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Friday, August 21, 2009

EDITORIAL 21.08.09

August 21, 2009

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Month August 21, Edition 000277, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

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

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2.      WHO TO OPPOSE?











































2.      WAKE-UP CALL











1.      MIXED CODE
























3.      AUTO-DA-FE













































2.      FIRE THE KPU








It is truly praiseworthy that for the first time Chief Ministers of the various States have been able to generate consensus regarding the action that needs to be taken to contain the Maoist threat plaguing the country, supporting inter-State security operations led by Central paramilitary forces. The unified stand, cutting across party lines, came at the recent Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security where everyone present advocated an all-out offensive against the Left-wing guerrillas to completely wipe them out. It is also noteworthy that the consensus was underpinned by the understanding that the Maoists are bereft of any ideological moorings and are nothing more than opportunist criminals. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh described the ultras as “a conglomeration of criminal elements”. There is a lot of truth in this description. Maoists, far from fighting for the rights of the depressed sections of the society, have been guilty of committing all sorts of atrocities on the weak and vulnerable. In those districts of the country where the Maoists have virtually supplanted the local administration, they have mercilessly executed those who refused to bow down to their diktats. The Maoists thrive on violence and intimidation — as was recently demonstrated in Lalgarh, West Bengal — and given their determination to take up arms against the Indian state, they should be treated no differently from a terrorist organisation.

That said, the consensus among the Chief Ministers should now translate into a coherent strategy to fight the Maoists. It is welcome that emphasis has been laid on inter-State cooperation. This should create conditions for exchange of information and experiences among the States that are affected by the Maoist scourge. Through such a mechanism States like Orissa would do well to pick up some useful tips from Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where the respective State Governments have demonstrated the will and the conviction to take on the Maoists with determination. In this respect, Andhra Pradesh’s model of using a judicious mix of force and development is something that merits duplication. The State’s elite anti-Maoist Greyhound force has been responsible for liberating numerous districts that were previously under the vice-like grip of the Maoists. But more importantly, this has been followed up with development work to win over the hearts and minds of the local people so that they do not fall prey to Maoist propaganda in future. Consultations between the States should also lead to the formation of an inter-State intelligence module that could serve as a one-stop hub for exchange of real-time information of Maoist movement and activities across State boundaries.

The Maoist threat to national security today has reached proportions that require not only sound inter-State cooperation but also vibrant Centre-State cooperation for its containment. Unless there is a healthy synergy between Central and State forces fighting the Maoist guerrillas, the latter will continue to expand the scope of their operations. Also, it is extremely important that the fight against the Maoists is not politicised. Nor should it be made out to be a game of passing-the-buck between the Centre and the States. It is imperative that everyone pulls together to tackle the Maoist menace. It is high time that all the resources at the state’s disposal are unleashed to battle the Left-wing extremists. We must act before it is too late.







There is a certain loneliness that comes attached with the top job in any Government — whether at the Centre or in the States. When the going is good, the cheering crowds are there. But when the leader is seen as a falling star, the crowds disappear like so much vapour and adulation turns into criticism. That’s what is being witnessed in West Bengal where the Left is now seen to be on the decline and on its way out of power after ruling the State for more than three decades. The first to jump the ship, as always, are white-collar opportunists, followed by lumpens who till recently formed the bulk of the Marxist cadre brigade. The middle class sways with the wave; the working class is almost non-existent in industry-starved West Bengal. It is, therefore, not surprising that Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee should now find himself increasingly isolated and abandoned by those of his comrades who till recently had hitched their political fortunes to what came to be known as ‘Brand Buddha’. Mayakovsky’s darkly brooding poetry once again beckons the intellectual-turned-Chief Minister whose ‘Do It Now’ slogan, which won him two elections in a row, now lies forgotten, his dreams of industrialising the State in tatters. Reports emanating from Kolkata suggest that Mr Bhattacharjee has been absent from office for 10 days; he is said to be ‘unwell’ but his associates in the CPI(M) and in the Cabinet say they are unaware of what ails him. Politics does not sustain a vacuum for long and suggestions are already being voiced for a Deputy Chief Minister to ‘lessen’ Mr Bhattacharjee’s burden. It could well be the CPI(M)’s way of both letting him know that he is dispensable as well as reassuring the diminishing ranks of cadre that the party is not bereft of leaders.

But dumping Mr Bhattacharjee or hobbling him with a party-anointed deputy is unlikely to turn around the fortunes of the CPI(M) in West Bengal. The Marxists stand thoroughly discredited, not so much for the Left Front’s policies as for the excesses of the party bureaucracy. The people are no longer afraid to stand up and be counted, to resist the violent means of keeping the masses in thraldom, to vote against the sickle-hammer-star symbol. There is resentment that is building up by the day against a dissolute regime which presides over a dysfunctional administration. In the situation that now prevails, neither the Government trusts the people, nor do the people trust those in power. The first casualty in such a situation is governance — or what passes for it in West Bengal. Rather than persist with policy and programmes, they are being rolled back. Lawlessness reigns supreme. Perhaps it would be best if the Left were to call for early polls rather than wait till 2011 to make an ignominious exit.






Who was responsible for the creation of Pakistan? Could partition have been avoided? Was it merely the result of Britain’s attempt to divide India before leaving so that it could have elbow room in the sub-continent by playing India and Pakistan against each other?

Mr Jaswant Singh’s book on the subject reached the top of the charts even before its official release because he added much zing to the controversy over who was responsible for partition. According to the book Jinnah — India, Partition and Independence — Mohammed Ali Jinnah was not actually seeking Pakistan but a certain ‘space’ for Muslims which the Congress, more specifically Jawaharlal Nehru, was adamant on denying. Thus, Jinnah was ‘forced’ to seek partition.

This hypothesis is a red-herring, for, it seeks to deflect the focus from the real sinners of partition. In fact, neither the Congress nor Jinnah was responsible for partition. Nehru and others did fail to understand the challenge of Muslim separatism. The British, of course, played a mischievous role and the Communists provided the Muslim League with all the intellectual arguments it needed to press for partition.

The seeds of vivisection of India were sown long before the arrival of either Jinnah or Nehru on the Indian political scene. The real culprit was the Muslim psyche, which lived in the ‘glorious’ past when the Islamic sword ruled India. The prospect of living as equals with kafirs in independent India was unacceptable to Muslims. Jinnah, a leader without any mass following till the 1930s, was an instant hit with Muslims after he started articulating their separatist demands.

Speaking in Meerut on March 16, 1888, over a year before Jawaharlal Nehru was born, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, founder of Aligarh Muslim University, had espoused the two-nation theory. He had asked, “Is it possible that two nations — the Mohammedans and the Hindus — could sit on the same throne and remain equal in power? Most certainly not. It is necessary that one of the two should conquer the other.”

Sir Syed’s line of thinking came to strongly influence the Muslim community in the following years. On October 1, 1906, the Aga Khan led a Muslim delegation in Shimla that met Viceroy Lord Minto with two main demands: Muslims should be represented only by Muslims in all ‘democratic’ institutions and such representation should be in excess of their numerical strength.

BR Ambedkar in Pakistan or the Partition of India termed this development as “the beginning of the British Government’s policy of giving favourable treatment to the Muslims” and “to wean them away from the Congress and to create a breach and disunity between the Hindus and the Mussalmans”.

Two months later, in December 1906, the Muslim League was formed in Dhaka. And in 1908, after his return from England, Muhammad Iqbal wrote a poem Tarane-i-Milli, the first line of which reads: Chino-Arab hamara, Hindustan ho hamara, Muslim hain hum, Watan hai Saara Jahan hamara (China and Arabia are ours, Hindustan is ours; we are Muslims and the whole world is ours).

In his presidential address at the All India Muslim League session at Allahabad on December 29, 1930, Iqbal demanded a ‘Muslim India’ within India. Rahmat Ali, a student at Cambridge University where Iqbal had also studied, coined the name ‘Pakistan’ to encapsulate Iqbal’s idea, and pamphlets explaining the idea of Pakistan were distributed among the delegates of the Round Table Conference in London in 1931-32. So the two-nation paradigm took just 40 odd years to develop into a solid proposal and another 17 to become a reality in 1947.

During this period, the bulk of the Hindus opted for the Congress. Muslims, in turn, opted for Jinnah, and not even five per cent of the people remained with Mahatma Gandhi. The fact that the Muslim masses did not follow Maulana Azad, a deeply religious Muslim, and supported Jinnah, who was not a practising Muslim, is itself instructive of the influence of Sir Syed’s two-nation theory.

In all historic evaluation of the events that led to partition, one must take into account the differing perceptions of the majority of Hindus and that of the majority of Muslims to the concept of independent India. Surely, Mr Jaswant Singh’s treatise on Jinnah is bound to raise many a storm in India, but these are likely to be academic in nature.

But the situation on the other side of the border is different. Over the last 62 years, India has fought separatist militancy and survived as a secular democracy. Governments, both at the Centre and in the States, have come and gone in response to freely expressed popular will, without any bloodshed. This is not the case in Pakistan. It is battling for survival against a backlash of Muslim orthodoxy, in spite of the fact that Pakistan is a declared Islamic republic. The orthodoxy in Pakistan believes that the country is still not Islamic enough.

Ever since its birth on August 14, 1947, Pakistan has made ‘hate India’ the only theme of its existence. After realising over four wars that India cannot be defeated, it has resorted to using terrorism to divide India and destroy its economy. Neither terrorism nor promoting divisive forces, however, has shaken the Indian edifice.

Those who believe that Jinnah was secular have a lot to explain regarding Pakistan’s India-specific focus. Ashley Tellis, a Yale University expert on Pakistan, had pointed out last January that India’s achievement in becoming a peaceful, prosperous, multi-ethnic and secular democracy remains an affront to the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba’s vision of a universal Islamist caliphate begotten through tableegh or preaching and jihad.

The debate about Jinnah’s legacy is irrelevant for India. Instead of debating Jinnah’s ‘secular credentials’, we must seek to properly evaluate the threat to our secular democracy from the resurgent Islamic orthodoxy in Jinnah’s Pakistan, of which Al Qaeda, the LeT, etc, are only symptoms.







Barack Obama’s assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, Mr John O Brennan, conveniently outlined the Administration’s present and future policy mistakes in a recent speech, “A New Approach for Safeguarding Americans.” To start with, his address to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, has an unusual tenor. ‘Sycophantic’ is the word that springs to mind, as Mr Brennan 90 times in 5,000 words invokes either ‘President Obama’, ‘he’, ‘his’, or ‘the President’. Disturbingly, Mr Brennan ascribes virtually every thought or policy in his speech to the wisdom of the One. This cringe-inducing lecture reminds one of a North Korean functionary paying homage to the Dear Leader.

Specifics are no better. Most fundamentally, Mr Brennan calls for appeasing terrorists: “Even as we condemn and oppose the illegitimate tactics used by terrorists, we need to acknowledge and address the legitimate needs and grievances of ordinary people those terrorists claim to represent.” Which legitimate needs and grievances, one wonders, does he think Al Qaeda represents? Mr Brennan carefully delineates a two-fold threat, one being “Al Qaeda and its allies” and the other “violent extremism”. But the former, self-evidently, is a subset of the latter. This elementary mistake undermines his entire analysis.

He also rejects any connection between “violent extremism” and Islam: “Using the legitimate term jihad, which means to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal, risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve. Worse, it risks reinforcing the idea that the US is somehow at war with Islam itself.” This passage regurgitates a theory of radical Islam that, according to Lt Col Joseph C Myers of the US Air Command and Staff College, “is part of a strategic disinformation and denial and deception campaign” developed by the Muslim Brotherhood. Discredited in 2007 by Robert Spencer, the theory distinguishes between good jihad and bad jihad and denies any connection between Islam and terrorism.

It’s a deeply deceptive interpretation intended to confuse non-Muslims and win time for Islamists. The George W Bush Administration, for all its mistakes, did not succumb to this ruse. But Mr Brennan informs us that his boss now bases US policy on it!








Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on the eve of his country’s 62nd independence day announced a series of reforms in the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies. Though delayed by decades, this initiative is a welcome development, for this is what the people of FATA have been looking for since Pakistan became independent.

Of the many points Mr Zardari made on the issue, the following need to be analysed. This reform package, according to reports, includes three crucial areas: Extension of political activities in FATA, establishment of an appellate tribunal, and reducing the arbitrary powers of political agents.

Allowing political activities is likely to address many issues in FATA. As of now, political parties are banned from politicking in the area whereas in the settled districts of the North-West Frontier Province, political parties have been allowed to function. Though FATA elects members for the National Assembly, they are not based on political parties. More importantly, the people of the tribal agencies have no representation in the provincial Assembly of NWFP.

In the absence of political parties, two agencies became powerful in representing the people of FATA — the political agent appointed by the Government and the tribal jirgas elected by the people. Since the political agent is appointed by the Government, his/her loyalties are with the state and not with the people. Whereas the jirgas, though elected by the people, have neither administrative nor legal powers. As a result, both these instruments failed to respond to the needs of the people; in the process, a huge void is created. The Taliban and its local supporters have filled this void in the last few years by trying to be an alternate source of power.

What is needed in this context of allowing political parties to function is extending this process to provincial politicking. Currently, as the name itself suggests, FATA is directly administered by Islamabad, like the Union Territories in India are governed directly by New Delhi. However, unlike the UTs of India, FATA does not have its own administration and Government. For the last few years, a section within FATA has been demanding to merge FATA with NWFP. This section prefers the seven tribal agencies of FATA to be demarcated into districts and merged with NWFP. From Chitral in the north to Dera Ismail Khan in the South, NWFP has 24 districts; more than half of these districts of NWFP have borders with the seven tribal agencies of FATA. In terms of socio-economic conditions and requirements, these agencies share much in common with the settled districts of FATA.

Another section has been demanding the conversion of FATA into the fifth province of Pakistan. Supporters of this demand argue that historically in the last six decades FATA’s political growth has been slightly different from that of NWFP. Besides, they also consider the economic and governance demands of FATA need an exclusive focus, hence equating with the settled districts will not be productive.

Whatever may be the case, the proposed package for FATA does not look into this crucial issue — of converting FATA into settled districts of NWFP or the fifth province of Pakistan. Extension of political parties into FATA is a welcome development, but it is too late now. Issues are much more serious and deserve a radical reform.

The second major highlight of Mr Zardari’s FATA package is the curtailing of arbitrary powers of the political agent. This institution is perhaps one of the most corrupt and abused system of governance in the entire South Asia. The political agent with a group of maliks, whom he appoints on his own, runs an archaic system with full administrative, legal and judicial powers and absolutely no accountability. The legendary Robert Warburton, a former Lieutenant Colonel of the British Indian Army, who fought in the Second Afghan-Anglo war, in his famous book Eighteen Years in Khyber has commented on the political agent and malik as someone who “robs his tribesmen, gets rich himself, intrigues against the Government, and brings on grave difficulties. Giving a malik power means giving him wealth to injure us... the middleman, therefore... has caused the greatest amount of misery.”

The above comment made in 1900 holds good even almost after a century. If something has happened in the last 11 decades, the political agent and maliks have in fact become worse than what they were during the time of Warbuton. Armed with Frontier Crimes Regulation, which was originally promulgated by the British in 1873, perhaps one of the most outdated and undemocratic of the British enactments, the political agent has the powers of the legislature, executive and judiciary. In the last few decades there has been a heavy demand from FATA to repeal the FCR from which the political agent of FATA derives his powers. In this context, Mr Zardari’s statement on curtailing the powers of the political agent is a welcome development but what is needed is the total abolition of this post along with the complete repeal of the FCR.

Finally, Mr Zardari’s package also consists of establishment of a Tribunal for FATA. Undoubtedly, given the circumstances, this is the most desired. As of today, there are two acceptable modes of dispensing justice — the political agent and the tribal jirgas. In the last few years, the Taliban have been imposing their own justice system according to their own sharia’h. It is imperative that the people of FATA also come under the judicial process, according to the rule of law. One only hopes this extension in FATA does not go the Swat way where the mainstream legal process is seen by the Swatis as corrupt and time-consuming.

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








There appears to be widespread jubilation over the ruling given by the Supreme Court on August 8 that the fees in the unaided private schools cannot be increased without the approval of the Directorate of Education, Government of Delhi. The petitioners, namely some schools, have also mildly welcomed the judgement because it allows one school with surplus to help a sister school run by the same society. Evidently, there is only a limited appreciation of the long-term effect of the increasing restrictions being placed by the courts upon private schools. On the one hand, fees are being restricted and on the other, expenses are being increased under governmental compulsion such as the Sixth Pay Commission.

A gardener or a cleaner, who was getting Rs 10,000 last year, is now being paid Rs 15, 000 with retrospective effect from January 1, 2006. Imagine the cost escalation of the other staff. Higher salaries should attract better teachers leading to better education so long as the school can afford to pay and pay for a sufficient number; the teacher student ratio is important for quality education. This Government approval for a fee hike is contrary to the landmark 11-judge Bench order called the TMA Pai case in the apex court. The most relevant sentence is quoted below:

“While an educational institution is not a business, in order to examine the degree of independence that can be given to a recognised educational institution, like any private entity that does not seek aid or assistance from the Government, and that exists by virtue of the funds generated by it, including its loans or borrowings, it is important to note that the essential ingredients of the management of the private institution include the recruiting students and staff, and the quantum of fee that is to be charged.”

Of the three judges who delivered the August 8 order, Justice SB Sinha is reported to have dissented on the basis of the TMA Pai order. So far, one would say that the private schools are being given a treatment reminiscent of a walnut by two pronged cracker. But this is not all; there is a third prong which undermines the economy of a school. Private schools are expected to admit a significant percentage of children of the economically weaker section on a free-ship basis. This again is sociologically a splendid step in order to give the poor a chance to be an equal citizen. But here again, the school should be enabled to afford this free education.

At present this is tantamount to teaching a 100 students with fees coming from only 80. This becomes a deadly prong when we remember that ceilings have been put on the fees. While these measures are being perpetrated, neither the courts nor the Government remember that the primary duty of educating children is that of the Government; more so when it charges a cess from all income tax-payers specifically for education.

Incidentally, school education for every child in Britain, France and Germany is free. Those who pay are only the rich who insist on exclusive education. The quality of teaching in Government schools in most States of India is widely known to be poor; in Delhi there are more seats in State schools than there are children willing to occupy them. Even the poorest parent would prefer to send his child to a private school.

Yet, the Government of Delhi does not permit even the unaided schools to teach twice a day, a consent that would immediately double the capacity of quality education. Notwithstanding the fact that Government schools are run on double shift. Nor would the policy-makers consider leasing out the declining Government schools to those unaided ones which are popular. The unfortunate flip side of implementing these measures would be that a large number of officers who run the education department would become redundant.

For the same reason, a voucher system is not being seriously considered. Issuing a voucher to the poor parent for say Rs1500 per month would enable him choose an unaided school. The voucher would make up the difference between what the school charges and what the parent can afford. The voucher idea was innovated by American educationist Milton Friedman in 1955 and has also been successful in countries like Chile, Sweden and Ireland. However, implementing this scheme would mean further redundancy in the department. If keeping bureaucrats occupied somehow is a national priority, one can only pray for the children.

The Sixth Pay Commission pay scales have caused a large number of unaided schools to become loss making. If the deficits continue, the choice before the school managements would be either to run down the quality of their teaching or close down their institutions or sell out the schools. In every case education would suffer. In the last alternative of a sell out the schools are likely to go into the hands of opportunists.








Should we wake up about our own security regulations after Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan was detained at the Newark airport? The incident, which had been blown out of proportion by the media and a few politicians, has provoked a mixed reaction with some like actor Salman Khan wondering what is the big deal about it and others, including some Ministers, condemning it.

Much has been said about the Newark airport incident, but what about the bigger picture? Was the matinee idol the first to have been detained at the airport? It is a big no. In fact most Asians and people from the West Asia go through this. Security checks in the US have not become lax even eight years after 9/11. Often visitors to this country feel helpless when immigration authorities tell them to step aside and follow the red lines to an adjacent room at the immigration counter.

One cannot understand why the King Khan is upset as he would have been released any way once the US immigration was convinced of his identity.

Here the argument in favour of the US is that it has every right to stipulate and follow its own regulations for entry into the country and that no terrorist attack has taken place after 9/11. Can the same be said of India?

Second, no one is above law and security and immigration cannot be influenced by the political bosses in the US. Remember how US President Barack Obama had to make up with the Boston Police officer last month after terming the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr in his own house for trespassing a stupid act? Mr Obama was quick to make amends by hosting a beer party at the White House for both the offender and the offended party. Even personalities like former US Vice President Al Gore and Senator Edward Kennedy were not spared by the security men, but instead of making a fuss they had taken it in stride.

Third, the Shah Rukh Khan incident is not isolated. Last month a furore was raised about frisking former President APJ Abdul Kalam at a New Delhi airport but Mr Kalam never made a hue and cry about it. Before him Mr George Fernandes had undergone such treatment at a US airport. Last year External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee was frisked in Moscow. Some time ago a Cabinet rank VIP was detained for an hour right in front of the New York Consul General and they could do nothing until the interrogation completed.

Remember how the request of the Ministry of External Affairs not to frisk former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee was turned down by the UK and Australia last year? A piqued Chatterjee decided not to visit those countries on principle that being a constitutional authority he would not subject himself to frisking. So others who object to these security checks should either put up with it or not go abroad. Only recently the Government came up with a long list of people including all the Council of Ministers to be exempted from frisking after an embarrassment to one of the Ministers at an airport.

The incident brings us to the broader issue of security regulations in India. While Cabinet Ministers like Ambika Soni and Praful Patel are cribbing about the American ‘behaviour’, will they really follow a tit-for-tat policy, as Ms Soni claimed. Tightening security checks and doing away with a long list of VIP exemptions is what is needed now.

It is time that VIP culture should stop in India too. The Supreme Court has already shown the way by stopping the VIP darshan in the famous Tirupathi temple. It is amusing to see our politicians standing in queue to cast their votes during elections, but as soon as they are elected, they distance themselves from the aam admi.

Recently, two traffic cops were asked to apologise for stopping a Trinamool Congress MP for coming in the way of Prime Minister’s convoy. After all the policemen were only doing their duty. It is a common sight at many airports that some VIPs and their families are whisked away without any check. The Congressmen who take pride in following Nehruism should remember a story often narrated by the old timers. Jawaharlal Nehru was stopped in an AICC meeting by a security guard but Nehru not only submitted to his scrutiny but also praised him for his diligence.

In view of the growing security concerns, the Government should look afresh about the implementation of the security regulations and tighten the rules if necessary instead of relaxing them to please politicians.







By 2030, the United States will be able to strike from space on a global scale, including Russia, Air Force Commander Alexander Zelin told journalists.

“Development of air and space attack weapons by foreign countries shows that by 2030 air and outer space will turn into a single sphere for armed struggle,” he said.

Zelin said that to counter this threat, Russia is planning to build a fundamentally new force of air and space defence by 2020.

This defence force will be equipped with anti-aircraft missile systems — upgraded S-300s, S-400s, which have recently been launched into production, and eventually with S-500s, which are currently under development. It is reported that the S-500 will not be based on its predecessor, the S-400, but will represent an entirely new system capable of effectively countering ballistic targets.

In addition, ASD will be armed with aviation systems. Zelin announced the decision to reinitiate the programme to develop anti-space systems based on the heavy fighter interceptor MiG-31.

But how serious is the aforementioned threat? At the turn of this century, a number of authors wrote about US plans to create expeditionary aerospace forces, which would combine space vehicles and aircraft of various designations, and would be capable of mounting precision strikes on a global scale.

However, today even the United States cannot deploy an EAF system. It is not clear what will change by 2030. Experts believe that given the inertia of research and time-consuming development and adoption of new hardware, an EAF system is not likely to be built within the next 20 years.

It is also important to consider the problems in relationships between the Pentagon and those who design modern weaponry, as mentioned in a recent report by the Aerospace Industries Association. In effect, the engineers have accused the Pentagon of an inability to grasp what industry and science can realistically develop, and of staking too much on global technological supremacy.

Many specialists believe that 2030 may only see the emergence of the first prototypes of flying vehicles capable of attacking targets on a global scale in a suborbital ballistic and aerodynamic mode. Supersonic vehicle research is playing a considerable role in this respect, and is being developed in Russia among other countries.

Flying at much higher speeds and deployed at much higher altitudes than conventional aircraft, these vehicles will have an impressive capability both militarily and otherwise.

Judging by all that we know, Zelin’s recent statement on the development of a fundamentally new high-altitude reconnaissance plane which would be immune to air defence would proceed under the same reasoning. In addition, according to some sources, this technology could be used to develop a strategic bomber under the PAK DA project (perspective long-range air hub). Its appearance is expected in the late 2010s-early 2020s.

To sum up, American and Russian military plans are designed with a very long perspective, and the terms of their implementation may change substantially under the impact of various factors including the global economic crisis.

The writer is a military affairs columnist based in Moscow.








With about 13 months left for the 2010 Commonwealth Games to begin in Delhi, there is a real danger that several projects associated with the Games might not be completed on time. A Comptroller and Auditor General report submitted to the Prime Minister's Office and sports ministry has confirmed our worst suspicions. Work on 13 of the 19 sports venues is behind schedule with the aquatics complex and the hockey stadium in the worst shape. What is particularly galling is that the design for the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium - the main venue of the Games - is yet to be finalised. All 16 major infrastructure projects for the city are behind schedule, with the public works department admitting that six, including flyovers and road tunnels, won't be completed on time.

The situation is as bad as it can get. It once again shows up our inability to plan and execute major projects on time even when the deadline is known years in advance. The authorities will surely scramble and finish work on the sports venues before the Games begin. But projects completed at breakneck speed are very likely to develop all sorts of problems later. Besides, the Games are not just about building sports venues. Nowadays, major sports events are used to overhaul the infrastructure of the host city, showcase it to the rest of the world and reap the benefits for years afterward.

Look at what the Olympic Games did for Beijing. The Chinese government pumped in $40 billion to develop Beijing, building new highways, a vast subway network, the world's biggest airport terminal and a showpiece stadium. Similarly, England is using the 2012 Olympics to give London a makeover and revive entire neighbourhoods. Even if India can't match China's scale and ambition, the Commonwealth Games should at least be used to improve Delhi's crumbling infrastructure and put it on par with other world cities.

This has been done before. The 1982 Asian Games in Delhi was a good example of a major sporting event triggering a makeover. The Asiad changed the face of Delhi. Many of the city's flyovers and roads are a legacy of the Games. The Commonwealth Games present a similar opportunity. It's a pity that urban development has to wait for major sporting events. But if that helps in beefing up infrastructure and improving the lives of people, so be it. Delhi has ambitions of hosting the Olympics in future. But if India slips up in its preparations for the Commonwealth Games, it's unlikely that any global sporting event will come our way soon.







The rising demand for medical attention to deal with the H1N1 flu infection - following an information overdrive and burst of public awareness campaigns - far exceeds the facilities, infrastructure and trained personnel available to meet the challenge of conducting tests, making diagnosis and giving treatment.

But other than H1N1 - popularly known as swine flu - official sources say that 15 lakh Indians contracted malaria in 2008 and eight lakh got tuberculosis, with a thousand TB-related deaths reported every day.

Organisms causing infectious diseases can mutate, which means that health authorities are dealing with a moving target. Yet the number of specialists trained in infectious diseases here falls far short of the requirement in a country where at any time an estimated 50 million people suffer from some kind of infection.

Besides the by now conventional infectious diseases like influenza, HIV-AIDS, gastrointestinal disorders, cholera, some forms of tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, hepatitis, hookworm infection, malaria - there are other newly evolving infectious diseases like SARS (severe acquired respiratory syndrome), avian flu and H1N1 that need to be guarded against. Unlike in the case of the HIV-AIDS pandemic that spread rapidly across populations in India when the outbreak happened in the 1980s, the more recent spread of the H1N1 flu virus has been fairly restrained - with less than 30 deaths so far - although it has been getting disproportionate publicity.

Despite the relatively fewer number of H1N1 fatalities, panic and hype seem to have overshadowed the need to take stock of our defence mechanisms for dealing with it as well as with more virulent and dangerous types of infectious diseases that are prevalent already.

Public health authorities, under direction of the ministry of health and other nodal agencies, ought to prepare a detailed plan of action to improve general hygiene and sanitation, as well as provide opportunities for medical graduates and support staff to receive specialised knowledge and training in prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.

Following the 1994 plague outbreak in Surat, a government-appointed committee found that the epidemic might have been averted if only we had in place a good surveillance system. Urgent effort has to be made to meet the rising demand for epidemiologists and other specialists. It's not just cancer or heart disease that kills, infectious diseases are a serious threat as well.






Jaswant Singh's expulsion from the BJP, for writing a book on history, shows how powerful historical narratives can be. National narratives can be organised around who the heroes and villains of partition were. India and Pakistan can even go to war around these narratives. One possibility that remains obscured by them, however, is that the holocaust that accompanied partition was not actually willed by anyone. It was just the result of extraordinary political incompetence all round.

It's this possibility that Jaswant Singh's book on Muhammad Ali Jinnah may be confusedly groping towards. The BJP, of course, is founded on excoriating Jinnah, but Jaswant's book is the result of five years of fascination with the man. His revisionism goes further than that of L K Advani, who praised Jinnah as a "secular" leader when he visited Pakistan in 2005. Accepting Jinnah as anything less than the villain of partition, however, may be as tough for the centrist Congress as for the Hindu-nationalist BJP.

Given that 1947 gave birth to two very insecure nations, they needed to tell triumphal stories about their origin. According to these stories, the founders of these nations were great because they were unsullied and infallible people. Even the British tend to see Indian independence as a triumph because they were able to withdraw in a genial and orderly fashion from a large slice of their empire.

There's considerable evidence, however, that the mass mayhem of partition and the greatest forced migration in history came about because of mismanagement by the political principals involved: Jinnah, Nehru, Gandhi, Mountbatten, Clement Attlee. Whatever Jinnah's defenders might say, there's little doubt that he instigated murderous riots in Calcutta on Direct Action Day August 16, 1946 a seminal event that sparked an orgy of subcontinental madness. And no matter how "secular" he may have been before or after, at the time he was a full-blown exponent of theorems about the clash of civilisations, when it had probably not even figured in Samuel Huntington's dreams.

But this is where things gets a little complicated. Jinnah didn't originate the two-nation theory. V D Savarkar, one of Hindutva's founding fathers, did. Bengal governor Frederick Burrows approved a holiday for all policemen on Direct Action Day, and Viceroy Wavell assented to this act of extraordinary stupidity. As the Great Calcutta killing commenced the forces of law and order, including British troops and tanks stationed in the city at the time, stayed away. Only after three days of unbridled savagery did the troops and tanks venture forth and put an end to the killing. Shades of Narendra Modi, did you say?

Once Prime Minister Clement Attlee made the decision to pull out of India, the British headed straight for the exit sign without much regard for the political vacuum that ensued causing historian Patrick French to describe Attlee as the "unnamed guilty man" behind India's slaughter. In India there's an inchoate sense that the British worked to divide Hindus and Muslims. But the blame for communal carnage circa 1947 should be more specific Attlee and the man sent to India to execute (pun fully intended) his policy: Viceroy Mountbatten. It was believed that since the police and army were directed by the British, getting them involved in controlling the riots would invite retaliatory violence against Europeans in India.

The logic of not enforcing law and order was aided, it has to be said, by Gandhi. It sprang from Gandhi's anarchist/ Rousseauist outlook, according to which any use of state machinery is bad. That outlook is reflected, for example, in a letter he wrote to Viceroy Wavell when riots were in full swing "The Congress cannot afford to impose its will on warring elements in India through the use of British arms" (August 25, 1946). There are times when non-violence can become a counterproductive dogma. The partition riots were certainly one of them.

To Gandhi's credit he did make the one suggestion that might have spared India its holocaust. He proposed that Jinnah be made the prime minister of a unified India and allowed to form his cabinet. What happened to that suggestion is instructive. Mountbatten, himself "staggered" by it, proceeded to swear Gandhi to secrecy about the proposal. Mountbatten then conveyed the idea to Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad. Azad was in favour of it. But Nehru, by then already advocating the partition of Punjab, was vehemently against. Influenced by Nehru's rejection, Mountbatten didn't even bother to convey it to Jinnah.

The upshot of it all? It's best summed up in Nehru's own words: "Partition came and we accepted it because we thought that way we might have some peace (but) there is no settling down to it and conflicts continue. Perhaps these conflicts are due to the folly or littleness of those in authority in India and Pakistan." Looking to the past for origin stories and lessons from 'great' leaders is not much use. Unless, at least in some cases, we want to discover the things that we should not do.






Your days are as packed as ever before, aren't they?


Quite so. I've just finished painting seven canvasses. The packers will arrive any minute to take them to a gallery down south. I read my favourite poets, recite the dohas of Kabir and the abhangs of Tukaram, go to mass in a nearby church every Sunday, meet up with friends, travel and miss no opportunity to see the works of young Indian artists.

What are your own plans for the near future?

In a formal sense i will retire on December 31 this year. This has to do with the complex and often absurd tax rules and regulations in France. But i will not give up painting. My 'professional retirement' only means that i will not be able to sell my canvasses in this country. Otherwise, in the time left for me - three months, three years, who can say? - i'll pursue my interests.

And what are these interests?

To nurse my health. I have reserved a place for myself next to Janine's grave. Her parents are buried alongside. This country - and Cezanne, above all - taught me the technique and science of giving a structure to a painting. That debt i have repaid in some measure by providing the foundation with money and with our works.

What now?

