Google Analytics

Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Friday, August 14, 2009

EDITORIAL 13.08.09

 August 13, 2009

Please contact the list owner for subscription and unsubscription at:


media watch with peoples input                           an organization for rastriya abhyudaya


Month August 13, Edition 000270, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

Editorial is syndication of all daily-published newspapers editorial at one place.

For more options, visit this group at







































1.      TRADING UP


















2.      LAB TEST FOR H1N1


































2.      FAKE MERCY
















































































India’s most spectacular monsoon failure since 1987 couldn’t have come at a worse time for the economy. Bruised by a slowdown that has hurt exports and contracted domestic investment, Indian business was pinning hopes on rural consumption. The Government’s thrust on rural spending and the increase in non-urban purchase of cement and building material even suggested the beginnings of a housing boom in village India. The failure of the monsoon and the likelihood that farm incomes will be severely hurt in 2009-10 have changed those projections. The Centre for the Monitoring of the Indian Economy has scaled down GDP growth estimates to 5.8 per cent. Others insist this is too optimistic and actual growth could dip below five per cent. Paddy cultivation is likely to fall to 22.8 million hectares, a 20 per cent decline from the area under cultivation the previous year. Overall, India’s foodgrain crop will be 20 per cent lower than that in 2008-09. Domestic shortages will lead to food prices rising. As India goes shopping overseas, global food prices will adjust to the new demand spurt and also go up. This will place a further burden on the Indian Government and, to the extent the higher import prices are passed on, the Indian consumer. Fiscal 2009-10 was always going to be a forgettable year for the Indian economy; the monsoon failure has reduced it to a complete write-off.

The Government cannot be blamed for the monsoon failure and the effect of El Nino, the warm water current that is triggered off the coast of Peru and ends up disrupting the course and intensity of the South Asian monsoon half a world away. However, India’s mettle will be tested by how it reacts to the Big Dry of 2009. If redressal is limited to increasing fertiliser and other subsidies to farmers for the coming year — to compensate for lower earnings in 2009 — and to stressing clichés such as “Indian agriculture is a gamble on the monsoons”, it would be unfortunate. This could be the moment for India to put into action long-overdue farm reforms. The use of biotechnology in agriculture could lead to higher productivity and also enable use of seeds that require less moisture and are, to that extent, drought-resistant. This will not mean that India can wish away any and every monsoon failure, but it will strengthen the Indian farmer’s resistance and resilience.


Indian agriculture is at a critical juncture. It is losing land to urbanisation and industry. It is still too dependent on rainfall. As sugarcane farmers in western Uttar Pradesh discovered in recent months, it is also in danger of losing crucial supplies of migrant labour to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme. All this will leave an imprint on the economics and the entire enterprise of agriculture. The despondency of 2009 should be used to push ahead with new policy and technology innovations for agriculture. Stakeholders are most amenable to change when the mood is sombre, rather than when things seem to be going well. The Indian farmer has to prepare for a future of bigger yields with smaller farmlands, fewer farmhands and increasing water scarcity. The trust for transformation has to come from the very top. India needs an Agriculture Minister of the sensitivity and foresight of C Subramanian, who steered the Green Revolution. Is Mr Sharad Pawar up to the challenge?







The fresh sentencing of Burmese democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi to a further 18 months of house arrest has rightly drawn condemnation from various quarters. Ms Suu Kyi was convicted by a Burmese court on charges of violating the terms of her previous house arrest when she entertained an American, Mr John Yettaw, for two days at her home in May. The American had reportedly swum across a lake adjacent to Ms Suu Kyi’s residence to avoid being detected before meeting the Burmese leader. The original sentence called for three years of imprisonment with hard labour but was commuted to 18 months of house arrest by an order from Burma’s military junta on grounds of “maintaining peace and tranquility”. Mr Yettaw claims that he had received a ‘message from god’ that Ms Suu Kyi was going to be assassinated and that he had met her to warn her about the plot. He has now been sentenced to seven years of imprisonment, including four years of hard labour, for breaching Ms Suu Kyi’s house arrest and for violating immigration laws.

Ms Suu Kyi’s continued house arrest by the military junta is highly deplorable. If Burma is to develop a political system that respects the will of the Burmese people and works towards their welfare, Ms Suu Kyi and other Burmese political leaders who are currently under imprisonment must be released and allowed to resume an active political life. Ever since she won the popular election in 1990, Ms Suu Kyi has spent 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest. Her mass appeal has earned her both international acclaim for speaking out for the democratic rights of the Burmese people and the wrath of the military junta for standing up to it. But what is curious about Ms Suu Kyi’s latest conviction is that it comes at a time when her previous sentence was finishing. This has prompted — not without reason — world leaders to comment that the fresh conviction was aimed at preventing Ms Suu Kyi from participating in next year’s general election in Burma. Also, the circumstances that led to the conviction were bizarre to say the least. Who is Mr John Yettaw? How did he manage to surreptitiously enter Burma — which is an impregnable military state — without being detected? How did he manage to pull off a daring attempt to meet Ms Suu Kyi? Did he have others helping him? Did he know what he was getting into? These are questions that need answering. It is quite possible that the military junta orchestrated the entire episode to keep Ms Suu Kyi where she could do no harm to its regime. However, that Mr Yettaw is an American throws up a lot of questions. Questions that perhaps no one wants to answer.








It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. India’s Clinton years. Former US President Bill Clinton’s two terms in office, from 1993 to 2001, have been recorded by history for marking the biggest shift in America’s India policy. While the first term was in continuum with the superpower’s traditionally supercilious disregard of one of South Asia’s two perpetually bickering nations — the hyphenation with Pakistan firmly in place — the second inaugurated a highway of hope on which India was to ride to its rightful destination as a global player. That this opportunity was gradually and unmistakably lost in the Bush years that followed is another story.

Two independent news items recently served to refresh one’s memories of those years. One was reminded of the former President’s singular contribution in changing American attitude towards India when Mr Clinton touched down on arch enemy North Korea’s soil, had dinner with the reclusive Kim Jong-il, persuaded the otherwise intransigent leader to grant “special pardon” to two jailed US journalists, and flew the two hapless women back to the waiting arms of their families in the United States. Such remain the disarmingly persuasive powers of a man who was solely responsible for altering India’s post-Pokhran pariah status, a US President who, uncharacteristic of his predecessors, openly supported India during the 1999 Kargil war, even forcing then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to declare cessation of military hostility towards India in public, a man whose landmark visit in March 2000, the first by an American President in two decades, was to change India-US relations forever.

The second piece of news of course brought back far more jarring memories. Ms Robin Raphel, the first US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia in the Clinton Administration, is joining the Obama Administration as coordinator for non-military aid to Pakistan. This is the lady whose pathological hostility towards India made her one of the most hated Americans in India in the 1990s. Ms Raphel was the person who sought to ‘advise’ India on how it must solve the Kashmir problem because insurgency in that State was “home-grown”. This, when India was screaming from rooftops about Pakistan’s since established cross-border terrorism. The India-baiter even went to the extent of declaring that the US does not recognise the “disputed State” of Jammu & Kashmir as a part of India.

Admittedly, Ms Raphel was not alone in this hostile American predisposition towards India in the 1990s. Even before assuming office in 1993 Mr Clinton had asked Russia to turn off its supply of arms to India and not to assist the latter in its civilian nuclear development programme. It was the Clinton Administration that amended the Pressler Law in 1995, a law that had hitherto deprived Pakistan of US military aid. While Pakistan continued to be pumped with economic aid and remained America’s most favoured sentinel in South Asia, India was meted out unfair treatment at the World Trade Organisation and was routinely harangued by the Americans for not signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Then came India’s nuclear tests in 1998, the final brick in the impenetrable wall of mistrust and suspicion that had come up between the US and India over the years. Bilateral relations hit their nadir and although Pakistan along with India invited sanctions, there was cold comfort in such undesirable hyphenation.

All this was to change in 1999 when India went to war with Pakistan in Kargil. Pakistan’s brazen breach of the Line of Control finally convinced Mr Clinton that a nuclear armed state was treading dangerously indeed. With Pakistan openly holding out the nuclear threat, it was left to Mr Clinton to rein in that country, negotiations during which the US President was forced to recognise India’s restraint and its rightful claim not to be judged by the same parameters as Pakistan. This recognition assumed body and content when Mr Clinton decided to visit India in March 2000 for five days, in stark contrast with his terse four-hour stop-over in Pakistan on his way back to the US. Variously described as a lame duck President’s token gesture of goodwill, the visit undoubtedly altered India’s status in the US.

In retrospect, however, it seems dehyphenation with Pakistan and India’s exalted position in the White House was indeed individual specific, limited to the warming up of a man called Bill Clinton to a hitherto ignored nation called India. Within the very first year of President George Bush’s term came 9/11 and despite India’s repeated attempts to convince the US that the terror it faced had its epicentre in Pakistan, the same that was targeting India, Mr Bush decided to wage war against terror his way — by enrolling Pakistan, not India, as a partner. Far from accepting India’s views on its western neighbour, the US went on to designate Pakistan its “key non-NATO ally” in 2004, a virtual slap on New Delhi’s face. Ever since, India has been under intense American pressure to maintain peace with Pakistan even in the face of the gravest of provocations. This, so that Islamabad is not diverted from its express task of serving American interests in the region.

The situation has not the least bit been helped by a servile Government in New Delhi which, far from aggressively telling Pakistan a few home truths, recently admitted that Balochistan is a bilateral problem that must find place in an India-Pakistan joint statement which also inexplicably delinks action against terror from composite dialogue.

Perhaps, the American signature on India’s negotiations with Pakistan is only a natural corollary of some sovereign rights the Manmohan Singh Government has been consistently ceding to the Americans since the 2008 nuclear deal. In this the Americans alone are not to be blamed. After all, the Vajpayee Government had to combat the severest of US and international pressure post-Pokhran, but it did not buckle under it. Contrast that with the way Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has signed away India’s nuclear sovereignty with a deal that de facto caps its future military nuclear programme. Now India has got inexorably drawn into the vortex of America’s non-proliferation agenda with no unilateral leeway. Last month, it signed the End Use Monitoring Agreement with the US which the Americans said brings India into the “non-proliferation mainstream”. Under this American umbrella India clearly emerges as more of a client state of the US than that “strategic ally” Mr Clinton had talked of nearly a decade ago.







The role of the media in highlighting women-related issues has always been commendable. Had there been no Press, the infamous Shah Bano case would have died long ago and the present generation would not have known how the Congress, to woo Muslim votes, defeated the cause of women. And it was the same media whose intense focus accelerated the trial in the Priyadarshini Mattoo case and the Jessica Lall case. Despite this, media has drawn scathing flak from feminist groups for being ‘ambiguous’ in their approach while reporting women-related issues.

Media does sensitise the society about the atrocities committed against women, but at the same time it sensationalises the news, particularly those related to sexual assault, molestation, rape, etc. This sensationalisation, apart from undermining the very objective of journalism, makes women more vulnerable to criminal acts and discourages them from raising their voice. Roop Rekha Verma, who runs Sajji Dunia, an NGO, in her research work, ‘Women and Media’, has said that news related to rape and dowry smack of patricidal language as if victim had asked for it.

Besides this, the objectionable portrayal of women, especially in advertisements, depicts them as ‘objects of desire’. Condemning anti-women advertisements, women’s rights activist Kamla Bhasin once said, “The distorted pictures of women encourage men to feed their carnal desires on female flesh. Women’s bodies become plaything to be selfishly manipulated for personal pleasures, not mutual satisfaction.” Sadly, wider media coverage, Roop Rekha Verma says, is given to stories that emphasise on women’s physical attributes without acknowledging their contribution to the society, for example sportswomen, beauty pageant winners, film actresses, etc.

Even television serials, which are women-centric, promote patriarchy, conservatism and age-old customs. They depict women as fragile and vulnerable while men are shown as strong and powerful. Ms Verma says television serials like Chauda Phere, Kasauti Zindagii Kay and Meher have the hidden agenda of the corporate sector to sell its products. Media, in her opinion, on the one hand, strives to strengthen women by voicing their problems, while on the other, it presents women in a stereotypical image and strengthens patriarchy in our society.

There’s no doubt that media’s role in raising women’s issues has been unflinching, but it perhaps needs to shed the ambiguity with which it deals with them.








Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, has been reportedly killed last week in an American drone attack in South Waziristan. Though yet to be confirmed officially by Pakistan and the Taliban, it is reasonably believed that Baitullah was killed along with his second wife, at his father-in-law’s house in the missile attack. What does his killing mean for Pakistan, the US-led war on terrorism, and the Taliban?

If the news is true, Baitullah’s killing will be a big morale-booster for the American forces in Afghanistan for numerous reasons. First, undoubtedly, next to Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the US considered Baitullah as a major target. Baitullah provided the much-needed network for the Afghan Taliban and also for the Al Qaeda. While some of the other tribal militant leaders like Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur were against the presence of foreign militants, especially from central Asia, it was Baitullah and his subordinates who provided them logistical support in Federally Administered Tribal Areas, especially in South Waziristan. He was a key factor in the presence, security and movement of both the Afghan Taliban and the Al Qaeda in FATA.

More importantly, Baitullah was successful in creating a network under the TTP, which included terrorists from other agencies such as Bajaur, Mohamand and Khyber in FATA and also some groups in the settled districts of North-West Frontier Province. The TNSM of Maulana Fazlullah in fact has become a Swati Taliban, owing allegiance to the TTP under Baitullah.

Baitullah’s killing is extremely important to America’s war on terrorism on two counts — what it would mean to the support system of the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda and to the network he created inside FATA and NWFP led by the TTP. His death will definitely affect the movement of the Afghan Taliban within FATA. Equally important is the terror that American intelligence has created through technological innovations. It appears now that the US has succeeded in putting in place an effective tracking system, which includes monitoring the movements and conversations of jihadi groups.

For the Americans, Baitullah’s killing will be a huge reward, especially relating to the use of drones. The US has been under pressure from the Pakistani Government and civil society for the extensive use of drones to deliver missiles against militant targets. The US has been accused of violating Pakistan’s sovereignty and causing collateral damage. But now the effectiveness of drones has been established. Hence, the US is likely to continue with the drone attacks.

However, any further success for the US in the war on terrorism will depend on how the TTP is able to mobilise itself and find a successor to Baitullah. It is here that one should look into what will happen to the TTP now. Who will succeed Baituallh? Will the new leader will be able to lead militant attacks against American forces and within Pakistan?

Initial reports — fortunately for the international community and unfortunately for the TTP — are confusing. According to news reports, there is already a war of succession among the various Taliban groups; two leading commanders of different factions have been reportedly killed in the intra-TTP violence over choosing the successor to Baitullah.

According to unconfirmed reports, the Taliban Shura which met last week to appoint a successor asked Hakimullah Mehsud, one of the TTP commanders, to decide; when he crowned himself as the successor, Wali-ur-Rehman, another commander, objected to it. In the subsequent brawl, Wali-ur-Rehman shot Hakimullah, following which the latter’s bodyguards killed the former. As a result, both the commanders are dead. For the US, this should be a big news: One drone, three TTP commanders.

Will the TTP be able to regroup after the killing of Baitullah and the internal mayhem? There are other leaders, but will they be able to step into Baitullah’s shoes? Even if they do, how much time will it take for another drone to find its target? Difficult times for the TTP, indeed.

Finally, what does this mean for Pakistan? Baitullah was personally responsible for some of the worst suicide attacks that Lahore and Islamabad have witnessed in recent years. Perhaps these will stop. It is unlikely that the new leader will want to avenge Baitullah’s killing and trigger a series of terror attacks all over Pakistan.

The writer is director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi.








It is not the first time that an incumbent of the grandiose Raj Bhavan, a left over from when Kolkata was the capital of the British Empire, is engaged in a brawl with the party in power. Therefore, the war of words between Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Biman Bose, is a fresh entry in an old register of similar differences.

Whether this episode enters the history books will depend on a lot of other things, such as the wider context of the current exchange and its outcome. If nothing more than a handful of statements followed up by a few letters is the final output of all the fuss, then the Gandhi versus CPI(M) bout will not become an addition to the history of such conflicts in India. Unless it escalates into a raging battle between on the one hand a political party and its leadership and on the other an institution of the State over principles, the heat that has been generated may not have been worth the effort.

That there was simmering tension in Alimuddin Street about the Governor’s conduct was well known. The CPI(M) has been cut up over Mr Gandhi’s open letter on the March 14, 2007 firing in Nandigram deploring the violence. The CPI(M) has been resentful that the Governor, ignoring protocol, visited Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee’s hunger strike programme. Now that the Governor has called for an end to the ‘tandava of violence’, the CPI(M)’s patience has run out.

By openly articulating disappointment against Mr Gandhi’s lack of impartiality, his failure to decry the violence unleashed by Maoists that has claimed dozens of lives, the CPI(M) is not being heroic. It is merely taking advantage of the fact that the Governor’s five-year term is almost ended and, therefore, there is very little to lose in this particular encounter.

Violence has been the underlying theme through the last three years of Mr Gandhi’s term. The violence has been a consequence of actions taken by the West Bengal Government, such as land acquisition or on account of political conflict. In both situations, action to initiate change has produced a violent reaction. The West Bengal Government’s efforts to acquire land for industrialisation — in Singur for the Nano car factory, in Nandigram for the Special Economic Zone, in Shalboni for a steel plant — has triggered violence.

Evidently, the expansion of the market enabled by the power of the State has produced strong emotions that have found expression in violence. The political conflict between the CPI(M) and the Opposition led by the Trinamool Congress has moved in step with the land acquisition issue, that is, after the 2006 State Assembly election. Since its spectacular win in 2006, the CPI(M) has been in decline, even as the Trinamool Congress has surged forward, evident in the panchayat, municipal and Lok Sabha election results.

The ‘tandava of violence’ in West Bengal the Governor seems to feel can end if the political parties decide to curb their activists. In other words, Mr Gandhi believes that the CPI(M) can call off its goons and so can the Trinamool Congress. That calling off the goons will not solve the problem, Mr Gandhi ought to understand.

In 2008, Mr Gandhi tried to a broker an end to the most destructive agitation that West Bengal has experienced in recent years. The destruction was not of Government property such as buses. The destruction was of West Bengal’s future because the agitation led by Ms Banerjee ended with the catastrophic exit of Tata Motors from West Bengal, months before the Nano car was launched in the market. Even though he intervened, Mr Gandhi failed. Neither West Bengal nor its politics has since then returned to normal.

The parties to the conflict which destroyed the Nano factory have the blood lust on them. If the CPI(M) is the aggressor, the Trinamool Congress is even more aggressively on the defensive and vice versa. As for the Maoists, a banned organisation which has now been named as a terrorist outfit, violence is their political creed. Describing this as a ‘tandava of violence’, as though it were a short duration performance, is to mistake the deadly purpose behind the bloodshed. Between settling scores, capturing territory, driving out the other side, the politics of West Bengal will remain violent, because the conflict is intense.








A hard line against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was initially only a part of a political strategy. But soon, he was forced to back his words with action and devise a military strategy. And in so doing, he destroyed the LTTE and ended the 26-year civil war in Sri Lanka. Mr Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President of Sri Lanka, is now the hero of his country.

Quelling the Tigers is what everyone wanted in the island. After years of failed talks, people saw this as the only way to restore peace. Mr Rajapaksa achieved what no other Government could do: Defeat the LTTE militarily. None believed that anyone could vanquish the sophisticated LTTE, which had its own sea and air wings. But Mr Rajapaksa, who prided himself as a son of the soil, who was a Buddhist lawyer by profession and a chauvinist Sinhalese, seemed to have done it with ease.

What he gave his countrymen through the elimination of LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran is a renewed faith in the future of their nation. Patriotism is now high in the air. Everywhere, in Colombo and the rural areas, Sri Lanka’s national flag is hoisted atop houses and commercial buildings. At the same time Tamil names, name plates and sign boards are splashed all over Colombo and its neighbouring districts, trying to convince the Tamils and the international community that Mr Rajapaksa is intent on ensuring the rights of the Tamils in the island nation. Even while celebrating the heady victory, he is alive to the larger issues that confront him.

What perhaps had helped Mr Rajapaksa gain the confidence of the people even before the defeat of the LTTE in May was his infrastructure development works throughout the nation (including the port in his home town, Hambantota), clearing the east of the LTTE and conducting elections, and trusting and seeking help from India and China, rather than looking towards the West, as did his predecessors.

‘Mahinda Chinthana’, as his policies are popularly known, seems to have found acceptance with the people. In fact, when Mr Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party-led United People’s Freedom Alliance won most of the local body elections held last week in the north — Jaffna, Vavunia and Uva — he declared: “The victory of the United People’s Freedom Alliance is a significant achievement for all citizens who care for the country. The victory has re-endorsed Mahinda Chinthanaya.”

Mr Rajapaksa, in his effort to eliminate the LTTE, had taken the help of his brother and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, a retired Army officer, for military strategies to tackle militancy. He also found an able hand in another chauvinist Sinhalese, Chief of Defence Staff Gen Sarath Fonseka, whose determined effort to quell the LTTE, after surviving a deadly attack saw the ‘Defeat LTTE’ mission through. Though the tough strategy brought the Rajapaksa Government under the scanner of the UN and some Western countries for allegedly violating human rights, this did not affect the determination.

The end of Prabhakaran and his LTTE made the people of the island nation strongly believe that Mr Rajapaksa is the only man in the world who knows how to quell militancy. In fact some Sri Lankan newspapers even published news articles claiming that the world was now taking lessons from Sri Lanka!

With the end of Prabhakaran, people rested with the knowledge that there was no other Tamil leader who would be adamant about Eelam. But the Rajapaksa Government did not rest. The arrest of the LTTE’s Head of International Relations, Kumaran Pathmanathan alias Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias KP, the self-proclaimed leader of the Tigers, earlier this month sent out a clear message that his Government would be intolerant of the re-emergence of the LTTE in any form. This was despite the fact that KP gave indications he was willing to take the political path.

KP — an arms smuggler, money launderer and a criminal (wanted by India for Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination ) was the person on whom Prabhakaran relied on during his last days. He operated in south-east Asian countries and avoided the West for fear of being arrested. He was the arms procurer for the LTTE, whose military success rested on him. He raised funds for the organisation and now he is sitting on the amassed wealth. Though KP has no political acumen, his networking ability and wealth makes him the only one, in the current scenario, capable of regrouping the LTTE. That is why KP’s arrest, secured through Interpol assistance, two days before the local body elections in the Northern Province, is the icing on the cake for a nation yearning for peace.

KP is a big fish the Rajapaksa Government has caught. He can reveal where the LTTE wealth is stashed away so that the Government can freeze the accounts and thus immobilise any attempt at regrouping by LTTE supporters. Government sources already claim that secrets are tumbling out of KP’s interrogation and that Sri Lankan intelligence is doing a marvellous job.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has restored peace, as the Sri Lankans believe, like the ancient Arahant Mahinda gifting Buddhism to the island.








This happened in a different world, which today seems a fairy tale to some and a horror story to others.

Twenty-five years ago, on August 11, 1984, US President Ronald Reagan made a joke, which was included in all encyclopaedias and history text-books of the 20th century all over the world. He said: “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

It goes without saying that well-wishers tried to tell the whole world about this joke, including Soviet leaders headed by Konstantin Chernenko.

When Reagan made this joke it became clear again that the Soviet Union would not last long. Soviet propaganda reacted to Reagan’s sound check in its usual gloomy and senile manner. Ideological battles cannot be won without a sense of humour.

Reagan had an astoundingly low, velvet, and deep voice. Using it, he must have solved half of the task - to return self-respect to America, and help it stand up from its knees.

To understand Reagan’s role, it is necessary to realise what America was like before he came to power in 1980.

In the middle-1970s, America was defeated in Indochina, and not only by Vietnam, but also by world communism, which helped Vietnam. Society in America was split because it was primarily defeated from within by millions of people who did not want to join the army and kill the Vietnamese. The drive of social and other protests in the 1970s engendered the great American art which makes current Hollywood films look like a caricature. Long-haired peace campaigners scored a total victory over the previous generation of heroes which overcame the Great Depression and defeated Hitler.

Former actor Reagan won the elections and sided with the part of America which had already saw itself defeated.

The word “actor” is of key importance here. Reagan did not earn much fame in Hollywood, but he brilliantly played the role of a strong American President. His joke about the bombing is easy to explain. He simply imitated one of his former cowboy heroes. Every actor knows how it feels before coming on stage.

Reagan’s political initiatives are rooted in Hollywood. He spoke and scared others more than he bombed. His military service record includes only invasion of the tiny Grenada in October 1983.

Having lost his memory to Alzheimer’s disease long before his death in 2004, Reagan did not see how Mr George W Bush turned the repetition of his experiment into farce. What happened with America, if we judge its history in the 2000s by Reagan’s yardstick? Needless to say, Bush imitated Reagan, especially in words (the Axis of Evil), but lacked his restraint in deeds. By that time, Russia was rising from its knees itself, almost repeating what America did in the early-1980s, and was not scared of Mr Bush. China was reaching its international goals by being persistent and reserved. Also at that time, the delayed mine, planted by the same Reagan (with his liberal Reaganomics) exploded, and the American economic model began to show signs of strain. US society split again, and Reagan’s ideology was wiped off the scene for a long time.

But the long-haired generation of the 1970s became a thing of the past. As distinct from Bush’s America, Obama’s America is something quite different. It does not yet have a clear idea of what it represents. This vagueness is making our world interesting. This is a world, in which nobody will joke about bombing in five minutes.

The writer is a political affairs columnist based in Moscow.









While trade ties between India and China have been burgeoning, forward movement in case of the 13th round of border talks between the two countries, held in New Delhi, have been incremental rather than radical. Last year, India-China trade was $52 billion. If one leaves out trade in information technology products China is now India's largest trading partner, surpassing the US. By that yardstick, more should have been achieved at the border talks.

To be sure, both sides have agreed to set up a hotline between prime ministers, and observe peace and tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control. That's a marked improvement given that Beijing had adopted a more aggressive stance on Arunachal Pradesh in recent times as well as laid claim to the town of Tawang a move that contradicted the guiding principle laid down by both countries in 2005 that settlement of the border dispute would not include exchange of populated territory. The confrontation has consequently stayed on the boil, incurring economic and strategic costs as well as stopping bilateral trade which has been more than doubling annually over the past few years from achieving its full potential.

Too much need not be made of a Chinese think tank article which suggests that India is ripe for dismemberment, especially when placed alongside the far more moderate, conciliatory tone adopted by the editorial run recently in a leading Chinese publication under the name of the Chinese ambassador in New Delhi. But something is needed to break the impasse between the two countries and set ties between them on an irreversible footing. That's only possible if they adopt a pragmatic approach which factors in ground realities. Aksai Chin in the west is firmly under Chinese control and Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of the Indian Union. An east-west swap, with both parties giving up claims to territory controlled by the other, is a feasible way out.

New Delhi would lose little by giving up Aksai Chin. It could leverage Aksai Chin's strategic importance to Beijing the plateau is proximate to the troubled province of Xinjiang to extract the deal it wants on Arunachal Pradesh. It's time to prepare Indian public opinion for such a deal. Deng Xiaoping had, in fact, offered such a swap in 1980 but had been turned down by New Delhi. Now, of course, Beijing is hanging much tougher, but the benefits of such a deal can be pointed out to it. Next year marks six decades of diplomatic ties between the two countries. It is an apposite time to revive this solution and try and resolve the long-running dispute in earnest.







Nearly two decades after it came into existence, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) is set to become history. The Centre, the West Bengal government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) have, after their latest round of talks, decided in principle to scrap the DGHC Act, 1988. This is a step forward in resolving the crisis that has kept the Darjeeling hills on the boil for several months.

The Gorkha hill council was created after a violent agitation for a separate Gorkhaland spearheaded by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and its leader Subhas Ghising. But once the hill council was formed, it rapidly became Ghising's fiefdom. Since 2004, there were no elections held in the DGHC and it was accused of rampant corruption. This led to a breakaway faction, the GJM, resurrecting the demand for a Gorkhaland and scrapping of the hill council. A series of bandhs followed and in many parts of Darjeeling the West Bengal government's writ was no longer heeded. Doing away with the hill council will at least address one of the major demands of the Gorkhas.


Another of GJM's demands was Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling. This would have given Darjeeling greater autonomy and legislative and executive powers similar to those enjoyed by district councils in tribal areas and in the north-east. However, there is plenty of opposition to this idea in parts of Darjeeling as it would mean a tribal council running the affairs of non-tribals. The demand for Sixth Schedule status has been dropped after the decision to scrap the hill council was taken.

So far so good. Now comes the difficult part: How to tackle the demand for a separate Gorkhaland? It seems that the Centre has told the Gorkhas that a separate state was untenable because it did not have the backing of either West Bengal or Parliament. At the same time, the Lok Sabha MP from Darjeeling, Jaswant Singh, has reiterated that the creation of a state is the main demand of the Gorkhas. The Gorkhaland issue needs to be settled once and for all. An interlocutor has been appointed to carry forward the discussions. It is important that all issues are discussed threadbare and autonomy, that is acceptable to all parties, and even the option of statehood are put on the table. There are justifiable concerns about Darjeeling's strategic importance as well as its viability as a separate state. But if demands for Gorkhaland continue to flare up every few years, we can't afford a temporary solution. Past experience shows that new, smaller states aren't doing so badly.






At around 1 a.m. on August 5, a pilotless US drone hovering across the Durand Line moved in and fired two 'Hellfire' missiles at a house in a remote village in the tribal area of South Waziristan. The house was owned by the father-in-law of Pakistan's most wanted terrorist, Baitullah Mehsud. Despite his supporters' denials, it seems more than plausible that Baitullah perished in the deadly missile strike. Alluding to the attack, Pakistani strategic analyst Ayesha Siddiqa observed: "He (Baitullah) was originally supported by the military and ISI. But he had begun to bite the hand that fed him. His death was a powerful signal to them all."

Baitullah had, after all, been an ISI "asset". Pakistan's military signed a landmark ceasefire agreement with him in 2005, which gave him control over South Waziristan. Baitullah, however, turned a bitter foe of the military after it stormed the Lal Masjid in Islamabad and killed hundreds of young Pashtun women from the tribal areas, in July 2007. The action ordered by General Pervez Musharraf came after radical clerics took over the masjid and virtually held the capital hostage. Following this, Baitullah united Taliban groups operating across the seven tribal areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, under the Tehriq-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan's (TTP) banner. Apart from launching attacks on army and ISI personnel in cities like Rawalpindi and Lahore, the TTP humiliated the army by forcing the surrender of a convoy of 243 army personnel on November 4, 2007.

The popular belief in Pakistan is that Baitullah masterminded Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Predictably, the ISI built the myth that he was actually an agent of the CIA, KHAD (Afghan Intelligence) and India's R&AW! Now that he has been eliminated by a CIA missile, the Americans would possibly be exonerated of this cardinal sin.

But Baitullah is merely one of dozens of Taliban leaders in Pakistan, where the classification appears to be that if you kill American and Afghan soldiers after crossing the Durand Line into Afghanistan, you are officially 'good Taliban', to be armed, trained and backed by the ISI. But if you combine such activity with attempts to create unrest in Pakistan, you are categorised as 'bad Taliban', and eliminated.

While the army, ISI and a large section of the public in Pakistan are overjoyed at Baitullah's killing by the otherwise much-reviled Americans, it would not be prudent to believe that his removal will signal any change in the ISI's approach of supporting the Taliban leaders it favours. Notable amongst the commanders of the 'good Taliban' are veteran Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin, who executed the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008.

Sections in the Pentagon have, despite strong evidence to the contrary, been giving good conduct certificates to General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and suggesting that only rogue elements in the ISI have been assisting the Taliban. The Americans will soon find that the army establishment has no intention of reining in the Taliban, operating from the tribal areas to attack American, coalition and Afghan troops across the Durand Line in Afghanistan. Would the Americans then be ready to launch drone attacks unilaterally targeting the Taliban political leadership in Balochistan, or Taliban commanders like Haqqani in the tribal areas? Unlike India, the US acts firmly on issues pertaining to the security of its citizens and soldiers.

While the Americans plan to reduce their military presence in Afghanistan only after significantly degrading Taliban capabilities, the ISI appears determined to bolster the Taliban, with the objective of making Afghanistan a Taliban-dominated client state. A hurried American withdrawal, with the Taliban still posing a threat to Afghanistan, will have serious implications for India. An emboldened ISI commenced support for its jihad in Kashmir after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1988. It would be similarly emboldened to step up terrorist attacks across India once it is persuaded that its borders along the Durand Line with Afghanistan are secure, with the Taliban providing 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan.

India should work with the US and its NATO allies, and also with Russia, Iran and Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbours like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, to ensure that Afghanistan's elected government is backed diplomatically, financially and militarily to deal with challenges from across the Durand Line, even after presidential elections later this month.

Buoyed by its diplomatic 'triumph' in Sharm el-Sheikh, Pakistan now threatens that there can be no durable peace in the subcontinent till the Kashmir 'dispute' is settled to its satisfaction. Surely, one way to deal with the emerging scenario is for India to make common cause with its Afghan friends and assert that the Durand Line is a disputed frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan, while expressing the hope that this 'dispute' would be resolved in a manner that fulfils the aspirations of Pashtuns on both sides of the border. No genuine Pashtun leader, including Mullah Omar, accepts the legitimacy of the Durand Line as an international border.

The writer is a former high commissioner to Pakistan.









When was the last time the opera made the news? You'd have to look as far back as Luciano Pavarotti's death to find anything like the publicity that the Royal Opera House in London is getting, now that they've decided to embrace the digital age with arms wide open. The Royal Opera House will perform an opera written not by Giacomo Puccini or Giuseppe Verdi, but by living people with a network connection and a Twitter account. Fans can contribute to the libretto line-by-line, subject, of course, to Twitter's maximum of 140 characters at a time, which will then be put to music by professionals.

Clearly the people who run the Royal Opera House aren't fuddy-duddies, unlike some of their loyal patrons, whose combined ages would likely make Dracula look like a spring chicken. There's no better way to appeal to a whole new generation of opera goers than by hooking them through their own weapons, so to speak. Not only is Twitter the current darling of the social media world, it offers a unique opportunity to those musically-inclined souls to plot an opera who'd otherwise be turned off by the elitist, high-brow and downright snobbish institution that is the opera.

All those concerned that the collaborative opera will ultimately turn out to be a musical disaster need only cast their minds back a few months to the unprecedented success that was the YouTube symphony orchestra. Budding musicians from around the world were encouraged to audition for this collaborative orchestra and the results were more than satisfactory. It's fortunate that those in charge of opera's future aren't limited in their imagination, or soon we'd have to do without the art form altogether.

Remember that oft-repeated story about even monkeys eventually producing Shakespeare, given enough time and a keyboard? Maybe the old-timers can comfort themselves with that, though perhaps they should just stay off the avant-garde for the good of their blood pressure, of course. It's unlikely, though, that smelling salts will be required. We look forward to the Twitter opera not just in terms of the amount of publicity it generates but also the quality of the music produced.







The fad of reducing our treasure trove of art forms be it in music, literature or cinema to bite-sized virtual miniatures is turning out to be a prolonged nightmare. The quest for instant gratification and attention has downsized life and the arts as we knew it. With technology's aid, the world is hungry today for quick bites, unable, as we are, to digest a fine and full meal.

It's the turn of the opera to be massacred by the Twittering classes now, done as they are with crunching classical literature such as Shakespeare's works. The Royal Opera House, that venerable institution in London, has fallen prey to instant charms. It has invited contributions from the public via the micro-blogging site, Twitter which will then be strung together to form what is being billed as "the world's first online opera". Each contribution must be 140 characters or less. Talk about character assassination! The Royal Opera House's blog gave out the precis of the first act, and then invited people to develop on it.

Perhaps we must keep up with the times, and adapt to a rapidly racing technology. But surely, we can preserve some of our finest traditions which have stood the test of time? In the name of keeping up, must we abandon old friends? Ostensibly, this initiative by the Royal Opera House is an effort to dispel notions that the opera is traditional and stuffy, and reach out to more sections of the public. There's no harm in trying to beef up the opera-going set but there's a line that must be drawn to prevent the theatre from becoming an operatic farce.

This is a hare-brained scheme, and the patchwork product that will result cannot claim to be an opera. Call it anything else you will, and do have fun indulging in the community storytelling, but please do not call it an opera. Poor Mozart, Purcell, Verdi and Wagner who have enriched our culture chest with their magisterial works will collectively roll in their graves if they were to hear of this.







I was startled by a sudden burst of colour on the otherwise drab and dusty grounds of the district collectorate on an official trip to UP in the winter of 1994. A large group of village women were sitting outside the district collector's office in a remote, largely rural district, adding colour and interest to the surroundings. Beside them was a mound of broken earthen pots.


The official UP landscape is usually peopled with men in dull, monotonous colours; if it is court day for the district magistrate then hosts of black-coated lawyers swarm the premises. Women in the hinterland are largely confined to their villages, tending home and hearth. So women in colourful sarees, heads demurely covered, were an unusual sight.


Imagine my surprise when i learnt that these women had come from villages far and near to register their protest. They were part of the Mahila Dairy Project, funded under an income generating scheme of the government for empowering women by upgrading their skills in traditional tasks. They were annoyed that the quality of milk they sent to the district dairy was not being correctly measured; they were being cheated of their rightful payment. Conveying their complaints through menfolk yielded no results, so empowered by the strength of being earning members of their families and confident of the merit of their complaint, they ventured out to ensure they were heard. The magistrate did take action and their grievance was redressed.

