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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

EDITORIAL 17.08.09

 August 17, 2009

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Month August 17, Edition 000273, 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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5.      SUMMER OF 2009 - BY FRANK RICH



























3.      MASS MURDER?










3.      GOOD ENOUGH…!


















































Delivered from the Red Fort, the Prime Minister’s Independence Day address to the nation is often nothing more than a bland listing of what needs to be done for national development, and an announcement of a few, generally repackaged schemes. In some senses, Mr Manmohan Singh’s speech on Saturday — his sixth in succession, equalling the longest such run since Mrs Indira Gandhi’s 11 in a row (1966-76) — did not deviate from the standard format. It referred to everything from a new slum redevelopment programme to education access for minorities, from a health insurance scheme for the poor to bringing the citizens of the eight States of the North-East into the proverbial mainstream. Yet, underpinning all these declarations and commitments was one hard verity: The state of the economy. “Restoring our growth rate to nine per cent is the greatest challenge we face,” said Mr Singh. Written into that was the realisation that the UPA Government would simply not have enough money to pay for its flagship welfare programmes in the absence of robust economic growth and tax collections. Despite the protectionist noises that have been heard in recent times, the Prime Minister was fairly clear as to where he stood — and where India’s opportunities lay — in the current debate on economic policy choices: “We will make every necessary effort to meet this challenge — whether it is for increasing capital flows into the country, or for encouraging exports or for increasing public investment and expenditure.” Notwithstanding the socialist sound bites that so wear down Indian public discourse, and are favoured by influential sections of even the ruling Congress, Mr Singh was in effect saying that freer trade, greater external engagement and globalisation, and increased two-way flows of goods and services as well as capital was a framework that naturally benefited India. If Mr Singh is true to his word then, despite the mixed perceptions of the Budget this year, perhaps India can expect the reform and liberalisation locomotive to accelerate rapidly in the coming months. Mr Singh has about an 18-month window before the honeymoon period dies down and before the intrinsic caution of all establishments catches up with his Government. He should not lose the chance. If nothing else, his words on Independence Day made it clear that he was alive to the situation.

In a drought year, the Prime Minister couldn’t but have referred extensively to the problems of Indian agriculture. Here too, he had his hand on the pulse. After the politically correct references to loan waivers, he emphasised the need to “adopt modern means to be successful in agriculture”, including “efficient use of our scarce land and water resources”. India’s needed “another Green Revolution” that warranted the use of science and technology to “increase the productivity of our small and marginal farmers”. These are unexceptionable sentiments but to realise them agriculture will not have to be revamped as much as re-imagined. It will require to be recognised as a business that uses hi-tech and is part of a global supply chain for big retail — not as a cocooned social calling that is, in the end, the source of only subsistence incomes. If Mr Singh is to take his agricultural agenda forward, he will have to combat an ossified mindset and take on entrenched lobbies, many of them within his party. Can he do it? India can only wish him well.








Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s detention and grilling by immigration officers at the Newark New Jersey airport in the US just because he has a surname that figures on a computer-generated ‘common list’ has understandably generated outrage across India. On Friday, the actor was detained and interrogated for nearly two hours at the American airport and was released only when officers of the Indian consulate there vouched for him. But before that happened, Khan was escorted to a separate room from where he wasn’t allowed to makes phone calls and grilled by an American immigration officer on everything — from the purpose of his visit to the names of the people he would be meeting during his stay in the US. He was also told to cough up telephone numbers of his contacts in America. This, in spite of the fact that there were people at the airport who instantly recognised the filmstar and were willing to vouch for him. In fact, there were some immigration officers present who too recognised Khan and tried to convince their colleague that he need not be given such a curt treatment. But the officer was unfazed and determined to treat Khan as a potential terrorist. Apart from the fact that the entire incident smacks of racial and religious profiling, it is surprising how bone-headed the immigration officer chose to be. The way he behaved with Khan made it seem that the Bollywood actor was the greatest threat to US homeland security!

What is even more astounding is the statement that the US Ambassador to India, Mr Timothy J Roemer, chose to make. After being informed of Khan’s humiliation he issued a statement, saying, “We are trying to ascertain the facts of the case, to understand what took place.” If that were the Ambassador trying to be apologetic for what had happened, he surely did a poor job of it. It is ironical that the country which sees itself as the defender of freedom and liberty, and a champion in the fight against prejudices and discrimination, rarely practises what it preaches. It thinks it has the moral right to lecture other sovereign nations about freedom of religion and protecting minorities — like the recent laughable report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom that accuses India of being callously indifferent towards religious minority rights — but finds it perfectly alright to treat an innocent person as a potential terrorist just because he is a Muslim and not a Christian. This simply goes to show how hypocritical the US is. So, next time Washington, DC, has the urge to instruct us on maintaining ‘communal harmony’, let us do the Gandhian thing and simply shut our ears.







The political honeymoon is over for the UPA Government. The poor monsoon and its effect on the economy will take some time to be fully understood. The Government’s skill in managing this crisis is crucial. We will no doubt have a fair amount of doom and gloom situation as everyone with a negative bias towards the Government will tend to exaggerate the crisis. According to current indications, our GDP growth rate may drop from 6.5 per cent to six per cent, while agriculture output may go down by five per cent and trigger shortages that could be artificially aggravated. In such a scenario price rise is inevitable. On the supply side, marginal farmers will be worst hit. Increased Government expenditure in the drought-ravaged areas is inevitable and this will certainly be a strain on our resources.

The Government should take a positive approach to deal with the situation. We have had two super harvests before this and the Government, at least in theory, has a large stockpile of food grains. Therefore, we should have no shortages of either rice or wheat, while shortages in edible oil and any other food product can be mitigated through imports. It is unfortunate that when a crisis is upon us, then we start thinking of possible solutions. But good governance demands that we be prepared for such crises beforehand. The Government and we as responsible citizens can start acting in a meaningful manner by harvesting water, storing and recycling wherever possible and by initiating cost effective measures such as avoiding wastage of water and electricity in industry and our homes.

There is always the possibility of the monsoon picking up in late August and September but media reports indicate that the predictions on the El Nino effect from the US Climate Center are not very good. I wonder why we cannot have an accurate forward projection on this from our Met Department. The media reporting has been very patchy and this is primarily because the data it is given is rather vague.


We are generally good in dealing with crisis situations as we have faced many before. But there is a difference between dealing with a situation with an action plan already in hand and reacting in panic. We have dealt with droughts before. It is time we develop a proper response system to them.

On the other hand, the Government must take ruthless measures against black-marketers and hoarders and use every law in the book to punish them. We can already see an upward trend in the prices of essential commodities as the demand and supply ratio is being negatively affected by news of a weak monsoon. The Government will have to display a great deal of deft in releasing buffer stocks of wheat and rice to prevent their prices from increasing. The Union Minister for Food and Agriculture, Mr Sharad Pawar, will have much to do. Hopefully, cricket is not going to be a priority for him in 2009. Politics for the next couple of months will take a backseat and we must wish the Governments both at the Centre and in the States well as they tackle the drought situation.

The H1N1 or swine flu epidemic has been creating news in recent weeks. I think the Government has done well in controlling the initial situation. But things can get worse in the coming months. There is little need to panic and in all probability there will be enough medicines available both in Government and private hospitals to deal with the spreading flu. However, we have to be on our guard and monitor the situation on a daily basis. The media, both print and electronic, have repeatedly highlighted the precautions that people should take against the flu, which is good. A certain degree of panic is being created by the unfortunate deaths from H1N1 in Pune and Mumbai, and a clear picture is necessary to prevent identical action being taken in other cities to tackle the flu. Shutting down schools and colleges is something no country affected by swine flu has done.

Meanwhile, the Shopian rape and murder case in Jammu & Kashmir has been transferred to the CBI, as has the fake encounter case in Dehradun where over a dozen policemen were allegedly involved in the killing. Hopefully, in both cases the culprits will be convicted at the earliest and given the maximum possible sentence. The Manipur encounter incident too deserves our immediate attention. It is good to see a great deal of accountability surfacing in these cases of human right violations. Insurgency is never easy to tackle and employing the paramilitary forces to insurgency-hit areas leads to a great deal of physical and mental fatigue for the jawans stationed there. This can lead to excesses taking place. The images from the Manipur encounter that we have seen on television do little credit to the Chief Minister of the State and there definitely has to be a greater sense of urgency in dealing with the situation.







Over the last few weeks, the media has been in an overdrive mode with its reporting on the spreading swine flu pandemic. Till date the disease has killed 24 people in the country. The electronic media, in particular, carrying a toll ticker, has been making the most of the situation with its ‘breaking news’, alerting viewers about every death. One can even follow the number of reported infections on-line. Newspapers too aren’t far behind with their screeching morning headlines.

According to Google News, a whopping 24,000 articles have been produced on swine flu alone in the last one month. This even surpasses the total number of articles on global warming.

Nonetheless, the hype surrounding swine flu is somewhat a mystery. For, hundreds of thousands of people die from normal seasonal flu every year. No one raises a hue and cry about these fatalities. To put things into perspective, in Finland, 10 times more people die by falling on slippery pavements than the number of people who have so far succumbed to swine flu worldwide.

Tuberculosis is a disease that globally kills more than two million people and infects another five million annually. Five hundred million people are affected by malaria every year, of which two million die from the disease. In fact, one child dies from malaria every 80 seconds! In India, half-a-million people die of tuberculosis every year, with pneumonia killing four million children annually.

In spite of these shocking statistics, these diseases remain neglected because they are not perceived to pose an immediate threat to the global community — just 35 countries account for 98 per cent of global malaria deaths, many of which are among the poorest in the world.

The reason why swine flu is making headlines is because it can kill those who are rich and who usually have the wealth to protect themselves from diseases that generally afflict the poor.

Thus, instead of panicking, the Government in general and the Health Ministry in particular, should handle the situation in a more mature manner and re-assure the public about swine flu. The States should be asked to strictly follow the World Health Organisation’s guidelines and provide step-by-step instructions to the people about the disease and its prevention. But most of all, the authorities should check the ongoing media hype over swine flu.








Suspicions that US President Barack Obama was quietly planning a major departure from the policy followed by the previous US Administrations towards Burma, its military junta and its heroic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, proved correct on August 14. On that day, Democratic Senator Jim Webb, reputed to be close to Mr Obama, arrived in Burma for talks with Senior General Than Shwe, the leader of the military junta.

The junta reportedly extended to Mr Webb courtesies the like of which it had not extended to any other foreign dignitary before, including Mr Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General, who visited Burma in the beginning of July. Mr Webb was granted an audience to meet Gen Than Shwe at Naypyidaw, the new capital,shortly after his arrival, instead of having to wait for hours, if not days, as had happened with some foreign visitors in the past. He was also allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi at Rangoon, the old capital, a courtesy which was denied to the UN Secretary-General.

Mr Webb, a Vietnam war veteran and a former Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan, is presently the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Sub-committee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs. He has been an advocate of a more “constructive” US engagement with the junta. The ostensible purpose of his visit — evidently undertaken with the prior approval of Mr Obama — was to secure the release of Mr John Yettaw, an American citizen who was convicted on August 11 along with Aung San Suu Kyi after the American swam uninvited to the Nobel laureate’s lakeside home and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and to meet the prisoner of conscience who has been placed under house arrest by the junta for another 18 months after she was found guilty in the same case of harbouring the American in her house without informing the police.

His visit was as carefully choreographed as the visit of former US President Bill Clinton to Pyongyang on August 4, during which he met President Kim Jong-il and secured the release of two American woman journalists who had been sentenced by a North Korean court to long periods of imprisonment on the charge of illegally entering the country from China

One can be certain that Mr Webb would not have undertaken the visit had he not been assured beforehand by the junta through unidentified intermediaries that he would go back with Mr Yettaw and would be allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi. Without a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, his visit would have been seen by the people of Burma as a cynical attempt to secure the release of an American citizen without worrying about the continued violation of the human rights of the people of the country by the junta.

After his meeting with the junta chief and Aung San Suu Kyi and after the announcement that Mr Yettaw would be deported on Auguast 16, Mr Webb said in a statement: “I am grateful to the Government for honouring these requests.It is my hope that we can take advantage of these gestures as a way to begin laying a foundation of goodwill and confidence-building in the future.” Mr Webb said he also urged the military regime to free Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the last two decades under house arrest. He described the meeting with her as “an opportunity for me to convey my deep respect to Aung San Suu Kyi for the sacrifices she has made on behalf of democracy around the world.”

Webb did not say what was Gen Than Shwe’s response to his request for her release and whether she would be allowed to participate in the elections scheduled to be held by the junta next year.

Mr. Webb’s visit to Burma and his meeting with Gen than Shwe, coming in the wake of Mr Clinton’s visit to Pyongyang, indicates that the Obama Administration sees no problem in dealing with dictators and playing down human rights issues if it will serve American national interests. In North Korea, the US objective was clearly to explore the availability of other options for persuading or pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear capability.

What are the American interests in Burma? It is difficult to answer this question definitively at present. However, it is quite likely that the Burma initiative was triggered by concerns that the policy of more and more sanctions followed by the US is not only pushing Burma increasingly into the arms of China, but may also push it to embrace North Korea, with which the junta re-established diplomatic relations two years ago. There have recently been unconfirmed reports that North Korea has established a nuclear supply relationship with Burma.

While the leaders of the ASEAN would be happy over the US overtures to the junta, the countries of the European Union, which had condemned very strongly the extended house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, may have been taken by surprise.








Last Thursday’s Pew poll in Pakistan shows just how much effect the ‘popularity’ of President Barack Obama has had on this critical country. Since he became President, positive attitudes towards the United States as caring about Pakistan have gone up! Yes, they are up from 21 per cent in 2007 to 22 per cent today. That’s one percentage point. So, in effect, there’s been no effect.

But this is really far worse than even that statistic would make it appear. First, it shows that Mr Obama’s leaning over double-backwards, as in his Cairo speech, has had no impact whatsoever. If he hasn’t changed anything yet, he’s unlikely to do so in future.

Second, Pakistan has been the recipient of incredible financial generosity from the Obama Administration. And third, it is an absolutely pivotal country in his strategy, which emphasises the war in Afghanistan.

There’s even a fourth factor, which is that the country has suffered more from one of the few groups which the Obama Administration still says is at war with America, the Taliban. High-ranking administration officials have stated that there are also ‘moderate’ Taliban. So they don’t hope to defeat that group — despite the fact that it was Al Qaeda’s protector and helped make the September 11 attacks happen — but to split it.

It’s true, as the poll shows, that the negative view of the Taliban held by Pakistanis has climbed steeply from 33 per cent in 2008 to 70 per cent today. That’s quite dramatic. Indeed, 69 per cent of Pakistanis fear that ‘extremists’ could seize power.

But which ones? The Taliban is an Afghan group, after all, and whatever the Pakistan security forces have done to foster it over the years — a lot — it has invaded Pakistan. It is an alien invader. Pakistan, however, has lots of home-grown extremist groups which are more popular and stronger.

Here’s the most devastating finding of all: 64 per cent of Pakistanis regard the US as an enemy. Just nine per cent say it’s a friend.

Why is this so? Well, America is not a Muslim country, is culturally different, and they are being taught for decades — by clerics and others if not by their political rulers — that America is bad. That also goes for the years when Mr George W Bush wasn’t President!

In part, for the US it also goes with the territory, so to speak. Since to ‘do something’ in Afghanistan and to block the Taliban and to stabilise Pakistan and just to ‘do things’ for Pakistan so that Pakistanis will supposedly like America, the Obama Administration has to back the country’s rulers. And that is going to make Pakistanis who don’t like their own leaders also not like America and its policies, right?

Who else is an enemy for Pakistanis? It isn’t surprising that India is high on the list (69 per cent) but what is worth noticing how much higher it is than the Taliban (57 per cent) or Al Qaeda (41 per cent), groups engaged in killing Pakistanis.

And it also isn’t surprising that the US is perceived to favour India over Pakistan, but again the margin is amazingly large despite the fact that the Obama Administration and many of its predecessors have really done more for Pakistan than India. The actual numbers are shocking: 54 per cent see America as pro-India; only four per cent as pro-Pakistan.

Finally, there are some important clues about these gaps in Pakistani religious attitudes toward social and political issues: 78 per cent believe that anyone who converts to another religion from Islam should be killed, 80 per cent that thieves should have their hands amputated, 83 per cent that adulterers should be stoned.

So we aren’t talking about a small percentage of extremists who hijacked Islam (Mr Bush’s phrase) or don’t represent the true Islam (Mr Obama’s phrase) but rather about the interpretation of Islam that is mainstream among these people. As interesting as these figures are, the interpretation is even more significant, not only for US policy towards South Asia but for understanding where Western perceptions of the world have gone wrong.

Here it is in a single sentence: The problems are not just ones of misunderstanding and of Western aggression or mistakes. Thinking that Mr Bush was a meanie and Mr Obama is charming and empathetic only gets you so far, and not far at all. The US could stand on its head, dole out billions of dollars, talk until it’s green in the face about how much it respects Islam, and it won’t make much of a difference.

Amid all the babble about countries and peoples possessing their own perceptions of the world in a ‘multicultural’ globe glorified by differences, it is forgotten that there is a rather serious price to pay for all that, which includes conflict, war, hatred, persecution, and powerful forces maintaining social stagnation and economic failure.

Ultimately, it is not America or globalisation, not India or Israel, or Mr Bush who is responsible for the dislike emanating from places like Pakistan; the material enmity coming from places like Pakistan; and, the instability, terror attacks, or suffering arising within places like Pakistan. No, it is what people think, do, and how the society works, and what the goals are in places like Pakistan.

The writer is director of the GLORIA center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader and The Truth About Syria.







Poor monsoon alone cannot be blamed for food shortage and the consequent food insecurity in the country. It is the end result of a skewed economic policy since the ushering of liberalisation in 1991.

The economists then were too concerned about the forex shortage that led to pawning of gold with the Bank of England and balance of payment crisis. But food prices were at their affordable best. Economists concerned about nation’s global image launched the fast-track reforms process. Some of them found that agriculture-based economy was a ‘bane’. It followed a bashing of the “backward, retrograde looking farm-based economy”. They came out with a simple solution: Abandon food grain production as it was capital-intensive, guzzled water, power and contributed least to the economy. They also said that India needed to produce cash crops, earn dollar and buy food grain from the international market.

The nation blindly followed the prescription, forgetting that then 65 per cent of its people were dependent on agriculture. Now the figure is around 60 per cent.

The impact of the policy was seen within a short span of time. Food items were beginning to become scarce. The cultivation of BT cotton and other genetically modified crops started playing havoc with farmers. The phenomenon of farmers’ suicide has till date not stopped. The beneficiaries were multinational companies that formed a strong cartel nationally and internationally to extract the highest prices.

The ‘backward’ economists had strongly opposed the moves in mid-1990s. They had predicted what is happening today. But the lobbyists of MNCs backed by the World Bank were able to steamroll the protests and even labelled them renegades.

They succeeded in devastating the base of Indian economy, its agriculture. Since land is the base for a prosperous agriculture, they lobbied hard to change the Land Ceiling Act both in urban and rural areas. This had a dual effect. The MNCs acquired large tracts of land and became corporate zamindars in the rural areas. They backed similar large acquisitions in urban neighbourhood. This deprived farmers of prime fertile land to build large housing projects. It also created the land mafia, who profits as someone loses his land. This also led to reduction of several million hectare of arable land.

In 2008-09, growth originating from agriculture and allied activities declined to 1.6 per cent. Total food production at 230 million tonnes in 2007-08 is almost equal to that of 1980-81, when it was about 200 million tonnes. Population was 80 crore then and it is about 110 crore now. So per capita food availability has reduced and that again leads to the price spiral.

The share of agriculture in gross capital formation between 1999 and 2007 has reduced from 10.2 per cent to 7 per cent. The decline was mainly attributed to decline in the share of private sector (farming community) despite increase in the share of public sector (read big companies), according to the Department of Economic Affairs of the Ministry of Finance. Also, private sector share had come down from 11.9 per cent in 1999-2000 to 6.6 per cent in 2006-07.

As the efficient farming was seen as a road block against corporate march, agriculture was monopolised in the name of high investment, futures trading and linking the farms to the equity market.

Subsequently, the oilseed and pulses programme initiated in mid-1980s was jettisoned. This did not suit the international food traders who now also control a large chunk of the domestic food market. Through policy-makers they created an artificial shortage by not allowing the country to increase production, devastating the affordable PDS and feigning to making up for the shortage by importing pulses, sugar, edible oil and at times wheat.

The companies are profiting both ways — buying products from their own parent farms and their repatriation to them is growing — as the policy-makers turned a blind eye to this international exploitation.

No sooner Indian firms, both public and MNCs, started the food purchase, sugar futures for October delivery at New York-based International Commodity Exchange broke a 28-year barrier reaching a 20.81 cents a pound (454 grams) in early August. In London, the futures price rose to $ 537.2 per metric tonne — the highest since 1983.

Sugar trailed only petroleum and copper price in rise in prices in 12 months. Although pulses are not traded in the futures market, their prices have been skyrocketing in Canada, Australia, Myanmar and Turkey, main exporters to India. World production of pulses has been stagnating at about 56 million tonnes for several years.

The Government is looking for short-term solutions while it requires long-term policy shift. The country needs to lay emphasis on agriculture, have a proper food production and marketing policy. Instead of industry and stock market, agriculture has to be made the base for any growth pattern. Unless the large segment of the people dependant on agriculture is not protected, all developments are bound to be lopsided.

The writer is a senior economic affairs journalist.






With the publication of rival parties’ manifestos, the battle lines for the August 30 House of Representatives election in Japan have been drawn. Most opinion surveys in Japan predict that the Liberal Democratic Party, which has been in power continuously since 1955 with a small gap during 1993-94, may face a defeat at the polls. If this comes true, the LDP which is regarded as a coalition of factions may even split into several parties.

The election holds out a great opportunity for the main Opposition party — the Democratic Party of Japan — to stake its claim to power for the first time. Opinion polls in recent months have consistently shown approval ratings favouring it over its rival, the LDP, despite serious problems it faced following the involvement of its tallest leader and party president Ichiro Ozawa in an irregular financial deal. But the controversy did not escalate because of Mr Ozawa’s decision to step down from the party post. The party then elected Mr Yukio Hatoyama as its president, who is now leading the party’s election campaign. Though he lacks the charisma of Mr Ozawa, Mr Hatoyama is nevertheless a party veteran who belongs to a well-known family with strong political traditions. If the party wins the election, he will become the Prime Minister of Japan.

Sensing that it has a strong edge over the LDP, DPJ’s manifesto is careful enough to project a policy programme that embodies both idealistic and pragmatic aspects. Its election manifesto has spelt out a strong pledge to reduce the influence of bureaucracy which has been calling almost all shots in the arena of policy-making. It advocates setting up a new kind of politics that would see the people play the central role rather than the bureaucrats. The DPJ has also announced its aim to drastically cut down unnecessary and wasteful spending of taxpayers’ money. In order to garner the votes of urban middle class as well as the rural farmers, it has pledged liberal financial support to families with children and subsidies to farm households engaged in agriculture. It has also mentioned the creation of new institutions that would include Diet men as well as experts in the field of policy-making.

The present Council on Fiscal and Economic Policy will be replaced by a national strategy bureau directly under the control of the Prime Minister. It will be entrusted with formulating basic policies on the country’s budget and diplomacy. In addition, the party has also promised to create institutional mechanisms to ensure wider regional representation in policy-making.

Since the implementation of these promises calls for huge amount of funds, the LDP is quick to dub the DPJ’s manifesto as a ‘pipe dream’ and a ‘fantasy’. It wants to know from the DPJ as to how it will mobilise funds at a time when the country’s economy is on a serious downhill trend. Further, the Liberal Democrats also complain that the DPJ, with no experience in governance, will not be able to effectively address the numerous domestic and foreign policy issues.

On foreign policy, though the DPJ extends broad support to Japan’s alliance with the US, it nevertheless demands greater freedom and equality within the alliance system. It has had serious differences on such matters like the Maritime Self-Defence Force’s refuelling missions to the Indian Ocean to support the US-led counter-terrorism measures, and the working of the Status of Forces Agreement relating to the US military bases in Japan. On the former, the party has slightly diluted its position by stating that the on-going refuelling services could continue until January 2010 when current bill expires. But on SOFA, it wants the Futenna base to be relocated outside Okinawa. While the DPJ ostensibly prefers to give legal sanctity to the three non-nuclear principles of Japan, it remains to be seen whether it will be willing to make a categorical commitment to that effect.

Similarly, despite its general recognition of the need for constitutional revision, it has not suggested any specific agenda for action. While the party has professed to maintain closer relations with Asian neighbours, it is also concerned about the growing military strength of China and North Korea. In addressing this strategic dilemma, does the DPJ have any option other than depending on its alliance with the US?

A victory for the DPJ in the election could put an end to the legislative stalemate that has been witnessed since 2007 when the DPJ and its allies gained majority in the Upper House. But its lack of experience in governance could be a serious limitation all the more because of several new and complex economic, constitutional and diplomatic challenges it will be called upon to address in the coming years.

The writer is a distinguished fellow of the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.












We are facing an alarming shortage of judges. According to the Supreme Court, more than 1,500 high court judges and 23,000 subordinate court judges are needed to clear the backlog of civil and criminal cases in a year. There are about 280 vacant posts in high courts alone. It is estimated that over three crore cases are pending in our courts. The enormity of the task calls for urgent action.

A first step towards addressing the issue is to fill vacancies in the judiciary. Considering the pressures of the job, it may not be easy to find as many qualified professionals for the judiciary as required at a short notice. The suggestion that retired judicial officers be invited to help clear the backlog is welcome. The vacation system of judges must be rationalised so that they have more time to decide cases. A number of steps ranging from better technology, like computerisation of court records to creation of alternate platforms to settle disputes as envisaged in the Gram Nyayalay Bill, are also necessary to streamline the functioning of the judiciary. Some of these measures have already been initiated.

Special courts could help towards speedy disposal of cases. Take the example of land-related cases, which constitute a major portion of pending cases. These tend to drag on and clog the system. Family courts, which encourage matters like divorce to be settled out of court, have been a successful experiment. In a similar vein, special courts attached to panchayati raj institutions could be set up to redress land disputes. This should go hand in hand with computerisation of land records. Availability of clear title deeds alone would help reduce the amount of land-related litigation. An interesting experiment by high court judges in Kerala to reach out to citizens through television could be replicated in other states if it doesn't lead to any conflict of interest. It is also necessary to think of other ways to reduce litigation. We have become a litigious society largely because we don't have mechanisms and platforms to resolve disputes before they reach the courts.

In the absence of an efficient judiciary, it is impossible to build a functioning democracy. Judicial delays create cynicism among citizens about the efficacy of our institutions in dispensing justice in a free and fair manner. Besides, it is a deterrent for investors who need sanctity of contract above everything. India can't afford that. It's time we paid adequate attention to the needs of the judiciary.







The weekend past saw Pakistan and India celebrate yet another anniversary of their independence with customary zeal and patriotic bombast. But if the latest findings of the Pew Global Attitudes survey of Pakistan are to be believed, the mood in Pakistan is unusually despondent. A majority of Pakistanis feel that their country is in crisis and are concerned about rampant corruption and a deteriorating economy. The ratings for the government are the lowest ever in a decade, reflecting a crisis of confidence in the country's political leadership. There is widespread apprehension that extremists could take over the country a fear shared by 69 per cent of those polled. For all the problems India might have, the Indian mood at this point is surely more upbeat.

Reading the tea leaves to determine the Pakistani mood, however, can be an extremely demanding exercise. Perhaps Pakistanis themselves are confused about what they want. According to the Pew survey, for example, 69 per cent of respondents see India as a very serious threat to their country, compared to 57 per cent who see the Taliban and 41 per cent who see al-Qaeda in this light. But the much larger Al Jazeera-Gallup poll that was also recently conducted shows only 18 per cent fear India while 11 per cent see the Taliban as the greatest threat.

Surveys, of course, can differ depending on how questions are framed as well as sample selection and size. The common denominator between the two surveys would seem to be that more Pakistanis still see India rather than the Taliban as the gravest threat they face. On the positive side, however, the Pew survey shows that 70 per cent of respondents are unfavourably disposed to the Taliban (and 61 per cent to al-Qaeda) this year, as opposed to only 33 per cent against the Taliban (and 34 per cent against al-Qaeda) last year. That's a discernible shift of public opinion against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

What's most confusing, however, is that most respondents support the sort of Islamic punishment that is a prominent feature of the al-Qaeda/ Taliban brand of fundamentalism. Close to 80 per cent feel that those who leave Islam must be given the death penalty, while also supporting measures like stoning adulterers to death and cutting off hands as punishment for theft. Clearly, liberal elements in Pakistan have their work cut out to free their society from medieval influences and usher their country into the modern era. India is not Pakistan's real threat. The threat lies within.








Consider three contrasting scenes. One, at a time the Mumbai terror attack was just two weeks old and the entire sporting world was apprehensive about touring this country, the English Cricket Board allowed its team to resume an unfinished tour of India. Senior board officials Giles Clarke and Hugh Morris had taken stock of the security preparations and agreed to resume a tour cut short midway by 26/11. Two, citing terror concerns, the English contingent recently turned its back on the World Badminton Championship at Hyderabad and returned home, despite security-related assurances from the organisers and India's minister of state for external affairs. Three, exactly a year from now, the English will make their way to New Delhi for the Commonwealth Games, the second biggest global sporting spectacle, and will have to trust Indian judgement in matters of security.

With knee-jerk reactions to security concerns crippling global mega-events, corrective measures are a necessity. More so, since security concerns are a permanent reality of our times. Almost every high-profile event receives some form of terror threat, so much so the organisers are now adequately prepared to tackle contingencies. With national pride at stake, host countries themselves are on high alert to ensure things proceed as planned during events of high international visibility.

There is now an established pattern for organising sports events globally. International experts help formulate bids and there are bodies such as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Commonwealth Games Federation that monitor progress. Given this, the need of the hour is another world body consisting of IOC members and public authorities, somewhat similar to the WADA model, which would examine and adjudicate on security concerns. Had such a body existed, the fiasco in Hyderabad could have been avoided. Soon after the English expressed apprehensions, such a qualified agency could have been asked to determine whether they had overreacted or whether the arrangements were truly lacking, as they claimed. With almost every tour/event preceded by security briefings and surveys, there's little doubt that a global sports security monitoring body would find work round the year. And it would help in particular to eliminate concerns born out of bias, racist or otherwise, which so often contribute to souring diplomatic and sporting relations between the West and the global South.

Inevitably, withdrawals lead to bad blood between governments and individual sports bodies. They also affect people-to-people contact. India, for example, is yet to forgive Australia for withdrawing from the Davis Cup earlier this year and Indian badminton authorities will possibly hold a grudge against their British counterparts for years to come. England and Australia, on their part, have sought protection in the argument that security comes first. In the absence of a mediator, it is one argument against another. And, without a conciliatory body to play moderator, such disagreements show no sign of abating.

A sports security monitoring agency should consist of experts from around the world and be governed by IOC rules. It must have an equal number of IOC members, public authorities and government nominees making it truly representative. It would be difficult for governments to ignore its advice, especially when a host nation is ready to back the advice with action. It would also save the trouble of cobbling together security delegations hardly equipped to gauge ground realities in visits lasting three to four days. These delegations factor in local authorities' reports, testify on the basis of staged situations and offer advice without expert knowledge of local conditions.

No doubt security-related advice cannot be binding on governments, sovereign states having the right to withdraw from sports competitions if they feel the need. But a global sports security agency can help provide a yardstick based on which penalties for arbitrary decision-making can be imposed by world sports governing bodies. For example, the International Tennis Federation's decision to let off Australia with a monetary penalty for not touring India earlier this year appeared lenient to most sports fans in this country. Had the Indian claim been backed by a neutral arbitrating body's report saying conditions were conducive to staging the encounter, the tennis federation would have been more receptive to Indian concerns. The creation of a security monitor will ensure that teams think many times before withdrawing, knowing full well that severe penalties could await them for ignoring its advice, universally accepted as neutral and free of any form of bias.

Finally, the creation of a sports security monitoring agency would ensure that the global sporting world is not divided down the middle. Recent instances of withdrawal from competitions in the subcontinent point to an alarming development, with Asia at risk of being isolated by the developed West. This will, in time, provoke a strong reaction, which may further complicate the situation. A security monitoring agency will help avoid such discord.

The writer is a senior research fellow, University of Central Lancashire.






How do you formulate your visual creative process into abstract paintings?

As far as i understand my own creativity, there is no single logical formula. I am inspired by different sources: nature, textiles, my Indian roots, my faith, people i meet, sometimes small things of life like a leaf floating on water in autumn. They remain in me as images and emotions, and, at times, i clearly feel their active presence while working. Further, nature is a part of my creative psyche as it translates itself in colours. It is nature that uplifts and transcends, it becomes important for me because if experience is my foundation, nature is my vehicle. I think a lot before i start a painting but once i start, i let it go as if somebody else takes over and i myself only execute. I cannot be more precise than this.

Do you think that figurative painting is incapable of attaining the 'universality' of abstract painting?

