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Sunday, August 16, 2009

EDITORIAL 15.08.09

 August 15, 2009

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media watch with peoples input               an organization for rastriya abhyudaya


Month August 15, Edition 000272, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

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

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1.      DRYING OUT


3.      IN THE RING








1.      I-DAY, S-WORD



































1.      BOWED OUT





































































3.      IN PRAISE OF... PIGS








2.      DON'T REWARD N.K.
























There is nothing startlingly original about the allegations levelled by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom against the Government and the people of India in its latest report which, expectedly, paints our society in the bleakest of colours, accuses the judicial system of being ineffective, lampoons the performance of law-enforcing agencies and places our country on the ‘watch list’. The report calls on the Obama Administration to ensure that the Government of India takes measures to promote communal harmony, protect religious minorities and prevent communal violence. This is not the first time we are being told how to conduct our affairs by the USCIRF, nor will this be the last time. There is something about the uncouth, hectoring attitude of the USCIRF (as also the US human rights monitoring agency) which makes it appear needlessly offensive. The sweeping generalisations made in its reports and the naïve assumptions underpinning them bring to mind an unflattering description of the commissioners who believe their nationality bestows on them the right to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states: Stupid Americans. The Government deserves credit for refusing them visas to visit the country despite considerable pressure from the US State Department; India can do without drain inspectors of American origin. While the US Administration is welcome to abide by the bunkum of bogus though exalted agencies set up under American law, it must not presume that others, too, are bound to take note of reports like the one published by the USCIRF — its rightful place is in the nearest garbage bin. In fact, the Ministry of External Affairs need not have officially responded to the report and reiterated India’s secular credentials. By doing so, it has accorded a certain legitimacy to the USCIRF and its fiction which they do not deserve.

The real reason why the USCIRF is miffed with India is because the nefarious activities of evangelists funded by American evangelical groups no longer go unchallenged. Any country where evangelism directed at converting indigenous people to Christianity has met with resistance has been at the receiving end of the USCIRF’s ire. Hence, the mention of the 2002 communal violence in Gujarat (while brazenly ignoring the event at Godhra which triggered the violence) is no more than a red herring. The USCIRF is angry because the tribals of Kandhamal in Orissa refuse to be tamed by evangelists who are intent on robbing them of their cultural identity, their land and their social welfare benefits. The so-called anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal did not happen just like that; there is a background to it and the sociological reasons remain as valid today as they were when the proverbial first stone was cast by way of Swami Laxmanananda’s murder. The Hindu community leader was in the forefront of protesting fraudulent conversions by evangelists who are paid by their American benefactors on the basis of the number of souls they are able to ‘harvest’. The poor are understandably vulnerable to their inducements. Ironically, the organised Church, which realises the folly of charlatans posing as evangelists as well as the threat they pose to social harmony, has rubbished the USCIRF’s report. That should suffice in telling America’s Boy Scouts where they get off.






The Free Trade Agreement signed on Thursday between the Government and the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations is yet another example of unthinking policy initiative that the UPA can credit itself with. The agreement, which has been in the making since 2001, is a contentious one that is bound to have a negative impact on our domestic producers. The FTA comes into effect from January next year and will seek to liberalise or completely dismantle import tariff barriers on as many as 4,000 trade items such as spices, coffee, rubber, palm oil, etc. What this essentially means is that post-operationalisation the agreement will ensure that the Indian market is flooded with a host of products from the ASEAN countries that are similar to what we produce here. By diluting or abolishing the import duties on these items we will be making them economically competitive. This in turn will cut into the profits as well as the market share of our domestic producers, who will then be left with no other option but to scale down their operations. The net result will be loss of employment and huge financial losses for our farmers.

Given the items covered by the FTA, the State that is likely to be worst hit is Kerala. Politicians from the State have, time and again, raised objections against the agreement. That senior Congress leaders from Kerala too have expressed apprehensions over the deal is no secret. Yet, in all its wisdom, the Manmohan Singh Government chose to disregard them. One of the crucial sectors in Kerala that is likely to be adversely impacted by the FTA is the coconut oil sector. Palm kernel oil is a close substitute of coconut oil. With the FTA phasing out import tariffs on palm kernel oil coming in from the ASEAN countries, and thus making the product cheaply available, it will provide a strong incentive to manufacturers and packagers of coconut oil to cut their product with palm kernel oil to maximise profits. This is bound to severely hurt the prospects of the coconut farmers in Kerala whose role in the State's economy is significant to say the least. The Government has tried to side-step these concerns by saying that domestic producers hold a competitive edge in the manufacturing of products covered under the FTA. This is highly misleading. Although it is true that we have an edge in the manufacturing of industrial products, the impact that the FTA with ASEAN will have on our agrarian economy is something that is not straightforward. The concerns of the coconut farmers of Kerala are a case in point. Similarly, the domestic spice trade as well as the marine products industry will face a lot of heat from their ASEAN competitors. All this could have been avoided of course. But the UPA Government, it seems, is more interested in scoring brownie points with the international community than caring for the concerns of domestic producers.







There is a question that all of us, who call ourselves Indians, need to ask on Independence Day: How many of us remembered the martyrs of the Quit India movement on August 9, the day it was launched in 1942? None of the important television channels, which devote countless hours to the foibles and tantrums of film and cricket stars and fashion models, telecast a programme that did justice to the memory of the men and women who were killed in police firing and lathi charges, or the sacrifices of those who were injured or suffered imprisonment under horrendous conditions, or recalled the sweep and intensity of a movement that shook the Indian subcontinent. Nor did any of the major newspapers carry a supplement that did the same.

This is utterly deplorable. It shows how trivia has come to dominate our lives and the nation’s media at the expense of events and issues that should matter. There were no doubt sharp, albeit on a small scale, differences over the Quit India movement when it was launched. The Communist Party of India and the followers of MN Roy who had formed the Radical Democratic Party, had opposed it. The former had condemned World War II as an ‘imperialist war’ and refused cooperation with British war efforts during early period of the hostilities when the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union was in force. They had switched on cooperating with the British after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, which, they claimed, had then become a ‘people’s war’. The Muslim League, whose politics had, except on a couple of occasions, revolved round extracting concessions from British for the community it was named after and checkmating the Indian National Congress, acted true to form.

The Radical Democratic Party had supported the war from the beginning. Its founder and leader, MN Roy, had argued that even if Britain emerged victorious, the war would leave it so exhausted that it would not be able to rule India and would have to leave. What was important at the juncture was to defeat the Axis powers — Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and imperial Japan — which posed a fundamental threat to civilisation as it had evolved through the ages, and human dignity and freedom.

There was logic in MN Roy’s position. Britain would not have left India on August 15, 1947, had World War II not so enfeebled it that it could no longer rule a country of sub-continental dimensions thousands of miles away. It is equally true that even a weakened Britain might not have decided to leave but for the mass agitations that had begun convulsing India from the end of the war over issues like the trial of Indian Army personnel who had joined Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, and events like the Naval Mutiny which made it clear, as had the formation of the INA, that they could no longer take the loyalty of the Indian personnel of the Armed forces for granted, particularly when it came to repressing their countrymen.

The Quit India movement had been suppressed before the end of the war. The patriotic fervour it had generated, however, remained and served as the major seedbed from which the post-war movements sprang. It had also created a new pantheon of heroes like Jayaprakash Narayan, Achyut Patwardhan and Matangini Hazra (who was shot dead as she advanced, defying the orders of the police, holding the Congress flag aloft). Three decades later, Jayaprakash Narayan was to spearhead a movement that, beginning as one against ubiquitous corruption, became one for a total revolution (sampoorn kranti) in the structure and the normative content of India’s political system.

If the Quit India movement was aimed at ending Britain’s external colonial rule, the one led by Jayaprakash Narayan was directed at a radical overhaul of the internal colonial rule of bureaucrats, politicians and a section of the rich that was bleeding India white and was corrupt to the core. It swept and electrified the country, fed up with a thoroughly venal and exploitative system, until it was halted in its tracks by Mrs Indira Gandhi’s imposition of Emergency during the night of June 25-26, 1975, which muzzled the Press through censorship, put the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution on hold and unleashed a nation-wide wave of repression.

As in the case of the Quit India movement, repression succeeded only temporarily. For the first time in the history of independent India, the Indian National Congress was ousted from power at the national level in the parliamentary election that was held in March 1977. The Emergency, which was put on hold during the election, was revoked when the outcome became clear.

After the Quit India movement, the one for a total revolution, led by Jayaprakash Narayan, was the first nationwide upheaval of tidal dimensions for a comprehensive transformation of the polity. It was also the last effort to restore to the Indian polity the quintessential Gandhian values of truth, integrity, non-violence and concern for the poorest. Like the Quit India movement, it led to a transfer of power. While the former conduced in a very significant measure to the ending of British rule in India, the one for a total revolution played a major role in ending the Congress’s monopoly of power at the national level and installing the first non-Congress government at the Centre. Neither, however, could achieve its transformational goals. The system had the better of both.

The amnesia about the Quit India movement is an indication of the fading of the freedom struggle as a presence in our collective memory and the almost total marginalisation in our consciousness of the Gandhian values that inspired it. Since Gandhian values represent a distillation of the canons of universal morality sustaining not only the Indian but almost all civilisations, their relegation reflects acute alienation not only from our own cultural roots but also the norms of universal morality that have sustained human societies through the ages. What we have instead is a culture that makes compulsive consumption the ultimate goal of life, one’s level of consumption the measure of one’s worth, and mindless trivia the stuff of entertainment. This is social dynamite at a time of growing economic distress.






Once as he was about to board a train someone asked Swami Chinmayananda to explain the meaning of Hinduism. Without batting an eyelid, he replied, “Detachment and attachment is Hinduism.” Detach from the lower and attach to the higher. This is the secret of our sadhana. Unless we are able to give up our lower tendencies, we will not be able to rise. If we hold revenge in our hearts, forgiveness will not find any place. Revenge is not alien to our nature. How often have we sat in front of the news channel and said, “Good. I am glad this has happened. That person deserves the misfortune that has come to him.” This is revenge. This is non-forgiveness. We forget that we are not qualified to judge anyone or mete out punishment. We hold onto our anger and find it in our heart to even justify it. In fact our anger is like the string of a helium balloon which is held firmly on the ground. The effort of holding on is ours. If we were to let go of the string, the balloon would rise effortlessly into the sky. Do not fight your anger but drop it. Evolve from anger to forgiveness. Move from the lower to the higher.

Swami Chinmayananda used to say that if we teach a man spirituality, it stays only with him. But if the knowledge is given to the lady of the house, it permeates the whole fabric of the family. Women by nature are given to sharing.

Following a life of spirituality is like climbing a spiritual mountain. As you climb, you begin to see different things. Someone who has climbed the mountain before you may tell you that on the way you will see a beautiful lake. Half way through, you may wonder whether you are on the right path because you are not able to see the lake. You call the person and he asks you for signposts to ascertain your position. After getting your bearings, he tells you to climb even higher. Sure enough, as you climb some more, the lake comes into view. And when you arrive at the top, the whole panorama is there for you to see. In a similar situation Tulsidas exclaimed, “Siyaram mae sab jag jani, karhoon pranaam jori jug pani.” See the divinity around you — in every person, your neighbour, your mother-in-law. The challenge is to see it everywhere — in every person, situation and place. How can such a person be alone? This is happiness. Happiness cannot be packaged. It is that special feeling that creeps into the heart in the form of peace. So follow dharma, grow spiritually and share the happiness gained from this with others.







In India, the higher judiciary is the last recourse of the wronged and the humiliated. It is often perceived as a safety valve against misgovernance. But that tradition received a body blow on July 30 when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Commonwealth Games village project.

Criticising an individual judgment is not the theme of this week’s Saturday Special. On the 62nd Independence Day, against a backdrop formed by droughts, pandemics and other man-made calamities, we decided to make the Indian river the focus of the week. What has happened to the Yamuna in Delhi is only a symptom, a running example of a deeper and wider malaise.

One billion Indians, in their mad urge to emulate foreign living standards, are today destroying any piece of natural wealth that they see around themselves. The river is the easiest object to loot. That is why we feature the “Waterman of India”, Magsaysay Award winning Rajendra Singh, as the principal contributor (Main Story).

The noted environmentalist, Diwan Singh, who first fought for the preservation of the Delhi Ridge and followed it up with a satyagraha for the Yamuna riverbed, writes (The Other Voice) that though the July 30 Order was disheartening, the Commonwealth Games Village would be the last concrete obscenity on the Yamuna riverbed. For, thanks to a superb alliance of scientists and satyagrahis, the war to preserve the riverbank was won in the form of a moratorium on all future projects.

Still, it is important to place on record the chief points of the Supreme Court order. Vacating the Delhi High Court’s stay on the ongoing construction, the apex Court said that the Commonwealth Games village site is neither located on a riverbed nor on the floodplain of the Yamuna. While pronouncing the judgment, the SC mentioned the September 21, 1999 notification of the Centre that converted the land of riverbed area from agricultural and waterbody to public and semi-public facilities, and made parallel comparison between its 2005 judgment on Akshardham temple site issue and the games village.

The Delhi Development Authority had been inconsistent in its arguments before the court. The National Engineering of Environmental Research Institute (NEERI) first said in its February 2008 soil investigation report that the structure might fall like a house of cards, but somehow took a U-turn and removed all stops. Even the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which at first withheld permission for any permanent construction was coerced into giving the go-ahead.

What is driving the government to push for permanent construction on the riverbed while alternative sites for a games village are available elsewhere in Delhi? Arguably, the 72-nation multi-sport event would give a fillip to India’s image in the area of organising big sporting events and bolster her claim for the 2020 Olympics, besides boosting the tourism industry to cater to an estimated two million foreign tourists.

As big money is involved, Games village is big ticket real estate. But when open space area is scarce in the national capital, the concept of converting the sports complex into luxury flats after the games is ill-conceived. Other than it being a matter of ecological loss, the building on shaky ground may jeopardize lives of the residents who would buy these flats.

Tax payers are justified in questioning the merit in selling off the flats in the village without saving them for a future event. What will happen if India somehow pulls off the right to stage the 2020 Olympics? The only vulnerable and available space left for further construction for that big event will be riverbeds, natural parks and forest areas.

The Yamuna riverbed in Delhi covers an area of 9,700 hectares of which 1,600 hectares are underwater and8,100 hectares dry land. The floodplain has an average sand bed depth of 40 m which makes it an excellent ground water recharge zone and most trusted source of water supplies to the city. Your browser may not support display of this image.

In 2002, the Ministry of Environment and Forests had launched an exercise to legally protect the floodplains through a notification, the ‘River Regulation Zone’, but the plan remained stillborn. The rivers have been bearing the brunt of disheveled urban planning and stand defenseless before human greed.

Recently, the Noida authority proposed to designate 20.77 acres of the Yamuna riverbed falling under it as ‘commercial’. However, thanks to an RTI query to the Uttar Pradesh irrigation department, it came to light that the area was transferred to the authority on the condition that it would be developed as an active flood zone. The tragedy does not to end here. The ambitious Delhi Master Plan 2021 proposes to build metro depots, IT parks, sports and cultural complex by encroaching on the lifeline of the national Capital.

In these circumstances, the common man has no option but pin hopes, however weak, on the judiciary. No doubt there have been cases in which the Judiciary has come to the rescue of the environment. Last November, Delhi High Court ordered two weeks’ imprisonment to former Delhi Jal Board CEO Arun Mathur and two other top officials for their failure to prevent sewage from flowing into the Yamuna.


In February, the SC issued notices to the Uttar Pradesh Government and the Agra Development Authority to explain how builders and colonisers were permitted to develop colonies on the floodplains of the Yamuna. In the famous Span Motel Case of 1999, the Supreme Court had held that the ‘the state as a trustee is under a legal duty to protect the natural resources. Natural resources can’t be converted for commercial use’.

So, choosing the litigation route for redress is like a game of Russian roulette. Environmentalists in India would do well to take the larger lessons from the Yamuna satyagraha. The activists built up a solid coalition and launched a sustained campaign. Gradually, they managed to win over to their side the support of personages like the Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi. They succeeded in projecting what Delhi stood to lose in material terms from the games village site. When this was placed on the table, the progressive sections of the ruling elite were moved.

The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer








The India envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi, father of the nation, on the eve of our independence on August 15, 1947 did not include enslaving nature. He visualised an India which would provide good self-governance for the rural populace and preserve the natural resources on which they depended. An India whose society would look upon nature as a gift to provide for its needs and not as a means to fulfill the greed of an influential, organised and wealthy minority.

It is extremely said that over the past 62 years, we have abused Gandhi’s dream. Every day, new plans are being made to try and enslave our rivers. New dams, embankments, temples, mosques, gurdwaras and settlements on riverine lands are nothing but enslavement of rivers using ‘infrastructure development’ as an excuse. This is not independence.

So, by ‘celebrating’ Independence Day year after year against a backdrop of indiscriminate rape of our rivers is nothing but an irrelevant formality.

If we want India to be prosperous and glorious, we would need to free our rivers from pollution, encroachments and obstacles to their natural flow. If our rivers flow broad and proud, prosperity will naturally follow. It is vital that the riverbanks are enveloped in greenery for ecological health. The independence of our country can be ensured only by protecting free-flowing rivers and the flora and fauna. Dense vegetation and eco-diversity have to be developed along riverbanks.

Naturally, the conversion of riverine land for any other purpose must stop forthwith. The dam that is coming up on the Bhagirathi in Uttarakhand; the Commonwealth Games village and the Metro railway on the Yamuna riverbank in Delhi; the embankments along the river for the Ganga Expressway in Uttar Pradesh; the damming of the Kosi and the Hooghly in Bihar and West Bengal – these are only the latest manifestations of river enslavement.

Freedom for the river is not an abstraction. It is about people as well. For the past seven years, we have been struggling for the right of the huge population that dwells on riverbanks and are dependent on the economy provided by the free flowing Ganga, Yamuna, Kosi and whatever river. Time and again we have pleaded from different platforms for their rights to continued livelihood. But the municipal corporations and the courts have been insensitive to these pleas.

Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak said, “Independence is our birth- right.” Those of us who are unfortunate not to live in blissful ignorance about impending climate change are committed to use this slogan as a basis for a pledge on this Independence Day. We will declare that the independence of the Ganga and all our other rivers is our natural right. We will stop at nothing to achieve this.

We will launch this movement by holding the first ever ‘Ganga Azaadi Shibir’ on the banks of the Hooghly river, which is the local name for the mighty Ganga in Kolkata. Thereafter, we will be holding ‘shibirs’ in various parts of India, one after another, for the freedom-of-flow for the Ganga and other rivers. We would strive to unite the common man for this cause. Let the 21st century be the century of the freedom of rivers. Only free-flowing rivers can ensure independence for mankind. If we really want true independence, we will have to unite to ensure Ganga’s freedom.

In many ways, this is going to be the last battle in the freedom struggle which Mahatma Gandhi launched with his first non-cooperation movement in 1921. It would not be confined to challenging the rights of governments and their crony industrialists to imprison rivers for their pecuniary reasons, but revive the ancient spirit of the people to conserve water. The people of India, however poor and apparently uneducated, know that it is about time this massive fraud on them in the name of ‘infrastructure’ and ‘industrialisation’ ended. A silent revolution is already underway.

Humble people whose wisdom is out of proportion to their formal education, have begun to do what their rich and apparently ‘brilliant’ countrymen in cities do not have the brains to even imagine. They are fighting to preserve each drop of water.

Once, a poor man in a small village in Alwar district of Rajasthan told me: “We can buy medicines and books for our kids with money. But our basic problem is of drying up of wells and rivers that has made farmers leave farming and women of the village have to walk miles to fetch water.”

That man taught me the 200-year-old technique of making ‘johads’, a sort of a catchment area that holds rainwater. The rainwater stored in these ‘johads’ helped the arid land get back its moisture, which ultimately filled up the wells and rivers of the place. 'A miracle' is how most people saw it as, but it was the only practical thing to do.

A river's life is related to the recharge and discharge of water. And, a ‘johad’ helps the land retain its moisture. It rejuvenates nature. As a result of this, men who had left for bigger cities in search of jobs, came back to start their farming. Women no longer needed to walk miles to fetch water because this simple technique of recharging their water channels ensured water in the village wells.

Meanwhile, a few hours away by super-fast train in Delhi, which is India’s richest city with the highest per capita income, what do we see? The so-called ‘educated’ people of Delhi are not even aware that no city has ever survived in history by importing its water requirements from other places. Civilisations have flourished only on the banks of rivers. Modern Delhi was conceived with the Yamuna as its nourishment source. But, the ignorant people of India’s national capital and their superfluous government have ensured the imprisonment of this 55 million-year-old river.

The once-mighty Yamuna is a dead river now and cannot sustain on its own. This is how the people of Delhi have repaid their mother. When illiterate people in backward areas like Alwar can revive five tributaries, the inaction on the part of Delhiites is inexplicable.

Armchair environmentalists think that the declining water resources of the country would lead to ‘water wars’ some time in the 21st century. They are very close to the truth, which is, water wars have already begun. The most public manifestation is the inter-state dispute over river water sharing.

At the village level, this is translating into competition over water sources, often marked by violence and use of the caste factor to leverage power.

Years of slavery and the negative forces of society have crippled our collective ability to lift ourselves out of our misery. Utter lack of self-confidence inhibits the poor people of the villages from taking action to end their degradation.

If somebody comes forward to offer to boost their morale, society responds and works with new hope. Years ago, when we began our movement to recharge underground water channels, I became a sort of crutch for them. Crutches are needed till the community regains its strength and starts working independently. Now we have enough young enthusiasts who will sustain the new zeal.

When we see the West, we see countries that have fully exploited their natural resources by converting them to luxury items. This way, their natural resources are exhausted. This is not the case in India. It is time for us to make use of our insights and our natural resources properly. If we do that, then the 21st century is going to be ours.

The author is a Magsaysay Award winner who leads ‘Jal Biradri’ and is known as the ‘waterman’ who converted environmentalism into a mass movement







When, on July 29, a three-Judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan gave a clean chit to the Commonwealth Games village project and directed the Delhi Development Authority and other agencies to proceed with their dangerous plans, the environmentalists’ community of India was numbed by shock. The Supreme Court set aside a Delhi High Court judgment directing the setting up of a committee to examine and monitor the construction. Their Lordships refused to even see that the luxurious block of flats were coming up on the bed of the Yamuna.

But actually, though we lost the battle, the larger war was won by us. Though we have lost about 30 hectares of the floodplains to the upcoming Commonwealth Games village, we managed to get protection for more than 7,000 hectares through a moratorium. We thank the Yamuna River Development Authority, which is headed by the Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi, for paying due heed to the evidence of sure doom if constructions are allowed to inundate the Yamuna bank.

It all began on the banks of Yamuna in Delhi, when a small group of students and NGOs led by a group called ‘Natural Heritage First’ staged a small demonstration next to Akshardham temple, protesting against the choice of the Yamuna bank as site for construction of the Commonwealth Games village. After that a ‘havan’ was organised by URJA, a group of RWAs. On August 1, concerned citizens led by Rajender Singh, Kuldeep Nayar, Vikram Soni and others planted saplings on the games village site, demanding that the proposed site be shifted.

By 2007, about 25 per cent of the Yamuna riverbed had been lost to alleged ‘infrastructure’ projects, samadhis and temples. It was high time that citizens took charge to stop the devastation of the most beautiful and indispensable bounty of nature, the river. Sure enough, the movement snowballed rapidly through marches, yatras along the banks, video productions, scientific studies presented before audiences, meetings with the authorities, and the participation of school and college students. The Yamuna satyagraha soon became a part of life in Delhi. The satyagrahis, who included scientists, realised that merely challenging illegalities may not be the best way. Scams happen everyday. What is illegal today may become legal tomorrow with the help of a Court ruling or legislation. The question posed by Dr Vikram Soni and team was — what is the value of Yamuna floodplains ? If something is valuable to our life as citizens of Delhi, it will remain so in spite of any law. If we prove its value, the law would follow to protect it.

A research study was done and it was found that the floodplains are an amazing natural water storage system using surplus monsoon discharge. It has a 40-metre-deep sandy layer formed by silt formed over millions of years. This layer acts like a sponge when flood water flows over it. It has the capacity to contribute as much as half of Delhi’s current water requirements. A totally non-invasive, ‘preserve and use’ scheme was suggested.

Dr Soni aptly describes this potential as ‘The hidden treasure’. The study was presented before the LG of Delhi, who heads the Prime Minister-appointed Yamuna River Development Authority (YRDA). In a meeting held on November 22, 2007 in the presence of almost 30 experts in the field, the LG announced formally announced a temporary moratorium on further constructions on the Yamuna flood plains. He asked the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) prepare a blueprint based on this study. On June 17, 2008 the last meeting of YRDA was held at Raj Bhawan, in which the CGWB accepted the water recharge potential of the Yamuna floodplains. The LG announced a moratorium on further constructions and declared that these plains would only be used for water recharge and bio-diversity conservation.

What puzzles us is the role of the Judiciary, an organ of the state meant to deliver justice to people when all other options close. The history of the higher judiciary in environmental cases involving big projects is often very disappointing. Many people approached the High Court of Delhi to challenge construction of the games village. Notably, the two judges visited the flood plains to see the site. Many hearings took place. The court ordered formation of a committee to decide the matter. Back to square one. The matter then went in appeal to the Supreme Court. On July 30, in one stroke, the Supreme Court ruled that the impugned site is not a floodplain. If 40 metres of sand bank collected over 20 million years of a river’s history is not a floodplain, then what is?

Now let’s look at the role of governmental technical agencies expected to provide scientific inputs. The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) reports of 2005 and 1999 forbid permanent constructions on riverbeds. This motivated the DDA to go in for another study from Central Water and Power Research Station, Pune. This study approved the site but left many questions unanswered. When the Ministry of Environment and Forests began to give it serious consideration, the DDA issued a deadline to it. This got the MoEF browbeaten and it turned amazingly flexible.

Meanwhile, NEERI came out with a 180-degree turn, saying the impugned site is not floodplain. Years later, when the history of the struggle to save the Yamuna is written dispassionately, the truth will be out.

The author is an Environmentalist











Over six decades ago, India had its post-colonial "tryst with destiny". Departing naysayers of the Raj claimed then that India couldn't survive as a nation. Today we prove them wrong, yet again. Admittedly, the aftermath to hard-won freedom involved back-breaking effort to bind together diverse communities. Yet despite regional, linguistic, religious, ethnic and caste cleavages, Indians fostered shared stakeholding in unity. Whether through language-based states' reorganisation, intended uplift of collectives of caste or class, or a commitment to federalism and secularism, India was able to meet and beat divisive forces.

But the unity-wreckers society's Raj Thackerays and Sri Ram Senes haven't vanished. Nor has democracy erased an anomalous sense of entitlement of certain groups. At one end, social groups still play by identity politics, spurred by vote-catchers. At the other, netas and babus retain the VVIP airs of their erstwhile colonial masters. Can we, then, say our independence movement has ended? Perhaps, with Old India's mai-baap officialdom challenged by new India's reclaimed republican values and aspirational goals, it's only just begun.

Increasingly, Indians as individuals are moulding national discourse. And everywhere, there are signs of this momentous shift. State monopolies are bowing to market forces. Crumbs-dispensing state paternalism is making way for government as enabler. Middle-class India's outward-looking entrepreneurship is defanging xenophobic exclusivism. Voters are rejecting sectarian agendas. With growing stree shakti, a feminisation of society and economy is underway. The youth, emerging as a force, are questioning old shibboleths on how to live, love or earn. A kisan buying a three-wheeler or a tycoon acquiring foreign companies, Indians everywhere are charting their own course. And they are demanding a facilitating environment to realise their potential, as a matter of the right of a constitutionally empowered citizenry.

Is it any wonder new India sings of good governance, inclusive growth and, as Amartya Sen so memorably put it, development as freedom? Faced with an aware and activist civil society, the state itself must be an agent of unifying rather than niche-building change. To its credit, it's thinking in terms of transparency and public good, whether by ensuring people's right to information or right to security through police reforms. Schemes pledging rural job guarantee or food security, by their inclusive, secular nature, are chipping away at a quota edifice built on social fissures. Policymakers are rightly pitching healthcare and education as key to human progress. A chapter II on economic reforms is recommending itself, in an India that wants to make the 21st century its own. All of this is happening because individual citizens don't want yesterday's crutches; they want to stand and run on their own steam.

So, even as we celebrate Independence Day, the realisation must dawn that destiny is never static. Nor is the liberating "tryst" with it a one-off event. India was born of self-fashioning. But any entity that stops striving, that stops transcending itself, condemns itself to institutional stagnation. That's why the struggle for our freedom didn't end 62 years ago. We are free because we are still struggling to be.







The education sector in India is in ferment, hit by a storm long waiting to happen. The butterfly that flapped its wings and triggered a cyclone, to borrow a metaphor from chaos theory, was Nasscom's much-reiterated statement that hardly a fourth of graduating engineers, and an even smaller percentage of other graduates, was of employable quality for IT-BPO jobs. Similar views echoed by other sectors have led to widespread debate. Increased industry-academia interaction, ''finishing schools'', and other efforts were initiated as immediate measures to bridge skill deficits. Some, however, felt that these are but band-aid solutions; instead, radical systemic reform is necessary.

The National Knowledge Commission, though a government-appointed body, has drawn criticism from the establishment for recommending structural changes in the educational system. Suggestions by this writer for creating, on a limited-experiment basis, special education zones with minimal regulation and permitting for-profit corporate educational institutes drew considerable interest, but even greater flak. Now, the Yash Pal committee has made some radical suggestions, including the replacement of UGC, AICTE and other regulatory bodies by a single one: the Higher Education and Research Council. The opposition to this might be greatly muted by the strong support already indicated by HRD minister Kapil Sibal, and equally by the public exposure through CBI raids and action of long-known corruption in AICTE.

Yet, there will be serious challenges to overdue reforms in the education system. In India as in many countries education is treated as a holy cow; sadly, the administrative system that oversees it has also been deified. Today, unfortunately, there is no protest against selling drinking water, or paying to be cured of illness, or for having to buy food when one is poor and starving; nor is there an outcry that in all these cases there are commercial companies operating on a profit-making basis. Why, then, is there an instinctively adverse reaction to the formal entry of for-profit institutes in the realm of education? Is potable water, health or food, less basic a need, less important a right, than higher education?

While there are strong arguments for free or subsidised higher education, we are not writing on a blank page: education in India has already been hugely commercialised. Politicians and businessmen have entered this sector in a big way and found devious ways of making money, though the law stipulates that educational institutes must be not-for-profit trusts or societies. Yet, there is opposition to the entry of for-profit corporates, which would be more transparent and accountable. As a result, desperately needed investment in promoting the wider reach of quality education has been stymied at a time when Planning Commission figures indicate that the Eleventh Plan allocation is but a fourth of the need.

Well-run corporate organisations, within an appropriate regulatory framework, would be far better than the so-called trusts which barring some noteworthy exceptions are a blot on education. However, it is not necessarily a question of choosing one over the other: different organisational forms can coexist, as they do in the health sector. A regulatory framework which creates competition, in tandem with a rating system, would automatically ensure the quality and relevance of education. As in sectors like telecom, and packaged goods, organisations will quickly expand into the hinterland to tap the large unmet demand. Loan/scholarship arrangements would ensure affordability and access.

Is this imagination run riot? Of course, one can pick many holes in these ideas or raise dogmatic and philosophical objections. Yet, education is about innovation and experimentation, about challenging conventional wisdom and breaking new ground. Despite the apparent centralised power inherent in the proposed new regulator, the Yash Pal committee report has a clear bias towards autonomy for each university, decentralisation and freedom to innovate. Overall, it has made a strong case for radical structural reforms.

The last real structural reforms in higher education were the creation of the IITs and IIMs. An Act gave the former autonomy and freedom beyond that of the universities; the IIMs went even further. In the last few years, determined efforts have been underway to curb their autonomy. The government mainly bureaucrats, but also the occasional minister seeks to assert its ownership by exercising tight control. These institutes now need freedom to decide on recruitment, salaries and admissions, so as to compete globally.

However, IITs and IIMs will be few. Therefore, we need a regulatory framework that will enable and encourage states and the Centre, genuine philanthropists and also corporates to set up quality educational institutions. The regulatory system needs only to ensure transparency, accountability, competition and widely-available independent assessments or ratings. It is time for radical thinking, bold experimentation and new structures; it is time for the government to bite the bullet.

The writer, a strategy and policy analyst, was a member of the Yash Pal committee. Views expressed are personal.









After the inclusion of women's boxing in the 2012 Olympics, golf and rugby could be the next sports to become part of the world's biggest sporting event. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has recommended that these sports, two of the most popular in the world, be included in the roster for the 2016 games. By any measure, this is a good suggestion. Golf and rugby are incredibly popular sports, and the prospect of Tiger Woods teeing off for gold has record television ratings written all over it.

In purely sporting terms, both golf and rugby are physically and mentally demanding. There's no small degree of skill required to be successful at either of the two. Critics decrying golf as a boring non-sport and rugby as yet another team event that dilutes the Olympic spirit should consider that synchronised swimming and team handball are both Olympic events. There's certainly a lot less justification for those to even be included in the broad category of sport, let alone be a part of the Games, than either rugby or golf. Rugby and golf are international sports with global appeal, which is more than can be said about far too many Olympic events.

Besides, this move would attract even bigger audiences. According to the International Golf Federation, golf is distributed via television every week to more than 5,89,000 million homes in 231 countries and in 35 languages. Rugby is played by three million people in 116 countries and has tens of millions of fans worldwide. Both sports are challenging enough to fit the Olympic mantra 'Faster, Higher, Stronger'. There is no better arena for sportspeople to challenge themselves than the Olympics, which is meant to be the ultimate test of endurance and skill. The ethos and values of both sports are in tune with the Olympics. And in terms of putting on a show, few can argue against the fact that watching rugby or golf would be a darn sight more exciting than attempting to survive the sheer boredom of competitive trampoline routines.







The International Olympic Committee (IOC)'s decision is a strange one. Granted, there was a need to expand the roster of sports represented at the Olympics. But to overlook five sports among them, eminently suitable ones such as karate and squash and include golf and rugby instead makes little sense. Even more so when one considers that rugby will not be included in its full format but as a seven-a-side game.

The essence of the Olympics is that it is the pinnacle of achievement for an athlete. If that is not the case, and an Olympic event is no more than a sideshow for a particular sport then that sport has no business being represented there. That is the major problem with the inclusion of rugby and golf. The former already has a world championship. Talk of scrapping it in favour of the Olympics is half-baked at best; it is unlikely to happen. Given this, the Olympics cannot help but be a secondary concern. Factor in the absurdity of a seven-a-side game it would be like including five-a-side soccer in the Olympics and it will become even clearer why its inclusion was a mistake. Not to mention the fact that a limited number of countries play the sport internationally and an even smaller number are competitive at the highest level.

Golf suffers from similar problems when it comes to the relative importance of the Olympics. In fact, given the number of prestigious tournaments on the PGA Tour, the problems are even greater. The four majors are the holy grail of the sport and the Olympics can only be a distant fifth. Golf's most influential icon, Tiger Woods, has admitted as much while a former great, Nick Faldo, believes that the golfing calendar is already too congested to accommodate the Olympics.

All the IOC has done is include a pair of sports that are unlikely to benefit much from the Olympics or bring much to the table. At best, they will be like tennis. Ask any tennis player on the circuit which he or she would rather win the Wimbledon or an Olympic gold. The answer is not difficult to guess.







Unless the prime minister's address to the nation today goes some way to stem the tide of fear and anguish that threatens to sap the morale of our people, the credibility of his government is bound to take a few hard knocks. What one expects from him is, first and foremost, a reassurance that he and his ministers some of whom behave like autonomous satraps have a road map to address the grim problems assailing us from all sides with the requisite sense of urgency and purpose.

On both scores, the government's record has generated a good deal of scepticism. And with good reason too. Take the hysteria over the so-called swine flu. It is one thing to blame the media for its carpet coverage of this novel scourge. It has doubtless contributed in some measure to the outbreak of collective panic here and there. But such blame cannot detract attention from the colossal ineptitude of the Union health ministry.