I was again struck by the presence of four traditionally clad rural women at the presentation function of the national awards for meritorious performance in the power sector 15 years later. All other awardees were men in western suits, so the contrast was stark. But did that faze the women awardees from two Mandal Mahila Samakhya groups of Andhra Pradesh? Not in the least. They had taken on distribution of power and collection of dues in their remote villages and were confidently driving their local economy forward. The lesson here is that when the government fashions pro-women policies to let them take command of their lives, it's pretty successful.







That upstart Pune has claimed the first Indian victim of you-know-what. But Mumbai can still boast of the most dangerous road on earth. Its Sane Guruji Marg houses Kasab's Arthur Road Jail on one side and the Kasturba Hospital for Infectious Diseases exactly opposite. Some might call it bioterrorism. 


Chennai and Ahmedabad have also managed to get their 15 minutes of fame, but Delhi is yet to open its account. Whatever other contagion the capital's politicians get and spread, it won't be spine flu. Spinal cord is quite different from vocal chords; the stronger the latter, the weaker the former.


 Now that the pandemic has fatally hit home, and the mask is the new must-have accessory, it is only a matter of time before swine flu begins to impact areas quite outside  the concern of medicine. That's what's causing my nightly cold sweats.


Take society. The usual cordon sanitaire that separates the cosseted haves from the susceptible have-nots does not apply in the case of this virus. It is an indiscriminate fellow, slipping in alike into the bus crowd and the bustier crowd. But snobbery doesn't just curl up and die so easily. Like the appellation of snooty wines, the upper-class H1N1 haves all pointedly inform you of the exotic origin of their infection. THEY picked up their SF on their summer holiday abroad. How dare you even think that they caught it in some sneezy alley back home?


Actually, it could get more personal than that. As the pandemic spreads, the demands could go well beyond closing more multiplexes and opening more screening centres.  Several people will want to take a shot that has nothing to do with hypodermic needles.


The Ambani war has reached epidemic -- and epic -- proportions. It won't be long before some eager beaver from Mukesh's camp demands that the virulent Anil be put away in an isolation ward, preferably with a muzzle surgically sutured on to his mouth. The masks have been off on both sides a long while ago.


With the BJP epidemic still raging, both camps there could now launch two concurrent drives. One to slap their rivals into permanent quarantine, the other to stop their favourites from being spat upon without the slightest care for hierarchy or hygiene. The party's multiple-organ failure has been subjected to every possible diagnostic test, but no insider wants to admit that this is a critical ICU case. Everyone's pretending that it can just be bandaged up in the OPD, and sent off whistling to the next election.


 The temperature will also rise on Dr Singh. The PM could well be flayed in Parliament for the union government's  foot-dragging over sending the army, navy, air force, ATS, RAF, CRPF  and the Byculla boy scouts  to fight this ongoing terror. 'No lessons have been learnt from 26/11!' the Opposition will thunder with impressive originality.


There is no such thing as gubernatorial immunity either, as the West Bengal government  is determinedly  trying to establish. They have been insisting on Gopalkrishna Gandhi being deported since he is seriously endangering their health. However, for a change, the Marxists have shown some connect with reality. They are confining their efforts to this secondary infection because they know that it's no use hooking their main malaise to an ICU machine. Mamata is a hyper-ventilator already.


Oxford research this week revealed that Tamiflu could cause serious side-effects in children. But India's own findings over a longer period have categorically shown that certain forms of Tamil Flu are even more alarming. Jayalalitha, Karunanidhi and now even Stalin --they keep mutating into more virulent, more resistant strains.


Alec Smart said: "With spiraling prices, daal mein kuchh  kala bazaar hain."










It is in the nature of totalitarian regimes to behave absurdly. Thus the ‘un-logic’ of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland when she regularly shouts out ‘Off with his head!’ “without even looking around”. Thus the pet project of the Myanmarese junta to keep Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in jail without — and here’s the twist — giving up on a show of kindness. Even as authorities in the military capital of Naypyidaw acted predictably by ensuring that Ms Suu Kyi continues to remain in custody in Yangon, they ‘intervened’ to cut a three-year imprisonment to an 18-month house arrest.


The democracy leader has served nearly 14 years in captivity. Coming as the judgement and its modification does a month after UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon demanded that political prisoners be freed before the 2010 elections, Tuesday’s verdict is a snub of international opinion. But how does the real international community — by which one can mean influencing neighbours China and India — get the Myanmarese junta to ease up against Ms Suu Kyi? More importantly, can India do anything? The question of whether New Delhi can apply any pressure on Myanmar is, of course, predated by the question of whether it wants to do anything. Much Irrawady water has flown under the bridge since P.V. Narasimha Rao engaged with the junta under his prime ministership.


Not only does New Delhi today acknowledge the geo-political importance of Myanmar, especially when the ‘Chinese embrace’ during India’s non-engagement is factored in, but the anti-democratic neighbour has also served national security interest, especially in assisting anti-insurgency operations in the north-eastern parts of India. What has happened over the years is a double-approach — not a taboo in diplomacy — where pro-democracy statements have been made vis-a-vis Ms Suu Kyi and her supporters while continuing to engage with the Myanmarese authorities. As a nation always hankering for Big Power status but never making Big Power moves, it’s time New Delhi flips its double-approach around by engaging more openly with the authorities and covertly pushing its friends in Naypyidaw to show some signs that the world’s biggest democracy can have some influence with its undemocratic neighbour. For national interest, if not for anything else, New Delhi can quietly ask Myanmar for a favour — have Ms Suu Kyi released — for which the junta can take all credit while ‘mysteriously’ enhancing their friendship with India.







Reports that a Beijing strategist has advocated that China should help divide India have set defence dovecotes aflutter in India. But the more phlegmatic among us are puzzled at all this kerfuffle over this foolish Chinese plan. The fact that the dragon is putting time and money into this endeavour has us in paroxysms of laughter. Can these inscrutable nutters not see that they don’t have to extend themselves? We are doing a good job of it ourselves.


The Chinese dream that India will become a conglomeration of independent, warring states is unambitious to say the least. We have many more warring factions on every issue under the sun. The Bengali will kill if anyone suggests that any fish preparation could be superior to his hilsa in mustard. The Malayalee will slit your throat if you demonstrate that your knowledge of Pablo Neruda may be superior. The Biharis, poor sods, don’t have much to be one up on anyone but if you say that, they’ll likely murder you with a lethal dose of sattu. And if you are in Delhi and have a different opinion on anything, rely on us to run you over or, if possible, shoot you dead.


The dear old Chinese don’t know what they will unleash if they let our baser parochial instincts run free. Before you can say Confucius, we’ll be in Shanghai with a few surprises up our sleeve. Let’s see how they like sambhar-flavoured hakka noodles down there. Once we wash up on their shores, we’d like to see how long all that Han homogeneity will hold. So we’d advise the Chinese to leave us well alone. For instead of realising their hegemonic ambitions, the politburo and the Red Army might well find themselves singing ‘Jai Ho’ down the Yangtze.







The lawyer in me has always been intrigued about the legal architecture that empowers both our central law enforcement and intelligence services. What exactly is the legal footing of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO), the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW)?


The CBI was created by an executive order in April 1963. It started life as a Special Police Establishment in the Department of War in 1941. In 1943, it was constituted by an ordinance into an independent entity, namely the Special Police Establishment (War Department). For all purposes, it still functions as the Delhi Special Police Establishment ostensibly constituted before independence on October 1, 1946. The ordinance was repealed by the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act that came into force in November 1946.


 Simply put, the CBI has no independent standing in law. It still draws all its powers of investigation and arrest from the antiquated 1946 Act, under which it was probably never formally re-constituted, and which essentially being a local act provides that each state through an executive order under Section 6 of the Act has to give the Special Police Establishment consent to investigate and prosecute a matter in the state. Moreover, the CBI can only investigate a case if specifically requested by the state government concerned or directed by the High Court or the Supreme Court, except if it is a matter that pertains to the central government.


In the past, several states had revoked orders giving consent, that too with retrospective effect to the Special Police Establishment (read: CBI) to investigate matters. The beneficiaries, alas, were members of the much maligned political class. The Supreme Court finally put paid to this practice by holding that state governments cannot revoke consent given to the Special Police Establishment to investigate and prosecute any matter with retrospective effect. It is also questionable whether the constitutional scheme provides for a central police force. Entries 1 and 2 of the State List, Seventh Schedule make the police a state subject. Similar is the case of the SFIO that has investigated 36 cases and has filed 574 complaints for violation of various provisions of the Companies Act and the Indian Penal Code from May 2004 to July 2009. The SFIO again draws its powers from the investigative provisions of the Companies Act, but has no standing under the Companies Act. The SFIO doesn’t even find mention in the Companies Bill 2009 introduced in Parliament on August 3, 2009.


In response to a question pertaining to the legislative act or legal architecture from which the IB draws its statutory authority, the government came up with a quixotic response: “The Intelligence Bureau figures in Schedule 7 of the Constitution under the Union List.” When pressed that this may not be an appropriate answer, the government reiterated, “The Intelligence Bureau finds mention in Section 8 in the Union List under the 7th Schedule of the Constitution of India.”


Article 246 (1) gives Parliament the exclusive right to make laws on matters enumerated in the Union List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. In other words, Entry 8 in the Union List merely gives it the legislative power to enact a statute to bring a Central Bureau of Intelligence into existence. Unfortunately, no such law has ever been enacted.


Similar is the case of India’s external intelligence service, the R&AW. In response to a question about the law that gives the R&AW the authority to discharge its functions efficiently, the government candidly admitted that “there is no separate/specific statute governing the functions/mandate of the R&AW”. However, in 2000, a formal charter listing the scope and mandate of the R&AW was formally approved by the Government of India.


Contrast this with the position in other countries. America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) draws its powers from Title 28 of the federal statutory law that governs the federal judicial system. The Serious Fraud Office of Britain is drawn from the Criminal Justice Act of 1987. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) created by the National Security Act of 1947 is empowered by the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949. MI5, the domestic intelligence service of Britain, draws its legal authority from the Security Services Act 1989 and the MI6  from the 1994 Intelligence Services Act.


Both from the national security and civil liberties point of view, it is inappropriate to allow law enforcement and intelligence services to function without a well-defined legal basis.


It is imperative in a democracy that every organisation of the government must draw its powers, privileges and authority from clearly defined legal statutes. This is critical for the healthy functioning of any constitutional system. Perhaps competing priorities edged out this critical issue from the 100-day radar of UPA II. But to put our democratic ethos on an even sounder footing it is imperative to provide our central law enforcement and intelligence structures with proper legal clothes.


Manish Tewari is an MP and the National Spokesperson of the Indian National Congress


The views expressed by the author are personal








One of the arguments for the Vietnam War was the so-called domino theory. If South Vietnam was to fall to the Communists, other countries in South-east Asia would tumble before Communist insurgency. Things turned out very different. Vietnam proved to be the end, not the beginning of the line. Pol Pot’s wicked regime murdered millions in Cambodia until Vietnam intervened.


Elsewhere in the region, capitalism, promoted by the opening of markets, triggered growth and promoted stability. Globalisation produced its own domino effect. The dominoes toppled; GDP rose; millions were lifted out of poverty; literacy rates soared; child mortality figures fell. Maybe, if not there and if not then, dominoes are more relevant to foreign and security policy today.


In America and Europe at the moment, many people are calling for the withdrawal of Nato forces from Afghanistan. We are told that Nato and the West cannot build a nation there and that the goals that have been set for establishing democracy and prosperity are unattainable. Nato soldiers die in vain. Sooner or later the Taliban will sweep into power again. It is vanity to think that anything can be done to prevent this. Better to cut and run than stay and die.


There have certainly been mistakes in Afghanistan. After the overthrow of the Taliban regime, the West did not commit enough troops to extend the authority of the national government in Kabul over the whole country. The Bush administration had turned its attention to the preparations for the Iraq war.


Development has been slow. The build-up of the Afghan army and police has lagged.  The poppy crop has grown. Sometimes the military response to insurgency has been too tough; sometimes too light. The West has courted trouble in appearing to isolate the Pashtun.


So the West can do better. There is no doubt about that. But the case for quitting is bad and touches on Pakistan’s future as well as Afghanistan’s. Leave Afghanistan to the Taliban, hoping against hope that they will become better-behaved global citizens, and what is the effect likely to be on Pakistan? Here come the dominoes — wrong in Vietnam but not necessarily in the South Asian subcontinent.


Afghanistan is Nato’s great test. The alliance has promised to see the job through.  So if it abandons the job now, leaving the country to poverty, prejudice and poppies, what then will happen.


Why should anyone in Pakistan believe that the West is serious in wanting to sustain that country as a Muslim democratic State? Would such a decision help turn the tide against the Taliban? Would it encourage the middle-class professional and urban workers in Pakistan, disgusted by the excesses of the extremists, to dig in and see off fundamentalism? Would it strengthen the more moderate elements in politics and the military? You can count on us, the West would be saying, but don’t look next door to Afghanistan, where you will see that you can’t rely on us.


If Pakistan, nuclear weapons and all, was to fall to the extremists, the consequences in terms of encouraging the export of terrorism would be dire. Think about Kashmir. Think about India. How would India’s government view the future if Pakistan falls into the hands of fundamentalists?


So the West should see the job through in Afghanistan — do it better but do it. Sometimes the dominoes do topple over, one by one. That is not a prospect that anyone should welcome in South Asia.


The views expressed by the author are personal









The Shopian investigation into the deaths of two defenceless women as they walked back home from a nearby orchard continues to shock. The bodies of Neelofar and her sister-in-law Asiya were discovered on May 29. Trouble began with the initial cover-up/ incompetence: the refusal to register an FIR, a botched post-mortem report, and forensic results that took for ever to be publicised. The case was made to proceed only on the momentum acquired by protests and public outcry throughout the Kashmir valley. Faced with a bellicose judiciary, a chastened administration brought its own act together. It was announced that rape and murder of the two dead women had been confirmed, officials were suspended and then arrested, and a special investigation team was placed on the job, their every move monitored by the Jammu and Kashmir high court.


If all this meant that the investigations would now be clean, then that meaning has been lost on the investigators. The high court had ordered the SIT to submit forensic results of the vaginal swabs of the two victims, and compare sperm traces on them with the DNA of the four arrested officers. But this is the suspicion that has now come to light: the swabs that the SIT team sent to the CBI’s central forensic laboratory are not of the victims, according to the laboratory. If this finding is proven to be accurate, it means that the SIT team has sent the wrong sample for testing. How big is the cover up? How far is the reach of the wrong-doers? These are serious questions, questions that the latest botch-up has only highlighted. Even if this mix-up is not deliberate, it would still indicate incompetence of the most damaging order. If a court-monitored special team, appointed after the outcry over the initial cover-up, cannot even be trusted to deliver evidence for analysis, then who can?


The Jammu and Kashmir government has now decided to hand over the case to the CBI. India’s premier investigative agency might be above the compulsions of local politics, but as this newspaper has repeatedly pointed out, the CBI’s recent track record does not exactly inspire much confidence. The CBI must know that this investigation will be conducted under an unwavering public gaze.









The AICTE corruption scandal has plumbed new lows, as the accused chairman of the council, Ram Avtar Yadav, finds powerful political backers. The AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education), as the body that monitors all our technical institutes, has a tremendous responsibility. But AICTE approvals have long been a sham, and top officers are implicated in serious corruption charges. The HRD ministry had suspended Yadav after the CBI investigation started, but now, an entire posse of MPs across parties has stuck by him, claiming that he was unfairly singled out because of his caste.


The idea that Yadav is being picked on because of his caste is preposterous. This political mobilising on caste lines on a matter that patently has nothing to do with identity does a disservice to credible identity politics, besides confirming the impression that such systemic sleaze goes unpunished when it suits our political class. Why is the government so squeamish about taking action against these individuals? In cases as defining as this one, one can only conclude that inaction means implicit endorsement of narrow self-interest over national well-being.


The government has signalled that education reform is one of its most urgent priorities, promising an overarching national regulator to replace these multiple agencies like the AICTE and UGC. The fact that councils meant to regulate higher education are themselves clouded in this kind of murk goes to show how putrid the current system is, and how important the proposed overhaul is. In another example, the Medical Council of India chairman is on several medical college boards, institutions he is meant to evaluate and regulate. If this manifest conflict of interest doesn’t stir the government to take action, then how credible are its fine-sounding promises on higher education reform? Of course, the story of our higher learning institutes is one of self-interest all the way down. Many of these institutes are owned by politicians. Keeping things as they are and shielding the AICTE from investigation might suit their purposes, but it is not a situation India can afford.







There may be no end in sight to the Gorkhaland problem yet. But the Union government’s agreement “in principle” to scrapping the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council Act 1988 is a promise of movement. The DGHC has been seen to be a comprehensive failure. It was the West Bengal government’s tool to buy peace with Subash Ghising’s Gorkha National Liberation Front and neutralise the violent statehood agitation of the ’80s. Ghising, however, did not deliver to the people, as his authoritarianism increased and allegations of corruption piled up. Elections were not held to the council for years. Last year’s mobilisation by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha forced Ghising’s resignation from the DGHC.


Equally significant is the decision to drop the bill proposing a Hill Council under the Sixth Schedule. Both Ghising and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had wanted this bill as it would have given the DGHC greater autonomy and territorial jurisdiction as well as direct Central funds while sparing the chief minister fresh violence. But the GJM changed the plot, and will certainly view Tuesday’s development as a victory of sorts because it saw autonomy under the Sixth Schedule as a further hindrance to statehood. Non-tribals, in majority in the hills, will also rejoice, having been apprehensive of being governed by laws made by tribal councils as per Sixth Schedule requirements.


The Centre may have subtly highlighted the GJM’s lack of strength in the state assembly and Parliament for the statehood demand, but there’s a danger of the consquences of territorial division on ethnic grounds. What the Darjeeling district, and north Bengal as a whole, needs first is economic development, something the previous arrangement did not deliver. The GNLF legacy will now be buried and the Centre process the DGHC Act’s repeal once an alternative administrative framework is in place. As we await the next round of tripartite talks in December in Darjeeling, the GJM should work on a developmental agenda and separate identity from local politics. Otherwise, the DGHC’s mess will stay.








Do the math. 200 million-plus people are engaged in a high-risk economic activity where the average size of the business is tiny, where output per head (what economists call productivity) is stagnant or decreasing, where marketing opportunities are limited and where god and government largely determine income outcomes. This is a recipe for keeping 200 million-plus people in a state of permanent, acute vulnerability. Especially the 100 million-odd who are not just workers but have some capital. In the first decade of the 21st century, in a democracy that’s called a major economy, is this normal? Tolerable? Socially, economically and politically acceptable? Put like this, the answers are “no” in every case. Put in the context of India’s political economy, and recognising that we are talking about Indian agriculture, the answer seems to be “yes”.


As the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) and the government abandon their month and a half long fantasy that monsoon will be normal, as drought management meetings begin in earnest, the question public policy should but won’t ask is, why is the status quo in farming so sanctified? Yes, there are micro issues that are important right now. IMD’s long period-large area weather prediction model needs competition. Drought relief needs to be targeted to the dozen and a half agro-climatic regions that seem to be the most hit by poor rains. Fine-tuning NREGA, so that it acts as an income stabiliser in a drought, is crucial. Whether the soil moisture content for the winter crop has been critically affected by deficient southwest monsoons needs to estimated.


From another perspective, there are issues about food prices and GDP growth. Clever stock management (buffer stocks of cereals are high) and smart imports will dampen some but not all of the rise in food prices. Food price inflation is not impressed by a tight monetary policy but, given the ruling consensus on such things, if food price inflation persists, the monetary policy hammer may come down. Rain-fed, as opposed to irrigated, agriculture affects about 6 per cent of GDP currently. So a poor monsoon’s direct growth effect is not large. Goldman Sachs says bad rains may shave 0.3 percentage points off 2009-10’s GDP growth. The finance minister has said GDP growth will be 6 per cent, down by about 0.5 percentage points from the earlier rough consensus. But if interest rates stay high for the rest of this fiscal year, the impact in terms of potential output lost can be considerable; private investment demand, which hasn’t recovered, won’t get the boost and government consumption demand, which shored up growth in 2008-09, can’t do it again because deficits are too high.


Discussions on agriculture usually stop here: small picture policies for farming and small discussions on agriculture in the context of the big growth picture. What will it take for public policy to consider the big picture for 200 million-plus Indians in an acutely vulnerable profession? A crisis? But agriculture is in crisis. When incomes don’t rise because of productivity increases but because government is an over-generous buyer of your output (the misleadingly named minimum support prices), when the business will crash without huge input subsidies (power and fertiliser), when 60 per cent of the business (rain-fed agriculture) that depends on god for one input contributes only 30 per cent of this business’s contribution to GDP, how is this business not in a crisis?


Maybe, we need a really big, simple, easy-to-understand crisis that makes farming the hot topic of evening news. However, the only kind of “crisis” that qualifies under these parameters will be defined by food shortage/ high food prices that affect us. That won’t help agriculture. We will then look at farming in terms of production and we will then argue that taking away land from farming will harm production. We won’t look at farming in terms


of farmers’ productivity-linked, marketing-linked income. This is a view, a dominant one that combines selfishness (cauliflowers can’t be that costly in South Delhi) and political correctness (don’t take land away from farmers). And it completely as well as self-righteously misses the point.


Several points, in fact. First, all agriculture needs is a productivity jump that matches that seen in green revolution. If that happens, Indian farming can feed two billion people. Second, that productivity jump will not come, no matter how much crop research is done, without the old-fashioned formula of efficient employment of large amounts of capital in large-size businesses. Third, the market for farm products is huge domestically. So, big capital will come if the system allows consolidation of land holdings. Will farmers sell land? Ask a small farmer whose business is in permanent crisis. Will farm labour be happy? Ask a farm daily wager whose employment prospects have just dried up because of bad rains. If farming is industrial in technique and scope, several other changes, like the disappearance of middlemen who take away 15-25 per cent of farmers’ income, the elimination of wastage that eats up 20-30 per cent of output, will follow. Fourth, if industrial farming in super large landholdings is allowed, the other problem — acquiring land for industry, and jobs for ex-agriculturalists — gets addressed. This, because (a) we would have created a land market, (b) high productivity would mean much more production and that will convince even those obsessively worried about amount of arable land available, and (c) new factories will create the new jobs.


At this point, the pure politically correct argument comes up: doing all this, we make Indian food production critically dependant on big capital, including big foreign capital. Actually, the time India’s food availability was critically dependent on big foreign capital was in early-middle ’60s: wheat imports from America; India’s chief planner, Ashok Mehta, meeting Lyndon Johnson to clear the Fourth Plan; America asking for a currency devaluation, Indira Gandhi agreeing; then a failed monsoon; not enough farm output for exports; big problems and Mrs G giving us Indian socialism.


Now, big capital can only do for agriculture what it does for industry, help it. If you see what potato procurement by an MNC in parts of Punjab or soybean procurement by a big Indian firm in parts of MP has done to improve farm incomes, you get an idea of what agriculture is missing out on.


We need to say this loud and clear, like we said it and still say for industry. We need to stop being selfish when talking about agriculture. And stop being politically correct.








It is necessary, in regard to any war, to consider not its paper justification in past agreements, but its real justification in the balance of good which it is to bring to mankind,” observed Bertrand Russell in his seminal 1915 essay on “The Ethics of War”. August 12, 2009 marks the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions; respect for Russell’s axiom remains central in international humanitarian law.


In practice that means endorsing these values: minimising suffering of individuals and limiting methods of warfare. The four Geneva Conventions — dealing with protection of the wounded, of sick soldiers on land, shipwrecked military personnel at sea, and of prisoners of war and civilians — were signed in the Alabama room of Geneva’s town hall that August day and have since been adopted by 194 nations.


But the nature of the problems they are meant to address has changed. Post the Cold War, the number of internal conflicts resulting in civilian casualties has skyrocketed. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2008 saw 16 major armed conflicts; most were largely internal. They claimed the lives of millions of civilians, both due to targeted attacks and as collateral effects of attacks on legitimate military targets. Many more were forced to become refugees.


On the eve of the Conventions’ 60th anniversary, the Red Cross conducted thousands of interviews in war-torn countries: Afghanistan, Columbia, the Congo, Georgia, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia and the Philippines. Their report highlights the disconcerting situation we’re in. Of those surveyed 44 per cent said they had personally experienced armed conflict. The highest figures were in Liberia (96 per cent), Lebanon (75 per cent) and Afghanistan (60 per cent). In Afghanistan, 76 per cent of those who had personal experience of armed conflict said they were forced to leave their homes, while 61 per cent said they had lost contact with a close relative. In Liberia, 90 per cent of the people said they had been displaced, followed by 58 per cent in Congo and 61 per cent in Lebanon.


The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recorded over 1,445 civilian casualties in 2008; the early-January Israeli offensive in Gaza resulted in a high number of casualties, particularly among children; media reports suggest that more than 20,000 civilians may have been killed in Sri Lanka recently. And these numbers do not include deaths that came after, but because of, the war — from disease, malnutrition, lack of access to water and sanitation. Add them in, and the total is staggering. But why is this tragedy a matter for international law? Because many of these instances represent glaring violations of Geneva Convention IV and Additional Protocol I, dealing with the protection of civilians in armed conflicts.


That topic, of protection of civilians in armed conflicts, was placed at the top of the agenda of the Security Council 10 years ago. The recent UN report on the subject (S/2009/277) emphasises the need to further strengthen the civilian protections, as actions on the ground have not yet matched the development of international norms and standards. But the need to strengthen protection further is essentially due to the changing nature of conflicts, from “conventional” warfare to low-intensity conflict — including guerrilla tactics adopted particularly by non-state actors — and the revolution in military affairs in the wake of technological change.


The proliferation of non-state armed groups, and the consequent asymmetric warfare in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia, is now well understood; what is missed is that it means civilians are even more unprotected than earlier.


The secretary-general’s report to the Council enlists five core challenges: enhancing compliance with international law; enhancing compliance by non-state armed groups; enhancing protection through effective UN peacekeeping; enhancing humanitarian access; and enhancing accountability for violations. These can be effectively addressed only with comprehensive action from institutions involved in humanitarian protection.


One such, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in a 2009 aide-memoire lists a number of objectives for civilian protection: humanitarian access to a vulnerable population, measures against forced displacement, reduction of small arms and removal of explosive remnants of war, including cluster munitions. These are the steps that the Security Council and international organisations must now move forward on, to keep the spirit of Geneva alive. Without them, the protections of the Geneva Conventions in contemporary armed conflicts will not be as far-reaching as originally envisaged.


The writer is a professor at the Indian Society of International Law in New Delhi









The launch of India’s first missile-capable nuclear submarine has serious regional implications. It poses response choices for Pakistan to avert strategic imbalance. India must reflect on the overarching architecture of the relationship it wants to evolve with Pakistan. How far is its military build-up prompted by its threat perceptions or the objective of threat projection and hegemony?


Pakistan, after its breakup in 1971 through Indian military action, still feels that while socio-economic progress and combating extremism are core objectives, its main existential threat continues to emanate from India, where core policymakers and influential segments still regard Pakistan’s creation as a historical mistake.


Faced with an asymmetries and imbalances in the conventional field from a much larger India, Pakistan’s hard-won nuclear capability has kept the peace, by providing, through a credible minimum nuclear deterrent, strategic stability in South Asia.


The peace process begun in 2004 attempted to manage the different facets of this difficult relationship with the objective of resolving disputes in a peaceful manner acceptable to both. As part of the composite dialogue, talks were initiated on both nuclear and conventional CBMs. Both sides formally declared that the nuclear capabilities of each other, which are based on their national security imperatives, constitute a factor for stability. Two main agreements on pre-notification of ballistic missile tests and reduction of risks of accidents related to nuclear weapons were signed. Even before India broke off the peace process after the Mumbai incident, the process had slowed down. There was no concrete movement on the core issue of Kashmir and no promise of movement on Siachen, Sir Creek and the Indus waters which provide Pakistan’s life blood. While the nuclear CBMs agreements continue to hold, there was no forward movement and India wanted to delink itself from Pakistan even in this nuclear field in which India had reversed the maxim of thinking globally but acting locally.


India was encouraged by a number of developments. The US-Indo nuclear deal rather than encouraging nuclear restraint in South Asia, enhanced India’s strategic capability, freeing its limited uranium reserves for military use and keeping 8 reactors out of safeguards able to produce fissile material for 280 nuclear weapons annually, apart from its equally unsafeguarded 13 breeder reactors programme.


US, Israeli and Russian cooperation in India’s ABM programme would further destabilise the strategic balance, forcing Pakistan to increase its throw weight. India rejected Pakistan’s proposal for a Strategic Restraint Regime with its three interlocking elements of conflict resolution, nuclear and missile restraint and conventional balance, to avoid an unnecessary arms race.


Russia supported India’s nuclear submarine project over two decades through technology, technical advice and leasing of nuclear submarines. India’ cruise missile Brahmos was jointly developed with Russia.


India will build five nuclear submarines each carrying 12 nuclear ballistic missiles. The two Akula class submarines to be leased from Russia would carry another 48 missiles. This submarine leg of India’s nuclear triad would deploy some 100-plus nuclear weapons. The other air-launched gravity nuclear weapons, land-launched ballistic missiles, tactical nuclear weapons and land, air and sea-launched cruise missiles would constitute a formidable nuclear delivery capability.


India claims that this buildup is necessary because it faces threats from China and Pakistan. However given the growing relationship between India and China, no objective strategist has been able to postulate any credible conflict scenario between the two countries. On the other hand, 95 per cent of India’s military potential is targeted against much smaller Pakistan. The planned nuclear submarine fleet with its short-range ballistic missiles is also Pakistan-specific.


Contradicting policy statements of wanting better relations with Pakistan, India’s aggressive ‘Cold Start’ or proactive military doctrine aims to rapidly seize parts of Pakistan while trying to remain under the nuclear threshold . The nuclear submarine fleet with its second strike capability will be used to reinforce pressure on Pakistan not to use nuclear weapons, tactical or strategic, to deter or counter any Indian thrust into Pakistan.


Pakistan has responded that it will take all steps to safeguard its security and to maintain strategic balance in the region. What should Pakistan do? First of all, develop its own second strike nuclear submarine-based capability. Secondly, equip its conventional submarines with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. Thirdly, as Russian assistance has evoked no international objection and it is clear that both leasing of nuclear submarines and technology for their production are completely compatible with the global non-proliferation regime, Pakistan should explore such possibilities. Fourthly, the most important lesson for Pakistan, a latecomer by necessity as a nuclear state, is that while not having to match India nuclear weapon by weapon, to maintain strategic stability it will need to continue its modest fissile material production in the foreseeable future and cannot brook any negotiations counter to this vital national security requirement.


Faced with these escalating threats Pakistan must oppose the initiation of negotiations on the fissile material cutoff treaty which countries with their own comfortable fissile material stockpiles, who have also helped arm India, want to begin and prioritise in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva specifically at Pakistan’s expense. And if negotiations begin, Pakistan must resolve to accept, just as India has already declared as its national objective, any outcome detrimental to Pakistan’s security.


The writer is a former Pakistan diplomat who headed Pakistan’s delegations in Nuclear and Conventional CBMs talks with India from 2004-2007.








As Formula One slowly became about politics rather than racing, as Honda pulled out, as BMW walked away, as Bernie swiped at Max, as the ratings plummeted, as all everyone talked about was the diffuser at the back of the car, as criticism turned into catastrophe, a saviour appeared on the horizon in J.R.R. Tolkien fashion.


In the most unfortunate of circumstances, with Felipe Massa battling for his life after a freak accident, Michael Schumacher announced he would return to the racetrack. The fraternity heaved a sigh of relief — F1 was going to be the same again.


But the German seven-time world champion said this week that he would not be able to keep his date because of an old neck injury, and the sport is once again scrabbling among the debris of its economic ruin, searching desperately for a solution. For, with all due respect, Massa’s new replacement Luca Badoer is not the answer.


The most peculiar aspect of the Schumacher comeback saga was that things had become so bad that Formula One was turning for its absolution to someone who may have statistically been its greatest champion, but was unintentionally responsible for making it the drabbest, dullest spectacle in world sport.


I know I’m in danger of being lynched by an honourable member of the tifosi for saying it, but Schumacher’s cold genius perhaps did as much harm to F1 as supremo Bernie Ecclestone’s eccentricity and FIA chief Max Mosley’s authoritarianism.


There was never a rush of excitement in the gut when Schumacher raced. You admired his ability — like when he was stuck in fifth gear and still finished second at Barcelona in 1994, and when he lapped the entire field up to third place in 1996 in the rain to earn the nickname Regenmeister — but he was so busy maximising the potential of his car that the Schumacher years made us forget man and machine were not supposed to be so homogeneously interlinked.


Formula One was meant to be about three-cornered overtaking maneuvers, breaking later and harder than your pursuer, about raw emotion and not the chassis — and at that level, Schumacher failed to move us.


In a sport that less than two decades ago had Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Ricardo Patrese going head-to-head race after race, swapping podium places and world championships, drivers with similar streaks of brilliance could never survive once Schumacher had left his stamp.


Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, the brightest of the challengers, fought in an inferior machine for years after winning the title in 1997, and finally vented his ire in 2006 when he said: “He’s (Schumacher) a racer — but a pure racer, nothing but a racer and, because of that I think the day he hangs up his helmet people will just forget him. Senna, by contrast, will never be forgotten.”


Juan Pablo Montoya, the hot-headed anti-Michael from Colombia, managed to win only seven races in six years before going back to Nascar. This week, asked about Schumacher’s return, he said: “Will he be faster than the other Ferrari drivers? I’ll be surprised, but you never know. I’m sure they will be developing some new parts for his comeback in order to guarantee that he looks good.”


Even brother Ralf Schumacher, not the sharpest behind the wheel when not leading from start to finish, had said in 2004 that the sport was becoming boring for everybody other than Michael.


Schumacher’s legacy is his hunger to win, and his ability to help develop his vehicle into an invincible piece of machinery. He was focused on the end, and could use any means to get there — crashing into Damon Hill with the championship on the line in 1994, trying to bump off Villeneuve in 1997, and controversially winning an almost-empty race in Indianapolis in 2005 after the Michelin teams had pulled out.


So, when Formula One turns for its survival to Schumacher, now 40 years old, you can get a sense of the kind of trouble it is in. Just like the Tour de France needed any story that wasn’t about doping, and got record ratings riding on Lance Armstrong’s back this year, F1 was hoping for a story that would not be about new driving regulations, fuel gauges and motor companies, but about a human being.


The next best thing perhaps is Massa returning from his near-fatal crash and blowing the rest of the field away. But until then, the sport will have to brood over its grim future in silence, praying for a messiah to emerge.







In an Organiser article “Is electronic rigging subverting electoral mandate” G.V.L Narasimha Rao writes: “The Election Commission is less than truthful in claiming that the EVMs deployed in general elections are tamperproof, when its own technical committee led by Prof. P.V. Indiresan held otherwise. The Expert Committee in its September 2006 report (points 3.6 and 3.7) recommended that the old EVMs should be upgraded with suggested modifications, testing and operating precautions to make them tamper proof. Shockingly, of the 13.78 lakh EVMs deployed in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, only 4.48 lakh are either new or upgraded machines, while as many as 9.3 lakh EVMs (or over 2/3rd of all EVMs) deployed are old machines. The Commission has furnished this information in reply to a RTI query dated July 21 to V Venkateswara Rao, the main petitioner who filed a PIL in the Supreme Court on the issue. New, improved EVMs were deployed in the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and some UT’s and all northeastern states except Assam. In all others states, old EVMs, which do not meet the technical specifications, were used”.


A BJP national executive member, who is associated with the anti-EVM crusade, Rao adds: “Why is it that these new, improved machines were not deployed in any of the key Congress-United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-ruled states? Who were the persons responsible in making these decisions and what was the rationale in making the choice of states with the new, improved EVMs? Curiously, while many states seem to have been selected following some alphabetical sequence, the UPA-ruled states like Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Haryana, Maharastra and Tamil Nadu (which fall in the same sequence) have been left out systematically. Naturally, the following questions arise and the EC is duty bound to answer them satisfactorily. What considerations guided the deployment of the old EVMs, more susceptible to tampering in all the states ruled by the ruling combine at the Centre? Why all the EVMs were not upgraded or replaced as recommended by the Expert Committee? Isn’t the Commission guilty of misleading the political parties and the public opinion that its EVMs are tamper proof when it is fully aware of their limitations and shortcomings? All these serious questions warrant convincing answers from the Commission.”


Fieldwork first

An article titled “Rejuvenate agriculture to rejuvenate villages” by Muralidhar Rao in the special issue of the Organiser says: “Production of foodgrain per capita has being going down in the country in the last few years, necessitating large scale import of food grain. For instance, in five years from 2002-2003 to 2007-08, India’s population increased by eight per cent, whereas food grains production could increase by merely five per cent. But more disturbing is the fact that the country had to import food grain, especially wheat at an extraordinarily exorbitant price. Whereas farmers were being paid only 850 per quintal by the government procurement agencies, later in the same year wheat was imported at effective price of rupees 1300 to 1600 per quintal. Of late, the government realised the importance of paying reasonable price to the farmers, that it could procure 230 lakh tones of wheat. As the result of sound wheat procurement, a reasonable buffer stock would be maintained, resulting in stabilisation of food prices in the country. To make available food to the masses at the reasonable prices, we need to maintain reasonable level of buffer stock, which in turn could be ensured by making sufficient procurement”.


