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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

EDITORIAL 19.08.09

 August 19, 2009

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Month August 19, Edition 000275, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

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The Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security represented a tiresome ritual. Yet again the Centre and the States exchanged barbs. Gujarat protested against the denial of presidential assent for a biting anti-terrorism law, passed several times by the State Assembly. More than one State expressed reservation about the National Investigation Agency encroaching upon the federalist character of the Indian Union, since law and order is a State subject. These are not invalid arguments. However, they do not cover the entirety of the national security debate. Certainly, they disguise a lot that the State Governments need to do. True, Gujarat has reason to be particularly upset. Its police force has taken care to improve surveillance, intelligence and investigation methods and was the first in India to uncover Indian Mujahideen operations. The leads Gandhinagar provided led to arrests in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi and follow-up action in Mumbai and Bangalore. Such effort and perseverance deserves to be complemented with a tough anti-terror law. By withholding consent, the UPA Government is being petulant. Even so, this is the story of one State; what are the others doing? It is an open secret that while an Anti-Terrorist Squad exists in almost every major State now, most of these are grossly ineffective, inadequately staffed and under-equipped. The nature of the Government doesn’t matter here. With honourable exceptions, most State Governments have a lot to answer for in terms of augmenting the ATS system. When it comes to Maoists, Andhra Pradesh is the only State with a dedicated anti-insurgency force and, as it has demonstrated, the political will to combat the Left-wing guerrillas. Chhattisgarh has made impressive strides in this direction but has not yet been able to build a force on the lines of Andhra Pradesh’s Greyhounds. Orissa is not even trying. As for West Bengal, a State that faces both Maoist and Islamist threats, its fat and compromised policemen are sitting ducks for an organised attack.

The State Governments will inevitably contend that they have no money and the Centre needs to fund them. This is only half-honest. Even if the Union Government opens up its coffers, what will the States do with the money? Do they have a security apparatus plan? Do they have specific needs and demands that they want to address? Have they tabulated the potential expense? Over the past five years, Chhattisgarh has drawn a tight blueprint for a long-term and sustained endeavour to combat Maoism. This includes enhanced police recruitment, paramilitary-type training for State policemen, buying new weapons to neutralise the rebels’ rocket launchers and assault rifles and even an aviation unit. Have other States done similar homework?

Infrastructure and equipment cost money. Local intelligence gathering is the bare bones of internal security and costs virtually nothing. It is a myth that actionable information on terrorist operations must come only from Delhi or Mumbai. From Hyderabad to Kolkata, Lucknow to Bhopal, there is scope for picking up relevant inputs at the mohalla and community level. This would require political will and dedicated policing. In the United States, the New York Police Department has its own anti-terror intelligence mechanism, quite independent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The underlying belief is that two heads are better than one. Rather than just blame the Home Ministry, India’s States should learn from that mantra.







Two days before Afghanistan goes to polls to elect a President and members of the Provincial Council, the Taliban stepped up its agenda of violence to disrupt the election process. The jihadis have threatened a spate of attacks during the polls. On Tuesday, a suicide car bomber attacked a Nato military convoy in Kabul killing seven persons and injuring at least 50. The fatalities include Nato and UN personnel and civilians who happened to be in the vicinity. Only a few hours before this bombing took place, the Afghan Presidential Palace itself was made the target of rocket attacks. Two rockets with a range of eight to 15 km hit the Presidential Palace compound in the capital city, although no one was hurt. In a third incident, a suicide bomber walked up to an Afghan National Army checkpoint and detonated his explosives-laden vest, killing three soldiers and two civilians. There is no doubt that if the attacks continue with the same amount of intensity, they are bound to have a considerable negative impact on the polls, which might witness low voter turnout and the inability of foreign inspectors to visit polling stations because of security restrictions. This is the last thing that a fledgling democracy like Afghanistan wants. But unfortunately, the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force and the Afghan National Army are caught between a rock and a hard place. With security for the polls being the primary objective in the days ahead, the door has been left ajar for the Taliban to carry out criminal attacks.

In spite of the security challenges, it is important that Afghanistan has free and fair elections to consolidate the gains that the democratic Afghan Government has made in recent years. There are as many as 41 candidates vying for the post of President, many of whom are local warlords and have records that are little better than the Taliban’s. What is required by Afghanistan at this juncture is stability and a certain degree of continuity. In that respect the candidate who is most likely to deliver and further policies that seek to develop Afghanistan both politically and economically is incumbent President Hamid Karzai. Through his previous tenure he has amply displayed the political maturity to handle the complex issues that plague Afghanistan. The only other candidate who comes close to matching Mr Karzai’s political astuteness and diplomatic skills is former Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. It is welcome that the two of them are leading the popularity polls before election day. But whoever comes to power must ensure that the primary focus of the Afghan Government remains on vanquishing the Taliban and shielding Kabul from any interference by Islamabad which is allergic to the very notion of democracy — in Pakistan and elsewhere. The people of Afghanistan must cast their ballots wisely.






Madhav Kumar Nepal, when general secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) was invited to Delhi in 2007 by the Ministry of External Affairs as part of its outreach diplomacy. He told a Delhi-based newspaper that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had counselled strengthening unity among democratic forces, adding “you have the Maoists on board now, that’s a big advantage”. Mr Nepal, back as Prime Minister, will ask Mr Singh to help get the Maoists to join his Government.

India’s backing for his Government is crucial to its strategy of buying time to tame the Maoists as it made a colossal error of judgement in writing off the Maoists in the elections to the Constituent Assembly in which they won more seats than the Nepali Congress and CPN(UML) put together. Worse, National Security Adviser MK Narayanan said that India was “used to working with the Nepali Congress”. Their electoral performance was the decisive turning point in the peace process.

Emboldened by their success and confident of leading the Government till the new Constitution was drafted, the Maoists bungled when their charismatic leader, Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, egged on by party hardliners, dismissed the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Rukmangad Katwal, who was seen to be blocking the Maoist grand plan of dominating all state institutions, including the Army, by resisting the integration of Maoist combatants with the forces, the only organisation not under its domination. President Ram Baran Yadav restoring the COAS was seen by the Maoists as violation of civilian supremacy and reason for Prachanda to resign. In their book, civilian supremacy is tight party control of the Army, the power flowing from the barrel of the gun.

Prachanda’s plans for a ‘new’ Nepal and a socioeconomic revolution went awry when the Maoists crossed the ‘Lakshman Rekha’. How can they change ‘old’ Nepal into ‘new’ Nepal without first changing themselves, is the common refrain. Sacking Gen Katwal, a monumental miscalculation which cost them the Government, was the second turning point of the peace process, ending the period of consensus. Maoist relations with other political parties, the Army and India are the worst ever.

Shock and insecurity at losing power in the name of civilian supremacy has spilled on to the streets and in the Constituent Assembly. Prachanda has vowed that the Maoists will soon return to lead a new national unity Government. It is against this skewed balance of power where the Maoists, the single largest party, are on the streets instead of in the House, that Mr Nepal is in Delhi.

Mr Nepal’s Government requires India’s demonstrable support for its legitimacy and restoring the peace process. In his book, Raj Lives On — India in Nepal, Sanjay Upadhyaya has observed that no one can rule in Nepal without India’s nod and recognising its legitimate security interests. The Maoists apparently don’t think so. They are advocating ‘Looking Beyond India’, accommodating a more assertive China to balance India. Chinese political, military, economic and diplomatic activities and people-to-people contact in Nepal have increased dramatically during the Maoist interregnum.

Through one of their key military leaders, Barsaman Pun (Ananta), the Maoists have indicated that the present standoff can be resolved only on their terms. He says Mr Yadav’s action restoring the sacked Chief of Army Staff is only part of the problem. The Pun panacea prescribes correction of the President’s action through a debate in the House, a new comprehensive peace agreement followed by a Maoist-led national Government.

The longevity of the Nepal Government is irrelevant to the peace process unless there is improvement in the law and order situation, progress in drafting the Constitution and integrating the armies. The new Government has to demonstrate it can govern better than the inexperienced guerrillas-turned-politicians. The Army Integration Special Committee is stuck over the question of its chairmanship — Prachanda, Maoists say, was replaced by Mr Nepal without consulting them. Constitution-drafting is marking time.

The Maoists are sulking and still cannot be trusted over their commitment to rule of law, multi-party democracy and human rights — in short, they have failed to transform from a guerrilla force into a political outfit. They remain on the US Terrorist Exclusion List and according to former US Ambassador Nancy Powell, the Young Communist League has obstructed Constitution-writing. India, the architect of the historic 2005 Delhi Accord which axed monarchy, is following the US way: Judge the Maoists by their deeds and not words.

Maoist-India relations have plummeted with Prachanda accusing India of installing a puppet regime, even plotting with the US to attack China. High-decibel anti-India sentiment draped in nationalism is being whipped up which is nothing new for Delhi.

Charges of Indian interference and anti-Indianism have to be managed, sometimes ignored.

Clearly, things will get worse before they get better. Mr Nepal cannot perform effectively without the Maoists on board the peace process which is linked with the United Nations Mission in Nepal on its fourth extension, overseeing the integration of armies. India has lost ground in Nepal and Sri Lanka by neglect of the neighbourhood. Given Nepal’s location, it is crucial to the security of the strategic Indo-Gangetic plains. Equally, reaching out to the Maoists and reducing the trust deficit are pivotal.

While Mr Nepal can be lavished with all the political confidence, economic goodies and assurances of cooperation, these will not operationalise the peace process. Nepalis feel India has a moral duty to break the political impasse. The Maoists require to be placated over civilian supremacy — though CPN(UML) leader KP Oli says their civilian supremacy is with YCL — integration, including restoring Prachanda’s chairmanship of AISC, and other inducements. New red lines have to be drawn over Chinese penetration into Nepal and activities of the YCL as part of a new Delhi Accord.

The Maoists have outlined two options: A Prachanda-led Government or revolt, and have discounted a third option. But there is one: Maoists joining the current Government. This requires to be worked out.

A high-level India-Maoist back-channel dialogue addressing issues holding up the peace process is urgently needed. Another mechanism is required to fix a disturbed Madhes which has around 109 armed groups, many of which simply comprise criminals. Mr Nepal must go back reassured that India has Nepal’s core interests at heart while facilitating a restart of the peace process.







On June 12 the World Health Organisation, declared a swine flu pandemic — the first global flu epidemic in 41 years. This does not imply that swine flu virus is lethal but its spread is considered unstoppable. Being a global disease, India could not have been immune to the virus, but it did have the time to equip itself against the disease. Several newspapers carried reports predicting the probability of swine flu entering the country. Sooner or later it was going to happen. But it was only when the electronic media picked up the story after a 14-year-old girl died of it in Pune that people began to panic. Human tragedy turned into human drama by television channels, obsessed with ‘breaking news’ had its desired effect.

However, it’s idealistic to say that ‘people should not panic’ and ‘media must educate the masses’. With the death toll rising every day across the country, it is only natural that individuals should begin to worry. This fear is aggravated into mass panic as the public healthcare cannot be trusted.

Undeniably, there is a general perception among the people that public health facilities are sub-standard — Government hospitals invariably suffer from acute shortage of para-medics and doctors; even if they exist on rolls, they are absent from work. There is acute scarcity of medicines.

Even after 62 years of independence India contributes to a fifth of the world’s share of diseases; a third of diarrhoeal diseases, TB, respiratory, and other infections and parasitic infestations, perinatal conditions, a quarter of maternal conditions, a fifth of nutritional deficiencies, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. India has the second largest number of HIV/AID patients after South Africa, according to Report of National Commission on Macroeconomics and health. A study conducted by the World Bank shows absenteeism ranges between 40 per cent and 50 per cent among doctors working in primary health centres.

These grim facts prevent individuals from trusting Government hospitals.

However, the Union Health Ministry has done a fine job in issuing necessary guidelines on how to deal with swine flu. But integrating palliative care into the primary health care system is a State Government’s job. At the local level the need to priortise the health sector, therefore, should be well-recognised, especially when there is no dearth of funds to do so. In the midst of panic, increasing access to basic health care is the need of the hour.








How best to make sense of the Indian paradox requires rigorous logic and transcendent intuition. A nation state and a civilisation, it encapsulates contrasting time scales: Medievalist mindsets and modernity exist cheek by jowl, as do feudalism, nascent and advanced industrialisation, underpinned by sophisticated science and technology. This, in sum, is a society of diverse tongues and ethnicities in transition on a grand scale held together by a political system seemingly born before its time, if one is to use the yardstick of the Western and Japanese experiences, where epochal material and social advances preceded the arrival of universal adult franchise and its concomitant. English journalist Ian Jack relates an encounter with an Indian railway official in Dhanbad, a colliery town in Jharkhand, overseeing freight traffic to all corners of the country. The man asked: Could he, the foreign traveller, think of “any country, at any time in its history, which had achieved these three things simultaneously: One, a dynamic economy; two, a redistribution of wealth and justice; three, a fair and law-abiding democracy?” The jury is still out.

I was drawn to the subject by a radio discussion on the present state on the Arab world. The United Nations had requested a panel of distinguished Arabs to draw up an assessment. Their report was damning: The region was hobbled by the highest unemployment rate of any in the world; its education system was the poorest and its gender inequalities the widest. Asked for his comments, Mr Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League, blamed the Israeli occupation, before the impatient BBC interlocutor cut him short, his vacuity impossible to digest.

‘Hindu India’ commenced its long journey to recovery from its historic wounds in the early years of the 19th century: Social reform, cultural renewal and the denouement of political emancipation led to an invigorated search for liberation in its truest sense, one that is far from over, yet provides hope for the future even amid the travails of the present. So democracy was tried in the first hours of India’s bloodstained birth, and who would deny that it hasn’t worked well, warts and all. The foundations of a modern industrialised economy were laid through trial and error; and the establishment of science and technology became a visionary exercise that has repaid the initial investment many times over. Much of politics and the media are vaudeville, admittedly, but more to the point, India has defied the prognostications of the doomsayers, who seeing through their glass, darkly, proclaimed famine, war, and dissolution to a world unconvinced of India’s permanence.

India’s leaders at independence laid down the navigational chart for the cross-currents and myriad obstructions of international politics. Non-Alignment was simply code for the national interest: Ends have justified the means, as India surmounts the challenges that face it. Reviewing former US diplomat Teresita Schaffer’s book, India and the United States in the 21st Century: Reinventing Partnership, the Financial Times correspondent in America, Edward Luce, writes: “With a hint of admiration, of the the advantages accruing to India in the Indo-US civilian nuclear accord, of President Obama’s inability or unwillingness to roll-back those of its provisions out of sync with his NPT instincts”. As an unnamed White House adviser put it: “On almost every global challenge you look at, whether it is climate change, combating terrorism, managing the rise of China, building the G20, or reforming international finance, India is one of our five most important interlocutors.”

Despite deepening Indo-US ties, “India is no budding UK, and any US policymaker who believes New Delhi will act as a lieutenant for US interests has been smoking something herbal,” comments Mr Luce wryly.

The sixty-four thousand dollar question is, would India be where it is without partition? Highly unlikely, I would say. The Indo-Pakistan civilisation divide was too elemental to bridge. Consider Lebanon’s Constitution drawn up in 1943: The confessional paradigm vested the office of President in the Maronite Christian community, the Prime Minister with the Sunni Muslims, and the speaker of Parliament with the Shias. The country has been reduced today to competing confessional anarchies. A similar fate surely would have befallen undivided India.

The Pakistan-inspired Pathan tribal invasion of Kashmir in 1947 was a foretaste of the future that awaited the country. “(They) entering our church desecrated it, destroying all the sacred images, the tabernacle, vestments and candles... They carried all sorts of implements — guns, swords, knives and axes and bayonets, and the tips of their spears and bayonets dripped with blood...” (Frank Moraes, Times of India, April 14, 1957, recounting a nun’s tale).

A quarter century later, followed the Pakistani genocide in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and the war with India, hailed at the time (December 1971) as a jihad. An aide in the presidential secretariat, in Islamabad, informing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the principal of that conflict, that he would soon be Prime Minister “to our great delight” went on to advise that “once the back of Indian forces has been broken in the East, Pakistan should occupy the whole of eastern India and make it a permanent part of East Pakistan... This will also provide a link with China... Sikh Punjab should be turned into Khalistan.”

The deluded Bhutto ranted: “Great and terrible scourges have come to India from this side... every invasion from this side has defeated India... Thus the terror, fear and habit of defeat cannot be wiped out of their national memory overnight... And we have ruled them for eight centuries... the Indian masses are just now struggling against the legacy of superstition, religious intolerance, caste system, racial animosities... poverty, backwardness... ignorance, deceit and the unconquerable habit of servility and submission.” (From the Bhutto archive quoted in Stanley Wolpert’s biography)

VP Menon, Sardar Vallabbhai Patel’s senior-most aide, warned the Indian Government in 1947 in the aftermath of the Kashmir invasion: “The raiders are a grave threat to the integrity of India. Ever since the time of Mahmud of Ghazni... Srinagar today, Delhi tomorrow! A nation that forgets its history and its geography does so at its peril.”

Partition, not its bloodbath, saved India. Charles Martel defeated the invading Saracens at Tours in 732 and rescued France for Europe and civilisation; the Polish king Jan Sobieski, rendered a similar service in 1683 on the outskirts of Vienna, where he turned the Turkish Ottoman tide with his rout of Kara Mustapha’s marauding horde. It signalled the beginning of the Ottoman Empire’s terminal decline. India’s victory over Pakistan at the gates was also a nemesis for barbarism.








The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s India Chapter report on the extent of religious freedom in India released last week was an unwelcome ‘gift’ to India on the eve of its 62nd Independence Day. The report deserves to be flung into the nearest trash bin not because its prejudiced contents are predictable but because it’s the latest instance of America’s self-arrogated right to meddle with a sovereign republic’s internal affairs.

India firmly refused to issue visas to the USCIRF team despite recurrent requests earlier this year. This is entirely consistent with our time-honoured tradition of disallowing such intrusive adventures by foreign powers. The fact that the USCIRF’s India Chapter has released its report without first-hand experience of the situation here further bolsters its non-existent credibility. The 14-page report mentions the visa denial in a footnote, a clever ploy to make it appear as if the team studied things on the field.

Perusing the report confirms suspicions: It is based on a mix of hearsay, biased media reports, ‘verdicts’ of the Gujarat NGO cottage industry, and exhibits a total absence of the historical sense required to analyse socio-religious dynamics. Which makes it cushy to draw this conclusion: Hindu organisations are always the perpetrators of every act of societal conflagration. The USCIRF seems to have drawn this conclusion first and then sewn the ‘facts’ to arrive at it.

A news report in May had predicted that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was a likely target of the USCIRF’s visit. The report doesn’t disappoint. It dedicates an entire page to chastise Mr Modi, based on untrustworthy media reports. The USCIRF relies on Tehelka to “(reveal) the complicity of Mr Narendra Modi...” and calls upon the Government to “Ensure that any efforts to bring a case against Mr Modi are allowed to proceed in accordance with the law.” It is important to note the USCIRF’s duplicity here: The Indian Government is yet to take an official position on Tehelka’s “revelations” on Mr Modi. But the USCIRF decides that it is gospel truth! Second, how does the USCIRF assume the right to dictate the Indian Government to ensure that a case is framed against Mr Modi?

The report also repeats the same falsehoods about the Gujarat episode:


A fire on a train resulted in the death of 58 Hindus returning from Ayodhya. It appears that the compartment lit itself!


2,000 Muslims dead in the riots. It’s hard to believe that the USCIRF hasn’t heard of Mr Sri Prakash Jaiswal’s (then Union Minister of State for Home) May 2005 report, which gives the following numbers: 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus dead, and 223 injured.


No rehabilitation of riot victims: The Gujarat Government has published detailed figures explaining the nature and amount of compensation provided to riot victims irrespective of religion.

The USCIRF follows the secular script in writing on the Hindu-Christian violence in Orissa and Karnataka. This script has some of its roots in the Graham Staines case, where Staines was painted as a sainted martyr with Dara Singh as his heartless butcher. No mention of the disruptive effect of wanton conversions as the cause for fake martyrdom. But opposing licentious conversions violates religious freedom! Understandably, the report devotes over two pages to this. To its eternal disgrace, the USCIRF actually blames Swami Lakshamananda Saraswati for “fomenting and encouraging... violence against Christians…” Can we interpret this to mean “and, therefore, he deserved to be murdered?”

What Orissa and Karnataka continue to witness is a widely-repeated phenomenon: Societal violence eventually occurs wherever Evangelists accelerate their conversion efforts. When they wean sufficient numbers away from their ancestral faith, they pit these neo converts against members of their erstwhile faith.

But the USCIRF pontificates on religious freedom while studiously ignoring real evidence from the other side. The 58 Hindus roasted alive, tribals coerced into Christianity, and Hindu gods abused as prostitutes’ sons have neither rights nor religious freedom.


The USCIRF was set up in 1998 by Mr Bill Clinton who gave in to the pressure of the powerful Christian evangelical lobby. Most of the USCIRF appointees have the direct blessings of these evangelist groups. Its definition of ‘religious freedom’ includes unimpeded rights to convert populations at will without any respect for local customs and laws. Therefore, it is entirely consistent that one of the stronger recommendations of the India Chapter report urges the Indian Government to relax or do away with anti-conversion laws. It is also not coincidental that Pakistan and China don’t figure on the USCIRF ‘watch list’.

India shouldn’t recognise the self-righteous pronouncements of an agenda-driven body. One of the USCIRF’s goals is to give policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress. At best, the report is another method to gather intelligence about other countries.

India’s response was predictably weak. The right response was to give it the drubbing it deserves. But we have a vacillating Prime Minister who seeks US sanction for every action. Ironically, many Indian leaders turn to eminence in the US who have links with the USCIRF worthies for ‘advice’ on national security!

Communal violence in India is real but we don’t need ill-informed report writers in the US to tell us about it or what we need to do about it.






The Su-47 Berkut fighter jet will be a frontrunner at the 8th international air show in Zhukovsky near Moscow, which is set to attract a large number of specialist and spectators alike, writes Ilya Kramnik

The 8th international air show MAKS 2009 opens in Zhukovsky near Moscow on August 18. The show, popular amongst specialists and spectators alike, will provide a lot of pageantry despite the global economic crisis.

Both military and civilian aircraft, including the latest French fighter jet Rafale, will take to the skies from the airfield of the Gromov Flight Research Institute. Flying aerobatic teams — Russia’s Swifts, Russian Knights and Falcons of Russia, the Frecce Tricolori from Italy and the French Patrouille de France — will show their skills. In addition to the latest aircraft and helicopters, restored or rebuilt World War II models will also fly.

Most flights, however, will take place on the opening day, August 18, and during the last three days of the show — from August 21 to 23. On August 19 and 20, the so-called “business days”, flying will be performed only from 2 pm to 5 pm.

The hit of the show will be a large Russian Air Force contract for the purchase of combat planes, expected to be signed in the first days of the event.

The value of the contract stands at $ 3 billion and will cover 48 Su-35BM fighter jets, four Su-30M2 fighter jets and 12 Su-27SM fighter jets. The Su-35BMs and Su-30M2s are being produced for the first time and their deliveries will continue through 2015, while the Su-27SM is an upgrade of the basic model Su-27.

The upgrading of Su aircraft began in 2006. Currently, the Air Force has two air regiments (48 aircraft), equipped with upgraded fighters. Purchases of this type of aircraft will continue.

The Su-35BM, which is the latest state-of-the-art product of Sukhoi company, will be demonstrated in flight for the first time. At the previous show, it was on static display. This airplane, similar to the basic Su-27, carries the latest onboard electronic equipment, and is powered by high-thrust and long-life engines, with the capacity to be armed with the most up-to-date weapons.

Russians will also see for the first time a civilian airliner, the Sukhoi Superjet, in flight. At the Paris show in Le Bourget in 2009, it was the main premiere. This short-haul airliner, a cooperative product of several countries, is to start service on international routes at the end of the year. More than 120 of them have already been ordered, while Sukhoi Civilian Aircraft expects to sell no less than 1,000.

At the same time, however, the fifth-generation fighter, being developed under the (PAK FA) Advanced Tactical Frontline Fighter programme, will not be shown. It is expected to make its maiden flight in the fall of this year. Instead, MAKS organisers will demonstrate a frontrunner, which served as a ‘flying laboratory’ and a ‘technology test bed’ for the 5G plane: The Su-47 Berkut fighter jet with a forward-swept wing, built in the 1990s.

The show will also feature other aerospace products: Unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters, missiles of different types, air defence systems, and components — from navigation systems to engines. More than 700 companies from 34 countries will display their wares at the show.

The show is not expected to beat records of attendance or sales — the global economic crisis has hit the aerospace industry badly, and it is at a low ebb in all countries now. Knowing this, however, is unlikely to prevent visitors from feeling the delight at the wonderful Moscow international air show.

 The writer is military affairs columnist based in Moscow.







The outcry by politicians and media over Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s 66-minute detention at the Newark airport in New Jersey is indeed an overreaction.

Khan was detained by a US immigration officer as name similar to his name came up on a computer alert list with the United States’ security agencies.

One must not forget that terrorism is a global threat and America, post 9/11, has aggressively mobilised its defenses at home. This is the reason that not even a single terror attack has taken place thereafter.

Khan and other VIPs should in no manner construe security measures as racial profiling or humiliation of any kind as every country has its set of security regulations which need to be abided by its own citizens as well as people visiting from other countries. Similarly, the US has its laws in place regarding terrorism. All its citizens willingly comply with these laws as they understand that their safety, security and lives depend on their compliance.

Recently, actor Irrfan Khan came out in public and complained that he too was questioned not once but twice. Indian actors, cricketers, industrialists and other VIPs should not expect to be recognised in other countries and make unreasonable demand of ‘special’ treatment.

Unlike the US, India continues to be a victim of repeated terror attacks. But in India a VIP syndrome has developed which compromises the fight against terrorism. Many persons have begun to demand special treatment and VIP status disregarding the serious concerns about terrorism. But Mr Robert Vadra has been exempted from frisking.

Instances of intolerance of Parliamentarians and others in dealing with public servants have also come to light and there have been cases of public servants having been slapped.

The demand for VIP status has led to the addition of many unauthorised persons to those who are protected by the Government. Such protection must be confined to those facing a genuine threat. Those who advocate the ‘aam admi’ should live by the same standards. In a democracy all citizens are equal and it is not proper for some to demand special treatment. There is no need to make a song and dance about Shah Rukh Khan’s security check. When former President APJ Abdul Kalam was frisked at IGI Airport in New Delhi, he did not make a fuss rather gracefully complied. It was others who raised the issue.

There has been no let up in terrorist activity in the country in the last several years and they have even dared to attack India’s Parliament. The worst attack in recent years took place on 26/11 in Mumbai. Though the Ram Pradhan Inquiry committee report has not yet been tabled in the Maharashtra Assembly, some facts about terrorist activity in India are clear. With funds from foreign sources funding terrorist activity, there are aspects that require a thorough investigation.

India must take a cue from the US and frame strict laws to fight terrorism and ensure effective intelligence-gathering. It must not hesitate to interrogate suspected terrorists and foreigners. Security checks must be enforced strictly. The Government must apply the rules and regulations made to fight terrorism to all citizens uniformly and the VIP culture must be given the go-by. There must be no laxity in the fight against terrorism. This is not a matter for promoting personal egos.








The BJP increasingly resembles a ship without a compass. The captain seems to have lost control and the crew is restless. Decisions taken by party president Rajnath Singh are openly flouted. The rebellion in the Rajasthan unit is symbolic of the party's inability to come to terms with its electoral losses and gain acceptance for its new leadership.

Given that Rajnath doesn't have the stature of a Vajpayee or an Advani to enforce his decisions within the party, his best bet was to adopt a consensual approach and present a collective leadership. That doesn't seem to be his style, which has backfired on the party. Vasundhara Raje's supporters have threatened to split the BJP and float a separate party if she is asked to resign as the leader of opposition in the Rajasthan assembly. Raje has since clarified that she's not exploring such options, but the BJP has a history of ambitious state leaders taking on the central leadership and splitting the party. Stalwarts like Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharati couldn't make a mark as independent leaders, but their rebellion hurt the party in their strongholds.

The crisis in the BJP has turned serious because of the leadership's failure to fix accountability for the electoral loss. When senior leaders like Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie raised the issue, the central leadership avoided a debate. Not surprisingly, Rajnath's attempt to ask Raje to account for the party's losses in the assembly elections and the Lok Sabha poll was rebuffed. Accountability has to be enforced all round, not in selected quarters. If senior leaders are unwilling to take responsibility for their acts, it is even more difficult for the leadership to crack down on middle-rung functionaries and cadres.

The task of the leadership may have become even more difficult with Jaswant Singh's endorsement of Muhammad Ali Jinnah's secular credentials. The party had adopted a resolution in 2005 that blamed Jinnah for India's Partition after Advani spoke favourably of the Pakistani leader. Advani was also made to step down as party president after his remarks. How the party leadership will deal with Jaswant's echo of Advani's summation of Jinnah's politics will be a test of the party's managerial skills. It is not an easy challenge to balance the liberalism of some of its leaders with the party's conservative ideology. A collective effort from its leaders is necessary if the BJP has to survive this critical phase. There's plenty for the party to debate as they begin the Shimla baithak this week.







The prime minister warns that terrorists might stage more 26/11-style attacks. While this is disturbing, there's also need to focus on a less in-your-face form of violence the country faces. With many states reporting large hauls of fake notes, the counterfeit currency racket has returned to give law enforcers sleepless nights. Fake note seizures have reportedly seen a sharp spike following the Mumbai terror attack. Worryingly, the CBI reveals that certain security features of a secret template for making genuine currency have been leaked. Worse, with increased tech-savvy on the part of forgers, it's become hard to tell real from fake.

An RBI-constituted panel recommends note-sorting machines at bank branches and in-built detectors in ATMs as countermeasures. These are good ideas, aiming at quick detection of funny money infiltrating the banking system. Another suggestion is that cash transactions be reduced in favour of cards and e-payment. Given India's socio-economic diversity and widespread financial illiteracy, such a shift can only be gradual. More urgent is to introduce new security features in currency notes, since the 2005 template stands compromised. Periodic upgrade of security configurations is essential to stay ahead of the forgers' game. In the US, it's standard practice. Reassuringly, the government is reportedly working on identifying new security features and plans a state-of-the-art facility to make currency note paper.

Unlike with the sought-after dollar or euro, economic subversion and/or terror funding are the rupee-counterfeiters' main aims. Busts appear to indicate a Pakistani connection. But New Delhi should spend less time haranguing Islamabad and more on boosting vigilance, including beefing up border security and customs to check smuggling. Some government representatives suggest indigenising the presently outsourced manufacture of currency printing paper, incorporating security features, and ink. It's believed these are finding their way from Europe to destinations where they are being put to anti-India uses. India has rightly resolved to raise the matter at global forums. It must also pursue broader international cooperation, including seeking know-how on making currency forgery-proof.

For a fast-growing developing nation, the counterfeit trade's social impact is no less destabilising. When junk money is circulated by unwitting conduits, the aam aadmi is badly hit by the economic consequences. Apart from strengthening financial institutions, the authorities must educate the public on how to recognise fake notes. People must be incentivised to come forward when finding fakes in their possession. Incidents of undue police harassment have merely led to the problem of under-reporting of cases.








"Family law is undoubtedly most important among the civil laws. Conscious of its primacy, Islam had prescribed a law based on right principles, and Muslims had received a family code that was useful, complete and comprehensive...but unfortunately this law became victim of 'Mohammedan Law' (Muslim Personal Law) and has become so distorted that now there exists a remote resemblance between the two. The law as applicable in the name of Shariat is neither useful nor comprehensive. In fact, no other law has so adversely affected the social life of Muslims. Today, there should be hardly any Muslim family among whose members someone's life has not been ruined by this pernicious law.''

This scathing attack on the Muslim Personal Law was not penned by any modern, liberal thinker but by Maulana Maudoodi, the founder of Jamaat Islami, whose members in India are ardent votaries of the impugned law.

One cannot agree more with the observation of the Law Commission in its 277th report that "traditional understanding of Muslim law on bigamy is gravely faulty and conflicts with true Islamic law in letter and spirit". Based on this understanding the commission has rightly proposed insertion of a new clause in Hindu law to ensure that the provision for bigamy in Muslim law is not taken advantage of by non-Muslims who, allured by this law, resort to sham conversion.

But what defies logic is that if the Muslim law on bigamy as practised in India is faulty and conflicts with true Islamic law, then who is more in need to be saved from its consequences few non-Muslims who mischievously try to abuse this faulty provision or the Muslim community which, according to Maulana Maudoodi, has suffered so much that in each family one or the other person's life has been ruined by it?

Law Commission member Tahir Mahmood, who is an expert on Muslim law, argued in this column (August 12) that "conscious of the religious sensitivities of the Muslim society in respect of personal law, the commission did not touch upon misuse of Islamic law on bigamy by born Muslims themselves, which is not unknown". It is a clear recognition that there is misuse of Islamic law by those who are born Muslims, but it is the perceived 'religious sensitivity' that has kept the commission from making any observation on the need to put an end to this practice and bring the law in conformity with the letter and spirit of true Islamic law, as the commission sees it.

What does it mean? Does the commission hold that someone born Muslim can misuse "true Islamic law" with impunity and the newly-converted cannot? It is a travesty of not only the principle of equality but also of the morality of any Law Commission. If the Law Commission genuinely believes that the "traditional understanding of Muslim law on bigamy is gravely faulty and conflicts with true Islamic law" then it had the moral and legal duty to make recommendations to revisit the law and leave the question of religious sensitivity to the government to handle. How the Law Commission can hold that it aims to prevent misuse of a certain law only by one section of society and not by others is baffling.

There is no doubt that contrary to popular perception marriage norms prescribed by the Quran is monogamy, and the permission for polygamy in extraordinary circumstances is laced with conditions difficult for any ordinary human being to satisfy. According to the commentators of Quran, the two verses (4.2-3) that permit conditional polygamy were promulgated on the occasion of the battle of Uhud, which had wiped out more than one-tenth of the nascent Muslim community of Medina and had left behind a large number of orphans and widows. The subject matter of these verses is welfare of war widows and orphans and polygamy is mentioned merely as an instrument to take care of these hapless individuals.

On the other hand, right from the story of creation, the Quran speaks of man and his wife, not wives. In fact, in a positive command it says: "Marry those among you who are single" (24.32). Elsewhere it says: "God has not made for any man two hearts in his (one) body" (33.4) The stand of the Law Commission to refrain from making any recommendation to update Islamic law on bigamy, which it believes is faulty, is itself problematic not only from a legal and constitutional perspective but also from an Islamic viewpoint.

The Quran abhors the tendency to ignore the truth for fear of offending popular opinion. It says: "Were you to follow the common run of those on earth, they will lead you away from the path of God" (6.116). This argument is buttressed by a prophetic tradition reported by Ibn Maja. It goes like this: "Let no one humiliate himself. When asked how does one humiliate himself? The Prophet said: 'When someone sees an occasion to speak for the sake of God, but does not'."







Shah Rukh Khan's recent detention at Newark airport is a stern wake-up call to hapless global travellers. Actually, all global travellers these days are rather hapless. As though losing all our baggage every now and then is not punishment enough for crossing the seas, we have to master the art of reassuring immigration officers of various nations that we are the genuine stuff. Here are some tips. To prove that you are American at heart, casually pop a wad of chewing gum into your mouth and speak with a Texan drawl. If this is not convincing enough, try Jacko's moonwalk, which is quite easily done if you stand still on the moving baggage conveyor belt. It is also an appropriate dance form in immigration zones at airports which, like the late singer's famous home, are a sort of neverland. One of my friends travelling in Russia and seeking space for his large steel trunk once revealed to the conductor of a crowded bus that he was an Indian snake charmer, and that his bag contained two fine king cobras. He got plenty of space instantly for baggage and for himself. This would be equally effective at airports, though immigration and customs officers are made of sterner stuff and are always on the lookout for snakes in the grass.

