August 03, 2009
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Month August 09, Edition 000262, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
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- BOOT THIS MAN OUT
- ABUSE IS NOT A RIGHT
- ISOLATE AND DEFEAT PDP-ARUN NEHRU
- AS THE WORLD WATCHES SILENTLY-BEN JOHNSON
- PM FUDGING ENR ISSUE-MURLI MANOHAR JOSHI
- MOUNTING PROTEST-SHIKHA MUKERJEE
- THE RISE OF THE MIDDLE KINGDOM-PREMEN ADDY
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- WRONG COURSE
- BEER BROTHERHOOD
- START AT THE TOP-
- 'WHY ARE WE SUCH A HYPOCRITICAL RACE?'
- MORE THAN ROCKET SCIENCE-
- CATS AMONG THE PIGEON
- FARM-FRESH ADVICE
- OMAR’S TRIAL BY FIRE CONTINUES-PANKAJ VOHRA
- WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE-ASHOK MALIK
- BLAMING EVERYONE ELSE
- RAW NERVE
- FOR THE RECORD
- OPEN, FREE, FAIR-SOLI J. SORABJEE
- WHOSE RIGHT TO EDUCATION?-JAVED ABIDI
- ‘I DON’T KNOW WHY THEY GO BACK TO POLITICS, YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING...IF I HAD (MPLAD FUND), I COULD HAVE DONE A LOT’
THE FINENCIAL EXPRESS
- WORLD TRADE, ORGANIZED
- MONITORING, SO WHAT?
- LEFT AND RIGHT BOTH WRONG ON THE FARMER-SHUBHASHIS GANGOPADHYAY
- LET’S CALL TIME OUT ON THE RENT SEEKERS-JANMEJAYA SINHA
- WATERING DOWN STAKES, BUT IS THERE LIQUIDITY?-BIJITH R
- A FINE BALANCE
- JUSTIFIABLE DEMAND
- JUSTICE AND THE WORLD -AMARTYA SEN
- WHERE PAINTING CAME TO THEIR RESCUE -BRUCE WEBER
- WHITE HOUSE VACATION: MORE THAN LIGHTHEARTED FARE -RACHEL L. SWARNS
- SUNBEDS — THE SURREALISTIC TAN AND THE CANCER -ESTHER ADDLEY
- STING OPERATIONS AND ‘TRIAL BY MEDIA’
- U.S. ARMY TO PROBE CLAIM IT MONITORED PROTEST GROUPS -WILLIAM YARDLEY
THE ASIAN AGE
- AIRLINE STIR WAS A VERY BAD IDEA
- DISCERNIBLE ACT OF FOLLY-BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH
- WHY BAILOUT?
- A VERDICT FOR DEMOCRACY
- THE STINK OF CORRUPTION
- COMBATING MAOISTS -BY UTTAM SENGUPTA
- THE LAW ON TRIAL IN CHINA-BY TENG BIAO
- COLOUR COORDINATION OR SUPERSTITION?-BY DEVI CHERIAN
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- THE JOINT STATEMENT
- HUMAN TRAFFICKING
- RESUMING INDO-PAK DIALOGUE-PRAFUL BIDWAI
- SPIRITUALITY AND THE PRACTICE OF VALUES-DR MAINA SARMA
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- STAND FIRM
- UPTICK IN STEEL
- ELEMENTARY LOGIC
- PIGMALION: THE MYTH OR A MASK?
- SUBBARAO'S RARE FEAT-MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH
- AIRLINE PROTEST WAS A VERY BAD IDEA
- NOTHING HONOURABLE ABOUT HONOUR KILLING -BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN
- FREE MARRIAGE COUNSELLING FOR US, ISRAEL - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- BEER’S BIG HANGOVER - BY FRANK RICH
- DISCERNIBLE ACT OF FOLLY - BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH
- THE FOOD Q&A - BY MAUREEN DOWD
- TWO: ZERO A FORCED COMEDOWN FOR THE CONGRESS
- FRISKING’S IMPACT ONLY SOME BRUISED EGOS
- LONG OVERDUE NEED TO CHECK ASSAM COUNCIL FUNDS
- THE BALUCHI JINGO-K VIKRAM RAO
- OUT OF THE RACE
- CHANGING CITY
- LESZEK KOLAKOWSKI (1927-2009) -RUDRANGSHU MUKHERJEE
- DUBIOUS VICTORY -GWYNNE DYER
- PARTISAN INTERESTS RULE US POLITICS-BY MICHAEL JANSEN
- DIAMONDS AND ROSES-BY DOROTHY VICTOR
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- A NEW GAP FOR ALBANY
- TROUBLED BANKS, HUGE BONUSES
- AFTER THE F-22
- THE VOTE ON JUDGE SOTOMAYOR
- FEAR AND DREAD
- GOJRA INCIDENT:WHAT A SHAME
- SMILING STUDENTS GO TO SCHOOLS IN SWAT
- A CLUMSY WAY OF LAWYERS CELEBRATIONS
- COSTLIER GAS
- THE VADA-PAV STATUE...!
THE KOREA TIMES
- SWIMMER’S SETBACK
- GWANGHWAMUN PLAZA
- IN POLITICS, THE MATES MUST NOT RATE
- SHOPPING AROUND
- THE SADDEST STORIES
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- PLOT FOR NUCLEAR NIGHTMARES
- STOP THE BULL ON ORGANIC FOOD
- SUPREME COURT: JUDGING THE JUDGES
- MPS: NEW FACES, OLD HOUSE
- IN PRAISE OF... CELESTIAL SLEUTHING
THE KOREA HERALD
- HUMAN RIGHTS IN KOREA
- PLAZA FOR ALL
- OF BANKS, BAILOUTS IN TODAY'S RECESSION -MICHAEL BOSKIN
- LOWERING THE LEGAL AGE
- HIGHWAY POLITICS
- ONE EUROPE IN ONE CONFUSING WORLD ORDER-BY DOMINIQUE MOISI
1. CHECK CAMPUS CHEATING
2. TRADE BARRIERS NO SOLUTION TO CRISIS
3. CIVIL SOCIETY CAN DO MORE TO FIGHT AIDS
4. CUT DOWN ON CARS
BOOT THIS MAN OUT
SACK BUTA SINGH. HE HAS SHAMED SCS
The arrest of Mr Sarabjyot Singh, son of Mr Buta Singh, the chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, is potentially the most damaging assault on the idea of social justice and empowerment that India has seen. The arrested man has been accused of blackmailing a Nashik-based businessman who faced charges of social prejudice, and whose case was pending before the Commission. On behalf of his father, Mr Sarabjyot Singh seems to have negotiated a bribe and assured the accused businessman of exoneration, at least that is what the prima facie evidence that the Central Bureau of Investigation has cited would suggest. Mr Buta Singh has, of course, denied all charges, insisted it is a conspiracy to tarnish him and refused to do the honourable thing and resign. This man’s record is truly astonishing. As Governor of Bihar, he had another son accused of peddling favours and practically running a parallel administration during President’s Rule. In the NDA era, he was a short-lived Minister before being forced to quit following his conviction (since overturned) in the JMM bribery case. In the 1980s, in the Rajiv Gandhi years, he was India’s most forgettable and underperforming Home Minister, a distinction he shares with Mr Shivraj Patil. Today, he has compromised the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, a constitutional body that is mandated to guarantee the rights and privileges of India’s poorest and traditionally most disadvantaged communities. So shaming has been the experience that the credibility of the Commission has all but collapsed. This man has to be removed from office. The Government must act immediately and begin the legal process of sacking Mr Buta Singh.
Laws are meant to protect innocent people. Occasionally, they become instruments in the hands of criminals who seek to use these very laws to harass people. Complaints of misuse of the acts that aim to uphold the rights of SCs or of victims of dowry have been reported. While these are unfortunate, for the most part they are the work of motivated private individuals. Mr Sarabjyot Singh’s case is entirely different. It indicates conversion of a constitutional authority into a rent-seeking, money-making enterprise. It suggests the crippling on an entire institution and is the equivalent of a judge caught taking a bribe. It is indicative of kleptocracy, where the ruling class is reduced to holding its own citizenry hostage. It is to be hoped the Singh family offers only an isolated phenomenon and is not representative of a larger rot.
Given the enormity of the incident and the disgust it has caused, it would be fit to not just remove Mr Buta Singh but also re-examine the process by which bodies like the National Commissions receive and handle complaints. The entire method has to be made foolproof and may now require evidence that can stand scrutiny in the highest court. This would mean the legal advice and, indeed, membership of such a commission would need to be strengthened and the statutes and laws that underpin it would need to be rigorous and unambiguous. Matters can no more be left to the wisdom and sense of fair-play of the chairman of a commission. So far India has known that such commissions are headed by political appointees. Yet, even this country is not ready to send fixers and fixer families to constitutional office.
ABUSE IS NOT A RIGHT
PROTECTED MONUMENTS ARE NOT MOSQUES
The repeated forcible entry into protected monuments in Delhi by Muslims to offer namaz is something that deserves strong condemnation. Over the last few weeks, Muslims have started gathering at various protected historical sites in south Delhi every Friday with the demand that they be allowed to offer prayers inside the monument premises. Slowly the numbers have increased and last week a large group of Muslims forced its way into Qutub Minar, Jamali Kamali, Raja ki Baoli and the Mohammadi mosque to offer namaz. This had prompted the Archaeological Survey of India — the body responsible for maintaining these heritage monuments — to lodge a police complaint and ask for more security at the various sites. But even the deployment of policemen did not deter the trouble-makers who again assembled on Friday outside Jamali Kamali to offer namaz. When they were barred by the police from doing so, they performed the ritual on a busy road near the site of the monument, holding up traffic for over half-an-hour. The offering of namaz at heritage sites is not permissible under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, which explicitly states that prayers cannot be offered inside protected monuments where the activity had ceased during the time of the notification of the Act. All the sites mentioned above conform to this rule. The guideline itself was made keeping in mind the need to preserve these structures by minimising human activity on their premises.
It must be remembered that although these heritage monuments are Islamic in origin, they belong to the nation and not a particular community. The Muslims who have been barging into these monuments under the guise of performing namaz are actually trying to convert these structures into active mosques. This has neither religious nor legal sanction. The imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, has threatened to enter the heritage structures with others to offer namaz and even court arrest if the need be. This is highly deplorable. There are myriads of active mosques in Delhi where Muslims can offer namaz. To demand that they be allowed to do so at ancient monuments is unacceptable. Neither is blocking traffic on a busy road to offer prayers something that can be allowed, for, it creates a huge amount of inconvenience. Freedom of religion and worship is a fundamental right that the Constitution grants every citizen of this country. But what is being witnessed is the misuse of that right by those who trade in communal politics. We must guard against malcontents who find it difficult to exist in a society not plagued by communal strife and violence.
ISOLATE AND DEFEAT PDP
Events in Jammu & Kashmir cannot be looked at in isolation and there is more to the situation than the current political battle between the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party. Governance is never easy and in the past few months we have seen a significant amount of disturbance in the Kashmir Valley, especially after the Shopian incident wherein two women were found raped and murdered. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has struggled with the case. But there was little justification for senior leader Muzaffar Beigh to accuse Mr Abdullah of being involved in the infamous sex scandal that had surfaced in the Kashmir Valley in 2006.
Mehbooba Mufti on her part has been pulling one stunt after another. After hurling a microphone in the State Assembly, she tore the CBI’s letter on the sex scandal on the floor of the House. We all know the stance that the PDP had adopted on the Amarnath Yatra issue and are aware of its absurd proposal to us Pakistani currency in the Kashmir Valley.
The Union Government must support Mr Abdullah in the current situation. We should not forget that it took a great deal of courage, grit and determination for Mr Farooq Abdullah and his son to infuse a sense of hope in the people of Jammu & Kashmir and get them to turn out in record numbers in the State Assembly election last year. To a large extent, the separatist elements in the Kashmir Valley and their patrons across the border have been isolated. The PDP is the only party in the State that is still trying to keep the extremist voices relevant. Its politics must be rejected outright.
We cannot ignore the situation in Pakistan where the Taliban and other jihadi organisations exert considerable influence on the Pakistani Army and the intelligence establishment of that country. The threat of terrorism has neither abated in the Kashmir Valley nor in other parts of the country. Our security challenges are significant and the Pakistani civilian Government can hardly be said to be in control of its domestic affairs. Be it the 26/11 Mumbai attack investigation, the terror network the ISI is helping spread or the terrorist sleeper cells within our own country, we have little option but to proceed with extreme caution and get the international community to put pressure on Islamabad.
We are all aware of the imploding situation in Pakistan, and the chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan. We all understand the need for a cautious approach with Pakistan, but the patience shown by our public cannot last forever. Pakistan continues to issue provocative statements on the 26/11 terror attack and the recent comment by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Jamaat-ud-Dawa’h chief Hafiz Saeed indicates that we can expect little or no action against him by the Pakistani authorities.
The joint statement with Pakistan at the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh was overwhelmingly influenced by the Pakistani leadership, and the current signals from Islamabad are far from encouraging.
The UPA and the NDA may cross swords as much as they like but the reality of the joint statement will be judged by Pakistan’s response to 26/11. Public opinion in India cannot be taken for granted by the UPA Government. It must act decisively with respect to Pakistan and move with the nation’s long-term interests in mind.
I do not subscribe to the theory of doom and gloom but the facts of the immediate past indicate that on every occasion that weapons have been supplied to Pakistan, they have been used against India. The question to be asked is has anything changed for the better in the past few months? There are media reports that the US and the UK are talking to the Taliban in Afghanistan. What inference can we draw from these developments?
Meanwhile, the aviation sector at home is in a bit of turmoil. Kingfisher Airlines and Jet Airways may well go into salary delays and defaults, and avail of extra credit from public sector units on oil supplies. Nonetheless, the Government must not discriminate between the public and the private sectors. There is much talk of reducing expenditure but whether this will happen is something that we will have to wait and see.
We will also have to monitor the cost of bilateral agreements with foreign airlines. For, the benefits given to them could have a heavy bearing on our own airlines and their domestic market share. We need a level playing field and it is unfortunate that the lobby system continues to function which differentiates between the public and private sectors and also treats individual private airlines differently. All this and more will surface as there is greater transparency in the system now.
AS THE WORLD WATCHES SILENTLY
Budapest, 1956. Prague, 1968. Gdansk, 1981. Tianenmen Square, 1989. Tehran, 2009. Each of these surprise flashpoints in history’s long march against totalitarianism proved as dazzling at its outset as it did hopeless at its extermination. Each of them left a trail of broken bodies, but the last was different than all its historical forebears in one way: The President of the United States kept silent while it was unfolding.
Mr Barack Obama, and the world, saw police beat and gas protesters and kill 27-year-old music students and nine-year-old children; and Iranian reports indicate that those arrested were viciously tortured in a secret prison. All the while, Mr Obama maintained a reticence that helped enable the secret police. The young protesters who continue filling Iran’s streets to renew their revolt against corruption offer Mr Obama a unique opportunity: A chance to redeem his previous, disastrous inaction. Will he act this time to prevent hundreds more of their fellow citizens from meeting a similar fate?
His predecessors, who faced the actual threat of nuclear annihilation, greeted oppression with resistance. President Johnson called the Soviet invasion “patently contrived” and threatened UN action. Reagan, unable to garner NATO support for an effective response, imposed the economic sanctions at his disposal. Mr George HW Bush, who was overly cozy with Beijing, verbally denounced the massacre and temporarily suspended diplomatic relations.
Mr Obama met crisis with equivocation, choosing to “withhold comment” about the transparently rigged election and standing idly by as Iranian secret police brutalised and arrested 2,500 democratic protesters, so as not be seen as “meddling”. Republicans John McCain and Lindsay Graham condemned his actions as “timid,” and even both houses of the Democrat-controlled Congress passed measures condemning the abuse more stridently than Mr Obama. Finally, on June 20, he released a statement, calling on “the Iranian Government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people”.
Like his invitation for Iran to “unclench its fist” on nuclear weapons, his plea was ignored, as the mullahs’ enforcers murdered Neda Agha Soltan and rounded up hundreds more to a then-unknown location. We now know their fate: Torture and death in Iranian secret prisons.
PM FUDGING ENR ISSUE
MANMOHAN SINGH HAS TOLD PARLIAMENT THAT INDIA WILL RECEIVE NUCLEAR ENRICHMENT AND REPROCESSING TECHNOLOGY AND RIGHTS. BUT THE G-8 STATEMENT RUNS CONTRARY TO THIS CLAIM AS DO CLAUSES IN AMERICAN LAW. THE NSG IS UNLIKELY TO YIELD ON THE ISSUE AT ITS PLENARY. SO, WHERE DO WE STAND VIS-À-VIS FULL FUEL CYCLE?
MURLI MANOHAR JOSHI
On July 29, while replying to the debate in the Lok Sabha on his recent foreign visit, dealing with the reports about G-8 restrictions on transfer of Enrichment and Reprocessing Technologies to countries which have not signed the NPT, which inter alia include India, the Prime Minister had assured that India has a clean waiver and that full nuclear cooperation will result from the 123 Agreement. He also informed the Lok Sabha that the French President had told him that France was prepared to enter into nuclear commerce with India. But several reports raise some apprehensions which need to be cleared by the Government and the scientists participating in the negotiations.
The G-8 L’Aquila statement on non-proliferation states:
The universalisation and reinforcement of the non-proliferation regime remains an urgent priority. We call upon all states still not party to the Treaty on the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, to accede without delay.
We underscore that the NPT remains the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
To reduce the proliferation risks associated with the spread of enrichment and reprocessing facilities, equipment and technology, we welcome the progress that continues to be made by the Nuclear Suppliers Group on mechanisms to strengthen controls on transfers of such enrichment and reprocessing items and technology. While noting that the NSG has not yet reached consensus on this issue, we agree that the NSG discussions have yielded useful and constructive proposals contained in the NSG’s “clean text” developed at the 20 November 2008 consultative group meeting. Pending completion of work in the NSG, we agree to implement this text on a national basis in the next year. We urge the NSG to accelerate its work and swiftly reach consensus this year to allow for global implementation of a strengthened mechanism on transfers of enrichment and reprocessing facilities, equipment, and technology.
Obviously the intention is to deny ENR technologies to non-NPT countries.
Responding to the G-8 statement, Mr Pranab Mukherjee told the Rajya Sabha this year on July 13, “We have got a clean waiver and are not concerned over the position of the G-8 countries. So far as the civil nuclear cooperation is concerned the appropriate agency is the IAEA and the 45-member NSG”.
Perhaps Mr Mukherjee forgot that the G-8 members include both France and Russia the countries which have the enrichment and reprocessing technologies and they are also the members of the NSG. Once they support the contents of the G-8 declaration, how can they oppose the same in the plenary of the NSG?
The issue is whether India has made any attempt to see that both Russia and France don’t support the dilution of the principle of ‘full civil nuclear cooperation’. Whatever interpretation Mr Mukherjee or the Government of India may like to give, the fact is that the adoption of the G-8 text prevents India from procuring ENR items both from France and Russia.
It may be recalled that as early as March 2008, the NSG members discussed a statement to be adopted at the plenary meeting, which would say that the participating Governments of the Nuclear Supplier Group.
Desire to contribute to the effectiveness and integrity of the global non-proliferation regime, and to the widest possible implementation of the provisions and objectives of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Seek to avert the further spread of nuclear weapons.
Wish to pursue mechanisms to affect positively the non-proliferation commitment and action of all states outside the nuclear non- proliferation regime.
Refrain from transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that do not have them and support international efforts to limit their spread.
Harmonising its export control lists and guidelines with those of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and committing to adhere to the nuclear suppliers group guidelines.
The statement further says that:
In order to facilitate India’s adherence to INFCIRC/254/part 1 and 2 and to remain current in its implementation of the guidelines, the NSG chair is requested to review proposed amendments to the Guidelines with India and inform the plenary of the outcome of the dialogue with India. Participation of India in the decisions regarding proposed amendments will facilitate their effective implementation by India.
Now the question, is what was the outcome of this review and what was India’s stand during the review and what was the outcome of the dialogue?
The October 2008 ‘US-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Non-Proliferation Enhancement Act’ to ratify the 123 Agreement paved the way for sections 204(a) and 204(c). The significance lies in the fact that the provision helped turn the Bush Administration’s political assurance on working for a NSG ban into a requirement by law.
Let us look at the Presidential determination to Congress dated September 10, 2008. Mr Bush stated that the 123 Agreement “does not permit transfers of any restricted data. Sensitive nuclear technology, heavy-water production technology and production facilities, sensitive nuclear facilities, and major critical components of such facilities may not be transferred under the agreement unless the agreement is amended”.
The US State Department’s letter of January 2008 responding to 45 congressional questions was released in August 2008. I would like to know whether the Government of India had seen this letter and if so what action was taken. It is all the more serious if it was not seen by our negotiators.
The letter affirms the “US Government will not assist India in the design, construction or operation of sensitive nuclear technologies through the transfer of dual-use items, whether under the agreement or outside the agreement”. It categorically ruled out the US transfer of civil reprocessing and enrichment equipment or technologies to India even under safeguards. The letter suggested that “the hope enshrined in Article 5(2) of the 123 Agreement of a future amendment to permit sensitive transfers was merely intended to help the Government of India save face in public. The Administration does not plan to negotiate an amendment to the proposed US-India agreement to transfer to India sensitive nuclear facilities or critical components of such facilities”. While the letter made plain that “the US will not assist India in the design, construction or operation of sensitive nuclear technologies through the transfer of dual-use items, whether under the agreement or outside the agreement,” the PM had told Parliament that the deal “will open up new opportunities for trade in dual-use high technologies.”
I would like to know whether in the light of the above any action was taken by the Government of India. If it is correct that the agreement of a future amendment to permit sensitive transfers was merely intended to help the Indian Government save face in public, then this is most disgraceful. The Government has brought shame of the worst kind by keeping mum on this and concealing it from Parliament.
The statement of Daryl G Kimball, Arms Control Association Executive Director, dated October 1, 2008, on the US-Indian agreement for Nuclear cooperation, says:
The US-Indian agreement for nuclear cooperation is, nonetheless, a nonproliferation disaster. Contrary to the counterfactual claims of proponents and apologists, its does not bring India into the ‘non- proliferation mainstream’ and India’s so called separation plan is not credible from a non- proliferation perspective;
In exchange for quick House approval of the India agreement, however, secretary of state Condoleeza Rice acknowledged the NSG loophole in a personal commitment to Mr Horward Berman, chair of the house committee on Foreign Affairs. Ms Rice promised that the United States will make it its ‘highest priority’ to achieve a decision at the next NSG meeting to prohibit the export of enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology to states that are not party to the NPT.
In the November 2008 meeting of the NSG cartel, new draft rules emerged which were fully supported by the US. These rules under the revised paragraph 6 and 7 of INFCIRC 254/part 1 lists seven criteria that must be fulfilled before an NSG member authorises the supply of ENR facilities equipment and technology.
According to the confidential text obtained by the Arms Control Association, the very first of these criteria, numbered 6(a)(i), is that the recipient must be “a party to the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear weapons and is in full compliance with its obligations under the treaty”. It is belied that the draft was introduced by the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration got the G-8 to begin implementing it on an international basis recently. If this draft is approved by NSG formally, ENR technologies will be debarred to India.
In the context of the conditions imposed by parts 1 and 2 of INFCIRC 254/part 1, does this mean that India will also be willing to sign the NPT to avail these technologies?
Does the Government of India have any access to INFCIRC 254/ part 1? If yes then what was done by our negotiators to get it amended properly. If not, then it is extremely poor diplomacy.
The chairman of the DAE, Mr Anil Kakodkar, opened the USIBC-NEI commercial nuclear mission to India meeting on January 15,2009 saying that he felt “betrayed” by US policy supporting a ban on enrichment and reprocessing technology in the nuclear suppliers group, saying that it looked to be “directly targeting India” by requiring signature of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. He added “the long term relationship we are developing is not consistent with this kind of negative development”.
Recall that the limited and sole purpose of the India-US deal was to allow the export of nuclear reactors by the US to India and not to aid India in developing advanced technology, even if it means that India will be saddled with tonnes of nuclear waste in the absence of a large scale reprocessing plant required for the purpose.
Based on these recent reports, the negotiations concerning reprocessing appear to be aimed at eventually cornering the country into signing the NPT (as a non-weapons state) as the key condition for India receiving cooperation on ENR. This would effectively take care of the requirement that India “sign a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA”, which it cannot do as long as it has a weapons programme.
On May 5, 2009, Mr Rose Gottenmoeller, Assistant Secretary of State, USA, while speaking at the third session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference said, “We must redouble our efforts to update IAEA safeguard technologies ... Universal adherence to the NPT itself — including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea — also remains the fundamental objective of the United States.”
In the light of these developments, it appears that there is a strong possibility of denial of ENR technologies to India. In any case we have come out extremely poorly in handling nuclear diplomacy.
The writer is a senior BJP MP and a former professor of physics who specialised in spectroscopy.
ACROSS THE COUNTRY LAND ACQUISITION GETS TOUGHER
Chanting the same old incantations about the Good Earth and its wretched people to make a political point is one more clue that the political class is not finding it easy to face up to and deal with the changes that economic reforms and globalisation have made into ground realities. Not only in land-hungry West Bengal, but across the rest of the country, land — its ownership, sale and acquisition, use, misuse and abuse — is an inflammable issue.
As Trinamool Congress’s Mamata Banerjee and the Congress leader Sonia Gandhi work to broker a solution to the intractable land acquisition and compensation problem, it is obvious that nothing is as it either ought to be or as it seems to be. If land were just another commodity, the market could sort out the price at which it was bought and sold. Those who owned it could sell it and take the cash. Those who bought it could use it in any way they pleased, so long as the use did not conflict with other laws or policies.
But that is not possible. Land has so many layers and layers of meaning loaded on to it that the continuing negotiations between the Trinamool Congress, which converted its ownership and use in Singur, Nandigram, Katwa, Shalboni, Rajarhat along railway tracks, in periurban areas in West Bengal, and the Congress, which wants to get on with industrialisation in the rest of the country, are fated to be dissatisfactory.
Ms Banerjee seems to be batting for the buyers, even though she insists her struggle is on behalf of the owners. Ms Banerjee has demanded that the law must enable buyers operating within the market system to purchase all the land they need for setting up industries or infrastructure or realty or any other business. Even though she would like the Government to be kept out of all land deals, as a concession to the dharma of coalitions, she is reportedly willing to accept that State acquisition of land will be limited to 15 per cent of the total.
Even though Ms Gandhi is almost wholly in agreement that the market should decide on buying the land it wants, she is not entirely so. The Congress, whatever Ms Gandhi’s reasons may be for retaining the right to exercise the authority that flows from the principle of eminent domain (State as the ultimate owner of all land within its borders), is not restricted to the politics of land in West Bengal.
There ought to be no dispute, since in principle the Trinamool Congress and the Congress are agreed that the market can buy up the bulk of the land it requires and the Government will limit itself to acquiring a small portion. But that is not what the dispute is about.
Ms Banerjee needs a bail out package on land acquisition that covers all the things she promised the “land losers” in Singur and the assorted Save Farmlands Committees in different parts of West Bengal. Even though the Tata’s shut their shop in Singur in October last year, it was around Puja time that it happened. With another Puja coming up soon and the Trinamool Congress in power at the Centre, Ms Banerjee needs to show just what she is worth.
The Trinamool Congress wants the Centre to pass a law that will underwrite all its realistic and unrealistic promises on the land acquisition issue. She needs a law that will allow the State to undo its acquisition. She needs a law that will not require the sellers to buy back the land if the State de-acquires it. She needs a law that will foist the responsibility of using acquired land for similar purposes on the State, should the original investor flee, as happened in Singur. She needs the Centre to help her to win rural voter confidence.
THE RISE OF THE MIDDLE KINGDOM
WHEN CHINA RULES THE WORLD, A NEW BOOK BY THE FORMER EDITOR OF MARXISM TODAY, MARTIN JACQUES, RAISES SOME INTERESTING QUESTIONS ABOUT INTERPRETING BEIJING’S POWERFUL SURGE
The silliest book imaginable has made its bow with the proverbial silly season. The author, Martin Jacques, once the editor of Marxism Today and a member of the defunct Communist Party of Great Britain, has published When China Rules the World: the Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World. I stared at it speechless, unable to decide whether the thing was a spoof or a zany exercise. Goldman Sachs, not Karl Marx, was its inspiration. Consumptive mantras are, no doubt, responsible for the eccentric strain of cognitive dissonance.
The author’s reborn Han Chinese tributary system, Confucianism and a Confucian world order, would be akin to the second coming of the scriptures. Foreign envoys to the new court in Beijing, instead of presenting their credentials as is the norm, would prostrate themselves before the reincarnation of the old divinities, the Sons of Heaven. English as a universal language would fall into disuse, to be replaced by Mandarin Chinese. The plays of Shakespeare would be out, the Dream of the Red Chamber would be in. The ensemble of the People’s Liberation Army would become the benchmark of global orchestral entertainment, as Mozart and Beethoven et al disappeared into the shadows. The Times trailer revisited the themes of the book. Confusion was worse confounded in this ideological space walk. China rules OK!
A revealing passage from a senior 19th century mandarin, Tso Tsung-t’ang, entrusted by the emperor in Beijing with the pacification of the rebellious province of Xinjiang, should help with reality: “In Xinjiang... the Mohammedan and Chinese cannot get along together. The officers and the people keep a distance from each other, and it is extremely difficult to enforce a law or an order... It will be necessary to have free public schools where Mohammedan children are ordered to study our written and spoken language... to issue them such books as The One-Thousand Character Essay, The Three Character Classic... And in addition we plan to issue The Filial Piety Classic... After these works have been read, we will give them the Six Classics so that they can learn the meaning of Confucian ideas... If they can be taught to read our books and... understand our language it will be easy for us to achieve our goal of governing Xinjiang.”
The more things change, according to a French saying, the more they remain the same. Spot the difference beween Xinjiang in 1878 and in 2009 — it could be a script for a TV gameshow.
Stability has been the governing mantra of the Middle Kingdom down the ages, achieved, alas, by grinding all politicians into the same chastened shape. The historian Victor Kiernan described it well: “There were no local magnates, no erratic demagogues, jostling their way aboard the sober junk of state; a vessel in any case so barnacled with vested interests that it would do nothing but stand still.”
Truth is that the fantasy of Chinese global dominance conjured up, Martin Jacques cannot rest securely with a centralised international order subject to the whims and fancies of wire-pullers in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. China has neither the hard power nor the soft to establish a supra political-cultural entity radiating wisdom and enlightenment. The ‘barbarian’ multitudes which refuse stubbornly to accept their inferiority, or any quasi Confucian-Maoist tutelage, are indeed too numerous to be subdued with the barrel of a gun or reprints of the Little Red Book. Inordinate ethnic and cultural conceit, in any case, is no recipe for winning friends and influencing people.
China’s place as a great power with a permanent seat in the UN Security Council owes more to the magnanimity and wartime statecraft of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt than to anything it contributed to the Allied war effort, which was indeed minuscule. Japan’s Imperial Navy in the Pacific succumbed to the weight of American sea power; its ground troops in South-East Asia were defeated by Field Marshal Bill Slim’s Fourteenth Army consisting mostly of Indian divisions, while in Manchuria — the heart of Japan’s empire — the Soviet Union, fresh from its towering victory over Nazi Germany, scythed through Tokyo’s crack Kwantung Army in a surgical operation, described as a “postgraduate exercise” in its “vast scope, complexity, timing and unprecedented success” by American military historian David Glantz.
The defeat of the Kwantung Army and the handover of a rich haul of captured weaponry to Chairman Mao’s guerrilla forces paved the way for the victory of the Chinese Revolution. Mao acknowledged this at the time with these words: “The Red Army came to the aid of the Chinese people by driving out the aggressors. Such an example cannot be matched in the entire history of China. The impact of this event is incalculable.” Came the day several years later when Russia was targeted as China’s foremost foe.
The Indian experience was not so different either. In 1942, Mao wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru requesting medical help from India for his beleaguered territory during the civil war with Chiang Kai-shek. A mission under Dwarkanath Kotnis was promptly despatched to Communist-controlled China, yet this failed to save free India’s first Prime Minister from this withering blast in a Chinese communist journal eight years later, which perceived him as “a rebel against the movement for national independence, a blackguard (and) a loyal slave of imperialism... ”
It was worse for Vietnam, whose closeness to China, once likened to lips as to teeth, changed dramatically with a brazen Chinese assault on its southern neighbour in early 1979 in order to “teach it a lesson,” as “India was taught a lesson in 1962.” Martin Jacques’ portrait of China cresting the waves challenges history, reason and common sense. The country’s autistic political culture militates against such a possibility. It is caught in a double bind: The history of tyranny and the tyranny of history.
The US-based Chinese scholar Minxin Pei writes: “Although an illiberal regime can occasionally demonstrate tactical brilliance in diplomacy, its execution of a constructive, long-term foreign policy will be undermined by the character flaws inherent in autocracies, insecurity, secrecy, intolerance and unpredictability.”
Sinologist Jonathan Spence says, “I understand a ‘modern’ nation to be one that is both integrated and receptive, fairly sure of its own identity yet able to join others on equal terms in the quest for new markets, new technologies, new ideas... there were modern countries — in the above sense — in 1600 AD or earlier... Yet at no time in that span, nor at the end of the 20th century, has China been convincingly one of them.”
Over to you, Martin Jacques.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
The Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) has done well to adopt a more conciliatory stance after it announced a decision by all private Indian airlines, save Paramount Airways, not to fly on August 18. The proposed strike, unprecedented in airline history, may have been an effort to publicise the difficulties private aviation in the country is facing. But it would also have alienated flyers, which is not in the airlines' interest. True, the airlines are haemorrhaging money Rs 2,444 crore in 2007-08 and an estimated Rs 10,000 crore in 2008-09. But it needn't give up on the policy of negotiating with the government with respect to the issues affecting the airline industry.
The government, on its part, must be prepared to listen. Air India has asked for a staggering Rs 15,000 crore bailout. The government is preparing to deliver on this at least in part. In this context brushing aside the concerns of private airlines would amount to blatant double standards. The issues of aviation turbine fuel (ATF) taxes and airport charges operational as well as development are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to complexity. In case of the former, there is no reason for ATF prices to be up to 60 per cent higher in India than elsewhere. The differential tax structure that allows various rates to be imposed by different states has little rationale behind it. Civil aviation minister Praful Patel claims that his ministry has been trying to make state governments see reason for years. Whatever the truth of that is, ATF taxation should be worked out so that prices in India aren't allowed to rise above international levels. If necessary, airlines should be allowed to import ATF directly from abroad.
The problem of airport charges, on the other hand, is more nuanced. Development of airports in cities such as Delhi and Mumbai was handed over to private players on the understanding that they would be able to raise their own capital. Charges to customers and airlines have been shoehorned in later. There is a possibility that developers are overcharging. But India is not the only country that partly finances the operation and development of airports using this model. It has worked well elsewhere. Whether the model itself needs to be rejigged or greater regulatory oversight is the solution are issues that must be discussed.
In case of some private airlines, their problems might have been aggravated by poor business decisions and reckless expansion plans. But it's also the responsibility of government to ensure a level playing field for all airlines. Patel enjoys the reputation, and deservedly so, of being responsible for civil aviation taking off in this country. He must ensure that it doesn't crashland soon after.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Over beer and peanuts they talked about race. US president Barack Obama hosted this innovative peace summit to cool down tempers after Sergeant James Crowly, a white policeman, arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates who is black as well as an iconic public intellectual for disorderly conduct a week ago. The arrest had sparked off charges of racial profiling and threatened to upset delicate race ties in the US.
There is a lesson here for our political class. What if Mayawati and Rita Bahuguna-Joshi were to meet over tea and biscuits to discuss their differences? Days after Joshi made her controversial remarks about rape of Dalit women in the state, BSP and Congress leaders have kept the pot boiling. Joshi was arrested and her house set on fire while political leaders traded rhetoric and threats. Politics in UP, a state desperate for some governance and enlightened politics, has since revolved around this issue without serving any purpose. Politicians seem to believe that political capital can be made only by adopting aggressive postures to exaggerate differences.
The lesson from Washington is that there are better ways to debate an issue, resolve a dispute, and even make some political capital. The beer summit was not merely a photo op. The participants were not silent about their differences. Instead they agreed to disagree and continue their dialogue. To an animated public, it sent the message that dialogue is the best way to resolve tensions that are rooted in complex historical conditions. Gates and Crowly continue to differ in their views about race and social prejudices that influence policing in the US. These are not easily resolved and may take many crates of beer before people can settle for common ground. The conversation, however, has to go on.
Caste has a tortuous history in India, similar to that of race in the US. The wounds run deep. Years of political struggles, social and legal reforms have improved matters, but a lot more needs to be done. However, violence verbal and physical is unlikely to help while a patient dialogue among various stakeholders in the society could. Can Maya and Joshi agree to talk over, say, a glass of lassi or nimbu-paani?
THE TIMES OF INDIA
START AT THE TOP
Corruption constitutes the most formidable obstacle to India's emergence as an economic superpower. The existing apparatus to deal with it is targeted mainly at the permanent bureaucracy. One can't expect bureaucracy to be honest if the political leadership, which controls the levers of power, is corrupt.
