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Saturday, August 22, 2009

EDITORIAL 22.08.09

August 22, 2009

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Month August 22, Edition 000278, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

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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.








Scientists have discovered a critical component of all living things, the amino acid glycine, hiding in comet fragments from far, far away.

NASA says that this discovery aids the hypothesis that some of the ingredients necessary for life originated not right here on Earth, but in distant galaxies, and took the meteorite route to this planet. If this means we're all aliens, that sure explains a lot of things which would otherwise have remained shrouded in mystery.

It's not just a question of the mysterious and therefore inexplicable allure of the Teletubbies, or why we flock to see Steven Spielberg or Rakesh Roshan films to do with visitors from outer space. In October last year a question of great national import was posed and answered in the Rajya Sabha.

Did the Indian government have any information about a UFO strike on a Romanian jet plane? And how was it going to contain this grave existential threat? Minister of state in the PMO at that time, Prithviraj Chavan, decried any knowledge of the existence of UFOs. But the truth, as we all know, is out there.

If further proof were to be found that indeed ETs 'r' us, there could be imponderable consequences on Indian politics. Raj Thackeray, for example, may find it difficult to reconcile his belief in the supremacy of Marathi manoos with the knowledge that they hail from a planet some light years out of Mumbai.

The thousands of UFOs 'spotted' by believers in any given year many claim even to get abducted by them ^ would not seem so strange when one considers our species' intergalactic origins. What we think of as 'abductions' could just be reunions with long-lost extraterrestrial brethren.

The new perspective provided by the discovery that life may have originated elsewhere makes sense of a lot of our literature and films as well. We may need to revisit Men In Black as a prophetic tale about the future.

Then there's the literature which says that the gods of ancient and modern religion were super-advanced aliens who came to Earth and built giant pyramids, scratched incomprehensible symbols in South American fields and made huge sculptures on out-of-the-way islands.

And because such activities mean nothing without an audience to confound, one of their side projects may have involved mucking about with simian DNA to create, well, us.

Not least of all, never let it be said that Indian politicians aren't truly avant-garde or that they do not plan for the future. As the question-and-answer session involving Chavan shows, their concern for the public surpasses the earthly and material.







The recession has, thank God, stopped all of us crowing about how India is rising and shining. Giving us time to reflect on it in terms of our personal value systems and not "irrational exuberance".


But did the 'boom' pull everybody's quality of life up? Without doubt, agriculture only 20 per cent of our GDP but supporting 60 per cent of our population grew at a healthy clip.


The NREGS benefited 44 million families. The debt write-off made the lives of 43 million farmers a little easier. But travelling extensively around India, one cannot say that life for the poor and even lower middle classes has changed substantially over the past decade.

The tide is coming in and, if we grab the opportunity, every single one of us 1.1 billion Indians can rise. If this tide is not harnessed, it will result in social and economic conflicts leaving India worse off than before. The India growth story is on razor's edge in almost all dimensions.

India's young have driven the growth story. Our educated, English-speaking youth have made India the world's back office. But the back office business can absorb only a fraction of our almost limitless supply of the young which will continue to increase well into this century's third decade.


India must ensure all its young have a shot at getting educated well. The Right to Education Bill has been passed and i will be rooting for it to achieve its objectives. To paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, we cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.

India must ensure its educated young have more avenues of productive growth than just the IT-BPO industries. More sectors need to take off. The central challenge is in promoting originality and innovation. India cannot emulate its way to success.


We cannot do a US or a Japan. The US's population density is 30 times lower than India's. The US had to do a lot less with a lot more resources. But India has time on its side. We can find sustainable growth models that harness modern technology provided we learn from others' mistakes and innovate.

India has no dearth of grassroots innovation yielding world class results in diverse fields. Consider the story of Ram Charan. He grew up in a small town in UP.


In his early years he worked in his family's modest shoe shop. As he saw his father juggle the shop's finances to meet the income rhythms of mostly rural customers, he learnt the importance of carefully managed cash flow.


Today he is a world-renowned consultant to global companies. In the recession his practice, unlike that of some consulting giants, is unaffected as he helps clients through turbulent times, adapting the lessons he learnt in his father's little shop.

Consider India's private health care sector. Doctors have fearlessly rejected new technologies like surgical robots and keyhole surgery kits despite these being popular in the West as fanciful and not cost-effective.

Instead they innovate, making breakthroughs like 'beating heart' surgery which causes less pain, does not require general anesthesia, has the patient faster on his feet and costs less! 'Beating heart' surgery has medical tourists from across the world flocking to Bangalore.

Paul Yock, head of Stanford University's bio-design laboratory which develops medical devices, thinks that amid growing concerns about runaway health spending, the global industry can find inspiration in India on how to serve need without being blind to cost.

The Indian as an individual has in every field across the world, including business, demonstrated innovation and originality. But as a society and as communities, India is among the world's least innovative.


In every social sector public education, public health, public infrastructure, public morality India is abysmally below world class standards, ranking below 100 in the comity of nations.

India has always been a land of contrast. But this contrasts between the achievement of individuals and businesses and the continuing rot of India as a society can destroy us all. India must and will find a solution. Indian society needs a new kind of leadership.


While the most visible component of a society's leadership is the people in the corridors of power, an equally if not more important component is at the grassroots: the village sarpanch, the wise teacher whose counsel many seek, the respected NGO worker, the journalist respected for his perspective and his integrity, the spiritual or religious leader who is his community's rallying point.

This ecosystem of leadership needs to shift from perpetuating the status quo to being a catalyst of change. To me, the greatest sign of hope is that this is beginning to happen.


The general election results were a symptom of this tectonic shift. More important, the most potent political force to emerge from the election is a quiet young man who continues to concentrate on building a new apparatus of leadership at the grassroots. With creative leadership, India will become innovative at the societal level.


Combine this with the innovative abilities of individuals and business and India could reach a strategic inflection point that finally puts it on a path that lifts millions to a life without lack.

The writer is chairperson, India Japan Initiative.







Twenty-one years after Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed in a midair bombing, killing all 259 people on board and 11 people in Lockerbie, Scotland, who died because of the falling debris fresh controversy has dredged up the tragedy.

The only person to be convicted in the bombing, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi of Libya, has been released on compassionate grounds after serving eight years of a life sentence dating from 2001.

The decision by Scottish authorities taken in light of the fact that Megrahi was found to be suffering from terminal prostate cancer last year and now has been given about three months to live has predictably caused a furore on both sides of the Atlantic. Statements from the White House as well as many of the families of the victims have condemned it.

While the condemnation, particularly from those who lost family members, is understandable, the decision is a difficult but correct one.

Al-Megrahi may have been convicted but there were question marks aplenty hanging over the trial. His guilt was proved by evidence that was acknowledged to be circumstantial.

And prosecutors did not tell the defence that the witness whose identification of al-Megrahi was the lynchpin of the case had seen his photo in a magazine before picking him up from a line-up.

Public opinion in Britain, unlike in the US, has reflected the ambiguities of the trial. Many of the victims' families have stated that they consider al-Megrahi innocent. A Scottish court went as far as to say in 2007 that al-Megrahi may have suffered a miscarriage of justice.

A potential perversion of justice weighs more heavily in the scales than the need to have a convicted man serve out the last day of his sentence.

And if the other eventuality that al-Megrahi is guilty as charged is true, that does not change the situation. Justice is not the same as revenge or retribution.

He is now serving a harsher sentence than the one the courts had pronounced. A last twist of the knife, to ensure that he dies behind bars, would be a petty act, lacking in the mercy and compassion that must leaven every truly complete imagining of the concept of justice.







The Chinese have spoken out what we always knew but refused to acknowledge, caught as we were in the jargon of Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai and, of late, the rising India-China trade relations.


They want to encircle India from all sides, fan sub-nationalism in India and break up the Republic. Assamese, Tamils and Nagas along with Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan and the "decadent " Hindu religion will all  be used to decimate India or rather dismember the great Indian federation. An article espousing such a strategy has appeared on a quasi-official Chinese website. So it cannot be taken lightly. China is not India, where democracy in expression of opinion prevails. On a quasi-official site, it is an opinion that has possibly some sort of official sanction.


The Indian government has rightly taken exception to the article, which incidentally has appeared just a few days ahead of our 62nd Independence Day. Whereas the Indian government and you and me have the right to fume at this open Chinese desire to break India, isn't it a fact that we are all party to this "weakening" of India. Sixty-two years after our "tryst with destiny" are we really Indians, or do we think ourselves as Bengalis, Punjabis, Tamils, Malayalis, Gujaratis and Marathis?


Is our Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh identity more important to us than our Indian tag ? This is a point worth pondering over. Most of us, when asked the question, will say that our Indian identity is more important to us. But in reality our Indian identity becomes the most important identity when we are travelling abroad or watching a cricket match. In our own country we think nothing of denigrating other communities and generally looking down on them. This may not be the attitude of each and every one of us, but generally it is true. Worse still, most of us have made no effort to understand the sociology and culture of Indians living in other parts and their problems and would prefer to fly off abroad for a holiday rather than visiting other states.  


Sixty-two years later not only have we failed to consolidate our Indian identity, but have regressed the other way. So in large parts of India, not to talk of being Indians, we are not even Marathis, Biharis, Tamils or Telugus. We are Rajputs, Reddys, Patels, Kshatriyas, Jats, Kurmis, Vaniyars, Dalits and what have you. This is the reason why the Chinese talk about balkanisation of India:  they realise that if the Indians are moving in the opposite direction, instead of consolidating their Indian identity then it would not be too difficult to break them? Are they wrong in thinking so? 


The Chinese may take delight in the dismemberment of India but we must also look inwards to figure out why we are unable to consolidate our Indianness and our position as a nation. A hundred and fifty-two years ago in 1857, the British were able to crush the Indian revolt because Indians did not think of themselves as Indians then — there were Sikhs, Biharis, Rajputs and Marathas. The British were able to play one community against the other and take the support of some of them to crush the others.


In 1993, RDX smuggled in through the sea route with the connivance of customs officials was used to bomb Mumbai and kill over 300 people. A senior customs official who allowed the consignment in said he did not know what the consignment contained. He just took a bribe and allowed the consignment in, and this is what he did for all consignments. Fifteen years later on 26/11, terrorists from Pakistan launched a deadly attack on the same city. They came by the sea route and one can be perfectly sure about this that they had local logistical support. So things have not really changed. Why blame the Chinese then for harbouring ambitions of dismembering India? Two hundred and fifty-two years ago in 1757 that is precisely the way Robert Clive was able to plant the English flag in India after the battle of Plassey. He bribed a general of the Nawab of Bengal, who stood inert with his troops as Clive's men cut down to size the other part of Nawab's team.  


If our "tryst with destiny" has not resulted in consolidating our Indianness in 62 years, neither will it by taking pledges on August 15, which we do every year. But it is time to ponder and seriously think how to consolidate the concept of India, Indianness and Indian nationalism. It is not too late still. But time is running out with the enemy lurking around. And his ambitions are not hidden any more. What are your ideas, fellow Indians? 









it is only half-seriously said that a successful election in Afghanistan is one where more people vote than die trying. The very act of holding a presidential election in the midst of a full-fledged war and one of the world’s highest concentrations of militants is, to an extent, a success on its own.


However, the credibility of the democratic process and the character of the government that it throws up is absolutely crucial to the success of the present multinational struggle to bring stability and representative government to Afghanistan.


While the process will probably survive the accusations of corruption, it is far less certain that the next government in Afghanistan will show the nation-building qualities that the country so desperately needs.


There are few countries that have a greater stake in Afghanistan being ruled by a government that genuinely reflects Afghan interests than India. Whenever Afghanistan has not had such a regime, whether because of Soviet occupation or Taliban rule, the results have been disastrous for India. The Soviet defeat inspired Pakistan to foment secessionism in India and the Taliban provided the men, money and camps to prolong the violence in Kashmir through the late 1980s and early 1990s.


No one is certain what would happen if the so-called neo-Taliban were to seize power in Kabul again, but it will almost certainly not result in policies favourable to India’s security. About the only difference today, from what existed before 2001, is that it isn’t even clear whether such a regime would be in Pakistan’s interest.


While Indians are fond of criticising the US blunders in Afghanistan, the truth is that whatever government exists there today will survive only so long as US men and matériel continue. This is one reason India has committed its largest overseas aid programme to Afghanistan and the country is home to the largest overseas deployment of Indian troops anywhere.


Nonetheless, so long as India has no active military presence in Afghanistan, it has minimal influence over the course of developments there. So, India provides assistance, applauds any forward developments and urges Western soldiers on — but little else. New Delhi is understandably reluctant but, given the stakes, there is a strong case for saying that we need to become more active in one of the few countries in the neighbourhood which harbours so much goodwill for us.













Like many families in North India, dining table conversation in my house frequently veers around to the subject of Partition. My grandfather — a prominent Congressman and freedom fighter who went to jail during those years of struggle — was from Sialkot, now in Pakistan. I grew up on heart-wrenching stories of how he and his children somehow scrambled to the safety of Delhi, leaving behind all their material belongings and the security of a palatial house that I would later be lucky enough to re-visit in my college years.


The anecdotes that formed my childhood years were not academic; they were personal histories with all their rawness and pain. And yet, despite the sense of anger and loss, the Partition story was always painted for me in complex shades of grey: M A Jinnah’s strategic use of religion for political mobilisation; Jawaharlal Nehru’s adamant insistence on the Constituent Assembly having the final word; Mahatma Gandhi’s reluctant endorsement in the face of the possible Balkanisation of India and, of course, the role of the British who initially proposed a ten-year reprieve and then arranged a surgical division.


Despite coming from a family that was directly impacted by the cataclysmic division of India, I never had the sense that the “blame” for Partition could be parked at a single door. Political faultlines had clearly shifted enough to provoke an inevitable earthquake.


So, to me the most bewildering aspect of the controversy around Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah is the anti-intellectual need to reduce history to the good guys versus the bad. Yes, we may rightfully reject and abhor the division of people based on religion, and whether Jinnah was a practicing Muslim or not his political philosophy undoubtedly stood for that. But, if re-visiting history must be accompanied by circumscribed boundaries of inherited wisdom, then what is the purpose of scholarship?


Jaswant Singh’s book may or may not be historically accurate. And there is also something very peculiar about why Jinnah remains the magnificent obsession of a party that was only born after Partition and the freedom struggle — or maybe that’s exactly why. Perhaps the BJP resents the fact that modern Indian history effectively ends up being the history of the Indian National Congress. That could explain the strange need for the party to claim the legacy of Sardar Patel — a devout Congressman — as its own.

But, by expelling Jaswant Singh for his book on Pakistan’s creator, the BJP has lost the last trait that it claims differentiates it from the Congress — inner party democracy. For a party that made its revolt against Indira Gandhi’s Emergency years the showpiece of its political beliefs, the irony today is lost on no one. True, you won’t see the Congress leading the protests against the ban on Jaswant Singh’s book in Gujarat. On the contrary, you would have probably seen the Congress demanding it, had Narendra Modi not beaten them to the finishing line first. But that’s not the point. The BJP must ask itself who or what it is trying to be in the India of 2009. Party leaders say the message is clear; anyone who goes against the ‘core ideology’ of the BJP will now get the sack. Fair enough. But, what is this ‘core ideology’?


If Varun Gandhi had not erupted and polarised the Muslim vote, the BJP was actually trying to fight the 2009 elections on issues of development, governance and internal security. You hardly heard about “Hindutva”, for example, in any of the campaigns. It’s true that after the poll defeat, Jaswant Singh, along with Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, made up a trio of public dissidents. But if the BJP was punishing dissidents, why didn’t it sack Jaswant Singh when he demanded to know what the “meaning of the word Hindutva is”, or when he pointed out that it was much too recent an entry in the BJP’s own lexicon? Why sack him for Jinnah and Patel and people of the past, instead of throwing him out for openly disagreeing with a contemporary political belief?


The BJP today has two problems. It is ideologically adrift and it doesn’t have a leader who can steer it towards clarity or consensus. When it tries to be different from the centrist politics of the Congress, it finds itself trapped by demons of the past. When it tries to be a more modern variation of itself, the party finds that it probably sounds too much like everyone else.


In the end, apart from looking intellectually intolerant, booting out Jaswant Singh hasn’t achieved much. It may have terminated Singh’s political career, but it won’t kickstart the flagging spirit of the BJP.


Jaswant Singh is right to recall his own support for L K Advani in 2005 when the Jinnah jinx claimed Advani’s own post as party president. Why has Advani — among the more cerebral and inquiring men in his party — been silent through this whole controversy? Doesn’t he remember his own bewilderment at the ferocity of opposition to the remarks he made in Pakistan? During the elections, Advani once told me that in the face of controversy he often retreated into his own private and silent shell. I think he has been quiet for far too long.


Frankly, the BJP needs a new-age Atal Behari Vajpayee —  a man or woman who can speak in the syntax of contemporary India and engage with what voters care about today.


Jinnah, frankly, is beside the point. Nor is Jaswant Singh a cause célèbre. The tragedy of the Shimla ‘chintan baithak’ is that the party saved its alacrity of response for an issue that is entirely irrelevant. History may be complex, but the future is bleak. The BJP needs to see that before it loses the present as well.
















The Bharatiya Janata Party’s chintan baithak did not get off to the start its well-wishers would have liked. This is putting it mildly. Instead of figuring out how to fight a political battle against the Congress, the BJP decided instead to spend all its resources decisively defeating Mohammed Ali Jinnah. In the process, it has lost the chance to script the Shimla meeting as being that of a resurgent party determined to do justice to the role given to it by India’s voters as the major party of opposition. But it can certainly try to not score any further self-goals. Just managing to provide the appearance of attempting to focus on the reason they’re all actually there — to ensure the party doesn’t repeat its mistakes of the past few years — would be good enough.


Thus looking at the errors of the campaign just concluded is not, in itself, a bad idea. But there’s a very real danger that collating mistakes made can turn into an extended session of finger-pointing. Accountability is an excellent thing, and our political parties should practise more of it. But a party conference that has begun with an expulsion the pointlessness of which is exceeded only by its spectacular gracelessness might do well to try and avoid any more vicious fraternal violence.


The BJP needs to look forward. Paralysing itself with accusation and counter-accusation or by wallowing in trivialities might — no, will certainly! — be fatal. This point has been made by every single observer, by all who wish it well, by many who don’t care for it but are concerned for the future of India’s democracy. The BJP needs to dust itself off, and get cracking on real policy discussions, and on the big-picture question of its ideological orientation. Its top-rung leadership needs to realise that, like America’s founders, they “must hang together, or they shall most assuredly hang separately.” What must stop: jostling for power as your party implodes around you, as your appalled workers watch on the sidelines, as your constituents wonder gloomily if their votes were wasted. The BJP has 119 seats in the Lok Sabha. The people of those constituencies voted for a coherent national party, not a quarrelsome rump. If the BJP fails them, it will look back on this performance as the last gasp of its golden age.









A Karnataka high court judge’s public disagreement with the Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan over making judicial assets public only shows how widespread is concern within and without the judiciary. The controversy has its origin in a 1997 Supreme Court resolution that all judges would declare their assets to the chief justice. A recent Right to Information application that sought those details was opposed on the grounds that the 1997 resolution was non-binding. In the public and parliamentary furore that followed, the government attempted to pass legislation on the issue. But the introduction of the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill was stalled in Rajya Sabha by MPs for its provision that the details would not be made public.


That judges be judged by the same standards as other public figures seems obvious enough. MPs, after all, have every detail of their properties scrutinised in public forums. Their argument against judges being held to a different standard is understandable. In fact, former Chief Justice J.S. Verma has asked the current CJI to publicise his (Justice Verma’s) own assets on the court website, in the hope that “most of the judges in the high courts and Supreme Court would act likewise and bring quietus to this unsavoury controversy.” He fears that the independence of the judiciary will be compromised by asking for a law instead of the judiciary self-correcting itself. The former chief justice’s statement that “most of us prefer voluntary correct behaviour instead of outside imposition” indicates a way of rescuing the issue from becoming a tussle between the judiciary and the legislature.


Judges of India’s higher judiciary are protected like few others. They self-select their own, and impeaching a judge is so difficult that in Independent India’s history not one has been sacked. They also enjoy phenomenal credibility. It is therefore all the more important that they be seen to conform to the strictest standards of transparency. The standard which is currently being asked of them is not exactly extraordinary; it is merely what is asked of other public figures.








Usain Bolt bites off such obscene chunks from sprint records that it is easy to forget that this Age of Bolt could actually be a truly golden age for sport. In the world championships in Berlin on Thursday night, Bolt came to the 200m final confessing that he was tired, as he could be after earlier snipping by 0.11 seconds the record he set at the Beijing Olympics a year ago. So, he was expected to win, but not shatter his earlier best, the 19.30 seconds he ran in Beijing to shatter Michael Johnson’s longstanding record of 19.32 seconds. But, that 0.11 shift is Bolt’s calling card this season, and he actually ran 19.19 seconds. You have to hope that Bolt continues to test negative, because what he is doing is asking athletics’ noblest question: can one really set limits to human endeavour?


Bolt, of course, is being asked a more specific question. Can he find it in his almost casual openness to challenge to run yet another distance, the 400m for instance? The question is valuable for more than the spectacle it could offer. Because, as in the case of Michael Phelps, Bolt’s feats are susceptible to churlish dismissals, that they are aided by technological improvements in competing venues and in apparel. Phelps, prone to reflective consideration of his accomplishments in contrast to Bolt’s energetic flamboyance, clinched his case at Beijing by packing in racing schedule that would defy most serious swimmers’ and taking seven of his record haul of eight gold with world records — and then by continuing to set new records this year. Bolt, with his repeat of his Beijing one-two step world record gold, has similarly shown that it is unwise to assert limits to human capacity.


Phelps and Bolt are in their early 20s, possibly still short of their prime. So if you have wagered that their new records will stay a-while, be very scared.








Amid all the noise made over Jaswant Singh’s book and his expulsion one statement stands out. It came from Arun Jaitley, the first to be fielded to defend the expulsion. One of the more serious charges against Jaswant Singh, he said, was that he went against the “national consensus” on Sardar Patel. Now, can there ever be a national consensus on a figure, an aspect, or any chapter of history? You can have national consensus on a policy, an idea for the future, on high principles of nation-building, constitutionalism and so on. But a consensus on history? If history were to be assessed and analysed through national consensus we would make a very poor democracy. It is regimes like Kim Il-Sung’s that believe in the idea of official history, officially mandated views on society, politics and philosophy. The sad truth, however, is that at least in this one area we in India are not much better than the more classic authoritarian societies. Except that instead of one personality cult, we have many, reflecting our diversity. But in essence it amounts to the same closing of the Indian mind when it comes to our past.


The BJP in 2009 mandates that you cannot hold a view on Jinnah and Patel that is at variance with its own “corporate” view. The Shiv Sena would ban anything that does not look like a hagiography entirely adhering to its own version of the “national consensus” on Shivaji. Any deviation, in fact, even before a ban, may expose you to vandalism and arson. In Bengal you would still risk your neck if you used an expression like “late” Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The study of Sikh history brings its own challenge since it is so integral to the evolution of the faith. Nobody can say one critical thing even about Mahatma Gandhi and go unpunished. Arun Shourie had muck thrown at him (literally) for questioning Ambedkar. Nikki Bedi may have gone too far in the expression she used on her show on Star more than a decade ago, but did it really justify the filing of criminal cases against Rupert Murdoch?


Now, that is an interesting example. Check the track record of the top 50 democracies around the world. How many of these in the past would have done such a thing (or are likely to in the future). You can say what you want about the Queen or her ancestors in Britain, you can say whatever about George Washington and John F. Kennedy, de Gaulle or Churchill. But how come the great Indian intellectual machine has not been able to produce a single book, if not raising questions, at least generating an honest debate over Gandhi? Which Indian commentator even today would have the courage to argue that many of Gandhi’s policies were perhaps not good for India as it became independent, and are totally irrelevant? Every year on Gandhi Jayanti we pay tributes to him and then do exactly the opposite of all he stood for, for the rest of the year. But even a few unflattering references, or maybe just rumoured to be unflattering like those in the Lapierre-Collins’ Freedom at Midnight, or Stanley Wolpert’s Nine Hours to Rama, and we go radioactive.


That is the reason why the poorest entry on our CV as a great democracy of 62 years is in contemporary history writing. The Nehru-Gandhi family has led us for most of these years, directly or indirectly, and yet there isn’t a single book on one of the greatest democratic dynasties of all times that would do justice to them, our intellect, or to the great Indian tradition of debate. Richard Attenborough said, famously, that when he first talked of making the film Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru implored him to tell an honest, fair story, “warts and all”. But can anybody, an academic, a journalist or even a filmmaker (forget a “Jaswant Singh” from the Congress) write a genuine biography of Nehru, Indira or Rajiv “warts and all”? The Congress is understandably thrilled at the BJP shooting itself in the foot. But what does it say for the ruling party’s own intellect or liberalism when its own Gujarat unit has supported the ban? In fact we Indians are most undeserving inheritors of the liberal Gandhi-Nehru tradition as we ban more books, plays and art exhibitions than any other real democracy. Nobody is innocent here, nobody holier than thou and so nobody has any right to lecture others, whether BJP, Congress or the Left. Amartya Sen, in fact, flatters us by making us famous around the world as argumentative Indians.


History is just its starkest example of this total politicisation of our study of the liberal arts. It is because our politics has been so rooted in the bitter past (although now there is a chance that we may be moving from that politics of grievance to a politics of aspiration) that history has become our most contentious social science and professional historians our most ideologically polarised academics. There is a Congress version of history set against a saffron version, with a distinct Left stream. But because we have been mostly ruled by a “pinko” Congress we have been indoctrinated with a Leftist Congress view of history. Anything else, as the BJP now describes Jaswant’s views on Patel, is sacrilege. What kind of history can you write, what kind of debate can you have on these brilliantly fascinating figures from your history if you start out by either deifying or demonising them? That is why any worthwhile writing or debate on contemporary Indian history usually takes place overseas. Most of the good research is done by foreigners, or Indians safely based at foreign institutions.


Our study of the liberal arts, overall, has got trapped in a vicious cycle. Because we do not tolerate healthy, robust, open debate, we do not produce better scholarship. Because we do not produce better scholarship, we cannot have better debate. Despite such a disastrous mess in our higher education, we have institutions providing degrees in engineering, management and medicine that will be respected around the world. But for a great liberal arts degree you must go to Harvard, Columbia, Wisconsin, Berkeley, Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, SOAS. This remarkable intolerance of debate and illiberalism has kept our study of the liberal arts and social sciences in the stone age, greatly undermining our strength as a democracy and creating shortages in intellectual capital that may not be so evident at once, but are fatal. If we fret over the fact that we produce too few engineers and doctors, think about what a shortage we are creating of historians, sociologists, philosophers, even, and perhaps most striking of all, economists? Can any democracy survive without them?









Since March 2004, when the India-ASEAN trade negotiation committee was formed, there have been many meetings to thrash out various contentious issues: rules of origin, operational certification procedure, rate of reduction of import tariff on various products, most important being agricultural products. Finally, a free-trade agreement on goods has been announced, coming into force from January 1, 2010. ASEAN has already inked such deals with China, Japan, Australia-New Zealand and South Korea.


India and ASEAN have negotiated a timeframe up to 2019 for reduction of tariff on so-called highly sensitive items: palm oil, pepper, coffee and black tea. Tariff rates on “sensitive track” goods will be reduced gradually, up to 2016 for five major trading partners within ASEAN; others are to be reduced and finally eliminated by 2013. Some countries in ASEAN — Cambodia, Myanmar and so on — will get more time (three to five years more) to reduce tariffs. An exclusion list with items where India may not want to reduce tariffs will be reviewed every year.


I have carried out a study of exports to ASEAN countries. The most crucial point is that unlike most other trading blocs, the overall trade of India with ASEAN nations has not been “trade-diverting”. Trade diversion is a well-known tendency, in which trade is diverted to the FTA bloc at the expense of non-FTA countries — which means that overall welfare in the world economy goes down, and every country is harmed, in the long run. This does not appear to be a fear with ASEAN, which is in keeping with the spirit of the WTO, and might well strengthen multilateralism further.


It is worth noting that ASEAN’s own member states’ trade with the rest of the world has doubled over 1993 to 2000. Thus the increase in trade between India and ASEAN should be looked at from the point of view of expanding multilateralism, which is the real, ultimate goal of the world economy — if we want to achieve the optimum level of economic welfare.


Amongst ASEAN countries, from 1992 onwards, the reduction and elimination of tariffs spurred greater production efficiency and long-term competitiveness vis-à-vis the rest of the world. At the same time, intra-ASEAN trade increased from US $44.2 billion to US $95.2 billion in 2000 — an annual average increase of 11.6 per cent. Export growth is even more impressive: 29.6 per cent till 1997. (The economic and financial crisis that engulfed some of these countries thereafter only temporarily slowed expansion.)


These are genuinely impressive figures. They should give us an inkling of the potential this FTA has — if the various involved parties, including the government, take due care and calibrate their responses to the challenges that lie ahead. In particular, preparatory work on internal reforms in areas that will face external pressure should be started right away.


In addition, the government will have a political challenge to deal with, one which has already started brewing in our midst. When dealing with those who worry about being losers from this FTA, it is wise to remember that calibrated uncertainties are extremely useful — if taken proper advantage of.


One sector that will particularly benefit in terms of increased trade is engineering and industrial goods. That will mean India has a unique opportunity to upgrade its products to compete with those from Japan, the EU, America and China in the ASEAN market. This agreement will also enable the strengthening of India’s economy in various aspects of trade in goods. ASEAN’s trade with Japan, China and the EU is almost three to four times its trade with India. This will push us to take one more step towards playing in that league. The agreement should also enhance India’s economic competitiveness vis-à-vis its competitors.


But the challenges definitely have to be faced squarely. First among those is providing all necessary and reasonable support to various stakeholders affected by the trade agreement — especially those in unorganised sectors like agriculture. Their production efficiency should be helped to be aligned to those of the ASEAN countries. Productivity is the key; and according to this author, self-governed bodies of farmers, ably supported by specialised government/ outside-government organisations are most capable of tackling this problem in a sustainable and fruitful way.


The writer is a fellow of ICRIER in New Delhi








It is a matter of utmost paradox that the chief justice of the most powerful Supreme Court in the world should be expressing apprehension for the safety and security of the judges of the superior courts in this country by saying that revealing the particulars of assets of the judges and throwing open the information to the public domain may result in harassment to judges and in turn prevent the judges from performing their duties without fear or favour. He has also expressed his fear that this may impair the independence of judges and affect their functioning.