Yet another friend always travelled post-9/11 with two photographs in his wallet, those of Baywatch star Pamela Anderson and Bollywood actress Helen. His sound logic is that anyone who carries such voluptuous women around cannot be a suicide bomber or even a bad man at heart. An additional point he mentioned in support of this thesis is that ultra-religious terrorist groups don't permit any of their members to carry such severely irreligious pictures anyway. When he last used this technique with a doubtful airport official carrying out a security check in a small communist country, the official took a close look, then an even closer look and confiscated both photographs immediately. The pictures haven't been heard of since, but my friend cleared that security check in record time. Don't ever try lines like, "I know your prime minister very well", airport officials are entirely allergic to them. However, if you are a young woman, this line may work in Italy, since people there will believe just about anything about their energetic leader Silvio Berlusconi, as long as it concerns young women.








What was the idea behind Kandahar Treasure?

It started as an income generation project for women in Kandahar by making beautiful hand-embroidered products. The idea from its inception was to make the project a self-sustaining profitable business venture by women for women. After five years it has become more than a development project. When we women, just women, gather to speak our minds about our daily insecurities and injustices, we collectively come up with ideas and solutions to our daily problems and the problems of the society at large. We often sit and talk about what "if we had the power..."

Although we work, our women out of fear of the unknown do not publicly state where they work. They come to work in fear. We constantly face threats so much that we fear we may become "collateral" damage in a suicide attack or otherwise. This insecurity is our biggest fear and threat.

Do you think the US should review its Afghanistan policy?

The new policy of the US towards Afghanistan and Pakistan is a step towards recognising Pakistan's involvement in the mess in Afghanistan and the region. But the US must fully admit its involvement in the creation of the insurgency in this region (i.e. financing Pakistan which led to the creation of the Taliban). The US must wake up to Pakistan's false promises and commitments.

How do you explain the resurgence of the Taliban?

When the government fails to provide basic services and justice to the people, it is only natural that they change their allegiance to forces even as evil as the Taliban. People compare the days of the Taliban rule to today's governance and they come to the very basic point that during the Taliban regime there was at least security and some kind of justice provided to the masses. This current government, despite the assistance provided by the world, has failed to provide even basic services to the people.

Will the coming elections change matters?

People were much more excited during the last elections as they were still hopeful about their country. In the South, elections are based on tribal affiliations and those with power and money become "winners" of seats. Many of the candidates have blood on their hands. Therefore, many people are not even participating in the elections. They have lost faith in this process. With high levels of illiteracy (around 90 per cent), can we expect the masses to understand the true principles of democracy? Many people say, "No matter who comes to power, things will not change for us!"







The Jinnah djinn is out of the BJP bottle, yet again. And the question remains: who's going to put it back? Indeed, does it need to be put back? Four years after L K Advani faced flak from his partymen for having praised Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Father of Pakistan, for his 'secular' credentials, former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh has raised saffron hackles with his new book, Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence, in which he has hailed the creator of Pakistan as a 'great man' who has been 'demonised' by India.


In his book - whose launch was conspicuously shunned by his fellow saffronites - Jaswant claims that far from having to be wrested from India, Pakistan was more or less handed over to Jinnah by Congress leaders like Nehru and Sardar Patel. In a TV interview, the former external affairs minister said, "Gandhi himself called Jinnah a great Indian", and went on to add that Indian Muslims have been treated like 'aliens'.


What is perplexing here is not Jaswant's endorsement of Jinnah, or his stirring of the simmering communal cauldron by his reference to the 'alien' treatment meted out to the Muslims in India (an opinion which many share with him, though for very different reasons). What is truly perplexing is the adverse reaction of the sangh parivar - the BJP and the RSS - to Jaswant's assertions.


It is obvious that both these organisations, which supposedly stand for Hindu nationalism, need to be educated - or at least re-educated - in the finer points of realpolitik by their seemingly errant colleague. By simultaneously praising Jinnah and laying the blame for the Partition of the subcontinent on the ineptitude and intransigence of the Congress, Jaswant has with a single master stroke established two very significant rallying points for the BJP, which is in disarray after its disastrous showing in the last polls and its ongoing internal wrangling with former Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje.


By holding the Congress responsible for Partition, Jaswant has opened a new flank of attack on the BJP's chief adversary against whom the saffronites have long levelled the charge of pseudo-secularism. If the creation of Pakistan - and the consequent turmoil and strife that it has generated for over 60 years on the subcontinent, including the 'alienation' of Indian Muslims - can be laid at the doorstep of the Congress, its supposed pseudo-secularism will be made clear for all to see. Hold the Congress responsible for Partition and - bingo! - you can blame it for everything: the three wars with Pakistan, the nuclear arms race, the Kashmir problem, Godhra, the post-Godhra riots, the resistible rise of Narendra Modi, the works. It's all the fault of the Congress, which by pressing the button on Partition set the whole infernal machine in motion.


That's one part of Jaswant's two-pronged strategy: make the Congress a scapegoat for the genesis of communalism. The second part was unwittingly stumbled upon by a Congress spokesman who, with heavy sarcasm, described the BJP as the Bharatiya Jinnah Party - little realising that this is precisely what it is and what it has to be. For Jinnah, the so-called founder of Pakistan, could just as easily be called the founder - or father - of the BJP and the rest of the parivar. Because if someone like Jinnah - and his creation of Pakistan - hadn't existed the saffron brigade would have had to invent him in order to find a reason for its own existence. Fanaticism - in whatever form - always thrives on an equal and opposite fanaticism, each feeding on the other.


Without Pakistan, the saffron forces of 'cultural nationalism' would have no ideological leg to stand on. Hats off to Jaswant for being the first person in the parivar to see this patent truth and publicly embrace it. Without Jinnah, there would have been no BJP. No wonder Jaswant's impassioned plea of Mujhe Jinnah doh.









On one level, discussions about threats to India’s internal security are depressingly familiar. Every chief ministers’ meeting on the topic revolves around the same three threats: Pakistani-supported terrorists, Northeastern insurgents and Naxalites. Every meeting discusses the need to bolster the country’s sorry police forces, improve intelligence gathering and sharing, and put together a better security infrastructure. There are also debates, repeated ad nauseam every year, about what to do with uncooperative neighbouring states when it comes to terrorism, how to address the socio-economic disparities that drive the Naxalite movements, and the ethnic subnationalisms of the hill areas.


Nonetheless, the shock of the Mumbai 26/11 terrorist attack has on paper resulted in a number of administrative changes. The creation of the multi-agency centres, for example, has provided an institutional means for intelligence sharing.


However, since their functioning is shrouded in secrecy, how much sharing actually takes place is difficult to assess. The more complex issue of intelligence reform is harder to assess. There is no clear evidence whether the intelligence agencies’ over-dependence on electronic intelligence and bitter inter-agency rivalry has been addressed in any substantial manner. Nothing positive can be said about the police, the basic brick and mortar of national security. Poorly equipped and trained, intimidated by even local criminals let alone politicians, it is no surprise that over 230,000 police posts remain vacant in the Centre and state forces. Home Minister P. Chidambaram was making a huge understatement when he said that “police reforms have not received the attention they deserve.”


It is the issues beyond the merely administrative that Indians should worry about the most. Naxalism and Northeastern insurgency depend on long-term corrective measures. The slow spread of the economic growth story into the so-called “red corridor” will in time undermine the former. Northeastern insurgency is increasingly only a story about bits of Assam and Manipur. Nothing so positive can be said about the source of terrorism in India. Earlier this year while referring to Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said, “the more fragile a government, the more it tends to act in an irresponsible fashion.” That fragility has only increased in Pakistan. Unsurprisingly he has warned that irresponsibility, carrying RDX and Kalashnikovs, is likely to increase.












Like the spider in the nursery rhyme ‘Little Miss Muffet’, M.A. Jinnah seems to have the unnerving habit of popping up at the side of various BJP leaders. Only unlike the little girl who fled at the sight of the arachnid, our BJP worthies seem to embrace the father of the Pakistani nation. After poor L.K. Advani was pilloried for uttering the ‘J’ word in tones of appreciation, now it is Jaswant Singh’s turn to praise Jinnah in his latest book. Sharply timed to hit the stands even as the BJP is trying to pull itself together in today’s Chintan Baithak, the book will definitely create a flutter. All the better for its sales.


But we would like to know why the BJP bigwigs are so enamoured of Jinnah and not so of their own stalwarts like Golwalkar or Savarkar or Hedgewar. Now all this Jinnah business is bound to get the RSS’s knickers in a twist.


The Pakistanis, however, must be a happy lot. Jinnah, not exactly top of the pops in the gullies of Peshawar and Lahore, has found page three celebritydom in enemy territory. We are just surprised that old Jaswant who has been rattling around for years should discover Jinnah’s finer qualities at the precise moment that the party is going down the tube. Next we’ll find him, clipped accent and all, heading for the Wagah border along with the other do-gooders. But don’t worry Jaswant, you may find detractors in your party, but let’s see what they’ll have to say up in Darjeeling when you whip around with the Nishan-e-Pakistan in your lapel.










In the last few years, we have been witnessing a sudden rash of objections to the use of traditional verbal expressions, metaphors and similes in our films, plays and other literary works. Such expressions have been part of our everyday speech in all our languages and dialects for centuries. Until less than a decade ago, none of this was seen as offensive.


Recently, several religious sects, political groups and individuals have started raising their voices in the name of their sects, castes, and even sub-castes, claiming that such expressions denigrate their community, religion or their leaders or founders. The latest among these objections has led to the banning of the late Habib Tanvir’s play Charandas Chor in Chhattisgarh, Habib’s home state. The play is based on a Rajasthani tale retold by folklorist and author Vijaydan Detha.


Way back in 1974, I was doing a series of learning programmes for children in the Chhattisgarhi dialect with local Nacha actors from Habib’s Naya Theatre group and other folk theatre groups of the state. Habib was my consultant, adviser and actor. It was while we were creating these programmes that my writer Shama Zaidi suggested that one of the stories that I could consider was Charandas Chor for a feature film project I was contemplating for children.


While I was working towards making Charandas as a comic farce, Habib was planning to turn the story into a tragic play. Incidentally, the film I made featured Smita Patil as the queen. She was the only urban actor in the film. the rest of the cast consisted of Nacha actors belonging to different castes and sects: Devars, Satnamis, Kabir Panthis along with Pandvani singers and so on.


Habib, meanwhile, had written his play that examined the contradictions and ironies involved in the concept of an honest thief. Eventually, the actors in both our productions were more or less the same, since most of them belonged to Habib’s repertory company. It seems strange that 35 years later someone belonging to the Satnami sect should object to a line in the play. Several of the actors in both the original film and play belonged to this sect. I suspect that the person who objected to the play was not even born at the time. How and why the play denigrates Sant Ghasidas escapes me.


If you study the lives (real or apocryphal) of many of the saints and seers of our country, you will find that their transformation and transcendence was due to some extraordinary event or experience in their lives. For instance, Valmiki was a dacoit before his remarkable transformation to becoming the author of one of the two foundational epics of our country.


The banning of Charandas Chor by the Chhattisgarh government would be laughable and moronic, as one commentator has remarked, if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s symptomatic of not only the growing intolerance in our society but also the fact that the targets of attack are soft and easy to strike, as they don’t hit back.


Films, plays, literature or painting, the demands for banning artistic works for being offensive is based on the ‘The Theology of Respect’ as Kenan Malik calls it. He says that this is built around three principles: not offend other cultures, respect all beliefs and censor one’s own views in the name of tolerance. Malik adds that it appears as though the preservation of diversity requires us to leave less room for a diversity of views.

Strangely enough, it is because we live in a plural society that we need the greatest freedom to express our opinions even if others find it offensive. Expression cannot remain subservient to religious and cultural sensibility. Pluralism and the right to offend are two sides of the same coin. Clashes are unavoidable and have to be dealt with. Curbing freedom of expression cannot be the solution (Irena Maryniak in her essay, ‘Offence: the Christian case’).


In the process of dismantling caste equations, some of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Dalit communities give themselves identities that no longer associate them with their traditional professions. The new identity requires a reworking of community histories and mythology. Any reference to the old identity can only seem offensive. As part of the mainstream, they are likely to lose their special identity.


It is largely for this reason that it becomes important for them to adopt dominant forms of expression so that others may hear or understand their points of view. Even more important for them is to establish their view as the last word. Any expression that they perceive as an attack on their identity is responded to with considerable vehemence.


Governments have a tendency to accede to such demands when the community they constitute is a significant votebank — as is probably the case in Chhattisgarh.


Shyam Benegal directed the 1975 film, Charandas Chor, based on Habib Tanvir’s play


The views expressed by the author are personal








The winds of change are sweeping across the dusty corridors of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). After ten years of DMK rule, a Congress Minister, Jairam Ramesh, is in charge. But will he be able to bring in the necessary changes at a time when India ’s natural resources are facing an onslaught?

Shaking up a ministry after years of lethargy will be the biggest challenge for Ramesh. But shaking his own legacy might be even a bigger challenge. The minister belongs to the school of economic reforms, which may have put India on the path of economic growth but it has also been accompanied by losses that are unaccounted for: coal mines in tiger reserves and elephant habitats, roads bifurcating national parks and mega dams submerging prime tropical forests are worth millions of dollars. The minister has, however, taken his new role seriously: he has reviewed several projects and initiated a number of policy announcements. Plans are now afoot to introduce the National Green Tribunal (NGT), a judicial body to decide on environment matters. With this, the functioning of two existing bodies — the National Environment Appellate Authority ( NEAA) and the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court — could be impacted.


The NEAA — the only judicial body in the country to hear grievances against environment clearance process — has the dubious record of dismissing all but one petition in the last 12 years. In contrast, the other quasi-judicial body, the CEC, which looks into all matters related to diversion of forests for non-forest activities, has taken its role of a watchdog of India’s forests seriously. Will the CEC too be dissolved? It is perhaps this body that the Minister may need to save — if he is serious about his role of protecting India’s forests.


However, Ramesh may face some trouble from his own government. Take for example, the mining of the bauxite-rich Niyamgiri hills in Orissa. In letters accessed through an RTI, it is clear that pressure came from the Prime Minister’s Office to the MoEF in 2008 asking for information on the status of forest clearance that was pending with it. herein lies the scam: since the project is being developed in a Fifth Schedule Area, land acquisition can only be undertaken by the state.

In this case, the land will be handed over once acquired by the state to a private company, Vedanta. Is it ethical for the state to put pressure on its own ministry on behalf of a private agency?


The second likely source of conflict will be the state governments of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, states with huge mining resources as well as forests. In 2005, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh wrote a letter to MoEF asking for a forest in Korba to be declared an elephant reserve to reduce human-elephant conflict. Three months later, a letter is written by the Confederation of Indian Industry requesting for the area not to be declared as elephant reserve as the area has huge coal deposits. A far-sighted CM who wanted to protect the elephants has been silenced by commercial interest. What will the MoEF do in such cases? Support the CII or the BJP CM?


However, India ’s green activists can take heart that they finally have access to a minister who is articulate, English-speaking much like the urban elite from which India ’s environment movement is drawn. Perhaps herein lies Ramesh’s strength. He is a minister who is accessible and responsive. In the days to come, can this Minister take the much-needed tough decisions which may at times make him unpopular with his own government and put a clear moratorium on infrastructure projects coming up on elephant corridors and vital tiger habitats? Jairam Ramesh has his work cut out. And the greens have much to hope for from the new minister.


Bahar Dutt is a conservation biologist and environment editor of CNN-IBN


The views expressed by the author are personal













Barely a couple of months after Habib Tanvir’s death, Charandas Chor, his acclaimed adaptation of a Rajasthani folk story, has offended the Satnami Dalit sect in Chhattisgarh, and has been summarily banned. A coruscating social satire about the impossibility of perfect truthfulness in a twisted world, it won the Fringe Firsts award at the Edinburgh festival, and has been performed hundreds of times by Tanvir’s Naya Theatre in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. After a Satnami religious leader, Baldas, recently decided that the play maligns the sect’s Guru Ghasidas, the Chhattisgarh government decided to ban the play and remove the book from schools and libraries.


Habib Tanvir, of all people, would have been alive to the mordant irony of this ban. He was born in Chhattisgarh, and later sloughed off his RADA-schooled approach to theatre, returning home to start a uniquely Chhattisgarhi Naya Theatre. He wasn’t trying to resurrect an imagined past or romanticise the rural — his craft came from a stew of influences, local and cosmopolitan. Contrary to popular misconception, he didn’t do agitprop and he didn’t simply make Chhattisgarh’s folksy Nacha tradition fashionable. His theatrical range was phenomenal, his politics nuanced — whether a bare-bones adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream or a knockabout comedy taking off from Sudraka’s Mricchakatika. Ponga Pandit pits itself against the caste system (for which Tanvir was attacked by the right), while Hirma Ki Amar Kahani was about ambivalent encounters with modernity. That a work like Charandas Chor has been struck down by its narrow-minded interrogators only reveals the emptiness of their imagination.


The Chhattisgarh government has displayed plenty of can-do spirit on other occasions, but prefers to hunker down and play dead when confronted with a spokesperson of the 35-lakh strong Satnami community. The education minister, Brijmohan Agrawal, said, “We see no point to the reading of Charandas Chor if it hurts people’s sentiments.” Appeals to the hurt feelings of particular communities (no matter how politically delicate) are just a dodge, a convenient way of perpetrating anti-democratic impulses. What about the hurt sentiments of those who want to read and watch this theatrical tour de force? Censoring art doesn’t lead to civic stability, and there’s no end to the number of aggrieved constituencies that can exploit this precedent to stifle the best of our cultural works.









The Maharashtra government has repeatedly said that the imminent coming-into-force of the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct will not be allowed to delay the commissioning of the first extension of Mumbai’s Worli-Bandra Sealink: the stretch between Worli and Haji Ali. Time is running out; this week the government’s power to take decisions ends. Chief Minister Ashok Chavan must sign off on the project — which is waiting basically just for his approval — immediately.


The hoopla surrounding the inauguration of the Sealink was incongruous, as these columns pointed out at the time: the project was massively delayed. No mention was made, in that celebratory period, of the man-hours that Mumbai wasted in traffic while clearances were ploddingly procured, local residents brought on board, and do-gooders placated. But the state needs to show that it has learnt from the experience. It needs to show, through effective support of the project and through political neutralisation of objections, that the mistakes that caused the Worli-Bandra delays will not be allowed to happen again. Chavan has said that Congress President Sonia Gandhi specifically asked for the process to be expedited; he should see this as a signal to expend political capital on getting it done. Signals that the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra is willing to cast off the laziness that has characterised much of its approach to its state’s fast-growing cities might well be essential if it is to mount a successful defence during the assembly campaign of its lacklustre performance in office.


The government further believes that work can be “completed in two and half to three years’ time”. True, it can. But will it? More, does the government have what it takes to view that as a hard-and-fast deadline rather than as some sort of optimistic, rosy vision of the future? Maharashtra’s political class can’t afford to sit back on these giant, transformative projects. There is little doubt that Mumbai’s very future as a global city depends on three things: the timely completion of the Sealink, and its extension to Versova and Nariman point within half-a-dozen years; the clearing and construction, in a similar timeframe, of the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link, the 23-km sealink connecting Sewri in peninsular Mumbai with Nhava in Raigad,


on the mainland; and the Navi Mumbai international airport project, due to come up in the Panvel-Kopra area. In each of these, Mumbai’s future has been held to ransom — sometimes by government sloth, sometimes by corporate egos, sometimes by last-man-standing environmentalists. None of these should be allowed to matter any more.









There are three different types of drought, not one. There is a meteorological drought, when actual rainfall is deficient (20 per cent below normal) or scanty (60 per cent or more below normal). The Indian Meteorological Department has now declared a deficiency of 29 per cent in the south-west monsoon. Let’s not forget, the IMD was set up after famines in 1866 and 1871. The IMD has now invested in computing power. It has a better model, or so it thinks.


Question No 1: Why is the IMD so terrible at forecasting a meteorological drought? Why do global models perform better, even for India? Should we simply scrap the IMD and outsource forecasting? IISc, Bangalore, should be able to do better.The severity of a drought doesn’t depend only on overall rainfall, but also its spatial and geographical spread. Accordingly, 177 districts have now been declared drought-affected, up from 141 a week ago. These districts are primarily in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur. Understandably, drought is more serious for rain-fed agriculture and, usually, drought occurs in Maharashtra, Karnataka (some parts), Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Gujarat and Rajasthan.


Question No 2: Why are states falling over backwards to declare their districts drought-affected? Is there a drought problem or do states love a good drought because of possible Central assistance?


Second, there is a hydrological drought when there is a depletion of surface water. Lakes, rivers and reservoirs dry up. The Central Water Commission says the water level in reservoirs is 38 per cent of capacity. Comfort levels are at 45 per cent.


Question No 3: Can we blame dry reservoirs and fall in water tables on deficient rain alone? NASA’s Grace (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) Mission’s study for India between 2002 and 2008 was reported recently in Nature. For Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab, this finds weak correlation between rainfall and decline in water tables. As a country, there is no shortage of water, nor is there a shortage of rain. It is simply that this water is not used efficiently and is not harvested. Unconfirmed reports suggest that in the midst of this drought, Gujarat’s water table (if not water in reservoirs) has increased. The International Food Policy Research Institute has lauded Gujarat’s agricultural progress through investments in infrastructure (such as power, roads), irrigation networks and other public goods. This isn’t Sardar Sarovar alone, but also more than 100,000 check-dams and the Khet Talavadi (water ponds in fields) programme. There is plenty to learn from Gujarat.


Question No 4: Where is that elusive Green Revolution? Despite some agricultural productivity increases in south (Andhra is the one to watch) and east India, Green Revolution means Punjab, Haryana and western UP. There are several elements that went into Green Revolution successes: irrigation, high-yielding varieties, fertilisers, pesticides, land consolidation. Why is 60 per cent of India’s cropped area still dry-land? A speech from the Red Fort won’t get us the second Green Revolution or 4 per cent growth in agriculture. The latter is impossible with classic agriculture. It is possible with commercialisation and diversification. We are now told NREGA will be expanded to include irrigation and an amendment will accordingly be introduced in the act. With irrigation so important, why didn’t we think of it when NREGA was first passed? What did UPA-I do about irrigation? What did UPA-I do about catalysing commercialisation and diversification of agriculture?

Question No 5: Do we even have a policy for dry-land agriculture? Do we have a policy for coarse foodgrains? Do we have a policy for edible oils and pulses? The private sector is driven by pecuniary motives. It is only interested in genetically modified fruits and vegetables. But where is the public sector R&D and extension in these crops? Haven’t we reduced agricultural policy to a rice and wheat policy, and that too a procurement price (now equated with minimum support) policy?


Question No 6: Do we know whether we have an agricultural drought? That’s the third type of drought possible and doesn’t immediately follow from a meteorological or hydrological drought. There are fragmentary reports about reduced sowings for paddy, groundnut, sugarcane and coarse cereals. (Cotton and pulses seem to be higher.) Kharif shortfalls can sometimes be compensated by rabi; switching crops also lets you neutralise delayed rains. But the more important question: do we have an early warning system for drought-relief to come into play when there is agricultural drought? Not really. As a universal proposition, we only know when farmers default on crop loans.


Question No 7: Have we done anything to improve efficiency of the PDS, target it better and reduce corruption and leakage? No, we are content to let it be and tout adequate buffer-stocks. These don’t cover pulses, edible oils, coarse foodgrains and even sugar. Nor do they cover animal feed.


Question No 8: Will trade policy and forward markets permit price smoothening? No. The latter is controlled; so is the former. Otherwise how could one have scams on both exports and imports?


Question No 9: Do we have a sensible policy on agricultural credit and insurance? There will invariably be defaults and suicides. No, we don’t. We believe in talking about financial inclusion, not doing about it. We believe in debt relief (and now diesel subsidy for large farmers), not introducing rural reforms so that farmers don’t default. We believe in directed credit at fixed rates, not ensuring farmers obtain credit from the formal system.


Question No 10: Do we know what is causing food price inflation, for commodities like pulses, sugar, edible oils and vegetables, much of which precedes the drought and has nothing to do with it? Beyond blaming speculation and hoarding, and tightening monetary policy, we don’t. This drought isn’t as bad as 2002. Even if one allows for the indirect loop of reduced rural demand adversely affecting manufactured products, GDP growth is unlikely to be shaved off by more than 0.5 per cent or thereabouts. However, there is still a last question and that is rhetorical.


Question No 11: Will the empowered group of ministers finally empower Indian agriculture? The answer is strongly negative. Knee-jerk reactions and speeches from forts don’t solve the problem.


Action does. “After us, the deluge” is inappropriate. But before us, a drought. The government should answer these eleven questions.


The writer is a Delhi-based economist








The prime minister, in his traditional Independence Day speech, reiterated the UPA’s commitment to the bill reserving seats for women in legislative assemblies, which has been jinxed for over 13 years. Beginning as the 85th Constitutional Amendment Bill in 1996, it has travelled a difficult path — and is now the pending 108th Constitutional Amendment Bill.


The ugly spectacle of the 1999 debate on the women’s reservation bill (WRB), as well as the undignified subterfuges adopted to table its latest avatar, testify to basic problems with the bill. So why fixate on nothing-but-the-original WRB? What is sacrosanct about the formula? Especially as it is premised on ousting sitting members , on constant flux, which could conceivably weaken, not strengthen, the democratic frame?


Women’s representation issues aside, the unseemly spectacles of desperation witnessed around seat allocation call for re-examination of the basic issue: huge, unwieldy constituency sizes. (In 6 states, the average LS electorate is 2 million-plus. The constitutional mandate is for no constituency being “less than 500,000 and more than 750,000”.)


Representational fairness required fresh delimitation of constituencies after each decadal census; but the unintended consequences — penalisation of progressive southern states for successful population control — were defused by behind the scene negotiations disentangling the mess; Parliament postponed fixing the tangle to 2026. Parliament agreed to not lift the constituency-numbers freeze on seats, thus retaining the existing, delicate inter-state balance; but 2001 Census figures would be used to rationalise constituency demarcation.


That process is now done and dusted. So an interesting opportunity now exists to redress two democratic deficits at one go, without destabilising existing balances: first, the grossly disproportionate sizes of constituencies and two, the deficit of women legislators.


The WRB’s essential objectives should be kept in mind: a minimum one-third representation for women in the legislatures, one-third being the internationally-researched “critical mass” that in turn triggers transformative politics — a more inclusive, socially-sensitive, engendered perspective.


The Standing Committee on Personnel, Law & Justice, chaired by Rajya Sabha MP E.M.S. Natchiappan, which was supposed to review the WRB and arrive at a consensus — its report is presently pending — found serious merit in the suggestion that we increase the number of MPs/ MLAs across and within states without altering the number and territorial demarcation of the constituencies per se. It argued that the constitutional mandate is to protect balance between and within states; it does not actually impose any ceiling on the number of actual representatives. Thus they suggested a substantive increase in legislators — accommodating additional members through dual-membership, a route which had both historical precedence and constitutional validity. Unfortunately the committee was dead-locked by politicking, with parties combining to score political points off the Congress even at the cost of women’s rights.


The historical precedents are there: the first two general elections and assembly elections in the ’50s saw almost a third of all MPs and MLAs being returned from dual-member constituencies. These were eventually bifurcated after passage of the Double Member Constituency (Abolition) Act 1962 in the wake of V.V. Giri’s electoral defeat from a dual-member constituency, and the subsequent dismissal of his court appeal. The cited reason for abolition at the time — how one-million-voter constituencies were “unmanageable” — is ironically exactly what militates for the revival of dual-member constituencies today. That reverse-mirror act also provides an interesting model for how constituencies can be efficiently reworked within a very brief period.


This alternative strategy provides a win-win situation for all parties. It would increase the number of representatives by 50 per cent, in the Lok Sabha as well as in each state assembly (and proportionately in the Rajya Sabha and legislative councils). This addition, earmarked for women alone, would automatically translate into a one-third share, whatever the starting figures. It also brings in larger numbers of women: 271 additional women LS MPs as opposed to 181 seats under the current WRB; 2000 state legislators as opposed to 1300. Increased numbers are accommodated by simultaneously converting half the constituencies in the country into double-member constituencies leaving one-half as single-member constituencies.


The selection of double-member constituencies could be by listing all constituencies by population and picking the top half for the course of two general elections; the two sets would interchange for the next two elections, bringing us up to Delimitation 2026. This provides a perfect level playing field that is gender-neutral, equal effect across constituencies neutralises the current OBC-bias argument. Costs, logistics, modalities are practical, sustainable — and completely worked-out elsewhere.


Today’s need is imaginative innovation: opening up new spaces, not dead-end avenues.


The writer served as an advisor at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and two terms on the National Population Commission









The INS Arihant nuclear-powered submarine, yet to get its missiles, has been a long time a-coming, as the old Eartha Kitt song goes. But it’s been worth the wait.


Not surprisingly, its arrival has been greeted with criticism from Pakistan’s strategic civilian community on the grounds that it sets off an arms race, fuelled by India’s overweening ego and ambition. For naval strategists who have been around for a half a century, these comments are mirth-inducing.


India’s naval thinkers went out on a limb as early as the 1960s, in declaring that they were not, and would not be, building a navy to fight Pakistan. In a capital not known for strategic boldness or originality, this stance was risky, and the navy paid a price for its boldness. At a time when the services competed for money to acquire hardware to thwart Pakistan’s aggression, the navy declined to go down the anti-Pakistan route, and got only a meagre share of the money. But it kept its head, when those all around were losing theirs. It ploughed a lonely furrow, to be rewarded in the 21st century, when strategy, national vision and Indian confidence began to simultaneously perceive that India’s destiny lay beyond its disorderly neighbors.


The Arihant, like the INS Vikramaditya, has little to do with Pakistan. It can cover anything between 15-25000 miles on a sixty-day patrol, and Pakistan is only 130 miles from the Indian border. But it appears that the comments from Pakistan reflect their own India-specific preoccupations and threat analysis. Unfortunately India’s own continentalist strategists have confined us to a territorial mindset, automatically limiting ourselves south of the Himalayas. Delhi is just beginning to rediscover Raja Raja Chola and a maritime future, interlinking India with what the East Asians call the dynamic East. It seeks to leave behind a quarrelling Middle East, which Islamabad has aspired to creep into ever since Olaf Caroe told them that was their future.


Since the Nineties, when India began to build a blue water navy, ship construction in the country has come a long way. Ship hulls have been standardised around the elegant Delhi and Talwar classes, with operational ranges of around 7000 and 5000 miles without refuelling. Small combatants that could only mill around in confused Arabian sea littoral battles have been pensioned off. Four-engined maritime aircraft that operate in the wide blue yonder, by flying 12-hour sorties were upgraded. The first urgent acquisition of the Navy’s has again been the long range P8s from the US to create a situational awareness picture in the farthest reaches of the Indian ocean. In every case, Pakistan has been a low priority.


The Indo-Pakistani nuclear relationship has admittedly begun an incipient arms race, mostly because of the headstart Pakistan gets from illegal Chinese assistance. Analysts around the world surmise that Pakistan and India have around 60-80 nuclear warheads. These are dubious figures. No country makes warheads when there are no delivery means. They maintain fissile material stocks for when they have the rockets. The Chinese-supplied missile factory at Fatehjung west of Rawalpindi had, so far, been well ahead of India in missile throughput, and that is how the missile race began — not in India. Even so, Pakistan test-fired the two-stage Shaheen II in 2004, ahead of India. In 2005, Pakistan again tested a nuclear-capable cruise missile, the Babur , ahead of India. There are few instances of gauntlet after gauntlet being thrown down by a smaller country to challenge a bigger one to a nuclear arms race. On nuclear escalation, Pakistan’s conduct has been aggressive to the point of recklessness. The Babur’s dimensions exactly replicate the Hong Niao Chinese cruise missile, which exactly replicates the Ukranian AS 15, twelve of which disappeared from that country, and on which a case is in progress in a Ukranian court.


The Babur has a CEP of under 10 metres and is clearly a first-strike weapon, meant to be used against India’s nuclear weapons. So here we have the first induction of the kind of weapon that led to the infamous US-Soviet arms race that produced 60,000 weapons. But what Pakistan has is a trained nuclear staff, headed by the longest serving general in the Pakistan army, General Khalid Kidwai who heads the Strategic Plans division (SPD). If Pakistan really feels that India’s nuclear submarine is destabilising, then here is an open invitation to General Kidwai and his staff officers (who are known to their Indian counterparts), to sit down in a third country and explain exactly how an SSBN is destabilising.


The Indian response to Pakistan’s missile racing has been to wait, tortoise-like, until an SSBN could be built, which the world over is considered the most stable second strike weapon platform. The Arihant is admittedly a weapon platform, but unlike all weapon platforms, the nuclear ballistic missile submarine creates crisis stability. It prevents a nuclear arms race. Countries with a bad relationship with India should welcome us building an SSBN, because now the nuclear arsenal matches the No First Use doctrine. Nuclear submarines sail from their home-ports and disappear into and under the ocean. Hence their missiles can always be fired last. They can never be targeted, since most targeters wouldn’t be aware which sea the submarine is in. So if their missiles can be fired last, they bring stability to a nuclear standoff, with its processors not inclined to beat his opponent to the draw in firing the first shot.


The writer is a retired rear admiral








The great game was largely about promoting, and preventing, the integration of inner Asia with the Eurasian rim lands. If the European powers sought to push road and rail links into Central Asia, many states in the region feared that connectivity meant colonisation.


Afghanistan, for example, sought to preserve its political independence by deliberately foregoing the modernisation of internal transport links and prohibiting them with the outside world. Since the end of the Cold War, expanding the road and rail network in Afghanistan and Central Asia and building oil and natural gas pipelines have become a major international and regional objective. China, Russia, the United States, and the European Union have all tried to shape the new transport and energy corridors. Although progress on the ground has not matched the hype on the energy and transport corridors, last week’s launch of a trial run of the train link from Pakistan to Turkey through Iran may turn out to be consequential.

The train is moving 20 containers on its maiden journey from Islamabad, and will deliver 14 to Tehran and six to Istanbul. Its journey will end a fortnight after it was flagged off in Pakistan as an ‘epic event’. During the first trial run railway experts from the three countries are expected to assess the performance and problems along the 6500 km route.


As the second largest economy located at the cross roads of Asia, India could benefit from and boost the productivity of the new Asian transport corridors that aim to link Singapore and Vietnam with Western Europe through the inner regions of China, Russia and Eurasia.


India, however, will find itself excluded from the unfolding transport revolution in Asia, if its borders with Bangladesh and Pakistan remain big barriers to the movement of goods and people. Although both Dr. Manmohan Singh and his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee have talked of connecting South Asia within itself and with the rest of Asia, it remains a massive and unfinished agenda.


As it strives to lift the post-Partition barriers to overland road and rail links in the Subcontinent, India must offer Turkey, Iran and Pakistan on our Western frontiers full overland transit rights to Bangladesh, Burma and Southeast Asia and the same privilege to Dhaka and our ASEAN partners to move goods the other way.



Two important events in the next few days are likely to shape the political and military evolution of our north-western neighbourhood.


While the public focus is on the Afghan elections this week, the real driver of change could be the much anticipated review of American military strategy expected shortly after the elections.


The CENTCOM Chief Gen. David Petraeus, who turned the war around in Iraq and the new commander of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal are expected to bring about a real change in the conduct of the American war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Besides their highly valued professional competence, the two generals are known for their ability to relate the battle field goals to the political dynamic in Washington. Maintaining the American public support and Congressional backing, they know, hold the key to winning the war in Afghanistan.


Money may not buy love; but it is supposed to win loyalty of a certain kind in Afghanistan. Washington is now said to be debating the more traditional way of winning friends and influencing people — ‘cash and carry’. As recently as the 1990s, the Taliban came to power in Kabul not by winning too many battles but buying out the rival factions.


