The Chicken Dreams!

28 February 2007 |

Martin Luther King had a dream - a very powerful one. The poor in India has a dream too - to feed their children three meals a day and send them to school to build a better tomorrow.

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Arindham Chaudhuri too has a dream - just that it is all about counting chickens and also eating Biryani.

The Great Indian Dream

- Restoring pride: Alternatives for a journey towards dignity
- Philosophical & economic basis for the India of our dreams
- An employed, well read, Biryani eating & AIDS free India
- Courts which are not on strike
- Igniting the sprit of entrepreneurship & patriotism
- Voting without being embarrassed
- India After 25 Years: A Vision
How does he plan to achieve this? Through something called Happy Capitalism.

There is a visual difference from that of a stereo-type Indian pseudo-intellect - also sometimes referred as Spiritual Guru; Arindham is not someone in saffron robe, or with a long beard... But he talks about the holy Gita like all the other fake gurus.

Arindham is a smart dude; he knows that the pseudo-spiritual crap and patriotic farts sell with Indians and the Non-Resident Indians.

What has Gita got to do with the Chicken or the Biryani? And when did Biryani become manna to Indians?

Isn't it amazing that 60 years after independence... not only from the Poms but also from Feudalism, Indians have developed a culture of ignoring the past as they ride into a market-driven future?

If India is shining today, it is because Government of India 'invested' in the middle class and poor in India, by giving people a job in public sector companies. By over-staffing these companies, the government did end up creating loss-making public giants... But, then, it was also a means to redistribute wealth and give the poor Indians a chance to succeed in the coming years.

If India didn't take such a route and had embraced 'Happy Capitalism', we would have ended up being another Banana republic. The government of India invested in its people for 45 years - through subsidised education, health care, public transport, fuel etc...

Imagine we had embraced some sort of "happy capitalism" in 1947. Do you think the then rich and powerful businessmen and families in India would have helped the poor to get educated and come up in life? Do you think the rich would have invested in the poor? They would have been more than happy to loot the country and take it to the Swiss banks and pay for their playboy lifestyle.

It is not that India has achieved nirvana. Millions and millions of Indians struggle for a single meal, even today. A vast number of Indians are illiterate, especially the people in the cow-belt of India. They have been denied a chance to get educated and make 'middle class choices between Coke and Pepsi', simply because they have had no chance to get out of the treacherous poverty and famine.

Why dream of making India Aids free? Are we dreaming of a free-bonking Indian society?
Many Indians don't have access to proper health care - may it be treating diseases like Tuberculosis for which there is proven treatment and cure. Many millions are going to die simply because they cannot afford medicine - even for something like a fever.

It is another matter that I don't agree with the Congress or the Nehru family. The government of India and the public service departments have done a good job - but clearly not enough.

To expect the profiteers to help the poor to get out of the hole is a bit too far-fetched. It is the rich and the powerful who talk about this wonderful western concept "Survival of the fittest". What people don't say is "where"?

Imagine a world where the stock markets have crashed, currency has lost its value... and if you have to plough the land to feed your children, how many of the rich fat cats of India are fit enough to survive for 2 days in the harsh sun?

Today it is a rich man, who is fit enough to survive in the market. Agreed.
The ones who dare to condemn the poor by painting them with the "survival of the fittest" brush, better be beware of what they say. The world is not always a big market.

Don't we all like the idea of Justice? How come some of us don't like the idea of Social Justice?

People like Arindham Choudhury can count the chickens before they hatch. Just that they should try to find out who owns the eggs.


23 February 2007 |

There is something wrong with this world. Blogs are being blocked. Bloggers are being thrown into jail.

Whether your blog is good or bad for the internet and its users, whether your thoughts - personal or propaganda... everything depends on the point of view.

Today, I found myself being attacked... for I spoke about the grace of life and kindness. If kindness and goodness is only something you share with your group/sect/herd/religion - then what's the point of living under this sky?

When George Bush said, "either you are with us or you are against us", he was parading his ignorance at a world stage. He was also parading the soul-less self, telling us he is scared of the 'other man'.

To many, a life without an enemy is almost impossible. Bush is that kind of a man. He needs to see an enemy to validate his life on earth; simply because he has no grace of his own.