After the first reports appeared that the H1N1 virus had been detected in the country, it waited for as many as four weeks to launch a public information campaign to alert people about the symptoms of the flu and how they should go about getting appropriate treatment. The performance of the concerned minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, has also raised eyebrows. His claim that India was more successful in combating the flu than the US and the UK may well be factually accurate. But given the mood in the country it smacked of an appalling lack of sensitivity.

That lack has been even more conspicuous in the way the government has handled the vagaries of the monsoon. Time and again it made soothing noises: the worst was behind us, the overall shortage of rainfall was no big deal as far as food production was concerned, farmers need not be overly concerned about the fate of their crops and so forth. Sharad Pawar, Union minister for agriculture, began to read the writing on the wall long after it was in full sight of smaller fry.

We now have the Met officials finally admitting that they had got their projections hopelessly wrong in June. The countrywide rainfall deficit could be as high as 13 per cent as against the earlier figure of 7 per cent. The picture changes substantially for the worse when you focus attention on states which normally produce surplus grains and those which are more or less arid.

Manmohan Singh has done well to tell the country that "in no case should we allow our citizens to go hungry". He now needs to convince us that he will address the deficiencies in the public distribution system with vim and vigour. More to the point, he must make known the government's plans to prevent millions of small cultivators from sinking to the depths of destitution because of drought.

Meanwhile, non-government experts have warned of the consequences of a poor monsoon. They have considerably reduced the forecast for the growth of the GDP from 6.6 per cent projected earlier to 5.8 per cent. Industrial production and the production of sugar and edible oils are also expected to suffer. Inflation too has begun to take a heavy toll.

To provide relief to affected states pressures are bound to increase on the national exchequer. This in turn may well compel the government to scale down its ambitious plans in the social sector in particular health, education, sanitation and provision of drinking water. Can it take the risk when elections to several state assemblies are round the corner?

One also expects to hear from the prime minister specific plans to counter threats to our security both from within the country and from across the borders. Attempts to tame the Maoists have yet to produce significant results. Islamabad continues to blow hot and cold on bringing the instigators of the terror in Mumbai to book. Relations with our other neighbours are at best testy.

What the nation does not want to hear are grandiloquent statements to the effect that India is a major player on the world scene. In hard times, bombast of this sort, much like those hoary chestnuts 'socialism' and 'cultural nationalism', can only invite ridicule.











Call us naive, but when we look at the sepia-tinged photographs of the thousands swarming around the official buildings of New Delhi and other Indian cities on August 15, 1947, we sense a rush of envy. The first day in independent India is recorded as a spontaneous mass outpouring of joy and celebrations. Paradoxically, you don’t get to see many flutters of paper tricolours as you do today.


Instead, you peer into the faces and find a different kind of energy that can only come from waters bursting forth a dam. But even then, the seeds of a tangible disconnect between official ceremony and popular celebrations was noted in a front-page report of The Hindustan Times of August 15, 1947: “It was a pity that the man in the street got little chance of seeing the function [that climaxed at the midnight hour of August 14-15, 1947, inside the Assembly Hall]. Perhaps there was philosophic justice in the ceremony being observed mostly by those who were loyal to the former regime.”


Things have moved on since that day. But one thing seems to have settled into a habit: the rather restrained nature in which Indians, proud of their nation and what it represents, are made to celebrate the commemoration of our freedom. Patriotic pride is largely channelised only through statutory functions that have taken the sheen of a seasonal gesture rather than a ritual backed by real pride and joy. (Perhaps Independence Day events in schools and neighbourhoods are the real sources of uninhibited pride on show.) Add to that are the obstacles that even make August 15 a date to mark on the calendar for the wrong reason: to stay put at home. The VIP cavalcades up and down Red Fort in Delhi are replicated in other metros of the nation. The rules of displaying the national flag have thankfully become more lax than before, but the tricolour still suffers under a strange complex that disallows it being the symbol of unfettered patriotic ‘coolness’. (The only happy exception being displayed on the faces of sporting fans.)


To be independent as a nation is to be independent as a citizen. So as a mature, proud nature not nervous of mixing its pride with gaiety, let’s raise a glass to India’s 63rd day as a free country and party.









The Land Acquisition Bill, currently on hold with the Lok Sabha, has given rise to deep political fissures. At the heart of it is the following question: in harnessing land for large-scale industrialisation, should we leave it all to the free market, whereby industrialists and farmers are left to discuss land price and voluntarily come to an agreement, or should we have provision for government to utilise state power, fix a reasonable price and acquire land?


Modern economic theory sheds light on this; and, somewhat unexpectedly, comes out on the side of government intervention. As a consequence, even some of the most aggressively market-oriented nations in the world, such as the US, have provisions that allow the State to intervene and acquire land for large-scale industrial or commercial use.


 The economic argument shows that, left entirely to voluntary transactions, many socially desirable industrialisation projects would never get implemented. This so-called “hold-up problem” was briefly touched upon by Amartya Sen in his Penguin Lecture on ‘Justice and India,’ in Kolkata on August 5, though he did not elaborate on it.


The essential idea is simple, though it has an impressive intellectual heritage in game theory and, in particular, the work of John Nash.


We know that for big industrial projects, such as a new automobile factory, a large amount of contiguous land is needed. Getting some parts of this land and not others would make the project unviable. Suppose a large project is being considered by an industrialist called ‘T’ for which he needs to buy two plots of neighbouring land, currently owned by farmers M and B (I am trying to use letters which are meaningful).


Assume the industrial project can generate gross profit of Rs 10 and the farms are fallow and yield no benefit to the farmers. Hence, this is clearly a viable project. If, for instance, T gives Rs 3 to each of the farmers, they gain (Rs 3 each) and T gains (Rs 4).


Since, in reality, hundreds of farmers are likely to be involved, it is reasonable to assume that all the bargaining cannot be done simultaneously. I shall mimic this here by assuming that T has to first strike a deal first with M and then with B.


Assume that each farmer demands the maximum she can get within the limits of what the industrialist will be willing to pay. It can be proved that the project will, nevertheless, not be undertaken. For ease of exposition, I shall assume that all payments are made in integers, in other words, there is never any payment in paisas.


In the first stage the bargain is between T and M. The argument will go through no matter what M asks for. Note that if M asks for more than 9, T will reject it and if he asks for less than 1 it is not in her own interest. So let me simply assume that M asks for some amount between 1 and 9.


Next — in stage 2 — he talks to B, who knows that, if she says no, the project will not occur. Recall that T needs both plots for the project to be viable. So, if B agrees to a deal, the profit generated is 10 and, if B does not, then the profit is 0. In brief, B has the power to hold up the entire project. So as long as B charges any amount less than Rs. 10, it is in T’s interest to accept the offer. Recall that whatever T spent in stage one is now sunk cost and cannot be recovered.  Therefore, B will charge 9, and T will accept the deal.


However, this means that over the two stages T would have spent 10 or more acquiring the land and so his net profit will be zero or negative. Interestingly, we know this even without knowing the exact deal struck in stage one. Since a loss or, at best, zero profit is foretold for the industrialist, he will not start the process of negotiation with the first farmer. Hence, no industrialisation occurs even though all of them could have gained from it. Q.E.D.


Some may counter that large-scale land acquisitions have taken place, prominently in Gujarat, with no State interventions. I have two words of caution on this. First, many seemingly voluntary land acquisitions are actually based on subtle intimidations and threats to poor farmers. Second, for every such deal that goes through, there are many that never get initiated for the above reasons.


My argument must not be construed as giving government licence to acquire land at will. China’s policy of using the strong arm of the State to confiscate large amounts of agricultural land that the farmers cannot question is not worth emulating. We must have a law that specifies the limits of State engagement. The industrial project has to be of demonstrable social worth. And it should be mandatory that the land-owners are compensated handsomely, well above the market price.


India’s labour-intensive industrial sector is poised for development. Once a proper legal and institutional backdrop is provided, we should see enormous growth in this sector, which can have a larger impact on poverty alleviation and the mitigation of unemployment than many a piecemeal intervention.


Kaushik Basu is Professor of Economics and Chairman, Department of Economics, Cornell University








A Chinese troublemaker who conceals his identity behind the nom de guerre of ‘Strategy’ has raised a storm with the modest proposal that China should break up India by supporting its million mutinies. Since his essay appeared on the website of a Chinese think-tank just in time for the current round of India-China talks, and since Beijing is quite particular about who is allowed to publish and who gets beaten over the kidneys in a soundproof location, maybe we can regard this as an official communiqué.


This is serious. This is seriously irritating. For a half-century, Beijing has been trying to influence the future by fiddling with the past. Now, does it want to fiddle with the present, too? We have to figure this out. Follow me closely because your time is short and my space is limited and space and time structure all realities, as Einstein demonstrated in an elegant theory which is now, sadly, overshadowed by E=mc2, the basic template for a nuclear bomb. The Chinese have more bombs than us. This is related trivia.


However, the main issue between India and China is its claim on Arunachal Pradesh, which it briefly occupied in 1962. Beijing calls this tract South Tibet to justify its historical claim. China had occupied Tibet after suppressing the rising of 1959, and Arunachal became South Tibet by natural extension, since it was the next acquisition. That’s Chinese history for you.


Chinese foreign policy is irredentist, reaching back into the distant past to justify current expansionist aims. In 2002, Beijing mandated the Chinese Academy of Social Science to launch the fabulously named Northeast Borderland History and Chain of Events Research Project, which posited the former existence of a Greater China covering half of Asia. All the people of this area are held to be intrinsically Chinese, even if they are now Koreans or Tajiks.


The aim was to strengthen Chinese claims on ethnic Koreans in Manchuria, who could secede if the two Koreas ever unite. But the theory got Beijing into hot water. Both Koreas protested because the early Common Era Korean kingdom of Goguryeo was identified as Chinese. But their outrage did not prevent Beijing from launching similar Southwest and Northwest Projects in Tibet and Xinjiang to strengthen claims to the lands of the restless Buddhists and Uighurs.


And now they want to break up India. I question their wisdom in pursuing this expensive project. Aren’t we Indians doing enough already? A fortnight ago Binayak Sen, freshly released from illegal confinement, dropped in for a chat. He was visibly anguished about the use of military force against the villagers of Chhattisgarh. So what else is new? From Kashmir to Dhanushkodi, from Punjab to Manipur, the State has used the assault rifle as a handy replacement for political solutions. It’s gotten so bad that Maoism, which promises nothing but more heartbreak, has become a credible alternative to government.


China has problems of its own. It is multi-ethnic like India and the seams show. Its internal differences have a bad habit of becoming huge international issues like Tibet. The Chinese don’t need anyone’s help to fall apart. ‘Strategy’ would be better off watching his own back instead of stirring up trouble in the region.


Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine








We have long known that India is running itself to the ground, as far as the water table is concerned. With our neglect of irrigation, our heavily extractive farming practices and indeed urban drilling, the rate of groundwater depletion has raced far past the rate of replenishment in many states, but hydrological data has been sparse. Now, never-seen-before NASA satellite images have provided a big picture of the big trouble we’re in. According to a study published in Nature, 109 cubic kilometres of groundwater have been lost in Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana between August 2002 and October 2008, a period of normal rainfall — that’s twice the capacity of India’s largest water reservoir.


Groundwater is an invisible but invaluable resource, formed by the steady drip of precipitation and surface wetness down through layers of clay and stone, accumulating in natural aquifers underground. Some such cavities may contain water thousands to millions of years old, while in others, water levels recede and rise every year. In India, groundwater irrigation has been expanded after the late ’60s, when high-yield crop varieties were introduced. This led to great leaps in productivity, provided food security and acted as a drought buffer — yields from groundwater irrigated areas are likely to be greater by one-third to a half compared to surface irrigated plots. It is estimated that as much as 70 to 80 per cent of India’s agricultural output may rely on groundwater. Special agricultural strategies for north and eastern India in the ’80s were deeply groundwater-dependent, drilling free tube-wells and subsidising pump sets. Growing water-guzzling crops like paddy and the consequent groundwater mining to keep up have resulted in having to dig deeper and deeper.


The legal mechanisms for groundwater management need to strike a difficult balance between individual rights and government regulation that takes the public good aspect into account. Meanwhile, the Central Ground Water Board is gung-ho about artificial recharge schemes, though these are hampered by many technical factors. Even as it acknowledged the grimness of the situation, the Planning Commission, in a 2007 report, called for groundwater cooperation led by panchayat institutions. Hopefully, these new findings will inject a sense of proper panic, and get the government to formulate and implement a long-term water security plan. We need to be ahead of the curve in anticipating irrigation needs. Water insecurity in the coming decades is not a situation we can afford.









The BJP must fear that it is the new Congress. Or, more precisely, that it is the Congress of 10 years ago: victim of successive electoral defeats, unable to move beyond infighting, apparently bleeding support in its core areas. News from Rajasthan about the embattled Vasundhara Raje Scindia will only help that impression gain ground. Scindia, who lost the Rajasthan elections last year as incumbent chief minister, was nevertheless retained as head of the BJP legislative party. Now, however, after the state BJP’s terrible performance in the Lok Sabha polls — it lost 21 of Rajasthan’s 25 seats — she’s pressured to quit. Scindia clearly doesn’t want to; and she claims she has the support of most BJP MLAs.


Scindia’s troubles are becoming almost representative of the BJP’s internal turmoil, and serve as an indicator of the problems that the party needs to manage to overcome. Why, for instance, was Scindia permitted to stay in charge after the first defeat? How have those reasons changed, given the parliamentary results? Discussion of these issues — or even a simple explanation — would aid the re-imposition of discipline. After all, Scindia could claim, why should she not forcefully claim the leadership at the state level when those seeking to control her at the central level are doing exactly the same in Delhi?


The BJP, for the first time in its existence, has to deal with a non-obvious succession. How it handles this — the openness, the transparency, the integrity with which it is carried out — will determine the party’s fate for a generation. Its chintan baithak, which is to open in Shimla next week, has much to think about. It now also has responses from the grass roots: as this newspaper has reported, the very analysis the party’s leadership is reading today shows that its cadre holds infighting responsible for its non-performance. When a lack of transparency and basic good sense appears to rule the undisciplined infighting at the top, expecting smooth operation at the state and district levels is unreasonable.







There is understandably jubilation amongst Indian boxers after the IOC announced that women too would be allowed to compete in the 2012 London Olympics. Three years ago, India women topped the medal lists with four gold, one silver and three bronze at the Boxing Championships. Opening the Summer Games to them is a welcome development not just because it gives them a chance to add to India’s haul. It, more importantly, heeds their entitlement, every sportsperson’s dream, to compete on the greatest stage afforded by modern sport.


The social history of sport is often told through the incremental access gained for ever wider groups of persons. For women, certainly, the gains have been incremental and the inclusion of women’s boxing breaks perhaps the last barrier at the Olympics. But the move also flags off an important milestone for boxing itself. Boxing, even with the comparative restraint of amateur competition, needs an equal competition. Draws are random, not based on seeds, and one of the reasons there was concern about the women’s competition was that mismatches could cause injury. Now the fray is seen to be more equal. Of course, some doctors, most noticeably in Britain, still argue that it is not advisable — but that is their assertion for both men’s and women’s boxing. And perhaps the caution is more justified for professional boxing.


In 2008 one of India’s fairytale stories was men’s boxing. Can 2012 be similar for women’s?








If the drought, which now threatens to be one of the worst in recent memory, has left you depressed, do this on this Independence Day weekend. Just drive out of Delhi and go as far as you want, up north. Go to Shimla, Chandigarh, or as far as Amritsar, but drive, don’t fly. Because an incredible — and happy — surprise awaits you. Totally lush, bounteous fields of paddy stretch endlessly into the horizon on both sides of the highway. So where is the drought? Where are the caked, cracked and dried mud-flats with withered saplings that characterise drought? And mind you, Punjab and Haryana are among the worst hit states this year, notching up a rainfall deficit of 50 to 70 per cent in most places. What’s gone wrong, or right, here, you might ask?


You speak to the governments of the two states and they tell you how severe the drought actually is, how stressed their reservoirs are, how little rain has fallen this year. But then they also tell you with surprising confidence, even smugness, that “one drought we can manage, at a pinch even two in a row”. This drought, one of the severest ever for this region, will devastate farm economics to an extent, making the farmer spend more on diesel and power, but the yields — even in the water-guzzling paddy flats — are going to be more or less protected. In fact, Manpreet Badal, Punjab’s very modern and talented finance minister, and himself a farmer of no mean size, tells me the Punjabi farmer has been quick to recover from initial setbacks as the monsoon deteriorated unexpectedly. (This year’s monsoon forecasting has been probably the worst ever in our recent history, but that is a different story.) Because of poor forecasting, which kept on promising a monsoon recovery, many farmers missed the early paddy sowing window. But they more than made up for it by quickly switching to basmati which can be planted a little later. This will in fact mean more money for them — but a smaller contribution to the national paddy reserve.


The reason Punjab and Haryana, and to an extent western Uttar Pradesh across the Yamuna from Haryana’s grain bowl, can grin and bear at least one terrible drought is the foresight of regional leaders and some Central governments that made such decisive investments in irrigation in the fifties and the sixties. That, even more than any improved seed varieties or pesticides, is what made this the green revolution zone. The division of the Indus system rivers almost to the last litre between India and Pakistan also provided an impetus to plans to trap as much surplus water as possible in so many reservoirs which also, in turn, helped constantly recharge underground aquifers with constant recharge. Of course, it helped that most of this was done in decades when the most retrograde environmental and jholawala movements in the history of mankind had not yet arrived on the scene.


The sixties also saw the rise of farmer (or Jat) politics in the region, producing a string of farmer leaders, Kairon, Badal, Charan Singh, Devi Lal, Ajit Singh and now Bhupinder Singh Hooda. While Left ideologues and sundry poverty “specialists” dismissed these as mere kulak leaders, together they ensured that governments continued to invest in irrigation and power. At least every farmer, of any size, in this region has the one thing that will save his life in a drought: a pumping set, whether running on power or diesel. The result is these endless expanses of paddy greens when most other parts of the country, with even less rain shortfall than Punjab-Haryana, have seen their crops wither away entirely. This, actually, is most of the remaining planes of north-west and eastern India, Rajasthan, Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh and much of Madhya Pradesh. Most of these, barring parts of Bihar, have had a little more rain than Punjab and Haryana. Also, quite ironically, many of these, particularly Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and some parts of Madhya Pradesh, have vast underground aquifers sitting much closer to the soil than those up north. They don’t have pumping sets, though — which, to think of it, do not cost that much — or the energy to run one.


The answer to why one region can deal with a terrible drought and another can’t lies basically in its politics — because in a democracy votes and voter awareness decide where the state invests. Another remarkable success story is of Gujarat where, again, the empowerment of Patels led to the building of a robust irrigation system. It was also because of the astuteness with which the same political class (irrespective of party affiliations) sold the idea of the Narmada dam to fellow Gujaratis that our most well-organised, publicised and globally-supported anti-dam movement failed to block it. The dam got built because the Gujaratis won’t brook any obstruction to it. Today, Gujarat is another state capable of weathering a drought year. The reason I did not use that example already is simply that it seems to have received reasonable rainfall this year. Maharashtra is a limited success story. Parts of it, particularly those under Sharad Pawar’s influence, have sorted out irrigation. But parts, like Vidarbha, struggle without the rains. Yet another state to have sorted out its politics, at least on the farm front, is Andhra Pradesh. Rajasekhar Reddy is making humongous investments in irrigation, and because some of these are in really ambitious plans they will still take some time securing the south’s agri-powerhouse fully against a drought. But he is getting there.


Today you can either fret over the poor state of politics and decades of lousy governance in Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and, to some extent, Madhya Pradesh, or use this drought as an opportunity to fix this problem. As the old line says, you should never waste a crisis. Because we have been passing through what weathermen would call a good monsoon epoch for nearly two decades we have been able to put the irrigation challenge on the back-burner. There was a touching, sweeping line in the Common Minimum Programme that simply said: all pending irrigation projects will be completed. But nobody, even in the Left, ever reminded UPA-I of that pledge. Over these “easier” monsoon decades all our governments have treated the water resources ministry as the most inconsequential. I have, for years, stumped my colleagues in our newsroom with the same question: who is India’s water resources minister? That is a trick question because that portfolio usually goes to someone only by default. Do you know who has that portfolio in this cabinet?


If this is an opportunity to restore the focus to irrigation, on the larger management of our water resources (what happened to the grand plan of linking even intra-basin rivers?), it is also a chance for Sharad Pawar to redeem himself as agriculture minister. A man most eminently suited for the job has made nothing of it so far, distracted by exaggerated ambition on the one hand, and cricket on the other, and reduced, unfortunately, to some kind of an agri-commodities minister. He has to get out on the (agricultural, not cricketing) fields now, and use this, resurgent India’s first real drought, to launch new green revolutions. A country our size, after five years of 8 per cent growth, can do better than having just two and a half green revolution states in a federation of 28.








There is something oddly conspicuous about elections during wartime. There’s the obvious difficulty, ensuring voter safety; and whether the ruling party will be able to ensure smooth governance after the conflict ends or whether the elections themselves can aid in state-building, curtailing the length of the conflict itself.


Look cursorily at the polls just a month ago and Karzai’s victory would have seemed inevitable. He enjoyed more airtime and coverage than his rivals: Dr Abdullah Abdullah, who prefers to be known as just Abdullah, a former challenger to the presidency and now a force to be reckoned with; and Ashraf Ghani, the soft-spoken World Bank type who traded in his Zegna suit for a cool fez and has Bill Clinton’s campaign manager running his campaign. But Karzai has the obvious power of incumbency and is an ethnic Pashtun who has created a consortium of crafty alliances with dubious warlords. But the question is being asked in this campaign: are these alliances detrimental to the people of Afghanistan?


Simply put, no. Obviously allowing armed warlords to conduct a thriving drug trade is problematic but Karzai has managed a unity that seemed impossible five years ago. Take the simple case of warlord Rashid Dostum. He ran in the first elections, he commands a five thousand-man army, possesses the capacity to shake up the ethnic Uzbek vote — but now he sides with Karzai. That’s clearly not enough though: Karzai needs to indicate that he is willing to curtail the warlords’ mounting excesses, or the allegation that he has ceded de facto power to a bunch of no-good thugs will gain strength.


That, couched as concern about “high levels of corruption” is the main criticism heard of Karzai. But what would his opponents do in order to prevent warlords from running amuck? Disband them? How to do that without breeding more chaos?


His main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, is a former protégé of Ahmad Shah Mahsoud, but he attacks Karzai’s warlord-friendly policy frequently. Similarly, Ashraf Ghani, the candidate who can cut into Karzai’s Pashtun votes, talks of economic development and bureaucratic change. But what would Abdullah and Ghani do? Disband the alliance? Uproot the existing political infrastructure?


Within the race to the presidency lies the greater issue of the war. The extravagant exercise in liberal intervention that the Afghan war has become means that other democracies have been dragged in, their own interests playing a role in both the war and the elections. International forces in Afghanistan have over the past year attempted to distance themselves from Karzai — he was either too soft, disconnected or just not good enough. Then the US’s new Af-Pak policy came into play. Under this policy, as in orthodox counterinsurgency theory, the host government lies at the heart of success and failure. So, suddenly, Karzai was back in favour. Why? In insurgencies one factor is of crucial importance, be it during combat or construction: momentum. Karzai may have lost his speed but he has created an alliance, which if pushed in the right direction may deliver results.


Current discourse and strategy suggest a war to secure merely the urban centres, leaving the countryside prone to attacks. If so, it will be through the warlords and their militias that the average Afghani will receive security. These militias are currently protecting the polling stations; only through reforming them much-needed police force and army will be built. Without cooperation between ethnic Afghan forces conflict resolution is impossible in a highly egalitarian society such as Afghanistan’s.


Fixing Afghanistan has always been viewed dubiously. As Lord Curzon said, “[Not] all our present and recent schemes will settle the Waziristan problem. Not until the military steamroller has passed over the country from end to end, will there be peace.” This moment in time is a unique opportunity to unite the country through universal franchise — no matter how limited — and to stop the conflict from getting further entrenched.


Abdullah and Ghani have both given the elections a new twist. Look at Karzai’s latest gestures to his competitors. He proposes that Abdullah and Ghani join his coalition, bring all the forces together. This might well not happen. But it does mean that Karzai is facing real competitive heat and will think hard about his policies. (And should a national unity government actually happen, it could usher in much-needed reform with renewed energy.)


The Pashtuns’ legendary ethnographer, Sir Olaf Caroe, once pointed out that “unlike other wars, Afghan wars become serious only when they’re over.” The outcome of these elections will determine not simply the course of the much-talked-about war but also the sort of future that its end implies.









The Right to Education Act has been passed, and the right to food security is being discussed. We demand “rights” because it ensures justiciability. But is going to court the only answer? The beneficiaries of these “rights”-based schemes are the poor, vulnerable, and politically voiceless people of our country. Is going to court an option for them? With crores of cases pending in our courts, what can we expect from the courts, especially in terms of time? When going to court is the primary option, the “right” of the beneficiary gets exercised through an intermediary like a political party or civil society organisation. There is nothing wrong with this, but this cannot be our primary aim. Even if there is a law, since we have a chronic problem with implementation, what do the poor get as redressal?


So it is a good time to examine our experience of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in terms of its effectiveness in monitoring and grievance redressal. At the outset, it is important to acknowledge that this programme, embodied in law, is much more advanced in their monitoring and grievance redressal that any other development programme today in our country. So learning from these can help in designing future “rights” better.


Consider NREGA. It has a very good online system for both monitoring and grievance redressal. All the state-wise, district-wise data is available online in different MIS (management information system) formats. The Andhra Pradesh site is much better with different types of data, analysed data and updated data. But here too, what if the data is not updated by a particular state / district authority? For example, data on Nashik is seen as all zeros in all the MIS formats online. When the district collector is asked, in writing, there is no response. In such a situation, who is responsible for checking the MIS reports, and if it is not complied with by concerned authorities, who is supposed to take action? These questions are not answered in the present mechanism.


Looking at the data on complaints on the website of NREGA, we find that there are 117 complaints filed. Out of these, 109 are filed by “citizens” and only 8 by “workers.” Citizens here are MPs, MLAs, district officials of political parties, civil society organisations, newspaper items and such. Most of the complaints are against the gram panchayat and most of them are pending at state or central level offices. There are 34 complaints where action has been taken. What do these figures mean?


For one, given that there are 216 crore ‘human days’ generated across the country, are we to assume that there were problems in only 117 instances? There must have been many more unhappy/dissatisfied workers whose voice could not reach and hence their complaint remained unregistered. Then, it is to be noted that though most of the complaints are against gram panchayats, they are pending at a much higher level of administration. This brings us to question of the efficacy of the mechanism to resolve cases at the point of conflict, or just a level or two above it. We know that the higher it goes, the longer it takes for the justice to be delivered. Next, in only one third of the cases, some action has been taken. In this section, most of the complaints are either from Jean Dreze or his team or through newspaper items. If the mechanism takes so long to address such influential actors’ grievance, then imagine what will happen if a mere tribal complains?


Most of the complaints are against the immediate government authority, which is the deliverer of the programme. And the complaint is generally directed to the immediate higher authority in the administrative ladder. In the case of monitoring formats too, complaints about non-doing are given to their bosses. And then we expect the higher authority to be non-partial and give a speedy redressal. There is an inherent problem in this mechanism. The complainant does not feel confident to go to the higher authority for obvious reasons. Second, there is the probability that the immediate boss will be partial.


Another option is a central monitoring agency. This has been mentioned in the draft National Food Security Law in the form of food commissioners. But if these commissioners are to monitor and advise, they do not have a role in resolving complaints and providing a remedy when the rights are violated. And this will leave the grievance redressal issue unattended.


With this experience, we need to be very careful in designing grievance redressal in the laws related to social benefits for the poor. Actually, once a mechanism is in place, it can be extended to other development programmes too. What are the essentials of such a monitoring and redressal mechanism?


Monitoring agencies are good as they separate the monitor from the monitored. But if they have only advisory role, it is inadequate. So a quasi-judicial agency is necessary for hearing complaints. This needs to be independent of the delivery mechanism at all levels of administration. It needs to be accessible, affordable, timely and effective. Like in the Right to Information Act, it can put the burden of proof on the public authority. Accessibilty can be ensured by making a simple complaint format available with the post offices. Having the agencies’ presence across the country, right down to the district level, is also important. Providing adequately trained human resources and necessary infrastructure is essential to make it effective.


The writer is a Nashik-based agricultural economist








Exactly two years ago, Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, in his Independence day address, had labeled Maoists as the gravest internal security threat faced by India. But it is only now, two years later, that the government is taking the threat seriously. In the recent session of Parliament, Home Minister P. Chidambaram admitted that the national security threat posed by the Maoists has been underestimated for the last few years. His ministry has also recently circulated a draft note for the union cabinet — ‘Meeting developmental & security challenges in the extremist affected areas’ — to key departments of the government.


While the armed response to the Maoist challenge has received much media attention, what has largely passed unnoticed is the attached “development” package: huge volumes of central assistance provided to the Maoist-affected states in the implicit belief that Maoism is essentially a socio-economic problem — not ordinary terrorism or insurgency — and can be defeated by improving the means of livelihood and winning the “hearts and minds” of the affected populace. There is no military solution to Maoism, so goes the conventional thinking.


Prima facie, it is an approach which is hard to fault. Maoism thrives on persecution — both real and perceived — and it is no surprise that it is rampant in some of India’s most impoverished states. Indubitably, winning internal security battles requires a multi-faceted strategy which includes establishing the rule of law, development and rehabilitation of the reformed rebels.


Unfortunately, because it treats Maoism as qualitatively different from terror groups operating in Kashmir and the North East, this approach subtly de-emphasises the security angle; arguing, in essence, that security can be ensured by promising development. No doubt, people of Maoist-affected areas have genuine grievances against the Indian state, but Maoists, just like the terrorists in Kashmir or North East, have cynically exploited them for their own larger ideological goals: establishment of an internationalist “people’s democracy” — euphemism for a one party communist state. The Maoists seek the dismemberment of the Indian state —at least its current structure — and it is naive to hope for reconciliation between them and the Indian state at this stage. It is fatal to look at Maoists as a few misguided youth fighting for the oppressed and poor; whereas in their approach towards their political opponents and the police — large numbers of whom have been mercilessly massacred — Maoists have shown themselves as ruthless and despotic outlaws. The nature of the beast does not change merely because the context is local and the idiom is communism, and not religion.


This is not a mere pedantic argument: the latent belief that Maoism is “different” has willy-nilly facilitated the establishment of a virtual “red corridor” where the authority of the state has been severely corroded. Maoists have been allowed to erect a parallel structure of governance with all its trappings: taxation, policing and dispute resolution. Without re-establishment of the state’s authority, which, in turn, rests on the removal or reduction of the competing authority of the Maoists, no developmental approach is likely to succeed. Therefore, attention has to be focused on the security which must necessarily involve a well directed and purposeful offensive against the Maoists. History teaches us that while all successful counter-insurgencies are 80 per cent political, it can only work once the 20 per cent military component has been effected first.


In states where even policemen are shying away from serving in Maoist zones, is it reasonable to believe that the local population would risk their lives by challenging Maoist authority because they have — or are promised — more electricity or cleaner water by the government? Indeed, Maoists — wary of even the slightest challenge to their authority in areas they control — are selectively targeting contractors, civil agencies and NGOs. Genuine progress in reconstruction and economic development rests on adequate security. Unless security is established first, any “hearts and minds” approach is destined to fail, fuelling even more discontent among the local population and providing further ammunition to the Maoist propaganda machinery.


Similarly, the ‘rewards for surrender’ scheme can deliver results only when the core groups of Maoists have been neutralised. With Maoists running a lucrative extortion racket in the “red corridor”, there are no incentives for even the ideologically uncommitted cadres to surrender.


Indeed, numerous examples show that insurgents never negotiate from a position of strength but only when the state has broken their back. The political solution to Maoism must follow their removal from their areas of influence and reclaiming of the authority of the state: it can neither precede it nor can it run concomitantly. Ample academic research (such as James Dobbins & Seth Jones’ The Beginner’s Guide to Nation-Building) suggest that ending war is a critical pre-condition of economic progress, and not the other way around.


So today, as the prime minister outlines the nation’s priorities atop the red fort, he must make it clear that Maoists must go. Only then will development be possible.


Sushant K. Singh is the contributing editor and Rohit Pradhan is associated with ‘Pragati — The Indian National Interest Review’








Even after news of his death, Baitullah Mehsud continues to haunt. A report in Dawn on August 10 aimed to put speculation about the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) chief to rest: “Ambiguities about the death of Baitullah Mehsud will be over after DNA tests in two to three days, Interior Secretary Kamal Shah said. Experts will match the DNA of Baitullah with that of his brother. He said the test could be conducted without exhuming the body.” Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has challenged the Taliban to “prove that the group’s leaders are still alive, in the wake of reports that Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud have been killed,” as reported by Daily Times on August 10.


Dawn quoted from US National Security Advisor General James Jones’ interview to NBC’s Meet the Press programme: “We think so (that Mehsud is dead). We put it in the 90 per cent category,” he said. The Daily Times of August 11 said: “TTP confirmed Baitullah Mehsud had been killed, and announced a 15-day mourning period, reported a private TV channel. Newly-appointed TTP spokesman Azam Tariq told the channel the TTP would observe a ceasefire during the mourning period. He said a successor to Baitullah had not been chosen yet.”


Mehsud, reportedly, has left behind a vault of riches, arms and hundreds of devoted and trained men. The News reported on August 10: “A bloody feud that followed Baitullah Mehsud’s death involving about three-dozen best-trained Taliban fighters early on Wednesday morning was actually a battle among various Taliban warlords to control Rs 2 billion of Taliban funds and ownership of arms and ammunition worth about Rs 1 billion by grabbing the ‘Emarat’ (leadership) of the TTP.”



The resolve of the government to go after Pervez Musharraf seems to be getting stronger. The News on August 11 reported: “In an unprecedented first in Pakistan’s history, a former army chief has been booked for a criminal offence that could land him in prison or at the minimum, turn his stay abroad into a permanent exile: an ironic twist of fate for a man who once boasted he would never allow Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto to end their exile on their own and return to Pakistan. The table stands turned on its head. The Islamabad police registered an FIR against him for illegal confinement of the country’s top judges after November 3, 2007.”


Daily Times added: “He could either be arrested on his return or through Interpol,” said the head of the police station where the case was lodged.”


However, another report in the same paper on August 12 quoted PMLQ leader Faisal Saleh Hayat as saying: “The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) will not charge Musharraf.... they were defending him more than any one else.” But a report in Daily Times on August 14 suggests: “Musharraf says he will return to Pakistan very soon, a private TV channel reported. The former president said he would always be with his country when needed. He said he would be ready to face any legal challenges. He said he did not intend to live abroad permanently.”











Does India’s national identity have a strong economics component? This is a good and interesting question to ask on August 15 because for more than five decades, the invocation of national identity that’s mandatory on this day has never had a reason to think about this point. India didn’t have an economic national identity because India’s economy was slow, state-dominated, sleepy and shortage prone. Much of that has changed, some of it radically, some, more slowly than one would have wished. India is now, by the latest globally politically correct nomenclature, a major economy—one of the dozen or so that are regulars at any global talkfest. So, do we now, when we think of our country, think of it as having a strong economic identity? A multicultural, multiethnic, secular country for sure, and three cheers to that, but also a non-socialist country where market rules are increasingly important, where a trillion-dollar economy doesn’t seem satisfyingly big, but really small; there are 1.1 billion Indians sharing those one trillion dollars. A national identity, in other words, that explicitly incorporates economic ambition.