According to the latest issue of Time Magazine, “if the US opted to pay all Taliban fighters $20 a day — double what they get now - to stop fighting, that would amount to a $300,000 daily bill”. This amount is said to be one-fifth of 1 per cent of the war’s current cost to the US taxpayers of $133 million a day. The monthly cost of ‘buying off’ the Taliban rank and file would be $9 million, less than the price of an Apache helicopter.


Although it can’t win the war in Afghanistan by cash disbursal — which in itself is a very complex process on the ground — the US could generate some valuable time and space for itself if it moves away from hunting the Taliban to paying some of them.


The writer is a Professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.









 CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat engaged in a fraternal argument with Nobel laureate Amartya Sen in the latest issue of party mouthpiece People’s Democracy after the noted economist accused the Left of neglecting matters of social justice and focussing more on the Indo-US nuclear deal.


Karat cited several interventions made by the Left parties in recent times on issues ranging from food security to PDS and NREGS, to the impact of WTO rules on agriculture and farmers and land rights to tribals, to need for greater allocation for health and education, to debunk Sen’s observations as “simply not true”.


The two major pieces of legislation adopted during UPA I — the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Scheduled Tribes and other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act — bear the hallmarks of the intervention by the Left in the changes brought about in their texts and the clauses that were amended, he said.


“It is not any “gut anti-Americanism” or any exaggerated fear of the power of the US that influences the Left. It is a recognition that the neo-liberal policies pursued by the Indian ruling classes get their greatest sustenance from the strategic link with the United States. This link not only affects foreign policy but the domestic economic agenda as well,” he argues.


While Karat admits that Sen was right in pointing out that the Left government of West Bengal needs to do more in the spheres of primary education, literacy and health and the Left in general needs to do much more to bring the issues of hunger, malnutrition and illiteracy at the national level, he says “it is not very helpful to counter-pose the struggle for a better life for the people to the fight against imperialist domination” as the two have to go together.


An article on the launch of India’s first nuclear-powered and nuclear weapons-capable submarine says INS Arihant will be entering the service during a period of substantial expansion and modernisation by the Indian Navy, for long the neglected arm of the defence forces.


It talks about the Navy’s plans to acquire several battleships, three aircraft carriers and additional submarines to beef up the fleet and to replace badly depleted submarine strength due to ageing and degradation and points out that “overall, this would be a nascent blue-water navy capable of defensive deployment or even some power projection in the wider Indian Ocean from the eastern African coast to beyond the Malacca Straits.”


But even within this framework, there are several questions surrounding the capability of the Arihant and sister SSBNs now being built or planned. “The 700 km range of the K-15 missile or the 1000 km being spoken for an updated version means that the SSBN must get pretty close to its target landmass, increasing the risk of detection.


“Even the 2500 km range of the SLBM version of the Agni-III currently being developed or the extended range of 3500 km of the K-5 pale in comparison with the 5,000 — 12,000 km range of missiles on comparable SSBMs operated by the US, Russia, UK or China which operates three SSBN and 6 SSNs in a fleet of 62 submarines.

“The reactor too is quite small at under 90 MW while comparable SSN/SSBNs in other countries not only have more power but also have lifetime fuel supply of over 30 years whereas the BARC reactor has only 10 years’ supply of nuclear fuel, with refueling entailing major costly and time-consuming work,” it says. “The military significance of the Arihant therefore should not be overrated especially in the contemporary global and regional security environment. It should be seen, rather, as a demonstrator of the potential strengths and depth of the Indian scientific-technical and industrial capability. It would be better for India if it applied these strengths to a strategic vision and security policy characterised by robustness rather than hubris,” it concludes.










This is the season when Americans of Indian origin wing back home for their summer break. Previously, that annual pilgrimage typically consisted of returning with a jumble-bag of gifts, distributing it amongst an assortment of relatives while complaining about the filth, the dug-up roads or the airport, and then departing a couple of weeks later with a bagful of karela chips and a Prestige pressure cooker.


Not anymore. Mahidhar Reddy, an entrepreneur who set up a back office services firm and took it public, shifted to the United States nine years ago. He has been back every summer since then, and several times in between. Maryland-resident Reddy and other short-term returnees like him are astounded at the changes in Bangalore. In the old days, the difference between those living in India and those residing in the West was huge, whether in terms of lifestyle or access to material goods. Returnees were obligated to carry back electronics, brand-name clothes and other junk.


That’s all changed. Upper middle-class India has levelled with the returnees on more planes than one. These days, says Reddy, gifts like cell phones and PDAs are met with yawns. Whether in Bangalore or Baltimore, materially and technologically there is a sense that the gaps have closed. Everybody is outfitted with the latest cool gear and gadgets, notices Reddy. “This was brought home when a friend whipped out his iPhone and zoomed in with Google maps to show me a view of his new home,” he said. Returnees perceive a changed attitude towards them as well. There is no longer the awe-and-envy greeting that many have been accustomed to. “There was a time when returnees like me would be treated like rock stars when we came back home, now we are treated like rocks,” says Vivek Wadhwa, an entrepreneur-turned-researcher now associated with Harvard and Duke Universities.


For summer returnees, the pace of change in India continues to amaze. For instance, the airlines in the United States took five decades to go from pioneering spirit to glamourising the jobs of pilots and flight attendants, and launching trans-continental flights. Five decades later, the industry has deteriorated from profitable to devastatingly depressed. “Flights have now become cattle trucks in the sky,” says Reddy. In India, all action seems to progress in fast-forward motion, say returnees. It seems like just yesterday that flamboyant entrepreneurs were launching smart airlines and boasting of hand-picked flight attendants in short red skirts who served extravagant meals even on ridiculously short flights. But within a short span of four years, the Indian airline industry resembles its tattered counterpart in the United States, haemorrhaging cash and seeking life-support.


The arc of change in cities like Bangalore has been anything but gradual. The sexual revolution in the West took place over four decades or more. That transformation in Bangalore has occurred over four or five years, says Reddy, partly fuelled by call centers and other back office companies. The concept of a ‘flat world’ generally alludes to business but in the social context, it is even more stunning, says Reddy. The teenage son of his friend showed his Facebook page and said he watched Stephen Colbert on Youtube, and Reddy was taken aback by the typical American teenager-like behaviour. “There is no information gap anymore, everybody knows everything about everything,” he says. Other returnees say they have observed that Indians’ self-image has undergone a huge lift. “India’s position in the world has changed and nobody is more conscious of it than Indians themselves,” says Venkatesh Raghavendra, the New York-based senior director at America India Foundation, a not-for-profit, who journeys home every summer.

Reddy says middle class India’s go-go attitude is in full evidence in Bangalore’s bookstores where management tomes with catchy titles dominate the storefront display. In the US, it is usually fiction or partisan polemic that gets pride-of-place. Says Reddy, “There is a hunger to absorb the latest and get ahead, and that intensity is missing in the West.”










Minor ports have hitherto been beyond the Centre’s purview. As the shipping ministry revisions this situation, we have cause for concern. Back in 1950, the Constitution made a distinction between major and minor ports, with the idea that the former would be principal gateways for international trade and hence under central jurisdiction, while the latter would be suitable for fishing and the like and so remain under state charge. This differentiation was without significant impact till liberalisation, when the government allowed private enterprise into the sector. Then, given that the Constitution didn’t define ports by size, go-getting state governments like that of Gujarat made sure that their ports really took off on the back of private enterprise. Nothing epitomises this triumph better than that so-called minor ports have now become some of the biggest ones in the country. In 2004-05, Vishakapatnam’s long reign (berthed in AP) as India’s biggest port was interrupted by Gujarat’s minor port of Sikka becoming the top port. Next fiscal, the state saw its minor ports handling 123.6 million tonnes of cargo compared to the 53 million tonne handled by its only major port at Kandla. In the 11th Plan, private enterprise is expected to deliver three-fourths of the total projected investment in the ports sector.


On the face of it, recommendations submitted in the first week of August by the committee headed by Vijay Chhibber, ministry of shipping, look liberal. For instance, on standardising port operations, the committee suggests delegating power for greater flexibility, clarity and operational freedom in the managements of major ports. The problem is that the Centre doesn’t have too great a record on implementing policy in a consistent way. To take one example, the Centre gave security clearance to a consortium that includes a Chinese port operator to bid for terminals at Paradip Port in Orissa but denied permission to another group that includes a Hong Kong (now a part of China) company. Also, let’s consider why captive ports (like the one belonging to RIL in Gujarat) are not pressing on the liberalisation argument to convert to general use, whereby they could charge other companies to use their facilities. What they fear is that such a step would bring a bunchload of bureaucrats and customs inspectors riding their operations. Finally, when ports and developers are outside the ambit of a central regulator, they have operational flexibility as well as freedom in fixing tariffs. When choosing between Kandla (major port) and Mundra (minor port), why did Maruti Suzuki decide on the latter? Because with the latter, it could rely on timely infrastructure upgrades and negotiate on prices at a market-updated level. Bottomline: if the minor ports look like they are taking good care of themselves without government intervention, why must the Centre interfere anyway?






How's the farmer coping with poor rains? The standard answer is poorly, and that is true in many rain-fed crop-growing areas. But there are optimistic variations to this answer, variations that have larger messages as policymakers prepare for what some are saying could be a big, bad drought. Look at the sowing figures and change in cropping pattern and look at price signals. These will give you an idea of the intelligent farmer’s response to poor rains (29% deficient rainfall, as of last count). The government started getting seriously worried around late June and early July. But considerably before that, farmers in the country’s hinterland had already started making their own contingency plans. As a result of this, though there has been an almost 6 million hectares fall in paddy acreage (mostly in Bihar, UP and Jharkhand), acreage under other crops—namely coarse cereals like jowar, bajra (pearl millet) and maize (corn)—has risen as compared to last year. Coarse grain prices rise as paddy (or wheat) production indicates a shortfall.


As on August first week, the area under bajra has risen by almost 4%, jowar by around 15% and maize by around 8%. Similarly in pulses, arhar (pigeon pea)—its prices have almost doubled in the last six months—has been sown in 28.19 lakh hectares till early August, almost 23% more than last year, while acreage of moong dal (split beans) has gone up by 12% and area sown under urad has gone up by 5%. Prices of all these lentils had moved up during the last year. It’s not only prices that dictated farmers sowing priorities, but water availability, soil moisture, pesticide, fertiliser use and the market were some of the big factors that weighed on sowing decisions. Paddy growers, who are the worst sufferers of this year’s deficient rainfall, have responded to the challenge by growing more of high-value basmati rice, both because it has a ready export market and because it requires less water. Basmati area has risen largely in the well-irrigated states of Punjab and Haryana, but the response is still noteworthy. According to state officials, Punjab farmers have planted basmati rice in around 5 lakh hectares this year, almost 54% more than last, with PUSA 1121 being the most favoured variety. And the reasons are there for all to see. India’s total agriculture and processed food exports in 2008-09 rose by around 25%, largely because of strong demand for PUSA 1121 basmati variety in the Middle East. Response in terms of growing vegetables is handicapped by the lack of a cold chain and modern warehousing facilities. Plus, had the retail market been dominated by organised, big players, there would have been better incentive for substitution.









The news on Thursday last week of a surprisingly strong April-June quarter growth in Germany and France is only the latest in a series of news releases indicating that the global economy is on the verge of, or even into, a recovery. Economic data from the US, the UK, some Asian countries and, of course, China have increasingly indicated that, born of the multiple stimulus measures, consumption has started to increase. The Federal Reserve states that “economic activity (in the US) is levelling out”. Is it time, then, to heave a sigh of relief? Or is there a chance of a double dip?


To the limited extent that signs of global recovery indicate that the potential of a fresh crisis has diminished, we are probably still some way off from a strong recovery. Consider the factors that have been widely acknowledged to be the most potent drags on a quick and sustained recovery: high and increasing unemployment, weak housing markets, high household debt, largely frozen bank credit and weak global trade. It is now generally accepted that whatever recovery happens will be a relatively jobless one for the next couple of years at least. The other indicators are likely to determine the pace of growth, working over different horizons.


Start with housing markets in the US, the genesis of the crisis. While both new and existing home sales, house prices and housing starts and permits have been increasing and home inventories falling, there still remain significant risks of higher delinquencies and foreclosures. Commercial real estate remains a problem, and the exposure of many banks in the US, particularly regional banks, will keep the FDIC and other regulators on their toes.


The second impediment has been a very anaemic recovery of credit flows, particularly export credit. The confederation of British industries’ access to finance survey in August found among respondents (although among larger companies) who had sought credit in the second quarter, a net response of 18% stating an improvement, compared to a negative 20% in the May survey. Regular credit flows in the US, contrary to perception, had not contracted significantly and are still increasing incrementally.


However, the pre-crisis credit explosion had largely been through securitised and derivative instruments, and these markets will take some time to start functioning. The hardest hit was the asset backed commercial paper market, and there are signs of recovery here. While global risk aversion levels have come off, measured in different segments through multiple indicators, indicating a willingness to lend, particularly short-term funds.


The overnight index swap (OIS) rate is the cost of swapping the variable Libor into fixed rate funds of a specified maturity, and is a proxy for credit risk. The Libor-OIS spreads for 3 month and 1 year funds indicate that near-term markets have normalised to a large extent, but longer maturity funds still remain relatively expensive.


A collapse of global trade has been the third manifestation in the slowdown, and it is surmised that a significant part of this was due to an evaporation of trade finance. While data on trade finance is difficult to come by, and on trade flows only with a lag, a proxy indicator is the Baltic dry freight index (BDI). The BDI has improved over the past quarter, after a precipitous 90% drop in the index post September 2008.

Where do we go from here? What are the residual risks in the system? One is the chance of asset bubbles building up in the system, particularly in commodity markets. Prices of crude and industrial raw materials increasing too soon will choke off economic recovery. The US CFTC and UK FSA have initiated hearings on the extent of controls that might be needed on commodities markets.


The emerging growth impulses seem to be largely generated by fiscal stimulus programmes. These will necessarily have to be gradually withdrawn over the next year. How are global central banks likely to sequence their exit options? How long will governments continue with stimulus programmes? How is private consumption going to sustain when these support measures are withdrawn? Even as more funds are becoming available, there still does not seem to be adequate demand, given weak consumption, inventory stocks and spare capacities. Household debt in the US, for instance, is still around 130% of disposable income. The financial obligations ratio (which includes mortgage payments, auto leases, and rental payments for tenants), still remains at 18.5%, just slightly down from the 2007 highs and households are saving more. This leaves little room for a sustained increase in debt-financed household consumption, the main driver that has helped recovery in past slowdowns.


The situation now is still too fluid to firm a view of the next six months, but the balance of probability is that recovery will be anaemic over the next twelve months. Watch this space, as they say.


The author is vice-president, business and economic research, Axis Bank. These are his personal views








Among eminent Indians who have raised real security issues in a simple and direct manner this decade, Admiral Sureesh Mehta now stands out. What really puts him in the hall of fame is that he didn’t make his remarks at some marginal memorial event. Moreover, he bravely made them just before retirement, probably jeopardising a cushy job. This is the stuff sipahis are made of, offering sharp contrast to the so-called experts who hang around cocktail circuits. Whatever critics may say, the Admiral’s message was actually one of hope. What he suggested was that if—instead of flexing our military muscle internally or against quixotic enemies—we begin the admittedly painful process of scaling up our defence, then we can tackle security seriously.


I thought I would raise the issue of faster growth alongside the Admiral’s cannon ball at an invited Independence Day speech for a premier Indian economics think tank. But a young student there poured cold water on me by saying that we have to grow because we have to grow and this has nothing to do with China. He wasn’t supposed to be so good for he was from a deemed university. The HRD minister has told us that deemed universities are the worst in India. But some of them are also the best and may in fact survive even after they are inspected by HRD experts. The young one also proved the Alagh law of generational progress, that the next generation is smarter than mine.


In his Independence Day speech, the PM hit the bull’s eye by saying that a 9% growth rate is a must. If we go by studies, often by deemed universities, there is one that finds that the savings rate, factor productivity and trade ratios have to go up if India is to achieve such a growth up to 2020.


First, our savings rate is high but East Asia’s is higher. The Bretton Woods message that savings should not be incentivised is wrong. As is the Goldman Sachs BRICS one about the good life made up of just cars and air conditioners. Because good modelling suggests that savings are needed to support high growth. Incidentally, if you listen to the good Admiral, then ‘guns’ will also have to be factored into this high-growth model.


Second, a rupee of resources has been giving us 3.5% higher growth every year in the eighties, nineties and this decade, as some careful measurements have showed. This has to go up to 5% for the 8%-plus growth game. Now, this means that everybody has to make sure that the buck go further. Also, this means that we must not let our leaders—howsoever powerful—stop the projects that are critical to India’s economy.


Once when I was visiting China, leading a civil society group, the deputy mayor of Shanghai told me over dinner that the Party had given him the power to relocate thousands of people in a matter of weeks. This, then, was the source of that country’s growth. And what I remembered was that a young lady had stopped a major irrigation project in my state for two decades. This was after a rehabilitation programme—the best in India—had been finalised. The delay only helped create a five times cost escalation.


We also need to evolve economic and technological policies to help our manufacturing and agricultural sectors grow faster, as East Asian examples have shown time and again. Reform means more than wanting financial and insurance companies in serious trouble on home territories to come to India; it also means working steadfastly with a medium-term vision.

Rising trade shares are a part of the competitive pressure to make the buck go further. We need to hold the hand when our people get the short end of the stick, both when they invest abroad and when they export. As the East Asians have taught us, efficient import substitution is the other side of the coin of export promotion. This lesson will be important as the green shoots become stronger.


RBI, the chief economic advisor and the EAC chairman have made it clear that we have to cut down government consumption and government borrowings as the recovery begins, because you don’t stand a chance with your global competitors if your interest rate can’t come down. Economists like me are not outliers any more. Of course, the pressures of a coalition will not go away, nor will the opposition stop criticising the government for doing what it was doing when in power. But civil society groups can at least expose those who would jeopardise this country’s future. If you don’t grow fast you will be a has-been of history, which has never been kind to those who fail. Economists, businessmen, trade unionists and strategic planners should be a part of the forward-looking group, and we should ask Admiral Mehta to head it.


The author is a former Union minister








NREG, Congress-led UPA’s flagship programme, assures 100 days work with a minimum daily wage of Rs 100 for unskilled manual labourers in rural areas, where over 60% of Indians live.


NREG has also been a potent tool for the materialisation of the Minimum Wages Act. In many states, unskilled workers are paid a pittance as wage. NREG is changing this and workers are getting better wages for the work they do, even outside the programme. Other social security measures like subsidised food supplies enable NREG participants to buy their entire monthly provisions with a week’s wages. Increased days of work with higher wages increase spending power. But over time, can beneficiaries be incentivised to channel some of NREG’s wage income beyond present consumption, into future income?

Amartya Sen has described NREG as an enhancer of capacity, as it augments the individual’s self-respect and enables his/her participation in the life of the community. It is also a sure way to eradicate poverty, which the country has targetted to do by 2015. To achieve these goals, there should be effective interventions by different agencies that can convert NREG into a programme that can impact GDP growth rate.


Union minister for rural development CP Joshi has called for the involvement of states and panchayat raj institutions in the implementation of NREG. Major announcements are expected on August 20, the birth anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, for better streamlining of the programme.


It is imperative to assist NREG beneficiaries to make better use of the money they earn for ensuring their economic empowerment and creation of sustainable assets. They should be encouraged to save for the future and educate their children, both boys and girls. This will need support from rural banks, self-help groups and NGOs.


There should be a system in place for the skill development of NREG beneficiaries. This could be in carpentry, masonry, tanning, food processing, pisciculture, handicrafts, handlooms, horticulture, floriculture or any similar activity. NREG programme should serve as a stepping stone, not just a support system.








The last thing the Bharatiya Janata Party needed, in the wake of bitter factional quarrels at party headquarters, was for a State satrap to raise the banner of revolt. In the event, Vasundhara Raje’s conciliatory message must come as a relief to the leadership. The former Rajasthan Chief Minister signalled she would fall in line just when the rebellion, triggered by the party’s decision to remove her from the post of leader of the BJP’s legislature wing, appeared to be gathering strength. Ms Raje had taken the central leadership head on, insisting that she had majority support in the party — a claim seemingly buttressed by the legislative hordes descending on Delhi. It did not help the BJP central leadership that the unedifying spectacle was captured live by television channels hungry for more delicious news of trouble within the Hindutva ‘party with a difference.’ The leadership’s logic rested on the fact that Ms Raje had led the Rajasthan unit to two successive defeats: in November 2008, the BJP narrowly lost the Assembly election to the Congress, and in the 15th general election, held six months later, it could win only four of 25 Lok Sabha seats. The leadership also cited the precedent of B.C. Khanduri who resigned as Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, accepting responsibility for the loss of all four Lok Sabha seats from the hill State.


Ms Raje’s counterpoint was that in a democracy the choice of who leads the legislature party must be left to the legislators themselves. So why did the former Chief Minister back off? The aggression she displayed over three days suggests that the retreat may well be a tactical ploy. She evidently calculates that before long she will be back in favour. In any event, there are far too many examples of BJP rebels coming to grief. Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh were larger-than-life figures when they left the party to strike out on their own. Ms Bharti now runs a rag-tag outfit while Mr. Kalyan Singh is a shadow of his former self. Unfortunately for the BJP, there are too many fires raging in its backyard for it to draw any satisfaction from the seeming conclusion of this episode. Many saffronites, including Ms Raje’s supporters, have questioned the double standards of a party that punished her even as it rewarded those assigned key responsibilities in the general election. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has added to the pressure by continuing to meddle in the affairs of the party. To be fair, the BJP put up an impressive performance in the first budget session of the 15th Lok Sabha. However, with so much weighing on its mind, it is a worried party leadership that will head out to Shimla later this week for yet another Chintan Bhaitak. And Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah and Partition-revisionism may be waiting for it there.







The data on industrial production released recently give room for optimism that the worst is over on the industrial front, though a cloud of uncertainty remains over the economy as a whole. The industrial production index (IIP) recorded an increase of 7.8 per cent in June, the highest in 16 months, and it has come on top of a 5.44 per cent rise in June 2008. It is no statistical illusion resulting from the “base effect,” and the impressive June performance has been reasonably consistent. In May, the IIP rose by 2.22 per cent on a year-on-year basis. The index touched its lowest level in December 2008, when it turned negative by 0.25 per cent. It remained very low for the next four months, dropping below one per cent in two of them. No less significant about the June data is that all three major components of the IIP contributed to the growth. The manufacturing index went up by 7.27 per cent, electricity by 7.97 per cent, and, above all, mining recorded 15.43 per cent growth. The IIP growth for the first quarter of the current year worked out to 3.74 per cent. This may not yet portend a robust recovery, but it seems likely that, having hit the rock bottom, industrial production is heading upward.


There are however certain contradictory trends that cloud the macroeconomic picture. An analysis of the “use-based” data of the June IIP figures shows that capital goods production was up 11.75 per cent, suggesting renewed investment activity. However, further corroboration is needed. Given the loss of business confidence during the low point of recession last year, it is likely that businessmen are now pushing the investment plans they had put on hold. The consumer goods segment, which has grown by 15.5 per cent, has no doubt benefited from the stimulus packages and the higher salary incomes in the hands of government servants. At a time when industrial activity looks upbeat, there are definite indications that the GDP growth target for 2009-10 will be scaled down to below 6 per cent. The drought in many parts of the country will result in substantially lower rural incomes, which in turn will have an adverse impact on consumer spending. Higher food prices will further strain household budgets and, at the macro level, aggravate food inflation. One needs to be cautious and desist from reading too much into the seemingly robust signs of industrial recovery as indicated by one month’s IIP figures.











In a recent speech delivered in Green Bay, Wisconsin, United States President Barack Obama referred to Indians and Chinese students as a source of stiff competition for American children. He said the U.S. used to be ahead of other countries in producing graduates and doctorates, but it had now fallen behind. The Indians and the Chinese “are now coming at us, and they are coming hard at us,” he said. One might guess that he was hinting at the visible presence of Asian students in American universities. Alternatively, he might have used India and China as popular symbols of economic competitiveness and growth.


This is not the first time Mr. Obama has used the two countries as symbols of a new world order in which America cannot take its hegemony for granted. A speech he delivered soon after his victory at a meeting of Hispanic community leaders made a similar point. In both speeches, he set up the example of Indian and Chinese children for their capacity for hard work, in apparent contrast to American children who supposedly spend more hours watching television and playing video games than they spend studying or doing homework.


Mr. Obama spoke about the amount of time American children spend on video games and television, suggesting that the system of education is not demanding enough to make children study hard at home. In his speech to the Hispanic community too, Mr. Obama had invoked the idea of decline in standards. He used the familiar discourse of testing as a means to assess the performance of teachers. The ideological roots of this approach lie in the neo-liberal insistence on applying management models to education, but Mr. Obama used it to communicate his ideas to a community which feels that its children are not being given the same serious attention that the upper middle class white children receive. Apart from the Hispanic community, Afro-Americans in general might also have felt that he was talking about their children. They have a long memory of being stereotyped as people whose children need not aspire for academic education. Prejudice towards non-whites has been a major theme in American research on education.


To make sense of Mr. Obama’s educational discourse, we need to take into account the historical character of America’s national concerns in children‘s education. One can hardly think of another country which has remained, on the one hand, convinced of the crucial role of education in economic development and has, on the other, remained obsessed with the fear of loss of standards in education. Indeed, ‘educational doom’ has been a uniquely popular genre in American scholarship. A turning point in America’s post-war policies in education came when the former Soviet Union placed the Sputnik in space. America’s deep sense of physical insecurity shaped its response to the Soviet achievement. It was interpreted as evidence of something being seriously wrong with American education. A vast range of radical reforms in curriculum and teacher training followed, apart from enhancement of public financial investment in education. But the anxiety never died and scholarly books claiming America’s decline as a world leader in education kept coming at a steady pace.


The fact of the matter is that despite the constant alarm raised about standards, America has never really lost its top rank as a destination for foreign students and scholars. Nor has its output of scholarly books and journals shown any signs of shrinking. Like education in America, the knowledge produced there has consistently become more and more expensive to buy and the arrival of the Internet has made little difference. Over the recent years, extremist neo-liberal voices have gained a radical advantage over moderate voices. In her recent book entitled Academic Capitalism, Professor Sheila Slaughter discusses the ascendance of a corporate regime in higher education which has focussed on using universities and knowledge as instruments of power and control, both within America and across the globe. Personal cost of education has risen with the decline of state support for universities. Racial, class, gender and regional inequalities have deepened.


The neo-liberal regime has also sharpened the contradictions and contrasts within the system of education, leading to a sense of crisis in certain areas. One such area is teaching as a profession. Conditions in urban schools, as opposed to suburban schools which cater to the wealthier sections of society, are marked by chronic restive behaviour and violence. Teachers trained under four or five-year-long university programmes find their professional life in urban schools unbearably frustrating. The shortage created by teachers’ decision to quit and move into more lucrative and less demanding jobs has encouraged private agencies to come up with fast-track training programmes which focus on subject teaching and ignore psychological and sociological awareness. During the Bush years, slogans like ‘anyone can teach’ and ‘good enough teaching’ became popular. Yet another development which undermined the professional status and autonomy of teaching was the peddling of e-learning and other commoditised or packaged learning alternatives.


This scenario is not altogether unfamiliar to us. Our investment in education has been modest, and the number of institutions that have maintained rigour and quality are few. If the U.S. President is concerned about a competitive India, he is either being futuristic or else he is referring to that small fraction of the relevant age cohort of Indian youth which belongs to the upwardly mobile strata of Indian society and is getting globalised in larger numbers than the U.S. has been used to. We can hardly afford to interpret Mr. Obama’s positive remarks as an excuse to ignore our reality.


The recently submitted report of the Yash Pal Committee on higher education reminds us how huge the heap of our compounded problems now is and how determined an effort is required to cleanse the system. The report reminds us that there are no easy solutions and that there is no alternative to institutional rebuilding. Remedies like treating higher education as a market or opening it up for foreign universities look tempting but they are unlikely to provide even temporary relief. A dissenting member of the Yash Pal committee argued that opening up higher education for profit-seekers will improve quality by encouraging competitiveness. Such an argument ignores the nature of education in two specific facets — one, that any investment in education which leads to social mobility and increased equality has an extremely long gestation period before returns become visible, and two, that mono-subject higher education, such as stand-alone technical or management education is pedagogically flawed because it does not allow to creatively mix disciplinary perspectives in their minds. This is why the best universities in the world provide technical or management education alongside almost every conceivable subject area.

It is usually only governments that can afford to wait for decades before social returns become visible, and provide education across multiple disciplines, even if many of them are not profit-making in a fee-payment sense. Private entities prefer to have tangible investment horizons, and they typically provide education in areas where students are willing to pay high fees, or the job market provides optimal incentives. This is why pedagogically and socially-productive investments in education must come from the state.


The Yash Pal report focusses on the intellectual fragmentation of academic life and its consequences. The report compels us to ponder why our undergraduate education fails to inspire the young and how our system reinforces gender disparity. The challenge of reform it sets up invites us to think beyond ideological stereotypes of change. The report tells us that the challenge is not merely administrative and financial, but also curricular and pedagogic. And it is structural too, in the sense that it demands a systemic vision. Fragmentation of knowledge is at the heart of the problem posed by rigidities of admission to colleges, the isolation of engineering and medicine from science and social science, and the separation of research from teaching at the undergraduate level. Problems of this kind cannot be solved in a day. Instead of being taken in by Mr. Obama’s reference to India as a rival in education, let us appreciate the scale of the challenge we face and the distractions we must avoid, especially the distraction of a populist discourse which trivialises the challenges of educational planning or restricts it to the task of reproducing a small, globally mobile Indian elite.









Mumbai is a city that has been hailed for its resilience, especially after multiple bomb blasts, and not even the November 26 terror strike still so clearly etched in memory, did not bring about the sort of panic that a certain virus has indeed brought about. Schools are shut, cinemas are closed. While the city has not emptied out as Pune has, there is anxiety in the air.


Even a slight cough can make people look askance at you. Most people shield themselves with kerchiefs or dupattas or even surgical masks — which by all accounts have become scarce.


In fact, there are many other reasons for which Mumbai’s citizens should cover their faces. This is a city notorious for its poor public hygiene and cleanliness. Many of the mask-wearers seem unaware of the Municipal Corporation’s drive against spitting: it is common to see people delicately lift their masks and spit on the road. The Corporation is silent on its health and hygiene measures in the context of the latest situation on the flu front.


The dos and don’ts with regard to the flu include using a handkerchief when you cough or sneeze. These are norms of civilised behaviour which are rarely adhered to in public places. Fever, gastro-enteritis, dengue, leptospirosis, malaria and other diseases have driven people to the city’s public hospitals.


On August 13, in the city’s 24 civic hospitals there were 324 cases of fever, 68 of gastro-enteritis, four of leptospirosis, six of dengue and 89 of malaria. Three deaths due to fever, malaria and gastro-enteritis were reported on August 11, while the previous day there were two deaths due to gastro-enteritis and leptospirosis. On August 7 there were three deaths from malaria and one from gastro-enteritis.


Leptospirosis claimed a victim on August 8, the same day that Fahmida Panwala succumbed to the A(H1N1) flu.


While the flu deaths make headlines, from January through August 13 there were 38 suspected deaths due to malaria in the city, 10 of them in August, according to official figures. In 2009, a total of 3,92,998 blood samples were taken for malaria, of which 12,632 proved positive. So far in August, 1,830 people have tested positive for malaria. The measures the government has taken to keep schools and colleges shut, apart from cinemas, citing the pattern that Mexico followed, seems out-of-proportion.


According to the World Health Organisation’s latest World Health statistics for 2009, India reported 1,476,562 cases of malaria in 2007. Even the civic authorities concede that malaria is the real public health challenge. But going by the over-the-top reaction to swine flu, you would not guess that. In this context, the alarm over swine flu cannot but be seen to be misplaced, to say the least.


According to National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) 2005-06, the prevalence of medically treated tuberculosis (TB) is much higher in Mumbai than in all of urban Maharashtra (590 versus 367 per 100,000). And, within Mumbai, it is much higher among slum-dwellers than non-slum-dwellers (690 compared with 458 per 100,000). Although all women and men in Mumbai have heard of TB, only 70 per cent know it is spread through air as a consequence of coughing or sneezing, according to NFHS-3. Yet, almost everyone in the city knows that swine flu is in the air and is spread through coughing and sneezing. This explains the explosion of masks and handkerchiefs.


The queues at the designated civic hospitals to test for the H1N1 virus are unceasing, though there are only two testing facilities and they are overburdened. The Maharashtra government seems to have reacted with knee-jerk responses. It first said the drug Tamiflu must only be had if people test positive for swine flu. A few days later it said Tamiflu would be given to those whose throat swabs are taken. Finally it has decided that anyone with symptoms can be treated with Tamiflu even without testing. This has sent confusing signals to an already worried population. Now there is a clamour to make Tamiflu available with chemists. The government has so far resisted this move and is only extending the option of treatment to private hospitals.


Each death increases the alarm and causes the panic button to be pressed. The media, too, are responsible for the panic reaction. While swine flu is breaking news, the Maharashtra government is dealing with severe drought-like conditions in parts of the State and on that front too it is not exactly covering itself with glory: squabbles have broken out among politicians over which areas should be given the drought-hit tag. This has led to an updating of the number of drought-hit taluks and a revision exercise is expected. Chief Minister Ashok Chavan faced flak from Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal at the Cabinet meeting last Thursday over the allegedly inept handling of the swine flu situation, among other issues.


As the experts have suggested, there has to be a measured response to the flu and it must be treated with due caution — which is not to say that a cavalier approach is warranted. It is time, then, to take off those masks and get real.







The patter of tiny feet is apparently growing louder in Iceland — and it’s all down to the banking meltdown. There’s been a 3.5 per cent increase in the birth rate there this year, giving the country its highest number of deliveries for at least half a century.


Helga Gottfreosdottir, professor of midwifery at the University of Iceland, says the country was already seeing an increase in births in 2008, before the banking crash. The figure was up from 2.09 births per woman to 2.14 (that’s compared with 1.95 in Britain, and 2.02 in France). But, given that Iceland is a tiny country that boasts just 320,000 people, the rise only amounted to a hard figure of 275 actual births. She’s sceptical about whether Iceland will turn out, in the long term, to be bucking the international trend. But she does wonder whether one key to the rise could be Iceland’s generous parental leave. “Here, parents get nine months of leave when they have a baby,” she explains. “Three months is for the mother, three months is for the father, and three months can be taken by either the mother or the father.” Better yet, if you’re an out-of-work Icelander who’s just had a baby, the state will pay you a salary for up to six months of childcare. Who says life isn’t all down to economics? — ©








“Truckloads of cattle have left this village,” says Maruti Yadavrao Panghate in Devdhari village of Yavatmal. “Many more will go. There is no fodder or water for them.” Panghate, who owns five acres, feels he has lost “80 per cent of my soybean, 70 per cent of cotton and 50 per cent of all the jowar I’ve sown. Late rains even at this point will retrieve something, though not much. However, it could help with fodder and some water. Without that, the rest of the cattle will go, too. Already bullocks worth Rs.10,000 are selling at Rs. 4,000. It’s the same in other villages.”


The distress sale of cattle is one of the most sensitive indicators of crisis in the countryside. And when prices fall the way they have here, it suggests the onset of unusual levels of hardship. Vidharbha may not be yet as severely hit by the drought as parts of Marathwada or neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. But its situation is fragile. Its farmers have been battered by years of an agrarian crisis that had little to do with drought. Coming atop that crisis, monsoon failure hits a people far more vulnerable than they were in other decades.