I have not always been an abstract painter. I started as a figurative painter and the main source of inspiration was the Indian village life that i had come to know very closely through my upbringing in western India and my academic work in Indian tribal art. I gradually understood that figures were not for me. I needed more freedom and liberty and i had to move on. Lines and colours were able to give me this. I feel as if the following quote of Paul Klee was written for me: ''Colour has taken hold of me; no longer do I have to chase after it... That is the significance of this blessed moment. Colour and I am one." However, i certainly do not believe that figurative art is incapable of attaining universality. For instance, the human body is both a figurative theme and very much a universal feature.

Why is the colour red getting so overwhelmingly prominent in your recent works?

The symbolic meanings of red have a compelling effect on me for sure: fire, excessive heat, eruption, and also blood, passion, faith and worship are all features that could trigger this attraction for red. I do not know which one to emphasise. However, i am quite frightened by the global climate change and its foreseeable consequences. My use of the red expresses this concern as well. Red is also the colour of warning. At the same time, i very much see red as a positive colour: colour of Indian marriage, faith and so on.






On August 4, the Supreme Court stayed an order of the Bombay high court directing the Maharashtra government to place before it the report of the Pradhan committee on the state's response to the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. The case has been posted for further hearing on August 21, after notices are served on the petitioners.

This is fair. What is not fair, however, is that the court made observations, which were irrelevant to the case, and made disparaging comments on the electronic media. One hopes that the bench, comprising the Chief Justice of India, K G Balakrishnan, and justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan will fully reflect on the issues involved after the final hearing and allay the disquiet its observations have caused.

The Pradhan committee was set up against a certain background. The public was dissatisfied with the Centre as well as the state's handling of the incident. The heads of Union home minister Shivraj Patil and chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh rolled in rare unison. A panel was set up by the state government but it soon lost awareness of its own existence. Responding to public criticism, the government set up a committee comprising R D Pradhan, a former Union cabinet secretary, and V Balachandran, a retired IPS officer to "inquire into the incident of terrorist attack of November 26, 2008 and to identify lapses in intelligence input provided by central intelligence agency and to specify a prompt reaction mechanism" (sic).

The report itself, evidently, does not say that it should not be published. If it had, the government would have gone to town on that caveat. In a press statement Pradhan very properly declined to offer any advice on whether the report should or should not be published and left it to the state's discretion.

This is where the public comes in. It is common in such cases for the authors of the report to indicate the passages which should be excised from the report, when it is published, in the interests of national security. No one contests that. It is the blanket ban that is being challenged as it violates the citizens' incontestable right to know.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the right to know flows inexorably from the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression embodied in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. It was, therefore, pointless for the bench to ask, what purpose would disclosure serve.

The high court had asked to see the report precisely in order to balance the two legitimate but competing values of freedom and safety. The public is entitled to know that adequate security measures are being taken. No one asks for the details. No one in the US questioned the need to publish reports on 9/11, a far graver attack than the one on 26/11, though some cuts were made. But the most astonishing observation by the bench was its disparagement of the electronic media and, indeed, of public discourse generally. On the question of making the report public, it observed: "It will only serve for television discussions" and "it will become a matter of discussion at many public forums. Will it be a good thing for the country?"

The paternalistic outlook these remarks reflect are at total variance with the outlook reflected in the Constitution, which respects citizens' rights. The court's remarks do not. Like court judgements and newspaper columns and editorials, the quality of TV panel debates varies. But TV news channels good, bad and indifferent perform a useful role in our democracy as the court noted in the R K Anand case. To decry "discussion at many public forums" is to decry democracy itself.


The writer is a constitutional expert.







Maharani Gayatri Devi's chagrin at the deteriorating state of the city of Jaipur expressed in a 2006 interview re-telecast a few days after her passing away in late July was not unwarranted. A visit to the city will confirm that it is no longer in the pink. Jaipur has been allowed to expand without any thought towards maintaining its identity. When modern construction first began outside the walled city, some effort was made to preserve its character by erecting buildings, such as the secretariat, high court and the Rajasthan University, in red sandstone.


Not any more. Buildings are mushrooming every day without the slightest thought to symmetry or similarity. The old 'C' scheme, perhaps the equivalent of Lutyen's Delhi, had beautiful single and double storied bungalows. Those are now being destroyed and replaced haphazardly by ugly, dissimilar multistoreyed apartments, hospitals, clinics and commercial buildings all mixed up on the same road. Monstrous malls are sprouting all over, making one wonder whether one is in Jaipur or in Gurgaon.

Jaipur roads were once considered a model for the entire country. Led by the Mirza Ismail Road, they were broad, spacious and well-paved. Today, it is a sin to call them roads. There is no surfacing worth the name and the sewage water-filled potholes are big enough to swallow a Nano. Tourists flock to the city attracted by its history, monuments, sites and shopping. Surely, they also see the ugliness that must detract from the overall experience. Many modern-day personalities that were once living institutions are

now fading into the sunset. Not only was Maharani Gayatri Devi a fabulous beauty who till the very end remained an epitome of charm and grace, but she also did a lot towards liberating Rajasthani women. There were others, such as the world-renowned coloured gemstones leader and humanitarian Rashmikant Durlabhji who founded the Santokba Durlabhji Memorial Hospital where, 7appropriately, Maharani Gayatri breathed her last.


Orthopaedic surgeon P K Sethi became world famous for inventing the 'Jaipur foot' and went on to win the Magsaysay and Padma Shri awards, apart from entering the Guinness Book of World Records for helping a large number of amputees to obtain mobility. Fortunately, Jaipur still has some high achievers. Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the creator of Mohan Veena, continues to popularise Indian classical music globally. We now need someone dynamic to nurse Jaipur back to health.














It seems almost scripted. A universally-adored Indian star, respected as much for the casual manner in which he wears his religious identity and his Indian-ness, makes a movie about being profiled because of religion in a post-9/11, terrified, United States. Then, on the way to a publicity tour in America, he gets stopped — because, he fears, ‘his name is Khan’, as the movie is to be called. But it is not scripted. And neither is the outrage, which is very real — and on a different order of magnitude from when another hero of middle-class India who for many transcends identity, former president Kalam, was frisked at Delhi airport recently. Because this isn’t about VIP privileges.


The central issue here is not a ‘do-you-know-who-I-am’ insult to Khan’s honour, regardless of what his own somewhat confused statements on the subject might imply. It isn’t an American immigration official’s job to know who is a movie star where. Nor should we expect it to be. No, what explains the outrage is the whiff of profiling that surrounds the entire incident. Now, it might well be the case that, the actor’s claims notwithstanding, the fact that Khan’s name is Khan has very little to actually do with why he was stopped. US immigration software frequently chooses people to stop and question further randomly; that randomness is sometimes moderated by a complex set of parameters, the details of which are not public for security reasons. (Within the US, such parameters typically do not officially include, for legal reasons, race, ethnicity or religion.) That being said, however, the US needs to do a better job of making the case that Khan was not singled out because of the religious connotations of his name — and that is something the US would not do to citizens of a friendly nation.


They must do this because it matters. It impacts the domestic politics of friendly nations; and it is rapidly reaching the point at which it affects how a large section of the Indian middle class thinks of America. The one experience unique to all those travelling to the US is immigration; and the reaction to this — and to earlier such stories — shows that that experience isn’t great, and builds up resentment. People are all-too-willing to believe that a great liberal nation has betrayed its principles egregiously by ‘harassing’ Khan. It’s a short step from there to a festering belief — erroneously — that this is the act of an arrogant, racist society. America’s authorities at the highest level need to recognise that this apparently minor problem could have very major implications indeed.









Should patents be granted to incremental changes on existing drugs (not just to completely new medical and chemical entities)? Yes, said the government-appointed Mashelkar Committee report, and yes, says the Centre, by accepting the report's findings. The report was initially submitted in 2007 and held that granting patents to incremental patents were part of our TRIPS obligations. But allegations of plagiarism led the Centre to ask for a fresh report from the committee head, eminent scientist R.A. Mashelkar. A paragraph in the report was found to be a direct reproduction of a submission made before the committee; that submission was part of research done, allegedly, at the behest of a corporation. In the furore that followed, Mashelkar resigned (though he stood by the report's findings), and even when asked to submit a fresh one, his findings were criticised, not for their argument, but for being part plagiarised.


This was unfortunate. For granting patents to incremental changes on existing drugs is based on two arguments. The first is the basic function of awarding patents. As long as the old molecule is changed in a way that gives rise to new medical effects, then surely that change must be protected by patent. Historically, in fact, innovations in medical research have been through changes in existing molecules, not the creation of new ones. Of course, the alteration to the orginal must be discernable, and the resultant benefit utterly new. But that is a caveat on practice, not a worry on principle. The second argument for such patents is based on more local logic. Much of the Indian pharmaceutical industry relies on this model. Granting them patents would reward them for their labour. Opponents to this measure claim that it panders to the big-pharma lobby. But at whose expense? It is hard to argue that incremental patents somehow hurt India's poor. To the contrary, it encourages precisely the kinds of research techniques that low-cost medicines require.


The Centre's decision to accept the Mashelkar Committee report is to be welcomed, especially since allegations of minor plagiarism (even if true) don't detract from the central logic of the report. It is hoped that the report is implemented at the earliest.







A shift of the spotlight to some of those who had swine flu, fought and recovered can be a much-needed balancer, given the alarm everywhere. What these people have to say in no way takes away from the seriousness of the pandemic and the tragedy of the deaths that we’ve learnt about in the last few days. But their narratives do tell us that it’s possible to recover from the flu, in fact the effect of swine flu is quite similar to that of normal flu, provided one is tested early for H1N1 infection and the necessary medication and isolation — whether in hospital or home — are taken care of. There has understandably been great public concern since the first death was reported from Pune. And we witnessed that concern rapidly turn into panic as even the Maharashtra government ordered a shutdown of Mumbai. Pictures of masked citizens going about their daily business, empty trains, malls and theatres have added to the sense of impending and unavoidable doom.


While the fog hasn’t lifted on the best means of isolating and treating swine flu — and the awaited vaccine may still take months to be ready — there is never an alternative to heightened awareness. Stories from Pune, such as those of Class VI student Mukta Vaidya or Amit Tagare, a doctor, all patients who had the flu and have since recovered, will add to this awareness and, it is hoped, reduce the national panic. Panic doesn’t come handy when misfortune comes; but a rational, poised response, which does the needful, helps.


Public health personnel and administrators, struggling in the absence of adequate knowledge and infrastructure, would profit from public cooperation and people’s sense of the big picture. However, there is no message for them in these stories of the so-far ‘silent majority’ that they can let their guard and drive down.








Inflation has risen in recent weeks. Higher food prices are the biggest contributor to this rise. The rise in inflation raises a question on the RBI’s stance on monetary policy. Should interest rates be raised in response to higher food prices? The weak monsoon is likely to push up further the prices of vegetables, pulses and rice. Should the RBI respond by tightening monetary policy? No amount of raising rates will bring vegetable prices down. Monetary policy, when effective, can impact prices and output four to six quarters later. The last thing to expect from it is an impact on seasonally volatile prices in specific sectors.

The mechanism through which interest rates impact prices is by changing demand. This happens over many months. Higher real interest rates compress demand. The transmission mechanism of monetary policy takes about one-and-a-half years in countries like the United Kingdom, which have well-developed financial markets. In other words, raising interest rates makes investment and consumption more expensive today. This reduces demand for goods and services over the quarters to come, and that leads to reduced pressure on prices.


The question we need to ask before prescribing a tighter monetary policy to control inflation is whether the Indian economy needs a further contraction in demand. Posed this way, the answer to this question is fairly obvious. Despite the incipient recovery seen in industrial production, the Indian economy continues to face a decline in demand. The last thing it needs is further demand contraction. Even if the world economy picks up and investment sentiment improves, it is likely that external demand (net exports) and private corporate investment will not recover fully in the coming four to six quarters to pre-crisis levels. Further, the weak monsoon will lead to a contraction in rural demand as incomes of farmers and agricultural labourers suffer due to a fall in production. In an economy in which demand has fallen sharply and would remain weak for the coming months, does a policy of further contracting demand through a hike in interest rate make any sense?


The supply shock to food items, due to the weak monsoon, should be met by removing barriers to trade in agricultural goods, both internal and external. It lies in improving infrastructure for fruit and vegetable production, transportation and sales, including cold storage chains, etc, to ensure that higher prices in the market mean higher prices for the farmer. It lies in making sure that the farmer has the capacity and the incentive to produce more.


The real interest rate, measured by the nominal interest rate at which companies can borrow minus the inflation relevant for the manufacturing sector, has risen sharply in recent months. While the nominal interest rate has fallen, inflation has fallen far more sharply. India’s interest rates today are amongst the highest in the world. The RBI should be cutting rates if it looks at forecasted output growth. Instead, RBI Governor D. Subbarao is giving signals that he may soon be raising rates. Such a message in an already weak economy will only dampen investment sentiment further. Until June 2009, the data for new investment announcements was very weak. UPA-II has failed to announce any serious economic reforms. The combination of the lack of reforms and high real interest rates has hurt the investment sentiment.


The RBI governor argued, in a recent speech, that the RBI should not be an inflation-targeting central bank. The problem with this stance is that the country is left completely confused about what the RBI will do next. This only adds to the uncertainty that firms face when making investment plans. In the present instance, had the RBI been an inflation-targeting central bank, it would have clearly stated its inflation and growth projections and under what scenarios was it necessary to reduce demand further. In such an “inflation report” it would, in all likelihood, have not said that it needs to reverse its monetary policy easing in the baseline scenario.


Ironically, earlier, in 2006-07, when the economy was overheating, output growth was high and investment rising sharply, inflation-targeting would have meant that instead of focussing on keeping net external demand high, by keeping exports cheap and imports expensive, the RBI would have welcomed rupee appreciation. This would have, to some extent, reduced export demand, and increased import demand, thereby reducing net export demand and acting as a dampener on the sharply rising demand. Rupee appreciation would also have reduced profitability of the tradables sector and helped attenuate the investment boom. Further, a rupee appreciation would have, thanks to the exchange rate pass-through, also pulled down prices. Finally, the higher growth in money supply resulting from the purchase of dollars would not have happened at the pace at which it did. This again would have helped in controlling inflation and preventing overheating.


The RBI let the rupee-dollar rate override all its concerns about inflation when expected inflation was high, and failed to act to prevent overheating. Indeed, it pushed on the agenda of export competitiveness; that is, keeping net external demand high. High liquidity and rising inflation kept real interest rates low. And now, when India is witnessing much lower growth, when the economy is weak and when inflation and expected inflation are low, the RBI seems to have swung to the other extreme. This idiosyncratic stance follows from the RBI’s multiple and unclear target approach, such as higher export growth in times of overheating, and now low inflation at a time when the world is going through the worst recession in many decades. This approach creates a state of confusion which damages confidence and investment. This needs to change.


The writer is a senior fellow at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi








The Prime Minister’s speech on Independence Day recognised that the drought will impact agricultural production. He reiterated that nobody “should go hungry” because of this. But also of concern is the terrible effect that volatility in food prices has on some of the most vulnerable sections of our society.


The price of anything is determined is by demand and supply. If demand is “elastic” it adjusts to the level of supply, leading to rapid price stabilisation. But for agro-commodities, especially food products, elasticity of demand is very low — people have to eat. So relatively small changes in supply can lead to high volatility in food prices.


Another uniqueness of agri-commodities in India: supply can be artificially manipulated based on geographical area, which can lead to a big price difference in the prices of food items, and thus large arbitrage opportunities.


The classic example recently was the recent fracas over rice. When rice prices started firming internationally, the government banned rice exports to prevent them from rising domestically. Naturally, they fell within India — but internationally, they firmed up further, due to non-supply of rice from a major source (India). This created an artificial, large price difference — an arbitrage opportunity.


You could accumulate cheap rice domestically; then tap contacts in Africa, which through diplomatic channels persuade our government to issue orders allowing exports to sub-Saharan countries on compassionate or diplomatic grounds. Then sales on the high seas could be used to divert these consignments to various European markets — thereby making huge profits for a selected few.


Similar mechanisms work in domestic markets which are geographically or otherwise dispersed. Then there are rampant unorganised and unregulated markets for “controlled” agro commodities in India. “Dabba trading”, or pit trading, also happens in parts, creating a complete chain of intermediaries from top to bottom which restricts knowledge about prices and open positions to a very few operators — who could then use it to manipulate market prices. Finally, differential transaction charges levied by exchanges concentrates volumes with a few major operators; so most market participants choose to trade through them (or se dabba traders). This can also create insider information about open positions. Put together, this helps explain why so many small investors lose money in the commodities market — and why, in spite of negative inflation, a recessionary economy, and drought that hasn’t hit fully supply yet, food prices in the country are unexpectedly high.


Price discovery for food products should be very transparent across geographical areas, should be without too many undisclosed intermediaries, and should be conducted in a well-regulated market. All price-sensitive information should be available in the public domain. Open positions in the market should also be generally known, as they are in well-constructed markets; position-holders should ideally be market intermediaries subject to some regulatory oversight.


The problem is that government policy announcements can sometimes create artificial arbitrages of supply across different areas. This causes massive problems — of the sort visible in the discussion about rice — and adds to volatility. Fix this: free and fair movability should be permissible across geographical regions. (Sales tax disparity should also to be removed. Different sales tax rates on food items in different states will just hold up the development of a healthy nationwide market.)


The Indian economy, as human enterprise and not value added, is dominated by agriculture. Around seventy percent of our population depends on this segment. A wholly transparent and well-regulated chain must be established between these producers and their consumers. What needs to be done for that? To start off with, well-developed transportation and warehousing facilities are a must. But who is going to invest in that? We are talking of massive infrastructure investment. Without a well-developed commodities market, it will be difficult to find and mobilise the required funds.


All the above objectives can be achieved if the market is brought under a powerful and transparent regulator — perhaps in the form of a Forward Market Commission (FMC). on lines similar to SEBI. Political interference could then be minimal. The regulator needs to be given real power, as well as a clear mandate to develop both the future as well as spot commodities market. The unorganised market should be encouraged to wither away; certainly, “dabba” trading should be scrutinised very carefully indeed for wrongdoing.


India is ready for this. Consumers and farmers are more than capable of taking advantage of a transparent, regulated and liquid market.


The writer is Alternate President of the Commodity Participants Association of India and associated with the BJP’s Chartered Accountant cell.









The women of Afghanistan have embarked on processes that could well decide the fate of the country in the presidential and provincial council elections on August 20, and Parliamentary elections next year. Two of the 41 presidential candidates are women and 328 women are running for the 3000 seats on the country’s 34 provincial councils. Facing opposition from men at home, clerics, political parties and sometimes women themselves, these candidates are part of the process of women’s political empowerment in Afghanistan. The groundwork was laid by the 2004 constitution which requires a minimum of 27 per cent of seats in Parliament and 25 per cent of seats on provincial councils to be reserved for women. While the constitution mandates this, in reality things are not so simple.


As the entry level for many women in politics are the provincial councils, Kabul Member of Parliament Shinkai Karokhail says weak provincial councils at the local level, insecurity, lack of cooperation of male leaders, the lack of governmental will, and poverty are some issues that women have to deal with. If women do not go to the provincial councils, they will not make it to parliamentary elections, and will be excluded from political participation.


Of Afghanistan’s 30 million people, approximately half are women, with a literacy rate of 16 per cent, compared to 31 per cent for men. The maternal mortality rate is 1,600 to 1,900 deaths per 100,000 live births, making it the second highest in the world. After 30 years of conflict large numbers of women have lost their husbands to war and are raising children on their own.


Despite the huge challenges, Afghan women have been organising in the country and in places like Pakistan, Iran, Europe and North America. After 2001, many have moved back to Afghanistan and continued their work of mobilising women. On August 4 the Five Million Women Campaign was launched in Kabul, when 1500 women from the provinces gathered under the loya jirga tent. The campaign is being implemented by the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) an umbrella organisation representing 64 women’s organisations and 3600 individual members. Their message to women: come out and vote — for your future and the future of the country.


The AWN and other women’s NGOs have lobbied and managed security for women candidates, organised meetings with candidates to press for promises made in the Constitution, and conducted voter literacy campaigns. The Afghan Independent Election Commission, the UN system and the international community work together to ensure women’s participation in the upcoming elections. Barbara Smith, External Relations Adviser of UNDP’s Elect project, says that gender is the biggest challenge in the upcoming elections.The Herculean task of seeking out, recruiting and training women poll booth officers (to frisk, assist with voting), security guards, police officers is a strategic way to get women out of their home and be part of the democratic process.


Women voters and activists working on political participation also face an uphill battle against social norms. They are threatened by the Taliban and other forces, and are often in danger of their lives. In an environment where most women are in burqa and are not supposed to speak to men outside their immediate family, female candidates take great risks by putting up posters of their uncovered faces, campaigning and discussing their platforms with male voters. They mostly campaign in private and even those who did not wear the burqa before say they now do, to draw less attention to themselves. They risk being called bad Muslims and prostitutes.


Most women standing for elections say they wish to help rebuild their country and work for women’s progress. More want to stand for election but are stopped by fathers or husbands who consider it ‘inappropriate’. Men who believe in equal rights to vote, to nominate and to campaign are a minority. There are some who say that women do not have the political savvy to make a difference even if they are elected. Others say things are getting worse in Afghanistan. There is increasing corruption, questionable men and their lobbies are too close to and inside power circles, and the government has not been able to provide security and basic needs. How can women intervene?


This is one side of the picture. For a country ravaged by war and conflict for 30 years, seven years of reconstruction is too short a period to get the full picture. Rebuilding and reconstruction are processes. Those who have been involved in this — women and men — understand this. It requires faith, patience, hope, persistence and most important, the belief that things will change for the better. The women of Afghanistan exemplify this.


The writer is a media and development consultant, currently working on a documentary film in Kabul.








An eerie silence has settled over Pune. Far removed from the cacophony beaming out from television screens every hour, there is a stark and palpable stillness in the city. Deserted roads, deathly-quiet market places, downed shutters, the city of 35 lakh seems to have been virtually swallowed up by a tiny microscopic virus.


As recently as a week ago, the difference between reality and hype was still being vociferously debated. The role of the media in creating panic when none apparently existed, the skewed perspective of people terrified over a few deaths in a country of over one billion, the wisdom behind schools and colleges being shut down — these discussions seemed to dominate the air, not the virus. Given the odd glances directed at Pune’s cautious masked minority, one could take some comfort in knowing that the majority of the population was open to the idea of fighting it out.


Not anymore. Fifteen deaths in twelve days have snuffed out the city’s bravado. The long, empty roads are mute evidence to the fear psychosis that has taken over. Now,. the belief that the city is trapped in a situation fast spiraling out of control is worming its way into every consciousness — a sentiment wholly alien to the land of Pune.


This city has been hurtling along the highway of success for the past decade, propelled by the boom in education and information technology. It is inherently optimistic. In fact, if there was a factor that worked against Pune all these years it was the maddening tendency of its people to accept, absorb and absolve the city of all its ills, be it municipal malfunctions, crumbling infrastructure or a deplorable traffic situation. A staunch belief that things have a way of working out by themselves, bordering on a ‘chalta hai’ attitude was endemic to the city and its people. Strong reactions to any chance incident were rare.


But one look at Pune today and you know some kind of horrid mutation has taken place. Its young and vibrant student population, which swarmed the malls and multiplexes, is now holed up inside its PGs and hostels. Every day a new civic body — representing anything from jewelers to gymnasiums — issues a release citing closure of their business for the next few days. Janmashtami has come and gone without a single victorious cry piercing the air, forget boisterous drumbeats and traffic diversiions. Independence day was similarly devoid of the usual school rituals and the preparation for the city’s biggest festival Ganesh Chaturthi, just a week away, has never been more lacklustre.


Pragmatically, this is the correct course of action in a situation as grave as this one. But there is little getting away from the mood of despondency that has so quickly transformed this vivacious city into little more than a ghost town. It now remains to be seen see if this, possibly the the worst crisis that Pune has witnessed in decades, has the capacity to engulf its natural optimism, or whether the city will tend towards its other stoic, resilent self once there is an indication that things are getting better, even marginally. I’d place my money on the latter.










The faster than expected pick-up in growth in Germany and France has raised hopes of an imminent recovery in Europe, and in the global economy in general. But for the latter to happen not only will big European economies need to keep the momentum growing, even more critically, America and Japan will have to perk up. Here it should be noted that most indicators in the world’s number one and two economies are not positive. If you are an optimist, you will point out some leading indicators and argue that a broadbased not-too-far-in-the-future recovery is likely. Liquidity in global markets and recovering investor confidence has driven down Libor to record lows. The gap between three-month Libor and the Overnight Index Swap rates has now narrowed to around 25 basis points. This indicates normal money market conditions. There’s also the TED spread (the difference between the rate on 3-month US T bill and 3-month Libor), which measures the stress in credit markets. This has dropped from a frightening 464 basis points post-Lehman to 28 basis points, the lowest level in two years, a great indicator of comfort. If you are a pessimist, you may point to the fall in the Baltic Dry Index. Considered one of the best leading indicators of global economic activity, the BDI, which hit an eight month high in early June, has now fallen almost 39% since then. There’s fear this is indicating a quick reversal of earlier positive trends. However, the OECD composite lead indicators released last week point to a more optimistic scenario.


Using the indices of industrial production as a proxy for the movements in GDP, these had predicted stronger recovery signals in France and Italy and also shown that there were clearer indications of a bottoming out of the slowdown in Canada, Germany, the UK, the US, China and India with the index hitting a trough or turning point at the lower end. And there were also indications that a few other major economies like Japan, Brazil and Russia were possibly moving to the trough phase. The countries which were closet to the expansion phase were the UK, China and India, while those that were the farthest away were Japan and the United States. A major constraint to a sustained pick-up in the global economy is the depressed levels of trade, which has affected the export prospects of almost all major economies. But here, too, reading the data right is important. For example, if one looks at export figures on year-on-year basis, news looks grim. But look at the more realistic month-on-month, seasonally adjusted data, and you see export recovery. So, fingers should still be crossed, but perhaps not so tightly as before.







The new tax code’s proposal on removing home loan interest exemption—Rs 1.5 lakh for self-occupied property—may have surprised many, but the fact is that first-time buyers of a property do not take their decision based on tax sops alone. Plus, the direct tax cuts proposed will more than make up the amount that they will have to forgo. Buyers of second homes, who are mainly investors, typically base their decision on interest exemptions. The new proposal will not discourage first-time home buyers as ultimately it is the price of the property and the interest rate that matter to them. With a shortfall of around 25 million houses, the demand for housing is simply going to grow. Rising middle class income, easy access to finance and affordable interest rates have given a boost to the real estate industry in the past. But restrictive legislations and non-transparent transactions have nullified some of these gains. The country’s real estate sector is governed by over 100 archaic laws, some even dating back to the 19th century. The World Bank estimates that an average housing project in India takes anything up to six years to complete as against 15-18 months in China. Land cost itself accounts for around 70% of the total cost of a house in India as against 30% in developed countries. Stamp duty is also among the highest in the world. High stamp duties have led to unregistered and all cash-property transactions and transfers through the Power of Attorney, which constitutes a big loss to the exchequer. The National Housing and Habitat Policy of 1998 recommended a stamp duty rate of 2-3% across the country but it is nowhere near being implemented. A McKinsey study calculates that removing land market barriers can contribute an additional 1% to India’s GDP growth rate. The Rent Control Act discouraged fresh investment in housing for rental purpose and has led to deterioration in the physical condition of many houses, with landlords reluctant to invest in repairs.


Investments in real estate have a multiplier effect on income and employment as every rupee invested in this sector adds 78 paisa to the state’s GDP. And for every direct job created in the housing industry, eight jobs are created indirectly in the country. So, there is an urgent need for comprehensive legal reforms in real estate as proposed by the National Housing and Urban Habitat Policy three years ago. Banks too need to come out with competitive interest rates for a longer period of time, which will further incentivise borrowers to go for housing loans. Tax sops are a suboptimal way to encourage a housing boom.









The performance of the banking sector in the first quarter of this year has been quite impressive in terms of growth in the top and bottom lines. However, there are two interesting facets which emerge from the numbers presented by them. The first is that there is a difference in the performance of the public sector and private banks and the second is that there is some concern in the areas of impaired assets and, ironically, excess capital.


Overall performance was impressive with profits surging by 64.4% for a set of 40 leading banks—25 public sector, 6 new private and 9 old private banks. There are some interesting features. The first is that total income has been aided mainly by the surge in other income, which is primarily treasury income as fee based activity has been on the downswing ever since the financial crisis of 2007. The ratio of other income to interest income increased from 14.3% to 18.8% showing hence a higher reliance on other income.


Secondly, net interest income had come under pressure with interest expenses rising faster than interest income. This has been a major concern for banks as they have had to lower their PLR with successive reductions in the reverse repo and repo rates and CRR cuts. This has not been compensated by lower deposit rates, which have been benchmarked to the small savings rate which still delivers 8% nominal return, which could be tax exempt.


The third is that the most impressive performance has been put up by the public sector banks in all the top line indicators relative to the private banks. The new private banks, excluding ICICI Bank, have done better than the old private banks.


The fourth is that ICICI Bank has adopted a different approach to banking. It has shrunk its balance sheet. This is a conscious policy pursued by the bank, which is also visible when one visits the bank branch. The staff encourages customers to withdraw deposits and invest in insurance products. This has been done on both the deposits and credit sides. The expense bill too has come down with both salary and non-salary based expenses coming down in this quarter.


The fifth is that non-performing assets have increased quite steeply in all banks both at the gross and net levels. It is significant as the rate of growth of the impaired assets is higher than that of the lending portfolio.


The gross non-performing assets ratio has remained unchanged for public sector banks at 2.09 while it has increased for new banks to 3.06 from 2.65% and from 2.6% to 2.64% for old private banks. This is a worry because it reverses a trend observed earlier of a decline in this ratio over the years. In fact, Development Credit Bank (2.84% to 10.86%), ICICI Bank (3.72 to 4.63%) and Kotak Bank (3.17% to 4.95%) were the ones with high ratios. The public sector banks had controlled this ratio to less than 3%. For all banks put together, this ratio increased in 9 of the 25 public sector banks, 5 out of 6 new private banks and 4 of the 9 old private sector banks.


Growth in non-performing assets is linked with overall performance of the borrowers, industry in particular. With low growth in industry there is an inherent tendency for delinquencies to increase, which is also possible this year with the drought and a possible slowdown in industry lingering.


Another feature of the performance is the capital adequacy ratio. Banks have tended to increase this ratio, which is both a blessing and a concern. It is a blessing to know that the banks are well-capitalised and hence future expansion is possible without there being any impediments. However, it is also a concern because high ratios indicate that capital is not being efficiently utilised. Against the Basel norm of 9%, there were several banks which had a ratio of over 15%— 5 out of 6 new private banks and 1 old private bank. The public sector banks had ratios in the double digit range.


This is also reflected in the growth in loan portfolio (where the NPA ratios and amount have been used to extrapolate the asset size). Public sector banks have been more active in increasing the loan portfolio relative to the private banks.


Therefore, the overall picture when looked at from beyond profits is a bit disconcerting with net interest income being under pressure, too much dependence on other income, non-performing assets growing across banks and banks being over-capitalised —not the way the ideal results profile should look like.


The author is chief economist of NCDEX Ltd. These are his personal views








You know there’s a government fund for helping citizens affected by natural calamities. But do you know how the government values what you have lost?


For a farmer who loses a milch animal to drought this year, the National Fund for Calamity Relief (NFCR) will offer relief: around Rs 10,000 . Except that a normal, full-grown, milch cow doesn’t cost anything less than Rs 18,000-20,000 in local markets.


NFCR, now rechristened the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF), had a corpus of Rs 700 crore. This was brought down to Rs 500 crore, as per the recommendations of the 11th Finance Commission. There it stays. This is an absurd sum for a country of India’s size.


So, notwithstanding the PM’s recent assurance that states’ request for NCCF funds will be addressed quickly to meet drought-related expenditure, a fund with just Rs 500 crore can’t possibly meet these needs.


As per NCCF guidelines, the Centre gives around onlyRs 7,500 per person for grievous injury requiring hospitalisation for more than a week. Which hospital, barring government ones, will charge so little?


In case of drought, NCCF guidelines say that an input subsidy where the crop loss is 50% or more would be Rs 2,000 per hectare in rainfed areas and Rs 4,000 per hectare for areas under assured irrigation. In rainfed areas impacted by a calamity like drought, it is common knowledge that a relief of Rs 2,000 is too little and in many cases might not even cover the cost of buying high quality seeds.


The relief for loss of draught animals like camels, horses or bullocks is the same as for milch animals like cows, Rs 10,000 each. The relief given in case of damage to houses is also not in sync with the rising cost of construction. Fully damaged or destroyed pucca houses are compensated at Rs 35,000 per house, while fully damaged or destroyed kutcha house merit Rs 10,000 per house. For severely damaged houses, the guidelines specify relief of Rs 5,000 per house for pucca houses, Rs 2,500 per house for kutcha houses and Rs 1,500 per house for partially damaged houses.








Recently, RBI took the first steps towards introducing Credit Default Swaps (CDSs) by circulating a questionnaire to banks to ascertain their interest in the product. Given the vitriol poured on credit derivatives due to the recent financial crisis—remember Bear, Lehman, etc—this initiative deserves praise. But RBI should take care in designing and regulating this product.


A CDS is a credit derivative contract. Credit derivatives are similar to home/car insurance in offering protection against an adverse event. Consider a bank that has provided a loan to a company. A credit derivative allows the bank to insure against the adverse event of the company becoming insolvent. Thus, a credit derivative enables the bank to hedge its credit risk.