There may be more cheerful embrace of this idea at the level of people than politics. All politicians at some time and some politicians all the time exhibit queasiness when asked to fly the flag of national economic ambition. There are many reasons for this. But this Independence Day, let’s take the pledge to remove what must be one proximate cause behind politicians not taking ownership of India’s capitalist transformation: the fact that the country is still officially described as a socialist republic. Added in 1976, this adjective was never true. India always, and thankfully, had some private enterprise, even if it was licensed and controlled. And within a decade of the republic acquiring this dubious tag, the first small but significant challenge to state control came from Rajiv Gandhi’s proto-liberalisation. In 1991, the socialist republic dismantled industrial policy dramatically. Soon after that the socialist republic threw capital markets open to foreign investors. Within a few years, the socialist republic started producing dollar millionaires and then billionaires, many of them first generation. So, ‘socialist’ looks incredibly archaic. But if it was only that, we could have lived with it. The thing is the ‘socialist’ in India’s official self-description probably infects politics. If you take your pledge to serve the country by a Constitution that describes your country as socialist, you would feel somewhat discomfited talking happily about the ongoing capitalism-led transformation. True, thoroughly undemocratic China calls itself a People’s Republic (People’s Republic has always been the favourite mode of self-description for communist autocracies). But we are not China. Plus, note that communist China’s leaders are rather more enthusiastic in talking about capitalism than democratic India’s are. Let a major capitalist democracy not call itself socialist anymore.







If ambition is good, Isro’s taking on Google Earth with Bhuvan, as was reported in The Indian Express, is good. And we approve of ambition. In promising 3D satellite images of India matching anything Google Earth can offer, Isro is not taking on a minor challenge. The US-based web giant has popularised free access to satellite images of the world’s surface. Whether you are trying to snag the best room for a vacation hotel or reach a refugee shelter, it’s hard to top Google Maps and Google Earth. An open-source interface means that everyone from archaeologists to geologists can effortlessly access imagery that would otherwise cost them a fortune, and also upload information for others to pursue. Google Earth has, however, raised national hackles in India and elsewhere. Most famously, the gunmen involved in the recent Mumbai terror attacks used it to familiarise themselves with their targets. British troops found insurgents in Basra printing out detailed Google Earth images of military bases in the UK. The service has also exposed Chinese military establishments along the Sino-Indian border. In each case, Google’s defence has been that: a) its imagery is derived from public sources, and b) this freely available imagery can be used for vital purposes like providing relief in natural disasters. On balance, Google is right. In taking stock of the Isro initiative, we also address two key questions: the role of governments in technological breakthroughs and the role of satellites in tackling today’s problems.


The Internet itself originated in 1960s’ US military research, but its popularisation only took place in the wake of the commercialisation of the 1990s. Similarly, the Human Genome Project initiated by the US National Institutes of Health completed the first mapping of the human genetic code at the cost of $2.7 billion in 2003, but entrepreneurial spirits have since brought the cost down to $50,000. What’s clear is that it’s independent entrepreneurs who usually deliver consumer empowerment via mass customisation. Whether governments can deliver to scale is questionable. But the role of satellites in tackling today’s concerns is certain. This week, two important satellite-based studies on India were reported. One was a domestic state of the environment report that found at least 45% of India’s land degraded. Another relied on Nasa findings to say that groundwater stocks are being lowered in Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana by about 17.7 cubic kilometres a year, as compared to the water resources ministry estimates of 13.2 cubic kilometres a year. Clearly satellites can supply more useful data to direct development in the country. Equally clearly, private initiative is necessary to best disseminate this data. Kudos to Isro on promising better maps of India, but we will be evaluating how it opens up access to these maps.









Independence Day provides an excuse for all sorts of well-meaning speculations. We are meant to look forward, after all. So here’s a story that looks forward one whole generation, 30 years to be precise. The story is culled from an interesting economic report,India 2039: An Affluent Society in One Generation, commissioned by the Asian Development Bank. The report is not a prediction of what is likely to unravel—few would hazard a guess at that distance—but rather a statement of what is possible if things are done right.


The ‘possibility frontier’—and hence a benchmark of sorts for the reality that comes forth—is audacious by any standards. The report believes India can reach the ‘affluent’ status in a single generation, i.e. by 2039, from having graduated just last year to the ranks of IMF’s lower middle income nations. Put simply, an uninterrupted annual growth rate of just 9.5% for the next three decades will do the job. Compounding can highlight the impact. It means raising India’s economy to roughly 19 times its current size and overtaking the US economy—currently 14 times larger than India. It means lifting per capita income more than 22 times from below $1,000 to close to the world average—that is currently about nine times as high as India’s. All this is within reach and, with a few assumptions about the rest of the world, ‘economic superpower’ status is alluringly close.


To put things in perspective, in the last 30 years, we have raised our per capita GDP by 230%. No mean achievement, but dwarfed by China’s explosive ten-fold growth.


The dream future, or the nearly double digit growth rate sustained for over a quarter century, is certainly possible. A few Asian countries have done it in the past and have truly catapulted themselves from poverty to affluence, and China seems to be going through this. Unfortunately, it is not a preordained destiny for India. Perhaps equally likely is the other possibility—that of a ‘middle income trap’ where many countries have stagnated after brief periods of impressive growth.


So, what is it that India needs to do to avoid losing sight of the golden path? The report points out three very important challenges: maintaining, nay, strengthening social cohesion by managing if not eliminating disparities and rural poverty; becoming a truly globally competitive economy that promotes innovation; and being a responsible global citizen as its importance rises almost nine-fold in the global economy. At the same time, the world needs to be benevolent to India—it should remain more or less peaceful and open for the entire period.


The report goes further and prescribes a sevenfold path to this nirvana of triple transformation. This is indeed quite simple and straightforward: “Tackle disparities and achieve inclusive growth; improve the quality of the environment; eliminate infrastructure bottlenecks; create a competitive edge; improve delivery of public services; create functioning cities ; renew the focus on education, technological development and innovation—keys to sustaining improvements in competitiveness; launch a revolution in energy; ensure security and competitiveness; and foster a prosperous South Asia and become a responsible global citizen.”


To its credit, the report takes a broad sociopolitical view of development—India is surrounded by five of the world’s seven declared ‘failed states’, with all the associated challenges. The individual chapters have some insights explaining the recent past. But it is not clear that the big picture is entirely consistent or the conclusions inevitable from the analysis. The introduction makes a philosophical bent obvious: “The economic successes are due primarily to India’s dynamic and competitive private sector …despite significant failures of government on many fronts.” Most of the single-generation transformations held as examples, curiously, happened in dictatorial regimes. No Indian would claim our governance or politicians lack room for improvement, but as Churchill said, we don’t know anything that works better. Over-lecturing by technocrats, who don’t have to face elections, may not help too much.


At the end of the day, it is hard to disagree with the report or the path shown. The trouble, as always, is in execution. Also there is no way of telling that these seven steps constitute an exhaustive list or, since these are all continuous and often subjective measures, what counts as fulfillment. Only last year the hallowed ‘growth commission’, headed by Nobel Laureate Michael Spence, came up basically saying, as I had mentioned in a past column, that they really don’t have a clue to growth.


A generation is a long time for change—just imagine the worldview in 1979! Que sera sera—but regardless of how it pans out, this report can always say, “I told you so.”


The author teaches finance at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad








The proposed exempt-exempt-tax (EET) model in the draft tax code will produce an equitable and inclusive long-term savings environment and improve retirement incomes. The EET model will create a level playing field between tax preferred instruments and focus both product providers and savers on investment performance as the driver of product choice.


For most countries that have adopted a similar model, the policy choice has really been between the classical expenditure tax (EET) and the pre-paid expenditure tax (TEE). While TEE is certainly an attractive option since it causes immediate revenues for the government, and which are deferred until retirement under an EET model, the pre-paid expenditure tax has a major drawback.


The front-end tax relief under an EET model is normally perceived as more “valuable” and is less vulnerable to policy risk. For example, a future government may not feel bound by its predecessor’s commitment not to tax pensions or long term savings in a TEE model.


In the EET model, everyone would have identical rights and choices and face an identical tax treatment on exit. And if there's a threshold beyond which withdrawal is taxed, it would simply motivate people to annuitise their pension corpus, and hence ensure that they don’t run the risk of outliving their retirement savings. Importantly, by simply keeping their withdrawals below the prescribed threshold tax-free limit, individuals will be able to enjoy a healthy replacement rate without being subjected to tax even when they exit.


Importantly, the draft tax code does not discriminate between employee and employer contributions and provides an identical tax preference below a prescribed limit. However, it’s not obvious yet how this will work in practice in the context of legislated pension and provident funds. For example, as things stand, salaried employees in the formal private sector would be forced into the EET house and packed into the ‘EPS and EPS’ room. Unless the EPFO’s vesting, withdrawal and investment rules are modified, the population in the EPFO room would find their door bolted from the outside. Ditto for PPF, superannuation plans and NPS. Hence, implementation of a uniform EET model across retirement savings options would require full portability across employers as well as across various eligible product options.


Easy portability would cause a dramatic improvement in retirement incomes for two reasons. First, salaried workers in private firms would no longer be forced to open new EPF and EPS accounts when they move jobs. Their EPF and EPS account would simply move with them (as they indeed should) and grow over time.


Similarly, civil servants moving to private jobs or salaried workers turning entrepreneurs would be able to “roll-over” their savings to any other permitted intermediary without any tax burden. And second, since workers would also have an option to move their savings, in part or full, to any other “permitted savings intermediary”, it would automatically motivate each permitted intermediary (approved PFs, superannuation funds, insurers and the NPS) to compete to attract the individual's savings. Importantly, in addition to the rights and choices regarding savings providers, individuals will also have the ability to choose between investment options based on their age, risk appetite, income and investment horizon.


Portability across intermediaries and investment choices will require unique individual accounts issued through a centralised administration and recordkeeping facility of the type already created by PFRDA for the NPS. While this process will need to start pretty much from scratch for individuals covered by the EPFO, PPF or superannuation funds, setting up a CRA for EET is unlikely to be a challenge for India based on our experience with the securities depositories, the tax information network (TIN) and the CRA established recently by the PFRDA for NPS. Importantly, the initiative to issue unique IDs to everyone in India through the UIDAI should further strengthen India’s capacity to implement the EET model.


The proposed EET model is the first important step towards a convergence across all long term savings options and could simultaneously help bring all retirement provisions under a single statutory regulator—the PFRDA.


In the coming months, many will undoubtedly argue against EET and defend the merits of an EEE (fully tax exempt) treatment for retirement savings—especially for the middle and lower income segments. For these workers, a phased withdrawal under an EET framework may not result in any tax upon exit.


In order to achieve this also in real terms, the finance ministry could consider an inflation indexed tax-free threshold so that such workers are able to increase their consumption over time in step with inflation.


The author is director, Invest India Economic Foundation








In early August, Novartis and Sanofi Aventis began the first human tests of their swine flu vaccines. In India, the race is between three Indian biotech companies.


The Pune-based Serum Institute of India seems best placed. It was already working on a vaccine for seasonal flu. Serum Institute’s products are exported to over 140 countries, and the company claims that one out of every two children immunised in the world has received a Serum Institute vaccine.


The other two companies are Panacea Biotech and Bharat Biotech. Delhi-based Panacea is a WHO pre-qualified supplier of a range of vaccines and has collaborations with international institutes. Its working on vaccines for anthrax, dengue, and Japanese encephalitis.


Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech launched India’s first indigenous pentavalent (five-in-one) ‘Comvac-5’ vaccine in March this year. What’s unique about the vaccine is that it is the only Hepatitis B vaccine in the world to be manufactured without the use of cesium chloride, a heavy metal needed to precipitate proteins. As a heavy metal, cesium chloride is a known cancer causing agent and the fact that Bharat Biotech found another safer way to purify its hepatitis-B antigen makes Comvac-5 even more special.


There’s a fourth company, Ahmedabad-based Cadila Pharma, which is collaborating with US-based Novavax, using Novavax’s ‘virus-like particles’ technology. This technology cuts short manufacturing time.


The buzz is that one company has already managed to grow the cell line, and is now engaged in scaling up production, a tricky operation, given the myriad variables in biologics manufacture. Today, we have to depend on imported vaccines to vaccinate health workers from swine flu. We pay handsomely to procure this vaccine. Countries that produce the vaccine use it domestically first.


Given this, it is crucial that an Indian pharma company develops a vaccine. May the best company win. And whoever wins, Indians are winners.








The new direct tax code is a bold attempt at consolidating the entire corpus of law relating to direct taxes — income tax, dividend distribution tax, fringe benefit tax, and wealth tax. Now open for public discussion, the code will be incorporated in a bill the government hopes to introduce in the winter session of Parliament. It represents a strategic shift in the government’s fiscal agenda relating to direct taxes. Its three main objectives are: to minimise t he number of tax exemptions even while maintaining moderate rates; remove ambiguities; and curb evasion. The Finance Minister hopes that the code — expected to become law by 2011 — will provide stability to the tax regime as it is based on widely accepted principles of taxation and best international practices. The proposal to reduce the tax liabilities of individuals and corporates has attracted a great deal of attention but more important is the principle that low tax rates combined with simpler tax laws and minimal exemptions will benefit both the tax payer and the exchequer. In that sense, the code’s proposal for lower marginal rates across all income slabs — for instance, total income between Rs.1.60 lakh and Rs.10 lakh will be taxed at 10 per cent — ought to be evaluated along with other rationalisation measures proposed.


The move to streamline the tax treatment on savings by applying the EET method (exempt savings, exempt interest on savings, and tax withdrawals) removes the existing anomalies, besides taxing expenditure. However, with the penetration of social security schemes being at low levels, the case for exempting retirement benefits from tax still remains strong. The trebling of the deductible savings to Rs.3 lakh is long overdue. The changes proposed in the taxation of capital gains and wealth tax ought to be welcomed although in the first instance they appear to cause hardships to some categories of assessees. The distinction between short-term and long-term capital gains is to be eliminated, and this might affect punters in the exchanges. On the other side, the abolition of the turnover tax on share transactions will increase trading volumes in the exchanges. Corporate tax rates are proposed to be brought down to 25 per cent. The move to introduce a minimum alternate tax on assets requires clarification as even loss-making companies might be dragged into it. One major area of concern is the extraordinary powers proposed to be given to the tax authorities who can, in extreme situations, bypass even tax treaties. In its entirety, the tax code is a major step forward and ought to be welcomed.







After six long years of tough bargaining, India and the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have clinched a Free Trade Agreement that will take effect on January 1, 2010. There has been a great deal of give and take and compromises in the format of the agreement, but negotiations on services and investments are still on. Only when they too come under the FTA umbrella can India derive full benefits. Any such agreement invariably comes under the scanner of domestic special interest groups, and sure enough, the FTA with ASEAN has met with some stiff resistance from industrial and agricultural constituencies in India as also in some of the South East Asian countries. As a result, the number of items under the ‘sensitive’ list remains large, with the deadline for scrapping them extending to 2019. India-ASEAN trade climbed to $40 billion last year, and it should grow significantly in the coming year. The balance of trade remains in ASEAN’s favour and it can be corrected only when the present agreement, which now covers goods, is enlarged to include services and investments also. The pact should have been inked at least two years ago, but the reservations on both sides and the general election in India delayed it.


In India, much of the opposition comes from Kerala, which had also resisted the FTA with Sri Lanka. Its concerns centre on the plantation sector, notably coconuts, coffee, pepper and rubber. These have been retained in the sensitive list for now. As a result, Indonesia and Malaysia succeeded in binding the tariff on crude palm oil at 37.5 per cent and the one on refined palm oil at 45 per cent. The other area of concern for Indian industry relates to auto components, but 52 of them figure in the sensitive list. At some stage, domestic producers will have to face up to international competition under the World Trade Organisation agreements. Free trade with ASEAN would be of great benefit to the economy as a whole, particularly consumers. Regional trade blocs such as this should be seen as building blocks for global free trade. The India-ASEAN trade bloc becomes the fourth largest in the world and should be welcomed in the setting of New Delhi’s ‘Look East’ policy, ushered in about 15 years ago. Coming close on the heels of a pact with South Korea, this advances that policy further. As the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) Secretary-General Amit Mitra says, India should work to secure 8 to 10 per cent of ASEAN’s $1 trillion import. After all, Indian goods and services too will have access to that market at 5 per cent duty initially and zero duty before long.









Sure, August is proving an unusual month. But what an extraordinary one July was! We celebrated the delivery of the cheapest car in the world and the costliest tur dal in our history within the same 31 days. And it took some work to get there. The price of tur dal was around Rs. 34 a kilogram just after the 2004 elections, Rs. 54 before the 2009 polls, Rs. 62 just after and, now at over Rs. 90, bids for three-figure status.


The euphoria of July also saw Montek Singh Ahluwalia declare that the “worst is behind us.” (Though it must be conceded that he said that even in June and, possibly, earlier.) That’s good. I only wish he had told us when the worst was upon us. It would have been nice to know. Otherwise, it gets hard to appreciate improvement.


As a matter of fact, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar suggest that the worst could be ahead of us. And they don’t mean the swine flu. Both appear to have written off much of the kharif crop. They advise us to buckle up for a further rise in food prices due to the drought they now say affects 177 districts. That they’ve thrown in the towel on the kharif crop is evident in their calling for a more efficient planning of the rabi. Yet, the government had two months during which it could have opted for compensatory production of foodgrain in regions getting relatively better rainfall. But there was no effort at monsoon management.


Even today, there are very useful things that could be done to counter the worst ahead. A positive step taken by the Rural Development Ministry now allows small but vital assets like farm ponds to be created on the lands of farmers through the NREGS. A pond on every farm should be the objective of every government. (Incidentally, this would help hugely with the rabi season. It would also ease the hostility of quite a few farmers towards the NREGS.) A massive expansion of the NREGS will also help cushion the lakhs of labourers struggling to find work and devastated by rising food costs. But it would call for throwing out the entirely destructive 100-days-per-household limit on work under the scheme. With the Prime Minister calling for anti-drought measures on “a war footing,” this should be the time to do it.


The price-rise-due-to-drought warning is a fraud. Of course, a drought and major crop failure will push up prices further. But prices were steadily rising for five years since the 2004 elections, long before a drought. Take the years between 2004 and 2008 when you had some good monsoons. And more than one year in which we claimed “record production” of foodgrain. The price of rice went up 46 per cent, of wheat by over 62 per cent, atta 55 per cent, salt 42 per cent and more. By March 2008, the average increase in the prices of such items was already well over 40 per cent. Then, they rose again till a little before the 2009 polls. And have risen dramatically in the past three months.


The Agriculture Minister appears to have figured out that the stunning rise in the price of pulses may have little to do with drought. “There is no reason,” he finds, “for prices to rise in this fashion merely on a supply-demand gap.” He then goes on to find a valid reason: “blackmarketing or hoarding.” But remains silent on forward trading in agricultural commodities. Many senior Ministers have long maintained that “there is no evidence” that speculation related to forward trading has had any impact on food prices. (The ban on trading in wheat futures was lifted even before the results of the 2009 polls were announced in May. And existing bans on other items have been challenged in interpretation.)


The price rise since 2004 could be the highest for any period in the country barring perhaps the pre-Emergency period. For the media, of course, July was far more interesting for the political price in Parliament over the gas war between the Ambani brothers. When these two barons brawl, governments can fall. Also, how could atta be more interesting than airline tickets (the prices of which fell dramatically over several years)? Food prices might have gone up but airline travel costs went down and those are the prices that mattered.


So the price of aviation turbine fuel became a far more to-be-covered thing as private airlines threatened a strike demanding public money bailouts. At the time of writing, it appears the government will try and make things cheaper for them. These airline owners include some associated with the IPL, which got crores of rupees worth of tax write-offs last year. Maharashtra waived entertainment tax on the IPL. And with so many games held in Mumbai that proved a bonanza for the barons paid for by the public.


There’s always money for the Big Guys. Take a look at the budget and the “Revenues foregone under the central tax system.” The estimate of revenues foregone from corporate revenues in 2008-09 is Rs. 68,914 crore. ( By contrast, the NREGS covering tens of millions of impoverished human beings gets Rs. 39,100 crore in the 2009-10 budget.


Remember the great loan waiver of 2008, that historic write-off of the loans of indebted farmers? Recall the editorials whining about ‘fiscal imprudence?’ That was a one-time, one-off waiver covering countless millions of farmers and was claimed to touch Rs. 70,000 crore. But over Rs. 130,000 crore (in direct taxes) has been doled out in concessions in just two budgets to a tiny gaggle of merchants hogging at the public trough. Without a whimper of protest in the media. Imagine what budget giveaways to corporates since 1991 would total. We’d be talking trillions of rupees.


Imagine if we were able to calculate what the corporate mob has gained in terms of revenue foregone in indirect taxes. Those would be much higher and would mostly swell the corporate kitty for the simple reason that producers rarely pass on these gains to consumers. Let’s take only what the budget tells us (Annexure 12, Table 12, p.58). Income foregone in 2007-08 due to direct tax concessions was Rs. 62,199 crore. That foregone on excise duty was Rs. 87,468 crore. And on customs duty Rs. 1,53,593 crore. That adds up to Rs. 3,03,260 crore. Even if we drop export credit from this, it comes to well over Rs. 200,000 crore. For 2008-09, that figure would be over Rs. 300,000 crore. That is a very conservative estimate. It does not include all manner of subsidies and rate cuts and other freebies to the corporate sector. But it’s big enough.


Simply put, the corporate world has grabbed concessions in just two years that total more than seven times the ‘fiscally imprudent’ farm loan waiver. In fact, it means that on average we have been feeding the corporate world close to Rs. 700 crore every day in those two years. Imagine calculating what this figure would be, in total, since 1991. (Er.., what’s the word for the bracket above ‘trillion?’) Ask for an expansion of the NREGS, seek universal access to the PDS, plead for more spending on public health and education — and there’s no money. Yet, there’s enough to give away nearly Rs. 30 crore an hour to the corporate world in concessions.


If Indian corporates saw their net profits rise in April-June this year, despite gloom and doom around them, there’s a reason. All that feeding frenzy at the public trough. The same quarter saw 1.7 lakh organised sector jobs lost in the very modest estimate of the Labour Ministry. That’s not counting the 15 lakh jobs said to have been lost in just the export sector between September and April by the then Commerce Secretary.


And now comes the drought. A convenient villain to hang all our man-made distress on — and sure to oblige by adding greatly to that distress. A huge fall in farm incomes is in the offing. If the government wants to act on a war footing, it could start with a serious expansion of the NREGS (about the only lifejacket people in districts like Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh have at this point, for instance).


It could launch, among many other things, the pond-in-every-farm programme. It could restructure farm loan schedules. It could start getting the idea of monsoon management into its thinking. It could curb forward trading-linked speculation that was driving one of our worst price rises in history long before the drought was on the horizon. And it could declare universal access to the PDS. That cost could probably be easily covered by, say, cancelling the dessert from the menu of the unending corporate free lunch in this country.










Worries continue to gather across India as 11 States now confirm that they are experiencing drought or drought-like conditions. Rainfall deficits in these States range from 30 per cent to a possibly disastrous 76 per cent, and the Prime Minister has been forced to announce that he will “do everything possible” to reduce the inflation of food prices.


It would be wrong, however, to view this situation as being a temporary crisis caused by one poor monsoon. The current situation in India is merely one nation’s experience with a rapidly worsening global problem. Reached at his office in London, Alex Evans of New York University’s Centre for International Cooperation said that the “long term trend is one of rising global food prices,” with what he said could be described as increasingly frequent “crazy swings.” The current price spike is because of a poor monsoon, but higher prices seem likely to become near-permanent.


Even before the news of this year’s poor monsoon, prices remained 13 per cent above where they were two years ago, and worldwide the number of malnourished people had risen since 2007 from 850 million to over a billion. This is because in 2008, after remaining reasonably stable for years, food prices increased by up to 50 per cent over 12 months. This caused riots in over 60 countries and helped push over 175 million people into poverty.


Prices have declined from their peak, but Dr. Suresh Babu, Senior Research Fellow at the office of the International Food Policy Research Institute in New Delhi, said: “The global food economy is still facing a crisis situation threatening the livelihoods of millions of people in developing countries.” Worse, currently high prices are actually being depressed by the recession in the West. Economic recovery in America and Europe will possibly see those prices rising further.


The 2008 crisis was influenced by many factors, but the proximate cause was a rise in the cost of oil. Besides being used to run tractors and to transport food products to the market, oil is used in the production of the fertilizers needed for modern farming. This means that sudden changes in the price of oil can drastically affect input prices, and explains why food prices have fallen this year as the recession pulled down oil prices. Since this increase in price accrues to oil producers, it did not make farmers any better off.


High oil prices have an additional effect on food prices. When oil prices rise above a certain level, it becomes economical for farmers in the United States to use corn to create ethanol, which can be used as a substitute for petrol in cars. U.S. farmers burned 34 per cent of their 2008 corn harvest, helping to raise prices in a bumper year. Ethanol production collapsed this year, but will take off again once higher oil prices make it economical. Faster economic growth in the North, when it returns, will directly harm the livelihoods of millions in the world’s poorer regions by pushing the price of corn beyond the reach of the urban poor in the South.


Changing diets are also putting pressure on food prices. More grain is needed each year, not only because there are more people but because people are becoming richer. India’s consumption of grain and rice has actually fallen (per person) as economic development has increased, as people eat more vegetables and fruits – both of which take more energy and land to produce. Rising consumption of meat in China and elsewhere is pushing up crop prices as it takes 5 tonnes of grain to produce one tonne of pork.

These forces were aggravated by commodity speculation on Wall Street, says Jennifer Clapp, Professor of Environment at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) at Canada’s University of Waterloo. The ‘securitisation’ of agricultural commodities sent prices up as investors “poured money” into wheat futures. Such speculation has increased four-fold since 2002, and Dr. Clapp worries that, “Without some sort of regulation on agricultural commodity speculation we are likely to see volatile food prices again in the future… whether and when food price volatility happens again depends in large part on the state of the global economy.”


None of these three factors is going away. High prices do not constitute a failure of the global agricultural system; they are the system. The fact that prices are no longer breaking global records does not mean the situation has stabilised at an acceptable level. With a billion people being hungry seemingly the new normal, another sudden spike could be much worse than the last one. The market remains vulnerable to shocks as global grain stockpiles are at a 30-year low and almost all export production comes from half a dozen suppliers. A situation that looks grim today will be significantly more difficult as the century goes on, as projections estimate that the planet will need 50 per cent more food in 2030. This is during a century in which global warming may drastically reduce crop yields in some regions.


Through a combination of steps including stepping up grain stocks and imposing export restrictions, the Centre has the resources to stabilise the situation this year. Yearly reactive measures, however, will not prevent the situation from getting steadily worse. The solution to this global crisis will not be simple, and if it could fit in one newspaper article it would have been solved long ago. We need innovation on the scale of a second Green Revolution. Governments must cooperate and drastically rethink the current agricultural system. What is critical is that the world does not miss the forest for the trees. If we let ourselves concentrate on transitory price spikes rather than the long-term forces that cause them, we run the risk of sleep-walking into perpetual hunger for an ever-greater number of people.


(John Ashbourne is a student at the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto.)









A series of secret ceasefire deals have been agreed with Taliban commanders to ensure that voting can go ahead in Afghanistan’s volatile south during next week’s presidential elections.


Under the deals, brokered by Ahmed Wali Karzai — the controversial brother and campaign manager of the President, Hamid Karzai — individual Taliban commanders will agree to pull back on election day and allow the Afghan army and police to secure the polling centres.


A NATO spokesman confirmed that a number of deals between the Afghan government and insurgents were in the pipeline, saying: “We support any initiative that enhances security and enables the people of Afghanistan to vote.”


The U.S. embassy has given its blessing to the plan, which was discussed last week at a joint meeting of the country’s national security chiefs.


Many of the key negotiations with local Taliban commanders in the south are being handled by Mr. Wali Karzai, who is also the powerful head of Kandahar’s provincial council. He is running his brother’s re-election campaign in the southern Pashtun belt.


The Guardian was told by Mr. Wali Karzai that truces in some of the country’s most violent provinces, including Helmand and Kandahar, would be announced in the next few days with individual commanders. The deal would allow for more polling stations to open: officials had said that as many as 700 of the country’s 7,000 voting centres would stay closed


Mr. Wali Karzai said that commanders were split on whether or not to follow the orders of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, who wanted the election disrupted. “It will all depend on the group and who they are connected with. Some Taliban leaders will look the other way, but others will say no, stop them, this is helping the Jew and the Christian in this war.”


The prospect of the south being unable to vote has worried the Afghan President, who needs the votes of his fellow Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, to ensure victory without having to go to a second-round run-off. It also alarmed Western powers anxious that the strife-torn region might be further destabilised if the election were won by a candidate who did not enjoy support in the Pashtun belt.


Mr. Wali Karzai said many local Taliban commanders shared those fears despite the stance of Omar. “I just had a meeting with a very, very, influential Taliban commander,” he said. “I told him, look, the election will happen despite these four provinces participating or not. Whether we take part or not, the election will happen because Afghanistan is 32 provinces — they are not going to wait for what Kandahar is gong to do.”


Asked whether the Taliban were concerned at the prospect of low-voter turnout in the south letting a non-Pashtun win the election, he said: “Absolutely, they are saying this, they understand this. How can it be that in the ‘war on terror’ the frontline is the Pashtun? How can the Pasthtun become an opposition in this war? What will happen if there is a Pashtun civilian casualty? Right now we have a President who will take the matter up.”


Mr. Wali Karzai is a controversial figure. The older half-brother of the President, he enjoys huge power in Kandahar and is alleged to be involved in drug trafficking, a claim he vociferously denies. On Thursday, he rebutted a report in the German news magazine, Stern, which said British forces had seized tonnes of opium on his land last month. He claimed this was a political attack aimed at hurting the President before the elections.


But speaking at his home in Kandahar on Thursday, he exuded confidence about the prospects for his brother’s re-election, saying rivals, including the former Foreign Minister, Abdullah Abdullah, did not have extensive support.


He said: “We have absolutely the complete support of 90 per cent or 95 per cent in the south. How to bring people to the polling stations will be our major concern next week. My challenge in organising this thing is security, it’s not Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani.”


Taliban ceasefires allowing voters to turn out in the Pashtun heartland will be a big boost to the re-election plans. The official line from Taliban spokesmen based in Pakistan is that Afghans should not participate in the election. There have also been threats to disrupt election day by blocking roads leading to the polling centre and intimidating voters.


Reportedly, Taliban commanders have threatened to kill anyone they find with a finger marked with indelible ink — a stain meant to prevent people from voting more than once.


However, a Western expert in Kandahar, with extensive knowledge of the security situation in the south, said that Taliban threats to disrupt the election had been half-hearted. “I don’t see a well articulated mass of oppositions to the electoral process — we have seen incidents in recent weeks, but it is not systematic.”


Mr. Wali Karzai warned, however, that some groups would be implacable, including that of Mullah Dadullah, a senior Taliban commander killed in 2007. “I will only really know which groups have kept their promise after the election,” he said.


Many analysts believe one of the reasons the elections in 2004 went relatively smoothly was because of international pressure on Pakistan to rein in militants operating in Afghanistan with links to the Pakistani intelligence service.


“I hope that happens again — last time it was like someone just pressed a button to stop these people coming in from over the border,” said Mr. Wali Karzai.


He also revealed that a number of tribal militias would be mobilised in the south to help guarantee security at election centres — a move that has been denounced by democracy activists who fear it will make electoral fraud easier.


However, it is thought that armed men controlled by local militia leaders could intimidate many people into voting for their preferred candidate, or even commit outright election fraud such as ballot box stuffing.


Jandad Spinghar, the chief executive of the Free and Fair Elections Foundation in Afghanistan, said militias were a threat to the election. “They can interfere with the process because they have local power. Their presence will also stop our observers from reporting on the election freely and fairly.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009








Researchers have found a genetic mutation in two people who need far less sleep than average, a discovery that might open the door to understanding human sleep patterns and lead to treatments for insomnia and other sleep disorders.


The finding, published in the Friday issue of the journal Science, marks the first time scientists have identified a genetic mutation that relates to sleep duration in any animal or human.


Although the mutation has been identified in only two people, the power of the research stems from the fact that the shortened sleep effect was replicated in mouse and fruit-fly studies. As a result, the research now gives scientists a clearer sense of where to look for genetic traits linked to sleep patterns.


“I think it’s really a landmark study,” said Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, a leading sleep researcher and chief of sleep medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “It opens up a window to the understanding of the genetic basis of individual differences in sleep duration. Now you have a piece of the puzzle and you can begin to try to trace back as opposed to having little information as to where to start.”


The gene mutation was found by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, who were conducting DNA screening on several hundred blood samples from people who had taken part in sleep studies.


The scientists were searching the samples for variations in several genes thought to be related to the sleep cycle. In what amounts to finding a needle in a haystack, they spotted two DNA samples with abnormal copies of a gene called DEC2, which is known to affect circadian rhythms. They then worked back to find out who provided the samples and found a mother and daughter who were naturally short sleepers. The women routinely function on about six hours of sleep a night; the average person needs eight hours to eight and a half hours of sleep. When scientists bred mice with the same mutation, the animals slept less and recovered quicker from periods of sleep deprivation compared with regular mice.


“We know sleep is necessary for life, but we know so little about sleep,” says Ying-Hui Fu, study co-author and professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco.


What distinguishes the two women in the study and other naturally short sleepers is that they go to bed at a normal time and wake up early without an alarm. The two women, one in her 70s and the other in her 40s, go to bed around 10 or 10.30 at night and wake up alert and energised around four or 4.30 the morning, said Professor Fu.


While many people might sleep only six or fewer hours a night, most were not naturally short sleepers. For instance, they use stimulants and alarm clocks to maintain a shortened sleep schedule. The real benefit of the research will come if and when the mutation is identified in other individuals. That could lead to new discoveries about sleep timing and duration, and possibly new treatments for sleep disorders. — © 2009 The New York Times News Service








It is reassuring to reflect this Independence Day that India is getting to be comfortable with the idea of itself, although tasks remain that should have been accomplished long ago for our people to enjoy a greater measure of human dignity. For all our corrupt ways, systemic flaws, governance drawbacks, persisting regional imbalances, and the class and caste disparities that just won’t go away, two major events in the nation’s life since Independence Day last year serve to remind us that the faith of the ordinary people in our democratic way has, if anything, deepened. These episodes also go to show that the ordinary Indian is now perhaps more discriminating in an overtly political sense than was earlier the case. A day after the attack on Mumbai by Islamist terrorists from Pakistan last November, there was no sense of uncertainty or gloom and doom. People unflinchingly stood in voting queues in different parts of the country, in poor and prosperous areas, as if to underline that peaceful polling was going to be their riposte to the Mumbai outrage. The other significant occurrence was the general election in April-May this year. Cutting through election-time noise, much of which emphasised localism, and overcoming the febrile political atmosphere generated by pretenders with high aspirations, the people returned the government of the day to power. This has not happened in three decades. The response in both instances underscores the premium ordinary folk place on stability when uncertainty is in the air. This speaks of their sense of balance and discretion. The prevailing international recession was emblematic of the uncertainty and the intensity of the Mumbai terrorist assault, if people weren’t uncommonly mature, could potentially be communal dynamite in a complex society such as ours. The broad nature of the response in both instances suggests a commonness in thinking in different regions of the country and a relatively stout disregard of ordinarily deep-going factors such as identity. It is this that gives hope that democracy has struck roots, whatever the view of radicals and sceptics.


Undoubtedly this owes a good deal to the confidence produced in the country in recent years by the rising growth curve that has benefited more people in so short a time than has been the case in any period before. Perhaps more notably, the confidence has lifted the younger generation who make up the largest segment of our population. And yet, this Independence Day we must remind ourselves of the urgency of the tasks that remain. It is hard to shake off the bitter reality, brought to our attention by the Arjun Sengupta Committee on the Informal Sector, that three-fourths of India susbsists on Rs 20 a day. A concerted attack on rural and urban poverty, promised repeatedly by governments, and a sea change in the investment scenario in health and education, cannot be resisted for long if we are to make a go of it in the new century. In a globalised world, the case for this is all the more compelling. Societies unable to take advantage of globalisation to solve their problems risk going under. Our external relations undoubtedly need to be made conducive to address this concern. India’s strengths are many. A suitable environment needs to be made available to harness them. It is warranted that the government remain both focused and energetic.









SIXTY-TWO years on memories of the magic day remain etched on my mind in the minutest detail. I was 17 then and had waited for this dawn since I had become aware of the world around me. Normally, I would have been at my college, about 150 miles from Delhi, but circumstances had forced us - my elder brother, three of our college mates and I - to cool our heels only 10 miles from the nation's capital at a railway station called Nangloi, now swallowed by Delhi's monstrous sprawl, where my father was station master.