It is equally ironic that the apprehension should have been expressed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court of India, that too in an interview given to a news daily and as the chief justice of the apex court of the country and in the context of the applicability or otherwise of the provisions of the Right to Information Act (RTI Act), a piece of legislation which was commended for legislation by the very Supreme Court in terms of its judgment in Peoples Union for Civil Liberties vs Union of India (AIR 2002 SC 2112J). This judgment upholds the high moral principle that the rule of law should operate uniformly; that the Constitution is above every one; that rights of citizens guaranteed under Article 19(i)(a) of the Constitution of India, i.e., right of expression, should outweigh the personal difficulties and hardships that can be pleaded by persons occupying high positions and serving as public servants. It must be remembered that the Supreme Court had emphatically ruled that no immunity can be claimed by any person, including one holding a constitutional position on the ground of any possible exposure to harassment and consequential difficulties if the particulars of the assets held by persons in such high public positions are revealed and made public. As is well known, the Right to Information Act was enacted with the object to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens by ensuring access to information on any given issue.


The extent of applicability of the provisions of the RTI Act and persons or officers brought within the scope of the provisions of this Act naturally can be a matter for judicial determination. It is possible to have a divergence of opinions concerning the interpretation of the meaning and extent of applicability of the relevant provisions of the RTI Act.


The object of this article is to dispel the most damaging and uncalled for impression created in the minds of the public at large and litigants in particular, that the judges of the superior courts in this country, who enjoy high constitutional protection and immunity, are wary of disclosing their assets or are not prepared to throw open the information relating to the acquisition and holding of their assets to the public domain; that they would rather prefer to keep the information well-guarded and also cover up a possible misdeed or a possible improper acquisition of assets and would like to avoid either scrutiny or an explanation, if one was needed in respect of their asset holdings.


But such an impression has been created by a writ petition filed before the Delhi High Court on behalf of the Supreme Court of India, orders on which are pending. The petition questions the legality of an order passed by the central information commissioner, the purport of which is that the registrar general of the Supreme Court is required to furnish certain information sought for by someone who is entitled to do so. The information sought for is about the assets held by judges of the Supreme Court and high courts.

Meanwhile, the Chief Justice of India has articulated an opinion that seems to have created some misgivings in the minds of the people. This was in an interview that he gave to some news dailies.

A further development is the failed attempt to introduce a Bill in Parliament for enacting a law making it obligatory for judges of the superior courts to disclose their assets through declarations filed before the chief justice of the high courts concerned. The judges of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice, would have been required to file such declarations before the President of India. What, however, created a storm was the provision in the Bill that information contained in the said declarations would remain confidential and not accessible to the public.


Not quite unexpectedly, the Bill has drawn flak and has become a subject for controversies. The Bill will naturally take its course in accordance with Parliamentary procedure and constitutional provisions. The immediate objective of this article is to dispel the impression created in the minds of the people about the conduct and behaviour of the judges of the superior courts of this country and to convey the message that whatever has been said and done in this regard latterly is not necessarily the way that all judges of the superior courts view this issue.


On the legal plane, the Chief Justice of India does not have the authority to speak for all other judges of the superior courts, whether of the Supreme Court or of high courts, unless any of them have either confided in the chief justice or have authorised him to speak on behalf of others also.



Judiciary is one among the three organs of the state as envisaged in the scheme of our Constitution and has a unique role to play in comparison to the executive and the legislature, which are the other two organs of the state. Under the scheme of our Constitution, the judiciary is assigned the role of acting as an arbiter of disputes not only in respect of the disputes arising between citizens and citizens and persons and persons, but also in respect of disputes arising between the state and the citizens. For this purpose, the judges of the superior courts have been conferred with the power and jurisdiction to review both the executive actions and the legislative actions of the state on the touchstone of the constitutional provisions and relevant statutory provisions.


The architects of our Constitution were conscious of the very significant and special role assigned to the judiciary in the scheme of the Constitution. It was envisaged as the organ for protecting the rights of the citizens, guaranteed under the Constitution. There was the recognition that judges, particularly the judges of the superior courts, who have the power of judicial review of administrative and legislative actions, should function without fear or favour and that the judiciary should remain totally independent and fully insulated from any external interference.


This has been ensured through appropriate constitutional protections, among which is a definite and assured tenure of office to every judge of the superior courts of this country. When once a judge assumes office, till he lays down the office on attaining the age of retirement as indicated in the Constitution itself, he/she is insulated from any outside interference in his/her duties. The tenure of office of a judge of the superior court can be put to a premature end only when he/she is impeached by a resolution of Parliament, supported by not less than two-thirds of the combined membership of the Parliament. Further, an impeachment requires that the motion for impeachment be based on proved misconduct on the part of the judge concerned.


How foolproof and effective the protection is can be gauged from the fact that not a single judge of the superior court has been impeached so far in the past 59 years of the working of the Constitution and in fact a motion of this nature was moved in Parliament only once in the isolated case of Justice V. Ramaswamy, which also failed for want of requisite majority support. It is beside the point whether this failure was because of some political considerations?


The founding fathers of our Constitution have provided such a foolproof protection and security to a judge and to the tenure of office occupied by judges only to ensure that the judges of this country not only act in absolute independence, in the sense that they are not in any way troubled or pressurised by the possibility of their losing the office or post, but also to ensure that they always act without any fear or favour. In fact, every judge of the superior courts, before assuming office, subscribes to an oath either in the name of god or on solemn affirmation, as envisaged under the Constitution, which is as under:


I, AB, having been appointed chief justice (or a judge) of the Supreme Court/high court at...., do swear in the name of god/solemnly affirm that, I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India, that I will duly and faithfully and to the best of my ability, knowledge and judgment perform the duties of my office without fear or favour, affection or ill-will and that I will uphold the Constitution and the laws.


There cannot be any better protection to a judge than the one given by the Constitution. There is no question of any person either improving upon the protection or in any way detracting from such protection, whether by any executive action or even by legislative measures, unless the relevant provisions of the Constitution itself are amended. Such an impregnable protection and assured term of office is a mark of the faith and confidence reposed in the judges by the Constitution. It is thus incumbent on them to function with ability, competence, impartiality and fearlessness.


The institution of the court is sustained by the faith and confidence reposed in it by the people, especially by the litigant public. The judicial wing of the state thus cannot fail the people in this regard. It is with this faith and confidence that litigants approach the court for any relief. It is obvious, therefore, that when once that trust and confidence is eroded, there are no seekers of justice or persons coming for relief before the courts of law and there cannot be any further justification for the existence of courts.


In the scheme of our Constitution, courts are here to stay and judiciary has a unique and specified role to play. There is no question of the state being envisaged without the judicial wing. It is a well thought out scheme and design that there should be checks and balances on the functioning of all wings of the state. Ensuring that the executive and the legislative wings of the state not only adhere to the assigned roles but also do not transgress or exceed the constitutional limitations, is the responsibility of the judicial wing of the state.


Effective and purposeful functioning of the judiciary for achieving this object should be ensured at all times. It is for the judiciary to inspire at all times the confidence of the litigant public through its own conduct. There cannot be any discordant note on this. There can never be an impression conveyed or created in the minds of the people that judges of this country are in any way either wanting in this task or are afraid in any manner in performing their duties and functions.



In this background, on the issue of the judges of the superior courts disclosing their assets or making it known to the public at large or as the phrase goes throwing it into public domain, it is clear that there need be no hesitation or reluctance on the part of the judges either to disclose their assets or to make available the information to the public at large.


In fact, it is a misnomer to think that the judges of the superior courts are not ready to disclose their assets. The judges of the high courts are appointed after being drawn from the Bar or on promotion from the subordinate judiciary in the ratio of 2:1 which means that for every promotee judge, there will be two judges appointed directly from the Bar. Judges promoted from the subordinate judiciary happen to be occupants of the post of district judge and every district judge is required to declare his/her assets every year, as part of the conditions of service. The judges drawn from the Bar and appointed to the high courts would all have disclosed their income for the previous five years. This is an essential requirement.


The particulars of assets of all appointees from the Bar would thus be available for anyone to see. Moreover, the norms and guidelines conventionally followed while elevating persons from the Bar to the Bench demand that the appointee be an assessee, under the Income Tax Act with a certain assured level of income. All the information about the assets of both the promotees and the fresh appointees is thus already in public domain till they assume office as judges of superior courts. Why should, therefore, there be any reluctance or hesitation or even an objection on the part of any judge to disclose particulars of the assets acquired by him/her after assuming the office of judge, as thereafter the only income of the judge is salary, unless the judge has any other source of income even after the assumption of office as judge.

In a situation of this nature, if any impression is created that the judges of the superior courts are reluctant to disclose the particulars of their assets, it undoubtedly creates an impression in the minds of the general public and the litigant public that the judge so reluctant to disclose the particulars has something to cover up or hide. An impression of this nature is most damaging to the image of the judiciary and the institution of courts and even to the individual judges.


It is high time that any such impression is immediately removed. It is a truism to say that a majority of the judges of the superior courts are definitely not reluctant or unwilling to disclose the particulars of their assets. In fact, most of them, it may be safely assumed, are even willing to declare it voluntarily without there being any element of compulsion and some have even already disclosed the particulars of their assets.


In the light of this, it is fair to say that the views expressed by the Chief Justice of India are not necessarily representative of the views of all the judges of the superior courts of this country. In fact, the Supreme Court of our country has no supervisory power or control over the high courts in the scheme of our Constitution. High courts are independent and function in accordance with the constitutional provisions and in terms of the applicable statutory provisions. The Supreme Court only exercises appellate jurisdiction over the high courts in specified areas as provided for under the Constitution and the laws. The law declared by the Supreme Court is binding on all the courts — it is a constitutional mandate in terms of Article 141 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has also the most exclusive power in passing such decrees and making such orders as are necessary for doing complete justice between litigants in any cause or matter before it and it is to be enforced throughout the territory of India in the manner prescribed by law. Other than such a constitutional provision and subject to these very constitutional provisions, the high courts function independently.


Every judge of the superior courts of this country functions independently and has every right and duty to express his/her opinion without fear or favour. Even while functioning on the judicial side, a judge may dissent from a majority opinion and express his/her dissenting opinion. It is only afortiori so in non-judicial matters.


Hitherto, it is only the opinion of the Chief Justice of India that is expressed in public and the Chief Justice of India is the person, who has been reacting to the doubts and queries of the people as articulated in different sections of the media. No one else from the judiciary has expressed any opinion to the contrary and silence in such a situation obviously amounts to consent or agreement! And yet, the fact of the matter is that judges of the superior courts of this country are not reluctant and hesitant to declare their assets. On the other hand, a majority of them must be ready and willing to do so. There should be no question of any judge either hiding or taking shelter under any non-disclosure provision or under a provision to ensure confidentiality or secrecy of the information. The protection provided to the judges of the superior courts under the Constitution itself is good enough and sufficient to ensure the independence of the judiciary and fearless functioning of the judges. There is absolutely no question of any other person or any other organ creating a sense of apprehension, fear or possible harassment in the minds of the judges by use or misuse of any information that one may come across or might fall into the hands of the litigant public of this country.


There is no dichotomy between the public and private life for a judge. The conduct of a judge should be impeccable, should be one of inspiring confidence of the litigant public and people of this country, be it in the course of his/her judicial functioning or outside the court. Every judge of the superior court is also a public servant and accountable to the citizens of this country like any other public servant.


There is an inalienable relationship between efficacy and openness. Efficacy of our courts is due to the open conduct of court proceedings. Judges function in open courts and the proceedings of a court can be watched by any member of the public and is open to scrutiny. Transparency is the hallmark of our judicial system. That is partly the reason why the efficacy of courts is generally accepted. In such a system, there can never be any reluctance or hesitation on the part of the judges to disclose their asset particulars. There should not be. Transparency in judicial functioning necessarily implies transparency in the matter of acquisition of assets by the judges as much as in the functioning of a judge inside the court. Such transparency is expected from all other public servants holding high public office in the other two organs of the state, namely, the executive and the legislature. When such is the case, members of the judiciary cannot plead immunity or claim exception from being accountable to the people. On the other hand, it is imperative that the judiciary should conduct itself in such a manner that judicial functioning becomes more transparent and more accountable, without which people may not indefinitely continue to retain the faith, trust and confidence that they repose in the courts and judges of our country.



There have been a few unpalatable incidents in the context of some sitting and past judges, the allegation being that they had indulged in some questionable transactions. It is in the wake of this that a suitable legislation was contemplated to plug the loopholes, if any. Certain of these alleged demeanours received copious attention in the media. Reportedly, such rather unsavoury episodes seem to be on the increase. As a consequence, a suitable response from the appropriate organ of the state was only to be expected. It has come in the form of some measures contained in the Bill, which failed to get tabled in Parliament because of some lacunae pointed out by the members.


That being so, there is absolutely no question of one organ or wing of the state trying to interfere with the functioning of the other organ or wing of the state except to the extent of its own assigned role under the Constitution. There is no gainsaying the fact that it is the duty of the legislature to legislate and usher in laws to meet the requirements of a changing society from time to time. The hopes and aspirations of the people are never static, by reason of which the legislature needs to be dynamic if it is not to become anachronistic. That does not mean that the legislature enjoys the prerogative to ignore the stipulations of the Constitution. Likewise, it is the constitutional duty of the judiciary to judicially review the legislative action and statutory provisions strictly by the touchstone provided in the Constitution. The validity or otherwise of the legislative provision is thus established through a constitutional process and not simply arbitrarily as anyone can see. It needs to be again emphasised that each organ of the state is duty bound to perform its assigned role according to prescribed norms, which means that there is no trade-off or exchange of their respective roles.

It is also very necessary for the high constitutional functionaries to bear in mind that they should not conduct or act in a manner which can in any way disable them from performing their duties and functions assigned to them. At any rate, so far as the judges are concerned, a judge cannot and should not by his/her conduct and expressions outside the court disable himself/herself from his/her duty to be performed as a judge inside the court.


An article of this nature, which is otherwise not common or usual for a judge to pen, has become necessary only to convey to the people of this country that the impression created as of now is not necessarily the correct impression; that the judges of the superior courts of this country do not necessarily subscribe to the views and apprehensions expressed hitherto; that they have views and opinions otherwise than what has been conveyed to the public at large so far. The judges have nothing to fear; they have nothing to hide and they have no hesitation to disclose particulars of their assets and even for throwing open the information to the public domain. In fact, it is for the judges of this country to act and provide information even voluntarily. Indeed, I humbly appeal to all my brother and sister judges of the superior courts to do so. No inhibition need deter us from this path.


The writer is a Karnataka High Court Judge














The BJP is threatening to exhaust the commentator’s collection of adjectives. Take, at random, the letter ‘d’: defeated, debilitated, divided, delusional—all and more apply to the BJP. Two consecutive general election losses are not rare in democracies. Labour was out of power for three terms in Britain, and now Tories have been out of power for three terms. But out-of-power Labour and Tories did some things the BJP seems incapable of: they got new, smarter, younger leaders and they got new, smarter, hipper messages. The BJP should be thinking of the next elections and telling themselves that the Congress has a young leader in reserve who has displayed quite a bit of smartness and who seems serious about party organisation. How do we take him on should be the BJP’s preoccupation. Instead, old leaders in the BJP have been obsessing over a long-dead foreign politician. Describing Jinnah thus may raise objections from those who agree that the BJP is in a mess but also argue that we should engage with revisionist subcontinental history. But the point is that the BJP doesn’t have the luxury of agitating over Jinnah. The past is, of course, interesting and must always be subjected to fresh assessments. But it’s the present and the future that must agitate the BJP.


What is the BJP looking at? A country where a large majority of voters are young, where performance or the credible promise of performance is becoming the key benchmark for voters and where modern political communication is becoming important. This means pragmatic politics will do better than what goes in the name of ideological politics. The BJP learned pragmatism when in government but forgot all about it when in the opposition. The Congress learnt pragmatism when in the opposition and improved upon it when it was back in government. This is the key difference between the two parties. The key difference between Sonia Gandhi and LK Advani. The nuclear deal is a done deal now but recall how Mrs Gandhi backed her party’s prime minister when he cut a deal with a party she had frozen out for years. That’s good, pragmatic politics. Can you recall a single example from the BJP’s politics over the last six years? The most recent example of politics of the opposite kind was BJP leaders saying there’s nothing odd with Advani continuing as leader of opposition for this term of the Lok Sabha. So, if the BJP does pick a youngish leader as party president who isn’t fatally politically wounded in the process of getting picked—this is a huge if—he or she will have to either contend with Advani’s large shadow or be content to be in that large shadow. Neither promises much by way of radical revitalisation.






The reopening of the Panna diamond mines in Madhya Pradesh on Friday is a great boost to the moribund diamond mining business in India. Ironically, for a country which produced more diamonds than South Africa two hundred years ago—and some famous ones including the Kohinoor—panna will be the sole functioning diamond mine in the country. The sector has been the subject of much neglect, and little has been done to attract private investment, domestic or foreign. Panna is operated by the Navratna PSU, National Mining Development Corporation (NMDC), which curiously reports to the steel ministry rather than the ministry of mines. That in itself is a strange institutional set up, given that all policy decisions on mining are taken by the ministry of mining, but the monopoly state mining company is located elsewhere. But then India’s mining policy hasn’t had much coherence or vision. One of the reasons for the incoherence is the perpetual dispute between the Centre and state governments on the tricky issues of rights and royalty. In addition, there are local political pressures which prevent mines from being given out to private or foreign players. Digvijay Singh’s attempt to allow South African diamond giant De Beers to explore mines in Madhya Pradesh in the 1990s fell foul of political opposition both within and outside his party and government. Since then there has been little foreign investor interest in diamond mining in India.


The other problem from mining in general, which has also affected diamond mining, is the issue of environmental clearances. Panna was closed down in 2001 because of an environmental dispute with the nearby wildlife sanctuary. Finally, Supreme Court intervention, which involved monetary compensation to the affected party, has allowed the mine to be reopened. Interestingly, even while the mining sector in diamond has been moribund, India has a dominant share of the market in polishing and cutting of diamonds: 7 in 10 diamonds worldwide are cut and polished in Surat and neighbouring areas in Gujarat. But almost all the rough diamonds worth an estimated $20 billion per annum are imported. The country would get better value if it also mined its potentially significant resources of diamonds in a rational and efficient manner. Panna by itself has a capacity of 84,000 carats per year.So it’s a good sign that NMDC has been allowed to restart operations there. However, resting on that single laurel is simply not enough. The ministry of mines must, with the assistance of state governments, become more proactive in allowing private and foreign investors to explore our resources for diamonds. We have everything to gain.









The global financial crisis began two years counting from the first liquidity crisis in Europe and the US on August 9, 2007. Over these two years, we have found that many of the conclusions that we came to in the early days of the crisis were simply wrong.


In 2007, we thought that the problem was about subprime mortgages, that it was about securitisation and that it was about CDOs (collateralised debt obligations). Now we know that these initial hasty judgments were mistaken. Defaults are rising in prime mortgages, huge losses are showing up in unsecuritised loans, and several banks have needed a bailout.


In 2007, when the first problems emerged in CDOs, people thought that these relatively recent innovations were the cause of the problem. Pretty soon, we realised that a CDO is simply a bank that is small enough to fail and conversely that a bank is only a CDO that is too big to fail.


Both banks and CDOs are pools of assets financed by liabilities with various levels of seniority and subordination. As the assets suffer losses, the equity and junior debt get wiped out first, and ultimately (absent a bailout) even the senior tranches would be affected. In retrospect, both banks and CDOs had too thin layers of equity.


Over the last two years, our understanding of securitisation has also changed significantly. As global banks released their results for the last quarter, it became clear that bank losses are now coming not from securitised assets but from unsecuritised loans or whole loans.


The Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) set up by the US Congress to “review the current state of financial markets and the regulatory system” published its latest report a few days ago. The report focuses entirely on whole loans and paints a very scary picture. Losses on troubled whole loans in the US banking system are estimated to be between $627 billion and $766 billion.


The COP report also states that “recent reports and statistics published by the FDIC indicate that overall loan quality at American banks is the worst in at least a quarter century, and the quality of loans is deteriorating at the fastest pace ever. The percentage of loans at least 90 days overdue, or on which the bank has ceased accruing interest or has written off, is also at its highest level since 1984, when the FDIC first began collecting such statistics.”


It is becoming clear that what the US is witnessing is an old-fashioned banking crisis in which loans go bad and therefore banks become insolvent and need to be bailed out. The whole focus on securitisation was a red herring. The main reason why securitisation hogged the limelight in the early stages was because the stringent accounting requirements for securities made losses there visible early.


Potential losses on loans could be hidden and ignored for several quarters until they actually began to default. Losses on securities had to be recognised the moment the market started thinking that they may default sometime in the future. Securitised assets were thus the canary in the mine that warned us of problems lying ahead.


Until recently, it could be argued that securitised loans were of lower quality than whole loans and that at least to this extent securitisation had made things worse. But this statement is true only for residential mortgages and not for commercial mortgages, where the position is the reverse. Securitised commercial mortgages (CMBS) are of higher quality than whole loans.


The COP report states: “While CMBS problems are undoubtedly a concern, the Panel finds even more noteworthy the rising problems with whole commercial real estate loans held on bank balance sheets. These bank loans tend to offer a riskier profile as compared to CMBS, suggesting high term default rates while the economy remains weak.”


Two years into the crisis, therefore, we find that the initial knee-jerk reaction against securitisation was a big mistake.


Securitisation doubtless redistributed losses throughout the world so that losses from the US real estate emerged in unexpected places—German public sector banks, for example. But securitisation was not responsible for most of the losses themselves.


We must also remember the US home owner gets a bargain that is available to few home owners elsewhere in the world—a 30-year fixed rate home loan that can be repaid (and refinanced) at any time without a prepayment penalty. This is possible mainly through securitisation and deep derivative markets that allow lenders to manage the interest rate risks.


In India by contrast, the home owner gets a much worse deal: most home loans are of shorter maturity (20 years or less) and are usually either floating rate or only partially fixed rate. The few ‘pure fixed rate’ loans involve stiff prepayment penalties when they are refinanced. It would be sad if we keep things that way because of an irrational fear of securitisation.


The author is a professor of finance at IIM Ahmedabad, working mainly in the field of financial markets and their regulation








Another one bites the dust. The Reader’s Digest company is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. But, unlike say historic retailer Woolworth’s in the UK, which went down in this economic crisis after 100 years in business, the magazine looks like it will live on to tell more tales.


At the height of the credit bubble, Ripplewood Holdings got hold of the company, in $2.8 billion of a leveraged buyout. Now, media and entertainment companies are leading debt defaulters. We can say, in retrospect, this acquisition wasn’t too brilliant given that the Digest has been posting declines since 1999. Ok, but the magazine still had global circulation of 18 million, impressive by any measure. Via direct selling, its brand name and subscriber base promised bigger markets for everything from vitamins to books. In fact, the flagship Digest contributes only 16% of the company’s total revenue. Some company properties like are doing very well. It had 9 million unique visitors this June, up 46% from the same month in 2008. Many Digest editions, including those in India and the UK, claim healthy balance sheets.


So, what’s the problem? First, circulation has been taking a hit. In the UK, where the Digest used to be the bestselling magazine hawking around 2 million copies in the 1990s, it’s down to around 5,00,000. Second, the campaign to increase advertising has come at the worst of times. Third, fans are as loyal as they come, but they are ageing. One disrespectful blogger says, the Digest contains “the first practical application of nanotechnology—no matter where you put the magazine, tiny mites embedded in the cover would pick it up and move it to the top of the toilet tank”. If the brand is ageing alongside its faithful subscribers, then that’s going to impact the rest of the company portfolio. What’s good news for these subscribers is that a financial restructuring of the company is in place now, such that its debt load will be reduced 75% in exchange for lenders getting ownership. Ripplewood Holdings’ 2007 investment will be wiped out, but on the flip side Indian subscribers will comfortably keep getting their Digest in the mail every month.


Back in 1954, when the Digest’s Indian edition was launched, that was apparently at PM Jawaharlal Nehru’s special behest. Generally, foreign magazines were persona non grata in newly independent India, but an exception was made for the Digest. Around the time, the PM’s sister, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, then High Commissioner for India in the UK, even wrote for the Digest’s US edition. The piece was positioned in the most digesty of fashion: Best advice I ever had. None other than the Mahatma himself had helped her through the anguished period following her husband’s death, helping her get over the anger against relatives who wouldn’t share family property with a widow and her children. What was the advice? Avoid bitterness; no one can harm you but yourself.


Perhaps that’s the most colourless of lessons. And perhaps that’s the secret of the Digest’s long reign across continents, across 50 countries. The colour that endures across time and geographies is what it calls the colour of the heart, family and community—or, paradoxically, what the Digest’s founder DeWitt Wallace called good American values. Along with wife Lila Bell, he devised the so-called magic formula: simplify and condense, raise a chuckle and a cheer. Did that equal insipid homilies to some? Of course. Do they endure? Of course. For fans of “How to lose 10 pounds for good,” it might be interesting to know that titles like “How to regulate your weight” were common in even the 1930s. Yes, the Digest was first published in 1922, in the US.


With World War II, it became officially associated with US propaganda. Apparently, it was very much at the behest of the Office of War Information that its first foreign editions were launched, including an Arab one early in 1943. Later, it kept on the right side of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Pioneering advertising guru David Ogilvy gave it the thumbs up for doing much to “win the battle for men’s minds” on behalf of America. The Digest triumphed even in France, where that other ageing American stalwart Archie Andrews could never give Asterix and Tintin a real run for their money.


Back to India’s first family, we are told Indira Gandhi spent some part of her last day reading the Digest jokes with Pupul Jayakar. Many won’t peruse these jokes even when they pick them off, as the blogger said, the toilet tank. What’s certain is that for those of us who grew up without the Internet, cable TV or just TV, the Digest was an affordable window into a varied universe. We are happy that the Digest looks like it will come out on the right side of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.







Everyone seems agreed that not only is the proposed new Direct Taxes Code very smart in terms of coming to terms with complex business practices, but also good in terms of the simple matter of how much you and I will pay as taxes. But are the proposed changes in personal tax slabs that good? Or can they be reconsidered?


The re-jig of the tax slabs in the Code puts a person with an annual income of Rs 1,60,001, the annual income at which income tax rates start applying, and one earning Rs 10 lakh, the end point of the first tax slab, in the same tax bracket of 10%. This means, a person earning Rs 13,300 per month and one earning Rs 83,300 every month face the same tax rate.


In the current scenario, people earning between Rs 1,60,001 and Rs 3 lakh annually attract a 10% income tax on their income; those earning between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 5 lakh pay 20% income tax and those with annual earnings of over Rs 5 lakh pay 30% of it as income tax.


The Central Board of Direct Taxes is clear in its philosophy—lower tax rates promotes voluntary compliance and discourages evasion. With the bulk of income tax evasion committed by people earning Rs 4 lakh or more annually, the department feels that it makes sense to charm them into the tax net with a 10% rate.


But consider this: Official data reveals that of the 3.31 crore non corporate tax assessees in 2007-08, only 0.66% or 2.18 lakh people earned over Rs 10 lakh annually. The bulk or 86.81% of the tax assessees earned less than Rs 2 lakh every year while 12.5% earned between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 10 lakh every year. This data should give pause to the Code’s re-jig.


This is not all. The Code also plans to scrap deductions on housing loans and tax withdrawals from popular saving instruments like the Public Provident Fund—moves that will further impact this vast majority of taxpayers.


Fortunately, these are just proposals. The draft Code is open for suggestions from the public for the next three months and if it is tabled in Parliament in the Winter Session, it can be debated and scrutinised for one and a half years. Hopefully that will be enough time to think on some of these issues.








No matter who the opposition is, there is always space for it. Although the boycott by Tamil Nadu’s principal opposition party — the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam — made the by-election outcome in five Assembly constituencies a foregone conclusion, some of the vacated opposition space was taken up by the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam led by actor Vijayakanth. The DMDK candidates, including the independent, who was supported by the party, won 22 per cent of the total votes polled across the five constituencies. This is an increase of more than 13 percentage points over what the party bagged in the 2006 general election. While the DMDK will quite likely lose these votes to the AIADMK in a three-cornered fight, the by-elections have shown that the party is a serious player and perhaps even a game-changer. The ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam won three of the constituencies and its ally, the Congress, the remaining two. But from the start, the interest in these by-elections was not about who would win, but about what proportion of the vote the runner-up would get. While it has cause to cheer, there is little doubt that the DMDK gained more from the weaknesses of the ruling party than from its own strengths. While the DMK and the Congress can draw comfort from the verdict, there are some hard lessons for the AIADMK and its principal allies. Despite the boycott, 67 per cent of the voters turned up to vote. Quite clearly, the people did not think that boycott was a way of redressing the grievances against the Election Commission: the failure to check “abuse of power” by the ruling party and the use of Electronic Voting Machines that are allegedly not tamper-proof.


In Karnataka, which also saw by-elections to five Assembly constituencies, the contests were close. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal(Secular) won two seats each, and the Congress one. For the BJP, the seats lost were more important than the seats won. In Govindarajanagar and Channapatna the by-elections were caused by ‘Operation Kamala,’ which involved getting opposition MLAs to resign and then contest on the BJP ticket. And in both these constituencies, the party candidates lost. ‘Operation Kamala’ succeeded in the initial phase, when the BJP was short of a majority of its own and had to depend on the support of independents. However, continued efforts at engineering defections and fielding defectors in the same constituencies have evidently not gone down well with the people. Now that he enjoys a comfortable majority, Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa must concentrate on the tasks of development and governance.







It is a shocking reflection on the flaws in our criminal justice system that less than one out of three people lodged in Indian jails is a convict. The vast majority of the prison population, as many as about 2.5 lakhs or 70 per cent, is made up of undertrials awaiting justice. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices, many of them have been in jail “for periods longer than they would have served had they been sentenc ed.” The Law Commission of India’s 78th report on the “Congestion of undertrial prisoners in jail,” submitted in 1979, also has a topical feel about it. The situation today is not unlike what it was then — people languish in jail for the want of resources to seek bail, for the lack of proper legal aid, and the hopelessly sluggish pace at which the judicial system moves. Coupled with this is the presence of a police force that seems less interested in securing convictions than in making summary arrests, effectively using custody as a form of preventive detention. If the problem of undertrials has proved so intractable, it is because it is a manifestation of fundamental and deep-rooted flaws in the criminal justice system.


The immediate task is to identify those who are eligible for bail and ensure their release. Under the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act 2005, those accused of offences for which the death penalty is not prescribed are entitled to be released if they have been in detention for more than half the stipulated period of imprisonment. Also, the majority of the undertrial population is behind bars for petty offences and, by the Centre’s admission, “is under lock up in the absence of trial.” Chief judicial magistrates have been asked by Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan to identify such cases and it is imperative that this exercise is carried out expeditiously so that these undertrials can be released on personal bonds. A more serious look at plea bargaining, introduced by the 2005 amendment for cases where the sentence is less than seven years, is called for. This could benefit many undertrials languishing in jails. However, such immediate measures can address only a part of the problem. The fact that there is such a vast population of undertrials is closely linked to a larger issue — that of the lethargic pace of the criminal justice system, reflected in the world’s biggest backlog of pending cases. Dr. Manmohan Singh hit the nail on the head when he urged that “the expeditious elimination of this scourge…should constitute the highest priority for all of us.”











