News/Comment20th May 2001
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Ensuring healthy peace talks

By Victor Ivan 
After the failure of the Agni Khiela operation, the government has been compelled to relax the tough conditions it had earlier set for starting peace talks. 

Previously the government had said that a ceasefire was not necessary to start peace talks and that a ceasefire could be agreed upon only if there was progress after talks had started. However, the government now says that it is prepared to talk while a ceasefire is on. 

This has been conveyed by Norwegian representative Erik Solheim to LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham at the discussion they had in London on the 9th. 

However, the LTTE's official view is that they are not prepared for a secret and temporary cease-fire. Their stand is that it must be a permanent and publicly declared cease-fire. Further, they say that its other two conditions, namely, the lifting of the ban imposed on the organisation and the total removal of the embargo on goods, too must be fulfilled.

The government has to enter into negotiations not from a position of strength but from a position of weakness. Although the government forces attempted to recapture Elephant Pass which was lost before possible peace talks, the LTTE succeeded in frustrating that attempt and imposing a major loss on the army. On the political front and in the south too, the government is weak. Although it might be possible to temporarily suppress the threat of defeating the government by a no-confidence motion, a quickening of the government's decline will become inevitable if the government fails to enter into successful peace talks. Although international pressure, set-backs on the military front and threats of no-confidence motions have driven the government to take steps towards peace negotiations, the government does not seem to have a strong and clear vision required for negotiations. 

It is only through a commitment to negotiations that it will be possible to prevent the Tamil parties from giving a no-confidence motion. However, it is not possible for the government to fulfil the pre-conditions that the LTTE demands. The SLMC demands that, they too be made a partner of the negotiations. However, there is a serious conflict between the demands of the SLMC and those of the LTTE. Although Norway, India and the United States want at least the UNP, which is the main opposition party, to be made a partner of the peace programme, this will be possible only if the government agrees to lawfully set up the four commissions which they demand. The air of enmity between the leaders of the two parties will probably have a decisive effect on these talks. The fact that the LTTE made a serious attempt to take her life, depriving her of one of her eyes in the process will have an effect on the President as well as on Prabhakaran. This will inevitably function as a main determining factor of the peace process. 

Finally, although this process of peace talks will help create an atmosphere required for effecting a solution, it is likely to worsen the crisis which the government is facing rather than bring any stability to the government. The writer is the Editor of Ravaya 


Vigilantes scour India's capital for 'Monkey Man'

By staff and wire reports
NEW DELHI, India Groups of vigilantes have taken to the streets of New Delhi to track down a mysterious "monkey man" blamed for dozens of attacks on local residents. Police on Friday said they suspected the attacks, in which dozens of people have been bitten and clawed, were the work of a gang of trouble-makers. 

"It's definitely not one person," Joint Commissioner of Police Suresh Roy told Reuters on Friday. 

On Thursday, police offered a reward of 50,000 rupees ($1,063) for information leading to the capture of the "monkey man," which they now believe is not an animal, and said a special team had been set up to solve the puzzle. 

"We are going to zero down on this very early and put an end to this menace," spokesman Ravi Pawar said. 

But television news reports said that many of the city's residents were taking the matter into their own hands, trawling the streets at night armed with hockey sticks and batons. 

In one case a frenzied mob of around 150 people caught and beat a man in the east of the city, only to discover that he was an innocent bystander. 

The Delhi police have announced the formation of a crack team dedicated to nabbing the elusive 'Monkey Man' and offered a reward for his or its capture. 

Two terrified residents of the city's suburbs, including a pregnant woman, fell to their death earlier this week on hearing cries in the neighborhood warning that the attacker was nearby. 

Collective hysteria then set in after many people said they had been scratched or bitten by the creature while they were sleeping on terraces, particularly during power cuts. 

Hundreds of police officers have been deployed to patrol the city through the night after the sightings were reported in the east and northeast of the capital. On Wednesday night, however, police started to receive calls from scared residents in other parts of the city. 

Police said the calls usually turned out to be more a result of emotional and panic imaginations rather than an actual encounter. 

Noises, suspicious shadows and even hearsay had caused residents to call the police. 

"No one saw the actual monkey-man. But there was no paucity of wild stories," said a senior police officer, as quoted by the Times of India newspaper. Stories circulating suggested the creature preyed on people sleeping on roofs a habit common among Delhi residents to cope with hot summer nights. 

Some police officers started to make a connection between the sighting calls and New Delhi's frequent power failures. 

They suspected some residents called the police every time there was a power failure because they believed police would be forced to restore power before starting a search. 

There were different versions of how the "monkey-man" looked. Two portrait sketches, based on the creature's victims, suggested it was human. 

One showed a swarthy broad-faced bearded man with a flat nose, thick lips and a piercing stare. The other, which could hardly have been more different, portrayed a narrow-faced man with a receding hairline, a scrappy moustache and dark glasses. 

However, some residents said the creature was "as small as a cat" and had metallic hands, while a few others claimed it was a monkey who could turn into a cat. 

