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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Editorial 01.08.09

August 01, 2009

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Month August 09, Edition 000261, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

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  2. WHY WALK?



































































It remains an abiding mystery as to what compelled Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress to agree to the inclusion of Mr A Raja of the DMK in the Union Cabinet after this summer’s general election. With its impressive tally and the reduced strength of its allies in the UPA, the Congress could have told DMK chief M Karunanidhi that it would not include a controversial politician, accused of converting the Telecom Ministry into a ‘cash-and-carry’ counter, in the Cabinet and the party was welcome to nominate somebody else. After all, the Congress did bargain hard and used rifts within the Karunanidhi clan to ensure the exclusion of another controversial politician, Mr TR Baalu, who ran amok in the Ministry of Road Transport, Highways and Shipping. Even if the Congress failed to block the entry of Mr Raja, the Prime Minister could have denied him the Telecom Ministry as his past record, to put it mildly, was dubious. Yet, despite all the tall talk of keeping tainted individuals out of the Government, we have not only witnessed the return of Mr Raja to his previous Ministry but unrestrained efforts made by him and his associates to suppress the truth about his misuse of power. What is equally, if not more, astonishing is the Prime Minister’s silence which could suggest that he is being indulgent towards Mr Raja. This is no doubt an unfortunate conclusion, but there really can be no other explanation as to why the Prime Minister appears indifferent towards the various allegations that have been levelled against Mr Raja, each one of them based on substantive evidence of wrong-doing. From short-changing the nation by allocating spectrum at a throw-away price to bogus firms which then reaped a windfall profit by reselling it to foreign companies, to influencing BSNL contracts and other such deals, a range of charges have been levelled against Mr Raja. All this and more has left the Prime Minister, whose publicists are given to making a display of his claimed fetish for integrity and probity, unmoved.


In recent days, there have been repeated demands in Parliament to probe the allegations and uncover the truth. The Opposition has been vociferous in protesting against Government’s inaction and has ruthlessly listed Mr Raja’s sins of omission and commission, especially in the allocation of spectrum on a ‘first-come-first-serve’ basis, instead of competitive bidding, to unknown entities at ridiculously low rates. The two beneficiaries, Unitech and Swan, who paid an entry fee of Rs 1,651 crore, later sold their share for a whopping Rs 10,000 crore. Such transactions don’t have a hint of scandal, they reek of corruption. It is obvious that rules were invented, and not merely manipulated, to benefit entities and individuals. Having failed to prevent what has been described as a loot, it is the Government’s responsibility to order a full-fledged inquiry into the allocation of spectrum, get to the bottom of the scam, fix accountability and punish the guilty. This is precisely what the Opposition has been clamouring for; sadly, this is also precisely what the Government has been stonewalling in the most brazen manner.

The Prime Minister must step in and do the morally and legally right thing by either ordering a CBI inquiry or allowing Parliament to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee. Not to do either would be tantamount to condoning corruption at high places which cannot but be a blot on the image of the Government and cast a shadow on the Prime Minister. Surely he wouldn’t want that to happen.







Call it the “beer summit” or just “guys having a beer”, US President Barack Obama’s bid to diffuse the racism row that had surfaced when black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr — a friend of Mr Obama’s — was arrested by white police sergeant James Crowly, by inviting the two for drinks in the White House lawns was a smart move. Having got himself personally involved and thereby aggravating the issue, Mr Obama’s gesture should help in cooling down the heated rhetoric that had come to dominate the American media over the past week. It will be recalled that Mr Obama — to the surprise of many — had taken a position on the arrest of Mr Gates — who had returned from a trip abroad to find the front door of his house jammed — by sergeant Crowly of the Massachusetts Police for disorderly conduct outside at the professor’s home. In a White House Press briefing Mr Obama had described the action of the police as being “stupid” and had indicated that the arrest smelt of racial profiling. Though Mr Gates was later let off, in retrospect Mr Obama had clearly overreacted. Not only did the US President come across as meddling in a local law enforcement issue to bat for his friend, but also as someone who had spoken without getting the facts right. Though the police were called because a neighbour had suspected a case of breaking and entering — which clearly wasn’t the case — Mr Gates was arrested because he was behaving boorishly with an officer of the law. The professor had been sufficiently warned before he was taken into custody, that too by a policeman who is known to conduct workshops on racial sensitivity within his police force. Sergeant Crowly was rightly doing his job.

There is no denying that prejudice against blacks, Hispanics, Chinese and other racial minorities in America is an issue. The same can be said of some other countries as well. But the world’s oldest democracy has come a long way since the civil rights movement five decades ago. It would be fair to say that today the opportunities that are available to people belonging to racial minorities, especially the black community, in the US is far greater than what it was before. After all, even a decade ago a black American President was a distant dream. Therefore, notwithstanding racial sensitivities, to cite Mr Gates case as an example of how prejudiced America is, is a big stretch. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that Mr Obama has accepted his mistake for having spoken out on the issue without knowing the facts. That he invited Mr Gates and sergeant Crowly to have a beer with him to cool things down also goes to show that he might be the most powerful man in the world but he considers himself one among equals. This is more than we can say for some of our netas.








While the effects of global warming have given a new thrust to efforts at protecting the environment, success will remain elusive without a basic change in humankind’s attitude toward nature. The root cause of the accelerating pace of environmental degradation, which is pushing the world toward disaster, is the conscious and sub-conscious belief that we can do anything we please with non-human living beings as well as inanimate nature without feeling any sense of guilt. The criterion is whether in our perception what we do furthers the interests of our species. It does not matter whether it actually does so; it is good enough that we believe it does, irrespective of the fact that such assumptions have repeatedly proved wrong. A product of the Western cultural tradition evolving out of Judaeo-Christian theological texts and the Humanism of the classical Greeks as refined by the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the mindset spawning such an attitude is encapsulated in Protagoras’s famous aphorism, “Man is the measure of all things”.

To survive, humankind has to abandon this mindset that has evolved on the basis of the Protagoran principle in favour of one that includes the entire universe, sentient and non-sentient, within the universe of morality that humankind has built for itself. For that to happen, one must accord to the whole of the universe the same kind of sanctity and inviolability that one accords to the human body and the freedom that is the basic condition for human existence. It is a measure of our subservience to the Western intellectual tradition that we have forgotten that in our own country, the philosophy enshrined in the Vedas, Upanishads, the Puranas and the great epics, Ramayana and the Mahabharata, upholds precisely such a view of life.

Central to this view is a monist philosophy of the universe which, apart from its articulation in the Vedas and Upanishads, informs the Puranic account of creation as an act through which the Universal Spirit manifested itself as the universe and became present in every part of it, whether as a human being, an animal, a plant or such inanimate phenomena as mountains, rivers and oceans. The natural and logical corollary of this is that every part of the universe is sacred and cannot be dealt with other than in accordance with the canons of Dharma which determines how one lives and also how one treats all other beings and objects.

The entire process is lucidly summed up in the Taittiriya Upanishad which, as translated by Swami Lokeswarananda, reads:

“The Cosmic Self thought to himself, ‘I will become many, I will be born’. He then practiced austerities. In his case, he only thought. He then created the whole world of living and non-living things. He created them and then entered into them. Having entered into them, he in some cases assumed forms and in some other cases remained formless. In some cases he was characterised by distinct time and place, and in other cases time and place were not distinct. In some cases he had a shelter (he needed it) and other cases he had none (he needed none — because he was formless). Also, in some cases he was conscious and in other cases unconscious. Brahman, the Truth, also manifested itself as relative truth, as untruth and so on. Because Brahman manifested itself in all beings around us, those who know Brahman call it ‘Truth’.”


Again, the same Upanishad says, “At first, there was no world. There was only Brahman. The world was then in Brahman, who was then unmanifested. The world with all its names and forms then manifested itself… It was as if Brahman created himself this way. Because Brahman created himself, he came to be known as Sukrta (ie, Well-Created or Self-Created).”

In this view, the Creator became the creation and remained present in every bit of it, making it sacred, unlike in the Judaeo-Christian account of creation in which god created from above and without by issuing commands. This becomes clear when one recalls that according to the Shrimad Bhagavata or Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu in his universal cosmic form has the rivers as his blood vessels and the mountain ranges as his bones. His abdomen is the “indiscrete state of matter, as well as the oceans and the place of dissolution of creatures”. His heart is the mind of creatures.


The Judaeo-Christian tradition provides a very different account of creation. The Genesis starts by saying, “In the beginning god created the heaven and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of god was hovering over the waters.” Then follows an account of the creation of everything on heaven and earth — night, darkness, day, light, land, water, plants and vegetation, the stars and the sun and the moon, all creatures that live on earth or in water or the sky. “Then god said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness.’… So he created man in his own image…in the image of god. He created them, male and female, he created them.”

God remained distinct from and above all he created. This becomes clear when one reads, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, there was morning. — the sixth day.” God was the creator and the architect not the product. “By the seventh day god had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And god blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

God, the Creator and Master of all creation, he gave man dominion over all other animals such as “the fish of the sea…the birds of the air…the cattle…and every creeping thing”. From domination to exploitation, enslavement and mass slaughter of other living beings and plunder of the earth’s resources was a short step that was taken as civilisation progressed and humankind’s struggle for survival became a drive for aggrandisement, sharply pushing up the consumption of the earth’s resources. Reversing the disastrous civilisational flow will be very difficult given the vested interests that have grown. But we need to attempt it to give survival a chance.







A boy was born in a family who had great faith in astrology and regularly visited astrologers for advice on important issues. However, as the boy grew, he had mixed feelings about this practice.

After passing school, he got admission to a prestigious medical college. Since this was a very important step in the boy’s life, astrological charts were consulted. The family discovered to its horror that it wasn’t an auspicious period for the boy to travel. However, the boy had had exposure to people who were not so superstitious. He decided to go. His family was very apprehensive but couldn’t do much except pray for his well-being.

After the boy finished college, for his marriage some girls were shortlisted on the basis of their horoscopes. Again, there was a serious problem. The horoscope of the girl whom the boy fancied did not match his horoscope. Despite stiff opposition from his family, he married the girl of his choice.

Immediately after the so-called mismatched marriage, trouble surfaced. The stars decreed that the newly-married couple would not have a child till the fourth year of the marriage. But the couple decided otherwise and they were blessed with a boy after a year. Differences persisted and life went on, though the boy wasn’t any worse off due to his non-compliance of the dictates of his family.

What is the truth? Are things predestined? To understand this, one needs to understand the theory of ‘karmaphala’ (the result of our action). All our acts through mind, body and words bear fruit at their appointed time. The position of someone’s stars gives some idea about the deeds done by him or her in the previous life. It also determines one’s nature, which determines one’s actions.

Are we then robots with our past being everything? No! One can change one’s destiny by changing his or her nature. This can be understood with the example of a bank deposit. The bank shall continue to pay interest at a fixed rate till we decide to reinvest our money some other way. That freedom we all possess. It is true that we are mostly predestined if we don’t make a serious effort to change our respective nature. Stars give a fair idea, but we don’t have to be prisoners of such inertia. We can make a break from our past as the boy in our story did. Notwithstanding any fruits, both good and bad, which inevitably come, we can forge our own destiny.







Two weeks of political mudslinging over Sharm el-Sheikh have concluded with a sense of déjà vu- but perhaps it's time to evaluate having talks-for-talks-sake with a neighbour hardly keen on peace.

In the long history of Indo-Pak bilateral talks, 'success' has always been illusory. Each time India acts on the outcome of dialogue, Pakistan frustrates all efforts at consolidation. Recently, India opened its heart towards Pakistan at Sharm el-Shaikh, Egypt, after which everyone was expecting that Pakistan would make a major gesture that could instill confidence in its interlocutors that Pakistan would act against terrorism. But that was not to be.

This week's Saturday Special, coming as it does at the end of two weeks of heady political debating, both inside and outside Parliament, over what was variously described as a 'sell-out', a 'compromise' and, most dramatically a 'shame' by the BJP's former external affairs minister, Yashwant Sinha, we are seeking to wrap up the discourse with two broad posers which hold the key to future Indo-Pak relations.


  1. This furore over Balochistan — all right India's diplomatic formulation writers goofed up, but, if Rajya Sabha Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley is right that Manmohan Singh has changed the foreign policy doctrine, then why not be positive about it? Why should Pakistan be allowed to get away with its policy of ethnic cleansing, natural resources looting and effecting demographic change as has been its Balochistan policy since the 1960s? Ajey Lele (Main Article), our regular contributor from IDSA, says that 'we have nothing to hide' should be converted into 'Pakistan has lots to hide' because it is time that Pakistan's hateful domestic policy becomes a subject of international scrutiny.


  1. When was the last time that 'talks' with Pakistan led to improvement in bilateral relations? Prime Minister Singh said in his reply to the debate in the Lok Sabha that 'short of going to war', India was prepared to use every means to keep stability in the region as well as secure the country from terrorism. But is it not time we asked the government — why is India so eager for talks when its plain to see that all that these 'sidelines' meetings produce is hot air?Pakistan is passing through a civil war situation. It is also facing a great economic and political crisis as a full-fledged military operation against Taliban and other extremists is underway. But that has not detracted its leaders from engaging in India-baiting. Various ministers and politicians have started blaming India for 'interfering' in Balochistan. The world knows better that in age of information technology nothing can be hidden. If there was any truth in this allegation then the world media and even the US would have complained about it.


So, Pakistan is already singled out for ridicule. All the world powers see it for what it's worth — an ill-disguised attempt at scuttling the process of dialogue. The reality is that Pakistan has always tried to dandify the points of all joint declarations issued after bilateral talks in the past, instead of complying with them and looking forward.

In January 2004, Pakistan talked of eliminating terrorism and even promised that it will not let its soil to be used against India. General Pervez Musharraf's virtual surrender before the statesmanship of Atal Bihari Vajpayee stands in sharp contrast to the competitive mockery carried out by Gilani and Zardari. While Musharraf openly acknowledged, in a 180-degree turnaround from his old position, that Pakistan had indeed sired terrorism, he went on to make an unequivocal declaration of good faith by ordering the dismantling of the terrorism architecture in that country.

Today, we see Pakistan is dilly-dallying in its response to Ajmal Kasab even after enough evidence against him has been presented. Now, Kasab has also confessed. Instead of acting in the letter and spirit of the discussions held at Russia and Sharm el-Sheikh, Pakistan is trying to divert the world's attention. So, it is no wonder that talks with Pakistan always lead to nowhere.

At another level, Pakistan is seeking to play to the jihadist gallery by giving an impression that it is not yielding to India. Last week, Islamabad sprang a surprise by claiming that it had given the Prime Minister of India a 'dossier' which Singh denied outright on the floor of the Lok Sabha. The only dossier that Islamabad has handed over to India was one in which it outlined, with huge gaps and inconsistencies, the 'progress' on its investigations into the 26/11 attack.

The Sharm el-Sheikh meeting was the second time in a month that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to engage Pakistani leaders. He had met President Asif Ali Zardari on June 16 on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Russia. The whole world had lauded India for taking the step despite the fact that Pakistan had not bothered to act upon the 26/11 dossier. But nothing came of it. Prime Minister Singh stressed the importance of friendship and peace with Pakistan as India could not isolate itself from the impact of instability in the region. He said that the peace process would be resumed as soon as he is assured that Pakistan's territory is not being used against India. That was India's only condition.

But Zardari's response smacks of Pakistan's age-old imprisonment to the Kashmir imbroglio. Though he had assured Singh at the Russia meeting that he would take action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack, he went back to the much-worn Pakistani position that forward movements on all subject depend on the 'issue' being resolved with the 'consensus' of the Kashmiri people.

Gilani followed in his footsteps. At Sharm el Sheikh, after the meeting of the two Prime Ministers was over, it was agreed in the joint statement that all the conflicting issues would be resolved through dialogue. It was also agreed that the Foreign Secretary-level talks would continue. The joint declaration stated that both leaders had agreed that terrorism is a common threat. It also expressed the intention of common action for the elimination of poverty, development of cooperation and sharing of intelligence to combat terrorism. The joint declaration mentioned that the Foreign Secretaries would prepare a report after their meeting, and then the Foreign Affairs Ministers of both countries would meet at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September.

But the fact that the government would like to put the 'B' word behind it became obvious when Congress president Sonia Gandhi, in her own speech to Parliament, avoided any reference to the subject. Many would take this as Gandhi's obvious embarrassment over the foreign office's goof-up, but it could also be that New Delhi has something up its sleeve. In the years to come, Pakistan's pretences to being a unified society could be exposed through the window of opportunity offered by the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement.

Finally, who gained from all this? The US, of course. The 'thaw' in Indo-Pak ties after two rounds of meetings in less than a month has been a godsend for American and British troops engaged infighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The writer is an Assistant Professor with Jawaharlal Nehru University







No more Mukti Bahinis and LTTEs but ‘offensive diplomacy’ on Balochistan could lead to Pakistan being exposed as a criminal state that double-deals not just India and the United States, but also its own people

The joint statement released after the meeting between Manmohan Singh and Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement's summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on July 16, 2009 became the subject of a highly engaging debate in the Lok Sabha this week. The substantive issues raised by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance block were met half way by the Prime Minister whose anecdotal references to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Ronald Reagan gave an insight into an emerging foreign policy doctrine based on exposing Pakistan's double-dealings on not just the Indo-Pak track, but also internally.

Balochistan — is it to be a 'B' word just as Kashmir is the 'K' word in the Indo-Pak track? Post Sharm el-Sheikh, this question has given rise to fears in Opposition circles that India may have been tricked into giving credence to the ISI's propaganda that New Delhi is somehow 'involved' in Baloch secessionism. That, in turn, could be used by the Pakistani establishment to somehow gloss over its role as a terror exporter to India. The BJP's former external affairs minister articulated this concern in the course of his speech by saying that in the coming days "Baluchistan will be a cause of headache".

He drew much inspiration from the fact that after the summit the Pakistani Prime Minister lost no time in trying to extract mileage from the reference to Baluchistan. So, on Wednesday, Dr Singh defended his actions in Parliament by mentioning that there has been no change in Indian policy towards Pakistan and that the composite dialogue would not began until India's concerns on terrorism are being correctly addressed. On charges of the inclusion of Balochistan in the joint statement, the Prime Minister argued that India is willing to look at Balochistan because it has "nothingto hide."

The controversy, which dominated news budgets in media houses for much of July, clearly indicates that the differences of opinion on issues related to India's foreign policy which had strongly surfaced during the Indo-US nuclear deal have now got extended to India's Pakistan policy. The differences in regard to nuclear deal are generally understandable because much of it was indexed to the overall role of the United States in India's foreign policy matrix. However, with regard to Balochistan, there could be a genuine concern about what is called in some circles a diplomatic goof up. But, why so much of a distress about Balochistan issue being raised?

First and foremost, the strategic importance of Balochistan to India is the same as what Madhya Pradesh or Karnataka would matter to Pakistan. However, the internal situation in Balochistan is just not comparable with any part of India. Balochshave a strong sense of identity and there are Baloch nationalists who are fighting for secession from Pakistan for the past four decades. The brutality with which Pakistan has historically sought to suppress this movement is not part of the present discourse, but does contribute to Pakistan's image being tainted in the global community of human rights thinkers. Pakistan has also tried to do a Kashmir in Balochistan by de-peopling the province of its original inhabitants and replacing them with people from Punjab.

For some time now, Pakistan has tried to cover up for its crimes against humanity in Balochistan by passing the blame to India. At various international forums it tried to drag India's name into what is essentially a home-grown problem. Now, the issue is how can India make up for this 'bad drafting' at Sharm el-Sheikh? In fact, this is indirectly encouraging Pakistan to take advantage of the situation. The statement by Gilani is indicative of this. Also, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani tried to establish a connection between Islamabad's action against the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and New Delhi ending its alleged 'covert operations' in Blochistan. The New York Times reported that Gen Kayani, in conversation with the Obama administration, had said: “India has to stop messing around in Balochistan.” From his new appetite for controversy, it seems clear that Pakistan would not hesitate to use its legendary PR machinery to use the reference to Balochistan in the joint statement.

Indian spin doctors have got to use the "we have nothing to hide" stand to the maximum advantage at every available forum. In the post 26-11 era, the world community is fully aware that terrorism has been exported from Pakistani soil and now the same has been accepted by the Pakistanis themselves at Sharm el-Sheikh. It may be recalled that Pakistan had been unsuccessful with the Balochistan card earlier too.

It is also perhaps time that New Delhi adopted a fresh line of diplomatic attack on Pakistan. Without going into sponsoring any more Mukti Bahinis and LTTEs, India should re-examine its policy of reticence on the internal affairs of other countries. New Delhi, while denouncing acts of terrorism by Baloch insurgents, should also remind Islamabad of the need to understand the overall psyche of the region.If India has to demonstrate that Pakistan uses terrorism as a tool then it has to talk about its
internal affairs too and explain to the world the atrocities carried out by them in Balochistan. In the past, Pakistan had tried to make certain comments on the 2002 Gujarat riots, but had failed to make an impression. Despite all attempts by Pakistan to paint India as a villain, the international community has been broadly appreciative of India's human rights record in J&K and the north-east, The successful conduct of elections in J&K on three successive occasions since 2004 has demonstrated the Kashmiri population's aspiration of joining the Indian mainstream. On the other hand, the people living in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir are denied their democratic rights.

The Balochs have no intention of being part of Pakistan. This simple difference between 'Kashmir' and Balochistan needs to be highlighted. It is important to tell the world that Pakistan has been dishonest not only with India but also in the handling of its own internal problems. Also, India needs to learn to make use of the prevailing international situation to its advantage. The US could get hyper if India starts discussing Balochistan. But, India need not bother much on this count. Today, the US does not have too many options in the region, what with Afghanistan and Iraq being such a drain on its resources. If critics at home niggle against India and demand that the administration change its equations with New Delhi, somebody is surely going to shout "it's the economy, stupid".

It's a fact that India cannot change geographical realities and hence Pakistan would always remain a problem. For all these years engaging Pakistan diplomatically has not served much of a purpose. Just one mention to Balochistan in the joint statement is not going to convert India into a demon and make Pakistan a saint. Time has come for India to change its strategy from 'diplomatic offensive' to 'offensive diplomacy' and if Balochistan needs to be hyped for this purpose then so be it.

The writer is with the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses








Though India’s politicians are right now making solemn declarations about the virtues of non-interference in Balochistan, Pakistan should not be allowed to get away with its loot, pillage and rape of the Baloch

During the Pakistan movement (1940-47) its leader, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, tried to project the Hindu majority as a threat to the survival of the Muslims in India. After the creation of Pakistan, all successive governments in that country have followed Jinnah's policy of Hindu (i.e. India) bashing to divert people's attention from their misgovernance and misdeeds. Children are taught that India is Pakistan's eternal enemy. There are people in Pakistan who consider peace with India as poison to the survival of their country. Seen against this background, one can understand why after the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan signed a joint statement in Sharm el-Sheikh on July 16; a prestigious newspaper of Pakistan, Dawn, carried a 'scoop' about a dossier which, it claimed, Islamabad had given to New Delhi, which denied having received it. So, it’s clear the intelligence agencies chose Dawn, which is respected in India, to plant this story.

From the Pakistan side, this story looked like a follow-up of the joint statement which briefly mentions Balochistan. The story gives details of India's alleged support to trouble in Balochistan and other parts of Pakistan. It talked of a training camp for Baloch youth run by India in Kandhar (Afghanistan).

India's Home Minister P Chidambaram has said this country has no interest in creating problems in Balochistan or any part of Pakistan. A spokesman of the Baloch Republican Party, launched by Nawabzada Barmdagh Bugti, a son of slain Baloch leader Akbar Bugti, denied taking India's help. He said the Pakistan has launched a baseless propaganda to cover up atrocities it has been committing on the Baloch.

Successive Pakistan rulers, beginning from Jinnah, have refused to appreciate the Baloch charter. Pakistani scholar SF Hassan Faizi wrote in Pakistan: A cultural unity (1970) that the Baloch settled down in Persia in the 7th century and with the advent of Islam they scattered to central parts of Persia before coming to Balochistan. Russian author V Gankovaky wrote in The peoples of Pakistan (1971) that the Baloch were slow to accept Islam. He quoted a 10th century author to say Baloch were Muslims by name only. All authors have described them as a brave, truthful, self-respecting and honest folk. The ruler of Kalat had entered into a treaty with the British in 1876 to allow stationing of the British troops in Balochistan. The British promised to respect Kalat's sovereignty and independent status. After the lapse of British paramountcy, the ruler of Kalat wanted to revert to the pre-1876 status.

In April 1948, Jinnah began negotiations with the Khan of Kalat for merging Balochistan with Pakistan, but quietly told the Army to annex it by force. The Khan of Kalat had already told the Cabinet Mission in 1946 that Balochistan did not want to join Pakistan. Ghaus Bux Bijenzo warned that if Balochistan was forced into Pakistan, "every Baloch son will sacrifice his life in defence of his national freedom."

Thus the Khan of Kalat was coerced into joining Pakistan. However, Jinnah promised him that Baloch culture, political and economic interests would be respected. But Jinnah died before the year was out and his promises were not kept by his successors who treated Balochistan as a conquered land. They were given no political rights to rule their province and own its natural resources. They were given no role in the governance of the country.

Over the past 61 years, the Baloch have faced military crackdowns of varying intensities. In addition, there have been at least six massive air attacks, the first of which was ordered by Jinnah himself on April 1, 1948. In 1958, Tikka Khan butchered about 1,000 Balochs in Zarakzai, Achakzai, Marri and Bugti. In 1962, they faced another crackdown when they revolted against the influx of Punjabis into Balochistan. In 1973, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto ordered a prolonged military action on charges that the Baloch were getting arms from Iraq. He never bothered to prove this allegation. But the military crack down continued till Zia-ul-Haq halted it in December 1977.

The Baloch gave up their fight for separation to participate in the December 1970 election organised by Yahya Khan. The Baloch won all the provincial Assembly seats as candidates of the National Awami Party (NAP) and Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Islam and formed the government in 1972. Less than a year later, Bhutto dismissed this government; jailed all its top leaders, including Governor Ghaus Bux Bijenzo and Chief Minister Ataullah Mengal, and ordered a military crackdown on the shocked province.

Thus, the electoral process that should have brought Baloch in the national mainstream was sabotaged by Bhutto. If his statement in the Supreme Court (September 1977) is to be trusted, he did it at the behest of the Army. The Baloch were thankful to Zia for calling off the military, but they revived their campaign for freedom. A remorseful Nawab Akbar Bugti, who had betrayed his fellow-Baloch in 1973, emerged as a firebrand exponent of the deprivations of the people of Balochistan. Nawab Bugti demanded Baloch rights on their gas, petrol, gold and marble resources and also the Gwadar coast.

On August 26, 2006 Musharraf's Army used the weapons given by the Americans to fight al-Qaeda and Taliban to kill Bugti. Musharraf hated the Baloch for their political and economic demands. He tried to suppress these demands by brutal military might, but failed. He next started blaming India for the Baloch unrest to frighten other Pakistanis from sympathising with them.


The author is Media Director of YMCA and former edito of UNI












Opposites attract. That doesn't mean casanovas falling for prudes or sirens going for nerds. Why people wed those they wed is linked rather to the dissimilar contents of their piggy banks. New research says a spendthrift will most likely be the soulmate of a tightfist. Big savers, pained when the dollars fly, are charmed by big spenders, in a self-flagellating reflex. The heart beats by reverse calculation. For all ye romantics out there, that's the passion-deflating finding from Wharton School of Finance and Northwestern University. Face up, says a working paper called 'Fatal (Fiscal) Attraction', to the "disconnect" between your imagined ideal mate and the actual mate you pick.

So, the mystery of Uncle Sam's dances with Asia's dragon stands solved. Could two entities be as 'opposite' as the world's oldest, most free-wheeling democracy and the world's most formidable authoritarian regime? Yet top US and Chinese officials at an unprecedented Washington summit solemnised a marriage of great mutual convenience. G2 now seems the sole meaningful relationship on the recession-hit planet, G20's multilateral footsie-playing notwithstanding. At the two-day talkathon, US president Barack Obama himself blessed 'Chimerica' as the 21st century's shaper.

With China, America talked softly and didn't carry a big stick. No one growled about China's currency tweaking. No one hectored on human rights. What better time to embrace a strange bedfellow one holding $800 billion in US Treasury bonds than when the economic chips are down? It's a consummation of a long, unavowed dalliance when China economised and exported and America spent and imported. When credit-satiated Americans bought palazzos and yachts, savings helped China payroll the splurge and become the US economy's biggest stakeholder besides. Only, prospering in skewed good times rules out divorce in bad times. Even US debt (or China's potential asset bubbles) can't do them apart.

China's central bank did mull separation sometime ago by calling for a new world currency. But US-China conjoining survived. And how. America says it'll cut its federal deficit. China will rethink export-led growth, fuelling domestic consumption. Marital hiccups have been shelved on China's exchange rate policy and US spending that threatens the greenback's value. Both will act in unison on reversing fiscal expansion. Good for global stability, the US-China prenuptials might even mollify a jilted EU.

If China can be told to consume domestically, why must belt-tightening be reserved for Pakistan, the US's longest-standing comrade-in-alms? Big-spending America has got rather stingy, with Obama withdrawing a Bush regime "blank cheque". Pakistan wants no-strings-attached aid, the strings being its anti-terror action. In answer, the US scolds the world for not sufficiently helping Pakistan invest in noble causes like nation-building. After all, talk about moolah sloshing its way to Pakistan's extremist houseguests is hogwash. Isn't it Pakistan's all-expenses-paid mission to nail those very houseguests? Besides, freedom-championing America has been a benefactor to military-marshalled Pakistan for so long that breaking up must be hard to do. So stop eating your heart out, India. When did love or democracy have anything to do with it?








US president Barack Obama's historic speech in Cairo, which called for a new beginning between the United States and Muslims, had references to Islam's contribution to civilisation. It is a befitting reply to Islam bashers, who have boxed Islamic culture, particularly Arab culture, into crude stereotypes. Post-9/11 Islam-bashing has almost become fashionable among western scholars. A whole bunch of intellectuals has sprung up in the West, linking Arab culture to violence, hate and fanaticism. Any violence committed by any group, or any unrest in Palestine or Iraq, is a specific response to a specific pathological, political circumstance, not an endemic variable of Arab culture as Samuel Huntingdon's ''clash of civilisations'' and other western theories describe such face-offs.

Since time immemorial the essence of Arab culture has been trade, not war or suicide bombings. The region gave birth to civilisations such as the Assyrian and Babylonian in Iraq, Phoenician and Canaan in Syria and the Pharaonic in Egypt. After the advent of Islam, each of these cities was a major capital of huge empires through various stages of history that presented the world with sciences, art, culture, philosophical thought and civilisations that form the basis of study in all major modern universities.

Islam was an extraordinary gift to the world of business with its pragmatic, tolerant, humane, logical and international ethos at a time when other cultures were busy burning witches and widows in other parts of the so-called civilised world. The evolution of market hubs such as Baghdad and Cairo, the emergence of Arabic as the business lingua franca from Spain to Sindh, the missionary activities of Arab merchants in South East Asia were all legacies of the advent of Islam.

Seven centuries ago, Baghdad and Damascus were world financial hubs. The Arab world, under the Abbasid caliphs, had trade relations with all major nations from China to Italy. The Assyrians mapped out a road network to enable them to transport African ivory, Caspian furs and Indian spices across their empire. Two millennia before the advent of the dollar and pound sterling, the gold coin, Persian daric, introduced by Darius the Great, was the currency of choice from Greece to the kingdoms of India. The financiers of Mecca and Damascus set up letters of credit, bills of exchange, foreign agencies, primitive contract laws and custom duties centuries before the bankers of Renaissance Florence and Tudor London.

Empires came and went, kingdoms were established and fell, but trade remains one of the institutions that truly defines Arab culture. The earliest civilisations of the Middle East evolved on the banks of the Nile, the Tigris and the Euphrates. Their trading links with Mohenjadaro on the Indus, Dilmun in the Arabian Gulf and the Hellenic ports of the Aegean islands demonstrate that international markets existed centuries before Christ.

The Silk Road to China, the Amber Route to the Baltic, the evolution of trade-linked cities such as Petra, Baghdad, Mecca, Sidon and Damascus were the centres of Arab power politics for centuries. From ancient times till modern days trade activities have always flourished in the region.

The modern example is the rapid progress of the ancient trading and pearling settlement of Dubai, which was on the trade route between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley civilisation. In 1830, it was taken over by a sect of the Bani Yas clan led by the Maktoum family that still rules Dubai. The elders of this family decided to build on the expertise of the inhabitants of Dubai and concentrate on trade. This policy powers the economic miracle of Dubai.

The ruling family recognised the value of international trade as an engine for wealth creation decades before the petrodollar era. When oil was discovered in 1960, the bulk of its revenue was invested in creating the world's biggest man-made harbour in Dubai's Jebal Ali. Today, some estimates peg Dubai's non-oil revenues at over 90 per cent of its GDP, and the average per capita income in excess of $19,000.