The caste system, with its societal stratification and social restrictions, continues to have a major impact on the country. The system, generally identified with Hinduism, is also prevalent among Christians, Sikhs and Muslims. While some barriers are broken in urban settings, many continue to persist in rural India. While the secular, socialistic and democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution demand equality of outcomes, the inherent caste-related inequality cont inues to dominate reality in Indian society. Much of the debate has focussed on reservation in educational institutions and employment, and rarely highlights the inequalities in health.


Social constructs: Many studies have documented that the caste system is a social construct in the absence of any real genetic differences among castes. Caste, in many ways, is similar to race, which is also a social concept without genetic basis. Nevertheless, these social constructs seem to have a stranglehold on human thought, perpetuating prejudice and propagating unjust societal structures.


Health indicators: Data from the National Family Health Survey-III (2005-06) clearly highlight the caste differentials in relation to health status. The survey documents low levels of contraceptive use among the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes compared to forward castes. Reduced access to maternal and child health care is evident with reduced levels of antenatal care, institutional deliveries and complete vaccination coverage among the lower castes. Stunting, wasting, underweight and anaemia in children and anaemia in adults are higher among the lower castes. Similarly, neonatal, postnatal, infant, child and under-five statistics clearly show a higher mortality among the SCs and the STs. Problems in accessing health care were higher among the lower castes. The National Family Health Survey-II (1998-99) documented a similar picture of lower accessibility and poorer health statistics among the lower castes.


The poor, a majority from the lower castes, migrate to different parts of the country in search of work. Their migrant status means they lose many benefits generally offered to the poorer sections as their below poverty line and ration cards are not valid across State borders. The migrants find it difficult to register with the National Tuberculosis Programme at their place of work, resulting in out-of-pocket expenditure for treatment, discontinuation of medication when symptoms improve, relapse of the disease, medication resistance and premature death. Illness and its treatment usually wipe out all savings and are a common reason for indebtedness. Migrants are often considered vectors of communicable diseases and are not engaged by the public health system as they drive down indicators of health. The complete absence of schooling for their children implies a continuation of the cycle of poverty. Their inability to register with local electoral bodies means they fall off the radar of politicians and political parties.


Victims of communal violence: Dalits continue to face social discrimination and exclusion and are targets of communal violence. Assault, rape and murder of Dalits by the ‘upper’ castes are common and yet, frequently these crimes are not investigated and punished by the authorities, despite laws and protection provided by the Indian state. The Khairlanji massacre and the delay in its investigation come to mind. While many legal statutes exist, their implementation leaves much to be desired.


Health and human rights: There is an inextricable link between health and human rights. The violations of human rights (for example, violence) can have serious health consequences. The vulnerability to ill-health is reduced by taking steps to protect such rights (for example, freedom from discrimination and rights to health, education and housing). The World Health Organisation has strongly argued for a human rights-based approach to health to overcome the persistence of discrimination and human rights abuses.


Social determinants of health: It is widely recognised that the determinants of health are social and economic rather than purely medical. The poor health of people from the lower castes, their social exclusion and the steep social gradient are due to the unequal distribution of power, income, goods and services. Caste is inextricably linked to and is a proxy for socio-economic status in India. The restricted access of those from the lower castes to clean water, sanitation, nutrition, housing, education, health care and employment is due to a toxic combination of poor social policies and programmes, unfair economic arrangement and bad politics.


The structural determinants of daily life contribute to the social determinants of health and fuel the inequities in health between caste groups. Viewing health in general as an individual or medical issue, reducing population health to a biomedical perspective and suggesting individual medical interventions reflect a poor understanding of issues. Social interventions should form the core of all health and prevention programmes as individual medical interventions have little impact on population indices, which require population interventions.

Barriers to scaling up intervention: The major barrier to mainstreaming health care and to scaling up effective interventions is caste inequality based on socio-cultural issues. The systematic discrimination of lower castes based on culture, tradition and religion needs to be tackled if interventions have to work. Although the short time-lag between the (absence of) medical intervention and the health outcomes stands out as causal, it is the longer latent period and the hazier but ubiquitous and dominant relationship between caste and culture which have major impacts on outcome. Failure to recognise this relationship and the refusal to tackle these issues result in poorer health standards of the SCs and the STs. Tradition and culture maintain their stranglehold on inequality. Poverty and social exclusion have a multiplicative effect on the social determinants of health with those at higher risk for diseases also having a higher probability of being excluded from health care services.


The way forward: The World Health Organisation and its Commission on Social Determinants of Health recommend three principles for action: improving the conditions of daily life; tackling the iniquitous distribution of power, money and resources; and raising public awareness of issues, measuring the problems and evaluating actions. Providing supplemental nutrition and psychosocial stimulation improves physical and mental growth in underprivileged and stunted children. The provision of primary and secondary education and accessible health care regardless of the ability to pay is cardinal to success. Managing urban development with the provision of affordable housing, clean water and sanitation in addition to addressing rural land tenure and livelihoods is mandatory. The provision of fair and continuous employment and a universal public distribution system are necessary. The establishment and strengthening of universal social protection schemes are called for.


Continuing the current affirmative action in education and employment is crucial. Strengthening the mid-day meal scheme, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the Right to Education Act, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Food Security Act and the National Rural Health Mission, all steps in the right direction, is essential. There is need to increase resource allocation for the social determinants of health and to reinforce the government’s primary responsibility in providing for basic needs. Gender equity and social and political inclusion of the poor and lower castes in policy and decision making are required. Critics argue that an exclusive focus on production and trade without a viable distributive policy on food and land will not make poverty history.


The limits of liberalism: The spirit of socialism enshrined in the Constitution per se has not and will not result in equality of social and health outcomes for all people. There is need to change social structures. The many small moments of justice cannot overcome the large contradictions in Indian society. Liberals, by definition, can identify the issues but do not actively seek fundamental shifts in political power or enthusiastically champion changes in social mores. They are also part of the tyrannical social order.


Caste plays out in India just as race plays out in the U.S. and the social class in Britain. Birth seems to determine health, education, employment, social and economic outcomes. Systemic injustice requires much more than a change of heart; it requires changes in social structures. Social injustice is killing people and mandates the ethical imperative of improving the social determinants of health.


(Professor K.S. Jacob is on the faculty of the Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu.)










The Bharatiya Janata Party’s justification for expelling Jaswant Singh is that his appreciation of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and alleged denigration of Sardar Patel constituted an attack on the party’s core beliefs, which it could not condone. Said Arun Jaitley: “No political party can allow any member, let alone a frontline leader, to write or express views against the core ideology of the party …Sardar Patel’s contribution to unifying India can be undermined by none.”


Mr. Jaitley and others in the BJP might want to read Shashi Tharoor’s 1997 book, India : From Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond. The book, which Mr. Tharoor updated in 2007, is sprinkled with critical references to the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty. Yet the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress offered Mr. Tharoor a Lok Sabha ticket in the 2009 general election. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government went a further step and invited him to join the External Affairs Ministry as a Minister of State.


The “party with a difference” has always prided itself on its inner-party democracy, never missing an opportunity to attack the “authoritarian and dynastic” Congress. Yet a Jaswant Singh-Shashi Tharoor comparison would show the Congress to be far more accommodating of internal criticism. If anything, Mr. Tharoor took greater liberties than Mr. Singh, venturing with gusto into areas that the BJP would surely regard as taboo.


Consider what Mr. Tharoor had to say about one of the Congress’ greatest icons — Indira Gandhi. “Had Indira’s Parsi husband been a toddywalla (liquor trader) rather than so conveniently a Gandhi, I sometime wonder, might India’s political history have been different?”


Further, “Mrs. Gandhi was skilled at the acquisition and maintenance of power, but hopeless at the wielding of it for larger purposes. She had no real vision or program beyond the expedient campaign slogans; “remove poverty” was a mantra without a method …. Declaring a state of Emergency, Indira arrested opponents, censored the press, and postponed elections. As a compliant Supreme Court overturned her conviction, she proclaimed a ‘20-point programme’ for the uplift of the common man (No one found it humorous enough to remark, as Clemenceau had done of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, that “even the good Lord only had ten.”) Its provisions … remained largely unimplemented. Meanwhile her thuggish younger son, Sanjay (1946-1980) emphasizing two of the 20 points, ordered brutally insensitive campaigns of slum demolitions and forced sterilizations.”


Mr. Tharoor did not spare Rajiv Gandhi either, though he acknowledged that the former Prime Minister’s first year was exhilarating for people like him “who were swept up in the unfamiliar excitement of having one of our own as Prime Minister”: Instead of the “visionless expediency that had been his mother’s only credo, Rajiv offered transparent sincerity and conviction.” But then, said Mr. Tharoor, “the rot set in …Compromise followed sellout as New Delhi returned to business as usual. Charges of corruption in a major howitzer contract with the Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors tarnished the mystique of the dynasty; little children sang, Galli-galli mein shor hai/Rajiv Gandhi chor hai: ‘Hear it said in every nook/Rajiv Gandhi is a crook.’…”

The current Minister of State also took gentle digs at Sonia Gandhi, pointing out that she went to Cambridge to study English, not political philosophy. Referring to Ms Gandhi’s “renunciation” and her nomination of Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister, he said, “A builder’s daughter from Turino, without a college degree, with no experience of Indian life beyond the rarefied realms of the Prime Minister’s residence, fiercely protective of her privacy, so reserved and unsmiling in public that she has been unkindly dubbed ‘the Turin Shroud’ leading a billion Indians at the head of the world’s most complex, rambunctious and violent democracy? This situation, improbable if weren’t true, is proof again of the enduring appeal of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.”


Mr. Tharoor had a reference to Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra too. Speculating on the reasons for Ms Sonia Gandhi taking charge of the Congress, he said: “And then there is, after all, in true dynastic tradition, the need to think of the aspirations of the next generation ... Their [Rahul and Priyanka] father’s seat must, observers suggest, be kept warm for one of them — and who better to nurse the Amethi constituency he so successfully nurtured than Sonia herself?”


The BJP had the Tharoor example before it. It could have taken Mr. Jaswant Singh’s book in its stride, and appeared large-hearted, as the Congress did with Mr. Tharoor. Instead, it chose to show its illiberal side.








The press item in The Hindu of August 14, 2009 entitled “No blanket EUMA with U.S. on cards” — which was supposed to have been said by the “Government during the recent Parliament Session” and of which South Block is the source, needs detailed commenting on.


It is interesting to note that this South Block statement or “leak” now states that: “India will opt for case-by-case EUMA with the U.S. rather than an overarching pact.” This shows that the huge amount of pressure mounted and serious concern expressed on the UPA government by parliamentarians, the media and the military and scientific leaderships has forced the government to change the nature and scope of the EUMA from “a generic formulation” to the existing case-by-case one.


Secondly, the Foreign Office has clarified that no Indo-U.S. Agreement on EUMA was signed during Hillary Clinton’s visit, but “only a formulation was agreed upon” as contrasted with the Prime Minister’s repeated statements in Parliament referring to “an Agreement” proposed to be signed by the two governments. As if that were not enough, the Foreign Office statement explicitly states that “no blanket agreement has been signed.”


Thirdly, the Foreign Office statement makes clear that : “the [Indo-U.S.] formulation [on EUM] requires that the “articles” viz. weapons, electronics or other military equipment would be made available by the GOI to the U.S. Government [USG] for ‘verification’ only after the two governments have mutually agreed on the date, place & time at which the USG would undertake such ‘verification.’”


It must be understood and appreciated that each of our three Defence Services — Army, Navy and Air Force — uses weapons, systems and equipment supplied or made here under transfer of the technology from a range of countries — Russia, Israel, France, Italy, South Africa, etc. This has given us the enormous advantage of “mixing matching and enhancing” our weapons performance. For example, we have installed Western Electronics on Russian Platforms and equipped our British Jaguar and French Mirage fighter bombers with the globally unique “Beyond Visual Range” Russian air-to-air missiles. Neither the Russians in the first case nor the U.K. or France in the second case have ever objected to our doing so, let alone demanded a EUMA.


The present U.S. EUMA “formulation” will not allow us to do likewise if we purchase an Inertial Navigation system or a radar from the U.S. and installed them on a Russian Mig 27 or a Mig 29 or a Sukhoi- 30 MKI — all of Russian origin. The U.S. argument will be that doing so will enable Russian aircraft designers and manufacturers to be able to examine, study and even copy the U.S.-origin equipment so that USG will either not agree to our importing them or impose such extraordinary restrictions that we will find we cannot accept them. Or at the very stage of our purchasing the U.S.-origin equipment, the USG will stipulate the only kind of end uses we can put the U.S. origin equipments to which restriction we can not accept. A major concern of ours is that invariably we may not want the U.S. to know on which of our military aircraft we intend to install the U.S.-origin equipment we are negotiating to buy. We want to keep that completely secret. What happens then?



Fourthly, even where the above complexities do not arise, we and the USG and our concerned Defence Service have to jointly agree on a verification/inspection procedure for the U.S.-origin equipment purchased/to be purchased by us. This can raise major problems, particularly when we have made modifications and more seriously improvements on the U.S.-origin equipment. We do not wish USG to know about such modifications and improvements for secrecy reasons vis-À-vis the USA and for reasons of the USG passing them on to Pakistan.


Finally, South Block’s claim like claims of many Defence Users that the EUM arrangements with the USG would (ipso facto) “enhance” our access to the “best” military technology and products is fundamentally fallacious. There are very few military technologies/products in which the U.S. is the “best” — better than even one of: Russia, France and other West European countries (e.g. Sweden or Italy), Israel or the U.K. As a scientist and engineer who has been involved quite deeply in our acquiring many “best” military technologies from the USA over the last 35 years, if secrecy considerations did not restrict me from writing about them, I could give chapter and verse to substantiate my statements/conclusions as in the case of the classified areas of our Atomic Energy and Space Programmes. We must get this fixation and mindset of “best” being identically equal to U.S.-origin out of our heads.

Doing so would be greatly facilitated if as a democracy MEA would make what it calls “the formulation on the EUMA” public.


(Ashok Parthasarathi was Science Adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.)







Spain’s magicians are up in arms over a television show hosted by a rebel prestidigitator who reveals many of the secrets behind their tricks.


The magicians have asked Spanish lawyers to come up with ways of challenging the Masked Magician and his programme Magic Without Secrets in court, claiming that their favourite tricks should be protected by intellectual property law s. “The secrets that magicians have been holding on to forever with the sole intention of entertaining their audiences are being exposed with the only aim of gaining a few points of audience rating,” complained one, Magicus.


Another angry magic fan has used his Facebook page to call on someone to kill the Masked Magician “for spoiling the illusion behind the tricks.” Attempts to stop the show have failed and lawyers say Spain’s magicians are unlikely to win their battle against the Masked Magician, who is an American. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009











It is not clear whether the ban on former BJP leader Jaswant Singh’s controversial new book on Muhammad Ali Jinnah by Narendra Modi’s Gujarat government is the result of the chief minister’s private initiative or flows from a nudge from on high in the BJP or the RSS. The former appears more likely as the volume has not yet been banned in other states that have BJP governments. It is quite possible then that the proscription reflects either a settling of personal scores or a bit of intra-BJP play that Mr Modi may be engaged in, given the current context of the fierce power struggle among the BJP’s top honchos and competition for a race to the top in its upper echelons. Whatever the Gujarat chief minister’s reasons for stopping the book’s sale and circulation in his state, the decision is deplorable.


Mr Modi cannot even flaunt the hoary excuse that the writing in question can potentially trigger public violence for supposedly insulting the late Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and thus pose a threat to law and order. Mahatma Gandhi is no less a son of Gujarat than the Sardar, and it is hard to recall the proscription in Gujarat of any anti-Gandhi writing or representation in art, and there are several. In some ways, banning a book is like prohibition — it only increases demand for the forbidden fruit. This is reportedly exactly what seems to have happened with the Jinnah book. In a real sense, a book ban never stops people from reading it. Therefore, the only plausible way to view one is as an uncivilised political gesture that belittles the authority that may have sanctioned it.


Mr Modi may have noticed that the critics of his action are not just the usual suspects — the liberal subversives, the so-called "pseudo-secular" elements among the intelligentsia who have for long been the favourite whipping boy of the Hindutva establishment, but also many among the BJP itself as well as the Communist Party of India, unlikely though the latter may sound as Communists have traditionally not been strong on freedom of expression. But the CPI statement suggests that they are keenly alive to the demands of our age. Bans, and intellectual and moral policing, were never a sustainable concept. In the present era, characterised by a communications explosion and the proliferation of democratic consciousness, they can only attract derision and instigate antagonism. Just in case the BJP hadn’t considered this, among the reasons for its resounding defeat in the recent Parliament election is its consistent association with assaults on expression — on the different interpretations of the Ramayan of diverse traditions, M.F. Husain’s paintings, an art student’s drawings, or girls going to a pub. The late Habib Tanvir’s iconic Hindi play Charandas Chor was recently banned by the BJP government in Chhattisgarh, and now we get the clamps on the book on Jinnah. The comeuppance of public ire usually does follow such occurrences, as the Congress and the CPI(M) may have learnt when they dealt with Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen by fiat. Not banning is not an unattainable ideal; especially nowadays it is a democratic requirement. Thought could not be imprisoned in Galileo’s day, it can’t be now, whatever the stylistic or historical demerits of Jaswant Singh’s book.









While the H1N1 virus outbreak and the impending drought have eased the pressure that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was facing in the aftermath of the India-Pakistan joint statement issued at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, there are developments on the Line of Control (LoC), the international boundary between the two countries and in many parts of India which raise grave doubts about Pakistan’s sincerity for peace.


In fact, as both countries celebrated their respective 62nd Independence Days, what clearly emerged is that after reneging on every single peace pact in over six decades and despite their post-26/11 assurances, Pakistan’s military and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is still working overtime to continue its war against India. I use the term "overtime" because Pakistan is suppose to be busy fighting the same terrorists produced by its military in its own territory. So it is just as well that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally and categorically stated earlier this week that Pakistani terrorists are planning new attacks and Union home minister P. Chidambaram did some plain speaking on Manipur and Assam, where the ISI has been very active.


The New York Times of July 29 quoted Pakistani officials as saying that since May 2009, F-16 multi-role fighter jets have flown more than 300 combat missions against militants in the Swat Valley and more than 100 missions in South Waziristan, targeting Taliban’s mountain hideouts, training centres and ammunition depots, with infantry fire, artillery barrages and helicopter gunships.


And yet it needed some time and effort to confirm Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud’s death in a US drone attack. Over two million internally-displaced hapless people have suffered at the hands of the Taliban. As a part of the effort to get civilians out of the conflict areas "to reduce their casualties", they were sometimes given the notice of only few hours. Instead of closing in on its adversaries with troops on the ground, the Pakistan Army indulged in long-range fighting, often missing the target, but killing thousands of innocent people instead. With such attacks, the Taliban, its offshoots and supporters like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba are only dispersed. They can still attack from a distance with rockets and mortars.


The New York Times also mentioned that American officials were sceptical about Pakistan’s claims of success. "We don’t have access to battle-damage assessment or information on the actual strike execution, so we cannot make a qualitative comparison of what the intended effect was versus the actual effect", said an American adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity.


Pakistan has been trying to convince the US to use the advanced versions of F-16s against the Taliban. While US officials have repeatedly raised concerns that Pakistan’s arms purchases and troop deployments are geared mainly to bolster its ability to fight India, yet they have given Pakistan sophisticated surveillance equipment for that significantly improves the precision of its Air Force.


But all this activity and commitment to fight the Taliban has not detracted the Pakistan Army from maintaining a fair pace of anti-India operations through its outsourced jihadi force-multipliers. And with a few successes, like the killing of Baitullah Mehsud by the combined effort of Afghanistan-based US troops and Pakistani forces, Pakistan Army feels emboldened enough to continue to violate the 2004 ceasefire by sending across jihadis of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and others.


On the Indian side of the LoC, during the earlier major crossings of March-April 2009, timed during India’s elections, there were reports of launch pads with a few hundred jihadis waiting to cross over by dodging the enhanced surveillance and patrolling by the Indian Army.


A second wave has been on since July, essentially to raise the ante in Jammu and Kashmir where the new National Conference chief minister’s pitch is being queered by the separatists and the People’s Democratic Party.


Defence minister A.K. Antony said in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha on July 27, 2009: "A total of 110 incidents of ceasefire violations have taken place along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir since 2006. These include 47 incidents of trans-LoC firing. Our troops have suffered nine fatal and 25 non-fatal casualties". A maximum of 77 such incidents had taken place in 2008, 21 in 2007 and three in 2006. "Nine violations have taken place so far this year", Mr Antony added. From July 27 to August 5, 2009, there were another six violations and even after that there have been terrorist-related incidents culminating in a bomb attack near the Indian embassy in Kabul on August 15, 2009.


Responding to another query, minister of state for defence M.M. Pallam Raju said that 690 officers and soldiers were killed on duty in the same period. "Fifty four officers, 62 junior commissioned officers and 574 other ranks have been killed on duty since 2006", he said. Mr Antony had said that Indian troops take strong action if an incident of LoC violation occurs while maintaining adequate restraint to "prevent escalation", which the Indian politico-bureaucratic establishment has all along been extremely mindful of, keeping India-Pakistan war of 1971 and Kargil in mind.


That is not all. This newspaper had on August 12, reported that the latest inputs from Central intelligence agencies confirmed that after constructing concrete bunkers along the international boundary on their side, Pakistan is now trying to send fresh probing missions to India to find out the preparedness of Indian border-guarding forces. It quoted a high-ranking official of a Central intelligence agency is saying, "The neighbouring country’s attempts to send three probing missions to India near the Indo-Pakistan border in Punjab and Rajasthan were recently foiled by the Border Security Force by killing the intruders. While two attempts were foiled in Amritsar and Gurdaspur, one attempt was foiled near Jaisalmer". Some of those captured, during interrogation revealed that they were sent by border-guarding forces of Pakistan to get information about border security preparations on the Indian side.


Prior to Pakistan’s Swat campaign, about 10 F-16 aircraft equipped with high-resolution, infra-red sensors were provided by the US to conduct detailed reconnaissance of the entire Swat Valley. These may have already been used to spy on the Indian stretches along the international boundary. In view of Pakistan’s continuing anti-India efforts, should this country resume talks with Islamabad at this juncture?


Anil Bhat, a retired Army officer, is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi








Competitive heroism is nothing new. As children we are all programmed to prefer our daddies to be the strongest, and our moms to be the most beautiful. In case we have parents who don’t quite provide the ideal role model — we can always go out there and pick out an icon whom we can worship. For the post-Partition generation in India Jawaharlal Nehru has been the hero of choice — an intellectual Prime Minister, someone with very human failings and emotions. Besides which, he was also good-looking and even his romantic pursuits have been forgiven since we acknowledge that, apart from an ill wife, he had spent most of his best years in jail. It has also helped that the Congress Party whose patronage is key for many "historians" has been a dominant force — and therefore for the generation which grew up during Partition and after — he has been an icon who, even after his death, has remained in our consciousness much more than any living Prime Minister.


Nehru has been discussed and analysed — but there are always unwritten lines that most people would not dare to cross — as there are too many out there who take it as a personal affront if anything really "remiss" were to be said about Nehru. For many he is genuinely part of their political and social consciousness. For instance, when I was researching my book , Darlingji: The True Love Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt, I was very moved by Sunil Dutt’s personal memory of Nehru — a man he met perhaps only a handful of times in his entire life. Yet those encounters shaped him and his idealism. Dutt’s father had died when he was very young — and when he saw a photograph of Nehru in a newspaper (pre-Partition) he ran excitedly to his mother and asked if that was his father. Even when he began his charitable activities — the highlight was being able to present a cheque to Nehru, personally. Dutt was not alone as many people like him were brought into politics by Nehru’s personal charisma.


The tragedy is that we still don’t have anybody else who can match up to that stature — apart from Mohandas Gandhi. We definitely need to look at that pantheon of great men and women who led to us to Independence and examine each one of them once more. Which is why I have to say that I was thrilled to be at Jaswant Singh’s book launch on Jinnah: India, Partition, and Independence — and to note the passion with which speaker after speaker (barring a few who took the same old ghisa pita Congress Party line) was able to bring to the subject. For the first time, after 62 years of a supreme academic silence — it was exciting to rediscover a major player who has been either written out of Indian history or has been junked as the "bad boy", the spoiler. The same fervour that I remember in Sunil Dutt’s voice when he narrated his passion for Nehru was audible in Hamid Haroon’s voice when he spoke of Jinnah. And why not? Haroon is the editor/publisher of the Dawn group of newspapers and a Pakistani. He pointed out the excitement in Pakistan over the publication of this book, and the fact that the younger generation in Pakistan has begun to discover the "real" Jinnah. This is not the deified Jinnah that the fundamentalists would like us to know about — but the very human and complex individual that he was.


Of course, the irony was that the book launch was at the Nehru Memorial Library — with a large portrait of Nehru staring at us across the room, while Jinnah’s portrait was on stage. Even after 62 years post-Independence the two men remained the adversaries that they must have been in real life. Both were good-looking, sophisticated, secular — and either could have become the Prime Minister of India. In fact, as someone (a Muslim) pointed out, after the event — the real underlying issue, the real problem was the almost-sibling rivalry between the two. It may not have helped that both Motilal Nehru and Gandhi were also fond of Jinnah. It was another amazing thought — that we had come so very close to getting a Muslim Prime Minister — an impossibility given the current climate we live in!

From the excitement of that book launch — to the cold political reality only goes to show that while India is growing up — our politicians remain immature and child-like. They still want to hang on to their childhood heroes refusing to acknowledge that we live in a world which prefers Sach Ka Saamna. That we prefer our heroes to be real and human — with foibles and secrets — just like us. That we would now, please, like some real hard honesty from our historians and we deserve to know the truth about Partition. And yes, we will not fall apart if we our heroes turn out to have feet of clay.


As Sir Mark Tully remarked during the book launch the disturbing aspect is not that the book has been written — but the negative, almost fascist reaction to the book from both sides of the political divide. The fact that Mr Singh has been expelled and that the book has been banned in Gujarat is totally shocking — but at the same time — we all know that it will be very good for book sales. If Salman Rushdie did not have fatwa issued against him — he would perhaps never have reached the near sainthood he managed to achieve and the phenomenal sympathy he received from liberals all over the world.


By his sheer act of rebellion, by choosing a proscribed subject, Mr Singh has actually risen in stature from being a mere Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician. In an Internet age banning books makes absolutely no sense. Besides, by denouncing the book both the Congress Party and the BJP have actually achieved the opposite of what they had set out to do — Jinnah has emerged as an intriguing, interesting subject. And it is even more intriguing that it has taken a former BJP politician to allow a very interesting and dominant but long-dead politician — to take centrestage once more.


Kishwar Desai’s novel Witness the Night, to be published in January 2010, is on the longlist for the Man Asian Literary Prize, 2009. She can be contacted at









Compared to the 8 per cent hike in the minimum support price of wheat, the Centre has raised the paddy MSP by 11.76 per cent. The increase has been dismissed as too little by some. This is not surprising since there is hardly any MSP announced either for wheat or paddy that has met the expectations of all sections. This year there is some justification for the paddy MSP hike because of a sub-normal monsoon. The Centre should preferably have announced a hefty one-time bonus to compensate farmers for deficient rains, inadequate supply of canal water and power and an additional expenditure on diesel. But there is no point in hiking the paddy MSP year after year. Rice is going beyond the reach of the poor and inflating the government’s food subsidy bill.


No matter how high the MSP for paddy, it cannot match the price farmers pay for raising the crop. The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, which recommends the MSP based on input costs, does not count groundwater. Farmers and politicians who demand a higher MSP also do not factor it in their calculations. The excessive extraction of groundwater over the years has landed this region in a precarious condition. Farmers are forced to install expensive submersible pumps as ordinary tubewells no longer work. A study by NASA’s Grace Mission published in Nature magazine has confirmed the alarming loss of groundwater in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan between 2002 and 2008 despite normal rains.


Instead of worrying about the over-exploitation of groundwater, the Punjab government encourages it by promoting paddy cultivation and supplying free power to farmers. There are other areas ruling politicians should focus on instead of provoking farmers for political gains. Alternative crops like maize, oilseeds and pulses fetch remunerative prices and need a relook. Still 60 per cent of India’s cropped area is rain-dependent. For lack of storage and processing facilities, huge quantities of fruits, vegetables and foodgrains go waste every year. Water resources need to be preserved and recharged. Farmers suffer — not due to low prices, but because of poor governance.








The dissolution of the Haryana Assembly seven months ahead of schedule puts the formal seal on something that was widely anticipated. The spectacular performance of the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections when it won nine of the 10 seats at stake and the apparent sorry state of the Opposition had convinced the State leadership that it would be inappropriate to wait for the assembly to complete its term. The Bhupinder Singh Hooda government can hardly be faulted for seeking to make hay while the sun shines.


In all fairness to Mr Hooda, his party’s impressive performance in the Lok Sabha elections was not merely an expression of public disgust over the bickering and infighting in the Opposition. His record of governance has indeed had many positives. The pro-active approach of the government to investments and its contribution in modernising key sectors like education, health and infrastructure have been praiseworthy. Projects like the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway, the Rajiv Gandhi Education City, and the all women’s university in Sonepat hold promise for the future. There has also been a perceptible improvement in the law and order situation in the State. By contrast, the Indian National Lok Dal-BJP alliance has hardly inspired hope that it can deliver if voted to power. The Haryana Janhit Congress-BSP alliance is still looking to gain a foothold and early elections would rob it of time to consolidate.


Yet, it never pays to be cocooned in complacency in politics. The Hooda government can hardly rest content over its limited accomplishments. The State’s power situation is cause for deep concern. The Khap Panchayats have been going berserk, dishing out their own version of justice which is heavily loaded against women and the State government has been able to do little to check them. Politically too, the Congress has had its own share of dissidence. All in all, however, the Hooda government is on a good wicket. It must convince the voter that it would build upon its positive record in days to come.








The decision “in principle” to formally liquidate the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council after 21 years of its virtual non-existence must be welcomed as a belated move in the right direction. The council had ceased to function a long time ago and no election was held for over a decade. The West Bengal government had allowed Mr Subhas Ghising to hijack the council and promote himself and his grandiose plans. Politicians and bureaucrats in Kolkata were quite content to give Ghising a long rope and from the sidelines watched him getting tied in knots. They were, however, caught napping when a surge of popular anger last year forced Mr Ghising to finally resign as council chairman and take shelter in the plains.


The New Delhi agreement to abolish the council and drop the plans to include the sensitive hill districts in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution seem to have temporarily halted the statehood agitation in the hills. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which is spearheading a violent movement to carve out a separate state for Gorkhas, appears to have got the message that New Delhi does not favour a further division of West Bengal. This would explain the Morcha’s mellowed stand and consent to the next round of meeting at Darjeeling in December. It would again be a major breakthrough if the Morcha does withdraw its month-long blockade of the Hills and helps in cooling passions.


While the Union government is yet to appoint an interlocutor to conduct future dialogue between the Morcha and the government, much will depend on the ability of the interlocutor to not only bridge differences but also to come up with permanent solutions to the accumulated grievances of the Gorkhas. The new administrative arrangement must deliver to ensure continued peace in the sensitive border region. It would be imprudent indeed if the politics behind the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council were to return in a different garb.