Due to public ignorance of law, the principle of jurisprudence that a person is presumed to be innocent till proved guilty in a court is being invoked to shield tainted politicians. Presumption of innocence relates to a criminal offence, not to unbecoming conduct in public affairs. A government servant, entrusted with a large amount of money, may misappropriate the money. While it may not be possible to establish the criminal offence of misappropriation in a court of law, he can still be removed from service for causing serious monetary loss to the state. This example should help distinguish between criminal misconduct punishable in a court of law and conduct amounting to wrongdoing and justifying prohibition from holding public office.
To enable the state to deal with corrupt officials without necessarily having to haul them to a criminal court, there is a set of 'conduct and discipline rules'. For a criminal offence, the standard of proof for holding a person guilty is one of being beyond the shadow of reasonable doubt of an ordinary and prudent person. In a disciplinary case, it is preponderance of probability on the evidence produced. It has been accepted by the highest court that facts and circumstances surrounding a case of misconduct by a government servant may not warrant conviction in a criminal court but could justify dismissal from service.
While innocence is presumed till a verdict of guilt is pronounced, acquittal doesn't necessarily confirm presumption of innocence. Only honourable acquittal will do so. That is why the principle of jurisprudence cited also concedes that a hundred guilty persons may escape punishment so that not a single innocent person is convicted.
In the new Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, the definition of public servant was enlarged to bring persons elected to representative institutions of governance on par with government servants. Even so, public figures have been taking shelter under the presumption of innocence argument during pendency of criminal trial to continue in office or assume new offices. And they spare no device of ingenuity or loopholes in procedural law to prolong and frustrate a trial till it becomes infructuous.
In the case of a government servant, gross impropriety or serious misconduct is first met with suspension from service. He is 'out of combat' till his case is decided through disciplinary enquiry and later in court, if so warranted. Even where the court acquits him, he is still liable to removal from service on collateral grounds of negligence or incompetence. Similarly, there is compelling need for a general code of conduct for elected representatives. Analogous to suspension from service in the case of government servants, a bar to holding public office during pendency of an enquiry into one's conduct can be raised for a public figure already elected to a representative institution. In respect of those seeking election or re-election, pendency of enquiry could act as a disqualification even to contest till the outcome of the enquiry.
The present practice of entrusting enquiries against elected representatives to normal anti-corruption agencies is inappropriate and impractical. Government servants entrusted with such probes will always be subject to pressures and fear of retribution in the event of the probe coming to nought. The solution is to bring on the statute book a comprehensive Act for the constitution of a Lok Pal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in states with adequate jurisdiction to cover all elected representatives. Allegations of wrongdoing should be probed only by these institutions which will also recommend, if allegations are found to have substance, a further course of action. They will decide the modalities and procedures of probes conducted under their direct supervision.
During enquiries, concerned persons will be barred from holding public office. This will automatically create in them a vested interest to cooperate with the enquiry and clear themselves of charges if they are innocent. If allegations have substance, the code of conduct can be automatically invoked to slap appropriate disqualifications against holding public office. Criminal prosecutions may be contemplated only in manifest cases of criminal misconduct. The jurisdiction of these institutions should be confined to corruption in public life and not extend to political action in the form of mass protests, demonstrations, strikes etc.
We have broadly copied the British model of governance. Ministers in Tony Blair's government had to resign on minor improprieties like a telephonic call to fast track the issue of a visa for the 'nanny' of a minister's child. In contrast, India ranks near the bottom of the International Corruption Index. As once emphasised by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the standard should be that not only Caesar but even Caesar's wife is above suspicion.
The writer is former governor of Tamil Nadu.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
MOMENT OF TRUTH
As someone who believes we should take our secrets to the grave, i watched 'Sach Ka Saamna' with appalled fascination and a queasy stomach. The participants bare their souls, admitting their misdeeds, betrayals, lusts, envy, hatred and evil thoughts in front of millions.
Most of us recoil from confronting such stuff even in the privacy of our own minds, wincing in pain if we go anywhere near those dark, deep, secrets because who, among us, has never done, or thought something, to be ashamed of? It is difficult to fathom what prompts the participants to reveal intimate secrets that horrify their loved ones, sitting opposite them, eyes wide open with disbelief.
Maybe fame or the prize money on offer. But even in these celebrity-obsessed and materialistic times, most people do not go around destroying precious, lifelong relationships in pursuit of fame and Mammon. Perhaps it's the urge to confess. Few things, apart from a long massage, are guaranteed to make you feel as light, refreshed and at peace with yourself as a good confession. Or, maybe, it's the thrill of playing with fire. A recent participant said that he had agreed to appear on the show for the 'excitement' of telling the truth.
The truth is indeed thrilling because it is more destructive than a thousand nuclear bombs. Its flames singe and burn. The Bible says ''the truth will set you free'' but it also unleashes utter devastation in our personal lives. Few relationships can survive the onslaught of truth, which is why i am firmly against too much of it. With the exception of three places our own minds, the courts and curriculum vitaes i'd say the less truth we have the better.
Who wants to hear what our wives, husbands, children, parents and friends really think of us? Who wants to know the crimes and transgressions committed by the people we cherish? Because truth has been overrated and elevated to a sacred principle, when people speak it, they feel little compunction about the suffering it causes. In fact, the only time people can go around breaking hearts and stabbing souls while feeling pious and self-righteous is when they are blabbering the truth. Uttering the truth is regarded as a moral licence to hurt.
But i can see how the thrill of revealing your innermost secrets could be intoxicating for some perverse individuals. You throw the dice and wait to see the results, to see the power you possess to shock and disappoint. Will the shattered best friend still love you after hearing that you slept with his wife? Will your daughter recover from the pain of hearing the lie detector proclaiming daddy to be a liar when you claim to have been a good father? The participants may have some obscure reasons for appearing on such shows but even more mysterious is why the people in their lives agree to their public humiliation. But i'm not wasting any sympathy on them. They have chosen to make spectacles of themselves.
The programme has shattered some of my illusions about India. I used to think, living in the UK some time ago, that two moral concepts shame and honour were disappearing there. There seemed little that people were not prepared to do. But, i used to think shame and honour were still alive in India where people were, in any case, culturally more reserved and private. This was a society where, to avoid shame and dishonour, you hid the truth even from your nearest and dearest. Yet here they are, unburdening themselves on national television.
As for what happens when they get home, God alone knows. If only the cameras would follow them home, we would see how the wife who told the world she wished her husband was better endowed sits down to rajma-chawal with him, and her in-laws.
The writer is a journalist.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'WHY ARE WE SUCH A HYPOCRITICAL RACE?'
SAIF ALI KHAN TURNS PRODUCER WITH LOVE AAJ KAL. BUT THE ACTOR-TURNED PRODUCER WOULD NOT LIKE TO LABEL HIS FIRST FILM AS JUST ANOTHER LOVE STORY. WE MAY BE 'MANGO PEOPLE' (AAM AADMI), BUT THIS AIN'T A 'MANGO FILM', HE TELLS NIKHAT KAZMI:
What prompted you to take up Love Aaj Kal as the first film to be produced under your banner?
As a producer, i actually can't be very objective about my films. But i liked Imtiaz Ali's script so much that i decided to produce it. Not because it is an ordinary love story, but because there is so much depth in this modern take of love.
Thinking about commitment phobia and once-in-a-lifetime romance?
Yes. Today's generation does seem to have a commitment phobia, which actually is quite normal. They've seen their parents come from a generation of people who would get married after meeting each other merely thrice. Naturally, they're asking what's the rush, dude? Also, they are seeing so many marriages failing before them, no wonder they have begun to doubt the ever-after syndrome.
But you do articulate the dad and mum's version too in the form of Rishi Kapoor's romantic story?
Yes. And that's only because we wanted to ask what's wrong in being a little old-fashioned. Where is this whole equality thing actually taking us, when you think of your career and i think of mine? After all, doesn't love demand a bit of adjustment, compromise and character. Also, what's the point of sticking to a relationship when there is no love? Why are we such a hypocritical race?
As a producer, what kind of cinema would you like to promote?
It would be the same kind of cinema that i have tried to adhere to as an actor: Omkara, Salaam Namaste, Being Cyrus, films that have steered clear of the run-of-the-mill stuff. My next film will be Agent Vinod, but this time you'll get to see a RAW agent who comes across as both entertaining and artistically true. So you'll have car chases in Libya and bullfights too. As a producer, i think my job is to create the right sensibility and environment, almost akin to creating a palette of good taste.
Do you think this is the perfect time to get experimental with Bollywood growing bolder, braver each day?
Indeed, this is absolutely the right time to make films. There is a newfound connect that the film industry has found with the youth. This was partially established with Dil Chahta Hai, but now, i hope to establish a more fulsome bond with my films. It's the perfect time to innovate right now, especially since change is the mantra in almost every department in India. If you try to peddle anything that's old-fashioned, you're sure to get into trouble. See how all the films with old themes are failing to find an audience. Only the new shall survive in today's India.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
MORE THAN ROCKET SCIENCE
All systems ready, the equipment is all set, the countdown begins. I launch and manage to keep my nerves steady and navigate carefully, oblivious to all outside my little cabin, my eyes glued to the two flames and yet darting all over the shiny black console, checking and rechecking to ensure nothing has been forgotten, that nothing goes wrong. I emerge bathed in perspiration half an hour later. Mission accomplished. I can confidently say that this particular branch of science, despite being taken for granted more often than not is, in fact, more difficult than and as precise as rocket science, even given my rudimentary knowledge of the subject. True, liberties can be taken by experts, but novices better stick to the rule book if they want to avoid getting in the soup. Everything from the word 'go' counts the precise amounts, where the variation of a pinch could make or mar your project irrevocably and changes in temperatures or timings could do the same. It irks me no end when people dismiss it as "Oh anybody can do it!" I'd love putting them in our shoes and enjoy seeing them eat humble pie!
It isn't just the 'how' of it that's important, the 'when' is equally so, and woe betide the newbie who disregards it, like me in my younger, brasher and overconfident days. I discovered years later that the reason behind the numerous fiascos was my underestimating the importance of 'when'. I realised later its similarity to rocket science micro-minutes are counted here too, as much as they do at the time of take-off. I believe rocket scientists can at least get off the hot seat once the rocket is on its way and sit up again only at the time of reaching and landing. We have to be on our toes, stewing over the 'just so' intricacies, till our examiners check and pronounce us worth our salt. Rocket scientists have pebbles and what-have-yous to show for their troubles but we? The only sign that ours has been a success are empty plates and some satisfied burps. We do this every day and never win awards for it. Unless you call the appreciative smiles after each meal our award, the only thing which eggs us on this culinary voyage. But don't you believe that cooking is anything less than rocket science!
CATS AMONG THE PIGEON
Airlines anywhere in the world are highly susceptible to business cycles. This is something that Messrs Vijay Mallya and Naresh Goyal have been very much aware of since they entered the airlines business. To think that they entered the sector with their eyes closed would not only be naive but also insulting their business acumen. So, faced with a crisis, it is churlish on their part to explain away their current condition solely by policy terms. Our airlines, which have launched a high-decibel campaign against their regulatory environment, are even more linked to business cycles than most other countries. The Rs 10,000 crore losses they piled up in 2008-09 amount to a fifth of the money that went down the tube for the industry worldwide. Eye-popping for a country that flies a mere 2 per cent of the global air traffic. Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines and the State-owned Air India flew 40 per cent empty in April 2009. One airline can, therefore, cease to exist and the Indian aviation industry will still have spare seats. Ferocious capacity building over the last five years ignored the fact the Indian market can sustain not more than two national airlines. The government has deep enough pockets to keep a bleeding Air India afloat; the choice is more stark for private airlines.
Private airlines have a point when they complain taxes on fuel and airport fees bump up the cost of flying in India by as much as 70 per cent. The latest threat to stop services for a day, however, is a tamasha that the nation can do without, even if it comes against the backdrop of the government finalising a bailout for Air India. As its owner, the government can choose to throw money at the Maharaja. But as policy maker, the government must hear the private airlines to align governance with the interests of the industry. And as regulator of aviation, it has to ensure minimal disruption on August 18.
Indian aviation faces challenges from a deteriorating external environment as well as the teething problems of a young industry. The largest stakeholder in all aspects of the business, the Indian State, needs to ensure it remains a viable proposition. The country’s last aviation policy was drafted in 1993, the capital and infrastructure needs of the industry have multiplied since then. The initial burst of aviation reforms during 2004-07 has run its course; the desperation inherent in the private airlines’ threat to stop services should serve as a cry for more. Some consolidation is inevitable. But it is not in the interests of the 40-odd million Indian flyers if the sector buckles under a mountain of debt and losses. A workable solution between the private players and the government is the need of the hour.
For all of you who were munching on organic soya products and carefully grown carrots, here’s some bad news. A new British study says that there are no significant nutritional benefits to be had from organic food. Well, so much for all that macrobiotic nonsense that health icons like Madonna have been telling us.
But the problem with this study, as with many such before, is that it invariably confuses us. We have been told over the years that having an egg is a good thing, then we were informed that only the white is easy on the heart, then again that the whole caboodle is perfectly kosher. Similarly, on the subject of drink, we have been told variously that a drop or two is good for the nerves and at the same time that not a drop must pass our lips. Many of us who are not exactly size zero have gone through horrific diets. The Atkins one prescribes only protein and many a dieter has chomped through numerous steaks in the hope that this will result in fewer inches. Then we had the one-kind-of-food-a-day diet which meant that you could have watermelons the whole day and, maybe grapes the next. Nothing, as we all know, works quite like the old adage, work out and eat less. Stay off the starch and fat and stick to good ol’ veggies.
Not organic, mind you, unless you want to blow a hole in your pocket. A bit of spice will do you no harm, and if you are partial to an oily curry, well, have a small morsel or two. Don’t deny yourself anything, and that’s something you can chew on for a bit.
OMAR’S TRIAL BY FIRE CONTINUES
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah may have survived the crisis partly created by his conditional resignation to the Governor. But if he has to succeed in the long-run, he has to carry the whole state with him. This includes the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the principal opposition party in the Assembly, that has precipitated the crisis both by its unbecoming conduct in the House and by levelling unsubstantiated charges against the Chief Minister.
Omar Abdullah is perhaps the best thing that’s happened to the state in a long time. He is a liberal Muslim and has inherited a distinguished political legacy. Though there were great expectations from him, his seven-month tenure has been uninspiring. He has been repeatedly tested by his opponents in the Assembly as well as by separatist elements.
His resignation in the face of allegations made by Muzaffar Hussain Beigh, a senior PDP leader, may have given him the high moral ground. But at the same time he also came out as a young leader who did not know how to withstand pressure. He unilaterally submitted his resignation despite reservations on the part of many members of his party. This may have been driven by idealism but he does not seem to have realised that his controversial action could have led to a leadership change within his own party.
Thankfully, this did not happen as the Centre was quick to react and cleared the air about his alleged involvement in the infamous J&K sex scandal currently under scrutiny. Omar has got a reprieve with the Governor asking him to resume work. His critics claim that Omar’s image has taken a beating and henceforth, he is going to be viewed as an impulsive leader. This would be a pity since Omar’s taking office has been a singular highlight in the strife-torn state. He represents the aspirations of a new generation of Kashmiris who are not terribly enamoured by the separatist message and are not willing to lay down their lives for an elusive notion of jihad.
But Omar should learn some lessons from this crisis. The Abdullahs are nationalists and have made no bones about this even in issues which have involved our contentious neighbour. Omar was considered to be far more self-contained that his highly emotional father, Farooq Abdullah.
But the PDP too must realise that its conduct has been shameful. Whatever the provocation, Mehbooba Mufti, another young face with a lot of promise, should never have rushed into the well of the House and thrown the mike at the Speaker. If she and her colleagues ever hope to come back to power, they must stop acting in such an irresponsible manner. She will get plenty of legitimate chances to take on the government. Omar’s seven months in office were certainly not his best and the Opposition was getting a handle to demonstrate that he was not a good administrator after all. But the crisis has allowed him to bounce back and fight.
The supreme irony is that Muzaffar Beigh and Mehbooba Mufti have had their share of differences. But in this crisis both seem to have come closer to one another.
Another disappointment from Kashmir is that the state had a chance to grant a Rajya Sabha ticket to a Kashmiri Pandit (KP) but has allowed that to fritter away. The Kashmiri Pandits are already feeling alienated. There is not even one KP (for the first time) in the Assembly or the Upper House. This is true even of Parliament.
Had the National Conference taken the lead by nominating a KP for the Rajya Sabha, it would have emerged as a truly secular party. Its politics would have been seen to be more inclusive than exclusive. Between us.
WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE
Pakistani officials have tried to insinuate that the Balochistan rebellion is of India’s making. In India, there is denial of any role by covert agencies; and a reaffirmation that Balochistan is Pakistan’s domestic business. Reality is more complex. For some time now, Balochistan has been emerging as the locus of a new Great Game. Regional powers have been using and abetting Baloch tensions for their own reasons. India knows what’s going on, but is more an informed spectator than an active player. If nothing else, its ability to operate in Balochistan is circumscribed by its relationship with Iran.
As far back as the 1970s — just after the Bangladesh war — the then Soviet foreign minister told his Indian counterpart that India should collaborate in fomenting a rebellion in Balochistan. New Delhi demurred. At the time, caches of Iraqi weapons had been found headed towards Baloch tribal chieftains. Iraq was seeking to use Balochistan as a base to instigate violence in neighbouring Iranian Balochistan.
The Iranian Baloch have a different tribal composition from the Pakistani Baloch. However, they too mistrust their national government. Iran’s Baloch are a Sunni minority in a Shia-majority country.
In the early 1970s, India was improving relations with the Shah of Iran and did not want to disrupt that process. Have things changed? Not really. Iranian Balochistan — where India has a consulate in the city of Zahedan — is crucial to the back-up strategy for Afghanistan. In the 1990s, the Iranian and Indian governments collaborated here to provide logistical support to the Northern Alliance.
The possibility — however thin — that the Americans will walk out of Kabul with their job only half done has never quite been dismissed. As such, India has to keep open the option of working with Iran (and Russia) in Afghanistan. That is a compelling priority. The price for it is India steers clear of the Baloch opportunity.
So who then is responsible for Islamabad’s Balochistan headache? The western edge of South Asia is experiencing a tectonic shift. For 30 years, since the Soviet invasion of 1979, successive regimes in Kabul were destabilised by Islamabad. Today, positions have been reversed. The Afghan establishment, at least the faction surrounding President Hamid Karzai, is doing its utmost to destabilise Pakistan. Balochistan is where this experiment is being played out.
Northern Balochistan is a Pushtun stronghold, home to many refugees from the Afghan war of the 1980s. A wing of the Taliban, led by Mullah Omar, is in Quetta, the provincial capital. In the southern part, nomadic Baloch communities have been restive for decades. Islamabad’s writ doesn’t run very far. Kabul has long smelt its chance.
This suits India, but still doesn’t mean India is responsible. Indeed, even the Americans are not quite innocent. Their intelligence agencies are known to have a network in the Baloch belt, in the hope of some day causing a problem for Tehran. The Pakistani Baloch region is a way-station in this journey.
What does it all add up to? Far from converting a domestic insurgency into a bilateral issue, and pinning the blame on India, Pakistan is actually trying to box in an international situation and somehow fit it into a two-country framework. In truth, even if India were to disappear off the face of the planet tomorrow morning, the Baloch mess would remain.
There is one other prism through which to look at the Baloch issue: it offers an alternative model of Muslim oppression. In the past few years, sources of Islamic grievance have become the subject of passionate debate. These are generally seen as Arab/Middle Eastern- Palestine; the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia — or South Asian, as in Kashmir.
This template offers no space for grievances of Muslim peoples, as opposed to Islamists. The Baloch are one such, and so are the Uighurs and Kurds (people of the BUK, to coin a handy acronym). These are predominantly secular Muslim communities. Each has a small sliver of al-Qaeda-type zealotry but that is not the defining characteristic.
In all three struggles, the Crusader-Zionist-Hindu triumvirate that Osama bin Laden talks about is not the principal villain. In two of the three, a small Muslim minority is being oppressed by other, locally dominant Muslim ethnicities. A notional Kurdistan, with oil-rich Kirkuk as its capital, would be the most pro-West territory in the Middle East after Israel. No wonder it is not bin Laden’s rallying cry.
The Islamists are not the only hypocrites. The US would be happy to have Iranian Balochis demand autonomy but not Pakistani Balochis. Turkey protests against China’s treatment of Turki-speaking Uighurs but is scarcely as generous to Iraqi Kurds, lest it gives Turkey’s own Kurds ideas. China lectures India on Kashmir and America on Iraq. When it comes to Xinjiang, it brutalises its Muslim minority, no questions asked.
Like the Uighurs and the Kurds, the Baloch are the forgotten underdogs of the Muslim world. India should stop pretending they don’t exist.
Ashok Malik is a Delhi-based writer
BLAMING EVERYONE ELSE
Private airlines have called off their “strike” planned for August 18 but India’s airlines are clearly a disgruntled lot. Their sense of grievance has been building for some time, culminating in recent demands which focus particularly on airport fees and fuel costs. They have a point: airport fees, especially in Delhi and Mumbai, have been revised to
the airlines’ (and customers’) disadvantage to benefit contractors who inappropriately underestimated their costs; and, the price of air turbine fuel (ATF) is kept high because of India’s dysfunctional energy policy.
But if the airlines think that this absolves them from responsibility, then they’re wrong. The airline business is tough. It requires corporations that can both plan — given the massive purchases and sunk costs involved — while also being nimble: to respond to political constraints, sudden changes in travel patterns, variation in fuel prices. Simply put, the complainers have failed to do this. In the short- and medium- term, they have made bad corporate decisions; and their overall business plans are poorly thought out and are the primary cause of the crisis. It is no coincidence that, even though some “low-cost” airlines had joined the strike call, they’re making profits while “full-service” airlines like Kingfisher and Jet are massively in the red. Kingfisher’s Vijay Mallya famously derided India’s first low-cost carrier, Air Deccan’s plans half a decade ago, saying it wouldn’t work in India. In a capitalist economy, if you place massive bets based on thinking of that sort, you cannot blame anyone else if you lose. This year budget airlines have, for the first time, a majority of flyers; and their relevant marginal cost, the cost per available seat kilometre, is half that of the full-service airlines, which is almost Rs.5. That is simply too much of a gap to be sustainable, and business plans that thought so have deservedly been shown up.
India’s airlines now complain that fuel prices are 45 per cent or so of their operating expenses. (Changing that will face stiff opposition from states, which benefit from sales taxes on ATF.) They will claim that the actual price they face is higher than that faced by other airlines worldwide; but that is a fallacious argument. Where they compete with those airlines, they face a level playing field, able to buy ATF at cheaper international rates. The question is why they thought business plans could be imported from abroad to Indian conditions, and a very different cost structure. There is no reason why that would work in the airline industry, when it wouldn’t work in any other. Unfair, sure; but in a market economy, you have to expect unfairness and turn it to advantage.
Do I look like a criminal or a terrorist?” asked Emraan Hashmi, claiming that he was denied a house in Mumbai’s Pali Hill locality because he is Muslim.The issue has, predictably, exploded into a face-off between those who believe that Hashmi’s is a high-profile case of a prejudice all too familiar, while others claim that he is a privileged celebrity milking the occasion for easy publicity.
The truth is that individual success does not always allow you to float free of the heavy weights of identity and expectation. Boldface names from the movie industry, from Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar to Saif Ali Khan and Aamir Khan, have shared stories of similar exclusion. Then there are some striking parallels between Hashmi’s housing woes and the ruckus, in America, over the arrest by the police in Massachusetts of an African-American Harvard professor. In both cases, there might be counter-claims that their relative privilege insulates them from such bigotry. But, regardless of the exact truth in either, the special charge of the complaints is because they point to painful truths larger than the facts of the immediate provocation.
Hashmi didn’t end up getting the house, and now has to contend with a police complaint filed by a BJP activist, accusing him of promoting enmity between communities. What is remarkable is the extent of denial, the way many Indians refuse to acknowledge how much our society, and consequently our housing societies, are riven by identity politics and prejudice. Last year, Madhavi Kapoor, a schoolteacher in Pune, found herself in the headlines for the simple act of selling her house to a Bohra Muslim family in the teeth of bitter opposition from her housing society. As she then wrote in these pages, she refused to acquiesce whether they stem from mental models of ‘purity’ and ‘pollution’ or scarred memories of communal conflict. And the Emraan Hashmi case has once again outed this everyday injustice. In Saul Bellow’s oft-quoted words, ‘for god’s sake, open the universe a little more!’
FOR THE RECORD
You need have just passing interest in swimming to know the significance of this comment. “I did my best,” said Milorad Cavic on Saturday, “he did something huge,” after Michael Phelps beat him to gold in the 100m butterfly at the world championships in Rome. He clocked 49.82 seconds, snipping 0.19 seconds off the record Cavic had set the day earlier. The Cavic-Phelps rivalry is one of the biggest in sport today, and the Serb had been smarting since Phelps took the gold from him last year at the Beijing Olympics. Cavic continued to put it down to faulty timing (the difference was 0.01 seconds), and taunted Phelps last week that he’d buy him a superior swimsuit.
That suit reference was handy, because at a time when swimming gear is threatening to become the bigger story than the races themselves, Phelps’s performance and the drama of the rivalry have returned sport to the big question: is Phelps the greatest sportsperson of our time? At the 2008 Olympics, he made good on his candidacy to that claim by taking eight golds. By the time he was done at Beijing he said he’d used up every bit of reserve, and would soon go back to training to shoot for new, bigger challenges. At Rome, he has shown what that could be.
The greatest sportspersons win that reputation by doing two things: performing better and more variedly than anyone of their time or before, and by raising the profile of their discipline. On each count, Phelps clears the bar. At a time when technology and performance are being carefully untangled in determining what’s legit in swimming, Phelps is making a dramatic case for himself and his ambition.
OPEN, FREE, FAIR
SOLI J. SORABJEE
A recent three judge bench judgment of the Supreme Court (Justices B.N. Agrawal, G.S. Singhvi and Aftab Alam) held R.K. Anand, a senior advocate, guilty of contempt for suborning a prosecution witness in a case in which Anand was appearing for the accused, Sanjiv Nanda. The court found the conduct of I.U. Khan as special prosecutor inappropriate, but let him off because, on the evidence, his conduct did not constitute criminal contempt of court. The judgment does not deal merely with the law of contempt. The observations and the principles laid down transcend the facts of the case and are of seminal significance.
The bench bemoans the general erosion of professional values among lawyers at all levels. In anguished tone Justice Aftab Alam observes: “We find that even some highly successful lawyers seem to live by their own rules of conduct. We have viewed with disbelief senior advocates freely taking part in TV debates or giving interviews to a TV reporter/anchor of the show on issues that are directly the subject matter of cases pending before the court and in which they are appearing for one of the sides or taking up the brief of one of the sides soon after the TV show.” Thereafter there is a picturesque reference by Justice Alam to the fictional barrister Rumpole — who was not bereft of professional values. The judgment warns with concern that unless the trend of falling professional standards is promptly arrested, “it will have very deleterious consequences for administration of justice in the country because no judicial system in a democratic society can work satisfactorily unless it is supported by a bar whose members are monetarily accessible and affordable to the people.”
Never has there been such a forthright and much-needed judicial criticism of the legal profession. The court has not merely preached sonorous sermons. It has pungently reminded lawyers that they are not simply traders, such as those in Chandni Chowk operating on the law of demand and supply, but they belong to a noble profession — and the solution for professional decline must come from the lawyers themselves.
The judgment also regrets that the Bar Council has not shown much concern about maintaining standards and enforcing discipline among lawyers and hopes “that the Bar Council will now pay proper attention to the restoration of high professional standards”. If past experience is any guide this is a fond hope. I hope I am proved wrong.
The court then deals with the vexed question of media’s role when a case is sub-judice. Trial by media is a frequently-levelled charge. What does it signify? It is settled law that any and every comment on pending proceedings irrespective of their nature does not amount to contempt. A matter of national importance may be the subject matter of a pending legal proceeding. Public discussion of that matter cannot be stifled under the threat of contempt because, as pointed out by the Delhi high court speaking through Justice H.R. Khanna, that would place a blanket ban on public discussion of matters of national importance which would be impermissible in a free democratic society.
The present judgment explains that trial by media takes place where the impact of television or newspaper
coverage on a person’s reputation creates a widespread perception of guilt regardless of any verdict in a court of law. In such cases the media has tried and found the person guilty and thus adjudicated upon the very issue pending before the court and this makes a fair trial virtually impossible regardless of the its result.
It was argued that NDTV’s sting telecasts constituted trial by media and amounted to contempt because the same tended to interfere with the proceedings of the BMW trial. This argument was rejected because in the opinion of the court the programme showed some people trying to subvert the BMW trial, and thus the administration of justice in the country. There was nothing in the programme to suggest that the accused in the BMW case were guilty or innocent. The court ruled that despite the faults and weaknesses of the programme noticed by it in the judgment the sting programme telecast cannot be described as trial by media. Indeed it served an important public cause: to prevent an attempt to obstruct the due course of justice.
A curious argument was advanced before the court by counsel for one of the contemnors, that NDTV should have carried out the stings only after obtaining the permission of the trial court or the chief justice of the Delhi high court, and should have submitted the sting materials to the court before its telecast. This plea was rightly rejected because, in the felicitous words of Justice Aftab Alam, “it would be a sad day for the court to employ the media for setting its own house in order; and media too would certainly not relish the role of being the snoopers for the court.” More importantly, the court held that requiring prior permission of the court would tantamount to pre-censorship of reporting of court proceedings and this would be plainly an infraction of the media’s fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. This is the most heartening part of the judgment. It sends the right signal to those infected with the itch to ban free speech. Pre-censorship is repugnant, except in dire compelling circumstances, irrespective of whether it is imposed by the executive or the judiciary.
It should be remembered that this judgment does not give a carte blanche to media for indiscriminate sting operations. The court has warned that the media is not free to publish any kind of report concerning a sub-judice matter or to do a sting on a pending matter in any manner they please. The court has pointed out that a sting operation “is an incalculably more risky and dangerous thing to do and it would attract legal restrictions with far greater stringency and any infraction would invite more severe punishment”.
The judgment is finely balanced. Its conclusions are based on cogent reasoning and material. The observations made and the principles laid down in this landmark judgment are far-reaching. They provide salutary guiding principles and sage advice for lawyers, Bar Councils, the media and the judiciary.
The writer was attorney general of India
WHOSE RIGHT TO EDUCATION?
The Right to Education Bill 2008 is before the Lok Sabha. It is due for debate on Monday and, if passed, will become the law of the land. The entire disability sector is strongly opposed to this Bill in its present shape. If passed today, it will exclude 30 million children, those with disabilities, from the so-called “Right to Education”, gravely damaging the futures of children already excluded from the mainstream.
There are three fundamental flaws in the present Bill.
First, definitional. Disabled children have been excluded from the definition of children belonging to “disadvantaged groups”. You can be disadvantaged for reasons social, cultural, economical, geographical, linguistic and gender-related; but the term “disability” — there in previous drafts, right until last year — has been deliberately left out. Similarly, where the term ‘school’ is defined, there is no mention of the unique infrastructure needed by various types of children with disabilities.
Under the chapter on Right to Free and Compulsory Education, there is a reference to children “suffering” from disability! But even there, the HRD Ministry has failed to capture the genuine challenges that disabled children face. The Bill restricts the definition of “disability” to only the Disability Act of 1995. The babus were either unaware of or have deliberately neglected the most important piece of legislation: the National Trust Act of 1999. The 1995 Act covers only physical disabilities: blindness, deafness, locomotor impairments, etc. Other disabilities, the more difficult ones, namely cerebral palsy, autism, multiple disabilities, etc. are covered under the National Trust Act.
If the Bill is not corrected at once and God forbid, passed in this form by the Lok Sabha, it will automatically exclude all these severely and multiply disabled children.
I am a physically disabled person. As a child, I started on crutches but soon had to start using the wheelchair. I have seen it all; I have experienced it up close. And in spite of all the difficulties and challenges that I faced as a physically disabled child (and most certainly, I was not “suffering”!), those difficulties are nothing as compared to the challenges faced by a boy with autism or a girl with cerebral palsy or a child with deaf-blindness or mental retardation or muscular dystrophy.
I could not have imagined such callousness. How the HRD Ministry could bungle so badly I cannot comprehend.
Over a decade ago the disability movement advocated moving away from the paradigm of charity and welfare to that of development and rights. “Inclusiveness” was argued for and defined: people with disabilities, especially children, should not be segregated, but should firmly be part of the mainstream. Until then, their so-called “education” was restricted to “special” schools, mostly badly run by NGOs. In those schools, few bothered to pause to think about what would happen to these kids after they finished their schooling in artificially-created environments. Wouldn’t she or he attend a regular (normal!) college or university some day? And if so, why not prepare them from day one?
Hence, first the Disability Act of 1995 and then the National Trust Act of 1999. And since then we have come a long way. There is now a National Disability Policy. The current Five-Year Plan has a whole chapter on disability issues, with firm commitments about policy and also about resources. Finally, just two years ago, India ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
In the previous government, when Arjun Singh was HRD Minister, I and Dr. Mithu Alur were asked to serve on the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE). We and other experts from the disability movement actively participated in several subcommittees and working groups.
More than a decade’s hard work led to a day in 2008 where disability and related issues were firmly entrenched in the Right to Education Bill. If you take a look at that draft Bill, disability is clearly listed as a category under ‘disadvantaged groups’. And several other measures.
Now, out of the blue, we find all that quietly deleted! Why? The colour of the government is still the same, with Manmohan Singh as PM and Sonia Gandhi as Chairperson of the UPA. Two individuals who, beyond a shadow of a doubt, are extremely pro-disability. They must intervene, firmly and urgently. The Bill must be withdrawn.
Only three changes are needed, all three totally non-controversial. First, include disability under the definition of “disadvantaged groups”; second, include special schools and other necessary infrastructures under the definition of the term “school”; and third, under in the rights section, mention the 1999 National Trust Act along with the 1995 Disability Act of 1995.
The unchanged bill shouldn’t pass. To commit a mistake unknowingly is one thing. But to do it knowingly, based on the arrogance of power and the strength of numbers, is quite another. I hope better sense prevails.
The writer, a wheelchair user, is the Convenor of the Disabled Rights Group.
‘I DON’T KNOW WHY THEY GO BACK TO POLITICS, YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING...IF I HAD (MPLAD FUND), I COULD HAVE DONE A LOT’
MAHARANI GAYATRI DEVI, WHO DIED LAST WEEK, WAS PERHAPS THE LAST SYMBOL OF THE COUNTRY’S PRINCELY PAST. CONSIDERED ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMEN IN THE WORLD, SHE WAS ALSO A THREE-TIME MP, HAVING WON WITH A RECORD MARGIN. IN AN INTERVIEW WITH THE INDIAN EXPRESS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF SHEKHAR GUPTA ON NDTV 24X7’S WALK THE TALK IN 2006, GAYATRI DEVI SPOKE ABOUT HER PUBLIC AND POLITICAL LIFE, HER ADMIRATION FOR C RAJAGOPALACHARI, WHAT SHE DISLIKED ABOUT NEHRU’S POLICIES, EMERGENCY, AND HOW LIFE REMAINED THE SAME EVEN AFTER THE PRIVY PURSE WAS WITHDRAWN
•Shekhar Gupta: My guest today is one of the most beautiful women in the world. Maharani Gayatri Devi, welcome to Walk the Talk.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Thank you very much for asking me to be on it.
•Shekhar Gupta: You are not only an incredibly beautiful woman, you are also an incredibly brave woman. You’ve handled challenges and tragedies.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Many tragedies and I was a Member of Parliament for three terms which is quite challenging.
•Shekhar Gupta: You’ve handled personal tragedies — your husband and son both leaving you early.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: I don’t want to talk about those things.
•Shekhar Gupta: I believe you were in this building when the Income Tax officials came here during the Emergency.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Yes, I was.
•Shekhar Gupta: Can you describe those moments?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Well, they just came and told me there are some people wanting to talk to me. I said that I wasn’t expecting anybody. Then the Income Tax Department people came. Everybody in the Opposition was raided. But nobody in the Congress was raided. The Rajmata of Gwalior, myself, all of us who were in the Opposition were raided. They raided all the palaces here and found nothing.
•Shekhar Gupta: But there was a lot in the press...
Maharani Gayatri Devi: I don’t know about that.
•Shekhar Gupta: During the Emergency, your passport was taken away because of international activity...
Maharani Gayatri Devi: There was no international activity. I was due to go to Calgary in Canada, which had trade relations with Jaipur and they just took away my passport. They didn’t give any explanation. Then they went up to Jaigarh and raided that too. I am not sure if I am right in saying this, but I think everybody of the raiding party met with a tragedy in their family.
•Shekhar Gupta: You mean they got cursed by the fact that they raided...
Maharani Gayatri Devi: No, something happened in their families.
•Shekhar Gupta: So that happened because they carried a curse from these raids?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: No, because they went to Jaigarh, which is a sacred place. They found nothing. But they destroyed quite a lot of the beautiful fort. I think I am right in saying that everybody had a tragedy in their families.
•Shekhar Gupta: You had to endure a five-month term in Tihar.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: But we were quite comfortable in Tihar. They looked after us very well. The Rajmata of Gwalior was there. In fact, the entire Opposition was there.
•Shekhar Gupta: If you were not taken, it would have looked as if you were not important enough.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Yes. I didn’t go alone, Bhawani Singh came with me and he was a Mahavir Chakra winner.
•Shekhar Gupta: How tough was it?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Not tough.
•Shekhar Gupta: ...From palace life to Tihar life.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: I wasn’t in the palace, I was living up here and in Delhi I had an ordinary house. In Tihar, I had my own bedroom with a verandah and my own bathroom. So it wasn’t so bad, except we were not free.