To repay my debt to India. Not for a moment have i forgotten that the inspiration for what i have done in my work can be traced to Indian concepts, Indian iconography, Indian signs and symbols. Along with Ashok Vajpeyi, the poet and critic, and a few young painters i have established a group in Delhi called 'Ekatra'.

A piece of land has been allotted to us to set up a foundation. Here young creative people will be provided facilities to do their work. I want them to walk in the footsteps of Amrita Sher-Gil, Tagore, Jamini Roy… That will be the surest answer to al-Qaeda, which is destroying Islamic culture, and to Gandhiji's assassin, who is a blot on Hindu culture.





My mirror tells me that it is that time of the month again when i must go pay my respects, and a little cash, to my barber. I can't wait. Maybe it's because i'm a guy or maybe it's simply because i'm not too fussy, but getting a haircut is a very relaxing experience for me. I can make myself cosy anywhere, be it the noisy, colourful little joint back in my hometown or the soundproof, air-conditioned little cabinet near my college.

Simply because, except for a few minor differences, hair salons are the same everywhere. In every single one there is a miniature TV set which is perched tantalisingly above your head at such a precise angle that you cannot look at it without risking the scissors snipping off a bit of your ear. So one has to be content with listening to the piercing shrieks of the heroines, followed by some good old dhishum-dhishum. And when you listen to the monologues of the moralising mother or the stern father, you wish you could stuff your mouth with popcorn to stifle the laughter at the stilted lines.

Then there are the fascinating gadgets at the barber's disposal. There's that water sprayer you suspect he's nicked from his neighbour's garden which can drench you in an instant cloud of droplets. There's also the tiny lawn mower-esque device which he uses to give my raven locks 'the latest in Bollywood' look.


And how can we forget that wickedly sharp razor which invariably sends a shiver down my spine thanks to the number of cinematic murders it's been used in? And the finishing touch to this decor is added by the interesting assortment of people present in the barbershop. There are the lanky apprentices who are still learning to wield scissors and combs, the sleepy-eyed fathers in pyjamas with their bright-eyed broods, the barber's laid-back friends who keep up a riveting commentary on topics ranging from the current political status to the latest box-office results.


And then there is the barber himself - the only one in the world who, when you say you want your hair cut 'the usual way', perfectly understands what you want and starts right away with a gentle smile. Meditation? Therapy? Spas? They may have their place in the sun but given a choice one would always go for the simple haircut, the ultimate stress-buster.








The Centre needs to invest in a second Green Revolution to tackle droughts.


We are beginning to see the policy response to India’s drought unfold. The government on Thursday raised the procurement price for rice and pulses by 12 and 15 per cent, respectively, in what could be the first of a series of steps to keep hunger at bay in the countryside.


India’s wide experience with monsoon failure has yielded a formulaic response: draw down grain stocks to feed the poor, sell some of it in the open market to keep a lid on food prices, lower taxes on food imports, pay more for farm produce, and ensure availability of power for irrigation.


Since the last drought, in 2002-03, the Centre is now better equipped to arrest the associated shrinkage in agricultural incomes and jobs through a more ambitious rollout of the nationwide employment dole. Expect to see some, if not all, of these measures in the coming weeks.


The economic costs of a drought are well documented. The average drop in grain output in a drought year has been 11 per cent. The impact on growth is, of course, progressively declining as agriculture’s share in national income shrinks — it is 5 percentage points less now than in 2002-03 — and the correlation with industrial output becomes looser — at 0.15-0.25 since 2000.


Yet, independent analysts are hazarding early estimates of up to a 3 per cent decline in farm output and 1 percentage point being shaved off GDP growth this year. There is, however, no secular downtrend in the price impact. Food price inflation, already at 11 per cent, will accelerate next year as granaries are replenished at higher prices. Historically, food inflation has ratcheted up by 4 percentage points in the year after a drought.


Those four rupees in a hundred each Indian loses after a drought is, ultimately, the price the country pays for having 57 per cent of its farms depend on rainfall. Steep in a continent that accounts for 70 per cent of the world’s irrigated acreage.


For now, the government’s approach to droughts has been that of crisis management, not mitigation. This mindset, and the accompanying resource allocation, must change. The alternative is to invest in a second Green Revolution that combines technology upgrades, a shift towards more expensive but drought-resistant seeds, and rehabilitation of water delivery systems. Four severe droughts in 40 years — and one in the making — make it abundantly clear.













This independence day weekend, I chose to sit at home and read Jaswant Singh’s book on M A Jinnah. It might seem odd to read a book on the father of Pakistan on August 15, but then the great joy of books is that they know of no boundaries. The book is well written and extensively researched. I must confess to have finished reading it with a sneaking admiration for  the former minister’s scholarship.


Unfortunately, the comforting world of books is far removed from the harsh reality of politics as Singh has now found out. Had he been a historian, he could well have engaged in debates over whether Jinnah was an ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’ or whether he was the ‘villain of Partition’ as is generally considered. The fact is, Singh is not a historian, but a practising politician, that too a senior leader of a party whose core ideology is based on the rejection of the two-nation theory and the portrayal of Jinnah as the ultimate symbol of Muslim communal politics.


To have expected the Sangh parivar to engage in a honest dialogue on Jinnah, in the name of academic and literary freedom, was politically naïve, even self-indulgent. Would, for example, the Congress have tolerated any of its senior leaders attempting a critique of Gandhi or Nehru?


A few years ago, the late V N Gadgil wrote an essay on secularism which appeared to mildly question some Nehruvian ‘secular’ practices, only to find himself marginalised. Would the left allow any of its leaders to write a book which repudiates its principles? Forget writing a book, when Somnath Chatterjee tried to assert his idea of parliamentary procedures, he was expelled from the party last year.


Just as the gregarious Somnathda was a misfit in the rigid Left hierarchy, Singh with his chota pegs and angrezi mannerisms was an oddity within the puritanical orthodoxies of the Sangh. As he admitted in an interview after his expulsion, he had never been at ease with a semitised Hindutva ideology, and almost at times felt like, ‘an obligatory Negro’.


His training had been on real battlegrounds in Army fatigues, not in martial shakhas. Recall how in 1998, the RSS had ensured that Singh would not be made finance minister despite his benefactor A B Vajpayee’s protestations only because he was seen to be anti-swadeshi economics. If even when Vajpayee was an all-powerful PM, Singh was a marked man, then what chance did he have once the Vajpayee factor was out of the scene?


To expel Singh was the easiest act for a party straining to come to terms with its poll debacle and growing dissension. A Vasundhara Raje could almost get away with revolt because she appeared to have a support of a majority of the state’s MLAs. A Narendra Modi could run a one-man show in Gujarat and alienate senior leaders because he remained easily the most popular mass politician in the state. An L K Advani couldn’t be expelled from the BJP for having affirmed Jinnah’s secular credentials because he was, after all, the party’s ideological mascot. Singh, by contrast, was seen as a rootless politician, who had to move from Rajasthan to Darjeeling for Lok Sabha rehabilitation.


By striking against him, the RSS leadership, incensed with the fratricidal war within the Hindu political parivar, was sending out a clear message to dissidents: anyone who challenges the Sangh’s disciplinary code will be ejected. The Sangh was looking for a fall guy to re-establish its moral authority over the BJP, and found the perfect candidate in Singh.

Will the removal of Singh resolve the BJP’s problems? After all, the crisis goes beyond individuals and strikes at the very heart of the BJP’s ideology. How does the party’s socially and geographically limiting Hindutva identity operate in an election environment which rewards inclusive politics?


Even before the party has settled the vexed leadership question, ‘after Advani who?’, it needs to resolve this more fundamental identity challenge. It is apparent that the Hindutva of the kar-sevaks and sants which propelled the BJP into power in the 1990s has passed its use by-date. It is equally apparent that for the vast majority of the younger generation of aspirational Indians, the BJP’s raking up of past animosities holds little attraction.


Repackaging the party as a modern, right-wing political force is the real task before the BJP’s leadership. Unfortunately, instead of addressing this central challenge, its leadership has been in self-destruct mode, entangling itself in petty personal battles. Which is where the party is desperately missing the Vajpayee touch. The former PM was the reconciler, constantly accommodating and aiming to build consensus. That consensual approach would have ensured that a Jaswant Singh would have been reprimanded but not isolated, humiliated and expelled. And certainly not removed through a phone call.


Post-script: Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah is a little over 650 pages. I am willing to place a small bet: none of the 20-odd members who comprise the BJP’s think-tank at the party’s chintan baithak has read the book cover to cover. Had they read the fine print, they might have realised that the book is more a critique of the role of the Congress leadership during Partition, doesn’t eulogise Jinnah, nor does it castigate the BJP’s new posterboy Sardar Patel. Unfortunately, in politics, no one really bothers about the fine print.
















He is considered the architect of the modern India, no one can show him in bad light,” said Jaynarayan Vyas, the Gujarat state spokesperson, about Sardar Patel to justify the ban of Jaswant Singh’s controversial book Jinnah: India-Partition-


Independence. Singh’s telling apparently stains Patel’s steely reputation, and by extension, bothers all those in the BJP who have moulded themselves in Patel’s image, from Advani to Modi. Rather than a patriotic force of nature, if Patel is presented as someone open to compromise and even canny subterfuge on the matter of an inevitable Partition, that puts the skids under the BJP’s attempt to appropriate him.

But whether dictated by party pieties or political gain, banning a book is inexcusable. It’s not just Gujarat, of course — in recent years, this illiberal streak has surfaced countless times over matters of art and representation, and it


inflicts a special damage when it prohibits us from examining the gnarls of the past that has produced us. In India, we like our historical figures super-sized and one-dimensional. We have processed the trauma of Partition by clearly assigning roles to its leading players — Jinnah’s malevolent ambition contrasted with Nehru’s or Sardar Patel’s doughty crusade for a unified India. Any writing that challenges that stick-figure school of historiography is met with outrage and denial. Singh’s book is purportedly another view of Jinnah, and one that also casts a large portion of responsibility on Congress manoeuvrings, on the Nehru-Jinnah competition and Patel’s role. In any case, questions of scholarly rigour or controversial hypotheses can be no basis for bans. But certainly, the idea that Jinnah alone might not have been solely responsible for Partition has been stated before, by writers from Maulana Azad to Ayesha Jalal. Partition was a formative moment, and a moment of rupture — and subsequently, both India and Pakistan have tried to tell the story in ways that evacuate it of its messiness. But to understand an event like that historically is to have a handle on its complexity, its moral ambiguities, and the varied motives of its lead actors.


Faced with an unpalatable thought, the Gujarat government’s reflex was to ban and proscribe. Only dysfunctional, nervous societies feel threatened by inquiry, and once the state starts deciding which ideas are permissible, we are indeed “entering a very, very dark alley”.









At its three-day “special” national conference in Agra, the Samajwadi Party’s dilemma found utterance in a rebuff on Wednesday. Asked whether the issue of withdrawing support to the UPA government was on the agenda, Mulayam Singh Yadav replied that the query “was uncalled for”. The evasiveness was intriguing on a day when Yadav raised the banner of opposition to both the Congress and the BSP, even asking the Congress to “mend ways or face consequences” — a day on which a “jail bharo” agitation was announced with the objective of “ousting the UP government and shaking the Centre”.


Yadav’s refusal to engage on his party’s support at the Centre frames the dilemma his party has been stranded in ever since its sudden proximity to the Congress during the Lok Sabha vote last July on the Indo-US nuclear deal failed to lead to a cohesive political understanding. This dilemma was made more acute after the Lok Sabha results indicated stirrings of a Congress revival in Uttar Pradesh, a point the party has been emphasising by grabbing every opportunity to take on the BSP government and insert itself into a binary political dynamic. The tenor of the opening day of the SP meet thus reflects the party’s fear of irrelevance as politics in UP gets dominated by serial face-offs between the Congress and BSP. In UP’s fragmented political landscape, it is especially important for a political party to be seen to be afloat, to be in command of a robust core support base so as


to make it attractive for other groups to consider it a viable player. It is in this context that the SP’s search for an appropriate attitude to the Congress can be seen.


This is part of the SP’s larger crisis of political identity. It showed up in the disastrous pre-Lok Sabha election attacks on English-medium education and computers. It was again on display in the monsoon session of Parliament, with the SP conspicuously silent in stating its concerns. Therefore, a search for an identity founded on issues is evident in Agra; the party has spoken of bread-and-butter issues like food prices as well as foreign policy ones like the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement. Till the party finds its centre of gravity, its dilemmas will be easier read between the lines.








It sounds like a bad rehash of the famed blue pill/ red pill line from the film Matrix. Except that while this one’s playing near you, it’s not confined to the theatres. The West Bengal government has followed Tamil Nadu in ordering all trains coming from Maharashtra to be stopped, and passengers checked for symptoms of swine flu. Those with tell-tale symptoms such as fever and cough will be given red slips, the healthy will be given green slips. Those with red slips will have to go for a check up once they reach their destination.


The desirability of this measure is far from certain. Ever since the H1N1 outbreak in Mexico City in April, countries have tried many techniques to isolate the virus and contain its spread. From shutting down public spaces to targeting citizens from “affected” countries, many ideas have been experimented with. In fact, Maharashtra shut down schools, colleges and malls in response. Many of these risk over-reach, unless a clear link to containment of the flu is proven. In fact, as the spread of the virus shows no signs of ebbing, experts have suggested a shift of strategy from containment to mitigation. The West Bengal government’s plan achieves neither. Fever and cough alone are hardly indicators of H1N1, and tracking red slip holders will prove to be an administrative nightmare.


Worse, without achieving any greater public good, it hits at one of India’s most cherished freedoms — the right to travel, unchecked, from one state of the Union to another. What next? Every time a pattern in illness or crime is noticed in one state, will everyone and everything coming out of that state become suspect? The surreal colour coding and checks confuses effectiveness with activity.








Professor Amartya Sen has written a remarkable book, The Idea of Justice. He has recently visited India and given interviews to the press where he has expressed his closeness, attachment, even fondness, for the leftist parties in India’s polity. According to Sen, leftists carry the torch of “concern for the poor” and “social justice for the underprivileged” in India. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Contemporary Indian leftists represent their own selfish party interests and their sense of misplaced historical determinism which is locked in a time-warp. They do not care for underprivileged citizens and certainly do not care to improve the lot of the poor. In Sen’s own paradigm, Indian leftists pursue purist, ideologically correct “Niti”. They have no concern for “Nyaya” or just consequences.


The Left takes credit for land reform in Bengal. Land reform could and should have been a one-time change in endowments with the poor getting clear title to identified parcels of land. But this runs the risk of the poor turning into free property-owners and then deserting the Left parties. Hence, the leftist version of land reform has merely conferred “tenancy rights” on West Bengal’s rural poor. These rights are not tradable; they inhibit mobility for the rural poor and lead to disputes among siblings, one of whom may want to migrate. Effective assertion of these tenancy rights requires the blessings of the local CPM party boss thus ensuring that the poor peasant is now beholden not to the zamindar or jotedar, but to the local apparatchik, who more often than not lives in a palatial house! When the Politburo wants to acquire land from poor peasants and transfer this land to capitalists (not all of whom are party cronies, merely honourable men, or shall we say honourable persons in the interest of gender-insensitive political correctness?), it turns out that valuing legal tenancy rights and several unregistered tenancy rights, which exist by courtesy of the party boss, leads to serious misgivings and disputes.


So the great pro-poor party gets stymied in Singur and Nandigram. It was Rajagopalachari and Masani (not leftists, but thinkers genuinely concerned about “Nyaya” for the poor) who had pointed out that the fundamental right to property protects the poor more than the rich. The rich never had a problem with the leftist permit-licence “Niti”. The empiricist in Sen should be aware that some forty years ago the Dutt and Hazari Commissions established that moneyed business houses benefited most from the crony capitalism inherent in the policies that the Left would like to revive today. If we had listened to Rajaji and Masani and not to the Left, “property” would still be a fundamental right and the common law principle that the state cannot take from Peter to give to Paul would have prevailed. To attempt to take from a poor peasant to give to an Indonesian chemical firm or an Indian automobile firm would not have been permissible. But since “property” is not a fundamental right our executive branch need have no fears in pursuing reverse Robin Hood policies of taking from the poor and giving to the rich. Then and now it is Rajaji, Masani and their intellectual descendants who have been on the side of both right “Niti” and “Nyaya”.


The Left parties in India, including in the Marxist paradise of West Bengal, support the unions of school teachers and in turn derive support from them. It turns out that half these teachers do not come to work (more so in poorer neighbourhoods) and about three-quarters of them send their own children to private schools where teachers who are paid at a level that is a third of government school salaries routinely come to work and actually teach children. Can supporting these union members be reconciled in any way with either “Niti” or “Nyaya”? Well-meaning admirers of the Left like Sen’s Bhadralok friends send their own children to private English-medium schools as do the unionised teachers and yet the Left is all-out against any meaningful voucher system that could give poor parents the same access. To make matters worse, in a fit of regional chauvinism (and the Left Front in West Bengal is definitely chauvinist — why else would the Hindustanis, as migrants from UP and Bihar are referred to, vote en masse against the Left Front?), it eliminated English from the curriculum of government schools some years ago. This is not just absence of “Nyaya”; this is pernicious “Adharma” violating the Rawlsian principle of “fairness”.


Sen has noted that one of the positive fallouts of high economic growth is growth in government revenues which can then be deployed in imaginative anti-poverty programmes like the NREGA. One of the engines of high growth in the last decade and a half has been the computer software industry. Many of us have not forgotten that the Left parties bitterly opposed computers and delayed their introduction for years on end. One could argue that they set the whole growth process back for at least a generation. It is really ironical today to meet an old trade union veteran of the leftist persuasion who sheepishly admits that both his daughter and son-in-law are computer programmers. And that’s just what happened to me the other day!


The final nail in the coffin of leftist pretensions has been driven in by two recent data points. The Sachar Commission tells us that Muslim citizens in West Bengal are on every count worse off than their counterparts in most other states, not excluding much-maligned Gujarat. And West Bengal has been virtually the last state in implementation of the NREGA. So much for the Left’s concern for “Nyaya” for Muslim citizens or the rural poor!


Professor Sen: You have just written what could be the most

important treatise in political philosophy of the first decade of this century. Please do us a favour and do yourself one. Do not praise the Left and confer on “adharmic anyayis” the respectability they do not deserve.


The writer divides his time between Mumbai, Lonavla and Bangalore









When it was suggested that I write on the sugar conundrum, I was initially sceptical. After all, in a globalised economy, we should take the downside sportingly — so imports of essentials, if scarce, are the obvious way out. In a trading economy — bless the Brazilians, Mauritians and others with plenty of land and big subsidies — we can import all the sugar we want. In the last sugar cycle, in the early part of the decade, the sugar industry continued to be protected at 60 per cent-plus tariff rates — the envy of poor cotton producers, who were at the time introducing breakthroughs with so-called “illegal” BT cotton seeds but without any protection at all. Government eventually allowed free import of raw sugar for mills. Refined sugar imports are still largely controlled.


This is a problem embedded in history. At forty, when I became Chairman of the Agricultural Prices Commission, the sugar industry had just come out of a trough. Charan Singh had decontrolled sugar, telling his Jats at the height of the peak to “grow cane on [his] head.” But I remembered my economics, specifically the “agricultural cobweb” and I knew that would lead to a cycle.


Sugar, unlike other crops, is an 18-month crop. So it’s more susceptible to over-correction. As now, so it was then: in UP, the farmer would go by last year’s high price, overproduce, and there would be a crash. We couldn’t fix it with my equations and my ACP charts; so we went into the mandis and mills, in Modinagar and Moradabad, in Kolhapur and Sangli and in Barabanki. Turns out the farmer doesn’t make money only out of selling cane to the factory; he also makes gur, so his return is both what the mills give him and what he makes from gur — where in oversupply his return falls. So, back then, we were protecting farmers stuck to each mill, as well as the mill itself. The cost of processing could be brought down by 25 per cent if crushing capacity went above 2,400 tonnes a day. We suggested giving it all up in three years.


The empire hit back then. Which was alright, I suppose. But it continues to do so a quarter of a century later, which is sick. There is still a minimum support price of cane, Rs 81 per quintal. Raw sugar import is truly confused: we must be the only country to try and reconcile an open general licence (free-to-import) with being “licensed against advanced licensing”. What a web we spin.


The Mahajan Committee and the Tuteja Committee repeated what I had said first in 1982, and then somewhat loudly in 1984: dump the one-to-one connection between farmers, a mill and pricing. It’s all done, I was told, and since younger, more competent people must have done it, went off to a good night’s rest. But the states still declare an “L-factor” which is the unit cost of production for each sugarcane zone; profit-sharing is done accordingly and the proposals for rationalisation are stuck in legal hassles. We have buffers and work them in the age-old government manner, paying lip service to futures, which we ban when we are in a bad mood.


There is still the 1982 report of the price committee, and many others beyond. Gur may no longer be important; but the CACP and Abhijit Sen still say: work a flexible tariff and then walk away. Of course, set it as a relative tariff to other competing crops; give some protection to the mills by relating to the tariff of raw sugar; give powerful financial incentives to go to optimal size in factories and recycle to save costs which will also be environmentally benign because you save energy and pollutants; go into tissue culture. But do it right now — because the elections may be imminent in Maharashtra and Haryana, but the costs of the politics will be borne by UP. Show UP how to grow horticulture crops, the way the cane belt diversified in Nashik and Nagar. If they don’t know send NABARD chief Sarangi — after all, he did it as a young collector in Nashik. You don’t get grapes, wine and onions for export in a formerly water-guzzling sugarcane region without a vision. And you can also diversify into knowledge, even though the Knowledge Commission doesn’t know how and the HRD ministry doesn’t care how. A small sign: an IT-NGO Chair at Rahata, in the Pravara sugar factory complex, received on Thursday, Rajiv Gandhi’s birthday, the IT-HRD Maharashtra Technology Award 2009 from Maharashtra’s department of industry.

Alright, if necessary, wait for the elections to be done before starting the reform. But use this crisis: set a date to compete with the Brazilians for cheap, plentiful sugar.


The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand








Neither the Supreme Court’s ‘basic structure’ judgment nor Indira Gandhi’s supersession of judges nor even the proclamation of the Emergency (IE, August 7) halted the struggle for supremacy between Parliament and the Supreme Court. On the contrary, the changed circumstances — the suspension of democracy, censorship on the press and so on — helped escalate the fierce conflict.


Unsurprisingly, the new Chief Justice, A.N. Ray, promoted over the heads of three judges senior to him, appeared to go along with the government in its game. As it happened, in August 1975, in what has come to be known as the Election case, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the basic structure doctrine first propounded in the famous Kesavananda Bharti judgment two years earlier. Precisely three days after the reaffirmation, Chief Justice Ray constituted a 13-judge bench to overturn the Kesavananda judgment, and thus the doctrine that had restored equilibrium of sorts between two of the three pillars on which rests the constitutional edifice. For this purpose, he invoked “some petitions, including one by the Tamil Nadu government”.


Ironically, this move turned into acute embarrassment to Ray and to those supporting him. When the hearings began, Attorney-General Niren De argued that the “difficulties” (in passing legislation for socio-economic reform) and “confusion” had to be removed. Justice H. R. Khanna questioned this from the bench. However, it was Nani Palkhivala, most eminent in the galaxy of legal luminaries arrayed against the chief justice, who demolished the whole enterprise the next day. He cited the sweeping and repressive Forty-first Amendment, enacted behind the ramparts of the Emergency, as an example of what would prevail were the basic structure doctrine abandoned. Palkhivala then delivered the coup de grace. The review of Kesavananda, he said, couldn’t be entertained on “an oral request of the government”. Ray responded that the request for review had come “from petitioners. Even the TN government had asked for a review”.


At this stage, the Tamil Nadu Advocate-General, Govind Swaminathan, jumped up to say, “We never even once asked for a review”. D. D. Thakur, Kashmir’s law minister, under instructions from Sheikh Abdullah, who had returned as the state’s chief minister a few months earlier, also opposed any review of Kesavananda. Within 24 hours Ray dissolved the bench he had convened. But this by no means ended the matter.


For, with absolute power in her hands and all institutions of democracy suborned or silenced, Indira Gandhi’s government went on a spree of amending the Constitution and even deleting some of its inconvenient provisions. To do away with the doctrine that the basic structure was beyond Parliament’s amending powers was understandably one of the many objectives of these amending bills, which a pliant Parliament, in the absence of imprisoned Opposition leaders, passed with alacrity. Even the Supreme Court’s attitude was supine. Its judgment in the Habeas Corpus case in April 1976 reflected this most vividly.


With only Justice Khanna dissenting, the court held that in the light of the Emergency, “no citizen had a right to challenge a detention order as illegal or faulty or mala fide”. It also held as valid even that provision of the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) that authorised the government not to reveal, where necessary, detention grounds .


Of the changes in the Constitution during the Emergency era, the most important and most drastic was the Forty-second Amendment. Its four main purposes can be summed up as follows. First, to further protect Indira Gandhi’s election to Parliament and future elections of her and her successors, even though her 1971 election had already been saved by earlier amendments. The same immunity was, of course, extended to the President, the vice-president and the speaker. Many called it a “convenient camouflage”. Mercifully, a bizarre amendment, conferring on the four dignitaries lifelong immunity from civil or criminal prosecution was dropped after it was passed by the Lok Sabha but had yet to be sent to the Rajya Sabha.


Secondly, the 42nd Amendment enlarged the Central government’s powers vis-à-vis State governments thus eroding the federal structure. Thirdly, in the words of one supporter of the measure, it “trimmed the judiciary” in “many respects”. Fourthly, the amending law gave directive principles of state policy precedence over fundamental rights and made any law passed in pursuance of a directive principle immune from the Supreme Court’s scrutiny.


All this was the law of the land when Indira Gandhi lost the 1977 general election and the Janata, the first non-Congress government in New Delhi in 30 years, came to power. Pursuing its election manifesto, the Janata government embarked on a programme to “restore the Constitution to the condition it was in before the Emergency and to put rigorous restrictions on the executive’s emergency and analogous powers”. In this resolve the Janata succeeded substantially but not fully. This was so because to see the Forty-fourth Amendment through by the requisite two-thirds majority, it needed the support of the Congress that had by then split into two again — between those with Indira Gandhi and others opposed to her. Congress members of both hues went along with the Janata on many matters but refused on some. For instance, the precedence given to directive principles over fundamental rights survived, as did the exclusion of socio-economic laws from judicial review.


Interestingly, in the final vote on the 44th Amendment on December 7, 1978, Desai and Indira Gandhi voted on the same side. She was re-elected to the Lok Sabha a month earlier and was expelled and briefly imprisoned a few days later!


The question whether the Constitution, as it had emerged from 42nd and 44th Amendments was in consonance with the basic structure doctrine was still open. The famous Minerva Mills case settled it. This case had reached the Supreme Court when Charan Singh was caretaker prime minister. The apex court delivered its judgment in May 1980 when Indira Gandhi was back in power. The court endorsed the basic structure doctrine yet again, and threw out some of the surviving features of the 42nd Amendment. This time around she did nothing to oppose the verdict that was widely welcomed by the country.


The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator








Recently, I lost my father quite unexpectedly. Consequently, I have had to go from one government office to another to take care of the paperwork that the death of the head of the household brings in its wake. In the process, I am beginning to appreciate more fully the myriad things my father sheltered me from; one of these was contact with the Indian state.


As a political scientist, I have long studied how the Indian state treats its citizens. I have systematically observed citizens belonging to different class and caste categories interacting with government officials and I have conducted detailed interviews with them about their experiences. The only difference this time is that the political is personal.


In India, dealing directly with the state is a coming-of-age moment. It robs one of one’s innocence like nothing else. A wide set of activities, including the acquisition of birth and death certificates, applications for identification documents, and finding a bed in a public hospital, all require interaction with state officials. The discretionary hand of officialdom can either make these processes move swiftly or slowly. Often these interactions involve a demand for ‘speed money,’ or a bribe in cash or kind that will allow the desired activity to proceed smoothly.


Although this is said to constitute petty corruption, it is ubiquitous. But more importantly, there is nothing petty about the damage it does to the dignity of most citizens who have no choice but to pay these kind of bribes.


That the practice of bribery is a widespread problem in India is a well-known fact. From street conversations to Independence Day addresses to newspaper commentary, the lament is continuous. And why shouldn’t it be? Transparency International, the most well-known tracker of corruption across the globe, found in its 2008 India survey that even Below Poverty Line households paid an astonishing Rs 223 crore in bribes to attain access to a set of basic public services like hospitals, schooling, and water.


Yet what is troubling about bribing in India is not just the demand for the money but also the process through which this demand is made. From the outset of the transaction, the government official involved establishes himself not as a service provider but rather as a dispenser of favours. The message from the official is clear: ‘If you pay me a fee, I will do your work, but do not forget at any point that I am doing you a special favour. Ensure at all times a tone of deference is in use.’


In this sense, bribery robs citizens of not one but two things: cash and dignity. By submitting to an official’s demands and groveling before him, one is humiliated and loses one’s own self-worth. The transaction is not just about money; it requires the recognition of power. It is essential to acknowledge both aspects of the act of bribery, because without that we fail to grasp fully its corrosive impact on society.


This more complex understanding of bribery also exposes the problems with policy prescriptions aimed at correcting the behaviour of corrupt state officials. We often focus on altering the incentives for corruption among public officials by improving their salaries and perquisites. The logic being that the state bureaucracy is corrupt because its workers are poorly paid. An increase in salary, it is argued, reduces the demand for bribes and subsequently the humiliation of ordinary citizens.

But bribery in India is a two-dimensional phenomenon with strong roots in the principle of hierarchy. The choice to exploit discretionary state power, among other motivations, also reflects the desire of one citizen to exercise authority and control over another. Proposals centered on economic incentives alone will not eliminate this kind of petty corruption. We must also focus on developing an alternate imagination of self-worth; a notion which is less reliant on the ability to exercise power over others.


I am now beginning to realise that during his lifetime, my father shielded me from these transactions not because he had more money to spend on bribes, but because after retirement he had become used to these forms of robbery. He wanted to protect me from the loss of my dignity. Being an ex-army man, his networks did not run deep into the state. He did not know politicians, bureaucrats, journalists or other interlocutors. For him the encounter with the Indian state — whose sanctity he had great belief in — was mostly unpleasant. Where possible he would turn to touts who could save him the agony. Often, where such a path was not available, he suffered the indignity himself. In the past, every time we were over-charged for an electric or water bill, or some important state-issued document had to be renewed, my father would turn down my offer of help. He would always say, “Do your thing, son, let me do mine.” Today as I take over his mantle, I am beginning to appreciate my father in a new light.


The writer is an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of California - Santa Barbara














Accurate measurement of poverty is a critically important issue for a country like India. For one, it gives us an important indicator of how we are doing economically—growth, after all, should result in falling poverty. But perhaps even more important, credible poverty numbers are required to better target the ambitious welfare schemes of UPA-2—indiscriminate spending will bust the budget without necessarily making poor people better off. Until now, at least according to Planning Commission numbers, India was doing a fair job of reducing poverty—from around 35% in 1993-94, poverty was estimated to have fallen to just over 25% in 2004-05. Now a number of weighty committees have revised this figure to levels well above what the Planning Commission had estimated for the early 1990s, the time when we first climbed to a high growth trajectory. The latest estimate comes from Suresh Tendulkar, the former chief of the PMs economic advisory council. This says that 38% of India’s population is below the poverty line. Still, it seems more conservative than the Arjun Sengupta Commission’s 77% estimate or the NC Sexena Committee’s 50% estimate. If any of these numbers are true, we should expect a huge rise in welfare payments and subsidies, not to mention worrying about our real progress on the ground.


However, there are reasons to believe that some of these measures may be over-estimates. A lot depends on the measure of poverty used—the Planning Commission has traditionally used basic nutritional intake (by calories) as an indicator of poverty. Now, an increasing number of studies are using income measures, a trend perhaps made popular by the World Bank’s $1-a-day measure of poverty. The Tendulkar-EAC estimate was mandated to account for the new nutritional requirements of the poor, thereby raising the bar, which perhaps explains the rise from 25% to 38%. By some World Bank measures ($2 a day), Arjun Sengupta’s estimates sound reasonable. But these are statistical exercises, and each of them can be debated. And remember that there is vested interest in showing high poverty numbers—a pressure tactic that some states, for example, are now using to corner more resources ahead of the recommendations of the 13th Finance Commission. What we need now is one accurate measure of poverty calculated without the shadow of any vested interest. For too long, undeserving people find their way into the ring of welfare schemes thereby depriving those who really need welfare of critical funds. We have to sort this issue out before the issuing of unique ID cards. Or else we may end up with a lot of poor on paper, without actually improving the lot of the really poor on the ground.







Pharma, along with telecom, generally escaped the scars of slowdown. But unlike telecom, pharma is suffering from a rash of bad news. Worse, this is not just bad for pharma companies, to the extent that India’s private health service is at an inflexion point—big things are predicted in the near future—pharma catching cold may give the health sector flu. Growth drivers for the pharma sector as well as medical equipment, hospital business and related services are enormous. To put this in perspective, the two largest domestic medical service groups, Fortis and Apollo, have built 71 hospitals in the country, and they plan to increase this number to 100 by 2012. But look at this—the pharma sector is underperforming in the stock markets. The BSE health care index has slid in the last one year (August-on-August) by almost 13%. Except consumer durables and realty, that is the worst performance in the same period for all sectors covered in the BSE-13. There are three sets of issues that are hurting pharma.