Excellent infrastructure coupled with business acumen has helped the nationals to expand their trading horizons. Dubai encouraged Indian, Yemeni, Lebanese and Persian traders to settle. At a time when socialism and command economies were prevalent in other parts of the world, Dubai was unique in its preference for an open economy and regional trade. At no time, however, has the Dubai government forgotten its Islamic roots. It is the government's endeavour to ensure that no Muslim will need to travel more than 500 metres to pray in a mosque. Dubai is certainly a winning mix of trade and religion.

Commentators who have concluded the Islamic world is a 'failed and violent' society are wrong as religion and trade walk hand in hand in Islamic culture. Obama's approach to the Islamic world is a positive shift in official US policy, and some compensation for the hostile environment created by Islam bashers.







Yusuf Pathan, a T20 cricket star, believes that his brother Irfan ought to be among the players short-listed for the upcoming Champions Trophy. He blames reasons other than merit for Irfan's omission. The accusation could have been dismissed as brother batting for brother if other ex-players and selectors had not backed Yusuf. They think that Irfan deserves a long rope because he is a rare talent and temporary blips in performance must not be taken too seriously. In short, don't use match statistics to measure genius.

The argument is flawed. Sport is about results. Irfan, despite his talent, has not delivered in recent times. He needs to back his talent with results, not occasional flashes of brilliance, to cement his place in the Indian team. Even a cursory glance at the career record of sporting greats reveals that statistics match the claims about them. From batsmen like Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar to bowlers like Malcolm Marshall and Muttiah Muralitharan, the axiom holds true. If stats for a player, say Andrew Flintoff, pale in comparison with Imran Khan that's because the English all-rounder is not as good as the Pakistani great.

Team selections ought to consider performance over potential for reasons of fairness. Potential is subjective and can't be quantified. Many arbitrary selections in the past were justified on the basis of hidden potential. Not surprisingly, the potential of such players remained hidden and the team suffered. It's in the interest of the team and the game that selections are made on the basis of objective measures like match statistics.

It's not that talent is ignored in team selections. A player with noticeable potential usually gets an early break, as was the case with Irfan. Some grab the chance, work hard and live up to the promise. At 24, Irfan is at the crossroads of his career. He needs to play well and reclaim his place in the team on the basis of his performance.







"Lies, damned lies and statistics" Benjamin Disraeli had something there. Numbers rarely tell the full story, least of all in sports. And even less so in cricket, which is more about ephemeral qualities and talents than any other sport. That is why those who decry Irfan Pathan's exclusion on the grounds of average statistics are correct. This is the same player who tormented the mighty Australians on their home grounds in his debut series when barely out of his teens. He swung the Pakistanis into oblivion, becoming the only player to take a hat-trick in the first over of a Test match along the way. Numbers cannot measure the impact of such feats and the talent they bespeak.

There are such instances scattered throughout the history of cricket. Men have been accounted greats in cricketing folklore despite cavilling by critics who point to less than outstanding statistics. Victor Trumper is popularly held to be the finest Australian batsman of the pre-Bradman era and second perhaps only to the Don himself in an all-time Australian batting line-up. He is a great for any time and age despite a batting average and centuries tally that never truly rose above very good. Closer to home, there is C K Nayudu, one of the giants of Indian cricket in its infancy despite disappointing statistics.

The impact of such players on the field goes beyond runs scored or wickets taken. One need only look to the ongoing Ashes where Andrew Flintoff is cementing his legend. His statistics are good, no more; Chris Cairns has better. But ask any Australian batsman and they would much rather face bowlers with far more impressive figures. He is responsible for seminal moments such as Edgbaston 2005, Mumbai 2006, Lord's 2009. They count for far more than a stream of anonymously effective performances.

Greatness is ultimately about perception. And if a player has an aura that makes his opponents fear him and his team play better, he must be given a longer rope and his talent nurtured, no matter what the statistics say.






On hearing about the confession by Ajmal Amir Kasab, one felt like a long and winding Indian soap opera had been scuttled prematurely due to dipping TRPs. There was clearly no plot or suspense. What a pity! An outraged nation of a billion people had invested all its emotions in the trial as the only meaningful articulation of its angst at the dastardly Mumbai attacks. That, however, could do little to keep the courtroom drama alive for long. Come to think of it, it is so obvious that the trial was never meant to be anything more than a grand PR exercise by the world's largest democracy to parade its democratic credentials.

What is it really expected to deliver? The confession, by itself, doesn't take us anywhere beyond where we already are, thanks to the generous CCTV footage of the attack. Given the shameless track record of Kasab's bosses, they are unlikely to fulfil even the most legitimate of India's demands. They will continue to use dialogue with India as an excuse to buy time to focus their energies on their western borders and revert to their evil designs with renewed force as soon as the first burp from ingesting fat American aid is heard.

What about India? We are not prepared just as yet for curtains to come down on the trial. For, we have no better place than the courtroom to park our bruised self-esteem. Nor do we have any clue of what to do next. Sure, in the true Indian tradition, we would like the trial to continue forever. And, along the way, feed ourselves on every chilling detail of the nefarious ingenuities of our adversary and stupefying failings of a so-called superpower in the making. Even when the complete tale of how the attacks were enacted and the foreign masterminds behind them are revealed upon us, what real difference would it make? Nothing can ever spur our neighbour into honest action against their wayward children.

An all-out war is too exacting an option for them as well as us. Vacuous statements and dossiers would continue to perpetuate the mirage of a lasting solution to the problems between the two countries, as hollow as the promises and plaudits showered upon the two nations in turns by the self-styled custodian of the world in a bid to further its own agenda. Real answers and definitive conclusions will continue to evade us. There will be more empty talk and even emptier histrionics. On second thoughts, that's perfect material for a never-ending soap opera. And high TRPs are guaranteed.









The continuing story in the inexorable rise of food prices is that the population is growing faster than grain output. At an estimated 1.5 per cent, the annual rate of increase in population is ahead of the 1 per cent growth in grain production in 2008-09.


Food prices also get pushed up by the invisible hand of the markets and the very visible hand of the government. Add to that a coy monsoon and food inflation is rising at an alarming 1 per cent a week, when wholesale prices overall are declining. Depending on how you choose to measure it, food makes up from 25 per cent to 65 per cent of the weight in the several price indices the government puts out. The continuing pressure of food on the price line, particularly when the world is in a recession, merits serious attention.


In 2008, grain prices joined the sharp spike in commodity prices the world over. Rice was quoting at twice its price a year ago, and wheat 50 per cent more.


These levels have not been witnessed since the 1970s. The drastic falls in most of the speculation-driven

prices, for instance energy costs, after the financial bubble burst is September 2008 did not carry over to the price of grain, which was in actual short supply.


Although India did not go import these wild fluctuations, the government on its part added to the inflationary process by hiking the procurement price for all crops by 30 per cent in 2008-09. Since a fifth of the wheat and a fourth of the rice the country produces is bought by the State for subsidised distribution to the poor, this effectively acts as a price floor for the market.


Looking ahead, the prospects of a respite in food inflation appear dim. Halfway into this year’s monsoon season, rainfall is still 19 per cent short. Although agriculture requires a fraction of the precipitation, the spectre of a deficient monsoon is enough to spur speculative trading in farm output. So far, the liklihood of drought is diminishing.


Yet there might by an impact on kharif sowing because 19 of the 36 subdivisions are reporting below average rainfall. The monsoon has been consistently above normal since 2006. However, the consumer price index for industrial workers, which tracks food inflation better, has persisted above 5 per cent. There is a lot riding on the rains this year.








India’s higher education system is floundering. We are doing badly in terms of both quality and quantity. Indian universities and institutes have all but vanished from serious international rankings. The percentage of Indians aged 18 to 23 years, enrolled in colleges and universities (the ‘gross enrollment ratio’) is 11. China, which trailed India till recently, now has a gross enrollment ratio of 22 per cent. For developed nations the average figure is 66 per cent. If India is to retain global competitiveness, it needs to expand its higher education sector massively — arguably by one or two hundred per cent — and also raise the quality of education. 


The core of the problem is our fixation with standardisation and control — the belief that, through centralised bureaucratic control, we can improve quality. It was the notorious ‘licensing system’ that had brought India’s manufacturing sector to a halt, and the same is now happening to higher education. Instead of working to encourage good universities to come into existence and flourish, our controllers have been fixated on setting up entry barriers. And it is not as if this has put an end to corrupt and fraudulent universities. The University Grants Commission runs a web list of ‘Fake Universities,’ which consists of gems like the National University of Electro Complex Homeopathy, Kanpur. (I have not been able to determine whether one learns about electricity or Nux Vomica at this institute.)


To understand the corrosive effect of excessive control, consider India’s film industry. It is not only the largest in the world but, by a wide measure, the most productive. India’s film industry employs a huge number of people, generates enormous revenues, earns foreign exchange and produces a couple of excellent movies each year. If the government had set up a quality-control department to improve the standard of our films by requiring that anyone planning to make a movie would first have to get government clearance by submitting the script and production plan for scrutiny, we can all guess what would happen. If the number of poor-quality films went down that would only be because there would be virtually no film industry. It would have been quality-controlled out of existence.


All this is a shame because, with the right policies, India can be one of the world’s major hubs for university education. We have three natural advantages: relative comfort with the English language, historical (though fast eroding) strength and reputation in higher education, and low cost of living. In the US, annual tuition fees exceed $30,000 in most good universities. If India charges a tuition fee of $10,000 from foreign students, then, with the added advantage of lower cost of living, it is possible for students to get comparable education at one-fourth of what it would cost in an American university.


Many students from poor countries go to the US or Britain to study in order to get jobs and settle down there. Such students will not be attracted to India; but even excluding them, the catchment is large, consisting of students from Africa, Asia and even the industrialised nations. Students from America and other rich countries, who anyway have the right to return to and work in their own nations, would find it attractive to get good university education at one-fourth of what they would spend in their home countries.


Despite these natural advantages, we will have to work hard to put the house in order if we are to make a success of establishing India as the world’s major higher education destination. For one, many other nations are already on track with similar plans. While India has around 15,000 foreign students enrolled in her colleges and universities, Malaysia has close to 100,000 students and China has set itself a target of 300,000 foreign students by 2020. If India is to compete with these nations, it will need a bold and dynamic plan. We will have to build quality hostels and attractive classrooms equipped with modern technology, and make arrangements for long-term visas to be granted to students so that they do not have to worry about their visa running out before the course is over.


These set-up costs can, fortunately, have beneficial side-effects. Trying to achieve all this can have an energising effect on the entire economy and teach us how to be efficient and effective, just as our software sector success helped build overall corporate culture and efficiency.


Some may wonder whether aiming to be a global hub is in India’s interest. I personally believe that providing good education to a poor person from Africa is no less worthwhile a mission than doing so for an Indian. But even without such value judgments, it is safe to say that from the standpoint of India’s narrow self-interest this is a worthwhile aim. This would help improve the quality of Indian universities, be a major source of revenue and foreign exchange and enable us to extend university education to many more Indians than is happening now.


Being a centre for higher education can also be a source of global influence and soft power. It was not charity that led early 20th century Britain and late 20th century America to open their doors to foreign students.


Kaushik Basu is Professor of Economics and Chairman, Department of Economics, Cornell UniversityThe views expressed by the author are personal.









The arrest of Sarabjot Singh — known to friend and foe alike as Sweety — the son of former Union Home Minister Buta Singh on charges of soliciting bribes is more than another nail in the coffin of Buta Singh’s career. It is also likely to focus attention again on the nature of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, which Singh now heads — as well on the uses and abuses of the law which gives the commission its power, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989. The SC/ST Act was discussed recently following UP Congress president Rita Bahuguna-Joshi’s shocking outburst at Mayawati; that followed the payment of Rs 25,000 to Dalit victims of rape, under the SC/ST Act.


The allegations against Sweety Singh are serious; and, in investigating them, the law should take its regular course, free from political intervention or pressure. But the allegations are serious: that Sweety went to Ramraj Patil, a contractor for the Nasik Municipal Corporation, and offered to arrange for a troublesome case to be “closed” if Patil paid Singh a few crores. The twist: the case against Patil was filed by a group of about a hundred people, mainly former employees, who accused Patil of taking a loan from their group kitty and then making off with the money; and, as the employees were Dalits, the case was under the SC/ST Act, meaning that it, until admitted in court, should have been shepherded along by the commission headed by Sweety’s father. The need the SC/ST Act was addressing is clear: a police mechanism that, at the first point of contact, is frequently unfriendly to reports of atrocities against Dalits because they are Dalits. The Commission is meant to ensure that the spirit of the act — getting the legal process working for the oppressed — stays alive, that FIRs are registered and competent, senior officials are in the loop. Whether the dispute, as reported, is the sort of “atrocity” that the original framers of the legislation had in mind is open to debate.


But the SC/ST Act is increasingly being used in this manner, as it raises the stakes in terms of punishment and practically reverses the burden of proof. That also creates much opportunity for discretion, of the sort that Sweety Singh is alleged to have claimed he could have exercised.


The act is an important arsenal in India’s continuing attempt to mainstream historically disadvantaged sections of society. If it is to be kept useful, allegations of misconduct, of any sort, should be investigated with the vigour that the act expects from the state.









Walkouts are a much-used tool of parliamentary opposition in this country, and the debate on their utility and desirability must certainly be deepened. But the opposition’s decision to stage a walkout in Parliament on the issue of the India-Pakistan joint statement was definitely bad form. A debate that swayed between opposition MPs and Union ministers, and carried on into Thursday, showed that differences remained on two points in the Sharm el-Sheikh document: whether terrorism had been de-linked from the composite dialogue and whether the mention of Balochistan compromised India’s interests. But if there had been differences between the arguments put forth by the different parties in the opposition, they suddenly appeared to have been papered over when other parties, including the Samajwadi Party and those of the Left, followed the BJP out of the Lok Sabha, saying there was “no point” in participating in the debate.


No point? A justification is often made for walkouts. It is argued that they are the opposition’s only recourse when answers and debate are not forthcoming from the treasury benches, that in the midst of Parliament’s routine business they are a way of highlighting the urgent issues of the moment. So, to make Parliament more interactive and engaged it is suggested that the speaker be inventive in allowing the opposition ways of urgently and cohesively raising subjects of concern to them and of having the government respond. However, no such contingency informed the opposition this week. The government had been submitted to a debate carried live on the Lok Sabha channel. It was also, to the credit equally of the opposition, decorously conducted. By walking out, then, the opposition did not put the government on notice. It abdicated its role of putting the government through an astringent process of questioning.


The current Lok Sabha has yielded a government of measurable stability. It has also vast bench strength for the opposition. If this House struggles to get the government submitted to the checks that come with debate and to have the opposition voice its views within, then our parliamentary democracy really has a crisis.







Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code — requiring divorced men to pay maintenance to their ex-wives in certain cases — has often invited controversy. In 1985, the Supreme Court interpreted the section to order a Muslim man to pay maintenance for his divorced wife, Shah Bano. Responding to religious conservatives who saw this as a slight to their faith, the Central government amended Section 125, in effect overruling the SC verdict. Twenty four years later, another amendment to Section 125 is being debated. But this time, it’s a supposedly progressive cause. The Maharashtra government has proposed that the Centre amend Section 125, and expand the definition of “wife” to include a woman living with a man for a “reasonably long” period.


The expanded definition is intended to provide legal benefits for women whom married men live with, but are then cast aside with no entitlements. In a society that treats women shabbily, Maharashtra’s proposals are well-intentioned; they could perhaps even be effective. But there are evidentiary issues that must be examined with care. Our already creaky justice delivery mechanism will be asked to determine what “living in” means, and how long “reasonably long” is. In the absence of a contract (marriage or any other), determining legal status could be reduced to the testimony of neighbours and details of electricity payments. And with little proof to go by, there might be false allegations and motivated law suits.


A public debate on the subject of entitlements in civil unions is certainly due. And in a country in which the law is used as a means of hastening social reform, it must be also asked whether legislation should be framed in more gender neutral terms than the current amendment seems to be.








It is fascinating that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invoked the Vajpayee spirit to seek both inspiration and validation for his own move at Sharm el-Sheikh. Fascinating because Vajpayee made three landmark moves to make peace with Pakistan, each time going out on a limb, in spite of grave provocations. Each time he was let down — though by the Pakistanis, and not his own partymen, as almost became the case with Manmohan Singh until Sonia Gandhi imposed Section 144. And yet, each time the public opinion supported him. You ask Jairam Ramesh what were the strongest factors still working for the incumbent in the 2004 campaign, and he will tell you: highway building, and peace with Pakistan.


Vajpayee’s first move came with the bus ride to Lahore. It was a decade ago, but not enough time has still passed for me to be able to recount the inside story of that move — which surprised the foreign ministries on both sides — or to disclose any conversations. But during that period there was no let-up in attacks in the Valley; in fact a major massacre took place even when Vajpayee was in Lahore. Yet he visited Minar-e-Pakistan and declared that a stable and prosperous Pakistan was entirely in India’s interest. The significance of a BJP prime minister making that statement was not lost on anybody in Pakistan. It was as historic as Advani’s subsequent rationalisation of Jinnah as a modern leader — and Vajpayee was never to go back on it even after the embarrassing, and politically near-fatal discovery that Musharraf’s infiltrators were occupying Kargil exactly when he was making the peace in Lahore. That is because finding peace with Pakistan was never a tactical, short-term ploy in his mind. It was a Great, Big idea. In fact, the Great Big Idea of his entirely statesmanly mind. And when he lost power in May 2004, his biggest regret was that he would not be able to take it to its logical conclusion.


He explained his beliefs so poignantly in a conversation in the first week of July 2001, and one that I can recount. I had asked him for time to try to understand the reason why he had made an entirely unexpected and unexplained move to invite Musharraf for the summit in Agra. This was when Musharraf’s legitimacy was in doubt. Insurgency in Kashmir was at its very worst and Indian public opinion was still smarting from the humiliation of IC-184’s hijack to Kandahar. And even after Vajpayee first invited him from his annual summer retreat in the hills in the last week of May, Musharraf had given him enough provocation to go slow, if not cancel altogether.


Was this really such a good time to invite Musharraf for a summit, I asked him, and then to persist — despite so many provocations, silly pre-conditions, a response so immature that even an eternal pacifist like Inder Gujral said Musharraf was behaving as if he thought he was coming to a defeated nation?


“Dekhiye,” he said. “If leaders of India and Pakistan keep waiting for the ideal moment to try to make peace, they may never get a chance.”


But I persisted: why now, was it a brain-wave, some sort of an inspiration, international pressure, why put up with so many demands from Musharraf even while setting up the summit?


There was a long, long silence which was not unusual of Vajpayee and which meant one of two things. Either he did not want to answer, or he was thinking. I had learnt the trick was not to interrupt his silence. I was rewarded.


“Quite honestly,” he said, “I have had some second thoughts... But, dekhiye, there is a Saxena family we

vaguely know in Lucknow. Their son, a major, died fighting in Kashmir (Major Anshoo Saxena, our defence correspondent Manu Pubby tells me, of 8 Sikh Regiment seconded to 6th battalion of Rashtriya Rifles, killed in Kupwara fighting LeT on June 25 and decorated with the Sena Medal posthumously) and, since Lucknow is my constituency, I called his father to commiserate with him.


“And you know what, his father wasn’t crying or distraught. He was stoic (thande dimaag se bole rahe the) and resolute. He said, why one son, I would sacrifice any number for my country. And then I thought, his grief is still fresh. In a few days, he and his family will feel the absence of his son, the enormity of their loss. They will not complain, because that is just how patriotic our ordinary people are. But for how long must this go on? How many families have been similarly subjected to grief on both sides in so many decades? How many more generations will have to live with this? So I thought, forget all the irritations, leaders of my generation owe it to our future to honestly settle this once and for all.”


His disappointment with Musharraf at Agra was grave. He was as surprised by Musharraf’s impetuosity and immaturity as Musharraf, in turn, was by his reserve. And then, he was furious when his Parliament was attacked. Just two weeks after that attack, as our forces were going through an unprecedented mobilisation, I had another conversation with him that I treasure, and that I can now report.


He gave me an audience that sunny, late December afternoon, in his lawn, along with a bowl of scalding, salt-laden vegetable soup. By now, I knew that what worked with him was an informal, even light-hearted approach, rather than a straight question which often made him just go into a silence that only you would break with your next question. So I told him, almost facetiously, I had merely come to ask him if it was OK for me to carry on with my family on a long-planned vacation in Kerala, because if a war started meanwhile and airspace was closed, did I really want to get trapped so far away from my newsroom?


“Yeh bhi koi chhutti pe jaane ka samay hai (is this a time to go on a vacation)?” he asked.


So is the prospect of war a real one, I asked. He again went into a long, long silence. And I was glad I waited him out on this one.


“Everybody wants to go to war. The armed forces are so angry. But ek samasya hai (there is a problem). You can decide over when you start a war. But once started, when it will end, how it will end, nobody knows. That is a call leaders have to take,” he said, focusing entirely on his soup. Once again it was a statesman speaking rather than an angry Indian.


After almost 16 months of stand-off on the borders and coercive diplomacy when, as disclosed by Brajesh Mishra in an interview with me on NDTV’s Walk the Talk, an all-out war nearly broke out on two occasions, Vajpayee again made a dramatic “turnaround”. Addressing a crowd in April 2003 in Srinagar, he made yet another unilateral peace offer, to his own Kashmiris as well as Pakistan, and it yielded the Islamabad Declaration after a summit with Musharraf in January 2004.


I again asked him how he justified this about-turn. I knew he had not discussed this even with his core cabinet colleagues. It was an instinctive, political call that even took Brajesh Mishra by total surprise. Vajpayee admitted it was a call so sudden, he himself subsequently felt surprised he made it at the spur of a moment. And what was that moment?


He said as he spoke at the Srinagar rally he looked into the eyes of the Kashmiris in his audience. “None of them looked like they wanted to fight with us. All of them looked like they wanted peace, a return to normalcy, so I made one more move again, without thinking, or consulting anybody.”


Manmohan Singh is not a mass leader or public speaker to rival Vajpayee. But what Vajpayee had by way of political instinct and, what a senior American diplomat once described to me as, “this magisterial control over public opinion”, Manmohan Singh has in intellect. He is also as much of a patriot and, as we now know, risk-taker. That is why he stuck his neck out at Sharm el-Sheikh. That is why he is invoking Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the statesman.








Flashback to a couple of weeks. Vinod Kambli, former test cricketer, current occupant of hot seat on India’s newest reality show, clutching a large cross, waiting for the next question. Do you remember the names of the women you had physical relations with? (Actual words : ‘shaareerik sambandh’). Camera, switching back and forth between contestant and wife. Suspense mounting . Background music swelling. Yes, admits a distinctly uncomfortable Kambli, I remember. ‘ Yeh jawaab sach hai’, blares a disembodied voice.


That was Indian TV’s first genuine Oprah moment. Here was a celeb (all right, a former celeb), admitting to his family, and shadowy people ranged in the studio, and a nation of avid viewers, that he had done what he had done. Implicit in the admission were many things : that he, Kambli, had slept with women (not one, but several) other than his wife, and that —- here’s the thing — it was perfectly permissible for such questions to be publicly asked of an individual.


In that one fell swoop, Sach Ka Saamna, the Indian version of the controversial Moment Of Truth, pushed everything right over the edge. Till then, Rakhi Sawant had been the loftiest point on prime-time, as she played the coy bride-to-be in low ‘cholis’ and high aspiration. We watched in dismay the transformation of a feisty middle class girl who would do anything to grab her fifteen episodes of fame, to a silly, simpering ‘dulhan’.


But along came Sach Ka Saamna, and poof, Rakhi is history. The line between the private and the public is suddenly thinner than ever. The nature of the ‘real’ on Reality TV has been irrevocably re-defined. Indian Reality TV will from here on be judged on how much, and how soon, it can reveal the most intimate, embarrassing details of a person’s life.


Those who’ve been getting hot and bothered at this unabashed tell-all-show-all bonanza have missed the point. We make television, it doesn’t make us. That ‘reality’, complete with its powder-puff make-up, arc-lights, elevated stages, and mock heartbeats, is ours. The Delhi High Court judges nailed it: you don’t like it, turn off your TV.


A day after the noise in Parliament, a line started running on the bottom band, stating that the contents of the show are “paripakv” ( pure Hindi for ‘mature’, arcane usage for a show in conversational Hindi and English), and that ‘guidance’ is needed for young viewers. At long last, ‘mature’ has started cropping up in our lexicon.


Something had to give after all these years of struggling with the tyranny of mothers-in-laws, the frightening docility of daughters-in-laws, and the vacuity of most programming on TV. It’s not anybody’s case that Sach Ka Saamna is what it is for its scintillating brilliance: any show that asks its participants if they put toothpaste in their friend’s underwear, or make wee wee in their own, clearly has an IQ deficiency. It’s also unabashedly prurient and salacious. It’s voyeurism, Made In India, For India, out there for all those willing and able to consume it.


What makes it noteworthy is in what it does. It blows off terminal hypocrisy. It allows an airing of stuff that’s been taboo so far, especially in the sexual sphere. It’s nowhere near as explicit as its counterparts in the West ( we are still aeons away from a show like Californication, which is exactly what it’s name suggest, with a few frills), but there is, gentle viewers, a welcome assumption that comes with a show like this. It assumes that we are grown up, and that grown ups can watch what they like, and when they like. Or not. Enough, already, with the moral outrage.


So, is Indian TV finally at the tipping point? Is it all set to leave cinema behind? TV is the plug-in-drug; films are meant to be bigger, better, weightier. TV comes to you; you go to the movies. I’m not sure if a single show can create a revolution, but one thing is undisputable. TV’s Big Brother, which has ostensibly been busy loosening its sexual shackles in the past decade, is still in the Dark Ages when it comes to showing ‘real’. Plastic still rules. Poverty-stricken leading ladies flaunt blinding bling. And anything that tries to strike out, is branded flamingly art-house.


Most of our mainstream films are fake when it comes to passion, sexual awakening and flowering, and all the things adult men and women do when no one’s looking. The actors capable of scorching the screen quickly realise that A-certificates will not make them universal stars. Bollywood is primarily targeted at sanitised family viewing, where all manner of horrendous thrusting and heaving is stuffed into item numbers, after which everyone rapidly reverts to being asexual, non-threatening boys and girls. The closest our A-list couples are allowed to get is a clinch; lips and limbs are confined to movies staffed by B-listers.


Aamir has kissed, yes. But his last couple of films have been determinedly bereft of the man-woman thing. Shah Rukh has that X factor in spades, except his core constituency — children and swooning women — will be horrified that he can actually want to get his hands on his leading lady, having shut the door first, of course. He did it with the wholesome Juhi Chawla once, long back, and showed that he could, another time, with Manisha Koirala. Zip, after that.


Amitabh, too, never really lived up to the explosive potential he showed in his early films. It’s the older stars in older films who looked as if they knew what it was to romp. To wit, a scene on a boat between Raj and Nargis in Awara ( 1951) . “Agar tum aur pass aaogi, toh naav doob jayegi” ( if you come closer, the boat will sink), he says. She says, heavy-lidded, “doob jaane do” ( let it). And they burn it up so you can practically see the smoke.


We should have aced combustion long back. We’ve learnt to live with, instead, more drizzle than sizzle. That’s the truth, and nothing but the truth.









India’s first nuclear-powered submarine INS Arihant has created anxious ripples in Pakistan’s strategic circles. Dawn on July 28 quoted their foreign office spokesman as allaying these fears: “ ‘Without entering into an arms race with India, Pakistan will take all appropriate steps to safeguard its security and maintain strategic balance in South Asia,’ Abdul Basit said..... ‘Pakistan views the induction of INS Arihant as a destabilising factor for regional strategic balance and a threat to peace and security in South Asia.’ ”


Daily Times reported on July 28: “ ‘This can trigger a new arms race in the region and all neighbouring states, including Pakistan, reserve the right to take measures in response,’ said Capt Asif Majeed Butt. Meanwhile, defence minister Ahmed Mukhtar made it clear that Pakistan was ready to challenge India’s submarine, [while] urging that the country does not want war with any state. Also, navy chief Admiral Noman Bashir held detailed talks with his Chinese counterpart Admiral Wu Sheng Li in Beijing for enhancing cooperation between the navies of the two countries.”


On July 31, The Nation quoted Captain Alok Bhatnagar’s (director of naval plans at India’s ministry of defence) interview to the Financial Times: “India has plans to add about 100 warships to its navy over the next decade. New Delhi is sensitive to lagging behind Beijing’s naval might in the region. Officials are wary of port developments in neighbouring Pakistan and Sri Lanka that offer Chinese warships anchorages and potentially greater control of the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea.”


Three days after spreading alarm, the Daily Times on July 31 reported: “The first [Chinese] F-22P Frigate was handed over to the Pakistan Navy in a ceremony in Shanghai on Thursday... the ceremony was followed by the commissioning of the ship, in which the Pakistani flag was hoisted on it. Naval Chief Noman Bashir said Pakistan was proud of its close association with China, adding that this unique relationship had no parallel in the world. The vessel is equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry and sensors and also carries a Z9EC helicopter.”



Dr Manmohan Singh has suddenly found a warm audience in Pakistan for his “apparently progressive” overtures towards Pakistan. The News quoted his Pakistani counterpart as saying on July 30: “We (at Sharm-el- Sheikh) had useful talks and a good meeting of minds. We agreed terrorism was a common threat. We also agreed dialogue was the only way forward. The PM commended Dr Singh for his bold vision of peace and prosperity in South Asia and the statesmanship that he has demonstrated.”


In its July 31 editorial, Daily Times also applauded Singh’s “statesmanship.” “The Indian prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, proved his political stature once again while defending his ‘Pakistan policy’ at the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, a policy that had been described by the Opposition as ‘capitulation to an enemy’ who had allowed its territory to be used for terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008. He has proved once again that he is indeed the ‘paradigmatic’ leader after Jawaharlal Nehru. India owes its new stature in the world to him after he changed the Nehruvian model of the economy in 1991 as finance minister. He is now about to change the Indo-Pak strategic equation if the politicians on both sides care to listen to him.”


Dawn’s editorial on July 31 realised that Dr Singh has been treading on eggshells since the furore on the joint statement broke out. “From the floor of the Lok Sabha, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attempted a delicate balancing act on Wednesday. Indeed, Mr Singh emphasised that ‘dialogue and engagement is the best way forward’ and spoke appreciatively of the frank details provided by Pakistan in the latest dossier on the Mumbai attacks. Parsing the prime minister’s speech, then, it seems that he is still holding out one hand to Pakistan while trying to fend off his domestic detractors with the other.”








It may not be easy for most of us to recall how many reports Professor Yashpal has so far submitted to the government of India and other organisations. His report on ‘Baste ka Bojh’: reduction of the curriculum load, submitted in 1992 , was supposed to be a landmark in reducing stress on children. Even those assigned the task of monitoring its implementation may not readily recall its existence. That is generally the fate of reports in India. It should, however, not discourage anyone from pinning high hopes on the latest Yashpal Committee Report. This committee was appointed to advise the government of India, on the “Renovation and Rejuvenation” of higher education. Now the new minister for human resources development has explicitly stated that his proposed reforms shall be implemented only after detailed consultations, his proposals must be analysed without any biases and prejudices.


What happened in education during the last couple of years will be an uphill task to repair. Who can forget the manner in which 15 vice-chancellors of the proposed universities were appointed in a tearing hurry, setting up a possible world record? In higher education, one of the foremost challenges is to evolve a procedure for appointment of vice-chancellors purely on the basis of merit and competence. It could be a yeomen service to the cause of higher education if the recruitment of vice-chancellors, heads of national level institutions and organisations could be made without political interference, pressures and connections. It is well known that these appointments are made, exceptions apart, on the basis of political alignments, caste, religious considerations and other non-academic factors. It will not be easy for the minister to bring about drastic changes in the procedures unless a genuine effort is made to evolve a consensus amongst all concerned.


For several decades, the Leftists were permitted to play havoc with institutions of higher learning. In a well thought-out long term strategy, they succeeded in hoodwinking the Congress and did not hesitate to reduce its role in the freedom struggle through their hegemony of institutions like Indian Council of Historical Research and Jawaharlal Nehru University, to mention just a few. Is it possible to ensure that party politics is kept out of the university and college union elections? These may appear as ‘matters of detail’ to the distinguished, but could make a real difference.