•Shekhar Gupta: How did you spend your time in the jail?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: There was a lot to do. I looked after people, started a school for children. There was a badminton court where we used to play badminton.
•Shekhar Gupta: Did you make friends in jail? Political friends?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: No, the only person I talked to was the Rajmata of Gwalior, who was next-door.
•Shekhar Gupta: I believe you were originally asked to share your room with her.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: No. She wasn’t in jail. She was in a lovely house somewhere and she was expecting me there. But they put me in Tihar and said that they were bringing her there. I helped arrange her room.
•Shekhar Gupta: I believe you told the jail authorities that you can’t share a room because you have very different habits. You exercise and she does puja.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: No, no.
•Shekhar Gupta: You listen to music late into the night and read, she sleeps early.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: No, no. All this is rubbish.
•Shekhar Gupta: But it’s in your biography.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Everything in there is not true.
•Shekhar Gupta: Did you meet any of the other political leaders who were in jail at that time?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: The women’s wing was separate from the men’s and most of the men were not in Tihar. In fact, Tihar was not really for political prisoners.
•Shekhar Gupta: Did you feel victimised? Why did Mrs Gandhi pick upon you?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Because I was in the Opposition. If I had been in the Congress, I wouldn’t have been in jail. It’s so obvious.
•Shekhar Gupta: There was nothing personal about it?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Of course not.
•Shekhar Gupta: Because there were some suggestions that there was something personal.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Whoever made that suggestion is a fool. Why should there be anything personal? We hardly knew each other, there could be nothing personal. She was very polite when we met.
•Shekhar Gupta: Was there bitterness with Mrs Gandhi that she did this to the Opposition?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: No.
•Shekhar Gupta: You didn’t go back to politics after the Emergency.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: I did go back.
•Shekhar Gupta: Only once, and then you sort of lost interest.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Fifteen years is a long time. And you can’t do anything for your constituency.
•Shekhar Gupta: Is that what you felt?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: I felt that and I think everybody feels that. I don’t know why they go back to politics, you can’t do anything.
•Shekhar Gupta: Most people go back to politics because it is an office of profit now.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Maybe, I don’t know. But here, for instance, I am in the Opposition. I am fighting the Congress. What can I do for my constituency? Nowadays the MPs get money, they get a crore.
•Shekhar Gupta: MPLAD fund.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: If I had that, I could have done lots of things for my people.
•Shekhar Gupta: Tell us about your first election, your first experience of politics. Did you just walk into it, not knowing what it meant, or you had thought about it?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: I don’t know if you have heard of C Rajagopalachari and his Swatantra Party.
•Shekhar Gupta: Yes.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: People came to me to talk about the Swatantra Party and what Rajaji wanted to do. I thought it was a very good idea. I had great respect for Pandit Nehru, but didn’t like his policy of nationalising everything. Free India, swatantra Bharat, swatantra janata was what I believed in.
•Shekhar Gupta: You believed in free economy?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Of course. When these people came to talk to us, I asked my husband, “May I join the Swatantra Party?” He said, “Yes”. I was going out for a ride in the morning and I sent for the secretary in Rajasthan and joined the Swatantra Party. Then when the election time came near, they asked me to contest from Jaipur. I had no intention of being a Member of Parliament. My husband said, “You’d be the obvious choice”. The election campaign began, it was an eye opener. In those days people didn’t know how to read and you had a list of the names of the candidates. The Swatantra Party’s sign was the star.
•Shekhar Gupta: You won by a record margin. You were in the Guinness Book for a long time.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Yes. Has somebody beaten me?
•Shekhar Gupta: I think Ram Vilas Paswan.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: No, can’t be possible.
•Shekhar Gupta: We’ll check that again
Maharani Gayatri Devi: How can we check that?
•Shekhar Gupta: We can check records and inform you.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: I didn’t even know. My son Jagat was in school in England. He sent me a telegram, “Congratulations, you are in the Guinness Book of Records”.
•Shekhar Gupta: During those five months in jail, did you regret being in politics?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: I never regretted being in politics, I never regretted being in the Swatantra Party, I never regretted being a chela of Rajaji’s. He believed that India should be really free.
•Shekhar Gupta: If you look at the two personalities, he and Nehru, both towering personalities, where did they differ?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Both were great friends. When Pandit Nehru had to send somebody to America to talk to Kennedy, he chose Rajaji. I admire Rajaji because he had a vision for India.
•Shekhar Gupta: Take us back to Parliament those days. If elections were different, Parliament was also different those days.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: I don’t know what it’s like now.
•Shekhar Gupta: Right now there’s a lot of maara-mari, commotion, adjournments, walkouts, fights and interruptions.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: It was better in those days, I suppose. Interruptions were always there.
•Shekhar Gupta: I believe you interrupted Nehru once.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Yes, once. That was because when we had this thing with China...
•Shekhar Gupta: The war?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Yes. Prof N G Ranga of the Swatantra Party told me, “Jawaharlal will make fun of me” and I said, “In what way?”. He said, “You wait and see”. When Pandit Nehru was replying to a debate on China, he said, “Prof Ranga... professors will know more than he does”. So I got up and said, “If you had known anything, we wouldn’t have been in this mess today”. He sat down and another Member of Parliament stood up and said, “I didn’t hear what the honourable lady member said”. So I said, “May I repeat it. That if you, the Prime Minister, had known what was happening we wouldn’t have been in this mess today”. The next day the secretary of the Lok Sabha said, “Maharani saheb, how could you be rude to someone older to you?”
•Shekhar Gupta: I believe the reputation spread that you were one of Nehru’s critics. I believe when you met Kennedy for the first time, he introduced you as India’s Barry Goldwater, who was a great critic of his at that point.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Ah yes, something like that happened.
•Shekhar Gupta: You have memories of Kennedy?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Yes, I remember staying with them in the White House. Jacqueline Kennedy and myself were walking in the garden when he called me. I went to his office and there were some Senators there. He said, “This lady has won by a bigger majority than we’ll ever get”.
•Shekhar Gupta: What was he like, Kennedy?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Charming and I think a very good president.
•Shekhar Gupta: Did he have this deadly charm for women that he is reputed to have?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: How would I know?
•Shekhar Gupta: Of the international personalities you’ve come across in your life, who are the ones who have left an impression on you?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Quite frankly, nobody.
•Shekhar Gupta: You interacted with leaders, princes, princesses.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: C Rajagopalachari, definitely. And strangely enough, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. He loved India and India loved him. But the things he did were not right for India.
•Shekhar Gupta: Which things in particular?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Nationalisation. There was no private enterprise. Everything had to be state-owned.
•Shekhar Gupta: Did you ever get a chance to talk to him about this?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: No, hardly. I was young and he was an older man. How’d I have the cheek to go and talk about it?
•Shekhar Gupta: Did you ever discuss this with Mrs Gandhi?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: No, of course not.
•Shekhar Gupta: You think Mrs Gandhi was a true believer in Nehru’s socialism?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: I have no idea. I haven’t even bothered to think about her.
•Shekhar Gupta: Because the next big dose of socialism came in her reign from 1969 until 1975. She nationalised banks, withdrew your privy purses and took away your titles. She nationalised insurance, brought in labour laws, put in restraints on free movement of grains.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: I wasn’t aware of that. I know about the privy purses. I know it was during Nehru’s time that nationalisation began.
•Shekhar Gupta: And you never had a chance to talk to Mrs Gandhi about it?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: What for? Never.
•Shekhar Gupta: How do you look back on your own stint in public life? I know you’ve set up these marvellous schools in Jaipur.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: I started those before I went into politics.
•Shekhar Gupta: I don’t mean public life only as politics. You also have a public life as the Maharani of Jaipur.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Well, you marry into a state like this, you have responsibilities towards the people. Rajasthan, for instance, had purdah and His Highness didn’t like purdah. So I told him, “You give me a girl’s school and purdah will disappear”. Thus, the Maharani Gayatri Devi School was established. We also started a fund. That was started more by my husband than myself. It was called the Sawai Jai Singh Benevolent Fund for all the poor people of Jaipur state. It still exists.
•Shekhar Gupta: You talked about your husband’s dislike for the purdah. I believe you yourself disliked purdah immensely.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: I’ve never been in purdah in my life, so how could I dislike it?
•Shekhar Gupta: You talked about apprehensions regarding marrying him, coming to Jaipur in a very traditional...
Maharani Gayatri Devi: No, not at all. It’s all rubbish.
•Shekhar Gupta: You always defied the system.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: I didn’t defy anything. Whatever is the custom here, I follow that. But I wasn’t in purdah. I went riding every morning. I played tennis every afternoon and I didn’t do that in purdah.
•Shekhar Gupta: Tell me the difference between princely life and as life changed 1969 onwards. Did the princes have a tough time changing their lifestyles?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Of course not.
•Shekhar Gupta: But the titles were taken away.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: So what?
•Shekhar Gupta: The privy purses were taken away.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: So what?
•Shekhar Gupta: There was not enough money to maintain the palaces.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: Of course, there was.
•Shekhar Gupta: But so many palaces had to be given away.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: The choice was with the ruler. When His Highness decided to turn Rambagh into a hotel, his elder son Bhawani Singh and I went to him and said, “How can you turn Rambagh into a hotel?”. He said, “We don’t need a palace anymore, but Jaipur needs a hotel”.
•Shekhar Gupta: At the same time, there were adjustment problems because many of them did not adjust very well, and fights broke out in the families.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: I don’t know who didn’t adjust well. But our family adjusted very well.
•Shekhar Gupta: How do you look at today’s politics? I know you have views about the city of Jaipur.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: I am not bothered about today’s politics. And the city of Jaipur is ruined because nobody loves Jaipur. Everybody’s just making money
•Shekhar Gupta: But so many tourists are coming here.
Maharani Gayatri Devi: They came before.
•Shekhar Gupta: What can be done for Jaipur now?
Maharani Gayatri Devi: It’s too late. I wouldn’t have allowed those houses. They were not allowed in the olden days. They were allowed only up to a certain height, a certain style. Jaipur had a presence, an atmosphere. The people loved the Maharaja more than they do today’s leaders.
•Shekhar Gupta: People love you as much as they loved the Maharaja. You are the biggest brand ambassador for Jaipur.
Transcript prepared by Sharika C.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
WORLD TRADE, ORGANIZED
The meeting of trade ministers scheduled in Delhi next month offers an opportunity for a final breakthrough on the Doha round impasse. For one, when the ministers meet in Delhi they will confront a difficult global macro economic scenario. The last round of negotiations in June 2008 happened when the global economy was at its peak and global exports were rising at break neck speed. Many of the negotiators had little reason to worry at that time as the costs of intransigence were more affordable than the costs of any of the anticipated concessions required for tying up a deal. This was especially so in the case of India and the United States, where elections were scheduled within a few months of the June talks. Both administrations were wary of any climbdown especially in important issues related to sensitive sectors like agriculture in particular, which was at the core of the negotiations, and where the political backlash could have been especially sharp.
Now, with the major economies, and global trade, shrinking, unemployment rising, and with new dispensations taking over in the key negotiating countries (read India and US), negotiators can be expected to be more accommodative. The world is slowly realising that the avenues for kick starting exports and growth in individual countries through domestic initiatives alone are limited and that a faster recovery would depend on how fast competing nations resolve to break the deadlock and open up new trade avenues. The best indication of this is the proactive stance of the new minister for commerce and industry, Anand Sharma. Of course, going by past experience, the Democrats currently in charge in Washington, and the Obama administration, are unlikely to be as receptive to free trade as the previous administration. So prying open any new concessions from them is unlikely to get any easier now. A break through in contentious issues like the triggering mechanism that would allow developing countries to use special safeguard measures to curb agriculture imports, that was a major barrier in the last round, would require that India and other developing countries soften up a bit. However, with food prices continuing to remain high across the world and likely to remain high for some time, the resistance to higher imports is unlikely to be as strong as before. But flow of agricultural commodities from the developed world has to be linked with a reduction in agriculture subsidies there. Quid pro quo and reciprocity is in-built in the GATT/WTO framework and Indian negotiators should ensure that any concessions offered bring accommodative responses in equal measure.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
MONITORING, SO WHAT?
The raging debate about the end-user monitoring agreement (EUMA) that India has signed with the US, is largely misplaced and unnecessary. The critics of the EUMA allege that India has compromised on its sovereignty by signing an ‘intrusive’ agreement with the US. For the US, on the other hand, it is simply a matter of enforcing the law of its land—all weapons/weapons systems sold by the US to foreign countries are accompanied by certain conditionalities—inspection, ban on resale, ban on adapting the technology locally, specifying and not deviating from the declared use of a weapon, servicing by US manufacturers only being some of the key features of an EUMA. India is not unique in having to adhere to these conditions—50-odd countries already do so. In fact, even in India, we have been doing so on a case-by-case basis—now it will simply be a general principle. Many critics are enraged by the right of physical inspection of the weaponry sold to India. On this point, India has actually extracted a significant concession—we retain the right to choose the time and place of inspection and the US inspectors will need to take permission before they can inspect. That seems reasonable enough. Of course, this is not to deny that we will not have complete freedom but then that’s a price we have to pay for buying weapons from the US.
That said, there is no compulsion that we buy weapons only from the US. If anything, in the foreseeable future, most of our defence purchases will still come from Russia, France and Israel, where there will be no such end user agreements. However, there is no doubting the fact that increasingly the best and most modern systems of defence are being developed and manufactured in the US. The US spends more than half the world’s total expenditure on defence and an even bigger proportion on defence R&D. Western Europe is far behind, and is in fact working in collaboration with the US quite often. Russia has steadily lost the capacity to invest in R&D. So, if we are serious about upgrading our defence forces to the best global standards, we will have to look increasingly towards the US to purchase equipment. The US is hardly going to change its laws for a single country. If we refuse to accept its law, then other countries and rivals like China and Pakistan will, and in the process overtake us on defence technologies. Our own indigenous defence R&D has been a failure, so that is not an option. Given our limited choices, we can hardly quibble over exalted notions of sovereignty.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
LEFT AND RIGHT BOTH WRONG ON THE FARMER
Rainfall this year is below par. In the country as a whole the rainfall deficiency stands at 19 per cent; worst hit is the north-west, where the rainfall is less than 38 per cent of the usual precipitation and in the north east the deficiency is at 43 per cent. There is some talk about the impact of this being somewhat corrected in the coming days. First, rainfall seems to be picking up and for some crops, the sowing window is still open. Second, farmers are themselves responding by changing, wherever possible, the type of crops they are planting —-i.e., those that can be sowed at a later stage of the production cycle. Third, the agriculture minister has announced a series of short-term measures to help farmers tide over the problems of a delayed monsoon. He has also assured us that there are enough food stocks to tackle any shortfall in food grain production.
It seems that the rain delays have not been that bad, though monsoon this year has not been as good as in the last 6-7 years. We should thank our lucky stars that this is not yet a drought year. It should be read as a warning and now is the time to reconsider the agricultural reforms and public investments that are waiting to be implemented.
By the way, this is not new and everyone has been cribbing about the agriculture sector. However, for various ideological reasons, we have been falling short of a consistent set of changes that will make agriculture more vibrant. Let me explain what I mean. On the left, you have a group that opposes contract farming which, they say, will allow the exploitation of small farmers by big business; at the same time, they are trying to figure out ways and means of forcefully taking away land from small farmers and give it to big business. They are doing this because they are ideologically opposed to contract farming; not because, as many of you may think, they are opposed to big business. On the right, you have people worried about deficits arising out of public investment and are pushing hard for public private partnership (PPP) in infrastructure. Someone needs to point out that a PPP, where government funds and the private sector implements, is not going to help reduce government deficit. And then, of course, there are the do-gooders who believe that higher and higher support prices, and greater and greater amounts of input subsidies will solve all our agricultural woes without ever considering the impact this is having on farmers’ crop choices. These do-gooders are also extremely charged by environmental concerns but fail to realise that one effect of support prices and subsidies is the indiscriminate use of water; water intensive crops are being produced more in regions where water is scarce.
The second aspect of reforms in the agriculture sector is that a large part of this sector is outside the purview of the central government. The question is not whether it is good or bad; the more important issue is our reluctance to get off the Centre’s back and pull up the state governments who have a finger in every marketing activity of the states’ farmers. Irrigation and other infrastructure can improve supply but that alone will not make the farmers better off if all their marketing channels are controlled by state level administrators. The interesting thing is that those who want the government to solve all problems by direct intervention are precisely the ones who blame the government for all the problems faced by the poor! How can I hate you and still think that only you can make me happy? This is another example of our inconsistent thinking—government has been bad, government officials will be good .
The third aspect is that of who funds and who implements. For much of the necessary investments in agriculture, the Centre needs to provide funds. However, the state has the ultimate authority to implement the programmes. The Panchayati Raj system, if properly implemented, would have short-circuited this process but, of course, most states have given it the go-by.
There is little we can do now to completely erase the negative impacts of a drought next year, should it happen. However, we can certainly start taking the first steps towards a consistent set of reforms that will significantly reduce the hardships caused by the drought that may come after five years. In the intervening five years, we should undertake all measures to soften the impact of low rainfall but they should not be inconsistent with the longer term measures we are implementing. For example, consistency demands that farmers should have full access to their customers and they should get this access without any subsidies on their inputs. Consistency demands that land laws should not prevent the farmer from selling his, or her, land to the highest bidder even if the buyer is not interested in agriculture; most importantly, we must accept the fact that the official who is implementing the land transfer policy does not have the best interests of the farmer at heart.
The author is research director, IDF
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
LET’S CALL TIME OUT ON THE RENT SEEKERS
Recently I was called for a meeting by one of the ministers in the new government and was stumped by the important challenge he posed to me. He said you work with the public sector and come up with such good suggestions on what they should do, and then you also help them do it. But can I ask you to add one thing to your mandate for the benefit of the whole system—how can contracting by government and public sector enterprises be speeded up. He referred to the specific client we were working on and said even after two years they have been unable to do a contract which their private sector competitor has done in a period of four months. The private competitor has thereby taken the lead and is building on it, while our client keeps dealing with procedural hassles and complying with all the government contracting procedures without success.
This huge competitive disadvantage may be more than all your good suggestions in a world that moves faster and faster. The minister’s insight was deep and pithy. In fact Kaplan and Foster had calculated that in 1920s a company in the S&P index stayed there for 65 years but by 1998 this period was down to 10 years. Today I guess that time period may be even less. When time itself is a major source of competitive advantage, as my colleague George Stalk from BCG had shown in his seminal book on time based competition, slow contracting can adversely affect a company’s market position.
Given that there are quite a few important sectors where the public sector has a significant and continuing presence—financial services, oil and gas, heavy industries, telecom—this disadvantage has deleterious consequences for the economy as a whole. Clearly then this is not a trivial problem. My attempt in this piece is to spur debate and do some loud thinking rather than propose a conclusive solution. Awarding contracts is the simplest way to do corrupt rent seeking. Public sector agencies need to be both transparent and equitable in their contracting. This promotes good corporate governance. But if the procedures to promote good corporate governance are so cumbersome and based entirely on preventing fraud with no cost to inaction then the system is not serving the public well. Most people in the public sector hate to deal with any form of external contracting. The rules are cumbersome, emanating from multiple agencies, continuously being updated and subject to inspection and oversight by people without any commercial experience or stake in their enterprise. This creates a natural inability for any contract to move fast.
Procedural compliance is much more important than the entity’s commercial interest and there is no penalty for inaction or delay. As these procedures are primarily meant to deal with corruption and foster equity, the need for commercial success is not part of the design. This tends to create a certain impotency for operating managers to take quick decisions on contracts. Even the highest bodies of the organisation—say a board of a public sector company—focuses primarily on the conformance part of the contracting process not the performance implication of any contracting delay. Given that public sector has to be an important part of our economy for the foreseeable future, the Minister’s question on creating more contracting efficiency in public sector enterprises has to be answered. So what can be attempted? To begin with, we must restore the importance of time in the contracting equation. There needs to be the creation of a contracting turn around time (TAT). Some work needs to be done in determining different types of contracts by complexity with contracting time lines defined for each type. Then organisations should be expected to run contracting processes within the stipulated timelines and held accountable for delays.
The Board should be updated every quarter in respect of contracts awarded outside the prescribed time with reasons. Some level of discretion, which is already present in CVC guidelines, should be made easier to exercise by saying some percentage of contracts can be awarded fast track. Over time as these companies get listed and the government permits more market related salaries and performance incentives the fears of the past will abate substantially. Company performance will then get more attention than compliance with contracting procedures. But till then let us introduce a PSU contracting TAT.
The author is managing director, The Boston Consulting Group, India. These are his personal views
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
WATERING DOWN STAKES, BUT IS THERE LIQUIDITY?
The finance ministry’s proposal for a minimum non-promoter, public shareholding of 25% in the listed companies is a welcome step as deep non-manipulative markets require larger and diversified public shareholdings. The Finance Minister made the same point strongly in his budget speech. Though final guidelines are yet to to be worked out, its implementation will be quite a challenging task for the companies given the tight liquidity situation in the financial markets.
Currently there are a total of 180 listed companies which have a non-promoter public shareholding of less than 25%. And the total value of the promoter stake sale to meet the regulatory requirement is pegged at Rs 1.59 lakh crore. Already we are witnessing companies grappling to mop up funds for their operational and growth requirements.
So far around 13 companies have raised Rs 12,500 crore through the QIP route. One issue of GMR Infra was withdrawn failing to get enough response from institutional investors and the fate of others who have lined up to raise funds through this route totaling over Rs 40,000 crore is unknown. Adding to it, over 30 companies have lined up to tap the primary market to mobilise capital amounting to Rs 8,800 crore in coming months. With the market and the economy in a recovery mode, we can expect more and more companies to tap the capital market to meet their growth requirement.
Against this background, the key question here is whether the market has that much appetite to absorb such enormous amount of promoter stake sale. In view of the above factors, the ministry’s proposals will definitely take a much longer time, say more than two or three years, to get fully implemented.
Since the proposal from the finance ministry contains strict enforcement actions including delisting if companies fail to adhere to the prescribed norms, the coming months would witness a major battle between companies to grab a pie of the available liquidity. For one set of corporates it will be a battle for survival for continued listing, while for the others it will be in search of growth capital.
A FINE BALANCE
Pakistan’s judiciary has often been blamed for willingly offering itself to every general with a coup on his mind. The nation’s history is replete with judgments invoking the ‘doctrine of necessity’ to legitimise the actions of military usurpers, each such verdict setting a precedent for the next. That ignominious record can never be completely erased but the July 31 judgment of the Supreme Court has helped straighten the books somewhat. With new winds blowing through the court, the verdict of the 14-judge bench striking down the November 3, 2007 emergency imposed by Pervez Musharraf as unconstitutional and illegal was anticipated. Uniquely, the emergency was directed at the judiciary — a pre-emptive strike against a possible adverse verdict by the court on the dictator’s eligibility to contest the 2007 presidential election while remaining the army chief. Most of the judges were dismissed and jailed in their homes and a pliant handful installed in the Supreme Court to legitimise the entire shabby episode, which they duly did. Following Ifthikar Chaudhary’s dramatic restoration as Chief Justice on March 16, 2009, the court was expected to withdraw this validation as soon as an opportunity presented itself. But what is really admirable about the landmark judgment is that it has struck a fine balance by choosing not to disrupt the present democratic dispensation while undoing the actions of a military ruler.
So the verdict was focussed on cleansing the courts of judges who benefited from the emergency, a warning to all future abettors of military rulers. A disruption in the working of the courts is inevitable as nearly half the judiciary has been sent packing but it provides an opportunity to recast the system on a clean slate. This should contribute to strengthening democracy in Pakistan. The bench sensibly left to the government and Parliament the task of dealing with the Musharraf legacy of ordinances and executive orders, one of which gifted President Asif Ali Zardari with an amnesty from the corruption charges against him. Had it gone interventionist, the court would have placed enormous strain on the fragile political system. The clear signal was that old political wounds were best left unopened. In the same spirit, there was no order against Gen. Musharraf, the court observing it was the responsibility of the government and Parliament to decide whether to proceed against him. While it will be politically naive to rule out another military coup in Pakistan on the strength of this verdict, it has certainly put several ghosts to rest. Hopefully, it will help the country’s democratic leadership concentrate better on the urgent task at hand, which is to deal effectively with terrorism, militancy, and extremism.
The Federation of Indian Airlines, a group of private airlines in the country, has sought to draw attention to their longstanding demands with a threat to suspend operations for a day — on August 18 — and to go on a prolonged strike if the Government of India does not come to its rescue. Coming close on the heels of an SOS from the national carrier, Air India, for a bailout package from the Centre, this is understandable. The airline industry could end 2008-09 with a loss of about Rs.10,000 crore. The key players in the private airline sector have made it clear that they are asking for a relief package consisting of fiscal concessions and reduction in charges to tide over the current crisis. Their demands relate to the pricing of Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF), levy of service tax, and the high structure of other charges including the levy for using the airport facility. The federation’s case is that it had made these demands earlier but there was no response from the government and hence its decision to suspend operations for a day. The government has now indicated its readiness to talk and the airlines are more than willing to discuss these critical issues.
On pricing of the ATF, there has been an exchange between the government and the private carriers, who complain that the prices are 40-70 per cent higher than the international rates. The Value Added Tax (VAT) levied by the State governments, which on an average works out to 23 per cent, comes on top of the customs and excise duties, and all these together render the operations unviable. For its part, the Centre takes cover under the plea that the VAT is a ‘State subject’ and that it has repeatedly asked the States to review the rates. But the States themselves are reluctant since the levy yields huge revenue. For the airlines, the ATF accounts for 40 per cent of operating costs and this hurts the bottom line. So the federation wants the ATF to be granted a ‘declared goods’ that would bring down the levy to just four per cent. Customs and excise duties on the fuel can also be reduced. The other major demand relates to the levy of service tax on the first and business class passenger tickets, as also on the landing, airport, and navigation charges. These levies make the cost of operations prohibitive at a time when the airlines are struggling for survival and indulging in fare wars to woo passengers. While the Finance and Civil Aviation Ministries must discuss the key issues and help the airlines stay afloat, they cannot permit any kind of cartelisation to take shape. Passenger interests also have to be protected.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
JUSTICE AND THE WORLD
THERE IS A STRONG CASE FOR FOCUSSING QUESTIONS OF JUSTICE ON WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS AND ACTUAL LIVES RATHER THAN MERELY LOOKING FOR IDEAL INSTITUTIONS AND ARRANGEMENTS.
If the reliance on public reasoning is an important aspect of the approach to justice, so is the form in which questions of justice are asked. There is a strong case for replacing what I have been calling transcendental institutionalism — that underlies most of the mainstream approaches to justice in contemporary political philosophy, including John Rawls’s theory of justice as fairness — by focussing questions of justice, first, on assessments of social realisations, that is, on what actually happens (rather than merely on the appraisal of institutions and arrangements); and second, on comparative issues of enhancement of justice (rather than trying to identify perfectly just arrangements).
The approach developed in this book is much influenced by the tradition of social choice theory (initiated by Condorcet in the 18th century and firmly established by Kenneth Arrow in our own time), and concentrates, as the discipline of social choice does, on making evaluative comparisons over distinct social realisations. In this respect, the approach here also has important similarities with the works of Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx, among others.
While the roots of the approach go back to the Enlightenment, there is a significant contrast with another tradition particularly cultivated over that period — the discipline of reasoning about justice in terms of the idea of a social contract. The contractarian tradition goes back at least to Thomas Hobbes, but also had major contributions from Locke, Rousseau and Kant, and in our time from leading philosophical theorists from Rawls to Nozick, Gauthier, Dworkin and others. In opting for the social choice approach rather than that of the social contract, it is not of course my intention to deny the understanding and illumination that have been generated by the latter approach to justice. However, enlightening as the social contract tradition is, I have argued that its limitations in providing an underpinning for a theory of justice with adequate reach are so strong that it ultimately serves partly as a barrier to practical reason on justice.
The theory of justice, which is most widely used now and which has served as the point of departure for this work is, of course, the theory of ‘justice as fairness’ presented by John Rawls. Even though Rawls’s broad political analysis has many other elements, his justice as fairness has the characteristics of being directly concerned only with the identification of just institutions. There is a transcendentalism here, even though Rawls made deeply enlightening observations on comparative issues and also tried to take note of possible disagreements on the nature of a perfectly just society. Rawls focussed on institutions as the subject matter of his principles of justice. His concentration on institutional choice does not, however, reflect his lack of interest in social realisations. The social realisations are assumed in Rawls’s ‘justice as fairness’ to be determined by a combination of just institutions and fully compliant behaviour by all to make a predictable transition from institutions to states of affairs. This is related to Rawls’s attempt at getting to a perfectly just society with a combination of ideal institutions and corresponding ideal behaviour. In a world where those extremely demanding behavioural assumptions do not hold, the institutional choices made will tend not to deliver the kind of society that would have strong claims to being seen as perfectly just.
In a memorable observation in the Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes noted that the lives of people were ‘nasty, brutish and short’. That was a good starting point for a theory of justice in 1651, and I am afraid it is a still good starting point for a theory of justice today, since the lives of so many people across the world have exactly those dire features, despite the substantial material progress of others. Indeed, a good deal of the theory presented here has been directly concerned with people’s lives and capabilities, and the deprivation and suppression suffered. Even though Hobbes moved on from his powerful characterisation of human deprivation to the idealist approach of a social contract, there can be little doubt about the life-enhancing motivations that inspired Hobbes. Much the same thing can be said about the theories of justice of Rawls or Dworkin or Nagel today, for example, even though formally they have anchored their principles of justice to certain arrangements and rules (thereby going in the direction of niti, rather than nyaya), rather than directly to social realisations and human lives and freedoms. The connections between the disparate theories of justice have to be firmly noted since, in the debates about different theories, the focus tends to be on differences rather than on similarities.
I realise that I too have largely succumbed to the analytical temptation to concentrate on distinctions and to highlight contrasts. And yet there is an important shared involvement in being concerned with justice in the first place. No matter where our theories of justice take us, we all have reasons to be grateful for the recent intellectual animation around them, which has been, to a great extent, initiated and inspired by John Rawls’s pioneering move in this field, beginning with his outstanding paper in 1958 (‘Justice as Fairness’).
Philosophy can — and does — produce extraordinarily interesting and important work on a variety of subjects that have nothing to do with the deprivations and inequities and unfreedoms of human lives. This is as it should be, and there is much to rejoice in the expansion and consolidation of the horizon of our understanding in every field of human curiosity. However, philosophy can also play a part in bringing more discipline and greater reach to reflections on values and priorities as well as on the denials, subjugations and humiliations from which human beings suffer across the world. A shared commitment of theories of justice is to take these issues seriously and to see what they can do in terms of practical reasoning about justice and injustice in the world. If epistemic curiosity about the world is one tendency that many people have, concern about goodness, rightness and justness also has a powerful presence — manifest or latent — in our minds. Distinct theories of justice may compete in finding the right use of that concern, but they share the significant feature of being involved in the same pursuit.
Many years ago, in a justly famous paper called ‘What Is It Like to Be a Bat?’, Thomas Nagel presented some foundational ideas on the mind-body problem. The pursuit of a theory of justice has something to do with a similar question: what is it like to be a human being? In his paper, Nagel too was actually involved with human beings, and only very marginally with bats. He argued powerfully against the cogency of understanding consciousness and mental phenomena by trying to see them in terms of the corresponding physical phenomena (as is attempted by many scientists and some philosophers), and in particular, he differentiated the nature of consciousness from the connections — causal or associative — that may link it to bodily operations. Those distinctions remain, and my reason for asking what it is like to be a human being is different — it relates to the feelings, concerns and mental abilities that we share as human beings.
In arguing that the pursuit of a theory of justice has something to do with the kind of creatures we human beings are, it is not at all my contention that debates between theories of justice can be plausibly settled by going back to features of human nature, rather to note the fact that a number of different theories of justice share some common presumptions about what it is like to be a human being. We could have been creatures incapable of sympathy, unmoved by the pain and humiliation of others, uncaring of freedom, and — no less significant — unable to reason, argue, disagree and concur. The strong presence of these features in human lives does not tell us a great deal about which particular theory of justice should be chosen, but it does indicate that the general pursuit of justice might be hard to eradicate in human society, even though we can go about that pursuit in different ways.
I have made considerable use of the existence of the human faculties just mentioned (for example, the ability to sympathise and to reason) in developing my argument, and so have others in presenting their theories of justice. There is no automatic settlement of differences between distinct theories here, but it is comforting to think that not only do proponents of different theories of justice share a common pursuit, they also make use of common human features that figure in the reasoning underlying the irrespective approaches. Because of these basic human abilities — to understand, to sympathise, to argue — people need not be inescapably doomed to isolated lives without communication and collaboration. It is bad enough that the world in which we live has so much deprivation of one kind or another (from being hungry to being tyrannised); it would be even more terrible if we were not able to communicate, respond and altercate.
When Hobbes referred to the dire state of human beings in having ‘nasty, brutish and short’ lives, he also pointed, in the same sentence, to the disturbing adversity of being ‘solitary’. Escape from isolation may not only be important for the quality of human life, it can also contribute powerfully to understanding and responding to the other deprivations from which human beings suffer. There is surely a basic strength here which is complementary to the engagement in which theories of justice are involved.
(Excerpted with permission from The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen published by Allen Lane (Penguin). Hardcover Rs. 699. Paperback Rs. 496.)
WHERE PAINTING CAME TO THEIR RESCUE
DINA BABBITT, A PRISONER AT THE AUSCHWITZ CONCENTRATION CAMP, PAINTED FOR JOSEF MENGELE TO KEEP HERSELF AND HER MOTHER ALIVE.
Dina Babbitt, who as a prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp bartered her services as a portrait painter for her life and her mother’s life, and spent the past several decades trying to retrieve her paintings from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum, died on Wednesday in Felton, California. She was 86. The cause was cancer, said her daughter Michele Kane.
Babbitt and her mother, Johanna Gottlieb, were Czechoslovakian Jews sent to Auschwitz by the Nazis in 1943. Formerly an art student, Babbitt was asked by a fellow prisoner who was overseeing a children’s barracks to paint pictures on the cheerless walls. Her paintings of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as well as of animal figures, made with purloined paint, eventually came to the attention of Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi physician known as the Angel of Death, who wanted her to work for him to document his experiments.
Mengele was dissatisfied with photographs he had taken of Gypsy, or Romany, prisoners as he tried to prove them genetically inferior, and he summoned the young artist and asked her to paint their portraits, paying particular attention to their skin tone. Before she would agree, she said she would walk into the camp’s electric fence if he didn’t spare her mother as well.
“When I said, ‘I’m not staying here without my mother alive’,” Babbitt recalled in a 2007 interview, “Mengele said, ‘What’s her number?’”
The post-war history of Babbitt’s water colour portraits is unclear, but in a 2001 statement, the Auschwitz museum said that six were acquired in 1963 from a camp survivor and a seventh was acquired in 1977. Babbitt learned of the existence of the first six in 1973.
She travelled to Poland to authenticate her works and, she thought, to take them home. But the museum directors would not allow it, saying the paintings’ historical and educational value superseded her right of ownership. It is the position they maintained to the end of her life, at one point, her daughter said, informing her in a letter that if anyone other than the museum had a right to the paintings, it was the heirs of Mengele.
In recent years, as the museum has grown in stature and professionalism, it has softened its responses to Babbitt’s pleas. This year, it sent careful reproductions of the art to her. But the originals remain in Poland.
“I always felt there was a special tragedy in this case,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, the director of international Jewish affairs for the American Jewish Committee and a member of the International Auschwitz Council, which advises the Auschwitz museum. This spring Rabbi Baker tried to broker an agreement between Babbitt and the museum under which two of her originals would be returned to her, but the museum declined.
“The people at the Polish museum aren’t devils,” he said. “They want to maintain Auschwitz as authentically as they can, and I can appreciate the role exhibiting the paintings plays. What I’ve always thought is there is no one else in the world who so values these paintings as Dina Babbitt and the directors of this museum.”
Annemarie Dinah Gottliebova was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, on January 21, 1923. She and her mother were living in Prague when the Germans invaded in 1939, and as a Jew she was forced to abandon her art classes. In January 1942, she and her mother were sent to Theresienstadt, a camp in northern Czechoslovakia. They were transferred to Auschwitz the following year.
After the war, she and her mother went to live in Paris. There, she was interviewed for a job as an animator for Warner Brothers. She married her interviewer, Art Babbitt, an animator who, remarkably, had worked on Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. They moved to Los Angeles, where Babbitt worked as an assistant animator on films, cartoons and other projects. Her favourites were commercials for Cap’n Crunch cereal, because she loved drawing the children in the ads.
In recent years, Babbitt’s quest to have her paintings returned gathered a range of public supporters, including Rep. Shelley Berkley, who urged the State Department to get involved; the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington, which is devoted to documenting and publicising America’s response to the Holocaust; and the comic-book luminaries Neal Adams, Stan Lee and Joe Kubert, who with Rafael Medoff, director of the Wyman Institute, created a comic-book version of Babbitt’s story that has since been adapted into a short film, The Last Outrage.
Babbitt’s daughters said in a phone interview on Friday that they would continue pressing the case for their mother, who, they said, never opened the reproductions the museum sent her. “Her dying wish was to get her artwork back,” her daughter Michele said.
WHITE HOUSE VACATION: MORE THAN LIGHTHEARTED FARE
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA AND HIS WIFE, MICHELLE, HAVE INCORPORATED HISTORY LESSONS, COMMUNITY SERVICE, AND HEALTHY EATING AND EXERCISE INTO THEIR DAUGHTERS’ TIME OFF.