In today's debate on sectarian violence, I refused to take sides. Why should common people take law into their own hands and seek revenge, retribution and what not?

Violence is not an answer for violence; it only breeds more violence. In any such situation it is the women and children who suffer and die the most.

For common folk to sit in their comforts of the drawing room and justify killing, just because there is a history of violence, is sheer madness.

It shocks me that there is so much violence trapped inside the hearts and minds of common people - that they live in fear of the other herd and want to kill.

This mistrust, hatred, fear, terror within - creates a violent world.

All these people are god-fearing, god-loving, pious, respectable people in our society. They try to mask the stench of their hypocrisy by pointing fingers at the other.

These are the people who follow the Bible, Quran, Gita, Vedas and all the Holy Scriptures... still there is a thirst for blood of the other herd.

Today I was called an enemy - because I refuse to take sides in the killing. My understanding is that the state has a duty and a responsibility to protect the lives of every citizen - no matter which religion they follow. I hope, one day soon, the world will realise the danger of organised religion or an organised herd.

Why is it that they call me an enemy? It is a simple logic: "If you don't hate them (who they consider to be an enemy), you are one of them."

Whether I like a certain herd or identify myself with a herd doesn't matter to them. To them, the common factor is hatred. This is how they see it: If you refuse to hate a Muslim/Hindu/Christian, you are a Muslim/Hindu/Christian sympathiser.

According to these morons, "Reason, Intelligence, Wisdom, Compassion, Kindness, Goodwill... are not qualities or possession of a common man."

How can I bring a child into such a world? How can I let my child learn from people whose love is based on who you hate?

I am sure there are millions of people who have had enough of spinning around in this giant wheel of hatred. The ones who spread hatred are secondhanders with no self-respect at all. To them, justice only happens when they win - even if it means ripping the hearts out of their own children - who refuse to hate their enemies.

Me writing in my blog about the vulgarity of the suppressed violence in common people is not going to make a big difference to this world.

My dad enjoys watching violent movies. He enjoys violence - of arms being ripped out, heads being smashed to pulp... his excuse is: it is the 'evil people' who are being violently destroyed. Since the time I can remember... maybe at the age of five, it was very clear to me that my dad is a coward - hence he enjoys the violence.

A brave man never enjoys or resorts to violence. It takes a brave man to stop the violence and reclaim peace in this world.

If you like violence (of any degrees, may it be on TV, Big screen, or real life) you are a coward.

As for my violent readers, don't bother to send me messages on this. You just wouldn't understand what I have written.

Vulture Fund business!

19 February 2007 |

"Vulture Fund” Company Wins $20 Million Payment from Zambia on $4 Million Debt

Video courtesy and copyright BBC

“Vulture fund” companies buy up the debt of poor countries at cheap prices, and then demand payments much higher than the original amount of the debt, often taking poor countries to court when they cannot afford to repay.

Investigative journalist Greg Palast reports on one company that has won the right to collect $20 million from the government of Zambia after buying its debt for $4 million. In his recent State of the Union address, President Bush declared the United States was taking on the challenges of global hunger, poverty and disease, and urged support for debt relief, which he called the best hope for eliminating poverty.

But what exactly are wealthy nations doing to reduce the debt of impoverished countries?

Vulture fund companies buy up the debt of poor countries at cheap prices, and then demand payments much higher than the original amount of the debt, often taking poor countries to court when they cannot afford to repay.


How to stop Whaling?

16 February 2007 |

In three steps.

1. Boycott all Japanese Goods.

2. Boycott all Japanese Goods.

3. Boycott all Japanese Goods.

Say Say0nara Nippon!

You got to hit them where it hurts 'em most - their yen for whaling.
Boycott Toyota, Honda, Sony, Panasonic and all those big Japanese brands... when the sales figure goes down, Japan will listen to the world opinion.

Who needs Reality TV?

04 February 2007 |

Arundhati Roy
December 22, 2006

The Supreme Court of India has sentenced Mohammad Afzal, Accused No. 1 in the Parliament Attack case, to death. It acknowledged that the evidence against him was not direct, only circumstantial, but in its now famous statement it said: “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, has shaken the entire nation, and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.”