Take the simplest one first. We continue to wait for a molecule developed by Indian pharma that can be patented. The latest to join the list of also-rans is Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, whose oglemilast molecule failed one set of trials according to data released by the company. Analysts have therefore discounted the value of the entire research & development activity of the company. A brutal but understandable reaction. This is a problem that afflicts the entire pharma industry at present, and it will therefore impact valuations all round. Promoters of some of these companies are looking at exit routes. They will have a tough time. The second problem the industry faces is the enormous amount of litigation generated in filing for products, particularly in developed markets. A fallout of all these cases has been the often unfair targeting of the manufacturing processes of Indian companies. We call this unfair because in at least two cases, the same plant has been cleared by the regulator of one country, after it has been described inadequate by another regulator. The third set of issues concern the new battleground that has opened for Indian generic companies doing business in Africa. The rules for declaring a drug counterfeit is so loosely defined that a company can run foul of it, simply because a consignment has passed through a third country in transit. How to cope? Sophisticated management is one obvious answer. Indian pharma promoters must either shape up or, for their and the sector’s sake, they should be bought out by those who can run professional management in a complex, over-regulated field.









The economic data shows a gathering recovery around the world. My instinct is that this recovery is what the crude London traders would call a ‘dead cat bounce’. The optimists are mistaking bumping along the bottom for a recovery. My thinking is based around the idea that asset prices have fallen by between 30% and 50% and as much of the previous consumption was based on previously inflated asset levels, this asset deflation will surely keep consumption restrained. The surprising speed, breadth and depth of the recession must also have reined in risk appetite and emboldened savings attitudes. Moreover, the transformation of the Chinese and South-East Asian economies from export-driven to a more domestic consumption focus must surely take time, however, omnipotent the Chinese planners are and I tend to feel they are less omnipotent than others think they are.


But, one of the things you learn from being a survivor on the dealing floor is to (a) never stick your heels into a forecast and (b) beware of your natural biases. I am an economist. We hate unbridled optimism and boom. These are not environments that people turn to economists. We far prefer doubt and worry. And what did the man say? Seven years of feast were to be followed by seven years of famine. I say all that because the data is consistent not only with the ‘bumping along the bottom’ school of kill-joy economists, but also those of a more optimistic bent. According to the OECD leading indicators, those countries that suffered the sharpest contractions are experiencing the sharpest recoveries. China and Germany appear to be rebounding swiftly. Even in the UK, optimism is growing that the housing recession is over and prices are beginning to rise. Of course, for all of these bright spots on the economic landscape, we are talking about inclines from a very low base. The point is that the recovery is stronger than I would have expected and disappointed expectations should be rethought.


What we can say with some, if not complete, confidence is that the world economy is no longer in free fall. The sense of crisis, of impending doom, of economies lurching from one precipice to another, appears to be abating. This is welcome news for value investors. In a crisis all that matters is cash. Correlations become one. Everything is going down and value is irrelevant if it cannot be liquefied into notes and coins immediately. Now that the crisis is moving into the rear view mirror and market participants have time to breathe, they can be more discerning. As investors relax and pause for breathe, undervalued stocks, bonds and currencies will rally the most, reinforcing the general picture of recovery.

From a macro-perspective, emerging markets and European equities that fell into the Liquidity Black Hole of 2008 will be some of the first markets to re-emerge. I particularly like the Brazilian real. It fell too far too fast last year. Commodity prices are recovering and Brazil is one of the few countries actually paying interest on deposits. In addition to value, investor risk appetite will be returning, even if consumers risk appetite is not. Markets are no longer as expensive as they were, volatility is falling and interest rates cannot fall further and are likely to edge higher slowly from here. This would seem, on paper, to be the perfect time to put on risk like small-cap stocks, emerging currencies and junk bonds. Of course, the perfect time to do so never feels like it as it is often just after a calamity and risk aversion is excessively high and backward looking.


In the end the outcome for markets is determined by the battle between rentiers and debtors. In the US, where the voting population is relatively younger and more indebted than in Europe or Japan, the debtors will win. US creditors are foreign and so this will be bad for the dollar. I am a long-run dollar bear. Creditors will fare better in Europe and Japan where the electorate is older and less indebted. This will support the euro and yen in the long-run. However, two things have me moderating my dollar short positions today. First the US economy is in recovery as rapidly as any other and into this mix, the US dollar is undervalued. Its undervaluation is more extreme against continental European currencies than against sterling, the Canadian dollar and some Asian currencies and so the name of the game is to become more discerning with regards to dollar-shorts and no longer expect the dollar to fall indiscriminately from current levels.


The Canadian and Australian dollars look attractive. They are not expensive versus the dollar. In Australia’s case, the rebound in China should help and for both Canada and Australia the firming of commodity prices should support their currencies even if dollar’s weakness is less general.


The author is chairman, Intelligence Capital, chairman, Warwick Commission, member, UN Commission of Experts and member of the Pew, US Congressional Task Force on Financial Reform








How bad is the drought? It is not a crisis for the macroeconomy, but is potentially catastrophic for affected households. Suicides, the tip of the iceberg, are already rising. The issue is fundamentally distributional. The government has the instruments to respond. In particular, this is the first drought year in which the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is up and running. This is of potentially immense significance. But it will also be a huge challenge.


Why is the drought not a huge deal for the macroeconomy? So far it looks unlikely—below the lower end of the range projected by the Indian Meteorological Department—that the drought will be worse than previous severe drought years, such as 1987 or 2002. Past experience suggests a 1-2% growth impact. The lower end of this range looks more plausible: the economy has continued to diversify, with agriculture in relative decline. Even within the rural sector, non-farm employment accounts for some 30% of employment and half rural income, and rural households are increasingly linked to urban economies. At the aggregate level, if a 1% growth impact is off an underlying 6-7% growth rate, then we’re looking at, say, 5%. That’s a growth rate most of the world would kill for in this post-crisis year. Five per cent expansion means growing markets. On this score the business sector can relax.


But business cannot relax on household effects: large numbers could face devastating consequences. Apart from compassionate motives, the current growth model depends on a social compact, that is now (implicitly) framed as dynamic capitalism plus social inclusion. Yet the social inclusion agenda has lagged tragically, and catching up has proved to be slow, even with the rising government spending of recent years. Droughts are much more politically salient than chronic poverty, however awful that is. Awareness of the lives of the middle class and rich is now much greater in villages. Failure in drought response could have deep effects on the polity and policy design.


So let’s focus on household effects. A fundamental, and under-emphasised, point is the heterogeneity of drought effects. Yes, there are obvious geographic differences. But over-emphasis on the district list is problematic. There will be large variations between villages and between households within villages—depending on variations in access to stored water, inter-household variations in access to rural non-farm income and urban remittances. Equally important, drought is not only about farmers, since rural labour markets can be badly hit. Nor is it only about prices—though, of course, stabilising food markets matters. The really big issue is getting extra purchasing power into the hands of those who are most hurt, whether or not they are farming. Now that is precisely what the NREG does. But only if the guarantee works and only if wages are paid on time.


So why is this such a challenge? Both the Union and some state governments have said they will expand NREG. But we know that implementation has been variable. And making the guarantee work really is essential for protection. There is a good case for temporary relaxation of the 100-day rule (already partially relaxed). Equally important is responding to potentially dramatic, localised, increases in demand for work—we simply don’t know by how much as the scheme has only operated in good rainfall years so far.


Big increases in the scheme means a lot of money flowing down through the system, often into local systems thick with corruption and ‘weak’ institutional conditions. The world over, droughts are favoured times for rent-seeking: drought entrepreneurs are an infamous feature of the drought-ridden North East of Brazil. That gets to the second point—NREG has the formal institutional mechanisms for assuring the money goes to the right place, but it doesn’t always work. However, even in Jharkhand there has been some success in activating social mechanisms. I would see this as the highest priority for joint action between the government and civil society actors. This is more important than going after hoarders. The best attack on hoarding is to make it unprofitable. That option is not available for stopping corruption in public work schemes.


It is an immense asset to India that NREG exists, and that it has had some years of implementation experience—sometimes rocky—in years of good rainfall. No other developing country has an institution of such scope. The drought is its first really big challenge—and a big test for the social compact that the government at least formally proclaims. It is in the interest of the whole country, including the business sector, that rural households are truly protected in this drought year. The NREG is not the only instrument to avoid catastrophic effects of the drought, but it is the most important.


The author is at the Harvard Kennedy School, the Institute of Social and Economic Change and the Centre for Policy Research








Mid-Day meal, US-style: An 11-year-old asks Barack Obama to ensure mangoes figure in school lunches. It is not just a cute issue. School lunches raise serious political economy questions in the US, particularly when the economy is in trouble. With record number of job losses and high unemployment, thousands of American children have been pushed into poverty (as defined in America) and more families have turned to food stamps. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), at least 18.5m (a 41-year record high figure) low-income children are expected to receive free or reduced-cost lunches through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).


As per the recently released report ‘The State of School Nutrition 2009’, nearly 60% of US districts have increased lunch prices this year to keep up with the cost of preparation. The results show that despite difficult times, schools have continued to provide kids with high-quality nutritious foods. This fall, as the Congress considers reauthorising the Child Nutrition Act, the School Nutrition Association (SNA) is advocating that school food service programmes receive an additional $0.35 for each reimbursable meal served. With an additional $1 billion for child nutrition programmes in the budget proposal, the USDA is expected to upgrade school food nutrition standards this year, many of which haven’t been changed for about 15 years. These include banning trans fats in cafeterias and re-equipping the kitchens so that healthier foods can actually be cooked.


What’s happening in India? The mid-day meal scheme (MDMS)—the largest school nutritional programme in the world—covers nearly 12 crore children. The hiccups in the scheme are quite evident and widespread, but there is no denying of the fact that it has helped in eliminating classroom hunger besides enhancing the enrolment rates, particularly for girls.


Qualitative improvements are urgently required if mid-day meals are to achieve their full potential. Learn from the US, the world’s wealthiest country. It is spending more on school lunches, even in a recession.








How can a rigorous security procedure that is acceptable for Al Gore and Edward Kennedy qualify as an ‘insult’ for Shah Rukh Khan? The song and dance made in India over the Bollywood hero being held up for questioning at Newark airport in the United States is an insult to our collective intelligence. From fans of Shah Rukh Khan (who burnt American flags) to Union Ministers (one of whom declared it to be ‘unacceptable’ and promised to take it up with the U.S. government while another threatened tit-for-tat), the reaction has been irrational. After initially expressing anger and humiliation over having to go through a ‘secondary inspection’ for a little over an hour (which incidentally would have been shorter had his luggage not been misplaced), Mr. Khan has wisely brushed the incident off as “no big deal.” But the reactions at home do signal a mindset that is obsessed with VIP culture and the absurd notion that putting one of these worthies through a security procedure is a slight to our national honour. Recall the fuss made in India when ex-President Abdul Kalam was frisked before boarding an international flight? Following an uproar in Parliament that cut across party lines, the U.S. airline was coerced into issuing an ‘apology’ notwithstanding the fact it was following standard procedure applicable, incidentally, to American ex-heads of state. While Mr. Kalam, to his credit, refrained from making any complaint, he would have done even better had he firmly told his excitable compatriots that a routine security check was neither an ‘unpardonable act’ nor ‘a matter for national shame.’


Two years ago, a Minister of State for External Affairs had a spat with security personnel at Delhi’s international airport over a routine security check and for being denied access to the ceremonial lounge, which was available only to some categories of VIPs. The central government’s response? Dispense with security checks and extend the use of the lounge to Ministers of State. VIP privileges in India are increasingly becoming a way of flaunting status. Gradually, the police and the security system have become subordinate to a VIP culture that thrives on cutting corners. These Very Inconvenient Persons routinely jump queues, hold up plane departures, delay trains, skirt security measures, and drive rashly in proliferating red beacon cars. Fortunately, as several letters published in this newspaper indicate, the Indian public tends to apply robust common sense to disapprove of such VIP behaviour at home. So what is the sense of protesting when a foreign country or airline puts them through a security drill, as the law, rules, or standard procedure require them to do?







The recent data on deposits and credit of scheduled commercial banks published by the Reserve Bank of India provide valuable insights into the distribution of banking business across the country. As on March 31, 2009, the number of banked centres served by scheduled commercial banks stood at 34,636. A very large number of them — over 28,000 — were single office centres, mostly in rural and semi-urban areas. At the other extreme, there were 61 centres having 100 or more bank branches. The concentration of bank branches in a few urban and metro centres is by no means a new development. But for the unprecedented branch network expansion that followed the nationalisation of large banks in 1969, the concentration would have been even more pronounced. In the reform era beginning the early 1990s, the emphasis shifted in favour of consolidation. With considerations of profitability dictating the strategic plans, branch expansion, especially to rural areas, was no longer a priority. Instead, banks tended to converge on centres that had business potential. According to the RBI, the top hundred centres, arranged according to the size of deposits, accounted for 69.2 per cent of the total deposits, while the top hundred ranked according to the size of credit accounted for 78.5 per cent of total bank credit as on March 31 this year.


The skewed pattern of distribution obviously meant heightened competition in certain centres while in a much larger number of places, including those with no banks at all, the urgent task has been to extend the range of financial services. Among the banks, non-price competition has become the norm. Technology has been harnessed in a variety of ways to take on competition and, more importantly, to reduce transaction costs. It has enabled the opening of new delivery channels such as internet banking and mobile banking. But its role in extending financial services across the country has not been fully appreciated. Quite obviously the goal of inclusive banking has to be achieved in a context where the traditional model of branch banking cannot be entirely relied upon. Technological applications are already enabling business correspondents and others to deliver many types of services now offered by a bank. However, over the medium-term it is highly unlikely that the traditional bank model will lose its relevance, even in rural areas. In fact, these bank branches might be called upon to undertake newer services, including those having a development dimension such as delivery of subsidies and conditional cash transfers.











For 14 days and nights in September 1994, Abdul Rasheed marched across the 5,000-metre passes of the inner Himalayas to train for war at the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen camp in Pakistan.


The journey took Rasheed, part of a group of 116 volunteers from across Kashmir, across the Kaobal pass near Dras, on to the Hizb’s forward base at Gilgit, by jeep over the dirt road to Skardu and then by bus to Muzaffarabad. Eight men returned home; 12 died of cold and high-altitude sickness, and were buried where they fell.


Early this summer, Rasheed walked into a police station in Srinagar to report his return: a journey that began with a Pakistan International Airlines flight from Karachi to Kathmandu, by bus to Gorakhpur, train to Gurdaspur and, finally, two more bus rides home. His Pakistani wife, Nyla Zamaan Abbasi and their children, four-year-old Haroun Rashid and two-year-old Amna Rashid, were with him.


More than one hundred former Hizb operatives and their families have returned home from Pakistan since 2005; nine this summer alone. Many have returned knowing full well they could face time in prison — or worse. Kulgam resident Mohammad Jalil Amin, for example, served 10 months in jail when he was arrested on returning home through Kathmandu in June 2006. Naseer Ahmad Pathan, who crossed the minefields along the Line of Control with his Pakistani wife Naseema Akhtar and four children in 2005, is still uncertain if his family will be allowed to stay on in India. Rasheed faces his prosecution; his wife, possible deportation. In June 2007, Hizb operatives Irfan Ahmad Ganai, Fayyaz Ahmad Bhat, and Javed Ahmad Khan were shot dead trying to return through the LoC.


For much of this summer, New Delhi has been working quietly to begin a dialogue with the secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference — a dialogue that fell apart during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s first term in office. Even as the effort to resume the dialogue proceeds ahead, Jammu and Kashmir’s major political parties have been seeking to draw the Hizb into negotiations. Like the People’s Democratic Party, which engaged Hizb elements in talks through its three-year term in office, senior National Conference figures have sent out feelers to senior figures in the Islamist terror group.


Little remains of the Hizb ul-Mujahideen’s once-feared forces which, in the early 1990s, were believed to have numbered several thousands. The police say the code-name ‘Ghazi Misbahuddin,’ traditionally assigned to the Hizb’s overall commander for military operations in Jammu and Kashmir, is now used by the Gandoh-based commander Ghulam Abbas. But beyond funnelling funds, India’s intelligence services and the police believe, Abbas has little work: there is no longer an army to command.


The Hizb has fractured into small and largely-ineffective cells. Mohammad Shafi, who uses the code-names ‘Dawood’ and ‘Doctor,’ presides over the small group of operatives still active in northern Kashmir. Born in the village of Papchan near Bandipora, Shafi is among the Hizb’s seniormost field operatives. He joined the organisation in 1992, soon after finishing school. But there have been signs in recent years that Shafi’s commitment to the jihad is waning. Police sources say he initiated communication with the authorities in 2007-2008, to explore an exit route.


Both Qayoom Najar and Majid Bisati, Shafi’s key lieutenants, are believed to have sought to survive by integrating their operations with those of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. However, the effort fell through because the Lashkar itself had haemorrhaged commanders in counter-terrorism operations targeting the group.


In the central Kashmir area, the Hizb has only one significantly active unit. Mushataq Ahmad, a one-time resident of Vorpach village near Ganderbal, leads a group of just three ethnic-Kashmiris and two Pakistani nationals. Nor are things much better for the Hizb in southern Kashmir. The organisation’s top bomb-making expert Pervez Ahmad Dar — known by the code-name ‘Pervez Musharraf’— executed a number of attacks on military convoys while serving as the Awantipora area commander. He has, however, been unable to stage a major operation in over a year. Shabbir Ahmad, named in police records as the perpetrator of the killings of at least three civilians before the recent Lok Sabha elections in Jammu and Kashmir, has done nothing since.


Mudassir Ahmad Shah, third major Hizb operative still active in the Awantipora area, too has had little success. Born at Gadikhal village near Awantipora, Shah came from a family with an Islamist tradition; his father, Abdul Ahad Shah was a Jamaat-e-Islami activist of long standing. Having joined the organisation while studying to become a dentist, police sources say, Shah trained as an improvised explosive device fabricator — an enterprise which cost him an eye. He is alleged to have been responsible for a string of bombings in Srinagar and Banihal in 2006-2007. Shah, police say, left for Pakistan in 2007 before returning home in May 2008, but has done little since. Like his north Kashmir counterparts, his unit has been attempting to tap the operational resources of the Lashkar, but to no avail.


Perhaps the only significant-sized Hizb unit in southern Kashmir is the Kellar-based group of Fayyaz Pir, which is thought to have recruited at least 12 Shopian residents in recent weeks. Sangarwani-born Pir is thought to have joined the Hizb seven years ago, and stuck with the organisation even as its south Kashmir leadership was annihilated in a successful police-led campaign that began in 2006. Pir’s new recruits, though, have received only rudimentary training in the Pir Panjal mountains, rather than formal military instruction at the Hizb camps in Pakistan. Like other groups, Pir’s cell has been unable to stage a single significant attack.


Early in February, at a rally held by jihadist groups in Muzaffarabad, Hizb chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah — widely known by the pseudonym Syed Salahuddin — appeared to rule out an end to war.


“Jihad will continue,” the Urdu-language newspaper Roznamcha Jasarat reported him as saying, “until the independence of Kashmir [from India].” He lashed out at the Pakistan government for proscribing the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad — both of which were represented at the rally. “If there is a setback to the war [in Jammu and Kashmir] due to the cowardice of the [Pakistan] government,” Shah said, “then this war will need to be fought in Islamabad and Lahore.”


Language like this, though, is at some distance from reality as is being experienced by the Hizb’s several hundred-strong reserve in Muzaffarabad. Few have demonstrated any willingness to return home to swell the ranks of their depleted units within Jammu and Kashmir — a reluctance also shared by Shah’s key commanders.


Rashid’s story is instructive. Put to work as an apprentice shawl weaver after he dropped out of school in the eighth grade, Rashid found in the Hizb’s jihad a romance and agency missing in his life. In 1998, suffering poor conditions at the Hizb’s Jangal Mangal camp in Muzaffarabad and his religious nationalism stilled by years of watching comrades sent to death in an apparently-unwinnable campaign against Indian forces, he left the organisation. Living off a subsidy made available by the Pakistani authorities, he apprenticed with Muzaffarabad tailor Shakeel Ahmad Abbasi. Later, he married Abbasi’s sister. Having watched others make their way home to India, Rashid’s thoughts turned to returning to his land-owning family. Early this summer, Rashid paid a local travel agent Pakistani Rs. 4 lakh to arrange for passports, visas and tickets to Nepal.


Last year, responding to pressure from his war-weary rank and file, Shah ordered a ceasefire in October, the month of Ramzan. Later, he called for a solution in Jammu and Kashmir modelled on Northern Ireland — a formulation that suggested that the organisation would be willing to disarm. Earlier, in August 2006, he offered to initiate a dialogue with New Delhi and a conditional ceasefire.

In recent weeks, though, Shah’s language has been less conciliatory. Perhaps fearful that the APHC’s political secessionists would exclude his organisation in a future dialogue, he lashed out at “separatist leaders who were begging for talks with India.” He also argued that “Pakistan’s disinterest to highlight [the] Kashmir [issue] has disappointed and angered Kashmiris.”


Shah’s family embodies traditional middle-class aspirations — not radical Islamism. His oldest son, Shahid Yusuf, works as teacher, and Javed Yusuf is an agricultural technologist. Shakeel Yusuf works as medical assistant in a government-run hospital. Wahid Yusuf, 24, graduated from the Government Medical College in Srinagar, where the family’s contacts helped him obtain a seat under a quota controlled by the Jammu and Kashmir Governor. Momin Yusuf, the youngest of Shah’s sons, is an engineer.


Even if Shah isn’t willing to give his defeated army a chance to build the kind of lives he gave his sons, the Jammu and Kashmir government needs to find ways to give people like Rasheed a future.








The news of the sudden death of Mr. Jinnah will be received with widespread regret in this country. Till barely a twelvemonth ago he was, next to Gandhiji, the most powerful leader in undivided India. And not only among his fellow-Muslims but among members of all communities there was great admiration for his sterling personal qualities even while the goal which he pursued with increasing fanaticism was deplored. For more than half the period of nearly forty years in which he was a towering figure in our public life he identified himself so completely with the struggle that the Indian National Congress carried on for freedom that he came to be as nearly a popular idol as it was possible for a man so aristocratic and aloof by temperament to be. During the last years of his life, as the architect of Pakistan, he achieved a unique authority in his own community by virtue of the blind allegiance which the mass, dazzled by his political triumphs, gave him though the sane and sober elements of the community became more and more doubtful of the wisdom of his policies. In an age which saw centuries-old empires crumble this Bombay lawyer began late in life to dream of founding a new Empire; in an era of rampant secularism this Muslim, who had never been known to be very austere in his religion, began to dally with the notion that that Empire should be an Islamic State. And the dream became a reality overnight, and perhaps no man was more surprised at his success than Mr. Jinnah himself.


Mr. Jinnah was an astute lawyer. And his success was largely due to the fact that he was quick to seize the tactical implications of any development. His strength lay not in any firm body of general principle, any deeply cogitated philosophy of life, but in throwing all his tremendous powers of tenacity, strategy and dialectical skill into a cause which had been nursed by others and shaped in many of its most important phases by external factors. In this he offers a marked contrast to the Mahatma with whom rested the initiative during the thirty years he dominated Indian political life and who, however much he might adapt himself to the thrusts of circumstance, was able to maintain on a long range a remarkable consistency. Pakistan began with Iqbal as a poetic fancy. Rahmat Ali and his English allies at Cambridge provided it with ideology and dogma. Britain’s Divide and Rule diplomacy over a period of half a century was driving blindly towards this goal. What Mr. Jinnah did was to build up a political organisation, out of the moribund Muslim League, which gave coherence to the inchoate longings of the mass by yoking it to the realisation of the doctrinaires’ dream. Two world wars within a generation, bringing in their train a vast proliferation of nation-States as well as the decay of established Imperialisms and the rise of the Totalitarian Idea, were as much responsible for the emergence of Pakistan as the aggressive communalism to which Mr. Jinnah gave point and direction.


We must not forget that Mr. Jinnah began his political life as a child of the Enlightenment the seeds of which were planted in India by the statesmen of Victorian England. He stood for parliamentary democracy after the British pattern and with a conscientious care practised the art of debate in which he attained a formidable proficiency. At the time of the Minto-Morley Reforms, he set his face sternly against the British attempts to entice the Muslims away from their allegiance to the Congress. For long he kept aloof from the Muslim League. And when at last he joined it his aim was to utilise it for promoting amity between the two communities and not for widening the gulf. But Mr. Jinnah was a man of ambition. He had a very high opinion of his own abilities and the success, professional and political, that had come to him early in life, seemed fully to justify it. It irked him to play second fiddle. The Congress in those early days was dominated by mighty personalities, Dadabhai Nowroji, Mehta and Gokhale, not to mention leaders of the Left like Tilak. That no doubt accounts for the fact that Mr. Jinnah gradually withdrew from the Congress organisation and cast about for materials wherewith to build a separate platform for himself. At this time the first World War broke out and the idea of self-determination was in the air. It was not a mere accident that Mr. Jinnah came to formulate the safeguards which he deemed necessary for the Muslim minority in his famous Fourteen Points so reminiscent of the Wilsonian formula.


But in those days he would have pooh-poohed the idea of the Muslim community cutting itself off from the rest of India. He was so little in sympathy with the Ali Brothers’ Khilafat campaign because it seemed to him to play with fire. He was deeply suspicious of the unrestrained passions of the mob and he was too good a student of history not to realise that once the dormant fires of fanaticism were stoked there was no knowing where it might end. He kept aloof from the Congress at the same time. Satyagraha with its jail-going and other hardships could not appeal to a hedonist like him; but the main reason for his avoiding the Gandhian Congress was the same nervousness about the consequences of rousing mass enthusiasm. The result was that he went into political hibernation for some years. But he remained keenly observant; and the dynamic energy generated by a successful policy of mass contact deeply impressed him. He came to see that a backward community like the Muslims could be roused to action only by an appeal, simplified almost to the point of crudeness, to what touched it most deeply, its religious faith. And a close study of the arts by which the European dictators, Mussolini, Hitler and a host of lesser men rose to power led him to perfect a technique of propaganda and mass instigation to which ‘atrocity’-mongering was central. But Mr. Jinnah could not have been entirely happy over the Frankenstein monster that he had invoked, especially when the stark horrors of the Punjab issued with all the inevitability of Attic tragedy from the contention and strife that he had sown. He was a prudent man to whom by nature and training anarchy was repellant. At the first Round Table Conference he took a lone stand in favour of a unitary Government for India because he felt that Federation in a country made up of such diverse elements would strengthen fissiparous tendencies. It was an irony that such a man should have become the instrument of a policy which, by imposing an unnatural division on a country meant by Nature to be one, has started a fatal course the end of which no man may foresee. Mr. Jinnah was too weak to withstand the momentum of the forces that he had helped to unleash. And the megalomania which unfortunately he came to develop would hardly allow him to admit that he was wrong.


Mr. Jinnah has passed away at the peak of his earthly career. He is sure of his place in history. But during the last months of his life he must have been visited by anxious thoughts about the future of the State which he had carved. Pakistan has many able men who may be expected to devote themselves with wholehearted zeal to its service according to their lights. And India will wish them well in a task of extraordinary difficulty. But it is no easy thing to don the mantle of the Quaid-i-Azam. No other Pakistani has anything like the international stature that Mr. Jinnah had achieved; and assuredly none else has that unquestioned authority with the masses. The freedom that Pakistan has won, largely as the result of a century of unremitting effort by India’s noblest sons, is yet to be consolidated. It is a task that calls for the highest qualities of statesmanship. Many are the teething troubles of the infant State. Apart from the refugee problem, which is Britain’s parting gift to both parts of distracted India, the Pakistan Government has by its handling of the Kashmir question and its unfortunate attitude towards the Indian Union’s difficulties with Hyderabad, raised in an acute form the future of the relations between Pakistan and India. Mr. Jinnah at his bitterest never forgot that firm friendship between the two States was not only feasible but indispensable if freedom was to be no Dead-Sea apple. It is earnestly to be hoped that the leaders of Pakistan will strive to be true to that ideal.







India has in recent weeks surprised some key East Asian countries by its display of proactive economic diplomacy. Behind the scenes, East Asian officials see this burst of new activism as a prelude to the “informal ministerial meeting” that India will host early in September to “re-energise the Doha process” of global trade talks.


The New Delhi meeting will feature a new “rainbow coalition of the developing and developed countries,” according to Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma. A relevant factor at work is Official India’s current zeal for trade liberalisation, largely of the conventional kind. Mr. Sharma believes that the coalition is adequately representative of the diverse membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and can therefore try and push the Doha process, now in “a pause,” back on course.

The coalition has been pieced together through informal consultations among the weighty and/or vocal players on the global trade scene. And, India offered to host a meeting, cutting across the development divide, only when the idea of such a conclave gained currency among the traditionally active WTO players. Several East Asian countries are among those being invited by India. Besides the economic powerhouses of China, Japan, and South Korea, the others from the region include Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.


As Mr. Sharma indicated in a recent telephonic conversation, the New Delhi meeting will discuss, at the political level, the ideas that the negotiating officials had already generated before the Doha Round went into “a pause” last year. Considerable thought had gone into those ideas relating to both the farm sector and the non-agricultural market access.


Outwardly, India’s latest intervention, aimed at cracking the Doha Round impasse, is the result of some basic political arithmetic, as it were. However, a relevant view in East Asia is that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has, after retaining power recently, signalled his political will to push India towards the global mainstream of largely conventional trade liberalisation. Such a view is the result of the sprinter-like speed at which India has signed two major trade pacts in the week gone by. Not only that. Across geographic East Asia, India has in recent times come to be compared and contrasted with China. They are seen as two rising economic powers, with much political potential, albeit at different levels of growth as of now.


Unsurprisingly therefore, a logical question is whether New Delhi is now trying to help the Doha Round protagonists press the re-set button for global trade talks. As an aside, resonant still, as an evocative phrase with policy overtones, is U.S. President Barack Obama’s initial move to press the re-set button for his country’s ties with Russia.


In the global trade domain, Mr. Sharma does not, of course, join issue with the WTO Director-General, Pascal Lamy. Slated to attend the prospective Doha-Round-related talks in New Delhi, Mr. Lamy has already voiced his preference for “maxi negotiations” among all the stakeholders. Implicit in this remark is an assessment that a proliferation of ministerial meetings, by itself, will not suffice for a successful conclusion of the Doha Round. And, the planned meeting in New Delhi does increase the number of conclaves involving one group of select countries or another, instead of all the WTO stakeholders. Moreover, the outlines of a successful Doha-Round outcome are nowhere on the global horizon now. Easier to advocate than accomplish, in such a complicated milieu, is a formula that might reflect a greater degree of constructive creativity than conventional wisdom on global trade.

India’s newly-emerging economic profile in East Asia will be judged not only by the WTO issues but also the sustainability of Dr. Singh’s trade-pact diplomacy. Being still left out of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, India was not present at the conclave of trade ministers of this inter-continental group in Singapore in July. On August 13, however, India made its presence on the regional scene felt in a big way. Mr. Sharma signed a trade pact with nine of his counterparts from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). There was no mystery, though, about a missing signature. Vietnam, an ASEAN member which joined the WTO in 2007, reserved the right to sign the India document later. It is understood on both sides that Vietnam will do so after its “market economy status” is formally recognised by India at a prospective ceremony in Hanoi. For India, its Trade in Goods Agreement with the ASEAN, called a free trade accord (FTA) in common parlance, was preceded by another major economic pact. India and the Republic of Korea, better known as South Korea, signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in Seoul early in August. By definition and in practice, a CEPA is an FTA-plus arrangement covering also the two-way flow of services and investments. The one with South Korea is no exception. And, Seoul is pleased that it has gained privileged access to the Indian market before either Tokyo or Beijing could do so. Also, South Korea maintains that it has fully safeguarded the interests of its assertive farming community.


Significantly, the interests of India’s plantation sector have been particularly highlighted in diverse domestic comments against New Delhi’s FTA with the ASEAN. And, Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Prakash Karat is reported to have called for a constitutional amendment to provide for the mandatory ratification of all such international agreements by Parliament. A relevant question is whether the Group of Ministers, now tasked by Dr. Singh to address the concerns in India over its FTA with the ASEAN, would address this larger political debate as well.


Another important aspect of India’s current moves is its China-related competitive pragmatism in economic diplomacy. This was evident during a meeting of the trade ministers of the East Asia Summit (EAS) forum in Bangkok on August 15. China was represented by Commerce Minister Chen Deming and India by Ambassador Latha Reddy.


Reflected at the meeting was India’s political-level decision to join China and the other EAS countries to “reject all forms of protectionism in trade and investment” across national frontiers. A relevant poser, with political resonance in East Asia, is whether India can at this stage match China in facing the economic consequences of a full-scope rejection of protectionism. However, the counter-poser is whether a “rising India” can stay clear of the debate on the global good.


Already, experts in East Asia have come up with the idea of “a new Asian drama,” featuring China and India as “rising powers.” The expectation is that these two countries may now be able to contribute to the “wealth of nations,” as different from “the poverty of nations” that Gunnar Myrdal had studied over 40 years ago in his work, “Asian drama.”








At the best of times, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s line and manner of comportment has borne scant resemblance to the norms of democracy. But for India’s principal opposition party to expel one of its seniormost leaders for nothing more than having written a book establishes a new low in our political discourse.


Jaswant Singh’s expulsion and the Gujarat government’s shocking decision to ban his book, Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence, have revealed the undemocratic core of the BJP’s politics and diminished the stature of Indian democracy as well. That the book is a work of historical analysis pertaining to events which occurred more than 60 years ago and not a critique of the BJP’s policies or ideology is symptomatic of both Hindutva’s own authoritarianism and the new intolerance that is permeating every aspect of social and political life in India. That the book has almost certainly not been read in its entirety or even partially by all or even some of the BJP leaders who voted unanimously to expel Mr. Singh is testimony to the mob mentality which prevails at the highest levels of the party. Seventeen years ago, the party took part in the demolition of an ancient mosque in Ayodhya. Today, it is taking its political vandalism one step further, into the realm of ideas, by declaring as heretical — and even criminal — the writing of history that does not conform to its own narrow views.