So they voted. But for what? Democracy? Certainly not “Jeffersonian” democracy, as President Obama reminded us. Yes, the Afghans wanted to vote. They showed great courage in the face of the Taliban’s threats. But there’s a problem.


It’s not just the stitched-up Karzai administration that will almost certainly return, nor the war criminals he employs (Abdul Rashid Dostum should be in the dock at The Hague for war crimes, not in Kabul), nor the corruption and the hideous human rights abuses, but the unassailable fact that ethnically-divided societies vote on ethnic lines.


I doubt if anyone in Afghanistan voted on Thursday because of the policies of their favourite candidate. They voted for whoever their ethnic leaders told them to vote for. Hence Karzai asked Dostum to deliver him the Uzbek vote. Abdullah Abdullah relies on the Tajik vote, Karzai on the Pashtuns.


It’s always the same. In Iraq, the Shia voted in a Shia government. And in Lebanon, Sunni Muslims and a large section of the Christian community voted to keep the Shia out of power. This is not confined to the Muslim world. How many Northern Ireland Protestants vote for Sinn Fein?


But our problem in Afghanistan goes further than this. We still think we can offer Afghans the fruits of our all-so-perfect Western society. We still believe in the Age of Enlightenment and that all we have to do is fiddle with Afghan laws and leave behind us a democratic, gender-equal, human rights-filled society.


True, there are brave souls who fight for this in Afghanistan – and pay for their struggle with their lives – but if you walk into a remote village in, say, Nangarhar province, you can no more persuade its tribal elders of the benefits of women’s education than you could persuade Henry VIII of the benefits of parliamentary democracy.


Thus the benefits we wish to bestow upon the people of Afghanistan are either cherry-picked (the money comes in handy for the government’s corrupt coffers and the election reinforces tribal loyalties) or ignored. In the meantime, Nato soldiers go on dying for the pitiful illusion that we can clean the place up. We can’t. We are not going to.


In the end, the people of these foreign fields must decide their own future and develop their societies as and when they wish. Back in 2001, things were different. Had we hoovered up every gun in the land, we might have done some good. Instead, the Americans sloshed millions of dollars at the mass murderers who had originally helped to destroy the place so that they would fight on our side.


Then we wandered off to Iraq and now we are back to fight in Afghanistan for hopelessly unachievable aims. Yes, I like to see people – women and men – voting. I think the Afghans wanted to vote. So, too, the Iraqis. But they also want freedom. Which is not necessarily the same as democracy.


By arrangement with The Independent







It’s easy to enumerate all of the ways in which Thursday’s election in Afghanistan will fall short of Western democratic norms — or even of what Afghans themselves might have expected when they voted in the first presidential election four years ago. Violence has been escalating all year — civilian casualties were up by a quarter through June — and there has been a rash of major attacks in and around Kabul in the past several days. In parts of the country it will be impossible, or very dangerous, to vote. And many may feel uninspired: President Hamid Karzai, who is leading the polls in the presidential race, has barely bothered to conduct a public campaign and instead has sought to win blocs of votes by cutting deals with the same corrupt warlords who have plagued the country for decades.


For all that, the Afghan election represents another advance for a nation whose progress must necessarily be measured in small increments. The 17 million registered voters represent an increase of one-third over 2005, including millions of newly enfranchised women. Mr. Karzai has been challenged by several serious candidates and could be forced into a second-round runoff. As he reminded Afghans in a televised debate on Sunday (itself inconceivable in the Afghanistan of 2001), the country’s economy and per-capita income have grown substantially in recent years.


The violence, though serious, is the predictable result of a new effort by U.S. and NATO forces to wrest control of southern Afghanistan from the Taliban. It’s too early to judge how the campaign is going, but the principles behind it — protection of the population and the construction of a viable Afghan army, economy and political system — are the right ones. Success will require considerable time and patience — and, almost certainly, more troops and other resources than the Obama administration has yet committed to.


In the shorter term, the administration will need to find ways to work productively with Mr. Karzai, should he win re-election. In recent months, senior U.S. officials and military commanders have often been publicly at odds with the Afghan leader, and both sides have some legitimate reasons for grievance.


American policy should continue to aim at cultivating capable and uncorrupt local and regional leaders, and in encouraging Mr. Karzai to bring competent administrators into his cabinet. New policies to avoid civilian casualties could alleviate one of the largest irritants in the relationship. The Obama administration and the Afghan president will share a powerful common interest: demonstrating to Afghans that the government they vote for, in many cases at considerable personal risk, is capable of improving their lives.


By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post







Indian farming is always looking for state support, logical or illogical. It started with the Green Revolution, which involved subsidies on fertilisers and seeds and even agricultural machinery.


Then during the late 1980s and the early 1990s, as costs of cultivation rose, there was a culture of free electricity for irrigation in many states.


Some states even did away with canal water charges. Then came the loan waiver culture during the 1990s. Now if there is any input untouched by subsidies, it is labour.


Now with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) coming in, even that lone input is being asked to be subsidised. The logic is this: the cost of cultivation in farming is going up because local labour is more interested in NREGA for less work and fair wage (Rs 80 per day) though only for 100 days in a year. The recent budget makes it Rs 100 per day.


There were reports that states like Punjab suffered from shortage of labour due to the implementation of NREGA in Bihar and UP, which provided migrant labour to Punjab for paddy transplantation. The labour shortage and its higher cost have reached such an extent that this year the state government has imported paddy transplanters from China, Korea and Japan and supplied to farmers at 50 per cent subsidy.


Earlier, farmers resorted to mechanical harvesting of wheat and paddy to cut costs, which led to the shortage of fodder. The combine harvester owners were willing to harvest an acre of a wheat crop just for its fodder in return.


Though policymakers talk of withdrawal of the state from agriculture, the state looks after all problems of a farmer right from free water and electricity to machines, and then the purchase of produce with an MSP, irrespective of its quality.


There seems to be something fundamentally wrong with either technology or farmers as no entrepreneur would repeatedly do a losing business.


I am sometimes told that it is simply because there is no alternative for farmers. Farmers take lease land on @ Rs 30,000 per acre to grow wheat and paddy which together give an output of Rs 45000 per acre in a year.


The cost of cultivation of wheat alone is Rs 10,000 per acre (excluding irrigation charges as electricity for irrigation is free in Punjab. It is much higher in case of paddy. The wage cost is as much as 25 per cent of all operational costs in major wheat-growing North Indian states and only 17 per cent in Punjab, where it is only human labour with no use of bullocks and a higher use of machines unlike other states.


Punjab’s machine costs are 30 per cent higher than that in other states and only 64 per cent are hired against 79 per cent in other wheat growing states. But Punjab leads in casualisation of this wage labour component with 51 per cent of it being casual compared with only 34 per cent in all wheat-growing North Indian states together.


You deduct the cost of all subsidised inputs and labour, and it hardly leaves any decent return to the leasee farmer even after including by-products like wheat straw for fodder.


The owners are no better off if we take the opportunity cost of land they cultivate. Imagine if a farmer has to pay for all the inputs and then sell at the market price, how long can he practise farming?


Farmer agencies and lobbies are now asking for labour subsidy in rain-fed areas to cut farmers’ cost of cultivation. In many of these areas as well, irrigation water is free or electricity to pump it is free. All other inputs are also partly subsidised. Now, labour cost is also being sought to be subsidised and many NGOs are in the forefront for this subsidy.


Even if it is assumed that there is rationale for labour subsidy in farming, how will it be ensured that this subsidy, like oher subsidies, is not cornered by a few rich farmers who use hired labour. Unlike NREGA projects which are on public land and for public purpose, how will the labour on private lands be monitored and accounted for?


On the other hand, the higher cost of labour, instead of being treated as a problem, could be seen as one factor leading to higher mechanisation of farming which can help cut costs and improve efficiency, especially in relatively under-mechanised areas.


It is generally seen that whenever the marginalised and resource poor communities are given some policy benefit by the state, the others start eying it either to scuttle it or to partake it. This makes it prone to malpractices as other vested interests start manipulating it. This seems to be one of such initiatives. If the state has to offer labour subsidies in the Green Revolution as well as rain-fed areas to sustain farming, it needs to rethink the model of agricultural development being promoted.


The writer is a teacher at the IIM, Ahmedabad.








No independence day in Pakistan passes off without a discussion on the country’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. But almost every word spoken or written about him is in praise of Jinnah as is proved by a lengthy article carried in the magazine section of Nawa-i-Waqt (Aug 9). He “has been elevated to the status of a kind of saint in Pakistan”, as The News says in an editorial on Jaswant Singh’s controversial book, “Jinnah — India, Partition and Independence”.


“Any pragmatic analysis of his role and his personality becomes difficult” in Pakistan. “Any fresh look at history and the characters who played a part in its making is always welcome. This is, perhaps, especially true in the case of Jinnah”, the paper adds.


The News also points out, “Writing a fully objective history is difficult — some argue impossible. The beliefs and biases of the writer always play a part. For this reason, having as many different points of view as possible is important.” That is why it considers Jaswant Singh’s book “a significant addition” to the literature available on Partition.



Daily Times, a relatively liberal paper, is of the view that Jaswant Singh “has given a positive portrait” of Jinnah. The paper believes “this time history may be reinterpreted more permanently in favour of an Indo-Pak détente through a ‘reinterpretation’ of M.A. Jinnah”.


The daily points out, “Perhaps more significantly than anything else he has said in praise of his subject, Mr Singh’s explanation of the last-minute rupture between Nehru and Jinnah will become important in the coming days: ‘Nehru believed in a highly centralised polity. That’s what he wanted India to be. Jinnah wanted a federal polity. That even Gandhi accepted. Nehru didn’t. Consistently, he stood in the way of a federal India until 1947 when it became a partitioned India’.”


There is another viewpoint given by Daily Times: “In Pakistan, the conservative right and the liberal intellectuals are hopelessly divided on the person of Mr Jinnah. But both tend to stand together when it comes to what they think is Indian prejudice against the great man. Now that Mr Jaswant Singh has set the record straight in India, it may be easier for Pakistan to frame Mr Jinnah in a more realistic national reference. The identity of the state of Pakistan has been consciously moulded over the years in relation to India as the ‘enemy’ state.



Another Leftist paper, The Frontier Post, carried an article by Ehsan Mehmood Khan (Aug 19), who says, “Jaswant Singh has squarely put the blame for partition of India in 1947 on Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and the Congress rather than Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.”

Expressing the hope that “Jaswant Singh’s book would certainly occupy a principal place in the recorded history of partition of the subcontinent”, Mehmood Khan quotes what L. K. Advani wrote in the Visitor’s Book at Jinnah’s mausoleum in Karachi in June 2005 and Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the Minar-i-Pakistan in February 1999.


As mentioned by the writer, Mr Advani’s words, which landed him in trouble back home, were: “There are many people who leave an inerasable stamp on history. But there are very few who create history. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was one such rare individual. In his early years, Sarojini Naidu, a leading luminary of India’s freedom struggle, described Mr Jinnah as an ‘Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity’. My respectful homage to this great man.” Vajpayee wrote: “From the historic Minar-i-Pakistan, I wish to assure the people of Pakistan of my country’s deep desire for a lasting peace and friendship. I have said this before, and I say it again, that a stable, secure and prosperous Pakistan is in India’s interest…. India sincerely wishes the people of Pakistan well.”












Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has used strong words against Bangladesh when he stated that the neighbouring country has become the hub of fundamentalist forces and cross-border terrorism in the recent meet of Chief Ministers in New Delhi on internal security. It is now a well established fact that most of the militant groups of the North East have their bases in Bangladesh and reports of fundamentalist elements establishing strong bases in the neighbouring country can pose a serious security threat to India in the days to come. It is a fact that with the improvement of relations between India and Bangladesh after the Awami League Government assumed power, the Government of the neighbouring country has started taking some action against the militant groups and the recent arrest of five National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) militants can be considered a positive step in this direction. But the Government of Bangladesh has its limitations and one cannot expect it to launch a massive operation to evict or arrest all the militants and fundamentalist elements within a short time. Without waiting for Bangladesh to take action against the elements of anti-India forces, the Government of India must take immediate steps to secure its own borders and one hopes that security along the international border with Bangladesh will be augmented to prevent any member of anti-India forces to infiltrate into the country. Gogoi was right when he demanded construction of a composite fencing along the international border and increasing strength of the Border Security Force (BSF). One hopes that the Centre will take serious note of the demand and expedite the process of construction of fencing all along the border with Bangladesh.

Unfortunately, for years the Government of India failed to give due attention to the international border with Bangladesh and construction of the fencing, which started way back in the late 1980s is yet to be completed. Till date, no Government agency is in a position to announce a definite date for completion of the work. Only recently, the Government of India started giving some attention to the border with Bangladesh and the strength of the BSF is being increased in a phased manner. Personnel of the border guarding force are provided with modern gadgets like night vision binoculars to improve vigil along the border. In the recent meeting under reference, Gogoi also stressed the need for exerting diplomatic pressure on Bangladesh to facilitate deportation of Bangladeshi nationals apprehended in Assam, which has become necessary as very often police and the security forces are unable to deport the Bangladeshi nationals because of the reluctance of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) to accept them as their citizens. As a result, only a small percentage of the illegal aliens apprehended in Assam and other parts of the country can be physically deported. The Government must also expedite the process of setting up of detention centres to detain such Bangladeshi nationals till they are physically expelled from India.








Though India’s trade deficit in recent months shows a declining trend, it is not due to increase in exports but due to a steep fall in imports. In fact India’s exports have been falling continuously for the last ten months. According to the latest trade data released by the Union Commerce Ministry, exports in June declined by around 28 per cent while imports dropped by more than 29 per cent because of two important factors, viz, a 51 per cent decline in oil import bill and, of course, a slowdown in domestic consumption under the impact of global recession. Though exports from Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are expected to reach the target of Rs 1,25,000 crore in the current fiscal with Reliance Industry’s refinery alone expectedly contributing Rs 35,000 crore to total shipment, most of the export-oriented industries having no access to SEZ-related tax incentives are not faring well. However, the fall in imports being steeper than the fall in exports, trade deficit in June, 2009 has come down to $ 6.2 billion from $ 9.1 billion in the same month of the previous financial year. As we compare the position between these two first quarter-ending months, we find that while exports dipped from $ 17.7 billion to $ 12.8 billion, imports declined from $ 26.8 billion to $ 19 billion. If the trend continues, the current fiscal would end up with further fall in both exports and imports. There is decline in India’s exports for the tenth month in a row as in July 2009, opening the fiscal 2009-10 on a negative note amidst demand recession in major world markets, such as the United States and European countries.

India’s trade with US, the largest trading partner, dropped 22.3 per cent in January-March 2009 although exports of selected items such as steel, garments, jewelleries, etc showed a growth in the period. As against this, imports from US in the same period dipped almost 30 per cent. The exporters’ body while acknowledging the Government’s inability to increase demand in global markets under the present state of economy rightly argues that it should offer incentives to exporters so that the latter do not lose orders. The Government can take some short-term measures for the time being and can come out with long-term policies later when global situation improves. The Union Commerce Ministry which is scheduled to announce its foreign trade policy within a fortnight from now arranged a meeting of the Inter-State Trade Council on August 11, 2009, in which Commerce Minister Anand Sharma assured that the foreign trade policy would shortly be framed keeping in mind the current global economic challenges and additional measures to support the export industries would be announced.








It is an acknowledged fact that the middle-class is the backbone of each society across the globe. The imagination, wisdom and enterprising spirit of members of this class determine whether the society they belong to is progressive or regressive. Transformation from medievalism to modernism had been effected through this class. Medieval society consisted of basically two classes, the aristocrats and the serfs, the former being associated with the ruler of the times, the latter comprising of tenant farmers and agriculture workmen. Emergence of a well defined middle-class was first witnessed in Europe, requirements of governance, commercial, educational, health etc. sectors, as well as the development of a scientific temper acting as a spur to its growth.

Even as aristocracy grew decadent and declined, this class came into prominence and was responsible for the progress made by different societies of Europe. It furthered the growth of a scientific temper and laid the grounds for scientific education, so necessary for social progress. The Industrial Revolution and increased urbanisation led to the bifurcation of this segment into the upper and lower middle class. Professionals such as academicians, bureaucrats, doctors, merchants etc. comprised the upper middle class, while clerks, petty traders, urban working classes, mechanics, dock-hands etc. comprised the lower.

The progress and prosperity witnessed from the 17th century onwards in Europe, particularly in the fields of science, economics, literature and culture related items, culminating in golden eras such as the Victorian Era in England, were due to the gradual social ascendancy of the middle class. For example, the colonisation of Asia and Africa, which enriched European nations and provided them with the wealth and raw material for the Industrial Revolution, had been initiated not by the military, but by adventurous traders in search of new avenues of exploitation. For instance, it was the British East India Company rather than the military which had first initiated the process whereby the Indian sub-continent came under colonial rule, enabling England to exploit vast resources for the economic benefit of that tiny island nation.

Medieval India too had the ruler-subject structure found in medieval Europe. But such a structure had continued well into the 18th century, leading to social and scientific stagnation and a loss of ancient glory. Despite the erection of empires such as those of the Mughals, the concept of one nation had not percolated into the region, and it remained fragmented. However, vast social changes were effected after the British conquest, the most significant being the destruction, in the first half of the 19th century, of the medieval Indian society and the growth and rise of the middle class.

The Indian middle class was the product of the British conquest of India. The nucleus of this class was formed by zamindars, traders, bureaucrats and intellectuals who performed various functions in the commercial and administrative sections of European companies. Since Europeans were first concentrated in metropolitan areas, the middle class made its appearance in cities such as Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. But as trade, commerce and administration run by the British spread to the interiors, the middle class too spread.

1857 was the year in which the Indian medieval order was finally and irrevocably destroyed and the middle class came to the forefront. A new era dawned for India with the rise to prominence of this class. Indian society, which had stagnated in the 18th century, was reinvigorated through a socio-cultural renaissance. Individuals of this class commenced reformist movements which resulted in an end to abhorrent customs such as Sati, child-marriage, strictures against widows remarrying etc. This class, through coming into contact with European education and scientific temper, exhibited a spirit of enterprise and a hankering for progress that had been lacking in the medieval feudal order and was responsible for bringing India into modernity.

Thus a three-tier social structure evolved under British rule — the conquerors, the middle class and the peasant-artisan masses. Initially the middle class, as the British intended it to be, stood as a buffer between them and the masses, but ultimately it was this class, supported by the peasant and worker masses, which led the struggle for India’s freedom and wrested it from the British. Since independence it has primarily been the middle class which has provided leadership in every field, and enabled India to attain the kind of economic, educational, scientific and technological progress so far it has.

Assam was the last bastion of the medieval order to be conquered by the British. In 1826, with the signing of the Yandabu treaty, British annexation of this region was complete. Thus, the process of middle class formation here began far later than the rest of the country, one of the primary reasons why this region even today lags behind the rest of the country. Nevertheless, the process itself followed the all-India pattern, with the landed gentry as well as service holders of the Ahom royalty, now working for the British, forming the nucleus of the nascent Assamese middle class. As it developed and enlarged, it has been the middle class which provided leadership to the people of this region in every field.

If Assamese language and literature has been able not only to retain its individual status, but also to enrich itself, it was primarily due to the unremitting and selfless efforts of members of the Assamese middle-class during the 19th and 20th century. One recalls that the mass movement against foreign infiltration during the post-independent phase had been led by the middle class. Though it has become the fashion to decry the outcome of the movement, the sober truth is that such a mass movement had been needed to open the eyes of an indifferent Centre. Much of the importance and focus given to this region in the last two decades has been due to the sacrifices made by the people during the movement against foreign influx.

Today, once again, Assamese society is at yet another crossroad. The soul of Assam is so steeped in despair that there appears to be not a niche for hope to nestle in! While the rest of India marches on towards a transformation that might make this nation an economic powerhouse one day, Assam has been left way behind. No other state in the country is burdened with as many problems, those at the helm of power having shown little political will to try and solve them. The best and the brightest amongst the middle-class are leaving the State for greener pastures, resulting in a mammoth brain-drain.

The scenario, indeed, is bleak. Yet history teaches us that societies have been able to rise from the abyss of despair to attain great heights and prosperity, so we as a people must not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by cynical pessimism. Assam has faced such dark periods in the recent past and it had been the middle class which had risen to the occasion to save the day. Once again the onus lies upon the Assamese middle-class, particularly the young generation, to guide our fractured society towards a new horizon and bring us out of the rut we find ourselves in.








Innovation, or rather the quality of all human beings to think and create something new, is a quality which everyone is endowed with. It does not always take a qualified scientist to come up with novel ideas. On the contrary, even seemingly very ordinary people too with little or no basic education at all, if observed closely, are seen to be brimming with novel ideas that have the capacity to revolutionize some area of the common man’s life, provided these ideas are given the scope to be nurtured and developed. To a certain extent, private concerns and business establishments seem to have been open to such an approach for roping in innovators with techno-economically viable ideas that could result in the development of novel products, schemes or systems. The government sector had so far been pursuing a much more traditional approach in the matter by relying primarily on ideas coming in from qualified personnel under its employment. But the advent of globalization and an increase in competition for survival of any venture in this changed scenario has seen the emergence of a trend of opening up to novel ideas coming in from the common man. The national government too is not an exception in this regard.

Thus, with the objective of providing a suitable support mechanism to independent innovators to emerge as technology based entrepreneurs (Technopreneurs), the Union Ministry of Science and Technology has launched a novel programme christened the “Technopreneur Promotion Programme (TePP)”.

The programme which is jointly operated by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) and Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) of the Department of Science and Technology, begun as a new initiative during the year 1998-1999. Through this novel programme any innovative Indian from any section of society (education, religion, status, age no bar) may avail the opportunity to convert his/her original ideas/invention/project into a technology which has commercial utility or societal benefit.

The programme works in a network mode with several Outreach Centres called TePP Outreach Centres (TUCs) spread across the country. One can gain access to proper information of the TePP Outreach Centres at the DSIR website, To cater to the independent innovators of the North Eastern Region, a TePP Outreach Centre was recently inaugurated at the North East Institute of Science and Technology, (NEIST) Jorhat, Assam.

Assistance available under TePP includes Micro Technopreneurship support upto Rs 75, 000/- under Phase-I. This is given as initial support to prepare the innovators to work out their initial ideas to the point where they can be considered for the fund. 90% of this fund is granted by TePP while the remaining 10% is to be borne by the innovator.

TePP project fund is limited upto Rs 15, 00, 000/-. To convert the project into a working form, direct sanction is given to the innovators who need not apply for TS if, they have worked on their ideas to the extent they understand the challenges in implementation. Grant is subject to 90% refinancing by TePP and the remaining 10% is to be borne by the inventor.

Under Phase - II, supplementary TePP support to successful TePP innovators upto Rs 7,50,000/- is permissible. The support is for TePP innovators who have developed products/processes at the concept proving stage for enabling technology injection/transfer to a third party. Activities supported are patent filing, testing/validation, developing improved process/design, etc. The sanction is subject to 90% refinancing by TePP and the remaining 10% is to be borne by the inventor.

Seamless scale-up support upto Rs 45,00,000/- is provided. Projects which aim at starting an enterprise and improving market access, by carrying out such value-added work like adding product features, protection by patenting, aesthetic design, limited production for market seeding etc, as per approved business plan. The sanction is subject to 50% refinancing by TePP and the remaining 50 % is to be borne by the inventor.

Examples of some good projects/innovations funded by TePP in the past include geometrical instruments. The present geometrical instruments have low levels of accuracy and consume more time in performing geometrical exercises. Hence a new innovative instrument was invented by an innovator from Tamil Nadu. This project won the second prize and a cash award of Rs 1 lakh awarded by the India Innovation Pioneer Challenge 2008 Business Plan Competition.

Mobile charger by using wind energy: A very handy and unique concept created by an innovator from Hyderabad for charging mobile phones when one is travelling long distances. The device has wind blades that work like a turbine when they come into contact with wind and while in rotation converts wind energy into mechanical energy. A dynamo attached to the rotating blades produces direct current.

Bomb detection robot: The product is designed to overcome various issues pertaining to the present modules of bomb disposing systems found in India.

Solar water heater with fused tube lights: Simple technology of removing the internal coating of the fused tubes to get a clean surface and coating the external surface with black paint. The coated tubes are connected in a manifold connection for flow of both cold and hot water.

Automatic scan lock for bikes and cars: A cost economic security device specially designed to be attached with any type of engine of vehicles.

Projects which are not acceptable include generic proposals on software development, proposals for patenting only, basic scientific research projects with no immediate commercial entity and projects of academic nature (student projects and/or research projects).

Interested individual(s) may approach TePP with details of the work done so far, the proposed project, including the title of the project, objectives, project cost, support sought, duration, names etc.

Further details may be had from the Head,Technopreneur Promotion Programme, Ministry of Science and Technology, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), Technology Bhavan, New Mehrauli Road, New Delhi – 110 016, or from Dipankar Neog, Coordinator, Technopreneur Promotion Programme Outreach Centre (TUC) North East Institute of Science and Technology (Formerly RRL) Jorhat – 785006, Assam, may be contacted.


(The writer is a scientist and member of TUC at NEIST, Jorhat)








The high-profile jury members who met on Thursday evening in Mumbai to decide on the winners of the ET Awards this year came up with some interesting perspectives on how the global economy might behave in the next year or two.

While all jury members expressed the optimism that the worst appeared to be over, many were cautious about making any firm prediction about the nature of the recovery. However, everyone agreed that global businesses will have a lot to learn from the current recession.

Jury chairperson and global head of Nokia, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, introduced a sobering thought when he said: “I am cautious about making economic forecasts. Consumers and investors are still adjusting to the turmoil, and this will take time.”

We are in full agreement with Mr Kallasvuo’s assessment that global recovery would be accompanied by some problems too. Governments around the world will have to repay the $2-3 trillion borrowed to finance the economic stimulus delivered in the past year or so.

As the Nokia chief rightly put it, all the monies pumped in by governments must be re-earned by society. There is no free lunch, after all. It is not for nothing that US Fed chief Ben Bernanke recently said his biggest challenge will be how to withdraw excess money from the system once recovery gets underway. This process is yet to play out.

Wipro chairman Azim Premji, too, was cautiously optimistic when he said businesses were still adjusting to the recession and the focus was on cost cutting and optimal human resource management. So it would be a while before fresh hiring begins. So, at best, the unemployment level might decrease by no more than a percentage point in the next year or two. Other jury members also cited continuing unemployment at the global level as one factor that might hinder a good recovery.

It will affect consumer confidence for a longer period. Kumar Mangalam Birla, chairman of the AV Birla Group, seemed to support the decoupling thesis. We are not too convinced whether any total decoupling can happen yet. Clearly, a global recovery is imperative for India to get back to a GDP growth of 9% plus.







Since we’ve had a tradition of accepting multiple levels of reality, post-modern style in our ancient sort of way, perhaps we’re now quite ready for the intimately sordid, the blatantly egotistical and make-the-kids-compete-like-canines sort of reality. On TV that is.

Thus, welcome the era of middle class India revealing its betrayals, infidelities and all its degrees of human pettiness solely for the scintillating glory for being on the telly. Watch gleefully as a censorious former cop wags a stern finger at those erring pitiful souls down below, and presumably we, just as they after exiting the studio, can have a homely dinner, sleep soundly and all live happily ever after.

Watch in fascination at the awesome talent of our nation as little kids in garish costumes gyrate to childhood-robbing choreography. Just to win that little studio dance competition. Settle down into debates with friends and family about who your favourite housemate is in the series whose title originally was meant to convey just the same sort of totalitarian terror involved in perpetually being watched in a controlled society.

We haven’t quite got to the stage of the series as in the west, where they can ogle at the canoodling couple who hit it off in the ‘house’. But we’ll get there. And that will be the wish-fulfilment of many a Indian male: officially sanctioned, beverage sponsored live sex! Or maybe we will also import one of the more successful versions of
reality TV out in the world. Wife Swap, it’s called. Let your imagination run riot.

Don’t let that weirdo dissenter tell you something is amiss. That such TV is laying claim to a reality constructed inside a tinshed studio. And calling it real. Indeed, it’s the new
cinema verite. What could be more real than a chap revealing he’s had an affair while strapped into a polygraph machine, inside a studio, with a few dozen strangers staring into his face and a generous prompter egging things on? Of course, the wife just has to be present too.

That’s the drama. That’s where the real TRP squeeze happens. It’s just good business, real good business.








In holding up the amendment Bill to the land acquisition Act, is Mamata Banerjee making the perfect the enemy of the good, or could some good come out of the delay? The growing opposition to the Act arises from the fact that it is basically confiscatory.

While it pays lip service to the concept of market value in determining compensation, in practice the quantum of compensation has to be determined by an overly mechanistic formula laid down in the Act itself which can never yield the market price. This is because the market for land in the area to be acquired dies years before the notification of acquisition of land for a large project.

Given all the advance publicity surrounding projects, no one is willing to buy land that everyone knows is going to be acquired, except at a distress price. The quantum of compensation has to be based, under the Act, on sale deeds which necessarily reflect this distress price, and which are undervalued also because the parties want to save on stamp duty.

Instead of doing away with the straitjacket imposed by the formula for all projects, the amendment Bill removes it only for land required for projects to be implemented by companies, by requiring them to acquire at least 70% of the land they need through negotiations with willing sellers. This will leave the compensation formula intact for the vast number of government and urban body projects in infrastructure, irrigation, mining, defence, and other sectors.

Interestingly, Mamata does not raise this issue. According to press reports she has three objections to the Bill. She wants government to get out of the business of acquiring land for companies altogether, by requiring them to buy 100% of the land they need (and not just 70%). She wants to prohibit industry from coming up on agricultural land. And she wants to give farmers the legal right to buy back their land if the proposed industry fails to come up within the promised amount of time.

The difficulty with her first demand is that it doesn’t deal with a situation in which there are a few holdouts who refuse to sell their land, either for sentimental reasons or out of sheer curmudgeonly cussedness or in order to extract a price so high that the project becomes unviable. It would give every single farmer a veto over the project.

There may be scope to reduce the 30% further, but it would seem essential to retain some small share for compulsory acquisition at the same price agreed to by the willing sellers. The irony is that the Bill is reported to have been held up in the standing committee in the last Parliament because the West Bengal government did not think it would be possible in many cases to persuade even 70% of farmers to sell their land willingly, and wanted the permissible compulsory acquisition share to be increased to 50%.

On the second point, it would seem both unfair and inefficient to prevent a farmer from getting out of agriculture and putting the sale proceeds to some higher productivity use if he is made an offer for his land that is acceptable to him. Since companies will now have to pay the full market value of the land they acquire, they will automatically tend to locate projects in cheaper, low productivity land. In any case, a small but acceptable amount of land is bound to move out of agriculture in an industrialising economy.

It is Mamata’s third point that makes a valuable contribution to the debate. Partly because land can be acquired on the cheap under the Act there is a tendency to acquire much more of it than is needed, and then not use it. A mere statement in the notification that the project is for a “public purpose” is all that is required under the Act, and the courts have refused to look behind it.