Is the ‘collective conscience’ the same as majority opinion? Would it be fair to say that it is fashioned by the information we receive? And, therefore, that in this case, the mass media have played a pivotal role in determining the final court verdict? If so, has it been accurate and truthful?

A small group of scholars, writers and lawyers has followed the case over the years and meticulously documented media reports. Some of this work has recently been published by Penguin Books as a reader (13 December: The Strange Case of The Parliament Attack). They have found that in the early days of the trial, Delhi Police’s Special Cell was spectacularly successful in getting both the print and electronic media (with a few honourable exceptions), to put out its entirely unsubstantiated claims as the ‘truth’, making it seem as though the impending judicial trial was just a formality. Now, five years later, when disturbing questions are being raised about the Parliament Attack, is the Special Cell, once again, cleverly exploiting the frantic hunt for ‘breaking news’?

Suddenly, spurious ‘exposés’ are finding their way on to prime time TV. Unfortunately, some of India’s best, most responsible news channels have been caught up in this game, in which carelessness and incomprehension is as deadly as malice. A few weeks ago, we had a fiasco on CNN-IBN.

Last week (December 16), on a 90-minute prime time show, NDTV showcased an ‘exclusive’ video of Mohammad Afzal’s ‘confession’ made in police custody, in the days immediately following his arrest. At no point was it clarified that the ‘confession’ was five years old.

Much has been said about the authenticity, reliability and legality of confessions taken in police custody, as well as the circumstances under which this particular ‘confession’ was extracted. Because of the very real danger that custodial torture will replace real investigation, the Indian Penal Code does not admit confessions made in police custody as legal evidence in a criminal trial. Pota (Prevention of Terrorism Act) was considered an outrage on civil rights and was eventually withdrawn, primarily because it made confessions obtained in police custody admissible as legal evidence. In fact, in the case of Afzal’s ‘confession’, the Supreme Court said the Special Cell had violated even the tenuous safeguards provided under Pota, and set it aside as being illegal and unreliable. Even before this, the High Court had already reprimanded the Special Cell sharply for forcing Afzal to incriminate himself publicly in a ‘media confession’.

So what made NDTV showcase this thoroughly discredited old ‘confession’ all over again? Why now? How did the Special Cell video find its way into their hands? Does it have something to do with the fact that Afzal’s clemency petition is pending with the President and a curative petition asking for a retrial is pending in the Supreme Court? In her column in this paper (Death of the Middle ground, December 17), Barkha Dutt, Managing Editor of NDTV, said the channel spent many hours debating what the ‘fairest’ way to show this video was. Clearly, it was a serious decision and demands to be discussed seriously.

At the start of the show, for several minutes, the image of Afzal ‘confessing’ was inset in a text that said “Afzal ne court mein gunaah qabool kiya tha” (Afzal had admitted his guilt in court). This is blatantly untrue. Then, for a full 15 minutes, the ‘confession’ ran without comment. After this, an anchor came on and said, “Sansad par hamle ki kahani, Afzal ki zubaani.” (The story of the Parliament Attack, in Afzal’s words.) This, too, is a travesty of the truth. Well into the programme, a reporter informed us that Afzal had since withdrawn this ‘confession’ and had claimed it had been extracted under torture.

The smirking anchor then turned to one of the panelists, S.A.R. Geelani, who was also one of the accused in the case (and who knows a thing or two about torture and the Special Cell), and remarked that if this confession was “forced”, then Afzal was a very good actor. The anchor has clearly never experienced torture, or even read the wonderful Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano — “The electric cattle prod turns anyone into a prolific storyteller.” Nor has he known what it’s like to be held in police custody in Delhi while his family was hostage (as Afzal’s was) in the war zone that is Kashmir.

Later on, the ‘confession’ was juxtaposed with what the channel said was Afzal’s statement to the court, but was actually the text of a letter he wrote to his High Court lawyer in which he implicates State Task Force (STF) in Kashmir and describes how in the months before the Parliament Attack he was illegally detained and tortured by the STF. NDTV does not tell us that a Deputy Superintendent of the STF has since confirmed that he did illegally detain and torture Afzal. Instead, it uses Afzal’s letter to discredit him further. The bold caption at the bottom of the frame read: “Afzal ka badalta hua baiyan.” (Afzal’s changing statements.)

