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Thursday, August 20, 2009

EDITORIAL 20.08.09

August 20, 2009

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Month August 20, Edition 000276, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

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3.      MY LIL' PUCK AND I…!




































2.      A NICE TRY








The sarsanghachalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh rarely speaks to mass media. When he does, it is not without a purpose. Hence, there is every reason to take note of Mr Mohan Bhagwat’s two recent interviews to popular television channels; his comments made on Tuesday are particularly noteworthy. Among the various points made by the RSS sarsanghachalak with amazing clarity and precision three stand out for their immediate relevance to the BJP and its present travails. First, he has clarified that Hindutva is not just a ‘political brand’ or an instrument to mobilise votes, but the core of the Sangh Parivar’s ideology which guides its thoughts and actions; it is not about any particular faith or religious belief, but a set of values that is rooted in India’s culture and civilisational heritage. Therefore, any confusion that may exist in the BJP (as also among its critics) on this issue is entirely misplaced. From this flows the relevance of ideology for a political organisation like the BJP — if it were to forsake ideology or ‘dilute’ its commitment to ideology, it would be tantamount to courting disaster. Second, Mr Bhagwat has stressed the need for young leaders to take charge of affairs. The RSS has seamlessly effected a generational change with leadership being passed on to the youngest sarsanghachalak in the organisation’s history. There is every reason for others who are linked to the RSS to usher similar change. It is obvious to all that the BJP needs young leaders with new ideas: The process may have started, but greater speed is required. Third, the BJP leadership should, as pointed out by Mr Bhagwat, get down to the task of setting its house in order by focusing on what he has described as the “general condition” of the party. This includes tackling indiscipline and halting the rapid decline of the standards that once set the BJP apart from other political parties, especially the Congress. A fourth element that comes through from his comments is the need to evolve with the times, to be in harmony with today’s realities. This can be done without giving up on ideology or convictions because neither is captive to dogma.

Mr Bhagwat, of course, has repeatedly stressed that he is not speaking for the BJP; that the party and the RSS are two separate entities; and, that it is for the party leadership to decide its course of action. At the same time, he has pointed out that there are swayamsevaks who are involved with the BJP and hold office in the party. That’s only to underscore the umbilical link that exists between the RSS and the BJP — the latter cannot do without the former, nor should it aspire to break free of its origins. The functions of the RSS are no doubt vastly different from those of the BJP, but the two are connected by both ideology and a vision of India which is shaped by uncompromising nationalism. Indeed, the BJP would be nothing without the RSS as it would then be bereft of a moral compass. Mr Bhagwat’s views are those of a person who shares more than close proximity with the BJP; at the same time, they are not entirely prompted by intimacy — the distance between the two organisations ensures that what he has to say are free of bias and have no agenda other than to strengthen the broad nationalist movement. As head of the Sangh Parivar, he is also the conscience keeper of the BJP. It would be in the party’s interest to listen to his words of advice and act upon them accordingly.







It is absolutely despicable that students in Bihar thought it their right to set on fire four train bogies at Bihta railway station because they were not allowed to travel for free in the Shramjeevi Express’s air-conditioned coach. The students had forced their way into an AC compartment of the train and occupied seats that were reserved. Even when Railway Police personnel intervened, the students refused to budge. This eventually led to a scuffle between the students and the policemen in which some of the students were hurt. But the men were not finished. After having been thrown out of the train they spread the rumour that one among them had been seriously injured and that he had died on his way to the hospital. By playing the victim, the students were able to get a mob of local people to come out in their support. This mob then set three coaches of the Shramjeevi Express and another of the Sanghamitra Express on fire, disrupting the movement of trains for hours. Luckily, there were no reports of casualties. In another incident in Bihar, to protest the murder of a railway employee, a mob disrupted the movement of trains and damaged some railway property at Lakhisarai railway station. They were later chased away by the Railway Police.

The railways ranks among our most vital public assets. The incidents in Bihar where crores worth of railway property was damaged cannot simply be brushed aside. Such incidents of vandalism are symptomatic of a mindset that sees the railways as a utility that the Government provides and towards which the people owe no responsibility. As a result, burning or damaging railway property has become a popular mode of registering protest and venting frustration — this is not the first time that a mob has taken out its wrath on the railways. Besides, in the incident in Bihta, the Railway Police had every right to tell the students to get off. Students do have the right to travel for free in the unreserved compartment of long-distance trains if they hold Government-issued student passes. But they certainly cannot travel for free in reserved AC compartments, let alone demand that they be allowed to do so and then get into a scuffle with Railway Police personnel. This itself should suffice as grounds for prosecuting them. That the students gathered a mob and set train coaches on fire is unpardonable. They must be treated as criminals and prosecuted under the relevant sections of the law. By doing so the state will be sending out a clear message to miscreants who think that the railways is their personal property. This is the need of the hour. The Government must not hesitate to take appropriate action.






Despite often unwarranted criticism that Indian Foreign Policy lacks dynamism, successive Governments in India have shown imagination and dexterity in responding to the challenges that India faced after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nowhere has this been more evident than in India’s ‘Look East’ policies initiated by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. India realised that in a globalised world economic order, its interests where best served by progressive economic integration with the fast growing economies of East and South-East Asia. What followed was a policy which enabled growing interaction with South-East Asian countries linked together in ASEAN. This was reinforced by the establishment of the BIMSTEC, linking SAARC members Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Bhutan with ASEAN members Thailand and Myanmar. The long-term vision has been to join a process of Asian economic integration without being hampered by Pakistan’s efforts to play a spoiler by linking economic integration within SAARC to its ambitions on Jammu & Kashmir.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has tenaciously and courageously not allowed domestic compulsions and lobbying by States like Kerala, which seek to protect their uncompetitive agricultural practices from competition, to hinder efforts to integrate India’s economy with the economies of East and South-East Asian countries. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee similarly overruled opposition when a Free Trade Agreement with Sri Lanka was negotiated. On August 13, India inked a landmark Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN, which is now our fourth largest trading partner. The agreement comes into force on January 1, 2010, and would, over six years, minimise or end all trade barriers boosting two way trade. Contrary to the unwarranted fears expressed, the agreement protects the legitimate interests of producers of plantation crops like coffee and pepper. India’s growing economic integration with ASEAN and its Look East policies, which have led to expanding strategic ties with countries like Singapore, Japan and Vietnam, have been opposed by China, which looks at East and South-East Asia as its backyard. China has sought to ‘contain’ India by encouraging anti-Indian sentiments in India’s South Asian neighbourhood.

Even as the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement was readied for signature, a ‘scholar’ from Beijing’s Institute of Strategic Studies made the astonishing assertion on August 8 that India is today a ‘Hindu religious state’, that Hinduism is a ‘decadent religion’ and that apart from annexing Arunachal Pradesh and working with countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan to separate Assam and Bengal from the Indian Union, China should encourage Tamil separatism and break up India into 20-30 nation States. Interestingly, this is also the view of the rabid sections of the Pakistani military establishment which is echoed repeatedly by the likes of the amir of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba — now called the Jamaat-ud-Dawa’h) — Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and by the Chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammed Maulana Masood Azhar. Is it a mere coincidence that China has consistently sought to block moves for enhanced sanctions against the Jaish and Lashkar in the UN Security Council? Did Chou en Lai not voice similar sentiments after China lost face following the 1971 Bangladesh conflict?

Similar Chinese hostility towards India was evident after the 26/11 Mumbai carnage. ‘Scholars’ from the state-funded China Institute of Strategic Studies proclaimed that the Mumbai attack reflected “the failure of Indian Intelligence” and claimed that India was blaming Pakistan to “enhance its control over the disputed Kashmir”. Even before Pakistan claimed that India was manifesting aggressive intentions, a CISS ‘scholar’ stated that “China can support Pakistan in the event of a war,” adding that Pakistan could benefit from its military cooperation with China while fighting India. This CISS ‘scholar’ asserted that in such circumstances China may have the option of resorting to a “strategic military action in Southern Tibet (Arunachal Pradesh) to thoroughly liberate the people there”. A ‘scholar’ of yet another state-run institution, the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, claimed that the terrorists who carried out the attack on Mumbai came from within India. Chinese comments on the Mumbai carnage then echoed the views of rabid sections of the Urdu press in Pakistan.

The 26/11 terrorist outrage was followed by a visit to China by Pakistan’s senior-most military official, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Gen Tariq Majid, who was received like a high state dignitary by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, Defence Minister Gen Liang Guanglie and Foreign Minister Yiang Jiechi. China’s Vice President assured Pakistan of Chinese support in the UN by agreeing that their countries would support each other in international forums. In substantive terms, Gen Majid’s visit resulted in a new agreement on military cooperation between Pakistan and China. His visits to military establishments in China suggested that the latter would expedite delivery of four F 22 frigates to the Pakistani Navy. The delivery of 250 JF 17 fighters also figured in the Sino-Pakistani discussions. More recently, the outrageous comments of the CISS ‘scholar’ was followed by no less than the ‘Prime Minister’ of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, Sardar Yaqoob Khan, asserting in Lahore on August 12 that India cold not become an ‘Asian Tiger’ until it withdraws its Army from ‘Indian held Kashmir’. Sardar Yaqoob added that India would disintegrate into six states if it failed to resolve the Kashmir issue in accordance with the wishes of the people of Kashmir.

The recent articles by Chinese ‘scholars’ could not have been published without authorisation at the highest levels in a country that rigidly censors Internet access of its citizens. While it would be counter-productive to get alarmed by such writings, they should not be ignored as China’s many apologists in India suggest. India needs to understand that ruled by an elite, which has discarded Marxist ideology and lacks legitimacy, or a popular mandate, China is set to become more nationalistic and even jingoistic. It is a neighbour with whom we need to work both regionally and internationally on issues of common concern. At the same time, there is a need to accelerate economic progress and expedite our defence modernisation — both conventional and nuclear. The remark of the outgoing naval Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta that the gap between China and India is “too wide to bridge,” was torn out of context, ignoring the fact that he had also urged the need to create a “reliable and stand-off deterrent” while building strategic ties with the US, EU and Russia.







Income Tax law is one of most complicated laws. In order to simplify it an attempt has been made by the Government so that common income tax-payers can easily understand it and comply with it.

But the Direct Tax Code has 285 Sections and 18 Schedules. Can a common citizen make anything out of these voluminous code-sections and schedules? There should not be more than 50 to 60 sections .With the passage of time, there shall be more Income Tax rules, clarifications, circulars, notifications, etc, besides court decisions on these. Income Tax laws shall always remain convoluted for the taxpayers and the Government. And therefore, the services of tax practitioners and chartered accountants shall always be needed for all taxpayers till there is Income Tax in this country.

The scheme of Exempt Exempt Tax is most undesirable as it is a postponement of tax. The amount received on retirement schemes shall be taxed on maturity or withdrawal. Those who shall retire and withdraw money from their investments shall be taxed and suffer financially when they need the money most for their livelihood with no capacity. This scheme should be scrapped in toto. Let the present deduction of Rs 1 lakh under section 80C need not be changed, but EET must go.

The Government has no regard and concern for senior citizens who are 60 and above but less than 65 years, as a senior citizen under this code is at least 65. This is against the national policy of age limit of senior citizens. It is high time that 60 years be made the age benchmark for senior citizens. Or the Government could do away with the tax concessions to women and senior citizens and have a basic exemption of Rs 6 lakh for all the tax payers, that is, including women and senior citizens.

To collect more tax revenue and catch big tax evaders it is most desirable to concentrate on big tax-payers and focus all energy on them. With the increase in the amount of paper work and data tabulation on computer systems in collection of tax, a lot of time is wasted without getting anything concrete for all the effort. By raising the basic exemption limit to Rs 6 lakh — this is the amount which an average urban family needs to break even — things will become smoother. Exempt such families totally from direct taxes. When wealth limit can be raised to Rs 50 crore, then income tax exemption limit of Rs 6 lakh is nothing.









Laws all over the world have their origin in morality. Morality is a system of behaviour with regard to standards of right or wrong behaviour. Of course, morality can differ from place to place and country to country.

Most Governments, at least on paper, want their citizens to be well-protected from ill means like corruption. In December 2005, 11 members of Parliament were expelled for accepting money to ask questions. This incident was telecast live on the national TV channel. The involved MPs simply walked out of Parliament even before the motion for expulsion was voted. This was despite the Speaker’s appeal to maintain the dignity of the House as certain duties ought to be discharged, however painful they may be. The Speaker said it was not a matter of legality “but the question is to ask our conscience what we should do in this given situation”.

A BJP stalwart said that the punishment meted out to the MPs did not commensurate to their crime. “It was a case of corruption but more than that it was stupidity. They fell for the lure of the sting operation by a TV channel,” he said. In other words, his interpretation appears to be that the crime was not in asking for the money but being caught on the camera.

Another MP said, “If we expel them today, it will give an impression in the class to which these MPs belong that other class leaders in Delhi have expelled their leaders for a small mistake”. He meant that all involved MPs who came from deprived sections of society can commit any crime and that no action should be taken against them on the ground of their class or caste.

Later the police filed chargesheet against these ex-MPs under the Prevention of Corruption Act for taking money to raise questions in Parliament.

However, the two journalists, who did a commendable job in exposing the rot in our system, were also accused of abetting the offence by approaching certain middlemen, under the guise of a business associate. This is nothing but trivialising the law, or at the best sticking to the letter but not the solemn spirit of exposing the corruption and upholding not only moral but also legal values.

The Lok Sabha committee, which looked into the entire case and recommended the expulsion, had this to say, “A free Press using fair techniques of investigative journalism is an indispensable asset to our democracy. We do not hold the media in any way responsible for exposing genuine wrongdoings. They have a duty to enquire coupled with a duty to do so responsibly and in that way can contribute to the preservation of standards in public life.”

Even the Supreme Court verdict of July 29, 2009, in the case of a sting operation to compromise the witnesses in the BMW hit-and-run case upheld the right of journalists to conduct undercover investigations in public interest. The International Federation of Journalists, a global organisation representing over 5,00,000 journalists worldwide, has also condemned the imprisonment of investigative journalist in India. “Penalising whistleblowers for their truth telling is a curtailment of Press freedom that must be resisted.”

Notwithstanding the observations of the Supreme Court, the executive is seeking to penalise the journalists for conducting sting operations in public interest. Indeed, the investigative agencies, which are charged with the duty to fight corruption, also conduct sting operations and collaborate with the complainants in catching the corrupt red-handed. The law does not give them any special powers to conduct sting operations.

There are 62,483 big and small newspapers in India with a gross circulation of about 20 crore and they are apparently the unpaid eyes and ears of the Government. Regrettably, all political parties and their leaders pay a lip service to the need of purity and integrity in administration. But when somebody points out any wrongdoing, nobody comes to his rescue. So here we have the poor journalists who fought for some general good but perhaps to no avail.

All Governments swear by a free and fear Press but do nothing when it comes to curb corruption and improve poor governance.

Indeed the Government should be beholden to the media for giving them a feedback about what the common man feels about the Government of the day, its policies and where things have gone wrong on the ground during implementation.

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution states that “all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”. The Supreme Court has also ruled that “There can be no doubt that freedom of speech and expression includes freedom of propagation of ideals, and that freedom is ensured by the freedom of circulation”.

But despite Constitutional guarantees, Press freedom are determined by a number of factors. The most important are the pressure by the proprietor, editors, political parties, advertisers and trade unions. But above all is the Government pressure, to portray its achievements in brilliant colours.

The least the Government can and should do is to legalise conducting sting operations in public interest and in the over all interest of the country. This is apart from making sure that the Supreme Court judgement praising sting operations more than once in public interest is honoured both in letter and spirit and the case against the journalists is withdrawn with due apologies to them. They should not been clubbed with the accused who took money for asking questions in Parliament. If it is not done, it will convey a wrong message that words and actions of the Government are poles apart.









The swine flue is upon us, and already enough has happened to warrant serious reflection upon the panic that has gripped cities like Pune where the virus has claimed several lives. To a certain extent, it is understandable. It is not nice to fall sick. It is perhaps worse to die, though one does not know how it feels when it happens. People have recalled their past lives, but this writer has not heard of anyone who has described how exactly one feels as one sheds one’s mortal coils and begins travelling to the hereafter. Whatever it is, the harsh fact is that sickness is a part of life, as is death. It is equally a fact that one does not live all the time with an awareness of the inevitability of death or the fact that it can come any moment, without warning. If one did one would have lived in a permanent state of dysfunctional trepidation. There are, however, occasions when one realises that death is a possibility. The subject that the coming of swine flue has raised is the manner in which one reacts.

The nature of the possibility of death and its distance in time and space are, of course, important. In excellent weather, death by drowning is a theoretical possibility when one sails in a boat. It is a distinct possibility when an unexpected storm catches one by surprise while crossing a wide river. In the first instance, panic while contemplating a boat ride is symptomatic of paranoia. In the second, it is entirely understandable as turbulent waves toss one’s boat around. One would be understandably afraid watching a violent crowd, killing and setting houses on fire, approaching in one’s direction, but not reading about a riot 500 miles away. Similarly, fear is natural when the weather forecast states that a cyclone may devastate one’s city or village in the next few hours. One will be considered paranoid if one writes one’s last will and testament after watching a television clip of the cyclone that recently devastated Taiwan and parts of China.

Why did the swine flue cause such panic? The one for survival is perhaps the strongest and most basic instinct in humans. But this was so earlier as well. During my childhood, when cholera and small pox epidemics killed hundreds in cities like Calcutta and Bombay, one lived through such outbreaks going around one’s business, taking essential precautions like inoculation and vaccination, and no more. Death for everyone was far more real a possibility then than now in cities visited by swine flue.

The difference in response owes a great deal to the increase in one’s life expectancy that has taken occurred, the expansion in public health facilities, one’s heightened awareness of the state’s responsibilities, advances in medical science and competitive coverage by television channels in pursuit of higher TRPs. All this, however, does not explain the behaviour of people who jump queues and muscle their way forward in hospitals where multitudes have gathered to test themselves for the H1N1 virus. It is a result of the me-first, advertisement-driven, grab culture that is overwhelming the country under the hegemony of the market economy. Concern for the weak and vulnerable and regard for fair play are dispensable baggages which members of India’s upwardly mobile, ever-complaining and whining chattering classes jettison at the drop of a hat!

By the look of it, things are going to get worse. Meanwhile, one needs to ponder whether icons of the Idiot Box would have devoted a fraction of the time and lung-power they have to the swine flue had its victims been mainly landless farmers. The matter is important. The growing bias in the media toward the privileged and neglect of those on the margins who are being ruthlessly crushed to make way for an increasingly inhuman and exploitative pattern of economic development, is helping to undermine the social and political stability that is a pre-requisite for economic growth. The media, however, would have served a useful purpose if its din over swine flue leads to an improvement in the abysmal conditions in the Government hospitals which were initially given the sole responsibility for treatment.









What is it about security delays and frisking that makes us mad? Two things which are quite separate but are confused every time a fresh incident takes place. The first is delaying or frisking a VIP like Shah Rukh Khan or a former President of India which is immediately projected as a deliberate affront to the country, verging on apartheid. This makes us go ballistic. The second is our personal litany of experiences of harassment ‘suffered’ at the hands of security staff. Here is why we need to become less prickly.

First, the SRK imbroglio. At the outset we have enough examples to show that the all-powerful uniformed US personnel do not spare their own VIPs who accept that. Senator Edward Kennedy was denied an internet airplane ticket to Boston simply because his name had been used as an alias by a suspected terrorist. The ticket was refused not just once but several times in a span of a few weeks.

On the same night as SRK’s hold up, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps was involved in a road accident, and though he was found within the prescribed drinking limits, he was all the same hauled up for driving with an expired out-of-state licence. Such incidents are routine in a country where there is no VIP culture; if anything, VIPs such as they are in fact singled out for special attention to see if they are in the breach.

Let’s return to the case of the former President of India where the security staff was simply following internal orders which permitted no discretion to be exercised. In India just because we are very used to receiving, if not insisting, that discretion be shown as a matter of right, we think everyone operates in the same way. But different countries, cultures and organisations issue instructions intended to be followed in letter and spirit, leaving absolutely no scope for pick-and-choose. In the case of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam what should also have been checked was whether the airline and security staff had been frisking former Presidents and Prime Ministers too.

How many people are aware, for instance, that New Zealand’s former Prime Minister Helen Clark was frisked at Sydney Airport when she was Prime Minister, for carrying explosives? Despite having a security officer with her, Ms Clark was pulled out of a queue and given a body scan with a new explosive detection device to make sure she was not a terrorist. The Australian Government admitted that the incident was a wrong way to treat the leader of a country, particularly after the officials were told who she was. The security staff had reportedly gone on to send the results to a laboratory for testing!

The New Zealand Prime Minister’s staff simply said, “She knows that security checks are a fact of life in air travel. We’re all equals when it comes to security; no one is exempt.” As for Sydney airport’s security staff their response was characteristic: “It doesn’t matter who you are — if your number comes up, you’re screened.”

Coming to personal harassment, I was surprised to read a recent article written by a senior woman member of the Government. She says while travelling on a non-diplomatic passport and in her ordinary status she sensed that race, gender and religion had singled her out for special humiliation at a Canadian airport. Example No 1: That she had to remove her jewellery. That happens to be a routine at most international airports. No 2: She was asked what language she spoke. Is one’s education supposed to be written on one’s forehead? No 3: That her sister’s manicure set was dumped by the security staff. Security instructions the world over disallow non-folding scissors, even a nail file, or an innocuous female necessity — eyebrow tweezers. No 4: Her bottle of liquid lotion was tossed out. Liquids were banned as a standard requirement after a plot to blow up aircraft was discovered in Britain in August 2006. I’m on her side if she says all this causes acute inconvenience. It does and practical solutions should have been found by now. But it is not discrimination.

Reverting to the VIP syndrome, Indians are very used to demanding and submissively receiving discretionary treatment. Also for being recognised as an important public figure. Thankfully, most countries do not leave scope with the security staff to show discretion and that is why they have successfully prevented terrorism.

Moral of the story: Security staff can be and are often wooden-headed and stubborn. Perhaps that is why they are there and not doing something more glamorous. But once a system exists there is no need to start a cacophony as a display of national solidarity. At a time when passengers are getting increasingly sensitive about airport checks and security frisking, the fact that the Prime Minister of New Zealand was randomly selected for explosives security screening, delayed while on duty as Prime Minister and yet she accepted it gracefully, should remain a lesson for all passengers. Including Shah Rukh Khan who now says “it was no big deal”.








It’s swanky studio and as cameras are all set to roll, I look tense. The anchor asks me to introduce myself while I struggle to settle on the hot seat.

“I am Sachay Kumar Singh, a former lawmaker, and let me introduce my friends who are seated in the studio — Mr Gupta, a retired Government official, Mr Meena, a contractor, Ms Khanna, wife of a famous businessman and, lastly, Mr Yadav, a party colleague.”

Going through the motion religiously starting from the terms and conditions of the show, the anchor says, “Mr Singh, you may want to leave the show at any point of time and choose not to answer the questions which you do not feel comfortable. And your friends too have an option of stopping you from answering one question that they don’t wish you to respond.”

The first question: “Mr Singh, do you believe that when you first got elected you were qualified to become a lawmaker?”

The question sounds simple and without hesitation I say, “No”. I notice that the studio audience and my friends appreciate my honesty and as the answer matches the result of the polygraph test, I feel a bit relaxed.

The second question: “Is it true that once you had become an MP you acquired new degrees; from a school dropout you became eligible to use a ‘Dr’ before your name as several universities were vying with each other to award you a doctorate degree?” Feeling proud of myself, I reply in the positive.

I ask the anchor if he could allow me to say a few words as I begin to feel very light. “Today, I want to recall the verse from Mundaka Upanishad which I read a long time ago. ‘Truth alone triumphs; not falsehood. Through truth the divine path is spread by which the sages whose desires have been completely fulfilled, reach where that supreme treasure of truth resides’. So my appearance on today’s show is the penance I make for the deeds I committed during my public life.”

I feel overwhelmed when the studio audience gives a standing ovation as if I’ve laid down office on moral grounds!

The third question: “Is it true that at the time of filing your nomination papers you forged documents and gave false affidavits to the Returning Officer?”

Looking behind I look at the discomforting face of the Government official who was at that time a young Returning Officer of the Constituency from where I first got elected.

As the anchor mischievously smiles, I say, “yes”. Applauding my candidness, the anchor announces that we should be grateful that people like Dr Singh is part of our contemporary society.

After a commercial break the anchor reminds me that I am only three questions away from Rs 1 lakh and asks is it ok if he moves across to the fourth question.

I smile as he moves on to the next question: “Is it true that during a debate in Parliament you were caught on camera taking a nap, knowing nothing of what was being discussed, but still you cast your vote to save the Government?”

This time I don’t want to just say yes or no and decide to explain my side of the story. “What was the point of taking a conscious decision knowing fully well that the Government was anyway going to be saved?” I said. After a pause, I say, “yes”. I know party colleague Mr Yadav looked dismayed.

The anchor reminds me that questions would get more difficult as we move up the ladder. “Do you agree that you have rented out a part of the official accommodation to a private firm who used the place to conduct their local operation?”

I realise the question is a little difficult but reminding myself that I am here to do penance, I say, “yes”.

After a commercial break when the show begins to roll, the anchor asks if I am ready to answer sixth question as it would fetch me Rs 1 lakh.

“Do you regret that you had once taken money from a private company to raise a question in Parliament but were unable to fulfil the obligation because there was a series of disruptions in the House during that particular session?”

I look confused whether to answer this question or not because I remember taking money from the company but, at the same time, was also instrumental in the disruption of the proceedings in the House.

At this point, with bleary eyes, I stare at my wife who is screaming at me and saying: “Are you not going to work today, it’s already 7:00 in the morning?”

Looking confused I slowly realise that what I have witnessed so far was nothing but a dream and it was an obvious after-effect of the new reality game show Sacch Ka Saamna.

Unable to get out of this dream run I crawl back into the bed and think if our society’s mighty and powerful would come forward to appear on the hot seat.








The ghost of Muhammad Ali Jinnah has come to haunt the BJP once again. This time, the party has acted with urgency to expel former foreign affairs minister Jaswant Singh from the party for making a positive assessment of Jinnah's political career. The BJP leadership may have thought that quick action against Jaswant, who had criticised the party strategy after the defeat in Lok Sabha polls, would help the party to close ranks on the issue and send out a message to potential dissidents that ideology and party discipline are sacrosanct.

The swift action against Jaswant is in contrast to the long-drawn out debate that preceded action against LK Advani, the then party president, when he eulogised Jinnah as a secular politician in Pakistan in 2005. It took a few weeks of hard negotiation before Advani agreed to resign as party chief. The sangh parivar had a difficult time in convincing supporters that it disagreed with Advani's assessment and the BJP passed a resolution to that effect. Clearly, it doesn't want to revisit the controversy. Also, Jaswant went too far for BJP's comfort when he absolved Jinnah of pushing the Partition agenda and took a critical view of Sardar Patel, lately a sangh parivar favourite. Unlike Advani, Jaswant is not a mass leader and his expulsion is unlikely to impact the party in a major way. For all practical reasons, Jaswant, currently an MP from Darjeeling, was dispensable.

Apart from the import for the BJP, Jaswant's expulsion also raises questions about our political culture. At his post-expulsion press conference, Jaswant made an interesting remark. He wondered if the party he served for 30 years had to expel him for writing a book. That's a point for all ideology-driven, cadre-based parties to consider. How should a party deal with a member who strays from the party line on a politically sensitive subject? How far can difference of opinion be accommodated? Should parties allow members to publish contentious views as individual citizens, as Jaswant argued in his defence when the BJP leadership disassociated with his views?

Cadre-based political parties, like the BJP and the CPM, tend to close ranks and crack down on cadres and even senior leaders when they stray from the party line. Though party leaderships justify such action as necessary to maintain party discipline, it is driven by a fear of free debate and change that may follow. Surely, it is not impossible for a political outfit to function without asking members to always agree with party views. A reasonable amount of dissent ought to be acceptable for any political party, especially when they are functioning in a democratic polity. Otherwise, stagnation and dead dogma are liable to take hold of it.







Things are hotting up in Afghanistan with rocket attacks launched by the Taliban on the presidential palace and police headquarters in Kabul, the return of one of the erstwhile Northern Alliance's most dangerous warlords -Abdul Rashid Dostum, and frenzied rallies as the presidential candidates approach the business end of their campaigns.

The novelty of the democratic process that had lent a sheen to the 2004 presidential elections and 2005 parliamentary and provincial elections may have worn off. Ground realities about the system's functioning and its interaction with existing power structures have had time to set in. Nevertheless, given Afghanistan's long history of civil war, it's encouraging that political competition is being redirected towards the ballot box rather than playing out through gunfire and bomb blasts.

As importantly, these will be the first elections to be managed entirely by Afghan authorities without UN support. Considered together, these factors illuminate how important this election is as a referendum on Afghanistan's future course. Unfortunately, there are several worrying trends on display.

The first, of course, is the ineffectuality of Hamid Karzai's government to date. Its writ does not run beyond Kabul. The Taliban's domination of the south has made it a virtual no-go zone. There are allegations of corruption dogging the administration with Karzai's younger half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, suspected of being involved in drug trafficking. Karzai's co-option of former warlords to retain popular support is troubling as well. The latest of these is Dostum, allowed back from exile in Turkey. He may be able to deliver the crucial Uzbek vote to Karzai but the price might be more than Afghanistan can afford.

But not all indicators are negative. Reconstruction efforts, India's and others', have paid dividends. And the democratic system that has been instituted has enough popular support that bogeymen from the country's past now find themselves compelled to work within it.

Democracy, like Rome, can't be built in a day, but it's the only long-term vaccine that can deliver Afghanistan from instability and chaos. The presence of US and International Security Assistance Force troops is a crucial factor here, and the international community must stay put if Afghanistan isn't to become a breeding ground for terror, both for its own citizens and for the world, once again. Many of Afghanistan's present problems, in fact, can be traced to wavering US commitment during the Bush administration, when it had been more focused on Iraq.








General purpose technologies reshape the nature of production and service activities irreversibly. They open up new opportunities, create complementarities and necessitate reorganisation of production. They share characteristics like wide scope for changes and elaboration, applicability across a range of uses and potential for use in a variety of products and processes. They change human capital requirements and alter the skill mix in the economy by biasing it towards higher-skilled people.

Human history is replete with instances of how diffusion of general purpose technologies transformed societies. Take the US where electricity changed the way factories were organised in the 19th century, while assembly lines transformed manufacturing. In communications and logistics, the telegraph enabled rapid conveyance of goods in stock and instructions to employees, forever changing the way businesses were managed. More rapid communications between firms prevented resource misallocations. Employees could work from more convenient locations. Railroads and the logistics revolution transformed retailing. An entire nation could become the market for a firm located in any corner of the country.

The replacement that occurred of unskilled human and obsolete fixed capital by skilled human capital and new technology catalysed productivity growth in the 19th century. It led to the US's emergence as the world economic power, with gains accruing to human capital responsible for implementing these technologies.

The impact of general purpose technologies on individual productivity is profound thanks to changes in the organisation of production. Their diffusion raises the returns for cognitive skills and education. As these are deployed, there is demand for higher skilled human capital and higher-order mental skills. These include interpersonal and management skills, and skills to operate autonomously and exercise judgment.

In contemporary times, the emergence of modern technologies has transformed work by making it complex, analytical and abstract. Effective general purpose technology use involves invention by users. Equipment is not simply installed equipment. Firms innovate in organising work, by defining new jobs and management structures. Businesses improve customer service and provide new services. Take information and communications technologies enabling firms to develop new service delivery processes. Invention of new services, and of the human side of the delivery mechanism, has created demand for innovators.

Take the telephone network, a classic general purpose technology. It carries a conversation between two people without the network understanding what they are talking about. The network is designed for the task of transmitting sounds from one place to another. It is indispensable because it can be used to talk about anything.

Take broadband, the most important general purpose technology today. Individual users use the network for multiple purposes: voice, e-mail, games, media and on-line content streaming services. Broadband enables not only communication but also connectivity to carry out transactions efficiently. It helps develop new activities, raising telecom network capacity by an order of magnitude. For customers, its critical functionality is internet access. Other uses are tele-medicine, e-learning, e-government, e-business, telecommuting and media and entertainment. The newest phenomenon is social networking.

Each use has its own social benefits. Telecommuting offers savings in travel, congestion and pollution costs. As for tele-medicine, some key functionalities are tele-diagnosis, tele-ultrasound, tele-sonography, tele-monitoring, tele-consultation and tele-radiology. All use the telephone network with broadband functionalities. Broadband can transform healthcare in many unimagined ways. Communications professionals are required to understand medical applications to design tele-medicine systems for doctors and hospitals. They need marketing skill to effectively market these. Such skills requirement create new employment.

Clearly, general purpose technologies have a phenomenal capacity to transform societies. As it launches its second generation of reforms, India must focus on how rapidly such technologies diffuse through society. Their impact can be mega-transformational. With respect to electricity, lack of it has meant that India is in the unfortunate position of never catching up with China, Japan or South Korea. India's manufacturing position has been compromised in perpetuity.

But India's telecom revolution means Indians no longer have to remain silent, nationally or globally. The mobile sector phenomenon has made talk cheap: supply exceeds demand. It is time to harness the energies and thoughts behind the speech of millions of Indians into viable business models enhancing national wealth and productivity. For that, India needs diffusion of another critical general purpose technology. As of now, India is broadband-poor. Yet the possibilities of broadband being supplied by wireless providers mean India need not suffer the tyranny of landline constraints impeding diffusion. Third and fourth generation wireless broadband functionalities are at its doorstep. The transformational possibilities for the economy and society via a general purpose technology may well lie in thin air.

The writer is professor, technology strategy, University of Texas, US.







The NSC has reportedly called for a comprehensive legislation that would enable government to suspend or stop foreign acquisition or takeovers of Indian firms on grounds of national interest. It has also asked for stringent screening of overseas players from "countries and origins of concern" in sensitive sectors and sites. The finance ministry would oversee implementation of security guidelines.

As in India, governments across the world are understandably thinking hard about security issues, particularly post-9/11. But 'national interest' - which can be nebulously or arbitrarily defined - can't be made an alibi for economic illogic.

The NSC basically advocates FDI protectionism, not the right signal to send the world at a time India wants to be seen as an investment-friendly destination. We already have a rather elaborate FDI-filtering system, ruling out even accidental alerts in sensitive sectors.

The automatic route covers segments without sector caps or where FDI is within caps. Then there's the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) which okays investment, and acts as a screening agency for sensitive/negative list sectors. Foreigners, the government itself says, take the FIPB route to play safe in areas not covered by a clearly enunciated policy.

Apart from slowing FDI inflow, an umbrella law could be open to discretionary interpretation and abuse. It would legitimise government interference in business. It could be exploited by corporates with high stakes in takeover battles, to discredit rivals.

Besides, can 'countries of concern' be subjected to profiling in a set of black and white rules without causing diplomatic and cultural misunderstanding? In 2006, a congressional fracas broke out in the US over the Dubai Port World's buyout of a firm stevedoring at some US ports.

Even in post-9/11 America, the issue was debated, not settled according to pre-set bias. If India approves a law, it can hardly argue against rich nations using 'national interest' as a pretext to block investment from fast-emerging economies. Let's deal with FDI-related security concerns - many doubtless valid - on a case-by-case basis. Let's keep a watchful eye on funny money. But let's not resort to economic nationalism which, we all know, cuts both ways.







It is a truth universally acknowledged that one of the best and most effective methods of fighting and stamping out terrorism is to cut off its funding at source. So, the National Security Council's (NSC) proposal that a new law be enacted to allow the government to better monitor the flow of money from organisations that support terrorism into the country comes as no surprise. It is imperative for the sake of our national security that the proposals enumerated in NSC's recommendation to the government are adopted as a matter of urgency.

Critics have derided the proposed umbrella legislation as amounting to nothing more than a form of protectionism that will cut off FDI flow to India. But the new law, if enacted, would be aimed at funds coming from countries of concern, like North Korea, Afghanistan and China. In effect, the NSC proposes to subject foreign participation in sensitive sectors and locations in India, coming from such countries, to an added layer of security both when approving the deal and during the period of operation. Other countries like the US and UK have enacted similar laws to better protect their security interests.

A lot of dirty money is laundered via tax havens like Mauritius and the Cayman Islands and their source is not easily verifiable. International criminal syndicates, as well as criminal organisations in other countries, also use countries with lax disclosure norms to filter dirty money. Investments of such nature not only derive from illegal sources, they could be unstable and can be used as tools to destabilise the economic security of the country. So, it makes sense to monitor funds arising from such countries closely. More direct terrorist activity is also funded by organisations based outside the country, and those trails are even more difficult to follow, which makes this law that much more important. It must be remembered that the idea is not to impede FDI inflow but to create a transparent FDI structure. Increased supervision will only strengthen the confidence of genuine foreign investors while discouraging investment from hostile entities.