He adds: “In view of danger of declining foodgrain availability at global level looming large, solution lies in protecting our agriculture in general and encouraging food grain production in the country in particular. We also need to take notice of mass scale migration to big cities, whole young population deserting the villages in search of livelihood. Remunerative agriculture can only arrest this trend. For achieving this objective we need to take bold and imaginative policy initiatives like provision of agriculture credit at three per cent. We also need to protect our farmers from private moneylenders. Availability of fertilisers at cheap prices and subsidy scheme for organic fertilisers would also be helpful. Provision of cheap electricity, sufficient availability of irrigation, subsidised seeds etc. should not be taken as a matter of grace. In fact, this all should be treated as emergency measures to keep agriculture alive in this country. Even the schemes like NREGP would not be able to provide long-term solution towards sustainable employment. Rejuvenation of agriculture and agro-based rural industrialisation is the solution to address the challenges of food security and vibrant village life”.


Compiled by Suman K Jha








PM: This is the fifteenth meeting with my Pakistani counterpart — I don’t see any reason to sit for the twentieth time to discuss the draft of the joint statement.


SM Krishna: We don’t want to take any chances. I think we need to finalise a strategy right away.


Foreign Secretary: A strategy for talks or a strategy for drafts of the strategy meeting?


SM Krishna: Both. They mean the same thing anyway. Firstly, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you all in this strategy session on how to strategise for yet another meeting of the prime ministers of these two great countries. During the days of Nehru and Chou En-lai, Indian foreign policy planners used to meet. Firstly, I think you should know that Benazir Bhutto is no longer alive although I remember meeting Zulfikar but he was no better than Jinnah whom I also knew...


Foreign Secretary: I think since the PM is to meet Zardari and Gilani again we need to get some good draftsmen for their joint meeting urgently.


SM Krishna I agree. I think the last drafted joint statement was particularly weak.


Foreign Secretary: I know, I know...


PM: Are we finished?


SM Krishna: Not yet. It should have said talks on terrorism cannot be bracketed with composite dialogue but within brackets we should work towards, comma, a joint mechanism in italics for talks in the future. There should have been at least three exclamation marks¿


Foreign Secretary: Alas the best draftsmen in the foreign office have left us after having collected their VRS. They’ve joined the private sector in a big way¿


SM Krishna: Traitors! I’m sure they have joined the United States government.


FS: No, they are teaching Rapidex English to call-centres...


PM: I think we should infuse some smart young creative thinking into this.


What do you think Shashi, how should we draft the joint statement?


Shashi Tharoor: Tweet! Tweet!


FS: He has just returned from a bout of tweeting!

Tharoor: I think - tweet — we need to see it is in the perspective of the United Nations reference to Kashmir. This is important. It is also important to think clearly. I remember the times I could think most clearly were in college, particularly when St Stephen’s was not coed. It helps you know. Tweet!


Krishna: I think we need to bring in elements of Nam in this discussion and debate.


Tharoor: North Vietnam or South Vietnam?


Krishna: No, Nam of Castro-Nasser-Tito!


PM: I think we need to have some definite idea whether,


a. We should talk with Pakistan.


b. Discuss terror.


c. Discuss Kashmir.


d. Discuss Balochisthan.


e. Have no talks with Pakistan.


f. At the same time not talk till Kasab confesses...


By the way whose great idea was it to have these talks anyway?


Foreign secretary: I think you are right, we need to draft another joint statement even before even thinking of talking.


Tharoor: I think you are all right. I remember the 1971 war when the air raid siren used to sound menacing and I had to duck in the Stephen’s cafeteria. Tweet! Tweet!


PM: This is going nowhere.


Foreign Secretary: I know. Let’s have another around of discussions where we decide whether our talks should be linked to joint talks with Pakistan.


Krishna: Brilliant. Even Krishna Menon would not have thought of it! If he had, we should have given the Chinese a bloody nose in 1962!


Meeting ends...


The writer is a senior journalist.











The inking of the Indo-Asean free trade agreement will have significance beyond that delivered by freeing up trade. First, getting this through is UPA-II’s first major reformist success. This is crucial in terms of assessing the government’s ability to stick to its plan in the face of opposition, and opposition was considerable, including ministerial, in the case of the Asean FTA. Kerala, an important state for the Congress, hosted most of the opposition. There’s a lesson here for UPA-II when petty local dissent challenges national policies. The second significance is that the bruising Asean FTA battle was a good test for the new commerce minister, Anand Sharma. Sharma has the bigger trade battle, WTO negotiations, coming up and his shepherding of the FTA deal means he goes into the September ministerial of WTO—the venue is New Delhi—with good trade conduct on the part of India. A sabotage of the Asean FTA so late in the day would have hurt India’s prestige and weight at WTO forums. The third significance is that the Asean FTA has hopefully made our economic bureaucracy more appreciative of trade openness. All countries fight hard during negotiations, and they should, but the big picture is that negotiators have to take a call on the overall benefits. Tea held up the FTA with Sri Lanka for a long time, and apparently rubber was among the reasons the Asean FTA was in danger. This needs to change. You fight for the big things.


And, to come back to WTO, the big thing India should be fighting about is what it will get in return for agreeing to a certain formula under which farm imports into India can be allowed. WTO rules are such that even if such a thing was agreed, there’s no danger of a flood of imports. But negotiation demands that India extracts a concession, possibly on services. There will be the usual big political brouhaha over Indian farming coming under threat and it will be misinformed but noisy. For the commerce minister, that will be another test—he will have to clearly articulate India’s position domestically and he will have to show what he has got in return. This will not be easy, because trade ministers are judged by the political class by how much he has blocked, not intelligently negotiated. The thing is that the blocking was done during UPA-I by Kamal Nath, who became the West’s least favourite trade minister, and taking advantage of that, now’s the time for smart give-and-take. Anand Sharma has his job cut out.







Whatever the questions on details of the IIP data—and for June data there are some questions, for example on the spectacular rise in other, meaning small manufacturing—there’s no mistaking that industrial recovery is on its way. This is not just because all three main sub-sectors—manufacturing, mining and electricity— are posting healthy numbers. It is also the pace of recovery that is attention-worthy. Industrial growth has picked up 8 percentage points in six months between January and June, from negative territory to a shade below 8%. This is quick and it stands out when compared to all other major economies. By IIP data, India’s industrial recovery would seem to be outpacing even China’s currently. In China, industrial growth picked up by 5 percentage points to reach 10.7%, during the same period. The comparison is stark when one considers India’s industrial growth in June to other Asian majors like South Korea (-1.2%), Malaysia (-9.6%), Taiwan (-11.4%), Thailand (-7.8%) and Vietnam (4.8%). The rich world, of course, is in slump still in terms of industrial growth. Striking as all this is, and as good as the June IIP numbers look given other economic data, the big issue for India is whether industrial recovery will be sharp enough to make a big difference.


Consumer demand and investment demand are the key factors, with the second more crucial than the first as a growth accelerator. IIP data shows consumer durables posting 15% growth over the most recent quarter. Consumer non-durables posted small growth in June, but after negative growth in the previous months, the question survives: before farm news turned less-than-good because of patchy rains, the earlier good rabi crop and MSP-supported farm incomes were supposed to boost mass consumption items, but they haven’t. Going forward, and working on the impact of poor monsoons on rural incomes (about half of rural income comes from agriculture), this is something to think about, especially for FMCGs. Also, higher consumer non-durable demand, to the extent this was partly coming from higher government salaries, may need boosters in coming months. On the investment front, June’s double-digit growth looks an improvement on previous months. But seasonally-adjusted data for investment for April-June is not bringing in good news. Plus, latest corporate results show net profit and sales are under pressure and some data on capital expenditure is not showing good tidings. The one conclusion from this forest of data is that while industry is recovering, it needs help. The government can’t help. So, monetary policy must. But will it?









The south-west monsoon has been a disaster this year. As of August 5, the precipitation this season was 25% lower than the long period average. As a result, kharif sowing was down 6% as of end-July. If the situation does not get any worse, CMIE expects crop production to fall by 4.7% this year. Rice production is projected to fall by 9.6%, sugarcane by 6.7%, cotton 5%, groundnut 12.8% and coarse cereals 8.8%. Production of most other crops is also expected to fall this year.


This can lead to a rise in inflation. The combined effect of lower output and higher inflation could make 2009-10 the worst economic year since 2002-03. Lower farm incomes will depress demand from rural regions and high inflation will depress demand in urban regions.


The crisis merits a response that matches the quick and smart moves made by RBI after the global liquidity crisis. An immediate response should be to augment domestic supplies of those commodities that are expected to see a decline in output. This can be done through a strategy of sustained release of government stocks and quick imports to supplement the releases.


It is important that these supply-enhancing moves be made quickly and effectively to prevent high inflation. A delayed response fails to control inflation and bestows an opportunity on traders to make a quick buck. Speed and clarity of intention is imperative.Immediate imports are only a short-term and partial solution to the larger problem of the economy’s vulnerability to an unpredictably errant monsoon. We require a two-pronged solution to this uncertainty. First, we need to reduce the unpredictability. And, secondly, we need to build an agricultural sector that is resilient to the vagaries of the monsoon.


Our science & technology programme needs to set its priorities to solve the country’s most vexing problems. Predicting the monsoon and the climate in general is a critically important task that needs greater attention and resources today than it gets. The India Meteorological Department needs to meet the decision-making needs of the potential users of the information it gathers. There is a need for better timeliness and greater geographical granularity of the forecasts.


The business of forecasting the weather needs a larger body of researchers and consultants. Multiple forecasters and application-specific consultants can bring in the depth and the competition necessary to make this business exciting and useful. The IMD can facilitate this metamorphosis and redefine its role in the growth of the weather forecasting industry in India.


Most FMCG companies in India use the weather forecasting services of international institutes. I will not be surprised if those institutes use Indian skills to make the forecasts. It will be fruitful if we also develop a thriving body of professionals—an entire industry that forecasts the weather to provide useful services to clients.


Accurate weather forecasts themselves do not yield a good crop. Farmers should be capable of using them. Most of our farmers are too poor and ill-equipped to use a good forecast. We need corporates to enter the sector to be able to use modern inputs such as weather forecasts and to exploit the advantages that India naturally has to be a global leader in agriculture.


Our natural advantages are many. India has the second largest arable land in the world. The climate is conducive to multiple cropping. We have plenty of labour to till the lands and we have a large domestic market to consume the farm produce. What is missing is enterprise to harness these advantages into growth and prosperity. The modern corporate structure is the best known form of enterprise today. We need corporates to be engaged in agricultural production activities in a big way to ensure that we do not remain vulnerable to the monsoon.


Only big corporates can invest in land development and modern irrigation systems that would use finite resources such as land and scarce resources such as water and electricity efficiently; in storage and distribution systems that would reduce wastage; in branding and marketing that would ensure competition and quality.


We need reforms that can enable the consolidation of land holdings and stop these from further fragmentation. The hands that till the land need to be employed in better conditions than they are today. Growth through corporatisation of agriculture can be inclusive. Farmers with land can find a better value for their land and landless farm workers can get better working conditions. Surely, large corporates would make profits on the way. But, these can be taxed and agriculture then need not remain a tax-free sector.


Agriculture needs strategic long-term investments. Arable land is the source of food and alternate fuels. Let corporates invest into these and reduce our vulnerability to food shortages today and fuel shortages tomorrow. Agriculture need not remain the preserve of poor vulnerable farmers and the country need not remain captive to the monsoon any more.


The author heads the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy








There is just a faint chance that a sensible economic policy is about to take shape with the new UPA government. It is of course too early to tell and the instincts of the Congress are dirigiste in the extreme. But we have, for example, Murli Deora’s sensible stance on the endless Ambani versus Ambani dispute. He has made it clear that he is not in favour of underpricing gas even if it comes out of a national asset. Indeed, he is not even willing to fall for the Left argument that he should nationalise it.


Deora has also made it clear that the subsidy for petrol consumers will not be renewed at its old level. Middle class consumers were hiding behind the poor people's demand for kerosene and getting away with a $50 billion subsidy. It is good that the subsidy is being phased out. I hope nothing is done until oil price hits $100 and even then only if it persists for six months at that level or above. Even then the subsidy should be partial and scaled back as soon as feasible. There is absolutely no reason for subsidising petrol. There is enough pollution as it is.


The argument against subsidising India’s polluters is the same as India has made in the global context. The rich pollute and the poor should not have to pay. Within India, while the per capita emissions of GHG are low, the inequalities between those who do emit and those who don’t are enormous. India may choose to hide behind the 400 million people who don’t have electricity, but the real culprits are those 50-100 millions who do have it and use it excessively. Let us have an equitable emission outcome within India as India wishes to achieve globally. Let us tax the use of power and water sufficiently to lower their consumption by the rich.


Another good straw in the wind has been Praful Patel’s stance on airlines complaining about the recession. The captains of free enterprise run to the government whenever the going gets rough. I would have thought you prove your entrepreneurial ability not when you can ride the up wave but if you can face the downside and survive and flourish later.


Praful Patel’s refusal to subsidise the airlines is exemplary since only 2% of Indians use the facilities. Indeed, here also I find air travel in India very lightly taxed. But even if there is no additional tax, there certainly should be no subsidies. Even Air India/Indian Airlines should be allowed to fold if it cannot survive. No NREGA workers will suffer an inch from its closure.


The big hurdle the UPA has to face is the Land Bill. Here I must say Mamata Banerjee has taken the view with which I agree 100%. Indeed, though I did not approve of her tactics of intimidation in Singur, her idea that the State should get out of the business of land purchasing is entirely sound. The State is not behaving like the farmers’ friend where land purchases are concerned and has never done so, for over a hundred years.


The 1894 Act is a piece of intimidation and should be abolished. In its place we need a land legislation in which all buyers and sellers are treated as equal and without privilege. Land should be treated like any other durable commodity. There should be registration which is transparent, property rights should be cleaned up and buyers and sellers should be able to get to a regulator in case of problems. Indian farmers have been buying and selling land for thousands of years and only now we have the sentimental view that the farmer never wants to part with his land.


Of course, farmers do have anxiety about what would be the source of livelihood if they have sold their one principal asset. But here the problem in West Bengal has been the serious underdevelopment of the West Bengal economy which the Left has brought about. Farmers know there are no other avenues of employment because the economic policies followed were meant to destroy and not build the economy. Of course it was done with the conviction that markets fail everywhere and only the ma-baap government will look after the people. If only!


The idea that there is market failure and we need State intervention presumes that the State is some benevolent neutral agent. We have copious information now to reject that hypothesis. We should not again take it seriously.


The entire Naxal strength is rooted in the resentful experience of tribal and lower caste people whose access to common property and sometime even their own land has been taken away by the State and given away to contractors who have funded the political parties or worse the leaders.


The farmers of West Bengal will give their verdict soon. In the meantime, let Mamata have her piece of legislation.


The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer








If not the UK government, then self-help is best for the Tata group. If the group was strong enough to buy Jaguar and Land Rover, it can very well take tough decisions to make this buy worthwhile.


The Indian stock market has greeted Tata Motors-JLR plans to raise money sans any help from the UK government by pushing the stocks up 7%. This is a market that so far had not been kind to the JLR acquisition, generally considering it a drag on Tata Motors. JLR was bleeding Tata Motors. But the revival in the first quarter of this year with unexpected positive numbers, launch of the Nano and also the debut of JLR in India could mark a change in the fortunes of Tata Motors.


By firmly saying a big no to the UK government funding, Tatas are displaying confidence. Since September 2008, when the global auto industry was hit by massive drop in volumes and drying up of funding, the Tatas were looking to the UK government for support but the talks didn’t go their way.


The Tatas now say the positive trend in the external environment in financial markets and improvement in general liquidity and the arrangement of funds through private sources meant that they no longer needed the guarantees from the UK government.


UK business secretary Peter Mandelson responded by saying that banks and commercial capital markets meeting JLR’s funding is a clear sign of confidence in the company, its products and the automotive sector. “We understand the Tata group will now be successful in resolving longer-term financial needs but we are willing to help again if necessary,” Mandelson said. But the British government did not walk the talk. They did not share this confidence before this and were clearly unwilling to take the risks with their taxpayers’ money.


Now it is up to the Tatas to make a success of their JLR plans and make it sustainable. They have yet to pass the acid test. But when the turnaround happens, the Tatas should be laughing all the way to the bank and the UK government can rue the missed opportunities with their money going to bail out weak banks rather than resuscitating the manufacturing industry.








Ever since the bodies of two young women washed up on the banks of the Rambiara river in Shopian in south Kashmir ten weeks ago, the investigation into their death has been hit by crisis. On Tuesday, this newspaper broke the news that vaginal swabs purported to have been taken from the victims were, in fact, drawn from other women. Since the presence of semen in the swabs has been the keystone of the investigation into allegations that the women were raped and then murdere d, the fabrication could mean that the truth about Shopian would never be known. Opinion is divided on whether the fabrication was carried out to protect powerful perpetrators or, in the alternative, to defame security force personnel alleged to have carried out the rape. What is clear is that the investigation was messed up from the start. First, the district police failed to sanitise the crime scene, which raised the possibility of a loss of critical evidence. Then the doctors who conducted two sets of autopsies on the victims provided inconclusive findings on the cause of death and whether the two women had been sexually assaulted. Shockingly, the autopsies were carried out by non-specialists, without the aid of basic equipment such as microscope. The post-mortem was not videotaped. Despite allegations by Shopian residents that the women had been raped by police and paramilitary personnel, authorities delayed initiating a full criminal investigation. Matters were made worse by politicians, whose efforts to cash in on the tragedy set off street battles. All this has stretched the credibility of the Jammu and Kashmir government to breaking point.


Three possibilities now face investigators. Did the police personnel under investigation for their possible role in the deaths arrange for the slides to be switched? Or did the doctors and forensic experts who handled the swabs swap them with fakes, either to assist the suspects or those alleging that the women had been raped by security force personnel? Or was there a genuine mistake? The poor record of the J&K Police Special Investigation Team, which has been handling the case, gives little reason for confidence. It is yet to question several suspects who merited investigation in the eyes of the Justice Muzaffar Jan Commission of Inquiry. The SIT has failed to persuade the families of the victims to consent to the exhumation of the bodies for forensic tests. Bowing to demands from angry legislators, the State government has said it would seek to hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation. This must be done immediately. The families of the two young women and the State’s people are entitled to the unvarnished truth about Shopian.







The verdict handed down to Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi by a kangaroo court in Myanmar is outrageous and deserves to be condemned in the strongest of terms. Consider the farce enacted in the court. The presiding officer finds Ms Suu Kyi guilty of violating the rules of house arrest and sentences her to three more years of detention. Then the military junta’s Home Minister enters the courtroom through the backdoor and announces that the term of extended detention i s reduced to 18 months. She was alleged to have received a guest — an American who visited her uninvited by swimming across the lake abutting her residence — in defiance of the rule. This happened just when her incarceration was about to end, and obviously the military rulers needed another ruse to keep her in detention. The trial began promptly and the verdict was very much on expected lines, though the whole world knew it was a farce. Ms Suu Kyi has spent 14 years in detention, some of them in prison. Despite the continuing pressure from the international community, and more recently the personal message U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon to the generals, the junta has chosen to defy the world and doggedly pursue its mission to keep Burma, or what it calls Myanmar, under brutal repression and without development.


Obviously, at the back of the generals’ minds must have been the so-called general election they have scheduled for 2010. With this verdict, Ms Suu Kyi has been effectively kept out of the electoral process, and the junta would like to go through a sham election in an effort to gain political legitimacy as well. As British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says: “The international community must respond to this latest injustice with a clear message to the junta that its tyrannical actions will no longer be tolerated.” Experience has demonstrated clearly that sanctions by the Western powers alone cannot make much of a difference. The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has also tried to exert pressure on Myanmar to adopt the process of reform and go for an inclusive electoral process. The generals have once again displayed their resolve to continue with their repressive misrule. It is time the entire international community took concerted and effective action against the regime so that the country’s 50 million people were freed from repression and misrule. The Suu Kyi trial has shown that a soft approach to the military junta — in the hope that it will, in course of time, leave the task of governing the country to democratically elected representatives and step back into the barracks — is clearly not working.









From the perspective of international negotiations on climate change, the most significant outcome of the recently concluded G8 Summit at L’Aquila, Italy, was the acknowledgement in its declaration of the essential scientific fact that global average temperature above pre-industrialisation levels should not exceed 2o Celsius. This has at least brought the United States, a non-signatory to the Kyoto Protocol in spite of its being the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) em itter, on board. Hopefully, it will now undertake emission reductions at Copenhagen for the Protocol’s second commitment period beyond 2012.


However, the Waxman-Merkey Bill (H.R. 2454), recently passed by the House of Representatives, may belie that hope. The very weak caps it proposes on U.S. domestic GHG emissions by 2050 (17 per cent of 2005 levels, which are themselves about 17 per cent above the UNFCCC baseline of 1990 levels) are a matter of concern. From the perspective of developing countries, however, there are other serious issues that emerge from the various declarations at the Summit. The unwarranted controversy around India signing the Major Economies Forum (MEF) declaration (The Hindu, July 28) has had the unfortunate effect of the more substantive issues being ignored.


For instance, even as it endorses a global emissions reduction by 50 per cent by 2050, the G8 declaration is totally non-specific about targets for the developed countries (the Annex-1 countries). The espoused reduction by 2050 is only by 80 per cent and there too it is non-committal as it speaks only of supporting such a goal. This is significantly lesser than the 85 per cent global cut from the 2000 levels (equivalent to over 90 per cent cut for the Annex-1 countries) that the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calls for.


More pertinently, the base year has been deliberately left ambiguous. This is significant because world emissions grew by about 1.1 per cent every year in the 1990s and by about 3 per cent a year from 2000-08. Further, while the IPCC calls for peaking by 2015 and the G8 declaration speaks of peaking “as soon as possible,” there is no indication of the peaking year. Even as it mentions “robust aggregate and individual mid-term reductions,” it has not even specified what ‘mid-term’ is, let alone targets for it.


According to a recent paper in Nature by Malte Meinhausen and others, with a 50 per cent reduction in global GHG emissions by 2050 (from the 1990 levels), there is a 12-45 per cent probability of global warming exceeding the 2o C. An illustrative plausible scenario predicts a 29 per cent chance of its exceeding 2o C. A 50 per cent cut from the 2000 or present levels would, obviously, mean a higher probability of its exceeding 2o C.


For the scenarios considered, the paper’s method yields a 53-87 per cent probability of global warming overshooting the 2o C limit if the emissions in 2020 are still more than 25 per cent above the 2000 levels. To contain the warming under 2o C with 75 per cent chance, the estimated emission budget till 2050 is 1000 giga (billion) tonnes of CO{-2}. According to the paper, the world already emitted nearly 284 Gt during 2000-06. The danger of the world’s emissions exceeding the 2000 levels by 25 per cent in 2020 will thus remain real unless the Annex-1 countries adopt drastic reduction targets for 2020 and 2050.


Indeed, the G8’s failure in stating its mid-term emission targets shows its lack of seriousness in reducing emissions. This failure elicited criticism from none other than U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. “Much more,” he said in his statement on July 9, “needs to be done if governments are to seal the deal on a new climate agreement in Copenhagen.” Welcoming the agreement by the G8 on its goal of reducing emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, he added: “For this to be credible, however, we need ambitious mid-term targets [of 25-40 per cent below the 1990 levels], and clear baselines … It is disappointing to note that thus far, the mid-term targets announced by the developed countries [of 10-15 per cent] … are not in this range.” In fact, the G5 declaration had demanded a 40 per cent cut by 2020 from the 1990 levels.


Also, the approach to achieve the ambitious target of reducing the developed countries’ emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 is largely through market mechanisms despite the serious imperfections in them. This agenda is elaborated in Para 69 of the statement: “We support flexible, economically sound market-based approach to emission reductions … With a view to … facilitate action under the global post-2012 agreement, we commit to … Support the development, reform and enhancement of project, programmatic and policy-based offset mechanisms, including Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) … [and] Work with others to further develop market mechanisms under the Copenhagen agreement to possibly including sectoral trading and sectoral crediting mechanisms, to enhance the participation of emerging economies and developing countries in the market ...”


Taking as an illustrative example the proposals mooted by the U.K. to meet the G8 target of reducing emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, George Monbiot of The Guardian strongly criticised the proposed offset-based emission reductions. Apparently, under its new policy on carbon reduction, the U.K. proposes to meet half of this commitment through offsets. That is, it would reduce domestic emissions only by 40 per cent. If all the Annex-1 countries were to buy reductions to this extent from the developing countries, the latter would end up cutting their current emissions by 60 per cent while the former cut emissions only by 40 per cent, he pointed out. Further, the last part of the above quote is, in fact, indicative of an attempt to push sectoral efficiency and energy intensity (carbon footprint) standards and establish new mechanisms of sectoral carbon credits and trading in them.


Unfortunately, given the visible tendency in China and India to seek maximum monetary inflows through the CDM, and the undue importance India is also giving to domestic trading in credits under its mitigation programmes, the G5 declaration has refrained from emphasising the inadequacy of market mechanisms and rejecting the idea of sectoral norms. Considering that the G5 declaration was issued a day before such a position could have pre-empted the G8 statement in this regard. The MEF declaration, to which G5 is a party, in fact, has gone further to actually endorse this faulty premise. It says: “Financing to address climate change will derive from multiple sources, including public and private funds and carbon markets” (emphasis added).


There is also an element of contradiction in the various declarations from the perspective of the developing countries. Take for instance the ‘burden sharing principle’ of the UNFCCC (Art. 4.7), namely access to and transfer of low-carbon and other renewable technologies, financing and capacity building. While the G5 declaration has stressed this, there is no firm commitment in the declarations involving the G8. More importantly, in none of the declarations to which the G5 is a party, including the G5 Declaration on Trade, has the key issue of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), which has proved to be the key barrier to the availability and transfer of technologies relevant to climate change, been flagged. On the contrary, the G8 declaration says: “[W]e stress the role of an efficient system of IPRs to foster innovation.”


While, surprisingly, the MEF declaration does not refer to the WTO, both G5 and G8+G5 declarations have endorsed the WTO regime and reaffirmed their commitment to maintain and promote open markets and reject all protectionist measures in trade and investment that are incongruous with the WTO. This would, in particular, imply acceptance of the TRIPS regime even for low-carbon and renewable energy technologies.


As regards the issue of financing mitigation measures in developing countries, the G5 declaration says: “[W]e express our interest in continuing to consider proposal to establish international financing arrangements, including Mexico’s Green Fund [MGF] proposal and to set financing goals so that developed countries will contribute a set percentage of their annual GDP, in addition to their contributions to ODA, among others, to ensure adequate, predictable and continuous financial resources …”


But in the G8’s response there are only platitudes. Its declaration, in particular, mentions the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds as the only appropriate funding instruments. The MEF, on the other hand, has only “agreed to further consider proposals for … international funding arrangements, including the MGF.” In sum, therefore, the G8 Summit has delivered precious little on climate change for the developing countries even as the developed countries have hailed the consensus on the 2o C limit as a major achievement.











Yet again, Wikipedia is about to break new ground. The website that has become one of the biggest open repositories of knowledge is due — within the next week or so — to hit the mark of three million articles in English.


It’s all a very long way from January 2001, when Wikipedia launched. Its first million articles took five years to put together, but the second was achieved just 12 months later. It was not just the number of articles that grew, but also the number of people involved in creating them. During Wikipedia’s first burst of activity between 2004 and 2007, the number of active users on the site rocketed from just a few thousand to more than 300,000.


However, statistics released by the site’s analytics team suggest Wikipedia’s explosive growth is all but finished. The quickening pace that helped the site reach the two million article milestone just 17 months after breaking the one million barrier suddenly evaporated: adding the next million has taken nearly two years. While the encyclopaedia is still growing overall, the number of articles being added has reduced from an average of 2,200 a day in July 2007 to around 1,300 today.


Elsewhere, the number of active Wikipedians (those contributing to the site in some way) now comes in at just under 500,000. That is a 61 per cent increase in the past two years; hardly shabby, but nowhere near the increases seen in the past. At the same time, however, the base of highly active editors (who contribute new words to the project and marshall the billions of pieces of information the site contains) has remained more or less static.


From the numbers, it looks as though Wikipedia is stagnating. Why?


One of those who has spent his time studying what happens on Wikipedia is Ed H Chi, a scientist who works at the Palo Alto Research Centre (Parc) in California. His team, the Augmented Social Cognition group wanted to understand what was happening on the website, in order to build better collaborative software.


“For a long time, the understood model for all kinds of large knowledge systems on the web was that they grow exponentially,” he says. “The accepted explanation was that the rich get richer - things that receive a lot of attention end up getting a lot more attention.”


Wikipedia fitted that model perfectly in its early days. However, when Chi and his colleagues looked at the recent data, they realised this approach did not fit any more. But with a site as complex and sprawling as Wikipedia, simply crunching the numbers proved a major task in itself.


First they spent a significant amount of time downloading a carbon copy of Wikipedia: every article, every edit and every piece of information ever to cross the site’s servers. Even when compressed, the files stretched to an enormous 8 terabytes — the equivalent of more than 1,200 DVDs stuffed with information. Decompressing in preparation for analysis took almost a week, and when the group fed the data into their 60-machine computing cluster, they got some surprising results.


Chi’s team discovered that the way the site operated had changed significantly from the early days, when it ran an open-door policy that allowed in anyone with the time and energy to dedicate to the project.


Today, they discovered, a stable group of high-level editors has become increasingly responsible for controlling the encyclopedia, while casual contributors and editors are falling away. Wikipedia — often touted as the bastion of open knowledge online — has become, in Chi’s words, “a more exclusive place.”


One of the measures the Parc team looked at was how often a user’s edit succeeds in sticking. “We found that if you were an elite editor, the chance of your edit being reverted was something in the order of 1 per cent — and that’s been very consistent over time from around 2003 or 2004,” he says.


Meanwhile, for those who did not invest vast amounts of time in editing, the experience was very different. “For editors that make between two and nine edits a month, the percentage of their edits being reverted had gone from 5 per cent in 2004 all the way up to about 15 per cent by October 2008. And the ‘onesies’ — people who only make one edit a month — their edits are now being reverted at a 25 per cent rate,” Chi explains.


In other words, a change by a casual editor is more likely than ever to be overturned, while changes by the elite are rarely questioned. “To power users it feels like Wikipedia operates in the way it always has — but for the newcomers or the occasional users, they feel like the resistance in the community has definitely changed.”


While Chi points out that this does not necessarily imply causation, he suggests it is concrete evidence to back up what many people have been saying: that it is increasingly difficult to enjoy contributing to Wikipedia unless you are part of the site’s inner core of editors.


One person who typifies that feeling is Aaron Swartz, a 22-year-old programmer who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Something of a wunderkind in the software development world, Swartz used to spend a lot of time working on Wikipedia — in 2006 he even stood for election to the Wikimedia Foundation, the organisation behind the site (his bid failed). These days, however, he rarely checks in.


“I used to be one of the top editors I contribute things here and there where I see something wrong.” The reason, he explains, is that the site feels more insular and exclusive than in the past. “In general, the biggest problem I have with the editors is their attitude,” he says. “They say: ‘We’re not going to explain how we make decisions, we basically talk amongst ourselves.’


“There’s no place on Wikipedia that says: ‘Want to become a Wikipedia editor? Here’s how you do it.’ Instead, you basically have to really become part of that community and pick it up through osmosis and have the tradition passed down to you.”


Swartz’s experience certainly correlates with the figures unearthed by Parc, even if his attitude is not shared by everyone. Given the history of the online world — where escalating growth can continue for years — it seems unlikely that this gradual slowdown was inevitable. Instead, it could be the end result of a battle between two competing factions of Wikipedia editors.


On one side stand the deletionists, whose motto is “Wikipedia is not a junkyard”; on the other, the inclusionists, who argue that “Wikipedia is not paper.”


Deletionists argue for a tightly controlled and well-written encyclopaedia that provides valuable information on topics of widespread interest. Why should editors waste time on articles about fly-by-night celebrities or wilfully obscure topics? Inclusionists, on the other hand, believe that the more articles the site has, the better: if they are poorly referenced or badly written, they can be improved — and any article is better than nothing. After all, they say, there is no limit to the size of the site, and no limit to the information that people may want.


The two groups had been vying for control from early on in the site’s life, but the numbers suggest that the deletionists may have won. The increasing difficulty of making a successful edit; the exclusion of casual users; slower growth — all are hallmarks of the deletionist approach.


Swartz, an avowed inclusionist, says the deletionists have won — but says he understands their motivation. “When Wikipedia is in the news, it’s always because someone found this inaccuracy, or somebody’s suing Wikipedia ... It’s always about how Wikipedia screwed up. So of course what they’re going to be worried about is not how to make Wikipedia grow and have more content, it’s about how we keep Wikipedia out of trouble and how we stop people from messing it up.”


Still, there remain unanswered questions. Could its growth ever halt completely? How big will the site be when the editors decide that the sum of human knowledge is catalogued? Could a new website take Wikipedia’s place by toeing an inclusionist line?


Parc’s research doesn’t give any answers, but Chi has identified one model that Wikipedia’s growth pattern matches. “In my experience, the only thing we’ve seen these growth patterns [in] before is in population growth studies — where there’s some sort of resource constraint that results in this model.” The site, he suggests, is becoming like a community where resources have started to run out. “As you run out of food, people start competing for that food, and that results in a slowdown in population growth and means that the stronger, more well-adapted part of the population starts to have more power.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009









In case nobody has noticed, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is on holiday and, in his absence, Downing Street is following a revolving-doors policy with four senior cabinet ministers taking turns to stand in for the boss.


Critics say that Mr. Brown’s choice of a feuding quartet (Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling and Justice Secretary Jack Straw) to mind the store in the holiday pe riod instead of entrusting the job to one person as his predecessor Tony Blair used to do has nothing to do with any notion of a more collegial arrangement. Far from it.


Rather it is said to have been prompted by a deep-seated insecurity: a fear that an official Number Two, with his/her own leadership ambitions, posed a more real threat to his leadership than four squabbling colleagues divided by their own rivalries.


Indeed, there was much speculation that Mr. Brown was not keen on taking a holiday at all. At a press conference, a foreign journalist asked him whether this was because he didn’t trust his colleagues and feared that they would take his job while he was away. While Mr. Brown dismissed the question with a laugh, it is no secret that he feels deeply insecure. And given that many of his colleagues have not exactly been a model of loyalty can he really be blamed if he doesn’t trust anyone?


So, how has Downing Street be coping in his absence?


The first week, managed by Ms Harman, was tailored-made for a media struggling to fill newspaper pages and air-time in this silly season. Ms Harman, who famously described herself as “no shrinking violet,” used the occasion to do what she does best: plugging her “vision” of a just, fair, and woman-friendly society with headline-grabbing quotes such as the one about the “Lehman Sisters.” Blaming the economic crisis on the male domination of key jobs in banks, she declared that had the U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers been run by women it would have still been in business.


“Somebody did say ... that if it had been Lehman Sisters, rather than Lehman Brothers, then there may not have been as much (turmoil),” she told a TV channel even as her male colleagues were still smarting after she accused them of monopolising the top jobs in the party and the government.


In a remark that her critics were quick to see as shorthand for her own leadership bid Ms Harman warned that the era of all-male Labour Party leadership was over and time had come for women to be given a chance to have a crack at the top job prompting a wave of angry comment from senior Labour figures.


By the end of the week, thanks to her strident advocacy of “feminist” issues Ms Harman had managed to bring back a whiff of the old-fashioned gender-divide among Britain’s chattering classes with most men on one side and women on the other.


So sexist was some of the male reaction (Rod Little in The Sunday Times was specially boorish) that even women who don’t like Ms Harman’s often shrill style found themselves defending her against “misogynist” commentators. One woman columnist accused them of portraying Ms Harman as a “monster” (“Cruella de Equality, a flapping vampiric harpy hunting the halls of power...”) simply because she was asking for a bit of gender equality.


Ms Harman being Ms Harman even the manner of her leaving Downing Street last week at the end of her allotted seven days in the limelight caused a controversy. She signed off her “shift” on Friday expecting that her successor, Mr. Mandelson (an even more contentious figure than her) would join on Saturday. But Mr. Mandelson, who was holidaying with a posh banker friend on an exotic Greek island, claimed that he had been given the impression that his “shift” would start on Monday and he had no intention of cutting short his holiday.


So, for some 72 hours there was a power vacuum at the heart of British Government (apparently a history of sorts). And when Mr. Mandelson finally showed up on Monday the first thing he did was to have a none-too-subtle dig at Ms Harman declaring that (unlike like her) he would not be so pompous as to set up his office at No. 10 and would continue to work from his own department. He was too humble, he suggested, to see himself as being “in charge of the country.”


“Look, I’m not in charge of the country — the Prime Minister is... He is on holiday and if there are small things I can pick up to give him the best holiday that he deserves, I’ll certainly do that,” he said so very humbly.


How touching — coming from a man who couldn’t stand the sight of Mr. Brown until a few months ago.


As I write this Mr. Mandelon has been in his “new” job for only a few days and though he has started off on a quiet note there is no knowing how it will all end. Punters, relying on his past reputation, predict an eventful week ahead.