There is another serious ethical issue. In Afzal’s confession to the Special Cell in December 2001 (as opposed to his ‘media confession’), he implicated SAR Geelani and said he was the mastermind of the conspiracy. While this was in line with the Special Cell’s chargesheet, it turned out to be false, and Geelani was acquitted by the Supreme Court. Why was this portion of Afzal’s confession left out? So that the confession would seem less constructed, more plausible? Who made that decision to leave it out? NDTV or the Special Cell?

All this makes the broadcast of this programme a seriously prejudicial act. It wasn’t surprising to watch the ‘collective conscience’ of society forming its opinion as the show unfolded. The SMS messages on the ticker tape said: “Afzal ko boti boti mein kaat ke kutton ko khila do. Afzal ke haath aur taang kaat ke, road mein bheek mangvaney chahiye.” (Cut him into bits and feed him to the dogs. Cut off his arms and legs and make him beg.) “Hang him by his balls in Lal Chowk.” “Hang him and hang those who are supporting him.” “Even without Sharia courts, we seem to be doing just fine.”

For the record, the reporter credited several times on the programme for procuring the video from the Special Cell has been previously
exposed for publishing falsehoods: on the ‘encounter’ in Ansal Plaza; on the Iftikhar Gilani case; on the S.A.R. Geelani, and now on this one.

This kind of thing really makes you wonder whether media houses have an inside track on the police and intelligence agencies, or whether it’s the other way around.

The quietest guest on the panel was M.K. Dhar, a former Joint Director of the Intelligence Bureau. He was pretty enigmatic. He certainly didn’t repeat what he has said in his astonishingly frank book Open Secrets: India’s Intelligence Unveiled. (Manas Publications, 2005): “Some day or the other, taking advantage of the weakening fabric of our democracy, some unscrupulous intelligence men may gang up with ambitious Army Brass and change the political texture of the nation…”

Weakening fabric of our democracy. I couldn’t have put it better.

(Arundhati Roy is a Booker Prize-winning writer. She has written the introduction to 13 December: The Strange Case of The Parliament Attack)

India's shame


Mohammad Afzal is due to hang for his part in the 2001 attack on India's parliament building. But was he only a bit player? And is the country trying to bury embarrassing questions about its war on terror?

-- By Arundhati Roy
Friday December 15, 2006
The Guardian

Five years ago this week, on December 13 2001, the Indian parliament was in its winter session. The government was under attack for yet another corruption scandal. At 11.30 in the morning, five armed men in a white Ambassador car fitted out with an improvised explosive device drove through the gates of Parliament House. When they were challenged, they jumped out of the car and opened fire. In the gun battle that followed, all the attackers were killed. Eight security personnel and a gardener were killed too. The dead terrorists, the police said, had enough explosives to blow up the parliament building, and enough ammunition to take on a whole battalion of soldiers. Unlike most terrorists, these five left behind a thick trail of evidence - weapons, mobile phones, phone numbers, ID cards, photographs, packets of dried fruit and even a love letter. Not surprisingly, prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee seized the opportunity to compare the assault to the September 11 attacks in the US only three months previously.

On December 14 2001, the day after the attack on parliament, the Special Cell (anti-terrorist squad) of the Delhi police claimed it had tracked down several people suspected of being involved in the conspiracy. The next day, it announced that it had "cracked the case": the attack, the police said, was a joint operation carried out by two Pakistan-based terrorist groups, Lashkar- e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. Three Kashmiri men, Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, Shaukat Hussain Guru and Mohammad Afzal, and Shaukat's wife, Afsan Guru, were arrested.

In the tense days that followed, parliament was adjourned. The Indian government declared that Pakistan - America's closest ally in the "war on terror" - was a terrorist state. On December 21, India recalled its high commissioner from Pakistan, suspended air, rail and bus communications and banned air traffic with Pakistan. It put into motion a massive mobilisation of its war machinery, and moved more than half a million troops to the Pakistan border. Foreign embassies evacuated their staff and citizens, and tourists travelling to India were issued cautionary travel advisories. The world watched with bated breath as the subcontinent was taken to the brink of nuclear war. All this cost India an estimated pounds 1.1bn of public money. About 800 soldiers died in the panicky process of mobilisation alone.