To be sure, the malignancy of intolerance runs deeper in our body politic than most of us would like to admit. If Chief Minister Narendra Modi is able to ban a book simply because it allegedly contains “objectionable remarks” against Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and reaches “whimsical conclusions” about the Freedom movement, this is because other parties and other state governments have banned works of history on grounds that were equally capricious. In 2004, the Congress-NCP coalition in Maharashtra imposed a ban on James Laine’s scholarly biography of Shivaji. This after goons, who obviously had the protection of the state establishment, had vandalised the Bhandarkar Oriential Research Institute in Pune where Professor Laine had done some of his research. Elsewhere in India, uber-regionalists, hyper-nationalists and religious fanatics pose as self-appointed guardians of literary, historical or religious icons and threaten violence on authors, playrights, actors, artists, poets and musicians who do not conform to their hagiographic standards. The slightest deviation from the norm in representation or analysis is treated as blasphemy, defamation. And, in the absence of the rule of law being properly enforced, writers and cultural workers are forced to appease their extremist detractors.


The first BJP leader to fall foul of the lakshman rekha of independent thought was, ironically, L.K. Advani. In 2005, he was attacked for painting a picture of the founder of Pakistan that contained shades of grey rather than the usual black and white. Under pressure from the RSS, Mr. Advani was forced to backtrack, moving a political resolution on Jinnah that effectively recanted his earlier characterisation of the Muslim League leader as ‘secular’. Today, his back to the wall for having led the BJP into electoral defeat twice in a row, Mr. Advani is in no mood to provide succour to Mr. Singh. When hands went up in Shimla to expel his intellectual fellow-traveller, the BJP’s Prime Minister-in waiting dutifully joined in. If revolutions are said to devour their children, counter-revolutions sometimes end up consuming their prophets.


Of course one can fault Mr. Singh for being a willing part of the politics of intolerance all these years. Perhaps he did not realise in 1992 that the clubs which rose to obliterate a part of Indian history would one day be raised against the very idea that there could be multiple histories. Perhaps he did not foresee then that those who destroy mosques are equally capable of banning books.


The Jaswant Singh affair is first and foremost an oracle for the atrocious state of affairs in the BJP but it also forces us to ask: Can Indian democracy survive without the freedom to think and write? Can it flourish without the right to question and interrogate received wisdom? Can it be vibrant without being able to take irony, humour, irreverence and even a bit of disrespect in its stride? The individual fate of Mr. Singh need not detain us here but the manner and basis for his expulsion will further circumscribe the arena for debate and discussion within and between political parties. And if the Gujarat government’s ban on his book is allowed to prevail, it will have a chilling effect on a wide range of academic and cultural endeavours across the country.








A U.S. congressional inquiry has found more than a dozen forged letters to members of Congress purportedly from voters opposed to a climate change bill — including a number from old people’s homes.

The creation of such bogus grassroots movements is known in the U.S. as “astroturfing.” The house committee on energy independence and global warming has identified 13 fake letters to members of Congress apparently from old people’s centres and Latino and African-American groups opposing climate change legislation. It is still investigating 45 other letters sent by Bonner & Associates, which was hired to campaign against the climate change bill. The fake letters unearthed so far were sent to three Democrats who represent conservative, coal-mining districts. “We are concerned about our electricity bills. Many of our seniors, as you know, are on low fixed incomes,” said a letter to Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper that claimed to be from the Erie Centre on Health and Ageing. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009








There is a good deal riding on the Afghan presidential election for India’s long-term security and the success of its regional policy. Afghanistan’s second presidential election held on Thursday perhaps matters more than its predecessor five years ago. Then, the prevailing mood in the country, as well as in the Western world broadly (whose help was thought vital to stabilise Afghanistan and eliminate the Taliban threat), was to staunchly back the election process so that Hamid Karzai, who was the country’s interim President after the ouster of the Taliban, may have the chance to be formally elected by his people. Mr Karzai won handily with more than 55 per cent voting for him. Since then, the political environment stands greatly altered. The Taliban, operating from sanctuaries inside Pakistan just across from the Afghan border, have grown menacingly instead of being eliminated, thanks to Pakistan’s active support and America’s comprehensive failure to persuade Islamabad to back off from rendering help to the terrorists. In spite of recording some very healthy social sector gains whose benefits have been felt across the country, the Afghan government looks weak and unable to give confidence to the people on the security front although American and Nato troops have of late begun to make efforts to beat back the jihadist threat.


The Taliban are quite conscious that they lack the ability to prevent or seriously disrupt the election process, but they could be sanguine about their capacity to try and snatch legitimacy away from the exercise. This can happen if the violence unleashed by them in the run-up to the poll as well as on voting day keeps people from casting their ballots, especially in the vast Pashtun belt close to the Pakistan border, in a significant way. No matter who wins, if the people can be persuaded that the incumbent President is not really their leader on account of a badly flawed election, the Taliban would have succeeded in making their political point. Should this come to pass and the popular mood turns from the existing political template in the country, the world would be greatly discomfited and India would have particular cause for worry. Such a denouement holds the prospect of a return of the Taliban with the backing of the Pakistani military establishment.


India is in Afghanistan for pretty much the same reasons as the Western countries are — to deny the jihadists space that would afford them a suitable headquarters for their worldwide revolutionary programme. When the Taliban ruled Kabul, Pakistan’s jihad vector and the establishment hawks felt particularly energised, and the consequence of this could be felt in Kashmir and in other parts of India far more than is the case at present. This country desires democratic processes to settle down in Afghanistan and to strike roots in all parts of the country. This is the best way to thwart extremist designs. A failed presidential election, not just an aborted one, would have just the opposite effect.









The Indian Communist movement, outside the extreme factions in Maoist ranks, is in a crisis. It has been long in the making but its acuteness has been highlighted by the venerable Amartya Sen, with a Nobel Prize under his belt, setting the cat among the pigeons by chiding the Left parties in India for losing their way.


Dr Sen, who confesses to his sympathies for the Left, made the central point in promoting his new book on justice that the Communist parties had been going on about the evils of American policies and the Indo-US nuclear deal at the expense of seeking social justice and food for the poor and the underprivileged. In his words, "I was disappointed with the Left for not focusing on issues that are central issues of social justice, focusing much more on India’s sovereignty and that kind of question".


Prakash Karat, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general-secretary, retorted in his party’s periodical that the Left could not play as "a sort of Left-wing of the Congress Party" and that domestic issues were linked to the "depredations of global finance capital", that American neo-liberal policies had their impact on the domestic economic agenda. It was a weak response.


The truth is that while European Communist parties have re-invented themselves and the Chinese Communists have become avid capitalists using their ideology to justify a one-party regime, Indian Communists are still singing from the early 20th century hymn sheet. The Marxists still venerate Stalin, who is given pride of place in their pantheon of Gods, and the party’s ideology has not changed in a long while. They have, in addition, earned the sobriquet of being arrogant and losing touch with ground reality from their junior partner, the Communist Party of India (CPI).


The recent introspective sessions of the Marxists did not provide an answer because the main party functionaries are merely skirting round the narrow issues of losing seats in the last election — their internal quarrels are no secret. They did not address the basic issues because the party leadership is simply not equipped or prepared to discuss them. The split in the mainstream Indian Communist parties in the 1960s came about because of the schism in the international movement symbolised by the Sino-Soviet confrontation and accentuated by the Sino-Indian border war of 1962. The CPI turned to Moscow and the CPI(M) leaned towards China while claiming to be non-aligned.


The Communist parties did contribute to the Indian polity by making their mark on the two large states of West Bengal and Kerala, in addition to Tripura. They made their presence felt by undertaking meaningful land reforms and unionising labour and through other progressive steps in the socio-economic sphere. But the Bengal experiment deteriorated into using land to buttress the party structure to the detriment of good governance, and in the urban areas party thugs served the purpose of enforcing party loyalties. In Kerala, union leaders and their followers became a law unto themselves and the party could not resist being sucked into the atomised religion and caste-based politics of a state increasingly ruled by coalitions balancing various factions with party labels.


In West Bengal, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee sought to take the party from its traditional land-based support in the rural areas to an increasingly industry-based society on the valid argument that overcrowded farm land alone could not provide employment to the army of urban youth. But he failed in the implementation of the iconic Tata Nano car deal because he botched up on its implementation, the party relying on its thugs to enforce land sales on unwilling farmers. And the Opposition Trinamul Congress was waiting in the wings to exploit precisely such an opportunity. The Marxists lost face and the car deal — and votes in the bargain.


Mr Bhattarcharjee must be given credit for seeking a Chinese way out of the Communist cul de sac — in effect, retaining the jargon of the Communist holy grail while following pragmatic policies. The fact that he got Mr Karat, with his Stalinist reputation, to acquiesce in his experiment at industrialisation was an achievement. The tragedy for the Communist movement was that he failed.


Where do the Indian Communist parties go from here? Inevitably, the focus has shifted to personalities. Can the CPI(M), the dominant Communist party, chart a radical new course with Mr Karat at the helm? He is often contrasted with the ostensibly more pragmatic Sitaram Yechury. In other words, can the party’s collective leadership make a clean break with the familiar mumbo-jumbo of Communist lore?


Mr Bhattacharjee seems to be the only candidate who could give a new direction to the CPI(M) to lead it out of the woods. But his immediate task of saving the party’s government in the next state Assembly election might be more urgent. The Trinamul Congress is riding on a wave and its leader, Mamata Banerjee, already smells success. After its unbroken rule of more than three decades, the CPI(M) might benefit from being in the Opposition for a change.


Dr Sen hit a sensitive nerve of the CPI(M) leadership. It is so much easier railing at American imperialism than in getting to grips with the more difficult task of bringing justice and employment to the poor and the needy. The party in West Bengal has also become prey to the universal aphorism of the corrupting influence of absolute power. And in Kerala, where a CPI(M)-led coalition has been alternating in power with a Congress-led dispensation, the party has become one more factional entity among others.


Given the hold of the traditional leadership, prospects of a radical change in the CPI(M) look distant. If the present leaders, barring Mr Bhattacharjee, do not have it in them to think outside their jargon-cluttered formulations, the party must await a rebellion in its ranks among younger freethinking men and women to heed Dr Sen’s admonitions.


In the early years of Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru made the party’s socialists wing irrelevant by donning its garb. Sonia Gandhi’s Congress is repeating the same experiment by following its brand of inclusive politics.








There are two kinds of tourists: those who will see every museum in a city and those who go to the Louvre in Paris and ask for the short cut to Mona Lisa. (In case you don’t know, it also takes you past the other masterpiece, Venus de Milo. So you can do a quick two-in-one, and impress your family and friends back home.)


A good museum is a destination in itself. You revisit it once every few years and always discover something new. I am not a museum junkie — unless it is a science museum — but I know people who have visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York four times in as many visits to the city. I would revisit a museum only if there was something that really fascinates me. For example, the special exhibition on comic abstraction I saw at Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).


Even today I remember a display: an empty dark room with garbled noise and soft light filtering in from a hole near the floor — like the one in Tom and Jerry cartoons. You step into the room, pause for a second, look around to see if anyone is watching, bend down and put your head on the floor to see if there’s anything inside the hole. There was nothing. The exhibit was called "Waiting for Jerry".


Recently, a houseguest from London, a city that has some of the best museums in the world, wanted to see the National Museum in Delhi and the family decided to tag along.


The last time I visited the museum was a good 15 years ago, and I was thoroughly disappointed with the way the objects were displayed. I am sad to say things haven’t changed: the place reeks of monumental indifference.


Allow me to take you on a quick, virtual tour.


The entrance fee for Indians is Rs 10 and for foreigners Rs 300. This 300 includes an audio guide, but more on that later. Then there is a camera fee of Rs 20 for Indians and Rs 200 for foreigners. I forgot to ask the person at the ticket window how he determines if a person is an Indian or a foreigner. By asking each visitor for an ID (no one asked me for one) or by looking at the colour of skin? I spotted the word "racist" in the complaint book.


Let me start with the Harappan gallery because it is the first you come across — I would say stumble upon because there is no signage worth the name — after you go past the men’s toilet and the rooms of museum officials. That the offices are right in the beginning and not housed in a separate block must be something to do with our culture of bureaucracy.


Harappa was a major city in the Indus Valley civilisation (with its mature period from 2600 to 1700 BCE) and some of the objects on display are 4,500 years old. That squarely places it as one of the oldest planned cities in the world. But there is nothing in the entire gallery that does justice to this ancient civilisation, or inspires awe (or even interest) at the sheer sophistication of this urban civilisation.


The mounted photographs of the Harappan excavation site are old and faded, the lighting is poor, you cannot see the details on the seals and the descriptions are inadequate. There is a poster showing remarkable similarities between Harappan and Mesopotamian seals, but there is little explanation of why this is the case.


The audio guide, I am told, is limited to a small selection of objects, is fragmented and does not give any extra information other than what is stated on the walls. You feel sad when you see the famous bronze statue of the Harappan dancing girl standing on a dusty glass case under a grimy tubelight.


As you leave the gallery in search of objects from other eras, you wonder why an advanced civilisation vanished in less than a thousand years. You look for answers but there aren’t any. The captions are matter of fact; they do not add to your knowledge and understanding.


There are iconic sculptures with tags like "Hanuman: 18th century AD", but in the context of a foreign visitor, who was Hanuman? The inscriptions don’t give an idea of the gods and goddesses. Who was Shiva? In an act of deference and respect for a Hindu God, someone had kept two small flowers on the statue.


In the gallery of miniature paintings, which looks recently renovated and is at least airconditioned, the descriptions too are in miniature print: you need a magnifying glass to read them. None of the exquisite miniatures have captions. It is left to your imagination.


Hidden behind the miniature gallery, in a narrow, dark corridor is what I think is an absolute gem: The Story of Indian Scripts. Charts painted on backlit glass panels trace the evolution of the alphabet, of ta, dha, cha and na, all the way from the Brahmi and Tamil cave scripts of the 3rd century BC.


I don’t think any museum official has entered that alley in a long time because if he or she had, they would have noticed that many bulbs have fused and it is difficult to read some of the text. Pity, because someone has obviously put in a lot of research into these charts.


I could go on: you would be advised to carry a torch to see the exquisite objects of art in the Mughal gallery. There is tarnished silverware that has obviously not been dusted for years. There is not a shred of creativity, or a cohesive thread that runs through the galleries and tells you the story of India.


Once you are done with the galleries on the ground floor, only a museum junkie will dare to climb the steps to level two.


And as for the museum shop, the less said the better: apart from a few replicas, the rest of the stuff reminds you of a jumble sale on pavement stalls.


A comment in the complaint book sums up the experience: "I’m sorry but it’s a real shame… how India’s people can’t respect their own country".


If you want to experience the history of India, the National Museum will disappoint. Instead, I suggest you watch the historian Michael Wood’s fascinating six-part documentary, The Story of India. It is well researched, and brings the past to life.


Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at









Not quite unexpectedly, the Jaswant Singh ouster has dominated the “chintan baithak” from the word go. It has almost eclipsed the brainstorming session of the select 24 of the BJP at Shimla, as if it is the only issue on the agenda. Perhaps intentional, there cannot be a better diversionary tactics. For all one knows, other real vital issues might very well be swept under the carpet. That will be in keeping with the recent history of the BJP to ignore the basic problems that afflict the party. What the “chintan baithak” needed to address was the core issue of Hindutva, flogging which has become counter-productive for the party and divisive for the country. Equally important is the question of the BJP’s relationship with the rest of the Sangh Parivar. If it has to retrieve lost ground, it needs to cut its umbilical cord with the forces which want it to be a party of Hindus exclusively. Unfortunately, it is shying away from such essential reforms for emerging as a responsible party.


As far as Mr Jaswant Singh’s praise for Jinnah and criticism of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel was concerned, it was no more serious than similar sentiments expressed by Mr L.K Advani who in his strange reasoning thought Nehru was pseudo-secular and Jinnah secular. Mr Advani holds forth on accountability but has clung to his post even after the poll debacle despite none-to-subtle signals from partymen as well as the Sangh Parivar that he should call it a day and let the younger leaders take over. He himself knows that the party must go in for a younger profile if it has to remain relevant, which just cannot happen with an 80-plus continuing to remain in the saddle.


The reaction against Mr Jaswant Singh’s book might not have been that violent if he were not among those who criticised Mr Advani’s failed election strategy and his rewarding of those who should have been punished for the debacle. Mr Yashwant Sinha and Mr Arun Shourie are already marginalised. With the expulsion of Mr Jaswant Singh, even the third critic is out of the way. But will that make the BJP face the emerging danger of decay looming ahead?








Whatever the BJP leadership’s internal compulsions behind Mr Jaswant Singh’s expulsion from the party, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi choosing to ban his book Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence in the state has disturbing implications for the right to freedom of expression. This not only typifies the Modi government’s intolerance to a writer’s right to interpret a slice of history from his own perspective but also amounts to showing disrespect to the people’s right to know. The government did not spare a thought for what the action portends for the freedom of expression in a liberal society which should respect a dissenting opinion, even if it turns out to be disagreeable. In a democracy, it is for the people to decide which is good and bad and the government’s police cannot — and should not — sit in judgement. Despotic regimes have always been harsh to independent thinking writers. But banning books is an offence against democracy.


Apparently, the Modi government has taken exception to the writer’s portrayal of the late Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in poor light in the book. But Gujarat is an enlightened society and the government cannot presume that Mr Jaswant Singh’s view of Sardar Patel’s role in Partition will persuade it to accept his contention.


The release of Taslima Nasreen’s Dwinkhandita and James W. Laine’s Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India had triggered protests in West Bengal and Maharashtra respectively not long ago and not letting M.F. Husain live in the country are disgraceful. If Mr Jaswant Singh had distorted history in his book, the Modi government should have left it to the readers to decide rather than peremptorily banning it. Mr Jaswant Singh may be wrong on who was responsible for Partition, but he has the right to live with his errors.








It is a matter of much relief that the Haryana government’s move to allocate residential plots to MPs and MLAs in the state has been frustrated for now by the Punjab and Haryana High Court granting a stay on its implementation. Since the land was allotted on the eve of the proposed dissolution of the state assembly and consequent elections, there was a strong suspicion that it was intended by the Hooda government as a sop to the legislators. While the government could take refuge under the pretext that the Election Commission’s code of conduct had not come into force, it was contrary to the spirit of the law which does not favour largesse of this kind.


So desperate was the government to ingratiate itself with the legislators that even while the court was deliberating on the application for stay, the Haryana Urban Development Authority hurriedly conducted a draw of lots for allotment of plots. That the draw was held on a day when the state was in mourning due to the demise of a Cabinet minister and that even allotment letters were issued in a mad scramble only reinforces the impression that there was an allout effort to get these through before the court took up the stay application. It is regrettable that the Speaker of the assembly was present when the draw was done.


It now devolves on the complainant to convince the court that the allotment of plots was unjustified. There would indeed be no end to the demand by legislators for allocation of plots as every election throws up some new legislators. It would be in the fitness of things if members of Parliament and state legislatures were to predominantly think of housing for the people they represent rather than their own interests. It is such selfish action of the legislators that erodes public faith in them.









Why has America, after electing President Barrack Obama, continued to be racist? There may be many explanations. One of them is that by installing him at the highest position in the country, the whites feel that they have cleared the debt they owed to the non-white world.


Yet this does not make America liberal. In fact, the conservative path that Obama has been taking of late shows that he would rather acquire pro-white credentials than those of a liberal who looked as if he had joined issue on colour as well as capitalism.


I feel let down because I saw in him a bit of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy. What Obama has done is that he has effected only some cosmetic changes. He seems to have compromised with the vested interests in the fields of race and religion.


A fresh thinking which I spotted in his pre-election speeches turned out to be a strategy to win votes. I feel sorry for him, but more so for America, which invariably disappoints after evoking hope.


The treatment meted out to Shah Rukh Khan at New Jersey airport, where he was detained for two hours, is out and out racialism. That he is a Muslim doubled his sin. There is no explanation given for the biased questions he was asked. The lame excuse that it took time to check his luggage does not condone the drilling he was subjected to, as the US does to Asians and non-whites.


The fact is that the democratic America ends when the real America, arrogant and prejudiced, takes over. The authorities who showed no decency to Shah Rukh Khan are trained that way. None of them are accountable and none of them are punished because they have humiliated even the best of Asians.

In the case of Shah Rukh Khan they could not have made a mistake because he was there one month earlier, the computers at the customs and immigration counters having his full details, with his photograph.

India’s former President Abdul Kalam was also roughed up. So was the then Defence Minister George Fernandes. I do not know if any punishment was given to the officers who humiliated Kalam and Fernandes.


America is concerned about what happens to the white. The other day an Indian family of five and 25 Poles travelled to America in the same plane. Only the Indians were checked and detained. The Poles were not stopped even for a second to keep the appearance at least.


Washington is also careful about what happens to the Chinese because they have the type of economy which can hurt America. Hapless India hardly matters, particularly when it is already queuing up before the White House or the State Department for favours.


The successive governments in New Delhi have reduced the country to a client state. The Ministry of External Affairs indulges in some diplomatic acrobats whenever a Shah Rukh Khan-like incident takes place but then it goes back to its obligations under the strategic alliance with America. The ministry awaits another insult to go over the exercise once again.


I was happy when Information Minister Ambika Soni said after the Shah Rukh Khan incident that we should pay back in the same coin. I wish we would do so at least in one case so that the Americans come to realise that the nation which ousted the British has not yet become part of furniture. One MBA girl student assured me that the day was not far when India would be rejecting visa applications of Americans as they are doing in our case.


It is time that the Americans realise that the word, ugly, for them is returning with a vengeance. America’s resolve to fight against terrorism and its soldiers in Afghanistan pale into insignificance when Washington has no respect for the non-whites and when it believes that it can get away with all the insults it can heap on Asians, Africans and Arabs. Enough is enough.


And how Washington meddles in the internal affairs of nations can be judged from a circular the US Commission in International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has issued. It has placed India on its ‘watch list’ for what it calls the Indian government’s largely inadequate response in protecting its religious minorities.


The USCIRF has said that India earned the ‘watch list’ designation due to the disturbing increase in communal violence against religious minorities—specifically Christians in Orissa in 2008 and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002—and the largely inadequate response from the Indian government to protect the rights of religious minorities.


“It is extremely disappointing that India, which has a multitude of religious communities, has done so little to protect and bring justice to its religious minorities under siege,” says Leonard Leo, Chairman of the USCIRF.


India feels itself ashamed over what has happened in Gujarat and Orissa. The happenings have put a question mark against our credentials of secularism. The media on the whole has taken the culprits to task. The Supreme Court has itself intervened in the case of Gujarat.


Still, we are more concerned over racialism practised in our own country. We suffer from the same bias of superiority of the white. Students from Africa and the Northeast complain of our prejudice against them on the basis of colour or race. They find it hard to get accommodation and have practically no opportunity for social gathering with other Indians.


Our literature is full of praise for a woman who has a white complexion. Kalidas in his books compares the beautiful with the ones who are white. Shakuntala is bewitching because she excels the white in looks. Probably, this attitude is because of our slavery of 150 years at the hands of the British. We have not been able to jettison our slavish complex.


But who are Americans to teach us how to treat the minorities? They have a society which feels superior because it comprises the white. The treatment meted out to minorities in their country is unprintable. We should also set up a committee to look into complaints by the black and the religious bodies against Americans and then place Washington on the ‘watch list’. All that I can tell the US is: Physician, heal thyself.








In a shift from pugnacious confrontation to measured conciliation, North Korea appears to be recalibrating its relations with the United States, South Korea and the outside world.


The isolated communist state that began the year by launching missiles and testing a nuclear bomb has released two U.S. journalists and freed a South Korean worker this month. And on Monday it agreed to resume reunions of families divided by the North-South border, as well as restart a cross-border tourism business.


Kim Jong Il, the 67-year-old leader who suffered a stroke 12 months ago and whose fitness to run the country had been widely questioned, has chosen to grant highly publicized audiences to two important outsiders.


He met for more than three hours earlier this month with former president Bill Clinton, who flew into Pyongyang to retrieve the American journalists.


On Sunday, in a meeting that the South Korean government described as “positive,” Kim held talks with the chairman of Hyundai Group, the South Korean conglomerate that is the largest investor in the North.

The official Korean Central News Agency said the conversation with Hyun Jung-eun was “cordial” and that Kim “complied with all her requests.”


“My luncheon meeting with Chairman Kim proceeded in a friendly atmosphere,” Hyun said Monday after returning to Seoul from a week in North Korea. “We exchanged views on the resumption of the joint tourism project . ... and other pending issues.”


North Korea on Thursday released a Hyundai employee it had detained in the spring on vague charges of political misbehavior.


The reasons behind North Korea’s apparent softening in strategy are known only to Kim and his inner circle. But analysts in South Korea have speculated that much of North Korea’s sabre-rattling this year was for internal consumption, as Kim began to prepare the country for a succession process that might hand power to his third son, Kim Jong Un, who is just 26.


“North Korea has put all its cards on the table, and now it wants some kind of negotiations with the United States,” said Koh Yu-whan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.

The Obama administration has said that it is willing to have bilateral talks with North Korea, but that it also wants Pyongyang to return to six-party talks focused on ridding the North of nuclear weapons.


Kim’s government has said it will never return to those talks, which include the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.


But in another potentially conciliatory development, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported Monday that Wu Dawei, China’s senior nuclear envoy, was planning to go to North Korea to try to restart the six-party talks.

The North, meanwhile, is being squeezed by U.N. economic sanctions and by intense U.S. efforts to seal the country off from the world’s banking system. The sanctions were toughened in the spring in reaction to the North’s nuclear test.


Pyongyang announced Monday that it would relax rules on North-South border traffic and “energize” its joint industrial complex at Kaesong, where more than a hundred South Korean companies employ about 40,000 North Korean workers.


The future of the complex, which injects desperately needed hard currency into the moribund North Korean economy, has been in jeopardy since early this year, when the North demanded a huge increase in rent and salaries.


A possible reason for North Korea’s new flexibility in relations with South Korea is lack of food.

North Korea suffers from chronic food shortages, and U.N. food agencies have said that about 37 percent of the country’s 23.5 million people will need food aid this year.


Food supply problems might have increased in recent weeks, as North Korean state television has reported that flooding damaged crops.


Earlier this year, the North severely restricted the ability of U.N. agencies to distribute food inside the country, and in March it abruptly canceled a deal to accept hundreds of thousands of tons of food aid from the U.S. government.


In the past two years, South Korea has stopped deliveries of free food and fertilizer, pending an agreement with the North that would monitor distribution of the aid.


By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








How much sleep is necessary for a healthy mind and body, and does this amount truly need to vary between people and age groups?


The latest study into sleep may help to resolve the issue with the discovery that certain people in the population carry the smallest of genetic mutations in a gene that appears to play a significant role in deciding just how much sleep human beings need.


Scientists studied an extended family in California and found that a mother and her daughter shared a life-long habit of rising in the very early hours of the morning with no apparent ill-effects. They routinely went to bed between 10.30pm and 11pm and got up between 4am and 4.30am.


The researchers took blood samples from all members of the family and analysed their DNA for any signs that could explain this unusual behaviour. The tests revealed that the mother and her daughter did in fact share a tiny “point mutation” in a gene known as hDEC2, which is known to affect the regulation of other genes and has been implicated in the control of sleeping patterns in animals.


Other members of the family who followed a more conventional sleeping pattern were not found to have inherited the same mutation. These family members typically required the normal eight hours or so of sleep a night instead of the five to six hours of the mother and daughter. Just to make sure that the hDEC2 mutation was truly involved in this unusual sleeping pattern, rather than a coincidental occurrence in the two women, the scientists went on to create genetically-engineered mice with the same point mutation to the same gene. These mice also exhibited unusually short patterns of sleep, a feature not seen in ordinary mice.


“The implication from the study would be that there is a genetically-wired system in our body to tell us how much sleep do we need,” explained Ying-Hui Fu, Professor of Neurology at the University of California in San Francisco, the study’s head.


“Yet, we really don’t know anything about how this is done. This discovery provides an opportunity for us to begin to probe into the pathway regulating our sleep quantity and need,” said Professor Fu, whose study is published in the journal Science.


“It is not clear at the present time how this mutation can lead to short sleep quantity. This is one of the areas that we are pursuing actively,” she said.


The scientific evidence suggesting that different people are genetically wired to require shorter-than-average periods of sleep goes back many years.


In 1999, for instance, scientists identified the existence of a gene – or more specifically an inherited mutation within a gene – that appeared to confer something called familial advanced sleep-phase syndrome.


This is an inherited condition where people tend to go to bed early and get up early, which can also happen when people abandon normal sleeping routines, such as at the weekend and when on holiday. People who exhibit this all the time are known as “morning larks”, to distinguish them from “night owls” at the other extreme who routinely go to bed late and get up late.


The scientists in this study, led by Christopher Jones of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, did not actually find the gene or its mutation – they could only show that it must exist in the 29 people from three different families that they had studied.


People with advanced sleep-phase syndrome, however, still sleep for the usual seven and a half to eight hours a night, it’s just that their daily routine or “circadian rhythm” is shifted. Scientists believe that genetic mutations can also occur in the genes influencing this aspect of the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle.


Sleep is a product of both circadian rhythm and another controlling factor that, put simply, measures the amount of sleep we have had. When we need sleep, this “homeostatic” mechanism makes us sleepy; when we’ve had enough sleep, it tells us to wake up.


By arrangement with The Independent










Time and again the ghost of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan and bete noire of the BJP, has come to haunt the saffron party. It had happened in 2005 when the then BJP president L K Advani during a trip to Pakistan had praised Jinnah, thereby earning the wrath of the Sangh Parivar, which had forced him then to resign from the Presidency. Advani, however, had sufficient clout to shrug off the temporary setback and wrest back the Presidency from his detractors, primarily the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its adherents in the party. The latest victim of the BJP’s Jinnah-phobia has been veteran leader Jaswant Singh who has been expelled from the party for his views on Pakistan’s founder. In his book, Jinnah – India, Partition, Independence, Singh had refused to sketch a stereotype portrait of Jinnah as the personification of all evil as the BJP and RSS had always viewed him. Rather than heap the entire responsibility for the Partition of the subcontinent on the shoulders of the Pakistani icon, Singh had held Indian leaders such as Nehru and Patel to be equally culpable for that tragic historical episode. This had been cause enough for expulsion of a senior functionary who had not only been a member since the BJP’s inception three decades ago, but also had held important portfolios in the Government including Defence and Finance.

Clearly, there is more than meets the eye in the expulsion, for the punishment hardly fits the crime. One recalls Advani had been simply reprimanded for similar infringement and later reinstated as the party president. The truth is that the expulsion of Jaswant Singh is the symptom of a deep rooted malaise currently gripping the saffron party. Ever since Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to leave the political scene due to ill health, the BJP has been in the throes of an internal struggle both on issues of power and ideology. As a realist Vajpayee had been all too aware that, in the Indian context, ideological extremism based primarily on religion was the biggest hurdle to attaining political dominance. He had, therefore, sought to moderate ideological postures despite covert or overt opposition from the RSS, and attained a degree of success in making the BJP an acceptable alternative to the Congress in the eyes of the Indian electorate. His departure, as well as the defeat suffered by the party during the last elections, has left the door open for hardliners to reassert themselves and take the party back towards a rigorous Hindutva ideology. It is quite likely that more ‘moderate’ heads will roll in the near future even as greater pressure is brought on LK Advani to revert to his earlier hardliner stance. The outcome of chintan baithak will surely reveal what direction the party will take in the future.







Usain Bolt has opened a new era in men’s 100-metre race with a jaw-dropping 9.58-second blitz in the World Athletics Championships in Berlin on Sunday, bettering his own record of 9.69 seconds he had set in the Beijing Olympics final exactly a year ago. What makes Bolt’s timing all the more striking is the fact that his American rival Tyson Gay too clocked a spectacular 9.71 seconds to win the silver, which is the third fastest time ever in 100-metre history. Bolt’s fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell, a former record holder, also clocked 9.84 seconds to take the bronze. This was the fastest and greatest ever race in the men’s 100-metre history. With this astonishing feat, Bolt has put himself in the exclusive league of sporting legends, including Jesse Owens, who, in the same stadium in the 1936 Olympics, leaving Hitler red-faced, had won four gold medals to become the biggest hero in world athletics. As for Bolt, a gold medal in the 100-metre race of the World Athletics Championship had hither to been missing in his otherwise glittering collection and he had pledged to take it away from the 2007 champion Tyson Gay. In Berlin, Bolt won it with plenty to spare. The Jamaican lightning, who will turn 23 on August 22, is the modern-day superstar with promises to dish out more such performances in the days to come.


Without a doubt, Bolt has taken the 100-metre dash - probably the world’s most breathtaking sport - to another level. After his unbelievable timing, now it seems that even 9.5 seconds will be in danger soon. Usually, a new record in 100-metre race is bettered by a small fraction of a second. But Bolt has done it by a staggering 0.11 seconds, which is the biggest world record improvement in the history of the race. Records are meant to be broken, but in case of speed, there has to be a limit a human body can reach. Yet, the way the world’s fastest men have been running of late, it seems one day some one could even break the 9-second barrier. When this happens, it would be another bolt from the blue.








India is currently at the centre of a controversy over the proposed Tipaimukh (Tuiruong) Hydro-Electric Multipurpose project. It will be a total dam with no possibility at all of it turning into a barrage like that of Farakka for diversion of its water in future.