There is still a six to eight day loop, as Panghate says, in which late rains can save something. “It’s been 20 days since the last showers,” says Yavatmal’s worried but energetic Collector Sanjay Deshmukh. “As things are now, we stand to lose about a fifth of the crop. If they stay this way and there are no further rains, we could lose up to 50 per cent of the crop.” (Others fear higher losses.) Deshmukh is hopeful that late rains could keep that down to just a fifth. And he has opened fodder depots, released dam water strictly for drinking water purposes and activated new NREGs works. It’s a race against time.


The cattle sales continue, though. “If the drought gets worse, people won’t keep any cattle at all,” warns Hafizuddin Kabiruddin, one of the 15-odd agents or dalals at the cattle market in Panderkauda. “I have not seen this kind of situation and I’ve been 25 years in the trade. And mind you most of the sales are taking place directly at the village rather than at our cattle market. The trucks just pick them from the villages and move across the Andhra border to Adilabad.” There, they go to the abattoirs.


Hafizuddin explains why prices have fallen most on premium breeds. “The top breeds consume far more fodder than the others. Hence Jerseys worth Rs. 15,000 are going for around Rs. 8,000. High priced bullock jodis (pairs) which would have fetched Rs. 50,000 or more last year won’t get you Rs. 30,000 now. You will also find that far more buffaloes are sold off than cows as they consume much more fodder than the latter. All varieties have fallen, but the nondescript ones had a low price anyway. So maybe those drop by Rs.2,000 or so.” That’s a lot of money for a poor family losing its milch animal.


At the end of two hours of explaining the trade and its present situation to us, Hafizuddin reveals that he too has been hit. “I’ve had to sell nine head of cattle in the past month.” Quite a few of those from premium breeds. He has lost around Rs.35,000 on those. He did not want to sell them, but “where is the fodder?”


“Water, too, is a huge problem,” says Amol Srirami whose family owns a well-known lassi shop in Panderkauda town. He and his brother Prashant have sold three of their five buffaloes in just the past eight days. “We lost a packet on that,” he says ruefully. “The lassi season is really for three months from about March to May. But you’ve got to feed and care for the animals all 12 months. Less fodder translates into less milk, so there’s no earning there either. I think each house in our Tadumri village has sold one or two head of cattle.” And so the Prashant Ras Vihar and Lassi Centre stays closed “for the season.”


Water, as Srirami says, is a huge problem for livestock as well. But typically, as one district official points out, “governments in a time of crisis tend to focus only on drinking water for human beings.” In a country with close to 600 million farm animals, that’s a problem. “Farm animals are not taken into account at the time of planning.”


“You can see that the cattle and goats are having to drink any water they can, a lot of it quite toxic, from contaminated sources,” says Vidharbha Jan Andolan Samiti leader Kishor Tiwari. His organisation has been at the forefront of fighting for the rights of farmers in this region. “If the rains do not show in the next week,” he says, “we are in serious trouble on every front. Crop, water and fodder.” Water, confirm those selling off their cattle, is as much a problem as fodder. Oddly enough, lower level officials in some talukas deny there is a fodder crisis. They say all applications for fodder “have been disposed off.” This contrasted sharply with claims amongst villagers that they were unable to get any. “Perhaps people have long ago given up seeking things from the administration,” jokes Tiwari. But Collector Deshmukh is taking no chances on this front and opening fodder centres anyway.


There is also the problem that over years, as in much of the country, the district’s agriculture extension machinery is crippled. At some levels non-existent. “One-third of extension officers posts are lying vacant,” says an official. “Then there are so many vacancies in clerical posts as well. So many of those meant to do extension work are pressed into clerical duties. That means even fewer people in the field.”

In a region already beset with problems, the soybean crop being hit by pest, the jowar (that could provide fodder) in danger and water getting scarcer, the next eight days will be crucial.









Air India’s request for a bailout of Rs. 20,000 crores is making the headlines. Over a decade ago, when Indian Airlines approached the Finance Ministry for a couple of hundred crores, we were told that the government would only consider the request if a detailed study by experts is produced, which shows ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’


We read of heads rolling, retrenchment, downsizing and closures — (strong words, uttered earlier as well, but often not acted upon), but do these alone add up to a solution? Does not retention or capture of markets depend also on sound professional management, superior service and maintenance of employee enthusiasm? Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines, in a lecture delivered in India, remarked that his focus was always on the employee and not the customer, since customers are bound to be better served, if employees are well trained and motivated.


Let us turn to the airlines. Indian Airlines registered profits in 2003-04, 2004-5 and 2005-06, (44.17, 65.61 and 49.5 crores respectively). In 2006-07 it suffered a loss of Rs. 234 crores; and in 2007-08 the loss of the merged airline ‘Air India’ was Rs. 2,226 crores. What is the reason for the almost ten-fold increase in losses?


Two decisions that shook employee morale and therefore may, to a major extent, have been responsible for the losses, are the change of name from ‘Indian Airlines’ to ‘Indian’ and the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines.


In the October 2004 IMRB survey, Indian Airlines (IA) was rated the ‘most preferred airline’; corporate executives showed preference for IA (44% against 42% of Jet); and IA was the most traveled airline, (50% against 38% of Jet).


In the Economic Times- A.C.Nielson Survey in 2003 as well as in 2004, amongst the 50 top brands, IA was ranked no: 7, with Taj Hotels at no: 12 and Jet Airways no: 48.


The name ‘Indian Airlines’ therefore possessed enormous brand equity.


In December 2005 ‘Indian Airlines’ was changed to ‘Indian’ for reasons entirely unknown to both its employees and its customers.


Management studies have concluded that change of a brand should involve a process viz. audit and analysis with key stake holders, holding a workshop, brand design and research, a ‘soft launch’ and finally the ‘roll-out’, all of which takes at least a year and a half.


No one is aware of any such process having been followed, employees sadly remarking ‘Indian Airlines ka naam o nishaan nahin. (Indian Airlines went without a trace)’ The change of name had therefore a grave adverse effect on morale.


Regarding the merger, whilst a variety of studies from the seventies, and even earlier, were of the view that merger of the two airlines was desirable, all experts were unanimous in advising that the process of merger should not be sudden, but in stages, spread over years.


The N.P. Sen Committee in 1972 stated:‘…… India, as in Britain, the integration of the two Corporations will have to be implemented gradually, with as little disruption as possible, so as to achieve the desired results without a disastrous collapse of morale….’ (Emphasis added.)


In the mid-80s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was keen on the merger of the two airlines. An expert committee, headed by Shri M.P. Wadhawan, erstwhile chairman, Indian Iron and Steel Company, and consisting of experts from the IIM, the Administrative Staff College of India and deputy managing directors of Air India and Indian Airlines, studied the proposal and submitted a report.


The Committee of Secretaries of the Government of India, considering the recommendations of the Wadhawan Committee, came to the view that, since immediate merger was bound to result in dislocation, due to fitment of personnel, and since neither Air India nor Indian Airlines were strong organisations to withstand this, it was not the appropriate time to consider the merger of the two corporations. (This was in 1986, when both Indian Airlines and Air India were showing profits.) It was therefore decided that, in line with what had been recommended by the Wadhawan Committee, the airlines should go in for ‘organised system collaboration’, by setting up an organisation which has a common balance sheet, or a notionally common balance sheet, and in which the two companies, viz. Air India and Indian Airlines, would continue to function on a day- to-day basis, with maximum autonomy, with the apex board of the larger company only intervening and issuing directions in matters that required synergy between the two organisations and/or optimisation of resources.


A decade later, the common Boards of Indian Airlines and Air India, which had men of eminence such as Russi Modi, Deepak Parekh, Pratap Reddy, Pallam Raju and Inder Sharma, considering the issue of merger in July, 1997, decided to appoint a consultant of repute to prepare a blueprint.

A.F. Ferguson made a presentation to the Board in July, 1998 suggesting, as a first stage, the setting up of a holding company. The managements of the airlines mentioned that since, in 1996-1997 Air India suffered a loss of over Rs.270 crores, and Indian Airlines a loss of Rs.13 crores, both organisations were extremely fragile, and facing competition, and therefore to think of immediate merger would be inviting trouble. It was also recalled that the sudden merger of Vayudoot with Indian Airlines, and of the National Airports Authority with the International Airports Authority, resulted in chronic problems of personnel that persisted over the years.


A decade later, despite the existence of all earlier advice of experts from management institutions, the corporate sector, the public sector and the administration, it was decided in August 2007 to merge the two airlines at one stroke.


As could have been expected, in 2007-08 the combined ‘Air India’ made a loss of Rs.2, 226 crores, and for 2008-09 the losses are reportedly around Rs.5,000 crores.


In short while changing a brand name, or merging organisations, it would have been wiser to ‘hasten slowly’, always taking care to carry your employees with you.


Given the present situation, the search for solutions should be as wide, intense and unorthodox as possible. Among the steps that could considered are, reverting back to the idea of having a holding company; inducting a senior HRD manager of exceptional ability, who should, together with a separate team, concentrate solely on continuous interaction with employees, addressing their fears and apprehensions, and on introducing programmes that focus on attitudinal change and up gradation of management skills; setting up a search committee of experts to select from within, or laterally induct, professionals of the highest calibre for the HRD, Finance, and Marketing Divisions ; and inducting in the Board, persons who combine ability and maturity, who will devote time to the affairs of the organisation, and never hesitate to speak their mind.


It must at all times be remembered that governance, both of countries and of organisations, is an art, and one that respects the human factor.


( Probir Sen is a former Chairman and Managing Director of Indian Airlines.)








The British naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough is increasingly the go-to man for scientists overcome by the creative challenge of naming a new discovery. Sir David has given his name to a prehistoric lizard, a parasitic wasp, an echidna (or spiny anteater), a fossilised fish and, now, a rat-eating plant.


It seems a dubious honour when your name is attached to a giant pitcher plant capable of trapping rodents in enormous folds. Sir David, however, is delighted that the carnivorous species was given the scientific title Nepenthes attenboroughii by a team of botanists led by Stewart McPherson, who discovered it during a plant-hunting expedition to Mount Victoria in the Philippines.


“I like these oddball plants and this is a very dramatic one. It can hold up to two litres of water in its jugs,” says Sir David. “It is a very nice, complimentary thing for this young, intrepid explorer to do and I am very touched that Stewart McPherson should have done it in my name.”


Every year, more than 15,000 new species of animal alone are recognised by scientists. In the old days, they would often pay tribute to a learned colleague but by the mid-19th century many species were named after wealthy patrons who funded scientific endeavour.


While modern scientists are admirably blind to the commercial potential of a new species of coffee plant called Starkbuckii or a prehistoric cow named McDonaldae, many have a weakness for honouring random celebrities. Hence we have a sea snail called Bufonaria borisbeckeri, a ground beetle named Agra katewinsletae and several dinosaurs named after Jurassic Park director Steven Spielberg. Scientists have also immortalised their dodgy music taste (a dinosaur called Masiakasaurus knopfleri, after Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler) and geeky passion for Star Wars (a wasp named Polemistus chewbacca and a beetle called Agathidium vaderi).


This year, a species of lichen was named Caloplaca obamae in honour of Barack Obama’s support of science. The names given to three species of slime-mold beetle (Agathidium bushi after George Bush, Agathidium cheneyi after Dick Cheney and Agathidium rumsfeldi after Donald Rumsfeld) might not carry the same intent.


It is acceptable to name a species after a public figure but not after yourself, according to Steve Tracey of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature.


Scientists naming discoveries after family members is also “a little bit naughty,” says Tracey, particularly as the discoverer’s name is anyway placed next to the species name so authorship is not forgotten.


His personal favourites are humorous: the mollusc of the genus Abra that was given the species name cadabra, while the British naturalist Sir Peter Scott caused a stir by giving the Loch Ness Monster the scientific name of Nessiteras rhombopteryx. Supposed to mean “the wonder of Ness with the diamond-shaped fin,” it was later revealed as an anagram of “Monster hoax by Sir Peter S.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009








It is plausible to detect in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech at the chief ministers’ conference on internal security on Monday an effort to turn his back on the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement which succeeded in creating the unfortunate impression that India will persist with engaging Pakistan even if terrorist actions continue. Although there is no specific threat that the government knows about — as Union home minister P. Chidambaram made clear — Dr Singh saw it fit to sound a terror alert, urging the top executives of diverse hues from the states that India simply cannot afford to drop its guard. He is quite right. Terrorist acts from Pakistan have been so numerous and so persistent for a quarter-century as to form a dark trend line. Considering this, India’s signature at Sharm el-Sheikh was no more than a wispy hope that Pakistan’s new civilian leadership will be able to deliver on terrorism at least at the present conjuncture when Pakistan itself is in the crosshairs of some terrorists. New Delhi had obviously not factored in the Pakistani military establishment, whose shadowy relationships with terror outfits of every shade baffles even Washington, Islamabad’s original "all-weather" friend. Dr Singh’s bold assertion before the chief ministers was made on the strength of the chatter picked up from Lakhvi and Zarar Shah, the masterminds of the Mumbai attack who are said to be in detention. Whatever their status, they are clearly in a position to go on plotting. In the light of this it is not a little disingenuous of Pakistan to ask India after the Prime Minister’s speech to provide it, in terms of the recent joint statement, details of any actionable intelligence it may have in its possession. Given what we know, the government needs to work out if it is still feasible for the two foreign secretaries to hold consultations with a view to kickstarting the abandoned dialogue process at the political level.


It was disturbing to hear the home minister say that the "urgency" to checkmate terrorism generated after the Mumbai outrage appeared to have dissipated, and it was now "business as usual". If this implies that the National Investigation Agency — set up with such fanfare after the 26/11 Mumbai attack to deal with real-time intelligence based on inputs from the common intel pool of all Central and state agencies — has failed to take off, then our ability to fend off terrorist strikes from across the border looks thin. It is not clear what lessons the chief ministers have taken home from the conference. Briefings to the media did not indicate if there was any opportunity for the Central leadership to hear those who run state governments on the vital question of reinforcing the national internal security grid. Considering that we live in a fragile geopolitical region, a truly national effort is called for in meeting the demands of keeping our citizens safe from terrorism and subversion.









In a message to the nation, broadcast from the All-India Radio on August 15, 1947, Sri Aurobindo spoke about some of his dreams. He dreamt of a free and united country without which India could not fulfil her true destiny. But what the country got was Partition, accompanied by riots, rapes, plunder, loss of half-a-million lives and displacement of another one-and-a-half-million people. Sri Aurobindo had hoped that Partition would go. But it has not gone. Instead, the dimensions and depth of the dividing lines have increased. Terrorism, subversion, separatism and differences of caste and creed have made a dangerous headway.


The second dream which Sri Aurobindo entertained was that India, with a vast treasure of spirituality would become the epicentre for advancement of the "eternal religion" — Sanatana Dharma. But where is this religion to be found in India today? Who is preaching and practicing it? What, in fact, is seen all over the country, is an ever increasing tribe of "peddlers of arrant nonsense" who are draining out its core.

A moral chaos has engulfed the nation and the culture of corruption is spreading fast. Viewed as one of the top 10 most corrupt countries in the world, India now runs the risk of being destroyed by the virus of corruption in her politics, administration and economy.


As a class, India’s elected representatives are very similar to the description of a typical legislature given earlier by Sri Aurobindo: "He does not represent the soul of a people or its aspirations. What he does usually represent is all the average pettiness, selfishness, egoism, self-deception that is about him, and these he represents well enough, as well as a great deal of mental incompetence and moral conventionality, timidity and pretence. Great issues often come to him for decision, but he does not deal with them greatly; high words and noble ideas are on his lips, but they become rapidly the claptrap of a party".


Look at the Indian Parliament. What an uninspiring spectacle it is. The 14th Lok Sabha, for example, had about 100 members who were involved in criminal cases — 30 of whom had been charged with murder, dacoity, rape and extortion. Could an institution, dominated by such men and women, provide a national environment conducive to the realisation of Sri Aurobindo’s great vision?


The third dream of Sri Aurobindo was "a worldwide union forming the outer basis of a fairer, brighter and nobler life for all mankind". Such a union, he thought, was necessary not only because it was inherent in nature but also because its absence would imperil the freedom of smaller nations and threaten the security of bigger ones. He hoped that India would develop a "larger statesmanship" and play an effective role in this regard at the international level.


India, instead of playing a meaningful role in ushering in "a fair, bright and noble life for all mankind", has jumped on the bandwagon of those who, under the cover of globalisation, deregulation and other ingredients of neo-liberalism, are creating serious imbalances not only in the economy but also in the environment and ecology. In India itself, besides degradation and depletion of natural resources, wide disparities in income and lifestyle have come about.


Another dream of Sri Aurobindo pertained to the spiritual gifts which India was capable of delivering to the world. He had noted that Indian spirituality, its message as well as its psychic practices, were entering Europe and America. His hope was that this process, in times to come, would get enlarged. But this hope, too, does not seem to be materialising. Though yogic practices have made some headway, their overall impact has been marginal. The position with regard to spiritual teachings is even less reassuring. This is a natural outcome of the fact that India is now neither nursing her ancient nobility of temper nor developing a style of life based upon the fundamentals of her true spirituality.


In light of the above analysis, a few crucial questions need to be answered. How is it that all the dreams, mentioned by Sri Aurobindo in his Independence day message, have virtually disappeared from the collective memory of the nation? Why did the steering wheel of India’s destiny remain only for a short time in the hands of those who were sensitive to the need for "giving expression to her long suppressed soul" and how did the same wheel soon come into the hands of those who have been wholly oblivious of such a need and are destroying practically every positive item of India’s heritage?


All this has happened because the post-1947 leadership by and large, failed to do what it should have done as top priority. It should have rekindled the power of the Indian mind, reawakened the purity of India’s soul and created a mental climate in which a rich crop of karamyogis could grow and a nobility-oriented culture emerge. Along with India’s Constitution and five-year plans for economic development, it could have formulated a national regeneration programme, by way of which the country should have been relieved of all the garbage that had collected in her courtyard during the long period of decay and degeneration of her civilisation, and at the same time dug out the buried treasures of her life-nurturing and life-elevating ideals towards which spiritual giants, such as Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Aurobindo had repeatedly pointed their fingers.


The leadership should have realised that without providing inner energy, shakti, the institutions created by the Constitution could not develop the animation that was needed to keep them clean, creative and constructive.


As early as 1914, Sri Aurobindo, in a press interview, had significantly pointed out: "I am convinced that a spiritual awakening is the most important condition of our national greatness". Regrettably, such sane pieces of advice were all but ignored by the post-1947 leadership. The disastrous consequences of this lapse are that the moral fabric of society, weak as it already was, has been further shredded and Sri Aurobindo’s dreams remained elusive.


Jagmohan is a former governor of J&K and a former Union minister








I have firm faith in Shiridi Sai Baba. Being a Hindu, I believe that God is one and it is Shiridi Sai Baba whom people from all communities visualise as God. Many miracles have happened in my life because of Him. I interact with Baba a lot.


Shiridi Sai Baba is my conscience. Whenever I need a solution regarding something that is bothering me, I ask Baba. I have never asked for anything material from Him.


I worship Baba everyday. I ask Him to give me energy to work hard and the strength to face all hurdles. I also worship Goddess Durga.


Shiridi Sai Baba preached a wonderful formula for happiness in life. He said that do not ask for too many things. Also, too many aspirations lead to sadness in life. If everyone understands and implements this simple formula, happiness will be theirs. Pray to Baba and firmly implement what He preached, then you will get immense peace and happiness.


(As told to Prashanth Bhat)


Naresh is a popular Telugu actor









When both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P. Chidambaram make it public that there is “credible information” that Pakistan-based terrorist outfits can strike anywhere, anytime in India, this has to be taken with all seriousness. “Cross-border terrorism remains the most pervasive threat”, as Dr Manmohan Singh emphasised while addressing a gathering of chief ministers on Monday. India cannot afford to be lax in keeping vigil at the country’s borders as well as the sea front. Of course, there has been no major terrorist attack for the past few months because of better intelligence gathering and security arrangements. But terrorists are known to spring a surprise and this must be prevented at all costs.

Pressing the panic button can do more harm than good. But the looming terrorist threat demands that those involved in ensuring tight security arrangements and intelligence gathering must never be complacent. There are “disturbing trends”, as Dr Manmohan Singh has pointed out. Anti-national forces in Jammu and Kashmir have been projecting some incidents that occurred in the border state in the recent past with an eye on inflaming people’s passions. This may help the terrorists, crossing over to this side of the border from Pakistan, to easily get local recruits for implementing their master’s unholy designs. This coupled with a rise in infiltration cases from the Pakistan side makes the situation quite alarming. An increase in the infiltration level during this time of the year is a new development, which is definitely a matter of concern. In the past, this was noticed only ahead of the onset of winter.


This shows that Islamabad has done little to destroy the terrorists’ infrastructure and training facilities. Despite the pledge given by Pakistani rulers on more than one occasion, the terrorist groups working against India are apparently being allowed to operate unhindered. No serious action has also been taken against the plotters of the Mumbai terrorist strike. Pakistan’s duplicity must be exposed in the interest of stability in South Asia. At the same time, India must remain ever-watchful.








The Himachal Pradesh Educational Institutions (Prohibition of Ragging) Bill, passed by the state’s Vidhan Sabha, is a necessary and welcome step towards curbing the obnoxious practice of ragging. The groundwork of this provision was laid by the then Chief Minister, Mr Shanta Kumar, in 1992, but that ordinance lapsed because of inhospitable political climate. Now, this Bill will replace an ordinance issued by the Dhumal government in March.


All right-thinking people will welcome the legal strength it gives to the government and the administration in tackling the menace that has led to many deaths across the country, including that of Aman Kachroo, a medical student in Tanda, Himachal Pradesh, which finally pushed the state politicians into taking requisite measures. While experts may debate about exactly why students of professional institutions, otherwise the best and the brightest, are the worst offenders, there is simply no place for this inhuman practice in the education system.


The RK Raghavan Committee on ragging had gone into the issue at the behest of the Supreme Court, and its recommendations basically focus on the fact that “softer options have not worked and, therefore, it is time for tough measures.” The state government, therefore, has done well to make ragging an offence that could lead to suspension and expulsion of offenders. However, the Opposition has apprehensions on this issue, which have some basis, given the highly politicised campuses of the state. Consequently, care will have to be taken that the provisions of the law are not misused. Deterrent punishment for those found guilty —up to three years of imprisonment and a fine up to Rs 50,000 or both — is necessary and it is expected of all political leaders and other prominent people to come together to curb this menace without being influenced by personal or sectional interests.








In the wake of the threat posed by the H1N1 pandemic, the Union Health Ministry has been issuing guidelines from time to time. Earlier, it categorised patients and specified treatment accordingly. Now, the ministry has advised schools to refrain from closing down and instead suggested precautionary measures like doing away with morning assembly, sports and other gatherings and keeping a close watch on students. Indeed, as the experience of virus-hit nations has proved, closing down schools is not the solution.


As it is, the public in India has reacted with virtual hysteria. The closure of schools, colleges and multiplexes has been part of the exaggerated reaction. The health minister’s unguarded statement that one-third of the country’s population could be affected in varying degrees in two years, too, fuelled the panic. The ministry’s latest advisory is not only aimed at containing the virus but also meant to allay fears. Efforts are being made to correct the perspective. A trifle late though, it is a worthy move. With infections increasing by the day — on August 17 the nation recorded 220 fresh cases of swine flu — it is clear that the H1N1 menace is not receding. However, it is not as deadly as it was perceived to be and the virus has as yet not mutated into a more virulent form.


Still, nations, especially developing ones like India with an over-stressed health care system and few specialists for infectious diseases cannot afford to let their guard down. Swine flu cases need to be monitored with alacrity and responded to with equal promptness. A close check on students as suggested by the ministry is a must. For schools can be the breeding ground for infections and the young have been more susceptible to the virus. The government guidelines to schools must be followed.












Twenty years of sanctioning and lecturing Myanmar’s military regime have failed. The West needs to engage with Myanmar’s leaders, increase humanitarian aid and reopen commercial relations with the country. If it doesn’t, not only will positive change remain as elusive as ever, but the country will also turn quickly and irreparably into an economic vassal of China.


In a sign of just how impervious the regime is to Western pressure, last week opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to her fourth spell of house arrest. Two thousand political prisoners remain locked up. And a transition to democracy appears nowhere in sight


I was born in the United States in 1966 to Burmese parents. My grandfather, U Thant, was then serving as the United Nations’ third secretary general. I witnessed repression in Myanmar firsthand when I was 8, during the violent unrest surrounding my grandfather’s funeral.


In 1989, just after college, I spent a year in Thailand and along the Thai-Burmese border, working with dissidents and trying help the first wave of Burmese refugees. Thousands had been killed during a failed anti-government uprising. Suu Kyi had just been placed under house arrest.


And the ruling junta, after losing relatively free elections, was refusing to hand over power. Later in Washington I argued with members of Congress and others that maximum sanctions were the best way to topple the dictatorship. It was an easy argument to make.


By the early 1990s nearly all Western aid to Myanmar had been terminated, and development assistance through the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund had been blocked. A decade later, embargos and boycotts had cut off nearly all economic ties with the United States and Europe. None of the senior Burmese government officials or their children (these are the only international sanctions targeting children) are allowed to travel to the West.


But as the regime not only survived but also began to seek trade, investment and tourism, I started having doubts. My feeling was that the West should use the opening and find a back door to change while the front door remained firmly shut.


In 2006 I published a book, “The River of Lost Footsteps,” in which I argued for a shift in the West’s approach. Even when, in 2007, new protests were violently crushed, I still believed greater engagement was the right way. I felt that many policy-makers and journalists were missing the bigger picture.


Few seemed aware, for example, that Myanmar was just emerging from decades of civil war. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the government and more than a dozen different ethnic insurgent armies hammered out cease-fires, a breakthrough that went virtually unnoticed in the West. (Today, though the cease-fires remain, there is no permanent peace.) And few seemed concerned by the country’s grinding poverty, the result of decades of economic bungling as well as embargos, boycotts and aid cutoffs.


In 1991, UNICEF’s country director warned of a humanitarian emergency among Myanmar’s children, arguing that more aid couldn’t wait for the right government. Eighteen years later, Myanmar still receives less than a tenth of the per-capita aid handed out to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Tens of thousands die needlessly from treatable diseases.


These challenges have been ignored in the hope that sanctions and tough talk would lead to political change. But that hasn’t happened.


Part of the reason is that the people who fashioned the sanctions didn’t consider how the rise of Asia’s giants — China and India — would transform Burma. As American businesses pulled out in the mid-1990s, Chinese and other Asian companies poured in. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of natural gas have been discovered offshore, and massive hydroelectric and mining projects are being signed.


Within two years a 1,000-mile oil and gas pipeline will stretch across Myanmar, connecting China’s inland provinces to the sea. The U.S. trade embargo led to the near-collapse of the garment industry in the late 1990s, throwing tens of thousands of people out of work, but for the regime this has meant little.


Myanmar today is in no danger of economic disintegration. Without Western engagement, however, Myanmar’s 55 million people risk becoming a virtual colony of their 1.3 billion Chinese neighbors to the east. There is no nefarious Chinese takeover scheme, but the vacuum created by Western policy is being filled.


The old Burmese generals will soon retire, and a new generation will rise to the top. Gen. Than Shwe, Myanmar’s powerful autocrat, is 77 and ailing. Any chance for change requires support from at least some military leaders. Yet we’ve done nothing to try to influence the worldview of Than Shwe’s possible successors. The upcoming generation of officers will be the first never to have visited Europe or America.


Asia has experienced many successful democratic transitions, and none came about because of the sanctions and lectures that Western powers and advocacy groups seem to think will work in Myanmar. Generals don’t negotiate away their power in the face of threats. You have to change the ground beneath them.


Engagement is not just about talking — it’s about dealing with the powers that be enough to get a foot in the door and create new facts on the ground, especially through economic contacts with the Burmese people. Nor is it based on the notion that economic development will automatically produce democracy, but that we must tackle simultaneously Myanmar’s political and economic ills.


Thant Myint-U is the author of “The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma.”


By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








The pictures exposed by The Tehelka magazine establish beyond any reasonable doubt that Chungkham Sanjit was shot dead in cold blood on July 23, 2009, by the Manipur police commandos. Yet, the state government failed to take any measure that would assuage pent-up public sentiment against widespread and systematic extrajudicial executions in Manipur.


In 2008, the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) investigated 19 cases of extrajudicial execution in Manipur. Out of 96 complaints of extrajudicial executions filed by ACHR before the National Human Right Commission in the last five years, 50 are from Manipur alone.


Following a telephone call from Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Chief Minister Ibobi Singh has ordered a judicial inquiry and suspended six accused commandos.


Unfortunately, past track record evoke little confidence. The reports of over a dozen magisterial and judicial inquiries, including the infamous killing of Thangjam Manorama Devi in July 2004, have not been made public, let alone prosecute the accused.


The state machinery is more interested in protecting the culprits. Parag Das, then Executive Editor of Asomiya Pratidin and Secretary General of Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti was shot dead in broad daylight on May 17, 1996, in Guwahati.


On July 28, 2009, the session court judge of Kamrup, Justice Dilip Kumar Mahanta, had to acquit Mridul Phukan, prime accused in the Parag Das murder case, because of the “wilful lapses” by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Assam Police in conducting the investigation.


Even where the culprits are identified the Central government seldom gives permission for prosecution. An inquiry by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the government of Tripura found that 15-year-old Rathajoy Reang and three others were picked up for interrogation by the Assam Rifles on June 21, 2002 and severely beaten in custody. As a result of torture Rathajoy Reang died in the hospital on June 25, 2002.


The CID recommended prosection of Maj S.S. Dhanda and male nurse A.K. Sahu. The government of Tripura sought the sanction of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs but there was no response.


It was only after the National Human Rights Commission summoned the Home Secretary to appear in person that on January 21, 2009, the MHA informed that the Assam Rifles were functioning under the opertional control of HQrs. 3 Corps HQ, Eastern Command at the relevant time and therefore, the Defence Ministry is the one to grant the sanction for prosecution. And the Defence Ministry is currently sitting on the file.


When so-called exemplary punishment is meted out, it is disproportionate to the crime committed. In February 2006, Ajit Mahanta was killed in the custody of the Army after his arrest from Kakopathar in Tinsukia district of Assam.


Following protests, the Army admitted the mistake and constituted a military court to try the accused. In July 2006, two soldiers Nishant Sharma and Sudip Gurung were found guilty of killing Ajit Mahanta. But the punishment given was too lenient.


While Nishant Sharma was suspended from service for one year, Sudip Gurung was merely sentenced to two months’ rigorous military imprisonment. In normal court, murder is punishable at least with life imprisonment.


Insurgency across the North-East has lost public support. The romanticism with secessionism too has evaporated. As the insurgent groups resort to criminal activities, especially extortion and killings, many common citizens today dare to speak against the insurgent groups.


Obviously, the Central government and the state governments in the region have failed to capitalise on public sentiments against the insurgent groups. First, the government continues to condone serious human rights violations by providing impunity to the security forces.


Second, the Centre, which signed cease-fire agreements with over half a dozen armed groups, failed to enforce the cease-fire ground rules. The state as an alternative to the armed group simply does not exist.


In a significant step, the Union Home Ministry is presently drafting an amendment to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, in particular, the proviso empowering the non-commission officers to “fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death” and to incorporate of “dos” and “don’t” guidelines issued by the Supreme Court while upholding constitutional validity of the AFSPA.


But these amendments are unlikely to reduce human rights violations unless the government addresses the regime of impunity provided through the requirement of prior sanction of the sate.


To effectively combat terror, there is a need for change of perception and mindset and actions. Human rights violations are serious criminal offences and are ought to be treated as such. They can never be justified or be part of winning hearts and minds necessary for successful counter insurgency operations.

If the law is allowed to take its own course, human rights violations will significantly reduce and this will win the hearts and minds of the people.


Kidnapping used to be Bihar’s cottage industry but the enforcement of the law had visible deterrent effect under Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Instead of learning any lesson, both the Centre and the state governments have been squandering the peace and fomenting the insurgencies in the region .


The writer is the Director, Asian Centre for Human Rights








The production of biofuels is fuelling poverty, human rights abuses and damage to the environment, Christian Aid has warned.


The charity said huge subsidies and targets in developed countries for boosting the production of fuels from plants such as maize and oil palm are exacerbating environmental and social problems in poor nations.


And rather than being a “silver bullet” to tackle climate change, the carbon emissions of some of the fuels are higher than fossil fuels because of deforestation driven by the need for land for them to grow.


According to a report, Growing Pains, by Christian Aid, industrial scale production of biofuels is worsening problems such as food price hikes in central America, forced displacement of small farmers for plantations and pollution of local water sources.


But with 2.4 billion people worldwide currently without secure sources of energy for cooking and heating, Christian Aid believes the renewable fuels do have the potential to help the poor.


The charity highlights schemes such as the growing of jatropha in Mali, where the plant is raised between food crops and the oil from the seeds is used to run village generators which can power appliances such as stoves and lights.


The report argues that talking about “good” or “bad” biofuels is oversimplifying the situation, and the problem is not with the crop or fuel - but the policies surrounding them.


Developed countries have poured subsidies into biofuel production - for example in the US where between 9.2 billion dollars and 11 billion dollars went to supporting maize-based ethanol in 2008 - when there are cheaper and more effective ways to cut emissions from transport, the report said.


The charity said biofuels production needed a “new vision” - a switch from supplying significant quantities of transport fuel for industrial markets to helping poor people have access to clean energy.


The report’s author Eliot Whittington, climate advocacy specialist for Christian Aid, said: “Vast sums of European and American taxpayers’ money are being used to prop up industries which are fuelling hunger, severe human rights abuses and environmental destruction - and failing to deliver the benefits claimed for them.”


He said the current approach to biofuels had been “disastrous”.


“Policymakers should urgently rethink their entire approach to biofuels, to ensure that only crops and fuels which will achieve their social and environmental goals receive government backing.”


He added: “Christian Aid believes that the best approach to biofuels is to grow them on a small scale and process them locally to provide energy for people in the surrounding countryside.

“This can also increase rural people’s incomes and has the potential to actually increase soil fertility and moisture retention, without compromising people’s food security.”


By arrangement with The Independent








Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram used strong words to describe the situation in the States of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland in the recent meeting of the Chief Ministers on internal security. The concerned Governments should take serious note of such words to take corrective steps to bring the situation under control. The Prime Minister and the Home Minister correctly said that the situation in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland is a matter of concern and the Centre should take up the issue seriously and adopt plans in consultation with the concerned State Governments to deal with the situation. Though security forces achieved considerable success in counter-insurgency operations in Assam in recent months, there have been reports of extortions and intelligence inputs also indicate efforts by the militant groups like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the anti-talk faction of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) to cause disturbance. The police and security forces also failed to achieve much success in North Cachar Hills despite deployment of additional forces. The Union Home Minister remarked that the there have been instances of the State Governments bending before the insurgents and this remark must have been in reference to the willingness of the States to go for cease-fire agreements with the militant groups to sweep the problems under the carpet. It is already reported in the media that the Assam Government is keen on going for a cease-fire agreement with the DHD(J), while, the Ministry of Home Affairs is reluctant to do so at this moment. The Governments of NE States are also adopting a soft stand towards the militant groups, which already signed cease-fire agreements as there have been reports of some members of such groups indulging in unlawful activities including forcible collection of funds.

The Prime Minister also expressed concern on the failure of the State Governments of NE to properly utilise the funds available. The Centre should closely monitor the implementation of funds provided by it to the State Governments as there have been allegations of irregularities in utilisation of funds and the common people are deprived of the benefits of the Central schemes. Misuse of funds by the Autonomous Councils is also a matter of concern and the Prime Minister also made this reference in the Chief Ministers’ meet. In fact, the Centre is planning to carry out external audit of the financial management of the Autonomous Councils, which is a welcome development and at the same time, the Centre should examine the feasibility of carrying out such audits of the utilisation of Central funds by the State Governments. The Centre should also take steps on the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), which often highlight glaring irregularities and financial mismanagement by the State Governments.







