Editorial/ East wind in the west
Making of a rogue state
This above all/ The butcher of Bangladesh
People/ Vellupillai Prabhakaran
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL/ EAST WIND IN THE WEST 
 
 
 
 
Rudyard Kipling’s invocation of the irreconcilability of the East and the West has by now become a cliché. But in the charged ambience of Indian politics even clichés acquire new significance. At the moment, there is a conclave of Congress chief ministers in Guwahati in the eastern corner of India, and in the west, in picturesque Goa, the Bharatiya Janata Party is holding the meeting of its national executive. The ideological and political distance between the Congress and the BJP is perhaps more than the physical distance between Guwahati and Panaji. But the two meetings are crucial for the future of both parties and therefore for the future of India. The BJP is spearheading the ruling coalition, the National Democratic Alliance. The Congress, on the comeback trail, is perhaps looking at heading the coalition-in-waiting. The BJP will be in introspection mode: analysing its electoral setbacks in Uttar Pradesh and in the Delhi municipal polls, pondering the plight which has led to its holding only two states, and more than all this, considering issues that directly affect the NDA’s survival. That would mean taking stock of the continuing violence in Gujarat and Mr Narendra Modi’s involvement in perpetuating it. But the Congress will be looking forward, chalking out its campaign and discussing possible alliances.

The agenda in the east and that in the west are likely to be totally different. One will discuss tactics to cling on to office and the other to capture power. Inevitably, the atmosphere in the west will be informed by some pessimism; the meeting in the east will be marked by a certain optimism. The two will never meet. The national executive of the BJP, however much the leaders may deny it, is meeting in a crisis. The party is in disarray and not only because its electoral fortunes have plummeted. It is also under ideological pressure. Its cadre as well sections of the sangh parivar are unhappy at the way Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee has marginalized the issues emanating from Hindutva. The BJP is also under fire for its inactivity in Gujarat. There is a cry even among some of the constituents of the NDA that Mr Modi should be sacked. The BJP leadership will be forced to choose between ideology and office. The choice made in western India might well determine the course of Indian politics.

The Congress has a different kind of choice to make. It must recognize that it cannot rule India without the support of other political formations. This may not be an easy notion for Congressmen to accept. But the leadership has to review the new political arithmetic and renegotiate its approach to the question of political power. The conclave in Guwahati is thus rather important. The Congress has to chart the next stage of its campaign and resume its leadership in the fight against communalism. The Chinese leader, Mao Zedong, who had a keen ear for political slogans, once said in a very decisive phase of China’s history that the east wind shall prevail. Ms Sonia Gandhi in Guwahati has to create a wind from the east and make it prevail over the mild breeze from the Goan seaside. East and West will never meet but the east can defeat the west. Neither Kipling nor Mao Zedong could have quite anticipated this Indian gloss on their memorable lines.

   

 
 
MAKING OF A ROGUE STATE 
 
 
BY SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
 
 
Before establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, P.V. Narasimha Rao consulted Yasser Arafat, who was visiting New Delhi. The Palestinian leader replied unhesitatingly that since Egypt’s ties with Israel had helped the Palestinian cause, so would India’s. But there is no sign of Atal Bihari Vajpayee or his external affairs minister being overpowered by the responsibility placed on them by that act of faith.

Of course, India can have only a marginal role when, like a delinquent child determined to flaunt its independence, Israel cocks a snook at its American parent. If anyone can influence the Zionist state, it is the United States of America which must also — with Britain — bear responsibility for its present recklessness. But even without leverage, this is an opportunity for India to remind the world that it has not surrendered all its foreign policy options and that nation-states are part of an international comity that imposes its own discipline. Defiance makes Israel a rogue state, no less.

For all that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace, Kofi Annan’s stewardship has not seen any enhancement of either the prestige or effectiveness of the United Nations. Even the European Union has tried to be more active in the west Asian crisis. The Lone Superpower’s unilateral military action in the Balkans first proclaimed that it did not give a fig for legitimacy. The UN’s silence on west Asia, barring an occasional feeble comment, exposes the extent to which Annan is under Washington’s thumb.