RACHEL L. SWARNS
The girls have toured the Eiffel Tower and ogled the stone majesties of the Pantheon. They have swooned over the Jonas Brothers, giggled over wax likenesses of their parents and romped with friends at Camp David, all in the span of two blissfully school-free months.
Welcome to Sasha and Malia Obama’s fabulous summer vacation, a hodgepodge of foreign travel, concerts, birthday parties and just plain fun carefully organised by the President and the first lady. (The first lady has dubbed it Camp Obama.) But the nation’s camp counsellors-in-chief have also tried to ensure that this first summer in the White House is about more than lighthearted fare.
President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, have incorporated history lessons, community service, and healthy eating and exercise into their daughters’ time off, offering yet another glimpse of the parenting style behind the walls at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Obamas discussed the slave trade with their girls during a visit to a slave port in Ghana. They focussed on volunteering at Fort McNair in Virginia, where the girls helped stuff backpacks with books and toys for the children of military families.
In Rome, they arranged for Malia and Sasha to make gelato and to see how fresh fruit — bananas and blackberries, in particular — can be transformed into mouthwatering sweetness.
The Obamas are sticklers for emphasising structure and discipline in their child-rearing. Summertime, they have made clear, provides no respite from the rules. “The television and the computers are off all day until after dinner and right before bedtime,” Michelle Obama said during a June visit to San Francisco as she described her daughters’ summer routine. “Bedtime is early.”
(This is no easy task, though, even in the Obama household. Ms Obama acknowledged last month that her girls were often glued to their computers: “What would we do without our laptops? My kids would die. They wouldn’t make it through the summer.”)
Some critics say the Obamas’ far-flung family travels are inappropriate at a time of recession.
But friends and aides say the Obamas view the nation and the world at large as an open-air classroom for their children, who have met Pope Benedict XVI and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and witnessed the rhythms of life in a developing country like Ghana, all in one summer.
“They want to expose their children to make sure they appreciate the complexity of the world, to see the wonderful opportunities that occur, but also some of the suffering that is at hand,” said Charles J. Ogletree, a law professor at Harvard and a close friend of the Obamas. “It will help them, as they get older, to understand how the United States has a moral obligation to think about other people,” Mr. Ogletree said.
In a television interview with CNN last month, the President described the visit to the slave port in Ghana as an opportunity to explain to Malia, 11, and Sasha, 8, how “people were willing to degrade others because they appeared differently.”
In the interview, the President said he tried to get his girls to “engage in the imaginative act of what it would be like if they were snatched away from mom and dad and sent to some place they had never seen before.”
“But, you know, part of what you also try to do with kids is to get them to imagine themselves on the other side, as being the slave merchant,” Mr. Obama said. “And get them to — to make sure that they are constantly asking themselves questions about whether they are treating people fairly and — and whether they are examining their own behaviour and how it affects others.”
Doug Wead, a former Bush family adviser and the author of All the Presidents’ Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America’s First Families, said several Presidents had travelled abroad with their children, including Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. (Laura Bush, the former first lady, went to Africa with her daughter Jenna while George W. Bush was President.)
Still, not everyone is cheering the Obamas on. Last month, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, said the President had some “nerve” to be sightseeing in Paris while insisting that Congress should focus on overhauling health care.
John Baer, a columnist at The Philadelphia Daily News, recently pondered what parents who have lost their jobs and been forced to cancel their family vacations would make of the President’s plans to savour some family time in Martha’s Vineyard this month. “Those who view Obama as an elitist will have new ammunition,” Mr. Baer wrote.
Mr. Obama’s aides emphasise that the President and the first lady cover the costs of any personal travel and that the stresses of the presidency make such breaks essential.
The Obamas have made a point of getting their children out of the White House bubble this summer — taking them to cheer on Beyonce in concert in Washington; to visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia; and to spend lazy summer afternoons at Camp David. In Moscow, where Malia and Sasha toured the Kremlin, Mr. Obama told CNN he was thrilled to watch his daughters “see the world and then report back to us on what they are seeing.”
In Ghana, Michelle Obama and her girls, who are descendants of slaves, placed two red roses in the slave dungeons and paused for a moment of silence for the people who were imprisoned there, said Fritz Baffour, a member of Ghana’s Parliament who helped guide the family through the Cape Coast Castle.
“Michelle Obama told me that the experience was an educational experience for her children,” Baffour said in a telephone interview from Ghana. “This was a great opportunity to give the children a sense of their being, their true worth and their history.”
SUNBEDS — THE SURREALISTIC TAN AND THE CANCER
It’s been dry and even a little sunny outside the Sunbooth Centre in north London for almost half-an-hour; inside, Angie, shivering at the miserable British summer, is looking forward to getting away next week. Though it will be her first foreign holiday in three years, Angie is already what is sometimes called a “lovely colour” — nut brown on her arms and chest, slightly paler on her face where she’s wearing makeup. Of course she uses the beds as well as working, she says. Everybody prefers to be brown.
Boasting “London’s most powerful sunbooths” and the “best tan in town,” this salon offers sessions of up to 12 minutes at a time, at a cost of £12. Angie wouldn’t really recommend it for me, however, even though my skin is comparatively dark. “Twelve minutes would leave you a bit ... crispy.” Clients, though, won’t always be told. They don’t allow under 16s, however. Using a sunbed every day would certainly give me a colour, she says, before adding: “Every day is not ideal.”
On that point, one can say with confidence, she is not alone. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organisation, this week reviewed its advice on sunbeds, categorising them in the highest-risk carcinogenic substances and habits. Where the use of sunbeds was until recently judged to be “probably carcinogenic to humans,” there is no longer any ambiguity. Just like asbestos, arsenic and cigarettes, we can now say emphatically: sunbeds cause cancer.
And yet, whatever the dangers, the nation’s enthusiasm for the sunny delights of ultraviolet strip bulbs remains undimmed. No one knows how many tanning salons there are in Britain — Kathy Banks of the Sunbed Association, an industry body which voluntarily regulates about 20 per cent of sunbed providers, puts the figure at 6,000-7,000, but admits that is “just a guesstimate.” The influential Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (Comare) estimates “8,000 and rising.”
Figures on usage are equally anecdotal and equally alarming: a quarter of British adults are thought to have used sunbeds. A questionnaire in two Liverpool schools revealed that 43 per cent of 14- to 16-year-olds had used one, while a 2004 survey found that among Scottish primary school, children aged between eight and 11, that number was 7 per cent, some tanning as often as once a fortnight. If sunbeds are dangerous, Britain’s tan enthusiasts of all ages either don’t know, or don’t care.
It is traditional, when discussing the popularity of bronzed skin, to blame Coco Chanel for our modern-day infatuation. The fashion designer, according to melatonin legend, was happily milky of skintone until she accidentally took too much sun while holidaying on the Duke of Westminster’s Mediterranean yacht in 1923; photographed by the press as she disembarked, she unwittingly sparked a fashion for the tanned that has remained with us ever since.
But Robert Mighall, an academic-turned-writer who has researched the cultural history of the modern obsession with sunshine, disputes the Chanel connection — and even that our love of suntanning was principally sparked by fashion.
Much more influential, he argues in his book Sunshine: Why We Love the Sun, was John Harvey Kellogg, who as well as inventing Corn Flakes also developed the sunbed. Kellogg’s first “incandescent light bath,” invented in 1891, was popularised in the decade that followed, with both Kaiser Wilhelm II and King Edward VII reputed to have used them for therapeutic purposes. At the same time, a Danish physician, Niels R Finsen had opened an institute of “phototherapy” in Copenhagen before the turn of the century. The London hospital in Whitechapel installed so-called Finsen lights in 1900 to treat skin conditions, an application which won Finsen the Nobel Prize for medicine.
“Sun baths” and sun lamps, in other words, were first popularised for their medical rather than fashion benefits.
Whatever the original cause, the 20th century developed into a new bronze age of deepening infatuation with the tan. Colour movies, the “jet set” and the increased accessibility of foreign travel in the latter half of the century have all been credited with making the suntan, for the first time in history, suggestive of wealth and glamour rather than poverty and drudgery.
Mr. Mighall admits, however, that in recent years fashion has come to play the dominant role in the popularity of suntans. So entrenched in celebrity culture is the vogue for a deep, surrealistic mahogany tan, that several schools in Scotland, rather than challenge the fashion, now run classes in applying bottle tans.
It is its popularity among the very young that is the most worrying part of the phenomenon, according to cancer campaigners — large-scale studies have shown that using sunbeds below the age of 30 increases cancer risk by 75 per cent. This week’s research has led to renewed calls for under 18s to be banned from using sunbeds — the Scottish Parliament already has plans to do so — but without regulation of the industry, argue cancer campaigners, misuse of tanning facilities could continue. The Sunbed Association, while resisting many of the health risks claimed by campaigners, has said that it would welcome government regulation.
Can legislation really overcome our culture’s infatuation with closing our eyes, peeling off our clothing and exposing ourselves to the sun? “Are the government going to come along and say you can’t go on holiday until you are 18, or you can’t go anywhere hot?” says one tanning salon manager who asks not to be named.
STING OPERATIONS AND ‘TRIAL BY MEDIA’
The Supreme Court judgment in the R.K. Anand case has thrown new light on the sting operations undertaken over the past decade by sections of the news media as a form of investigative journalism. It contains some significant statements on the functioning of the media, their responsibility to maintain professional standards by evolving a self-regulatory mechanism, and the larger issue of freedom of the press.
A bench comprising Justices B.N. Agarwal, G.S. Singhvi, and Aftab Alam made these remarks while upholding the conviction of the lawyer Anand by the Delhi High Court on a charge of contempt of court. The contempt charge arose when Anand, who was defending the accused in the BMW hit-and-run case, attempted to influence a key prosecution witness in favour of the accused, in the presence of the chief prosecution counsel, I.U. Khan and two others. In a sting operation, NDTV captured the negotiation scene on camera and telecast it.
“On a careful consideration of the materials on record,” Justice Alam wrote in the judgment, “we do not have the slightest doubt that the authenticity and integrity of the sting recordings were never disputed or doubted by R.K. Anand.” He added: “He kept changing his stand in regard to the sting recordings. In the facts and circumstances of the case, therefore, there was no requirement of any formal proof of the recordings.” The bench further noted that the observations made in the judgment would help television channels in their future operations and programmes.
The sting as a method of recording audio-visual evidence of wrongdoing in high places, which are not easily accessible, has come a long way since the Tehelka expose. With the phenomenal increase in the number of TV channels in the country in recent years and the growing popularity of sting operations, financially resourceful channels may find it attractive to resort to this form of journalism and deploy the most enterprising and adventurous among their journalists to do the job.
True, when Tehelka.com opened up this route in March 2001 with its Operation Westend — aimed at exposing the corrupt well-entrenched in forts of power — it created quite a sensation among the public. But there were many who raised questions of ethics and financial viability. There was, however, no denying the fact that the expose of potential corruption and misdeeds in as important a field as defence purchases shocked the people, rocked Parliament, rattled the political class, and embarrassed the Prime Minister. The Defence Minister had to step down, although only for a brief period, and the head of the main ruling party was sacked. Many complained that Operation Westend did not uncover any real scam but only indicated that, given a chance, many in high places were prone to corruption. As usual, nothing much came out of this exercise. Tehelka.com’s next venture was in Gujarat, which exposed how one-sided the official investigation into the anti-Muslim pogrom in the State was.
Critics of sting operations also complain of the impropriety of intruding into the privacy of the people, particularly in the absence of stringent laws in India. A legitimate question arises: How sacred is the privacy of a person whose private actions have a bearing on public welfare? Another ethical issue raised is that sting operations tempt if not force someone to commit a crime and encouraging law breaking is unacceptable. These objections cannot be dismissed as baseless, but they are not insurmountable in the long run. Some others call it a trial by the media.
The judgment gives the impression that a sting is not objectionable if it is done in genuine public interest and carried out with care strictly following norms. (In this connection, it is always well to remember the famous distinction between the public interest and what is of interest to the public.) The bench said that the NDTV telecast had rendered valuable service to the important public cause of protecting and salvaging the purity of the course of justice and the operation could not be termed trial by media. It held that whatever the faults or weaknesses of the programme, it certainly did not interfere with or obstruct the due course of the BMW case trial. After all, the programme did show the people that a conspiracy was afoot to undermine the BMW trial. This conclusion will encourage all journalists who investigate wrongdoing or injustice boldly: “What was shown was proved to be substantially true and accurate. The programme was thus clearly intended to prevent the attempt to interfere with or obstruct the due course of the BMW trial.”
The Supreme Court full-throatedly expressed itself against curbing sting operations. It also rejected a suggestion that the media take prior permission for conducting such operations on the grounds that it would amount to pre-censorship.
All in all, something to cheer about for the media and all those who believe in the freedom of expression.
U.S. ARMY TO PROBE CLAIM IT MONITORED PROTEST GROUPS
The United States Army says it has opened an inquiry into a claim that one of its employees spent more than two years infiltrating anti-war groups active near one of the nation’s largest military bases. The groups say the employee infiltrated their activities under an assumed name and gained access to their plans as well as names and e-mail addresses of some members.
The man, John J. Towery, a civilian employee at Fort Lewis, south of Tacoma, Washington, works as a criminal intelligence analyst for the post’s Force Protection Division, say officials at Fort Lewis, the nation’s third-largest army post.
The army would not disclose the nature of the investigation or address the claim that Towery had shared information about civilians. It also said Towery was not available for an interview.
“Mr. John Towery performs sensitive work within the installation law-enforcement community, and it would not be appropriate for him to discuss his duties with the media,” the army said in written statement. “Fort Lewis is aware of the claim with regard to Mr. Towery. To ensure all regulatory guidelines were followed, the command has decided that an inquiry is prudent, and an officer is being appointed to conduct the inquiry.”
Brendan Maslauskas Dunn said he met Towery in the spring of 2007, when Maslauskas Dunn became involved with Port Militarisation Resistance, a group that has frequently tried to disrupt military shipments in Olympia, Tacoma and other ports nearby. Maslauskas Dunn, who was also active in at least one other group, Students for a Democratic Society, said Towery had identified himself as John Jacob. He said he worked as a civilian at Fort Lewis doing computer support, Maslauskas Dunn said.
Towery, he said, frequently attended protests or resistance actions but had not been among those who agreed in advance that they would be willing to be arrested. He said Towery had often worked as a “watcher” who tracked law-enforcement at the protests. At one point early on, Maslauskas Dunn said, Towery brought at least one of his children to an event. He said Towery often spent time at a meeting place for anarchists in Tacoma.
Maslauskas Dunn and another member of the group, Drew Hendricks, said that Towery had been among a handful of people who ran e-mail lists for some of the groups and that this had given him access to names and e-mail addresses. Maslauskas Dunn said Towery would sometimes call group members while he was at work at Fort Lewis and provide information about the movements of some units and equipment.
Towery’s identity, they said, was discovered inadvertently after a public records request made with the city of Olympia. The request yielded an e-mail message Towery had sent to another person with a military address relating to the protesters’ activities.
That led Hendricks and other group members to try to determine who Towery was. After they learned it was the man they had known as Jacob, they discussed it at City Council meeting in Olympia last week and posted the information on a Web site. Maslauskas Dunn said that in a meeting last week, Towery told him and another group member that he was not reporting information to Fort Lewis, and that he genuinely wanted to join “the peace movement” but was under pressure to share some information about protesters with local law-enforcement authorities.“What he said is that the world isn’t just in black and white, that there are areas of gray and that it’s in those areas of gray that he lives his life,” Maslauskas Dunn said.
He said Towery told them that the army had reassigned him, at least temporarily, and that he was being investigated “for espionage.” Maslauskas Dunn and Hendricks said they were sceptical of suggestions that Towery might have infiltrated the group purely on his own, as a so-called renegade without Army approval.
THE ASIAN AGE
AIRLINE STIR WAS A VERY BAD IDEA
The Federation of Indian Airlines has withdrawn its threat to suspend over 260 scheduled domestic flights on August 18 after some of its members decided against the one-day shutdown. But the decision by India’s private airlines on Friday to stop all flights for a day in protest against the government’s refusal to heed their demands was unprecedented. While their demand for a cut in the price of aviation turbine fuel (ATF) and airport handling charges may well have some merit, that was no justification whatsoever for trying to hold the government and the country to ransom by disrupting the lives and work of air travellers. It should not be allowed to go unnoticed. Never in the history of independent India has a group of industrialists clubbed together in this manner to disrupt an essential public service and inconvenience thousands of people. One of the airline owners, when asked if it was a strike, tried to glamourise their action by calling it a "gesture". The next time that employees, in the airline industry or elsewhere, go on strike and describe it as a "gesture", will these same industrialists buy that argument?
It is good that the government adopted a firm line in the face of such intimidation, refused to cow down and indeed threatened to take firm action to protect the interests of the travelling public if they went ahead with the flight suspension. The step taken by the private airlines only makes the case for the government strengthening Air India far more solid. Air India is always there to bail the government out, both during national emergencies and to fulfil both political and social needs; this is something the private airlines will never do. For instance, way back in the early 1990s, it was Air India which was tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the safe return to this country of over 1,36,000 Indians who had got trapped in the Gulf/West Asian region following the outbreak of the Iraq-Kuwait hostilities. When Muslims go on the Haj pilgrimage every year, it is Air India which is given the responsibility of flying them to Saudi Arabia and back, disrupting its own regular schedule. When the President or the Prime Minister have to travel on official visits overseas, it is again Air India which is forced to disrupt its schedules to ferry these VVIPs. Would the private airlines be as willing to take on such responsibilities? These are points to be taken into account when considering the argument of the private airlines’ industrialist-owners that the government should grant them a financial bailout in the same manner that it supports Air India.
The private airlines are using the high ATF costs and airport handling charges to disguise some reckless behaviour in the past when the economy was doing well. Did Jet discuss its takeover of Air Sahara or Kingfisher its takeover of Air Deccan with the government before they went ahead with these acquisitions, knowingly taking on huge losses? But having said all this, it is undeniable that they have some justification in their complaints. ATF prices in this country are the costliest in the world because states governments impose extremely steep sales taxes. Also, ever since several airports in India have been privatised, their aircraft handling charges have gone through the roof: this alone has put an additional burden of $250 million on the airlines. Now that the government has had its way and the August 18 shutdown call has been withdrawn, it should take up these key demands and ensure that the airlines get some relief so that they can continue to operate profitably. This would be in the interest of all Indian air travellers.
THE ASIAN AGE
DISCERNIBLE ACT OF FOLLY
BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH
Napoleon Bonaparte erred when he called the British "a nation of shopkeepers" and was decisively defeated first at sea in 1805 by Lord Nelson in the battle of Trafalgar and finally on land in 1815 in the battle of Waterloo by Lord Wellington. In today's world, while Britain has adapted to the "war on terror", India has only concentrated on trade, while Pakistan has concentrated mainly on military might (including "strategic" export of global terror).
In my numerous articles, I had supported the India-US nuclear deal because unlike China, that ensured its status as a nuclear weapon state before the Non-Proliferation Treaty came into force, India's political and bureaucratic leadership along with our scientist were unable to deliver.
I also believe that India gave its nod to the End-Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) during US secretary of state Hillary Clinton's recent visit because our Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) failed to provide the Indian military with modern hardware. Also it ignored the need to widen the vendor selection base.
I have great respect for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for ushering in the economic revolution. However, on two counts, I seriously think that Dr Singh has made strategic blunders viz allowing India's military preparedness to dip to alarming levels as reflected in the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) report of 2008. Second, even more ominous for India's security, is the joint statement he signed with Pakistan's Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt recently.
India went to Egypt as a victim of terror and returned as the co-victim of terror with an agreement that was openly exploited by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on July 28 (a day before Dr Singh spoke in Parliament) when he linked the terror in Balochistan to India. Talking to Pakistan is important, but committing harakiri on the world stage by including Balochistan in the joint statement is a strategic blunder, since India has no involvement in that region's unrest.
India's foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon mentioned that the statement was "badly drafted". A smug Gohar Ayub Khan said on an Indian television channel, "the joint statement was not badly drafted. Surely a nation of a billion people can find someone to draft correctly".
On July 29, television channels mentioned that "India won the wars, but Pakistan gained in the talks". There is a historical precedence to India's strategic blunders. In 1191, Prithviraj Chauhan defeated Mohammed Ghauri in the first battle of Tarain, but he allowed Ghauri to escape. Next year in 1192, Ghauri defeated, captured and killed Prithviraj Chauhan in the second battle of Tarain. A brief glimpse at Indian history since 1947 will indicate that.
l In 1948, while the Indian Army needed just two weeks to capture Muzaffarabad (in PoK), India unilaterally took the Kashmir issue to the United Nations and asked for a plebiscite.
l In 1965, after the war, India returned the strategic Haji Pir pass to Pakistan at the Tashkent talks.
l In 1972, the Simla Agreement allowed Pakistan to "resurface" after its decisive defeat in 1971.
l Post-1999 (Kargil) and 2001(Parliament attack), India's willingness to talk to Pakistan further emboldened that country to continue its "proxy war of a thousand cuts", begun in 1989.
l During Pervez Musharraf's rule (2000-2008), India fell for his "out of the box" solution for Kashmir and only Mr Musharraf's declining popularity at home prevented Pakistan from gaining on the negotiation table what it had failed to gain on the battlefield.
l The story of the numerous 2008 bomb blasts and post-26/11 (2008 Mumbai attacks) is well-known.
So why was Balochistan included in the recent joint statement? Was it because of US pressure? Was it because Dr Singh, like Atal Behari Vajpayee, was keen to go down in history as the man who brought permanent peace to South Asia? How could a seasoned diplomat like foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon make a "bad draft"?
In my opinion, the real reason lies in the Indian naiveté and the "willingness to go the extra mile" in search of illusory "instant" peace. Our past disastrous record of similar appeasement of China is well-known.
It is time for our political leaders and bureaucrats to realise that some complex problems have no easy solutions.
In the specific case of India-Pakistan relations, there will never be a solution to Kashmir other than accepting the Line of Control as the international border.
Given the nuclear weapons with both countries (and also Pakistan's nuclear-armed ally, China), open war is ruled out. However, India will need to maintain both a nuclear and conventional deterrence capability against another "out-of-the-box" dictator in Pakistan.
Hence, India must be ready to live with the ongoing Pakistani proxy terror war which will continue till such time that the terrorists cause the inevitable disintegration of Pakistan.
In the long run, India will "pull away" economically from a bankrupt Pakistan. It will become a major power in the world, provided its political leadership pays heed to correct advice and allows a strategic culture to take firm root in India.
In the short term, we need to remember that World War II was actually started by Hitler getting emboldened after Chamberlain (feted and flattered by Hitler) signed an accord at Munich "to usher in a generation of peace". Appeasement has never worked and will never work. The more India appeases Pakistan, the greater will be the periodicity and intensity of terror attacks against us.
Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam
AIRLINES MUST COPE ON THEIR OWN
Since Air India is bleeding and a bailout is being readied, private airlines, evidently thought they too could squeeze the government for concessions. In a rare show of unity, they threatened a day’s strike on August 18 to demand a cut in fuel prices, airport charges and airport development fees. The government response, though initially uncertain and weak, concretized into a tough one. Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel did well to deny the possibility of a bailout and to warn the private airlines not to resort to pressure tactics. The result has been that fearful that the government means business, the private airlines have called off the strike. Last year when employees of the Airport Authority of India had disrupted air services and inconvenienced travellers, the government had threatened the use of ESMA. This time around the government first “advised the airlines to engage in a dialogue" but thenmade it clear that failure to do so would invite tougher measures.
Airlines all over the world have moved from record profits to record losses in the past one year, especially after the financial meltdown resulted in recession. The steep rise in the oil prices, which peaked in July last year at $147 a barrel, the outbreak of swine flu and then terror strikes, first in Mumbai and lately at Jakarta, have contributed to losses of the aviation industry. Newspaper reports put the Indian airlines’ losses during 2008-09 at Rs 10,000 crore. When the going was good, private airlines, driven more by greed than sound business sense, went in for irrational expansion plans and placed orders for aircraft. But the sudden change in the business environment derailed their ambitious plans. Now they want the government to help them out of the difficult situation they have landed themselves in.
A bailout for Air India is understandable. It is government-owned and is required to provide air services even on unviable routes in national interest. Private airlines are profit driven. The operators know they are in a capital-intensive, competitive business with frequent highs and lows. They have not saved for the rainy day and are now, like America’s auto companies, seeking a financial lifeline. The government, itself in a tight spot, has limited means to help them. When they do not share profits with the government, why should the latter share their losses? Let the markets decide: the efficient will survive and the inefficient get swallowed by rivals.
MUSHARRAF HAS TO PAY THE PRICE
The Pakistan Supreme Court’s judgement declaring the November 3, 2007, emergency imposed by Gen Pervez Musharraf as unconstitutional is on expected lines. Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who was removed from the position he holds today by the General’s regime, had personally borne the brunt of his arbitrariness. However, since the case against the controversial measure was heard by a 14-member Bench, headed by Chief Justice Chaudhry, the verdict cannot be faulted. General Musharraf must have visualised the consequences of his past actions under the circumstances when he shifted his residence to London recently. How he reacts to the evolving situation remains to be seen. What punishment he gets for the subversion of the Pakistan constitution will be watched with interest.
The verdict may have far-reaching implications. If all that General Musharraf did after clamping the emergency has no legal sanctity, what will happen to the 37 ordinances he issued under the emergency? Under his Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) he appointed a number of judges in the provincial high courts and the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice A. H. Dogar, who has retired. Most of these judges, derisively called “PCO judges”, may have to go. But what will be the status of the judgements they have given during their tenure? With the removal of these judges, the Balochistan High Court will have no one to run it as it has only “PCO judges”.
There may be political implications too. After all, President Asif Zardari got all the cases against him withdrawn following a deal between the General and the late Benazir Bhutto. However, all depends on how Army Chief Gen Ashfaque Pervez Kiyani reacts to the development. If he allows the law to take its own course, the punishment for General Musharaf may serve as a deterrent for any General in future who ventures to capture power by subverting the constitution.
THE STINK OF CORRUPTION
BUTA’S SON HAS MUCH TO ANSWER FOR
The arrest of Sarabjot Singh, son of the Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes Buta Singh and three others in a bribery case is an extremely serious matter, not just because he is the son of a VVIP but also because the bribe was taken allegedly for settling a case pending with the NCSC itself. That three unlicensed pistols were allegedly seized in a CBI raid at his residence makes matters worse for him. Significantly, Sarabjot has reportedly told CBI officials that his father knew of the bribe. That puts a very big question mark over the functioning of the commission formed to safeguard the interests of the persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes. Coming as it does close on the heels of the arrest of the chairman of the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), it leads to the unfortunate conclusion that such organisations are increasingly becoming dens of corruption. The CBI is also trying to ascertain Sarabjot alias Sweety Singh’s involvement in hawala deals.
Quite expectedly, Mr Buta Singh has claimed that the arrest is nothing but a plot to malign him. That precludes the possibility of his resigning on moral grounds. Such uprightness is a thing of the past and it would have been futile to expect an exception from Mr Buta Singh. That sets the stage for a flurry of charges and counter-charges along political lines.
Under the circumstances, the best that can be done is to let the law take its own course. The CBI claims it has recorded conversations between the complainant (Nasik-based municipal contractor Ramarao Patil), a middle man (former president of Maharashtra Akhil Bharatiya Safai Mazdoor Congress Anup Bedi) and Sarabjot Singh. It has to present a water-tight case before courts so that the guilty cannot escape. Its record on that front is none-too-flattering. The next few months will show how well it has done its homework, and whether the sensational arrest ends in conviction or instead, Mr Buta Singh’s “conspiracy” theory gets credence.
EMPHASIS ON RURAL POLICING WELCOME
BY UTTAM SENGUPTA
The Union Home Minister does appear determined to deal firmly with the Maoists. Unlike his predecessors, P. Chidambaram has not tried to gloss over the issue, admitting candidly that the Home Ministry had under-estimated the strength and sophistication acquired by the rebels.
The Centre’s decision to raise a special force comprising some 26,000 men from the existing para-military forces, set up army cantonments deep in Naxalite territory and to launch a concerted offensive, presumably later this year after the monsoon departs, are also welcome indicators of the government’s seriousness.
But having said that, it does need to be pointed out that most of the measures referred above are old wine in a new bottle. In Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) are already holding on to territories and have set up camps in remote areas and on hill-tops. But that has not prevented the Maoists from striking at will.
There has been no let-up in land-mine explosions and the men in uniform are often turning out to be sitting ducks, getting ambushed time and again.
Setting up new cantonments in remote areas will certainly help sanitise a certain area and give a fillip to the local economy but the government can set up at best one or two additional cantonments in a state.
The Maoists then are likely to simply move to fresh territory, as they have done often in the past. The flexibility of a guerrilla operation is seldom matched by conventional methods.
The idea of having cantonments is a two-edged sword actually. Because the Maoists may well try to provoke the armed forces, target movement of army convoys and raise the level of attrition to a point where the Army may want to intervene.
The Army has been kept out of the anti-Naxalite operations so far despite the pleas by states unable to control the Maoists. By setting up cantonments in Naxalite territory, the government may just play into their hands.
Similarly, the idea of raising a special force to combat the Maoists does not appear to be a particularly novel idea. States have been imparting training to the state armed police and special forces had been raised in the past and trained in jungle warfare.
All of them have suffered, however, from the serious handicap of being largely ‘outsiders’ with little knowledge of the local terrain, languages and dialects spoken locally or even of local customs.
Unaware of local conditions, unfamiliar with local people, they have often been guilty of over-reacting to alleged provocations and of using strong-arm tactics, alienating the local people further.
What is unfolding in Lalgarh in West Bengal is a case in point. Six thousand armed personnel are holding
a small area in the backwaters of Bengal for over a month. But while the armed men camp in schools and colleges, Maoists continue to make their presence felt by blasting landmines, abducting policemen, killing so-called political rivals and police informers and hitting at supply lines of the security forces.
Security personnel have added to the confusion by beating up school students demanding they vacate school buildings and allow classes to resume. All able-bodied men are suspects and rather than get detained by security forces, they seem to have fled into the forests.
Both Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have also tried to pit villagers against Maoists by arming vigillante groups. Despite temporary successes when some Maoists were held or killed by the villagers, this has not really worked.
Besides raising the disturbing question of the state abdicating its responsibility and encouraging people to take up arms and defy the law, Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh or Gram Suraksha Dals in Jharkhand have made little impact on the march of Maoists.
Indeed, they have merely ended up providing fire-power to a group of people who have used it to settle personal scores. These armed men have been allowed to kill anyone they suspected of being a Maoist and without any accountability whatsoever. Not surprisingly, some of them have ended up as outlaws themselves.
One sensible move being taken by the Home Ministry is to shift attention to rural policing. As much as 60 per cent of the 14,000 police stations in India are said to be in the rural areas. But most of them function from dilapidated buildings, are staffed by ill-trained, ill-equipped policemen with little motivation.
Not surprisingly, they are known to have fled the posts at the first sign of trouble. A fresh emphasis on rural policing could be useful in providing employment opportunities to rural youth and could turn out to be more effective in combating Maoists.
But the much bigger challenge for the government is to establish and sustain a responsive administration in these areas. In large parts of the Maoist territory, schools, colleges, hospitals and health centres simply do not function. Government grants are siphoned off by middlemen and public servants abdicate their responsibility and have largely abandoned their posts on the plea that they face a threat to their lives.
While the Maoists do have a political agenda and are opposed to development projects, even they will find it difficult to resist rising local aspirations if development schemes are allowed to be implemented by local people and not ‘outsiders’, who are deemed to be exploiters and looked upon with suspicion.
Making the police more responsive to the common man is another area that the government needs to look at. In Maoist strongholds specially, policemen are either pitied, looked upon with contempt or feared.
Petty corruption, the tendency to use strong-arm tactics, the unthinking use of the stick and the power of the police to implicate villagers in false cases are issues which the state governments will have to deal with on a war-footing. Because without meaningful administrative and police reforms, a military response alone may not work against the Maoists.
BY TENG BIAO
On July 17, agents of Beijing's Civil Affairs Bureau raided and closed the office of the Open Constitution Initiative, a local nongovernmental organization. This center had been the primary meeting place for China's nascent movement of "rights lawyers," in which I have been an active participant. There are not too many of us. China has 140,000 lawyers, but only a few dozen focus on citizens' rights.
Our work is frustrating and sometimes hazardous, but we have had considerable success in protecting the rights of individuals and in highlighting cases that have raised awareness of the law among people all across China. This happened last year when we defended families of victims of the toxic baby formula produced by Sanlu Milk Co.
It happened again this year when we defended Deng Yujiao, a waitress who fatally stabbed an official as he was attempting to rape her, and again when we opposed the Chinese government's attempt to require "Green Dam" Internet censorship software on every computer sold in China. We have also defended Liu Xiaobo, the writer who faces prison for signing Charter 08, a manifesto that calls for democracy and human rights.
We can do these things not because China's rulers are becoming more tolerant (they are not) but because, for several reasons, they find that they need a legal system in order to rule. A few decades ago problems such as property disputes, domestic violence and even murders were handled by Communist Party functionaries inside communes or "work units."
But now, because communes and most work units are things of the past, the role of lawyers and courts has to expand. Modern business also needs law. And, perhaps most important for us who do "rights law," the government needs, for reasons of prestige at home and abroad, to pretend that it strictly observes the law. Officials still violate the law, especially in political cases, and get away with it. But they always have to pretend that what they do is "according to law," because their claim to legitimacy depends on it.
This divergence between practice and pretense is what gives space to rights lawyers. When we insist on the rule of law and are public about it (because of the Internet, millions of people might be watching), we can at least embarrass government officials for their illegal actions and hypocrisy, and embarrassment sometimes stays their hands. But they do not like this, and sometimes we pay a price.
Nearly all of us, in the past few years, have experienced threats. We have also lost books, bank accounts and computers during raids on our homes. I am among those who have been forcibly ejected from courtrooms; others have been blindfolded, abducted or beaten while trying to visit clients.
In 2007 my colleague Li Heping was beaten by thugs who used bottles and electric batons and told him to "get out of Beijing or we will beat you whenever we see you." Our colleague Gao Zhisheng, who has defended Falun Gong practitioners, has been imprisoned and tortured. More than five months ago, he "disappeared." Neither his colleagues nor his family know where he is being held.
What most impedes our work, though, is the revocation of our licenses to practice law. China's cities and provinces have "lawyers' associations" that appear to be modeled after the bar associations of Western countries, and these groups decide annually who is qualified to practice law. This is a good example of where pretense and reality diverge in China's legal world.
The lawyers' associations are, in fact, puppets of the government whenever a political question arises. Last year my license to practice law was revoked. China University of Politics and Law, where I teach, assisted in the revocation. Recently the results of the 2009 "review" of qualifications were announced, and about a dozen more rights lawyers had their licenses taken away.
Still, somehow, rights lawyers as a group have not lost their spirit. The letter of the law remains on our side. Moreover, the growing appetite of the Chinese people for the idea of "rights" is easily apparent on the Internet as well as through the many demonstrations, large and small, that happen almost every day in one part of China or another. We feel that history is on our side, and we put our faith in the proverbthat says, "The darkest hour is right before the dawn." — By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post
COLOUR COORDINATION OR SUPERSTITION?
BY DEVI CHERIAN
Sushma Swaraj's sarees are almost always the same colour as colleague S.S. Ahluwalia's turban. Last week, Sushma sported a beautiful Maheshwari cotton saree in a pale shade of mauve and Ahluwalia appeared in an almost identically coloured turban.
This coordination is very easy to explain. It is not of some telepathy between the two leaders. As many Hindus who are superstitious, Ahluwalia adheres to a colour scheme throughout the week that Sushma too follows religiously.
The scheme of colours for his turban, to coincide with different days of the week, is as follows: on Monday, it is pink, Tuesday red or brick colour, Wednesday green, Thursday yellow or saffron, Friday mauve, grey or white, Saturday blue or black and on Sunday it is golden or magenta.
Many working women and housewives have their daily colour co-ordination day-wise in their wardrobes. It's a superstition that our grandmother followed religiously and she says it has worked like magic. Wonder if it works for these two too!
We do agree that no person is exempt from security check at airports — Indian or foreigner — especially in these times of uncertainty. However, when it is a former President of the largest democracy of the world involved, there must be some heed to protocol and dignity.
American Continental Airlines acted immaturely in frisking former President Abdul Kalam; in this case he was frisked at the aircraft's aerobridge by the airline's over-enthusiastic security personnel, who were also rude to the former President's staff and security. Kalam, a 77-year-old senior citizen, then had to face the ignominy of his wallet being checked and being asked to take his shoes off. And this all on our own Indian soil.
But unlike high-ranking politicians, Kalam very calmly let the airline staff do their job. This episode is humiliating because Mr Kalam is a much-loved figure, besides being a former President of the Republic.
While foreign airlines may have their rules, when they are on Indian soil, they must adhere to Indian guidelines. For the present, the least that the airline can do is to make amends and apologise to Mr Kalam.
But when will the Indian government learn a lesson? Our former External Affairs Minister was frisked, our Defence Minister too had to take off his shoes, shirt etc in America. Why do we give the foreign delegates such importance when they visit us? After all, we are also under threat all the time.
PDP: A BAD LOSER
The People's Democratic Party and its leader, Mehbooba Mufti, have clearly lost their balance after its decisive election defeat. Only that can explain its resort to shoddy and downgrade sleazy tactics.