Sonia Maria Sotomayor is a great Judge, and I salute her. Sworn in a Justice of the United States Supreme Court on August 8, she is the 111th Justice of that court, its first Hispanic Justice and only the third woman to hold the post.


She is a symbol of gender power, a fine paradigm of feminine title to judicial authority to dispense justice at the national level. The glory is not only for womanhood in the U.S., she is now a symbol of woman’s super-stature in gender performance across all of humanity. Sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court Bench, she will be an inspiration for women in all countries whose claims to office are often neglected because the masculine gender occupies an unjust majority in all the three great constitutional instrumentalities. Even among judges in Victorian England women were rarely elevated to the high bench.


This wise, graceful and egalitarian nomination made by President Barack Obama is a bold assertion of the equality of the sexes. It is proof of the women’s liberation movement which is part of a broad liberation movement initiated by women the world over to improve their social position by freeing themselves from the constraints and disadvantages of a society said to be dominated by men. The ‘women’s lib’ movement has strong roots in the U.S. and Europe.


Manmohan Singh’s whole structural ethos remains quite a distance from the socialist revolution in the USSR which could raise the status of both sexes: Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to go into outer space.


In India, there is a printed declaration of equality of sexes as a fundamental right, but only 0.5 per cent of judges are women. In C.B. Muthamma v. Union of India and Ors (1979 SCC (4) 260), women were found to be discriminated against in the foreign service rules even in the matter of right to matrimony. If a woman Indian Foreign Service officer married, she had to resign, while a man who wed conjugal life did not need to do so. There was no valid ground for this discrimination. As a Judge of the Supreme Court I stuck down this disparity in Ms Muthamma’s case. For the state it was argued by Soli Sorabjee, who fairly conceded the impropriety.


Only in a rare instance did India, a democracy, have a woman Prime Minister. Half of humanity comprises women, and yet no political party even in this democracy supports the cause of a third of the number of legislators being women.


The social revolution should begin with an equal share for women in constitutional instrumentalities and the learned professions sharing state power. Rama’s treatment of Sita was unfair, and he eventually submitted her to forest-life based on rumours.


In the cultural epics of India, polygamy was the privilege of the kings while monogamy was strictly enforced for women.


Sonia Sotomayor is indeed a majestic challenge to this discriminatory cosmic pathology. In India, the unconstitutionality between the sexes is rampant even in Parliament, notwithstanding Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. President Pratibha Patil became a ceremonial celebrity by chance — these are but exceptions. And none of this is anywhere near Queen Elizabeth or Queen Victoria in terms of power. Our socialist Republic has promises to keep and miles to go before it can claim to fulfil the spirit of even the Preamble to the Constitution.


Parliament has failed disgracefully in not approving a law to let women take one-third of the positions of MPs. In the next elections, any party that does not include this promise in its manifesto should be “de-voted” by women: they should instead vote for candidates who promise to support the cause.


This does not mean reservation without merit. Sonia Sotomayor was chosen by Mr. Obama because she met the standards as a highly qualified person and will surely be a luminous celebrity as a distinguished jurist. Justice Sotomayor has lived the American Dream. Born and raised in a South Bronx housing project, she distinguished herself in academia and then as a hard-charging New York District Attorney.


Justice Sotomayor has gone on to earn bipartisan acclaim as one of America’s finest legal minds. As a Supreme Court Justice, she will bring more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any Justice in a hundred years. She will show fidelity to the Constitution and draw on a commonsensical understanding of how the law affects day-to-day lives.


In India, too, if only the collegium, which has no constitutional status except a bizarre precedent with a narrow majority which binds nevertheless, adopted merit as a ground for selection! Many candidates, men and women, have been chosen on the basis of irrelevant personal affection, personal favouritism, party support and nepotism and close relationships. Many of the judges now selected can be replaced by better ones, but a weak executive itself lacking in merit of the highest order submits to a syndrome of dynastic and other unhappy considerations. Women of exceptional merit at the Bar and who have a record of academic excellence are available but miss the Bench since they are women.


Women should awake and arise. They should not stop till their equal status is secured.








As public health workers, we are concerned with the reaction in various quarters to the A(H1N1) (swine flu) epidemic. The hysteria created by the media and the knee-jerk reaction from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, are not conducive to rational and well-informed management of the situation.


Swine flu is not more lethal, for instance, than ordinary flu and dengue. There is thus no need for the panic response. It can be treated like any ordinary flu unless there are complications that require hospitalisation. There needs to be greater clarity in the management and treatment of A(H1N1) so that the public is informed regarding the aetiology, treatment and management of swine flu.


Secondary and tertiary levels should be used for confirmation and treatment alone and not for screening, as is being done at present. Screening should be done at the primary level — whether public or private. These have to be given guidelines for screening and testing. The Indian Medical Association will need to play a proactive role in professionally and ethically sensitising its members. Treatment should, at least in the current phase, be limited to designated public hospitals. The government needs to explicitly come out with guidelines regarding the stage of the epidemic at which presumptive cases and not just (laboratory) confirmed cases will be treated with specific antivirals.


Equally, there is no need for the government to open up testing and treatment in the private sector. As public health workers, we know that the private sector is diverse in quality and competence. The situation therefore is ripe for unnecessary — and expensive — testing for swine flu and unnecessary over-diagnosis and treatment. This will not only lead to resistance to the only drugs we have but widespread exploitation of people wrongly diagnosed to have swine flu.


The response to this epidemic must be coordinated by institutions such as the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, Indian Council for Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology and not be guided by clinicians alone.


The swine flu epidemic must not be used as an opportunity for quick money making but must be used to strengthen the capacities of the public health infrastructure, including systems for surveillance and monitoring.









Two smartly dressed armed robbers walked into an exclusive store in London’s chic Mayfair district and stole jewellery worth almost £40m in what is believed to be the biggest gem heist in British history, it emerged on Tuesday.


Posing as clients, the criminals made their way past a security guard after arriving in a black cab at Graff jewellers in the West End of London last Thursday. Once they had been allowed through the airlock door into the prestigious New Bond Street shop, the men, dressed in business suits, pulled out handguns, forced staff on to the floor, and grabbed rings, bracelets, necklaces and watches. CCTV footage released by Scotland Yard shows the pair entering the jewellers. They fired two warning shots into the ground before escaping in a series of vehicles across central London.


The extent of the heist was kept secret for nearly a week. Police have now revealed the items stolen were worth £40m, dwarfing Britain’s previous biggest diamond jewellery robbery, in 2003, when items worth £23m were stolen, also from Graff’s.


Police also released images of some of the 43 items of stolen jewellery, including a pair of white round diamond double-hoop earrings, a yellow diamond flower necklace, a platinum white Marquise diamond ring, and a men’s chronograph 45mm watch.


After seizing the gems, the men briefly took a female staff member hostage, apparently to ensure they were not trapped between the security doors. As they left they fired a shot into the ground before getting into a blue BMW. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009
















Truth is stranger than fiction in Kashmir’s political life, it is said. The episode of the Shopian double-murder investigation, with rape charges thrown in for good measure, brings this out into the open as few things could have. It now turns out that vaginal swabs of the two victims that were sent for DNA analysis do not match the blood and the viscera of the murdered women. So whose were they? Compounding matters, there is also no match between any of the DNA samples of the four arrested police officers and those of the semen in the swabs. Then where did the semen in the samples sent for testing originate? Clearly, a major tampering with evidence has occurred. The dramatis personae involved do not appear to be a limited number. The conspiracy that is indicated could be of considerable proportions. The dead women were buried many weeks ago. We do not know if science permits the collection of swabs from decomposing buried corpses. If not, any further investigation into the matter appears foredoomed. In any case, even if scientific feasibility did obtain, will social mores or the families of the dead permit the process to begin all over again? One thing is clear. The Omar Abdullah government will be brought under inordinate political pressure inside the state Assembly and outside, from the Opposition parties in the legislature as well as from the pro-Pakistan Islamist elements on the streets.


On the face of it, if we look only within the four walls of the case under investigation, the intended beneficiaries are the policemen against whom rape charges have been brought. But that clearly is not the end of the matter when the proceedings are so convoluted, when politics has mixed so seamlessly with the technicality of investigation. There is no denying that the opponents of the Omar Abdullah government as well as the pro-Pakistan elements in the Valley also stand to benefit from the goings-on. The way the evidence has evaporated and it might now be virtually impossible to bring the guilty to book, the Shopian story does bear some parallel with the Moe-e-Muqaddas affair of December 1963 when the Holy Relic (a strand of the Prophet’s hair) mysteriously vanished from Hazratbal in spite of tight security arrangements. Fortunately, six days later, the Holy Relic reappeared in its place just as mysteriously. To this day no one knows what transpired, but the entire Valley shook with protests in that fateful period and elements favouring Pakistan showed their capacity to manipulate the masses. The Shopian issue may not admit of such peaceful resolution. Much depends on the government’s handling of the volatile situation that could erupt as if on cue.








Microbes have changed the way the world views security. They do not respect borders. Nor are they deterred by gates, guns and guards. Today, as governments worldwide grapple with the H1N1 flu pandemic, laboratories are emerging as critical tools in the global fight against infectious diseases. High-powered labs are also key to tackling the threat of bio-terrorism.


The current hot-button crisis involving the A(H1N1) influenza, better known as "swine flu", first surfaced in Mexico in April this year. Since then, it has killed more than 1,000 people across the world. Seventeen people in India, including two teenaged girls and a four-year-old boy, had died due to this flu till the time of writing.


Despite the relatively low mortality rate in the country, if the public, particularly in the big cities, appears panic-stricken, one reason is their lack of confidence in being able to access timely and accurate diagnosis.


A delay in diagnosis leads to a delay in treatment and that can be fatal. Most of the H1N1 flu deaths in India till date have been due to delayed diagnosis. Strengthening the laboratory infrastructure — the hardware and human resources — is the key to tackling the H1N1 outbreak because not all labs can accurately diagnose it. Researchers at the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta recently noted that the current quick tests for flu miss many cases of the new pandemic H1N1 strain. The accuracy of such tests ranged from just 40 per cent to 69 per cent in detecting the H1N1 virus. According to current Indian government guidelines, laboratories are authorised to test for swine flu only if they are BSL II (Bio-Safety Level II) and RTPCR (Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction) equipped.


Bio-safety is a scientific term which has gained currency since the swine flu outbreak. Bio-safety level refers to the level of the "bio containment" required to isolate dangerous biological agents in an enclosed facility. The levels of containment range from the lowest bio-safety level 1 (BSL 1) to the highest, at level 4 (BSL 4). Individuals who may be processing or performing diagnostic testing on clinical specimens from patients with suspected novel influenza A(H1N1) virus infection, or performing viral isolation, must follow bio-safety precautions to prevent further spread of the infection.


Laboratories with high levels of bio-safety not only have to have specific designs and infrastructure, they must also have trained personnel and a high degree of supervision. Personnel in BSL II laboratories, for example, are supposed to have specific training in handling pathogenic agents and are directed by scientists with advanced training. At the next level — BSL III — all procedures involving the manipulation of infectious materials are conducted within biological safety cabinets or other physical containment devices and by personnel wearing appropriate protective clothing and equipment.


Is India laboratory-equipped to face the current challenge? The Union health ministry says that there is adequate testing capacity in the country and that it is using only "25 per cent of the testing facilities available". But if you read newspapers, watch television or talk to ordinary people on the streets, you cannot but feel uneasy. The overwhelming impression is that though the government is probably trying its best to be on top of the situation, the ground reality is changing so rapidly that many of its initial projections outlined in the draft action plan for Pandemic Preparedness and Response for Managing A(H1N1), for example, appear outdated.


The list of identified BSL-III labs for processing clinical samples in the draft action plan are six in number. These include standby labs. Today, this figure has had to be increased to 19 and BSL-II labs are included. These designated state-owned laboratories in different parts of the country are authorised to test swine flu samples. Despite the expanded laboratory capacity, the public health system is reeling from the demands made on it. In New Delhi, the apex testing laboratories — National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) and All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) — are deluged with samples that have to be tested following the surge in the number of suspected H1N1 cases. The severe shortage of trained manpower is adding to the burden.


New government guidelines envisage roping in the private sector to augment the country’s diagnostic capacity to test for swine flu. Private laboratories that fulfil these guidelines would be now allowed to do the job which was earlier the exclusive domain of state-owned labs and, wherever possible, the testing capacity of the existing 19 designated laboratories would be doubled. We are also told that the ministry is addressing concerns about shortages of reagents and testing kits.


Undoubtedly, a lot of people within the public health system are working round the clock to save lives and there is a wealth of useful information on the health ministry’s website. But questions remain.


The government has laid out the clinical protocols for designated testing facilities, but what about monitoring and evaluation? Who is tracking if these protocols are being stringently followed on the ground, and who will monitor the private labs which will now start testing swine flu samples?


The government says the training of microbiologists and lab technicians in the 19 laboratories equipped to test for swine flu is over, but who will supervise the newly-trained?


One recent media report pointed out that at AIIMS, which recently started testing for H1N1, there are only four people qualified to carry out the tasks. Is this true? What if the virus spreads and the number of samples which have to be tested for swine flu spins out of control?


The availability of trained manpower to deal with the exigencies of swine flu is as much of a key concern as the state of India’s labs. India has only 165 labs that are accredited by National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) to conduct medical tests. Medical lab accreditation is done only through NABL, but the accreditation of clinical laboratories is not mandatory in the country.


The avian flu outbreak proved to be a blessing in disguise for India. When it surfaced, India had only one bio-safety level 4 lab. Typically, with the avian influenza outbreak, large number of samples were sent to this laboratory, resulting in a huge backlog and delay in testing of samples, which hampered the effectiveness of control and containment measures on the ground. Though there were six regional disease diagnostic laboratories in the country, these laboratories were not able to handle the avian influenza infected samples due to lack of disease containment facilities.


There were takeaway lessons from avian flu. It gave India’s pandemic preparedness a push and got official sanction for several laboratories with moderate to high bio-safety levels. Some of these have already come up. The swine flu crisis also offers important lessons. This could be turned into an opportunity to upgrade India’s laboratory infrastructure and expand the pool of trained manpower to take on unknown microbes and possible future threats.


Patralekha Chatterjee writes on contemporary development issues, and can be contacted at









Usually, at this time of the year the Bhakra Dam authorities are blamed for releasing excess water that floods villages and damages crops. But this season hardships caused by a less-than- normal monsoon have been compounded by a lower discharge of water from the dam and a reduction in power generation. This will further reduce the availability of water and power, both critical inputs for farmers struggling to save their paddy crop in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Although the farmers’ dependence on canal water has declined over the years, especially in Punjab, it still remains a significant and cheap source of irrigation in this region.


The reduced availability of canal water becomes particularly painful when rains are deficient. In areas where tubewells are few or non-existent, this means more trouble for farmers. In Punjab farmers will have to spend more on diesel to run tubewells to save paddy. This will lead to excessive exploitation of groundwater. The watertable is already alarmingly low. Though they get free electricity, its supply is inadequate and erratic. The lower generation at Bhakra will add to the woes of all categories of power consumers. The ripple effects of a poor monsoon, it seems, have not been properly assessed by the governments at the state and Central levels.


The double whammy of water and power scarcity raises some fundamental issues that need to be addressed. The first is whether Punjab and Haryana farmers should continue to stick to paddy as the main summer crop, especially in view of increasing returns from maize, pulses and oilseeds. Secondly, water resources are fast getting depleted. A mass movement is required for the replenishment of groundwater and the harvest of rainwater. Thirdly, to meet the ever-growing demand for power, all available sources like hydel, thermal, nuclear, solar and wind should be tapped on a war-footing. Only a visionary political leadership, woefully missing at the state level, can prepare people for the present and future challenges.








Pakistan has been trying for decades to make India bleed through a million cuts. It mainly does so through covert means and by fuelling terror. The other cheaper but equally effective method it has been employing is the flooding of Indian markets with fake currency notes. There is ample evidence that counterfeit notes arrive in bulk from Pakistan and Dubai to launching points across Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Singapore. The influx has reached alarming proportions, with some Rs 1,69,000 crore worth of fakes in circulation. Minister of State for Finance Namo Narain Meena told the Rajya Sabha the other day that “involvement of Pak officials suspected to be working for intelligence agencies of Pakistan has been revealed”. CBI director Ashwani Kumar has also indicated the “hand of a state actor; a neighbouring country”. This provocation is tantamount to an act of war and there is urgent need to take up the matter with Pakistan forcefully.


At the same time, we must take tough measures within the country also. It is unfortunate that some government officials are actively involved in facilitating smuggling. They must be weeded out ruthlessly. Moreover, the country is yet to put in place a foolproof mechanism to detect fake notes. A machine made by the CSIO to do so hasn’t found many takers. Only 4,271 currency chests have note sorting machines, while the country has nearly 70,000 bank branches.


The fakes are near perfect because the 2005 design of the Indian currency has been leaked out. Under the circumstances, the country should consider the introduction of polymer currency notes. This option was considered way back in 1999 also but was put on the backburner because of the extra cost involved. Indeed, polymer notes cost twice as much to make, but are far more difficult to fake. They are also more durable. The higher production cost would be worthwhile, considering that the damage done by the circulation of fake notes is far greater.








THE mysterious death by hanging from a tree of a young couple in the fields of their native village in Jhajhar village on the eve of the sarva mahakhap panchayat meeting that was to pass judgment on their fate for having eloped is yet another reminder of the sordid drama being played out in Haryana’s villages in the name of ‘honour’ and morality. If this was ‘honour killing’ as is being surmised, it is the third such shameful and despicable incident reported in the last one month. Recently, a couple had been strangled allegedly by the girl’s family in Rohtak district. This was preceded by the terrible lynching of a young man when he went to his village in Jind to fetch his wife. The hidden hand of the ‘khap panchayats’ has evidently been there in all these and many more such incidents.


The untrammeled power that the khap panchayats wield without any legal basis to it, the obscurantist and dogmatic attitude of people at large in villages, the shocking inaction of the police, the reluctance of the state government to catch the proverbial bull by the horns show that Haryana still has a long way to go in jettisoning outdated beliefs based on caste and gotra. . Clearly, the culprits are emboldened by police inaction and lack of governmental sensitivity to the plight of those who are wronged by the village elders who have no qualms about even ordering death of those who do not conform to their obscurantist ‘principles’ on caste and gotra in regard to marriage.


Enough is enough. The state government cannot abdicate its responsibility of protecting its people from such onslaughts. It must track down those responsible for either killing or driving the young couple of Jhajhar to suicide. Likewise, the earlier cases too must be pursued with vigour. Unless the fear of law is drilled into law-breakers, incidents such as these would continue to happen to our eternal shame.












THE decision by the generals who run Myanmar to extend Aung San Suu Kyi's incarceration by 18 months has abruptly snuffed out the dim hope that the regime was becoming more sensitive to international pressure for democratic reform.


The verdict was widely expected: governments and international rights organizations came out with prepared condemnations only minutes after it was announced.


But it has illustrated the West's inability to change the direction of the Myanmar government and the paucity of its arsenal when it comes to punishing repressive regimes.


In a short closing statement at her trial, Suu Kyi said that such a verdict would condemn the authorities as much as her and her companions.


"The court will pronounce on the innocence or guilt of a few individuals. The verdict itself will constitute a judgment on the whole of the law, justice and constitutionalism in our country," she said.


Before Suu Kyi's arrest, there was growing international support for the idea that isolating the regime with sanctions had failed to persuade the generals to improve democratic freedom or human rights, and that some form of diplomatic and commercial reengagement might be more effective.


However, Tuesday's verdict appeared likely to give new ammunition to the highly vocal international pro-sanctions lobby, making it harder for governments to explore a more nuanced approach. At the same time, the international community also is likely to find it difficult to toughen its stance.


Analysts say the ruling junta was determined to use the case to keep Suu Kyi — still the generals' most formidable opponent despite having spent 14 of the last 19 years under house arrest — out of circulation ahead of elections scheduled for next year, even though the constitution written by the regime guarantees the military 25 percent of the seats in the new parliament.


"She is not being imprisoned because an American swam to her home but because she is viewed as a strong threat to the legitimacy of this regime and its plans for next year's elections," said Jared Genser, a lawyer who represents Suu Kyi overseas.


Suu Kyi's supporters in her National League for Democracy say that although her freedom would be vital for a free and fair ballot, it would not be enough in itself, given the constitutional guarantee of a quarter of parliamentary seats for the military. The fact that the international community used every measure and threat in its arsenal and still failed to influence the outcome of the trial gives little hope to those who are looking for overseas pressure to help get the constitution amended.


The beginning of the case was bizarre enough. On May 5, police arrested John W. Yettaw, a 54-year-old American veteran of the Vietnam War, as he was using home-made flippers and an empty plastic water bottle to swim across the lake that backs onto the dilapidated villa where Suu Kyi has been held.


Yettaw, a native of Falcon, Mo., who relatives say suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his war service, was given a seven-year sentence, including four years hard labor. One of the years of his sentence was for the municipal crime of illegal swimming.


Yettaw told the court that he was returning from warning the Nobel Peace Prize winner that he had had a vision in which she would be killed by terrorists. He had apparently been carrying a Muslim chador so that she could escape in disguise.


Yettaw had tried to visit her before, last November, and succeeded in reaching the house, but she had refused to see him and informed the authorities once he had left.


The fact that he had been given another visa to visit the country spawned conspiracy theories suggesting that the junta had arranged the visit to create a case against her, although Suu Kyi's more sober supporters came to the conclusion that Yettaw was probably too much of a loose cannon for even the Myanmar authorities.


Even if the government was not behind the visit, it offered an opportunity to undermine Suu Kyi's status as possibly the world's most famous prisoner of conscience by trying her on criminal charges in courts that have long done the government's bidding.


She was moved to Yangon's Insein prison pending trial. The international reaction was instant. President Obama called the charges spurious and said she should be released; European powers threatened to widen sanctions against the regime; even China, one of the regime's few remaining allies, signed a regional statement calling on Myanmar to release political prisoners.


Authorities responded by making sure the case had all the trimmings of due legal process: judges, defense attorneys and a system of appeal when the judges barred some of the defense witnesses.


They even allowed diplomats and the media to attend the trial intermittently.


But there was a surreal quality to the performance. The fact that the court was trying to ascertain her guilt when she was the victim of a break-in at her compound was only the icing on a cake that might have been baked by Franz Kafka.


The defense argued that since the government originally took Suu Kyi into "protective custody" after a drunken government mob attacked her convoy, it was the guards surrounding the compound who should have been in the dock. The defense told the court that she had neither invited nor welcomed the intrusion, and they pointed out that the law under which she was being charged was part of a constitution that the generals themselves had repealed.


But in the end, for the courts in Yangon, legalities mattered less than political expediency.


By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








IT seems that bird flu has now come to stay in this country much like foreign companies which reached the land and then overtook the traditional economy and industry. A fatal disease, which affects poultry in the rural areas, this strain of virus seems bent upon finishing off traditional cottage industries in the rural areas.


Most of the areas affected by this disease are largely tribal where farmers have taken to poultry breeding as a source of income for tribal and rural families over generations. Particularly now , as current trends go, chicken has become part of the food platter across the country and in fact the world over, giving a big push to this indigenous industry .


From the traditional breeds of chicken, which were once sold in the local village markets or Haats, the demand has opened up new markets on a larger scale. As this trade grew, “broilers” replaced the traditional breeds of chicken fetching a higher price.


Bird Flu, however, threatens to destroy this budding industry. Over time, it has received a wide coverage in the national media resulting in culling of millions of birds. The attempt has been to kill millions of traditional breeds in the rural and tribal areas.


If one just steps back to get a wider picture of serious health hazards facing our people, then the attention given to bird flu seems gigantic and out of proportion. In our country, the problem of malaria is widespread in both rural and urban areas taking lives of hundreds of common people.


Now one can clearly see the absence of chicken in rural areas. In contrast to the reports in the press and the nation-wide hysteria, rural communities have a perspective. They say that it strikes at the fundamentals of their economy, way of life in which they see a larger design of economic powers that are pushing them out of this space, the markets that they have so naturally accessed.


The neglect of other life-threatening diseases in comparison to the attention and resources ploughed into curtailing bird flu is apparent to village locals. Padah Raja and social activist Polus Hember of Adaki panchayat maintains that malaria is more devastating than bird flu in our country.


On the ground the situation is pathetic. For many of those living in rural areas local availability of medical facilities or even transportation facilities to reach hospitals are sorely lacking, thus leaving them at the mercy of the killer disease. Yet it is not reported in the media in the way bird flu gets widespread coverage. Ironically, bird flu has not claimed a single life


Malaria is a disease which is rampant and can be cited to illustrate the gravity of the health hazards that common people face. There are several dreaded water borne diseases which take a heavy toll as well. Diarrhea, typhoid, dysentery, cholera kill millions every year.


For scores of rural communities across the country, access to potable water lies at the core of these diseases and their vulnerability towards it. Polluted water leads to the widespread prevalence of these diseases. Malnutrition and hunger stalk the land while diseases like leprosy cause ravage.


In hospitals in villages across the country, there are neither doctors nor medicines available. People are forced to go to cities for treatment an excruciating effort for rural people, one which not many survive. Those who survive face a financial ruin as they do not have resources to meet the escalating costs of healthcare. Often have to take loans against their land to pay for their treatment which they are unable to pay back.


In large parts of our country malaria claims lives in the absence of adequate public health facilities for the poor to access. On a lesser scale but equally pathetic is the situation of leprosy patients. The government claims it has eradicated leprosy from India.


Belying this claim is a leprosy colony which exists just four kms away from Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand. The government has constructed mud huts which house the 500 affected families. Basic facilities are poor, abysmal.


There is no availability of power or provision for sanitation. The 10 kg of rice provided by the government to each family is often rotten and worm-infested. People prefer not to take this rice and instead rely on begging.


Diseases widely prevalent like malaria and those on a smaller scale like leprosy are taking a huge toll on human lives. This is apparent to anyone who even visits villages. It is, however, not apparent to the government nor the media. It does not move them enough to act upon it.


Meanwhile, those who are poor and struck by disease continue to die from it as a final solution, a chilling statement of our times. In the midst of such raging problems, we continue to focus all our attention on bird flu, putting everything else on the backburner. Is this justified?


Charkha Features







WHEN most people think about exercise and being healthy, they normally think about their cardiovascular health, about running and doing endurance exercises, or we think we have to keep our muscles strong, so we do resistance exercises, says Chhanda Dutta, chief of the clinical gerontology branch of the National Institute on Aging.


As we spend middle age sweating away pounds to ward off obesity, watching our diets to keep arteries from clogging, and strengthening our muscles to retain vigor into old age, we might want to stop and think about our balance.


You take it for granted, right? You get up from your office chair, walk across the room, get a drink of water, walk back to your desk, and nothing terrible happens. You glide across a tennis court and smack a forehand without stumbling, take out the trash and return unscathed, step in and out of the shower without incident.


And then one day, without warning, that can change. "It isn't until we lose that ability that we realize how important these things are," Dutta says.


Falls among older people are common, costly and debilitating. More than one-third of people age 65 and older will fall this year. Every 18 seconds, someone in that age group is treated in a hospital emergency room for a fall-related injury, and every 35 minutes an older person dies from a fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Men are 49 percent more likely than women to be killed in falls. But women are much more likely to suffer nonfatal injuries or fractured bones. Women make up nearly three-quarters of the people admitted to hospitals for hip fractures, one of the most debilitating results of falls.


Your ability to stay upright and move confidently through space is determined by a complex combination of muscle strength, nerve function, visual inputs, the vestibular function of your inner ear and your proprioception — the work of sensors, including nerves in the soles of your feet, that orient you in relation to other objects.


These abilities can decline with age, though people age differently. Disease, head trauma, compromised blood flow to the brain, medication problems and many other factors can affect them.


Loss of balance and mobility can be prevented or delayed if we work at keeping these abilities sharp. Yet unless you practice yoga, karate, tai chi or a handful of other fitness regimens that emphasize balance training, you probably haven't done anything about it in years, possibly decades.


"We don't put ourselves in the situations very often where we have to maintain our balance," says James S. Skinner, a professor emeritus of kinesiology at Indiana University and a past president of the American College of Sports Medicine. The good news, as with most things concerning health and fitness, is that you can make substantial gains, even well into old age.


Dutta wants you to start such efforts now, in your 20s or 50s, not your 80s. (She would add flexibility exercises to the list of fitness imperatives, but that is a topic for another day.) The exercises are quick, easy and effective, she says, even if researchers don't entirely understand how the body rewires itself to yield such improvements.


By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post










The perennial bane of waterlogging has shown little signs of abatement, and even today all it takes is one smart shower to transform the city into a cesspool of filthy water, throwing people’s lives into complete disarray. This is despite the fact that crores of rupees have literally been thrown down the drain in the name of salvaging the defunct drainage. This is largely because piecemeal, ad-hoc measures tend to dominate our authorities’ scheme of things that are conspicuous by the absence of long-term planning and vision. The roots of the problem have seldom been sought to be addressed with the result that the rot continues as ever. The NK Choudhury expert committee had suggested a number of measures with due emphasis on preservation of wetlands and soil conservation in hills to mitigate the menace. This was way back in 2003 but the report continues to gather dust in official files. If this is the manner how the Government treats recommendations made by expert panels, there is no point constituting such bodies at all. One of the suggestions included clearing encroachments from the Solabeel and digging its bed to enhance water retention capacity. Regrettably, encroachments have only intensified since the days when the recommendations were made. Similar has been the fate of other water bodies like the Deepor Beel (also a Ramsar site), Silsako Beel, and the Bharalu and Bahini rivers. Forget about any soil conservation measures, the hills are constantly exposed to earth-cutting and encroachment. This is certainly not the way to deliver governance.

As the city expands at a frenetic pace, environmental concerns continue to be ignored. The pitfalls of this unscientific and haphazard development are omnipresent, taking a toll on the city’s civic infrastructure. From waterlogging to traffic congestion to garbage disposal, most of the ills plaguing the city are fallouts of faulty planning. Worse, the authorities are not learning any lessons from the prevailing depressing scenario. Urban development is a complex subject that goes beyond creation of shopping malls and apartments. The past few years have seen a spurt in construction activities that have left us with malls in congested areas with no parking lots, and apartments without the mandatory open space. Is this the development the Government trumpets at the drop of a hat? Another disturbing trend of late has been the indiscriminate raising of road levels. This is effectively rendering many residential areas virtually uninhabitable, thanks to the resultant water-logging. It is time the Government broke its stupor and gave the citizens a better deal.







The possibility of a pandemic has emerged as a real threat to the country. The deadly H1N1 virus has already claimed 15 lives across the country so far. The number of swine flu cases is alarmingly going up in the country and what has made the matter worse is that it can spread rapidly and the population has no immunity against it. The spread of the disease in different parts of the country has triggered alarm bells and the Centre has geared up to tackle the threat. Expert teams are going to be sent to all the States to assess the preparedness of the government and private hospitals to handle the patients in case a pandemic breaks out. The Prime Minister has directed the Health Ministry to coordinate with the State governments to check the spread of the disease. The Assam Government too has directed all the hospitals including those in the district level to maintain the required level of preparedness to face the threat. As a precautionary measure a number of schools in several cities of the country have declared holidays to prevent the spread of the disease while many on the street are using protective face masks.

With no effective vaccines in sight, preventive steps are the only way out to contain the spread of the disease. The start of a pandemic will initially indicate clusters of respiratory illness from one region and it may spread rapidly from family members to health workers and to the general population. As people with swine flu are often contagious before they are symptomatic, it becomes quite difficult to control the spread of the virus. One of the ways to halt its spread is by imposing travel restrictions. The movement of people from the affected areas must be restricted. Surveillance in the entry and exit points of States should be immediately stepped up. Apart from the airports, even the railway stations and buses and trucks on the entry points should be monitored. Till the threat does not blow over social distancing steps like avoiding large gatherings, congregations, public events to an extent help in slowing down the transmission of the virus. As the swine flu virus is highly contagious, the role of personal hygiene like hand-washing, avoiding contact with sick people, avoiding touching nose, eyes and mouth may help in containing its spread. Till an effective vaccine is not discovered, preventive steps are the only way out to keep the pandemic at bay.







On July 22, 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signed the United States’ Instrument of Accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. At the same time, the ten ASEAN Foreign Ministers signed an Instrument of Extension of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, completing the United States’ accession to the Treaty. Among other things, parties to the Treaty pledge to promote perpetual peace, everlasting amity and to cooperate in economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields.

During her visit to the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta in February of this year, Secretary Clinton announced that the Administration would pursue accession to the Treaty because “we believe that the United States must have strong relationships and a strong and productive presence here in Southeast Asia.” Today’s signing ceremony successfully completes this Administration initiative.








Industrial Policy is announced to provide information about State government’s priorities in promotion of industries and the incentives available to attract investment in industries. Recession is not the ideal time for promotion of industries when global economic meltdown had also affected countries like India causing decline in the growth rate of GDP from 9.1 per cent in 2007-08 to 6.1 per cent in 2008-09. Manufacturing industries output also suffered a sharp decline from 8.25 per cent to 2.4 per cent during the same period. Textiles, gems and jewellery, diamond industries in Gujarat had closed doors throwing out about 1.16 million workers out of job mostly from Orissa. About 1,50,000 workers working in the Gulf countries returned to their homes due to job loss as informed by the Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs in Parliament. The recession is likely to continue for another year or two in spite of massive spending undertaken by countries, like USA, UK, Germany and Japan.

In such a scenario looming large over the horizon along with insurgency situation prevailing in the ground, Assam would not be a favourite destination for industrial investment. The World Bank report published recently had mentioned that insurgency was responsible for low level of business confidence and created a difficult investment climate. The Doner Ministry which organised an international conference some time back in Guwahati and huge investment of Rs 33000 crore from foreign countries in the North-East was assured, but it did not materialise. This contradicts the optimism of the Minister of Industries and Commerce, Pradyut Bordoloi that a survey carried out by an agency of the World Bank had ranked Guwahati eighth among the top 16 investor friendly cities. Acute power shortage is another bottleneck in the establishment of industries in Assam. The people of Assam are reeling under acute power shortage and the government had to appeal to the consumers to put off glow signs, run the A/C at 25º C and take other measures to save electricity. Pradyut Bordoloi is also the Power Minister and he had informed the Assam Assembly that 17 power projects are under different phases of implementation and Assam would have surplus power only in 2011. What happens during the intervening two years?

The Assam Industrial Policy, 2008 unveiled by the Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi on July 15, 2009 did not take into account the grim realities on the ground. The policy identified the following key potential industries to be developed on the natural resources of the State: multi-cropping in agricultural sector, wood-based industry like plywood, Agar-wood industry and fresh water processing to name a few. So far as multi-cropping of crops plantation of Simul or Agar trees is concerned, these are not industrial activities and concern of the Industry department. Already differences had arisen among various departments of the Government which proved that other connected departments were not taken into confidence by the Industry and Commerce department while formulating the Industrial Policy. In reply to a suggestion by Prafulla Kr. Mahanta in the Assam Assembly that unemployed youths should be provided government land to cultivate Agar trees, the Minister of Revenue, Dr Bhumidhar Barman replied that the State government was not in a position to allot land to unemployed youths other than in the inter-State boundaries of the State. The Forest Minister, Rockybul Hussain informed the House that the department had planted Agar trees in 500 hectares of land. Jathropha cultivation for bio-fuel should have been encouraged as hydrocarbon or fossil fuel would not last for ever. Regarding fresh water processing, the less said the better. The policy aims to quench the thirst of the rest of the country by supplying fresh water whereas, the government had so far failed to quench the thirst of the people of Guwahati city alone with potable drinking water.

Tea industry which contributes a substantial portion of tax to the State government has faced drought condition resulting in fall in production during 2008-09. Export of tea dropped by 23.65 per cent and revenue from tea industry declined from 27 per cent to 14 per cent. Around 65000 small tea growers have suffered due to adverse weather condition, rise in prices of pesticides and agro-chemicals. The Industrial Policy is silent about giving some relief to the tea industry and the small tea growers.

The Industrial policy laid right emphasis on development of sound infrastructure with easy access to key utilities like road connectivity, quality power supply, land availability, human resources etc. Simplification of rules, identification of available land, computerisation and adoption of PPP mode are aimed at developing infrastructure in the State. Already 1000 acres of developed land have been made available not in a compact area but scattered in different locations all over the State. The Chief Minister has repeatedly announced that no agricultural land would be acquired for Special Economic Zone. Conversion of agricultural land for industrial uses would create social problem like that of Singur and Nandigram and cautious steps would be necessary in this regard. Private-public partnership in development of infrastructure in Assam would not be attractive unless medium and big industries are set up by private entrepreneurs. It may be mentioned that 750 MW gas-based power project in Tripura and 1000 MW coal based power plant in Orissa are in different stages of completion from which Assam proposed to get power. Such dependence on power from outside the State would be risky in the long run.

The policy has provided special incentives for revival of sick industrial units. It also proposes to take over land belonging to closed public sector undertakings for infrastructure development. The government constituted a high powered committee with Dr PK Choudhury as Chairman to study and recommend ways and means to revive the sick PSUs. The report of the Committee was submitted to the Government many years ago, but it is not known whether a single sick PSU has been revived so far. On the other hand reports have appeared in the press that the State government is spending Rs 70 crore on non existent sick PSUs per annum. Serious efforts to close the unviable units and revive those viable PSUs had not been initiated so far because of vested interest.