The check-in or check-out counters of commercial airlines have been the great levellers of modern times though not, naturally, in India where the feudalistic mentality towards so called VIPs still prevails. Thus, whenever someone of importance arrives in town, roads are blocked off and the keepers of law and order keep themselves busy chasing unwary drivers and pedestrians away from them. We also have the VIP lounges at airports from whence political and bureaucratic bigwigs can conveniently board commercial flights without having to mingle with the hoi polloi. At the arrival section of our international airports so hospitable are the immigration staffs towards VIPs -that they allow foreign ambassadors and their families through without frisking! However, despite the fact that Indian bigwigs tend to tote their VIP luggage even onto alien soil, occasionally they come a cropper since they may not be considered to be important enough elsewhere. One of the earliest such cases to have hit the headlines was that of George Fernandes, who as Union Defence Minister had been frisked in the US. That had caused a furore back home with our Members of Parliament vociferously demanding apology from America for causing affront to India’s national dignity.

Just recently former Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam suffered the ‘indignity’ of being frisked before boarding an American airline while bound for the US. The victim himself did not make much of the issue, but our parliamentarians, self appointed custodians of national dignity, raised a hue and cry, coercing the bemused airlines to offer an apology. The latest incident in this line has been that of Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan, whose hour long detention and questioning at an American airport has raised a storm of fury back home. Since 9/11 airport rules have been made extremely strict in the US and officials at the Newark airport were simply following procedures with Khan, ignorant of the fact that he is the icon to millions in India and elsewhere. That some people in India sought to view it as an act of racism or religious prejudice smacks of the same feudal mentality which makes inconceivable the fact that an important personage like Khan can be subjected to questioning. Our bigwigs have taken full advantage of this mentality to acquire civic privileges for themselves, thereby making a mockery of the egalitarian principles of democracy. However, the same mentality does not prevail in other climes, and most foreign airlines stick to the accepted rule that there are no special rules for VIPs travelling on commercial flights or at the immigration desk. Death might yet be the ultimate leveller, but surely foreign airports are barely a few steps behind!








The sub-prime crisis that started in the latter half of 2007, soon transformed into a global financial crisis in September, 2008, after the US Government allowed the collapse of Lehman brothers. The dimension of the crisis is so serious that it affects almost all the countries of the wor1d. Even the head of US Federal Reserve, Ben Bemanke has publicly stated that the current economic downturn is by far the worst crisis afflicting the centre of global capitalism since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Lehman’s collapse (the fourth largest investment bank on Wall Street) froze credit flows, stopped commodity markets from operating normally and also even stopped equity markets virtually in their tracks. This made the economic environment uncertain and risky and led to the financial crisis into an economic downturn in advanced economies.

The meltdown on the ‘main streets’ of the European countries has in turn led through the virtual collapse of global trade to sharp economic downturn in emerging markets where exports of manufactured items have declined to a considerable extent and unemployment has increased due to large scale job-losses. At the same time, commodity prices, including oil prices, have plummeted to record low which may fall further in the coming months.

The global slowdown has affected the Indian economy severely which has been clearly demonstrated in the slowing down of the growth rate. The Indian economy has recorded a growth rate of 7-8 per cent in GDP in the first half of 2008-09, which declined to 5.8 per cent in the second half of 2008-09, with a further decline in private consumption grown, to 2.5 per cent against 3.3 per cent private final consumption expenditure recorded in the first half of 2008-09. Thus the assumption that the Indian economy is somewhat insulated economy that can achieve high rate of economic growth on the basis of domestic demand is untenable and unfounded. Indian economy is very much affected by the global crisis primarily due to two reasons, First, India’s integration into the world economy over the last two decades has been remarkably rapid. Integration into the world economy implies more than just exports to foreign countries. India’s two way trade (merchanise exports plus imports including software exports and remittances), as a proportion of GDP, grew from 19.0 per cent in 1990-91 to 52 per cent in 2007-08. Second, India’s financial integration into the world economy has also been evidenced; if we take into account the ratio of total external transactions (gross current account flows plus gross capital flows) to GDP. This ratio has more than doubled from 46.8 per cent in 1997-98 to 117.4 per cent in 2007-08. Moreover, our corporate sector’s access to external funding has remarkably increased in the last five years. During the last five years, the share of investment in India’s GDP rose by 11 percentage points. Corporate savings financed roughly half of this, but a significant portion of the balance financing came from external sources.

Thus it seems that the Indian economy is very much integrated with the global economy and, therefore, the global slowdown originated in the developed economies is slowly and gradually transmitting to the Indian economy. The level and direction of economic activities in the country are being influenced by the global emerging economic environment.

The RBI, Governor, D Subbarao, has pointed out that the global crisis has spread to India through three channels – the financial channel, the real channel and lastly the confidence channel. He points out that as a consequence of financial integration – India’s financial markets – equity market, money market and forex market have been under pressure on account of three reasons, First, Indian banks and corporates shift their credit demand to the domestic banking sector due to global liquidity squeeze. Adverse global conditions have limited Indian firm's access to global finance. Second, the forex market came under pressure because of reversal of capital flow as a part of the global deleveraging process. Third, the RBI’s intervention in the forex market to manage the volatility in the rupee added to liquidity tightening.

The Indian economy has also been hit severely due to outflow of foreign capital. The Indian stock market which has lost more then 70 per cent of their market capitalisation since the peak in January 2008, was brought down mainly because of pulling out of capital by foreign portfolio investors. The net withdrawal of about 1.4 billion dollars (hearnty Rs 60,000 crore) of foreign capital from the Indian stock market in 2008 is a major blow to the Indian capital market. This in turn has severely affected the corporate sector’s ability to mobilize investment, lost public confidence in stock investment and significantly slowed down real estate demand. Money and credit markets have been affected indirectly through the dynamic linkage. The drying up of liquidity, a fallout of repatriation of portfolio investments by FIIs, affected credit markets in second half of 2008-09. This has been further compounded by the ‘risk aversion’ of banks to extend credit in the face of a general downturn.

Coming to the real channel effect the RBI Governor has pointed out that Indian economy has been hit through the slump in demand for exports. The United States, the European Union and the Middle East, which account for three quarters of India’s goods and services trade, are in a synchronised down turn. Europe and North American currently account for 36 per cent of India’s manufactured exports. Indian exports to the European and North American markets were growing at brisk rates during early months of 2008. Asia absorbs 50 per cent of India’s exports. As the financial contagion has spread into Asia, one might see India’s export growth dropping sharply in Asia also. A decline in exports like textiles, garments, engineering goods, like auto components or machine tools or software has a significant impact on domestic demand. Thus a sharp fall in export growth, as evidenced since October 2008 and which is likely to continue in the coming year, still has a significant impact on the level of economic activity in the country.

Therefore, it is true that India being closely and truly integrated with the world economy is severely affected by international flows of trade, technology and finance. Our exports cannot remain unaffected in a situation where external demand is dwindling globally. The export sector is now facing new challenges due to the present financial crisis. As the recession deepens, the volume of export is likely to fall further and remittances from migrant workers too are likely to slow as the advanced economics go into recession.

Beyond the financial and real channels of transmission, the crisis is spread through confidence channel. In a time of global crisis, consumers and investors are both bound to cut back on spending because of the general set back to confidence. Job losses accentuate the impact on consumer spending. There is also risk aversion among the banks. Banks are either averse to lending altogether and lend would like to hold capital and will lend only at a steep price.

Keeping in view the present crisis, the RBI, which is charged with the responsibility of managing currency with the stability of the monetary system, has adopted some monetary measures to tide over the crisis. The RBI has been effectively able to manage domestic liquidity and monetary conditions consistent with monetary objectives. A wide range of instruments like cash reserve ratio (CRR), statutory liquidity reserve (SLR), Open market operations including the Market Stabilisation Scheme (MSS) and Liquidity Adjustment Facility (LAF) have been used by the RBI. These calibrate liquidity in the market. Likewise fiscal measures have also been addressed to combat recessionary trends, through a stimulus package for which a sum of Rs. 55,000 crore, amounting to over one per cent of GDP, has been obtained through a supplementary grant, with emphasis on spending for infrastructure.

Experts on monetary economics believe that global recessionary trends are likely to continue till the end of 2009. If it is true, we can expect that our economy will also revive by the end of this year. However, strict monitoring of the country is highly essential, so that necessary monetary and fiscal measures may be adopted to counter recessionary trends.


(The writer teaches Economics in Gauhati University)








Swine flu is a new influenza virus detected in the USA in April 2009 which is causing illness all over the world. This virus spreads from person to person in the same way as normal influenza virus. The HI N I virus is contagious and spreads through coughing or sneezing. People can get infected by touching objects with the flu virus. The symptoms are fever, cough, sore throat, running nose, body ache, headache, chills and fatigue. People have also reported of diarohhea and vomiting. The illness ranges from mild to severe. While most sick with the virus recover quickly but still deaths have occurred. The risk groups include people older than 65 years and children below 5 years. Pregnant women, diabetic people, patients with heart trouble, asthma and kidney also fall in this group. People infected with the virus can infect other persons from day 1 or 5 days or a week after getting sick. This can be longer in children and old people who have weak immune system.

In India, Pune and Mumbai is facing the wrath of this deadly virus. In Punc the State Government has declared closure of schools and colleges for a week. And shut down of cinema theatres for three days. The government has asked all the malls to put off the crowd pulling discount offers and festival schemes. A number of deaths have occurred in the city recently due to the deadly virus.

The swine influenza A(H1N1) has infected humans starting from USA and Mexico and then spread globally. It is a new kind of influenza virus not previously found in USA. The virus is resistant to the anti viral medication amantadine (Symmetral) and Rimantadine (Flumadine) but sensitive to Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Zanamivir (Relenza).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) cautioned that a global pandemic influenza A(H1N1) virus is on the way raising the alert level to phase 6. More than 70 countries over the world have reported the cases of this flu with the USA and Mexico having the maximum number of reported cases.

Swine flu is an infection by one of the several types of swine influenza virus. Swine influenza virus (SIV) is any strain of influenza virus that is endemic in the pigs. As of 2009 the SIV strain include influenza C and sub types of influenza A known as H1N1, H1N2, H3N1, H3N2, H2N3. Swine influenza virus is common throughout the pig population worldwide.

Transmission of the virus from pigs to humans is not common and does not always lead to human influenza. If transmission does cause human influenza it is called Zoonotic influenza. People with regular exposure to pigs are increase risk of swine flu. The meat of infected animal does not possess risk if properly cooked.

Prevention of swine flu includes frequent washing of hands with soap and water and disinfecting households with chlorine. Experts believe that handwashing frequently prevents all kinds of viral inflections. Influenza virus can spread on table tops, telephones and other surfaces. It then can get transferred to mouth, eye and nose. Anyone suffering with flu like symptoms like sudden fever, cough, musele pain, should stay away from public places and should contact a doctor for advice. Social distancing is another way to control the spread of the virus. It means avoiding large gathering and staying at home. If a person becomes sick with swine flu anti-virus drugs can make the illness milder and the patient fleels better faster. It also prevents serious flu complications.

For treatment anti-viral drugs works better if taken within 2 days of the onset of the flu. The treatment should focus on controlling the fever, relieving pain, maintaining fluid balance and identifying and treating secondary infection. In conclusion it could be said that swine flu is a curable disease and most of the cases people inflected with it recover quickly without the necessity of giving anti-viral drugs. The State governments are ready to face of any eventuality and there is no need to push the panic button.








Over the years Finance Commissions have been burdened with additional responsibilities much beyond their traditional mandate of determining the sharing of tax revenues and grants between the Centre and states.

Each of these is a minefield. And on Monday, RBI governor D Subbarao upped the ante by asking the 13th Finance Commission to address the issue of fiscal adjustment over a cycle, guidelines for recognising debt and fiscal deficit and the proportion of fiscal consolidation to be effected through increased revenues and lower expenditure. On paper, fiscal adjustment over a cycle seems not only attractive but also logical.

After all, when the global economy is battling one of the worst crises seen since the days of the Great Depression, it is absurd to be dogmatic about fiscal deficits and blindly stick to targets set earlier. It makes sense to have a policy that has some built in counter-cyclicality.

However, there are some problems with looking at fiscal consolidation over a cycle, rather than in terms of an annual fiscal deficit target as at present. To begin with, business cycles are extraordinarily difficult to define or predict. We usually have a fix of when the cycle began and when it ended only after it has ended!

Governments, especially democratically elected ones, will always be tempted to leave discipline for later. More so if elections are due half-way through a cycle! The governor’s angst over fiscal adjustment over a cycle must be seen in the context of the ground reality of our huge fiscal deficit (more than 10% for Centre and states combined) and high debt/GDP ratio (80% of GDP).

As the government’s debt manager, the RBI is understandably worried that once the moral pressure of an annual target is replaced by a softer cyclically-adjusted target, it will only encourage fiscal laxity. It would make conduct of monetary policy that much more difficult. The RBI’s fears are not without basis. But any attempt to drastically pare the debt/GDP ratio could prove counterproductive in the present times. Hence, there may be a case for back-loading fiscal consolidation even as the government tries to cut back wasteful expenditure and increase revenues.







BJP leader and former foreign minister Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah and the Partition may be more irksome for the saffron party than for Indian history. Indeed, if anything, as a stated view of a senior leader that can have political implications, Jaswant Singh’s book — reportedly praising Jinnah and blaming Nehru for the Partition — may not even quite match the import of L K Advani’s scribbled remarks in a visitor’s notebook at Jinnah’s mausoleum.

The latter, if anything, could have been possibly read as a change of heart, or a sage attempt at statesmanship, on the part of a stridently right-wing political party in India. But that some deeper historical revisionism wasn’t at work was proved by the consequent furore within the BJP/RSS. Of course, the reaction was predictably more intense in Advani’s case, given his importance, and he was virtually forced to step down as party president.

Jaswant Singh, in comparison, is already part of the section of BJP leaders who are at loggerheads with the party high command after the election defeat. Hence, it has been relatively easier for the BJP to distance itself from the contents of the book. Both instances, nonetheless, also highlight the hold of the RSS over the party — an influence which has been much discussed in connection with the direction the BJP can take in the future and its consequent political fortunes.

It goes without saying that south Asian history is a zone of contestation. And figures like Jinnah have evoked fierce debates. Indeed, there have been recent academic attempts to present a ‘balanced’ view of the apparent paradox that Jinnah was. Neither have eminent historians not noted the historical failings and mistakes of the Congress party. For that matter, even the exclusions and problems within the Indian nationalist project, right at its inception, occupy volumes of serious research. And Partition is a veritable academic discipline (and industry, we can add) in itself.

We could also posit that apart from some academic research, political agendas play a role in such political and historical narratives. It is a moot point just where Jaswant Singh’s reported views can be located. But a senior leader with apparently conflicting views with the stated party ideology is unique. Then again, causing a stir is also good publicity.







How many songs does it take to believe that one’s name will always be recognised? How many milestones must a man pass by, before his fame is guaranteed? How many detentions will it take to realise that too many have been detained? That and many more answers, are clearly blowin’ in the wind, to judge by a week in which both Bob Dylan and Shahrukh Khan were detained and questioned by officials supposedly unaware of who they were.

That both incidents happened in the United States cannot be glossed over, particularly since these two gentlemen now join the exalted ranks of Senator Edward Kennedy and former US vice president Al Gore, in being singled out by over-vigilant security staff.

While the 20-year old troopers who stopped Dylan may be forgiven for being just musically deficient when his name did not ring a bell, those who kept SRK holed up in a room, despite his being definitively identified by others at the airport as India’s most famous filmstar, have less of an excuse. That has become evident now as the officials have subsequently attempted to explain away his detention on the fact that his luggage had not arrived.

Coming hard on the heels of the news of the frisking of former President A P J Abdul Kalam by an official of a US airline, and the tales of Indian film stars being questioned by airport authorities in the US presumably because of suspect (sur)names, makes this hard to pass off as an oversight.

Perhaps, instead of being total slaves to the vagaries of their computers — that apparently spot suspect names among passenger lists who then are mandatorily singled out for questioning and verification — the US authorities should broaden their cultural horizons. The answers are blowin’ in the wind: a few refresher courses on foreign films and filmstars (not to mention 20th century musical icons) and mugging up some volumes of Who’s Who from various countries, and could save them their blushes in the future.











It is plausible to detect in the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh’s speech at the chief ministers’ conference on internal security on Monday an effort to turn his back on the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement which succeeded in creating the unfortunate impression that India will persist with engaging Pakistan even if terrorist actions continue. Although there is no specific threat that the government knows about — as the Union home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, made clear — Dr Singh saw it fit to sound a terror alert, urging the top executives of diverse hues from the states that India simply cannot afford to drop its guard. He is quite right. Terrorist acts from Pakistan have been so numerous and so persistent for a quarter-century as to form a dark trend line. Considering this, India’s signature at Sharm el-Sheikh was no more than a wispy hope that Pakistan’s new civilian leadership will be able to deliver on terrorism at least at the present conjuncture when Pakistan itself is in the crosshairs of some terrorists. New Delhi had obviously not factored in the Pakistani military establishment, whose shadowy relationships with terror outfits of every shade baffles even Washington, Islamabad’s original “all-weather” friend. Dr Singh’s bold assertion before the chief ministers was made on the strength of the chatter picked up from Lakhvi and Zarar Shah, the masterminds of the Mumbai attack who are said to be in detention. Whatever their status, they are clearly in a position to go on plotting. In the light of this it is not a little disingenuous of Pakistan to ask India after the Prime Minister’s speech to provide it, in terms of the recent joint statement, details of any actionable intelligence it may have in its possession. Given what we know, the government needs to work out if it is still feasible for the two foreign secretaries to hold consultations with a view to kickstarting the abandoned dialogue process at the political level. It was disturbing to hear the home minister say that the “urgency” to checkmate terrorism generated after the Mumbai outrage appeared to have dissipated, and it was now “business as usual”. If this implies that the National Investigation Agency — set up with such fanfare after the 26/11 Mumbai attack to deal with real-time intelligence based on inputs from the common intel pool of all Central and state agencies — has failed to take off, then our ability to fend off terrorist strikes from across the border looks thin. It is not clear what lessons the chief ministers have taken home from the conference. Briefings to the media did not indicate if there was any opportunity for the Central leadership to hear those who run state governments on the vital question of reinforcing the national internal security grid. Considering that we live in a fragile geopolitical region, a truly national effort is called for in meeting the demands of keeping our citizens safe from terrorism and subversion.









WHAT kind of a chintan baithak — roughly translatable as “anxious thinking session” — of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is this from which all the articulate critics of the coterie currently ruling the roost in the defeated and demoralised party have been excluded? There is no invitation for the former finance and foreign minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, or for the outspoken, Mr Arun Shourie. Or, for that matter, for the former Rajasthan Chief Minister, Ms Vasundhara Raje Scindia, who created history of sorts, not so much by losing the state in the recent Assembly elections, as by sending 58 of the 78 BJP MLAs in the state to Delhi to tersely tell the leadership that, despite the party president, Mr Rajnath Singh’s directive to her to quit, Ms Raje was their leader.


Over long years, I have witnessed and reported many bizarre political scenes. Few were so revealing as that of the visiting Rajasthan MLAs crowding the heavily-guarded gate of Mr Lal Krishna Advani’s Prithviraj Road residence and being firmly denied entry. Which brings me to the painful fact that this elderly leader, a fine and courteous man, is fast becoming the saffron party’s principal problem. This sadly confirms the maxim that, like the fish, a declining political party begins to rot from the head.


Ever since his famous, if interrupted, Rath Yatra, combined with the hysteria over the construction of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya, boosted the BJP’s political fortunes, Mr Advani has made no bones about his ambition to be the Prime Minister. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, when the moment for the BJP’s rise to power did seem near, all concerned realised that this could happen only under the leadership of Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee. He had the political stature and acumen none of his colleagues possessed, of course. His biggest asset, however, was the country’s belief that of all the votaries of then-fashionable Hindutva, he alone understood that India’s vast and complex diversity required an accommodative, virtually Nehruvian, approach. Even Mr Vajpayee disappointed his admirers occasionally as, for instance, when he failed to achieve his avowed objective of sacking the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, in the wake of the unspeakable communal carnage in Gujarat in 2002. Even so, it is no exaggeration to say that but for him the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance could not have ruled for six years. Today there is no one in the higher echelons of the party even remotely comparable to him.


Since public memory is short, let it be recalled that before the 2004 election — which the BJP, dazzled by its own propaganda about “India Shining”, was confident of winning — the then party president, Mr M. Venkaiah Naidu, an Advani acolyte, had declared that the BJP would contest the next poll under the “joint leadership” of Vikas Purush — Development Man, Mr Vajpayee, and Loh Purush — Iron Man, Mr Advani. The then Prime Minister was on a foreign visit at that time. On return home, Atalji (Mr Vajpayee) squashed the duality idea with consummate subtlety. Mr Naidu and his cohorts ran for cover.

The convulsions the BJP went through after the 2004 polls are best left out of this discussion. The pertinent fact is that only in 2009 did Mr Advani become the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate largely because age and ill-health prevented Mr Vajpayee from leading the party yet again. Be that as it may, until the forenoon of May 16, Mr Advani was convinced that his party and its allies would win and he would be India’s “strong” Prime Minister, compared with the “weak” incumbent. Only after his rude awakening did he realise that his constant harping on the strong-versus-weak theme had done him a lot of harm and a world of good to the Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh.


Nothing became Mr Advani more than his announcement immediately after the electoral debacle that he was stepping down from the leadership of the parliamentary party. Was it a mere ploy? For, asked to stay on only temporarily until a new leader could be chosen, he has decided to stay put in the top job. Does he think that by hanging on he can fulfil his ambition in 2014? If so, what message will it send to the party ranks and the country at large?


By now it has become a cliché that what was once advertised as a “party with a difference” is now torn apart by differences. In the art of factional warfare, the BJP can now teach the Congress a thing or two. No wonder the saffron party is virtually leaderless. Then there is the major problem of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — a Freemasons-like bunch of un-elected individuals running the show from behind high walls in Nagpur, with occasional visits to Delhi’s Jhandewalan — having a stranglehold on the entire parivar of which the BJP is the political face. But, with RSS pracharaks (preachers) entrenched in strategic positions, the party seems unable to cut the umbilical cord with the parent organisation. A large section of the party cadres are likely to oppose any such move, in any case.


To cap it all, the BJP is now bereft of ideology, never mind idealism. Hindutva is now history. To try to capitalise on the Ram Mandir issue 17 years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid is to flog a dead horse. If the last election has proved anything, it is that the people have no use for a divisive agenda. Safety, development and stability are what they want. For this reason, other members of the Sangh Parivar, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, and Ram Sene, all of them merchants of hate, have become millstones round the BJP’s neck.


To be sure, there are sensible people in the party who want it to abandon Hindutva and adopt a more constructive agenda that would appeal to the people outside the narrow constituency it has been concentrating on. But then the party’s lacklustre president himself leads the hordes that want to cling on to Hindutva regardless of consequences.


It would be tragic if the BJP’s manifest decline turns irreversible. For, the country needs at least two mainstream parties as against the plethora of parties that are “regional” in name but are, in fact, state-specific.








The plan to “Balkanise” India into scores of “manageable parts”, revealed in a recent article published by a prominent Chinese think tank, and observations by India’s soon-to-retire Navy Chief, Adm. Sureesh Mehta, read together, portent to dangerous times for India’s integrity in the near future.


“India needs to cooperate with China rather than confront it”, declared Adm. Mehta, the outgoing chairman of the chiefs of staff committee. While speaking on “National Security — Challenges”, he described this approach as dictated by “common sense”. His exact words, as reported in newspapers, were: “In military terms, both conventional and non-conventional, we neither have the capability nor the intention to match China, force by force”. If this thinking prevails in our topmost military circles — obviously fuelled by a government that develops cold feet easily — one can only say: God help this country.


To believe that Beijing could be talked into cooperation is somewhat romantic. Dialogue on the border dispute has been going on for over two decades and yet its progress can only be measured in inches, not feet. And often it is one step forward, two steps backward.


On Sikkim, for instance, we were told that China has “almost” accepted that it is a part of India. But, on and off, Beijing stirs the embers and creates doubts whether it really has accepted that Sikkim is a part of India. The slightest mention of Arunachal Pradesh in India brings a howl of protest from Beijing.


In the Indian Ocean, China’s growing presence and network is well-known — the new relationship with the Burmese military junta, use of Pakistan’s Gwadar port and soon a naval base in Chittagong, Bangladesh. A nuclear submarine base in Hainan Island, South China Sea, is also being built to further strengthen its foray into the Indian Ocean.


The Chinese, in fact, are now talking of a US-China dominance of the world. Surprised by China’s recovery with its $586 billion economic stimulus and its growing economic importance, an article in Time magazine said that many in these two countries have begun to suggest that “the only dialogue that really matters in going forward is the conversation between the “G-2” — China and the US. We may recall a top Chinese naval officer telling his US counterpart that the two should partition the world between them — Pacific to the US and the Indian Ocean to China.


Much of China’s present power derives from the market-oriented reforms it undertook 1978 onwards, after dumping the Marxist model. What was India doing between 1978 and 1991? As China was rapidly adopting the market economy, we were tied to the Soviet model of “socialism” that was ultimately thrown out in 1991 by the Russians themselves. Even after the 1991 reforms in India, the economic policy meandered, revealing a country that could not give up its economic shibboleths.


The real reform started in 1999 — for instance, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s report on telecom and information technology that started the real information and communication technologies growth. The vision of a $50 billion software export was also projected in the 1999 IT policy under the NDA government. Then came the electricity reforms of 2003, insurance reforms and others. But the Chinese had the first-start advantage, that too with a 20-year lead.

Besides, the Chinese have taken the global approach in its manufacturing operations to capture foreign markets and sell “Made in China” goods in global markets. It also built huge infrastructure: 100,000 MW additional electricity every year (India’s total capacity is 1.5 lakh MW now and we are expected to add about 15,000 MW every year, in 2007-2012). The huge push in infrastructure was China’s trump card in attaining double-digit growth in its gross domestic product (GDP).

It was only in 2003 that we started talking of infrastructure — for instance, the NDA’s Golden Quadrilateral national highways programme, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, massive port development plans, the telecom revolution.


What does all this add up to? The United Progressive Alliance government does not seem to have a China policy. Its top military man talks of cooperation with China and says we cannot compete with them. This is a defeatist attitude. It reveals lack of self-confidence and the inability to locate focus on our strengths and project them in a global perspective.


In 1998, the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, stunned the world by letting our scientists demonstrate our nuclear power, thereby announcing to the world community that India was not going to remain namby-pamby.


The following year, the decisive victory in the Kargil war brought new respect for India — even Beijing began to distance itself from Pakistan after that. But the momentum was lost with the change of government in 2004. And as the new dispensation in New Delhi became a “slave” of the pro-China Marxists, the pace of Indian assertion on the global scene began to slow down.


If the current leadership can energise people, we could rapidly close the gap, however wide it appears right now. But this can happen only if we are able to synergise the “baniaisation” of India (as management expert and writer Gurucharan Das calls it) with its intellectual strength and bring national pride to bear upon our endeavour. To create our own separate political dynamic, we need a new order.


China’s Olympic success revealed what cultural nationalism harnessed to economic growth and political stability could do in a market economy environment. Instead of our elite hailing China, it should seek to release the political and economic dynamic that a similar approach in India could generate. Cooperation with China is not to be rejected; but it should be on the basis of respect for India’s inherent strengths.










 “One question at any rate was answered. Never, for any reason on earth, could you wish for an increase of pain. Of pain you could wish only one thing: that it should stop. Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain”.


The agonised thoughts of Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four, though fictional, say all that needs to be said about torture: its wickedness and futility. A man in pain will say whatever he thinks will make the pain stop: it might be the truth, but it is just as likely to be nonsense.


My first job in journalism was at the human rights magazine Index on Censorship: it was a given that torture was utterly beyond the pale, so abhorrent that its immorality scarcely needed to be stated. I still regard this as an article of faith. Yet, in the past week, it has proved necessary for the British foreign secretary, home secretary and head of MI6 to say that they are against torture — as if the matter might be in some doubt.


In a co-authored article in the Sunday Telegraph, foreign secretary David Miliband and home secretary Alan Johnson wrote: “It is about our values as a nation, and about what we do, not just what we say. We have taken a leading role to eradicate torture internationally”. In a BBC radio programme on August 10, Sir John Scarlett, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service said that there is “no torture and no complicity in torture” by MI6 and that “our officers are as committed to the values and the human rights values of liberal democracy as anybody else”.


A statement of the obvious verging on the otiose, you might think. But these are abnormal and testing times for the intelligence agencies which suddenly find themselves encircled. Britain’s Metropolitan Police is conducting what appears to be its first-ever investigation into the conduct of the security service, MI5: the case in question being the alleged collusion of British agents, and one in particular, in the torture of the UK national, Binyam Mohamed, in Pakistan. Meanwhile, hostile politicians and pressure groups are calling into question not only the moral standards of the services but the whole structure of scrutiny by which they are regulated.


On August 9, the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee published a report that challenged the government to prove it had not been complicit in the torture of terror suspects and demanded substantial changes to the present regulatory framework for the intelligence agencies. This followed a separate report by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights which called for a full public inquiry into allegations of British “complicity” in acts of torture. The spooks are feeling — well, spooked. “It’s open season on the services”, says one Whitehall source.


To understand why this is so, the extent to which the criticisms are legitimate, and how great are the risks inherent in this feeding frenzy, one must grasp the broader context. Half-a-century has passed since the days, described in Peter Wright’s infamous Spycatcher, when MI5 “bugged and burgled our way across London at the State’s behest, while pompous bowler-hatted civil servants in Whitehall pretended to look the other way”. British intelligence agencies are now subject to a four-pillar regulatory regime, at the heart of which is the Intelligence and Security Committee: chaired by the Labour MP for Pontypridd, Dr Kim Howells, and composed of parliamentarians, but appointed by the Crown.

This structure means that MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (government communications headquarters) experience levels of scrutiny which would have been unthinkable in the frozen depths of the Cold War. But — as bodies that remain fundamentally clandestine, rising above the parapet only when they have to — the agencies are at odds with the spirit of the age. This is an era of radical transparency and, in most cases, the better for it. It is an axiom of our times that daylight is the best disinfectant.


But, there are certain parts of the state that cannot function properly in the light: clandestinity is the foundation stone of any intelligence agency and the means by which it protects not only its personnel but its hard-won techniques and methods: the play-book that, once revealed to the enemy, becomes instantly useless. The instinctive secrecy of the services is not superstitious or maliciously obstructive but a matter of operational necessity. It is not the public’s scrutiny that they seek to escape, but the scrutiny of the bad guys — precisely so that they can discharge their duty to protect the public interest.


The controversy over torture has dramatically increased the pressure upon MI5 and MI6 to make disclosures about individual cases and general procedure: in March, for instance, the Prime Minister promised to disclose the hitherto-secret guidelines given to intelligence officers about the handling of detainees overseas.


This moment of reckoning was probably inevitable. Public trust in the intelligence agencies has been dented by the fiasco of the Iraq dossiers, the criticisms of the Butler Report on the intelligence used to justify the war, and (unreasonable) allegations that the 7/7 attacks could have been prevented by better counter-terrorist work. More generally, there has been a growing desire on both sides of the Atlantic to revisit the intelligence strategy adopted in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and to see what lessons can be learned.


All of which is fine, as long as the investigations are carried out in the proper spirit and in the right setting. Also it is not sensible to confuse what happened in the American intelligence community after September 11, 2001, with what happened in Britain.


The Binyam Mohamed case achieved notoriety in February when the high court ruled that certain evidence concerning his alleged torture could not be disclosed. The judges made clear that they were deeply unhappy with a decision forced upon them by geopolitical reality: “The United States government’s position is that, if the redacted paragraphs are made public, then the United States will re-evaluate its intelligence-sharing relationship with the United Kingdom with the real risk that it would reduce the intelligence it provided”.


But Mr Miliband was right to advise the court of the risks to intelligence-sharing. The basis of all such sharing is that the country which “lends” intelligence to an ally retains ownership of it — no matter what its content. It was this principle upon which the Americans were insisting.


Indeed, the practicalities of international intelligence-sharing are the true heart of this furore. The global nature of Islamist threat means that narrowly defined “national security” is an almost meaningless concept. About 75 per cent of cases investigated by MI5 now involve connections with Pakistan or Afghanistan.


The moral corollary of this is that the British government — ministers, diplomats, intelligence officials — must reiterate to the authorities in Islamabad time and again that torture is not acceptable and that its practice by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence disfigures the alliance between our two nations. But that moral responsibility is not, and cannot possibly be, absolute.

A decadence is creeping into our collective approach to this conflict against terror — a national amnesia about the nature of the threat, a retreat into the comfort zone of national introspection. Let the courts do their work and punish those who have broken the law. Let us lose no opportunity to declare this country’s abhorrence of torture.


Equally, however, let us not soar so high above the lethal ground upon which our intelligence agencies have to operate that we make their work impossible. It may satisfy some to watch the spooks squirm. But be careful what you wish for. A nation which turns moodily on those responsible for its security is actually practising nothing more sophisticated than self-harm.








In a message to the nation, broadcast from the All-India Radio on August 15, 1947, Sri Aurobindo spoke about some of his dreams. He dreamt of a free and united country without which India could not fulfil her true destiny.


But what the country got was Partition, accompanied by riots, rapes, plunder, loss of half-a-million lives and displacement of another one-and-a-half-million people. Sri Aurobindo had hoped that Partition would go. But it has not gone. Instead, the dimensions and depth of the dividing lines have increased.


Terrorism, subversion, separatism and differences of caste and creed have made a dangerous headway.


The second dream which Sri Aurobindo entertained was that India, with a vast treasure of spirituality would become the epicentre for advancement of the “eternal religion” — Sanatana Dharma.


But where is this religion to be found in India today? Who is preaching and practicing it? What, in fact, is seen all over the country, is an ever increasing tribe of “peddlers of arrant nonsense” who are draining out its core.


A moral chaos has engulfed the nation and the culture of corruption is spreading fast. Viewed as one of the top 10 most corrupt countries in the world, India now runs the risk of being destroyed by the virus of corruption in her politics, administration and economy.


As a class, India’s elected representatives are very similar to the description of a typical legislature given earlier by Sri Aurobindo: “He does not represent the soul of a people or its aspirations. What he does usually represent is all the average pettiness, selfishness, egoism, self-deception that is about him, and these he represents well enough, as well as a great deal of mental incompetence and moral conventionality, timidity and pretence.


Great issues often come to him for decision, but he does not deal with them greatly; high words and noble ideas are on his lips, but they become rapidly the claptrap of a party”.


Look at the Indian Parliament. What an uninspiring spectacle it is. The 14th Lok Sabha, for example, had about 100 members who were involved in criminal cases — 30 of whom had been charged with murder, dacoity, rape and extortion.


Could an institution dominated by such men and women provide a national environment conducive to the realisation of Sri Aurobindo’s great vision?


The third dream of Sri Aurobindo was “a worldwide union forming the outer basis of a fairer, brighter and nobler life for all mankind”. Such a union, he thought, was necessary not only because it was inherent in nature but also because its absence would imperil the freedom of smaller nations and threaten the security of bigger ones. He hoped that India would develop a “larger statesmanship” and play an effective role in this regard at the international level.


India, instead of playing a meaningful role in ushering in “a fair, bright and noble life for all mankind”, has jumped on the bandwagon of those who, under the cover of globalisation, deregulation and other ingredients of neo-liberalism, are creating serious imbalances not only in the economy but also in the environment and ecology.


In India itself, besides degradation and depletion of natural resources, wide disparities in income and lifestyle have come about.


Another dream of Sri Aurobindo pertained to the spiritual gifts which India was capable of delivering to the world. He had noted that Indian spirituality, its message as well as its psychic practices, were entering Europe and America. His hope was that this process, in times to come, would get enlarged. But this hope, too, does not seem to be materialising. Though yogic practices have made some headway, their overall impact has been marginal. The position with regard to spiritual teachings is even less reassuring.


