist Party of India (Marxist) after the split later in the year. It was entitled Dange Unmasked (for a detailed analysis of the texts of the documents, including comments by the formidable Lt Col Cecil Kaye, Director of the Intelligence Bureau, perhaps its most able – “he is personally, a mere

JANUARY 13, 2012


worm” – vide the writer’s article Stalin. Like Dange, Mohit Sen sup“Dange Letters”; Survey (London) ported the Emergency. Both left the
CPI, But Mohit Sen’s memoir is of abSpring 1979; pages 160-174).
Years later I sought an interview sorbing interest. Sadly, it did not rewith Dange. What he said of the fa- ceive the review it deserved (A mous meeting with Stalin rang true. Traveller and the Road: The Journey of
Stalin upbraided the CPI leaders for an Indian Communist; Rupa & Co.; not supporting the Congress on the 2003). The two remained close.
Quit India Movement when they mentioned that their stand had cost them M O H I T S E N ’ S A C C O U N T dear. “Why didn’t you support it? Do Mohit Sen wrote: “I was to have the you think we won the war because of privilege of carrying the ‘China path’ the 100 rifles you sent us?” Stalin was document to China. The CPI leaderinformality itself. Dange sat on the ship hoped and expected that the leadarmrest of his chair when Stalin pored ership of the CPC would endorse this over the map of India he had sent for. understanding and back it....
“Is this your Yenan?” he asked with
“At that time, I did not know that unconcealed contempt. It lay at the this line had been challenged by an very heart of India. What followed the important section of the CPI leadermeetings is well recorded but not com- ship headed by Ajoy Ghosh, S.A. pletely in a single volume.
Dange and S.V. Ghate. They had proSignificantly, later Soviet writers duced a joint document which had also criticised the CPI’s 1942 decision. gone down in the history of the party as
Dr Alexander I. Chicherov, Head of the the ‘Three Ps’ document….
International Relations
Department shared the viewpoint that and Institute of Oriental
India had not won indeStudies, Academy of Scipendence and that the ences USSR in Moscow,
Nehru government upwas an erudite scholar. held the interests of BritHe found in the archives ish imperialism, a letter from Bal Gangadlandlords and those sechar Tilak to the Russian tions of the bourgeoisie
Consulate in Bombay in that collaborated with
1905 outlining his plans imperialism. The docufor intensifying the freement also held the view
M O H I T S EN . H E wrote: dom struggle. He adthat armed revolution
“I was to have the mired Tilak. privilege of carrying the was the only path of adOn a visit to Bombay,
‘China path’ document vance. It differed from
Chicherov told Indian both the Ranadive line to China.”
Express that the CPI’s deand the China path line cision to keep out of the Quit India [the Andhra thesis] on its insistence
Movement was “tragic” (October 15, that Indian conditions differed in the
1950s from both Russia and China.
One question arises. One of the in- The strategy of the CPI should, thereterviewers said that they had no direct fore, be that of the Indian path. The contact with Moscow, only with the armed revolution in our country would
Communist Party of Great Britain, be a combination of peasant guerrilla that is, with Rajani Palme Dutt and actions in the countryside with workHarry Pollit. Was it Palme Dutt, then, ing class insurrections in the urban who instructed the switch in 1942? areas. This was an updated version of
Basavapunniah’s interview men- what S.A. Dange had advocated dections the disagreement between the ades ago in Gandhi vs. Lenin publishAndhra thesis and the thesis of the ed in 1920, which had caught the
Central leadership. The party was on attention of Lenin himself. the verge of a split. It was averted by
“The other point of difference of


‘the three Ps’ document was its realistic appraisal of the actual situation of the
CPI. It was on the verge of annihilation. Its mass organisations were shattered and the party itself almost totally disintegrated. The first task was to save the party itself and to reforge its ties with the masses, taking into account the existing civil liberties.
“The proponents of the ‘Chinese path’ led by Comrade C. Rajeswara
Rao and those of the ‘Indian path’ led by Comrade Ajoy Ghosh had set up their own centres and the CPI was on the verge of a split. It was then that the
Soviet Communists intervened.
“Four leaders, two from each centre, were brought to Moscow. They travelled, incognito as manual workers on a Soviet ship from Calcutta. They were Comrades Ajoy Ghosh, S.A.
Dange, C. Rajeswara Rao and M. Basavapunniah. None of them divulged any details of how they were contacted and what their exact itinerary was. Nikhil
Chakravartty, who attended to all the technical details of planning the journey, has also not said anything.
“S.A. Dange and C. Rajeswara Rao have both told me about the meeting with the leaders of the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union]. The first meeting was attended from the
Soviet side by Comrades [Mikhail Andreyevich] Suslov, [Georgy] Malenkov and [Vyacheslav Mikhailovich]
Molotov. It was on the third day that it was announced that Comrade Stalin would attend. So he did for the subsequent days. Dange and Rajeswara
Rao said that he was an attentive listener though he rarely sat at the table but kept pacing up and down smoking a pipe. But he intervened subtly to turn the discussion beyond dogmatic disputes to assessments of the existing situation and immediate tactical tasks.

“Stalin’s view also was that India was not an independent country but ruled indirectly by British colonialists. He also agreed that the Communists could eventually advance only by heading an armed revolution. But it would not be


JANUARY 13, 2012

Telangana fighters. "[Stalin] strongly advised that the armed struggle being conducted in various areas, especially the Telangana region of
Andhra Pradesh, should be ended."





Basavapunniah in the 1950s.

of the Chinese type. His view on this point coincided with that of ‘the three
Ps’. He also agreed with their appraisal of the concrete situation in which the party was placed. He strongly advised that the armed struggle being conducted in various areas, especially the
Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, should be ended. He said that it was
Comrade Rajeswara Rao who should

travel to the different camps and see that the arms were surrendered. This would be difficult but it was he alone who could do it. That, in fact, was done and Rajeswara Rao later told me that this was the most difficult task he had ever performed for the party.
“Stalin also cautioned the CPI leaders that the Nehru government was not a puppet government. It had a


social base and mass support and could not be overthrown easily. He asked the leaders to unite, work together, save the party and take it forward. He strongly advised them to make the CPI participate in the general elections” (pages 80-81).
The record has him say: “I cannot consider the government of Nehru as a puppet. All his roots are in the people.”
He was polite to the visitors, but they did not win his respect. His interpreter and the diplomat Nikolai Adyrkhayev’s memoirs, released on Stalin’s
118th birth anniversary (December 21,
1879), reveal that later in the year Stalin scolded a delegation of the Japanese Communist Party: “In India they have wrecked the party and there is something similar with you.”
As it happens some interesting documents have surfaced in the pages of a journal, Revolutionary Democracy, published by Vijay Singh. The issue of April 2011 published documents from the papers of Rajani Palme Dutt in the archives of the Communist Party of Great Britain, which are deposited in the Labour Archive and Library,
One was a letter dated November 1,
1962, from B.N. Datar, Minister of
State for Home, to P.K. Sawant, Home
Minister, Maharashtra. It read : “I am enclosing herewith in original a list handed over personally by Shri S.A.
Dange, to Home Minister recently giving the names and addresses of CPI persons in Bombay and other individuals who in the opinion of Shri S.A.
Dange are pro-Chinese. I would request your immediate comments and action in the matter under advice to me.” The other letter contains charges too scandalous to be reproduced, still less vouched for.

Three other issues contain authentic material on the Moscow talks from the
Russian State Archive of Social and
Political History translated from the
Russian by Vijay Singh. There is a stenographic record of the discussions between the two delegations on February


JANUARY 13, 2012

of the first Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) after the 1964 split in the
Communist movement: (standing, from left) P. Ramamurthi, Basavapunniah, E.M.S. Namboodiripad and Harkishan
Singh Surjeet; (sitting, from left) Promode Dasgupta, Jyoti Basu, Sundarayya, B.T. Ranadive and A.K. Gopalan.


4, 6 and 9, 1951 (September 2006; pages 162-200). As one might expect, the Indians did most of the talking on the first two days, explaining internal differences and replying to pointed questions by the hosts. Stalin spoke at great length on February 9 (pages
The issue of April 2007 published a record of the discussions with Malenkov and Suslov on February 21 (pages
126-130). The issue of April 2010 has three letters by the CPI leaders; Stalin underlined parts of the letters and gave his comments in the margin. All these documents merit detailed analysis in the light of the CPI’s internal debates in 1948-51.
Postscript: Aloke Banerjee of Hindustan Times reported from Kolkata

on November 26, 2005: “Marxist Patriarch Jyoti Basu had been against a split in the CPI and had urged all his comrades to keep the party united.
This was in 1963, a year before some
CPI leaders left the party and formed the CPI(M).
“Documents portraying the final days before the CPI split have been made public with the CPI(M) publishing the fourth volume of Communist
Movement in Bengal: Documents and
Related Facts. The book contains a letter Basu wrote from the Dum Dum Jail on October 9, 1963, titled ‘Save the party from revisionists and dogmatic extremists’. ‘We must stay within the party and continue our ideological struggle against Dange’s revisionism.
It will not be right to split the party,’


Basu had said in the letter. ‘Yet, the reckless dogmatists seem to be determined to break up the party.’
“Four decades on, Basu cannot remember having written such a letter.
Informed that his party had published his letter, Basu told HT on Friday, ‘I don’t remember having written such a letter. But it’s true that I had tried till the last moments to stop the imminent split. I was of the opinion that it would be incorrect to break the CPI and form a new party. But I failed. There were many differences. We could not stay together any longer.’ The CPI(M)’s book also contains the minutes of a crucial meeting of the party’s working committee.” Unfortunately, the book is in Bengali. An English translation is overdue. Column

JANUARY 13, 2012

Durban greenwash
The Durban Platform postpones climate actions to 2020, beyond which global emissions must not rise if the world is to avert irreversible climate change.
UCH is the disconnect between Durban climate conference realities and the
“greenwash”-style spin put on them by the Indian government and its uncritical supporters in the bubble-world of non-governmental organisations and the media that one is left speechless. Going by media reports, “a firm India” forced a
“climate breakthrough” and “took centre stage as a force to reckon with and regained its position as the leader and moral voice of the developing world”, forcing the European Union and the
United States “to address its demands”. The principle of equity “found its place back on the table and life was infused into the Kyoto Protocol” beyond 2012, when its first phase ends.
At Durban, parties to the United
Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to negotiate a new global regime with binding commitments on all, unlike in the past when these were limited to the industrialised northern countries. According to the spin doctors, “The decision came after the E.U. was forced to go into a huddle with India… and address its concerns even as the developing world, including China, backed
India on its demand for an equitable future deal.”
The spin doctors approvingly quoted Environment Minister Jayanthi
Natarajan: “After intense negotiations, we got the extension of Kyoto
Protocol... and restored equity as a central dimension of the debate. We firmly reiterated the right of India and other developing countries to their growth under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities


Beyond the
Now consider the facts. The “reiteration” finds no reflection in the conference outcome. The key resolution to launch “the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” to develop a new climate agreement by 2015 with legal commitments for all states, to be implemented from 2020 onwards, does not even mention equity or CBDR.
This elision was no aberration. The northern countries were emphatic that they wanted to move to an altogether different regime from the past order defined by the original 1992 climate convention, the Kyoto Protocol (effective 2005) and the Bali Action Plan, or
BAP (2007), which further explicated
CBDR by erecting a firewall between the North’s climate obligations and the
South’s voluntary actions, which the
North must support. Any mention of
CBDR would be qualified by a statement mandating its interpretation


based on “contemporary economic realities”, including recent North-toSouth power shifts and the emergence of China and India as major drivers of global growth and among the world’s current top five greenhouse gas emitters. This would have opened a Pandora’s box.
At Durban, the Kyoto Protocol did not get its second “commitment period” (CP2), or legally effective phase beyond 2012. The decision was postponed to the next climate conference, without clarity on the North’s commitments to higher ambition or equity.
Such commitments seem highly unlikely given the past record and the
“Great Recession”. Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s former lead negotiator and a formidable critic of the North’s manipulative tactics, said the arrangement would turn the Kyoto Protocol into a soulless “zombie” until it is “replaced by a new agreement that will be even weaker”. Solon was proved dead right at both Copenhagen (2009) and
Cancun (2010).
At Durban, the developing countries did not forge new bonds of unity or solidarity, with “emerging” India becoming their “moral voice”. They got demoralised, divided and further split, with a majority, especially the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the least developed countries (LDCs), allying with the E.U. Some of them expressed their resentment at the insistence of the two-year-old BASIC
(Brazil, South Africa, India, China) grouping on hiding behind the rest of the (“non-emerging”) South and harping on “the right to develop”. “While they develop, we die,” Grenada’s ambassador said.
Whether such resentment is justi-

JANUARY 13, 2012

fied or not is beside the point. India failed to anticipate or quell it. The developing country bloc, G-77+China, long splintered into subgroups, found itself in utter disarray. Indian negotiators, preoccupied with evading a “legally binding” commitment in keeping with their mandate, painted themselves into a corner and failed to address the concerns of small, vulnerable southern countries or to maintain BASIC’s coherence. More crucially, they accepted a text which is silent on equity and the polluter pays principle.
Jayanthi Natarajan may go on claiming that the Durban Platform’s decision to negotiate “a protocol, another legal instrument, or an agreed outcome with legal force under the
Convention applicable to all” does not
“imply that India has to take binding commitments to reduce its emissions in absolute terms in 2020”. She may read the convention’s principles into the text and pretend that it does not explicitly mention emissions cuts, only the “highest possible mitigation efforts by all parties”; and hence India’s voluntary offer to reduce the emissions intensity of its economy by 20-25 per cent by 2020 is adequately compatible with it. However, the text’s references to “levels of ambition” and closure of
“the ambition gap”, the interpretation put on it by India’s own partners in
BASIC and, above all, Durban’s political context belie this fanciful Panglossian interpretation.
The context was duplicitously set by the E.U. when it shifted from unconditional support for a Kyoto CP2 some weeks ago to making support contingent upon an agreement at Durban to negotiate by 2015 an altogether new climate deal with binding commitments for all major economies, not just developed northern countries.
The E.U. cynically exploited the circumstance that the South had made a second commitment period the touchstone of success at Durban and began systematically to erode the principles of equity and CBDR. In this, it was joined by the U.S., which has always been hostile to the idea of topdown obligations on the North based

on science and equity and in favour of an arbitrary “pledge and review” approach in which nations make emissions-reduction promises unrelated to their contribution to climate change.
The U.S. probably overcame its long-known distaste for binding obligations for itself only because it saw the final stages of the Durban talks as the last chance to draw China into the binding obligations net. So a de facto alliance emerged between the E.U. and the U.S., in which India’s insertion of the awkward phrase “agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention” suited the latter.
The U.S. also led the North’s successful attack on the BAP, which provides a road map for a fair, ambitious and binding climate deal through a
Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action. Durban effectively killed BAP. The Bali process and the
Working Group will be “terminated” in
2012, and a new process will begin, with a considerable dilution, if not de facto abandonment, of North-South differentiation. So much for equity!

Was the Durban outcome at least a good beginning, if not the best possible result, as some apologists of the Indian government plead? Certainly not, for at least three powerful reasons. First, it postpones all significant climate action, in particular drastic emissions reductions by the North, to 2020 and beyond. But global emissions must peak by 2020 if the world is to avert irreversible and catastrophic climate change, with global warming way, way beyond the 1.5°-2° C that the earth can tolerate. The Durban arrangements will probably raise global warming to
4° C, with unspeakable consequences for humankind, including Indians who comprise a vulnerable one-sixth of it. African climate activists have called it “a death sentence for Africa”.
Second, the outcome prolongs at least until 2020 many grossly unjust anomalies in the post-Copenhagen climate order, including much higher emissions-reduction pledges by the
South than the North. This inverts the


elementary ethical principle that those most responsible for climate change should take the lead and accept higher obligations than those with a marginal contribution to it. The loopholes in the
North’s pledges, besides their paltriness, will continue.
Third, the “might is right” norm will prevail in the UNFCCC process, further vitiating the negotiations and wiping out past gains for the sake of expediency and the narrow short-term self-interests of a few powerful states.
The process began some time ago, with
Copenhagen as its low point, where
India too acted deplorably. It will now descend to even more abysmal levels.
We need to situate this in the history of what an extremely perceptive observer (Susan George) has called “the most important negotiations ever undertaken in the history of humankind”, which began at Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
These produced some significant gains and many hopes until 2007. Since then, things have gone downhill, with setback after setback since Copenhagen and further weakening of the will of the North’s leadership, pusillanimous as it is in the face of corporate power, to fight climate change sincerely by giving up its fossil-fuel addiction.
This only highlights the inseparable links between climate change and neoliberal economic policies and the global developmental crisis that these aggravate, with terrible implications for the South’s poor and the North’s vulnerable people.
Was another, better, outcome possible? At the risk of being branded unrealistic, I believe India could have better prepared for Durban with coalition-building focussed on the AOSIS and the LDCs, by offering them generous need-based financial and technological assistance, especially in climate change adaptation, and also by strengthening G-77. It could then have pressed the E.U. hard for supporting a
Kyoto CP2. This could have isolated northern recalcitrants and become a game-changer. But that would have needed both policy independence and imaginative strategising, now scarce here. Food Security

JANUARY 13, 2012

A survey in nine States shows that they have quietly revived and expanded their


public distribution system. B Y J E A N D R È Z E A N D R E E T I K A K H E R A

in Patel Nagar in Hyderabad. A large number of the poor are excluded from the public distribution system. The PDS tends to work better where it is more inclusive – targeting is divisive and undermines public pressure for a functional PDS.