Market linkage and incentives offered under market linkage is intended to encourage micro and small scale sector to participate in trade fair within and outside the country. Preference would be given to women/physically handicapped entrepreneurs in participation of trade fairs. However the new policy discontinued the Special Incentives to such entrepreneurs of additional State Capital Investment Subsidy at the rate of 10 per cent subject to a ceiling of Rs 5 lakh.

The policy proposes to constitute a State Investment promotion Board with the Chief Minister as chairman to act as final authority in matters of policy concerning industrial development of the State which would have representatives of industries associations of the North-East region. The Board would meet quarterly and review the industrial and other policies of the State and to oversee the process of simplification of government rules and regulations for rapid industrial development. The Assam Administrative Reforms Commission recommended setting up of State Investment Promotion Board under the chairmanship of the chief secretary in the line of the Government of India’s Secretariat for industrial approval to act as Single Window Clearance cell for medium and big industries. The proposed State Investment Promotion Board under the Chief Minister would not act as single window clearance but monitor the implementation of the Industrial Policy.








Elephants have enjoyed strong bonds with people in India, both as religious and cultural symbols, and as a conservation mascot. But as the human population grows and agriculture expands, they find themselves in an adversarial relationship with human beings. Unlike in the West, where large mammals such as the wolf were exterminated for interfering with human activities, people in India have been tolerant towards elephants despite the regular losses they suffered in conflicts. Research scientist Raman Sukumar, Professor at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, New Delhi, believes that the traditional ethos, which helped the elephant persist over centuries, may not be as relevant in today’s situation as attitudes are changing.

In Golaghat district of Upper Assam, in May, June and July 2009, herds of wild elephants raided the standing crops, killed and wounded several persons and damaged many dwelling houses at Numaligarh, Kamargaon, Rongbong, Kuruabahi and Barchapar villages. Destruction of forests for human habitation, establishment of industries, namely, the Numaligarh Refinery Ltd, construction of roads and railway tracks had compelled wild elephants belonging to the Doigrung Reserved Forest and the Deopahar Reserved Forest to venture into human habitation in search of food causing tragic deaths of both innocent people and elephants.

In Udalguri district under Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), unabated destruction of forests has posed a serious concern. Losing the natural habitat, namely, the Khalingduar Reserved Forest, most of the wild elephants of that reserved forest frequently ventured into human habitation. Two persons were killed by wild elephants in April 2009. In the first instance, one 42 year old villager was trampled near Paneri, while a 65 year old man was killed near Majuli Tea Estate. Again on July 17, 2009, a young man aged 38 years was killed by a wild tuskar near Ghogra Tea Estate while on July 18, 2009, an elderly man aged 63 years was killed near Orangajuli Tea Estate.

A report prepared by the Assam State Forest Department reveals that altogether 452 persons were killed by wild elephants and many injured in Assam from 2001 to May 24, 2009. The year 2006 witnessed the maximum deaths of 79 persons, followed by 61 in 2005. The worst affected districts were Sonitpur (153 deaths), Nagaon (52 deaths), Goalpara (50 deaths), Golaghat (43 deaths) and Karbi Anglong (39 deaths). The Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain told the State Assembly on July 17, 2009, that the State government had increased the compensation for a person killed by wild elephants to Rs 40,000 and the State government had formed a corpus of Rs 50 lakh for the purpose.

There are two dominant elephant species in the world, namely, the Asian and the African, and predictably, both are involved in conflicts. India hosts the largest number of Asian elephants among the countries where this species is found. There are a few hundred thousand African elephants roaming the wilds of that great continent, but Asian elephant populations are relatively small. A scientific paper co-authored by Professor Roman Sukumar and published by the Journal of the Royal Society in 2008 estimates their population at something between 41,000 and 52,000. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) places the African elephant in the “Near Threatened” category in the 2008 “Red List” of threatened species, but it is the Asian Species that is apparently in greater peril. There is a decreasing trend in its population, the IUCN Red List says, and it is therefore clearly in the “Endangered” category.

Conserving the Asian elephant is primarily India’s responsibility, as the population of the Asian species both in the wild and in captivity is concentrated in India. Mitigating human-elephant conflict, and instituting better compensation mechanisms for losses arising from these events form the major focus of elephant conservation efforts. This is a challenging task, because crop raiding by elephants is certain to increase as crops like sugarcane, beets, banana, mango, jackfruit, coconut, cereals and millets are planted either in proximity to forests or in the migratory corridors of elephants. When the animals find a more attractive food variety in cultivated areas, it is a powerful lure. The result is crop raiding.

Elephants spend much of the day eating and when they come across crops grown close to their habitat, they do not hesitate to raid the fields. A range of methods to fend off raids non-lethal electrified fencing, trenches, “chili bombs” that release pungent smoke, fire crackers, tame elephants deployed as guards, human guards and so on have been tried with varied levels of success. In the end, the best methods are those that reduce human and crop losses as well as harm to the animal. In many cultivation areas in the South and the North-East India crop raiding is very frequent.

The Government of India, which started Project Elephant for the flagship species, spends substantial amounts of money towards compensation payments for farmers. Project Elephant works in 26 reserves. It spent Rs 63 crores during the Tenth Plan period on protection activities. For the Eleventh Plan period, it set apart an even higher quantum of Rs 81 crores. The bulk of these funds – as much as 80 per cent are usually devoted to compensation payments to those who claim loss of life and damage to crops, property and infrastructure.

A long-term plan will therefore have to aim for reduction of human-elephant conflicts through a variety of measures. This goal is attracting great scientific interest because it will take greater understanding of elephant biology, movements and corridor mapping to remove barriers that lead to conflicts. Sustained policy support and the goodwill of people are equally important. Some researchers note that people living inside forests face fewer problems from elephants, than those who farm on forest fringes or in elephant corridors.

(The writer is former Principal, Mangaldai College).














After a long hiatus India is adding to the global spaghetti bowl of regional trade agreements with new-found gusto. The just-concluded Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with S Korea comes after a four-year gap and if the prime minister has his way, is likely to be followed by similar agreements with a host of other countries.

We are in various stages of negotiation with many of our trading partners. We are also in the midst of preliminary studies on FTAs with Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and even China. To the extent WTO talks seem to be stuck in a limbo, FTAs may offer a quick-fix solution to ensure greater trade openness.

However, we must not lose sight of the fact that they are a second-best option and unlike multilateral trade negotiations that level the playing field between our trading partners, are discriminatory. Hence, not only do they need to be negotiated with much more care, their impact is also more difficult to predict.

Moreover, our experience with such agreements is limited and not entirely positive. Apart from the fairly successful FTA with Sri Lanka, the early-harvest programme entered into with Thailand in 2004 has benefited Thailand more than India.

Even if you accept trade negotiations are about give and take and we cannot expect to emerge on top every time, the main drawback in the agreements being contemplated is their greater focus, at least to begin with, on trade in goods (not always our strong point) rather than on services where we have an advantage. Also, to the extent our tariffs are generally higher the net effect is to cede more than we get in return.


Surprisingly, industry chambers that might have been expected to raise a ruckus over the prospect of a flood of imports are unusually quiet. Part of the reason is that vocal sections of industry have succeeded in keeping products that are of interest to them on the negative list leaving small and medium scale enterprises to bear the brunt of lower import tariffs. But in a scenario where growth is slowing down, protectionist tendencies are on the rise and SMEs are already under pressure, we need to pause and think: is our zeal for FTAs mis-timed if not misplaced?







The BJP’s three-day chintan baithak in Shimla from August 19 is meant to be an occasion for soul-searching on what went wrong for the party in the Lok Sabha polls and to position itself for the future. But the signals in the run up to the baithak indicate the party leadership is, instead, working on ways to stifle any meaningful debate on the setback and to avoid fixing any accountability.

The session-eve clarification that the 82-year-old Advani ‘is chosen as the leader for the next five years’ might help his chosen lieutenants buy time to position themselves in the raging power struggle.
But it will not help a party that needs a younger leadership and fresh ideas to face the future. Significantly, an unscheduled meeting between the RSS head and Advani triggered speculations that the Sangh is seeking an early change of guard, which Advani has promptly denied.

Again, the move to exclude Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie — who had criticised the leadership for avoiding a postmortem of the poll debacle and for rewarding those who were responsible for it — from the list of invitees for Shimla conclave confirms the leadership’s bid to crack down on those raising uncomfortable questions. This is not good for a party that has always claimed to have greater inner party democracy than the Congress.

The BJP leadership can defend the duo’s exclusion stating they don’t figure in any category — party core committee, general secretaries, chief ministers, etc., — selected to travel to Shimla. Such technicalities, designed to also show the two don’t matter in the organisation, carry no conviction given their profile and cerebral resourcefulness.

Against this backdrop, Mr Advani’s remark that Shimla meet would not go into the election debacle but focus on ‘the road ahead’ and the Bal Apte panel asking the state units of the party not to place for discussion unpleasant facts on the BJP defeat, fail to inspire confidence. Not that the BJP should hang itself after the poll reversal, but, a political party that is trying to move ahead without an honest and thorough analysis of the reasons — ideological, organisational and strategic — for its failures will only be indulging in escapism.







A revisionist Animal Farm becomes imperative in these times of swine flu. Orwell’s dystopian novel — a marvellous combination of three literary forms: fable, satire and allegory — is relevant even today as many isms still subject people to unmitigated oppression.

The pigs of the farm, who set out to make themselves remarkably different from humans (the oppressors), ultimately end up behaving worse than the original tyrants. The top billing in the book goes to four pigs: Napolean, Snowball, Old Major and Squealer. Together, they usurp the Farm but, as time rolls and greed and venal ambitions unravel, keep sniping at each other, ultimately making the revolution an inhuman joke.

So how would some of the pigs appear in Animal Farm II? Napolean, the rather demonic Berkshire boar, would go about wearing a N95 mask (to shield himself from the flu and also to hide his sullen face), but he would — he’s fierce and determined — still keep plotting to drive out Snowball, who, of course, would be awfully busy devising plans to buy Tamiflu shots. Snowball, a mix of shrewdness and goodness, also would quickly hide the skull of Old Major and enter into talks with humans.

Old Major (rather his masked skull) in hiding would not be the same high-octane fuel to fire the rebellion. Napoleon would sulk and gripe privately, his plans to throw Snowball out of the Farm firmly frozen.

Squealer, Napoleon’s satellite and propaganda minister, would jump into Snowball’s camp, masque and mask in tow. He will fear for his life and won’t test his language manipulation skills, for now. Squealer won’t squeal; he will be silent — and masked.

He will not extol Napoleon; he will instead sing Snowball’s praises. His daily dose of stats will favour humans and he would, along with Snowball, plead with Mr Jones, the former owner of the Farm, to return. Most animals will not live in the lap of luxury; they will cower in fear and think life was better under the humans. They would want them back and walk with faces covered. The humans will come back and the revolution will fail.







The draft Direct Tax Code proposes significant changes vis-à-vis corporate taxation, though the basic structure continues to be the same. The focus has been to minimise exemptions and broaden tax base. The key feature has been the simplicity of the legal language used.

The code proposes a foreign company having even part control and management in India would be considered as resident in India, leading to world taxation. This could create significant issues for foreign companies in India, the only protection being the relevant Tax Treaty provisions.

It proposes a corporate tax rate of 25% for domestic as well as foreign companies. The foreign companies would also be subjected to additional branch profit tax at 15%. Dividend distribution tax would continue to be payable by domestic companies at 15%, thereby effectively achieving parity vis-a-vis taxation of foreign companies. The concept of levying MAT on book profits is proposed to be changed to levy of tax on value of gross assets, which is a significant departure. Also, no MAT credits are proposed.

Wealth tax would not be payable by corporates. Interestingly, the code proposes taxation of various capital receipts as normal business profits. Thus, profit on sale of business capital assets or gains derived from slump sale could be taxed as business profits. Conceptually, the permissible expenditures have been kept similar to that under the present tax law. Also, the code contains quasi-transfer pricing provisions vis-à-vis transactions between two Indian affiliates, which could lead to litigation.

Emphasis has been given to tax incentives for scientific research. The current regime of profit-linked incentives like tax holidays on income earned, is being substituted with a new scheme, whereby a taxpayer would be allowed to recover all capital and revenue expenditures except for expenditure on land, goodwill and financial instruments and shall be liable to income tax on profits earned after such recovery. This new scheme will apply to certain specific sectors such as SEZ, power, hospitals etc.

Interestingly, no specific exemption for information technology sector seems to be provided. The code attempts at a somewhat new way of approaching corporate taxation, the biggest impact being on sectors which till now were enjoying tax holidays. The concessional rate of 25% would definitely benefit all corporates. Also, under the code, taxation of foreign companies would be interesting.

Dinesh Kanabar, Leader, Tax & Regulatory Practice, PricewaterhouseCoopers









Truth is stranger than fiction in Kashmir’s political life, it is said. The episode of the Shopian double-murder investigation, with rape charges thrown in for good measure, brings this out into the open as few things could have. It now turns out that vaginal swabs of the two victims that were sent for DNA analysis do not match the blood and the viscera of the murdered women. So whose were they? Compounding matters, there is also no match between any of the DNA samples of the four arrested police officers and those of the semen in the swabs. Then where did the semen in the samples sent for testing originate? Clearly, a major tampering with evidence has occurred. The dramatis personae involved do not appear to be a limited number. The conspiracy that is indicated could be of considerable proportions. The dead women were buried many weeks ago. We do not know if science permits the collection of swabs from decomposing buried corpses. If not, any further investigation into the matter appears foredoomed. In any case, even if scientific feasibility did obtain, will social mores or the families of the dead permit the process to begin all over again? One thing is clear. The Omar Abdullah government will be brought under inordinate political pressure inside the state Assembly and outside, from the Opposition parties in the legislature as well as from the pro-Pakistan Islamist elements on the streets. On the face of it, if we look only within the four walls of the case under investigation, the intended beneficiaries are the policemen against whom rape charges have been brought. But that clearly is not the end of the matter when the proceedings are so convoluted, when politics has mixed so seamlessly with the technicality of investigation. There is no denying that the opponents of the Omar Abdullah government as well as the pro-Pakistan elements in the Valley also stand to benefit from the goings-on. The way the evidence has evaporated and it might now be virtually impossible to bring the guilty to book, the Shopian story does bear some parallel with the Moe-e-Muqaddas affair of December 1963 when the Holy Relic (a strand of the Prophet’s hair) mysteriously vanished from Hazratbal in spite of tight security arrangements. Fortunately, six days later, the Holy Relic reappeared in its place just as mysteriously. To this day no one knows what transpired, but the entire Valley shook with protests in that fateful period and elements favouring Pakistan showed their capacity to manipulate the masses. The Shopian issue may not admit of such peaceful resolution. Much depends on the government’s handling of the volatile situation that could erupt as if on cue.









The other day I was invited for a debate on a major national TV channel on the issue of the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati, installing her statues all over the state, apart from those of Jyotiba Phule, Periyar Ramaswamy, B.R. Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram.


The accusation of the majority of the panelists was that installing one’s own statues at the expense of the state was not only wrong but also unethical, immoral and illegal.

Majority of the panelists and almost all the middle class-upper caste students and others in the audience were clapping down any balanced argument. Anybody who attacked Ms Mayawati was being applauded.
Much of the audience came from Noida-Uttar Pradesh and termed the installation of the statues as politically immoral. Sadly, that there were no dalits or slum dwellers who vote for Ms Mayawati to give their opinion on the issue.

We have to debate whether the installation of statues should be seen as a legal issue or is it more a moral and political question.

Some enthusiastic lawyers have taken the issue of Ms Mayawati installing her own statues to the Supreme Court through a public interest litigation (PIL). But can the courts intervene and curb the expenditure incurred by the Centre and states in advertising their achievements and schemes with huge photographs of the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers and Cabinet ministers?

Publicising one’s own image while in power, through photographs or statues, has a common objective of influencing the masses for the sake of votes in the future, or to perpetuate one’s own image among the masses. Both forms of publicity have a common objective and involve spending public money.
We should, here, take note of the portraits of the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers put up in government offices as soon as they assume office. Undoubtedly this is also meant to perpetuate the image of the person in power.

The question is not what the Western democracies practise and how we imitate them. Someone might point out that the portrait of the American President is put up in all federal offices and the portrait of the British Prime Minister is put in major government offices. And, therefore, what we are doing is also right. This is mere imitation and we should discard such approaches and evolve our own democratic practices.
So let us look back and see who started the installation of statues across the country. In my remote village of rural Telangana, Papaiah Pet of Warangal district, there was a statue of Mahtama Gandhi. This was said to have been installed by one of the tehsildars with state money.

Gandhi was not a person in power, hence he can be compared only with other stalwarts, like Ambedkar. Did any government agency install an Ambedkar statue till dalits started putting up his statues in the 70s and 80s in their own mohallahs?

During the Congress regime, governmental agencies started installing statues of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. After the death of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, their statues were also installed across the country. They were not leaders who emerged from social service. During the regime of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), statues and portraits of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar and Swami Vivekananda were installed in various places.

Ms Mayawati has showed courage and confidence in installing her own statue along with those of Lord Buddha, Phule, Ambedkar, Periyar and Kanshi Ram.

If Indira Gandhi was the first upper caste woman leader who got power, Ms Mayawati is the first dalit leader who got power. She has her own iconic image. Of course, she is an “un-Hindu” woman icon in the tradition of Kanshi Ram. The fact is that even if she does not install her own statues, the Bahujan people will install her statues. She knows that and that’s why she is undeterred. There is a counter cultural dimension in her scheme of things. Uttar Pradesh has the most conservative Hindu cultural base, with Ayodhya, Benares and Mathura built by the Hindu kings way back in history. Kanshi Ram wanted to create counter Buddhist-Ambedkarite rationalist cultural centres that would have equal visibility.
After Bodh Gaya, Nagpur Deekshabhoomi, the Bahujan Parks that Kanshi Ram established near Lucknow, what Ms Mayawati is building in Noida and other places are going to carry forward what I prefer to call the “post-Hindu nationalist image of India”. Once these centres are built, nobody will be able to touch them.


As a politically shrewd person, Ms Mayawati knows that once she puts herself in that iconic lineage, nobody would be able to change it. Even after her political career is over, she will have her own following.

Since the Hindu base is weakening in the country, the counter cultural base will increase. This is third-generation dalit-Bahujan counter culturalist campaign. It was started by Ambedkar, taken forward by Kanshi Ram and now Ms Mayawati is expanding it further.

Ms Mayawati’s cultural parks are going to be the “un-Hindu” historical centres. They should worry the Hindu forces and the Sangh Parivar more than the Congress. But the Congress is talking more about them than the BJP or other Hindutva forces. Ms Mayawati’s image will keep growing as long as the Congress, the BJP and the Samajwadi Party keep on attacking these cultural centres.

The BJP knows that once they begin a discourse around these Buddhist-Ambedkar cultural centres, their own Hindu cultural nationalism will get undermined and the Bahujan-Buddhist cultural nationalism will occupy centrestage.

All the Hindu temples and Buddhist viharas in India, as well as many churches and mosques, were built with state money and they provide the cultural base of those religions. Then why should certain hegemonic caste-communal intellectual forces make an issue out of the dalit-Bahujan cultural centres that keep coming up with images of their own heroes in the country? The educated and politically-aware dalit-Bahujan forces know what makes them raise this bogey beyond its need. A party like the Congress would serve itself better if it stops politicising these cultural parks and takes up other issues.










IN life, there is always that special person who shapes who you are, who helps to determine the person you become. Very often it’s a teacher, a mentor of some kind. For me, that person was Mr John Hughes. Along with the rest of the world, I was stunned when I learned that he had died of a heart attack last week at 59.


Not long after hearing the horrible news, I found myself talking on the phone to Mr Anthony Michael Hall, my friend and co-star in several of the movies John directed. His experiences mirror mine to a large extent. Both of us were catapulted from obscurity and planted in the American consciousness through the films that we did with John. Michael, as he prefers to be called, will be forever associated with “geekdom” just as I will always be the girl whose 16th birthday is forgotten. But for both of us, what really matters is less the mark that these films left on the world than the experience of making them with John, the mark it made on us.

We stayed on the phone for a while reminiscing about our old friend and mentor. Since the days of John’s death, we have both been inundated with missives from friends and acquaintances, sending us their condolences the way you would for a close family member. Yet the strange thing is, neither of us had talked to John in more than 20 years.

Most everyone knows that John retreated from Hollywood and became a sort of J.D. Salinger for Generation X. But really, sometime before then, he had retreated from us and from the kinds of movies that he had made with us. I still believe that the Hughes films of which both Michael and I were a part (specifically Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club) were the most deeply personal expressions of John’s. In retrospect, I feel that we were sort of avatars for him, acting out the different parts of his life — improving upon it, perhaps. In those movies, he always got the last word. He always got the girl.
None of the films that he made subsequently had the same kind of personal feeling to me. They were funny, yes, wildly successful, to be sure, but I recognised very little of the John I knew in them, of his youthful, urgent, unmistakable vulnerability. It was like his heart had closed, or at least was no longer open for public view. A darker spin can be gleaned from the words John put into the mouth of Allison in The Breakfast Club: “When you grow up... your heart dies”.

I’m speaking metaphorically, of course. Though it does seem sadly poignant that physically, at least, John’s heart really did die. It also seems undeniably meaningful: His was a heavy heart, deeply sensitive, prone to injury — easily broken. Most people who knew John knew that he was able to hold a grudge longer than anyone — his grudges were almost supernatural things, enduring for years, even decades. Michael suspects that he was never forgiven for turning down parts in Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I turned down later films as well. Not because I didn’t want to work with John anymore — I loved working with him, more than anyone before or since.

John saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself. He had complete confidence in me as an actor, which was an extraordinary and heady sensation for anyone, let alone a 16-year-old girl. I did some of my best work with him.

Eventually, though, I felt that I needed to work with other people as well. I wanted to grow up, something I felt (rightly or wrongly) I couldn’t do while working with John. Sometimes I wonder if that was what he found so unforgivable. We were like the Darling children when they made the decision to leave Neverland. And John was Peter Pan, warning us that if we left we could never come back. And, true to his word, not only were we unable to return, but he went one step further. He did away with Neverland itself.
“I just remember how fun it all was”, Michael said on the phone. It was: the concerts he took us to, the endless mixed tapes he made for us and, most of all, the work itself. It doesn’t even seem like you should be able to call it “work” because we enjoyed it so much.

About 15 years ago, I wrote to John from Paris, where I was living, to tell him how important he was to me. A week after I sent my letter, I received a bouquet of flowers as big as my apartment from John, thanking me for writing. I was so relieved to know that I had gotten through to him, and I feel grateful now for that sense of closure.

Toward the end of my phone call with Michael, we spent a little time catching up on mutual friends and family. I told him that my 5-year-old daughter, Mathilda, had just secured the part that she wanted in her theatre camp — Tiger Lily, the Indian princess in Peter Pan.

Michael made me promise to invite him to Mathilda’s debut as a fellow thespian. So in a few weeks we’ll drive to the theatre and spend a couple of hours with Tiger Lily, Peter, Wendy and the Lost Boys.
Turns out, you can return to Neverland. At least for a little while.


 Molly Ringwald is a Hollywood actress who starred in John Hughes’ movies including Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink









On the eve of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s proposed “chintan baithak” in Shimla, there are oblique indications from within the party that Lal Krishna Advani may have over-stayed his welcome as Leader of the Opposition, a position that makes it feasible for him to again run for Prime Minister when the time comes.
If this is true, the BJP may have seriously over-estimated its latent energy without Mr Advani.
In a world without A.B. Vajpayee, Mr Advani was the obvious choice for the saffronites. But is there a similar obvious pick in a world without Mr Advani?

This is not only on account of the “civil war” factor, which basically means that the BJP’s so-called gen-next would tear one another limb from limb in the race to the top.

More importantly, there is not a soul in the BJP top leadership other than Mr Advani who gains from a nationwide recognition factor, and possesses the capability of winning a Lok Sabha seat from any part of the country where the party has a base.

Indeed, those who might fancy themselves as filling the vacuum after Mr Advani are mainly “Rajya Sabha types”.

That is to say the country will never be safe in their hands — they can’t win a seat for themselves easily, leave alone rallying the electorate in the party’s favour when there is a major election on. This is essentially because they don’t understand the texture of India and are largely innocent of its complexities. Mr Advani scores over this sub-species of the Sangh Parivar with ease.

It is said Mr Advani symbolises defeat, and should therefore stay away. This is not a sound political argument.

It lacks context. Indira Gandhi was a defeated Prime Minister in 1977. But was there anyone else who could have led the Congress back to power in the next election?

In the BJP today it is pretty much the same story. If the party has the potential to win the next round, it will be unwise to overlook Mr Advani as leader. Losing elections is no big deal in political life.
Before he finally made it, Mr Vajpayee too had been his party’s vanquished leader.

In any case, in this year’s general election which the BJP lost so badly, internal sabotage cannot be ruled out.

The calculation of BJP’s gen-next was that only a poll defeat would keep Mr Advani off-stage and leave an opening for them.

True, age is not Mr Advani’s strong suit. But are we going to be ageists?







Before the 2009 general elections, L.K. Advani declared in the party’s national executive: “It is said that a certain train-compartment mentality has got developed within the BJP, which makes those in leadership position to ignore promising, talented and committed cadres who are standing outside and waiting for the door to open”.

BJP went into battle with Mr Advani leading the charge. The entire campaign was built around this 82-year-old warhorse. His pictures, his biography launched and relaunched, his blog, his tears, his smiles were unleashed on the electorate.

But at the end of the day, the Congress hugely increased its tally and the BJP ended with less than what it had in the previous Lok Sabha. A comparison with 2004: True, the National Democratic Alliance had lost under Vajpayee, but that was because the BJP’s southern allies did poorly.

Age, octogenarian Mr Advani might think, is not the criterion for him to call it a day. Yet, Mr Advani was the captain of the saffron titanic which eventually sank. The end result showed total rejection of Mr Advani’s leadership, by the people and by the cadre.

In the Hindi heartland, the party’s performance was pathetic. In Delhi, it drew a blank, Rajasthan went out of its grip and in Uttar Pradesh, the cradle of the Ram Janmbhoomi movement, the party once again remained confined to 10 Lok Sabha seats. Not merely the voters, but the core constituency of the BJP, the Hindu votebank, remained uninspired and rejected Mr Advani. Morally and ethically, a captain who fails should call it day.

Can 82-year-old Advani legitimately hope to continue or lead the party for the next five years? He has played his long, successful and eventful innings as a leader.

The time has come for Mr Advani to transform from a leader to a mentor. He should not be any more seen as a politician clinging to his post. Hands rose in applause when he expressed his desire to retire after the poll debacle. But in a jiffy he was back as Leader of the Opposition. Mr Advani, who hinted that he would quit by the end of this year, is now expressing his desire to prolong his existence.

The RSS is tightening its noose around him. Debates are raging over his refusal to quit. Isn’t it the time for such a tall leader to opt for a graceful exit?

Isn’t it time for Mr Advani to step off the train to “make way for others”? It’s time for him to guide the leaders, not lead them.








Microbes have changed the way the world views security. They do not respect borders. Nor are they deterred by gates, guns and guards. Today, as governments worldwide grapple with the H1N1 flu pandemic, laboratories are emerging as critical tools in the global fight against infectious diseases. High-powered labs are also key to tackling the threat of bio-terrorism.


The current hot-button crisis involving the A(H1N1) influenza, better known as “swine flu”, first surfaced in Mexico in April this year.

Since then, it has killed more than 1,000 people across the world. Seventeen people in India, including two teenaged girls and a four-year-old boy, had died due to this flu till the time of writing.
Despite the relatively low mortality rate in the country, if the public, particularly in the big cities, appears panic-stricken, one reason is their lack of confidence in being able to access timely and accurate diagnosis.

A delay in diagnosis leads to a delay in treatment and that can be fatal. Most of the H1N1 flu deaths in India till date have been due to delayed diagnosis.

Strengthening the laboratory infrastructure — the hardware and human resources — is the key to tackling the H1N1 outbreak because not all labs can accurately diagnose it. Researchers at the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta recently noted that the current quick tests for flu miss many cases of the new pandemic H1N1 strain.

The accuracy of such tests ranged from just 40 per cent to 69 per cent in detecting the H1N1 virus. According to current Indian government guidelines, laboratories are authorised to test for swine flu only if they are BSL II (Bio-Safety Level II) and RTPCR (Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction) equipped.
Bio-safety is a scientific term which has gained currency since the swine flu outbreak. Bio-safety level refers to the level of the “bio containment” required to isolate dangerous biological agents in an enclosed facility. The levels of containment range from the lowest bio-safety level 1 (BSL 1) to the highest, at level 4 (BSL 4). Individuals who may be processing or performing diagnostic testing on clinical specimens from patients with suspected novel influenza A(H1N1) virus infection, or performing viral isolation, must follow bio-safety precautions to prevent further spread of the infection.

Laboratories with high levels of bio-safety not only have to have specific designs and infrastructure, they must also have trained personnel and a high degree of supervision. Personnel in BSL II laboratories, for example, are supposed to have specific training in handling pathogenic agents and are directed by scientists with advanced training.

At the next level — BSL III — all procedures involving the manipulation of infectious materials are conducted within biological safety cabinets or other physical containment devices and by personnel wearing appropriate protective clothing and equipment.

Is India laboratory-equipped to face the current challenge? The Union health ministry says that there is adequate testing capacity in the country and that it is using only “25 per cent of the testing facilities available”. But if you read newspapers, watch television or talk to ordinary people on the streets, you cannot but feel uneasy.

The overwhelming impression is that though the government is probably trying its best to be on top of the situation, the ground reality is changing so rapidly that many of its initial projections outlined in the draft action plan for Pandemic Preparedness and Response for Managing A(H1N1), for example, appear outdated.

The list of identified BSL-III labs for processing clinical samples in the draft action plan are six in number. These include standby labs. Today, this figure has had to be increased to 19 and BSL-II labs are included. These designated state-owned laboratories in different parts of the country are authorised to test swine flu samples. Despite the expanded laboratory capacity, the public health system is reeling from the demands made on it. In New Delhi, the apex testing laboratories — National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) and All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) — are deluged with samples that have to be tested following the surge in the number of suspected H1N1 cases. The severe shortage of trained manpower is adding to the burden.

New government guidelines envisage roping in the private sector to augment the country’s diagnostic capacity to test for swine flu. Private laboratories that fulfil these guidelines would be now allowed to do the job which was earlier the exclusive domain of state-owned labs and, wherever possible, the testing capacity of the existing 19 designated laboratories would be doubled.

We are also told that the ministry is addressing concerns about shortages of reagents and testing kits.
Undoubtedly, a lot of people within the public health system are working round the clock to save lives and there is a wealth of useful information on the health ministry’s website. But questions remain.
The government has laid out the clinical protocols for designated testing facilities, but what about monitoring and evaluation? Who is tracking if these protocols are being stringently followed on the ground, and who will monitor the private labs which will now start testing swine flu samples?
The government says the training of microbiologists and lab technicians in the 19 laboratories equipped to test for swine flu is over, but who will supervise the newly-trained?

One recent media report pointed out that at AIIMS, which recently started testing for H1N1, there are only four people qualified to carry out the tasks. Is this true? What if the virus spreads and the number of samples which have to be tested for swine flu spins out of control?

The availability of trained manpower to deal with the exigencies of swine flu is as much of a key concern as the state of India’s labs. India has only 165 labs that are accredited by National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) to conduct medical tests. Medical lab accreditation is done only through NABL, but the accreditation of clinical laboratories is not mandatory in the country.
The avian flu outbreak proved to be a blessing in disguise for India. When it surfaced, India had only one bio-safety level 4 lab. Typically, with the avian influenza outbreak, large number of samples were sent to this laboratory, resulting in a huge backlog and delay in testing of samples, which hampered the effectiveness of control and containment measures on the ground. Though there were six regional disease diagnostic laboratories in the country, these laboratories were not able to handle the avian influenza infected samples due to lack of disease containment facilities.

There were takeaway lessons from avian flu. It gave India’s pandemic preparedness a push and got official sanction for several laboratories with moderate to high bio-safety levels. Some of these have already come up. The swine flu crisis also offers important lessons. This could be turned into an opportunity to upgrade India’s laboratory infrastructure and expand the pool of trained manpower to take on unknown microbes and possible future threats.


Patralekha Chatterjee writes on contemporary development issues, and can be contacted at [1]








You may recall the seventh rule of Fight Club: Fights will go on as long as they have to.

In this summer of our discontent, fights are spreading like mountain wildfires — from a town hall in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, to one in Kinshasa, Congo. Never before have we had so many tools to learn and to communicate. Yet the art of talking, listening and ascertaining the truth seems more elusive than ever in this Internet and cable age, lost in a bitter stream of blather and misinformation.

The postpartisan, postracial, post-Clinton-dysfunction world that Barack Obama was supposed to usher in when he hit town on his white charger, with turtle doves tweeting, has vanished.
Hillary’s KO in the Congo on Monday made the covers of both New York tabloids. Using tough hand gestures not seen since The Sopranos went off HBO, Hillary snapped back at an African college student who asked about the growing influence of China on Africa and then, according to the translator, wanted to know: “What does Mr Clinton think?”

It turned out that the student was trying to ask how President Obama felt about it. But before he was able to clarify, the secretary of state flared: “Wait, you want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not the secretary of state. I am”.

This raw, competitive response showed that the experiment in using the Clintons as a tandem team on diplomacy may not be going as smoothly as we had hoped; once more, as with healthcare, the conjugal psychodrama drags down the positive contribution the couple can make on policy.

At Tuesday’s state department briefing, assistant secretary P.J. Crowley explained that Hillary was particularly irritated to feel overshadowed by men in Africa, where she is pushing her “abiding theme” of “empowering women”.

Nice try, P.J. But we all know Hillary could just as well have made the same comment in Paris. (And looking unhinged about your marriage on an international stage hardly empowers women.) She may have been steamed about Bill celebrating his upcoming 63rd birthday in Las Vegas with his posse. The Times’ Adam Nagourney irritated Clinton Inc. when he reported that Bill went to the pricey Craftsteak restaurant at the MGM Grand Hotel Monday night with Hollywood moguls Steve Bing and Haim Saban, and former advisers Terry McAuliffe and Paul Begala, among others.

Another rule of Fight Club, as Brad Pitt explained, is: When someone yells “stop” or goes limp, the fight is over. Unfortunately for Arlen Specter and Claire McCaskill, that rule didn’t apply at their donnybrooks on healthcare on Tuesday. The senators were punching bags for audience members irate about everything from the trillions in debt and illegal immigrants to term limits and toilet paper.

As Katy Abram told Fox News after passionately confronting Specter: “I know that years down the road, I don’t want my children coming to me and asking me, ‘Mom, why didn’t you do anything? Why do we have to wait in line for, I don’t know, toilet paper or anything?’”

Besides the chilling prospect of 21st-century America morphing into a cold war state — with Sheryl Crow in charge of toilet-paper rationing — there are also delusional fears about the government tapping bank accounts and convening “death panels”, as Sarah Palin dubbed them, to exploit the cost-saving potential of euthanising the old and disabled.

At his more placid town hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, the President had to explain that he did not intend to “pull the plug on grandma”. He said that the spectre of death panels had spun out of a proposal from a Republican, Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who has long espoused helping Medicare patients learn about options for care at the end of their lives. In an interview with the Washington Post on Monday, Isakson diagnosed Palin’s interpretation of his suggestion as “nuts”.

The young grassroots army that swept Obama into office has yet to mobilise now that the fight is about something complicated rather than a charismatic hope-monger. No, they can’t?

Instead of a multicultural tableau of beaming young idealists on screen, we see ugly scenes of mostly older and white malcontents, disrupting forums where others have come to actually learn something. Instead of hope, we get swastikas, death threats and T-shirts proclaiming “Proud Member of the Mob”.

President Obama has proven quicksilver instincts, but not in this case. You would think that a politician schooled in community organising and the foul balls of a presidential campaign would be ready to squash this kind of nuttiness. (Like it or not, Speaker Pelosi, that’s democracy in action.) Instead, the President’s overconfident Harvard Law Review side, expecting a high-minded debate, prevailed.

He knows how to rise to the occasion, even when others are in the dirt. But he may be running out of time.


By arrangement with the New York Times










Signs should not be taken for wonders. Thus the initiation of a process to restore normalcy in the hills of West Bengal should not be read as a quick-fix magic formula. The beginning that has been made should, however, please the West Bengal government since a consensus has been reached to abandon the idea of granting a separate state to the Gorkhas. There was an agreement that an interlocutor would be appointed to review the realities in the region and to look into the various demands. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha seemed to be pleased at this outcome and promised to maintain peace. What this means is that the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council Act of 1988 is no longer valid. The Sixth Schedule Bill of the Constitution, which sought to grant autonomy, has also been dropped. In other words, negotiations will now proceed without any past baggage. The West Bengal government had bought peace with Subash Ghising, the former numero uno of the Gorkhaland agitation, with the promise of the DGHC and the Sixth Schedule. One gain has been the three-tier panchayat system to replace the single-tier system that now lies derelict.