Have money, open a deemed university and become its vice-chancellor — it has become as simple as that. It is indeed shocking how regulatory bodies ignored their own regulations, disband committees and dispense with the prescribed procedures to help the private investor! If you fail once, have a new name, and know the right contacts, all you need to do is apply again! The two instances of colleges from Tamil Nadu charging capitation fees, as reported in the sting operation, has only revealed the tip of the iceberg. As the new minister has ordered an inquiry into the entire issue of deemed universities, the regulatory bodies which were so generous earlier are now pretending to act tough! There is a total failure and loss of credibility of the regulatory bodies created to maintain norms and standards, ensure quality of comparable levels and support institutions to become centres of excellence. Everyone now knows what values these bodies follow in their functioning. In such a situation of visible demoralisation, the urgency to open more institutions and move ahead of the enrolment ration of 11 to say 20 or 25 confronts the planners. The shrewd private entrepreneur calculates assured returns and can go to any length to get a professional college or a deemed university approved. In India, it is really tough to regulate the machinations of the investors in education. They have learnt the tricks of the trade and know how to overcome the hurdles that are put just to give right indications.


Reports shall continue to pour in. These keep people busy. The real change shall occur only when the human resources minister is determined to remain free of the operating coteries, listens to all but makes his own decisions, and changes the work culture right from Shastri Bhawan to the primary school in Koraput.


The writer was director, the National Council of Educational Research and Training during the NDA government










Having forecast that international trade flows will contract a real 10% this year, the WTO together with the World Bank has been loudly warning against how protectionism can send this situation spinning out of control. Of course none of these sermons can completely curb countries’ fancy for sheltering selected industries. In some instances, this leads to positively ridiculous scenes, with a recent one starring India and China. And it sort of started with kid stuff, with India banning Chinese toys. Now, troubles are nothing new to these toys. Mattel had to recall some two million of them in 2007, mostly on account of excess lead. This June, it was ordered to pay up $2.3 million for violating a ban on bringing dangerous products into the US, where a law has been in place since 1978 banning children’s articles that have more than 0.06% lead. But the US didn’t ban Chinese toys, we did, without anything like an equivalent regulatory regime in place. China threatened to take the matter to WTO. We withdrew the ban, saying we would be okay with toys certified by global safety agencies. Moving on, now China is threatening to ban Indian food products like seafood and sesame oil if India does not also lift the ban on its milk products. Given that China is India’s biggest trading partner now, such tit-for-tat is ridiculous indeed.


It is not the contention here that Chinese products haven’t been plagued by legitimate safety issues, nor that China itself has been very rational in its bans. When Chinese milk products were found contaminated with melamine in September, India kept company with a host of countries that banned them—specific products were named in some cases and the ban has been reversed in others. China responded belligerently. It said a little melamine was alright. It too started pointing reproving fingers at imports, banning the likes of Irish pork and Italian brandy. To put this in context, Britain that buys nearly half of Ireland’s pork exports didn’t bother with a ban. If Beijing can, it will arrogantly face down its accusers one by one. Only if Indian actions are considered and based on sound regulatory footings can it hold its own ground. Neither quality showed through as we imposed and reversed the toy ban in a matter of two months. And Chinese guard was really up with 1,000 toy exporting companies closing down in just the Guangdong province in 2008. What should India do with the milk imbroglio? Stand firm if we have verifiable data that the threat continues, and back away if that’s not the case. Seafood isn’t a major Indian export to China anyway. But surely the two giants can talk milk and seafood without resorting to threats.







The Maharashtra government’s decision to regularise all slums that came into existence before early 2000—the earlier cut-off date for regularisation was 1995—-will likely be seen as a crude populist measure to garner important votes in Mumbai just before the assembly elections. However, the move, viewed purely from the perspective of effective slum redevelopment, may not be that bad. With a cut-off date that’s more recent the government makes it easier for builders and slum redevelopers to persuade people to vacate space for the necessary redevelopment in exchange for the promise of a better tenement once the redevelopment is completed. In the absence of any rights, squatters are unlikely to vacate slums and can mobilise fairly effectively to block any process of forcibly evicting them, even though that is what the law mandates the Greater Mumbai municipal corporation to do. In fact, a majority of builders favour doing away with any cut-off date at all. However, that may create a perverse incentive for people to deliberately squat in the hope of getting a better flat in exchange for vacating space. There are rules though which prevent people who are allotted a new flat from selling it for a specified period of time. Such rules are against the basic principles of private property rights—once you own a flat, you should have the right to sell it. As long as there are cut-off dates and background checks on people who are allotted flats in exchange for vacating space, there is no need for provisions to prevent resale.


The problem, however, is that some slum dwellers do not have clearly defined property rights in the first place—though electoral cards have probably made a big difference—which complicates matters, irrespective of the cut-off date chosen. Still, there is little option but to proceed with slum redevelopment, not only in Mumbai but in other cities as well. In Mumbai, the problem of land shortage and high prices is acute and the few spaces which can still be built on are occupied by the slums. Redevelopment would not only give slum dwellers better conditions to live in, but will also help address the important issue of property prices and availability of quality space. The Central government has, in a welcome move, committed resources to a new Rajiv Awaas Yojana for slum dwellers, under which states that assign property rights to slum dwellers will get the Centre’s support. The Union government has, in Parliament, renewed its commitment to a slum-free India in five years. There is much at stake not only for slumdwellers who need better homes and workplaces, but also for our cities, which need more space and urban development very urgently.









All sound relationships are based on strong pillars. The future India-US ties are expected to be based on an unexpected pillar: agriculture.


During her recent visit to India, the US Secretary of State identified agriculture as one of the strongest pillars of bilateral cooperation. She was emphatic on both countries collaborating for employing intellectual acumen and scientific effort to defeat global hunger. She felt that this could be achieved by improving crop yields and connecting farm markets. She recalled the long history of cooperation between the two countries on agriculture .


The US has always taken interest in India’s farm sector. Food imports under PL480 scheme during the fifties and sixties are examples of direct US involvement in Indian agriculture. The US and Western support were critical in financing research for developing HYV seeds. These seeds ushered in the ‘green revolution’ by multiplying domestic cereal output. Much of the research on HYVs was carried out at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Centres, where the US was a major donor.


Ms Hillary Clinton drew attention to the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia as a key ground for bilateral cooperation. The initiative not only involves the Indian government and USAID, but also has the CGIAR, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and corporates. Both the scale and scope of the initiative are noteworthy. It targets six million farmers across South Asia for augmenting crop yields with positive outcomes for household incomes and food supplies.


Many found the US emphasis on agriculture surprising. However, this is not India-specific. It reflects the emergence of agriculture as a major policy challenge for the US in recent months. The challenge has both domestic and external aspects.


The US realises the futility of subsidising farm exports. These subsidies are counterproductive to efficient production. The latest budget proposals have tried to rationalise subsidies. Besides capping direct payments to farmers and proposing their phase out, the budget has also recommended reduction in market access support.


Rationalising subsidies is critical to Mr Obama’s plans to improve quality of public expenditure. The economic downturn and the need to discipline expenditure provide a good opportunity for slashing farm subsidies. The imperative also arises from the urgency in reviving global trade.


Rebound in global trade is the only way to get global growth moving. Pick-up in world trade is particularly critical for non-Asian markets. Asian markets have institutional architectures such as ASEAN and multiple bilateral pacts for stimulating trade-induced growth. Such symbiotic arrangements, however, are scant outside Asia.


Localisation of global trade in Asia can be avoided only by reviving multilateral trade talks. This implies kicking to life the Doha Development Agenda (DDA). The DDA can’t be revitalised without addressing core concerns of developing countries. The US and EU are widely perceived as ‘villains’ in this regard. They not only subsidise farm output for outcompeting developing countries, but also block market access for manufactured products from the latter.


The US has begun showing ‘willingness’ to lend a sympathetic ear to developing country concerns. It took part in the latest Cairns Group discussions along with India, China, Japan and Europe to push farm trade talks. The US budget conveys positive impressions on eliminating farm subsidies. Cooperating in agriculture with India—one of the strongest proponents of special safeguard mechanisms (SSMs) for developing countries—shows the desire to cultivate allies for removing roadblocks.


But Mr Obama has his job cut out. Rolling back farm subsidies won’t be easy. Despite tall claims, subsidies on dairy exports were recently re-introduced to save dairy products from competition. The farm state members in the US Congress have stiffly resisted the proposals to cut subsidies. Mr Obama will need to appease and assuage several constituencies before acting on his thoughts.


India shouldn’t mind the US overtures. Collaborating with the US on agriculture has benefits. Apart from progressing on crop yield and productivity, the cooperation highlights politically and economically saleable objectives of engaging the US. The issue gels well with ongoing efforts to legitimise food security. The perceived benefits would be even more if DDA takes off. It’s time to welcome Indo-US ‘collective’ farming.


The author is a visiting research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. These are his personal views








Public controversy surrounding the reality show, Sach Ka Saamna has once again raised questions about the conflict between the need to expand sales and TRPs and a moral or social responsibility that the entertainment industry has to the public in general. How far should the shows go toward garnering more viewership? How much is too much? It is difficult for producers—many experts believe that TV has a great influence over morality of viewers, and that those who make shows should behave ‘responsibly’. On the other hand producers are also bound by the simple law of economics—where there is a demand, supply shall follow.


So who should be held responsible? Clearly it is important for content providers to adhere to certain parameters. However, audiences over time have also become far more selective with the programmes they watch. Therefore, it would be reasonable to argue that the audiences too must set their own limits—-if people don’t watch certain shows, those shows won’t be made. At the same time one must be careful to not once again be swept by the emotional tide created by self appointed ‘social guardians’. It is imperative that the audience take an objective look at what is out there and learn to distinguish between what is truly crossing the line of social acceptance and what is uncomfortable simply because it is different. It’s not all bad either—-many reality shows have a served as an important platform for Indian talent, from ‘Boogie Woogie’ to ‘Indian Idol’ .


Understanding the mind of the audience in itself is not an easy task. Strange double standards exist—audiences lap up original formats of international shows like ‘The Bachelor’ or the notorious ‘Temptation Island’, but develop an aversion to the same programmes with Indian participants. On ‘Sach ka samna’ our own version of ‘The moment of truth’ , free will is a key factor—-the contestant is free to walk away without answering any question at any given time, provided they are willing to forfeit the prize. There is no compulsion.And let’s not forget, all these television shows are about entertainment, not serious social change.


The author is a television actor








The criticisms levelled against our Prime Minister may or may not be valid depending on your political perspective. One thing is for sure, none of it has been constructive. Everyone seems to be able to tell him what he should not do—no one is telling him what it is that he can or should do. Ironically, Dr. Singh’s position is similar to that of his predecessor. “Vajpayee should not have gone to Lahore”. “Vajpayee should not have invited Musharraf to Agra”. “Having invited Musharraf to Agra, Vajpayee should not have let him go without an anti-terrorism commitment”. “Vajpayee should not have mobilised the army after the attack on parliament”. “Having mobilised the army, Vajpayee should not have tamely pulled it back”. And now Dr. Singh is faced with the same intractable problems that his predecessor had to deal with and he is bombarded with similar inane drivel.The parallels are uncanny and eerie.


Let’s look at the position of an Indian PM. We live in a failed, failing, dangerous neighbourhood. Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan are hardly the exemplars of stable, successful countries. Pakistan, in particular gives headaches not only to India but to the whole world (I did not say so, a senior official belonging to Pakistan’s great ally for fifty-five years, the US of A has said so!). Pakistanis (and here I include not just rabid religious fanatics, but many Pakistanis with posh Oxbridge accents) claim that they are threatened by India. Why India would want to invade Pakistan and take on the myriad problems of that unhappy land puzzles me no end. And yet, we are told that enough smart Pakistanis (and not-so-smart, but voluble Pakistani TV anchors) seem to believe this. They believe that we want to dismember Pakistan. Repeated statements that a stable and united Pakistan is in India’s interests are rejected out of hand. We don’t even know how to spell the names of different Baluchi, Brahui, Waziri and Masudi tribes. Why would we want to support their demands for freedom, secession or whatever other heady potion that they crave? Not only would we need multiple ambassadors, embassies and policy non-papers, we would actually have to worry about multiple versions of the LET and sundry Mujahideen. Every right-thinking Indian must shudder even thinking of this remote possibility. I am increasingly getting convinced that there is nothing we can do or say that will convince a large number of influential Pakistanis and even larger numbers of their sullen fellow-citizens that we do not threaten them, but wish them well—or at least as well as we can given their childish hostility to us. Beyond a point, it is a waste of our time and energy to try to understand psychotics. Let them utter whatever gibberish they wish to. This is precisely what Dr. Singh did when he told them that they could make reference to Baluchistan if they wish. Go ahead; be my guest. But like Gladstone who felt sorry for Armenians, but who was willing to do no more than pray for them, Manmohan Singh too just might remember Baluchis in his prayers. He is not going to do much more—he has made that quite clear. He has indulged Pakistan as one would a tiresome child. He is therefore quite sensible in letting them write what they want and carrying on with furthering our own agenda irrespective of their concerns.


There is a small but growing segment of Pakistanis who want to conquer India. They see this as a “re-conquest”—a religious pursuit where the other intended victims are Spain, Bulgaria and so on. While it is unlikely that these people will be successful, at least in the foreseeable future, the fact is that in the interim they can create a lot of mischief and trouble. They can send in terrorists; they can instigate silly young men in India to turn to terrorism and so on. Again, there is not much we can do apropos of these nut-cases. We have to improve our security procedures and remain vigilant. And yes, we can stop goading young Indian Moslems into becoming sympathetic with this point of view by clamping down on communal riots, by assuring them physical safety and by repeatedly pointing out to them that they have better prospects and chances for personal fulfilment in India. These are matters internal to us.

Dr Singh is correct in shrugging his shoulders, giving Pakistan the benefit of doubt taking them at face value when they claim that they will come down hard on terrorism. The reference to Reagan’s trusting but verifying dictum is not accidental. In another context, Cromwell had said that faith does not mean that we don’t keep our gunpowder dry.


I once met a Pakistani diplomat who had a fairly sophisticated demeanour. He was completely taken aback when I told him that I had not the slightest sentimental attachment to Sufi music, Urdu ghazals or even the remotest desire to visit Lahore. If their English-speaking elite leadership does not get it, how can the crazy religious fanatics in their midst? The fact of the matter is that there is nothing any Indian PM can do that is right vis-a-vis Pakistan. We cannot go to war because of the restraint imposed by nuclear weaponry. We cannot have peace because they don’t want it. We can talk in Lahore, in Agra, in Sharm-el-Sheikh or anywhere else. But don’t expect any miracles—positive or negative. We must trundle on. It’s so much smarter to focus on our domestic security, economy, education, health care etc. And that is precisely what I hope Dr Singh will continue to do.


The author divides his time between Mumbai, Lonavla and Bangalore








The WTO’s 2009 report takes a pragmatic view of trade policies adopted by countries in these difficult times. Although there are some signs of the economic crisis abating, the almost universal view is that recovery will be delayed, and when it starts it will be weak. All the developed economies are expected to contract this year. As for global trade, the WTO, which a few months ago had predicted a nine per cent decline in volume during 2009, foresees an even worse sc enario, with a 10 per cent drop. A consequence of economic hardship across the world has been the rise of protectionism and economic nationalism, particularly in the developed countries. All governments are under pressure from their domestic constituencies to adopt measures that may restrict trade. The key challenge before the WTO and its members is to ensure that such measures do not escalate into mutually destructive forms of protectionism. Contingency measures built into the trade rules can act as a safety valve and help in maintaining a rule-based system of multilateral trade. They include safeguards, anti-dumping rules, increase in tariffs up to ceilings allowed under WTO agreements, and countervailing duties to offset the impact of subsidies in other countries. Properly calibrated, they can in difficult times as now lend stability to trade agreements and check protectionism from getting out of control.


Governments can use such flexibilities to get some badly needed manoeuvring space when political opposition to free trade builds up. Obviously, the contingency measures are also a form of adjustment policies designed to shield domestic producers from import competition, at least temporarily. Since these are built into agreements, they uphold the rule of law in trade and, unlike arbitrary protectionist actions, are channelled into prescribed and predictable policy initiatives. Not all the circumstances that require trade policy interventions can be anticipated. The report admits that flexibilities come at a price. The secret is to balance them against commitments. Too much flexibility can undermine commitments but too little will render the agreements unsustainable. The WTO’s endorsement of contingency measures has an immediate relevance for India and the Doha round of trade talks. In July 2008 a possible agreement did not come through because of differences between India and the U.S. over a specific safeguard mechanism against a surge in agricultural imports. With the possibility of the talks resuming, there will be more than ordinary interest in the way trade negotiators get around such differences which have to do with flexibilities.








Research on reprogramming adult cells to make them behave like embryonic stem cells crossed a milestone recently when two Chinese teams succeeded in producing mouse pups using such cells. Ever since induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells were produced in 2006 by reprogramming adult cells, researchers across the world have been working feverishly to replicate and refine the technique. Though many scientists have succeeded in producing iPS cells, unassailable evidence of their pluripotency — ability of the cells to behave like embryonic stem cells and form all of the 200-odd specialised cells — was lacking. The latest success in producing mouse pups using reprogrammed adult cells has taken research one step closer to proving the pluripotency of iPS cells. One team, headed by Qi Zhous of the Chinese Academy of Science, and the other, led by Shaorong Gao from the National Institute of Biological Sciences in Beijing, were able to produce mouse pups using iPS cells injected into early-stage embryos that can only become the placenta and not develop into animals. While Qi Zhous’ team was able to produce 27 pups, including ‘Tiny,’ using three iPS cell lines, the other team could create only four. If growing to adulthood is considered significant, the pups created by Qi Zhous passed the fundamental test of health — they sired over 200 second-generation pups. More than 100 third-generation pups have also been produced.


Many scientists are turning to iPS cell technique to sidestep the ethical controversy of embryo destruction when somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) technique is used. Also, unlike in the case of SCNT, human eggs are not required when iPS cells are used for making embryos. But this technique is fraught with scientific hurdles. For instance, the Qi Zhous team used retroviral vectors to introduce four genes to reprogramme adult cells. Retroviruses are known to induce cancer in mammals. Though some studies have succeeded in inducing pluripotency without using these viruses, more research remains to be done. Similarly, oncogenes were used for reprogramming adult cells. This again raises the possibility of cancer formation when the pluripotent cells are introduced into an animal. Skin cells are routinely used for making iPS cells. Though available in plenty, turning back their clocks to make them pluripotent is a big challenge. Both the teams had hence used more pliable cells taken from late-stage embryos. This approach will not be useful if the iPS technique is used for patient-matched therapeutic applications. However, the technique is nearing maturity and may pave the way for creating cell lines to study genetic diseases.









On the occasion of General Augusto Pinochet’s arrest in London in October 1998, his former Minister for Home Affairs, Sergio Onofre Jarpa, appalled by the demonstrations against the general on the streets around Westminster, expressed his desire to “make a movie” to educate international public opinion about what really happened in Chile under military rule.


Ten years later, one could say that with The Judge and the General, by Elizabeth Farnsworth and Patricio Lanfranco, Mr. Jarpa’s wish has come true, though not necessarily along the lines he would have liked. The documentary, recently nominated for an Emmy award (the Oscars of the television industry) in the category of “Outstanding Historical Programming,” was released in 2008 and shown in the widely seen Point of View programme on PBS. The News and Documentary Emmys will be announced on September 21 in New York City.


Many would say the co-directors — Ms Farnsworth, an American journalist with the upmarket McNeil-Lehrer Report, and Mr. Lanfranco, a Chilean reporter — both with a long record of work covering human rights abuses, fully deserve the award.


The story is told from the perspective of Juan Guzmán Tapia, Justice of the Santiago Court of Appeals who, in January 1998, was assigned, by the luck of a draw, to handle the criminal cases filed against Gen. Pinochet. In March that year, the latter would leave his position as Army Chief to join the Senate as a Senator-for-life, a job he allotted to himself in the 1980 Constitution written under his guidance.


As the narrative unfolds — told not by some omniscient voice, but rather by Judge Guzmán and other protagonists, which adds to its credibility, as does the real-time footage of his investigation — one senses the changes from his initial scepticism to subsequent horror at the findings he uncovers (under Chile’s previous criminal justice system, only recently changed, the judge acted as both prosecutor and magistrate).


Coming from an upper middle class background, the son of noted writer and diplomat Juan Guzmán Cruchaga — who won Chile’s 1962 National Literature Prize and headed Chile’s mission in India in the early 1950s — with military men among his ancestors, and married to a Frenchwoman, Inés, Judge Guzmán’s life embodied in many ways what the Chilean judiciary during the dictatorship was all about, albeit with a more cosmopolitan touch.


Politically conservative, he supported the candidacy of right-wing Jorge Alessandri in the 1970 elections won by Salvador Allende (he even points out that had Alessandri won, he would have followed in his father’s footsteps to the Foreign Service). He also welcomed the 9/11 1973 military coup that brought Gen. Pinochet to La Moneda, Chile’s presidential palace (though the latter did not move in there till 1980; it took seven years to rebuild it, given the damage inflicted by bombings from the Hawker Hunter planes that hit it repeatedly that fateful day).


During the military regime, Judge Guzmán pursued his judicial career, including postings to faraway provincial towns. He kept his distance from the attempts of human rights defenders to obtain protection from the Chilean judiciary, believing in Gen. Pinochet’s line about the need to “get rid of the Marxist cancer.” Some 10,000 habeas corpus petitions were submitted in those years. They were rejected, some by Judge Guzmán himself.


As he gets deeper into the cases, he realises how many victims, including quite a few of the detenidos-desaparecidos (that is, the “disappeared”), were not even political leaders as such, but rather young, emblematic figures — artists like singer Víctor Jara or academics like the 23-year-old sociologist, Manuel Donoso (whose case is one of the two cases that drive the narrative). They were surgically targeted in operations like the infamous “Caravan of Death” that traversed Chile from North to South in late 1973, shooting some 97 detainees.


The story goes that whenever his staff brought the CVs of candidates for any given position in his government, Gen. Pinochet’s first question was: “Who is the youngest?” He invariably proceeded to appoint him or her, a policy that served the Chilean Right well. At some point in the late 1990s, after Chile’s return to democracy, it was estimated that about half of the Right-wing opposition MPs had served as appointed mayors during the military regime. Tragically, a similar policy of targeting the youngest seemed to be at work with his opponents.


It is, then, from this gradual “eye-opening” of Judge Guzmán that the film inserts glimpses of President Allende’s victory, the ensuing polarisation, classic scenes such as that of Argentine cameraman Leonardo Henrichsen, who films his own death at the hands of the soldiers who revolted in June 1973, the 1973 coup, and the dark years that follow.


Curiously, the film does not dwell on what would turn out to be one of the key challenges facing Judge Guzmán. In 1978, the junta approved an Amnesty Law, whose net effect was to extinguish all responsibility for human rights violations committed from the day of the coup onwards. The overwhelming majority of violations, though by no means all, were committed in those years.


What to do?


Judge Guzmán, behind whose modest, unassuming demeanour (typically dressed in grey), hides a razor-sharp legal mind, came up with a brilliant solution. In the case of the “disappeared,” it was not a crime that could be characterised as having been completed (say, like a homicide), but one that was still unfolding (like kidnapping). As no bodies were available and as long as no remains were found, the presumption had to be that the crime was still taking course. It was thus not covered by the 1978 Amnesty Law. The rather crude attempts to puncture this impeccable legal reasoning (“Everybody knows they are dead! Who is Judge Guzmán fooling?”) found few takers.


In this, a deep irony was at work. To make his opponents (the cells of the “Marxist cancer”) disappear, a technique — some say invented by Gen. Pinochet, though it was later applied elsewhere in the Southern Cone as well — had as its main purpose spreading terror. The sudden disappearance of a loved one is something that has a lasting effect on family, friends and associates, sowing eternal doubts about an eventual return. The impact of it is very different from, say, the overt shooting of the victim, followed by his funeral.


The fact that one of the main instruments of state terrorism would end up gestating the key legal tool to bring those perpetrators to justice has a poetic ring to it. Judge Guzmán, the son of a noted poet, himself fully trilingual — he wrote his memoirs, Au bord du monde, in French — and a man who knows his literature (he likes to cite Shakespeare in his lectures, being especially fond of Macbeth) must have appreciated this.


At a time when events in Honduras have revived concerns at the return of military coups in Latin America, it is worth noting that in this too, Gen. Pinochet tried to innovate. To the classic offer of a plane to the deposed President, so that he could leave the country (much as happened with President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, though he was rather forcibly taken to it), such a central part of the stage setting of golpes militares, Gen. Pinochet in 1973 added a twist: the plane would fall shortly after taking off, thus taking the life of Salvador Allende, had he accepted that devious gambit.


To listen to the tape of the telephone conversation between Gen. Pinochet and Admiral Patricio Carvajal (his subsequent Foreign Minister under the junta) about this plan, and Pinochet’s phrase, a Chilean idiom that reflects him wholeheartedly (“if you kill the bitch, you get rid of the litter”) is one of the most chilling moments in a film in which they abound.


Upon returning from London in March 2000, Gen. Pinochet was stripped of his parliamentary immunity and he spent the next six years fighting off one lawsuit after another. Though never convicted, he died on December 10, 2006 (in another irony, on International Human Rights Day) with his reputation in tatters. Today, some 50 of his former military and civilian collaborators — including, unprecedented in any dictatorship, the head of the secret police, General Manuel (“Mamo”) Contreras — are behind bars. Another 200 await trial.


Paradoxically, Judge Guzmán paid dearly for his bravery and judicial ingenuity. Despite his talent and trajectory, he was not promoted to the Chilean Supreme Court, the aspiration of every judge, and he retired as Justice of the Santiago Court of Appeals. He no longer teaches at the Law Faculty of Catholic University, but directs a Human Rights Centre at the more modest Central University. Yet, he earned his place in history as the judge who took on and brought to justice one of the emblematic dictators of the 20th century.


(Jorge Heine holds the Chair in Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and is a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Ontario.)










The opportunistic and partisan stalling of the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bills in the Cabinet recently by Mamata Banerjee has provided an opportunity to rethink some of the important provisions of the Bills (which she is not concerned about, but should have been).


Under the prospective legislation, a company must first buy directly from landowners 70 per cent of the land required. The state steps in to buy the rest in case some recalcitrant landowners are holding out; even here, the sellers are guaranteed a 60 per cent premium on the average land price over the previous three years. While this is an improvement on the existing colonial land acquisition law, this is quite unsatisfactory, particularly from the point of view of stake-holders in agricultural land. Let us spell out the reasons:


First, while leaving the major part of the transaction to the market may stop the matter from becoming a political game of football in populist competitive politics (as has happened in West Bengal), it is an inadequate solution to a complicated problem. Even assuming that the purpose for which the land is to be transferred is a legitimate one from an economic and environmental point of view, Indian history is replete with instances of uninformed, cash-strapped peasants being induced to sell their land at nominal prices by the lure of ready cash from developers, speculators, and touts of large corporate interests. This is how many Adivasis have lost their land even in recent years. Even in the case of informed, market-savvy sellers, thousands of small, uncoordinated farmers are no match for a large corporate buyer in the bargaining process.


Of course, in many cases the State government did very little to get the landowners a good price; but there is potential here for community organisers (and panchayats) to get involved in ensuring a fair price. In particular, the provision of a 60 per cent premium on the past average price is not good enough. The average past price is for the land as agricultural land, whereas use for industrial or infrastructure purpose will probably multiply the value many times, the gain from which the farmer is deprived. So, over and above the value of the agricultural land being considered as a minimum floor of basic compensation, the farmers should be compensated with a share in the enterprise or company, so that they can benefit from future profits.


Of course, the poor farmer may not have the capacity to bear the risks of fluctuating share prices. Here the role of the state is to put the farmers’ shares of the new company in an independently managed trust fund which will bear the risks at the cost of some management fees. Out of this trust fund, the farmer should be paid a steady “pension” (or annuity) every six months or so. Given the large gap between productivity in agriculture and the new activity for which the land is acquired, the farmer can be assured of a reasonable stream of pension. This will go a long way in assuaging the anxieties of an uncertain future that the farmer may contemplate in selling the land.


Also, a regular pension may be more advisable than a one-off cash payment, which often tends to get frittered away. In case the land is acquired for public infrastructure building (where there may not be any direct company profits to be shared), the land should be given out by the farmer on long-term lease with the rent periodically readjusted in accordance with the current value of surrounding pieces of land and the rental increases deposited in a trust fund.


Secondly, a land sale displaces not just landowners, but other stakeholders as well (sharecroppers and agricultural labourers working on the land, for example). In West Bengal, the government had announced compensation to be paid to registered sharecroppers (which Ms Banerjee never paid much attention to). But the state also needs to be involved in some form of welfare payments (and job training and so on) to unregistered sharecroppers and landless workers.


Thirdly, the state often needs to get involved in building roads, providing electricity, water supply and so on for the new company, and this may require coordination in the land transaction itself between the transactors and the state right from the beginning.


Of course, politicians often lack credibility in any process of obtaining fair compensation to land sellers. Cases of politicians, middlemen, and contractors defrauding poor sellers of their compensation and resettlement rights are far too many. So it may be desirable in some cases to hand over the responsibility of determining fair prices and managing the process of transfer and resettlement to an independent commission, provided political interference with the working of such a commission can be minimised and enough opportunity is given to community leaders and organisations to serve in such commissions or present their cases at hearings before the commission, and to generally act as watchdogs in the whole process.


Thus, what is at stake with the new Bills is much larger and deeper than Ms Banerjee’s political gripe.


(The author is a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley.)








The term “white flight” first came into vogue in the 1960s and 1970s when white native Britons started to flee areas where they felt “threatened” by an influx of non-white immigrants. Many of today’s Asian and African ghettoes are a legacy of those years.


I was sent to Afghanistan in 2006 and from the start it was very challenging. There was so much confusion about why we were there, whether it was to get rid of the poppy fields, or for national security. It seemed to change all the time.


I saw repatriations all the time and it just grinds you down.


The Nimrod crash [in which 14 men died when an RAF Nimrod exploded over Afghanistan on September 2, 2006] is one of my enduring memories. I was one of the drivers and I can remember just going up and down the road in a JCB spending a whole afternoon humping coffins around, two at a time, on a forklift truck. They weren’t even combat deaths, it was just the futility of it.


When I came back after my first tour I just couldn’t see what we had given to the country. I felt ashamed. They were dark days. When I joined the army I was lean, green and keen. I was proud of being a soldier. But now, as a serving officer, I want my feelings to be known. I want the government to consider the welfare of the guys out there, and the welfare of the Afghan people. People are suffering and it shouldn’t be allowed. When I came back from Afghanistan in 2007 I was promoted and redeployed in the U.K. I wasn’t supposed to be going back originally, because it would have been in breach of harmony guidelines [under which soldiers should not spend more than more 13 months within a three-year period on tour]. But then we were told we would be going back. And I just couldn’t go back.


I went to South-East Asia, I just needed to escape. I was dealing with it very badly, drinking a lot. Depression is a word that gets bandied about easily, but I wasn’t very happy, that’s for sure.


I wasn’t in contact with any of the lads, which was hard because it is like you lose your support group. I didn’t want to incriminate them. You get into trouble if you have information about someone who has absconded and I didn’t want to put anyone in that position.


I’ve spoken to some of them since, they have been supportive. I went to Australia after a few months. I thought all the time the army would catch up. But I met my wife and she was my rock. She helped persuade me to call the awol hotline.


It was hard but I had to do it. We came back in May and I thought I would be nobbled at customs. But no one was there, so I handed myself in to my unit. I’m pending court martial now and face up to two years in prison. (As told to Alexandra Topping.) — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009









Britian’s highest court issued a historic judgment on Thursday that could finally remove the fear of prosecution from people who travel abroad to support relatives seeking an assisted suicide.


In a unanimous ruling, the law lords ordered the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to immediately draw up a policy that would spell out when prosecutions would and would not be pursued.


The ruling was strongly in favour of Debbie Purdy (46), who has multiple sclerosis and who has been fighting to protect her husband should he accompany her to a clinic in Switzerland that specialises in euthanasia. She had argued that the law was unclear and uncertainty surrounding the issue breached her human rights.


Speaking outside the House of Lords after the judgment Ms Purdy, from Bradford, said she was “ecstatic”.


“I am eagerly awaiting the DPP’s policy publication so that we can make an informed decision to make sure what we do does not risk prosecution. I feel like I have my life back,” she said. “I think people are beginning to realise now that this is not about a right to die — it is about a right to live ... It is amazing to hear the House of Lords actually listening to the public for once.”


Moments after the decision was made public Keir Starmer, the DPP, said he had set up a team of lawyers to review the issue and promised to conduct a public consultation before setting out a fresh policy.


“This is a difficult and sensitive subject and a complex area of the law. However, I fully accept the judgment of the House of Lords,” Mr. Starmer said. “The CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] has great sympathy for the personal circumstances of Ms Purdy and her family. We will endeavour to produce an interim policy as quickly as possible which outlines the principal factors for and against prosecution.”


The decision, the last by the House of Lords before reconvening as the Supreme Court in October, was described as a far-reaching precedent by lawyers representing Ms Purdy. Lord Lester, QC, one of the peers who supported a recent bill that would have removed the threat of prosecution for relatives in assisted suicide cases, said: “It is up to the government to show leadership. People need to know whether their conduct is or is not going to be criminal, but there is a need for legislation.”