Police suspected the terrorizing creature was an animal, but the city's zoo director, P.S. Bonal ruled out the possibility. 

Excerpts from a talk given by India's High Commissioner Gopalkrishna Gandhi at the Colombo Club meeting held at the Lanka Oberoi recently


India, an idea, an ideal

The title of my talk is borrowed. It was used in a 1994 lecture by the Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen. Subsequently, a book by one of India's distinguished historians Sunil Khilnani appeared with the same name.

Having declared my debt at the very outset, I have sought to give myself a sheen of frankness and honesty. I have also indemnified myself against the charge of plagiarism.

But in fairness to myself, I must say that while the title is borrowed, the thoughts contained in this talk will be my own, though many of them have been stimulated by others, by people I admire.

When a High Commissioner for India speaks on 'The Idea of India', he can be expected to invoke the greatness of India's past, her accomplishments of the day, her future promise. He can hardly be expected to talk about India's horror stories, of India's horrendous over-crowding of humans packed so tight in trains, buses, cinema houses and hospitals that you cannot drop a mustard seed between them. I cannot possibly take 25 minutes discussing India's poverty - the 350 million of her people who live (if they do that) below the poverty line. How am I to say - and yet not say - that India is a country not just of very poor people but of millions upon millions of destitute - the human debris of an unequal society where money grows but only vertically. How am I to say that it is these poor who suffer when cyclones strike, when earthquakes flatten, when droughts parch our land? I would be a poor diplomat if I dwelt on that India. 

I must make it clear that my idea of India is not of the India reported on in the pink pages of multinational dailies or in the yellow pages of metropolitan phone books. The pages that show the fast track of prosperity, personal, corporate and national. Where the bright and the not-so-bright manage to go to very bright schools, very bright colleges and are, in hectic competition to apply for opportunities for even 'brighter' higher education, for higher professional training, for employment. For many of them the great goal is to reach the United States and to do management studies and swell the world's pool, not necessarily India's, of managerial and scientific talent. 

That is the India gets heard about - and why should it not be? - but more often than not over the voice of the other India. 

And that is not as it should be. Share holding India, the flagship for the Indian middle class, the target of the world's manufacturers, traders, investors, is also the India which is seized by ideological ennui. When it comes to the nation's political future, this India is silent. This is also the India which is mesmerized by satellite cabled world beauty contests. This is the India, India's middle class, that is targeted by the great compact of our times, the compact between multinationals and much of the media. 

Is this India the real India? This certainly is the India of plastic consumerism, where shopping debris litters on roads, clogs our drains, disfigures and pollutes the countryside.

To come back, nonetheless, to the world of facts and rankings, India, though only the 7th largest country in the world, does rank 1st in the world as the country with the largest irrigated area in the world, in terms of million hectares. Some of you may be surprised to learn - I certainly was - that of the world's 250 million hectares that are irrigated, as many as 82.8 million hectares are in India. 

Having given these facts as 'a good diplomat', let me now be a 'bad' one by a foray into frankness. Let no one tell you that this 'other' India is food-safe; it is not. The world's most irrigated country is also facing an alarming depletion of her ground water. India continues to be dependent on monsoons. We have had, for the last 13 years, reasonably good rains each year. But we allow the rain to flow away into the salt of the sea. We do not capture and store water as we should, as insurance against rain-failure. Water-use is for us a matter of good fortune, not skill. 

'Our people' - let us look at them.

At 1830 GMT of March 1, 2001, India's decennial census clocked the population of India at 1.02 billion - 531 million men and 496 million women. Just consider the numbers. Females are supposed, biologically, to have a higher expectancy of life at birth than males. So why are there fewer women than men in India? An embarrassed silence answers the question. India is now the second country in the world after China to cross the one billion population mark. An achievement, no doubt. But with 57 more persons per square kilometre now as compared to the last census (273 + 57 = 330 persons per square kilometre) a dubious achievement indeed. 

Why is India as crowded as it is? Not because the laws of procreation work overtime in India, giving us a torrent of babies. No, it is not that. Rather, because the laws of death and dying have stopped working overtime in India. When the British left India, the average life-expectancy at birth was less than 30 years. Many an Adi Sankara, a Vivekananda and a Srinivasa Ramanujam died before reaching 40. If we are a billion plus today, it is not because more people are being born but because less people are dying. Our life-expectancy at birth now stands at 63 years. 

Health care delivery has improved and spread across the country in an unbelievable manner. It is still, let me admit, unbelievably tardy. Our primary health centres would not and should not pass strict tests. There is insufficient hygiene, nurses often substitute for doctors, midwives for nurses. But the fact remains that with the spread of pre- and post-natal care, of immunization, the people of India are living twice as long as they used to. The population of India cannot but increase. What are we to stop or start doing? We cannot and would not want to go back to the British Raj life-expectancy figure, nor adopt Chinese methods of compulsory family limitation. So we have to work within our own system, find our own solutions and we need to do it fast. But let the idea of India as a country bursting as its seams with its people, people, people be modified. Any modified not with reference to the whys and hows and wherefores of India alone, but of the whole world. 