I had never ever watched the weather with such keen interest. Neither, probably, had my son. It was a typically grey English day and both of us were fervently hoping for rain. There was good reason for our odd behaviour. We had tickets for the next day - which was also the fifth day - for the Lord's Test in the ongoing Ashes. But the match seemed destined for an early finish with Australia tottering at 128 for 5 in the post-lunch session of the fourth day. Luckily the rain gods did not have to intervene. The Aussies fought back with a 185-run sixth wicket stand. When bad light finally stopped play, the fifth day was on and we could rest easy.

The weather was perfect the next day. Mild sunshine, a gentle breeze and a few fleecy clouds. Having watched most of my cricket at Eden Gardens - where you could just follow the crowd to the ground - one wasn't sure what to expect at Lord's. I needn't have worried. Almost everyone coming out of the St John's Wood tube station was headed towards the ground. And many were sporting the distinctive red-and-gold MCC colours. Even as we sighted the spaceship-like media centre, which dominates Lord's these days, there was a huge roar. Had a wicket fallen? Sure enough, it had.

By the time we entered cricket's 'spiritual headquarters', an English victory was a formality. While the Australian tail delayed the inevitable, the mood in the stands was jubilant. The capacity crowd, generously primed with beer and other spirits, was expectantly waiting for an Ashes win, the first at Lord's since 1934. My son was carrying placards with 4s and 6s printed on them, which he waved enthusiastically whenever a boundary was hit.

He stopped only when someone shouted, "Young man, are you an Aussie supporter?" Soon enough the final wicket fell and the ground erupted. After the post-match ceremony and the obligatory booing of Ricky Ponting, many of the spectators stayed back, savouring a rare English victory at Lord's over packed lunch and drinks.

We too hung around, getting as close as possible to the playing turf and admiring the pavilion from afar. Later, as we headed out through the Grace Gate, my son had a question: "Why is Lord's known as the home of cricket?" I didn't really have an answer. Was it imperial conceit? Or was it the sheer weight of history and legend? I'll let him find the answer for himself.







We’ve been through bad times, sad times, maddening times. Name it, we can claim it: terror attacks, truant monsoon, metro collapses, swine flu, and – horror! – the frisking of the sacrosanct SRK. But now the season of celebrations is upon us. The drought may still be a damper, but nothing can really wash out the big, fattening Indian festival. These are going to descend on us with the exuberant determination of dance show contestants.


Am I complaining? Pulverize the thought like a kilo of  pista, and serve it up in a barfi. It’s about time we had something to be joyous about. Yesterday was Parsi new year, and we celebrated without a care for the extinct vultures or the Veras/Virafs lost to an unending epidemic of emigration. We propitiated the universal festive trilogy: we prayed, we feasted, and we schmoozed schmaltzily with the larger clan. The name is Bonding. Jamshed Bonding.


Over the previous weekend there was dahi-handi, Gokul Ashtami and for those who send out Independence Day sms greetings, that as well. However, patriotic versions are no patch on the parochial brand of celebration. It’s not tough to flag the reasons.


One, I-Day is a wannabe newbie. Two, it is artificially created instead of having naturally evolved deep in the bowels of time. Three, while it may have developed a ritual, this does not include a must-have dish, which is the mark of a true, steeped-in-the-basundi ethnic or religious occasion. Sorry, but a tri-colored khichdi is simply not the real thing.


This coming Sunday, an undeterred, if not unmasked Maharashtra will celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi. This is the first after 26/11 and all the unrelated calamities which crushed us under their buggernaut wheels. However, more than the god of auspicious beginnings, we need the guy who presides over the end of an inauspicious cycle. Our multi-tasking ‘Ganpati bappa’ is also the remover of obstacles, Vighneshvara, so he should be able to do that too without missing a beat or a modak. Fortunately, he does not subscribe to the exclusivist agenda of the Shiv Sena or MNS. In fact, he is as secular as a Mumbai local.


The political Ganeshotsav’s counterpart, the Sarbojonik Pujo will arrive along with Ma Durga a month later, culminating in Dussehra. Again, there has seldom been such pressing need for the triumph of good treatment over swine flu and assorted evils. Ramzan Eid will be ushered in around the same time as the mother goddess, riding on its own shakti of a month of ritual fasting.


In fact it’s serial celebration from August to December, and beyond. There’s Diwali to lighten the darkness, the peace-on-earth promise of Christmas, and the obligatory, if ersatz, cheer of  New Year’s  eve. No doubt, ringing in the first decade of Y2K will give us more reason to say ‘Why to care?’ as we overdose on  the bubby and lunge to embrace the nearest bunch of balloons.


Grudge us not our festive excesses. We need them as surely as a TV show needs TRPs and Sehwag doesn’t need the DDCA. A sociologist once predicted that if there was no mass celebration of Durga Puja, there would be mass suicides in Bengal. True, the old pattern of flood and famine there has ended, but we all still want festivals to unshackle us momentarily from the unrelenting cycle of dearth and redearth.


They are the safety valve of pressured times.We need insane celebration to preserve our sanity. We need the gorging on mithai and the forging of community bonds. The first because we know we’ll be back to the treadmill soon after; the second to nurture the hope that brothers must, at some point, stop being enemies.








Jaswant Singh’s expulsion will worsen the crisis in the BJP and mar its Baithak.


The timing could not have been worse for a beleaguered BJP. The curtain-raiser for its much-awaited Chintan Baithak in Shimla was the axing of veteran leader Jaswant Singh, ostensibly for his pro-Jinnah book which was released this week.


Hardliners in the party like Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi had made no bones about their disquiet with Mr Singh’s espousal of a man the party holds responsible for Partition. Another factor for showing Mr Singh the door could be to appease its ally the Shiv Sena before the Maharashtra elections.


It is hardly likely that Mr Singh’s views will find favour with the mercurial Bal Thackeray. The only drawback is that the Baithak which was supposed to be the first step towards setting things right for the party will now be overshadowed by Mr Singh’s sacking. Mr Singh, of course, is playing it up for all its worth, tearfully telling the media of how sad all this has made him and how he was given the marching orders over the phone and not in person.


If the BJP was hoping to project itself as a democratic, moderate party which can accommodate many differing points of view, this expulsion puts paid to all that. It is true that Mr Singh almost seemed to ask for a reprimand from the party by raking up this controversial issue and timing his book to hit the stands just before the Baithak. But the party’s reaction suggests that it was unable to deal with this matter in a way that would minimise damage to its image.


It can’t have helped matters that its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) delivered a very public rap on the knuckles just before the Baithak. Its supremo Mohan Bhagwat signalled his dissatisfaction with an aging leadership and also made it clear that the party should look beyond even today’s anointed second-rung.


After its electoral defeat, the party just can’t seem to get its act together. With squabbles among the top brass coming out into the open, it seems to have forgotten its role as the main Opposition party. Its dependence on the RSS has today become a liability. The RSS insists that the BJP must stick to its core competence, that is Hindutva. But this is an ideology that is yielding diminishing returns.


The Singh episode will play itself out. But the bigger challenge is to resolve the disconnect between the RSS and the BJP and for the party to recast itself in a mould more relevant to younger voters. To this end, the Baithak, though marred by controversy, could mark a new beginning.












A study says pictures of tasty food strengthen our resolve not to eat them. Pass that pizza please.


The next time you look at a picture of sinful galauti kebabs and drool, don’t admonish yourself. It’s a harmless way of telling your brain that you are strong enough to resist a galauti binge soon. A study by the Utrecht University, Netherlands, says that contrary to popular perception, photographs of tasty food help strengthen self-control in weight-conscious women rather than encouraging them to eat.


The participants of the study were offered a choice between a slice of chocolate cake and, believe it or not, a flower. The results showed that the women shown the cake picture gave higher priority to healthy eating than the ones who were shown flowers. It seemed, the study added, that food temptation reminded people of their goal of watching their weight.


Is the study believable? Absolutely not, if you ask people like us who want to order those cheesy pizzas and burra kebabs the very moment the home delivery flyers reach our homes with the morning papers.


That temptations are a part and parcel of daily life is also corroborated by the fact that advertisements for food items have gone up in the recent years: if people were not eating, there would have been no takers for these. Don’t we all watch those TV cookery shows, scribble down the recipes on bits of paper and fish them out on holidays for family dinners? Do we think about calories then? No, it’s more about the satisfaction of having a meal well made. We have said this umpteen times in these editorials and will say once again: don’t go by these studies, just have your cake and eat it too. Be sure, there will be another study soon to debunk this one.










Afghanistan will take one more baby step towards democracy and the international community one more towards its exit strategy as the country goes to the polls today to elect a new President. The 2009 presidential elections will take place in the midst of intensifying violence that has reached levels unprecedented since 2001 when the Taliban were removed. Unlike the presidential elections in 2004 and the 2005 parliamentary polls, which were viewed as the last pieces in the jigsaw puzzle which would complete the framework of the new Afghan State, these elections are taking place at a time of enormous political flux.


In 2004, the results appeared a fait accompli and the emphasis was on how the technical exercise involving logistics and security of the polling could be carried out with minimal disruption. This time however the mood of the country is considerably different with a real appetite for change. Three serious contenders threaten the political position of incumbent President Hamid Karzai who needs to secure 51 per cent of the votes in order to stave off a run-off involving a second round of polling. Current opinion polls suggest Karzai is well short of the mark and a second round of polling could consolidate the fragmented opposition vote.


The slow pace of economic recovery and delivery of services accompanied by credible evidence of wastage of resources and corruption has created strong resentment against the incumbent regime. Though the Taliban’s brutality and rigid intolerance continues to alienate Afghans, public support for the State-building exercise now comes with increasing conditions attached.


Afghans would like to see greater sovereignty restored to them, whether it is through control of the resources spent in their name in their country or through more checks on the operations of the international military forces which have taken increasingly high tolls of civilian lives. Antipathy towards the Taliban may not express itself through the ballot and a large section of voters may choose to stay at home given the surge in violence in the week ahead of the polls.


While there has been a great deal of focus on the likely winner, it is unlikely that either change or continuity through these elections will throw up any real answers. The current administrative and political system, which concentrates decision-making authority in the presidential office, marginalising both Parliament and the provinces, ensures that any man put in the position will have limited impact.


However what could be significantly different is the approach of the next incumbent to negotiations with the Taliban, which are being increasingly seen as a sine qua non for peace in Afghanistan by the western countries and a section of Afghan polity.


While the Taliban have threatened to disrupt the polls asking voters to stay away, it is not clear whether they will carry out large-scale violent attacks on the population, not least because of divisions within the Taliban’s own leadership on the long-term strategy and eventual peace talks. A section of the insurgent group may also prefer to see more sympathetic candidates being elected to the provincial councils, elections to which will also be held simultaneously.


The fear of polling day will not be the only factor keeping voters away. With some districts in the volatile south and south east of the country out of government control, no registration of voters has taken place. The incredibly high number of registered voters — which stands today at 17 million — is viewed with alarm by independent observers who see it as a sign of electoral malpractice and multiple voter cards. With no voter rolls or census and little substantive proof required of identity, much of the checks and balances on electoral malpractice may be dependent on polling staff whose ability to work independently is in question. Proxy voting, tampering of tally sheets, ballot stuffing were observed and documented in the past and are expected to be repeated again.


In past elections such malpractices have been by and large condoned by internationals engaged in the electoral process including those tasked with oversight. The prevailing opinion then was that political stability was more necessary than pursuing electoral malpractices that might undermine the credibility of the elections and lead to instability. Current indications are that this will also be the approach this time.

Troop contributing countries in Afghanistan hope to tout the Afghan elections as a sign of the progress made in Afghanistan towards a democratic polity, that will eventually allow them to withdraw troops from an increasingly unpopular military engagement. Fearful of possible unrest and violence that may rock the fragile stability holding the country together, the international community is likely to, by and large, endorse the elections as the lesser of two evils.


In Afghanistan, however, there is a discernible change in the perception of voters. Debates about a level playing field, the misuse of State resources and the past record of the incumbent government have been part of a lively debate. While internationals may be willing to compromise on the credibility of a democratic exercise in a country in conflict, Afghans are less willing to do so than before. In these elections, as in the entire State-building exercise, Afghans are being asked to choose ballots over bullets. The appeal to their democratic credentials must be matched by an equal commitment from the international community.









With all available indicators pointing to a poor monsoon and overall, the Congress is turning the heat on the government. Party spokesman Janardhan Reddy has issued an advisory to the government to tackle its most important fallout — the rise in food prices.


Over the past month or so, relations between the Congress party and the government have been fraught over the joint declaration with Pakistan. Though there’s been no public criticism, it’s hardly a secret that there’s been dissatisfaction within the party organisation and pressure on the prime minister — the party-government equation is being reworked in the Congress context since the United Progressive Alliance came to power in 2004.


The significance of this change — and in many ways it’s a positive development — has to be seen in a historical context. At the time when the democratic republic of India was coming into being and in its early years — from the mid-1940s through the 1950s — there had been an intense contestation for power between the government and the party.


This actually meant a contest between the organisational wing of the party and its parliamentary wing. In this contest, the parliamentary wing gained ascendancy, which allowed it to insulate the government from the party. Though the party laid claim to a superordinate role in the making of policy and the conduct of government, it failed. This, to a large extent, made possible the establishment of democracy and the rule of law, however imperfectly.


After Nehru, the party organisation asserted itself to a limited extent under the Kamaraj presidency with the help of a clique of party bosses that came to be known as the ‘Syndicate’. Both played a decisive role in the ascension of Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi as prime minister.


The rules of the game changed dramatically after Gandhi took on the old guard, asserted her pre-eminence in the party and, finally, split it. In the 1970s, she established control both over the party and the government. This entailed a process of the de-institutionalisation of the party — the established hierarchy from the mandal up to the All-India Congress Committee was subverted along with elections to establish committees at various levels. Inner-party democracy was destroyed, as was, in effect, the organisation itself.


Similarly, the government came under the control of Gandhi and was run first by her ‘kitchen cabinet’ and a group of ‘committed’ bureaucrats and then by Sanjay Gandhi and his lumpen cohorts. Increasingly, government functioned through extra-constitutional channels and with the party organisation subverted the question of party-government relations became something of an irrelevance. Nothing much changed under Rajiv Gandhi.


Under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership, democratic processes have not been restored yet. It does appear though that there’s a new kind of partnership between the party and the government in which there is recognition of the separateness of their domains and their relative autonomy. The difference is that while the government is by and large free to run the affairs of State, there is a greater supervision by the party not only in laying down broad policy objectives but also in framing policy — the party now has a directive role.


Sonia Gandhi must be given substantial credit, as Congress president, in ensuring that, up until now, this has not led to undue interference in the functioning of the government or in the subversion of constitutional norms. That this is a coalition government has ensured this, but the Congress leadership must ensure — as Nehru and his colleagues did — that the party doesn’t impinge on the government to the extent that its autonomy is imperilled. It can look at the Left’s record in Bengal if it’s in need of a cautionary tale.













Of all the things that the Bharatiya Janata Party could be concerned about at its chintan baithak, 1000-page works of history would, one expects, be low on the list. The party has,


after all, lost consecutive general elections. Its leader is unlikely to spearhead another general election campaign; and it has no reasonable succession plan in place. One of its largest state units has openly raised the banner of revolt. Its statements on major issues — the economy, India’s foreign policy orientation — are guilty of equivocation and muddle. But fear not, India! Your major opposition party can unite for as long as it takes to throw out someone who’s written about Jinnah with a bit of nuance.


The news about Jaswant Singh’s expulsion was a genuine tragedy. Not just because it is sad to see anyone’s 30-year relationship with an organisation end with a brusque phone call, or because Jaswant Singh was one of the few members of the BJP’s second-rung central leadership that occasionally attempted to articulate a genuinely right-of-centre, genuinely sweeping, vision for the country. No, it is because it shows that the BJP is simply unwilling to come to grips with its crisis. In fact, the party appears, like a headless chicken running round in circles, to be completely unaware about what the crisis actually is. It is not a simple question of who is in charge. It is about how the BJP can look like a party of government again — how it can modernise itself. Today it looks outdated, antiquated, answering yesterday’s questions by raising yesterday’s issues. And when an opportunity arose to come together and delineate a common vision which could be used to play a constructive role in opposition — and then be run on in the next campaign — it decided instead to focus on a history book by the MP from Darjeeling.


Where will politics go, said Singh after he was expelled, if “soch, vichar and chintan” is devalued, if thoughtfulness is replaced with Stalinist-style party-line cant?


“Reading, writing and publishing is entering a dark alley,” he added. These are all valid concerns — though Singh himself cannot be absolved of guilt in abetting the BJP’s unwillingness to take an intellectual stand. Where was his principled opposition when the BJP betrayed its foundational ideology to take an opportunistic stand against the Indo-US nuclear deal? Then, as now: the BJP will suffer as long as it makes a big deal of tiny issues, while being lazy, intellectually and politically, about the big questions of our times.









That elections are being held in Afghanistan today is perhaps more important than their outcome. To be sure, these are not the first elections there since the Taliban’s ouster at the end of 2001. There were presidential elections in 2004 and parliamentary elections in 2005. The radically altered ground situation since then has made the current elections a decisive moment in Afghanistan’s political evolution. The conduct of the polls will reveal whether Kabul’s current regime and the international community can prevent political regression in Afghanistan, stabilise it, and create a reasonable basis for progress in a nation that has seen nothing but war and conflict for more than three decades. The credibility of these elections, in which nearly 17 million voters are expected to choose a president from a slate of four score candidates, is critical for the political future of Afghanistan as well as the security of the subcontinent.


Threatening the current electoral process are the Taliban and its friends — the ideological supporters and institutional mentors across the border in Pakistan, especially in the ISI. On the back foot in 2004 and 2005, they could not and did not try to stop the unveiling of an unprecedented democratic process in Afghanistan. Regrouping since 2007 with the help of friendly sanctuaries in Pakistan, cashing in on Kabul’s many failures of governance, and out-thinking the military calculus of the US and NATO forces, a resurgent Taliban has promised to disrupt the elections this time round.


If they prevent large numbers of Pashtuns in the south and east from voting and terrorise major cities, the Taliban and its friends will deal a severe blow to the survival of the post-2001 political structures in Afghanistan. If they can rob the elections of their legitimacy, it might not really matter who the winner is — whether it is Hamid Karzai, or his nearest rival and former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah. The US, which is reassessing the state of military play, is rightly focused on taking special steps to protect the electoral process from the credible threats issued by the Taliban. India, whose stakes in Afghanistan are so high, will hope that the Taliban will not be allowed to prevail this week; but if they do gain an upper hand, New Delhi must be prepared for a radical overhaul of its strategy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.








In recent weeks an alarming consensus appears to be settling on the future of Test cricket. At too many fixtures the five-day game is not getting the crowds in. Too many cricketers


appear to be mapping their careers to privilege Twenty20 and one-day cricket — Andrew Flintoff, ironically in the midst of an Ashes series that is actually interesting Test sceptics, is just the latest and most unsubtle of them. More depressingly, the alarm thus set off is inviting suggestions of excessive measures. For instance, cutting a Test to four playing days.


This is why Sachin Tendulkar’s proposal on how to fill up the stands for Test matches is so welcome. Why not, he asks, set apart one stand at a Test match venue for free seats for schoolchildren? Even if 10 per cent of those children are won over to the longer, some would argue purer, version of cricket, its future would be secured. Tendulkar’s suggestion is similar to the practice in the West Indies of making available unsold seats at matches to schoolchildren.


But the suggestion could be taken forward. At a time when the shortest version of the game has such robust viability, it may be to even T20’s benefit to strengthen bonds with Test cricket. Even amongst the gloomiest of cricket’s pessimists and the most unabashed of T20’s enthusiasts (not always two perfectly overlapping subsets) there is a sense that T20 is sustained by the larger legacy of Test cricket and cricketers before it. Too often the argument is framed in terms of whether Test is threatened by T20. Perhaps if cricket’s great practitioners like Tendulkar made the case that T20 as cricket would be bereft without the larger context of Tests, the discussion would cease to be so binary.








In expelling Jaswant Singh, the BJP is amplifying the strange madness that has overtaken the party. The expulsion will, doubtless, be justified on ideological grounds: Jaswant Singh allegedly praised Jinnah. But this ideological veneer can scarcely disguise the fact that this is a party that is now in deep crisis in so many different dimensions. First, and most mundanely, there is the sheer procedural impropriety of the party. In decision after decision, the party is not following any institutional norms of due process or fairness. There are double standards galore: the authority of the parliamentary party is used to justify the expulsion. Ironically at the very same moment the wishes of elected legislators are being roundly ignored in Rajasthan. “You show me the face and I will pick the procedure,” is the party norm. The party gives evidence of being governed by a small coterie that is increasingly arbitrary and dictatorial in its methods. No other phrase can describe Advani’s handling of the party better than the colloquialism: he has simply lost it. It is pathetic to see such a towering figure reduced to nothing more than a small, helpless, arbitrary minion, not in control over the party he helped create. He cannot escape the blame for allowing things to come to such a pass.


Second, the decision is a fundamental reflection on the deep-seated insecurity of the BJP’s second tier leadership. None of them has either the intellectual self-confidence or the political imagination to handle important issues with a sense of judgment. The BJP’s problem is not just its ideological choices. It is that it does not have men and women in leadership positions with the slightest degree of credibility. It has the worst combination: constricted leaders like Rajnath Singh who can never engage in a broad argument over vision; and smart people like Arun Jaitley who are too politically insecure to show genuine leadership. Jaswant Singh may have a lot to answer for; but there is no doubt that on the whole his presence elevated the party. It is not the differences within the party that are debilitating; it is the littleness of the figures who now lead it.


But even more seriously, the party has become so obtuse that it cannot even begin to understand a complex historical argument. Jaswant Singh’s book is a serious academic exercise, one long overdue. It is complicated, full of internal tensions. A serious political party should have space for that. In fact, the attraction of the BJP to many people was that it


empowered thinking that had long been sidelined by stifling Congress conformism and an over-weaning sense of infallibility. In its own way, the BJP was allowing space for long suppressed questions to be asked.


But even in crassly political terms the BJP is so blind it does not recognise what is an argument for its ideology and what is against it. Yes, Jaswant Singh has praised Jinnah’s political skills and his determination. There is also no new revelation in the fact that Jinnah was secular in some sense of the term. Nor is there anything odd about asking whether


Jinnah’s positions were political tactic or a deeply held ideological position. Nor for that matter is there anything wrong in raising a whole series of interesting counterfactuals. But the central elements of the book are not incompatible with BJP ideology. The book is an anguished lament on India’s territorial vivisection; and it is squarely BJP in that it is often more concerned with territorial integrity than bonds between people living on that territory. The book’s big villains are the Congress party and Jawaharlal Nehru, both of whom are indicted as being driven by a combination of dogmatism, attraction for power, excessive centralisation and deep historical misjudgment. Yes, Sardar Patel has been thrown into the mix. But it is hard to think of Patel as anything but a Congressman. How the BJP managed to claim him is a mystery. The book also poses the question whether Islam has the room for separating religion and society. And if it does not, what is the prospect for secularism. This is a very BJP-compatible line of inquiry. And it rather cleverly insinuates the thought that the difference between Jinnah and the Congress was not that one believed the two-nation theory and the other did not. It is that the Congress also did not have room for the thought that our rights and obligations should be independent of religious affiliations. And, at its most subtle, it suggests that denying the two-nation theory does not do away with the thorny problem of how we conceptualise the relationship between Hindus and Muslims. The Congress wishes this question away rather than solving it.


But the issue is not the book. In expelling Jaswant Singh the BJP has confirmed the fears of its worst critics: that the party is nothing but a party founded on endless resentment that makes it inherently insecure and anti-intellectual. Its nationalism is not the nationalism of a thinking party; it is a pinched-up nationalism that prefers caricature over complexity, conformism over thought. The party does not understand the first thing about its self-proclaimed heroes. Vajpayee once wrote, mujhe itni oonchaie kabhi mat dena, gairon ko gale na lago sakon, itni rukhai kabhi mat dena. It is a measure of how much the BJP has fallen that it can now not even embrace its own. The real greatness of Sardar Patel was that he could live with difference. Despite deep philosophical differences the personal and political bond between him and Nehru remained very strong. Even their mistakes and differences were not petty. But the BJP does the amazing feat of demonstrating that even its virtues have the odour of small-mindedness.


At their best, Jaswant Singh’s arguments could have been a useful aid to think through the ideological ferment the party necessarily needs to go through. But if the BJP did not like the argument they could have killed it by polite condescension or benign neglect. Certainly, the expulsion sends a signal that old RSS-type one-point agendas still dominate the party. Certainly it will make the party less attractive for anyone who cares to think. Perhaps it is no accident that other leaders who gave some sign of thought, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, are also being marginalised. But it would be dignifying the party too much to say that this expulsion is part of some process of genuine churning. At the moment the party seems in a state of self-destructive delirium.


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi (









The auction of telecom spectrum is in the news again, with concerns that the 3G auction might be put on hold pending the report of the Spectrum Review Committee, which was supposed to look at the allocation and pricing of the 2G section of radio spectrum.


Delays in rolling out third-generation (3G) mobile cellular service have gone on long enough. 3G service is a vast step up from earlier, second-generation (2G) service, enabling high-speed data transfer — enabling lightning-fast mobile Internet access and entertainment applications. The telecom department first sought recommendations from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) — in accordance with the TRAI Act — on the 3G methodology, including pricing, in May 2006; TRAI’s recommendations — which included suggestions for the specific spectrum band for 3G services as well as suggested


designs for the allocation methodology and the 3G auction procedure — were made available on September 27, 2006. Nearly 3 years have passed; consumers haven’t yet been given the better experience that 3G provides.


Indeed, there is another versatile and competing technology: BWA, or Broadband Wireless Access System. The services it can provide have things in common with 3G; any final 3G roadmap must allow service providers the ability to evaluate the merits of competing technologies before making investment decisions.


But the real problem with 3G is G3 — the three government bodies responsible. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT), TRAI and the finance ministry. Each has different goals; and so, naturally, wires have got crossed.


The decision-making process has now become even more complex, because of the multiplicity of goals, which often conflict rather than converge. The key objectives are: availability of high-end services to mobile subscribers, nationwide spread of broadband and legitimate revenue to the state on a sustained basis. But resolving these competing claims isn’t straightforward. Yet it is urgent that we arrive at a logical, self-evident conclusion in a just, fair and transparent manner.


In the telecom sector various past decisions have been evaluated by stakeholders in terms of “winners and losers”. This has often weakened the decision-making framework; transparency has been a major casualty. This time, the DoT has already finalised its position on the spectrum band: an


auction has been decided as the method of allocation; the quantum of spectrum, eligibility norms of the bidders and mode of revenue estimation are all decided. Some of the decisions, however, do not answer the potential bidders’ doubts and are fraught with legal uncertainties. (There are serious implications for the grant of licences, in case the winning party is not already a licensee. The government is reconsidering the option of capping licences in a telecom circle.)


India’s telecom sector already has a well-established regulatory mechanism. The quality of delivery on regulatory issues has been recognised by the International Telecom Union and in other fora. Ideally the regulator’s recommendations should have been accepted in totality; they were made after a very thorough consultative process involving all stakeholders, and the final product emerged from transparent deliberations.


And it was pretty comprehensive, too. “Pending issues”, according to media reports, include the reserve price for the auction, spectrum usage charges and the quantum of spectrum to be made available to the service providers. These are yet to be finalised, which they will be through inter-ministerial consultations. But all these were also addressed by TRAI at various stages. The TRAI-recommended reserve price was doubled by the DoT. It was later referred to TRAI for second opinion as required by law; TRAI concurred with the DoT’s advice. The auction process will eventually ensure the best market price; there is little likelihood of any revenue loss, with every prospect of intense competition. In any case, the government is the final arbiter and will have an opportunity to apply the appropriate corrective in case any aberration is discerned during the auction.


The other “pending issues” have also been addressed in the TRAI recommendations. The DoT needs to take a final, holistic view. But what is most important is that the process of allocation of spectrum for 3G and BWA systems is accomplished in a defined time-span. The time has come to push the decision-making process forward. Any further delay would mean that we don’t have a level playing field: telecom PSUs are already looking at the possibility of franchising 3G


service delivery, as they have already been allocated the spectrum. There is simply no option: subscribers must receive 3G before the year 2009 is over.


The writer headed TRAI








The tenth anniversary celebration of India’s victory in the Kargil war at Drass was a soul-stirring spectacle. With the magnificent Tiger Hill and other mountaintops in the background, it was an emotional but very dignified event. In the evening, candles were reverently lit as homage to the martyrs, and the battleground on the mountaintops was lit up with mashals, which were probably visible to the Pakistan Army across the LoC. We remembered the sacrifices of our soldiers, the ferocity of the war, and the gallantry of the ‘bravest of the brave’. Everyone felt immense national pride and fulfillment.


I had yet another satisfaction that day — by laying a wreath to honour the Kargil martyrs at the India Gate Memorial, and lauding the armed forces for their sacrifice, valour and victory, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had de-politicised the war.


The Kargil war was imposed on the nation when we had an interim NDA government. General elections were due in a few days. Despite the full support of the nation, the armed forces were affected by political crossfire of a kind that had never been experienced in the past. Political parties managed to drag the armed forces into needless and unsavoury controversies, which impacted our morale, apolitical image and stature. One day, when I was out of station, the defensc minister ordered a military team to brief the ruling party in Parliament. The Opposition parties and the media created a justifiable furore when they learnt about it. On another occasion, the ruling party put up posters of the three military chiefs at a political rally in Haryana.


The Opposition parties were not far behind. They held the government responsible for political, intelligence and surveillance negligence, but also went out of their way to provide political support to a brigadier who had been sidestepped (later dismissed from service) for ineffective command and control; something that had never happened during the course of any war before. When hostilities are on, commanders and staff officers who cannot deliver are often removed from their assignment. There are numerous such instances in our military history. In this instance, it was the army leadership and not the government that was involved in the decision.


As the final outcome of the conflict started becoming clearer and the elections drew closer, Kargil became a political football. Everything to do with the Kargil conflict became an issue for election campaigns. There was an attempt either to put the armed forces on a pedestal or to pull them down from it. We had a hard time keeping politics at bay: those blatantly cashing in on the Kargil victory and those attempting to neutralise this effect by castigating the ruling alliance. Several political leaders, with photo-journalists in tow, motivated more by political factors than by a genuine concern for the wounded soldiers, made a beeline to the military hospitals, to be photographed by their bedside while handing over gifts to them. Some organisations with well-recognised political agendas distributed copies of the Gita and Ramayana to the injured soldiers. When the Army PRO tried to stop visitors from taking media-persons into the hospitals, both groups got visibly upset. The military leadership was accused of being politically partisan.

No war in the past had influenced domestic electoral dynamics in the way the Kargil crisis did. The political establishment’s inability to reach a national consensus at the time of war tended to affect the chain of military command and troop morale. In desperation, I had to send across a strong message through the media “Leave us alone: we are apolitical.” (IE, August 23, 1999)


I brought all these happenings to Prime Minister Vajpayee’s notice. He graciously acknowledged the wrongdoings of his party workers, but his advice to me was: “Do not be extra sensitive”! I also met Dr Manmohan Singh, then the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha. He was very courteous and appreciated the adverse consequences of the armed forces getting caught in political crossfire. He advised me to request the prime minister to call an all-party meeting on this matter. I did so. But like so many other issues in the government that are discussed and action promised, this matter remained unattended.


Unfortunately, the attempts to make political capital out of sensitive issues pertaining to the armed forces did not stop even after the war or the elections. For some time, very few leaders from the opposition were seen at the military investiture ceremonies in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Many senior serving and retired officers wondered why it should be so. We wondered how the political parties had conducted themselves after the India-China war in 1962. In this case, despite being placed in an adverse situation initially, the armed forces had successfully achieved the political mission given to them.


Even the Kargil victory day got politicised. The NDA government celebrated it with great fervour initially. But after the election euphoria subsided, the government set the trend of quiet functions to ‘avoid harming Indo-Pakistan relations’. The opposition, in any case, seldom spoke of the ‘Kargil victory’ or its celebration.


During the course of any war, or soon after that, the armed forces are glorified, greatly respected and even treated with awe. In our country, very soon after the war, they feel forgotten and neglected by the political leadership. That does not happen in developed countries and their societies. The point which I wish to emphasise is that the armed forces represent the most significant and ultimate instrumentality for sustaining the Indian polity. They are a manifestation of the collective political will of the Indian state. A soldier fights for the nation regardless of which party or group of parties is in power.


Now that the Kargil war stands de-politicised, my message to all young MPs across the political spectrum is to visit Siachen, Kargil and Drass and appreciate what their armed forces are capable of. And to Rashid Alvi, who continues to harbour the old mindset, I wish to recall what Lt Manoj Pandey, Param Vir Chakra winner in Kargil, wrote in his very last letter, “I don’t know what will happen at the next moment, but I can assure you and all countrymen that certainly we will push back the intruders at whatever cost”.


The writer is former Chief of Army Staff and president, ORF Institute of Security Studies








Once again, we have arrived at a moment in our cinema when the seemingly distinct categories of ‘arthouse’ and ‘commercial cinema’ are collapsing. In the ’80s, when the chasm between these two categories was at its zenith, socially meaningful cinema flourished. Yet apart from Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, a scathing satire on the embedded web of corruption, it is hard to recall a film from that period that has survived into mainstream consciousness today. This was after an extraordinary spell in the ’70s, when fuelled by the masterly screenplays of Salim-Javed, films like Deewaar made such categories redundant.


Over the last year, a number of films have challenged those notions, rejecting the ghettoisation of ‘arthouse’ cinema in order to effect change from within the mainstream. Films such as Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D, Dibakar Banerjee’s Oye Lucky Lucky Oye and, now, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey have unlocked the potential within popular idioms of Hindi cinema. Contemporary interpretation of the proverbial tale of twin brothers or the story of Devdas for these filmmakers allows easy translatability, giving them a mainstream platform while leaving room for avant-garde expression. Thus, subversion of popular idioms becomes the conduit to weave tales of modern India.


One of the ways in which this subversion is achieved is by privileging disjunctions over continuity. In the original Devdas, for example, his death serves the purpose of preservation of the patriarchal order. However, the subaltern narrative of society’s suppression of women in Devdas is given agency in Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D. Kashyap’s target is the hypocrisy of patriarchal structures that finds itself in crisis when faced with a more assertive female sexuality. Thus, the lead protagonist played by Abhay Deol encourages sexual liberalism in Paro, but is unable to respond adequately when it threatens to outgrow patriarchal consent. Chanda’s father, on the other hand, commits suicide when shown a mirror to his participation in society’s collective lust which invokes morality while it receives gratification.


In an iconic film such as Ram aur Shyam, the twin brothers are united in pursuit of a common goal— the return to rightful inheritance and restoration of a slightly readjusted feudal order. In Kaminey, for the most part, they engage in a clash of competing self-interests — it seems inevitable that one’s happiness must come at the cost of the other. In earlier versions, the filial bond was sacrosanct, yet Kaminey repeatedly violates this maxim to portray a society getting rapidly atomised. Fittingly, Bhardwaj sets his tale in the brutally competitive world of Dharavi.


Another common thread in these films is the dark, dystopian urban vision, revolving around themes of alienation. The city does not exist as a singular entity — it inhabits diverse worlds, the distance between those is immeasurably vast. This is only too evident in Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, a film almost entirely set in the capital that steers clear of Delhi’s dominant representation in cinema. Instead, Banerjee focuses his lens on the claustrophobia of growing up in a west Delhi ghetto, the narrative of people excluded from centres of power. Similarly, the ubiquitous pictures of Marine Drive and Bandra that populate films set in Mumbai are largely absent from Kaminey.


The decade-long reign of the banners of Yash Chopra and Karan Johar, beginning with DDLJ in 1995, came at a moment when the middle classes were grappling with identity — the new wealth could not make them overcome a lingering unease with modernity. Their films celebrated this fraught coexistence, by effortlessly merging regressive values with consumer culture. In Oye Lucky, the protagonist is a victim of both — he seeks to firmly abandon the former, while wanting to conquer the latter. Oye Lucky replicates some aspects of the loud, baroque film with Punjabi characters, only for it to serve as a form of critique. Lucky is the antithesis of the archetype Punjabi lead in, for example, Karan Johar’s films. He never completely belongs in a consumerist milieu while the ‘native culture’ so beloved of their films is, for him, a prison that he must escape.