At least 115 Britons have travelled abroad for an assisted suicide since 2002. Nearly 800 people from the U.K. have become members of Dignitas, the assisted suicide group based in Switzerland, since it was established in 1998.


A report last month from campaign group Dignity in Dying, which has supported Purdy’s case, said a further 34 Britons were in the final stages of preparing to follow.


In their ruling, the law lords recognised that Ms Purdy was one of a growing number of people likely to want to travel abroad to die, a factor which made clarity in this controversial area important.


But the law lords were careful to avoid appearing to attempt to influence a change in the law. “It must be emphasised at the outset that it is no part of our function to change the law in order to decriminalise assisted suicide,” Lord Hope said. The Ministry of Justice said there was no immediate need to change the law because the ruling related to the way prosecutors implemented it. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009









“Insinuations made in it have caused our general secretary, Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam, anguish. Dr. Alam wishes only to set the record straight with the following facts: “At no time in his life did he harbour the ambition to become a Rajya Sabha (or, for that matter, Lok Sabha) member. He was offered Rajya Sabha membership almost two decades ago and turned down the offer.


“Being a Member of Parliament does not fit Dr. Alam’s scheme of things as he has different goals. His life’s mission would not go well with such political ambitions. Dr. Alam is disappointed about the report as he reposes trust in The Hindu’s fair play and objectivity. That the reporter is not familiar with the terrain he is treading is obvious from his reference to Dr. Alam as a member of All India Milli Council. In fact, he is the founding general secretary of the AIMC and continues to hold the position.


“What has hurt Dr. Alam the most is the assertion that he is associated with ‘radical groups.’ He has never associated with people who take recourse to violent, extra-constitutional measures to change the political order.


“This is only for the record. Dr. Alam does not seek any remedy, but makes the request that The Hindu should check facts in future and be accurate in its reports.”









He probably won’t try to get down with the kids but record company bosses are hoping that their latest signing will prove popular, not least because he comes with a ready-made audience of about a sixth of the world’s population.


Geffen Records, whose roster of stars has included Guns n’ Roses, Elton John, and Snoop Dogg, on Thursday announced that it had signed a new artist: Pope Benedict XVI.


His holiness will be singing a Marian prayer as well as speaking Lauretan Litanies in different languages — Italian, Portuguese, French and German — accompanied by eight original pieces of modern classical music. The album is called Alma Mater and will be released in time for the Christmas rush on November 30. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009













No one has pressed the panic button yet, but the delayed and deficient monsoon this year has worried agriculture minister Sharad Pawar enough to say in Rajya Sabha recently that the sowing of rice has been 21 per cent below last year’s level — down to 11.46 million hectares from 14.52 million. The full impact of this will be revealed in due course, but it is futile to suppress the hypothesis, as some elements in the government have sought to do, that the impact on food prices could indeed be significant. The argument that the government has sufficient food stocks does not quite hold. Just over a year ago, food prices had become a matter of panic although we had reasonable stocks even then and the foreign exchange reserves, with which food could be imported if needed, were near record levels. It is salutary to maintain perspective when speaking of the agriculture economy and its effect on the system as a whole. While the agriculture sector accounts for just over 17 per cent of India’s GDP, about 55 per cent of our population relies on farm incomes. How important this segment is can be appreciated from the Reserve Bank’s understanding that the 6.7 per cent rate of growth recorded in the last financial year despite the international recession became possible on account of the turnaround in agricultural output in the fourth quarter.


Whatever the progress recorded in recent decades, the Indian economy continues in some measure to be a gamble on the monsoon. Only 40 per cent of our farmland is irrigated. The kharif crop, which depends crucially on the southwest monsoon (June-September), accounts for 57 per cent of the total agriculture production in the country. The June rainfall has been 46 per cent below normal, the worst since 1926. July was a lot better, but the rainfall for June and July taken together has been the weakest since 2004, a whopping 19 per cent below the seasonal average. July is the most active from the rainfall point of view. Some recovery could just be possible in August, but that will be the last opportunity. The El Nino effect kicks in by September. In the event, there are more grounds for concern than for complacency. It is useful to keep in mind that while overall inflation is a mere 1.54 per cent, the food price inflation is a hefty 11.7 per cent. This has been a strong trend for many months now, badly affecting the availability of basic food to the poor. In a recent report, top environment activist Vandana Shiva has been moved to call India "the hunger capital of the world", with 214 million people suffering from a lack of food security. This is a figure higher than sub-Saharan Africa.


The seriousness of the situation has prompted public sector banks to begin considering discounts to farmers who own more than five acres of land and are eligible to receive from the government a write-off of 25 per cent on overdue loans. One such bank has already declared a discount of 15 per cent over and above the government’s 25 per cent for this category. It is important that the government too began to prepare for a weaker agricultural economy this year and its impact on foodgrain availability. As the world is struggling to pull out of a recession, and India working hard to work for a growth rate of six per cent this year, the failure of the rural economy can have a devastating impact on consumption and aggregate demand.








Savita Bhabhi must be saved! At all cost. There are thousands of people out there ready to take to the streets and protest. Savita Bhabhi herself is being uncharacteristically coy about the persecution… but soon there will be a music track dedicated to our favourite bhabhi, and that will mark the beginning of the growing cult. Savita Bhabhi fan clubs are mushrooming all over the world. Well, cyber world. People across the board are saying, "Guys - you can't do this to her… or us".


India desperately needs a Savita Bhabhi. She is the answer to the prayers of several frustrated souls. Her immense popularity indicates how she had seeped into our consciousness, sneaked into our dirty fantasies and found a place in our wicked hearts. Savita Bhabhi had become the ultimate Love Guru - the surrogate partner in forbidden pyaar. In an age where nothing but unadulterated confusion defines relationships, she provided the pivot… and the passion. In the few, unreasonably short months of her salacious existence, Savita Bhabhi ruled the erotic world and provided us invaluable insights into our own depressed/suppressed lives.


Check out how the conversation goes these days - "So… how does it work for you guys? Are you in a serious/casual/quasi-serious/timepass… or… a REAL relationship?" Should that last question be asked at all? Does it have an answer? Frankly, there is just one definition left of today's rishtas - jhat-phat. Often it is "phat" before it even gets to "jhat. But what the hell, that's love, aaj kal. And as the most talented "relationship manager" in Bollywood, Karan Johar, will no doubt agree, the reason is simple - kal ho na ho. Fragile is a polite word for fickle. Fragility is at the core of relationships today. They are neither "sasta" nor "tikau". Nobody expects them to last. And often, everybody is relieved when the bloody thing ends. Since not much is at stake to begin with, ki pharak penda? And yet, the thought of being "boyfriend/girlfriend-less", is enough to send the alarmingly young into soul-destroying depression. Nothing is worse for an 18-something than being partner-less in the city. Sex? That's a given.


The exciting aspect of relationships today is the permutation-combination games available. Anything goes. Boy-Girl, Boy-Boy, Girl-Girl, Older Man-Boy, Older Woman-Boy, Married-Unmarried, Boss-Hireling, you get the picture. First, you "scope", then you "score". After that? You move on… Love's "Casualty Ward" is generally filled with terminal cases who refuse to give up and retire injured. I get the feeling "pyaar" has become the new "gaanja" - a mild but addictive narcotic that provides a fix - a quick fix. Love is the handy band-aid used to cover up far bigger wounds that we don't want to address. Love is a silly poster one picks up at Archie's. It stays on the wall (rarely inside the heart) till it frays and falls off. It is about that poster, not the person. Love has been reduced to an attractive graphic. Something cute and catchy that takes care of gloomy weather. It is also the only antacid that actually works for indigestion (of the mind, not stomach!).


Gone are the days of love ke liye kuch bhi karega... even Karan's new movie has little to do with mush, more with madness that is destroying the world. Love as madness has all the takers. Bollywood has reworked the magic formula to reflect new realities. What is depicted is a perverted, distorted version of the old story that is scary when it isn't hilarious. A movie that uses the word ishq in combination with a mild expletive, kambakkht, pretty much sums up the sentiments du jour. What a far cry from Ek Dujhey Ke Liye. Similarly, the twisted, kinky interpretation of pyar-vyaar in Dev D was lapped up by this generation of Bollywood buffs, who are clearly bored with the "Hum tum ek kamre main bandh ho" version of romance. That's life… at least as portrayed in the movies.


Outside Orbit Love, even other associations/liaisons have undergone a really, really rapid makeover. Within offices and homes, equations are far more volatile and dynamic. Again, jhat-phat resolutions dominate decisions. Everybody is in search of an instant fix or an instant high. Time has become the single most expensive commodity… nobody has too much of it for long-term investment, especially during recessionary periods. People talk about an economic meltdown, but the more frightening one is the emotional meltdown which is claiming global victims in even higher numbers. There are wizards and experts to fix the world's money markets - but who is there to fix cruel hearts… save souls… provide the much-needed balm? Sometimes when I look at love's debris carelessly strewn around me, I shudder at the strike rate. As and when Rakhi Sawant does get "married", her swayamwar will hit the last nail in love's coffin. Most reality shows are gross (we watch them, nevertheless), but this one is the pits. Karan Johar… come back. All is forgiven… kabhie alvida na kehna.


So much high drama to follow across all channels and we still pant for more! Aren't we getting thoroughly spoilt! There is Fiza declaring her love for her "insane husband". And promptly signing a lucrative deal for a lucrative reality show where she will subject her bold and brazen self to creepy crawlies of a different kind. There is her insane husband, who has yo yo-ed between women and religions without blushing and is now doing some weird penance.

There are all those people on Sach Ka Saamna - the show that is currently getting countless knickers in a twist. What is going on? Do we really want to know whether a TV actress pees into swimming pools? Or some other woman fantasises about men not her husband? We do, we do! Are we sick? Are they sick? Hey - is that a question? This is the first stage of the Oprah Winfrey-isation of India. We are dealing with it just fine. Our cuties in Parliament have taken to twittering about their innermost feelings. Celebrity blogs are followed by devotees who want to know every dirty detail about their exciting lives.

Virtual love affairs provide better Big Os than the real thing. SMS exchanges are de rigueur for flirtation of the deadly kind. Electronic passion has taken over from a roll in the hay - it's safer, quicker and cheaper.

Dating is something geriatrics used to indulge in eons ago. This is the age of tweeting. Movie stars do it, politicians do it… why even Obama does it (well, he would if he could). Phew.


So, is urban India well on its way to becoming a shock-free zone? Are we ready for more sleazy confessions on camera? Is Savita Bhabhi a symbol of our repressed selves? Should we be protecting her right to exist? So… who's afraid of Savita Bhabhi? Only those who are afraid of their own secret selves.

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Dear Mamata Banerjee, goddess of Hawai chappals and the simple home spun cotton sari. O! Deity-minister of Indian Railways, with your shining coconut oil-soaked locks and the fierce ability to say ta-ta to many nano moments in our country’s life… O! Wonderful, bountiful, kind and marvellous Bengali, conjurer of Kolkata bandhs, how I wish you would turn your benign fancies towards distant Punjab, far away from the Utpal Dutt Railway Station and Howrah Bridge. What will it take, O! supreme ruler of the railways, to pull your attention towards the woes of the Punjabi traveller… How can we ever interest you in our plight? What offerings of mishti doi and rosogullas can ever convince you that the hardy Punjabis are as needy and desirous of comfort as are no doubt the more delicate and intellectual Bengalis? Just because we have fought invading armies and live a rough and ready existence as agriculturists does it mean we should be left to the mercy of erratic railway systems and pervasive inefficiency?


O! Mamata, I really wish you had been with us this week when we stood for hours on a filthy station in Jalandhar waiting for the Swarn Shatabdi. The so-called celebration of the Golden Centenary of Indian Railways was so late that even the announcers at the railway station had forgotten it was ever meant to arrive. Their silence was even more golden than the Shatabdi was ever meant to be.


O! Mamata, I wish your pristine Hawai chappal-clad feet would one day wander into Jalandhar station which is a morass of every accumulated bit of garbage that human beings have been known to produce. Not only that, there are only two ways to get there — one is through a bazar so crowded that you often lose track of where your head is in relationship to the rest of your body. The other, under a bridge, is through a broken road, but was drowned in the one day that it rained in Jalandhar.


Once inside the railway station, it reeks of freshly deposited urine and other wastes that I am too polite to mention. O! Mamata, I wish you could come and inhale the delicate aromas. You may smell some of that in Parliament — but nothing like the flavour you experience in Jalandhar.


And then, O! Mamata, if only you could lift your delicate ankles over the staircase that joins platforms 1 and 2: the sheer challenge of it has disabled many — but then fortunately they can join the large number of beggars who roam free and unfettered in the area. The better way is, of course, to just hop down and cross the railway tracks as most people do regardless of approaching trains. Does anyone stop them? No, O! Mamata — because this is a free country and you, more than anyone else, appreciate the freedom of choice we have, to choose whatever path we want for our development. And then, if you actually manage to reach the other side of the station alive, O! Mamata, you discover the one shining, brand new, sleek example of modern architecture — a sturdy example of progressive thinking, an island of beauty in a sea of filth. It is a gleaming marble monument to which lists of passengers are attached. Yes, O! Mamata — what a terrific example of pure genius it is, words fail me. People come from miles around to gaze upon this one gleaming structure in a uniformly dirty environment. In a station which requires basic cleanliness, seats, toilets — your ministry has imaginatively constructed a large six-foot-high edifice on which they hang (get this, O! Mamata, this is so clever!) from paper clips the lists of passengers travelling on the trains that pass through Jalandhar. I think I object mostly to the fact that the paper clips were rusty, O! Mamata. Shame! They should have been cast in platinum to match the sheen of the rest of the monument.

But do the trains actually pass through the station? This week, O! Mamata, we were told the Golden Centenary was going to be on time. But O! Mamata, it came at least 99 years too late. Exhausted and barely breathing, when we climbed onto the Golden Centenary, we discovered that the gentle aromatic whiff of freshly passed urine had entered the executive class cabins as well. It was a perfume that accompanied us all the way to Delhi. And then, O! Mamata, the toilets themselves, with their filthy sinks and other unmentionables. I think your wonderfully iconic Hawai chappals definitely need to tread this way.


And then O! Mamata the menu! What imagination! What a marvel of expertise — in this day of the enlightened calorie conscious — you have hired the one person who is marvellously free from any such bias or prejudice. You have to be complimented on this — how did you find this person or organisation? It must have taken many hours of hard work — and much advertising in the media. How else did you ferret out the individual/s who could combine in one meal an oil-soaked kachori, a mithai, a chocolate and dried fruit? Fantastic! The combined calories of that one tea-time "snack" would have boggled the imagination of the most devoted foodie. Most of us went into sugar shock, after which we were served a Chinese meal with yoghurt and pickles to calm us down. O! Mamata, please do drift this way as the Golden Centenary is worth a visit.


And then O! Mamata — have you visited the New Delhi Railway Station at night? O dear, Mamata, the worst fiends of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) would look like angels with halos compared to the peculiar set of people you encounter here. That is, if you can ever manage to find your way out of the station. O! Mamata — unlike the Jalandhar railway station which had bright and cheerful signs all pointing in the wrong direction — at the New Delhi Railway Station, we found none when we got off the train.


As we stumbled from pothole to pothole, knocking into luggage and people, harassed by taxi drivers and touts — we finally emerged into a narrow alley, one part of which was blocked off so that we all had to be squeezed against each other. O! Mamata, I know you love the aam aadmi, but I have to say this entire experience that you have created for us is too much. I would like some distance between us aam aadmis and aurats, please.


And then when you finally struggle out, beaten and broken — there is complete darkness! It takes longer to actually leave the station than it takes to travel between Jalandhar and Delhi. O! Mamata, you were so untiring in your efforts to bond with the masses in your recently delivered budget. I now invite you and your Hawai chappals onto a real train, O! Mamata — not just the gravy train to the Lok Sabha. Try it, sometime. Especially the Golden Centenary.


Kishwar Desai’s novel Witness the Night, to be published in January 2010, is on the longlist for the Man Asian Literary Prize, 2009. She can be contacted at










There are problems we as a nation have learnt to live with: money laundering, black money, counterfeit currency, narcotics and terrorism. All of them are inter-linked and their sources are well known. Yet we have not been dealing with them effectively.


We react, or rather over-react, whenever there is a major terror strike or drug/fake currency seizure, and then soon forget it instead of making serious efforts to root out the problem. Frequent seizures of counterfeit currency have ceased to stir the national conscience. Newspapers try to shake the powers-that-be by repeating the Naik Committee’s startling revelation made a few years ago that counterfeit currency amounting to about Rs 1,69,000 crore was circulating in the country till the year 2000. The figure has not been updated since then.


While the government in general and the RBI in particular seem to be helpless in tackling the national menace, counterfeiters have refined the art of printing Indian rupees of 500 and 1,000 denominations so much so that fake notes have 95 per cent features of the genuine ones.Leave alone a shopkeeper making fruitless efforts to see whether a Rs 500 note presented to him is genuine or not, even a trained banker often fails to distinguish the fake from the real. There are reports of banks handing over counterfeit notes to customers and ATMs becoming distribution centres of such currency. Such is the fear of being in possession of illegal currency that every 500 and 1000 rupee note is viewed with suspicion.


Yet this has not woken up the government to the destructive effect the deadly combination of drugs, counterfeit currency and terror is having on society and the economy. Government agencies fight their own battles without coordination. Laws are not stringent enough. Telgi got away with just seven years’ jail for the Rs 50,000 crore stamp paper scam. After 9/11, the US paid as much attention to internal security as to wiping out sources of terror funding. The destablising role of economic terrorism needs to be better understood and countered in this country.








The Supreme Court has aptly come down heavily on R.K. Anand, advocate and former MP, for obstructing justice in the BMW expose case and served him a show-cause notice on why the punishment given by the Delhi High Court should not be enhanced.


A Bench consisting of Justice B.N. Agrawal, Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice Aftab Alam has ruled that the High Court was “lenient” towards him and the punishment was “wholly inadequate and incommensurate to the seriousness of his actions and conduct.” Anand has eight weeks to reply. He was barred — along with special public prosecutor I.U. Khan — from appearing in the High Court and subordinate courts for four months last year. The High Court also held that both had forfeited their right to be designated as senior advocates. They appealed to the apex court which let off Khan with a rap but did not spare Anand.


The nation was shocked when NDTV showed Sunil Kulkarni, a key witness in the case, asking Anand for Rs 2.5 crore for refusing to identify Sanjeev Nanda, who was charged with mowing down six people with his BMW car in 1999 in New Delhi. (Recently, the High Court reduced Sanjeev’s jail term from five to two years and ordered perjury proceedings against Sunil). The judgement is a wake-up call for all advocates to behave and the Bar Councils to enforce discipline among their members.


Equally significant is the apex court’s observation that the court’s permission was not required to carry out sting operationss as it would amount to curtailing the freedom of the Press. It augurs well for the world’s largest democracy that the apex court has refused to treat NDTV’s sting operation as a “trial by the media”. On the contrary, it rendered “valuable service” in protecting and salvaging the purity of the course of justice, it said. It has also refused to lay down any norms to regulate the media. To raise the professional standards, such norms should come from within, it said.








A report in this newspaper that no Punjab minister attended office at the Secretariat on Tuesday, may not have come as a major surprise to readers, accustomed as they are to ministers and civil servants playing truant.


Neither ministers nor senior officers in the state seem to connect punctuality and discipline with good governance. But respect for other people’s time and discipline are essential components of governance. Indians are known for a cavalier approach to discipline, but there ought to be keen awareness that in a competitive economy, this can be a major handicap.


In Asia, several countries like China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore have made dramatic advances by instilling discipline among their people and public servants. Ministers and bureaucrats in India, who are always ready to conduct surprise inspections and deliver lectures to others, must, therefore, set an example. The UPA government in New Delhi and some of the state governments have already set the ball rolling.


The Union Ministry of Home Affairs in North Block, where Mr. P. Chidambaram is said to be a stickler for punctuality, is known to have issued a circular, asking employees to be in their seats by 9 am and not to leave before 5.30 pm. The Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr. Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, has told ministers to be punctual or leave the council of ministers.


Ministers and bureaucrats need to be reminded how during Emergency rule in the mid-seventies, punctuality, attendance and service in government offices had improved out of fear. The average delay in the running of Bullet trains in Japan is said to be six seconds. Arriving late in office is reason enough to lose one’s job in Singapore. China is known to have enforced draconian laws to ensure discipline and Malyasia conducts a regular audit to see how fast government offices serve the people. It’s time Punjab sets a benchmark in India.












In my view, competition, commercialisation, neglect of primary education and substandard educational institutes are causes that need immediate attention. Radical changes in the system are not warranted.


Classroom education was given to us by the Britishers. Their objective was to produce desk personnel to run the administration and have a communicable military force. These simple aims needed general curriculum and minimum infrastructure. As time passed, the country needed scientists, engineers, doctors, bureaucrats and citizens of good quality, but the means remained stagnant and hence the weeds.


Besides general education, as practised by earlier schools, schools now need infrastructure for sports, scientific laboratories, hobbies and cultural workshops. Instead, poor quality government schools mushroomed all over the country. As the going was good, entrepreneurs selected lucrative places in cities and built good-looking schools. Education, however, remained black board based and produced desk operators in all disciplines. There is a good example to substantiate this point. In the eighties, incidentally, demand came up for desk operators to man computers, a new-found instrument and we had the answer.


Entrepreneurs, publishers and educationists connived to extract maximum with minimum efforts. The easiest way was to make things difficult. With the result, the school bag started bulgling and with it increased the shoulder load and mind stress of the child and financial strain of the parents. The so-called education started receding to the creamy layer. Schools in the slums and rural areas got deserted and private school classrooms bulged at the seams. Education rapidly moved to cities and then to colonies and ultimately to the drawingrooms of teachers.


The student today has to face a tough competition because of the spurt in the population. Education being the only criterion for a job and varied standards of professional colleges exist in the market, the child is forced to slog even at the peril of his health to go all out for marks or grades. This has further increased the size of the bag and financial strain. Rush in evening classes run by entrepreneurs is mind-boggling.


It is all the same whether you evaluate by grades or marks, stress is bound to persist till the things are streamlined by reforms with regards to quality and it unfortunately depends upon the means we make use of. With regards to doing away with the matriculation examination, it may be remembered that the quality of a product is directly proportional to the number of stage inspections. It is an engineering rule.


The most important link of education is the primary school. Pay special attention to primary education. The school should be housed in a beautiful building having attractive infrastructure and clinical cleanliness. The earlier it is done, the better it would be. Poor quality, unemployment among the educated and the cost of sending children to school are factors setting in aversion for education among the poor. The situation is scary.


Lastly, do not disturb the system. Ours is one of the best in the world. What we need is to keep the objectives in mind and develop the study pattern accordingly. Standardise institutions with the ISI standards so that students do not get into unnecessary competition. Teach only that is needed and attend to the neglected aspects of education. Education should not be the sole criterion for jobs.








Nearly 50 per cent of the children joining primary schools in India drop out by the age of ten. Out of 100 girls admitted in nursery, only 50 go past class V, 18 go past class 8 and only one goes past matriculation. One-fourth of the world’s school dropouts are in India.


The students passing out of elite colleges of engineering, medicine and business administration comprise hardly one per cent of the total graduates.


By 2015, 55 per cent of the Indian population will be below 20 years of age. If the present trend of education does not change, only 10 per cent (i.e. 5 crore) will join higher education. In other words, we would have 45 crore dropouts.


HRD Minister Sibal has floated many ideas and the debate will certainly have a positive impact on the final guidelines to be formulated for the betterment of education in India.


The HRD Minister’s idea of making the education system run by an autonomous body independent of political interference is praise-worthy. The minister wants to take the bull by the horns, well realising that a majority of the private professional institutes of higher learning, especially medical and engineering colleges, are run directly or indirectly, by politicians with the main aim of making money.


The minister has realised that public money is insufficient for setting up hundreds of institutes of higher learning and wishes to promote private sector investment in education. Inviting private investors will generate a healthy competition amongst the teaching institutes, which will lead to the production of skilled manpower.


To produce quality graduates, we need good faculty, which is hard to come by. This will prove to be a major hurdle in the case of new world class universities and IITs that are proposed to be set up by the government.


Unless the government takes a serious note of this problem, it will be very hard to produce good teaching faculty. The issues of better infrastructure for higher learning, retirement age and salary have to be addressed. Another aspect which the government should ponder is productivity and promotional avenues of teaching faculty.


In places of higher learning in India, a major criterion for promotion is the number of years put in by a teacher. There are not enough incentives for productive teachers who are bringing laurels to the university.


Unless appreciable incentives are given to productive teachers, we would not be able to produce world-class universities. We must distinguish between the average and excellent teachers.








To ‘de-stress’ both the school-going children and their parents, the proposal is either to scrap the high school board examination or change the existing system of awarding actual marks to a limited grade system(A,B,C,D & E).


It is obvious that even the grading system cannot sustain itself without numeric marks that would roughly be divided as Grade A — 81 and above; Grade B — between 80 & 66; Grade C — between 65 & 51; Grade D — between 50 & 35; and Grade E — 35 and below.


For, a mere fall of a couple of marks would not only downgrade one’s performance to a lower grade but also equate him or her to the one who is at the lowest rung of that very grade.


Now when many educational institutions have agreed upon showing answerbooks to examinees, and with the RTI (Right to Information) Act at one’s disposal, no board or school would be able to keep the marks secret.


In short, the proposed limited grading system at a level when one would be competing to join scarcely available higher educational institutions of one’s liking, is simply an impractical idea.


Before thinking of bringing any changes, one must understand that the stress upon school children is not the outcome of a seemingly faulty examination system.


It is there because of the insufficient infrastructure that prohibits all those who want to join higher studies/courses of their choice and convenience.


Until sufficient infrastructure is raised at the higher/professional education level, and interference by politicians and bureaucrats is stopped nothing is going to change.








A flurry of recommendations aimed at reforming the secondary and higher education structure in the country have virtually swept many of us off our feet.


Experts seem more concerned with the institutional and administrative overhaul of the system through catalysing competition, examination reforms and introducing regulatory mechanisms in the education set-up.


But the core question of addressing the quality of teaching in Indian universities seems to have once again been underplayed, which nevertheless is quintessential in making the educational edifice sustainable.


Various committees and commissions in the past such as the Radhakrishnan Commission of 1949 and the Education Commission of 1966 had pointedly emphasised the overbearing need for betterment of teaching standards in Indian universities. Though the concept of quality of teaching is hazy and amorphous, yet broadly it may be considered to have two dimensions- one, the content of teaching, and the other, teaching methods and practices.


The content of teaching will in turn depend upon the content of the curricula; available expertise to skillfully impart instructions, and the teachers’ own reading and grasp of the subject.


The content of the syllabi has to be the state-of-the-art. For that the syllabi should be dynamically pegged to the ever-changing contours of research in a particular subject. Thus as research unfolds newer dimensions, these should be spontaneously incorporated in the course syllabi.


Exploring new dimensions of a subject would not only enthuse teachers of having learnt something new, but would also excite the students of having learnt the latest in their subject and also make them more competitive in the job arena. Boards of studies of the universities and the UGC will have to work with alacrity in operationalising this curriculum modernising exercise. The other dimension of the quality of teaching, and more significant one, is the teaching methods and practices adopted by teachers. The teacher can be eloquent and effective in communicating with students if he uses an impeccable expression; is articulate and has clarity of his subject.


The teacher should kindle interest and curiosity of his pupils in the subject, which is possible by making teaching more interactive through discussion and interluding questions.


With the advent of modern technology in education, viz. Internet, computers, LCD and overhead projectors, and satellite driven education, teaching and learning have become interesting, efficient and easily comprehensible.


The diffusion of new technology in education has evolved in tandem with the rapid proliferation of knowledge and communication, and so teaching and learning through Internet and video conferencing has a large outreach to even the most obscure and remote areas of the nation. It has made teaching more effective- both qualitatively and quantitatively.








It is July 26, 2009 — another hot, humid, rainless day in the tricity. I am back home after a round of golf, followed by attendance with my better-half at a moving, well-conducted public function at the imposing Major Sandeep Sankhla memorial at Panchkula, by the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement, to pay homage to the Kargil dead and injured.


Restless, my thoughts wander... unaffected by the stifling heat, to the chill winds, the icy fastnesses of the brooding, gaunt mountains that overlook Dras, Kargil and Batalik.


Ten years ago, 527 soldiers died in those unforgiving mountains; another 1,334 were wounded; some reduced to mortifying stumps; caricatures of once erect, alert, combative, dignified soldiers — all because they swore deathless allegiance to the idea of India; of upholding the sovereignty of their country at the cost of death or permanent maiming.


They swore allegiance with passion, at times with prescience and quiet acceptance of grim reality, of either planting the tricolour on their objective; or returning with their bodies wrapped in it.


The TV channels have been going ballistic covering the 10th anniversary of the famous victory. The newspapers speak of the need to learn lessons from the mistakes of 1999.


This is intelligent, thoughtful stuff. What rankles the rank and file, numbs the nation are the comments of a member of Parliament, who opines that that “Kargil isn’t a thing to be celebrated. The war was fought within our territory. We didn’t even come to know when the Pakistani army crossed over and built bunkers inside our territory...”


My thoughts are overtaken by the darkness that surrounds me. I light a candle and hold vigil over its flickering flame, as ex-servicemen and citizens are doing all over India, in honour of those who died in those trying days when Kargil happened. Yet again, my mind returns to memories of the past...


It was past the witching hour. My time was up. Though still in uniform, I had just retired after 38 years in uniform; had ‘hung up my spurs’ with a heavy heart. With the majestic Dhauladhars as a backdrop, I stood outside the just refurbished War Memorial in Yol Cantonment, near Dharamsala, addressing an audience of serving and retired soldiers, their ladies and a few, distinguished gentry.


Amongst them were the parents of the late Capt Vikram Batra, PVC, the brother of late Major Somnath Sharma, India’s first PVC and himself the ex Army Chief, Gen VN Sharma, along with his wife.


Days earlier, I had visited the Batra’s at Palampur, to pay homage to Vikram, seek permission to borrow for display a few of his artifacts at the Yol museum and request his dignified yet grieving parents to join us for the ceremony.


The Batra home, set beyond a tea garden in the low hills surrounding Palampur, is a far cry from the mountains that claimed him. Yet, his parental home exudes his passion, his fervour, his commitment to the pledge he took on becoming a soldier; the country first, always and every time.


I showed a nine-minute TV clip on Vikram, on that hugely moving last day, at Yol. It was the Barkha Dutt recording of his now iconic ‘Yeh Dil Mange More’ and ‘fly the tricolour or come back wrapped in it’ sound bytes. Barkha stated very recently that she had intuitively sensed he would not return.


So had his father, Mr GL Batra, as he watched that last, touching interview. They were both right. She had unknowingly essayed her first obituary. Mr Batra had lost a son, and Vishal, who resembles him so heart breakingly, his extraordinarily brave twin brother.


Recalling Vikram’s sacrifice, Vishal broke down inconsolably, during the TV interview with Barkha, conducted under the shadows of Point 4875 where he died. We, the nation, broke down too. I wonder, though, how our honorable MP must have reacted.


He needs to be reminded that the colour of a martyr’s blood across the continuum of time, era, history, country, location, is always red. Blood red. It is never daubed in the colours of political parties. May God, Allah Talah, forgive this MP his trespasses as the ESM fraternity and perhaps the nation at large are certainly going to have a problem doing that.










It is in the fitness of things that the recently held inter-active meet titled “In Search of Peace in NC Hills: A Dialogue on Ethnic Reconciliation and Peace” considered poor governance to be one of the root causes for the strife besetting that region. The unanimous view expressed in such a meet assumes great significance by the fact that it was attended by representatives of organisations of the major ethnic communities inhabiting the North Cachar Hills, including Dimasa, Zeme Naga, Hmar and Kuki. There are a number of facets to poor governance, the inability to grasp existing situations in a historical context, self aggrandizement at the expense of public welfare, violence against the people indulged in by those entrusted with maintaining law and order being just a few of these. Historically, ethnic groups in this region have been always at loggerheads. The ethnological status quo in this region that prevails today had been achieved through a process of conflict and assimilation continuing through centuries, but residual animosity and mutual suspicion yet remain. Thus the key to good governance in the NC Hills would have been a political structuring designed to accommodate the aspirations of different ethnic groups and prevent any one dominating over the others. Due to the absence of such a mechanism insurgent groups have been able to exploit sub-nationalistic allegiances in order to create strife among the communities.