The police charge sheet was filed in a special fast-track trial court designated for cases under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Some three years later, the trial court sentenced Geelani, Shaukat and Afzal to death. Afsan Guru was sentenced to five years of "rigorous imprisonment". On appeal, the high court subsequently acquitted Geelani and Afsan, but upheld Shaukat's and Afzal's death sentence. Eventually, the supreme court upheld the acquittals and reduced Shaukat's punishment to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment. However, it not just confirmed, but enhanced Mohammad Afzal's sentence. He was given three life sentences and a double death sentence.

In its judgment on August 5 2005, the supreme court admitted that the evidence against Afzal was only circumstantial, and that there was no evidence that he belonged to any terrorist group or organisation. But it went on to endorse what can only be described as lynch law. "The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation," it said, "and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender."

Spelling out the reasons for giving Afzal the death penalty, the judgment went on: "The appellant, who is a surrendered militant and who was bent upon repeating the acts of treason against the nation, is a menace to the society and his life should become extinct." This implies a dangerous ignorance of what it means to be a "surrendered militant" in Kashmir today.

So, should Afzal's life be extinguished? His story is fascinating because it is inextricably entwined with the story of the Kashmir Valley. It is a story that stretches far beyond the confines of courtrooms and the limited imagination of people who live in the secure heart of a self-declared "superpower". Afzal's story has its origins in a war zone whose laws are beyond the pale of the fine arguments and delicate sensibilities of normal jurisprudence.

For all these reasons it is critical that we consider carefully the strange, sad and utterly sinister story of the December 13 attack. It tells us a great deal about the way the world's largest "democracy" really works. It connects the biggest things to the smallest. It traces the pathways that connect what happens in the shadowy grottoes of our police stations to what goes on in the snowy streets of Paradise Valley, and from there to the malign furies that bring nations to the brink of nuclear war. It raises specific questions that deserve specific, and not ideological or rhetorical, answers. What hangs in the balance is far more than the fate of one man.

For the most part, the December 13 attack was an astonishingly incompetent "terrorist" strike. But consummate competence appeared to be the hallmark of everything that followed: the gathering of evidence, the speed of the investigation by the Special Cell, the arrest and charging of the accused and the three-and-a-half-year-long judicial process that began with the fast-track trial court.

The operative phrase in all of this is "appeared to be". If you follow the story carefully, you will encounter two sets of masks. First, the mask of consummate competence (accused arrested, "case cracked" in two days flat), and then, when things began to come undone, the benign mask of shambling incompetence (shoddy evidence, procedural flaws, material contradictions). But underneath all of this - as several lawyers, academics and journalists who have studied the case in detail have shown - is something more sinister, more worrying. Over the past few years the worries have grown into a mountain of misgivings, impossible to ignore.

The doubts set in as early as the day after the parliament attack, when the police arrested Geelani, a young lecturer at Delhi University. His outraged colleagues and friends, certain that he had been framed, contacted the well-known lawyer Nandita Haksar and asked her to take on his case. This marked the beginning of a campaign for the fair trial of Geelani. It flew in the face of mass hysteria and corrosive propaganda that was enthusiastically disseminated by the mass media. But despite this, the campaign was successful, and Geelani was eventually acquitted, along with Afsan Guru.

Geelani's acquittal blew a gaping hole in the prosecution's version of the parliament attack. The linchpin of its conspiracy theory suddenly tuned out to be innocent. But in some odd way, in the public mind, the acquittal of two of the accused only confirmed the guilt of the other two. There was bloodlust that had to be satiated. When the government announced that Afzal, Accused No 1 in the case, would be hanged on October 20 2006, it seemed that most people welcomed the news not just with approval, but with morbid excitement. But then, once again, the questions resurfaced.

To see through the prosecution's case against Geelani was relatively easy. He was plucked out of thin air and transplanted into the centre of the "conspiracy" as its kingpin. Afzal was different. He had been extruded through the sewage system of the hell that Kashmir has become. He surfaced through a manhole, covered in shit (and when he emerged, policemen in the Special Cell pissed on him. Literally.) The first thing they made him do was a "media confession" in which he implicated himself completely in the attack. The speed with which this happened made many of us believe that he was indeed guilty as charged. It was only much later that the circumstances under which this "confession" was made were revealed, and even the supreme court was to set it aside, saying that the police had violated legal safeguards.