The basis on which the quantum of land allegedly required has been worked out is rarely in the public domain through detailed project reports, etc. Thus land acquired is often not used at all, or used for some other purpose, which is also permissible under the Act.

The requirement to return land in such cases (except by companies) will force the project authorities to be much more careful in assessing the land they require, and will prevent them from diverting it to other uses. Moreover, once it is written into the Act, it will force the courts (or the ombudsmen and tribunals proposed to be set up under the amendment Bill) to examine the reasonableness of land requirement assessments, and introduce much greater transparency into the whole process.

This is one change to the amendment Bill that the parliamentary standing committee should consider, when the Bill reaches it. An even more important one is changing the compensation formula. The crucial principle in determining compensation should be the replacement cost of the asset being acquired. Thus a farmer being displaced should be able to relocate himself outside, but as close to the project site as he wants.

Why should he be forced to move far away from his former home and relatives because the compensation he receives based on historical cost (at the time of notification) is now well below the cost of land locally? It is true that the value of that land has gone up because of the project, and the principle adopted in the Act is that he is not entitled to benefit from the appreciation. However, the question should be asked, why not? Why should he suffer for being unlucky enough to lose his land while his neighbours have become rich overnight? If anything, it is his land that has made the project possible. Paying him its replacement value would make very little difference to the economics of most projects.

The standoff with Mamata has prevented the Bill from being represented to the last session of Parliament. But the delay will have been worth it if the standing committee deals with the above issues. Meanwhile there is no reason why the central and state governments should not start implementing the many welcome improvements in the amendment Bill, and the accompanying R&R Bill, without waiting for them to become law, such as recognising the rights of tenants and landless labourers as well as owners, a consultative and transparent R&R to be prepared within three months of the notification, and of course requiring companies to buy at least 70% of the land they need.







The government’s willingness to consider putting jet fuel on open general licence, which will allow airlines to import fuel, is welcome in the context of the crisis faced by the airline industry. But the decision is a sub-optimal one, brought about by the refusal of most states to cut sales tax on aviation turbine fuel (ATF) to reasonable levels.

Fuel accounts for a disproportionately high share of operating costs for India’s airlines. ATF prices are about 60% higher than globally, thanks to multiple levies, among which pride of place goes to the sales tax (as high as 33% in some cases) imposed by states.

High fuel cost is an important reason — cut-throat competition, costly infrastructure and general inefficiency are others — why India’s aviation sector is in a deep crisis today with over Rs 10,000 crore losses in 2008-09. The government is trying to work around the problem by allowing airlines to import fuel directly.

There is no sales tax on imports directly by the end user. But this is not an easy solution as airlines will have to invest in storage facilities at airports, and put in place a team to manage the imports and hedge the risks. Besides, the industry will have to come together as a single airline’s ATF needs would not justify all this effort. The existing oil companies are not going to make it easy as ATF is a high margin product for them.

The feasible solution, therefore, is to get states to agree to a lower duty. But this problem should not be seen in isolation, but in the larger context of states not doing enough revenue effort on their own. While the states’ own tax revenue has grown to 6.1% of GDP over the 2005-09 from 5.6% in the five-year period before that, their own non-tax revenue has fallen to 1.4% of GDP from over 2% in the 1980s.

The lack of political will to levy user charges on various services is putting undue strain on the finances of many states, forcing them into the easier option of taxing commodities such as ATF, which may also be ideologically justified as taxing the rich. As argued by us earlier, the Centre needs to engage the states more and negotiate with them on an equal basis to push through reforms that would improve their finances and curb regressive taxation.












It is not clear whether the ban on former BJP leader Jaswant Singh’s controversial new book on Muhammad Ali Jinnah by Narendra Modi’s Gujarat government is the result of the chief minister’s private initiative or flows from a nudge from top echelons in the BJP or the RSS. The former appears more likely as the volume has not yet been banned in other states that have BJP governments. It is quite possible then that the proscription reflects either a settling of personal scores or a bit of intra-BJP play that Mr Modi may be engaged in, given the current context of the fierce power struggle among the BJP’s top honchos and competition for a race to the top in its upper echelons. Whatever the Gujarat chief minister’s reasons for stopping the book’s sale and circulation in his state, the decision is deplorable.
Mr Modi cannot even flaunt the hoary excuse that the writing in question can potentially trigger public violence for supposedly insulting the late Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and thus pose a threat to law and order. Mahatma Gandhi is no less a son of Gujarat than the Sardar, and it is hard to recall the proscription in Gujarat of any anti-Gandhi writing or representation in art, and there are several. In some ways, banning a book is like prohibition — it only increases demand for the forbidden fruit. This is reportedly exactly what seems to have happened with the Jinnah book. In a real sense, a book ban never stops people from reading it. Therefore, the only plausible way to view one is as an uncivilised political gesture that belittles the authority that may have sanctioned it.

Mr Modi may have noticed that the critics of his action are not just the usual suspects — the liberal subversives, the so-called “pseudo-secular” elements among the intelligentsia who have for long been the favourite whipping boy of the Hindutva establishment, but also many among the BJP itself as well as the Communist Party of India, unlikely though the latter may sound as Communists have traditionally not been strong on freedom of expression. But the CPI statement suggests that they are keenly alive to the demands of our age. Bans, and intellectual and moral policing, were never a sustainable concept. In the present era, characterised by a communications explosion and the proliferation of democratic consciousness, they can only attract derision and instigate antagonism. Just in case the BJP hadn’t considered this, among the reasons for its resounding defeat in the recent Parliament election is its consistent association with assaults on expression — on the different interpretations of the Ramayan of diverse traditions, M.F. Husain’s paintings, an art student’s drawings, or girls going to a pub. The late Habib Tanvir’s iconic Hindi play Charandas Chor was recently banned by the BJP government in Chhattisgarh, and now we get the clamps on the book on Jinnah. The comeuppance of public ire usually does follow such occurrences, as the Congress and the CPI(M) may have learnt when they dealt with Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen by fiat. Not banning is not an unattainable ideal; especially nowadays it is a democratic requirement. Thought could not be imprisoned in Galileo’s day, it can’t be now, whatever the stylistic or historical demerits of Jaswant Singh’s book.














Two hundred and one British soldiers have given their lives in Afghanistan since 2001. Britain is beginning to ask if it’s worth it. It’s a valid question but one that the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, foreign secretary David Miliband and defence secretary Bob Ainsworth refuse to face. The continuing haemorrhage is part of the sacrifice they have determined to make to the God of American foreign policy.


If it were true that a continued or even escalated presence of British troops and fighting forces in Afghanistan would achieve what that foreign policy has ostensibly set out to do, then the British public would, as it has with most military adventures its governments undertake, give it their support.


The public’s scepticism has been fuelled over this week by the death of Private Richard Hunt, 21, who was brought back wounded from Afghanistan to Birmingham and died there last weekend. His mother Hazel Hunt called for politicians to go to the frontline themselves. She wasn’t defying them to fight the Taliban themselves, simply asking them to go and see the conditions under which the British soldiers they send out are dying. Some military experts have supported her in her claim that the soldiers deployed there, all from a volunteer not a conscript army, are under-equipped and traverse the hard and hostile terrain of Helmand in vehicles which cannot protect them from even home-made Taliban land mines.


And still Mr Ainsworth insists that the war is winnable.


He is talking in the same terms as the United States President Barack Obama who reaffirmed his country’s determination to withdraw from Iraq by 2011 and to increase the US’ military commitment to Afghanistan. His foreign policy, an escalation of that of George W. Bush’s, has two vaunted aims. The first is to ensure, or pretend to believe, that the presidential elections that were held in Afghanistan on August 20 will deliver a difficult, flawed but continuing “democracy” to Afghanistan and thereby secure the second objective, which is deprive Al Qaeda of an operational base.


In order to achieve these objectives the allied troops have to defeat the “Taliban” which is the generic name given to all the armed insurrectionaries opposed to the American, British and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) presence in Afghanistan.


The insurrectionaries are supplied and supported by the generic enemies of the US, by a pan-national collection of countries sympathetic to Islamism and by powerful elements within other countries such as factions of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence. They command some support from local people and even some warlords who want to shake off central government. The sale of heroin to the US and the West in the main provides the insurrectionary elements with the money to buy arms and to hold down pockets of the country.


Combating the desire of the British population to cut and run from Afghanistan and waste no more of the lives of their young, Mr Miliband repeatedly assures Parliament and the country that Britain is in there to save lives not to sacrifice them. These are British lives that are being saved as Al Qaeda will, as guests of the Talibs, use Afghanistan as a base to repeat the atrocity of 9/11, an imminent prospect according to sources he cannot reveal.


On evidence, his argument is absurd, but before examining its absurdities we ought to acknowledge that Mr Miliband has convinced himself that this is the reason British troops are in that hostile, unconquered land. I don’t believe that he is secretly in favour of or duped by the consideration that a war and the expenditure on the military machine and on the manufacture of armaments will keep capitalism going and the British economy healthy. His government, at this juncture in world capitalism’s liquidity crisis, would much rather not spend on armour in Afghanistan. This is not to say that the British arms trade is not thriving. It is; but this is not owing to the continuation of the war in Afghanistan, rather to the sale of aircraft and weapons to various countries in the world who are not (yet?) embroiled in the Iran or Afghan conflicts.


Neither is there much evidence in favour of the bloggots (blogging idiots) who contend that Afghanistan is strategically important because someone somewhere wants to lay a pipeline through it to send petrol or gas to someone else and earn zillions of dollars thereby. Look at a contour map of Afghanistan (and get a life)!


What the Americans mean by “winnable” is that, as in Iraq, the insurgents will be contained if not defeated and the native armies will be equipped and trained to take on the task of suppressing them.


The premises of these arguments are faulty. Afghanistan hasn’t yet got the basic civil society that can sustain a Westminster style parliamentary democracy. That requires a Constitution which the population or a vast majority of it supports; an Army that swears allegiance to such a Constitution and means what it swears; a free press which may be divided in its opinion but is fearless in its expression; an educated or at the least literate middle class which can, in the traditions of democracy, hold the elected representatives of the people accountable; and an economy whose running does not necessitate a change of regime with each upheaval.
Afghanistan has and will progress to such a state in which it can support a flourishing democracy — but not in the short time that its invaders tell their own voters it will take.


And what of the shelter-for-Al-Qaeda argument? Has Osama been captured and brought to book? Isn’t Al Qaeda a hydra that will grow a new head and find a new lair when the last one is cut off or sealed? Al Qaeda doesn’t need the tunnels of Tora Bora in which to convene and plot destruction. That can be done from a basement in Antwerp, Brisbane, Kolkata, Dublin and right through the alphabet till we get to Zywiec.


Are the terror attacks on the world really being planned from Tora Bora or some Taliban redoubt? Or is the real battle against those who have turned unstable Pakistan into the actual base for international terror, the refuge for dissidents from anywhere in the world to congregate, despite the Pakistani government’s newfound determination to eradicate the menace and regain its reputation, and train for murder?







According to news reports, the Obama administration — which seemed, over the weekend, to be backing away from the “public option” for health insurance — is shocked and surprised at the furious reaction from progressives.


Well, I’m shocked and surprised at their shock and surprise.


A backlash in the progressive base — which pushed President Obama over the top in the Democratic primary and played a major role in his general election victory — has been building for months. The fight over the public option involves real policy substance, but it’s also a proxy for broader questions about the President’s priorities and overall approach.


The idea of letting individuals buy insurance from a government-run plan was introduced in 2007 by Jacob Hacker of Yale, was picked up by John Edwards during the Democratic primary, and became part of the original Obama healthcare plan.


One purpose of the public option is to save money. Experience with Medicare suggests that a government-run plan would have lower costs than private insurers; in addition, it would introduce more competition and keep premiums down.


And let’s be clear: the supposed alternative, nonprofit co-ops, is a sham. That’s not just my opinion; it’s what the market says: stocks of health insurance companies soared on news that the Gang of Six senators trying to negotiate a bipartisan approach to health reform were dropping the public plan. Clearly, investors believe that co-ops would offer little real competition to private insurers.


Also, and importantly, the public option offered a way to reconcile differing views among Democrats. Until the idea of the public option came along, a significant faction within the party rejected anything short of true single-payer, Medicare-for-all reform, viewing anything less as perpetuating the flaws of our current system. The public option, which would force insurance companies to prove their usefulness or fade away, settled some of those qualms.


That said, it’s possible to have universal coverage without a public option — several European nations do it — and some who want a public option might be willing to forgo it if they had confidence in the overall healthcare strategy. Unfortunately, the President’s behaviour in office has undermined that confidence.


On the issue of healthcare itself, the inspiring figure progressives thought they had elected comes across, far too often, as a dry technocrat who talks of “bending the curve” but has only recently begun to make the moral case for reform. Mr Obama’s explanations of his plan have gotten clearer, but he still seems unable to settle on a simple, pithy formula; his speeches and op-eds still read as if they were written by a committee.


Meanwhile, on such fraught questions as torture and indefinite detention, the President has dismayed progressives with his reluctance to challenge or change Bush administration policy.


And then there’s the matter of the banks.


I don’t know if administration officials realise just how much damage they’ve done themselves with their kid-gloves treatment of the financial industry, just how badly the spectacle of government supported institutions paying giant bonuses is playing. But I’ve had many conversations with people who voted for Mr Obama, yet dismiss the stimulus as a total waste of money.

When I press them, it turns out that they’re really angry about the bailouts rather than the stimulus — but that’s a distinction lost on most voters.


So there’s a growing sense among progressives that they have, as my colleague Frank Rich suggests, been punked. And that’s why the mixed signals on the public option created such an uproar.


Now, politics is the art of the possible.


Mr Obama was never going to get everything his supporters wanted.


But there’s a point at which realism shades over into weakness, and progressives increasingly feel that the administration is on the wrong side of that line. It seems as if there is nothing Republicans can do that will draw an administration rebuke: Senator Charles E. Grassley feeds the death panel smear, warning that reform will “pull the plug on grandma”, and two days later the White House declares that it’s still committed to working with him.


It’s hard to avoid the sense that Mr Obama has wasted months trying to appease people who can’t be appeased, and who take every concession as a sign that he can be rolled.


Indeed, no sooner were there reports that the administration might accept co-ops as an alternative to the public option than GOP leaders announced that co-ops, too, were unacceptable.


So progressives are now in revolt.


Mr Obama took their trust for granted, and in the process lost it. And now he needs to win it back.










While the H1N1 virus outbreak and the impending drought have eased the pressure that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was facing in the aftermath of the India-Pakistan joint statement issued at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, there are developments on the Line of Control (LoC), the international boundary between the two countries and in many parts of India which raise grave doubts about Pakistan’s sincerity for peace.


In fact, as both countries celebrated their respective 62nd Independence Days, what clearly emerged is that after reneging on every single peace pact in over six decades and despite their post-26/11 assurances, Pakistan’s military and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is still working overtime to continue its war against India. I use the term “overtime” because Pakistan is suppose to be busy fighting the same terrorists produced by its military in its own territory. So it is just as well that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally and categorically stated earlier this week that Pakistani terrorists are planning new attacks and Union home minister P. Chidambaram did some plain speaking on Manipur and Assam, where the ISI has been very active.


The New York Times of July 29 quoted Pakistani officials as saying that since May 2009, F-16 multi-role fighter jets have flown more than 300 combat missions against militants in the Swat Valley and more than 100 missions in South Waziristan, targeting Taliban’s mountain hideouts, training centres and ammunition depots, with infantry fire, artillery barrages and helicopter gunships.


And yet it needed some time and effort to confirm Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud’s death in a US drone attack. Over two million internally-displaced hapless people have suffered at the hands of the Taliban. As a part of the effort to get civilians out of the conflict areas “to reduce their casualties”, they were sometimes given the notice of only few hours. Instead of closing in on its adversaries with troops on the ground, the Pakistan Army indulged in long-range fighting, often missing the target, but killing thousands of innocent people instead. With such attacks, the Taliban, its offshoots and supporters like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba are only dispersed. They can still attack from a distance with rockets and mortars.


The New York Times also mentioned that American officials were sceptical about Pakistan’s claims of success. “We don’t have access to battle-damage assessment or information on the actual strike execution, so we cannot make a qualitative comparison of what the intended effect was versus the actual effect”, said an American adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity.


Pakistan has been trying to convince the US to use the advanced versions of F-16s against the Taliban. While US officials have repeatedly raised concerns that Pakistan’s arms purchases and troop deployments are geared mainly to bolster its ability to fight India, yet they have given Pakistan sophisticated surveillance equipment for that significantly improves the precision of its Air Force.


But all this activity and commitment to fight the Taliban has not detracted the Pakistan Army from maintaining a fair pace of anti-India operations through its outsourced jihadi force-multipliers. And with a few successes, like the killing of Baitullah Mehsud by the combined effort of Afghanistan-based US troops and Pakistani forces, Pakistan Army feels emboldened enough to continue to violate the 2004 ceasefire by sending across jihadis of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and others.


On the Indian side of the LoC, during the earlier major crossings of March-April 2009, timed during India’s elections, there were reports of launch pads with a few hundred jihadis waiting to cross over by dodging the enhanced surveillance and patrolling by the Indian Army.


A second wave has been on since July, essentially to raise the ante in Jammu and Kashmir where the new National Conference chief minister’s pitch is being queered by the separatists and the People’s Democratic Party.


Defence minister A.K. Antony said in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha on July 27, 2009: “A total of 110 incidents of ceasefire violations have taken place along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir since 2006. These include 47 incidents of trans-LoC firing. Our troops have suffered nine fatal and 25 non-fatal casualties”. A maximum of 77 such incidents had taken place in 2008, 21 in 2007 and three in 2006. “Nine violations have taken place so far this year”, Mr Antony added. From July 27 to August 5, 2009, there were another six violations and even after that there have been terrorist-related incidents culminating in a bomb attack near the Indian embassy in Kabul on August 15, 2009.


Responding to another query, minister of state for defence M.M. Pallam Raju said that 690 officers and soldiers were killed on duty in the same period. “Fifty four officers, 62 junior commissioned officers and 574 other ranks have been killed on duty since 2006”, he said. Mr Antony had said that Indian troops take strong action if an incident of LoC violation occurs while maintaining adequate restraint to “prevent escalation”, which the Indian politico-bureaucratic establishment has all along been extremely mindful of, keeping India-Pakistan war of 1971 and Kargil in mind.


That is not all. This newspaper had on August 12, reported that the latest inputs from Central intelligence agencies confirmed that after constructing concrete bunkers along the international boundary on their side, Pakistan is now trying to send fresh probing missions to India to find out the preparedness of Indian border-guarding forces. It quoted a high-ranking official of a Central intelligence agency is saying, “The neighbouring country’s attempts to send three probing missions to India near the Indo-Pakistan border in Punjab and Rajasthan were recently foiled by the Border Security Force by killing the intruders. While two attempts were foiled in Amritsar and Gurdaspur, one attempt was foiled near Jaisalmer”. Some of those captured, during interrogation revealed that they were sent by border-guarding forces of Pakistan to get information about border security preparations on the Indian side.


Prior to Pakistan’s Swat campaign, about 10 F-16 aircraft equipped with high-resolution, infra-red sensors were provided by the US to conduct detailed reconnaissance of the entire Swat Valley. These may have already been used to spy on the Indian stretches along the international boundary. In view of Pakistan’s continuing anti-India efforts, should this country resume talks with Islamabad at this juncture?


Anil Bhat, a retired Army officer, is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi








Competitive heroism is nothing new. As children we are all programmed to prefer our daddies to be the strongest, and our moms to be the most beautiful. In case we have parents who don’t quite provide the ideal role model — we can always go out there and pick out an icon whom we can worship.


For the post-Partition generation in India Jawaharlal Nehru has been the hero of choice — an intellectual Prime Minister, someone with very human failings and emotions. Besides which, he was also good-looking and even his romantic pursuits have been forgiven since we acknowledge that, apart from an ill wife, he had spent most of his best years in jail. It has also helped that the Congress Party whose patronage is key for many “historians” has been a dominant force — and therefore for the generation which grew up during Partition and after — he has been an icon who, even after his death, has remained in our consciousness much more than any living Prime Minister.


Nehru has been discussed and analysed — but there are always unwritten lines that most people would not dare to cross — as there are too many out there who take it as a personal affront if anything really “remiss” were to be said about Nehru.


For many he is genuinely part of their political and social consciousness. For instance, when I was researching my book , Darlingji: The True Love Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt, I was very moved by Sunil Dutt’s personal memory of Nehru — a man he met perhaps only a handful of times in his entire life. Yet those encounters shaped him and his idealism. Dutt’s father had died when he was very young — and when he saw a photograph of Nehru in a newspaper (pre-Partition) he ran excitedly to his mother and asked if that was his father. Even when he began his charitable activities — the highlight was being able to present a cheque to Nehru, personally. Dutt was not alone as many people like him were brought into politics by Nehru’s personal charisma.


The tragedy is that we still don’t have anybody else who can match up to that stature — apart from Mohandas Gandhi. We definitely need to look at that pantheon of great men and women who led to us to Independence and examine each one of them once more. Which is why I have to say that I was thrilled to be at Jaswant Singh’s book launch on Jinnah: India, Partition, and Independence — and to note the passion with which speaker after speaker (barring a few who took the same old ghisa pita Congress Party line) was able to bring to the subject.


For the first time, after 62 years of a supreme academic silence — it was exciting to rediscover a major player who has been either written out of Indian history or has been junked as the “bad boy”, the spoiler. The same fervour that I remember in Sunil Dutt’s voice when he narrated his passion for Nehru was audible in Hamid Haroon’s voice when he spoke of Jinnah. And why not? Haroon is the editor/publisher of the Dawn group of newspapers and a Pakistani. He pointed out the excitement in Pakistan over the publication of this book, and the fact that the younger generation in Pakistan has begun to discover the “real” Jinnah. This is not the deified Jinnah that the fundamentalists would like us to know about — but the very human and complex individual that he was.


Of course, the irony was that the book launch was at the Nehru Memorial Library — with a large portrait of Nehru staring at us across the room, while Jinnah’s portrait was on stage. Even after 62 years post-Independence the two men remained the adversaries that they must have been in real life. Both were good-looking, sophisticated, secular — and either could have become the Prime Minister of India. In fact, as someone (a Muslim) pointed out, after the event — the real underlying issue, the real problem was the almost-sibling rivalry between the two. It may not have helped that both Motilal Nehru and Gandhi were also fond of Jinnah. It was another amazing thought — that we had come so very close to getting a Muslim Prime Minister — an impossibility given the current climate we live in!


From the excitement of that book launch — to the cold political reality only goes to show that while India is growing up — our politicians remain immature and child-like. They still want to hang on to their childhood heroes refusing to acknowledge that we live in a world which prefers Sach Ka Saamna. That we prefer our heroes to be real and human — with foibles and secrets — just like us. That we would now, please, like some real hard honesty from our historians and we deserve to know the truth about Partition. And yes, we will not fall apart if we our heroes turn out to have feet of clay.


As Sir Mark Tully remarked during the book launch the disturbing aspect is not that the book has been written — but the negative, almost fascist reaction to the book from both sides of the political divide. The fact that Mr Singh has been expelled and that the book has been banned in Gujarat is totally shocking — but at the same time — we all know that it will be very good for book sales.


If Salman Rushdie did not have fatwa issued against him — he would perhaps never have reached the near sainthood he managed to achieve and the phenomenal sympathy he received from liberals all over the world.


By his sheer act of rebellion, by choosing a proscribed subject, Mr Singh has actually risen in stature from being a mere Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician. In an Internet age banning books makes absolutely no sense. Besides, by denouncing the book both the Congress Party and the BJP have actually achieved the opposite of what they had set out to do — Jinnah has emerged as an intriguing, interesting subject. And it is even more intriguing that it has taken a former BJP politician to allow a very interesting and dominant but long-dead politician — to take centrestage once more.


 Kishwar Desai’s novelWitness the Night, to be published in January 2010, is on the longlist for the Man Asian Literary Prize, 2009. She can be contacted at [1]










Lauding local heroes could well turn out to be the last resort of shallow politicians. If the Bharatiya Janata Party expelled Jaswant Singh from the party for writing a book on Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi went a step further and banned the book in his state. Mr Modi believes that Mr Singh has done serious harm to the pride of Gujaratis by penning a few lines of criticism about the role that Vallabhbhai Patel played during the transfer of power negotiations. Patel, according to Mr Modi, is the local hero. (The fact that Patel’s ideology and politics were at odds with all that Mr Modi has done and stands for is another matter.) Mr Modi obviously believes that Patel is above criticism and discussion: everyone will have to agree with whatever is Mr Modi’s view of the man. Would Mr Modi be as touchy about a book that was critical of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, another Gujarati and perhaps more eminent than Patel? The point is that Mr Modi sees himself as a strong leader and therefore cast in the same mould as Patel, the so-called iron man. He thus chose to ban a book that voices reservations about Patel’s role in the events leading to independence.


The point has wider implications than Mr Modi’s hero worship of Patel and the political gains thereof. There have been too many instances in various parts of India displaying prickliness about criticism of and reservations about perceived local heroes. In West Bengal some time ago, issues of Ananda Bazar Patrika were burnt because it carried letters written by Subhas Chandra Bose to his fiancée, who later became his wife. The letters had been selected and edited by a niece-in-law of Bose. But this didn’t stop some followers of Bose from going on the rampage. In Maharashtra even a whiff of a criticism of Shivaji leads to mob fury. The formula is simple: either hero worship or nothing. This makes mockery of historical interpretation and indeed of all intellectual discussion.


It is not just West Bengal, Maharashtra and Gujarat that are afflicted by this malady of deifying local heroes. This tendency also raises the question of seeing men like Patel and Bose as merely provincial politicians. Other parts of India and various groups also show a refusal to accept any criticism of those they see as icons. The affliction has spread from political leaders to other spheres of activity. Witness the furore in West Bengal when Sourav Ganguly was perceived as being badly treated by the selectors and the then coach Greg Chappell. Indians by nature are drawn to modes of looking at the past through the prism of good leader/bad leader. The flip side of such a simplistic notion is the belief that by banning or burning a book genuine criticism can be stopped. Books can be banned or destroyed but ideas cannot be. The banning of a book says more about the insecurities of the perpetrator than anything about the book or its subject.








British grumbling about aid to India reminds us that it is as demeaning for a country to accept foreign money as it is to export economic refugees, whether highly qualified professionals to America or labourers to Singapore. India’s historical, cultural and emotional connection with Britain is too valuable to be jeopardized for the small change of aid which embitters the giver and hardly helps the recipient.


Many Britons feel that their country cannot afford to lavish £825 million on India over three years. The previous five years’ aid of £1,045 million raised fewer hackles because Britain was not then in the dumps and India was not so exuberant either. Denis MacShane, a junior foreign office minister in Tony Blair’s government, puts it diplomatically. “The taxpayer has given more than £1 billion of aid to India even though that great country has more billionaires and millionaires than Britain and runs its own well-financed development aid programme.” More later about Indian help for less fortunate countries. What matters here is that the political, economic and emotional predicament of a country that has lost an empire without finding a role aggravates resentment.


The answer to that rhetorical question was even more revealing of British thinking. “Well, after they’ve paid for their military and space programmes, there’s very little left for food. Hardly their fault is it you fascist, racist, holocaust denier!” British aid, the internet writer explained, is “a bribe to stop them hating us. We’re now the fat kid whose dad owns a sweetshop buying friends.” He called it “pathetic”.


Bitterness is not unconnected with the almost daily killing in Afghanistan of brave young Englishmen, some only in their teens. Economic distress compounds grief. The International Monetary Fund fears Britain’s public debt might double to a record 100 per cent of the gross domestic product over the next five years. Unemployment (2.4 million without jobs) is at a 14-year high, explaining a surge in drug addiction, alcoholism and domestic violence. A new word, “Neets”, standing for youths who are not in education, employment or training, accounts for one in six in the 16-24 age group. A spurt of what looks suspiciously like race friction and increased support for the ultra-nationalist British National Party can be attributed to the same cause. Conditions will worsen if the GDP shrinks by 5.5 per cent, as the Bank of England governor fears. Further cuts in Britain’s defence budget are not ruled out. No wonder William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, laments that it will become increasingly difficult “for Britain to exert on world affairs the influence we are used to.”


But let India’s imagination not run away with delusions of grandeur. The image of grinding poverty dies hard despite the US ruling that while Pakistan and Bangladesh are “developing” countries, India is a “transforming” nation (which justified slashing American aid by 35 per cent to $81 million) and analysts constantly coupling India with China as the economic powers of the future. Thanks to Mother Teresa’s Nobel Prize and sainthood and Slumdog Millionaire’s eight Oscars and £31.6 million box office takings, the plight of more than 300 million Indians whose misery lends poignancy to the “Incredible India” slogan is as well known globally as the Mittal, Tata and Ambani fortunes. No country is richer than its poorest citizens.


Typically, third world window-dressing, like the campaign to brush Delhi’s beggars under a carpet of mobile courts, biometric database and special institutions before next year’s Commonwealth Games, invites ridicule. A similar gimmick in Colombo before the 1976 Non-Aligned Nations summit led to the mayor of Colombo’s mother, who was collecting driftwood, being bundled off to jail with suspected vagrants. India’s 2001 Census figure of 627,688 beggars was obviously a gross under-estimate, but the authorities are worried only about those in Delhi polluting the sight of foreign, mainly white, delegates. But a capital city that looks too spick and span might persuade donors that their charity is misplaced.


Appearances matter. Watching the extravagance of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s arrival for a Commonwealth summit in Canada, Lee Kuan Yew reflected that “the poorer the country, the bigger the Cadillacs they hired for their leaders”. Mujib’s chartered plane idled on the runway for a week while his entourage loaded it with crates of purchases. It would be more rewarding, Lee mused, for third world politicians to “set out to impress the world that they were poor and in dire need of assistance”. Lee’s advice admits by implication that aid is not always unjustified. Philosophically, it can be viewed in terms of global inter-dependence. Even the US welcomed a helping hand after Hurricane Katrina. Pragmatically, it can be called investment, and a blogger does write that every pound Britain gives India yields £10 in “commercial exchanges”.


But Indians have not forgotten Lyndon B. Johnson’s humiliating “short tether” policy when the rains failed and a 17 per cent drop in foodgrain production meant the stark threat of famine. Johnson meticulously supervised the despatch of individual consignments of grain for specific locations, mastering ship, aircraft and railway schedules to retain personal control over every stage of history’s largest food rescue operation. An eyewitness noted that when Indira Gandhi telephoned Johnson to appeal for food her hand gripped the instrument so hard during the conversation that her knuckles showed white. She knew that there is no such thing as a free lunch in global diplomacy.


Hence the relevance of MacShane’s complimentary reference to the modest Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme launched in 1964 which now helps 156 countries, Afghanistan heading the list. The ITEC strengthens the case for technical cooperation for specific projects rather than general financial assistance which provokes resentment and is a drop in the ocean of a country’s needs. Ronald Reagan’s favourite tale of teaching a hungry man to catch fish instead of giving him a fish to eat highlighted a homely truth.