Savage massacres and what was to turn into the largest mass migration in peacetime in history had begun well before the ecstasy of freedom and the agony of Partition. Most of north India lay completely paralysed. Schools and colleges were shut. There was no public transport, rail or road.


So on the morning of August 14, 1947, we decided to walk to Delhi so that we could be in good time for the midnight ceremonies. But just as we were about to start, after a copious breakfast, I was distracted by what I thought was the rank stupidity of the girl next door. Pestered by her younger brother who wanted to know what the enormous excitement was about, she explained to him: "Aaj Pandit Nehru ki taajposhi hai (Today is the day of Pandit Nehru's coronation)". I was furious. Here was our great country starting a new life as an independent and democratic nation, and this fool was still mired in the monarchical era. I was on my way to confront her when my brother wisely restrained me. Much, much later I began to wonder whether the girl I had dismissed as foolish and semi-literate was more percipient than anyone of us.


Walking to Delhi was joyous, not tiring. Indeed, we felt that we were gliding a few inches above the ground. On the outskirts of the capital we found a tonga that took us to Lodi Colony where lived a brother-in-law of one of my three friends. The householder and his wife welcomed us graciously. After some rest and early dinner we told our hosts not to wait for us at night and embarked on our march towards Parliament House. We soon discovered that tens of thousands of others had the same idea. The size of the crowd on the broad boulevards around the circular building grew unimaginably large, but it remained reasonably disciplined. There was no pushing and jostling. A few minutes before the midnight hour, a hush fell on the mammoth mass. On the public address system Nehru's memorable "tryst with destiny" speech could be heard clearly. When he reached the words, "A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out of the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation long suppressed finds utterance", we all wept with joy.


Afterwards, wending our way to Connaught Place, in search of a snack, was an arduous task because of the dispersing crowds. The place was awake and agog with noise. Here we became witnesses to a lively debate that encapsulated the conflicting emotions of the moment. "Eh azaadi nahin barbadi ay (this is not Independence but ruination)", said some irate refugees from what was now Pakistan and where an equal number of Indian Muslims were seeking shelter. Several others fell on them like a ton of bricks. "We have suffered as much as you have - deaths of dear ones, loss of property - but tonight is not the night to grieve about that. It is time to celebrate. The country is free at last". Yet another refugee interjected: "We may have lost everything we possessed. But let me assure you that for every building we have left behind, we will erect two". The next intervention was totally different. "No, no, we mustn't despair. Gandhiji will take us back to our homes, as he has promised". This hope was to die five-and-a-half months later with the Mahatma's assassination.

It is, perhaps, needless to add that on that momentous day Gandhi was not in Delhi or anywhere near it. He was at distant Noakhali in what is now Bangladesh, which had been the scene of exceptionally vicious communal carnage. His duly designated political heir, the iconic Jawaharlal, was the dominant figure in Delhi and the crowds loved him.


Years later I learnt from two colleagues, one an Englishman and the other a Calcutta-based Indian, that on August 15 at Noakhali they had sought the Mahatma's views on winning Independence. The Briton had asked the question. Gandhi turned to the Indian: "Sahib se kah do kay mera dil sookh gaya hai. Mein kuch nahin kah sakta. (Please tell the sahib that my heart has dried up. I cannot say anything.)".


On the morning of August 15, we somehow managed to get back to Lodi Colony. We heard on the radio at lunch time that at 8.30 in the morning, India's Chief Justice Harilal J. Kania had sworn Lord Mountbatten in as the first Governor-General of Independent India. His Lordship almost failed to get back to Government House, as the Viceroy's House, now called Rashtrapati Bhavan, was then renamed. The crowd around Parliament House was so dense that a 400-strong bodyguard team could not force a way for Lord Mountbatten's carriage. Nehru then climbed to the carriage's roof and waved back the formidable throng. The people obeyed him as they would not have obeyed anyone else.


In Lodi Colony, as in every other part of the city, the rest of the day was an unending party. Long before the appointed hour of six in the evening, we were at India Gate where the festivities were to climax by the hoisting of the National Flag by Nehru. Military bands were in attendance. There was to be a parade. As the flag broke at the top of the mast, a beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky, an auspicious sign. However, the parade had to be cancelled. For, so enormous were the crowds that nobody could move. Eventually, Nehru and Lord Mountbatten managed to leave amidst shouts of "Pandit Nehru ki Jai", "Pandit Mountbatten ki Jai". India had, indeed, stepped out of the old into the new.








First things first — at the risk of enraging feminists — India at 62 is like a woman dealing with delayed menopause, trying strenuously to come to terms with drastic and dramatic changes she is not yet ready for. Think about it — sudden hot flashes (Pakistan, China, Balochistan), cold sweats, migraines, mood swings (flirt with America? Court Russia? Ignore France?), hysteria (the controversial 1-2-3 treaty), panic attacks (26\11), tantrums and more. That’s the downside. But as we all know, menopause doesn’t last forever. It is but a phase… and when it’s over, it’s over. And more often than not, women at this stage of their lives come into their own like never before. So it will be with India.


Forget those fuddy duddy doomsday prophets making dire predictions about India’s grim future, forget the worst case scenarios. Focus instead on what lies ahead… it isn’t just swine flu, drought, starvation, corruption and more corruption. With some luck, it could be a "Mera Bharat Mahaan" ending to this potential blockbuster. And with those words, I’m putting an end to the mandatory "Independence Day" lecturebaazi.


In fact, there should be a media law that bans those boring Special Issues nobody actually reads or remembers. Why has it become mandatory to indulge in this meaningless annual exercise? Report cards are for school children. India is a senior citizen. Let’s begin by showing a little respect. For me, that includes a ban on bumper editions carrying erudite, unreadable, analytical pieces on "Where India Has Gone Wrong" written by pompous gas bags whose views are completely passe.


If at all anybody wants to indulge in this foolish exercise, let us convert it into a time pass TV show that gives us vicarious cheap thrills. Hire a hottie as an anchor (Rajeev Khandelwal has the looks and experience) and let the cameras roll. India getting candid will be so much more fun than all this intellectualised baloney from self-styled experts.


In any case, far too much is being made of the current TV series that invites middle class India to perform the full monty in public. Sach ka Saamna is getting countless knickers in a knot because, I guess, this form of public catharsis is considered a bit too much for India to handle hmmmm. But is it really too much? Going by the astonishingly high ratings, I’d say not! I believe all that moral outrage is just hot air. We love to mind other people’s business. We are known for our obnoxious inquisitiveness. Come on, it’s only in India that complete strangers seated next to you in a train can turn around and ask the most intrusive, the most intimate questions without blinking… and actually expect a prompt response. Which person has not had to deal with, "Are you married? No?? Why not? Family problem or what?" Which young couple has been spared the embarrassment of responding to an inquisition that goes, "No children? How come? Medical problem? I know a very good doctor…" That’s us. Nosey and tactless at all times. Which is why, I’m a little surprised by the howls of protest that have greeted the latest reality show which quizzes TV actresses on their sexual fantasies and asks about teenage abortions and school expulsions without mincing words. This is baby stuff compared to what we deal with in real life.


Similarly, Rakhi Sawant’s Swayamwar eats into our own fears and foibles, as we watch the bold and brazen lead character reveal the nasty minutae of her miserable past, frequently bursting into a flood of tears before adjusting her cleavage and carrying on. If we are riveted by this spectacle, it only establishes our insatiable desire to play peek-a-boo — a perfectly understandable, acceptable emotion. Especially in a country where the notion of personal privacy and space remains very sketchy. We believe we have the absolute right to know every little dirty detail about our neighbour’s "lafdas". We also believe we have the same right to offer instant advice. This is as "desi" as pure ghee — and we can’t get enough of either. When the canny TV channel hosting the show persuades Rakhi Sawant’s estranged mother to come on the set and give her version of their crazy relationship, we are urged to take sides and offer unsolicited advice to both. We fall for it!! This stuff is irresistible. We can’t get enough. We want more and more and more. Call that creative manipulation, if you wish. But are we putting up any resistance? Naaah.


The Rakhi Sawant phenomenon (I use the phrase with care and after deliberation) has to be seen in the context of a rapidly changing India. I have been an early champion of this spunky woman, and hang on to her every bon mot. Her quotes are priceless and original — that’s what makes her stand apart in an over-crowded field of wannabes. When Rakhi declares earnestly (tears threatening to run down those heavily painted cheeks and ruin her mascara) that she has done several things for money during her difficult teenage years, including dance at stag shows, but one thing she has NEVER done for cash is "that", nobody needs to be briefed on what "that" stands for. By making such a statement, Rakhi lets the cruel, mocking world know that even she — bad assed girl that she is — lives by her own moral code. Hurrah. Paisey ke liye kuch bhi karegi?? Na baba… aur sab, par "who" nahi… kabhi nahi. Rakhi has defined her limits. Can the rest of us define ours? Can India’s politicians make a similar claim in public and spell out where they’d draw the line? Now that would be a scorcher of a "saamna".


Rakhi had once famously boasted about her silicon implants declaring naughtily, "Joh dikhta hai who bikta hai".


Perhaps, without realising it herself, she had accurately placed her finger on the pulse of the nation and provided a catchy phrase for the prevailing philosophy dominating Jawan India’s dreams. Do those out-of-touch-with-mass-reality men and women prowling the corridors of power in Delhi really get the message?? They’d better. For if they don’t, all this big talk about harnessing the youth of the nation and pushing India forward will remain empty rhetoric.


The surprising truth is that there are far more Rakhi Sawants in our midst than we’d like to acknowledge. She makes us uncomfortable. She makes us blush — hey bhagwan — such gaucherie. But she is here, and she isn’t going anywhere. If India has to face the truth about itself, why not start with Rakhi Sawant and her brand of bindaas, in your face, outrageous and outré conduct that shies away from nothing, reveals everything, but is still clever enough to figure out the inbuilt commercial value of saying "no" to "that"!!


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Aug 15 : I am an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna. He is my guiding force. He is an embodiment of love.


Once in school, I took part in a fancy dress competition where I played Meera. With this, my devotion for Lord Krishna increased. On Sundays, I sing bhajans at the ISkCON temple.


Whenever, I record a song, I feel His presence. There have been times when my singing voice was not good enough, but the moment I went for recording the song, it was perfect. I consider it as a miracle.


I chant the Hari Krishna Mantra everyday. I also pay visit to our Kula Deivam, Madurai Kali. The temple is situated in a village near Madurai.

Religion is a way of life. It guides us to take the right path with the right values.

(As told to Shankaran Malini)


Srimathumitha is a playback singer, who shot to fame with her songs for movies like Slumdog Millionaire and Liquid Dance










IT does not require a “chintan baithak” for the BJP to know that it performed badly in the last elections due to the unsustainability of what it stood for — Hindutva — as also by the failure of its leaders to know the mind of the people, plus factionalism in the party. Yet, no lessons seem to have been learnt and a bitter war has broken out in the party among the top leaders on the eve of the brainstorming session to be held in Shimla from August 19 to 21.


It is not only middle-rung aspirants who have drawn up the battle lines; The party’s enduring prime minister-in-waiting and leader of the parliamentary party, Mr L K Advani, himself has dug in his heels and refuses to take the RSS suggestion to call it a day. Taking a cue from him, his staunch supporter Vasundhra Raje too has cocked a snook at party president Rajnath Singh who had wanted her to step down as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly. She has dared him for a show of strength — a development not common in a party which used to brag about party discipline.


Not quite unexpectedly, she has derived support from Mr Advani. More than displaying a break with the RSS, the defiance shows the onset of acute organisational confusion in the party which at one stage took pride in the loyals of its rank and file. Obviously, no leader is either willing to acknowledge his or her role in the election debacle or keen to step down when it is time to do so.


Since accountability — the word often invoked by Mr Advani for others — is at a premium, the succession war that has broken out in the party can become more messy in the days to come. Unfortunately for the BJP, there is no leader whose word carries weight any longer with all factions and who can play the role of a neutral peacemaker. Mr Rajnath Singh was never tall enough and Mr Advani’s influence has diminished considerably, thanks to his keenness to stick to his position. It is not certain whether the Shimla conclave will throw up a solution to the party’s problems.







WITH pandemic H1N1 virus showing little signs of abating, the number of infections rising and the death toll climbing even further, the government has rightly expressed serious concern and initiated major changes in its testing and treatment strategy. The government’s admission that the virus has established itself firmly in the community and could lead to cluster formation in Pune, the epicentre of swine flu, clearly doesn’t bode well.


However, the panic stricken populace can take comfort in the results of first large-scale studies in the US and the Europe that have once more reinforced that the virus is not as deadly as it was feared. According to the study, the fatality rate (till July 30) in the US is 0.6 per cent and in Europe it is 0.1 per cent. Thus, there is no cause for taking an alarmist view which can spread panic.


Be it the scramble for masks or tests, public response to swine flu outbreak bordering on anxiety has, as some health experts say, gone out of hand. Closure of schools, colleges and cinema halls has not helped matters. That is not to say that the level of preparedness should go down. Health authorities, especially at the state and district level found wanting must gear up to tackle the challenge. Delay in testing results as has happened in Gurgaon can prove to be fatal.


The refusal of some private hospitals to admit swine flu cases can only be condemned and made punishable. Private medicare has to step in to share the burden and must look beyond commercial interests. The public must remain calm and collected and remember that a well-informed approach and not panic is the best weapon against the H1N1 menace. Cured patients, as few are already doing, can spread the word — swine flu does not necessarily spell death.








THE free trade agreement signed with ASEAN in Bangkok on Thursday is as important for the products covered as for what it has left out. The FTA would have been more favourable to India had software and information technology been included in the deal. India’s IT industry is very powerful in the developing world and badly needs to look for markets other than the US and Europe. Investment and services, two other sectors in which Indian companies’ strengths are known, have also been left untouched by the agreement. Commerce Minister Anand Sharma hopes negotiations on these areas will resume soon.


The FTA, which has been concluded after six years of hard negotiations and will be effective from January 1, 2010, aims to lower import duties to facilitate the entry of goods made in ASEAN countries. There was stiff resistance from political leaders of states like Kerala and Karnataka. Defence Minister A.K. Antony was among those who lobbied for protection of the farm sector. Because of the pressure, India has got 489 agricultural products excluded from the FTA.


The agreement will reduce the tariffs to zero on the products covered between 2013 and 2016. Tariffs on highly sensitive products like palm oil and coffee will be reduced in about 10 years. ASEAN is India’s fourth largest trading partner after the US, the European Union and China. Almost 80 per cent of the bilateral trade is in the fields of electronics, chemicals, textiles and machinery.


Leftists say India’s market is being opened up at a wrong time. Admittedly, India is not an equal partner in trade with this 10-country Southeast Asian bloc. However, India also has a long-term non-economic, Look-East policy agenda to engage with this grouping. Besides, if cheap Chinese goods have not been able to hurt India’s industry, ASEAN products won’t either. Moreover, India has been a vocal critic of US protectionist policies; now it cannot itself turn protectionist.












ALIA BIBI and her two-year-old daughter were shot in her own house by people who had come looking for her father, a local Trinamool Congress leader in Nandigram. The child died but the young woman survived to tell the tale. That was in 2007. Two years later, in Khejuri, Prasanta Mondal was not as lucky as her. A CPM leader who had dared to desert the party and join Trinamool Congress, Mondal was shot dead and his wife was allegedly raped by way of revenge.


It has not been a one-sided affair though and scores of CPM leaders in the districts of Midnapore, Hooghly, Bardhaman, Nadia, 24 Parganas and Murshidabad have been on the run since the Left Front was virtually routed in the Lok Sabha elections this year. Many of them have been killed and had their houses vandalised and demolished. CPM offices have been a particular target of mob fury in the districts and many of them have been reduced to rubbles.


As many as 73 lives are said to have been lost in political clashes in the three months since May and it appears to be an unending spiral of violence and revenge.


The ruling dispensation is clearly unable to put down the fire. But the CPM missed the irony when a Left Front delegation called on the Governor, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, to complain of the spiraling violence unleashed allegedly by the opposition.


The failure of the state and the police was implicit in the delegation’s plea for help. But when the Governor made the same point in a statement and publicly hoped that the state would take urgent steps to curb the growth of illegal arms and bring the perpetrators to book, he was accused of being partial and not being able to differentiate between the ‘killers’ and the ‘killed’.


The Governor’s statement, in which he had voiced his anguish at the ‘veritable tandava of political violence’ in the state and expressed his belief that violence was not abating in the state because those ‘who can act, are not doing so’, was certainly a public indictment of the Left Front government, which stands accused of being partisan even while upholding law and order.


One of the main reasons for the state government’s inability to control violence is the complete loss of control of political parties over their workers. And not just the CPM cadres, even the Congress and Mamata Banerjee’s flocks are no longer regimented or disciplined groups acting on orders from the leadership. It is, finally, a free-for-all war for turf where everybody fights for himself.


The sharp political polarisation in Bengal, where it has always been “ We vs. They”, has also contributed to the desperation. At the village level in West Bengal, the colour of politics can determine decisions related to jobs and livelihood besides social status, which possibly explains why retaining one’s political clout is often seen as a matter of life and death or at least as a matter of honour.


While all parties are responsible for this situation, the communists naturally are to be blamed more because they have been in power for a record, uninterrupted 32 long years in the state.


Corruption, infighting and a gradual bankruptcy of leadership had already weakened the Left bastions. The continuing arrogance of CPM leaders had already alienated a section of the population. And now with Maoists sniping at the state and anti-CPM forces on the rampage, the CPM is finding its citadels crumbling and its workers are beginning to desert the ship.


Violence has always been a part of politics in the state though. Soon after 1947 the communists, steeped in Stalinist thought, channelled the anger and frustration of refugees, who had poured in from across the border, and taught them to treat the government, more specifically the Congress, as the enemy.


Violent uprisings and defiance of the law were more a norm as refugees were encouraged to forcibly occupy land and take on the police. The peasant uprising led by the even more radical Left in Naxalbari, a small village in north Bengal, took violence to even higher levels as well-off farmers, the police and intellectuals were singled out as ‘class enemies’ and killed.


The Congress and its student-wing, Chhatra Parishad, retaliated in kind. They took help from the police to kill suspected Naxalites and sympathisers on the campus in Kolkata. Nobody was spared. Teachers, students, vice-chancellors were all singled out in a grotesque tableau of revenge.


Ironically, some of the Congress leaders who took a leading role in ‘annihilation of Naxalites’ in the late sixties are today prominent leaders of the Trinamool Congress.


Militant trade-unionism was a logical extension. Industrial workers were mobilised to assault and kill managers and owners of industrial units for perceived ‘wrongs’ committed by them or for higher wages.


The police was used by both the Congress and later the Left Front government to suppress political uprisings. Barely two years after they took over the reins of the state in 1977, the Left Front government sent the police to evict refugees from Marichjhampi, an island on Sundarbans, to evict refugees.


Water and food supply to the island was cut off and when refugees tried to escape, they were allegedly mowed down. Little is known till today about what happened there and how many people died.


In 1982 as many as 18 Anand Margis were burnt to death near Kolkata’s posh Ballygunge area. While officially it was stated that a mob lynched the saffron-robed Anand Margis, suspecting them to be child-lifters, the Anand Marg has consistently claimed that CPM workers were behind the massacre.


Political violence, pointed out Gopal Gandhi, is purposeless and does no credit to the perpetrators. “ In a mature democracy, neither vengeance nor vendetta can be allowed,” he asserted.


His appears to be the only sane, rational and objective voice in Bengal today, rising above the shrill, emotional and unreasonable outbursts. It will be a pity, therefore, if he is not persuaded to stay on after his term ends in December this year. Bengal does need Gopal Gandhi.








WITH more than 40 candidates to choose from, the presidential elections in Afghanistan on 20 August will give Afghans the chance to shape — possibly transform — their political environment. Neither the path to this change, nor the change itself, are likely to mark an end to the ongoing strife in Afghanistan. The elections are fraught with risks.


The Taliban have already threatened to disrupt the polls and could make both voting stations and citizens their targets, thereby hampering the electoral process and whatever little chance there is of a political transition to a more stable Afghanistan.


As if to make the point, they launched a bomb attack on Herat on 3 August in which a dozen people were killed, and fired nine rockets into Kabul on 4 August. Such rocket attacks have not been mounted since the overthrow of Afghanistan’s fundamentalist Taliban regime in 2001, and highlight both the increased strength of extremists and their capacity to change their tactics to put pressure on international forces in the run-up to the vote.


Nato does not want the elections to look like a 'foreign show', so Afghan troops will protect voters, with some 10,000 international soldiers standing by at some distance, and they will come closer only if asked for help.


But an underfunded and undermanned Nato campaign means that some voting booths — less than 50 miles away from Kabul — will be unprotected by Nato or Afghan troops. For the rest, much will hinge on whether the surge in American troops — 20,000 ordered by President Obama — and the recent push in the southern province of Helmand by American soldiers will suffice to provide safe voting on election day.


The Taliban cannot win out as long as Nato remains in Afghanistan, but their truculent attitude can keep Nato mired in Afghanistan for some considerable time to come. What Nato can do is to make it clear that the costs of attacks on voters would be very high. That may be easier said than done.


One reason is that Pakistan continues to provide safe havens to Mullah Omar, the extremist Afghan Taliban leader, who was ejected from power by the US in 2001 and has no intention of entering into dialogue with Kabul, Washington or the UN, simply because he interprets any talk of dialogue as reflecting the desperation of a defeatist Nato.


Meanwhile, the Pakistani army's campaign against militants in Swat has not quite cleared even the urban areas of terrorists, although the government has encouraged people displaced by the military assault on the Taliban to return to their homes.


But the army has yet to move against extremists in South Waziristan, where extremists have been deeply entrenched over the last eight years and which has been the springboard for the terrorist attacks that have thwarted the success of Nato's Afghan campaign.


Meanwhile, President Karzai presides over a weak and corrupt administration and is not the favourite of the west, which has on occasion blamed misgovernance for Nato's failure to win hearts and minds and make headway against the Taliban. But the west does not have another protégé. And the easiest way for any candidate to be discredited would be for him to look like a western stooge.


Karzai’s government has also been accused by Ashraf Ghani, his former finance minister and main opponent, of corruption, but there is nothing new in these charges. No election result will automatically usher in good governance, no matter who wins, in this country which has been riven by war for three decades.


If any one candidate wins at least 51 per cent of the votes in the first round of polling his election as president will be assured. If he wins less, the very need for a second round of voting could deepen political rifts and exacerbate insecurity, giving impetus to the Taliban to step up violent attacks throughout Afghanistan with a view to testing Nato's morale.


The chances of insecurity being exacerbated by the elections are great. It is noteworthy that, even as General McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, has called for greater attention to be paid to protecting the population, he may also request the Obama administration to deploy more American troops. Again, security remains the top priority, merely to facilitate the holding of the elections.


The writer is a Professor at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution in New Delhi.








WANT a business reason to turn off the computer, leave the office and hit the gym? How about news that regular exercise could make you a better leader? A study from the Center for Creative Leadership found that executives who exercise are significantly more effective leaders than those who don't.


Using data from CEOs and other top executives collected over a span of 10 years, we compared two groups: those who were regular exercisers and those who were non-exercisers or sporadic exercisers. We cross-referenced the exercise status with "360-degree" assessment tools in which the individual executive is rated by colleagues on various leadership attributes.


We found that the exercisers rated significantly higher than their non-exercising peers on overall leadership effectiveness. They also scored higher on specific traits including: inspiring commitment, credibility, leading others, leading by example, energy, resilience and calmness.


Of course, the lives of executives are busy and stressful. Finding time for regular exercise is a challenge for most. Competing priorities, guilt over setting aside the time, long work hours, long commutes, and tiredness are common roadblocks.


For all of us, finding time to exercise takes effort, drive and creativity. You can start by setting a goal to do something active every day. You'll begin to pay attention to where your time goes and seek out slots for exercise.


You may end up with 15 minutes on most days but find you can fit in 30 to 60 minutes two or three times a week. Other strategies for maintaining regular fitness programs in spite of extremely busy schedules include:


1. Do more, more often. Find little ways to increase your activity throughout the day: walk while talking on the phone, take frequent stretch breaks, park at the far end of the lot, and take the stairs. Take advantage of an open slot in your calendar whenever it appears. Even ten minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise can boost mood and energy.


2. Keep track. Log your workouts: what you did and for how long. You'll be able to track progress, set goals and stay motivated.


3. Mix it up. Your stationary bike or treadmill may be convenient, but be sure to add variety. Physically, it is important to change your pace and intensity; mentally, you are likely to get bored if you always do the same thing. Go outdoors. Play a sport. Try a new exercise class. Go dancing.


4. Focus on exercise not size. Consistent exercise matters more than weight loss. The CCL study found that levels of body fat made no difference in how leaders were rated by their bosses, peers and direct reports. These findings don't negate the potential health detriments of excess body fat, but your first priority should be to make exercise a habit. Weight loss and other fitness goals can be addressed later with guidance from your doctor.


5. Get a trainer or exercise coach. A personal trainer or access to a trainer at your gym can be a great motivator and a time saver. The trainer can help you plan your exercise program, show you safe ways to intensify your workout, and keep you going when you want to quit or take it easy.


6. Take it on the road. Road warriors and occasional travelers can work in exercise with minimal effort. Pack a set of stretch cords for resistance training, a pair of running shoes and a swimsuit. Walk between airport terminals and gates when you have the time. Use stairs. Get smart about your hotel: Many have fitness centers, nearby gyms, or will even put a treadmill in your room.


7. Be patient. Many people start a program because of health concerns. At first, exercise is a chore. If you stick with it, the daily benefits will kick in. Executives who exercise regularly look forward to it, saying that it is a stress release, a great way to think of new ideas, to feel strong and flexible, to have stamina, and to have "time for me." — By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post










India has not progressed towards the ‘destiny’ sought by the late Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in his famous Independence Day speech of 1947. Today, as we observe India’s sixty third Independence Day, it would be salutary to remind ourselves that in many ways it has, in fact, been a regression. Despite the facade of advancement in fields such as education and technology, certain core aspects remain unchanged. Elections continue to be fought along caste lines; the clefts between diverse communities show no signs of vanishing. Dalits yet remain at the bottom of the social hierarchy, those pretending to lead them being keener to enshrine their place in history books rather than the upliftment of their people. No doubt the drum of being an economic powerhouse is being loudly beaten, primarily by politicians. Yet one failed monsoon is enough to set the alarm bells ringing, while tales of suicides by farmers continue to hit the headlines! Moreover, only a small segment of society is sharing a bulk of the economic pie and the vision of Mahatma Gandhi of an egalitarian society where the line dividing the rich from the poor will be obliterated is still a distant dream. But the most negative aspect of post-independent India’s march towards destiny has been the degeneration of moral values, particularly among politicians and bureaucrats, with even the Judiciary now showing symptoms of this decline.

The negativity is even more pronounced in regions away from the national political and economic power centres, such as Assam. Problems that had plagued the State for so many decades are yet to be resolved. Had the economic backwardness that afflicts this area been sincerely tackled just after independence the State may have been spared its inexorable march towards an unsought for ‘destiny’. On the contrary, post-independence neglect has muddied the political waters and introduced insurgency and violence into what had once been an idyllic landscape, thereby throwing a spanner into the wheels of development. Yet those at the helm of power have displayed a strange reluctance to initiate dialogue with insurgent groups and try to bring an end to the violence. A Rip Van Winkle Centre has only recently woken up to the hazards continued infiltration from foreign nations can create, a caution that the indigenous people of Assam have been vociferously issuing for so many decades. The Assam Accord has so far been just a waste of paper and ink, with the more important clauses remaining unimplemented twenty four years after it was signed. Perennial problems like floods, erosion, deforestation et al remain unaddressed. Public morality has taken a beating, with Assam earning the dubious distinction of being the most corrupt State in the nation. All this makes Independence Day more of an occasion for a ritualistic, conventional observance rather than a ‘celebration’.       






he indigenous people of Assam have the right to feel deprived as the Central and State Governments have not been able to implement the Assam Accord to solve the problem of infiltration of foreigners even after 24 years of signing of the Accord. The people of Assam agitated for six long years and more than 855 persons lost their lives to force the Government to sign the Accord for detection and deportation of foreigners but unfortunately, no serious step has been taken by successive Governments at Delhi and Dispur to deal with the problem of infiltration. It is the duty of the Government to secure its borders to prevent invasion by foreigners but the people of Assam had to launch a movement to put pressure on the Government to prevent infiltration of foreigners, which threatened to reduce the indigenous people into minorities in their own land. In fact, the problem has become far more serious now than the Assam agitation days as infiltration of foreigners and elements of the groups inimical to India by taking advantage of the porous international border has posed a grave threat to the security of the nation and one hopes that the Government of India will understand the gravity of the situation and take serious measures to at least seal the international border with Bangladesh in the interest of security of the nation. Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, who represents Assam in the Rajya Sabha, chaired a meeting to review the implementation of the Accord in 2005, but the decisions taken in the meeting remained on paper only and Dr Singh also did not bother to monitor whether the decisions taken in his presence were implemented on the ground.

The process of detection and deportation of foreigners remains a farce with only around 10 per cent of the persons declared as foreigners by the tribunals constituted under the provisions of the Foreigners’ Act can be physically deported to Bangladesh and what is more interesting is that a large number of suspected foreigners are reported missing because of the failure of the Government to devise a mechanism to keep track of them. The process of construction of fencing along the international border also remains very slow and several deadlines announced by the Government for the completion of the job expired and no one knows as to when the fencing will be completed. It is a fact that the fencing alone cannot completely seal the border, but it will definitely improve border management to a great extent. The Government has also failed to provide constitutional protection to the indigenous people of the State under the provisions of clause 6 of the Assam Accord and till date, even the definition of “Assamese people” has not been finalised. In clause 7 of the Accord, the Centre promised to take effective steps for economic development of Assam and the recommendations of different committees including that of the Shukla Commission in this regard are gathering dust. The Prime Minister promised in 2005 to consider floods in Assam as a national problem but so far, no effective step has been taken by the Government of India to find a permanent solution of the problem.








India became free of British domination due to the selfless endeavour of thousands of our countrymen. Who can forget the contributions of our great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Lokmanya Tilak, Sardar Patel, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, to name only a few? It was due to their sacrifices and untiring efforts that India became free from the shackles of slavery. Our imperial masters left India, but had taught Indians to dislike our glorious traditions. The situation now is that we are neither Indian nor non-Indian and we have no ground to stand upon firmly.

Those forgotten great leaders paid a heavy price for freedom, they suffered untold misery and many of them died. And we are enjoying the fruits of their sacrifices, without being the least grateful to those noble heroes. Actually Independence does not mean a thing to us; all we do is to celebrate the event and that too in the presence of a handful of dignitaries. Common people seem to be indifferent to the significance of Independence Day celebrations. For them it is just a paid holiday to watch television or to go for a picnic or to visit the zoo with the children. May be they are disillusioned and are fed up with these hollow festivities and are no longer interested in listening to the rehearsed speeches by our dignitaries. The people have learnt to take their speeches with a tablespoon of salt. They are disgusted with the deteriorating situation of the state and are fed up with the lies thrown around like confetti. And who can blame them for their disenchantment? After all, they have borne enough and their nerves are frayed. The old people often can be heard grumbling that the situation was far better during the British period. There was no violence, no conflicts and no hypocrisy. People could move about freely, even at night, without fear. There was no fear of bomb blasts in cinema halls, market places or buses. There was no fear of hijacking of planes, of abduction or unnecessary killing of innocent people. Perhaps these grievances are due to the frustrations of the people at large, who were hoping for a ‘Ramrajya’ after attaining freedom as the Mahatma had envisaged.

It is very true that India has developed in an astounding fashion during the few decades after independence. None can deny the tremendous progress the country has made in all spheres. In the British period we had only a small number of educated people but now due to all these literacy schemes, people have become aware of the value and importance of education and more and more children have started going to schools. Now we have a large number of educated people but we are also exporting many, who are giving wonderful performances in foreign lands. We have thousands of talented people, who could have done a lot for the country. They are reluctant to come back and believe that they would not get all that facility here, which they are enjoying in their adopted country. Perhaps they are right.

India does not lack resources. The country has vast areas of fertile land, wonderful industries and sufficient raw materials. With the resources in hand, we have ample opportunity to grow into a great nation. We have produced enough food, we have sufficient natural wealth, enough technical, scientific and defence knowledge. India is one of the most important developing countries of the world, posing a challenge even to super powers. But all this progress has not been able to give us happiness. Most of the people are poor and are suffering a lot. Our experts have not been able to discover means to combat natural calamities. For instance, our state is prey to devastating floods each year. This year is no exception. Thousands of people become homeless, some men die, animals are washed away, communication with other states get disrupted. And we remain helpless spectators when nature strikes lethal blows. It is no use our leaders talking big and showing spurious concern for the plight of the victims. They have apparently spent crores on these flood control projects, yet floods are as devastating as ever.

This is not the only problem. The country is reeking under corruption. Money seems to speak louder than words. You cannot expect the smallest service, departments, unless you are prepared to grease their oily palms with your hard earned money. You may not be able to get an honest person, even if you scour the entire length and breadth of any of these offices. Decades back, in the pre-independence era there was not such large-scale corruption. But now you cannot find a single corruption-free individual amongst multitude.

Terrorism has spread like an infectious disease throughout the country and Assam possibly is the worst sufferer. Life has become so uncertain that you are not sure if you would be back home in the evening from your office.

Our social life is in a mess. We do not meet our friends or relatives as television is ruling our homes. Adults and little children sit glued to the TV set without bothering if some of those programmes are worth watching or if the children would be adversely affected by them. The tragedy is that due to the impact of television, we have lost our friends and our social life has become woefully restricted. Science has made progress by leaps and bounds and we are having wonderful gadgets, which were unknown to our forefathers. We are enjoying all the comfort, that science has offered. But we are not really happy. We have forgotten the meaning of freedom and that is the greatest tragedy of our life.

Some people are grumbling, specially those from the pre-independence era, that liberty has become a liability for us. What has it brought? Merely moral decadence, price rise and violence. But that is not the fault of liberty. The blame actually lies with us. We have not realised that to preserve liberty, we have to make some unified efforts. Freedom without responsibility is disastrous. It is like giving a loaded gun to an ignorant child. We are proud to assert that ours is a large democracy, yet we are not responsible enough to preserve it. Out democracy has turned into mobocracy and it is money that rules the election process.

There does not seem to be any perceptible law or order in our country. People are suffering a lot and the criminals are waltzing around with any number of anti-social activities. The talks about a corruption free society have become a damp squib. Lack of responsibility has made us float like a rudderless ship, and we have no idea about how to protect and preserve our hard-earned freedom. Infiltration from across the border has posed a tremendous hurdle in our path of progress. Some people are trading freedom for personal and political gains.

Renunciation was the ideal of ancient India and it is also the need of modern India. Helping others around us will bring us peace and happiness. It will also promote community well being. Hatred and ill-will can be conquered only by selfless activity. We have to forget petty things. Even a few good people can do a lot. India had a glorious past, but unfortunately the glory was lost in the mire of selfishness, corruption and cruelty. Corruption and modernism have ruined our society. Hence spiritual discipline has become a necessity. The young people have to be trained in selflessness, spirit of service and truthfulness, that they can lead the country in the right path in future.


(The writer is former Head of Philosophy, Cotton College.)








When we try to draw a timeline of India’s freedom struggle, we will realise that the real ‘tryst with destiny’ began with the coming of the Europeans to our country, to be more precise in 1498 with the arrival of Vaso-da-gama in India. The other landmark events involving the Europeans were the formation of the East India Company in 1600, the Anglo-French War in India in 1748 and the momentous Battle of Plassey fought in the fields of Murshidabad in Bengal in the year 1757.

With the East India Company well entrenched in the seat of power, the British defeated the courageous Tipu Sultan in 1799, followed by the Anglo-Maratha War of 1805 which too went in favour of the foreign rulers. 1846 saw the defeat of the Sikhs in the Anglo-Sikh War. The First Indian War of Independence, popularly also known as the Sepoy Mutiny took place in1857. Even though the British rulers crushed the movement with a stern hand, this War filled the patriotic Indians with a fervour that saw the independence of the country becoming a reality in less than a hundred years from then.