What this truce essentially ensures is that during the peak tourist season, Darjeeling will be free from trouble. Tourists will be able to visit what was once called the queen of hill stations. This, however, has all the appearances of a temporary truce. The hills without the usual tourist traffic would be seriously strapped for resources and the people who live there would lose an irreplaceable source of income. From the point of view of the GJM, this is the best time to negotiate a tactical peace. The Central government and the West Bengal one may have achieved a truce, but by no means a permanent peace. There is no guarantee that the GJM or some other organization will not revive the demand for a separate state and unleash another round of bandhs and violence. The fragility of the situation was underlined by the statement of Amar Lama, a GJM leader. Mr Lama said that peace would be maintained “unless provoked by the West Bengal government”. The definition of what would constitute a provocation on the part of the West Bengal government was deliberately left vague. Embedded in the statement is also a deep-seated suspicion of the state government and its intentions. The hills may be free now of the mists of trouble but, like the weather, politics there can be unpredictable.






Dictators have their own ideas of law and justice, but that does not stop them from staging courtroom dramas. The most dramatic element in Aung San Suu Kyi’s sham trial came after the court had read its verdict. As if the sentence of three years of hard labour was not revolting enough, the chief of Myanmar’s ruling junta, General Than Shwe, had the audacity of showing her fake mercy by reducing the sentence to 18 months and allowing her to stay in her own house in Yangon. For someone who has spent 14 of the past 20 years under house-arrest, the mockery of the General’s gesture is all too evident. But this is only a small part of a larger, more sinister, design. The junta has been forced by international pressure to arrange elections to the country’s parliament next year. The manner in which it organized a constitutional referendum last year to pave the way for the polls gave enough indications about its intentions for the elections. It would be another exercise in stifling hopes for a democratic Myanmar. But the experience of the 1990 elections, swept by Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy and annulled by the junta, has clearly made the junta nervous. It does not want to take any chances and will now use the verdict in order to keep her out of next year’s polls.


The international community had no hopes of Ms Suu Kyi getting any kind of justice. Leaders of Western countries were particularly vehement in their condemnation of the trial and its verdict. But the question is what they can do to stop Myanmar’s rulers from not just continuing to detain Ms Suu Kyi but also denying its people democracy and the rule of law. Her long years under house arrest has shown that the junta cares little about international opinion. Even threats of sanctions by the United Nations have not worked mainly because of opposition by China and sometimes Russia. The UN and other countries can help the cause of democracy in Myanmar only by putting more pressure on its leaders and their allies elsewhere. The polls next year provide one such opportunity. The world must use diplomatic and other means to ensure that the junta’s will does not prevail yet again. It is not enough to treat Myanmar as a pariah state; the world must ensure that it is replaced by a civilized one. Allowing Myanmar’s rulers to continue their evil regime can weaken democratic aspirations everywhere.








The eight-lane National Highway 24 changes to two lanes at the mouth of the interstate bus terminal at Anand Vihar in East Delhi, funnelling dust-caked buses from Bareilly, Lucknow, Bulandshahr and Kashipur into their final traffic jam. At the entrance were rickshaws, men hefting bundles, sleepy-eyed, feet-dragging children who had slept the night on the bus, and a woman in a red and gold sari seated on the pavement, plaiting her daughter’s hair with single-minded brutality. The girl winced but said nothing as her far-eyed mother tugged and pulled. Inside the vast terminal with bays marked A, B, C and D, the cement and tarmac breathed out visible currents of heat.


I cannot remember the last time I travelled by a state roadways bus to anywhere but Jaipur, and Jaipur doesn’t count. Its buses are cool and smooth, the highway to Jaipur is silken, the Rajasthan Roadways bus stop in Delhi is a green lawn in the best part of town. It has a café that sells milkshakes and espressos. Here, apart from the newspaper boys, there were boys selling plastic pouches of water and touts enticing customers with promises of cheaper tickets. At the legitimate ticket counter, there were two queues: the law-abiding had huddled in front, hunched over the tiny hole in the glass that barricaded off the ticket man. The lawless entered through the door at the back. This was what I did, sidestepping the large, very scarred and odoriferous feet of a man asleep on a bench in one half of the two-foot by two-foot ticket booth. The other man in the ticket booth was awake, just. A bus to Haldwani, I said to the back of his head. He didn’t look up, he waved somewhere to the right and mumbled, then applied himself once more to the hole in the glass window. My illegal turn was over.


We stood on our marks, in sprinter crouches by the bus door, ready to pounce on the seats we had demarcated for ourselves in our minds. Tickets would be sold on the bus, for the seat you had grabbed: from now on only the fittest would survive. A man arrived with a broom and, oblivious of our anxiety, shooed us some distance away. Inside, the bus was ankle-deep with the detritus of its previous occupants: we heard sounds of sweeping and the broom pushed discarded water bottles, bags of rotted food, empty chips packets towards the door. Nearby, a tea-stall played a succession of shrill songs. A eunuch in a shimmery green and gold sari did a round, saw the bus was not ready for her yet, and slouched away shaking her long gilt earrings. People paced, then rushed off in confused obedience towards unseen drivers shouting the departures of other buses. The sweeping sound from inside our bus — now we felt a sense of ownership towards the puke-stained vehicle before us — came closer and closer to the door. The sweeper reached the door, paused and told us to stand back. He positioned himself on the top stair of the bus and flung the rubbish onto the ground. When he had finished, we waded into the bus through the freshly-strewn garbage and grabbed the best, early-bird seats.


The curtains were pale blue, so were the seats, both blues darkened to navy by grime. Generations of old passengers had left their dandruff, DNA and sweat on those seats. The shaded window-glass and smell of old hair-oil gave the interior the feel of a quack’s seedy clinic. Newspaper and cardboard had been used to block up warped or missing window panes. The eunuch reappeared, flirted, wheedled, and then commanded in a contralto. She thumped my shoulder in exasperation when she saw I was too distracted by my phone to fish money out for her. Her earrings jangled, her bangles clinked, and a thin dark shadow of stubble doomed her upper lip and chin to early-morning malehood. A buck-toothed grandmother had been deposited next to me by her children, who clearly did not want her spoiling their fun further back in the bus. She wore a pink sari dotted all over with white heart-shapes, and talked of long-ago holidays with her father and sisters in Nainital. “Are you married, do you have children?” she asked, and then said, “I have children but these days every one is so busy. They have no time for anyone else.”

The bus revved and then charged forward. The driver had a wild, feverish air, a cadaverous face, and he flung his shoulders this way and that as he wrestled with his hoop of a wheel. He thrust his head out of the window to yell questions to truckers coming down the opposite way: “Arre ustad, is there a jam ahead?” Or to a bus driver: “Is the bridge open, should I go ahead?” The bush telegraph of the Indian highways. The curtains around him billowed in the scorching air that charged through his glassed-off part of the bus: the only section not air-conditioned. So he wore a singlet and trousers, no more, and at times doused his head with water from a bottle he stowed under his seat. He had nothing but caustic contempt for our prim, bathed and T-shirted conductor who sought refuge in the air-conditioned, passenger section of the bus. The driver revelled in the exclusivity of his fiery ride. He was tough, we were ninnies. He swabbed himself with a wet rag, he laughed and sang. When it was folksongs, his voice was swaggering and loud. With romantic film-songs, it dropped to a self-conscious, piping falsetto from which he emerged at abrupt intervals to yell curses at cars in his way: “Arre saala, Privaaate!” He swerved towards them to give them a fright. Cars were the enemy. In the rear-view mirror, his eyes gleamed. Bushes of black hair exploded from his underarms.


The last time I was in a bus, as it happened, had been four days before, on a three-day trip through Scotland. The driver looked like Mel Gibson in a resplendent kilt. He murmured to us to put on our seat belts. He gave us a passionate history of the Jacobites and Bonnie Prince Charlie via a microphone clipped into his shirt, and at times he interrupted his narrative with recordings of bagpipes or mournful, melodic Scottish ballads. Mel MacGibson’s voice had the grainy edge expected of movie stars. He refused our offers of lunch with courteous disdain, making it clear that we were Duty, while lunchtime was Pleasure, to be savoured in solitude. But he walked us to a hill above Loch Lomond, and at the top, he played his own bagpipes, staring into the water as if we were passing shadows on the sunlit days of his mind. His part of the bus was air-conditioned just as ours was, and his seat was better than ours.


The author’s novel, An Atlas of Impossible Longing, was published last year









The story of a mentally challenged person being raped can leave you shaken; but the story of how she managed to keep her ensuing pregnancy leaves you stirred. The merits of the decision of the Supreme Court to stay the order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, as well as the merits of the decision taken by the latter, would be debated for a long time.


The appellant before the SC was under the care of a government organization, which tended to abandoned and mentally ill people. The fact of her rape was detected only after she had complained of nausea and related problems. After ascertaining the details, the Chandigarh administration petitioned the HC, seeking permission to terminate the pregnancy.


The administration was armed with a medical board’s recommendation that the pregnancy be terminated in view of the mental health of the lady. It also relied on the progressive law, The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, which provides for the termination of pregnancy, where there is “grave injury” to the pregnant woman, anguish due to rape being statutorily recognized as grave injury. The act further provides that the pregnancy may be terminated within 20 weeks, unless the life of the woman is in danger, in which case, the time limit would not apply. The issue was who would give consent, as under the act, consent for a mentally ill person could only be given by a guardian.


The HC was acutely aware of the paucity of time, but in view of the gravity of the case, tread cautiously and constituted an independent committee to look into 14 specific questions relating to the mental faculties of the pregnant woman. The findings were against her, although the committee reported that the lady had expressed interest in the child.


Not at fault


The counsel for the lady sought to differentiate between ‘mentally ill’ and ‘mentally retarded’ persons under law. Strong reliance was placed on The National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999, and on medical literature. The HC, in a balanced judgment, guided by the act, deferred to expert opinion and rejected the expression of interest in the child by the lady.


In its anxiety to avail itself of the beneficial provisions of the act, the government unfortunately passed on the baton of executioner to the HC. The HC displayed exemplary courage in allowing the petition. This judgment deserves praise for its pragmatic approach, empathy towards the lady and also for its fine sense of appreciation of the law. The HC did stretch the limit when it ruled that it had inherent or plenary jurisdiction to pass an order directing that the pregnancy be terminated. It may seem deplorable that the HC of a state passed such an order; however, in the circumstances, and in view of the law enabling such an option, the HC boldly did what the government ought to have done. If one were to find fault with the judgment, it would be on grounds that are debatable and vexing to the most competent legal minds.


When the case reached the SC, 19 weeks had passed. The SC had to decide the viability of the right of the lady to keep the pregnancy. Surprisingly, though the administration had relied on medical literature and legal submissions, its arguments before the SC were based more on practical difficulties than anything else. The point was made that the issue was flirting with the line between law and morality. The SC was aware of the findings of the committees and the mental condition of the lady. The court was guided by that ambivalent expression of interest evinced by her, and perhaps by the moving dissent of Justice H.R. Khanna in the habeas corpus case — that her appeal was to the court of last resort and to the spirit of the law and humanity. It was also aware of the advanced stage of pregnancy. Two constitutional courts came to two opposing conclusions, yet neither could be faulted.










Is it possible that having a sunny outlook on life can be good for your health? Plenty of self-help guides claim that positive thinking can improve wellbeing, but is there any scientific evidence for this?

A new study in the US found that optimists were less likely than pessimists to develop coronary heart disease (CHD) and less likely to die of any cause over the course of the eight-year trial. Hilary Tindle and colleagues looked at 97,253 postmenopausal women, all of whom were free of cancer and cardiovascular disease when they took personality tests at the start of the study.

When the researchers compared the most optimistic 25 per cent of their subjects with the most pessimistic 25 per cent, they found that out of every 10,000 optimists, 43 developed CHD and overall 46 died, while for every 10,000 pessimists there were 60 cases of CHD and 63 deaths overall. Women who scored highly for ‘cynical hostility’ were also more likely to develop CHD or die.

This isn’t the first study to find a link between optimism and good health.

Psychologists distinguish two different kinds of optimism. ‘Dispositional optimism’ is the general belief that good things will happen. On the other hand a person is said to have an optimistic ‘explanatory style’ if they blame bad things on temporary, external factors; and a pessimistic explanatory style if they believe bad things happen because of their own fault or unchangeable, global factors.


One study, reported in 1988, looked at 99 Harvard graduates from the classes of 1942-1944, all of whom filled in questionnaires that determined their explanatory style at the age of 25. When doctors examined their physical health over the next 35 years, they found that those who were pessimistic when they left university were more likely to experience poor health between the ages of 45 and 60, taking into account their physical and mental health at 25.

A study in 2001 of 1,306 men found that those whose explanatory style was most optimistic were less than half as likely to develop coronary artery disease compared with those who were most pessimistic.

A Dutch study of 941 subjects aged 65-80, published in 2004, found that those of a pessimistic disposition were 55 per cent  more likely to die during the nine-year follow-up period, independent of other factors such as education, smoking and alcohol consumption. The effect was particularly strong in men.

A study in the US in 2006 looked at 6,958 students who had taken a psychological test when they enrolled at the University of North Carolina in the 1960s. Among the most pessimistic third of the subjects, the death rate over the next 40 years was 42 per cent higher than among the most optimistic third.

Dispositional optimism has also been linked with improved recovery rates after surgery and improved cancer survival rates.

We shouldn’t leap to the conclusion that being optimistic makes people healthier. It could be that good health is what is making people optimistic in the first place, and not the other way around. Healthier people are certainly likely to be more optimistic, but studies have generally accounted for this and still found a positive result, so it doesn’t seem to be the whole story. When subjects have been followed for several decades after the original questionnaire, we can be even more confident that the bad health wasn’t there to begin with.

Another possibility is that optimists lead healthier lifestyles, as Dr Tindle points out. “In our study,” she told me, “optimists tended to be slightly younger, more educated and wealthier, more physically active and closer to healthy body weight.” But other studies have still found optimism to have a beneficial effect even after adjusting for known cardiovascular risk factors.

Although Dr Tindle stressed that her study could not identify the physiological link between optimism and health, she did suggest that optimists might have better ways of coping with stress. “This could mean not as much of a rise in blood pressure, stress hormones, or heart rate,” she said.

Perhaps our genes could also be playing a role. It might be that the same genes that confer an optimistic disposition also predispose to good health.

To demonstrate a causal relationship between optimism and health, you’d need to do a randomised trial in which a group of pessimists was somehow turned into optimists, and then wait and see whether they fared any better than a control group.


As things stand, it’s still unclear whether adopting a more positive outlook on life can reduce your likelihood of falling ill or dying. But it certainly won’t hurt — and it might put a smile on your face. Who could argue with that?








I was drowning inside a pestilential pudding of waste and worry, bullying and belittling, and dismay. I needed a detective to find my better self who did not carry such a basket of grime covered with indignation and fury.

Where could I go and be rid of such a massive baggage of belligerence and bungling coming at me from everywhere?

Cacophony, clutter and the carnivores of life had bitten me up so greedily I was undone. There seemed to be no magic Vim or Surf powder to wash them off. They stuck and curdled inside me. When shopping and television, I began to worry.

Stumbling through this greasy corridor I wandered into a small cemetery covered with huge mayflower trees putting out flaming red torches over the resting dead. Winsome angels stood over ancient British graves. One angel solemnly wept over an English woman who died at the age of 29!

I sat down on her grave to write my diary. I was being watched! A suspicious friend had warned me never to visit graveyards as ghosts would gobble me up! But no one had ever told me that one of my deepest, hungriest wishes would be fulfiled there!


A small, tubby owl sat snoozing on a branch above as I watched enthralled. For the last four months I had been searching an owl. The NGO’s expert who had promised to put me in touch with owls had not bothered to answer several emails. A colleague had told me I would never find an owl without help from experts. But the owl had found me!

Awed I watched it secretively not wanting it to flee. But then realised that the owl was watching me! As my Bridge camera began to slowly click, the sleepy owl gave me a treasure chest filled with winning poses. In one exquisite second it gave me the perfect open eyed look which said ‘What one earth are you up to, hiding so cumbersomely behind a grave and getting so squished, crumpled and ant bitten?’

And under the red burnished may flower canopy such an innocence flowered over the day that I was enveloped in bliss. The cacophony, competition and curtailment of that time was trounced in a place where death and angels reined supreme and a little owl gazed deep into my sullen soul and surfed it clean!








Dreams of reviving the Aqueduct racetrack in Ozone Park, Queens, with a 4,500-slot-machine casino have been stumbling along since 2001 when the Legislature passed laws allowing a major expansion in New York’s gambling industry. Racing would continue in the winter, and the year-round casino would occupy what is now a crumbling and disused part of the grandstand.


Six new bids for an Aqueduct slots palace are now before Gov. David Paterson’s office. The developers, including the Las Vegas impresario Steve Wynn and the operators of the Hard Rock Cafe, all say slots will stop the rot. Albany, desperate for easy money, buys that bad argument. Everybody promises that we’ll all make out like bandits, with good local jobs, lots of cash and a shiny new destination only a subway ride away.


Of course, the public has no sure way of knowing how the developers plan to make this happen since the selection process — the lobbying and deal making — is going on in secret. Even more regrettable is the idea that the only way to revive the Aqueduct is to turn it into a casino. Whatever benefits the new grandstand brings would not cover the price in addiction and broken lives that comes along with those 4,500 video gambling terminals.


The Aqueduct obviously needs a makeover. Go there and you will see. Up in the disused grandstand, all is darkness and decay. Huge tarps suspended from the leaky ceiling sag with water. Pigeons flutter overhead. A towering stanchion has jettisoned its drywall, leaving a hill of gypsum. Animal tracks, bigger than rat and smaller than coyote, lead away into the dusty gloom.


Aqueduct was a vibrant place back in the ’50s and ’60s. Now it is suffering along with the sport of horse racing, which has declined in popularity among a younger generation. Winter racing also requires a particularly hardy breed of horse player.


Mr. Wynn, who built the dancing fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, is right that the city deserves something better than a moth-eaten racetrack, and we don’t doubt that he or whoever wins the contract could build a dazzling something-or-other. But with all respect to them and Mr. Paterson, what happens in Vegas should have stayed in Vegas. Casino gambling is not the answer.







The impact on small businesses has become a flashpoint in the increasingly raucous debate over health care reform. Trade associations are charging that the pending bills — which would require all businesses to provide coverage to their employees or pay a penalty — would place a huge financial burden on their members. Republican leaders are doing their best to inflame the fears and opposition of small business owners.


These proprietors would be wise to ignore the rhetoric and take a closer look. A vast majority of small businesses and their workers are likely to benefit greatly. They should be supporting, not opposing, reform.


It is a little recognized fact that some 70 percent of uninsured Americans come from families with one or two full-time workers. Most of those workers are employed by small businesses that don’t offer them health benefits or offer coverage that they can’t afford.


Small businesses would reap substantial benefits if their employees were insured. Their work forces would likely become healthier, and they would have an easier time attracting or holding talented employees. Even more striking, with health care reform, small firms could buy insurance at substantially lower rates. Lobbyists issue dire warnings that small businesses won’t have the money to pay for coverage or to pay the penalties and will have to eliminate a huge number of jobs: more than one million under an early House bill, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.


Such fears are grossly overblown.


A vast majority of the nation’s small employers — those who have 25 or fewer workers in the Senate health bill or annual payrolls of $500,000 or less in the House version — would likely be exempted from the mandate.


An analysis by Jonathan Gruber, a respected health economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, concluded that those small businesses that are not exempt would see little impact on employment or profits, although employers would reduce wages to compensate for providing added benefits. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the chief arbiter of the impact of legislation, has come to similar conclusions.


What’s been most lost in the furor is how much most small businesses would benefit from provisions that should make insurance more affordable — for businesses that already provide coverage and for those that have been deterred from providing coverage by cost.


Small businesses that currently offer coverage often pay significantly more per worker than larger employers do for the same coverage. Under all of the current bills, the smallest employers would gain quick access to new insurance exchanges — where plans would compete for their business with rates comparable to those enjoyed by large employers. (In subsequent years, slightly bigger firms and possibly even medium-size firms would likely gain access to the exchanges as well.)


And many small businesses with low-wage workers would be eligible for substantial tax credits to subsidize their coverage.


Still, not all small firms would benefit. One government estimate suggests that 39,000 firms (out of a total of six million small and large employers in the country) would have to start providing benefits or pay a penalty, and another 240,000 that do provide benefits would have to increase their subsidy levels. The penalties for not offering coverage could be relatively small ($750 per worker after exempting the first 25 workers under the Senate bill) or quite substantial (reaching an estimated $2,800 per worker for some firms under the House bill).


There is no question that the cost of coverage — which currently averages about $5,000 per individual or $13,000 per family — or paying fines could take a substantial bite out of the profits of some firms, forcing them to accept lower earnings, reduce wages, shed some jobs or raise prices.


Trade groups say the main reason small firms don’t provide coverage is that they can’t afford to, and they complain that there is little in the reform bills that would reduce medical costs any time soon. But in making that argument, they conflate two issues. It is true that deep-seated reform of the health care delivery system will take years to reduce medical costs. But the cost of health insurance for small businesses could drop quickly once the exchanges are open.


While some small percentage of companies will suffer, there are good reasons for requiring as many companies as possible to “play” — by offering coverage — or “pay” by paying a penalty. The most important is that the penalties would help deter employers from dropping their own coverage. The number of companies offering health insurance to their workers has been declining steadily, mostly among small firms, and it is important not to accelerate that erosion.


The play-or-pay provisions could also raise significant money to help cover the uninsured. The penalties alone could raise $52 billion over a decade under the Senate health committee bill and probably much more under the House bill. We see no easy way to ease the pain of the minority of firms that will face very substantial new costs. We’d be inclined to suggest hardship exemptions were it not for the likelihood that creative accountants might make every firm look like a hardship case.


A bipartisan group within the Senate Finance Committee is considering dropping the employer mandate and substituting a requirement that employers pay only for those workers who end up with government-subsidized coverage. That seems a poor approach because it could deter employers from hiring low-income workers that could saddle them with high subsidy costs.


It makes good sense to us to require small businesses to contribute to solving a problem that mostly affects their own workers. There also seems little doubt that the small business community would be one of the biggest winners from health care reform.







Documents released by Congress, including testimony from Karl Rove, offer powerful new evidence that the Bush administration fired top prosecutors who refused to use their offices to promote the electoral fortunes of Republicans.


Turning law enforcement into a tool of partisan politics is a serious offense, and a Justice Department investigation is under way. Congress must also continue its investigation and call Mr. Rove and others to testify publicly so the American people can hear for themselves how the justice system was hijacked.


The materials released on Tuesday paint an ugly picture of fair-minded prosecutors under siege by the White House for refusing to politicize their offices. And it puts Mr. Rove, former President George W. Bush’s chief political operative, at the center of it.


Some of the most disturbing revelations concern the firing of David Iglesias, the United States Attorney in New Mexico. He was put on a list to be fired shortly after a White House aide complained to Mr. Rove that Mr. Iglesias was not doing enough — including refusing to bring politically useful public corruption cases — to help Heather Wilson, a Republican member of the House of Representatives, fend off a Democratic challenger in the 2006 election.


Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, told investigators that an “agitated” Mr. Rove called her before the election to say that Mr. Iglesias was a serious problem, and he wanted something done. Mr. Iglesias had received high marks from the Justice Department for the quality of his work.


Other documents suggest that Todd Graves, the United States attorney in Kansas City, Mo., was fired as part of a White House deal with Senator Kit Bond, a Republican who wanted Mr. Graves out, and that the White House leaned on the Justice Department to influence an F.B.I. investigation of Representative Rick Renzi, a Republican.


John Conyers, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, deserves credit for energetically pursuing the investigation that turned up these documents and for insisting that Mr. Rove and Ms. Miers submit to interviews, despite the Bush administration’s spurious claims of executive privilege.


Nora Dannehy, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, is leading the separate investigation for the Justice Department. She could bring criminal charges against the officials responsible for the firings if she finds that they were done to obstruct justice or for other illegal reasons. Ms. Dannehy, who has the power not only to subpoena but to indict, is in the best position to learn all of the facts and ensure that justice is done.









A representative from Jhang has told the National Assembly that the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) is active once again in his area. He has warned that this could result in a re-emergence of the frenzied sectarian violence we saw in the 1990s, resulting in hundreds of deaths and many target-killings of key figures. It is also ominous that the SSP apparently has through the years remained entirely unaffected by the ban placed on it and has indeed been able to keep its organisational structure intact. The same representative from the birthplace of the SSP stated that around 20 activists of the group arrested in the town for involvement in illegal activities had been released late July, and these people had then been involved in the Gojra incident. If this account is accurate – and we have no reason to believe it is not – the disaster in that town could have been averted.

The ban placed on over a dozen groups over the last decade needs to be re-visited and an assessment made of just how effective it has been. According to the information available, some of the groups have re-surfaced under new names. Others have simply continued to function underground. There has also been a process of splintering, and this indeed means the situation is even more chaotic than before, making it harder to know which group operates from where and who heads it. The evidence put forward from Jhang points to possible links once again with the police. It is also possible that fear prevents this force from acting against the SSP. Whatever the truth is it needs to be understood and steps taken to eliminate such militant forces. We live today in a society within which violence and hatred have seeped in deep and exist almost everywhere. It has now been proven that simply banning groups brings little reward, particularly when such bans are not properly enforced. The government must show it is willing to devise a strategy to tackle the issue. Simply bombing militant targets is not enough. Even bigger challenges lie ahead. There is no time for complacency. The government must demonstrate it is up to the task and able to take apt action that can ward off the dangers we face.







The minister for labour is angry. The reason for his fury is a story appearing in this publication pointing to corruption in the Employees Old-Age Benefit Institution. The minister has said a parliamentary committee should be set up, and a 'shut-up call' given to one of the country's best investigative journalists, Kamran Khan, if his account is found not to carry weight. The minister also raised the old bogey of attempts made to malign democratic institutions. It must be noted there has been no effort to prove the charges made are unjust. Other ministers too have remained silent in the wake of reports detailing corruption within the ministries they head. As patriots, we can only hope the charges made are not accurate. But we fear they could be. Newspaper policy demands proof to back up what appears in print. Such material passes through many hands. Reports such as the ones that have appeared recently are not simply conjured up and printed at whim. The details provided in the recent ones from Kamran Khan Show they are hardly a product of bigotry as the minister has implied.

It is too easy, when in power, to forget similar accounts in the past – including those uncovering the wrongdoings of a certain Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar. These showed the commitment of the press to its role as a watchdog body. It is a good omen for citizens that it is continuing. As an experienced politician, the minister must also understand that calling on writers to 'shut-up' is not an appropriate way to tackle dissent. The PPP government has said it stands for free expression. It must then respect this right. If accusations are unfairly made, ministers and other government members need to refute them and prove they are untrue. This has happened in other countries. The labour minister needs to take the time to scrutinise goings-on in the EOBI before labelling newspaper reports inaccurate or demanding action against individuals.







One of the defining features of Taliban activity is their progressive destruction of the education system in the areas where they operate or have influence. In Swat and Malakand this was directed at girls' schools originally but broadened out into education more generally with hundreds of schools, which will cost billions of rupees to replace, now piles of blackened rubble. In terms of the fight they seek to win it makes sense for them to target schools because education is the greatest threat that they face in the long term. Educated minds are less pliable. For the provincial and federal governments the rebuilding of the education system in the war-affected areas is one of the most pressing needs, and it is with dismay that we see reports of the Taliban burning down seven primary schools in Buner (three boys' schools, four girls' schools) and a further five schools torched in the Shangla district.

It was expected that the provincial and federal governments and the law and order agencies would protect those education assets that were still left. Buner had been declared 'safe' and people had returned, children had started to attend their classes again, and the destruction of these twelve schools in less than twenty-four hours makes a complete mockery of the claims to have 'pacified' the area which are made almost daily by assorted government figures and representatives. These schools should have been protected; the students should have been able to see soldiers and the police on duty day and night protecting their future and the future of all of us. Their parents will feel as deprived as their children now are. They had the confidence to return, believed the government and have been once again comprehensively let down. The NWFP Minister for Social Welfare and Women Welfare Sitara Ayaz when interviewed about this matter on a private TV channel on Tuesday evening waffled helplessly and was unable to provide any reason as to why this parlous state of affairs persisted. Self-evidently the Taliban, at least in Buner and Shangla, are not 'defeated' and neither the army nor the government in any of their iterations are able to protect their most valuable assets. We are learning a lesson, but not in school.









THERE is no doubt that any aggrieved citizen or the party can certainly knock at the doors of a court of law to get justice. As per this principle, Muhammad Aslam Ghumman, a lawyer, who filed an FIR against the former President Pervez Musharraf on charges of illegal detention of about sixty judges on November 3, 2007, was also entitled to seek legal recourse against what he perceives was violation of the law.

A formal FIR has been lodged, therefore, legal procedure would now be followed and the entire nation would eagerly wait for the outcome. However, in our view, this was no time to open another Pandora’s box. Already, we have enough on our plate — there is a lot of polarization, security environment is precarious, there are allegations of institutionalised corruption, the Prime Minister is talking about reopening of the Z A Bhutto case being described by some circles as judicial murder and there are also demands of registration of a case in Nawaz Akbar Bugti’s killing. During his eight-year rule, the former President did a lot of good to the country and contributed significantly to overall economic development. Musharraf, who is bestowed with qualities of head and heart, effectively argued Pakistan’s case at different forums and strengthened strategic interests of the country. It is a fact that he became controversial after November 3 action, which is being termed by some quarters as mini Martial Law. It is believed that now the former President himself realizes that the issue of justices could have been handled in a better way. Leaving aside what happened in the past, one shudders to imagine the possible fall-out of the case against retired General Musharraf. It is a culture to castigate and make target of criticism a man who falls down but to begin with we must remember that Musharraf certainly has deep links with the Army and enjoys respect in many segments of the society. In addition to this, he has strong international clout and there are some influential countries that are still at his back. There are also reports of some international guarantors of the arrangement that resulted in the entry of the PPP into power and paved the way for the exit of Musharraf. Without going into merits and demerits of the case, we would say that those behind the case have rendered no service to Pakistan. People are already becoming disenchanted because of abysmal poverty, unprecedented price hike, unemployment, frequent shortages of essential commodities and unending power crisis. Therefore, instead of opening another Pandora’s box, we should forget the past and move forward to address the serious challenges confronting the nation.







AS the society had hardly recovered from the severe shock caused by brutal manhandling in Lahore of a Police officer and journalists by those who claim to be champions of rule of law, there happened another such dastardly incident in the provincial headquarters on Tuesday. The Mozang Police has registered a case against 14 persons including lawyers for thrashing a police Sub-Inspector and also forcibly taking away an accused involved in a murder case in the premises of the Lahore High Court building.

One wonders in which direction we are proceeding with lawyers, who are rightly perceived to be comparatively more cultured and civilized, indulging in this sort of behaviour and that too repeatedly. Only a few days back, in an apparent attempt to pacify protesting journalists, one of the leaders of legal fraternity — Ali Ahmad Kurd — had given an assurance that nothing of the sort would recur in future. However, it seems that things have gone beyond the control of the lawyers’ leadership and that some elements within the camps of the black coats are trying to dent the fair image of their community. We have been pointing out in these columns that lawyers played a leading role in the movement for restoration of deposed judges and this enhanced their standing further in the society. However, the way some lawyers are trying to take the law into their own hands conveys wrong signal to the people of Pakistan. Lawyers are supposed to be upholders of law and it is also a fact that judges too are picked up from amongst them. If they break the law then how can one expect of an ordinary citizen to bow his head before the law? Recently, there were riots over load-shedding, again there were riots over Gojra incident and the situation with regard to rule of law has deteriorated to such an extent that citizens themselves are now punishing thieves, dacoits and thugs there and then. All these are symptomatic of impending civil war and every one of us should strive to prevent that from happening. The judiciary is trying its best to assert itself but the Government too should move decidedly to stem the rot.







IN the wake of weak economic growth during the past financial year, the Senate Committee on Finance has advised the Finance Ministry and the State Bank to pay more attention to agriculture and large scale manufacturing sectors that have the capacity to boost the economy. At the same time the Committee directed for ensuring fiscal discipline.

There is no doubt that the economy is witnessing the downturn for the last two years while the expenditure is going high unchecked forcing the finance managers to borrow from the State Bank and the IMF. Heavy borrowing means more stress on the budget as huge allocations are being made to service the debts. Measures are thus needed to stimulate the economy so as to increase exports and enhance revenue collection. The committee rightly suggested that measures be taken to lower the mark-up rates that would give a jump-start to the ailing large scale manufacturing sector. Agriculture sector was the one, which showed significant improvement during last year with record yield of wheat and rice. Therefore low interest rate would enable the farmers to invest and achieve higher production and that in turn will contribute to lowering the inflation, which peaked to around 24% during the last financial year hitting hard the common man. At the moment, the country needs to adopt the right set of policies and initiatives to bring down the non-development expenditure, encourage new technologies to produce value added products, investments in industries that substitute for imports and incentives to agriculture and industry to induce higher production. That would help to sustainable rate of economic growth, generate more revenue, reduce pressure on resources and enable the Government to maintain fiscal discipline.











The government is considering adoption of fiscal measures to contain the recent price hike of essentials, Commerce Minister Lt Col (retd) Faruk Khan told leading businessmen last Tuesday when they met him to discuss ways and means to contain the price spiral, particularly in the upcoming holy month of Ramzan. Although it was not immediately clear what fiscal measures the administration will take, the government does have a number of options including lending at low interest rates from its burgeoning foreign exchange reserve.

The other issue that came up for discussion was the huge discrepancy between wholesale and retail prices. Research on the topic has revealed that the long supply chain is largely to blame for it. A product usually changes five to six hands before it gets to the consumer. Every time there is an exchange, some value addition occurs. This chain must be shortened if farmers and consumers are to get the best price. Preferably there should be one mediator, meaning the retailer should invest in agriculture, as is the practice in other countries.

In Bangladesh, too, we have the practice of advance purchase or what is called dadan (in agriculture) but then the one who advances the money does not sell directly to the retailer or even the wholesaler, he sells to a faria (middle man), who sells to another faria and the process lingers only to add to the agony of the consumer. The chain between the wholesale and retail markets is also pretty long, although physically they may only be less than a kilometre apart. If the links in the chain can be reduced or eliminated, consumers will get some benefit. One can compare the prices of industrial and agricultural products to observe the difference that an organised chain makes.

For the time being, as Frauk Khan has said some essential commodities will be available in the market “very soon” and their sale will obviously somewhat stabilise the market. We hope that given political commitment price stabilisation can be achieved, if not fully, at least upto a point.








Handing Myanmar’s most revered leader Aung San Suu Kyi three years imprisonment with hard labour and then commuting it to one and a half years under house arrest speak volumes of the junta-manipulated trial in kangaroo court there. The court sentenced her to three years hard labour and imprisonment but under a special order from military ruler Than Shwe the sentence was reduced. Clearly, here is a futile attempt to project a compassionate face of the army. The junta government needed an excuse for ensuring she took no part in the process of general elections scheduled for next year. It got one when an American national John Yettaw swam uninvited to Suu Kyi’s home and brought charges against her and the US citizen for violation of internal security.

Considered in the context of the election victory for Suu Kyi’s party National League for Democracy in 1990 and the subsequent disrespect for the popular mandate by the Myanmar junta, this latest trial is nothing.

Spending much of her last 20 years in captivity, Suu Kyi can remain in confinement for another one and a half years but will Myanmar gain from it? The key question is if this will pave the way for democracy. One wonders if it will. Had the junta been sincere, they needed no such ploy to bar her and some of her followers – many of the 2,000 of them are frontline leaders – now debarred from participating in the election process. One of the preconditions for a free and fair election is to create the right political atmosphere. It seems it is not being done in Myanmar.









"With so many cars being stolen everyday, we've manufactured a car that nobody will ever steal!" whispered the salesman into my ear, seeing my reaction, then jumping up and down with excitement, "It's called the clip-on car! It's got clip-on wipers, clip-on hub caps, clip-on bumpers, clip-on door handles! Watch!" I watched as with a flick of his wrist the salesman clipped off the door handles, wipers, brass fittings, bumpers, the side mirror, headlights and the tail lights from a car in the showroom. "Even the number plate is a clip-on", said the dealer proudly, clipping off the number plate and laying it on the floor. "That could get you a lot of bookings from the underworld" I said thoughtfully. "Ha, ha, ha, you are a good joker! Now watch what we've done with the inside; the tape-recorder clips off, so does the air-conditioner and this is why there's a small steering wheel; even that comes off, the seats also can be clipped off!" I exclaimed, "There's nothing left of the car except a shell!" Said the salesman happily, "That's the point. Nothing left to steal!"

"But," I asked looking at the pile of clipped off accessories lying all around, "what's the driver going to do with all these clipped- off accessories?"

"Simple," said the salesman taking me to the dickey and opening it with a flourish, "Each car comes with two free suitcases. Just load everything into them, that's it!" Continued the salesman. "Just imagine, you can leave your car at the airport, at the station even at Chor Bazaar and you don't have too worry: A car for the one who values his peace of mind!"

"Those suitcases," I said still looking into the boot, "Are going to be quite heavy to carry about."

"For a little extra you can have them on wheels!" said the salesman, then came closer and whispered "Our next model car is going to be an even better best-seller!" I asked," A better best-seller?" Said the salesman again jumping around me, "A car no thief will even look at. It's got a clip-on engine! A clipped-on engine!" I shouted in horror, "A clipped on engine?" Exclaimed the salesman cheerfully, "Yes, you can take out the engine after you've parked the car! Tell me, who will steal a car with no engine? Ha, ha, ha! Brilliant isn't it?" giving me a hearty whack on the back. "Don't do that," I cried trying to steady myself, then catching onto the door handle but falling to the floor with the clip-on handle in my hand. "Thank God you didn't catch on to the glass when you fell, or you would have fallen with the wind shield on you! Ha, ha, ha! This is the car for our country. It's not a small car we need, nor a big car, but a car with 'peace of mind' written all over it!"