At its peak, the estimated size of the credit derivative market was about $62 trillion. Compared to this, the US federal debt is $10 trillion, GDP $14 trillion, stock market size $22 trillion, mortgage market $7 trillion and the US Treasuries market is $4.4 trillion. The size of the credit derivatives market, $62 trillion, was more than all these put together. Surely, market participants could not have been hedging credit risks that amounted to more than the size of all these markets put together. Quite evidently, these numbers indicate that a weakly regulated credit derivative market allowed market participants to indulge in substantial speculative trading.


While market participants may claim that credit derivatives are primarily used to hedge credit risk and are thus similar to home/car insurance, the possibility of speculative trading limits the similarity between credit derivatives and insurance contracts. While you can buy insurance for your own house to protect against harm caused to it, you cannot buy insurance on your boss’s house. Since you do not own your boss’s house, you do not suffer material consequences if it burns down. In fact, if you buy insurance on your boss’s house without owning the house itself, you have the perverse economic incentive to commit arson. Substantial conflicts of interest arise when you buy insurance on an asset you do not own. In a traditional insurance contract, you have a vested interest in protecting the insured asset. Therefore, you are unlikely to gamble speculatively on its destruction.


Are credit derivatives nuclear weapons for mass financial destruction or are they akin to harnessing nuclear energy for productive uses? If introduced with appropriate regulation and oversight, credit derivatives can indeed be very useful.


Introducing credit derivatives can facilitate a deep and liquid credit market. Consider a company called Techco which employs a new, breakthrough technology. Since banks may not understand this new technology, they may be loath to lend to Techco. Now consider introducing standardised CDS contracts that are traded in an exchange. The presence of more informed market participants would bring liquidity to this CDS contract and lead banks to hedge their Techco risk through this standardised contract. If banks can hedge such risks, they would be willing to lend to Techco. Thus, introduction of credit derivatives may open up availability of credit for smaller, less reputed companies and thereby lend greater depth and liquidity to credit markets.


Many start-ups often go belly up due to lack of credit despite being more efficient and cost-effective than bigger, incumbent corporations. Access to credit can be expanded by enabling banks to hedge the resulting credit risk using credit derivatives. However, the benefits will percolate over time provided there is a wide and liquid market.


Over-the-counter (OTC) traded credit derivatives pose systemic risk since bilaterally set collateral and margin requirements do not account for the externalities that each party’s counterparty risk imposes on the system. To avoid such pitfalls, first, standardised instruments such as CDS and index-linked products should be exchange-traded, where the exchange’s clearinghouse acts as the counterparty to all trades, well-capitalised market makers provide liquidity, and market transparency is ensured through timely dissemination of aggregate and trade-level price and volume information. Second, OTC markets that grow large should trade through a centralised clearinghouse that acts as the counterparty to all trades while smaller OTC markets should be subject to a centralised registry. Regulators should have full access to information on bilateral positions.


Finally, all financial institutions should have to disclose net positions daily.


The problem is not with credit derivatives per se but with the behaviour of users of these products. Strict regulation and oversight can help in checking such behavior. Banning credit derivatives may be like the proverbial emptying of the bathtub with the baby.


The author, formerly with JPMorganChase’s Global Capital Markets, trains finance professionals on derivatives and risk management. His book on credit derivatives is due to be out








The number of military personnel across different branches and ranks taking their own lives has spiked in India, raising questions of esprit de corps. Since 2006, there have been 495 cases of suicides and 25 cases of “fragging,” or killing of fellow-soldiers, in the Army alone. Several measures have been announced in recent years to address the crisis, but clearly, more are needed. Tellingly, a report prepared by the Defence Institute of Psychological Research, while putting the incidents in the context of the strain and stress of prolonged and repeated deployment in situations of civil conflict, often in counter-insurgency roles, has also emphasised the need for sensitising the intermediate-level leadership to the problems of the jawans and for improving interpersonal relations between officers and men. The “organisational environment in which the soldier lives and works,” has to be improved and “better integration of the individual in the group” facilitated. Providing adequate rest and recuperation opportunities, rationalising the grant of leave, improving manpower management, and enhancing awareness among troops regarding stress management are some of the other suggestions this internal study has come up with. The recommendations call for some rethinking on occupational issues and internal dynamics, and a qualitative change in person-management methods across the ranks.


The military leadership should move with greater seriousness to find ways of mitigating the stress levels of soldiers. The services have in recent times made available mental health-related assistance and counselling facilities. The shortage of properly trained personnel for the task of counselling also needs to be addressed by means of special selection and training procedures. Simultaneously, steps to eliminate any stigma that may be associated with accessing counselling and mental health services should be initiated. Also, the circumstances that led to suicide or killing should be gone into in every case and the data analysed systematically so that the problem could be better understood. The government has, of course, taken several steps to give armed forces personnel a better deal. Their pay and allowances, as also pension benefits, have been improved considerably in recent months. The creation of an Armed Forces Tribunal that would deal exclusively with pending cases relating to the services and welfare of the personnel is also a step in the right direction. Along with better pay and service conditions, it must also be ensured that the force is less stressed, and at peace with itself.







It may soon be possible to classify a majority of the more than 400,000 species of land plants in the world on the basis of genetic variability. The Plant Working Group of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL) recently reached a consensus on the portions of the genes that would be used as the plant DNA bar-code. This came after four years of work by 52 scientists from 10 countries. DNA bar-coding, a technique proposed by the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, uses a short genetic sequence from a standard part of the genome to quickly identify different plant species. To become usable the chosen genetic sequences of the bar-code must vary with species but must also be conserved enough in plants for identifying most of them. Bar-coding has been used since 2003 to identify animal species, and a bar-code library of nearly 60,000 animal species has been created. But there was no agreement on which regions of the genome should be used for bar-coding plants. The short DNA sequence found in the mitochondrial gene used for bar-coding animals cannot be used in plants; this is because the gene does not vary much in plants and will not be reliable for species identification. Attention therefore turned on the chloroplast genome, which converts sunlight into chemicals. Of the seven candidates shortlisted, the Plant Working Group chose portions of two genes (matK and rbcL) for the bar-code.


But the plant bar-code is some way short of the ideal. While it can group the plants to the correct genus, it can, on average, discriminate only 72 per cent of all plant species. Though identifying closely related species is problematic in many plants and fungi, it should be less of an issue when used within a restricted region or habitat. But there is no room for complacency as this tool is yet to be tested widely in biodiversity hotspots. The gene used in the animal bar-code has the power to correctly identify over 95 per cent of the species. The task then is to find a way to increase the discriminatory power of the plant bar-code. In the short-term, using supplementary bar-codes along with the standard one can increase this power. But the biggest challenge the initiative may have to face will be funding. Most biodiversity hotspots are in developing countries that will not be able to fund such initiatives on their own. The irony is that some projects in India are yet to get off the ground for want of funding even as several agencies wait for a bar-code system to be settled to fund such initiatives. The time for determined action in this scientifically important area is now.









There are reports in financial newspapers that the ongoing drought affecting nearly 200 districts in the country may not have much effect on GDP, since the farmers in the drought-affected areas contribute hardly 3 per cent to GDP. It is sad that such a measure of the impact of drought on the lives and livelihoods of millions of rural families is even considered. It is this mindset that is responsible for our country being the home of the largest number of poor and malnourished people in the world. P. Sainath’s article in The Hindu of August 15 brings out clearly the growing insensitivity to human suffering in our country.


No wonder we are finding it difficult to achieve the first among the U.N. Millennium Development Goals – reducing hunger and poverty by half by 2015. Unless we realise that agriculture in India is not just a food-producing machine, but is the backbone of the livelihood of over 60 per cent of our population, rural deprivation and suffering will not only continue to persist, but will get worse, leading to severe social unrest.


Fortunately, there are some encouraging developments which offer hope that drought management will be based on human values.


First, our President in her address on the eve of the Independence Day urged the need for refraining from making profit out of poor peoples’ entitlements. This is a timely warning since thousands of crores of rupees will be spent during the coming weeks in drought relief. Unfortunately, disaster relief funds become an easy target for those to whom corruption is a way of life and hence it would be useful to provide copies of P. Sainath’s book, Everybody Loves a Good Drought (1996, Penguin), to all involved in taking the benefits of the drought relief programmes to rural families.


Secondly, the Prime Minister in his Independence Day speech has rightly emphasised the need to help farmers in their hour of distress, so that they can help the country to produce as much food as possible under the prevailing meteorological conditions. He has announced that the repayment of loans taken from banks will be rescheduled. In this connection, it will be useful to find a long-term solution to the problems faced by farmers in rain-fed areas by adopting the recommendation of the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) that the repayment period for loans in drought-prone areas should be four to five years. This is particularly important, since we do not have an effective crop insurance policy for farmers in drought-prone areas.


Thirdly, the Prime Minister has constituted a Crisis Management Committee under the leadership of Pranab Mukherjee, with membership includes the veteran leader Sharad Pawar. Mr. Mukherjee fortunately belongs to the rare group of leaders who are firmly rooted in the “we shall overcome” philosophy. I hope the Crisis Management Committee will not only look into the immediate problems and short-term solutions, but will also develop a medium- and long-term plan that can enable us to face the challenges of drought, flood, high temperature, and sea level rise, which in future will be the recurrent consequences of global warming and climate change. I wrote an article in The Hindu of July 13, 2009 on “Monsoon management in an era of climate change.” Since serious action involving a large financial outlay is now under discussion, I would like to lay out a road map on the action needed immediately and during the remaining period of the 11th Five Year Plan.



With the help of State governments, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), and agricultural universities, the situation in each State may be classified into the following two categories.

1.      Most Seriously Affected Areas (MSA):


These are areas where the monsoon irregularity has multiple adverse effects on crops, farm animals and human food, and livelihood security. Also, hydropower generation is affected, leading to energy shortage. The power shortage, in turn, makes it difficult to give a crop life-saving irrigation, wherever opportunities for this exist.


Apart from the relief operations normally undertaken, the urgent needs of MSA areas are: saving farm animals from distress sale through Farm Animal Camps near a water source or near a groundwater sanctuary (that is, a concealed aquifer which can be exploited during the emergency) and where animals can be fed with agricultural residues enriched with urea and molasses. Distress sale of farm animals is a clear index of extreme despair.


A “Beyond the Drought Programme” should be organised. This should involve short duration crops like saathi maize (60 days maize), sweet potato, pulses, oilseeds, fodder crops, and other less water-requiring but high-value crops, according to scientifically prepared contingency plans.


Another urgent need is the launch of “A Pond in Every Farm” movement. This can be done by permitting NREGA workers to build Jat Kunds in the farms of small and marginal farmers (see also Sainath, The Hindu, 15 August 2009). The revised NREGA guidelines permit this. At least five cents in every acre should be reserved for the construction of ponds to store rainwater. Where there is adequate ground water in MSA areas, subsidised electricity and diesel should be made available on a priority basis. Energy is the key limiting factor in taking advantage of ground water.



In every agro-ecological zone, the Most Favourable Areas (MFA) can be identified where there is enough moisture for a good crop. A compensatory production programme can be launched in such MFA farms by taking steps to increase the productivity of the crops already sown. This can be achieved by undertaking top-dressing with urea or other needed fertilizers, including micro-nutrients, with government support. Wherever there are opportunities for launching such compensatory production programmes because of adequate rainfall, the faculty and scholars of the agricultural university in the area can be requested to move from class rooms to farmers’ fields to help ensure the proper administration of the nutrient top–dressing programme. This will help to increase crop productivity significantly.


Preparing for the Rabi season:

Where two or more crops are taken normally, it is time to begin preparation for a good rabi crop by assembling the seeds, soil nutrients, and other agronomic inputs needed for timely sowing and good plant population. Late sowing of kharif crops should not be encouraged, since every week’s delay in the sowing of wheat reduces the yield by over fourquintals per hectare.


Action during 2009-10:

During the next few months, detailed drought, flood, and good weather codes should be prepared for every agro-climatic zone in the country. These codes should indicate the pro-active measures such as building Seed Banks of alternative crops needed for minimising the adverse impact of rainfall abnormalities. The Good Weather Code should provide guidelines for maximising the benefits of good soil moisture. Another step urgently needed is the identification and training of two members of every panchayat – one woman, one man – as Climate Risk Managers. It is best that they are identified by the Gram Sabha.


The Climate Risk Managers can be trained in the science and art of managing uncertain rainfall patterns leading to drought or flood. They could also operate a Weather Information for All programme based on village level agro-met. stations. A mini agro-met. station can be built in every block with basic instruments to measure temperature, rainfall, wind speed, and relative humidity. The Climate Risk Managers can be trained in data collection and interpretation, so that the right decisions are taken at the right time and place. Such a technological upgrading of agricultural infrastructure will also help to attract youth in farming.



This could include the following:

(a) Build a national grid of ultra-modern grain storage structures all over the country. To start with, at least 50 such storage facilities each capable of holding one million tonnes of food grains can be constructed, thereby making it clear that government intends to remain at the commanding heights of our food security system.


(b) Promote through Gram Sabhas community food and water security systems. This should involve establishing at the village level seed, grain, and water banks. Seed banks will help to introduce alternative cropping strategies and contingency plans to suit different rainfall patterns.


(c) Enlarge the food security basket by including a wide range of millets and grains like ragi in the public distribution system (PDS).



In 1966, the country faced a serious drought. A serious famine was avoided, particularly in Bihar, though concessional wheat imports of the order of 10 million tonnes under the U.S. PL-480 programme. This served as a wake-up call and several steps were taken under the far-sighted political leadership of C. Subramaniam, Lal Bahadur Shastri, and Indira Gandhi, which led to a wheat revolution in 1968. The major ingredients of this revolution were: technology; services that can take technology to the fields of small and marginal farmers; public policies, particularly relating to input and output pricing; assured and remunerative marketing; and above all, farmers’ enthusiasm as a result of national demonstrations in small farmers’ fields.


Today, the last component of the green revolution symphony is sadly lacking: over 40 per cent of the farmers interviewed by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) said they wanted to quit farming, if there was another option. No further time should be lost in implementing the commitments made under the National Policy for Farmers presented in Parliament in November 2007 — if the desire of the Prime Minister that there should be another green revolution is to materialise.


(Professor M.S. Swaminathan, eminent agricultural scientist and food policy expert, is chairman of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation and a Member of the Rajya Sabha.)










Whoever the anonymous Internet user “Zhong Guo Zhuan Le Gang” (literally, “Chinese strategist”) is, he must be quite pleased with himself. Little more than a week ago, a post by him appeared on an obscure Chinese website calling for China to “break up” the “Hindu Religious State” of India for its own strategic gains. The post was translated and analysed, with some significant errors, by a Chennai-based think-tank, following which reports appeared in the Indian media expressing outrage that “Beijing” had a secret plan to divide India by supporting separatist movements in Kashmir and the Northeast.


Leave aside for a moment the contents of the post, which to most readers with even a little understanding of foreign policy reveals an inexperienced writer with poor understanding of India, far removed from a supposedly influential Chinese strategist. Also leave aside the question of whether having broken-up states on its borders with the troubled Xinjiang region and in north-east India even really suits Chinese interests. The real question to be asked here is why and how does an anonymous post by an insignificant Chinese blogger generate such attention and consternation in India? Part of the answer lies in the media reports that appeared last week, which made the following assumptions: an influential Chinese strategist must have been behind the suggestions; he must have had the tacit backing of Beijing since all opinion in China is controlled by the government; and that the website where this post appeared sounded influential enough for India to take notice and worry.


But in these assumptions are fundamental misperceptions. For one, there is a tendency to assume every view expressed by a Chinese strategist or newspaper – let alone an anonymous blogger — is inextricably linked to Beijing and the Chinese government’s views.


This tendency is located in the prevalence of the idea of a monolith China and “Chinese” view which dominates Indian perceptions. This was especially evident last week, when news reports in national newspapers, without exception, linked the claims made by the anonymous blogger to “what Beijing thinks”.


This perception dates back to the 1970s and 1980s, when the only opinions coming out of China were voiced through one or two State-run organs, and often closely mirrored the Chinese government’s views. The last decade has seen the emergence of a completely different information landscape in China. Yet the manner in which this information is processed and interpreted in India remains rooted in the past. The nineties saw the emergence of dozens of new newspapers in China, a few dozen think-tanks in Beijing and a proliferation of voices expressed through the Internet. Currently, there are four main avenues through which information emerges out of China. Their status and roles need spelling out, as understanding and evaluating the nature of this information is crucial for India to create a level of discourse that allows for a more layered analysis of China’s opportunities and threats.


Most significant is the official channel through China’s Foreign Ministry, which voices China’s official position on issues. The second, more complicated channel is print media. There are dozens of newspapers in Beijing, and most are State-owned. But each enjoys a unique relationship with both the government and the Communist Party (CPC), and consequently, their opinions need to be interpreted contextually. For instance, the People’s Daily, the CPC’s mouthpiece, often articulates the Party’s stand, which does not necessarily reflect the Chinese government’s official position. Recently, the paper ran a strong editorial aimed at India, crudely belittling India’s political status and calling for a stronger Chinese stand on the border dispute and other issues. This was interpreted in India as the Chinese government changing its position.


While the Chinese government on occasion does use the newspaper to articulate its views, the newspaper is more often used by different factions within the CPC in internal debates and has less impact on actual policy. For instance, some groups within the CPC favour a more hawkish attitude to India, and others in the government a more conciliatory position. The distinction between Party and Government is not often clear even in China. This poses a challenge for Indian observers to tease out what opinions really matter to the countries’ relationship, and what opinions are no more than postures adopted for the sake of internal party politics and are less relevant to the countries’ ties. The third category, also diverse, is think-tanks. In the last decade, dozens of think-tanks — many with similar sounding names, to add to the confusion — have emerged in China. The fourth and newest avenue of information is the Internet, through Chinese blogs and websites.


Confusion between the last two categories was at the heart of last week’s uproar. The post in question appeared on an important-sounding website calling itself the International Institute of Strategic Studies (which has no relation to the London-based think-tank of the same name). The Chennai Centre for China Studies, which first translated and analysed the post before it was circulated among the Indian media, assumed that this was a government-sponsored think-tank, and also wrongly claimed that this was linked to the China Institute for International Strategic Studies (CIISS), a Beijing think-tank. But a quick check revealed that the IISS website where the post appeared actually has no government ties, and is by no means an established Beijing think-tank — it’s just a website. Scholars at the CIISS and other institutes said they hadn’t even heard of it, and expressed amusement at the media circus that the obscure website had caused in India.


The website’s founder Kang Lingyi issued a clarification saying his website was independent and had no link to the government. What news reports did not mention was Mr. Kang, who is only in his twenties, represents a fringe firebrand nationalistic viewpoint that has in the past tried to stir public opinion against another neighbour of China’s — Japan. Mr. Kang’s views often reflect those of a section known in China as the “Fenqing” — it literally translates to “Angry Youth”, but when pronounced slightly differently describes such youth in a far less kind way, one that’s not fit to print. This reflects the position these views hold in the mainstream in China — and the error in assuming these fringe views mirror Beijing’s position. But even the nationalistic Mr. Kang distanced himself from the post and stressed that in no way did his website approve of its message.


News reports also claimed the write-up could not have been published without the permission of the Chinese authorities — another dubious claim tied to the simplistic notion that the Chinese government vets every opinion expressed on all of China’s hundreds of political websites. The Chinese government blocks and censors numerous websites that are politically sensitive, discussing subjects like the Tiananmen Square protests or the Falun Gong. But suggesting that the government controls and moderates debates and political opinions in blogs and newspapers is a stretch.


It also belies a lack of understanding of the changing nature of China’s information landscape. China has 338 million Internet users and more than 100 million blogs and websites, such as the one where this post first appeared. It only takes a quick glance through half a dozen such sites – even “influential” ones - to look at the divergence of opinions and vibrancy of debates, with many voices even strongly criticising the Communist Party and its government. Yet the simplistic perception still endures in India that in authoritarian China, every analyst or writer must surely speak in the same voice.


Interpreting information from these four avenues is further complicated by the fact that they are sometimes inter-linked. For instance, the Chinese government sometimes uses influential think-tanks to hint at changes in policy. Views and opinions from mainstream Chinese newspapers and think-tanks must indeed be taken seriously in India. But at the same time, a more nuanced understanding of China’s information landscape is needed to avoid shrill hyper-reactions to anonymous bloggers and irrelevant fringe groups.


This is crucial to creating a level of discourse in India that allows for a deeper, more meaningful engagement with China’s opportunities and threats.









The U.S. oil and gas lobby are planning to stage manufactured public events to give the false appearance of a groundswell of public opinion against legislation that is key to Barack Obama’s climate change strategy, according to campaigners.


A key lobbying group will bankroll and organise 20 “energy citizen” rallies in 20 states. In an email obtained by Greenpeace, Jack Gerard, the president of the American Petroleum Institute (API), outlined what he called a “sensitive” plan to stage events during the August congressional recess to put a “human face” on opposition to climate and energy reform. After the clamour over healthcare, the memo raises the possibility of a new round of protests against a key Obama issue.


“Our goal is to energise people and show them that they are not alone,” said Cathy Landry, for API, who confirmed that the memo was authentic.


The email from Gerard lays out ambitious plans to stage a series of lunchtime rallies to try to shape the climate bill that was passed by the house in June and will come before the Senate in September. “We must move aggressively,” it reads.



The API strategy also extends to a PR drive. Gerard cites polls to test the effectiveness of its arguments against climate change legislation. It offers up the “energy citizen” rallies as ready-made events, noting that allies — which include manufacturing and farm alliances as well as 400 oil and gas member organisations — will have to do little more than turn up.


“API will provide the up-front resources,” the email said. “This includes contracting with a highly experienced events management company that has produced successful rallies for presidential campaigns.”


However, it said member organisations should encourage employees to attend to command the attention of senators. “In the 11 states with an industry core, our member company local leadership — including your facility manager’s commitment to provide significant attendance — is essential,” said the email.



Greenpeace described the meetings as “astroturfing” — events intended to exert pressure on legislators by giving the impression of a groundswell of public opinion. Kert Davies, its research director, said: “It is the behind the scenes plan to disrupt the debate and weaken political support for climate regulation.”

The rally sites were chosen to exert maximum pressure on Democrats in conservative areas. The API also included talking points for the rallies — including figures on the costs of energy reform that were refuted weeks ago by the congressional budget office.


The API drive also points to a possible fracturing of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (Uscap), a broad coalition of corporations and energy organisations which was instrumental in drafting the Waxman-Markey climate change bill that passed in the House of Representatives in June.

Passage of the legislation is seen as crucial to the prospects of getting the world to sign on to a climate change treaty at Copenhagen next December. Five members of Uscap are also in API, including BP which said its employees were aware of the rallies. However, Shell, also a member of both groups, said it did not support the rallies. Bill Tenner, a spokesman, said: “We are not participating.”








The first fortnight of August had been marked by the spread of the swine flu across the country, killing more than 20 people and badly affecting hundreds of others, old and the young alike. Understandably, news and coverage of the disease has been dominating the media from the beginning of the month, with a 14-year-old girl in Pune dying on August 3 and becoming India’s first victim.


The media coverage of the sufferings of the affected people and the way governments at the Centre and in the States have been dealing with this pandemic have received a mixed response from the public. The way some satellite television channels treated the subject, especially in its early stages, has been questioned and sharply criticised by many discerning viewers. They complain that these channels are (“as usual”) sensationalising the crisis, the hospitalisations and deaths, helping spread fear and panic among the people (“adding fuel to fire”).


Newspapers have given wide coverage to the government’s efforts to mobilise resources and treat the affected. But the public complaint against many of them is that they have done nothing much to create public awareness of A(H1N1) and its effects and how to cope with the challenge. A detailed study of media coverage of swine flu and its impact, however, may have to wait for later.


What I propose to do now is to highlight how the readers of The Hindu have responded to the pandemic and the gamut of issues it has raised. A study of 46 letters published on swine flu by The Hindu from August 11, a day after four-year-old Sanjay Balakumar became the first victim of the disease in Tamil Nadu, to August 15, turns out to be a rewarding experience. Many of these letters are insightful and reveal readers’ knowledge of the subject and their informed approach to the related problems.


The letters, published from August 11, the day before The Hindu had an authoritative single leader titled “Meeting a pandemic challenge,” are of a representative nature: they are from 28 cities and towns in eight States and one Union Territory. They cover various aspects of the problem. They range from the government’s failure to create awareness about the disease to the inept and irresponsible handling of the problem by some television channels; from the need to alert people about the possibility of the disease’s continued presence and the inadequate stock of Tamiflu, the drug used in the treatment, to the scarcity of masks and the inadequacy of testing laboratories, and so on. One reader has suggested that the government should think of an alternative medical system.


A couple of letters ask why more serious diseases such as tuberculosis, which take a higher toll than swine flu, are being ignored by the government. Some others highlight the need to pay greater attention to issues relating to basic hygiene that would ensure a disease-free life for all. Some letters caution that when the disease spreads to villages it will be more difficult to control and they want the government to act without losing time.



 “… The media, rather than just giving the number of deaths, also highlight the cases of people who have been cured and discharged from hospital.”


“We are thankful to the media for providing a regular update on swine flu. Information on the precautions to be taken is very valuable to the common man. The extensive media coverage also keeps the authorities on their toes, leaving no room for negligence.”


“… It is the testing centres that seem to be the agents of spreading swine flu. It is, therefore, important to take elementary precautions there. Adequate seating arrangements with adequate spacing should be provided to patients.”


“According to the Public Health Authority, Canada, the swine flu virus can live outside the body on hard surfaces such as door handles, stainless steel articles, plastics and so on for 24 to 48 hours. Those using masks should start using hand gloves too.”


“… It is not a consoling factor that the disease is mostly confined to metros, as anytime, any traveller may take it to villages where the awareness is less.”


Kudos to the readers, who have contributed the letters and also the editors, whose tight editing has made it possible to accommodate such a large number of letters.









As the convoy rumbled up the road in Iraq, Spc. Veronica Alfaro was struck by the beauty of fireflies dancing in the night. Then she heard the unmistakable pinging of tracer rounds and, in a Baghdad moment, realized the insects were illuminated bullets.


She jumped from behind the wheel of her gun truck, grabbed her medical bag and sprinted 50 yards to a stalled civilian truck. On the way, bullets kicked up dust near her feet. She pulled the badly wounded driver to the ground and got to work.


Despite her best efforts, the driver died, but her heroism that January night last year earned Alfaro a Bronze Star for valor. She had already received a combat action badge for fending off insurgents as a machine gunner.


“I did everything there,” Alfaro, 25, said of her time in Iraq. “I gunned. I drove. I ran as a truck commander. And underneath it all, I was a medic.”


Before 2001, America’s military women had rarely seen ground combat. Their jobs kept them mostly away from enemy lines, as military policy dictates.


But the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, often fought in marketplaces and alleyways, have changed that. In both countries, women repeatedly have proved their mettle in combat. The number of high-ranking women and women who command all-male units has climbed considerably along with their status in the military.


“Iraq has advanced the cause of full integration for women in the Army by leaps and bounds,” said Peter R. Mansoor, a retired Army colonel who served as executive officer to Gen. David H. Petraeus while he was the top American commander in Iraq. “They have earned the confidence and respect of male colleagues.”


Their success, widely known in the military, remains largely hidden from public view. In part, this is because their most challenging work is often the result of a quiet circumvention of military policy. Women are barred from joining combat branches like the infantry, armour, Special Forces and most field artillery units, and from doing support jobs while living with those smaller units. Women can lead some male troops into combat as officers, but they cannot serve with them in battle.


Yet, over and over, in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army commanders have resorted to bureaucratic trickery when they needed more soldiers for crucial jobs, like bomb disposal and intelligence. On paper, for instance, women have been “attached” to a combat unit rather than “assigned.”


This quiet change has not come seamlessly — and it has altered military culture on the battlefield in ways large and small. Women need separate bunks and bathrooms. They face sexual discrimination and rape, and counselors and rape kits are now common in war zones. Commanders also confront a new reality: that soldiers have sex, and some will be quickly evacuated because they are pregnant.


Nonetheless, as soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, women have done nearly as much in battle as their male counterparts: patrolled streets with machine guns, served as gunners on vehicles, disposed of explosives, and driven trucks down bomb-ridden roads. They have proved indispensable in their ability to interact with and search Iraqi and Afghan women for weapons, a job men cannot do for cultural reasons. The Marine Corps has created revolving units — “lionesses” — dedicated to just this task.


A small number of women have even conducted raids, engaging the enemy directly in total disregard of existing policies.


But the U.S. military may well be steps ahead of Congress, where opening ground combat jobs to women has met deep resistance in the past.


Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, a group that opposes fully integrating women into the Army, said women were doing these jobs with no debate and no congressional approval.


“I fault the Pentagon for not being straight with uniformed women,” said Donnelly, who supported unsuccessful efforts by some in Congress in 2005 to restrict women’s roles in these wars. “It’s an ‘anything goes’ situation.”


Poll numbers, however, show that a majority of the public supports allowing women to do more on the battlefield. Fifty-three per cent of the respondents in a New York Times/CBS News poll in July said they would favour permitting women to “join combat units, where they would be directly involved in the ground fighting.”


The successful experiences of military women in Iraq and Afghanistan are being used to bolster the efforts of groups who favour letting gay soldiers serve openly. Those opposed to such change say that permitting service members to state their sexual orientation would disrupt the tight cohesion of a unit and lead to harassment and sexual liaisons — arguments also used against allowing women to serve alongside men. But women in Iraq and Afghanistan have debunked many of those fears.


“They made it work with women, which is more complicated in some ways, with sex-segregated facilities and new physical training standards,” said David Stacy, a lobbyist with the Human Rights Campaign, a group working for gay equality. “If the military could make that work with good discipline and order, certainly integrating open service of gay and lesbians is within their capability.”



No one envisioned that Afghanistan and Iraq would elevate the status of women in the armed forces.

But the Iraq insurgency obliterated conventional battle lines. The fight was on every base and street corner, and as the conflict grew longer and more complicated, the all-volunteer military required more soldiers and a different approach to fighting. Commanders were forced to stretch gender boundaries, or in a few cases, erase them altogether.


“We literally could not have fought this war without women,” said Nagl, who is now president of the Center for a New American Security, a military research institution in Washington.


Of the 2 million Americans who have fought in these wars since 2001, more than 220,000 of them, or 11 per cent, have been women. Like men, some women have come home bearing the mental and physical scars of bombs and bullets, loss and killing. Women who are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars appear to suffer rates of post-traumatic stress disorder comparable to those of men, a recent study showed.

Men still make up the vast majority of the 5,000 war deaths since 2001; nearly 4,000 have been killed by enemy action. But 121 women have also died, 66 killed in combat. The rest died in nonhostile action, which includes accidents, illness, suicide and friendly fire. And 620 women have been wounded.


Despite longstanding fears about how the public would react to women coming home in coffins, Americans have responded to their deaths and injuries no differently than to those of male casualties, analysts say. That is a reflection of changing social mores but also a result of the growing number of women — more than 356,000 today — who serve in the armed forces, including the Reserves and the National Guard, 16 percent of the total. Overall, women say the gains they made in Iraq and Afghanistan have overshadowed the challenges they faced in a combat zone.


“As horrible as this war has been, I fully believe it has given women so many opportunities in the military,” said Linsay Rousseau Burnett, who was one of the first women to serve as a communication specialist with a brigade combat team in Iraq. “Before, they didn’t have the option.”


Although women make up only 6 percent of the top military ranks, these war years have ushered in a series of notable promotions. In 2008, 57 women were serving as generals and admirals in the active-duty military, more than double the number a decade earlier. Last year, Ann E. Dunwoody was the first woman to become a four-star Army general, the highest rank in today’s military and a significant milestone for women. And many more women now lead all-male combat troops into battle.


The Army does not keep complete statistics on the sex of soldiers who receive medals and tracks only active-duty soldiers. But two women have been awarded Silver Stars, one of the military’s highest honours. Many more women have been awarded medals for valour, the statistics show.


To be sure, not all women in the military embrace the idea of going into combat. Like men, a few do what they can to try to get out of deployments. Military women and commanders say some women have timed their pregnancies to avoid deploying or have gotten pregnant in Iraq so they would be sent home. The Army declined to release numbers on how many women have been evacuated from a war zone for pregnancy.


In addition to the dangers, military life remains gruelling in other ways, especially for mothers juggling parenting and the demands of the military, which require long absences from home. And while the military is doing more than ever to address the threat of sexual harassment and rape, it remains a persistent problem.










The two-hour-long questioning that Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan faced at the hands of US immigration officials at Newark airport recently has created an uproar within India and among the star's many admirers around the world. It must have come as a surreal moment to the actor, who was in the US for an Indian Independence Day programme in Chicago: an uncanny coincidence that he should personally get a taste of the storyline of his new film My name is Khan, which is about the life and everyday experiences of Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. Shah Rukh has said earlier how he is proud to be a Muslim and of his surname Khan. A bigger irony is that the film was shot in the United States, for which he must have spent a lot of time earlier and made several trips to that country. Late last week, as he said in a number of television interviews, US immigration officials subjected him to detailed interrogation as his surname had cropped up on their computer systems on a list of suspects, and allegedly because he looked Eurasian. Khan is an extremely common Muslim surname, and it is certainly possible that a suspect with the same surname was on an American watchlist, though the star did point out in his interviews that "Shah Rukh" is not a common first name. Attempts by a subcontinental immigration official and several others at the airport to persuade the official handling the matter that Shah Rukh Khan was indeed a well-known filmstar from India appeared to have had no impact, and the official was not impressed even when several people, including many of his colleagues, asked the beleaguered star for his autograph. The US official was following the rulebook conscientiously, perhaps too conscientiously for a filmstar more used to adulation from all those he comes into contact with. There is a view that the US official was only doing his duty, and that it is this sense of commitment to the rules that has kept America free of any terror attacks since 2001. In the US and elsewhere in the West, at airports and other public places, everyone - whether VIP or ordinary citizen - is equally subject to the rules. It is only in India that VIPs and the so-called "VVIPs" feel that rules for ordinary mortals do not apply to them.