Another remarkable aspect is the astute skill with which these filmmakers have incorporated contemporary events, without appearing contrived or cynical. From the right-wing politics of Raj Thackeray’s MNS to the DPS MMS scandal, their interpretation has taken the form of progressive interventions.


Vishal Bhardwaj, Dibakar Banerjee and Anurag Kashyap are at the forefront of a new wave of filmmakers reshaping popular Hindi cinema, merging tribute with critique. Their films have served as expressions of dissent in a cinematic culture veering towards lazy self-congratulation. Contributing to constructive change from within mainstream cinema, they have taken up old chestnuts and infused them with radical energy, opening up new horizons in which we can re-imagine the popular Hindi film.










With great power comes great responsibility. Pop culture in the 20th century propagated that thought incessantly in different forms — through Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben in as many words, and through the actions of other caped crusaders who prowled its colourful streets. In sport, a land that pop culture often visits for its inspirations, the debate on whether top players should use their clout to change things for their peers has always been an intriguing one.


One pop icon who understands the power and responsibility relationship better than most others is Sachin Tendulkar. He’s never allowed the adulation of millions to go to his head; he’s always managed to conduct himself like a role model; and he’s chosen his words with care, aware of their power and their ability to create a controversy.


The first time he raised an issue in public was after the 2007 World Cup, when he reacted to coach Greg Chappell’s comments against the senior players with an idiom made famous by Kader Khan in Hindi pop culture: “Paani sar se ooncha ho gaya hai.” The BCCI had no option after that — Chappell was sacked, order was restored, and India soon had a famous Test series victory in England.


Two years after that, he said neutral venues were robbing the excitement of the Ranji Trophy. The decision was repealed immediately, things will go back to normal from the coming season. And on Tuesday, in a discussion on ‘Cricket in Changing Times’, it was refreshing to watch Sachin speak freely on cricketing policy, rather than cricketing excellence, by laying out a simple plan to help revive the popularity of Test matches — reserve a stand for students, give them free entry, and allow them to soak in the experience.


Other than these forays into uncharted territory, however, Tendulkar has chosen to keep his opinions on larger cricketing issues to himself. So much so that he’s given the impression that he could have perhaps played a more proactive role in cleansing Indian cricket of several of its ills.


Tendulkar’s opening partner in one-dayers, a batsman he says is more like him than any other, showed a dramatically different approach to problem-solving this week when he raised a banner of revolt against the DDCA.


Virender Sehwag thundered that he wanted to quit the Delhi team because of the pressure on captains to pick certain players close to the association, and got instant support from an array of players from the city — past and present — including his two most prominent team mates Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma.


If ever there was an aggressive way to make a statement, it was this, and such a rebellion is unprecedented in Indian cricket, save for Bishan Singh Bedi’s successful campaign against the DDCA’s Ram Prakash Mehra in the early 80s.Sehwag has said that he wants to move to Haryana, and while there have been some allegations of ulterior motives, it was about time a discussion was raised about the power wielded by officials in the Indian cricketing structure. Delhi cricket has been dogged by such allegations for years, but Sehwag indicated that the dam had finally broken (paani sar se ooncha ho gaya hai?).

While not many expect his long list of demands to be met in a meeting with top officials on the weekend, the DDCA is in a spot because it’s hard to see Delhi cricket surviving without Sehwag and his high-profile colleagues.


The BCCI has so far washed its hands of the issue, saying it’s an internal matter. But the worrying thing for the board is that pop culture thrives on sequels. If one set of players has risen up here, will another group — rightly or wrongly — ask for more somewhere else?







A news item, titled “Mohan Bhagwat terms Sharm el-Sheikh a diplomatic faux pas”, in the latest issue of the Organiser, quotes the RSS chief as saying “Inclusion of the reference to Balochistan and dropping of action against terrorism as a precondition to resuming the dialogue with Pakistan was a serious blunder. It exposed the chinks in diplomacy of the government of India. This has not only brought the issue of happenings in Balochistan to the notice of the global community, but has also created confusion within the country vis-à-vis our foreign policy and transparency therein”. The piece adds: “These views were expressed by RSS Sarsanghachalak Mohan Bhagwat at the ‘Meet the Press’ programme organised by the Nagpur Union of Working Journalists (NUWJ) at Tilak Patrakar Bhavan in Nagpur on August 3, 2009. Shri Bhagwat is the second Sarsanghachalak to participate in this programme after his predecessor the late Balasaheb Deoras, who had interacted with the scribes 38 years ago. Criticising the prime minister for his diplomatic failure at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt in issuing the joint statement with his Pakistani counterpart, Shri Bhagwat said that the reference to problems of Balochistan included for the first time in any dialogue between the two neighbouring countries is not a good omen for India. The UPA government has not bothered to take the Opposition into confidence on matters of such diplomatic importance and thereby failed to maintain transparency in such sensitive matters”.


The news item adds: “In reply to a question on China’s expansionist attitude, the RSS chief cautioned the countrymen and the government to maintain a strict vigil to thwart any such evil move by the Chinese dragon. He referred to the warnings issued by great visionaries like Swami Vivekananda 110 years ago, Shri Rash Behari Bose and the second Sarsanghachalak of RSS Shri Guruji Golwalkar, about Chinese expansionist designs. Now the Chinese dragon has almost spread its tentacles to encircle India. It has established a good foothold in Nepal, Pakistan and Myanmar (Burma) and is even helping Sri Lanka in restricting India’s strategic and diplomatic movements. Shri Bhagwat stated that China always considered India a major rival in its international designs and as such it is trying to spread its influence in the neighbouring nations to squeeze India diplomatically. China had earlier attacked India in 1962. Now also it has staked claim over Indian territories of Arunachal Pradesh, he said and urged the countrymen, government and political parties to understand this serious threat emanating from the recent Chinese movements along the bordering regions in the Indian subcontinent”.



An editorial titled “Statues script different stories: Of unity and pride, discord and vanity”, says: “Installation of statues and naming of public utilities and establishments after politicians have a long and controversial history in India. Last month, the naming of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link in Mumbai after Rajiv Gandhi became controversial after the BJP and Shiv Sena demanded the bridge to be named after Chhatrapati Shivaji. Then, the Congress did not agree, but with assembly elections a few months away, the state government has come up with an ambitious proposal to install a grand Shivaji statue, taller than the Statue of Liberty, on an island off Marine Drive. The proposal to erect the 159-feet statue of Shivaji on horse back mounted on a 150 -feet-high Shivling-shaped pedestal is a fitting tribute to the great national hero of Hindu revival and all Indians will welcome the move. But it is hardly a compensation for the earlier faux pas. There is no dearth of establishments and projects named after members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. A recent study showed that thousands of national and state-level welfare schemes, institutions and public sector undertakings, bridges, roads, hospitals, awards and even parks are named after the Congress first family members. This is ridiculous. One family cannot have a monopoly on public-funded initiatives. But the Congress has a penchant for such brazenness. A report last week said that since the opposition-ruled states are more successful in implementing the NREGS, the credit for the same is going to them and the Congress is now thinking of adding the name of Rajiv Gandhi along with NREGS”.


It adds: “The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s statue politics has become equally reprehensible, if not shocking. No public good is achieved by such shameless misuse of public funds. The matter has now become an obnoxious symbol of corruption and consuming megalomania of a political upstart. It is in this context that the Karnataka BJP government’s success in installing a statue of saint-poet Thiruvalluvar in Bengaluru ending an 18-year-old dispute becomes a commendable feat of patriotism and national integration. Reciprocating the Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa’s gesture, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi unveiled a statue of Kannada saint-poet Sarvajna in Chennai on August 13. They are our national icons. There is no need for making a dispute out of the consecration of a national hero anywhere in the country. Saints and poets like Thiruvalluvar and Sarvajna are the common heritage of every Indian and they are revered in the collective national psyche. Few misguided and outrageous outfits try to incite sectarian feelings in the name of these national icons as if they belong to a particular language or sect. If these people try to understand the philosophy or inspiration behind works like Thirukkural, they will realise that it was the oneness of India and the harmonious culture of this land that they represented. In the first-ever act of its kind in contemporary politics, Yeddyurappa scripted a new chapter in the history of Karnataka-Tamil Nadu relations by highlighting this aspect”.


Compiled by Suman K. Jha












If saner counsel hadn’t prevailed and the government not held firm, eight private airlines would have stopped domestic operations on August 18—perhaps suspending them further if their demands were not met. We condemned this cartel-like move even while recognising that some of these demands merit sympathetic hearing—that tax on ATF be made uniform across the country and that airport charges be benchmarked to international practices, for example. In any case, all was normal in Indian skies on August 18. On the ground, though, trouble continued brewing. At a meeting between airlines, airport developers and the civil aviation ministry, the implementation prospects of a much-deferred ground handling policy appeared uncertain. Approved by the Cabinet committee on security in February 2007, the policy seeks to limit ground handling operations to three players: Nacil, airport operators and service providers selected through competitive bidding. But at airports other than the six major ones (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad), domestic airlines can continue self-handling. Now, some stakeholder concerns regarding this policy may be genuine. However the government chooses to address these, it must insure that the policy is implemented by January 1 as per the latest stipulated schedule. Since the concerns are neither new nor unclear, they can be addressed now as well as later. They can’t really excuse further delays in implementing a ground handling policy that is critical for our insecure times.


Private airlines say they have invested large sums on ground handling activities—ranging from checking in passengers to handling their baggage and cleaning aircraft—over the years. Not only will the new policy lay equipment worth crores of rupees to waste, it will also necessitate the retrenchment of thousands of people. The ground is further muddied by the fact that the policy will benefit the national carrier. Nacil has in fact already announced plans to hive off Air India’s ground handling capabilities to a separate business unit, expected to deliver Rs 300 crore by marketing these capabilities to other airlines. On the government’s side, it can be argued that ground handling is increasingly becoming a more specialised activity the world over. It’s not just that the resulting synergies can reduce costs involved in self-handling. More importantly, this makes for better security, ensuring that there are fewer and better-documented personnel with access to the tarmac, hangars and so on, ensuring also the standardisation of equipment and safety measures. Perhaps this will cost more, but continuing laxity will clearly cost even more. There has to be a compromise between the two views, beginning with a rethink on giving Nacil an unfair advantage.







Two things are happening in the roads sector that engender, as it were, concrete hope. First, as has been deservedly well reported, Kamal Nath, the roads minister, is wooing and, by some accounts, impressing potential investors in East Asia and Europe. He’s slated to visit the US, too. The dynamics of capital supply changed October last year, and although things have improved since then, for long-term, greenfield and government-involved projects like highway construction, investors need to be given a substantive pep talk. The second good thing is under reported, but perhaps more significant: there used to be a committee on infrastructure in UPA-1 that had the relevant ministers and that was served by the Planning Commission. In UPA-2, that has been renamed as Cabinet committee on infrastructure. Big deal? Yes. The committee will now be served by the Cabinet secretariat, which means certain grand norms for awarding projects that were holding up everything in UPA-1, norms that found encouragement at the bosom of the Planning Commission, will now not be a roadblock. Between foreign investors becoming interested and contracts getting easier to implement, things may actually get moving.


Kamal Nath’s plan is to build 20 km of roads every day. That will represent a big jump from recent performance. The National Highways Authority of India’s awful year was 2006-07, when only a shocking 635 km were built. That has improved: 1,682 km in 2007-08 and 2,205 in 2008-09. But that’s still playing catch-up with the 2,351 km built in 2004-05. Right now, 12,997 km of roads are under construction with finances from the central road fund. This sounds impressive. But five states, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, account for almost 60% of the roads being laid. There’s a clear skew in state-wise performance. Plus, around 150 ongoing projects are running behind schedule for various reasons; delay in land acquisition, obtaining environment clearances and poor performance of some contractors. There are three models of delivery: BoT (annuity), BoT (toll) and engineering procurement construction (EPC). Government funding is limited to the latter two. But the process of prequalification and the model concession agreements (MCA) have been huge disincentives to quick implementation. This is what the Cabinet committee on infrastructure should address; one hopes it does so quickly. As is well known, private investors are wary of some of the terms of the MCA, especially clauses dealing with premature termination of the contract and variability of concession period. Kamal Nath and the committee also need to smarten up dispute resolution mechanisms. If long-term funding is not an issue, better procedures can dramatically change the road sector. UPA-1 didn’t attach any political prestige to highways. UPA-2 has started smarter. It should stay smart.









The direct tax code is an outstanding piece of work in many respects. Long-standing distortions and inefficiencies have been addressed. There are two areas where certain difficulties are visible. The first concerns capital gains and the second concerns treatment of cross-border financial activities. We concentrate on the first here.


Taxation of capital income has long been seen as something that stands symmetrically alongside taxation of labour income. It is often felt that the capital gains tax should be similar to the income tax on wage income. However, both need to be seen in a unified perspective: one of fostering high GDP growth in the long run.


A central source of high GDP growth in the long run in a poor country like India is a growth of capital stock. A poor country has to save and invest, to build up the capital stock. This ‘deepening of capital’ increases the productivity of labour and underpins the long-term expansion of labour income.


Fairly modest changes in the annual savings rate translate into an elevated trajectory of per capita income over long periods of time. Conversely, if we spend five years at a lower investment rate (owing to a period of hostile tax policy), then this permanently depresses the future trajectory of capital and thus per capita GDP.


The question that should be posed of tax policy is: How can the tax code be structured to foster a high rate of savings and investment? Once seen in this perspective, taxation of capital income is shown in poor light. Many projects which have a positive NPV in a world without taxation are tipped into the zone of negative NPV once some of the winnings are paid to the government (at future dates) as taxation of capital income. Hence, the introduction of taxation of capital income leads to fewer projects being undertaken. It reduces the pace of capital deepening in the economy, and reduces the long-term growth of the country.


A unified and symmetric solution to the treatment of labour and capital income is the EET system of taxation. The key insight here is to encourage and support saving and reinvestment. So when a person takes labour or capital income and puts it into investments, this part should be tax-exempt. Further, when securities are sold and reinvested, the capital income should also be tax-exempt. This gives strong incentives for capital deepening in the economy. It is when the person liquidates assets and brings money into consumption that two taxes should come into play: the long-term capital gains tax that is paid on money that comes out of an EET system and the GST that is paid on consumption goods purchased.


Tax policy is, unfortunately, seen as a conflict between rich and poor. Taxing the rich is popular. But we need to see that it is good for everyone when the capital stock of the economy grows. Building up the capital stock drives up labour productivity and the general wage level in the economy. The rich should be encouraged to have a high savings rate and reinvest their capital income. As argued above, when the rich sell their securities and buy, say, a designer shirt, they should suffer two taxes: the long-term capital gains tax (on money taken out of an EET system) and the GST on the price of the shirt.


This approach requires scaling up the EET system to go from the present vision, of a few lakh rupees per person in the context of long-term savings, to a much bigger scale. Systems like the NSDL’s tax information network can be designed to track a comprehensive portfolio of each individual, whereby sale of assets and reinvestment is tax-exempt, but exit from the EET track is subject to the long-term capital gains tax.


Going beyond the individual perspective, the behaviour of corporations also change when there is a capital gains tax. Without a capital gains tax, corporations are neutral between paying dividends or reinvesting post-tax profits. The rule that is prescribed to companies is: If you have internal projects that will yield a return on equity that is higher than investing in the market index, then reinvest everything, else payout everything.


When capital gains are taxed, firms have an incentive to payout more dividends. This reduces the savings of corporations and hinders their capital deepening.


In summary, in India, there is a misplaced notion of symmetry between taxation of labour income and taxation of capital income. However, we need to see that for India to become a developed country, what is needed is a torrid pace of capital formation. When the rich save and invest, the capital stock of the country goes up, and there are spillovers of benefits to workers who get higher wages because they are more productive, thanks to capital deepening. Hence, the tax system should give out strong incentives to save and to reinvest capital income. This can be achieved by scaling up the EET framework and building some IT systems surrounding it.


The author is an economist with interests in finance, pensions and macroeconomics








First, the good news. In 2009, we have finally got two sets of data that tell us how macro developments are affecting lives. The first of these two are the quarterly series on jobs that the labour ministry has introduced; without any fanfare.


The other is the data sets from the New Pension Scheme. The NPS will have a central recordkeeping agency that will collate data on the age, income and the monthly contribution of subscribers.


Data from the two sources will fill up a vacuum that now exists in tracking the demographic economics. The utility of the two sets of data will become apparent pretty soon. They will make possible a far more accurate tracking of how GDP growth impacts the working population.


By next year, for instance, the data will tell us whether or not the economy has moved into a jobless growth path. This will in turn help the government to decide what steps are needed to develop fresh avenues for employment.


As of now the indications are that the successive decades of bad labour laws will colour the recovery story of Indian industry again. Thanks to the rigidity in the deployment of labour, plant managers have learnt to use labour much more frugally than capital in India. For instance, government data for 2004-05 shows the labour output ratio and the cost of labour to value of production of 474 big companies, with sales of above Rs 100 crore, declined year on year. Output of these companies taken together increased by 14.29% to Rs 6,76,768 crore in 2003-04 from Rs 5,92,168 crore in 2002-03 and further increased by 25% to Rs 8,47,209 crore in 2004-05. But the labour cost of these companies increased at a lower pace. Consequently the labour-output ratio has declined from 4.82% in 2002-03 to 4.78% in 2003-04, and then to 3.89% by 2004-05.


This is unfortunate, of all countries, in India. The labour pool is immense even if ill-trained. This is also one of the only two economies whose growth numbers have held up reasonably well. Going by the projections made by RBI and the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, the economy will end 2009-10 with a 6 to 6.5% rate of growth. This is a far better estimate than the frequent, almost monthly changes that assorted banks and other institutions have resorted to in their growth projections.


The problem is that this will fall short of the growth numbers for last year at 6.8% (real GDP at factor cost). The projections for gross domestic capital formation, a large percentage of which will obviously stem from the corporate sector India, are also in sync with this number at 36.6%, as per the RBI survey of professional forecasters.


The same survey shows the median estimate for real GDP growth rate at factor cost is 7.5% for 2010-11, nowhere near the 9% rate of growth with a rate of capital formation at 37.9%.


What the numbers basically tell us is a story of gradual recovery from the downturn of 2008-09. So the investment climate will be very measured in terms of deployment of capital and labour.


The companies coming out of the decline will attempt to maximise the returns to pay for the cost of borrowing that even at the current interest rates will be a larger percentage of their total revenue, simply because the latter has slipped more than the interest rates.


Even before the meltdown happened, at the end of 2006-07, out of a sample of 3016 companies in the RBI data base, the ratio of short-term bank borrowing to inventories had risen to 81.30, from 73.10 in 2000-01, showing how sharply the companies were milking their assets. This will obviously rise now, as the companies try to squeeze growth on a much thinner order book.


So the spectre of jobless growth is quite real. This is going to be a big challenge for the government, as it also has the potential to exacerbate the inequality in the economy.


The set of policies the government should therefore push with vigour must attempt to at one level expand the supply of the trained workforce in industrial processes. This means giving the plan to revitalise the ITIs much more leeway. Although the plan was launched in 2004-05, to make 1,396 ITIs into centres of excellence, with 300 to be taken up every year on a PPP mode, its pace has not kept up.


The other has to be the development of self-employment. But that would mean a far softer rate of interest pattern than is available now for entrepreneurs. The survey of professional forecasters itself shows bank credit is expected to continue at 18% in 2009-10, and will improve to 21% the next year, a far cry from the 27%, it logged till July 2008. The cure has to, therefore, be far deeper than has been attempted so far.








The short-term interest rate has been the policy instrument of choice for central banks over the past two decades. It has proven to be an efficient and effective tool, with the central bank announcing the desired rate, banks following its lead and the central bank using open market operations to match any residual differences between the “desired” and “actual” rate. However, monetary policy management using the short-term rate has one important limitation – a lower bound of zero. Once the rate touches the floor of zero, lowering it further is practically unfeasible because it implies that the depositor gets a negative return on his investment. Hence, central banks fall into what is termed the “liquidity trap”, where monetary policy becomes ineffective once short term rates touch zero.


One way of responding to the liquidity trap is quantitative easing, or “unconventional” monetary policy measures that directly increase money supply or directly manage inflation expectations. These are usually viewed as weaker than interest rate management, as well as potentially inflationary and credibility dampening. However, more and more central banks are adopting this method to combat the liquidity trap in this current crisis, including those of the UK, the US and Japan.


Why is quantitative easing thought to be weaker than interest rate management? The most important reason is signaling. Quantitative easing is usually once-off and unannounced, and can have potentially negative impacts on the credibility of the central bank since it is seen as a departure from its policy reaction function. Similarly, it signals the lack of monetary policy effectiveness via interest rate management, raising crisis alerts among market participants. If proper exit measures are not in place, it could also raise questions as to the length of the expansionary stance of monetary policy, confusing inflation expectations.


Of course, the impacts of different forms of quantitative easing are different. Andre Meier of the International Monetary Fund reviews various forms of quantitative easing in a recent working paper, finding that “easing via talk”, i.e. making a verbal commitment to lower interest rates for a certain length of time, has significantly different impacts from “easing via action” or purchasing assets in order to release money supply into the economy.


Meier defines “easing via talk” as a more generic form of unconventional monetary policy, where the central bank verbally commits to a certain interest rate level in order to manage expectations. However, the effectiveness of this method depends highly on prior credibility of the central bank, and can also have negative impacts on the future credibility of the bank. In contrast, he defines “easing via action” as more direct interventions, i.e. buying assets to release liquidity into the economy, long-term lending to banks at lower interest rates or helping troubled firms rebalance their portfolios are seen to have extremely stabilizing effects on credit markets. Indeed, these types of measures are being taken at this moment by both the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England, in order to counter the credit crisis. However, he argues that this carries with it the risk of inflating the balance sheet of the central bank. For example, the balance sheet of the Fed has inflated tremendously over the past year, with net assets ballooning to over 2 trillion dollars in July 2009 from 900 billion dollars in July 2008.


Finally, it is clear that there are political risks to quantitative easing, which hold across both easing via talk and action. Unconventional monetary policy actions, especially with a view to stabilizing the financial sector, push the central bank into politically sensitive areas such as deciding which firms to bailout. Similarly, the risk of fiscal capture, with the government using expansionary monetary policy to finance debt is another major political risk.


The author lives and works in Singapore. These are her personal views.








The Bharatiya Janata Party’s reputation for obscurantism and dogmatic intolerance received an unexpected boost in Shimla on Wednesday. The summary expulsion of the veteran Jaswant Singh for coming out with a positive re-appraisal of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and what can at most be characterised as Partition-revisionism has not just upstaged the post-election ‘chintan baitak.’ It is a blow to the BJP’s moral credibility, an adver tisement of its political desperation. What is plain is that the overwhelming majority of the parliamentary board that took the decision to expel Mr. Singh has not read his recently launched book, Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence (Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2009, 669 pages) — or perhaps ever will. It is true that there is a considerable scholarly literature on Jinnah, with Ayesha Jalal’s The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan (Cambridge University Press, 1994) standing out as a particularly fine work of incisive historical scholarship. Mr. Singh does not claim to be a scholar, on the contrary. He begins his book by noting that, returning from a visit to the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore in 1999, he was “struck by the thought there existed no biography of Jinnah written by a political figure from India.” It took him five years, beginning 2004, to fill that gap.


It is for historians to evaluate the scholarly merit of Mr. Singh’s work. But who is to say that a political figure, especially when he or she is out of power, ought not to dabble in such sensitive areas? Did not the redoubtable Lal Krishna Advani himself publicly commend, in 2005, the “secular” vision embedded in Jinnah’s presidential address of August 11, 1947 to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan? Actually, Mr. Singh’s Jinnah is an impressive, personally attractive, intellectually brilliant, freedom-loving, politically iron-willed, tactically unstoppable figure. His flaws were major and incalculably tragic: Mr. Singh opines that both he and Mahatma Gandhi failed in the end to realise their ideals. But the flaws of the ‘sole spokesman’ arose out of the objective situation of pre-Partition India and others, especially Jawaharlal Nehru and the Congress, were complicit in the tragedy of Partition — which in the author’s view is “the defining event of the twentieth century for this entire subcontinent.” You may agree or disagree with Mr. Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah-appraisal and his allocation of responsibility for Partition — and indeed for what he sees as the challenge for millions of “alienated” Muslims in post-Partition India. But his book is certainly an interesting read — made more interesting and saleable surely by the BJP’s crude display of bigotry.







The intriguing question has been around for a very long time. Last Sunday Jamaican Usain Bolt touched (according to an official biomechanical analysis) a peak speed of 44.172 km an hour at 65.03 metres in the 100 metres sprint at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin. Is this supremely gifted athlete the fastest human who ever walked the earth? Is he for real? Some believe Bolt’s 9.58 seconds might be 20 years ahead of scientific predictions in taking the bigge st slice — a whopping 0.11s — off the 100m record since the advent of automatic timing in 1968. This has naturally led to questions and speculations about the ‘ultimate’ man can run. “I think it will stop at 9.4 but you never know,” said Bolt after his magical sprint. A 1998 study forecast an eventual men’s record of 9.37s; another done in July 2009 pegged it at 9.51s. If Bolt was guilty of relaxing through the last 20 metres of the Olympics 100m final in Beijing where he clocked 9.69s — forcing biomechanics experts to review their studies and projections — he ran through the line in Berlin.


It is now well established that Bolt’s deceleration rate is much lower than that of his peers. This helps him maintain his speed past 60m or 70m when sprinters normally start slowing down. Then there is the giant stride that gives him a decisive edge over shorter rivals. All sprinters know that height is a handicap at the start but Bolt has started defying even this bit of conventional wisdom. In Berlin, his 6’5” frame took only 0.146s to react to the gun in comparison with the 0.144s for Tyson Gay, the American who finished second, and 0.134s for his team-mate Asafa Powell, who took the bronze. Bolt took just 33 strides to hit the finish for the new world record against the 41 he needed in Beijing. His name might have been unfamiliar to a majority of sports fans before he first made the headlines in New York last year with a world record 9.72s. But the exciting potential was evident as early as 2002 when Bolt took the 200 metres gold in the world junior championships and then the silver in the 2007 world championships. Not until 2008 did this unspoilt genius make a serious foray into the 100 metres. Since then, he has turned sprinting theory on its head, winning an Olympic treble, all in world record times. He evokes awe, admiration, and envy from former greats and rivals alike. Lightning Bolt now owns three of the top four 100m timings in history, but he doesn’t know how fast he can run. The world perhaps is yet to see the best from this Jamaican grocer’s son who will turn 23 on August 21.











The 19th century Prussian military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, wrote in his famous work, On War: “The great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty, because all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition not infrequently — like the effect of a fog or moonshine — gives to things exaggerated dimensions and unnatural appearance.” Unsurprisingly, a Clausewitzean war such as the one in the Hindu Kush has been covered in thick fog.


Yet there are times when the fog abruptly lifts or becomes transparent and nonmaterial, and the atmosphere of uncertainty, hazard and blunder characterising the Afghan war eases a little. It becomes possible to grasp at air and arrest the declining lack of confidence. One such moment presented itself on August 5 when the United States commander of the forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, was called to a meeting in Belgium where Secretary of State Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told him to go slow on submitting his report, earlier expected in mid-August, to President Barack Obama and await the outcome of the August 20 Afghan presidential elections.


The Pentagon is preparing the ground for expanding the Afghan mission well beyond Mr. Obama’s early focus. Alongside is an attempt at precisely the sort of nation-building plan being integrated into the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan that Mr. Obama seemed to decry in March. Equally, the Americans are in a quandary: if Hamid Karzai secures a renewed mandate, the AfPak strategy cannot roll on.


So far the fog kept from view the full contours of the AfPak strategy, which apparently focussed on a “clear and concise and … attainable goal which is to disrupt, dismantle and prevent the al-Qaeda from being able to operate in its safe havens” — to quote U.S. National Security Advisor General James Jones during his media briefing in Washington, DC, on March 29. Gen. McChrystal reportedly wants to double the number of American civilians working in Afghanistan. The Washington Post reported that the U.S. ambassador to Kabul sought an additional $2.5 billion in expenditure for 2010, which is about 60 per cent more than what Mr. Obama requested from Congress. Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who advises Gen. McChrystal, told The Times newspaper that the U.S. should send another nine combat brigades comprising 45,000 troops, which would bring the total American presence to about 1,00,000.


On Friday, at a press conference, Mr. Gates hinted at a big U.S. troop build-up in Afghanistan. He also underscored the criticality of the Afghan election results for the U.S. policy when he said “close consultation” with the new government was imperative to ensure that the Afghans did not reject too big a U.S. military footprint. While, as of now, the Afghans might be viewing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-led coalition as their partner, “I just worry that we don’t know what the size of the military presence might be that would begin to change that,” he said.


Meanwhile, Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Special Representative for AfPak, has been assembling a nation-building team for Afghanistan for the long haul — comprising senior U.S. diplomats, counterinsurgency liaisons from the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, USAID and agricultural experts, and even well-known academics and think tankers. Mr. Holbrooke commands an impressive parallel government. Evidently, the “civilian side” led by Mr. Holbrooke will count on the success of the “military side” led by Gen. McChrystal in killing and trapping the recalcitrant Taliban and smashing up the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


It is against such a complex background that the U.S. wishes to tighten its control over the power structure in Kabul. Mr. Karzai’s re-election will pose a major headache for Washington. Mr. Holbrooke is heading for Kabul. Without doubt, the presidential election in Afghanistan has assumed immense significance for the geopolitics of the region. Mr. Holbrooke’s mission to Kabul is of the utmost importance for the future of the AfPak strategy. An election whose outcome was considered a foregone conclusion has become a cliffhanger. Mr. Karzai faces an existential threat from none other than his erstwhile mentors in Washington. For the past several weeks, the U.S. has been fighting a rear-guard battle to ensure that he somehow fails to get an outright victory in Thursday’s first round, which will necessitate a run-off in October.


Surely, the Afghan kaleidoscope is shifting with dizzying speed. Mr. Karzai has built up a coalition involving the erstwhile mujahideen leaders Ismail Khan, Mohammed Fahim, Karim Khalili, Mohammed Mohaqiq and Rashid Dostum. Mr. Dostum’s return from Turkey — defying U.S. warnings — galvanises Jumbish just in time to boost Mr. Karzai’s electoral prospects in the Amu Darya region. The Uzbekis and Hazara Shias account for well over a quarter of the Afghan population. Besides, Ismail Khan, “amir” of western Afghanistan, who is close to Tehran and is allied to the former President, Burhanuddin Rabbani, has come out in support of Mr. Karazi. Mr. Khan’s support for Mr. Karzai at this juncture undermines the U.S.-Pakistani strategy, which was based on the premise that Tajik disunity (and incipient Uzbeki-Tajik rivalries) would hamper Mr. Fahim’s capacity to deliver Tajik votes to Mr. Karzai. Thus, all in all, Mr. Karzai’s prospects have improved. Washington’s strategem to prevent his first-round victory is in jeopardy. In an extraordinary public vent of dismay, the State Department said in Washington on Tuesday: “We have made clear to the government of Afghanistan our serious concern regarding the return of Mr. Dostum and any prospective role in today’s Afghanistan.” Mr. Obama has already asked his national security team to give further material on Mr. Dostum’s “background,” including concerns that he might have been involved in the death of a significant number of Taliban prisoners of war in 2001 during the U.S. invasion.


To be sure, Mr. Holbrooke faces a huge challenge. A clear-cut victory for Mr. Karzai in the first round will bring into power a coalition that Washington will find hard to control what with multiple power centres. In this context, the “operational role of the Pakistani intelligence [ISI]” will assume critical importance. The ISI disfavours Mr. Karzai’s victory. It has scores to settle with almost all the Northern Alliance “warlords” who rally behind Mr. Karzai. These “warlords” may reject the U.S.-British-Saudi-Pakistani game plan to co-opt the Taliban into the Afghan power structure, as they know that Mullah Omar and Co. will go after them one day or the other. Equally, the Pakistani security establishment and the Obama administration cannot easily stomach a democratically elected government dominated by the Northern Alliance “warlords,” who used to enjoy the support of Russia, Iran and India, coming to power in Kabul. The agenda of introducing Islamism for the remaking of Central Asia, NATO’s expansion and long-term military presence in Afghanistan — all these are in the cross hairs. It is a moot point whether Russia or Iran actively promoted Mr. Karzai’s coalition with the Northern Alliance stalwarts. Surely, no one needs to tell Mr. Holbrooke and his interlocutors in the Pakistani security establishment that the destiny of the Afghan war and Mr. Obama’s AfPak strategy hang by a thread and they have a congruence of interests. Indeed, if there could be a ‘do-or-die’ situation in the great game in the Hindu Kush, it is this.

The big question is: how will Mr. Holbrooke tackle this nasty challenge? Will he push for an “Iran-like” situation in Kabul? What could the ISI do to help out Mr. Holbrooke? Long-time observers won’t fail to sense that there is an opaqueness in the air in Islamabad. Whenever the ISI goes into overdrive in the Hindu Kush, Islamabad puts on an appearance of studied indifference. No doubt, Mr. Holbrooke’s extended stay in Islamabad — and the visit to Rawalpindi by Gen. McChrystal on Monday — points to hectic U.S.-Pakistani parleys on the next American move on the Afghan chessboard.


The fog kept out of sight Mr. Karzai’s growing rift with Washington — and his inevitable “Afghanisation” — which began circa 2007 when he began demanding a say in the NATO troop deployment and the scale of military operations by the foreign troops. He sought an Iraqi-style Status of Force Agreement. Mr. Karzai also insisted that the international community work through his government in undertaking aid projects and not bypass it. Most important, he pressed for an intra-Afghan peace process through a Loya Jirgha (tribal council) to reconcile with the Taliban and pave the way for the vacation of NATO occupation. Mr. Karzai’s approach undercuts the U.S. agenda of monopolising conflict resolution in Afghanistan, which is inseparable from the U.S.’ regional strategies.


(The writer is a former diplomat.)









Is Beithullah Mehsud dead or alive? Is the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan unraveling? Will the Pakistan Army launch an operation in the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan? How will the current turmoil in the ranks of the Pakistani Taliban impact the American-led war in Afghanistan?


A new book, to be launched on Friday in New Delhi, may not provide the answers to all the questions that are being asked these days about the fanatic militants who pretty much have the run of Pakistan’s border tribal regions. But it is packed with much information about the rise of extremism and militancy in the border regions commonly known as FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) an ironic title for an area over which the Pakistani state can claim little control.


The Al Qaeda Connection (Viking/Penguin), by senior Pakistani journalist Imitiaz Gul, takes us through developments in FATA from about the time Pakistan joined the American-led “war on terror”, to the present intricate and bewildering web of alliances between Taliban militant commanders with disparate interests, their internecine rivalries, their links with Al Qaeda, and the great churning it has caused in the entire region for nearly a decade.


For Gul, the turning point for Pakistan — more precisely, the point at which it began to lose control over events in FATA — was in March 2004, starting with an incident in Kaloosha in South Waziristan. Tribesmen of the Zillikhel clan, outraged at the rumoured killing by security forces of an Uzbek militant who had become a local hero, gunned down between 40 and 80 security personnel. In retaliation, the Pakistan Army along with a local force known as South Waziristan Scouts, launched the Kaloosha operation that ended for them in spectacular failure.


Recalling this incident in some detail, Gul describes it as the “catalyst for FATA’s Al Qaedaisation,” sowing as it did the seeds of animosity among the local tribesmen against the Pakistani state and its army, and for their banding together under the leadership of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.


The book also talks about the close ties between the Taliban and Punjabi militant groups raised for the jihad in Kashmir, such as Harkatul Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba, known as the “Punjabi factor” in FATA.


Mohmand tribal agency provides a good case study of the linkages. Two rival groups operated in the area. The one led by Omar Khalid was the stronger group with its affiliation to Beithullah Mehsud. Another led by Shah Khalid Sahib was affiliated to the LeT, and was also considered by Beithullah as any ally.


In mid-2008, the two groups were involved in a bloody battle for supremacy during which Shah Khalid was captured and executed by the Omar Khalid group on the charge that as he was affiliated to the LeT, a group linked to the ISI, he was working at the behest of intelligence agency in Mohamand.


But Beithullah Mehsud lamented the death of Shah Khalid as a “big loss” and a week later, the head of the Harkatul Mujahideen, Fazlurrehman Khalil, landed up in Mohamand to broker a peace agreement between the two groups. Under the peace agreement, the followers of the dead Shah Khalid, following approval from the LeT leader Hafiz Saeed, agreed to abide by the rules of Omar Khalid and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.