I stumbled against the clip-on bumper as I thought of the whole nation having to carry their engines and windshields with them, so the police could continue sleeping on their job and earning their peace of mind.




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




History shows there are people who could have become far greater figures had they been born in another time and place.

One such person was Ahn Jung-geun, who shot dead Hirobumi Ito, the mastermind of Japan's forceful annexation of Korea, in October 1909. Ahn died on the gallows five months later and Korea lost its sovereignty another five months after that.

A subjunctive mood surely doesn't suit history, and Korea might have been colonized by Japan with or without Ahn's patriotic deed. But it should be the duty of posterity to set records straight and rectify gross misunderstandings about one of Korea's greatest national heroes to give him his rightful place in world history.

Japanese historians and pro-Japanese Koreans as well try to portray Ahn as just an assassin or even a terrorist, who killed one of the greatest Japanese names in history. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Ahn was a learned man of a good family with devout Christian beliefs who worked as a social worker by leading a campaign to repay national debts to Imperial Japan and establish schools.

Most noteworthy was his thoughts of ``Pan-Asianism," as shown in his posthumous, unfinished work entitled ``A Treatise on Peace in the East." This essay demonstrates Ahn was an ardent advocate of the East Asian community, which has a common bank, currency and peacekeeping force, like the European Union that came into reality seven decades later.

Ironically, Ahn's victim, Ito was also a believer in a Greater Asia, but while Ito's strategy was through the military invasion and domination of Korea and China, Ahn's was through voluntary, peaceful cooperation among the three countries. In this regard, Ito's removal was a natural logical consequence for Ahn. If he had been born far later and in a European country, Ahn could have become like Jean Monnet of France, one of the main forces behind the creation of the European Union.

Reading the court records on conversations between Ahn and Japanese prosecutors, it was the Korean martyr who was on the offensive, demanding them to treat him as a general of a Korean independence army and try him according to international law, while making clear his readiness to ``accept even harsher punishment than execution." Thus he could emerge as the winner of the trial by depicting Ito not as a Japanese hero but as an international villain, while justifying the Korean people's righteous resistance.

It is this grand and square attitude that draws his admirers from China and even Japan, who are making financial contributions to a project to build Ahn's memorial in Seoul for completion on the centenary of his heroic deed. Even considering the current economic slump, these foreigners' acts should put we Koreans to shame, along with the news about difficulties organizers face in raising funds at home.

Moreover, governmental and private organizations need to step up efforts to discover Ahn's remains buried somewhere around Lushun, northeastern China, as well as gather and streamline more records about him. Providing sufficient and correct data about national heroes for the younger generations should be the minimum duty of the established ones, which is also why this paper runs a yearlong series about the martyr.

This is all the more important at a time when Korea is divided into two, China is reemerging as a giant and Japan is rearming itself. The fact that the two Koreas cannot even hold a joint commemoration for Ahn demonstrates the nation has a long way to go before becoming what Ahn dreamed of, and for which he sacrificed himself.







South Korean scientists and engineers have come to realize how difficult it is to join the ranks of the world's space powers without having sufficient technology for a rocket. Much to the dismay of the public, the country has had to delay its first space launch twice over the past two weeks. No one is sure if there will be no further delays.

Of course, such postponements are frequently made in the launch process as seen in the United States, Russia and other space powers. But, the Seoul government and its space agency find it difficult to dispel some worries and speculation about the nation's nascent space development program.

The blastoff of the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1) has been postponed six times since October 2006. This year alone it has been delayed three times. Now, the authorities have set the launch date for Aug. 19. As the nation failed to meet the previous schedule set for July 30 and Aug. 11, suspicions abound that there might arise serious problems with the nation's partnership with Russia to build the KSLV-1.

It is somewhat comforting to hear that the reasons for the recent delays were because of a technical problem that later proved to be a simple calculator error. Russia's Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center is in charge of building and testing the main first-stage for the KSLV-1, while the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) is responsible for making the second-stage to carry a 100-kilogram scientific satellite.

Russian engineers postponed the liftoff after they discovered an abnormal spike in the revolutions of the backup booster pump in the main rocket engine during combustion tests. But they said last week that the abnormality was the result of problems in analysis, not a structural fault that could cause the rocket engine to fail.

The delays are rather seen as a minor issue, considering the nature of cooperation between Korea and Russia in developing the space rocket. Some critics have raised suspicions that the Russians are using Korean money to experiment with technologies for their own future rocket projects. South Korea forged partnership ties with Russia in 2004, paying 250 billion won to the space power for the development of the KSLV-1.

However, Russia is under attack for its unwillingness to transfer its rocket technology to Korea. The Russian space center has provided an RD-151 rocket engine to Korea, but it has conducted combustion tests for the KSLV-1 by using an RD-191 engine. The RD-151 engine is inferior to the RD-191 designed for Russia's next-generation space rocket Angara scheduled to be launched in 2011. This may back up the allegations that Russia has been exploiting Korea to finance its own space program.

The Korean government and its space agency should make a clear explanation about such allegations. It is hard for them to avoid criticism that they were pushing the space rocket project too quickly and recklessly without securing enough technologies and finding a faithful partner for the development of the KSLV-1. The nation must learn a lesson that Korea cannot become a space power in a day.







CAMBRIDGE Perhaps the most impressive current example of leadership based on the ability to communicate is Barack Obama, who has given three times as many interviews as George W. Bush and held four times as many prime press conferences as Bill Clinton at this stage in their presidencies.

Some critics are now wondering if all this talking is too much of a good thing.

All inspirational leaders communicate effectively. Winston Churchill often attributed his success to his mastery of the English sentence. The ancient Greeks had schools of rhetoric to hone their skills for the assembly. Cicero made his mark in the Roman Senate after studying oratory.

Good rhetorical skills help to generate soft power. Woodrow Wilson was not a gifted student as a child, but he taught himself oratory because he regarded it as essential for leadership.

Martin Luther King, Jr. benefited from growing up in an African-American church tradition rich in the rhythms of the spoken word.

Clinton was able to combine a sense of theater with narrative stories and an overall ability to convey an argument. According to his staff, he developed and improved this gradually over his career.

Oratory and inspirational rhetoric, however, are not the only forms of communication with which leaders frame issues and create meaning for their followers.

Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, was hardly an inspirational speaker, but markets and politicians hung on his every word, and he tailored the nuances of his language to reinforce the direction in which he wanted to lead monetary policy.

Unfortunately, as the financial crisis of 2008 demonstrated, it would have been better if Congressional committees had pressed him to communicate more clearly.

Non-verbal signals are also an important component of human communications. Symbols and examples can be very effective. Some inspirational leaders are not great orators witness Mahatma Gandhi. But the symbolism of Gandhi's simple dress and lifestyle spoke louder than words.

If one compares those images with pictures of the young insecure Gandhi dressed as a proper British lawyer, one can see how carefully he understood symbolic communication.

He ensured that actions such as the famous 1930 salt march to the sea maintained a slow pace that allowed the drama and tension to build. The march was designed for communication, not the ostensible reason of resisting the colonial government's prohibition on the fabrication of salt.

T.E. Lawrence (``Lawrence of Arabia") also understood how to communicate with symbols. When he went to the Paris Peace Conference at World War I's end, he wore Bedouin robes to dramatize the Arab cause.

A year later, at a Cairo conference that negotiated borders in the region, he changed to a British officer's uniform as he engaged in hard transactional bargaining.

Or, to take a contemporary example, the British entrepreneur Richard Branson overcame dyslexia and poor academic performance by using events and public stunts to promote his Virgin brands.

In addition to communicating with distant audiences, leaders need the ability to communicate one-on-one or in small groups. In some cases, that close communication is more important than public rhetoric.

Organizational skills the ability to attract and inspire an effective inner circle of followers can compensate for rhetorical deficiencies, just as effective public rhetoric can partly compensate for low organizational skills.

Hitler was skillful at communicating with both distant and inner-circle audiences. Stalin relied primarily on the latter. Harry Truman was a modest orator, but compensated by attracting and ably managing a stellar set of advisers.

A good narrative is a great source of soft power, and the first rule that fiction writers learn about good narrative is to ``show, not tell."

Franklin Roosevelt used the fictional story of lending a garden hose to a neighbor whose house was on fire to explain his complex lend-lease program to the American people before World War II. Ronald Reagan was a master of the well-selected anecdote.

Setting the right example is another crucial form of communication for leaders. Anticipating a skeptical public reaction when Singapore raised the salaries of government officials in 2007, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that he would forgo the raise himself.

In the aftermath of the recent financial crisis, some business executives voluntarily reduced their salaries as a means of communicating concern for their employees and public opinion.

During the 2008 presidential election campaign, Obama proved to be a talented communicator. Not only was his rhetorical style effective, but after inflammatory comments by his pastor threatened to derail his campaign, he produced one of the best speeches on race in America since the days of King.

As president, Obama continues to communicate effectively, but an American president has a problem of dual audiences. Sometimes rhetoric that fares well at home such as Bush's second inaugural address sounds hypocritical to foreign ears. In contrast, Obama's inaugural address was well received both at home and abroad.

In a series of foreign-policy speeches, most notably one delivered in Cairo and addressed to the Muslim world, polls show that Obama has been able to restore some of America's soft power.

So far, so good, but effective leadership is also communicated by actions and policies. At this stage, it is too early to determine whether Obama's policies will reinforce or undercut the effects of his words.

As we await the results, it helps to remember the complexity of the relation between effective leadership and communications.

Joseph S. Nye, Jr. is university distinguished service professor at Harvard and author of ``The Powers to Lead." For more stories, visit Project Syndicate (







Welcome home journalists! Now let's answer some questions. Americans are relieved that the two reporters from Current TV, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, finally returned home after spending several months in custody within North Korea.

They are enjoying a hero's welcome and their faces are dominating the news for several days. Without doubt they will become wealthy from the book deals and movie rights forthcoming.

Appropriate credit should be given to the Obama administration in the handling of the ordeal. After a few initial missteps, administration officials kept the negotiations affecting the release out of the press and toned down the harsh rhetoric against North Korea until the girls were safely on American soil.

Now that the danger has passed it is time to ask the tough questions as to how we got into this mess. Question number one: ``Who ordered such a foolhardy mission?''

Someone encouraged two young reporters to visit a dangerous border area between China and North Korea where the United States wields little leverage to protect them.

It is safe to assume that nearly everyone in the world knows North Korea is a closed state with tightly guarded borders and that filming nearby is particularly risky and extremely dangerous.

North Korean punishments are far more severe than those in America so one tests North Korean justice at their own risk. And let's not hide behind the journalistic freedom excuse; we all know that North Korea does not honor Western notions of a free press.

And for what purpose did they undertake such a risk, ostensibly to gather information about human trafficking? The necessary information for such a report could have safely been collected from inside China.

It does not advance this story to cross into North Korea, which renders the stated purpose of their reporting suspect. The cover story loses additional credibility when you consider that only three years ago Laura's older sister Lisa Ling entered North Korea under false pretenses to gather information for a National Geographic special in which she portrayed the country in the worst possible light.

Luckily for her, she escaped undetected and lived to chortle about it in the West. So, was it Al Gore or underlings within the Current TV organization that dispatched these two on such a perilous mission?

Secondly we might ask, should Current TV, the reporters, or both be compelled to pay for at least a portion of all the time, money and unknown diplomatic concessions our government had to expend to rescue these two tyros from a failed mission that should never have been undertaken in the first place.

Shouldn't they bear some of the responsibility for the consequences?

Finally, we must ask, what if anything did the U.S. government offer North Korea to secure the release of the young ladies? North Korea often demands payment before allowing the United States to have its way.

Compensation might take the form of food aid or even much needed fuel deliveries, but the American people have a right to know now that the danger has passed.

Hopefully, something good will come out of this for America. Certainly, North Korea benefited politically. Kim Jong-il forced a former U.S. president to travel to his turf to plead for their release, allowing Kim to demonstrate his magnanimity by pardoning the girls for humanitarian reasons
after the appropriate apologies of course.

Kim looks much stronger to his domestic audience including military hardliners who are undoubtedly enjoying their chance to chuckle at our expense.

The photo opportunity with President Clinton granted Kim the gravitas of an important international leader. But if Clinton's efforts won future concessions, lessoned tensions, or lured North Korea back to the negotiating table, then at least we could gain something. If not, those two young reporters cost their country greatly in a vain quest for personal fame.

Dr. Richard Saccone teaches international relations and political science at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. He has lived and worked in both North and South Korea for 14 years, regularly negotiating with North Koreans. He has written seven books on Korea including, ``Negotiating Your Way Through Korea, Negotiating With North Korea,'' and his most recent book, ``Living with the Enemy: Inside North Korea.'' Contact Dr. Saccone at










But by pinning all its hopes for change on Aung San Suu Kyi, is the world missing an opportunity to engage Burma in a more constructive manner and bring real change to the lives of its people?


As the opposition leader faces yet another term of house arrest after a bizarre incident involving an American war veteran, the world is again outraged by the action of the military dictatorship that has ruled Burma for almost 50 years.


The dismay expressed by world leaders, including our own Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, is understandable and appropriate. Burma is a dysfunctional blot on Southeast Asia, a country of some 56 million people, 90 per cent of whom live on less than a dollar a day. Their dire poverty was worsened last year when Cyclone Nargis killed more than 140,000 people and cut a swath of devastation through the country. After initially -- and callously -- blocking the aid effort, the junta eventually accepted international assistance via ASEAN, of which it is a member nation. But if the world was banking on a softening by the generals who rule the country, they were sadly mistaken.


Despite US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's hinting in February at a shift -- she said sanctions had not worked and the US would review its strategies for encouraging democracy -- the regime took a tough approach in May when Ms Suu Kyi gave shelter at her house to an American who swam, uninvited, across a lake to visit her at the home in which she is detained. An overture from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to attempt to see her during a visit to Burma last month was rebuffed.


Yesterday, after the opposition leader's sentencing, Western democracies argued strongly for more sanctions, including a proposal from Britain for a UN arms embargo. It was an understandable response: Ms Suu Kyi has extraordinary status and appeal and popular sentiment is very strongly on the side of the woman whose National League for Democracy won a majority in the 1990 elections but was blocked from forming a government. Anything other than condemnation by countries valuing freedom and democracy would be unthinkable. And as the BBC's Paul Reynolds yesterday wrote on the corporation's website, "There are few (human rights) lobbies more effective than the Burmese one".


But the challenge for the West and the UN is what happens next. Given than sanctions have not worked, the world must consider closer engagement with Burma. It is a much more constructive policy than isolation because over time it should lead to economic development and more resources for citizens.


Apart from the dreadful human rights violations in Burma, the rogue state is a threat because of its military aspirations. It maintains the biggest standing army in Southeast Asia with more than half a million troops and a paramilitary force of more than 100,000. There are also unconfirmed recent reports about possible nuclear co-operation between Burma and North Korea.


There is some hope. The regime's decision to minimise the opposition leader's sentence, reducing it immediately from the initial three years hard labour in prison to an extra 18 months on her present house arrest was seen by commentators as an effort not to further alienate international opinion. And the delays in her trial suggested the junta was anxious about global reaction. As well, it is planning elections next year -- even if it has now neatly pushed the opposition leader out of the race.


But while the regime may be a little more prepared to listen to the outside world, the reality is that with China and Russia on its side when it comes to action from the UN Security Council, the calls for overt, punitive action are unlikely to happen.


A more nuanced approach is needed with efforts to open a dialogue with the generals that does not offer them legitimacy and that does not abandon the cause of Ms Suu Kyi. Engagement does not mean the junta will agree to political freedom, but it does give the chance of greater prosperity to some of the poorest people in Asia. And, finally, it is in no one's interest to cede engagement with Burma to China.


We have a choice between ramping up the present, punitive policy or attempting a more layered approach to this complex issue.








Researchers from Deakin University claim that restricting television advertisements for junk food aimed at children would be one of the most cost-effective public health measures governments could make. They have calculated that for a cost of $3.70 for each extra year of disease-free life gained, such a measure would eventually yield savings of $300 million per annum as pressure was taken off the health system. The researchers also believe restrictions would reduce the average weight of Australian children by 1.4 per cent, or 540 grams.


Proponents of the nanny state will rejoice at the proposal and lobby for its adoption. But in the real world of everyday life, parental eating habits, peer pressure and personal taste also influence our children's food choices. State paternalism in the form of advertising bans would do nothing to help parents or children take greater responsibility for their health. Nor would they encourage a return to home cooking in households where time is at a premium. And the restrictions would not promote healthier lifestyles, including exercise, or prompt parents to turn off the television and send their children outside to run around and play.


Although sometimes exaggerated by alarmists, the problem of childhood obesity, and its long-term consequences, are well known. As with calls for bans on alcohol advertisements, however, the push for bans on junk food advertisements reinforce the idea that families are incapable of making sound choices and rearing their children without the guiding hand of the state. Learning to say "no" to temptation, at least sometimes, is one of life's lessons.


The same principles apply to the problem of sexualisation of children in advertisements and retailing. Good parenting requires taking time to help children develop sound values and good habits to deal with the pressures they will encounter. Knowing how to say "no" -- and meaning it -- are essential, if not always easy.


The Australian Food and Grocery Council launched an initiative at the start of the year that saw 16 food and drink manufacturers agree not to advertise high-fat, sugar and salt products during children's peak viewing times. But Boyd Swinburn, senior author of the new Deakin study, insists the scheme has too many loopholes. On the other hand, childhood obesity continues to be a serious concern in nations where restrictions have been effected, including Britain.


Parents should not be fooled into believing that government can -- or should -- do everything for them. Advertising is part of life, and the sooner children are taught to be discerning viewers, and consumers, the better off they will be in the long term.








Our thoughts are with their loved ones, and those of the three local people and a Japanese tourist who also died. As always in the face of disaster, our defence force, Australian Federal Police and the Australian Maritime Authority have risen to the challenge of a difficult recovery operation.


Kokoda is close to the hearts of Australians. In 1942, 625 Diggers died along the track defending our shores from the Japanese. Another 1600 were injured and 4000 fell ill in treacherous conditions. In recent decades, walking the track, with its hardships, dense rainforest, deep valleys and unspoilt villages has become a popular quest for hardy travellers. Many, like cousins Peter Holliday and Euan Comrie from Victoria, who were on board the ill-fated plane, make the pilgrimage in the footsteps of relatives who slogged along the track in World War II.


Accidents also happen in countries with the most stringent safety rules, but reports of lax aviation standards in PNG, and questions about 19 air crashes since 2000, in which three Australians died before the latest accident, are a serious concern.


It is hard flying country. In his evocative poem Men in Green, World War II RAAF wing commander David Campbell described "the ape-like cloud / That climbed the mountain crest" and "the distant range, / Where two white paws of cloud / Clutched at the shoulders of the pass". Technology has improved, but the dangers remain.












DICTATORSHIPS crave the trappings of democracy, even as they mock its ideals. Burma's recent ''trial'' of the opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi followed the forms of judicial process without offering the faintest glimmer of natural justice. It was a criminal sham designed to entrench the power of a corrupt military junta. Elections scheduled for next year will now proceed without the participation of the country's most popular leader, following her guilty verdict.


Such is the cowardice of Burma's generals. The only way they can win is by using force and deception, backed by some foreign governments playing geopolitical games. One day, we hope, they themselves will face an international tribunal. But significant diplomatic and moral challenges hinder such an outcome. The survival over decades of outlaw governments like Burma's, the sheer persistence of such evil can, if we let it, undermine our will to resist.


In that light, Australia's decision to resume short-wave radio broadcasts of independent news and information to the Burmese people is a welcome step. The service, like existing broadcasts by the Voice of America and the BBC, will provide a beacon of hope to a people enslaved. It will be a daily reminder of the junta's illegitimacy.


The Burmese military's shame- less banditry and violation of fundamental human rights have also provoked growing disquiet in South-East Asian nations in recent years. As Indonesian democracy has blossomed, so its leaders have become more vocal about the detention of Suu Kyi and thousands of her supporters. Jakarta is pressing for the regional grouping ASEAN (of which Burma is a member) to strengthen its internal sanctions against members who flout international norms. Australian diplomacy must dovetail with these efforts by Burma's immediate neighbours.


Our stated goal is the restoration of democratic rule in Burma. It is a disheartening fact that while democracy thrives in places such as India and Indonesia, it is struggling for life in many other parts of the world, some very close to home. The tyrants thumb their noses, and cite bogus cultural or religious reasons to justify their dominance. History teaches us that tyranny in one country threatens freedom in others. No less than terrorists, dictators are dangerous, but they cannot outlast prosperous, well-run democracies. The patient, co-ordinated efforts of governments and individual citizens can help Burma's people to achieve the freedom they crave and the security of a society ruled by law, things that we too often take for granted.







IN JUST a few years the Kokoda Track has acquired an extraordinary amount of symbolism for Australians, rivalling that of Gallipoli. At the start of this decade only a few dozen trekkers tackled the 96-kilometre walk across the Owen Stanley Range each year; now about 6000 do, investing eight days of extreme exertion on the enterprise.


This might have come about anyway, but it was helped along by Paul Keating's visit to Kokoda in 1992, when he dramatically kissed the base of its memorial and commemorated the Australian soldiers who had fought ''not for the 'mother country' but to secure Australia and an Australian way of life''. In other words, the dogged defence by the barely trained militia along the track in 1942 and later counter-attack, along with more seasoned troops pulled out of North Africa by the wartime leader John Curtin, was a more valid expression of Australian nationalism than the equally heroic and much bigger imperial campaign in the First World War.


It's now doubted that the Japanese intended to invade and occupy Australia after capturing Port Moresby, but historical studies and popular accounts suggest the Kokoda legend stands up to the weight of symbolism placed upon it. As the Pacific historian Hank Nelson has observed, it was here the Australian army changed from khaki to jungle green and fought on its own, on what was then Australian territory. Combined with Milne Bay and the later Gona and Buna battles, in which the Americans joined, Papua was a major turning point in the Pacific War.


It was here, too, that Australian perceptions of the Papuans and, implicitly, other Melanesians began to change. From ''savages'' to be subdued, exploited, and converted, they gained a new humanity in the popular mind because of the devotion of the Papuan carriers to wounded soldiers. This, as much as the mutual, racially charged savagery of the fighting between Japanese and Australians, is what contemporary trekkers recall. It's an encounter we should build on: in many ways Australia's security still rests on Papua New Guinea.


A few trekkers may have had family connections with the Kokoda legend, like the young Victorian men, cousins, who were aboard the crashed plane: they were commemorating their grandfather's war service in New Guinea. Most simply relate as Australians to those who fell along the track, many of a poignantly young age. For all the risks that have been exposed this year - from the earlier health-related deaths to this tragic and atypical air crash - the pilgrimage is a worthy one, and the latest air victims deserve respect for embarking on it.




                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN




The defining claim of New Labour has been that economic efficiency and social justice go hand in hand. Yesterday's unemployment figures bore chilling testimony to the converse of this well-worn mantra. The latest surge in joblessness represents injustice and waste in equal measure, to say nothing of human misery. The 220,000 individuals thrown on to the scrapheap in the three months to June face boredom, poverty and the humiliation of feeling as if they are a burden on the rest of society. Worse, it is starkly obvious that they will not be the last.


A profound and pernicious change in British society is getting under way. Joblessness is up in every English region, in sectors from metal bashing to luxury hotels. All the graphs are pointing so firmly southwards that – even on the most optimistic scenario – it will take several months for them to flatten off. With more than 2.4 million already without work, a 1980s-style peak of 3 million is now in prospect. Indeed, one of the first people to predict that – the Bank of England's prescient former rate-setter David Blanchflower – was yesterday talking about the possibility of reaching 4 million.



This grim statistical pageant comes in spite of big and bold actions by policymakers. Over the last year, there have been rate cuts, a devaluation of the pound, a giveaway budget and the programme of pumping money into the financial system known as quantitative easing. In normal times, any of these measures would have constituted a big boost; but the lay observer could be forgiven for asking whether they have done any good at all. Unemployment is a lagging indicator – that is, one of the last sets of statistics to improve in a recession. Companies do not tend to go hiring until they are confident about the economic outlook. After the American dotcom bubble burst in 2001, it took around 30 months for the US job market to recover. This is a much bigger recession.


Furthermore, it is almost certain that the economy would be in even worse shape had Gordon Brown and Mervyn King not acted as they did. Just 10 months ago, bankers in Britain were talking about armageddon, while panic-stricken economists were consulting their histories of the Great Depression. Whatever his other shortcomings, Mr Brown's political epitaph may very well read: "He averted catastrophe." That is not a negligible boast, even if he will bequeath mass unemployment. And it should also be remembered that David Cameron and George Osborne opposed many of the measures that helped: they complained about sterling's fall, they jibed about the Bank's quantitative easing, and they were dead against the government spending more. And they did all this without volunteering serious alternative remedies.


So Peter Mandelson is right to declare, as he did on Radio 4 yesterday, that things could be much worse. And Mr King was surely also correct to point out that without quantitative easing businesses and households would find it even harder and dearer to borrow. But note the change in tone. As recently as May, Mr King was more upbeat, claiming his bold policies would have big and tangible effects. After last November's pre-budget report, ministers toured TV studios declaring that it would do the trick. The authorities do not sound so confident now. Britain remains in recession and any recovery, as the Bank of England stated in yesterday's inflation report, will be "slow and protracted".


Shoring up the recovery would normally call for more action by either central bankers or government ministers. The trouble is, neither has many options left. At 0.5% the Bank's key interest rate cannot fall much further. The arguments over public debt – and their terrible mishandling by Mr Brown – make any extra spending in this autumn's pre-budget report (however justified) very unlikely. And quantitative easing is clearly not having a tangible impact on businesses or households.


What to do? The most obvious solution lies with the banks. As the Bank's inflation report shows, sound businesses that want credit cannot get it. Mr King's suggestion yesterday that he would slap penalty interest rates on commercial banks that hoard cash sounds like a policy that should be implemented as soon as possible. It is also clear that the government needs to lean more heavily on RBS and Lloyds and direct them to lend more and to particular sectors.



In less than a year the crisis that started in City skycrapers has descended to the streets. Yesterday's figures identified tens of thousands of newly unemployed youngsters, as well as tens of thousands more who have grown so disillusioned that they are no longer even looking for work. Among those leaving school at 16 or 17 – a group with few rights to benefits – fully two-thirds are now classed as either jobless or dropouts. In the face of this army of youngsters with nothing to do and nothing to lose, the language of Broken Britain could easily start to ring true. The government has rightly made a priority of finding money for the so-called September guarantee that is supposed to ensure that all of these teenagers can receive gainful training. A step that is now urgent is giving teenage school-leavers an understandable account of what is on offer, recognising that many of these youngsters are from disadvantaged backgrounds where little stress is laid on education.


The spectre of enforced idleness is also casting a shadow right the way up the educational ladder. The young people who today offer the Guardian first-hand accounts of unemployment represent every rung, from high-school dropouts to university graduates. Dig into the raw data, and the real number signing on is growing twice as fast as the headline figure; the latter is seasonally adjusted to strip out the annual flow of new graduates because it happens every year. But these graduates are real people who still have to find jobs. Many of the graduates of 2009, the first to pay top-up fees, are likely to feel that they have been sold a dud investment. Elite universities are currently licking their lips at the prospect of even higher fees, but these are bound to run into bitter resistance when, for growing numbers of students, college is proving to be a shortcut to nowhere in particular.



The overstretched employment services are not well equipped to respond to the aspirations of young graduates. They are not alone: the Audit Commission warned councils yesterday that the after-effects of unemployment will be seen in everything from domestic abuse to pets being abandoned on the streets. It noted that councils in deprived areas, with past experience of high unemployment, have more advanced plans this time around. Social problems often need to be tackled with public money, which is starting to run out. By tying services together more smartly, however, councils can often make a real difference inexpensively. Asking GPs who are treating people for stress to alert them to debt-counselling services, for instance, is the type of recession-savvy move which could offer protection without breaking the bank.


The credit crunch is two years old this week. At times it has been seen as a matter for the nerds, and at others treated as if it were a mere sideshow to duck islands and other expenses scandals. But yesterday's figures underline that it is fast translating into human tragedy. Politicians who cannot grasp that it is the stuff of real life are not living in the real world.








Leader: 007 – man or brute?


In his time, Bond was attacked by giant squid, hauled naked across razor-edged coral rocks and almost pulled apart by a rack-like apparatus. Always he survived to tell the tale; and returned, appetite undiminished, to his cars, his meals, and his girls. Yet even Bond, one imagines, can hardly survive his creator: 007 has bitten the dust at last.


But before he finally disappears he deserves at least a farewell glance. Bond was a symbol of the times. He appealed unashamedly to two powerful instincts: snobbery, and the latent sadomasochism which is present beneath the surface of all civilisations. Charged with this, his creator gave two replies. Bond's snob-appeal he claimed as unintentional. In his first book he had given Bond a good meal – and what was wrong with that? – and the readers had clamoured for more. As for the sex, Bond was just a great, big, virile he-man whose healthy masculinity upset his critics because they lacked it themselves. These answers were, and are, unconvincing. Bond never fussed about the old school tie; and he would not have won millions of readers if he had.


But he was a snob none the less. He was the man who would always know the right width of trouser-leg to wear and the right vintage to drink. Above all he was always prepared to share his esoteric secrets with the semi-detached in subtopia. The same applies to his alleged healthy masculinity. The real objection was not that Bond slept around, as his defenders seemed to think – though it is, perhaps, noteworthy that his girls were not human beings so much as objects. The real objection was what was done to him: the tortures inflicted on him, and the obsessive way in which they were described.


The treatment of violence in literature will always be a matter for controversy. It is arguable that sadistic books act as safety-valves for sadistic emotions; and if this could be proved, then Bond could claim that he performed a social service. Better Bond, after all, than Buchenwald. Unfortunately, however, this argument rests on assertion, not on proof; and in the absence of solid proof to the contrary, there can be no good reason to reject the obvious view that the violence is emotionally linked to the ever present threat of violence in the world around us. Bond and Buchenwald, when all is said and done, belonged to the same century.







Long ago, in 1987, a 17-year-old batsman called Mark Ramprakash made what Wisden described as "a glowing impression" on his debut for Middlesex. Watchers compared the schoolboy with Denis Compton as he smashed the Yorkshire attack around Lord's. Now, 22 years on, comparisons between Ramprakash and Compton are in fashion again, as selectors come under pressure to restore the most prolific batsman in modern domestic cricket to the England side for the deciding Ashes Test at the Oval next week. Historically aware advocates of Ramprakash point out that, 53 years ago, and with the Ashes also at stake, the selectors brought back the 38-year-old Compton at the Oval for "a wonderful return to Test cricket". Why not gamble again, romantics argue, and give the vital job of stiffening England's batting to a player who has scored 29 centuries in the past four seasons, many of them at the Oval, and who is averaging over 100 again this season? To which one obvious answer might be that while Compton averaged 50 in his Test career, Ramprakash averages only 27 in his – and has not played at this level since 2001. The truth is that Ramprakash is an enigma, unmatched at county level but an under-performer in Tests. "You look like a mesmerising matinee idol," thrilled Arlene Phillips as he triumphed in Strictly Come Dancing three years ago. But what a story it would be if the selectors allowed Ramprakash to emulate the legendary Compton and gave him one last dance at the Oval.








To the surprise of very few, a court in Myanmar has found Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi guilty of violating internal security laws and given a three-year prison term. As a theatrical coda to the ruling, the military regime immediately cut the sentence to 18 months of house arrest — to demonstrate its humanitarian impulses. The world must condemn this transparent attempt to sideline the most potent popular political force in Myanmar and governments must take active measures to punish those responsible.


This farce began in early May, when an American visitor, Mr. John Yettaw, swam across a lake behind Mrs. Suu Kyi's home and forced his way into her villa, claiming that God had told him she was going to be assassinated by terrorists. Mr. Yettaw, a veteran of the Vietnam war who is said to suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, had tried to visit Ms. Suu Kyi the previous November but was turned away at the door. This time he pled exhaustion and was permitted to sleep in the house for two days.


For that act of kindness, Ms. Suu Kyi and two women who work for her were arrested and tried for violating the terms of her house arrest and breaking a security law protecting the state from "subversive elements." Mr. Yettaw, meanwhile, was sentenced to seven years of hard labor and imprisonment.


There are plenty of reasons to be suspicious about these events. Ms. Suu Kyi's house arrest for the past six years was in itself a violation of Myanmar's laws, which limit such detention to five years. A court was to rule on her status at the end of May when Mr. Yettaw showed up. Strangely, although Ms. Suu Kyi had alerted the authorities about Mr. Yettaw's attempt to visit her the previous year, he was given another visa to visit the country.


The outcome of the trial was never in doubt. Myanmar is following its "road map to democracy," a process that is supposed to end the military junta's rule that began in 1990 when it overruled an election won by the National League of Democracy (NLD), headed by Ms. Suu Kyi. In response to international pressure — tepid, but constant — the junta agreed to give up power, but the process has been stage-managed and looks like a transition in name more than reality. NLD leaders have been imprisoned or exiled. Ms. Suu Kyi has spent 14 of the last 19 years under house arrest. NLD rallies are suppressed, their supporters harassed and jailed. That makes a mockery of the election scheduled to be held next year. In fact, it is fair to ask what the point is of a ballot that reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for the military.


So, the court's finding that Ms. Suu Kyi and her assistants were guilty was a foregone conclusion. The intervention of Home Minister Maj. Gen Muang Oo, who announced minutes after the ruling was read that the sentence was being cut in half — because the defendant was the daughter of the country's independence hero and because of the "the need to preserve community peace and tranquillity and prevent any disturbances in the road map to democracy" — was dramatic, most particularly in the sense that it was scripted.


Ms. Suu Kyi announced she would appeal the ruling. Other governments denounced the ruling. Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said the ruling is extremely disappointing and that Ms. Suu Kyi's current conditions are extremely regrettable. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who was unable to meet the defendant on a recent visit to Myanmar, "deplored" the ruling. The U.N. Security Council will convene a closed-door emergency session Thursday to discuss the situation. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the trial should never have been held and called for the release of all political prisoners. The European Union said it will adopt additional sanctions that target "those responsible for the ruling" as well as the entire regime.


But since those governments have limited influence over the junta in Myanmar, the most important reaction is that of Southeast Asian nations. The decision to reduce the sentence was intended to send a message to them, to signal that Myanmar is sensitive to international opinion and to lessen their opposition to the trial. Singapore said it was "disappointed" by the ruling while the Philippines called the decision "incomprehensible and deplorable." That does not mean that either government, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to which they belong, along with Myanmar, will take concrete actions to express their displeasure and press the junta to change course.


Instead, ASEAN governments are likely to continue to shelter behind the "noninterference principle" that guides ASEAN members, even though the Myanmar government's actions make a mockery of the group's commitments to democracy and human rights. They are also fearful of China further extending its influence into Myanmar. But ASEAN has shown that it has no influence over developments in the country. Only a united front among all nations that demands that the junta respect its own declared goals will bring about change and undo the latest miscarriage of justice in Myanmar.








ROME — Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's political and sexual exploits make headlines around the world, and not just in the tabloid press. These stories would be no more than funny — which they are certainly are — if they were not so damaging to Italy and revelatory of the country's immobile politics.


For, despite the rampant scandals, "national Silvio" ("Il Silvio Nazionale") remains by far Italy's most popular and successful politician (though his approval ratings have now dipped below the 50 percent mark in opinion polls for the first time since his second return to the premiership in 2008).


Part of the reason for Berlusconi's longevity despite his many stumbles is cultural. As in other Latin or Mediterranean countries with a strong Catholic tradition, Italian society long ago learned to accept serenely a life of duplicity: on the one hand, a strong attachment to church and family values, and on the other a second life — often lived in plain sight — composed of mistresses and other "dubious" connections.


Today's Italian Catholic political leaders often embrace such a lifestyle. In recent years, aside from Berlusconi himself, other divorcees like Centrist Catholic Party Leader Pier Ferdinando Casini and Parliament Speaker Gianfranco Fini could easily deliver passionate speeches in the morning on the importance of the traditional family unit and the sacredness of marriage, attend a touching audience with the pope in the afternoon, and then rush off in the evening to their unmarried partners and mothers of their latest offspring.


Italian society's tacit acceptance of such behavior has become more openly acknowledged in recent years, thanks perhaps to Berlusconi and his vast media holdings. In the 1970s, the average Italian working-class family's major ambition for its children was for them to study, go to university, and become a doctor or a lawyer.


Since the late 1970s, and especially during the 1980s and 1990s, Berlusconi's three private TV channels have portrayed a false and illusory model of quick success, as seen in American soap operas such as "Dallas." Since the 1990s, his channels broadcast "Big Brother" and Italian variety shows dominated by male comedians, musclemen, and scantily clad young girls, popularly known as "veline."


In the space of just 30 years, Berlusconi's TV stations managed to impose this illusory portrait of success on Italian society. And today, the ambition of many working-class Italian mothers is to see their daughters become a successful scantily clad "velina" who, in turn, manages to hit the gossip columns by flirting with the latest muscleman- turned-TV heartthrob or some budding young football player. Graduating as a doctor or a lawyer is no longer a mark of success.