This is not to dismiss lightly what SRK was subjected to. And not just SRK. There was the recent incident involving former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who was subject to frisking on Indian soil by employees of an American airline. A number of Indian filmstars have spoken about the intensive checking they have have faced on arriving in America. The disquieting fact is that this happens much more to those with Muslim names. There have been cases, of course, when non-Muslims such as former defence minister George Fernandes have been subjected to heavy-handed treatment; but these are the exceptions. In India, too, it is not uncommon for Muslims to be treated differently from others in certain areas, and for the police to pick up people with Muslim names in disproportionate numbers. It is therefore necessary for all countries, the US and India included, to find a way to distinguish law-abiding members of the community from the terrorists and fanatics who happen to be Muslim. In this era of ever-present terror threats, the issue of security has to remain paramount, but this does not mean that people should not be treated with dignity and respect. And there is certainly no room for any kind of racial or religious profiling or prejudice by those charged with enforcing the law.









It would be unfair to see the current mess in the BJP — with Rajasthan as its new theatre of civil war — as a simple battle between the RSS and the BJP or a factional tussle between Rajnath Singh and L.K. Advani. Those are elements of the drama but the whole narrative, with its sub-plots and midnight intrigues, is far more complicated.


To understand the pathetic state of the BJP, consider four points.


First, the timing of the crisis is noteworthy. Each time the party prepares for a meeting that might just discuss and critique the Lok Sabha election of 2009 and demand an honest debate on the condition of the BJP, a convenient diversion appears.


When the national executive met a few weeks ago, some people began writing letters and then distributed them from a hotel in the heart of New Delhi. This time, just before the chintan baithak in Shimla, Vasundhara Raje was told to resign. The provocative gesture was bound to spell trouble.


In both cases, the agenda for the meeting was sought to be pre-empted. The party leadership was helped out by the creation of collateral scripts and smokescreens. Who was the intended beneficiary and who the mastermind? The pattern is tiresome, repetitive and crystal clear.


Second, is Vasundhara Raje’s removal an attempt at accountability or at factionalism? In the three months since the Lok Sabha drubbing, no benchmarks have been set for resignations and retrenchments. The entire process has been ad hoc and individual-specific. This has led to the conclusion that the party headquarters is playing favourites within state units.


Rajasthan is a case in point. From 2003 to 2008, Vasundhara Raje was the chief minister. Her government had a mixed record; it had its achievements but also faced charges of condoning corruption. Vasundhara was not always seen as a team player. Some sections of the local RSS didn’t like her.


However, it is equally true that the lady has a pan-Rajasthan appeal and fought a valiant state election, taking the BJP to 79 seats in a House of 200. She lost, but lost with honour.


The Lok Sabha election saw a poorer performance. Subsequently, the state party president resigned and the organising secretary — the RSS nominee in the party brass — was also removed. The organising secretary is close to the RSS faction that now runs day-to-day business in the BJP and uses Rajnath Singh as the ventriloquist’s doll. The price this cabal has demanded is Vasundhara’s expulsion from Jaipur.


Politically, this is suicidal. Unlike, say, Madhya Pradesh the RSS does not have the grassroots network and rigour in Rajasthan to influence elections even after the removal of a popular leader. The party itself has no one to match Vasundhara. For all her faults, she is indispensable. The dissenting MLAs who turned up in New Delhi were only reflecting this reality.


Third, the Rajasthan episode offers an interesting template. The state unit president, the RSS representative perceived as the organisational sheet-anchor and now the legislative leader have all been asked to move out. If this standard is adhered to in one state, then why not at the central level?


In New Delhi, it is quite another story. L.K. Advani has more or less indicated he wants to remain Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha for five years, which would make him 86 when he leaves office. Among the reasons cited is the fact that the party performed creditably in the recent parliamentary session!


This is astonishing. Mr Advani was Leader of the Opposition in the previous Lok Sabha when the BJP made a hash of things, resorting to boycotts and walkouts rather than serious interrogation of the government. As the party’s prime ministerial candidate, he was roundly rejected by the electorate. How can he expect to stay on?


Rajnath Singh’s performance as party president has been equally abysmal. A post that should have been above the fray has been opened up to accusations of caste bias, in-house conspiracy and transactional decision-making. Mr Singh has made common cause with a sliver of the RSS leadership that has influence but, it must be stressed, does not constitute the entirety of the Sangh.


Mr Singh’s biggest guarantor is, paradoxically, Mr Advani. The patriarch’s refusal to bow out gracefully has given the over-promoted president a sort of moral case. Nevertheless Mr Singh and his Sangh handlers know he cannot possibly get another term after his presidency ends this winter. That is why they are resorting to a scorched-earth policy — leaving the party ravaged before they bid goodbye.


Fourth, that both Mr Advani and Mr Singh have to walk into the sunset is non-negotiable. The BJP may or may not have a future — but, certainly, these two are not the future. Their individual and combined cussedness and — harsh as this sounds — selfishness has contributed to the BJP central hierarchy losing all authority and credibility.


There is no quick-fix solution. Even so, the Rajasthan chapter offers an alternative template as well. Irrespective of whether Vasundhara Raje stays on or is forced out — how long can a party endure such defiance, however justified it may be? — the state’s angry MLAs have made it obvious that the BJP cannot ignore internal democratic impulses for long.


The leadership of the BJP, its presidency and choice of electoral mascots cannot be treated as guru dakshina or manipulated by mysterious cliques and extra-political lobbies. Is this a democratic party that claims mass support and seeks votes — or is it the inner chamber of the Mughal zenana?


The upshot is that after Mr Advani and Rajnath Singh have been escorted to the exit door their successors must be elected rather than selected. The mode may not be smooth; there may be contentious competition. Never mind, the BJP will emerge the stronger for it. The next leadership will have legitimacy.


Before he launched the Quit India movement this month 67 years ago, Mahatma Gandhi told the British: "Leave India to God. If that is too much, then leave her to anarchy." The BJP needs to give its Fevicol-coated veterans a similar message.


Ashok Malik can be contacted at








This happened in New York last fortnight. My wife was walking down a street looking at the shop windows and was about to bump head-on into a tall, young black American coming from the opposite direction. The man saw the startled look on her face and, with the spontaneous informality that is quintessential New York, said, "Don’t be scared, lady. I’m black, like the President". He didn’t pause, or look back. Just walked off with a spring in his step.


I liked it. I thought it was a casual remark by someone with a sense of humour. Back in Cambridge, Massachusetts, some American friends, however, had a different take: they said it reflected the current mood of optimism among African-Americans who feel empowered with a black President in the White House. There is also a lot more public discussion on the prejudice against people of colour.


A case in point is the recent story of the arrest of a senior African-American Harvard professor that was headline news on American channels for nearly two long weeks and literally buried the Michael Jackson death story. The incident happened in Cambridge, a city adjacent to Boston. Professor Gates, a respected scholar, was struggling to open the lock on the door of his house when a paranoid neighbour, suspecting a stranger of breaking in, phoned the police.


The professor was arrested by a police officer who happened to be white, handcuffed, and kept in a lock-up for a few hours, spurring an angry political debate about police brutality and race relations. Now, Mr Gates is not just a Harvard don but also a friend of US President Barack Obama who, in a knee-jerk reaction, said the police had "acted stupidly". His choice of words sparked off further controversy.


So the President invited the professor and the police officer for a beer to the White House, setting off an intense debate over the issue of racial profiling. "What I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact", he said.


Racial profiling is defined as using a person’s race, colour, ethnicity or national origin to determine whether he or she is likely to indulge in criminal activity. It is said to be targeted at African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, south Asians and Arabs, and, is known to be rampant throughout the US.


Critics say the beer summit was just a photo op, Mr Obama’s attempt to make up for his comment. There were instant jokes about it. My favourite is "The audacity of hops", a take on Mr Obama’s biography.


The professor’s daughter wrote in the news website, the Daily Beast: "Discrimination is the single greatest wound in American history and could never be solved over a beer. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. There are more black men in prison than in college and literally thousands of black men are arrested across this country each day".


Maybe the summit was pure PR, or clever damage control. Still, coming from India, I find it remarkable that a head of state should first intervene in a local dispute (indeed, with deeper implications), and then take this extraordinary step to calm tempers. In a debate that was taking an ugly racist turn, he tried to find middle ground. Though not in as many words, he admitted that his choice of words was inappropriate. Some say that was the end of the controversy; I think it was a clever way of setting up the agenda for future debate, of encouraging a deeper dialogue on racial prejudice.


What’s also interesting is to see that a country that has struggled to give equal rights to all its citizens still has the conscience to question its own attitudes. In India, where people continue to be discriminated against on the basis of colour, caste, religion and ethnicity, we accept prejudice as part of life. We are also hypocritical in our attitudes. We talk about political correctness but laugh at racist jokes.


Some more news from Cambridge: In a first of its kind, Harvard, the world’s richest university, has licensed its name for a men’s fashion line called the Harvard Yard. The look will be 1960s — seersucker shorts and regimental stripes. The high-end clothes, to be made by a New York-based group, will not come cheap; the pricing, it seems, will be in line with the university’s expensive education: trousers at $195 and shirts for $160.


Harvard’s endowment is down 30 per cent from $37 billion last year, and the joke here is that the university is desperate to make up for some of the losses. It has not disclosed how much money it will make from the deal.


An American friend who recently went on a Mediterranean cruise narrated the following.


Halfway through the cruise that had only Americans on board the captain of the luxury liner met the passengers and asked them if they were comfortable and having a good time.


One passenger complained that the microwave in his cabin didn’t seem to work. The captain looked surprised. "But there are no microwaves in any of the cabins", he said.


Passenger: "There is one in my closet with buttons on the door and every time I put something in it to warm, shut the door and press the buttons, nothing happens".


Just in case you haven’t got it, he thought the mini-vault in the closet was a microwave.


There were more questions. Allow me to narrate just one:


"Does the crew sleep on the ship at night?"


No, I am not kiddin, as they say in America.


Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at








I have a firm belief in the Almighty’s divine power. There is a mystic force, which guides us. My parents were instrumental in strengthening my faith in Buddhism and Hinduism.


I feel that God resides in our hearts in two forms — good and evil. Our thoughts decide which of the two takes precedence in our mind. Our thoughts influence our actions. If we harbour negative thoughts against someone, then we have to face the repercussions of the same.


I am also superstitious. I always use the number one mike during my shoots and I try to avoid black colour.


As I have a busy schedule, it is difficult to read spiritual books. But whatever little I have read was focused on the power of karma and God.


(As told to Saloni Bhatia)


 Ratan Rajput is a well-known TV actress










The Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech on Saturday reflected a fine blueprint for action and a steely resolve to take the country forward. His optimism that the country will measure up to the challenge to restore the 9 per cent rate of growth that was the UPA government’s target before the global economic slowdown was indeed reassuring.


Significantly, while promising steps to inject more money into the economy, encouraging exports and increasing public investment to put the country on the fast track again, the Prime Minister talked of a “second Green Revolution” to re-energise the agricultural sector by laying emphasis on modern means. This should warm the hearts of the hapless chunk of the population which lives on agriculture.


Dr Singh knows only too well that inadequate monsoon, rising prices and swine flu are the main concerns for the common man today. So, to boost public morale, he went out of his way in reassuring the country that these problems were manageable. His forceful assertion that there were adequate stocks of foodgrains in the silos and that his government would provide all possible assistance to the farmers to deal with the drought deserve to be commended.


The postponement of the date for repayment of loans by farmers announced by him is apt considering the deficient rainfall in most parts of the country. The resolve to treat health and education as priority areas and his emphasis on saving water shows the right set of priorities.


Declaring that taking special care of the deprived sections of society was no appeasement but a duty, the Prime Minister promised to do all he could for the minority communities. Peace is necessary for progress and Dr Manmohan Singh pledged to redouble the efforts to deal with terrorism and Naxalite menace. On foreign policy, his speech reflected the growing maturity of India.


He did not mention Pakistan at all but took a wider view of relations with countries in the neighbourhood, Central Asia, West Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Latin America. All in all, the Prime Minister’s address characteristically embodied sincerity of approach and a new sense of confidence that India is poised to move forward speedily and resolutely, despite the challenges.







The US immigration officials who grilled India’s film icon Shah Rukh Khan for over two hours at Newark Airport on Friday did no service to either country. The overzealous officials made him to undergo this ordeal simply because his name had a “Khan” in it. Obviously, they had a problem with the film super star having a Muslim name. But is it fair to go in for special questioning of a visitor, a world celebrity, because of his religion?


The airport security personnel, as Shah Rukh says in a mild language, were “very unprofessional” because they did not allow him even to contact the people who had invited him to participate in an Indian Independence Day function in New Jersey.


India has strongly protested against the shabby treatment meted out to SRK, who has a large number of fans in the US too. But the arrogant Americans are unlikely to learn to behave with Indians unless the matter is taken up very seriously.


Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni, who was also frisked in the same way earlier, is right when she says that India may have to go in for a “tit-for-tat” response if the US continues with this highly insulting practice.


The incident concerning the reining deity of Bollywood has come to notice soon after Continental Airlines officials had the audacity to frisk former President APJ Abdul Kalam at New Delhi airport. Despite much furore, unfortunately, there is no change in the ways of US officials, who are often found paranoid.


No one will object to special security checking by either airlines officials or the immigration staff anywhere. No leniency can be allowed when it comes to ensuring security. But this does not mean that a discriminatory practice like religious and racial profiling can also be done in the name of security. The US needs to ponder whether it is not pursuing a policy for outsiders replete with arrogance.







Whatever be the political motive behind the sudden bonhomie between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka with a statue of Tamil saint-poet Thiruvalluvar being unveiled in Bengaluru 18 years after its installation and that of Kannada poet Sarvajna in Chennai four days later, the move towards reconciliation between the two neighbours deserves to be welcomed.


However, the two states have had such a bitter relationship that mere cultural symbolism may remain just that if proper follow-up measures are not taken. With both the DMK and the BJP having exploited issues of divergence to raise temperatures on their sides in the past, it makes one wonder whether there is more to the sudden show of love between Chief Minister Karunanidhi of Tamil Nadu and his Karnataka counterpart B.S. Yeddyurappa than meets the eye.


Recent reports that Mr Karunanidhi is building bridges with the BJP to spite the Congress and to seek to improve his bargaining position within the UPA may well be the motivation for the move. The wily octogenarian has much to lose by drifting away from the UPA and this show of love for the BJP may well be mere tokenism.


In that event, the new-found bonhomie may stand exposed when the time comes to hammer out a solution to the contentious issue of sharing Cauvery waters which arouse passions in both states. So often in the past, when the differences on the issue come to the fore, theatres playing Tamil films are the target of Kannada protesters in Bengaluru and buses from Karnataka are targeted in Tamil Nadu. It would be interesting to see how things play out this time around.


If the two chief ministers are serious about mending fences, they must rise above local politics and show a spirit of accommodation on the Cauvery issue. The famed river can be harnessed very effectively to mutual benefit if this happens. It would be a matter of deep regret indeed if the current statue swap turns out to be a mere mutual exchange of goodwill sans substance.












If anything Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proved in the Lok Sabha debate on July 29 was that he stood committed to what had been stated in the Indo-Pakistan joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh on July 16.


He invoked Atal Bihari Vajpayee, both in letter and spirit, in his defence. Was it an attempt to bring about a consensus on the foreign policy debate, which was now lacking or simply a tactical approach to tell the adversaries that they were not ‘walking their talk’.


The Prime Minister got a golden opportunity to spell out his vision on India-Pakistan relations in three words: ‘trust but verify’, while recognising the inevitability of the dialogue process to usher in peace, security and development for not only India and Pakistan but also South Asia as a whole.


In the process, he widened his appeal and message to people in South Asia as people on both sides would like to reap the peace dividend in terms of economic development and prosperity.


The debate in Parliament did not question the gospel truth that cooperative development, peace and security between India and Pakistan have to follow the dialogue process. War was not a solution and even if it were a solution, it does not produce lasting peace.


The whole debate, however, focussed on the tactics to be adopted. Was it a wise decision to delink the dialogue process from the Pakistani delivery on terrorism? Why was a paragraph on Balochistan allowed to be inserted, giving Pakistan a countervailing weight vis-à-vis Kashmir, while we gloated on the omission of Kashmir? Added to this was the issue of India bartering away its sovereignty on the end user agreement with the United States.


While the Prime Minister made a staunch defence of the India-Pakistan joint statement, he also made a tactical retreat, in reiterating that no meaningful dialogue could take place unless Pakistan delivered on terrorism.


It is likely that partial delivery from Pakistan in the form of their first official admission of their involvement in the planning and execution of the Mumbai terrorist attack of 26/11 by Pakistanis carried the day in the drafting of the statement. Despite the Prime Minister’s strong defence, he failed to carry the Opposition with him as they continued seeing the situation from their own prism.


The moot question is: Are we fighting a tactical battle and forgetting our strategic goals? In approaching Pakistan, do we have to score brownie points on the fine print in the Sharm el-Sheikh statement, as to whether we are getting ‘a mile for an inch’? We have to be steadfast in our determination to win Pakistan, ensure its stability and wean it from terrorism. This is equally in our self-interest.


India’s approach, therefore, has to be in line with our grand vision towards Pakistan, allowing us to make tactical changes, while we continue pursuing our strategic goals. We can do so if Pakistan sees India as a friend and is equally prepared to go more than half the way, like India is willing to do so, as reiterated by the Indian Prime Minister.


We cannot do so, unless we build a consensual approach domestically. The problem becomes acute if the Congress party also joins hands with the Opposition. It needed Sonia Gandhi’s directive before the Congress party’s hand started endorsing the Prime Minister’s approach.


Are we any wiser, consequent to the parliamentary debate, in approaching Pakistan? The debate spawned a number of important issues, which need to be carefully considered. We do not have to make the water muddier at home and ensure that we do not lose sight of long-term goals for short-term debating victories.


The Congress has to avoid a direct, open and confrontationist role vis-à-vis the government. There are other ways to rein in the Prime Minister. Perhaps, equally important for India is not to jettison the summitry process, by taking shelter under the legalistic jargon to run away from the commitments made by devaluating the importance of the joint statement.


Similarly, Parliament, which has a rightful role to play on foreign policy issues should not behave like the US Congress so long we have a parliamentary system of democracy.


What is the way ahead? We have to get out of the box and not continue placing ourselves in a tight-jacket tactical approach as happened immediately after the 26/11. We have to evolve a dynamic foreign policy, which is responsive to the changing times and situations.


We cannot afford to speak with multiple voices, even though we are a multicultural society, if we want India’s voice to be heard in international portals as India starts playing a major role.


The need of the hour is to develop a national consensus on foreign policy under the critical eye of the Opposition with Parliament playing the role of a watchdog. The initiative has to rest with the government, which has to enter into dialogue domestically, as it approaches Pakistan.


Dr Manmohan Singh has to show the courage to sell his vision on India-Pakistan as he did it in the case of the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement. He should continue remaining out of the box, after having come out of it.


The Gilani-Manmohan Singh meeting had already begun the dialogue process, although it was not a ‘composite dialogue’. India-Pakistan relations cannot be built on legally binding documents, but on trust, for which we need a change of mindset.


The larger interest of the people in South Asia demands that India and Pakistan live in peace and friendship. Dialogue is, therefore, in our national interest.


Hopefully, the leaders would not only hear but heed this call. This can happen if there is greater connectivity as through communication alone we can produce better understanding. Let the fresh breeze blow through open windows, as was stated by Mahatma Gandhi.


The writer is a former Ambassador











The continuous rise in prices of essential commodities appears to have now awakened the Centre to take some strong measures to encounter the situation arising out of unscrupulous traders taking advantage of the delayed and deficient monsoon in different parts of the country. Addressing a conference of State Chief Secretaries at New Delhi on August 8, 2009, Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh emphatically said that the Centre and the States should not now hesitate to take strong measures including those against hoarders and blackmarketeers to check the spiralling prices of essential commodities like pulses, sugar, edible oil, some vegetables and other daily necessities of life. The Chief Secretaries have been reminded of the dire need of bringing immediate operation of the contingency plan for crops, drinking water, human and animal health, fodder etc and of course, of keeping a close watch on availability of food grains and prices of essential commodities. This is urgent in the wake of some 141 districts of the country having been declared drought-affected and possibility of reduced production of Kharif crops which might lead to rising prices of food items in the coming months. Assuring Centre’s full support to the States regarding any additional assistance that might be required, the Prime Minister reitertaed that the Centre and the States must work together to act promptly and effectively to tide over the situation and activise the public distribution system which is an important safety net, especially for the poor and helps cushioning against rise in prices.

The Union Agricutlure Minister, Sharad Pawar emphatically called upon the State governments to check hoarding and black marketing particularly of pulses so as to control further rise in their prices. He rightly blamed speculation in the market for skyrocketing prices of essential commodities and added that the price situation cannot be controlled unless effective steps are taken to prevent black marketing and hoarding. It may be noted here that the country imports around 2.5 million tonnes of pulses every year and around 2.6 million tonnes have already been imported this year. Hence, there is no reason for prices of the commodity to rise in the manner we are witnessing unless there is black marketing and hoarding. The problem is more acute in the far flung northeastern States like Assam where the traders raise prices under one pretext or the other in the absence of any administrative will of the government. The prices of petroleum cannot be a plea since essential goods are now costlier than when fuel prices were comparatively higher a few months back. One fails to understand if the State governments of this region have completely surrendered to the trading lobby. The absence of any concerted consumer movement is also to be equally blamed. The State need not wait for the Centre’s caution and is supposed to always keep a vigil on prices and verify justification of its hike by traders. Again, the corruption-riddled public distribution system (PDS) that could have provided much succour to common man lies in total doldrums. The sooner the government rises to the occasion, the better it is.







The flood situation in upper Assam has turned grim following incessant rains in upstream Arunachal Pradesh. Lakhimpur and Dhemaji districts have borne the brunt of the deteriorating situation, with as many as 18 breaches occurring on the embankments in the two districts along with Sonitpur. The situation could aggravate as a major breach on the embankment of the Subansiri that had occurred last year stayed unplugged. While the age-old network of embankments in the State is in urgent need of a revamp, the shoddy nature of repair works highlighted frequently in the media also raises legitimate questions on the sincerity of the Water Resources Department, which is primarily responsible for executing flood control projects. Unless funds meant for flood control are spent in the desired manner, the overall situation is unlikely to improve. The latest spate of floods has rendered hundreds of families homeless — many of those still awaiting a makeshift shelter and relief. The absence of a quick and effective response to floods has been a perennial constraint, multiplying the sufferings of the flood-hit. Despite their recurring nature, floods invariably catch the administration and the Government unawares, and this has to change to restore some semblance of normalcy in the post-flood situation. A permanent solution to flood still being only a distant possibility, it is all the more imperative that our disaster preparedness is enhanced.

Floods are perhaps the biggest impediment in the State’s path of progress, inflicting damage of thousands of crores of rupees on agriculture and infrastructure. While shortage of funds is generally cited as an alibi to address the issue, of late liberal finance is coming from external agencies like ADB, World Bank, etc. The need is to take up long-term projects and ensure their foolproof implementation. Any long-term strategy to deal with floods cannot ignore the related environmental aspects. Widespread deforestation in upstream Arunachal Pradesh as also in downstream areas of Assam has caused our riverbeds to rise abnormally due to siltation. The beds of rivers like Dikrong and Ranganadi in Lakhimpur have become so shallow that they resemble football fields. The scientific community also believes that the proposed big dams in Arunachal Praedsh could have a catastrophic impact on floods. The State Government must take up this issue with the Centre in view of the grave danger the dams pose to Assam. The peculiarities of the floods in Assam warrant that a scientific study on these crucial aspects precede any major intervention on the river system as well as the region’s geology and ecology.








Lokapriya Gopinath Bardoloi , a doyen among the makers of modern Assam, was born in Guwahati on June 6, 1890. His father, Buddheswar Bardoloi, was a doctor by profession. At the age of eighteen Bardoloi passed his Matriculation examination, securing a first division. Two years later he passed his Intermediate examination, also in the first division, from Cotton College, Guwahati. He then proceeded to Kolkata for higher studies and joined the Scottish Church College. He passed his BA in 1911 with a second class Honours in History. In 1914, he passed his MA examination in History, securing the first position in the second class .Returning to Assam he was persuaded by Deshabhakta Tarunram Phookun to assume the charge of the Head Master of the Sonaram High School. In 1917, after obtaining his law degree, he left Sonaram School to join the Bar.

With the launching of the non-violent non-cooperation movement in 1920 Bardoloi’s life took a new turn. A great admirer and follower of Gandhiji, Bardoloi was profoundly influenced by the Gandhian method of non-violent struggle. In 1921, as per the Congress decision to boycott the court, Bardoloi left the bar to join the freedom movement. This gave him an opportunity to work with such stalwarts like Karmabir Nabin Chandra Bardoloi, Deshapran Chandranath Sarma and Deshapremik Kuladhar Chaliha. In his own humble way Bardoloi worked for the success of the noncooperation movement, always taking active part in organising boycott of foreign commodities and popularising hand-spinning and khadi. In those days he was often seen carrying a bag containing his clothes etc. on his back and walking barefooted in the remote areas of south Kamrup and Goalpara, propagating Gandhiji’s ideals among the mass people. For his participation in the non-cooperation movement Bardoloi was sentenced to imprisonment for one year. During the 41st session of the Indian National Congress held at Pandu in 1926 he took a leading part as an organiser and earned appreciation from all delegates. In 1932 he was elected Chairman of the Gauhati Municipal Board.

The Government of India Act 1935, introduced a new era of Indian freedom struggle . The Congress leadership, though not fully satisfied with the Act, decided to give it a fair trial. In Assam, in the elections held in 1937 as per provisions of the Act of 1935, the Congress won thirty three seats in a house of 108, forming thereby the largest single group in it. Bardoloi was elected the leader of the Congress Legislature Party. This was undoubtedly a great honour for him. However, non-acceptance of ministry being then the Congress policy, it preferred to act as an opposition group in the legislature, often showing its progressive and democratic views on matters of national and regional importance. Under his able leadership the Congress so successfully exposed the sectarian policies of the Government that Sir Syed Mohammad Saadulla, the Premier (a term used in those days) had no other option but to resign. No wonder, Bardoloi’s keen interest to solve the burning problems of the region earned him respect from all sections of the people. Thereupon the Congress took up the challenge and asked him to form a coalition ministry which he did on September 19, 1938 with support of a few independents and Muslim members. The Congress coalition ministry, began its work in right earnest by performing a number of commendable acts such as reduction of the rates of land revenue, prohibition of opium consumption and restriction of immigration into the province from neighbouring East Bengal (now Bangladesh) with a view to safeguard the interest of the indigenous people. Another important measure which he took was the introduction of a tax called agricultural income tax which aimed at protecting the local interest by heavily taxing the planters, the majority of whom were Europeans. But the life of the Bardoloi ministry was cut short when the All India Congress Committee, in protest against the British Government’s unilateral decision to involve India in the Second World War and its inability to accept the Congress demand of self rule after the War, asked the Congress ministries to resign forthwith. In Assam, the Congress coalition ministry of Bardoloi resigned in November, 1939. As desired by Gandhiji a mass satyagraha was then organised throughout the country. In Assam, Gopinath Bardoloi was selected the first satyagrahi . He observed satyagraha in front of the court building at Guwahati on December 10, 1939.

In August 1942, Bardoloi attended the Bombay session of the All India Congress Committee where the famous ‘Quit India’ resolution was passed. On his way back to Assam he, along with Siddhinath Sarnia, was arrested at Dhubri. After his release from jail he again whole-heartedly engaged himself in organisational work of the Assam Congress. After the War when elections were held the Congress won 50 seats in a house of 108. With the support of a few other members the Congress formed a new ministry on 10 February, 1946 with Gopinath Bardoloi, the leader of the Congress Legislature Party, as Premier. But soon his ministry had to face a serious political crisis caused by the Cabinet Mission’s dangerous ‘grouping plan’ of grouping Assam with Bengal for creating, what historian K N Dutt believes, ‘a predominantly Muslim Zone in Eastern India’. Luckily, at this critical juncture of history Bardoloi rose to the occasion and not only opposed the plan but also reaffirmed Assam’s right to frame its own constitution. At last, Bardoloi, the master craftsman, succeeded in convincing the national leaders about the justness of Assam’s cause and in getting this part of the Cabinet Mission’s plan scrapped. Almost simultaneously, he had to deal with the formidable task of evicting thousands of immigrants who had encroached the grazing and forest reserves of Assam. With great political sagacity and dexterity he successfully combated this evil,In the post-independence period, Gopinath Bardoloi took a leading part in rebuilding Assam on modem lines. Although comparatively young he had “enough gift of leadership to have his way at every critical stage, and with popular support. This was so because he could always strike a balance between national and narrowly Assamese interests..." says Amalendu Guha, in his book Planter Raj to Swaraj. Unfortunately, this great son of Assam did not live long to guide the destiny of the people through strain and tussle. He died of heart attack at Guwahati on the night of August 5, 1950.

Though basically a politician Lokapriya Bardoloi was not blind to the various problems of Assam. He had so thoroughly identified himself with the interests of the State that no problem, big or small, could escape his attention. His genuine concern for Assam and the Assamese people made him immensely popular among all, and earned him the epithet ‘Lokapriya’. He was a pioneer of modern education in Assam. It is largely because of him that within years on independence Assam was blessed with its first University, first Medical, Engineering and Agricultural colleges, its High Court and several other technical and non-technical institutions. He was a great patron of games and sports and took active part in some of them. It is in commemoration of his memory that a major soccer championship of our time, the Lokapriya Bardoloi Trophy Tournament is now held every year in Guwahati. He was a very good stage actor in his school and college days and earned great fame for his role of Alexander in the play Chandragupta, Othelo in Othelo and Antoni in Julius Caeser. He had great love for music, especially Hindustani classical music and Borgeet.

During his short tenure of life, Lokapriya Bardoloi, both as a Congressman and head of the provincial administration demonstrated his vision and idealism in laying the foundation of a strong and progressive Assam. In reality, it was he who can rightly be called a maker of modern Assam and perhaps it is in the fitness of things that he has been honoured with a Bharat Ratna posthumously. Paying rich tribute to him Sardar Patel, the Ironman of India and independent India’s first Home Minister, wrote about him soon after his death : 'It is difficult to think of Assam without Gopinath Bardoloi. He had identified himself with the interest of his state, and for years the political life had so much intermingled with his great personality that we had come to think of those two entities being always synonymous."


(The writer is former Professor of History, Dibrugarh University)








Some foreign nationals greatly contributed to the socio-cultural and political life of our society. Among them, if we have to name the one who was instrumental in bringing about social reformation and total revival of Indian languages in printed form, then we must name Dr William Carey. Therefore, it will be worthwhile to remember him on his 248th birth anniversary today.

Carey was born on August 17, 1761 in Paulerspury, Northamptonshire of England. He left school when he was twelve and learned the trade of shoemaking and thus earned his livelihood as a cobbler. At the age of seventeen, a great change took place in his life when he prayed to God for conviction of cheating his master’s money. He grew up spiritually through reading the Bible and Pastor’s guide. Carrey married Dorothy in 1781. After her death, married Charlotte in 1808 who also died soon and thus he married Grace in 1823. Carey was an ardent follower of Jesus Christ and began his religious service as a pastor at Moulton and Leicester. He learned Latin, Greek, Hebrews, French and Dutch along with science and history and the like. In 1792, he authored a book known as the Enquiry and through his preaching and encouragement, Baptist Missionary Society was formed that sent Carey as a missionary to India. Carey after a long voyage reached Calcutta on November 11, 1793.

Carey soon mastered Sanskrit, Bengali and other Indian languages. He could support his mission by farming, running an indigo factory and teaching Bengali. The 10th January of 1800 was as a red-letter day in the history of Indian printing. On this day, Carey along with William Ward and Joshua Marshman, known as the ‘Serampore Trio’ set foot at Serampore and founded the historic Serampore Mission. This Mission with the help of natives, 17 printers, 5 bookbinders and a paper mill, extensively involved in translating and printing the Bible in more than 40 Indian languages including Assamese. The efforts of Carey and his colleagues had started the important process of modern prose writing in vernacular languages. Carey’s work such as Grammar books in Sanskrit, Bengali, Marathi, Punjabi, Telugu and Kanadi and Dictionaries in Sanskrit, Bengali and Marathi are worth mentioning. His work Colloquies and Garland of Indian Stories were of human interest and humour. He translated Mahabharata, and Ramayana from Sanskrit (1802). Carey published in Bengali Digdarshan (1818) which was the first Indian language periodical and Samachar Darpan, a newspaper. Carey was instrumental in publishing English periodical Friend of India (1818) which latter amalgamated with The Statesman. It must be mentioned that Assam is proud to have the first printed Assamese book Dharmapustak antabhag (1813) i.e. the New Testament and the entire Bible (1833) that Carey brought out with the help of Atmaram Sharma, an Assamese scholar. This also marked the beginning of Assamese prose in printed form.