From the very beginning there was nothing pristine or simple about Afzal's case. His story gives us a glimpse into what life is really like in the Kashmir Valley. It is only in the Noddy Book version we read about in our newspapers that security forces battle militants and innocent Kashmiris are caught in the crossfire. In the adult version, Kashmir is a valley awash with militants, renegades, security forces, double-crossers, informers, spooks, blackmailers, blackmailees, extortionists, spies, both Indian and Pakistani intelligence agencies, human rights activists, NGOs and unimaginable amounts of unaccounted-for money and weapons. There are not always clear lines that demarcate the boundaries between all these things and people; it is not easy to tell who is working for whom.

Truth, in Kashmir, is probably more dangerous than anything else. The deeper you dig, the worse it gets. At the bottom of the pit are the Special Operations Group and Special Task Force (STF), the most ruthless, indisciplined and dreaded elements of the Indian security apparatus in Kashmir, which play a central role in the Afzal story. Unlike the more formal forces, they operate in a twilight zone where policemen, surrendered militants, renegades and common criminals do business. They prey upon the local population, particularly in rural Kashmir. Their primary victims are the thousands of young Kashmiri men who rose up in revolt in the anarchic uprising of the early 1990s and have since surrendered and are trying to live normal lives.

In 1989, when Afzal crossed the border to be trained as a militant, he was only 20. He returned with no training, disillusioned with his experience. He put down his gun and enrolled himself in Delhi University. In 1993, without ever having been a practising militant, he voluntarily surrendered to the Border Security Force. Illogically enough, it was at this point that his nightmares began. His surrender was treated as a crime and his life became hell. Afzal's story has enraged Kashmiris because what has happened to him could have happened, is happening and has happened to thousands of young Kashmiri men and their families. The only difference is that their stories are played out in the dingy bowels of interrogation centres, army camps and police stations where they have been burned, beaten, electrocuted, blackmailed and killed, their bodies thrown out of the backs of trucks for passers-by to find. Whereas Afzal's story is being performed like a piece of medieval theatre on the national stage, in the clear light of day, with the legal sanction of a "fair trial", the hollow benefits of a "free press" and the all pomp and ceremony of a so-called democracy.

In documents submitted to the court, Afzal describes how, in the months before the attack on parliament, he was tortured in the camps of the STF - with electrodes on his genitals and chillies and petrol in his anus. He talks of how he was a constant victim of extortion. He mentions the name of Deputy Superintendent of Police Devinder Singh, who said he needed him to do a "small job" for him in Delhi. (Singh has subsequently admitted on record to having tortured Afzal in exactly the ways Afzal has described.) Afzal has also said that from the time he was arrested up to the time he was charged (a few months), his younger brother Hilal was held in illegal confinement in a police camp in Kashmir. As ransom.

Even today, Afzal does not claim complete innocence. It is the nature of his involvement that is being contested. For instance, was he coerced, tortured and blackmailed into playing even the peripheral part he played? In a gross violation of his constitutional rights, from the time he was arrested and right through the crucial phase of the trial when the real work of building up a case is done, Afzal did not have a lawyer. He had nobody to put out his version of the story, or help him or anyone else sift through the tangle of lies and fabrications and propaganda put out by the police. Various individuals worked it out for themselves. Today, five years later, a group of lawyers, academics, journalists and writers has published a reader (December 13th: The Strange Case of the Parliament Attack, published by Penguin India). It is this body of work that has fractured what, only recently, appeared to be a national consensus interwoven with mass hysteria.

Through the fissures, those who have come under scrutiny - shadowy individuals, counter-intelligence and security agencies, political parties - are beginning to surface. They wave flags, hurl abuse, issue hot denials and cover their tracks with more and more untruths. Thus they reveal themselves.