Despite his lack of muscles and hair, Berlusconi is the embodiment of this form of success. The former cabaret singer who became one of the richest businessman in the world, has also managed to become Italy's most powerful politician — and one of the world's most colorful. Until a few weeks ago, the average Italian viewed him as a role model, someone who had succeeded in many spheres of life.


That has now changed. People have become less admiring of Berlusconi, because the hypocrisy has gone too far. It may be trendy for an Italian politician to flaunt his Mediterranean macho image, but that image becomes hard to stomach when the prime minister launches a campaign to eradicate street prostitution, with possible jail sentences for clients, while sleeping with paid escorts.


Nor are Italians reassured to learn that Berlusconi fielded a number of candidates during the recent European Parliament elections whose only discernible qualification was that they were pretty young girls who had possibly spent some time in the prime minister's company at his Sardinian Villa or Roman Palazzo.


Today, it seems all but certain that Berlusconi will never be elected president of Italy, the post to which he has always aspired. Moreover, rumors are rife that he is now being attacked for his behavior by members of his own party. Indeed, some maintain that Berlusconi will be forced to resign as prime minister by the end of the year.


Such rumors may well turn out to be true, for the heart of the scandal now concerns the taped conversations between a paid escort and Berlusconi during their romps in his Sardinian villa on the big bed given to him by his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. A downfall plotted to happen on a Kremlin-supplied bed would be a denouement that not even one of Berlusconi's TV channels could dream up.


Arnold Cassola is a former secretary general of the European Green Party and a former member of the Italian Parliament. © 2009 Project Syndicate











The administration is in the process of consulting with the ruling Grand National Party on fiscal spending for next year. It is a crucial procedure that is scheduled to continue until early September.


The following course of action is for the administration to finalize the budget bill after making adjustments based on the outcome of such consultations and submit it to the National Assembly on Oct. 2. Then the ruling party engages in time-consuming negotiations with the opposition.


It is a statutory requirement for the National Assembly to pass a negotiated budget bill by Dec. 2. But in the past, it has failed to meet the deadline more often than not in the face of obstruction by the opposition.


In its initial consultations with the ruling party last week, the administration said it would have to pursue an expansionary fiscal policy next year, as it has done this year, if it was to put the crisis-ridden economy back on track. Only a few lawmakers put up opposition, calling on the administration to consider withholding the planned individual and corporate income tax cuts.


But the proposed fiscal deficit is not a matter that can be trifled with. Unbridled spending spells a surge in national debt, which now stands at 35.6 percent of gross domestic product. President Lee Myung-bak's administration already thinks it near impossible to attain its goal of reducing the ratio to 30 percent by 2013, the final year of its term in office.


One of the main culprits is a four-river project to control floods and improve the quality of water. Excluding die-hard environmentalists, few would dispute the necessity of launching the project, given that the government spends 2 trillion won on post-flood relief and repair work each year. But is it necessary to complete the big-ticket project in such a short period of time?


The administration is planning to spend as much as 22.2 trillion won on the four-river project by the end of 2012. One idea of mitigating its impact on the nation's economy is to spread the spending evenly over the multiyear construction period, instead of frontloading, and extend the construction period if necessary.


To curb an increase in national debt, the administration can make similar readjustments to other big-ticket projects under way, including the project of building a new administration city in South Chuncheong Province, to which many government agencies are set to relocate.


The administration's desire to frontload spending on the four-river projects is running into trouble not only because it will incur fiscal deficits but because many lawmakers believe it will divert funding away from infrastructure projects being launched in their electoral districts. Their concerns are all too justifiable, given the limited financial resources available to the budget drafters.


Another problem with the administration's budget plan is that spending is set to increase rapidly at a time when planned tax cuts are projected to reduce revenues. Moreover, the feeble economy that has yet to recover cannot be relied on to generate as much tax revenue as needed. Against this backdrop, some lawmakers of the ruling party are demanding that the administration delay the tax cuts.


Given the severe economic crisis that has been gripping the nation since late last year, it may not be possible to pursue a budgetary balance next year. But the budget drafters will have to keep in mind that it is necessary to limit a fiscal deficit to the minimum.


The administration is well advised to set spending priorities anew and reconcile its desire to speed up economic recovery with the need to rein in ballooning national debt. It goes without saying that frugality is a virtue for the nation as well as households.








The central bank's benchmark rate remains at a historic low of 2 percent for the sixth consecutive month. On Tuesday, the Bank of Korea decided to keep the rate unchanged. But the days of easy money appear to be numbered, with the bank hinting at a rate raise in the final quarter of this year.


The bank says the economy is performing better than expected. It believes the robust recovery witnessed in the second quarter will continue into the second half of this year. Nonetheless, the bank decided to keep the benchmark rate at 2 percent this month. The decision was made possible because of stable consumer prices.


If the recovery goes into full swing, possibly in the final quarter of this year, the bank will be forced to raise the rate. Moreover, apartments in some premium residential districts are gaining in value so fast that the central bank is voicing concern about property speculation.


But the administration is more reserved. Instead, it believes an over-cautious tightening of regulations would nip the economic recovery in the bud. The finance minister said that no new regulations are needed because the depressed property markets are now in the process regaining normality.


But housing prices will surge throughout the nation if much of the funds parked in cashable instruments, now estimated at 10 trillion won, is channeled into the property markets. Against this backdrop, the central bank said it would watch market developments with great concern - a signal that it could raise the benchmark rate and take other measures to tighten credit provision in the near future.


Other government agencies will do well to join the central bank in preparing to take concerted action when the property markets show signs of speculation. In this regard, it is encouraging to hear the central bank and the Financial Supervisory Service conducting market surveys as part of their preparatory work.










MANILA - The death of President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino - "Tita Cory" to most of the 92 million people of the Philippines - left behind a precious inheritance: a legacy of freedom that the Philippines came to share with oppressed peoples around the world. For her revolution was the first of the wave of "velvet revolutions" that liberated countless millions from Manila to Seoul to Johannesburg to Prague, Warsaw and Moscow. President Aquino's "People Power" revolution, indeed, is among the proudest moments in my country's history, and the distinctive contribution of our people to the saga of mankind's long struggle for freedom and dignity.


Cory Aquino motivated ordinary Filipinos to peaks of daring and selflessness at a time when their spirit had almost been broken by a 14-year dictatorship. While her husband Ninoy Aquino lived, she - as the unassuming but caring housewife - was the stabilizing influence that tempered his dynamic personality. But after the assassination of Senator Ninoy Aquino in August 1983, she stepped resolutely into his role as political leader of my country's democratic opposition to an entrenched despotic regime.


Devoid of histrionics, without pretension - "simply by telling people what the dictator has done to this country" - she touched the hearts of freedom-loving Filipinos everywhere, the pain of the traumatic murder by the regime of her husband evoking in them memories of their own suffering and thwarted hopes.


It was in her name that concerned Filipinos mobilized families and neighbors to confront the tanks, guns and barbed wire of the dictator's cohorts. And, in God's infinite wisdom, the militancy of common people burst forth in the non-violent revolution that overthrew Ferdinand Marcos.


We the soldiers and policemen who backed her were reinforced by Cory's steel core of values and principles. In crisis after crisis during her presidency, she exemplified unwavering firmness in the democratic exercise of power as a servant-leader. Cory provided policy guidance as commander-in-chief, but trusted the Defense Department and Armed Forces to carry out their missions in the face of nine coup attempts which were all frustrated. These mutinies were all death-dealing situations that threatened national stability, and yet she never flinched.


Prayer and spiritual devotion were important components of Cory's daily endeavors - and a major influence in her decision-making and personal relations. Her inner reserves of faith, indeed, kept her going through every hardship. Her spiritual strength arose out of her deep and abiding reliance on the grace and boundless mercy of the god she believed in.


In the tumult of the post-revolutionary period, she presided with surprising even-handedness over the unavoidable rivalries among different sides of the political spectrum. More importantly, Cory sparked the momentum for the Philippines to regain a position of respect, dignity and even admiration in the community of nations.


So Cory Aquino's death has, in many ways, orphaned the Filipino nation. We who are left behind owe her the duty of safeguarding her legacy of freedom - and of enriching it with social justice and unity in nation-building. For until the very end of her battle with cancer, she continued to speak out for individual transformation and, on the part of those elected to lead us, for their selfless stewardship.


The finest tribute Filipinos and other freedom-loving peoples can offer to Cory's memory is for responsible citizens to work towards the vision of an empowered, bountiful future for which she and Ninoy aspired. Irrevocably, their names will forever be intimately intertwined with the peaceful revolution of 1986 which restored our liberty and democracy.


But the liberation she brought to us was just one battle in the generational struggle the people of the Philippines must wage to secure their liberation from poverty, inequity and injustice. Success in that war is not pre-ordained, but can only be won through willing sacrifice, faithfulness to duty, and concerted action for our people's well-being.


These are the internal wars every nation and society, no matter how big or small, must win. Cory Aquino's lifetime of service and sacrifice provided the tools and a model for how to win that seemingly eternal struggle. To sustain such a treasured legacy and defend democracy wherever it is threatened is our collective responsibility.


Fidel V. Ramos succeeded Corazon Aquino as president of the Philippines, 1992-98. - Ed.








It's bad enough that east-end city councillor Nicolas Montmorency wants to pick a whole new quarrel over language. But the stunning ignorance and repudiation of history revealed by his foolish gesture is even worse.


Montmorency, a 29-year-old independent councillor from Rivière-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles, wants to change the name of Amherst St., on the grounds that Montreal is too English and that British General Jeffery Amherst (1717-1797) once proposed sending smallpox-infected blankets to Indians. Montmorency is, we're guessing, also aware that Amherst besieged Montreal and captured the city, in 1760, for which he was later created "Baron Amherst of Montreal."


(In truth, French is in slight slow decline in Montreal simply because francophones are moving off-island, fleeing high taxes and poor services - a trend city councillors have done nothing to stop.) Naturally the loud and truculent Jeunes Patriotes du Québec, always eager for trouble, were quick to endorse Montmorency's proposal. The anglophone 13 per cent of electors in his district, on the other hand, have not yet been heard from, but since Montmorency says he will not run again, their views may not matter much.


No doubt the historical Jeffery Amherst had his flaws. But we invite Montmorency to find us somebody in history without some. Would he rename métro Lionel-Groulx, and the street for which it's named, because Groulx disliked Jews? What about Boul. Maurice-Duplessis (right in Montmorency's district)? That street crosses, among others, Ave. Alexis-Carrel, named for a Nobel-prize-winning French geneticist who advocated eugenic purging of human-kind. And don't get us started on Dollard des Ormeaux.


Montmorency's indignation about Amherst reveals his historical illiteracy, but it appears to be really just a smokescreen for anti-English bias.


But Montmorency should remember that previous street-name changes - as in 1967 when Maplewood Blvd. became Boul. Edouard-Montpetit, or in 1987 when Dorchester Blvd. was renamed in honour of René Lévesque - have failed to drive out the English.


Of course, Montmorency also wants to abolish existing English-style names of several other streets, changing McGill College Ave., for example, to Avenue du Collège McGill. Perhaps he would then say McGill itself should become French-only. Of course the school's name would have to go. This way madness lies.


City Hall, no doubt remembering the Park Ave.-renaming fiasco, has shown zero enthusiasm for Montmorency's hare-brained scheme. Good. Surely even a lame-duck councillor has something better than this to worry about.








Four weeks after a 200-kilogram concrete block fell from the facade of the Marriott Residence Inn on Peel St., killing a woman named Léa Guilbault in the street-level restaurant below, Peel St. remains closed between de Maisonneuve Blvd. and Sherbrooke St.


Security guards are on hand to keep people away from the east side of Peel. Yellow tape cordoning off the hotel shifts gently in the breeze. The guards and the tape are taking on a look of semi-permanence - as though no one has any idea what to do to fix the situation.


Nothing can bring back Léa Guilbault, or ease the pain her death has caused. But the problem of what to do about the building would be only too easy to solve if city hall had the gumption to make something happen.


First, the building's facade has to be inspected, inch by inch, to make sure that nothing else from the 24-storey facade comes crashing down. The cost of that inspection and any repairs consequently required should be borne by the owners, OZRE Montreal, which in turn is owned by Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC in New York, an organization that manages assets of $20.7 billion.


If the owners refuse to carry out an inspection and make public the results in a timely fashion - say by next week - then the city should take over the job and charge the owners. Then, depending on what the inspection turns up, the city should carry out any needed repairs on the building itself, and send that bill, too, to the owners.


Ultimately the city has the whip hand here, and we can't understand why it has let the building's owners delay progress even this long. No municipality should have to stand around waiting while a private company takes its sweet time about verifying the safety of a building on a main artery.


Quebec law leaves it up to building owners to ensure the safety of their properties. The Marriott has not been inspected in nine years, an indication perhaps of how seriously its owners take their responsibilities.


It's time the city of Montreal began behaving as though he has all the cards here, which in fact it does. The city can haul out the big legal artillery if Marriott's owners don't play by the rules: Governments have a right and a duty to step in when the private sector fails in its duties.








It would be unfair to say, as some Chinese critics seem to suggest, that whole of Australia is suddenly into an anti-China campaign, by awarding some Xinjiang separatists a public platform after they masterminded a riot in Urumqi, capital city of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in early July. The riot saw the worst violence in that part of China in the last 60 years, although it lasted for just a couple of days, and order and peace have now been restored.


It would also be unnecessary, as reflected in opinion in some local media, to paint a Chinese diplomat's attempt to brief them about the realities in Urumqi as one to censor the Australian press. Diplomats talk. It is an established practice that government officials and diplomats explain a government's point of view to their audience wherever they travel.


When the Chinese-speaking Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd visited China, he also brought with him criticism of this country. And, of course, for all the criticisms he made, he also did provide an explanation to us that he is by no means a Cold War warrior and China hater. The curious thing is that, from the often allegedly nationalistic Chinese press - and the Chinese Internet - not a single soul accused him of trying to influence China, although one may say that was exactly what he was doing, and on purpose. No one asked him to pull his head in.


All people claim to be true to their values and do not want to miss a chance to showcase those values. They are particularly sympathetic to disadvantaged and impoverished human beings. These are all respectable practices. But, we are not usually so confident as to turn a deaf ear to reports about the reality. There have been plenty of reports in the global press about what the Xinjiang separatists did, and one Chinese diplomat cannot be so versatile as to invent them all.


Two points are quite enough to show who they are: Those individuals are not impoverished. They made a fortune from China's economic liberalization, much more than the average people in Xinjiang, whatever their ethnic background, only to turn their back against their country.


Nor are those individuals oppressed, by no means. They are darlings of some quite powerful forces in the world - and even more so after the Urumqi riot left close to 200 dead bodies on the streets. And, dead bodies do not lie. Private shop owners, street vendors, and pedestrians, they were singled out and targeted in cold blood; one by one, family by family, not for being even close to a political force or a government, not for holding a weapon, and not even for saying any rude words; but, for just belonging to an allegedly repressive population. Can you believe that?


So what we are talking about here is violence. One may claim to have a right, if he chooses to turn a blind eye to the loss of other human beings. But hasn't he stretched his sense of right, or self-righteousness, a bit too far by decrying other people's rights to just remind him of the reality?








Should, or should not, the country stick to the blanket ban on non-iodized salt?


We do not know. Nor do the individual scientists who have bothered to try to find an answer. So we, like many curious about the truth concerning one of our most essential daily intakes, find it necessary for competent authorities to come up with a convincing answer.


This is no small matter, but one of far-reaching significance for public health.


Ours used to be one of the world's most iodine-deficient countries. So, starting 1994, iodized salt, as the result of a compulsory national strategy, has monopolized the salt market. Given the State monopoly on salt, non-iodized salt has effectively been outlawed and normally is unavailable to the average household.


Yet iodine intake is not something the-more-the-better. As the old adage goes, "too much is as bad as too little." While iodine deficiency is popularly known to cause thyroid diseases, excessive intake, too, can cause problems.


Solid evidence of an explicit link between iodized salt and the recent surge in thyroid ailments is yet to be established. However, the temporal coincidence justifies suspicion of a potential association - more and more epidemic screening programs have pointed to a new peak of thyroid illness outbreak roughly in step with compulsory iodine addition. And, considering the potentially serious public health implications, such suspicion must be examined.


For one, there can be no one-formula-fits-all solution in this case in a country as large as ours. In spite of the overall scope and severity of iodine deficiency in China, the extent varies considerably from region to region. Beijing and the provinces of Hebei, Shanxi, Jiangsu, Anhui, Fujian, Shandong and Henan, for instance, are iodine-rich areas. Compulsory addition of iodine, which has been the case for a long time, means a potentially damaging public health risk in these areas.


Human knowledge of iodine, too, has evolved through the years. During a good part of the 1990s, the World Health Organization insisted that a daily intake of 1,000 micrograms is safe for an adult. In 2001, the WHO lowered that ceiling to 300 micrograms a day. Plus, the geography of iodine deficiency may also have changed as the national diet did.


The more worrisome aspect of the story is that the clause on differentiated treatment in the National Iodine Addition Act has been ignored by government salt suppliers. Which is one more example of good intentions gone awry at the hands of policy executors.


As the people become increasingly concerned about the safety of iodized salt, the authorities have an obligation to provide answers, especially to two critical questions: What is responsible for the recent rise in thyroid diseases? Does iodized salt have a role in it?








Western critics of China have long argued that its success in exporting manufactured goods has come at the expense of its workers and the environment. These people thus see Alexandra Harney's 2008 book, The China Price, as confirming their dark view on the Middle Kingdom's transformation into the "factory of the world".


For example, Clyde Prestowitz, one of China's fiercest detractors, is quoted on the book's back cover as saying: "With unusual insight and reportorial perseverance Alexandra Harney presents the inconvenient truths about China and globalization that flat worlders (referring to authors like Thomas Friedman) have overlooked."


Harney's book certainly has plenty of grim material providing grist for the China-critic mills. But Harney has too much integrity and objectivity as a reporter to altogether ignore the positive side of China's export economy.


In fact, many of the stories in her book cast a favorable light on China's economic rise.


One of these stories is told in my favorite chapter, The Girls of Room 817. The chapter focuses on a poor young farm girl named Li Luyuan, who migrated from Jiangxi province to work in the Shenzhen Rishen Cashmere Textile Factory.


Harney notes that even while working in the factory, Li was able to send $120 back home every few months, an amount her family used to buy seeds and other essential things.


Moreover, she got the chance to rise up the economic and social ladder, largely lacking in rural China, because her job made her live in Shenzhen.


After a year of stitching sweaters, Li found a new job, to sell real estate property. While Li had a rough start in her new career - at one point she had just $25 to her name - she was soon earning as much as $790 a month in the high-pressure world of Shenzhen's real estate. That's a huge sum for a rural woman from a poor family with just a middle-school education.


Li may have more drive and ambition than her colleagues, but Harney's narrative shows her story is not all that uncommon. One of Li's former colleagues found work in a South Korean-funded factory with higher pay and better working conditions, while another started a business card company.


It's true that before making it to a better life, all these women worked long hours, often under abusive bosses, and lived in dingy dormitory rooms to earn even a small amount. It's also true that labor shortage forced factories to boost wages and offer better working conditions, such as improved housing, food and air-conditioning of workplaces.


The reason for that can be found in another chapter, The Stirring Masses. In it, Harney notes that China's one-child policy, the growth of export-oriented manufacturing industries in the Yangtze River Delta area and Fujian province, and some other factors had by 2005 created an acute labor shortage in Guangdong province.


Though Harney often criticizes the Chinese government for lax enforcement of labor standards, she concedes that the authorities and media both were making concerted efforts to educate workers about their rights under the new labor laws.


David Dollar, World Bank's China country director, estimates that wages in China are growing two to three times faster than in other low-wage Asian economies. This development is exactly what economic theory and the existing empirical evidence would predict.


Standard factor endowment models of trade argue that any advantage a country derives from low wages is inevitably transitory. This is because exports boost the demand for abundant labor - in China's case, rural surplus labor shifted to urban manufacturing centers - thereby driving up wages. Thus South Korea, which initially competed on the basis of low wages, now has close to first world income and living conditions.


Harney quotes Arthur Kroeber, head of the respected Dragonomics research group, as saying that China's low wages are "an advantage that expires". If China's success as a textiles exporter is based solely on low wages, then Vietnam ought to have eclipsed it in recent years because it is an even lower-wage country.


Teaching a mid-career MBA class at Peking University, I asked several students involved in the clothing and apparel business if they feared Vietnamese competition. All of them responded with a flat "no". They said that though wages were much lower in Vietnam, Vietnamese workers were less productive and disciplined than their Chinese counterparts.


They emphasized that the infrastructure, distribution system and other factors unrelated to low labor costs in Guangdong and other manufacturing "clusters" in China underpinned their export competitiveness.


Harney's book, then, provides ammunition for both China's detractors and defenders. But given what it says about the long-term trends in Chinese labor costs, one message is quite clear: Western consumers will sooner, rather than later, cease paying a "China price", when they buy China-made products.


The author teaches at Jintai Academy and Peking University








Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began his second term as Iranian president last Wednesday, nearly two months after winning a disputed election. Iran has generally maintained political stability over the past four years, but Ahmadinejad now faces a series of new difficulties and challenges.


The ruling conservative party didn't face much of a challenge from reformists since they lost the presidential post and the parliament four years ago. But this year's election has greatly raised the reformists' confidence of winning back the presidency. Mirhossein Mousavi's high-pitched campaign in the election and the number of his supporters during the protests against the election results are pointers to their rising confidence.


The series of protests against the election results have consolidated the reformists, and even Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former president and a moderate, supports their stance. As the mass trial of some opposition forces goes on, new protests are expected to erupt, heightening the political battle between the reformists and conservatives.


Ahmadinejad, it seems, has to devote more time to domestic politics during his second term because apart from the reformists, he also has to tackle his rivals who have emerged in the conservative group. What will make matters really difficult for the president is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's half-hearted support because of his disagreement with the Ahmadinejad's Cabinet composition.


The president faces a number of tricky economic problems, from high unemployment to high inflation. Iran's official data show the country now has 2.7 million unemployed and its inflation rate grew by 22.5 percent in a year from March 2008. To top it all, the global economic crisis is likely to cause a drop of $38.7 billion in Iran's export volume this year - the expected $56.3 billion worth of exports would be the lowest since 2004.


So checking the high unemployment and inflation rates will be the top priority of the Ahmadinejad government.


The other great challenge for the government is finding a way to extricate Iran from the diplomatic row caused by its controversial nuclear program. The nuclear issue has long been a source of tension between Iran and the West. The long-strained Iranian-US ties have improved to some extent after Barack Obama assumed the office of the US president. But Obama's moderate diplomatic policy and the global economic crisis, which forced the US administration's attention toward domestic problems, are more responsible for that.


Nonetheless, as the world's largest economy bottoms out, the Obama administration will divert its attention to Iran's nuclear program once again, increasing the pressure on Teheran.


Despite the pressing domestic and foreign challenges, the new Iranian government is not expected to drastically change its hardline policies, as was indicated by Ahmadinejad in his inauguration speech last Wednesday. He said Iran would continue with its active and strong diplomatic stance and refrain from maintaining silence against illegal acts, foreign intervention, warmongers and the unfair treatment of his country. "We do need to build friendly relations with the outside world on a peaceful, fair and equal basis, but we will by no means tolerate any insult," the outspoken president said.


Iran's long established conservative domestic policy is not expected to see much change either, though Ahmadinejad said in his inaugural speech that the new government will effect sweeping reforms in various fields. Given his record during the first term, it seems unlikely that Iran's controversial nuclear program will see a peaceful solution.


It is not known whether Teheran will be encouraged to follow Pyongyang's example, though the international community's attitude and determination to settle Iran's nuclear issue peacefully will directly influence that decision.


Teheran's ties with Washington, too, are likely to remain uncertain during Ahmadinejad's second term. Obama's reaffirmation that the US would like to improve its ties with Iran through dialogue has not changed Teheran's stance that Washington's policies toward it are prejudiced. This shows an improvement in US-Iranian ties depends more on the length Washington is ready to go to engage Teheran in a dialogue.


The US and its allies are discussing the possibility of imposing the most severe economic sanctions on Iran, including cutting off exports of petroleum and other refined oil products to Teheran if Ahmadinejad fails to respond positively to US offers on the nuclear issue. If the US and its allies impose the sanctions, it would prove catastrophic for Iran. The sanctions will foil any efforts to improve US-Iranian ties, too. Hence, the onus for better US-Iranian ties lies more with Washington.


The author is director of the Institute of International Relations under the Jiangsu Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.









The increasing harassment and abuse of female Indonesian migrant workers (locally called TKW) in Malaysia has led the Indonesian government to recently issue a temporary policy stopping the flow of TKWs to the country. The importance of this policy is not only to reduce pressure from the public on the government, but also to minimize any further abuse of migrant workers. However, the policy is of course, not problem-free.


Apart from the potential increase of TKW “black markets”, the policy will no doubt slow down current efforts to reduce the increasing number of unemployed workers caused by the recent global financial crisis. Thus, better alternatives must be sought.


An internal policy reform particularly of the recruitment process of TKW at the village level is considered one of the better policy solutions to reducing the harassment of TKW. The recruitment process at the village level is important because it will screen potential TKWs, and hence determine the quality of TKWs that are going to be sent overseas to work. In other words, unprofessional and poorly-organized recruitment processes at the village level will not provide good quality TKWs. To address this problem, at least two things should be done.


First, village offices and the local manpower office must get involved in the recruitment process at the village level.  This is essential as both institutions have so far shown no significant role in the recruitment of TKWs at the village level. Their current roles are limited to administrative bureaucracy, not in the selection process.


As a consequence, potential migrant workers at the village level are trapped in the hands of the “mafia” of local village sponsors that merely recruit TKWs on the basis of the number of TKWs recruited and the economic profit without considering their quality. It is, therefore, not surprising to find that the quality of TKWs sent abroad does not meet expectations, even if they have been previously trained by the employment recruitment agency (PPTKI).


However, direct involvement of the village office and the local manpower office in the recruitment process at the village level should be tightly controlled and monitored by other relevant and independent institutions, particularly NGOs. This is meant to shorten the long process of TKW recruitment and minimize corrupt practices and irregularities at the village level.  


Secondly, a policy to formally regulate the number of local village sponsors, the inner sponsors and the PPTKI is also necessary. Local village sponsors and inner sponsors need to be regulated because most of them are unregistered at the village office and/or at the local manpower office. In fact, they often do not have any connection to the official PPTKI. While for the PPTKI, tight regulations should be imposed especially in respect to the quality of the staff and management as well as the infrastructures available for training and educating potential migrant workers. These regulations will not only produce better quality migrant workers, but more importantly, the management quality of recruitment will increase.


Apart from recruitment process reform, the government must implement strict rules or laws to protect our TKWs abroad. However, for better implementation, it is important for Indonesia to learn from the Philippines.


By passing the 1995 Act on Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos, the Philippine government not only protected their migrant workers abroad, but also ensured the rights and obligations of returning Philippine migrant workers. As a result, there are almost no illegal Philippine migrant workers abroad, with less harassment and violation committed by their foreign employers.


In addition, the Philippine government also gives full support to their migrant workers (including female workers) abroad. Such support is not given by the Labor Minister and the President only, but the whole nation. This may indicate that migrant workers in the Philippines are valued more than just housemaids.


While this kind of attitude is certainly related to the socio-cultural values of the Filipinos, such nationalistic support appears to have both a psychological and political impact on the employers or the employment agencies in the receiving countries, making them more likely to respect Philippine workers’ rights and well-being.     


Moreover, tripartite labor contract agreements (i.e. TKW, the employer and the employment recruitment agency), as well as among employment agencies in Indonesia and the receiving countries should also be implemented in order to minimize the abuse of Indonesian migrant workers.


To make this work, the Indonesian labor attachés or the embassies in the receiving countries need to give their full support and assistance, such as providing lawyers and modest financial assistance for our TKWs in their fight against any parties (the employer and/or the employment agency) that harm them.  


Finally, the government and/or private companies need to facilitate the provision of insurance scheme for TKWs. This is important to avoid problems associated with accident, death, job losses and illness that may occur to our TKWs abroad. The insurance premium can be paid by the TKWs themselves or by the respective employers through wage reduction, or by Indonesian banks from remittances received or transferred from the workers abroad.







Perhaps it is no exaggeration to say most Indonesians felt relieved Wednesday to hear news of the Constitutional Court verdict — binding and final — rejecting the lawsuits of the two losers in the July 8 presidential election.


All the petty squabbling over the results of the election ended Wednesday when the court announced its verdict, upholding the General Elections Commission’s (KPU) earlier decision to name Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono the winner of the July 8 election.


“While it can be proven in court that there were cases of election violations, there is not enough evidence to support the allegations that those violations were massive and systematic — a prerequisite to declare the election invalid,” Constitutional Court chief Moh. Mahfud M.D. said as he read the verdict.


The verdict nullified earlier claims made by the legal team of presidential candidate Megawati Soekarnoputri; that the July 8 election was full of violations, and that 28.6 million votes for Yudhoyono were not valid.


“The 28.6 million votes came from voters registered more than once, underage voters and even dead voters,” a member of Megawati’s legal team had said. “We believe the KPU awarded these invalid votes to Yudhoyono.”


The verdict also confirmed that despite all its weaknesses, the KPU had organized the July 8 election in a lawful and transparent manner. At least the KPU’s official results were on par with tallies provided by five separate survey groups offering quick count calculations.


The Wednesday verdict also came as a relief to the nation because it prevents an election re-run or run-off from being held. Feared by the general public, such a scenario could have potentially created a power vacuum since there would be no guarantees results could be finalized before October 2009 — the deadline for the new government to take up office.


The verdict — issued after more than a week of hearings, testimonies and reviewing evidence submitted by the campaign teams of failed presidential candidates Megawati Soekarnoputri and Jusuf Kalla — rejected all evidence and legal arguments provided by the plaintiffs and thus declared the results of the July 8 election as valid.


On July 24, 2009, the KPU announced that incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was the winner of the July 8 presidential election, securing 60.80 percent of the valid votes. His challengers, Megawati came in a distant second with 26.79 percent of the vote, and Kalla came third with 12.41 percent.


Now that all the potential constitutional channels to challenge the validity of the election have been exhausted, it would perhaps be advisable and noble for all elements of society — especially the losing parties affected by the verdict — to unconditionally accept the results of the July 8 presidential election.


The new government has plenty of homework to do, and must fulfill its campaign promises. But without the support from the public, including from the camps of the losing candidates, it would be difficult for the elected government to execute those tasks, let alone guide the nation through the tough global competition ahead.









In a groundbreaking move to resolve the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, the Chechnya Peace Forum has mediated the first talks in nine years to seek lasting political stability in the region. Last month, Akhmed Zakayev, the exiled prime minister of the unrecognized Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, and Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, the speaker of Chechnya’s parliament, met in Oslo and spoke for the first time in public about their negotiations.


Continuing these discussions behind closed doors, the most recent meeting between both sides took place Wednesday in London. As a direct result of these talks, a commitment to convene the World Chechen Congress was announced.


As the mediator and host of these talks, I am delighted with these landmark developments. Both parties in these Russian-Chechen consultations have taken an important step toward transforming the geopolitical landscape. This process can have a radical impact on both Russia and Chechnya. By reaching an agreement on the necessity to convene the World Chechen Congress, the prospects for Chechen-Russian relations and the Chechen people are going in the right direction for the first time in 20 years.


I have spent many years trying to promote the cause of democracy, the rule of law, peace and human rights in Chechnya with the hope of encouraging a new negotiated settlement between the Russian government and the resistance movement.


The Kremlin-friendly government under Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has not been able to stabilize and control the continual violence, kidnappings and abductions and other human rights abuses that remain commonplace in Chechnya. The killings of Chechen charity worker Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband, Umar Dzhabrailov, on Tuesday are the latest case of brutal violence against human rights workers in the republic. Like the work of human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, who was killed in Chechnya in mid-July, Sadulayeva’s work gave many people hope that the rest of the world would not turn a blind eye to what is happening in Chechnya.


That is why these talks are so crucial in the hope of putting an end to the struggle of the Chechen people. Approved at the highest levels of the Russian leadership, this new dialogue is certainly a significant step toward a serious political discourse between the Kremlin’s official representatives and the Chechen opposition. Abdurakhmanov made it clear in Oslo and again in London that his talks with Zakayev were approved by both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. This is of particular significance because now a direct and promising Russian-Chechen dialogue for Chechnya’s future has started on an official level. It also represents a shift in Russia’s approach for peace in the North Caucasus.


Engaging both sides through settlement talks rather than violence is the only way to achieve stability in the region, and for the first time in a decade there is a desire to establish a unifying platform in the hope of reaching a joint agreement through political resolution.


This is indeed why many would call these talks a breakthrough in the much-needed peace process. Of course, there is a lot more work to do, but my hope is that these talks will ultimately lead to a higher degree of Chechen autonomy within the Russian Federation.


Ivar Amundsen is the director of the London-based Chechnya Peace Forum.









The United States has been growing more insistent lately in its hopes of teaming up with Beijing to rule the world together. Washington’s was driven to this only because its grandiose plan to build a global empire as the single remaining superpower failed miserably.


Beijing could be the better of two evils for Washington. Since the United States is not willing to share power with “junior players” such as Russia in a multipolar world, it might be prepared to share world hegemony with China. But upon closer analysis, a U.S.-Chinese hegemony has little chance of ever panning out.


Of course, Washington is flattering China with talk about the greatness of the Celestial Empire. But the Chinese are wise enough to avoid stooping so low as to get involved in some form of pointless adventure. But even if Beijing did yield to temptation, nothing would result from the U.S. project anyway.


In the first place, the United States and China are more rivals than they are partners. The two countries have opposing positions on almost every global issue, including Kosovo, NATO expansion, missile defense, the Middle East conflict, Iran, Central Asia and a host of other issues. It is a rare occasion when they vote in unison at the United Nations Security Council.


But the sharpest rivalry between Washington and Beijing is playing out in the Asian-Pacific region, and the balance is shifting in favor of Beijing. China is exerting increasing economic and political influence on neighboring states. Washington’s two most important allies in the Far East, Japan and South Korea, already have larger trade volumes with China than they do with the United States. In fact, a Thai diplomat recently told me, “Our prime minister used to start his day by reading The New York Times. Now, he is first briefed on the contents of China’s Zhenmin Zhibao newspaper.” Beijing is firm in support of its “one-China” position regarding Taiwan and against the buildup of the Japanese military. Meanwhile, China is modernizing its own military, buying advanced military equipment from Russia and shipping arms to countries Washington considers undesirable.


Washington views Beijing’s activity as a challenge to its own military, political and economic hegemony in the Asian-Pacific region. As a result, the White House has adopted a policy of both deterrence and coercion. This is one reason why U.S. actions in the region — such as supporting and selling arms to Taiwan, placing limits on the import of Chinese goods to the U.S. market and opposing China’s arms sales to other countries — create so many obstacles to building a stronger U.S.-Chinese alliance.


Chinese authorities are particularly opposed to U.S. efforts to interfere with China’s internal affairs. They believe that separatists in Tibet and Xinjiang are finding support not only from individual Hollywood actors, but also from the CIA, White House and U.S. State Department. Chinese diplomats and political analysts cite this as evidence that U.S. actions in China are aimed at undermining the existing political system. They argue that Washington helped cause the collapse of its archrival, the Soviet Union, and that now they are bent on bringing down its only remaining rival, China.


The other problem in building a Washington-Beijing axis is that China is in no condition to shoulder the burden of acting as co-ruler of the planet. China is dealing with a host of daunting domestic problems that include an extremely low per capita income, a huge gap between the rich and poor, high unemployment, corruption, a shortage of natural resources and ethnic conflicts in the regions. Beijing has its hands full with these problems, and it can ill afford the luxury of pursuing global hegemony.


Moreover, China cannot offer an ideology that would capture the hearts and minds of the rest of the world. It is highly unlikely that Germany, Argentina, Nigeria or India would adopt Chinese socialism or Confucianism. In addition, China does not have sufficient might to establish military hegemony. Neither is it a leader in the fields of mass communication, popular culture, education or science. Although China’s is well on its way to becoming the largest economy in the world, no Chinese brand has yet appeared on a par with Toyota, Olivetti, Omega, Christian Dior, Microsoft or Mercedes-Benz.


It is pointless to speak in unipolar or bipolar terms. The sooner Washington recognizes that the world is destined to be multipolar, the better. And this will have a direct positive impact on improving U.S.-Russian relations as well.


The world is not easy to live in, difficult to organize and next to impossible to rule. But that’s the type of world we live in, and there is no other option but to adapt to reality. Otherwise, Washington is in store for another defeat.


Yevgeny Bazhanov is the provost for science and international relations at the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy in Moscow.







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



Project By


a trust – of the people by the people for the people

An Organisation for Rastriya Abhyudaya

(Registered under Registration Act 1908 in Gorakhpur, Regis No – 142- 07/12/2007)

Central Office: Basement, H-136, Shiv Durga Vihar, Lakkarpur, Faridabad – 121009

Cell: - 0091-93131-03060

Email –,

Registered Office: Rajendra Nagar (East), Near Bhagwati Chowk, Lachchipur

Gorakhnath Road, Gorakhpur – 273 015


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Amazon Contextual Product Ads