Carey was a linguist and educationist par excellence. His mission founded the Serampore College in 1818 for higher education in which Carey himself taught Divinity and Biology. He built a system of elementary schools with over a hundred such ones and separate schools for girls. Carey taught Sanskrit, Bengali and Marathi at Fort William College in Calcutta. Under his guidance, modern textbook writing in Bengali also started.

Carey was a pioneer in introducing Savings Bank. This he introduced at Serampore in 1819 to safeguard the innocent poor people from the hands of the greedy and cruel money lenders. After ten years, William Bentinck, the Governor General established Savings Bank upon the same principle.

Carey started a Botanical Garden with 427 species in five acres of land at Serampore. He planted economically productive trees like, teak, tropical fruit trees, and many flowering trees. A plant has been named after Carey as Careya Herbacera. Botanists say that many plants found today in Bengal came from seeds carried by wind and birds from Carey’s garden. In 1823, Carey became the Fellow of the Linnaean Society, a Member of the Geological Society and Corresponding Member of the Horticultural Society of England. His Botanical Garden has become a centre for research. Carey wrote many articles on Agriculture and Botany. He established the Agricultural Society of India in 1820. Carey founded a library and developed a museum with rich collection of shells, corals, etc that were latter given to the college.

Carey was a great social reformer. A dreaded practice that Carey fought tooth and nail was infanticide that Governor General Lord Wellesley abolished in 1802. He witnessed Sati; the worst evil prevailed that time. Carey collected data of Sati and reported that nearly 300 widows were burnt alive around Calcutta and 10,000 in all of India within a short span of time. Carey started his relentless campaign against this gory practice. He published many articles against Sati and worked with Raja Ram Mohan Roy who was also a great social reformer. Carey could persuade William Bentinck who carried a regulation on December 4, 1829 declaring Sati as illegal and criminal and thus abolished it. Carey fought for eradication of other social evils such as ‘ghat murders’ by which the sick and dying were left by the riverbank to die and the rejection or burning of lepers by their families. Carey taught people to love the lepers, provided medicines and established hospital for them. Still another social evil prevalent in those days was the cult of ‘thug’ which was a belief that goddess granted sanction to certain people to strangle others and to take their valuables. The Serampore Mission relentlessly fought against the evil that led to the suppression of thugs by William Bentinck in 1830. Carey also fought against caste system, which he understood as a social evil. He preached goodwill and love among all people and encouraged inter-caste marriage. Carey’s mission pioneered in emancipation of women through education by establishing schools for girls and women.

Carey after labouring for 41 years in India, not even returning once to his native place, died on June 9, 1834 at Serampore and he was buried there. Carey, whose motto was “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God”, is honoured as the Father of Modern Missions. He indeed was a versatile genius who made major, even foundational contributions in literature and print technology, translation, education, medical, agriculture and horticulture, botany, forest conservation, industry and socio-cultural reforms. Carey played a central role in modernisation of Indian society. The Government of India released a postal stamp on January 9, 1993, honouring him.


(The writer is Pastor of Guwahati Baptist Church).








We’re used to seeing suggestive film promos with minimally dressed protagonists; showing off hidden assets are even par for the course for raunchy music videos around the globe. But now Germany has really ‘put it out there’ (to use an American colloquialism) by bringing election posters into the same genre. This week, the political climate, at least in Berlin, was unexpectedly warmed up by the appearance of titillating billboards displaying the generous cleavages of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her fellow Christian Democratic Union (CDU) MP Vera Lengsfeld — both in low-cut gowns — with the suggestive strapline: ‘We have more to offer’, a play on the party’s official slogan ‘We have the power’. While this step has obviously enraged many quarters of the polity, the lady apparently hopes that the campaign will help her make the cut in the marginal seat in the eastern part of the city in next month’s general elections. The 750 posters are mostly confined to the precincts of Lengsfeld’s constituency of Berlin Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain, and she has admitted that she had not taken the formidable Chancellor’s permission to make these revelations, so the CDU cannot be accused of being part of this descent into décolletage democracy.

The Chancellor, of course, has nothing to hide: she actually did appear in the risque gown to attend an opera while visiting another European capital last year, causing a media furore. Besides, by all accounts, the electoral fortunes of the CDU, are anything but plunging; indeed, they are expected to peak, with the support of the Free Democrats. The posters have served to perk up what was being seen as a rather sagging election mood, and inject a dose of unexpected humour into an otherwise conservatively structured campaign. Given India’s penchant for endowing icons with larger-than-life proportions, should we be grateful that no political aspirant has yet tried to go down this path?







Indian brokerages are increasingly using sophisticated software to make trading profits. Such trading could increase overall liquidity, reduce transaction costs and increase market depth, but the regulator needs to ensure that it is above board. Sophisticated computer codes are able to spot even the smallest of arbitrage possibilities as they can run calculations faster and decide whether a particular market imperfection would be profitable.

This machine interface should generate more trading as even the smallest of opportunity is acted upon. Of course, this ability to execute rapid trades is limited by the hardware sophistication, network speed and the capability at the exchanges. But as things improve, technological intervention in trading of financial instruments would rise. In the US, estimates of computer-based high-frequency trading range from 50-75% of daily trading. Machine intervention would increase as technology advances and the scale of opportunity becomes more apparent — traders at Goldman Sachs reportedly generated more than $100 million in revenues on 46 days of the second quarter; they lost money on only two trading days.

The increased used of technology per se is not an issue, only it must not compromise the market. Even in the US the concern is not so much over the computer trades rather the increasing use of ‘flash’ orders, some traders can see the order flow before the broader market. In a market dominated by high speed nanosecond trading this does seem an unfair advantage. The Indian regulator would have to be vigilant that the application of technology is within the bounds. Sure, professional traders would be worried about the increasing use of software codes but the concerns appear to be overdone. Superfast computers would certainly be in a better position than day traders when it comes to spotting arbitrage opportunities. But the same cannot be said when it comes to trading a trend or a short-term move. In such situations the day traders need not fear the machines. Besides, there is the entire behavioural aspect of the market — opportunities arising from human emotions of greed and fear.







The report that Nasa satellite data shows groundwater levels in northern India depleting by as much as a foot per year, over the past decade, is a matter of concern. The clear writing on the wall is that India faces a turbulent water future and veritable crisis without proactive policy and sustainable practices. Besides, the poor monsoons this season and the resultant drought situation pan-India calls for sustained policy focus on the water economy.

A whole series of glaring anomalies do need to be addressed. For one, there’s far too much reliance on groundwater. For another, our water infrastructure for storage and supply is sorely inadequate. Worse, policy distortions in artificially under-pricing key agri-inputs like power have perversely incentivised cultivation of water-intensive crops like paddy in traditionally wheat growing areas.

Under the auspices of the national rural employment guarantee programme, we need to step-up building bunds, check-dams and other small and medium-sized reservoirs for rain-water harvesting. Of course, there are also a number of specifically targeted water harvesting schemes which need a serious outcome audit. Gujarat has built lakhs of such check-dams. The fact remains that about 70% of India’s irrigation needs and 80% of domestic water supplies are now fully dependent on groundwater supplies. Such practices are plain unsustainable and have meant rapidly declining water tables in underground aquifers, particularly in agriculture-intensive states like Punjab and Haryana.

It’s a related matter that despite the highly seasonal pattern of the rainfall we receive — half the precipitation, on average, occurs in just 15 days and 90% of river flows take place in just four months — our capacity for water storage is severely limited. India can store barely about 30 days of rainfall, compared to as much as 900 days in the major river basins abroad. The PM has meanwhile called for the establishment of “a Tennessee Valley Authority for the Brahmaputra.” In the water-rich North-East, water can indeed be a stimulus for economic growth in the medium term and beyond, with proper investment in infrastructure and modern resource management methods. But in the here and now, NREGP funds do need to be constructively used to shore up local water infrastructure. About time, surely.








The two-hour-long questioning that Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan faced at the hands of US immigration officials at Newark airport recently has created an uproar within India and among the star’s many admirers around the world. It must have come as a surreal moment to the actor, who was in the US for an Indian Independence Day programme in Chicago: an uncanny coincidence that he should personally get a taste of the storyline of his new film My name is Khan, which is about the life and everyday experiences of Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. Shah Rukh has said earlier how he is proud to be a Muslim and of his surname Khan. A bigger irony is that the film was shot in the United States, for which he must have spent a lot of time earlier and made several trips to that country. Late last week, as he said in a number of television interviews, US immigration officials subjected him to detailed interrogation as his surname had cropped up on their computer systems on a list of suspects, and allegedly because he looked Eurasian. Khan is an extremely common Muslim surname, and it is certainly possible that a suspect with the same surname was on an American watchlist, though the star did point out in his interviews that “Shah Rukh” is not a common first name. Attempts by a subcontinental immigration official and several others at the airport to persuade the official handling the matter that Shah Rukh Khan was indeed a well-known filmstar from India appeared to have had no impact, and the official was not impressed even when several people, including many of his colleagues, asked the beleaguered star for his autograph. The US official was following the rulebook conscientiously, perhaps too conscientiously for a filmstar more used to adulation from all those he comes into contact with. There is a view that the US official was only doing his duty, and that it is this sense of commitment to the rules that has kept America free of any terror attacks since 2001. In the US and elsewhere in the West, at airports and other public places, everyone — whether VIP or ordinary citizen — is equally subject to the rules. It is only in India that VIPs and the so-called “VVIPs” feel that rules for ordinary mortals do not apply to them. This is not to dismiss lightly what SRK was subjected to. And not just SRK. There was the recent incident involving the former President, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who was subject to frisking on Indian soil by employees of an American airline. A number of Indian filmstars have spoken about the intensive checking they have have faced on arriving in America. The disquieting fact is that this happens much more to those with Muslim names. There have been cases, of course, when non-Muslims such as the former defence minister, Mr George Fernandes, have been subjected to heavy-handed treatment; but these are the exceptions. In India, too, it is not uncommon for Muslims to be treated differently from others in certain areas, and for the police to pick up people with Muslim names in disproportionate numbers. It is therefore necessary for all countries, the US and India included, to find a way to distinguish law-abiding members of the community from the terrorists and fanatics who happen to be Muslim. In this era of ever-present terror threats, the issue of security has to remain paramount, but this does not mean that people should not be treated with dignity and respect. And there is certainly no room for any kind of racial or religious profiling or prejudice by those charged with enforcing the law.









Two recent ruling of the Supreme Court which have gone largely unnoticed by the mainstream media have greatly agitated women’s rights activists. The first one has held that kicking a daughter-in-law, calling her mother a liar, or forcing her to wear cast-offs of the daughter of the house do not constitute cruelty within the meaning of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). As those who care enough may be aware, Section 498A was inserted in the IPC after a hard-won battle by women’s organisations who had for years battled against the terrible cruelty and physical and mental torture inflicted upon a large number of women and new bride, within the matrimonial home and usually connected to dowry demands.
Section 498A is a cognisable offence, non-bailable and not compoundable. Consequently, it became the foundation of an entire matrix of laws being created by the legislature which seek to protect women from the ravages of domestic violence.

It is well-known that due to the compulsions of peer pressure and the norms of patriarchal society violence against women, especially within the home, goes largely unreported. Even when complaints are actually filed, the legal and administrative system is so insensitive that investigation is cursory and conviction rate less than two per cent.

It was in this context that activists worked long and hard to ensure the amendment of IPC to include Sec 498A and this section is, therefore, viewed as the lynchpin of a safety net of laws protecting women from domestic violence.

The Supreme Court is obviously the supreme arbiter of the law of the land and, therefore, when the Supreme Court holds that kicking a daughter-in-law and threatening divorce cannot be defined as cruelty within the definition of Sec 498A, it has actually knocked the spirit of the legislation enacted against the scourge of domestic violence. If kicking a daughter-in-law does not fall within the ambit of domestic violence, then it will be necessarily lumped into sections of the IPC dealing with battery. Everyone knows that the offence of battery under IPC can range from the most insignificant to actual physical violence.
And even the wildest flight of imagination cannot conceive of an already traumatised woman trying to invoke the offence of battery before a disbelieving and desensitised police force. When rape and molestation are largely ignored by the police in a country where judges actually direct that honour would be saved if a rapist went ahead and “married” his victim, the daughter-in-law who is kicked by her in-laws can scarcely hope for justice or redressal.

There are those who argue that Sec 498A can and is misused sometimes, resulting in the imprisonment of (presumably innocent) elderly women and even infants as young as four years of age (although this defies logic). These arguments are not without a degree of truth and there are surely vindictive women who try to misuse provisions of a law meant for their protection. But can the baby be thrown out along with the bathwater? Surely any law is liable to be misused. Wasn’t the Prevention of Terrorism Act, misused against minorities? In fact, the Drugs Act and even the IPC itself are frequently misused by unscrupulous police officials or politicians. Why is it that a hue and cry ensues and indignant talk of misuse becomes rampant only when it comes to laws passed in furtherance of women’s rights? The answer, of course, is obvious. And the ruling which removes kicking a daughter-in-law from the matrix of laws designed especially for the protection of women will have the inevitable consequence of diluting the spirit of laws against domestic violence which have been enacted by the legislature.

The second order of the Supreme Court holds that a mentally-challenged orphan woman, resident of a state-run Nari Niketan, who was raped by the security guard and became pregnant as a consequence, “had the right” to deliver her baby even though she had the mental age of a nine-year-old and a debilitating condition of the backbone which may cause her to be immobilised or paralysed by childbirth.


Earlier, the Punjab and Haryana high court, in a very elaborate and reasoned judgment, had held exactly the opposite and had allowed the Chandigarh administration to carry out an abortion of the foetus of the woman. The high court weighed the right of the mentally-challenged woman to have her baby, her capacity to consent to this decision and the considered opinion of an entire medical team, including physiciatrists who examined her. They also examined the question of the adverse impact childbearing may have upon the physical and mental well-being of a woman with the mental capacity of a nine-year-old, who was not only an orphan but also the victim of rape, who had absolutely no family or other support, to care for her or for her child. The high court, therefore, directed that the Chandigarh administration could ensure that the woman underwent an abortion.

The Supreme Court has now reversed the order of the high court and ordered that the woman “had the right’ to have her baby. There can be no doubt that the physically or mentally disabled have, and ought to have, the right to lead a normal life, including bearing a child. It is also true that consent of the woman for abortion or delivery is a factor that courts and activists should respect.

However, the bitter and awful truth is that the very society which argues so passionately about the right or otherwise of this woman to abort her baby was unable to protect her from being raped or to bring the perpetrators to justice and has been unable to decide as yet who will be responsible for, and take care, of the victim and her child. It would be interesting to see how the Supreme Court solves this tragic conundrum.


Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. The views expressed in this column are her own.








If you travel long enough and far enough — like by jet to Johannesburg, by prop plane to northern Botswana and then by bush plane deep into the Okavango Delta — you can still find it. It is that special place that on medieval maps would have been shaded black and labelled: “Here there be Dragons!” But in the post-modern age, it is the place where my BlackBerry, my wireless laptop and even my satellite phone all gave me the same message: “No Service”.

Yes, Dorothy, somewhere over the rainbow, there is still a “Land of No Service” — where the only “webs” are made by spiders, where the only “net” is the one wrapped around your bed to keep out mosquitoes, where the only “ringtones” at dawn are the scream of African fish eagles and the bark of baboons, where the only GPS belongs to the lioness instinctively measuring the distance between herself and the antelope she hopes will be her next meal, and where “connectivity” refers only to the intricate food chain linking predators and prey that sustains this remarkable ecosystem.

I confess, I arrived with enough devices to stay just a teensy-weensy connected to email. I wasn’t looking for the Land of No Service. But the Okavango Delta’s managers and the Wilderness Trust — a South African conservation organisation that runs safaris to support its nature restoration work — take the wilderness seriously.

The staff at our camp on the northwestern tip of Chief’s Island, the largest island in the delta, did have a radio, but otherwise the only sounds you heard were from Mother Nature’s symphony orchestra and the only landscapes, sunsets and colour combinations were painted by the hand of God.

So, like it or not, coming here forces you to think about the blessings and curses of “connectivity”. “No Service” is something travellers from the developed world now pay for in order to escape modernity, with its ball and chain of email. For much of Africa, though, “No Service” is a curse — because without more connectivity, its people can’t escape poverty. Can there be a balance between the two?

For the normally overconnected tourist, the first thing you notice in the Land of No Service is how quickly your hearing, smell and eyesight improve in an act of instant Darwinian evolution. It is amazing how well you can hear when you don’t have an iPod in your ears or how far you can see when you’re not squinting at a computer screen. In the wild, the difference between hearing and seeing with acuity is the difference between survival and extinction for the animals and the difference between a rewarding experience and a missed opportunity for photographers and guides.

It was our guide spotting a half-eaten antelope lodged high in a tree that drew our attention to its predator, a leopard, calmly licking her paws nearby and then yawning from her midday meal. The cat’s stomach was heaving up and down, still digesting her prey. The leopard had suffocated the antelope — you could still see the marks on its neck — and then dragged it up the tree, holding it in her jaws, and placed the kill perfectly in the V between two branches. And there the antelope dangled, head on one side, dainty legs on the other, with half her midsection eaten away. The rest would be tomorrow’s leopard lunch, stored high above where the hyenas could not get it.

But while maintaining “No Service” in the wild is essential for Africa’s ecotourism industry, the rest of the continent desperately needs more connectivity. Eric Cantor, who runs Grameen Foundation’s Application Laboratory in Uganda, explains what a huge difference cellphones and Internet access can make to people in Africa: “A banana farmer previously limited to waiting for a buyer truck to pass his farm to sell the week’s harvest can now use a mobile phone marketplace to publicise the availability of his stock or to search for buyers who might be in the market or have truck transport available to a larger market”, said Cantor. “They can also compare going prices to gain more power in a negotiation.


Teenagers too shy to ask parents about causes and symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases can research them privately and improve their own health outcomes. A farmer with no money who needs a remedy for the pest attacking her primary crop can find one that uses locally available materials, when they need it”.
Botswana, about the size of Texas, luckily has enough diamonds to be able to turn 40 per cent of its land into nature preserves. Its urban connectivity with the global diamond exchanges enables it to maintain “No Service” in its wilderness. Zimbabwe, by contrast, has become virtually a country of “No Service” after decades of dictatorship by Robert Mugabe, and, as a result, both its people and wildlife are endangered species.

The more African countries where “No Service” can be a choice, not a fate — an offering for the eco-tourist to enjoy, not a condition for the entrepreneur to overcome — the more hope that this continent will be able to enhance its natural wonders and its people at the same time.










It would be unfair to see the current mess in the BJP — with Rajasthan as its new theatre of civil war — as a simple battle between the RSS and the BJP or a factional tussle between Rajnath Singh and L.K. Advani.

Those are elements of the drama but the whole narrative, with its sub-plots and midnight intrigues, is far more complicated.

To understand the pathetic state of the BJP, consider four points.

First, the timing of the crisis is noteworthy. Each time the party prepares for a meeting that might just discuss and critique the Lok Sabha election of 2009 and demand an honest debate on the condition of the BJP, a convenient diversion appears.

When the national executive met a few weeks ago, some people began writing letters and then distributed them from a hotel in the heart of New Delhi.

This time, just before the chintan baithak in Shimla, Vasundhara Raje was told to resign. The provocative gesture was bound to spell trouble.

In both cases, the agenda for the meeting was sought to be pre-empted. The party leadership was helped out by the creation of collateral scripts and smokescreens. Who was the intended beneficiary and who the mastermind? The pattern is tiresome, repetitive and crystal clear.

Second, is Vasundhara Raje’s removal an attempt at accountability or at factionalism? In the three months since the Lok Sabha drubbing, no benchmarks have been set for resignations and retrenchments. The entire process has been ad hoc and individual-specific.

This has led to the conclusion that the party headquarters is playing favourites within state units.
Rajasthan is a case in point. From 2003 to 2008, Vasundhara Raje was the chief minister. Her government had a mixed record; it had its achievements but also faced charges of condoning corruption. Vasundhara was not always seen as a team player. Some sections of the local RSS didn’t like her.

However, it is equally true that the lady has a pan-Rajasthan appeal and fought a valiant state election, taking the BJP to 79 seats in a House of 200. She lost, but lost with honour.

The Lok Sabha election saw a poorer performance. Subsequently, the state party president resigned and the organising secretary — the RSS nominee in the party brass — was also removed. The organising secretary is close to the RSS faction that now runs day-to-day business in the BJP and uses Rajnath Singh as the ventriloquist’s doll.

The price this cabal has demanded is Vasundhara’s expulsion from Jaipur.
Politically, this is suicidal. Unlike, say, Madhya Pradesh the RSS does not have the grassroots network and rigour in Rajasthan to influence elections even after the removal of a popular leader.

The party itself has no one to match Vasundhara. For all her faults, she is indispensable. The dissenting MLAs who turned up in New Delhi were only reflecting this reality.

Third, the Rajasthan episode offers an interesting template. The state unit president, the RSS representative perceived as the organisational sheet-anchor and now the legislative leader have all been asked to move out.

If this standard is adhered to in one state, then why not at the central level?


In New Delhi, it is quite another story. L.K. Advani has more or less indicated he wants to remain Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha for five years, which would make him 86 when he leaves office.

Among the reasons cited is the fact that the party performed creditably in the recent parliamentary session!
This is astonishing. Mr Advani was Leader of the Opposition in the previous Lok Sabha when the BJP made a hash of things, resorting to boycotts and walkouts rather than serious interrogation of the government. As the party’s prime ministerial candidate, he was roundly rejected by the electorate. How can he expect to stay on?

Rajnath Singh’s performance as party president has been equally abysmal. A post that should have been above the fray has been opened up to accusations of caste bias, in-house conspiracy and transactional decision-making.

Mr Singh has made common cause with a sliver of the RSS leadership that has influence but, it must be stressed, does not constitute the entirety of the Sangh.

Mr Singh’s biggest guarantor is, paradoxically, Mr Advani. The patriarch’s refusal to bow out gracefully has given the over-promoted president a sort of moral case. Nevertheless Mr Singh and his Sangh handlers know he cannot possibly get another term after his presidency ends this winter.
That is why they are resorting to a scorched-earth policy — leaving the party ravaged before they bid goodbye.

Fourth, that both Mr Advani and Mr Singh have to walk into the sunset is non-negotiable. The BJP may or may not have a future — but, certainly, these two are not the future. Their individual and combined cussedness and — harsh as this sounds — selfishness has contributed to the BJP central hierarchy losing all authority and credibility.

There is no quick-fix solution. Even so, the Rajasthan chapter offers an alternative template as well. Irrespective of whether Vasundhara Raje stays on or is forced out — how long can a party endure such defiance, however justified it may be? — the state’s angry MLAs have made it obvious that the BJP cannot ignore internal democratic impulses for long.

The leadership of the BJP, its presidency and choice of electoral mascots cannot be treated as guru dakshina or manipulated by mysterious cliques and extra-political lobbies. Is this a democratic party that claims mass support and seeks votes — or is it the inner chamber of the Mughal zenana?
The upshot is that after Mr Advani and Rajnath Singh have been escorted to the exit door their successors must be elected rather than selected.

The mode may not be smooth; there may be contentious competition. Never mind, the BJP will emerge the stronger for it. The next leadership will have legitimacy.

Before he launched the Quit India movement this month 67 years ago, Mahatma Gandhi told the British: “Leave India to God. If that is too much, then leave her to anarchy.” The BJP needs to give its Fevicol-coated veterans a similar message.


n Ashok Malik can be contacted at [1]








IN our 24/7 mediasphere, this weekend’s misty Woodstock commemorations must share the screen with Americans screaming bloody murder at town hall meetings. It’s a vivid reminder that what most endures from America, 1969, is not the peace-and-love flower-power bacchanal of Woodstock legend but a certain style of political rage. The angry white folk shouting down their Congressmen might be those angry white students whose protests disrupted campuses before and after the Woodstock interlude of summer vacation ’69.

The most historically resonant television event this weekend, however, may be none of the above. Sunday night was the premiere of the third season of Mad Men, the AMC series about a fictional Madison Avenue ad agency in the early 1960s.

The first episode was simulcasted in Times Square after a costume party where fans can parade their retro wardrobes. This promotional event is Woodstock, corporate style, with martinis instead of marijuana, Sinatra instead of Shankar and narrow ties supplanting the tie-dyed.

Woodstock’s 40th anniversary is being celebrated as well — with new books, a new documentary, a new Ang Lee movie and the remastered DVDs and CDs. But it’s Mad Men that has the pulse of our moment. Though the show unfolds in an earlier America than Woodstock, it seems of far more recent vintage, for better and for worse.

As many boomers have noted, Woodstock’s nirvana was a one-of-a-kind, not the utopia of subsequent myth. It wasn’t even meant to be free; in the chaos, the crowds overwhelmed and overran the ticket sellers.

That the early ’60s of Mad Men seems more contemporary than the late ’60s of Woodstock has little to do with the earlier period’s style or culture in any case. The rock giants of Woodstock remain exponentially more popular than Vic Damone and Perry Como, the forgotten crooners heard in Mad Men. The repressive racial and sexual order of Sterling Cooper, the show’s fictional ad agency, is also a relic, in part because of the revolutions that accelerated in the Woodstock era. The misogyny, racism and homophobia practiced in the executive suites of Mad Men are hardly extinct but they are in various stages of remission.

What makes the show powerful is not nostalgia for an America that few want to bring back. Rather, it’s our identification with an America that, for all its serious differences with our own, shares our growing anxiety about the prospect of cataclysmic change. Mad Men is about the dawn of a new era, and we, too, are at such a dawn. And we are uncertain and worried about what comes next.

The first season of Mad Men was set in 1960. This season opens in 1963. That’s the year of Beatlemania’s first sightings, of the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s march on Washington and, of course, of gunfire in Dallas.

Bruce Handy sums it up in the current Vanity Fair: “As in Hitchcock, the characters are unaware of shocks that the audience knows all too well lie ahead, whether they be the Kennedy assassination and women’s lib or long sideburns and the lasting influence of Doyle Dane Bernbach’s witty, self-deprecating ‘lemon’ ad for Volkswagen”.

What we don’t know is how the characters will be rocked by these changes. But we’re reasonably certain it won’t be pretty. That’s where the drama is, and it’s tense.

In the world of television, Mad Men is notorious for drawing great press and modest audiences. This could be the season when the viewers catch up, in part because the show is catching up to the level of anxiety we feel in 2009. In the first two seasons, the series was promoted with the slogan “Where the Truth Lies”. This year, it’s “The World’s Gone Mad”.

To be underwater — well, many Americans know what that’s like right now. But we are also at that 1963-like pivot point of our history, with a new young President unlike any we’ve seen before, and with the promise of a new frontier whose boundaries are a mystery. Something is happening here, as Bob Dylan framed this mood the last time around, but you don’t know what it is. We feel Don Draper’s disorientation as his once rock-solid ’50s America starts to be swept away. We recognise his fear that the world could go mad.

It’s through this prism we might re-examine the raucous town hall eruptions this month. Even if they are inflated by activist organisations and cable-TV over-exposure, they still cannot be dismissed entirely as made-for-media phenomena made-to-measure to fill the August news vacuum. Nor are they necessarily about healthcare. The twisted distortions about “death panels” and federal conspiracies “to pull the plug on grandma” are just too unhinged from the reality of any actual legislation. These bogus fears are psychological proxies for bigger traumas.

“It’s the economy, the facts that millions of people have lost their jobs and millions of others are afraid of losing theirs”, theorises one heckled senator, Arlen Specter. That’s surely part of it.

So is fear of more home foreclosures and credit card bankruptcies. So is fear of China, whose economic ascension stands in stark contrast to the collapse of traditional American industries from automobiles to newspapers. So is fear of Barack Obama, whose political ascension dramatises the coming demographic order that will relegate whites to the American minority.

In our uncharted new frontier, even the most reliable fixture for a half-century of American public life, the Kennedy family, is crumbling.

These anxieties coalesce in various permutations right, left and centre. In most cases they don’t surface in the explosions we’re seeing at these town hall meetings but in the kind of quiet desperation that afflicts Don Draper and his cohort in Mad Men. But this summer’s explosions are also in keeping with 1963.
The political rage at the young, liberal Kennedy administration in some quarters that year was rabid and ominous.

When Adlai Stevenson, then ambassador to the United Nations, spoke in Dallas that October, jeering zealots spat on him and struck him with a picketer’s placard.

Stevenson advised Kennedy against travelling there. Dallas rushed to draft a new city ordinance restricting protesters’ movements at lawful assemblies and passed it on November 18. We need not watch Mad Men to learn how that turned out.

Oh, to be back in the idyllic summer of 1969, when the biggest sin committed by the rebellious mobs at Woodstock was getting stoned. Something else is happening here in our anxious summer of 2009, when instead of flower-power and free love there are reports of death threats and fanatics packing guns.


By arrangement with the New York Times








As each rainless day goes by, a drought becomes so much more unavoidable. The prime minister is alert to the possibility as it turns slowly into certainty. He called the chief secretaries of state governments to a meeting and impressed upon them the importance of early action. He was stating the obvious when he said that we should not allow citizens to go hungry. When he said that the governments should not hesitate to intervene in the market, he presumably meant that they should prepare their police to raid the stocks of traders. Intelligent traders will take advance steps to make sure that the police do not raid them; the cautious ones will not stock foodgrains, and will confine themselves to cotton, oilseeds and lentils, whose prices will rise faster. Thus, by warning of draconian measures, the prime minister has ensured that they will fail.


So far as it concerns foodgrains, the prime minister need not have given a threat of confiscation at all. For his government is sitting on a mountain of grains. The figures available to the minister of state for food and distribution are at least two months out of date. But on June 1, he had 53.3 million tons at his disposal. That is almost a quarter of the year’s production, and about ten weeks’ national consumption. With that sort of stock, no one, including the prime minister, should be issuing threats to trade. They have the wherewithal to ensure normal trading conditions. They are all talking in a chorus because they want to reassure the people that they have nothing to worry about; the best way to reassure the public would be to ensure that foodgrain prices are stable throughout the year, that no one has an incentive to hoard foodgrains, and that shopkeepers can get foodgrains to sell whenever they want. Even 18 years after the reforms, the agricultural bureaucrats still live in a pre-reform, chase-the-trader outlook, and in their company, the prime minister, once the architect of the reforms, lapses once in a while into a Nehruvian mentality.


If only he were to take off his bureaucratic cloak and do some commonsense thinking, the prime minister would realize that what he has to do is very simple. All he needs to do is to tell K.V. Thomas, the concerned minister, that he must not allow the prices of wheat and rice to increase in the next ten months. If they rise in any of a handful of major markets, the Food Corporation of India must sell the grains in those markets at the predetermined prices. Mr Thomas must announce from the rooftops that he will keep prices stable, and that he has the grains to carry out his resolve. Once he carries conviction with the nation, food stocks will decline till January, when rabi rice comes in; then everyone will forget the fear of drought.






Can proverbially absent-minded professors exercise institutional or regulatory authority in matters of education? The Union human resource development minister seems to believe, quite firmly, that they can, and should, be allowed to do so. Kapil Sibal has sent out word that he does not want any officers from the Indian administrative or police services to head any educational authority under his ministry. He is quite right in doing so, provided this decision has a larger vision of how such bodies should be made up at the top in terms of the distribution of responsibilities. There is something radically lopsided about a senior or retired bureaucrat or police officer heading, say, a Central board of education (as has been the case) or university. An experienced academic who can both guide the body and be its interface with the world should be doing this job.


Yet, there are several administrative and practical aspects of running such bodies or institutions that need proper training in management, finance, fund-raising and other structural matters, which might not lie within the purview of academic experience, expertise and wisdom. So people who are qualified to take on these specific aspects of administration should also be taken on in important positions (and these positions created when they do not exist) for the efficient running of these bodies. To encumber academic heads with the nitty-gritty of administrative and structural responsibilities is not only to abuse their special kind of leadership, but also to unnecessarily politicize the job of maintaining academic standards of excellence. But these practical aspects of the running of such bodies should also not be neglected, and suitable people should be taken on or trained for these duties, who will work in tandem with the academic heads. If such authorities and institutions are to become independent of centralizing political intervention, then the minister has taken the right step in this matter.








Looking for factors determining the ‘incidence’ of school-going in the different states of India, one finds several interesting things: incomes as well as the spread of job opportunities before the educated youth are markedly less in villages than in small towns, and less in small towns than in the metropolitan cities. Also, sharp differences in earnings exist between the rural and the urban sectors even if the same degree of skill is acquired for a job — teaching, for example. The divergence between earning opportunities in town and country causes a big difference in the success rates of education, its ‘external efficiency’. I see this as the major cause of worry for Indian education. That worry will not go away with establishing 14 new universities of “world-class standards” in 14 states, as promised in Parliament, at locations from Greater Noida to Bhopal to Visakhapatnam. Nine new prestigious world-class Central universities have already started functioning at the highest level — that of the vice-chancellors.


Such knee-jerk reactions are not likely to help. As Darwin had found out, survival in the animal kingdom often depended on the ability to adapt to changes. We are in a panic because we do not know enough to decide what changes we are meant to adapt to. I suggest we accept, first, the proposition that all education must focus henceforth on addressing a basic common urge: to gain access to meaningful civic existence wherever one lives. For this, I do not think it will be necessary to be ‘world-class’ on a grand scale. It will also not be necessary to copy all the good practices one sees around the world. But some copying may be advisable.