As pointed out at the meet, ordinary people were not involved in the violence which had gripped NC Hills, the killings and burnings being perpetrated by insurgent groups like the DHD (J) and factions of the NSCN. Thus, due to poor governance, a handful of people have been able to hold the entire area to ransom. Poor governance, both at the regional and State level, has also ensured that the region remains neglected and economically backward, fertile ground upon which subversive elements can sow the seeds of antipathy. The unholy nexus that exists between politicians and insurgent outfits, so blatantly exposed through recent investigations, has been responsible for the fact that the money allotted to entities such as the NC Hills Autonomous Council is not properly utilised, resulting in continued backwardness and militancy. Adding to this are the cases of human rights violation by those responsible for restoring law and order, thereby aiding in perpetuating the sense of alienation, particularly among the young. Thus what the region so desperately requires now is good governance. Measures to improve the functioning of the autonomous councils and bring about financial discipline and greater accountability are urgently required. A positive role of the enlightened segments of civil society, both individual and institutional, in each community would also be of paramount importance, for it is they alone who can bring about reconciliation and dilute latent animosities.







Thanks to strong economic fundamentals and huge bail out packages both monetary and fiscal, accompanied by sufficiently well capitalised banking sector to help credit growth, the emerging economies of the world including India, China, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Russia and a few South-east Asian nations now appear to be slowly returning to economic recovery mainly through their growing domestic demand even as the down turn of developed economies which, in fact, triggered the global financial crisis almost a year back, might be expected to last for a longer period. According to International Monetary Fund, the economic growth projections in emerging Asia have been revised upward to 5.5 per cent in 2009 and 7.0 per cent in 2010 due to improved prospects in China and India. While India’s Finance Minister expects high pecentage of growth in 2009-10 because of the huge scale of budgetary expenditure to enhance people’s spending capacity and most of the industries including infrastructure sector have been showing better performance for the last few months, the GDP growth of China in the second quarter of the current year improved to 7.9 per cent compared to 6.1 per cent in the first quarter. It is important, however, to note that though stimulus packages of the United States may yet to revive the American economy, it has gradually helped the Asian nations to align their recovery track.


Thus, in the first half of the year 2009, gros domestic product of China rose by 7.1 per cent on year-to-year basis, which was one percentage point faster than in the first quarter. The growth was boosted by the massive stimulus plan worth $600 billion.

The optimism over revival of Asian economy is further strengthened by better performance of industrial sectors in the export oriented economies of Japan and Singapore. With respect to Japan, its central banking system assures that its economy has stabilised and recovery is anticipated to begin in the latter half of the fiscal 2009-10. On the other hand, the private sector banking industry of India thinks that the economy would grow at a minimum rate of 8 per cent in 2009-10 and that the domestic consumption and investment would continue to drive Indian economy in the days ahead. However, in spite of all these optimism and symptoms of economic recovery, distinctly visible among Asian countries, there remain at least three important aspects of concern, viz., mixed signals of employment outlook, doubtful prospects of agriculture due to drought conditions and an element of uncertainty in future development of global financial scenario. Though employment in manufacturing sectors, banking, retail, energy, infrastructure and pharmaceuticals have witnessed an upswing in hiring activity, the export oriented sectors, IT, construction, aviation, real estate, etc. have witnessed loss of employment. Low expectation of agriculture will of course, affect the overall GDP growth since its contribution to national income is 20 per cent now. The extent of recovery in Asian nations will also depend on how soon and to what extent the developed countries get rid of recessionary down turn.








The North East of India has remained one of the most backward regions of the country as a consequence of geo-political and historical events. The trauma of 1947 not only took the region backward by at least half a century, but also put hindrances on her future economic growth. It isolated the region, sealed both the land and the sea routes for trade and commerce and severed access to traditional markets and gate-way to the east and southeast Asia. It distanced the region’s proximity to the rest of India by confining connectivity to a 22 km wide narrow Siliguri corridor making it a remote land and constraining access for people as well as goods. The uneasy relationship with most of the neighbouring countries has frustrated the cause of development of the region. With 98 per cent of the boundary becoming international and China’s continued and aggressive demand on the vast land of Arunachal Pradesh private investors have been shying away from the region. The fear of losing ethnic and cultural identities, recurrence of floods and erosion, illegal immigration, backwardness, seclusion and unemployment sowed the seeds of frustration and provided fertile grounds for breeding hostilities and terrorism in the region.

With the passing and implementation of the North Eastern Areas (Re-organisation) Act, 1971, the region emerged as “Seven Sisters” comprising Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. While strategy to reconcile national unity with the maintenance of socio-economic identities induced by the historical realities led to the re-organisation of the north eastern areas administratively, the constraints specific to the region, as a whole such as physical, demographic, economic and socio-political made it imperative to constitute a regional “Planning Body” to integrate them and to accelerate development of the area maintaining at the same time the balanced inter unit growth. This led to the inauguration of the North Eastern Council (NEC) in November,1972.

The objective of the North Eastern Council (NEC), as envisaged by the North Eastern Council Act of 1971 is to ensure that the existence of the political units in the North East of India does not affect its economic development that their rapid economic integration is facilitated and that the problems of the region are dealt with as an integrated whole. The dealings of the council, as envisaged in the Act are chiefly with the Planning Commission, the Ministry of Finance and to a lesser extent with the Ministry of Defence and the approach of the council to the Government of India was through the North Eastern Cell of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Accordingly, the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi issued a directive on August 16, 1973 to the Ministers of Finance, Defence, Planning and Home Affairs with a copy to the Cabinet Secretary, by which the Government of India committed that the funds allotted to the Council would be over and above the allocation for the State Plans as well as those would be available to the constituent States under other centrally sponsored schemes. Clause-2 of the directives mentioned that though the Council was under the law an Advisory Body to advise the Central Government as well as its Constituent Political Units, a convention to be developed by which all proposals made by the council were generally accepted by the Government of India in the appropriate Ministry unless – a) they go counter to the policies of the Government of India, b) involve expenditure beyond the financial allocations made to the Council, and in case of a difficulty regarding any proposal, the matter to be discussed with the Chairman of the council before taking a final decision.

With an intent to accelerate the pace of growth of the region further, the Government of India also constituted a Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR fund) in the year 1998 with unspent balance of stipulated 10 per cent of the budgetary allocation of the Central Ministries and created a Corpus fund to meet the infrastructure gaps of the region and also created a separate Department for development of the North Eastern Region (DONER) which was subsequently raised to a full fledged Ministry. The Government of India also amended the North Eastern Council Act of 1971 by enacting North Eastern Council (amendment) Act 2002 through which some specific measures, such as inclusion of Sikkim in the Council, nomination of three whole-time member in the composition of the Council besides adopting the Governors and the Chief Ministers of the constituent states, in the Council to ensure balanced development of the entire region. In addition, it has also amended certain other provisions to facilitate the Council to function as a Regional Planning Body for the north eastern area and that while formulating the regional plans for the north eastern area, the Council to give priority to schemes and projects which would benefit two or more States provided that in case of Sikkim, the Council shall formulate specific projects and schemes

During the 5th to 10th Plan period NEC has contributed in an impressive way towards development of infrastructure like construction of Kaliabhomora bridge over Brahmaputra near Tezpur, co-funding of the construction of the rail-cum-road bridge at Jogighopa (since completed) and Bogibeel bridge (under implementation) with the N F Railway on 50:50 basis and construction of new inter-state road and bridge projects, power projects like Kopili HEP, Ranganadi HEP, Doyang HEP, Baramura Gas Thermal Project, Rokhia Gas based power Project etc. through NEEPCO and Power Transmission Projects through PGCI. The implementation of mini cement plants as pilot projects for utilisation of local resources in different States of NER through NEITCO set in motion the much needed pace of integrated development of the region. NEC has also left a valuable imprint on conducting entrepreneurship development pogrammes for creation of self-employment opportunities for local youths through NEITCO, NISIET, NECON, IIE, etc. and has also done some remarkable jobs under agriculture and allied sector.

The bewildering varieties of racial and linguistic origin of the region’s population, the complexities of their socio-cultural ethos, difficult terrain, peculiar geographical location have made communication of ideas and innovation in the North East an extremely difficult task. All these have conferred on NEC an added obligation to create a new brand of professionals with regional out look to develop a closer understanding of the people of the region and consolidate their links with the mainstream of the national life and work with a holistic model of public service delivery and bringing co-ordinated development of the region through implementation of regional as well as pilot-projects.

Resultantly, in a situation where employment opportunities in the government sector have almost reached a point of near stagnation and lakhs of youths are entering into the region’s job market every year, little efforts are made to improve the skills of the local youths and creation of self-employment opportunities to enable them to earn their livelihood. The importance of linkages between skill development, employment creation, poverty elimination and economic growth, seems to have lost its relevance in NEC. In view of the fast changing economic scenario over the years there arises an urgent need to have a further re-look at the functioning of NEC for the greater interest of the region since no government institution can function without social responsibility. About 58 per cent of the total allocation of Rs 7394 crore approved for NEC in the 11th Plan is earmarked for development of transport and communication facilities in the region. It has, therefore, become imperative for the NEC to keep strict vigils on implementation of these projects through concurrent evaluation and monitoring of their execution to avoid miss-utilisation of funds. The eventual results of such acts are observed in NC Hills district and other parts of the region where the backlash of the disturbed situation on the economic progress has become disastrous. The works of strategic national infrastructure projects suffer setback with engineers, contractors and workers leaving the project sites for fear of life, the tourists keep away, outside investors do not come forward to risk their life and capital. When sporadic incidence of racial discrimination of the people of the region confronted by many in the mainstream national life would die out slowly along with improving level of growth and prosperity of the North East, unfortunately, the development funds earmarked for the North East are not allowed to percolate down to the targeted groups and not properly utilised hampering regional development.








It is now widely accepted around the world that the deliberate humiliation of children, either through corporal punishment or otherwise, is antithetical to learning as well as the well-being of children. The heart-rending death of eleven-year-old Delhi schoolgirl Shanno Khan on April 17, 2009, following brutal punishment by her teacher in a Municipal Corporation of Delhi-run school of Bawana in Outer Delhi for failing to recite the full English alphabet string is a stark reminder of the torture that sometimes goes on in the name of pedagogy in several Indian schools. Shanno Khan, according to her older sister, was made to stand in a ‘murga’ position (a common from of punishment where the victim is forced to hold his/her ears with hands passed under the legs) for over two hours in the hot sun and even placed seven bricks on her back. When Shanno asked for water, Manju, her teacher, kicked Shanno and her head hit a wall and she began to bleed from the nose. Shanno lost consciousness on returning home, and died two days later in hospital after slipping into a coma. This may seem an extreme case of punishment gone hurriedly wrong but it does highlight a fairly widespread practice in Indian schools.

Significantly, this was not the first time that an incident of this kind had taken place. In 1996, Sankar Saha (10), a class IV child, studying in a lower primary school in Kalaigaon area in Udalguri district of Assam, was criminally assaulted by his teacher because he failed to do his home-work. Sankar went unconscious after the assault and was rushed to the nearest primary health centre (PHC) for treatment. But the unfortunate boy expired before any medical help could be given.


In 2000, the Supreme Court of India banned corporal punishment for children and directed the State to ensure that they received education in an environment of freedom and dignity, free from fear. In the same year, the Delhi High Court struck down the provision for corporal punishment in the Delhi School Education Rules, noting that such punishment went against a child’s dignity and was not in tune with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which India was a signatory. The National Policy on Education (NPE) states that corporal punishment would be firmly excluded from the educational systems.

Following incidents of suicide by students terrorised by teachers, States such as Goa and Tamil Nadu outlawed corporal punishment. The rule providing for such punishment in Tamil Nadu was replaced by a section that recommended that children should be given an opportunity to learn from their errors though corrective measures such as imposition and suspension from class. However, enforcement is weak and instances of corporal punishment continue to be reported from across India. In fact, may schools practise a variety of methods of physical and emotional punishment. Occasionally when teachers find mild forms of punishment in effective, they resort to third degree methods of the kind that caused Shanno’s death. It is time authorities as well as parents and the public mobilized to make it absolutely clear that corporal punishment or any form of deliberate infliction of pain and humiliation on school children, supposedly for their own good, would not be tolerated any longer.

In 2007, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) Chairperson Professor Shanta Sinha wrote to the Chief Secretaries of the States stressing the need for abolishing the practice of corporal punishment in schools. Nevertheless, it is being noticed that corporal punishment in Indian schools, both in government as well as private, is deeply ingrained as a tool to discipline children and as a normal action. “All forms of corporal punishment are a fundamental breach of human rights. A slap is as detrimental to the child’s right as grievous injury. It is also legally impermissible.”- Professor Sinha said in her letter to the Chief Secretaries.

Meanwhile, the NCPCR has resolved to write to Collectors across the country, instructing them to hold meetings with all school heads and convey that no form of corporal punishment will be tolerated. These meetings will have to be held ahead of the new academic year. “Unless we learn to respect children and treat them as equals, the issue cannot be resolved. It is only because some teachers do not respect children and they call them ‘stupid’ or ‘idiot’, NCPCR Chairperson Professor S Sinha told media persons in Chennai on April 21, 2009. There were, however, a few instances of teachers taking proactive steps to address the issue in States such as Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Idukki district in Kerala was declared corporal punishment-free. Of late the Government of Assam has also decided to abolish corporal punishment in the schools of the State from the next year.

Dr Ranjana Kumari, Director of Centre for Social Research has stressed the need to treat corporal punishment as a criminal offence with severe punishment for the teacher as well as the school. Referring to 11 -year old Shanno Khan’s death at Bawana in Outer Delhi on April 17, 2009, Dr Kumari told media persons in New Delhi on April, 20, 2009, that Shanno’s death was a wake-up call for policy makers to introduce a strong legislation that protects children from all sorts of corporal punishment.

(The writer is former principal, Mangaldai College)











A wider set of corporate results have confirmed the trend established by the early announcements. Most companies have done better than expected and markets have responded with enthusiasm to the way firms have countered the financial crisis and slowdown.

However, the 4% topline growth, well below the 10.5% nominal GDP growth expected in 2009-10, reported by the 850 results (excluding banks and oil companies) analysed by ETIG is a stark reminder that demand still continues to be sluggish.

Besides, the 13% bottom line growth is overstated to some extent by one-time transactions reported by a number of companies, including some big ones such as Tata Motors and Ranbaxy. What is it about the results that excites the markets? Companies have responded by cutting costs, restructuring, taking a close look at their expansion plans and selling their non-core businesses.

Such purging after a period of excesses improves balance sheets and, in general, magnifies performance when business improves. The experience with the post 1997 slump bears this out. Faced with overcapacity, unproductive investments then, Indian companies restructured aggressively. An encore is very likely, making the case for equities very strong. This time around, the upcycle may come much quicker than it did after the slump in the late nineties.

This optimism, however, stands tempered by the lack of clarity on how long the slowdown will last. Eurozone is for sure going to take long to recover, and evidence in the US is mixed with better outlook for housing negated by the sluggish consumption data.

Asia looks good with China, India and Indonesia expected to do well. But recovery could be marred if central banks are forced to tighten policy if excess liquidity fuels asset prices and inflation becomes a concern. The RBI has already warned of a higher 5% inflation by the fiscal end, and asset bubble concerns caused a big hiccup in the Chinese stock market recently. Lastly, increase in commodity prices, as recovery takes hold, would knock-off some of the margin gains made by corporates. But as of now, things look better than anytime since the crisis began







Now that the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has been functional with a full time chairman and several members for about five months, there is little sense to keep the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) alive.

The Centre must repeal the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969 (MRTP Act) at the earliest. What we now have is a dual mechanism to deal with competition issues and trade practices. This defeats the very purpose of enacting a modern competition law and putting in place a new mechanism to deal with anti-competitive and restrictive trade practices.

Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests as much. The MRTPC continues to receive new cases, as much as 30 every month, adding to the backlog of some 2,000 cases. The relative ease to file a complaint before the MRTPC, in addition to the greater familiarity with that mechanism, is said to be the reason why complaints of monopolistic and restrictive trade practices continue to be filed before the MRTPC. Conversely, a fee of Rs 50,000 charged by the CCI to accept complaints of trade practices prejudicial to free play in the market helps keep out frivolous cases.

The government’s lethargic movement on repealing the MRTP Act perhaps has more to do with protecting the interest of those holding office at the MRTPC and others working there. The Competition Act (Section 66) provides for repeal of the MRTP Act and transfer of all undecided cases, other than those pertaining to unfair trade practices, to the CCI.

Cases pertaining to unfair trade practices are to be transferred to the National Commission constituted under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. It also dealt with severance and settlement of employees of the MRTPC — some are to be repatriated back to their cadre or department. The chairman and members are entitled to three months pay and allowances for premature termination. It is important the Centre moves quickly so as not to undermine the effectiveness of the CCI. Further, the role of the CCI needs to be widely publicised so that aggrieved parties move it for adjudication in contentious cases.







The irony of the communist government of West Bengal declaring a holiday as a mark of respect for the passing away of India’s most iconic royal, would surely have tickled the late Rajmata Gayatri Devi. True, she happily spoke Bengali in her distinctive throaty tone even after spending 70 of her 90 years away from the rambling palace of Cooch Behar.

But if any constituency could claim her as its own, it would be the world of style. Indeed, her death on July 29, a day after the exquisite Irish-Indian actress Leela Naidu also took her final curtain call, can justifiably deemed to have rung the end of an era of beauty. India has never been short on good looks, glamour and talent, but today’s style icons could learn a valuable lesson or two from the lives of these divas on how to carry it off without either hubris or artifice.

Crucially, unlike in this current age of brand ambassadors and endorsed appearances, these ladies in their heyday dictated style rather than followed it. They not only personalised their appeal — no cosmetics or fashion label could contractually lay claim to having either aided or capitalised on their god-given good looks — they refused to be typecast either nationally or internationally.

At once Indian and yet cosmopolitan, they did not abandon their identity in search of wider acceptance. And both of them graciously and elegantly found niches they would be comfortable in, even when the bigger arclights inevitably moved away from them in search of newer excitements.

At another level, even when history dealt them a bad hand — sudden widowhood for one and two broken marriages for the other — it is significant that it did not drive them to angst-ridden public demonstrations of celebrity victimhood. Then, as now, there would have been plenty of takers for any juicy tales of woe, but their recollections of times past were not of that genre at all. Sadly, even as their deaths are mourned by the stylistas and fashionistas of today, Gayatri Devi and Leela Naidu’s brand of dignified beauty has become the exception rather than the norm.








Recent railway budgets had assured the nation that feasibility studies would be initiated regarding the induction of high speed trains along selected 300-350 km/h passenger corridors. The new railway minister, however, has not included even a reference to the high speed rail (HSR) project in the rail budget. The fact is, projects as important as this need to command continuity and commitment, given its cost-intensive and time-demanding nature.

Forty years ago, Howrah-New Delhi Rajdhani Express signified IR’s tryst with the high speed era, five years after Japan ushered in the revolution of high speed rail (HSR) in 1964, on the purpose-built 550 km Tokyo-Osaka route. Time on IR has run still, but world witnesses an HSR flurry. Japan’s Shinkansen was followed by French TGV (Train à Grand Vitesse) in 1981, Germany’s Inter-City Express in 1991 and Spain’s AVE (Automotice a Grande Vitesse) in 1992, among others.

Today, India has 19 pairs of Rajdhanis and 14 pairs of Shatabdis. While the Shatabdi on the 200 km New Delhi-Agra route is cleared for a maximum speed of 150 km/h, the upper limit of Rajdhanis and Shatabdis has remained limited to 130 km/h. The fastest among them, the New Delhi-Mumbai Rajdhani, covers 1,388 km in 16 h 35 min, averaging about 84 km/h.

Worldwide concerns over depleting fossil fuel reserves, climate change, overcrowded airports, delayed flights and congested roads have conspired with the HSR technology alternative: a full high speed electric train emits between a tenth and a quarter of the carbon dioxide of an aeroplane. HSR entails much less land usage than motorways: a double track rail line has more than thrice the passenger carrying capacity of a six-lane highway while requiring less than half the land. Designed to be faster than a car, cheaper and more convenient than a plane, HSR has been a catalyst for economic growth, a stimulus for the development of satellite towns, alleviating migration to metropolises. For distances of 500-700 km, airlines cannot match HSR; below 200 km, road transport has an edge; beyond 1,000 km, air option may be better.

Rajdhanis and Shatabdis initially reckoned by sceptics and cynics as elitist and unviable are in no way pro-rich, nor unremunerative. For TGV in France, a general query was: why do we need a train for the rich? Today, TGV is hailed as the real “low cost” carrier and profitable too. The first Paris-Lyon line, opened in 1981, delivers a return of 15% and the Paris-Atlantic seaboard route, opened in 1990, 12%. Some 800 TGV services operating daily in France carried over 200 million passengers and earned a profit of e 685 million in 2006. Income from the Shinkansen in 2005 totalled US $19.2 billion, 47% of JNR group’s rail business income. A really important plus is HSR’s unblemished safety record: Shinkansen has had no fatality; so also the TGV sans any accident in 25 years and more of its operation.

With a colossal level of investment, estimated at e150 billion in the next 15 years, Europe is in the grip of a veritable HSR revolution. In July 2007, HSRs in France, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands joined with existing international services such as the cross-channel Eurostar and the Paris-Brussels Thalys to form Railteam, a new marketing alliance. With about 1,300 km of high speed lines and the third generation ICEs now topping 360 km/h, German Railways are now in the vanguard of Europe’s rail revolution.

France’s HSR network has been spinning a web from Paris to the corners of the French hexagon since the mid-1970s. Between Paris and South-east France, HSR traffic doubled in the past 10 years and air traffic declined by half. SNCF is experimenting with coupling two sets to form a 20-vehicle Super Duplex TGV set, with more than 1,000 seats. A double-decker TGV makes two round trips daily between Paris and the south or west of France, carrying some 1,000 passengers on each leg. No country is building HSRs faster than Spain ever since it launched in 1992 the 471-km high speed Madrid-Seville corridor, adopting standard gauge instead of its normal broad gauge.

Outside Europe, South Korea launched in April 2004 the 412-km Seoul-Pusan high speed corridor, using TGV technology. Taiwan celebrated on 24 October 2007 the completion of the 339-km Taipei-Kaohsiung HSR, a US $16 billion BOT project. Resolutely poised in the queue are several others including Turkey, Hungary, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Russia. Most important of all, China is pressing ahead with 11 HSR lines, aggregating 7,000 route km by 2010, to be expanded to 16,000 km by 2020. The US too is now gearing up to high speed rail travel. America’s first and only HSR service — Acela Express — tilts into curves, reaching a top speed of 240 km/h. Sixtyfour corridors have been identified for high speed services to operate at 176 km/h (with diesel traction).

Of course, HSR is an expensive proposition, calling for an innovative financing mechanism. SNCF borrowed on the domestic and foreign financial markets. It received an equipment grant equal to 30% of the infrastructure cost for TGV Atlantique from the French government. Within 10 years, positive cash flows from the new services helped repay the capital and interest on the debt. For the US $995 million Shinkansen project (in 2007 $ value), World Bank extended a $80 million aid in 1961 (equal to $570 million in 2007). For the US $25-billion Beijing-Shanghai HSR corridor, an SPV — the Beijing-Shanghai High Speed Railway Corp — will have an equity capital of 50%. The SPV will raise the other half of capital in commercial debt through bonds and loans.

A recent McKinsey report suggests that by 2025, India will be the world’s fifth largest economy after the United States, Japan, China and the UK. By then, the number of households earning Rs 200,000 to Rs 1 million a year will have risen to 583 million from the current 50 million, thus stimulating consumer economy and changes in lifestyle. IR need to look ahead, plan for a new future HSR revolution symbolising technological and organisational redesign of a mature mobility mix. HSR clearly has the potential to unlock an immense hidden value.








The Congress party has come to occupy the leading position within the UPA coalition government at the Centre. Unlike the 14th Lok Sabha where the Congress had only 156 seats of its own, it has emerged as the centre of power in the 15th Lok Sabha with 206 seats of its own in the House of 543. It deserves to be underlined that the pro-aam-aadmi agenda of the Congress is not based on any rhetoric. As Sonia Gandhi stated at the meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party, the voters of India have renewed their confidence in the party because of its socially inclusive and pro-poor developmental philosophy of governance.

A political party in a democracy does not survive on the basis of its old achievements or moments of electoral glory. It has to perform for its survival and future electoral victories and the Congress party is not an exception to this general rule. The commitment of the Congress party led by Sonia Gandhis to India’s future was clearly and unambiguously reflected in the annual budget of 2009-10 presented by finance minister Pranab Mukerjee. A few salient features of the annual budget indicate the direction towards which the country may be moving under the new UPA-II government.

It is for the first time in the history of post-independence India that an annual expenditure of more than Rs 10 trillion has been proposed in the budget. Second, rural India, i.e., Bharat, is the focus of investments and the special focus is on the farmers and the poor. While farmers have been given an ‘interest subsidy’, the NREGS, the flagship programme of the Congress party, has received an amount of Rs 39,000 crore, an increase of 144% from the budget of Rs 16,000 crore of 2008-09. Third, the focus is on Bharat Nirman, the rural housing fund, road connectivity, et al. The budget which is a political policy statement of the government is clearly focused on expanding the rural domestic market by creating purchasing power among the rural people.

India had begun its journey of planned economic development on the basis of an assumption that the benefits of economic growth will have a ‘trickle-down-effect’ and pull the people out of poverty. The new vision of the Congress party seems to be that it is only the ‘bottom-up, socially inclusive approach’ which will bring the 300 million or so people out of their existence below the poverty line.

The UPA government in its first term had launched the bold programme of NREGS. In its second avatar, the UPA government is taking the next step in the direction of welfare of the real poor in the form of the National Food Security Act. The government, on the basis of a parliamentary legislation, has decided to guarantee the supply of 25 kg of rice and wheat at Rs 3 per kg to the ‘rural and urban poor’. Jean Dreze, the eminent liberal economist, has stated that “the proposed right to food Act can be a solid complement to the NREGS”.

While the right to employment to the rural poor is a prerequisite to create a sense of ‘self-esteem and a feeling of dignity’, the right to food is a must for survival.

Is it fair to maintain that the overall philosophical perspective of the Congress and the concrete budgetary allocations made by the finance minister provide enough evidence to characterise the Congress as as a left-of-centre party? The left-of-centre approach towards governance is not foreign to the Congress party’s thinking. It should not be forgotten that Jawaharlal Nehru’s real legacy is the left-of-centre Congress party. Indira Gandhi also wore the mask of leftism as a tactic to confront and confound her opponents within her party.

Strong voices have been raised against the rural poor-oriented policies and budgetary allocations. Such pressure groups exist within and outside the Congress. No doubt, Sonia Gandhi has to manage contradictory pressures or lobbies which are operating against its socially inclusive growth policy. It is worth noting here that the communist parties can play a constructive role in support of the new social and economic policies especially those that are pro-poor and pro-rural development.

How can the Left not support NREGS? The Food Guarantee Act has been a demand of the democratic and leftist parties. The communists have already suggested that instead of the government’s proposed scheme of 25 kg at R 3 kg to the poor, their own preference is for the Antyodaya scheme which gives 35 kg of foodgrains at Rs 2 per kg to those below the poverty Line. The Congress party and the communists can resolve this issue and make a grand success of the pro-poor food security Act.

This budget has taken the first bold step in focusing attention on rural economic growth. With pressure from socially progressive groups, the government can be pushed further to generate more ‘purchasing power’ in rural India. Though a centrist party like the Congress can always be pushed around by the Left or the Right depending on the role of various political forces which exist in the country, the Food Guarantee Act can become a pillar of the party’s left-of-centre politics.










No one has pressed the panic button yet, but the delayed and deficient monsoon this year has worried agriculture minister Sharad Pawar enough to say in Rajya Sabha recently that the sowing of rice has been 21 per cent below last year’s level — down to 11.46 million hectares from 14.52 million. The full impact of this will be revealed in due course, but it is futile to suppress the hypothesis, as some elements in the government have sought to do, that the impact on food prices could indeed be significant. The argument that the government has sufficient food stocks does not quite hold. Just over a year ago, food prices had become a matter of panic although we had reasonable stocks even then and the foreign exchange reserves, with which food could be imported if needed, were near record levels. It is salutary to maintain perspective when speaking of the agriculture economy and its effect on the system as a whole. While the agriculture sector accounts for just over 17 per cent of India’s GDP, about 55 per cent of our population relies on farm incomes. How important this segment is can be appreciated from the Reserve Bank’s understanding that the 6.7 per cent rate of growth recorded in the last financial year despite the international recession became possible on account of the turnaround in agricultural output in the fourth quarter.

Whatever the progress recorded in recent decades, the Indian economy continues in some measure to be a gamble on the monsoon. Only 40 per cent of our farmland is irrigated. The kharif crop, which depends crucially on the southwest monsoon (June-September), accounts for 57 per cent of the total agriculture production in the country. The June rainfall has been 46 per cent below normal, the worst since 1926. July was a lot better, but the rainfall for June and July taken together has been the weakest since 2004, a whopping 19 per cent below the seasonal average. July is the most active from the rainfall point of view. Some recovery could just be possible in August, but that will be the last opportunity. The El Nino effect kicks in by September. In the event, there are more grounds for concern than for complacency. It is useful to keep in mind that while overall inflation is a mere 1.54 per cent, the food price inflation is a hefty 11.7 per cent. This has been a strong trend for many months now, badly affecting the availability of basic food to the poor. In a recent report, top environment activist Vandana Shiva has been moved to call India “the hunger capital of the world”, with 214 million people suffering from a lack of food security. This is a figure higher than sub-Saharan Africa.

The seriousness of the situation has prompted public sector banks to begin considering discounts to farmers who own more than five acres of land and are eligible to receive from the government a write-off of 25 per cent on overdue loans. One such bank has already declared a discount of 15 per cent over and above the government’s 25 per cent for this category. It is important that the government too began to prepare for a weaker agricultural economy this year and its impact on foodgrain availability. As the world is struggling to pull out of a recession, and India working hard to work for a growth rate of six per cent this year, the failure of the rural economy can have a devastating impact on consumption and aggregate demand.








 “Set alight my flaming heart

Burn these memories away,

Tread the paths of no return —

Dil Jalta hai tho jalney dey”


From Distant Donkey Music by Bachchoo


I went to a wedding in Scotland with a friend whose friend’s son was being married. The wedding took place in a castle hotel to which we drove through the magnificent wooded mountains and glens.


The ceremony was a “humanist” affair with a young lady officiating and going through an invented ritual with vows and rings and candles, but without mentioning God or invoking his blessing. The guests must all have been brought up as Christians, Catholic or Scottish Presbyterian, but they all joined in and sang along to the pop songs that substituted for church hymns.


At the “wedding breakfast” that followed, at five in the evening, the guests were seated in a large hall around tables with each of our names marking the seating allocations.


I got to my place carrying my flute of champagne and was sat next to a lady whom I had made the acquaintance of on my left and an empty seat on my right. The man on my right arrived late. Reading the nameplate set before his crockery and cutlery on a neat white card I saw he was called Greg ___.


He was the last to join the table and we shook hands and I opened the small talk by declaring that I was a relative stranger and had been brought by a friend to the ball.


“Oh”, he said, “I know all about you”.


I was a bit puzzled.


“You’re a writer and a friend of so-and-so and you wrote a critical article about XYZ who then called you…”


He was smiling and went into a substantial amount of chit-chat about me. I had never met or heard of the man in my life and my surprise must have been evident because he owned up.


“I googled you before I came down”, he said.


He must have looked at the seating plan of the dinner and for reasons best known to him, summoned up

these random facts. Once he’d confessed, it was obvious and just a little embarrassing.


If I had done the same for him, I would have known that he was a consultant doctor at a famous Scottish hospital. I proceeded to find this out through the normal channels of conversation and questioning. His googling propensity had eliminated the need for the preliminary enquiries on his part. I vaguely and weakly resented the fact that he knew anything about me and had bothered to read through references which, in the ups and downs of the worlds of writing and journalism, may have been quite unflattering.
On the positive side, this intrusive instrument of curiosity contributed to cutting out the small talk. We didn’t discuss the weather or the wedding but got straight to talking about some articles I had written about Islamism and one I had written perhaps 10 years ago in the Wall Street Journal which he seemed to have read very carefully.


That he shared the views expressed in that article was lucky. Another occasion and another googler with different views could have led to a less pleasant encounter.


The Facebook generation is the first to put its private life on display. (I am not on Facebook, though I have been variously encouraged by my daughters and others to open such a page. My retort is that I am more likely to be on Facelift.) I have never googled my own name, but the wedding guest gave me a fair idea of the sort of things that have been said about me on the great wittering encyclopaedia of the ether. Some of them were manifestly untrue and some were legitimate opinion and unfettered conjecture.


The Net lends itself to being indiscriminately filled with unsolicited, unedited, unchecked and, perhaps, untrue facts. It also allows the expression of anonymous opinion.


All that’s not new. Printed matter, newspapers and the broadcast media, both radio and TV, have for ever been accused and have been variously guilty, of bias, distortion, bad taste, loose editing and vituperative reviewing. Neither is it possible to verify the identity of every commentator and contributor or letter-writer to the older media. What distinguishes the ethereal media is the freedom of entry which has turned anyone with access to a computer, a camera, a video camera, into a disseminator of unedited fact and opinion. And by individualising both it is at once the most democratic and the least reliable medium.