The essays in the Penguin book raise questions about how Afzal, who never had proper legal representation, can be sentenced to death without having had an opportunity to be heard, without a fair trial. They raise questions about fabricated arrest memos, falsified seizure and recovery memos, procedural flaws, vital evidence that has been tampered with, false telephone records, false testimonies, legal lacunae, material contradictions in the testimonies of police and prosecution witnesses, and the outright lies that were presented in court and published in newspapers. They show how there is hardly a single piece of evidence that stands up to scrutiny.

And then there are even more disturbing questions that have been raised, which range beyond the fate of Afzal. Some of these are critical for a country that is claiming to be a responsible nuclear power. Here are 13 questions for December 13:

Question 1: For months before the attack on parliament, both the government and the police had been saying that parliament could be attacked. On December 12 2001, the then prime minister, AB Vajpayee, warned of an imminent attack. On December 13 it happened. Given that there was an "improved security drill", how did a car bomb packed with explosives enter the parliament complex?

Question 2: Within days of the attack, the Special Cell of the Delhi police said it was a meticulously planned joint operation of Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba. They said the attack was led by a man called "Mohammad" who was also involved in the hijacking of flight IC-814 in 1998. (This was later refuted by the Central Bureau of Investigation.) None of this was ever proved in court. What evidence did the Special Cell have for its claim?

Question 3: The entire attack was recorded live on CCTV. Two Congress party MPs, Kapil Sibal and Najma Heptullah, demanded in parliament that the CCTV recording be shown to the members. They said that there was confusion about the details of the event. The chief whip of the Congress party, Priyaranjan Dasmunshi, said, "I counted six men getting out of the car. But only five were killed. The closed circuit TV camera recording clearly showed the six men." If Dasmunshi was right, why did the police say that there were only five people in the car? Who was the sixth person? Where is he now? Why was the CCTV recording not produced by the prosecution as evidence in the trial? Why was it not released for public viewing?

Question 4: Why was parliament adjourned after some of these questions were raised?

Question 5: A few days after December 13, the government declared that it had "incontrovertible evidence" of Pakistan's involvement in the attack, and announced a massive mobilisation of almost half a million soldiers to the Indo-Pakistan border. The subcontinent was pushed to the brink of nuclear war. Apart from Afzal's "confession", extracted under torture (and later set aside by the supreme court), what was the "incontrovertible evidence"?

Question 6: Is it true that the military mobilisation to the Pakistan border had begun long before the December 13 attack?

Question 7: How much did this military standoff, which lasted for nearly a year, cost? How many soldiers died in the process? How many soldiers and civilians died because of mishandled landmines, and how many peasants lost their homes and land because trucks and tanks were rolling through their villages and landmines were being planted in their fields?

Question 8: In a criminal investigation, it is vital for the police to show how the evidence gathered at the scene of the attack led them to the accused. The police have not managed to show how they connected Geelani to the attack. And how did the police reach Afzal? The Special Cell says Geelani led them to Afzal. But the message to look out for Afzal was actually flashed to the Srinagar police before Geelani was arrested. So how did the Special Cell connect Afzal to the December 13 attack?

Question 9: The courts acknowledge that Afzal was a surrendered militant who was in regular contact with the security forces, particularly the STF of Jammu and Kashmir police. How do the security forces explain the fact that a person under their surveillance was able to conspire in a major militant operation?

Question 10: Is it plausible that organisations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammad would rely on a person who had been in and out of STF torture chambers, and was under constant police surveillance, as the principal link for a major operation?

Question 11: In his statement before the court, Afzal says that he was introduced to "Mohammed" and instructed to take him to Delhi by a man called Tariq, who was working with the STF. Tariq was named in the police charge sheet. Who is Tariq and where is he now?

Question 12: On December 19 2001, six days after the parliament attack, police commissioner SM Shangari identified one of the attackers who was killed as Mohammad Yasin Fateh Mohammed (alias Abu Hamza) of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, who had been arrested in Mumbai in November 2000 and immediately handed over to the Jammu and Kashmir police. He gave detailed descriptions to support his statement. If police commissioner Shangari was right, how did Yasin, a man in the custody of the Jammu and Kashmir police, end up participating in the parliament attack? If he was wrong, where is Yasin now?

Question 13: Why is it that we still do not know who the five "terrorists" killed in the parliament attack are?