This is not to deny the Jews’ own burden of pain. They have been the persecuted orphans of history. The hard work, skill and dedication with which they built up Israel evoke unqualified admiration. Undeniably, too, Israel does have a serious security problem. This is where the picture becomes murky. For no one can pretend that suicide bombers are not the last act of utter desperation by people who cannot even bury their dead or tend to their dying. Or that Israel is really strengthening its security by using F-16s, tanks and Apache helicopter gunships against Palestinians armed only with light rifles, revolvers and homemade bombs.

It is sowing dragons’ teeth in the West Bank and preparing the ground for an even more bloody intifada — Israel and the US would call it terrorism — in the future. Hamas, Hizbollah and other militant organizations are assured of a new crop of lusty young recruits.

Ariel Sharon’s rhetoric about “eliminating terrorism and its infrastructure” is cunningly designed to appeal to the psychology of Operation Enduring Freedom which George W. Bush threatens to extend to Iraq, Iran and Syria. In claiming to be purging Palestinian terrorists, the Israeli prime minister sounds like Mark Anthony Stroman, the white American in Dallas pleading that he was avenging the September 11 attacks by murdering two inoffensive men — an ethnic Indian petrol pump owner, Vasudev Patel, and a Pakistani convenience store owner, Waquar Hasan. The prosecution argues that Stroman killed in cold blood for robbery. Others call the murders racist hate crimes. There are many similarities between Sharon and Stroman.

The Israeli army’s latest practice of arresting young Palestinian men in the occupied territories and writing numbers on their arms is grimly reminiscent of the treatment that the fathers and grandfathers of these Jewish soldiers suffered at the hands of Hitler’s stormtroopers in Nazi Germany. George Orwell’s police career in the Indian subcontinent may have given him the insight into human nature to describe so graphically in Animal Farm the crippled psychology that makes yesterday’s victims hanker to emulate their torturers and become today’s oppressors.

Sharon must be grateful to the suicide bombers for providing an excuse for his ruthlessness. His hands are red with the blood of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres. Whatever he might say about eradicating the terrorism that is supposedly “directed, promoted and initiated by one person” — Arafat — his aims are clear. He wants to demolish once and for all the claim of Palestinian refugees to the right of return.

He wants to establish once and for all the right of some 200 illegal Jewish settlements to permanent existence in the occupied territories so that Palestine can never be truly independent. And he is determined to destroy the mainstream Palestinian movement so that the Zionist state is in full de facto control of what Jews have always coveted as their Biblical Eretz Yisrael.

After Arafat has been destroyed or driven out, Sharon might permit a Palestinian Uncle Tom to set up a west Asian Bantustan with some of the trappings of statehood but no power. Even if Arafat remains the Palestine Authority’s chairman, he will be without any apparatus of control, for the Israeli army has demolished his security apparatus and its physical structures and human resources. This is Sharon’s “long-term interim settlement”. He has never had the least intention of abiding by the Oslo process.

No other country has been allowed to swallow the territorial fruits of conquest in this way. Israel has, only because the wealth and influence of American Jewry shape Washington’s policies. That explains why the EU, which is less susceptible to manipulation, is more concerned about the tragedy than the UN.

It needs the US for investment and security. It does not wish to jeopardize a burgeoning friendship with Israel, which can be a good source of equipment and tactical training. It knows that however commendable Saudi crown prince Abdullah’s plan might be, it is a non-starter, for Sharon will never willingly withdraw. Sad to admit, the world also knows that having burnt their fingers several times, no Arab government will again go to the Palestinians’ rescue. Saddam Hussein’s own national dilemmas prompted him to invoke the abortive oil weapon.

But diplomacy is all about reconciling contraries. Even if India had not been one of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s earliest international sponsors, justice and morality cannot allow it to be a silent spectator of Sharon’s murderous Operation Defensive Shield. To acquiesce in Zionist state terrorism is to sacrifice self-respect, abdicate the right to be heard on crucial global issues and agree to the law of the jungle. It also perpetuates the agony of the Palestinian people.