Newspapers, radio stations, TV channels and publishing houses emerge from particular cultures and are edited and filtered through the interests, characteristics, predilections and even the prejudices of these cultures. If you read the Daily Mail in England you get a slightly different picture of the world from the person who reads the Guardian. The BBC and Al-Jazeera have their own take on the world and resolutely defend their right to interpret it at will.


The ethereal media allow, to adapt Mao’s phrase, a million or an infinite number of flowers to bloom — not all fragrant.


Some years ago, on a trip to Mumbai, I was invited to a reunion of my old school mates. I went to the club where very many lads — now old men — whom I hadn’t seen or heard of or from for years were gathered. Most of them had been summoned by emails and Internet chatter. And most of them spent the time over drinks and food catching up with each other’s lives or reminiscing about school. As I joined in, it became evident that as a columnist and writer for long years I had put myself, my opinions, memories and even the progress of my life on display.


Some of my classmates were unabashedly vocal about things I may have written years previously. Some of them were sea captains, some were in the armed forces, some of them industrialists and businessmen. Their vocations may have entailed risk and hazard of financial sorts or even of life and limb in defence of the country. What they didn’t entail was exposure to the controversy of opinion. They didn’t entail the risk of being told that the personal and reminiscent obituary I had written and published of our late headmaster was a disgrace and deserved, in another place and circumstance, a good thrashing.









At a recent town hall meeting, a man stood up and told Representative Bob Inglis to “keep your government hands off my Medicare”. The Congressman, a Republican from South Carolina, tried to explain that Medicare is already a government programme — but the voter, Mr Inglis said, “wasn’t having any of it”.


It’s a funny story — but it illustrates the extent to which health reform must climb a wall of misinformation. It’s not just that many Americans don’t understand what President Obama is proposing; many people don’t understand the way American healthcare works right now. They don’t understand, in particular, that getting the government involved in healthcare wouldn’t be a radical step: the government is already deeply involved, even in private insurance.


And that government involvement is the only reason our system works at all.


The key thing you need to know about healthcare is that it depends crucially on insurance. You don’t know when or whether you’ll need treatment — but if you do, treatment can be extremely expensive, well beyond what most people can pay out of pocket. Triple coronary bypasses, not routine doctor’s visits, are where the real money is, so insurance is essential.


Yet private markets for health insurance, left to their own devices, work very badly: insurers deny as many claims as possible, and they also try to avoid covering people who are likely to need care. Horror stories are legion: the insurance company that refused to pay for urgently needed cancer surgery because of questions about the patient’s acne treatment; the healthy young woman denied coverage because she briefly saw a psychologist after breaking up with her boyfriend.


And in their efforts to avoid “medical losses”, the industry term for paying medical bills, insurers spend much of the money taken in through premiums not on medical treatment, but on “underwriting” — screening out people likely to make insurance claims. In the individual insurance market, where people buy insurance directly rather than getting it through their employers, so much money goes into underwriting and other expenses that only around 70 cents of each premium dollar actually goes to care.


Still, most Americans do have health insurance, and are reasonably satisfied with it. How is that possible, when insurance markets work so badly? The answer is government intervention.


Most obviously, the government directly provides insurance via Medicare and other programmes. Before Medicare was established, more than 40 per cent of elderly Americans lacked any kind of health insurance. Today, Medicare — which is, by the way, one of those “single payer” systems conservatives love to demonise — covers everyone 65 and older. And surveys show that Medicare recipients are much more satisfied with their coverage than Americans with private insurance.


Still, most Americans under 65 do have some form of private insurance. The vast majority, however, don’t buy it directly: they get it through their employers. There’s a big tax advantage to doing it that way, since employer contributions to healthcare aren’t considered taxable income. But to get that tax advantage employers have to follow a number of rules; roughly speaking, they can’t discriminate based on pre-existing medical conditions or restrict benefits to highly paid employees.


And it’s thanks to these rules that employment-based insurance more or less works, at least in the sense that horror stories are a lot less common than they are in the individual insurance market.


So here’s the bottom line: if you currently have decent health insurance, thank the government. It’s true that if you’re young and healthy, with nothing in your medical history that could possibly have raised red flags with corporate accountants, you might have been able to get insurance without government intervention. But time and chance happen to us all, and the only reason you have a reasonable prospect of still having insurance coverage when you need it is the large role the government already plays.


Which brings us to the current debate over reform.


Right-wing opponents of reform would have you believe that President Obama is a wild-eyed socialist, attacking the free market. But unregulated markets don’t work for healthcare — never have, never will. To the extent we have a working healthcare system at all right now it’s only because the government covers the elderly, while a combination of regulation and tax subsidies makes it possible for many, but not all, non-elderly Americans to get decent private coverage.


Now Mr Obama basically proposes using additional regulation and subsidies to make decent insurance available to all of us. That’s not radical; it’s as American as, well, Medicare.










Savita Bhabhi must be saved! At all cost. There are thousands of people out there ready to take to the streets and protest. Savita Bhabhi herself is being uncharacteristically coy about the persecution… but soon there will be a music track dedicated to our favourite bhabhi, and that will mark the beginning of the growing cult. Savita Bhabhi fan clubs are mushrooming all over the world. Well, cyber world. People across the board are saying, “Guys — you can’t do this to her… or us”.


India desperately needs a Savita Bhabhi. She is the answer to the prayers of several frustrated souls. Her immense popularity indicates how she had seeped into our consciousness, sneaked into our dirty fantasies and found a place in our wicked hearts. Savita Bhabhi had become the ultimate Love Guru — the surrogate partner in forbidden pyaar. In an age where nothing but unadulterated confusion defines relationships, she provided the pivot… and the passion. In the few, unreasonably short months of her salacious existence, Savita Bhabhi ruled the erotic world and provided us invaluable insights into our own depressed/suppressed lives.


Check out how the conversation goes these days — “So… how does it work for you guys? Are you in a serious/casual/quasi-serious/timepass… or… a REAL relationship?” Should that last question be asked at all? Does it have an answer? Frankly, there is just one definition left of today’s rishtas — jhat-phat. Often it is “phat” before it even gets to “jhat. But what the hell, that’s love, aaj kal. And as the most talented “relationship manager” in Bollywood, Karan Johar, will no doubt agree, the reason is simple — kal ho na ho. Fragile is a polite word for fickle. Fragility is at the core of relationships today. They are neither “sasta” nor “tikau”. Nobody expects them to last. And often, everybody is relieved when the bloody thing ends. Since not much is at stake to begin with, ki pharak penda? And yet, the thought of being “boyfriend/girlfriend-less”, is enough to send the alarmingly young into soul-destroying depression. Nothing is worse for an 18-something than being partner-less in the city. Sex? That’s a given.


The exciting aspect of relationships today is the permutation-combination games available. Anything goes. Boy-Girl, Boy-Boy, Girl-Girl, Older Man-Boy, Older Woman-Boy, Married-Unmarried, Boss-Hireling, you get the picture. First, you “scope”, then you “score”. After that? You move on… Love’s “Casualty Ward” is generally filled with terminal cases who refuse to give up and retire injured. I get the feeling “pyaar” has become the new “gaanja” — a mild but addictive narcotic that provides a fix — a quick fix. Love is the handy band-aid used to cover up far bigger wounds that we don’t want to address. Love is a silly poster one picks up at Archie’s. It stays on the wall (rarely inside the heart) till it frays and falls off. It is about that poster, not the person. Love has been reduced to an attractive graphic. Something cute and catchy that takes care of gloomy weather. It is also the only antacid that actually works for indigestion (of the mind, not stomach!).


Gone are the days of love ke liye kuch bhi karega... even Karan’s new movie has little to do with mush, more with madness that is destroying the world. Love as madness has all the takers. Bollywood has reworked the magic formula to reflect new realities. What is depicted is a perverted, distorted version of the old story that is scary when it isn’t hilarious. A movie that uses the word ishq in combination with a mild expletive, kambakkht, pretty much sums up the sentiments du jour. What a far cry from Ek Dujhey Ke Liye. Similarly, the twisted, kinky interpretation of pyar-vyaar in Dev D was lapped up by this generation of Bollywood buffs, who are clearly bored with the “Hum tum ek kamre main bandh ho” version of romance. That’s life… at least as portrayed in the movies.


Outside Orbit Love, even other associations/liaisons have undergone a really, really rapid makeover. Within offices and homes, equations are far more volatile and dynamic. Again, jhat-phat resolutions dominate decisions. Everybody is in search of an instant fix or an instant high. Time has become the single most expensive commodity… nobody has too much of it for long-term investment, especially during recessionary periods. People talk about an economic meltdown, but the more frightening one is the emotional meltdown which is claiming global victims in even higher numbers. There are wizards and experts to fix the world’s money markets — but who is there to fix cruel hearts… save souls… provide the much-needed balm? Sometimes when I look at love’s debris carelessly strewn around me, I shudder at the strike rate. As and when Rakhi Sawant does get “married”, her swayamwar will hit the last nail in love’s coffin. Most reality shows are gross (we watch them, nevertheless), but this one is the pits. Karan Johar… come back. All is forgiven… kabhie alvida na kehna.


So much high drama to follow across all channels and we still pant for more! Aren’t we getting thoroughly spoilt! There is Fiza declaring her love for her “insane husband”. And promptly signing a lucrative deal for a lucrative reality show where she will subject her bold and brazen self to creepy crawlies of a different kind. There is her insane husband, who has yo yo-ed between women and religions without blushing and is now doing some weird penance.


There are all those people on Sach Ka Saamna — the show that is currently getting countless knickers in a twist. What is going on? Do we really want to know whether a TV actress pees into swimming pools? Or some other woman fantasises about men not her husband? We do, we do! Are we sick? Are they sick? Hey — is that a question? This is the first stage of the Oprah Winfrey-isation of India. We are dealing with it just fine. Our cuties in Parliament have taken to twittering about their innermost feelings. Celebrity blogs are followed by devotees who want to know every dirty detail about their exciting lives.


Virtual love affairs provide better Big Os than the real thing. SMS exchanges are de rigueur for flirtation of the deadly kind. Electronic passion has taken over from a roll in the hay — it’s safer, quicker and cheaper.


Dating is something geriatrics used to indulge in eons ago. This is the age of tweeting. Movie stars do it, politicians do it… why even Obama does it (well, he would if he could). Phew.


So, is urban India well on its way to becoming a shock-free zone? Are we ready for more sleazy confessions on camera? Is Savita Bhabhi a symbol of our repressed selves? Should we be protecting her right to exist? So… who’s afraid of Savita Bhabhi? Only those who are afraid of their own secret selves.


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Dear Mamata Banerjee, goddess of Hawai chappals and the simple home spun cotton sari. O! Deity-minister of Indian Railways, with your shining coconut oil-soaked locks and the fierce ability to say ta-ta to many nano moments in our country’s life… O! Wonderful, bountiful, kind and marvellous Bengali, conjurer of Kolkata bandhs, how I wish you would turn your benign fancies towards distant Punjab, far away from the Utpal Dutt Railway Station and Howrah Bridge. What will it take, O! supreme ruler of the railways, to pull your attention towards the woes of the Punjabi traveller… How can we ever interest you in our plight? What offerings of mishti doi and rosogullas can ever convince you that the hardy Punjabis are as needy and desirous of comfort as are no doubt the more delicate and intellectual Bengalis? Just because we have fought invading armies and live a rough and ready existence as agriculturists does it mean we should be left to the mercy of erratic railway systems and pervasive inefficiency?


O! Mamata, I really wish you had been with us this week when we stood for hours on a filthy station in Jalandhar waiting for the Swarn Shatabdi. The so-called celebration of the Golden Centenary of Indian Railways was so late that even the announcers at the railway station had forgotten it was ever meant to arrive. Their silence was even more golden than the Shatabdi was ever meant to be.


O! Mamata, I wish your pristine Hawai chappal-clad feet would one day wander into Jalandhar station which is a morass of every accumulated bit of garbage that human beings have been known to produce.
Not only that, there are only two ways to get there — one is through a bazar so crowded that you often lose track of where your head is in relationship to the rest of your body. The other, under a bridge, is through a broken road, but was drowned in the one day that it rained in Jalandhar.


Once inside the railway station, it reeks of freshly deposited urine and other wastes that I am too polite to mention. O! Mamata, I wish you could come and inhale the delicate aromas. You may smell some of that in Parliament — but nothing like the flavour you experience in Jalandhar.


And then, O! Mamata, if only you could lift your delicate ankles over the staircase that joins platforms 1 and 2: the sheer challenge of it has disabled many — but then fortunately they can join the large number of beggars who roam free and unfettered in the area.


The better way is, of course, to just hop down and cross the railway tracks as most people do regardless of approaching trains. Does anyone stop them? No, O! Mamata — because this is a free country and you, more than anyone else, appreciate the freedom of choice we have, to choose whatever path we want for our development. And then, if you actually manage to reach the other side of the station alive, O! Mamata, you discover the one shining, brand new, sleek example of modern architecture — a sturdy example of progressive thinking, an island of beauty in a sea of filth. It is a gleaming marble monument to which lists of passengers are attached. Yes, O! Mamata — what a terrific example of pure genius it is, words fail me. People come from miles around to gaze upon this one gleaming structure in a uniformly dirty environment. In a station which requires basic cleanliness, seats, toilets — your ministry has imaginatively constructed a large six-foot-high edifice on which they hang (get this, O! Mamata, this is so clever!) from paper clips the lists of passengers travelling on the trains that pass through Jalandhar. I think I object mostly to the fact that the paper clips were rusty, O! Mamata. Shame! They should have been cast in platinum to match the sheen of the rest of the monument.

But do the trains actually pass through the station? This week, O! Mamata, we were told the Golden Centenary was going to be on time. But O! Mamata, it came at least 99 years too late. Exhausted and barely breathing, when we climbed onto the Golden Centenary, we discovered that the gentle aromatic whiff of freshly passed urine had entered the executive class cabins as well. It was a perfume that accompanied us all the way to Delhi.


And then, O! Mamata, the toilets themselves, with their filthy sinks and other unmentionables. I think your wonderfully iconic Hawai chappals definitely need to tread this way.


And then O! Mamata the menu! What imagination! What a marvel of expertise — in this day of the enlightened calorie conscious — you have hired the one person who is marvellously free from any such bias or prejudice. You have to be complimented on this — how did you find this person or organisation? It must have taken many hours of hard work — and much advertising in the media. How else did you ferret out the individual/s who could combine in one meal an oil-soaked kachori, a mithai, a chocolate and dried fruit? Fantastic! The combined calories of that one tea-time “snack” would have boggled the imagination of the most devoted foodie. Most of us went into sugar shock, after which we were served a Chinese meal with yoghurt and pickles to calm us down. O! Mamata, please do drift this way as the Golden Centenary is worth a visit.


And then O! Mamata — have you visited the New Delhi Railway Station at night? O dear, Mamata, the worst fiends of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) would look like angels with halos compared to the peculiar set of people you encounter here. That is, if you can ever manage to find your way out of the station. O! Mamata — unlike the Jalandhar railway station which had bright and cheerful signs all pointing in the wrong direction — at the New Delhi Railway Station, we found none when we got off the train.


As we stumbled from pothole to pothole, knocking into luggage and people, harassed by taxi drivers and touts — we finally emerged into a narrow alley, one part of which was blocked off so that we all had to be squeezed against each other. O! Mamata, I know you love the aam aadmi, but I have to say this entire experience that you have created for us is too much. I would like some distance between us aam aadmis and aurats, please.


And then when you finally struggle out, beaten and broken — there is complete darkness! It takes longer to actually leave the station than it takes to travel between Jalandhar and Delhi. O! Mamata, you were so untiring in your efforts to bond with the masses in your recently delivered budget. I now invite you and your Hawai chappals onto a real train, O! Mamata — not just the gravy train to the Lok Sabha. Try it, sometime. Especially the Golden Centenary.


nKishwar Desai’s novelWitness the Night, to be published in January 2010, is on the longlist for the Man Asian Literary Prize, 2009. She can be contacted [1]








I first met Maharani Gayatri Devi at my hubby’s (Bharat Dev Barman) house before our marriage. That was way back in the mid-1970s. She was my maasi-in-law (hubby’s maternal aunt) and I’m deeply grieved by her sudden demise. I have great regard for her. Our large, extended royal family has suffered an inconsolable loss — there’s a void that’s impossible to fill. It is as if the petal of the palace has wilted into dust. Or the whirling wind has stopped blowing. Or, more befittingly, the sweet scent is snuffed out of its bottle. She was like a perfume that spread fragrance along with happiness.


Recollecting fond memories is always sweet — they revive those long lost happier times. I still remember those golden days when I had bumped into my late revered aunt-in-law at my hubby’s flat in Harrington Mansion in Kolkata. She walked in from the front door into a grand party that was in progress. I was bowled over by her charm, glamour and elegance. She was an extremely tall, beautiful lady, draped in an aqua-hued sari. Mind you, she wore no high heels and yet looked so svelte. She was about six feet tall, and yet demure. A gentle soul with a heart of gold, Gayatri Devi could melt a million people just by her presence. Touched by her humility and a cordial address, I became her favourite in no time.


She then came to meet my mother (former actress Suchitra Sen) at our engagement ceremony after the alliance was fixed, and thereafter led the borjatri (the groom’s entourage) to formalise our wedding reception. Later on she threw a party in my hubby’s honour. Off and on, she would come down to Kolkata and stay with us in our tiny cramped two-room flat with our children being shifted to another room. Since my hubby and my sister-in-law were brought up by Her Highness, both the siblings were very close to their dear aunt.


Besides my hubby, the only other nephew close to her was Lakshman Singh, who too lived in Kolkata. She would often visit him at his stables, take a look around the farms she owned here and watched polo matches at the Kolkata Race Course, during winters. She would also be interested in playing golf. When I moved with my family into our Ballygunge Circular Road’s residence to stay with my mother, she would often make a trip to the city to fulfil her commitments and join us over drinks and dinner and we would all chat late into the night. My heart weighs heavy when I remember all this and my eyes well up with the realisation that she is no more there to put her warm hand of support around our shoulders, flash her heavenly smile and bestow her blessings upon us.


My mind rewinds to the day when I was poring over a script of a film titled, Gajamukta. It is a Bengali movie based on the brutal game of hunting wild elephants in Assam. She would sit with me for the script-reading sessions, even travelled with me to Gouripur and Cooch Behar and watched with gaping wonder as women trapped pachyderms with a lasso — they would fling the noose around the giant mammoth’s feet to ensnare it.


This apart, she also learnt some mahout (elephant attendant) songs and would hum them in melodious tunes. Besides her artistic bent of mind, she would deliberate on intellectual subjects too. She once flew to Pakistan to deliver a discourse on eminent Indian Urdu author Ismat Chugtai.


Gayatri Devi passed away at the age of 90 but would always remain alive in the collective consciousness as the people’s princess who loved lilies and trotting horses.


She was the royal diva with a liberal outlook, much ahead of her times in her manners and sensibilities. Grace and sophistication personified, she was a sought-after style icon in high-end fashion circles.


Having become the third Maharani of Jaipur through her marriage to Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur, she was conferred with the majestic title — Rajmata. She reigned supreme as the darling daughter of the royal Cooch Behar family as well as the doyen matriarch of the aristocratic Jaipur palace. I feel blessed to have had the honour of tying the knot with a royal descendant of Cooch Behar and I hold that blue-blooded association in great esteem.


(As told to Pramita Bose)



*************************************************************************************THE STATESMAN



A CAN of worms has been exposed by the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s report on West Bengal’s Public Distribution System. And it is unlikely that the latest embroidery of ration cards embossed with the holder’s personal photograph will be able to stem the rot. The report comes two years after food riots swept south Bengal and confirms the dominant impression that as critical as impersonation are the machinations of the official machinery that purportedly runs the food distribution network. The CAG has confirmed the particular irregularity that lent the spark to the 2007 riots ~ the sale of subsidised foodgrain in the open market. It isn’t the complicity of the dealers alone that is to blame, as the government imagines; the CAG report uses the language of under-statement when it attributes the contrived shortage to “poor inspection and monitoring”.

Indeed, rationing inspection was a dubious exercise ~ yielding a fair amount as spin-off ~ long before the diversion of food was detected. Which at once puts the state’s food and supplies department on the mat, fair and square. Ergo, the manipulation of supplies earmarked for the BPL category isn’t just the handiwork of the panchayat functionaries, doubling up as dealers. The department concerned is no less culpable for the diversion of stocks and worse.

What the CAG describes as the “huge mismatch” between the quantity distributed by the dealers and that received from the department has quite plainly been tacitly condoned. The figures for 2006-07 are incredibly astounding: the value of the rice not distributed stands at Rs 63.9 lakh and that of wheat Rs 26.28 lakh. It is a cruel irony that this game of playing footsie with food has been glaring most of all in the poverty basket of West Midnapore and if to a lesser degree in North 24-Parganas and Nadia.
Thus, south Bengal remains altogether vulnerable with reports of weighing machines being tampered with. Altogether an issue that directly impacts the fortunes of the CPI-M, most importantly in the rural belt. It has suffered one drubbing; it needs to pull up its socks before the next test in 2011. The CAG report has verily put the government on notice.






WITH the progress of universal elementary education being as dismal as it is around the nation, Bihar has taken recourse to the absurdly trivial rather than the tangibly beneficial. The exercise would have been hilarious for the child as much as the adult were it not for the profound implications. It may impress the target group of Dalit children, but only in the very short term with scarcely an improvement in school attendance. The government can’t be unaware of the triviality of the sop and the unlikelihood of any impact; but this is Bihar, a state that has traditionally thrived on political gimmickry irrespective of the dispensation. It thus comes about that every Dalit child ~ whose number is 1.5 lakh across the state ~ will be provided with a one rupee coin each day as a somewhat bizarre incentive to attend school. It works out to a tidy post-budgetary expenditure of Rs 45 lakh a month considering the modest estimate of the number of beneficiaries.

The scheme is presumptuous and incredibly so in a state where no fewer than 10 lakh children are school dropouts. The nuts and bolts of the daunting crisis ~ as social as it is educational ~ need first to be addressed. So daunting indeed that the successive administrations in Bihar haven’t had the nerve to attempt an earnest course correction. Poor infrastructure as an impediment to learning is almost endemic throughout the country. Bihar, in addition, is extensively plagued with the phenomenon of child labour as a source of income for the family. This precisely is the single-most important factor why as many as 10 lakh children, whether of the Dalits or any class group, have been counted in the out-of-school category.
It would have made better sense if the state had grappled with the problem of child labour or, failing that, effected an improvement in the nutritional value of mid-day meals. Tragically, gimmickry has been accorded precedence over essentials. The one-rupee-a-day scheme is no more than populist tinkering by Jitan Ram Manjhi, Bihar’s Dalit minister for SC/ST and welfare.







IF EVERY assurance made on the floor of Parliament was diligently implemented there would be no requirement for an Assurances Committee. Hence there is small cause for confidence that the defence minister’s contention that sahayaks (batmen, orderlies) allotted to army officers will no longer be used as domestic help simply because strict instructions have been issued that the rules pertaining to their duties be scrupulously followed. Those rules have existed for years: had they been faithfully observed there would have been no occasion for a parliamentary panel to examine the issue and recommend that the colonial “institution” be abolished. A recommendation that the defence ministry, obviously faced with stiff resistance from the military, has not accepted.

While it is true that parliamentary standing committees have only “persuasive powers” (to quote Shivraj Patil who was the Speaker of the Lok Sabha when department-related panels were introduced), after rejecting a recommendation the government should deem itself duty-bound to ensure that there is no deviation from what it spells out in its Action Taken Report on the panels’ conclusions/suggestions. Simultaneously, the standing committee must continually monitor the situation: it has raised a critical point ~ people do not volunteer to wear the uniform to serve as sahayaks ~ and now must strive to avert them being given the “demeaning, humiliating” menial tasks that the minister had mentioned.

On paper a sahayak is tasked with preparing his officer’s uniform, cleaning his weapon, serving as a wireless operator and being his “buddy” in a combat situation. Alas, reality seldom reflects the rulebook and just about everyone acquainted with a military family is well aware of how a sahayak actually spends his day. Since most families display little discomfort at the exploitation of their sahayak (to elucidate ground realities would be hugely embarrassing) it is pertinent to ask what mechanism does the minister possess to back up his assurance? To rely on the traditional sense of duty and honour of the uniformed community would be meaningless, because in recent years traditional values and conduct have been severely eroded. Worse, upright officers who would not stoop so low ~ and there are several of them, there can be no disputing that ~ have ceased to wield exemplary influence.







IN the aftermath of the recent presidential election, Iran has witnessed the worst riot since the 1979 revolution. Supporters of the reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, revolted against the fraudulent election. The security forces resorted to a brutal crackdown.

Those opposed to President Ahmadinejad are fighting the establishment with the members of the same establishment, if we examine the composition of the anti-government protesters. Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition candidate, was the Prime Minister of Iran during the first decade of the revolution. Mohammad Khatami, one of the main supporters of Mousavi, was President between 1997 and 2005. Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, another political ally of Mousavi, is the head of the assembly of experts and also a former President. They were the architects of the Islamic revolution that had scuttled the prospects of democracy in 1979 after the death of the Shah of Iran. What are the implications for India?


IRAN is dedicated to the Islamic revolutions throughout the world, a movement that would not be limited to any geographical area. The American invasion of Iraq eliminated the secular government of Saddam Hussein. Given the nature of its demography, Iraq seems set for a Shia-Muslim government, the same as in Iran. There is a sizable Shia population in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia as well. Thus, the American occupation of Iraq has strengthened the Shia Muslims and their ability to project their power throughout the Middle East and beyond. Although Iranians are opposed to the Arabs and Shias are opposed to the Wahabi movement of Saudi Arabia, they can collaborate, as they did against Afghanistan from 1978 to 1992, as their worldview is similar. Both want to create Dar-ul-Islam throughout the world.
While Saudi Arabia is supporting the Islamic movement, violent or non-violent, in several countries, Iran has restricted its support to the co-religious organisations, such as the Hamas in occupied Palestine and Syria, which undermines the secular liberal Al Fatah movement of Yasser Arafat.

Thus far, relations between India and Iran have been cordial. Iran needs Indian help for imports as well as scientific and technological support particularly in the field of nuclear energy. India has concluded a deal to build a nuclear energy plant in Iran, although the project may not materialise because of the current American influence on India.

Of late, however, the equation has changed for the worse for India. Russia has built a nuclear plant in Iran. China is building another. Both China and Russia are now major sources of technology. Iran no longer requires Indian support crucially.

India’s interest lies in a direct link with Central Asian oil and gas resources. It is impossible to secure a route through Afghanistan without Pakistan’s cooperation. The land route from Iran to India also has to pass through volatile Baluchistan. The pipeline project from Iran to India also requires cooperation from Pakistan. India needs to think seriously whether the direct link either via land or the submarine pipeline is at all feasible given the changing geo-politics in this part of the world.

Iran has signed a cooperation treaty with Pakistan regarding the oil and gas pipeline, but India has not been included in the deal. China is building a nuclear plant in both Iran and Pakistan and is now the most important trading partner for both these countries. In the competition between China and India for the Iran market, India has little chance to overpower Chinese exports which are cheaper both on account of variety and the exchange rate policy.

China can also supply missiles fitted with nuclear weapons. India cannot do that as she doesn’t have missiles fitted with nuclear arms. India received its missiles from the former Soviet Union and cannot, therefore, export them without Russia’s permission.

Iran is strengthening its trade relations with China rather than with India. China has become the most important importer of oil from Iran; it has also been given the contract to develop a large oilfield in Iran. Thus, India has little importance for Iran.

However, the Iranian problem has another dimension. The USA, via its news media, has been trying to describe the present turmoil in Iran as some kind of a revolution. Its interest is very different and can seriously disturb both economic and military stability in India.

India has failed to grasp the reason why the United States is so interested in Iran. It is pure economics. Iran threatens the US dollar and its present status as the sole currency of the world for trade in oil and gas. It costs nothing for the US to import anything from the rest of the world or to keep vast American military bases throughout the world, as payments can be made by dollar, which costs only the paper on which it would be printed. However, the dollar is required by every oil-importing country. This is the reason why the central banks of most countries keep their foreign exchange reserves in dollars. When more dollars are circulated outside the US, or invested by foreign owners in American assets, the rest of the world has to provide the US with more goods and services in exchange for these dollars. The US can pay its debt to other countries just by printing its own money.


THE special status of the dollar can be threatened if the oil producing countries switch over from dollar to Euro for trade in oil and gas. Since May 2006, Iran has done just that. Iraq wanted to do the same just before it was invaded. As a result, Iran can seriously undermine the demand for dollar in the world market. If other oil exporting countries follow Iran, the dollar will collapse along with the US economy.
A proposal to create a different reserve currency has been suggested by Iran’s friend, Russia, at the recent Brazil-Russia-India-China (BRIC) meeting. Iran has the third largest oil reserve in the world, and it can seriously undermine the special status of the dollar on which the US economy rests. Thus, the turmoil in Iran can provide an excuse for the USA to intervene and support a supposedly pro-Western progressive force opposing the present President.

This is not the first time that the USA has sympathy for one side of the Islamic regime. During the Reagan administration, Iran financed the terrorists to destroy the socialists in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Ethiopia. In return, the USA supplied weapons to Iran directly or indirectly through Israel, Pakistan and Turkey. The USA is expecting that a new regime will be more accommodating particularly towards the future of the dollar, compared to the current administration of Iran. A new regime can also provide greater opportunities to Western oil companies.

India will be at their mercy as it was in 1960, when Western oil companies refused to supply any oil when the country was trying to establish the Oil and Natural Gas Commission. The Indian oil economy was rescued from total collapse by Iraq and the former Soviet Union. India’s position is vulnerable. This is the possible danger for India if the USA intervenes in Iran.









Four men sit drinking beer under a magnolia tree in the rose garden of a very important house in the United States of America. Two of the men are white, while the other two are different shades of black. One of the two black men is the American president. The house is his house in Washington, and he is drinking a Bud Light. A certain lightness of touch is, indeed, the point of this self-consciously informal, yet gentlemanly, chat. (The president had taken his jacket off and rolled up his sleeves.) The other black man, an eminent Harvard professor, had locked himself out of his own house recently, and when a neighbour (a white woman) saw him ‘breaking in’, she called the police. The rest is history — a live and hotly disputed one in the US. Barack Obama, in the presence of his white vice-president, had hosted in his garden what is being called a “beer summit”. This was to bring the professor and the policeman, accused by the professor of racially profiling him, into some sort of a civilized rapprochement. The president thought it was a “friendly, thoughtful” conversation. But no apologies were made, only promises of further talking and listening by the professor and the policeman, presumably without the president sitting in.

Racism is at once subjective and objective. It takes place inside people’s heads, in their gut-feelings and perceptions, and also outside, in actual social spaces, public or private. In both spheres, within and without, it is real, although in different ways. This is why racism is easy to sense, but often difficult to punish. And this is true of any experience of prejudice, discrimination or abuse of power that is founded on difference and inequality. Think of everyday instances of sexism, homophobia or communalism — sharply felt and reacted to, but difficult to pin down with concrete evidence, terribly crude and terribly subtle at the same time. In fact, the trap lies in the subtlety. For the victim, the subtler the offence, the more infuriating it is in its insidiousness, and hence the chances of losing one’s temper even greater. To the ‘neutral’ observer, if there is ever one, this makes the victim’s reaction always appear disproportionate to the triviality and quietness of the alleged provocation; even the use of the word, ‘victim’, begins to sound excessive and sensational. So, these are often ‘no win’ situations from which it is impossible to emerge triumphant without being simultaneously perceived as vindictive, paranoid, hysterical or humourless.


Mr Obama is possibly in a position to understand all this better than any other American president. Hence, the studied casualness of a chat over a drink, and his insistence on the importance of keeping one’s cool in these matters. Yet, he did say that the police had acted “stupidly” in arresting a man in his own house — an uncool word for a president to use publicly. He then added that “any of us would be pretty angry” in such a situation. With any other American president, who that “us” stood for would not have been worth wondering about.








Last month, on a holiday in Paris, the family chose one day to segregate itself by gender. My wife and daughter went to the shops, while my son and I went in search of the tombs of our heroes.


We were living behind the Eiffel Tower, about two miles away from our first port of call, the cemetery in Montparnasse. It was a lovely summer day, about 20 degrees Celsius in the sun, so we chose to walk. The buildings we passed were elegant, dating from the 19th century, with attractive little balconies with flower pots in them. But soon we had left the present for the past, now walking past structures built of glass and concrete. The last landmark before our destination was the largest, and ugliest — this was the Montparnasse railway station.