India may still need some help. But when Denmark imposed sanctions after Pokhran-II, Jaswant Singh was right to reject the driblets provided by 13 European countries, Australia and Saudi Arabia. India should now review the entire aid programme and the cost in terms of image, repayment and conditionalities.


Britain is a special case. Jawaharlal Nehru’s argument that Indians and British would get on better if the latter did not rule the former also applies to funding. There is no question of trying to appease frustrated Britons with defence cuts. But ambitious plans should be kept under wraps, as Japan does. Meanwhile, London taxis painted “Incredible India” in psychedelic colours only draw attention to India’s “incredible” contrasts. A Delhi that more closely resembles, say, Calcutta might prompt fewer doubts among donors.A scattering of destitutes would help. If this offends patriotic pride, Jaswant Singh’s doctrine should be taken a stage further. Surrendering British aid would remove an unnecessary irritant. It would also be good for India’s self-respect.









ONE must give it to Biman Bose that he has been remarkably forthright as the CPI-M conducts a somewhat unofficial post mortem of the electoral denouement from the panchayat to the municipal polls via the Lok Sabha elections. At Wednesday’s closed-door meeting of the particularly influential Calcutta District Committee (Cal DC), the CPI-M’s state secretary engaged himself in a bout of uncharacteristic thinking aloud. He has in the process extended the discourse beyond Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s presentation at the recent state committee meeting. Whereas the Chief Minister had laid the blame at the door of the party’s grassroots functionaries and the bureaucracy for the glaring disconnect between claims and reality, the state secretary has been unsparing in his criticism of the leadership. Indeed, Mr Bose’s assessment was a faint echo of the late Benoy Chaudhuri’s critique of the CPI-M as a party of contractors and promoters, a statement of fact that had Jyoti Basu’s dander up. More than two decades later, the clout of this money-spinning real estate lobby has only been reinforced, judging by the tenor of Mr Bose’s statement, made in a moment of disarming candour. He was blunt enough to tell the meeting that the party has no space for what he called the “promoter raj”, a semantic variation from Benoy babu’s “contractor raj”. It will not be enough to merely “identify” the promoters, as advised by Mr Bose. Having bared his angst over their stranglehold, it is imperative that they will have to be weeded out, if the party is intent on a makeover.

The state secretary has minced no words in his analysis of the performance of members and the eligibility of the nominees ~ fundamental drawbacks that in his reckoning are at the core of the Lok Sabha debacle. It was doubtless a stinging message for the delegates when he spoke of the need for action against the corrupt and the inactive, hinted at a purge to stem the rot, and buttressed the need to bolster the party with young blood. And with blistering candour he remarked: “I have no hesitation in admitting that the state leadership had made mistakes in picking the candidates.” He might as well have added that Lakhsman Seth (Tamluk) was one such gravely mistaken nomination. All in all, Mr Biman Bose has made an unsparing post mortem which ideally ought to have been presented at the state committee meeting and in the presence of the Politburo worthies from Delhi. On the earnestness and collective cooperation in the follow-through will depend the in-house course correction.








ONLY inflated egos, false prestige, silly sensitivities ~ reflections of a latent inferiority complex ~ and probably want of better things to do might explain the “national debate” triggered by celluloid hero Shah RukhKhan’s difficulties at Newark. Sure it was “action” unworthy of appreciation, but what makes the reaction appear foolish, futile overkill is that SRK himself is fuzzy about its fall-out. First he talks of “outrage”, being singled out because his name signifies a religion of which he is proud (all justifiable), but unable to resist the drama of the make-believe world he inhabits, he proceeds to project an image of having run the gauntlet of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Alcatraz, Sing-Sing etc in just a couple of hours and says he would feel uncomfortable travelling to America again. After advising the US to show more “warmth”, he says he wants no apology and asks that no “big deal” be made of the matter. Yet he lets his tongue run riot whenever a TV crew pops the question, when keeping his mouth shut would have the effect he claims he desires. In between, as is inevitable, the truth “outs”: he would return stateside if work took him there. In other words, big bucks (greenbacks?) compensate for indignities. All that shifts focus from a basic issue: must US authorities function the way they do? Surely they must have the “grey matter”, and now the experience, to realize that names like Khan, Mohammad, Hussain are as common as Smith, McDonald, Brown etc.

America’s security interests do not require insulting not just the visitor, but also the visa-issuing authority. That the government of India swung into action also confirms its celebrity-fixation; has it acted similarly ~ ever ~ for ordinary Indians given a far worse deal abroad? The home minister says the US, “overdid” it. Ambika Soni advocates tit-for-tat and lets everyone know she too was frisked at an American airport: for a heroine of the infamous Emergency that must have been some comedown. And Bollywood is split down the middle. While initially there was public sympathy for SRK it has waned courtesy suspicions he is trying to cash in. Maybe his mass appeal will be boosted, but he must lose out in terms of mature, enlightened opinion. Not that anything beneficial will result, so it’s best to stop wasting time on a serious issue SRK has condemned to cacophony!








THERE is much to condemn and little to commend as Kolkata’s Metro Railway gears up this Sunday to flag off the inaugural of the extended run up to Garia. In the fitness of things, the extension ought to have been welcomed as a commuter-friendly measure, if beyond the limits of the metropolitan area. Far from it. If misgivings at senior official levels are any indication, the Garia Bazar to Dum Dum service will hobble rather than help Metro operations. Most importantly, it will inconvenience, rather than facilitate, transit during the office rush hour. Central to the flip side is the dearth of rakes, a logistical deficit that shan’t be overcome before next March, at the earliest. The duration of the run, with an insufficient number of rakes, gets increased by eleven minutes to cover the additional 5.8 km distance. To that can be added another five minutes for reversal of engines at the terminal stations. As reported by this newspaper recently, even a trial run can throw operations out of gear by delaying normal services. The immediate consequence will be a one-hour curtailment, effective 23 August, in the six-minute frequency of trains during the morning peak-hour span ~ from the present 9 to 11-30 to 9-30 to 11. The extent of the overcrowding, almost suffocating as it is, can be much too unnerving even to imagine.

The charitable construct that can be placed upon this instance of contrived populism is that the authorities are lamentably unprepared to effect the extension. Metro Bhavan as much as the Railway Board ought to have guided the ebullient minister suitably. The shortage of rakes couldn’t possibly have been a late realisation; the extension project has been on the anvil for quite a while. While delaying implementation until the additional rakes were in place would have been unfair to those to be covered now, surely some responsibility must be fixed for this mismatch between rake and track. In the event, commuters hit by the severe curtailment of road transport will welcome the initiative. They will, though, wish things had been handled more efficiently; as indeed will older Metro users who will have to cope with a compromised service. For come Monday, it is almost certain that Metro travel will become more inconvenient than it now is.








During the heated parliamentary debate on the Prime Minister’s foreign policy sellout to Pakistan at Sharm el-Sheikh, allegedly under US influence, two questions were flying ~ does India have a foreign policy and if so, is it in the national interest?

As the Treasury benches and the greenhorn external affairs minister, SM Krishna, ran for cover, the Congress veteran and former foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, gave a resounding response: “Yes. India has a foreign policy and we have never deviated from its fundamentals”. The second question was side-stepped, obviously because the answer is ~ ‘It is not’.

Let us first look at India’s self-sacrificing relationship with the United States of America, the world’s only superpower. It is genuflection, prostration and crawling all the way. It all started with the LPG ~ Liberalisation, Privatisation, Globalisation ~ era since the early nineties when the reform agenda was drafted and crafted in the USA and pursued in India. Part of that agenda happened to succeed, but in large part it either failed or did not take off.

In the failed category was the move to restructure, unbundle and privatise the State Electricity Boards, the main objective being that American power utilities would take them over. Propelled by the ‘failed reformers’, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh plunged into ‘nuclear renaissance’ and risked his government to sign the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, to rescue the giant US companies starved of ‘nuclear power business’.


THE US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who visited India recently, rubbed it in and left with $30 billion (Rs.1,50,000 crore) worth of business to revive the sagging defence and nuclear industries in the US. In return she brought non-proliferation, climate change and Pakistan to the table, making it clear through diplomatic smiles that India has to kowtow to American interests in all these segments. India has to be content with such flattery as a perceived ‘global-power’ image, one that warms the cockles of free-wheeling millionaires and media-anchors!

As regards the Doha trade talks, the new Commerce Minister had already promised to play the American tune. This is reflected in the statement of the US Assistant Secretary on South and Central Asia, Robert O. Blake, in Washington: “There is a dynamic new trade minister in India by the name of Anand Sharma who knows the United States well. And he has already had a visit here to meet Ron Kirk (US Trade Representative). And he expressed India’s intention to work with the United States to try to, you know, move to a final phase of negotiations on Doha.”

India is now expected to dilute its position on the “special safeguard mechanism” and the right of developing countries to raise tariffs in the event of a large or sudden increase in imports threatening the domestic producers, particularly farmers. This could further ruin India’s languishing agriculture.
With the National Security Adviser, MK Narayanan, and the now retired Foreign Secretary, Shivshankar Menon, by his side, the Prime Minister hastened to clear agreements despite opposition from within the establishment. The End-Use Monitoring Agreement was a major gain for the US, which has been insisting on this for the past three years. It was signed by India despite strong protests from the military, which went on record before Clinton’s visit to try and stop the agreement that it has described as intrusive. The agreement allows the US to physically inspect the use of the equipment it has supplied to India, a concession that can adversely affect the security and sovereignty of this country.
Though the Prime Minister was keen to sign the Nuclear Liability Convention that gives immunity to US companies setting up nuclear power plants in India against any accident or Bhopal-type disaster, he could not do so due to strong lobbying by activists in and outside Parliament. Already facing flak on the joint statement with Pakistan, the Prime Minister was not particularly keen to open another front at this stage, and has put it off for another day.

Once this agreement is signed, as the US expects it to be, $10 billion will go into the US exchequer to revive power giants, Westinghouse and GE, who have not built a nuclear reactor in 30 years. Clinton confirmed the business interests at a press interaction: “I am pleased that Prime Minister Singh told me that sites for two nuclear parks for US companies have been approved by the government. These parks will advance the aims of the US-India civil nuclear agreement, facilitate billions of dollars in US reactor exports, and create jobs in both countries as well as generate much needed energy. We hope that India will be able to approve the liability legislation that will enable our US companies to seize these important opportunities.”

At the end of Mrs Clinton’s visit, “strategic cooperation” was extended to cover non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, military ventures, energy, climate change, education, development, economics, trade, agriculture, science and technology, health, innovation and women’s empowerment. She described so wide a canvas as the “five-pillar” approach. Confirmation of America as the first master is complete! Who is the second master? Unobtrusively and seemingly in cohort with a Left-leaning cabal, India’s security-cum-foreign policy establishment has been pushing for a subservient position vis-à-vis China. Already with unfriendly or/and hostile countries ~ Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar ~ around, India has lost its hold over Sri Lanka, handing it over to Chinese hegemony. Our ‘encirclement’  by China-friendly countries seems to be complete


India conducted its fight-to-the-finish against Sri Lankan Tamils with Mahinda Rajapakse using Chinese weapons. India acted as China’s surrogate in the Security Council and the UN Human Rights Commission to defend, protect and uphold Sri Lanka’s war crimes and crimes against humanity. India worked with China for a $ 2.6 billion IMF bailout loan to Sri Lanka to cover these expenses. India has endorsed Chinese-type rule of oppression, repression, torture and concentration camps in Sri Lanka.
The premonition of Bharat Verma, editor of the Indian Defence Review, that “China will launch an attack on India before 2012 and there are multiple reasons for a desperate Beijing to teach India the final lesson, thereby ensuring Chinese supremacy in Asia in this century” has been in the making for the last few years. By that time Sri Lanka would be fully prepared with an armed force of 300,000 (the 8th largest in the world), near-fully trained and equipped by China and Pakistan, forcing India to open a massive land-sea front in the south, which till now has been peaceful. It is thus evident that India’s foreign policy on Sri Lanka has been palpably against the national interest and security.

This dangerous fallout does not find place in India’s security debate which is over-obsessed with Pakistan, Kashmir, Balochistan and Arunachal Pradesh. Neither is the bartering away of India’s leverage over Sri Lanka for the benefit of China. The question is ~ are India’s rulers inching towards China as the second master?










 There is much less of rushing down to the well of the House, shouting slogans and forcing the Speaker to adjourn the House.

We had begun to despair that the parliamentary system of government, patterned after the British, did not suit our temperaments and we should go in for the presidential or some other form of democracy that functioned more smoothly.

The comparative decorum maintained in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha has rekindled hope that the outlook need not be so gloomy and if our MPs behave themselves, the present system can work.

Credit for this must go to the Opposition because it is usually the opposition that creates ‘hangama’ which brings proceedings to a halt.

I have only one reservation, ie against the habit of staging walk-outs. It is as childish as often when children fall out with each other, they put their thumbs under their upper dentures and shout ‘kuttee’ — I am not talking to you any more.

Houses of legislators are meant for meaningful dialogue, a give and take of different points of view and refusal to talk defeats the very purpose for which they were designed.

Another point I wish to make is, as I noticed and as many others must have noticed, our legislators do not address the Speaker or the Treasury Benches as they should, but the Press Gallery and the media — particularly TV channels which give them nation-wide coverage.

They make outrageous statements designed to make headlines of front pages of next morning’s papers. The more outrageous their statements are, the better their chances of making the news.

We saw parliamentary democracy in its ugliest form in the proceedings of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. The grim and never smiling Mehbooba Mufti wrench the mike from the Speaker; Muzaffar Baig bawling his head off at somebody. And worst of all the Speaker yelling back at members of the House using unparliamentary language. Poor Omar Abdullah, the young chief minister, almost reduced to tears over charges which are manifestly untrue, trying to walk out of the Assembly.



I knew her since she was a 12-year-old school girl in Paris. Her father, Dr Naidu was a colleague in UNESCO. She occasionally came over to have her mid-day meal with her father in the cafetaria. So did occasionally her French mother. The combination of sharp Indian features of the father and a white mother reflected in her complexton and features. She was surpassingly beautiful school girl. I had little doubt that in a few years she would blossom into a ravishing beauty and be sought after by rich young men or go into film world. I was not wrong.

The Naidus returned to India and settled down in Delhi. Leela once came to see me and asked me to give her some literature on Sikhs. I asked her why this sudden interest in Sikhism. She told me she was going to marry a Sikh, a cleanshaven Sikh, son of a rich father Mohan Singh Oberoi, founder-owner of the Oberoi chain of hotels. They were married by Sikh rites, (Anand Karaj) and she moved into a suite in the Imperial Hotel then run by the Oberois.

Leela bore Bikki Oberoi twin daughters. Then their marriage began to fall apart. Bikki was a hard-drinker and highly temperamental. It is said that one night he got so irritated by the street light in Janpath facing his bedroom window that he took out his revolver and shot it.

One afternoon Leela rang me up and asked me to come to her aid immediately. I went armed with my wife. The bedroom was in a turmoil. The couple was sitting in silence and glowering at each other. We were with them for one hour. The worst had passed.

Leela abandoned Bikki and moved to Bombay to try her luck in Bollywood. She was crowned India’s Beauty Queen and counted among the 10 most beautiful women in the world. Her looks assured her many roles. She made her debut with ‘Anuradha’ and later ‘The Households’. Other films followed. I never saw any of them.

She hitched up with a childhood friend, the poet Dom Moreas. He was writing a biography of Mrs Gandhi. I asked Mrs Gandhi how she communicated with Dom who always mumbled his words and at times barely audible. “Leela acts as my interpreter,” she replied. However, when ‘Mrs G’ was published and presented to her, instead of patting Dom on the back she snubbed him. He was shattered.

The couple moved to Hongkong. Once I stayed with them. They appeared to be very happy. Dom once confided to me that Leela was pregnant and he was looking forward to being a father. To my question Leela replied, “I am not aware of being pregnant.”

The couple were back in Bombay and drifted apart. Dom ditched her and went to other women. Leela went into depression, began to drink hard and perhaps take drugs as well. She never was able to come to terms with his betrayal. The end came on Tuesday, July 18. As they say God gives with one hand and takes it away with the other. He gave Leela good looks and talent. He deprived her of happiness.









To cheer myself up any morning as I set out on my scooter, I switch the lights on although it is broad daylight. And then wait for it: for signs, from oncoming two wheelers, pedestrians and motorists. Even before I have driven away from my residential street, a friendly Bangalore pedestrian would indicate that my lights are on at day-time. He may raise his hand to his shoulder level, have eye contact with me, pump his thumb and fingers as though he is pressing an imaginary rubber ball. This is his signal to me to switch off those lights. I smile a silent thank you and switch them off.

Only to switch them on again, a moment after I pass him by. An oncoming scooterist might note my blazing lights, momentarily take his hand off his handlebar, quickly shake it a bit. I nod a thank you, and switch off. And then put them on. Perhaps a motorist this time, in daylight, may switch his car’s lights on, flash them off and on for me. I switch off and nod my thanks. I get many more friendly hints of this kind. And I do this for a lark.

Then there are signs used by the city’s motor vehicles. If a car wants to make a right turn, the rules say stick your hand out straight. In practice, this hand sticking takes many forms. Some will have it out, but dangling limp. Others use it to flip ash off their cigarette — which may or may not mean a right turn. Still others have the arm sticking out but making a right angle at elbow, and you interpret whatever you can.

Many Bangalore roads have trees that form a canopy. The foliage is at a height such that loaded tall trucks need to drive in the right lane to avoid entanglement with leaves. They drive slower than cars but hug the right lane so you perforce break the law and overtake from the left. And the truck’s cleaner is constantly got his left arm out his left window. That cleaner’s arm is waved about every which way. It can mean ‘slow down’ or ‘we’ll turn left’ or ‘we’ll turn right’ or ‘Isn’t my tattoo great?’ or ‘I need air in my armpit’ or any or all of these.


Cosmopolitan Bangalore has a cosmopolitan road language!








At a time when money can flow halfway around the globe in an instant, international tax evasion has become a major threat to government finances in countries big and small — putting the income of wealthy evaders out of sight and beyond the reach of their tax authorities.


The deal struck between the United States and Switzerland last week to provide the names attached to 4,450 secret accounts held by Americans at the Swiss banking giant UBS is a blow for fairness. If Switzerland lives up to its commitment, it may well be a watershed: the beginning of the end of international tax cheating.


The deal promises to move Switzerland — whose banks are estimated to control a third of the multi-trillion-dollar market in private wealth management — out of the tax refuge business. It sends a warning to other such havens, and their banks, that if they don’t get out, the United States will come after them, too.


Switzerland didn’t do this willingly, of course. It caved after UBS was caught offering to help Americans hide their money. The bank agreed to pay $780 million in fines and restitution. And the Swiss government was suddenly in a more compliant mood.


American and Swiss officials have jointly agreed to a system to identify 4,450 accounts — out of 52,000 — that are most likely to have been set up to evade taxes. The Internal Revenue Service estimates that at their peak these accounts held $18 billion. American officials are keeping secret the criteria used to identify these accounts — hoping that nervous evaders will turn themselves in voluntarily before a September deadline to get a reduced fine and avoid criminal prosecution.


Yet what is most significant is that the Swiss are handing over any information at all. A year ago, they argued that providing any of the desired names to the I.R.S. amounted to a breach of bank secrecy law.


The deal is not perfect. Washington must still make formal requests for the names to the Swiss authorities under the terms of a bilateral tax information exchange treaty. And each account holder can appeal the decision to a Swiss court before the holder’s name is handed over.


The Swiss government is insisting it will cooperate. And if the names are not handed over expeditiously, the I.R.S. can reopen its suit in federal court to get the names of 52,000 account holders. If UBS resists, it could end up facing criminal charges.


There is a growing international backlash against tax evasion. The Tax Justice Network, a research and advocacy organization, estimates there are $11.5 trillion in global assets hidden in offshore havens. In recent months, dozens of formerly uncooperative sanctuaries from Singapore to Lichtenstein have rushed to sign on to new multinational norms on information sharing.


More needs to be done. Congress should pass the tax-evasion legislation that was wrapped into the 2010 budget proposal. It would entitle the I.R.S. to demand that foreign banks doing business here disclose information about their American account holders and withhold the appropriate taxes. If they didn’t, the I.R.S. would be entitled to automatically withhold income taxes on payments into those accounts.


More international cooperation is needed to determine standards of compliance with newly devised tax information exchange agreements and police them. And pressure should be brought on recalcitrant countries like Panama. If Switzerland can be persuaded to get out of the tax haven business anyone can.







Obstetricians and other medical professionals have long called for an end to the barbaric and medically risky practice of shackling pregnant prisoners — by their legs, wrists and even around their abdomens — during labor. The Federal Bureau of Prisons ended routine shackling last year and limited the use of restraints to instances in which the women were at clear risk of harming themselves, their infants or others.


Five states and the New York City corrections system have adopted similar policies. Even so, a bill that would end shackling in New York’s state prisons and county jails that sailed through the Legislature seemed in danger of being vetoed because of strong opposition from corrections officials. Aides say that Gov. David Paterson has now decided to sign this important bill.


Critics argued that the legislation was unnecessary, because the state prison system had limited the use of shackling nearly a decade ago. But accounts by present and former inmates suggest that the guidelines have too often been ignored by the officers who transport women to and from the hospital.


The claim that women doubled over in pain and about to give birth pose a serious danger seems especially far-fetched. The Rebecca Project for Human Rights, the Washington-based group that is campaigning to end these policies nationally, says that states with anti-shackling laws report no documented cases of women in labor attempting escape or trying to hurt someone.


Governor Paterson’s staff has problems with a minor provision of the bill that deals with how pregnant women are transported to the hospital. But those issues can be addressed in regulations or in supplementary legislation. What’s important is that New York embrace a humane, medically sound and safe policy.







New York City’s campaign finance system ranks among the best in the country, but two powerful forces threaten to undermine it this year. One we know a lot about: Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to opt out so that he can spend unlimited amounts of his own money on his re-election campaign. He has already vastly exceeded the limits imposed on candidates who choose public financing.


We also have serious questions about the activities of a private corporation set up by the Working Families Party to assist candidates the party has endorsed.


Created a decade ago, and built with union support, the Working Families Party has become an increasingly important force in New York politics. It favors a progressive agenda on issues like affordable housing and better public transportation, and has plenty of money.


But its real strength is its army of political operatives. The party formed a corporation, called Data and Field Services, as a way to market the party’s expertise — sophisticated lists of voters, for instance — to favored candidates.


The workings of the company are hard to figure out because, as a private business, its financial arrangements are not automatically transparent. The Campaign Finance Board should take a hard look at this operation.


Specifically, the board must find out whether Data and Field Services is charging candidates market rates for its services. If the company is charging full price, that would seem to comply with the law. If candidates are not paying market rates, the company and perhaps the party and its donors could be unfairly subsidizing candidates who have agreed to abide by the strict donor limits and spending caps required by the public financing system.


For example, the company charged City Councilman Bill de Blasio of Brooklyn $5,000 for lists of voters. Officials from other campaigns have complained that sophisticated voter files like those often used by the Working Families Party could cost $25,000 to $40,000. If there is such a differential — and lists can vary considerably — the extra should be counted as a campaign contribution and as part of the cap on allowed spending.


An immediate investigation by the Campaign Finance Board is crucial. There isn’t much it can do about Mr. Bloomberg’s decision to opt out of the campaign finance system. But the board must make certain that those candidates who do use the system and enjoy its public financing are playing by the rules.







In a letter to a British parliamentarian last month, a senior State Department official insisted that the United States was “doing its utmost” to ensure that Iraq’s government would treat 3,400 Iranian exiles living at Camp Ashraf in eastern Iraq “humanely.” Two weeks later, a clash between the exiles and Iraqi police left 11 Iranians dead, and 36 were taken into custody by Iraqi forces.


Americans troops had guarded the camp since 2003, but recently handed over responsibility to Iraqi forces. Baghdad promised that the exiles would be protected.


There is no authoritative version of events, but it does not look as if that promise is being kept. The Iraqi government claims the exiles threw stones and Molotov cocktails when Iraqi forces entered the camp, ostensibly to establish a police post. The exiles have video showing Iraqi forces beating people with clubs and charging them with vehicles. The administration’s response has been weak. Officials say they will press Iraq to fulfill its promises but can only do so much now that Iraq is in charge.


The camp’s residents are members of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK), which is committed to overthrowing Tehran’s government. Saddam Hussein welcomed them to Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war and they have lived at the camp ever since.


Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government now has good relations with Iran and little enthusiasm for the MEK. The Americans are at best ambivalent. The group, which some consider a cult, is on the American terrorism list for attacks against the United States (in the distant past) and more recently against Iran. In 2004, the United States — seeking to stabilize Iraq — recognized the camp’s residents as “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention, after they signed statements renouncing terrorism and gave up their weapons.


Residents say that Washington has now betrayed that commitment. They have a legitimate complaint. But the MEK has also made no effort to reduce tensions with the Iraqis.


The United States should not retake control of Camp Ashraf. But it must warn Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki that it will more closely monitor how the exiles are treated. Iraq’s government must formally charge those arrested, give them a fair trial and take steps to avoid a repeat of last month’s bloodshed. If Iraq is determined to close the camp, Washington, Baghdad and the United Nations should develop a process.


Residents are barred from resettling in many third countries because of the group’s terrorist designation. Finding a solution will not be easy, but none of the exiles should be forcibly returned to Iran.








The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council has approved what is the biggest hydro-project in Pakistan's history. Work on constructing the 4500 MW Diamer-Bhasha Dam on the River Indus, at a cost of just over Rs894 billion is to begin late next year. The water and power minister has assured the media the bidding process would be transparent, that affected people would be adequately compensated and the dam, with a 30-year life, would play a big part in resolving the crippling power crisis. Given that the huge dam will take eight years or more to complete, smaller hydro-power projects are to be announced soon. In some ways at least the news is timely. The failure to put in place new means to generate power since 1999 – even as sedimentation reduced the capacity of the Mangla and Tarbela dams – to a very large extent contributed to the dire energy shortfall problems we face now. As a result of it, mills and factories have closed down and thousands have lost jobs. It is also absurd that so many years – indeed decades – were lost in argument, most of them involving the Kalabagh dam – which we are told has now been scrapped – rather than on moving ahead with something that, as the catchphrase of the moment goes, was 'doable'.

But this having been said, concerns will inevitably crop up. There is every possibility the process of awarding contracts for so huge a project will invite controversy. Perhaps more significantly, another dam on the Indus will give rise to protests in Sindh where water in the river has declined as a result of projects built upstream. The problems of land loss and sea erosion that have arisen along the Indus delta as a result of this need to be addressed at this stage. It is important new projects act to unite rather than divide people who make up the Federation. Giant dams are also responsible for much human and environmental damage. We do not as yet know how much will be inflicted by the Bhasha Dam, but benefits should be weighed against the ill-effects. There is much to be said for smaller projects that are environmentally less costly and meet needs in a similar way. Some explanation is needed as to why this route was not taken.

The information minister, who also holds charge for the northern areas, has said there has been no murmur of protest against the dam. But people will of course be affected. They are hardly likely to pleased by this prospect. Despite promises made at the time, it took decades for those displaced by previous projects to receive land as compensation. This time round we need safeguards that the same degree of suffering will not be caused by a mega-project of such huge scale. The fact that development works create jobs could be one factor that could outweigh this. To ensure this happens, planning needs to be intricate. All stake-holders, including people who will lose lands, must be involved in it and consensus built so that the dam can genuinely bring benefits and play a part in meeting energy needs across the country.







Punjab and possibly NWFP seem to be moving towards a decision to wind up the local government system. The federal government has paved the way for this by saying the matter was a provincial subject and could be decided by each unit on its own. The LG system has indeed been a topic of heated controversy since it was introduced under former president Musharraf. The most valid criticisms have revolved around the erosion of provincial powers, with nazims under central command and corruption within the setup a topic for much discussion at various levels.

There can be no denying there is some element of truth in this. But this having been said the system allowed for elected representatives to be voted in. As such it broke from the colonial past of control over districts by district commissioners who in some cases acted as demi-gods. The control given to people to vote in representatives undoubtedly acted to empower them and give them a bigger say in decision-making. For all the flaws, there was inherent in the system a real possibility of grass-roots democracy. In some places the benefits of this have been quite obvious. It is important to consider these factors. There is little sense in simply undoing everything that has been done in the past. The lack of consistency in policy has affected us badly. A rational and unbiased judgment is needed. The local government system must be preserved as a pillar of democracy. The faults within it can be ironed out. But snatching away from people there right to choose and decide would be grossly unjust and would indeed represent a step backwards rather than the steps forward that we so badly need to take at this juncture.







The canal that runs through Lahore represents much that is good about the city. The shrubs, bushes and tall trees that line it give the provincial capital the greenery that its residents have cherished for centuries. The waterway – even today when pollution has tarnished its beauty – offers a kind of calm oasis in the heart of the urban jungle, where families picnic and fitness-lovers jog. It is these factors that have led a group of earnest citizens to renew their campaign against a plan to broaden the road along the canal which would result in hundreds of trees being chopped down. While the Punjab government argues this is necessary to maintain smooth traffic flow, the 'Save Lahore Movement' argues the massacre of greenery would inflict great environmental damage and indeed erode the very nature of Lahore. Trees marked for chopping have been chalked and placards put up demanding they be saved. The action by citizens including many women and children has caught public interest, with passers by stopping to find out more.

Such civic involvement in the affairs of our cities is vital. More people must get involved. Not only in Lahore but also in other cities such as Karachi, urban planners need to realize that preserving what has taken years to create is vital. Development is not only about building bigger roads or bridges. Putting in place better public transport and enforcing traffic discipline could play a still bigger role in keeping vehicles moving, while also helping to cut pollution and keep intact the trees that give life to our cities and to the people who live in them.








IN what would be seen as new political alignments in line with the dictates of emerging scenario, the former ruling party — PML (Q) — has formally split into two factions. In the General Council meeting, convened by the like-minded group of the party on Thursday, party elections conducted last month by Chaudharys’ camp were declared null and void and new office-bearers elected. Hamid Nasir Chattha has been elected Chairman, Salim Saifullah President and Humayun Akhtar as Secretary General of the new faction, which claims to be the real PML.

Thursday’s development has once again confirmed the unfortunate impression that Leaguers can remain united only in Government and once in the Opposition they start leg-pulling leading to addition of more groups in the already polarized party. PML (Q) was formed following 1999 coup and those who deserted the League led by Mian Nawaz Sharif remained in power for five years. Following exit of General Musharraf, who played crucial role in keeping the faction united on different occasions, differences emerged in the party and there were clear indications that these would lead to its disintegration. Some saner elements like Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali have been advocating merger of the PML (Q) and PML (N), which was also the desire of workers of the two parties but regrettably no meaningful progress could be made towards that end because of follies and inflexible attitude adopted by their top leadership. While PML (N) had serious reservations about some of the leaders of ‘Q’, some hawks in the ‘Q’ were also opposed to unification as they feared relegation of their positions in the united party. In fact, similar apprehensions by a number of stalwarts in PML (N) are also marring prospects of the merger as there are many heavy weights in PML (Q) as well enjoying considerable reputation among people. The new faction, however, is tilting towards ‘N’ and there might be some sort of understanding or alliance between the two in times to come. Anyhow, split in PML (Q) is unfortunate as it has weakened the party and its role in national politics. Though observers are unanimous that future belongs to PML (N) yet in the wake of growing disenchantment of the people with the ruling parties because of unprecedented price hike, black-marketing, hoarding, profiteering, corruption and mismanagement, the united PML (Q) had chances to regain a place of strength in the politics. We, in fact, believe that all factions of PML should go for unification as this would make them an enviable force capable of changing the course of the history. Otherwise too, it would be better for the country and the nation to have two party system.