Vajpayee can make known his support for the less vindictive Shimon Peres, the Israeli foreign minister who opposed Arafat’s expulsion. He can also echo Colin Powell who warned recently that no matter how many Israeli tanks ravage Palestinian villages, they will eventually have to retreat and there will be no alternative then to a negotiated political settlement. He can proclaim India’s sympathy for the beleaguered Arafat whom Powell meets on Saturday.

More tangibly, India can propose a UN mandate for the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights, and ask that it should be enforced by peacekeeping troops from the US or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Neither Sharon nor Bush would then be able to complain of terrorism being pampered.

Israel’s gain would be global respectability, acceptance by its immediate neighbours, and secure borders that would spare it the physical and psychological anguish and expense of living under a state of siege. America’s gain would be assured oil supplies, Arab cooperation, and reinforcement of the moderate regimes that befriend the West. Beyond that, as Henry Kissinger says, “America’s ultimate challenge is to transform its power into moral consensus, promoting its values not by imposition but by their willing acceptance in a world that, for all its seeming resistance, desperately needs enlightened leadership.”

The essence of non-alignment is to stand up for what a nation believes in, irrespective of power politics and international lobbying. Now is India’s chance of demonstrating that the ideal has not lost its relevance even in a unipolar world. While even Tony Blair speaks out, Vajpayee appears to have lost his tongue.

   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL/ THE BUTCHER OF BANGLADESH 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
Although his name may have faded from the memories of most Indians, it remains ingrained in the minds of our Bangladeshi neighbours. He was sent out by General Yahya Khan of Pakistan to control the unrest swelling in East Pakistan. He did it in the only way he knew: let loose his predominantly Punjabi army on hapless Bangladeshis with the permission to loot, rape and kill anyone it suspected of disloyalty to Pakistan. His tenure in Dhaka was extensively covered by the world media and he was dubbed the butcher of Bangladesh. He died in Islamabad a fortnight ago at the age of 86.

After Bangladesh won its independence, I went to Pakistan on the invitation of its new ruler, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. I was anxious to meet (by then retired) General Tikka Khan to get his side of the story. He turned down my request for an interview. He did not want to see any Indian, least of all a Sikh journalist. I asked my friend, Manzur Qadir, to plead on my behalf. He assured Tikka Khan I bore no ill will towards Pakistan and that I would faithfully report what he had to say about his role in the uprising in what ultimately resulted in Bangladesh.

It turned out to be quite a memorable interview. Tikka Khan received me in his bungalow. I was surprised by how unmartial he looked, more like a bank clerk than a soldier. He was short, stocky and very gruff. Along with us sat his orderly, a huge pathan whose monstrous height belied his gentle disposition. The room was cluttered with family photographs and trophies which one would see in the homes of senior army officers. On the walls were quotations from the Quran, including a prominently displayed one on the mantelpiece which I recognized.

The general was a very angry man. His gussa was directed entirely against Indians, not against Bangladeshis. Words like dagha (treachery), dhoka (double-dealing) and jhoot (lies) flowed like lava out of a volcano. He claimed that the sobriquet, butcher of Bangladesh, was coined by the Indian media. “We are God-fearing Muslims,” he repeated over and over again, “our soldiers are disciplined and do not indulge in rape and violence against innocent women.” I let him have his say and asked him as gently as I could, “why the Pakistani army had done so poorly against the Indians?” “Dagha”, he repeated. “The Indian army had infiltrated into East Pakistan long before we were forced to declare war.” I pointed out that there had hardly been any pitched battles. Wherever Indians came against resistance they avoided fighting and let the Mukti Bahini keep the Pakistanis hemmed in their pockets. The general’s orderly who had seen the action blurted out: “Awaam hamaaray khilaaf thaa — the people had turned against us.” The general did not like his orderly speaking out of turn and snubbed him. I pressed the point home: “General sahib, there must have been reason for the common people to turn against you.” He parried my suggestion and repeated that it was all Indian propaganda. I let him have his say. Before taking my leave I pointed out to the quotation from the Quran embellishing his mantelpiece. He read it out in Arabic. “Nasr min Allah, fateh un gareeb — Allah grants victory to the side whose cause is just.”