JANUARY 13, 2012

the PDS
AT a time when the Union Cabinet cleared the draft of the national food security Bill after dilly-dallying over it comes a compelling piece of information: many State governments have quietly revived and expanded the public distribution system in their States.
That, at any rate, is one of the main findings of a recent survey of the PDS in nine States: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar,
Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh,
Jharkhand, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar
Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The survey, initiated by the Indian Institute of
Technology Delhi, covered about
1,200 randomly selected below-poverty-line (and Antyodaya) households in
110 villages.
One sign of revival is that the sample households had received 85 per cent of their official “quota” of PDS grain during the preceding three months. This contrasts with the common perception that most of the grain meant for poor households ends up in the open market. Further, with market prices shooting up and PDS issue prices coming down, the implicit value of
PDS transfers is now quite substantial.
In many States, BPL households get as much from the PDS every month as they would after a whole week of employment under the National Rural
Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) – without having to work.
The health of the PDS, of course, varies widely among States. Some, like
Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, have a well-functioning universal
PDS, which provides not only foodgrains but also other essential commodities such as pulses and oil. At the other extreme are States like Bihar and
Jharkhand where PDS reforms have barely begun. The PDS tends to work better where it is more inclusive – targeting is divisive and undermines public pressure for a functional PDS.

Aside from expanding coverage and lowering issue prices, many State governments have launched other
PDS reforms such as de-privatisation of fair price shops, “doorstep delivery” of grain to fair price shops, computerisation of records, and a range of transparency measures. An important lesson of recent experience is not only that the PDS can be improved, but also that we have a reasonably good idea of how to do it. Much depends on the political value of the PDS. That is perhaps the biggest recent change: with market prices shooting up, the PDS now means a lot for poor people, and
State governments had to respond to the clamour for a functional PDS.
It would be a tragedy if the NationFRONTLINE


al Food Security Act ended up undermining instead of consolidating this revival of the PDS. There is a real danger of this happening, not only because of the continued obsession of the Central government with “targeting” but also because of the illusion that cash transfers are an easy alternative. A large majority of the sample households were opposed to the PDS being replaced with cash transfers, and the reasons they gave for this were enlightening.
A sample of the survey findings is presented in this issue of Frontline, including four articles written by some of the student volunteers who conducted this investigation. A more detailed report was published in a recent issue of Economic and Political Weekly. We hope this material contributes to a better understanding of the PDS, and to a more enlightened debate on these vital issues.

Food Security

JANUARY 13, 2012

Power of literacy
Most of the respondents in Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala prefer an effective PDS to cash transfer. B Y A L E E S H A M A R Y J O S E P H
THE survey of the public distribution system
(PDS) in nine States, of which I was a part in Himachal Pradesh (Sirmaur district), Uttar Pradesh
(Jaunpur district) and Kerala (Wayanad district), came as an eye-opener to me on many counts. If
Himachal Pradesh stood out for the innocence of its people, Uttar Pradesh was full of scary realities.
Our main goal was to find out how the PDS functioned in rural areas and what the people thought about the idea of replacing it with a cashtransfer system. Economic theory might tell us that cash transfers put the consumer on a higher indifference curve than subsidising the prices. However, the


The major problem is the lack of awareness among people about their rights. A foundation of literacy has to be laid for the effective culmination of all welfareoriented policies and programmes in rural India.



JANUARY 13, 2012

survey found that the reality is quite different from the theory.
The PDS in Himachal Pradesh, for instance, worked quite smoothly except for the fact that the ration shops opened only for a certain number of days. The majority of the respondents
– all below-poverty-line (BPL) or Antyodaya cardholders – said they got their full quota of rice and wheat regularly. Most of them owned a piece of farmland, which gave them just enough for their sustenance. They rarely bought foodgrain from the market; the reasons cited were the harsh hilly terrain and inadequate transport services. No wonder people here were averse to the idea of cash transfers as banks and markets were quite far from the villages.
One of the respondents was so scared about the idea that she pleaded with us with folded hands: “We are poor and illiterate. You people are edu-

cated. Please do not put us into trouble. We just want our ration and nothing else.” It was hard to convince her that we were just students and not government officials. When they had a ration shop in their own village, which gave them much of what they needed
(rice, wheat, pulses, kerosene and edible oil), an alternative arrangement was unthinkable.

High literacy is an important feature of
Himachal Pradesh, akin to Kerala but in sharp contrast to Uttar Pradesh.
Most of the respondents in Himachal
Pradesh had studied at least up to
Class 5. In Kerala, as expected, the proportion of literates was high and the education level of the respondents was rarely below Class 8. The people were ever watchful and voiced their opinions freely, which meant a comparatively less corrupt PDS.
In Kerala, unlike in other States, rations are distributed on a weekly basis and ration shops remain open on all weekdays for nearly eight hours. Rice is given at the rate of Rs.2 a kg to all
BPL and Antyodaya cardholders. This ensured that even the poorest of the poor got foodgrains even in the worst of financial conditions. The shops are well maintained and have adequate storage facilities, electronic weighing machines and ‘complete’ information boards displaying the entitlements to different cardholders (above poverty line or APL, BPL and Antyodaya) and the respective price lists. The majority of those surveyed in Kerala preferred rations over cash transfers, thanks to food security ensured through ration shops. Frittering away of money on alcohol was a common objection that respondents (especially tribal women in Wayanad) raised against the cashtransfer system.
PDS dealers have a strong association but make only meagre profits.
The main complaint that most of them voiced was that the commission was
Paniya colony in Ponkuzhi, Wayanad district, Kerala.


not indexed to transportation cost and that often they had to pay it out of their pockets. Regular inspections and alert villagers left no opportunity for corrupt practices.

Kerala, a recent article stated, was 25 years ahead of many other States in
India. The stark contrast in the condition of Antyodaya families in Kerala vis-à-vis other States illustrates this. A majority of the Antyodaya families surveyed in Kerala had pucca houses with two or three rooms, while in Uttar
Pradesh, people and cattle sometimes shared living spaces. The small, dingy huts were inhabited by eight to ten people. Open-field toilets added to the unhygienic nature of the villages. Illiteracy was widespread, and on being asked their age, women would cover their blushing faces with their pallus and say, “Ham kya jaane hamara umer! Aap hi andaze se bataaiye!” (What would we know about our age? You make a guess and tell us.)
The illiteracy of the people was often exploited by the pradhan (headman) and the dealer. In one village, almost all the residents had deposited their ration cards with the dealer believing that it was mandatory to do so in order to get their rations. One woman narrated how the pradhan used to bribe the officers who were deputed for inspection and how the injustice done to them remained unknown to the world outside. Some of the residents even mistook us for government officers who had come to solve their problems. It was disappointing to tell them that we were just students and that we could only write about them.
But one optimistic woman told us,
“Aap likh do, taaki duniya dekh sake, taaki koi to hamare madad ke liye aa jaaye.” (Write, so that the world knows and someone comes to our help.) I was too dumbstruck to reply. Though an illiterate, she believed in the power of the written word. The power of education was demonstrated again in another instance, where a man who had studied up to Class 8 (which was rare in our Uttar Pradesh sample), raised


JANUARY 13, 2012


in Chail Chowk gram panchayat, Mandi district, Himachal Pradesh.

his voice against a corrupt dealer for cancelling his ration card. He motivated his fellow residents who were subjected to the same injustice to approach the Subdivisional Magistrate (SDM) for redress. His efforts resulted in the dismissal of the corrupt dealer. Illiteracy was one of the main reasons why people in Uttar Pradesh did not prefer any dealings with banks.
They knew they could easily be cheated by anyone. Moreover, the PDS would at least ensure food security and prevent them from slipping into destitution. Bad as the condition of villages in
Uttar Pradesh was, grain leakages from the PDS were relatively low. Corruption mainly affected the distribution of commodities such as sugar and kerosene. Though the ration shop opens only for two or three days in the
State, rarely did the people miss a chance to procure their foodgrain quotas. The major problem was the peo-

ple’s lack of awareness about their rights. They did not know that they were entitled to an unemployment allowance if they did not get work within
15 days of applying for work under the
National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). They do go to the pradhan and ask for work, but they do not get any written acknowledgement and hence the promise of work remains just verbal.
In one case, the pradhan himself did not know how to go about imple-

An alternative arrangement to
PDS, like cash transfer, is unthinkable to most people.


menting the NREGA scheme. In another village, the pradhan, an illiterate a woman, was just a puppet in her husband’s hands. From all this, one can conclude that the root cause of many of our policies failing in rural areas in States like Uttar Pradesh is the widespread illiteracy. Unless people are able to read and write and are made aware of their rights, they will not be able to raise their voice against the injustices done to them.
Though all the respondents in all the States were categorised as ‘BPL’ or
‘Antyodaya’, there was a stark contrast in the way villagers in Uttar Pradesh and Kerala responded to their needs.
The poor in Kerala were not scared of raising their voices before anyone and knew how to secure their rights. In
Uttar Pradesh, the poor were scared and meek.
Hence, the foundation of literacy has to be laid for the effective culmination of all welfare-oriented policies and programmes in rural India.

Food Security

JANUARY 13, 2012

Coupon fiasco
In Bihar, the coupon system to distribute PDS grain fails to prevent corruption.

AT the Jamaluddin gram panchayat in Patna district on January 26, 2007, Chief Minister Nitish
Kumar launched an ambitious reform of the public distribution system (PDS) in Bihar: a coupon system. He claimed that it would “empower the poor and stop black-marketeering” and that it was “not a simple coupon but a powerful weapon in the hands of the poor”.
Under the coupon system, families below poverty line (BPL) receive 12 food coupons every year, one for each month. They are distributed to cardholders in
May and June in public by panchayati raj and government functionaries. Every month, the household exchanges one coupon for foodgrain (wheat and rice) with any licensed PDS dealer in their district. The dealer deposits the coupons with the administration and gets back the quantity of grain distributed by him, and the cycle continues.
Nitish Kumar claimed that the coupon system would stop black-marketeering because a dealer who sold grain in the open market would not get any coupons, and therefore, no grain for the next month.
Further, if BPL households found that a dealer was not supplying grain or cheating them (say, by charging more, giving less, or mixing stones with the grain), they could go to another dealer. In other words, coupons would help “track” the flow of grain and create competition among dealers.
However, a survey of the PDS conducted in 12 villages of Katihar and Nalanda districts in MayJune 2011 found that the perceived power of couFRONTLINE

pons to combat corruption had been undermined severely. Sometimes government officers were responsible for this, at other times the dealers were, and quite often, they were hand in glove with each other. In village after village, respondents hurled abuses at the dealers and complained that the PDS was not working.
In Mansahi block of Katihar district, the survey showed, dealers delivered between 21 and 23 kg of grain against coupons that entitled BPL households to 25 kg of grain. Antyodaya households got only 31 kg out of their entitled 35 kg. Dealers also overcharged them for the grain even though the coupons


Government officials can still divert grain from godowns instead of delivering it to dealers. Dealers can also sell grain in the open market after forcibly collecting the coupons or giving cardholders a part of their entitlements and charging more.

PDS dealer for
Singhaul village, in possession of 180 coupons for the months of April and May, which he managed to collect from BPL households in February 2011.



JANUARY 13, 2012

mentioned the price and quantity clearly. Many of the respondents said they were helpless and had to pay what the dealers demanded and take whatever they gave. “Sab chor hain, paisa jyada lete hain aur anaaj kam dete hain (They are all thieves, all of them overcharge and give less grain),” said a respondent. The competition process obviously had its limits.
In Barsoi block, also in Katihar, grain was distributed for just a few months in a year. Residents still had coupons for the months gone by, with the number ranging from a low of four to a high of 10. Some people had received their PDS rations only twice in the preceding year. Others showed us, often with anger and disgust, coupons dating back to 2007.
This does not appear to be the dealers’ fault, though. Dealers in Barsoi complained that they had not been given grain in exchange for the coupons they had submitted. They were sure that grain had been siphoned off by marketing officers and district managers who controlled the godowns. In short, the “powerful weapon in the hands of the poor” had failed to “empower” them.
In Nalanda district, the survey team found, dealers had found a simple way of undermining the coupon system: they collected the coupons but

Despite considerable efforts by the
State, the BPL list has large exclusion errors. did not deliver grain. In several villages, dealers would take coupons for two months and give grain for one.
One dealer had taken coupons for four months (February to May) in February itself. When confronted with proof of this, he said he had done this under pressure from the Block Marketing Officer. It turned out that they had sold in the open market the grain meant for March. The option of going to a dealer other than the designated one was not available in Nalanda: dealers refused grain if someone who was not “allotted” to them turned up.
Here again, coupons had failed to create competition.
The survey found that dealers were involved actively in spreading misinformation. In one village, the dealer



had told BPL cardholders that they were no longer entitled to grain and that it was for Antyodaya households only. In another case, there was a rumour that Bihar was sending kerosene to Japan for earthquake relief, making it scarce in ration shops: “A nuclear plant has been destroyed there, so they need kerosene desperately.”
These tricks work partly because of
Bihar’s failure in other critical domains, such as basic education: 84 per cent of the respondents were illiterate.
While people were often aware of the quantity they were entitled to (perhaps because they were printed on the coupons in big size), they were not clear about the prices they were supposed to pay (also printed on the coupon, but in small size). Being illiterate and powerless, they could not use their coupons to demand their full entitlements from the dealers. Nor could they get the dealers’ licences revoked easily.
Consequently, the overall survey findings from Bihar are depressing
(especially when contrasted with other survey States). The monthly PDS purchase of BPL households in Bihar was on average just 11.2 kg compared with the entitlement of 25 kg. Even this appears to be an improvement: according to Reetika Khera’s analysis of the National Sample Survey data, 90 per cent of the PDS grain was “di-


JANUARY 13, 2012

A B DU L K UD D US O F Barsoi, Katihar, shows the coupons for the months for which grain was not delivered in the village. Each coupon corresponds to one month of undelivered grain.

verted” in Bihar in 2004-05; it was down to 75 per cent in 2009-10.
In at least one of the five blocks we visited (Mansahi in Katihar), respondents felt that the system had improved. Their testimonies suggest that
Mansahi used to be much like the other sample blocks where nothing got delivered for months. Now they get at least something every month, even if it is not the full entitlement.
However, the general situation in
Bihar is still abysmal, though not irredeemably so. Indeed, Bihar would do well to learn from the experiences of

Chhattisgarh and Orissa, where the
PDS has achieved a remarkable turnaround in recent years, as well as from
Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh and
Andhra Pradesh where the PDS has been in good shape for a long time. The survey, which was carried out in these
States as well, showed a well-functioning PDS there, with most BPL households getting their full entitlements regularly. Bihar’s coupon system fails to prevent corruption for at least three reasons. First, government officials can still divert grain from godowns instead


of delivering it to dealers. Secondly, dealers can sell grain in the open market after forcibly collecting the coupons. Finally, it is easy for dealers to give cardholders only a part of their entitlements while charging more.
Thus, the coupon system is not the
“solution” it was envisaged to be – at best, it is a safeguard, but it does not obviate the need to do the homework that many States have done to streamline their PDS.
The lessons for a State like Bihar from other performing States include initiating de-privatisation of PDS shops, computerisation of records and regular monitoring, establishing effective grievance redress mechanisms, and reducing the prices of commodities provided through the PDS. Bihar currently focusses on “targeting effectively”, but despite considerable efforts by the State, the BPL list is unreliable, with large exclusion errors. These can be avoided only with a much expanded
BPL list.
There are also important lessons for policymakers and politicians gungho about the ability of coupons, food stamps, smart cards or the unique identification number (UID) to root out corruption. In a context like Bihar’s, it is easy for a PDS dealer to take coupons while delivering partial entitlements, or for that matter to get a thumb impression on a biometric device without delivering any grain.
Bihar’s current PDS based on coupons seems to show signs of life for a few months in a year and in a few places – for the rest, it is as good as dead. As mentioned earlier, it is easy to find respondents who have preserved coupons from 2007, perhaps hoping that they will be able to get grain against them or perhaps hoping that this will serve as evidence of a nonfunctioning system. After all, Nalanda is the electoral constituency of Nitish
Kumar, who brought “good governance” to Bihar. However, the Chief
Minister seems to have given up on the
PDS, going by the claims he is making about cash transfers, which are similar to those he made about coupons four years ago.

Food Security

JANUARY 13, 2012

Strong revival
In Jharkhand, an assertive populace is making sure that the dealers do not hijack the PDS. B Y A N I N D I T A A D H I K A R I

Dealers followed a “chain system” whereby each month’s rice quota was lifted later from the Food
Corporation of India godown.
Ending this ensured the timely distribution of grain each month.