This phase of India’s freedom struggle commenced with the formation of the Indian National Congress by Allen Octavian Hume in 1885 and further strengthened by the establishment of the Home Rule League founded by Annie Besant in 1915. 1919 was another landmark year in the history of India’s freedom movement as it saw as many as three significant events – Khilafat Movement, Jalianwala Bagh Massacre, and the Rowlat Act – all happening within that year. 1921 was marked by the rise of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and his Civil Disobedience Movement which, however, he suspended in 1922 after the Chauri-Chura violence that occurred in Uttar Pradesh.

Pioneer freedom fighter Lala Laipat Rai was Murdered in 1928 and the subsequent phase of the freedom struggle was dotted with a number of revolutionary activities. In 1930, the Dandi Salt March was called by Gandhi. The Simon Commission was formed and the First Round Table Conference between the British rulers and Indian leaders also took place in the same year. The Second Round Table Conference was held in 1931, followed by signing of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. Provincial autonomy began with the Congress winning power in many States in 1937 but a political deadlock arose with the breaking out of the Second World War in the same year.

The Quit India Movement was launched in 1942 and simultaneously there was also the rise of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose and his Azad Hind Fauz. Netaji’s INA men were tried by the British in 1946 which took the patriotic zeal of the Indians to dizzy heights. But unfortunately, Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League remained adamant about their demand for Pakistan to be carved out of the Indian state. Ultimately India was partitioned in 1947, h left the country and freedom came at midnight of August 15 that year.

This is a bird’s eye view of India’s freedom movement. Independence Day gives us an opportunity to understand the significance of the day, to pay our tribute to those martyrs who gave their lives so that we could live in a free country and most important of all, to take pride in a country which is on the move to emerge as a super power among nations.

Independence Day in the ’50s meant a lot to us. The capital of undivided Assam was Shillong, and we were as young as free India was. Our parents would bathe us early in the morning, and by 6 o’clock we would be all dressed up with our new set of clothes, stitched specially for the Independence Day. Then we would rush to our school for the flag hoisting there. On our way back home, we would buy the newspapers containing the Independence Day supplement. But there was no time to sit at home because our parents were waiting to take us to the official Independence Day function.

By 8 o’clock we would be seated on the folding wooden chairs, those chairs which are not seen any more, plastic moulded chairs having taken their place. While the Republic Day lectures were the prerogatives of the Governor, it was the Chief Minister who took the salute and addressed the Independence Day gathering.

The first Chief Minister whom I can recollect delivering a lecture at the Garrison Ground was Bishnuram Medhi. Over the years, there were many others. Some like Bimala Prasad Chaliha and Mahendra Mohan Choudhury are still fresh in memory. Once, while Mahendra Mohan Choudhury was taking the salute after the tricolour was unfurled, one very funny incident happened. For the first time, the Indian Air Force was trying to add colour to the event by showering flower petals from a helicopter hovering overhead the Chief Minister. But the calculations went wrong. The helicopter came too near to the pedestal, the wind emerging out from the movement of the rotors uprooted part of the pandal, the flag pole was torn asunder and the audience ran helter-skelter to save their lives!

After the flag hoisting and march past were over, we would run for the nearest movie hall. Independence Day was a day when they would screen a free show for the children, and it used to be great fun to be able to push our way into the hall fighting the surging stream of young and sturdy movie enthusiasts. There was no time to come home for lunch, because there would be a sports programme either at the Garrison Ground again or in the field located nearby between the Pine Mount Girls’ School and the Lady Hydari Park.

In the last thirty years or so, a lot of changes have taken place. Today we have a TV in almost every house. We start the morning by watching the Prime Minister address the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort. But the rest of day’s programme does not excite us any more. At one point I thought I was probably getting old and hence I was losing interest in the Independence Day. I was not in a position to appreciate the excitement and significance of the day like I used to before. But then I looked at the children in my house and in the neighbourhood and found them too uninterested in anything to do with the occasion. My parents would take me to the Independence Day functions when I was small. When I was able to take care of myself, I never accompanied my parents to the flag hoisting, but my parents always made sure that I went.

Today, as a parent, contrarily I would wish that it was better if my children did not go to the ground for the Independence Day programme. In the first place, because some outfits have called for a boycott, and who knows if there would be an explosion or some other trouble at the venue? Secondly, the kind of security check one has to pass through to enter the ground itself puts one off.

The spontaneity and mass participation of the past are gone. Today’s Independence Day celebrations have turned out to be anything but a ritual. What a pity! Let’s take a look at how the Americans celebrate the Fourth of July, whole heartedly and going out of the way to show their patriotism for their motherland. Let’s take a lesson from that.








Some might call it bending over backwards to suit the whims and fancies of a bulging bureaucracy, but an age-old British tradition that exalted the monarch has finally bowed to the all-powerful Health and Safety Executive. Giving its nod to this public body charged with regulating and enforcing safety in the workplace, the British monarchy has agreed to dispense with the arcane practice of ‘commoners’ walking backwards out of the presence of the Queen. For centuries, all those who had an audience with the monarch would not be allowed to show their backs while exiting and hence had to walk out of the room while facing inwards. Now fearing lawsuits by former or current employees for any injuries sustained in executing this tricky manoeuvre, Buckingham Palace has decreed it no longer necessary. Three brave souls, however, have decided to continue with this tradition, defying the possibility of sprained ankles or pulled ligaments: the marshal of the diplomatic corps and the Queen’s equerry, and the lone political braveheart, the Lord Chancellor. The latter is clearly the most in danger of tripping up in public — surely a politician’s worst nightmare — as he will continue to walk backwards down the steps from the throne after presenting the Queen with the text of her speech.

While the diktat is hardly likely to affect but an infinitesimal number of Britons, the wider point of questioning the convention of ‘traditional’ bowing to authority is well taken. For those who practice it in other countries, the occupational hazards of proximity to power acts as a counter-balance. For those who receive it, there is no denying that the divine or dynastic right to command deference is contrary to the tenets of democracy. With a bona fide monarchy acknowledging this fact, it is perhaps also time that countries where unsanctioned — but nonetheless institutionalised — bowing and scraping to authority is all-pervasive, take a closer look at servile practices that need to be jettisoned.







While the reported killing of Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud — coming on the heels of the relatively successful military operation in Swat — means the TTP has suffered serious setbacks, the larger battle against extremism and terrorism in Pakistan will be a long haul yet. With the US helping out in south Waziristan, Islamabad hopes to maintain a siege of the area, while leveraging the power struggle between tribal sections and factions within the TTP. The problem, however, is that such an approach, determined by seeking a pacifying, military solution to the problem will merely be the continuation of a historical mistake. For long, Islamabad has been content to perpetuate the colonial policy of envisaging the tribal regions as ungovernable, as if the state has no stake in bringing the people of the area into the ambit of governance and development. And an unholy mix of state apathy, tribal customs, the war in Afghanistan and the security establishment’s use of the tribes as ‘strategic assets’, has led to the region becoming a headache for the entire region. The absence of the Pakistani state from these areas is, of course, part of the larger problem of the withdrawal of the state elsewhere as well. To the extent that extremist groups, including the Taliban, almost began to be seen as some form of agency amongst the masses of have-nots in Pakistan. The larger solution to extremism can only lay in a genuinely inclusive democracy and a broader developmental agenda.


That said, there is also a need to press ahead militarily as of now. But then again, it remains a moot point whether the security establishment in Pakistan will stop trying to disentangle the various terror groups based on their ‘acceptability’ and ‘strategic potential’. State patronage of groups on that count, apart from the breeding ground of deep socio-economic inequities, is also part of the problem. A silver lining seems to be the shift in public opinion — from being almost in denial about the Taliban threat to some support for the military operation. But Pakistan’s war with its demons will last a long while yet.







The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and 10 Asean nations is a historic one for many reasons. First, the agreement marks India’s first real entry into a formidable regional trade bloc. India is perhaps one leading emerging economy which has not got the strategic benefit of being part of a big trade bloc. In the absence of a larger multilateral agreement fructifying at the WTO, it was important India got access to some big regional market. The 10 Asean economies, which import $936 billion worth of goods and services annually, provide India a great market access opportunity. Of course, a growing Indian economy presents a great opportunity for Asean exports too. Indeed, all FTAs are based on a healthy quid pro quo. At a larger level, this also marks the culmination of India’s efforts over the past decade to frame a durable Look East policy. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had been particularly emphatic about the role an India-Asean FTA could play in forging such a policy which had strong cultural, economic and political components. Indeed, many Asean economies had been keen that a rising economic power like India joined the Asean grouping and played a key role, besides China, in creating a larger Asian economic union, in the long run. The India-Asean FTA must be seen in this perspective.

Other big powers in the region such as China and Japan had already inked FTAs in goods and services with the Asean nations. India came very close to signing the Asean deal last year but negotiations had got stuck on just a few products like coffee, tea, pepper and palm oil, the main items Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia were interested in exporting to India. The farming community, especially in Kerala, was not in favour of free imports of these items. However, the FTA provides adequate safeguards for these items on which duties will be brought down only gradually to 35-50% by 2019-20. This seems reasonable as India is already a net importer of edible oil and has zero duty at present on palm oil. Overall, 80% of all goods will become duty-free by 2016. The minimum 35% value addition norm will prevent trade diversion. India needs to quickly seal an agreement in services too, where it has a big advantage. All in all, this is a great opportunity for India.








There can be no denial of the fact that extreme poverty and underdevelopment lie at the root of the growing Naxal menace engulfing a large part of rural India. The massive welfare allocations announced in the last budget for rural development may help to gradually curb the growth of discontentment, provided the funds reach the intended beneficiaries. On the other hand, in the urban front also the situation looks quite grim. The mass-scale hiring by the outsourcing industry in the IT and ITeS sectors has come to a grinding halt. Many young graduates who genuinely believed that a graduate level qualification (often topped up by a MBA degree), gadget-savvy attitude and manageable proficiency in English were sure-shot guarantees to high-paid jobs and flashy lifestyles are now feeling crestfallen. Disconnect between the perception and the reality is too agonising to live with. If the Naxal uprising is seen in conjunction with the growing frustration among the urban youth, the slide towards overall escalation of violence and anarchy is a sure possibility.

To tackle the growing unemployment problem in an environment where high level of uncertainties puts a big question mark over employment generation capabilities of large businesses, the government has to take a fresh look at our employment generation policies both in the rural and urban areas. Implementation of various welfare schemes has to be also seen in conjunction with the employment generation policies and the entrepreneur has to play a critical role in the whole process. Take, for example, the rural low-cost housing scheme under the Indira Awas Yojana. If entrepreneurial talents are identified to implement the scheme then not only availability of good quality low-cost housing will rise, many growth-oriented housing companies with large employment potential and innovative housing solutions will also emerge.

Our employment generation policies consist of a number of self-employment schemes which can be broadly clubbed as SME policies. These policies in essence represent a patchwork of financial measures to mitigate the disadvantages of small businesses vis-à-vis their large counterparts. SME policies mainly focus on creating small businesses but, not on entrepreneurs who only can create growing businesses at a time of high uncertainty, caused by rapidly changing technological and socio-political environment. World over, it is being now increasingly felt that massive allocation for self-employment schemes and creating a good climate for small business are not enough to ensure growth-oriented entrepreneurial businesses, supposed to generate more employment and provide sustainable competitive advantage. For example, as per the Small Business Survival Index South Dakota, Wyoming, Mississippi and Alabama are consistently ranked very high as most small business friendly states in the US. But, their performance is quite poor on entrepreneurship and innovation. Realising the limitations of a narrow approach towards SME development some countries in Europe and a number of individual states in the US are now shifting their focus from SME to an entrepreneurship policy (EP).

Unlike the SME policy, EP tackles a much broader range of issues and non-financial measures and tries to change the nature of underlying forces of an economy. It aims at navigating the economy from continuity to change, stability to turbulence, specialisation to diversity and homogeneity to heterogeneity by developing appropriate entrepreneurial skills. Taking into account the changing style of firms’ function from control to motivation and scale to flexibility, the EP can catapult the economy from a managed to an entrepreneurial mode and thus increase overall economic efficiency. Objectives of the UPA government’s policies, like food guarantee or employment guarantee for all, can be met much more effectively if entrepreneurs, particularly at the grass-root level, are involved in the policy implementation process.

As entrepreneurship and innovation reinforce each other, EP automatically puts innovation high on the economic and social policy agenda. As a by product, it also drives regional development and guarantees social inclusion by offering opportunities of creating one’s own businesses regardless of location or social background.

EP also looks at entrepreneurship as a phenomenon governed by similar processes, be it in the rural areas or in the knowledge hub of a metropolis. It can effectively address the issues of welfare at the bottom of the pyramid by combining developmental schemes with entrepreneurial initiatives. In view of the experiences of several countries, following initiatives are needed to give our economy an entrepreneurial focus: a) integrate entrepreneurship into welfare and other social developmental efforts of the government both in the rural as well as urban sectors; b) deploy workforce and community development systems to support and promote entrepreneurship; c) use the education system for harnessing entrepreneurial talent at all levels; d) incubate entrepreneurial companies by providing incubation services through physical and virtual incubators and also through remote incubation options for rural areas; e) invest in diverse sources of risk capital for the nation’s entrepreneurs and growth companies through the development of a rich base of early-stage capital options; and f) focus on payback quality rather than on collateral in bank lending.

It is also necessary to evolve a mechanism to measure and monitor the progress regarding the shifting of the Indian economy to an entrepreneurial mode. The implementation of a national entrepreneurship policy cannot be left to a single ministry alone. Inter-ministerial working groups are necessary to make entrepreneurship development a priority. At local levels this must translate into cooperation and collaboration between different educational, financial and socio-cultural organisations, both from the public as well as private sectors. This is not possible without a strong political leadership at local levels who has the capability to bring together a broad spectrum of professionals and social activists. A young leadership that understands the need for an entrepreneurial economy better, is probably better suited to drive the process of entrepreneurial transformation of the nation. With so much of young blood in the government and a young prime minister-in-waiting, India probably cannot bargain for a better opportunity to launch a national entrepreneurship policy.

(The author is dean, Globsyn Business School, Ahmedabad)








It is reassuring to reflect this Independence Day that India is getting to be comfortable with the idea of itself, although tasks remain that should have been accomplished long ago for our people to enjoy a greater measure of human dignity. For all our corrupt ways, systemic flaws, governance drawbacks, persisting regional imbalances, and the class and caste disparities that just won’t go away, two major events in the nation’s life since Independence Day last year serve to remind us that the faith of the ordinary people in our democratic way has, if anything, deepened. These episodes also go to show that the ordinary Indian is now perhaps more discriminating in an overtly political sense than was earlier the case. A day after the attack on Mumbai by Islamist terrorists from Pakistan last November, there was no sense of uncertainty or gloom and doom. People unflinchingly stood in voting queues in different parts of the country, in poor and prosperous areas, as if to underline that peaceful polling was going to be their riposte to the Mumbai outrage. The other significant occurrence was the general election in April-May this year. Cutting through election-time noise, much of which emphasised localism, and overcoming the febrile political atmosphere generated by pretenders with high aspirations, the people returned the government of the day to power. This has not happened in three decades. The response in both instances underscores the premium ordinary folk place on stability when uncertainty is in the air. This speaks of their sense of balance and discretion. The prevailing international recession was emblematic of the uncertainty and the intensity of the Mumbai terrorist assault, if people weren’t uncommonly mature, could potentially be communal dynamite in a complex society such as ours. The broad nature of the response in both instances suggests a commonness in thinking in different regions of the country and a relatively stout disregard of ordinarily deep-going factors such as identity. It is this that gives hope that democracy has struck roots, whatever the view of radicals and sceptics.

Undoubtedly this owes a good deal to the confidence produced in the country in recent years by the rising growth curve that has benefited more people in so short a time than has been the case in any period before. Perhaps more notably, the confidence has lifted the younger generation who make up the largest segment of our population. And yet, this Independence Day we must remind ourselves of the urgency of the tasks that remain. It is hard to shake off the bitter reality, brought to our attention by the Arjun Sengupta Committee on the Informal Sector, that three-fourths of India subsists on Rs 20 a day. A concerted attack on rural and urban poverty, promised repeatedly by governments, and a sea change in the investment scenario in health and education, cannot be resisted for long if we are to make a go of it in the new century. In a globalised world, the case for this is all the more compelling. Societies unable to take advantage of globalisation to solve their problems risk going under. Our external relations undoubtedly need to be made conducive to address this concern. India’s strengths are many. A suitable environment needs to be made available to harness them. It is warranted that the government remain both focused and energetic.









 “‘Why was the sunset red?’

Oh that was the hue of hell!

‘Why send flowers to the dead?

They can neither see nor smell...’”

From Qs Without As by Bachchoo


On August 15, 1962, my sister Zareen, standing before the full-length mirrors of the almiras in our aunts’ bedroom, was getting dressed in an elaborate sari. My great grand-aunt, “Aalaan Masi”, who lived in our patriarchal household, was watching her carefully. Aalaan Masi had been brought from the “Parsi colony” communal housing in Mumbai, where she had lived all her life, to Pune because she was too old to cope with her arthritic limbs and had fallen into slovenly ways.


She was a curmudgeonly old stick, sharpened by a life of petty gossip and intrigue in the housing colony. She looked a bit like the ageing Bertrand Russell, with a shock of white hair sticking out from her skinny neck. She was perhaps 80 years old and would have been quite content to be bedridden had not my aunts, her nieces, forced her to walk up and down the house each day to ward off the arthritic paralysis.


“So whose wedding are we going to then?” she asked Zareen with her bony fingers twisted into a questioning gesture.


“No wedding Aalaan Masi, I am going to college”, Zareen replied.


“Ah! So what’s the fancy sari for?”


“I have to give a speech for the Independence Day celebrations”, Zareen said, adjusting her sari pallav.


“Independence Day? What’s that?” asked Aalaan Masi.


“Celebrating the day we got our freedom?”


“Freedom?” It wasn’t a sardonic but genuinely puzzled query.


“You know, the anniversary of the day the British left for ever”, Zareen said.


“What??? The British have left?? No one told me!” says Aalaan Masi.


My grandfather was passing through the room.

“Leave the donkey alone”, he said to Zareen.

For the rest of the day Aalaan Masi kept making wondering gestures and muttering to herself that she hadn’t been informed.


So it was that the affairs of the country, the trysts with destiny, the great awakening to self-rule, had passed the old lady in the heart of Bombay by.


It was characteristic of the Raj, despite the stoical and heroic exploits of their civil service, to remain remote from the population they ruled. And here was evidence that the normal round of existence was unaffected by the affairs of state, even those of historic moment.


In 62 years of our rule, that has been one of the key historical changes. The rule of the people, for the people and by the people has brought those close to the lives of the population into the legislature and into the executive branches of government. The democratic mandate accounts for the relative illiteracy, criminality, narrow self-interest, corruptibility and unmerited swagger of a great number of our legislators. They are given “tickets” by one party or the other not for ideological reasons but because of the bank of votes that they can presumably command.


The closeness of our politicians to the grassroots or even to the rice-stem roots makes them experts on the difference, for instance, between Basmati rice and coarser varieties. Unfortunately, this same closeness to the soil means that very little attention was paid to their geographical education and they are very prone to not being able to locate “needy” countries on the globe. It leads to small slips of the export order and Rs 2,500 crores worth of export rice landing up in the wrong country where it can make a fat profit. (Note to education ministry: Make geography compulsory. It is essential that future commerce ministers know that Wagadugu is not in Texas.)


And of course the geographical confusion leads to anthropological chaos. The ubiquity of turbans, beards,

flowing shirts, automatic weapons and spare motorcycle parts in a place called Balochistan may have deceived some innocent in our secret services into believing that these people were some variety of sardars worthy of support and supply. And then came the “dossier” handed over by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to our own Manmohan Singh pointing out the absence of bangles and combs amongst the self-same Baloch and requesting Dr Singh to stop Sikhs disguised as Baloch descending down from Afghanistan. Dr Singh agreed and made his agreement public. There would be no more shipments of spare motorcycle parts from Afghanistan. The Indo-Pak joint statement was clear. In return Mr Gilani (who is a “feudal” — every politician in Pakistan is a “feudal” and not close to the people, unlike our politicians like Varun Gandhi and what’s-his-name? In India, we are not feudal. We gave it up when our Maharajas and their mothers-in-law got chosen by the people as their past and perpetual rulers) agreed to ban the Taliban from everywhere, while pointing out that the word Sikh means the same thing as the word Talib.


In Gujarat, this closeness of the politicians to the people has made sure that the number of deaths from illicit alcohol is far fewer than the natural deaths that occur in the occasional religious riots. In Maharashtra, this intimate knowledge of the tastes of the people has led the patriotic party to sponsor vada stalls as a means of employing the unemployed which in turn has generated a handful of vada-stall millionaires and a few million obese people.


The leaders of the world have recognised this dynamism of Indian politics. Here is a document that has fallen into my hands. It proves the international acclaim our democracy has won.



Very much congratulations fall on you for the great victory of your son M.K. ‘Lenin-Marx-Mao-Zedong’ Azaghiri. May Allah grant you many more sons (who could be named Khomeini). The electoral tactics used in this great test of the will of the people have been carefully noted in our own great republic. I am always one to give the devil his due and so will say of the Great Satan George Bush that he must be given credit where credit is due for being the first to implement these earth-shaking ballot-rigging electoral processes. You must inform me if the Electronic Voting Machines can get us even more of our type of democracy as they tell me you are master of the Rigg Veda!

Your close neighbour when we swallow Balochistan, Mahmood Ahmedinejad”








 “I am in this race because I don’t want to see us spend the next year re-fighting the Washington battles of the 1990s. I don’t want to pit Blue America against Red America; I want to lead a United States of America”. So declared Barack Obama in November 2007, making the case that Democrats should nominate him, rather than one of his rivals, because he could free the nation from the bitter partisanship of the past.


Some of us were sceptical. A couple of months after Mr Obama gave that speech, I warned that his vision of a “different kind of politics” was a vain hope, that any Democrat who made it to the White House would face “an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organisations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false”.


So, how’s it going?


Sure enough, President Obama is now facing the same kind of opposition that President Bill Clinton had to deal with: an enraged right that denies the legitimacy of his presidency, that eagerly seizes on every wild rumour manufactured by the Right-wing media complex.


This opposition cannot be appeased. Some pundits claim that Mr Obama has polarised the country by following too liberal an agenda.


But the truth is that the attacks on the President have no relationship to anything he is actually doing or proposing.


Right now, the charge that’s gaining the most traction is the claim that healthcare reform will create “death panels” (in Sarah Palin’s words) that will shuffle the elderly and others off to an early grave. It’s a complete fabrication, of course.


The provision requiring that Medicare pay for voluntary end-of-life counselling was introduced by Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican — yes, Republican — of Georgia, who says that it’s “nuts” to claim that it has anything to do with euthanasia.


And not long ago, some of the most enthusiastic peddlers of the euthanasia smear, including Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, and Mrs Palin herself, were all for “advance directives” for medical care in the event that you are incapacitated or comatose.


That’s exactly what was being proposed — and has now, in the face of all the hysteria, been dropped from the bill.


Yet the smear continues to spread. And as the example of Mr Gingrich shows, it’s not a fringe phenomenon: Senior GOP figures, including so-called moderates, have endorsed the lie.


Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, is one of these supposed moderates.


I’m not sure where his centrist reputation comes from — he did, after all, compare critics of the Bush tax

cuts to Hitler. But in any case, his role in the healthcare debate has been flat-out despicable.


Last week, Mr Grassley claimed that his colleague Ted Kennedy’s brain tumour wouldn’t have been treated properly in other countries because they prefer to “spend money on people who can contribute more to the economy”.


This week, he told an audience that “you have every right to fear”, that we “should not have a government-run plan to decide when to pull the plug on grandma”.


Again, that’s what a supposedly centrist Republican, a member of the Gang of Six trying to devise a bipartisan health plan, sounds like.


So much, then, for Mr Obama’s dream of moving beyond divisive politics. The truth is that the factors that made politics so ugly in the Clinton years — the paranoia of a significant minority of Americans and the cynical willingness of leading Republicans to cater to that paranoia — are as strong as ever. In fact, the situation may be even worse than it was in the 1990s because the collapse of the Bush administration has left the GOP with no real leaders other than Rush Limbaugh.


The question now is how Mr Obama will deal with the death of his post-partisan dream.


So far, at least, the Obama administration’s response to the outpouring of hate on the right has had a deer-in-the-headlights quality. It’s as if officials still can’t wrap their minds around the fact that things like this can happen to people who aren’t named Clinton, as if they keep expecting the nonsense to just go away.


What, then, should Mr Obama do?


It would certainly help if he gave clearer and more concise explanations of his healthcare plan. To be fair, he’s gotten much better at that over the past couple of weeks.


What’s still missing, however, is a sense of passion and outrage — passion for the goal of ensuring that every American gets the healthcare he or she needs, outrage at the lies and fear-mongering that are being used to block that goal.


So can Mr Obama, who can be so eloquent when delivering a message of uplift, rise to the challenge of unreasoning, unappeasable opposition? Only time will tell.










SIXTY-TWO years on memories of the magic day remain etched on my mind in the minutest detail. I was 17 then and had waited for this dawn since I had become aware of the world around me. Normally, I would have been at my college, about 150 miles from Delhi, but circumstances had forced us — my elder brother, three of our college mates and I — to cool our heels only 10 miles from the nation’s capital at a railway station called Nangloi, now swallowed by Delhi’s monstrous sprawl, where my father was station master.


Savage massacres and what was to turn into the largest mass migration in peacetime in history had begun well before the ecstasy of freedom and the agony of Partition. Most of north India lay completely paralysed. Schools and colleges were shut. There was no public transport, rail or road.


So on the morning of August 14, 1947, we decided to walk to Delhi so that we could be in good time for the midnight ceremonies. But just as we were about to start, after a copious breakfast, I was distracted by what I thought was the rank stupidity of the girl next door. Pestered by her younger brother who wanted to know what the enormous excitement was about, she explained to him: “Aaj Pandit Nehru ki taajposhi hai (Today is the day of Pandit Nehru’s coronation)”. I was furious. Here was our great country starting a new life as an independent and democratic nation, and this fool was still mired in the monarchical era. I was on my way to confront her when my brother wisely restrained me. Much, much later I began to wonder whether the girl I had dismissed as foolish and semi-literate was more percipient than anyone of us.


Walking to Delhi was joyous, not tiring. Indeed, we felt that we were gliding a few inches above the ground. On the outskirts of the capital we found a tonga that took us to Lodi Colony where lived a brother-in-law of one of my three friends. The householder and his wife welcomed us graciously. After some rest and early dinner we told our hosts not to wait for us at night and embarked on our march towards Parliament House. We soon discovered that tens of thousands of others had the same idea. The size of the crowd on the broad boulevards around the circular building grew unimaginably large, but it remained reasonably disciplined. There was no pushing and jostling. A few minutes before the midnight hour, a hush fell on the mammoth mass. On the public address system Nehru’s memorable “tryst with destiny” speech could be heard clearly. When he reached the words, “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out of the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation long suppressed finds utterance”, we all wept with joy.


Afterwards, wending our way to Connaught Place, in search of a snack, was an arduous task because of the dispersing crowds. The place was awake and agog with noise. Here we became witnesses to a lively debate that encapsulated the conflicting emotions of the moment. “Eh azaadi nahin barbadi ay (this is not Independence but ruination)”, said some irate refugees from what was now Pakistan and where an equal number of Indian Muslims were seeking shelter. Several others fell on them like a ton of bricks. “We have suffered as much as you have — deaths of dear ones, loss of property — but tonight is not the night to grieve about that. It is time to celebrate. The country is free at last”. Yet another refugee interjected: “We may have lost everything we possessed. But let me assure you that for every building we have left behind, we will erect two”. The next intervention was totally different. “No, no, we mustn’t despair. Gandhiji will take us back to our homes, as he has promised”. This hope was to die five-and-a-half months later with the Mahatma’s assassination.

It is, perhaps, needless to add that on that momentous day Gandhi was not in Delhi or anywhere near it. He was at distant Noakhali in what is now Bangladesh, which had been the scene of exceptionally vicious communal carnage. His duly designated political heir, the iconic Jawaharlal, was the dominant figure in Delhi and the crowds loved him.


Years later I learnt from two colleagues, one an Englishman and the other a Calcutta-based Indian, that on August 15 at Noakhali they had sought the Mahatma’s views on winning Independence. The Briton had asked the question. Gandhi turned to the Indian: “Sahib se kah do kay mera dil sookh gaya hai. Mein kuch nahin kah sakta. (Please tell the sahib that my heart has dried up. I cannot say anything.)”.


On the morning of August 15, we somehow managed to get back to Lodi Colony. We heard on the radio at lunch time that at 8.30 in the morning, India’s Chief Justice Harilal J. Kania had sworn Lord Mountbatten in as the first Governor-General of Independent India. His Lordship almost failed to get back to Government House, as the Viceroy’s House, now called Rashtrapati Bhavan, was then renamed. The crowd around Parliament House was so dense that a 400-strong bodyguard team could not force a way for Lord Mountbatten’s carriage. Nehru then climbed to the carriage’s roof and waved back the formidable throng. The people obeyed him as they would not have obeyed anyone else.


In Lodi Colony, as in every other part of the city, the rest of the day was an unending party. Long before the appointed hour of six in the evening, we were at India Gate where the festivities were to climax by the hoisting of the National Flag by Nehru. Military bands were in attendance. There was to be a parade. As the flag broke at the top of the mast, a beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky, an auspicious sign. However, the parade had to be cancelled. For, so enormous were the crowds that nobody could move. Eventually, Nehru and Lord Mountbatten managed to leave amidst shouts of “Pandit Nehru ki Jai”, “Pandit Mountbatten ki Jai”. India had, indeed, stepped out of the old into the new.








First things first — at the risk of enraging feminists — India at 62 is like a woman dealing with delayed menopause, trying strenuously to come to terms with drastic and dramatic changes she is not yet ready for. Think about it — sudden hot flashes (Pakistan, China, Balochistan), cold sweats, migraines, mood swings (flirt with America? Court Russia? Ignore France?), hysteria (the controversial 1-2-3 treaty), panic attacks (26\11), tantrums and more. That’s the downside. But as we all know, menopause doesn’t last forever. It is but a phase… and when it’s over, it’s over. And more often than not, women at this stage of their lives come into their own like never before. So it will be with India.


Forget those fuddy duddy doomsday prophets making dire predictions about India’s grim future, forget the worst case scenarios. Focus instead on what lies ahead… it isn’t just swine flu, drought, starvation, corruption and more corruption. With some luck, it could be a “Mera Bharat Mahaan” ending to this potential blockbuster. And with those words, I’m putting an end to the mandatory “Independence Day” lecturebaazi.


In fact, there should be a media law that bans those boring Special Issues nobody actually reads or remembers. Why has it become mandatory to indulge in this meaningless annual exercise? Report cards are for school children. India is a senior citizen. Let’s begin by showing a little respect. For me, that includes a ban on bumper editions carrying erudite, unreadable, analytical pieces on “Where India Has Gone Wrong” written by pompous gas bags whose views are completely passe.


If at all anybody wants to indulge in this foolish exercise, let us convert it into a time pass TV show that gives us vicarious cheap thrills. Hire a hottie as an anchor (Rajeev Khandelwal has the looks and experience) and let the cameras roll. India getting candid will be so much more fun than all this intellectualised baloney from self-styled experts.


In any case, far too much is being made of the current TV series that invites middle class India to perform the full monty in public. Sach ka Saamna is getting countless knickers in a knot because, I guess, this form of public catharsis is considered a bit too much for India to handle hmmmm. But is it really too much? Going by the astonishingly high ratings, I’d say not! I believe all that moral outrage is just hot air. We love to mind other people’s business. We are known for our obnoxious inquisitiveness. Come on, it’s only in India that complete strangers seated next to you in a train can turn around and ask the most intrusive, the most intimate questions without blinking… and actually expect a prompt response. Which person has not had to deal with, “Are you married? No?? Why not? Family problem or what?” Which young couple has been spared the embarrassment of responding to an inquisition that goes, “No children? How come? Medical problem? I know a very good doctor…” That’s us. Nosey and tactless at all times. Which is why, I’m a little surprised by the howls of protest that have greeted the latest reality show which quizzes TV actresses on their sexual fantasies and asks about teenage abortions and school expulsions without mincing words. This is baby stuff compared to what we deal with in real life.


Similarly, Rakhi Sawant’s Swayamwar eats into our own fears and foibles, as we watch the bold and brazen lead character reveal the nasty minutae of her miserable past, frequently bursting into a flood of tears before adjusting her cleavage and carrying on. If we are riveted by this spectacle, it only establishes our insatiable desire to play peek-a-boo — a perfectly understandable, acceptable emotion. Especially in a country where the notion of personal privacy and space remains very sketchy. We believe we have the absolute right to know every little dirty detail about our neighbour’s “lafdas”. We also believe we have the same right to offer instant advice. This is as “desi” as pure ghee — and we can’t get enough of either. When the canny TV channel hosting the show persuades Rakhi Sawant’s estranged mother to come on the set and give her version of their crazy relationship, we are urged to take sides and offer unsolicited advice to both. We fall for it!! This stuff is irresistible. We can’t get enough. We want more and more and more. Call that creative manipulation, if you wish. But are we putting up any resistance? Naaah.


The Rakhi Sawant phenomenon (I use the phrase with care and after deliberation) has to be seen in the context of a rapidly changing India. I have been an early champion of this spunky woman, and hang on to her every bon mot. Her quotes are priceless and original — that’s what makes her stand apart in an over-crowded field of wannabes. When Rakhi declares earnestly (tears threatening to run down those heavily painted cheeks and ruin her mascara) that she has done several things for money during her difficult teenage years, including dance at stag shows, but one thing she has NEVER done for cash is “that”, nobody needs to be briefed on what “that” stands for. By making such a statement, Rakhi lets the cruel, mocking world know that even she — bad assed girl that she is — lives by her own moral code. Hurrah. Paisey ke liye kuch bhi karegi?? Na baba… aur sab, par “who” nahi… kabhi nahi. Rakhi has defined her limits. Can the rest of us define ours? Can India’s politicians make a similar claim in public and spell out where they’d draw the line? Now that would be a scorcher of a “saamna”.


Rakhi had once famously boasted about her silicon implants declaring naughtily, “Joh dikhta hai who bikta hai”.


Perhaps, without realising it herself, she had accurately placed her finger on the pulse of the nation and provided a catchy phrase for the prevailing philosophy dominating Jawan India’s dreams. Do those out-of-touch-with-mass-reality men and women prowling the corridors of power in Delhi really get the message?? They’d better. For if they don’t, all this big talk about harnessing the youth of the nation and pushing India forward will remain empty rhetoric.


The surprising truth is that there are far more Rakhi Sawants in our midst than we’d like to acknowledge. She makes us uncomfortable. She makes us blush — hey bhagwan — such gaucherie. But she is here, and she isn’t going anywhere. If India has to face the truth about itself, why not start with Rakhi Sawant and her brand of bindaas, in your face, outrageous and outré conduct that shies away from nothing, reveals everything, but is still clever enough to figure out the inbuilt commercial value of saying “no” to “that”!!


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Researchers have found experimental evidence that a touch can be worth a thousand words, that fleeting physical contact can express specific emotions — silently, subtly and unmistakably. Scientists led by Matthew J. Hertenstein, an associate professor of psychology at DePauw University, recruited 248 students, each to touch or be touched by a partner previously unknown to them to try to communicate a specific emotion: anger, fear, happiness, sadness, disgust, love, gratitude or sympathy.


The person touched was blindfolded and ignorant of the sex of the toucher, who was instructed to try to convey one of the eight emotions, and both participants remained silent.


Afterward, each person touched was given the list of eight emotions and told to pick the one conveyed. There was also a ninth choice, “none of these terms are correct”, to eliminate the possibility of forcing a choice of emotion when none were truly felt.


The touchers were instructed to touch any appropriate part of the body, and they chose variously to touch the head, face, arms, hands, shoulders, trunk and back.