AFTER maintaining a questionable silence over a period of time, Chairman Kashmir Committee of the National Assembly Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Thursday openly stated that the present Government had put the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir on the back burner. Speaking in the House, he also pointed out that this was a cause of frustration for Kashmiris who had been banking on moral, diplomatic and political support of Pakistan for their just cause.

Though Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has declared that the Kashmir issue was the corner stone of Pakistan’s foreign policy yet the ground realities speak otherwise. President Asif Ali Zardari is on record having described Kashmiri freedom fighters as ‘terrorists’ and pushing moves for trade with India at the expense of vital national interests. No one is against normalization of relations with our eastern neighbours but we must strike a balance between our desire to have good relations and the need for just settlement of all disputes especially Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmir issue is at the heart of the tension between the two countries and how can one imagine complete normalization of ties without resolution of the problem in accordance with the UN resolutions and aspirations of the Kashmiri people. On the same day in the National Assembly, the Foreign Minister informed the House during question hour that bilateral efforts to find a solution have failed due to non-cooperative attitude of New Delhi. Under these circumstances, one wonders why our leaders are trying to go out of the way to please Indians. There should be no deviation from our principled position that the issue should be resolved in line with the UN Security Council resolutions. We have been acceding too much to India in the name of confidence building measures that have proved to be an exercise in futility. In the wake of our over-emphasis on the Western border, Indians are not only crushing the legitimate freedom movement but also initiating moves to consolidate their hold over water resources. This would have disastrous consequences for the country if the Government did not wake up to the grave dangers. We hope that the Kashmir Committee would hold in-depth deliberations and come out with a comprehensive strategy to highlight the Kashmir issue and safeguard interests of the country in this regard. But the real difference can only be made if the Government implements the strategy with patriotic zeal.







WITH the passage of time, the sugar crisis is deepening and the cosmetic measures taken by the Federal and Provincial Governments have failed to provide any relief to the consumers. The price is hovering between Rs 55 and Rs 60 and there are apprehensions that it would escalate further in Ramazanul Mubarik.

Openly siding with the millers, the Minister for Industries has fixed an ex-mill price of about Rs 50 a kilo, which has been termed as highly unrealistic by all experts. Even in its meeting held in Murree on Thursday, the PML (N) leadership too described the price fixed by Mr. Manzoor Wattoo as unjustified and declared that in Punjab the ex-mill price of sugar would be Rs 45 a kilo. The meeting also appealed to the Federal Government to waive off excise duty and sales tax on sugar to bring down the prices further by Rs 5 a kilo. We, however, believe that this price too, even if it is maintained, is unjust, as there are reports that sugar mills earned hefty Rs 26 billion by manipulating the sugar prices in the country. It is all the more regrettable that both Federal and Provincial Governments are not willing to take strong action against millers who are behaving like a cartel in clear violation of the law. And the reason is known to all — mills belong to those who are supposed to control prices. Under these circumstances, people have great expectations from the Lahore High Court that has taken suo motu notice of the crisis and hopefully it would take action to safeguard interests of the consumers.











Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, as the pioneer of small credit to the poor, has successfully contributed to changing their lot on the economic front. This time he has yet another vision to reach modern healthcare at the doorsteps of villagers across the country. He has rightly called it social business as against individual business because the purposes of the two types are poles apart. Social business is meant for serving the masses while individual business is for the benefit of one person. Professor Yunus presented a sketch of the programme at a reception held at the Grameen Bank head office on the occasion of his receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour of the United States.

According to his plan, the Nobel laureate will set up a medical university and a medical college with their branches spreading across the country. What is notable here is that the university he plans to establish will be a project under a joint venture with such world famous universities like the Pennsylvania University, the Harvard University and the London University. A man of his stature alone can think of putting such a grand alliance of the highest seats of learning to the service of the villagers of this poor country. Inputs from those universities will certainly make a perceptible difference in the quality of medical studies at the proposed university. The same is likely to be true for the nursing college. After all, quality nursing - post-operative care in particular - matters so much that much of the success of hospital service depends on it.

Clearly, Professor Yunus is going to embark on a challenging mission but the man with so much success behind him is sure to redefine healthcare in the country if things fall in places. The founder of the Grameen Bank knows how to carry forward his programmes with or without official support. In this case, though, the AL-led government has a similar programme. So cooperation between his organisation and the government will speed up the process. Particularly, the government can play a big role here by introducing health insurance for the poor.   






A massive housing plan taken under Public-Private Partnership (PPP) schemes to meet the ever-increasing pressure of the capital's population opens up a new vista. Disclosed at a meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on housing and public works ministry, the scheme can help planned urbanisation. Part of the programme envisages establishment of four satellite towns around Dhaka city. 'Housing for all by 2015' is a target in the grand alliance government's 'Vision 2021' and this housing plan is in line with the target.

Of the total 6,046 flats to be built in the expanded area of the capital, 1,790 flats will be constructed by the public works department for government officials while the remaining 4,256 flats under PPP in the city's Mohakhali and Mirpur areas. Such a large number of flats will definitely reduce pressure on accommodation but are the utility services in a position to meet the extra demands? Electricity, water, gas are now in short supply. Supposing power plants will be set up to produce the required electricity, but there is no plan for increasing water supply for the future nor is any possibility of increasing gas supply. Then the existing road space is far too inadequate for requirement. All this needs to be taken into account before the capital's accommodation facilities are increased. 

One solution to the problem may be the dispersal of population through setting up satellite towns and cluster villages after the Chinese model with employment opportunities for poor villagers. Then bringing satellite towns under a railway network or road transport network will ease the pressure on the capital with people commuting from considerable distances to their workplaces. 








"…Malaysian model to get six lashes for drinking beer…" --Times of India, Aug 20th
The phone rang at the Oval Office in the White House: "Hello!" said the rich baritone voice of the President of the United States of America. "Mr Barack Obama! Mr Obama are we speaking to Mr Obama?" President Obama, "Please don't shout in my ear! Yes this is Obama!" Caller, "Sir you are required to come to our country immediately!" The President, "What country my dear fellow?" Caller, "Don't dear fellow me, I am from Malaysia!" President, "And why do you want me there?" Caller,"To thrash you!" President, "Whoa! Whoa! What have we here? Why do you want to thrash me?" said the President his voice now a tad higher. "For drinking beer, in public, in front of TV cameras for the whole world to see. It was shameful!" President,  "I'm sorry but this is America!" Caller, "You spent part of your childhood in Indonesia Mr Obama?" US President, "Right!" Caller, "Which is a sister country, also your half-sister is married to Conrad Ng a Malaysian?" Obama, "That's right!"

Caller, So Mr Obama your connections to our country are very strong, you are entitled to 500 lashes in public!" Obama, "Entitled?"

"Yes Mr Obama, after those lashes, your soul will be pure again! Your heart will not be tainted by beer stains anymore!" The President of the most powerful nation in the world put down the phone without another word as his aide walked in. "Mr President you look pale, is anything the matter?"

"Do we have any more of these beer drinking photo sessions on the lawns of the White House?" said the President his voice a bit screechy. "Yes Mr President after the last success with the white police officer and the black professor, we have about nine or ten lined up for you in the next six months or so: Wonderful idea Mr President solving problems with a bottle of beer!"

"I don't think so!" whispered the President of the most powerful country in the world, his voice now a high tenor. "You want it to be whisky next time?"

"Nooo!" shouted the President, "Make it water, I want my soul to be pure!"

"Pure? I'm not sure what you are talking about Mr President but we had a call this morning from Abdullah Badawi!" Obama, "Who's that?"

"The President of Malaysia; said he would like to invite you over for a visit!"

"Noooo!" shouted the President, "Sent Joe Biden, send Hillary; I'm not going near Malaysia, and would you please send for a physiotherapist or a masseur immediately!"

"What's wrong Mr President?"

"My back, it's already hurting! Ouch! Ouch...!" screamed the President in a high, shrill soprano.









STRIPPED of the political grandstanding, Australia's Renewable Energy Target would fail any reasonable cost-benefit test. However much internal warmth the thought of more windmills and solar panels might generate, the cold hard truth is that renewable energy targets have serious economic implications that warrant close scrutiny. Unfortunately, in handing alternative energy companies a subsidised monopoly to supply 20 per cent of our electricity, the RET scheme is unlikely to reduce emissions cost effectively, if at all.

The economics are simple. Given current technology, the electricity generated from renewables will be much more expensive. In May last year, the Productivity Commission calculated that next year, the cost of one megawatt hour of electricity from Australia's vast black coal reserves would be $30-35. Wind power would cost twice as much -- $55 to $80 per megawatt hour. And however scorching the Australian summers, solar power will cost $200 to $400 per megawatt hour.


In practice, the RET scheme will favour technology that has already been developed, such as solar and wind power, compelling government to pick winners and subsidise businesses that would not otherwise hold their own in a competitive market. There is little if any incentive to develop new technologies that might eventually do a better job. The Productivity Commission warns that this is a bad precedent, suggesting "that lobbying for government support for certain technologies and industries over others could be successful". This kind of intervention is costly and often ineffective, as the green car fund fiascos demonstrate. And once given, industry assistance is notoriously difficult to claw back. The mollycoddled car, footwear and textile industries are prime examples.


Some players in the energy industry and analysts are already concerned that the RET scheme excludes alternative low-carbon energy sources such as natural gas, "hot rocks" (geothermal energy drawn from kilometres underground) and nuclear power. In excluding cost-effective available options such as natural gas, the RET scheme is in danger of reducing incentives to abate emissions or innovate in ways that do not meet the eligible technology criteria. That is why the Productivity Commission believes that RET is unlikely to "achieve any additional abatement".


In reality, when the proposed emissions trading scheme passes the Senate either late this year or early next year, with an element of industry assistance, there will be no need for a RET scheme. By its nature, a market-driven cap and trade system will encourage industry users to seek low-carbon energy at the best prices. Through subsidies to wind and solar power firms, the RET will distort the market.


Faced with higher power bills from the renewable energy target, consumers will ask: what's the point? The answer lies in a failure of the political class. On both sides, politicians are eager, however tokenistic their efforts, to appear environmentally friendly.


No one should be fooled by the promise of 28,000 RET-inspired "green" jobs in the next decade. A recent study by King Juan Carlos university has exposed similar claims in Spain where for every "green" job created from renewable energy in Spain, two others were lost.

Australians are fast wising up to the limited benefits of feel-good green stunts that do nothing to reduce atmospheric carbon. Last weekend, the AFL foisted a "green round" on footy fans with umpires in green jerseys waving green flags. The RET makes about as much sense.








THE thrill of seeing Afghan voters go to the polls this week seems to have been lost on some Australians deflected by the admittedly appalling corruption and human rights abuses in that country. The achievement of holding an election in this chaotic and drug-ravaged state has been overshadowed at times by criticism of incumbent President Hamid Karzai and his laws curtailing the rights of women.

It is fair enough that Australians raise the question of why our troops are risking their lives to stabilise a country that treats women so woefully and entrenches corruption. But the answer is non-negotiable. Our involvement is a clear responsibility in the global fight against terrorism. The war in Afghanistan is about protecting our security in a region dominated by a heavily militarised Pakistan. Ensuring free elections and rooting out Taliban fighters must be our focus, not the domestic policies and failings of candidates. We do not have the luxury of insisting on moral purity before engaging with the region. And it is important here to make a distinction between supporting the election and supporting a particular candidate.


Some critics have conflated Afghanistan with China and argued that we must stand up to Kabul in the same way we have stood up to Beijing. The reality is that, just as we are pragmatic about dealing with China commercially, we are pragmatic about the time it will take to build a functioning civil society in Afghanistan.


That does not mean we resile from condemning laws that denigrate women. Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure Maxine McKew put it well on ABC television's Q&A program on Thursday night when she said she had "no problem in making judgments" against the country's offensive cultural practices. Her absolutism was a refreshing contrast to the moral confusion of some of her co-panellists who seemed to be arguing the West had no right to foist its values on Afghanistan. It's worth noting, too, that while Mr Karzai's law is reprehensible, life for women is vastly better than it was under the Taliban.


It is true the election in Afghanistan is imperfect. But is the alternative to deny people in the region the opportunity to develop the democracy that is their only hope of emerging from the poverty and degradation caused by corrupt regimes?


There are challenging human rights issues here. But one answer to these conundrums is the courage of ordinary Afghans who this week defied the Taliban to lodge their votes. Their bravery and optimism are the reasons why our engagement in their country is both necessary and defensible.








THEY can argue the detail but retail superannuation funds ought not oppose the publication of superannuation league tables by the industry regulator. The release by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority of the results of superannuation funds is a welcome move to greater transparency in a sector that touches every Australian worker. It might not be pretty, but access to such information is crucial in rebuilding trust in a system battered by the recent volatility in the sharemarket.

That the retail funds, which pay commissions and are often recommended by financial planners, are at the bottom of the league table adds fuel to the debate about conflicts of interest in the industry. The Minister for Superannuation, Chris Bowen, was immediately on the case, supporting a clean-up and threatening legislation if the industry did not go far enough.


But Mr Bowen has bigger fish to fry in the next few months as not one but three separate inquiries deliver reports with implications for superannuation policy. As well as juggling the recommendations of the Henry tax review; the Cooper review into the structure and governance of superannuation; and the Harmer inquiry into pensions, Mr Bowen must keep selling the virtues of super to a jaundiced public. He must simultaneously ensure super is an attractive option while managing the long-term implications for tax revenue. In the May budget, the government clawed back some of the concessions introduced in the Howard years because, as Mr Bowen says, they were "fiscally unsustainable". In an interview with The Australian's Glenda Korporaal this week, the minister indicated there would be more changes ahead after the Henry recommendations.


All the signals point to serious policy development by the government, but it must also deliver more certainty to the sector. This is especially important for generations X and Y, who need to believe investing in superannuation will pay off in 30 years. A pressing challenge is whether to lift compulsory contributions above 9 per cent of salary. This has been a Labor mantra since the Keating era and Mr Bowen has called for a public debate on whether we need to go to 12per cent or 15 per cent. The Australian supports an increase, but only if it is a true wages trade-off, not just another impost on employers.


Meanwhile, the APRA league tables are a valuable aid to increased competition between the funds. This is a vital part of building a robust superannuation system but something Australia has been slow to embrace.








THIS year is the centenary of the first attempt to plan Sydney, and its transport - the 1909 royal commission which led eventually to the decision to build the Harbour Bridge and the City Circle rail line.

A hundred years later, no similar vision for Sydney transport exists. The optimism, pride and - most important of all - the administrative competence which that vision embodied have seemingly all fled from the contemporary ranks of NSW's leaders.


The consequences of a lack of vision are not trivial. There is no need to detail the impoverished mess which is public transport in Sydney, or the daily inconveniences suffered by passengers obliged to use it. With every day that Sydney wallows in its conceptual chaos, the city is less and less prepared for great challenges which are rapidly approaching. Climate change. Peak oil. The epidemic of lifestyle diseases linked to urban design. All these will fall - are now falling - more heavily on this city because it lacks the vision to plan its transport and the will to act on its plan.


The failure has already cost the state dearly. It led earlier this year to an astonishing public shaming of the State Government by its federal counterpart - of one Labor government by another. Canberra had billions to allocate in the last budget for infrastructure spending; NSW received virtually nothing for its capital city, Australia's global city.


There could be no more eloquent a rebuke for this State Government's failure of vision. And why would Canberra bother giving NSW billions of dollars in public money for infrastructure projects when Macquarie Street has no idea how such projects fit together, or match likely needs? The State Government of course has ordered such plans in the past and received them - but it refuses to endorse, let alone release them. Stung by Canberra's implicit slight, it has ordered another transport blueprint to be drawn up. Will it be made public? And will it matter if it is? Because before it is complete, the Rees Government has embarked on a major new development, the CBD metro, which will cost billions, introduce a completely new mode of transport - metro rail - and yet has never appeared in any published transport plan. Its chief virtue for the Government would seem to have little to do with transport: it may convince the voters of inner-city Labor seats that the Rees Government is doing something. Meanwhile the project which should have first priority, the north-west rail link to planned new growth areas, has been cancelled. The problem there was not lack of need, but that existing residents of north-western suburbs resolutely refuse to vote Labor.


It is time, surely, to remove this disgusting political jobbery from transport planning. Just as electricity or the water supply, or sewers and drains, or roads, or police stations, or schools are planned and built as necessities, as the equal right of every citizen, so too should public transport be planned for the whole of Sydney. Specifically, it is time for a comprehensive inquiry into Sydney's public transport, to end the political trickiness, and to establish a list of priorities for the next 30 years.


The Rees Government has demonstrated that on transport questions it cannot plan for all citizens of the state equally. So ordinary citizens must take up the task.That is why the Herald is instituting the inquiry Sydney needs. The inquiry will be open and public. It will be chaired by Ron Christie, whose impeccable credentials include managing the public transport effort during the Sydney Olympics - which showed the system can work if the will is there. The inquiry will approach all questions with an open mind.


It will tackle not only issues of services and infrastructure, but most importantly those of finance: the besetting problem of transport development and planning in Sydney has been the lack of a long-term funding model.


It invites submissions from the public, and from interested companies and organisations. It will hold public hearings. It will issue a preliminary report by the end of this year, and its final report by autumn next year, as set out in the advertisement on Page Eight of today's News Review section.


The Labor Government may have lost its ability to imagine a future of transport in this city and this state, but we know that its citizens have not. That is why the Herald throws the issue open to the people of Sydney, and NSW.







EVER since we lost $5 on a poker machine in 1974 we have wondered about gambling. What prompts people to think that it will be fun to get poor really fast?


This week, scientists have offered a clue to its attractions: teenagers who love video games are more likely to become problem gamblers. If at 12 you like blowing aliens' heads off for six hours a night, you are more likely at 35 to leave your children in a locked car while you feed the rent money into a poker machine. The alien-pokie link seems to us a fruitful line of inquiry. May we suggest a related hypothesis: that poker machines are, in fact, aliens from outer space.


The apparent anomaly that having killed aliens at 12 would lead someone to give the aliens all their money at 35 is easily explained: gamblers feel guilty about their violent youthful tastes, and want to make amends. We're not certain the hypothesis works, but perhaps if we sit in front of it long enough it will come good and make us rich.




                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN




The revolution which brought Muammar Gaddafi to power in Libya 40 years ago and the devolution which gave Scotland its own government 10 years ago intersected this week in a way that has shown neither of the governments concerned in a good light. The posturing in Edinburgh, Tripoli, Washington and London which has accompanied the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi would seem comical if it did not touch so closely on the tragedies of the families who lost loved ones in the bombing of Pan Am 103.


The Scottish justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, may or may not have made the best decision possible, but the style in which he announced it suggested a desire, unfitting under the circumstances, to make the most of Scotland's moment in the international spotlight, and show the country to be capable of shaping, in this legal area at least, a halfway independent foreign policy.


The Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, or at least his son, Saif, seem intent on making Megrahi's return part of the run-up to the celebrations of the anniversary of the revolution, constituting another piece of evidence that the country's pariah years are behind it and that it is wooed and conceded to by all. Saif's role in securing the release of Megrahi may also be part of the manoeuvring between Gaddafi's sons for the succession in Libya.


The British government, meanwhile, clearly wanted an outcome that would be satisfactory to Libya but has nevertheless felt able to criticise the Scots, thus hoping to appease both British and American public opinion. David Miliband's very precise emphasis on the constitutional proprieties has been in complete contrast to his vagueness when asked what he thinks should have been done.


The Obama administration has been no better. The United States has no desire to alienate an energy-rich nation hesitating between bestowing its favours on Russia, on the one hand, and various western countries, including America, on the other. But since it is Scotland that has had to take the decision, it has been safe enough for the American government to oppose it in principle.


Unhappily, what unites all these governments is a disinclination to pursue the truth – or to reveal it, if they know it – about the bombing of Pan Am 103. Distinguished lawyers have cast such doubts on the reliability of the evidence at his original trial that we cannot now say whether or not Megrahi was guilty of placing the bomb. Whether he was the instrument or not, we do not know who ordered the action, or facilitated it. And we do not therefore know which government, or governments, were ultimately responsible. We do not know, it can be argued, because we do not wish to know. Tracking the crime to the doors of the regimes in Syria, Iran or Libya, all possible culprits, some would say, would have repercussions threatening so many interests, in so many countries, that it is not worth doing.


It cannot be denied that those interests are important. They go well beyond securing commercial advantage for Britain, or overcoming bureaucratic obstacles faced by BP in Libya. Western efforts to end long-standing feuds with certain Middle Eastern states, undermined by many of the Bush administration's decisions but now placed on a better footing by President Obama, might well be endangered.


What remains of Obama's policy of engagement with Iran after Ahmadinejad's disputed victory in the presidential elections would be even more problematic. The slow rapprochement with Syria after the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon might be disrupted. Nor are considerations of this kind new in the Lockerbie affair. The switch in the focus of the investigations in the early years after the bombing from Syria to Libya was seen by many as more related to America's need to enlist Syria in the first Gulf war than to any new evidence.


Later, it would have been foolish not to respond to Gaddafi's efforts to rehabilitate himself. That response brought benefits, some commercial, certainly, but others were more important, from the renunciation of nuclear arms to the release of imprisoned Bulgarian medics. The Libyan handover of Megrahi and another accused was part of this long process of rehabilitation. Most of these deals involved closing at least one eye to considerations of justice and truth. In that sense, this latest chapter is no different from what has gone before.







A collision took place in British politics this week – and it was one that left David Cameron much the worse off. Those bleary-eyed souls who shuffled into Tuesday's breakfast discussion between the Tory party leader and his new favourite thinker, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, were surely not expecting the entertainment that followed. Mr Taleb, the financier and bestselling author, fired off a fusillade of opinions at odds with the touchy-feely Conservatism espoused by his discussant. Economic crashes could be a good thing, he said. Taxes on the rich were an insult to Darwin ("How can you have evolution if those who do the right thing have to finance those who did the wrong thing?"). Oh, and climate change might not be man-made.


Cue damning headlines – and red faces at Conservative central office. This is not how stage-managed encounters between prime ministerial would-bes and thinkers are meant to run, although, if the Tory leader really had read Taleb's Black Swan, he would have known that it shows how the nastiest events can happen even when every feasible contingency has been covered. Mr Cameron may have been seeking intellectual ballast and coolness-by-association; the Oxford First ended up looking out of his depth. For his part, Mr Taleb may have felt mischievously reported. Yet there was some inevitability to all this, as captured by one question put to Mr Taleb in a TV interview: "Don't you find, because your ideas are complicated, they are easily misrepresented?" Well, precisely.


The fundamental problem when intellectuals and MPs get together is always the same: politicians are from Mars; thinkers are from Venus. For intellectuals – a broad category, but one that would exclude academics who never reach out to a wider public, and policy wonks who reside in thinktanks and in what we might term Greater Whitehall – the idea is the most important thing; for politicians it can only be a means to a policy, or (more to the point) electoral victory. As Mr Taleb demonstrated this week, there is little to stop intellectuals veering off-message (no party-machine pagers here). And, besides, thinkers are unlikely to believe deep-rooted problems can be resolved with a change of government and a few nifty new policies. For their part, intellectuals who begin toeing a party line inevitably become less worthwhile, and political jousting can leave little time and space for serious, radical thinking.


The two types can work together, of course. By linking themselves with American social scientists such as Richard Thaler and Robert Cialdini, the Tory high command has managed to cast itself as the new home of intellectual energy in British politics – so much livelier than that sleep-deprived lot over in Downing Street. The collaboration – central office seminars, weekend retreats and plenty of name dropping in party speeches – has also enabled the Conservatives to shake off some their associations with cold, hard neoliberalism and signal a new interest in fathoming how people actually behave in the marketplace. The puzzle is that Gordon Brown – a man who gets through hardbacks faster than other people manage their Weetabix, a former chancellor who can hold his own with a Nobel prize-winning economist such as Paul Krugman – has not managed to communicate his intellectual interests more widely. Yet when in the 90s Labour was looking for a court philosopher for its Third Way, it found it in Anthony Giddens. Historically, it is Labour that forms alliances with intellectuals – whether it is Ernest Bevin and John Maynard Keynes, or Harold Wilson, and the Cambridge economists Nicky Kaldor and Tommy Balogh. When the Thatcherites began quoting Hayek, the novelty lay in the fact that the postwar Conservative party had found any ideology at all, as much as the ideology it had found.


Politics without ideas is neither appealing nor necessarily the most effective. But collaboration is risky for both thinkers and political doers, which is when intermediaries such as thinktanks can play a useful role. The RSA's Social Brain project, for instance, takes the insights of behavioural scientists and applies them to policy. The world of Westminster is too easily distracted to give serious consideration to new ideas, but ways must be found to direct politicians' attention to fresh thinking.







The ¥14 trillion supplementary budget for fiscal 2009 has a problematic feature. It allocates as much as ¥4.36 trillion — about 30 percent of the budget — to 46 funds, 30 of them newly established. Money in the funds can be used "flexibly" for more than a year, raising the possibility that bureaucrats will plan claptrap projects just to use up the money.


Among the funds is a ¥270 billion fund to support state-of-the-art scientific research. The government should exercise utmost care to ensure that the money is used for truly meaningful research projects that will broaden and strengthen the nation's scientific base.


The government created the fund as an economic stimulus measure proposed by the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren). The ¥270 billion amounts to about 1.5 times the annual subsidies doled out by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for scientific research. It could greatly affect the way scientific research is conducted in Japan.


It is envisaged that about 30 researchers will each receive ¥3 billion to ¥15 billion — or an average ¥9 billion — to spend over a three-to-five-year period. This is more than the most generous spending terms at present — about ¥2 billion over five years. Candidate research themes include development of high-efficiency solar batteries and new superconducting materials, and research on induced pluripotent stem cells.


A working group in the Cabinet Office is examining applications from researchers. About 30 percent of its members are from various industries. But it must be remembered that science is not the slave of industry or the government. It would be wrong to conclude that advances in scientific research will directly increase the international competitiveness of commercial products.


The autonomy of science and scientific research must be respected. Simply pouring a large amount of money into research projects may lead to a deterioration in the quality of research. The government must take sufficient time in its selection process to ensure that only the most promising researchers receive funding.







Japan's gross domestic product increased 0.9 percent (or an annualized 3.7 percent) in real terms for the April-June period from the previous quarter, marking the first growth in five quarters. The rise, which follows a 3.5 percent (annualized 13.1 percent) fall in October-December 2008 and a 3.1 percent (annualized 11.7 percent) drop in January-March 2009, appears to show that the economy has hit bottom. But the economic recovery lacks legs. It is too early to assume that the economy is on a steady growth track.


Overseas demand boosted GDP 1.6 percent, but sluggish domestic demand pulled it down 0.7 percent. Economic growth in China and Southeast Asia contributed to a 6.3 percent increase in exports. Since the U.S. and European economies are still stagnant, it will take a long time for Japanese exports to recover to the level that prevailed before the global recession.


Although consumer spending, which accounts for 55 percent of GDP, rose 0.8 percent — the first rise in three quarters — it was mainly propped up by government stimulus measures such as subsidies for fuel-efficient cars and an "eco-point" system for purchases of energy-efficient appliances. After demand for these products drops, consumers may once again tighten their purse strings. The income situation is rather gloomy. Average wages at Japanese firms dropped by a record 7.1 percent in June compared to the year before.


Housing investment declined 9.5 percent following a 5.7 percent decline in the previous quarter, mainly due to slow construction starts of condominiums. Capital investment contracted 4.3 percent for the fifth straight quarter of decline although public investment rose 8.1 percent.


The employment situation is bleak. The unemployment rate in June rose 0.2 percentage point from the previous month to 5.4 percent, just short of the postwar record of 5.5 percent. There is concern that July's unemployment rate may top the record. There was only 0.43 job offer for every job seeker. Both the government and enterprises need to make serious efforts to increase workers' share in income and strengthen local economies.











I have misgivings about the decline of Japanese policymaking abilities.Politics, on the basis of democracy, should have the functions of making decisions on fundamental national policies, making budgets and laws, and settling financial accounts. Administration, on the other hand, is in charge of justly and efficiently administering budgets and laws, following the policy formed by politics.


But if optimum policy development is to be obtained, administration should make policy proposals to politicians and the people based on insight derived through experience.


At the same time, it may also be a way of optimizing policies if companies — operators in a market economy — and think tanks commissioned to make economic analyses actively make policy proposals. In choosing a policy, it has recently become a common practice to seek opinions of not only an advisory council made up of experts and scholars but also of the public through "public comment." These represent official efforts toward creating the best possible policy.


What is needed when selecting a policy is to sufficiently examine its necessity, efficacy and side effects. The deregulation of the Temporary Workers' Law, for instance, has caused a notable expansion in the number of part-time employees and created an insecure job situation in a large segment of the working population. Policies toward privatization of government-affiliated financial institutions have been revised, after all, so that many of their former functions might be restored. The medical care policy for citizens aged 75 or older is also under severe criticism.


I have already indicated that the policymaking abilities of contemporary political parties and politicians are lower than their predecessors as a whole. Administration, which played a remarkable role in achieving Japan's postwar recovery and high economic growth, now appears to have little confidence in itself, coming under fire for repeatedly making wrong policy judgments and occasional scandals.


Of course, administration should reflect upon these failures, but the market truly has great expectations toward administration making proper policy proposals.


Think tanks in the United States and Europe are actively making policy proposals, and are even providing reserve forces of politicians. They are mostly independent and policy-oriented and continuously present objective and persuasive policy proposals. Whereas, think tanks in Japan are mostly affiliated with private companies and generally lack ability to form public-policy proposals.


In Japan, the disclosure of administrative information has not yet progressed enough, making it difficult for private thinks tanks to deliver really good public policy proposals. If it is to encourage the private sector to make more and better policy proposals, information sharing should be promoted among politics, administration and private people.


Japanese media share responsibility for making policy debates dull or less lively because they are focusing too much on reports about intraparty power struggles, personnel affairs and scandals, when instead they should be playing a role in making political parties compete for important policy choices.


The Liberal Democratic Party had consistently and single-handedly been in political power since the establishment of the so-called 1955 system under which the LDP and the Japan Socialist Party stood out, up until 1993 when Morihiro Hosokawa formed a coalition government. The LDP, founded in 1955 with the merger of the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party, believed in liberal conservatism and was dominated by intraparty factions.