Mehbooba's behaviour is unpardonable. On Monday Mehbooba wrenched out the microphone of the Speaker of the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly and threw it away. On Tuesday, Muzzafar Beig of the PDP came up with a concocted charge that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was involved in the 2006 Srinagar sex scandal.
The Central Bureau of Investigation has pointed out that Mr Abdullah's name never figured in the scandal in which two PDP ministers were, in fact, named along with several other persons. There was no need for Omar Abdullah to get emotional but it was a reaction that any self-respecting person would have.
And then on Wednesday Mehbooba tore the CBI letter which confirmed that Omar was not involved. Politics is a dirty game. As for the PDP, it needs to become constructive instead of destructive. Hurling scurrilous charges at the Chief Minister or attacking the Speaker is no substitute for good politics.
Remember, how they pulled the rug from under the Congress after they finished their own term of three years. Bad losers and bullies that is what the PDP leaders are. Charges against them are many, only if the present CM would take action. About their own personal lives, the less said the better.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
THE JOINT STATEMENT
The joint statement issued by Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India and Yusouf Raza Gilani, Prime Minister of Pakistan after their summit meeting at Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt has been the subject of controversy in the Parliament, with the opposition parties mainly the BJP dubbing it as dilution of India’s declared position that there would not be any peace talks with Pakistan till Pakistan brings the perpetrators of Mumbai attack on 26/11 to book. The delinking of action on terror and agreeing to take forward the dialogue process was seen as capitulation by India.Yaswant Sinha of the BJP accused the Prime Minister of pledging the nation’s honour by agreeing to the joint statement with Pakistan .He asserted that by agreeing that both countries had been the victim of terrorism, the Prime Minister of India had equated India and Pakistan on the issue of terrorism. He stated that the distinction between the victim and the perpetrator had been completely obliterated.Yaswant Sinha also attacked the Prime Minister for agreeing to the mention of Balochistan in the joint statement.
The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh in one of his longest speeches clarified all the doubts of the opposition parties. Making a statement in Lok Sabha,he asserted that the government had not diluted its position on terrorism by issuing a joint statement with Pakistan but left the door open for dialogue provided Pakistan fulfils its commitment in letter and spirit to root out anti-India terrorist activities from its soil.The Prime Minister ruled out any third party intervention between India and Pakistan and stated that India would follow a policy of trust and verify on commitment by Pakistan. The recent dossier sent by Pakistan shows that some progress in investigation of Mumbai terror attack on 26/11 had been made by Pakistan and Pakistan had admitted for the first time that its soil and citizens were involved in planning and executing the terrorist attack. Regarding Balochistan, he clarified that Pakistan had alleged that Indian consulates in Kandhahar and Jalalabad were being used for subversive activities. The Indian Prime Minister asserted that these consulates were working for the last sixty years without any complaint but if Pakistan had any information India would be willing to look into it. The Prime Minister said, “Unless we want to go to war with Pakistan, dialogue is the only way out which we should do on the basis of trust.”. The Prime Minister’s long speech clarified all the doubts on the Indo-Pak joint statement.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
A disquieting concern of late has been the rising incidence of human trafficking, especially of young girls of the State, to other parts of the country. There have been a number of instances of trafficked girls being rescued and rackets unearthed. Not just Assam, the North-East is fast emerging as a major source of trafficking, with the problem attaining sinister dimensions over the years. While poverty, lack of employment avenues, illiteracy etc., contribute largely to this scourge, militancy, ethnic unrest, flood and cross-border infiltration have compounded the situation in the region. Women and children invariably happen to be the most vulnerable section in this nefarious trade, who are often lured out of the region with better job prospects but generally end up as victims in the sex racket. The presence of a large migrant population from Bangladesh and Nepal that constitute a cheap labour force further aggravates the crisis. The perennial flood problem of Assam is another major concern related to human trafficking. Floods displace thousands of families every year, compelling these homeless people to live in relief camps in sub-human conditions. The plight of the ethnic riot victims of Kokrajhar district depicts a similar picture, forming a favourable background for trafficking to flourish. Given the situation of abject poverty in many areas of the region, it is hardly surprising that people are even willing to be trafficked.
Human trafficking is a blot on the country’s governance. It effectively negates the right to live with dignity bestowed on the people by the Constitution. More than anything, the growing dimension of human trafficking testifies to the inescapable reality that the all-important issue of poverty alleviation remains largely unaddressed even after more than six decades of independence. The worsening scenario vis-a-vis trafficking demands urgent and pragmatic measures from both governments and voluntary organisations. Poverty alleviation must form an integral component of any long-term strategy to combat the menace. As immediate measures, hard crackdowns on the thriving racket and enforcement of anti-trafficking laws are highly imperative. Ensuring rehabilitation of the rescued victims of trafficking is another urgent need. For addressing the critical issue of poverty, the development process should be turned rural-centric. A majority of our villages present a grim picture of neglect and apathy, lacking even the minimum basic amenities. The loopholes in implementation effectively deprive the beneficiaries of various poverty-alleviation schemes of their due benefits. Then, the peculiar region-specific concerns that abound in the North-East have to be addressed in the right perspective.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
RESUMING INDO-PAK DIALOGUE
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh surprised many of his own advisers and supporters by issuing a joint statement at Sharm-al-Shaikh in Egypt with his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani, which pledged to resume the bilateral dialogue process. It was widely expected that the dialogue, suspended after the ghastly Mumbai terrorist attacks of last November, would be re-started only after Pakistan shows a credible commitment and takes visible action to bring the attacks’ perpetrators to justice. India has repeatedly reminded Pakistan that it must abide by its solemn pledge to fight terrorism directed at India from its soil.
Admittedly, the signs of this happening are still tentative–although Pakistan’s 36-page dossier given to India does name Lashkar-e-Toiba’s Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi as the attacks’ mastermind and admits that Ajmal Amir Kasab and other attackers are Pakistani nationals. Again, the Pakistan government’s charge-sheet against them contains valuable evidence gathered by its official agencies, which adds significantly to what, was provided by New Delhi. Islamabad has now brought the case to the prosecution stage. How the prosecution itself proceeds, and whether the culprits are punished quickly, is an open question.
So was Dr Singh right to have convinced himself that Pakistan means business this time and therefore that the stalled dialogue should resume, albeit gradually, at the Foreign Secretary level? Was he justified in issuing the joint statement which said: “Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed”? Was he on the defensive ‘when responding to the criticism of the joint statement and stressing that he hadn’t diluted India’s stand demanding firm Pakistani action against terrorism?
The “delinking” has raised a furore. The Bharatiya Janata Party and hawkish former diplomats and soldiers have pounced on the formulation and accused Dr Singh of “surrender”, capitulation to external pressure, and worse. Even the ruling Congress has distanced itself from the phrase. L K Advani has charged Dr Singh with breaching the national consensus that there should be no talks with Islamabad unless it resolutely acts against jehadi groups.
Worse, the statement’s reference to Balochistan has been attacked as signifying India’s admission that it has clandestinely fomented trouble in that restive province. This will allow Pakistan to claim moral parity between India’s suspect behaviour in Balochistan and its own long-standing support to violent separatism in the Kashmir Valley.
These criticisms are largely misdirected and based on the misperception that the composite dialogue has already been resumed and will continue full tilt no matter what Pakistan does. In fact what Dr Singh and Gilani agreed to was much more limited and laced with caution. As Dr Singh told Parliament, no “meaningful process of engagement” can move forward unless and until Pakistan shows real progress by taking measures to control terrorism and bring the Mumbai attacks’ perpetrators to book.
The “delinking” formulation is rather inelegant, awkward and ambiguous. Foreign Secretary Menon has admitted as much. It can be interpreted by either side to suit its domestic political exigencies or convenience. Pakistan can claim that it has succeeded in getting India to resume the bilateral dialogue even as the case against LeT operatives proceeds, but is not completed.
India can claim that it has extracted an assurance from Pakistan that it would act firmly against terrorism—as any minimally civilised country would be expected to do—irrespective of what the dialogue produces. Both Prime Ministers reckoned that the delinking formulation would give them enough domestic elbow room to resume constructive engagement bilaterally.
The plain truth is that the two processes– action against terrorism and dialogue– have their own independent logic and dynamics. They will converge only as they gather momentum at their own respective pace. That’s what genuine, positive engagement leading to detente and reconciliation is all about. Both sides must recognise and respect this. Neither should act unilaterally. For instance, Pakistan shouldn’t stop acting against jehadi groups if, say, talks on Sir Creek or Siachen don’t make progress. On the whole, the greater onus is on Pakistan.
The Indian and Pakistani governments must hold firm against their critics and persevere with the dialogue process. Dr Singh should not be on the defensive about having made a leap of faith by agreeing to re-start the process Atal Behari Vajpayee did exactly that, whether in 1999, when he rode the bus to Lahore, or in January 2004, when he launched the peace process in Islamabad with Gen Pervez Musharraf.
There are two differences, though. The 2004 dialogue began before Pakistan took credible steps to rein in or crack down upon jebadi groups targeting India. Today, it’s being resumed after Pakistan has taken more effective action against them than at any time in the last quarter-century. The 2004 launch took place on the basis of a verbal assurance by Gen Musharraf that Pakistan would do all it can to prevent its territory from being used to attack India. Vajpayee, who had only a few months earlier ruled out talks, decided to take him seriously. The results aren’t perfect. But India and Pakistan are unarguably better off after the dialogue. They even made significant progress on Kashmir in their “back-channel” discussions.
Today’s context is different, and in many ways, better. Islamabad has admitted, frankly and categorically, that Pakistani nationals and militant groups indeed planned and executed the Mumbai attacks. This is a departure from the long-practised strategy of “plausible deniability” (that Pakistan has been aiding extremist groups). This is taking place when the Pakistan Army is fighting the al-Qaeda-Taliban at its Western borders in alliance with and under the watch of the US-led International Security Assistance Force. This is no mock battle. Pakistan is under pressure, both domestic and from the international community, to act against terrorism and erase the stigma of being a State that nurtured it.
Pakistan is a divided and heterogeneous entity. A civilian government is in power there, which has sent serious signals that it wants better relations with India. It has so far succeeded in keeping the hawks in check and pushed a moderate agenda in alliance with civil society forces and political organisations that are genuinely opposed to violent jehadi, political Islam. The hawks and India-baiters in the ISI and other military agencies have by no means been overpowered or marginalised. That can only happen when the moderates get more support.
It's in India’s own interest to stop treating Pakistan as a single homogenous entity and to build a strategic alliance with the moderate forces in that country which serendipitously combine an anti-extremist and anti-military outlook with a strong pro-democratisation agenda. It would be unwise for India to leave such engagement and alliance-building to the government alone.
India must open up the process up to scholars, artists, writers, cultural activists and civil society groups by facilitating their movement across the borders. There is enormous potential in such interaction, whose tapping can produce dramatic results. India should stop, and allay fears about, its clandestine activities in Balochistan, on whose existence there’s some evidence and agreement in intelligence circles.
Co-bonding is precisely what India and Pakistan need. But for that to happen, both governments will have to try hard, earnestly, in good faith, not once but repeatedly. The fact that they are at least attempting another beginning is itself welcome.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
SPIRITUALITY AND THE PRACTICE OF VALUES
DR MAINA SARMA
Religion and spirituality operate within the society and impact the human psyche. The module for spirituality and values provide the following definition for spirituality: Spirituality refers to spirit, mind, higher faculties, and highly refined thought and feeling. It also means to be free from sensuality and to be concerned with the human spirit. Every religion contains elements of spirituality, as a shared experience. However, spirituality rises above religious differences and speaks of direct and simple communion between the human being and the Divine as well as a fraternal relationship between all people of all religions. Religious tolerance is crucial to the peace and harmony of our pluralistic society and spitituality is able to accomplish this goal.
Focusing on the essences of spirituality it may be said that spirituality is subtle in the sense that it springs from a subtle awareness of our inner life. Spiritual growth takes place in inner silence through rigorous sellf-examination. It requires a continuous internal self-discipline to analyse motives and behaviour, to respond when the conscience bites and change the self accordingly. This further implies to be motivated to study, to meditate and to spend time checking the conscience. It thus involves an inner work to turn to the marvelous world of subjectivity.
The New Oxford English Dictionary defines values as a ‘person’s principles and standards of behaviour’ one’s judgment of what is important in life’. Values are thus rules or ethical policy we adopt for ourselves in order to travel through the journey of life with a clear conscience. They are like our ‘parents’; a sense of security and comfort comes through adopting them. Unless we try to identify our values, articulate them and state the reason why they are values, we tend to go through life without applying them consciously. This identification and articulation involves the practice of spirituality. Spirituality thus makes the practice of value’s conscious. The unconscious application of values diminishes our moral sensitivity and we neglect to take responsibility for our actions. Due to lack of such discernment, we often confuse values with desires, an approach, which has contributed, to the crisis we have in values today.
A common tendency that prevails in our society is that people generally think that it is all right to perform wrong actions as long as they do not get caught. This is because people generally recognise the external authorities assuming that these are the ultimate deterrents. Established religion provides an external deterrent but has failed in stopping crimes. An awakened conscience is the key to ethical behaviour, achieved through introspective analysis of the inner self. When a person is deaf to the voice of conscience, the voice of outside moral authorities also falls on deaf ears. This is why spirituality is relevant to today’s major social problems, which are rooted in the crisis of values.
Spirituality recognises the inner self the subjective core as the primary entity as it is the seat of all our resolves, and acts as the driving force of the physical body. Values are expressed in interpersonal relationship. The more we identify our selves with the inner self, the easier it is to relate to others on the basis of moral and spiritual values.
The challenge lies in the fact that the quality of conduct in the private as well as public life in our society is not improving. From a deeper perspective, it appears that almost all problems today – political, economic, social, health, educational, cultural, psychological etc are rooted in character defects. Character defects arise from spiritual depletion. When values are cultivated with spirituality, and when methods of meditation are integrated into the process, the seeds of knowledge about values fall on the fertile ground of a nourished consciousness i.e., consciousness, with greater awareness based on accurate information and a refined perspective on the meaning of life and one’s own identity. The relation between values and spirituality is thus symbiotic. When spirituality is developed, values begin to emerge; and when values are developed, they increase spirituality.
Spirituality involves an attitude of enlightened self-interest. This is the opposite of selfishness. It is to respect the self by refusing to adopt someone else’s negative vision. Thus one can be aware of the essential truth about oneself that any negativity within is acquired and not original. This discernment is the first step for a person to resist pejorative thoughts about one’s personal value and integrity from within and from without.
Spirituality is not to be confused with blind faith. It refers to truths and realities that apply to all people at all times and all places. These can be studied, understood, tested and experienced. The laws of spirituality are discerned intuitively and discovered by study and investigation. They are universal and accurate. In this sense spirituality is like the science, especially physics. These laws govern the relationship between humans and Divine and between human being and the natural world in subtle ways. ‘As you sow, so shall you reap’, is a wellknown saying that describes the laws of action and philosophy of karma. It is generally felt that any thing we think, do or say that is against the conscience blocks our spiritual contact with the Divine and takes away peace of mind. Any thing we do against nature makes us suffer physically. Spirituality explains how the external state of the world reflects the conditions of the internal state of the individuals. Spiritual laws are, however, often found to be disregarded. The reason is, perhaps, the connection between cause and effect is not visible in the way the gross objects are visible.
Spirituality is not self-oppression; it is self-restraint of negative tendencies. There is a fine line of demarcation between appropriate self-discipline and oppression. Also, a spiritualist is not necessarily a traditionalist in as much as he or she identifies the anti-values in traditions, folklore etc; is courageous enough to act radically and go beyond the rituals of traditional established religion. The spiritually mature person always remains open to the new dimensions.
The development of spirituality and values is a life long process; it takes years to reach deep and refined understanding of them. There are always new dimensions to be discovered. At any rate, spirituality, understood in the sense of stabilising oneself in the awareness of the inner-self, is something very intrinsic to human being, belonging naturally to him. A turning away from that awareness is rather a perversion acquired during a passage of time.
(The writer teaches Philosophy in B Borooah College, Guwahati).
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
It might be too much to suggest it is a sign of changing times that collective bargaining, once the preserve of the working class, should now become the chosen weapon of, ironically enough, the CEOs! The airline industry is about as far removed from industries associated with working class movements as imaginable.
Nonetheless, what is clear is that airline chieftains, emboldened by the manner in which the government is rushing to rescue national flag carrier Air India and by actions of governments across the world to rescue beleaguered sections of industry, have decided to try and arm-twist the government into coming to their aid.
Hence the threat by eight private airlines to stop domestic operations for a day on 18 August and then suspend their operations indefinitely if their demands are not met! To the extent private airlines now account for over 80% of domestic flights, suspension of flights would cause considerable hardship. But that is no reason why government should submit to such blackmail.
In a country where air travel is still the preserve of a privileged few, there can be no justification for using taxpayer money to bail out private airlines. Today it is airlines, tomorrow it could be automobiles or steel or two-wheelers or any other industry that feels it is now large enough to hold the country to ransom.
Agreed, private airlines are deeply in the red — collectively their losses stood at Rs 10,000 crore in 2008-09, with accumulated losses a staggering Rs 57,000 crore. But they are largely to blame themselves. Cutthroat competition combined with mindless cost-cutting in fares and route expansion have contributed as much to their woes as higher ATF prices and ground-handling charges.
In fact private airlines have already been allowed sops by way of deferment of their bills to oil marketing companies. The comparison with Air India is untenable. This paper has all along argued against pumping in more money into Air India without doing a complete overhaul of its operations and management. But the government, as the owner of the national flag carrier, has every right to pump in money if it thinks fit. It cannot and must not fly to the rescue of private airlines.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
UPTICK IN STEEL
The reports that ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel producer, is considering spinning-off its stainless steel business into a separate joint venture suggest a pause in the consolidation phase of the global industry. The economic downturn has significantly reduced steel demand in the main markets abroad, and ArcelorMittal appears to be keen on unlocking value in the relatively more profitable parts of the business.
Its stainless steel business notched up $8.3 billion in sales last year on relatively low volumes of just under 2 million tonnes (MT). It’s the value-added steel products that disproportionately contribute to the bottom line. Note that ArcelorMittal has reported a second-quarter net loss of $792 million.
The steel major sees a “gradual upturn” in the market during the rest of the year. So it is employing creative strategies to shore up future profitability, clearly a signal for our domestic steel sector to fastforward approvals and investments for a panoply of green-field projects long in the pipeline. More so because domestic demand will remain good in the medium to long term. Domestic steel companies also seem poised to come out of the downturn.
Tata Steel’s latest quarterly results show that its net profit, at Rs 789 crore, is down 46% YoY. But the domestic steel major expects revenues to grow 22% in the second quarter, possibly because steel prices have risen of late, pointing to a demand uptick. Meanwhile, SAIL, India’s largest steel maker, has reported a 28% drop in its first-quarter net profit, at Rs 1,326 crore.
In absolute terms, this is possibly the largest profit recorded by any global steel company in that quarter. SAIL also sees a demand upswing underway, and is planning a public issue later this fiscal. There is potential to add more capacity.
The fact is there are as many as 194 memoranda of understanding signed by various state governments with steel producers, for a total capacity addition of over 243 MT. What’s required is a proactive follow through on the ground. The recent scheme for promotion of R&D in steel sector and the approval of the Steel Technology Centre at IIT, Kharagpur are moves in the right direction. But project approvals do need to be streamlined.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A Russian woman who has so far earned millions by selling prime British real estate to the cash-rich oligarchs of her country, has hit upon a new recession-proof business: education. Given that Russian billionaires have already begun to make inroads into another huge British institution by buying up football teams, her idea of selling British schools and colleges to them is nothing short of brilliant.
But not quite in the way most people might think. Rather than valuing the playing fields of Eton by their acreage and selling them as real estate to her compatriots, she is selling the idea of a British education to these oligarchs and setting up mechanisms whereby their children can clear entrance examinations to these elite institutions.
The cachet of an English public school education is apparently well worth its weight in bullion, and the billionaires do not mind paying up for a posse of private tutors so that the Russian hopefuls are well versed in tricky entrance examination clinchers. For their part, cash-strapped British public schools are not unhappy at all at the prospect of fat-fee paying foreign students.
There is an obvious opening for an ambitious Indian to provide the same services to well-heeled parents from this country. Indian children would have a major advantage over any Russians competing for the same places as they would already know the language of instruction, English. That would mean one less tutor, a few months less of coaching for the examination, and indeed, an easier time mixing in with the resident student body after admission.
It may not be exactly as Lord Macaulay would have envisaged, but since Indian schools — especially the coveted ones — are chronically short of seats and similar British institutions are chronically short of funds, there seems to be an inevitable synergy in a long-term educational liaison. As for Indians buying up the schools in toto, since it has already happened to leading marquees like Jaguar and Rover, not to mention Corus and Tetley, why not Eton and Harrow as well?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PIGMALION: THE MYTH OR A MASK?
LONDON: It’s more of a global pandemonium than pandemic. Panic and confusion, across the world, are stretching already strained health services, and stressing out patients and doctors alike. Thanks mostly to the speed and spread of H1N1, ‘official’ health advisories and strategies change almost daily.
Following WHO’s latest, nobody is now attempting to quarantine, or even count up or diagnose new cases, especially in swine flu hotspots like the UK. “No point, it’s too widespread,” doctors say. The new focus is to identify and treat ‘high risk’ patients, and identify ‘clusters’ of the most severe outbreaks. Swine flu is one of those peculiar pandemics that’s spreading from developed to developing countries – therefore, the white noise around the disease is many decibel levels higher than necessary.
A total of 29 people have died of swine flu in the UK – annually about 14,000 die of normal flu. Chances are that H1N1 and a whole family of its li’l cousins are already spicing up the general soup of viruses and bacteria sloshing around the Indian monsoon season.
The truth about swine flu is that it’s like any other particularly nasty viral fever, runs its course in a week or two, is transmitted like a common cold, and has nothing to do with pigs. The most usual treatment is ‘paracetamol, fluids, rest and chicken soup’. There are no specific precautions; gas masks won’t help.
Anti-virals like Tamiflu only work if taken in the first 48 hours of infection, and also have side effects like nausea and diarrhoea. A vaccine is due in the market in a month or so, but flu jabs aren’t common practice in India. However, Indian health authorities should probably take steps to make anti-virals available to the general public, (it isn’t) and order some of those funky new vaccines.
Complications can arise for high risk groups, such as pregnant women, children, anyone below the age of 18, or patients with underlying chronic health problems. Surprisingly, people over 65 seem less susceptible. It’s rarely fatal by itself. If you don’t develop complications in the first 3 days, you’ll mostly recover.
In the UK, a national pandemic flu service helpline has been set up to ease the strain on the NHS, and identify and prescribe to high-risk patients. Anti-virals are being stockpiled, but prescribed stingily, to ‘at risk groups’ only. Meanwhile, Europe and the UK are also gearing up for what will be the largest ever inoculation exercise since small pox vaccination in the 50s, in readiness for the traditional flu season — Autumn when schools reopen.
Should you panic? Given that swine flu is the new black, it’s inevitable the chatterati and media will. Given the nature of this beast, it will be virtually impossible to identify, isolate or treat any large scale outbreak in India. Besides, it’s harmless. Mostly.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SUBBARAO'S RARE FEAT
The governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Dr D Subbarao, has done the near impossible! No, he hasn’t got us back to 9% GDP growth and 3% inflation — the state of affairs once described by Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, as non-inflationary consistent expansion (NICE). But he’s done something almost as tough. He’s united the fractious tribe of commentators on monetary policy! For now!
From a time, not so long ago, when almost anything the central bank did would find opinion makers ranged against each other, some supporting the bank and others lambasting it, this time around all papers to a T (save the usual suspect!) have unanimously endorsed the RBI’s stand of keeping all policy rates unchanged in its First Quarter Review of Monetary Policy 2009-10 last Tuesday.
Comments in Wednesday’s business papers varied from, ‘RBI rightly maintains status quo but fiscal risks remain’ (Business Standard) to ‘RBI’s wait and watch stance has merit’ (The Economic Times) to ‘The governor has done the expected’ (Business Line) to ‘The governor’s decision to leave rates unchanged is both expected and welcome’(Mint).
Even better, from the RBI’s perspective, there seems to be a subtle shift in editorial sympathy; away from the government, in favour of the RBI. The earlier stance of censuring the central bank (on building forex reserves, for instance) and endorsing the government (for opening the floodgates to hot money through PNs (participatory notes), has given way to a new understanding of the bank’s compulsions.
Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that in the altered scenario, post-Lehman, there is a much wider endorsement of the RBI’s policies. And, surprise, even amongst its most strident critics, just the faintest whiff of censure of the government, especially its fiscal excesses.
“The potential spoiler in the situation is the fiscal deficit and the significant impact it has had on interest rates,” says one business daily. Others are less direct but there’s no mistaking the shift in position — from one of censure of the RBI to one of empathy for a central bank fighting a lone battle on many fronts, often without the support of the government.
This is no mean achievement; especially since the RBI is yet to learn the skills needed to manage its media image. On the contrary; despite a commendable track record — whether in managing the transition from a system of artificially fixed exchange rates to a free (if dirty) float or moving to market-determined interest rates — the bank is generally seen as stodgy, unapproachable and closed to any new ideas.
All the more reason to commend Subbarao! In all fairness, though, the credit for the sea-change in perception about the bank from one of spoiler-in-chief to cautious but professionally competent central bank does not go entirely to him. A great deal of the credit for the bank’s newly-won respect, both among the general public, and more importantly, among its peer group of central banks, must go to his predecessor, the much-maligned Y V Reddy. His dogged pursuit of a ‘calibrated approach’ in the face of political opposition has stood the country in good stead, saving us from the worst excesses of the financial crises now rocking the world.
The net result is a policy that is fairly balanced. Fiscal hawks and monetary purists might have liked to see some suggestion of an exit policy, a hint of steel under the bank’s velvet talk of an ‘accommodative’ policy. But that was, perhaps, too much to expect from a central bank that, till recently, has faced so much vitriol that it is understandably (?) wary of attracting more flak. Central banking, like politics — as described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — is the ‘art of the possible’.
Hence the closest the bank gets to baring its teeth is to draw attention to the increase in the weighted average yield for government securities — from 6.68% in the last quarter of 2008-09 to 6.93% in the first quarter of the current fiscal, implying government is now forced to pay a higher rate of interest than in the past to borrow. And to the far more dramatic shortening in the average maturity of government securities issued in 2009-10 from 15.2 years last year to 11.5 years, implying the market has reservations about lending to the government for longer periods.
It has also devoted four fairly lengthy paragraphs to inflation, warning that once the base effect that is presently keeping the WPI (wholesale price index) low wears off, inflation will creep up even without any major supply shock (emphasis added). Further, that the RBI will “endeavour to ensure price stability and anchor inflation expectations” and “will continue to condition and contain perception of inflation in the range of 4.0-4.5%”.
Whether markets will read this as a signal that the bank will back its talk with firm action and tighten the screws to withdraw the additional liquidity pumped into the system post-September 2008 remains to be seen. The sums involved are gigantic — the bank has infused additional funds to the tune of Rs 561,000 crore since September 2009. An exit strategy is, therefore, going to pose an enormous challenge. A premature exit could jeopardise both the nascent recovery and, more importantly, the government’s huge borrowing programme of Rs 451,000 crore. Delay could see a resurgence of inflationary forces.
To compound the RBI’s problems, forex flows add an additional element of uncertainty over which the RBI has no control. If there is a rush of dollars into the country, the rupee will appreciate vis-à-vis the dollar and the RBI will be forced to intervene (to prevent the rupee from appreciating and hurting exports). The rupees it pumps in exchange for dollars will add to liquidity and it will be back to the old story of sterilising inflows, etc. On the other hand, if there is a net outflow, it could be faced with a very different kind of dilemma — of trying to prevent the rupee from depreciating too much and adding to inflationary pressure.
Properly executed, the RBI could win more kudos. But if it botches it up, its image will take a battering. The bank could then find itself at the receiving end of the same kind of vicious criticism it had to contend with in 2007, when it was the lone (official) voice warning of the dangers of over-heating. Either way it is skating on thin ice.
AIRLINE PROTEST WAS A VERY BAD IDEA
The Federation of Indian Airlines has withdrawn its threat to suspend over 260 scheduled domestic flights on August 18 after some of its members decided against the one-day shutdown. But the decision by India’s private airlines on Friday to stop all flights for a day in protest against the government’s refusal to heed their demands was unprecedented. While their demand for a cut in the price of aviation turbine fuel (ATF) and airport handling charges may well have some merit, that was no justification whatsoever for trying to hold the government and the country to ransom by disrupting the lives and work of air travellers. It should not be allowed to go unnoticed. Never in the history of independent India has a group of industrialists clubbed together in this manner to disrupt an essential public service and inconvenience thousands of people. One of the airline owners, when asked if it was a strike, tried to glamourise their action by calling it a “gesture”. The next time that employees, in the airline industry or elsewhere, go on strike and describe it as a “gesture”, will these same industrialists buy that argument? It is good that the government adopted a firm line in the face of such intimidation, refused to cow down and indeed threatened to take firm action to protect the interests of the travelling public if they went ahead with the flight suspension. The step taken by the private airlines only makes the case for the government strengthening Air India far more solid. Air India is always there to bail the government out, both during national emergencies and to fulfil both political and social needs; this is something the private airlines will never do. For instance, way back in the early 1990s, it was Air India which was tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the safe return to this country of over 1,36,000 Indians who had got trapped in the Gulf/West Asian region following the outbreak of the Iraq-Kuwait hostilities. When Muslims go on the Haj pilgrimage every year, it is Air India which is given the responsibility of flying them to Saudi Arabia and back, disrupting its own regular schedule. When the President or the Prime Minister have to travel on official visits overseas, it is again Air India which is forced to disrupt its schedules to ferry these VVIPs. Would the private airlines be as willing to take on such responsibilities? These are points to be taken into account when considering the argument of the private airlines’ industrialist-owners that the government should grant them a financial bailout in the same manner that it supports Air India. The private airlines are using the high ATF costs and airport handling charges to disguise some reckless behaviour in the past when the economy was doing well. Did Jet discuss its takeover of Air Sahara or Kingfisher its takeover of Air Deccan with the government before they went ahead with these acquisitions, knowingly taking on huge losses? But having said all this, it is undeniable that they have some justification in their complaints. ATF prices in this country are the costliest in the world because states governments impose extremely steep sales taxes. Also, ever since several airports in India have been privatised, their aircraft handling charges have gone through the roof: this alone has put an additional burden of $250 million on the airlines. Now that the government has had its way and the August 18 shutdown call has been withdrawn, it should take up these key demands and ensure that the airlines get some relief so that they can continue to operate profitably. This would be in the interest of all Indian air travellers.
NOTHING HONOURABLE ABOUT HONOUR KILLING
BY BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN
The term honour killing is at best a cruel and tragic irony, because there is nothing remotely honourable about the brutal murder of a young man, woman or couple, by an entire caste, community or village, merely because they dared to challenge some archaic and meaningless code set down by some village elders for the village and its residents.
Killings such as these are very frequently reported, but rarely merit more than the passing attention of a fast-moving world, so jaded and exhausted in the pursuit of the daily minutiae and miseries of life to actually concern itself with something that happens so far away.
Often our movies and those who live in cities tend to romanticise the idylls of rural life, supposedly natural, close to basics and uncluttered by the cynicism of the urban jungle. In reality, however, villages are, in certain aspects, very scary and brutal places to live in, especially in terms of the overarching dominance of patriarchal, chauvinistic, caste and communal values. The treatment of Scheduled Castes, the sudden flare-up of communal tensions between religious groups, the attempts by the upper castes to control the fortunes of the village are all too well-known and well documented to bear repetition. However, the stark fact that needs to be seriously considered is that whenever tensions break out — whether they are communal in nature or warring castes — it is the women of those communities who are forced to bear the brunt of the violence. Thus in cases of communal or any other violence, it is the women of the opposite community who are attacked, raped and assaulted. We never stop to think why, if there is tension between religious or castes groups, the women of the other community need to be attacked. Why can’t the men just battle it out among themselves?
On many occasions, especially in areas where vested interests seek to spread communal tension, a false rumour is started that a woman of a particular religion was raped. This rumour spreads like wildfire and immediately, outraged men of that religion gang up. Instead of rounding up the alleged or real perpetrator of the crime — who is generally a man from the opposite religion — they roam around raping and molesting innocent women of that particular community. The total lack of logic, the sheer injustice of this is never really contemplated. It has always filled me with rage to see how the battles of men, are always fought upon the bodies of women. The problems, anger, territorial issues are always those of the men but the violence and assault are perpetrated mostly upon the bodies of women.
The reasons for this anomaly are not far to seek. Patriarchal society has always controlled and aspired to control the sexuality and fertility of women. Of course, patriarchy seeks to control women in every possible way, including the capacity of women to be mobile. For example, in parts of West Asia, women are not allowed to drive cars. But that is a whole different story. On the issue of honour killings it is amply clear that the sexuality of a woman, her perceived purity and chastity are all considered to be precious commodities owned by the men of her family that include her husband and his immediate family. This is why the physical person of the woman and her sexual “inviolability” are treated as the benchmark of “honour” of her family and, as a result, of the entire religious community or caste.
The most cursory analysis of this attitude makes the discriminatory anomaly of this thesis crystal clear. Chastity and sexuality are matters that are or should be purely within the private domestic domain. It is a matter that should concern solely a woman and her husband. That the entire community should sit in arbitration over the marriage of a woman merely because they belong to the same caste or religion is simply a violation of the human rights of that particular woman. In fact, the only concern in the public domain should be if, or when, a woman is raped, assaulted or molested, in which case the entire community should spring to her defence and ensure that the perpetrators of the atrocity against the woman are severely punished. Alas, such alacrity and concern are conspicuously absent in our society and conviction rates for rape per se (as opposed to rape during communal or other violence) are dismally low. In fact the cruellest blow of all is when law courts actually deliver or endorse judgments accepting a rapist’s offer to marry his victim and thereby acquitting him of his horrific offence. The reasoning obviously being that by marrying the man who raped her, her chastity would be preserved. Even worse are the multitude of instances when village panchayats decree that sexual offenders and rapists should pay monetary compensation to the male members of the victim’s family — her husband, father or brother — and thereafter absolve the rapist of further punishment. It is unimaginable to any civilised mind how the victim of rape can possibly be or feel compensated by money being offered to her family. Yet, this is a reality we live with daily, and largely ignore.
Recently, the media had reported that in Haryana a young man Vedpal — after obtaining a court order to reclaim his wife accompanied by a police officer — was killed by the villagers in the name of honour. The verdict of the caste panchayat had declared the marriage unacceptable as he married girl of his own gotra (sagotra union). Yet, I do not see the kind of national outrage that a TV programme or a cricket match defeat might have provoked.
Caste which many use as a basis to socially empower those who are at a disadvantage is thus being used as a yardstick and weapon to justify the murder of young men and women who dare to love beyond the parameters sanctioned by their village elders. Panchayats and local governments, which are the pride of Indian rural development, function tragically along with parallel, illegal, unconstitutional so-called panchayats, which pronounce barbaric death sentences upon young lovers and carry them out in defiance of law and order.
During a recent parliamentary debate, the Union government declared its resolve to fight the menace of these dishonourable shocking lynch murders, along with the help of state governments and the public at large. If we are to preserve our sanity as a democracy, all of us owe a duty towards our country to ensure that these efforts succeed.
Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.
FREE MARRIAGE COUNSELLING FOR US, ISRAEL
BY BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Israel and America are having one of those periodic marital spats they have had over the years, replete with “I-am-not-taking-any-more-of-your-guff” outbursts by Obama officials at American Jewish leaders, and, yes — it wouldn’t be a real Israel-US dust-up without it — Israeli accusations that Jewish Obama aides are “self-hating Jews”, working out their identity crises by working over Israel. Having been to this play before, and knowing both families, I’d like to offer some free marriage counselling.
Here’s what Israelis need to understand: President Obama is not some outlier when it comes to Israel. His call for a settlements freeze reflects attitudes that have been building in America for a long time. For the last 40 years, a succession of Israeli governments has misled, manipulated or persuaded naïve US Presidents that since Israel was negotiating to give up significant territory, there was no need to fight over “insignificant” settlements on some territory. Behind this charade, Israeli settlers bit off more and more of the West Bank, creating a huge moral, security and economic burden for Israel and its friends.
As Mr Bradley Burston, a columnist for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, put it last week: “The settlement movement has cost Israel some $100 billion. ... The double standard which for decades has favoured settlers with inexpensive housing, heavily subsidised social services, and blind-eye building permits has long been accompanied by a kid-gloves approach regarding settler violence against Palestinians and their property. ... Settlers and settlement planners have covertly bent and distorted zoning procedures, military directives, and government decrees in order to boost settlement, block Palestinian construction, agriculture, and access to employment, and effectively neutralise measures intended to foster Israeli-Palestinian peace progress”.
For years, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations and the pro-Israel lobby, rather than urging Israel to halt this corrosive process, used their influence to mindlessly protect Israel from US pressure on this issue and to dissuade American officials and diplomats from speaking out against settlements. Everyone in Washington knows this, and a lot of people — people who care about Israel — are sick of it.
The Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Mr Ethan Bronner, captured the we-are-untouchable arrogance of the settlers last week when he quoted Rabbi Yigael Shandorfi, leader of a religious academy at the settlement of Nahliel, calling Mr Obama in a speech “that Arab they call a President”.