Accurate understanding ranged from 50 per cent to 78 per cent, much higher than the 11 per cent expected by chance and comparable to rates seen in studies of verbal and facial emotion. The researchers also recorded a complex vocabulary of touch — a shake, a rub, a pat or a squeeze, small changes in the amount of pressure applied, variations in the abruptness of the stroke and differences in the location and duration of the contact.


Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, was impressed with the work. “This information is very interesting, and does add to the science of emotion and communication. It’s unlikely we’d use touching as a means of expression with strangers. It’s reserved to intimate kinds of interactions”. Field was not involved in the study, which will appear in the August issue of the journal Emotion.


Participants consistently chose certain kinds of touch to convey specific emotions. Men and women were equally adept at interpreting touch but used different actions to communicate emotions. Men rarely touched anyone’s face, and then only to express anger or disgust at women, and sympathy for other men. Women, on the other hand, touched faces frequently to express anger, sadness and disgust to both sexes, and to convey fear and happiness to men.


The evolutionary reasons for such a communication system are unknown, but the authors suggest that they may have the same origin as the social grooming rituals of other primates. The authors acknowledge that their data were limited to a sample of young Americans, and that cultural differences may play an important role.


Still, Hertenstein said: “These findings have strong implications for the power of touch. Most touches were only about five seconds, but in these fleeting moments, we’re capable of communicating distinct emotions, just as we are with the face. This is a sophisticated differential signalling system that we haven’t previously known about”.








Cooking gas in the rural areas would remain what it is, and as useful, if called Grameen LPG Vitrak Yojana. This common sense is not acceptable to the government of India, which has to prefix the name of Rajiv Gandhi to the scheme. There is something juvenile about this propensity to affix the name of some member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to various government-funded schemes. It ill befits a nation that has been independent for over sixty years and a republic for over fifty. It shows an unhealthy obsession with a particular family. No one denies that members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty have made substantial contributions to public life in India. But this does not mean that they should be memorialized in the names given to schemes launched by the government. In fact, such actions do the leaders a great disservice by belittling them.


Take the example of Rajiv Gandhi. He became India’s prime minister much against his and his family’s wishes under tragic circumstances. He channelled his personal grief into an endeavour to build a young and vibrant India. The vision was as grand as it was noble. His life was cut short by a suicide-bomber. The best tribute that can be paid to him by those who are his admirers is to try and actualize his vision. This cannot be accomplished by naming a clutch of schemes after the late prime minister. Rajiv Gandhi’s name has now become attached to crèches, to chowks, to the supplies of breakfast, electricity and drinking water, to educational institutions, to airports and so on. All these, and more, were part of Rajiv Gandhi’s vision for India, but to name every single item that made up the vision after him is surely an embarrassment of riches for him and his descendants. Something must be terribly wrong and rotten if people in power believe that Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi will be remembered only if government schemes and institutions are named after them. Acolytes would do well to know that the memories of these individuals will be cherished because of their achievements, not because of the number of things named after them.


There is perhaps a wider point involved here. Indians love to cling to great men and women, who are invariably turned into icons that are beyond human criticism. A part of this process of iconization is to have places and things named after them. A simple survey of the way roads are named in Indian cities will confirm this impression. Every city or town in India has its Mahatma Gandhi Road. What this tendency does is to initiate a competition among political parties. Today a Congress-led government in New Delhi is naming schemes after Rajiv Gandhi. In Lucknow, Mayavati is erecting statues of her own heroes. The makers of modern India, irrespective of their creed, would perhaps have preferred a little more maturity, rather than blind adulation.








It is well known that when India became free on the August 15, 1947, Mahatma Gandhi declined to join the festivities in New Delhi. While his follower, Jawaharlal Nehru, spoke in the Council Hall about India’s tryst with destiny, and the crowds danced on the streets outside, Gandhi was in Calcutta, seeking to restore peace between Hindus and Muslims. His refusal to join his colleagues in New Delhi has been interpreted by some commentators as a sign that he was in mourning. This interpretation is not entirely tenable. While Gandhi was distressed by the religious rioting that accompanied Independence and Partition, he did not gainsay the value and achievement of political freedom. But he remained concerned with what his fellow Indians would make of their hard-won, and somewhat belated, swaraj.


The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi has seven entries dated August 15, 1947. The first is a letter written to his Quaker friend, Agatha Harrison, in London. Gandhi says here that “my way of celebrating great events, such as today’s, is to thank God for it and, therefore, to pray”. Agatha Harrison had apparently asked whether he followed the debates in the British parliament on the Indian Independence bill. Gandhi said he did not get time to read newspapers; in any case, he commented, “What does it matter, who talks in my favour or against me, if I myself am sound at bottom?”


Item four describes a visit to Gandhi’s temporary home in Beliaghata of the new governor of West Bengal, C. Rajagopalachari. When the governor congratulated him on the “miracle he had wrought” (namely, the cessation of violence in the city), Gandhi answered “that he could not be satisfied until Hindus and Muslims felt safe in one another’s company and returned to their own homes to live as before. Without that change of heart, there was likelihood of future deterioration in spite of the present enthusiasm”.


The fifth entry for the day relates to a visit by some communist activists. Gandhi told them that “political workers, whether Communist or Socialist, must forget today all differences and help to consolidate the freedom which had been attained. Should we allow it to break into pieces?”


Soon after the communists, a group of students came to the Haidari Mansion in Beliaghata to seek Gandhi’s advice. The Mahatma told them that “students ought to think and think well. They should do no wrong. It was wrong to molest an Indian citizen merely because he professed a different religion. Students should do everything to build up a new State of India which would be everybody’s pride”.


The last item in the Collected Works for this day pertains to a speech made at a public meeting at the Rash Bagan Maidan in Beliaghata. As reported in his own journal, Harijan, Gandhi began by congratulating Hindus and Muslims for “meeting together in perfect friendliness”. He hoped that this “was not a momentary impulse”. From the theme of communal amity he went on to speak of the responsibilities of ordinary citizens. Earlier in the day, when the new Indian governor had taken over from his British predecessor, a crowd had invaded Government House, tramped over the lawn and flower beds, marched into the building and generally made a nuisance of themselves. Hearing of this, Gandhi said “he would be glad if it meant only a token of people’s power. But he would be sick and sorry if the people thought that they could do what they liked with the Government and other property. That would be criminal lawlessness. He hoped, therefore, that they had of their own accord vacated the Governor’s palace as readily as they had occupied it. He would warn the people that now that they were free, they would use the freedom with wise restraint...”


In this narration, I have skipped one item, number three, in part because I think it the most important, and hence best dealt with last. This pertained to a visit to the Mahatma by the ministers of the new government of West Bengal. What Gandhi said to them is summarized in the Collected Works. But there is a slightly longer, and somewhat more vivid, account in Manu Gandhi’s book The Miracle of Calcutta. This informs us that when the Bengal ministers sought his blessings, Gandhi told them, “Today, you have worn on your heads a crown of thorns. The seat of power is a nasty thing. You have to remain ever wakeful on that seat. You have to be more truthful, more non-violent, more humble and more forbearing. You had been put to test during the British regime. But in a way it was no test at all. But now there will be no end to your being tested. Do not fall a prey to the lure of wealth. May God help you! You are there to serve the villages and the poor.”


His words made sense then, and they make sense now. At a time when many — most? — ministers in state and Central governments are consumed by arrogance and self-love, they need to be reminded that, as elected representatives of the people, they should be motivated rather by truth, humility and service. In a deeply divided polity, the political parties must recognize that in times of crisis, they should set aside their differences and work together for social peace. When populist notions of democracy stress exclusively on rights and encourage a cavalier attitude to State property, it is well to be told that citizens also have responsibilities. Finally, in 2009 as in 1947, a special role devolves on students, who, with their lives in front of them, can do more than the middle-aged or elderly in building an India worthy of the nation’s founders and of their ideals.


Gandhi’s words and warnings have a strikingly contemporary ring. Since they were uttered in Calcutta, those who live in that city, and in the state of which it is part, may read into them a special meaning. In the recent past, West Bengal has been peculiarly prone to political partisanship, State apathy and populist violence. However, these tendencies are manifest, in lesser or greater degree, in other states as well. Wherever we are this August 15, we would do well to remember, and take heed of, what a very wise Indian said and did on this day 62 years ago.









Twenty-one Swine Flu deaths in the span of a week pose a daunting challenge to the country’s healthcare apparatus. After having officially admitted that 14-year-old Rida Shaikh would not have died had she been treated earlier, the Union health ministry has gone on an overdrive after more deaths were reported from Chennai, Bangalore and, once again, Pune. The minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, sounds pretty much helpless as he warns that the H1N1 outbreak could get worse in due course of time. Central to the tragedy is that a scientific strategy is still not in place even two months after Swine Flu was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. That India was spared till a certain stage of the affliction’s spread largely accounts for the smugness at the level of the Centre, to say nothing about the preparedness of the states. The mounting deaths have caused a jerk in the knee. This is only too apparent in Mr Azad’s threat to invoke the Epidemic Diseases Act if private hospitals fail to set up a separate ward for those afflicted with the virus.

The condition of the state-run hospitals that treat infectious diseases can only prolong the suffering without taking the patient any closer to treatment and cure. The striking case in point is Kolkata’s ID Hospital where those afflicted with the virus are cramped in wards with closed windows and no air-conditioners, where patients have to negotiate their way through floors littered with bird droppings that raise the risk of secondary infection, where toilets are seldom cleaned and basins overflow with muck. The scenario is much too horrifying even to hope for a speedy recovery. It would be a tall order to expect such a hospital to possess the infrastructure to cope with Swine Flu. The Centre’s decision to rope in private laboratories and health centres is welcome.

But much as the private hospitals have been put on notice, the deficiencies in the state infrastructure need urgently to be addressed. It bears mention that Rida Shaikh died of delayed treatment in Pune, the city that boasts the National Institute of Virology, the country’s flagship diagnostic centre. The overwhelming uncertainty and confusion deepens with scientists of Oxford University questioning the safety of the drug, Tamiflu, in the case of children.









WHETHER the setting up of a Group of Ministers to resolve the controversy over a National War Memorial is a ploy to keep the issue on the back-burner, or a genuine bid to resolve an issue hanging fire for 37 years only time will tell. Whatever the outcome, it is best that a quick, firm determination is made on the forces’ “case” for a memorial in proximity to India Gate (itself a colonial-era tribute to soldiers who died fighting in 1914-18) so that the morale-debilitating heartburn comes to an end. It is a national embarrassment that successive governments have lacked the political spine to resolve conflicting views on the location of the honour to the military martyr ~ surely the desirability of a memorial is not in dispute. The makeshift Amar Jawan structure raised virtually overnight in January 1972 hardly befits the gallant warriors who have died defending India.

That the UPA’s permanent trouble-shooter, Pranab Mukherjee, heads the Group holds out scope for both promise and disappointment: he has the stature and clout to get the defence and urban development ministries to work out a compromise, but a view expressed 14 years ago continues to haunt military veterans. The armed forces are sentimental, often unable to appreciate a differing viewpoint. Hence insistence on the memorial being adjacent to India Gate, in the heart of the Capital. Yet there is merit in the urban development ministry’s contention that the vast expanse of green is “heritage”, worthy of conservation.

There is also the publicly-unstated apprehension that other demands would follow, a commemoration park for the freedom-fighters has also been forcefully sought ~ so the floodgates for trouble could be opened. The uniformed community should see a little reason, accept a memorial where the Princes Park or Jodhpur Mess now stand (the hutments housing defence officers are overdue for demolition), and settle for a war museum in the cantonment. It would also be advisable for the Ministerial Group to seek all-party endorsement of any conclusion it reaches ~ a National War Memorial has distinct sanctity, no politics must sully its image. Back to the “Pranab factor”: the military would wish the memorial to also honour the heroes of World War II ~ but in 1995 the then external affairs minister had asserted that it was “not our war”.









DE-HYPHENATING the influencing of people from the winning of friends has ever appeared integral to the Hillary Clinton game-plan. Her appeal has been to the cold-blooded head rather than the warm heart. Though unsuccessful but close, the campaign she ran when seeking the Democratic Party nomination for the Presidency was efficient, but without any orchestrated bid to bond with “main street” America. The argument will never end if she shot herself in the foot by relegating her husband and former President to the fringes of her campaign, but it was certainly short of the charisma Bill so profusely exudes. Not that she was unaware of that, she simply did her own thing. Even though a crafty, sinister streak was visible when she used her position as “first lady” to create her own political space, nobody could ever accuse her of resorting to those ever-effective “feminine wiles”. Like almost all women in public life she fought against gender-bias, without seeking to excessively cash-in on being a woman. As Secretary of State Clinton has done some globe-trotting delivering polite tough messages, and has displayed characteristic reticence over Bill’s “all charm” rescue act in North Korea. It is, therefore, easy to appreciate why she snapped when asked a question ~ or maybe she thought that was what she was being asked ~ about her husband’s view on an international-relations issue. Coming as it did in a “developing” country, she probably interpreted it as flowing from a feeling in such parts that when women from political families made it big they had piggy-backed on their domestic connections.

A prejudice that Indira, Sonia, Benazir, Chandrika, Sirimavo and the powerful rivals in Bangladesh have also encountered at some time or the other. “If you want my opinion, I’ll tell you my opinion, I am not going to be channelising my husband” was how she made her point, powerfully if undiplomatically. By firmly de-linking her political functioning from her husband’s, Hillary has struck a firm, if different, blow for women’s equality. Years ago it was in Kinshasa that Muhammad Ali fought his celebrated “rumble in the jungle”: in that very same city did Clinton come up with a kayo punch!








ONE DOES not have to be an electronics engineer or a conspiracy theorist to claim the EVMs (electronic voting machines) are not infallible. But according to Navin B Chawla, Chief Election Commissioner, the EVMs used in Indian elections are “totally infallible and tamperproof.” Delivering a lecture on “Elections 2009: And the Road Ahead,” in New Delhi on 3 August, he said the EVMs used by the EC were manufactured by two public sector companies, ECIL and BEL, and there was a thorough randomisation while sending them to various booths. “One does not know which machine is being sent to which state and who is the presiding officer. One cannot remove the chip in an EVM.” Ergo, it is infallible. He was more concerned about including “none-of-the-above” option in the EVMs to protect the identity of voters opting to register their protest vote in elections. Under Rule 49-O of the Conduct of Election Rules, a register is provided to record the “none-of-the-above” option which, according to Mr Chawla, failed to protect the identity of the voter.

While most of the advanced countries have rejected EVMs as they can be hacked, in India, most political parties barring the Congress and its allies have come to the realisation that the voting machines need further refinement to make them foolproof or the EC should go back to the days of ballot papers. Opposition leader LK Advani set the ball rolling by demanding the use of EVMs be suspended till doubts about their fallibility are cleared.

The BJP demand was followed by the AIADMK, CPI-M, JD(S), LJP, Telugu Desam, and PMK, among others. There has been a spate of PILs in the Supreme Court and in High Courts against the use of EVMs in their present form. The AIADMK and its allies in Tamil Nadu have taken the unusual step of boycotting the five by-elections to the state Assembly due on 18 August. J. Jayalalitha, leader of the alliance, expressed no-confidence in the EC and the way in which it conducts elections, including the use of EVMs. She is among the first political leaders to detect flaws in the EVM. She wants the EC to declare the candidates of the ruling DMK and the Congress its ally, declared elected without going through the process of polling, for she is convinced the results would be no different no matter whom the people vote for.


Elections, to be free and fair, like Caesar's wife, must be above suspicion. Other than the use of questionable EVMs, the EC has no solution to curb the money power of political parties which had enjoyed power in the preceding five years. N Gopalaswamy, who retired as CEC mid-way through the recent Lok Sabha election, lamented: “In three months the Election Commission cannot obliterate the massive money power acquired by politicians in 57 months.” Maintaining the EVMs could not be hacked or tampered with, he admitted bogus voting was very much possible and very much prevalent.
The EC need not plead helplessness in the face of money power of politicians. Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act empowers the EC to countermand elections in constituencies where the result is likely to be affected because of money power. Unfortunately, no Election Commissioner so far had made use of this provision to curb money power.

Two eminent professors of computer science, writing in the May 2009 issue of the respected International Electrical and Electronic Journa under the title “Trustworthy Voting,” had concluded: “While electronic voting machines offer a myriad of benefits, these cannot be reaped unless nine suggested safeguards are put in place for protecting the integrity of the outcome.” None of these nine safeguards are in place in the Indian EVMs which are certified as far superior to the European ones by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and president of the DMK, M Karunanidhi. He is not known to be an expert in electronics.
The Supreme Court in Germany ruled electronic voting unconstitutional in March this year because the average citizen could not be expected to understand the exact steps involved in the recording and tallying of votes. The Netherlands banned EVMs in October 2006 after a public-interest group produced a video showing how quickly these machines could be hacked without the voters or election officials being aware of it.

A team of computer scientists from the Universities of California at San Diego, Michigan and Princeton have just demonstrated how interested parties could hack EVMs and 'steal' votes using a malicious programming approach that had not been invented when voting machines, including the ones used in India, were designed. Called 'return-oriented programming,' it could be used to execute vote-stealing computations by taking control of EVMs designed to prevent code injection. The computer scientists, who demonstrated the return-oriented programming, had no access to the EVM's source code or any other proprietary information when designing the attack. By using just the information that would be available to anyone using the voting machine, the scientists refuted a common criticism leveled against voting security researchers that they enjoy unrealistic access to the systems they study.

After losing in the contest in Madurai in the 1999 Lok Sabha election, the Janata Party president, Subramanian Swamy, was flooded with postcards from voters, particularly from the Cholavandan segment, his ancestral home, complaining their votes were not reflected in the counting. He then arranged a presentation before the three-member EC by Professor ES Sarma of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, USA, an acknowledged expert in the field of Radio Frequency Identification, and Dr. Gitanjali Swamy of Harvard, whose doctoral dissertation from the University of California at Berkeley was on the subject of verification, i.e. how to ensure that machines are actually doing the work they were intended to do. MS Gill, then the CEC, and now minister for youth affairs and sports in the UPA government, was convinced that it was possible for one of the various persons having access to the EVMs at different points of time to plant a software programme that would have the effect of producing an election result in favour of a predetermined candidate or political party. He was advised that one way to reduce the risk of fraud was to have the EVMs print a paper trail of each vote as a backup which the voters could then deposit into a ballot box. In case of any dispute, the slip of paper would be available for authentication of the vote. This has been in vogue in 27 states in the USA since 2007. No follow-up action was taken by the EC. 


Since then, public realisation of the drawbacks of the EVMs has become widespread. Chandrababu Naidu, leader of the Telugu Desam, with the help of experts, has prepared a software which could tamper with the ballots in the EVMs. He is convinced his party lost the Andhra Assembly election earlier this year due to tampering of EVMs. PILs against the use of EVMs are pending in the Kerala and the Madras High Courts. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has acknowledged concerns raised by VV Rao in a PIL over technical glitches in EVMs but expressed the view the EC should inquire into the matter rather than the judiciary.
A Bench comprising Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan, Justice P Sathasivamand Justice Cyriac Joseph has directed the petitioner to approach the EC which, in consultation with political parties, could sort out the problems. “It is not possible to address the issue in a judicial forum,” it ruled. It may be recalled that in 2004, the Supreme Court First Bench of Chief Justice VN Khare, Justice Babu and Justice Kapadia directed the EC to consider the technical flaws in the EVMs put forward by Professor Satinath Choudhary, a US-based software engineer, in a PIL. The EC failed to consider his representation. Last month, Omesh Saigal, a 1964-batch IAS officer who is an alumnus of IIT, Delhi, convincingly demonstrated before the EC how the EVMs could be hacked and results manipulated. Recognised political parties, instead of moving the courts and holding demonstrations on the riggability of EVMs before the EC, which had already made up its mind that the voting machines are infallible, should prepare a list of candidates who narrowly lost to the UPA in the recent Lok Sabha election and find out in how many booths they polled less than 10 votes. Every candidate of a recognised party would have not less than five workers per booth. With their wives, they would have contributed at least 10 votes in the booth for the candidate. Armed with affidavits from them about their votes, the parties could approach High Courts and prima facie establish that the EVMs had been tampered with. The only way we the people can be sure that our votes have indeed gone to the candidates we voted for is paper ballots.













 The fact that Mayawati is prone to use similar language eg: calling Mahatma Gandhi as ‘Natakbaz’ was no excuse. Joshi should have herself realised that she had crossed the limitation of decency and tendered an apology — that would have been the Gandhian thing to do. Instead she chose to say that she had not meant to say what she said and have been misunderstood. I hoped Digvijay Singh would pull her up and apologise on her behalf. On the contrary, he supported her and tried to divert the focus from her speech to the attack on her house by Mayawati’s supporters. I hope Sonia Gandhi will set the record straight: either sack Joshi or at least publicly reprimand her. That will restore the image of the Congress party as one which maintain certain standards of rectitude.

Why are so many of our political leaders so loose tongued? Does it not occur to them that by using bad language they only lower themselves in peoples’ eyes and the party they belong to?


Pinki Virani is Muslim. Her husband Shankkar Aiyar a senior executive with ‘India Today’ is Tamil Brahmin. When I met her first time, I asked her how the marriage was working out as both had stuck to their respective faiths. “Fine! Just fine”, she replied. “I say my namaz in one room, he tinkles bells to his deities in the other. No problems, what so ever.” I was happy to hear it. More Hindu-Muslim marriages, the better. I find conversions demanding.

Pinki started off as a Steno-typist, rose to be an editor and finally an author. Her first book ‘Aruna’s Story’ is a true account of a lady doctor, who was raped and left for dead by an employee she bad sacked for neglecting his duties. Aruna has been in coma for 31 years, a living corpse. Pinki’s account of Aruna’s trauma and suffering is a true heart-rendering tale, a classic of its genre.

‘Deaf Heave’ (Harper Collins) is her fourth book and first work of fiction.

It is ingenious in many ways. Its time-fame is limited to a long weekend when a lady librarian dies unattended in her library till her body is found the following Monday. It is ingenious in its variety of characters: a girl with a cleft lip, two starlets who make it to the top of serving finances, producers, directors on the casting couch. And their talents. There are male film stars reminiscent of the Bachchans and the Kapoor family, is lady beautician who reminds one of Shanaz Hussain, a family which having made its fortune in Mumbai move to Delhi and try a short cut to nobility by becoming polo players and sponsors of polo teams. Above all, ‘Deaf Heaven’ is ingenious in language — a ‘khichdi’ of English and languages used by the urban middle class of Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai. The novel makes joyful reading and keeps you smiling from page one to the last.


Bill and Sam, two elderly friends, met in the park every day to feed the pigeons, watch the squirrel and discuss world problems.

One day Bill didn’t show up. Sam didn’t think much about it and figured may be had a cold or something. But after Bill hadn’t shown up for a week or so, Sam really got worried. However, since the only time they ever got together was at the park, Sam didn’t know where Bill lived, so he was unable to find out what had happened to him.


A month had passed, and Sam figured he had seen the last of Bill, but one day, Sam approached the park and— lo and behold! — there sat Bill: Sam was very excited and happy to see him and told him so.

Then he said, “For crying out loud Bill, what in the world happened to you?”

Bill replied, “I have been in jail.” “Jail”, cried Sam. “What in the wold for?” “Well,” Bill said, “you know Mary, that cute little blonde waitress at the coffee shop where I sometimes go?” “Yeah”, said Sam, “I remember her, What about her?” “Well, one day she filed rape charges against me; and, at 89 years old, I was so proud that when I got into court, I plead ‘guilty’.”

The damn judge gave me 30 days for perjury. (Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, New Delhi)









On this Independence Day, if the question, ‘Is India shining?’ posed to the people of India, it is certain to evoke varying responses ranging from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘don’t know’.

The opening up of the Indian economy has led to an LPG (liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation) wave ushering in radical changes in urban and metro areas in lifestyles, wealth creation, employment market, disposable incomes, social systems, food habits, culture, media and entertainment, communications, fashions, bewildering advances in technology and so on.

The rich and the affluent business community has fully exploited the opportunities presented to them and have further prospered. A lucrative and vibrant employment market has opened up in the fast emerging services sector and the urban educated and skilled middle and the upper classes have been greatly benefited by this positive change. The huge direct and indirect tax revenues have filled the state coffers beyond expectations.

But what about the urban and the rural poor, who are uneducated, undereducated or unskilled? Even after almost two decades of the reforms regime, more than half the population is still below the poverty line. Even after 62 years of Independence, starvation deaths are reported and we have not succeeded in ensuring that everyone gets at least two square meals a day.

Even after launching so many grand and much hyped social and poor people friendly welfare measures, the bulk of the rural folks and the semi-urban poor still have no access to affordable housing, quality education, clean drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, power, good roads, marketing support for farm produce, cheap and adequate credit, alternate jobs, skill development opportunities, life insurance, senior citizen benefits and so on. More than half the population constantly lives on the edge. The blame squarely lies with the corrupt leaders and bureaucrats.

Rural infrastructure has crumbled and cries for immediate attention, besides resources coupled with sincerity of purpose and good governance.

We can proudly proclaim that ‘India is shining’ only when qualitative improvement in the living conditions of millions of poor Indians is achieved. Can we hope Manmohan Singh, at least this time, to deliver little more than a hollow-sounding speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort?








Honduras’s de facto government appears to be running out the clock. It seems to believe that it can slow-pedal negotiations to reinstate President Manuel Zelaya, who was summarily ousted by the armed forces in June, and hang tight until voters elect a new president in November.


It must be disabused of this notion. Honduras has been deeply divided by the coup and passions could easily spin out of control. Even if the de facto government manages to pull off new elections, the results would be viewed as illegitimate by much of the Honduran population. That could mean years, not months, of crisis.


The Organization of American States, Washington and the Latin American governments that are trying to broker a solution must press this point with Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president, and his advisers.


Mr. Zelaya, a self-styled populist and favorite of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, is no fan of the United States. But, as Mr. Obama rightly pointed out, Mr. Zelaya was democratically elected.


Washington condemned the coup and suspended about $18 million in mostly military and development aid to the de facto government. But it carefully modulated its rhetoric to keep the focus where it belonged — on Mr. Micheletti and the illegal coup. And it held off on imposing more drastic penalties, like withdrawing Washington’s ambassador to Tegucigalpa or freezing the bank accounts of people associated with the coup, as some Democrats in Congress have urged.


This has given the United States room to encourage negotiations led by President Óscar Arias of Costa Rica, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The administration has rightly held to that course, even after some Congressional Republicans — whose support for democracy is apparently selective — criticized this approach.


The administration may not be able to hew to this fine line for much longer. Mr. Arias has proposed that President Zelaya be returned to office immediately and that Honduras move up its presidential elections by a month to October. Mr. Zelaya has also agreed not to try to change the constitution so he can run for re-election — the issue that prompted the coup. But Mr. Micheletti has dug in his heels, refusing to accept the deal.


Foreign ministers from several Latin American countries plan to visit Honduras next week to press Mr. Micheletti and his backers to change their minds. The de facto government has already forced a postponement of the visit once. If it continues to reject the deal, the United States must be prepared to exert more pressure.







President Obama and his family plan to visit Yellowstone National Park on Saturday and the Grand Canyon on Sunday. We hope this visit will inaugurate a new commitment to conserving the national park system and to the science on which sound conservation is based. We also hope that the visit will impress on the president the serious fiscal issues threatening the parks.


Mr. Obama has pledged $3 billion in stimulus funds to the Interior Department. The parks must get their fair share, followed by robust annual appropriations. The system faces an annual operating shortfall of some $600 million and an $8 billion backlog in deferred maintenance — roads, bridges, outbuildings and sewer systems that need repair — resulting from years of underfinancing.


The president and his family will not be the only visitors. This weekend, admission to every national park is free, the third free weekend this summer designed to help reintroduce Americans to their parks and save them some money as well.


It is an invitation to celebrate a profound and truly American idea, setting aside land for the future for conservation and recreation. Since the first national park — Yellowstone — was created in 1872, the idea has spread around the world, including to Afghanistan, which opened its first national park in June. But this is not an idea that sustains itself easily anywhere. It requires conviction and leadership and, overseas, the continued, inspiring example of America’s national park system.


The commitment to conservation is too easily compromised. Despite lavish campaign promises, former President George W. Bush made little progress on the backlog. He failed to hold up Washington’s end of what was supposed to be a grand federal-state bargain to restore the Everglades. He encouraged a revision of the management philosophy governing park operations that would have permitted inappropriate commercial and recreational activities to trump conservation, the park service’s fundamental mission.


It is all a sobering reminder that parks everywhere will always face stresses of one kind or another — from development, from climate change, from political instability — and that resisting them will require both the force of law and a true commitment to conserving these resources for future generations.


With his appointment of Jon Jarvis as parks director, Mr. Obama has already signaled an important change of direction. It is not just a matter of looking back to the language of the 1916 Organic Act, the far-seeing document that created the national park system. It is a matter of looking forward to meeting the goals that have not yet been met, reawakening Americans — and the rest of the world — to the power of this stunning idea.







The decision by Robert Morgenthau not to seek re-election as the Manhattan district attorney after more than a third of a century of distinguished service in the job means a changing of the guard come January in one of the nation’s premier prosecutorial offices.


His successor will be chosen in the Democratic primary on Sept. 15 because the Republican Party has no candidate. Of the three impressive candidates, our choice is Cyrus Vance Jr.


The Manhattan district attorney commands an army of 500 lawyers in a jurisdiction encompassing violent street crime, Wall Street white-collar crime and public corruption. The winner of the current spirited three-way contest will be just the third person elected to the post in some 68 years. Frank Hogan, the legendary district attorney who preceded Mr. Morgenthau, also served for more than three decades.


All of the candidates gained valuable experience as assistant district attorneys under Mr. Morgenthau.


Richard Aborn is a leading gun control advocate who has been a consultant to police departments and other government agencies. He is politically wily and has plenty of energy and some good ideas, but he cannot match his opponents’ broader experience and gravitas.


Leslie Crocker Snyder is an able former judge and prosecutor who showed personal courage years ago, presiding over violent criminal cases, when her own life was threatened. We supported Ms. Snyder four years ago in her challenge to Mr. Morgenthau, believing that 30-plus years in the job was enough for even such an accomplished man. But the current campaign presents a different set of candidates, and we have concerns about Ms. Snyder, who has sometimes shown a taste for publicity, even as a judge, that can be at odds with the extraordinary restraint required of the district attorney.


Mr. Vance (whose father served on the board of directors of the Times Company from 1980 to 1997) is an accomplished criminal and civil trial lawyer who offers balanced judgment and a commitment to criminal justice reform.


More managerial experience would be a plus, but he has excellent ideas for strengthening the office, by assigning prosecutors to cover particular communities, by creating a rackets bureau unit focused on public corruption, and by beefing up efforts to protect immigrants from exploitation and to help newly released offenders reintegrate into society and avoid going back to prison.


We like Mr. Vance’s plan for a “Conviction Integrity Panel” that would serve as an internal check against improper practices and wrongful convictions as cases proceed. Ms. Snyder has proposed a more narrow, mostly retrospective “Second Look Bureau.”


Mr. Vance sensibly says he will make it his mission to end the huge backlogs at Manhattan Criminal Court, which handles the nonfelony assaults, thefts and quality-of-life crimes comprising the bulk of the D.A.’s caseload. He said he would devote ample resources to white-collar crime, including local mortgage and predatory lending scams, as well as corporate frauds and money-laundering schemes by arms and narcotics traffickers — larger cases for which Ms. Snyder expresses little appetite.


We strongly endorse Mr. Vance.







The latest tarmac nightmare unfolded last week on Continental Express Flight 2816 — one of those sardine-tight regional planes. After a thunderstorm diversion, 47 passengers had to spend the night on board, sealed off from the airport that waited like a mirage just beyond the windows in Rochester, Minn. “You’re numb throughout the experience, and you almost don’t know what’s happening to you,” said one passenger who staggered into the airport after being trapped for more than six hours.


Explanations were in as short supply as food or drink, with the sole restroom soon abrim and two babies screaming periodically. Passengers were not allowed to deplane until 6 a.m., with airport officials insisting they could have been accommodated much earlier if the airline had asked. The flight’s regional subcontractor cited utterly unpersuasive concerns about airport security (for already screened passengers?) and crew time regulations (the passengers couldn’t wait in the terminal for a new crew to be flown in?).


This woeful experience is far too common, despite repeated commitments from airlines and government to protect, not abuse, passengers. According to the latest federal statistics, passengers aboard 278 planes suffered tarmac delays of three hours or more in June alone. The best redress for the nonfliers of 2816 is to demand approval of the Airline Passengers Bill of Rights that has been stalled in Congress in the face of industry opposition.


The merciful measure from Senators Barbara Boxer and Olympia Snowe would force airlines to offer passengers the option of getting off after three hours on the tarmac, and to supply food, water and adequate restrooms during long delays. The proposal, recently approved in committee, is stronger than an industry-friendly House measure. It provides considerably more comfort to travelers than the bags of free pretzels passengers found waiting when they were freed from Flight 2816.









What should have happened years, possibly decades, ago has finally been done. The president has announced a far-reaching reform plan for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Befittingly enough, the plan, which aims to pull the tribal areas into the mainstream of Pakistan, was announced on the eve of Pakistan’s 63rd Independence Day. In the past, romanticised notions of tribal ‘autonomy’ and ‘honour’ have prevented the state from offering the impoverished people of these areas the rights they should enjoy as citizens. Finally, there has been a recognition that there is nothing desirable at all about relegating some 3,341,000 people to lives lived in squalor and illiteracy. Less than 35 per cent of households in the area live above the poverty level, per capita income is half the national average of US $500 and the literacy rate is still below 20 per cent. Access to even rudimentary healthcare is extremely limited. As a result maternal and infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world. It is hard to see in this situation even a modicum of ‘honour’.

The lack of development has served the feudals. In many cases, despite the grant of universal adult franchise to FATA by parliament in 1996, the local ‘maliks’ still exert control, sometimes determining how votes are to be cast. Women remain deprived of the right to ballot. The failure, till now, to allow political parties to organize in the area has also facilitated the rise of pro-Taliban candidates, able to campaign through mosques and madressahs. The extension of the 2002 Political Parties Act to FATA under the new reform package will grant people a louder political voice and a greater say in decision-making. This had been a demand for many years and contributed to simmering unrest in these areas. The undoing of some of the most draconian clauses of the colonial-era Frontier Crime Regulation which gave authorities the power to collective justice, the reduction in the arbitrary powers available to political agents and the setting up of an appellate bench with people given the right to bail and to representation by a lawyer are also important steps. The reform package is a huge step forward. But the challenges for the government do not end here. The advent of full-fledged democracy in tribal areas will depend on good implementation. The measures taken now need to be coupled with an economic uplift plan aimed to alter lives and offer people an escape from the militancy which is in part a product of the deprivations and hardships they have suffered






There can be few more heartening sights than the bustling bazaars of Mingora during the Independence Day celebrations. If ever we needed an indicator that things had changed for the better, this was it. The curfew was relaxed; people were out on the streets celebrating – for the first time in three years, more for some – what the Taliban never allowed them to celebrate. Pakistani flags flew from rooftops, bunting laced the streets and in another sign of change women were outdoors celebrating as well. Reporters from private TV stations had been invited in by the army in a surprisingly well-judged PR exercise, and smartly dressed policemen got themselves interviewed. Public buildings and private houses were festooned with lights and children strutted their stuff on-stage at the Wadoodia Hall in Saidu Sharif. The Swat valley at last had something to celebrate.

None of this would have been possible were it not for a determined and sustained effort by the armed forces, who remain in strength as guarantors of the still-fragile peace. We have sustained substantial casualties, military and civilian, in the fight to win back the Swat valley and nothing will bring back the dead or ease the grief for those who have lost loved ones. Holding the ground that has been retaken is not going to be easy and anybody who thinks that the Taliban are beaten is deluding themselves. Their leadership in Swat survives, they still have their supporters and donated money continues to arm and supply them. The police we see today in Swat have yet to properly re-establish themselves, and they need the breathing-space afforded by the military to rebuild both their own confidence and to establish the trust of a wider public. That this peaceful and beautiful place, one of our premier tourist destinations for both foreign and domestic tourists, was allowed to degenerate into an enclave of barbarism that spawned a foul brood of butchers; is a national disgrace. Make no mistake, be not deceived, the takeover of Swat and elsewhere had support in the upper echelons of the establishment, in some political parties and elements of the media both print and electronic The takeover of Swat was not spontaneous; it was carefully conceived and brilliantly executed. Today, we have rolled back the forces of darkness, but it has been a tough fight and we have paid dear. Let us hope that next years celebrations in Swat will be of a year of rebuilding, development, and a re-kindling of the flame of moderation and peaceful coexistence.