I dream of a future when well-run and well-loved institutions in predominantly rural areas — colleges and universities — will provide inspiration to students and teachers from the urban sector itself, as happens in countries of the world with highly developed education systems. I do not think I am just being utopian.

When I go back to my old memories of Europe, Japan and the United States of America, most of it of 50 years ago, I see that the paradigm of factory-based industrialization was already rapidly changing before one’s very eyes. The small had always been beautiful. Now, increasingly, thanks to the convergence of different kinds of modern technology, the small have started competing with the large on equal terms, often beating them at their own games. These are the modern Davids of the countryside fighting the urban Goliath. Now you can find even the most modern tiny industries, be it watch-making in Switzerland or production of other beautiful and highly valued things of modern civilized life in Japan and elsewhere, all successfully absorbing the new IT-driven technologies, but seemingly operating as of old, from the traditional rural settings.


But not only the nano-sized enterprises of today but also large ventures had found it profitable to use new techniques and technologies over a century back, disregarding the then-dominant factory paradigm, to evolve, for example, what the Americans call the agriculture industry. All such activities had been located — and in many cases, had to be located — in the rural sector.


Take the service economy. With the fantastic reach of the internet, almost any service you could provide from a big-city office could be provided from a village too if only you knew how. These positive things about the far-flung rural societies you will not see — some of these, obviously, you cannot see — if you persist only with the large-factory, large-office paradigm invented during the great industrial revolutions of the past. We do not value enough the futuristic potentials of rural life. Therefore, we end up favouring even such clearly environment-polluting projects like producing thousands of small cars and selling the cars for personal use to people in the cities who should rather be taught how to live a better, richer and more meaningful civic life, wherever they live. The latter is exactly how people are responding to the needs of modern times in the most heavily industrialized and crowded places in the world. We must learn from their good practices. And that would mean looking at education in the future urban-friendly rural societies and the rural-friendly urban societies somewhat differently. The new-look education must be based on common access at all the portals and for all the people living anywhere.


In several studies, experts have found that we need not be worried so much about funding common-access education. But we need to worry a great deal more about the real cost of human (and associated physical) capital in building good schools, colleges and universities and, above all, good teachers and good students. We must try and reduce this cost by every possible way of real saving. One way of doing this is by providing opportunities of fast tracking for students in processes the students themselves can initiate. Basically, we have to accept that all the fast-tracking opportunities that save real costs do not depend on extraordinary ‘talent’ in the normal sense of the term.


The types fit to be considered for fast-tracking that come to mind immediately are, first, academic achievers who could reach their chosen professions faster starting later or finishing earlier; second, serious students of ‘high’ merit, who are prepared to work harder to go through school and college quickly, and enter high-quality manpower markets early; and third, serious students of ‘average’ merit, who would gladly put in extra work to pass out earlier so they could join the mid-level workforce sooner. If pursued systematically, the provision for substantial fast tracking will not only reduce costs but also encourage quality. I dare to predict that this would gradually change the work ethic in schools and colleges for the better.


Funnily, these are not all new ideas. In our own older system you had double, even triple, promotions. Some of my most outstanding students who graduated in the 1950s could, and did, make their mark in all fields very early. Their counterparts, coming 50 years later, take much longer for no fault of theirs. They start compulsorily at Class I as five-plus or six-year-olds, and would be routinely denied chances of arriving at the workplace already prepared, but young. If they have to, or want to, start later, or ever take a break and spend a year or two doing good elsewhere, they will only carry a black mark. Yet these are the routine options in most educationally advanced nations. These are legitimate, not just second-chance, access routes. By denying these options, we have managed to shut ourselves out from responding to the demands of a changing world. To be world-class, we have to buy back the Indian greats from the world market using all available means of persuasion — if we can. But perhaps more important, we have to try and keep (or entice back home) our own younger, would-be celebrities. If that does not work, nothing else will.


Rome was not built in a day. Just soothing announcements in Parliament of planting two dozen seedling ‘world-class’ universities (including the new Central ones) on unproven soil, and without world-class faculties and research students, can only make our nation the laughing stock of the global academia. Whom are we deceiving by these moves but ourselves?








“They have the watches, but we have the time,” say the Taliban commanders in Afghanistan, and it’s perfectly true. The election on August 20 is not going to change that. The foreign forces — American, Canadian and European — are well-trained, well-equipped troops who can inflict casualties on amateur Taliban fighters at a ratio of ten-to-one, or worse. But the Taliban have an endless flow of fresh fighters, and much popular support among the Pashtuns of the south and south-east — not to mention all the time in the world.


The Taliban are almost exclusively Pashtuns, so it was really the Pashtuns, 40 per cent of the population and traditionally Afghanistan’s dominant ethnic group, who were driven from power by the United States of America in 2001. They are fighting foreign, non-Muslim invaders, and the government the foreigners had put in is corrupt, incompetent and mostly non-Pashtun. Why wouldn’t the Taliban have support among the Pashtuns?


Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, is a Pashtun, because the US understood that it needed a Pashtun figurehead. The regime’s most powerful people, however, are non-Pashtun warlords from the various ethnic minorities of the north and centre: Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.


Now we are asked to believe that an election will restore confidence in the government. It is nonsense: this election has no more relevance than the ones that the US used to stage in Vietnam.


Unless bribery, blackmail and threats no longer work in Afghanistan, Karzai is going to win. He isn’t even bothering to run a conventional campaign: he bailed himself out of a televised debate with the other presidential candidates at the last moment, and leaves it to them to hold election rallies in provincial towns. He has made his deals with the warlords and the traditional, ethnic and tribal power-brokers, and is counting on them to deliver victory.



Karzai and the US are shackled to the warlords because those were the allies that the US recruited to fight the Taliban in 2001. The Taliban, being exclusively Pashtun, never controlled all of the country: Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek militias continued to hold out all across the north. So the US made deals with their leaders, showered them with weapons and money, and helped them into power instead. It made good sense militarily, but it meant that the non-Pashtun warlords would dominate the post-Taliban government. They don’t live in the hills any more, but in the wealthy Kabul neighbourhood of Sherpar. Two of them, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a key Tajik warlord, and Karim Khalili, a Hazara warlord, are Karzai’s choices as vice-presidents.


The West’s government in Kabul is not going to get any better, given its origins. It will stay on for four more years and by the end of that time all the Western countries, which had sent their troops to Afghanistan, will be ready to bring them home. What will happen then?


Nothing particularly dramatic. Afghanistan was invaded in revenge for 9/11, but the US could have played it differently from the start. Immediately after 9/11, a thousand-strong shura (congress) of Muslim clerics in Kabul declared its sympathy with the dead Americans and voted to expel Osama bin Laden and al Qaida from the country. Western rhetoric insists that the hills of Afghanistan are directly connected to the streets of Manhattan, London and Toronto. But no Afghan, not even any member of the Taliban, was involved in the planning or execution of 9/11, nor in the later, lesser attacks elsewhere in the West. Nor would the Taliban sweep back into power if all Western troops left Afghanistan tomorrow.


Everybody who dies in this conflict is dying for nothing, because it will not change what happens when the foreign troops finally go home. As they eventually will.













As much as a democratically elected dispensation, the voter seeks peace amidst the relentless pounding of their land by US Marines and the Pakistan army, fighting a proxy war against the Taliban. By any reckoning, this predominant quest for peace must be quite the most critical underpinning of the elections in Afghanistan after a few days. The prospects of the incumbent President, HamidKarzai, a Pashtun, seem more and more uncertain not least because his writ scarcely extends beyond Kabul; the country is convulsed by the increasing influence of the Taliban and the Af-Pak military offensive.

The vote in the Pashtun region will, therefore, be terribly crucial to the result. As much as the voting pattern, the turnout in a country at war will determine the outcome. It is almost as if democracy will be on test in the battlefield. The scenario gets still more sinister with the Taliban threatening to kill anyone who dares to vote. The political manoeuvres in Kabul are embedded in the anxiety to win the Pashtun vote. Which explains Karzai’s offer of a cabinet berth to one of his rival candidates, the former finance minister, Ashraf Ghani, also a Pashtun. Aside from the overriding anxiety to woo the Pashtun bloc, this is also an attempt to undercut the position of Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s principal rival. A half-Pashtun, Abdullah’s disadvantage is that he is not readily identified with the Pashtuns owing to his association with the Northern Alliance and its proximity to Tazikistan and Uzbekistan. It is all too evident that ethnicity will be a major determinant. However crucial the Pashtun factor, the fact remains that the Taliban draws its strength from this community. For a nation as traumatised as Afghanistan, the outcome is an open question.









Except for the decision to set up a hotline between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao as a confidence-building measure, the 13th round of India-China Special Representatives talks on the boundary issue which ended in New Delhi on 8 August made no progress. The National Security Adviser, MK Narayanan, said after the two-day talks with China’s state councillor, Dai Bingguo, that the two special representatives discussed a broader agenda than just the border question and identified trade and economic relations as the centrepiece. China has emerged as India’s largest trading partner. Trade between the two countries almost doubled last year, touching $52 billion.The Union minister of state for external affairs, Sashi Tharoor, has said that ties with China went beyond the border dispute and that India would prefer to focus on the positive aspects of the relationship rather than spend energy on unresolved disputes. Sweeping the issue under the carpet is no way of solving the dispute.

Almost coinciding with the New Delhi talks, an article by Xin Lang Bo Ke advocating Balkanisation of India to “prevent its expansion and threat at forming a unified South Asia” appeared in China. The article goes on to say that China can bring into its fold countries like Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan; support ULFA in attaining its goal for “Assam’s independence;” back the aspirations of Indian nationalities like Tamils and Nagas; encourage Bangladesh to give a push to the independence of West Bengal; and lastly, recover 90,000 sq. km. territory in Arunachal Pradesh, or what China calls Southern Tibet. From the way the article has been reproduced on several strategic and military websites in China, India cannot dismiss it as the personal view of the author. Also, India abandoning plans to reopen the Sitwell Road, a World War II facility, is intriguing. The road connects Ledo in Arunachal Pradesh with Yunnan Province in China, which would have opened up India’s north-east for trade with the ASEAN countries.

China never forgave itself for unilaterally withdrawing in 1962 from the 90,000 sq. km. Indian territory it occupied in Arunachal Pradesh. In 1980, China offered to give up its claim to Arunachal Pradesh provided India conceded Aksai Chin to China. New Delhi was not prepared for the swap then. While Aksai Chin is strategically important to China because of its proximity to the troubled Xinjiang Province, it is of no particular value to India. Beijing’s position has since hardened. After years of benign neglect, the Manmohan Singh government has turned its attention to Arunachal Pradesh by undertaking a crash programme of developing infrastructure and by paying more attention to the requirements of the Army and the Air Force.

It would be prudent to expect China to be more assertive on its territorial claims in the near future notwithstanding the two countries agreeing to observe next year, the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, as the Year of Friendship.









Shillong, 16 AUG: You are a winner, your mobile number has been chosen for US dollar 2500 cash prize. Call 0041773125004 to claim.


If you have received such an SMS, beware. The SMS would not lead to fortunes but to a load of troubles.
Police in Meghalaya have registered seven cases against frauds who have been duping people by sending such messages and later asking for money to process the prize money.

“People have lodged several complaints in the police stations. The receiver is asked to pay a sum of money for processing the prize money before remitting payment,” additional director general of police (CID) Mr AK Mathur told PTI.

One man has paid up to Rs 4 lakh for processing. The man was asked to deposit the money in certain bank accounts, most of them traced to Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, New Delhi and other central and southern states. The account is closed soon after the money is deposited, the investigating officer of the case said.

The frauds get the contact number of the prospective target from their friends or they send the SMS to random numbers, the official said, adding most of the SMS are sent in the name of reputed mobile service operators.

Around Rs 15-20 lakh have been paid by people in Meghalaya who received such SMS as customs fee, processing fee, conversion fee and all have been duped.

“We have also frozen bank accounts in Delhi and Karnataka and have communicated to the police there,” the officer said.

ADG Mr Mathur said a helpline has been opened for answering queries regarding the matter.
A BSNL official said when calls were made to the number in the text message, the subscribers were billed a high amount up to Rs 500 per minute.







ACCOLADES for having a place for aam aadmi in his heart apart, the Prime Minister merits applause for appreciating the economic role played by urban street vendors, and seeking a better deal for them. His letter to chief ministers urging implementation of the prescribed national policy indicates apprehension that most state governments, indeed union ministries too, treat such policy formulations as being “for the record only”. And even if the states do get around to legislating on the lines of a model Bill circulated by the urban development ministry, the chances of effective implementation are bleak. Simply because our file-bound bureaucrats and economic managers have so distanced themselves from what western-oriented academic tomes do not highlight that the realities of the “street” elude them. So unless an education campaign for the babus is conducted, in which NGOs might play a useful part, Dr Manmohan Singh’s missive will hardly deliver. Yet the lowly vendor is integral to the delivery system ~ the supermarkets’ allure is fast fading ~ and it remains a pity that the head of government has to plead for their allotment of regular sites, measures to prevent harassment. It is to be hoped that the spirit of the policy, and the ensuing legislation, will also “cover” the men and women who crisscross urban centres with items of daily use ~ fruits and vegetables in particular ~ piled on rehris, or in baskets on their heads. Few studies, alas, have been undertaken to assess their number, or “quantify” their contribution to both the economy and the citizens’ convenience.

No studies, statistics etc, however, are required for the local cops and lowly civic officials to understand what a vast “market” street-vendors comprise ~ they bleed them steadily. Rare would be the sabziwallah, for instance, who has no complaints against cops collecting their daily quota, and paying for them would be infra-dig. Exploitation is the name of the game. Now that Dr Manmohan Singh has opted to try and re-write the “rule book” he must deem himself morally bound to take things to a logical conclusion. For starters he could sensitise Sheila Dikshit’s set-up ~ the Commonwealth Games are still a year off but already attempts are underway to banish vendors from the Capital’s streets.







THERE will be two elderly persons for every child in the world by 2050, going by the projections of the UN Population Division. This implies that the 60-plus category, which now constitutes less than 20 per cent of the population, will account for 32 per cent of the population by 2050.

Another disturbing revelation made by the UN agency is that fertility levels in the most developing countries are expected to fall below 2.1 children per woman, the level needed to ensure the long-term replacement of the population at some point in the 21st century. As for the developed countries such as Japan and Germany, rapid graying of the population could result in an acute manpower shortage, requiring the service of the “guest workers” to run the economy.

Research in India reveals that 90 per cent of the old people belong to the unorganised sector, with no social security at the age of 60. Thirty per cent of the elderly live below the poverty line and another 33 per cent just marginally above it. Eighty per cent live in the rural areas. An estimated 73 per cent are illiterate, and can only be engaged in physical labour. And 55 per cent of women over 60 are widows, many of them with no support whatsoever. There are nearly 200,000 centenarians in India.


OLD AGE is an irreversible biological phenomenon, one that eventually terminates with the end of life. This is essentially biological science. In our daily lives, however, where attitudes, behaviour, values, and aesthetics are dominant, there is more than can be defined by old age. It is a phase when experience and wisdom have a profound impression.

Societal changes make us afraid of this stage of life which everyone will have to face some day. In many societies, the old are among the poorest and the most vulnerable section of the society. Researchers reveal that old age has become more of an inevitable threat to an individual today One reason for this irony could be that governments across the world are drawing up plans for an ageing population.
There is an increasing trend of old people being abandoned. Their children prefer to live separately after marriage or leave the city or country to pursue their careers. In India, life expectancy has gone up from 20 years in the beginning of the 20th century to 62 years today.

Better medical care and low fertility have made the elderly the fastest growing segment of the population. In France, it took 120 years for the grey population to double from 7 per cent to 14 per cent. But in India, the grey population has doubled in 25 years! While the numbers have increased, the quality of life has declined. Industrialisation, migration, urbanisation and westernisation have affected the value systems. The erstwhile joint family, the natural support system, has crumbled. The fast changing pace of life has compounded social problems.

Clearly, the changing balance between the age groups would make the aged more of a burden on society, as a large proportion of the resources meant for developmental activities would need to be diverted to take care of the needs of the elderly. The rapid spread of modernisation, growing urbanisation and crumbling of the joint family system have conspired to deepen insecurity and loneliness among the old.
However, India has not formulated an appropriate policy framework to provide social security for the elders. Lack of family support, poor financial status, physical and mental disorders and the guilt of being dependent on others are some of the problems that the elderly have to grapple with. According to the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS),  elderly women are affected more by dementia, depression and psychosomatic disorders than their male counterparts. According to this study, the population structure of the elderly is dominated by poorly educated women, economically dependent on children without any tangible authority or status in the family.


AN AGEING society will increase the demand for experienced geriatricians to handle and treat the elderly. Within the family, the elderly look forward to emotional support, love and affection. But unfortunately, the concept of a welfare state where many of the needs of the ageing population are taken care of by the state is being criticised by agencies, such as the World Bank, which would rather that governments provide only the minimum levels of social security to the elderly.

Among the common problems of the old are loneliness, isolation, neglect and a sense of not being wanted. In order to combat loneliness, the elderly population should interact with their friends, families and neighbours. Regular exercise and intake of a balanced diet will go a long way towards helping the old maintain physical fitness and mental balance.

Besides shelter, medicare and nutritional problems, India’s elderly population also has to contend with socio-psychological pressure. As the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, once remarked: “Trees grow stronger over the years, rivers widen and like with the age, human beings gain immeasurable depth and breadth of experience and wisdom”.

That is why older persons should not only be respected and revered but they should be utilised as the rich resource to society that they are.”













Cubans are used to living with crises, limits, shortages, emergency plans, ‘special’ — and less ‘special’ — periods. That may be why for a number of months many Cubans have been watching with detachment the economic and financial crisis that has been battering the world for two years now. Even politicians and the media contributed to this sense that in Cuba there would be no job cuts, no foreclosed homes, and no gutting of social programmes.

However, three savage hurricanes that devastated half of the island in 2008, prolonged and acute systemic economic inefficiency that makes it necessary to import 80 per cent of the food consumed on the island, in addition to oil price fluctuations, the difficulty of obtaining international credit, the choking of trade by the American embargo, as well as the waves of economic depression that reached Cuban shores as well, all have reduced the economy to near paralysis and convinced those minding the state coffers that they are headed for bankruptcy.

The caution with which Raul Castro introduced changes in the country’s economic and financial structure during his three years as president seems to have ended: circumstances now require Cuba’s leaders to approach the economy with greater realism and, as a consequence, to reshape certain structures inherited from the old Soviet-style socialist model which, though they vanished with the USSR, lived on in Cuba.


What then is the new socialism that will be adopted on the island? Perhaps the Chinese model? What can be predicted is that even if no major political changes are introduced — altering the single-party system is not on the table — and even if the state monopoly remains in place, in the social sphere there will be transformations that, as the president has warned, will involve cutting ‘unsustainable’ subsidies and spending.

Thus far it has been announced that a sector as sensitive as healthcare will not be touched, though it is certain that the Cuban healthcare system has greatly deteriorated in past years because of the lack of personnel — thousands of Cuba’s doctors work outside of the country — and the alarming state of many medical clinics and shortages of supplies and medicine.

In education and culture, perhaps there will be changes beyond the simple and much hoped for elimination of the system of pre-university institutes located in rural areas and cuts in various subsidies and free programmes.

But where cuts are most certain to be felt is in social benefits directly related to consumption and the economy. For months there has been discussion of the unsustainability of the system of ration cards, which assures the entire population of the island a certain quantity of subsidised goods that the state must buy on the international markets and then sell at low prices. There is also talk of eliminating the dual currency system — an emergency measure introduced in the crisis of the 1990s when the possession of currency was decriminalised — which resulted in the creation of a dual economy, one using Cuban pesos, the other, the convertible Cuban peso (CUC). The problems created by the dual system can be resolved only by weakening the Cuban peso vis a vis the other currencies or maintaining the CUC at its current level of 24 pesos, or about  USD 0.90.


With  prices of services and products likely to rise, there has also been discussion of broadening taxation, given that now only the self-employed and employees of foreign companies pay taxes.

The announced official elimination of the egalitarian system is more than a necessity: it is a well-established reality. Those in Cuba who have access to currency — whether because of work, corruption, or remittances from abroad — have a standard of living that is infinitely superior to those who must live on state salaries alone. What is most sad is that in the majority of cases, these economic differences have nothing to do with hard work, inventiveness, qualification, or talent but merely the flaws of an economic structure that makes it more profitable to be a porter at a hotel  than a neurosurgeon.

Whatever changes or economic cuts are in the offing, it seems clear that the time for protectionism and egalitarianism is long passed. Cuban socialism will reduce subsidies and perks and impose stricter rules for a society that is taking in water from every side. In the end, Cuba’s new model seems to be this: more socialism, but with fewer social benefits.










We were discussing the various kinds of flooring available in the market today. “You can tell the age of the house from its flooring,” I said. “No,” said my friend Prabha. “The floor can be easily changed. I would say that you can tell the age of the occupants by looking at the floor.”

True. More than the bi-focals and receding hair line, it is the attitude of status quo that is a dead give away of age. It is a charade that my husband and I act out from time to time. Returning from yet another house warming ceremony, bowled over by the bright, new granite/vitreous flooring, we would ‘seriously’ discuss getting the flooring in our house re-laid. After passing a few minutes detailing the fantasy, the head would eventually checkmate the heart with the question, “What’s wrong with this floor? It serves the purpose, doesn’t it?”

Sometimes we enact a variation of this routine. The opening line here is “Shall we change the car?” But the closing lines are always the same. “What is wrong with ours? It serves the purpose, doesn’t it?”

Perhaps it is a generational thing. For, our generation of midnight’s children has lived life by certain rigid values. Before we open the purse we need to have a clear answer to one, important question “Is it necessary?” Most, if not all, proposals don’t hold up to that question.

The other day, while out shopping, I lost my mobile phone. After I got home, I had a call from my niece. Apparently she had got a call (the last number dialled) from someone informing her that the phone was in his safe custody at such and such a place.

“You are incredibly lucky” she said, “I have never heard of anyone getting back their phone.” “By the way,” she asked, as an after thought, “what model is it?” “I don’t remember,” I said, “It’s has been so long.” “You mean you are still holding on to that entry level thing?” she asked in disbelief. And why not?

As the pretty girl in the ad says, “It’s not just a phone. It is who we are.”








Federal Reserve policy makers said last Wednesday that the recession appeared to be hitting bottom. Among the end-is-near indicators was consumer spending, which they said had begun to stabilize.


On Thursday, the Commerce Department reported that retail sales fell in July, after rising in May and June. It turns out that the earlier boosts had come mainly from higher prices for necessities like energy, not from more spending on more items. And while the government’s cash-for-clunkers program increased car sales last month, retail sales on everything else fell by 0.6 percent, a much worse showing than economists had expected. The downbeat news was reinforced on Friday, when the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index also fell unexpectedly.


Consumer spending accounts for nearly 70 percent of economic activity. So the latest data could be a warning that the recession is not bottoming out, as the Fed believes. Or — almost as grim — the data may be evidence that hitting the bottom will not be followed by a rebound, but by a long spell of very weak growth.


The good news is that over the next several months, stimulus spending is likely to lift economic growth considerably. But the headwinds are also considerable.


Policy makers, eager to declare the recession over, need to pay close attention and be ready to do more to rescue the economy. Otherwise there is a high risk that once the stimulus begins to fade, the economy will too.


Consumer spending will not truly recover until employment revives. Unfortunately, job growth is not expected to resume before next year. From there, it could take another two years or so to recoup the devastating job losses of this recession. Spending will also be restrained as households work off their heavy debt loads and try to rebuild the trillions of dollars of wealth they have lost in the housing and stock markets.


At the same time, families will face more pressure from higher state taxes and from cuts in public services. The 2010 fiscal year for most states began on July 1, but new budget shortfalls have already opened up in 13 states and the District of Columbia, totaling $26 billion.


The financial system is also not out of the woods. Commercial property loans — there are $3.5 trillion worth outstanding— are increasingly prone to default. Midsized and smaller banks, heavy lenders to developers, are especially in harm’s way. Many will fail, and as they do, credit will become even harder to come by for businesses and consumers. And the residential foreclosure crisis continues. There were more than 360,000 foreclosure filings in July, yet another record, according to RealtyTrac, an online marketer of foreclosed homes. Foreclosures usually mean financial ruin for the defaulters. They also mean reduced property values for everyone else.


Joblessness, weak spending and state fiscal distress will all require more federal spending — on unemployment benefits and aid to states. That will help to replace the demand that is lost as consumers retrench. Bank weakness will require federal regulators to efficiently shut down insolvent institutions, so that losses do not deepen and make eventual failures even more damaging. Mounting home foreclosures will require the Obama administration and Congress to come up with alternatives to current — inadequate — relief efforts.


It is already clear that policy makers need to do more to ensure that whenever the bottom comes, the economy does not stay mired there.







Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia did nearly the right thing this month when he gave conditional pardons to three members of the “Norfolk Four.” Given the overwhelming evidence that these sailors were wrongly convicted of rape and murder, it is welcome news that all are now free. But because Mr. Kaine did not grant a full pardon, they will continue to be stigmatized.


Derek E. Tice, Joseph J. Dick Jr., Danial J. Williams and Eric C. Wilson were convicted in the 1997 rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko in Norfolk. It was a horrific crime, but it seems clear that it was committed by someone else. Omar Ballard, who knew the victim, has confessed. His D.N.A. matched evidence from the crime scene, and he has said that he acted alone.


The case against the four sailors, none of whom had prior criminal records, was based almost entirely on their confessions, which followed high-pressure interrogations. Legal experts say that false confessions are surprisingly common, especially when suspects are harshly questioned and, as in this case, threatened with the death penalty if they do not confess.


One of the four, Mr. Wilson, who was not convicted of murder, served his sentence and was released in 2005. The three others were given life sentences. Governor Kaine declared that they had raised “substantial doubts” about their convictions and the justification for continuing to imprison them. He reduced their sentences to time served. But he denied all four the absolute pardons they sought, saying they had not “conclusively established” their innocence.


At a time when politicians do everything they can to show they are tough on crime, Mr. Kaine deserves credit for releasing them. But without being fully cleared, these men are likely to have considerable trouble returning to normal lives. They could have trouble finding jobs. And they may spend years on parole, the requirements of which are often so elaborate that even well-meaning parolees end up in violation and back in jail. They will also be subject to sex-offender registration requirements.


The men should not give up. They may still be able to persuade a court to overturn their convictions, or Governor Kaine to grant a full pardon. The miscarriage of justice in this case has been diminished, but not wiped away.







Intel has decided to appeal the $1.45 billion fine leveled against it by the European Union for engaging in anticompetitive behavior, and it is claiming that the proceedings have violated its human right to due process. Several European companies are also testing the tactic to fend off Europe’s aggressive antitrust regulator.


They argue that in antitrust cases, the European Commission unfairly plays the role of prosecutor, judge and jury — hindering their ability to mount an effective defense. They argue that they should instead be entitled to the due process rights that European human rights law grants in criminal cases to ensure that the accused — usually powerless individuals — are not steamrollered by the overwhelming power of the state.


This concept of powerlessness does not fit Intel, which has annual sales of $38 billion. It especially does not fit considering what the company was found guilty of: giving hidden rebates to computer makers that bought all or virtually all of their chips from Intel, and even paying some to delay or hinder the introduction of products that had microprocessors from its rival, Advanced Micro Devices.


Intel has already hired a squadron of lawyers and is appealing the commission’s decision before the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg, Europe’s lower court. If it does not like what that court says, it can appeal its case to the European Court of Justice.


The legal process is all quite similar to what happens when the Federal Trade Commission in this country rules against a company for violating antitrust law. F.T.C. cases are tried before an administrative law judge — an F.T.C. employee. Any appeal must then go to the F.T.C.’s five commissioners. Only after that can a company appeal to the federal Court of Appeals.


American regulators have been far less vigilant than Europe’s. So far they have treated Intel with kid gloves. The F.T.C. opened a formal investigation into Intel’s business only last year, after rulings against the company by Japan and South Korea, and a preliminary decision by the European Union that Intel was abusing its dominant position.


We suspect that at least part of the motivation for Intel’s human rights bid is to raise sympathy among American antitrust regulators for a poor, abused American near-monopoly — and thereby blunt any impulse to follow. The F.T.C. should know better.








At 7 a.m. in the Manhattan meat district, people are already waiting so they can go up and stroll the High Line, an abandoned railroad trestle snatched most handsomely from demolition. The first nine-block stretch is an airy parkland snaking near the West Side waterfront south of 20th Street. It’s already drawing 20,000 visitors a day on the weekends.


Part of the fun is watching new habits being jerry-built three stories above the city. There’s the S.R.O. sundown-over-New Jersey ritual in which rolling lounge chairs set atop track remnants are snapped up by sophisticates from Greenwich Village and Chelsea. Even more entertaining is the persistent puzzlement of city folk about the unabashedly wild gardens laced cleverly along the walking paths.


“What’s that called?” comes the question tinged with a New Yorker’s sense of entitlement as a skinny, spiky purple plant is confronted. Guides forgo a typical city punch line (“What’s it to you?”) and try to explain. There is a rich celebration of city-tough plants deliberately carried over from the days when the abandoned High Line bloomed untended with wild stipplings of red sumac, smoke bush, milkweed, echinacea and other self-seeding invaders.


“We wanted to go back to that aesthetic, that sense of nature’s power to take over in the city,” explains Joshua David, a co-founder of the Friends of the High Line, the neighborhood group that fought for and tends the park. The free-flowing landscape seems natural and soothing as prairie grass above the mean streets.


Down below, the Lamb Unlimited meat factory has been festooned with its own swaths of wildflowers. Horticultural ingenuity, it seems, is a High Line specialty, giving city dwellers a chance to wonder at their own city weeds.









Thumbs up or down?’The latest report on the state of Pakistan by the Pew Global Attitudes project makes interesting reading. People see Pakistan as a nation in crisis, there is deep and widespread dissatisfaction with governance and crime and terrorism are seen by most as a threat to the state itself. Sixty-nine per cent of respondents are concerned that extremists could take control of the country. Support for the Taliban has dropped sharply – today 70 per cent rate them unfavourably, compared with 33 per cent a year ago. Similarly 61 per cent view Al Qaeda unfavourably – last year the figure was 34 per cent. America remains our bogeyman, and despite the global popularity of President Obama there is no similar sentiment in Pakistan and we remain deeply suspicious at best and openly hostile at worst, to America. Despite being kept afloat in large part by US aid, a mere 22 per cent of Pakistanis do not think the US takes their interests into account when making foreign policy decisions; a position largely unchanged from 21 per cent since 2007. A hefty 64 per cent regard the US as an enemy, and only 9 per cent a partner. Despite this there is an openness to improving relations with the US and considerable support for the idea of working with it to combat terrorism. By a margin of 53 per cent to 29 per cent Pakistanis say it is important that relations between the two countries improve. The gap remains wide, and American attempts to narrow the trust deficit are yet to see much by way of bearing fruit.

We have some uncompromising views on how we wish to see offenders dealt with – 78 per cent favour death for those who leave Islam; 80 per cent favour flogging and amputation for crimes like theft and robbery; and 83 per cent favour stoning adulterers. Thankfully, with regard to education of girls, 87 per cent of Pakistanis believe that it is equally important for boys as well as girls to be educated. Our government and politicians receive mixed reviews. President Asif Ali Zardari’s ratings have dropped like a stone - last year 64 per cent had a favourable opinion of him; now down to 32 per cent; placing him well below other public figures like Nawaz Sharif (79 per cent favourable), Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani (67 per cent) and Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry (61 per cent). On the up-side 89 per cent of people say they think of themselves first as Pakistani, rather than as a member of their ethnic group. Pew paints a bleak picture but it is not all bad – with the media receiving very high ratings with 77 per cent saying it is having a good influence on the country. A poll is only a snapshot and within this glimpse of ourselves toleration and moderation seem elusive. Let us hope that next year’s collective family photo is positive rather than negative.






The PIA appears to have inaugurated a new ‘on demand’ service for certain highly privileged passengers; a feature of which is that passengers with sufficient clout can tell the pilot to fly them wherever they want. According to a report, a well-known singer was a passenger on flight PK-653 bound for Lahore from Islamabad. At some point in the flight the poor lady discovered that she had left her purse in the departure lounge at Benazir Bhutto International Airport. She raised a commotion and forced the pilot to turn around in order for her to retrieve her missing purse and its valuable contents. Upon return she was unable to find the missing item, lodged a complaint against PIA (the substance of which we know not) and re-boarded the flight which then took off again for Lahore.

It would be interesting to know several things relative to this incident. One – what was the cost of the fuel used to fly an extra ‘leg’ of the flight? Two –was any compensation – a ticket refund perhaps – offered to the rest of the passengers who were considerably inconvenienced? Three – why did the cabin crew not restrain the woman and initiate a search of the departure lounge and forward her lost luggage to her if they found it? Four – who ordered the pilot to turn around? This is a vital question as airline pilots are very much captains of their own ship and turning round to pick up lost handbags is not normally considered an emergency. Five – if this excellent pick-and-drop service is to be offered in future will PIA publish tariffs and a selection of optional destinations for all internal flights? Six – is there going to be an enquiry into an incident which at one level is laughable, but at another deeply worrying in terms of crews being at the whim of passengers?






A fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has come across reports from local people of mass graves in various parts of Swat. It is thought these graves in some cases at least contain the remains of Taliban militants killed by security forces. There have also been accounts of extra-judicial killings. There are those who argue that in the kind of situation that prevailed in Swat, such atrocities are unavoidable. War, after all, is hardly a picnic. This is why it must be avoided at all costs. But there are many – including HRCP – who agree there were no options left. A military operation had become unavoidable.

The organization, however, makes a relevant point when it says the security forces need to be seen as being more just than the Taliban, and this can happen only if they avoid the kinds of acts committed by the militants. In this there is logic and good sense. The authorities need to take heed of the advice. The same applies in the case of findings that returning IDPs have in many cases found houses devastated and are still struggling to buy edibles and other items of daily use. The government must realise that now that the army has completed its part of the job, it needs to move in and finish the task. This can only be accomplished if people’s trust and good will can be won. The time to do so is now, when people are in most urgent need of help. Photographs of the lavishly decorated main bazaar at Mingora on Independence Day demonstrate people’s happiness over their escape from the Taliban and their desire to be a part of life in Pakistan. These sentiments must be made use of.









THE State Bank has reduced its key discount rate by one percent to 13% from today (Monday) and decided to review the Monetary Policy every other month to make it more responsive to the changing economic situation and improve transparency. Governor Salim Raza announcing the Monetary Policy however did not say if the reduction in rate at which its lends money to commercial banks will actually unfreeze the much needed finances for private businesses.

The business community had long been demanding that interest rate be brought down being too high, becoming impossible for them to remain competitive in the market. In fact high interest rate, load shedding and international recession has adversely affected Pakistan’s economy. Large scale manufacturing sector continues to show negative growth and that also resulted in default. Though there is enough liquidity available in the banking system as the Kibor is under 13 percent yet the rising default on consumer loans amid economic slowdown has discouraged banks to extend loans to private sector and instead they are more interested to finance government’s budgetary needs. This has caused scare and discontentment in the private sector as they depend on the financing by the commercial banks for their day to day businesses. The State Bank Governor said the interest rate has been lowered because of lowering of inflation, rise in foreign exchange reserves and contraction in external current account deficit. Though reduction in interest rate will give some relief to the business community yet serious power crisis and government’s inability to timely deal with rising inter-corporate circular debt could frustrate growth, increase inflation and compromise monetary stance. The Government had committed to clear the circular debts by August and the Prime Minister on Saturday stated that the circular debt issue has almost been resolved, yet doubts persist of all the payments involved have been cleared. One of the reasons of power crisis, which impacted the economy, is the circular debt as IPPs were not paid and they were generating electricity below their full capacity. We would therefore strongly suggest that the Government must make all out efforts to ensure uninterrupted supply of electricity to industrial sector and the banks be encouraged to extend loans to sound parties to facilitate the business community. The Prime Minister has also stated that economic indicators are showing positive trend yet certain effective steps as proposed above are needed on urgent basis to encourage the business community to contribute its share and help stimulate the economy.







HARDLY had the wheat crisis subsided, sugar imbroglio has started brewing and consumers are witnessing continuous and unprecedented increase in the prices of the commodity almost on daily basis. Realizing the gravity of the situation the Federal and Provincial Governments have directed the concerned agencies to crackdown on hoarders who have created artificial shortage of this essential item particularly ahead of the Holy month of Ramazanul Mubarak.

According to reports in the media, over 70,000 bags of the commodity have been confiscated from hoarders in Punjab and Sindh. The crisis echoed in the National Assembly too and a Minister blamed the mills owned by legislators belonging to the opposition for creating deliberate shortage. There is no doubt that mill owners are partly to be blamed for the crisis because they strongly opposed the import of sugar when prices in the international market were comparatively lower. Now that the prices of the commodity have gone up in the international market, these mills too have raised the prices on the ground that there was shortage in production. According to Minister for Industry and Production, the sugar stocks are enough to meet the demand upto January 2010 while the new crushing season starts in November every year. Hence there is no justification for the shortage but it seems that the cartel of sugar mills is bent upon reviving the scenario of 2006 when similar crisis of sugar shortage was engineered and they minted billions of rupees at the cost of poor consumers. The flour millers followed the pattern of sugar mills in 2008 and made billions. Now again through the artificial shortage, the sugar mills owners are out to add to their already ballooned bank accounts. The question arises why this is happening in Pakistan and where the fault lies? The simple answer is that our supply chain is weak while the bureaucracy who is responsible to serve the masses has failed to estimate the demand and supply of commodities. Had this been done at the appropriate time by those responsible, today the Government would not have faced this crisis. The Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Justice Khawaja Muhammad Sharif has rightly taken the suo motu notice of sugar crisis and one hopes that the Provincial Government would come up with a satisfactory response. One thing should be kept in mind that people would not be ready to accept a massive increase of Rs 15 per kilogram in the price of sugar and that would cost heavily to the ruling political parties. If not for the people, for their own political sake the PPP and the PML-N must act sternly and decisively against hoarders and profiteers irrespective of their political influence and send a clear and loud message once for all that such illegal and criminal practices would no more be tolerated.







THE Sindh Government has announced to distribute land among the landless particularly women in the barrrages and katcha areas of the Province and the limit has been enhanced from 16 to 25 acres per family on the directive of President Asif Ali Zardari.

The poor Haris who for generation had been suffering at the hands of big landlords would welcome the decision. Hundreds of thousands of acres land is lying unutilized in the Province and its allotment to poor people including women would go a long way in alleviation of poverty and increase agricultural production. Allotment of land to women is aimed at empowering the poor women on the one hand and to make cultivable the hitherto uncultivable land on the other. According to the figures about 45,000 acres of land had already been distributed among the poor and landless haris since the programme was launched in November last and about seventy percent of the allottees were women. It is essential that the allotment may be made in a transparent manner and only to the locals otherwise that will create heart burning among the poor. Similar programmes need to be emulated in other provinces particularly in Punjab and Balochistan where tract of lands are available.











In a power-starved country like Bangladesh, the idea of running irrigation pumps by solar power is highly appealing. A partner organisation of the government, Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL) credited to have installed solar home systems (SHSs), wants to set up a multi-purpose solar irrigation system (SIS) in off-grid areas in order to translate the idea into reality. Its target is to produce about 750 megawatts (mw) of electricity for this purpose. What is so encouraging is that the company has set a target of installing mini-power plants within a year in rural areas with no electricity connection. Sure enough, in case of renewable energy production there is always such an advantage of setting up plants within a short time whereas other types of large power plants take a longer period, usually no fewer than three years.

Although the main target is to supply power to irrigation pumps, it is unlikely to remain confined to that purpose alone because the power plants will not be economically viable then. So the company wants diversified use of the electricity produced. Irrigation is seasonal but the demand for power even in village homes remains more or less the same throughout the year. What will count most is the cost of power produced by the SIS. A way has to be found to reduce the price of electricity produced by these plants. Lower cost will encourage villagers to subscribe power for domestic use.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of IDCOL discloses that his company is willing to initially manage the fund on its own but the government and donors will also have to come forward in making the programme a success. A total of 2,00,000 irrigation pumps are now operating in the country and it is a daunting task to bring all of them under the IDCOL programme and also make the operation cost-effective. There is no option other than waiving duty on the import of solar panels and accessories. A local company has also launched a programme to assemble panels here. IDCOL should also take a similar programme to minimise the cost.








Apparently 199 members of parliament have not paid their telephone bills despite repeated requests from the authorities. The legislators representing both sides of the aisle have shown little respect for the law, rather they have proved, if not by design at least by default, that they are above the law. This is most unfortunate and speaks of the poor ethical standard of our parliamentarians. It is important that our political leaders set an example for the rest of the nation to follow but they are doing the opposite.
Of the 199 defaulting MPs only five are of the current parliament while the rest are from earlier legislatures. Some of them date back to the first parliament of 1972. Many have even died and their successors have shown equal reluctance to pay up the debts. If a similar assessment was done for other public utilities like water, gas and electricity the results are likely to be the same. Yet, nobody else has taken up the matter.

A parliament is supposed to be self-regulatory and they are supposed to set the standards for the nation but evidently the legislators have not lived upto the trust reposed in them by the nation. It will be a shame if some other institution imposes the law upon them.

If one is to go by precedence, how can a bill defaulter contest the polls? If s/he does, then why shouldn't his or her election be announced invalid after the discovery of such financial irregularity? Which is the proper authority to act on such defaults? If parliament fails then either the Election Commission or the Supreme Court should do something about it. In no way should default or oversight encourage such malpractice.









"What happened to my plants?" I shouted as I looked out of my window, onto my box grill and found that the plants in my flower pot had been replaced. "They were junglee plants," said my old maid, who had suddenly become a veteran in the art of plant identification. "So what?" I shouted, "I have been watering them from the time they sprouted. I even put a little mesh around them and have been watching them grow"

"Junglee plants," said my maid with a sneer. "A plant is a plant," I said angrily. "A junglee is a junglee," said my old maid even more stubbornly. "Did you see how fast they grew?" I said, "Yes, that's because I watered and looked after them everyday." Said my maid, "Nobody looks after junglee plants," and walked away. I watched her disappearing figure angrily and my thoughts went to another incident. My daughter and I were driving to the club, when we spotted this elderly man, walking briskly with his dog next to him.

"He's a retired colonel," said my daughter, "see how well he walks, as if he is still in the army. "How d'you know he's a colonel?" I asked. "Comes to the club everyday," she said, "beats everybody at tennis"
"Must be quite a man," I muttered. "Yeah, but we all make fun of him," she said. "Why?" I asked surprised. "Look at his dog," she said and I looked at the very happy and apparently disciplined dog on a leash, running in step with its master. "Disciplined little fellow," I said. "Mongrel!" said my daughter with disdain. "Imagine a colonel, with such a creature. He should be having a pedigreed fellow, like a labrador or an alsatian."

"They look happy together," I said. "No class!" said my daughter sticking her nose up in the air. The man who walked into my office that morning, smelt of the second class compartment in which he must have commuted. "My ad asked for an engineer," I said, wrinkling my nose. "I am an engineer sir," he said,."What's your father?" I asked as the interview progressed. "A carpenter sir," said the sweaty, smelly engineer. I looked at his mark sheet and I looked at him. Somehow I had always wanted a qualified man to look qualified! And then I saw the plants that my maid had thrown away. The junglee plants. Too junglee to sit in my box grill, and my mind went to the colonel and his mongrel. Not pedigreed enough to run at his master's feet! "Okay," I said, "You're good enough! You've got the job." Was it my imagination that heard a whelp of joy from a mongrel's mouth and a swish from junglee leaves that had not been thrown out in vain?



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




President Lee Myung-bak has proposed that the two Koreas start talks to reduce their conventional weapons. The proposal was contained in his speech marking the 64th anniversary of the nation's liberation from Japanese colonial rule on Saturday. It is the first time for the conservative President to make such an offer to the North.

Lee's proposal is apparently intended to resume suspended talks between the two sides. It is also seen as his readiness to mend inter-Korean ties that have deteriorated since his inauguration. The bilateral relations have reached a critical stage, especially since Pyongyang's long-range missile launch in April and its second nuclear test in May. The impoverished North is feeling the acute pains of arms embargoes and financial sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council for its nuclear test.

President Lee also stressed that Seoul will support a new peace initiative on the peninsula if Pyongyang decides to completely abandon its nuclear weapons program. There is no doubt that his initiative is based on his firm position on the North's denuclearization. In this regard, there is little change in his North Korea policy although he hopes to have arms reduction talks with the Kim Jong-il regime.

In other words, Lee's initiative stands little chance of being accepted by the North because the nuclear issue is the main stumbling block to any improvement in the inter-Korean deadlock. The North repeatedly reveals its intention to continue its nuclear development, saying that it will never return to the six-nation negotiations for its denuclearization.

It is no secret that Pyongyang is trying to acquire nuclear power status by making more atomic bombs and developing inter-continental ballistic missiles. It is also apparent that the North wants to hold bilateral talks with the United States in a bid to negotiate nuclear disarmament and call for the removal of U.S. nuclear umbrella for the South. Since the release of two detained American journalists upon former President Bill Clinton's visit to Pyongyang early this month, the North has shown its willingness to improve ties with the United States in an apparent move to neutralize the U.N. sanctions and extract concessions from Washington.

Against this backdrop, Lee's peace overture toward North Korea is seen as a symbolic step to lure the Kim regime back to inter-Korean dialogue. The North may feel the need to resume talks with the South in order to deal with the United States directly, although it is still sticking to an outdated policy of sidelining Seoul in the international community. There could be a possibility of the North's returning to the talks with the South because the United States is not enthusiastic about having direct negotiations with the North. The superpower wants Pyongyang to come back to the six-party talks and ensure its complete and irreversible denuclearization.

In this situation, North Korea set free a detained South Korean worker at the Gaeseong Industrial Complex on Friday amid a visit by Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jung-eun to Pyongyang. Hyun was extending her stay there to meet with Kim Jong-il to discuss ways of resuming the suspended Mt. Geumgang tourism business and solving pending issues over the inter-Korean industrial park. The public has high expectations that her visit might help thaw relations on the peninsula.

The two Koreas should no longer point the finger at each other. It's time for them to make a compromise and sit together to discuss how to ease tensions, build trust, move toward reconciliation and settle peace on the peninsula. It is a shame that the South and the North have perpetuated national division and continued their Cold War confrontation since liberation from Japanese rule in 1945.







Prevention is better than cure. But this is easier said than done at least as far as the influenza A (H1N1) virus is concerned. On Sunday, South Korea reported its second death from the pandemic flu that has been spreading across the world since its outbreak in Mexico in April.

According to health authorities, a 63-year-old woman died from pulmonary edema and multiple organ failure while receiving treatment for influenza A at a Seoul hospital. Her death rang an alarm because she was presumed to have contracted the highly contagious disease in South Korea last month. She had not left the country for overseas travel in recent months.

Her case only proved that the virus could produce complications that lead to death. Another problem is that it is difficult to trace her infection route, making it harder for the authorities to take immediate and effective quarantine measures. She was hospitalized on July 31 for pulmonary edema, an abnormal buildup of fluid within the lungs. On Aug. 8, she was confirmed to have contracted the flu virus.

Her death came one day after the nation's first death from the flu virus was reported Saturday. The first victim was a 56-year-old man who returned from a trip to Thailand on Aug. 5. Three days later, he was admitted to a local hospital as he showed high fever and other symptoms of H1N1, and was diagnosed with the flu virus. He was presumed to have died of pneumonia, a complication developed by influenza A.

The two deaths show that the country is no longer safe from the highly contagious disease which has become prevalent worldwide in a short period. We cannot overestimate the dangers of the influenza, also known as swine flu. It is necessary to step up preventive measures and to raise the level of alert in order to block the further spread of the virus and avoid another death.

A total of 2,089 Koreans have so far been inflected with the H1N1 virus, according to the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention. About 400 people remain quarantined at home or in state-designated hospitals. The health authorities might have not been on high alert because most patients showed mild symptoms and recovered quickly. But now they must double their efforts to ensure a tighter quarantine network and a better preventive system to keep out the virus.







Towering skyscrapers, a myriad of blinking lights
these are what make up the modern nightscape. Artificial lights illuminate the otherwise pitch-dark city bulb-lit offices, streetlights defining promenades, and the headlights and taillights of relentless streams of cars.

At night, the city without manmade lights, including candles and kindled fires, would be reduced to a dimly starlit village. It would be plunged into obsolete darkness, into sunlit, starlit primitiveness. Modern cities are made of lights: not skyscrapers, not administrative buildings, but their lights.

Seoul's nightscape also includes the eyesore cluster of vying signs (of a wide spectrum of colors) and the distinctly Korean red crosses marking havens for worship. Accustomed to American churches' welcoming signs that announce events and blend into the background, I was taken aback by the fluorescent red lights that seem to holler ``Pick me! Pick me! Over the church next door!"

Which all seems quite beside the point. The Bible preaches collaborating with and helping each other
a great family of believers, if you will but Korean churches are invariably entrenched in rivalry, a rivalry so fierce that they feel compelled to impale those horrific protrusions. What struck me when I first came to Korea were those red crosses.

One, they're so against the 13C Byzantine Iconoclastic Controversy and Moses's destruction of the Golden Calf. Two, there are way too many of them. Three, they're so ugly. I don't want to be disrespectful, but, from a dilettante's perspective, those red symbols of crucifixion must go. For the sake of good aesthetics.

My first clear memory of Korea dates back six years ago now, but the holy rivalry business still confounds me. I recently attended service at a church, large but desolate, that promoted prayer sessions for what a flashy banner called ``the church's revival." While listening to the preacher and organist bicker, I asked my mother what ``revival" meant and she replied, matter-of-factly, ``more people." Which my secular mind immediately translated into ``more offerings. More money. Enough for maintenance, wages, the preacher's wife's new shoes." (Forgive my heathenism. I just can't help it).

From hearsay, I learned that the church once had enough regular attendees to fill its benches
that is, before a famous preacher entered the neighborhood. The church with a less renowned preacher, with fewer publications, saw its numbers dwindle, until ``their people" could be counted on one's hands and feet.

Perhaps the rivalry's inevitable. There are a gazillion too many chapels in Korea. Looking at all the aloft red crosses encroaching on Korea's darkness makes one wonder how an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion so easily uprooted pre-existing traditions to parade as the nation's most popular religion.

Some people say it's because Confucianism (closer to a knight's code of conduct than to religion) failed to secure an afterlife for its followers. Plagued by the obscurity of death, the fearful Koreans leaped at the chance Christianity offered.

During difficult times (Japanese annexation, economic hardships), churches provided a haven for the mind and soul. It also provided lunch. My father recounts that as a child he went to church for the curry. My mother, now sincerely devout, initiated her religious life because the preacher called her ``yi-ppeun-yi" (pretty cookie). The sincere kindness and friendliness worked on her.

The variegated role of the Korean house of God becomes lucid in the context of Korean churches abroad. Wherever there are Koreans, they say, there are Korean churches, which are immensely popular (perhaps more popular than their Korean-located counterparts).

The church not only provides a social network for Koreans otherwise disconnected, but also furnishes an identity in an alien land where Koreans become nameless. Koreans also seem to allay their loneliness by brushing shoulders against other Koreans in prayer.

The fury and disappointment they experience throughout the week, they purge in church through fervid prayers and conversations with friendly people to whom their only connection is often the church.

A humble little theory I've been juggling in my mind started from a small observation. Who makes up the bulk of a church audience? If it's not so obvious during Sunday sermons, take a peek into weekday sessions.

So many are married women. The thing about Korean married women is that when they become locked in matrimony, they more or less abandon their previous lives for full commitment to the household.

They often lose contact with their friends, divide their holidays between their own families and their husband's (usually spending more time with their husband's) and drop their jobs (less the case recently, but for the elder married women of today, still largely true).

For some time, they arduously devote themselves to attending their children's and husband's needs, until the time comes when their children no longer need as attentive care. Then, the women are lost for what to do.

Also, they lose their identity because for about 10-odd years they had defined themselves according to their relationship with their husband and children, but the children eventually leave their overprotected nest.

With more time to spare, but deprived of their pre-marriage life, Korean married women seek a new life, but because they lack a job or an institution such as school (to construct friendships in), they immerse themselves in one of the most welcoming institutions, the church, now socially acceptable for a married woman to dawdle over.

Through the church, the ajummas participate as ``cell leaders," organizers of charity events and church librarians. They also make new friends. They construct a new identity from scratch.

The Korean church is about identity. The red crosses probably have something to do with identity, although more with rivalry. Perhaps a bit too much. They have become so quintessentially Korean-church that they're now indispensable. A decent church needs a red cross.

The writer is a senior at the American International School of Guangzhou, China. She has also lived in the United States and Korea, and can be reached at







In the aftermath of former President Bill Clinton's humanitarian mission to North Korea, several analyses of the Obama administration's North Korea policy have suggested that the administration is faced with a choice between containment and denuclearization, and that it is choosing containment.

This is a false dichotomy and the wrong premise. We must do both
strive to end North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions while containing its ability to proliferate nuclear know-how, materials or weapons.

There is no question that the objective of the United States must be the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Even if we doubt
and there is plenty of reason for doubt that North Korea will ever give up its nuclear programs and the weapons we believe they possess, we cannot send any signal that the status quo is acceptable.

If we do, Japan and South Korea will have to rethink their nuclear strategy. And, Iran will surely believe that they, too, can proceed with impunity. Other countries worldwide will also reconsider their nuclear option, and we will all be much less safe than we are today.

A North Korea with nuclear weapons not only creates insecurity for the region and the world, but
as President Clinton presumably told Chairman Kim Jong-il last week possession of nuclear weapons increases the North's isolation in the world and puts at risk North Korea's future instead of securing it.

Denuclearization is only one part of the puzzle. As the Obama Administration works with South Korea, Japan, China and Russia to halt and eliminate North Korea's nuclear weapons program, they must also stop any proliferation and ``contain" the damage that has been done over the last eight years.

During the Bush Administration, North Korea produced enough fissile material to produce eight or more bombs. As a result, an empowered North Korea has tested nuclear weapons and has flirted with the idea of sharing some of its capabilities with others.

Recently, a North Korean ship, seemingly headed to Myanmar, abruptly returned to the North, most likely out of fear of interdiction of its suspicious cargo under the newly enforced United Nations sanctions resolution. We know that North Korea also assisted Syria in the early development of a nuclear reactor, which was ultimately destroyed by Israel.

Such efforts at proliferation of knowledge, materials or weapons cannot be tolerated and must be contained, even as we strive for total elimination.

Critics of President Clinton's successful humanitarian mission to North Korea have alleged that Chairman Kim Jong-il gained credibility through a photo op. But the fact is that President Clinton and his team garnered critical information.

President Clinton can pass along to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton important information about Kim, including his health and his leadership position, about the North's readiness to return to talks and about the state of affairs in North Korea. Given the paltry information we have about North Korea, such insight is extremely valuable.

Both the reception received by President Clinton, along with other back channel signals seems to indicate that North Korea wants to engage once again. The administration should be ready to engage along the lines established. They should offer no new incentives. The North should return to talks bilateral talks only within a multilateral framework.

There should be evidence that the North will follow through on commitments they have already made, and existing U.N. sanctions should continue until there is appropriate verifiable action to meet commitments. And, the administration may want to consider a grand bargain that ends the often one step forward, three steps back negotiating process.

As the Administration prepares for the next round of negotiations toward the goal of eliminating North Korea's nuclear weapons program, we cannot stop our efforts to contain its potential proliferation outside of the country.

Taking such a two pronged approach of working on both denuclearization and non-proliferation, has the added advantage of strengthening the United States' hand going into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty negotiations in 2010. Only by tackling both objectives will we be able to show North Korea
and others that nuclear weapons are not a route to economic, political or military security.

Ambassador Sherman served as counselor for the State Department as well as special advisor to former President Bill Clinton and policy coordinator on North Korea. She is currently vice chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group. She visited Pyongyang twice and participated in the meetings with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Kim Jong-il in 2000.











THE Reserve Bank is talking the economy up while the government is talking it down, admittedly nowhere near as dramatically as ministers were earlier in the year when they were warning us that we faced economic calamity. On Friday, RBA governor Glenn Stevens said the present downturn might be one of Australia's shallower recessions, that unemployment was unlikely to reach the 8.5 per cent budget estimate and that interest rates would need to rise from levels set for an economic emergency. He added that if the economy grew faster than forecast, stimulus spending might need to be unwound earlier than planned. But Julia Gillard is not having any of it. Yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister said the stimulus strategy would stay in place to prop up employment, that it was the cause of the better than expected situation Mr Stevens described. Both have a point. There are certainly auspicious signs in the economic skies. Unemployment held steady at 5.8 per cent last month and the economy is now expected to grow, albeit at only 0.5per cent this year, and by 2.25 per cent next year. But Ms Gillard warns that unemployment is still expected to rise. This is prudent politics, preparing us for the worst while being ready to take the credit for a better number that may come to pass.


But just because the government's emergency spending measures have worked up to now does not mean they will work in the future. The challenge for the government is to pick the moment when changing circumstances will require a new strategy. Certainly the government was right to move fast when the global financial crisis first emerged. Falling interest rates and lower petrol prices were a strong factor for consumer confidence but it also seems certain payments to pensioners late last year and low- and middle-income earners in February helped keep employment in retail sales steady. And there seems little doubt that spending on "shovel-ready" community infrastructure projects and the $14.7 billion school building program can keep people employed -- although whether they will deliver any long-term productivity improvements is an entirely different question. But the government cannot afford to rest on its laurels and simply argue that without more of the same sort of spending the economy will deteriorate. What was a sovereign cure at the start of the year may end up impeding the economy at its end. It is a potential problem Mr Stevens certainly sees. Late last month he warned that the recovery could be burdened by rising interest rates before unemployment, often a lagging indicator of the state of the economy, peaked. And on Friday he said while forecasts of growth in gross domestic product and inflation were not unmanageable, interest rates would rise "back towards normal levels".


The risk is that just as the economy has not declined as far or fast as feared in the May budget, it will now overshoot expectations in the opposite direction and that continuing public-sector spending will lock up skilled labour and push up costs for business. There are no obvious indications that this will occur in the short term, but there are certainly signs of a recovery to come. On Friday, Leighton Holdings boss Wal King predicted the company would have $40bn worth of work on the books next year, an increase of more than 10 per cent on the June figure. In particular, he pointed to $32bn being spent on natural gas projects, with $80bn more being planned. It is this sort of job-generating, economy-expanding work that will return Australia to sustainable long-term growth, rather than the construction of school classrooms. If unemployment were increasing dangerously fast, such programs might be needed, but if the current good news continues the time is approaching when the government will need to consider the size of the stimulus and the sorts of projects it is paying for. The government has committed 2 per cent of GDP in short-term stimulus, and 3 per cent in the medium term. But what was right for hard times will not be as appropriate in an improving economy. The challenges for the government are to have the flexibility in its spending plans to change direction, switching spending from make-work projects to programs that will improve productivity and to recognise when the time has come to change direction.








THE news is not auspicious for Thursday's presidential poll in Afghanistan, as reports from The Australian's Amanda Hodge in Kabul make clear. On Saturday, Taliban insurgents detonated a car-bomb outside the NATO headquarters in the city, killing seven innocent Afghans. And President Harmid Karzai is reduced to addressing campaign rallies by phone, not daring to risk a trip to the Taliban stronghold of Helmand province. It is a humiliation to equal the Kabul parade in April last year to mark the defeat of the Soviet Union that was broken up by a Taliban attack that came close to killing Mr Karzai. Now, like then, the insurgents are sending a signal to the Afghan people, that the government and its allies cannot protect them. And every attack increases the risk the election will be marred by a low turnout, a result the Taliban will claim as a rejection of democracy.


But whatever occurs on Thursday, it will be no such thing. There is no denying Mr Karzai is not particularly popular. His government has not improved the circumstances of ordinary Afghans who are caught between corrupt officials and the religious zealotry of the Taliban, especially in the south. And there is no doubting the security situation has declined. In October 2004, some 85 per cent of the 10 million eligible Afghans went to the polls to elect Mr Karzai president in the first legitimate election in a generation. The desire for democracy was so strong that the Taliban left the election alone, recognising that killing people as they queued to vote would cost them what little support they enjoyed outside their heartland. But four years on, the terrorists are bolder and are determined to display their ability to disrupt the vote wherever they choose.


The decline in the security situation and the failure of the Karzai government does not mean ordinary Afghans prefer the religious fanaticism combined with theft and thuggery the Taliban rules by. As popular hostility to a temporary Taliban takeover in the Swat Valley in Pakistan earlier this year proves, ordinary Muslims want a government that rules for the people, with their imprimatur, rather than a clerical dictatorship. Rather than a rejection of democracy, a low turnout on Thursday would be a vote of no confidence in the civil service and security forces, rather than democracy and a signal to the Western alliance that it is losing popular support. With luck there will be a big vote that will prove that the Afghans' patience, with the government and the war are not exhausted. But both erode with every Taliban attack.








HEALTH accounts for 9 per cent of GDP, a figure that will rise to 12.4 per cent in a little over 20 years. But not all of the money is well spent now and many billions will be wasted in the future without reform. Kevin Rudd made the point in a speech last week when he referred to research that found a common treatment for fractures to the spinal cord had the same benefit as doing nothing. But imagine the howls from doctors who provide the procedure and what they would tell their patients if funding for it were cut.


As Australia ages and the demand for medical services increases, health will be a battleground. The old will want ever more spent on treatment, the young will resent the increased costs. And the medical workforce will oppose changes to preferred work patterns. And more money is not the only answer. As Mr Rudd points out, 15 per cent-plus of patients wait too long for elective surgery -- a figure that has not improved over time.


But while there is no single solution, the first step is to accept that health needs the equivalent of the 1990s reforms, which ended uncompetitive work practices and industry subsidies in state-regulated industries. For a start, Canberra could suggest to NSW, firmly, that it follow states that fund hospitals according to the average cost of services, rather than on the basis of size plus what was spent in the previous year. Such an approach across the country could save Canberra $1.3 billion a year. This would upset supporters of the status quo, but the sooner the squealing starts the sooner the reforms will begin.












AS FAR as spending goes, Australia's $25 billion-a-year Defence establishment has an unenviable reputation for getting less for more. Take the navy's Super Seasprite helicopters. About $1.1 billion down, years behind schedule and grounded due to technical problems, the 11 Seasprites were finally cancelled last year without ever having achieved operational status. A few months later the Defence Secretary, Nick Warner, took the extraordinary step of publicly acknowledging the "broken backbone" of Defence: those many failures of governance and accountability which have long let the troops and the taxpayers down. When the Defence Minister, John Faulkner, went even further last week there was some cause for optimism. The frank manner in which he laid bare Defence's shortcomings did, certainly, bring some lesser known procurement and administrative debacles to the fore. However, Faulkner's speech to the Australia and New Zealand School of Government also put a detailed remediation plan on the table that promises cultural change.


The challenges of the Defence portfolio are formidable. The latest white paper, Force 2030, foreshadows a rising China, emerging multi-power rivalries in Asia and waning US influence and firepower in the region. That requires significant new acquisitions - submarines, frigates, fighter planes, helicopters - to ensure Australia's armed forces can retain control of the waters to Australia's north and project into Asia. Then there is Defence's outdated information and communications system, which does not just err in docking SAS soldiers' allowances, but compromises interoperability with key allies. And what of the various internal Defence fiefdoms, which do not necessarily share the same vision, especially when it comes to dividing up funds? But Defence is a funding sacred cow with a guaranteed 3 per cent annual budget increase. Unlike almost everybody else, Defence is not being asked to do more with less.


However, Defence must do more with more: 3 per cent a year won't cover the extra cost of "Force 2030". The Federal Government needs new Defence efficiencies to return $20 billion worth of savings over 10 years, money it has already earmarked to help meet the bills for Australia's future defence plans. If the minister has to wave around a humiliating list of ''projects of concern'', with all those underperforming taxpayer billions carefully tracked, or expose inadequate oversight practices or crumbling infrastructure, so be it. The Defence establishment is a shadowy beast, partly for legitimate security and operational reasons. But poor management is another matter, which is why Faulkner was right to promise transparency.







WHATEVER happened to the rights of young people? The ''learn-or-earn'' policies the Federal Government announced last week amount to an undue restriction on young school-leavers, and a one-size-fits-all approach that is going to force some teenagers into undertaking meaningless courses for which they are ill-suited and unmotivated. Let them look for work instead.


In effect, the Government is abolishing youth unemployment, at least statistically. By government edict, everyone under the age of 21 will thus be either employed or in training. To receive the Youth Allowance payment, Australians under the age of 21 will now have to participate in 25 hours a week of approved training or education. This is the equivalent to five hours a day, five days a week, almost full-time instruction. While this may be highly useful for the Government to obliterate the category of youth unemployment, it is not necessarily useful to young people being forced back into institutions they do not want to attend.


For some it will amount to de facto detention. For many it will leave them with much less time and energy for job-seeking. The Minister for Employment Participation, Mark Arbib, who has carriage of this initiative, has stressed that during the last recession unemployment among the young rose rapidly and took years to decline. Lower skill levels led directly to higher unemployment. Those who did not complete high school fared far worse than those who completed at least year 12.


The link between skills, education and employment rates is not in question. The statistics are unambiguous. Nor is there any question that high rates of youth unemployment are a blot on any government or society. The 17 per cent unemployment rate among young people in Britain is a mark against the Brown government and a drag on the economy. It is a social and political phenomenon Labor in Australia is observing closely and wants to avoid.


We also appreciate that questioning this learn-or-earn initiative is not without risk. Obviously, young people who are neither employed nor in training can drift into inertia and begin to acquire the self-limiting habits of the long-term unemployed. But the TAFE system is already stretched, and forcing young people into courses they do not want to undertake is going to put more stress on the system. It is also going to constrict those who want to find a job, which is why most of them left school in the first place.




                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN




The defence secretary, Bob Ainsworth, may believe he is doing his best for the troops in Afghanistan. But it is one thing to say, as he did yesterday, that Britons at home must hold fast – as the UK death toll passed the 200 mark this weekend. It is quite another to define what granite-like object we should all be holding fast to. Is the mission to clear the Taliban out of Afghanistan? There is no reliable evidence to support the claim he made yesterday that Operation Panther's Claw has brought 80,000 Afghans out from under the tyranny of insurgents – quite the contrary. When journalists gather their own evidence, a disquietingly different picture emerges. It is one in which the Taliban operates with ease, attacking in small groups and moving by night, confident of the support of the local population, people who often come from the same tribe.