These questions, examined cumulatively, point to something far more serious than incompetence. The words that come to mind are complicity, collusion, involvement. There is no need for us to feign shock or shrink from thinking these thoughts and saying them out loud. Governments and their intelligence agencies have a hoary tradition of using strategies such as this to further their own ends. (Look up the burning of the Reichstag and the rise of Nazi power in Germany in 1933; or Operation Gladio, in which European intelligence agencies created acts of terrorism, especially in Italy, in order to discredit militant groups such as the Red Brigades.)

The official response to all of these questions has been dead silence. As things stand, Afzal's execution has been postponed while the president considers his clemency petition. Meanwhile, the Bhartiya Janata party (now in the opposition) announced that it would turn "Hang Afzal" into a national campaign. But it does not seem to have taken off. Now other avenues are being explored. The main strategy seems to be to create confusion and polarise the debate on communal lines. In the business of spreading confusion, the media, particularly television journalists, can be counted on to be perfect collaborators. On discussions, chat shows and "special reports", we have television anchors playing around with crucial facts, like young children in a sandpit. Torturers, estranged brothers, senior police officers and politicians are emerging from the woodwork and talking. The more they talk, the more interesting it all becomes.

One character who is rapidly emerging from the shadowy periphery and wading on to centre-stage is deputy superintendent Devinder Singh. He was showcased on the national news (CNN-IBN), in what was presented as a "sting" operation with a hidden camera. It all seemed a bit unnecessary, however, because Singh has been talking a lot these days. He has done recorded interviews, on the phone as well as face to face, saying exactly the same shocking things. Weeks before the sting operation, in a recorded interview with Parvaiz Bukhari, a freelance journalist, he said, "I did interrogate and torture him [Afzal] at my camp for several days. And we never recorded his arrest in the books anywhere. His description of torture at my camp is true. That was the procedure those days and we did pour petrol in his ass and gave him electric shocks. But I could not break him. He did not reveal anything to me despite our hardest possible interrogation ... He looked like a 'bhondu' [fool] those days, what you call a 'chootya' [idiot] type. And I had a reputation for torture, interrogation and breaking suspects. If anybody came out of my interrogation clean, nobody would ever touch him again. He would be considered clean for good by the whole department."

This is not an empty boast. Singh has a formidable reputation for torture in the Kashmir Valley. On TV, his boasting spiralled into policy-making. "Torture is the only deterrent for terrorism," he said. "I do it for the nation." He did not bother to explain why or how the "bhondu" that he tortured and subsequently released allegedly went on to become the diabolical mastermind of the parliament attack. Singh then said that Afzal was a Jaish militant. If this is true, why was the evidence not placed before the courts? And why on earth was Afzal released? Why was he not watched? There is a definite attempt to try to dismiss this as incompetence. But given everything we know now, it would take all of Singh's delicate professional skills to make some of us believe that.

The official version of the story of the parliament attack is very quickly coming apart at the seams. Even the supreme court judgment, with all its flaws of logic and leaps of faith, does not accuse Afzal of being the mastermind of the attack. So who was the mastermind? If Afzal is hanged, we may never know. But LK Advani, the leader of the opposition, wants him hanged at once. Even a day's delay, he says, is against the national interest. Why? What is the hurry? The man is locked up in a high-security cell on death row. He is not allowed out of his cell for even five minutes a day. What harm can he do? Talk? Write, perhaps? Surely, even in Advani's own narrow interpretation of the term, it is in the national interest not to hang Afzal? At least not until there is an inquiry that reveals what the real story is and who actually attacked parliament?

A genuine inquiry would have to mean far more than just a political witch-hunt. It would have to look into the part played by intelligence, counter-insurgency and security agencies as well. Offences such as the fabrication of evidence and the blatant violation of procedural norms have already become established in the courts, but they look very much like just the tip of the iceberg. We now have a police officer admitting - boasting - on record that he was involved in the illegal detention and torture of a fellow citizen. Is all of this acceptable to the people, the government and the courts of India?

Given the track record of Indian governments (past and present, right, left and centre) it is naive - perhaps utopian is a better word - to hope that today's politicians will ever have the courage to institute an inquiry that will, once and for all, uncover the real story. A maintenance dose of pusillanimity is probably encrypted in all governments. But hope has little to do with reason.

(C) Arundhati Roy 2006