This is a natural outcome of the fact that India is now neither nursing her ancient nobility of temper nor developing a style of life based upon the fundamentals of her true spirituality.


In light of the above analysis, a few crucial questions need to be answered. How is it that all the dreams, mentioned by Sri Aurobindo in his Independence day message, have virtually disappeared from the collective memory of the nation? Why did the steering wheel of India’s destiny remain only for a short time in the hands of those who were sensitive to the need for “giving expression to her long suppressed soul” and how did the same wheel soon come into the hands of those who have been wholly oblivious of such a need and are destroying practically every positive item of India’s heritage?


All this has happened because the post-1947 leadership by and large, failed to do what it should have done as top priority. It should have rekindled the power of the Indian mind, reawakened the purity of India’s soul and created a mental climate in which a rich crop of karamyogis could grow and a nobility-oriented culture emerge.


Along with India’s Constitution and five-year plans for economic development, it could have formulated a national regeneration programme, by way of which the country should have been relieved of all the garbage that had collected in her courtyard during the long period of decay and degeneration of her civilisation, and at the same time dug out the buried treasures of her life-nurturing and life-elevating ideals towards which spiritual giants, such as Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Aurobindo had repeatedly pointed their fingers.


The leadership should have realised that without providing inner energy, shakti, the institutions created by the Constitution could not develop the animation that was needed to keep them clean, creative and constructive.


As early as 1914, Sri Aurobindo, in a press interview, had significantly pointed out: “I am convinced that a spiritual awakening is the most important condition of our national greatness”. Regrettably, such sane pieces of advice were all but ignored by the post-1947 leadership.


The disastrous consequences of this lapse are that the moral fabric of society, weak as it already was, has been further shredded and Sri Aurobindo’s dreams remained elusive.


Jagmohan is a former governor of J&K and a former Union minister








It was a raunchy, troubling and hilarious novel that turned into a cult phenomenon devoured by a legion of medical students, interns, residents and doctors. It introduced characters like “Fat Man” — the all-knowing but crude senior resident — and medical slang like GOMER, for Get Out of My Emergency Room.


Called The House of God, the book was drawn from real life, and 30 years after its initial publication, it is still part of the medical conversation.


Written by a psychiatrist, Stephen Bergman, under the pseudonym Samuel Shem, MD, the novel is based on his gruelling, often dehumanising experiences as an intern at Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Hospital in 1974. More than two million copies have been sold, and the book has been continuously in print since its 1978 publication. A recent edition features an introduction by John Updike, who ranks the book alongside Joseph Heller’s famed military satire, Catch-22.


Over the years, it has served as a required guidebook for medical neophytes and a clarion call for the old guard to make striking changes in the way the US trains its young physicians.


When the novel first appeared, many doctors were hesitant to admit they had heard of it, let alone were willing to discuss it. Several prominent physicians denigrated it as scandalous and without merit. Based on such scabrous reviews, hundreds of thousands of medical students eagerly read it, first laughing at how the protagonist, Dr Roy Basch, and his fellow interns survive a year of being on call every third night and working 100-plus-hour weeks, and then shuddering when thinking about their coming internships.


“I got a lot of flak for this book”, Bergman recalled in a telephone interview. “Older doctors attacked it and me, students would ask me to speak and deans would cancel me”.


What makes The House of God singularly compelling is its brutally honest portrayal of the absurd tragedies and occasional triumphs of hospital life; the once-common abuse of young physicians by their superiors; and the anger and frustration these interns directed at themselves and patients.


The novel introduced many derogatory terms to the medical culture. GOMER referred to the elderly, chronically-ill patients no intern wants to deal with. The shorthand LOL in NAD (Little Old Lady in No Apparent Distress) was for patients needlessly admitted by their private physicians for expensive work-ups in an era when health insurance reimbursements flowed like the Mississippi.


Apparently, time does heal most wounds. Today, doctors of all stripes discuss the novel in medical classes, book clubs and academic meetings.


Perhaps more important, The House of God helped initiate a dialogue on the effects of sleepless medical training that continues, albeit in a milder form. Bergman, 65, is retired from psychiatry and works as a full-time novelist and playwright. He is enjoying a 30th anniversary victory walk with House of God. The book, he notes, has been praised and honoured at several academic gatherings.

This past winter, Bergman was invited to deliver a prominent lecture in humanism and medicine at the Association of American Medical Colleges, the same organisation, he says, “where medical school deans treated me and The House of God with ridicule and derision when it first came out”.


At some of these events, “Dr Shem” brings along a few colleagues who were the basis for the characters in the novel. Listening to them reminisce over coffee, it is clear how proud they are of being part of the novel and prouder still of the reforms in graduate medical education that came in its wake.


“The novel was an outcry for the humane treatment of interns so that our generation of doctors would not harden into the cold personas of our attending physicians, the people we were fighting against”, said Dr David Heber, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, immortalised by Shem as a frenetic and sexually-charged intern named “Hyper-Hooper”.


Another House of God alumnus, Dr Robert Press, a psychiatrist in Denver and the basis for the irrepressible “Runt”, worries that recent changes in resident duty hours have created a whole new set of medical problems. “I think the pendulum has swung too far in one direction, toward making the experience too soft”, he said.


Dr Richard Anderson, who appears in the novel as the motorcycle-riding “Eat My Dust Eddie” and is now the chief executive of a national physicians’ insurance company, says The House of God remains so successful because it perfectly mirrors the stressful life of interns in a busy teaching hospital.


“We were crass, rude, outrageous to each other but not to our patients”, he said. “We valued 110 per cent effort and devotion. That was the lesson we took. But it was a hard way to learn it”.


Howard Markel is a professor of paediatrics, psychiatry and the history of medicine at the
University of Michigan


By arrangement with the New York Times









Many critics of the Bharatiya Janata Party argue that it suffers from an identity crisis. It cannot decide whether it is a Hindu party or an Indian party. This issue will continue to be debated. What, however, is undeniable is that the BJP is afflicted by a problem relating to its very name. What does the J in the BJP stand for. The BJP may like to claim that it stands for janata, the people, but this does not stand the test of scrutiny. The issue that in recent memory caused turmoil within the BJP, threatening, in fact, to split it has nothing to do with the people. It has to do with Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that the J in the party’s name stands for Jinnah. This may not be as facetious as it sounds like if one considers the evidence. In the summer of 2005, L.K. Advani, on a visit to Pakistan, made so bold as to suggest that Jinnah was possibly a secular man and hailed Jinnah’s opening speech to the Pakistan constituent assembly. Within the BJP, there was an enormous furore over it. There was the cry that Mr Advani had betrayed the cause and a clamour that disciplinary action should be taken against him. Mr Advani hung on and recovered ground. A similar situation has cropped up again, this time to haunt Jaswant Singh who has authored a book on Jinnah. The entire top brass of the BJP stayed away from the release function of the book. It will not be an error to guess that this boycott was rooted in the disapproval of Mr Singh’s choice of subject.


It will remain a mystery why the name of Jinnah creates rifts within the BJP. If the BJP is committed to looking ahead, then Jinnah should be irrelevant to its politics and even to its ideology. Perhaps the BJP sees in Jinnah its mirror image. Jinnah believed that Hindus and Muslims could not co-exist in India, as does the BJP. Thus the party’s problem with its own name may not be unconnected with its identity crisis. The BJP sees itself still as a Hindu party and hence its loathing of Jinnah. It cringes from its own mirror image. This, in a way, is as it should be, since a name is an integral part of an identity, and both identity and a name are linked to parentage. The BJP is a direct descendant of the Hindu Mahasabha, and that gene rebels every time a BJP leader invokes the name of Jinnah. What ensues from that genetic disorder is risible and revealing of the immaturity of the BJP and its loyalists.






The prime minister is quite right in being appalled at the number of pending cases in the Indian courts. At around 30 million, the count is the highest in the world, and nothing could be more grimly ironic than this for the world’s largest democracy. Every bit of the cliché about justice delayed is brutally true, and the war footing on which the clearing of this pile-up has been urged by Manmohan Singh can only work if the problem is tackled at both the procedural and what Mr Singh calls the “holistic” levels. It is impossible to reduce the problem to merely hurrying things up. The entire notion of, and attitude to, justice and its delivery will have to change fundamentally after some hard thinking. It is true that recruiting more judges when there are about 3,000 vacancies in the country looks like the most immediate solution, together with the setting up of more fast-track courts, particularly in the rural areas. But if the new recruits and their new workplaces continue functioning with the old mindset, then it will be difficult to make much of a difference. An ancient and deeply entrenched love of red tape that mires the judicial system in a needless and wholly dispensable labyrinth of procedure is the primary cause of this phenomenal pile-up of cases. This is partly because such delay is in the interest of a great many people all along the line, and partly because judicial reformism never really goes to the heart of the matter when tackling the problem. There is immense scope for the streamlining of legal process. To take one example, think of how much easier and more accessible things will become for the ordinary “consumer of justice” (and for its dispensers) if legal language were made simpler and closer to normal language without taking away its precision.


Finally, a huge number of pending cases have to do with land and property disputes. These cases do not usually involve complicated applications of the law and could be disposed of fairly quickly if the judicial process is minimalized systematically. Clear thinking and the cutting out of procedural junk would make the handling of these cases more efficient — and therefore less harrowing for everybody concerned. It is best not to regard such moves with a sort of conservative suspicion. Law must overcome its antipathy towards, perhaps even fear of, simplification before it can become truly and promptly just.








The high-decibel debate in India over the treatment of Shah Rukh Khan and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at the hands of American agencies betrays an almost childlike misconception among sections of domestic opinion that rules are enforced — and enforced uniformly — in the United States of America. They are not.


A former judge of the Supreme Court of India wrote authoritatively in a contemporary of this newspaper — following protests in Parliament, last month, over Kalam’s pre-boarding frisking by Continental Airlines — that not even the US president is exempt from such security checks. He informed his readers that frisking of the American president is done by a special team of airport officials and not the ones who frisk regular passengers for reasons of security.


The learned former justice is way off the mark. His mistake would not have mattered if it did not reinforce the notion among ivory-tower votaries of intellectual egalitarianism in India that the rule of law is perfect in the US and that developing countries like India should learn from the way the West does these things. For the record, the US president does not travel by commercial aircraft: he has his special VVIP plane, known as Air Force One. When he leaves Washington, he takes a chopper direct from the grounds of the White House to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where the chopper lands near Air Force One. The president simply hops on to his jet without any security check, contrary to what the former Supreme Court judge would have us believe.


Elsewhere, Air Force One arrives in designated areas on airport tarmacs and the president does not use boarding gates or departure areas the way ordinary passengers do. Such procedures also apply in varying degrees to the US vice-president, the secretaries of state or defence and other cabinet members. The security procedures that are in place for VIP travel in the US are pretty much the same as in India. The only difference is that the US list of those exempted from security clearance is smaller and much more rational. And in the US, no individual by name is exempt the way Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, is not required to go through normal airport checks.


Of all the reactions in India to the “secondary inspection” of Shah Rukh Khan at Newark’s Liberty International Airport last weekend, the most outrageous statement came from the civil aviation minister, Praful Patel. “We will take (up) the issue with the US government strongly… We will not accept it,” Patel has been widely reported in the US media as having told reporters in Bikaner.


If a minister in a Western country had made such a bone-headed statement, he would either be held to account or he would pay the price for having said such a thing. But it is not clear what exactly our civil aviation minister intends to do. It is inconceivable that he would want the Indian ambassador, Meera Shankar, or the deputy chief of India’s mission, Arun Singh, to go to the US secretary for homeland security and demand that in future, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan or any other celebrity Khan from Bollywood should be admitted to the US without any questions being asked at the immigration counter. It is equally inconceivable that Patel would want the Indian consul general in New York, Prabhu Dayal, to go to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — which manages Newark’s Liberty Airport — and tell Transportation Security Administration officials there that when the Khans of Bollywood depart from Newark, they should be waved off without any inspection. Shah Rukh Khan may be a celebrity in India, but he is still an ordinary citizen. And for an immigration agent at Liberty Airport, who probably lives in Hoboken or some such small town somewhere between Newark and New York City, the name of any Indian Bollywood celebrity means nothing.


So what is it that Patel intends to take up with the Americans? “We will not accept it,” he thundered. If the Americans tell him to lump the weekend’s incident, what is he going to do? The “we will not accept it” threat was so reminiscent of George W. Bush, who repeatedly threatened North Korea during his eight-year presidency that Washington will not tolerate Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, until the North Koreans tested their nuclear weapon and Bush could do nothing about it. It was assumed that the era of state impotence personified by such leaders as Bush had ended with the descent of the previous US president into oblivion, but Patel’s latest statement is a reminder that it is not the case — at least, in India.


Shah Rukh Khan, it turns out, is smarter than Patel. Khan has already made a big thing of not wanting an apology from the US. That is a smart move because no one, at least as of now, is offering him any. The US view is that in Khan’s case, they were simply following their textbook on admitting aliens into their country. The Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, hit the nail on the head when he told reporters on the sidelines of a national security meeting on Monday that “we send our joint secretaries (and) officers (of such rank) to the tarmac to receive” visiting Americans. What Chidambaram did not spell out was that the Indian psyche expects similar treatment in return and that never happens, certainly not in Washington or New York, not even in London, Paris or Frankfurt.


Chidambaram’s lament was genuine because he recently bore the slight of being searched in Washington, notwithstanding US protocol exempting him from an intrusive security procedure during his departure from an American airport. It turned out later that the incident occurred because protocol papers exempting Chidambaram were sent to the wrong airport, not to the one from which he was departing from the US capital.


The question, really, is why does New Delhi bend over backwards to please the Americans, when they themselves do not expect such favoured treatment in India? On a visit to New Delhi in June, the US under-secretary of state for political affairs, William Burns, was given a rare meeting with the prime minister, Manmohan Singh. Burns is way down in protocol to have met the external affairs minister, S.M. Krishna, let alone the prime minister. And yet, South Block readily gave in to a routine request from the US state department for access to the head of government.


In this columnist’s view, the meeting between Burns and the prime minister was a bigger insult to India’s pride and honour — in diplomatic terms — than the secondary examination of Shah Rukh Khan in Newark. By that one act of giving prime ministerial access to a mere under-secretary in the US government, India reduced itself to the level of Pakistan, where even an assistant secretary of state can walk into the president’s or the prime minister’s office in Islamabad. But it is not only in face-to-face government-level interaction with the US that India displays a craven attitude that only begets treatment that falls far short of even traces of a special bilateral relationship. An Indian applying for a visa at the US embassy in New Delhi pays a fee in Indian rupees equivalent to $131 plus a small service charge. But an American applying for a visa at the Indian embassy in Washington pays only $60 plus a small service fee.

Visa fees are supposed to be fixed on the basis of reciprocity. But repeated reminders from Indian consular officials in the US to the ministry of external affairs about US citizens paying only half of what Indians have to shell out have been studiously ignored by South Block for several years. If New Delhi is willing to accept such unequal treatment in every interaction with the US, is it any wonder that Indian ministers are ill-treated at US airports and India’s icons are treated as if they are worth nothing?







After all, the plural of spy is spies, of army armies, of casualty casualties. Likewise, reply becomes replies. However it is stressed and however pronounced, the English plural of -y is surely -ies.


Or is it? In this case, one can see an argument for Julys. In Britain, Julie, pronounced and stressed like duly, is a common girl’s name. My paper’s weather-whizz wouldn’t like to look as if he were discussing two young women fresh from the swimming pool.


But the issue goes wider. Let’s take to drink. The plurals of whisky or brandy are no problem: they both become -ies. But suppose you taste three wines from the French region of Burgundy. Were they three burgundies or three burgundys?


Since in this usage the name is given no capital letter, the answer is burgundies, just as for sherry, named after the Spanish town of Jerez. Likewise, a football match between Manchester United and Manchester City is a local derby — from the Derby horserace — and with a second such match you have a pair of local derbies.


But suppose there is a capital letter, and the word is strictly a name. In the days of the Soviet empire, were there two Germanys or two Germanies? Most of the press wrote Germanys. Wrongly, in my view, since there was a solid 19th-century precedent to the contrary: the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (the second one, bizarrely, being a slice of southern Italy), which was always so spelt.


On that long-established analogy, Germanies was correct. But what about personal names such as Sally or Sandy? Or Mary?


There are four Maries, or Marys, in one old Scottish ballad (with a wonderful tune: in the days when Indian schoolchildren had British history rammed down their throats, I hope, at least for some, that song formed a part of it). One verse runs:


Yestreen the Queen had four Maries,/ The night [ie, this night] she’ll hae but three./ There was Marie Seaton and Mary Beaton/ And Marie Carmichael and me (“me” being Marie Hamilton, doomed to execution, at the queen’s insistence, because the king fancied her).


That Maries in the first line looks natural enough: the stress is clearly on the second syllable, as in the French name, Marie; and a French name may have been familiar at the court of Scotland, often allied with France against us English.


But four of them? I don’t believe it. And in the second couplet, the stress is plainly on the first syllable, as in the English Mary. These days, I’d write Mary for each of them and Marys for the lot.

One idiomatic British usage gives you the choice: the Hooray Henrys, a derisive term for loud and yobbish scions of the English nobocracy, can be spelt that way or Henries, as you prefer. But with surnames there is no choice: the Dimbleby brothers, Britain’s best-known television commentators, are the two Dimblebys, period.


Happily, that doesn’t prevent another idiomatic usage. The talented, self-conscious, not to add self-obsessed ‘Bloomsbury Group’, who lived in that district of London in the early 20th century — people like Virginia Woolf, with J.M. Keynes on the fringes — are unkindly known today as the Bloomsberries.













A thorny issue, that had been simmering for the past year, is now virtually on the boil with the administration floundering in search of a solution. The lathicharge on agitated students of the 142 Primary Teachers Training Institutes in West Bengal reeks of calculated malevolence. Misgivings over the state’s sincerity to evolve an agreeable formula would appear to be well-grounded if the Rapid Action Force has to be mobilised to confront the agitated, but not violent, teachers in the making. The crisis is overwhelmingly of the West Bengal government's creation. In its anxiety to award diplomas for primary teaching, it consciously gave short shrift to the Centre’s mandatory stipulation that a PTTI, anywhere in the country, must obtain the recognition of the National Council for Teachers Education. Like many other lapses, this dubious distinction of flouting conditions with a nationwide application is uniquely Bengal.
The decision not to abide by the Central requirement was incidentally adopted by Kanti Biswas, the previous school education minister, who for the better or the worse was denied nomination for the 2006 assembly election. In the net, the diplomas awarded to these students have been de-recognised by the Centre, rendering the prospects of employment bleak. The Supreme Court has upheld the Centre’s stipulation on NCTE recognition. It wasn’t a law and order problem that the police faced last week. The PTTI students, whose diplomas have been reduced to irrelevance, were protesting against the government’s move to recruit primary teachers, bypassing those from the training institutes. This category is being made to suffer in the hands of a bumbling administration that has made a mess of education. Suspicions that the exercise is aimed at recruiting party loyalists are not wholly unfounded. Despite periodic assurances of a solution, there has been no headway for close to a year. Despite uniform protestations of concern, the political class, neither the ruling party nor the entities on the ascendant, seem to be particularly eager to address the predicament. The crisis can only exacerbate if the PTTI students are viewed as a threat to law and order. It is a human problem and must be treated as such.







TECHNICALLY correct were the announcement and media reports that an official of the recently established National Investigation Agency had been decorated with the President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service on Independence Day. They were, however, a trifle misleading: for the officer had been honoured for his performance (a series of performances actually) prior to the formation of the NIA. That too ought not to have been an “issue” since distinguished-service medals, unlike those for gallantry, are seldom a reward for a specific action. But what appears somewhat ridiculous is that the NIA’s Inspector General (Operations and Coordination) has virtually no operations to coordinate at present ~ so his expertise is lying unutilised. So typical of governmental functioning. It borders on the tragic that the theory of “well-begun is half-done” does not apply to what was projected as one prong of the anti-terror mission launched after the 26/11 outrage seemed to have shocked North Block out of prolonged lethargy and inertia. Sure there was some fanfare when new hubs for the National Security Guard were ordered, amendments made to the laws governing jurisdiction in the criminal-justice administrative pattern, and the NIA was projected as part of the overall package. Yet while the NSG hubs have been commissioned the investigation apparatus is still in the incubator. It functions from makeshift accommodation on the fringe of the Capital, has yet to be adequately staffed, and thus far has been entrusted with probing less than a handful of cases.

While the delays are procedural (even the terror-threat does not unravel red tape), the lack of urgency exhibited by the home ministry might prove frustrating for personnel handpicked for the NIA. Could it be that inducting more sinister-looking heavily-armed commandos makes for a more profitable “media event” than empowering sleuths? What is even more disturbing are unconfirmed reports that an “experts committee” is unimpressed by the NIA concept and wants it included in a larger anti-terror machine.
It is not easy to buy that line: specialised, focused, investigation and expeditious prosecution for terror acts facilitates speedy trial and punishment. It has critical deterrent value. Several top police officers have often lamented the long delay in bringing terrorists to book, so the NIA does have a vital role ~ provided it acquires some vitality of its own.








NEW YORK, 18 AUG: Astronomers claim to have found an amino acid on a comet for the first time, a discovery which confirms that some of life’s building blocks were delivered to the early Earth from space.
Amino acids are crucial to life because they form the basis of proteins, the molecules that run cells. They form when organic, carbon-containing compounds and water are zapped with a source of energy, such as photons ~ a process that can take place on Earth or in space.

Previously, amino acids have been found in space rocks that fell to Earth as meteorites. Now, a team at Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center have analysed samples from the agency’s Stardust mission and traced the amino acid called glycine to an icy comet for the first time, the New Scientist reported.
“It’s not necessarily surprising, but it’s very satisfying to find it there because it hasn’t been observed before. It’s been looked for (on comets) spectroscopically with telescopes but the content seems so low you can’t see it that way,” lead astronomer Mr Jamie Elsila said.

According to the astronomers, comets and asteroids are thought to have bombarded the Earth early in its history, and the new discovery suggests they carried amino acids with them.

“We are interested in understanding what was on the early Earth when life got started. We don’t know how life got started... but this adds to our knowledge of the ingredient pool,” Mr Elsila said.

The amino acid was found in samples returned to Earth by Nasa’s Stardust mission, which flew by Comet Wild 2 in 2004 to capture particles shed by the five-kilometre object.

“There might be more complex mixtures (of amino acids) and higher levels of them in a comet nucleus,”

Mr Elsila said.

The findings are published in the latest edition of the Meteoritics & Planetary Science journal.








Jaswant Singh, former cabinet minister, has written a book on Mohammed Ali Jinnah which has become a talking point across India. I have not read the book. I have heard Jaswant Singh on TV expounding his views on Jinnah. The main thrust of his work seems to be:

1) Jinnah has been unnecessarily demonised. He was a great man and not wholly responsible for the Partition of the subcontinent.

2) Pandit Nehru was primarily responsible for the Partition because he believed in a centralised India which left no space for the Muslims to protect themselves against Hindu domination.
3) Mahatma Gandhi and other Congress leaders were opposed to the Partition and would not have allowed it if it were not for Nehru. 

The view about Nehru’s role in the Partition is not new. This scribe wrote about it in a book of just 107 text pages, not over 600 pages, which was published twenty years ago. Others, such as former ADC to Lord Mountbatten and later India’s ambassador abroad, Narendra Singh Sarila, wrote on the subject of the Partition at greater length.


LET us consider the three main postulates of Jaswant Singh’s views outlined above.
1) Jinnah was not a “great” man. He was articulate, highly intelligent and focused. He missed greatness by a wide margin because he willingly colluded with the British to create a Pakistan about which he had not even determined boundaries or shape. He mainly fulfilled British goals while satisfying his own vanity. Independence came first; the boundaries of the divided nations came later. The British had decided on Partition to serve their own strategic ends. On 29 March, 1945, after Viceroy Lord Wavell met Prime Minister Churchill in London he recorded: “He (Churchill) seems to favour partition of India into Pakistan, Hindustan and Princestan.” 

Sir Martin Gilbert, the British biographer of Winston Churchill revealed that Churchill had asked Jinnah to dispatch secret letters to him by addressing them to a lady, Elizabeth Giliat, who had been Churchill’s secretary. This secret interaction continued for years. Jinnah’s key decisions between 1940 and 1946, including the demand for Pakistan in 1940, were taken after getting the nod from Churchill or Lord Linlithgow and Wavell, both Churchill’s admirers.

Jinnah admitted during the Simla Conference in 1945 that he was receiving advice from London. In other words, Jinnah was as much the British puppet on a string as were the top Indian leaders.

2) Yes, Pandit Nehru was primarily responsible for the Partition. This was not because he was emotionally committed to a centralised India but because he too was thoroughly programmed by the British since his school days. His proximity to Lord Mountbatten has been recorded by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and historian Shashi Joshi among others. Even before Mountbatten’s arrival in India, Lord Wavell had complained that Nehru was often informed by Whitehall before he was !
3) Mahatma Gandhi and other Congress leaders may have been unhappy about the Partition. They did not oppose it. When the resolution to accept Partition was taken by the Congress on 3 June, 1947, Gandhi observed his day of silence. He assured Mountbatten on 2 June that he would not oppose Partition.
It can be nobody’s case that Nehru was so powerful that he could override Gandhi and the rest. The truth was that Gandhi lacked the gumption to oppose Partition when it came to the crunch because he knew that his adversary was not Nehru but Britain. At Mountbatten’s bidding he could undertake a fast unto death to compel the Indian government to pay adequate compensation to Pakistan. He made no such protest when his life’s work of creating a united independent India was being destroyed. Gandhi’s belated attempt to undo his mistake by wanting to settle in Pakistan and by demanding the dissolution of the Congress in his last will and testament was aborted by his death.


These judgments may appear cruel. Truth is seldom kind. Any assessment about the causes that led to the Partition of India would be flawed unless the central role of the British in creating it and the compliant role of the Indian and Pakistani leaders in accepting it are recognised. The most clinching evidence of this is provided by the recorded views of Christopher Beaumont who was private secretary to Sir Cyril Radcliffe, chairman of the Indo-Pakistan Boundary Commission. His private papers were recently released by his son, Robert Beaumont.


The elder Beaumont wrote in 1947: “The viceroy, Mountbatten, must take the blame ~ though not the sole blame ~ for the massacres in the Punjab in which between 500,000 to a million men, women and children perished… The handover of power was done too quickly.”

Christopher Beaumont was most scathing about how partition affected Punjab. He wrote: “The Punjab partition was a disaster… Geography, canals, railways and roads all argued against dismemberment…


The trouble was that Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were an integrated population so that it was impossible to make a frontier without widespread dislocation… Thousands of people died or were uprooted from their homes in what was in effect a civil war… By the end of 1947 there were virtually no Hindus or Sikhs living in west Punjab ~ now part of Pakistan ~ and no Muslims in the Indian east… The British government and Mountbatten must bear a large part of the blame for this tragedy.”

A few Britons are beginning to confront the truth. Will Indians ever start doing the same?







LAST month the Centre declared a drought in Manipur. Fourteen of Assam’s 27 districts are reportedly reeling under a similar condition, as are 26 of 38 districts in Bihar. The Congress in Maharashtra is worried about the situation in some pockets and has written to Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and Congress president Sonia Gandhi alerting them that the situation is far worse this time than what was described as “worst affected" in 1972. The interest is understandable, because the Maharashtra assembly poll is due this year. While presenting the government’s position, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh let it be known that altogether 141 districts in the country had been declared drought-affected and assured the states concerned that they need not worry as there was “enough food available”, and said all they had to do was to crack the whip on hoarders and blackmarketers. He also stressed the need to make available essential commodities to the poorest at affordable prices and strengthening of the public distribution system.

Since the after-effects of the drought will be felt in the next few months, the North-east deserves special attention vis-a-vis buffer stocks because of its hilly terrain. Manipur and other landlocked states import almost all their requirements so the process must start right away. The administration has to ensure that no organisations block the lifeline ~ the Imphal-Dimapur Road (NH39). Last month, hill tribesmen forced the suspension of traffic for nearly two weeks to press their demand for early repair of the vital link. Any dislocation puts an additional economic burden on the valley people. The prices of all essential goods in the North-east are at least 40 per cent higher than in the rest of the country. Now that the operation against militants in the North Cachar Hills is on, Dispur is expected to ensure regular train services on the Lumding-Silchar hill section to help Mizoram and Tripura build up their stocks.










In ‘Incredible India’, which sports a growth in GDP of 8 to 9 per cent, what is incredible is that it ranks 66th in a list of 88 countries on the World Hunger Index; almost 50 per cent of its children suffer from malnourishment and 75 per cent of its women from anaemia.

The current Public Distribution System (PDS) in the country does not seem to be fulfiling any criteria for ensuring a right to food expected of a just society.

At present, a single parent with four children, if her income is, for instance, Rs 3,500 per month, is eligible for an Above Poverty Line (APL) ration card. To be eligible for a Below Poverty Line (BPL) card, the single parent needs to be earning less than Rs 17,000 per year or about Rs 1,500 per month which works out to Rs 45 per day per household or about Rs 10 per person per day. This is just about half the minimum wage of about Rs 88 (which itself is inadequate). Today, rents for a measly 100 sq ft in a city like Bangalore alone are upwards of Rs 1,500 per month. So, to be considered poor, the state is expecting its citizens to be living on air and not have any other needs!

A single parent with six children pleads for an Antyodaya card, which would entitle her to 35 kg foodgrains. But the single parent doesn’t get it because the parent is eligible for only the BPL card. The BPL card fetches the single parent of six children a maximum of 25 kg, or about 3.5 kg per person per month in a household of seven.

Dietitians and nutritionists say that a person needs 10 kg of cereals per month to get 2,400 calories per day merely to exist, leave alone getting balanced food containing pulses, edible oil, fruits and vegetables. The present PDS expects you to become food secure by eating an inadequate quantity of mere cereals.

But in this gloomy scenario, comes the hopeful promise of a ‘National Food Security Act’. A Concept Note of the Government of India says the Act is “to ensure food security to all citizens based on rights approach, with individual household members as the focus (emphasis added). But what follows these pious statements is more a preamble to a ‘National Food Insecurity Act’.

While Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen called recently for the universalisation of the PDS, without any distinction between BPL and APL, the Concept Note seeks to make the Targeted PDS statutory. So what happens to the aim of covering all citizens?

The Concept Note seeks to take away the freedom the states enjoyed until now to determine their own numbers of the poor, the amount of foodgrains that they wish to issue and also their rates. The Concept Note plans to restrict the PDS only to 27.5 per cent of the population, considered BPL by the Planning Commission, and do away with the APL category. This, while it is estimated that 70 per cent of the population is unable to meet their requirement of 2,400 calories.



The Centre is proposing to reduce even the existing entitlement of 35 kg, fixed by the Supreme Court, to 25 kg per BPL household. Given the ceiling of five units per household, what happens to the guarantee of having the “individual as the focus” if there are over five members? Equally diabolical seems to be the Centre’s intent to do away with several other food-related schemes in the name of avoiding multiplicity of schemes.

The lack of adequate pulses, oil, fruits and vegetables in the diet is what is causing the high levels of malnutrition among Indians. But there is no thinking in the concept note on this. In fact, the word ‘malnutrition’ is completely missing in it. It also blissfully avoids any discussion on who is poor and what constitutes ‘adequate and nutritious food’. It concentrates wholly on how to reduce the numbers of BPL families, reduce entitlements and reduce subsidies. A great way indeed to ensure food security!

But the piece de resistance of the concept note lies in its statement that states unable to distribute the entitled foodgrains to families can pay cash in lieu thereof. With this, the government seems to wash its hands off any duty to ensure the right to food of its citizens.








Years ago, when I was in Bombay, I looked at housing ads which said “only 20 minutes from the railway station.” It meant that the tenant had to walk only 20 minutes to reach the station and catch the local for the work place, which would be 15-20 km away or more, and in the evening walk back for only 20 minutes to reach home. The ad was straight forward and made sense. But what about a similar ad in Bangalore which says: Only 3 km from MG road or near the airport. Earlier, it was the HAL airport now the brand new BIA.

Why should anybody live only 3 km from MG road or near the airport? Surely no one goes to MG Road daily for buying vegetables or beauty aids. Similarly, no one flies daily except the pilot and the cabin crew but even they don’t stay near the airport! The proximity to the airport can make the plane taking off or landing a sight to the eye but the roar of the engine is no music to the ears.

But how come there isn’t a similar advertising buzz about the proximity to the bus stand or the railway station? No builder proudly proclaims that his flats are near the bus stand or the railhead. In fact, this is more practical because many people commute daily by bus or rail and for them staying nearby makes sense.

Staying near a multi-specialty hospital has its own benefits too. Healthcare will then be available next door. But which realtor tom toms this unique selling point? Even if he does will the buyer take it?

House hunting is always tedious. When I shifted to Bangalore I was in a dilemma: should I look for a house first and then a school nearby for my daughter or first get admission in a reputed school and hunt for a house in its vicinity?

The crunch was that I could get a good school but not an affordable, convenient house in the vicinity or vice versa! Airport or MG Road was not on my radar.

But today the airport itself has come nearer to me compared to those who live in Bangalore south. MG Road, bus and rail stations are where they are! Realtors as usual are persuading people to invest in flats near the new airport. History repeats itself.








Myanmar’s repressive government was uncharacteristically welcoming when Senator Jim Webb visited last weekend. The junta released an American prisoner. Its leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, held talks with Mr. Webb and allowed him to meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who has been under house arrest for 14 of the last 20 years.


We hope this new attitude means that Myanmar’s leaders are looking for ways to lessen their isolation and are finally ready to loosen their iron grip. We encourage the Obama administration to test that proposition. But it is far too early to lift sanctions on one of the world’s most authoritarian regimes.


The seven-year sentence imposed on John Yettaw was cruel. The American, who suffers from post-traumatic stress, was convicted after swimming across a lake to visit Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, uninvited, at her home. The junta used the incident to add another 18 months to her detention, which now extends past next year’s general elections. She — and 2,000 other political prisoners — should be released immediately and allowed to engage in peaceful political activity.


Mr. Webb is right that American policy — Washington tries to isolate the junta, while Myanmar’s neighbors pursue engagement — has failed to bring change. The Obama administration’s policy review, on hold during Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial, must be speeded up if Washington hopes to influence the elections.


Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi has been a strong supporter of economic pressure. But Mr. Webb said she told him she “is not opposed to lifting some sanctions.” A statement issued by her lawyer on Tuesday suggests otherwise. We would like to hear her views directly.


Any change should begin with a dialogue to explore how relations might improve. The United States should press the junta to free Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi and allow the opposition to participate in fair elections. It should make clear that it is prepared to begin lifting sanctions if the junta demonstrates its willingness to stop persecuting its own people. Washington must also make clear that it is closely monitoring reports of suspected nuclear cooperation between Myanmar and North Korea.


The administration must also persuade China (Myanmar’s major foreign investor), India and others to rethink their policies. If Washington is willing to open a dialogue with the generals, Myanmar’s neighbors must be willing to use their diplomatic and economic influence to press the generals toward a peaceful transition.







We are relieved that the Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to reconsider the conviction of a Georgia death row inmate who may be innocent. In a shocking dissent, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dismissed the idea that the courts have a duty to ensure that they are not putting an innocent man to death.


We hope that the Georgia court will see that justice is done. And that the other justices will make clear in future cases that the Constitution prohibits the execution of death row inmates who can produce convincing evidence that they are innocent.


Troy Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of an off-duty Savannah police officer. Seven key witnesses have since recanted, and several people have charged that the main prosecution witness was the shooter. Rather than arguing that there were procedural flaws in his trial, Mr. Davis is making the more basic claim that he is innocent and that new evidence proves it.