So if Mr Obama has bluntly pressed for a settlements freeze, he is, in fact, reflecting a broad sentiment in Congress, the Pentagon and among many Americans, Jews included. Haaretz quoted the Prime Minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, as calling two Obama aides pushing the freeze “self-hating Jews”. Bibi’s spokesman denies he said that. I hope he didn’t. When you have to trot that one out, you’re really, really out of ammo.
What about Mr Obama? He has nothing to apologise for policy-wise. The President is working on a deal whereby Israel would agree to a real moratorium on settlement building, Palestinians would uproot terrorists and the Arab states would begin to normalise relations — with visas for Israelis, trade missions, media visits and landing rights for El Al. If the President can pull this off, it would be good for everyone. But going forward, if peace talks get under way, there are a few style points Mr Obama should keep in mind.
One is: Don’t get into the business of apportioning historical blame for this conflict, which his Cairo speech veered into. Palestinians don’t believe they are to blame for this problem; neither do Israelis. A religious Israeli professor friend of mine said it well: “People will give a lot if they think they are not guilty. My mother says to me: ‘Look, I am ready to give them Jerusalem, but don’t tell me that I started it’”.
The other point is: Israel has real enemies. Iran’s President says the Holocaust is a myth, that Israel should be wiped away. And, he’s trying to build a nuclear bomb. Israel unilaterally withdrew from South Lebanon and Gaza. Its leaving was messy, but it got out. And the first thing it got back was rockets. Israelis are like most people; they listen through their stomachs. That is, connect with them on a gut level that says you understand where they live, and you can take them anywhere. Don’t connect on a gut level, and you can’t take them anywhere.
Bottom line: Israelis need to understand this is not the Bush administration anymore, where they had the run of the White House; they have a real problem with America on settlements. Mr Obama needs to understand that on Arab-Israel affairs, the less you say and the more you do, the better off you are. Every word in this conflict has its own history. Get the deal done — a settlement moratorium for some normalisation — and that breakthrough will do the talking.
DISCERNIBLE ACT OF FOLLY
BY BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH
Napoleon Bonaparte erred when he called the British “a nation of shopkeepers” and was decisively defeated first at sea in 1805 by Lord Nelson in the battle of Trafalgar and finally on land in 1815 in the battle of Waterloo by Lord Wellington.
In today’s world, while Britain has adapted to the “war on terror,” India has only concentrated on trade, while Pakistan has concentrated mainly on military might (including “strategic” export of global terror).
In my numerous articles, I had supported the India-US nuclear deal because unlike China, that ensured its status as a nuclear weapon state before the Non-Proliferation Treaty came into force, India’s political and bureaucratic leadership along with our scientist were unable to deliver. I also believe that India gave its nod to the End-Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) during US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s recent visit because our Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) failed to provide the Indian military with modern hardware.
Also it ignored the need to widen the vendor selection base.
I have great respect for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for ushering in the economic revolution. However, on two counts, I seriously think that Dr Singh has made strategic blunders viz allowing India’s military preparedness to dip to alarming levels as reflected in the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) report of 2008. Second, even more ominous for India’s security, is the joint statement he signed with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt recently.
India went to Egypt as a victim of terror and returned as the co-victim of terror with an agreement that was openly exploited by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on July 28 (a day before Dr Singh spoke in Parliament) when he linked the terror in Balochistan to India. Talking to Pakistan is important, but committing harakiri on the world stage by including Balochistan in the joint statement is a strategic blunder, since India has no involvement in that region’s unrest.
India’s foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon mentioned that the statement was “badly drafted”. A smug Gohar Ayub Khan said on an Indian television channel, “the joint statement was not badly drafted. Surely a nation of a billion people can find someone to draft correctly.”
On July 29, television channels mentioned that “India won the wars, but Pakistan gained in the talks.” There is a historical precedence to India’s strategic blunders. In 1191, Prithviraj Chauhan defeated Mohammed Ghauri in the first battle of Tarain, but he allowed Ghauri to escape.
Next year in 1192, Ghauri defeated, captured and killed Prithviraj Chauhan in the second battle of Tarain. A brief glimpse at Indian history since 1947 will indicate that.
l In 1948, while the Indian Army needed just two weeks to capture Muzaffarabad (in PoK), India unilaterally took the Kashmir issue to the United Nations and asked for a plebiscite.
l In 1965, after the war, India returned the strategic Haji Pir pass to Pakistan at the Tashkent talks.
l In 1972, the Simla Agreement allowed Pakistan to “resurface” after its decisive defeat in 1971.
l Post-1999 (Kargil) and 2001(Parliament attack), India’s willingness to talk to Pakistan further emboldened that country to continue its “proxy war of a thousand cuts,” begun in 1989.
l During Pervez Musharraf’s rule (2000-2008), India fell for his “out of the box” solution for Kashmir and only Mr Musharraf’s declining popularity at home prevented Pakistan from gaining on the negotiation table what it had failed to gain on the battlefield.
l The story of the numerous 2008 bomb blasts and post-26/11 (2008 Mumbai attacks) is well-known.
So why was Balochistan included in the recent joint statement? Was it because of US pressure? Was it because Dr Singh, like Atal Behari Vajpayee, was keen to go down in history as the man who brought permanent peace to South Asia? How could a seasoned diplomat like foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon make a “bad draft”?
In my opinion, the real reason lies in the Indian naiveté and the “willingness to go the extra mile” in search of illusory “instant” peace. Our past disastrous record of similar appeasement of China is well-known. It is time for our political leaders and bureaucrats to realise that some complex problems have no easy solutions.
In the specific case of India-Pakistan relations, there will never be a solution to Kashmir other than accepting the Line of Control as the international border.
Given the nuclear weapons with both countries (and also Pakistan’s nuclear-armed ally, China), open war is ruled out. However, India will need to maintain both a nuclear and conventional deterrence capability against another “out-of-the-box” dictator in Pakistan.
Hence, India must be ready to live with the ongoing Pakistani proxy terror war which will continue till such time that the terrorists cause the inevitable disintegration of Pakistan.
In the long run, India will “pull away” economically from a bankrupt Pakistan. It will become a major power in the world, provided its political leadership pays heed to correct advice and allows a strategic culture to take firm root in India.
In the short term, we need to remember that World War II was actually started by Hitler getting emboldened after Chamberlain (feted and flattered by Hitler) signed an accord at Munich “to usher in a generation of peace”.
Appeasement has never worked and will never work. The more India appeases Pakistan, the greater will be the periodicity and intensity of terror attacks against us.
Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam
BEER’S BIG HANGOVER
BY BY FRANK RICH
THE comforting thing about each “national conversation on race” is that the “teachable moment” passes before any serious conversation can get going. This one ended with a burp. The debate about which brew would best give President Obama Joe Six-Pack cred in his White House beer op with Harvard’s town-and-gown antagonists hit the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
You can’t blame Obama if he’s perplexed about the recent events. He answers a single, legitimate race-based question at the end of a news conference and is roundly condemned for “stepping on his own message” about healthcare. What a relief, then, to drop dreary debates about the public option and declare a national conversation about black-white fisticuffs. Especially when this particular incident is truly small beer next to the far more traumatic national sea change on race that will keep sowing conflict and anger long after Henry Louis Gates Jr finishes his proposed documentary on racial profiling.
I’ll return to the larger picture, but before the battle of Cambridge fades entirely, let’s note that the only crime Obama committed at his news conference was honesty. He conceded he did not know “all the facts” and so wisely resisted passing judgment on “what role race played” in the incident. And, yes, the police did act “stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home”.
If Obama had really wanted to go for the jugular, he might have added that the police may have overstepped the law as well.
The President’s subsequent apology for his news-conference answer was superfluous. But he might have used it to acknowledge the one exemplary player in Cambridge, Lucia Whalen, the white passer-by whose good deed of a 911 phone call did not go unpunished. In his police report, Sgt. James Crowley portrayed Whalen as a racial profiler by saying she had told him that the two men at Gates’ door were black. She denied it, and the audio tape of her original call backs her up. Yet Whalen received no apology from Crowley and no White House invitation from Obama. That’s stupid behaviour by both men.
If there was a teachable moment in this incident, it could be found in how some powerful white people well beyond Cambridge responded to it. That reaction is merely the latest example of how the inexorable transformation of America into a white-minority country in some 30 years is causing serious jitters, if not panic, in some white establishments.
Ground zero for this hysteria is Fox News, where Brit Hume lamented how insulting it is “to be labelled a racist” in “contemporary” America. “That fact has placed into the hands of certain people a weapon,” he said.
What about those far more famous leaders in Hume’s own camp who insistently cry “racist” without any credible justification whatsoever? What provokes their angry and nonsensical cries of racism is sheer desperation: an entire country is changing faster than these white guys bargained for. A more representative window into the country’s transition might be that Dallas County, Texas, elected a Latina lesbian sheriff in 2004 (and re-elected her last year) and that the three serious candidates for mayor of Houston this fall include a black man and a white lesbian.
Last month the Census Bureau released a new analysis of the 2008 presidential election results finding that increases among minority voters accounted for virtually all the five million additional votes cast in comparison to 2004. Black women had a higher turnout rate than any other group, and young blacks turned out at a higher rate than young whites.
It’s against this backdrop that 11 Republican Congressmen have now signed on to a bill requiring that presidential candidates produce their birth certificates.
Obama’s election, far from alleviating paranoia in the white fringe, has only compounded it. There is no purer expression of this animus than to claim that Obama is literally not an American — or, as Sarah Palin would have it, not a “real American”. The birth-certificate canard is just the latest version of those campaign-year attempts to strip Obama of his American identity with faux controversies over flag pins, the Pledge of Allegiance and his middle name.
Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter have condemned the birther brigades and likened them to “the truthers” who accused the Bush administration of engineering the 9/11 attacks.
But those conspiracy theorists couldn’t find 11 Congressmen willing to sponsor a bill supporting their claims. Even Liz Cheney has publicly refused to dispute the libels on Obama’s citizenship.
One of the loudest birther enablers is not at Fox but CNN: Lou Dobbs, who was heretofore best known for trying to link immigrants, especially Hispanics, to civic havoc. Dobbs is one-stop shopping for the excesses of this seismic period of racial transition. And he is following a traditional, if toxic, American playbook. The escalating white fear of newly empowered ethnic groups and blacks is a naked replay of more than a century ago, when large waves of immigration and the northern migration of emancipated blacks, coupled with a tumultuous modernisation of the American work force, unleashed a similar storm of racial and nativist panic.
As Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post and Helene Cooper of the Times have pointed out, a lot of today’s variation on the theme is class-oriented. Some whites habituated to a monopoly on the upper reaches of American power just can’t adjust to the reality that Obama, Sotomayor, Oprah Winfrey and countless others are now at the very pinnacle, and that they might sometimes side with each other just as their white counterparts do. Threatened white elites try to mask their own anxieties by patronisingly adopting working-class whites as their pet political surrogates — Joe the Plumber, New Haven firemen, a Cambridge police officer. Call it Village People populism.
The one lesson that everyone took away from the latest “national conversation about race” is the same one we’ve taken away from every other “national conversation” in the past couple of years. America has not transcended race. America is not post racial.
So we can all say that again. But it must also be said that we’re just at the start of what may be a 30-year struggle.
Beer won’t cool the fury of those who can’t accept the reality that America’s racial profile will no longer reflect their own.
By arrangement with the New York Times
THE FOOD Q&A
BY BY MAUREEN DOWD
Nora Ephron has been in the city that gave her heartburn twice recently: for a screening of her new movie, Julie & Julia, at the White House, and for an unveiling of Julia Child’s copper pots and cast-iron pans at the Smithsonian.
Over a dinner of steak and banana split Tuesday, I gave Ephron a crazy salad of food questions. She e-scribbled back the answers.
Q: Do you consider any food a romantic deal-breaker?
A: I respect vegetarians, but I could never fall in love with one.
Q: Is there any dish you really hate, the way I hate brussels sprouts?
A: Filet mignon. Absolutely hate it.
Q: Do couples that cook together stay together?
A: No. I have cooked with men I am no longer married to.
Q: You told me that when you and Tom Wolfe were young magazine writers in New York, you had a difference of opinion about eating on the street.
A: I remember that about 40 years ago he wrote something vicious about seeing a New York woman on the street with cruller crumbs on her face, and the moment I read it, I knew that that woman was me (although I have never eaten a cruller to the best of my knowledge) and that I could never eat on the street again. And I haven’t, except for an occasional ice-cream cone. By the way — and speaking of eating on the street — there are far too many people walking around carrying cups of coffee.
Q: Is eating while driving more dangerous than tweeting or texting?
A: It’s way more dangerous if a knife and fork are involved.
Q: Is it bad to eat while you’re on the phone?
A: I’m afraid it is. But sometimes you just can’t help yourself, especially when it comes to nuts.
Q: Is noshing in bed always wrong?
A: Not if it’s ice-cream.
Q: Is there anyplace you should never eat — elevator, bathroom, hair salon?
A: All of the above.
Q: You told Ariel Levy of the New Yorker that your husband, the writer Nick Pileggi, has “some insane position about not eating standing up”. What’s that about?
A: He has nice ties.
Q: Aside from your own films, what’s your favourite eating scene in movies?
A: The dinner in Big Night where the timballo was served.
Q: You brought some red thing in a bottle to a restaurant where we ate once. When should you bring your own refreshments to restaurants?
A: I don’t drink that red thing anymore and I’ve managed to forget its name. Now I take Coke Zero to restaurants.
Q: What’s your favourite cooking tool?
A: I love the microwave oven. It’s great, for example, for melting chocolate, and because you do it in a Pyrex dish, there’s no horrible pot to clean.
Q: Carol Smith of Elle says she doesn’t hire anyone without taking them out to a meal first because it’s “like a little microcosm of life. How they order, what they order. How are they going to give instructions to a waiter? Are they sending back the meal eight times?”
A: When I was trying desperately to get a studio to let me direct my first movie, I went to lunch at the Russian Tea Room with Joe Roth, who was running 20th Century Fox at the time. I told him exactly what to order (the cabbage borscht, which was delicious), and he always says that’s why he let me make the movie.
Q: How about the case of the South Carolina mother who got arrested for criminal neglect because her 14-year-old son weighed 555 pounds?
A: There is far too much arresting of people going on. Not just Skip Gates — a couple of weeks ago, some poor woman in Montauk was arrested in her bathing suit, marched off the beach and charged with a felony for forging a beach parking sticker.
Q: What do you think of the current generation of celebrity chefs?
A: I love cooking shows like Ina Garten’s and Nigella Lawson’s, but the restaurant chefs on television are so unconnected to home cooking that even people like me, who are competent cooks, feel daunted by them. What Julia Child did was to make people think that if she could cook, they could, too. These chefs do the exact opposite. And all this stacking up of food — what is this about? I don’t want my string beans leaking into my chicken, much less sitting underneath it.
Q: Who is the next Julia Child?
A: There will never be anyone like Julia Child.
Q: The New Yorker described you as someone who eats “slowly” in “small, tidy bites”. What should we infer from that?
A: That I want my meals to last forever.
Q: What would your last meal be, if you got executed for killing a moody actor?
A: A hot dog from Nate ’n Al’s delicatessen in Beverly Hills.
By arrangement with the New York Times
TWO: ZERO A FORCED COMEDOWN FOR THE CONGRESS
THE game of ratios was played out till less than 24 hours before the withdrawal of nominations. From two:zero to one:one and then back to two:zero,the yo-yo exercise over the Bowbazar and Sealdah assembly nominations has served to expose the crack in the Congress-Trinamul alliance. There ought to be no delusion on either side over the message. Mamata Banerjee may have had her way with the surrender of sorts by the Congress after having announced its candidates.
It is a surrender that will now enable the Trinamul to contest both seats. The comedown at the intervention of Sonia Gandhi and communicated by Pranab Mukherjee is somewhat puzzling not least because the Congress had won both seats in 2006. Subrata Mukherjee, the party’s working president, who wasn’t privy to the last-minute negotiations in Delhi, merely puts up a brave face when he claims that the Congress withdrew its nominees for the sake of “anti-Left unity”. No such compulsion had influenced the party’s initial determination to contest both seats. The Congress has doubtless suffered a setback after trying to upstage the Trinamul through violent protests and a near-total bandh.
The splinter outfit, now on the ascendant both at the national and state levels, has again had its way with nominations, as it did for the Lok Sabha elections. The party leadership has now backed out totally after having agreed to a one:one ratio barely two days ago. The AICC general secretary’s statement that “the party has to stand on its own feet in West Bengal” has been trashed for now in the Trinamul’s victory over nominations. Should this trend continue, the Congress will have to reconcile itself to whatever is offered in the 2011 assembly elections. If, for the sake of argument, the Trinamul suffers a setback in a traditionally Congress belt, the party will emerge with its credentials intact.
FRISKING’S IMPACT ONLY SOME BRUISED EGOS
NOW that contrived passions have cooled, it would be worthwhile re-assessing the furore in political circles ~ notably not beyond ~ over the frisking of the former President when boarding a US-bound American airliner. It must be constantly borne in mind that Dr APJ Abdul Kalam declined to join the chant from a chorus of lesser-worthies, proof that persons of genuine eminence require neither special treatment nor status symbols. Politician he is not, hence cares little for either the trappings of office or “protocol” ~ his several accomplishments ensure that respect and honour flow his way.
He sought no privileges, he was just one among several passengers, if security regulations required frisking so be it. Had he demanded special treatment it would have amounted to discrimination against others embarking in Delhi. In upholding the dignity of his co-travellers he enhanced his own. That was the message he sent out from the aerobridge. A message that few of our netas will have the grace to appreciate. Recall attempts to project as horror stories their treatment at airports abroad when all that was bruised was their egos ~ and one portly fellow ducked a major international meet because his status was not as inflated as his opinion of himself: he was informed he was not exempt from security checks. Is not precaution worth the little discomfort that security procedures entail? If the procedures have been progressively enhanced it is only because terrorists and their ilk have found new ways to ply their despicable trade. Every effort has to be made to frustrate them and if being frisked helps defeat them then everyone should be happy to comply with security.
Alas, not the Indian politician, who evaluates his importance by the strength of his security detail, wants klaxon and beacon on his car and, as Parliament has just been reminded, desires NSG commandos rather than personnel from state police units. He deems it infra-dig to be frisked, while people who have made greater contributions to the nation’s well-being in a larger scheme of things take it in their stride. Physical checks are, or should be, only the final phase of a security effort. An individual’s background, activities and associates are critical to his security profile. By that token, many of the “honourable members” who raised a storm over a virtual non-issue merit extra attention ~ they have criminal records after all!
LONG OVERDUE NEED TO CHECK ASSAM COUNCIL FUNDS
UNION home minister P Chidambaram’s tough stand - that henceforth the Centre will not accept any ceasefire offer by North-east militant outfits, but if they so desire they should eschew violence, surrender arms and settle for face-to-face talks within the framework of the Constitution ~ seems to be working. The Jewel Garlosa-led faction of the North Cachar Hills-based Dima Halam Daogah, which for the past two years had been on a killing spree ~ 63 victims in March alone and about 12,000 displaced people still in relief camps ~ has reportedly written to the Assam chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, expressing its desire to talk and also submitted a list of weapons it wants to surrender.
Confirming this, Union home secretary GK Pillai, during a recent two-day visit to Assam, said the offer would be considered once doubts about the number of weapons were cleared. This because, though the DHD(J) is a small band, it reportedly has a large cache of sophisticated weapons. It has been regularly buying arms and recently the Assam police intercepted some DHD(J) agents with Rs 2 crore in cash while they were on their way to Meghalaya to collect arms.
How they could amass such a huge amount came to light recently when the Justice RK Manisana Singh Commission of Inquiry into alleged misappropriation of funds by the NC Hills Autonomous District Council, held there was an understanding between members of the Autonomous State Demand Committee-BJP alliance, before the council election, to pay the stipulated amount. The DHD(J) change of attitude has ostensibly come because it is leaderless now with the arrest in Bangalore in June of its chief Garlosa and two of his accomplices while trying to flee the country.
The haphazard use of Autonomous District Council funds is no longer a secret. Some years ago the Bodo Territorial Council chief was said to have spent Rs5 crore on his wedding reception to which even film stars were invited. How could a person who was until recently a militant leader, indulge in such extravagance? No one has raised this question. It is good that Mr. Pillai has at long last realised that “lack of strict financial regulations led to (a) diversion of funds to militant coffers” and is thinking in terms of amending the Sixth Schedule “to impose greater financial discipline on autonomous councils”. This was long overdue.
THE BALUCHI JINGO
K VIKRAM RAO
IN the absence of proper homework by the members, the recent parliamentary debate on Baluchistan was somewhat disoriented. The issue is not the mention of the word, Baluchistan,in the Gilani-Manmohan Singh joint communiqué at Sharm-el-Sheikh. In fact the reference to the place, though wrongly worded, will go a long way towards helping the Baluch people, historically friends of India and partners together in the struggle against British imperialism under the “Baluch Gandhi”, Khan Abdus Samad Khan.
Therefore, India has a moral stake in Baluch freedom against Pakistani oppression. It concerns human rights. Pakistani journalists take recourse to homilies when they say that India and Pakistan should end the proxy wars in Baluchistan and Kashmir in the interests of the region’s development. They ignore the core of the issue, and in the manner of their country’s politicians, want to equate the two provinces geo-politically. This is distortion of history and journalistic prevarication.
The history of the two states and their accession needs to be recounted. Kashmir joined the Indian Union after its mass leader, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, consented and its ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh (father of the Congress MP,Dr Karan Singh) signed the Instrument of Accession voluntarily with the Nehru government. The Indian Army moved in only to defend Kashmiri Muslims from Pakistani army regulars, disguised as tribal liberators.
ROLE OF JINNAH
IT was quite the reverse in the case of Baluchistan.The rulers of the Baluchistanprincipalities, led by the Nawab of Kalat, Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, refused to join the new Islamic state of Pakistan. Governor-General MohammadAli Jinnahsent the Pakistani Air Force to force the rebels to surrender (27 March 1948). In fact, he went to Quetta,the capital of Baluchistan, but had to rush back to Karachi because of failing health. Jinnah died a week later.
India cannot forget that at the time of Partition when Sind, Punjab and East Pakistan witnessed the massacre of Hindus, the Nawaband leaders of Baluchistanprotected the minorities who included the Hindus, the Sikhs and Parsees. The Baluch people, led by Khan AbbusSamad Khan, maintained a secular state, despite being in Islamic Pakistan. Even after the demolition of the BabariMasjid,when Hindus and their places of worship were attacked in several towns in Pakistan and Bangladesh, Baluchistanreported no such desecration.
The Baluchipeople still remember, like the Khudai Khidmatgarsof Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, that the Indian leaders in their greed for power had thrown them “to the (Pakistani) wolves.” Baluchistan had wanted to be part of the Indian Union.
The Baluchadmire IndiraGandhi for liberating the Muslims of East Pakistan from the yoke of the Punjabi-dominated West Pakistani regime. No elected Kashmirileaders in the state assembly or in the Indian Parliament ever suggested the secession of Kashmir from the Union. But in the Pakistani Senate, the deputy chairman, Jan Mohammad Jamali, threatened on 18 June 2008 that “if provincial autonomy is not granted, Baluchistan may secede from the Islamic Republic.”
A logical reaction to the India-Pakistan joint statement, containing a reference to Baluchistan, was the fulsome praise from Baluch freedom-fighters, exiled from their homeland. Suleiman Khan, the UK-based heir to the throne of the Khanate of Kalat, is among those who hope that the declaration will lead to international intervention in the conflict in his province. He said: “We earnestly hope that India will now act on its moral responsibility to raise the Balochistan issue with Pakistan and the world. In this century, India has acquired great influence and power. With power come obligations. We are surprised that India, despite claiming that it is a democracy and a supporter of human rights, has so far chosen not to take a proactive role in Balochistan.”
Wahid Baloch, president of the Baloch Society of North America, agreed. “It is imperative,” he says, “for India to speak up now against the terrorism perpetrated by the Pakistan Army in Balochistan. For a variety of reasons, India has been very hesitant to support the Baloch cause, even though among all nations it is the only one to have voiced some concern for our plight. But if Pakistan can provide support for groups in Jammu and Kashmir, and raise the issue at every available international forum, why is India hesitant to do the same for our people?”
Both leaders were insistent that India had no role in supporting Baloch insurgents, but both said New Delhi ought to offer military support. “As far as I know,” Khan said, “there is no Indian support for Baloch freedom-fighters. If there is, I will welcome it”.
TWO DIFFERENT ISSUES
BALUCHISTAN and Kashmir are different issues altogether. Financially, Kashmir is a big drain on Indian resources. To maintain its troops and to develop roads, canals, power projects, India spends billions of rupees on Kashmir. The state hardly earns any revenue. On the other hand, Pakistan exploits Baluchistan which is rich in oil, gold, uranium and natural gas. It has hardly any share in oil royalty. Its literacy rate is the lowest in Pakistan; female literacy is just one per sent after 62 years. The largest Pakistan province offers no employment opportunities, forcing its people to migrate to neighbouring Iran or Sindh. Baluchi carpet-makers are famous the world over like the silk sari-weavers of old Dhaka. But they have largely migrated to neighbouring Turkemenistan.
The major issue before India’s human rights activists is whether or not they should raise the demand of the Baluchi people for basic rights at world fora.Ever since the creation of Pakistan, these rights have been suppressed by successive military and civilian dispensations. The Baluchi struggle resembles the Irish fight for freedom from British imperialism. Both have suffered untold human misery. A secular India must take up the Baluch cause, but not to counter the fanatical Pakistani campaign for Kashmiri Muslims. Indian troops in Kashmir are defenders. But the Pakistan air force and army are in Baluchistan to enslave a people engaged in the struggle for freedom.
Dr Manmohan Singh should be thanked by every defender of human rights for internationalising the Baluch issue unwittingly, or in spite of himself.
OUT OF THE RACE
Once they lost the war in 1945, the Japanese had no use for the little petrol engines they used to power field telephones of their army. They had more immediate worries: starving, they were wandering the countryside looking for something to eat. Yuichiro Honda rigged up the engines to the back-wheels of bicycles, and turned them into primitive motorcycles. Foragers bought up all the cycles he could motorize. Having made some money, he went to Europe, where he was mortified to watch a motorcycle race. He said to himself that he would make motorcycles that would beat all. And not just motorcycles; he went on to make great cars.
Fifty years later, Honda has announced that it would no longer participate in the Formula One circuit. And as it quits, the Bayerische Motoren Werke, its German rival, is asking itself what is the point of staying once Honda is gone. The exit of these two is not going to threaten Formula One racing. For neither has won the race since the 1980s. The winning cars of recent years have come from the stables of Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault. But Formula One is not for every carmaker; the cars for it are specially made and serviced. An occasional tycoon with money to throw around may buy one of those low-slung monsters to show off to his girlfriend; but the market for such cars is limited to the rich, ambitious and impulsive few. Making cars for them is not a business; it is more of a passion.
Business can be fun; it is more often an addiction. But as profits seep out of balance sheets, passion must be replaced by cold, rational calculation; and calculation is not friendly to indulgence in luxury. So many spectacular whims will fall prey to the creeping depression; from yachts to biplanes, from geishas to masseurs, many a form of indulgence will go out of fashion. That would not be such a bad thing, if only cheapness and efficacy come back into fashion. Indians were once notorious for their stinginess; one result of their parsimony was that India was the home of low-cost goods — not always of the best quality, but they served their purpose. It would not be a tragedy if this tradition of genteel poverty returned. People may learn again to get more out of their rupee, and extract more enjoyment out of less expenditure. India may again become a low-cost destination. Tourists who care for their yens and euros may rediscover India, which may at last be able to compete with China. While India has flourished in the past decade, it has not excelled in the world market. It has a few things to learn before it can do so. If the current hardships teach these lessons to Indians, these hardships may become a blessing in disguise.
To breathe palpably cleaner air on a day that is not a bandh is a rare privilege for Calcuttans. It is, indeed, a measure of the city’s decline that breathing clean air should be mentioned as a privilege, when Calcuttans deserve to be able to breathe healthily without having to feel beholden to the government, the courts and the police. The levels of hydrocarbons, particulate matter, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide have never been this low in the city in the last couple of decades, and oxygen levels reassuringly high. The roads are also noticeably less congested. Yet, the more-or-less effective, though far from perfect, enforcement of the high court ban on commercial vehicles more than 15 years old has made commuting within the city considerably more difficult than before. The many vehicles that have stayed off the roads, and would hopefully continue to do so, have not been replaced adequately. There has also been no planning at all to ease the city’s long-overdue rite of passage into respiratory salvation.
This is inevitable. There is no way that such a major change in a city’s deeply entrenched systems and habits can be effected without it being somehow a difficult and painful process. This is not to say that nothing can be done to make it less difficult. But all stakeholders in public transport must keep the end in sight and try to bear with the means. Practical and progressive thinking, unhindered by pseudo-political passion and habitual inertia, is the only way to make this transition worth it for everybody. From vehicle-owners and drivers to the concerned government departments, LPG providers and banks must get their act together. What should unite everybody is the absolute necessity of the change, and the realization that by enforcing it, the courts are in no way being gratuitously punitive or ‘anti-people’. The sooner everybody, from ordinary commuters to the heads of the government and the police, falls in line with this vision of what all human beings are entitled to, the easier it will be to get a new system working.
A SCHOLAR’S FUNERAL
LESZEK KOLAKOWSKI (1927-2009)
The Talmud, the great compendium of ancient rabbinic sayings, rulings and commentary, has the unforgettable line, “When a sage dies all are his kin.” The passing of a wise man means that even those who did not know him must mourn his death. The line came back to me when I read that Leszek Kolakowski had died in the middle of July.
He was buried in Warsaw, but for the better part of his life he was an exile from his homeland, Poland. He escaped from the brutalities of the communist regime because he was a dissident communist. Isaiah Berlin and another Oxford don, Alan Montefiore, successfully planned the move to bring Kolakowski to All Souls College, Oxford, in 1970 as a fellow. It was in All Souls, and in McGill, Berkeley and Chicago that Kolakowski spent most of his working life, devoting himself to reading, writing and occasionally lecturing. He was a recluse even by the standards of an Oxford don. He once coined the famous saying that Britain is an island, within which Oxford is an island, within Oxford, All Souls is an island and in that island resides Isaiah Berlin. No major distortion would take place if one were to replace the name of Isaiah Berlin with that of Leszek Kolakowski.
He was born in Radom in Poland in 1927. His father was an economist and a political writer who was shot by the Nazis. The entire family was sent off to a village in eastern Poland. The young Kolakowski discovered there a library belonging to a minor nobleman and initiated the process of educating himself. Members of the Polish underground occasionally helped him with his education. It was perhaps inevitable, growing up under Nazi occupation, that Kolakowski should turn to communism, which offered to him an alternative to the Polish Roman Catholic Church as well. After the war, he joined the Polish communist party’s youth wing and studied philosophy at the University of Lodz. He took a doctorate degree from the University of Warsaw where he became professor of philosophy in 1964.
He was a member of the Polish communist party, but began increasingly to voice dissident opinions. His disillusionment with Soviet communism began with a visit to Moscow in 1950. He was to write later of “the enormity of material and spiritual desolation caused by the Stalinist system”. He was the leading voice in Poland in the revolt against Stalinism after 1956, especially after October of that year and the ascendancy of Wladyslaw Gomulka as the leader of Polish communists and his declaration of provisional independence from Moscow.
Around this time, Kolakowski wrote What Socialism is Not, a tract that was banned but had wide underground circulation. He wrote there, “Socialism is not: a society in which one man is in trouble for saying what he thinks while another is well-off because he does not say what he has on his mind; a society in which a man lives better if he doesn’t have any thoughts of his own at all; a state which has more spies than nurses and more people in prison than in hospital; a state in which the philosophers and writers always say the same as the generals and ministers — but always after they have said it.’’
Such opinions became unacceptable in Poland particularly after Gomulka retreated from the promise of Polish October to the dominance of the Soviet Union. Kolakowski was denounced as a revisionist. He came under surveillance and was expelled from the party in 1966. He was expelled from Warsaw University in 1968. He was thus forced into a life of exile.
Let all those who once stood up against Stalinism recognize Kolakowski as their kin. Let all those who have felt the oppression carried out under the name of communism across the globe, from Albania to West Bengal, mourn the passing of Leszek Kolakowski.
It would be unfair, of course, to describe Kolakowski’s life and work only in political terms, important though his politics was. While living in Poland, he began his philosophical investigations. His first book, The Individual and Infinity, was a study of Spinoza. He wrote on positivism from Hume to the Vienna Circle; on Bergson and on Husserl. He was a close interrogator of Christianity and religion. In 1965, he published Religious Consciousness and the Church where he looked at 17th-century non-denominational Christianity and reconstructed the ideas of obscure thinkers, scattered all over Europe, who were devout Christians without embracing the orthodoxy of the church. In Oxford, he lectured on medieval philosophy and brought to life thinkers like Duns Scotus and Pascal. Kolakowski had a profound sensitivity for religious ideas. His studies had convinced him of the permanence of the religious phenomenon. He said once in an interview: “religious consciousness is an irreplaceable part of human culture… men have no fuller means of self-identification than through religious symbols.”
Kolakowski’s study of Christianity and medieval philosophy and his exposure to Stalinism left him sceptical about the notion of institutionalized “truth”. He was convinced that such a notion was dangerous in politics and unattainable in philosophy. In 1957, in an essay called “Responsibility and History”, he showed the consequences that have followed when “one messianic hope becomes the unique governor of life, the sole source of moral precepts and the only measure of virtue”. In another essay, “The Priest and the Jester” (1959), he pitted dogmatism against scepticism. He was for the jester, forever laughing at man’s attempts to arrive at Truth. He could laugh at his own calling and wrote, “A modern philosopher who has never once suspected himself of being a charlatan must be such a shallow mind that his work is probably not worth reading.”
Let all those who value scepticism and doubt in intellectual matters, all those who value the freedom of thought from the impositions of institutions mourn the passing of Leszek Kolakowski, for he was their kin.
The work for which Kolakowski is best known is Main Currents of Marxism in three volumes. This was an attempt to analyse “the strange fate of an idea which began in Promethean humanism and culminated in the monstrous tyranny of Stalin”. His point of view in this book, he wrote, was akin to that adopted by Thomas Mann in Doctor Faustus: to seek out the roots of a contradiction. In Mann’s case, the one between German culture and Nazism; for Kolakowski between the humanism of Marx and the horrors of Stalinism. Kolakowski was a master of the art of reconstructing intellectual arguments. As a scrupulous historian of ideas, he carried out a lucid and accurate exposition of the entire Marxist tradition and combined this with penetrating analysis. It marked a high point in the history of 20th-century scholarship.
At the end of the first volume, called “The Founders”, looking back at what Lenin inherited from Marx, Kolakowski wrote that “the despotic socialism of history is not socialism as Marx intended it”, but Marx’s doctrine was not entirely innocent of what Lenin and Stalin made of it. Marx, he wrote, visualized a unity of society as against a society of conflict based on classes and private property. It followed then that there was nothing reprehensible “in the idea that the act of violence which abolishes private property at the same time does away with the need for freedom tout court”. He concluded tellingly, “thus Prometheus awakens from his dream of power, as ignominiously as Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s Metamorphosis.’’
Let all those who own the original vision of Marx recognize Kolakowski as their kin. Let all those who value freedom mourn him.
It was a triumph of democracy. On July 25, in a free election, Iraq’s Kurds finally elected a real opposition party to their regional parliament. According to preliminary results, the Change Party won 25 of the 111 seats in the parliament, breaking the monopoly of the autocratic traditional parties. But this suggests that Iraq’s Kurds are going to lose again. Lose, that is, in terms of their maximum ambitions as defined by their leaders over the past 20 years. Those ambitions included an independent Kurdish State in what is now northern Iraq, or at least a region so autonomous and self-sufficient that it would be independent for all practical purposes. And for the government of that region to be self-sufficient economically, it had to control the oil-producing area around the city of Kirkuk.
Achieving these ambitions required unshakeable unity, for the Kurds are only six million of Iraq’s 30 million people, and neither the Arabs of Iraq nor their other neighbours, the Turks and the Iranians, like the idea of a Kurdish State. The outcome of this month’s election shows that that extraordinary unity among the Kurds is now fading fast.
It is fading partly because younger Kurds are fed up with the corrupt and oppressive rule of their traditional leaders, who have dominated Kurdish affairs for more than a generation. So long as independence, or something very like it, was the long-term goal, the traditional leaders could demand and get the obedience of most Kurds: unity came before everything else. But now that a measure of stability is returning to Arab Iraq, the prospect of independence is getting less and less likely — and there is even the dawning suspicion that the Kurdish Democratic Party-Patriotic Union of Kurdistan alliance has left it too late to take control of Kirkuk. In that case, what’s the point of leaving them in charge of everything?
The Change Party came out of a split in the PUK, and it won almost half the votes in Sulaymaniya, the home province of Jalal Talabani, founder-leader of the PUK. Dissatisfaction with the current system is just as great in the rest of Kurdistan, and the KDP-PUK alliance could have lost the whole election had there been a similar revolt within the KDP.
In due course, there probably will be such a revolt, because Kurdistan is going to spend the next several years as part of Iraq. That is the reality that Kurdish politics is gradually adjusting to, and one striking sign of the change is the fact that the July 25 election was not accompanied by a referendum on a new Kurdish constitution, which declares oil-rich Kirkuk and a number of other disputed areas to be “historically” and “geographically” part of the Kurdish homeland. Baghdad said “no” and the outgoing Kurdish parliament meekly accepted the decision, voting to postpone the referendum indefinitely. That is the new reality in Iraq.