Gul writes that the role played by the HuM chief as peacemaker between a Taliban-affiliated group and another linked to a Kashmir jihadi group in a tribal area of the North West Frontier Province “underlined the fact that activists of the all important organisations that had fought in Kashmir and were banned by the Pakistani government in January 200, had settled down in the tribal areas”.


The book contains a useful chapter of brief profiles of the various militant leaders in the tribal areas, including a more detailed one of Beithullah Mehsud. It also examines the “ISI Factor” in militancy. Gul describes the ISI’s quest for “strategic depth” and its overarching role in the affairs of the state, relating his own experience of being blacklisted by the intelligence agency as a “security risk” in 1997. In interviews with ISI and Army officials, he is told that while the agency supported various Kashmir jihadi groups and Taliban in the past, since the Kaloosha operation, the outlook had changed now.


“Why would we support forces that have become a direct threat to our own existence?” one unnamed official asks him. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Army chief, tells him in a meeting in January 2009 that he could not wish for Afghanistan “what we don’t want for Pakistan”. Gul writes that Kayani’s implication was that regardless of past relationships, the ISI must move on in the national and regional interest. And, that it had.


There were also officials who told the author that the ISI could not be prevented from doing what, according to them, other agencies, such as the CIA, the MI6, Mossad and Indian intelligence were doing in the region. There is a chapter on who funds the militants. Pakistan is awash with all kinds of theories on this, and Gul mentions all of them, but cautiously enough with a question mark on each.


Drawing from his first-hand reporting experiences, including conversations with several key actors, Gul has put together a very up-to-date book — it covers events until April 2009 — about a subject in which there is massive interest, but little expertise. The downside of the book’s current feel is that it seems too much culled from news reports, rarely venturing beyond the reported, with the author underplaying his own vast knowledge of the subject, his Pashto roots and connections in the area that he has written about.






Uganda is to host the African Union (AU) special summit on refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Africa in October, an official announced here on Wednesday. Tarsis Kabwegyere, Uganda’s minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, said the summit aimed at pursuing durable solutions to the causes and problems of Africa’s 17 million IDP’s and refugees, will be held at Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort, a Kampala suburb, from O ctober 19 to 23.


“African heads of state and governments are expected to take decisions that will help the continent progressively eliminate the phenomenon of large scale forced displacement of populations caused by human induced conflicts and natural disasters,” said Kabwegyere while addressing reporters here. The summit will be held under the theme, “Africa Union addressing the challenges of forced displacement in Africa,” with an outcome of an AU convention for protection and assistance of IDPs in Africa, said the minister. — Xinhua








“My collections have fallen by over 50 per cent as compared to last year,” says a despondent Prashant Balki in Devdhari where we run into him patrolling the village on his motorbike. Young Balki is a collection agent for the Wani Urban Bank in Yavatmal district. His job is to collect small sums each day from villagers in Ralegaon taluka who join the daily savings scheme of the bank. (Some banks call these tiny deposits “pygmy” saving schemes.) People have been badly hit by the drought and crisis,” he says. “They find even small amounts hard to give.”


“Naturally,” says Gulshan Ghai, a small storekeeper who’s walking by. “The price rise has been hurting people badly for quite some time. Now they’re staring at crop failure.” Ghai is also a farmer owning seven acres.

In Jarur village of Ghattanji taluka, Moreshwar Waitale is discovering that when he shifted from cotton to soybean four seasons ago, he traded one volatility for another. “Three seasons, soybean did okay and I escaped the kind of losses I suffered on cotton. So this year I brought all my 15 acres under soybean. Now it’s failing totally.” Cotton, while costlier to cultivate, is also hardier in the kind of weather Vidharbha finds itself facing. “Soybean is likely to go under much faster,” say farmers here. It is also riddled with pest in some parts of the district. The consensus is that late rains will help with fodder but not too much with crop yields.


Monsoon failure hits Vidharbha, certainly Yavatmal, at a critical time. Some things had changed in this district. A vigorous agitation — which saw hundreds of farmers incessantly beating drums outside banks — and a more receptive administration — saw Yavatmal actually cross its crop loan targets for the first in years. “Against the target of Rs. 520 crores,” says District collector Sanjay Deshmukh, “we touched Rs. 560 crores.” This was impressive and Yavatmal was the only district to do so in Vidharbha. The irony, he says, is that a drought could see the recipients of those loans turn defaulters next year. This is a genuine fear. Indebtedness, always high in this region, is again on the rise. Vidharbha’s problems did not arise from a drought, but will worsen with it. The next week will be the longest. A tense wait for the rains.


That the pressure is already on is evident in the fall in Balki’s daily savings collections and the distress sale of cattle in the villages. “People are not even taking their cattle to sell them in the main markets,” says Kishor Tiwari. “Trucks headed for the abattoir are picking them up right at the villages.” His organisation, the Vidharbha Jan Andolan Samiti spearheaded the stir against the banks. “Mainly, those sold at the market under normal conditions would be for draught and milch purposes. Those sold in this situation are often headed for the slaughter house.”


The Collector believes 80 per cent of this season’s crop can “still be saved if there are good rains within the week.” He also believes that a lot can be done to secure a better rabi season. Like many here, he supports the idea of digging a pond on every farm. That too, could help enlarge “the area under rabi from around 10 per cent to perhaps 30 per cent of the total 9 lakh hectares under cultivation in kharif.” The union rural development ministry’s latest announcement now allows, in theory at least, such ponds to be created on private farms through the NREGs. Meanwhile the district has to contend with a sinking water table and several talukas where rainfall has been sparse to nil for three weeks.


In the midst of the chaos, impending and real, we run into one of Yavatmal’s truly curious characters. He’s called “Lachchu Patel” but his real name is Lakshman Rao Bollenwar. He is of Telugu origin but his people have been here for generations. Lachchu’s family are not vegetarians. He has a poor opinion of the VHP and particularly of its gaushalas or cow shelters. “These people are not farmers,” he scoffs “and they know little about looking after cattle.” He on the other hand, is a skilled big farmer who does know cattle. “Cows are central to farming life,” he says and he does not mean that in religious terms. “I love cows.” So much so that he buys up cows bound for slaughter and cares for them. He presently shelters over a hundred such animals — apart from other livestock.


Lachchu became famous by intercepting cows due for slaughter on the roads, in the villages, “even at the butcher’s.” Not with violence or threats, but as a buyer. And the truck drivers carting cows to the abattoirs know a good touch when they see one. They stop at his house en route. “Knowing,” says one of his friends, “that they will get a much better rate from Lachchu than from the slaughter house. Earlier, he chased the trucks, now they come uninvited to his place.” But how on earth does he afford feeding them, big farmer though he might be? That’s where his skills and acumen come in. “About a dozen of these animals aren’t so bad,” says Lachchu. From these, after restoring them to health, he gets 40 litres of milk or more daily, which he can sell and make up to Rs. 800 a day on average. Or well over Rs. 20,000 a month. That still isn’t enough to care for such a large herd on the scale that Lachchu does. So he puts in the rest himself.


However, we press him, you cannot endlessly acquire new head of cattle, that too in bad shape? “Each year, I give away about 30 to 40 when I’ve got them healthy,” he says. “And since that’s about how many I pick up each year, the number remains roughly constant. All I ask is that the poor or needy family I give them to promises to keep the cow and not ever send it to the abattoir. It adds to their income and security. Farmers need cows. Cows need farmers.”


On the highways, though, are still vans headed for abattoirs. Evidence of farms in distress, losing the cows they need.








Poor farmers in the heart of Bolivia’s Amazon are being encouraged to embrace the annual floods — by using a centuries-old irrigation system for their crops. They are experimenting with a sustainable way of growing food crops that their ancestors used.


It could provide them with better protection against the extremes of climate change, reduce deforestation, improve food security and even promise a better diet.


These are the bold aims of a two-year-old project being carried out by a non-governmental organisation near Trinidad, the capital of the department of Beni.


The system is based on building “camellones” — raised earth platforms of anything up to 2 metres high, surrounded by canals. Constructed above the height of flood waters, the camellones can protect seeds and crops from being washed away. The water in the canals provide irrigation and nutrients during the dry season.


Pre-Columbian cultures in Beni from about 1000 BC to AD 1400 used a similar system.


“One of the many extraordinary aspects of our camellones project is that poor communities living in the Beni today are using a similar technology to that developed by indigenous pre-Columbian cultures in the same region to solve a similar range of problems,” says Oscar Saavedra, the director of the Kenneth Lee foundation.


He experimented for six years in his own garden to develop the complex system of hydrology.


Ancient and modern communities face the same problems — regular flooding followed by drought. ``The floods were the basis for development and the flourishing of a great civilisation,” says Mr Saavedra.


There were bad floods in 2006 and 2007, but last year the region saw the worst flooding in at least 50 years.


The floods affected some 120,000 people — a quarter of Beni’s population — and caused more than $200 million (119 million pounds) of damage. That experience prompted many local women to enlist in the camellones project.


“I had planted rice, maize, bananas and onions on my plot of land. But the water left nothing,” explains Dunia Rivero Mayaco, a 44-year-old mother of three from Puerto Almacen near Trinidad.


“I lost my house too. We had to live three months in temporary accommodation on the main road. The children got ill there.


“So that’s why I am working here on the camellones. I didn’t want to lose everything again.” About 400 families are now enrolled in the project in five locations, growing mainly maize, cassava and rice.


Many of the sites are still in an experimental phase, but the early signs are promising. Productivity appears to be on the increase. International charity Oxfam is supporting the project in part because it offers poor people the possibility of adapting to climate change.


Mr. Saavedra is convinced the camellones project can be expanded, even to other countries.


“This process could be repeated in various parts of the world with similar conditions to the Beni like parts of Bangladesh, India and China. It could help to reduce world hunger and combat climate change,” he says. — © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate









Britons have a rather complex love-hate relationship with the National Health Service which is both revered as a proud symbol of the post-war British welfare state and reviled as a lumbering, inefficient bureaucracy with an outdated service ethos. But this past week, it has been love all the way with the entire nation, including the usually NHS-bashing Tories, rising to its defence in a collective fit of anger and self-righteousness.


This extraordinary outpouring of affection for an institution that is often referred to as the “National Sick Service” is a reaction to the virulent anti-NHS campaign going on in America where right-wing critics of President Barack Obama’s proposed healthcare reforms have warned that if the reforms go through Americans would end up with an NHS-style , “evil” and “Orwellian,” system.


American media is said to be awash with horror stories about the NHS with campaigners resorting to what The Financial Times described as a “gross mis-characterisation” of Britain’s tax-funded healthcare .


“Some of the charges levelled against the NHS are plumb wrong: that Ted Kennedy would not get treatment for his brain tumour in the U.K.; that the NHS indulges in forced euthanasia; that people over 59 do not get coronary artery bypasses,” the newspaper said.


The old and the terminally ill are being warned that under an NHS–type regime they would be denied expensive life-saving drugs. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has lashed out against proposals to prioritise healthcare on the lines of NHS claiming that under such a system children like her own autistic son would be on the mercy of “death panels.”


Campaigners are desperately wooing Britons willing to criticise NHS. Two British women, who feature in a rabidly anti-NHS documentary being shown on American TV, have alleged that they were “duped” into taking part in it and that their views were distorted.


Kate Spall and Katie Brickell, who are shown saying they were “failed” by NHS, have said they were misled about the nature of the documentary and had no idea that their interviews would be used in a propaganda film.


“It has been a bit of a nightmare... I feel I have been duped,” Ms Spall told The Times saying she was appalled by how her words were used to portray her as someone who was against a tax-funded health service.

“The irony is that I campaign for exactly the people that socialised healthcare supports. I would not align myself with this group [who made the film] at all,” she said.


According to Ms Brickell, her well-intended criticism of NHS was “skewed out of proportion” giving the impression that she was opposed to it.


“My point was not that the NHS shouldn’t exist or that it was a bad thing. I think that our health service is not perfect but to get better it needs more money, not less,” she clarified.




Such is the level of hysteria that an American newspaper even dragged Stephen Hawking, the noted British scientist, into the controversy saying that someone like him would be considered “worthless” under an NHS-type system because of his disability. Prof. Hawking retorted that, on the contrary, “I would not be here today if not for the NHS.”


Britons have reacted to the attacks on the NHS by closing ranks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown leading the way. Mr. Brown, who is famously awkward with new media, took the extraordinary step of going on the social networking site Twitter to sing the praises of NHS.


“NHS often makes the difference between pain and comfort, despair and hope, life and death. Thanks for always being there,” he wrote with his wife Sarah (a self-confessed Twitter junkie) adding for good measure: “We love the NHS — more than words can say.”


Tory leader David Cameron also leapt to its defence hailing it as a “great national institution” and slapped down a party member of the European Parliament, Daniel Hannan, who caused outrage when he told Fox News that the NHS was so bad that he “wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”


Dismissing Mr. Hannan as an “eccentric,” Mr. Cameron said the Tories stood “four square behind the NHS.”


“One of the wonderful things about living in this country is that the moment you’re injured or fall ill — no matter who you are, where you are from, or how much money you’ve got - you know that the NHS will look after you,” he cooed.


Both Mr. Brown and Mr. Cameron owe a personal debt to the NHS. Mr. Brown, who lost sight in one eye as a schoolboy, has often said that but for the NHS he may have become totally blind.


Mr. Cameron, though, is a late convert to the NHS — discovering its virtues after his disabled son Ivan (who died recently) was treated in a NHS hospital. But for all his efforts to portray the Tories as “`the party of the NHS” there are deep divisions on the issue with a number of his senior colleagues said to be in favour of effectively dismantling it arguing that it is “no longer relevant to the 21st century.”


For now, though, faced with a “common enemy” across the pond, the new orthodoxy is to appear united in support of the NHS even if in their unguarded moments some Tories find themselves agreeing with Mr. Hannan’s description of it as a “60-year-old mistake.”








The Bharatiya Janata Party is widely thought to be in crisis. The perception was emphatically confirmed in a recent interview by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh boss Mohan Bhagwat, who made it clear that when it meets in Shimla for an extraordinary brainstorming session beginning Wednesday, the BJP must set its house in order, restore discipline, and carefully examine the causes of failing to make a mark in the recent parliamentary election. But by plucking out the expulsion card from out of the blue to fix Jaswant Singh, a former external affairs minister and a dissident member of the BJP’s core committee, the party is likely to have veered from this instruction.


The expulsion of the stylish, mildly colonial-mannered former military officer of feudal stock, with a taste for books and a few Western luxuries, is a distraction that the BJP can ill-afford at this juncture. It risks hijacking the real debate for the country’s second largest party. What would now come to the fore is the issue of the BJP’s intolerance as a brand, which cannot but send away the new generation with questions about such an outfit. Forgotten would be the matter of internal party discipline and authority that the RSS supremo alluded to in a public space, thus giving the matter some priority. While Mr Singh was in the core committee, he was really on the margins of the cracking organisational edifice. Fixing him for intellectual deviation is not to take even the first baby step to refurbishing the party’s shaken template. Parties that like to think of themselves as democratic, and want others to think of them that way, don’t go about serving expulsion notices on supposedly erring members before giving the latter a proper hearing that may be the political equivalent of due process. Should someone in Mr Singh’s place decide to make the issue legal, the BJP is likely to find itself in a foxtrap. Of whose making is it — the RSS’ or some bright spark in the BJP itself — is also a question that many in the wider Sangh Parivar may be asking themselves.


The former external affairs minister is in trouble with his party on account of his new book on Muhammad Ali Jinnah wherein the founder of Pakistan has been lauded, and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (along with Jawaharlal Nehru, but that doesn’t matter as the first Prime Minister is a hate object for the RSS parivar anyway) criticised for not preventing the Partition of India. Such a view is common in Pakistan but not in this country. It is not unlike a prominent American public figure praising an aspect of Josef Stalin. Is that such a big deal when life has moved on? In any case, for Mr Singh the question concerned conclusions emerging from his research, and not from first principles of anything. Punishing the researcher reminds one of Stalin’s Soviet Union outlawing any work of science that challenged the unconventional findings of the geneticist Lysenko (who was then in favour), and purging the erring individual. Political parties operating in a democratic framework cannot be run on such a basis in this day and age.









It is true that if investors’ holdings in the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and Public Provident Fund (PPF) are taxed at the time of withdrawal, they could be hurt pretty badly in financial terms. EPF and PPF are the two instruments which are generally used for retirement planning by the common people. Many in this category may not even enjoy pension benefits once this proposal comes into effect.


These are the two instruments which win hands down in comparison to any savings product mainly on three counts. One is that they have assured rates of return; second, they enjoy EEE (Exempt Exempt Exempt) cover, ie. they are exempt from tax at the contribution, accrual as well as withdrawal stage; and three, these savings cannot be attached by any court/legal authority.


The EPF and PPF will lose their charm as savings instruments if they are brought under EET (Exempt-Exempt-Tax), a procedure under which taking out any money from the fund at any stage will attract taxation. Even in the New Pension System, as per the proposals in the recent Budget, the part of the retirement corpus which would be annuitised for getting the pension would not come under EET but only the amount withdrawn would be taxable.


Another drawback of the proposal made in the Direct Tax Code that is to become applicable in 2011 is that we don’t know if the taxation envisaged in the context of EPF and PPF will be on a prospective or retrospective basis.


For example, if an individual has been subscribing to the PPF fund, say since 1990, and has accumulated Rs 7-8 lakhs, then we must know whether only his future contribution and accruals (after 2011) will be taxed or whether his earlier contribution plus accruals will also be brought under tax scrutiny. This must be made clear.


In case the government brings in the taxation proposal retrospectively, it is going to be a grossly unfair deal for ordinary people. For most of them EPF and PPF savings are all they have got to live on in old age.


Further, if EPF and PPF are brought under EET, then the tax incidence of balanced funds of mutual funds will be lower due to applicability of Long Term Capital Gains Tax in case of the latter. On average, the balanced funds of mutual funds give a return exceeding 10 per cent and therefore the post-tax returns under these funds would be around nine per cent or so. On the other hand, with EET taking effect, PPF and EPF would be giving a post-tax return of only 5.6 per cent to 6 per cent. That would be unfair to EPF and PPF subscribers.

These two schemes should remain outside the purview of taxation at the time of withdrawal.

Balram Bhagat, CEO, UTI Retirement Solutions



The proposed Direct Taxes Code seeks to tax withdrawals from savings such as Provident Fund (PF). This is a positive step for the country and the individual investor.


The basis for such taxation lies in implementation of the EET (Exempt-Exempt-Tax) method of taxation of savings, under which investment in such instruments are exempt from tax, interest earned is exempt from tax, but withdrawals from such savings at any time are taxed at the prevalent rate. Our current system is a hotchpotch of EEE (for provident fund and life insurance policies, exempt at all three stages of investment, earning and withdrawal), EET (for pension schemes, where annuity was taxable on receipt) and ETE (for National Savings Certificates, interest being taxable but contribution and withdrawal being exempt). In order to maximise one’s return from investments, one had to understand the tax impact of each type of investment that one was making.


The EEE method resulted in an exemption of invested income, which would be reduced from taxable income at the time of investment, with both principal and interest not taxed at the time of withdrawal or earning. The EET method merely defers the tax liability to a later point of time (withdrawal), and is overall tax neutral. EET method is followed in many countries, such as US (401K plans) and in western Europe.


The introduction of the EET method had been recommended way back in 2002 by the Kelkar Committee on Direct Taxes but had not been implemented. In 2005, the finance minister had announced the government’s intention to move to EET. EET is consistent with the government’s intention to reduce tax rates while simultaneously reducing the exemptions. When one considers the substantial increase in tax slabs, resulting in substantially lower personal taxes, and the higher deduction of Rs 3 lakhs proposed for investments, it is evident that this has to be offset by some increase in taxes elsewhere. The tax payable on PF withdrawals is one item which would neutralise the tax reduction to a great extent. It is time to understand that there is no such thing in life as a free lunch.


Savings decisions were hitherto distorted by tax considerations, with provident fund contributions and the like being blindly preferred for tax reasons.


Provident fund monies were mainly invested in government bonds. Now, savings decisions will be based on a rational evaluation of risks and returns, and not on tax considerations. This will result in channelling of individual savings into more productive avenues, resulting in better utilisation of capital, benefiting the country as a whole. The common man is better off earning a higher return on his investments though he may be taxed on such return.


Gautam Nayak is a chartered accountant and former president of the Bombay Chartered Accountants Society








Augest.20: Earlier this year, when Shah Rukh Khan (currently offended by paranoid Americans) renamed his film Billu Barber as Billu (so as not to offend protesting barbers), I had, as a concerned citizen plotting protective measures, suggested that Habib Tanvir change the name of his classic play Charandas Chor to simply Charandas. When perfectly respectable professionals like barbers can be offended by their job description informing their identity, imagine what a stigmatised, lowly profession like chori would do to dear old thieves. We shouldn’t be mean to them just because they can’t form an association and protest.

Well, it would not have helped. Two months after Habib Tanvir’s death, Charandas Chor has been banned. Not because it has offended thieves, but because it has angered Satnamis. Right before we celebrated 62 years of freedom, the Chhattisgarh government banned the book and the play and is recalling the book from libraries. Apparently because of some reference to Guru Ghasidas, the founder of the Satnam Panth, having been a dacoit in his early life.


Of course it is absurd. But not because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Chhattisgarh has suddenly woken up to the "insult" of the Satnamis. The pioneering play — based on Vijaydan Detha’s short story, which in turn was based on a Rajasthani folk tale — has been staged for almost four decades all over the country and in several languages, has won India international awards, changed our cultural landscape and was made into a film by Shyam Benegal in 1975. Traditionally, many of its actors were Satnamis. We have only recently acquired the habit of blackmailing the arts on account of being suddenly, and often inexplicably, hurt.


I first learnt of Chhattisgarh as a teenager watching Habib Tanvir perform Charandas Chor with his "Chhattisgarhi" Naya Theatre troupe in Kolkata. Decades before the state of Chhattisgarh was born, this play stamped on the nation a clear cultural and linguistic identity for Chhattisgarh. Yet it is not absurd that the state of Chhattisgarh has banned this masterpiece of modern Indian theatre.


In fact, it is only natural, in our carefully nurtured culture of brittle pride. Anybody muscular can claim offence and we rush to pamper them. We cut and tailor everything from current art to ancient history to suit the whims of the bullies. And watch sheepishly as the nonagenarian M.F. Husain is driven out of his own country by Hindutva goons who have decided to be offended by his art.


This ban fits beautifully in that ambience of mob intimidation. We have been promoting a violent tradition of social censorship for years, often propped up by formal censorships like bans and the deletion of "offensive" parts of books, films, art or plays. Logic or democratic freedoms have no place in this game of muscle power. So don’t ask what’s offensive about Guru Ghasidas being referred to as a former dacoit when Valmiki, who gave us the Ramayana, was a reformed dacoit, too.


Forget it. In 2000, a dialogue in the film Joru ka Ghulam referred to Valmiki as a dacoit, which got the Valmiki dalits hopping mad. And since we are falling over backwards to try and appease caste and religious sentiments, the film could play only after the "offensive" reference was deleted. Or take the Tegh Bahadur incident of 2001. Following protests by enraged Sikhs, a school history textbook was changed, deleting references to plunders by Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur.


So it is not absurd that Charandas Chor has been banned because Satnamis have threatened to agitate against what they perceive to be a negative reference to their guru.

Especially in that wondrous state of Chhattisgarh, where the government excels in curbing democratic freedoms in the name of peace and security. Where the fight between Naxals and the state have left lakhs homeless and thousands dead over the last four years. Where the alienation of the tribal population is complete as their land is snatched for industrialisation and the battle for development becomes a war between the Naxals and a state-sponsored, unconstitutional vigilante group, the Salwa Judum. Every day innocents die horrible deaths in this war. The state responds with more brutality.


This is the state where peaceful protest lands you in jail with fake criminal cases or under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA), where you could be held for years without bail as an anti-national. It’s the state that crushes democratic dissent with the impotent rage of one who has failed to protect its citizens from Maoist violence. The state that encourages the militarisation and criminalisation of the tribal community, and fails to recognise the Frankenstein’s monster it is creating.


This is the state that jailed Dr Binayak Sen without bail for over two years — partly in solitary confinement — merely for being in touch with Naxals. A doctor and civil rights activist, Dr Sen would naturally be in touch with anyone who needed medical attention, since he provided healthcare to locals in this tribal belt largely forgotten by government health networks. This is the state where the local press has lost its freedom, where journalists are jailed or killed for raising questions.

So it is not absurd that the Chhattisgarh government banned Charandas Chor.


And it’s not just Chhattisgarh. We still cling to a value system that can destroy an individual merely because of his family background. Take the denotified tribals. These are people from certain tribes that were once designated "criminal" by the British. But even today, people belonging to these tribes are publicly lynched, killed by the police or jailed. It’s in their blood, we say, they are a clan of criminals.


Often it makes more sense to reinvent your past than to expect 21st century India to revise its obsolete value system. Some of these silly protests are part of that reinvention of historical identities. And it is not absurd that a state with a disgraceful track record in democratic freedoms would swiftly reach for a ban.


We have allowed matters to come to a stage where our cultural freedoms can be curtailed by even the most fleeting reference. I cannot recall this matter of Guru Ghasidas being called a former dacoit in the play, and am inclined to believe, as someone suggested, that the reference was not in the play but in the preface to the book. In which case, was the play banned because some Satnamis objected to a statement it did not make? Now that — even in our cynical times — would be quite absurd.


Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at:









IN hindsight, it would appear that Mr Jaswant Singh’s new-found love for Jinnah and Muslims was the desperate salvo of a man who knew he was on the last boat out. Whatever injured innocence he may portray, he cannot claim that he was not aware that the BJP would throw him out for eulogising the founding father of Pakistan. After all, Mr L.K. Advani, too, had to quit as party president following similar remarks. The conclusion is obvious that Mr Jaswant Singh knew that his days in the BJP were numbered and he must make adequate retirement plans. Hence the change of tack on the status of Muslims in India. Mr Jaswant Singh, Mr Arun Shourie and Mr Yashwant Sinha had come to be considered dissidents following their criticism that those responsible for leading the BJP to defeat in the Lok Sabha polls had been rewarded. Yet, the party sought to delink him from the other two by nominating him chairman of the prestigious Public Accounts Committee of Parliament. But his praising the founder of Pakistan in his book, “Jinnah – India, Partition, Independence”, came as the last straw on the camel’s back.


The shape of things to come was clear when the entire BJP top brass kept away from the book release function in Delhi on Monday. The expulsion order came at the meeting of the Parliamentary Board of the party during the opening session of the three-day “chintan baithak” of the top leaders in Shimla. While there are some murmurs among party men that proper procedure was not followed, these are not going to grow too loud, considering that Mr Jaswant Singh had already become a virtual persona non-grata.


He was in the eye of a similar storm when he insinuated in his book, “A Call to Honour: In Service of Emergent India”, in 2006 that a mole existed in the prime ministerial office during the tenure of P V Narasimha Rao, who had leaked information to US sources. But the abiding legacy of Mr Jaswant Singh, who had held the portfolios of Finance, Defence and External Affairs under Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is the ignominy of personally escorting terrorists to Kandahar during the Indian Airlines hijack crisis. Mr Jaswant Singh’s political career—certainly with the BJP—has come to an end. The BJP action, however, will help him sell more of his book on Jinnnah.








THE Supreme Court has done well in dismissing the petition of nine suspended Haryana Public Service Commission members, including its chairman, M.S. Saini, for a writ for quashing the Presidential reference for their removal on grounds of “misconduct and financial bungling”. A Bench consisting of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice J.M. Panchal has not only rejected their plea to set aside their suspension by the Governor in August 2008 but also refused to equate them with public servants for purposes of applying the rules of dismissal as applicable for regular government employees. It ruled that the PSC members were holding constitutional posts and were governed by special provisions as envisaged by Articles 315 to 323 of the Constitution. The rationale behind empowering the Governor to issue summary suspension of the PSC members is to maintain public trust and confidence in the public service commissions, it observed.


Though the outcome of the Presidential reference will be keenly watched by the nation, the Supreme Court ruling once again brings to the fore the steady deterioration in the quality of those manning the PSCs in almost all the states and the imperative need for selecting men and women of unimpeachable character and integrity to these crucial posts. The manner in which Ravi Sidhu, the then Punjab Public Service Commission chairman, had swindled money is one shocking example of how the PPSC’s reputation was besmirched.


As the Bench has rightly underlined, for the successful functioning of the democracy, the PSC members’ selection process should be made foolproof. Few can disagree with its ruling that if persons of the “highest skill and irreproachable integrity” are appointed to these posts, these can be immunised from political pressure or favouritism. Indeed, much of the malaise in the PSCs can be checked if the Union Public Service Commission, instead of the state governments, selected chairmen and members of state PSCs. For fair and impartial selection as also good governance, the state governments would do well to keep off the selection of PSC members.









Should India go in for a fighter aircraft that is already with its main regional adversary – Pakistan? Well, this multi-billion dollar question is being hotly debated in the Indian Air Force fighter pilots’ community.


India has entered the second and most critical phase to purchase 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) at an estimated cost of $10 billion. The flight trials started in Bangalore from August 17. More trials will follow at Jaisalmer and Leh.


The short-listed six aircraft are: US Boeing’s F/A-18IN, American Lockheed Martin’s F-16IN, French D'assault's Rafale, Swedish Saab's Gripen, European consortium's Eurofighter Typhoon and Russian MiG-35.


The IAF intends to purchase the combat jets at an estimated cost of $10 billion to replace its ageing Russian-made MiG-21 fleet in phases and help in curbing the recent trend of depleting squadron strength. India had floated the tenders for this deal in August 2007. The exhaustive technical evaluation of the six global manufacturers’ bids was completed early this year.


The arrival of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 fighter plane for trails has made many in the IAF apprehensive. Its selection, they fear, may become a ‘combat disadvantage’ for India. India’s main regional adversary, Pakistan, has been operating F-16 aircraft since the mid-eighties and is currently flying the F-16 Block 50.


Top IAF officers believe that operating similar fighter aircraft means the Pakistan Air Force will be significantly aware of many of the F-16IN capabilities, employment philosophy and weaknesses.


This data in turn could be shared with the Chinese Air Force, considering the close political and military ties between the two countries. The aircraft is also well known to many Third World countries through sales to Egypt and Central Europe, among others.


One of them said, “Choosing the F-16 would inject an element of uncertainty and confusion for IAF pilots attempting to distinguish the friend from the foe if pitted against the Pakistan Air Force.”


There was no response from Lockheed Martin despite repeatedly asked by this correspondent: Why is F-16 aircraft suited for India despite Pakistan also having it?


Boeing's warplane F/A-18 was chosen to fly first for flight tests in Bangalore, beginning this week, to be followed by Lockheed Martin’s F-16 in August-end. The other contenders Rafale, Gripen, Typhoon and MiG-35 will come for flight tests later.


From Bangalore, the scene will shift to Jaisalmer for summer trials and to Leh for high-altitude trials. The whole process is likely to end by April next year. The first phase involved the training of Indian pilots on the competing aircraft in the country of origin. The second phase is the flight trials on Indian soil and airspace. The third phase will be the test of specialist weapons that the manufacturers provide on the aircraft in the country of their choice.


The IAF's number of squadrons had gone down to an alarming 31.5 squadrons in 2006. After the induction of British advanced jet trainers ‘Hawk’ in 2008, the fleet strength has increased to about 33.5 squadrons, compared to the sanctioned squadron strength of 39.5 squadrons. The MMRCA’s induction is likely to start by 2015. A maximum of 42.5 squadrons’ strength is expected in the IAF by 2022.


Regional challenges from China and Pakistan and the need to ensure the security of global trading routes at sea call for a careful consideration of the long-term effects of the MMRCA selection on India’s defence.


The short-listed aircraft offer a range of size, technology, capability and future growth. Key characteristics of the competitors should be considered that determine the defence posture contribution of the selected MMRCA aircraft.


Single engine vs. twin engine: The Lockheed Martin F-16IN and Swedish Gripen NG belong to the single-engine category and the Boeing F/A-18 IN, Russian MiG-35, French Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon belong to the twin-engine category.


Military aviation experts point out that the twin-engine aircraft historically have provided greater safety, launch/mission reliability and survivability in both peace and operations. This is substantiated by a study conducted by the US Air Force, which examined F-16 and F-15 accidents over a six-year period.


The twin-engine fighter aircraft is useful for India’s vast distances, climatic and elevation challenges, and for far-flung maritime approaches to secure. In combat or peace time, the twin-engine aircraft are more likely to bring the pilot home from varying conditions in which the IAF must operate.


Latest technology: This key factor will decide India’s future defence posture. Regional adversaries facing capabilities they do not possess may be deterred from aggressive action. Boeing has claimed that only F/A-18IN offers fully integrated Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar built specifically for the aircraft and operated by the offering country.


The rivals of F-6IN have claimed that its AESA Radar is not operated by the US. Lockheed Martin, however, claims that F-16IN is using Northrop Grumman APG-80 AESA revolutionary all-weather and precision-targeting sensor radar, which is the only AESA operational in the international market today.  


Stealth capability is another example of the most up-to-date technology providing a major capability edge. With the exception of the F/A-18IN, none of the short-listed aircraft offer designed in stealth technology. As a result, adversaries may eventually be able to add stealth capability to their aircraft.


Upgradation: The capability to add new systems in the future is another factor determining the defense impact of a candidate MMRCA aircraft. The capacity to add new avionics systems requires available weight margin, electrical power and cooling to accommodate additional systems. Compared to older and smaller designs, newer aircraft promise more opportunity for future growth. The short-listed aircraft also offer the opportunity to benefit from the upgrade plans and investments of the offering nation.


Boeing claims that the rival F-16 is now being retired from the US Air Force inventory. The MiG-35 and Gripen NG are said to be not in operational use by any nation. The F/A-18IN and Rafale aircraft are scheduled for continued use by the offering nations for many decades. In the long term, upgradation will be a key factor in the continued defence contribution of the MMRCA aircraft in the IAF.


The real ‘dog fight’ to win India’s most significant defence deal seems to be between the two American competitors, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.








FROM the gravel lot where he repairs cars, Babarak Shinwari can see the spot where the suicide bomber killed three of his cousins last year. At his home nearby, where his four children live without electricity, he says he prays to God for a president who can bring peace and security.


But on Thursday, Shinwari plans to vote the same way he did five years ago: for Hamid Karzai.


The fact that Karzai remains the favorite to win Thursday's election, despite his government's poor record on security and the economy over nearly eight years in power, says much about the mindset of Afghans as they prepare to go to the polls.


In interviews with more than a dozen residents on Tuesday near Jalalabad, heavily populated by Karzai's fellow Pashtuns, all said they planned to vote for the incumbent, even though many were critical of his performance.


That paradox reflects a deeply felt suspicion among Afghans of anyone promising change. In recent decades, Afghans have lived through periods of horrific violence and destruction, with each successive regime bringing greater deprivation than the last. Many Afghans reason that although Karzai's government has been disappointing, it could always be worse.


"We don't have any alternative to Karzai," Shinwari said. "We are afraid of what the other candidates might do." Indeed, low expectations may be Karzai's greatest ally.


"During the Taliban, we had dirt roads. There were few vehicles. Women couldn't go outside. There were no televisions, no mobile phones, no hotels, and now we have all those things," said Jalil Jan, 30, who owns two gas stations near Jalalabad. "It is true that violence has increased, and the Taliban is stronger, but Americans can't even stop the Taliban; how is Karzai expected to? He's trying his best."


Many Afghans also have misgivings about Karzai's most prominent opponent, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik whose ethnicity makes him unacceptable to a large number of Pashtuns, the nation's dominant ethnic group.


Abdullah has campaigned on his history of involvement with the armed resistance, first to Soviet occupation in the 1980s and then to Taliban rule in the 1990s. Although that message resonates with some voters, it alienates others who do not want to revisit such violent periods.


There are more than 30 other candidates, but none besides Karzai has a wide following. A poll by the International Republican Institute released last week found that 44 percent of Afghans plan to vote for Karzai, compared with 26 percent for Abdullah. A third candidate, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, trailed well behind.


"People still support (Karzai) because despite the high number of contenders, they don't see a real alternative," said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a nonprofit research group. Abdullah and Ghani "were part of Karzai's policies, so they're also responsible for the failures linked to them."

Before Karzai came to power, Khaiyal Wali, now 27, earned about $2,000 a year growing poppies for the drug trade. During Karzai's tenure, local elders forced him to stop, and now he earns about one-fifth as much cleaning fuel tanks. The U.S.-financed alternative agricultural development programs he had heard about brought him nothing, he said. "That was just on TV," he said.