The Supreme Court ordered a federal district court to “receive testimony and make findings of fact” about whether the new evidence clearly establishes that Mr. Davis is not guilty. Such a hearing is the best vehicle for getting at the truth — and for possibly rescuing an innocent man. There is no excuse for not having one.


In their extraordinarily cold dissent, Justices Scalia and Thomas argued that the Supreme Court has never held that the Constitution prohibits executing an inmate who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a court that he is actually innocent. To the contrary, they argued that a federal law — the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 — prevents the courts from intervening on behalf of a death row inmate who claims to have proof of his own innocence.


This reading of the law is incorrect, as Justice John Paul Stevens ably explained in a separate opinion. It is also unconscionable. For the state to put a person to death is, in our opinion, always wrong. To do so in the face of clear evidence of innocence is barbaric.








Death has always been the province of rebels and misfits, the ultimate act that defined martyrs and heroes. Contemporary capitalism has added a new dimension to death’s finality. It has transformed it into a stellar business opportunity.


The reported $100 million that Michael Jackson’s estate made in the first seven weeks after he died easily surpassed the $52 million generated last year by the estate of Elvis Presley, formerly the highest-grossing dead celebrity, according to Forbes magazine. It is way ahead of Marilyn Monroe’s $6.5 million last year, James Dean’s $5 million and John Lennon’s $9 million.


Death has long been a savvy financial move in the visual arts: it guarantees that the supply of new works has come to an end, conferring scarcity value upon the existing oeuvre. For an artist it is better to die old, however. Death can reduce the value of young artists by taking them from the market before immortality is assured.


The soaring valuations of dead rebels are a more recent phenomenon. They tend to be most profitable when they die young. It was probably the 1960s that ushered in rebellion as a consumer good. Its first icon might have been Che Guevara, the Argentine heartthrob who was shot in Bolivia in 1967, setting off an eventual revolution in the T-shirt industry. But Alberto Korda made no royalties from his iconic photograph of Che as it was emblazoned across young chests from Greenwich Village to the Left Bank in Paris.


The Jackson camp isn’t making that mistake. According to The Times, there is already a film deal, a commemorative coin, a line of school supplies and a $150 coffee table book. And investors are weighing future returns. In 2004, an entrepreneur bought 85 percent of the company that owns the rights to all of Elvis Presley’s intellectual property.


But for all the attractions of money, capitalism still poses a danger for the misfit, the rebel, the hero who risk being swallowed by the profit motive and spat back — in more marketable versions of themselves.


In the 1990s, Apple Computer’s “Think Different” campaign saluted “the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers,” and declared, “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Many people were convinced these lines were from Jack Kerouac, who drank himself to death in 1969. They were pure ad copy.







For the sake of a health care deal, President Obama is hinting that he may be willing to drop the idea of a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers and hold down premium costs. He should not give up without first getting a strong alternative to achieve the same goals — and so far there is nothing very strong on the political horizon.


All of the current versions of health care reform would create insurance exchanges, where tens of millions of uninsured Americans, people who lack group coverage and workers in small businesses could buy policies from either private insurers or a new government-run program. While a public plan has been demonized by opponents as a big-government takeover of health care, the idea is to increase competition among insurers and give consumers more choices.


One alternative would be to create nonprofit, member-owned cooperatives to compete with private insurers. They are unlikely to have the purchasing power of a government plan. And Republicans are already saying they will oppose cooperatives too.


While the idea of a public plan makes good sense to us, it is not indispensable. It has nothing to do with covering the uninsured. And its ability to reform the hospitals and other providers of medical care to hold down the cost of care (and premiums) is unclear.


But, if done right, a public plan would bring real benefits. It would probably be able to charge lower premiums than many private plans because it would not be profit driven and might be better able to negotiate or demand low prices from hospitals and doctors. It could provide a safe haven for those who distrust private insurers.


It could also save the federal government substantial money. As part of any reform, the government would subsidize insurance purchases for low-income people. Those subsidies in the House version would be based on an average of the premiums in the three lowest-cost plans, and a lower-cost public option would help lower that average.


Unfortunately, as the House legislation has progressed, the proposed public plan has steadily lost its power to impose lower payments on hospitals and doctors — as the government currently does with Medicare — which is critical to maintaining low premiums.


A bill introduced by three committees, which would have paid doctors and hospitals based on Medicare rates, was projected to save $75 billion over 10 years. An amendment forced into the bill by conservative Democrats simply allows the secretary of health and human services to negotiate prices with providers — an approach projected to save $10 billion to $20 billion at most.


If Mr. Obama wants to jettison the now-weakened public plan to dampen overheated opposition, he should say what he will insist on instead.


At a minimum, there should be very strict regulation of all insurers, on and off the exchange, to promote competition and fair prices and substantial subsidies to help low-income people buy insurance. If competition among private plans fail to hold down insurance costs, there should be a provision to introduce a public plan.

We are frankly skeptical that any compromise will be enough to satisfy Republican opponents of health care reform. If the White House and Democratic leaders decide to go it alone, and they may well have to, they should restore a robust public plan. It is the best way to give Americans real choice.









The eternally debilitating and generally pointless war of words with India continues like thunder forever rumbling in the background. Since the attack on Mumbai last November there has been a steady drip-drip of acrimony, with accusation and counter-accusation being batted to and fro with neither side doing much by way of scoring meaningful points and both sides have difficulty grappling with their own realities. The latest ball to come down the wicket from the Indian side is a statement by Manmohan Singh, their prime minister. He has spoken of "credible information" that militant groups based in Pakistan are planning more attacks on India. He spoke also of Pakistani groups opposed to Indian rule in Kashmir stepping up their efforts to infiltrate their fighters and said there had been a 'surge' in such activity. Those doing the infiltrating are allegedly better trained, armed and more battle-hardened than those who had previously been involved in this activity, and their communication equipment was also more sophisticated than hitherto. All of this may – or may not – be true, and unless and until there is upfront evidence which can be shared with a generally incredulous Pakistani public, then the bottom line is that most Pakistanis are simply not going to believe anything emanating from the Indian government. It is understood that no nation is going to divulge the operations of its secret intelligence services, but if there is to be any kind of trust built between India and Pakistan then there has to be a reciprocity that extends to public awareness. People really do 'need to know'. They don't need to know everything, but they need to know enough to be convinced that what they are hearing bears some relationship to a truth untainted by diplomatic circumlocution.

This may be difficult given the history of hostility and deception that both countries have experienced and practiced, but it is not impossible. The position adopted by both sides in the last year has done little to lessen the 'trust deficit'. India remains deeply aggrieved that the Mumbai attack was (a) carried out by Pakistanis and (b) that it was facilitated by people on the Indian side and (c) there was a massive failure of intelligence on the Indian part in that they did not smell a rat sooner. For our part we adopted the traditional 'ostrich position', went into denial mode and only grudgingly and belatedly acknowledged that the surviving terrorist was Pakistani and that there was a possibility that the others were too. Had there been no survivor we may have still had our collective heads buried firmly in the sand. We missed an opportunity; we could have stolen a march on India by coming clean and wrong-footed them as we did. Whatever the truth of the Mumbai tale – and we are unlikely to ever hear it all – either we stay locked into this torpid dance or we do things differently. If Mr Singh has the evidence, let him share some of it both with our own intelligence services and a smaller amount with a wider public. Conversely, we need to be a little more open regarding our knowledge of RAW activities inside our own borders – without compromising our own security of course. If the Sharm-el-Sheikh dialogue is to translate into anything more than diplomatic nicety then both sides need to put more meat on the bones of information they feed their peoples – tossing out unsubstantiated claims to a population ill-disposed to believe it anyway takes nobody anywhere. The message to both sides? Prove it, because empty rhetoric proves nothing.







Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a man whose true character appears to have become lost through the chapters of history, has re-emerged in a new light in the pages of a book by none other than BJP leader Jaswant Singh. This is particularly ironic given that Mr Singh's own party and its 'mother organization' so to speak, the RSS, have for the past six or so decades painted Jinnah as India's greatest villain. These parties, and indeed much of mainstream India and the rest of the Indian political spectrum, have always blamed Jinnah for the country's Partition and this has been shown in negative light because Partition in India has been, more or less, seen as something that divided a single whole. In fact, soon after the launch of the book -- 'Jinnah – India, Partition, Independence', the BJP and the RSS distanced themselves from Mr Singh's thesis with the latter publicly saying that it "disapproved" of what he had written. Not one to be left behind, Congress too joined in the fray, taking to task the BJP and asking it to explain why two of its key leaders, L K Advani and now Jaswan Singh – has publicly expressed their admiration for Jinnah. In an interview coinciding with the launch of his book, Mr Singh said that Jinnah has been "unfairly demonised" by India for his role in Partition. He also blames much of the trauma of 1947 on Jawaharlal Nehru and his desire for a centralized leadership.

Any fresh look at history and the characters who played a part in its making is always welcome. This is perhaps especially true in the case of Jinnah. The founder of the nation has been elevated to the status of a kind of saint in Pakistan. Any pragmatic analysis of his role and his personality becomes difficult. At the same time, leaders through the years have been selective in choosing which fragments of Jinnah's legacy to put before people. The portions that called for tolerance and an equal status for all citizens regardless of belief notably vanished for years under policies followed by the Zia regime. Many western historians have meanwhile cast Jinnah as a dour, rather unappealing figure – a distinct contrast to the more charismatic Nehru. Jinnah's death, so tragically early in the life of Pakistan, has also made it difficult to draw up an accurate picture of a man who fought tirelessly to carve out the territory of Pakistan from the Indian whole. Jaswant Singh's book will, undoubtedly, create waves in India. But it may also help to create some much needed balance. Writing a fully objective history is difficult – some argue impossible. The beliefs and biases of the writer always play a part. For this reason, having as many different points of view as possible is important. They offer an opportunity to break free of uniformity and reach conclusions after examining various possibilities. For this reason the book is a significant addition to material on Partition.










FOR the first time in many months, President Asif Ali Zardari has expressed his intention to launch a project of far-reaching importance.

During a briefing in Karachi, he asked the Sindh Government to identify about one million acres of unproductive land in Thatta district that can potentially be used for building an entirely new city.


Leaders are expected to come out with ideas and plans that change destiny of the nation. Such a leadership is needed in Pakistan as the country is confronted with problems and challenges of daunting nature but regrettably with rare exemptions successive leaders confined themselves to score settling and witch-hunting as a result of which the country of 170 million hardworking people and immense potential is mired with poverty, ignorance and disease. We celebrated 62nd anniversary of independence but during this long period we established only one city – Islamabad on modern lines. It was because of this that we are witnessing immense pressure on the existing cities which are becoming unmanageable due to rapid migration. In this backdrop, the idea to have a new city is really appreciable as it would take care of many problems facing the people. The construction of a new city will not only generate employment and promote industrial growth but also serve as a catalyst for social and economic change. The President’s concern for Sindh are understandable but it would be advisable if similar projects are also launched in other parts of the country. In fact, building of new cities should be the part and parcel of the long term planning and the country should have one or two new cities after regular interval so as to cope with the problems caused by population explosion and lack of employment opportunities. Though the project is at the conceptual stage but we would emphasize the need for transparency and fair play as people had a bitter experience of the New City Project in Islamabad promised by the PPP Government during its previous tenure. Those who dreamt about having a house of their own in the proposed city have been defrauded shattering confidence of the general public.







IN a well-researched book, former Indian External Affairs Minister and a senior leader of Hindu Extremist Party BJP, Jaswant Singh has made an honest attempt to analyse the factors that led to the partition of the Subcontinent and role of different leaders in the freedom movement. He has paid rich tributes to the leadership qualities, far-sightedness and vision of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, acknowledging that he indeed was a ‘great leader” ie “Quaid-i-Azam”.

Vested interests have always tried to distort facts and present them as per their narrow thinking. That is why deliberate attempts were made by some Indian circles to demonise Quaid-i-Azam. The fact remains that the Quaid first joined “All India Congress” party and played an active role in its activities, then simultaneously joined “All India Muslim League”. For years, Muhammad Ali Jinnah made frantic efforts for Muslim-Hindu unity and Luckhnow Pact of 1916 is a glaring example of his sincerity towards that end. However, he received rude shocks due to biased attitude of the Hindu leadership towards Muslims. It was after this that the Quaid decided to give full time attention to Muslim League and used its platform to safeguard and promote rights of the Muslims, a mission he successfully accomplished despite all odds and combined opposition of the colonial rulers and Congress leadership. It is, therefore, encouraging that Mr Jaswant Singh has adopted a realistic approach and placed things in their true perspective. He rightly held Jawahar Lal Nehru’s highly centralized policy responsible for partition, saying that he (Nehru) consistently stood in the way of a federal India. We would also point out that Hindu leadership adopted similar policies during different stages of the freedom movement, conveying a vivid impression that Congress was only custodian of Hindu interests. The way the Congress reacted to bifurcation of Bengal into two provinces in 1905 purely because of administrative reasons is one such example. It is regrettable that Congress leaders persisted with this faulty approach throughout the freedom struggle, convincing the Muslims that there was no future for them in a Hindu dominated India. The plight of Indian Muslims, who are treated like aliens even in the 20th century, confirms that apprehensions of the Muslims were not unfounded. We hope that the book of Mr Jaswant Singh would initiate a healthy debate and lead to removal of misconception and elimination of the bias against Pakistan.







INDIAN Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has again expressed apprehensions that militants in Pakistan were plotting new attacks in his country. While addressing a meeting of Chief Ministers on internal security he said there was, in his words, credible information of ongoing plans of terrorist groups in Pakistan to carryout fresh attacks.

Since the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan had been stressing that it was ready to cooperate with India if actionable proofs were provided over the involvement of certain militants in that gory incident. Therefore it was appropriate and timely that the Foreign Office took notice of the statement, called the Indian Deputy High Commissioner and told that the remarks of Dr Manmohan Singh warrant serious and prompt attention. The diplomat was told that Pakistan would like to extend its fullest cooperation to pre-empt any act of terror. To do that it was emphasised that New Delhi share the real time, credible and actionable information with Islamabad. That proves the sincerity of Pakistan that it would not be found wanting as far as strong action against militants was concerned when authentic information was available. Pakistan itself is suffering from the menace of terrorism being perpetuated by anti-national elements at the instigation of foreign intelligence agencies. It is confronting the militants head-on and one hopes that the menace would be eliminated in due course of time with the cooperation of the masses. One cannot doubt what Dr Manmohan Singh had stated on Monday yet we expect that he would direct the concerned Ministries to share full information with Pakistan for prompt action. At the same time we expect that the Indian leader would have taken action over the information shared with him by Pakistani Prime Minister at Sharm el Sheikh about involvement of his intelligence agencies in Balochistan and FATA. The way forward for the two countries to deal with the problems of terrorism and insurgency is cooperation and building of trust. It would only benefit the militants if the two neighbours indulge in allegations and counter-allegations and adopt postures that threaten peace in the region.











State Minister for Science and Information Communication Technology, Yafez Osman has rightly stressed the need for making the youths of the country computer-literate. In this connection he urged the country's teaching community to play their due role in grooming up their students for computer education so that they could develop themselves to take up challenges of the 21st century. The state minister's call is in conformity with the grand alliance government's ambitious programme for making a digital Bangladesh. In developing our IT sector, we are lagging behind our big neighbour. But there is no dearth of talents and tapping them would start with computer literacy. 

The imperative to make a competent workforce in the IT industry points to the necessity of making computer education available to school students in villages. When the IT-trained or educated students will enter the job market after completion of their education, the country will have an army of skilled youths to meet the demand of our time.

In some private schools in the city, computer education has already been made compulsory up to O Level.


If the mainstream schools can be equipped with computers and trained teachers, even SSC qualified candidates may find their IT training at school very useful for earning a modest living. The connectivity that would be achieved in the process will help advance the country by several years at a single step. Only then will the dream of a digital Bangladesh come true.








A minister of one of our states entered a tiger's cage and proudly posed next to a terrified cub as photographers clicked the 'brave' minister and published it round the country. It was an absolute infringement of the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972. I doubt any charges will be levied on the minister sahib and am sure the poor Nagpur zookeeper will be made the scapegoat.

 "Did you see me, did you see me petting the tiger cub?" Photographer, "Yes minister we also saw how terrified the cub was!" Minister, "I am bold and fearless, there is nothing I am afraid off!" Photographer asks, "Minister sahib will you enter the cage next to you?" Minister, "Of course I will, what is it?"


Photographer, "It is where the Constitution of our country has been caged by you and your ilk. Sir, we would like you to go towards it, face it fearlessly and put your arm round it 'friendly like' the same way you did those terrified little tiger cubs!" Minister doubtfully, "The Constitution?"

"Yes Minister sahib! The same which talks about equality for all, the same that speaks about opportunities for every citizen, poor or rich, caste or casteless! Come Minister Sahib. Hold the Constitution while we click a photo!" Photographer cajoles. "Nooooooo! Nooooo!" resists the minister.

Curious photographer, "Why Mr Minister?" Minister confesses, "I am terrified!" Photographer, "Of what sir?" Minister, "Of even looking at it! I cannot enter that cage!" Photographer, "Not as easy as entering the tiger's cage huh sir? And sir!" Minister, "What?" Photographer, "Will you enter the cage on the right, it's bright and airy and spacious!" Minister hesitates, "What is inside that cage?" Photographer persuasively,


"Truth minister sahib! You corrupt politicians have put Truth in that cage, would you go in and face Truth like you did that little tiger cub?" Minister puzzled, "Truth?"

Photographer sternly, "Yes sir, Minister sahib, the Truth? Can you face the truth?" Minister cries, "No!


Let me go, let me leave this strange zoo! Zookeeper get me out of here!" There is a commotion and the minister looks up, "What is it?"

"Sir there is anger in the country, everybody is furious you broke a law and entered the cage of the tiger cubs, an endangered species!"

"Tell them, " whispers the minister, not batting an eyelid, "That I entered the cage on the instruction of the zoo keeper and it's his fault entirely!"

From two cages nearby, came a mighty roar as the Constitution of the country, and Truth gave vent to their anger at the lie the minister had just mouthed, and the minister hearing the sound ran from the cages he'd never have the courage to ever enter...!











THE art of politics, as Paul Keating would say, is to know when to throw the switch. It is advice seemingly lost on the Rudd government as it piles on the rhetoric about how it has saved Australia from deep depression. Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan have been belting out the same song this week, arguing the need to maintain the stimulus even in the face of recovery.

Yet the case for recalibrating government spending grows stronger by the day as confidence builds that Australia will suffer, at worst, a shallow recession. Policy settings that might well have been essential six months ago need to be revisited, if not revised. Instead, the government is in self-congratulatory mode -- happy to take the credit when Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens suggests that this downturn may not be much worse than the 2001 dotcom correction, but not much interested in amending its policy with changed circumstances.


Yesterday on ABC radio's AM program, the Treasurer tried to cast stimulus sceptics as "people who want to pull the rug out from under the recovery". It was a crafty political line but one likely to be wasted on an electorate that appears to have already factored in the upturn and moved on. More likely to have traction with voters is the heavy debt we have all incurred in the process.


The government's strategy is about demonstrating that Labor is a better economic manager than the Coalition and shoring up support for its Plan A. In the process, it is paying scant attention to the possibility that it may have overshot the mark with its stimulus packages and could perhaps afford to ease back a tad.


Credit where credit is due -- the government's two direct payments to taxpayers last year and in February bolstered retail spending and saved jobs. But now that things are looking up, the scale of the stimulus package needs to be addressed.


There is time now for some considered reflection. We are no longer in that white-knuckle period following the collapse of Lehman Brothers last year. Treasury head Ken Henry may have warned of another dip in the economy, a second shockwave, but he has also talked about Australia having a "very resilient economy".


It is now evident that last October's collapse was a collapse of the northern hemisphere's financial system, not the end of capitalism or the start of a worldwide depression. In Australia, a combination of a sound banking system, resource exports to China, a reduction in interest rates and a comparatively big-spending intervention led to the avoidance of a technical recession. The risk now is that continuing to pump money into the economy up to 2011 will crowd out private effort and add to the pressure to raise interest rates. There is also the threat that the housing stimulus spending will instead feed a housing bubble as construction competes for tradesmen busy with the schools stimulus projects.


Hanging over it all is the increased debt that will take some years to work off. In fact, its efforts to avoid a technical recession mean that the government has burdened us with heavy debt, but has not avoided increased unemployment. Growth of close to 3 per cent is needed for that but the Reserve Bank is predicting the economy will grow by just 0.5 per cent next year.


It is time for the government to take another look. It should take a lead from the Reserve Bank, which has signalled that it wants to remove its stimulus of lower interest rates faster than assumptions made in the budget.


In his speech to the Australian Industry Group on Monday night, the Prime Minister argued that thousands of small- to medium-sized businesses would be undermined if the stimulus were withdrawn. But Dr Henry told the same conference that he did not fully understand what exactly was behind our improved economic performance. What is clear, however, is that we face a big job in getting the budget back to surplus and paying off debt.


Mr Rudd and Mr Swan seem intent on proving that they have changed the course of history through their intervention but the picture is not so black and white. It is hard to identify any single factor which turned the tide: the stimulus was but one of several.


There is no shame in the government's decision to throw everything it could at the economic crisis. Equally there is no shame in changing tack now. Less rhetoric and more reckoning would seem to be in order.








DESPITE the arguments being directed at her in favour of the federal government buying Cubbie Station, Water Minister Penny Wong has prudently avoided rushing into negotiations or raising expectations of any deal. As Senator Wong points out, Cubbie's water entitlements, at this stage, are tied to its land. This would force the government to pay a premium to obtain the water.

The 93,000ha station is best known for cotton growing, but last year it grew 15,000 hectares of wheat, one of the biggest crops in the nation. Its irrigated soils also suit barley, soya beans, sorghum and cattle. Governments have no business buying a commercial farming operation that will find its value in the international marketplace.


Queensland Premier Anna Bligh sees the sale of Cubbie as a "real opportunity" for the federal, Queensland and NSW governments to better manage water along the Murray-Darling. The question of separating water allocations from land in that part of Queensland cannot be decided until a legal challenge to water allocations is finalised, and Ms Bligh is optimistic the issue could be resolved as early as next month. Until then, the federal government, which has offered to discuss water buybacks with Cubbie, should proceed no further.


The argument for a government buyout advanced by the environmental lobby is superficially attractive. The Australian Conservation Foundation wants governments to buy Cubbie and five other water-guzzling stations in the Darling Basin to help revive the Murray-Darling system. About 25 per cent of the 1.014 million megalitres of water diverted from the Murray-Darling system to Queensland irrigators in 2007-08 went to Cubbie. Its storage capacity, which has never been full since the station was created in 2005, is 537 billion litres, more than enough to fill Sydney Harbour.


Buying the station's water, however, would be no environmental silver bullet. Putting extractions aside, as little as 20 per cent of water from the system's northern basin makes it to the lower lakes. Mike Young, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, says South Australia would receive 10 per cent of Cubbie's water "at best" if the commonwealth secured the allocations, because of evaporation and irrigation losses. South Australia could be worse off if the budget was spent and the commonwealth was unable to buy water in Victoria and NSW.


As The Australian has argued since 2003, a realistic national price mechanism for water is needed as part of an effective management system. Encouraging innovative farming is vital. Water buybacks are part of the process, but Senator Wong is right not to pay a premium for Cubbie.








Or pop into the supermarket for a bottle of milk on the way home from work. West Australian Premier Colin Barnett is right. On the verge of a new era of resource development, the state that earns one-third of Australia's export income might as well put up signs announcing it is closed for business after 6pm.

Determined as they are to see modern Australia revert to the hayseed era of Dad and Dave, it was not surprising that Mr Barnett's Nationals allies refused to support his legislation to extend retail trading hours to -- shock, horror -- 9pm on weeknights. But at least the Nationals campaigned on the point at the last election.


The ALP's opposition was unfathomable and disgraceful. Former premier Alan Carpenter supported deregulation of trading hours before the election, pointing out that WA was an important world economy, "not a provincial Albanian council". Its vote for the dark ages rekindled memories of the party's great moralist, Brian Burke, lobbying against deregulation at the time of the 2005 referendum, in which 59 per cent of the state voted against deregulation.


Mr Barnett recognises that it is not the role of government to restrict consumer choice, and he should not be deterred. Sunday trading should also be tackled. West Australians have nothing to fear from either weeknight or Sunday trading. Not only have families survived it for years in the rest of the nation, even Queensland, they also appreciate the convenience and better value created by more competition.












HERE we go again. We were supposed to be heading into the trough of a global recession about now, with unemployment rising to 8.5 per cent, and everyone being told to batten down for hard times. Now the jobless rate seems to have steadied at 5.8 per cent, though people are still working fewer paid hours, and the financial markets are abuzz with bets about when the Reserve Bank will start putting interest rates back up. With Japan joining France and Germany in positive growth, the International Monetary Fund has declared that ''the recovery has started''.


To cap it all, a Chinese energy company has signed a second contract for liquefied natural gas from the Gorgon field off Western Australia, adding to earlier deals with Japan, Korea and India, enabling development to start next year on the $50 billion project. As well as creating thousands of new high-pay jobs, the deal shrinks some of the political clouds around the long-term economic relationship with China. The iron ore market is still a seller's market, investors are lining up uranium projects, and the queue of coal carriers is back at Newcastle.


Why are we not cheering? For one thing, the international revival is still very tentative. As the IMF warns, sustaining the recovery will require ''delicate rebalancing acts, both within and across countries''. Resurgent growth in China, seen in some quarters as our saviour from more serious recession, has been based on a massive lending spree by the state banks, leading to a boom in investment rather than the consumer revolution long seen as the basis for more stable foreign balances. New bubbles in China's property and share prices are the result, increasing the likelihood of a second demand shock to its economy after the collapse of American and European export markets.


In Australia, the central bankers also talk of a fine balance between heading off excessive consumption and choking off returning confidence. Individuals have meanwhile had it drummed into them that recovery means rising interest rates and higher petrol prices, with wage growth and job opportunities lagging behind. The IMF points out that Australian house prices appear to be 20 per cent overvalued. That doesn't mean necessarily that prices will fall - stronger employment will sustain the market - but the upside possibilities might be thinner than in previous upswings.


That outlook suggests that while Australia's outlook remains remarkably good, families should look to reducing debt as much as possible, particularly expensive credit-card balances, and adopt the brace position even for the economy's soft landing.







THE motto of the Olympic movement, Citius, Altius, Fortius ("Faster, Higher, Stronger") is outdated. It should be "Big, Bigger, Bloated". The Olympics are getting hard to control. The problem of athletes taking steroids is dwarfed by the problem of Olympic officials on financial steroids. The summer Olympics cost many billions to stage and are now beyond the scope of all but the largest economies. At the last Olympics, in Beijing last year, the hosts spent well in excess of $100 million on the opening ceremony alone, in a blurring of hospitality, nationalism and propaganda.


Too many obscure sports, too many events and too many bureaucrats all ride the coat-tails of the Games. A plethora of corporate sponsorship and product placement has also turned the Olympics into a giant billboard. There is too much of everything. The Olympics have naturally grown along with the rest of the world, as the number of competing nations and athletes expands. At the first Olympics of the contemporary era, at Helsinki in 1952, 69 countries and 4955 athletes took part. Last year, 204 countries and 11,028 athletes took part. In the process of this super-sizing of the event itself, the original spirit of the Games has been sinking under the weight of its own grandiosity.


At Helsinki there were 149 events across 17 sports. In Beijing there were 302 events across 24 disciplines. Instead of considering the merits of more than doubling in the scale of the Games over the past half century, the International Olympic Committee, in a show of hubris, has shown no interest in scaling back, apart from shedding baseball and softball. Instead, this week the IOC announced the inclusion of women's boxing for the London Games, and proposed the addition of golf and rugby (the sevens version) for the 2016 Olympics.


Women's boxing? How many women seriously engage in this sport? A tiny percentage. Women's rugby? Another tiny niche compared with the men's game. Rugby already has its own World Cup, one of the largest sporting events in the world. Golf is another popular sport whose highest peaks will always exist outside the Olympics. We take the IOC at face value in praising the widespread appeal of golf and rugby, but this is also about generating TV revenues. It is not unduly cynical to note that TV revenues are the eternal spring which sustains the 115 globetrotting members of the IOC and their ample secretariat in expensive Switzerland.




                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN




Is there, inside the ballot-selling, patronage-peddling and tribal manoeuvring that has so dismally characterised the Afghan election campaign until the very eve of the vote, a real election struggling to get out? The answer is a qualified yes. One candidate, Ashraf Ghani, has run a genuine, issue-based campaign, lifting the level of debate even as his own chances of success have shrunk. And those who know the country believe that there exists all across Afghanistan, and not just in Kabul, an emerging middle class, which is young, modern-minded, enthusiastic, hard-working and ready to cross the ethnic barriers which would hamper political life even if there were no such thing as the Taliban and no such problem as the insurgency.


These young people reached their 20s after the fall of the Taliban government. They have no attachment to what it represents or to the antediluvian tribal and patronage structures that shape society on the government side. Indeed they see the two as similar in nature and intimately related. They would wish to be casting their votes on the basis of the policy choices which the candidates put before them. With the honourable exception, again, of Mr Ghani, they have not been presented with such choices. There is a rabble of minor candidates whose only purpose in running is to get a result which they hope to parlay into a job or a business opportunity after the election. Then there are a couple of eccentrics, including the populist and chauvinist Ramazan Bashardost, who wants to take Isfahan back from Iran, one or two others who may achieve respectable percentages of the vote, and Mr Ghani, who still hopes for a breakthrough.

The platforms of Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, the leading candidates according to the polls, are so generalised as to be almost meaningless. In their election addresses, they leap from platitude to platitude. They scatter promises without including a single detail about implementation. The only exception is on negotiations with the Taliban, where there has been a rather sterile debate on whether local deals or a bargain with the Taliban's national leadership represent the best approach. The real message the candidates wish to convey is embodied literally in the men who walk by their side – the allies they have secured from each major ethnic group. They want to show that they have put together viable ethnic alliances which will both preclude future conflict and ensure that each ethnicity gets its share of the jobs and money that office will bring. In some areas, the alliance may even discreetly include the local Taliban. The problem is less that this frantic brokering has brought some very unpleasant men closer to power than that neither of the two leading contenders has made any effort to transcend ethnic divisions. Indeed they see those divisions as the building blocks of politics.


Mr Ghani is also a leading candidate, at least in the intellectual sense. But he is a student of underdeveloped and conflict-ridden societies, and knows that ethnic pacts of this kind, between the "big men" of each tribe, reinforce warlordism and virtually guarantee corruption and jobbery. Ethnicity cannot be ignored, he would argue, but it should not be the trump card which it is in Afghanistan today. He has resolutely gone to almost the other extreme, writing a book on how to rescue his country, effectively his campaign manifesto, which concentrates almost exclusively on policy issues. It includes comprehensive plans on everything from the rebuilding of the mining industry and the expansion of education through an improved madrasa system to the possible future export of electricity. This is a vision of an Afghanistan transformed, technocratically directed and strategically organised, which, unfortunately, seems a million miles away from the dusty reality on the ground.







After a short hearing in Edinburgh yesterday, Scottish judges accepted Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's application to drop his appeal against his conviction and life sentence for the Lockerbie bombing. As Lord Hamilton implied in his judgment, the court had little choice once Megrahi had decided to withdraw. The upshot is that, through no fault of their own, the judges gave the impression that justice had been relegated to a walk-on role in a well-orchestrated international political fix. Whatever the intentions of those involved or the requirements of compassion towards a dying man, that outcome leaves the Lockerbie families looking like the neglected victims of a stitch-up and the rule of law looking like an afterthought.


Even now, with the way clearing for Megrahi's early release, the decision that faces Scotland's justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, is not straightforward. He has the authority to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds because of his cancer. Or he has the option of allowing him to be returned to serve out his time in a Libyan jail under the terms of an agreement between the UK and Libyan governments. There are other options too. But the underlying problem about the Lockerbie case is the same as always – the mismatch between the immensity of a crime that resulted in 270 deaths and the imperfections of the search for the truth about what happened. Exactly where Megrahi fits into the elusive story is not absolutely clear. Until yesterday, his lawyers had worked tirelessly to argue that he played no real role. All along, there have been parallel legal and political universes. As the saga has unwound, the facts have become less watertight and a fear has grown both of an injustice against Megrahi and, at least as importantly, the possibility that the outrage against Pan Am flight 103 might have been state-sponsored in a way that remains concealed from the courts.


In such circumstances, any release of Megrahi by a politician rather than by a court inevitably causes misgivings – and worse – whatever the motivation and however scrupulous the process. As a rule, ministers should not be asked to do the work of judges. They inevitably concern themselves with issues like raison d'état, party advantage, self-promotion and press reaction as much as dispensing justice or maintaining the rule of law. Mr MacAskill should certainly have kept quiet about his intentions until he had decided what to do. Instead he allowed the different interest groups to bid for his vote. The Lockerbie case has always involved political judgments as well as legal ones. Releasing Megrahi may indeed be compassionate and the least worst option in the current circumstances. But it is a bad outcome to a bad case nonetheless. Justice has not been done.







In the wake of Usain Bolt's breathtaking 100m world record, it may seem perverse to suggest that the most globally significant sports achievement of the week belongs to YE Yang. Yet the repercussions of the South Korean golfer's win in the US PGA championship could change the habits of millions who would never dream of taking up sprinting in emulation of Bolt's brilliance. On Sunday, Yang did two big things. First, he did what no other golfer has ever done – by defeating Tiger Woods in a major in which the world No 1 was the overnight leader going into the final round. Fourteen times before, Woods had led a major after 54 holes, and 14 times he had gone on to win after 72. This time, however, Yang took him on with thrilling audacity, starting two strokes behind Woods and finishing three ahead. The second achievement will resonate far further. By becoming the first Asian man ever to win a major, Yang has changed the face of a sport long dominated by Americans, Europeans and their descendants. This has already happened in women's golf, where Korea provides 17 of the world's top 50 players. But men's golf has been building to this moment too. After Yang, there will surely be many more Asian tournaments, more Asian television coverage, more Asian golf courses and more Asian major winners. The 21st century is regularly dubbed the Asian century in business and politics. Now – thanks to YE Yang – it could be the Asian century in golf, and perhaps eventually other sports too.








The campaign for the Aug. 30 Lower House election officially kicked off Tuesday. The election results will have a great impact on the course of Japan's future because there is a chance that the Liberal Democratic Party's domination of Japanese politics may end. The election represents a chance for voters to render a decisive verdict on the performance of the coalition of the LDP and Komeito.


After the September 2005 election, which handed the LDP a landslide victory, three LDP leaders became prime ministers without receiving a voter mandate. Prime Minister Taro Aso has made many flip-flops on important policy and political matters. Under the retrenchment policy inherited from the Koizumi administration, the nation's social security, including medical services and support for the socially needy, has deteriorated.


Thanks to the ruling coalition's spending on economic stimulus packages, the economy does show signs of recovery. But it is uncertain whether any recovery can be sustained for long. Voters will have to carefully consider these matters before voting.


The Democratic Party of Japan, the No. 1 opposition party, is calling for a change of government to give Japan a fresh start. Its program, aimed at enabling politicians to take the initiative from the hands of bureaucrats in developing policy, includes establishing a national strategy bureau under the auspices of the prime minister and sending more than 100 politicians into government ministries and agencies.


The most recent polls show that the DPJ has stronger voter support than the LPD, but that doesn't mean that the DPJ support is solid. Voters may want more explanations about how the DPJ plans to finance policies such as a child allowance, toll-free expressways and income compensation for farmers. Voters also may want more explanations from the LDP as to how it will put the nation on a stable economic recovery path.


Political parties should revise their manifestos to make their proposals feasible, if necessary, and present a broad vision of the future in areas such as economic development, social security, diplomacy and education.






On Aug. 6, the 64th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Prime Minister Taro Aso signed an agreement with representatives of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic-bombing survivors who had filed lawsuits seeking recognition as sufferers of radiation-related illnesses. Under the agreement, plaintiffs who have won district court-level lawsuits will be certified as sufferers.