UNTIL a few years ago, the public distribution system (PDS) in Jharkhand appeared broken and beyond repair. The National Sample Survey data for
2004-05 suggest that more than 80 per cent of the
PDS grain was sold in the open market at that time. A field survey in Ranchi and Dumka districts from
June 4 to 18, part of a larger study of the PDS in nine
States conducted by student volunteers, has found signs of a significant revival of the PDS in the State.

This account is based on the first phase of the survey among BPL and Antyodaya households in Angara and Khunti blocks of (undivided) Ranchi district.
In Jharkhand, both BPL and Antyodaya families are entitled to 35 kg of rice a month at Re.1 a kg. This is better than in any other State except Tamil Nadu.
Though only about one-fourth of the sample households got their full entitlements regularly, the shortfall that most of them reported was only two or three kilos. The extent of shortfall too had reduced considerably in the past two years.
After the issue price was reduced to Re.1 a kg
(rice was even distributed free of cost for some time after drought was declared in August 2009), the people’s stake in getting their full entitlements increased dramatically. PDS dealers themselves said the “ration card dhaariyo mein jagrukta” (new awareness of cardholders) and “system mein sudhar”
(improvement of the PDS) had made the distribution of free or nearly free grain effective.
There were interesting examples of this in-

I N A N G A RA B LO C K in Ranchi on June 20, villagers complaining to the district authorities at a meeting about their quota of PDS grain not being distributed for the past two months.


JANUARY 13, 2012

creased assertiveness of people in demanding their due from the PDS dealer. In Sursu village (Singari gram panchayat), for instance, when residents found out that their quota of grain for November had been sold in the open market, they raised the issue in the gram sabha and the dealer was taken to task. Finally, the dealer agreed to compensate all the families the lost amount of rice over the next three months. A few families we interviewed had in fact received 40 kg of rice in the previous month.
The de-privatisation of ration shops, successfully accomplished in neighbouring Chhattisgarh, is yet to happen in Jharkhand. Most of the ration shops are still run by private dealers. However, the system of paying commissions to the dealer for transporting grain from the godown to the ration shop has been replaced with
‘doorstep delivery’ to the ration shop.
This acts as a safeguard against the diversion of grain by dealers when they lift their quota from the godown. However, because of low rates that transport contractors are paid and non-reimbursement of unloading costs, dealers are still charged some delivery costs. They compensate for this by ‘under-weighing’ grain at the time of distribution.

The survey found major exclusion errors in the BPL list. In one village in
Angara, the BPL list had only 82 families from one of the nine tolas (hamlets). When residents of the villages themselves conducted a survey last year, they came up with more than 350 families to be added to the list. However, the distribution of ration cards in the village is still based on the old list, which dates back to 1997. In many cases, the ration cards had practically disintegrated, and with no blank pages left the records were kept in makeshift notebooks. Those who had applied for new ration cards over a year ago had still not received them.
In trying to determine the regularity of supply, households were asked to recall the quantity of grain pur-

chased over the past three months and whether their quota for any of these months was still pending. In Angara, household after household responded in the negative.
However, the records of PDS dealers had a different story to tell. What dealers followed was an ad hoc system of lifting and distribution of grain (described locally as the ‘chain system’) whereby each month’s rice quota was lifted from the Food Corporation of
India (FCI) the following month.
Sometimes the chain stretched to two months instead of one, as had happened in Angara just before the survey.
Apparently, there were no fixed dates for distribution. As a result, households were unable to keep track of which month’s ration they had purchased. The administration finally decided to put an end to this ‘chain system’ from June 2011 and insisted on timely distribution of grain each month. Most villages in Angara lost their quotas for April and May because the administration insisted on distributing the June quota in June itself and starting afresh. The lapse in supply went undetected.
When these facts were highlighted in public meetings held in various villages across Angara, agitated residents began to mobilise themselves to demand the quota that the district administration claimed had “lapsed”. A complaint was sent to the Deputy
Commissioner of Ranchi, followed by a one-day dharna at the Angara block office. The dharna’s main slogan was
“Anaaj do, jawaab do” (Give grain, give answers). The same day, district officials promised to distribute grain for April and May. They explained that from
June onwards there would be increased vigilance and timely lifting of grain from the FCI, every month.
Tightening the process and terminating the chain system, they said, had already ensured that 75 per cent of the quota for June had been lifted by the
9th of the month, well before the deadline of the 20th. Later the bulk of grain distribution for July and August in Angara block was also completed within


the first week of the month. However, three months after the dharna, the missing quotas were yet to be distributed. This shows that public pressure alone cannot ensure the success of the
PDS unless the system responds and delivers on its promises.

The survey also included detailed discussions with sample households about cash transfers as a possible alternative to the PDS. Contrary to expectations, most people preferred food over cash. The reasons cited for their preference were food security, the convenience of the local ration shop, fear of money being frittered away, transaction costs, and the disheartening experience (including long delays) of bank payments under the National
Rural Employment Guarantee Act
(NREGA). “Food lasts, money gets spent in a day or two” was a common refrain. The PDS is the lifeline for families living on the edge of subsistence, just eating noon-bhaat (rice and salt) once or twice a day. On an average, the families we spoke to consumed about 70 kg of rice a month. Many households felt that, by covering about half of their grain requirements, the PDS was a critical source of food security.
The irregularities in foodgrain supply in Angara are not difficult to fix if there is political will. Streamlining the ‘doorstep delivery system’, placing ration shops in the hands of community institutions (such as gram panchayats and self-help groups), redesigning ration cards, and introducing other transparency and accountability measures such as social audits and computerisation of records are some of the obvious steps waiting to be taken. A harder task is to improve the selection of BPL households and expand the coverage of the PDS to avoid exclusion errors. As for cash transfers, the “cash vs food” debate seems premature as far as Jharkhand is concerned. The need of the hour is to make the PDS work. Only then will it make sense to discuss whether cash transfers can do even better.

Food Security

JANUARY 13, 2012

Loud no to cash
In Chhattisgarh, people swear by the PDS, which has witnessed a revival since
2004 when the government revamped it. B Y R A G H A V P U R I


The Mukhyamantri Khadya
Sahayata Yojna has added two million households to the existing
1.3 million getting subsidised rations. This has ensured near-universal PDS coverage.

N A N K I B EN , 6 4 , A widow from Binkara panchayat in Sarguja, followed the surveyors up to the end of the village asking them to promise that they would not replace the PDS with cash.

IN Chhattisgarh, as part of the survey on public distribution system (PDS) versus cash transfers, a team of student volunteers visited 12 villages spread across Mahasamund and Sarguja districts. The State may have been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent times, but the way its PDS worked came as a big surprise.
A large number of the respondents strongly opposed any move to introduce cash transfers. This was understandable, considering that 96 per cent of the
144 households that were interviewed got their full entitlement of 35 kg of foodgrain at Rs.2 a kg every month from the ration shop.
The PDS in the State has witnessed a revival since 2004 when the government took radical steps to revamp it. First among these was the shifting of the management of ration shops from private dealers to cooperative societies, gram panchayats and women’s self-help groups (SHGs). This not only helped plug leakages but also led to greater accountability and transparency.
Second, to address the problem of ‘fake ration cards’ the government computerised all ration card records and followed this up with verification drives at the gram panchayat level. All households that were surveyed had ration cards with an imprint of the most recent verification conducted last year.
Chhattisgarh also has a functioning PDS helpline number where complaints can be lodged.
Finally, the Mukhyamantri Khadya Sahayata
Yojna (MKSY, the Chief Minister’s Food Assistance
Scheme) provided ration cards to poor households that were excluded from the PDS because they were not on the BPL list. While 1.3 million households were already getting subsidised rations from the
PDS, the MKSY added another two million households at the State’s expense. This has helped attain a near-universal PDS; in rural areas, as much as 80 per cent of the population now have ration cards. More than half of the households that were interviewed were getting rations under the MKSY.
For the majority of PDS users, cash transfer was not a viable alternative; 93 per cent of the respondents preferred food rations from the local PDS shop to cash transfers to their bank or post-office accounts. There were many reasons for this: remote-


JANUARY 13, 2012

backs is better than making a trip to the bank and then a longer trek from the market to their village. The sarpanch of Chipparkaya told us that soon an extension counter of the ration shop would be constructed in the Pahari
Korba settlement, making it easier for them to purchase foodgrains, particularly in the dry season.



A T TH E LK O D D A D A R G R A M panchayat in Mahasamund district, people returning home with their rations.

ness of markets, risk of misuse of money, and, most importantly, food security. “If we get cash we will spend one day at the bank and one day at the market. When are we going to work?” said Chatru of Damodara panchayat in
Mahasamund district. His concerns are valid considering that the bank and the closest market selling rice throughout the year are both located at the block headquarters 18 km from his village. Many respondents, particularly women, expressed their concern over the possible misuse of money. With alcoholism being a major problem in these areas, many women were afraid of losing control over the household budget. According to Nyali Koshy from Badetemri panchayat in Mahasamund, “If we get cash then all decisions will be made by the men and we cannot keep an eye on them the entire day. If our men withdraw the cash and spend it, what will we do?”
Interestingly, even men were worried that cash would be spent on nonfood items. Many of them said they did
NREGA work for a day or borrowed from neighbours to make Rs.70 for the monthly rice quota of 35 kg. With cash transfers, they feared, this would

change as their spending on food (at much higher prices) would be decided on a day-to-day basis after taking other expenses into account.
Finally, food security itself was the prime concern of most households.
Mirabai of Aarangi panchayat in Pithora block aptly summed it up: “Will I eat the money? Who will ensure that I can find rice in the market?” Nidra from Damodara panchayat said: “Currently the government takes the trouble of ensuring that rice is available in the village but if we get cash then we will have to go looking around for rice.
For us, the ration shop is better.”
As paddy cultivation is seasonal, the supply of rice in the local markets is erratic. This leads to times when rice is not available and prices shoot up. The
PDS, however, ensures a regular supply of rice at subsidised rates to these families and also saves them a trip to the market, which often takes up an entire day.
In the remote panchayats of Chipparkaya and Teerang in Sarguja district, the Pahari Korba, a hill tribe, make a monthly trek to their ration shop located nearly 6 km away, in the plains. According to them, the uphill trek with 35 kg of foodgrains on their


Many of the respondents would rather see the government further improve the PDS than give them cash. Other than making the ration shops more accessible by opening extension counters in remote villages, the provision of subsidised dal (lentil) and cooking oil was high on their wish list. Large households complained that entitlements should be adjusted to the household size as 35 kg of foodgrains a month was just not enough for them.
Others wanted the wheat component of the PDS quota to be replaced with rice, as often they had to sell the wheat to buy the staple cereal, rice. It is hoped that these issues will be addressed in future discussions of the National
Food Security Bill, to be tabled soon in
As a student of public policy, I remember studying the success stories of cash transfers in South America – a favourite among proponents of cash transfers in India – and wondering why India was not promoting this model. However, this visit to Chhattisgarh was a much-needed reminder that “context matters”. While cash transfers may be a possible alternative to the PDS in areas where markets and banking services are functional and easily accessible, the large majority of
India’s poor live in villages like those in
Chhattisgarh. Cash transfers in these areas will not only make it more difficult for the rural poor to get foodgrains but also threaten food security.
An image that will remain with us is that of Nankiben, a 64-year-old widow from Binkara panchayat in Sarguja. She followed us up to the end of the village asking us to promise that we would not replace the PDS with cash transfers. Column

JANUARY 13, 2012

Mess in eurozone
The European lemmings are now leading the pack of the rest of us into the sea of the next big global economic crisis.
S it finally the endgame for the euro? Certainly the crisis has unfolded more rapidly in that economic union than most observers anticipated. Many people in positions of responsibility are already voicing what would have been thought unthinkable even a few months ago, talking about the real possibility of a break-up of the eurozone or at the very least the exit of one or more members.
Why and how has it reached this point so quickly? This reflects two major failings: first in the general understanding of the underpinnings of the economic problems in the eurozone; and second, in the insufficient and often misplaced attempts to deal with it by eurozone policymakers and indeed also by the International Monetary
First, consider the nature of the problem. This is often presented as a problem of excessive public debt and government profligacy. But nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that in the case of Greece, public deficits turned out to be much larger than they were declared to be in the previous decade (as the then government was assisted by the financier
Goldman Sachs in concealing the true extent of the gap). In most of the eurozone, as in the developed world generally, it was the financial crisis of
2008 that led to the emergence of very large government deficits.
The crisis meant that automatic stabilisers (which are more advanced in rich countries) and fiscal stimulus packages came into play. Public bailouts accounted for a large part of the deficit, as private bad debts were taken into public hands. The median public debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio in developed countries almost


JAYATI GHOSH doubled (to more than 60 per cent of
GDP) between 2007 and 2010. This process was particularly evident in
Spain and Ireland, both of which had followed extremely “prudent” fiscal policies in the run-up to the crisis, and even ran government surpluses. The subsequent shift to large deficits was because the governments took up the burden of dealing with the crisis, which was almost entirely a reflection of private sector imbalances.
Even now, the behaviour of bond markets appears to be inexplicable in relation to the so-called “fundamentals” of public debts and deficits. For example, as a percentage of GDP
Spain’s government debt is smaller than that of Germany. Yet Germany is seen as a safe bet, with German bonds trading at very low yields, while Spain has a very high risk premium on its public debt. In general, the eurozone countries that are being punished by the bond markets – and whose sovereign debts currently have very high in108


terest rate spreads over Germany’s – are not really characterised by high fiscal deficit to GDP ratios or high public debt. Rather, they are countries with significant current account deficits. This provides a clue as to the basic source of the crisis: the current account imbalances between eurozone countries, which have now become unsustainable, as private finance reacts by withholding capital flows. This happens to be expressed in the form of low prices and high yields on sovereign bonds, but the truth is that these “peripheral” countries are not in trouble because of fiscal imbalances but because capital inflows in the previous decade were associated with a rapid build-up of current account imbalances generated by the private sector.
So, this is essentially a banking crisis brought about by private capital inflows that then led to divergences in real exchange rates and trade balances.
Developing countries (or emerging markets as they are now called) are familiar with this kind of crisis – we have been there, done that and lost our
T shirts many times over. The question is what allowed such imbalances in real exchange rates (which is the same as saying, different price levels in different eurozone countries) to persist despite the claims of the European
Single Market, which was supposed to equalise goods and factor prices across the region. This failure of the Single
Market to deliver is at least one of the deeper roots of the current crisis.
Since the European Union as a whole has a current account that is broadly in balance, it follows that the deficits and surpluses within the region are broadly equal. So the deficits of countries such as Greece, Italy,


JANUARY 13, 2012

A P R OTE S T A G A I N S T pension cuts and new taxes in Athens. The deficit countries are being asked to generate export surpluses through wage compression and suppression of consumption. The surplus countries, especially Germany, are equally intent on preserving their own model of generating export surpluses by suppressing domestic consumption.

Spain and so on are counterbalanced by the surpluses of countries such as
Germany, which has clearly been among the most significant beneficiaries of the process of economic integration by being able to run export surpluses that are often supported by capital flows to finance importing countries. Within Europe, Germany and other capital exporting countries have been doing what China has been doing vis-a-vis the United States: providing capital flows that enable continued expansion of its own exports.

This reality is very far from the way matters are generally presented in the
European press, with austere Germans supposedly having to work hard to pay for the lazy Greeks lying in the sun drinking ouzo after retiring at 45 years.
In fact, Greeks on average have longer working hours and lower pay than
Germans, and since the bulk of them are self-employed or work in very small enterprises, many never really retire at all. The higher productivity levels in Germany are a reflection of the continued monopoly of intellectual property rights that prevent productivity-enhancing technologies from being spread to other countries. And

the greater competitiveness of Germany results from the fact that the benefits of this productivity growth have not been passed on to workers.
The misreading of the nature of the crisis is then naturally reflected in the misguided and therefore continuously ineffectual attempts at solution. Much is made of the fact that European leaders keep meeting (with lesser or greater degrees of acrimony) and promising speedy resolution, yet things keep getting worse. Even the proposed moves towards fiscal union, necessary though they are, will at best correct the “stock” aspect of the problem, of dealing with what are now unsustainable debt situations. The flow correction – of addressing the external imbalances within the eurozone – is still unlikely to evolve within this framework. WRONG MEDICINE

A very major reason for this is the assumption that government austerity measures in the deficit countries can correct the situation. In the absence of any possibility of exchange rate devaluation for countries in the eurozone, these countries are being asked to undergo major “internal devaluations” in the form of falling wages and conFRONTLINE


sumption, thereby severely contracting their economies. Everywhere the emphasis is on reduced spending rather than economic growth as the means out of the crisis. Even the much-vaunted new prudential regulations on finance – the Basel III norms – will do precious little to reduce the irresponsibility and moral hazards of big banks, but they will cause credit flows to small businesses to dry up even more, thus further reducing growth prospects.
Wrong diagnosis means that the wrong medicine is being prescribed.
The countries in deficit are being asked to generate export surpluses through internal wage compression and suppression of domestic consumption.
But where are they to export to? The surplus countries in the eurozone, especially Germany, are equally intent on preserving their own model of generating export surpluses by suppressing domestic consumption. This is a recipe for Europe-wide recession if not depression. The problem is compounded by the uncertain growth in the U.S. Other growing economies such as China, Brazil and India are simply not large enough in the aggregate to take up the slack and in any case are also adversely affected by the
European slowdown.
All this would be bad news in itself, but everything is rendered more urgent by the behaviour of financial markets, which have accelerated the processes of decline and added to the confusion. The stated goals of fiscal union will take time, a complicated political procedure that cannot be simply pushed through despite the best will of individual leaders.
Meanwhile, a major “drop in confidence” and movement of capital out of any one country can, indeed will, precipitate a liquidity crisis so severe that some default will be inevitable. The consequences, as developing countries know so well, are contagion to other markets, bank failures, and credit crunch. No doubt about it, the European lemmings are now leading the pack of the rest of us into the sea of the next big global economic crisis.