Arguably, construction of a hydel power project or a fficult as acquisition of land for a industrial hub because wherever efforts are made to set up such a project, environmentalists along with civil society groups, are seen launching a movement to scuttle them. One may wonder at their outcry in the age of science and technology. But, there are many instances that have been documented of hydel-electric projects or barrages having adverse impact on the eco-system, course of river in the downstream, wildlife and the livelihood of the people in an area.

In Assam, for example, almost every alternative year if not every year, the flood situation in Lakhimpur district turns grim not necesarily because of heavy rainfall in the State but because of huge amounts of rain water released from big dams in Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan that is deposited due to incessant rain in their catchment areas. The people in the district would have never faced it had those who had built the dams taken into account the possible impact they could have.

With the incidents of the dam-induced floods, today there is great resentment in Assam over the proposed mega hydel power projects in upstream Arunachal Pradesh. The All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and the Takam Mishing Porin Kebang (TMPK) have jointly demanded that the Lower Subansiri Hydel Power Project's (LSHP) main dam in Arunachal Pradesh be put on hold until the final report of the expert committee studying the downstream impact of the project is submitted. Notably the expert committee formed with the experts from Gauhati University, Dibrugarh University and Guwahati IIT, had in its February 9, 2009 interim report also shared the same view.

Notably, Bangladeshis too, had found themselves on a sticky wicket following India's commissioning of Farakka Barrage in 1974 on the Ganges along Bangladesh's northern sector of the border. Though it as set up to ensure water supply to the Hooghly river to keep the Kolkata port navigable, the worst sufferer was the neighbouring country. In fact, Bangladesh faced severe water crisis during winter for a prolonged 30 years until an agreement was signed in 1996 to share the flow. The issue of sharing of the Ganges water between the two countries could have easily been settled amicably at the very outset of the barrage construction had there been an international river water management policy in place.

India is currently at the centre of a controversy over the proposed Tipaimukh (Tuiruong) Hydro-Electric Multipurpose project. It will be a total dam with no possibility at all of it turning into a barrage like that of Farakka for diversion of its water in future. Even then there has been strong opposition not just from Bangladesh but also from some sections of the civil society in Manipur over the project. Costing Rs 6,351 crore, the 164 metre high dam on the Barak river in the State of Manipur about 200 km from Sylhet, will have the potential of generating 1,500 MW once complete.

What Bangladesh is worried about is that the completion of the dam on the Barak river which flows through the country could affect the river system, ecology and climate in that country. Whether it has inferred after profound downstream impact studies of the project is unclear as there is so far no report as yet by them coming up these days in any mainstream Indian newspaper. But, interestingly enough, the opposition parties in that country that have been on the lookout for an opportunity to dilute the image of Sheikh Hasina's ruling Awami League ever since it was swept to power with a massive mandate a few months ago, has finally climbed on the bandwagon of a section of conservationists and NGOs in the country against the project to lambast the government for allowing what they term "impertinent concessions" to India.

Among the opposition parties, most vociferous in the criticism of the Awami League-led Bangladesh government on the issue is its former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Khaleda Zia, who is the country's main opposition leader, has even recently written a letter to Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, asking him to stop the construction at the dam site. Given the possibility of the opposition parties' anti-dam campaign ballooning into a mass movement in the country in the event of the Hasina government's failure to set at rest the raging controversy over it through persuasion, the ruling establishment has already decided to send a parliamentary delegation to the project site to assess its possible ecological effects on the country.

Assuming it would find nothing adverse after its study of the project impact, will the opposition parties, especially the BNP in Bangladesh then stop taking potshots at the Awami Leadue government? If they do not, India's trying to impress upon Dhaka that the project would not cause any desertification in eastern Bangladesh will certainly turn out to be a tough job. Indian officials has already said that both India and Bangladesh would benefit from it. But it has seldom influenced the anti-dam movement being launched by the opposition parties in Bangladesh as is mirrored in their intensifying it.

More importantly, in Manipur too, close to 20 influential organisations in the State under the banner of action committee against the proposed Tipaimukh project, have voiced their strong reservations over it. They fear once it is compete on the Barak river, the dam will not only submerge arable land but also affect the livelihood of the Hmar and Zeliangong people. The apprehension they air can scarcely be discounted as unfounded or far-fetched. Because when Loktak Multipurpose project had come up, many villagers were uprooted who are still not rehabilitated and more than 30,000 hectares of arable land submerged.

Sections of people in the State are so concerned over the proposed project that it has recently had its echo even in such an international platform as the United Nations Permanent Form (UNPM). In its eighth session the joint secretary, the Manipur-based citizens concern for dams and development, Jiten Yumnam raised the issue and its likely downstream impact, presumably to drum up opinion against the dam. He maintained that it would inundate about 3,000 sq kms of land and affect more than 67 villages of Hmar and Zeliangrong people.

Insofar as the government of India is concerned, it is almost ready to go ahead with the project. The Union Environment and Forest Ministry as well as the Government of Manipur have reportedly given clearance to it. Now it is awaiting for the nod of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA). But, in this context, the pertinent question is: will it be apt to set about the project work without allaying the growing fear of the Tipaimukh villagers and those in Bangladesh about it? Certainly not.
Before the work begins, what the concerned authorities need to do is creating a feeling of confidence among them that even if the project comes up at the site, it will not pose any threat to population, economy and drinking water supply.

It is sometimes seen that as the State authorities fail to settle a contentious issue of coal-uranium mining or, power projects amicably through discussions with an anti-group/groups, the former as a last resort hold a public hearing. But, the fact of the matter is the real story of who is speaking up for it or against never unfolds if it is held in an economically-run-down and educationally-backward village like Tipaimukh. But it was organised there on March 31, 2008. Naturally it hardly reflected the true opinion of the illiterate villagers with a very few of them participating in them. Therefore, in such a somnolent and nondescript village, this method of reading the minds of people can not be a democratic exercise.








The Rehabilitation of Displaced Persons Bill 2007 and Amendments to the Land Acquisition Act 1894 were passed by the 14th Lok Sabha in February but were defeated in the Rajya Sabha. They were to be placed before the budget session of the present Parliament but it was not done because of opposition from the TMC. They are expected to be introduced in the next session. In its manifesto the Congress had promised to enact the legislation as solutions to the problems faced by persons displaced by development projects. In reality the bills will make acquisition easier than in the past but do not promise anything new to the estimated 60 million persons displaced since 1947 in the name of national development. Very few of them have been resettled. In Assam, for example, only some ten projects out of 3,000 that have deprived around 20 lakh persons of their livelihood had some rehabilitation measures.

Will these bills solve this problem? Their declared objective of “minimising displacement” is to be achieved through discussion with the requiring agency, not with the people to be displaced. Their consent is not required for land takeover. Patta land acquired from them will be compensated but the bills are vague on community land which is about a third of all land and eksonia patta land that is probably another third in Assam. The bureaucrat decides the quantum of compensation. Till now it has been invariably very low particularly in the “Backward Areas” where most land is acquired.

People’s exclusion from discussion on “minimising displacement” is intriguing. Minimisation requires lower land acquisition. One is yet to hear of a requiring agency reducing its demand without pressure from the affected people. Because excess land acquisition has been a norm also in the past. For example, two thirds of the land acquired for the HAL-MiG Factory at Sunabeda, Koraput district, Orissa in 1966 are lying unused. The 16,000 tribals it displaced have not been resettled. The Burla town in the Sambalpur district of Orissa has been built on excess land acquired for the Hirakud dam. Forty eight major dams are scheduled to be built in the Northeast in the next decade. One can expect such excess acquisition to continue in this region too.

After liberalisation private companies are demanding more land than required. For example, the Special Economic Zones Act 2005 stipulated that 25 per cent of the area be used for productive purposes. Under pressure from the people it was raised to 50’per cent. The rest can be used for tourist resorts, hotels, townships and other purposes. Each SEZ can be as big as 12,000 acres Little wonder then that some companies that only have experience in real estate speculation and none in production have applied for some of the more than 300 proposed SEZs. Among examples in industries is the Nano car factory. Studies show that a factory needs one acre to produce 1,000 cars and the Tatas proposed to make 350,000 of them. In 1952, the West Bengal Government had allotted 750 acres to the Birlas for Hindustan Motors. Fifty years later they had used only 300 acres and were allowed to develop a township on the remaining 350 acres. Instead of encouraging such real estate speculation at the cost of the land losers that could have been allotted to the Tatas. But they were allotted 997 acres at Singur when they needed less than half of it. Is the rest meant for real estate speculation?

The proposed bills have not provided any steps to prevent such abuses. They limit rehabilitation to projects that displace 400 families in the plains and 200 in the hill and scheduled areas. People cannot decide even on their own rehabilitation. The administrator will prepare a plan in consultation with them. They will be given land “if it is available”. This phrase replaces the bureaucratic buck-passing phrase “as far as possible”. There is no assurance of jobs or other economic support. The bills demand social impact assessment before taking a decision on land acquisition. But they limit it to common property like schools, ponds and roads and do not mention impacts such as impoverishment, social disruption, psychological trauma and cultural degradation that the displaced feel. The message is clear: people do not count, only property does. Most benefits given to the displaced are in the form of subsidies, not permanent assets. Thus, rehabilitation is treated as welfare, not a right. For projects that displace fewer than 400 families, only vague statements are made that they too should be rehabilitated.

These failures were avoidable because alternatives were available to the Government if it had the political will to deal with people’s impoverishment and marginalisation. As early as 1967 a committee of what later became the Ministry of Rural Development had suggested major changes in the colonial Land Acquisition Act. In 1985 a Committee of the Department of Welfare had suggested a rehabilitation policy. But the Government waited till the World Bank withdrew from Narmada in 1992 to prepare the first draft policy. We are an independent country no doubt but the World Bank has to tell us that we should rehabilitate our citizens displaced in the name of national development.


The civil society groups prepared an alternative to this defective draft. The Ministry accepted much of it in its 1998 draft. But the policy promulgated by the NDA Government in 2004 turned out to be eyewash. The UPA promised to improve on it. Its National Advisory Council prepared a draft that demanded people’s prior informed consent before displacement, stipulated their involvement at every stage, replaced the “public purpose” of displacement with “public interest” since acquisition for private profit cannot be called a public purpose, included replacement value for compensation instead of the measly compensation given today, declared rehabilitation a right of the displaced and stated that the policy will apply to persons displaced ten years prior to its promulgation. The Ministry of Rural Development prepared another draft that was only marginally better than the 2004 policy. The Government that has promised to combine economic growth with social justice promulgated this totally inadequate document and has prepared two bills based on it.


(The writer is Director, North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati.)








Jaswant Singh’s expulsion from the BJP has foregrounded not only the state of disarray within the party and its intolerance of dissent but also the question of its apparent ideological confusion.

The humiliating way it chose to expel a senior leader seems to have been dictated by a desire to send out a stern message to various dissenters and also affirm the party’s ideological core. Yet, the party has only managed to invite widespread condemnation as well as charges of double standards — since L K Advani, who expressed pretty much similar views on Jinnah continues to be a patriarch.

The ideological confusion stems from the perceived need for the party to occupy a centre-right space while yet be dependent on its basic, and divisive, Hindutva agenda. The latter, of course, is determined by the BJP’s parent body, the RSS. Stung by electoral reverses, some within the BJP may have called for an ‘inclusive’ Hindutva, in an attempt to regain the Vajpayee aura, but given the vital dependence on the RSS, such talk is likely to remain just that.

That dependence, indeed, has been reaffirmed and reinforced by Jaswant Singh’s expulsion. And the conundrum facing the BJP is likely to sharpen — that of needing the RSS and other organisations at even the purely electoral level while perhaps being aware that polarising politics can’t yield a sustainable majority space in Indian democracy.

The other aspect of the fracas over the book on Jinnah and the Partition of India is the question of whether a cadre-based party can tolerate any internal dissent. Here it is not so much a question of the kind of critique delivered by the likes of Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh after the Lok Sabha election debacle. Nor the virtual revolt by a major state unit like in Rajasthan.

Those are the manifestation of the other problem facing the BJP — lack of accountability and factionalism. Rather, the question is whether a member of such a party (or even the Left parties) can be allowed to hold some personal views that are at variance with the ideologically driven party’s stand. The inability to allow such a personal, democratic right, it can be argued, in turn only posits the problem in a party’s envisioning of democratic politics.







At the just-concluded conference of chief ministers and chief justices of high courts in the Capital, the prime minister and the Chief Justice of India seemed to have a completely different take on the reason for the appalling backlog of cases — 31.19 million — before our courts.

To Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, the solution lay in speedy appointment of more judges to tackle the ‘chronic shortage of judicial officers’ (read, sanctioning more posts). To the prime minister, the answer lay in the judiciary filling up existing vacancies at the levels of the subordinate judiciary and high courts — a task largely performed by the judiciary.

Separately, there has also been a suggestion that judges at all levels could work longer hours and take less vacations than they do now. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between! Both the government and the judiciary need to do their bit to tackle the problem — the government by sanctioning more posts and ending the perennial delay in appointments and the judiciary by filling up existing vacancies, cutting back on the number of holidays and through greater recourse to technology.

But that alone will not suffice. The welcome spread of literacy and awareness of their rights is bound to see a quantum jump in the number of citizens seeking legal redressal of their wrongs. In its landmark judgement in Hussainara Khatoon vs State of Bihar back in 1979 the Supreme Court held that a criminal procedure system that does not provide for a speedy trial cannot be said to be fair or reasonable. The situation is far worse now.

Hence efforts to tackle the backlog must go in tandem with measures aimed at alternate dispute resolution through Lok Adalats, mediation and plea bargaining to reduce the number of cases that finally come to the courts. A large number of pending cases relate to petty offences that lend themselves to such alternate forms of dispute resolution and would reduce both costs as well as delays, apart from addressing the human issue of the large number of undertrials languishing in our jails. A well-functioning judicial system is the sine qua non of a well-ordered society. We ignore it at our peril!







On August 12, when schoolteacher Roopa Chand became the first person in Bangalore to die of swine flu, the print and electronic media noted that Karnataka health minister B Sriramulu was camping in Bellary to campaign for the by-elections.

However, the minister’s steadfast principal secretary I R Perumal told journalists that Mr Sriramulu was remote-controlling all measures being taken to combat the virus. Almost as if to make up for lost time, the minister has been holding regular press briefings over the last few days in Bangalore where he has been advising the public not to panic since he had “directed health officials not to take any chances on the issue and the government had initiated measures on a war-footing”.

And all this even while one of the city’s main testing centres closed at 4 pm every day since it did not have enough testing kits. By August 19, the death-toll in India’s Silicon Valley had risen to seven and there were two instances of the test-report being submitted after the patient had expired.

On August 18, minister Sriramulu took a literally hands-on approach to the H1N1 crisis, perhaps to make the point that he was not a modern-day Nero, as his critics had claimed. An official press release, issued on August 18, proudly states in a rather long headline, ‘Health Minister Sriramulu visits H1N1 patients in five Bangalore hospitals, refuses to wear surgical mask, mingles with patients, boosts their morale’.

The text of the release adds that the doctors had advised Mr Sriramulu to wear a surgical mask before entering the isolation wards but that the minister had politely refused since “he had come to dispel the unnecessary scare over the disease”.

The Karnataka health minister is now one-up on his Maharashtra counterpart who, just the other day, visited the Nagpur zoo along with his gunman and patted a tiger cub in its cage. Hopefully, the H1N1 virus which is presently stalking Bangalore will be suitably scared by the ministerial bravado!









Shere is a good deal riding on the Afghan presidential election for India’s long-term security and the success of its regional policy. Afghanistan’s second presidential election held on Thursday perhaps matters more than its predecessor five years ago. Then, the prevailing mood in the country, as well as in the Western world broadly (whose help was thought vital to stabilise Afghanistan and eliminate the Taliban threat), was to staunchly back the election process so that Mr Hamid Karzai, who was the country’s interim President after the ouster of the Taliban, may have the chance to be formally elected by his people. Mr Karzai won handily with more than 55 per cent voting for him. Since then, the political environment stands greatly altered. The Taliban, operating from sanctuaries inside Pakistan just across from the Afghan border, have grown menacingly instead of being eliminated, thanks to Pakistan’s active support and America’s comprehensive failure to persuade Islamabad to back off from rendering help to the terrorists. In spite of recording some very healthy social sector gains whose benefits have been felt across the country, the Afghan government looks weak and unable to give confidence to the people on the security front although American and Nato troops have of late begun to make efforts to beat back the jihadist threat. The Taliban are quite conscious that they lack the ability to prevent or seriously disrupt the election process, but they could be sanguine about their capacity to try and snatch legitimacy away from the exercise. This can happen if the violence unleashed by them in the run-up to the poll as well as on voting day keeps people from casting their ballots, especially in the vast Pashtun belt close to the Pakistan border, in a significant way. No matter who wins, if the people can be persuaded that the incumbent President is not really their leader on account of a badly flawed election, the Taliban would have succeeded in making their political point. Should this come to pass and the popular mood turns from the existing political template in the country, the world would be greatly discomfited and India would have particular cause for worry. Such a denouement holds the prospect of a return of the Taliban with the backing of the Pakistani military establishment. India is in Afghanistan for pretty much the same reasons as the Western countries are — to deny the jihadists space that would afford them a suitable headquarters for their worldwide revolutionary programme. When the Taliban ruled Kabul, Pakistan’s jihad vector and the establishment hawks felt particularly energised, and the consequence of this could be felt in Kashmir and in other parts of India far more than is the case at present. This country desires democratic processes to settle down in Afghanistan and to strike roots in all parts of the country. This is the best way to thwart extremist designs. A failed presidential election, not just an aborted one, would have just the opposite effect.









Indian public discourse is going through a bout of anxiety about China. An article written by a Chinese strategic expert and hosted by a prominent think tank has advocated dismembering India. Although the Chinese government has distanced itself from the article, it has caused much disquiet in India. More so, since it followed another article in the People’s Daily, which disparaged India’s political system and its trajectory of development. Further, the Indian Navy Chief’s remarks about the relative power of China and India has led to much speculation about whether we are at all capable of dealing with China.
At one level, we are certainly reading too much into the recent article. Ironically, our understanding of the Chinese political system mirrors China’s fallacious grasp of the Indian politics.

In 1959, after the Dalai Lama sought refuge in India, Sino-Indian relations sharply deteriorated. This was precipitated, among other things, by the support extended to the Tibetan cause by Indian leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan. The Chinese were unwilling to believe that these individuals were not acting at the behest of the Indian government. China’s foreign minister told the Indian vice-president that “there are many people like J.P. Narayan in China but the Chinese democracy controlled them”. China’s mistaken assessment of India’s stance on Tibet eventually led to the war of 1962.

Perceptions matter. And it is time we revised our simplistic notion of a monolithic Chinese public sphere.
At another level, however, public discourse in both countries is taking its cue from the political climate. From 2003, when negotiations for settling the boundary dispute began, India-China ties seemed to improve steadily. Now there is an unmistakable feeling, particularly in India, that the relationship is gridlocked. But the problem is not simply China’s intransigence on the boundary issue. The fact is that the negotiations have progressed to a stage where both sides need to confront truly difficult choices — choices that will be influenced by wider considerations.

The Indian government is in no hurry to push ahead with the negotiations. For one thing, India wants China to make certain territorial concessions in its favour, especially in the Ladakh sector. For another, the government will have to contend with the difficult domestic politics of any settlement. The boundary agreement will require a constitutional amendment, which will have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament and by at least half the state legislatures. Not an easy task.
China, for its part, continues to claim the Tawang area of Arunachal Pradesh. Twice in the past, in 1960 and in 1980, Beijing offered to drop all its claims in this area if India accepted Chinese claims in Ladakh. India’s refusal to consider the proposal led the Chinese to press their claims on Tawang, for this was an area that had close religious ties with Tibet.

China’s current stance reflects its desire to extract important concessions from India vis-a-vis Tibet. As part of a settlement where China drops its claim to Tawang, it seems to seek some move by India to curb the Tibetan emigres — perhaps by dissolving the Tibetan parliament-in-exile operating in India. The Indian government does not recognise the government-in-exile and has insisted that it does not allow the organisation to conduct political activities. But the Chinese are looking for stronger and more tangible action by India.

We should also note that China’s hardening stance on Tawang has followed its mounting concern about Tibet. These were considerably increased by the protests ahead of the Olympics last year. Indeed, the Defence White Paper published last year noted that Tibetan separatism is a major challenge for China. The Chinese also believe that the problem will be conclusively resolved only after the Dalai Lama passes on. This seems another reason why the Chinese are moving slowly on the boundary negotiations.
The polemics emanating from China also indicate that Beijing’s concerns about India go beyond the boundary and Tibet. The potential competition from India is seen not so much in the military or economic spheres as in the exercise of international influence. The Maoist state could at least claim leadership of the third world by offering a contrast to the first and second. China today provides no ideological leadership to any segment of the international system.

In the three decades following Mao Zedong’s death, the Chinese state could afford to ignore this and focus solely on its own development. Now that it has arrived as a major player, the issue needs to be addressed. Closely related to this is the question of what might be an alternative global system led by China. After all, great powers not only possess large economic and military resources, but can set the agenda of international politics. Here, a rising India, for all its problems, may have an edge.
Beyond analysing attitudes and intentions is the key task of managing our relations with China. As China and India rise in the international system, they will find themselves in a competitive relationship. Power, as Lord Acton observed, corrupts. When a state’s power increases, its conception of its interests also expands. Adm. Sureesh Mehta correctly noted that the Indian Ocean region will be an area where both sides will jostle for pre-eminence and that we need to adopt niche capabilities to preserve our interests. The Indian Army’s efforts to scale up its forces and logistical bases along the borders are steps in the right direction too.

But competition does not imply conflict. The challenge for India will be to keep its powder dry without getting pulled into a spiral of suspicion and misperception. For rising powers tend to view their own preparations as defensive and those of others as offensive. In such a context, the line between deterrence and provocation is rather a fine one. Unless we are conscious of this, we may be caught up in an avoidable conflict. And then we may have to agree with the cartoon character Pogo, who famously said: We have met the enemy, and he is us.


Srinath Raghavan is at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru








His denials notwithstanding, Mr Mark Lyall Grant, Director General (political) at the British Foreign Office, was recently in Islamabad to “build bridges between Mr Asif Zardari, Mr Nawaz Sharif and Mr Ashfaq Kayani” in a bid to avert a “crisis” over Mr Pervez Musharraf’s possible trial under Article 6.
Well, well, well: what the devil does the British government have to do with whether the former military ruler is tried under the laws of Pakistan or not?

(On Wednesday, the Pakistan Prime Minister, Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani, effectively ruled out bringing treason charges against Mr Musharraf. He said such charges would only be brought if Parliament passed a unanimous resolution requesting them. Pakistan’s Supreme Court recently ruled that Mr Musharraf’s imposition of a state of emergency in 2007 was unconstitutional — this raised the possibility that he could be accused of treason.)

It is extremely critical that a general of an Army whose brass hats consider Pakistan their inherited fiefdom, is tried, and hopefully convicted for rebellion against an elected government, and sentenced like any other person who has violated the law. What is so special about an Army general anyway, that Mr Musharraf’s trial will cause a “crisis”?

Let us recall the tribulations of an elected President and Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was treated most shabbily and disgracefully not only in jail, but also during his appearances in the court of Maulvi Mushtaq who was avowedly Bhutto’s enemy for being passed over for promotion. Let us not forget that when Bhutto one day complained that he did not have confidence in Maulvi Mushtaq, he shouted at him to “Stand up, and keep standing!” When Bhutto protested, Maulvi Mushtaq again roared: “Remove his chair” and added words to the effect: “You are no longer President or Prime Minister; if you do not shut up I have the authority to have you whipped in jail!”

Let us remember that Bhutto was made to stand throughout the proceedings of that day. So, why should we care that Mr Musharraf is a former Chief of Army Staff, and how the Army (always read “high command” or “brass hats” whenever I say Army) will take it. Let the generals take it as they will, for they must learn once and for all that they are merely sub-department heads of yet another department of the government.

My advice to Mr Musharraf will be to come back to the country and face the music like a man. He badmouthed Bhutto a lot, and far too frequently when he ruled the roost, once going to the extent of calling him “the worst thing to have happened to Pakistan”! Well, let us see if he is half the man that Bhutto was.

Let’s not forget the tribulations of another elected Prime Minister, Mr Nawaz Sharif, who was thrown out of office by the Army acting at the behest of the Commando and his rufaqaa and then, quite disgracefully, locked up in Attock Fort before being taken in shackles and chains to Karachi to stand trial for that so-called hijacking which many today say was a fraud played out by the “agencies” to provide grounds for the removal of a Constitutional government.

Let us also not forget that when Mr Sharif attempted to come back to Pakistan after being expressly allowed by the Supreme Court, he was treated most shamefully and was sent back to Saudi Arabia in a disgraceful fashion. If the establishment, handmaiden to the generals and the “agencies”, can behave so with democratically-elected leaders why should Mr Musharraf be let off the hook?

Let us not forget too, that even the families of elected leaders were not spared by Army dictators. A photograph of blood streaming down Begum Nusrat Bhutto’s forehead comes immediately to my anguished mind when she and Benazir were beaten out of a cricket match at the Gaddafi Stadium because the crowd raised slogans in their honour. Was this the way to treat a former first lady and the then leader of Pakistan’s largest political party and her daughter?

There is another image too: of a car lifted aloft by a large fork-lifter for hours on end. In the car was another former elected Prime Minister’s wife, Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, who was leading a protest against her husband’s removal from office by the general.

So get off it, you Bonapartes and Rommels and Guderians, and learn to live like the rest of very ordinary citizens of Pakistan. However, if you cannot, then consider taking over this country one more time. Given its state after nine years of Mr Musharraf’s ministrations, and using a crude colloquialism: “we will then see how much water you are in!” Now that Mr Musharraf is in deep trouble, there is talk about truth and reconciliation “so that the country can move ahead”.

South Africa showed us how beautifully truth and reconciliation can happen, but it wasn’t easy. In atonement, white Afrikaaners, big beefy men, knelt and washed the feet of the mothers of their black victims.

There are films of people, black and white, wailing with grief at these reconciliation sessions. Can we visualise similar scenes in this land of ours in the pursuit of truth and reconciliation? Probably not, for truth and reconciliation are for men, not second-rate bullies.

Enough of pussy-footing; try the man and let the dice fall where they may.










The Indian Communist movement, outside the extreme factions in Maoist ranks, is in a crisis. It has been long in the making but its acuteness has been highlighted by the venerable Amartya Sen, with a Nobel Prize under his belt, setting the cat among the pigeons by chiding the Left parties in India for losing their way.

Dr Sen, who confesses to his sympathies for the Left, made the central point in promoting his new book on justice that the Communist parties had been going on about the evils of American policies and the Indo-US nuclear deal at the expense of seeking social justice and food for the poor and the underprivileged. In his words, “I was disappointed with the Left for not focusing on issues that are central issues of social justice, focusing much more on India’s sovereignty and that kind of question”.

Prakash Karat, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general-secretary, retorted in his party’s periodical that the Left could not play as “a sort of Left-wing of the Congress Party” and that domestic issues were linked to the “depredations of global finance capital”, that American neo-liberal policies had their impact on the domestic economic agenda. It was a weak response.

The truth is that while European Communist parties have re-invented themselves and the Chinese Communists have become avid capitalists using their ideology to justify a one-party regime, Indian Communists are still singing from the early 20th century hymn sheet. The Marxists still venerate Stalin, who is given pride of place in their pantheon of Gods, and the party’s ideology has not changed in a long while. They have, in addition, earned the sobriquet of being arrogant and losing touch with ground reality from their junior partner, the Communist Party of India (CPI).

The recent introspective sessions of the Marxists did not provide an answer because the main party functionaries are merely skirting round the narrow issues of losing seats in the last election — their internal quarrels are no secret. They did not address the basic issues because the party leadership is simply not equipped or prepared to discuss them. The split in the mainstream Indian Communist parties in the 1960s came about because of the schism in the international movement symbolised by the Sino-Soviet confrontation and accentuated by the Sino-Indian border war of 1962. The CPI turned to Moscow and the CPI(M) leaned towards China while claiming to be non-aligned.

The Communist parties did contribute to the Indian polity by making their mark on the two large states of West Bengal and Kerala, in addition to Tripura. They made their presence felt by undertaking meaningful land reforms and unionising labour and through other progressive steps in the socio-economic sphere. But the Bengal experiment deteriorated into using land to buttress the party structure to the detriment of good governance, and in the urban areas party thugs served the purpose of enforcing party loyalties. In Kerala, union leaders and their followers became a law unto themselves and the party could not resist being sucked into the atomised religion and caste-based politics of a state increasingly ruled by coalitions balancing various factions with party labels.


In West Bengal, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee sought to take the party from its traditional land-based support in the rural areas to an increasingly industry-based society on the valid argument that overcrowded farm land alone could not provide employment to the army of urban youth. But he failed in the implementation of the iconic Tata Nano car deal because he botched up on its implementation, the party relying on its thugs to enforce land sales on unwilling farmers. And the Opposition Trinamul Congress was waiting in the wings to exploit precisely such an opportunity. The Marxists lost face and the car deal — and votes in the bargain.

Mr Bhattarcharjee must be given credit for seeking a Chinese way out of the Communist cul de sac — in effect, retaining the jargon of the Communist holy grail while following pragmatic policies. The fact that he got Mr Karat, with his Stalinist reputation, to acquiesce in his experiment at industrialisation was an achievement. The tragedy for the Communist movement was that he failed.

Where do the Indian Communist parties go from here? Inevitably, the focus has shifted to personalities. Can the CPI(M), the dominant Communist party, chart a radical new course with Mr Karat at the helm? He is often contrasted with the ostensibly more pragmatic Sitaram Yechury. In other words, can the party’s collective leadership make a clean break with the familiar mumbo-jumbo of Communist lore?
Mr Bhattacharjee seems to be the only candidate who could give a new direction to the CPI(M) to lead it out of the woods. But his immediate task of saving the party’s government in the next state Assembly election might be more urgent. The Trinamul Congress is riding on a wave and its leader, Mamata Banerjee, already smells success. After its unbroken rule of more than three decades, the CPI(M) might benefit from being in the Opposition for a change.

Dr Sen hit a sensitive nerve of the CPI(M) leadership. It is so much easier railing at American imperialism than in getting to grips with the more difficult task of bringing justice and employment to the poor and the needy. The party in West Bengal has also become prey to the universal aphorism of the corrupting influence of absolute power. And in Kerala, where a CPI(M)-led coalition has been alternating in power with a Congress-led dispensation, the party has become one more factional entity among others.
Given the hold of the traditional leadership, prospects of a radical change in the CPI(M) look distant. If the present leaders, barring Mr Bhattacharjee, do not have it in them to think outside their jargon-cluttered formulations, the party must await a rebellion in its ranks among younger freethinking men and women to heed Dr Sen’s admonitions.

In the early years of Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru made the party’s socialists wing irrelevant by donning its garb. Sonia Gandhi’s Congress is repeating the same experiment by following its brand of inclusive politics.








Although this has certainly been a tough August on many counts, it is important to remember the little moments of pure joy. One of which was hearing the news that Tom DeLay is going to be a contestant on Dancing With the Stars.


I know. It takes very little to make some people happy.

Reality TV plus politics — this could be the start of something big. Right now in Congress we have six senators who are supposed to be coming up with a healthcare plan, and all we’ve got is conference calls and gridlock.

What if we locked them in a house together and made them compete every day for valuable prizes? Don’t miss the final episode, where the winner gets to decide whether or not there’s a public option.
DeLay’s entry into the world of competitive TV dancing is also the answer to two critical problems facing the American economy. One is a serious celebrity shortage. This is something I really didn’t see coming. But the proliferation of low-cost reality shows on television has drained the nation’s hitherto-robust supply of slightly famous people to the point that last year’s Celebrity Apprentice featured a woman whose claim to fame was opening briefcases on Deal or No Deal.

It’s understandable that the producers of, say, Celebrity Rehab With Dr Drew might have to make certain compromises in their quest to find people who are willing to go on camera during cocaine withdrawal. But under normal circumstances, when I hear the word “celebrity” on television, I am expecting to see at minimum the co-star of a cancelled situation comedy or a lesser Baldwin brother.

Yet on the new line-up for Dancing With the Stars, the alleged stars include a professional snowboarder and the son of George Hamilton.

Entertainment industry, you can do better. Eliot Spitzer seems to have time on his hands, and I’m sure Mark Sanford will be available soon.

Then we’ll be ready for “The Boys of Prayer House”, in which the philandering Congressmen who used to hold Bible study classes in that C Street row house hold a reunion, and vie to see who can achieve spiritual rebirth while hanging from a pole in a backyard endurance test.

Turn enough disgraced politicians into reality show contestants and you also solve the looming crisis over what to do with the nation’s large supply of repudiated elected officials.

This is a serious matter. Within the next year I’ll bet you that in New York alone, we will have enough state senators under indictment to fill a small stadium, and none of them have any marketable job skills whatsoever. As I see it, it’s going to be “Wipeout” or food stamps. DeLay, you may remember, had to quit his job as majority leader when he was charged with conspiring to violate campaign finance laws. He does not seem interested in returning to his former career as a bug exterminator, and he refers to himself as “president of a strategic political consulting firm”, a Washington synonym for semi-employed.
But I understand he is a really nifty dancer.

DeLay first entered the Dancing With the Stars culture back in 2006, when he urged fans to wipe out the evil that was a fox-trotting Jerry Springer and vote for the country singer Sara Evans as a representative of “good American values”.

This was shortly before Evans quit the show in order to devote more time to her new divorce suit against her husband, a former Republican Congressional candidate who she claimed
cheated on her, drank excessively and watched porn in the family home.

Evans has since found happiness with a former University of Alabama quarterback.
But this does bring us to an important tip: When citing someone as a potential role model, always keep your commendations narrow:

“Sara Evans’ last album is an example of good American values”.