A single day of heavy rain in Lahore reduced the city to chaos. Knee-deep water stood even on main roads, sewers were found to be clogged and as a result of the mini-flood life came to a standstill. This is of course not an unusual situation. It occurs almost each monsoon season. Indeed, with more rains forecast over the coming weeks, there is every possibility the same scenes will be repeated. Why do our civic agencies remain incapable of dealing with a highly predictable deluge. Indeed many of the city’s older residents say things have worsened over the years. Broad, pre-partition drainage channels have in many cases broken down through a lack of maintenance or been blocked due to encroachments. New sewerage systems have often proved to be poorly designed or inadequate. There is suspicion that contracts given out had a political motive.

In the context of Pakistan’s wider political and economic problems, civic concerns of this nature may seem mundane – even irrelevant. But the fact is that they affect almost every resident of cities in one way or the other. They also contribute to the spread of sickness. The poor, who must wade through standing water mixed with sewage, are worst affected. The government and the city administration need to get their act together, study measures taken in other countries and find ways of keeping our urban centres functioning even when the skies cloud over, as they indeed frequently do at this time of the year.









THE country’s 63rd Independence Day this year has been celebrated in the backdrop of daunting challenges to the nation but the way people expressed themselves on the occasion has once again confirmed that Pakistan’s future was quite safe and bright. Two landmark developments have added significance of the day — the sense of complete solidarity with the aggrieved people of Swat and Malakand and historic announcement of President Asif Ali Zardari about launching of the political activities in FATA as a consequence of the decision to introduce far-reaching changes in the colonial era Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).

People of Swat went through a trauma recently when their paradise-like region became hub of militant and extremist activities leading to full-fledged military operation to flush out the terrorists. The situation forced about 2.5 million people to leave their hearths and homes in what was seen as action replay of refugee crisis during partition of the Subcontinent in 1947. However, apart from an appreciable and well-coordinated strategy pursued by the Government in active cooperation of the international community to handle the crisis effectively, people of Pakistan especially those of several districts of the NWFP opened their hearths and homes for the displaced persons. The degree of solidarity expressed by the people helped boost morale of the IDPs who endured the trial with a remarkable patience and courage. Now majority of the IDPs have gone back to their homes but there are still huge challenges for them to brace. In many cases, they will have to start from the scratch as their houses, properties, businesses and belongings have either been destroyed during the conflict or looted by militants and criminals. Therefore, they will have to make a fresh start and it will take months and years for the normal life to return fully in the area. Then there are also security apprehensions due to presence of militants in pockets, inculcating a sense of uncertainty among them. Under these circumstances, many enthusiasts made their way to Swat and Malakand on the auspicious occasion of the Independence Day as a mark of solidarity with them. This goodwill gesture will surely go a long way in alleviating mental sufferings of the people of Swat and regain confidence. It was because of the successful operation and the support of the people and the Government that a wave of jubilation swept across Swat on the occasion of the Independence Day. Similarly, the Government has done well in fulfilling the longstanding demand of the people of FATA region for amendments in the FCR and initiation of the political activity in the area like other parts of the country. This bold step would contribute a lot in the mainstreaming of FATA, which has assumed priority in the present-day context. There was absolutely no justification for allowing the region to be governed by a separate and discriminatory set of laws and rules. People of FATA are fully entitled to all the rights that are being enjoyed by other Pakistanis and, therefore, the announcement should be implemented in letter and in spirit.







THERE was a lot of confusion about the fate of the highly discriminatory and illogical Hajj quotas for the Government functionaries and parliamentarians as the lawmakers were pressurizing the authorities to reverse their decision to abolish the quota system. In fact, a ministerial committee was also constituted at the instance of the MPs to reconsider the issue. However, it is heartening that at the end, the Government decided not to waiver and stick to its principled position on the issue.

We salute the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues for upholding the principle of merit and fairplay and moving towards a quota free environment in the country. With the passage of time, the ruling class and bureaucracy created a lot of undue privileges for themselves as is witnessed from this or that sort of quota. People of this country have been witnessing with bruised hearts prevalence of the curse — job quotas, plot quotas, import quotas, arms licence quotas, fertilizer and cement distribution quotas, scholarship quotas and quota for admissions in educational institutions to list a few. The situation deteriorated to such an extent that even the religious obligation of Hajj was not spared and here too privileges were created to accommodate people over and above the balloting system. In the first place, why to allocate quota for a particular class when majority has to go through the balloting, creating a sense of deprivation and injustice. Secondly, there were reports of alleged corruption even in the Hajj quota as some influential people reportedly sold their quota to private tour operators. This was corruption of the highest order and, therefore, the situation needed to be rectified to cleanse at least the Hajj process of such abhorring practices. One failed to understand why the parliamentarians, who are supposed to be role model, instead of appreciating the move of the Government about abolishing of the Hajj quota, started making frantic calls for its restoration. Anyhow, we welcome the decision of the Government not to succumb to the undue pressure on this account. We would, however, expect that this should not be an end but beginning of the process and quotas from other spheres of life should also be done away with for the sake of good governance and upholding of merit.







DURING the last several weeks, a serious and heated debate is taking place about justification and efficacy of a number of Rental Power Plants (RPPs) that would start commissioning in few months. According to media reports and analyses of the experts, about two billion rupees of this poor nation are being squandered and people of Pakistan will be made to pay still higher for the electricity they consume as WAPDA would be purchasing power from these plants at exorbitant rates.

Opposition political parties and some sections of the media are alleging that corruption worth billions of rupees is involved in the present power policy. They point out that the country had enough installed capacity to meet its power requirements but instead of paying attention to reactivate the inactive capacity, the authorities concerned simply allow the power crisis to persist only to create justification for RPPs. This is substantiated by the fact that during the last one and a half years, we have been hearing that the so-called circular debt, which has forced the IPPs to run on reduced capacity, would eliminate in days but that did not happen. Instead of clearing dues of PSO and IPPs, the Government is doling out billions of rupees to RPPs in the name of mobilization advance, which is believed to be more than the actual cost of the plants themselves. It is unfortunate that during the last tenure of the Government there was IPPs scandal and now we have the scandal of RPPs. We hope that the Government would explain its position and allow a fair investigation into the allegations of corruption so that the issue doesn’t become part of the White Paper that is usually published by the successor Government.











This year the nation mourns the death of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in a favourably changed situation. It is for two reasons: first, after the court ruled the observance of August 15, 1975 as a National Morning Day during the rule of the caretaker government, this is for the first time that the day is being observed under a political government; second, the political government now spearheaded by the party that led the War of Liberation in 1971 has been voted to power simply because it has once again inspired the nation to commit itself for a change for better days.
Now it is this favourable political atmosphere that runs the risk of either limiting the paying of homage to the fountainhead of our struggle for political and economic liberty to just a conspicuous ritual or worse, overstepping the political norms to deification of the leader whose mission was to make his countrymen happy. Sheikh Mujib stood for some specific causes and ideals and nothing will be more appropriate for us than extolling those values and striving for realising his unfulfilled dreams. His is a preeminent position that can be better served if the ideals and objectives he set for himself to achieve are now vigorously pursued.

Here is an opportunity for his party and all who revere him to work with dedication and out of profound respect for the 'greatest Bangalee of 1,000 years' so that the nation can take the elevated position he so cherished during his lifetime. He was a people's leader who loved people and wished them all well. But in today's Bangladesh not all people are well; grinding poverty, lack of education and health, socio-economic discrimination and even threat from militant organisations have frustrated the nation's journey towards peace and progress. If we are really serious about paying our best homage to the man who delivered this nation, we must take up the challenge to conquer all such constraints.

Last but not least, we need to close the chapter of the killing of Sheikh Mujib by completing the trial of his killers.







With the start of Ramzan, city dwellers will face two problems even more acutely than they usually do. One is an increase in mugging incidents and the other is heavier traffic congestion, specially during the morning and afternoon hours before Iftar. In order to address these problems, every year the government has to arrange for extra security and this year is no exception. 

The Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) has decided to deploy community police along with the regular police at busy market places and shopping centres. Officers-in-Charge (OCs) of 37 police stations in the capital have been issued directives to maintain tight security in their respective areas. Also DMP has proposed that all the schools and colleges in the city should be given vacation after the 15th of Ramzan aimed at easing traffic jam.

Deterioration of law and order has given the authorities sleepless nights because much of the government's performance in different areas depends on it. Criminals become particularly active ahead of festivals like the Eid-ul-Fitr simply because people go on a spending spree during such times. Their desperation is understood but the seriousness with which it has to be treated is often found lacking. So sincerity of the law enforcement agencies counts.   

The same applies for special drives now being conducted against illegal motorised and non-motorised vehicles. Lately, the authorities have taken a decision to take vehicles in operation for more than 15 years off the streets of Dhaka. This will definitely improve its traffic movement and reduce its air and noise pollution.









It was a sixty-two year old who was being interviewed by a TV channel: "Happy Birthday! How old are you?" Guest, "I'm sixty-two today!" TV channel, "Old isn't it?"

"No, young and fit as a fiddle!" TV channel, "How do you feel?"

"Very, very healthy!" TV channel, "Any aches and pains?"

"A little here, a little there, one from an injury during the Emergency and after that a few falls but otherwise none the worse for wear, in fact rearing to go!"

"Any memories you'd like to talk about?"

"Life is more or less the same for everybody isn't it? When you're a baby you act like one, I did, I was a child and I got knocked over by bully China, but I grew strong after that and thrashed up that other bully Pakistan a couple of times!"

"What about your teenage years?"

"Went a little bonkers! Started nationalising everything! Thought I could feed my poor by holding onto industry and banks and abolishing privy purses but it didn't work and people suffered with bad service and poor products!"

"Did you learn anything from that experience?"

"Took me sometime, oh yes, it took me sometime; was a bit pig headed and stubborn but as I got into my forties I changed, opened my thinking, became more global in my outlook and that's changed me for the better!"
TV channel, "How do you look at yourself now?"

"Strong! Vibrant! Young!"

"Anything you'd like to change in yourself in the next few years?"

"Oh yes, I would like every single individual, whatever caste or creed he belongs to, to feel safe with me, I would want the wealth people make to be spread a little more!"

"To the poor?"

"Yes, to the poor, and homeless, and those who still go hungry each day, may they also share in the benefits I have to offer!" TV channel, "Anything else India? Any advice to your people on your birthday?" India, "It is your birthday too! Today is a day you have a right to shout with joy and raise your voices in happiness, it is because you possessively held onto the freedom that you got sixty two years ago, that we celebrate today! And will celebrate many, many more, oh yes a hundred and a thousand more, if you guard and protect me not just from invasions outside but also from those who seek to destroy me within!"

"Happy Birthday India you can now blow out your sixty- two candles...!"



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




No other month has brought about so much joy and sorrow on Koreans in their modern history as August. Today, the whole nation celebrates the 64th anniversary of liberation from Japanese colonial rule. Two weeks later
on Aug. 29 Korea will face ``National Humiliation Day" when it was forcefully annexed by Imperial Japan exactly 99 years ago.

Most Koreans think about their former colonizer twice a year
on March 1 Independence Movement Day and Aug. 15 Liberation Day unless of course some ultra-right Japanese politicians touch their historical or territorial sore spots.

This seeming indifference to
and ignorance of the neighboring giant is amazing, particularly considering most of Korea's hardships and disgraces stemmed from its loss of sovereignty to Japan. The nation was split into South and North Korea as the price of liberation and even South Korea itself is now virtually divided into two liberals and conservatives one of whose differences is how they justify the Japanese colonial days and how much they are willing to forgive pro-Japanese collaborators.

But none of these should revive anti-Japanese sentiments here, because the time has long past to let bygones be bygones. Of course, Japan
at least its establishment has been far from repenting their military past and wartime atrocities.

One needs to look no further than Tokyo's refusal to unequivocally admit and apologize for the ``comfort women,'' or World War II sex slaves, despite resolutions to that effect adopted by dozens of countries, including the United States, Canada and the Netherlands. As U.S. Congressman Mike Honda, himself a third-generation Japanese-American, points out, Japan's apology ``lacks true depth.'' Japanese leaders may think time will wash away their past war crimes, but time will only strip away opportunities for forgiveness, as all victims pass away.

Still, we can't help but notice Rep. Honda, though a U.S. citizen, is of Japanese descent, a good illustration of ``good Japanese'' opposed to ``bad Japanese,'' as seen from the viewpoint of its neighbors. Likewise, it was some Japanese private groups that worked hardest to compensate for Korean victims of the Pacific War, a job even the Korean government sometimes neglects.

But there are only two groups of Koreans regarding Japan
pro-Japanese and anti-Japanese. Most of their reactions to Japanese challenges in historical and territorial issues are also mainly emotional and transitional. This comes in stark contrast with the Japanese tactics, marked by quiet accumulation of data and development of logic, while ceaselessly testing Koreans' response to renewed provocation. A case in point is the bilateral brawl on the Dokdo islets.

President Lee Myung-bak was right to say the two neighbors should not be bound by the past too much, but seek a future-oriented relationship. But the future comes only to those who don't cease to prepare for it
in diplomacy, too. We doubt the Lee administration or any of its predecessors for that matter have made efforts to know Japan better than Japan knows Korea. To borrow from the Israeli people's ``forgive but not forget'' axiom, Koreans seem not to forgive but forget.

Small surprise then that Korea's trade deficit over the past decade alone has reached 200 trillion won ($160 billion), more than eclipsing its surplus with the rest of the world.







The recent series of detentions and releases of American and Korean citizens by North Korea has only reaffirmed the wayward, unclear nature of the reclusive regime.

It seems rather trite to reiterate the diplomatic gains and losses of each side, as the ``hostage diplomacy'' has only restored the landscape to what it should have been like in the first place. One might guess Pyongyang could no longer hold a Korean after it set free two Americans in view of ``equitability.''

Or Kim Jong-il might want some kickbacks from Seoul for his ``magnanimous'' gesture, in which case he should also release four fishermen whose boat was seized two weeks ago after it strayed into North Korean waters, to maximize returns.

Precious as the lives of these individuals may be, it is time for both Koreas to directly tackle the gist of the episode. It is still not fully known what the 44-year-old Yoo Seong-jin has done wrong except for Pyongyang's one-sided charge that he ``changed and corrupted a North Korean woman,'' while encroaching on the North's sovereignty.

Whatever the case may be, the South Korean officials should train their employees strictly about what they are allowed to do and say in the border city where the joint industrial complex is located. North Korea, for its part, must not repeat the unilateral, opaque enforcement of its rules. It violated both the bilateral agreement on the Gaeseong Industrial Complex and all international practices with its outrageous infringement on the basic rights of the suspect.

To normalize the industrial park, the North will need to not only guarantee freer passage and activities in its territory but also readjust its financial demands to more realistic levels.

Drawing attention in this regard is Yoo's rescuer, Hyundai Group head Hyun Jung-eun, who has already delayed her return date ``three times,'' presumably because Kim Jong-il has yet to grant her an audience, which in turn is due to a failure to reach an ``under-the-table'' agreement between working-group officials of the two sides concerning Gaeseong and other inter-Korean projects, including the resumption of the Mt. Geumgang tour.

It will not be easy, however, for both Hyundai and Seoul to agree to any North Korean demands that accompany heavy cash payment to the reclusive regime, without endorsement from South Korea's major allies, the United States in particular.

Moreover, some conservatives here might take issue with rewarding the bad behavior, demanding, for example, an apology from North Korea for a tourist killed in the North Korean resort, which could further complicate the negotiation procedure, as Pyongyang is hardly likely to accept it.

The only way to find a breakthrough would be for President Lee Myung-bak to cut the Gordian knot with his ``grand proposal" for resuming all humanitarian projects, even though Seoul maintains political and economic sanctions resolved at the United Nations. He could even go further by proposing another inter-Korean summit based on full recognition of the two previous ones, preferably in his Liberation Day speech today.

As to U.S. concerns about Seoul's overspeed in the inter-Korean relationship, the two allies will always be able to coordinate their ``comprehensive packages.'' One thing seems certain in the trilateral relationship: Seoul has been losing far more from going too slow and cautious than from speeding, and will remain so in the future, too.







Streams of politicians, including President Lee Myung-bak, have visited Severance Hospital in Sinchon, western Seoul, over the past few days to console and pay respect to the ailing former President Kim Dae-jung. They have been received by Lee Hee-ho, who hasn't seemed perturbed despite her husband's illness. She has gracefully abstained from showing her emotions and greeted the guests with her usual calm and the smile that the nation enjoyed during her time in the presidential residence.

Kim is reportedly wearing mittens knitted by his wife. His feet are also wrapped in special socks she made. She began knitting the gloves when she heard from doctors that when blood pressure goes down, a patient's hands and feet become cold. I believe the mittens and socks are another form of her prayer. Lee is a devout Protestant and Kim is a Catholic, as they were at their marriage 47 years ago.

Although Kim served as the 15th president of Korea and received the internationally coveted Nobel Peace Prize in 2000, he certainly has not been the luckiest politician given all the threats and internment he has suffered in his 85 years. Yet, he must be one of the most blessed husbands in the world, having a wife as devoted as Lee.

Let me confess that I didn't like her very much back in 1992 when I realized her presence in Kim's life. I had respected Kim for his unflinching struggle for democracy, but I knew little about his wife. This may sound extremely silly but my apathy toward her was largely based on the way she looked. She was quite thin, as she is now, and the big spectacles on her skinny face gave the exaggerated impression of a woman rich in intelligence yet lacking in warmth. I was young and simple and didn't comprehend that facades sometimes beguile the entire building.

So when I read Kim's letters from prison, published in 1992, entitled ``To My Beloved Family," I was sort of surprised: Nearly all the letters he sent to her began with ``To You with Love and Respect." Korea was notoriously patriarchal at the time and few men dared to ``respect" their wives, especially in public. Kim's respect for his wife spurred my jealousy but at the same time encouraged me to look into her as a person.

As I learned more about Lee, I came to believe that she was equally as respectable as her husband (or even more so) as a social reform activist, a women's rights promoter and, most importantly, a person of boundless love.

Born the eldest daughter of a doctor in 1922, she received what was probably the best education among her peers, through which she grew to be a rare female intellectual more interested in correcting societal problems than in individualistic happiness. She started her career as a guidance teacher for young women in 1944 and has remained committed to promoting the well being of women since then. Had she not married Kim, some feminists say, the social status of women in Korea may have become different

While there are many things about Lee that make me look up to her, the most impressive may be her love not only of her family but also of underprivileged children, women, patients of Hansen's disease, juvenile delinquents and people with special needs. She has made her best efforts to enhance gender equality while living as a dedicated wife and mother. She was the first First Lady to pay a visit to Sorok Island, the colony for Hansen's disease patients, though few Koreans know this due to a lack of publicity. Also noteworthy is her reticence as a Christian. She has never boasted her credo.

In her autobiography, ``Going Together," published last year, Lee says that of all the Americans she has met, Eleanor Roosevelt, whom she met in 1957 while studying there, was the most unforgettable for her commitment to the equality of human beings. ``If anyone had asked if Korea could ever have a First Lady like her, we would have all shaken our heads, because Korean women then were not treated as the equals of men."

If I ever have a chance to meet Lee, I would say that we have had a First Lady like Roosevelt and that she was that person. I am sure she is praying for her husband night and day and even though I don't share her faith, I earnestly hope her prayers will be heard. I also hope her fellow Christians in the incumbent government will learn from her way of life.







While touring a bookstore the other day, I came across a title with an intriguing cover. Staring straight at me, breaking the fourth wall, was a Korean woman, blank-faced, with her baby-coddling white husband.

The book, entitled ``Happy Together," was a photographic showcase of interracial couples (all Korean women with white men) in South Korea. The author, Kim Ok-sun, herself married to a German man, described the book as a personal portrayal of ``Korean women living in this country with foreign spouses … further expand[ing] to the portraits of Asian women." Innocent enough, I thought.

Then I read the other commentaries. Max Henry, a New York-based male art critic, applauded ``suffering martyrs" like Kim who broke with tradition and aligned with Western men. He followed by chiding Korean society (and presumably all Asian men) for maintaining ``prejudicial obstacles" to such supposedly socially progressive pairings.

Park Chan-kyong, a Korean male artist, wrote how the ``prejudice of ultra nationalistic Koreans (men)" had rendered Korean women like Kim ``guardians" against an oppressive Korean system. The overall message: Korean (and Asian) men are really sexist; white Western men … not so much.

As a Korean-American man, I agree wholeheartedly that sexism
both individual but especially structural remains a truly frustrating bane on Korean (and Asian) society. Whenever an insecure Korean man struts his manliness, tells me his future wife dare not be ugly, or encourages me to watch ``Minyeodeului Suda" (Beauties' Chattering) that ridiculous program featuring foreign women ogling over Korean men, i.e. a sad fantasy I feel shame and anger.

What's more, I respect Korean women like Kim who shed artistic light on a controversial but very personal issue. And yet, her book's critique of ``sexist" Korean (and Asian) men is still problematic.

By trumping gender over all other categories (race, class, or sexuality), Kim's book ignores that oppressions don't exist in a vacuum. Instead, they are always relational and work together. For instance, ``the Orient" historically has been gendered ``passive," ``feminine," and very likely ``gay" by the West, while the latter has been gendered ``dominant," ``masculine," and most definitely ``straight."

Moreover, her book doesn't recognize the extent to which the West actually oppresses both Asian men and women _ only in different ways. Consequently, to paraphrase Nadia Y. Kim, Asian women often cannot resist one kind of oppression (Asian patriarchy) without reinforcing another (white Western heterosexual masculinity).

Sexism is all around Western culture, but it is difficult to see. Look closer and you'll find it throughout the blogosphere, across airwaves in ``America," and especially in everyday conversation. How may times do I still hear the casual taunts of ``liberal" white Western men accusing each other of being a ``girl," ``bitch" or ``fag?" Of course, these are only personal examples. Plus, they do not speak to the many ways Asian women experience sexism and racism in the West, e.g., being stereotyped as sexually submissive, exotic, and so forth. Instead, they simply illustrate how much misogyny and homophobia still frame much of white Western masculinity.

In 2004, Details Magazine printed a notorious article featuring a strikingly average looking Asian man next to the insidious title, ``Gay or Asian?"

Historically, such displays of Asian male emasculation are nothing new. To quote my feminist sister, they merely expose what white Western masculinity secretly loathes and fears: women and ``queers."

Of course, most people (including Kim) don't acknowledge this. Most Koreans I meet still have this vague notion that the West is a paragon of feminism. Unfortunately, they forget that ``Western feminism" emerged largely on the backs of poorer women of color (non-whites) who were willing to do the jobs richer white women left. South Korean women do not share the same luxury (at least, not yet).

Similarly, most white Western men are only as exceptionally ``liberal" as Asian men are eternally ``sexist." Sadly, most people forget this. For instance, many women misdirect their energies fighting against each other instead of challenging the real culprit, patriarchy. Likewise, many Asian men do the same by fighting over ``their women"
usually in a bid to outdo white Western men instead of challenging another culprit, sexist and racist white Western masculinity.

Ultimately, all men need to be less sexist. Only then can we have a truly sustainable, ``global" feminist movement. I know I need to do my part. Korean men have their work cut out for them, too. And what about ``liberal" white Western men? My sister has good advice: ``They should look in the mirror." Sounds like a good book title to me.

The author has been a frequent contributing writer for The Korea Times. He can be reached at











In Canberra, a new government with ambitions to make a real difference battles to have any impact on an old problem. In Darwin, a government is brought to the edge as a senior minister resigns in protest. Meanwhile, communities from the Tiwi Islands to Tennant Creek wait yet again for programs that fall far short of the promises, reinforcing what anthropologist Peter Sutton has called the "tragedy tolerance" of many damaged indigenous communities.


Fifteen months after the launch of the federal government's $672 million Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program, not a single house has been built. It is an appalling statistic, but the reality is that we have been here before on this merry-go-round of funding followed by policy failure. This problem has not been created by Kevin Rudd or Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin. Their commitment to delivery, to measurement, to the metrics -- not just the philosophy -- of Aboriginal development is unquestioned. But like legions of politicians before them, they have hit the 40-year roadblock in indigenous affairs.


For decades, media reporting of indigenous housing has often focused on the irresponsibility of tenants and the waste of resources. This time, the story is about the failure of the public servants charged with the task of delivering programs.


In the past 10 days, this paper has sent reporters and photographers to investigate the money trail from Canberra to communities in the Northern Territory. What we have uncovered -- inflated costs, delays in commissioning work -- is alarming. In a can-do country like Australia, why has it been so hard to build or refurbish houses in these communities? This is no ordinary hiccup in construction. Rather, our reporting suggests, it is an endemic malaise, a culture that accepts, for example, that $36 million set aside for work in Tennant Creek can be delayed for months by red tape and bureaucracy. Little wonder that the Territory's indigenous policy minister Alison Anderson pulled the plug on her government and her party. Little wonder that Arnhem Land leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu has rejected the federal intervention in the Territory and condemned Canberra's inability to deliver houses.


The problems in delivering housing are symptomatic of other problems in the Territory administration. Before the last election there, we argued that the Territory desperately needed a serious election contest focused on the pressing needs of its indigenous citizens, who comprise 30 per cent of the population. The delays in delivering SIHIP illustrate the historic failures of the states and the Territory to effectively manage the delivery of federal monies. Those problems were among the reasons this paper so strongly backed the "crash-through" approach of the Howard government's indigenous affairs minister, Mal Brough, in 2006. It was clear then -- and again in the dramatic federal intervention the following year -- that a circuit-breaker was required.


The Rudd government has shown courage in staying the course, even against opposition from within its own party. The pressure on Ms Macklin is intense: she has faced, for example, injunctions in her efforts to take over the squalid Alice Springs town camps.


Yet despite complaints from ideologues who believe that Aboriginal culture and identity is threatened by modern, hygienic living conditions, there has been a big change in the past four or five years in public understanding of indigenous issues. There is a demand now for tangible, practical pathways to viable, functional communities. The devastating revelations in 2006 of the breakdown and sexual dysfunction in some communities stunned the nation. The federal intervention that followed the release of the Little Children are Sacred report, which dealt with many of these issues, represented a turning point in the relationship between white and black Australians. But situations such as the housing debacle threaten the consensus that there must be change. When governments fail to deliver on promises, it only adds to the despair of black Australians and the frustrations of the broader community.


For more than a decade now, Cape York leader Noel Pearson has warned of the dangers of a passive welfare mentality. Mr Pearson, like Dr Sutton, has understood the connection between a proper economic base and a functional society in indigenous communities. Decent housing as well as jobs is part of that equation.


It is true that the provision of housing in Aboriginal communities has been hotly contested for decades. We recognise that some communities are so small as to be virtually unsustainable. But this is a separate issue: given the allocation of funds, it is imperative that houses be built or refurbished.


No one suggests that a house will fix the deep problems of addiction and welfare dependency in Aborginal areas. But the SIHIP project is an acknowledgement that we are not prepared to accept Australians living in sub-standard conditions. Adequate housing is a first step in providing safe environments for vulnerable women and children. Overcrowded and insecure dwellings must be addressed if they are to be protected.


The delays in delivering SIHIP are not just about public servants getting it wrong. There are many complex problems confronting anyone working in this area. But it is possible to see a bureaucratic mindset that accepts sub-standard living conditions for Aborigines, that sees their problems as intractable and that views them as permanently outside mainstream Australian culture.


The delays suggest a lack of vigour and a lack of rigour in those charged with the task of delivering housing. But none of us -- white or black -- escapes a history in which job losses, alcohol, drugs and welfare have defined Aboriginal Australians. It is a history that makes it hard for citizens as well as politicians and activists to remain focused on success. And it can all too easily generate a culture of lowered expectations for black Australians. There is an unconscious acceptance of lower standards that would be rejected for white Australians.


Such a stance cannot be tolerated. Whether delays are caused by incompetence or cynicism on the part of bureaucrats, Ms Macklin must insist on change. If she is to make a mark, she must ensure that there are metrics in place to measure outcomes.


We have long argued the need for a balance between rights and responsibilities for indigenous Australians. Now the public servants charged with their care must be held to their responsibilities. Ms Macklin should consider appointing an outsider to cut through the red tape and manage delivery, drawing on the experience of the Queensland government which appointed retired general Peter Cosgrove to oversee the reconstruction of Innisfail after 2006's Cyclone Larry.


A multitude of problems face indigenous Australia. Many seem impossibly hard. Many will take a generation or more to be rectified. But building decent houses is not one of these -- housing is one problem that can be fixed.








Coverage in supposedly responsible sections of the media smacks of hype and snobbery. The Sydney Morning Herald led the rush to judgment with headlines such as: "Now for today's league scandal", "Why abused girlfriends stand by their man" and "League's island of virtue swept away by odious tide".


The mistreatment of women under any circumstances is deplorable, and culprits must cop the consequences. That said, the image of rugby league players, maligned as often for petty misdemeanours as for serious issues, should be put in perspective. Young men have been making mistakes and letting newfound freedom go to their heads since Christ told the parable of the prodigal son.


At 22, Inglis, who is studying to be a youth worker, has come a long way from the backwaters of Bowraville, on the NSW north coast, and few young men his age live under such scrutiny. The same could be said of Roosters player Willie Mason, who is not the first Australian male to urinate on a wall outside a hotel, but who made headlines for doing so. So did Melbourne's Cooper Cronk and Brett Finch, and Brisbane's Nick Kenny, while teammate Steve Michaels allegedly kicked a passing car.


Sports stars are role models, but they are also real people. It would be unfortunate if the morally arrogant tone of some media coverage cost rugby league top talent, and deterred other young boys from aspiring to play their best.








Probably deceived by the German commerce raider Kormoran's disguise as a Dutch merchant vessel, he approached too close, losing the advantage of his long-range guns and without sending his sailors to action stations. The Germans accepted the opportunity, running up their battle flag and risking all on a single surprise salvo, which worked. Commissioner Terrence Cole estimates 70 per cent of the Sydney's crew were killed or wounded within five minutes. That the survivors fought back with such ferocity that the Kormoran sank is a tribute to their training and courage. But there is no denying the Germans king hit the Australian ship.


There was not, as conspiracy theorists claim, an ambush by a Japanese submarine, no feigned surrender by the Germans, no massacre of Australian sailors. To acknowledge the cause of this defeat is not to question the courage of the sailors who died doing their duty. Mr Cole considered 30,000 archival records and his inquiry sat for 36 days in Australia and Germany but in the end it served no essential purpose, adding little to the 1999 parliamentary inquiry. It is here the matter must end.


The Australian desire to pay tribute to our armed services has never been a triumphalist celebration of victory. The men and women who died on pilgrimage to Kokoda this week were not visiting some celebratory shrine to boastful nationalism. Far from it. The Australian way of remembering war is to commemorate the commitment of ordinary servicemen and women who did their best in their country's service. While we remember the victories, such as the Somme in 1918 and Kokoda in 1942, we also honour the defeats, such as Gallipoli and the sinking of the Sydney. The details of the way its crew died so long ago now matters much less than the knowledge that they gave their all for Australia.












THERE have been few winners from this week's defeat of the Government's carbon pollution reduction scheme. The predicament of the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, has been picked over endlessly, and it is true that things do not look good for him - or the Liberals, or the Coalition.


To produce a consultant's alternative model to the Government's scheme, but not to endorse it as policy - as Turnbull did this week - is to risk being accused of time-wasting. The diversion - stunt might be a better word - only confirmed the wretched state of the Opposition, stranded and trapped on an issue which is known to divide it completely.


But what of the Prime Minister? The Government has been defeated and shown to be impotent on a matter of the utmost gravity. There remains to Kevin Rudd the threat of a double dissolution to use as a weapon against the Coalition. It is always assumed that this would produce a walkover victory for the Government. Things may not be so simple.


Imagine Rudd and the Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, campaigning for, say, five weeks on the issue of their carbon pollution reduction scheme. Rudd, uninspiring as an orator at the best of times, would himself be trapped in long explanations of his scheme's arcane ramifications, or obliged to defend the (necessary and inevitable) price rises which would ensue from its operations.


The former Liberal leader John Hewson was famously damaged in the 1993 election campaign when asked to explain how his goods and services tax would work on a cake. The carbon pollution reduction scheme is more complicated, and its justification different, but the effect is somewhat similar: many prices will rise. How hard is that for an Opposition to exploit - even a divided one?


As each day goes by with no progress on this issue, the politics becomes harder. As the issue gets churned over repeatedly, there is a growing risk that the climate change sceptics will move from the fringe to centre stage. Their dubious spin on the scientific case for climate change will have a chance to gain more traction with sections of the electorate. As Ross Garnaut predicted in his report on which the Government's policy is now based, businesses, particularly those which produce a lot of emissions while employing large numbers, are mobilising to water down or kill off the scheme. For now, time is on their side.


The debate over an appropriate response to climate change is starting to resemble the tariff debates which divided our national politics from Federation until the 1980s. Before that decade there was a regular queue of struggling businesspeople lobbying Canberra for tariff protection. Politicians were only too ready to do deals which might favour one section of industry, but which trapped the national economy in a web of inefficiencies.


It was not until free trade ideas gained the upper hand from the 1980s on that Australia simplified the tariff rules, opened up to the world, and become rapidly wealthier as a result. Though some tariffs still exist, the principle that trade should be free has become the rule.


If we put the response to climate change on a similar timeline, Australia has a long way to go before it reaches a point corresponding to that 1980s watershed, which would see preventing climate change made the highest priority.


Business has girded its loins to lobby for special deals - which if allowed will gradually reduce the effectiveness of the Rudd Government's scheme until it no longer achieves what it is supposed to.


Before the Government brings its scheme back to Parliament, it should reshape it to remove its susceptibility to political pressure.


The necessary end point of any scheme is to change behaviour so that carbon emissions are reduced.


Exceptions for favoured industries undermine that purpose; that is why there should ideally be no exceptions. No side deals, no special treatment, no unfairness, no backsliding.


The simplest and most effective way to do that is to place a price on carbon emissions which applies uniformly to all. That may be a council of perfection, but it should nonetheless be the aim.


Let us keep the back-room politics out of the fight against climate change.







THE NSW Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal, has turned up the heat in interstate relations by calling Western Australia and Queensland a new axis of evil. This immediately prompted speculation that NSW and Victoria (let us call them the Allies) may be planning an invasion. The Herald does not favour this: invasions are expensive, and the Allies are now impoverished because the Axis has been stealing our GST money. Instead, we recommend a guerilla campaign of cross-border raids. As Roozendaal rightly hinted, the Gold Coast is ripe for the plucking. Allied grey nomad and backpacker units should infiltrate this wealthy region, staying at garish motels and B-and-Bs. There they should sow confusion and dismay by stealing all gold-plated taps from the ensuites, before they merge back imperceptibly into the local population. Once smuggled into Allied territory along primitive jungle supply routes such as the Pacific Highway, the taps can be easily melted down for their gold content to boost state revenue.




                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN




The utterly predictable truth is that this was never going to be a week like any other. "I'm not in charge," insisted a smiling and tanned Peter Mandelson on return from his holiday with the Rothschilds in Corfu last weekend. It was "absolute nonsense" to pretend that he would be in charge of the government while Gordon Brown wandered lonely in the Lake District. "Peter wants to keep a deliberately low profile this week," announced an aide. "There will be no headlines and few announcements."


Six days on, those protestations look decidedly thin. Lord Mandelson's plane had not even touched down when the Sunday Times announced that this improbable class warrior was drawing up plans to discriminate against rich students seeking university places. The next morning a profile of the self-described "kindly pussycat" appeared in G2. A day on, the business secretary was charging his 2008 holiday chum George Osborne with political cross-dressing after the shadow chancellor claimed that the Tories were the real progressives now. Wednesday produced a connoisseur's encounter with Evan Davis – "Evan, you're not interviewing yourself. You're interviewing me" – on Radio 4's Today programme. Thursday saw a TV interview on a train about his Labour leadership prospects. Yesterday's papers were full of a Mandelson initiative against bankers' bonuses.