JANUARY 13, 2012

Losing momentum Economists caution that unless the authorities come up with an agenda of action, the incipient slowdown can get entrenched. B Y G . S R I N I V A S A N


The government’s silence on policy reforms like putting in place a GST and pruning subsidies has unnerved investors. The muddle over the move to allow FDI in multi-brand retail without ensuring stakeholders’ consent has added to their jitters.
IN the trajectory from the euphoric statement in the pre-Budget Economic Survey in early 2011 that the economy would continue its dream run of 9 per cent growth in the final year of the Eleventh FiveYear Plan (2007-12) to the recent reality check that it would only be in the 7 to 7.3 per cent range lies a twist in the Indian growth story. The reasons for the changing fortunes of the domestic economy are not far to seek. Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee himself said at the Delhi Economics Conclave in mid-December that “the struggle against inflation and tightening interest rate regime has contributed to lowering of growth in demand and investment”.
The economy today is in the grip of a host of difficulties: high energy prices, halting pace of recovery in advanced economies, strained government finances partly because of a slowing economy that finds no meaningful alternatives to huge consumption expenditure, and no major relief from high inflation. Official figures show that the GDP growth dipped below 7 per cent in the second quarter (JulySeptember) of the current fiscal. It moderated to 6.9 per cent in the second quarter of 2011-12 from 7.7 per

cent in the first quarter and 8.8 per cent in the corresponding quarter a year ago. The monetary policy review of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced on December 16 attributed the deceleration in economic activity mainly to a sharp moderation in industrial growth. The RBI also saw a significant slowdown in investment. As a consequence, during the first half (April-September) of
2011-12, GDP growth slowed down to 7.3 per cent from 8.6 per cent last year.
The contraction in the index of industrial production (IIP) during October 2011, the latest figure, bears out the worst performance since March 2009.
The RBI said the dip in industrial output was mainly because of contraction in manufacturing and mining activities. The contraction was particularly pronounced in capital goods with a year on year (y-o-y) decline of 25.5 per cent, reinforcing the investment decline story.

It may be noted that the country’s industrial output steadily increased during the last three years, after the global financial meltdown in 2008, from 2.5 per cent in 2008-09 to 5.3 per cent in 2009-10 and to a relatively robust 8.2 per cent in the last fiscal. In the current fiscal, it became tepid during April to October by logging a measly 3.5 per cent growth com-


JANUARY 13, 2012

fuel issues such as ensuring due availability of coal to thermal power stations and natural gas to user-industries such as fertilizer and power, is another factor contributing to the low industrial output.



A T A SMA L L production unit in
Mumbai. In the current fiscal, India’s industrial output became tepid during April to October by logging a measly 3.5 per cent growth compared with 8.7 per cent in the corresponding months of the previous year.

pared with 8.7 per cent in the corresponding months of the previous year.
In a labour-surplus country with an army of employable people who are either under-employed or unemployed, a slowdown in industrial growth provokes particular concern as it impacts employment, for skilled, semiskilled and unskilled people alike.
Economists are also worried over the marked decline of the capital goods sector within the IIP, which points to the insipid investment scenario that is in the first instance ascribable to the continuation of astronomical interest rates and elevated levels of inflation in the domestic economy. The persistent deceleration in the mining output, partly due to policy inertia to resolve

The slowdown has spread, as a logical corollary, from the industrial segment to the export sector. Merchandise exports growth fell sharply to an average of 13.6 per cent y-o-y in October-November 2011 from an average of 40.6 per cent in the first half of 2011-12.
This confirms the worst fear expressed even in official circles that the splendid show on the export front during the first half would be daunting to repeat in the second half.
Even as imports moderated less than exports, the trade deficit threatened to go beyond $150 billion for the whole fiscal. In this context, Ramu S.
Deora, president of the Federation of
Indian Export Organisations (FIEO), rued that despite the negative numbers in industrial output and deceleration in export growth, the badly needed reduction in interest rates could not come about even as the RBI did not tinker with policy rates in its incessant fight against inflation. He requested the authorities to ensure export finance at a concessional rate not more than 7 per cent for medium, small and micro enterprises and 9 per cent for large businesses to boost exports and stem the whopping trade deficit. The escalating trade deficit in the face of dwindling capital flows from abroad meant putting pressure on the current account, which threatens to go up. No wonder, the RBI rightly put that “this combined with rebalancing of global portfolios by foreign institutional investors and the tendency of exporters to defer repatriating their export earnings has led to significant pressure on the rupee”.
As of mid-December 2011, the rupee had depreciated by about 17 per cent against the dollar over its level on
August 5, 2011, the day on which the
U.S. debt downgrade happened, the


RBI cryptically put it. The rupee plummeted in value from Rs.45 to Rs.54 to the dollar before recovering slightly to
Rs.52.80 on December 16, evoking considerable clamour from the corporates and the political dispensation for the RBI to intervene in the currency market to arrest the fast depreciating value of the rupee. But critics of any interventionist approach by the central bank cautioned the authorities not to fall into such a trap as this would run down forex reserves even when such reserves at $308 billion would warrant no worry.
Fortunately, the RBI did not underpin intervention as it made its stance clear on December 15 by issuing new rules circumscribing the net open positions of banks in foreign exchange, limiting some forms of currency speculations and reducing the ability of importers and exporters to bet on the future of the rupee. But this move too was construed as the tendency of the central bank to micromanage the market, giving wrong signals to investors, particularly overseas ones.

In the eventual analysis, the government’s profound silence on moving ahead with policy reforms in crucial areas, like putting in place a goods and services tax (GST) and pruning the bloating subsidies, have unnerved the sentiments of investors, both domestic and overseas. The recent muddle over opening up foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail without ensuring stakeholders’ due consent has only added to the jitters of investors.
To this must be added the woes of domestic companies of working under the unconscionable burden of a highcost economy which drain them of any energy to focus their attention on the core issue of managing their affairs in a hassle-free fashion.
Economists caution that unless the authorities bestir themselves with purposeful programme and an agenda of action to complement their best intentions, the incipient slowdown of the economy can get entrenched before long. Economy

JANUARY 13, 2012

‘Primary concern is to control inflation’
Interview with C. Rangarajan, Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic
Advisory Council. B Y G . S R I N I V A S A N

“If the subsidy to support food security goes up, we must be willing to make necessary downward adjustment in petroleum and fertilizer subsidies.”


expected to take advantage of it. The services sector is also growing at a reasonably high level. It is only with respect to industrial production one notes a slackening in growth. The reasons for the decline in the industrial growth rate can be traced to tighter monetary policy, rise in inflation and weak sentiments in the markets.
The fixed capital investment has come down from the pre-crisis levels of 33 per cent of GDP. Some of the areas in which decline in production has been noted include coal and electricity. Coal
AS India’s economic growth is in production has declined for three slowdown mode, the authorities are months in a row, but there was some putting on a brave face on what in their improvement in November. But the view is a transitory phenomenon. In decline in the output of some of the order to get a proper understanding of infrastructure areas has affected overthe underlying weaknesses in the econall growth. omy and their fallout in terms of the
To some extent the rise in interest prevalent pessimism, Frontline spoke rates may also have affected the into Dr C. Rangarajan, the ace economist centive to reinvest. It might have led to and Chairman of the Prime Minister’s the postponement of investment in the
Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC), hope that the interest rates will come at his Vigyan Bhawan Annex office in down later. To this must be added the
New Delhi. Known for demystifying sentiments within the corporate sector jargons to make even complex issues which might have been affected by a easy to understand, Rangarajan is san- C. R AN G A R AJ A N : variety of factors that happened in the guine about the prospects of the econo- “I N D I A is one country last one or two years in the polity. my, both in the short term and over the where the growth rate
Now, what can be done in order to long haul. Excerpts from an interview is still high, above
7 per cent.” reverse the trend that has been seen? with him:
First, investment-output targets set
What is your forecast on the gross domestic product for the various public enterprises must be fulfilled.
(GDP) growth for the current fiscal, given the
There has been a shortfall in meeting coal output. distinct slowdown of the economy?
Capacity creation in electricity has fallen short of the
It is my estimate that the Indian economy will target. Hence, a strong growth in public investment grow between 7 and 7.25 per cent. We have lowered can be the driving force for the revival of sentiment the growth estimate from the earlier level of 8.2 per and for pushing the economy forward. cent. The factors responsible for the decline in growth rate are many. One, the external factors have Are you suggesting another bout of fiscal stimulus not been very hospitable for a faster growth of the after the ones we have had since 2008?
No, the fiscal space available now for any stimueconomy. In the current fiscal, agriculture will do well as the monsoon has been good, and farmers are lus has narrowed since 2008. A fiscal stimulus is not


JANUARY 13, 2012

possible, but the fulfilment of the targets set for the various entities in the public sector in the areas of road, railways, ports and electricity can act as a big force for reviving the economy.
Second, as inflation is coming down, there can be a reversal in the stance of monetary policy as well.
Is the trade-off between fighting inflation and promoting growth telling upon itself in the slowdown?
People talk of trade-off between inflation and growth but this is not a genuine trade-off. A low level of inflation is most conducive to economic growth in the medium-term. One should therefore look at the efforts to tame inflation as a move to maintain the appropriate environment for medium-term growth. Therefore, to some extent, the tightening of monetary policy may have had some effect on the growth of the economy in the shortterm. Investors might postpone taking on new projects in the hope that the interest rate will come down later.
Nevertheless, taking action to control inflation has become increasingly important because inflation rates had touched very high levels. Since January of this year until November the inflation rate has remained above 9 per cent. The primary concern of the monetary authority is to control inflation.
But there are signs of inflation coming down. Food inflation showed a sharp decline in the first week of December. Unlike last year, when food prices, including vegetable prices, rose sharply during winter, this may not happen in the current year. Therefore in the first quarter of the calendar year
2012, we will see a very sharp decline in food prices. I expect that by March
2012 the inflation rate will go down to
7 per cent or even below that.
Is there any worry over the soundness of the country’s banking industry as the overseas rating agencies had questioned their asset quality in recent times?
non-performing assets (NPAs) as a proportion of total advances have shown some increases in

the recent period. Nevertheless it remains at a low level. The borrowing programmes of the government have been enhanced slightly, but this is partly because the collections from small savings have come down. Therefore it is really a compensatory effort.
On the whole, the demands on the banking system by the government will not be much higher than what was originally envisaged. The banking industry needs to watch its lending programmes so that the NPA as a proportion of total advances is kept at the current level.
Well, when rating agencies talk about asset quality, they talk in terms of lending by the commercial banks to priority sectors. In one sense, when the economy is not growing fast, there is always a tendency for the NPAs to rise because the investments had been made on certain expectations of growth and if growth comes down below the expected level, there is always some problem. But if growth picks up, this problem will be resolved. Therefore I think the problem being faced by the banking industry may be temporary in nature. Once growth picks up, this problem should go. I do expect that in the next fiscal 2012-13, the economy will grow closer to 8 per cent.
What is your view on the rapid depreciation in the exchange value of the rupee and the sustainability of the current account deficit?
The current account deficit in the current year may be higher than 2.5 per cent of GDP, which we had indicated in our last report. But the problem on the rupee has developed because of a mismatch between the current account deficit and capital flows which are required to finance the deficit. Last year our current account deficit was 2.6 per cent of GDP, but the capital flows were adequate to cover the current account deficit and to add
$15 billion to the reserves.
In the current fiscal, the capital flows have not been adequate and consequently the pressure on the rupee has developed. If capital flows revive in the course of the first three months of


2012, the pressure on the rupee will ease. Are policy inertia and reversal of reform such as opening up multibrand retail to FDI responsible for investors’ reluctance to bet on India with their money?
Capital flows are dependent factors that operate in the rest of the world. Capital flows diminish towards the end of the year. December is not a month when one finds large capital flows. Since most of the companies work on the basis of the calendar year, the allocations to India will pick up in the first quarter of calendar year 2012 and that is the reason why I expect the capital flows to improve after the onset of 2012. No doubt, investors are influenced both by external and domestic factors. To the extent to which growth has been below expectations, it will affect the sentiments of foreign investors. The high level of inflation and decline in industrial output might have had some effect upon the investors’ attitude. As India still maintains a high growth of over 7 per cent, India may still rank high when foreign investors are allocating funds among different countries.
Are the rights-based approaches to development by the United
Progressive Alliance (UPA) and mounting subsidies out of sync with fiscal health?
I think it has to be managed. Obviously, if the food security Bill covers a much larger segment of the population, the subsidy will go up. What is therefore really required is prioritising the subsidies – one might give more subsidies under food security but some other subsidies have to be adjusted downwards in order to accommodate that. Therefore what is really relevant is the total amount of subsidy provided in the Budget. Perhaps we are now providing large subsidies for petroleum products and fertilizers. If the subsidy to support food security goes up, we must be willing to make necessary downward adjustment in petroleum and fertilizer subsidies.

Climate Change

JANUARY 13, 2012

Uncertain stand
India fails to extract emission cut commitments from Annex I countries in return for agreeing to the Durban Mandate at the climate talks. B Y R . R A M A C H A N D R A N and Cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, at an informal late-night plenary on December 10, long after the scheduled closure of the summit on the evening of December 9. It has been delivered as part of a package – the Durban Package – of four decisions on a take-it-or-leave-it basis with no time for the negotiating teams to study and discuss it before endorsing it.
The elements of the Durban Package are : (i) the
Second Commitment Period (SCP) for emissions reduction by Annex I countries under the Kyoto
Protocol (as negotiated under the Ad Hoc Working
Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under KP (AWG-KP)); (ii) a decision on the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooper-

Having introduced “equity with sustainable development” as part of the three new items that it wanted included in the provisional agenda of COP discussions, India failed to force it when it actually mattered.

MI N I S T E RS H U D D LED D U RI N G a plenary session at the United Nations Climate Change
Conference (COP17) in Durban December 11, when they reached an agreement to extend the
Kyoto Protocol.