In retrospect, it’s clear that the only time when the Kurds might have achieved their maximum ambitions was just after the American invasion of 2003. But fearing a clash with America, they did not seize Kirkuk and ensure an overwhelming Kurdish majority there when they had the military power to do so. Fearing a Turkish invasion, they did not dare declare independence. Now they can’t do either, for Iraq has a functioning army again and Kurdistan’s whole budget depends on oil revenues sent north by the government in Baghdad.
This is not necessarily a tragedy. A prosperous, democratic, secular Kurdistan, using its own language and running its own institutions, within a rather less democratic and more theocratic Arab-majority Iraq that hands over a fair share of oil revenues and leaves the Kurdish minority alone, would be an outcome beyond the wildest dreams of the previous generations of Kurds. It is still within reach, if the bitter question of Kirkuk can be finessed — and it doesn’t need powerful Kurdish leaders at all.
PARTISAN INTERESTS RULE US POLITICS
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS ARE MORE INTERESTED IN GETTING RE-ELECTED THAN SERVING THE PUBLIC.
BY MICHAEL JANSEN
The Obama administration is learning the hard way that Washington is ruled by partisan interests and sensibilities rather than national interest and good sense. Many years ago Thomas ‘Tip’ O’Neill, a Democrat and veteran speaker of the lower house of Congress, summed up the situation in the US capital when he uttered the dictum, “All politics is local.”
Partisanship ruled when the House of Representatives debated a $ 636 billion defence spending bill, the last of a dozen appropriations measures for 2010 to be adopted.
Although legislators bowed to President Barack Obama—who had threatened to use his veto if funding for the F-22 fighter jet remained—they packed the bill with plenty of “pork” for the powerful “military-industrial complex.” The “pork” provides for expenditures on equipment which is either obsolete or otherwise unwanted by the military. Among the items Obama wanted to cancel were a new presidential helicopter, transport planes, and a missile defence programme.
He failed. In September the bill will go to the Senate which is certain to make its own partisan modifications. Obama’s healthcare reform package is also being altered by members of the House. While Republicans oppose his “socialist” health reforms, many members of his own Democratic Party are in the forefront of the campaign to make changes pleasing to pharmaceutical firms, hospitals, and medical insurers. Few legislators consider the 47 million US citizens who do not have health insurance coverage or the tens of millions whose family budgets are strained by insurance premiums. Members of the House are more interested in getting re-elected in 2010 than in serving the public.
Election campaigns cost money which drug companies, insurers and medical lobbies provide. Obama had put his health bill at the top of his agenda, but it seems it will not be finalised until after Congress returns from its summer recess.
In the US, race is so sensitive few wish to discuss it. Obama has done his best to downplay the issue since he moved into the White House. But white discrimination against blacks, Asians, and Latinos is a part of daily life.
During my stay in Washington, the top topic was the July 16 handcuffing and arrest in his own home of black Harvard Professor Henry Gates by white cop James Crowley. Gates, who writes and lectures on racism, was trying to force the front door his Cambridge, Massachusetts, home when a passerby alerted the police to a possible burglary.
Crowley, who is a police counsellor on racial profiling, answered the call and accosted Gates who had gained entry to his home by the time the cops arrived. Crowley asked Gates to step out on the porch and provide proof that he was the owner. After identity papers had been presented, there was a bitter exchange. Gates was charged with “disorderly conduct” but political uproar compelled the cops to withdraw the charge.
Gates would never have been arrested if he had been white or Crowley had been black.
Obama responded to the incident by saying that the police had “acted stupidly.” The national police federation castigated the president. Obama backed off and invited both men for beer at the White House. Gates and Crowley met in Obama’s back garden, drank their beer but neither apologised. Media commentators had a field day with the “beer summit” but the aggrieved men’s egos remain bruised.
The Washington political class has its ears tuned to sensitivities: the sensitivities of black citizens, the sensitivities of bumbling policemen, and the sensitivities of Jews who suffer anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish feeling, or what is portrayed as anti-Semitism which is top of the list of sensitivities. This is why the pro-Israel lobby groups wield so much influence and why the Arabs have been largely unable to break through the wall of sensitivities surrounding Israel.
Obama is now battling pro-Israel lobby groups as well as sensitivities over anti-Semitism in a bid to halt settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank so that a Palestinian state can emerge in these areas. He has the backing of 70 per cent of US citizens, including a similar percentage of those of Jewish background. But lobbies and sensitivities have more weight than voters because lobbies promote and exploit those sensitivities to nobble politicians determined to remain in office.
Obama has had to accept “pork” in his defence bill. He has seen his health proposal whittled down by representatives from his own party as well as opposition Republicans.
His drive for West Asian peace is faltering because Israel is resisting his call for a settlement halt and negotiations with Palestinians. On all these issues Obama is being stymied by lobbies and sensitivities, Congressional cowardice and partisanship.
DIAMONDS AND ROSES
EVER WONDERED HOW BEES COULD SPEND ALL DAY AROUND FLOWERS?
BY DOROTHY VICTOR
If diamonds are a woman’s best friend, then fresh flowers could very well be said to be her most intimate companion. Be it a modern city girl or a village maiden, fresh flowers have the ability to set her pulse raising and send adrenaline rushing into her blood stream.
History has many an interesting tale about how romantic heroes of the past have lured women and won the love of the ladies of their dreams. Shakespeare’s ever green Romeo is always portrayed to confess his love for Juliet with a pretty rose in his hand. The Indian counterpart, Shah Jahan would not be complete without the rose that adorns Mumtaz’s perfect picture.
Flowers are said to have several powers of healing, bonding, rejuvenating, soothing and even hypnotising. Ever wondered how bees could spend all day around flowers soaking themselves in the scent and toxic effects of its nectar? Or how poets and great thinkers always confess that an ambience rich in flora and fauna inspires them.
I recall all the several occasions when a bouquet of flowers from friends and well-wishers have made my special days complete and memorable.
In particular, the auspicious occasion of my 40th birthday comes to my mind when after several enquiries regarding the kind of gift I wanted from my children and husband failed to get any answers from me. “Can I get you a diamond bracelet dear?” my husband enquired a week prior to the big day. “Mama, what about an Armani perfume? You could ask Dad to get you something cool and let me also use it,” joked my teenage daughter. “I have everything that I need and can possibly hope for, so don’t bother getting me a gift,” was all the response they got.could get from me.
So, when the day dawned I was quite certain that the family gave up on me and stuck to my decision of a ‘no gift day’. But, on returning from the church, my early morning ritual, there stood by the door my two lovely kids with my honourable husband, grinning and holding a bouquet of many hues, shades and colours of roses, carnations and orchids, singing with their sweetest voices “ Happy birthday to you… dear mama…” My joy knew no bounds as I picked up the bouquet from their loving hands and I told myself who on earth would want diamonds and perfumes when a bouquet of fresh, sweet smelling and colourful flowers, shimmering with the many shades of emeralds, rubies, sapphires, turquoises and garnets are all yours to admire, gifted from the hands of Mother Nature and from a loving family!
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A NEW GAP FOR ALBANY
New York’s wayward state senators finally say they are ready to return to Albany this week and vote in favor of mayoral control of schools in New York City. That is the right thing to do for the city’s 1.1 million students. But the few thoughtful members of the tainted Senate club need to be figuring out the next step — how the state will stay afloat as revenues drop and expenses steadily rise.
Gov. David Paterson brought out the latest bad news last week: the state budget that looked balanced in April now faces a $2.1 billion budget gap that will more than double in the next fiscal year.
Wall Street has often provided Albany a cushion against hard times. This year, state budget officials estimate that income tax revenues will be down more than $1.1 billion from earlier budget estimates. Sales tax revenues are also grim, dropping at an “unprecedented” rate, according to the governor’s budget office. That decline is far worse than after the Sept. 11 attacks or during recessions going back to the 1980s.
Mr. Paterson has wisely asked his putative lieutenant governor, Richard Ravitch, to come up with a plan by early next month for cutting state expenses. Governor Paterson has said that he does not think raising taxes again is wise after the state added more than $5 billion to taxpayers’ bills this year.
That means Mr. Ravitch, who helped save New York City from bankruptcy in the 1970s, will have to present a straightforward way to cut costs without the usual Albany subterfuge. His mission will be to find cuts in the big budgets for health care and education, including trims in rapidly rising Medicaid and pension costs.
That will not be popular, of course. Last year when Governor Paterson tried to fill a smaller budget gap, Democrats resisted noisily and Republicans offered little help, preferring mostly to criticize from the sidelines. New Yorkers deserve better than that this year. Governor Paterson is on the correct course, and what the state needs are legislators to help him stay on it.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
TROUBLED BANKS, HUGE BONUSES
Remember the outrage over the stupendous bonus payments at A.I.G.? A repeat is likely to play out on Aug. 13 when Citigroup and Bank of America formally ask the government’s permission to pay a round of bonuses to their topmost executives. Saved by taxpayers from the brink of collapse, Citi and Bank of America are still dependent on the public purse to survive. The federal pay czar, Kenneth Feinberg, would be right to reject requests for big bonuses at banks feeding from the public trough.
Beyond current bonuses, there is a more important item on Mr. Feinberg’s agenda: how executive pay will be structured at the nation’s banks in the future. Mr. Feinberg must approve bonuses for the 25 best-paid executives at the seven big companies that are still dependent on the Troubled Asset Relief Program — including Citi and Bank of America. He must also approve the structure of pay for their top 100 bankers.
His patience will be tested. Andrew Cuomo, the New York attorney general, revealed that Citi paid $5.33 billion in bonuses in 2008, despite losing $27.7 billion and taking $45 billion from the TARP. Bank of America got $45 billion from the TARP and paid $3.3 billion in bonuses. In all, 738 Citi employees and 172 at Bank of America took bonuses of $1 million or more last year. The Wall Street Journal reported that Citi paid the head of its energy-trading unit $98.9 million in 2008 and could award him as much as $100 million this year.
Mr. Feinberg must object to gargantuan payouts from banks that would be bankrupt if not for taxpayers’ money. He should not be deterred by banks’ arguments that they will lose superstars and compromise profitability if they can’t pay lavishly. The superstars caused the problem with financial wizardry they did not fully understand. But there are limits to what he can do.
He might question whether contracts written when the banks were flush are legally binding when they are on life support. He could urge banks to renegotiate lavish contracts. He could even act to limit bankers’ future pay to compensate for big current bonuses, even though banks could still wriggle out of that stricture.
Most broadly, Mr. Feinberg must devise a structure to dissuade bankers from blowing up the economy again. In principle, one would like to see firms pay executives as they saw fit. But banks are different. They gamble with ordinary people’s money. They have proved they can do it extremely destructively. Bankers’ remuneration was among the main factors behind this destructive behavior, encouraging them to take on dubious bets that provided big short-term returns at the expense of their institutions’ and the economy’s future stability. The House finally passed a bill last week that is designed to take a step toward controlling this runaway pay.
Bankers’ compensation must be aligned with the performance of their strategies over the entire period in which they put their bank’s capital at risk. One way would be to make bonuses vest gradually over a period of years, while investments mature. Establishing a better compensation structure for the 100 top bankers at Citi and Bank of America will not solve the problem. But it could provide a template for a broader overhaul.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
AFTER THE F-22
We were pleased to see the House join the Senate in voting to end the F-22 jet fighter program. The votes were important victories in President Obama’s effort to ensure that the Pentagon spends precious tax dollars on essential equipment — not glitzy, self-indulgent toys.
But the struggle over military reform is just beginning. It was only after Mr. Obama promised to veto a $600 billion-plus defense spending bill that Congress acquiesced to capping production of the F-22 — which was designed to fight the Soviet Union and has not been used in Iraq or Afghanistan — at 187 planes (four more than we think are merited).
Even with the threat of other presidential vetoes, there is still plenty of support — among lawmakers, lobbyists and defense contractors — for other weapons and other spending the Pentagon says it can do without. The parochial pushback is being led by members of Mr. Obama’s own party.
Just look at the House bill, approved 400 to 30. It seeks to finance billions of dollars (by some estimates more than $6 billion) in weapons that the Pentagon did not request and/or the administration rightly wants to kill or cut back. These include more than $400 million for the new presidential helicopter, $560 million for an alternate engine for another new fighter plane (the F-35), $674 million for three extra C-17 transport planes and an additional $603 million for the F-18 fighter jet program.
The House also reaffirmed its undying addiction to projects lawmakers insert in legislation to curry favor in their districts. Led by Representative John Murtha, head of the defense appropriations subcommittee, the House beat back efforts by two Republicans, Jeff Flake and John Campbell, to cut up to $2.7 billion in such earmarks. You would think Mr. Murtha might scale back, given the ongoing investigation into a lobbying firm with ties to him and other congressmen over insider contracts.
The situation so far is better in the Senate, where financing for the helicopters and the alternate engine were eliminated in a first draft defense bill. But there is every expectation that there will be a fierce fight over these and other programs in the process of reconciling competing versions with the House.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made a compelling case for ending programs that significantly exceed their budgets or use limited tax dollars to buy more capability than the nation needs. Given the changed nature of warfare, the United States must invest in systems with “maximum versatility” and can no longer afford weapons that are “clearly out of control, performing poorly and excess to the military’s real requirements,” he said in a speech in Chicago.
That is sound reasoning, especially when the country is engaged in two wars and battered by recession. The choices are tough, but we hope that when the final defense bill is passed, Democratic Congressional leaders will ensure that the F-22 is not the only major unneeded weapon system to have been axed.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE VOTE ON JUDGE SOTOMAYOR
We were not surprised that the vote for Judge Sonia Sotomayor in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week was partisan. What was surprising, and a bit distressing, was the flimsy arguments Republicans made for opposing her confirmation. We hope the vote in the full Senate for Judge Sotomayor will be overwhelming and the rhetoric more high-minded.
At her confirmation hearings, Judge Sotomayor joined a lamentable trend of Supreme Court nominees’ avoiding forthright answers on important legal issues. The Senate’s advice-and-consent role is diminished when it allows this sort of evasion.
Nevertheless, she clearly belongs on the court. Judge Sotomayor’s distinguished career includes service on federal district and appeals courts, private law practice and prosecutorial experience. At the hearings, she showed an impressive command of the law.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, hardly a weak-kneed liberal on judicial matters, cast the sole Republican vote for her in the Judiciary Committee. Since then, some prominent Republicans — including Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, No. 3 in his party’s leadership — have endorsed her. She should have no trouble being confirmed.
The case being made against her is strikingly weak. Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, said he doubts that she has “the deep-rooted convictions necessary to resist the siren call of judicial activism.”
The term judicial activism is of dubious meaning, at best, and is generally used by conservative Republicans to attack judges whose decisions they do not like. By the most common objective criteria — such as a willingness to strike down Congressional laws as unconstitutional — conservative justices are at least as activist as liberals.
Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa said he believes Judge Sotomayor will be overly influenced by “personal preferences.” All judges are influenced, to some extent, by their world view. Chief Justice John Roberts, who represented corporations as a lawyer, overwhelmingly sides with them as a judge. There is no reason to believe Judge Sotomayor would be more affected by her preferences.
Some Republicans may be wary of opposing Judge Sotomayor because she would be the first Hispanic justice, and they are reluctant to alienate a large voting bloc. There is no need for political calculations. Senators should support her because she is eminently qualified.
I. THE NEWS
FEAR AND DREAD
No member of any religious or ethnic minority anywhere in the country will be feeling safe and secure today. Members of the Christian minority will be feeling particularly threatened as the details of the events at Gojra on Friday and Saturday last emerge. Seven people, possibly more, have been burned alive in their houses. As of Sunday afternoon the number of injured has risen to over 70. Almost a hundred houses have been damaged in the Christian colony. TV channels showed live pictures of wanton destruction and of a police force that beyond lobbing a few tear-gas shells at nobody in particular, was interested only in containing and not quelling the riot. The disturbances broke out after several religious parties held a public meeting to protest against an alleged desecration of the Holy Quran. Local Christians were said to be the desecrators and as has now become the norm their property was attacked, their churches desecrated, their lives and livelihoods destroyed. Unusually, the Christians fought back, and there was an exchange of fire between the attackers and their intended victims; perhaps an indication that a community which is generally peaceable and unarmed is arming itself for protection. The attack was led by masked men said to be members of a banned religious organisation who had reportedly entered the town from nearby Jhang. The violence had subsided by Sunday morning and an uneasy calm prevailed with Rangers holding the perimeter.
Ours is an intolerant society, and we are particularly intolerant of those whose faith is not Muslim. Intolerance is not only interfaith, as within the Muslim majority there are deeply-ingrained intolerances that manifest themselves as sectarian violence. There are those who are well aware of the fragility of the relationship between the faith-groups; and will do all they can to exploit it in the hope of furthering their own aims of destabilising the state and challenging its writ. Today it is the turn of the Christians to see their community laid waste and terrorised all for the sake of trumped-up allegations of blasphemy. This was proven by a statement of the Punjab law minister who said on Sunday that a preliminary investigation had shown that no incident of blasphemy had taken place. While a few weeks ago it was the turn of the Sikhs who fled the Taliban in Orakzai — some families who remained were held hostage by the Taliban while a couple of the male members were told to arrange for payment of the ‘jiziya’ that the local Taliban had levied on them. The Kalash, the tiniest of our minorities, live under constant threat by those demanding their conversion. The substantial Hindu minority of south Punjab go in fear of their lives as do those who live in Sindh where kidnapping of Hindus in recent months has intensified. Ministers and government officials and representatives of minority organisations have all converged on Gojra, promises of compensation have been made, and attempts to cool things down are in full swing. Sadly, this will be largely for naught. The only way to change this tendency towards mindless persecution is to change the message that goes into the minds of those that perpetrate it. We need to be hearing words of conciliation and fraternity from our mosques. It is our religious leaders who are our primary influence, and it is to them that we must look to douse the fires of intolerance and hatred. Would they? Do they have that within them? Or is inclusivity and tolerance beyond those who lead our prayers?
I. THE NEWS
‘A dishonourable man, a scoundrel’ — so says the dictionary in defining ‘blackguard’. There are, it seems, a few blackguards among the ranks of the black-coats. The media in all its formats has been a staunch supporter of the lawyers in their struggle as they battled a dictator in his fading years, indeed it might be reasonable to say that were it not for the support of the media the lawyers and the movement they catalysed would have achieved less and taken far longer to do it. The oxygen of publicity gave them strength and energised a wider public, but events of recent days indicate that the black-coats and the men from the media are no longer the best of friends. Lawyers attacked two journalists from a private TV channel outside the Lahore sessions court on Thursday last, injuring one and breaking the camera of the other. The reason for this is that the media men had the day before caught on camera lawyers attacking a uniformed policeman at the very same court; and the lawyers were incensed that their un-lawyerly behaviour had been broadcast for the entire world to see.
The lawyers claimed — and we cannot substantiate their claim - that the media had been banned from the premises of the sessions court and they had every right to expel the TV team. The court reporters, the journalists who bring the day’s proceedings to the next day’s newspapers, protested at the action of the unruly lawyers and an only slightly apologetic High Court Chief Justice Khwaja Muhammad Sharif called the behaviour of some of his legal colleagues as ‘shameful and regrettable.’ A survey of responses by assorted members of the legal fraternity reveals their condemnation to be lukewarm at best with most stopping well short of an outright condemnation. There were attempts to put up a smokescreen by insinuating that those caught on film attacking the policeman were not real lawyers at all. Nobody should be above the law, least of all the lawyers. It is from their ranks that the judiciary is eventually drawn and some of those behaving so badly in public this week may well be fledgling judges. It is true that those caught so obviously in contravention of the law are a minority, and we should not see their behaviour as representative of that of lawyers across the country . The lawyers of Pakistan had done much to repair their somewhat battered and tarnished image by their actions and principled stand against a dictator determined to cow them down.
They held their heads high, marched and we cheered and supported them; and rightly so. It is difficult to establish and maintain a good reputation, the easiest thing in the world to lose it. Remember that, men in black.
GOJRA INCIDENT:WHAT A SHAME
IT is extremely shameful that innocent people were burnt alive in the midst of violence in Gojra in the wake of unsubstantiated allegation of desecration of the Holy Quran spread in the city from a nearby village. It is particularly unfortunate that it happened in Pakistan, which came into existence in the name of Islam that preaches for tolerance and protection of non-Muslims.
As per reports some members of the local religious organisations and traders got infuriated on unconfirmed report of sacrilegious act, staged protest demonstration and incited people for hooliganism that led to the killing of nine people including women and children and burning of around fifty houses. The incident speaks volume and in our view a number of factors needed to be given serious thought. One is that on the whole our society has become intolerant, brutalized and weaponized to a dangerous level. On the average every third family possess unlicensed prohibited bore weapons and these are openly displayed to project power without any check on the part of the law enforcement agencies. The TV footage of the Gojra incident showed burning of houses, streets littered with furniture and other household items while people firing at each other from rooftops. The incident is particularly deplorable as people belonging to a minority group were made target in the Islamic State which had been a paradise for minorities and a roll model for other countries. The Constitution of the country gives equal fundamental rights to the minorities and the Christians in particular, as being part and parcel of the society they have played a leading role in all areas of our national life including health, education and judiciary. In our opinion, the real culprits behind this gory incident are those who spread the rumours of desecration of Holy Quran to hurt the sentiments of the people and then incited the enraged people to violence. What is surprising is that the trouble started brewing up a day earlier and the authorities failed to anticipate that it could reach such a proportion and out of control. Reports in the media suggest that there was bare minimum deployment of police force that was insufficient to stop the mob from burning the houses of the minority community. This lack of concern at the highest level is not appreciable and should not be condoned. Such incidents create a sense of insecurity among the people and bring a bad name to the country. Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif, who is particularly sensitive to maintenance of law and order, has ordered a judicial inquiry and we are hopeful that the culprits would be brought to justice and victims adequately compensated.
SMILING STUDENTS GO TO SCHOOLS IN SWAT
IT is heartening that educational institutions have reopened in Swat and Buner and young smiling and cheering children enthusiastically re-entered their schools. Provincial Education authorities deserve appreciation that in a short span of time they made arrangements for the reopening of schools so that no more precious time is lost.
Over 250 schools were destroyed by the terrorists before the launching of the clean up operation by the security forces in the scenic valley and the authorities erected tents to facilitate the students to resume their studies. People of Swat are peace loving and hospitable but it was a pity that a group of anti-state and misguided people backed by foreigners made their living miserable and particularly targetted educational institutions to prevent the children from acquiring education. Unfortunately the government tolerated the activities of the miscreants for a long time on one pretext or the other. That leniency made them a monster and the beautiful valley considered, as a heaven on earth became a hostage to arms brandishing terrorists who dictated their terms to the masses. Their main target was educational institutions and the sole purpose was to prevent children from getting modern education and influence them to join their ranks. Because of threats to the lives of children, parents stopped sending them to schools. We highly laud the armed forces for their operation Rah-e-Rast that was specific, superb and surgical in tactics. With specific orders from the COAS to avoid collateral damage, the security forces lived up to their highest traditions and secured the Swat valley from terrorists with the backing of the local population. While the IDPs are returning home in an organised manner, it was essential that the educational institutions should be immediately opened to cover for the time lost. We would urge the Provincial Government to follow the precedence set by the Private schools management association in Swat which exempted the students from paying fee for the past three months, and extend assistance to the students of government run schools by providing them free books and exempting them from fee for atleast one year as their parents ,who have lost all their belongings and means of livelihood during the operation might not be able to pay. At the same time teachers must be instructed to give extra time to students and facilitate them to complete the course, as that would send a positive signal to the people that the government cares for them.
A CLUMSY WAY OF LAWYERS CELEBRATIONS
THE landmark verdict of the Supreme Court on Friday declaring the 3rd November, 2007 action as unconstitutional and invalid has been welcomed by people from all walks of life and there were country wide celebrations.
The legal fraternity was particularly and visibly overwhelmed and rightly so as it was in the forefront along with media and civil society in the struggle for the restoration of pre-November 3rd Judiciary and rule of law. However the way some members of the legal community behaved and celebrated, as witnessed on TV screen, was not in commensurate with their status in the society. They danced and twisted in the bars, streets and on roads in a way as if they were young school going children. The legal community is highly respected in the society as they are educated people well versed with law and expected to behave and celebrate in a dignified and matured manner. Yes it was a verdict from an independent judiciary led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and welcomed by all sections of the society including the legal fraternity. But there should be a difference between the celebrations by common people and the members of the bars. We think that the conduct and behaviour of every person and segment of the society should be in commensurate with his status in the society and people expect the lawyers to act in a sober manner rather than expressing joy in a clumsy way.
After coming to power with a promise to keep the price-line stable, this is for the first time that the grand alliance government has raised the price of any product or utility. This follows the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission's (BERC) announcement on the night of August 1 that prices of gas will go up by 11 per cent. The fund generated, Taka 770 crore, will be used to create a gas development fund which will be spent largely on BAPEX - the Petro-Bangla subsidiary dedicated to exploration of hydrocarbons -- after a five year plan for developing the gas sector is approved by the government.
Earlier in its tenure the regime had cut fertiliser prices by half. Now that the price of gas, the principal energy used for fertiliser production, has been increased it is likely to affect price of this agricultural input.
There are other problems with the new policy, too. It says it wants to spend the money on gas development, primarily exploration but only after the policy is formulated. It is like putting the cart before the horse. The hike could have come after the policy was approved which would have made more sense. One would have to give some turn-around time for the new policy and its supportive institutions to fall in place even after it is approved.
Currently, almost 30 per cent of gas is lost to what is known as "system loss," which critics say is outright theft. If it could be cut down, it would increase the funds approximately three times more than is possible by an 11 per cent price hike. Then there is the problem of Titas Gas well 3, which is burning incessantly for the last six years and has developed over 3,000 craters, some 30 metres in diameter! If plugged, a huge amount of gas worth crores of taka could be saved every day. It is also advisable that the BERC introduced a metering system for household use instead of the current flat rate as it encourages waste.
At a seminar titled 'State of Bangladesh Economy' organised by the Economic Reporters Forum at the Jatiya Press Club on Saturday, speakers unequivocally expressed their views that without improved power supply and law and order, investment by local or foreign investors would remain elusive. Successive governments have cried hoarse that Bangladesh is an ideal place for investment because it has simplified procedures and formalities for attracting investors. True, foreign investors, tempted by cheap labour and windfall profits, came to invest money in the early years of our garments industry. But no longer.
For sometime now news about local entrepreneurs is disconcerting. A number of industries set up, particularly in the industrial belt of Chittagong, could not go into operation on schedule simply because supply of either power or gas or both could not be ensured. Also many of the industrial units that developed their own system of power generation based on gas on the assumption that reserves of this natural energy were virtually unlimited had to suffer losses due to disruption of power and gas supply. With no addition of any power generation facilities in the past seven years and increased demand - yearly increased demand is estimated at 500 megawatts - a number of willing investors opted for investment elsewhere, Vietnam enjoying the lion's share of the capital flight bonanza.
Then, outlaying money or not is directly linked to law and order. Political stability is a prerequisite for social peace and unless this becomes quite evident to foreign investors along with the local ones, they are unwilling to run the risk of putting money in new ventures. The country's records on law-and-order situation are certainly unenviable and it hardly helps the cause of attracting entrepreneurs here. No doubt, the previous elected government and the caretaker government that succeeded have failed the nation on both counts. Now the present government has taken an ambitious plan to attain a zero load-shedding target. Let this be complemented by an effective plan for improving law and order also.
THE VADA-PAV STATUE...!
"What's that?" screamed the passenger next to me as the plane we were travelling in banked and started it's descent into Mumbai, "It looks like a statue in the sea!" I told the Englishman, "That's the Vada-Pav Statue!" He stared at it, pressing his nose against the glass. "A what?" I explained, "A statue of a Vada-Pav! Which is a vada between two slices of bread!" He was surprised, "A sandwich! So why has a statue of it been installed in the sea?" I said, "It wasn't supposed to be. Actually a statue of a very famous and much loved warrior king was to be erected at the same spot, but another political party who revered the vada-pav came to power and decided to install the Vada-Pav instead!" The plane circled the sea and my fellow passenger pressed his nose again as he stared down, "It's not looking very clean!" he said. "I know," I said sadly, "Initially after the statue was installed many came and there were dozens of guided tours which took one up onto the pav and from there you could take a winding staircase into the heart of the vada!" Englishman, "You don't say?" I went on. "But slowly interest died!"
"Why?" asked the Englishman. "Well," I said, "The vada-pav is what we ate when we started out in this city. It was the cheapest, tastiest and most filling meal especially on a shoestring budget. But then we grew out of that state. We still love it's taste but can afford better things, tastier stuff served in fancier places!" Englishman, "Ah! You moved on?" I nodded, "Yep we moved on and up! What happens to anyone who comes to a big city and works hard, they do well, right?" The Britisher agreed, "Right! You do well, you live better, you eat better! I get you mate, you mean that as people did better they lost interest in the vada-pav?" I said, "Oh we all love the vada-pav! But it isn't our life style anymore!" Said the foreigner musingly, "That explains the dirty statue!" I whispered, "But political leaders don't like this, The whole idea of the statue is to make people remain in their vada-pav state. Don't move up because we can't control you then!" Visitor, "So what do they do?" I sighed, "They organise vada-pav boat cruises, vada-pav picnics, vada-pav contests - "Yes spot the vada in the pav and win a free ride to the statue!" Foreign visitor, "Must have been a stampede?" I shook my head, "Nobody won!" Visitor, "Was it that difficult?" I said, "No one tried...!" as the plane made one more dive round the lonely statue and then started its descent to the posh airport that the city now had for itself.
BETTER TRAINING VITAL TO PARK TAE-HWAN'S REVIVAL
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.
LET'S TRY TO TURN NEW PLACE INTO NATIONAL SYMBOL
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.
IN POLITICS, THE MATES MUST NOT RATE
IT IS TIME FOR AN END TO CASH FOR CONTACTS - IN ALL STATES.
WAYNE Goss is entirely right to say standards have slipped in Queensland. Since the jailing of former minister Gordon Nuttall for soliciting bribes, revelations have oozed out of the state Labor machine about the way party players in the state make money from their ability to ensure businesspeople meet the ministers and mandarins they believe they need to know. But they have not slipped very far. Even after the changes that followed the Fitzgerald inquiry's revelations of the corruption that cursed the state in the Bjelke-Petersen years, the standards were never all that alpine. While four conservative ministers went to prison over corruption, Labor's recent record is not good. Mr Nuttall is serving a sentence and his former cabinet colleague Merri Rose was sentenced for trying to blackmail then premier Peter Beattie.
Nor is Queensland the only state where former politicians and party operators have made legal livings by putting people in touch with each other and explaining how the system really works. In NSW, the Labor machine has run smoothly for many years on the enormous earners delivered by dinners where business leaders pay tens of thousands of dollars for meals worth a fraction of what they pay. And in Western Australia people on both sides of politics have been marked by their connections with the influential former premier and present consultant Brian Burke. The problem also extends to the way the political machines of parties long in power assist their own. As The Australian revealed last week, there is a long list of Queensland Labor loyalists in well-connected jobs. This is not a problem exclusive to the Labor Party - it is the way of politics for ministers to look kindly on their own.
But while there is a very real distinction between setting up meetings and soliciting or accepting bribes, what we are seeing in Queensland is unacceptable. The question is what will the Treasurer's comrades in the Queensland government - and in all the other Labor administrations around the country, for that matter - do about it. It will need to be more than Anna Bligh's initial ideas. Her suggestion she will ban lobbyists from receiving performance payments is easily avoided by simply changing invoice details. Her proposal to ban paid access to ministers - along the lines of what occurred at last week's Labor Party conference is a start, but a small one. In the absence of a strong opposition asking hard questions or an upper house keeping an eye on the executive (the former being as imminent as the latter in Queensland), Ms Bligh has few options other than to give the Crime and Misconduct Commission the resources and authority to investigate the "mates" culture in her party. And she needs to legislate to ensure the sources of political funding are much more transparent. Even with public funding of elections, politics runs on money, and party officials of all persuasions are often as much entrepreneurs as they are apparatchiks. The challenge is to ensure all donations - in cash or kind - that end up in party coffers, or those of associated organisations, appear on the public record. The Rudd government has a plan, opposed by the opposition, to require disclosure of political donations above $10,900. This is not as transparent as it appears, suiting Labor, which enjoys union-affiliation fees, while the conservatives rely on corporate donations.
But this sort of reform does not cover all the opportunities for cash-for-contact at state levels, where property zoning decisions are made and most public sector service delivery is contracted. It is generally at a state level where much of the money political parties rely on is raised and where the scrutiny on who is donating to whom and why should be fiercest and most forensic. That this is predominantly a state problem is clear. But it is one with a capacity to hurt Labor, in power in all but one jurisdiction, all over. And the Rudd government knows it, demonstrated by Mr Swan's comments and the way Kevin Rudd last week called on the Rann government in South Australia to establish an anti-corruption commission. While a standing national commission on corruption would be no bad thing, the reality is that most of the problem exists in the states. It is up to Ms Bligh to act to clean up Queensland and for all her colleagues among the premiers and chief ministers to follow.
ZONING AND LEASE REFORMS WILL PROMOTE GREATER COMPETITION.
IN moving to encourage competition in grocery retailing, Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Small Business Minister Craig Emerson demonstrates he understands how super - and all other markets - work. As The Weekend Australian reported, Dr Emerson said "an insidious combination" of local government planning and restrictive agreements between major supermarkets and shopping centre owners has created an artificial shortage of retail sites. While Dr Emerson does not have direct authority to intervene on the issue, he is right to promise action that will encourage the states to review zoning laws.
Nor is he alone in addressing the issue. In the immediate term, competition in existing shopping centres is likely to hot up as the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission focuses on anti-competitive leasing terms. Some existing arrangements effectively prevent centre managers leasing space to retailers who can see markets not well served by the dominant chains. There are major players anxious to expand into the grocery market, including US discounter Costco. And low-cost German retailer Aldi, one of the great successes of Australian retailing, has built a 200-strong chain and wants to add another 500 stores.
Dr Emerson is quick to point out that his initiatives are not about bringing in preferred alternatives to Woolworths and Coles, both of which undoubtedly will square up to the competition to defend their market shares. Nor do consumers necessarily lose through the way the two majors compete for market share, demonstrated by their petrol discounting wars. But more competition is rarely, if ever, a bad thing and the more players in a price-sensitive market, the better.
While Dr Emerson's approach lacks the populist attraction of promises to shame shops into lowering grocery prices, it is a far more practical approach than the useless GroceryChoice scheme, which he had the nous to can last month after taking responsibility for consumer affairs. That $13million white elephant provided consumers with no information about specific stores and goods, but put the onus on them to seek out the best deals - even if they needed to cross the city to find them. In contrast, this new approach will take longer to bear fruit than it takes to set up a website. But by working to level the playing field and putting the onus on retailers - new and existing - to compete for customers, it has a far greater chance of making a real impact. And if Dr Emerson puts paid to political stunts promising lower prices it will be a bonus.
THE SADDEST STORIES
IN REPORTING SUICIDES, THE MEDIA CAN HELP STOP MORE DEATHS.
IS there anything the media can responsibly report about suicide, especially when a young person has died? In Melbourne The Age says no, refusing to cover the death late last month of a Geelong teen, on the grounds reporting it could encourage other young people to end their lives. It is a serious argument, once universal in the media. But it is one this newspaper no longer shares, reporting that death and praising the dead girl's mother for the calm and courage she displayed in a radio interview.
Careful reporting of suicide does not dishonour the dead, it does not deny the pain of those who have lost loved ones, but it can help the living - especially people whose despair is so deep that it puts them at peril. As Lauren Wilson reported in The Weekend Australian, while youth suicide is a plague that can spread through peer groups, suppressing information of a death does no good. When a young person dies, the essential task is to ensure none of their friends decides to follow them. The more the reasons for a death are appropriately discussed the less likely this will be.
Nor is there any point in trying to suppress news of a suicide. In a world where young people live online, messaging services and social networking sites make suppressing information impossible. The task for newspapers, for all of the media, is to sensitively report the facts and to make it plain to people trapped by demons of despair, especially the young, that help is always on offer. There are few, if any, problems in society that suppressing information can solve. The tragedy of suicide is not one of them.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
PLOT FOR NUCLEAR NIGHTMARES
IT READS like a far-fetched scenario for a B-grade movie thriller: a rogue state, North Korea, having already acquired the technology to make and deliver nuclear weapons, does a secret deal to help a pariah state, Burma, achieve a similar capability. The plot includes two tireless investigators, defectors, a suspected nuclear facility hidden in caves tunnelled into a remote Burmese mountain and a Burma-bound North Korean freighter carrying a mysterious cargo that is returned home after being shadowed by American warships. All that is missing is a femme fatale, and Hollywood can fix that.
Obviously, a degree of scepticism is in order. This is conceded by the researchers on whose work the report in the weekend Herald was based, Professor Desmond Ball of the Australian National University and the freelance journalist Phil Thornton. The testimony of defectors is necessarily suspect unless and until independently corroborated (by then, of course, it may be too late). What is really going on inside that Burmese mountain, or nearby, is still not certainly known. Moreover, the matter of Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to be non-existent, was warning enough against believing that, because a regime is guilty of doing some dreadful things, it can be presumed guilty of any other wickedness it is accused of.
That said, the testimony gathered by Ball and Thornton over two years from two Burmese defectors of different but relevant backgrounds is profoundly disturbing. All the more so when taken in conjunction with Pyongyang’s continued provocative sabre rattling, the aborted journey of that North Korean freighter, Israel’s 2007 destruction of a nuclear plant the North Koreans were allegedly building in Syria, the recent arrest by Japan of three people accused of trying to export illegally to Burma a device useful in missile development and last week’s warning by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, about the danger of North Korea transferring nuclear technology to Burma.