“John Edwards’ comment about poverty on December 10, 2005, is an example of good American values”.
“Rod Blagojevich’s hair is an example of good American barbering”.

We are bringing up the former governor of Illinois because of his pioneering role in the melding of disgraced politicians and reality television.

Unfortunately, Blagojevich’s attempt to compete on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here was quashed by an unsympathetic judge who apparently did notappreciate the fact that the man was only a half-step away frommaking a living as an Elvis impersonator.

And now, Tom DeLay, an excellent example of good American waltzing.“Headed to the studio for my first rehearsal and to meet my partner. Hope it’s not Nancy Pelosi :)”,


DeLay twittered with the wry sense of humour we have come to know and love.

The new site had only 1,489 followers as of Wednesday. It hasn’t been up long, but he had better get cracking. One of his competitors, the recycled reality show star Kelly Osbourne, has more than 110,000.
He needs to step up his game. A lot is riding on this. Sarah Palin is so, so ready for TLC.


by arrangement with the new york times








One of this summer’s big screen openings is Quentin Tarantino’s hyperbolic battle movie, Inglourious Basterds. Featuring Brad Pitt demanding his men search for “100 Nazi scalps”, this ironic shootfest is bloody, explosive, rowdily entertaining — and a fantasy. “You haven’t seen war”, screams the trailer, “until you have seen it through the eyes of Quentin Tarantino”.

At a time when we are seemingly more obsessed with Hitler than ever, Tarantino has released a historical film in which history is irrelevant. Now, when most of those who fought in the 1940s are dead, the war is becoming not so much a memory, but a series of images, as fit for creative revision and ridicule as the Boleyn sisters and Henry VIII.

“We are going to laugh at Hitler”, declared Max Falk, the manager of the Admiral Theatre in Berlin, on the first staging of Mel Brooks’s musical The Producers in May. German audiences had never been exposed to a goose-stepping Hitler singing Heil Myself and dancing stormtroopers. For Falk, the production was a “great step forward for Germany”. Brooks’s tale of two New Yorkers creating the most tasteless musical possible in order to fleece their backers is a piquant comment on modern culture. The weighty seriousness of films focusing on the victims of the Holocaust such as Schindler’s List and Sophie’s Choice seems a thing of the past.

Now, if seriousness is present at all, it is confined to examining the roots of evil — and even excusing those who committed the atrocities. Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Downfall (2004), evoking the intimate life of Hitler’s bunker, made audiences weep across Europe, and this year we have watched Kate Winslet as a former Auschwitz officer in The Reader, Tom Cruise as a would-be assassin of Hitler in Valkyrie, and Viggo Mortensen as a liberal professor seduced by the Third Reich in Good. Arguably the most important American literary novel of 2009 so far is Jonathan Littell’s attempt to write as a SS officer in The Kindly Ones, winner of the Prix Goncourt in France. All this comes when Germany is changing. Recent surveys suggest that the country’s youth are putting guilt behind them. The old prohibitions against its troops are over, there are thousands of German soldiers in Afghanistan, and Germany is lobbying for a seat on the UN Security Council.

Germans themselves make films about other aspects of their long and fascinating history, such as The Lives of Others, and the forthcoming biopic of Goethe. But the English-speaking world is more obsessed with the Third Reich than ever. Whether we show SS officers as decent men caught up in an inhuman system, or evil and deserving of death as in Inglourious Basterds, Nazis win column inches and awards.
Theodor Adorno argued that artists should not represent the Holocaust because the very act of turning such horrors into art would confer upon them elegance — and mask the true terror. If art enables moral relativism, this is particularly true for films, which require likeable protagonists with which the audience can sympathise.

The Reader works to attract compassion to Hanna Schmitz by showing her as illiterate. But does this imply that if she could read, she would not have committed such atrocities? Littell’s eagerness to show the horrors of war means that the soldiers are increasingly glorified — and he attributes perverse scatological sexual fantasies to his protagonist, Max Aue, to establish his depravity. This reveals a distinctly American preoccupation with sexual probity: dubious sex acts are more indicative of evil than policies of death.

No human can be entirely unlikeable or perpetually cruel. George Steiner struggled with the paradox that lovers of Beethoven could be brutal killers, and Gitta Sereny, biographer of Speer, admitted to finding him appealing. Art needs heroes and villains, and Littell castigates Eichmann as a crazed obsessive, determined to gas the Jewish population, whereas honest Speer wanted them only to work. This is to elide the death rates, the cruelty of the camps, and indeed their very illegality.

Directors and authors suggest that if we understand why “ordinary”, home-loving men and women participated in an evil regime, then we will guard ourselves against doing the same. They wish us to engage with the question, as in The Reader, of “what would you do?” But this ignores those Germans who refused to participate — and teeters towards pandering to Holocaust deniers and the rise of neo-Nazi movements. Rather than understanding the nature of evil, we may come to excuse those who commit it.
And now we have Inglourious Basterds, vehemently promoted and polarising the critics. To the accompaniment of pumping rock music, Pitt shouts the importance of “murder, torture, intimidation and terror” as he encourages his Jewish-American troops to scour occupied France for “the German” and leave him “disembowelled, dismembered, disfigured”. “The German has no humanity”, he declares, in a film that has much in common with a violent computer game. War is a joke, thrilling but ultimately empty entertainment.


By arrangement with the Spectator









Albert Einstein once said that the hardest thing in the world to understand was the income tax. The basic principles of a good tax code are simplicity, clarity and ease of implementation, and less hierarchy. The new draft tax code scores a little unevenly on these principles. For the individual, greater reductions in tax rates, fewer exemptions and greater incentives to save and invest for the future are a big plus. Some will have a quibble about the exempt-exempt tax, which will levy taxes on withdrawals from tax-exempt investments like provident fund contributions, when they mature. But the overall restructuring of tax slabs and reduced tax rates combined with incentives will offset future tax liability. For companies, the law is being made simpler on classification and application of rules, besides being made more relevant to the current business environment. The law on tax holidays for exporters, for instance, is over 20 years old, and the new draft code is a serious attempt to correct that. But the new code is stricter, and includes non-bailable offences. At present, tax avoidance is a bailable offence and no one has to go to jail until tax fraud or wrongdoing is actually proved. The new code moves away from profit-based tax incentives to expenditure-lined ones, which is a welcome step; this boosts business investment, which propels growth. The code also shifts the basis for assessing the minimum alternative tax from revenues to assets, but setting a flat 2 per cent rate could inhibit the scale ambitions in capital intensive industries like infrastructure and power, since greater asset base means higher tax, and so lower investment.


The question of ease of implementation is a little trickier. There are provisions on general tax avoidance that could affect multinationals, and thus potential foreign direct investment: the new code allows tax authorities to look at the substance rather than the form of transactions that would be tax-exempt under the present code. This also extends to the double tax treaties that the government has signed with various other countries. As per international convention, provisions in double taxation treaties override domestic law; the new code says that the government can assume the right to override those treaties should tax avoidance or fraud be suspected. There is an ongoing global debate about the spirit of these treaties, including in the Group of Twenty (G20).


The code also adds a layer of hierarchy. At present, the responsibility for raising the demand and collection rests with tax assessment officers; the role of tax recovery officers is being expanded to allow their intervention in this as well. The new code is a work-in-progress; public comments and responses will address some issues, and correct them.






Politicians are generally reluctant to admit failures and mistakes, not realizing that their unwillingness to face the truth only makes things worse. It was reassuring, therefore, that the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was honest in expressing his worries over the security situation in the Northeast during his meeting with chief ministers earlier this week. His candour is striking for another reason. Two of the three states, where he thought the situation was “problematic”, are ruled by the Congress. But the fact did nothing to stop him from criticizing the governments in Assam and Manipur for their failures in dealing with violent insurgencies. It is public knowledge that anti-insurgency operations in the region often fail because of the pressures of party politics. Many political leaders in these states are known to be more interested in using insurgent groups than in defeating them. It is an old problem that counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast have had to deal with for a long time. Governments change, but the unholy alliance between parties and militants continues. Mr Singh’s remarks should remind ruling parties in these states that national security cannot be bargained for small political gains.


The other point Mr Singh made about these states is equally significant. It has been a common complaint that the governments in the region fail to properly use Central funds for development. But Mr Singh’s reference to the issue clearly had a wider significance. These state governments have routinely argued that insurgency in the region is directly linked to the lack of economic development. It is a valid argument, but it should have made the governments take development more seriously than they usually do. The prime minister cited Assam’s poor record in using Central funds obviously because it is the worst example, but other states in the region hardly do any better. Whether Mr Singh’s plainspeaking will change the ways of these governments is another matter.








When Amartya Sen says, “If we generate more public resources and use them with a better identification of the prevailing injustices in India, we could make a big change,” everyone hails him for his words of wisdom, salutes his intellect, claps heartily. When Rahul Gandhi says exactly the same thing with a marginally different turn of phrase, and goes one step further by experiencing the ground reality, talking with the victims of injustice as he attempts to actually create a delivery system corresponding to the same ‘idea’, he is ridiculed by the press. Why? Because he is a young Congressman who happens to be a Gandhi, and the press have made up their mind to be sarcastic of his intentions on the basis of their ‘personal political predilections’. Sadly, they keep missing the real story.


It bothers me when erstwhile but recent cabinet ministers talk about empowering the people and keeping the bureaucracy from getting in the way of inclusive governance and growth. They should have made a strong issue of the lack of inclusive governance, and restructured the rigid and archaic bureaucracy when they were in power. Out of power, the best among them feel liberated to speak out in a way they never did when they were in the gaddi.


We are told that in critical Congress fora, debate is non-existent. If issues are raised and questions asked, devious and manipulating general secretaries, wanting only the status quo to live on, ask ‘members’ to raise those questions and issues later, somewhere else, on some other occasion. Most interventions, whether positive or negative, are discouraged and the younger lot of people are shushed and asked to sit down. Senior leaders do not counter the put- down by general secretaries, giving the impression that they too are in agreement with zero dialogue. The general secretaries then feel empowered to strut about, doing everything in the ‘name’ of the leader concerned.



Meetings that have been reduced to an assembly roll-call where nothing of truth, importance or consequence is allowed to be raised by the very individuals who have destroyed the once energetic ethos of the Congress, need to be democratized urgently. The practice of keeping active members of the party away from interactions with the Congress president and the prime minister needs to be disallowed by the top brass. As long as this closed and exclusive access to the leadership continues, the various levels of corrupt practices — ranging from untrue reports, faulty and personalized distribution of tickets, placing stooges in critical positions to ‘keep the cover’, interference in government appointments, use of half -truths as sound information, to ‘whips’ on differing opinions — the party will fossilize.


In this insidious atmosphere, ministers who do not have easy access to their bosses tend to fall prey to the seduction of the alter ego. Once in the loop, it is difficult for them to extricate themselves from the sticky hive that promises to be ‘productive’, to improve their careergraph. Coteries form, and a comfortable corruption falls into a familiar pattern. ‘You scratch my back and I will yours’ becomes the main idea behind most political activities.


Will Rahul Gandhi and his generation sweep the place clean of all the old manipulating men and women who cannot win an election out there, the exclusive babus of the party who have held it to ransom by preventing all interaction? Will Rahul Gandhi bring back a democratic vitality to the Congress? Hope will replace despair only when that restructuring happens, and the space is cleared to house the ideas and aspirations of the thousands of young men and women who have recently joined the Youth Congress.








Its past is heritage, its present indifferent and its future lamentably uncertain. To the extent that the past is still worth the proud boast, the Visva-Bharati authorities are fairly justified in claiming the world heritage tag from the Unesco. Indeed, if certain areas had been declared long ago as heritage sites, the periphery of Santiniketan would arguably not witnessed a real estate boom that has destroyed the original ambience. Should that coveted award eventually materialise, it will rank as an internationally recognised embroidery, of immensely greater value than the university-installed “heritage site” signposts that dot the Santiniketan landscape, notably in the complex around chatim tala. It is a disgraceful irony nonetheless that despite such self-embossed labels, those totems of heritage as the Upasana Mandir or the Uttarayan complex have suffered desecration and outrageous robbery, with investigation, even by the CBI, ending up in a wild goose chase. More recently, a girls’ hostel even witnessed a murder. Truth to tell, the currently sought-after appellation of “heritage” has been hollowed out and emptied of meaning by the successive outrages. Yet the university lives in hope and soldiers on.

For which the minimum that can be expected is that Visva-Bharati will go through the motions with urgent despatch. Rightly has the Unesco asked the Government of India to submit what it calls a “total project report”. This document will have to be embedded primarily in the “dossier” to be drafted by the university authorities. The current feet-dragging over the preparation of the dossier can be ascribed to two possible reasons: either the university authorities are unaware of the Unesco formalities or they are much too embarrassed over the serial outrages and, equally crucially, the condition of the art treasures, pre-eminently the sculptures and the locally recognised heritage buildings. The university’s dossier to the Unesco will be meaningful only if the art treasures are scientifically preserved and conserved with the Rs 95-crore grant sanctioned by the Prime Minister as the university’s Acharya. A pathetic state of the art treasures may not readily fetch the heritage tag. The dossier buttressing the claim to be featured in the world heritage list must be convincing, if it is not to invite ridicule. Misgivings that Visva-Bharati may have missed the Unesco bus on account of the delay are not wholly unfounded.








MASS appeal was something to which Jaswant Singh never laid claim, so votes will not figure much in any calculation of the impact of his being jettisoned by the BJP. If stifling the dissent brewing after the electoral reverse, and the RSS resuming its role as mastermind are perceived by the party leadership as gains from the expulsion of its former minister for external affairs, finance and defence (briefly), the loss would be one of image: both at home and abroad. And, of course, a cultured voice in the legislature. For he, along with the now retired Vajpayee, had generally been seen as the “secular” and open face of the party. That his sacking should be triggered by an interpretation of history that touches raw nerves across the political divide would convince modern and liberal Indians that the BJP remains a prisoner of insular ideology, refuses to liberate itself from narrow religion-restricted thought, and remains rigidly intolerant of any fresh thinking. That not a single party leader worth the name has dared speak in Jaswant’s defence is indicative of what the BJP deems “discipline”, and that it is reversing its electoral policy to en-cash on its own version of Hindutva. The efforts that Vajpayee made to extricate the party from that morass have come to nought; Advani, who occasionally made shallow pretence to secularism, is a spent force and there really are no credible contenders to fill the leadership vacuum. Hence the return to projecting itself as the “Hindu” power, with such obvious traces of Fascist authoritarianism, and an entity committed to the instantaneous branding of independent thinking as ideological heresy. Whether that will ultimately translate into electoral success will determine the extent to which the Indian voter has a 21st century mindset ~ he can so easily be swayed.

It would be an oversimplification to conclude that Jaswant merely “Jinnahed” himself. The cunningly-crafted campaign began when he was “persuaded” to contest the Lok Sabha election from Darjeeling, was required to quit as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, and then denied a role in the party’s parliamentary management: nomination (now withdrawn) as chairman of the public accounts committee being just a sinecure. The larger issue goes beyond Jaswant. In the process of reinventing itself and coming up with a new, younger leadership does the party have space for those who are not “hard core”? Who is next on the ejection list? Many would point to Jawant’s seeming namesake!








WEST Bengal is passing through a phase of limited civil war, complete with extortion, rape and murder. There is violence all around with no signs of early abatement. Friends of West Bengal have every reason to feel deeply disturbed about the future of this state.

Our Governor, Mr Gopalkrishna Gandhi, is one such friend. Recently he posed a simple and pertinent question. All the major political parties here profess a desire for peace, so what stops them from achieving peace? This is an entirely legitimate query. It does not start with an open accusation against any particular party. It simply invites attention to a painful contradiction between profession and performance in our public domain.

The present Rajyapal is an admirable person with outstanding qualities of head and heart. Standing close to the end of his term of office in this state, he has no personal ambitions here and his words of concern come as from an honest well-wisher of the common people. We owe it to ourselves to answer his simple and pointed question as best we can and in that same spirit of concern for the common good. How do we come out of the circle of violence in West Bengal? It is not Gopalkrishna Gandhi but we the people of this state who will be ultimately judged by the quality of our response to that question.
The first and the most audible response has come from a leader of the major Marxist party of West Bengal. It has been a strikingly hostile response which brands the Governor’s statement as grossly partisan. How is this charge of partisanship established by our Marxist friend? The underlying argument is almost incredibly clumsy. The Governor did not specifically criticise Mamata, leader of the largest opposition party, the Trinamul Congress, which proves that he is for her and supports her party. The fact that he spoke entirely in general terms and stopped short of finding fault with any party in particular is simply overlooked. We are asked to believe that if the Governor is not outspokenly against the Trinamul, he must be held guilty of inexcusable partisanship! The tortured spirit of this extraordinary argument leaves one utterly dismayed. But it is still worth probing what made possible the invention of this very curious piece of unreasonable reasoning.


THE major political parties in this state have their eyes fixed on the elections to the legislative assembly which are expected to be held in 2011, if not earlier. The recent elections to the Lok Sabha have already shown which way the wind is blowing. If the state administration and the police discharge their duties impartially, the CPI-M will almost certainly be thrown out of power and the major rival party will get a chance to form the government within the next couple of years. The CPI-M wants GK Gandhi to quit West Bengal and a new Governor to be appointed while the Marxists are still in power, hoping that a person to their liking might in that case be inducted as the next occupant of Raj Bhavan. This accounts for the efforts made by the Marxists to create unpleasantness for the Rajyapal. These efforts are really unnecessary, as GK Gandhi’s tenure in West Bengal terminates very soon and he is clearly unwilling to accept a fresh tenure. However, the CPI-M wants to make his departure doubly sure by methods which are distasteful. That this may misfire is altogether a different matter.


While this explains to some extent the politically motivated campaign of vituperation launched against the Rajyapal, it still leaves unanswered the question of urgent public interest which he has raised. Why does violence rage uninterrupted in this state while the political parties, almost without exception, claim in unison that they want peace? How does one explain this anomaly? There must be a force majeure motivating these parties more powerfully than the peaceful intentions proclaimed by them in public. Political parties are motivated above all by a desire to capture power. This desire is normal. But it is often supplemented and fortified by a line of reasoning which, taken in its totality, is apt to be very damaging for the larger society. The leader of a political party, particularly if it is significantly large, feels strongly persuaded that it is of supreme importance in the “true” interest of society that he along with his party should be in possession of power at the highest level. As this is seen as an objective of overwhelming importance, any means which promises to help achieve that end may be regarded as morally justified. Every party proclaims peace with justice as its ultimate aim. But it also believes, with varying degrees of conviction, that such peace can only be secured after it has managed to capture power. Some come to believe strongly that the means do not matter so long as it appears to promote the end. The actual evidence in favour of this conviction is somewhat weak. There are many instances in the past of people coming to power by violent and deceitful means. But once in power they did not succeed in establishing durable peace. The means employed constitute visible reality; the end proclaimed is often a vision without substance.

This explains the painful paradox of the co-existence of proclamations of faith in peace as the ultimate objective with the enduring reality of hateful and merciless reprisals as a virtually endless process in the society around us. For those who believe in democracy, this has an important message. It is worth spelling out that message in some detail. We will link it up with problems of democracy, with special reference to less developed parts of the world.

Democracy has a variety of forms. In general, it means in our time government by the elected representatives of the people. There are many sources of corruption of the process of democracy. Ideally every voter acts according to her or his conscience, and all voters count equally. In practice, the process gets distorted. The distortion resulting from the power of wealth, which is very unequally distributed, has been widely noticed. But this is not the only source of corruption. The spirit of democracy is not well developed in many societies. This is manifested in rigging and “booth capturing”, well within our experience and often based on a crude organisation of physical force. But there are other forms of coercion which do not attract as much notice. Individuals have often to vote according to the dictates of sectarian leaders or suffer ostracism and other forms of humiliation. At times, wives have to vote in accordance with the preferences of their husbands or face harsh consequences. How do we break such shackles of authoritarianism?

The growth of a vigorous movement for civil liberties is an essential prerequisite for the successful practice of democracy. For the healthy growth of democracy, the right to vote is not all that matters. Side by side with political and civil rights there are other rights, economic, social and cultural, which have a strong claim to recognition. Common people will feel convinced of the real importance of political rights if these lead to an increasing attention to economic and social rights. Such, for instance, are the elementary rights to food, an adequate supply of potable water, education and medical care. Political rights should serve as instruments to fight for the realisation of this wider range of rights.
Cultural values

Democracy must also support and foster those cultural values which encourage citizens to organise themselves for free and cooperative self-help. It is only by developing these positive attitudes that a society can get rid of the tyranny of superstitious and brute force and, at the same time, create a social climate congenial to the flourishing of democracy. Where exactly one starts must depend on the special circumstances of the case under consideration.

Our society has earned notoriety for the prevalence of corruption. Not all forms of corruption receive equal attention. Defalcation of funds and sex scandals are widely reported and these are often discussed with strong feelings of indignation. This is understandable. But there are other forms of corruption which are subtler and do not receive the same attention, nor arouse much resentment. We even treat them as trivial. Yet they weaken the moral fibre of our society and inflict greater damage than we readily recognise. We are “careless of truth”, as Mahatma Gandhi once pointed out in his exquisite manner. Sometimes this carelessness comes clothed in innocence and there may not be, in fact, any settled evil intention behind it. At other times, it is deliberate deception. It is not always easy to know the category to which it belongs.

Of carelessness of truth, there are two categories, and in real life they get mixed up at times. A person may be neglectful of truth when he is simply expressing a passing emotion in strong words which pretend to express a firm resolution. The next day that emotion is already a spent force and the words which accompanied it cease to have meaning. But there is also a second type of resort to falsehood which is decidedly Machiavellian. Here the actor invents a carefully crafted inexactitude in the service of a deep-laid design. We encounter both kinds of untruth all too often. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two. In which category should we place the campaign of false allegations against Gopalkrishna Gandhi? The Governor may find greater comfort in treating it as an expression of a transient mood. But others may be nearer the truth when they detect in it something premeditated. In either case it is damaging. The damage is done not so much to the image of the Governor which stays unsullied; it is the reputation of West Bengal which unfortunately suffers. We have to strive and struggle to restore peace in this hapless state and the Mahatma’s grandson can be a valuable ally in that struggle.








WASHINGTON, 20 AUG: Scientists have identified a genetic link between physical pain and social rejection, a finding that explains the common theory that being spurned or breaking up with a lover really “hurts”.

In a landmark research, psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that the human body has a gene which connects physical pain sensitivity with social pain sensitivity.

The research, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, backs the commonly held theory that rejection “hurts” by showing that a gene regulating the body's most potent painkillers ~ mu-opioids ~ is involved in socially painful experiences too.

“Individuals with the rare form of the pain gene, who were shown in previous work to be more sensitive to physical pain, also reported higher levels of rejection sensitivity and showed greater activity in social pain-related regions of the brain when they were excluded,” said Prof Naomi Eisenberger, the study co-author.

The study indicates that a variation in the mu-opioid receptor gene (OPRM1), often associated with physical pain, is related to how much social pain a person feels in response to social rejection, the Daily Telegraph reported.

“These findings suggest that the feeling of being given the cold shoulder by a romantic interest or not being picked for a schoolyard game of basketball may arise from the same circuits,” said co-author Baldwin Way. ;PTI








MUCH as we sympathise with Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’s illness, there is no disputing that West Bengal cut a sorry figure at Monday’s Chief Ministers’ conference in Delhi on internal security. The state’s poor show was matched by the contrived presumptuousness of the union home minister that in the absence of the Chief Minister, the speech “is considered read”. Unwittingly has Mr Bhattacharjee erred on a matter of Centre-State protocol. Granted that there is no No.2 in the Cabinet; yet a senior minister ought to have been assigned to attend the conference. Mr Chidambaram is justified when he comments on the absence of “political representation” from Bengal, grappling with the challenge posed by the Left radicals and tribals of Lalgarh. Bengal and the rest of the country are clueless about what its Chief Minister had to say about the endemic inter-party clashes and its strategy to counter the Maoists, a challenge the government shares with the other states along the Red Corridor. To expect that either the Chief Secretary or the Home Secretary would read the CM’s speech was no less presumptuous, of a kind that verged on ignorance. It was an ignorance of procedure that provoked Mr Chidambaram to turn down the suggestion on a point of order: a) bureaucrats present at the meeting can’t read out a political statement; and (b) considering the time constraints, neither the Chief nor the Home Secretary figure anywhere in the hierarchy. In a word, they were not permitted to speak, a rebuff of sorts for the state as much as a reflection on its representation at the conference.

Not that the Chief Ministers of all the states were able to make it to the meeting. Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Poducherry were represented by their home ministers. There are reports that Mr Bhattacharjee’s presentation had a suggestion on a joint operation with Jharkhand. By accident, though not necessarily by design, Bengal’s case has gone by default. The two most senior officers, who represented the state, ought to have known the procedural niceties better. The paradox of a speech that has been considered read, yet remains unheard of could have been avoided.













India aspires to be a super power and competing with other countries in Asia. But a recent survey has found that Indian bureaucracy is the worst in Asia. But why it is worst and whether it is duly sheltered by political wings of the government needs further analysis.

It is not merely a matter of efficiency but also corruption. Because this bureaucracy turns quite efficient the moment it is bribed. The bribery is not duly checked by politicians as they are also directly or indirectly involved in grabbing wealth and assets. Thus India seems to be the most corrupt in Asia and this is periodically exposed in both the television and print media. The exposure is indicative of the very system, which fails at whatever attempts are being made to make India a super power as also triggering socio-economic inequality in the country.

Transparency in democracy is indispensable as people should know almost all transactions carried out by the democratic government as also the monetary strength of those who govern them. The strength needs to be an achievement based on honest efforts and means as the democratic governance is presumed to be clean in it’s both the political and administrative wings.


Politicians who contest elections are expected to declare their assets both in kind and cash. Most of them seem to have large amount of wealth in the form of land, flats, ornaments, fixed deposits in banks as also cash in hands. Most of them have more than a few lakhs while some are possessing assets worth crores of rupees.

One candidate is reported to be possessing more than Rs 600 crore in assets. These figures indicate that politicians possess much more than what normal voters imagine. In a way politicians are richer than most of those they govern and this is more so in a poor and developing country like India.

If this is the case of politicians, what about the bureaucrats? They are also expected to declare their assets. In response to a demand for declaration of their assets voiced by the veteran crusader against corruption Anna Hazare, the Maharashtra government has decided to make it compulsory for the bureaucrats to declare their assets every year.

As the state chief minister has committed on this point and has been communicating with the Union government which controls service conditions of bureaucrats like IAS, IPS or IFS for the necessary sanction for the purpose, the bureaucrats are also likely to be soon compelled to declare their wealth for public information and this decision will be applicable to other states also.

This is significant because the nature of corruption in government’s administration in collusion with politicians or ministers and bureaucrats is periodically pointed out in the Indian media which has exposed the ‘modus operandi’ of the corruption.

It is pointed out that ministers are scheduling their meetings at district places as they are eager to attend marriage ceremonies of their relatives or family friends. High level bureaucrats also use the same technique so that their expenditure is bourn by the concerned departments while they are greeted with shawls, idols and other costly presentation articles not only to them but also to their wives and relatives.


The burden is obviously passed on to the people, whose even legal and reasonable work is not done by any department without paying bribe which has now received the status of statutory payment to the government. People who approach offices for getting property cards, ration cards, caste certificates, driving licenses and property documents, professional permits and many such requirements are expected to pay much more as bribe than the prescribed fees or charges legally payable for the specific work or requirement.

In this situation peoples’ representatives, who form governments, are more answerable and it is their duty to check such malpractices instead of being party to them. Those assuming power as ministers as also MLAs and MPs are directly accountable to people and they are expected to curb corrupt system of administration instead of either protecting it or nurturing it by sharing the quantum of bribes directly or indirectly.

The exposure of assets by ministers and bureaucrats are open to scrutiny and if questioned by the income tax department then alone the current corruption will be checked with fear of exposure and further investigation. This is needed in a democratic system of governance without which attempts to create socio-economic equality necessary for achieving super power status will be just a dream.









It was one of my bad-hair-day recently. The day was muggy, and I was gripped by an inexplicable ennui. Lackadaisically I went about doing my morning chores. At that moment, I felt nothing on earth could revivify my sagging spirits. Well, there were reasons for my sinking in doldrums.

Previous three days, on the trot, there had been an acute water crunch. To compound the misery, the nearby electric transformer had broken down, precipitating in lack of power supply. This in turn had resulted in dickey mosquito-repellent system, making mean mosquitoes merrily feed on our blood. The telly satellite channels too had gone temporarily kaput, depriving us of even those few moments of entertainment.

Smouldering with rage, I stepped outside to inhale a whiff of fresh air. Shucks! What did I behold? A street-mongrel had gnawed at a polythene bag, containing garbage that was placed by someone, just outside our compound gate. Besides the strewn litter creating an unprepossessing sight, the pong emanated by it was giving people staying around, bouts of nausea attack.

As if this ain’t enough, there was an aural assault of jarring noise created by some borewell drilling in the vicinity. Talk of sights, smells, sounds…, I muttered. How difficult life is when things go awry, and when we swerve even a wee bit from our comfort zone, I thought to myself.

Just then I saw my fruit vendor approaching, announcing her arrival in rhythmic tones. She was perspiring profusely as she had trudged up the steep road, pushing her pushcart, piled up with fruits. As she pulled near, she dug out a bottle of water from underneath the fruit heap, and extravagantly splattered it on her face. Throwing a radiant smile, she trilled, “Now, it’s like being in an AC room!” Saying this, she disappeared into the next street, after handing me fruits and collecting her money.

I was indeed mortified to see how despite being born and bred in hardships, here was a person who never ever cavilled about it. And, there I was whining over small discomforts in life. Slowly I began to mull. After all, the feeling of comfort is just a state of mind. One may feel comfy even amidst austere conditions, and one may feel the discomfort, even when one is sprawling on a swanky feather-filled bed! Ultimately it’s all in one’s mind.








This has been a good month for the nation’s forests. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California reinstated a landmark 2001 rule — the so-called roadless rule — put in place by President Bill Clinton before he left office that prohibited commercial logging, mining and other development on about 58 million acres of national forests. The Bush administration spent years trying to undermine the rule.


Meanwhile, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack gave his first major speech on forest policy. Agriculture secretaries, from both parties, have almost always preferred to focus on farming issues, and have treated the Forest Service as a stepchild — even though the 193 million acres of forests and protected grasslands it manages are vital to water quality, wildlife and local economies.


Mr. Vilsack’s speech displayed a firm grasp of the importance of healthy forests, and he promised to work with landowners to keep even private forests in good shape. “It is essential,” he said, in language not much heard in his department, “that we reconnect Americans across the nation with the natural resources and landscapes that sustain us.”


Mr. Vilsack also pledged to find a better balance between commercial and environmental interests and to develop new regulations governing the management of the country’s 155 national forests to replace Bush-era rules invalidated by a lower court last year.


Ostensibly to promote regulatory efficiency, but mainly to support logging, the Bush rules eliminated legally-mandated environmental reviews, weakened protections for wildlife and streams and restricted public input in decision-making. Mr. Vilsack has said he will restore those protections; conservationists should make sure he keeps that promise.


The roadless issue is not entirely resolved, either. Though upheld in California, the rule has twice been thrown out in district court in Wyoming. An appeal is now pending in the 10th Circuit, which Mr. Vilsack has promised to join. He must also make sure that the Tongass National Forest is included in any new roadless plan despite the Alaska Congressional delegation’s insistence that it be opened to logging.


Victory on these two fronts would open the way enforcement of the roadless rule almost everywhere in the country and allow Mr. Vilsack to turn his full attention to other efforts needed to protect the forests.







Judge Sharon Keller, the Texas appellate court judge who closed the clerk’s office before a death row inmate could file a last-minute appeal, is fighting to keep her job. At a hearing on Wednesday, she said in a crowded courtroom that if she had it to do again, she would do the same thing. That testimony is further proof of why Judge Keller needs to be removed from the bench.


On Sept. 25, 2007, Michael Richard’s lawyers called the court clerk’s office to say they were running late in delivering the papers for his appeal. The Supreme Court had unexpectedly issued an order in another death penalty case that they believed provided grounds for putting off his execution. When the request to keep the office open reached Judge Keller, she insisted it would close promptly at 5 p.m. The appeal was not filed, and Mr. Richard was executed hours later.


Judge Keller is now facing five counts of judicial misconduct and a possible recommendation that the state judicial system remove her from the bench.


In court this week, Judge Keller lashed out at the condemned man’s lawyers, blaming them for the controversy. She argued that Mr. Richard could still have filed his appeal by seeking out another judge, but that misses the point. She did not follow appropriate procedures. And clearly, under any interpretation of the rules, given that a life lay in the balance, the clerk’s office should have stayed open.


Judge Keller’s profound lack of appreciation for the seriousness of taking a life — and the obligations it places on the state — is similar to the disturbing dissent that Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas delivered this week in the Troy Davis case. They suggested there was no constitutional problem with executing a man who could prove he was innocent.


We believe the death penalty is in all cases wrong. But people who support it should still insist that it be carried out only after a prisoner has been given every reasonable chance to make his case. Judge Keller’s callous indifference in a case where the stakes could not have been higher makes her unfit for office.







Millions of Afghans, determined to shape their own future, defied Taliban threats and voted Thursday in the country’s second-ever presidential elections. That courage deserves to be rewarded with far better governance than Afghans have experienced in the four years since the last presidential vote.


President Obama has rightfully defined success in Afghanistan as essential to America’s struggle against Al Qaeda. He has backed that up with more troops — there are 62,000 now with 6,000 on the way — stronger American military leadership and a more careful use of air power devised to limit civilian casualties.