INDIAN negotiators perhaps lost the wood for the trees at the two-week-long 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in
Durban, South Africa, by agreeing to the text of the final decision. The key component of this decision – call it the Durban Mandate – is the launching of a new round of negotiations known as the Durban
Platform for Enhanced Action (DPEA) aimed at a new climate control agreement under the UNFCCC involving “all” countries.
The legal nature of this new agreement has been left undefined – it could be a protocol, another legal instrument, or “an agreed outcome with legal force”.
The last phrase in quotes, whose meaning is not quite clear, was incorporated after prolonged wrangling as a compromise to India’s insistence on including “legal outcome” as the third option.
The exact form of this new agreement is to be developed by an Ad Hoc Working Group on the
Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which will begin work in the first half of 2012 itself. The body has been mandated by the decision to formalise the regime not later than 2015 so that it can be adopted at COP21 that year and brought into effect in 2020.
The final draft document containing this decision was proposed by the COP17 President, the
South African Minister for International Relations


ative Action (AWG-LCA); (iii) a decision on the Green Climate Fund
(GCF); and (iv) an agreement on the
Durban Platform.
Developing (or non-Annex I) countries initially resisted this vigorous and concerted move by developed
(Annex I) countries to put in place a new legally binding climate agreement involving all countries right from the start of the talks. The developing countries instead wanted a definitive decision to have the KP – under which only
Annex I countries had to meet emission reduction targets – extended for the SCP beginning 2013, with more ambitious targets so as to prevent global warming beyond the ‘guardrail’ of 20Celsius that can otherwise lead to catastrophic climatic consequences for the world. That resistance could not be sustained as in the end the European
Union (E.U.) presented the new legal regime as a quid pro quo for the KP’s

To recall, the AWG-KP was established in 2005 and mandated to arrive at commitments for Annex I countries beyond 2012 in aggregate and individually. The AWG-LCA was instituted in
2007 as part of the Bali Action Plan
(BAP) for a shared vision for long-term cooperative action, including global goal for emission reductions. The BAP was premised on four key elements – national and international action on mitigation (which brought the United
States, a KP non-signatory, on board to take actions comparable to other
Annex I countries under the KP); adaptation, technology development and transfer to support mitigation and adaptation by developing countries, financing to support mitigation and adaptation and technology cooperation. Since then, negotiations have followed this twin-tracks approach although since COP15, with the Copenhagen Accord, there has been a consistent attempt by developed coun-


JANUARY 13, 2012

Minister and President of COP17
Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and
COP17 Executive Director Christiana
Figueres on the final day of negotiations. tries to dismantle it and impose obligations for mitigation on developing countries under some mechanism that involves all countries.
Most developed countries were not interested in having this KP-mandated top-down approach extended. This has been in evidence since COP15 and the attempts since then have been to replace it with a far weaker bottom-up
“pledge and review” mechanism based on a laissez-faire approach of voluntary emission cuts by each country that will include non-Annex I countries as well – a mechanism that would remove the distinction between developing and developed countries and merge the twin-tracks approach. The developed countries’ argument has been that developing countries now contributed to over 60 per cent of current emissions, with China and India being among the major carbon emitters in the world, and that any international treaty to restrict emissions made sense only if it included the major non-Annex I emitters as well.
Only the E.U., with its already legFRONTLINE


JANUARY 13, 2012

islated commitment to reduce emissions to 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and its offer of 30 per cent reduction conditioned upon other developed countries committing themselves to comparable emission reductions and developing countries contributing “adequately according to their responsibilities and respective capabilities”, was willing to accept an
SCP – but only if a new legally binding agreement aimed at mitigation targets for all countries was put in place by
2020 that would bring all – Annex I and non-Annex I – countries under it.
Indeed, in a statement released on
November 24 from Brussels, the E.U. had stated: “The U.N. climate change conference…must agree on a road map and deadline for finalising an ambitious, comprehensive and legally binding global framework for climate action by all major economies. Agreement on this road map is of the reassurances the E.U. requires for entering into a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.” With developing countries not wanting Durban to be the ‘burial ground’ for the KP, the E.U. was able to carry many developing countries with it and, of course, developed countries, in particular the U.S., had always wanted a treaty that maintained a “symmetry” between developed countries and other major emitters, India and China. Indeed, Para 7 of the Durban Mandate states this explicitly by requiring the launching of
“a work plan on enhancing mitigation ambition to identify and to explore options for a range of actions that can close the ambition gap with a view to ensuring the highest possible mitigation efforts by all parties”.
The KP has survived through the adoption of the outcome report of the
AWG-KP by the President on the morning of December 11 though at this stage this would seem only notional because the AWG-KP has not yet arrived at any emission reduction targets
(through amendment to Annex B of the Protocol) that the science of climate change calls for and the SCP has not been spelt out. But it still remains to be seen what these numbers will be

– given that the pledged targets following the Copenhagen Accord fall well short of what climate change demands as pointed out by the 2010 UNEP report (Frontline, July 16, 2010), the ambition gap – and whether these are translated into actual legally binding commitments under the Protocol. India should have extracted emission cut commitments of the Annex 1 countries in return for agreeing to the Durban
Mandate, especially when what form this new agreement is likely to take remains unknown. More significantly, what could have serious consequences in future negotiations is that the Durban Mandate makes no mention at all of “equity”, or common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR).
The draft decision that the President proposed was apparently the result of a series of closed-door talks over a few days among 20-30 countries.
When the E.U. and other European countries and several developing countries (including the Alliance of
Small Island States, AOSIS) insisted on a legally binding regime, which was a red line for India and China, both the countries baulked and wanted to add the third option, “legal outcome”. This was included in the President’s final draft that was circulated at the late night plenary. Although NkoanaMashabane appealed to the texts of the four decisions as a whole, the chief climate negotiator of E.U., Connie Hedegaard, asked for reopening the Durban Mandate and demanded deletion of the third option. The E.U. had perceived legal outcome as weaker than a treaty or a legally enforceable instrument for emission cuts. This set in motion prolonged discussion on the issue.
In response, the Indian Minister,
Jayanthi Natarajan, argued that equity and the CBDR were central to the debate on climate change and asked the parties not to push aside these issues. She asked how she could sign away the livelihoods of the poor when she did not know what the agreement would contain. She said the Durban
Platform was the product of six days of talking and all ideas had been put forth but the final document was only the


sense of the chair. The issue of equity, she said, could not be held hostage and it could not be pushed aside by the
Durban process. However, these pleas did not pass muster with the developed countries, and notably the AOSIS group, as there had not been until then any sustained campaign by India to present equity as the core demand of developing countries to be met by the negotiation process under the COP, backed by well-researched numbers and arguments.
According to reports, India offered to withdraw the words “legal outcome” if the principles of equity and the
CBDR were incorporated in the document. While the E.U. was willing to accept this, the U.S. chief negotiator,
Todd Stern, who apparently put pressure on the President to remove this from the draft document in the first place, rejected it, saying that his country would not accept it. Eventually, a compromise was struck with the words
“legal outcome” being replaced by
“agreed outcome with legal force” as apparently suggested by Brazil’s chief negotiator, Ambassador Luis Figueiredo Machado.
Having introduced “equity with


JANUARY 13, 2012

DE M ONS T R A T E outside the

conference venue on December 2. sustainable development” as part of the three new items that India wanted included in the provisional agenda of
COP discussions (items 11, 12 and 13),
India failed to force it when it actually mattered. In fact, Jayanthi Natarajan commented at the plenary that the issue had been pushed somewhere else and did not form part of the main
AWG-LCA document. Indeed, when she raised the equity issue, China and many other developing countries supported her and, with the E.U. willing to go along, if India had stuck to the demand for its inclusion in the draft, the
U.S. would have been isolated. Ground was yielded too easily by India perhaps out of fear of being called a ‘deal breaker’. It is unlikely that the third option is likely to fly in the negotiations to follow. Instead, if India had agreed to the other two options in return for a document inclusive of equity and the
CBDR, India could have assumed a leadership role among the developing countries in the ensuing negotiations on Durban Platform. Considering that

a legally binding commitment would have come into force in 2020 only by when India will necessarily have to take serious mitigatory measures any way, by playing a central role in the negotiations, India could have ensured that its architecture did not seriously constrain development and harm the interests of developing countries. By being too concerned about giving in to a legally binding treaty, India did not see the broader issue of equity to be important enough to take a tough negotiating stand on it.
But this lost ground can be regained because even though the phrases of concern have not been stated explicitly, the draft decision states that it will be a “protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the convention applicable to all parties…” (emphasis added). Since equity and the CBDR are intrinsic to the convention, the italicised phrase can be appropriately exploited to bring back that paradigm into the negotiations. But that requires hard-nosed negotiations backed by solid homework on how equity can be built in and operationalised through such a treaty. Preparing a wellthought-out strategy along with China for future negotiations and proactively taking into confidence other developing countries who can rally behind India’s stand when the crunch comes need to be high on India’s agenda. And this has to be done quickly because the mandate requires parties to submit their views by February 28, 2012. But this is not going to be easy as the U.S., having rejected its inclusion, would in the final decision try to interpret strictly by the text, which makes no reference to equity or the CBDR.
In fact, the report of the AWF-LCA was pushed through by the Chair, Daniel Reifsnyder of the U.S., even as developing countries raised concerns over many specific issues contained therein, in particular its lack of balance in relation to mitigatory actions by developed and developing countries.
Several developing countries pointed out the absence of any reference to historical responsibility and the prinFRONTLINE


ciple of the CBDR. Many countries expressed unhappiness over the fact that the document did not talk about the level of mitigation ambition needed by developed countries and that there was no provision for the comparability of mitigation efforts between KP parties and non-KP parties. Clearly, this has reference to the U.S., but the U.S. was fundamentally opposed to any attempt at Durban to review its pledge or on how to raise the ambition of GHG emission reductions. It had also rejected the idea of a common accounting framework or rules or compliance regime, which many developing countries and the E.U. called for. Referring to the Cancun Agreements, it said that it had given no mandate for such a review or establishing common rules.
There was also a demand from developing countries for working on the report to restore the balance. They were not in favour of adoption of the outcome document at Durban and proposed that this be done next year.
But the chair, in an unprecedented move, transmitted the report to the
COP under his own authority. However, he also submitted a note (Conference Room Paper 39), in which he stated that ideas and proposals made in informal groups would be carried forward in discussions next year. What these proposals are is unclear.
The Durban Mandate thus also includes the decision to “extend AWGLCA under the convention for one year and reach the agreed outcome pursuant to… [Bali Action Plan] through decisions adopted by the 16th, 17th and 18th sessions of the COP, at which time AWG-LCA… will be terminated”.
The two tracks have got a life of one more year but they will end with
COP18 at Doha. Whether the AWGKP succeeds with an effective SCP and more ambitious targets for Annex 1 countries remains to be seen. But the
AWG-LCA will just end as mandated at Durban without any substantive movement forward on any of the four key elements of the BAP, which could have a serious impact on developing countries’ efforts at mitigation and adaptation.


JANUARY 13, 2012

A lost battle?
Any conclusion of the current exercise in favour of probity in public life without the CBI being taken out of the purview of the government will be unfortunate.
HE impasse over the Lokpal
Bill continues. The inability to arrive at a consensus on the subject even after a longdrawn-out all-party meeting convened by the United Progressive
Alliance (UPA) government on December 14 came as no surprise. It confirmed the widely held view that political parties across the spectrum were not exactly interested in entrusting the fight against graft to more convincing and autonomous centres of authority. The concept of a new and powerful ombudsman or an autonomous Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) does not excite them. It actually scares a few of our legislators. Driven to a corner by strident public opinion, they could at best accept the Lokpal as a necessary evil. Nothing more. I am not for a moment suggesting that all law-makers in our country are dishonest. This is the mistake I believe Team Anna has made. Branding all politicians corrupt and lacking in integrity is not only erroneous and unfair, it actually earns
Team Anna more enemies.
In fact, it works to the unintended advantage of those venal elements who somehow want to scuttle the movement against the current shockingly low standards in public life. What we are now witness to is simply a case of many politicians wanting to let sleeping dogs lie.
Indifference suits the majority in the polity, who want to just drift in the hope that Team Anna, unable to sustain itself for too long, will just vanish very soon. They are possibly right, because the odds are weighted heavily against Anna succeeding. This is especially because Anna has somehow given the feeling, wittingly or unwittingly,


Law and Order
R.K. RAGHAVAN that he is acting at the behest of those who are opposed to the current establishment. Also, some of the language employed by a few in his camp has been excessively vitriolic.
After 40 years in government I have realised that a sense of balance and the ability to restrain oneself – even when one is outraged and provoked by calumny poured by vested interests – and to doggedly focus on one’s objective earns one rich dividends. This is the test one faces almost ceaselessly in public life. If you succeed in facing up to the mud thrown at you, there is an even chance of your succeeding. Or else you will come to grief or just vanish. Anna and his admirers should remember this.
It is, however, unfortunate that the momentum built against corruption by Anna is being frittered away. This is not only because of the wrong tactics of
Team Anna, it is also the result of the ganging up of a wide range of forces for whom venality is part of their lives and


the expression “anti-corruption” is anathema. And such forces dominate every government.
These are, therefore, critical times for those who want to see a transformation of India into a low-corruption country. If a strong and autonomous
Lokpal (read the CBI) is not created now, it will never be. For, it would take decades for another phenomenon like
Team Anna to arrive on the scene. This is real tragedy, especially when even a contentious issue regarding the Prime
Minister has reportedly been sorted out, with the government agreeing to bow down to the popular sentiment that no one should be above the law.
Incidentally, I am amused by the amount of misinformation that envelops the matter. Whoever said that the
Prime Minister was now above the law? He enjoys no immunity, in power or out of it. There is nothing in the law that at present prevents the CBI (under a maverick Director) or a private individual from taking the Prime Minister to the court of law on a charge of misconduct. This is one example of how ignorance of law or pretence of it distorts the exercise seeking to bring about greater accountability of a public servant. In my view the debate over the Prime Minister is frivolous and inane. The draft legislation approved by the Union Cabinet will be taken up by
Parliament on December 27. The Lokpal Bill is said to be categorical that the
CBI will be out of the purview of the
Lokpal. Two major concessions the
Bill is believed to make are: the Prime
Minister will be within the ambit of the
Lokpal, and the legal requirement of a mandatory government sanction of prosecution to proceed against a corrupt public servant will be done away


JANUARY 13, 2012


a recent public rally against corruption in Chennai.

with. The major bone of contention remains the status of the CBI, and the
Lokpal’s control over it. The government seems to be clear that the Lokpal will have little to do with the CBI. This has incensed Team Anna who is determined to take this issue to the streets.
Pitched battles in many centres are a distinct possibility.
The Lokpal will perhaps have its own small investigative wing that could at best launch a preliminary enquiry, and then pass on the findings to the CBI for appropriate action. This is what the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) does under the present dispensation. So, will the Lokpal be duplicating the CVC’s role? This is a ludicrous situation, to say the least. If this is going to be the ultimate outcome of the exercise forced on the government by Team Anna, we have definitely lost the battle.
There is overwhelming public opinion that the CBI, as presently placed in the government hierarchy, will remain a tool in the government’s hands, either to protect one who is part of the establishment, or to frame someone who is against the government of the day. This popular perception may be a slightly exaggerated assessment of the readiness of the CBI to bend to its political masters.
People who assail the CBI on this count tend to forget that the organisation is accountable to the judiciary in

every sense of the term. A charge sheet against an accused is scrutinised by a magistrate and then the trial court before the latter frames charges. Any irregularity or dishonesty is easily detected at this stage by these two levels of judicial authority.
There is also the additional safeguard that anyone who has been wrongly excluded from a charge sheet can still be made to face trial at the initiative of a private individual or the court acting suo motu. This is why it is not all that easy for the CBI to protect any wrongdoer, however highly placed he or she may be. The CBI’s accountability to the law and the judiciary is not a myth. It is real. The 2G spectrum case is an instant example.
Fundamental to the demand for total autonomy of the CBI is the fact that our jurisprudence does not permit any executive interference in the process of setting the criminal law in motion. There is no way any authority can tinker with the right of an investigating officer to file his own conclusions before a competent court. Courts in
India have recognised this. Please recall the Supreme Court refusing to vet the charge sheet in the 2G spectrum case. Courts generally refrain from ordering who should be arrested and when a first information report (FIR) should be registered. “Act as per law” is the dictum that they usually commend to an investigating agency. This is why


I have always held the view that the public prosecutor has no authority to prevent an investigator from placing all his facts in a court. The PP, if he does not agree with the investigator, can at best convey his views in as many words to the judge concerned.
Fortunately, such an unseemly situation is usually avoided by a judicious investigator, who does not want to weaken a case so assiduously probed by him through engaging in a fight with the PP. A Superintendent of Police or Director of the CBI can overrule his legal adviser or PP and act on lines he considers most appropriate.
Any conclusion of the current exercise in favour of probity in public life without the CBI being taken out of the purview of the government will be unfortunate. It is a victory for dishonest elements in the polity. Remember, their numbers are not insignificant.
In my view the CBI, despite all its faults (slow pace of investigation, poor infrastructure, inadequate legal support and lack of incentives to its personnel), is the best bet to bring about greater fear of the law among those who enjoy enormous money power.
The latter tribe is burgeoning at an alarming pace. There should be no objection to the CBI being taken out of the CVC’s ambit and transferred to be part of the Lokpal establishment. But this will be only to give the kind of administrative support that is now lent to the CBI by the Department of Personnel of the Government of India and the CVC. Beyond this, the Lokpal should have no say on how the CBI will conduct its inquiries/investigation.
The Lokpal can, of course, send complaints received by it directly from the public to the CBI for further action.
But the Lokpal cannot dictate how the
CBI should dispose of such complaints. This is analogous to the role of
“superintendence” of the CVC over the
CBI that the CVC Act permits now.
Let us hope some good sense prevails among both members of Parliament and Team Anna. Posterity will not forgive them if they do not reach a consensus quickly in favour of honesty in public life.


JANUARY 13, 2012

Deep distrust
In Tamil Nadu, protests and rallies mark people’s opposition to the Kerala government’s stand on the Mullaperiyar dam. B Y T . S . S U B R A M A N I A N


Be it farmers’ association leaders, retired PWD chief engineers, small peasants or businessmen, nobody believes that Kerala will provide water to Tamil Nadu from the new dam it proposes.

cardamom estates in
Udumbancholai in Idukki district of Kerala who trekked the hilly slopes of the Western Ghats to reach Thevaram in Theni on December 15.