But he still supports Karzai, if for cynical reasons. Corruption is endemic to politicians, he said, and Karzai and his cronies have had years to enrich themselves.


Karzai has also relied heavily on tribal elders, local officials and regional commanders, such as the Uzbek militia leader Abdurrashid Dostum, to generate votes for him. Ruttig said there is anectodal evidence of governors offering services to citizens groups, provided they support Karzai.


Under the law, governors are not allowed to use public resources on behalf of any candidate. Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission last week imposed a $1,500 fine on Karzai's second running mate, Karim Khalili, currently a vice president, for improperly using Defense Ministry helicopters for campaign events.


"(Karzai) effectively controls the administrative and provincial system, especially on the district level," Ruttig said. "Then you get the tendency, of course, toward the winner. If the trend is set, the impetus is there. Then more and more people flock to the guy perceived to be the winner."


By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








IN boardrooms, classrooms, bedrooms and the playing field, we all recognize the classic signs of a "Type A" personality. And most of us know that these hard-chargers seem to be at higher risk of heart attacks and strokes.


But who has ever heard of the Type D personality? Depending on whom you ask, D stands for distressed. Or it follows sequentially from Type A; Type B (A's opposite – laid-back, cooperative, slow to anger); Type C (a martyr – compliant, eager to please, and prone to hopelessness and depression; studies have shown Type Cs to be vulnerable to cancer and other malfunctions of the immune system).


In any event, Type Ds are notable for negative thinking, worrying, suppressed anger and a tendency to respond to stress by withdrawal and denial. They stew. They simmer. They blame themselves – and others. And when it comes to feelings, they're given to stoicism: They rarely give voice to strong emotions, such as anger, and are likely equally disinclined to acknowledge them, say, in daily journal entries.


Turns out, being a Type D isn't a personality type given to robust health, either, a fact that a new study underscores.


In an article in this week's Archives of Surgery, Dutch researchers found that Type D personalities who suffer from peripheral artery disease – a build-up of plaque in the lower body's veins and arteries that causes cramping and pain in the legs and pelvis – were more likely to die in the four years they were studied than fellow patients with peripheral artery disease who were not identified as Type Ds.


The study followed 184 patients diagnosed with peripheral artery disease and who had filled out questionnaires that identified their personality traits as Type D. Type Ds were strong on social avoidance and tended to fret a lot. They were mostly likely to agree strongly with statements such as "I often find myself worrying about something," or "I would rather keep people at a distance."


By the end of the study period, 16 of the Type-D PAD patients had died – three times the number expected among a group of their average age (64) and health status. That's despite the fact that the Type Ds on the whole had no greater risk factors for death than did any of the PAD patients in a larger study. Most – seven – died of cancer, and six of cardiovascular disease.


What is it about Type Ds that might make them more vulnerable to succumbing to a wide range of illnesses? For starters, said the study's authors – led by Annalies E. Aquarius – studies have shown that Type D personality types tend to respond to stress with a surge of stress hormones, and that their blood carries physiological markers of inflammation higher than those not identified as Type D. Inflammatory processes over time are widely believed to give rise to cancer and erode the function of arteries.


Beyond that, the researchers note, the types of behavior that emerge from Type D personalities might well lead to a reluctance to acknowledge unwellness, to seek care or to participate aggressively in one's treatment.


As physicians cope with epidemics of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, the authors say, the importance of personality types in influencing treatment decisions, quality of life and outcomes will be ever more important.


By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








After the ignominious defeat in the last Lok Sabha election factionalism in the party with a difference has been surfacing at regular interval. The latest infighting to erupt was the defiance of the Leader of the Opposition in Rajasthan Assembly, Vasundhara Raje to quit her position in spite of instructions from the central leadership. She had displayed her strength by parading more than 60 MLAs in Delhi who opposed the move of the central leaders. L.K.Advani, refused to meet the rebels and the BJP president Rajnath Singh disposed them with a stern warning that central directive should be observed. Vasundhara Raje had since softened her stance and might follow the directives of the central leadership. Vasundhara Raje was blamed for the BJP’s performance in the Lok Sabha election in Rajasthan and her inability to take all sections of leadership along with her. She also denied rumours that she would split from the BJP and form a new party. All these are happening before the Chintan Baithak held in Shimla from yesterday which was likely to be a stormy one.

The RSS which kept quiet so long stating that the BJP was an independent, autonomous organisation capable of managing its affairs had now given a jolt to the BJP leadership by openly expressing concern at the growing factionalism in the BJP. The RSS Chief, Mohan Bhagwat in an interview to a TV channel openly suggested handing over leadership to younger generation and advised L.K.Advani to choose his own time to exit. His views had the support of senior leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi. Added to the discomfiture of the BJP was the release of a book Jinnah-India, Partition and Independence written by the veteran BJP leader Jaswant Singh which absolved Jinnah of partition but put the blame on Nehru and Patel. Denigrating Sardar Patel and eulogising Jinnah were views totally against the Party’s basic ideology and belief. The BJP leaders had distanced themselves from the book which would provide enough fodder for the Chintan Baithak to stoke a fire. L.K.Advani had to quit as president after he praised Jinnah for secularism. The BJP adopted a resolution in June 2005 holding Jinnah responsible for founding a theocratic State and dividing India on communal lines. Therefore leaders like Sushma Swaraj has already condemned the book and its writer Jaswant Singh. Next few days would be crucial for the BJP.






Though the Union government had introduced the new pension system (NPS) from January, 2004 for new entrants to Central government services, except the Armed Forces, and the system was to be gradually extended to the remaining 87 per cent of India’s total work force including State government and unorganised sector employees on voluntary basis on the one hand and had established for the purpose the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) as far back as in August, 2003 to promote old age income security on the other, the passage of the Bill by Parliament is still awaited. However, the role of PFRDA, the regulatory body for the pension system, so far has been praise-worthy. It has remained engaged in the process of framing total NPS architecture consisting of a central record-keeping agency, pension fund managers and trustee bank. While the National Securities Depository Limited, selected as central record-keeping agency, has had already started functioning, the State Bank of India, UTI Asset Management Company and Life Insurance Corporation were appointed as pension fund sponsors under the system. Following the government decision to extend NPS to all citizens including unorganised sector, the PFRDA has announced that it would roll out the total pension system architecture within the financial year 2009-10 and has already appointed six pension fund managers, viz., the ICICI Prudential Pension Fund Management Company, IDFC Pension Fund Management Company, Kotak Mahindra Pension Fund, Reliance Capital Pension Fund, SBI Pension Fund and UTI Retirement Solution in order to manage the funds collected from the public. Though the scheme is a public-private partnership, the control remains with the government. To make it operative under public sector, the government has put PFRDA under the administrative supervision of the Finance Ministry so that it can better develop and regulate pension funds in the country. It is happy to note that the PFRDA, though belatedly, has already made the new pension scheme operative from May, 2009.


At this point, one could make a comparison of service conditions between the organised and the unorganised sectors. While the former with comfortable level of job security and social security comprises only 13 percent of total work force of the country, the unorganised sector under pitiable conditions of future security subsists as much as 87 per cent of India’s working population. Therefore, the pension system for unorganised sector should be fully implemented without any further delay. The reform is necessary to establish a solid and sustainable social security arrangement in the country. The NPS being a contributory system under which contributions are credited into a public account along with matching contribution of the government which is transferred to the fund managers appointed by PFRDA for management. It is heartening that most of the States have accepted the system and have notified similar schemes for their new recruits. The contributed amount will be invested in equity market, government securities and fixed income instruments in order to earn profits for the benefit of subscribers. Apart from this, the foreign direct investment in the pension sector might soon go up from the provision of 26 per cent to 49 per cent. However, the challenges of bringing the unorganised sector within its offer of taking appropriate investment decisions to secure optimum returns and of improving their financial literacy level remain to be faced.








In modern times, when changes take place rapidly, sixty odd years is no mean time. This is the length of time we have been free from the British Raj. Within the same period we have parts of India doing very well, when we have gone backwards in real terms. And within this period the world has moved on dramatically making progress in all fields of science, technology, social reforms like human rights and care in health. Extensive space programmes to various planets, satellite navigation, MRI scanners, gene therapy, mobile phones, e communication, super computers, wide highways and underground drainage systems are making further gaps between the two lands I am so close to.


Every visit we make to Assam we see the unmistakable signs of desolation and hopelessness all around. Can a few buildings here and there, some bumpy roads and some badly maintained institutions, account for sixty plus precious years spent so far? What has happened to a land that was once so lush, so fertile and so peaceful? Or is it those precise qualities that naturally lead to drastic decays of any dreamland if not looked after properly? It is a place now, to a great degree, more akin to the failed lawless countries of Africa, where fear outweighs courage and despondency outweighs hope. Where the young and educated leave their country unsure with their future and the elders succumb to inevitability.

The state of our economy is in tatters. There is shortage of work for many. There are very few industries of any scale including cottage industry. Corruption is rampant in all places. Nothing works without bribes in offices of all kinds - to obtain a document, renew a licence or validate a permit. The customary manners, courtesy and civility we are obliged to extend to the public no longer exist in the offices and institutions. Even women, who by mark of any civilization are treated with some respect everywhere in the world, are treated disgustingly. Many of the government, semi-government, even private offices and business places are without any discipline. Many are drab, filthy, dilapidated, lack facilities and its air filled with stench.

On the issues of law and order it is more of a hope and pray. Many, not having trust in it and fearing lack of action and exploitation would not report a case to the police. Court cases take too long as the system is not designed to expedite the process of justice. The police are not vigilant. Miscreants can get away with the most serious of crimes like knifing, vandalism and shooting. The unabated acts of violence and terrorism takes increasing number of lives every year. There is no end in sight of misery. The general public feel insecure and give into helplessness. The legal personnel–lawyers and other clerical facilitators are very expensive, whimsical with their charges, non-transparent and lack responsibility.

The State's health care facilities are minimal at best and due to filthy hygienic conditions, most times remain almost unusable. The uneasy choices are private medical care and that too are of semi acceptable standard. Only the well off can afford it. To avail these services, some desperate ones even have to sell their precious possessions making them destitute forever. With huge potholes and puddles of muddy waters, our roads are serious dangers to pedestrians and bikers who are afraid of going to towns and cities. There are very little drainage facilities that cause floods to occur with any amount of raining. Streets are dark, lights are scant, a few works, many vandalised and the rest are badly maintained. On occasions discord amongst various groups of people based on ethnicity is seen to erupt in violence resulting in burning, looting and killing. Education is limited to training, highly tuition oriented and geared for passing examination only. There is very little education that teaches young people to become well-rounded citizens. It is a dismal picture of a once charming place, endowed with everything one could ask for.

While some amount of blame can be attributable to the terrorists’ activities and the issue of illegal migrants to Assam, are not there other issues that are equally responsible for the state we are in? If we do not look into these issues seriously and find ways to mend them, will we ever alter the state we are in?

While it is possible to list as many issues that have brought us to this perilous state, it is important to know the underlying elements that caused us to arrive at this state. A typical way to look at these problems would be to say some customary words - the lack of investment, lack of material resources, lack of infrastructure, lack of security and lack of human resources. No doubt we can argue about this and point score for no meaningful purpose, the unflattering factor we have to consider is looking at ourselves critically. If we fail to do this no other avenues can lead us to success. We have to acknowledge that people create nations and hold onto them. It is the nature of people, the character of people that make successful societies and successful lands. It is almost like a magnificent house, if occupied by people that have no respect for the labour and cost that went into the making of it, and had no commitment to work hard and maintain it well, does naturally decay.

In this critical juncture we have to ask ourselves the question, if we cannot do it, how come others are doing? We must have the courage to look into ourselves and face the facts. Doing so, should give us the determination to alter our mind-set in a host of matters that will lead us to act properly to produce results. We have to be able to question our qualities like honesty, work ethics, willingness, inventiveness, patience, tenacity, responsibility, trust, intelligence, skill and all others, compare it with other workers in India and elsewhere. Naturally the opportunity to get trained is the first element in the whole process of economic regeneration that cannot be denied.

Looking at the bigger picture, true, of all these elements, human resources top the list. The lack of traditional skilled and unskilled human resources is one of the main factors behind our failure to take part in sharing the nations economic activities. There are hardly any indigenous labours, plumbers, carpenters, bricklayers, roofers, electrician, car mechanics, painters and decorators. They perform the bulk of the economic activities involving a huge number of workers. The Governments also spend a substantial amount of the budget on these groups of workers. Of these vast sums, very little money goes to the indigenous people. These are the people who are very poor and they need income.

Our work force is not occupationally balanced. Being proud of a few doctors, engineers, accountants and some administrative staff is foolish. We do not have the right number of workers of different trades. That is why people from other States or now illegal migrants have their hands on our budget. A nation can only develop if they have all types of workers within their population. Our failure to organise adequate training facilities of all kinds, to encourage our young people to choose a career path, to value dignity of labour are the root causes of having very few Assamese workers in these fields. Neither it is true that these workers do not earn a decent wage.

Considered carefully we will notice that people that have come from outside Assam do make a living, very often incredibly well. They do not complain of not being given a job. They invent their ways either with a very ordinary job or a small business. The question of giving encouragement or opportunity is a selective one while getting involved by oneself in the lowest level is a pragmatic move open to everyone.

Whatever we say or do as individuals, the bulk of the responsibilities of looking after a place is through its political machinery. Here we see the inability to make changes from the age-old caste, creed, tribal roots and language barriers. We are glued to the past and are fixed in trying to solve the problems of today with yesterday’s tools. Solid social changes are rare. A few inter-caste or inter religious marriages do not signify any accountable changes. Unable to digest these injustices some resort to violence. We forget the main purpose of our being in a particular capacity i.e. to serve all of our citizens. The Assamese must get their acts together.








Birthdays come and go without creating much of a stir. But one birthday that is always remembered with love and admiration is that of Rajiv Gandhi although he is no more physically alive in this world. Cruel hands of assassination put an end to this precious life 16 years ago but yet he is very much alive in the minds and hearts of the people who miss him today on his birthday and everyday. If someone asks what are those particular qualities which have made such an imprint on the minds of the people – the answer would be his innate sincerity, old world manners, burning patriotism and a great hurry to create something enduring for making this country a front-ranking one globally. The good that Rajiv did has lived on after him-even his political opponents and hostile critics have to acknowledge his abiding contribution to India. Many “firsts” are credited to him – the technology mission- knitting the country together by the upto date state-of-the-art tele-communication system – effective use of computers – more importantly laying the foundation of liberalisation and globalisation – the outflow of which has been paying large dividends. Thanks to the idea laid by him, our coffer is full with foreign exchange so much so that there is a problem of plenty and many fiscal steps have to be taken to abate the fury of inflation and keep the economy on an even keel. India today has opened up as a great trading country generating income to countless number of people and even the shock of global recession has not affected us so much as other countries because of the well set out financial foundation laid by Rajiv Gandhi.

Never did any leader make such an enduring mark in laying the foundation of making India a modern country well poised to be one of the most leading countries in the world. The Indian economy today has made rapid strides chiefly due to information technology, computer, knowledge outsourcing and so on. If Bangalore or Hyderabad today are the global information technology cities, our mind has to turn to Rajiv Gandhi – a decision, which he took in 1985 to set up a Texas instruments satellite earth station for a software facility. Today’s success stories of Infosys, TCS and Wippro could not have been possible without what Rajiv Gandhi did years back. The success story of the IT sector has changed the lives of thousands of middle class people and earned for India not only billions of dollars but international respect as well.

The work done under his leadership in the telecom technology mission in the 1980s laid the foundation for the boom that we have in this sector.

Much of the economic progress India has made today has to be ascribed to the turning point made by Rajiv Gandhi in his 1985 budget, which broke from old mind-sets and turned an import substitution economy towards exports, cut back key import duties and taxes on profit and commenced the process towards liberalisation and market economy. This budget became the sheet-anchor of this process which has been yielding good results leading the country towards being an economic power to reckon with comprising export boom, high growth rates and a boost to the middle class.

Rajiv Gandhi was many things to many people but one single aspect that stood out was his passion for modernisation of India – modernisation just not of industry but more fundamentally modernisation of minds and attitudes. He talked of the change of mind-set and removing of the bureaucratic red-tape barriers and also a society, which nurtures the infrastructure of education, health-care, employment generation and so on.

He wanted the scientists and technologists to work and solve the problems relating to water-management and improved sanitation so that the people particularly in the rural areas get a better quality of life.

Rajiv Gandhi used to say that he has a vision to see India at the pinnacle of her glory and march forward as a country knitted in the fabric of democracy. Today if he walks into India, he will be happy to see that many of his dreams and vision have been realised. India is marching ahead as he had wished and worked for.

Bottom-up governance was one of the highlights of his leadership. He was always concerned about the delivery system and he used to say that funds earmarked for rural development hardly reach at the grass roots. He aimed at rectifying this flow and Panchayat Raj in an effective manner was his brainchild. Being almost a greenhorn in polities was his greatest asset – he had no pre-conceived ideas nor was his mind entrenched in the cobweb of antiquated ideas. He had a clean canvas on which he could paint the future of India, his dreams vision and visualisation and the road-map to reach these objectives. To him every step forward was a joy to him every obstacle a challenge. His idea of responsive decision making meeting periodically the Deputy Commissioners followed by Chief Minister Gogoi in Assam and solving issues in the spot has been accepted in Assam with the slogan “peoples’ Raj is at peoples’ courtyard”. He always used to say that if there is no progress in the rural sector India could never become a quality country and with this view etched in his mind, as a General Secretary of the Congress, he used to visit the rural areas of the Country. This pilgrimage in the rural areas gave him an incisive insight and stood in good stead in making him a successful Prime Minister.

Reformist as he was, during his lifetime he could not see the full fruition but whatever he aimed at, much has been achieved. If India today is at the threshold of being a great economic power, free from the shackles of regulated economy, a resurgent middle-class with a great purchasing power, we have to acknowledge the lead role that Rajiv Gandhi played. He will always be remembered with love and respect and no wonder he has found his place in history as a man who led the break-through of India into a vibrant global economic power.


(Published on the occasion of birth anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi).








It is hard to quibble with the Mashelkar Committee’s report on patenting of pharmaceutical substances for its main theme — that it is wrong to deny patents to incremental innovations if they have “significantly better safety and efficacy standards” over the known molecule.

Today, great innovations are the aggregation of a series of small steps that modifies the existing art with valuable benefits to mankind. Of late, there has been a drying up of new first-in-class drugs, which can be called fundamental or breakthrough inventions. However, this dearth of original discoveries doesn’t make a case for refusing rewards to those who do genuine R&D in this capital-intensive area that is fraught with the risk of expensive failures.

After all, there is ample evidence to show that certain modifications of pre-existing drugs — like new dosage forms and delivery systems — result in greater overall efficiency through avoidance of hospitalisation, fewer side effects, better patient responsiveness, etc. Patenting of useful incremental inventions would benefit a host of leading Indian drug companies and pubic-sector R&D institutes as much as the big foreign companies. Two-thirds of the patent filings by the CSIR, in fact, are of this category. Also, many Indian companies are aggressively seeking such patents abroad even as they pitch for a rather restrictive regime here.

Yet, as the report implies, the policy should distinguish between innovations that are truly of use to the patient-consumer and those which are not. Patent authorities need to have no compunction in rejecting claims based on trivial changes to the original patented product if they don’t seem to give any significant additional benefit to the patient. In fact, this line of thought is already reflected in India’s Patent Act, thanks to the 2005 amendment.

Section 3(d) precludes patenting of new forms of a known substance if no significant improvement in efficacy is established. Also, what are called “new-use patents” is disallowed. The report merely endorses this policy. No doubt, any attempt at ‘evergreening’ of patents, through nondescript modification of existing therapies shortly before the original patent expires, ought to be thwarted. Such ploys can undermine the efforts of generic drug industry. What matters is how honest and circumspect the patent authorities are.







There’s welcome policy attention on the issue of high domestic prices of aviation turbine fuel (ATF) — the Centre has constituted a GoM for the purpose. The main reason why ATF prices are about 60% higher in India is because taxes, especially sales tax, on the fuel are the highest in the world. It’s an anachronism from the days of autarky, pre-reform and high taxes generally, when only a tiny elite did travel by air.

Now that civil aviation is far more accessible pan-India, the states do need to rationalise local levies on ATF. The extant rates are in the 28-30% range. Also, the steep marketing margins charged on ATF varies between 16-21%. The result is that fuel costs add up to as high as 42% of operational expenses in domestic aviation.

Abroad, the corresponding figure is far lower at under 25%. Lower sales taxes and reasonable marketing margins are clearly warranted given that growth in air passenger traffic is expected to be strong in the foreseeable future. The volumes are likely to increase by around 8.5% annually over the next five years, after a drop of 4.7% last year, and high-flying growth of 46.4% posted in 2006 and 32.6% in 2007.

The domestic aviation industry was banking on roaring passenger offtake well into the medium term and beyond and has greatly over-extended itself with massive capacity addition, and is now thoroughly in the red. But while the airlines do need to rework their business plans, there’s a sound case for moderating local taxes on ATF.

Besides, we are just about scratching the surface when it comes to air travel. India is a large country yet its annual per capita air trips amount to a lowly 0.02, compared to 0.1 for China and as high as 2.2 trips for the US. So there’s huge potential for air traffic growth here. Additionally, our population in million per aircraft is way too high at 2.89.

The figure is 1.14 for China, 0.63 for Brazil, and as low as 0.05 for the US. So there’s likely to be sustained momentum both for aircraft acquisition and passenger traffic. That surely calls for lower ATF taxes and competitive retail margins.







Shekhar Kapur has come up with what is possibly the most brilliant suggestion after Shahrukh Khan’s airport detention episode: that President Barack Obama should invite the Indian superstar and his airport interlocutor to clear the air over some beer, a la a certain professor and a policeman.

Maybe the gambit will work better this time if they add some kebabs, since the idea is to bridge the cultural divide. It would do the beleaguered US chief executive a world of good, since his healthcare initiative has not only been stymied by battle-hardened politicos but also caused his popularity index to fall alarmingly among those who expected miracles.

What could be a better antidote than a strong dose of Bollywood ballyhoo and bonding? They could have meaningful exchanges on their unusually similar life stories, both having reached the top of their professions when no one really gave them much of a chance of winning. They could commiserate with each other too about having to face the travails of having their every move dissected by avid fans and opponents alike.

They would surely find common cause on the difficulties of living up to their images, even if Obama cannot avail of SRK’s escape route that he is merely acting a hero’s role. They could even trade (health-related) notes on kicking their respective smoking habits in the national interest before they get down to discussing how Obama’s now-legendary run for the top job can be transmogrified into a masala movie starring — you guessed it — SRK.

The articulate Indian could also, without a doubt, give the earnest US President a few canny tips on how to talk without the help of a teleprompter and bring a bit of charming self-deprecating humour into his pronouncements. Given their fan followings, however, it is not inconceivable that both would come away from the beer summit with ideas on what to do post-Bollywood and post-White House. Contemplate a plunge into the other’s arena, perhaps?










The Bharatiya Janata Party is widely thought to be in crisis. The perception was emphatically confirmed in a recent interview by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh boss Mohan Bhagwat, who made it clear that when it meets in Shimla for an extraordinary brainstorming session beginning Wednesday, the BJP must set its house in order, restore discipline, and carefully examine the causes of failing to make a mark in the recent parliamentary election. But by plucking out the expulsion card from out of the blue to fix Jaswant Singh, a former external affairs minister and a dissident member of the BJP’s core committee, the party is likely to have veered from this instruction.

The expulsion of the stylish, mildly colonial-mannered former military officer of feudal stock, with a taste for books and a few Western luxuries, is a distraction that the BJP can ill-afford at this juncture. It risks hijacking the real debate for the country’s second largest party. What would now come to the fore is the issue of the BJP’s intolerance as a brand, which cannot but send away the new generation with questions about such an outfit. Forgotten would be the matter of internal party discipline and authority that the RSS supremo alluded to in a public space, thus giving the matter some priority. While Mr Singh was in the core committee, he was really on the margins of the cracking organisational edifice. Fixing him for intellectual deviation is not to take even the first baby step to refurbishing the party’s shaken template. Parties that like to think of themselves as democratic, and want others to think of them that way, don’t go about serving expulsion notices on supposedly erring members before giving the latter a proper hearing that may be the political equivalent of due process. Should someone in Mr Singh’s place decide to make the issue legal, the BJP is likely to find itself in a foxtrap. Of whose making is it — the RSS’ or some bright spark in the BJP itself — is also a question that many in the wider Sangh Parivar may be asking themselves.

The former external affairs minister is in trouble with his party on account of his new book on Muhammad Ali Jinnah wherein the founder of Pakistan has been lauded, and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (along with Jawaharlal Nehru, but that doesn’t matter as the first Prime Minister is a hate object for the RSS parivar anyway) criticised for not preventing the Partition of India. Such a view is common in Pakistan but not in this country. It is not unlike a prominent American public figure praising an aspect of Josef Stalin. Is that such a big deal when life has moved on? In any case, for Mr Singh the question concerned conclusions emerging from his research, and not from first principles of anything. Punishing the researcher reminds one of Stalin’s Soviet Union outlawing any work of science that challenged the unconventional findings of the geneticist Lysenko (who was then in favour), and purging the erring individual. Political parties operating in a democratic framework cannot be run on such a basis in this day and age.









Addressing the media in Shimla shortly after he was expelled from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Jaswant Singh made the point that when a political culture interrupted reading, writing and the process of intellectual enquiry, it entered a “dark alley”. He was hurt, he said, that “dissent and discussion” were not appreciated in his former party.


There is a superficial cogency to this argument. At a basic level, the idea that a person can be thrown out of a political party — or, indeed, any group — merely because he writes an inconvenient book is repugnant to liberal values. Yet to some degree Jaswant Singh had it coming, and he should have read the warning signs.


For a start, it would be naive and silly to believe that a practising politician — as opposed to an independent writer, journalist or academic — has unfettered liberty to say and write what he wants. This wasn’t true of Athenian democracy and is not true of contemporary India.

In his book Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence, Jaswant insists that Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel were at least as guilty of the division of India as Muhammad Ali Jinnah. As tightly-scripted news analysis written in August 1947 this may have been acceptable; in August 2009, however, it challenges the version of history India has inherited as its doctrinal legacy and is comfortable with.
Every nation has its foundational beliefs. Occasionally, these may even be foundational myths. To snub these foundational beliefs — which is what Jaswant ended up doing, even if he hadn’t started off with the intention — is fine for a fringe intellectual. A politician in a mainstream party — Congress, BJP, or any other — simply does not have that licence.

Other societies may seem more permissive in comparison. Yet, consider if a senior Labour or Conservative MP, a former minister of defence, wrote a book contending that in the 1940s Britain and Germany could have carved up Europe between them, that Hitler was an eminently reasonable chap and that Winston Churchill played difficult and did not agree to equal terms. The British MP might not have been expelled from his party — but there would certainly have been a furore. The party would have dissociated itself from the book, called it a personal opinion and probably dropped the MP for the next election, perhaps citing negative feedback from his constituency.

That aside, Jaswant’s use of the word “dissent” is perhaps less than honest in the context of the book. In his biography of Jinnah, the former minister calls India a “multinational state” — an expression that only Communist radicals have so far used for this country. He claims that the alternatives to Partition — a bitterly divided India, with six Muslim provinces that would have been almost completely independent of the federal government — were consistent with the post-1947 creation of linguistic states and granting of reservations to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities.

This is not harmless or even provocative dissent. It is a fundamental disagreement with the BJP’s idea of India. The two cannot be reconciled and the party was bound to ask Jaswant to explain himself, or retreat.
It is true, however, that in normal times negotiation may have resulted between the party and its intellectually-deviant member. There could have been the “call to clarify”, the “showcause notice”; the sledgehammer of an immediate expulsion would have been less likely.

Here Jaswant suffered on two counts. First, in recent weeks, the BJP has resembled a free-for-all. Leaked letters, media interviews, wild speculation and political adventurism: the party has been nursing multiple self-inflicted wounds. In his August 18 television interview, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat voiced the Sangh’s concern and said BJP functionaries had to regain “their balance quickly”.

It became imperative for the party leadership to be seen to be cracking down. Jaswant and his book provided the first available opportunity.

Second, Jaswant has always been a bit of a lone wolf in the BJP. When the party’s parliamentary board sat down to consider action against him, not one person disagreed with the expulsion proposal. He had no one to speak up for him. Why?

There is a history to this. All these years Jaswant kept away from organisational responsibility. There was a feeling in some quarters that he was a political careerist. This didn’t win him friends. He allowed the impression to be formed that he had got more out of the party than he gave back. After the May 16 election debacle, when he wrote a letter to the party president demanding parity between “parinam” and “inam” (result and reward), fingers were pointed at his own trajectory in the BJP.

In the past five years, Jaswant was a disappointing Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Trivial matters — such as his retaining of a second ministerial bungalow, or the controversy over a “mole” in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government — acquired a larger-than-necessary identity and got the party nowhere.
In Rajasthan, he chose to become dissident factionalist rather than elder statesman. On the day Rajnath Singh was announced as BJP president in Mumbai in December 2005, Jaswant met him and asked him to sack Vasundhara Raje as chief minister.

During the 2009 Lok Sabha election campaign, he kept aloof. When he did intervene — making an appearance with Bhairon Singh Shekhawat after the former vice-president breached propriety and presented himself as a candidate for Parliament and for the prime ministership; bringing up the Kandahar episode out of the blue — he only embarrassed the BJP.

The hard fact is, like some other seniors in the party, the BJP should have pensioned off Jaswant in 2004. If he had written his Jinnah book as a semi-retired backbencher or as a somewhat eccentric former MP, it would not have been a problem. Unfortunately, Jaswant continued to see himself as part of the frontline and actually thought he was in the running for the party leadership in the Lok Sabha.
All this caught up with him in Shimla on Wednesday. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, destroyer of a conference in the very city in 1945, did it again.


Ashok Malik can be contacted at [1]








The twin rocket attacks of August 18 in Kabul were mere grim reminders of the security challenges facing Afghanistan as it goes to the polls on Thursday. These elections are crucial for the Afghan people, the international community and India.

There are over 40 candidates in the fray with diverse ethnic backgrounds and ideological orientation, ranging from pro-Communist to pro-Taliban, and yet there is no clear winner in sight. If none of the candidates garner more than 50 per cent votes, the top two go to a “run-off” election in early October. According to opinion polls conducted by the US-based International Republican Institute and Gluvem Associates, President Hamid Karzai led his rivals by a comfortable margin, but fell short of the 50 per cent mark.

President Karzai’s strongest rival is Dr Abdullah Abdullah, his former foreign minister and leader of the largest Opposition block, the National Front. Dr Abdullah, a half-Pashtun and half-Tajik ophthalmologist, draws heavily on his association with slain mujahideen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. He has travelled extensively addressing public rallies and has buttressed his support base in north Afghanistan.
Mr Karzai’s waning popularity may well propel Dr Abdullah into a strong second place. To win in the second round, Mr Karzai and Dr Abdullah would require help from the third major contender, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. Mr Ghani is a Pashtun who grew up in Kabul, studied in the United States and worked at the World Bank. During his tenure as finance minister, Mr Ghani managed to create a stable monetary system and set the stage for investment and development.

Both Dr Abdullah and Mr Ghani have worked on the plank of “hope and change”. Dr Abdullah has proposed replacing the current system of government with a parliamentary system; Mr Ghani termed his campaign “A New Beginning” and pledged an alternative to “years of misrule”. His promises include a handbook for Western combat troops’ conduct and a road map for their eventual exit.
The list of candidates also includes a dark horse — Ramazan Bashardost, an ethnic Hazara who, according to a recent poll, is predicted to get as much as 10 per cent of the votes. He has eschewed the powerful tribal patronage networks and has maintained no ties with former mujahideen warlords. His anti-corruption plank and critique of international non-governmental organisations’ role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan has won him appreciation from the locals. Mr Bashardost will play the role of a power-broker if the election enters a “run-off” mode.

In his first term, Mr Karzai disappointed his supporters. There is wide-spread disillusionment arising out of rising insecurity, spread of the Taliban-led insurgency, inadequate reconstruction process, mounting civilian casualties, narco trade and continuation of the system of patronage, corruption and cronyism.
But Mr Karzai has made a strong bid for re-election. His campaign emphasised the need to expand on government’s achievements on social and economic issues and highlighted recent developments in infrastructure and in the protection of human rights. Mr Karzai’s ratification of the controversial Shia Personal Status Law, that condones marital rape, raised severe domestic and international criticism, but apparently was a move to garner support from the Shia community.

The West-educated President has deep tribal and ethnic affiliations and is not new to brokering power deals. His political manoeuvrings aimed at an electoral victory include scattering the opposition and winning over tribal leaders and local commanders who control large swathes of rural Afghanistan. He has struck deals with warlords, the insurgent local commanders and released even those convicted in the opium trade.


US officials have maintained a public stance of not identifying with any particular candidate for the future Afghan President’s legitimacy would largely be undermined if the elections were to appear “fixed”. The elections, nonetheless, remain a test of the Af-Pak strategy of the Obama administration given that the troop surge was intended to enable civilians to participate in the election process and, in a way, to blunt the insurgent campaign of intimidation and violent retribution.

A credibly-elected Afghan president and his future performance would, thus, be critical for an eventual US exit plan from that country. For the Nato countries, elections would somehow justify their presence in that country and the body bags that the conflict generates every passing day.

Afghanistan’s major woes come from Pakistan where the Taliban leaders have found sanctuaries. Pakistan would have major interest in getting more pro-Taliban forces in the Afghan government to build its leverages.

India has a huge interest in stabilising Afghanistan. While it has not publicly identified with any one particular candidate, it has been a close ally of President Karzai, and ample goodwill exists for Dr Abdullah.

In the end all that would please New Delhi is a peaceful election that would place in office a legitimate government that works towards bringing stability and development to a conflict-ridden country.











It is true that if investors’ holdings in the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and Public Provident Fund (PPF) are taxed at the time of withdrawal, they could be hurt pretty badly in financial terms. EPF and PPF are the two instruments which are generally used for retirement planning by the common people. Many in this category may not even enjoy pension benefits once this proposal comes into effect.
These are the two instruments which win hands down in comparison to any savings product mainly on three counts. One is that they have assured rates of return; second, they enjoy EEE (Exempt Exempt Exempt) cover, ie. they are exempt from tax at the contribution, accrual as well as withdrawal stage; and three, these savings cannot be attached by any court/legal authority.

The EPF and PPF will lose their charm as savings instruments if they are brought under EET (Exempt-Exempt-Tax), a procedure under which taking out any money from the fund at any stage will attract taxation. Even in the New Pension System, as per the proposals in the recent Budget, the part of the retirement corpus which would be annuitised for getting the pension would not come under EET but only the amount withdrawn would be taxable.

Another drawback of the proposal made in the Direct Tax Code that is to become applicable in 2011 is that we don’t know if the taxation envisaged in the context of EPF and PPF will be on a prospective or retrospective basis.

For example, if an individual has been subscribing to the PPF fund, say since 1990, and has accumulated Rs 7-8 lakhs, then we must know whether only his future contribution and accruals (after 2011) will be taxed or whether his earlier contribution plus accruals will also be brought under tax scrutiny. This must be made clear.

In case the government brings in the taxation proposal retrospectively, it is going to be a grossly unfair deal for ordinary people. For most of them EPF and PPF savings are all they have got to live on in old age.

Further, if EPF and PPF are brought under EET, then the tax incidence of balanced funds of mutual funds will be lower due to applicability of Long Term Capital Gains Tax in case of the latter. On average, the balanced funds of mutual funds give a return exceeding 10 per cent and therefore the post-tax returns under these funds would be around nine per cent or so. On the other hand, with EET taking effect, PPF and EPF would be giving a post-tax return of only 5.6 per cent to 6 per cent. That would be unfair to EPF and PPF subscribers.


These two schemes should remain outside the purview of taxation at the time of withdrawal.

Balram Bhagat, CEO, UTI Retirement Solutions





The proposed Direct Taxes Code seeks to tax withdrawals from savings such as Provident Fund (PF). This is a positive step for the country and the individual investor.

The basis for such taxation lies in implementation of the EET (Exempt-Exempt-Tax) method of taxation of savings, under which investment in such instruments are exempt from tax, interest earned is exempt from tax, but withdrawals from such savings at any time are taxed at the prevalent rate. Our current system is a hotchpotch of EEE (for provident fund and life insurance policies, exempt at all three stages of investment, earning and withdrawal), EET (for pension schemes, where annuity was taxable on receipt) and ETE (for National Savings Certificates, interest being taxable but contribution and withdrawal being exempt). In order to maximise one’s return from investments, one had to understand the tax impact of each type of investment that one was making.