In the 1960s, Hayato Ikeda and Eisaku Sato, both of whom were politically connected with Shigeru Yoshida, led the LDP, and since after 1972, Kakuei Tanaka, Takeo Miki, Takeo Fukuda and Masayoshi Ohira successively came to power. After a while, Yasuhiro Nakasone succeeded Zenko Suzuki as prime minister.


During the 1960s and 1970s, the Japanese government had a host of problems and matters to address — liberalization of trade, foreign exchange and capital transactions, the fixation of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, plans to double national income, reversion of Okinawa to Japan, Japan-U.S. textile talks, plans to remodel the Japanese archipelago, "Nixon shock," the oil crisis and restoration of Japan-China diplomatic relations as well as reform of industrial structure.


In facing these issues, government officials actively made policy proposals in an effort to help the ruling party and its Cabinet solve political issues. Political leadership who were leaders made appropriate political decisions, while major LDP factions were struggling to expand their power bases but did not forget to coach junior fellow politicians.


Whenever a change of Cabinet took place, factional disputes intensified. The most typical instance of all in recent history occurred in 1979 when Ohira was prime minister after beating Fukuda in a 1978 LDP presidential election. Ohira dissolved the House of Representatives for a general election in 1979, resulting in a major setback for the LDP in the election and causing the so-called 40-day dispute within the party that threw the ruling party into confusion.


Although Ohira managed to continue to be prime minister by beating Fukuda in the prime minister nomination vote, a no-confidence motion against his Cabinet submitted by the opposition forces in May 1980 was approved by a majority because some LDP lawmakers also voted for it. Ohira then dissolved the Lower House for general elections, making the Lower House election happen simultaneously with a triennial Upper House election. He died of heart failure during the campaign period and the LDP won a landslide victory.


The 40-day dispute ended with the landslide, leading the politicians involved to feel tired of factional disputes. Subsequently, though the factions continued to exist, there appeared a trend toward attaching importance to building party consensus through talks. This trend continued into the 1990s and contributed to creating a situation where Cabinet posts and executive party posts tended to be allotted in proportion to the size of a faction, and where the number of successful elections to the Diet a politician enjoyed tended to be regarded more important than his or her political ability in the party process of choosing politicians for those posts.


In those days it took political bosses much money to campaign and expand their influence, which led to popularizing the term "money-power politics" or plutocracy. Government ministries and agencies that wanted to get big appropriations for public-works projects and others were inclined to turn to influential politicians for assistance, who in return explicitly or implicitly asked the bureaucrats concerned to provide them with facilities for electioneering and other purposes.


This cozy relationship between some conservative politicians and bureaucrats lasted for a while, until money-related scandals involving them frequently came to the fore. The LDP lost a majority in the general election of 1993 due to the public criticism of money-power politics and ended its nearly 40-year-rule when Kiichi Miyazawa was president of the party.


Morihiro Hosokawa, replacing Miyazawa as prime minister, established an eight-party coalition government free from the LDP. But Hosokawa was replaced by Tsutomu Hata in a less than a year due to differences within the coalition and his own political funds problem.


In 1994,Tomiichi Murayama, then head of the Japan Socialist Party, unexpectedly became prime minister, supported by the LDP and New Party Sakigake. Subsequent political realignment led to the creation of an LDP-Komeito coalition, which continues today.


The Japanese economy fell into a serious recession in the 1990s with the burst of the so-called bubble economy and mismanagement of economic policy. This period is now called the "lost decade." A lot of administrative scandals have occurred. There were omissions of pension records and leakage of secret defense information. Corruption cases involving bureaucrats greasing the palms of bureaucrats also occurred.


While Japan was reeling under perennial stagnation in the 1990s, the U.S. entered a period of growth thanks to deregulation and the IT revolution, and in Britain growth was sparked by the financial big bang and privatization of national enterprises. Japanese leaders gradually came to think that relaxing administrative regulations is essential to revitalizing the economy. Private business circles also strongly called for deregulation, while some government offices came under severe criticism from the public for trying to maintain their regulations and vested interests.


In the meantime, awareness that politics-led policymaking is necessary became prevalent, and the push for deregulation — "from the public sector to the private sector — and devolution — "from the center to the local" — became firm. Administrative offices were regarded as opposing these changes, and this created a drive for administrative reforms and reform related to public-service workers.


The LDP and other parties have prepared their manifestos for the Aug. 30 general election, most of which call for the discontinuation of control by Kasumigaseki or the bureaucrats.


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.











Tomorrow's state funeral for former President Kim Dae-jung should be an occasion for reconciliation and solidarity for the country.


The decision to give Kim a state funeral, the highest form of respect bestowed upon a deceased leader, was reached after considerable wrangling between Kim's family and supporters who wanted a state funeral and the government, which preferred a peoples' funeral.


Those who proposed a state funeral said that Kim's lifelong commitment to the cause of democracy and inter-Korean reconciliation made him deserving of a state funeral. Those who opposed a state funeral said that it would set a precedent that invites confusion over the type of funeral to be allowed when a former president passes away. President Park Chung-hee, who was assassinated in office, has been the only president given a state funeral. Most recently, former President Roh Moo-hyun was given a peoples' funeral with a seven-day mourning period.


The law gives the president the final say on who can be given a state funeral and President Lee Myung-bak, much to his credit, stepped in on Wednesday evening and said that Kim would be given a state funeral.


In a compromise hammered out between Kim's side and the government, the period of mourning has been reduced to six days from the nine days allowed under a state funeral. This way, the funeral will be held on Sunday, eliminating the need to declare a one-time public holiday as called for under a state funeral.


The compromise over the funeral procedure ought to be the first of many acts of reconciliation and solidarity that occur as the nation mourns the loss of Kim. While he was in the hospital for over a month fighting for his life, Kim was visited by many of his long-time rivals and foes as well as his friends and supporters. In the face of impending death, they were able to finally make peace with each other. Now, millions of people are coming together to pay their last respects to the man, putting aside their differences.


Kim's body lies in state at the National Assembly, a befitting place for the man who made great personal sacrifices to bring parliamentary democracy to Korea. The six-time legislator was a firm believer in parliamentary democracy and urged lawmakers to work within the system. It is hoped that remembering Kim will remind lawmakers of where they belong - in the National Assembly, not out on the streets.


A number of conservatives upset about the decision to hold a state funeral are calling for a boycott of Kim's funeral. Some have called Lee a traitor of the conservative cause for allowing the state funeral. This is unfortunate and regrettable. Lee made the decision on the state funeral with the hope that it would be an opportunity to bring about reconciliation. He made the right decision and it should be respected.


In any country, there will always be differences in opinion. However, throughout history, there are moments when opposing persuasions put aside their differences for a greater cause.


In his recent Liberation Day speech, Lee said that there should be a "centripetal force of reconciliation and solidarity." Kim's funeral could be just such a force, if people work to achieve it.


There have been many squabbles over the funeral, stemming from different perspectives and interests. Politicians should not usurp the occasion for political gains.


The nation can best honor Kim for his role as a democracy fighter and champion of inter-Korea reconciliation by using his funeral as a moment to come together. Kim's passing closes a turbulent chapter in modern Korean history. By the same token, the funeral on Sunday ushers in a new era - one of reconciliation and unity - but only if we strive to achieve them.








North Korea has made gestures in recent days indicating that it wants to engage the outside world.


North Korean representatives at the United Nations in New York traveled to New Mexico to meet with the New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson this week. After the meeting, Richardson said that the North Koreans wanted to start a new dialogue with the United States regarding the nuclear issue.


Pyongyang has also been making gestures toward South Korea in recent days that it wants to restart relations that have worsened after the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak administration.


Thursday night the North lifted border traffic restrictions it had unilaterally imposed in December.


Kim Jong-il sent his condolences one day after the death of former President Kim Dae-jung, a relatively speedy response by the North Korean leader who met with Kim during the first inter-Korean summit held in 2000. This was followed by the message that Pyongyang would send a team of special envoys to pay their last respects to Kim. The six-member group includes Kim Ki-nam, Workers' Party Central Committee secretary close to Kim Jong-il, and Kim Yang-gon, a figure responsible for inter-Korean relations.


Last week, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il met with South Korean businesswoman Hyun Jeong-eun and agreed, among other things, to restart cross-border tours and resume reunions of divided families.


While North Korea appears to be engaged in fence-mending, there are concerns that its aim is to foment ideological division in the South. Many critics also point to the fact that the North has been talking with non-government groups - Hyundai Asan and the Kim Dae-jung Peace Foundation - rather than the South Korean government. They charge that the North is ignoring the Seoul government even as it pursues direct talks with the United States.


The dispatch of high-ranking officials by Pyongyang indicates that it wants to engage in talks with the South at the government level. The two-day visit, which ends today, could serve as a starting point for the resumption of talks. President Lee Myung-bak recently said that he is willing to meet with North Koreans anytime, anywhere. The current visit by the senior North Korean entourage may just be that opportunity.








Kim Dae-jung, former president of the Republic of Korea, died on Aug. 18 at the age of 84. He lived a life full of "life and death" uphill battles for democracy, human rights, Korean reunification, and peace on the Korean Peninsula, East Asia and beyond.


Kim was, indeed, a very rare and larger-than-life individual. At first glance, he was an enigma filled with contradictions. At closer look, however, he was a hardcore realist with a visionary agenda. He was both an eventful and event-making man.


The adages, good and bad, attached to his name are endless: "the earthly saint"; "the Nelson Mandela of Asia"; "the man of history"; "the champion of democracy and human rights"; "the indefatigable peace-maker"; "the rabble rouser"; "the communist sympathizer"; and "the red rebel."


If there is one word to summarize his tumultuous, torturous and triumphant life, it would be "the exemplar." He epitomized what one human being's indomitable spirit can achieve in this world, as a man, as politician-turned statesman and as a peace-maker. The late Senator Mike Mansfield once told me, not once but four times, that Kim Dae-jung was "extraordinary".


Kim symbolizes the creative and constructive relief of the Korean people's collective grief, known as "han." It is a deep-seated agony and despair in the innermost center of the human heart, molded and hardened by Japanese colonialism, liberation and division, a short yet lasting imprint of the American-Soviet occupation, fratricide-cum-international war and destruction, reconstruction and rehabilitation, dictatorship and democracy, extreme poverty and relative prosperity. His life history itself reflects the quintessential epic of the Korean people over the last 80 years.


Kim was warm, caring and deeply religious, as was his wife, former First Lady Lee Hee-ho. It is rare to find a man who possessed micro-management expertise with macro perspective. It is indeed a rarity to find a man who is both brainy and big-hearted, but he was very close to being both.

As Kim remarked in his 2000 Nobel Peace Prize recipient speech, "Five times I faced near death at the hands of dictators, six years I spent in prison, and forty years I lived under house arrest or in exile and under constant surveillance. I could not have endured the hardship without the support of my people and the encouragement of fellow democrats around the world. The strength also came from deep personal beliefs."

Kim not only prevailed over such trials and tribulations but graduated from the "prison university", often mispronounced as "Princeton University," as his wife dryly quipped. Kim once told me "tongue-in-cheek" that he and Arnold Toynbee, author of the seminal series "A Study of History," are probably the only two who have read the books in their entirety. His bookish bent and voracious love of reading - especially while in prison - made him particularly history-conscious.


He did not and could not forget the political and physical tortures inflicted upon him, his family and his political colleagues, but he graciously forgave his persecutors. He initiated the presidential library project for Park Chung-hee, who was his arch political rival. Chun Doo-hwan, who had sentenced him to death, visited Kim in the hospital a few days ago and confessed to the press that as an ex-president, he was happiest under the Kim Dae-jung presidency.

Kim Dae-jung's political career was comprised of a series of defeats and triumphs. He failed three times and won six times in his bid for the National Assembly seat. He ran for the presidency four times, spanning 27 years from 1971 to 1997 when he finally won - a record which is unprecedented in the annals of presidential elections anywhere in the world.


He advocated tirelessly that democracy and human rights are not exclusively key "Western" political values but universal human heritage. He reminded people at home and abroad that Korea and Asia, too, have such traditions.


His political legacy is indeed long: the peaceful transfer of power from the ruling party to the opposition for the first time in 1998 since the founding of the Republic in 1948; the implementation of local autonomy; initiation of the first outer space project in 1999; legalizing labor unions' basic rights; the introduction of basic social security and insurance systems; and achieving governmental, business, financial and labor sector reforms, to mention a few.


Under President Kim, Korea overcame its financial crisis more quickly than other Asian nations which were faced with similar financial predicaments in the late 1990s. Better still, he was instrumental in turning the crisis into momentum for transforming Korea into an information technology-based economy.

The world will remember Kim as a relentless peace-maker. He implemented a new paradigm for promoting inter-Korean reconciliations with the ultimate goal of peaceful liberal democratic reunification. His historic summit with Kim Jong-il in June 2000 was the first fruit of his sunshine policy, although the subsequent unfolding of events has been far more disappointing than reassuring.


As Gunnar Berge, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, presaged in his presentation speech in honor of Kim Dae-jung in December 2000: "While recognizing that roadblocks in international peace work are something one has to be prepared for, Kim Dae-Jung has had the will to break (with) fifty years of ingrained hostility, and to reach out a cooperative hand across what has probably been the world's most heavily-guarded frontier."


Kim also strengthened amicable relations with Japan, China, Russia, the United States, ASEAN and EU, as exemplified by the 2002 World Cup which Korea co-hosted with Japan. His active role in helping East Timor to achieve independence and his humanitarian efforts to rescue Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar from protracted house arrest by its military junta are also noteworthy.


No human being, including Kim Dae-jung, is flawless and faultless. The imprisonment of his two sons and several key political associates for bribery and influence-peddling charges during his presidency were embarrassing and humiliating, which he admitted. Having offered some $400 million to North Korea in relation to the North-South summit is, however, a matter for history to judge.


I believe six kinds of judgment are constantly being made by mass media, politicos, pollsters, court judges, historians and scholars. But the final judgment remains with God. The first five are human judgments which can range from instantaneous opinion to prolonged forms of judgment, tempered with the passing of time. There is no doubt that he will be judged, even under the microscopic scrutiny of the five jurors, to have lived a full and rewarding life.


His Catholic name was that of Thomas More (1478-1535), a man of conscience who died for his religious convictions. Kim Dae-jung, too, fought and died for the beliefs he had held his entire life under the dictum, "Conscience in Action." I pray that he rests in peace with God's grace.


Dr. Yang Sung-chul, a former Korean ambassador to the United States, is chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Kim Dae-Jung Peace Foundation. - Ed.








SINGAPORE - Not a week passes, it seems, without a big-picture thinker releasing a big-picture book or giving a big-picture sermon describing the gradual eclipse of American hegemony in Asia. True, American power will inevitably decline in relative terms as Asian giants such as China and India rise. But, at least as far as Asia is concerned, arguments about the end of American hegemony ring hollow.


For one thing, the United States was never a hegemon in Asia. Only some American post-Cold War triumphalists thought it was. The nature of U.S. power and the exercise of its influence was always much more clever and subtle than most assume. In fact, as India and China rise, the U.S. could actually find itself in a stronger position.


How can this be? After all, power and influence are built on the back of economic success. The Chinese economy has been doubling in size every 10 years since 1978. The Indian economy has been doing the same since 1991. In contrast, it takes about two decades for the U.S. economy to double in size. Doesn't this surely mean that Asia is rushing toward a state of multi-polarity - a configuration of roughly equal great powers balancing against each other - while American influence is on the wane?


The seemingly obvious conclusion would be true but for the fact that Asia has a unique kind of hierarchical security system that came about partly by accident and partly by design.


No power can be preeminent if it cannot maintain its military advantage over rivals. Yet, despite the fact that America spends more on defense than the next 10 powers combined, it has never been a regional hegemon because it actually relies on the cooperation of other states to remain predominant. Without cooperation from allies such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and the Philippines, the U.S. could not retain its forward military positions in the West Pacific. Likewise, the U.S. needs the cooperation of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand to host its critical radar infrastructure.


Moreover, in remaining preeminent, America requires other key states and regional groupings, such as ASEAN, to acquiesce in its security relationships. Thus, there is broad-based regional approval of U.S. alliances with Japan, South Korea, and Australia, as well as with partners such as the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and India. The key to the effectiveness of these bilateral relationships is that they enjoy widespread support (and thus legitimacy) in the region as stabilizing arrangements. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


Combined with the raw military capacity that the U.S. brings to the table, this means that America is powerful enough to enforce the peace and provide stability for commerce to thrive. America's presence and bilateral partnerships are complementary to Asian states' obsession with counter-dominance and non-interference in the region.


This dynamic "liberal order" - largely fair, flexible, and open enough to welcome new entrants as they rise - will continue to serve Asia well. For example, even China has been a major beneficiary of the public goods provided by the U.S.-led hierarchical system.

This interdependent relationship means that the U.S. is not so powerful, that it can readily ignore the wishes of key states, and it is here that its apparent weakness is actually strength. America is not a Hobbesian Leviathan with absolute authority and power. Indeed, China's strategists are frequently puzzled by the lack of "balancing" that takes place against the U.S. in the region. But it is puzzling only if we characterize Asia as being multi-polar rather than hierarchical.


In fact, any balancing tends to take place in order to preserve the hierarchy, not to replace or supersede it. Other states tend to resist bids by any Asian power - be it Japan, China or India - to rise to the top of the pyramid. As a foreign-based power, the U.S. needs the cooperation of Asian partners. This keeps the top dog in check. Were an Asian country like China to rise to the top, it would not need the same level of regional cooperation and acquiescence to maintain its position and military footholds.


As China and India rise, and Japan becomes more "normal," they will balance each other within the U.S.-led hierarchy to ensure that the U.S. remains on top and one or the other doesn't dominate. If China makes a bid for regional hegemony, it will find it difficult to resist the structural constraints placed on it within this hierarchy.


U.S. power is in relative decline, but that is no bad thing. False triumphalism breeds poor discipline. But a sense of strategic vulnerability breeds interdependency, which has always been the key to successful U.S. leadership in Asia.


John Lee is a foreign policy fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney and a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington. His most recent book is "Will China Fail?" - Ed.

(Project Syndicate)














Only when the memories of a city survive generations of its residents will it be possible to have cultural appeal. Historical buildings are physical reminders of these memories. The demolition of historical structures in a city is equivalent to the elimination of its memories.


An old courtyard once inhabited by Lu Xun, one of the most well-known novelist and essayist in the early years of the last century, is slated to be demolished. This has riled up many, who have been complaining that Beijing is losing its cultural appeal due to the rapid loss of its ancient structures.


As the capital of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1644), Beijing is a city of historical interest. And thanks to the series of political activities that took place in the early parts of the last century, Beijing is the birthplace of the May Fourth movement. As a result, the city boasts a multitude of courtyards and residences previously inhabited by historical figures or social celebrities.


Unfortunately, at least a third of these residences have been demolished for more than a decade to make room for real estate development projects.


In the fight between the protection of cultural heritages and the rise of urban development, the former has been losing ground. Statistics show that the number of four-sided traditional courtyards known as siheyuan has dropped by 80 percent in the past 50 years.


This has much to do with the lack of vision from the local government. It has placed the ever-increasing prices of land in the downtown areas before the intangible value of cultural relics. Most of these traditional courtyards, some of which used to house princes of the Qing Dynasty, are clustered in the central area of Beijing. It is natural for real estate developers to covet these areas. But the local government has the right to protect them and must do so.


The mass demolition of these courtyards, most of which have even been designated as places of historical interest under the protection of the municipal or district governments, indicates the local government's lack of respect for the cultural identity of this ancient city.


In this country, local government officials only pay lip service to the protection of cultural relics. None of them would deny the importance of cultural relics on public occasions. Yet, the trend of mass demolition of historical buildings or streets in almost all urban renovations across the country points to these officials' preference for immediate economic growth.


Such preference actually poses a threat to the sustainable development of these cities. None of them will be able to always maintain its economic growth by real estate development. Yet, a city's cultural appeal, an ancient city in particular, will always be there and will be stronger with time.


It is irresponsible and near-sighted to rid a city of its historical memories just for the immediate interest from real estate developers. History will show how serious this mistake from the local government will be.







The immense public scrutiny over two recent traffic accidents in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, reflects a growing resentment of the rich, with one incident caused by a Mitsubishi sports car and the other a Porsche sport utility vehicle.


Meanwhile, road deaths caused by drivers in budget cars are less likely to be picked up by the news media these days. Just for consideration, on an average day last year, more than 200 people in China died on the road.


It would be easy to blame the incidents for the animosity of the rich. But that could not explain this increasing hatred in our society over the years. It is definitely something worthy of great concern for policymakers.


In fact, not all of the rich are despised. When rumors spread about the agriculturalist Yuan Longping owning six or seven sedans, many people believed that someone who made such a great contribution to mankind as Yuan deserves to have six private jets.


So this angst toward the rich is vented at those who racked up their wealth illegally. They are by no means a small group of people, if you look at the high-profile businessmen put behind bars in recent years, from Gome chief Huang Guangyu to Shanghai real estate tycoon Zhou Zhengyi.


In most cases, government officials have been implicated.


The widespread collaboration between greedy businesspeople and rent-seeking public servants has achieved a synergy totally undesirable for our society. As a result, both sides become excessively rich by trading in money and power.


While business and official corruption itself could be cause for public indignation, the fact that most of these people are not only at large but enjoy good social status and show off their illicit money has only stirred more public wrath.


Many of the rich people in our society today dare not reveal their secrets to great wealth, such as whether they have been involved in smuggling, dodging taxes, bribing, cheating, polluting the environment and exploiting workers.


Besides, the lack of equal opportunities and the lack of a level playing ground has also sparked resentment for the rich. It was worsened by the widening income gap, which has transformed the country from an egalitarian society just 30 years ago to one of the most unequal in the world today.


In this sense, resentment towards some of the rich who have illegally gained their money actually reflects a sense for social justice. It is an anger that shows unwillingness to tolerate any more corruption and injustice.


For policymakers, this means that effective measures need to be taken immediately to uproot corruption and injustice, provide equal education, employment and business opportunities for everyone.


If we continue to ignore or misunderstand this public resentment, we are running the risk of turning this sentiment into great social instability.







China has cut its holding of US Treasury bonds by $25 billion to $776 billion at the end of June compared with the previous month, according to a report released by the US Treasury Department on Aug 17. It was considered the first large-scale reduction of US debt by China this year.


During the same period, Japan and the United Kingdom went in the other direction. Japan, the second-largest holder of US Treasury bonds, raised its holdings to $712 billion in June from $677 billion in May, an increase of $35 billion. The UK, the third-largest holder, also increased its stakes to $214 billion in June from $164 billion, a surge of 31 percent. China remains the largest holder of US treasuries, followed by Japan and the UK.


It's obvious that whether to add or cut US treasuries depends on a central government's judgment of expectation toward the global financial market. So there is no need to politicize the behavior that is no more than a normal investment.


It's a problem consistently under controversy: How can China effectively utilize its huge foreign exchange reserves, especially regarding its holding of US Treasury bonds since 2007? In China, some even argue that the problem has turned into a national issue and needs a political solution after the US' financial turmoil in 2008.


US Treasury bonds are the most important component of China's foreign currency reserves investment because they are relatively safe, profitable and highly liquid. Considering the history of the international financial market in the past three decades, the more fluctuation and the higher the risks, the more investors wants to choose safer markets and assets. The US financial market is regarded as a relatively better investment by foreign investors and US Treasury bonds are high-quality assets to buffer against financial risks despite the increasing risks and uncertainties.


China's increasing stakes in US treasuries since July 2007 has helped China preclude the risks and keep its foreign exchange reserve appreciating during the unprecedented financial crisis when all other financial assets devalued sharply. That is a credit to China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE). The expanded holding of US treasuries also has laid a solid foundation for China's peaceful diplomatic policy. A right investment decision by SAFE not only brought huge economic returns but also added weight to China's foreign exchange.


China's decrease in holding US Treasury bonds is a normal investment behavior with little political intention. The change signaled that China is trying to diversify its foreign reserve investment and increase returns in the face of increasing worry about a coming inflation risk due to the US' budget deficit.


Great changes have taken place in the economic environment at home and abroad as well as the financial market risk allocation and investment opportunity. Holding the world's largest foreign reserves, it's necessary for China to moderately adjust its investment portfolio. It needs to test whether China's prediction and adjustment are reasonable or not because other countries did just the opposite.


The world economy prospect is still uncertain although countries like China, Germany, Japan and France have been recovering from economic recession. We need to make a comprehensive assessment about the negative effect on the world economy and international financial market caused by the quantitative and loose monetary policy adopted in major economies.


The whole US financial system is to blame for the outbreak of the financial crisis. It's an arduous job to rejuvenate the US financial system in a short term. So China should be more prudent in predicting future economic trends and make more reasonable investment strategies on the basis of safeguarding national interest.


The author is a researcher with Institute of Finance and Banking, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences







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.









Muslims all over the world joyfully welcome Ramadan. It is difficult to describe Muslims’ feeling when they face Ramadan. Hope of paradise, multiple rewards from God, and forgiveness of sin is the abstract sphere fulfilling this sacred month.


As promised by God in the Koran, Ramadan is extraordinary. God guarantees forgiveness for Muslims who fast and he provides Lailatul Qadar, a night in which God grants extraordinariness. No wonder Muslims respect the month much more than other months.


This belief, however, has often encouraged Muslims to sacralize Ramadan improperly. On the one hand, the sacralization is appropriate, because such an attitude is a reasonable indicator that Muslims love their religion. But, on the other hand, it affects the religious stagnancy among Muslims, since Muslims tend to appreciate Ramadan symbolically and pay little attention to the meanings behind it.


They believe that to fast at Ramadan is the highest worship of God. This belief leads Muslims to create a new kind of idolatry. In fact, the spirit of the Islamic religion brought by Prophet Muhammad is to fight against idolatry.


Basically, to respect Ramadan is a tribute to tradition. They are not alienated from their roots, and they see themselves as part of the tradition. They use the tradition as their local wisdom to overcome their social problems. Without tradition, people will lack the cultural capital to develop their civilization.


There is no precedent for a nation that started from zero.


However, the sacralization of tradition, which is called by Muhammad Abid Al-Jabiri (a Moroccan Muslim scholar) traditionalism, is a bad attitude.


It is sort of creating idolatry. In his book entitled Naqd al-‘Aql al-‘Arabi, Jabiri differentiated between tradition and traditionalism. He defined tradition as culture, rites, thoughts and works done by predecessors, whereas traditionalism as sacralization of the traditions.


In these terms, Jabiri criticized Muslims who transformed Islamic traditions, such as fasting and the works of classical and medieval Ulama, to become traditionalism. For Jabiri, Islamic tradition is seen as alive and it can support Muslims to enable them to face contemporary social problems.


Based on this argument, Muslims should face Ramadan’s fasting with the problems of humanity.


Fasting in Ramadan is a sort of tradition which will become a fossil if it is not reinterpreted in a contemporary context.  


As described in the Koran, the purpose of fasting in Ramadan is to establish takwa (piousness or piety) (Al-baqarah:184). Piety is the goal or meaning behind this act of worship. Muhammad Asad (1984), an expert in Koranic exegesis, interprets the term (takwa) as God consciousness. It means that Muslims should represent God’s attributes in their soul.


A similar explanation can be traced to Jalaludin Rumi, a Persian Muslim Sufi. He stated that the greatest expression of love from a human to his God is “to imitate” him.  Ibnu Arabi, a Muslim mystico-philosopher, said that a human being potentially has God’s attributes.


The more a human represents his attributes, the more perfect a human will be. The perfect level of such a representation is called by Arabi as Insan Kamil. It is a concept of akhlak al-karimah (good character) in which the masculine and feminine attributes of God are comprehensively represented by humans. According to Arabi, this level was shown by the Prophet Muhammad.


Ramadan’s fasting provides Muslims a “space” to develop their sense of human crisis. Muslims are hoped to be empathetic to social crises happening around them. It being sufficient to fast and practice other normal acts of worship, such as reading the Koran and shalat tarawih (evening prayers during Ramadan) done at Ramadan, has to be changed, since these acts of worships are symbolic practices helping Muslims increase their consciousness.


Muslims should transform the individual piousness of fasting into social piousness.

The writer is a student of Islamic Studies at Leiden University, the Netherlands and a Muhammadiyah activist.






For many of the faithful, today is one of the happiest days on the calendar, the first day of Ramadan. It is a time when individual Muslims will strive for a month to be better people, or at least to survive 30 days refraining from grudges and gossip, while fasting in the daytime.


Targets will vary among minimalists and the more devout from merely fasting in the heat without whining, or performing prayers five times a day instead of a few times a year, to completing the ultimate must-read, the Koran — or  trying to learn just one verse of the Book that was first introduced to the Prophet Mohammad one night in Ramadan.


These targets are the tangible ones, while sermon after sermon will remind Muslims that Ramadan and its culminating celebration at the end of the month are great opportunities to improve self-restraint and strengthen one’s belief.


This requires concentration that others — the not-so-faithful and non-Muslims alike — have come to respect. Ramadan, thus, is an oasis for Muslims; a time to focus on their spiritual selves.


In these times of terrorist threats, many will be glad to leave to experts what they feel are hurtful debates on their religion. But given the need for self introspection in the holy month, and the fact of terrorists in our midst, closing our ears and keeping silent doesn’t help either. Fellow civilians are being murdered by people considering themselves among the most devout.


In the wake of another series of operations against suspected terrorists, the police have again urged the public to be on the look out; to go out of our way of being polite and friendly to the extent that we welcome strangers in our neighborhoods, just because they are fellow Muslims. This was one message of Jakarta Police chief Insp. Gen. Wahyono who met with religious leaders on Thursday.


Some have noted how even religious leaders and officials fail to condemn criminals who sow hatred and recruit killers seeking heavenly rewards. Banten Governor Ratu Atut Chosiyah is among the few who have said (only recently after the July bombings) that she will have the curriculum across religious schools inspected as one measure to curb terrorism. Such intrusions will raise eyebrows, but largely impoverished Banten in the west of Java was the home province of executed convict Imam Samudra and his brothers, the Bali bombers.


One reason why condemnation of those who preach extreme views is not widespread, would be the inability to discern between one who preaches like any other “hardliner” with the few who actually integrate violence into their beliefs.  More crucial is the widespread ignorance among believers themselves, for not many would like to pore over the complexity of varied interpretations of the Koran, the Prophet’s teachings and Islam’s history.


Avenging injustice at the hands of the plundering, murdering Western forces in Muslim lands is said to be a main motive of suicide bombers. They are far from the majority, but it is surely a luxury to spend one month in the oasis of Ramadan, free of worldly worries.  More among the educated would need to spread the word of how Islamic teachings remain relevant to all peoples, including Indonesians, who inherit such a wide diversity as part of their heritage.


To all our readers, we take this opportunity to wish you a joyful, peaceful Ramadan.




EDITORIAL from The Pioneer, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Financial Express, The Hindu, The Statesman’s, The Tribune, Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald, Economic Times, The Telegraph, The Assam Tribune, Pakistan Observer, The Asian Age, The News, The New York Times, Dawn China Daily, Japan Times, The Gazette, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian and more only on EDITORIAL.



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