KUDIRAI PANCHA PARAI is a craggy hill on the Tamil Nadu side of the border with Kerala. At a distance is the narrow bed of a dry stream, lined with scrub jungles on both sides, and barren landscape thereafter. Driving along it from Thevaram village in
Theni district, one could see a group of people carefully climbing down the hill ranges of the Western
Ghats on December 15. One of them was Kasammal,


a physically challenged woman in her thirties. She used a stick to support her weight and was helped by her mother, Chinnathai, to negotiate the downhill slope. “We left Udumbancholai in Kerala around 11
a.m. We crossed two hills and thick jungles and walked for more than four hours to reach this place,” said Kasammal. At Kudirai Pancha Parai, Sub-Inspector P. Sounderarajan and his men from Thevaram police station waited to receive them and drive them to the village, 6 km away.
Kasammal and family were among the group of
23 Tamils, including 11 women, working in a cardamom estate in Udumbancholai in Idukki district of
Kerala and fleeing their homes there after violence broke out over the Mullaperiyar dam dispute between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Vehicular movement across the border on either side through Kumily had been blocked for more than 10 days, and they had to trek 16 km to reach Tamil Nadu.
“All of us belong to the Kamakshi Vilasam estate,” said Mayakka, an elderly woman. “Although we were safe within the estate, which is 2 km from
Udumbancholai town, Tamils were being attacked in the neighbouring area. Buses are not plying between the two States. So we walked for four hours to reach this place,” she said.
There have been spontaneous rallies in several towns in Theni district to protest against the Kerala government’s stand on the safety of the Mullaperiyar dam ever since the stand-off between Tamil Nadu and Kerala over the dam erupted again this November. The Mullaperiyar dam, fed by the Periyar river, is situated in Kerala, and its waters irrigate the five districts of Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivaganga and
Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu. Using the dam’s waters that flow through a main canal and 18 subcanals into Tamil Nadu, farmers in the five districts cultivate paddy, sugarcane, banana, grapes, coconut, vegetables, a variety of pulses and cotton. The dam also supplies drinking water to people in these districts.
Rallies held every day in Theni, Upparpatti,
Chinnamanur, Uthamapalayam, Cumbum, Thevaram, Kombai, Gudalur, Lower Camp, Bodinaickanur, all situated in Theni district, were attended by


JANUARY 13, 2012

20,000 to 80,000 people. Their demands were that the Kerala government should give up its proposal to build a new dam downstream and demolish the Mullaperiyar dam; the
Centre should deploy the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel to provide security to the dam;
Kerala should allow the Tamil Nadu government to raise the water level in the dam from the current 136 feet
(41.45 metres) to 142 feet (43 m) according to the Supreme Court’s ruling on February 27, 2006; the Centre should attach the Peerumedu taluk in
Kerala, where the dam is situated, and the nearby Devikulam taluk to Tamil
Nadu; and that the State government should impose an economic embargo on Kerala.
The Tamil Nadu police lathicharged the rallyists on December 12 and 13 near the Lower Camp area to prevent them from storming Kerala territory as prohibitory orders were in force on the Kerala side.
Political parties in Tamil Nadu organised protests against the Kerala government’s stand. The Dravida
Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) organised a human chain on December 14 at Theni. Its leader and former Deputy
Chief Minister M.K. Stalin wanted the
Centre to intervene in the Mullaperiyar issue without being lethargic as it was, according to him, on other issues.
At a demonstration in the town the same day, Desiya Murpokku Dravida
Kazhagam founder Vijayakant demanded that the Centre take control of the dam and hand it over to the Army for protection. He warned that “the
Centre’s silence will ultimately ruin the country’s integrity”.
On December 15, Congress workers led by J.M. Haroon, Lok Sabha member representing the Theni constituency, took out a rally in Theni town. On December 16, D. Pandian,
State secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the party’s cadre went on a day-long fast in Theni. The same day, defying prohibitory orders, volunteers of the Viduthalai Siruthaigal Katchi (Dalit Panthers) led by
Thol. Thirumavalavan took out a rally

in Theni town. An estimated 50,000 people took out a three-kilometre rally, from Nandagopala Swamy temple to the General Hospital, in Cumbum town. About 20,000 people organised another rally from Kombai to Lower
On December 21, responding to a call given by Vaiko, general secretary of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), for an economic blockade of Kerala by sealing 13 roads that led to Kerala from Tamil
Nadu in Theni, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts, thousands of people gathered in Cumbum and Gudalur. As the crowd tried to march towards Kumily and violence erupted, the police fired tear-gas canisters and used “lathis” to disperse them.

Jayalalithaa has dismissed
Kerala’s offer of water from the new dam as “an act of deception”. MDMK cadre blocked traffic in Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts at the entry points to Kerala. Lorries, trucks and autorickshaws kept off the roads, and lawyers struck work in many towns. On December 22, all business and trade establishments in the five districts remained closed. Vaiko said the Kerala government should realise that the agitation had transformed into a people’s movement.
Meanwhile, on December 20, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa wrote a letter to Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh, asking him to withdraw an office memorandum of the
National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) led by him, dated December 12, setting up a team of experts to prepare a contingency response


plan for the Mullaperiyar dam in case of earthquakes and floods. This amounted to “succumbing to the subterfuge” of the Kerala government and presenting a fait accompli to the Supreme Court and the Empowered
Committee set up by it to go into the dam’s safety, she said. In February
2006, the Supreme Court, after considering the reports of various experts, had said that the dam was safe and permitted the Tamil Nadu government to initially raise the dam’s water level to 142 feet.

“Mullaperiyar dam is our lifeline and we will not allow Kerala to demolish it” has become the refrain of the people in the five districts. “It is a do-or-die battle for us,” said M. Bojarajan, a landowner from Upparpatti Vilakku village, who was taking part in a daylong fast organised by its residents on
December 15 on the Theni-Uthamapalayam highway. People including wealthy landlords, mill workers, women farm workers and schoolchildren attended the fast. Bojarajan added:
“The Periyar river is jeevaadharam
[what sustains life] of the people of
Theni, Dindi, Madurai, Sivaganga and
Ramanathapuram districts. The Kerala government is playing with the livelihood of the people of these districts.”
B. Thilagar, an elderly landowner, said they would fight till the last for justice. “It is a question of existence for us,” he said. P. Rajathi, president of the
Upparpatti village panchayat, wanted the Kerala government to implement the Supreme Court’s order to raise the water level in the Mullaperiyar dam.
S. Mariappan, superviser of Tamil
Nadu State Marketing Corporation
(TASMAC) at Cumbum, asserted, “We will not give up our fight till we get a favourable ruling in the Mullaperiyar issue. We cannot exist without water.”
N. Murugan, who owns a tailoring shop in Cumbum, said all the shops in the town were closed from December 2 to December 16. “This is Christmas season and business has been affected.
There are 50 units in the Cumbum

region making readymade clothes, which are sold in Kottayam and Ernakulam [where a lot of Christians live]. They are closed,” he said.
S. Ramamurthy is a farmer who owns coconut and banana groves at
Kottur between Veeravandi and Theni. “Without the Mullaperiyar dam, nobody can subsist here,” he said.
If Theni presents a picture of lush green fields, it is in full measure due to the water from the dam and the incessant hard work of the people of the district. People here virtually worship
Major John Pennycuick of the Madras
Regiment, who sold his property in
England to build the Mullaperiyar dam in 1895, which changed their lives for the better. In the main street of the
Cumbum town is Velavan Iddli Shop, whose proprietor K. Paramasivam has got a portrait of Pennycuick painted on the name board. Inside, there is a hoarding with the picture of the Mullaperiyar dam and a portrait of Pennycuick. There are several Pennycuick
Nagars and Pennycuick Colonies in the district. Infants are named Pennycuick in the region.

At the heart of the current conflict between Tamil Nadu and Kerala is the safety of the Mullaperiyar dam. The
Kerala government says that the Mullaperiyar dam is weak and will collapse if a powerful temblor rocks Idukki district, but the Tamil Nadu government argues that the dam is strong. In support of its contention, Tamil Nadu cites the Supreme Court ruling of February 2006 that “there is no report to suggest that the safety of the dam would be jeopardised if the water level is raised for the present to 142 feet. The report is to the contrary.”
Kerala says it will provide the same quantity of water to Tamil Nadu as now from the new dam it proposes to build downstream of the existing one.
But Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa has dismissed Kerala’s offer of water from the new dam as “an act of deception”.
She told the State Assembly on December 15 that the Kerala government,

in its detailed project report (DPR) on the new dam, had said that its full reservoir level (FRL) was 136 feet and that 1.1 tmc ft of water would be used as ecological flows. “So the claim that the
Mullaperiyar dam has become weak is only a step aimed at not providing water to Tamil Nadu,” she said.
The Assembly unanimously passed a resolution on December 15 asking the Kerala government to amend the
Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2006, to enable the water level in the dam to be raised to 142 feet. (The Act prohibited raising the water level in the Mullaperiyar dam beyond 136 feet by placing it in the Schedule of Endangered Dams.)
The resolution, moved by the Chief
Minister, wanted the Kerala government not to create hurdles for Tamil
Nadu for doing the remaining strengthening measures of the dam to eventually raise its water level to 152 feet
Jayalalithaa said there was a suspicion that the Kerala government was doing a “mischievous propaganda” about the dam’s safety for generating electricity from the Idukki dam, situated 50 km downstream of the Mullaperiyar dam. About 780 MWe was to be generated from the Idukki hydel reservoir. It could not be done because the reservoir did not get enough water. “If there is no Mullaperiyar dam, the entire water will reach Idukki,” she said.
Be it farmers’ association leaders, retired Tamil Nadu PWD chief engineers, small peasants or businessmen, nobody believes that Kerala will provide water to Tamil Nadu from the new dam. K.M. Abbas, former president of the Periyar-Vaigai Farmers’
Association, said that “not a drop of water will flow to Tamil Nadu from the new dam that Kerala proposes to build”. The total height of the Mullaperiyar dam is 155 feet (47.24m) and it is situated 2,889 feet (880.57 m) above mean sea level, he said. Its dead storage is 104 feet (31.7 m).
The tunnel, which brings water to
Tamil Nadu, is situated at a height of
104 feet. If the water level goes below that, water will not flow to Tamil Na122



JANUARY 13, 2012

du. But the proposed dam’s FRL is 136 feet and it will come up at 2,229 feet
(679.4 m) above MSL. The new dam will be built 336 metres below the centre of the existing dam. So the new dam’s dead storage will be around 120 to 126 feet and “there will be no room for a drop of water to flow from there to
Tamil Nadu,” argued 77-year-old Abbas, who has been fighting Tamil Nadu’s cause for the past 30 years in the
Mullaperiyar issue.
He pointed to the Supreme Court’s observation in its ruling on February
27, 2006, which says, “It is the case of
State of Kerala that despite the ‘copious rain’, the Idukki reservoir is not filled to its capacity [and] while the capacity of the reservoir is 70.500 tmc, it was filled only to the extent of 57.365 tmc.” So the water from the new dam will flow only to the Idukki reservoir for electricity generation and not to
Tamil Nadu, Abbas asserted.
According to him, water from the
Mullaperiyar dam catered for the cultivation of a variety of crops on more than 13 lakh acres and not an ayacut of
2.20 lakh acres as claimed by the Tamil
Nadu government. Paddy alone was raised on 2.20 lakh acres twice a year, he said. Besides, sugarcane, banana,

JANUARY 13, 2012

Veerapandi village in Theni district. The dam’s waters that flow through a main canal and
18 sub-canals irrigate five districts in Tamil Nadu. The dam also supplies drinking water to these districts.


coconut, vegetables and pulses were grown in several lakhs of acres.
Abbas refuted the Kerala government’s claim that 35 lakh people in the five districts of Idukki, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Alappuzha and Pathanamthitta would be affected if the dam were to burst. “Other than Idukki, the other four districts have nothing to do with the Mullaperiyar dam,” he said.
The villages or towns that lay between the Mullaperiyar dam and the
Idukki reservoir are Pulmedu, Vallakadavu,
Thengaikal, Upputhurai, Chappathu,
Marykulam and Idukki. Of these, only
Upputhurai and Chappathu settlements, with about 450 dwellings, would be affected if the dam were to burst, he said. Besides, Kerala’s Advocate-General had gone on record before the Division Bench of the Kerala
High Court that in case of any eventuality, the Idukki reservoir and the Kulamavu and Cheruthoni dams would receive the waters from the Mullaperiyar dam, Abbas pointed out.
M. Puthisigamani, president of the
Periyar-Vaigai Water Users’ Associ-

ation, Madurai, also argued that since the new dam’s FRL would be only 136 feet, Tamil Nadu “will not definitely receive any water”. On the suggestions of the Central Water Commission
(CWC) in 1979, Tamil Nadu had strengthened the dam, using modern technology, at a cost of more than
Rs.26 crore. All the strengthening measures were done from 1980 to
1994. “So it is a young dam of 17 years.
It is not a 116-year-old dam,” said
Puthisigamani, who is also the joint secretary of the Consortium of Indian
Farmers’ Associations, Tamil Nadu.
Bojarajan said there was no need to build a new dam when the Mullaperiyar dam had been strengthened already and the CWC, a neutral party, had testified to the dam’s safety and the Supreme Court had given a ruling that it was safe. “Why does the Kerala government not understand all this?” he asked. “The Centre is keeping quiet on the issue. This is politics. They are playing with the livelihood of the people of five districts.”
What infuriated people in Theni district was also reports of humiliation


of Ayyappa devotees from Tamil Nadu and women workers from the State in cardamom estates in Kerala. More violence erupted in Kerala against Tamils there after the Supreme Court ruled on
December 13 that “there is nothing serious, grave or emergent about the safety of the Mullaperiyar dam, warranting our interference at this stage”.
A five-member Constitution Bench dismissed as not pressed Kerala’s application for reducing the water level in the dam from the current 136 feet to
120 feet.
The Empowered Committee, headed by former Chief Justice of India A.S. Anand, was looking into various aspects of the dam’s safety and no order was necessary at this stage, observed the Bench, comprising Justices
D.K. Jain, R.M. Lodha, C.K. Prasad,
Deepak Varma and Anil R. Dave. The
Bench, however, said Kerala’s apprehensions over the dam’s safety could not be brushed aside since the water level in the dam had gone up beyond
136 feet on four days from November
26 to December 2 and there were earthquakes. Controversy

JANUARY 13, 2012

Fallout of fear
Fringe elements get a free rein in the border areas near the Mullaperiyar dam.

But for isolated incidents near the border areas, other parts of Kerala remained peaceful. Newspaper campaigns were a novel facet of the water dispute between the two
States which the media promptly termed an “ad war”.
BELLIGERENCE and one-upmanship over a sensitive problem affecting millions of people is an assured way to invite trouble, which then shifts the focus from core issues of public concern, as some parties of the ruling coalition in Kerala demonstrated in early December.
A series of mild tremors and heavy rain in Idukki district from mid-November had given rise to widespread fears in the State about a possible failure of the 116-year-old Mullaperiyar dam. It also generated much anxiety in Kerala about the forthcoming case in the Supreme Court, in which Tamil Nadu had been maintaining that the “reinforced dam” was “fully safe” and that the reservoir storage level should in fact be raised from 136 feet (41.45 metres) to 142 ft
(43 m) so that more water would be available for irrigation (and power generation) in five of its southern districts.
All it took for wild rumours to spread were an initial attempt by a regional party, the Kerala Congress (M), to stir up passions over the issue, and, in turn, by other mainstream parties in Kerala, including the Congress, to consolidate public opinion around it; and a few stray instances of provocation by their regional cadre, such as stone-throwing and attempts to march into structures regulating water flow from the reservoir to Tamil Nadu.
There were reports that people from Tamil Nadu, including hundreds of Sabarimala pilgrims, were being targeted in Kerala and that Tamil labourers were being forced to flee plantations in Idukki district and women among them were ill-treated. Such

reports – though immediately denied by the Kerala government – along with unprecedented demonstrations in Kerala, including silent marches, hunger strikes, hartals and ‘human walls’ expressing alarm at the state of the dam and demanding that the storage level be reduced to 120 ft, invariably proved to be a potent mix for rousing passions in Tamil
Nadu too.
The result: across the border, the concerns regarding the dam, as leaders in Kerala sought to explain them, were brushed aside as mere propaganda, and statements made by Chief Minister Oommen
Chandy, scotching provocative rumours, were treated with incredulity.
For several days from December 6, prohibitory orders were imposed at the border towns of Kumily and Kambamettu, following stone-throwing and provocative posturing by groups of people on the two sides of the inter-State check post and nearby areas.
Several groups of people under the banner of various
Tamil organisations were prevented from marching up to the Kerala border by the Tamil Nadu Police, also adding to the tension.
A grave situation ensued, with fringe elements getting a free rein in the border areas near the dam, where rumours had spread that Kerala’s proposal for a new dam was but part of a strategy to deny water to
Tamil Nadu. (“Heightened tensions” and related stories, Frontline, December 30.)
With mainstream parties in Tamil Nadu also unable to keep away from such a sensitive and passionate regional issue with livelihood implications for farmers, it was easy for fringe groups to create trouble by indulging in “retaliatory attacks” against farms, shops, hotels and other business establishments and vehicles owned by people from Kerala and blocking the movement of goods and vegetables into Kerala. Normal life was disrupted for days in the border areas in Idukki, especially after unidentified groups of people initially sought to cross over to
Kerala through forest routes, and isolated attacks against residents and subsequent combined action by police forces of the two States were reported.
Hartals, human walls and other demonstrations demanding that the water level at Mullaperiyar dam should in fact be raised to 142 ft as per an earlier



JANUARY 13, 2012

Nadu walking past the Kerala-Kumily check post on December 9 as vehicular movement across the border came to a standstill.