Given that the regimes ruling these two countries are among the most paranoid, tyrannical, secretive and irresponsible on earth, it is safest to assume that whatever they are up to, they are up to no good. A deal between them – nuclear and weapons expertise flowing south, uranium and hard currency flowing north – would have appalling implications for regional security. That it is madness for such governments to spend billions acquiring nuclear weapons when their people lack basic nutrition and health services is not the point. If it were, India, Pakistan, China and Iran would not have bothered.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
STOP THE BULL ON ORGANIC FOOD
THE food chain is the fuel that drives everything in our society. The way food is grown and prepared for sale is thus vitally important. Organic food is supposed to be better in every way, for the environment and the consumer, but the nutritional value of food labelled ‘‘organic’’ has been questioned in a just-released study conducted for the Food Standards Agency in Britain. The study concluded: ‘‘There is no good evidence that consumption of organic food is beneficial to health based on nutritional value based on nutrient content.’’ That will not sound like good news to Australia’s large and growing organic food industry.
Organic food is more expensive than non-organic food because it costs more to produce, because it is, by definition, grown with more care than food produced by factory farming. The question now raised is why pay more for organic food? The answer is the same as it ever was: because there is a significant difference between ‘‘free-range’’ chicken sold in stores and chicken produced in the hellish and unhealthy conditions of many chicken farms. The same applies to pork. The same applies to fruit, vegetables, legumes and grains that have been grown without the use of pesticides. The same applies to ‘‘wild’’ fish compared with the product of fish farms. The difference can usually be seen in taste and texture, and that difference must be better for the body.
Growing food organically is more beneficial to the environment than growing it by mass-production methods. The human body can process almost as much nutrition from organic as from non-organically grown foods, but the British study does not examine the cumulative effect of fertilisers, preservatives and artificial feeds in the food chain. That is why labelling food as ‘‘organic’’ is not merely a cosmetic or cynical marketing gimmick used to justify higher prices. Which is exactly what has been happening in butchers around the country. The consumer advocacy group Choice surveyed 29 butchers and found only 11 were able to produce evidence they knew if their meat had been organically grown.
The Food Standards Agency report renews the focus on the need for authenticity in food labelling. Clearly, the labelling system is too lax in the meat industry and possibly beyond. There is a difference between organically and non-organically produced food, and the right to carry that label, and the benefits it implies, needs to be more rigorously supervised by regulators.
SUPREME COURT: JUDGING THE JUDGES
A combination of poor political management by the White House and the tenacity of the Washington special interest lobbies have denied President Obama his wish to sign a historic healthcare reform bill before the Congress adjourns to the beaches and the mountains at the end of this week. But the Senate is expected to do one important thing that Mr Obama wants before it breaks for the summer; vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor as the newest member of the nine-person US supreme court. There is little serious doubt that she is qualified to succeed Justice David Souter. A Hispanic woman with an inspiring personal history, which has seen her rise from a deprived working-class background in the Bronx to be top student of her year at Princeton, followed by a legal career that has culminated in nomination to the US's highest court. More important still, she manifestly possesses the judicial qualifications for the nomination, having served 17 years as a judge in positions to which she was nominated by both a Republican president, George Bush Sr, and a Democrat, Bill Clinton, during which time her record has been a highly distinguished one, her judgments generally liberal but rarely predictable.
This ought, in a perfect constitutional world, to be enough. And, in an earlier America, it might have been. But, ever since a Democratic-controlled senate rejected President Reagan's nomination of the strict constitutional constructionist Judge Robert Bork in 1987, nominations to US judicial office have become flashpoints in the culture wars. In recent years, senators of both parties have allowed themselves to be conscripted into opposing partisan armies and have voted increasingly along partisan lines. Even in Ms Sotomayor's case, only one Republican on the senate judiciary committee could bring himself to vote in her favour after her confirmation hearings, while the committee's Democrats voted for her en bloc.
As a result, the confirmation process for US judicial nominations has become more and more pointless from a judicial perspective, resembling America's heavily rehearsed presidential debates. The Sotomayor hearings have been carefully scripted, with the candidates attentively coached to avoid any hint of controversy. Though Mr Obama has often talked about wanting a less partisan system of government, everything suggests that a partisan approach to judicial appointments will continue.
This is a temptation against which we in this country must also guard. The replacement of the law lords by the new UK supreme court is a very welcome move. The court's importance in our constitution and governance will now be much clearer for all to see. The gradual evolution of the court is an exciting prospect. But as the UK supreme court prepares to open its door for the first time in the autumn, it is freshly important to resist any attempt, especially by MPs or ministers, to politicise the work of the judiciary. Fortunately, the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 draws clear lines to prevent this. But they much be vigilantly upheld.
The fact that there is no clear way of saying whether Britain's highest court, unlike that of the US, has a liberal or a conservative majority is a mystery worth preserving. Public confidence in the judges rests most firmly on the assumption that the court will weigh competing claims on their merits and in the light of the law. That assumption is best ensured by rigorous respect for judicial independence. The former president of the Israeli supreme court, Aharon Barak, is right when he says, with an approving nod to the new UK system, that the judicialisation of politics must not lead to the politicisation of judicial appointments. We do not choose our judges on the basis of their politics now and, as the cautionary example of the American experience warns us, we should avoid doing so in the future.
MPS: NEW FACES, OLD HOUSE
Sir Francis Knollys' record is safe. No MP is ever likely to match his 73 continuous years in the Commons, from 1575 until his death in 1648, by which time England was deep in civil war and Knollys, well over 90, was being described reverently by a neighbour as "the ancientest Parliament man in England". Instead the next general election is likely to see an extraordinary clear out of the current House of Commons, the greatest since 1945. Long service has become a handicap, not a mark of honour. To the scores of Labour MPs who are likely to lose their seats can be added many more in all parties leaving reluctantly because of expenses.
As Eric Pickles, the Conservative party chairman, says in today's Guardian interview, "some colleagues have found the process of expenses very wearing and they are demoralised. They might not have had any problems themselves at all, but maybe they're feeling it's just time to move on". Or, as the first world war song put it, "we don't want to lose you but we think you ought to go". Mr Pickles predicts that almost 20 additional Tory MPs – one out of 10 – will decide to call it a day because of expenses, on top of the 13 who have recently said they are going, and more who announced their departure earlier for other reasons. The result will not just be a bonanza for anyone looking for a safe Tory seat. It will be a Commons short on familiar faces, and short on parliamentary experience too.
The consequences of this are hard to predict. Perhaps the party whips will gain in power, steering nervous new MPs through the division lobbies. Or perhaps a new political generation will find its voice and connect with voters as the current one has so obviously failed to do. The next parliament will certainly be more internet-savvy; less bothered by the traditional way of doing things. It may resent the election of John Bercow as Speaker, and seek a new leader. Unfortunately it is unlikely to be much more diverse, although the Tory benches will contain more women than ever, and Conservative Central Office has taken on new powers to direct forthcoming selections.
Just after the recess began, the Commons library slipped out a fascinating research paper on parliamentary trends, which shows just how much parliament has changed: MPs' expenditure, for instance, has risen by 4.2% in real terms every year since 1990. The number of acts passed has fallen, while the number of statutory instruments has soared. But the biggest shakeup will be in the composition of the house. In 1997 more than a third of seats ended up with a new MP – a recent record. In 2009, or 2010, that could rise to well over half. Parliament is about to become a different place.
IN PRAISE OF... CELESTIAL SLEUTHING
In a clockwork universe if you know where you are, the stars can tell you the local time; and if you know the time, the sky at night can put you in your place. Almost a decade ago Donald Olson, a physicist at Texas State University, used a late painting by Vincent van Gogh – The White House at Night, with the planet Venus in the evening sky – to find first the house, in a village near Paris, and then pinpoint the moment of the painting: 8pm, 16 June, 1890. Six years ago, Professor Olson with his long-standing collaborator Russell Doescher, identified the precise point along an Oslo Road that inspired Edvard Munch's The Scream. Last year the Texas team brought students to the English Channel, calculated the tide tables of 2,000 years ago, and proposed a new date for Julius Caesar's beachhead at Deal in 55BC. Now, in the August issue of the Griffith Observer, Olson and colleagues have used forensic astronomy to identify the time and place of creation for three more Munch paintings – in August 1893 at Asgardstrand, Norway. There are lessons for everybody in such celestial sleuthing. One is that even the most distracted artists were accurate observers. Another is lunar cycles, tide tables, planetary conjunctions and celestial charts may be as helpful a guide to history as human chronicles. And a third – 400 years after Galileo turned his telescope on the moon, and 50 years after CP Snow's famous Two Cultures lecture – is that ultimately, art and science are inseparable.
THE KOREA HERALD
HUMAN RIGHTS IN KOREA
The Asian Human Rights Commission has requested that the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Protection of Human Rights review the status of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK). The request by the regional NGO monitoring and lobbying human rights in Asia is yet another blow to the NHRCK, which has been experiencing difficulties in recent months.
The AHRC based its request to downgrade the NHRCK's "A" accreditation status - which it has held since 2004 - to "B" on claims that the Korean rights commission no longer complies with the Principles Relating to the Status of National Institution on Human Rights, also known as the Paris Principles, and that the independence of the body has suffered a serious setback. The Paris Principles is a U.N.-endorsed standard that requires national human rights institutions to be independent, have pluralist representation, and have powers to investigate. Only national commissions with "A" status have voting rights in the ICC.
A day before the AHRC requested the downgrading of the NHRCK, the Korean rights body withdrew its bid for the rotating ICC chairmanship, cognizant of the possibility that Hyun Byung-chul, its new head, may fail to be appointed because of his lack of expertise in human rights field.
In fact, this was a problem that was widely foreseen when Hyun, a law scholar and chancellor of Hanyang Cyber University, was appointed NHRCK head last month. Human rights groups in Korea have been critical of the appointment because of Hyun' lack of experience in the human rights field.
An argument could be made that those opposed to Hyun's appointment - both within the commission and outside - caused an international embarrassment for the country. Several civic groups are known to have voiced their opposition to the appointment of Hyun and NHRCK's running for ICC chairmanship to the ICC.
However, it should be remembered that human rights are universally values, and their pursuit and protection should be above and beyond national pride or prestige. What is more important than the current embarrassment is the possibility that human rights in Korea may be deteriorating.
The Lee Myung-bak administration has attempted to bring the human rights commission under the direct control of the president, an attempt which failed. The administration has also carried out a 20 percent cut in the commission's personnel. In fact, Hyun's predecessor Ahn Kyong-hwan stepped down in June amid an escalating conflict over the downsizing of the rights commission.
Korea has come a long way from the days when human rights abuses were rampant. Since its establishment in 2001, the NHRCK has played a leading role in protecting human rights. In fact, HRCK was considered an exemplary case. Today, however, international groups are expressing concerns over threats to its independence.
The ICC chairmanship would have been an opportunity to take the human rights movement in Korea to the next level. By creating a situation where the NHRCK had very little choice but to withdraw its bid, the Lee administration has done another disservice to the cause of human rights in Korea.
THE KOREA HERALD
PLAZA FOR ALL
Gwanghwamun Plaza opened to the public on Saturday after some 15 months of work.
The latest in a series of urban redesigns undertaken by Seoul Metropolitan Government, Gwanghwamun Plaza seeks to restore the historic significance of the area.
After the Joseon kingdom established its capital in Seoul in 1392, the Yukjo Street - where the Gwanghwamun Plaza stands today - became the center of the country's history, politics and culture. The street opened to motor traffic in the 1900s during the Japanese colonial rule.
Today, some 100 years later, the space has been returned to the people with the creation of the Gwanghwamun Plaza. The 16-lane Sejongno street has been reduced to 10 lanes to build the plaza which measures 557 meters in length and 34 meters in width.
Standing in the middle of the plaza, visitors can get a panoramic view of Gwanghwamun, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Mt. Bukak and Mt. Bukhansan straight ahead to the north.
Gwanghwamun Plaza is also a place where the past and the present come together. The water stream on the east side of the plaza is a "stream of history" where various highlights of Korean history from 1392 to 2008 are marked. The stream on the west side remains unused but will mark significant events in the future.
Two of the most respected figures in Korean history are represented at the plaza. Admiral Yi Sun-shin's statue now has a water fountain standing around it, telling the story of his naval victories over the Japanese invaders. The statue of King Sejong, which will be unveiled on Hangeul Day on Oct. 9, will tell the story of the creation of Korea's writing system by the truly renaissance Joseon-period king. Foreign visitors to the plaza will learn something about Korean history and Korean visitors will be reminded of their proud past.
The city government said that the hope is that the new plaza will become a national symbol, an icon that everyone will associate with Seoul. Every major city around the world has a public plaza which represents the city; City Hall designed Gwanghwamun Plaza with such a goal.
However, a plaza does not become a national symbol or acquire an iconic status overnight. It takes time and more importantly, people have to genuinely enjoy the space.
The Seoul Plaza and Cheonggye Plaza were created as places of communication. However, in recent months, this has not been the case. It is sincerely hoped that the new Gwanghwamun Plaza does not suffer a similar fate. It should be a place that is open to all and a place for celebrations.
THE KOREA HERALD
OF BANKS, BAILOUTS IN TODAY'S RECESSION
PALO ALTO - Early signs of a manufacturing rebound, already strong in Asia, lend hope for some modest recovery from today's deep global recession. But a strong and durable economic expansion is unlikely until progress is made in dealing with the toxic assets poisoning the balance sheets of financial institutions and bedeviling policymakers almost everywhere.
The financial system is a complex interaction of lenders and borrowers, buyers and sellers, and savers and investors. When it functions well, it balances risk and reward, and innovation and safety.
Banks and other financial firms borrow short - increasingly in recent years from the commercial securities market, not - and lend long at higher interest rates, taking on both credit risk (of default) and interest-rate risk. Increasing leverage boosts returns on the upside but is very risky on the downside. No surprise, then, that the large financial firms that failed - Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, AIG, and Lehman Brothers - had the highest leverage, in the range of 30 or 40 times their capital.
From 2002-07, trillions of dollars were loaned for subprime and prime mortgages, autos, credit cards, commercial real estate, private equity, and more, on the assumption by (most) borrowers and lenders that strong global growth, rising home prices and cheap, readily available short-term credit would continue for the foreseeable future. Once the music stopped, the assets plunged in value. The complexity of securitized pools of loans that were sold worldwide - bilaterally over the counter - as pieces of various tranches, meant that nobody was certain about who owned what or what it was worth.
This difficulty in valuing the now so-called toxic assets remains at the core of today's credit difficulties. The immense response by central banks and finance ministries has eased the strain. The United States Federal Reserve's commercial paper facility was helpful in reopening the commercial paper market (although other of its facilities have been less successful).
The barometer of stress watched most closely by experts, the LIBOR-OIS (Overnight Indexed Swap) spread is down substantially from its stratospheric crisis levels. Some government programs are shrinking from lack of demand. But there remain little new securitization and bank debt offerings without government backup.
The original idea for the U.S. government to buy up (some of the) toxic assets with the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program gave way to capital infusions (and auto bailouts). Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's new public-private investment program to buy toxic assets has few takers, despite subsidized non-recourse financing. So the toxic assets remain on bank (and other) balance sheets.
Can banks generate enough profits for long enough to buy time to write down smaller losses and raise private capital later in a stronger economy? Or are the losses so large - and in danger of mounting further as others (such as commercial real estate) are added - that a gradual workout is unlikely, if not impossible?
Estimates of the losses on U.S. loans and securities range from under $1 trillion to almost $4 trillion. The IMF puts them at $2.7 trillion, but the range of uncertainty is enormous. More than half is held by banks and broker-dealers. And analogous problems exist in Western Europe (e.g., for loans to Eastern Europe) and Asia.
Gradualism and profitability, and eventually U.S. Brady bonds, worked in the Latin American debt crisis in the 1980s. But a difficult economy will drive down the value of toxic assets and make more assets toxic. For example, falling home prices put more families in negative equity - mortgages worth more than the home. This creates an incentive to default, which increases foreclosures and lowers the value of the mortgage-backed securities on financial firms' books.
Policymakers need a Plan B in the event that one proves necessary, modeled on America's rapid resolution of insolvent savings and loans in the early 1990s, together with sales of toxic assets in large blocks (to prevent so-called adverse selection from unraveling any bidding process). History is instructive.
Of the $500 billion that America required for the Resolution Trust Corporation (equivalent to $1.25 trillion today), $400 billion was returned from asset sales, for a net cost of $100 billion, one-10th the worst-case private forecasts of $1 trillion. The final tab on the toxic mortgage bailout and other assets is likely to be a larger percentage of a larger amount, but still far less than the face value of the loans, because the underlying assets will in many cases retain considerable value.
In addition to bailouts and toxic asset plans, governments worldwide want central banks to monitor macroeconomic and overall financial-sector risk (as opposed to focusing on individual firms). Barack Obama's administration would anoint the Fed, whose history has been to recognize crises late. The Bank of England seeks similar powers. The European Union wants to establish a European Systemic Risk Board composed of the national central bank governors, chaired by the European Central Bank.
What will these central bankers do to advise on macro-prudential risk? Demand adjustments in large current-account imbalances? Call for reductions in taxes, spending, and government debt, which are the primary systemic risks? To do that could jeopardize monetary policy independence and heighten the threat of future inflation.
Dealing with financial institutions deemed too big to fail won't be easy. The current system, which allows privatized gains from highly leveraged risk-taking but socializes losses in the event of failure, must be changed to avoid episodic financial meltdowns.
To balance the benefits of scale and scope with the socialized losses to taxpayers, firms deemed too big to fail should be required to have more capital, and the amount should rise disproportionately with size. Converting some portion of debt to equity under predetermined solvency-threatening conditions would provide an extra layer of protection. Add a higher bar for government bailouts, and these stronger incentives would induce private financial institutions and investors to take responsibility before disaster strikes.
Michael J. Boskin is the T.M. Friedman professor of economics and Hoover Institution senior fellow at Stanford University. He was chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers under President George H.W. Bush, 1989-93. - Ed.
THE JAPAN TIMES
LOWERING THE LEGAL AGE
A panel of the Justice Ministry's Legislative Council has proposed lowering the legal age under the Civil Code from 20 to 18. The council is expected to hand the proposal to the justice minister in September. A Civil Code revision will entail revision of some 300 laws. The panel's report says that the Diet should judge when the law revisions should be made.
Lowering of the legal age will have a great impact — social, economic and political. Thorough discussions will be necessary so that no ambiguity is left in the details of related laws and regulations and problems that may arise.
The panel's discussion was spurred by a provision in the 2007 law governing the procedure for a national referendum on a constitutional revision, which in principle sets the voting age at 18. The law calls for discussion on whether to lower the legal age by the time it goes into effect in 2010.
The panel says lowering the legal age has three specific merits: 18 and 19 years olds become socially and economically independent with the self-awareness of adults and a strong desire to participate in the political process. But it's not an easy thing for a person to become mature. If the legal age is lowered, 18 and 19 years olds may sign contracts with business entities that use fraudulent business methods. They would also be able to engage in legal gambling like horse and bicycle races.
The panel's proposal comes at a time when the concept of protection of the young is waning. A 2000 revision of the Juvenile Law lowered the minimum age at which criminal punishment can be applied, from 16 to 14. If 18- and 19-year-olds are removed from the protection of the Juvenile Law, the impact will be great.
Lowering the legal age could expose 18-to-19-year-olds, including those unemployed or under-employed, to harsh social and economic realities with less legal protection than they are given now. The council should present concrete measures that work to prevent problems of this sort from developing. Sufficient public discussion of the issue must not be skipped over.
THE JAPAN TIMES
Only four months since the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry froze the planned construction of 18 sections of national highways that it directly manages, it has reversed the decision and opted to begin construction on 17 of the 18 sections.
During last year's Diet session, opposition forces had pointed out that the ministry's forecast of future traffic demand was too high. Because of this opposition criticism, the ministry lowered its forecast of traffic demand by 13 percent and based its March 31 decision to freeze construction on a cost-benefit analysis that took into account anticipated shorter travel times, reductions in fuel and other travel costs, and fewer traffic accidents.
Recently, however, construction designs for some sections were revised to make do with fewer lanes. The reduced cost estimate for construction led the ministry to approve the start of these sections. One wonders, though, if fewer lanes are acceptable now, why weren't they incorporated into the original design?
In addition to the cost-benefit analysis, the ministry has introduced new criteria such as the utility of highways during a natural disaster and the transport of patients in an emergency, and the degree to which highways contribute to encouraging local tourism.
The 17 sections approved for construction are in 11 prefectures including Hokkaido, Iwate, Niigata, Nagano, Hiroshima, Kochi, Kagoshima and Okinawa.
Apparently behind the ministry's turnabout were requests or pressure from politicians — from both the ruling and opposition camps — who will run in the Aug. 30 Lower House election. They said the construction freeze would negatively affect local economies and jeopardize their chance of being elected.
It is clear that local communities have particular reasons for needing new national highways. But the decision on highway construction should be made in a transparent manner so that wasteful investment is avoided.
THE JAPAN TIMES
ONE EUROPE IN ONE CONFUSING WORLD ORDER
BY DOMINIQUE MOISI
PARIS — G8, G-5, G20, G-2, G3, and now the G-14 (Group of Eight plus the Group of Five plus Egypt): Never have the "mathematics" of world order seemed more complex and confusing.
Kofi Annan, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the United Nations in 2005, attempted to adjust the multilateral institutions of our world to fit its new realities. It was a brave effort that came too soon. The industrial world was not yet ready to recognize the new weight of the emerging powers and the need to strike a new balance between North and South, East and West.
Has the current financial and economic crisis, given its traumatic depth and the obvious responsibility of the United States as its source, created the necessary conditions and a more favorable climate for a major re-foundation of the multilateral institutions? It is too early to be confident that true change will come. What is certain is that a rebalancing between North and South must start with an honest and hardheaded look at Europe's current status in our multilateral system.
Nowadays, there is both too much and too little Europe, or, to put it differently, too many European countries are represented in the world's premier forums, with too many voices. But, in terms of weight and influence, there is not enough united Europe.
In the early 1980s, former French Foreign Minister Jean Francois-Poncet suggested that France and Britain give up their seats on the U.N. Security Council in favor of a single European Union seat. Germany would no longer seek a seat, Italy would not feel left out, and Europe's international identity would be strengthened in a spectacular way.
Of course, this was not to be. France and Britain were not willing to give up the symbol of their nuclear and international status. They are probably are even less willing to do so today in the name of a union that is less popular than ever, at least in the British Isles.
But let's be reasonable: The absurdity of Italy's presence in the G8, together with the lack of official membership for countries such as China, India and Brazil, is no longer acceptable or tenable. Because of that anomaly, Europe suffers from a grave deficit of legitimacy and presence internationally.
Of course, the U.S. cannot be compared with a union that is nowhere near becoming a United States of Europe. But if the contrast between the two sides of the Atlantic — between the continent of "Yes, we can" and the continent of "Yes, we should" — is so immense, it is for reasons that Europeans are refusing to face or even to discuss.
The first one is the EU's lack of anything that incarnates it. It would be absurd to set U.S. President Barack Obama and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso against each other as equals. Whereas Obama owes his election in large part to his charisma, Barroso is likely to succeed himself precisely because of his lack of charisma, because he says very little in so many languages. For national leaders in the EU whose last ambition is to have to deal with a new Jacques Delors, i.e., a man with ideas of his own, a cipher like Barroso is just the man for the job.
On the other hand, the EU is paying a steep price for the bureaucratic anonymity of its leaders. A process of escalating alienation and indifference between the EU and its citizens is at work, illustrated by low turnout in the last European Parliament elections. As a result, there is less union in Europe and less Europe in the world.
A strong European voice, such as Nicolas Sarkozy's during the French presidency of the EU, may make a difference, but only for six months, and at the cost of reinforcing other European countries' nationalist feelings in reaction to the expression of "Gallic pride."
If Europeans want to regain self-confidence, pride and collective hope, they must seize the opportunity that the necessary and inevitable adjustment of the multilateral system represents for them. They should make necessity an opportunity. Of course, a single European voice in the major multilateral institutions appears more unrealistic than ever: Who wants it, except maybe the EU's smaller members?
But Europe's last chance to be a credible actor in a multipolar world rests precisely on its ability to present a single, united, responsible voice. Europe currently exists as an economic actor, not as an international political actor.
If Europeans were to set for themselves the goal of speaking with one voice, of having one representative in the spectrum of multilateral institutions — starting with the U.N. Security Council — they would be taken more seriously. In this case, one can really say that "less is more." Such a move would be deemed premature by numerous critics.
Twenty years ago, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall, one could say "I want Europe so much that I am willing to accept one Germany" — a revolutionary move if one had in mind the French writer Francois Mauriac's famous joke, "I like Germany so much, I want two of them."
In today's global age, with the rise of emerging powers and the relative decline of the West, the only Europe that will be taken seriously is a Europe that can speak and be seen as one.
Dominique Moisi is visiting professor of government at Harvard and author, most recently, of "The Geopolitics of Emotion." © 2009 Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org)
CHECK CAMPUS CHEATING
Chinese academia is plagued by cheating. And, cheats no longer feel ashamed even when caught. They may appear wronged instead. "Why should I be singled out when everybody's doing the same?" For people who believe that mass violations can nullify the law, there is no better retort.
When professors plagiarize without a sense of shame, when students copycat boldly and assuredly, you may wonder: Who is to blame?
Cheating is nothing glorious in a normal setting. Cheats, therefore, should at least feel guilty. Dishonesty is the last thing we expect of professors, no matter what. In addition to knowledge, they share an obligation to set decent, if not noble, personal examples. Our culture reveres teachers. But, there is a prerequisite: they should, in the first place, be fine moral examples. The craft of teaching is not just about imparting knowledge. Teachers are venerated as "engineers of human souls", and this is not without good reason.
Yet while society gets increasingly impatient about the frequent scandals of academic corruption, academic circles appeared to simply go with the trend.
Is it because, as some insist, cheating has become so prevalent that many have had a brush with the dirty business at one stage or another? Nobody can tell. We have the feeling that original research is increasingly rare despite the abundance of "academic work" that is visible. The endless stream of scandals of academic cheating reinforces the popular impression that such dishonesty is no longer about isolated cases.
Cheating is a malicious tumor in the body of the Chinese academia. No excuse can justify it.
The authorities have displayed resolve to deal with the problem. And, various procedures have been conceived to identify frauds. Yet we all know they will not suffice to prevent malpractices.
Those in decision-making positions may be shocked to hear the young professor who told the China Youth Daily that people have no choice but to cheat. Of course, one can refuse to cheat.
Still, there is something worth deliberating upon. According to the young professor, the quotas in evaluating their performance have shifted the focus of assessment from quality to quantity. Since a professor's academic capabilities are gauged according to the classes taught, the number of theses published, the number of times his or her theses were quoted, sponsorship received, and so on, the pressure is real.
The omni-presence of cheating is a warning sign that excessive and single-minded emphasis on quantity is doing more damage than good. This has resulted in proliferation of cheating.
When cheats become winners and are rewarded with all the benefits of "academic excellence", we cannot but look askance at the system.
TRADE BARRIERS NO SOLUTION TO CRISIS
Increasing trade restrictions against Chinese products signify a discordant resurgence of protectionism - a development that will not only hurt China, but also hamper global economic recovery.
Ministry of Commerce data show 15 countries and regions initiated 60 investigations against Chinese products for dumping and over-subsidizing goods and other suspected reasons in the first half of this year. The number of probes and the value of the goods, $8.276 billion, are record high.
Not surprisingly, those targeted were products of the steel, rubber, footwear, and aluminum industries, in which China has spent decades in building up some advantages. Since last year, investigations against Chinese steel products have forced them to beat a retreat from markets in more than a dozen countries and regions.
Complaints against made-in-China products have spread like a contagious disease from the developed markets to the developing ones. It is to be noted here that a number of countries have imposed incipient protective measures such as increasing export subsidies, fund offers and currency devaluations on the pretext of rescuing their economies or issuing stimulus packages.
But this new wave of protectionism is not conducive to global economic recovery. The overt and covert trade restrictions go against the free-trade and competition principles of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the promises made by world leaders at the G20 meeting last fall in Washington.
Such trade frictions have resulted in suspension of production or closure of factories in China's coastal region, where a majority of its 220 million migrant laborers find employment. But many of these laborers have returned home empty-handed and that in no way will increase consumption, which is deemed essential to help ensure an early economic recovery.
Trade restrictions will eventually hurt other economies even if China does not resort to tit-for-tat retaliation. The reason is simple: Today's economies are interdependent, and manufacturing in China is essentially a subcontracting system woven into the low-end of the international supply chain. The products assembled in China by lowly paid workers, who have to send money back home to support their families, comprises raw materials and intermediate parts bought from abroad. Much of the capital investment originates in the developed world, and the gains flow out of China. That partly explains why the economic growth of China can help put its partner economies on a healthy track.
Developed countries such as the US should honor their promises and fulfill their responsibility to curb their potentially devastating anti-trade moves. The developed economies have been egging China to lead the much-needed global economic recovery. And if trade is an integral part of the US economic recovery plan as was stated by US officials, a continuous decline in foreign trade because of the added pressure of protectionism will not do any good to a country like China that has depended on trade for much of its growth.
Developing countries such as Mexico should learn from China's experience, which achieved success because of its open-door policy. In a world of globalized production and marketing, building fences with high tariffs or other means will yield more harm than gain in the long run, as they will weaken the core value of domestic businesses - their corporate competitiveness. So instead of creating trade barriers, the emerging economies should use the global economic crisis to cash in on their strengths to serve consumers across the world.
That's why it is heartening to see trade officials from 21 APEC member economies extend their non-binding commitment to preventing protectionism from thwarting economic growth and regional integration by a year. The commitment, first made in November 2008 by APEC leaders to refrain till the end of 2009 from raising new barriers to investment or to trade in goods and services and imposing new export restrictions, now runs up to 2010.
The ingenuity of these governments is in contrast with the US Tariff Act that encouraged protectionism during the Great Depression and intensified tensions leading to World War II.
Still the world needs institutions like the WTO and World Bank more than ever to ensure member states have properly implemented trade measures. The more persuasive their instruments are, the better.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy seemed to have hit the nail on the head at the recent APEC forum in Singapore by saying: "Effective international cooperation and open markets are as vital today as they have ever been."
In the age of globalization, the belief that severe economic crisis is followed by protectionism should be changed to a 21st century economic mantra that trade
CIVIL SOCIETY CAN DO MORE TO FIGHT AIDS
The spread of HIV/AIDS may have been arrested for now, but the disease always poses a threat. UNAIDS China coordinator Dr Bernhard Schwartlander shares his views on the disease and the situation in the country with Shan Juan of China Daily. Excerpts from the interview follow:
How do you see the current HIV/AIDS situation in China?
Overall, HIV prevalence in China remains low - less than 0.1 percent of the population. But the epidemic is growing nationwide. HIV transmission associated with the sale of blood and blood plasma in central China in the 1990s appears to be largely contained, and the majority of new HIV infections were caused by syringe sharing among drug users or sexual transmission.
Since 1985, about 223,000 HIV cases, including 63,000 AIDS cases, have been reported. The 2007 estimate of the number of people living with HIV was 700,000 and the estimated number with AIDS, 85,000. The number of people who have a high HIV exposure risk could be 30-50 million - mainly intravenous drug users and their sexual partners, and prostitutes and their clients.
What are the major challenges facing China in the fight against HIV/AIDS?
I think the top challenge is to bring leadership commitment and good policies down to community levels and groups like MSM (men who have sex with men). It is true that the HIV/AIDS risk level is different among different groups, but identification of high-risk groups should go hand in hand with general education, particularly for young people.
Besides, the rapidly changing Chinese society is also creating new and different risks for HIV infection. For example in all major Chinese cities, a vibrant culture is developing like the emergence of MSM, which didn't exist 15 years ago. They seek partners and have sex in bars and parks, which is a new thing for the government. So for intervention, authorities need to adjust to rapidly changing situations.
Furthermore, many of the 200 million migrant workers visit prostitutes. Despite that HIV/AIDS cases remain low in China. But vulnerability is expanding to more people in general. Given that the high-risk groups like migrant workers, MSM and prostitutes are hard to reach, these are also big challenges.
Do you see discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients in China? And why doing away with
discrimination is important for an effective response?
Discrimination is still serious. Recent surveys show more than half of the people don't want to work with HIV/AIDS patients and a quarter of them don't want to even shake hands with them.
China has taken great steps to fight discrimination, like enacting the anti-AIDS discrimination law, which many other countries don't have. State leaders have been visiting AIDS patients every year since 2003, which shows the strong commitment of the top leadership to prevent sufferers from being left in the corner.
But this is not enough. Risk behaviors are not seen in the great halls of the people, but in bars, parks and villages. The government needs to show commitment from the top and issue good regulations to reach everybody across the country.
Only without the discrimination, and with a change in attitude and behavior, and acquiring of knowledge can people be well protected against HIV. With strong discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS, it's hard to reach them because they hide from wider society. For example, MSM can't talk about it with their wives or use condoms naturally. They engage in risk behaviors because of their nature and expose themselves to HIV/AIDS risk. So it's important to create an environment where we can talk about these issues openly and honestly.
What is the level of HIV/AIDS awareness among the Chinese officials you work with?
I'm quite impressed by my Chinese colleagues in central administrations like the Ministry of Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. They are smart and caring people. Sometimes we have a debate over difficult issues. But overall I think it's good mutual trust. Officials at local levels, who are not on the same level as their counterparts in central administrations, are my challenge. But if I talk with them patiently and candidly, I get the feeling that they are willing to listen. I have traveled to many provinces and talked a lot to local health officials. There is openness in the dialogues and I will keep trying. Change doesn't come overnight.
What kind of role should civil society play in China's response to HIV/AIDS?
It is fascinating that China has a huge scope for civil society. But much of that has not been tapped.
There are many things civil society can do as a part of the general HIV/AIDS response, like going to bars and parks for peer education where high-risk behaviors take place. Organizations, especially those formed by HIV-positive people, are better than the government in reaching the people with behaviors that are not in line with accepted social norms.
For treatment, civil society is better at encouraging HIV-positive people to come forward for timely tests and proper treatment, which is also protection for the healthy.
But most members of such help organizations are not well organized. A lot of them remain unregistered given the law limitation. They don't have independent bank accounts to accept donations and don't know how to maximize the use of the resources at their disposal. They need to get salaries to make civil society operation sustainable.
We're working closely with health officials and civil society to work out a system that can make organizations well organized. With overseas money flowing in, some groups of civil society could misuse it instead of spending it to raise awareness.
What are the major obstacles you've faced in your work here?
The bureaucracy is strong. Given the huge territory and population, the administration is big. I'm happy dealing with administrative leaders but it's difficult to work through the entire administration. It takes long to convince people at all levels, particularly those at the grassroots level, who actually translate policies into action. Given the size of the administration and the number of people you have to work with and make them change, sometimes it's tiring and frustrating.
What has been your most memorable moment in China?
I have so many good memories here. I think the last World's AIDS Day was the highest point when we had the huge red AIDS ribbon on the Bird's Nest (National Stadium) as a part of a program to mark the special day. Thousands of people were present - all carrying small red AIDS ribbons. It was a strong commitment from the government and the people both to combat the disease. The use of the most iconic building to raise HIV/AIDS awareness was a great moment, and I was touched by the commitment and energy. Luckily enough, my granddaughter was born on the day, too.
CUT DOWN ON CARS
With the rapid expansion of mass transit system, big cities like Shanghai should be able to ease the congestion and pollution caused by an excessive number of cars. But, that is still no easy task.
Statistics show that Shanghai's subway lines will reach 350 km by the end of this year, making the city No 3 in the world in terms of subway length. Shanghai could be ranked No 1 when the length is extended to 430 km next May in time for the World Expo.
This means about 5.5 million people each day could use the city's subway system, thereby reducing traffic bottlenecks and air and noise pollution in downtown Shanghai.
At present, Shanghai suffers from severe traffic congestion, during not only rush hours and weekdays but also off-peak hours and weekends.
For years, car emissions have been blamed for contributing 60 percent of the air pollution in the city center, victimizing local residents with various respiratory diseases.
What's more, Shanghai has for the fifth consecutive year not met its target of noise reduction, which has become a major source of public complaints. It is true that Shanghai has announced a number of measures to deal with the issues. Starting from August 1, cars that are considered highly polluting or not meeting the China I standards will be barred from entering the Middle Ring Road.
Shanghai also plans to implement the China IV emission standards, equivalent to Euro IV, on November 1, ahead of the 2011 national deadline. In addition, Shanghai is building 16 parking lots with 8,000 spaces near subway terminals in the outlying areas so that people can park and ride the mass transit system instead of driving their cars into the city center.
These are commendable measures. Yet much more needs to be done for truly easing the traffic jams and air and noise pollution caused by automobiles. For example, the ban on using the horn, which was made effective from June 1, 2007, has hardly been enforced.
Many local people still regard owning and driving a car as a kind of demonstration of their wealth, without realizing the traffic and environmental hazards it can cause. When the subway system can take people to their destinations, driving a private car in densely populated downtown Shanghai could become a moral issue.
Shanghai should also show courage in leading Chinese cities to adopt the congestion charge system, which the city has been studying for the last eight years. A similar scheme, implemented in London and Singapore, has proved to be effective in reducing pollution and congestion in the city center.
Once Shanghai shows the way, other cities, like Beijing, too, may adopt the practice.
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