There is a lot more that must be done. The country’s next president will need the full support of the United States and NATO allies if there is to be any hope of defeating the worst of the Taliban and any chance of getting the rest to lay down their weapons. Washington must also be willing to deliver tough, unsolicited advice when needed on issues like official corruption and drugs.


Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the new American commander, has been commendably candid about how badly the war is going — and how hard and costly it is likely to be even to start turning things around.

United States and NATO troops, and, increasingly, the new Afghan National Army must dislodge Taliban guerrillas from the strategic mountain passes and towns they have retaken in recent years (without recklessly placing local residents in the line of fire).


Success on the Afghan battlefield will not be enough unless Pakistan closes down Taliban training camps and infiltration routes on its side of the border. Washington must use every diplomatic and aid lever at its command to turn Pakistan’s government, army and intelligence services away from their historic support of the Taliban toward support for the legitimate Afghan government.


And even that won’t be enough. The Taliban cannot be defeated militarily unless they are also defeated politically. The next Afghan president — President Hamid Karzai or one of his challengers — must win and keep the loyalty of the Afghan people in the face of Taliban intimidation.


Mr. Karzai, Afghanistan’s top leader since December 2001, has presided over a government whose systemic corruption has consumed its credibility and the country’s limited financial resources. He has built alliances with notorious warlords. Opium cultivation and drug trafficking have expanded under the protection of his relatives and allies and are now the most dynamic sectors of the national economy. The army is far from combat ready and the national police are often corrupt and under the sway of local warlords.


The Afghan government — and its backers in Washington and other NATO capitals — don’t have a lot of time to turn these disastrous trends around.


Unfortunately, not all unsavory alliances with warlords can be liquidated immediately. The country would be ungovernable. But the next president’s goal should be to quickly free himself from their toxic and disabling grip. Increasing the pay and improving the training of the army and the police would lessen that dependency. The United States and NATO need to provide many more qualified trainers and enough financing to allow the government to outbid Taliban commanders and drug lords for the services of unemployed young men.

Afghanistan’s farmers do not want to be in business with brutal drug traffickers or the Taliban. But they need seasonal crop loans no legitimate lender seems willing to provide. Microcredit banks could make a huge difference and international donors should step in to provide needed start-up money. More aid is also needed to help improve local infrastructure — building roads and irrigation projects — while at the same time creating more local jobs outside the opium trade. These projects will need careful monitoring to make sure funds are not skimmed away by corrupt officials and contractors.


Meanwhile, the next Afghan president must crack down hard on big drug traffickers. They need to be purged from government offices and police forces. Afghanistan needs a justice system that can arrest and try suspected drug criminals and punish the guilty severely.


Afghan misgovernment is the Taliban’s most important ally and most effective recruiting agent. The price of continued misgovernment will be paid with the lives of Afghans and of American and NATO soldiers.







It is hard to know what is more shocking: the sight of a dozen Americans showing up to flaunt guns outside the venue for President Obama’s speech in Phoenix on Monday, or the fact that the swaggering display was completely legal. We are all familiar with the right to bear arms and the noisome extremes indulged by its zealots. But is there no sense of simple respect due the nation’s elected leader when he ventures forth among the citizenry?


One man strutted through the crowd with an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle slung over his shoulder. (That weapon was banned in recent American history until a bipartisan retreat before gun-lobby propaganda.) The man also packed a holstered handgun and completed this war-games ensemble with an ammunition clip in his back pocket. Such lethal parading, he announced, was legal under Arizona law and the public should “get kind of conditioned to it.”


The local police and the Secret Service were aware of the armed protestors and noted that they were kept out of the guarded convention hall where Mr. Obama spoke. That is hardly reassuring, especially this summer when so many protestors seem to consider primal rage a reasoned political statement.


New Hampshire is another “open carry” state. When Mr. Obama held a town hall meeting in Portsmouth on Aug. 11, gun-packing protestors were also there. As the television cameras zoomed in, one man preened as if in the O.K. Corral, his holstered gun strapped proudly to his thigh. What’s next? Citizens strolling in helmets and camouflage flak jackets? If we didn’t know better, we would think that the National Rifle Association would be embarrassed by such macho nonsense.









As calls continue to come in demanding the trial of former president Pervez Musharraf, the prime minister has apparently tried to pour a layer of oil on the churning waters. He has told the National Assembly that any question of bringing the ex-military ruler to justice under Article 6 of the Constitution would come only if consensus could be built in the National Assembly. His emphasis on the need to forgive and the notion that democracy represented the best revenge seems to signal that, even if the PPP finds due support, it may prefer not to place Musharraf in the dock. In some ways at least this indicates a willingness to demonstrate the maturity politics in Pakistan so desperately needs. There is certainly an argument that says at this moment in time, more than anything else, Pakistan needs stability and a process of looking beyond its present problems towards the future. Proponents of this view would hold that bringing Musharraf back to face judges he ousted would simply detract from the most important tasks required and create a furore in international circles that would impede Pakistan in its efforts to find economic assistance and the support it requires in other sectors. Certainly, we all know there have been efforts from the UK to campaign for Musharraf to be let off. The stance of Washington under Obama is more ambiguous, but it is possible the new administration there may too wish to stand by a former ally. Though the PM has said on record the army is not involved, we do not know what wheels move behind the scenes or what discreet efforts may be on to save a former chief.

As opposed to the arguments favouring stability, there are those who maintain that Pakistan can break free of its present difficulties only if there is a trial. The logic put forward for this is that future military interventions must be prevented, and the sight of a powerful dictator being made to answer for his crimes may deter others from following down the same road. There can be no doubt that this view too holds considerable weight. Longer-term willingness to continue with democracy may after all be the one factor that can put Pakistan back on the road to progress and rescue it from its state of perpetual crisis. The dilemma is a real one. Mr Gilani’s words suggest there could be considerable pressure on to avoid trial and the raking up of the past. But would doing just that prevent such illegal measures being repeated in the future? The answer, quite possibly, is yes – and as such the entire question of what Musharraf’s future is to be must be carefully debated in parliament before any final decision is reached.






The unexpected announcement by Maulvi Faqir Muhammad from Bajaur, the deputy chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan since the end of 2007, may yet bring the force a little closer to fragmentation. While Faqir Muhammad has in some versions of the statement he has given to the national media stated other key contenders for leadership had backed him, in other comments he has said that as deputy, he had a right to take over. This publication received a call from at least one Taliban commander questioning this right and stating that other figure making up the group knew nothing about Faqir’s announcement. Oddly enough, Faqir Muhammad says Baitullah Mehsud is indeed alive, but seriously ill and unable to continue as TTP leader. This of course contrasts with a confirmation reported from Maulvi Omar, the TTP spokesmen captured in Mohmand Agency, that Baitullah was indeed dead.

The signs are there of an organization caught in a swirl of confusion with no clear-cut agreement on future leadership. It is to be seen how many will accept Faqir Muhammad. The fact that the TTP has separate organizations based in different areas makes the matter of uniting it under one leadership even more fraught with peril. Some have already raised the possibility of a potentially dangerous splintering of the TTP and as such added complexities in fighting it. It is clear the group is in chaos and this would then seem to represent the right time to go after it militarily, before it can regroup in any form, and deliver a blow to further cripple it.







The public burning to death of heretics in front of an appreciative crowd has fallen out of vogue in a literal sense, but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of India has given us its modern iteration in the way it has disposed of Jaswant Singh who is a former defence, finance and foreign affairs minister. Heretics who found themselves at the stake with the flames around their ankles did not get there on a mere whim – they got there at the end of an ecclesiastical judicial process, a form of trial, in which they may have been found innocent – few were – or guilty. Such niceties or formalities as a trial are not for the gentlemen of the BJP; who issued a summary sentence to Mr Singh who had committed the unforgivable crime of failing to toe the party line in respect of the demonisation of M A Jinnah. His crime was to write a book in which he portrayed Jinnah in a sympathetic light, at which the panjandrums of the BJP had an apoplectic fit and promptly phoned him to say that he was sacked from the party, ending a thirty-year career in politics.

The religious analogy is not misplaced as partition is still a deeply emotive issue for many Indians - and not just the rabid Hindu right-wing – who see Jinnah as the architect of the two-nation theory with its foundations solidly rooted in religion. Far-rightists like the RSS provide a theocratic narrative at the heart of the BJP; and Jinnah’s role in partition and their repugnance of it and Jinnah personally, are almost articles of faith. For a party member to deviate from the party-line in an organisation as undemocratic and ruthless as the BJP is as good as offering to tie yourself to the stake and light the first match. But what this almost farcical episode also demonstrates is that the BJP is a party far from being happy in its own skin. It has lost two national elections in 2004 and 2009 and it is frantically trying to stop the internal rot that has led to the electorate abandoning it in their millions. Our own political parties may draw a quiet delight at the discomforts across the border, but are they any less autocratic and prone to consuming their own offspring in a fit of pique?








IT seems that sanity has prevailed and those who were talking about putting former President Pervez Musharraf on trial for abrogating the Constitution are backtracking from their high sounding pronouncements in this regard. This was quite evident from the decisions taken at the high level meeting of the PML (N) in Islamabad on Wednesday and the stand taken by the party, ruling coalition and the Opposition PML (Q) in the Lower House the same day.

PML (N) being the aggrieved party has been making both efforts and commitments to try the former ruler under Article 6 of the Constitution that declares abrogation of the Constitution as high treason. However, views expressed by leaders of different parties in the Assembly clearly showed that it was a solo flight of the PML (N) and no other party was willing to extend support. Leader of the Opposition Ch. Nisar Ali acknowledged that PML-N did not command the required majority to get such a resolution passed. He announced not to table a resolution that is bound to fail, as this would, according to him, make Musharraf a hero. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani not only reiterated the stated position of the Government to support only a unanimous resolution but also virtually disassociated from any such move by saying that ‘we should go only for doable’. PML (Q) wants a forward looking approach whereas MQM would support the move only if it included all those who abrogated the Constitution and those who aided and abetted them. This clearly shows that the talk about trial of Musharraf has fizzled out. People of Pakistan have got no interest in the trial of Musharraf as their life has been rendered miserable by a host of problems and crises that deserve attention of the Government and Parliamentarians. Musharraf’s ‘counter-coup’, as some people dub it, was validated by the Supreme Court while his supra-constitutional actions of 3rd November 2007 had been undone by the apex court in its latest ruling. Under these circumstances, there was no justification to create unnecessary tension by initiating action against the former President. Both PPP and PML (N) are in the Government and they ought to work for mitigating sufferings of the people who are groaning under the yoke of artificial price hike and shortage of commodities. Sugar is selling around Rs 60 a kilo and millers are estimating that it would touch Rs.100 in the near future while corruption and trampling of merit are order of the day. People are getting disenchanted and it is time that instead of trying to divert their attention from the real issues the PPP and PML (N) should deliver on their promises of good governance.







LIVING true to its anti-Muslim agenda, Indian Opposition Party, the BJP has expelled a senior leader and former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh for his book “Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence”. Jaswant Singh in his books and remarks in an interview had described Mohammad Ali Jinnah as a great man who had been demonised in India.

The book, lauds the founder of Pakistan and holds India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and its first Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel responsible for the country’s partition in 1947. The announcement for the expulsion was made by the Party Chief Rajnath Singh following an interview by Mohanrao Bhagwat, chief of the extremist RSS, known for its bias against Muslims, wherein he said the BJP had to be seen as doing something about the dissent and indiscipline. Four years back L K Advani had to abruptly step down as Chief of BJP for his remarks praising the Quaid. The expulsion of Jaswant Singh clearly exposes the anti-Pakistan mindset in India, which claims to be the biggest democracy and a secular country. It is a clear proof of Hindu extremism that sane voices expressing their balanced and neutral views about Muslims are targeted and punished. The Chief Minister of the State of Gujerat Narendra Modi, who is known for murder of thousands of Muslims during riots in the State went a step further banning the sale of the book while the ruling Congress Party also censured it. The expulsion of a senior party leader by the BJP for glorifying the Quaid and criticising Nehru and Sardar Patel, speaks volumes about the bias against Muslims and their leaders and negates the claims of freedom of expression which is a prerequisite for a democratic polity. A shocked Jaswant Singh however made it clear that he did not regret writing the book on Mohammad Ali Jinnah and stood by whatever he has written on the painful period of history. The expulsion of the former Foreign Minister is a clear and loud message for those who praise the Indian system because political parties there are a tool at the hands of extremists. It proves beyond doubt that Muslims would never have enjoyed equal rights with Hindu majority and the Father of the Nation took the right and timely decision for an Independent State for the Muslims.







ACCORDING to a report, the Federal and Provincial Governments have decided to observe two-day weekend and extend working hours of offices accordingly. However, there is no indication as yet as to when the decision is going to be implemented and what the intended benefits are.

It is highly regrettable that instead of going for solid and pragmatic planning to overcome problems confronting the people and take the country forward, our policy-makers find refuge in mere gimmicks. In 62 years of our existence, we have not been able to settle once for all whether we should have weekly holiday on Friday or Sunday, have one or two weekly holidays, advance the watches every year during particular period or not, local bodies institutions suit us or not and there should be magistracy system or not. These are only a few instances, as there are scores of other fields and issues where we have been experimenting and the inconsistency has done a lot of damage. The experiment of two-day weekend was tried in the past on the pretext of saving fuel and energy but it was observed that instead the expenditure increased. It was also observed that the country virtually remained cut off from its global trading partners for three to four days as Friday was observed as half-day and there was also considerable time difference with some of the partners. Experience also showed that efficiency and output in offices fell down as employees left early Friday for their hometowns and returned late on Monday. There is, therefore, absolutely no justification even for consideration of such a proposal that amounts to sheer wastage of time and resources.











Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury, deputy leader of parliament and also convener of the committee for implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) peace accord, is confident that the treaty will be fully implemented soon. She expressed her optimism after a 'successful meeting' of the committee held at the CHT Development Board in Rangamati. Although the details of the meeting were not disclosed, the impression is that it has been working in right earnest to achieve the target set. Winding up army camps from different areas of the CHT, an on-going process under the agreement signed between the government and the Parbatya Chattagram Janasanghati Samity on December 2, 1997, is a vital component of the package deal and in no way should this issue be allowed to infringe upon the peace process now being pushed ahead.

Right at the moment peace prevails in the hills and hopefully it will not be disturbed following the withdrawal of the 35 army camps. Since the cantonments in the hill districts will remain as they are, option will always be there to redeploy army in case of any fresh trouble. But because the stake is high for all the parties involved and the entire process is being closely monitored, we sincerely hope there will be no deterioration of law and order, warranting army deployment.



The current tendency globally is for integration or coalition of forces with not so enviable records of mutual relations between and among them in the past. This is because it serves the interest of all the parties in time of an economic crunch. True, development of the CHT lags behind the national level and there is an immediate need for closing the gap. If the tribal people and the Bangalees - both settlers and natives there - work together, the development process can be carried forward at a faster pace than before. Rich in natural resources, the hilly region stands a bright chance of integrating with the mainstream society, without of course sacrificing their tradition, culture and social values, if they work in cooperation with the rest of the country.   






Finally, the committee assigned the task of framing proposals for restructuring Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) has submitted its report to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The prime minister is expected to approve the recommendations, as she is known to have expressed her satisfaction over the proposals. The new name of the paramilitary force will be the Border Guard of Bangladesh (BGB). The other major changes will be in the uniform, logo and organogram of the border security organisation.

Two different sets of uniform, one 'combat dress with grey print' and the other 'plain dress in brown colour', would be introduced for the restructured paramilitary force, hopefully within the next month. The border guards will be required to wear the combat dress when they are on duty and the plain dress when they are stationed at the headquarters. A new logo with slight changes to the former will be introduced. No changes have been proposed for the command structure of the BDR and the slogan of the BDR "Simante Atandra Prahari" will remain as it is. As for the changes in the organogram, formal proposals would be sent in three phases to the home ministry. Minor changes may also come in the recruitment policy of the new BGB as a recommendation has been made to recruit retired army troops. The proposal for providing motorised vehicles for patrolling the border is indeed pragmatic. 



The idea of restructuring the BDR came in the wake of the mutiny in which 75 people including 56 army officers were killed. This restructuring could not certainly make us forget the Peelkhana massacre and a new and formal start to overcoming the weaknesses and loopholes is necessary so that the seeds of any such future tragedy are eliminated once for all.








" I love to think of Nature as an unlimited broadcasting system through which God speaks to us every hour if we only tune in."  … George Washington Carver.

Ah the monsoons! If only we would stop awhile and look at nature at its splendid best, we would realize that God speaks through the budding flower, the lashing rain, the waterfall! There is a lovely story by Nil Guilemette, entitled-The Shy Lover: Eighteen year old Amanda, unusually simple hearted and deeply religious decided to write a letter to God. Taking her best stationary, she wrote, "I love you" and addressed her letter to Mr God, Paradise. She did not put a return address in case the letter was returned and people would think her crazy, but she waited for an answer nevertheless.

Days, weeks, a whole month passed, but no letter came. She consulted an old priest who was amused at her novel way of approaching God and told her, "Don't worry Mandy, God's answer will come in due time. But you'll have to be patient and still, and then he'll answer." Amanda waited and decided she would continue doing so even if it took years. But despite her resolution she often felt hurt by God's silence, till one day sitting near a brook, she thought she heard a voice nearby. Looking around she saw nobody. She bent over the brook and listened deeply, and she heard the water saying very distinctly, "I love you too!"


God was indeed answering her letter. After this incident Amanda trained her senses to listen to Nature, and heard the words, "I love you too," in the sigh of the breeze, the whisper of the trees, the rustle of the dry leaves, the twittering of the birds. She even found the sky proclaiming the message in its blueness or in the clouds which formed the letters: I love you too." In grateful thankfulness she murmured, "God! All I had to do was to still myself and listen!" Ah the monsoons! If only we would be still and listen to the sound of the rain. If we would stand and watch the rainbow strutting across the sky in its full glory, vividly arranging its colours in perfect symmetry. What better time to still ourselves and listen quietly to a voice saying, "I love you too my son, I love you too my daughter!"

And with another small thought would I like to end this piece: One moonlit night a mother was strolling along a meadow, her little son by her side. His curious eyes took in everything in sight - flowers, trees, houses, birds, and he offered a comment on each one of them. They rested on the grass, with the little fellow stretched out, his head on his mother's lap. The lad gazed skyward in wonder and awe. After a while his mother broke the silence:  "What's on your mind, son?" she asked. He fumbled for words, then finally said, "If the underside of heaven is so beautiful, how wonderful must the real side be…!"













IT says something about the Rudd government's industrial relations regime that its second-most senior person has to fiddle about over how much casual strawberry pickers should be paid on Sundays. The workers and the farmers who hire them are eminently capable of striking a deal.


Commendably, Julia Gillard is addressing the legitimate fears of fruit and vegetable growers that so-called "award modernisation" will send thousands of them to the wall. But the problem is of her making. The Rudd government's IR laws, which she shaped, have taken Australia back decades, to the era before the early reforms of the Hawke-Keating governments. The laws seem better suited to how Australians lived in the 1960s. Even before some new awards take effect, the evidence is mounting that jobs and prosperity will be eroded.


In May, Ms Gillard bowed to a vocal campaign by restaurant owners and caterers with a deal to save them from hefty penalty rises. Pharmacies open seven days a week for long hours, fast-food outlets and retailers also have compelling cases for such concessions.


In December 2007, just after the last election, The Australian predicted that "future realpolitik could dictate that in the interests of workers themselves and employment, the Labor government has to take the union movement with it in implementing a new set of reforms to boost flexibility and productivity". As an alternative to piecemeal management with a string of special deals, the government must decide if the time to reform its overall approach has arrived already. The evidence suggests it has.


In the 21st century, customers of major department stores such as David Jones have chosen to do 35-40per cent of their shopping on Saturdays and Sundays. Forcing such employers to pay hefty weekend penalties is as archaic as the West Australian Labor Party and the Nationals wanting shops shut by 6pm on weeknights. Major grocery chains anticipate wage bills soaring by tens of millions of dollars, making higher prices or job cuts inevitable. The Australian Retailers Association is concerned about a "retail award's penalty rate structure reminiscent of the 1960s regulated Monday to Friday working weeks, including increases in penalty rates for hours worked on Saturdays (additional 25 per cent), Sundays (additional 100 per cent), and in the evening on Monday-Friday (additional 25 per cent)."


Fair Work is less than two months old and already a more adversarial IR system is emerging. Universities are to be disrupted by strikes in support of a 15 per cent pay rise for academics. And following yesterday's vote by Cochlear production staff to be represented by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the company, which has run a harmonious workplace, has no choice but to switch to collective bargaining. Its management believes jobs could be lost offshore.


The Howard government's Work Choices was poorly sold and perceived as too harsh, but two decades of workplace reforms served Australia's economy well. Those of the Howard government in 1996, especially, delivered a jobs boom and sustained, higher wages. The big winner from the Rudd government's IR changes is the ACTU, which is out to bolster its membership from a paltry 19 per cent of the workforce. But as industries employing millions of Australians press for a realistic system, the government must look beyond vested interests. Directing Fair Work Australia to restore flexibility across all industries, not just one or two, would put prosperity and jobs








BOOM times always bring out bottom feeders, opportunists who set up shop in an industry in pursuit of quick and easy profits. There is no doubting this has happened in Australian education, especially in the vocational training sector. The problem is compounded by overseas agents, especially in India, who have promoted trade courses as an ersatz immigration program, suggesting that acquiring in-demand skills all but ensures students permanent residency. And aspiring migrants have believed them, coming here on student visas and paying for poor-quality courses by working in low-paying part-time jobs. It is this sense that Indian students are being exploited, as much as attacks on some of their number, that have generated the anger responsible for critical media coverage of Australian education in India.

The education industry now has a quality control problem that should never have developed and an international image issue that will take time to fix. Education Minister Julia Gillard is right to establish an inquiry, if only to demonstrate that Canberra acknowledges the issue. But whatever solutions it suggests, the cause of the problem is clear -- a lack of quality control, especially in the private sector. Certainly, many long-established non-government institutions provide a service that the public technical college system sometimes does not: market-focused training. But obvious inadequacies in government regulation have allowed fly-by-nighters to set up substandard colleges and sometimes to take student money and run. The apparent absence of adequate co-operation between the immigration and education authorities in assessing institutions has not helped. What is worse, senior bureaucrats should have seen this coming. We faced a similar situation in the early 1990s when a boom in English-language schools, catering for young Chinese students seeking safe haven after Tiananmen Square, went bust in similar circumstances.


Students aside, the other unfortunates are the universities, largely innocent of blame but at greatest risk of losing essential income streams if this perception problem extends to all of education. There are few business faculties in the country that do not reply on international students, mainly from China. This market may well be under threat if Beijing's criticism of Australia extends to a ban on Chinese students studying here. If this was to occur, the last thing the system could afford would be a loss of credibility in India, the only possible replacement market. This problem was not created on Ms Gillard's watch, but she will have to fix it, and fast.








POWERFUL people have always hated the press asking impertinent questions and taking photos that do not present them in a flattering light. And they have always gone to court to get their way -- claiming their right to protect their own image outweighed everybody else's right to read, watch and hear all the news fit to print and broadcast. Certainly there have been recent defeats for this sort of censorship. The internet has created many new ways of providing pictures and information to the world -- most of which are beyond the power of courts in any one state to stop. But this explosion of information upsets people with a strong sense of their own privilege and they are looking for ways to restrict your right to know more about them than they like.

In the US, model Liskula Cohen has gone to court demanding to know the identity of a blogger who anonymously called her names. In Victoria, a defendant's lawyers have demanded newspapers remove all articles archived on-line that are relevant to the very serious charges in the case. And in NSW, the Law Reform Commission proposes a law to protect people who are offended by invasions of their privacy, such as the taking of an uninvited photograph in a public place. Cohen has a point, egregiously abusive language has no place in public debate. But turning to the courts for protection against an offensive but ineffectual slight only sets a precedent for the law to limit robust debate online. The Victorian matter would be sinister if it were not so silly. There is no case for removing electronic records of news truthfully reported when it appeared because it does not subsequently suit somebody. And even if records electronically stored in one jurisdiction were temporarily removed, this would not stop people accessing copies on internet sights all over the world.


But the LRC's proposals are alarming. The commission contemplates allowing people who are offended by what they consider an invasion of their privacy to sue and for a court to decide whether any public interest outweighs their grievance. They do not need to claim to be defamed, the security of their person or property need not be breached. They just need to feel offended to ask the courts to decide if their right to privacy exceeded the public interest. It is hard to imagine more of a make-work program for courts to establish precedents under such a law. And it is hard to imagine a measure better designed to stop the press reporting the news, while leaving the internet awash with digital altered images, secure on servers outside Australia.








MANY will look askance at the penalties handed out to the directors of James Hardie responsible for issuing a misleading media release on the subject of compensation for illness suffered through contact with the company's asbestos products. Such is the public disgust over James Hardie's behaviour in this matter that the fines meted out to most of the directors look more like a mockery of the public's feelings than a punishment. Many will share the understandable reaction of one asbestos disease sufferer, Mike O'Donnell, quoted yesterday: ''These guys come from the top end of the city - they're all well heeled. The fines are peanuts.'' The view was echoed by union leaders and others. Yet the penalties are more complex - and heavier - than that. It is a matter of looking beyond the fines.


Fines, in fact, could never be the main punishment. The fines provided for in Australian law for directors who breach the Corporations Act are heaviest for those who steal from their companies. None of the Hardie directors was charged with doing anything like that, and for their offences the appropriate punishment was lighter.


The penalties that will hurt most, though they may not look like it, are the bans preventing the 10 defendants from being company directors. Many members of the Hardies board have held multiple directorships. They have now resigned these, forgoing the considerable fees they were paid, not to mention the prestige they enjoyed. For the former chief executive and managing director Peter Macdonald, 57, the 15-year ban in effect ends his career as a company director. Others are in a similar position, though the bans are shorter. To deprive people of their normal means of earning a living is not a light punishment. It is possible, too, that they may be required to pay their legal costs, which in total run into tens of millions of dollars.


The Australian Securities and Investments Commission, which has been rightly criticised for its dilatory approach to corporate regulation elsewhere, has been commendably tough here, pursuing not just the three main agents in the affair - Macdonald, the general counsel Peter Shafron and the chief financial officer Phillip Morley - but the whole board as collectively responsible for the company's actions, which constitute one of the worst Australian examples of corporate irresponsibility.


Though heavier than they look at first, will the penalties satisfy the community demand for justice? Probably not. The more important test is: will the fate of the Hardie board deter similar malpractice in future?







THE idea of turning the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation to a broader crime-fighting role, similar to that of America's Federal Bureau of Investigation, is one that deserves a great deal of sceptical scrutiny. Though a rearrangement of Australia's federal law enforcement and security agencies could well be in order, expanding ASIO is unlikely to be an effective or safe solution to the shortcomings.


ASIO developed in a distinct way from the famous US police agency. It was launched in 1949 specifically to counter Soviet spy rings whose operations were being discovered by US and British code-breakers. It followed the model of Britain's domestic security service, MI5, in terms of its secrecy and its eschewing police powers of arrest or weaponry. The FBI started as an enforcer of US federal laws, expanding notably in the gangster-ridden Prohibition era and only later shifting emphasis into counter-espionage during the Cold War, but retaining its conventional police powers.


Both agencies had a brief period of ''mission accomplished'' when the Cold War ended about 1990. But within a few years Islamist jihadism with a global reach had become a new threat, culminating in the shock of September 11, 2001 and the warnings missed by the FBI. The fight against this terrorist threat has taken up some of the shadowy techniques involved in countering Soviet subversion, and some of the same ambiguities and dilemmas in distinguishing real threats from legitimate dissent or different belief.


ASIO's strength since has been expanding from 584 officers in 2001 to a projected 1860 by mid-2011, while its budget has expanded nearly five-fold, and the secrecy of its operations has been reinforced by stiff new penalties for disclosing them. When ASIO reaches this full strength it will not be far behind the FBI in proportion to population, so it will already be a sizeable agency. Already it is struggling to get recruits with the needed language and other skills.


Most people will be reassured rather than alarmed that ASIO is still restricted to surveillance and investigation, with warrants and police assistance required when it wants to interview suspects or tap communications. Sticking to its existing missions will keep up the standard of independent, rigorous analysis shown recently in its assessment of Mohamed Haneef.


Rather than diverting ASIO to other problems like organised crime or border security, Canberra should consider streamlining and reinforcing the agencies now supposed to be handling them, notably the Australian Federal Police and the National Crime Authority. Why does the latter exist at all, except as an admission the AFP cannot be trusted?




                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN




The A-level argument is the same each year, but this year was different in one respect: this year it has a consequence. The 27th annual climb in the grades met with the usual mix of cheers from the sunnily disposed, and howls of "dumbing down" from those inclined to believe things can only get worse. Yet as the ritual row gets under way, thousands of youngsters who have shared in the bumper results are discovering that they are indeed a debased currency when it comes to securing a university place.


The ever-sanguine examiners on the Joint Council on Qualifications brushed off a Guardian analysis of last year's results, which showed they were at least consistent with the theory that exams are getting easier, and once again marshalled selective statistics to insist standards were being maintained. In truth, rising performance reflects some mix of three things. First, a genuine increase in attainment thanks to hard work and increased resources; second, grade inflation, at times encouraged by competition between the exam boards; finally, narrow teaching to the test, which inflates marks by substituting technique for understanding. The last of these is a serious problem, a reflection of the stress exams place both on the teaching profession and a generation of over-tested pupils. But whether the rising tide of achievement was real or apparent, it was certainly necessary. Successive governments have made a sound decision to expand the universities, and an increasing number of entry tickets – in the form of A-level passes – were essential to ensure extra undergraduate places were taken up.


Whitehall got the student numbers it wanted, while students could be confident that if they did enough work to get through their A-levels, they would be eligible to enrol on a degree of some sort. But with the number of places available in clearing down by around a half, this strong expectation is set to be disappointed for tens of thousands this year. Some of those who have studied for two years – and then passed – purely in the hope of going on to university, will now find themselves with nothing to do in the midst of a slump. One part of the problem is the sheer number who have made the grade, but another is the slump itself. It produced a great surge in applications from mature students in particular, people looking for something useful to do at a time when work is in short supply. The universities were never likely to be able to absorb them all without disappointing some youngsters. The situation has been exacerbated, however, by incompetence in Whitehall. A reformed student grant scheme was boldly proclaimed within days of Gordon Brown entering No 10, on the basis of fag-packet costings. The aim was the noble one of widening participation, but in his rush to prove he could make a difference quickly, the prime minister did not pause to consider how the money could best be spent – or how much of it there was. By last autumn, the growing price-tag forced ministers to retrench not merely on the grants, but on the number of college places. Last month saw a scramble to make good the damage with the announcement of new places last month, but these came too late and with too many strings for many universities to want to take them up.


While many students celebrated last night, others drowned their sorrows. A few had failed, but many others had merely failed to pass well enough. The corollary of rising overall marks has long been increasingly steep grade requirements from prestigious institutions; their upshot this year is a rising of the bar to get into any college at all. Many youngsters now face the fact that – despite their A-level passes – university is not on the cards, as they had been led to expect it would be. They have fallen victim both to the slump and to Mr Brown's quick-cook brand of policy. For them the A-level represents not the passport of opportunity that they had hoped, but instead a breach of promise.







The little slab of wood pulp which is the Reader's Digest is so familiar to us that it is a shock to discover it may not be such a permanent fixture after all. The American company has just filed for bankruptcy protection. Although this is a manoeuvre to allow the company to reschedule its debts, does not affect the Digest's many overseas operations and is not an immediate threat to the parent publication, it is not the sort of feelgood news in which the Digest has specialised since its foundation in 1922. It has been usual in highbrow, and even more in middlebrow, circles to be condescending about the Digest's combination of uplifting features, right-wing politics, comforting anecdotes, jokes, hints, lifestyle tips and "just fancy that" items. This was dumbing down, some would charge, before the phrase had even been invented. But the Digest was a smart journalistic idea which drew on the long Anglo-American tradition of self-improvement, handing the ordinary man a selection of pieces from a range of journals he would otherwise have had neither the time to read nor the money to buy. The magazine soon began to publish more and more of its own material, including, in the 1950s, notable stories such as being the first in the popular press to link cigarettes and cancer, and, in the 1970s, the first documented account of Khmer Rouge atrocities in Cambodia. If it has faults, it also has virtues. It would certainly be a shame to lose a publication which has been part of the furniture of our lives for so many years.







And the havens keep opening. This week it was the turn of the Swiss, who agreed to hand over details of 4,450 wealthy Americans with accounts at UBS, the Alpine state's biggest bank. The US tax chief Douglas Shulman claimed the agreement "sends an unmistakable message to people hiding income and assets offshore". It is certainly an important advance. Putting figures on the secret banking industry is as precise a business as the old game of pinning the tail on the donkey, but experts reckon that Switzerland is home to about a third of the world's $11 trillion or so in clandestine wealth.


What this week's announcement adds up to is a small but significant crack in the giant black box that is Swiss banking. As a result of this shakedown the US government will get millions of tax dollars that it could otherwise never have got its hands on. And because Mr Shulman and his IRS colleagues have smartly not specified which people or criteria it used for its list of suspects, other Americans whose cash is stowed with UBS are bound to come forward before the US authorities' voluntary disclosure scheme closes at the end of next month. Not only that, but precedents have been set. The IRS has identified other Swiss and European banks in its sights; UBS will not be the only name in Zurich to enter into a banking equivalent of plea-bargaining.