Supreme Court order were organised in Tamil Nadu. And, in the wake of some MPs from Tamil Nadu meeting the Prime Minister with a demand for merging Kerala’s Idukki district with
Tamil Nadu, a group of nearly 150 people, reportedly of Tamil origin, took out a march at Munnar town in the district, raising slogans supporting the claim. The event served to rekindle interest in repeated police and intelligence reports about the activities of cadre of terrorist/extremist groups among the Tamil population in Idukki district and their potential for stoking chauvinistic fervour using such controversies as a pretext.

Ultimately, ordinary people of the two
States who had been living in symbiotic harmony suffered. In the first fortnight since the troubles began, there had been reports of extensive damage to vehicles and property in Tamil Nadu, a drastic fall in tourist arrivals in both the States, loss of revenue of several crores of rupees from tea and cardamom estates in Idukki that experienced a severe shortage of daily labourers from Tamil Nadu, loss of

wages because of lack of work, blockade of goods and vegetables moving into Kerala, and consequent losses to farmers and traders in Tamil Nadu.
Interestingly, a large number of such plantations in Idukki are owned by natives of Tamil Nadu. There are reports that many such owners have abstained from coming across to Kerala.
Movement of vehicles across the check post at Walayar in Palakkad district to Tirupur, Coimbatore and
Erode and beyond in Tamil Nadu, too, was disrupted on several occasions after incidents of stone-throwing, damage to transport buses and road blockades. State transport buses plied only up to certain points near the border from where passengers (including students from Kerala studying in a string of self-financing institutions in
Tamil Nadu) had to walk across to the other side to continue their journey.
However, but for isolated incidents near the border areas, other parts of
Kerala remained peaceful throughout, with free movement of pilgrims, tourists, vehicles and goods from Tamil
Nadu, and no incident of attack or intimidation being reported from anywhere else. Fortunately, better sense


prevailed and before rumour mongering and retaliation based on perceived threats could lead to counter attacks in
Kerala, political parties decided to tone down or suspend their agitations.
An appeal made by Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh to an all-party delegation from the State that met him in
New Delhi also helped.
In a letter written to his counterpart in Tamil Nadu J. Jayalalithaa on
December 18, Chief Minister Oommen
Chandy, whose restrained statements proved to be a big help in defusing the initial tense atmosphere in Kerala, said: “There are highly disturbing news about several instances of attacks on Keralites in Tamil Nadu.... Instances of vandalism and attacks have also been reported. In Kerala we have taken every possible step to ensure that no person from Tamil Nadu is attacked.
Police presence at Kumily and other sensitive areas have been strengthened. However, there is a widespread misinformation campaign which needs to be addressed immediately. A report about Tamil labourers fleeing
Kerala and a camp being opened for them in Theni is one such case of misinformation. Tamil labourers work in

JANUARY 13, 2012

Kerala in large numbers, particularly in the plantation sector, and their contribution to Kerala’s economy is valuable. Other stories like women labourers being molested are also being falsely circulated to inflame passion among the people of Tamil Nadu.
Labourers and women from Tamil Nadu are safe in Kerala and we shall ensure their protection.”
Seeking Jayalalithaa’s intervention in providing a sense of protection and confidence to the people of both the States, and expressing his willingness to issue a joint statement with her in this regard, Chandy further said:
“You will share with me the concern and consequences of such misleading campaigns. The sense of insecurity that false information could spread needs to be curbed urgently. Certain sections of the media in Tamil Nadu are whipping up passions by repeatedly projecting totally irrelevant and misleading images. I request you to kindly intervene and take possible corrective action to prevent the propagation of such calculated misinformation.”
In an appeal titled “Water for Tamil Nadu and Safety for Kerala”, published in several newspapers in Tamil
Nadu on the same day, Chandy also sought to dispel the allegation that his
State was trying to deny water to Tamil
Nadu. Among other things, he said in the appeal: “Mullaperiyar Dam and its safety is a cause of concern for Kerala.
It is also the source of water to five districts of Tamil Nadu. The Kerala
Legislative Assembly in its Resolution on 9th December, 2011, has unanimously resolved that Tamil Nadu will continue to receive the same quantity of water from the new Dam as it receives today. Kerala has always reiterated the stand that we are committed to provide water from Mullaperiyar to Tamil Nadu. This stand has been unambiguously conveyed to the Honob’le Supreme Court, The
Honb’le Empowered Committee (of the Supreme Court), Government of
Tamil Nadu and Government of India.
There need not be any apprehension about our intention. A new Dam is the

only solution by which continued supply of water to Tamil Nadu can be ensured and the safety concerns of
Kerala could be addressed. It is a solution where both sides win. It ensures water for Tamil Nadu and safety for
Nearly a week earlier, full-page advertisements were published in major newspapers in Kerala, by the
AIADMK government as an appeal to the people of Kerala by Jayalalithaa, and by the opposition DMK as a resolution, which, it said, was “provoked by the unjustifiable efforts of Kerala government to reduce water level and construct a new dam” and actions of
“workers of political parties and certain anti-social elements of Kerala who have been indulging in violence for the last few days, attacking vehicles going from Tamil Nadu”.
In her appeal, explaining Tamil
Nadu’s arguments, especially on the concerns about the dam’s safety, Jayalalithaa said: “There is no valid reason to believe that the Mullai Periyar Dam is unsafe. It is unfortunate that a fear psychosis among the people of Kerala is being built up. As the Mullai Periyar
Dam is fully safe and as good as new, the people of Kerala should see through the machinations of vested interests and should feel secure that the retrofitted Mullai Periyar Dam is as good as new and therefore not a threat to the lives and properties of the people of the region. I appeal to the People of
Kerala not to succumb to any divisive forces in the interest of both the States as we are both committed to maintaining and cherishing cordial relations.”

Such newspaper campaigns too were a novel facet of the water dispute between the two States, which the media promptly termed as an “ad war”. But, all through, it was clear that the real war was being fought not in the streets or the newspapers, but in the Supreme
Court, with the five-member Empowered Committee appointed by the court expected to submit its report only by February 2012. The committee headed by the former Chief Justice of


India, A.S. Anand, was appointed by the court in February 2010 to study all issues relating to the Mullaperiyar dam, including technical details and claims raised by the two States about its safety and safe storage level.
Even though Kerala was pressing for a meeting of the two States to be convened by the Centre to explore the possibility of a negotiated settlement in the context of “earthquakes posing an immediate threat to the dam”, Tamil Nadu refused to agree to a discussion on the issue with Kerala.
During a series of hearings before the
Supreme Court it stuck to its stand that a discussion was possible only after the Empowered Committee submitted its report.
The technical members of the committee, C.D. Thatte, former Secretary to the Ministry of Water Sources, and
D.K. Mehta, a retired Chief Engineer of the Central Water Commission, were scheduled to start their inspection of the Mullaperiyar and Idukki dams on December 22, even though
Kerala had requested that all the five members of the committee be involved in the inspection process.
Kerala had also filed an application before the Empowered Committee seeking a direction to the Tamil Nadu government to lower the storage level from 136 ft to 120 ft as it had become absolutely necessary in the wake of over 26 tremors in the vicinity of the dam and heavy rains in the catchment areas that saw the water level rising beyond 136 ft – a demand which was, no doubt, challenged by Tamil Nadu.
(Tamil Nadu had been insisting that there were only four tremors in the region this year. Scientists at the
Centre for Earth Science Studies in
Thiruvananthapuram, however, told
Frontline that all the 26 low-intensity tremors recorded in and around Idukki would not have been recorded by instruments located elsewhere.)
The technical members are expected to submit their report to the Empowered Committee chairman on
December 26 and the five-member committee is to start hearing arguments of the two States in January.


JANUARY 13, 2012

FDI in retail
ALTHOUGH allowing foreign multinational corporations to invest in multi-brand and singlebrand retail may be good for customers in the beginning,
MNCs will establish a monopoly in this area in the course of time (Cover Story,
December 30). This will eventually hit small-scale retailers and reduce customers’ range of choices. India has a large population of small-scale retailers. It is the government’s responsibility to protect them.

THE ignominious retreat of the government on the FDI issue in retail could have been averted if the Congress had consulted its allies before it brought the issue to
Parliament. There are some who argue that a rollback of the retail policy will only expose the utter weakness of the government in pushing through economic reforms.
Before Pepsi, Coca-Cola and others began their operations in India, well-known local soft-drink brands such as Vincent and Kali Mark were doing good business.
Now these have sunk into oblivion. Obviously, corporate giants were able to wipe out small businesses by offering huge discounts to customers, which they could afford as they procure materials on a large scale and at cheaper rates.

SPECIAL thanks for the article on Goa, 50 years after its liberation (“Looking back”, December 30). Frontline is the only national magazine to have commemorated this historic occasion with a special article. Unfortunately, the nationalist movements in
Pondicherry against French colonialism and in Goa against oppressive Portuguese colonialism have not found pride of place in the pages of the Indian freedom struggle. If not for Nehru’s go-slow attitude, India could very easily have liberated Goa as early as in the
1950s, soon after another Portuguese colony,
Dadra and Nagar Haveli, was liberated by the civilian population. Hardly any freedom fighter from these places has been honoured with a postage stamp. The lone postage stamp released on December 19, 2011, was unimpressive. The efforts and moral support rendered by Pakistani Goans is also forgotten. G. ANUPLAL

THERE were times when the capitalist countries had to invent sea routes, colonise nations and set up armies to protect their trade interests. Thanks to neoliberalism, “markets” in gullible countries are being captured in the name of
“free trade”. It is time we recalled how agriculture was paralysed after quantitative restrictions were removed in the sector. Those who do not want to learn from history are doomed to relive it.

IT seems the government

has forgotten its duty tobridge the gap between the have-nots and the have-lots.
In the 1760s and 1770s, the East India Company found it tough to ensure a regular supply of textiles for export. So, it eliminated the existing traders and brokers connected with the cloth trade and established direct control over the weavers. It appointed its own middlemen, who harassed the poor weavers, sometimes financially, and forced them to sell their cloth only to the
English and that too at a very low price. Since the new



middlemen were outsiders with little insight into the weavers’ lives, they acted arrogantly, sometimes marching with sepoys into the houses and workshops of the weavers and often punishing them for delays or shortfalls in supply.
MNCs such as Walmart and Carrefour will do precisely what the East India
Company did – appoint their own middlemen, in three-piece suits and ties.
Instead of eliminating hawkers and middlemen, they will just replace them with their own network.

THE government has only suspended, and not withdrawn, its decision to roll out FDI in the retail sector.
Rahul Gandhi unequivocally declaring his commitment to bring FDI in retail sector implies that the retreat on retail is only temporary, and the aam admi should take note of this. His stand only confirms again how far the present leadership of the Congress has strayed from the Gandhian path and the principles of
Swadeshi. What is required for the Indian farming community is not FDI in the retail sector but good patronage, proactive support and other facilities such as cold storage and a good support price from the government. ETTIRANKANDATH

THE good news is that India has become the number

letters one hotspot for global retailers for the fourth time in the past five years. According to global consulting firm A. T.
Kearney’s eighth annual
Global Retail Development
Index, India clinched the first slot as the best retail destination, followed by
Russia and China.
There have been protests against the entry into
India of the private retail giant Walmart. In this era of globalisation, the entry of such MNCs should be welcomed. Traders protesting against FDI should focus on improving their services.
Let there be a healthy competition. P. SENTHIL SARAVANA

THE fear psychosis created by politicians and the innumerable rallies held by various organisations will not solve the real problems that will arise if the Mullaperiyar dam is destroyed by an earthquake (“Heightened tensions”, December 30).
Even if Kerala constructs a new dam on a war footing, it will take at least three years for it to be completed. What would happen if there was an earthquake near the dam in the mean time? The only immediate solution is to decrease the water level in the reservoir to not just 120 feet but to as low a level as possible so that any possible damage can be kept to a minimum.
The people and politicians of Kerala and Tamil
Nadu act as if they belong to two enemy countries. We are dependent on each oth-

JANUARY 13, 2012

er. If the States cooperate, a new dam can be constructed in record time.

THE controversy over the
Mullaperiyar dam issue is unfortunate. Experts should play a more proactive role without further delay. People need to be educated on the realities.

Dev Anand
NO words are sufficient to mourn the death of Dev
Anand, a star who charmed innumerable Indians through his acting (“Eternal romantic”, December 30).
He shaped the careers of many stars of yesteryear and raised the fortunes of veteran musicians such as S.D.
Burman, Mohammed Rafi,
Hemant Kumar and Kishore Kumar. In the article, the song “Hai apna dil to awara” from the film Solva
Sal was wrongly written as
“Hai ana dil to awara”.

to face the coming elections
(“Dividing game”, December 16). Strategies to win votes may be the only thing that matters now for the
State’s political parties. The proposal of the Mayawatiled Bahujan Samaj Party to divide the State has won accolades from a section of the political and social spectrum and met with sheer indifference from other groups and complete rejection by the opposition Samajwadi Party and some sections of the people in the
Ease of governance following the division is a plus point but the altruistic nature of the proposition is questionable. There are grass-roots level problems such as sharing of land and water resources that must not be overlooked.
Furthermore, Uttar Pradesh is culturally diverse and has places of historical value. While dividing this one big State, one will have to maintain its cultural and ethnic diversity.




THE write-up on Yesudas could not have been better crafted (“Celestial singer”,
December 16). However, some errors were made while referring to his famous Hindi songs. It is “Gori tera gaanv (not gav)”, “zid
(not sid ) na karo”, and “Ka karoon (not karo) sajni”.



that such a move will also rule out the possibility of an economy undertaking fiscal stimulus in times of a slowdown. Policymakers always appease the financial markets by adopting conservative fiscal policies. The move towards a fiscal union will only institutionalise this tendency, thereby making it clear that the state has always been an agent of the finance capital. This comes at a time when the welfare state as it existed in Europe is practically dead.

DEV ANAND was an extraordinary artist who enriched Indian films. While his passionate side came to the fore in all his films, his secret spiritual side came out in the climax scene of the film Guide. His spiritual discourse brought out the essence of the Gita in an excellent way. Why has no one ever talked about it with the intensity it deserves?

Uttar Pradesh
POLITICAL parties in Uttar Pradesh are gearing up

THE article “Tyranny of finance” (December 16) brought to the surface the clout that financial capitalism has come to acquire. It is in this context that the recent announcement by
France and Germany to move towards a fiscal union for the entire eurozone has to be seen. We are being told that such a move will help usher in an era of fiscal discipline for the zone and prevent the common currency from losing favour with investors. But what is clear is


CORRECTION: In the article “Looming civil war” (December 30), a quote about “the Free Syrian Army” being “dominated by fighters owing allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood” and “armed by the U.S., Israel and Turkey” was inadvertently attributed to Emille Hokayem, Senior
Fellow at the Institute of Strategic
Studies, London. Hokayem in his report does not talk about the Free
Syrian Army being dominated by the
Muslim Brothers or being financed by the U.S., Israel and Turkey. The quote was taken from an article by
Tony Cartalucci, which appeared on the web-based “The Middle-East
Magazine” in the first week of December. The error is regretted.
Letters, whether by surface mail or e-mail, must carry the full postal address and the full name, or the name with initials.