Whether or not it is written in the Qur'an that the best way to fool a drone in the dark is to stand still, fighters loyal to the commander Jalaluddin Haqqani were abundantly confident of their ability to lay mines and mount bomb and gun attacks, no matter how big a foreign force they faced. They told our reporter, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, that the more foreign troops there were, the more targets they had. Or take the experience of our photographer, Sean Smith, who was embedded with the Black Watch in Lashkar Gah and the US 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktia. In the weeks he was with the Black Watch, he saw only one "enemy" body, that of a 15-year-old girl who had been killed in an airstrike on a Taliban position. She had probably been kept by the fighters to cook for them. And this in a period of heavy fighting. There was little evidence on the ground of how effective British troops were being at fighting the Taliban. Paktia province in particular tested our defence secretary's blithe assumption that the Taliban and the villagers that US troops were trying to protect were two different groups of people.


Counterinsurgency theorists imagine the role of the military mission as creating a "space" to be filled by the nascent institutions of the Afghan state – its army, police and judiciary. But here too, amid preparations for elections this week, there is scant evidence of theory translating into practice on the ground. The Afghan police are still reluctant to go into the Helmand villages that US and UK troops have cleared. And against whom is this "clearing" being defined? After eight years we still have no clear idea who the enemy are, or how to distinguish them from the local population.


Much will be made this week of the numbers who participate in the presidential election, an act that will spell defiance of the Taliban. This will be nowhere truer than in Kandahar, the country's second largest city, from where Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, began his march to power. A small Canadian force has prevented 15,000 Taliban from retaking the city, at a cost of 125 soldiers, the highest proportion of casualties of any coalition partner. As the Canadians acknowledge, theirs has been little more than a finger-in-the-dyke operation. The city is being held, not for democracy, but for Hamid Karzai's powerful half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who has been accused of handing out government jobs and land to his friends and allies, and of extensive involvement in drug trafficking.


Here lies the central problem. As the casualties mount and domestic patience wears thin, the coalition mission will steadily downgrade its once lofty nation-building objectives. If it remained true to them, tackling corruption among the likes of Ahmed Wali Karzai would remain as integral to the project as keeping the Taliban out. In the end neither of these objectives will be secured, and the Afghanistan that the troops leave behind may not be unlike the one which greeted their arrival. Large parts of the Pashtun south will still be dominated by the forces we are currently fighting.







With the polemical energy of Michael Moore and the brass neck of Ali G, the Yes Men are "identity correction" artists who pass themselves off as the corporations you love to hate. By building a fake World Trade Organisation website, they earned invites to speak at business shindigs, and used the platform to expose the suits who run the world. In their 2003 documentary the breathtaking claims they made – always delivered with a straight face to a straight-laced audience – included the good (that in order to put people before profit the WTO was disbanding itself), the bad (that the north was wrong to wage a war on American slavery) and the ugly (that McDonald's was to process faeces from western toilets to provide cheap hamburgers for the developing world). Time and again, business jargon and the authority of invented status secured a respectful hearing. In The Yes Men Fix The World, which has just opened in Britain, one Yes Man gets on BBC Worldwide as a Dow Chemical representative, and announces the firm will fully compensate all those injured in the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy. Instead of being angry at having their hopes falsely raised, many victims supported the hoax, which wiped $2bn off Dow's share price before being exposed. The Yes Men's sheer balls have impressed many reviewers. But although framed as the theatre of the absurd, their vigilante justice has a serious point – to remind us of the inhumanity of a system in which those in charge carry on as if they were simply following orders.







The near million who voted for the British National party in June's Euro-elections are certainly angry and no doubt racist to varying degrees, but how many of them would really be up for sending a gunboat down the Liffey? Very few, because there are surely not a million people so lunatic that they would want to start a war on these islands. Yet that would surely be the result of the BNP pledge of "welcoming Eire as well as Ulster as equal partners in a federation of the nations of the British Isles".


Just like the cheery talk of welcoming Ireland back into the union, the party's Derbyshire garden party over the weekend provides the flimsiest veil for a programme that is not only nasty, but rooted in delusion and paranoia. Alongside the tea, cakes and patriotic memorabilia – designed to create a "family" atmosphere and reinforce the half-respectabilty afforded by winning two Euro-seats – the Red, White and Blue festival featured a clutch of white crosses to commemorate people supposedly killed "as a result of anti-white violence". Persecution complex by day gave way to evening self-confidence, as far-right fanatics outside the camp gave fascist salutes and shouted "sieg heil".


We report today how the BNP shipped in fascists from overseas to address its gathering. The party leader, Nick Griffin, no doubt regards links with far-right parties abroad – many of which are much better established than his own ragbag outfit – as a way to make the BNP look serious. Tellingly, however, his attempts to form a grouping in Brussels failed, as even fellow extremists feared the damage that would be done by associating with the BNP.


It is not hard to see why. A handful of BNP leaders may nowadays don suits, but a large proportion of the activists, councillors and candidates remain boot boys, often with criminal convictions for violence. Mr Griffin's one fellow MEP, Andrew Brons, has a genteel manner but was, as a young man, involved with Nazi-style groups that engaged in arson attacks on synagogues. He has German, and quite possibly Jewish, ancestry making his embrace of the most exclusive form of British nationalism a source of psychological speculation.


The brutal mindset of Griffin himself was betrayed only last month, when he suggested that the Europeans should "sink several ... boats" carrying African immigrants. Mindful, perhaps, that few of those who had voted him would truly support drowning men, women and children at sea, he added as an afterthought that they might be thrown life jackets. The hope must be, as has already happened in some town halls, that the more the public gets to know the BNP the more they will lose patience with people who are as unpleasant as they are odd.








The rapid rise in theft by elderly people has caught the police and Justice Ministry off guard. A Justice Ministry report revealed that over 30,000 people over 65 were convicted of theft in 2007, with crimes by the elderly in 2008 rising to the highest level ever.


Most were convicted of shoplifting. Already surmising the problem two years ago, the government budgeted ¥8.3 billion for new prison facilities for the elderly.


Even more surprising is that most of those nabbed for shoplifting said they were motivated more by loneliness than by need. Nearly one-quarter of the elderly charged with shoplifting told police that feelings of isolation, not economic necessity, were the main reason they stole from stores. Others cited a lack of motivation in life and general frustration. Forty percent of those convicted said they lived alone and 50 percent said they had no friends. Unsurprisingly, arrests of the elderly spiked during the last two New Year holiday seasons.


Loneliness mixed with the economic downturn, higher premiums for health insurance and cuts in social welfare is devastating. Already, the elderly have nearly the lowest income levels of any group in Japan, but with no means of increasing their fixed incomes, the elderly are often financially, as well as emotionally, trapped.


Solutions are not easy to come by, but seem to have been left out of most recent campaign rhetoric. The elderly, who increasingly live alone, need community centers, stable pensions, senior discounts and easy access to medical and health treatment. The need for social connectedness and community is especially crucial for those who grew up in a different social environment than the current one. Respect for the elderly and a strong sense of community may no longer be part of Japanese social values. If so, that is a terrible loss. But if those values still remain, they need practical backing.


The Japanese refrain for the famous Beatles song "Eleanor Rigby" might now come out as, "Ah, look at all the lonely people shoplifting." Assuring the security and contentment of an increasingly large segment of Japan's society should be given greater priority and much greater sensitivity.












In his speech marking the 64th anniversary of Liberation Day, President Lee Myung-bak called on North Korea to denuclearize and promised programs for economic cooperation in the North on condition that the North demonstrates that it has decided to give up its nuclear weapons program.


The call for denuclearization and tying it to economic assistance is a continuation of Lee Myung-bak administration's North Korea policy. As a presidential candidate, Lee proposed that the South would provide economic assistance to North Korea in exchange for denuclearization and liberalization. When it became apparent that North Korea's Kim Jong-il was not yet ready to abandon his nuclear weapons program, denuclearization became the central precondition for South Korea's economic assistance to the North. This policy has been reiterated many times.


Indeed, the president's Liberation Day message contained no surprises as far as any message toward the North was concerned. It has been sending a consistent message that was once again repeated in this year's Liberation Day speech: Denuclearize and we will help you with economic development.


The president's message reveals a number of new emphases within that broad framework, however. There is no mention of the six-party talks. North Korea bolted from the multilateral talks to protest U.N. sanctions and has repeatedly said that it will never return to the talks. Since then, it has been trying to engage the United States in bilateral talks.


Replacing the phrase "six-party talks" in his speech is "inter-Korean talks." In his speech, Lee proposed South-North bilateral meetings a number of times. He called for inter-Korean talks, urging for a "candid and frank dialogue about what it will take for North Korea to give up nuclear weapons."


He also said that a high-level meeting between the two countries would be established to "realize a common economic community" in the coming years, although he predicated this plan on the condition that North Korea showed its determination to denuclearize.


Lee also proposed a reduction in conventional weapons along with the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. "Now is the time for the North and South to come to the table and talk about these issues," he said, again stressing the need for inter-Korean talks.


Lee summed up his eagerness to engage the North in bilateral talks, saying that the administration was ready to start talks and cooperation with the North "over all issues between us, at any time, at any level."


Another notable aspect of Lee's message toward the North is the citing of the specific areas of cooperation. He said that development projects would focus on the five areas of the economy, education, finance, infrastructure and quality of life.


Lee said that such projects would be conducted in cooperation with other countries and international organizations, another point that is emphasized in Lee's speech: The South Korean government would "actively seek an international cooperative program to ensure economic development in the North," he said.


In the absence of North Korea's decision to denuclearize, the proposals contained in Lee's Liberation Day speech will remain just that.


Lee offered a more specific blueprint on how the lives of North Koreans would be improved. However, the plan hinges on North Korean denuclearization. Pyongyang should now take the first step of agreeing to a "candid and frank dialogue."








A 56-year-old man became the first Korean to die from an H1N1 infection, or swine flu, Saturday. Yesterday, a 63-year-old woman in Seoul died from multiple organ failure attributed to the H1N1 virus.


Korea has not experienced a major outbreak of H1N1 infection since the first case involving a Catholic nun who returned from a visit to Mexico was reported in May. According to the government, 2,089 people have been infected with the H1N1 virus so far. Of them, 407 remain in treatment at home or in the hospital, with the rest having fully recovered.


The circumstances of the man's death - he had reported to health authorities after he suspected he had swine flu - show that health authorities have been lax in their vigilance against the spread of H1N1.


The man returned from a five-day trip to Thailand with his colleagues. Three days later, on Aug. 8, he visited a local health clinic suspecting that he had swine flu. Because his temperature was not high enough and he did not have the common symptoms associated with an H1N1 infection, he was given a special mask and anti-bacterial soap, then told to go home.


However, he was hospitalized when his condition worsened two days later. He was not started on anti-viral medication until tests on Aug. 12 showed him to be positive for H1N1 infection. He died on Aug. 15, the day he was confirmed as a swine flu patient.


The Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention head Lee Jong-koo said that the diagnosis of an H1N1 infection and anti-viral treatment were delayed because the doctors treating him did not think to test him for the virus earlier. In fact, the hospital had not followed the government-issued standards for diagnosis.


Yesterday, the Health Ministry said that nine students at a girls' high school in Daegu have been newly confirmed to have the H1N1 influenza. With the country's students returning to schools soon and the H1N1 virus expected to become active as the temperature cools, the possibility of a large outbreak here is real.


The first H1N1 death shows that more vigilance on the part of medical professionals is necessary. At the same time, the government must ensure that health workers follow the prescribed procedure for dealing with suspected H1N1 cases.











Little about the campaign leading up to Thursday's election in Afghanistan would seem familiar to voters who have grown up in a democratic tradition.


Taliban fundamentalists have threatened to cut off any finger coloured with the indelible ink that will mark those who have voted.


The brave female candidates have been threatened with death or disfigurement if they don't desist and go home.


As many as 3 million of 17.5 million registered voters are believed to be boguss, the result of a huge over-registration of women by men claiming non-existent female relatives.


Voters in far-flung regions appear to be waiting to be told by village elders how to vote. Warlords can reasonably promise, under the circumstances, to deliver entire regions and ethnic blocs.


President Hamid Karzai, campaigning to keep his job, has compromised distressingly with unsavoury elements, discounting women's rights among other failures.


It's all pretty alarming. But those of us with a long history of democracy behind us should think again before dismissing Afghanistan's election as a meaningless exercise.


For all its considerable flaws, this represents progress. It will mark the second time since 2004 that a relatively free election has been held in a country marked by invasion, occupation, civil war, and fundamentalism. Europe acquired a culture of political compromise only after centuries; Afghanistan is trying to do something similar much more quickly.


And they're getting there, in some ways. Afghan voters no longer hesitate to criticize their politicians aloud. "In seven years, Karzai has given us no jobs, no factories and outside Kabul there is no security," Abdul Raouf, a Tajik carpenter, told The Economist.


Across the country, many women are running, determined to help put an end to traditions that keep women illiterate, impoverished and trapped within walled compounds.


Viable, if imperfect, challengers to Karzai have emerged. Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, former government ministers, are campaigning on detailed, plausible political platforms. A platform of specifics alone is a welcome departure from business as usual.


NATO troops are doing their best to keep voters safe. Hundreds of Afghan and allied soldiers have been deployed to the southern part of the country to secure voting stations.


But there will be areas in the rural regions - where three in four Afghans live and where the Taliban hold sway - in which voting will still be too dangerous. The electoral commission admits that about 500 of nearly 7,000 voting-stations will not be able to open, and in fact many more might have to stay closed as the Taliban ramp up armed opposition.


There is a danger that whole regions will be disenfranchised if enough people retreat in the face of Taliban violence. This would amount to armed electoral fraud, the last thing Afghanistan needs to cope with at such a fragile juncture on its way to democracy.


The international community is watching this election closely, wanting to see not only a free and fair vote, but also signs of progress toward a functioning democracy in a country where few citizens have direct experience of the culture of compromise.


Canadians will wish the brave voters of Afghanistan well this week.








Chairman Mao laid down the rules for modern guerrilla warfare during the Chinese civil war. "When the enemy advances, withdraw; when he stops, harass; when he tires, strike; when he retreats, pursue," he instructed. Iraqi insurgents seem to be following his advice all too closely. During the U.S. "surge" two years ago, they melted away. After the surge peaked they renewed their attacks. And barely a month after Iraqi troops took control of the main towns from the slowly departing Americans, blood is once again gushing down the boulevards.


More than 100 civilians were killed in a four-day period last week and hundreds wounded. Two trucks packed with several thousand pounds of high-grade explosives levelled most of a settlement on the edge of Mosul in northern Iraq. Residents were sleeping on their roofs to escape the summer heat when their houses collapsed beneath them. Meanwhile, bombs in Baghdad targeted day labourers and pilgrims. Altogether this has been the worst spasm of violence in recent memory.


Although the attacks were all confined to the capital and the north, while the rest of the country remained relatively calm, they demonstrated a degree of sophistication that U.S. officials thought the insurgents could no longer muster. The truck bombings are reminiscent of the spectacular attacks staged during the early years of the U.S. occupation.


Nobody has claimed responsibility, but there is little doubt that groups like Al-Qa'ida in Mesopotamia, as the Iraqi wing of the jihadist movement calls itself, are at work in Mosul. They have largely been on the retreat since the surge started in 2007. Many of their leaders have been killed or captured. They have also lost popular support - but not their tactical cunning.


With the truck bombs, which killed 35 people, the insurgents achieved several objectives at once. They have forced the already stretched Iraqi army into protecting an even greater area by unexpectedly switching from city attacks to hitting a semirural place. They have knocked public confidence in the Iraqi government's capacity to maintain security. And lastly the insurgents are returning to their most successful ploy: baiting an ethnic community until it is so fed up that it hits back, thereby triggering further violence.


Previously the insurgents focused on the Shiites. But this group is increasingly turning the other cheek. "Let them kill us," said Sheikh Khudair Al Allawi, the imam of a mosque bombed recently. "It's a waste of their time."


The insurgents have taken note, and are switching their attention to the Kurds instead. The bombed houses outside Mosul were under the protection of the armed Kurdish fighters of the peshmerga. They have so far stayed out of sectarian fighting.


But for how much longer? Political control of the area around Mosul, and the oil beneath it, is in dispute. Kurds and Sunni Arabs both want it, with no compromise in sight. The insurgents are trying to whip up a civil war again, and some are taking the bait. In the hours after the truck bombing, Sunni provincial lawmakers demanded the expulsion of the peshmerga for being ineffective.


The renewed violence is a blow for the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki. Lacking charisma or a record of delivering much-needed schools and hospitals, he has built his strategy for getting re-elected in national polls next January on the supposed gains in security for war-weary Iraqis. Within hours of the truck bombings he appeared on national television to reassure them, but not everyone is convinced.


The Americans, too, are trying to sound positive. But more violence could jeopardize their carefully laid withdrawal plans. For the moment, those are still on course. Nationwide attacks are now averaging 100 per week, compared with 200 last year. But there is a danger that the failure to find an Arab-Kurdish solution for the disputed land will give the insurgents a perpetual casus belli.








We were not surprised when US companies Control Components Inc. and Avery Dennison pleaded guilty to paying bribes in China. More often than not, that is the way business is done here.


Nor are we surprised to see the list of alleged bribe takers, be it the Ministry of Public Security's Transportation Management and Science Research Institute, Jiangsu Nuclear Power Corp. (China), Guohua Electric Power (China), China Petroleum Materials and Equipment Corp., PetroChina, Dongfang Electric Corporation (China), or China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Naming names is not the way things are usually done here.


What took many of us aback is that US companies might well be pleading to violations that have never ever occurred on our soil.


On August 4, Avery Dennison, the world's leading label maker, admitted that its China division bribed government officials to obtain large orders. The bribes reportedly included gifts, kickbacks, and sightseeing trips.


Yet the alleged bribe taker, the Ministry of Public Security's research institute, categorically denied involvement. After careful investigation and verification, the allegation of people with the institute accepting gifts and expenses turned out to be "non-existent". Or, so we were told.


The California-based valve manufacturer, Control Components Inc. (CCI), has presented a long list of alleged bribe-takers in China. Only one of the six, China National Offshore Oil Corporation said on Saturday that internal investigation found no staff took a bribe. Since the rest have not responded, we wonder whether it will become yet another case of an overseas business fabricating a charge against its innocent Chinese partners.


Offering bribes in business activities are serious violations in the US. But, not as serious as it is here. Yet accepting them is. So once confirmed, those are serious allegations with legal consequences. Plus, considering the nature of international trade, such violations, once established, may involve betrayal of national interests.


Given the devastating damage to their corporate image, the domestic institutions implicated in the scandals would be well advised to react in their own interest.


Simple denials may not suffice. To back up their claims of innocence, they should be specific and come up with counter-evidence in support of their position.


Meanwhile, if the charge against the research institute, for instance, is untrue, it constitutes libel. Why not consider taking legal action? There is no better way to prove innocence.


Since no word has been heard about the Control Components Inc. revelation, there are mixed expectations about what may or may not be put out by the Chinese firms involved.


We wish they could all stand up to boldly and assuredly announce that they are innocent. Before making such a statement, however, they need to do their homework thoroughly, so that their claim survives deeper scrutiny and questioning.







Just on Saturday night, police in South China's Guangdong province caught 1,162 drink drivers and 78 drunk drivers. Each was punished and all the drunk drivers were taken into custody. Similar checks and arrests were also made in other cities over the weekend.


Saturday was the first day of a two-month-long nationwide campaign launched by the Ministry of Public Security to crack down on drink and drunk driving, after several recent cases in Nanjing, Hangzhou, Chengdu and Shanghai triggered huge media attention and public indignation.


Although many feel that more innocent lives could have been saved if the crackdown had been initiated earlier, they still pin high hopes on this crusade to wipe out the rampant drink and drunk driving and other reckless driving on our roads.


In the first half of this year, 222,000 people on the Chinese mainland were found driving under influence (DUI), up 8.7 percent over the same period last year. In Beijing, DUI was responsible for the loss of 97 lives in accidents during the first six months.


Our roads have simply become the most dangerous in the world. With three percent of the total vehicles in the world, the country accounts for 16 percent of the global traffic deaths.


So the announcement by the Ministry of Public Security last Friday to mete out the toughest punishment to violators is a move in the right direction. It is a move to protect the lives of other people as well as of the drink and drunk drivers themselves.


Of course, this is not the first time that the police force has decided to strike out against DUI. Three campaigns were already held earlier this year. Yet the fact that this phenomenon is still so widespread on our roads shows the need for better strategies.


First, our laws should be made tougher to show zero tolerance to such murderous driving. Many countries, such as the United States, Sweden and Singapore, have stricter punishment for DUI.


Second, police officers should enforce the law at all times and in all places, leaving no gaps of which violators can take advantage. Crackdown on DUI is not something that should be carried out for only two months or for the 60th National Day. It should stay as long as there's dangerous driving on our roads.


Third, while laws and punishments are necessary, we should start educating our population about the threat of DUI on others' lives. While drivers should restrain themselves, our drinking culture, which often means endless rounds of bottoms-up, needs to be checked.


Each year traffic accidents take away more lives in China than any other mishap. An all-out war on drink and drunk driving and other forms of rash driving should definitely be a national priority.







August heralds the start of the annual consultation exercise for the Policy Address to be announced in October. Over the next few weeks, the Chief Secretary for Administration, the Financial Secretary and I will attend over 30 consultation sessions with various community sectors and opinion leaders. My first session will be held this afternoon (Monday).


The backdrop this year is markedly different from that of last year, when the Wall Street crisis had just unleashed the global financial tsunami that engulfed financial markets and severely curtailed business activity. In view of the massive shockwaves buffeting our economy, I set up the Task Force on Economic Challenges (TFEC) to devise immediate relief measures, as well as longer-term plans to help us turn the crisis into an opportunity.


At that time, I predicted that the impact of the crisis would be huge, and that there was not much room to be optimistic for a quick recovery. So, we initiated a wide range of measures to stabilise the financial system, support enterprises and preserve employment. In the Budget last February, we adopted counter-cyclical measures by expanding government expenditure to stimulate the economy. In May, we announced further relief measures.


The latest data indicates that both the external and Hong Kong economies have stabilised, and that our stock and property markets have picked up. Yet, it is not entirely clear whether the global economy has really turned the corner. We must remain cautious and do all that we can to boost economic growth to create a better economic environment for Hong Kong people. This will be the primary focus of my administration in the year to come.


The four pillar industries that have underpinned Hong Kong's success over the years - financial services, tourism, logistics, and business support and professional services - still remain strong advantages. But we need to innovate more to retain a sharp competitive edge over other cities in the region.


We also need to broaden our economic base by promoting diversity to add new impetus for sustainable growth. In this context, the TFEC had made a number of recommendations for promoting and developing six priority areas - educational services, medical services, testing and certification, innovation and technology, cultural and creative industries, and environmental industries. The Government has made an initial response and I intend to elaborate on this topic in my next Policy Address.


Hong Kong must further evolve as a knowledge-based economy to grasp the opportunities open to us. While the six priority industries all contribute to the further development of our knowledge-based economy, the Government has to adopt a new mindset and attitude to promote them.


We are studying the TFEC recommendations, focusing particularly on promoting these six priority industries through land supply and other incentives. I hope the community will give their views on how to develop a knowledge-based economy and the six priority industries during the Policy Address consultation. This includes the Government's role in the process and our development strategies.


Past experience has shown that when the economy was thriving, people felt secure in their jobs, while challenging economic times gave rise to social conflict. And, when the economy revives, we can expect to see the unemployment rate drop and wages start to edge up.

On the jobs front, we should remember that major projects such as those under planning in 2007 - including the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge - will get underway this year. They will provide tremendous employment opportunities during the construction phase, and great economic benefits long after completion of the projects.


Given our strong foundations, coupled with the diligence, resilience and innovative abilities of our people, I am confident that Hong Kong will be among the first economies to rebound in the region when the external economic revival takes hold.


Riding out the current economic storm, and charting new directions for our economy, is a collective effort. It is not something that can be achieved by the Government on its own. It requires the input and dedication of every Hong Kong citizen. A tri-partite collaboration among the Government, the business sector and the community is vital for our economic development.


I need your help to prepare Hong Kong for a new and diversified phase of economic development. We can create our own opportunities - but only if we prepare for them in advance.


The author is the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.










After being away for five years, I was amazed by the much stronger presence of Islam in Indonesian public life when I came home this summer.


Even without including such hot issues as the application of sharia (Islamic law) law in several areas and the significant achievement of Islamic political parties in the last two elections, there are abundant examples: The number of women wearing jilbab (Muslim head scarf) has multiplied, private Islamic schools have quadrupled, various books and CDs on Islam are everywhere, TV channels are filled with Islamic programs and new young da'i (preacher) stars, musholla (smaller mosque) is "required" for every public facility including gas stations, recreation centers, etc.


Surprisingly, especially in urban mosques, during Friday prayers and other occasions, I hear more preachers complaining about the degradation of the faith and the profound secularization/westernization of the society.


In rural areas, I hear many pesantren (Islamic boarding school) leaders complaining about a different issue: The decrease of interest within the community in studying Islamic sciences. Fewer people are sending their children to pesantren. Fewer children are regularly going nightly to their neighborhood mosque to intensively study the religion. Their other concern is the increasing number of narrow-minded Muslims in the country.


What is going on?


Until a few years back, many agreed that the pesantren is the heart of Islamic learning, the pillar of Islamic life in Indonesia. The quality of rural life around pesantren was considered religiously more superior. Pesantren and the accompanying rural life are still central now, but more and more religious "authorities", old and new, are moving into urban areas: Modern Islamic schools, Islamic universities, Islamic banks and hospitals, Muslim associations, Islamic TV stations etc. Urban life, while it is massively westernized, it is also getting Islamized at the same time. Religious authorities in rural areas are finding themselves left behind.


What differentiates urban Muslim from rural Muslims is the awareness of their identity and educational system. Urban Indonesian Muslims are more aware of their identity. They tend to speak of anything "as a Muslim" or "in Islam". They also consciously present Islamic identity and Islamic life style in public space as something required by the religion.


With the tide of Islamization since the 1990s, the pluralistic nature of industrialized urban life, including the strong penetration of the West and other foreign influences, pushes them to overtly demonstrate their religious identity. "Being a good Muslim" is distinctly recognized in every aspect by others. Therefore, their language and other conscious social behaviors are "thick" with Islamic formalism. Urban Islam is a "thick Islam".


Since Islam is a relatively new phenomenon as a key player in Indonesian urban life, many aspects of this thick Islam in fact are acquired through "instant" processes: summer short courses (pesantren kilat), topical training packages, "Sunday" schools etc. The Pesantren's traditional learning system doesn't fit their need.


For busy urbanites, the pesantren system takes too much time, is too complicated and out of date. Also, since many young urban Muslims come from less or non-practicing Muslim families, they are introduced to Islam mostly when they go to public schools or secular universities. Therefore, while it is "thick", the urban Islam is not (yet) a deeply rooted tradition.


Meanwhile "deep Islam" is found in rural areas, where people have been faithfully practicing Islam for generations, many through intensive learning and the sophisticated procedure of reinterpretation taught in pesantren. Unlike urban Muslims, for many rural Muslims, Islam is also practiced more as culture and tradition.


Within a relatively homogenous community, the need to demonstrate Islam as an identity is less relevant. Islam has been part more of an unconscious practice. In many cases they freely adopt cultural form or local wisdom and transform it within Islamic values.


Being a good Muslim doesn't necessarily mean being different from others, but being with/for others to enforce moral principles, for the sake of God. While sometimes their practices are considered un-Islamic in the eyes of urban Muslims, when seen from a different perspective, they represent a more "advanced" Islam.


If the above observation is justified, it is very possible that the trend of practicing Islam in Indonesia is a shifting, from the deep Islam of rural areas to the thick, urban Islam. While now Islam is more observable in public life, if people are more interested in thick Islam, I am afraid, Islam will be more easily manipulated, or worse, abused by power interests.


Among the thick Islamists, religion is strongly perceived as identity in competition or even in opposition to others, political Islam is marketable and the "clash of civilizations" assumption is widely adopted.


This explains why many urban Muslim leaders are so worried about the impacts of secularization and westernization rather than real issues like as economic injustice, political discrimination, education, religious intolerance, etc.


For them Islam is absolutely superior, while secular and Western values are useless, if not completely dangerous. On the other hand, this also explains why rural Muslim leaders feel concerned about the increasing number of narrow-mindedness among Muslims. For them, unfriendly Islam is made possible by this kind of thick Islam.


Of course, we should not be entrapped by into a binary mould of an opposition between thick and deep Islam. With huge challenges ahead and the great potential of Indonesian Muslims, the solution should be multifaceted: The deepening of the thick Islam on the one side and the re-contextualization of deep Islam.


Instead of justifying the tiresome Huntingtonian antagonistic assumption, a multifaceted process might bring about an Islam that is relevant to the real needs of its people, including the promotion of open and sincere dialogue between civilizations.


The writer is President of Nahdlatul Ulama Community in North America and Associate at Dialogue Institute, Temple University, Philadelphia, US.







Terrorists grabbed the headlines again this week. The initial euphoria surrounding the Temanggung raid turned sour when police announced Wednesday that the body found in the ambushed house was not that of Noordin M. Top, the elusive terrorist with a Rp 1 billion bounty on his head. The 16-hour siege of the property on Aug. 8, followed by the raid and destruction as bullets rained down on the small-village home, was broadcast live on television. The body found inside was that of Ibrahim, believed to be Noordin’s accomplish, who worked as a florist at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, one of two targets bombed by terrorists last month. Was it too dangerous to knock on the door of the house in camouflage instead of turning it into a shooting target? Isn’t a specialist terrorist squad trained to do that sort of thing? A day after the raid in the Central Java town, police found 500 kilograms of explosive materials stashed in a house in the West Java town of Bekasi, close to Jakarta, after a shoot out that claimed the lives of two alleged terrorists. Police claim the terrorist suspects, who had rented the home, planned to bomb the residence of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. This statement seemed to echo that of Yudhoyono’s just hours after the July 17 twin-bombing in Jakarta. On that fateful day television footage showed the President pointing to his left cheek and claiming he was a terrorist target. Apart from Yudhoyono’s residence, terrorists were also apparently planning to target the State Palace during the Independence Day ceremony this weekend. On Thursday, police found explosives in a house in Bogor, about 60 kilometers south of Jakarta. Earlier in the week, National Police Chief Gen. Bambang Danuri said that another raid in the Central Java town of Solo had been compromised due to “aggressive reporting” by the media. This is of course possible, but hasn’t Noordin been a fugitive for years, with or without a publicity frenzy? Despite the tireless effort of the police to hunt down the terrorists responsible for the Jakarta twin-bombings that killed nine and wounded 55 people, Noordin could be excused for having the last laugh from his hideout. The week belonged to him and his accomplices. They cast a shadow on news no less significant, including the convention of Asian legislators in Jakarta, the much-awaited verdict of the Constitutional Court on the presidential election disputes, the two-day Golkar meeting charting its post-election political trajectory and the presidential Independence Day speech. The court verdict came as a relief to the election-drained populace who now will not have to vote in another presidential election. An election rerun had been demanded by the losers of the July 8 election, former president Megawati Soekarnoputri and incumbent vice president Jusuf Kalla. Claiming that the election process was riddled with fraud, their campaign teams filed a lawsuit to the court holding the General Elections Commission (KPU) responsible. The court decided there was not enough evidence to support the claims. Both Megawati and Kalla accepted the verdict of the court, with Kalla promptly congratulating Yudhoyono. Megawati has not yet done the same. The incumbent president, who had been declared the winner by the KPU on July 24, won 60 percent of the votes compared to Megawati’s 26 percent and Kalla’s 12 percent. Golkar, the political machine of former president Soeharto, closed their meeting with a set date for its congress in October in Riau. This confirmed observers’ predictions that Golkar would stage its congress before Yudhoyono forms his cabinet some time in October. Normally, Golkar holds this meeting in December, but with an eye on the cabinet minister positions, the party brought this meeting forward. The notion that a defeated party would try and approach the winner may seem unusual for many democratic countries. Unfortunately, that is the tendency of most parties, including those that win very few votes. The jocular term “parnokom”, a short version of “partai nol-koma” (zero-point parties), refers to parties that have won a minuscule percentage of votes and yet still wish to be part of the government. Hopefully this was not the reason behind the absence of the national anthem during the opening of the House of Representatives plenary session Friday. Golkar stalwart and House Speaker Agung Laksono made the House members sing the anthem at the closing of the plenary session instead, claiming he forgot at the opening of the session. As is so often the case, major events come to the fore in the days leading up to independence day. The nation is poised to celebrate its sixty-fourth anniversary, a significant age in Javanese tradition when change began at a rapid pace. Sixty-four years is known as delapan-windu (eight times eight) to the Javanese, the biggest ethnic group in the country. It is reminiscence of the days prior to the proclamation of independence on Aug. 17, 1945, when things seemed to rush from one main event to another. Soekarno and Mohammad Hatta, who were to become the nation’s founding president and vice president respectively, were briefly kidnapped by a group of young freedom fighters on the eve of the proclamation of independence. — HARRY BHASKAR










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