A good result, then – but not a great one. The 4,450 clients whose details will be coughed up by UBS is a big reduction from the 52,000 Washington originally asked for – and it even falls short of the 10,000 IRS lawyers promised just a fortnight ago. And it is certainly not the "end to banking secrecy" promised by G20 leaders of the world's most important economies when they met in London this April. The Swiss newspapers that pronounced the deal the best of a bad bunch of options for the country's banking industry have a point. With the world's most powerful nation banging on its door, Bern still managed to wrest a reasonable compromise. If Zambia or another poor country came knocking, the Swiss might not open up at all.


This deal with UBS, Britain's agreement last week with Liechtenstein: things are certainly moving on the campaign against tax avoidance. But piecemeal progress has been piecemeal – one-off compromises and bilateral negotiations, when what is needed is a multilateral agreement that all tax jurisdictions should share information with each other. That would be equitable – enabling African countries to claw back the proceeds of corruption – and effective, preventing tax evaders simply moving their money from one haven to another. Leaders of the G20 meet again next month in Pittsburgh: they must strike such a deal.








In past elections, "devolution" was hardly an issue because political parties thought the subject would not rouse voter interest. Even if local government leaders made demands, political parties did not seriously heed them. Things are different ahead of the Aug. 30 Lower House election.


This time the issue of how to devolve central government authority to local governments has moved to the foreground. The National Governors' Association held a public discussion meeting on devolution with representatives of the Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito and the Democratic Party of Japan, then graded each party's manifesto policies with regard to devolution. Out of 100 poits, Komeito scored the highest with 66.2 points followed by the LDP with 60.6 and the DPJ with 58.3.


Gov. Yasushi Furukawa of Saga Prefecture, head of the grading committee, said all three parties "passed." In short, there does not seem to be much difference among them. It appears that they hastily adjusted their party platforms to placate the governors. For example, they all agreed to set up a body prescribed by law for consultations between the central and local governments.


The DPJ even promised to let local government representatives take part in a national strategy bureau that it plans to set up directly under the prime minister. It received a high grade from the governors' association for promising (1) to halve the number of local government subsidies tied to central government approval and (2) to eliminate the financial burden shouldered by local governments when the central government carries out major public works projects under national plans.


But the DPJ scored poorly when it comes to plans to secure revenue sources for local governments. The party, for example, calls for abolition of surcharges on road-related taxes — which happen to be a revenue source for local governments — while failing to mention how to make up for these losses.


All in all, the nation's governors have succeeded in getting solid promises from the parties concerning devolution. They need to carefully watch whether the promises are faithfully implemented after the election.







The first deaths from the new H1N1 influenza have been reported in Japan during the past week. A 57-year-old man of Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, died Aug. 15; a 77-year-old man of Kobe on Aug. 18; and an 81-year-old woman of Nagoya on Aug. 19. Both of the men had chronic renal insufficiency and were undergoing kidney dialysis.


A recent study by a team at Utrecht University, Netherlands, indicates that the flu's lethality rate is about 0.5 percent, higher than the usual seasonal influenza's 0.05 percent to 0.1 percent. The latter kills about 10,000 people a year in Japan.


Due attention should be paid to the fact that infants, aged people, pregnant women and people with pulmonary, cardiac or renal disease or with diabetes can become seriously ill if hit by the new virus. The World Health Organization says that 1,462 people had died of the new influenza as of Aug. 6.


The recent trend of influenza cases in Japan is worrisome. According to the National Institute of Infectious Disease's Infectious Disease Surveillance Center, which receives information from about 5,000 medical institutions, there were overall about 8,000 flu cases in early May when the first case of new influenza was confirmed. Although the number fell to 746 in the week ending July 5, it increased to 1,312 in the week ending July 26 and to 2,655 in the week ending Aug. 2.


Influenza is most rampant in Okinawa Prefecture, but has been spreading in the Kanto and Kinki regions. Most people have no immunity to the new influenza. Unlike in the past, teenagers constitute the largest age group infected. It is believed that many of the recent flu cases are from the new influenza.


It is feared that when children go back to school after summer vacation, the spread of flu may intensify. Individuals should take precautions such as washing their hands and gargling. People with a cough or sore throat or who are sneezing should wear masks and stay home. If everybody with flu symptoms ends up going to a hospital, people with a bad case of flu or a serious disease may not be able to receive timely treatment. The government should consider ways to prevent such a situation.











Japan's politics in recent years has lacked dynamism and incurred people's distrust. The purpose of politics is to present a vision for the nation's future, identify the systems and policies needed, and ensure the safety and prosperity of the nation and its people. Recently, though, Japanese politics has not lived up to these expectations.


What disappoints people most about Japanese politics is that the position of the prime minister appears to be carrying less and less weight.


In the eyes of many people, Prime Minister Taro Aso, rather than exploring new paths for development of the nation, seems intent on staying in office as long as he can. His behavior and words cast doubt upon his virtue and culture, adding to public distrust in the prime minister.


And within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which was supposed to have chosen Aso last year as a man who could help the party survive the general election, lawmakers continue to engage in internal struggles out of fear that the party will lose power with Aso at the helm.


The opposition camp, meanwhile, has focused its strategy on cornering the ruling coalition and pushing the prime minister into dissolving the Lower House as quickly as possible — rather than on challenging the government over the choice of future paths for the nation.


Several factors have contributed to this deterioration of Japanese politics. The first is the detachment of politics from people.


In the last Lower House election in 2005, the LDP — then led by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi — won a landslide victory. In the election, voters supported the Koizumi-led LDP by an overwhelming majority, but one year later Koizumi himself resigned as prime minister as his term as LDP president expired. Shinzo Abe was chosen as his successor, but Abe suddenly quit after only a year, citing health reasons. Yasuo Fukuda took over, but again his administration came to a sudden end in about a year, paving the way for Aso to become LDP chief and prime minister.


Even as people called for dissolution of the Lower House, three consecutive LDP prime ministers — dictated by the LDP's internal logic — took office without ever passing the judgment of voters.


What made matters worse was the talk that surfaced during the Fukuda administration — at the initiative of opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa — of a "grand coalition" between the LDP and the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Such a development in the political sphere had nothing to do with the wishes of the electorate.


The approval ratings of the Aso Cabinet, which initially hovered around 50 percent, have fallen below 20 percent. Still, Aso kept pushing back the timing of Lower House dissolution until he finally dissolved the chamber July 21 for a general election set for Aug. 30.


The second factor is that the political decision-making institutions are not effectively working. For politics to remain dynamic, there needs to be an environment where a change of power is possible and political parties compete with each other to gain people's support by presenting their policy platforms. It was for this objective that the single-seat constituency system was introduced in the 1993 revision of the Public Offices Election Law. However, political parties have used their manifestos as mere tools to curry favor with voters, and one governing coalition after another has continued with priority given to political parties's own interests.


The opposition camp captured majority control of the Upper House in the 2007 election, creating the so-called divided Diet. But the tactics used by the opposition parties in this new situation have often bordered on harassment of the ruling coalition, and the two sides have never engaged in constructive dialogue toward high-level political decisions aimed, for example, at consensus through consultation between the two chambers.


The third factor is the decline in the ability of political parties and individual politicians. A series of political reforms including introduction of the single-seat constituencies and tighter political funds control have reduced the power of LDP factions, which had earlier dominated the politics inside the longtime ruling party. That in itself led voters to expect that political parties would boost their control over such matters as selection of candidates in elections, but things did not necessarily work out that way.


Policymaking capabilities of the parties remain weak. Each of the major parties has organizations like policy research panels, but they have not fully developed such key functions as analyzing world affairs and social phenomena and making policy proposals.


Previous attempts by some parties to establish think tanks of their own ended in failure due to the low mobility of intellectual human resources in this country and the reluctance of many talented researchers to become associated with specific political parties. The reality is that, despite all the criticism, the ruling parties have essentially relied on the bureaucracy to make policies.


If the purpose of a general election is to allow voters a choice of which parties to put in control of the government, each of the parties needs to present its manifesto to the electorate. Voters want the political parties to demonstrate the capability to create such policy platforms.


There is also widespread public distrust of the qualifications of politicians. This author does not intend to say that all "nisei" (hereditary) lawmakers are bad, but the realities in election campaigns show that candidates who "inherit" the funds and supporters in the constituencies of their retiring fathers have the clear advantage over their competitors.


Another background element that has contributed to a decline in the quality of politicians is that certain candidates benefit from the "wind" that blows in each election — most recently the 2005 Lower House election — although this is a problem for voters.


Many politicians may mistake calls for a "politics-driven" administration mechanism as a "politicians-driven" mechanism where individual politicians appear at center stage. Some politicians spend a lot of energy demonstrating their power over the bureaucracy, while others try to increase their exposure on TV shows, rather than spending more time studying policies.


The fourth factor is that Japanese politics has become inward-looking. In this era of globalization, voters want Japan to make international contributions commensurate with its status as the world's second-largest economy. Regrettably, however, Japan's diplomacy gets low marks from the rest of the world, and its power to make proposals to, and communicate with, international society remains fairly weak. It has also not been able to establish strong intellectual networks with overseas think tanks.


Japan's attempt to secure a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council has not obtained wide support from the international community. Rather, it appears that the rest of the world is making light of Japan — as suggested by the phrase "Japan passing."


Even though the nation remains the world's No. 2 economy, Japan has reduced its overseas economic aid each year due to fiscal constraints. Once the world's largest aid donor, it has now slipped to the fifth rank.


And even as the nation's trade with the rest of Asia has topped its trade with the United States, Japan has failed to build trust with many of its Asian neighbors. It has not been able to share a common value that Japan and Asia should coexist for mutual benefit.


Furthermore, Japan remains unable to sufficiently contribute to a successful conclusion of the trade liberalization talks under the World Trade Organization due to strong political interests in protecting its farm industry. This has also hampered the nation's efforts to conclude bilateral free trade agreements and economic partnership agreements.


Shinji Fukukawa, formerly vice minister of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) and president of Dentsu Research Institute, is currently chairman of the Machine Industry Memorial Foundation.











Pyongyang has decided to send a high-powered delegation to the state funeral of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, setting the stage for a possible thawing of inter-Korean relations. It looks as if Kim, lying in state, was promoting reconciliation between the rival Koreas, as he did when he was alive.

Kim's funeral, scheduled for Sunday, can hardly be the right occasion for high-profile inter-Korean diplomacy. But Kim would not object to low-key contacts aimed at facilitating a breakthrough in the long-lasting standoff.


Kim Dae-jung is credited for bringing South and North Korea closer through his summit with Kim Jong-il in 2000. But the two Koreas have remained estranged since a conservative government was installed in the South under President Lee Myung-bak in February last year.


Pyongyang's decision to send a funeral delegation to the South, however, is yet another development that may help improve inter-Korean relations. The communist state has recently taken a series of affirmative measures toward the South, including an invitation to the head of the Hyundai Group to visit Pyongyang.

During her visit to Pyongyang last week, the Hyundai Group chairwoman won the release of a Hyundai employee detained since March. She later met with Kim Jong-il who agreed, among other things, to resume the suspended tourism of South Koreans to Mount Geumgang and the halted reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.


Her agreements with Kim Jong-il, however, are by no means binding to the South Korean government. Concluding such agreements is actually beyond her purview. If any of them is to be implemented, it needs approval by the relevant authorities of South and North Korea.


Against this backdrop, South Korea proposed inter-Korean Red Cross talks to the North next week to arrange the reunions of separated families around the Oct. 3 Chuseok holiday. Reuniting separated families has been a humanitarian project of great concern to the South Korean government. As such, the impoverished North has often used it in the past as leverage in obtaining concessions from the South.


Presumably, Kim Jong-il had the resumption of South Korean tourist visits to Mount Geumgang in mind when he referred to family reunions. Hyundai's tourism project had been one of the few sources of hard currency for the North until the South suspended it when North Korean soldiers shot to death a South Korean woman who apparently strayed into an off-limits area in the mountain in July last year.

Another likely issue of concern to the North is the provision of food and other types of aid by the South Korean government. Talks on direct aid have been suspended since the North declined the South Korean government's offer to provide 50,000 tons of corn last year.


The Food and Agriculture Organization has recently warned that North Korea's food shortage will continue to worsen, making it necessary to secure more than 1.7 million tons from abroad this year. But the South Korean government, which has recently eased restrictions on aid via non-governmental organizations, says it will withhold direct assistance until the North asks for it.

When a North Korean delegation visits Seoul to pay homage to the late President Kim Dae-jung, it will have an opportunity to meet with South Korean officials and take up where Kim Jong-il's talks with the Hyundai chairwoman left off. It would be nothing but an act of sheer folly to pass up such an opportunity.

The North needs the South more than the South needs the North. But it does not necessarily mean the South should withhold humanitarian aid indefinitely. Instead, it may well take the initiative, reach out to the North and renew its offer to provide food aid when the North Korean delegation arrives in Seoul, reportedly for an overnight stay.









Of all of the documents that are produced in our daily lives, perhaps none is more important than the resume.


The word resume is French for "summary." It is a one- or two-page document which summarizes all of the information relevant to your professional life. A resume usually includes a heading with your address and contact information, followed by educational history, work experience and special skills or accomplishments.


In academia and medicine, a resume is sometimes replaced with a curriculum vitae, which is Latin for "the course or race of life." Sometimes referred to as a "CV" or a "vita," a curriculum vitae is longer and more complete versions of a resume. CVs often include lists of awards, publications, teaching experience and other major accomplishments.


Your resume or CV is your life on paper. As such, it is one of your most powerful professional marketing tools. It conveys information and impressions to schools, potential employers, award committees and current managers about your qualifications for admission, a new job, recognition, a raise or a promotion. A strong CV can greatly improve your chances of success in all areas of your professional life.


What people often don't realize is that your resume or CV can also be an extremely important tool for planning your education or career.


Some students live and die by the resume. Projects and pastimes are chosen based on their ability to enhance future career opportunities. Leisure activities are shunned in favor of more impressive credentials. High school and college are spent relentlessly pursuing the next opportunity, award, title or qualification. Cutthroat competition often ensues. It's not an ideal life - full of stress and strained relations. But the opposite approach can be equally problematic.


Many students enter - and exit - college without a proper resume. This can mean the loss of important information about relevant professional experiences and can be a serious disadvantage when competing for graduate or professional school admission, jobs and more.


To use your resume as a planning tool, you first need to create a resume or CV. There are many resources online and in writing handbooks which can help you plan your resume. Often, the easiest way is to choose a sample resume and use it to guide the content and formatting of your document.


The first document that you should create is an "extended CV." This will contain every piece of information which is relevant and important or useful to your career. Include job titles, dates, locations and a short description where applicable. In time, you will forget the details of the conferences you attended and the community service that you did. Your extended CV will never forget.


You will probably never show this document to anyone else. Instead, you will use it to form the basis of resumes for specific purposes in the future. Applying for a job? You will need a resume that highlights your work experience. Applying for a service award? You will need to demonstrate your leadership abilities, describe past service projects and show your commitment to helping others. Every CV or resume should be customized for its intended audience.


After creating an extended CV, you should define your goals and identify the next major milestone in your career. Are you going to be applying to college, graduate school or professional school? Are you getting ready to apply for your first full-time job? Perhaps you want to shift to management from a technical track?


Next, take a good, hard look at your CV. Where are the strengths and where are the weaknesses? Do you have lots of work experience, but no research experience? Has you work been too theoretical or too applied? Do you have enough leadership experience? Have you shown that you are a good team member? One of the keys to a good resume is balance. You have to demonstrate that you are a well-rounded individual who has proven your value and abilities in multiple areas, situations or contexts.


Finally, determine how much time you have until your milestone and make a plan to address the weaknesses in your CV based on your career goals. Internships, conferences and exchange programs often need six months to one year to arrange. Getting an advanced degree (MA, MS, MBA, etc.) usually takes 1.5 to 2.5 years including the admissions process. But you can often get a little bit of teaching experience or community service with only a few weeks to spare.


Over time, your resume will change. Older accomplishments will slowly be dropped from the list and replaced by "selected" awards and publications. But it will always be a reflection of your abilities and achievements, as well as a useful tool for planning your future.


Mary Kathryn Thompson, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. She can be reached at - Ed.












Those who understand what children mean to parents surely would not be surprised by the action of hundreds of parents, who stormed a smelting plant in northwest China's Shaanxi province on Monday after more than 800 local children fell ill due to lead and heavy metal discharge from the company.


The latest news that another 100 children were found suffering from lead poisoning in Wugang county of central China's Hunan province proved to be another appalling case of the serious lead pollution that is threatening the lives of numerous Chinese, especially children. However, the two high-profile cases have exposed only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lead poisoning and other pollution in the country.


While blood lead level test is still not conducted on a wide scale among Chinese children, studies of 15 major Chinese cities a few years ago showed that the average blood lead level (BLL) of children aged under 6 reached 59.52 micrograms per liter of blood. The figures are considered substantially higher in areas with dense manufacturing industries. In the latest Hunan case, BLL of 232 micrograms and 362 micrograms per liter of blood was found in a villager's two daughters.


The acceptable level of BLL in Australia is 15 micrograms per liter of blood. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention has set BLL above 10 micrograms per liter as cause for concern, although lead can even impair children's mental and physical development at BLLs below 10 micrograms per liter.


Lead is widely known to pose more risk to children than adults because their smaller and growing bodies make them more susceptible to absorbing and retaining lead. Besides inflicting damages on their mental development, lead can also cause a number of other health problems such as headache, stomach pain, behavioral distortion, anemia and delayed puberty in girls.


While enjoying a double-digit economic growth for the last three decades, China has been plagued by mounting pollution in both the nation's cities and countryside. Heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, have seriously polluted the water, soil and air in the country, causing subsequent pollution in plants and animals and then human beings.


This problem has worsened in recent years as big cities undergoing industrial restructuring have been relocating their polluting industries to rural areas and the central and western part of the country, where land is cheaper and environmental standards enforcement loose.


So the two incidents in Shaanxi and Hunan are simply sounding the alarming bells for heavy metal and other pollutants that are pervasive in a country where pursuit of high GDP growth is the top priority for most regional officials.


The two cases are a wake-up call to governments at all levels for taking effective and proactive measures to deal with the root cause of poisoning caused by lead and other metallic toxins. High GDP growth need not be at the cost of destroying our children's mental and physical health.







With Minister of Industry and Information Technology Li Yizhong promising to never compulsorily install the controversial filtering software on personal computers, the issue of "Green Dam-Youth Escort" is fading out from the limelight.


Yet as behind-the-scenes specifics emerge, the near-surreal episode proves itself a precious source of lessons for all, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) included of course.


Weeks back, when news came that the MIIT would impose "Green Dam" on all computers to be sold in China from July 1, we were perplexed.


We had wondered aloud how the MIIT could have come up with such a muddle-headed idea. We had wondered how such an ill-advised decision could have sailed all the way through the MIIT's policy-making process


Until we were told that Mr Li himself was misled into signing the document that threw his ministry into a storm of public protests.


This sounds like a joke. But it is not, provided that the latest report is not declared false some other day.


Indeed, the highly disputable MIIT announcement would not have been published and resulted in such a public relations disaster for the ministry, had it not got the nod from Mr Li. Yet it is not fair to blame it all on him. A little more than one year ago, he was heading the national production safety watchdog. In spite of his relative novelty in the IT area, he at least raised a question about appropriateness. Which was crucial. For, had that inquiry been taken seriously, the outcome might have been quite different. The MIIT found itself under fire exactly because the decision was inappropriate.


But somehow Mr Li was told, by his ministry's Software Service Department, that it was a common international practice. Which was untrue. We know the magic power of "international conventions" in this country, which is anxious to follow "international standards." We have heard of foreign governments supplying free filtering software for parents or schools. But, there was no such thing as forcing them on personal computers.


It makes no difference to us whether Mr Li's colleagues intentionally provided him that misinformation. Mr Li was reportedly "torn by rage" on finding that he was misinformed. It is his business to find out why.


We are just curious why such a major decision - which would affect more than 300 million Internet users in the country - was so carelessly finalized and almost put into practice.


We have difficulty understanding why none in the MIIT had bothered to consult those who would be affected, and give some thought to its consequences.


Besides, even if the Software Service Department people were unaware, those with the MIIT's Department of Policies and Statutes should know a thing or two about the inappropriateness of such a policy. What were they doing?







Economic integration and cooperation among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and a wider East Asian region are expected to intensify with the 10-member bloc having reached a series of agreements.


ASEAN held foreign minister-level meetings in Phuket, Thailand, from July 20 to 23 as a preparatory move for this year's ASEAN+3 and East Asian summit scheduled for Oct 23-25. The event grabbed global attention when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended a concurrent ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia with ASEAN members. The move is seen as the return of the superpower to the "critically important" region.


During the forum, Clinton met with the foreign ministers of countries along the Mekong River - Thailand, Vietnam, Loas and Cambodia - and pledged further cooperation with them on water resources, education and human resources development.


The fourth Pan Beibu Gulf Economic Cooperation Forum was held on Aug 6-7 in Nanning, capital of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, where a feasibility report aimed at strengthening studies on ASEAN-China maritime economic cooperation was approved.


On Aug 8, ASEAN members commemorated the 42nd anniversary of the establishment of the association, and vowed to deepen integration within the region. These could help ASEAN ease its long-intractable dilemma in integration, development and security. Maintaining cohesiveness with ASEAN and preventing it from collapsing have been the biggest challenges for the bloc in recent years. That its summit has been postponed several times because of social unrests in Thailand has added to concerns over the extent of its integration.


Terrorist attacks on JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in Jakarta on July 17, which killed nine people and injured at least 50, has dealt a further blow to people's confidence in regional development. The bomb explosions took place amid experts' warnings that social and economic contradictions within ASEAN members fueled by the global financial crisis could create chaos in the region.


The economic model long advocated by ASEAN members, which has seriously harmed the region's ecology, has put the Mekong River valley's environmental issues under global spotlight.


ASEAN members have clinched a series of TAC agreements with major powers beyond the region, but the group's dilemma over security has grown in recent years. The frenzy that the US, Japan, India and Australia have kicked up by trumpeting their "China military threat" theory has caused unnecessary security concern within the bloc.


The rise in tensions over the South China Sea indicates ASEAN members have a wrong impression about a rising China. Some Southeast Asian scholars have even warned that if the situation in the South China Sea worsened it could damage the mutually beneficial environment between the two sides that took decades to build.


Fortunately, US President Barack Obama's administration, which has realized that a weak, loose and turbulent ASEAN will not serve anybody's interest, has raised its strategic investment in the regional group to help it ease its development concerns.


The smart power concept advocated by Obama and Clinton caters to ASEAN's long-pursued diplomatic ideology. The US' return to the region and its willingness to listen and cooperate with regional formations is believed to be a consolation for ASEAN members, who for long have felt the superpower had been giving them the cold shoulder.


Apart from its security commitment not to try to solve any problem through force, Washington's participation in the TAC will help ASEAN balance its strategic posture in the region. The US' promise to cooperate with the countries along the Mekong River, except Myanmar, on climate change and non-traditional security will help the region solve its development dilemma.


But ASEAN members have some reasons to worry about the US' return, too. The presence of the US could bring hegemonism back to the region and its promised benefits could prove to be just lip service. The US' refusal to include Myanmar into the Mekong River cooperation bloc, and Clinton's call for ASEAN to "kick the country out" of the association raises such worries.


The complicated situation in the South China Sea has luckily not shaken China's determination to intensify efforts to develop strategic partnership with ASEAN and its members. In April, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said China planned to create a $10-billion investment fund for and offer $15 billion in credit to Southeast Asian countries.


The convocation of the fourth Pan Beibu Gulf Economic Cooperation Forum in Nanning was aimed at actively promoting maritime economic cooperation between ASEAN members on the one side and Guangxi, and Hainan and Guangdong provinces on the other. Maritime cooperation between the two sides in fields such as port, tourism, logistics, financial and infrastructure construction will supplement bilateral economic cooperation in the Mekong River valley. As a move that would ease tensions in the South China Sea, the Beibu Gulf cooperation model will help both sides find new ways out of the global financial crisis and provide them new fields for economic cooperation at the time after a free trade area between them is set up next year.


We have reason to believe that at the upcoming ASEAN summit and the synchronized Sixth China-ASEAN Expo, China and ASEAN will reach a series of agreements on their road to a common and mutually beneficial development.


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







The issue of corruption is always eye-catching. In recent years, environmental administration has become a new field of corruption. Along with the intensified emphasis on environmental issues by the Chinese government, the power of the administration, too, has expanded. Now all important projects have to pass environmental tests, endowing the administration with veto power.


Hence, environmental examination has become a scarce power resource. The scarcer the power resource is, the more the likelihood of corruption. Since the administration possesses the scarce power, everyone who wants to start a project has to beseech them to approve it. Many businessmen are then willing to bribe the administration into giving approval. Thus corruption has become rife in this field.


To curb corruption in this field, the best way is openness in information. The relevant information of the process, outcome and participants of environmental examinations must be released, so that third-party experts can inspect them and report the irregularities. The government should not allow the environmental agencies that are organizationally linked to the environmental administration to undertake environmental examinations. A proper solution is to set up a professional environmental evaluation agency constituted by experts outside the government, which would be commissioned to conduct the environmental examinations.


Another hot spot of corruption is State-owned enterprises (SOEs). The forms of corruption in SOEs include embezzling the money of the enterprises, making use of the opportunities of enterprise restructuring to buy out the enterprises at undervalued prices, or capitalizing on the power in exchange for bribes.


SOEs' corruption is not very surprising, since enterprises are profit-seeking entities and always partake in money-related affairs. Recently many senior executives of several large SOEs were charged with corruption. The reason why senior executives fall prey to corruption is that the administrative structure of many SOEs is, like a pyramid, highly centralized. On the one hand, the head of a firm usually has unchecked and unchallenged decision-making powers. On the other hand, employees of SOEs are often personally bonded with the enterprises and consequently dare not report the corruption.


The corrupt senior executives of the SOEs usually are well paid, but they still indulge in corruption. It reminds us that high salary alone cannot fundamentally curb corruption, because greed is infinite.


Another feather of SOE corruption is collective corruption by the whole management. Since an operation of an enterprise must go through many segments, such as procurement, production, accounting, sales, and so forth, the corruption usually requires the cooperation of many managers or even the entire management. In some cases, the corrupted managers plot together and cover each other.


Corruption is rife in the real estate market, too. The huge profits there give rise to abundant opportunities for rent seeking. Many cases in recent years have revealed that corruption is widespread. Many real estate developers bribe officials in charge of land approval in exchange for the right of land use.


How can we prevent corruption in real estate market? Gaomi county, Shandong province has set a brilliant example. A council made up of representatives of residents has been in charge of determining the use of downtown land. The council has decided to convert a large area in the city center into greens. Tens of gardens were constructed and every citizen could enjoy the green scenery of the pretty town.


How to generally curb corruption is a thorny issue. Corruption happens when the public power goes astray - from serving public interest to angling for the officials' self-interest. Since what leads to corruption is a set of elements, it cannot be prevented and contained by a single method.


There have been four anti-corruption models in the world. In history, authorities adopted draconian laws and stiff penalties to intimidate corrupt officials, or used moral education in the hope that the officials would remain upright and clean. These two models, however, were not very effective and have become obsolete.


The third way is using high salary to encourage officials to be clean. It supposes that a high salary would make civil servants cherish their posts and not commit corruption. But it has two major flaws in China. First, it is only applicable in an affluent society, and China is still a developing country. Second, higher salaries mean more power to the executive branch and its officials.


The most suitable way for China to curb corruption may be bolstering rule of law. The model requires an anti-corruption law and an independent anti-corruption agency. There should be regulations about gifts to officials, the side jobs taken up by officials, property declarations and so forth. China does not have an anti-corruption law yet. Now there are many laws and regulations related to anti-corruption, but they are cumbersome and some clauses even contradict each other. Hence, it is high time we had a comprehensive anti-corruption law.


As early as 1995, a stipulation was made requiring officials to declare their incomes. However, this stipulation has not been seriously implemented, and concealment and falsification are rampant, because there is no investigation on the authenticity of the declarations. Some officials dare not declare their property status because they have too much off-the-record or even illegal incomes.


Though not fully implemented, the stipulation could serve as a starting point. We could investigate the properties declared in the last five years, and punish, or even dismiss officials who have concealed or falsified declarations.


The author is a professor at the Party School of the Central Committee of Communist Party of China.









We know that the human race has created some serious problems. Instead of creating technology that makes their life simpler, the human mind has instead impoverished the wisdom of our existence on earth.


Globally speaking, we know that the sky above us is no longer bright because of air pollution made in this century. We know that millions of people have died because of war, also in this century. We also know that hundreds of species have been wiped and that we are disrupting the balanced ecosystem because of deforestation or our lust for the rarest of the rare.


Looking at things locally, Indonesia has been facing serious problems: corruption is the root of the suffering of millions of people, while terrorism oppresses and spreads fear and instability.


What is wrong with humanity? The above mentioned cases show that the human mind, collectively, has lost its spiritual side. In the age when materialism is impossible for us to deny, humans have forgotten the wisdom of their own existence. I am not saying that we all have to go back to religious conservatism, but I am suggesting that we have to reflect on ourselves.


The upcoming month of Ramadan offers a good chance for us to collectively refine our spirituality. This is the month where Muslims all over the world observe daily fasting — the absence of food and drink from sunrise to sunset. It is also the holy month when the prophet received the first verses of the Koran. But, pertaining to humanity’s problems, what makes it so good?


As a spiritual practice, fasting has been employed by many religious groups for millennia. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians, and Mongolians believed that fasting was a healthy ritual that detoxified the body and purified the mind. In the modern era, three of the world’s major religions advise fasting at certain times: Jews fast during Yom Kippur, Christians during Lent and Muslims during the festival of Ramadan.


The common belief is that fasting is a way to communicate with the Divine Being through the purification of the body and mind. The other major religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, also highly recommend this practice.


In addition, the Natives Americans of Mexico and the Incas of Peru also observed fasting as a form of penance. Thus, throughout history, fasting has been observed as a way to purify the mind with a spiritual or religious intention.


These historical records imply an abstract idea, that fasting is a form of purifying the mind. This is difficult to discuss scientifically.  In science, the mind itself is an abstract idea that is yet to be fully understood and the word “purification” has so many ambiguities. But I am suggesting that the purification of the mind here means reflection on ourselves.


During Ramadan, the 12 hour absence of food and drink causes the body’s digestive system to rest. Of course this is good since the metabolism will be efficient, including in the mind. I have not found any scientific proof that explains whether the efficiency of the metabolism affects our ability to reflect and contemplate, but our efforts to resist temptation when fasting is enough to refine our mind.


Concentrating – preventing yourself from eating, drinking, smoking, etc – trains your mind to manage your primitive behaviour. Fasting in Ramadan sets aside the animal side of us (eating, drinking, sexual intercourse) and gives us wider space for our mind to perform its uniquely human feature: reflective thinking; something no other species can do.


During Ramadan we are supposed to reflect on our humanity. Eating less, resting our digestive system and concentrating on spiritual practices creates good conditions for our mind think reflectively.


But now, in Indonesia, Ramadan has become the month of consumerism and greed. Shopping malls offer big sales, TV channels broadcast their so-called “Islamic soap operas” (sinetron Islami), mothers cook larger amounts of food. Ramadan has turned into the month of celebration.


Indeed, we have to get back, reduce our greediness and refine our spirituality – just like prophet Muhammad did.

The author is a freelance science writer







Indonesia’s first direct presidential election in 2004 won plaudits from all sides, including the international community. Sadly, this has not been the case with the 2009 election.


The Constitutional Court has said that the General Elections Commission (KPU) has been less than professional, as reflected in a series of election problems, from the April 2007 gubernatorial elections in East Java through to July’s presidential election.


Unlike the 2004 KPU, the current commission has come under fire from various parties for its poor handling of the elections. There have been calls to bring the seven KPU members, whose term will end in 2013, to step down and stand trial.


Unless we change the commission’s personnel, who might be honest, but lack competence, no guarantees can be made for the 2014 presidential election. The law stipulates that members of the KPU can be terminated if they are found to be incompetent.


Among this year’s problems was the incessant controversy over the electoral role, something that took an 11th hour intervention by the Constitutional Court to resolve. The court’s decision to allow unregistered voters to cast a ballot using their identity cards made the KPU look like a battered boxer, saved by the bell.


The validity of the electoral roll has been the center of dispute between the commission and former presidential candidates – former president Megawati Soekarnoputri and incumbent Vice President Jusuf Kalla – both before and after the election.


The problems stem from the commission’s poor planning, administering and monitoring of voter registration for the July 8 polls.


Both Megawati and Kalla’s campaign teams have claimed to have found millions of irregularities with the electoral roll in more than 100 regencies, including the multiple registrations of a single person, the registration of dead people and the registration of children. In an absurdly preposterous move, the commission vowed to rectify these irregularities in one day – the day before the election.


No wonder the two losing candidates refused to acknowledge the results of the election when the commission announced on July 25 that incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono would have a second term.


Another problem relates to the legality of the updates made to the electoral roll. The Elections Supervisory Body once accused the commission of lying to the public when it said it had received a legally binding, official recommendation from the body to update the electoral roll. The body said it only done so on three occasions, and this wasn’t one of them.


The Constitutional Court resolved there problems when, on Aug. 12, it issued a verdict in support of the KPU’s decision that SBY won the election.


As people breathe a sigh of relief, the two loosing presidential candidates deserve high praise for pursuing legal avenues to channel their dissatisfaction over the election, as well as for accepting the Court’s decision. Now that the election problems are behind us, the door is open to legally change the personnel in charge of running the next show.


One way to do it is to change Law No. 22/2007 on Elections, as proposed by legal experts. This can be done by the new government and the new House of Representatives, which will be installed in October.




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