The EEE method resulted in an exemption of invested income, which would be reduced from taxable income at the time of investment, with both principal and interest not taxed at the time of withdrawal or earning. The EET method merely defers the tax liability to a later point of time (withdrawal), and is overall tax neutral. EET method is followed in many countries, such as US (401K plans) and in western Europe.

The introduction of the EET method had been recommended way back in 2002 by the Kelkar Committee on Direct Taxes but had not been implemented. In 2005, the finance minister had announced the government’s intention to move to EET. EET is consistent with the government’s intention to reduce tax rates while simultaneously reducing the exemptions. When one considers the substantial increase in tax slabs, resulting in substantially lower personal taxes, and the higher deduction of Rs 3 lakhs proposed for investments, it is evident that this has to be offset by some increase in taxes elsewhere. The tax payable on PF withdrawals is one item which would neutralise the tax reduction to a great extent. It is time to understand that there is no such thing in life as a free lunch.

Savings decisions were hitherto distorted by tax considerations, with provident fund contributions and the like being blindly preferred for tax reasons.

Provident fund monies were mainly invested in government bonds. Now, savings decisions will be based on a rational evaluation of risks and returns, and not on tax considerations. This will result in channelling of individual savings into more productive avenues, resulting in better utilisation of capital, benefiting the country as a whole. The common man is better off earning a higher return on his investments though he may be taxed on such return.


Gautam Nayak is a chartered accountant and former president of the Bombay Chartered Accountants Society








Earlier this year, when Shah Rukh Khan (currently offended by paranoid Americans) renamed his film Billu Barber as Billu (so as not to offend protesting barbers), I had, as a concerned citizen plotting protective measures, suggested that Habib Tanvir change the name of his classic play Charandas Chor to simply Charandas.

When perfectly respectable professionals like barbers can be offended by their job description informing their identity, imagine what a stigmatised, lowly profession like chori would do to dear old thieves. We shouldn’t be mean to them just because they can’t form an association and protest.

Well, it would not have helped. Two months after Habib Tanvir’s death, Charandas Chor has been banned. Not because it has offended thieves, but because it has angered Satnamis. Right before we celebrated 62 years of freedom, the Chhattisgarh government banned the book and the play and is recalling the book from libraries. Apparently because of some reference to Guru Ghasidas, the founder of the Satnam Panth, having been a dacoit in his early life.

Of course it is absurd. But not because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Chhattisgarh has suddenly woken up to the “insult” of the Satnamis.

The pioneering play — based on Vijaydan Detha’s short story, which in turn was based on a Rajasthani folk tale — has been staged for almost four decades all over the country and in several languages, has won India international awards, changed our cultural landscape and was made into a film by ShyamBenegal in 1975.

Traditionally, many of its actors were Satnamis. We have only recently acquired the habit of blackmailing the arts on account of being suddenly, and often inexplicably, hurt.

I first learnt of Chhattisgarh as a teenager watching Habib Tanvir perform Charandas Chor with his “Chhattisgarhi” Naya Theatre troupe in Kolkata. Decades before the state of Chhattisgarh was born, this play stamped on the nation a clear cultural and linguistic identity for Chhattisgarh.

Yet it is not absurd that the state of Chhattisgarh has banned this masterpiece of modern Indian theatre.
In fact, it is only natural, in our carefully nurtured culture of brittle pride. Anybody muscular can claim offence and we rush to pamper them. We cut and tailor everything from current art to ancient history to suit the whims of the bullies. And watch sheepishly as the nonagenarian M.F. Husain is driven out of his own country by Hindutva goons who have decided to be offended by his art.

This ban fits beautifully in that ambience of mob intimidation. We have been promoting a violent tradition of social censorship for years, often propped up by formal censorships like bans and the deletion of “offensive” parts of books, films, art or plays.

Logic or democratic freedoms have no place in this game of muscle power. So don’t ask what’s offensive about Guru Ghasidas being referred to as a former dacoit when Valmiki, who gave us the Ramayana, was a reformed dacoit, too.

Forget it. In 2000, a dialogue in the film Joru ka Ghulam referred to Valmiki as a dacoit, which got the Valmiki dalits hopping mad. And since we are falling over backwards to try and appease caste and religious sentiments, the film could play only after the “offensive” reference was deleted.

Or take the Tegh Bahadur incident of 2001. Following protests by enraged Sikhs, a school history textbook was changed, deleting references to plunders by Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur. So it is not absurd that Charandas Chor has been banned because Satnamis have threatened to agitate against what they perceive to be a negative reference to their guru.

Especially in that wondrous state of Chhattisgarh, where the government excels in curbing democratic freedoms in the name of peace and security. Where the fight between Naxals and the state have left lakhs homeless and thousands dead over the last four years. Where the alienation of the tribal population is complete as their land is snatched for industrialisation and the battle for development becomes a war between the Naxals and a state-sponsored, unconstitutional vigilante group, the Salwa Judum. Every day innocents die horrible deaths in this war. The state responds with more brutality.

This is the state where peaceful protest lands you in jail with fake criminal cases or under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA), where you could be held for years without bail as an anti-national.
It’s the state that crushes democratic dissent with the impotent rage of one who has failed to protect its citizens from Maoist violence. The state that encourages the militarisation and criminalisation of the tribal community, and fails to recognise the Frankenstein’s monster it is creating.

This is the state that jailed Dr Binayak Sen without bail for over two years — partly in solitary confinement — merely for being in touch with Naxals.

A doctor and civil rights activist, Dr Sen would naturally be in touch with anyone who needed medical attention, since he provided healthcare to locals in this tribal belt largely forgotten by government health networks.

This is the state where the local press has lost its freedom, where journalists are jailed or killed for raising questions.

So it is not absurd that the Chhattisgarh government banned Charandas Chor.
And it’s not just Chhattisgarh. We still cling to a value system that can destroy an individual merely because of his family background. Take the denotified tribals. These are people from certain tribes that were once designated “criminal” by the British. But even today, people belonging to these tribes are publicly lynched, killed by the police or jailed. It’s in their blood, we say, they are a clan of criminals. Often it makes more sense to reinvent your past than to expect 21st century India to revise its obsolete value system. Some of these silly protests are part of that reinvention of historical identities.
And it is not absurd that a state with a disgraceful track record in democratic freedoms would swiftly reach for a ban.

We have allowed matters to come to a stage where our cultural freedoms can be curtailed by even the most fleeting reference.

I cannot recall this matter of Guru Ghasidas being called a former dacoit in the play, and am inclined to believe, as someone suggested, that the reference was not in the play but in the preface to the book. In which case, was the play banned because some Satnamis objected to a statement it did not make? Now that — even in our cynical times — would be quite absurd.


Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: [1]








Sadly, there’s no such thing as a private affair anymore.

We live in a transparent era atwitter with indecent exposure.

Next up in bookstores: Madoff’s Other Secret: Love, Money, Bernie, and Me by Sheryl Weinstein, a 60-year-old former executive with the Jewish women’s group Hadassah, who writes that she was romantically involved with the fraudulent financier in the early ’90s, though both were married.
The last thing you probably need in your head at this point are images of the Wall Street sociopath nuzzling and nickering. Weinstein, according to a preview in the New York Daily News, gets her revenge for losing her life savings by revealing that Madoff’s unimpressive assets were not merely financial. She also recalls that her friends called her Bernie “Winky Dink” because he blinked anxiously when he was around her.

Jenny Sanford is still sharing about her husband’s affair as well. Her interview in Vogue is accompanied by a leggy photo of the 47-year-old in a beach cover-up that looks like a fetching ad for a new, less embarrassing husband.

She has moved out of the governor’s mansion but says she’s still open to getting back together, noting that pastoral and marriage counselling taught her that “these affairs are almost like an addiction to alcohol or pornography”.

“I think”, she tells the interviewer, “my husband has got some issues that he needs to work on, about happiness and what happiness means”.

She couldn’t resist Googling her husband’s Maria and generously deemed her “pretty”. “I am sure she is a fine person”, she says. “It can’t be fun for her, though I do sometimes question her judgment. If she knew the newspaper had those emails back in December, why did she want him to come in June?”
Jenny, who says she wasn’t “madly in love” with Mark Sanford when she married him, is praying for her husband’s soulmate. Her friends agreed that she’d be fine with or without him; one commented that, for a long time, Mark “has been dead on the inside”. There’s even a TV show inspired by the wives of misbehaving politicians — women who long to never hear the words “long suffering” again. In the new CBS drama The Good Wife, Julianna Margulies channels Jenny, Silda, Hillary and Elizabeth, summoning stoicism even when her teenage daughter tells her, “Some girl said Dad slept with a hooker my age”.
When the Sanford scandal broke, some chatterers contended that it was a sign that we should have more women in public office because they get less caught up in sexual intrigue.

A politician paying for sex with a call girl is an old story. But even Heidi Fleiss dropped plans for a bordello for female clients outside Pahrump, Nevada, telling the Las Vegas Review-Journal that she’s now focused on alternative energy because “that’s where the money is”.

The only place at the moment where you can see women forking over money to have sex with a gigolo is on HBO’s salaciously named Hung. The kooky comedy is about a divorced Detroit high school basketball coach, Ray Drecker (played by the hunky Thomas Jane), who needs money after his house burns down and his twin teenagers are forced to go live with their mother.

He decides to sell his best asset, dubbing himself “a happiness consultant”, and teams up with an unlikely pimp, Tanya Skagle (played by Jane Adams), an aspiring poet who listens to PBS and has “Proust” tattooed on her forearm.

His first lesson on the job is that women frequently derive sensual happiness in a more complex way than men. One of his first clients is a sexy blond ad executive who has had bad luck with guys. He is befuddled to find he must fulfil her fantasies rather than her libido — running along the lake laughing and picnicking with her; going to couples therapy and pretending to be a rich ex-boyfriend; and feigning falling madly in love with her because it’s their fate.

After paying him cash to pick her up by the side of the road, she accuses him of making “an inappropriate pass”. His Proustian pimp has to explain that the young woman with the “bruised heart” is seeking a romantic connection more than a physical one.

“OK”, he says with exasperation. “I’ll pretend I’m totally in love with this freak”.

After many rewrites and redos, Drecker tries to summon the necessary acting chops to give his client what she’s paying for. In the parking lot of the roadside diner where they keep eating, a la Groundhog Day, while he struggles to figure out what this woman wants, he grasps for a better performance.
“I just wish in some crazy long-shot version of this universe”, he tells her, “that you would stay here with me and not vanish from my life”.

When he spits out the word “destiny”, he finally manages to please her — momentarily.


By arrangement with the New York Times









Finally, the Bharatiya Janata Party stands without clothes to hide its own intolerance and its own Hindu identity. It needed no external enemies to strip it bare. The BJP did it all on its own when it decided to expel Jaswant Singh from the party. Mr Singh earned this from the party that he has served for three decades because he wrote a book with whose findings and conclusions the party is in complete disagreement. The subject of the book was none other than Mohammad Ali Jinnah whom Mr Singh refused to see as a cardboard demon-like figure. This raised the hackles of the wise men in the BJP; so Mr Singh has been forced to exit for the sin of writing a book. This shows that the BJP is incapable of coping with any opinion that does not fit with its own ideological position. The party was thus not satisfied with officially dissociating itself from the book and the views expressed in it. It had to expel the author for articulating what are his considered views on a historical subject. The BJP assumes that it has a monopoly over historical interpretation. This has been evident to many of its critics. The cause célèbre concerning Mr Singh only confirms the intolerance embedded within the BJP and its ideology.


The exaggerated response of the BJP is directly related to its Hindu identity. It is this identity that makes it impossible for the BJP to accept Jinnah as anything other than evil personified. Many apologists for the BJP have been known to argue that the party has begun to move away from its Hindu orientation. In these columns yesterday, The Telegraph commented that the BJP is genetically connected to the Hindu Mahasabha. It is impossible for it to break this link. The BJP is descended from the Hindu Mahasabha and is thus run, even today, by the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh. The BJP is only the parliamentary wing of the RSS and therefore it is chained to Hindutva, to ideological intolerance and to bigotry. The consequence is the inability to engage in any kind of intellectual discussion. The sangh parivar is confined by a saffron curtain to a world within itself.


This condition of the BJP has an analogy with what prevails, and has prevailed, within Stalinist communist parties. These parties put forward a line on all matters — from ideology to history to politics to culture and even to science — and any deviation from this line is seen as anti-party and leads to expulsion. The history of the 20th century has many examples of figures who held independent views and were then thrown out by communist parties. The BJP has behaved exactly as a communist party would. The irony that it is behaving like one of its principal adversaries escapes the BJP leadership. For Mr Singh, the BJP is the god that failed. He cannot expect any sympathy from either loyal comrades or besotted sanghis. Intolerance breeds strange bedfellows.






India has won another dubious distinction — topper, beating China, in the fatal road accidents list published by the World Health Organization. Calcuttans are in a specially privileged position to assess the extent to which Indian roads are a health hazard. The city is an ideal case study for everything that causes 90 per cent of the world’s road deaths to happen in low- and middle-income countries, even if these countries have just 48 per cent of the world’s registered vehicles. Think of the endless succession of people killed by speeding buses in the city and its suburbs. Various factors dovetail in the city to cause these deaths, brutal speeding being only one of them. Non-existent traffic management and engineering, callousness towards pedestrian rights, pavements taken over by illegal hawkers, flouting of laws regarding helmets, seatbelts and drunken driving, corrupt and inefficient policing, bad road maintenance and lighting (especially in rural areas), an inordinate number of homeless poor living and sleeping on the streets, politicized indiscipline — everything comes together in every possible combination to make roads full of fatal peril. And the responsibility will have to be shared between the citizens and the authorities.

A shocking lack of civic sense and, more important, of the common human fear of death characterize the average Indian on the road. Men, women and children will blithely break rules that exist for their own safety out of a mix of ignorance and senseless bravado. Yet, at the other end of the spectrum, the civic authorities remain just as shockingly indifferent to modern notions of traffic management and urban planning. Indian cities are turning proudly global. But one just has to recall the mayhem in the vicinity of the South City Mall in Calcutta in the evenings to realize how rapid urban development happens here without the overhauling of the other systems within which such development has to be contained.








The stir about the Indian cricket team’s reluctance to ratify the World Anti-Doping Agency’s new testing regime is interesting not just in itself, but also for the reactions it has provoked. In the red corner, we have nationalist grunts on a hair-trigger, for whom every criticism of the Indian cricket team is an alien conspiracy; in the blue corner, we have discriminating, non-chauvinist Indian commentators who are convinced that India’s perverse stars and their vulgar patron, the BCCI, have done this deliberately to embarrass people like them: discriminating, non-chauvinist Indian commentators.


The first lot of people are real and numerous, but their opinions are conditioned reflexes and there’s little to be learnt from examining them. It’s the second group whose sense of self is built on self-reflexivity (the thinking person’s ability to distance himself from base partisanship), whose reactions offer us a window into the anxieties of the Indian cosmopolitan.


To represent this sliver of opinion (and sliver it must be since its constituents define themselves against the brute prejudice of the mob), I have chosen the editorial of The Hindu on this controversy and a piece in The Guardian by Dileep Premachandran. The Hindu is arguably India’s most serious newspaper, and Premachandran is a serious and reflective writer who has reported on cricket for Cricinfo, The Guardian and The Times. I shan’t summarize their arguments except to say that both pieces make a plausible case against the stand taken by the Indian players and their board.


There’s a case to be made in the players’ favour (I tried to make it in these columns a fortnight ago), but the point of this piece isn’t the substantive arguments for and against the non-compliant position: it is the tone in which the case against the BCCI and the dissenting players is made. This tone is that of an adult talking to over-indulged children, the internationalist trying to reason with thoughtless parochialists.


Thus Premachandran after demonstrating to his satisfaction that the players’ concerns are either unfounded or must be set aside for the greater good, concludes: “I’d prefer it if someone well-versed in the subject sat down with the board and players and explained away their imaginary fears. Like homespun techniques against the short ball, there are few things more dangerous than a little learning.”


“Imaginary fears”, “homespun techniques”, “a little learning”: to write a passage as glossy with condescension as this one, you would first need to think of the Indian team as a bunch of neurotic provincials. But Premchandran doesn’t, in fact, see the Indian team in these terms. He, like the rest of us, admires M.S. Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar for their commitment, their sporting intelligence and for their professional poise. And yet he treats the dissenting group — to which these two belong — as dim fantasists who need their anxieties massaged.


The Hindu’s editorial on this subject recycles this trope with curious vehemence: “Indian cricket has never had any kind of drug problem. But a bunch of hugely spoilt cricketers and a high and mighty Board of Control for Cricket in India have come together, in an ill-informed and irrational way, to challenge a crucial provision in the World Anti-Doping Code.”


Notice the infantilization of the players who have refused to sign and, as with Premachandran, the rat-a-tat redundancy of the characterization: “hugely spoilt”, “ill-informed”, “irrational”. Coming at the very beginning of the editorial, this drumbeat of denunciation tries to pre-emptively establish that the cricketers have no case at all, that they’re unreasonable or ignorant or both. The edit ends with forceful advice: “The Indian cricket establishment would be stupid not to fall in line.”


There’s a case, as I said, to be made against the Wada hold-outs, but the incivility of their critics needs some explanation. Why should a serious broadsheet publish a hectoring editorial that denies Dhoni and Tendulkar not just the benefit of doubt, but the courtesy of allowing that they are adults acting in good faith? Why would a cricket journalist who spends his working life writing about the Indian cricket team, patronize it? I can think of three reasons.


First, the BCCI’s incompetence and arrogance makes sensible Indian critics react viscerally against any position that it takes. So on this reading, the BCCI’s support discredited the players’ position on Wada and stopped them from getting a proper hearing. Guilt by association is the charitable explanation.


The likelier explanation is that non-playing newspapermen see professional sportsmen as non-thinking athletes. As Orientalists studied Eastern societies to point up the uniqueness and superiority of the West, so journalists find in the reassuring thickness of jocks, a confirmation of their own maturity. A difference of opinion is treated not as disagreement, but as provocation because players with opinions are already thinking above their paygrade. Theirs not to reason why.


Finally, liberal commentators in India are properly concerned that the country be in step with the world, specially when it comes to a cause as self-evidently worthwhile as the war on doping. When Indians don’t fall in line with international compacts, they not only make India look provincial and unenlightened, they embarrass its thin-skinned internationalists and make them very angry.


It’s at this point that the rhetorical temperature rises. So what’s good enough for the world isn’t good enough for India? How can 571 compliant associations be wrong? Now Dhoni and Tendulkar have more on their plate than Tiger Woods and Roger Federer? Who do they think they are, inventing pathetic concerns about privacy and security? Pampered, coddled, overpaid, spoilt … and so it goes on.It never occurs to these commentators that the experience of Tendulkar and Dhoni as Indian cricketers might have given them a view on security and privacy that is legitimately different from that of Woods and Federer. So perhaps this needs to be spelt out. One, men like Tendulkar and Dhoni have less privacy than any sportsperson in the world. The frenzy their public presence excites has no parallel in sport. Two, they live in a dangerous neighbourhood and the sport they play has been specifically targeted by armed violent men.They can be forgiven for thinking that an online system for sharing schedules with Wada as secure as Paypal or an encrypted banking network isn’t secure enough: running the risk of identity theft or stolen credit card information is one thing; having your life endangered by someone hacking into Wada’s computers is quite another.


Indians are so used to aspiring to global top tables where the place settings are decided by others, that we instinctively look sideways to see which fork the rest of the world is using and cringe when we see a desi using his hands. Well, we can stop cringing on behalf of Dhoni, Tendulkar, Yuvraj and the rest. They have a right to their opinions and they’ve earned, I think, the courtesy of disagreement, civilly expressed. And as risible as it might seem, a Wada testing regime that paid attention to the life experience of Indian sportsmen might be the better for it. Internationalism has no single point of vantage: the world can be viewed as comprehensively from Delhi as it can from Lausanne.







Indians who want a break from the stressful system of marks-based admission should look at China. Here too, the pre-university national examination is a killer. Only high-scorers can get into the country’s best universities. However, for some institutes, students also need background certificates that rule out gang and cult membership and criminal records, including those of close relatives. In police and army training institutes, candidates also need a no-objection certificate from the local police. This is now being used to blackmail ‘trouble-makers’.


Two such instances were reported in the press last month. In the first, the candidate was denied the NOC to a prestigious institute because her father had once been imprisoned for three days for petitioning the authorities. The village committee had not repaid money borrowed from him way back in 1997 despite repeated reminders; he, therefore, began approaching officials. In 2005, his food processing plant closed down. His petitions intensified. In 2006, he was detained for three days for “disturbing social order’’, and told that if he agreed to the loan being repaid in instalments, he would be freed. Later, the village officials took him out to dinner as an apology. Till date, only the interest on the loan has been repaid, not the principal amount.


When she found out the reason for the police denying her the certificate, the student, though devastated, tried to keep it to herself and went off to her grandmother’s house. But she couldn’t help confiding in the old lady, who immediately informed her parents. The father was consumed with guilt, but the girl told him not to blame himself, or beg in front of anyone. She could apply to another institute, or even go into some other field. But the father decided to call the local newspaper hotline. After the story broke, the police gave the certificate, apparently on the villagers’ intervention.



The parents now run a barbecue stall in Beijing, to supplement their income and pay for their daughter’s tuition, so that she can realize her childhood dream of wearing a police uniform. The institute she has joined will train her to work in a court or a prison; her ultimate aim is to become a judge.


The other student wasn’t so lucky. A daughter of farmers, this high-scoring candidate wanted to join the military academy because not only was it free, but she would also get a subsidy for studying there, and be assured of a secure job. But the local police refused to give her an NOC because in 2007, her parents had been imprisoned for 15 days after they got into a scuffle with their neighbours over a land dispute. The officer who’d dealt with their case was the one who had to sign the form. When the girl’s mother argued that their actions should not affect their daughter, he replied, “Even if your kid has astronomical talent, she’s not going. So long as I’m alive, I’m not signing this.” Meetings with the district-level officers proved to be of no use.


The parents decided to inform the press. After denying that the officer had said these words, the police told the reporter that they weren’t too sure about the background standards needed for admission to a military academy; but they were sure that they must be stricter than those for a police academy. The reporter checked out the guidelines. A criminal sentence or Party disciplinary proceedings meted out to close family members debarred a candidate; imprisonment of parents by public security officials was nowhere listed.

After the story appeared, the district officials, who’d refused to intervene earlier, approached the family with offers of monetary compensation. But admission to that academy had, by then, closed. These episodes show the dangers of protesting; but equally, the zeal — and power — of a controlled press.











PUBLICITY gimmicks are not part of his game-plan ~ P Chidambaram takes himself too seriously for that ~ so we must suppress suspicions that his turning up as an ordinary spectator at the finals of the World Badminton Championships in Hyderabad was aimed at a media-splash: though it did produce precisely that. Yet it would be difficult to buy his line that his adopting the common man posture established that foolproof security was in place at the Gachibowli stadium, and that those who had backed out were “yellow”. Even though the home minister does not surround himself with a squad of commandos (for which he merits appreciation) it is inconceivable that no covert security arrangements are made for his movements. Indeed, it would be highly irresponsible if that were the case, his job makes him a trophy-target for terrorists. Had there been any genuine risk-inputs with the security/ intelligence agencies, as opposed to their silly “alert” that impacted on the tournament, it is unlikely that he would have conducted himself in such a relaxed manner. Not that we grudge him some normality and relief, just that it would be a puerile oversimplification to accept that a minister who has carefully changed his attire, sits in the gallery with a relative, and enjoys the game at hand equates with a security certificate. The theory that “if I can do it, so can anybody else” might inflate political egos, it makes little sense on the ground.
There is certainly need for India to dispel misapprehensions that conditions are too unsafe to stage major international events without exposing participants to a high level of risk ~ the calendar is packed, there are both “image” and financial factors at play. But true reassurance lies in convincing the teams that they will be adequately protected at all times, and yet permitted due freedom of movement. There is a tendency to confuse “police bandobast” with security which can prove counter-productive: very visible armed personnel are in themselves a sign that all is not well. It is admittedly difficult to strike a comfortable balance between protecting people and constraining them: that is a capability that must be developed and displayed well before the Commonwealth Games. That capability will not be confirmed merely by a minister opting for the aam aadmi act.








MOST reports, and the column-centimetres they consumed in the newspapers, would suggest that this week’s meeting of chief ministers to discuss anti-terror measures was a success. It certainly provided the Prime Minister a platform to hit out at Pakistan in a bid to regain some of the ground squandered at Sharm-el-Sheikh. And unlike many conferences a number of points for action did emerge, of course giving effect to them is what will count on the ground. The proposed Regional Intelligence Centres can make a difference, so too the plan to impart Territorial Army training to fishermen during the closed season. And, if emulated, the Centre’s move for fixed tenures for senior police appointments should help insulate them from debilitating political influences. In more specific terms, the plan for a coordinated police drive across the Naxal-infested belt and an immediate follow-up on the development front is positive. Yes, on paper there were signs that police reforms were on track. Yet, without much reading between the lines, it was also quite clear that it has been one-way traffic. Predictably routine were the demands from just about all the states that the Centre provide additional funds for police expansion and improved service conditions. The procurement of weapons and equipment, including specialised craft for coastal policing, was sought to be entrusted to the Centre. That wish-list, coupled with calls to revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in certain areas, and of course the NDA-ruled states regurgitating their accusations of the UPA being soft on terror all add to just a single conclusion ~ the urgency of police reform has yet to trickle down from Raisina Hill to where the battles will actually be fought.
From the speeches of the chief ministers there was nothing that convinced that the states had accepted their share of responsibility in tackling terror (which cannot be done in isolation from improving basic crime control) and gearing their local forces to discharge that duty. Regardless of the number of NSG “hubs” created and commando/SWAT teams raised, the initial anti-terror action will have to be taken by the local police. So unless they are at the top of the reform agenda all else will prove top-heavy, ineffective. Even if “showy”.








HAD the Centre clearly defined the jurisdiction of the Nagaland ceasefire that came into force on 1 August 1997, perhaps Manipur’s Ukhrul district, from where NSCN-(IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muvah hails, would not have witnessed some ugly events in the past few months. In January this year, Assam Rifles’ personnel and NSCN(IM) cadres were engaged in a 14-day standoff at Sheroy village. The latter were told they were violating the “ceasefire” by setting up a camp and were asked to surrender arms. Mercifully, the matter was resolved on a note of understanding ~ the security forces themselves later provided safe passage in evacuating the camp. They reportedly moved to an “approved” camp but no mention was made of its location. One is given to understand that militant organisations under truce are allowed to set up designated camps only in an area under ceasefire. But Manipur does not come under the purview of the Nagaland ceasefire although the NSCN(IM) leaders have claimed time and again that the Centre had “agreed in principle” to cover other Naga-inhabited contiguous areas of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. Nagaland has withdrawn all cases against Muivah and he is free to move around the state but the Manipur government is still reluctant to let him visit his birthplace, Somdal. 
In a fresh incident on 12 August, two NSCN(IM) cadres were killed by Assam Rifles’ personnel in Ukhrul district in what was described as an encounter during a road opening drill. But the NSCN(IM) alleged the two were “brutally murdered” and asserted that “the ceasefire agreement does not imply that the Naga army has ceased to exist”. This is what needs to be cleared up. In February, a “Naga army” officer masterminded the killing of a sub-divisional officer in Ukhrul and two of his staff (all Manipuris) and after he confessed to his crime the outfit claimed he had been punished. Following the public outcry, the “killer” was handed over to the CBI and yet no one knows of its findings. To clear any confusion, a fresh truce needs to be drawn up with jurisdiction and guidelines clearly defined to avert any unpleasantries. 








IN a pluralistic society change doesn’t occur easily ~ complexities of its graded nature make all changes in it legitimately slow. However urgent, it fails to absorb a reform forthwith affected by revolutionary means. Therefore, evolution rather than revolution seems a more suitable method for its improvement. Its handling demands honesty and forbearance since it is a combination of many cultures, races and religions. If the sentiments of its different communities are not being properly respected it is likely to be in a continuous turmoil. And no method, even if it is the best one, is likely to fructify in it if it remains bogged down in a perpetual strife.

Accordingly, cohesion among its members is an indispensable pre-requisite for whatever transformation it envisages to bring about. But, at the same time, it is also true that this cohesion will not be sustainable if it is fetched by artificial means. In search of a perfect means for social unity, we ought to resort to a rigorous introspection. We must realise that unless a process of assimilation evolves spontaneously within its system, a stable unity is a far cry.


WE know that spirituality in man exhibits its mettle when he faces a dire crisis. There are countless examples in the history of mankind. When it comes to the question of building an egalitarian society, giving a lie to all aspersions cast on it by its enemies, spirituality works miraculously. It happened in the case of every spiritual leader who, in spite of acrimonious oppositions, demonstrated benign prowess of the self and emerged invincible.

Breaking social barriers, people gathered around Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad and Ramakrishna, making grand celebrations of equality cutting across all sections of their societies. Their influence over the prosperous and the penurious was equal. That ignorance about truth is the mother of all maladies is universally acknowledged. But the truth that a milieu of bitter relationships in an amorphous society is the consequence of a sense of prevailed ignorance is not generally understood. Ubiquity of such an irony makes the best part of the world perhaps somewhat inhabitable today. But to say that there is hardly any escape from it is to court a larger catastrophe.

To the discerning minds it always appears that a palpable remedy to this seemingly insoluble problem is available in spirituality. They believe that it removes the gloom of ignorance in us, ushering in the light of divinity. They equate this divinity with Universal Consciousness and say that it doesn’t disturb an agnostic even, since it is undeniable, being manifested in all of us in varied degrees. The less it is obstructed by our ignorance the more it is manifested in us.

Swami Vivekananda was a modern sage. He was deeply concerned about our social sufferings. For our relief, he brought us the fruit of his spiritual realisation. He gave us the message: “Everything that is strong, and good, and powerful in human nature is the outcome of that divinity, and though potentially in many, there is no difference between man and man essentially, all being alike divine. There is, as it were, an infinite ocean behind, and you and I are so many waves, coming out of that infinite ocean; and each one of us is trying his best to manifest that infinite outside.”

It is time we turned our vision inward and tried to discover this abiding truth. For long we have focused our attention outward and could bring little peace. Swamiji spoke of flooding society with spiritual ideas. And the fundamental idea, he said, was that at the spiritual level of our existence there is no distinction. A firm conviction in it changes our attitude and we forget the dichotomy of “ours” and “theirs” for ever.
Thus, all merge into the one “ours”, doing away with the gross sense of separateness. “We are all one, and the cause of evil is the perception of duality.” No sooner do we begin to feel that we are separate from each other than does our fear come and along with it the misery.

When there is an unwavering faith in the existence of the same divinity in the lowest as well as the highest human being a uniform basis of morality is evolved. On it then spontaneously dawns the unalloyed sense: “In injuring another, I am injuring myself; in loving another, I love myself.”

Can one be dubious and depraved in such a state of mind? Is it possible for him to deceive and deprive others in that condition? Can he ever be rude and coercive when sees himself in others? Chances of behaving in this manner for him become much less, even if he grasps the idea intellectually. As I am affected by myself most, my vision seeks me in everybody. When I find myself everywhere under various names and forms, unhappiness leaves me for good. With the animation of such an outlook in all of us, we coexist blissfully.

The world is now under a severe shock of three inexorable menaces, namely economic meltdown, climate change and corruption. They are man made, and hence a result of man’s comprehensive moral degradation. We insensibly substituted “need” with “greed” and cunningly tried to give it a humane face.
Harm in the long run

Greed is greed; its meaning couldn’t be supplanted by any other sense to make a useful tool for material success. Even if it brings any short-term benefits to many, it shouldn’t be a matter of praise and support. Like an elusive virus it gradually eats away the ethics fibre of society and brings irreparable harm in the long run. Given a free rein, it causes devastation in human nature. So, it has been considered reprehensible from time immemorial.

Surely, the dearth of a spiritual culture has led us to a cut-throat competition for pelf and power. If our lives are founded on solid spiritual values, thoughts of giving trouble would never arise in our minds, let alone the thoughts of persecution and killing.

“That society is the greatest where highest truths become practical,” says Swamiji. He further states that truth doesn’t pay homage to society, but “society has to pay homage to truth or die.” Can there be a greater truth than the fact that man is Spirit and, accordingly, all men are essentially equal? Is it then wrong to conceive that many highly materially developed societies have petered out simply because they didn’t give the honour due to man and considered one different from another?
The much hyped individualism centring around the little self has been deluding us to our annihilation through unnecessary wars and terrorist activities. We have to understand the truth that the puny personalised self is the cause of all our ills. It alienates us from all other beings, bringing hatred and jealousy.

Being averse to higher ideas, we have been deliberately keeping spirituality at bay. Therefore, unmitigated materialism is playing havoc with us, sweeping us away from the centre of our life. Now that we have come to a blind alley and are dying for a way out, we must rise above the mundane and try to see life from a spiritual point of view.










There is an air of total uncertainty as Afghanistan prepares to go for a crucial presidential election on Thursday. The country has been wracked by a spate of violence: The suicide attack near the NATO headquarters in Kabul and a rocket hitting President Hamid Karzai’s palace — both seen by many as symbols of the foreign hand in Afghan politics.

But the incident that went almost unnoticed was the passage of the highly controversial Personal Law Status bill that became a law in the country. Afghan parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi poignantly summed up Afghan politics against this retrograde law. “In Afghanistan, the sacrifice in the political game is women and children.”

Even as the Afghans were preparing for polls, President Karzai reneged on his promise to review the bill that limits the rights of Shiite women by making it a law. When the bill was introduced in parliament in April many saw it as his final desperate attempt to draw the conservative Shiite clerics and Pashtun radicals on his side.

As the law pleases these conservative groups, this is the shot in the arm that his dwindling support base and candidature would have required from the powerful orthodox vote bank which has traditionally not backed him. For many Karzai used backroom deals to guarantee his re-election and this law provided the pr ovidential carrot.


Despite heavy international and national criticism and his earlier promise to send the bill to parliament before it was passed Afghanistan’s women’s rights advocates learned the hard way that it had already become an enforceable law that allows police to enforce a wife’s sexual duties and restrict her mobility amongst other things. In its original form the Shiite Personal Status Law was far more insidious as the subtler version allows women to leave their own homes ‘according to local customs,’ leaving the interpretation to law enforcers and husbands.

Karzai is already seen as the front-runner in the election and it is doubtful that this law will change the outcome. If anything, it might strengthen his position with the support of the radicals especially against the possibility of a governor-like post for former Afghan ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad that the US administration has envisioned.

The law regulates the actions of women of the Shiite minority, which makes up about 15 per cent of the population. The Shia women of Afghanistan have traditionally also been at the forefront of women’s education and as professionals in several fields including the media and politics. Consequently, they have also over the years borne the brunt of the backlash by traditionalists and the country’s moral police.

Cultural difference and identity have become the strongest argument in defence of the law as it applies only to the Shiite minority of Afghanistan with many radical Shiite clerics demanding Shiite minority specific laws that protect them against the majority Sunnis. But this issue of cultural identity has come at the price of women’s rights and more specifically human rights as controversial provisions in the law have remained.


Child custody rights remain with male members of the household — fathers and grandfathers; women, before they get married, need permission to work; and a husband can deny his wife food and shelter if she does not meet his sexual needs. Though the parliament still has the ability to rescind the law, given its current make-up — filled as it is with orthodox warlords, themselves accused of war crimes and brutalities against women — it is unlikely that they are going to single out this law for review in order to uphold women’s rights from amidst hundreds of laws that they have the ability to amend.

Ironically, many women see the law as imposing conditions that are little different from their daily experiences and thus view the controversy surrounding it as the West’s attempt to undermine their culture. With the law the increasingly conservative attitudes restricting women from public affairs have also raised real fears of disenfranchisement.

Even as the Afghan constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women the law clearly exposes Afghanistan’s dilemma; a country struggling to balance its patriarchal traditions even as it embraces the ideals of women’s rights as practiced in the western nations that are seen as investing billions into rebuilding the country. Ultimately, how women vote, or whether they vote at all is bound to impact these elections.








When I count my blessings, the little alcove in my first-floor flat finds its way right to the top. Set with windows that frame wide panes of lightly tinted glass, it overlooks dense shrubbery rearing its head from the garden below. It forms a sheltered and pleasant retreat. Here in this cozy corner, I can shed the humdrum of routine and settle down to watch the world go by.