“General sahib, Allah granted victory to us Indians.”

He felt I had hit him below the belt. “Sardar sahib, I suspect you knew the quotation from the holy book.”

I nodded my head, shook his hand and took my leave.

Bad taste in your mouth

I don’t much care about dining in restaurants: the food they dish out is seldom tasty and often too expensive. In any event, anything cooked in large quantities can rarely cater to individual tastes. For me, it has to be a small party of no more than six to eight guests. The food must be cooked by the host or hostess and not by their khansamas. It should have the right wines to go with it, and above all, should be served on the dot because gourmet food has to be brought from the cooking utensil to the table exactly when it has the richest aroma and taste. Anything kept hot by spirit lamps burning under large silver-plated containers has little flavour left in it. These conditions are not observed in Delhi’s elitist circles. So I rarely, if ever, accept an invitation to dine out. I am a very fussy eater.

There are a few notable exceptions to the general rule of unpunctuality and tasteless food in Delhi homes. One such is Rekha Puri. She is proud of her cooking and her husband knows his wines. They never invite more than eight guests and always remind their guests to be punctual as I would also be invited, “and you know what a fusspot he is about time.”

I arrived as expected at 8 pm. Five minutes later a couple arrived. We were served our drinks with wafers and peanuts for snacks. Twenty minutes later came the second couple full of apologies: “traffic on Delhi’s roads at this hour is chaotic,” they explained. “We left our home more than half an hour ago. It was bumper-to-bumper all the way.” They joined us for drinks and snacks. It was coming close to nine. Rekha Puri noticed the irritation on my face. “I’ll check up and see if they are on their way. Otherwise we’ll get along with our dinner,” she said. She rang up. “Their servants say they left half-an-hour ago; they should be here any moment. No drinks for them. I’ll get the dinner ready.”

The dinner took half an hour to be served. There was still no sign of the remaining couple. It was now 9.30 pm. I’d had more than my quota of scotch and had filled my belly with wafers, peanuts and cashew. My appetite for the dinner I had been looking forward to was gone. Rekha Puri was in a flap. The dishes she had prepared had to be served as they were cooked, and were not to be reheated. The third couple arrived at 10 pm.“Sorry, we are a bit late. We dropped in to see a couple of friends on our way here.” I controlled my temper, but could not keep from blurting out: “You kept eight people waiting. I’ve lost my appetite for dinner.”

It was like being at a feast following a funeral. All fun of dining together was gone. I gobbled up my food and left as soon as the dessert plates had been removed. I was in no mood to enjoy coffee and cognac in the company of the ill-mannered couple. I made a mental note of their names and swore that I would never go to any party where they were invited. Unfortunately, this has become the pattern of social life in Delhi. Unpunctuality is the norm; being on time means you don’t matter.

When the taxman comes calling

Tax his land, tax his wage,
Tax the bed in which he lays.
Tax his tractor, tax his mule,
Teach him taxes is the rule.
Tax his cow, tax his goat,
Tax his pants, tax his coat.
Tax his ties, tax his shirts,
Tax his work, tax his dirt.
Tax his chew, tax his smoke,
Teach him taxes are no joke,
Tax his car, tax his ass,
Tax the roads he must pass.
Tax his tobacco, tax his drink,
Tax him if he tries to think.
Tax his booze, tax his beers,
If he cries, tax his tears.
Tax his bills, tax his gas,
Tax his notes, tax his cash.
Tax him good and let him know
That after taxes, he has no dough.
If he hollers, tax him more,
Tax him until he’s good and sore.
Tax his coffin, tax his grave,
Tax the sod in which he lays.
Put these words upon his tomb,
“Taxes drove me to my doom!”
And when he’s gone, we won’t relax,
We’ll still be after inheritance tax.