JANUARY 13, 2012

Humble genius
Sharp wit and the ability to sketch fellow humans with humour, compassion and verve made Mario Miranda (1926-2011) exceptional. B Y P A M E L A D ’ M E L L O

His cartoons in “The Illustrated
Weekly” and his trademark characters such as the politician
Bundaldass and his sidekick
Moonswamy, Ms Rajni Nimbupani and her actor partner Balraj Balram all became popular in their own way.
ANYONE who lived in 1970s India and had access to English magazines would have found it hard to miss the work of Mario Miranda. As illustrator for the iconic The Illustrated Weekly of India, his work occupied quite a few of its pages, signed simply
Mario. And that became the name by which much of
India knew him though he was born Mario Joao
Carlos do Rosario de Britto a Miranda.
R.K. Laxman was the political cartoonist for The
Times of India and occupied its front pages, but it was Mario’s signature illustrations and his many
“social” cartoons in Times Group publications that became incredibly popular and amazingly pervasive.
His cartoons and sketches in The Weekly; the pompous politician Bundaldass and his sidekick Moonswamy; the lissom Ms Rajni Nimbupani and her actor partner Balraj Balram that he created for Filmfare; and the embarrassingly buxom secretary Miss
Fonseca that he created for The Economic Times – all publications in The Times stable – became popular in their own way. And who can ever forget the Sardarji in a light bulb that Mario created for Khushwant Singh in The Illustrated Weekly? As children, we would gaze at it in fascination, the concept of a man sitting and writing inside a bulb utterly magical.
In truth, Mario’s work touched a whole generation of us, 1970s children, as no other artist did.
It was not until I visited an incredible Panjim exhibition, which previewed the 8,000 cartoons and illustrations his publisher had painstakingly collected, that I realised that Mario had illustrated the

M AR I O M I R A N D A . I T has been said that Goa gave
Mario to the world, and Mario gave Goa to the world. Balbharati books of the Pune Board, with their memorable Tim and Mini characters. That meant that children from the Bombay (now Mumbai) and Goa areas got to know his work from the early age of five.
Gerard da Cunha, the architect and publisher who also became Mario’s chronicler by putting all his work together, says Mario’s best period as an artist were the years of his second stint at The Weekly. A three-year sabbatical in Lisbon and London had exposed Mario to the world’s best illustrators and cartoonists, and he had returned with his art, and

JANUARY 13, 2012

wit, considerably sharpened. He joined The Times Group in 1953, and sketches from that period show the evolution of his style, the early simple straight lines taking on a new complexity and vitality, a new curvaceousness, fullness and exuberance post his return from London. He had found his signature style, something that had been eluding him, like it does all artists who begin by imitating those they admire.
Manohar Malgonkar’s biography of Mario tells us that in Mario’s case it was the cartoonist Ronald Searle he admired the most, and it was on Searle’s advice that Mario began to search for his own style, something he slowly came upon in his years living and working in the arty environs of Hampstead, sharing time and space with fellow Goan artist Francis Newton Souza.
Mario’s new style was in full flow by the time he came out with one of his important books in 1964, Goa with
Love, shortly after the liberation of the
State. In it, Mario lovingly and humorously sketched all the wonderful old customs and practices that had endured over centuries: the village church feast procession, with its lumbering double lines of altar boys and candlestick bearers, overdressed women, and suited men, wilting in the sweltering Goa heat, led by a frumpy old priest; and an elaborate Goa funeral and the church choirmaster trying to coax music from his bunch of young
Sunday school pupils.
Writers were to later say that Goa gave Mario to the world, and Mario gave Goa to the world. And it was true because each trip he made back to his native land and his 300-year-old ancestral mansion in Loutolim, he chronicled and captured wonderful sketches that transported his viewers to a land of swaying palms, majestic churches and mystical temples, steamer journeys and hippies on the beach.
By 1974, Mario was at his peak. His
Sketchbook on Bombay is a masterpiece that captures all of the city’s travails, its myriad people, the crowded marketplaces, the BEST buses, its monsoon floods and leaking old

houses. His humorous takes on the politics of that time – the garibi hatao campaign, the union strikes, the potbellied politician in his Ambassador car – were brilliant social comments, delivered with style and class. A man of few words, Mario, his contemporaries say, liked to stand back and observe, and like the wise owl, the more he saw, the less he spoke. What he saw was obviously fodder for his work, but the interesting thing is that Mario’s seeing was a gentle act, a non-malicious and empathetic seeing that took nothing away from his sharp wit.

But while his cartoons are captivating,
Mario’s illustrations reveal the true artist he was. The illustrations he did for The Weekly were indication enough as were some of the line portraits he did of people. But it was not until he was sent by the United States
Information Service (USIS) to the U.S. in 1973 and came back with a sketchbook of incredible artwork, enough to hold an exhibition, that Mario’s fame as an artist shot up tremendously. It was not entirely unknown though. In the diaries and sketchbooks Mario had kept as a teenager and young man are some incredibly good ink portraits of
Jesus Christ and others. It is actually regrettable though understandable that while the popularity of his cartoons made him known as a cartoonist, his gift as an illustrator remained confined to the art gallery circuit.
Consulates were soon inviting him to visit their countries to sketch; he was able to produce a body of work that revealed his great feel for architecture and atmosphere. Fortunately, copies of all of the works are on permanent exhibition at the Mario
Gallery in Goa.
In 1977, Mario left The Times
Group, to join his friend Behram Contractor in Mid Day and later proceeded to Afternoon Despatch & Courier, retaining his freedom to continue his travels and take on independent commissions, which came flooding in. He always, however, remained grateful and never failed to mention his early


debt to D.F. Karakka, who gave him his first break in his newspaper The
Current, where Mario worked as staff cartoonist in 1952, and C.R. Mandy, who gave him his break in The Illustrated Weekly of India.
As a freelancer years later, Mario was never short of work and did book covers, restaurant panels and calendars, working continuously until his ailments prevented him from doing so.
Five years ago, at 81, Mario went to
Spain and returned with works that are amazingly good though they may not be his best. His best, he had said, was the book he did on his German trip, Germany in Wintertime, a book he dearly wanted to see republished.
From 2008, several of his books have come into the market. Each of them gave him a new high, and da Cunha says Mario was particularly looking forward to an exhibition that was to open in the Reis Magos Fort in north
Goa that he helped restore.
Returning to live in Goa in 1996,
Mario kept busy with his commissions but also began a new phase of engagement with Goa’s heritage monuments as part of the conservation body the
Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). “If it wasn’t for Mario’s determination, the Museum of Christian Art would never have come into existence,” says Victor
Gomes, the museum’s former curator.
Mario would have liked to have taken up several other projects but inevitably ran into bureaucratic hassles, something he took with grace. In 2003, Mario was awarded the Padma Bhushan; just a few years earlier, he had been conferred the Padma Shri.
If imitation is the best form of flattery, then one doubts there is a cartoonist more copied in India than Mario.
There are dozens of artists churning out characters that look similar to those sketched by Mario. Did he mind this, I had asked him earlier this year in an interview – only to get an answer that was quintessentially Mario. Not at all, he had informed me, though it annoyed him a bit if the humour was poor. “Some of them even improve on my drawing. These young people now-


JANUARY 13, 2012

O NE OF T H E exhibits at the “Impressions of Paris”, an exhibition of cartoons by Mario which was organised by the
Mysore chapter of the Alliance de Francaise de Bangalore in 2010.

adays are very good,” he had added. A razor-sharp wit and an ability to sketch his fellow humans with a combination of humour, compassion and verve made Mario stand out among his peers. On the cover of a book published in his honour in 2008 is a cartoon that captures Mario’s genius in the cartoon genre. Even in the crowded ballroom scene he had sketched, heaving with dozens of couples, each man and woman is imbued with individual personality quirks that make every character in the crowded scene stand out and become noteworthy.
The point is that Mario seems to have truly believed that everybody was noteworthy. He loved people and liked being among people, he had said, ex-

plaining why he and his wife, Habiba, made incredibly long journeys from their colonial-era mansion to any event or gathering despite their failing health in recent years. The musician
Remo Fernandes said he last met the
Mirandas dining at a speciality Goan restaurant just a couple of days before
Mario passed away on December 11.
To his friends, Mario was loyal and very good company. Goans like to stick together in a strange place, and in
Mumbai, Mario was always willing to help Goan newcomers to the city. The musician Emiliano da Cruz remembers the many evenings he spent at
Mario’s apartment in south Mumbai.
“Mario was constantly trying to help me with contacts he knew since he and


Habiba were quite in with the embassy and party crowd in Bombay.”
Gerard da Cunha, who worked with him for the past 10 years, described Mario as a humble genius, the kind who was equally kind to the peon and the driver. “He would tip people generously and would generally agree to what people said, with the result that people would walk into his house and orally seek permissions to reproduce this and that drawing, and he would willingly agree with no consideration whatsoever. His family learnt to be a little more protective after that.”
It was this same openness that caused the loss of much of his original works but for a few treasured by those who managed to get hold of them.


JANUARY 13, 2012

Korea’s loss
Although caricatured in the West, Kim Jong-il, who died on December17, was an astute statesman well aware of global developments. B Y J O H N C H E R I A N

Kim never took the title of President.
His father had been designated the
“Eternal President” of North Korea.
The son dutifully implemented his father’s “military first” policy.
THE sudden demise of Kim Jong-il, the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea), took the international community by surprise. Scenes of mass grieving were witnessed in North Korea.
The country known as the “hermit kingdom” became independent in 1948. The Korean Workers
Party, which was led by the resistance hero Kim
Il-sung, has been in power since then. After President Kim Il-sung died in 1994, he was succeeded by his only son, Kim Jong-il. Despite widespread scepticism about his political longevity, Kim Jong-il remained the unquestioned leader of the country, piloting it through tense times. Technically, North
Korea and the United States are still at war. The U.S. had intervened militarily in the Korean peninsula to stop Korean reunification under the leadership of
Kim Il-sung. The Korean War, which lasted from
1950-53, also saw the Chinese army intervening on behalf of the north. Three million Koreans died in the war. The scars from that war are yet to heal.
Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, North
Korea’s main trading partner at the time, North
Korea’s economy was doing quite well. The country’s
“juche” (self-reliance) policy had helped it make big strides in many fields, including agriculture and science. North Korea is a highly militarised society because of its history and the unremitting hostility from the West. The U.S. has its biggest military bases in South Korea and holds massive annual war games on North Korea’s borders along with the now muscular South Korean army. For that matter, South Ko-

rea, too, until the mid-1990s was a highly authoritarian society, with U.S.-backed military dictators ruling the roost.
When Kim Jong-il took over from his father, things were looking slightly better for the beleaguered communist country. Former U.S. President
Jimmy Carter had made a visit to the capital, Pyongyang, the first by an American leader after military tensions had risen alarmingly in the Korean peninsula. The Bill Clinton administration alleged at the time that North Korea was using its experimental reactor in Yongbyon to produce plutonium for a nuclear bomb. There were reports that the U.S. was readying cruise missiles to attack nuclear reactors and missile bases in North Korea. The Korean penin-

A N UN D A T ED P H O T O GRA P H showing Kim Jongil (left) and his father, Kim Il-sung, while on a visit to the site of the Nampho dam in North Korea.


JANUARY 13, 2012

North Korea has historically followed an independent foreign policy, keeping a distance from both the Soviet Union and China when the socialist bloc was a powerful force. North Korea never joined the Comecon (the common market of the East Bloc). In 1956, the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics) and China jointly tried to replace Kim Il-sung with a more accommodating collective leadership.
After the Cold War ended, Pyongyang, in view of the new realities, wanted to open independent lines of communications with the West but was contin-

sula seemed to be on the verge of a nuclear holocaust. During the Carter visit, an agreement was signed whereby North Korea pledged to give up its quest for a nuclear deterrent in exchange for two U.S.-supplied nuclear reactors that would provide energy for the power-deficient country. Both the
U.S. and South Korea had also pledged to supply fuel oil and end the diplomatic and trade embargo imposed on the country.
Soon after the Carter visit, Kim Ilsung passed away. Kim Jong-il would have liked the thaw with the West to have continued. North Korea, suffering from a series of natural disasters, including floods and drought, was desperately in need of a helping hand.
But the U.S. and South Korea started demanding more concessions.
At the same time the work on the reactors was proceeding at a snail’s pace.
No substantial economic aid from
Washington and Seoul materialised.

uously rebuffed by Washington. The last straw, from Pyongyang’s point of view, was when President George W.
Bush clubbed North Korea along with
Iraq and Iran in the so-called “axis of evil”. The hardening of the U.S. position came immediately after Bush assumed office in 2001. At the fag end of the
Clinton term, his Secretary of State,
Madeleine Albright, made an official visit to Pyongyang, where she was given a high-profile welcome. The North
Korean leadership has made no secret of its desire to engage in direct negotia-


The Kim Jong-il saga
KIM JONG-IL was born on February 16, 1942, in Mount Paektu, a place revered by all Koreans. The
North Korean media unfailingly reports that his birth was accompanied by the sighting of a bright star in the bright sky and the appearance of a double rainbow. His father, Kim Il-sung, was at the time leading a guerilla struggle against the Japanese occupation forces. Very little is known about Kim Jongil’s early life. He graduated from the
Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang in 1964 where he had specialised on the works of communist thinkers and military affairs. In his early political life, Kim focussed on cultural issues. He had a special fondness for cinema and wanted to make the North Korean film industry a world-class one. He authored a book on world cinema in the 1980s.
He believed that good cinema had the potential to influence more people than the written word.
Kim Jong-il first came into the public gaze in the 1970s. He was elected to the politburo of the
Workers Party in 1974 when he was
32. On December 1991, he was named the supreme commander of the North Korean Army. This was a key position as it is the North Ko-



rean army that calls the shots in the politics of the country. In 1992, Kim
Il-sung publicly stated that his son was in charge of the internal affairs of the country. The South Korean government has charged Kim Jongil for being responsible for the attack in Rangoon (Yangon) in 1983, which killed 17 of its officials, and for the bombing of a South Korean passenger plane in 1987, which claimed 117 lives.
The son lacked the father’s charisma. He was short, obese and prematurely balding. Kim Jong-il also had a distinctive dress style. The
North Korean media said in 2010 that his style had set a worldwide trend. Kim was officially designated the successor in 1980 but formally took power only in 1997, three years after his father’s death. His elevation to the leadership of the Workers Party was the first and so far the only case of a communist party embracing dynastic succession. Many analysts and observers of the Korean scene were sceptical about
Kim’s ability to survive long at the helm. But the reclusive Kim quickly consolidated his grip on power, aided by the top military leadership his father had handpicked.
John Cherian


JANUARY 13, 2012

A H AN D O UT PI C T UR E from North Korea’s official Korean Central News
Agency showing members of the Korean People’s Army crying for their late leader.

tions with Washington, bypassing
Beijing and Seoul. Kim Jong-il’s efforts were aimed at establishing diplomatic relations with Washington and normalising relations with the West.
Although caricatured in the West,
Kim Jong-il was, from available evidence, an astute statesman, well aware of what was happening in the rest of the world. Kim Dae-jung, who was elected President of South Korea in
1998 on a platform which included establishing normal relations with
North Korea, had taken the first step to normalise relations between Seoul and
Pyongyang. The South Korean President made a path-breaking visit to the
North Korean capital in 2000, ushering in the “Sunshine Policy” of rapprochement between the two Koreas.
His successor Roh Moo-hyun, who continued with the Sunshine Policy despite hostility from Washington, had described Kim Jong-il as “very outspoken” and the “most flexible man in North Korea”. Roh, too, had made a state visit to Pyongyang. The North
Korean leader never visited the south.
The only countries he visited were China and Russia and that too in his customised train. Kim, like his father, preferred trains to planes.
The North and South Korean leaderships swear by reunification. In reality, the southern leadership is alarmed by the prospect. It feels that the high levels of prosperity the country has achieved will be impacted adversely if there is a sudden influx of people from the north. The high cost of German

reunification is not lost on the South
Korean ruling elite.
The Bush administration was not enamoured with the Sunshine Policy of the South Korean government, especially after bracketing North Korea in the “axis of evil”. Washington raised the stakes in 2002 by accusing Pyongyang of secretly enriching uranium.
The North Korean government responded by walking out of the nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty in January
2003 and then expelling United Nations nuclear inspectors. It also promptly restarted work on building a nuclear deterrent.
The Bush administration had clearly marked out North Korea for regime change along with Iraq and
Iran. But with the U.S. caught in the
Iraqi quagmire and Pyongyang increasing its nuclear and missile capabilities, the Bush administration agreed to participate in “six-party” talks initiated under the leadership of
China to defuse the military tensions in the Korean peninsula. The first
North Korean nuclear test took place in 2006. The last nuclear test was in
2009. This led to tough U.N. sanctions being imposed on the country. To prove that it could deliver nuclear warheads, North Korea successfully testfired accurate long- and short-range missiles. The ultimate goal of the sixparty talks is to achieve denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
Under President Barack Obama,
Washington has tried to further ratchet up the pressure on Pyongyang. Pres134


ident Lee Myung-bak of South Korea ended the Sunshine Policy and has cut off most diplomatic and trade contacts with the north. Food aid has been curtailed drastically. The U.S. and South
Korean armies held large-scale military exercises adjacent to the North
Korean border in 2011.
China, which ended its “one Korea” policy in 1994 by recognising the south, today provides invaluable help to shore up the North Korean economy. It is the biggest aid giver and food provider. North Korea also appreciates China’s policy of not interfering in its internal affairs. The strong relations between the two countries were forged during the Korean war. Together they withstood the military might of the U.S. Beijing wants stability on its border. If North Korea implodes, U.S. troops could be soon stationed along the Chinese border. Many of China’s neighbours, led by Japan, are trying to form an anti-China alliance under the tutelage of Washington. In the past 18 months, Kim made four trips to China.
Pyongyang seems to be making the first moves to replicate the Chinese model of development.
The 69-year-old Kim seemed to have made a recovery of sorts after reportedly suffering a stroke more than three years ago. He was evidently following a busy work schedule. Kim never took the title of President. His father had been designated the “Eternal President” of North Korea. The son dutifully implemented his father’s
“military first” policy. North Korea has a disciplined and well-armed millionstrong army. A few days before he died of a heart attack while travelling on his train, he was photographed with soldiers at a military base.
The “Dear Leader”, the term used for Kim in the North Korean media, however, had intimations of his mortality. Starting from 2010, he brought his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, into the political limelight. The young Kim was promoted recently to the rank of a four-star general. Reports emanating from Pyongyang hint at a collective leadership emerging to guide the young Kim Jong-un.

Published on alternate Saturdays.WPP No.CPMG/AP/SD-15/WPP/11-13 & MH/MR/South-180/2009-11.Postal Regn. No.TN/ARD/22/09-11. RNI No.42591/84

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