Through a leafy curtain I see people intent on their errands. What is it, I wonder, that impels their hurrying steps? Then there are couples, young and old, holding hands and enjoying a leisurely stroll. One can watch too those that take their dogs for a walk. Some of them, in particular the Labradors, are a pliant lot; others, pulling on their leashes, take their masters on a breathless and undignified run.

Much closer to the eye are the insects. On gossamer, iridescent wings, they settle on swaying flowers in search of the nectar hidden in their depths. Butterflies, their wings in dappled orange, green and blue, flutter from flower to flower. They dip their slender proboscis and reach the heart of the blossoms. Flies and bees in varied shapes and sizes buzz and hum. They settle for brief moments on tripping feet. How do so many share so little, I ask myself.

What is most heart-warming, however, are the birds — the tailor bird, the bulbuls and the barbets. Their visits take on an added urgency during the breeding season. Lured by the unbroken stretch of foliage created by the tinted glass, they come in search of nesting places. They see a reflection of themselves and perceiving what they believe are competitors, launch a brave attack.

They peck savagely on the glass leaving little dots and dents. Failure does not deter them and they come day after day in pursuit of their dream-homes. This gives me an opportunity to observe them at close quarters. Each is a marvel of exquisite beauty. From slender beak to delicate feet, they are coloured extravagantly and fashioned perfectly.

Cocooned in quiet comfort, I allow myself to drift into a meditative mood. No wonder, I tell myself, that the great poet, Wordsworth, was a worshipper of Nature and the ‘Garden of Eden’ another name for ‘Paradise’!








Few photographs capture the suddenness of death in combat better than Robert Capa’s “The Falling Soldier,” taken at the outset of the Spanish Civil War. When it first appeared, in a French magazine in 1936, it was given the title “Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936.” And indeed that is what we turn to this photograph for, a glimpse of that inescapable, ineluctable moment.


The photograph’s power arises partly from its exquisite, accidental timing but also from the intrusion of death on what looks like a beautiful late summer day and the grace of the pose into which it has flung this soldier.


The beauty and the pristine authority of the image would be horribly, tragically undermined if it turned out that this picture had somehow been staged by Capa, who was then 22 and on his first assignment as a war photographer. And yet that accusation has become part of the photograph’s legacy. It has been renewed, with added fervor, by the discovery that the location in the caption is likely wrong.


As The Times’s Larry Rohter reported this week, a new book, “Shadows of Photography,” by José Manuel Susperregui, argues — based on the landscape visible in other photos in the sequence — that the picture was taken in a town called Espejo, about 35 miles away. Spanish historians say the war didn’t come to Espejo until later that September. That, in Mr. Susperregui’s view, is proof that Capa staged this picture.


Capa was killed by a land mine in Vietnam in 1954. His contact sheets, notes and the record of his travels do little to confirm the accuracy of the original caption. But other scholars insist that the photo is authentic. One alternative explanation is that the soldier was killed by a sniper, rather than in the heat of battle.


We hope that this dispute can be finally settled. Faking any journalistic photograph would be terribly wrong. The truth of “Falling Soldier” is especially important. It matters greatly to us — and to Capa’s reputation — to know whether this man fell, never to rise again, or got up and walked away.







Not many people would knowingly pay more than $35 for a cup of coffee. But far too many people are getting saddled — with no warning — with outsized bills for minor purchases, under a euphemistically labeled “overdraft protection program” that most major banks have adopted over the last 10 years.


Before that, most banks would simply have rejected debit transactions, without a fee, when the card holder’s account was empty. Now, they approve the purchase and tack on a hefty penalty for each transaction.


Moebs Services, a research company that has conducted studies for the government as well as some banks, reported recently that banks will earn more than $38 billion this year from overdraft and bounced-check fees. Moebs also estimates that 90 percent of that amount will be paid by the poorest 10 percent of the customer base.


Federal regulators who stood idly by while this system evolved are considering new overdraft rules that could provide more transparency. If they do not move quickly and aggressively to protect consumers, Congress should step in.


Banks have historically covered bad checks for valued clients, who were invited to opt in to overdraft protection or to link their checking accounts to savings accounts or to lines of credit. But as more people began to use debit cards, the banks started to view overdraft fees as a major profit center and started to automatically enroll debit card holders into an overdraft program. Some banks instituted a tiered penalty system, charging customers steadily higher fees as the overdrafts mount.


A study by the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonpartisan research and policy group, describes what it calls the “overdraft domino effect.” One college student whose bank records were analyzed by the center made seven small purchases including coffee and school supplies that totaled $16.55 and was hit with overdraft fees that totaled $245.


Some bankers claim the system benefits debit card users, allowing them to keep spending when they are out of money. But interest rate calculations tell a different story. Credit card companies, for example, were rightly criticized when some drove up interest rates to 30 percent or more. According to a 2008 study by the F.D.I.C., overdraft fees for debit cards can carry an annualized interest rate that exceeds 3,500 percent.


The banks, which have grown addicted to overdraft fees, will almost certainly resist new regulation in this area. But there are several things that federal regulators must do to protect the public.


First, banks must be barred from automatically enrolling customers in overdraft programs. This must be a service that customers opt in to — and only after they are provided full information about the fees and the penalties they will incur. These disclosure statements must meet the same rules laid out in truth-in-lending laws, since overdraft charges are essentially short-term loans.


Banks must also be required to warn customers in real time when a debit card charge will overdraw their accounts — and what fees they will incur if they still decide to proceed with the purchase.

This will require new technology. But there is almost no chance that the banks will invest in it unless they are legally required to do so. Until that happens, buyers beware. That cup of coffee may be even more expensive than you realize.







It is hard to believe that an investment brokerage that pulls in $4.5 billion a year in revenue would portray itself as a mere victim of the financial crisis. That is what Charles Schwab is doing, after New York’s attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, accused the company of having misled investors about the safety of the complex auction-rate securities it sold them.


The brokerage, which promises investors “remarkable investing insight,” is arguing that its experts, too, were duped when the market for the securities failed.


Mr. Cuomo has now sued Schwab to force it to buy back about $100 million worth of securities it sold to all sorts of investors. His office argues that Schwab’s brokers and sales managers sold auction-rate securities as being virtually as safe as short-term money market instruments, promising that investors could withdraw their money every week without fail. It says Schwab failed to warn investors that their money could be stuck for a long time if weekly auctions failed to attract buyers.


In February of 2008, as financial panic spread and banks and investors pulled their money out of all sorts of securities, the auctions collapsed, preventing many investors from getting access to their money. Since July of last year, Mr. Cuomo has been pressing banks that underwrote these bonds, including Citibank and UBS, and the brokers that sold them to clients, to repurchase the securities. He has reached settlements with many, including one with TD Ameritrade for $450 million.


The attorney general has tapes on which Schwab brokers tell clients things like “getting out is something as easy as just selling it,” according to the complaint filed before the State Supreme Court. One Schwab fixed- income specialist testified that investors “probably didn’t know that here is a product that you might not be able to sell. It wasn’t conveyed by myself or the financial consultant because we didn’t know either.”


Schwab argues that it, too, was misled by underwriters who promised to support the market and did not. And it says it is wrong to hold it accountable for failing to reveal risks that it says were unknown at the time — auctions had rarely failed in the past. In a statement, Schwab said it “had no more idea that the entire market for ARS could fail” than did the “regulators charged with overseeing the ARS market and regulating the firms that manufactured them and ran the auctions.”


Whether Schwab knew that risks were mounting or not, it clearly failed in its task to explain all the risks inherent in the securities it sold. That is its job. If Schwab is going to urge American investors to “talk to Chuck,” those clients should be able to count on Chuck to explain all the pros and cons of the investments he peddles.







The investigation into possible fraud in the testing of concrete used in New York City construction projects has taken a troubling turn. Manhattan prosecutors have now searched the offices of Casa Redimix Concrete Corporation, which is supplying concrete to a major project, the $612 million replacement of the Willis Avenue Bridge over the Harlem River.


The Manhattan district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, has been investigating the concrete industry for 17 months. Until now, he has focused largely on companies that test the safety and durability of concrete used in subways, bridges, roadways, sports stadiums and other structures. These tests are crucially important because substandard concrete can shorten the lives of expensive public works projects and potentially leave buildings vulnerable to catastrophic failure.


The Times reported on Tuesday that the investigation has broadened beyond the testing companies to include suppliers and contractors. Last month, Mr. Morgenthau announced the indictment of Stallone Testing Labs, which has been accused of falsifying test results for private and public projects including work at LaGuardia and Kennedy. Investigators say the documents found in that case suggested possible collusion between the tester and the contractors, some of whom are said to have ordered overnight delivery of test reports that are supposed to take 28 days to complete.


After prosecutors raided the offices of Casa Redimix on Aug. 6, seizing computers and records, the city’s Department of Transportation tried to suspend the company from further work on the Willis Avenue Bridge. The company won a temporary restraining order from a judge who said there was insufficient information to show it had done anything illegal. Casa Redimix continues to work on the bridge. The city promises to monitor every truckload of concrete that shows up at the job site.


Mr. Morgenthau’s investigation has a long way to go. But it is already clear that the city’s oversight of this industry needs to be tightened so that wrongdoers are pushed out of the system and never get back in.









The possibility that it may actually prove possible to rein in the Taliban is growing. The capture of Maulvi Omar, a spokesman for the group and a close aide of Baitullah Mehsud raises hopes in this respect. Omar, detained in Mohmand Agency while on his way to South Waziristan where another attempt was to be made to nominate a successor to Baitullah, has reportedly confirmed the late leader of the TTP is indeed dead. The arrest of a key Taliban figure and his interrogation could help lead to others. Evidence is indeed already emerging that the Taliban have been quite badly damaged. However, there is still a great deal more that needs to be done. Leaders of the militant outfit in Swat remain free. They too need to be brought to justice. What is still more important is how this task is undertaken. The process of trial which should follow the arrests must be transparently and openly conducted. The crimes of the Taliban, their brutality and evil must be exposed before people. It is this that will finally demolish their image as men of God and prevent them from being converted into martyrs or heroes.

In the longer run the challenge must be to ensure others like them do not rise. In some of the seminaries and other training institutions based not only in tribal areas but also in our major cities, attempts continue to produce just such militants. The social injustice that we see everywhere aids such efforts. An important prong of the strategy must be to close down these centres and, perhaps most crucially of all, demonstrate to people that there are other alternatives and options available to them. That there is at least some awareness of this has been demonstrated by the speeches made by the prime minister and other government figures in Swat. For this they deserve credit. So too do the security forces who have played so key a role in altering the situation. The task for the military and the civilian set up is now to continue their joint effort and implement plans aimed at altering the nature of life in places that the Taliban had seized, so that, in the future, they cannot make a comeback initiating a new orgy of violence.






Although the polls have yet to open in Afghanistan, observers and commentators are of the opinion that there is going to be no change at the top and President Karzai, the least-worst option, will retain his seat for a further term. Media reports on public opinion (which are not as reliable or objective as formal polls) suggest that Hamid Karzai will receive a plurality of the vote of around 45 per cent but it will be no walkover, and he is domestically not a popular president. The election itself is - in the admission of the agencies whose job it is to monitor it - going to be flawed and full of irregularity despite a massive monitoring operation. Almost a quarter of a million monitors are spread across the country – thinly or not at all in zones of conflict – at the 6,000 polling stations in the hope that freedom and fairness get a look-in somewhere along the line of the electoral process. There are about 17 million Afghans who as well as voting for a president will be electing 420 councillors in 34 provinces.

The security environment in which people will mark their ballots has deteriorated considerably since the last elections in 2004 and 2005; and low turnout, intimidation and violence could influence the outcome. The Taliban have sworn to disrupt the process and have made several forays into the capital in recent weeks,. The UN has appealed for them to cease operations while the vote goes on – an appeal unlikely to be heard or heeded. Whichever way the poll goes the outcome will be influenced as much by external as internal factors, for it is the eternal fate of Afghanistan to be of interest to a range of nations beyond its borders. Its geographic position has for centuries meant that it is the cockpit – literally the place where cocks fight to a bloody end. India, our bete-noir, is heavily engaged likewise Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran plus the US, NATO, Russia and China from a more global perspective. The election will not bring stability to Afghanistan but it is likely to provide continuity. Talking to the Taliban could be a useful next step.







The chairman of the Pakistan Steel Mills has been dismissed for corruption and the prime minister has informed the National Assembly an inquiry is on into wrongdoing in other government departments. Some of us will perhaps take all this with a pinch of salt. The stories of government corruption are so widespread that one wonders if people who themselves do not exactly enjoy a squeaky clean image are capable of tackling the problem. The interior minister has correctly said that the question of how corruption is tackled by the government is important; his assertion that it exists in government departments in every country may too be valid – but the fact also is that only in a few countries does it assume the kind of scale we see in Pakistan. It will take more than the dismissal of one official to clean up a mess of this proportion.

But this having been said, the fact that the government has made at least some effort to address the problem and to take heed of the media reports must be welcomed. In the past the stories of a similar nature appearing in the press had been ignored. This had in fact become a key factor in the downfall of democratic governments in the past. There could be a political motive to this. Infighting in government is after all currently the talk of many towns and even villages, as conjecture continues of a 'get Zardari' move. There is a fairly widespread belief that the sudden plethora of reports on dishonesty in government are linked to this. But even so, the removal of a high-profile figure will have some impact. It may just act to warn others to exercise greater caution and suggest that at least some system of checks and balances is in place. The removal of the PSM chairman also highlights the significant role a free media can play. More than anything else, it has been its determination to keep watch over government that has exposed corruption and brought it onto the agenda as an issue that simply cannot be ignored.








IN the backdrop of consistent media reports about massive corruption in many institutions and instances of kickbacks and corruption, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, on Tuesday, made two historic announcements. He presented himself for accountability first by asking the Auditor General of Pakistan to scrutinise accounts of the PM’s Secretariat. Similarly, he also informed the National Assembly that Chairman Pakistan Steel Mills had been sacked on charges of corruption.

The pronouncements of the Prime Minister have been received very well by those who were getting weary of unbridled corruption and inaction on the part of the Government to stem the rot. There have been reports of corruption and irregularities in several national institutions and corporations, pushing them to the verge of virtual collapse. Apart from those mentioned in media reports, there are scores of other institutions especially Government and semi-Government corporations where financial irregularities are playing havoc with the future of these organizations. The main reason for corruption is appointment of blue-eyed and handpicked but totally incapable people as head of these institutions purely on political considerations. They are following no rules and misusing resources as well as names of the top Government functionaries. Regrettably, instead of taking action against them, some of the Government leaders have chosen to defend corruption and the corrupt. In this perspective, the announcement of the Prime Minister presenting himself for accountability is a laudable move and he would be setting a good example by doing so. No doubt, the institution of the Auditor General has been playing an important role in identifying irregularities but remedies were not effective as the AG used to scrutinize accounts years afterward. There is a logic in the decision of the Prime Minister to order audit of the accounts from this year, as this would allow the authorities concerned to take prompt action against the culprits and initiation of criminal proceedings and recovery of the looted money would be much easier. With the passage of time, PM Gilani is emerging as a man of character and principles and his latest move has strengthened his reputation further. But the decision to present PM Secretariat for auditing is symbolic and instead the chief executive may ask the AG to go through the accounts of those institutions that have been mentioned in media reports in connection with corruption. The PM has also done well by removing the Chairman PSM but the matter should not be left at that and allegations of corruption, if proved, should lead to recovery of the plundered funds and legal proceedings against those involved in corruption.







WHAT was expected has happened as the sugar mills succeeded in forcing the Ministry of Industries and Production to agree to prices imposed by them making the poor consumers, having no forum to assert, to suffer. Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo, who had vowed a few days earlier to recover the sugar from the mills and hoarders and ensure its supply at reasonable rates, is now supporting the sugar barons arguing that the prices in the local market have gone up due to upward trend in the international market.

What a funny logic to justify and agree to the unprecedented hike in prices. Mr Wattoo after meeting with office-bearers of All Pakistan Sugar Mills Association said it had been agreed that sugar would be sold in the market at ex-mill rate of Rs 48 per kg in Sindh and Balochistan and Rs 49.75 per kg in Punjab and the NWFP. The sugar cane crushing season was over in March and sugar was being sold around Rs 38 per kg in the open market till a month back. Who will agree that all of a sudden the cost of the commodity has gone up by 30% just by keeping it in godowns. The local sugar prices should not be linked with the international prices, as the imported stuff would only be sold through the Utility Stores outlets for which the Government claims to pay a subsidy of Rs 98 crore. Even the sugar mill owners agree that there is no shortage of sugar and the existing stocks are enough till the next season. There would be many questions over the reasons, which made the Production Minister to surrender to the demand of the sugar cartel and it would be difficult to justify the increase. What is more astonishing is that the Federal Government has agreed to withdraw cases registered against the owners of sugar mills and hoarders and the provincial governments have been asked not to be harsh against them. There is need for a transparent probe into the whole sugar affair. The Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court has already taken a suo motu notice and we request the Chairman of Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly to step in and get the whole issue investigated in depth as people expect their representatives to protect their interest.







PROTEST demonstrations are being held in different parts of the country against assassination of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) Chief Allama Ali Sher Haidry. Apart from protests in other areas, there was complete shutter down in Khairpur, where the dastardly murder took place, forcing the authorities to close down schools and colleges and postponing papers of the matriculation examination.

It is genuine demand of the protestors that those behind the tragic incident should be brought to justice. But, as rightly pointed out by Maulana Samiul Haq, the Government has adopted a criminal silence over this serious development conveying an impression as if nothing unusual took place. One can disagree with the policies of the SSP but no one can deny the fact that killing could re-ignite the sectarian tension. The silence of the government would send wrong signals to the supporters and sympathizers of Maulana Haidry and the SSP. For many years, successive leaders of the SSP have been targeted but so far there is no tangible proof that the authorities pursued their murder cases with seriousness. The country is already passing through a critical phase because of intensified wave of extremism and terrorism and it cannot afford resurgence of sectarian violence. We would, therefore, urge both the Federal and Sindh Governments to probe the assassination of Allama Haidry in the right earnest and bring the culprits to book.











The Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) has raised the swine flu alert level to two in the country with the detection of as many as 36 new cases in a cluster form. So long people returning from countries with records of the disease were detected to have carried the H1N1 virus. But this time the IEDCR could not confirm how the fresh batch of patients got the disease. The IEDCR director however discloses that the cases are under study and maybe they will know the causes of the disease on completion of the analysis of the details of the cases.

What is important here is that common people will not be able to get any comprehensive idea of the extent of threat they are exposed to with the raising of the alert level. Alert level two is just a figure; what they need to know is about the chances of catching the disease and how to avoid it. As for those already afflicted, it is important to confirm their affliction as early as possible and where they must report to for confirmation and, if confirmed, where should they seek treatment.

After the declaration of a global swine flu pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on June1 last, Bangladesh has taken preparation for dealing with any crisis created by a possible breakout of this particular flu. Introduction of stringent screening at airports and land ports has definitely yielded good results and no death from the disease has been reported so far. But the detection of cases in clusters is a cause for serious concern and now the preparedness against a pandemic also has to be strengthened further.

Sadly, the health ministry now complains that other ministries and departments are not extending the required cooperation at this crucial time. The health ministry certainly has to rely on the information ministry to throw its messages concerning the do's and don'ts that prove effective against a possible breakout of the disease. Right at this moment there is a need for launching a vigorous campaign to make people aware of the rules of the thumb in order to restrict contaminated spread of swine flu.






Scientists warn of the unfolding of a scary spectre with the crisis of water deepening in Asia. They favour that countries in South Asia and East Asia 'spend billions of dollars to improve antiquated crop irrigation' aimed at raising food production for feeding an increasing number of population. Water management is the key here and they do not rule out conflicts within societies and between countries. Worse, their prediction has not taken into account the possible impacts of the global warming. The countries of the region will ignore the findings published in a new joint report by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation and the International Water Management Institute only to their own peril.
Many of the scientists think the answer lies in the intensification of irrigation, cropping and modernisation of the system built in the '70s. But if water is in short supply due to global warming, all the calculations may get upset. As for the heavy dependence on ground water for irrigation, there is hardly any alternative now. But the news is worrying that use of ground water in north India has caused the water table fall by several metres. The same may have happened or it will happen soon in Bangladesh as well.
An extreme form of drought looms large in much of India and perhaps in parts of Bangladesh due to this year's poor rainfall. So management of international rivers as well as other sources of water, both locally and regionally, will decide the fate of the countries in the region in terms of food production. Collection of rainwater in innovative methods such as the one devised by farmers in Rajsthan proves highly effective.  








I played the harmonica this Independence Day! Oh yes I did, and surprised even myself, because it's been a long time since I played the mouthorgan for a contest. It was many years ago, when I realised I wanted desperately to learn the piano but dad a businessman, and who was struggling at that time to establish himself told me it would be better if I learned something less expensive. "A piano costs thousands, maybe something cheaper Bob?" I chose the cheapest, the harmonica, which at that time cost me only five rupees!

"You mean you can play a tune on that?" asked my brother looking at the tiny instrument with amusement. "Yes," I said and struggled to play 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' which must have sounded like Jack and Jill, Humpty-Dumpty or some other such cacophonic noise to his poor ears. But I struggled and one fine day heard my dad whistling a tune I knew had just come out of my little instrument. "Hey dad you're whistling what I just played!" I said to my startled father and he smiled his acknowledgement that his son had finally learnt his first nursery rhyme, never mind a toddler would have learnt it faster.
"Give me the harmonica!" said my father and then surprised me, and the rest of us by playing a tune on it. "You didn't tell me you could play!" I said, as he winked at my mother and then proceeded to tell me how to wamp on it, how to cup my hands round it and make the weirdest sounds but which slowly became plaintive and sad when you wanted it to sound that way. And one day there was the competition: She played the piano, a concert pianist, and I stared mesmerised at her fingers as she rolled them down the keyboard and produced divine melody. I watched the audience, the judges, and they seemed as hypnotised. I fingered the little Hohner in my pocket. How, I wondered had I dared enter this contest? I placed the little instrument on my lips, looked at the audience and it seemed as if the little fellow pressing himself against my mouth was reassuring me, egging me on, and then I allowed him free into the tune I'd planned to play. When I drive long distance I find that suddenly on the highway, my machine and I become one, and the car speeds, zips, moves as if controlled by my thoughts, and that was what was happening to my little harmonica and me. I heard the applause, heard the claps get even louder as they announced the prizewinner; it was a tie between the pianist and me. I could have wept tears of joy. And this Independence Day I played again; Gandhiji's favourite hymn, I thought the others deserved the prize but the young judges God bless their pretty faces awarded it to me and to another. Again a tie! Again I was thunderstruck to hear I'd won, till I heard the little fellow in my pocket say, "Bob you and I we make good music huh?"

"Yes," I smiled, "We do, my dear lil' Puck we sure do...!"













WAYNE Swan is showing good judgment in refusing to rule out any possible tax changes as part of the Henry review, including family homes in the capital gains tax net. On Tuesday, the Treasurer set out three overarching goals for the review, which reports in December. They are to make the tax system simpler, to build in more incentives and to make it internationally competitive. If the Rudd government achieves its goals, which the national interest requires, it will have kicked a major reform goal in a field where the Howard government dropped the ball. After courageously risking its political life on the GST at the 1998 election, the Coalition, unfortunately, lost its nerve. Nearly a decade after the GST was introduced in July 2000, the tax system, the nine-volume, 4000-page Income Tax Assessment Act and associated regulations are ripe for reform.

For decades, The Australian has extolled the benefits of smaller government and lower, flatter taxes. For that reason, we would not lightly endorse any new taxes. At the same time, as Mr Swan told parliament, the Henry review is comprehensive and independent. Ruling out particular taxes, however unpopular with sections of the community, would be counter-productive by limiting the ability of the review team to devise the best system from the widest range of options. That's why The Australian disagreed with Mr Swan's quarantining a major section of tree trunk -- the 10 per cent GST rate and the products on which it is levied -- at the outset of the "root and branch" review.


There is no doubt many Australians believe that family homes should be sacrosanct from capital gains tax. However, it is up to Treasury secretary Ken Henry and his team to make an informed decision about the issue based on factual data, not sentiment. The absence of such an impost has helped Australians enjoy one of the highest home ownership rates in the OECD, about 70 per cent, a positive feature of our national life. And imposing a CGT on homes above a set figure, such as $2 million, would be seen by some as class warfare.


On the other hand, the absence of such a tax has encouraged home owners to trade upwards to pocket handsome tax-free profits. And such wheeling and dealing has helped inflate residential prices and erode affordability.


The review might also be concerned that many of the nation's wealthier families are minimising tax, legally, through investing heavily in residential property for their children, sometimes taking advantage of the first-home buyers grant into the bargain. The review needs to crunch the figures to decide whether some of the resources invested in housing would be better channelled towards more productive enterprises. The issue of making interest on residential loans deductible would also need to be looked at if a CGT were to be imposed.


In framing a new tax system, the review, ideally, should strive for a lower overall tax burden to encourage Australians to aspire to greater prosperity. Two of Mr Swan's goals -- greater incentives to earn and a more competitive system -- could be achieved through lower and flatter personal tax rates and a lower corporate tax rate. The present 30 per cent is uncompetitive by world standards. His third goal -- simplification -- could be achieved through paring back the current, complex web of business and personal deductions, which add to compliance costs. Nor should the politically sensitive area of middle-class welfare be ignored. About 40 per cent of Australian families pay no net tax under the present system of welfare/tax churn, which needs an army of bureaucrats in the middle. At the same time, those earning just above the various tax rates and means tests are penalised by the disincentive of high effective marginal rates.


Taken piecemeal, a CGT on family homes would always be unpopular. As part of a wide-ranging review, however, all potential measures need to be on the table. Wayne Swan is wise not to rule anything in or out.








Thus Kevin Rudd had a clear political motivation for avoiding a technical recession at any cost by throwing billions at the economy. Six months later, his refusal to revise that spending despite a better economic outlook smacks of that same political fear rather than good economics.

Without the cash splashes of December and February, Treasury estimates the economy would have contracted by 0.2 per cent in March -- negative territory certainly, but no big deal. The Australian supported the direct payments but questioned the allocation of $28.8 billion to infrastructure, schools and home insulation. Much of this money will be wasted, a tragedy given this is a once-in-a-generation spend. We welcome infrastructure spending but the Prime Minister must now use the Auditor-General's audit of schools to ensure funds are correctly targeted.


For the moment, Mr Rudd is so hung up on avoiding a technical recession that it appears he would prefer to see taxpayers laden with debt and higher interest rates rather than change his fiscal policy.








THERE'S nothing quite like a big resources project to get the adrenaline pumping. And so it was yesterday as the huge Gorgon natural gas deal dominated the news. This time, there is double cause for celebration.

Here is a $50 billion commitment from China -- with no strings attached -- sealed at a time when Australia's diplomatic relationship with Beijing is souring. What better illustration of our ability to run a dazzling economic relationship and still maintain an independent stance on geo-politics and human rights? What better illustration of a mature relationship than the comment from Resources Minister Martin Ferguson that it was "business as usual" with China?


Coming after the arrest of Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu, the downgrading of diplomatic contacts and the Chinese fury at the visa granted to Chinese dissident Rebiya Kadeer, the Gorgon deal reveals the reality behind the posturing: Beijing needs us. The extraordinary resources held by Australia outweigh political concerns for an energy-hungry powerhouse such as China. That nation may be icy on the diplomatic front at present but it is red hot when it comes to doing business with Australia.


The Gorgon deal, struck with China's biggest oil company, PetroChina, will lead to about 2.5 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas being exported from Western Australian every year. Unlike Chinalco's aborted effort to increase its stake in Rio Tinto, this transaction does not involve Chinese equity. Much has been made of the apparent failure of our Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister to strike up a special friendship with China. The opposition was at it again this week, arguing that Kevin Rudd "obviously has no leverage with China left at all". But as Richard McGregor, long-time Beijing correspondent for the Financial Times, wrote in this paper recently, the days of freewheeling diplomacy and building personal bonds with Chinese leaders are gone. The 21st-century Chinese Communist Party, he wrote, is a more institutionalised and bureaucratic outfit where patient diplomacy, more than Rudd's language skills, is important.


Mr Rudd and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith appear to understand that there is not a great deal they can do right now to swing Chinese opinion back our way. Instead, the government stuck to its principles by granting Ms Kadeer a visa and has taken a moderate approach to recent snubs. This contrasts with the People's Daily, which has gone out of its way to attack this paper's foreign editor, Greg Sheridan, for an article on Ms Kadeer.


Meanwhile, Australia is pragmatic about the importance of China in terms of driving our economy: Gorgon was the second big Chinese deal announced this week after the iron ore deal with the Fortescue Metals Group.


The politics of the Gorgon deal were not lost on Mr Rudd as he told federal parliament that it would provide $40bn in revenue to the government over 30 years and generate a peak of 6000 jobs. But the Prime Minister is positioning Australia for more than "business as usual" with our huge trading partner. He set the tone when, on his first visit to China, he commented on human rights issues in Tibet to the dissatisfaction of his Chinese hosts. It is a long way from the oriental romanticism of Gough Whitlam, the overt familiarity of Bob Hawke or the strictly business approach of the Howard government. Managing the diplomatic relationship will take skill and patience, but the good news is that the business end of the story seems to be running smoothly.








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




History is replete with evidence that the mixing of mass unemployment and xenophobia can prove poisonous, and new figures last week underlined the potential for joblessness to translate into hatred once more. The number of UK-born employees is down by 625,000 over the last year, while the number of foreigners working in Britain is actually slightly up. In these circumstances, it would be easy to whip up a sense of jobs being stolen, and to win cheap political points by restricting the rules – but much more difficult to do anything meaningful for UK workers who are out of a job.


Sensing that something must be done in the face of recession, back in February the then–home secretary, Jacqui Smith, asked the migration advisory committee (MAC) to examine a range of options for significantly tightening the already-tight points-based system for awarding work visas – which had only been introduced the previous autumn. Yesterday the committee reported, marshalling powerful evidence to reach its conclusion that only modest changes were justified. It is more than capable of taking a hard line, as it showed in the spring when it proposed barring foreign workers from tens of thousands of construction jobs.


The truth, however, is that it is now generally only an elite of highly-trained staff that is still eligible to come to Britain from outside the EU purely in order to work. Indian IT workers, for instance, who are shipped in by their firm, or those highly skilled in particular types of medicine or engineering where the UK is short on knowhow. Slamming the door shut – or even leaning on it any further – would do nothing for most unemployed people, who are unable to step into such roles. But it would deter international investment from those Indian firms and could also create recruitment bottlenecks, draining momentum from any recovery.


Total immigration, it is true, has been high by historical standards over the last decade, but the great driving force has been the eastward expansion of an effectively borderless Europe, together with the flow of students that our universities have come to depend on. Already by 2007, there were more Britons going abroad for work than there were non-EU nationals arriving here for the same purpose – and the gap between these two figures will have increased since then. The MAC suggested some tweaks – such as requiring firms to advertise in jobcentres for a little longer before they hunt for staff overseas – which represent a reasonable response to recession, but it rejected a more drastic changes. It was right to do so – keeping out the skills that Britain lacks can only hinder the economy and so, in the long term, the prospects of those without work.







Today the TV bulletins will be full of pictures of youngsters squealing over A-level results and plotting their futures at university. But there are some for whom higher education is not a well-worn conveyor belt – who go on to degrees as mature students, or with no A-levels behind them. And Ruskin College has been welcoming them for over a century. In (but never of) Oxford, Ruskin was founded in 1899 by two American socialists to provide educational opportunities for "the excluded and disadvantaged", and to transform their lives along with their communities. There are resonances with the social-mobility debate that rages today, but Ruskin's creation was part of an upsurge in mass education – of the miners' institutes with their libraries and reading rooms, the Workers' Educational Association and even the Everyman imprint of classic books launched in 1906. Named after the Victorian social critic John Ruskin, this Oxford redbrick specialised in politics, economics and the humanities. It attracted trade union members who came up on scholarships and came down with a degree and much more self-assurance – and it brought in tutors who were more leftwing than their students: the Marxist historian Raphael Samuel taught here for 30 years. Not that its pupils have always simply stuck to the books. In 1909 the Plebs' League, a group of students and former students, went on strike in support of a sacked college principal. "Oxford, city of dreaming spires / And bleeding liars," ran their slogan. Ah, the joys of a college education.







The carnage in Baghdad yesterday, with co-ordinated truck bomb attacks devastating half a dozen targets and mortars falling on government buildings, inflicted the highest number of dead and wounded since the Americans pulled out of Iraqi cities at the end of June. Nor was this an isolated incident: almost 700 civilians have died in the relatively short time since the Iraqis took over security in urban areas. The level of violence recalls the terrible year of 2006, when scarcely a week went by without its toll of destroyed mosques and markets, and numbed Iraqis almost counted on dying themselves or losing someone near and dear to them, so terrifying and inexorable were the statistics.


The cocky reaction of Iraqi generals and police chiefs when the Americans began their withdrawal to the sidelines looks pretty overblown in retrospect. Not only could they handle security as well as the Americans, some of these officers implied, they could handle it better with the foreigners out of the way. Now the Iraqi forces are face to face with their own deficiencies. Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, one of their commanders, was reduced yesterday to saying on state television that they "must take most of the blame". American journalists, reporting in recent weeks on the few joint operations that the two armies are now conducting, have picked up on the many bad habits that the training programmes have failed to eradicate, from slackness in patrolling to knocking off for tea at inappropriate moments. In a report which caused a stir when it became public two weeks ago, Colonel Timothy Reese, a senior US military adviser, listed corruption, poor management, lack of initiative, and failure to resist pressure from Shia political parties as unhappy characteristics of the Iraqi security forces.


Yet the situation today is very different from, and arguably better than, that in 2006. There are two important distinctions. The first is that the Iraqi army and police now have to try to deliver success without being able to buffer themselves from criticism by pointing to the American presence as the main cause of their difficulties. Iraqi public opinion has already shifted in line with this reality, and Iraqi commanders and security officials are going to have a much harder time in the future with their own people unless they can show a swift improvement in dealing with the insurgents. Indeed some American military men, including Col Reese, want to remove that buffer completely, urging a complete US withdrawal by the end of 2010. The second, more fundamental, difference is that both Shias and Sunnis have very different attitudes from those they had in 2006. Then there was open sectarian warfare. Today Shias are showing an astonishing restraint in their response to the attacks on their districts and places of worship and on the government, which of course is dominated by Shia politicians and representatives.

The prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has pacified the more extreme Shia political groupings, while the Shia religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has forbidden violent responses. Both see clearly that the intention of the insurgents is to provoke another round of sectarian war and they are wisely refusing to play the game. On the Sunni side, the attacks are also condemned, in contrast to 2006, when the silence of most Sunni leaders suggested either complicity or a fear of offending the insurgents so great as to almost amount to the same thing.


It is probably true that violence in the north – much of it not attributable to the insurgents, but to conflict between Kurds, Arabs and other minorities – is more of a threat to Iraqi stability than a new confrontation between Shia and Sunni in the rest of the country. Even so, Iraqi security forces must soon get a grip. There are limits to restraint which will be broached if these provocations continue unchecked.








South Korea has lost a great political leader. Former President Kim Dae Jung died Tuesday of multiple organ failure in a Seoul hospital at the age of 85. The 2000 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who tirelessly promoted the cause of reconciliation and cooperation between the North and South and played a critical role in the holding of the first inter-Korea summit in 2000, has left behind an enduring legacy.


While considered a shrewd political realist, Mr. Kim, as an opposition politician, was a man of indomitable spirit who never gave up even while being severely persecuted by successive authoritarian regimes. He spent six years in prison and lived for 40 years either under house arrest or in exile. His dedication to the struggle for democracy in South Korea was second to none.


He will also be remembered for his efforts to promote friendly ties between South Korea and Japan. In an October 1998 speech given at a banquet in the Japanese Imperial Court hosted by the Emperor, he called for building new relations between South Korea and Japan for the 21st century. His push for the gradual opening of South Korea to Japanese popular culture ultimately led to a wide exchange of pop culture between the two countries that continues today.


Mr. Kim's life was as dramatic as any Hollywood movie. By the president's own reckoning he survived five life-and-death crises and was imprisoned six times.


Born on a small island in Jeolla province in 1924 when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule, Mr. Kim was first elected to the National Assembly in May 1961. Immediately afterward, Maj. Gen. Park Chung Hee launched a coup d'etat and later became president.


In the April 1971 presidential election, Mr. Kim managed to garner 46 percent of the vote. But in the subsequent parliamentary election campaign his political foes carried out their first attempt on Mr. Kim's life. He and two aides were seriously injured when a truck rammed his car.