Apart from indisputable entertainment, what does all this really add up to? One thing can certainly be said: low-profile it is not. The headlines that were forsworn at the start of the week have turned out to be hard to keep up with. Still, it is not surprising that, with most politicians away, he and those of us journalists still around in August have converged on one another during an otherwise humdrum week between Test matches. It was probably also inevitable, given Labour's apparently terminal plight under Mr Brown, that some of this mutually advantageous coverage would overflow into speculation about whether Lord Mandelson might be flirting not just with the media but with a Labour leadership bid of his own.


These have not been six days that shook the world. But they have usefully reminded us of several things: that Labour needs to be more determined about promoting social mobility; that it has still not been tough enough with the bankers; that there is a really important political fight to be fought with the Tories over the economy, public services and, not least, Europe. They have also proved that Lord Mandelson is a far better communicator and in many respects a better strategist than the PM. This week has not shown that Lord Mandelson is the answer as Labour leader. But it has underlined that there is still a big question mark about Mr Brown.







Just when it seemed that the US healthcare debate was in danger of hyperventilating, and a few deep, calming breaths were in order, it has just got more hysterical still. Not content with claims that Barack Obama's wish for reform represents socialism, that state apparatchiks would decide which doctor treats whom, those who oppose reform are now likening the hapless president to Hitler. The rumour that he would create death panels to decide which patients to treat has been building for some time. There is nothing in any of the bills before Congress that would stop treatment for the critically ill on grounds of cost. But when have facts ever got in the way of a campaign rooted in fear? The Washington Times compared the Nazis' T4 Aktion programme, to exterminate babies born with disabilities, to "America's T4 programme" to trivialise abortion and introduce euthanasia. Although the Times did not explicitly link this to the current healthcare reforms, the Hitler comparison planted the idea of the government getting embroiled in ending lives. What is worse, the NHS is now being dragged into the debate.


For this we have the likes of Daniel Hannan to thank. Even though the mish-mash of reforms under consideration in Washington would not produce anything like the NHS, Mr Hannan has been begging Americans not to take the British path. The very rightwing MEP was forced to sit as an independent in Brussels last year, after he compared procedural wrangles by German Christian Democrats over the Lisbon treaty to the 1933 Enabling Act. Thanks to David Cameron's squalid new continental alliances, though, he is now once again sitting alongside his fellow Conservatives. But Mr Cameron yesterday felt forced to rebuke him, for telling Fox News that the health service – which retains extraordinary popularity in Britain – was "a bloated relic of an era when Britain had rationing and ID cards". There is almost no need to explain to British readers why a service that makes care free for all is better than America's free-for-all. It is not that they know Britons live slightly longer, nor that they are aware that the NHS saves on actuaries and advertising, wasteful costs that ensure the total medical bill for the average American comes to twice that for a Briton. The ethical importance of not leaving people out in the cold – as happens to America's 46 million uninsured – is widely appreciated, but what really turns the NHS into an untouchable third rail in UK politics is the peace of mind that comes from knowing that financial and medical worries will not become intertwined.


Seen from this side of the Atlantic, the fear of reform is initially hard to fathom. The administration's claims that healthcare can be fixed without extra taxpayer funds leads some healthcare haves to fear their treatment will be taken away, and redistributed to the healthcare have-nots. But economists will tell you that free markets in insurance will never be efficient, because the "wrong" people – that is, those who are costlier to treat – will be the ones who opt for cover. With universal coverage it should be possible to make the money stretch further. Such subtleties, however, are not getting through. Used to the idea that their fate and that of their homes could turn on the small print of insurance policies, Americans have good reason for being anxious about their medical care, and that same anxiety is now making them anxious about reform.


The only protection against fear-mongering is education, and here the New York Times provided a service yesterday by highlighting the names behind the death panel scare – many of the same people who sank Bill Clinton's health proposals 16 years ago. But the truth will not penetrate the town hall meetings in which the debate is taking place without political leadership. Perhaps that is why Mr Obama wanted a reform package agreed before Congress rose. Faced with demagoguery, the onus is on all politicians to stand up and disown this nonsense.







When Winston Churchill remarked that "pigs look us straight in the eye and see an equal", he may not have intended to pay a compliment. If so, it was, like his views on Indian home rule, a misjudgment. Although the eating of pork is outlawed by some religions and cultures, in China pigs are associated with fertility and virility, and in northern Europe they have traditionally symbolised good luck and prosperity. So essential were they to the pre-Roman diet, the Celts even had a god of swine, Moccus. Pigs are intelligent, responsive and sometimes alarmingly omnivorous. They are also very sociable. One is not enough. They can be taught more tricks than the average dog and, given the right conditions, play a mean game of football. They also race enthusiastically and are nimble jumpers. As we reported last week, the fashion for home farming is growing so fast that a DIY store is proposing to stock pig arcs, the name now given to the kind of bijou residence where the Empress of Blandings once lived. Although most experts are disconcerted by the idea of widening pig ownership, pigs can already be found snuffling around allotments in Norwich, in the garden of a squat in London and in back gardens in the Empress's home county of Shropshire. Their association with Orwellian greed and selfishness is well-earned, but to dwell on their less noble qualities is to fail to appreciate the "wonderful, magical animals" that Homer Simpson in Springfield as well as Lord Emsworth at Blandings Castle came to love.








This year Japan appears to be greeting the 64th anniversary of the end of World War II without much political commotion. But a speech nine days earlier should not be dismissed as an insignificant event.


On the night of Aug. 6, the 64th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Mr. Toshio Tamogami, a former Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff — speaking at the very place where the world's first nuclear attack brought unprecedented devastation — called upon Japan to arm itself with nuclear weapons to avoid a "third nuclear attack." This is a despicable suggestion both morally and politically. If Japan develops nuclear weapons it would not only trigger a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia but also turn our nation into a pariah state.


Mr. Tamogami was sacked on Oct. 31, 2008, from his ASDF post over an essay he wrote stating that it is "false" to accuse Japan of being an aggressor nation before and during World War II. Mr. Tamogami, a former general, makes frequent appearances in the media and at gatherings — a sign that a segment of Japanese society supports a revisionist view of Japan's 20th-century wars.


One trait of this revisionism is condemnation of the official apology issued by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on Aug. 15, 1995 — the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II — for the "tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations," that Japan caused "through its colonial rule and aggression."


The fact that successive administrations have upheld the statement's position carries significant weight. It is clear that a refusal by Japan to acknowledge its past aggression and colonialism would cause the international community to lose its trust in Japan and severely compromise Japan's moral standing.


Squarely facing Japan's 20th century wars is not "masochism," as revisionists claim, but part of the process of learning the right lesson from history: that Japan's militarism brought immense destruction and suffering to other peoples as well as to the Japanese. Allowing this lesson to go unlearned greatly raises the risk that Japan will make a similar mistake in the future.







As the economic downturn drags on, sports teams set up within business enterprises are disappearing one after another as companies strive to cut costs. Rather than only focus on short-term results, however, businesses should pay attention to the long-term benefits their sports teams bring to both their companies and society at large.


If continuing to support sports teams in a traditional manner has become difficult, companies should seek nontraditional ways to do so, such as jointly sponsoring teams with other companies and local governments.


Sports teams and athletes serve as an effective means of public relations for many companies. Company sports teams also nurture a sense of unity among employees and between management and rank-and-file workers. Both executives and ordinary workers cheer their teams and athletes together, helping to improve company morale.


Enterprises should take a wider view of the social roles their sports teams play. They often help schoolchildren and people in local communities improve their sports skills by directly teaching them in sports seminars. These activities are welcomed not only by local residents but also by local governments, whose functions include promoting sports and education outside school.


The activities of sports teams greatly enrich the lives of local communities. Children in particular benefit tremendously from their interactions with highly skilled athletes. Such activities stimulate their interest in sports, thus helping to nurture future generations of athletes.


By promoting their sports teams' activities in local communities, enterprises also hone their reputations, which in turn often has a positive effect on their business performance.


Companies that are considering dissolving their sports teams because of financial difficulties should seriously reflect upon the positive contributions their teams make to the company and to the local community, and strive to find or develop ways that will enable the teams to continue.











Seniority no longer reins supreme in the Korean society, where the Confucian influence is fast receding. It has given way to meritocracy in both the public and private sectors. The idea has gained strength that salary compensation and whom to promote should be determined based on individual performance and talent, not on the length of employment.


Among the few places that seniority-based compensation and promotion are still prevailing are primary, middle and high schools. Special interest groups for teachers agree in principle on teacher evaluations, which will eventually, if not now, lead to merit-based compensation. But they have attached so many strings to the introduction of teacher evaluations that they have practically been putting up an insurmountable obstruction.


A long-awaited turnaround, however, is coming. The Korean Federation of Teachers' Association presented no preconditions when it decided earlier in the week to accommodate the government's plan to make the evaluation of teachers in their performances legally binding. Evaluations are the first step to be taken on the path to improving public education through competition by rewarding competent teachers and penalizing those who are not.


The head of the largest group representing teachers' interests said in an interview with a daily newspaper, "We have no reason to be driven into teacher evaluations. We will accommodate it of our own volition and without qualms. The National Assembly will have to pass a bill (on teacher evaluation) during its regular session (opening next month)."


The group counts as its members 180,000 teachers in primary, middle and high schools, or 45 percent of the total. As such, it holds sway in changing an existing education policy or adopting a new one.


In the past, the federation has been under mounting pressure to abandon its opposition to teacher evaluations. According to a survey conducted in March, eight in 10 parents demanded all teachers subject themselves to evaluations by parents, students, fellow teachers as well as their principal.


Even more surprising was the finding that almost two thirds of the teachers surveyed were in favor of such evaluations. In other words, the opinion poll's result proved that the federation misrepresented the majority opinion of its members when it opposed the proposal for teacher evaluations.


No wonder when they gathered for a conference on Monday, 400 leaders of the federation decided to accept teacher evaluations without attaching any preconditions. In doing so, they vowed to help promote professionalism for teachers.


Pressure is also mounting on another special interest group, the Korean Teachers and Education Workers' Union to follow suit. The militant leftist union, with which 15 percent of teachers are affiliated, has been persistent in its opposition to the government's proposal for teacher evaluations.


The union says it opposes teacher evaluations because they would permit principals to evaluate teacher performance arbitrarily. It also makes a dubious claim that the competition it would promote would be of little help in advancing professionalism among teachers.


But the union will have to change course and embrace teacher evaluations if it does not wish to alienate itself not only from the general public but also from fellow teachers any further. Nothing better illustrates its predicament than a decision the main opposition Democratic Party made in favor of teacher evaluations.


The party's withdrawal of support, which followed the federation's change of opinion, means that chances are now very high that teacher evaluations will be written into law in the near future.


The ruling Grand National Party is hinting that promotion and compensation will not be immediately linked to the evaluation outcome. But what is an evaluation for if its outcome is not used as the criterion for rewards and punishment? It should be made to encourage competition among teachers to upgrade primary and secondary education in the nation.








North Korea released a Hyundai Asan employee on Thursday after holding him in custody for more than four months. His return to freedom should be welcomed. But Pyongyang owes a detailed explanation about why it detained him and if it was really necessary to hold him for so long.


In the past, North Korea claimed the South Korean, while assigned to the Hyundai Asan office in the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, infringed on its right to sovereignty and engaged in an act that had grave consequences. But it did not say what he specifically did and what law he breached. Nor did it file any official charges against him before deciding to "deport" him.


In releasing him on Thursday evening, the South Korean authorities say, North Korea offered no additional explanation. Nor did it present any evidence of his alleged criminal offense.


But as things stand now, a question is being raised about whether or not the Hyundai Asan employee committed a criminal offense as serious as to warrant such a long detention. It must be addressed.


The first job the South Korean authorities will have to do is debrief him and ascertain whether or not his rights were protected during his detention in the way an inter-Korean agreement specifies. Then they will have to take appropriate action with regard to the detention case.


South Korea does not have to reward the North for releasing the Hyundai Asan employee. It will do well to stay the course and withhold aid to the North, at least until after Pyonyang sends back a South Korean fishing boat with its four-man crew, which apparently strayed into North Korean waters some weeks ago.


The South should remind the North that it takes two to tango and that they have to improve their ties in the way they benefit both sides.









A Yangon court found Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi guilty of breaking the terms of her detention when an American man swam to her home in May and stayed there for two days.


The court sentenced her to three years of hard labor and imprisonment but that sentence was immediately commuted to 18 months under house arrest on a special order from the military ruler Than Shwe.


The guilty verdict, which had been widely expected, keeps Suu Kyi confined to her house ahead of next year's general election. Suu Kyi has been kept in detention for 14 of the past 20 years - the last period of house arrest began in 2003 and was scheduled to expire in May.


Suu Kyi was first put under house arrest from 1989 to 1995. She has not seen her two sons for about 10 years and was unable to leave the country when her husband, a British scholar, died of cancer in 1990.


Now, the symbol of Myanmar's struggle for democracy will be kept for another 18 months in isolation. The 64-year-old Nobel laureate is only allowed to listen to government-controlled radio and read the government mouthpiece newspaper. She has two female aides - who were also sentenced to 18 months under house arrest this week - and is allowed almost no visitors, except doctors and lawyers.


The military regime in Myanmar has ruled the country for almost five decades. It has done so impervious to condemnation by the international community. In 1990, the military junta nullified the results of the general election in which Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party won a landslide victory. Next year's election would be the first since that time.


Suu Kyi's lawyers argued during the trial that she could not be held responsible for the actions of John Yettaw who testified that he swam to her house after receiving a message from God that he must protect Suu Kyi against a terrorist plot to assassinate her. The baffling case handed the junta a convenient excuse to keep her locked up for next year's elections.


Suu Kyi and her aides faced up to 5 years in prison under Myanmar law. The military government tried to appear lenient by giving them a three-year sentence and then immediately cutting it to 18 months under house arrest. However, the military leaders in Yangon are not fooling anyone.


Countries around the world have condemned the sentence. U.S. President Barack Obama said the sentence was "unjust" and called for the release of Suu Kyi and thousands of other political prisoners. "Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away," he said.


The European Union said it would reinforce sanctions against the regime and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, issued an expression of disappointment, an unusual move for the regional group.


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has shown keen interest in getting the Mynamar government to release Suu Kyi, demanded her unconditional release.


Despite the condemnation of the sentence from around the world, Myanmar's state-run newspaper published a commentary telling foreign countries not to meddle in the nation's affairs.


However, basic human rights are held to be universal and authoritarian regimes' often used phrase "do not meddle in internal affairs" should not apply in the case of human rights abuses.


The U.N. Security Council should immediately adopt a statement of condemnation against the Myanmar junta which has flagrantly violated the rights of Suu Kyi and thousands of other political prisoners. China's defense of the junta - urging countries to respect the sovereignty of Myanmar - is shameful.


Myanmar, along with North Korea, has one of the worst human rights records in the world. The international community should come together in exerting greater pressure on the country to improve its human rights conditions.








A stock-market analyst plunged countless Canadian cellphone users into deep gloom this week by predicting a merger between Telus Corp. and BCE Inc. Shares in both companies rose after Jonathan Allen of RBC Dominion Securities Inc. said in a research report that a merger "is increasingly likely in the coming year or two as both companies look to cut costs and sustain margins."


The merger idea has been heard before, but this time it seems more serious. Recent technical co-operation between the companies is starting to look like a portent of a deal some now call inevitable.


We earnestly hope that's not so. The telecom sector needs more competition, not less. Anyone who doubts that need only look at this week's figures from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which said "medium-usage" Canadians pay $501 per year for cellular service, compared to an OECD average of $317.


Of course there's more to Bell and Telus than wireless, and the companies are under pressure in other sectors: landline business (where Canadians have the OECD's cheapest service) is threatened as more Canadians switch to voice-over-internet protocol or wireless-only phone service. Internet- and TV-service growth is slowing as markets become saturated. Still, everyone has heard, if not endured, at least one case of poor service from a major provider in those sectors, too. Most Canadians, we believe, want more competition in those business lines.


But it's wireless that will mobilize the public against a merger. Last month a Canadian professor told a U.S. Congressional committee that Canadian service providers have an estimated 4,900 per cent mark-up on some text messaging. Considering that Canadians now send text message at the rate of 30 billion a year, who can deny that we need more wireless competition?


Ottawa regulators have taken the consumer interest to heart on wireless, and should continue to do so by stonewalling any merger. (The Quebec government, too, might try to stop any merger, since BCE's head office is in Montreal but the merged company's might well be elsewhere.)


One key way in which the federal government has been supporting increased competition is by opening up the cellular market to new players. But not one of the five new entrants has completed a single call for anyone yet. Until they have established a firm beach-head in the industry, so that Canadians can really benefit from competition, regulators and political parties should flatly reject any thought of a merger between two giants.









Hydro-Québec President Thierry Vandal is a capable, effective executive. But he seems to have succumbed, momentarily, to entitlement disease. Vandal is also chairman of the board of the private Collège Notre Dame, to which Hydro-Québec gave $250,000 over five years, the first such grant HQ ever made to a college.


The company noted that Vandal had not been involved with the decision, but even if the idea came spontaneously from others, he should have killed the gift. For a vast company with $12.7 billion in revenue, $50,000 a year is sofa-cushion change. But it's not Vandal's sofa-cushion change. It's the public's. That's a distinction he needs to remember.



The Conservative government in Ottawa seems very fond of the idea of mandatory minimum sentences. Now they're proposing, published reports say, to impose such rules on those convicted of white-collar crime. No more serving one-sixth of a short term and walking out of prison.


This may be a vote-getter, in this age of defrauded investors, but it's ridiculous all the same. We're all for keeping con men in prison for a long time, but in Canada too many of them operate with impunity for far too long before getting caught at all. What's needed before we handcuff our judges is stronger enforcement of existing laws to protect investors. A new federal securities regulator, another idea the federal government is pushing, could be created with a muscular and sophisticated investigative capacity. That makes sense, but more mandatory minimums do not.



In the U.S., prosecutors are now reportedly building criminal cases against 150 wealthy clients of UBS, the Swiss bank which has admitted helping many Americans hide income from the Internal Revenue Service.


But in Canada, where UBS is known to have offered similar services, our own regulators continue their deep slumber.



Disgraceful behaviour of note this week:


Burma's generals extended the house arrest of democracy advocate Aung Sang Suu Kyi by another 18 months, on a ridiculous charge. This will keep her out of elections scheduled for next year.


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent a letter to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the occasion of his re-election, which almost everyone else in the world regards as fraudulent. Shame-faced UN officials claimed the letter did not amount to "congratulations" but refused to release the text.








Blind worship of diplomas nowadays is as stupid as general phobia against intellectuals in the decades before 1978.


A decree issued by the Chongqing municipality bureau of human resources and social security is exactly the reflection of such stupidity. It requires that all its civil servants under the age of 35 by the year 2012 possess at least an associate degree by that year. Failure to do so would cost them their jobs. The decree also says that the municipal government will pay the tuition for civil servants willing to earn a diploma in their spare time.


The policy's first blunder is equating a diploma with work competence. A diploma is a credential. More education may increase a person's knowledge in a particular field, but that does not necessarily elevate his or her competence in doing a particular job.


Many more factors apart from a diploma decide whether a person can be competent. If a person does not like his or her job, even if the capacity to do a good job is there, he or she may do a very poor job because of the reluctance to pour dedication into it. A person with a strong sense of responsibility will always do a better job than a person without it.


True, it is always advantageous to gain more education. All government employees either with or without a higher education diploma should be encouraged to enrich themselves by studying in their spare time. But the problem is that the government has no right to foot the bill for the education they receive. This is the second fallacy about this policy.


If a particular government employee excels at the job and further education will help a great deal with the job, the employee should receive further education or training in a particular field. There is no reason for a government to foot the bill for any government employee who has no higher education diploma.


A civil servant who wants to improve should be a private matter. It borders on corruption to pay tuitions for government employees to get a diploma in order to maintain their jobs.


This irresponsible policy, will easily bring credit to both the bureau and the municipal government. By the year 2012, the southwestern city can report to its higher authorities that all their government employees have diplomas of higher education. But we doubt how much this government will improve its governance with such a policy.


This is obviously a policy with more emphasis on formality rather than on substantial ways to improve the government employees' working capability.


What such policy projects is the lack of responsibility and earnest attitude of governance.







Nothing could be more ridiculous and unreasonable as the decision by the Henan provincial bureau of health to punish a local hospital for cutting open the chest of a migrant worker and making the diagnosis of pneumoconiosis. The reason for the punishment, according to the bureau, is that the hospital is not designated to diagnose occupational diseases.


True, the local occupational disease prevention institute has the sole authority to certify such diseases, but it diagnosed the migrant workers with tuberculosis. The fact is that the migrant worker would have to wait to die without a penny in compensation had it not been for the right diagnosis from the First Hospital Attached to Zhengzhou University of Medical Science, which performed the operation.


Any sensible person will agree that the hospital did the right thing. It is the obligation of any hospital and any doctor to make the right diagnosis of any patient who goes to them for help. Even without the designation as a hospital to certify occupational diseases, a hospital still has the right to provide the correct diagnosis if it's discovered that a patient has an occupational disease.


In the logic of the local provincial health authorities, this hospital should have turned down the request of the migrant worker and it should have refused to provide the diagnosis certificate even if it did the operation and knew what disease this patient had.


That would be against basic professional ethics and against the basic principle that a hospital must try its best to save a patient's life.


As a government department that oversees all hospitals in China's largest province of Henan, this bureau should receive the most severe punishment for making such an unreasonable decision.


It is beyond understanding that leaders of this bureau could be so inane not to realize that its punishment was not only ridiculous but against common sense.


The decision can only be understood as a move of retaliation against the hospital, whose right diagnosis has attracted the attention of the entire nation to a scandal in this province. And local leaders would certainly feel that this very scandal has led to a loss of face.


What they have failed to see is that its decision to punish the hospital that did the right thing will undoubtedly further put them to shame.


If the scandal has only revealed that the local occupational disease prevention institute is such an irresponsible unit, this wrong decision sends the message that local leaders have no concern for the well being of local people. It also reveals that local leaders are more concerned with their own face than the lives of local residents.


If they have any concern for the well-being of local residents, the right thing is to apologize to the migrant worker in the first place for the unnecessary pains he has suffered from the operation, to punish the institution that has made the wrong diagnosis and reward the hospital.







Editor's notes: Ouyang Ziyuan, academician at China Academy of Sciences and chief scientist of China's moon exploration project, talked with China Daily's Ma Chao about Chang'e 1, the first spacecraft sent by China to the lunar orbit as well as the future of China's exploration of the moon.


CD: Between October 2007 and March of this year, the Chang'e 1 spacecraft circled the moon for nearly 18 months. As chief scientist, what do you think has been achieved with Chang'e 1? And what has the spacecraft meant to the future of China's moon exploration project?


Ouyang: Though China's moon exploration project began much later than other countries, it is at the cutting-edge in several aspects and is unique in many ways without excessive expenditures of money.


The Chang'e 1 has successfully achieved four scientific targets. The first was to formulate a two-dimensional as well as a three-dimensional map of the entire moon. We have now formulated a two-dimensional map encompassing the surface of the entire moon without any omissions. It is a high-quality map and is available to anyone in the world.


The Chang'e 1 scanned the moon's surface with three laser beams, measuring the height or altitude of more than 9 million points on the moon. Based on our data, a stereoscopic map will be accomplished before the end of this year.


The second target is to explore the composition of the moon's surface and minerals it contains. Using instruments of remote sensing, the Chang'e 1 has obtained data of the allocation of chemical elements, as well as types of minerals and stones on the surface. We are currently processing the data and working to draw a geological map of the moon.


The third mission is to explore the soil layer on the moon, a pioneering work that has not been done by any other country. The Chang'e 1, using microwave technology, measured the depth of the soil layer across the moon.


One focus of the soil examination is to detect how much helium-3, a crucial element for nuclear fusion, is on the moon. Since the fossil energy on Earth might be exhausted in a century or less, we have to find an alternative energy source. Nuclear fusion would be an important option. There is an abundance of helium-3, perhaps millions of tons on the moon, which could be used to generate energy once the technology matures. The moon might fundamentally change the pattern of energy generation for humans.


Last but not least, the Chang'e 1 was commissioned to probe and record the environment on the moon, such as its electromagnetic features and solar wind, which are crucial for future landings.


Within these four aspects, an enormous amount of data has been collected. Before Chang'e 1, Chinese scientists had to depend on data from foreign countries. Now we have original data. In line with the international convention, Chinese scientists will study the data collected by Chang'e 1 for a year and then release the data to the world.


The Chang'e 1 is the first step in China's moon exploration project. The second step would be landing on the moon, i.e. sending a lunar lander and a lunar rover onto the moon's surface. The third step would be not only landing but also returning part of the landing apparatus with collected samples back to Earth. Only after all these steps are successfully accomplished, will it be possible to carry out a manned moon landing.


CD: When will Chinese astronauts be able to land on the moon?


Ouyang: This is what many are very eager to know. There are many speculations on when China can achieve this feat. The India media have claimed that China will be able to land its astronauts on the moon in 2024. Michael Griffin, former administrator of NASA, said China will be able to achieve a manned moon landing in 2020. Chinese scientists have many dates, too, such as 2020, 2025 or 2030. However, the State has not announced any specific schedule for the manned moon landing.


CD: Is there then a schedule for landing the lunar rover?


Ouyang: According to the State's plan, China's lunar rover will be carried by the Chang'e 3 spacecraft to the moon before the end of 2013.


CD: You have mentioned the significance of moon exploration in relation to future energy supplies for mankind. In addition to this point, what can the exploration contribute to the economic development of China, and how will it affect the lives of ordinary people?


Ouyang: The project will definitely advance our economy. For instance, the US' Project Apollo - which gathered around 400,000 people, about 20,000 firms and more than 200 universities - cost $25.6 billion. But it guided almost all the cutting-edge technologies in the 1960s and 70s, and has created an economic value amounting to 17 times the cost.


Since China's exploration project has just been a few years old, it is still too early to measure the costs and benefits. But it has already helped many Chinese firms improve their product quality. Because the environment on the moon is extremely harsh and volatile, we have set strict criteria for our component suppliers. To meet the criteria, the suppliers had to spend a great deal of effort in research and development (R&D) and consequently improve the quality of their products as well as lower costs.


Another great benefit of the Chang'e 1 is the dissemination of knowledge about the moon and space. It spurs public interest in space exploration, and is a great opportunity to raise the scientific literacy among people.


CD: Many countries, such as the US, Russia, India, and Japan, are planning to send astronauts to the moon, too. In comparison, where is the position of China in terms of technology?


Ouyang: That is a tricky question, since it is impossible to evaluate exactly how big the gaps are, or to make an exact ranking. To say how many years a country is ahead or behind other countries is not scientific. What we know is that the US and Russia, with their advanced technology and rich experience, are definitely at the first tier. China, India and Japan all have distinguished features and special technological edges.


Actually it is not wise to pay too much attention to who is superior to whom. I hope all countries could succeed in moon exploration and contribute to the understanding of the moon.


CD: You have created a concept called "harmonious earth-moon relations." Could you please specify this concept?


Ouyang: The moon has been a loyal guard of Earth for billions of years. It has inspired the philosophy, thoughts and aesthetics of mankind for thousands of years. With progress in moon exploration, the moon will become a great treasure to sustain the development of mankind. It will be an ideal transshipment station if people want to explore or even migrate to another planet. In the future, Earth and the moon can develop harmoniously together.








A Chinese flotilla left for the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the Somali Coast in mid-July to escort merchant vessels in the pirate-ridden waters. This is the third flotilla China has dispatched to the region since the end of last year.


The move, along with the two previous ones which took place on Dec 26 last year and April 2 this year, is an explicit indication that China's naval overseas operations are no longer limited as it was, and that more and more Chinese fleets are capable of sending an array of sophisticated warships abroad.


As a follow-up naval move to the previous two, the latest expedition will not only help protect the commercial vessels, but also enable more Chinese naval servicemen to gather more knowledge about maritime operations far from the country's coastal waters. This should greatly temper their resolve in extreme conditions and thus boost their capability and skills in terms of organization, logistics and armaments.


Since their first arrival at the Gulf of Aden late last year, Chinese warships have escorted hundreds of domestic and foreign vessels and protected merchant ships from the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other countries and regions from pirate attacks. Their responsive action against fast-moving pirates and their high efficiency have helped maintain an unblocked sea transportation route in treacherous waters far from China's coast. At the same time, the effective actions by the Chinese navy have fully displayed and enhanced China's image as a responsible power, and greatly boosted the country's naval influence among foreign forces.


On a patrol operation in a water area side by side with navies from the European Union, the NATO, Russia, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and other countries, the Chinese naval fleet gained rare opportunities to learn advanced maritime experiences from their foreign counterparts. The whole escort mission in the waters has also helped China's navy to innovate and develop a new mindset to conduct exchanges and cooperation with foreign navies. For example, in past escorting actions, Chinese naval servicemen have conducted contacts and communications in unprecedented frequency with other forces cruising this area. This has helped the country's navy, which has long been deployed along its own coast, gradually get used to using a variety of modern ways and means to communicate with foreign fleets, creating a new type of cooperation model and channel.


Despite accumulating experience of escort missions overseas, China's navy has still to work hard to further improve its experience in this aspect. Great effort is needed to increase the country's hardware equipment quantity and quality. Experience indicates that owning a fleet of sophisticated and well-performing large- and medium-sized warships suitable for long-distance voyage is the key to a successful overseas escort mission. Without a sufficient number of vessels, it would be absolutely impossible for China to dispatch a naval formation to the distant Gulf of Aden while maintaining its own daily drills, war readiness and necessary experiments around the country's coastal areas. Given that helicopters enjoy good mobility and overpowering advantages over warships in fighting small-scale and fast-moving pirates, foreign naval formations are usually equipped with some large- and medium-sized vessels carrying a good number of helicopters. This greatly benefits the escorting missions under rapidly changing and complicated maritime conditions. Compared with their foreign counterparts, the Chinese naval fleet patrolling the Gulf of Aden, however, is equipped with only two helicopters.


Past anti-piracy experience in the Gulf area also indicates that China's navy should make bigger efforts to further shorten its material and armament supply cycle to guarantee its success, and, if necessary, set up some coastal refuel and maintenance stations. Good-quality and fresh food supplies constitute an indispensable component for a country's naval servicemen to keep up robust and enduring fighting capability. Any naval expedition should carry a sufficient stock of staple and non-staple foodstuff, but fresh vegetables and fruits, whose preservation cycles are usually within three weeks, are still the things that are desperately needed by naval soldiers on long voyages. It is not unusual for seafarers to depend on medicines for making up with their insufficiency of vitamins.


Also, in a remote water area fraught with complicated situations and atrocious weather conditions, any equipment breakdown will prove a terrible challenge to a country's naval forces, given that they have no necessary maintenance equipment at hand. Under these circumstances, some necessary maintenance and supply stations should be set up as soon as possible to boost the capability of China's navy while away from the motherland.


Besides, the country's naval servicemen should further accumulate and improve their anti-piracy and escorting experience and strengthen their legal and other knowledge in this regard. Some measures should also be taken to help naval servicemen stay in good physical and psychological shape.


In addition, optimizing the country's naval organization mechanism, improving its command capability, increasing its cooperation with other countries and setting up advanced logistics system are necessary to help China's naval missions achieve greater successes.


The author is a researcher at the Chinese Navy's Military Academy.









Traveling through Jakarta at the moment, when the buildings are draped in the familiar colors of red and white and hawkers push carts laden with flags of all sizes, I feel a familiar sense of excitement. Aug. 17, Independence Day, is fast approaching.


As an elementary school student, Aug. 17 was a day when we sang beautiful and solemn songs in the school courtyard and later joined other children in our neighborhood for fun competitions. We were all from different ethnic communities - Batak, Javanese, Balinese, Menadonese, Betawi - and also different religions and economic backgrounds, but we had a great time struggling to eat enormous krupuk (fried crackers) from dangled raffia strings while our hands were behind our backs.


In Grade 2 of Junior High School, Aug. 17 was quite a different experience as I walked with our school choir from Lapangan Banteng toward Merdeka Palace.


We joined students along the way partaking in the Independence Day Celebrations, and I remember feeling so proud that all the young musicians in the orchestra were Indonesians. If we are to overcome current and future threats of both man made and natural disasters, we must believe in ourselves and feel good about our own identity.


But Aug. 17 undoubtedly has different meanings for veterans like my great grandfather who fought to free the nation. The experience would also have been much more emotional for my parents and grandparents who have witnessed the nation's past and present economic and political changes.


The young people of Indonesia must use our energy and creativity to focus on challenges such as developing education and eradicating poverty. If we come together and realize we are all in this together, then we can solve the nation's problems.


We need to remember the significant role of youth movements in Indonesia's history prior to the Proclamation of Independence, and how they could assist the current task facing young Indonesians today.


In 1928, or 17 years before national independence, young leaders from across the country declared the Youth Pledge: One Country, One Nation and One Language.


Our founding fathers also declared a national ideology (though today it is widely ignored) - Pancasila. It comprises of five key principles:


Belief in the one and only God; a just and civilized humanity; the unity of Indonesia; democracy guided by inner wisdom in the unanimity arising out of deliberations among representatives; and social justice for all the people of Indonesia.


We have only been independent for 64 years and as a young nation we must continue to learn from the past, while moving forward. We have clear rules and regulations, some which undoubtedly need revision, but in the current spirit of democracy, anything is possible.


The Nobel laureate in economics Amartya Sen said true independence comes through education, and one can't help but feeling that in 2010 that the greatest threat to Indonesia's independence is the lack of affordable education and persistent poverty.


When I decided to study economics at university it was to seek solutions to such problems through a greater understanding of our nation. Indonesia consists of thousands of ethnic groups, each with their own household behaviors and their own unique contribution to the nation's economy.


The writer is a third year economics student at the University of Indonesia







Anyone in their 60s knows (or should know) that their best years are well over, but for a nation like Indonesia, this is still a very young age. This is especially true considering we have squandered many years and lost much ground through mismanagement.  


As is with tradition, we mark our 64th Independence Day on Monday by looking at how far we have come as a nation and by acknowledging the pain, struggle and sacrifice our forefathers made in freeing the nation from colonialism and foreign domination.  


On Aug. 17, 1945, Indonesia proclaimed its independence. This day marked a milestone in transforming a spread-out archipelago of different races, ethnicities, cultures and languages, into one single nation determined to build a just and prosperous society.   


This was an ambitious dream, even then. Enough of us today still believe it is a doable project and probably the only way forward for Indonesia.   


When many countries around the world are breaking up along divides of race, ethnicity, religion or language, the challenge for Indonesia to remain united for its common goal is larger than ever.   


It would have been easy for us to give up that dream after years of failures. But we know that remaining a unified  nation remains our best option. It would have been too easy to blame past leaders for mismanagement. They were part of our history and our attempts to build a nation through trial and error. Now, we have a consensus that we want to achieve this dream through democratic means.  


But as we turn 64 today, are we really any wiser?  


Historically, age is not always a determining factor for a nation or for an individual. In the early years of this republic, Indonesia was led by people in their 30s and 40s, who not only possessed grand visions, but also knowledge, skills, motivation and most of all the energy to push for change at the crucial moments.  


Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta were in their 30s when they became the first president and vice president of Indonesia in 1945. Soeharto was in his 40s when he took over as the second president.


Subsequent presidents were all in their 50s when they came to power. Age certainly did not make Sukarno and Soeharto any wiser. They fell out of favor with the public after overstaying their welcome and losing touch with reality.  


Today, with youth making up the bulk of the population of 240 million, the leadership baton should ideally be handed over once again to people in their 30s or 40s.   


As the recently re-elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who turns 60 next month, prepares for his second five-year term in office starting October, he may want to provide more opportunities and space for the younger generation to assume strategic leadership positions in his government. He should also encourage and pave the way for young people to contest the 2014 elections. This is going to be their era.  


When we celebrate our nation’s anniversary, we should be celebrating our youth. The future of this nation is so much more secure in their hands.      













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