(Contributed by D. N. Chaudhri, New Delhi)

   

 
 
PEOPLE/ VELLUPILLAI PRABHAKARAN 
 
 
 
 

In name of peace

A little known Sinhalese film, doing the rounds of the Asian film festival circuit sometime ago, told an emotional story on a favourite Sri Lankan theme — the Tamil-Sinhala divide. To a non-Sri Lankan audience the story, of a little Tamil girl who leaves her wounded revolutionary father to die in the jungle and seeks shelter in a Sinahalese home on the outskirts of the jungle, is fascinating. Especially during a scene where the injured Tamil revolutionary grips the cyanide capsule strung on a little black thread around his neck, as he hears sounds of approaching Army officers.

Reel crossed over to real around five on Wednesday evening when Vellupillai Prabhakaran sat before almost 200 journalists at his first press conference in 12 years, in Killinochchi in northern Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran, a founding father of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) –– one of the most feared terrorist outfits in the world –– is known to wear a cyanide capsule around his neck, to be swallowed in the event of his capture. His guerrillas, many of whom are women and children, are expected to show the same sort of dedication to the Cause.

For many of the journalists who had gathered to see Prabhakaran, it was a once-in-a-lifetime event. The accompanying security was formidable, with a 10-hour screening during which all equipment from satellite phones to pens and notepads was confiscated. No information was given to the journalists, assembled from seven in the morning on Wednesday at an LTTE office 3 km from Killinochchi, about the time or venue of the press conference. All the secrecy and precision planning, so typical of any Prabhakaran operation, was equally a part of his mammoth media show.

When Prabhakaran, surrounded by soldiers, walked into the compound where he held the press conference dressed, not in his usual military fatigues, but in a blue-grey safari suit he sent out an initial, significant message of a change. Analysts feel that the clamouring civil demand for peace in Sri Lanka combined with a new global intolerance for all terrorist activity post-September 11 has forced Prabhakaran to rethink his guerrilla tactics. Evidence of this has unfolded over the last few months as the LTTE leader announced a unilateral ceasefire, agreed to next month’s peace talks in Thailand with the Sri Lankan government, and of course, called Wednesday’s conference.

It is, however, difficult to read Prabhakaran’s intentions accurately, for over the years he has proved to be a smooth operator. From a secret jungle base in north-east Sri Lanka, the 47-year-old Prabhakaran has been steering the LTTE on its course for an independent Tamil homeland. Depending on which side of the spectrum he is viewed from, Prabhakaran is either a freedom fighter struggling for Tamil emancipation from Sinhala oppression, or he is a megalomaniac with a brutal disregard for human life. However, the dedicated freedom fighter struggling for emancipation is a difficult image for most people to swallow, given that to him belongs the dubious honour of founding, or at any rate, popularising the concept of the suicide bomber.

It’s also a little difficult to rationalise Prabhakaran’s enthusiasm to send out a seemingly unlimited supply of young men and women to die for the Cause, four of whom were indicted in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, while his own children are busy excelling in national examinations. Over the almost two decades that the Tamil Tigers have been fighting for an independent homeland, more than 50,000 ‘revolutionaries’ have been killed. Every year on Prabhakaran’s birthday — November 26 — the LTTE observes the Great Heroes Day, in memory of all the martyrs who have died for the Tamil Eelam. On this day, Prabhakaran addresses his revolutionaries over the radio. Even as he speaks to them, LTTE cadres unleash a wave of violence through the region, the organisation’s way of remembering their war heroes. The practice stopped when Prabhakaran called the unilateral ceasefire last December.

Prabhakaran, however, started out in relative obscurity. Born the youngest of four children in the northern coastal town of Velvettihurai, he was an average student, shy and bookish, according to some accounts. Another version has it, that the shy student was expelled from his school after he exploded a crude bomb in a classroom.

Prabhakaran’s involvement in the Tamil protest movement began a few years later, when as a teenager he saw instances of discrimination against the Tamils in education, employment and politics. Around this time he started attending his first political meetings. In 1975, he was implicated in the murder of the mayor of Jaffna — the first high-profile killing carried out by the rapidly growing Tamil nationalist movement. Around this time, he also began looking at a more permanent role for himself in the Tamil nationalist movement.

In the early Eighties, he deftly removed all obstacles to his total supremacy in the organisation and formed the guerrilla Tamil Tigers unit. With his ascendancy, the ideology of the movement also underwent a change — it became rigid in its demand for an independent state.