Another attempt on his life took place in 1973 while he was in exile. On Aug. 8, 1973, he was kidnapped from a Tokyo hotel by agents of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency. The agents were about to throw him into the sea from a boat but desisted when a U.S. military helicopter made a low pass over the vessel. He was later placed under house arrest in Seoul.


In March 1976, he was imprisoned for issuing the Independence Day Declaration for Democracy together with other prodemocracy activists on the first of that month. In 1978, he was released from prison but was placed under house arrest again.


President Park was assassinated in October 1979 and a coup d'etat led by Maj. Gen. Chun Doo Hwan took place that December. Subsequently, Mr. Kim was indicted on a charge of fomenting the May 1980 uprising in the city of Gwangju, which the Chun regime suppressed by killing many citizens. He was given a death sentence but it was later commuted to 20 years in prison. In December 1982, his prison term was suspended and he was allowed to live in exile in the United States. He returned to South Korea in February 1985.

In December 1997, he was elected president following three failed attempts in 1971, 1987 and 1992. His election marked the first change of power from the ruling party to the opposition party in South Korean political history.


When he took office in February 1998, his country was hard hit by the Asian financial crisis. He rigorously carried out structural reforms recommended by the International Monetary Fund and the economy grew more than 10 percent in 1999.


President Kim's "Sunshine Policy" emphasized peaceful cooperation with the North and included considerable humanitarian and economic aid. In June 2000, he flew to Pyongyang and held the historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. They agreed to build a peaceful coexistence that was expected to lead to peaceful reunification.


Perhaps Mr. Kim's biggest honor came in December 2000 when the Nobel Committee awarded him the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize "for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular."


The administration of the late President Roh Moo Hyun continued Mr. Kim's Sunshine Policy. A railway connection between the North and South was reopened and an industrial park funded with South Korean capital was established in the North's Kaesong area. Unfortunately, the relationship between the two Koreas has not developed as Mr. Kim envisioned, as evidenced by North Korea's nuclear tests in October 2006 and in May 2009. South Korean President Lee Myung Bak has adopted a hardline policy toward Pyongyang.


Although North Korea poses serious problems for regional security, all nations concerned, including Japan, should make concerted efforts to change the situation for the better by employing a trait that led Mr. Kim to the pinnacle of political success: perseverance.








Just two days after President Lee called for geographical reorganization of local administrations, along with electoral reforms, the mayors of two cities adjoining Seoul announced their agreement on taking steps for the integration of their communities. Regretting the failure of Gwangju City's to join them, Seongnam Mayor Lee Dae-yup and Hanam Mayor Kim Hwang-sik said the two cities will become one "with active support of residents."


Gwangju, Seongnam and Hanam had originally been one administrative unit of Gwangju County until the 1960s. Industrial development and urbanization caused the separation of rapidly populated parts as new cities. There were numerous such divisions of existing administration units in newly industrialized areas. People welcomed the change as becoming residents of a "city" implied progress while "county" rang of backwardness.


The divisions created many jobs and public positions but administrative redundancy and inefficiency followed inevitably. Besides, antagonism developed between the residents of adjoining units particularly over the establishment of garbage disposal plants and crematoriums. Natural boundaries have mostly disappeared around large population centers but the artificial dividing lines obstruct projects for environmental improvement on one hand and cause aggravation of the NIMBY phenomenon on the other.


Spontaneous moves for the "reunification" of separated units have emerged with the central government encouraging them, offering certain incentives. For the first time, Yeocheon City, Yeocheon County and Yeosu City were reunified in 1998 and the newly integrated city is to host the 2012 World Expo.


Unification of administration units also involves many problems such as choosing a new name, deciding the location of the new city hall and redistributing tax revenues. So it is vitally important that the National Assembly expedites legislation to establish standard procedures for integration and the central government provides adequate models suitable for different conditions in different areas.


The mayors of Seongnam and Hanam are providing examples of initiating voluntary integration. But they are advised not to neglect publicity activities to promote residents' understanding of the need for the unification of communities and its benefits. Hanam Mayor Kim has already experienced the trouble of a residents' recall action over his ambitious project to build a crematorium in the city.








Changes in electoral and administrative systems over the past decades in Korea were mostly limited to the increase or decrease of the number of National Assembly seats and the redrawing of electoral districts. The introduction of local autonomy with direct election of the chiefs of administrative units late in the 1980s was by far the most important democratic change of the governing system in this republic.


So, the geographical framework of national administration remained unchanged. Rapid urbanization caused the designation of one special (Seoul) and six metropolitan (Incheon, Daejeon, Gwangju, Busan, Daegu and Ulsan) cities and the upgrading of many counties to the municipal status. But the centuries-old three-tier structure of the central, provincial and county administrations has been maintained despite the development in transportation and communications.


A broad consensus has been established among the political, academic and social circles about the need to change the local administrative structure as well as the political representation system. Parties have come to almost identical views about the integration of counties and cities (into 60 to 70 larger units) and the average size of their population (some 700,000). Abolition of the province-level administration is commonly proposed by most groups.


President Lee Myung-bak triggered a hot debate in the political and civic circles as he called for the transformation of the local administration structure and a reform in the electoral system in his Liberation Day address on Saturday. He focused on reducing the number of elections which he blamed for political instability and ideological division of the electorate.


The president did not mention a constitutional amendment in his address. But his idea of putting various elections together could involve the change of the service terms of elected officials, hence it will require eventual revision of the basic law (to reduce the presidential tenure to four years to match the term of lawmakers).


Even the most conservative would find it difficult to refute the necessity of reforms aimed to save the national political energy unnecessarily consumed in frequent elections on various levels and to mitigate regional dominance by major parties, the worst malady in Korea's representative democracy. But the greatest hurdle is individual politicians' anticipation of disadvantage from proposed changes.


Members of the majority Grand National Party believe that they will have to concede many seats to opposition parties in the southeastern Gyeongsang provinces if multiple-representation constituencies are introduced, whereas the conservative party will still be difficult to penetrate in the southwestern Jeolla region dominated by the progressive Democratic Party. Pointing to such factors of resistance, President Lee emphasized that no reform will be possible unless parties are prepared to suffer losses.


Given the sharply confrontational political environment, any group's initiative for a change in the administrative and electoral systems, let alone constitutional amendment, would further exacerbate political and social antagonism. A step-by-step approach is recommended with parties joining in non-political studies to streamline the nationwide administrative structure first with thoroughgoing preparation by relevant government authorities.


This work could naturally develop into rearranging electoral districts and a shift from the present single representation to the plural-choice large constituency system. When this is achieved, the political community and civic groups may open public debate on a constitutional amendment to reflect global and domestic social changes during the past 22 years since the last revision. The target may be set for 2012 when both presidential and Assembly elections are to take place.







NEW YORK - Where is the American and global economy headed? Last year, there were two sides to the debate. One camp argued that the recession in the United States would be V-shaped - short and shallow. It would last only eight months, like the two previous recessions of 1990-91 and 2001, and the world would decouple from the U.S. contraction.


Others, including me, argued that, given the excesses of private-sector leverage (in households, financial institutions, and corporate firms), this would be a U-shaped recession - long and deep. It would last about 24 months, and the world would not decouple from the U.S. contraction.


Today, 20 months into the U.S. recession - a recession that became global in the summer of 2008 with a massive re-coupling - the V-shaped decoupling view is out the window. This is the worst U.S. and global recession in 60 years. If the U.S. recession were to be over at the end of the year, as is likely, it will have been three times as long and about fives times as deep - in term of the cumulative decline in output - as the previous two.


Today's consensus among economists is that the recession is already over, that the United States and global economy will rapidly return to growth, and that there is no risk of a relapse. Unfortunately, this new consensus could be as wrong now as the defenders of the V-shaped scenario were for the past three years.


Data from the United States - rising unemployment, falling household consumption, still declining industrial production, and a weak housing market - suggest that America's recession is not over yet. A similar analysis of many other advanced economies suggests that, as in the United States, the bottom is quite close but it has not yet been reached. Most emerging economies may be returning to growth, but they are performing well below their potential.


Moreover, for a number of reasons, growth in the advanced economies is likely to remain anemic and well below trend for at least a couple of years.


The first reason is likely to create a long-term drag on growth: households need to deleverage and save more, which will constrain consumption for years.


Second, the financial system - both banks and non-bank institutions - is severely damaged. Lack of robust credit growth will hamper private consumption and investment spending.


Third, the corporate sector faces a glut of capacity, and a weak recovery of profitability is likely if growth is anemic and deflationary pressures still persist. As a result, businesses are not likely to increase capital spending.


Fourth, the re-leveraging of the public sector through large fiscal deficits and debt accumulation risks crowding out a recovery in private-sector spending. The effects of the policy stimulus, moreover, will fizzle out by early next year, requiring greater private demand to support continued growth.


Domestic private demand, especially consumption, is now weak or falling in over-spending countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, etc.), while not increasing fast enough in over-saving countries (China, Asia, Germany, Japan, etc.) to compensate for the reduction in these countries' net exports. Thus, there is a global slackening of aggregate demand relative to the glut of supply capacity, which will impede a robust global economic recovery.


There are also now two reasons to fear a double-dip recession. First, the exit strategy from monetary and fiscal easing could be botched, because policymakers are damned if they do and damned if they don't. If they take their fiscal deficits (and a potential monetization of these deficits) seriously and raise taxes, reduce spending, and mop up excess liquidity, they could undermine the already weak recovery.


But if they maintain large budget deficits and continue to monetize them, at some point - after the current deflationary forces become more subdued - bond markets will revolt. At this point, inflationary expectations will increase, long-term government bond yields will rise, and the recovery will be crowded out.


A second reason to fear a double-dip recession concerns the fact that oil, energy, and food prices may be rising faster than economic fundamentals warrant, and could be driven higher by the wall of liquidity chasing assets, as well as by speculative demand. Last year, oil at $145 a barrel was a tipping point for the global economy, as it created a major income shock for the United States, Europe, Japan, China, India, and other oil-importing economies. The global economy, barely rising from its knees, could not withstand the contractionary shock if similar speculative forces were to drive oil rapidly toward $100 a barrel.


So the end of this severe global recession will be closer at the end of this year than it is now, the recovery will be anemic rather than robust in advanced economies, and there is a rising risk of a double-dip recession. The recent market rallies in stocks, commodities, and credit may have gotten ahead of the improvement in the real economy. If so, a correction cannot be too far behind.

Nouriel Roubini is chairman of Roubini Global Economics and a professor at the Stern School of Business, New York University. - Ed.


(Project Syndicate)








PRINCETON - The arrest in New York last month of Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum, a Brooklyn businessman whom police allege tried to broker a deal to buy a kidney for $160,000, coincided with the passage of a law in Singapore that some say will open the way for organ trading there. Last year, Singapore retail magnate Tang Wee Sung was sentenced to one day in jail for agreeing to buy a kidney illegally. He subsequently received a kidney from the body of an executed murderer - which, though legal, is arguably more ethically dubious than buying a kidney, since it creates an incentive for convicting and executing those accused of capital crimes.


Now Singapore has legalized payments to organ donors. Officially, these payments are only for reimbursement of costs; payment of an amount that is an "undue inducement" remains prohibited. But what constitutes an "undue inducement" is left vague.


Both these developments raise again the question as to whether selling organs should be a crime at all. In the United States alone, 100,000 people seek an organ transplant each year, but only 23,000 are successful. Some 6000 people die before receiving an organ.


In New York, patients wait nine years on average to receive a kidney. At the same time, many poor people are willing to sell a kidney for far less than $160,000. Although buying and selling human organs is illegal almost everywhere, the World Health Organization estimates that worldwide about 10 percent of all kidneys transplanted are bought on the black market.


The most common objection to organ trading is that it exploits the poor. That view received support from a 2002 study of 350 Indians who illegally sold a kidney. Most told the researchers that they were motivated by a desire to pay off their debts, but six years later, three-quarters of them were still in debt, and regretted having sold their kidney.


Some free-market advocates reject the view that government should decide for individuals what body parts they can sell - hair, for instance, and in the United States, sperm and eggs - and what they cannot sell. When the television program Taboo covered the sale of body parts, it showed a slum dweller in Manila who sold his kidney so that he could buy a motorized tricycle taxi to provide income for his family. After the operation, the donor was shown driving around in his shiny new taxi, beaming happily.


Should he have been prevented from making that choice? The program also showed unhappy sellers, but there are unhappy sellers in, say, the housing market as well.


To those who argue that legalizing organ sales would help the poor, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, founder of Organ Watch, pointedly replies: "Perhaps we should look for better ways of helping the destitute than dismantling them." No doubt we should, but we don't: our assistance to the poor is woefully inadequate, and leaves more than a billion people living in extreme poverty.


In an ideal world, there would be no destitute people, and there would be enough altruistic donors so that no one would die while waiting to receive a kidney. Zell Kravinsky, an American who has given a kidney to a stranger, points out that donating a kidney can save a life, while the risk of dying as a result of the donation is only 1 in 4000. Not donating a kidney, he says, thus means valuing your own life at 4000 times that of a stranger - a ratio he describes as "obscene." But most of us still have two kidneys, and the need for more kidneys persists, along with the poverty of those we do not help.


We must make policies for the real world, not an ideal one. Could a legal market in kidneys be regulated to ensure that sellers were fully informed about what they were doing, including the risks to their health? Would the demand for kidneys then be met? Would this produce an acceptable outcome for the seller?


To seek an answer, we can turn to a country that we do not usually think of as a leader in either market deregulation or social experimentation: Iran. Since 1988, Iran has had a government-funded, regulated system for purchasing kidneys. A charitable association of patients arranges the transaction, for a set price, and no one except the seller profits from it.


According to a study published in 2006 by Iranian kidney specialists, the scheme has eliminated the waiting list for kidneys in that country, without giving rise to ethical problems. A 2006 BBC television program showed many potential donors turned away because they did not meet strict age criteria, and others who were required to visit a psychologist.


A more systematic study of the Iranian system is still needed. Meanwhile, developments in Singapore will be watched with interest, as will the outcome of the allegations against Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum.


Peter Singer is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University and laureate professor at the University of Melbourne. His most recent book is "The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty." - Ed.


(Project Syndicate)











Under pressure from the Quebec College of Physicians and from women's groups, Health Minister Yves Bolduc has decided that abortion clinics are good enough, in terms of patient safety, that no tighter regulation is needed. So such facilities will be exempted from Bill 34, the pending Quebec legislation intended to regulate private medical clinics, which have been becoming more numerous ever since the Supreme Court of Canada opened the door for them.


At least 5,000 abortions are performed annually in private clinics in Montreal alone; the rate of medical problems in the process is so low that it has not reached the public consciousness. Accordingly, it clearly makes sense to leave these clinics alone.


But what about other private clinics, performing other routine procedures? Do the Bill 34 rules - requiring a full sterile operating room with special ventilation - make more sense for all of those other medical acts? It's easy to suspect that public-medicine zealots in government, in the unions, and elsewhere, are eager to entangle private medicine in as much red tape as possible.


The Quebec Federation of Medical Specialists has complained that "this excessive legislation" will "add to an already lengthy list of needless bureaucratic measures, undermine physicians' co-operation, attack their rights and professional independence, give discretionary power to the minister of health, and reduce patient access to our medical care."


The specialists noted that, for example, certain "benign and malignant tumors could no longer be treated in an office setting under the new rules." This will surely increase hospital wait times. In all, Bill 34 covers over 50 procedures.


Easy access to abortion has potent political support, and so the illogical tightening of requirements for abortion clinics was quickly scrapped. But the requirements under Bill 34 might well be too heavy-handed for other specialty-clinic medical acts, too. Bolduc needs to re-think this bill.







The tightly-regulated waters of French public swimming pools will not be open to women in burqinis. This bureaucratic decision has unleashed a tidal wave of opinion on a phenomenon that to date has affected exactly one woman.


Carole, a Frenchwoman who converted to Islam, is now spearheading the fight to allow women to swim in the burqini, a baggy approximation of a scuba-diving outfit, complete with head-covering.


For "reasons of public hygiene," French authorities in their wisdom require women to use public pools only when wearing attire that cannot be construed as street clothing. Male swimmers have little more than the Speedo option. The authorities are claiming, with a straight face, that single-purpose-only swimwear is less likely to introduce bacteria into a pool than roomy trunks or a burqini.


Carole is headed to court, saying the ban amounts to religious discrimination, a flash point in a country where any overt sign of religious belief is banned in elementary and secondary schools, and where French lawmakers recently proposed banning all "Islamic dress."


Perhaps it was inevitable that swimming pools would become the new battleground over social/religious sensibilities. Bathing suits have long been at the front lines of social change. One can at least swim in a burqini, which is more than can be said for the costumes women were required to wear 125 years ago in Europe.


This history of enforced cover-up is something backers of the burqini should remember. Women in the West have fought hard for the right to appear unencumbered in public, and for the freedom to practise sports in sportswear.


Do we need to say that women should be equally free to cover up if they wish? Men, too, should have the right to more modest swim attire. A spirit of acceptance of swimming garb is a far better solution than women- or men-only swimming schedules or religious-based schedules.


Lots of people have body issues. Let them wear what they want.








Apparently the Communist Party of China's Central Political and Legislative Affairs Committee has come up with a workable scheme to divert the pressure posed by letters and visits of complaints, or "xin fang," on Beijing.


Instead of being overwhelmed by desperate visitors from provinces, autonomous regions or municipalities, the authorities want to pre-empt the throngs and have the stories of injustice heard and handled outside Beijing.


We do not know for sure whether this is an expedient engineered specifically with an eye on the upcoming National Day celebration, though some do suspect that to be the case. We hope it is not. We would like every measure conducive to justice to prevail. Any constructive attempt to address the xin fang conundrum is more than welcome.


Since litigation and law enforcement continue to be the focus of popular dissatisfaction, the committee promises to dispatch special panels to provinces (autonomous regions or municipalities), where such complaints are concentrated, for hearings on the spot.


This is better than just ordering local authorities to stop people from bringing their sad stories to Beijing. That simplistic approach has resulted in official interceptors being sent from the provinces (autonomous regions or municipalities) to Beijing to track down and coaxingly take home innocent citizens who had no access to justice at home. In order not to have their career records tarnished by complaints, local officials are known to be ready to do whatever it takes to cover up problems occurring in their jurisdiction. We cannot take any more stories such as innocent citizens being sent to psychiatric hospitals or forced into custody just for wanting their complaints to be heard. Nor can the authorities' credibility stand it.


Having been through all those sad episodes, we believe the new initiative, if carried out earnestly, may bring about positive changes. For one, a section of people may have their problems solved without traveling all the way to Beijing.


Yet this, after all, remains an expedient. Not every province (autonomous region or municipality) can see such panels, and the panels are not there to stay. If they do stay, we will have to worry as to whether they will work as expected of them. Besides, that would do nothing to make local authorities behave.


People brave the risk of retaliation to bring injustice to the attention of higher authorities because they distrust local officials. The central authorities want to convince people that their problems can be solved locally, and that letters would be as effective as personal visits.


Sending inspectors to the provinces (autonomous regions or municipalities) alone cannot do the trick. The key to a solution lies in rebuilding local governance and public confidence. It is dangerous if every injustice has to be undone with direct intervention from Beijing.







The national basic medicine system that was initiated on Tuesday is a big step forward in cutting healthcare inflation and making medical bills affordable for all. The first essential medicine list published along with the system can be considered as one way of ending hospitals' reliance on sale of medicines for profit.


Prohibitive medical bills in recent years point to an unreasonable medicine supply system, which allowed hospitals to rely on medicine sales for profit: The more medicines, expensive medicines in particular, they sell, the more profits they will make. There were scandals that some doctors received kickbacks from medicine producers for prescribing their drugs.


Besides soaring medical bills, such practices posed a serious threat to the long-term health of many patients. Some doctors abused their authority to prescribe the most expensive drugs rather than the right ones for patients in order to get kickbacks. Over-medication and overuse of antibiotics turned out to be common problems.


The basic medicine system will prohibit doctors from using more expensive unlisted drugs. Listed ones will be sold at grassroots health facilities with zero cost added, which is expected to slash expenses for patients and, at the same time, stop over-medication and overuse of antibiotics.


The unhealthy tendencies in the field of healthcare, soaring medicine prices in particular, have proved that it is a disaster to turn hospitals into a profit-making player in the market.


High medical bills would make it difficult for the universal healthcare security net to cover 90 percent of the population by 2011. The situation of pharmaceutical companies passing their high costs onto the government-supported security system must be changed.


In this sense, the initiation of the essential medicine list paves the way for further reform of the healthcare system, which aims to meet the basic needs of all. The fact that medical expenses involving all the listed medicines can be reimbursed from the basic medical insurance account points to a virtuous cycle from reasonable and affordable medication to the universal healthcare security system.


Without the profits from the sale of medicines, hospitals will have to get subsidies from all levels of government to survive. Allocation from State funds for healthcare service is one way of letting as many people as possible share the fruits of economic reform.


If it has required great determination as well as effort and wisdom to design such a system, it will need even more effort at all levels of government to ensure its smooth implementation. There will certainly be many stumbling blocks to overcome before the system is in place all over the country within three years.







Recently on my way to Dunhuang, the Gansu city of caved Buddha fame, I was fascinated by what must be the largest wind farm on earth. These magnificent modern windmill arrays gently churned along both sides of the highway for miles forging a beautiful and highly unforgettable sight. Local officials later confirmed that this is the largest wind farm on earth, and it is situated in the city of Yumen, the first oil field in modern China. Its current capacity is 420,000 kilowatts, to be expanded by the year-end to 1 million kilowatts and ultimately to 10 million.


This is the tip of the iceberg. Projects of similar size are now being commissioned in six clusters all over North China, and one along the coast of Zhejiang, with a total planned capacity approaching 120 million kilowatts. These wind farms have to be huge to meet the economic and stability requirements to join the national power grid. Wind energy is now part and parcel of the Chinese national power supply system.


Wind energy is only part of the story. China is now leading the world in clean coal power plants, nuclear plant technology and is also the largest manufacturer of solar voltaic cells. The government has already earmarked 3 trillion yuan ($440 billion) until 2020 for the development of new energy. Compare this figure with the Obama-Biden platform pledge (that is, still words) of $150 billion in the coming decade to make new energy the next growth engine for the US economy, and one can appreciate the determination of the Chinese government in this direction.


By 2020, new energy is expected to constitute 17 percent of the country's power supply - to the tune of 290 million kilowatts. Of this, 86 million kilowatts will come from nuclear power, 150 million from wind, 20 million from solar power, and 30 million from bio-energy. With such a gigantic commitment, China will no doubt become the world leader in new energy in the coming decade.


New energy is an important component of the now popular low carbon economy. Another equally important component is transportation. In the 11th Five-Year Plan starting 2006, rail transportation has been designated as the major mode for the country, with a total investment of 1.25 trillion yuan in the five-year period. By 2020, there will be 120,000 km of railways crisscrossing the country, of which 16,000 km will be high-speed passenger railway handling trains of over 200 km per hour. In the aftermath of the international financial crisis, investment in rail transportation has been greatly accelerated. A total of 3.5 trillion yuan has been allocated for the next three years - a six-fold increase, and which can never happen in any other country. New figures are yet to be released, but the rate of transformation towards a much lower emission mode of transportation is obviously accelerated.


Even in terms of conventional cars, BYD, a Shenzhen car manufacturer in which Warren Buffett has a stake, is leading the world in hybrid technology. While other cars in the market are oil first and battery second as a back-up, the BYD hybrid is one step ahead. It is a fully chargeable electric car with oil as back-up. Besides, other hybrids use conventional lithium-based batteries which will explode on impact, but BYD has developed an iron battery which is much safer, and uses more readily available and cheaper material. Needless to say, it will be very simple for BYD to switch its production line to electric cars once peripheral facilities such as charging stations are in place. Unlike other industrialized countries, the oil and auto industry's vested interests are not that powerful, and the auto economy is still in embryonic form. Like Warren Buffett, I am more optimistic about the popularization of electric cars in China.


Another buzz in the now fashionable low carbon economy is "carbon capture and storage technology". The Western countries have developed this expensive technology, which they themselves cannot afford and are eager to push it to China. The world's most efficient carbon capture and storage mechanism is photosynthesis through green vegetation. Since 2000 China has been the only developing country that manages to consistently increase its forest coverage. Starting from 16.6 percent in 2000, it is expected to reach 20 percent in 2010, an amazing feat by any account. China is also leading the world in reclaiming farmland from deserts and soil erosion, at a rate of about 3,000 sq km per year - an area larger than Luxembourg. An increasing amount of carbon is being captured and stored this old-fashioned way.


Strictly speaking, per capita wise, China is a low carbon emitting country - less than one-fifth of the Americans - although its total emission is very high in the world. From China's point of view, water pollution is of a higher priority, because the threats are clear and immediate. As a developing country, China is not subject to any emission target. However, in the current 11th Five-Year Plan, the government has earmarked 500 billion yuan to treat air contamination. The growth rate of greenhouse gases emission has fallen significantly, to 1.5 percent yearly. Starting July 2007, the country stopped all production and importation of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide, three years ahead of the Montreal Protocol 2010 deadline for developing countries.


Having committed so much on a low carbon economy, China can now take the moral high ground at the Copenhagen Summit to extract more concessions from industrialized countries for the common good.


The author is a member of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Basic Law Committee of the National People's Congress Standing Committee.







As an old friend of China and an admirer of the Chinese people and their 5000-year-old history and culture, I have always pointed out aspects of life and attitudes in the People's Republic that do not match the glory of China and its civilization. It is in such a context that I would like to point out the high and low points during my and my wife's recent visit to China.


The high point came in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, when we saw the loving way in which the Chinese people have restored the Terracotta Warriors. Each clay soldier represents several hundred hours of effort, each second of which has been effective in forging the necessary link between the past, the present and the future. China has to be seen as a continuum, not as a series of discrete and unconnected eras. Each era has within it the chemistry of previous ones, and it is this fusion that has made Chinese culture rise once again from the turmoil of warlordism, cruel occupation of a third of the country by a foreign power and domination by many other countries, and the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). Today, all across this vast country, hundreds of millions of people are rediscovering their glorious past and, in the process, gaining confidence in an equally great future. Several museums have been built and many historical sites have been restored.


We were happy to see the respectful faces of the thousands who visited the Terracotta Warriors the day we did. Rich and poor, Chinese and foreign, all were silenced by this "invasion" from more than 2,000 years ago. That was not a time to talk; that was a time for silent reflection.


From the terracotta excavation sites, we were taken by our Chinese friends to the Wild Goose Pagoda, where we saw the monks at prayer and felt spiritual peace. Buddhism - unlike some other religions - has no political message, and accepts any system of government. Though Siddhartha Gautama, or Sakyamuni, was from India, it cannot be forgotten that the religion was brought to China and given shelter by the same monk whose spirit inspired the Wild Goose Pagoda, Xuan Zang. At a time when Buddhism was being almost eliminated in India by a resurgent Hinduism, energized by the teachings of Sankaracharya, the religion was honored and developed in China. Thus, although the India is the birthplace of Buddhism, the "house" nurtured the faith is China. And hence, it was China that ensured the health of and spread Buddhism to other countries such as Japan and Thailand. It is therefore with happiness that one sees the loving way in which Buddhism is once more being nurtured in China, so that the spirit of Xuan Zang is at peace with New China.


From the pagoda, we went to the gardens where Zhang Xueliang arrested Chiang Kai-shek and forced him to form a united front with the Communist Party of China against the Japanese invaders. It was not only to the 1930s that memories traveled while walking in the garden, but hundreds of years beyond that period, to when Chinese emperors would stroll there or take a bath in the Hot Springs. We imagined the pain the emperor must have felt when his favorite concubine was executed so that he would spend more time on matters of the state.


Later, we saw the Tang Park and the magnificent Famen Temple. The reconstruction of this ancient site has been done in a way that preserves the spiritual peace of the original structure.


A people proud of their past will work harder to ensure a good future. This is exactly what has been happening in China. But there are some other features of modern China that are not so pleasant. For example, the huge egg-shaped National Center for the Performing Arts (or National Grand Theater), built in the heart of Beijing, near so many historical buildings, has nothing Chinese about its architecture. From inside, its glass walls resemble an airport or a railway station. This building shows one of the weaknesses of China: the craze for foreign designs.


True, a great civilization must be open to other cultures and not hesitate to adopt any feature that can add value. India, for instance, has adopted the English language and made it part of its culture. But such mixing of the best from the rest of the world with what already exists at home is different from an attitude that regards only foreign ideas and trends as superior, from handbags and shoes to clothes and building designs.


China needs to avoid going the Japan way, where the youth, especially girls, as a matter of rule color their hair blonde because they regard it as superior to black, and who want to be Europeans rather than Japanese. Perhaps it is this lack of self-confidence in what is a great culture that has resulted in so many years of stagnation in Japan, a country that seems more at ease with Europeans than with Asians.


Europe may be great and its people may be wonderful, but so are Asia and the Asians. This continent needs to develop self-confidence after centuries of foreign domination, and China, India, Japan and Thailand must show the way.


In Beijing, we saw an exhibition that sought to establish a link between Chinese and Roman civilizations. Why can't we hold an exhibition that shows how close Chinese and Indian civilizations are, or how close Chinese civilization is to South-East Asian or East Asian civilization?


It seems the Chinese people are giving 90 percent of their attention to the West and only 10 percent to the rest of the world when the latter has become as important to China as the West certainly is.


India and China are the only civilizations to have continued without a break. China and India have been friends for about 5,000 years, yet there is still so little contact between the two. This needs to change. They need more people-to-people exchanges.


The Chinese should know what's happening in the social, cultural and political fields of India, and vice versa. We need to organize more exchange visits between the peoples of the countries, and ensure more students study in each other's campuses. The call of the times is for the two Asian giants to work more closely, and change the lot of the world.


The author is professor of Geopolitics and UNESCO Peace Chair, Manipal University.









Every year, Indonesian Independence Day is officially celebrated twice in each Australian state.  First on the actual day, where the red-and-white flag is raised solemnly in a formal ceremony in the consulate general grounds, then on a separate evening for a more informal and friendly reception.


However this year in Victoria, there is one more event: a formal reception hosted by the state premier, John Brumby, in honor of Australia’s northern near-neighbor and friend, Indonesia.


An overture from the Victorian government? A cynic would immediately look for an ulterior motive, given that there are always mutual suspicions under the surface where Indonesia and Australia are concerned.


However, if we push suspicions aside, we may see instead, that this was a warm response to an earlier gesture from Indonesian Consul General, Budiarman Bahar.


On July 12 the Victorian government, through its Multicultural Commission, organized a Walk for Harmony to affirm its commitment to multiculturalism.


Many communities were represented, but only the Indonesian community was led by its consul general. And this was not lost on the organizers and the premier. Several weeks later Budiarman received an offer to host the Independence day reception, which he gracefully accepted.


This was very significant because it was without doubt a gesture from the Victorian premier that he wishes his state to maintain a close friendship with Indonesia, by extending the outreach of multiculturalism beyond the national border. Victoria wants Indonesia to come on board.  


Set against the existing mutual suspicions – now dormant, but emerging onto the surface – between Australia and Indonesia, this gesture stands out. Last month the bombings in Jakarta’s JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels killed seven people and injured many more, and three of those killed were Australians.

Through premier John Brumby’s hosting of a reception in honor of Indonesia’s independence day, we understand that at least in this state, people realize that last month’s bombings do not mean that Indonesia has been victimizing or targeting Australians, but that Indonesia has been the main victim of this act of violence, perpetrated by a small number of extremists.   


Most important to note is that this perception has been generated by the manner in which the tragedy has been portrayed in Australian media.


Here, the Australian media have not focused only on Australia’s losses, but on everyone’s – those of Indonesia, the United States, Australia and others whose nationals happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Australia is even giving what assistance it can to Indonesia in helping to solve the problem of terrorism. So this more compassionate and less suspicious attitude toward Indonesia is more widespread than just in the State of Victoria.  


A marked decrease in defensiveness is also apparent on Indonesia’s part. Earlier this month, at the 2009 St George Bank Brisbane International Film Festival in Brisbane, Queensland, the film Balibo won two of the five jury prizes, the Interfaith and Fipresci Jury awards. Balibo tells the story about journalist (the late) Roger East investigating the earlier deaths of five of his Australian colleagues in East Timor in 1976.


For decades the mention of issues related to East Timor, including the Balibo deaths, would raise the hackles not only of the power elite in Indonesia, but also of people in the community.


Tensions would follow, and there would be a backlash in the media which also might show up in certain policies or reactions, both open and covert. Reactions could become so irrational and emotional that effective solutions to resolve these differences were unlikely.


However this time, the Balibo film hardly caused a stir, either in diplomatic circles or in the community.  
For example, no protests, no representations were reported demanding that the Festival should not screen the film, let alone that the prizes should be canceled.


This may also be because shortly before the screening of Balibo in Queensland, in Victoria, the Melbourne Film Festival featured John Hughes’ presentation on the background of the making of Indonesia Calling, a film telling the story about the support given to Indonesian independence activists exiled in Australia during the struggle for independence.


In addition, the relative tranquility on the diplomatic front between Indonesia and Australia is partly the result of the huge political and social developments in Indonesia in the last few years.


In any case, these phenomena hopefully herald a maturing of the relationship between Australia and Indonesia.


However we have to be realistic and must not expect this to happen overnight.  We still hear and read of complaints, from some individuals, who express concern that “madrassas” in Indonesia are training terrorists who are out to kill Australians, and should have been shut down, while this is portrayed as proof that Indonesia is not serious about fighting terrorism.


More people are headline readers it seems, rather than readers of full articles or stories. Maybe media in both countries could extend their courtesy further by being more circumspect when devising headlines.


In Australia foreign affairs are handled on the federal level, but when a state government extends a show of friendship, it is closer to the ground, to the people and the community.


Since this kind of friendship usually survives upheavals on the official government level, it is hoped that what Premier Brumby has done will be well received and well appreciated, and thus help maintain mutual goodwill.







At first glance, the National Police (Polri) proposal – which the Indonesian Military (TNI) also gave the nod to – to give security authorities more legal clout when dealing with terrorists and their supporters is a positive sign, and deserves the full support of all parts of the nation. The proposal came in alongside a TNI plan – channeled through the Army headquarters – to reactivate intelligence units at military command posts (Korem) nationwide.


It is true that an all-out battle against terrorism is a necessity. However, this proposal and plan need to be carefully examined so as to avoid repeating past mistakes, such as violating the human rights of people allegedly implicated in terrorist activities, or suspected of supporting terrorists. Do we really want to go back to the days when our guaranteed freedoms and rights were sidelined for the sake of security and economic development? Where have all those noble principles of presumption of innocence and equality before the law disappeared to?


The arguments provided by Polri are reasonable and coincide with the public’s wish to live in a country free from all forms of terrorism.


However, Polri said the authority to detain terror suspects for seven days without an arrest warrant was not enough to completely deter terrorism, as the 2003 law on terrorism did not allow them to detain people who colluded with terrorist groups.


The individual citizen’s liberty and granted rights have come under further threat after the police indicated a plan to adopt the ISA (Internal Security Act), a piece of legislation very similar to that passed in neighboring Singapore and Malaysia, and said to have been successful in uprooting terrorism there.


Should the plan become concrete, all our achievements as a democratic country could be erased, as we will have to say goodbye to all of our freedoms and basic rights as individuals. We have endured enough under Soeharto’s repressive New Order government and we do not want the re-emergence of another “Soeharto” in the future.


Perhaps the most worrying fact is that the proposal came in the wake of the police’s – and the intelligence community’s – failure to detect the whereabouts and capture the most wanted terror fugitive Noordin M. Top.


Instead of improving their counter-terrorism skills and capability, the police have opted to seek stronger legal support to perform their counter-terrorism activities, which might overlap with the existing 2002 law on the National Police. The 2002 law on the National Police is substantially more than enough to provide the police with the legal umbrella they are looking for. Article 41 of the law, for example, allows the police to seek help from the TNI when establishing security and order.


With regard to improving our intelligence community’s capability to detect and prevent potential acts of terrorism, it is perhaps necessary to restore the State Intelligence Agency’s (BIN) coordinating role regarding data and information gathering, a role that the then much-feared National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (BAKIN) once held in the past. Any plan to reinstate the intelligence agency’s coordinating role must also come with stipulations preventing the agency from carrying out abusive practices.


As former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli says: “We are not creatures of circumstance, we are creators of circumstance.”




EDITORIAL from The Pioneer, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Financial Express, The Hindu, The Statesman’s, The Tribune, Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald, Economic Times, The Telegraph, The Assam Tribune, Pakistan Observer, The Asian Age, The News, The New York Times, Dawn China Daily, Japan Times, The Gazette, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian and more only on EDITORIAL.



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