Amidst this modernist architecture the cemetery itself was an oasis of calm — and charm. Its lanes were nicely shaded, with benches at appropriate intervals. A map at the entrance helpfully listed the luminaries buried there, with directions as to how to get to them. There were some sites I was especially interested in, others my son was particularly keen on. But there was also the odd grave both of us wanted to see.


In the last category was the tombstone of the famous (and famously radical) writer-couple, Jean Paul Sartre and Simon de Beauvoir. Sartre died in 1980; his lover, comrade and co-worker passed on six years later. She was interred along with his remains, in a modest, unadorned memorial just to the right of the main entrance of the cemetery. We had thought there would be many gifts of tribute on their grave — all we found was a novel by Sartre left by an admirer.


Sartre lies at one end of the cemetery; at the other end is the grave of his classmate and long-time rival, Raymond Aron. Born in the same year, Sartre and Aron were close friends while growing up. During World War II, when France came under German occupation, they shared a common distaste for the Nazis. After the conflict ended, their paths began to diverge. As a utopian leftist, with a fascination for revolutionary change, Sartre became a sympathizer and fellow traveller of the Soviet Union. As a pragmatic liberal, who practised the politics of accommodation and compromise, Aron inclined more towards the United States. Both were prolific writers — Sartre specializing in novels and works of philosophy, Aron in books on sociology and current affairs.


I have read little of Sartre, but I owe a fundamental intellectual debt to Raymond Aron. As a doctoral student in sociology, I read, and re-read, his two-volume work, Main Currents in Sociological Thought, which contains a series of brilliantly crafted essays on the great social thinkers of the 19th and the early 20th centuries. So after my son took me to see the Sartre and de Beauvoir tombstone, I insisted on seeing Aron’s. Where the radical is buried with the lover he never married and with whom he had a famously ‘open’ relationship, the bourgeois liberal lies with his family members — namely, his father, mother, uncle, wife and son.


Aron studied in Germany, which came in handy, since two of the subjects in Main Currents are Karl

Marx and Max Weber. These two are commonly regarded as part of the ‘trinity’ who founded modern sociology — the third being Aron’s fellow Frenchman, Émile Durkheim. After I read the summaries of their work in Main Currents, I was directed by my teachers to the originals. So I read some works of Marx and Weber, and, with great profit, Durkheim’s classic studies of suicide and primitive classification. I was therefore delighted to find that this French master was also buried in Montparnasse. On his grave, a Japanese sociologist had left a note of appreciation, to which this Indian added his own postscript.


Among the other graves we visited was that of the playwright, Samuel Beckett, which was also surprisingly short of tributes. My son particularly wanted to see the grave of Serge Gainsbourg, a man I had never heard of. He was, I was told, a great singer and songwriter, and so it appeared, since his tombstone was by far the most heavily decked of all, with loads of pots, cards and bouquets on it.


These gifts by visitors apart, it struck us both that the tombstones themselves were uniformly spare. All

they had was the name of the person buried underneath, with no other mark of identification. We were not told, for example, that Beckett had won a Nobel Prize in literature, or that Sartre had been offered the same award but had refused it. About the only decorative grave in the whole cemetery was that of the great chess player, Alexander Alekhine. This featured a massif in black stone, some 10 feet high, with lettering in gold listing five names, of which Alekhine’s was only one. The others were of sundry officials of the FIDE, the International Chess Federation, which had the monument erected at some expense and with much disdain for aesthetics, only so that the names of bureaucrats would be placed alongside that of a man who actually played the game.


By the time we had finished it was two in the afternoon. We had a quick lunch at an Indian eatery outside

(run by a Pakistani, who accepted our sincere congratulations on his country having just won the Twenty-Twenty World Cup), and then proceeded by Metro to our next destination. This was the cemetery at Le Pére Lachaise, which is much larger and far more difficult to navigate, with its circular lanes criss-crossing one another at irregular and irrational intervals.


The brochure we bought at the entrance to this cemetery listed some four or five hundred graves of significance. With the time at our disposal, we had to be brutally selective. So we first looked for, and found, the tombstone of Balzac, which had a bust of the bearded novelist atop it. Then we moved on to see the remains of Oscar Wilde, which lie under a strange, hippo-shaped monument erected by Jacob Epstein. We found a group of (almost certainly gay) Americans hovering around it, posing, by turn, for pictures. A sign instructing visitors not to deface the installation had been massively disregarded, for Epstein’s creation had love notes written all over it.


For our final visit, we had to choose between Chopin and Jim Morrison, a Pole and an American respectively. In the event, rock won out over classical music. Morrison had died in Paris in 1971, aged all of 27, and probably of a drug overdose. As in Montparnasse, the musician proved more popular than the writers, thinkers and politicians combined. Morrison’s grave was barricaded; it seems that in the past visitors had, as a mark of their devotion, made love and injected themselves with heroin on it. One had now to see the tombstone from a distance of three or four feet; close enough still to lay one’s mark on it. We noticed that on the grave had been thrown flowers, notes, very many cigarette packets, and at least three empty whisky bottles.


The nice thing about these Paris graveyards is the ecumenical mix of Frenchmen and foreigners. It is said that if a Hindu dies in Benaras, he goes straight to heaven. It appears that Paris fulfils something of the same function for those in the creative arts. Why else would so many of the greatest modern writers, musicians and thinkers have chosen to take their last breath in a city that was not their own?










Among the few Indians I admire is film producer Mahesh Bhatt. The times I could go to cinema, I saw ‘Saransh’ and thought it first-rate. I was told he made some even better. He was regarded as somewhat of a genius among film directors. It was not for his films I admired him but for one who spoke out boldly against hooligans who inflicted violence on others not of their faith or region. This took some courage as he spent his boyhood years in Shivaji Park, the epicentre of Shiv Sainiks who periodically roughed up Muslims, Tamilians, Biharis and Uttar Pradeshis.

Now I have another reason to admire him: he also writes very well. I’ve just finished reading his ‘A Taste of Life — the Last Days of U G Krishnamurti’. I did not know he had also dabbled on spiritual pursuits and had been a ‘chela’ of Acharya Rajneesh (Osho) till he ran into U G Krishnamurti and switched over his loyalties.

Uppaluri Gopala Krishnamurti, always referred to as UG was the son of an Andhra Brahmin lawyer. He dropped out of college to pursue the quest for the truth of life and ‘moksha’ — salvation. He followed the traditional path of Indian seekers of Math: meditated in a Himalayan cave, sought the counsel of Ramana Maharishi and rejected them with scorn.

He joined the Theosophical Society of Jiddu Krishnamurti. Since he was a good speaker, he was sent abroad. He delivered lectures in European countries and America. Finally, he also rejected theosophy.

He had a magnetic personality and soon a cult grew around him. Much as he tried to diminish his stature, it grew bigger and bigger.

I quote his words: “I am not a godman; I would rather be called a fraud. The quest for God has become an obsessive factor in the lives of human beings because of the impossibility of achieving pleasure without pain. The messy thing called the mind has created many destructive things but the most destructive thing, by far, is God. God has become the ultimate pleasure. The variations of God, self-realisation, ‘moksha’, liberation, the fashionable gimmicks of transformation, the first and the last freedom and all the freedoms that come in between, are pushing man into a state of manic depression.”


UG made a mess of his own life. He got married, then deserted his wife and child and asked for a divorce.

Mahesh Bhatt was a kindred soul; son of Brahmin father and a Muslim mother. Besides making films, he went in a spiritual quest of his own. For a while he became a devotee of Acharya Rajneesh (Osho) and stayed in his ashram in Pune. Osho gave him a necklace of rudraksh beads to wear. He married and had a family. He had a torrid affair with Parveen Babi. In a violent quarrel his necklace broke. He flushed the beads in the toilet.


Bhatt’s book is on UG’s last days and death in an Italian sea-side town Vallecrosia in March 2007. “What is death?” asked UG and answered: “Death is a process which occurs within that space called ‘you’. And when it occurs, it leads to the disintegration of that form called ‘you’. We call this disintegration ‘death’. When you interfere with this occurrence, you interfere with the stream of life.”

As one would expect, UG did not want any monuments raised in his memory. He was cremated and the ashes immersed in the Mediterranean.

Though somewhat repetitive, Mahesh Bhatt’s narrative makes compelling reading. UG did not want to be God; Mahesh Bhatt has made him out as one.

Well tried!


“Twenty-nine years ago Demetrius Soupolos and his former beauty queen wife Traute wanted a child badly,” a solicitor told a court in Stuttgart, “and had spent several years unsuccessfully trying to conceive. When Soupolos went to a fertility doctor and discovered that that he was sterile, his wife was distraught, so he asked his neighbour Frank Maus for assistance. Maus was already married with two children, and he looked a lot like Soupolos, so a plan of action was agreed. Soupolos would hire Maus for a lump sum of 2,500 euros, and in return Maus would get Traute pregnant.”

“Traute initially objected to the plan, but was placated by Maus, who told her, ‘I don’t like this any more than you do. I’m simply doing it for the money.’ Over the next six months, Maus spent three evenings each week trying to impregnate Traute, a total of 72 times, but without success. At this point, Soupolos insisted that Maus should have a medical examination, and discovery that he too was sterile shocked everyone, especially Maus’ wife, who subsequently confessed that he was not the real father of their two children.
“Soupolos is now suing Maus for breach of contract, in an attempt to get his 2,500 euros back. But Maus refuses, saying that he never guaranteed conception, only that he would give an honest effort. Which he did.”
(Courtesy: ‘Private Eye’, May 28, 2009)








How powerful creativity is. How forceful the urge to give expression to it — Life is never ever lasting, yet the ‘ever lasting’ nature of creativity makes the temporariness of life a mere term. The harmony and sublimity of creativity make people forget their physical pain and dejection.

When Dr Nirupama’s loving, dutiful daughter-in-law invited me to attend the launch of her 114th book, I had not imagined how emotionally over-whelming, how harmonising, how humbling the experience would be. It is said that disease, atrophy, pain and suffering are only to the ‘lesser self, the spirit has a dormant energy that upholds itself during crises.

I saw that phenomenon in Dr Nirupama, a well-known erudite bi-lingual writer of Karnataka, who despite losing her voice completely and fighting renal failure, stands as dignified and as serene as a mountain summit. She, who was a much loved orator, is now eloquent in silence, profoundly creative in pain, drawing inspiration from her ever fecund inner resources. She had written the book ‘Sahityada Sobagu’ intermittently, between hospital visits and dialysis procedure.

Amidst a vibrantly excited gathering of writers, the book launch happened very solemnly in her house. It was a picture of absolute love and understanding, respect and empathy — the way her family members planned the whole event. It was a life-sized celebration befitting a prolific writer’s stature.

The grace and courage, the boundless enthusiasm I found in a teenager is another example of the power of creativity and how it removes the mental blocks to forge ahead with intense virtuosity. She is afflicted by cerebral palsy and is wheel-chair bound. She can use only the little finger of her left hand — rest of her limbs do not move.

She is beautiful to look at and has a beautiful heart too. She is one of the twins (other twin, her sister, is absolutely normal). When she had sent me a write-up, I was struck by the deep love she had expressed for her twin-sister, and what made this piece of hers so special was — she, apart from authoring it had typed the whole article herself - with just that one obeying little finger of her left hand.

This bright youngster had proved that she could rise way above sibling jealousy, even when life so cruelly had gifted opposites to them — physical perfection to one and utter disability to another. I felt proud and privileged to carry her work in our literary website. I had sent her a note — ‘twins are twice as much to love, two blessings from above.’








President Obama noted the other day that high-speed rail is not some pie-in-the-sky idea. “It’s happening now,” he said. “The problem is that it is happening elsewhere.” Japan, Spain, China and Germany are among those with superspeedy trains that rival air travel and easily eclipse the irritations of a car trip. Yet America has only one high-speed corridor, from Boston to Washington, where the Acela Express is often forced by conditions to slow down to average speeds of around 70 miles per hour.


Europe’s bullet trains can run at an average of about 130 m.p.h., and Japan’s zip through the countryside at an average of 180 m.p.h. One difference, of course, is that governments overseas have put big money behind these forms of transit. Spain, for example, plans to invest about $140 billion over the next decade to develop a network of 6,200 miles of high-speed rail lines.


Mr. Obama made certain that he had some money in his first stimulus package for high-speed rail, but it was only about $8 billion for the entire country. The House appeared ready to help, authorizing another $4 billion, but the Senate recently decided to pare that amount down to a paltry $1.2 billion. Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who know how much railroads relieve congestion and pollution, should turn their colleagues around.


It’s not as if high-speed rail is a dream only for the East and West Coasts. When the Department of Transportation asked for proposals for using the president’s stimulus money, an astonishing 278 plans arrived from 40 states and the District of Columbia.


There are big needs — like money in New York City for the Moynihan Station and funds for the corridor between Los Angeles and San Francisco. But there are many smaller communities that dream about high-speed rail as well. Florida’s Tampa to Orlando corridor was the subject of one proposal. Another was for a fast train from Portland to Eugene, Ore. The total number of requests would cost about $100 billion.


Despite his support of the idea of high-speed rail, President Obama has put off dealing with the national transportation bill for another 18 months. That is a delayed opportunity to move forward on an important new national transportation plan to expand public transit in much the way the Federal-Aid Highway Act did for roads more than 50 years ago.


Until Mr. Obama and members of Congress can enact a comprehensive new transit agenda, both have an obligation to make a down payment on high-speed-rail corridors across the nation.







As the economy crawled into 2009, there was never any reasonable doubt about the need for immense federal stimulus. But there was plenty of unreasonable opposition. Only three Republicans voted in February to pass a $787 billion stimulus package, President Obama’s first legislative victory. Ever since, some of Mr. Obama’s Republican opponents have routinely asserted that the ongoing recession is evidence that the stimulus has failed.


The assertion was always silly. Now it has been proved wrong. The report on second-quarter economic activity, released on Friday, showed that the pace of contraction slowed markedly from April through June — falling at an annual rate of 1 percent after shrinking at an annual rate of 6.4 percent in the first quarter. If it weren’t for stimulus spending, the contraction would have been closer to 4 percent. From July through September, when the largest chunk of stimulus money is scheduled to be spent, the boost to activity is projected to be even greater.


The good news, then, is that the stimulus is, indeed, cushioning the worst effects of the downturn. Still uncertain is whether it will lay a foundation for future growth or whether, once most all of the money is spent in 2010, the economy will stall or even regress.


Unfortunately, a muted recovery seems to be the most likely scenario. The stimulus, while helpful, was designed for a milder recession than what has actually occurred. So unless the administration and Congress agree on more stimulus, federal spending is unlikely to spark a strong, self-sustaining recovery.


Worse, whatever growth the economy manages to eke out over the next year or so is bound to be constrained by unrelenting foreclosures and tight credit — and the lack of a robust policy response to either.


This week, many of the nation’s big mortgage servicers met at the Treasury Department to discuss their lack of progress in modifying bad mortgage loans. At the end of the day, they committed to modifying 500,000 loans by November. That’s not really a solution.


The issue is not only how many loans are modified, but how they are reworked. The administration has earmarked $75 billion to help servicers reduce troubled borrowers’ monthly payments. But when a homeowner has no home equity — as is increasingly the case with troubled borrowers — the most effective modification is to reduce the loan’s principal balance, restoring some of the lost equity. That’s what the administration should be pressing for. Economic recovery will also be impaired by the ongoing credit crunch. The stress tests of the nation’s big banks in May — and the banks’ subsequent success at raising new capital — calmed the banking industry. But the underlying problems endure. For instance, bad loans remain on the banks’ books, feeding uncertainty about potential future losses and constraining credit. The administration’s policy seems to be to buy time, hoping that confidence and growth resume gradually and that nothing terrible happens in the meantime. At best, that portends a tepid recovery.


The stimulus is helping, and more stimulus would help even more. But going forward, new policies to stop foreclosures and to jump-start lending must also be part of the plan for economic recovery.







New York City claims to have some of the most rigorous construction safety standards in the country, but those standards are meaningless if the building trades, which have a long and tangled history of corruption, are allowed to ignore them. That has apparently been happening for years in companies that are paid to test the durability and safety of the concrete in bridges, subways, sports stadiums, parking garages, roadways, buildings and other structures around the city.


The city strengthened oversight of the testing industry after one of its largest firms was indicted last year for allegedly falsifying results. Yet another indictment this week suggests that more work will be required to root out bad actors in the testing business.


The latest firm to be indicted by the Manhattan district attorney, Stallone Testing Labs, is accused of falsifying test results for scores of private and public projects, including work at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, the World Trade Center site and numerous projects being built by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.


This indictment is especially disconcerting given the indictment last year of Testwell Laboratories, which also was accused of falsifying results in many public and private projects.


Transit officials said they found no structural or safety problems after retesting concrete in projects involving Testwell and that they would follow the same procedure with Stallone projects. They further noted that problems uncovered so far deal specifically with testing and not with the quality of the concrete itself.


It is obvious, however, that the two are connected. False testing could conceivably make it possible for unscrupulous builders to pour substandard concrete that shortened the lives of important structures, even if it did not make them vulnerable to catastrophic failure. The threat is especially grave in large and costly public works projects.


The city’s Buildings Department says it has set new standards for testing and intensified scrutiny of the labs, some of which have recently been denied operating licenses. The city is clearly betting that the pressure will drive the bad companies out of business and clean up the industry. But if reports of corruption continue to emerge, the city could eventually find itself forced to start its own testing operation.







One toxic remnant of one of the Bush administration’s failed wars — the one on illegal immigrants — is immigration detention. Wanting to appear tough, Bush officials cobbled together, at great speed and expense, a network of federal centers, state and county lockups and private, for-profit prisons. They needed lots of beds to warehouse the tens of thousands of people its raiders and local police were flushing out of the shadows.


The results were ugly. As we learned from reports on the secretive system, particularly those by Nina Bernstein in The Times, detainees were locked up and forgotten. They were denied access to lawyers and their families. They languished, sickened and died without medical attention.


On Tuesday, the National Immigration Law Center issued the first comprehensive report on abuses in a system that holds about 30,000 on any given day and more than 300,000 a year. It found “substantial and pervasive violations” — ignored for years — of the government’s own minimal monitoring requirements.


The next day, immigrant advocates issued a report containing the testimonies of detainees in a privately run detention center in rural Basile, La., where immigrants are waging the latest of several hunger strikes to get their grievances resolved. They say they have pleaded for access to medicine, lawyers, their families and basic information about their cases. They lack underwear and soap. Rats, spiders, flies and filth are rampant.


Sadly, President Obama’s Department of Homeland Security rejected a petition in federal court to enact legally enforceable standards for the treatment of immigrant detainees. Instead, the administration is sticking with a Bush-era system that relies in part on private contractors for quality control, even though those outside monitors are often former federal immigration agents.


Senators Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have introduced bills to force the department to adopt legally enforceable rules, with real penalties, for detention centers. Mr. Obama and his homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, did not create the system, nor is six months enough to take it apart. But at some point that work must begin.








It was a long wait but the verdict came in the form of a short order at about 8.15 in the evening. There had been increasingly fevered and uninformed speculation as to the reasons for the delay and the verdict had been expected towards the end of the afternoon — but in the end it turned out that the delay was because the fourteen-member bench sitting with Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had been doing their job thoroughly. Occasionally, the use of hyperbole is justified, and this is one of them. The decision by the Supreme Court that the actions of then-President Musharraf on November 3, 2007, were unconstitutional is almost seismic in terms of the effect it is going to have in the near term, and perhaps for the nation as a whole for many years to come. He is described as a subverter and usurper of the Constitution and must have watched developments from London with a degree of apprehension. All of the institutions of state are going to feel the fall-out from the verdict and it may alter the shape of our political landscape too.

The bench had to deliberate on the possible consequences of their decision in respect of the 37 ordinances promulgated under the emergency (a state of emergency which we should remember that Musharraf admitted himself was illegal and unconstitutional) and will also have been much-exercised by what their decision was going to mean to those judges who had taken the Kings Shilling and signed themselves into illegality. There are some sixty PCO judges, and if they are all shown the door in the near future it will leave Balochistan, for instance, entirely without a senior judiciary. Appointments made by the de-facto Chief Justice Dogar are now deemed unconstitutional, including those he made to the High Court and the Supreme Court.

Whilst the verdict clarifies the constitutional position regarding Musharraf’s actions it opens a Pandora’s Box of troubles and a blizzard of questions. Does the verdict open the way for Parliament to take action against Musharraf, and should Musharraf be the only one to answer for actions that were taken by a collectivity of people not a single individual alone? If the PCO judges are all to be removed who is to replace them and what is the validity of any verdicts they may have delivered both during the time of the past government and the current one? Precisely why was Aitzaz Ahsan visiting the Chief of Army Staff and what were they discussing — and could it have been connected to the fate of General Kayani’s past boss? Some questions we will get answers to in the near term and others we may never get to hear the truth of. Answers aside, we saw the rule of law prevail on this day, and quiet celebration is in order. On Friday July 31 we were able to demonstrate to the world that we have a free and independent judiciary prepared to take difficult decisions. It is a step along the democratic road that was worth the wait — we now wait to see if the political establishment has the courage of the judicial, and follow the path they have signposted for us as a nation.







Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement, that Pakistan and India must trust each other or risk war, has raised hackles in the Indian Lok Sahba and in other places. Singh has been accused in his own country of taking too ‘soft’ a line on Pakistan, by saying the country had formally accepted the Lashkar-e-Taiba had indeed been involved in attacks staged in Mumbai. The accusations of ‘capitulation’ from the Indian hawks have in fact been heard loud and clear since Prime Minister Gilani and Prime Minister Singh met on the sidelines of the rather low-key NAM summit at Sharm el-Sheikh striking an obviously cordial note during their meeting. The placing of inherently awkward issues on the agenda, including Pakistan’s suspicions of Indian involvement in Balochistan, obviously helped clear the air and both countries now seem ready to embark on a new process of talks. Seen against this backdrop and the rapid evolution of Pakistan-India relations over the last fortnight, Mr Singh’s comments seem to be intended to bring home the significance of the need to move ahead with talks with Pakistan, and to put the memory of Mumbai and what happened there behind. This of course fits in with his wider philosophy. Mr Singh, with family roots in Chakwal, is known in his country as a ‘dove’ as far as Pakistan-India relations go. He is backed in this by the Congress Party chief, Sonia Gandhi and a foreign minister known to be far less hawkish than his predecessor. The notion of a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours should be enough to terrorise anyone.

Perhaps with this in their minds, Prime Minister Gilani and President Zardari have also demonstrated a readiness to work towards closer ties with India. We can expect reaction from within the country against this. The hype heard in the Senate about Indian involvement in Balochistan seems to be a part of this. Without access to intelligence reports it is of course impossible to say if there is any element of truth in the allegations. There could well be. But Pakistan must focus on addressing internal grievances so that others cannot take advantage of the fault-lines that appear as a result of conflict within nations.

As far as prosecuting those responsible for the Mumbai attacks is concerned, Pakistan is carrying out measures that are unprecedented in that it is for the first time ever that those accused of carrying out terrorist acts in a foreign country are going to be tried in a Pakistani court of law. Also, details of the dossier given by Islamabad to New Delhi on the Mumbai attackers lends credence to the view that Pakistan takes the issue of preventing terrorists from using its soil to launch terrorist attacks in other countries fairly seriously.

The signs that India is now ready to move beyond the events of Mumbai are welcome. Pakistan stands to benefit a great deal from improved ties, particularly in economic terms. Greater regional harmony could bring with it benefits in other areas too. We should remember that, often, victory lies in putting past differences behind and marching on into a bright new future.









IT is indeed a matter of serious concern to every citizen of this country that at a time when security situation was deteriorating and there was a genuine demand for de-weaponisation of the society, the present Government issued forty-five thousand licences of prohibited and non-prohibited bore during the last one year. The Prime Minister is reported to have issued twenty-three thousand licences of prohibited bore with an average of sixty a day while Minister of State for Interior broke all records by issuing six thousand licences in just two months.

And this is not the end. It is all the more regrettable that the Standing Committee of the National Assembly, which was supposed to take notice of the alarming situation, has demanded a monthly quota for Members of Parliament for the purposes of issuance of arms licences. This is perfectly in line with the self-centred approach of our parliamentarians as majority of them are unable to go beyond individual or group interest and think about the future of this poor country and its people who have sent them to Assemblies to ensure rule of law and uphold merit. This is also evident from their reaction to the otherwise historic and good decision of the Federal Cabinet regarding abolition of all kinds of Hajj quota. The move of the Prime Minister was highly appreciated by people of Pakistan as it was a step towards elimination of VIP culture. But the initiative has not been liked by Members of Parliament and majority of them — be they MNAs or Senators or irrespective of party affiliation — are demanding its reversal. This points was repeatedly raised by them during sessions of the National Assembly and Senate including the just concluded session of the Upper House where many Senators demanded restoration of their Hajj quota. Why on earth the MPs or any other dignitary should have Hajj quota? It is right of the every citizen to get equal and fair opportunity of proceeding on the sacred journey after going through the balloting process. Why to create privileges for this purpose? The policy of plots, permits and quotas has always been criticized but when it comes to its practical implementation even the MPs, who should support such move with full force, are creating road blocks. We believe that there should be no quota of any kind and merit should prevail at all costs. But it is ironical that our parliamentarians, who often fail to agree on issues of national interests, get united in demanding incentives and privileges. They have demonstrated this on a number of occasions in the past when they approved moves for grant of perks and privileges to parliamentarians in just few minutes. It is also unfortunate that the Prime Minister, instead of sticking strictly to his good decision, has constituted a ministerial committee to recommend about restoration of Hajj quota for parliamentarians and given the response of the treasury benches in the two Houses, the recommendations of the committee are quite obvious. We would, however, recommend to the Prime Minister not to agree to any retrogressive move and ensure supremacy of merit and fair play.







WHAT happened inside and outside the Sessions Court in Lahore on Thursday is an indicator that there is no rule of law and governance is slipping out of hands. The way some lawyers manhandled journalists and a police officer has raised alarm bells in the length and breadth of the country but regrettably there is no concern on the part of those who are supposed to provide security to the citizens.

The scene was so pathetic and depressing that it forced the IG Police Punjab to remark that the country was heading for anarchy. This is not an ordinary comment as it comes from a top official directly responsible for maintenance of law and order and security in his domain. People were shocked to see lawyers, who constitute highly educated component of the society, indulging in lawlessness. Lawyers are supposed to ensure supremacy of the law and set shining examples of personal civilized conduct. The reaction and protest of the journalistic community is quite understandable as manhandling of reporters and cameramen, who are trying to discharge their professional responsibilities, is a direct attack on freedom of expression. Reporters, cameramen and photographs do not coin stories but pass on information as it is, to their viewers, listeners and readers. Instead of resorting to violence against them, the lawyers should better improve their own conduct so as to relay inspiring signals to the people. We agree to the remarks of the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court that some people are trying to conspire against the independent judiciary and bring lawyers into disrepute who rendered great sacrifices during struggle for restoration of the judges. We hope that the legal fraternity would help identify the culprits so that they are taken to task. We would also urge the Chief Minister Punjab, who is known for his administrative skills, to move against all those who take the law into their own hands. This is necessary to arrest the rapidly deteriorating situation that can demoralize the nation.








CHINA on Thursday delivered to Pakistan the first of four state-of-the-art F-22P Frigates constructed for the Pakistan Navy at the Hudong Zhonghua Shipyard in Shanghai. These will be equipped with anti-submarine helicopters, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles and other defence systems.

Though induction of only one and even the remaining three frigates seems to be peanuts in the face of multi-dimensional threats to the country posed by our enemy but despite that this augurs well for the defence of the country and boosting capabilities of our Navy. According to experts the frigates will not only enhance the war fighting potential of the Pakistan Navy but will also strengthen the much-needed indigenous shipbuilding capability of the country. The development is also morale booster as it comes in the wake of launch of the first indigenously built nuclear submarine by India, which has disturbed seriously the strategic balance in the region. In view of the financial constraints, Pakistan is not in a position to indulge in arms race but it has to take tangible measures to strengthen its defence. For decades, Pakistan Navy has remained resource starved as a result of which no worthwhile effort could be made to modernize the force enabling it to meet the challenges ahead. It is time that our planners maintain a balance between development and security needs as any negligence could jeopardize our national interests in the emerging complex regional scenario.









A union of the Asia-Pacific countries followed by introduction of a single currency may indeed be a distant dream yet but creation of a wealth fund for further strengthening the regime of trade and investment for boosting the regional economy is quite possible right now. With seven of the 10 top countries boasting highest foreign reserves - China and Japan heading the list - in this region, they can concentrate on expansion of regional trade, investment and technical cooperation to bolster economies of the region. So Bangladesh Bank Governor Atiur Rahman has proposed the formation of an Asia-Pacific regional wealth fund at the just concluded four-day workshop titled 'Strengthening the Response to Global Financial Crisis Asia-Pacific: The Role of Monetary, Fiscal and External Debt Policies' jointly organised by the Bangladesh Bank and the United Nations Economic, Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
Sure enough, contribution to the proposed sovereign wealth fund from the huge foreign reserves can be used for raising the poorer countries' financial capacity on a priority basis so that they too can be a part of a future economic integration in the region. Now this seems to be a most positive outcome of the workshop. Given a concrete shape, the fund will be the first step towards a union of some of the ESCAP members as early as possible and others may have to wait a little to join the bandwagon. Fashioning a union after the EU model is certainly a challenging job but the 'beyond trade' cooperation as envisioned by the wealth fund may end up in an economic miracle of sort.

After all, of the 53 members of the ESCAP, world's most populous countries are here and therefore it is a huge market. If the region works for realising economic prospects to its full potential, there is no doubt it can challenge any economic zone in the world. The global economic meltdown has made it almost incumbent on the more equal of the regional countries to take some responsibilities for capacity building and strengthening financial institutions of those lagging behind. The BB governor has identified the area where action has to be immediate and decisive.







Prime minister Sheikh Hasina's proposal for establishing a common power grid in South Asia with the aim to overcoming electricity shortage in the region is highly constructive as well as pragmatic. At a presentation programme at her office entitled "Making Zero Load Shedding by 2010 and Future Plan for increasing Power Generation" recently, the prime minister has rightly spelt out the need for a regional approach to this common problem facing the region.

Sheikh Hasina noted that the countries of the region would have to explore all the available avenues and prospects for rapid and uniform development. Surely, establishment of a common power grid in the region can be a good initiative. If a network of power transmission overhead wires and underground cables can be established, the power-starved nations like Bangladesh can easily buy electricity from the countries that produce surplus power. For the power-surplus nations, the grid would serve as a facility to earn money. Indeed economic activities will greatly increase in the region by virtue of this grid. One can hardly think of development in today's world without adequate power.

The concept of establishing a regional SAARC Power Grid first came into focus when a consensus was reached by the energy officials of the SAARC countries in 2003. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's recent proposal has come in line with this consensus. Now, in order to make the SAARC Power Grid a reality, the energy officials of the regional countries can again sit together to form a comprehensive plan for establishing the grid. On its part, Bangladesh can soon initiate the process responding to Hasina's proposal.









Let me confess, I'm not one of those who's too good at cracking a joke when the occasion needs one. It's not that I don't know any, its just that I can't remember even the wackiest of them, when I've got people hanging onto my sleeve waiting for me to send them into Laughterville. Recently I found I had more joke books than most other people have. A friend who'd come home, and happened to see all of them, stared at me strangely. "You know," he said, "You could really be the life of a party, with all the jokes you have here. Next Saturday at my place, okay?" None of my entreaties would make him budge. I went armed with at least a dozen jokes I'd very diligently by hearted and practiced well in front of the mirror. I walked into my friend's sitting room and found a crowd of happy, chirpy and fun loving people sprawled all over and noticed with nervous relief that somebody was already holding fort, cracking a joke and soon filling the room with laughter. The guy next to him then cracked his and somebody else another and slowly I relaxed. It was good listening to other people, even if most of the jokes were ones I'd heard before. And then it happened: "Now," cried the host suddenly, "I would like you all to meet Bob. He writes a humour column!"

"That's funny!" exclaimed the pretty young thing next to whom I had been seated. "I knew you were quite a cartoon when you walked into the room!"

"Ha, ha, ha, ha," I laughed, hoping the silly quality of my laugh would be infectious enough to take the attention away from me. "Bob," said my host, "Out with your stuff!"

"My stuff," I said, as all eyes turned on me, "Ha, ha, ha, my stuff…," and I tried desperately to remember one of the million jokes I had read but just couldn't, I continued, "Well here's one from my stuffy stuff, ha, ha, ha!"

"Stuffy- stuff!" laughed same pretty thing next to me, "Did you coin that word? How funny! Stuffy stuff!"

"Bob," said my host laughing, "You're a genius! Now tell us another."

"Well," I said, "I remember one joke that nearly killed me with its humour."