Over the years, Prabhakaran has remained consistent in his demand for an independent Tamil state. Despite the initial positive signals, by the time his press conference was over two hours and 24 minutes later, the signals seemed diffused. For once again, he repeated that though he was approaching the peace talks in Thailand with an open mind, “the Tamil people still want an independent homeland.” The LTTE remains the domineering force behind the rebel movement in Sri Lanka, and without Prabhakaran’s consent any move towards a peace process in the region remains futile. No surprise then that his next comment: “We are freedom fighters — not terrorists — seriously committed to peace,” rang more than a little hollow, minutes before the historic press conference ended.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Dial M for Mamata

Sir — Mamata Banerjee is a fairly common name for a Brahmin woman in Bengal. There are sure to be other bearers of this name than the lady featured in the report, “Mamata, married and harried” (April 11). Will they all start coming up with their problems now? The other Mamata’s problem is common too. My telephone number, for instance, is very similar to that of the local LPG dealer’s. I get calls every day from people who want to book LPG cylinders. Another reason why the report falls flat is that few Calcuttans are so ignorant as to think that Harish Chatterjee Road and Ballygunge Circular Road come under the same telephone exchange.
Yours faithfully,
G.K. Bhattacharya, Calcutta

Service of the nation

Sir — In his article, “Duty at a price” (April 2), Bhaskar Ghose comments sarcastically that, after the “promotion” of the Kutch district superintendent of police, Vivek Shrivastava, “…we can now expect some deaths, arson and looting in Kutch”. Ghose’s grisly predictions have been proved correct. The very next day there were news reports indicating that the violence had spread to Kutch, which until then had been an oasis of peace thanks to the efforts of Shrivastava. The “axis of evil”, comprising elements of the sangh parivar and masterminded by the Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, had got the better of Shrivastava.

The protests of the opposition and the National Democratic Alliance constituents have not succeeded in checking Modi. If anything, they have resulted in the prime minister, the Union home minister and the BJP president, Jana Krishnamurthy, coming out even more strongly in Modi’s defence. It is indeed a sad commentary on our country that while the bouquets are reserved for killers like Modi, upright officers like Shrivastava are given brickbats.

Yours faithfully,
Subhadip Pal, Calcutta

Sir — Perhaps politicians like Narendra Modi and Gordhan Zadaphiya feel that by killing a few thousand Muslims in Gujarat and destroying their properties, they could incite Muslims all over India, provoke them to violent reaction, and thus vitiate the communal situation in the country.

All Indians, Hindus as well as Muslims, must come together to foil this gameplan by maintaining peace and harmony everywhere. While it is true that Gujarat 2002 has ripped the masks off the faces of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Modi and their ilk, it has also given us courageous human rights activists like J.S. Verma, honest police officers like Vivek Shrivastava and Rahul Sharma, and many bold journalists who have refused to be cowed down by these communal organizations. Without them and hundreds like them, Modi and Company might just have succeeded in pushing through their agenda.

Yours faithfully,
Shahida Perveen, Jamshedpur

Sir — Rahul Sharma, Vivek Shrivastava and their 25 comrades deserve the gratitude of all Indians for refusing to join the communalists’ bandwagon to save their skins, as also for placing the integrity of the country above their personal interests. However, the outcome of their good work — a transfer order — seems straight out of a Bollywood movie, a genre, we always thought, given to making gross exaggerations. Should we infer now that it is from the hundreds of films churned out every year by the Mumbai film industry that the Narendra Modis of this world get their ideas?

Yours faithfully,
Arun Bansal, Siliguri

Till the last drop

Sir — Gajinder Singh’s article, “The link no one would miss” (April 4), on the water-dispute between Punjab and Rajasthan, focussed on many issues. But a few more points need to be made. While one river basin is generally considered to be one unit for purposes of water resources planning, more than one river basin could be clubbed together for overall optimization. Two, the combined use of surface water and groundwater should be encouraged to make optimal use of the water available.
Yours faithfully,
A.K. Bhattacharya, Howrah

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