More than 50 per cent of our population belong to the age-group of 21 and below. This age group, not surprisingly, has a good appetite - for food, for information, for work. The question of questions in India, today is: Will India's young - 500 million strong - connect to our farmlands in the same way as generations did? Will farming be personally, professionally and intellectually stimulating to this enormous population of the young? Will this population be able to see the internal challenges faced by our farms in terms of debased soils and depleting water levels and meet them? No less, will this population be able to see that there also are external challenges and threats to our agriculture and - by implication - to our destiny as a civilization? Our master agronomist, farm technologist and plant scientist Ms. Swaminathan has singled out among external threats "the unequal trade bargain inherent in the wTo agreement of 1994 and the rapid expansion of proprietary science".

It is amazing that India's agricultural products, the result of millennia of farm practices and traditional knowledge, can get patented, and traded under protection, by multi-nationals. From rice to the leaf of margosa, they have placed their hands on our roots. After Richard Attenborough's film had generated a global interest in Gandhi, I was not surprised that a restaurant in London re-named itself 'Gandhi Steak House'. That was just a businessman's pathetic attempt to make a fast buck. But for Basmati to become Texmati and our precious plants and herbs to become an article of packed sales is difficult to accept. Especially by a country which has been home to some of the greatest inventions of the world, each of them now world property. Imagine India wanting to patent the decimal system of enumeration because Vedic India used it to represent all integers with 9 digits and a symbol for zero. Imagine India laying claim to the number system itself or to anything that proceeds from mathematics because Aryabhatta I in the 15th century "developed techniques for extracting square roots and cube roots, using trigonometrical texts". 

My idea of India, then, is of an agrarian India that lives in its great rural tracts but does more than just live there, that thrives there, that nudges the promise of the present to become the accomplishment of tomorrow.

If the 1960s changed the story of our agriculture, the 1970s saw another change, a difficult one, a painfuI one. You will recall that India had initiated in the 60s an ambitious programme of atomic research. The main aim of our nuclear programme was to produce power through fast-breeder reactors. But opinions differed then and do now, internationally, on whether nuclear power is appropriate. Gandhi was not alive to comment on the programme, initiated by Nehru. But Rajagopalachari was. And the wise man of Chennai was skeptical. He likened the creation of nuclear energy for power to using a bolt of lightning to fry an egg. But that apart, no sooner did Pokhran happen in 1974 than the USA, Canada and many countries moved to deny modern technology to India. But sweet are the uses of adversity. With access to super computers refused, Indian scientists converted the crisis into an opportunity. P.V. Indiresan writes: "Mathematical algorithms were cleverly partitioned to enable a bank of small computers to perform tasks intended for large super computers. Super computers were also developed locally - India now has at least four different types".

If the '70s were India's nuclear decade, the 1980s were India's technological decade with Sam Pitroda showing how India can produce a large telephone exchange system linking urban with rural India and both with the modern world.

And the '90s were India's decade of globalisation with satellite connectivities, IT and BT coming to the fore, and linking on natural resources with our human resources in a creative encounter of millennial scale.

But let no one tell you India's technology has grown flawlessly; it has not. Yet, let everyone see that the good parts of this curate's egg are rather fantastically so. They have given, especially to our urban young, springs to the future. They have also given them passports and visas to the West, particularly to the US. I am told there are today 3.22 million Indians in the US. A staggering 38% of the doctors in America are Indian, 36% of NASA employees are Indian, 34% of Microsoft employees are Indian, 28% of IBM employees are Indian, 17% of INTEL and 13% of Xerox employees are Indian. And the US had denied us super computers! It did not know perhaps that Sanskrit, a source language to all European tongues, is particularly suitable for computer software. I am not saying this - Forbes magazine said this as far back as July 1987. And Sanskrit is lodged securely in the Indian brain.

India may be the world's largest free market. But it is also something more. It is the world largest enterprise in the development of human resources. Indians may not be winning gold in the Olympics, they are certainly bent on earning it, making it, using it at home. And they are doing so not under any dictatorial goad, but as free agents. Only last week India held a mini general election, one of several since independence. Each election marks and reflects our progress under conditions of unfettered democratic freedom. In over 1,50,000 polling stations, 1,60,000 electronic vending machines recorded the people's verdict. One candidate lost, another was victorious. But the real victor was the Indian voter - did someone call her or him illiterate? - who pressed the electronic button as to the manner born. He and she are, let us not forget, heirs to Aryabhatta and Varahamihira. They have a clear idea, not of the India of the bookstore maps. But of the India that is a civilization. 

The India where the aim of most Indians is not to get rich or to get to the USA, but to find contentment. The India where Siva is not just a deity but a concept - a blessed state of consciousness.

India, at the end of the day, is itself an idea. And, I may add, an ideal.

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