For those who have lost cases in district courts, Diet members will write and pass a bill to create a fund to financially assist them. Those certified as sufferers of A-bomb illnesses receive a monthly allowance of around ¥137,000 plus free medical treatment.


The agreement signed by Mr. Aso smacks of being a vote-getting measure ahead of the Aug. 30 Lower House election, as Mr. Aso never took the initiative in crafting the agreement. Still, it can serve as a first step toward improved relief for more atomic- bombing survivors with long-term illnesses.


Problems, however, remain with the agreement, which covers 306 people who went to court in and after 2003 and didn't come until after the government had lost 19 consecutive lawsuits. Regardless of whether there is a change in government as a result of the Aug. 30 general election, the government must ensure that the planned fund for survivors is adequately funded.


According to plaintiffs' lawyers, some 7,700 people have not yet been examined by a certification panel despite their requests for certification under new, less strict criteria drawn up in April 2008. So, the big question will be how to help these people, who are not covered by this month's agreement.


One of the conditions for recognizing people as sufferers of an A-bomb illness is that they suffer from any of five medical conditions, including cancer, leukemia and hyperparathyroidism. In and after March 2009, several court rulings accepted illnesses like hypothyroidism, cirrhosis, keloid, plus an aftereffect of cerebral infarction as certifiable conditions. In June, a health ministry panel added radiation-related cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis and hypothyroidism to the list. The government should overhaul the certification system to ensure wide and quick certification of A-bomb survivors suffering from long-term illnesses.









Will Asia-Pacific armed forces find their role in national defense and security shifting significantly in the future as the effects of climate change caused by global warming intensify? If so, how quickly will it happen?


Recent TV pictures and media reports of military helicopters and thousands of soldiers evacuating victims of Typhoon Morakot in Taiwan are just the latest sign of disaster relief becoming a more prominent part of military operations.


Of course, not all natural disasters are linked to climate change. But they are getting more costly as global warming causes more extreme weather, including violent storms, floods and droughts.


In January, two U.N. agencies reported a marked rise in 2008 in the number of deaths and economic losses from disasters compared to the 2000-2007 yearly average. They said that last year, 321 disasters killed more than 235,800 people, affected 211 million others and cost $181 billion.


As in previous years, Asia was the main affected continent. Nine of the top 10 countries with the highest number of disaster-related deaths were in Asia. The death toll in 2008 was three times more than the annual average of just over 66,800 for the eight years to 2007. This was chiefly due Cyclone Nargis, which killed over 138,300 people in Myanmar, and the Sichuan earthquake in China, which caused the deaths of at least 87,470 people.


The U.N. refugee agency is making plans, based on what it believes are conservative estimates, that global warming will force between 200 million and 250 million people from their homes by 2050, about half displaced by sudden disasters and half environmental refugees pushed out by gradual changes like rising sea levels.


Almost every military force in the Asia-Pacific region is configured and trained to some degree for disaster relief, not just within national borders but also beyond. China has been a leader in using its engineering battalions and troops to battle floods and earthquakes in the world's most populous nation.

Armed forces from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and partner nations, including the United States, India, Australia, Japan and Singapore, worked together and with local military authorities on an ad hoc basis to alleviate suffering after a devastating tsunami struck Indonesia and other parts of Asia in December 2004.


The ASEAN Regional Forum on security is now trying to build a more effective disaster response capability. Japan's National Institute for Defense Studies says in its latest East Asian Strategic Review for 2009 that the first challenge is to work out how to build and strengthen mechanisms for cooperation among the nations providing the assistance. The second is to figure out how to build and strengthen cooperative relationships between the country receiving the aid and the states providing it.


Military planners in the U.S., Europe, Australia, Japan and some other Asian nations are weighing the potential impact of climate change and resource security involving future tensions over the supply of energy, food and fresh water.

Australia's Defense White Paper in May said that the security effects of climate change were likely to be most pronounced where states had limited capacity to respond to environmental strains. It added that the impact of sea-level rise, changed rainfall patterns and drought, "will place greater pressure on water and food security, including local fisheries."


A 2007 study by a group of retired U.S. admirals and generals published by the Center for Naval Analyses described climate change as "a threat multiplier for instability" in Asia and other volatile regions of the world.


The panel of scientists and officials advising the U.N. has warned that climate change will have a mostly adverse impact, with the consequences intensifying progressively after 2020 if nothing effective is done to curb greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a warmer world.


Last year, the European Commission outlined a grim catalog of possible threats in a report on climate change and international security. The list included resource conflicts, tensions over energy supply, risks to coastal regions from rising sea levels, loss of territory and border disputes due to receding coastlines, environmentally-induced migration, political radicalization in weak or failing states, and the undermining of cooperative international relations.


Australia's Defense White Paper said that the first and main line of defenseinstability caused by global warming and resource shortages should be three-pronged: agreement on international climate change mitigation; coordinated economic assistance strategies to countries in need; and concerted international action to assure energy supply and distribution.


If preventive strategies were to fail, it said Australia's military might face "new potential sources of conflict related to our planet's changing climate or resource scarcity," at the same time as more frequent and severe natural disasters and extreme weather increased demands on the armed forces and other government agencies to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.


If these climate change and resource scarcity predictions are correct, Asia-Pacific armed forces will face pressures in the longer term that may be difficult to reconcile.


They will be expected to guard national borders and protect overseas supply lines, while rendering more assistance both at home and abroad.


This will be a major challenge in a climate-stressed and resource- constrained world. It is one that will inevitably bring about changes in military force structure, deployment patterns and doctrine.


Michael Richardson is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies.








Former President Kim Dae-jung's passing yesterday is an occasion to reflect on how the democracy that we enjoy today was won through valiant struggles led by people who risked their lives for the ideals of equality and freedom for all.


It would not be possible to talk about modern Korean history without discussing the pivotal role that Kim played - first and foremost as a fighter for democracy, then as a statesman who steered the country out of a financial crisis and as a peacemaker who envisioned a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. Indeed, his timultuous life is perhaps a microcosm of the turbulent modern Korean history.


Born into a family of tenant farmer on a small island off Mokpo, South Jeolla Province, in 1924, Kim worked his way to the top at a local newspaper and later, a shipping company. After the country became independent from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, Kim briefly joined the Committee for Preparation of Korean Independence led by Yeo Un-hyeong, parting ways when leftists grabbed control of the group. The association with the group tainted him as a leftist, a mark that would be used against him repeatedly throughout his political career.


During the Korean War, Kim was captured by the communists and faced execution for being a right wing anticommunist. He managed to run away, escaping only the first of the many brushes with death he would encounter in his life.


Kim joined the Democratic Party in 1956 after defeat in a 1954 parliamentary election in which he ran as an independent in Mokpo. In 1960, he won a by-election in Inje, Gangwon Province. However, the parliament was dissolved three days later following a military coup led by Maj. Gen. Park Chung-hee.


Kim made a comeback in 1963, winning a seat in Mokpo. He ran unsuccessfully for the presidency against Park in 1971 and became a target for oppression by his authoritarian regime.


Park's government proclaimed the Yushin Constitution in 1972 and from then on until direct elections were restored in 1987, Kim was the symbol of the fight for democracy.


Kim campaigned relentlessly for democracy in the United States and Japan. Both at home and abroad, he condemned the authoritarian dictatorship of Park, and later President Chun Doo-hwan who came to power in a military coup, risking his life by doing so.


For his efforts to bring about democracy in Korea, Kim was imprisoned and held under house arrest several times. He was exiled twice over a 17-year period, kidnapped, came close to being assassinated and sentenced to death by a martial law court for treason.


Kim returned home from exile in the United States in 1985 and was immediately put under house arrest. However, his return invigorated the pro-democracy movement.


Protests for democracy, in which even the urban middle class flooded the streets of Seoul, forced the authoritarian government of Chun to accept democratic reform in a landmark June 29, 1987 declaration.

Kim had his political rights reinstated and ran for president in that year. The rivalry between Kim and another democracy leader, Kim Young-sam, however, split the opposition vote and resulted in the victory of Roh Tae-woo, a former military man. This was a regrettable choice that Kim Dae-jung made, pushing back a peaceful transfer of power to the democratic camp. Many years later, Kim reflected, "I should have withdrawn my candidacy."


Kim ran in the presidential election again in 1992, this time losing to Kim Young-sam who had joined the ruling party.


When Kim was elected to the top office in 1997, he inherited a country reeling from the Asian financial crisis, a country near bankruptcy. However, he successfully steered the country out of the crisis, launching major economic reforms and restructuring.


Kim's historic 2000 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is another of Kim's crowning achievements. Seeking reconciliation with North Korea, Kim Dae-jung's administration pursued what was known as the "Sunshine Policy."


Although his North Korea policy has since come under attack - it was later discovered that a South Korean conglomerate paid the North $500 million for the summit and conservatives point out that the "Sunshine Policy" failed to prevent Pyongyang from continuing its nuclear weapons program - Kim's efforts to bring about a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula should not be discounted.


In his last final speech in office, Kim said regarding reconciliation, "This is the best way to end the national tragedy and make a reunified motherland." For his efforts at reconciliation with the North and championing of human rights, Kim was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000.


In many ways, Kim was a man ahead of his time. He was well read - he spent most of his time in jail immersed in reading - had had an acuity that saw ahead into the future. Although he was already 74 years old when he assumed the presidency, he was well versed in the current thoughts of the times and had the foresight to invest in the information and telecommunications sector, making the country an IT powerhouse.


He was also an internationalist, whose concerns about human rights led him to speak out against the dictatorship in Burma and repression in East Timor.


In his lifetime, Kim had his share of followers and critics. However, his legacy as a democracy fighter and a champion of human rights should always be remembered.









Generally speaking, Koreans tend to take extreme measures, leaving virtually no space for the buffering middle ground. For example, the Korean society seems divided into a group of anti-American people who vehemently repudiate anything American, and pro-American people who are so fond of America that they do not hesitate to be "wild-goose fathers" or even "wonjeongchulsan mothers." Amid the noisy brawls between these two groups of extreme people, the neutral voice from the healthy middle ground can hardly be heard. Indeed, Korea is known to be a place where two contradictory, mutually exclusive trends are in constant conflict: paleo-conservatism vs. radical progressivism, Buddhism vs. Christianity, global perspective vs. parochial nationalism, to name but a few


The polarity between these antagonizing groups often creates many contradictions in Korean society, which makes it hard for foreigners to define precisely what Korea is. For example, is Korea an open global society or a closed parochial society? It is hard to tell, because South Korea is a curious mixture of global openness and nationalist jingoism. No matter how long they have lived in Korea, therefore, foreigners would never fully understand these enigmatic contradictions and singular characteristics of Korean society.


The same goes for the Korean people's notion of their country. Again, Korea is divided sharply by two contrasting groups: those who have the delusion of grandeur that Korea is a mighty nation that draws attention and admiration from all over the world, and those who tend to belittle their nation and their people's capability down to the level of determinism and defeatism. The former consists of nationalists who naively believe that Koreans are absolutely the most intelligent, most gifted people in sports, arts and science. These people wrongfully believe or even insist that it is the Korean scientists who invented the nanotechnology. On the contrary, the latter comprises of pessimists who unnecessarily disparage the laudable, spectacular achievements their country has made, thereby putting themselves in the captivity of negativity. These people constantly whine, "No matter how hard we may try, we can't do this right."


Ostensibly, South Korea may look like a problematic place in some respects. When you see the South Korean politicians who are still intoxicated with factional scuffling, for example, you may have the impression that Korea's future is grim. Watching the lawmakers fighting like raging bulls in the National Assembly, you would indeed dismay at their childish behavior. When you look at the violent confrontation between workers and riot police that takes place in South Korea like a daily ritual, you may think that the Korean society is hopelessly chaotic.


There are many other things that would make you embarrassed. For instance, you may have sneered at our immature media that hastily idolized an athlete even before his departure for an international competition, as if he won the gold medal already. You may also be disappointed in our companies and corporations that ruthlessly ruin the career of our world-class athletes by alluring them into commercial ads and then spoil them with an astronomical amount of money.


Nevertheless, there are many encouraging things that we can be proud of. Among others, South Korea has achieved both dazzling economic development and solid democratization, rising high from a poverty-stricken, war-ridden country that suffered from a military dictatorship. Indeed, few countries have achieved such a remarkable progress after liberation since World War II. Even amidst the unprecedented economic recession sweeping the world these days, South Korea manages to do quite well in exports, rapidly recuperating from the stunning blow. Samsung and LG, whose products are reportedly outselling Sony and Panasonic in the American market, make us proud as well. The image of Hyundai automobiles in the American market is also considerably stepped up, all thanks to new luxury cars such as Genesis.


The tenacious, successful effort of the KOICA (Korea International Cooperation Agency) to bridge Korea and the world is another thing we should be proud of. Under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the KOICA has significantly improved the image of Korea not only by bringing foreign leaders to Korea, but also by dispatching volunteers to underdeveloped countries in order to render educational and community services. The altruistic activities of KOICA in the global community are surely the least we can do in order to return the favor we once received from other countries.


We are not supposed to vastly exaggerate our capabilities or achievements. We should be modest and know our place in the world. At the same time, however, we should be proud of what we are capable of and what we have achieved. We should avoid the captivity of negativity by being self-confident, self-reliant, and self-esteemed. Only then can we be truly free from extremity and create a buffering space of the middle ground that we need so urgently.


Kim Seong-kon is a professor of English at Seoul National University and director of the Seoul National University Press. - Ed.










For as long as anyone can remember, the North has been Canada's El Dorado, packed with mythic promise. At once a storehouse of wealth, a cache of mystery, and an icon of our identity, the North has always been our "tomorrow country."


Countless politicians have invoked this shimmering vision while intoning platitudes about limitless potential. Meanwhile Robert Service, James Houston, and many others have implanted the region so deeply into Canada's consciousness that when Doug and Bob Mackenzie spoke of the "Great White North," Canadians laughed but also recognized a stereotype that resonates as part of our national identity.

The reality is rather less magical. Fifty years after John Diefenbaker's "roads to resources" program, the North is more open and less mysterious than it used to be, but less glamorous, too. Like almost everywhere in the Americas, overwhelmed indigenous cultures have adapted with difficulty. Social problems abound, as do environmental ones even before you consider climate change, which seems to be happening more rapidly in the North than elsewhere.


Now predictions about oil and mineral wealth, combined with longer periods of open water, are launching a new far-northern gold rush, not limited this time to the Klondike but touching the whole circumpolar region. Several countries, including the U.S. and Russia, are showing interest in what's starting to look like a 21st-century approximation of the 19th-century scramble for Africa.


Against that background Stephen Harper has headed up North this week. He goes up every year, but only in the summer. This year he's holding a cabinet meeting there, having seal meat for lunch, and providing lots of photo opportunities.


But he's serious about the North. Harper has warned that when it comes to the far north, Canada will have to "use it or lose it," an effective simplification of the political and legal doctrines which will shape the growing circumpolar access race. The Russians say they'll drop paratroops at the North Pole next spring, a publicity stunt surpassing anything Canada can manage.


Harper's Conservative government has - like pretty well all Canadian governments before it - been more talk than action about the North. Harper will look in on Operation Nanook, the annual Canadian Forces joint training exercise up there (also conveniently held in the summer.) A frigate, a coastal defence vessel, and even a submarine are there - the better part of our navy, it appears. But there will be no sign of the three heavy icebreakers the Conservatives promised in their 2006 campaign platform, because they haven't been built. Two of them won't be. The promise has been scaled back to one icebreaker - to be called the John G. Diefenbaker - plus some new Arctic patrol boats. Nothing has been built yet and the projects are stagnating.


Similarly CanNor, Harper's vaunted northern economic development agency, is being launched with just $50 million to spend over five years. Basing the effort in Nunavut sends a good signal, but on the other hand, considering how ineffective such agencies usually are, perhaps the tiny budget is just as well. Still, this doesn't demonstrate a vast commitment.

There is a good argument to be made that "use it or lose it" can mean "take care of your people in the North" as much as it means "build an icebreaker." The three northern territories have fewer than 109,000 people, but much more than their share of social problems. Service delivery is a costly challenge in the North, and the territorial governments have few resources of their own. The Conservative government has pumped some money into subsidized housing, but in general social-policy commitments have taken second place behind offshore oil and gas licences, mineral exploration tax credits, and brave talk about defence.


The pace of change in the North is plainly speeding up. The challenges, and the rewards, are still enormous, but now both are beginning to be seen more clearly. For better and for worse, the North will not be Canada's "tomorrow country" for much longer.








Let's see if we have this straight: You're allowed to take your bike onto the métro. Sometimes. And if the Société de transport de Montréal doesn't tell you that today is a bike-ban day, well, you're just supposed to know it. And if you don't know it, and take your bike on the subway, it'll cost you $100. If they catch you.

That's what happened to Montrealer Stephen Chin, anyway. The 79-year-old got on the métro with his bike, and with no problem, last Sunday at Place d'Armes. There was nobody in the ticket booth. But when he got off at Berri-UQÀM, two STM inspectors nailed him with a $100 ticket.


This is a case of brainless enforcement of a good policy. The STM bans bikes on some days, namely special-event days when it expects métro trains to be especially full. Fair enough.


Chin knew about that, and accepts the policy. If an attendant or a sign at Place d'Armes had warned him that Sunday was a no-bikes day - because of the Fête des enfants on Île Ste. Hélène - he would just have stayed off the system. That has happened to him before, it says. Again, fair enough.


But if the STM can't be bothered to put up signs, it shouldn't give out fines. It ought to change policy - and to tear up the ticket its inspectors gave to Stephen Chin.








Two mass protests by workers in less than two months against privatization of State-owned firms point to the difficulties workers face in effectively protecting their rights and interests.


In last month's protest in the city of Tonghua, northeastern province of Jilin, the workers assaulted and killed an executive who was managing the acquisition of State-owned Tonghua Steel there by a private firm. In a similar protest last week in the city of Anyang, central China's Henan province, workers held as hostage a leader of the local State-owned assets supervision and administration commission until a deal was clinched with local provincial authorities.


That explains why the All China Federation of Trade Unions released a document by the weekend, stressing that schemes for privatization of State-owned enterprises should be regarded as ineffective if they are not adopted by a workers' congress.


In the aforementioned incidents, workers were excluded from the entire process of their State-owned firms being privatized. It seemed as if the firms are actually owned by their leaders and the higher authorities of the local State-owned assets supervision and administration commission. There was no transparency either about the negotiations with private firms, which were going to take over these enterprises.


Every citizen has a share in a State-owned firm in the broadest sense. That explains why they were once called public-owned enterprises. But when it comes to the shift of their ownership, they should be considered as being owned by all the workers as it is impossible, in a theoretical or empirical sense, to ascertain the opinion of people all over the country about the fate of a particular State-owned firm.


Every individual leader or a group of leaders of State-owned firms has no right to endorse negotiations on their own about the ownership shift of these enterprises. And, neither have the higher authorities from the local or central State-owned assets supervision and administration commissions. Instead, workers who are working in these enterprises and actually own them must be guaranteed their right to be informed of, to participate in and supervise the entire process of ownership change.


The fate of every individual worker is closely related to the State-owned enterprise he or she is working for. Workers will be well paid if the enterprises they work for are prosperous, and they will be ill paid or even lose their jobs if their firms run up losses or go bankrupt. They are the last people who will betray the interest of their own enterprises.


In contrast, leaders of State-owned enterprises are much less trustworthy on the question of privatization and are very likely to be bribed for their betrayal of the interest of their firms and their workers. This reality has been evidenced by the drain of State assets in the privatization of quite a number of State-owned enterprises.


Frankly, very few in their positions have the will power to resist the temptation of big sums of money offered in bribes. This is exactly where a workers' congress needs and should have substantial power as a naysayer to problematic privatization schemes. But it is a pity there was no voice of the congress of workers in the aforementioned mass incidents.


It is high time that the position of workers' congresses needed to be strengthened. This is also the best way to protect State-owned assets from being drained.







The cancellation of a visit to Australia by Chinese vice-foreign minister is a restrained and reasonable response on the part of Beijing when that country has challenged China's core national interests.


There is no need for Canberra to feel "regret" over this incident, because a little soul-searching would point to the self-evident fact that it has no one other than itself to blame for the souring of Sino-Australian relations.


For reasons that only some of its sinophobic politicians could explain, Australia has made itself the champion leader of an anti-China chorus after the July 5 riots in Urumqi, in which nearly 200 innocent Chinese men, women and children were slaughtered by rioters.


Regardless of strong protests from China, Canberra insisted on granting a visa to Rebiya Kadeer, the mastermind behind the violent outrage in Urumqi, touting her "innocence" despite ample evidence given by China's national security authorities suggesting otherwise.


Canberra could cite its own "immigration procedures" and "national circumstance" to justify granting the visa. It might want to pamper those who are determined to "defy" and "embarrass" China out of domestic political concerns. But it had no reason to turn a blind eye to the simple truth that Kadeer is a criminal.


The World Uygur Congress (WUC), which Kadeer heads, instigated, masterminded and directed the deadly unrest in Urumqi. The organization has close connections with UN-designated terrorist group - the East Turkistan Liberation Organization (ETLO), which has long sought to separate Xinjiang from China. For example, Dolqun Isa, WUC secretary general, is also ETLO vice-president.


By providing Kadeer a platform for anti-Chinese separatist activities, Canberra chose to side with a terrorist and severely hurt China's national interests. Such an act will definitely draw strong opposition and resentment from the Chinese government and people.


As if this one single issue was not enough to derail bilateral relations, Australian officials have also tried to interfere in China's judicial sovereignty by blatantly pressing China to be "fair" in handling the spy case involving four employees of Rio Tinto, one of whom is an Australian citizen. In doing so, they show contempt for the rule of law and go against international norms that underscore mutual respect.


The Australian government has said it wants deeper engagement with Asia, especially China. It has also claimed that the development of Sino-Australian relations serves the fundamental interests of both.


But the recent events and developments suggest that forces seeking to keep the two sides apart are thriving, and Canberra is responsible for that.







The global economic crisis seems to somehow undermine the importance of China's self-employed but unregistered street vendors, even though they comprise a large number of people laid off because of the slump.


For many low-income earners in China's big cities, roadside business has become the last means to earn a living. Therefore, it's time city authorities change their idea of urban management from banning street vendors to actually helping them earn a living respectfully. As a starter, local governments can grant low-income urban residents more living space and job opportunities.


This is where Western cities' experiences can come in handy. Unlike Chinese cities, many of the Western cities I have visited promote their special and usual fairs with street vendors and roadside restaurants as tourist attractions. People there are proud of maintaining such cultural heritages. Since the global economic crisis has compelled the government to shift its emphasis from export-oriented growth, promoting the service industry and the self-employed, including street vendors, is a potent way to boost the domestic market for economic development.


In today's China, roadside eateries and street vendors or hawkers are hardly seen as tourist attractions or a continuation of cultural heritage. Worse still, roadside eateries and vendors in China are seen as a nuisance and are usually blamed for the mess and disorder in urban areas. Hence, the authorities in Chinese cities prefer to ban them from vending or hawking their wares on pavements along important roads.


That certainly is not the way to treat people who don't need government help to solve the unemployment problem. But is promoting low-income earners to vend their wares on streets synonymous with promoting the service industry?


Some people think that developing the service industry is equal to pushing forward modern service sectors such as finance, trade and real estate. These sectors may contribute a lot to the GDP, but today they are not in a position to create enough jobs to solve the unemployment problem.


On the contrary, the unorganized consumer service sector, as opposed to the modern and organized service sector, has been a reliable source of jobs for low-income workers. And this sector is what we should pin our hopes on.


In the country's most developed cities, all of which have entered the post-industrial age, people, especially those who already own houses and cars, are demanding more and more from the service sector.


On the other hand, though computers have driven out many workers from their jobs in the cities, jobs like babysitters and restaurant hosts are still irreplaceable.


The middle class and low-income earners may be moving to suburbs because of skyrocketing housing prices. But high-income earners can still bear the high expenses of living in downtown areas and they are the ones who demand more services. As a result, consumer services are concentrated mainly in downtown areas.

Since it's expensive and inconvenient both for workers employed in the service sector to commute between their homes in low-cost but distant suburbs and their workplaces in downtown areas, they find it cheaper to rent a room in cheaper urban areas and share it with their fellow workers in the service and other sectors. This has given rise to survival-level neighborhoods in many cities.


This, in turn, makes it important for the cities' authorities to grant some, if not equal, consideration to the development of such neighborhoods. City authorities have to tolerate the widening income gap and offer subsidies and convenient public services to the low-income earners.


For example, local governments should allot some funds for the construction of low-rent houses in their urban management budget and reserve certain areas for the low-income earners to live. This will create a mutually beneficial situation for low-income earners and the well-off section of society both because the former can afford to live close to their workplaces and the latter can enjoy consumer services more conveniently and at a cheaper price.


If Western cities project their street vendors and roadside restaurants as tourist attractions, why do we keep blaming them for the mess and disorder, and banning them from carrying on their business?


City authorities have to change their idea of planning and urban management because without a radical change in city planning and management, any talk of creating more jobs and maintaining growth would be meaningless.


That's why the draft Ordinance on Individual Industrial and Commercial Households is a positive step toward changing our attitude toward urban management. Issued by the State Council Legislative Affairs Office to seek public opinion, the draft ordinance may grant street vendors legal status for the first time.


Beijing has already started pilot projects to allow street vendors to carry on their trade in designated places and at given times. Let's hope Beijing's pilot projects become a permanent feature in all Chinese cities.


The author is professor of economics in Fudan University.







Samdhong Rinpoche's recent remarks that the "Tibetan government-in-exile" is a secular one are ridiculous and fully expose the Dalai Lama clique's attempt to conceal its nature as a politico-religious one.


To avert possible censures, the chief Buddha of the so-called "government-in-exile", defended his stance in an interview with Deutsche Welle, a German international broadcaster on Aug 12, by arguing that his "government" is independent of religious intervention in its process of administration despite it being a combined spiritual and political rule.


It is well known that any secular administration should have an unambiguous demarcation from a politico-religious one, whose daily affairs are largely managed and dominated by the Buddhist group.


So, how can the "Tibetan government-in-exile" be called a secular one, because, according to the "exiled chapter", the government is defined as spiritual and political governance? The religious forces, led by the 14th Dalai Lama and Samdhong, have long dominated the affairs of the "government-in-exile". Also, exiled Tibetan monks still enjoy voting powers in the elections to its "Parliament-in-Exile". Since the late 1990s, the disputes over whether the privileged Buddhist monks should be deprived of their political privileges have come to nowhere, indicating the strong influences of this group among overseas Tibetans.

Past experience is an indication that the powerful political influence and intervention of the Dalai Lama has long been an insurmountable hurdle for Samdhong's "Tibetan government-in-exile" in its so-called steps towards a secular government.


The organizational structure of the "Tibetan government-in-exile" shows that the Dalai Lama's political influence is deep-rooted. It is known that after he fled to India following a failed uprising against the Chinese central government in 1959, the Dalai Lama began to organize a so-called "exiled government" in the South Asian nation. The "exiled government" is made up of the Secretariat, a government and a so-called "people's congress". Among them, the Dalai's Secretariat, also called the Office of the Dalai Lama, is entrusted with the mission of safeguarding the leadership role of the Dalai Lama, his political authority and international status. It also serves as the most core decision-making and power organ of the "Tibetan government-in-exile".


With such a government structure and system, any administrative order issued by the "government-in-exile" would be difficult to implement among exiled Tibetans without a final nod from the Dalai Lama. And, the exiled Tibetans always felt reassured if they had some message from their so-called spiritual leader at any time when they decided to hold a gathering or rally. This is fully demonstrated by the fact that the Dalai Lama always delivered a speech every year in March on the eve of activities to be held by overseas Tibetans to commemorate the Lhasa riot on March 10, 1959.


Take last year's "Exiled Tibetan Congress" as an example. The so-called "Congress" session was completely orchestrated by the "Tibetan government-in-exile" under the guidance of the supreme Dalai Lama. The next day after the conference, the Dalai Lama met with delegates and held a press briefing confirming its achievements. As an article in the Wall Street Journal put it, the "Congress" was a move to test the Dalai Lama's long-established political positions among Tibetans at home and abroad. Under these circumstances, the "Tibetan government-in-exile" can by no means extricate itself from the Dalai Lama's political influences no matter how hard it pushes for development of a secular model or Western-style separation of powers (of the legislature, executive and judiciary).


Also, the "Tibetan government-in-exile" has been financially dependent on the Dalai Lama for its overseas survival. As is the notorious "Tibetan Youth Congress", a radical Tibetans' organization which has long been dominated by the ideology of "Tibet Independence". Facts prove that the lion's share of the funds for the "government-in-exile" in recent years has mainly come from international aid bodies; and, the Dalai Lama has played a key role in securing the funds.


How can a regime, that is inseparable from the Dalai Lama either materially or in spirit, be called a secular one?


More important, without assistance from the Dalai Lama, the authority of the "government-in-exile" would be seriously discounted among Tibetans. Even Samdhong himself acknowledges that Tibet would not accept "democracy" without the Dalai Lama's influence.


These hard facts prove again and again that the essence of the Buddhist-manipulated "Tibetan government-in-exile" will by no means change in the least if the Dalai Lama continues to wield influence over it.


The author is deputy director of the Institute of South and Southeast Asian Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.









Back in 1991, the world “archipelago” was really famous. Almost everybody knew that the motto for Visit Indonesia Year was “let’s go archipelago!” Being a very young kid with limited knowledge of English, the word “archipelago” caught my attention.


The word sounded unusual and that made it easy to remember. But it wasn’t until almost 15 years later that I came close to understanding the meaning of the word “archipelago”.


Yes, Indonesia is an archipelago, a nation state made up of thousands of islands. It is the largest archipelagic state in the world, stretching from approximately 95° E to 141° E longitude and from 6° N to 11° S latitude, with a coastline approximately 81,000 kilometers long.


Given this vast ocean territory, it is important to look at whether or not Indonesia has firmly secured its sovereign rights to its maritime areas and if these rights are being optimally utilized for the prosperity of its people.


Now that Indonesia is 64 years old, it’s a good time to look forward at the steps that should be taken
to secure maritime rights in the future.


Indonesia lies between two oceans – the Pacific and the India – and between two continents – Australia and Asia. Thus Indonesia is usually referred to as a “cross-roads”. This status is a strategic advantage on one hand; but it makes the country vulnerable. Indonesia shares maritime areas with 10 neighboring states.


Indonesia has agreed upon 16 maritime boundaries with its neighbors, but disputes remain over several others. Because of this, Indonesia is not yet in a position where its sovereign rights over its maritime areas are totally assured.


The infamous Ambalat case is one example of the problems that can arise when maritime boundaries remain unresolved.


The absence of a line delimiting the seabed area to the east of Kalimantan/Borneo is, among other reasons, why tension emerged between the two neighbors.


Other maritime boundaries to be settled include those with Malaysia in the Malacca Strait, with Singapore in the Singapore Strait, with Vietnam in the South China Sea, with the Philippines and Palau in the Pacific Ocean, and with Timor Leste in the Ombai Strait, Wetar Strait and Timor Sea.


It is also worth noting that some of the existing agreements with neighboring states are incomplete because they, for example, only concern the seabed, and not water columns.


The boundary of the seabed, but not the water, has been agreed on in the Malacca Strait and parts of the South China Sea.


Settling maritime boundaries is by no means easy. Negotiations with Vietnam, for example, took around 25 years to finalize. The task is even harder when settling maritime boundaries is not considered a priority.


Therefore, the incoming administration should ideally continue the currently strong commitment to accelerating the settling of Indonesia’s maritime boundaries.


Meanwhile, it should be noted that maritime boundary disputes can easily spark public outrage, which is often the result of a lack of understanding. It is important for relevant government parties to effectively communicate information on these matters to the public. The promulgation of the Law No. 43/2008 on the national territory, for example, is good progress.


But information concerning the implementation of this law needs to be well disseminated among the people.


With regard to the use of maritime resources, a senior maritime expert stated once that “yes, Indonesia is an archipelagic state, but it is not yet a maritime nation.” Perhaps sarcastic, this statement is grounded in reality. Indonesia, geographically and legally, is two-thirds ocean.


However, Indonesia has plenty of work to do before it can optimize the use of its maritime resources.


Indonesia only established the Office of Minister for Marine Affairs and Fisheries in 1999 and, after 10 years, it still has a lot of issues address, despite some important achievements. Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) Fishing is one of the major issues faced by Indonesia with regard to ocean resources management.


More importantly, not enough research is encouraged. The number of experts on ocean affairs and the law of the sea seem to be decreasing. We also lack resources and publications in this area of expertise. It seems that Indonesia has yet to gain its independence and confidence concerning the management of its vast maritime territory.  


There is no simple solution for this complicated situation. One thing is for sure though, the Indonesian government and relevant stakeholders need to make ocean affairs an important priority.
Multidisciplinary researches and activities related to observing the ocean and its resources need to be encouraged by providing sufficient incentives.


This should be made an ABG – academics, business, and government – concern. Only with serious efforts, including systematic education, well-planned research and closely-monitored policy implementation, will Indonesia be truly independent in managing its vast maritime area. Happy birthday Indonesia!

The writer is a lecturer at Gadjah Mada University’s Department of Geodetic Engineering. He is currently an Australian Leadership Award Scholar (PhD candidate) at the University of Wollongong, where he studies the technical aspects of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea. This is his personal opinion.







The new law on regional taxes and user fees approved by the parliament Tuesday is much better than its predecessor (Law No. 34/2000) because it stipulates more clear-cut provisions on what types of taxes and  user fees regional governments are authorized to impose and on the distribution of tax and fee receipts among provincial, regency and city administrations.


Unlike the old law, which is vulnerable to misinterpretation, the new legislation is more clearly defined with regard to the division of taxing power between the provincial, regency and municipal governments. Over the past seven years, the central government had amended or annulled 1,065 regional bylaws and most of them were related to regional taxes and levies. The bylaws had been revised or canceled outright because they contradicted higher laws or were inimical to investment.


The new law stipulates 16 types of taxes and user fees regional administrations are authorized to impose but many of them are not completely new. Eleven of them are authorized for regency and city governments where local autonomy is anchored, with the other five mandated for provincial administrations.


The legislation does not fix a single rate for many regional taxes, but instead provides a range of rates, on a progressive basis, regional administrations can choose to suit local economic conditions.


The provincial administration of Jakarta, for example, is authorized to set the tax on each additional private motor vehicle for a single owner at a maximum rate of 10 percent to stem the car population growth in order to reduce traffic jams. But other provincial administrations can set the motor vehicle tax at a maximum rate of 2 percent, irrespective of the number of vehicles owned by a single individual or institution/organization. Based on the same thought process, parking fees for motor vehicles are set at a maximum 30 percent.


The enforcement of the new law will most likely be smoother because of the ample time given to regional administrations to prepare bylaws and institutional capacity to administer the taxes and to make adjustments for the impact of the local taxes.


The stipulation on regional tax on cigarettes, set at 10 percent of the central government-mandated excise tax, will be enforced only in 2014 to give adequate time for cigarette factories and tobacco farmers to make adjustments to cope with the expected fall in cigarette sales.


Likewise, the provision on property tax in urban and rural areas will be enforced only in 2014 to allow regional administrations to prepare their institutional capacity to administer this tax which is now managed by the central government. Yet the biggest benefit of the new law on regional taxes and user fees is not primarily the amount of revenues that can be collected, but the incentives provided to regional administrations to develop local economies.


This is because the amount of revenue that can be collected from the regional taxes is directly related to the development of the local economy. For example, receipts from regional taxes on hotels, restaurants, parking, advertisements, motor vehicles, fuel, entertainment and properties (land and buildings) are all positively correlated with the stage of the development of the local economy.


The strong and clear taxing power invested by the new law in provincial, regency and city administrations is really a great incentive for them to develop their local economies.






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