"I remember one too that did that to me," said a guy across the room as he proceeded to tell his version and I lapsed into relieved silence. "And you must hear this one on cricket……," I said afterwards. "Oh my God I've got a fantastic one on a batsman," said the one who had been holding fort before I entered. Ah well, I enjoyed the evening, never cracked a joke, and added a hundred more to my collection. "Bob," said the host at the door, "You must come for all my parties, quite a joker aren't you!" If saying two words about my 'stuffy stuff' made me a good joke teller then I knew I was on my way to becoming a good stand up comedian: I've already bought five books on how to become one...!





*************************************************************************************KOREA TIMES




Seoul opened a new plaza in the heart of the city Saturday, after 15 months of construction. Gwanghwamun Plaza lies in front of Gwanghwamun, a gate to Gyeongbok Palace of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910). The opening was historically significant as the plaza is built on the boulevard where the kingdom's administrative buildings were once located.

It's as if the capital of South Korea has suddenly regained 600 years of history. And the 34-meter-wide, 557-meter-long plaza is also intended to present a new vision and hope for the nation. Before, it had just been a part of the 16-lane pavement. Now, the number of lanes has been reduced to 10 to create the plaza. There is no doubt that the plaza is aimed at reconnecting the fragmented history that occurred as a result of Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule.

On the plaza's eastern side, stones are engraved with the history of Seoul from 1392 through 2008 and a waterway streams along the edge for about 365 meters. The waterway meets the Cheonggye Stream that was restored in 2005. The statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin, one of Korea's most respected figures, that has been standing on the boulevard for the last several decades, continues to serve as the symbol guarding the city and the nation. Yi has been exalted for his naval battles defeating Japanese invaders in the late 16th century. A large and beautiful fountain has been added around the statue.

The city plans to erect a monument of King Sejong (1397-1450), some 250 meters north of Yi's statue on Oct. 9, to mark the anniversary of the creation of the Korean alphabet, hangeul. The monarch was credited with inventing the alphabetical system.

In this regard, visitors can now appreciate Korea's historical and cultural flavor in the plaza. Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon said during the opening ceremony that he plans to help the plaza become the city's equivalent of Washington's National Mall, the Champ Elysees in Paris, Trafalgar Square in London, Red Square in Moscow, and Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

Most of all, the plaza _ with all of its historic and cultural charms _ must be a place for the people. Therefore, how it is used is very important. City officials and citizens need to cooperate and turn the plaza into a place full of cultural events and performances. It should not be a place for such libertine acts as drinking, singing loudly and littering. In addition, we have to make efforts to prevent the plaza from becoming a venue for the violent demonstrations so often seen at Seoul Plaza and Cheonggye Plaza. Let's do our best to help promote the plaza as a place of comfort and charm.







South Korea's swimming star Park Tae-hwan could not meet the public expectations for him to win medals at the World Championships in Rome. Park, 19, failed to qualify for the finals of the men's 1,500-meter freestyle Saturday, after failing to advance to the final of the 200-member freestyle on July 27. He even suffered the disgrace of being eliminated in the preliminary round of the 400-meter freestyle.

His fans were disappointed by his poor performance. And Park himself felt frustrated over his lackluster display in the competition. Regrettably, the Olympic gold medallist failed to revive his glory in Rome. He had become the nation's swimming icon by winning gold in the men's 400-meter freestyle and silver in the 200-meter freestyle in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

Park's performance is in stark contract with that of his rivals. Michael Phelps captured four gold medals and Germany's Paul Biedermann and Chin's Zhang Lin also emerged as new swimming stars. Some experts attributed Park's setback to his insistence on wearing a conventional swimsuit instead of high-tech one. But his real problem is not his swimsuit but how he has trained.

First, Park could not improve because he does not have his own drillmaster. He said, ``The most severe problem is not having my own coach.'' How can any of the world's top swimmers expect successful results without having their own trainer?

Second, the swimmer has had to follow two separate training programs _ that of the national team and another with his sponsor team, SK Sports. He has had to split time between the two teams since last summer. In South Korea, he worked with national team coach Noh Min-sang. And under SK Sport's program, he worked with U.S. coach Dave Salo at the University of Southern California. There was no cooperation between the two, which led to two separate focuses in Park's training.

Noh focused on the 200-meter and 400-meter freestyle, while SK Sports put more stress on the 1,500-meter freestyle. It appears that finally, the two teams now agree that Park needs one personal coach. And the search is now on for a drillmaster that will be in charge of the swimmer's training at home and abroad.

Third, factional strife in swimming circles was also cited as one of the reasons behind Park's collapse. This problem might be the hardest to deal with because almost all sports have long been battered by infighting among different groups of sports leaders and officials. This internal struggle has a negative effect not only on elite sports but also at lower levels.

Fourth, local companies' excessive enthusiasm to recruit sports stars as their advertising models serves as a stumbling block to their dedication their sports in many cases. Some critics have begun to question whether Park's work as a fashion model adversely affected his performance.

It is imperative that Park and his trainers concentrate on resolving the above-mentioned problems to make better preparations for the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou and 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. We believe Park has great potential as he is still a young swimmer. Let's help him regain his fame with better training and more support. Don't give up hope for him.







With all eyes on a rising India, an awakened China and a roiling Islam, we tend to take good old, solid Japan (still the world's second largest economy, please don't forget) as a given. But that is a mistake: These are the times that try Japan's soul.

This brilliant, proud society - both ancient and modernized
looks to be at yet another crossroads. The current Prime Minister, Taro Aso, has been ignominiously compelled to call a national election in August, even though all forecasts predict a possible landslide for the opposition: the Democratic Party of Japan.

If that happens, the long-leading Liberal Democratic Party that Aso temporarily heads would face the prospect of having itself become the opposition, at least for the foreseeable future. But this might be healthy for Japan: One true test of the vibrancy of a competitive democracy is the ability to make smooth transitions from one party to another.

Until now, Japan has been all but a one-party octopus rarely benefiting from muscular opposition. So rather than feeling diminished by the August calamity that everyone predicts, the LDP should take a longer, patriotic view and respect the right of the Japanese people to put them in their place, for the time being anyway.

Making exactly this point was none other than former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the last LDP leader to serve out a full term - and surely the last one to show any real savvy as P.M. According to the authoritative Oriental Economist, the New York-based journal of contemporary Japan politics, the flashy but effective retired superstar was quoted as saying: ``Now is the toughest time for our party. But Japan is a democratic country, and it would be acceptable if we became an opposition party."

Right that wily Koizumi is yet again: Hope only that the current political establishment LDP takes his advice and doesn't try to stuff ballot boxes or cause other kinds of trouble, an intervention many critics understand to have befallen the recent Iranian election. The electoral integrity of Japanese democracy is not just a source of pride for Japan, but a measure of comfort and security for the rest of Asia.

Here's why: Its neighbors will never forget the feral Japanese expansionism during World War II that came to an end with massive American intervention. Even today, America's contribution in reconstructing Japan as a non-militaristic nation stands as a rock of stability
and a lighthouse to reason in the sea of Asian geopolitics. That the Japanese people have so consistently re-certified a non-nuclear Japan with a low-profile military is not sufficiently appreciated worldwide. They deserve great credit.

But democracy sometimes produces change
bad as well as good. Should the DPJ in fact come to power, its leaders may begin a serious review of Japan's military posture. It appears that neither the party itself nor Party Chief Yukio Hatoyama fully accepts that Japan must remain supinely defensive. And now they have a good reason to endorse a policy review: it's called North Korea.

Its aggressive missile testing and rhetoric rocketing makes it possible for Tokyo to revisit Japan's military needs without appearing to be 21st century warmongers in disguise. The missile tests from this otherwise isolated and confused socialist regime have sent searing chills up the backs of the Japanese people. They know for whom those missiles would presumably toll. And they're surely not for the Hawaiians.

The very fact that the unthinkable can now be openly thought should put new pressure on all responsible neighbors and allies not to take Japan's security concerns lightly. Thus, from China, Beijing needs to rethink its North Korean policy and make a pivotal, historic decision: How far down the road of loyalty to communist North Korea will it go if that policy triggers the remilitarization of Japan? Sure, we understand that Beijing fears shoving North Korea into destabilization that could be disruptive to the entire region. But look at it another way, Beijing: Suppose your caution winds up pushing Tokyo under a new government into a fearsome militaristic (not to mention nuclear) direction? How exactly would you have come out ahead?

For its part, America, still Japan's closest ally, needs to engage in sincere and aggressive triangular diplomacy. This means not de-prioritizing Japan, even in this age when China is all the rage. But sometimes you wonder whether the new Obama Administration gets the nuance: just consider the inexplicable appointment of California lawyer (and big-time Obama campaign fundraiser) John Roos as the new U.S. ambassador to Tokyo. I'm sorry, but this was lame. He was the best the United States could do for its most important Asian ally?

The Japanese claim they are ever so happy to receive, for once, a West Coast figure as America's ambassador. We certainly like West Coast figures, too, but there are plenty others here, of far greater stature, who would have seemed the more respectful choice for Tokyo. And notice that the Japanese are almost always polite, no matter how trying the situation. But for them, make no mistake about it: These are very trying times indeed.

Syndicated columnist and veteran journalist Tom Plate, author of ``Confessions of an American Media Man", is traveling in Asia again. He can be reached at








By suggesting that North Korea's international behavior was that of an unruly or spoiled child, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blundered into a rhetorical minefield in dealing with the nuclear armed East Asian state.

With comments more attune to morning TV breakfast shows and not serious diplomatic solutions, Hillary Clinton both needlessly insulted the Pyongyang regime but more importantly, subconsciously seriously underestimated the threat coming from the neo-Stalinist state.

If one looks logically at a spoiled child or a teenage terror, yes then Clinton's comments have true merit. Don't give them attention, a pedestal, or give in to tantrums. But will the pop psychology fit for a morning chat show play in Pyongyang?

Hardly! Naturally the North Koreans, having lost face, quickly returned the insult. What is less predictable remains their likely policy response on the tense divided Korean Peninsula.

Clinton told an ABC news program, that the U.S. played down recent North Korean missile firings over the July 4 weekend, as not to give them the ``satisfaction they were looking for, which was to elevate them to center stage.''

Smart move. Then, she added, ``Maybe it's the mother in me, the experience I've had with small children and teenagers and people who are demanding attention: Don't give it to them.''

Let's get real. The quaintly titled Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is one of the world's most brutal totalitarian systems, a threat to its own starving population and a military menace to neighboring South Korea.

The regime which echoes Stalin's Soviet Union or Mao's China still has a formidable military punch, now enhanced by its nuclear weapons. This is not a spoiled schoolyard bully but a still lethal regional threat.

At the annual summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) last month, North Korea's nuclear program was widely condemned by regional delegates.

Secretary Clinton stated clearly, ``The United States and its allies and partners cannot accept a North Korea that tries to maintain nuclear weapons, to launch ballistic missiles or to proliferate nuclear materials.'' Right, but what precisely are we do? Think about the consequences.

She added, ``There is no place to go for North Korea; they have no friends left that will protect them from the international community's efforts to move toward denuclearization.'' Perhaps not formal friends, but Beijing may still hold hidden interests with its erstwhile comrade.

A spate of U.N. Security Council resolutions has not neutralized North Korea's nuclear or missile program, and since April (after a mild rebuke) Pyongyang pulled out of the multilateral six-party talks aims at a nuclear-free Korea.

Those ongoing diplomatic negotiations importantly had all the key players to the dispute; North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

But let's not forget that since her husband, former President Bill Clinton, signed off on the 1994 Geneva accords on North Korea's supposed nuclear nonproliferation, the DPRK has since developed and tested a nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.

The genie is long out of the bottle. So to suggest that either Kim Jong-il's regime is ``not playing by the rules,'' or is somehow in the schoolyard bully category underestimates the very dangerous capacity that Pyongyang has to disrupt regional peace and security
most especially to neighboring South Korea and nearby Japan.

The fact that ``Dear Leader'' Kim Jong-il is seriously ill and likely to hand the baton of power to his son Jong-un in the best traditions of this bizarre Marxist monarchy, underscores the point that the DPRK dictatorship is playing for the long run.

Wishful thinking about either coaxing, cajoling or somehow charming the nukes from the hands the Kim Dynasty are pure fantasy. But so too is the mantra that the regime can hold power indefinitely.

The point is that both through political tantrum and very focused policies, Pyongyang's communists have been able to built and get away with an active weapons program which poses a clear and present danger to East Asia.

Hillary Clinton assured ASEAN delegates, ``We have made it very clear to the North Koreans that if they will agree to irreversible denuclearization, the United States as well as our partners will move forward on a package of incentives and opportunities including normalizing relations.''

The offers are on the table. If North Korea is serious about negotiations, South Korea, Japan and the U.S. can offer incentives pending transparent and verifiable progress. But that's probably in the post-Dear Leader phase.

Yet using pop psychology rather than quiet but tough diplomacy toward an unpredictable nuclear armed state may offer good sound bites but bad policy.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of ``Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations; Germany, Korea, China" (University Press, 2001). He can be reached at











GEORGE Soros is not the only one having a very good crisis. The world's most famous speculator told this paper's business magazine, the deal, in March that, what with one thing and another, the collapse of the world's financial systems was making this a "very stimulating period". Closer to home, things are turning out well for our own Prime Minister, who has been sufficiently stimulated by the complexities of the GFC to write not one, but two, extended essays explaining the issues.

His most recent, published in newspapers a week ago, has been criticised by some as little more than a lengthy press release. Certainly it's a partisan document, more manifesto than considered analysis but it would be churlish to suggest that a 6000-word essay from our nation's leader is just a marketing exercise. Publication of the essay is certainly good politics. The sight of a prime minister able to write a dissertation on the economy and then have it circulated -- uncut and unfiltered -- appeals to many voters, especially younger ones, reared on the unmonitored terrain of the internet.


Thus Mr Rudd's essay, submitted to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, is welcome: he has marshalled the events of the past few months since the world's Western economies fell off a cliff. But there is little original analysis. If Mr Rudd's first essay on the economy, published in The Monthly in February read like the work of a bright eighth grader, this one moves him up a notch to grade nine. Still, a useful window into the thinking of a prime minister, craftily turning a potentially career-ending crisis into a political narrative. What we find is a leader intent on having his cake and eating it too. On the economy, he's more conservative than reformer, but on the politics, he is intent on constructing a "neo-liberal" straw man to attack. But there has never been a "neo-liberal" consensus in Australia if, by that, Mr Rudd means a belief in unregulated markets. Quite the reverse. It was, after all, former treasurer Peter Costello who set up the regulator, APRA, and increased the independence of the Reserve Bank.


But these are good times for Mr Rudd, as each day brings more data indicating that economic optimism is back. He and his senior ministers and advisers may have been panicked last year when Lehman Brothers collapsed but Australia has been an outstanding survivor and Mr Rudd, having intervened dramatically in the economy, feels vindicated. Hard to blame him for muscling in to grab the credit. This was not an internally generated crisis but one that generated a dramatic internal response: having intervened, Mr Rudd now feels free to argue that Australia's standout performance relative to most other Western economies is due to his stimulus spending. This is hard to swallow. What of falling interest rates, falling petrol prices, the Chinese stimulus package, the momentum from the resources investment boom and the pre-existing soundness of our own banking system? One example: in the March quarter, exports contributed twice as much as household spending to the surprise 0.4 per cent growth in the economy. Mr Rudd may present himself as the rescuer of a desperate nation; but in reality it was the strong foundation laid by previous governments that helped haul us back from the brink


Still, Mr Rudd's claim that he has saved Australia through his fiscal policies is not the real problem. We remain concerned that the government will continue to pump dollars into the economy as interest rates begin to rise, but the remedy is to remain alert to the shifting circumstances and tweak policy accordingly. Mr Rudd himself acknowledges this in his essay when he says that "in the recovery phase, the opposite (to an expansion of the budget) will be true as the government appropriately withdraws while the private sector expands".


We have no complaint with this, nor with the challenges set out in the essay. Mr Rudd's ideas are conventional enough to unite both sides of politics -- the need for long-term productivity growth, the plan to build the nation through continuing conservative economic management. This vision sits firmly within the political and economic consensus of the past 30 years, and echoes the aspirations of the "lucky country" since Federation.


The problem lies not with Mr Rudd's ambition but with his lack of intellectual rigour. He argues that the "boom-and-bust cycle of the past decade has been an unavoidable consequence of a decade of neo-liberal free-market fundamentalism that reinforced a culture of corporate greed and excess in the financial sector." He points to excessive levels of consumer and corporate debt; unsustainable asset prices; and the huge volume of money flooding to the West from China, Japan and the Middle East. But these are swept aside after a cursory analysis in favour of a reductive depiction of "neo-liberal" economists and politicians with a crazy belief in unregulated market forces. That there has been an abject failure of regulation and moderation by governments overseas is indisputable. That there has been untramelled criminality in many corporations around the world is indisputable. But hoovering up all the individual failures of ethics and responsibility under the flag of the "neo-liberals" is simplistic in the extreme. We deserve a more nuanced effort from Mr Rudd as he attempts to explain Australia's experience within extraordinary global events.

It is a stretch to apply the "unmoderated capitalism" critique to Australia, given our robust institutional regulations and the pre-existing strength of our banking system. Mr Rudd attempts to crudely link the Howard government with the GFC, rather than unpack the issues. Around the world no one is talking about an end to markets. The focus more correctly is on ameliorating the excesses of capitalism. Mr Rudd's blunt dismissal of critics as unreconstructed neo-libs muddies the argument. It's a strategy to disempower dissenters: anyone who questions the extent of public spending is designated a free-market fundamentalist.


His essay draws strict boundaries around the issues, justifying government spending decisions made on the run without real theoretical backing. The Prime Minister likes to narrow discussion on these issues to an "act or don't act" decision. Wrong. There is a third way -- to act differently.


Mr Rudd argues it is only the state that can restore health to the world economy, but this puts him at odds with Barack Obama and his team. It was after all the US rescue plan that encouraged private institutions to invest in "toxic assets" which arguably proved a turning point in the crisis. The US President, at least, seems to trust in market forces. The danger is that Mr Rudd will fail to learn a crucial lesson here -- that boom-and-bust cycles are intrinsic to risk-taking capitalism, which in turn is central to economic growth.

The most disappointing aspect of his essay is his pitch on productivity. His five-point plan identifies as priorities regulatory and competition reform; infrastructure; innovation; skills; and tax reform, but there is scant detail on how this will all be achieved. The nation needs a more sophisticated analysis of productivity than one based around hard-hats and short-term funding of tradesmen's jobs. Where is the long-term infrastructure plan? Where is the solution to the productivity bottlenecks the Reserve Bank has been discussing for four years? Mr Rudd's predecessors on both sides of politics did the grinding, unpopular work of micro-economic reform which delivered higher productivity in the past two decades. And it is worth noting that it was Mr Rudd who broke that cross-party consensus for reform by undoing essential labour-market modernisation achieved by the Howard government and the Hawke and Keating governments before that. Mr Rudd is more comfortable with the notion that we are set for a "building decade" - an attractive but vacuous label. Rather than spouting marketing jargon, Mr Rudd should take note of the Victorian government's success this week in brokering a public-private partnership for its proposed desalination plant.

Certainly it has been a good few months for the government, which has turned a damaging economic crisis into a platform for policy directions. But this story has some way to run and the danger of his simplistic analysis is that Mr Rudd will get locked into policy settings and mindsets that will fail to address the complexities of the crisis and fail to set up the nation for a more productive future.









LOOKING over the past week of federal politics, Australian voters are entitled to feel a little disappointed.


Last Saturday in the Herald the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, expounded his view of the coming 10 years as the building decade. Combined with his analysis of the global financial crisis, and an exposition of measures taken by sensible centrist governments such as his own, was a critique of what he called the hypocritical Right of Australian, and world, politics.


It is probably unsurprising that a politician thinks his opponents incapable of doing anything positive, but it is dispiriting nonetheless that Rudd should give so little credit to his predecessors’ economic record.


He, and Labor, may well have disagreed with many Howard government policies; they certainly disliked the ideological standpoint from which those policies were devised, and the view of society which they were intended to promote.


But those policies were built upon and enabled by a foundation of economic performance with which there can be little argument. If indeed the financial crisis is nearing its end – and let us hope so – Australia has been able to weather it without the upheaval experienced elsewhere largely as a result of the solid economic legacy left to the Rudd Government by its predecessors.


That point has been made repeatedly by the Opposition, and is emphasised again in the Leader of the Opposition’s response to Rudd’s essay, which we publish today.


Malcolm Turnbull and Rudd match each other only in their reluctance to concede the other may have a point. Readers looking through Turnbull’s words for an alternative view of the world to Rudd’s will unfortunately find only the tiniest glimpses.


The framework of Turnbull’s argument belongs to Rudd: the Opposition Leader is concerned to demolish the Government’s edifice brick by brick, not to build anything of his own. His chief positive offering is a smattering of ideas gleaned from his party’s forums with small business. That suggests he is returning to the base which has always been a chief source of stability and inspiration for Liberal thinking: the needs and priorities of small-scale enterprise, and the values and attitudes of those who succeed there. For a leader who has been criticised for laying out no coherent agenda, that is a welcome hint as to the likely approach of a Turnbull government. But the ideas are mentioned only in the briefest terms and in passing. How they might fit into a broader framework is yet to be explained.


This lengthy set-piece exchange of not very much paralleled the strangely quiet ALP conference in Sydney, an event from which virtually all conflict had been surgically removed in advance. If the demonstration yesterday by building workers angry at the Government’s reluctance to alter the Australian Building and Construction Commission was spirited, it was also short – and impotent. The Government’s line has triumphed throughout.


More significant (possibly because they represent his own view, not an agreed party position) have been Turnbull’s remarks on campaign financing. His call for donations from companies, unions and organisations to political parties to be banned, and those from individuals to be subject to a cap, is worth support.


The idea is not without hope of the bipartisan backing it would need: NSW Labor under the former premier Morris Iemma promised a similar limitation on political donations after the damaging Wollongong council scandal.


Turnbull’s idea has alarmed those who manage his party’s finances, and who struggle to find donations to compete with the steady flow of dollars towards Labor from trade unions. They should see it, though, as a means to level the field. It would not eliminate completely the power of money to taint government decision-making, but it would make it much harder.


And if it reduces the amount of money parties have to spend on campaigns – so what? The endless polling and the targeting of interest groups and population segments which the big campaign war chests pay for do not improve the political process.


Rather, by replacing leadership with an ability to read and react to polls, they damage it. The nation acquires a political class which is simultaneously unable to make hard decisions and beholden to wealthy interest groups.


Turnbull’s suggestion is the most positive idea to come from a week which promised much and delivered rather less.







NICOLAS SARKOZY is frankly a disappointment. With his policies the President of France has tried to turn that country into a pale version of Britain or America – an impossible task, even if it were worth attempting. His personal style, emphasising fitness and competition, follows the same pattern. His Italian wife, Carla Bruni, has imposed a strict regime of diet and exercise. As a consequence, Sarkozy is now recovering after collapsing while jogging. Asked if he should change, he replied: ‘‘We don’t go out late at night; we never go to parties; I don’t drink … I don’t smoke … so I don’t think that I have any major structural changes to make.’’


We beg to differ. A real president of France does not jog, nor does he diet. A real president of France breakfasts late, leaves for lunch on the dot of midday, and stays there most of the afternoon. He smokes like a chimney, and downs a bottle of his country’s finest product before retiring with his mistress to the theatre for the evening. Nicolas Sarkozy, lift your game.




                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN




There was a time when New Labour's great failing was crass populism. That time has passed. After being bloodied by Joanna Lumley for being too hard on a much-admired group of would-be immigrants, the Gurkhas, the government took another knock with a vindictive refusal to allow Ronnie Biggs to die out of jail. The latest example of hardline un-populism is the looming extradition of the computer hacker Gary McKinnon, which moved a step closer yesterday after the high court refused to grant his latest bid to be tried in the UK. The "Free Gary" campaign encompasses, among others, Sting, Terry Waite and the Daily Mail.


With the court citing evidence that incarcerating Mr McKinnon – who suffers from Asperger's syndrome – in the US would carry "a risk of suicide", there are good compassionate grounds for the campaign. At first blush, though, its reach right across the political spectrum is hard to fathom. After all, Mr McKinnon admits to improperly tampering with the Pentagon's systems, an activity which surely raises genuine security concerns. Health problems are not always seen as a good reason for refusing extradition – they plague the radical Islamist Abu Hamza, but there is no public resistance to the prospect of his being expelled to face harsh American treatment. And it is also true, as yesterday's ruling made plain, that the extradition of Mr McKinnon is a straightforward case of the law taking its course.


The point, however, is that the law in question is a bad one, cooked up in the heyday of the frenzied alliance between Tony Blair and George Bush. As with much that flowed from that partnership, the new extradition arrangements seem to work asymmetrically – with a Liberal Democrat analysis suggesting that US courts are more than twice as likely to refuse extradition to Britain as British courts are to refuse to expel people to the US. The broad brush applied takes insufficient account of the ethical difference between a disruptive but non-violent UFO obsessive such as Mr McKinnon and those with the ambition to kill.


The case riles the public because it is part of a wider pattern – a pattern of British justice being compromised through a mix of cavalier disregard for civil liberties and slavish loyalty to the US. Two entirely separate court cases this week underlined both aspects of this. In one, a draconian control order imposed on a man given no explanation was revoked; in another, it was heard that Hillary Clinton had personally intervened to stop evidence of CIA collusion in torture seeing daylight in a British courtroom.

One of the few positive legacies of the Bush-Blair alliance has been to render rightwing populism profoundly unpopular.







The decision yesterday by the Quakers to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples was welcomed by campaigners such as Peter Tatchell as a trailblazing. But it is not the first time that the Religious Society of Friends has gone out in front. The Quakers not only began the British campaign against the slave trade but they could also lay claim to have invented modern campaigning, with the publication of a diagram showing the cross section of a ship in which slaves lay shoulder to shoulder. So too did they pick up the cudgels of prison reform and the treatment of the mentally ill. Banned by law from politics and the universities, many Quakers went into commerce and industry, where philanthropists such as Joseph Rowntree provided his workers with modern benefits such as free education, medical care and a pension fund. If Quakers make woolly believers (a majority believe in God but all refuse a creed to which they must subscribe), they are crystal clear on behaviour. They value the experience of inspiration and share it in largely silent worship. The Quaker church will now ask the government to change the law to allow its officers to register same-sex partnerships as marriages. But legal recognition is secondary. The exploration of radical concepts is more important, as is the belief that there is good in everyone. As George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement wrote, from prison of course: "Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone."







When Harry Patch is buried next Thursday, Britain's last living link with the trenches of the first world war will finally be severed. But it is unlikely that his funeral will shake the hold that a war that ended 91 years ago still exercises on the popular imagination. Yesterday, all tickets for the service in Wells Cathedral were snapped up. Mr Patch, a Passchendaele survivor, thought all war was organised murder and refused to talk about it at all until a few years before he died, a reticence shared by many other old soldiers – including his comrade Henry Allingham, who died just a few days before him.


Few of the 6 million who answered the call to arms saw themselves as heroes. That was for those too old or young to fight, who knew the war only through the casualty lists that ultimately bore the names of more than a million British and Commonwealth soldiers – and their propaganda counterweight, the newsreels of restaged battles showing the brave boys going over the top. For the veterans, it was something to leave behind, an experience most closely reflected in the bitter anger of poets like Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Ivor Gurney and Edmund Blunden. It was the political betrayal of the 1930s and a second world war that substituted the idea of a great victory won at a terrible cost with the equally partial myth of lions led by donkeys – which dominates still.


It is not only romance that sustains the fascination with the war. In part, it is the prosaic function that war records now play for the growing band of amateur genealogists. But more importantly it is the old structures specifically designed to give institutional form to the national sense of loss. Their guiding lights were an industrialist who must have done well out of the war, Sir Alfred Mond – who established the Imperial War Museum – and Sir Fabian Ware, a Red Cross worker who had the inspiration that became the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Together, the museum and the commission suppressed the wartime reality of Edwardian England's class distinction and perpetuated the idea of a noble sacrifice, of the war to end wars. If there is a third influence, it was the people themselves, who demanded that the temporary cenotaph erected in Whitehall for a peace commemoration day in 1919 be made permanent. Imagine now a prime minister prepared to allow a monument to a million dead to be erected at the foot of Downing Street.


The Imperial War Museum was a Victorian response to war – the world's cataloguers' answer to catastrophe – but, as well as storing and filing the artefacts of combat, it had a moral purpose. It was to remind people, according to LR Bradley, its first director and a veteran himself, of "the futility of war, and that heroism is bought at all too dear a cost". In contrast, the War Graves Commission was an invention of the 20th-century mind. It reconciled the logistical impossibility of repatriating so many dead with a democratic commemoration of the equality of sacrifice of men and officers, volunteers and conscripts (and excluded only those branded as cowards), befitting the first total war. It was Ware who insisted that the dead should be buried as they had fought, together, and without distinction of rank, beneath headstones of a simple uniformity.


Three generations later, schoolchildren standing in the vast cemetery at Thiepval are still taken aback by the sheer scale of the loss, and the bathos of Rudyard Kipling's inscription of the unidentifiable dead, "known unto God". It is the careful distinction that these two pillars of memory make between the nature of individual sacrifice on the one hand and the conduct and purpose of war on the other, that means this week the streets of Wootton Bassett were lined with mourners paying their respects to young men who have died in Afghanistan despite mounting scepticism about the justification for their loss.








Child abuse is on the rise in Japan. Child consultation centers nationwide were contacted in a record 42,662 cases of child abuse in fiscal 2008, 2,023 more cases than in fiscal 2007, which saw the caseload top 40,000 for the first time. The number has been rising for 18 straight years — since statistics were first taken in 1990.


The health and welfare ministry thinks that the revised Child Abuse Prevention Law, which went into effect in April 2008, has helped to make more people aware of child abuse and more willing to report suspicions to child consultation centers. But this should not deflect attention from the fact that child abuse is increasing while measures to prevent it have been lagging.


The main revision to the law is aimed at strengthening the legal authority of child consultation center workers. If people, especially parents, suspected of child abuse refuse to appear before such a center, workers at the center, with court permission and police cooperation, can "forcibly enter" a residence, such as by breaking a door lock, to protect a child.


In fiscal 2008, there were only two incidents of forcible entry. In each case, a child failed to come to school and the parents would not cooperate in the investigation by a child consultation center. Center workers apparently hesitate to use their legal authority as a final recourse.


The backgrounds and reasons for child abuse are complex. Such factors as stress from child rearing, dissatisfaction with the spouse or partner, and hatred toward a child from an earlier marriage can lead to child abuse/neglect. What some parents consider discipline at home may actually be an act of child abuse. A parent must be able to look at a disciplinary act taken toward his or her children in an objective manner.


It is important to remember that child abuse/neglect can happen anywhere, anytime. When one hears of a child battered or notices a child behaving strangely, one should not hesitate to notify a school teacher, the police or a child consultation center. One also needs to muster the courage to help not only the children but also the parents.








The Tokyo District Court on Tuesday ordered Prince Hotels Inc. and its 12 executives to pay some ¥290 million in compensation to Japan Teachers' Union (Nikkyoso) and 1,889 teachers for canceling a contract to let the union use rooms for an annual study meeting.


The ruling is significant because it unambiguously upholds people's right to free assembly and speech. It not only accepted in full the union's demand for compensation, including about ¥50,000 for individual teachers, but also ordered the firm to run an apology notice in major national newspapers.


Nikkyoso planned to hold its annual meeting in early February 2008. Teachers were to share their experiences and discuss wide-ranging issues related to education. The union made a contract with the hotelier in May 2007 for use of rooms for the meeting at Grand Prince Hotel Shin Takanawa in Tokyo. But the firm told Nikkyoso in November 2007 that it was canceling the contract, citing expected massive street protests by rightist groups against the union and subsequent inconvenience and safety problems for other hotel guests and neighboring residents.


Following a request from Nikkyoso, the Tokyo District Court issued a provisional injunction on Jan. 16, 2008, ordering the hotel chain to let Nikkyoso use the rooms. Two weeks later, the Tokyo High Court turned down the firm's appeal. But the firm continued to refuse to let Nikkyoso use the rooms.


The Tokyo District Court's ruling in the damages lawsuit said that Prince Hotels' nonfulfillment of a contract is clear. It noted that the hotel chain's illegality in refusing to follow the provisional court injunctions is "extreme" and that the firm "ignored the judiciary."


Significantly, the court pointed out that the planned Nikkyoso meeting would have contributed to development of thought and personality through exchanges of various opinions and thus deserved legal protection. It also said that Prince Hotels could have fulfilled the contract even if there had been protest activities by rightist groups. While Prince Hotels has chosen to appeal the ruling to the Tokyo High Court, the firm would do well to reflect on its behavior and honor contracts that involve the right to free assembly and speech.




Editorial from The Pioneer, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Financial Express, The Hindu, The Statesman’s, The Tribune, Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald, Economic Times, The Telegraph, The Assam Tribune, Pakistan Observer, The Asian Age, The News, The New York Times, Dawn China Daily, Japan Times, The Gazette, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian and more only on EDITORIAL.



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